Tag Archives: Cooking and Baking

French bread recipe

If you’re like me, you’ve often thought that homemade bread is something only the most sophisticated cooks can pull off. Oh how wrong we’ve been, and I couldn’t be happier to share this recipe with you! It is full-proof. And since few things bug me more than fussy, over-complicated recipes that feel unattainable, this one’s the opposite of that, and only requires ingredients most of us already have in our pantry. By the second or third time you make this, it’s going to feel so easy.

My inspiration/baseline was this online recipe. But I made some important changes to it that I think simplify things and deliver and even better texture and flavor. I also broke it down with lots (and lots) of pictures.

A note on warm water: Basically you run the hot water on the tap for a few seconds, but it doesn’t hurt your fingers to touch it. Not hot enough to cook anything, but definitely more than lukewarm.

Start by dissolving 1 tablespoon of sugar into 1 cup of warm water. After the sugar, quickly and gently stir in 1½ teaspoons of active dry yeast. Place in a warm place for at least 10 minutes. I often use my radiator when it’s nice and warm, or the top of the stove, with the oven underneath it preheated to 200.

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While that sits, mix together 2½ cups of all purpose flour with 1½ to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt (only 1 teaspoon or less if using fine table salt) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.

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When the warm water with sugar and yeast mixture starts to look like a funky, frothy science experiment –that’s exactly what it is!– and to smell a little bit like a brewery, you know you’re in business.

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Frothy and bubbling less than 10 minutes later. This part is so much fun.

Start running the mixer on medium speed, and add in the water with yeast. Try to scrape every bit from the measuring cup into the mixer.

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At this point, I always have flour nearby for sprinkling, and I refill the “yeasty” measuring cup with warm water. I mix for about 30 seconds. If A) the dough still looks too crumbly and isn’t coming together and off the sides of the bowl, I add additional warm yeasty water from the measuring cup, about 1 teaspoon at a time, then wait another few seconds.

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My dough was looking crumbly and dry, so slowly I added 1 tsp at a time of the warm yeasty water. Works every time.

If on the other hand, B) the dough looks too wet, I sprinkle very small handfuls (also about a teaspoon) of flour at a time. I usually run into A more than B. My point is, if the dough doesn’t look like it’s coming together like it’s supposed to, it’s still very fixable if you go slowly and watch it carefully. Just don’t panic!

Once you see the dough come together and off the sides of the bowl, continue to knead with the mixer on medium or medium high speed for about 5 minutes. (Make sure the tilt head on your mixer is locked, otherwise the dough will make it wobble and shake and it won’t knead properly.)

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This is what you want your dough to look like, then you let the mixer do the kneading for 5 minutes.

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Meanwhile, prepare a large flat rolling surface with flour, and a medium-sized bowl (it should hold at least eight cups) with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to coat the bottom and sides.

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iPhoneFeb2016 2579After 5 minutes, turn off the mixer. Coat your hands with flour, and remove the dough onto the floured surface.

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See how sticky that is? You’ll need flour to unstick it from the dough hook.

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Knead with your hands* a few times until it looks and feels soft and smooth. It can look like a disk or a ball. (*This just means you fold it onto itself and push down with the heel of your hand.)

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Place into the bowl with oil, turning over once or twice to make sure the dough is evenly coated in the oil. This prevents an awkward crust from forming as it sits and rises.

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Now it’s covered in oil.

Immediately cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and place in warm, draft-free place until it’s roughly doubled in size, at least an hour, up to 2 hours.

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Again, putting the dough on top of an oven preheated to 200 works really well.

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After an hour and a half, I was good to go!

Now you’re ready to prepare the dough for its second rising. 🙂

Uncover the bowl and take dough out. Don’t be alarmed when it deflates the instant you touch it. It’s supposed to do that.

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‘Punch down your dough’ is the bread bakers’ equivalent of the literary ‘kill your darlings!’

In fact, many recipes for bread and pizza dough will specifically tell you to “punch down the dough” at this point in the process. Place on floured surface again, and smooth out a little with well floured hands.

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Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out thinly, to about the size of a standard half sheet pan, about 13 x 18 inches. Cut the dough in half, lengthwise, until you’re left with two roughly 6 x 18 pieces.

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Begin to roll each half of the dough up, again lengthwise. Keep it tight, and smooth out air pockets.

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Pinch the seams as much as possible. The aesthetics are an area where my baguettes still need a bit of work (as you’ll see in the photos below) but the flavor and texture are so 100% legit that I know the rest will catch up. Place each rolled up dough half, seam side down, on a half sheet pan lined with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Fold and tuck the ends in and under using your fingers, again pinching the seams a bit.

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I like to –very gently– rub a bit of flour on the baguettes at this point. It helps create the crust when it bakes later on.

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I just rubbed these with a small amount of flour. This is optional.

Use the same sharp knife to slash each loaf (I go in about an inch). You can do a few diagonal lines, or one line lengthwise along the baguette. (Here are a few fancier ideas I’m excited to try soon.)

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Here I did diagonal slits.

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Here I went with one long lengthwise slit. As you can see, I had some issues rolling one of these. My problem? I didn’t like how it came out the first time so I tried to perfect it. It would’ve been much better if I’d left it alone!

Place in your warm place of choice, no need to cover it this time. Allow to rise a second time for another hour, until it doubles in size again.

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A little over an hour later, these had risen perfectly. And my awkward-looking one was still looking awkward. Scroll to the end for the result.

Now you’re ready to bake your bread! Place a roasting pan (at least 2 inches deep) on the bottom rack of the oven, then preheat to 375.

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Combine 1 egg while with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush bread with the egg wash.

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Once the oven is preheated, fill a large measuring cup or pitcher with hot water. Put the half sheet pan with the bread in the oven, then pour hot* water into roasting pan below it, until you fill it about ¾ of the way. This will create a steam in the oven while the bread bakes, which combined with the egg wash, will give your bread a delicious golden crust that won’t murder the roof of your mouth.

(*The reason you don’t want cold water here is because the steam it creates when poured into the preheated roasting pan could be dangerous — hot water creates the steam with less chance of causing any burns.)

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Watch out for that steam!

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Start checking at 20 minutes, and continue baking for 2 minutes at a time until the crust is golden brown.

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I was a little bummed at how visible the seam was on this baguette. Then I tasted it, and all was well.

Your only challenges now will be waiting for it to be cool enough to handle so you can eat some, and once that happens, trying not to eat half a baguette in one sitting. I have failed at both challenges and am not even a little embarrassed to say it. It’s so delicious I dare say you will impress yourself and your friends, and the return is that much more amazing considering how easy it is!


 

French bread

Active prep time: 30 minutes                       Inactive prep time: about 3 hours

Cooking time: 20-25 minutes                        Makes: 2 loaves (2 baguettes)

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour (plus more for sprinkling)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons kosher salt (½ – 1 teaspoon fine table salt)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water

Instructions:

  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Add active dry yeast. Let sit in warm place about 10 minutes.
  2. Combine flour and salt in bowl of electric stand mixer.
  3. Running the mixer on medium speed, add warm water and yeast mixture to the flour and salt. Mix until the dough comes together and off the sides of the bowl, adding up to 1 tsp at a time of additional warm water or flour as needed. (See notes for A and B above.) Once dough comes together, run mixer on medium-medium high speed for 5 minutes.
  4. Prepare medium-sized mixing bowl with vegetable oil.
  5. Using floured hands, turn dough out to floured surface and knead by hands a few times until smooth. Transfer to the oiled bowl, turning over once or twice to coat in the oil, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set in warm draft-free place for 1 – 2 hours until it doubles in size.
  6. Remove dough to floured surface and roll out thinly to 13×8. Cut in half lengthwise. Roll each half up (lengthwise) to form a cylinder. Transfer to lined half sheet pan, seam side down, and tuck and fold the ends under.
  7. Score/Slash with sharp knife. Set in warm place to rise a second time for 1 hour, until it doubles in size again.
  8. Place roasting pan in oven, then preheat to 375. Prepare egg wash with 1 egg white and about 1 tbsp of water. Brush the bread and place in preheated oven. Fill roasting pan to about  ¾ full with hot tap water.
  9. Bake 20-25 minutes.

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Wow.

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See, the one I was all perfectionistic about came out ugly. Plain and simple. Luckily, the flavor and texture were still perfect.

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Roasted Kale Chips

My beloved picky eater Eric came home from PreK one day and announced that his class had made kale chips with their gardening teacher. That he’d had some. And more importantly –wait for it!– that he’d liked them. I went straight to his teacher to ask if this was true, and she confirmed it! Whuuut?

So after several tries, this is my very own foolproof recipe for crispy roasted kale chips. Eric’s teacher wasn’t kidding. Whenever I make this (true story, I swear), he says, “Kale for dinner tonight! Yeah!”

(Oh yeah, and right as I perfected my recipe, I saw this at Whole Foods.

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Really? Don’t you just love it when that happens? “Like this or that? Yeah well that is sooo yesterday’s trend.” Bah, don’t believe ’em.)

Start with one bunch of curly kale*. Odds are pretty good you already have the other two ingredients for this recipe: olive oil and salt. Preheat the oven to 375. kale1

Pull the leaves off the stems, discard the stems, and rinse the leaves well (at least twice, depending on how much dirt you start out with).

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Make sure the kale is dried very, very thoroughly. I always use a paper towel after the salad spinner to be extra thorough. Otherwise, if it’s still too moist, it won’t crisp up in the oven. Drying the leaves is probably the most time-consuming part of this recipe.

kale6Arrange the kale leaves on two (half-sheet) sheet pans. Drizzle each sheet pan with a 1 1/2 tablespoon (a tablespoon and half) of olive oil. Toss to coat the leaves in the oil. Then arrange them in a single layer (this is why you’ll need the two sheet pans).

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The single layers is another step that ensures that the chips crisp up properly. If the leaves are layered on top of each other, they will only steam, and stay soft.

*My quest for crispy chips is an important reason why I use curly kale and not the more popular (if we believe Food Network) dinosaur or Tuscan or “lacinato” kale. Tuscan kale is too flat. The effect is similar to roasting the kale in multiple layers or without drying it well; it comes out soggy. Curly kale, on the other hand, allows some air underneath the leaves that helps the chips crisp up. Plus Tuscan kale is often more expensive. This one’s a no-brainer.

After the leaves have been tossed in olive oil and arranged in a single layer, sprinkle each sheet pan with about  1/4 (a quarter) teaspoon of kosher salt.

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kale12Cook each sheet pan (individually) in preheated 375 oven for 10 minutes. When the kitchen starts to smell like someone in your house has bad gas (about 2 minutes in), that’s how you know the kale is cooking properly.

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The kale chips will come out looking wilted, drier, and slightly browned once they’re done. But they’ll burn easily if you’re not careful!

Sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt the moment they come out of the oven (optional). And voilà. Enjoy!

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kalepicstitch1Any leftover chips can be stored in the refrigerator for two or three days. Just take them out of the fridge about two minutes before eating them, and they’ll taste just as crispy as when they were freshly made!

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ROASTED KALE CHIPS

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • olive oil
  • salt

Cooking instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Remove kale leaves from stems, discard stems, and rinse leaves well.
  • Dry thoroughly in salad spinner followed by a towel.
  • Place kale leaves in two separate sheet pans. Drizzle each one with 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, toss and arrange the oil-coated leaves in a single layer.
  • Sprinkle each sheet pan with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  • Cook each sheet pan (individually) in preheated 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.
  • Sprinkle with an additional pinch of salt while the chips are still hot.
  • Ignore obnoxious trend-fixations and enjoy your superfoods!

 

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Am I a Feminist?

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Yes. No. I don’t know.

A bit of background.

I grew up in a pretty traditional Hispanic family. I enjoyed Disney princesses and all things girlie. I was scared of the term feminism because some men in my family thoroughly discredited the concept, and dismissed feminists as angry man-haters.

I also loved playing with my older brother’s toys, which were about 100% gender-specific. And I got into plenty of trouble for straight-up scoffing at things I saw and heard that simply made no sense to me, like a wife always (always) preparing her husband’s plate for a meal at family gatherings, or men making macho pronouncements about their macho superiority and authority. I saw so many husbands being mothered by their wives (with apparently no one seeing anything wrong with this), that I vowed to never get married. Naturally, as I grew up, I started to wonder whether maybe I was one of those “man-haters” that had so scared me as a young girl.

One thing that made my original nuclear family awesome was that they supported–indeed, they championed–its female members in achieving high-level education. My mother, sister and I are all doctors (sister is physician, Mami and I are PhDs). It was in large part thanks to this wonderful support that I finished my degree in Spanish Linguistics before age 30, and before I was married. This made me feel pretty bad-ass at the time. I lived alone for seven very happy years during graduate school in DC. During these years, I also got to see the world a bit. Alone.

The pyramids in Egypt; cappuccino in Florence; wine on a gondola ride in Venice; the Parthenon in Athens.
Eventually, I was pleased to realize that not all men are grown children. Then one day, I fell in love! My husband David and I did “shack up” before getting married (though, after I read some of the research at the time, not before getting engaged). While most people wouldn’t bat an eye at this, if you’d known me growing up, you’d know that this sort of decision could set many an eye to batting. Upon becoming a wife, I kept my own name–don’t care much for calling it my “maiden” name–instead of taking my husband’s name. Why? Simple. Thank you, Daniel Day Lewis.

I like that David talked to my father to discuss with him his intention to marry me. Of course it’s absurdly traditional, yet it didn’t make me feel like either man’s property. Maybe because I know I am no man’s property, and that these two men love me very much. Could it actually be that simple? Oh, I also love that my mother was a little p.o.’d that the phone call to “ask for my hand” was addressed to my father and not her. And when we were married, I did kind of look like a princess at our big fat Puerto Rican wedding, which we held in a church.
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May 2005

Obviously, my marriage is traditional in one important sense: It’s between a man and a woman. And there are other traditional elements when one looks at it on the surface. I cook and bake and plan parties in our house. David typically deals with plumbing and electrical issues, takes out the trash and recycling, and shovels snow. These happen to be our respective strengths. But the balance between tasks has always been equal.
Four-and-a-half years ago, we had a baby boy. When I became pregnant (biggest shock of my life!), I always thought I would go back to work before our son had celebrated his first birthday. And then, I didn’t. And this is just us, okay? But David and I determined that we wanted one of our baby’s parents to be the person who spent the most time with him in his early years. Given our respective salaries (I was working as a Spanish professor, he’s an attorney), deciding who stayed home was a no-brainer.
I would make the same decision in a heartbeat if given a do-over. Once again, though, like the choice to keep my own last name after getting married, I am in no way making pronouncements or statements by means of this choice. It was a simple case of two spouses discerning what their gut told them worked best for their family, and acting on that. Thankfully, and very importantly, we have a choice in the matter to begin with.
Now. I don’t know how parenthood impacts the roles of each parent in same-sex marriages (hallelujah for that, by the way). But here’s something I think a lot of married hetero moms like me can tell you: There is no bigger game changer and gender role divider in a marriage than having a kid. Boom. It’s crazy. This recent article is an excellent example of the apparent inevitability of this dynamic.
No matter how awesome a husband is at washing dishes, changing diapers, doing laundry, being there when the kid is sick (and in this regard, I have hit the PowerBall in the husband lottery), you’re the mama. Robert DeNiro’s prosthetic “manaries” in Meet the Fockers were funny. Ha ha. But only mamas can do the nursing. My kid looks to Daddy for rough-housing, and to Mamá for …  well, softness. And once the mom makes the decision to stay home? Fuggedaboudit.
The single most important reason why I am able to be an at-home wife and mom without feeling like a doormat is because of the kind of husband I have. Because I’ve always felt like his equal. And there is not a minute of his time outside of his day job when he takes for granted that I will be the parent on duty. This is key. This is critical. Therein lies my jackpot.
My loves in November 2010.
The thing is, my current uber-traditional family role still compels me to reevaluate the issue of being a feminist. And I’m not even sure of the answer right now. Let me break it down a bit more.
 
Gloria Steinem is one of my all time personal heroes. Any time I see a man acting like a baby, or pontificating (ugh, ugh!), I have to actively remind myself to breathe, in order to curb the sudden and urgent desire to smack him someone. Articles like this one make my stomach churn. I have been judged and chastised my entire life, by both men and women, for being too opinionated and assertive.
On the other hand, I’ve also been referred to as “floofy” on account of my taste for girlie things. And I was recently teased by friends because I liked receiving flowers from my husband. The latter two were by women. Striking a nerve on both sides of the equation? Now there’s something I find interesting.
Some of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes.
But then I’m further confused by mixed messages. Like some married women not wearing wedding rings, and others straight-up rejecting engagement rings as barbaric. And apparently, they’re not barbaric because of unjust and violent diamond mining practices (this is actually a conversation I would be interested in having), but because of the old, awful, misogynistic trends associated with marriage and engagements back in the day. Way back in the day.
Wait, what? It’s based on this that we’re rejecting engagement rings? Please. Then why get married at all? If we were to really examine old practices and how they’ve been used to oppress women over the ages, no thinking woman ever would willingly get married to a man, much less leave her body open to the possibility of making a baby. Who, after all, gets to dictate the terms of what an object like an engagement ring symbolizes for two grown individuals in the 21st century?
Then there’s the wedding ring itself. Once, many years ago, I asked a married woman why she doesn’t wear a wedding ring. Boy, did she pounce! Something about how she shall not wear shackles because she is no man’s slave. Let me tell you something. This is a woman I love and adore, and have done most of my life. She is one of the kindest people I know. But ring or no ring, she does very little outside her capacity as daughter, wife, and mother, and her life basically revolves around the needs of the men in it, with no pursuits of her own, not even a “coffee can plan” down the line. It breaks my heart to say it. But who cares about whether or not you wear a piece of metal around your finger? I’m left scratching my head (more like shaking it) at the utter pointlessness of making statements for statements’ sake. Empty words, man–I mean woman! Here’s an idea. How about we lighten up, and get smart about picking our battles? Okay, that’s two ideas, but you get the idea.
I now, finally, understand Wayne Dyer’s frequent statements about how we should focus on being for things rather than against them. He is likely referring to the reactive “anti-” types, the very same types who seem fixated on making statements for statements’ sake. You know them, ’cause they’re all over social media. And there’s almost always something riling them up. I’ve noticed this particularly among particularly cynical women–this blog post is, after all, about feminism.
An example. Any time that “good feelings” are too readily available, such as the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with fall or the winter holiday season, or romance, such good feelings are rejected almost on principle. I think–I think?–these women view “feel-good,” or anything pleasing on an accessible, simple level, as incompatible with critical thought and/or intellectual sophistication. Which leads me to wonder, is cynical the new cool? Oh dear. If so, I am hereby cementing my status as uncool for life. That’s okay. With the exception of a very short-lived and confusing time in the fourth grade, I’ve never, ever, been one of the cool kids. All I know is, I grow weary fast when gratuitous reactivity distracts from the stuff worth fighting for, and god(dess) knows we women still have plenty of worthwhile battles to wage.
Another example. A lot of feminist women are dead against being asked by men to smile while they are, say, walking down the street. I get that. And I don’t. I remember being the target of cat calls one time when I was taking my baby for a walk in our neighborhood. I mean, this was very disrespectful and crude. Make no mistake. I laid into that guy like Hannibal freaking Lecter. That said, I like to smile. And I once asked a man to smile, and that got me an expedited passport for a trip to Mexico (the story is here).
My point is, there are enough mixed messages that I don’t always know where I fall on the question of feminism. It’s a question, like so many others, that can’t–and should not be–oversimplified. Clearly.
For now, my plan is this. I will continue to be the cook, baker, event planner, and travel agent in my household. I will also be the parent who is consistently home when our kid comes home from school. Most of my decisions in the foreseeable future will be conditioned by the needs of my family. I will also continue to go by the family name I was given at birth. And I will continue to pursue my writing and other passions. I will not become a martyr mother. Furthermore, I will not mother my husband. What is up with that?! And I will fix a plate of food for him mainly in direct proportion to him doing the same for me. Next time I’m in the presence of a pontificating narcissistic male type, I will actively remember to breathe. Next, I’ll remind myself that smacking the offender is never rarely the answer. Most times, not even trying to set him straight will be worth it. Instead, I will endeavor to recognize the equality and full humanity in him, too, in the spirit of Gloria Steinem’s quote above. And maybe then I will know I’m a true feminist!
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My ode to the everyday mundane

Let’s see. What did I do on Thursday?
6:15AM. Meditated for about 20 minutes before getting up and going to the bathroom.
7-7:45AM. Spent some time writing. My first novel is nearly complete, but it has been harder to see real progress writing in 30-45 minute spurts per day. Still, I’ll take it!
7:45AM. Made and ate my delicious breakfast.

Fresh lemon juice being squeezed in my water. Maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon in my oatmeal as it cooks. Puerto Rican coffee brewing. These are the comfort smells I bask in every weekday morning. And the sun coming through the windows this morning was glorious, too.

8:30AM. Walked into my 4-year-old son’s room with a huge smile on my face, telling him how delighted I was to see him, how much I love him, how precious he is to me.
8:33AM. Walked out of son’s room and closed the door while he threw a bit of a hissy fit, refusing to get out of bed, demanding cocoa rice crisps for breakfast. I had made oatmeal. Not happening, buddy.
Went back in his room a short while later, struck a deal with him, and got him to calm down.
8:40AM. Helped him get dressed, came downstairs.
8:45AM. Started a load of laundry.
8:50AM. Served my son his oatmeal with berries for breakfast. Sat and played with him with his globe and world map. While he happily devoured his oatmeal.

The button for Spain on the globe isn’t working well. Should I read anything into this? I can’t help laughing every time he complains, “Spain isn’t working!”

9:30AM. Baked a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars, with the help of my sweet boy. These guys I live with have an incredible sweet tooth. As much as possible, I try to have something homemade every week to satisfy that. Just because they have a sweet tooth doesn’t mean they should eat crap. Wait. Did I just sound a little bit like Gwyneth Paltrow? Poor woman’s had a rough week. Yet I still like her.

One bowl. No sifting. No electric mixers. And you should have smelled it baking–holy mother of G. See that little hand in the upper right hand corner, stealing a few chocolate chips? Two minutes later came the question, “Now can I have cocoa crisps?” For about the 20th time. At 9:30 in the morning.

10AM. Washed all the dishes from breakfast and baking.
Absently answered yes when boy asked if he could use his scissors to practice cutting up a piece of paper. Realized later that the piece of paper was a to-do list that my husband and I started back in February. We had gotten through most of the things, but there were a few items left to check off.

Who needs checklists anyway.

10:30AM. Began to make dinner. Tex Mex pasta salad with corn and roasted shrimp. Allowed little man to watch Finding Nemo in Spanish. Kept mum when he declared repeatedly that Dory is Nemo’s mom. He has not watched the opening scene of the movie. We’ve tried telling him Dory is a friend. He insists she’s his mother. That’s okay for now.

Wish I’d had lime and black beans. Still though …! And it was dinner for two nights.

11:30AM. Washed dishes from dinner prep.
12PM. Heated up rice for boy’s lunch. Heated up a veggie “chicken” patty for me. Ate lunch together while playing some more with the globe, and trying to talk on the phone with my parents.
12:45PM. Washed lunch dishes, while, again, trying to talk to my mother on the phone.
1PM. Folded laundry.
1:25PM. Sat down with my after-lunch cup of green tea. Played with my son a little more. Talked to him about weekdays vs. weekend days, and who’s who in our family. (“La mamá de Mamá se llama Abuela Norma,” etc.) This week he can’t get enough of maps, calendar days, and family trees. It’s an improvement over last week, after his trip to the hospital (documented in previous blog post HERE), when he wanted to have entire conversations about vomiting.
2PM Took the boy upstairs for his “naptime/quiet time.” Sometimes he sleeps. Those are the only times he is quiet. Spent some time singing and cuddling with him, practicing more words and spelling. Thought about how I will miss our afternoon cuddles once he starts school full time.
2:45PM Laid down in my own bed for my own bit of quiet time. Half-meditated. Half-napped. Half-tried not to be mad at my boy for being so loud while he played in his room. Hang on, I’m up to thirds now, not halves. Oh whatever. At least he was staying in his room!
3:20PM The little man actually fell asleep. Wow, that means I have a bit more time! Came downstairs. Began blog post. Downloaded and sorted all the photos I took for it. Treated myself to this.

The secret is to use a lot more chocolate chips than the recipe calls for. That way it looks like very little dough with a gooey, dense chocolate filling running all through the center. I think I nailed it.
Worked on photos and blog post for about an hour, while in the background (on the TiVo), Oprah interviewed Eckhart Tolle.
4:55PM. Got boy up from nap. Watched Dora the Explorer.

5:30PM. Awesome husband came home. I decided to forgo the day’s workout.
6PM. Washed and dried my hair. Good thing I had saved up my energy for that.

You think this hair happens naturally? Actually, it looked nicer before I got rained on. Ah well.

6:50PM. Ate delicious pasta salad with a glass of white wine.
Loved watching my guys enjoying the oatmeal chocolate chip bars.
7:30PM. Continued work on blog post while husband washed dishes.
7:55PM Placed Amazon order for robot-themed thank-you notes, for the gifts my son received at his birthday party last weekend.
8PM. Went upstairs. Put away clean laundry and laid out clothes for son and me for preschool Friday morning, while husband gave boy his bath.
8:15PM. Sat with husband and boy while they read Nemo together. Laughed with them every time Dory speaks whale. Nemo is popular in our house this week.
Said bedtime prayers.
8:55PM. Felt like winding down after boy went to bed, so I watched some TV. Celebrity Ghost Stories. Oh yeah baby.
10:30PM. Teeth brushed. In bed. Wrote in my journal. Read from the novel I am currently reading, Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline. Realized how much I am enjoying the book, wished briefly I felt a little more awake at that hour. But hey, I was the one who chose watching Celebrity Ghost Stories over reading Orphan Train, thus reasserting that balance where low-brow just beats out high-brow stimulation at the end of most days for me.
Tried saying a more few prayers/having a few more thoughts of goodness before falling asleep around 11 o’clock.

Somewhere along the way, I also wrote several emails and texts. I also wondered how my living room got to be such a mess, when it was tidy just one week ago. I never left the house. Had little contact with people outside my family. I had very few adult conversations, and the few that I had did not have any particular depth or sophistication. I wore sweats all day, until I “upgraded” to jeans for dinner, after my shower.

Why am I sharing this? I don’t think an average day of mine is any more interesting or busy than yours. Taking a note from Eckhart Tolle, I think that trying to be interesting is kind of like trying to be good, or witty or sophisticated or PC and tolerant. There better be something there to back it up, or people eventually notice. So I try to not try. And I know you’ve probably been subjected to the occasional Aren’t-I-fahscinating Facebook post by someone you know. I have, too! Nor do I think myself superior for choosing to be at home full time; let’s please not go there.

March hasn’t exactly been an uneventful month in our family, with a series of health crises and scares. I’ve talked about some of them, and some I haven’t. My day was nothing more than an average, routine, busy day at home. It was gloriously uneventful, and for that I am grateful. That’s all!

Oh. Of course I caved and let him have cocoa rice crisps. It was his mid-morning snack. After baking, before Finding Nemo, seated at the table. Take heed, boys and girls. If you change your tactic from whining to asking for what you want ever so politely and sweetly, over, and over, and over again, you’re likely to have much better luck getting it!

But wait! It’s Saturday afternoon, and I am writing these lines two days after I started the blog post. So. This happened yesterday.

Remember how my boy and his globe with the malfunctioning Spain button have been inseparable? Well, he accidentally dropped the damn thing on his foot. Noooo! Ugh, man.

So far, no urgent medical intervention has been required. Not that it won’t be; I plan to take him on Monday if it still looks and hurts this bad. Hey, at least we avoided the ER this time! And until Monday, we are keeping the kiddo off his feet, and keeping the toenail clean, with plenty of ice on. It’s a rainy weekend in DC. Good for staying at home on the couch. Guess what movie is playing downstairs–first in Spanish, now in English–at the close of this blog post … ? We are now a household with varying degrees of proficiency in English, Spanish, and Whale.

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Mexican lasagna / Food blogger envy

 

 “Jealousy is a very ugly thing, Dorothy. And so are you in anything backless!”

(Image from Starstills.com)

 

This line is among my top-40 favorites from The Golden Girls, one of my top-3 favorite sitcoms of all time. I agree with Sophia, that jealousy is a very ugly thing. In fact, I was recently thinking about this when I was pondering the question, what makes people snarky? I may blog about that one soon. In the meantime, I truly believe that rare–and lucky–is the man or woman who can honestly say they don’t feel jealousy with some frequency in their day-to-day life. And because I am talking true honesty here, I will tell you that I too experience my fair share of jealousy. Ugh.

I am jealous of people who live in Paris, women with easy straight hair or thighs that don’t rub together when they walk, men’s ability to go to the bathroom within a wide and flexible array of contexts, people who can eat certain foods without getting heartburn. The thing is, though, there is only so much I can do about many of these things. And that’s if I even wanted to. I am not going to go out and straighten my hair because–hello!–that would cancel out the easy part. The last time I tried to go to the bathroom standing up (after spending a lot of time around my brother and our male cousins), I was about 4 or 5 years old and it didn’t go very well. But I know I have had, and will have, plenty of other lifetimes for that one, and meanwhile I quite like being a girl in this one. And my thighs are an issue that I take one day at a time.

I stumbled on a new trigger for my jealousy through my tireless online searches for new recipes or tips on reinventing old ones. My love of cooking runs deep and sometimes borders on compulsion. I don’t boast much high-brow sophistication in my cooking (or in anything else I do), but I do like to think that it is healthy and flavorful comfort food. So seeing all the food blogs out there was starting to make me a little jealous. This blog post is simply in the interest of my own happiness: I figure that if I can knock off one of my jealousy triggers, it should make me happy.
Here, then, is my recipe for Mexican lasagna. It is half-vegetarian (for me), with pieces of chicken breast on the other (husband’s) side.
Ingredients:
1  4oz. can of diced green chiles
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
8 oz. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup dry black beans, cooked (or 1  15oz can)
2 cups corn kernels
6-8 small flour tortillas
vegetable oil (for frying the tortillas)
2 small or one large zucchini or yellow squash, cut into 1-inch half-moons
1 small onion or half of a large onion (about 1/2 cup sliced)
1 bunch cilantro (nothing against haters of cilantro who think it tastes like soap, other than, well, you’re so wrong)
1 pint (=2 cups) half and half
1 chicken breast (2 if using chicken throughout the entire casserole)
1/4 tsp thyme
salt and pepper
Optional: your favorite salsa
Use a 2-Qt rectangular baking dish
Where I cut corners: buying canned chiles. Ideally one would roast poblano peppers, then peel them, remove the seeds, and dice them up. The main reason why I chose not to, aside from time, is that so far I haven’t been very good at it. I also bought salsa rather than making my own (not that I don’t have a fabulous, foolproof salsa recipe) for this particular dish.
Another area for cutting corners was to use frozen corn. I love how fancy it looks to cut the kernels off of ears of corn, and it’s awesome for when fresh corn is in season and you don’t mind having corn flying all over your kitchen. Using (thawed) frozen corn is pretty decent too, that’s all.
Areas where I did not cut corners: I like to start with dry beans and cook my own rather than use a can of beans. Three main reasons. 1) It is a lot cheaper. 2) I have often gagged when opening a can of beans and seeing that slimy goo that they have been sitting in. 3) This way I have a lot more control over the texture and flavor. I just cook about 1/2 cup of dry beans with half an onion, some of the same cilantro I bought for the recipe, and a bay leaf, with salt added toward the end.
I also grate my own cheese. It is significantly cheaper, and I do think there is a difference in freshness.
Cooking instructions:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan, and sauté onions for a few minutes. Add the cooked beans, the chiles, and the zucchini, with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook until the zucchini just starts to get tender.
Melt the other 2 tablespoons of butter in a different pan. Sauté the garlic for about one minute, then add the corn, thyme, and 1/2 salt, plus another pinch of pepper.
When everything is combined, stir in the half and half. Cook the mixture for about 5 minutes. Cool a bit, then transfer to a blender, and puree. Taste for salt and pepper, it may need a bit more. It will appear chunky and not completely smooth, because of the corn; that’s okay, trust me. This garlicky, creamy corn sauce is the key to the unique awesomeness of this dish.
Roast the chicken breast for the meat-eater(s) in your family. Then shred or cube up the chicken.
Fry the tortillas for about 30 seconds on each side. This makes them more manageable. And very importantly, it makes them puff up, which provides an incredibly rich layer in the lasagna that I find similar to pastry. It’s that good. A cumbersome step, to be sure, but so, so worth it.
Begin the layering! First, spread 1/4 of the corn cream sauce on the bottom of the dish (see how it’s lumpy?).
 Add one layer of tortillas. You will need to cut some up to make them fit.
Layer half of the zucchini/bean/chiles mixture across the dish. Add half the chicken on one side of the dish.
Add a third of the shredded cheese, and chopped cilantro (about 2 tablespoons).
Repeat process: 1/4 sauce, tortillas, the 2nd half of the zucchini/beans & chicken*, 1/3 cheese and cilantro.
*Important note: If, like me, you feel strongly about keeping half of it vegetarian, make sure you keep the chicken on the same side of the dish during the second round of layering!
Add another 1/4 of the sauce and one more layer of tortillas. Top with the final 1/4 of the sauce, and the final 1/3 of cheese and cilantro (I added some cheddar at the end because cheddar is my husband’s favorite and it was his birthday.)
As with most of my cooking, I prepare this in the morning, then keep it in the fridge until dinner time. Then, I put it on a sheet pan (in case the cheese and sauce runneth over) and cook in a preheated 375 oven for about 20 minutes covered, 20-30 minutes uncovered until it’s bubbling and browned on top.
Hearty. Spicy. Yum. And dinner for easily two nights in my house. P.S. Yes, I forgot the salsa. It can add nice flavor and moisture, but really isn’t needed. The corn sauce, on the other hand …
Oh and we followed it up with this beauty.
Chocolate cake with pecans–pecans for the birthday boy, but on one side only for the kiddo who dislikes chunky nuts in his dessert; food segregation is quite important in our house!
I had vowed, after the holidays, to not bake a single thing in all of January–this was January. So this blog post could also be filed under “will I never learn?” I had good reason, though. We were snowed in and the man deserved birthday cake.
What’s my takeaway on jealousy? I believe like Iyanla Vanzant: “Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self.” It would be an impossible–and miserable–life if I was always trying to keep up with whatever makes me jealous about the perceived lives of others. But I have to say, writing this has made me very, very happy. Wow! The kind of “jealousy” that propels me to go after something that brings me joy? Yes, please, thank you. As for spending more, longer time in Paris? Timing is everything, and I am prepared to be patient.
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Never! Part 1

I am all for strong principles and values. I have many of them. Those close to me know that when I feel strongly about something–which is something that happens … all the time–I go on and on about it. Also? I can’t
imagine life without the magic of changing my mind. Here are some things I
vowed I would never do.

When I woke up this morning ready to publish this post, this was the message on my Louise Hay calendar.
 Wear Crocs. Sure, I still think there has never been an uglier shoe, but oh, how my feet love them! Own an iPhone; this one is still a very
new experience for me, and it’s growing on me, folks. Get married. Ha! I thought I could never live with a
boy; now I live with two.
Give up meat. Okay, I still eat fish and sometimes require bacon. Otherwise, no meat for me. I was the biggest eater of red meat you ever met. I make a mean chili and I am certain—sorry, West coast folks—that Five Guys makes a superior burger than In-N-Out. Trust me, I have sampled plenty of both. One of my favorite food quotes was by Julia Child: “I just hate health food.” During my one pregnancy, I developed a strong aversion to red meat, and I never
fully got over it later on. Added to that, it dawned on me that it’s up to me to set an example of health habits for my son. I also got this goofy idea that my body is worthy of reverence, and that treating it well entails being mindful of the foods I put in it, and living in harmony with the planet and all living things. It’s been a year and a half of yoga, meditation, and exercise, and now my favorite food quotes are by Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” (Not that I don’t still love Julia Child … although, did you know she was a hater of cilantro?!)
Case in point, I had made it 38 years on this bountiful
Earth without putting a single brussel sprout in my mouth, let alone trying to make one edible. Then I went and did this last week: a pound of brussel sprouts, and not a clue of what I was going to do with it. Oh, and my husband has always made it clear that he does not care for brussel sprouts. He blamed the impulse purchase on me watching too much Food Network; he’s probably right. But hey, I made this salad, and even he had seconds. Yum. Who knew. And the point is, never say never!
Perhaps my favorite lesson of this lifetime is the unlikely friendships I have found through simply being more open. I have met people whom I’ve rushed to write off as “too different.” And I have loved being wrong about them. Sure, I’ve been wrong about people in reverse, too. And that is perfectly okay. Because few things have made me happier in this life than my so-called “unlikely” friendships, or rediscovering old ones.On the subject of friendships, how can I not talk about Facebook? I swore left and right, never, ever. Ever! Some friends who knew of my reluctance now like to point out my newfound status as an avid user. I get it, it is funny. In fact, I’m still ambivalent about a lot of it. But I am also grateful for the chance to
keep in touch with people I care about through this most ubiquitous medium. It’s not going anywhere, and if I can’t beat ‘em …Some of my nevers remain pretty firm. I doubt that I will ever eat red meat again. Or that I will learn to ski or ice skate. Ever. It’s my firm belief that no self-respecting Puerto Rican has any business enjoying anything outdoors when it is cold and snowy. And I am pretty sure I will never see a Quentin Tarantino movie. Or anything like the movie The Departed, even though I actually love Martin Scorsese. Next time he makes a movie based on a
book by Edith Wharton, I’m the first one there.

All the things that fall in our I-vow-to-NEVER! category are an ultimate “other.” That so much of my life now consists of embracing so many things I once swore off is a joy I can’t quite articulate. It also makes thoughts of the future very, very exciting.

Because it’s Christmas Eve morning, here’s another first for me, which only happened yesterday: making English toffee. Me making English toffee? Please. I still haven’t found a proper Spanish translation for it. Where I come from, if there’s no coconut in it, a food can hardly qualify as a Christmas sweet. But my husband loves toffee and he loves pecans. And I love him! The best shot would probably have been one of my face of panic as it started to boil hard, and I kept stirring furiously while trying to read the temperature. Finally, I relaxed, after ditching the annoying thermometer and relying on my sense of getting the color right. I’ll tell you, folks, I think I nailed it! Happy Christmas Eve!

 

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