Slogging Through the Mire

Life is always stressful.  Curveballs are constantly being thrown, the sand keeps shifting.  Walls go up, doors are slammed shut.  In general, I like to think I can keep one step ahead, I can maintain some semblance of perspective.  Lately, however, not so much.  There are times in all of our lives when the Force of Evil cracks his knuckles, and sets to work.  The boxing gloves go on, and he hits you with so many combination punches that your guts feel like jelly.  He’s a wily one, knowing just what spots, what feelings, are most vulnerable to attack, and that’s where he sets his focus.

I find myself at present with the tortuous gift of too much time on my hands.  I don’t mean to say that I am not busy, but I am one of “those people” who thrives on lots of activity, who loves having my hands in many pots while simultaneously dipping my toe into new waters.  I already think too much, and having extra time and fewer projects means my brain is smoking.  A lot has been stripped away lately, deeply emotional desires and wishes have yet to materialize, prayers are being answered in a language I cannot translate. 
I am slogging through the mire, my boots filling with muck, the fetid stench of rotting things assaulting and burning my eyes, nose, and throat.  So, how does one climb out?  Where is the firm land?  Frankly, I don’t think it exists, not temporally anyway.  All I really want to find is maybe two tall, straight, sturdy trees, between which I can string my humble hammock and rest awhile, before striking out, stronger for the rest, continuing on my life’s journey.

One factor has remained constant through this extended period of introspective philosophy: I still love food.  I love learning about it, reading about it, cooking it, eating it, discovering it.  Even through these difficult times, I still get excited about a new cookbook, a beautiful meal, a great food experience. 

Baby steps.  Baby steps.  The Road Less Taken would usually be my route, the more exciting path.  But at times like this sometimes you need to take the well-worn path of what you know, to reassure yourself of what makes you, you.  What I think can happen, and what I really hope will, is that while traveling along this path I will find a new offshoot.  I will stop to wipe my brow, and there beyond a set of branches I have passed a thousand times, I will spy a new trail.  The sun will filter down, bathing it in appealing light, that familiar giddy feeling will hit again, and hopefully I will be on my way.

In the meantime, I will keep reading, forcing myself to write, eating, and cooking.  Nothing too exciting has come out of this kitchen as of yet, but I am doing it, making things I know will not upset me at a time when I feel fragile.  A failure just might send me over the edge.

So what has been coming off the stove and out of the oven lately?  A virtual hodgepodge, really.  Sweet potato chowder, dried wild blueberry and bacon scones, ice cream (dark chocolate and vanilla), fish, shrimp, and chips, lentils, baked-bean style, buttermilk pancakes, fried rice, and eggs, lots and lots of eggs.  Tonight will be burgers with a fun Gloucester cheese studded with onion and chive, sweet potato biscuit and sausage breakfast sandwiches, and (hopefully, if I don’t lose steam) braised pork shanks.  I don’t know.  We’ll see.  I may lose all desire, start sinking again, and just pick up a pizza.  But I have to keep trying.  And praying.  And slogging.
Wild Blueberry and Bacon Scones
Makes 8
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup dried wild blueberries (or regular dried blueberries)
Zest of one lemon (preferably Meyer)
½ cup cooked chopped bacon (I use DLM thick-cut hickory-smoked)
¾ cup buttermilk
Egg Wash made of 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk
Raw sugar for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 375° and place rack in center of oven.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. 
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Add the butter to the flour mixture and using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.   Add the oats, blueberries, zest, and bacon to the flour mixture and mix until everything is evenly distributed.  Add the buttermilk and stir until the dough just comes together.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead 4-5 times.  Pat into a 7-inch circle about 1 ½ inches thick.  Cut into 8 triangular pieces (like a pie) and transfer pieces to the sheet pan.  Brush tops of scones with egg wash and sprinkle tops with raw sugar.
Bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean, about 12-15 minutes.  Transfer to cooling rack.


Cleveland, Part 1, Jennifer

Thursday began our long-awaited inaugural food adventure to Cleveland, with an initial stop at one of my new favorite Mexican restaurants, Los Gauchos, in Columbus. Some of you may say, “Really? You drove over an hour for tacos?” To which I would reply, “Yes. And you should too.” Plus, Columbus is right on the way, so why not time a lunch stop involving serious Mexican deliciousness?

 Los Gauchos, a taqueria, got its start as a taco truck, which it still runs and I have every intention of patronizing when temperatures become friendlier. They put up a brick and mortar location on Godown Road fairly recently. This trip was only my second to their permanent location, but after that first experience, I was hooked. Those of you close to me know my inclination for anything wrapped in a tortilla and/or bearing Mexican flavors. I could seriously eat anything involving grilled meats, melty cheese, and fiery chiles every single day. No joke.

 So, on to the eats. For Hannah, a Gringa al Pastor and a Mandarin Jarritos. For me, a Torta al Pastor (we are both big pig fans) and a Mexican coke. Everything was muy delicioso, as expected. I, being the somewhat unwise one from time to time, decided to add a liberal amount of the house habaƱero salsa to half of my sandwich (at least my instincts took over and I only added it to half, a subconscious decision I was grateful for not 10 minutes later). The torta was so tasty, exactly as I had remembered it from ordering it the first time. Flavorful bits of pork, lettuce and tomato, creamy mayo, and the all-important bread. I am frustrated so many times by great sandwich potential that is completely ruined by crappy bread. No such problem in this case. As the chiles kicked in and my mouth and lips began to burn, I reflected on how far I had come as far as fiery foods are concerned. No more “wimpy” meat for me. I will take the burn, and the high I get from it.

Satisfied, with full bellies and the hint of fire lingering, we headed out to finish the drive to Cleveland, looking forward to the meals yet to come.

Cleveland, Part 1, Hannah

On Thursday, I went to Los Gauchos with Mommy and got a Gringa al Pastor. It had pork, cheese, flour tortilla, onion, cilantro, lime, and pineapple. I had a mandarin-flavored Jarritos to drink. While we were waiting for our food, Mommy took silly, hilarious pictures of us drinking our Mexican sodas. I thought Mommy was being funny.
I thought that my food was delicious. The pork and the pineapple that were in my food were yummy. I ate the whole Gringa al Pastor.

We finished eating, and went on with our exciting, fun trip to Cleveland!