Category Archives: Course

Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

I really wish I could have invented silly bands or rainbow looms, but alas, I only invent things like Chickpea Salad. And even then, I didn’t really invent it, of course. But today, I had the idea to make a mashed chickpea salad in the exact same style as my favorite chicken salad — with grapes and nuts/seeds and chickpeas instead of chicken. Because I sort of hate chicken and I can’t stand handling it. I much prefer legumes to chicken — with the exceptions of a good local, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy or a real fried chicken. Otherwise I find that it takes too much seasoning and work and sauce to make it good. Bacon and filet mignon do not have this problem. I will add that I don’t really like the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner that much either. Even after brining and doing dances to the moist and flavorful turkey gods, give me the sides and the gravy and I’m happy.

So, today I present Chickpea Salad. Have it on a sandwich. Or have it with a salad. Or eat it out of the bowl. And feel free to send me royalty checks.

Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

Makes about 3-4 cups of sandwich or salad filling

1 can of chickpeas (15 oz.), drained and rinsed
3-4 T mayonnaise (more or less depending on how you like it)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup red grapes, quartered or chopped
2 T pumpkin seeds (or other nuts/seeds)
1 T lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Lightly toasted bread

1. In a medium bowl, mash chickpeas with a potato masher. Leave some mixed consistency, but not whole chickpeas.

2. Stir in mayo and remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice if desired.

3. Serve on lightly toasted bread or place a scoop on a plate with a lightly dressed salad.

 

Velvety Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric, Sunflower Seeds, and Truffle Oil

This summer was not kind to my waist line. Or to my hip line, ass line, and stomach line, for that matter. Packing and moving meant pizza and beer on many more nights than I’d care to admit. And if unpacking one spice bottle from twenty sheets of packing paper burned a lot of calories, I’d be in my pre-baby jeans. But no one would want to see me in those 12 year old things anyway — including me — so let’s just skip it. Bottom line is that I am trying to get back to normal eating before the holidays crush me all over again.

A friend was telling me about her success with a twice a day shake/smoothie plan, but instantly said, “Oh, you couldn’t do it because you love food and flavor too much.” True enough, but I did consider it for a moment. It couldn’t be as bad as the cabbage soup diet. Remember that shit?

No, any healthy eating plan for me needs to include real food and flavor and cooking. And now that we are back on our weekly farm share plan in our new area, I feel like the vegetables are calling me and nagging me from the fridge. “You aren’t seriously going to let us go bad, are you? Come on, you lazy piece of shit, cook us!” Maybe your vegetables (as I like to call my inner voice these days) are kinder than mine, but I do feel incredibly more guilty if I don’t use my farm share vegetables as opposed to my grocery store vegetables. You know how when you were a kid, you felt sorry for the last banana going brown because you were worried it felt unwanted? OK, maybe that was just me, but I am quick to personify produce and the hard work of the individual farmers who grew it is a much stronger cooking motivator than some unknown factory farm.

I digress. Can you see why my husband is a good man to put up with me and the constant over-analysis of even my produce drawer?

But even with my farm share love, there are things that get abandoned in the back of the fridge. Cauliflower is one of them. I like it, but no one else in the family does. They hate it, in fact. So when the vegetables were talking to me before lunch today, I had a moment of clarity that I could make something with them for me! Just for me. For lunch even. So this is what I made. It was delightful and rich and healthy and I will probably eat it for lunch all week. And even though the heavy cream in the fridge was screaming to be included in this soup, my hips told her to STFU.

Velvety Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric, Sunflower Seeds, and Truffle Oil

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 large onion, chopped
2 t turmeric powder
1 t curry powder
1 T olive oil
3/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds (or other nuts or seeds)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
Juice of one lemon
2 t salt (to taste, less if using full sodium broth)
Fresh ground pepper
Chopped fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, or chives would all be good)
White Truffle Oil or Good Olive Oil

1. In a large soup or stock pot, sauté onion, turmeric, and curry in 1 T of olive oil until softened. Add cauliflower and sauté for about five minutes until the cauliflower begins to soften.

2. Add stock, wine, water, 2 t salt, and freshly ground pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes until cauliflower is falling apart and very soft.

3. While soup is cooking, chop the sunflower seeds very finely in a food processor or small chopper until they are the consistency of corn meal. Reserve a few tablespoons for garnish and set the rest aside.

4. Remove soup from the heat and purée with an immersion blender until soup is velvety smooth. (You can use a regular blender, but obviously leave the lid partially off and do it in small batches so you don’t have an explosion of hot soup.) Stir in chopped sunflower seeds (reserving the others for garnish) and lemon juice and puree for a few more seconds to incorporate. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

5. To serve, ladle soup into a bowl, sprinkle with reserved ground sunflower seeds and fresh herbs, and drizzle with truffle oil or olive oil.

 

 

Sunny Side Up Egg, Prosciutto, and Caramelized Onion Pizza

I had a little birthday party for my husband a few weeks ago and decided I wanted to make a bunch of pizzas. This is usually a real pain, not because it’s difficult, but because you run out of space for the multiple pans, dough, and ingredients required to do this for a crowd. And I like to have everything ready to go ahead of time, so I can have an adult beverage enjoy my guests. This meant four pre-cooked dough rectangles, which tend to take up a lot of space.

I happened to remember a rack that stacks trays and decided to get one. Thankfully Amazon had it here in a day and it worked beautifully. All of the doughs were pre-baked and stacked up in a corner of the kitchen and I pulled as needed when I was ready to bake. The toppings were ready to go, so I could easily make the pizzas and serve them hot as needed. I would definitely recommend getting one of these racks as it folds away flat and takes up no space at all. I think it will be really handy for parties and holiday baking.

So this was my favorite pizza: dippy eggs broken all over top prosciutto and caramelized onions with a bit of parmesan and gouda. I’m just not sure it can get any better.

Sunny Side Up Egg, Prosciutto, and Caramelized Onion Pizza

1 pound fresh pizza dough (I used Trader Joe’s dough, which I think is great)
2 onions, thinly sliced
Chopped Proscuitto or Bacon (cooked), about 3/4 cup
Shredded Parmesan and/or Gouda (or TJ’s parm/gouda blend), about 1 cup
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Red pepper flakes, to taste
6 eggs
Salt and Pepper
Fresh basil or parsley, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper.

2. Sauté onions in a bit of olive oil or butter over medium low heat. It will take at least 30-45 minutes to caramelize them decently. I cook them until they are reduced by a great deal and a nice caramel color.  Stir them every so often, season with salt and pepper, and add a bit of water if they start to stick.

2. Meanwhile, roll pizza dough out until very thin. This is personal preference, but I like mine as thin as I can possibly get it. I do this directly on a large sheet pan and it ends up being about a 12 inch by 15 inch rectangle. But do it how you like — on a sheet pan or pizza stone. (Little tip: if doing on a sheet pan and pizza dough keeps springing back, put a dab of water under each corner before you bake. This adheres the corners to the pan.)

3. Take about two spoonfuls of your olive oil mixture and spread over pizza dough. Put dough in preheated oven for 5-7 minutes until just pre-baked and not brown at all.

4. When onions are done, spread them over pre-baked dough. Sprinkle prosciutto or bacon on top of that. Sprinkle cheese over top onions and ham/bacon. Make 6 little “wells” equally spaced around the pizza (that is where the eggs go). Drizzle whole pizza with more of the olive oil mixture. Crack eggs into your 6 wells. Season entire pizza with salt and pepper.

5. Bake pizza for about 10-15 minutes until eggs are just set. Watch it carefully because the eggs go from being not set to fully cooked (and not dippy) very quickly. If you want an over-easy egg, broil for a minute. Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh basil or parsley. When ready to serve, break open the eggs and let yolk run over pizza.

Fried Egg, Sriracha, Cream Cheese, and Spinach on Ciabatta

Two of my Facebook friends (and actual real life friends!) were virtually bantering back and forth about a sandwich a few months ago. I am uncertain if they made it up or got the idea from someone else, but as soon as I saw their pictures I knew I had to try it. (Who says pictures of what you are eating for dinner are annoying? Not me. As an aside, I think people who complain about the things other people post online are way more annoying. If people bug you that easily, unfriend or unfollow. You are probably not real life friends.)

Their take on the sandwich was slightly different, but I used what I had on hand and was immediately hooked. I believe they used a hearty, whole grain bread and raw spinach which I think would be equally delicious. So Carolyne and Stephanie, if you are reading, tell us the origins and give yourselves or someone else credit! Because this one is a winner. I could eat it every night.

Fried Egg, Sriracha, Cream Cheese, and Spinach on Ciabatta

Makes 2 sandwiches

2 Ciabatta Rolls
2 Eggs
1 Bag of Spinach, rinsed
1 Clove of Garlic, sliced
Cream Cheese
Sriracha
Olive Oil/Butter
Salt and Pepper

1. Split ciabatta rolls and drizzle with olive oil. Place cut side down in a sauté pan and grill slightly, until just lightly toasted. Remove rolls to a plate and set aside. (You can keep them warm if you like.)

2. Heat a bit of olive oil in a sauté pan and toast garlic lightly. Add spinach and cook until completely wilted and any residual water has cooked off. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Set aside.

3. Heat a bit of butter in the sauté pan that you grilled rolls in (just to save another pan). Fry eggs until your desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper. (I like mine just slightly over easy with a very runny yolk.)

4. To assemble the sandwiches: Spread cream cheese on bottom roll. Top with Sriracha.(As much or as little as you like. I like a lot.) Place a pile of sautéed spinach on top of that. Top with fried egg and then the top roll. Devour it and make it three nights in a row.

 

Trader Joe’s Inspired Dark Chocolate Bark with Roasted Coconut Chips

The opening of Trader Joe’s in our town has, of course, been somewhat revolutionary. I would count it among few others that have had such grand opening hype (top was Chick-Fil-A which had a camp out before their first day of chicken sales and future political statements). I’m so getting a new troll over that line.

Anyway, this recipe incorporates one of the most delicious TJs products: Roasted Coconut Chips. The first time I tried them I knew I wanted to figure out a recipe that put them on top of dark chocolate. Sometimes, I’m creative. Sometimes, it’s just a big “duh and why the hell wouldn’t you do that?”

OK, so other TJs products you need to try: Edamame Hummus, Reduced Guilt Spinach and Kale Dip, the frozen Chana Masala and Garlic Naan (both very good for a quick dinner), the little Crunchy Green Beans in the snack section, Cookie Butter (Plain and Crunchy! Swirl it into brownie batter!), the Lentil Soup in the refrigerated section, the Chocolate Truffle Brownie Mix, their pizza dough and even frozen pizzas (way better than most), and Chocolate Covered Edamame (much like chocolate covered peanuts, yet safe for nut allergic families to have in the house).

Here’s the basic recipe. Obviously, nuts/seeds can be swapped as can different kinds of dried fruit.

Trader Joe’s Inspired Dark Chocolate Bark with Roasted Coconut Chips

9 oz. chopped dark chocolate (at least 70%)
Zest of one orange, chopped finely
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 package of Trader Joe’s Roasted Coconut Chips, roughly crushed so the chips aren’t too big
Fleur de Sel (optional)

1. Melt chocolate and stir in zest of orange. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Combine pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and coconut chips in a separate bowl. Remove about half of the seed/fruit mixture and stir it into melted chocolate mixture.

3. Spread melted chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. It will make roughly a 10 inch by 12 inch rectangle. Sprinkle the remaining seed/fruit mixture over top of chocolate. If you like, sprinkle a few grains of Fleur de Sel on top of that.

4. Put in refrigerator to chill thoroughly (or you can quick chill in freezer). When firm, break into pieces.

On Fear and Beignets

The kitchen is the one place where I have no fear. Nothing intimidates me and I am fully confident. When people act like I am doing something crazy, I rarely give myself any credit, because how could you be scared of things like oil or yeast? I reserve my fear for things that can kill me. You don’t want to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving yet you get on airplanes and enjoy riding through the Lincoln Tunnel? I’ll handle gizzards over the Lincoln Tunnel any day.

And as I was rolling beignet dough this morning, I happened to think that during a time of my life when I am the ultra-stable force in my kids’ lives — the one putting them to bed, washing their clothes, cooking the meals, helping with the homework — cooking is also my travel. My husband has the demanding job, does the travel, meets the cool people, and finds professional inspiration all over the place. I go to the grocery store and search for inspiration (because the part of you that needs that never goes away) in places and times that make bleeding a stone look easy. Child rearing can be mind-numbingly boring, but it’s in your personal boredom that your kids find stability and security.

I don’t look at either my husband’s job or mine and think one is more important. Sure, we’d be really hungry and cold without his, but it is so incredibly difficult to have both parents intently focused on career at all moments and travel the country and change the world. Someone has got to wipe the asses and provide lessons on multiplying fractions. It is a choice we make when we decide to have kids — even if we don’t realize we are making it at the time.

So today I went to New Orleans with my kids. And we ate beignets and sipped on coffee and hot chocolate. The yeast was fresh and rose the dough into puffy little pillows, the oil was at a steady 350 degrees and browned the beignets perfectly, and we laughed at clips of Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd as the Two Wild and Crazy Guys. It’s often easy to feel bitter about being the one watching “Kindergarten Cop” on a Friday night while your husband is on 6th Street in Austin. And trust me, I have plenty of those moments. But, when I get to be the one hearing my kids laugh at Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “It’s not a tumor!” and having a picnic lunch on my boy’s 6 1/2 birthday on our first spring-like day, I try to step back and live in the now and in the positive.

I try to remember that there will be days in my future when I will be sitting in New Orleans eating beignets and sipping chicory coffee. And I am fully aware that, when that time comes, I will be wishing I were at my kitchen counter watching YouTube clips with powdered sugar covered babies.

Here’s the recipe I used:

Beignets (Epicurious)

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

I take the same route to drop my son off at preschool every morning.  Some days I consider going a different way just to make the synapses in my brain do something different (and no, I have no idea if that is what synapses actually do).  But I usually go the same way, making the same familiar turns, crossing the main roads at easier intersections with less traffic.  Something that you only do after you have lived in a town for many, many years.  I sneak through the alley ways and the back streets.  The car drives itself.

Along my way, I see the beautiful elderly woman walking her little yippy dog.  In my estimation, she doesn’t belong here.  She wears large Jackie O style glasses and is dressed impeccably for her morning walk.  This morning she had on a bright blue oxford shirt with a hot pink, tailored jacket.  Her dog is often dressed as nicely as she is.  She walks everywhere, but it seems like she should occupy the streets of the Upper East Side instead of this small town.  One day I saw her near my daughter’s school without her dog and with her hand bandaged.  I imagined what had happened and worried about her for a day or two, after which I thankfully saw her walking with her dog again.  She is always otherwise alone.

When my daughter was in daycare and I was still working, every morning we would drive past the high school on our way to her school.  Every day we saw a man walking with a newspaper that he bought at the grocery store down the street.  The weather never mattered.  If it were raining, he’d carry it in a bag.  If it were sunny, he’d hold it under his arm.  My two year old daughter affectionately called him “newspaper man” every time we’d pass.  Then our route changed.  I quit my job and he was no longer on our morning agenda.  We saw him the other day walking far from his normal route.  At 10, she still remembered him.

Yesterday, while I was walking in my neighborhood, I passed a very elderly woman slowly strolling arm-in-arm with a much younger caregiver.  I have never actually passed her while walking on the street — only by car. My earliest memories of her (from years ago) are walking while holding hands with her very elderly husband. I always noticed because I wondered whether my husband and I would still want to hold hands at that age. Was it because they were still in love or was it simply to steady each other?  One day I saw her walking and he was absent.  For the first few days I imagined he might be ill.  She needed fresh air.  I’ve never seen him again.  Yesterday, I wanted to look her in the eyes and tell her that I was sorry for her loss.

I turned 40 last week.  I just noticed that my uncle is turning 70 in a few days.  He was 30 when I was born. I was 25 when my nephew was born.  My brain furiously calculates numbers that it should ignore.  Subtractions, additions, comparisons.  I’ll be this when that.

Mid-life crisis seems too cliché.  Too self indulgent.

But I’m post-babies who need moment-to-moment care.  I have no career to speak of, having abandoned it so I could perform that moment-to-moment care.  I’m walking the same streets and I don’t know whether to rejoice in the routine or scream out loud in panic.

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

Makes 15 meatballs

10 ounces of green garbanzos (available at our Wegman’s in the organic frozen foods.  Could also use edamame.)
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup crushed rice cereal (Brown Rice Krispies or Rice Chex style cereal)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley
1/4 cup olive oil, plus one tablespoon
4 tablespoons marinara sauce
1 medium spaghetti squash
Additional Marinara Sauce

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Split spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove seeds.  Rub cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place it cut side down in a baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes until it is tender and a knife pierces it easily.

3.  Meanwhile, combine the garbanzos, garlic, italian seasoning, fennel, salt and pepper, and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse about five times.  You want to leave a lot of texture to it.

4.  Remove garbanzo mixture to a bowl and stir in crushed rice cereal, 4 T marinara sauce, and 1 T of additional olive oil (if necessary to hold the mixture together).  Season with additional salt and pepper or spices to taste.  Stir in fresh basil or parsley.

5.  Form garbanzo mixture into meatball shapes and bake for about 12-15 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven (that gives them a little “crust”). (You can also make these ahead of time and chill in the refrigerator.)

6.  When spaghetti squash is finished, use a fork to scrape the strands into a bowl.  Toss with a bit of olive, salt and pepper, and additional fresh herbs if you like.  Serve the squash with a few garbanzo meatballs and marinara sauce.

 

 

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed “No Nuts Nutella”

Might I tear you away from Pinterest for a few moments so you can read this post?  I know you are getting ready to french braid your hair (sideways) and need to go to the grocery store to buy ingredients for those bacon and cinnamon roll muffins and are in the middle of building that new wrapping paper storage system, but take a few moments to look elsewhere.  No.  Don’t click “See More Pins.”   I realize you need to print out that 30 day training regimen — because who wouldn’t want an ass like that?  But trust me, you don’t know what a burpee is.  Nor do you want to.  I did them.

And the boots.  I need those boots and those jeans and that sweater. And I want to have only matching accessories that show a little pop of coordinated color.  I want to think about what I wear before I put it on, instead of throwing on jeans, a turtleneck, and clogs as I run out the door to pick up the children.

It’s like a dream world, isn’t it?  It’s the world without problems.  It’s all exotic vacations and beautiful food and lovely bodies without back fat.  It’s houses where the piles of school papers have a logical home that isn’t the front seat of your car.  It’s houses with style and matching interiors with themes — rather than a mishmash of your parents’ furniture and stuff you bought from IKEA.  It’s backyards with fireplaces, rather than snow or weeds or neighbors with annoying dogs.  It’s thinking about life using inspirational sayings and being strong in who you are, rather than being small and weak and petty and insecure.

And I guess that’s why it is a tremendous escape.  Life isn’t nearly as pretty.  It has bad weather and cancer diagnoses and health scares and employees who are inspired by the petty rather than the positive.  It has crime and moral failings and budget cuts and terrifying thoughts.  It has self destructive behavior and asses with cellulite.  And waistlines with stretch marks and closets that aren’t dedicated to crafting.   It has kids who puke in the car on those same school papers — that were supposed to be returned last week.

Can we all just cut the crap with the need to have perfection? None of us live it.  Even the people who you think do.  They don’t.  The “strongest” among us are insecure.  The most “beautiful” among us feel ugly. And those people who you think serve only beautiful food (maybe me?) also make instant Jell-O Pudding.  I did just last week.  And you know what? It’s freaking easy.

And sometimes the world around you requires easy in the times of ugly.

But yesterday I took a little time and made this homemade “Nutella” (driven mostly by the fact that I felt guilty that I haven’t posted anything here in a long time … and we can’t have the real stuff due to my daughter’s severe nut allergies).  While on my no carb eating plan, I had a big dollop on a piece of toast.  I licked the spatula multiple times and ate a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk.  It is as delicious as I remember it.  And then I served leftovers for dinner, had two glasses of wine, and passed out on the couch playing Words with Friends.  My husband and I talked for a long time about some intense situations he is dealing with.  We came up with no answers — but a lot more worry.  I later realized that we forgot to pay an important bill.  And my kids didn’t go to sleep until almost 9:30.  I woke up this morning feeling anxious for no good reason.

Or maybe it was for a lot of good reasons.  Reasons that come from not only the ugly of the world, but the ugly that we put upon ourselves.

Enjoy the “Nutella.”

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed “Nutella”

Makes about one pint

1 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and cooled (you could also use sunflower seeds, or a mix)
2 T vegetable oil
4 ounces dark chocolate
4 T butter
2 t vanilla extract
3-4 T sweetened condensed milk
1/8 cup of milk, warmed
1/2 salt

1.  Place toasted pumpkin seeds in the food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add 2 T vegetable oil in a steady stream while machine is still running.  Continue to process the seeds for about 3 or 4 minutes — until they become like a nut butter consistency.  You should scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times to make sure everything gets incorporated.

2.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter together.  Add in the vanilla extract.

3.  Add the chocolate mixture to the pumpkin seed mixture along with 3 T condensed milk and salt.  Process for a few seconds.  Taste and add more condensed milk if you like it a little sweeter.  It may become very thick at this point.  That’s OK.

4.  Remove to a bowl and whisk in warmed milk, a tablespoon or so at a time until your “Nutella” is the desired consistency.  Store in the refrigerator.  Serve on toast, use for baking, or melt to top ice cream.

 

 

Christmas Cookies from Cuizoo

We’ve hit the two week mark until Christmas. And because our house is on the market, the gifts I have purchased are stashed under beds, in the back of the car, and in between moving boxes in the garage.  I attempted to make sugar cut-out cookies the other day and realized my cookie cutters were already packed.  We improvised and used a gingerbread man template to hand cut the dough (which actually worked just fine), but I’m thinking my future baking will probably only include drop cookies.  That is, if I haven’t packed the cookie sheets yet.  Let’s just hope that the Amazon boxes (gifts) don’t make their way to the new house while the moving boxes (our stuff) sit nicely wrapped under the Christmas tree.  But come to think of it, maybe I could get lucky and gift myself the cookie cutters?

Here are some Cuizoo Christmas Cookie favorites.  Enjoy.  I’ll be over here making my house look like a catalog, packing boxes, and guzzling egg nog.

Crispy Brown Rice Skillet Cookies 

Rum Balls

White Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Spiced Whole Grain Pumpkin Seed Biscotti with Cranberries and White Chocolate

Whole Grain Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Coconut Oil

Cocoa Butter Chocolate Chunk Brownie Cookies

Whole Grain Orange Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Whole Grain Whirligig Cookies

Whole Grain Dark Chocolate and Dried Cherry Biscotti

Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies

Crispy Oatmeal Cookies

Portuguese Stuffing

So, I was getting ready to can tomatoes and make pesto the other day when I realized it’s basically Thanksgiving.  Last I looked up, we were celebrating Labor Day weekend in our hometown (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) with many of our closest high school friends and their families.   As we gathered in the basement of my in-law’s house and attempted to get pictures of all the children in one place (we gave up on them all smiling), it was one of those moments that you realize is, truly, once in a lifetime.  To have everyone there — in the place where we gathered after basketball games in high school and on weekend visits during college — with our babies and children instantly having fun and getting in trouble the way their parents did … well, that’s the stuff movies are made of.

The very next weekend, flooding from Tropical Storm Lee devastated our hometown.  The basement where we gathered just a few days before was inundated with four feet of water (and it never had a drop of water in it previously).  The toys that all of our kids played with were covered in river mud and sewage.  The bedroom that my husband grew up in was destroyed.  The bar that we stood at and drank beers at as 20 year olds, and now 40 year olds, was gone.  It was total destruction for the town that we grew up in and love so much. Whenever I pack my children’s things before we go there, I invariably ask them what they want in their suitcase to take “home.” We may leave our hometowns, but they definitely don’t leave us.

In the next month, we decided to start an online news source, The Bloomsburg Daily, to capture the stories of the Bloomsburg flood. No one knew what was happening there and we felt that needed to be changed.  A terrific team of volunteers from Bloomsburg (and beyond) came together and now our weeks are spent having virtual editorial meetings, conducting interviews, planning photo shoots, and creating videos for the Flood of Silence Project. Our reasoning was simple: Some can hang drywall. We can tell the stories and create information to help a community heal.

My life has been consumed with Bloomsburg — until last week.  If the floods brought total physical destruction to our home, the events of the previous week have brought total emotional destruction to our adopted home:  State College, Pennsylvania. It is obviously the story that everyone is talking about — Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator of the football team, is accused of sexually abusing at least 8 children, with more potentially coming forward.  Two university administrators have been charged with perjury.   President Graham Spanier and legendary Head Coach, Joe Paterno, have resigned or been fired.  And the Nittany Nation is rocked to its core.

I came to Penn State as a freshman and received a Master’s Degree here many years later.  My husband and I moved here over ten years ago so I could pursue my Ph.D.  Both of our children were born here.  It is now our home.  And we are horrified that members of the institution that we all know and love so deeply could have been involved in this at any level.  Just as the flood waters swept away the foundations of so many homes in Bloomsburg, those affiliated with Penn State feel like the foundation of everything we thought we knew to be true has been taken out from underneath us.

We are sad and angry and confused.  We are crying uncontrollably at times.  We are walking with our heads held low, wondering how this could have gone on at such a great institution.  We are watching the national media report on our small town and the people in it (who we usually only see at the grocery store), and we are incredulous.  We are listening to the hateful remarks about who we are as an institution — judged by the horrific action and inaction of a handful of people — and trying to defend our honor. We are trying to explain how we can be both outraged by the possible inaction of Joe Paterno and so incredibly sad that he is no longer part of our institution.  We are a community, and being in the middle of that community is much more nuanced and difficult than reporting on it from above and outside.

But everything we thought to be true about ourselves is in question.  We are questioning everyone that we thought was a “good man” or a “great person” or had the “utmost integrity.”  We are saying we would do better in a similar situation, yet most of us do not or else the cases of the 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who are sexually abused would be reported — and the majority of cases are not.

We feel the need to mourn what has been lost, for the victims primarily, but also for the collateral damage in our community.  We need to mourn, but then we need to stop crying, strip out the mud soaked drywall and insulation, cut out the rotten 2x4s, spray down the mold, and slowly start the process of rebuilding.  It will take time and it will take effort.  But it can be done for emotional destruction just as it is done for physical destruction.  It probably won’t be as straightforward, but we will do it because we are a community.

So, this Thanksgiving I want to give thanks for home.  Wherever it is, whatever we call it, however destroyed it is, or however complex the problems may be.  Whether it is our original home, our birth home, or our adopted home.  Whether it is the smallest of towns, or the largest of cities.  It is the place in which we feel most loved and safe and comfortable.  It is the foundation for everything we do.  And after being faced with losing big parts of not one, but two, of my homes, I realize it is worth fighting for. We must hold our heads high, rip out the damage, and get ready to rebuild.

A tremendous group, Proud to Be a Penn Stater, has come together to raise money for RAINN.org.  Please give if you can.  If there is any good to come out of this, it is that the Penn State community can bring tremendous light to a horrible, and often ignored, crime.

Portuguese Stuffing

This is my in-laws’ famous recipe for the stuffing that is always served at their Thanksgiving table.  It has both Italian and Portuguese roots and is a highly spicy and seasoned dressing.  Don’t let the bottle of vinegar scare you off — it is used to slowly saturate the stuffing and most of it burns off, leaving just the spicy tang behind.  This stuffing is generally not baked inside the turkey, but instead in a shallow pan, allowing it to become brown and prevent a mushy mess. The key is making sure you don’t skimp on the seasoning.  My husband is our official taste tester and always says it needs more spice and more vinegar.  I’m not sure if it’s an acquired taste, as I learned to love it instantly — covered in gravy and occasionally mixed with a bite of cranberry, but I do know that most people who try it fall in love.

Makes a 9×13 pan

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage
2-3 large onions, chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 or 7 celery ribs (with greens attached, if possible), chopped
1 or 2 bunches of parsley, chopped
Salt
Pepper
Italian Seasoning (about 3 T total)
Dried Fennel Seeds (about 2 T total)
Red Pepper Flakes (about 1 T total)
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Allspice
16 oz. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 loaves of Italian Bread, cut or torn into one inch cubes, and sprinkled with a bit of water
Olive Oil

1.  Remove sausage from casing and cook in a very large non-stick saute pan over medium heat, breaking the sausage up into small clumps.  When the sausage is browned nicely and cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

2.  Remove some of the fat that the sausage rendered, leaving about 2 tablespoons of drippings behind.  (Alternately, if your sausage was very lean, add some olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat.) Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery with about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1 t salt, freshly ground pepper, 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel seeds, and 1/2 t red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 8 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add about 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, let it absorb and reduce for a minute or two. Remove mixture from pan and place in a very large bowl.

3.  Add drained sausage pieces and bread cubes to the onion mixture in the large bowl.  Season with additional salt and pepper.

4.  In the very large non-stick sauté pan, heat a 2-3 T of olive oil over medium heat.  Take about 1/2 of the stuffing mixture and add to pan.  (I can usually split this recipe into two batches, as I have a VERY large sauté pan, but you might need to do do three batches.) Sauté the stuffing mixture in olive oil, stirring frequently, to allow it to begin to brown.  Add approximately 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 2-3 T parsley, and about 6 T vinegar.  Continue to stir and brown, for about 20 minutes until the mixture is darkened and heavily seasoned.  As you cook, re-season with additional italian seasoning, fennel, red pepper flakes, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Toward the end of the 20 minutes, add in a generous pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Repeat with remaining stuffing and add to a 9×13 pan as each batch is finished.  (This seasoning and frying process seems complex, but it’s really not.  In order to make the entire batch, I generally use about 3 T total of Italian Seasoning, 2 T total of fennel, and 1 T total of red pepper flakes.  And I generally go through a 16 oz. bottle of apple cider vinegar.  This seems weird, but as you fry the stuffing, it soaks into the bread and burns off, so you are not left with too much of an intense vinegar flavor. And whenever I ask my husband if it is nearing the correct flavor, he always indicates that I need “one more round” of all the spices, salt and pepper, and vinegar. It’s zesty for sure!)

5.  When you are finished browning all of the stuffing on top of the stove, add several handfuls of additional chopped fresh parsley to the stuffing mixture.  At this point, you can either refrigerate it (can even make it a day or two ahead if you like) or bake it immediately.  I then generally bake at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, covered for about 20 minutes, and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  (You just want to reheat it thoroughly and brown it more on top.)