Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In the Kitchen: Stuffed Poblanos

Yeah, they're kinda messy, but that means they're good, right? I've made these three times now (so am finally confident that the recipe is ready to be shared), but have never had a chance to take good photos of them. They just get eaten too fast! Seriously. They are best right out of the oven, bubbly and hot. No time to find good light, pose my pepper and shoot. So, this is what you get. Take it or leave it.

I suggest you take it.

6-8 poblano peppers, depending on size
3 large or 4 medium tomatoes
1/2 medium white onion
2 large garlic cloves
2 tsp dried oregano
2 1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
15 oz corn, fresh (cooked) frozen or canned (drained)
4 boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins or equivalent
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime

To prepare the filling, in a food processor puree the tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a simmer in a large, deep skillet and cook for about 15 minutes over medium heat until some of the liquid evaporates and the mixture is thick and pulpy.

In the meantime, cook and shred the chicken, cook the rice and prepare the corn. If using fresh, boil the cob and cut off the kernels. If using canned, drain well. If using frozen, no need to thaw.

Once the mixture has thickened, add the corn, rice and chicken and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro, lime juice and 1 cup of the shredded cheddar.

To prepare the peppers, place them on a foil lined baking sheet and broil them on high, turning every few minutes, until they begin to blacken and the skins begin to bubble all over. Remove them from the oven and wrap them in the foil. Let them sit for a few minutes and then unwrap and let them cool.

Now you can easily peel off the skins. Be sure to handle the peppers carefully though, as they will be soft and can tear apart easily. Cut a slit up the middle of one side and cut out the seed core, scooping out any excess seeds, leaving the stem in place. I often rinse my peppers under light running water, I find it's the easiest way to get all the seeds out!

Now you're ready to stuff the peppers. Be generous! Don't worry if it's mounding up and over a little bit. Top with the remaining shredded cheese and bake at 350° for about 8 - 10 minutes. Broil for 2 -3 minutes to brown the cheese, serve with a side of black beans and enjoy!

This dish makes quite a hearty helping. Since it's just my husband and I, I usually make the filling and then prepare, stuff and bake half the peppers, using half the filling. Then we'll have it again later in the week or early the next. I reheat the filling a bit, prepare the peppers and pop them in the oven!

If you'd like to see step-by-step photos of this recipe, just leave me a comment below and I'll be sure to take some next time I make it. You can see some pics of broiling and skinning peppers in my previous Cinco de Mayo recipe post from last year here. Only difference is you're keeping the peppers whole, rather than cutting them into strips before broiling.

I'd love to hear what you think of this one, it's a new favorite in our house!

p.s. I'm just too busy this week to get a recipe card done up for this right now, but I should have it up by early next!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In the Kitchen: Spicy Black Bean Pizza

Phew! It's been a crazy few weeks. Don't you hate when those paying jobs have to get in the way of the fun stuff, like blogging? Geez. I've been talking about this pizza for at least a week and here it finally is. Since I first made it about a month or so ago, it's been on our menu three times and has become a household favorite. I'm just gonna simply say yummmmm. Yep, five m's worth. Maybe even six.

Whole Wheat Crust:
1 envelope dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 - 2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

15 oz black beans*
1 cup prepared salsa (homemade or store bought)
2 jalapenos or 1 serrano chile, cut rough chunks
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 cup diced bell pepper (red, green, yellow or mix)
1 cup fresh (cooked) or frozen (thawed) corn kernels
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 avocados, diced (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

*You can use dried or canned beans for this recipe. If using dried, soak about 200 grams and cook according to package directions (1 - 1.5 hours). If using canned, drain and rinse well before using.

To make the crust, combine yeast and sugar in water. Stir until dissolved. Add salt, oil, whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour. Stir well.

Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 5 - 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 20 - 30 minutes.

If using a metal pizza pan, lightly grease it, or you can use a pizza stone. Stretch and pat or roll dough to a 15" round. Bake at 400° for 5 minutes, until crust is dry and lightly browned. Set aside.

While the dough is rising and prebaking, you can prepare the pizza topping. In a blender or food processor, combine the beans, salsa, chile and garlic, and puree until smooth. Dice the peppers, green onion and cilantro and shred the cheeses.

Spread the bean puree over the prebaked crust and top with the diced peppers, corn, green onions, cilantro and cheeses.

Bake at 400° for 7 - 12 minutes until cheesy is bubbly and crust edges are browned. Allow pizza to cool for 5 minutes before cutting. I know, it's very hard to wait…

Top with cubes of avocado and a dollop of sour cream, if desired, and dig in!

This pizza is perfect for the vegetarians in your life. It's rich and hearty and the carnivores at the table won't even miss the meat. However, chicken does pair perfectly with the other ingredients in this dish and gives this pizza a new life for the meat-eaters. Just add bite-sized chunks of cooked chicken on top of the bean puree with the other ingredients and bake as directed.

And find more delicious recipes here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In the Kitchen: Chicken and Mushroom Macaroni and Cheese

I won't try to tell you this is one of my 'healthy' meals because… not so much. I mean, it is macaroni and cheese, after all. I will tell you that it's darn delicious though, unless you don't like shrooms, or butter, or cheese. But if that's the case, we may need to end this friendship now.

6 oz whole wheat elbow macaroni
Approx 1/2 lb chicken, cut into bite sized pieces (I use 4 tenderloins)
1/4 of a large yellow onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, diced
6 - 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
3 Tablespoons butter (divided use)
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (divided use)
1 3/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese (divided use)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and spread in an 8x8 baking dish.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 T butter, onion and garlic over medium high heat until it begins to sizzle. Add the chicken and continue cooking. When the chicken is about halfway done, add the mushrooms and heat until they are soft and chicken is completely cooked.

Add the chicken mixture to the noodles in the dish (including any pan juices) and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 T butter over medium heat until melted, add 2 T flour and stir to combine. Add 1 1/2 cups milk, paprika, salt and pepper. Increase heat and bring to a gentle boil, stirring frequently until slightly thickened. Lower heat to a simmer and add 1 1/4 cups cheese, stirring until melted.

Once melted, remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup milk. Pour sauce over chicken and pasta and mix gently to combine. Cook at 350° for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and spread remaining 1/2 cup cheese on top. Return to oven and cook an additional 10 minutes. Broil if desired to brown cheese. Serve and enjoy!

This recipes makes a hearty, but not ridiculous, amount. It will serve 2 – 4 people twice or 6 – 8 once, depending on how much you like to eat and what you serve with it. If you don't like mushrooms, just leave them out! The cheese sauce is easy and delicious and can be used with anything you like. You can also easily double the recipe (entire thing or just sauce) which makes a perfect amount for a potluck!

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

In the Kitchen: Gooey Peanut Bars

Today I have a simple treat that's as easy as it is delicious. Three ingredients and 15 minutes is all you need to make these sweet and salty peanut bars.

2 cups coarsely chopped salted peanuts*
14oz caramel squares (about 50 pieces)
1 cup mini marshmallows

*Did you know that if a word such as chopped, diced, sifted, etc comes before the ingredient, you are to measure the ingredient after you prepare it as directed. If it comes after the ingredient, you first measure the ingredient, then prepare it. So in this case, you are measuring out 2 cups of already chopped peanuts, rather than measuring two cups of peanuts and then chopping them, which would read '2 cups peanuts, chopped.'

Lightly coat an 8 inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Line the baking dish with parchment paper, letting it hang over two sides, then lightly coat the parchment with the cooking spray. Evenly spread 1 1/4 cup peanuts across the pan.

In a heavy saucepan, combine 1 tablespoon water, the unwrapped caramel squares and the marshmallows. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the caramels and marshmallows melt and become smooth.

Pour the caramel mixture over the peanuts in the baking dish, then top with the remaining 3/4 cup peanuts, lightly pressing them down into the caramel.

Let cool until solid, about 2 hours. Remove the entire square from the pan using the parchment paper flaps and cut into bars. Store leftovers in a airtight container between layers of parchment or wrap individual bars in professional grade plastic wrap for a delicious grab & go snack!

p.s. The pot you melt the caramels in will be really sticky and the caramel hardens quickly on the sides after you pour it out. You may think that you'll never get the pan clean, but just fill it with hot water, let it sit in the sink for about 10 minutes and it will all rinse right away!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

In the Kitchen: Hummus

Chances are you fall into one of three categories when it comes to hummus — you love it, you hate it or you're too freaked out to try it. I know, the consistency can get to some people. That's why I never loved guacamole, until I made it myself and left it chunky. But hummus, I dig me some hummus. I eat it almost everyday, in fact.

What's so great about hummus anyway, you ask? I'll give you three simple reasons, it'll make you healthy, wealthy and wise. Really, it's true! Let me break it down…

Healthy: The two main ingredients in hummus, chickpeas and tahini, are both good for you. Chickpeas do not contain any cholesterol or saturated fats and they are rich in protein, making hummus a favorite among vegetarians. Chickpeas are also known to be effective in preventing build up of cholesterol in the blood vessels. Tahini is also high in protein and is an excellent source of calcium.

Wealthy: Ok, so it won't technically make you money, but it will save you money! Buying hummus at a grocery store can add up quickly, but if you make it yourself using dried beans and fresh ingredients, it's insanely inexpensive!

Wise: Two more ingredients found in most hummus recipes are garlic and lemon juice. Both are filled with antioxidants that reduce stress in the body. They also work to improve immune functions and fight off bacteria and viruses. Hummus contains plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are great for improving intelligence and maintaining a healthy heart. On top of that, it also has iron, vitamin B6, manganese, copper, folic acid and amino acids that can promote good quality sleep and uplift one’s mood.

Ready to give it a try? Here's the recipe…

15 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cooked & chilled*
1/3 cup tahini (ground sesame paste)**
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (soybean or canola will work, too)

You'll also need a large food processor to make this. And by large I don't mean gigantic, I just mean bigger than those mini cuisinart choppers. I imagine you can also use an immersion blender or Vitamix, if you have one. In fact, the Vitamix would probably work best of all!

*I generally always cook with dried beans. Aside from being super cheap, I like that they are naked — no added salt or any other funny business. You can find dried chickpeas at most grocery stores and will pay about $1 for a one pound bag, which will make you about two batches of hummus.

**You may be wondering what tahini is and where the heck you can find it. This is the only ingredient you may have trouble locating. You probably won't find it at most local grocery stores, though you should be able to find it at any whole foods or natural grocer. You can also find it at a mediterranean market, which is where I purchase mine. It looks like natural peanut butter, with the separated oil sitting on top. Just be sure to stir up it really well before using it.

If you are using dried beans, soak and cook them according to the package directions, then weigh out 15 oz. I'm kind of a nut about weighing food and a little kitchen scale is really a very useful tool. When I'm trying a new recipe or baking something precise, weighing helps you get exact amounts or help you judge amounts that you can later eyeball. I meant to measure 15 oz chickpeas in cups for those without a scale, but I forgot, so I'm sorry! I'll update the post next time I make a batch (which will be soon, Im sure).

If you are in a hurry, just can't deal with dried beans or can't find them, you can use canned beans. Just be sure to drain and rinse them well before using. I've never weighed a 15 oz can after it was drained and rinsed, but it should be close enough to 15 oz to do the trick.

A couple things to note for those using dried beans. I always soak them overnight, as opposed to a quick soak method, and I also add a little baking soda to both the soaking and the cooking water. It allows the water to penetrate the chickpeas more easily, which reduces the cooking time and produces a better hummus. I also find that chilling the cooked beans, as opposed to pureeing them warm, makes a big difference in the creaminess of the finished product.

Another element that affects this is the chickpea skins. Did you just imagine yourself sitting around peeling popping hundreds of chickpeas out of their skins just pop into your head? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. It takes a little time and patience, but the result is worth the effort. After cooking the soaked beans, chill them until cold and the skins will just pop right off most when you squeeze between your fingers. This is not a mandatory step, just one that creates a smoother, richer and better tasting hummus.

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I'll continue now by saying this is one of those flexible recipes. Aside from the chickpeas and tahini, the other ingredients can be adjusted to suit your personal taste and texture preferences. And really, even the tahini is adjustable. A little more will give you a little creamier result, but also more of a sesame taste. Adding additional lemon juice will help balance this out.

I'll tell you that I like my hummus pretty middle of the road when it comes to flavors. I'm not a huge fan of garlic, I don't love it too lemony and I definitely don't love spicy foods. Perfecting hummus to your taste preferences is kind of an art. The measurements I provided here are how I love it, but they can all be adjusted. If this is your first time making hummus, I suggest you stick with the recipe and then add more or less of any seasonings to suit your taste. Other spices you can include or swap out for the cayenne are cumin, coriander and paprika. There's lots of flexibility!

Start by blending the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper in the food processor until well mixed, but not entirely smooth.

Next add the water and blend until smooth. If you'd like it thinner, you can add more water. This is also when you can give it a taste and decide if you'd like more lemon or other spices.

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You can get creative and add other flavors when pureeing, such as hot sauce, green onions or fresh herbs like parsley. Pine nuts and pureed roasted red peppers are also popular additions to hummus. You can buy jars of roasted red peppers packed in oil at most grocery stores. Simply drain the oil, reserving it, and puree the peppers in a food processor or blender until smooth, adding oil as needed/desired. If you want to make your own (which I recommend!), quarter red peppers, discarding seeds and stems, and place them skin side up on a baking dish lined with foil. Place them under the broiler until the skins begin to blister and peel. Remove them from the oven and wrap them in the foil or seal them in a zip top bag. Once cool, the skins will peel off easily leaving you with roasted red pepper flesh which you can then puree (add your favorite oil when processing if needed).

However you like it, humus is a delicious and versatile snack that is loaded with nutrients. Serve it as a dip with pita, flatbread, crackers or veggies such as sliced cucumbers, carrots and baby romaine or bok choy leaves. It's also delicious as a spread on sandwiches and wraps or for topping a salad.

If I've inspired you to try hummus for the first time, I'd love to hear about it! Alternatively, if I've inspired you to make it homemade for the first time, I'd love to hear about that, too. If you're still scared of it, well, better luck next time.

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In the Kitchen: Whole Wheat Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

Nope, they aren't buttermilk pancakes (which are always the best), but these cook up so fluffy and delicious, no one will ever know the difference. The best part is you don't need any special ingredients. If you keep whole wheat flour in your pantry and have an apple on hand, you're all set. No buttermilk, no needing to make your own buttermilk, no yogurt — just the basics. Easy-weasy-japanesey, as my high school geometry professor used to say.

1 large apple, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons raw sugar*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons oil or melted butter

*I like to use raw sugar when baking, but regular granulated sugar will work as well. If you prefer a slightly sweeter pancake or like to eat them without syrup, increase the sugar to 3 or 4 tablespoons.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg, milk and oil. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Add the egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture and stir until just moistened (the batter should be a little lumpy). Gently stir in the apples until all are coated. The key to keeping these light and fluffy is not overmixing the batter.

Pour 1/4 or 1/3 cup of batter onto a lightly greased skillet over medium heat. This is a thick batter so you may need to spread it out a little.

Cook for about 2 minutes on each side or until pancakes are golden. You know they are ready to flip when bubbles begin to rise to the surface and the edges begin to look dry.

Keep cooked cakes warm in a 200° oven if making a large batch at once. Serve warm with butter and pure maple syrup, mmmm mmmm!

This recipe makes about 16 4-inch pancakes, so it's enough for a crowd, but you can also store the batter covered in the refrigerator and cook them up throughout the week like I do. You can also half the recipe if desired. For the few tricky measurements, here's a couple guidelines: 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons; and for the egg, you can beat one egg and use half or use a small egg. Either works just fine.

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

One month without Dad

Thirty two days actually, but close enough. My last report was at nine days, and as I'm sure all of you can either guess or can relate, it hasn't really gotten easier yet, and I'm not to the point of expecting it to. The surreality of it is still as strong. The vision of seeing his lips fade from pink to white, and the realization that came with that sight, still haunts me. I still cry every day and dream of my father every night. I have no doubt I will get past all of that, though. I am able, everyday, to smile and press onward telling myself that my Dad would want me to be happy and live life to the fullest, and that is what I am bound and determined to do.

Today I decided to share an email I received. It is from a nurse who cared for my Dad while he was in the ICU getting IL-2 treatments. He spent two weeks there.

I am truly sorry for the loss of your father. In the few days I was given the opportunity to get to know him I feel truly fortunate. Your father demonstrated an incredible spirit despite the odds. In fact, I mention your father to every IL-2 patient I have now. He will always be known as the Super-Leukin Man and the first to receive most all of the doses.

Unfortunately, I experience death much more than average and though I may only have a few days or several hours to get to know the patient and family, I try my best to never forget. Steve will never be forgotten. He inspired me with his unbeatable and positive fervor throughout the most difficult challenge to face, to stay alive physically and emotionally.

Your father is a shining star.
"And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should"- Desiderata, Max Erhman

I decided to share this today because it makes my heart burn with happiness every time I read it. The inspiration he shared is really what it's all about. I said something very similar about that topic at my Dad's funeral, it was the one thing I really wanted people to remember, and to hear it from someone else was such a great gift.

Some of you know and some of you don't, that my husband was away with the Army for most of the tough times with my Dad. This made things unmeasurably harder, but that is life and we all did what we could. While he spent weeks in the field, laying on frozen ground with no food and no sleep, hiking through frozen streams in the dead of night, he would say to himself and the other guys, "At least cancer isn't breaking my bones."

So I guess my point is this… there are lots of things that make a bad day. Lots of things we can get angry about, get frustrated about, feel sorry for ourselves about. But if you're not dying, stop and ask yourself, is it really that bad? Is it really worth all the grief I'm causing myself and everyone around me?

Cheer the hell up, it could be worse. And that's not just a cliché.

Several months back I began pondering a new tattoo design and decided on a large, antique rose in the middle on my back. I've since been thinking on the perfect wording to accompany it and finally decided a few days ago…

"Being alive is the meaning."

I dare you to find me better words to live by.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oh yeah, I found it.

You all know a lot about me, but one thing you probably don't know is that I'm an avid cross stitcher, always have been. I pick it up and put it down every now and then, as with most hobbies, but it's something I've always enjoyed. As my Dad's illness progressed, my interest increased again and I've been stitching like crazy.

{Prepare for sudden subject change}

Any Mad Men fans out there? I know, I know, I'm waaaaay behind on this one. Everyone's told me how much I'd love the show, but I just never never had the time to watch it, until recently. I finally picked up season one from the library and, of course, was instantly hooked. I spent 11 years in advertising and design, and have always felt like I should have been spending my prime in the late 50s/early 60s, so aside from all the smoking (sheesh!), that totally could have been my life.

I plowed through seasons one and two in less than a week's time, but it was during the finale of season 2 that my little heart skipped a beat. Anyone remember this opening shot of the scene with Betty at the doctor's office?

It was much clearer on the TV but that's a cross stitch. A mighty big one, too. And really, could it be any darn cuter?

From that moment on it became my goal to find that pattern! With the beauty of the internet these days, I figured I could do it with no problem. My hunt proved to be a little more difficult than I first anticipated but after three weeks of super sleuthing, I had that little number in my crafty little hands!

When you think about, three weeks to find a pattern from the 40s is pretty darn amazing. But we're so used to instant results that it felt like an eternity. It did take quite a bit of detective work, but it was really fun. All that matters now is that I'm ready to start stitching!

The original piece was 2 feet wide, but was stitched on 7 count fabric! I generally use 16 or 18 count fabric, so my finished piece will be quite smaller, but still big enough to really be a stunner. Best part is, this pattern has a partner, a matching buck! You bet I'm making both.

They will definitely take me some time to complete, but I'll be sure to share some progress photos and, of course, the finished pieces!

So aside from my Mother and Fawn obsession, I stitched up many cute pieces for holiday gifts using patterns I found on Etsy and am also currently working on a few for myself, with a long wishlist to follow.

I purchased this fox pattern from andwabasabi on Etsy and stitched it up for my cousins out in Seattle.

I stitched this home sweet home up from a ChezSucreChez pattern I also found on Etsy.

I'm a big fan of single color work and silhouettes, and these entomology patterns by What Delilah Did are just too cool! I purchased the bee pattern but haven't tackled it yet.

She has some fabulous photos on her flickr page here of her pieces on display. Definitely inspiring!

I also purchased these patterns a little while back from kattuna on Etsy. I've been working on them to hang in my workspace, but I've only finished the bird so far. In mustard yellow, of course :)

I stitched a couple initials from patterns from andwabisabi for holiday gifts as well. You really can't go wrong with simplicity! The one shown above is a photo from her shop and you can find patterns for almost the entire alphabet there.

These flower patterns from Artecy are on a whole different level, but something I can't wait to take on. Aren't they beautiful?

A few of my other favorite pattern sites outside of Etsy are:
Cross Stitch Art — I absolutely love their art nouveau patterns. I have four in my to-do pile.
Stitch Alley — They have a fabulous collection of letter monograms.
Pinoy Stitch — They have a huge selection of anything under the sun! This pattern is also in my to-do pile. Crazy? Just a little.

And last but not least, I have two favorite books I have to recommend for nature lovers. The first is Roses and Flowering Branches in Counted Cross Stitch. Amazing! It's on the pricier side because it's hard to find, but totally worth it. I want to stitch every pattern in the book. (I have some photos if anyone wants to see more before purchasing it!)

The second is a book I picked up from the library yesterday, Four Seasons in Cross Stitch. I don't love every pattern in the book but the four images on the cover plus some adorable mushrooms inside make it worth the $4 for a used copy.

So, who else shares my passion? And, more importantly, did anyone else out there have the same reaction when seeing that piece on Mad Men?!

happy weekend, everyone ~ xo

Thursday, February 24, 2011

nine days without dad

It's been nine days since I watched my father take his last breath. The one thing I've heard almost as much as I'm sorry is that it will get easier with time. But that's not the case, at least not yet. It's just been getting harder.

It's 4:03 a.m. as I lay in bed typing this. I haven't slept in over a week and don't feel it coming anytime soon. Maybe this is normal. Maybe this is processing. Whatever it is, it just sucks. What are those five stages of grief? I can never remember how they go, but I'm pretty sure I have them out of order. I started with acceptance. I had so long to consider the possibility that my Dad would lose his battle, that finally accepting it felt so easy. Though I'm realizing now that once I accepted it, everything happened so fast and I never really processed it. Looks like acceptance will be coming back around again.

Denial and Isolation. This is the first stage, and I'm guessing a lot of family and friends may think I've been at this stage for some time, but I haven't and probably never will be. I'm just not a public crier, I prefer to cry alone, on my time, when I can truly process the feelings weeping from my eyes and get through them in my own way, rather than because someone in front of me is telling me how.

I'm starting to feel anger creep in for the first time. I've done pretty good focusing on all the amazing years we had as a family, feeling lucky for having 32 good years with my dad rather than 75 mediocre ones, but now I'm angry that he is gone.

I don't think I ever did any bargaining, though I have found myself looking up and asking my Dad to take the pain away.

4:12 a.m.

I need a kleenex. I had so much more to say but lost it somewhere on the way to the bathroom. It makes me sad to think that so many of you reading this right now can relate. It's not fair. Which may be the single most popular phrase in the world, but it's true.

I've been internally debating about taking this into religion, but that and politics are two things I purposely try to avoid here, and I just don't have the strength right now to delve that deep.

Am I going somewhere with all of this? No. We all work through things in our own way. I type, and it helps. I also buy shoes and eat peanut butter, but we won't go there.

I promise my blog won't be this depressing forever. I have this huge void in my soul but I have so much to fill it with. I will be back again, back to the person who smiles as much as my Dad did, the person he raised and the person he loved with all his heart and soul. Without even knowing it, he gave me the strength to get through this, so I damn well better.

4:30 a.m.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

saying goodbye

It was almost two years ago exactly that my Dad discovered what he thought was a bug bite on his leg. He was diagnosed with Metastatic Melanoma just shy of two months later. I officially gave up my hope that he would win the fight this past December 23 and he finally lost his battle today at 7:20 am. He was 59.

The house was quiet and dark. My mom and husband were sleeping, I was at his bed side holding his hand as he took his last breath. The last two years have been hard. The last eight months have been harder. The last two weeks have been the hardest and there just aren't words to describe the last few days. But it's over, and that's what we've been hoping for. Once you know you're out of options, you just want the pain to end.

I've had a long time to prepare for this moment, and I know it's helped immensely, but it's still harder than anything really should be. I know there will be times I forget that he is gone. I'm sure to hit speedial 6 on my cell phone at least half a dozen times before it really sinks in. This has been the focus of my life for so long now, I know I'll feel some confusion in the weeks ahead. It will take some time to get into a new routine, but I have lots to keep me busy and so much to look forward to.

I have nothing but good memories though. My Dad was a super cool guy and no one would protest that. It's been really nice to get messages from school day friends remembering how cool he always was to them. I've always been thankful to my parents for helping to mold me into the person I am. They set a perfect example for me to learn the important things like a strong work ethic, how to be a good person, how to cook and how to love. Most importantly they let me figure out who I was going to be, and then let me be that person.

The services are Thursday and Friday at a beautiful memorial park near my house. Dad said he wanted it to be a party, so I hope we can make it one. I'm wearing a yellow dress, figured that was a good place to start.

I honestly would have fallen apart through all of this without the amazing support from all of you. You saved me, and I think about that every day.

I'll be back in action full steam ahead once the dust settles. Soon though. I'm ready.

xox ~ nicole

My Dad and I, 1980

Monday, January 17, 2011

In the Kitchen: Meat & Mushrooms

With my parents move into my house came many things — two more bodies, two more cats, a lot more stuff and a new presence in the kitchen. While I mostly handle the household chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc), my mom does make an occasional dinner. It's usually a "childhood favorite", a meal I grew up on but just never bothered to make myself. Today, I bring you one such meal, one we creatively call Meat & Mushrooms.

If you are a regular follower of my recipe posts, you may have caught on that I am not a beef eater. There are two occasions when I eat it, and this is one. This meal is the epitome of simple, hearty goodness. Beef, onions, mushrooms — that's about it. It feels like it was transported from my grandma's kitchen in 1960 and dropped onto my counter.

1.5 – 2 lbs boneless top round beef steak
1 large onion, sliced
8 – 12 beef bouillon cubes
12 oz mushrooms, sliced
Pepper to taste

In an electric skillet (we swear by a 30 year old Lifetime brand one), place the raw beef, sliced onion, bouillon cubes and one bay leaf (if desired). Add enough water to just cover the meat and simmer, covered, for about 4 – 5 hours or until the meat is cooked to your liking. By the way, don't be scared of the onions if you're usually not a fan. They cook away into nothing but flavor which isn't oniony and gross, but essential and delicious!

Beware, this dish will make your house smell amazing all day, therefore making you really, really hungry and possibly driving your dog (and maybe your husband) crazy.

Once the meat is done, add the mushrooms and continue simmering until the mushrooms reach your desired tenderness.

When the mushrooms are done, remove the meat and thicken the liquid to make a gravy. Mix about 3 Tablespoons flour with 1/2 cup water and add to the pan. Continue adding additional flour/water until the gravy is as thick as you'd like. Add pepper to taste, and salt if you wish, but the bouillon has enough salt to last you a lifetime! This is definitely not for those on a low-sodium diet :)

Add the meat back to the pan to heat up and you're ready to eat!

We prefer to serve this over rice with some veggies, but it's delicious with mashed potatoes, too. The gravy is so good you'll want to keep any leftovers to spoon in your morning coffee, err… well, you get it.

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The year ahead (and a giveaway!)

print by laurageorge

Happy New Year, everyone! Hmmm, where to start? This may get long, so bear with me…

I thought 2009 was crazy, little did I know what I was in for in 2010. In many aspects, I have no idea what this new year will bring, though I guess that is usually the case for most people. I just happen to have every major aspect of my life hanging in the balance right now. This year I will most likely bury my father, move across the country and possibly lose my mind. But let's not jump so far ahead…

Starting with something I can control, this blog, I have some sad news. Due to the increasing demand on my time of caring for my father, I have to take a step back from blogging. I'm honestly amazed I've kept it going strong for this long. The amount of time I spend on this blog each week is just insane, but it has been a bit of a saving grace in the fact that it's something I have total control of in the midst of chaos, and I really love doing it.

My dad was admitted to the hospital in mid December due to increasing pain problems. We moved him from the hospital to a hospice facility on December 23 and brought him home (to my home) with hospice care two days ago. His cancer is spreading through his bones so fast it has more or less crippled him. He only has use of one limb, his left arm, and cannot get out of bed. He has a very large tumor on his spine which will soon crush his cord paralyzing him. He is starting gamma knife radiation today, however, and is scheduled for 8 days of treatment. It's hard to say if he will be able to handle it, but the hope is that this will slow down and shrink the growth of the bone tumors giving him a little pain relief and possibly some mobilization.

Nothing will 'cure' him at this point, so it's a matter of making him confortable, but no one knows right now whether he will live another week, another month or more, so we just continue to take it day by day. Since my 'free' time is so slim, I realized I need to devote every bit of it to doing things that, most importantly, make me money, and hopefully a few things that make me happy. This means continuing to make new jewelry when I have the time and probably some freelance design and photography work as well.

I won't be abandoning the blog completely, I just won't be blogging every day. My plan is to post at least once a week, more if I feel the urge or have the time, but to not have to worry if I don't have time at all. I'm planning to continue most of my current features and favorites so I do hope you all continue to stop in and visit. I'd like to have one Spotlight interview per month, one recipe, one craft project, a few Coutures, a contributor post and maybe some miscellaneous tidbits now and then. But you know what they say about best laid plans, so we'll just have to see how it goes :)

On a different subject, I have some fun news to share about a new adventure (which some of you already know about) but since this is getting long and I still have a giveaway to get to, I think it will have to wait another week! I know, I'm such a tease…

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Now onto the giveaway!

It's been way too long since I've had one and I thought it would be the perfect way to kick off the new year. Since I've never been good at picking just one winner, I'll be picking two and here's what's up for grabs…

Each winner will receive their choice of one of the following:

A Reversible Locket Necklace in gunmetal OR antiqued brass with your choice of flower color:

A custom Carved Stone Rose Bracelet in the color combination and style of your choice. Below are two examples but I will work with you to create a piece designed to your specific preferences.

A set of Filigree Fleur Rings, one brass and one silver with your choice of flower color:


Please leave a comment on this post with one of your new year's resolution, a goal for 2011 or something you would like to accomplish or change in the new year.

You can enter once per day with a new resolution or goal but you must include your first name AND your email address or Etsy username with every entry.

I'm going to leave this open until next Sunday night, January 9 at 9pm (EST), and will announce the winners on Monday.

Welcome 2011, let's make this one count!

xo ~ nicole