30 September 2015

An Apology from My Husband

The following post was written by my husband, Michael, in the wake of our recent loss. His mother, Mary, was on a run with friends on 19 September 2015 when she suddenly dropped to the ground, losing consciousness. She was without oxygen for a half hour before her pulse was restored. Mary was on a ventilator for several days before doctors told us that the damage to her brain was too extensive for survival. The painful decision to remove her from the ventilator was made last Thursday, and she passed away a few hours later. The days we spent in the hospital, at home, between awake and asleep inspired my husband's words. They are incredibly moving, and I wanted to share them through my personal blog.

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I was wrong.

For as long as I can remember I’ve tried to avoid difficult, emotionally charged situations. I typically don’t enjoy conflict, and I especially shy away from any scenario where bad news is assured.

Being logical, my excuse for not “showing up” was simple. In tragic situations, no words have any effect on the outcome, and I certainly wouldn’t be saying anything that countless others hadn’t already said. The entire ritual of consoling the distraught and broken-hearted seemed like an enormous waste of time and energy. One person expresses sympathy and offers support, and the other expresses gratitude for that sympathy and support, all while the issue at hand remains unchanged.

My mother, always the educator, opened my eyes during this horrible experience. In losing her I realized just how important it is to offer support, sympathy, and condolences to the suffering. Admittedly, the words themselves do little to ease the pain. They sound hollow against the reality of what we’re facing. But as a good friend said at some point during this ordeal: “You don’t remember the words, but you do remember the faces.”

The faces. The people who sacrificed their time, donated food, even clothing and shelter, in an honest effort to ease the burden of losing someone irreplaceable. I won’t forget the overwhelming outpouring of support from so many. None of them had to “show up,” but compassion and courage led them to do something when nothing could be done. Courage especially, because their actions made me realize that my inaction in similar situations was not a logical consequence; it was cowardice.

From this single epiphany I could theorize about the natural interdependence of humans, the true measure of a successful life, etc. I mean, did you ever watch the climactic scene in Toy Story 3 (yes, I have a kid) and wonder why the toys were all holding hands in the face of certain doom? Probably not, because when all else is lost and the only variable you can control is whether or not to connect with loved ones, you choose to connect. Every. Single. Time. But those theories are outside of the scope of this little collection of thoughts.

For those whom I have failed, please accept this apology. I should have been there to offer my support and try to ease your burden. I chose to avoid the heartache you were experiencing, and I chose poorly. To those who have been there for me, please know that you are loved and appreciated. My communication may be sporadic at best, but I am keenly aware that I have far better friends than I deserve. Your support and kind words will not be forgotten, and for your thoughts, your prayers, and your vegetable soup, I am eternally grateful.


-Michael D.

16 July 2014

Super Sour Dill Pickle Recipe

I freaking love pickles. On chicken sandwiches. On overly-burned hot dogs. Straight out of the jar for an afternoon snack. So when I learned to make my own pickles, I felt like I was unstoppable.

Except, the first few jars of pickles I made were soft and limp. And if you're averse to creepy food textures like me, I didn't want to have anything to do with these unsatisfying salty treats. Hadn't I followed all the canning instructions? Yes. Didn't I look into using pickling lime and crisping pellets? Sure. But that felt about as natural as the food dyes they put in Vlasic dill chips.

That's right. They dye them that color.

I started looking for pickles that contained more natural ingredients and fell in love with Claussen. They still had a couple of ingredients I questioned (high fructose corn syrup??? IN PICKLES?), but they preserve their cukes differently: cold processing. No heating their produce.

I looked into copycat recipes for cold processing and found this one from Foodie with Family. It was a good start, but of course, I had to tweak it to my liking. I wanted my pickles to be sour enough that your mouth puckers with each bite. Foodie's recipe just didn't use enough vinegar for that.



So here's my process for making super sour dill pickles:

Ingredients:
craploads of cucumbers
1/2 gallon apple cider vinegar
1/2 gallon water
2/3 cup Kosher salt or canning/pickling salt (DO NOT USE IODIZED SALT)
fresh dill sprigs (NO DRIED DILL WEED)
whole garlic cloves (preferably smashed)
fresh onion, cut into quarter rings
dill seed
pickling spices (I sometimes leave these out)

Directions:
Some folks hate the fact that I don't always use exact measurements. But one of the cold hard facts about harvesting from your own garden is that you don't almost end up with the exact number of pieces of produce that a recipe calls for.  After a heavy rain, you might walk in with 40 gorgeously fat cukes. When you have long stretches of heat without a drop of precipitation, you might bring in a handful of short and oddly-shaped cukes. So to prepare for canning anywhere from 2 to 20 pints, I just make a gallon of pickling brine (vinegar, water, and salt) when making a batch of pickles, and whatever is left over gets stored in our fridge until the next time I need it.

Wash and cut your cukes to your liking. When I made a batch with my 13 year-old neighbor, we decided to make a "scrap" jar because so many cukes were weirdly shaped. It contained odd hunks, half slices, and whole baby cukes all in the same jar. Very fun.

If you believe cold-soaking cukes helps keep them crispy, you can put them in an ice water bath while you do the rest of the prep.

Make sure your jars, lids, and bands are clean and sterilized just before you start putting stuff in each one. Either run them through the dishwasher or clean them in hot, soapy water. Set them open-end up (lids, too) on a cooling rack.

Here's where you get to experiment. Add as much of the garlic, onion, fresh dill, dill seed, and pickling spices as you like TO EACH JAR! Think I'm crazy? Well, I am, but it's what makes the process fun and different each session. If you want some sort of "standard," though, here's a good baseline for each jar: 2 cloves garlic, 1 sprig fresh dill, several pieces of onion, 1-2 tsp dill seed, 1 tbsp pickling spices. I'm not a huge fan of the pickling spices, and I don't always have fresh dill. So at the very least, try to use the garlic, onion, and dill seed.

Pack each jar with the cut cukes to the top, pour the brine over them until the jars are almost full, and cover with a lid and band. Don't forget the date on top. They're supposed to be good for only a month, but we've had a couple of jars make it a year. Vinegar is a hell of a preservative. Let them cure on your counter until you open them, and then store them in your electric cold box.



__________________________

Are these super sour pickles any good? Well, one friend ate an entire pint within 5 hours of me giving it to her. She even sent a photo of the empty jar with a request for another. A co-worker took a pint home to his family, only getting the chance to eat one spear before his step-daughter tore through the rest. He was pretty mad he didn't get to eat more.

As for Nerd? Our tot will put on her best polite act to get her hands on a jar from the fridge.

And as you can see from this recipe, there are no dyes or lime. Not for this pickling hippie. Take that, Vlasic.


06 June 2014

Supreme Pita Pizza

For two years, I lived with an amazing gal named Macy. She could swing dance, get super bendy with her yoga, and she killed at charades. But I think I liked observing her culinary skills most of all because not only were her meals delicious, but they were also healthy. So I learned a few things from her in the kitchen, and Macy's pita pizzas became a favorite of mine. A few days ago, I rekindled my love affair with this easy lunch-time meal.

Here's what you need (and remember--I don't give exact measurements in my recipes):
•a whole wheat pita pocket (I like the Toufayan brand)
•pepperoni (I used uncured)
•zucchini
•Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced 
•1-2 garlic cloves, diced
•chopped/sliced sweet onion
•chopped/sliced bell pepper
•oregano and basil, to taste (I used the fresh stuff from our garden, but dried is fine)
•mozzarella cheese
•Parmesan cheese 

I store unused pita pockets in our fridge.


Directions:
Pretty much cut up and throw on every rolling that you can fit on the pita. Cover the toppings with cheese. Bake at 400-425 degrees, depending on how brown you want your cheese to be on top. Then savor alongside a glass of ice tea.

The "before cheese" shot. See how lovely these ingredients look on the pita?

Melty, cheesy yumminess--with veggies!

I could see this meal easily being a kid favorite, and it hardly takes any time to assemble, especially since you're not making dough from scratch. It's not drowning in grease, either. And the pita crisps up nicely to give you a stable crust for handling. I don't have to cut these into smaller pieces! Hope you enjoy my take on my friends's creation. I love it when food ties into a memory!


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