It’s been a long week

Hi, friends. I’ve had a gritty week.

Hardship #1: Mr. Eyes is in his (likely) final sleep regression at 22 months; what this looks like is a night of great sleep, followed by a night of crying and wakefulness every hour or so, followed by a night or two of great sleep, followed by a sleepless night… you get the picture. We’re finishing week 2 of this, so hopefully we’ll be through it soon. In the meantime, I never know if I’m going to have all my marbles the next morning or not… and if not, I have much less brain capacity for Internetz. Hence you haven’t heard much from me.

Hardship #2: The marriage has taken a few hits this week, too, thanks to a handful of somewhat-more-drastic-than-usual mistakes being made, some arduous late-night conversations (which allowed us to make good relational/behavior progress with one another but were still grueling to get through, especially given hardship #1 above), and a pretty dramatic relapse on my part back into vacillating attachment behavior. I hadn’t had a flair-up in awhile and didn’t expect one, but I should have: a few weeks of escalating frustrations coupled with a particular triggering incident dumped me down the elevator shaft of old, broken ways of thinking, and I had built myself a mud castle at the bottom before I realized it. Shew. It was bad. Thank God, I have a compassionate, attentive mentor in my pastor’s wife, and a phone call with her allowed me to blow off a lot of steam in a healthy, safe context; and, thankfully, my counselor has equipped me with some state-of-the-art resources that allow me to identify my broken, unhealthy thought patterns and respond to my triggers with wisdom and compassion and, thus, humility. Also, thankfully, I have a very long-suffering husband who is working hard to understand the layers of problems I’m continually sorting through and help me cope with them.

Hardship #3: My mother is going in for major surgery on Tuesday, and while I’ve tried hard not to think about it, this is really troubling for me. She’s going to have 90 staples in her stomach when all is said and done, and the recovery will take at least a month if not more time. She’ll be on a liquid diet and stuck at the hospital for days. She’s worried, and I’m worried for her. I’m worried for my sister, too, who lives with my mom and depends on her greatly for all kinds of support. They are coming up to celebrate Easter with us and my husband’s family tomorrow, and I’ve been worried how that all will go, too…. partly because of #4 below:

Hardship #4: This is my own fault, but I took on some cooking tasks for tomorrow. While I enjoy cooking, after the other stressors of the week, this has introduced a lot of extra nervous tension into my moment-by-moment existence. I actually spent the majority of today with a horrible stomachache, apparently caused by *eating*, of all things (both breakfast and dinner induced horrible pangs; aside from those meals I grazed lightly the rest of the day, and while that didn’t hurt so much, it didn’t seem to help so much either)… since the pain has seemingly finally gone away after a liberal application of antacid tabs, and since there were no other symptoms, my best guess is that I have a build-up of stomach acid caused by stress. Because this isn’t the first time similar things have happened to me, I’m very inclined to hang my head and throw up my hands. Shoot, I screwed myself over *again*. That’s all I can think. …But, at least I can be super grateful that whatever it is seems to have passed. I’m just praying it doesn’t flair up again tomorrow (and if you’re the praying sort… I really wouldn’t mind prayers toward that end <3).


 

So, after all that, I kind of just wanted to fill in those of you who might be wondering where I’ve been this week… to keep it real, keep it honest… keep it gritty. I especially wanted to get this out before tomorrow, because, well, Easter:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for usWho shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or swordAs it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to comenor height nor depth, nor any other created thing,

shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

–Romans 8:31-39

 

…Nor tummy aches nor sleeplessness nor toddlers nor family gatherings nor anxiety nor depression nor self-destruction nor over-commitment nor idealization nor devaluing nor history nor triggers nor any other brokenness

can separate me from the love of God.

He is risen.

Jesus has risen from the grave, warming us as the dawn.

 

Sometimes, food looks like poop

Last night I tried to make lava cakes.

I make cakes all the time, usually with decent success, and this is one of the simplest cake recipes I’ve ever used. It only had five ingredients.

But I think I misjudged the size of my mugs. I needed 10-12 ounce sized mugs, and I suspect these were rather less than that.

failed lava cakes

I told J that they looked like poop, and he protested that they didn’t… but that was before he saw them. Not that that phased him, of course. 🙂

There wasn’t any lava to speak of, either… well, none that didn’t turn into the lava flow/volcanic rock you see here, at least. The centers were just moist cake, not at all gooey.

Oh well. The boys enjoyed it (we had let them stay up very late for the promise of the cake project I was working on… so I was glad they weren’t disappointed!)–we split one and gave them each half.

Hubby and I took a few nibbles, and we threw all the rest out. Just not satisfying.

I might try lava cake again someday… hard to fail worse than poop cakes, right? Only place to go from here is up. 🙂

P.S. Of course, this failure happened *after* my sweet mother-in-law hauled those mugs over to my house because I didn’t have any oven-proof mugs of my own, and *after* my sweet father-in-law drove back to their house to get the cookbook with the recipe in it that I’d forgotten to tell her I also needed. At least they excused themselves from the party too early to witness the result… although history tells me they would have been indulgent. Even if the cakes were not. 😉

 

Really, how can you say no to this gorgeousness?

Whiny Beef Stew

A little while back we had family coming over from out of town, so I put some extra effort into dinner (with two kids 4 and under, food at home tends to be pretty simple these days!). Not too much effort, mind you–this is still a one-pot meal with lots of hands-off time! But it’s also very appealing to grown-up palettes. A welcome break, when I have an excuse!

And hey, I figured that if the kids wound up eating yogurt and fruit pouches for dinner, it wouldn’t hurt anything! The basic rule is that anyone we can manage to carry on a rational conversation with (this doesn’t always apply to our youngest, so he still wiggles out of it sometimes… :P) has to try a couple bites of the main meal; then he can fill up on whatever other (reasonably healthy) options we have readily available (I don’t cook more than one meal for us!). This often leads to some whining, but also a gradually increased ability to adult, so you know… part of the parenting job.

With that premise, then, I present to you:

Whiny Beef Stew

Because what better opportunity to smush together so many synonyms for being out of sorts?? 😀 This stew will fix that right up!

This is a recipe that I adapted from a Williams-Sonoma magazine article of several years ago. It’s a favorite with my husband’s family, who introduced me to the original recipe, and now my version is a standard favorite in our home (well… at least amongst the adults).

You start by grabbing your big Le Creuset knock-off Dutch oven from Walmart, chopping up two strips of thick-cut bacon, and frying them in some olive oil.

Leave the heat on high, walk away for 60 seconds to attend to something else, then return to frantically scrape the sticking pieces of nearly-charred bacon out of the pot before they completely burn to a crisp.

Or–don’t. Just don’t do it. That’s what I did, and this is what the pot looked like after the fact:

I had to wash it all out in order to be able to continue using it, and I ruined all the delicious bacon drippings that would have otherwise flavored the broth. 😦 Not to worry, though!

Mmmmmmmm BACON.
…but I managed to save the bacon!! Har har…

The bacon itself was saved (ha, ha!), and I still had plenty of opportunity left to develop a flavorful stock, as follows…

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a clean pot and heat it over medium-high for about 30 seconds. Then drop in chunks of beef stew meat, liberally salt and pepper them, and sear them on all sides. Do this in a few batches: if you fill the pot with meat, leaving no gaps, it won’t brown properly, and all the flavor created by the marvelous Maillard reaction will be lost and your stew won’t taste amazing–fine, but really not amazing.

Once you’ve seared a batch no larger than what I’ve done in the picture above, scoop the meat out onto the plate with the reserved bacon. Add another tablespoon of oil and brown the second batch, then the third (it took me three batches to brown two pounds of meat). Season these batches, too! And remember, you’re just searing, not cooking through, so do this on medium-high heat and keep an eye on it, stirring as needed–it goes quickly.

Check your pan in between batches to make sure none of the pan drippings are sticking too much and starting to burn. If they are, wipe them out (carefully!!) with a damp paper towel; don’t clean the pot obsessively. You want to keep as much of that meaty goodness as possible!

I’m drooling just looking at the sear in that last photo. Whewee!!

Ok. After you’ve finished the last batch, dump the rest of the meat and the bacon back into the pot…

Dump in any juices that have collected on the plate, too!
Dump all the meat and the bacon back into the pot.

…and add two cups of meat stock. Either chicken or beef is fine, and it can be homemade or store bought. I just happened (for the first time in my life!) to have leftover beef stock from a roast I’d made the week before that I could use, so I dug that out of the fridge and attempted to scoop the layer of fat off the top before dumping it in. That didn’t go so well.

I ended up sloshing stock all over the counter and floor, losing half a cup of rich, meaty goodness to my own clumsiness. Grrrrrr…itty! Ugh.

So I added a bunch of chicken stock to make up for the loss, and that worked just fine. 🙂

Then pour in a cup and a half of red wine. Again, I had some old stuff I needed to use up because I decided I didn’t much like it for drinking, and then I just used some regular cooking wine from the grocery store for the rest.

Take a minute here to move your oven racks to their lowest position and start preheating your oven to 350. Next, grab an onion and some fresh garlic and get to hacking:

Check out the captions and alt-text for more detailed instructions on how to easily dice an onion and peel garlic cloves. 🙂

Looks good already, doesn’t it?? But we’re not done yet! Add yet more seasonings: salt, pepper, bay leaves, and fresh thyme.

Mmmmmmm THYME!
Now for the thyme.

Tip for preparing fresh thyme: those stems can be pretty woody, even after a good braise (which is exactly what’s gonna happen to this stew, btw). So, to cut out as much stem as possible, grasp a sprig in one hand, hold it over the pot, and pull it through the fingertips of your other hand, against the way the leaves grow. This will peel them off the stem, and if you get a bit of that in the pot, it’ll mostly be the tender parts. No biggie.

Now, if you want to do this just like me, promptly forget that the barley you’re going to add will in fact take an extra hour of cook time and assume that it should just go in with the vegetables 20 minutes before serving time. D’oh!

Mmmmmmmm BARLEY!
…and don’t forget your barley, like I did.

Don’t be like me. Add your barley NOW, before you throw the pot (with lid on) into the oven for an hour to braise. Otherwise dinner will be late, barley will be al dente, and the veggies will be mush. :-/ (But, never fear, that Maillard reaction will still cover a multitude of sins!)

Now, as I said, the pot goes into the preheated oven for an hour at 350 degrees. Set it and forget it! While you’re waiting, prep your veggies…

Mmmmmmmm CARROTS!
Peel and chop up your carrots.
Mmmmmmmm PARSNIPS!
And your parsnips.

…then once the hour’s up, add them to the pot and return to the oven for 20 more minutes. Or, do what I did and finish cooking on the stovetop so you can use the oven to bake some biscuits! 😛

Don't worry about the scum around the inside of the bowl--that's how you know it's GOOD!
Add the carrots and ‘snips to the pot.

For the last half-hour or so of cooking, double-check your liquid and your seasoning: barley soaks up a LOT of water, so add another cup or two of stock if things seem to be getting sticky. Sprinkle in a little extra salt and pepper if you do to keep the flavor from diluting.

Annnnnnnnnd here’s the close-to-final product!

Really, how can you say no to this gorgeousness?
All together now!

…I didn’t actually get a shot of the final product because dinner was rather late due to my barley miscalculation and people were HUNGRY. I knew the stew was actually tasty, though, because they went back for seconds. 🙂 In fact, they ate it ALL.

This was all that was left after dinner! It disappeared THAT FAST!!
I didn’t get a single stylish shot of the finished product.

This is all that was left! O.O I didn’t even get a chance for a decent picture!

Well, I did get this one: the untouched kiddie bowl that my almost-2-year-old refused to touch. 😀

And that's why it's called beef and WHINE stew! ;P
…except for the boys’ bowls, of course. 😛

I made biscuits and a salad to go with the whiny stew, and it was a perfectly hearty, comforting, wholesome meal on a cold, rainy February day.

J even took a bite with minimal whining. 🙂

 


 

Really, how can you say no to this gorgeousness?
All together now!

Whiny Beef Stew

*Note: this recipe can be made gluten free if you omit the barley! It is also egg and dairy free.

2 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
2 lbs. beef stew meat
4-5 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups red wine
2-3 cups meat stock (chicken or beef)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup medium barley (don’t use regular–it’ll take much too long to cook!)
3-4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3-4 parsnips, peeled and sliced

Move your oven racks to their lowest positions and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, oven-proof stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, crisp up the bacon. Add a little olive oil if it starts to stick, and stir it around plenty. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot, then about a third of the beef. Don’t crowd it, or the meat won’t sear properly. Liberally season the meat with salt and pepper and allow it to sear over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to brown all sides. Scoop the seared beef out onto the reserved bacon plate, then repeat the process with the remaining two thirds of beef in batches. Keep an eye on the bottom of the pot–don’t let the pan drippings burn!

Once all the meat is seared, return it, the bacon, and any collected juices to the pot. Add the wine, the stock, a teaspoon more of salt, several good grinds of fresh pepper, the bay leaves, the fresh time, the onion, the garlic, and (if using) the barley. Replace the lid on the pot and pop it into the oven; let it braise for an hour, checking after 45 minutes to ensure there is still enough liquid and nothing is trying to dry out and burn.

Prep your vegetables and add them to the pot after the hour is up. Cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread, salad, and the expectation that your littles might not appreciate your cooking now… but they SO will in 15 years. ❤