Apr 13 2014

Depression, Again

I know there’s been a bit of an echo here during the last week and I apologize. It just happened to be one of those weeks when the joy in life was sucked right out of me and I was barely treading water to keep my head from submerging. I had no energy left for anything else.

I should have been happy. The seven months of dealing with my now-properly-deemed lemon of a new car are coming to a close. We received the repurchase agreement, signed and submitted it, and are simply waiting for the third party company to find time in their schedule for me to surrender possession of the car to them. But the thought of having to start all over with purchasing another new car is exhausting. I didn’t plan on doing this for at least 6 years. And every time I read reviews online, I’m disheartened by all the complaints across the board. There is no guarantee the next car won’t have problems, too, and that may just break me.

river

Friday night was the culmination of the suckage. I had loose plans to go out with a friend that ended up being canceled before I left work. I had built up the evening so much in my mind that the cancellation was a huge blow. It wasn’t the case, but it felt like utter rejection, and I couldn’t stand being rejected yet again. I went for a long drive (in my lemon) in the rain, eventually happening upon People’s State Forest. I parked the car and watched the rain fall as I chewed on a hunk of Asiago bread from Panera. What can I say? I find comfort in carbs. Then I dragged myself out into the drizzle. I wasn’t attired for this at all, in my holey-crocheted cropped sweater, no rain coat, and flats that make my unstable ankle wobblier than usual. Still, I strutted across the field. I was drawn to the river. I had to see it.

By the river, not much was different. The water level was high and it rushed by with great force. The pines surrounded me, not quite blocking the rain that was falling more heavily now. The weather suited my mood quite nicely. I took a selfie and posted it to Instagram, if for no other reason than to show where I was. I have this morbid obsession with establishing where I am when I’m out alone so my path can be recreated should something happen. I watch too many crime shows.

moody selfie

My mood was not improved, but the quiet felt comforting. I could disappear in the immenseness here, evaporate from existence. In the forest, the little things don’t matter.

In spite of being ill-prepared for a hike, I made my shaky way down the path to the river’s edge and found a beach. The mist in the distance was swirling in as the sky darkened. It was as if I was controlling the scene subconsciously. And it was absolutely beautiful.

perfect river scene

The rain started coming down harder and I was growing colder. I returned to the car just as humans proved to still exist. My peace was shattered.

Friday night, I returned home and slept for 12 hours.

Saturday I watched my nephew. I took the kids to an Easter egg hunt that was over before it even started. A false start couldn’t be stopped and the kids took over the field as the Parks crew looked on in defeat. My nephew didn’t mind–he didn’t seem to know what was going on anyway. My kids made the best of it. Nobody was really disappointed, but it seemed like a perfect metaphor for my life–left behind as everyone surges forward.

playground

Saturday afternoon I felt exhausted again. I should have been outside enjoying the sunshine and warm temps. Instead, I curled up on the couch, hiding under a blanket, shutting out the world. I napped for at least 2 hours.

Sleep doesn’t make the world go away, though.

My husband insisted I go out Saturday night. I would be alone–as I often am when I go out–which is a mixed blessing. I can do what I want, when I want–I am in control of my destiny. But it gets lonely, and I grow tired of fiddling with my phone before events start so that I look like I belong. Or like I’m waiting for someone to show, instead of being that loser girl all by herself again. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to take on another event alone, even though I had been looking forward to it.

In the end, he won. I showered, dressed, and headed out.

The night began much the way I described. I awkwardly selected a chair in the corner, alone and yet accidentally in a patch of light where I couldn’t hide. I felt exposed. And I was terrified. I knew an old friend would be at this event, but we hadn’t spoken in almost four years. The last time we did speak, I was on a path of self-destruction and tried to drag him along with me. There wasn’t enough vodka in my smoothie to muster the courage I was pretending to have.

And then, what I feared most happened: he talked to me. And it wasn’t to kick me out. Somehow, the tension of these past few years was broken, in an instant, and it was over. It no longer was there to hang over my head, and I was free to enjoy myself. Or, at least try.

Bella's Bartok

Free. As free as one can be when she lives in the same town where she grew up. At least I was mostly anonymous in that crowd.

Slowly, the music I had been looking forward to hearing lured me out of my shell. I bopped a little in time to it, despite my complete lack of rhythm. By the time the second band came on, I was much looser and even accepted the outstretched arm of one of the more passionate patrons, overcoming the fear of tripping over my gimp left foot as I pranced across the floor with him. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know this guy. In fact, that probably helped. I was having fun.

At the end of the night, I was sweaty and tired, but in a good way. I didn’t feel quite so drained anymore. My cup was starting to fill up again. I’m still working on getting it to half full. At least I’m heading in the right direction now.

Apr 07 2014

#FromLeft2Write: The Opposite of Maybe

The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie DawsonThis post was inspired by the novel  The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson. At the age of 44, Rosie finds herself suddenly single and pregnant. She tries to run away, hiding in her grandmother’s home, but instead is transformed by two men who change her life forever. Join From Left to Write on April 8 as we discuss The Opposite of Maybe. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

It wasn’t until Rosie’s hometown was revealed to be North Haven that I realized the author, Maddie Dawson, lives in my home state. Or, at least, lived there at some point. I was sitting in Starbucks, escaping from my workday for a brief moment, and I literally put the book down to absorb this information. Who writes about Connecticut, anyway? I pulled out my phone and performed a quick search, confirming–yup, only people who live here. And somehow, that made me feel a little more connected.

North Haven–the location of the home where Soapie brought Rosie to raise her–is near West Haven, where my husband’s grandparents lived. His grandfather built the house himself and lived there for more than fifty years. I can still picture the road leading to the shore, less than a mile from his house on the hill. Both his grandparents passed away before we were married–his grandmother, sadly, suffered from Alzheimer’s the entire time I knew her. His grandfather was by her side as much as he could be, even when she eventually had to be admitted to a nursing home. He cared for her til her end. And then he didn’t last much longer before he went off to join her in the afterlife.

When Rosie and Tony take Milo to Kid City in Middletown, I could imagine every step they took because I’ve brought my kids there many times before. When they were little and I was a stay-at-home mom, rainy days would be spent at Kid City (and places like it) in order to preserve some semblance of sanity. The kids could run around, burning off their abundance of energy, all while remaining dry. And I could escape the home, which could feel a bit like a cell if we were trapped there too long. The fish factory? That’s my kids’ favorite feature of this children’s hands-on museum. They would spend all day there, if I let them. The diner with the plastic food? I have “eaten” many meals there. The book nook? I can’t say I’ve never considered the room for the same purposes they used it. Or, at least had a passing thought that it would be a nice little place to get away for a smooch. With the door closed, of course.

Little things like this made me feel more a part of Rosie’s life, even if we have nothing in common. And that was kind of cool.

Have you read a book set in your home state? Did it change your experience with the book?

Apr 07 2014

Prosecco-Brown Sugar Glazed Bone-In Ham #client #giveaway

Disclosure: Jones Dairy Farm sent me a semi-boneless, fully-cooked ham for this post and will be providing the product for the giveaway, as well. No other compensation was received. All opinions and photos remain my own.

Certain foods are expected to be paired with certain times of year. Burgers always make me think of long summer days spent swimming at my grandparents’ cottage at the lake and chasing fireflies at dusk. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the turkey. Pile on the stuffing and mashed potatoes, please. And when it comes to Easter, there is no finer pairing than ham. We may not always celebrate Easter on Easter (yes, my family is weird), but you can be guaranteed that when we do, ham is what’s for dinner.

ham dinner

It’s not every day we have ham. So when Jones Dairy Farm asked me if I wanted to make one of their hams and share it with my readers, I jumped at the opportunity. I usually am visiting someone else’s house for Easter instead of playing hostess–it was my turn to spin the tables around. I’m glad I had the chance to show how foolproof it can be, especially when you’re starting with a high quality hog. Jones Dairy Farm makes it so easy!

My bone-in ham arrived in its own little ice chest, wrapped and tied like it was a special gift just for me. Did you know that you can order a Jones Dairy Farm ham to be shipped to your own door, too? In fact, I’ll be giving one away at the end of this post!

Jones Dairy Farm ham

We couldn’t believe how BIG our ham was. It weighed in somewhere around 16.5 lbs and measured nearly 14″ long. We named it–because we’re a little strange around here–Hamilton Porkington I. The kids couldn’t wait for me to cook it up. It was torture waiting until I had the time to plan a proper feast.

Jones Dairy Farm ham

Feast day came and we prepared. My wall oven is too small for my roasting pan–the downside to not having to bend over–so I actually own an electric roaster. It’s something like a huge crock pot that normally lives in the basement when it’s not being used. I unwrapped Hamilton and took him in for all his glory. Wow! Now that was a piece of meat! The aroma already was enticing without heating him up! Because the ham is fully cooked, the time it spends in the oven is just really to reheat it. You don’t want to use too high of a temperature or cook it too long or you’ll dry your ham right out, which would be a very sad thing. So let’s not do that, okay?

After preheating my roaster, I placed Hamilton fat side down on the rack, covered, and set the timer. When there were 40 minutes left of heating time, I added the glaze, brushing it on a second time with 20 minutes remaining. The leftover glaze goes on top right before removing from the roaster to ensure a little bit of sweetness remains. It’s not necessary–you certainly don’t have to glaze your ham at all–but it’s a nice little touch of specialness.

Jones Dairy Farm ham

When you’re ready to carve, put a towel on your counter and place your cutting board on top of that. This helps in two ways: it’ll stabilize your cutting board and catch any drippings. If you have a cutting board with channels in it, I highly recommend using that. My biggest cutting board does not. Let your ham rest for 5 minutes before carving for maximum moistness.

Despite my knife skills class at The Culinary Institute of America in February–including a lesson on carving ham–I’m still a novice. It’s going to take a bit more practice to get the hang of this. Luckily, there is an excellent video on Jones Dairy Farm’s website to help you when it comes time to carve. I know I referred to it several times before I pulled my knife out. The most important part is to ensure your knife is sharp. Otherwise, you run the risk of cutting yourself in the process, and nobody wants that to happen.

Ta-da! There you have it! Easy, peasy, and so darn tasty!

Jones Dairy Farm ham

4.6 from 7 reviews
Prosecco-Brown Sugar Glazed Bone-In Ham
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 16
Ingredients
  • 1 semi-boneless fully cooked Jones Dairy Farm ham
Glaze
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup pure maple syrup (preferably darker)
  • ¾ cup Prosecco
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven or roaster to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Remove ham from wrapping and plastic and place fat-side down on a rack in the roasting pan. (My oven is too small for a roasting pan, so I use an electric, plug-in roaster.)
  3. Cook for 12-15 minutes per pound, or until ham reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. About 45 minutes before ham should be done, combine glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium to medium-high heat until it bubbles.
  5. Simmer uncovered for a few minutes to thicken.
  6. Remove the ham from the roaster and score the surface in a criss-cross, diamond pattern.
  7. Return to roaster and brush with ⅓ of the glaze. Cover and continue cooking.
  8. When there are 20 minutes left, brush with half of the remaining glaze, cover, and continue cooking.
  9. Brush with remaining glaze, carve, and serve.
Notes
Total cooking time and servings will vary depending on size of the ham. The ham I cooked was around 16 pounds and required around 3.5 hours of cooking.

Now I know you want your own ham, too, for your Easter table! The folks at Jones Dairy Farm have graciously offered to send one to one of my readers and all you have to do is enter in the Rafflecopter box below. This contest will run through Friday at 11:59PM to ensure there is enough time to get your ham to you before the holiday. Good luck! Note: contest open to residents of the United States only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Apr 02 2014

Whole Grain Streusel Coffee Cake #client #samplewholegrains #giveaway

Disclosure: I was approached by Oldways to be a Whole Grain Sampling Day Ambassador for 2014. They sent me a box of samples for my participation. I received no compensation for this post. All opinions remain my own.

Sample Whole Grains

On the first Wednesday in April every year, the Whole Grains Council holds its annual Whole Grain Sampling Day, an opportunity to try whole grain foods and see just how fantastic they really are. Their theory is that you’re more likely to buy it if you try it, and I have to agree. There are many foods I’ve passed over in life because I never tried them before–and I usually discovered later that I was missing out!

Whole Grain Sampling Day gift box

Today you’ll find a multitude of options for sampling whole grain foods. From specials at Dunkin’ Donuts to Denny’s Restaurants, California Pizza Kitchen to Roman Meal–the conversation will be taking place online through social media and there will be deals and opportunities to try whole grains in person, too. Whole Grains Council has a page on its website detailing some of these programs.

my daughter enjoying a graham cracker

When I was approached by Oldways to participate this year as a Whole Grain Sampling Day Ambassador, I was excited! My personal goal of integrating more whole foods–and, by extension, whole grains–into our diet while continuing to enjoy the sorts of foods we’ve always loved had finally coincided with a program to do just the same. It was meant to be! As an Ambassador, I would receive a box of samples of some great ways to incorporate whole grains into our diet AND be able to give away the same box to one of my readers! Yes, YOU will get a chance to win your own personal whole grain sampling day box and eat your way through it! Pretty cool, huh? (Enter at the end of this post in the Rafflecopter box for your chance to win!)

Whole Grain Sampling Day

The box arrived and I was elated. There were more products in it than I expected. And while I feared it might consist of the sort of twigs and flakes we tend to imagine whole grains to be–tasteless, bland, and boring fare saved only for 80s health food crazes–I was completely wrong. There were Mi-Del honey graham crackers and Roman Meal sandwich bread and Real McCoy’s rice puffs. My kids fought over the Skeeter nut-free cookies, quickly devouring them and begging for more. There was a cinnamon crunch Snackimals cereal from Barbara’s they couldn’t wait to dive into. The BelVita breakfast cookies soon became my quick snack before skiing, providing energy when I was on the go. And the Saigon Sunrise Vietnamese cinnamon kettle corn from Pops-a-Lot–WOW. I shared it with my co-workers and we couldn’t stop picking from it. I never would have imagined cinnamon + kettle corn, but it’s a winning combination. None of this was boring or bland. And I was thrilled!

Whole Grain Sampling Day

I also had the opportunity to order a 5-pound bag of All Natural Ultragrain Blend All Purpose Unbleached Flour, which I used in the recipe I’m sharing today. It’s a cup-for-cup replacement for all-purpose flour that gives you the nutrition of whole grain while combining the taste and convenience of white flour. As a baker, I was very intrigued about this product. Baking, in particular, is tricky if you’re trying to sub in whole grains. They change the texture, often making the finished product chewy or dry, with a graininess that can be undesirable. Their claim that I could use this flour blend in place of white flour and end up with a baked good that was just as appealing was one I had to test out. And I couldn’t think of a better way than with an indulgent coffee cake. Rhyme and reason, after all. I like to blend my extremes.

Ultragrain Blend All Purpose Flour

The Ultragrain flour seemed finer than white whole wheat flour I had used in the prior testing of this recipe. When the coffee cake emerged from the oven, it was fluffier than the last time I baked it–off to a great start. I was so impatient waiting for it to cool. I wanted to try it right away. The verdict? FANTASTIC! The crumb was light AND moist, which was not what I expected at all. If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t be able to detect the whole grains hidden inside. Ultragrain lives up to its claim! I’ll definitely be looking for this at the store.

Whole Grain Streusel Coffee Cake

So get on out there today and add some whole grain to your day. It’s really a lot easier than you think–and tastier, too! If you need some ideas on other recipes to try, Oldways also has a fantastic whole grains Pinterest board. Enjoy!

Whole Grain Streusel Coffee Cake

4.5 from 2 reviews
Whole Grain Streusel Coffee Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast/Brunch
Serves: 16
Ingredients
Topping
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, cold and cut up into pieces
  • ¼ cup All Natural Ultragrain Blend All Purpose Unbleached Flour
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup raw turbinado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cake
  • 1½ cups All Natural Ultragrain Blend All Purpose Unbleached Flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • ⅓ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large cage-free egg
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8"x8" baking dish and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
Topping
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, rub the butter, flour, brown sugar, raw sugar, and cinnamon together with your hands for a couple minutes, working it over until you get crumbly clumps like wet sand. Set aside.
Cake
  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk together the yogurt and whole milk. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until light. Beat in the egg, mixing until incorporated. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  4. Alternate adding the flour and yogurt mixtures, mixing until just incorporated.
  5. Spread in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the topping over the batter.
  6. Bake for 24-30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  7. Cool completely before removing from pan and serving.

Whole Grain Sampling Day

Want to win your own Whole Grain Sampling Day box?

All you have to do is enter in the Rafflecopter box below. Contest open to US residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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