January 2, 2014 - 4 comments
Ever have a moment where you can see yourself from outside of yourself, for just a split-second of time? And after it happens, the image is super tricky to process, so you’re not sure if you’re making it up or if you really saw what you think you just saw, because it’s disconcerting as hell, but then you get a glimpse of a little nugget of clarity: an insight, a revelation, and the truth of it hits you squarely and you know that you are right about what you saw.
That happened to me yesterday. Fitting that such insight should come on New Year’s Day: auspicious even. Of course, seeing oneself clearly is not always a particularly pleasant experience; over the years, I have devised a million ways to avoid, deflect, and grow defensive whenever I see something about myself that I don’t like.
My thoughts were born out of a winter-break experiment that I planned and took on with a dear friend; she is also a mama who works in the field of education, and together we pledged to take on a kind of social media “fast” for the days that we were off of school. Neither one of us faults the media itself, of course, but wished instead to examine how we were engaging with things like Faceboook, Twitter, and Instagram, and to recalibrate and re-set our relationships with our computers and phones.
The hard truth that we had each come to realize is that we were letting our devices take attention away from our families; instead of being present, we would, as a default, rush to “capture the moment,” often so that we could share it with others via social media. In its purest essence, the impulse to share pieces of our lives is a healthy one, but if I’m honest, for me that impulse often becomes something more performative and affirmation seeking, showing off and/or comparing my life to others. It’s shockingly easy to forget that we all select and filter (in the case of Instagram, literally) what we do and don’t share online—other people’s lives can look deceptively and perfectly styled. And then there are the hours I’ve spent scrolling aimlessly on social media, not really seeking or finding anything of value or substance, but rather, letting myself be thoughtlessly sucked in, the net result of which is wasted time, with annoyance as a by-product.
Cue yesterday’s revelation. As said above, social media/my phone/my computer are but tools, and I choose how to use them. So by taking them out of the equation, I simply forced my psyche to show its hand, so to speak, by inevitably finding another thing to be distracted with or consumed by. I had said, at the outset, that I wanted my winter break to be largely plan-less, filled with time to nest and organize at home, play with my kid, spend time with family and friends, and do some much needed reading and writing—and I did a fair amount of that. I have spent wonderful time with family and friends, hung out a lot with my awesome kid, read one amazing book, and cleaned out parts of the house, taking big bags to Goodwill and upgrading my pantry from a disaster area to a functional space.
But I have also managed to be quite busy: cooking, planning, visiting, hosting, coordinating. I have taken on things—things I enjoy, things that are not bad—but things that directly contradict what I said I wanted out of this break. In the immortal words of the Beastie Boys, Listen all of y’all, it’s a sabotage.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with the things I spent my time doing over the last few days; I had a wonderful time and I don’t regret any of it. But I didn’t get a lick of writing done. I gave up that time by filling it with all kinds of other things; I made myself busy and I set myself up to fail. It’s time, I realized, to interrupt the identity I’ve structured for myself, an identity that’s become so fixed that it occurs for me as simply who I am. “But that’s just what I do!” I protested, when Jill, at my request for coaching, gently pointed these things out to me. “Right,” she said. “But you choose all that, and you can choose something else.”
After Jill’s cancer, and again after I got my sanity back, almost exactly a year ago this month, I swore that I wouldn’t revert to my old ways, that I would work hard to remain focused on what truly mattered, instead of letting myself be distracted by all the various bits of chatter in the atmosphere…and it seems I need a reminder again, a spot of discipline and some new tricks to interrupt the old ones.
Which brings me to this: I’m going to take a break from the blog for a few months. I haven’t been pleased with the quality of my posts of late, and rather than keep producing more of the same, I want to see if I can’t break out of the hitherto established Blue Jean Gourmet identity and re-engage with food and writing on their own terms. April is when I plan to be back, hopefully with some new tricks and energy up my sleeve.
I hope you will understand and not be too inconvenienced by my absence; sometimes I forget that there are actually real people out there actually reading my blog. Whenever you post a comment or send me a note to let me know that you tried one of my recipes, it means more than you might think.
Leaving you with one new recipe—a pasta perfect for colder temperatures—along with a list of winter favorites that you might like. See y’all in the spring! xoxo–Nishta
BRUSSELS SPROUTS CARBONARA
barely adapted from Philip Krajeck, chef at Nashville’s Rolf and Daughters, via Bon Appetit
We’re quite the carbonara lovers in my house, so I knew we had to try this the minute I saw it. The original recipe also provides instructions for making your own oriecchiette from scratch, which I have not yet attempted; I have also taken to zesting a Meyer lemon on top of each bowl of pasta, and love what the flavor does to help cut the fattiness of the dish.
1 lb. oriecchiette (fresh or dried; you can also use another small pasta shape)
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, leaves separated
4 oz. guanciale or pancetta, finely chopped
½ cup grated Pecornio Romano
6 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 egg yolks, beaten to blend
Kosher salt & coarsely ground black pepper
Get a pot of salted water going; when it boils, cook your pasta until al dente (~5 minutes for fresh pasta, almost twice as long for dried). Drain the pasta but reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid.
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Working in batches, cook the Brussels sprouts leaves until they are partially charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer the leaves to a plate and set aside. If there are any pieces of Brussels sprouts left in the skillet, wipe it out before the next step.
Heat another tablespoon or so of olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat and cook the guiancale or pancetta, stirring regularly until it’s crisp. Add ½ tsp. black pepper to the pan and cook briefly, until fragrant, before adding half of the pasta cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to low and add the butter gradually, swirling the skillet as you go, then add as much of the remaining pasta liquid as you need to create a thick, glossy sauce.
Add the cooked pasta and the Pecorino to the skillet, tossing to combine. Remove the skillet from the heat and mix in the egg yolks. Add the reserved Brussels sprout leaves and toss, thinning with any remaining pasta liquid or hot water, if needed.
Top with more Pecorino, if desired.
A few weeks ago, Jill heard this wonderful NPR interview with Julia Reed, Southern food writer and contributor to Garden & Gun magazine; not only does Ms. Reed have the most fabulous voice (hers is not an accent you often hear on public radio!), she’s also witty, well-read, and someone I would love to have over for dinner.
In the segment, Reed shares a recipe for the World’s Greatest Eggnog, as called by the Memphis grandmother with whom the recipe originates. I halved the recipe and served it a few nights ago when friends came over to help us decorate our tree; the eggnog was a universal hit, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Though the eggnog could have easily counted as dessert all by itself, I served ours with a tray of nutmeg logs, the signature Christmas treat of my friend Ari’s family. Having been gifted with bags of these delicious and distinctive cookies before, I asked if I could share the family recipe and, luckily, Ari’s sweet granny agreed. The recipe below is transcribed from her handwritten notes.
Whatever you have planned for the coming days, I hope you are able to spend time with people who make your heart light. Happy holidays from our family to yours!
This recipe yields approximately 36 cookies, which will keep well stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a week or so.
Sift together & set aside:
3 cups flour 1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup butter
-gradually add ¾ cup sugar, cream well
1 unbeaten egg 2 tsp vanilla 2 tsp rum or rum flavoring
Add the dry ingredients gradually & mix thoroughly.
Shape pieces of dough on lightly floured surface into long rolls 1/2 in. in diameter. Cut into 3″ lengths; place on ungreased baking sheets. (Note: I lined mine with parchment, out of habit.) Bake in moderate oven (350°) for 12-15 minutes until light golden-brown. Cool before frosting.
for the frosting:
3 T butter with ½ tsp vanilla & 1 tsp rum flavoring Blend in:
2 cups sifted powdered sugar, beat well. -Add 2 cups more powdered sugar alternating with 2 or 3 T cream or milk
Spread frosting on tops + sides of cookies & sprinkle with grated nutmeg.
I have been blessed to know Elaine Lupovitch & Kirk O’Neal as colleagues for the last seven years, and have been thrilled to watch over the last year as their side business (how they make time for a side business I do NOT know), Garden Dreams Houston, has flourished. Their jellies, jams, marmalades, sauces, and salsas are truly fantastic, and Shiv looks forward to picking up new treats–and trying samples–whenever we visit Kirk & Elaine at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market. I also regularly pick up their goods to gift as gifts or take to out-of-town friends; it all gets rave reviews, always.
Today we’re lucky enough to have Elaine guest posting here, sharing a recipe AND generously offering a giveaway of four wonderful treats. Enjoy! –Nishta
Garden Dreams Houston welcomes the holiday season with citrus, and spice, and everything nice! We’re brewing up some of our favorites with gifting in mind. No matter the season, we remain committed to using locally sourced ingredients in our handmade small batched jams, jellies, and marmalades created with lots of love, care, and artistry. Our holiday menu includes: Cranopeno Jam, Carrot Cake Jam, Drunken Tomato Jam, Hoot N Holler Jalapeno Jelly, Habanero Gold Jelly, Triple Berry With Agave Fruit Spread, Texas Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Kumquat Marmalade, Mayhaw Jelly and Hibiscus Flower Jelly.
We are so grateful for the local growers, who provide us with such an amazing array of garden year round, and we are grateful, too, for the support our Houston customers have given us and to the local growers, who provide us with such an amazing array of fruits and vegetables throughout the seasons. Preserving foods is a great way to capture the goodness of season and enjoy it all year long. Our award winning jam, Peaches N Dream, is a great example of this delicious goodness; there’s nothing like a summer Texas peach, and our recipe tries to capture them in all of their glory. We are honored to be a Good Food Award Finalist for this product! We’ll be traveling to the award ceremony in San Francisco in January to see if Peaches N Dream is among the winners.
In the meantime, we’d like to offer a holiday gift basket giveaway for Blue Jean Gourmet readers to enjoy. The basket features four of our best-selling products:
-Cranopeno Jelly, which is wonderful layered over your favorite soft cheese, served with crackers, or use as a glaze for a pork loin or beef roast. See the recipe below to make your own at home!
(ingredients: fresh cranberries, jalapeno peppers, organic sugar, lemon juice, unfiltered apple cider vinegar)
-Down the Hatch Salsa, perfect with your favorite corn chips or tortillas
(ingredients: charred hatch, Serrano, and jalapeno peppers, roasted white onion and garlic, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, salt)
-Drunken Tomato Jam, a versatile condiment—add to a grilled cheese sandwich, spoon over grilled fish, or use a tablespoon as a salad dressing starter!
(ingredients: sweet tomatoes, very little organic sugar, fresh ginger, jalapenos, and cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, Jack Daniels, and organic apple cider and red wine vinegars)
-Satsuma Marmalade, a dreamy companion for buttered biscuits, scones, or toast, would also make wonderful thumbprint cookies for the holidays!
(ingredients: slow cooked Satsumas, organic sugar, and lemon juice)
To qualify for the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post telling us which jam or jelly flavor is your favorite! Giveaway will close at noon CST on Friday, December13. The winner will be contacted by email to provide a mailing address or arrange pickup (if local).
Recipe courtesy Elaine Lupovitch & Kirk O’Neal
1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 cup jalapenos
5 ½ cups unrefined organic sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 ½ cup organic unfilitered apple cider vinegar
2 packages Certo (liquid pectin)
Sterilize eight 8 oz jelly jars, lids and rings.
Prep the jalapenos by taking out the seeds. In a food processor, grind the peppers and berries. Then put them in a large pot with all ingredients except pectin. Bring the mixture to a boil, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add pectin and boil 1 more minute.
Ladle into jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch clearance. Water bath process 10 minutes. (Refer to jar manufacturer hot water canning instructions.)
Something about this time of year–the early evening darkness, the cold weather–makes me even more voraciously hungry for reading time than I normally am.
Books are also one of my favorite holiday gifts, both to give and receive, with the tantalizing prospect of a bit of time off hopefully allowing all of us to sit in a comfortable chair with a good book. If you’re on the lookout for some suggested reads, you might check out my reading lists, recently updated to reflect some favorite new reads & divided into categories: young adult (ages 13-15), younger adult (ages 10-12), book club favorites, classics, contemporary fiction, and contemporary nonfiction.
As with food, my eyes are always bigger than my appetite when it comes to books; I love adding to my “to-read” pile. What books have you read this year, new or old, that you recommend?
Last but not least, I’ve had several inquiries from folks asking how they might acquire a signed copy of my book, The Pomegranate King. I’m happy to announce that you can now do just that! Click here for more information or to place an order; I’d be honored to be one of the holiday presents you give yourself, a friend, or a loved one.