Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rivers and Roads

There have been three songs that I have listened to for the first time in the last year that have made quite an impact on me personally. I thought tonight I would write about one such song, entitled "Rivers and Roads" by The Head and the Heart. Upon first hearing this song, I conjured up images of long journeys and loss; when I think about what this past year has brought for me and those I love, long journeys, discovery, and loss are major factors. In the year 2012, the birth, death, and decline of babies has utterly transformed me to the core. January brought George's birth, and with it a sense of joy that I never knew possible. July brought the passing of Aiden, an anguish for me surpassed only by my anguish for Owen, who has presented such a bittersweet situation throughout the entirety of 2012.

The song "Rivers and Roads" means so much to me, and it will always remind me of Owen. I feel totally swept up in its current right as the intensity picks up after my favorite line. The song is about the physical separation from someone that the songwriter loves, and hints at an epic journey which the songwriter will take across rivers and roads to eventually be reunited with the beloved. I think of the distance as more symbolic, that Owen is with us but in some sense is not really with us. I hold him and I don't know where he really is existing or how to reach him, but I imagine a spectacular journey of beauty, sweat, and tears to get to where he is so that we can reach him in a way that he can understand with our messages of love, hope, and apology. "Rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers till I reach you." In my mind's eye I imagine the journey to be very green and wooded, much like parts of the Pacific Crest Trail that BJ and I have walked. And a healthy Owen is at the end.

I pause and reflect, what about me has changed the most since November? Really, several things have, but the most obvious to me is the way in which I now choose to prioritize people in my life. The second facet of this song that speaks to me is about the ability of other people to understand our pain. In the song, the writer notes that his family lives in a different place than him. He then follows with my favorite line of the song, "If you don't know what to make of this, then we will not relate." THIS is where I think of my own life, and about the people that have caught me and supported me this past year. There are now two kinds of people in my life: those that can "relate" and those that either can't or choose not to because they have their own priorities to deal with. For those that are unable to relate to the grief I feel and find that connection with me, I have precious little energy to give. Then, there are the people who will relate, whether because they understand loss or because they are my friend and will hold my hand while I go through it. In the most sincere of losses, when I have stood there with raw grief, swollen eyes, and those crazy hives that always break out on my chin when I cry, I have been supported by the most solid of my family and friends. These are the people that I will pour the best of me back into and hope that I can do them some semblance of justice. These people are the ones who are the most real for me; they are the ones who have walked with me when I have treaded across this balance beam, encouraging me, cracking jokes to relax me, but most importantly being real with me and reminding me that they are there to spot me should I lean too far one way or the other. These people check on me frequently, encourage me often, hug me, share their lives and joys with me, and don't expect easy answers when they ask me how I am doing (which sometimes is good, and sometimes isn't so good).

BJ, Mom, Susan P., Christa A., Sommer M., Chanda K., Laurie L., Sara D., Heidi H-K, Heidi W., Cyndi R., Linzy L., Rachel K., Amanda K., Elizabeth W., Vicky H., Linda K., Laura W., Angie H., Jeremy L., Julie J., and Natalie D.---you have bolstered me with words, gestures, and/or actions specifically in this past year, and you have made my life better. May I return the favor throughout the years of our lives. I'd travel rivers and roads for each of you.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie and Fall Recipes

Despite continued warm weather in the state of Oklahoma, which is typical for this time of year, I was in an exuberant autumn-ish mood yesterday. As BJ can well attest, often the nature of my mood is reflected in the meals that we eat that day. Average, content mood? You can expect pastas, goat-cheeseburgers, Mexican dishes, and other fairly normal meals. Stressed, unhappy, sad days? You might expect the likes of hot dogs, spaghetti, take-out, or fast food. Ridiculous, pregnant, tantrum moods? These are the times when BJ leaves the house and comes home with ice cream and Honey Nut Cheerios for me. But the days when I feel jubilant? Ah, these are when some of our family's greatest dishes have made their first appearances: pumpkin mac-n-cheese, creamy baked chicken taquitos, homemade tomato soup with cheese toasties, and of course desserts like Julia Child's "reine de saba," hand-packed Grasshopper ice cream cake, and chocolate peanut clusters. Yesterday was one such day, the day of the dairy-free pumpkin pie and the beer glazed sausage and apples.

Let's begin with the pumpkin pie, since I built it up on facebook. I must begin by saying that pumpkin pie is a certain addiction of mine. Sometime around the beginning of football season, the smells of the first pumpkin pie can be detected in our home, and this will continue long through January. It's my favorite pie of all. I do limit it to the fall and winter months, but I have no qualms about bringing this delicious gem to my table well before the Thanksgiving season. Why wait? So, the bummer is, nearly every pumpkin pie recipe I have ever seen calls for evaporated milk. Those that don't call for evaporated milk instead call for sweetened condensed milk (which, incidentally, I have tried and don't find to be as classic). Neither of these can be consumed in our house right now, so I'm left drumming my fingers concocting a solution. Some pumpkin pie recipes actually called for tofu, but hell-to-the-no! I don't do tofu, plus I can't have soy anyway because George is also sensitive to that. Just when I was starting to think all was lost, I stumbled across this recipe for dairy-free pumpkin pie by Alisa Fleming. It uses coconut milk instead of evaporated milk or other crazy substitutions. I bought two kinds of coconut milk, the one by Silk (also makes soy and almondmilk) and one from a can in the Asian aisle. After opening and tasting both, I ended up using the Silk variety because there were no clumps in it.
Looks normal enough, right? Well, it tastes normal and delicious too! Now, I know that my taste-buds are a little off these days because I haven't tasted actual dairy in almost six months, but I swear, I absolutely couldn't tell a difference. BJ, who consumed the pie with a glass of whole milk, said that he couldn't taste a difference either. His direct quote, "It was quite good." We agreed that we would scale back the cinnamon a bit; the recipe calls for a whole teaspoon so next time we'll go for half that. I say "next time" because I will certainly make this again with a glad heart; of the many beloved foods I won't be able to eat this holiday season, at least the best was spared.

Prior to the pumpkin pie, we also celebrated the coming of autumn with a delicious dinner found in this month's edition of Better Homes and Gardens. I would recommend signing up for a free on-line membership at their website,, as they have a history of great fall recipes. Seeing as how there will be no pumpkin mac-n-cheese this fall, which was our festive go-to last year, I knew I'd have to find something different. With the recipe of Beer Glazed Sausage and Apples, I do believe I found it. I have never been much of a pork eater myself, but Pete kindly convinced me a few weeks ago with his football kielbasa recipe, that perhaps I have prematurely judged this brand of sausage (on the other hand, breakfast sausage I won't touch with a ten-foot pole!). This recipe calls for kielbasa, and I stood in the store for two minutes racking my brain over which kind of kielbasa Pete used, but I found it in the end (it's also dairy-free, which is clearly a must). Basically, the recipe consists of kielbasa, apple slices, and fresh green beans sautéd and simmered in a glaze made from beer, brown sugar, cider vinegar, orange zest, and crushed red pepper. Butter is included as part of the recipe, but I obviously had to omit it. For sautéing I used a bit of olive oil, and for the glaze I just left it out completely. Sage leaves are sprinkled on top of the finished dish. It calls for a Belgian White or witbeer, but this wasn't possible for us. I shopped on Sunday morning, and we live in the antiquated state of Oklahoma where, not only are liquor stores closed on Sundays, but the sale of alcohol is prohibited everywhere before noon on Sunday (hmm, do you sense some religious influence here?). So we settled for a variety already in our fridge, which was Summer Honey brewed by Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, Montana. This meal was so delicious that we each got seconds and wanted thirds. Hearty, sweet, and filling, this meal was lovable on all counts. If you're feeding bland palates, I'd suggest cutting the red pepper and the sage out, and I would bet you have a winner.
Please note the gorgeous octopus bowl, which I drooled over for way too long at a kitchen boutique in Rockport with Sommer and her mom, and which Sommer secretly ordered for me the next morning as a surprise. I still smile just thinking about this story.

The dairy-free recipe trials will continue in our house. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Second 2012 MA Trip

In exchange for watching the boys for BJ during many late-night Thunder playoff games in May and June, I received a four-day trip to Massachusetts to visit Sommer, Pete, Ellie, and Owen. George kept me company on this trip, and he made sure that there were never moments of boredom; this boy is both entertaining and on-the-go. Sommer described his personality as "winning," and I must say I agree. He hammed it up for nearly everyone he encountered during the four-day stretch! It was great to see Sommer and her family. Time with Baby Owen is so special and limited, so we plan to make lots of trips there during his lifetime. Our previous visit in March just seemed too long ago; good news for us is that their family is coming to crash our pad at the end of next month. A few highlights from our trip:

George and me at the airport dark and early on Friday morning.
Two buddies just chillaxin'

We spent Saturday in Rockport, MA on a girls' day out (plus George). Rockport sits right on the ocean (NOT the Cape, as I was quickly corrected) and is the home of a famous red building with lots of buoys hanging off of it that Sommer convinced her mother and me that we must have seen before. Said famous building is in the background. A simple Google search indicated that the building is called Motif #1.

Here I am trying to force my excitement on to George. It didn't work.

Somehow I didn't get pictures of Ellie. You should have seen her sporting a Patriots cheerleader outfit on Sunday for the big game, though. Too stinking cute. I showed up with Patriots colors (but no official Pats paraphernalia) for George and me to wear, and the family deigned to keep us in their home for the afternoon anyway. That was a close one. I also somehow never took a picture of the Dunkin Donuts iced coffees that were endlessly put into my hands. These are a coffee-loving people, and Dunkin's iced mocha almond coffee did not disappoint. George had me up so many times in the middle of the night that I do remember remarking my relief that "Dunks" (as they call it) is not a religious establishment that closes on Sundays. I stopped at two iced coffees that day, but I can't say the same of Som and Pete. Thanks to them both for a fantastic stay. I am beginning to feel like their home is a home of mine as well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

First Chili Test

To celebrate the kickoff of college football, BJ and I decided to cook our first batch of chili this season. BJ was pretty eager to tweak a recipe by Sir Alton Brown that he had tried before, so we chose his recipe and BJ went to work. The recipe predominantly calls for chilis, chuck steak, chili powder, and beef stock; I'll be happy to send you the whole recipe if you'd like. We decided to make some changes that seemed appropriate for us---namely, the reduction of steak by half (seriously, who wants that much beef in her chili?), the addition of pinto and kidney beans, and a doubling of the entire recipe to accommodate BJ's parents, who were our guinea pigs tonight.

Bottom line is, I strongly disliked the chili. It was way too flipping hot, and beyond the burn in my mouth, I tasted very little. This is the perfect kind of recipe for my kick-ass friends Heidi and Ty, who put the sriracha sauce on top of their "spice-level-5" pad thai. For me, not so much. Of course, everyone else at the table said it helped immensely to add cheese and sour cream to calm the raging burn, but of course I was out of luck with that one since the Cow is not George's friend. I sliced avocados, but they did not rescue me.
Everybody's grades for this batch of chili were as follows:

Terry: A-
Susan: C at best
Jenny: D+
I'm not giving a passing grade when I have to fix a sandwich for the remainder of my dinner!