Thursday Ten: Busy Busy Busy Edition

1. The closer we get to Christmas, the more chaotic life gets. It’s always something, isn’t it? Holiday shopping for family and friends, then back at it to shop for class gifts and gymnastics party gifts, holiday concerts, baking cookies, work parties, fa la la la la la la la la. I’m tired. I’m grateful to have NOTHING going on tonight. “You shouldn’t have said that,” my mom told me yesterday, “because now something will come up.” If it does, I’m going to say NO. I’m not leaving my house unless I have to.

2. Seems silly, though, waiting until less than a week before Christmas to realize that something’s gotta give but… SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE. There are some things I will happily do, and not at all feel crunched or stressed or bothered… But more and more there are things that are feeling like “have to do’s” instead of feeling joyous, and… I don’t like that. A lot of people are far better than I am about setting boundaries for themselves and their families when it comes to the holidays — but… I’ll get there. Because UGH.

3. One of my favorite things I’ve done so far this holiday season is to go with the girls to see “Frozen.” Delightful little movie. Just love it. We’ve been singing the songs for weeks now.

4. I also have decided – the week before Christmas, natch – to maybe stop eating every bit of junk food that crosses my path. Ha ha ha ha *sob.* Funny how you make those proclamations: “I’m going to eat mindfully!” and then someone hands you a dessert plate with the most beautiful tiramisu you’ve ever seen (and you don’t even like tiramisu!) and suddenly you’ve undone three days of eating boring food. Sigh. Today, I start over. Again. This time.

5. Winter hasn’t even officially started and so far the weather has been BRUTAL.Cold temps lots of snow and icy commutes. And ALL the shoveling! My shoulders from this shoveling. I’m going to have amazing shoulders by spring. And cramped hands from the white knuckle driving.

6. Yep. Still hooked on Netflix marathons of Parenthood.

7. Every year there’s always a present that I’m super excited to give – one more than any other that I think the recipient will be happy and surprised and just over-the-moon about. This year… I don’t have that thing. And it’s a bummer. Next year, I hope to be back to spectacular gift giving.

8. I have a full to-do list for the weekend. I think I can get away with barely leaving the house but that’s really only because there’s so much laundry to do that there’s nothing clean to wear outside the house, anyway.

9. If someone could deliver a greasy diner breakfast-y meal right now, that’d be awesome. Waffles sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with sausage. THIS is what happens when I decide to not eat all the junk food. I crave all the junk food.

10.Last weekend I had the opportunity to do the headshots for a local caterer – what fun, shooting in a kitchen. A totally different vibe and feel than photographing families. It was great work and I’m so pleased with the results. I love having opportunities like that, especially these days.


Day 26: Gray Skies and Lemon Bars

It’s cold today – cold and dreary. And I say this not because that’s news – it’s Michigan in November after all – but because it just is. This coldness, this dreary weather, it wears on me. The chill in the air lingers long after I walk in the door and shrug off my coat and kick my boots in the general direction of the mudroom.

This weather makes me want to sleep.

It also makes me want to bake.

And so today on the way home I stopped for lemons.

Lemon bars have been on my brain lately – partly because the friend who is helping me out in the mornings by getting Pumpkin on the bus said she’d help in exchange for lemon bars. And partly because today was a day that needed something sweet, something cookie-like.

Freshly squeezed lemon juice, the sweetness of sugar, a buttery pastry crust. Sigh. I love lemon bars and I typically hate fruity desserts.

Baking is therapeutic for me – the very action of measuring, stirring, mixing, pouring. All of it soothes my soul.

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I threw a load of laundry in the washing machine while the lemon bars baked. I changed into clothes to spend time with the treadmill. When the bars were done, I barely let them cool before slicing a piece to sample, nearly burning my tongue.


Absolutely delicious.

I can’t make Michigan stop being winter. I can’t make the skies less dreary. But a little bit of lemon lightness makes the day a little brighter.

Day 17: How to Make Gougere (They’re Basically Cheese Puffs. Awesome Cheese Puffs.)

A few months ago when the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids opened, Chris and I went wandering around to see what there was to see and to try some of the offerings from some of the vendors. Not all the vendors were up and running at full capacity and some only had a limited  selection of their wares. One of those vendors was Field & Fire.

Field & Fire’s head baker-dude was one of the head baker dudes at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, so needless to say, I had a few expectations of what F&F would have to offer, and that it should be phenomenally good.

I was right.

That first day was also the first time I’d ever tried a gougere. If you’ve ever had a cream puff, a gougere really isn’t all that different. It’s a kind of a puffy-bready-savory-peppery thing. Looks like a roll or a biscuit and then you bite into it and then AWESOMENESS ENSUES.

They’re so amazing that it’s a semi-regular thing we do – stop at Field & Fire for gougere and to Simpatico (the coffee place in the Downtown Market) for coffee (cappuccino for me, latte for him).


Sometimes it is not logistically feasible to go to the Market. So I wanted to try to make gougere on my own.

Know what? It’s not that hard.

Mine are not yet as amazing as the ones from Field & Fire (which shouldn’t be a surprise – trained professional versus me), but they’re not bad.


Here’s how you do it.

  1. Preheat your oven to 425° (you’ll want the racks to be kinda in the middle).
  2. Lightly butter a baking dish (or go sans butter if you’re using parchment paper or a Silpat).
  3. In a large saucepan, combine: 1 stick unsalted butter, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1 cup water and bring it to a boil.
  4. Once it boils, remove it from heat and add 1 cup flour. Whisk until smooth. [Note: at this point, when you whisk it all together, it will pull away from the sides of the pan and become this sort of blobby ball of shiny dough. This is called “pate-au-choux” or “pat a shoe” as my kid calls it.]
  5. Let it cool slightly and either dump into the bowl of your stand mixer or dig in your cupboards for an electric mixer.
  6. One by one, add 4 eggs, beating thoroughly after you add each egg.
  7. Add 1 cup of cheddar cheese {I’ve made it with white cheddar, I’ve made it with orange cheddar. I’ve added parmesan once. Some recipes say to use gruyere. So, add the cheesy goodness of your choosing}
  8. Mix in about 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper – you can add more if you love pepper, or less if you don’t. I love a really peppery gougers, so… I don’t really measure, just add it til it looks right.
  9. Scoop in heaping spoonfuls onto your baking dish (I make very very big scoops).
  10. Bake at 425° for about 27 minutes-ish, turn your oven down to 400 and then bake for another 7 – 10 minutes.
  11. Let ’em cool a bit.

If you have a lot left over, I’d say to pop them in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer… left out at room temp, they lose their appeal after about a day – and with all that egg and cheese it seems it should proooooobably be kept cool.

{And if you’re in Grand Rapids, you should stop by Field & Fire for a gougere. Or a loaf of bread. Or croissants. I’m not getting paid to say nice things about them. They’re just that good.}

Kitchen Through the Lens: Where It Is and Where It Will Be

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Just over a year ago, I launched a project. I put together a list of recipes, things I’d always wanted to try to make but hadn’t, as well as things I never thought of making but the internet thought I should. It was a weird point in my life – newly separated, I wanted to create something for myself, something that the kids and I could look forward to. I didn’t know how I was going to cook for our little family of three, or even what I would be cooking for our little family. I wanted to branch out, try new things, and try to learn to love cooking.

Along the way, I wanted to hone my food photography skills as well.

What happened?

Well, cinnamon bread happened. Caipirinhas. Vinaigrettes. Mmmmmmargaritas happened (and then they happened again. And again). Beer braised tacos. Lemon pasta. Cream puffs. Pesto. Beer bread. Patatas bravas.

I haven’t made the whole list yet and I haven’t even made anything new from it in awhile (though, I’ve got infused vodka on the brain – thinking a basil infused vodka, maybe a lemon simple syrup – might be a fun summery drink. I’m making this up as I type this post – oooh! I’m spontaneous).

But the cooking projects along the way became a little expensive – and hey, that may be why I didn’t make some of these things in the first place. I mean, I love hummus and it was fun making it, but I’ve spent more than a few bucks now on a jar of tahini and what the heck else do I do with it (besides make a lot more hummus)?

Not only that, but…

I kind of learned to really enjoy cooking. Part of it was opening up my mind to expand beyond the normal repertoire of things I’d always cooked (and no matter what, the kids won’t let me stop making spaghetti). Part of it was spending time in the kitchen with someone who really loves to cook and learning to see why the process can be enjoyable and finding his joy and discovering that yeah, it’s fun.

Grilled spicy Sriracha burger with crispy shallots and ginger-chili aioli

It’s fun to move around the kitchen cutting and chopping and laughing and knowing that in the end you’re gonna have something like that burger, for example. (The second time we made them, I actually made a homemade bun to accompany it. Wow.)

Circumstances have changed – I’m taking a break from spending a fortune on every new meal I make (that job thang, always gettin’ in my way). Not only that but the girls and I aren’t in that place where we were a year ago. We no longer need to manufacture things to look forward to because life is actually pretty good. Add to that the part where I accidentally learned to like spending time in the kitchen for something other than cheesecake, and well… you can maybe see why this project has dwindled.

But it won’t go away. I’ll finish that list – I mean, I haven’t even made my own sourdough bread yet and I’ve been wanting to try that forever.

So, stay tuned. Don’t go away. There will be more food and more pictures. I promise.


Kitchen Through the Lens: Chipotle Stout Beer Braised Tacos

I think this was the moment where I first felt truly like a success in the kitchen – this dish. This dish made me feel like, Whoa Sarah, you are not just a baker. YOU. CAN. COOK.

It’s silly actually because all I did was follow the directions, and the recipe wasn’t that complicated, but it tastes complicated – and impressive. I made these tacos for someone who is an amazing cook, and when he enjoyed them, I was so pleased with myself. Ridiculously pleased with myself.

Maybe a little bit too much so.


When I was originally looking to make a list of things to cook, I got to item 40 or so on my list and got stumped. Joe from The Hungry Dudes suggested this recipe to me, the Chipotle Stout Beer Braised Beef Tacos. Immediately, I was intrigued.

And since Grand Rapids, Michigan is BEER CITY USA 2013, I surely had enough craft beers at my disposal to use for this recipe.


Originally, I thought I’d use Founders Breakfast Stout.

Only… I waited too long and KBS was bye-bye.


The recipe had suggested a stout with coffee notes… and well, that would have been pretty darn perfect.

I’m fairly beer dumb. I don’t really know a stout from a porter from an IPA. So, I enlisted some of my favorite people – who happen to be VERY beer savvy to recommend a few options.

Ended up with The Poet Oatmeal Stout from New Holland Brewing Company.


Have you cooked with chipotles in adobo sauce before? Yuuuum.

Granted, you only use TWO large peppers from this can, and so… I guess I better come up with other recipes to use ’em, rather than waste the leftovers.

ew, raw meat. tri tip.

Raw meat. That’s… not pretty.

This recipe calls for a tri tip roast — a cut of meat I have never seen in a grocery store. Now granted, I’ve only started looking in the past few months, but when I decided I was really serious about making this recipe and making it soon, I started researching where I could buy a roast in Grand Rapids. Lucked out and found a local store on the first try — while I was there I also picked up some flank steak which I used for The Princess’s birthday dinner yesterday and DANG – amazing. I can’t say I’ll buy ALL my meat there, but for those times it really counts, I surely will. It’s leaner and waaaaaay easier to cook (and eat. I get grossed out with fatty pieces of meat. YUCK).

braised beef

So, you’ve got all the ingredients and you sear that (expensive but lovely) tri tip and then you add beer and beef broth, like up there. While you’re doing that, you’ll want to chop up your onion. Your garlic (the recipe called for six cloves, so… I used nine).

chipotles in adobo

Cut those chipotles in adobo.

Yeah. Those look gross too.

meat is unattractive

Then? Basically, your work with these tacos is DONE. Simmer for about three hours, flipping your roast over each thirty minutes. After the first hour, my house smelled like I’d been cooking with red wine, though I had used stout.

A beery-er person than I could probably tell you why, but all I know is WOW. For the hours this simmered in the cast iron enamel pot on my stove, my house smelled heavenly.

pico de gallo

And then I threw together the pico. I was supposed to have red onion but I bought a white one by mistake. No matter. It was still good. Also? You can double this recipe. You should. Because you’ll probably wish you had more pico. It’s crazy easy. Except the chopping cilantro part. Chopping cilantro is a pain in the ass.

Yeah. I said it.

I need kitchen scissors, I think. Herb cutting scissors.

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This was a total WIN all around.

I cannot think of anything I’d do differently (well, except have more flour tortillas on hand – even when I steam them, I can’t get corn tortillas to cooperate and not fall apart).

Well, scratch that. I’d have gotten it together enough to make margaritas or sangria with these tacos. NOTE: Most sangrias require overnight refrigeration. There will be no spontaneous making of sangria for you. Or anyone. Sheesh, sangria. Why so high maintenance?

Anyway – yeah, you’ll want a nice cold festive beverage to knock the edge off the heat of the tacos. Plan ahead for it. You won’t be sorry.

Make these. Make these. Make these.

(They were good, can’t you tell?)

Kitchen Through The Lens: Key Lime Cheesecake

graham cracker crust

When I originally put key lime cheesecake on my list, I selected a recipe I was sent for a vegan key lime cheesecake but the funniest thing happened.

I remembered I wasn’t vegan.

Also? I like the cream cheese part of cheesecake.

Also? I decided to make this cheesecake as a thank you for the folks who work in my mom’s office for their support – monetary and just general enthusiasm – for my participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

So, I made a non vegan recipe.

a graham cracker crumb crust

The kids saw key limes in the store the other day. A one pound bag of key limes? Not too pricey. Cream cheese, on the other hand, kind of is. FYI, I almost always use neufchatel instead of regular cream cheese. I’ve never detected a difference in the quality of cheesecake and because of that, I kinda figure, why not reduce some of the unhealthy where you can?

key limes, i'm not sure what makes you so special?

Dear key limes (and graham cracker crumbs on my counter. Oy).

Not gonna lie, I feel a bit punk’d by the idea of key limes. They’re tiny little lime wannabes that produced very little juice and a whole lotta seeds. And one pound of key limes barely produced the 2/3 cup of key lime juice I needed.

(Later, I found this was okay – I think using the full amount would have made them TOO tart – this was just the right sour)

To juice the key limes with greater ease, I rolled them on the counter first, pressing hard against the lime with the palm of my hand, hoping to kinda squash all that juice out of the pulp.

It sort of worked.


key lime cheesecake

Apparently the difference is that key lime juice is more aromatic and it’s more intense in flavor.

Um. Okay.

The end result (and I only had one bite – I told y’all I was sending this cheesecake elsewhere!) was tasty. It was a nice warm weather kinda cheesecake.

But I’m guessing using regular limes, though far less fancy sounding, woulda been WAY. EASIER.

Thursday Ten: Can I Be Glad Gymnastics Season Is Nearly Over edition

1. I get a tremendous amount of joy from The Princess’s joy with gymnastics. Having said that – I’m so glad that this weekend is her last meet of the season because I think I need a BREAK from competition season. I didn’t want to spend a whole post complaining, but suffice it to say, it’s been the kind of experience lately that if I had the money, I’d open my own gym and run a better program and offer up some competition to where my daughter now goes. Maybe a few months off from competition will help me cool off.

2. Got a LOT of new music bubbling through my music library. New to me, anyway. Loving Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s.

3. Went to the Titanic exhibit at a museum in Grand Rapids last night – when you enter the exhibit, you receive a boarding pass with a name on it. At the end of the exhibit, you look to see if the person you were assigned lived or died. Yeah, thanks. I mean, I know it’s pretty well known that not everyone survived the sinking – but having your seven year old be assigned the name of someone who dies makes it a lot less fun. THANKS FOR NOTHING. MUSEUMS AND CULTURE ARE STUPID. (Well. Not really.)

4. Know what makes a great guy even more awesome? When he has ideas like NACHOS!
Nacho wine

5. And since I just posted about fooooooood, I guess I’ll also post that I’ve started trying to run more – treadmill for now (because of all the effing rain, OH MY GOD MICHIGAN, STOP WITH THE RAIN ALREADY). I sure do hate running but nothing works quite as effectively for getting all the stuff in shape as running does.

6. I’m pretty excited that I hit my Avon Walk fundraising goal – with just under two months until the walk, I’m relieved to have that part settled – so I can focus on trying to get in shape and stocking up on blister bandaids. Seriously – am so very excited to have raised money for a cause that means so much to me, and now – the part that lies ahead is the fun part!

7. The dog seems to finally be back to normal. Whew. I’m still giving him special dog food for high maintenance dogs with sensitive bellies, but… I think, I hope, that whatever was bugging him is now out of his system.

8. So, I’m finally watching Game of Thrones. Only, I started at episode one…of the third season. To say that I have no clue what’s going on would be an understatement, but I’m trying to figure it out.

9. I read an author’s memoir. And now I’m reading her novel. And hell, I guess she took that whole “Write what you know” thing to heart because I know EXACTLY what is gonna happen because she’s pretty much following her life story. It’s a little annoying and I’m more than a little disappointed.

10. I don’t like to talk much about scary or negative things. I don’t much delve into current events here much either. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. I don’t want to focus on on the terrifying and bad things – but rather the ways people have found to come together. It restores a little faith in humanity, this coming together of hearts.

Kitchen Through The Lens: Taco Pasta Shells

Originally, the recipe was for Vegan Taco Pasta Shells. While I’m not at all vegetarian, I don’t eat a whole lotta meat so that didn’t present a problem for me – I’m all for adding meatless meals to my cooking repertoire. And then I read the words: vegan sour cream.

Uh… I’ll go meatless, but, y’know… there are limits.

(I’m not judging – vegan, not vegan, whatever. Whatever you choose to eat is for you to worry about. I just couldn’t do vegan sour cream or cheese. I LIKE DAIRY.)

squished tomatoes

So you get some fire roasted tomatoes.

I admit, I made this a few weeks ago. I don’t remember much about the experience.

I left the tomatoes alone even though I hate tomato chunks (Pureed or smushed tomatoes are fine – it’s not the taste of tomatoes, the taste I dig). Some salt.

never enough

Nearly everything is better with garlic.

realllly big shells

Whoa, big shells. How YOU doin’?

(You know, I love me some pasta. I think I want to start putting more stuff in really big shells.)

corn kernels ruin things

Here’s where this recipe totally lost me.

Despite my blatant ignoring of the vegan sour cream and cheese directives, I went ahead and put in the corn just like the recipe said even though I know I don’t like random bits of corn in stuff.

The corn MESSED. THIS. UP.

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t ever help anything to put corn in it.

taco pasta shells

This could have used less corn and more (non vegan) cheese. The flavor was actually pretty decent.

Damn corn.

Oh, and then I forgot the sour cream.

The end.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Fruit Smoothies

blackberry raspberry strawberry

There are probably a gazillion ways to make a fruit smoothie and most of them are gonna yield some beautiful deliciousness. I cannot remember why I included this on the list except that I like taking pictures of fruit and maybe when I was making the list I realized that there was a whole lot of sweet stuff on my list (Hi, would you like some cookies with your cookies?).

I used some nonfat vanilla yogurt for sweetness, a splash of skim milk and then ALL OF THE FRUIT.

how the hell do you cut a mango anyway


she's got the whole mango in her hands

Pumpkin chose mango and pineapple with a few strawberries tossed in.

all the healthy stuff is pretty

I opted for blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry.


Perhaps I should have run it through a sieve after or something.

But still?

Mango berry pineapple


No. I really have no idea why it made the list. Took five minutes and a blender.

Huh. Oh well.

Kitchen Through The Lens: Roast Chicken

lemon and rosemary

I sure do love a roast chicken. I have read how remarkably easy it is to make one and yet had never made one. It seemed a no brainer for my kitchen project – not only could I feed my face some delicious food, but since I was guaranteed to have leftovers, I could extend the number of meals out of one chicken. One whole roasting chicken was to become a dinner of roast chicken, Hasselback potatoes, and a lovely red lettuce salad. And then the chicken was to become chicken enchiladas. And maybe chicken soup. Possibly toppings for salads.

The point is, I had big plans for this chicken.

Also? I had company for dinner and I kinda wanted to make this impressive and delicious meal. I’ve always been the baker, and not a cook.

So I started with a recipe for herb roast chicken from Cooking Light magazine.

Salt, pepper and lemon juice went inside the chicken. I improvised and added a few cloves of garlic (yummmmmmy). The top of the chicken was smeared with a rosemary, thyme, shallot and butter mixture.

thyme-y and rosemary-y and butter-y and salmonella-y

Raw chicken? Abso-freaking-lutely disgusting.

But ooh, this smelled so good.

dear chicken i am so sorry i violated you by shoving a lemon in your nethers

And then I shoved the two lemon halves in the chicken’s “body cavity” and felt I owed the chicken an apology.


I guess I’ll mention right about now that I didn’t actually have a roasting pan. No problem, I thought, I’ll just use this glass 9×13 baking dish! The chicken was certainly small enough, the pan was certainly big enough.

This is the part that gets a little fuzzy.

Fuzzy because this is where I messed up.

The chicken was in the oven, I’m reading over the recipe and I realize I forgot to throw the water in the bottom of the pan like the directions said.

Knowing that the temperature difference between hot and cold and glass dishes is a bad thing, I used hot water.

Opened the oven, poured the water in.


walter white chicken

In retrospect, given that I wasn’t using a roasting pan and the chicken wasn’t on a rack and blah-blah-blah, I could have probably skipped that water step.


So, uh, as you can see. That was about the end of the chicken.

It brought up a whole new series of lessons in this cooking project though –

1. Learn to roll with the punches.
I have had some fun successes with this project. I have had some delicious food and some amazing beverages. I have had a ridiculous amount of fun while trying to make things I’ve never made before. NOT every project is gonna be a success.

Admittedly? I didn’t roll with the punches well here. I berated myself a whole lot, I kinda beat myself up about it, I was really so so very disappointed in myself. Here I am, trying to impress, trying to make an exceptional meal… and I blow up a baking dish and cover my kitchen with glass shards. Um. Yeah. Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m kinda new to this kitchen thing. And who’s to say – the next time I mess up (and surely I’ll mess up again), I may not do any better at letting it not get to me. But… I realize I need to. It wasn’t the end of the world.

2. Sure it’s important to have good cooking gear and use amazing ingredients, but choosing the right dining companions matters just as much.
Anyone else could have mocked me or ridiculed me for this fiasco. Not just anyone would have dubbed this mess Walter White Chicken, been glad I wasn’t hurt by glass, and taken me out for beer and nachos before returning back to my house where he helped me sweep out the glass and scrub the butter from the bottom of my oven and its racks. But despite my inability to cook a chicken (yet!), I had great company in the kitchen.

The beer was great, the nachos were amazing, and my face hurt from smiling (despite the fact that not long before that, my feet were tiptoeing around broken pieces of a blue glass dish).

I think walter white's blue glass is slightly more profitable than mine

Today, I bought a new 9″ x 13″ pan.

I also bought a roasting pan.

I don’t know if I can cross roast chicken off my list yet, but before I exploded everything, it  was smelling really good and so I think I’m heading in the right direction with the recipe. I’m gonna call that my trial run. I will try again. Soon.