Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Laura’s chipotle chicken chili

I get a weird thrill out of composing meals using only items we already have in the house. Part of it is feeling victorious that I’m avoiding a trip to the store and part of it is figuring out what things pair well together. I like to look through Pinterest and magazines for ideas on what to cook and then I try to come up with a recipe myself.

(Or I order pizza for dinner.)

A few weeks ago I bought a ton of chicken breasts and spicy Italian sausages that were on sale, and I froze them into smaller portions (2-3 pieces per bag). I also recently organized my pantry and realized we had a LOT of pasta and canned goods. I made sausage and veggie soup and shrimp tacos last week, so I had plenty of bits of various produce left over to use for meals this week. On Sunday I made a pasta dish using spicy Italian sausage over a mix of of penne and rigatoni. (I had small amounts of both pastas in the pantry.) I used this recipe for inspiration and it was delicious! My version of alfredo was good but not great, so I’m going to tweak it a bit more before I share it with y’all.

For our next no-shopping dinner I made chipotle chicken chili and you guys, I MADE IT UP! And it is one killer chili, if I do say so myself. It’s great on its own, but the toppings knock it out of the park. It’s not fussy at all — a smallish amount will fill you up (you’re going to want to eat a ton at a time, but remember — beans), you can do it in the crock-pot and it’s an easy meal to tweak to your own preferences. Don’t like much onion? Use less. (Or use only one kind, though I loved the mix of white and red.) Love black beans? Use those instead! Not spicy enough? Add more diced chipotle pepper or stir in some hot sauce. Green chilies would probably be great, too. (In that case, you could use a can of Rotel and skip the petite diced tomatoes.)

If you find yourself with leftover chipotles in adobo sauce, freeze them in a ziploc and pull them out for shrimp tacos or another batch of chili!

yay for leftovers! whoops, crumbs on the table. photography fail.
Laura’s chipotle chicken chili 
serves 6*
active time: 10-15 minutes
total time, start to finish: depends on crock-pot setting (see instructions for cooking without a crock-pot)

for the chili:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 thighs would probably work just as well)
  • 1/2 small white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (**plain, NOT seasoned**)
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 2 Tbsp of diced chipotle peppers (pull them out of the adobo sauce and dice on a cutting board)
  • 4 Tbsp of the adobo sauce that the peppers come in
  • 1/2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch (see directions for use)

toppings:
  • we used: crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, guacamole
  • also try: more cilantro, lime wedges, pico de gallo, jalapeño slices, banana pepper slices
1. Combine all chili ingredients in a crock-pot and cook on high for 3-5 hours or low for 6-8. (It’s totally fine if your chicken is frozen when you put it in the crock-pot, but it needs to cook for at least 4 hours on high or 7-8 on low. You’ll know to cook it longer if it feels rubbery.)
2. 20-30 minutes before serving, move the chicken breasts to a cutting board and remove one tablespoon of the chili liquid and place in a small bowl in the fridge.
3. Shred chicken with a fork or dice into small chunks. (I did a mix of both.) Return the chicken to the crock-pot and check the flavor to see if you need to add any more seasoning.
4. Whisk the cornstarch into the cooled chili liquid and then add it back into the pot. Stir around and let thicken while you get toppings together/set the table/whatever.
5. Try not to eat the entire pot of chili in one night.

If you don’t own a crock-pot, sauté the onion in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the chicken (dice it first) and let it cook, then stir in all of the other chili ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer and cover for 30-60 minutes. Use the same cornstarch method as mentioned above.

*If you make this and get a different serving amount, let me know. Andy and I use different-sized bowls when we eat, so it’s hard for me to come up with that number. I think it probably makes six one-cup servings.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I remember

holding my Janie Lou

Today is Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and it’s been the pits.

I wasn’t planning on writing anything. Then, I woke up to a new blog comment on this post left by a woman who has never met me. (Hi, Katie!) Every sentiment she expressed touched my heart, especially her words, You have helped me feel like I am not alone.

Those of us who have lost babies are part of a really crummy club. We didn’t choose to be members. In fact, we all became members kicking and screaming. We all feel alone. We all feel left behind. But we are in this together. We need to tell our stories and have our stories be heard. We need to be there for one another.

Today I remember my first brush with infant loss. I remember the family beach trip when my sister and brother-in-law told us they were expecting their first baby. I remember the excitement we all felt, and how right everything seemed. Several months later I was in the middle of a study group meeting in college when my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law. I don’t remember exactly what he said, just that the baby inside of my sister no longer had a heartbeat. Clayton would be nine years old this year. Todd and Katie have since lost four more babies.

I remember asking God why He allowed them to experience such great pain. (I still do.) I remember begging Him to spare me and Andy from that pain. We were not spared.

Today I remember Clayton Robert and his four siblings. I remember the babies lost by my friends. I remember my own little ones, who are always on my heart.

So many dead babies. So many hurting families.

I remember that I am not alone, even though there are times I feel so lonely I can’t breathe.
I remember all the stories I haven’t told that need telling.
I will try to get the words out.
Even though the remembering hurts.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Boston: round 3

I fell in love with Boston when I first visited my friend Becca there in September of 2011. It’s been quite a year for big-city traveling: New York, San Francisco, Boston, and next month, Atlanta! 

Boston - 2011 (we look like babies!)


Boston - 2014

Saturday: We had our traditional breakfast in Somerville, but this time I suggested we try Ball Square Cafe, the restaurant next door to the one we’ve eaten at in the past. Our breakfast came with a grilled blueberry muffin. YUM. A blueberry muffin is pretty much perfection as is, but grilled? Even better! After breakfast we drove to Concord to read on the “beach” at Walden Pond and explore the downtown area. We popped by Louisa May Alcott’s childhood home and I made all of my Little Women-loving friends jealous by posting this picture of Orchard House on Instagram. Walden Pond was gorgeous, and I envy Becca’s ability to see it in the fall! There were a fair amount of people hanging out on the beach and taking a swim in the pond. We had good intentions to read our books, but we ended up chatting and people watching the whole time. :)


We sipped on delicious coffee at Haute Coffee (sitting on this adorable settee, of course) and popped in a few shops before heading back to Becca’s apartment to make dinner and unwind. She made panko-crusted salmon, cous cous and roasted brussel sprouts. I ate like there was no tomorrow! After dinner we ate brownies in bed (so girly!) and read.

Sunday: I woke up before Becca and snuck into her kitchen to make coffee and cookie butter on toast. Her apartment was deliciously chilly from having the windows open, and I found a spot of sunshine on the couch that was just begging for my attention. It was the most perfect start to the day! We eventually got ourselves ready for the day and headed into Boston for brunch with Bilal (a mutual friend from high school), Becca’s boyfriend Mario and Mario’s brother. If you ever find yourself at Zocalo for brunch, I highly recommend the huevos divorciados.


I met Becca and Bilal in biology class our freshman year of high school, and we’ve been friends ever since. (Anyone reading this from that bio class? Such a great group of people!) Laughing with them was good for my soul. After brunch, the three of us strolled through the Public Garden, got our butts wet on Boston Common and chatted over fries at Trident Booksellers & Cafe. Then us gals got pedicures and headed to the North End to Becca’s favorite restaurant—Pomodoro. It’s a tiny, romantic little restaurant right across the street from Mike’s Pastry shop. Becca had the seafood fra diavolo and I had the baked cod. The owner gave us complimentary calamari and tiramisu. AH, TAKE ME BACK! And, of course, I picked up a lobster tail pastry at Modern Pastry.


There were only two of these printed-name necklaces on display at a shop on Charles Street.
How crazy/cool is it that the two names happened to be Rebecca and Laura?!
Monday: Becca took me to Charles Street, where we explored some stores before resting and admiring our toes in the park. Then we lunched on some fabulous pizza at OTTO in Coolidge Corner before meeting Bilal in Harvard Square. We hung out on Harvard Yard and I reminded them about “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, a book we all read in 12th grade that is set in Cambridge. We chatted the afternoon away until it was time for me to pack up and head to the airport.

Honestly, I was really worried about going to Boston. My current struggles with social anxiety and feeling overwhelmed easily makes having plans a bit risky, emotionally. Also, I’ve been very clingy with Andy since losing Jane. I was the same way after John died. I wasn’t sure how I’d do spending four nights away from home (two in Northern Virginia before and after my flights, and two in Boston.) BUT, at the same time, I was desperate to get away from this house of tears! I e-mailed Becca ahead of time and requested a low-key weekend, and thankfully it all went well and I was able to have fun. Unfortunately, all of the sad emotions I pushed aside over the weekend came tumbling out the minute I got home, and the rest of the week was a crying blur. I wasn’t surprised, though—the same thing happened after San Francisco. I’m glad I went, and I’m especially glad for the friends I have in Becca and Bilal! Also, I’m glad for cookie butter.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Curried Shrimp and Corn Chowder

I love recipes that let me walk away from the dish for a little while! It gives me time to get drinks and silverware ready, and to put away whatever dishes were air-drying next to the sink. We have a house rule that whoever cooks doesn’t have to do the dishes, which means that Andy does the dishes most nights. It’s so nice!

I first made this soup earlier in the year, and Andy’s mentioned it several times since then. A couple weeks ago I was racking my brain trying to think of what to make for dinner, and then it hit me (Boston accent and all): chow-daah. It’s really easy, but it tastes like it was a lot of work. I tweaked the original recipe to make it less thick, but it’s still definitely a chowder and not a soup. If you like a broth-y soup, either use less shrimp, corn and potatoes or double the liquids. You’ll need to tweak the seasonings if you make those changes (but it wouldn’t be difficult). You could also use one small yukon gold potato and one small sweet potato, instead of two yukon gold. I’ve never served it with any toppings, though I bet it’s delicious that way! If you like the taste of curry powder and you like shrimp, I bet you’ll go crazy over this dish.

Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas; Styling: Buffy Hargett

Curried Shrimp and Corn Chowder
adapted from myrecipes.com
serves 4
total time to prep and cook: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large Yukon gold potatoes (14 oz.), peeled and diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (if using frozen, don’t thaw)
1 14 oz. can chicken broth
1 13.5 oz.can unsweetened lite coconut milk
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 pound peeled and deveined large raw shrimp
Suggested toppings: toasted coconut, thinly sliced green onions, coarsely chopped roasted peanuts

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven (or any large pot) over medium. Add diced onion and cook for about five minutes or until tender.
2. Stir in chopped garlic and cook for an additional minute.
3. Add potatoes and next 6 ingredients (corn, liquids and seasoning). Bring to a boil while stirring often.
4. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
5. Stir in shrimp; cook 4 to 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink.
6. Add more seasoning if needed, spoon into bowls and serve on its own or with toppings.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

a PSA on my grief


Why is this what there is for me to write about? Why does this have to touch EVERY little aspect of my life? I often feel I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day-like replay of tragic realities. Each morning when I wake up I’m reminded that I’m not pregnant, that I’ve lost not one but two babies, that my junk room is still a junk room and has never been a nursery.

You cannot possibly know how I’m feeling or what I’m needing at any given minute. I can’t expect you to say the right things or do the right things at all the right times. We’re both in tough positions. Navigating what to say and where to go from here is uncomfortable and painful for me, too. I wrote about how to help a grieving a friend after I lost John, but some of my own suggestions don’t apply to where I’m at in my current grief.

Yeah. It’s complicated.

Here’s what you need to know:

I don’t really know how to tell you how I’m doing. (This is how I’m doing.) I don’t know how to tell you how Andy’s doing. All I know is that we’re sad and angry on the inside but that we are trying to make life as tolerable as possible for one another. One minute we might be doubled-over laughing and the next minute I might be ugly crying. I believe there were three days in August that were free of tears. August was a miserable month.

I can’t be in charge of keeping our friendship afloat. I am often the person who pursues, who keeps conversations going. I can’t do that right now. If you could see inside my head you would be all, giiiiirl, let me get you some chocolate and a pillow. Cut me a LOT of slack, and step up! I need you more than ever.

Most social situations give me anxiety right now. Getting me to come to any event might be like pulling teeth. Don’t take offense—even being around my own family is difficult for me sometimes. I think I look normal and functional on the outside, but on the inside my brain is screaming my babies are dead! I hate my life! It’s exhausting being me right now.

Yes, I know therapy is an option. Yes, I’ve thought about it. Right now that’s all I want to discuss on that topic. (It’s not that I’m resistant to therapy. I’m just resistant to talking about it. Again, cut me some slack.)

And since I’m already on a roll here… I really don’t like being asked what “my plan” is. I don’t feel capable of forming a plan right now. My basic plan is to get through each day.

I know. This is a lot to take in. Blog readers be like wut.

(Notice I’ve used the phrase “right now” five times. I don’t know how long it will take for these feelings and frustrations to fade, but I know some day it won’t be quite as hard as it is right now.)

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing." A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves the for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief was we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” 
― Joan Didion, "The Year of Magical Thinking"