Blueberry Crumb Bars

Summer is my absolute favorite time to cook. Sure, fall and winter have cozy comfort foods, but when it comes to my favorite things to cook and eat, summer produce wins, hands-down. In fact, my family has long made fun of me for the Fourth of July being my favorite food holiday… not Thanksgiving. So this morning, we went to pick blueberries at a local blueberry farm. Sometimes, the desserts taste sweeter when you pick the fruit.

These blueberry bars are currently my oldest kid’s “favorite thing you make” — and he will eat the entire pan if I let him.

The berry picking crew!

Blueberry Crumb Bars (barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Zest of one lemon (zest first, then save the juice for the filling)
  • 1 cup cold butter, diced
  • 1 egg

Filling:

  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

Procedure:

  • In a large bowl or 8 cup measuring cup, place the blueberries, lemon juice, sugar, and cornstarch. Stir gently to combine, and allow to rest while you make the crumbs.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt). Add the diced butter and mix with either 2 forks or a pastry blender (if you don’t have one, it’s small, inexpensive, and multipurpose). Add the egg and blend until the crumbs are about the size of green peas.
  • Pour half of the crumbs into a greased 9×13 pan. Press the crumbs down gently.
  • Pour the berry mixture on top.
  • Sprinkle the rest of the crumbs loosely over the top of the berries.
  • Bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes, until the crumbs are golden brown.
  • Allow this to cool to room temperature before cutting. These keep well at room temperature or in the fridge. Enjoy!
Throwing it back 3 years!

Kale Quinoa Salad

My husband has a very green thumb. I, on the other hand, kill every plant I try to raise.

I do OK with kids and animals — we have two thriving boys, plus two dogs, four cats, and the chickens… but anything that doesn’t remind me to feed/ water it by making noise is probably condemned to die quietly in a corner.

Luckily, I married someone who takes great delight in bringing back to life things I have brought to the brink of death (and when he can’t manage it, his mom steps in).

And he had big plans for the backyard garden this year, even before the pandemic. The kale, especially, is a thing of beauty.

Don’t worry — those aren’t weeds. Just garlic chives and other lettuces!

I know what you’re thinking. Kale? Can you just get to those peanut-butter and chocolate cupcakes already?

But I promise — this is absolutely one of our favorite things. It requires a fair amount of chopping, but it holds up in the fridge very well for 2-3 days and is so delicious you’ll forget it’s good for you. Promise.

Kale Quinoa Salad

(recipe courtesy of my friend Spencer — who’s going to be so excited I’m finally typing it up so I don’t have to text him 2-3 times a year for the recipe!)

Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 1 large bunch kale (approximately 12 – 15 large leaves), washed well and patted dry, with tough center stem removed
  • 3/4 cups quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or well-salted water
  • 2 cups red grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or manchego cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped nuts or seeds (I used pecans; the recipe calls for sunflower seeds)

For the dressing:

  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil (if you don’t have this, just add another tablespoon of olive oil and all will be well)
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Zest and juice from two lemons
  • 4 cloves or 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

  • Wash the kale well and pat dry. It tends to get sandy.
  • Remove the tough center leaves and then tear or chop the kale into a relatively small dice (approximately 2-3 centimeters squared, according to William, who apparently speaks metric?)
  • Meanwhile, combine 1 1/2 cups salted water or broth and 3/4 cup quinoa. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Some of the quinoa pieces should be translucent. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to cool for about 5-10 more minutes while you prepare the dressing.
  • Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a large bowl, combine the kale, the dressing, and the still slightly warm quinoa. This will wilt the kale a bit (making it not so tough) and the kale and quinoa will both absorb the flavorful dressing.
  • Once the salad is completely cool, add the grapes and Parmesan or manchego cheese.
  • Sprinkle with nuts or seeds of your choice for added crunch. Taste for salt and pepper.
  • This salad is even better after 2 – 4 hours in the fridge, and is still delicious the next day.

Penne a la Vodka

Today, our yearbook sponsor photographed the class favorites. This day always makes me smile because there is so much overlap between the categories. Most atheletic is also a valedictorian. Most school spirit has awesome style and is also brilliant. And so many of my students not there today show so many of these traits, too — they are athletic, talented, friendly, stylish, beautiful, full of school spirit, and likely to succeed.

In the 90s, that’s what my small class chose for me — “Most Likely to Succeed.” I’m still as intimidated by that label in my 40s as I was at 17. Succeed at what? If my classmates knew then that I’d become a school teacher and move back to our hometown (neither was in the original game plan), would they demand a recount? So many of the students posing around the fountain today are much more intelligent and accomplished than I ever thought of being at 17.

But I left thinking about my two “friendliest.” Quarantine is hard on everyone, but it is harder on the friendliest among us. Today was the first time I’ve ever seen one of these kids not hug her friends. However, friendly, when it applies to these two, doesn’t necessarily mean outgoing (although they can be that, too). Instead, “friendly” seems to be high school’s way of saying “kind.” These kids, like so many of the teenagers I teach, have giant hearts. They show this in ways small and large. Yes, they volunteer around our community and care about big issues, but they also actively look for ways to make people’s days brighter in small ways — every day. And they are not alone.

When I think of the truly successful adults I know, they also frequently show this relentless kindness. Sure, intelligence helps, and hard work is indispensable. But showing that you think of other people and doing little things to make their days better? That’s the success to which I aspire.

Which brings me to this pasta…

This is a summer favorite around here, but it requires a lot of fresh basil. And it’s early in the basil season, so we haven’t had it since last summer.

One of my best friends heard me mention that we had killed our basil seedlings. While she was out, she saw some basil plants and brought them to me. I was indescribably happy when I saw her standing in my yard, basil plants in each hand. It’s these small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness that make her one of the most successful people I know.

Penne a la Vodka (adapted from Ina Garten and an Italian restaurant I loved in college, but whose name I don’t remember)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz white button mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound penne pasta
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving

Procedure:

  • In a heavy skillet, heat the oil. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook over medium high heat for 6-8 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper, and cook for one minute.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until their liquid begins to release.
  • Add the vodka, tomatoes, and salt. Simmer for 40-45 minutes. (This means the alcohol cooks out and you can serve it to your kids).
  • When the sauce is almost done, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until it is al dente (you want it a little firmer than usual because it will cook a bit more once you add the sauce.)
  • While the pasta is cooking, add the fresh basil and cream to the tomato sauce. Bring the sauce back to a simmer, but do not boil. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until thickened. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed (I usually need to add a little more salt and black pepper).
  • Drain the pasta, reserving a bit of the pasta water (about 1/2 cup, usually).
  • Add the pasta to the sauce and cook for 2-3 minutes, adding the pasta water to thin as necessary.
  • Off the heat, stir in the parmesan. Serve this hot with extra fresh basil and extra parmesan.

Blueberry Muffins

The hardest part of writing this blog is probably not what you’d think. It’s not the cooking or the writing — I love both of those things. It seems like I have a continual backlog of recipes I can’t wait to share, and an equally long list of things I want to try. And last winter, I got a few of my students to update my website, so now even the technical stuff isn’t too bad.

But taking pictures where stuff actually looks edible, much less tasty? Turns out food photography is the bane of my blogging existence. Take these blueberry muffins. In the first pictures I shot of them, they looked green. And unlike Sam-I-Am, I remain unconvinced about green breakfast food.

Other than the actual food, there are the background issues: Are my surfaces relatively clean? Are the cabinets closed? Are the people in the background fully clothed? (See also, Zoom meetings).

When I read online articles, other food bloggers rave about their natural light. So I tried that last week with a batch of cupcakes. It looked like I was inexplicably taking the cupcake on an adventure into the jungle.

Jungle cupcake… recipe coming soon

But then I remember the real reason behind this blog isn’t about the pictures. It’s primarily about storing all of my favorite recipes, old and new, in a place that is easily accessible by friends, family, and me! When thumbing through my old website, of course I cringe at the bad lighting and the hideous yellow bathroom tile and the complete and utter lack of cabinetry in that kitchen… but the snapshot in time of my little boys? Priceless.

Blueberry Muffins

(This recipe is a combo platter of Ina Garten, Smitten Kitchen, and yours truly. Despite the questionable photos, these were really tasty).

Ingredients:

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks or 170 grams) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (you can hurry this along by placing them in a cup of warm water)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries, stems removed (I used a bag we had frozen from last summer)

Procedure:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the muffin cups.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted witht he paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until fluffy, another 1-2 minutes. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, and buttermilk.
  • Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). Mix until just combined (do not overmix).
  • Remove the paddle attachment and fold in the blueberries with a spatula.
  • Scoop the batter into the muffin pans, filling each cup just over the top, and bake for 23-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center cupcake comes out clean.

Enjoy for breakfast, or any time of day!

Tomato Soup

Going to the grocery store used to be one of my favorite things. I have friends who make fun of me because I had refused to get on the time-saving grocery pick-up bandwagon… but I really like looking at my own produce… and occasionally talking to my butcher! Plus, I live in a small town, so the grocery store is basically like social hour. I see neighbors and former students, friends of my parents and my favorite checkout clerks. Of course, my own kids complain that trips take much longer than they should because I “talk too much.”

Well, no more.

I haven’t been much since the stay-at-home order started — my husband usually volunteers, desparate to get out of the house. But today, it was me. And it was a little overwhelming and sad.

One of my former students was my cashier and he didn’t recognize me behind my mask (although he said he should have known from my voice — which I’m choosing to take as a compliment). People look stressed and sad, and the shelves are still missing random stuff (Red grapes? Why are there no red grapes?)

Still, we are counting our blessings and using some pantry staples to get us through.

My youngest LOVES tomato soup. It always makes his top five list and always brings a big old smile to his face. Usually, we just serve the grilled cheese on the side… but if you’re feeling fancy, this is also fantastic prepared like French Onion Soup — oven-proof bowl, a round of toasted bread, and a lid of shredded cheddar, run under the broiler? It’s as amazing as you’d think.

But sometimes, simple is OK, too.

This one is adapted from my favorite food blogger, Deb Perlman of the peerless Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients:

  • Two 28 oz cans whole, peeled tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can get them, are the best)
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 onion, minced fine
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (or 3/4 cup half and half)
  • chopped fresh herbs, such as basil and oregano

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 425.
  • Line a baking sheet with foil. Using a fork, remove the whole tomatoes from the 2 cans. Reserve the juice. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on the foil. Sprinkle the tomatoes evenly with brown sugar.
  • Bake until the tomatoes start to brown around the edges, usually about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.
  • Place the butter in a large pot on the stove. Heat until melted and foaming, Add the onions and a bit of salt and cook for 6-8 minutes, until soft. Add red pepper flakes, garlic, and tomato paste. Cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add flour and stir vigorously to prevent sticking. Cook for about a minute.
  • Slowly add the chicken stock, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add the reserved tomato juice. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated pan juices from the baking sheet. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it is smooth. (Alternately, you can leave it chunky or blend in a traditional blender, but allow the soup to cool, work with small batches, and vent the top of your blender if you’re going that route).
  • Stir in cream or half and half and minced herbs. Taste for salt and other seasonings. This will vary widely, depending on how salty your chicken stock was.
  • Serve with grilled cheese and enjoy the big smiles!

Hot Cheese Puffs

Happy Friday, y’all!

It has been a week! I’m still in the midst of grading my last big set of papers for my seniors. I’ve been grading 8-10 hours a day, without seeing students except on Zoom, and I’m tired.

But, it is Friday!

And these little hot cheese puffs are the perfect accompaniment to cocktail hour (even if your cocktail, like William, is a tall glass of milk).

My mom usually kept a Ziplog bag of these in the freezer and would pop a dozen in the oven when friends dropped in for a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon. One day soon, I hope this is our reality again.

I have such vivid memories of stamping out little circles of crustless white bread for my mom using a silver jigger with pink elephants on the sides. The jigger has been lost over the years, but my kids are still willing to put in a fair amount of labor because they love these. And Michael even made them a special “cutter” out of a (cleaned!) piece of PVC pipe.

They are adapted from “Hot Shrimp Puffs” in Celebrations on the Bayou. I cannot ever remember my mom adding shrimp to this recipe, but I’m sure it would be delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened but not liquefied
  • 2 tsp minced onion
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 small loaf white bread

Procedure:

  • Mix the cream cheese, onion, mayonnaise, chives, pepper, and Parmesan in a mixing bowl until well combined. The mixture will be stiff.
  • Using a small, circular glass, cut white bread into circles (a shot glass works well). You can also cut the bread into squares, removing the crust.
  • Spread each circle with approximately 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture. This will vary depending on the size of your circles.
  • Bake in a 350 oven for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned and slightly puffed.
  • NOTE: extra puffs can be frozen on a cookie sheet before baking. Once frozen, you can pop them into a Ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer until the next time you need a delicious accompaniment to cocktail hour.

Enjoy!

Michael’s Instapot Chicken Tikka Masala

Last year, I started teaching a night class for a few weeks before each ACT. And I loved getting to interact with kids from all different schools and meet some great personalities along the way. My little “side hustle” became one of the best parts of the week.

Today, for the second time, I connected with one of my favorite pairs of kids via Zoom. They didn’t make fun of my celebratory dance when my technology worked perfectly. (In case you’re wondering, I successfully worked math problems on my shared iPad screen and I felt like Sal Khan for a minute there! It was seriously SO cool).

Deciding to expand my second job involved a lot of marital discussions. I’m usually the one at home getting supper ready and checking off on homework in the evenings. But we both knew working a few nights a week could provide a lot more opportunities for my family than we can make happen on two teacher salaries.

At first, my kids ate a lot of take out on nights when I worked. And honestly, I was usually as happy to see that Little Caesar’s box as anyone. No dishes, right??

But the BEST was when Michael mastered one of his favorite Indian take-out dishes. This is almost certainly NOT the most authentic recipe out there, but we love it. It seems like a lot of ingredients, but most of them are spices (and if you can’t find the garam masala, let me know… he ordered it in bulk and I can leave extra on my porch!). It comes together fairly quickly and my kids and I all love it when he pulls out the Instapot for this one!

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 Tablespoons garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
  • 1 can tomato sauce (get measurement)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • For serving: rice, chopped cilantro, naan

Procedure:

  • In a large pan on the stovetop or an Instant Pot turned on to the Saute setting, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook over medium to high heat until translucent (8-10 minutes). Add the spices and stir until fragrant.
  • Add the chicken and stir well to coat with spices. Cook for about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the tomato sauce. If you are using the Instant pot, cover and cook on HIGH pressure for 8 minutes and vent OR (if you’re doing this on the stovetop, cover and simmer 45 minutes.
  • Uncover and stir in the coconut milk. Turn the Instant Pot back to saute (or turn the heat back to medium if you are doing this on the stove top) for 10-15 minutes.
  • Turn the heat off and let cool for 5-7 minutes. To avoid curdling the yogurt, remove a small portion of the sauce to a separate bowl. Stir the yogurt into this small portion, then add the warm mixture to the big bowl.
  • Serve over rice with naan.
the master chef!

Enjoy!

Crème Brûlée

You want to know what really drives my kids crazy?

Most of the “fancy” desserts I make leave the house. Grasshopper brownies for Christmas parties, cookies for my students, a cheesecake for a friend’s Thanksgiving. Sure, my kids get to taste. If I’m plating something, the edges I cut off are theirs, no questions asked. And frequently, the desserts are for events they attend, or for their schools, so they definitely get a piece.

But this month is the first time that almost 100% of the desserts have been strictly for them.

At first, their surprise was a little insulting.

The thirteen-year-old looking at a beautiful dessert sighs as only 13 can: “Who is that for?”

“You! It’s not like we are going somewhere!”

“Like we can eat all of it?” And then, to add to my guilt… “Even the pretty ones? We don’t have to find a messed up one?”

That may be the cooking lesson I take away from this — that it’s important sometimes to make something fancy for the people who live in this house — not because it’s a special occasion, but just because it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Fast forward to today. It’s Monday morning and I am trying desperately to get a head start on the 88 Textual Analyses I have to grade this week. Each one takes about 10-15 minutes to give feedback on, and the math… I just can’t. So I put my science-teacher husband in charge of breakfast.

I walked into the kitchen to refresh my coffee and found him, propane torch in hand, caramelizing a crème brûlée for the kid who fell asleep before dessert last night.

It’s safe to say my kids are no longer dessert-deprived. I’d argue they’ve become downright spoiled. I’ve never had crème brûlée for breakfast.

Classic Crème Brûlée

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon per creme brulee
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups heavy cream

Procedure:

  • Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks, and 1/2 cup sugar until combined (about 1 minute). (You can also do this by hand with a whisk). Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla extract, and mix one more time.
  • In a saucpan, scald the cream. Heat it until it is very hot, but not boiling. You can wait until you see tiny bubbles form around the side, or, if you’re my child, keep sticking your finger in until it almost burns you.
  • With the mixer on low, slowly add the hot cream. Begin with very small splashes of cream to “temper” the egg mixture and avoid scrambled eggs. Scrape down the sides well. You can also do this by hand, whisking the egg mixture while you slowly add the milk.
  • Pour the custard mixture into ramekins.
  • Place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven. Pour hot water into the baking pan until it rises half way up the side of the ramekins.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the custards are set (you can tell by jiggling the individual ramekins a bit. When they are done, they will still move a bit but not slosh).
  • Carefully remove the pan from the oven. Bring to room temperature before trying to get the ramekins out of the hot water. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Top each ramekin with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or enough to completely cover the custard with a thin layer of sugar). Using a propane torch or crème brûlée torch, melt the sugar. It will melt, then bubble, then brown and spread over the surface. Let sit for 1-2 minutes, and a hard shell will form. Then you’re ready to serve! (You can also do this using the broiler on your oven. Position a rack very close to the burner and set the temperature to 500. Place each ramekin (no longer in the water bath) on the top shelf. Watch them very carefully! You will have less control than you would with a torch, but it will still work. )
  • Top with fresh fruit (we liked rasberries) and serve!

Notes: My youngest would like everyone to know that “crème brûlée” literally translates to burned cream, so a few dark brown spots are OK. Also, the ingredients here are really simple, so technique is everything! Go slowly and pay attention to the details! (I almost subbed milk in for the cream in this one, until he caught me. I don’t think the custardy texture would have been quite the same.)

Enjoy with the ones you love!

Smoky Venison Chili

Do your kids ever talk you into things that no one else can?

I grew up in a hunting family. but I’m the only one of my siblings who has never killed a deer. My dad always offered — I was just never that interested.

My husband, too, has offered, and while I’ve always been on board for fishing or boating, sitting in a deer stand all afternoon just never held much appeal.

But my oldest is really into hunting. And he’s in that adolescent stage where connecting is sometimes difficult.

So when he asked repeatedly that I go with him last fall, I finally said yes. Granted, I came armed only with my current novel. We stopped at a gas station and I bought our favorite junk food to share — Sour Patch Kids and Twix but no chips because “those are noisy!”

It was beautiful watching dusk approach out in the woods. We saw a few does, but nothing he wanted to shoot. He told hunting stories and we talked about what we were reading and school and sports and friends. There weren’t any grand epiphanies, but we both enjoyed each others’ company. And I’ll definitely go again next year.

Even though we didn’t see much that day, he did have a good enough season that we bought a new deep freezer last fall, and we have yet to experience a meat shortage.

This is his favorite venison recipe. It’s not my family’s traditional one (with hamburger and kideny beans). This is more complex, smokier, bean-free, and just the right balance if your reluctance to use venison has been its “gaminess.”

It’s adapted from The Southerner’s Cookbook by the editors of Garden and Gun.

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 lbs ground venison (or ground hamburger)
  • 2 medium/ small yellow onions diced (or 1 1/2 large)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 12 oz dark beer
  • 2 (12 ounce) cans Ro-Tel tomatoes, drained (or 24 ounce can crushed tomatoes)
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 3-5 chiles from a can of chiles in adobo sauce, chopped (NOTE — use 3-5 chile peppers, not 3-5 cans of chile peppers. These are spicy!)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • sour cream, limes, cheese, cilantro, sliced jalapenos to garnish

Procedure:

  • Turn the stove to medium high and salt the ground meat. In a heavy skillet or pan (I use my Dutch oven), heat one tablespoon each of the oil and butter. Brown the meat well.
  • Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and palce on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
  • Add the remaining oil and butter to the pan. Add the diced onion and saute for 8-10 minutes, until translucent and beginning to brown.
  • Add the garlic, chili powder, and cumin. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. The spices will be aromatic.
  • Add the beer to deglaze the pan. Then add the tomatoes, beef stock, brown sugar, chopped peppers, and oregano.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 2 hours, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt and for seasonings.
  • Serve with optional garnishes.
  • This is even better the next day, and also freezes very well.

Enjoy with your favorite hunters while they dream of fall!

The Old Fashioned

Today was hard.

Today, I passed out caps and gowns to my seniors.

In a mask, socially distanced, with some of my best teacher-friends.

And not hugging every single kid was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a long while (and I suspect I was not alone in this). Some of these kids show up to Zoom chat almost every day. Some I see when I walk through my neighborhood. Some I know will be life-long friends. But some, I haven’t seen since March 13, and I wonder if I’ll ever see them again.

The problem is — I LOVE my job. It took me a long time to decide what I wanted to be. Teaching isn’t something I just fell into; it was a hard-fought, conscious choice. And I love my kids.

And I’m used to working so hard to make graduation perfect for them. Every year, I work with valedictorians on speeches and comfort the ones who *just* missed it — because, in case you’ve forgotten, Calculus is hard, y’all.

I will never forget working graduation as a first year teacher positioning chairs on the field with a ruler so they’d be perfectly spaced — while a seasoned veteran bellowed instructions using a bullhorn from the stadium seats.

Or the year it rained right before the ceremony started and I dried all 200-some-odd chairs with old towels the football coaches found for me so that no kid would have to sit in a puddle. Or the year it rained DURING the ceremony…

I could go on, but watching the sun set over the stadium while 200 kids I love cross the stage is truly one of the best parts of teaching seniors.

Graduation is the longest day of the longest week of my teacher-life… and I would give A LOT to be able to make it happen this year — even in July.

But for today, I sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine. And rode bikes with my 10 year old. And made myself the Old Fashioned that my great aunt — one of the strongest, smartest women I know — taught me one Thanksgiving a long time ago.

And yes, I shed a few tears for the class of 2020. They will forever be in my heart, and I hope that this experience only makes them stronger, more empathetic, and even better equipped to make our world a brighter, healthier place.

Aunt Glenna’s Old Fashioned

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup (see below)
  • 1 1/2 ounces good bourbon
  • 1-2 dashes Angostora bitters
  • 1 maraschino cherry (Luxardo preferred)
  • 1 piece orange rind

Procedure

  • Make the simple syrup. Bring 1 part sugar and 1 part water to a boil. Allow to cool to room temperature. *Usually, I prepare a cup at a time. This keeps well in the fridge in a mason jar, but on more than one occasion, I’ve had a friend ask if it was moonshine. So labeling may be key.
  • Pour 1 one scant tablespoon of simple syrup into an old-fashioned glass. Add the bourbon and bitters and stir. (“Not too sweet!” — Aunt Glenna).
  • Add ice.
  • Garnish with the cherry and a piece of orange peel (not a whole slice, because, in the words of a my aunt, “It’s a cocktail. Not a fruit salad.”)

Cheers!