On Failing. Miserably.

April 4, 2014

If days can be categorically classified, today would fall confidently into the “bad” column. While I’d love to blame my two-year old, I know deep down that I am responsible for the column in which each day lands. But I could not get my act together today.
And neither could my boy. There is nothing that shows a parent how much their attitude sets the tone quite like a bad day.
He hears me when I lose it and growl. When my eyes widen like saucers and my jaw protrudes in infuriated stoney determination. And he echoes it back to me in making demands while smacking the floor, shrieking so he cannot hear my instruction, stomping his feet, slamming doors, and collapsing into a writhing heap on the floor. We look different on the outside, but our emotions and spirits are mirroring each other. I hate that. I hate that as a parent, I allow myself to respond with the emotion of a toddler.
At one point today I found myself on the floor in the kitchen (not so unlike my son’s posture) crying and throwing my hands up telling God he most certainly was confused about what he had called me to do and the desires he put on my heart. Life was not supposed to be a train of such insignificant and menial tasks. Futile. That is the best word to describe what my days have been reduced to. The food I make disappears with little gratitude, making messes for me to clean, filling diapers for me to change, rubbing into tiny shirts and pants that I must wash, always being smeared onto any exposed surface (especially hair). Cleaning the kitchen, washing and folding laundry, making beds, scrubbing toilets, sweeping floors, picking up picking up picking up picking up the same toys. Saying no. Saying no. Saying no. Redirecting. Saying no. Screaming no at the top of my lungs, physically removing the child from the thing and dropping said child into time out. Wondering for an incomplete and fleeting moment what proactive thing I am not doing to avoid these scenarios.
When my spouse returns at the end of a day, I have little to show for my efforts besides a soiled, frizzy, unkempt wife with crazy eyes.
This story has been told by every mother who has ever walked the earth.
But surely God heard my voice as I sat defeated on my floor.
I love my children. I would be shattered if I suddenly was no longer charged with their care. I can not imagine recovering if I ever lost them. But sometimes I wish I could put them away for a few days and live out the adulthood I imagined: Coffee shop appointments, maintaining a sharp blog, owning the best bakery in town, having a consistent workout routine, leaving the house looking pulled together, sipping something hot while watching the sunrise, reading a good book in bed, spontaneous dates where both partners are present and engaged.
Instead, every outing is done juggling two toddlers who have terribly unpredictable emotions. I write mostly mundane notes from my day on social networking sites. I bake to keep up with my bad habits. My workout routine runs a pretty perfect once-a-month schedule. Spontaneous dates are distant memories. I can not remember the last book I read in its entirety. And I fall into bed with nothing left to give long after the sunsets and roll back out after it has risen feeling much the same as when I laid down.
Life is not as glamorous as I planned for it to be. I am not as self-reliant and independent as I imagined I might be as a mother. The most perfect moment of my day usually involves toast and three seconds of silent children while a cartoon flicks on the tv.
But God hears me. And this insignificant and mundane has driven me to desperation.
I am desperate to raise children who rise above my weaknesses.
I am desperate to have a heart that makes room for Jesus amid my chaos and exhaustion.
I am desperate to point to Jesus when I throw my hands up in despair.
I am desperate to be more than the sum of my daily actions.
I am desperate to hear God’s voice over the din and allow him to bring significance to my routine.

I’ve lived for most of my life in the mid-west, but after high school, I moved for nearly 4 years to the absolute southern tip of Texas. At first I loved it. Hundreds of miles from home, my first “big adventure”, and all the tropical weather I could ever want.  However, around the 12 month mark I began to realize that paradise was imperfect. Sure, the (palm) trees and grass were always green, the sun always shone, and my tan didn’t fade. The problem, you might ask? Well…the trees and grass were ALWAYS green, the sun ALWAYS shone, and my tan NEVER faded. It was as though we lived in a gradient of only one season: summer.

I never realized how experiencing each season made the highs and lows so much richer. Here in Iowa, I live for the life-giving change of winter to spring. And is there anything more invigorating than the crisp winds of late September and October after a long and scorching summer?

In my kitchen and in regards to the foods I prepare, the change of season I relish the most is the change to summer. After so many months of root vegetables, roasts, braises, and hearty soups, I begin having deep yearnings for a fresh and vibrant salad. Last week I prepared this salad alongside bone-in pork chops for the mister and myself and the only mistake in the recipe is that it prepares too little. I want to eat this every day, all day. As it was, between the two of us, we stretched this coleslaw-esque salad about a day and a half. Next time, I’m doubling the recipe.  Here it is:

Spicy Peanut Summer Slaw (inspired by this recipe at I Made That!)

Peanut Dressing:

1/3 cup peanut oil (I didn’t have peanut oil, so we used a mix of sesame seed and extra virgin olive oil)

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

3 Tbsp soy sauce

1/3 cup peanut butter

2 Tbsp brown sugar

2 Tbsp ginger, peeled and grated

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

Juice of 1 lime

Fish sauce, to taste

Whisk all of the above ingredients together with a fork in a bowl large enough to contain the whole salad. Set aside while you prepare the vegetables for the salad.

Salad:

1/2 small head green cabbage, thinly sliced

1/2 small head red cabbage, thinly sliced

2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced

2 large carrots, shredded on cheese grater

6 green onions, sliced

1/2 cup packed cilantro, roughly chopped

salt to taste

1/2 cups roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

Once all the veg has been sliced, chopped, or grated, toss it all (except the peanuts) together in the bowl of dressing and adjust the seasonings to taste. When serving, garnish each salad with a handful of chopped peanuts. And then eat it up and revel in the summery awesomeness of it all!

This morning I hefted myself out of bed, making myself presentable at an early hour, in order to take myself down to the farmer’s market and pick up a few things for the weekend. Ok, only one thing was for the weekend, everything else was purchased for immediate consumption.
My first stop was to my favorite bakery to get a loaf of ciabatta. Upon approaching the stand, I saw that they also had beautiful ham and cheese croissants, and knew I wanted one for my own. The rolls of golden-brown dough were fully puffed with hundreds of layers flaking themselves delicately around the melted cheese and crisped ham. Whenever a croissant was removed from the display, a promising stamp of oil was left behind on the tray, a quiet testimony to the quality of the goods. Just gorgeous. I put in my order for both the ciabatta and the croissant and waited most anxiously for the buttery pastry to be in my hungry hands. A moment later, I was presented a small, dense, well-wrapped bundle. Curious that it felt different than what I saw displayed, I opened it to reveal a ham and cheese croissant that was small, dense, and less than inspiring.
Sigh.
I looked up at the dear man helping me with a confused look. He looked back at me with an equally confused look. I didn’t know what to say. Had I seen this specimen of croissant, I wouldn’t have been so eager to purchase it. In fact, after seeing it, I had absolutely no desire to eat this croissant at all. Understanding the basics of baking, I knew the pastry in hand was underproofed, and half the magic of a croissant is its fluffy, buttery, flakiness. But if I said I no longer wanted this croissant, I would look like the flaky one…or worse, a spoiled brat (not saying I am neither of those things, I’m just not really keen on fessing up to the fact).
Anyway, the man read my face like a book, and said he knew what the issue was, and selected a croissant from the much fluffier display. We finished our transaction and I went on my way.
As I carried on down the street nibbling my breakfast, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. Why couldn’t I have just accepted the croissant he had selected? Why did I have to insist on getting what I wanted? Gah, what a sinking feeling to be confronted with your own childishness and in such a public way.
But, dwelling on one’s own shortcomings is only profitable to a point. Yes, it is true I am very particular about the food I spend my money on, and often to a fault. At the same time, though, I was a paying customer and had felt tricked. It’s like that story in the Old Testament where Jacob works for years to marry his bosses beautiful daughter, only to find out at the end of the wedding ceremony that his new father in law had instead given him the less attractive daughter. Are you familiar with the story? Can you see the similarities? What? Are you saying my comparison is overly-dramatic? A slight exaggeration, you say? Well, yet another fine example of one of my many character flaws at work…
At any rate, in an effort to nurse my pride, my mind began to turn to what I would have done at my bakery if something similar had happened. And I think I learned a life lesson, perhaps not the one the universe intended (like: take what you’re given gratefully, without being self-centered), but a life lesson, nonetheless:
If you are displaying your best, don’t try and sell your worst. If you are drawing people to you with your finest offerings, then give them exactly that. This is the only way you can meet or exceed people’s expectations. Once all your best products are gone, if you are still attracting people with your seconds, and they are still willing to pay, then good for you, keep on selling! But you’ll be better off if you don’t sacrifice your integrity by advertising one thing, and delivering another.

A Tarte Tatin

September 17, 2010

What can I say? I am on a fall kick and can’t seem to stop…or actually, I think it is really just a caramel kick.

What is it that I’ve made now, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve made a tarte tatin. With apples and ginger and the most crumbly crust imaginable. And of course, with a deep and bittersweet caramel.

Maybe I need intervention. This caramel habit isn’t pretty. If there were a few more mouths to feed in this house, it might not be so bad. But there are only two. Aaron’s and mine. And, dang it, Aaron has a nasty case of “self control”. Whatever that is…

So I am left nearly alone in the battle against caramel. A war I am willing to wage because the carnage tastes mighty fine. But let me tell you, it has done nothing good for my thighs. Nothing. I’ve even resorted to running, friends. Yes. Me, moving quickly, breathing heavily, sweating profusely…all so I can eat more caramel with out living in stretchy pants and over-sized sweatshirts, not that there is anything wrong with that lifestyle. I just have a hankering to don skinny jeans every now and again.

Still want to make and eat a tarte tatin? And possibly sacrifice your well toned bodies? Me too. We’ll just fight this together.

I give you the illustrious, the elegant, the simple Tarte Tatin:

Gingered Apple Tarte Tatin

adapted from here

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

1 teaspoon light brown sugar

2-3 tablespoons ice water

1 cup and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, separated

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh or candied ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

5-6 firm and tart apples

kosher salt

whipped cream or créme fraîche (optional)

Once you have decided to make a tarte tatin, make sure you have a cast-iron skillet in your possession. Like I’ve said, and you probably already know, heavy pans help when making a caramel because they distribute heat more evenly, rather than letting the heat concentrate in one spot resulting in burned food (heaven forbid you carbonize your caramel and have to soak your pan for a week!)

Now that you have your pan, set it aside and collect your ingredients. Start by making the tarte dough first. And, as an aside: this was the absolute best pie/tarte dough I have ever made or eaten in memory. It is flaky, it is crumbly, it is buttery, it is  tender, but it is structural. All at once. A tarte lover’s dream.

To make the dough, combine your dry ingredients (flour & brown sugar) in a medium-sized bowl. Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch cubes and cut into the flour with a fork or a pastry cutter (not your warm little hands) until the butter resembles a coarse meal with pea-sized balls of butter, don’t overwork it, it won’t look entirely uniform, but that’s ok.

Next, begin adding your ice water by drizzling it over the mixture, don’t just puddle it in one spot, make sure you spread it out a bit and share the love. Toss the flour around with your fork to help to further distribute the moisture. It may still be powdery in spots, don’t worry.  When you have added 2 tablespoons, squeeze some of the dough in your hand, if it holds together, it is ready, if it crumbles apart into powder, you still need to add more water. And, a note from personal experience, err on the side of too dry rather than too wet. Too much water makes a dense and chewier crust.

Once you believe you have added just enough water, turn out your mixture onto a decent sized piece of plastic wrap. Using the edge of the plastic, fold the dough over on itself, pressing until it comes together. This should take just around 10 folds (always be wary of over-working the dough). Once it has come together, more or less, wrap the dough in the very plastic wrap you were folding it on, form it into a disk, and pop it into the fridge to chill for 1 hour.

While the dough is relaxing and chilling, you may proceed in one of two ways: If you are highly proficient and a multi-tasker in the kitchen (not a putzer, like myself)  get your caramel going by pouring 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water into your cast-iron skillet over medium high heat, and then start peeling, and quartering your apples, all-the-while eyeing, swirling, and stirring your caramel as needed and adding the butter when the caramel has reached a nice amber brown. Between monitoring your caramel and prepping your apples, combine 1/2 cup sugar with the spices, a pinch of salt, lemon juice, lemon zest, and the minced ginger in a medium bowl. Once your apples are ready, toss them until coated in this mixture, then nestle them, cut side up, into the efficiently prepared caramel sauce in the cast-iron skillet. At some point in your precisely choreographed dance through the kitchen, preheat your oven to 425°F.

If this sounds like a complete and utter disaster waiting to happen, proceed as I did: peel your apples leisurely, observe how they oxidize because you are so talented at taking your time in the kitchen. And remind the impatient apples that it doesn’t matter anyways because they will be coated in a spicy, salted, deep caramel anyway and their color will be irrelevant.

And then chop one in half, just to emphasize your point and exercise your power and control in the kitchen.

Then realize that you should have mixed your spice and sugar mixture first, and focus all your attention on completing that task next. Toss in 1/2 cup sugar, the cinnamon and nutmeg, the lemon zest followed by the juice, and finally the nearly forgotten ginger (it is a apple-ginger tarte tatin, after all), mix it all together. Once ready, toss in your apples and let them sit as your proceed onto the next step.

Proudly, remember you should preheat your oven at this point (425°F). Put your cast-iron skillet over medium high heat, add the cup of sugar and 1/4 cup water and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.

While the heat works its magic on the sugar, fiddle and tinker about your kitchen, reorganizing spices, cleaning the counter, tossing your apple peels, and day dreaming. Then, in a panic, realize you can smell the out-of-sight, out-of-mind caramel, and rush to pull it off the heat just in the nick of time. Whew! Sigh with relief at the sight of a nicely brown caramel (close call!). Add a whole stick of butter (1/2 cup), stirring it into the melted sugar.

When that is done, take your already yellowed, sugared and spiced apples and snuggle them down into the caramel, cut side up.

Lastly pull your chilling dough out of the refrigerator, and roll it out on a floured surface, covering it with the plastic wrap to keep it from clinging to the rolling-pin. Roll it out to a diameter an inch or so wider than your cast iron skillet, and around 1/8 of an inch thick. Carefully transport and lay it over your apples and caramel sauce, tucking the edges around the apples inside the skillet. Cut 6-8 small vent holes with a paring knife, and place the skillet into your preheated oven. Make sure you put a sheet of tin foil, or a sheet pan beneath the skillet to catch any caramel that may bubble over.

Bake the tarte for 45 minutes, or until the caramel is bubbling and the crust is golden. Let the tarte cool for 15-20 minutes. Then run a knife around the tarte between the skillet and the crust to loosen. Place a serving platter over the skillet and then carefully, but quickly (and confidently) turn the tarte out onto the platter. If you hesitate while doing this, you might end up with molten caramel on your person. Which hurts badly. I don’t advise it. If you are unsure at your tarte inverting abilities, I recommend seeking out a friend or family member with a greater level of experience and or confidence.

Now, enjoy the fruits of your labor with a friend…or with a dollop of créme fråiche or whipped cream, either one will do the trick.

Bathroom Inspiration

September 13, 2010

Oh my gracious. I just had to share this picture with you. It is the inspiration for our bathroom renovation…when we get around to it.

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