The Concept of Free Time/ Ode to a Young Family

My husband and I had some neighbors over the other day, both retired, and at one point they asked me- “You’re so busy! When do you get free time?”

Now, we were cooking and doing some minor kitchen cleaning afterwards, juggling a mildly fussy baby (we would find out less than eight hours and a fairly sleepless night later that she had an ear infection) and 2 well behaved but energetic older girls… music on, dog wandering around, etc. The question took me aback a bit- I didn’t even know how to answer! Is there an answer? Because this life- I don’t see any of that as not free time! It’s busy but not exhausting. Full but not taxing. Requires pretty constant effort, but not draining. And yet it was so foreign to them they were close to being shocked by the noise and pace of it. (and we’re not a pot banging, child screeching crew, mind you.)

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I don’t know. I guess it’s because I work in an empty house all day by myself and travel and have all the free time I could want in the hotel rooms in the evenings… and I hate it. All I want is to get back to the bustle here. Free time isn’t exactly fun time- give me my four favorite people in the world all in one spot, existing together- I’d never want for more.

Sure. I don’t paint much these days, but I could if I wanted to without causing hard feelings. Or write. I conveniently use the general humm and cadence of the household to complain I can’t exercise… but I could if I wanted to. (Do. Not.)

And I guess, there are definitely days where I’m not keeping up. (Is running behind considered exercise?) The laundry never seems like I get in front of it. And the floor, well I think I wrote a blog post about it the last time the floor was mopped (before Christmas 2016, if memory serves).

And while I certainly don’t need their sympathy for the busy young (ha!) couple down the street… the husband and I will take our kind neighbors up on it; because they’re offering to let us step out for a date night soon. And if memory serves the last one of those we had was around my birthday in August. Unless you count the other ones, that is. The date nights that were every  other night after that. And mornings. And afternoons… and I wouldn’t trade a one of them for all the open hours in the day.

The Occasional Recipe Post: Italian Wedding Soup

You know, the only soup I’ve ever had at a wedding has been Menudo, but I dig the concept. And I forget exactly where I first read about Italian Wedding Soup, but I do remember why it piqued my interest. The article I was reading was written by some mother who mentioned this soup was her daughter’s favorite and the prepackaged brand she bought was discontinued and she didn’t know what she was going to do. DIDN’T KNOW WHT SHE WAS GOING TO DO. Sheesh. That reminds me of stories about people getting trapped on escalators because they stop moving or people who are locked out of their car because their key fob batteries died. Are we that helpless, humanity? Make the soup yourself, that’s what you’re going to do.

The mix of beef and chicken broth adds depth to the soup and means you’re getting beef, pork, and chicken in this meal. Making it like a Turduckin… in no way whatsoever. And maybe double the meatballs and freeze them after you brown them- that’d be a nice jump on the next batch of soup or you could finish cooking them and toss them in pasta for a quickie meal down the road. Also? Some people drizzle beaten egg in this for egg streamers like in Egg Drop Soup. I like my eggs in birthday cake, so I don’t do that.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Refrigerate meatballs for 1 hour prior to cooking
Cooking Tine: 45 minutes

For Meatballs:
Not exact science here- mix ratios till the meatballs stick together. For this soup the smaller you can get the meatballs the better; I aim for large blueberry sized, myself but usually end up at gumball sized.

1.5 lbs. ground pork
1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ tsp. salt
Pepper to taste (around 1/3 tsp.)
¼ finely chopped onion

For Soup:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
2 cups thinly sliced kale
1 cup cooked Israeli couscous (orzo or other small pasta as a sub)
2/3 cup finely chopped carrot

Garnish with grated Parmesan

Mix ground pork, egg, milk, grated Parmesan, onion, garlic, salt and pepper together well in a large bowl until evenly mixed. Form into small meatballs, place on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for an hour. (This keeps them from falling apart when you brown them)

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in large pot. Add meatballs in batches (don’t crowd the pot or else they steam and don’t brown) turning regularly to brown all sides. Remove to a clean bowl or platter. Or plate. Just not the contaminated with raw pork bowl you used earlier is what I’m saying. Once all meatballs are browned and removed from pot add chopped carrots and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add broth, scraping the bottom to loosen the browned bits (they add mucho flavor) and add kale. Simmer for 30 minutes

In a separate pot cook the Israeli couscous or small pasta. Set aside (Yes. I know. Israeli couscous in Italian soup? That’s the Diaspora for you.) Tradition calls for a small, round pasta I’ve never ever found in stores anywhere, but Israeli couscous looks awfully similar to my eye, and was conveniently in my pantry already. Any small pasta will do though, orzo, stars, etc. Just cook it separately or it will suck up too much of the broth as it cooks. Also store it separately or it’ll get mushy and ruin any leftovers.

For the last 15 minutes of cooking add the browned meatballs back to the soup and continue to simmer.

Fluff the Israeli couscous or drain the pasta then add desired amount to individual bowls. Ladle in soup and top with more grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Newsflash- sometimes growing up is hard… I’m breaking new literary ground here, don’t I know it.

I remember a few years ago there was an impromptu reunion from my graduating class at Wurstfest (roll with me here- it’s a sausage festival in my hometown. It’s kinda a big deal round these parts). Now, I was there that evening because my husband and I had worked at my family’s booth at the festival. And we happened to walk through the area where this reunion was to be held for various reasons, none of which was that I wanted to be there.

At one point I heard my maiden name called really loudly. Excitedly. I might have even recognized the voice. Did I turn around and greet an old friend or classmate? Hell no I didn’t. My instinct was to drop my head into my shoulders and pick up the pace out of there.

I’ve thought about this over the years- why that’s my default reaction to that time and people. I’m proud of who I am now. Of my husband. Of my life. But the thought of looking someone in the face and having them see me with eyes that only recognize who I was back then… I find the whole concept unbearable. I used to laugh and say I hated everyone I went to high school with. That I hated the school and this town. But that’s the easy answer. The glib answer. The incorrect one. The truth is it wasn’t all of them I hated. (Some? Yes. Most? Yes. All? Probably not, I guess)

Because I was me, this me, this 37 year old me trapped inside back then. It was like I was an egg, and the shell (breaking out of your shell- never heard that analogy before, woman! Uninventive but apt- bear with me here)– the shell was this confidence lacking awkward person who hadn’t learned to laugh at herself or life yet. For it to be such an integral part of my life now it is weird that I didn’t have humor on the radar even until I was most of the way through my senior year. But… I was this me inside. And let me tell you it’s a very odd feeling to not know how to be you. I got there eventually, but it was a mostly uncomfortable time for me.

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And so, I want nothing to do with the people who remember the egg. For fear they won’t see the feathers I’ve grown in the years since? For fear there aren’t as many feathers as I think? Maybe.

Or maybe they really do all suck and I’m overthinking this. That could be it too.

But here’s my point- for my children I want nothing more than to make life easier for them. AND YET, it’s the difficult parts of my own life that made me who I am today. How do I weigh what is good for them against what is better for them? All the while knowing not everyone makes it out of difficult situations the same way I did?

All the baby books talk about breast milk vs. formula, or cosleeping vs. cribs… someone needs to write about the vastly more tricky parental decision of weighing character building vs. mental anguish protection for our children. I’d read it.

Nature vs nurture has nothing on establishing backbone vs. hardships unknown lemme tell ya.

 

Recipe Post: Penne Pasta with Wine Sauce and Sun-dried Tomatoes

And… another recipe post. These will automatically tell you that the paralysis of going too long without a post has set in and so I trot out the already created content as a way of knocking myself out of it. It’s like my L Dopa. (Oliver Sacks reference there. Drink up.)

And , as I’ve mentioned before, I am working on a LONG running project of trying to finish a cookbook which is why I have so many recipes as existing content to use. This is ongoing from 2011 and it’s about damn time to not have hanging over my head anymore. Write a cookbook, I said. It’ll be fun, I said…

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You’ll need a couple of these. Image by Andrzej Jakubczyk

 

Penne Pasta with Wine Sauce and Sun-dried Tomatoes

I would recommend memorizing at least one recipe- it impresses the hell outta your friends if you bust it out of thin air at their house. Also it’ll mean you are pretty guaranteed* to not forget ingredients while grocery shopping. This is the one I always can pull out of the ether,  hippocampus, or wherever memories are actually stored. Typing sounds. Google tells me memories are stored in the limbic system of which the hippocampus is a part. Jesus. Did my hippocampus actually just remember that the hippocampus is where memories are stored?! It’s too damn early for this.

Oh. Does that literally tell you NOTHING about this recipe? Okay, well let’s see, This is universally loved by everyone from the 1 year-old through inlaws and all kids/ teens/ adults in between and that’s great considering the amount of onion it has in it. Ummm… it doesn’t need a side dish- like what a huge plus that is, right? Reheats well for next day lunches (woot, woot- right teachers?), and… ah! Is vegetarian! But not vegan- because of the cheese. And seriously vegans- if you are against cheese then you have NEVER felt the relief of being a breastfeeding mother and being able to nurse after a delay in your normal schedule. Ugh… look. I don’t know where this is going either, honestly. Back to the pasta.

1 8oz. package of Penne pasta

3 Tbsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

10-12 Cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

8 sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in water, drained, and sliced lengthwise

1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and cut into thirds

1 can black olives

1 ½ cup white wine, dry

Juice of half a lemon

1 cup of Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Cook pasta, drain, return to pot and put lid back on to maintain temperature. In a large skillet or sauté pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes until mushrooms have reduced in size and released their juices. Add sundried tomatoes and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add wine and lemon juice as well as artichoke hearts and olives. Continue cooking until sauce is reduced by half. Pour sauce over pasta, add Parmesan cheese, and mix to combine. Top with fresh chopped parsley.

This is also good topped with grilled chicken or shrimp, but I prefer it just like it is, honestly.

*Nope. I usually forget the olives, myself. It’d be nice if it worked that way in real life though, wouldn’t it?

Happy Holidays

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Something I Enjoyed in 2016: One of my greatest joys this past holiday season was replying to a “Merry Christmas” offered by a retail associate or receptionist with “Happy Holidays.” It’s akin to the 3 years I made sure my mother-in-law’s Christmas gift was wrapped in “Season’s Greetings” wrapping paper after she forwarded an annoying email about keeping Christ in Christmas that one time. (I’m off her distribution list now)

Resolution for 2017: Next year I’d like to start replying with “Happy Hanukkah” when someone wishes me a “Blessed Christmas.” We’ll see how that goes. I’m looking forward to it.