The Gleeful Gourmand: 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Snow Day With The Son Of God

I was honored when my dear friend Kirsten Oliphant asked me to be a part of her Voices In The Desert  - a collection of writers musing each day of Advent on the Good News of Jesus Christ, and what Christmas means to them. I struggled with what to write, until one day I was listening to one of my favorite artists, Mindy Smith, sing a new Christmas song, "Snowed In," and inspiration struck. Thanks for reading!

I don't remember how old I was, though I can be certain that it was before High School, and most likely just before Middle School. I was old enough to be turned loose without much worry from my parents, but young enough that sledding all day long with barely a break still seemed like a great idea.

I remember standing on top of the hill near our house. It was actually the green of the 12th hole of the golf course we lived on, and the hill was perfect. It was incredibly steep, wide enough for tons of kids and parents alike, and a short walk from our house. The afternoon was coming to a close, and dusk was settling in, the light softening from a bleak gray to a hazy dark blue. Most of the other kids had already gone home, and I stood at the top of the hill, clutching my sled in my gloved hands. I was freezing, my toes aching with regret at having stayed out too long. I watched the last kids slide down, and just as I was about to follow, it suddenly started to snow. I turned my face to the sky and let the flakes, big and wet, light gently on my face. The world was hushed, the shrieks and laughter from the other kids faded away. The moment felt…holy. Perfect. Sacred.

Up until then it never occurred to me that snow could make a person feel closer to God. Of course I think snow is visually beautiful; a masterpiece when the sun hits the snow and it sparkles like millions of tiny gems. But also, the stillness that comes over the world when it's blanketed in snow is magical. The sound of rushing cars is ceased; that ambient noise that goes ever on even though we barely notice it. When it snows, its absence isn't deafening, it's soothing. Before the kiddos are bundled up and thrown outside, screaming in joy, there's just pure silence.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

One of my most favorite singer/songwriters is Mindy Smith, and this year she came out with a fantastic Christmas EP follow-up to her brilliant "My Holiday" album called "Snowed In." The title song is arguably the best on the small album (listen to it below), and she talks about the one thing on her Christmas wish list is to be snowed in with a favorite loved one, listening to music, watching the lights on the tree change, and unplugging from the world. It's a gorgeous song, full of the reminders that during the busy rush and bustle of the Christmas season, the greatest joy we can derive is often the moments when we're just spending time with the ones we love.

Snow days have a way of doing that. When school is cancelled and the roads are too bad to go into work, the time is there to simply enjoy. To turn off the rest of the world, as Smith sings, and unplug. Smith remarked in an interview that she wrote the song about the relationship she's in right now, but that really her words could apply to anyone: kids and parents, grandparents, friends, anyone you'd want to spend a day with, unencumbered by the busyness of the world. Snowed in with nowhere to go and nothing to do but to enjoy the love and the beauty of the moment.

That got me thinking: What if that person was the Son of God? What if I had one day, snowed in with Jesus? What might that day look like? I have so many questions for Jesus, so I know my first instinct would be to rattle them all off, one by one. My second instinct would be like Martha, rushing around trying to make everything perfect. Both of those things would be missing the point completely. But what is the point?

"He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God.' I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10

What would it mean to change my expectations, my wants and needs from the Son of Man? To not ask Him for anything. To not have questions answered. To simply be with Him, and enjoy the day. Smith sings, "The present to get for me, is having you all day. All I'm longing for is already here. And truly, you're all that I want this year."

What would that mean if I really, truly meant that? That resting in Him is enough. That His salvation alone is enough. That even if He never answered my questions, even if He never answered my prayers (which He has, on multiple occasions), that He is already enough for me, and the only thing I really long for - not just at Christmas, or on a snow day, but all year - is just to be with Him. To not try and micromanage Him. To change my expectations of my relationship with Him, so that all year long He's all that I need.

God already calls to us 365 days during the year to spend time with Him. To know Him better, to read His word, to cultivate our relationship. The truest miracle is not just the babe lying in a manger, but the mere fact that God desires a real, loving relationship with us at all. It's dumbfounding. I sometimes wonder why He still desires to save us from ourselves, when just by watching the nightly news, it's pretty clear that we've screwed up the world He created thanks to our own selfish ways. And yet, He keeps chasing us. He keeps knocking at the door to our hearts. He calls us back again, and again. Sometimes we answer. Sometimes we don't.

Sometimes we're too busy to answer. "Turn off the phone, the TV and settle in. Turn off the rest of the world, everything." Sometimes that's what it takes to notice that God is right there, desperate to show us something we're missing. Desperate for us to open the door. To put down our phones, turn off the games. To get off the internet, and away from anything that keeps us from spending time with Him, and not just for one hour on Sundays.

That's the beauty of a Snow Day. The glorious magnificence of living art, designed by the Almighty. The beauty of pure silence. Disconnecting so that we can reconnect. If it takes a major snowstorm for us to spend real, true time with Him, then so be it. I think the most glorious part is that it can take the form of whatever we want it to: Spending time in the word, praying, conversing with Him, being still and knowing Him. Or maybe getting out in the world and being His hands and feet. Shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor. Feeding the homeless. Whatever it is that draws you closer to the Lord is what would make up the perfect snow day.

"All I could think to put on my list this Christmas…is you and I snowed in, just us."

May the peace of Jesus, which passes all understanding, bless you and your family this Christmas season.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

F&W's Bourbon-Glazed Turkey

It's six days until Christmas, and the race is on to craft the perfect holiday menu. Six days, and we haven't settled on one thing to serve. Oh, except that I'm supposed to make the Bouche De Noel again. I tried to get out of it by suggesting other things, but apparently that's what the people wanted, so that's what the people are getting.

But everything else is up in the air. Main course? Nothing. Side dishes? Nada. Festive holiday drink? Nil. Nary a decision has been made. Christmas is the meal we typically go all out for. We push the envelope on what we serve because Thanksgiving tends to have a way of making us stick to traditions. People get angry if you start messing around with their Thanksgiving expectations, but in our family the Christmas feast is a culinary free-for-all (except for the damned Yule Log, apparently. I joke, Mom, I joke).

You may be stuck in the same predicament, and I'm about to make a suggestion that will leave you scratching your head: Turkey. Yes. Turkey. Why turkey, I hear you say. Didn't we just have turkey? You may well have had turkey, but you have not had this turkey - a turkey to end all turkeys. A turkey that puts all others to shame. A turkey, that if it had not had all its plumage plucked out would certainly be fanning and fawning over its own greatness.

Plus, I submit the classic line from "The Christmas Song" which quite rightly says, "Everybody knows, a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright." See what I did there?

Bourbon-Glazed Turkey (with Pearl Onion Giblet Gravy).

Bourbon-Glazed Turkey with Pearl Onion Giblet Gravy. We made this recipe from Food & Wine Magazine for Thanksgiving, and oh my goodness, was it amazing. We changed the recipe slightly - instead of the brine they suggested (which uses apple cider - my husband is allergic to apples), we used a different overnight brine which you can find below. The brining is important because that's what gets your turkey so mouthwateringly tender and juicy.

But the best part about this turkey is how it's basted with a bourbon and brown sugar glaze while it cooks, giving it a rich, golden brown hue. I'm not going to lie to you and say it wasn't a lot of work. It was. Needing to be basted every 15 minutes for 3 hours, this turkey takes some TLC. But it's so worth it. The aroma of bourbon, sugar, and butter lovingly bathing the turkey as it roasts is overwhelming. In fact, our house smelled so good I was practically fainting from hunger by lunchtime. It hisses, it pops, it practically sings for you as you watch the skin take on that caramelized glow. But don't be deceived by the perceived richness of the sauce - the bird is also stuffed with all your favorite aromatics like onions, celery, carrots, rosemary and thyme. Softened butter and sage leaves are tucked beneath the skin.

The end result is a turkey that's savory, slightly sweet, and so delicious that it barely needed the gravy, which boasts a whole head of roasted garlic. Christmas Feast indeed!

Honey Turkey Brine Recipe -- Click: Here

Food & Wine's Bourbon-Glazed Turkey -- Click: Here


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, even if we totally ruin this dinner, at least the table looks nice! Wishing you and yours a very blessed Thanksgiving. There is so much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pork Chops with Cabbage, and Apples (Or Pears)

If you're anything like me, and you just happen to be hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you've got nothing but visions of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce dancing through your head. Don't you find it incredibly hard to plan for meals for the rest of the week during this holiday? Especially if you have company in town, it can get a bit challenging to be creative and hit home runs with meals that don't involve endless mountains of pasta.

I see your finger hovering over your phone, just itching to dial your favorite pizza place. Don't do it. Put your phone down. Get your nose out of your Thanksgiving menu plans. Stop looking endlessly at Thanksgiving tablescapes, and try this one on for size: Pork Chops, Cabbage, and Apples. This recipe is from Southern Living Magazine (February, 2008), and has held up over the years as one of our favorite Fall one-pot dishes.

Spiced-rubbed Pork Chops sizzle in a cast iron skillet.

Sounds simple, but I promise the flavors are so incredible, you will not only hit a home run, but you will end up thinking you're a bit of a flavor genius for trying it out. Imagine this: spice-rubbed pork chops, sizzling in bacon drippings. Cabbage, onions, and sweet apple simmering in luscious tomato paste, and your favorite beer. Yes! Beer! You not only get to throw bacon in this dish, but you also get to dump a whole bottle of beer into it. Now what sounds more hearty, more satisfying, and more wake-your-tastebuds-up then that?

A whole bottle of beer in your dinner! Hurray!

But wait, what's that I hear? You hate Pork Chops? You have memories seared into your food-loving brain of dried-out, tough-as-nails pork chops that you were forced to eat as a kid. These are not those, my friends, I promise. These pork chops are first seared delicately, rested, and then simmered for just a bit, producing a perfect, juicy pork chop. It will change the way you look at pork chops forever.

There will come a moment where you think it won't all fit. Don't worry - it will!
Here are some tips: First, we like to use a favorite Richmond beer, Legend Brown Ale. It's got just the right balance for this dish. Don't get too crazy with your beer and start throwing in anything that has complicated flavors. Lager beer is best. Secondly, I don't actually ever make this with apples, because my husband is allergic. I substitute the 1 Granny Smith with 2-3 Bartlett Pears (depending on size), and it's still just as delicious. Maybe a tad sweeter.

So go on, give it a try. Sounds better than pizza, right? And if you already have your meals nailed down for this week, just think about next week, when there is no Thanksgiving and you're stuck once again wondering what to serve for dinner.

Pork Chops, Cabbage, and Apples (or Pears)

Pork Chops, Cabbage, and Apples (or Pears)

• 3 tsp. Paprika, divided
• 2 tsp. Chopped fresh, or 1 tsp. dried thyme, divided
• 2 tsp. Kosher salt, divided
• 1 1/2 tsp. Freshly ground pepper, divided
• 2 tsp. chopped fresh, or 1 tsp. dried sage, divided
• 6 Pork Loin Chops
• 2 Bacon slices
• 1 Head cabbage, coarsely chopped
• 2 Medium onions, thinly sliced
• 1 Large Granny Smith Apple (or 2-3 Bartlett Pears) peeled and sliced
• 1 Tbsp. Tomato paste
• 1 (12 oz.) Bottle Lager beer

Combine 2 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. fresh or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, and 1 tsp. fresh or 1/2 tsp. dried sage. Rub evenly over pork chops.

Cook bacon slices in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat 6-8 minutes. Remove, and drain on paper towels, reserving drippings in skillet. Cook pork in hot drippings, 3 minutes on each side, or until browned and done. Remove pork from pan, and keep warm (I like to put them on a plate and cover them with aluminum foil).

Crumble the bacon. Add cabbage, onions, and apple (or pears) to the pan. Cover and reduce the heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally 15 minutes, or until the cabbage begins to wilt. Add in the tomato paste, crumbled bacon, beer, and remaining spices, stirring to loosen the particles from the bottom of the skillet.

Cover and cook 15 minutes. Add the pork back in and cook, uncovered for 5 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. Serves. 6. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Birthday Pirate Party!

I hope you'll forgive me for being absent the last couple of weeks. We've been dealing with a lot of stuff here over at The Gleeful Gourmand household. The best of what's kept me occupied lately is that our son turned 6 this past weekend!

We knew we wanted to have a smallish party at home to save on expense, so I started thinking about themes. Our kids are completely obsessed with the Disney show "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" so it seemed that a pirate theme was inevitable. Once I pitched it to my son, and he agreed (with a hearty "arrggh!" no less), I did what any self-respecting Pinterest user would do: scoured the web and other people's blogs to see what they did. Boy, did I find a lot! From the ultra-lavish (complete with real pirate sails billowing at each table), to the super simple, I culled the best of what I found, and then modified it to fit our party needs.

Because I felt really grateful that something like Pinterest exists at all, and that I could see all the wonderful ideas people had come up with, I've decided to share what I did - hopefully anyone looking for ideas to steal for their pirate party will be inspired! However, even if you don't give a fig about pirate parties, I hope you'll stay to the end of the post to get the recipe for the cupcakes I made: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. Oh my!

Decorations, courtesy of a friend who held a mermaid party this summer. Fish net, starfish, and my son's pirate sword.

I decided the party would only be an hour and 15 minutes long. There had to be some activities, and it would all be outside. The first thing I had the kids do was:

1. Walk The Plank: We got two cinder blocks and a long, sturdy plank of wood from Home Depot. From Hobby Lobby I bought two pieces of wood and ginormous Sharpie markers to make signs, and three super cheap inflatable fish to put beneath the plank. If this party had been in the summer, I totally would have had a baby pool filled with water to make it more fun. As it was, the kids had a blast running across the plank.

2. Be A Matey: After they each walked the plank, they could dress like a pirate. I bought all the matey supplies at Hobby Lobby, including foam swords, pirate hats, eye patches, and mustaches. For the girls who didn't want a hat I bought a bundle of brightly colored cloth (around $6) that we turned into bandanas. (I struggled with whether or not to have the swords. The kids did great with them, and only one kid got whacked in the face. That I saw.)

Two sweet Pirate Sisters.

3. Pin the Treasure on the Map: (Party City) This was the next game they played, taped our garage door. It took up a good chunk of time, which was great while I was setting up the food and cupcakes.

4. Treasure Hunt/Goodie Bags: After the kids had their snacks and cupcakes I had them go on a treasure hunt for their goodie bags. The first thing I did was buy a box (about $5) from Hobby Lobby and decorate it with pirate stickers meant for a photo album. Then I figured out each challenge I wanted them to do and drew a map on some card stock that looked like a sandy beach. I rolled up the map, put in the box and hid it from the kids: That was their first challenge - to find the box. Once they did that, they followed the map to their challenges:

A) "Jungle Run" - we strung rope between our deck and some leland trees, and then tied green and white crepe paper to it. I made the kids run through twice - just to run off energy.
B) "Hook's Hidden Hook" - with a hook hand I found at Hobby Lobby, hidden in some bushes.
C) "Secret Spy Glass" - a pirate spy glass I found at Party City in their Halloween section, hidden by a tree.
D) "Rock Hop" - around 10 gray card stock cut in circles and laid out - they had to hop on each rock.

"Be A Matey," "Treasure Map Challenge," "Jungle Run," and "Walk the Plank."

The goodie bags were also from Hobby Lobby, paper boxes that folded into treasure chests. In each was one sheet of pirate tattoos, a small container of bubbles, and from Sweet Spot, a baggie with a giant gummy shark, and three gummy whales.

5) Decorations: I borrowed some decorations from a friend who threw a mermaid party this summer: Fish netting, different colored and sized starfish, a green boa that looked like seaweed, and my son's pirate sword (with his permission) stuck in the middle. For the tables, I used pirate-themed packs from Party City, but for the table the kids sat at, I actually found a great model pirate ship at Hobby Lobby for just $10! I sprinkled doubloons all around it.

6) Food: I kept it super simple: Pirate's Booty, "Fish and Chips" (Goldfish and Tortilla Chips), Fruit Kebabs, Juice and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes - the one thing our son demanded for his birthday party! This recipe comes from Kirsten Oliphant, and as my husband declared, they are "stupid good." Rich and decadent, yet moist and somehow light all at the same time, you can make a full two-layer cake, or 28 cupcakes from her recipe. You can read her full post here. Sinfully delicious, all I can say is, you've got to get in on this action!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcake.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes:


1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips (*GG Note: I use Hershey's. I like the taste, and they are safe for those with peanut allergies.)

1 8-oz block cream cheese (room temp)
1 stick butter (room temp)
3 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, plus more if needed for consistency
4-5 Tbsp. milk
Semi-sweet chocolate chips or bar, shaved or chopped finely
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans or prepare baking cups for cupcakes.
  2. Mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Beat until well combined.
  1. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add to the wet ingredients in three increments, beat until well incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.
  2. Bake for 20-30 minutes until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Cupcakes take about 20 minutes and make 28 (using 1/4 cup batter/baking cup). Two round cakes take about 30 minutes.
  1. While the cake is baking, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla and confectioners sugar, beating until mixed well and smooth. Use milk as needed to give a consistency that is firm enough to stay in place.
  1. Eat. Swoon. Repeat.
The Birthday Boy, too consumed with his cupcake to smile. Or act like a pirate.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Doughnuts At The Ashland Berry Farm

I love family traditions, and one of ours has always been heading out in October to our favorite pumpkin patch at The Ashland Berry Farm to pick pumpkins, have some fun, and eat doughnuts.

A working farm since the mid 1800s, The Ashland Berry Farm is nestled in a traditionally beautiful Virginia landscape, complete with rolling hills and an old silo. I've been going there since I was a little girl, and it always seemed like an adventure for me to leave suburbia and truly be out on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Daddy and daughters in search of the perfect pumpkin.

Back then, we would hop on a tractor-pulled cart filled with hay and bump down the dusty lane towards extensive fields filled with pumpkins. We'd hoof it as long as we could until we found the perfect looking pumpkin, and then head back to roast hot dogs over a large fire pit, drink hot apple cider, and eat the most perfect doughnuts we'd ever tasted.

So close to "donut" nirvana at The Ashland Berry Farm.

It's pretty gratifying that more than 30 years later, we can basically still do the exact same thing. Except we have to do with a multitude of people so vast that getting on the hayride on a weekend requires a near 45 minute wait. They also don't let you roast your own hot dogs anymore, probably for liability reasons.

But the overall feeling of wonder is still there for our kids, along with the fun, and the doughnuts. Oh, yes, the doughnuts are still there. To my discerning tastebuds, the recipe hasn't changed much - if at all - over the years. They still have one machine doing all the work to churn out those piping hot, fresh rounds of pure joy; and their success is evident: The line for the doughnuts is nearly as long as the line for the hayride.

It's not October, or Halloween, until I've had one of those doughnuts. They're uncomplicated, coming in just four flavors: Plain, Chocolate Glazed, Glazed, and Powdered Sugar, but what they lack in creativity, they more than make up in taste: So fresh, slightly crunchy on the top, and pillowy soft on the inside. I really believe that the fact that they haven't changed their recipe or strategy for churning them out over the decades is what makes them so very special.

It's not really Halloween until we've had doughnuts from The Ashland Berry Farm.

We laugh and joke as we bump along out to the pumpkin patch. The kids shriek in joy as they exclaim that they've found the perfect pumpkin, and after what seems like an unreasonably long wait, the powdered sugar and chocolate coats their little faces as they dig into a Richmond tradition.

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Epic Highchair Journey

Last weekend we finally rid ourselves of two things so vexing to us that we considered it a major personal triumph to remove them from our house.

If you and I are friends outside this blog, I'm sure you'll know exactly what I speak of with such contempt: The girls' highchairs.

Our relationship with their highchairs can be summed up in one word: contentious. I remember clearly picking out the highchairs, thinking how great it was that they were foldable, and that they converted into booster seats. With space becoming quickly limited in our home thanks to our two baby girls' arrival, they seemed like a great bargain. I'm sure my husband and I both said in our best Yiddish impressions: "Such a deal!"

Their first time in the chairs of doom. Notice the trays. They look evil, don't they?

They weren't. I'm not sure when it started, but the highchairs started to fight back. At first it was small things: They were incredibly hard to clean. Although the covers came off and were washable, the straps that buckled them in were not. Of course, those were the things that got the dirtiest. Food that dripped onto the plastic sides seemed to become inexplicably soldered on, and no amount of scrubbing helped.

Then, to add injury to insult, the highchairs literally began to injure us. The chairs had trays that were 2-in-1s: A larger tray snapped onto a smaller tray meant to be used eventually for the booster seat setup. The whole tray then slid together onto the arms of the chair and its distance on the arms to the child in the seat was adjustable. The only problem with this is that if you pulled out the tray just a hairs' breadth, a mere whisper, past a certain point, the tray would rocket off the end and crash spectacularly onto your waiting feet below.

Miraculously, the trays would always clear the girls' feet, but we were not so lucky. Our feet bear the scars and memories of searing pain. The girls were introduced to curse words their unsullied ears had never heard. Sometimes there were tears. It didn't help that the girls' kicking legs could also hit it at a perfect angle to have it shoot off the end of the chairs, too.

So when we finally decided that the girls were ready to sit in real booster seats at the table with us, the decision was unanimous. The highchairs had to go, no matter that they already had booster seats built into them. They were no longer welcome in our home. I washed, scrubbed, and cleaned them to the best of my ability, and they were loaded into the car.

That Saturday was beastly hot for October in Virginia, with temperatures in the mid 90s. I set off on an expedition to rid myself of the chairs, already having been rejected once by Goodwill (apparently there's a new law that prohibits them receiving anything children can sit in). I went to my nearest children's consignment store. They said it would take them about 30 minutes. I drove off and made it to the light when they called to tell me to come back. They couldn't accept them - the straps were too stained. Damn you non-removable straps! The lady at the counter told me kindly that I could put the high chairs in the drop-off charity box at the back of the parking lot.

"Oh, you mean the box that has the worlds smallest opening and a sign that says not to put anything on the ground beside it? Put these two clunky, huge, highchairs in there? Good idea!"

30 minutes later and I was back across town, and had been recently rejected by a thrift store the guy at Goodwill had suggested. He said they took anything. He lied. That was it. It was time to chuck those suckers in the nearest landfill.

My glee at finally being able to rid myself of them, coupled with the remorse of not being able to help out a family in need made for an interesting mix of emotions as I rolled back across town to the landfill. Suddenly, I was filled with sadness as a deeper understanding of what getting rid of the highchairs really meant.

I would never have to deal with clunky highchairs again. I would never have a baby again. And while this was a decision my husband and I made with enthusiasm shortly after I gave birth to the girls, and I have never regretted it (3 kids is just enough for me), I felt strangely sad. This was it, I thought. Next the cribs will go and babyhood will be truly over. I should have been thrilled, and for the most part I was, but still. There was an undercurrent of something like loss. All this growing up stuff really was happening so fast. I only had to look at my son, almost 6, to realize how much he had changed since the days of his toddlerhood. How much I had changed.

Happier together.

And then I got to the dump, and had an equally frustrating experience with the lady at the booth taking money. I dropped coins in the road while she chatted on her cell phone and cars lined up behind me. I finally got to the trash receptacles, seething.

I chucked the first piece of one of the chairs: the legs. I heaved it with force, letting go of all my frustrations. If there hadn't been people everywhere, I probably would have screamed while doing it. I felt a supreme satisfaction watching them land with a loud clang. With each piece chucked over the side, I felt better. My arms, legs, and back all felt the weight being lifted.

I saved the trays for last.

And smiled all the way home.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Autumn Pear Salad

That most glorious of seasons is finally here! Fall is everywhere you look: The leaves are slowly beginning to change, Pumpkin Spice Lattes are being consumed in vast quantities, Halloween and Autumn decorations are up, and a nip is in the air!

Wait, scratch that last one. A nip is most definitely not in the air. Make that temperatures in the upper 80s, and that's our beginning to October right now. Here in Virginia we're experiencing a really hot Indian Summer. Everything is as dry as can be, and I'm sitting here in shorts. After an unseasonably cool and wet summer, it seems strange now that summer would suddenly show up at our door in October. It's hard to want to drink a Pumpkin Spice Latte when you're sweating profusely. But here we are, with myriad promises of abundant rain and colder weather on its way next week.

Despite the heat, Fall is still putting on its pretty show.

The Beauty Berries in our backyard strutting their stuff.

But what to do when one wants to experience the flavors of Autumn, but it's too dang hot for chili, pumpkin pie, and roasted butternut squash soup? It's Autumn Pear Salad time.

A few weeks ago my Mom treated me to lunch at Brio Tuscan Grille, and I had their fabulous Tuscan Harvest Salad. Filled with all sorts of delicious things like mushrooms, roasted chicken, cranberries, apple slices, bacon, gorgonzola cheese, and almonds; it was one of the best salads I'd had in a long time. The crunch of the apples was particularly inviting. It got me thinking about how to recreate it at home.

Gratuitous bacon shot.

Here's where I ran into a problem: My husband is allergic to apples, and both he and my son are allergic to tree nuts. What to do for that sweet component and necessary crunch? Asian Pears. It's the perfect solution: slightly sweet, and crunchy all at the same time, with nary an itchy mouth or upset stomach from its consumption. I fooled around with the rest of the ingredients, and settled on a slightly different take, but the beauty of this salad is that you could literally add or subtract whatever you wanted from the recipe to make it your own. I also did some research on making an Italian vinaigrette, and came up with a pretty good substitute to the bottled stuff - though if that's what you have on hand, I say use what works! The best part about this salad: It's so easy. Thanks to an herbed rotisserie chicken, it's a quick assembly. Fresh, light, yet hearty enough for a meal.

Autumn Pear Salad.

Paired with a fresh, crusty baguette, and a cold glass of Chardonnay, it's the perfect Indian Summer meal. Here's what I ended up using:

Autumn Pear Salad

2 heads of crisp romaine lettuce
1 small package of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 Asian Pears, sliced thinly (wash, but do not peel)
Half a package of frozen corn, prepared to your liking*
5 slices of crispy bacon, chopped
1 herbed rotisserie chicken diced, or sliced thinly
Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese (slight dusting, a little goes a very long way)

Assemble salad. I bake my bacon in the oven to drain off the grease, but you can make it however you see fit. *A note on corn: The first time I made the salad, I roasted the corn with some olive oil and pepper in the oven, and the second time I steamed it quickly and tossed it with a bit of butter and black pepper. Both ways were perfectly fine.

Italian Vinaigrette

1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. to 1 tsp. honey (to your taste)
Pinch of Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning (or more, to taste)
1 cup olive oil

Whisk all ingredients vigorously. Drizzle over salad until salad is just moist. Toss to mix.

Here are some things you could add to your salad if you want to mix it up a little bit: Cranberries, Almonds, Pecans, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Thinly Sliced Jicama, Mushrooms.


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Gleeful Gourmand Ditches Recipes

A couple of months ago, one of my best friends, Kiki (formerly of I Still Hate Pickles, now currently writing over at, came into town with her baby, Cooper, for a visit. We had such a great time doing what we do best together: eating, drinking, watching awful movies and TV, and laughing our heads off.

On her last night here she suggested we do something we've never really done together: bake. We've made meals for each other and shared countless meals, but we've never really worked together in the kitchen. Kiki stopped at a grocery store and picked up a handful of random items and gave us a challenge to create something a la "Chopped" with absolutely no peeking online or in cookbooks to help us.


As most of you know, this is not at all how I cook. It has taken me decades to learn how to go off-grid, but only if I've tested an actual recipe about a dozen times. I have plenty of people in my life who throw out the books and recipe cards all the time (my friend Alison calls it cooking with "The Force" which I love), but me? It makes me uptight.

Kiki knows this about me, and I suspect that this little exercise was her way of showing me how fun just making up stuff as you go along is, and that I could do it. But first I was going to have to relax. Out came the wine.

Here's what we were working with:

Soft Ladyfingers
1 package of Chocolate Chunks
Heavy Whipping Cream

Breakin' it down - strawberries, that is. Thanks to Kirsten Oliphant for the great photos!

We brainstormed for a bit, and decided to make what we later called a "Triflemisu" - part Trifle, part Tiramisu. The first thing we decided to do was to macerate the strawberries in about 1 Tbsp. of sugar. While those were breaking down, we ate some dinner, and put all our kids to bed. Then, it was on like Donkey Kong. Out of my liquor cabinet came some Starbucks Coffee Liquor, Chambord (a raspberry liquor), and Godiva Chocolate Liquor to soak the Ladyfingers in.

Next, we whipped up the cream, and melted some of the chocolate chunks. We were going for a chocolate whipped cream. Well, I don't know where my head was, but it definitely wasn't in the game.

"Crap!" I screamed right before pouring the chocolate into the cream. "It's going to melt it!" Into the fridge it went to cool off. More wine was poured.

We added some to the whipped cream after it cooled off, and I mentally smacked my head again as I watched the whipped cream not become chocolatey, but rather sport flecks of chocolate. Fail. I know better than that, I thought. I could have easily used cocoa powder.

"That's okay!" Kiki said, "It looks like cookies n' cream."

Toasted hazelnuts mmmmm...

Lastly, as Kiki toasted the hazelnuts, I decided I would make a ganache for the top of our creation. I had just watched someone do this on TV, and although I had done it myself a few times, I couldn't remember how. I begged Kiki to let me look it up, but she refused. I thought it was something to do with melted chocolate and cream, so I melted the rest of the chocolate chunks, and while it was warm, I added some of the cream and whisked.

Ganache it did not. It turned into a grainy, lumpy mess. Which Kiki then ate with a spoon straight out of the bowl. That girl knows how to make the best out of every kitchen fail! Meanwhile, I looked in our cupboard, and got out a bar of dark chocolate which I chopped and melted. It wouldn't be ganache, but at least we could use it. Bourbon was poured over some ice as we came down the homestretch.

We assembled our creation with layers of Ladyfingers, strawberries, whipped cream, and topped it with the toasted hazelnuts and melted chocolate (which actually gave it a kind of Magic Shell effect). It was a delicious mess. Boozy, sweet, with a wonderful crunchy top. I wouldn't say it was the best thing I've ever made, but it was really good. Buck came home from a night out with the guys and declared it a success. We were pretty pleased with ourselves, and I honestly had fun failing, and turning those failures to our advantage. We also decided that there was no way we could ever be on the show "Chopped."

A beautiful, delicious mess. Behold, the "Triflemisu"

In a couple of weeks, I'm going to try it again - this time I'm going to research some different elements and see what happens when I follow parts of a recipe. Can I make it better? Will it still turn out a delicious mess? Tune in to see what happens!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Old School For Back To School

Three days ago my baby went to Kindergarten, and he didn't come back.

I'm totally kidding. Of course he came back. But according to some non-parents on my Facebook feed, that's how all of us parents were acting on Tuesday - like we thought they might never come back. I know it was all in good fun, but it actually gave me pause.

As a parent, it's hard to explain to those without children the range of emotions you go through as your kids head off to school. On one hand, you're completely elated for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to: 1) They were bored after the first week of summer, and thought you were their main entertainment source (you weren't), 2) They have more energy than you can possibly run off all day long, and there's a mountain of laundry, or dishes, or bills, or blogs, or you have younger kids that need you too (or an outside job to get to!), 3) They love to learn, and as it turns out, you're the world's worst teacher (it's a patience issue for me).

You know that school is the place they need to be for all of those reasons. But on the other side of your elation is The Worrier. The Worrier shows up when you should be sleeping, but simply can't. You wonder: Did I prepare him (or her) enough? Will they be okay? Will they make friends? Will they find their classroom? Will they like their teacher? Will they be safe? That right there is the skipping record The Worrier plays for you: Will they be safe? 

Ready as he'll ever be. But am I?

You know that you have to trust God, and your parenting instincts because it's time to let go. You are ready to let go, and they are ready for you to let them go. But letting go is a huge leap of faith. You're no longer in control for those 7 hours of their day. You hope they'll remember everything you taught them, but you can't be sure. It dawns on you that not being in control is actually a really good thing - kind of liberating in a way.

So on that first day you're excited for them, because they're so excited. You know in your heart of hearts that you've raised a fine son or daughter, but yes, your eyes are just a little misty. Seeing their tiny selves marching bravely onto that bus, the tears are pride, the tears are joy, and the tears are faith.

And whether your son or daughter comes home and exclaims, "It was the most fun I've ever had in my entire life!" or they come home and simply say, "It felt just like a prison," you know that everything will be all right - either way. And if it's not all right, you'll find a way to make it right. The pictures you took and posted are the same photos you'll print and show them when they're getting ready to leave for college. You'll talk about taking leaps of faith, and obstacles, and worries; and you'll realize that no matter what the outcome, or where they go, once upon a time they were very small, and you had to let go. And you both grew from it in unseen ways.

So in that vein, I thought I'd share a recipe from my childhood that I still love: Sea Foam Salad. This delightful concoction has very few ingredients, and looks, well, like sea foam. Sweet from pear juice and Cool Whip, and tart from lime Jell-O, our establishment recommends serving it with a glass of icy cold milk for our younger diners, and a nice, crisp Pinot Grigio for our adult diners. Or any bottle you can get your hands on, because now that the first week of school is finally over, you're gonna need it to celebrate with or keep the stress at bay. Recipe after the photo.

Sea Foam Salad

Sea Foam Salad

2 Tbsp. Milk
1 Small Package of Lime Gelatin
4 oz. Cream Cheese (I accidentally put in 8 oz. and it was just fine)
1 Can Pears
1 Tub of Cool Whip

• Spray a 9x13 inch pan lightly with Pam. Cream the cheese and milk until soft. Heat 1/4 cup of the pear juice and dissolve the lime gelatin in it. Crush the drained pears in a bowl. Add the warm gelatin mixture to the cream cheese; then add the pears. Fold in all of the Cool Whip. Chill for several hours or until firm.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Venison Burgers With The Volume Set At 10

Last Fall, my husband, Buck, was fortunate enough to go out with one of our friends to hunt deer. He was excited because he's always enjoyed hunting, but very rarely able to do so. The last time he went hunting was about 10 years ago on a bitter cold Maryland morning. He was the only person in his hunting party to shoot a deer. He'd never even been deer hunting before (Bow hunting wild pigs in Hawaii, yes. Deer hunting, no.) Could he replicate his (long) past success?

It wasn't looking good. The light was dwindling in the late afternoon sky, and the final moments when one can legally shoot deer was ticking down. He had seen a couple of deer earlier, but none were close enough to shoot. Ready to climb out of the tree stand, he happened to glance across the field and saw a buck crossing the street. The buck stopped after a few feet, putting it about 150 yards away, and my husband knew it was now or never. He took the shot, and the buck jumped; luckily (and maybe incredibly) running towards him. He took another shot and hit him, and when it finally came close enough, he shot it again, putting it down.

Yes. Buck killed a buck. Meanwhile, our friend texted him: "What's with all the shooting? Are you starting WWIII over there?"

My Buck was elated, and even did a dance. It was captured on video, but regrettably for me, and for you, it was too dark to see it clearly. I'm sure you all can paint a vivid enough picture in your imaginations.

We now had a lot of venison on our hands. Ground venison. Venison steaks. Summer sausages. Ground venison sausages. Our freezer was stocked. Now what in the world would we do with it all? It's a good thing I like venison (the taste is excellent, and it's one of the leanest red meats you can have), so we had fun trying various ways to use it up. One of my favorites was using the sausage in a frittata loaded with veggies and some parmesan.

A couple of weeks ago, Buck decided to use the last of the ground venison and venison sausage to make burgers. I was pretty apprehensive - I've never had sausage in my burger, but what the heck, I was willing to try it.

Ground venison and sausage venison burger. So very, very yummy.

It was beyond delicious. Juicy, and so flavorful I could feel fireworks going off on my tastebuds, it may have been the best burger my husband has ever made. He employed some pretty interesting spices in the mix, and not the kind you would automatically think would work well with burgers, but oh man, did they ever. We caramelized some onions to go on top, and piled on some buttery-soft Boston Bibb lettuce. We smeared Dijon mustard on the toasted buns, the perfect compliment to (possibly) the perfect burger.

Here's how he did it:

• 1 pound ground venison to 1 pound seasoned venison sausage (If you don't have venison, try an equal mixture of ground beef and seasoned pork sausage)
• Worcestershire Sauce
• Liquid Smoke (all natural)
• A few dashes of Soy Sauce (reduced sodium)
• Kosher Salt
• Paprika
• Garlic Powder
• Freshly ground Black Pepper
• Pinch of Chili Powder
• Italian Herb Mix (the kind you can grind) - sparingly

Mix all ingredients, but don't over-mix. Form patties without squishing too much (this will cause the burgers to dry out quick). Just before putting on the grill, make a small indentation with your thumb into the patty, and put an equally small pat of butter in the indentation (this will keep it nice and moist). On a medium flame, grill to your preference. Top with the following on a toasted hamburger bun:

• One onion sliced, and caramelized in a little butter and olive oil
• Boston Bibb Lettuce
• Dijon Mustard

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mom's Gazpacho

Every family has a special recipe that the matriarch or patriarch guards cautiously from prying eyes. You know the one. It's so coveted that whenever it makes its appearance on the family dinner table or buffet at a party, the whole gang cheers and slaps hands. It's the type of recipe that you don't feel right asking if it could be made for a special occasion, because it's so precious that it has to be offered by the one in charge of it.

My Mom's Gazpacho is that dish for me and my family. It only gets made a couple of times a year, in the summer when vegetables are at the peak of their bounty and freshness; and is definitely made for our 4th of July dinner. I can't remember there ever being a 4th of July, no matter where we were, that her Gazpacho wasn't on the table. Even though we expected it each year, we still would ask, a gleam in our eyes, a hushed reverence in our tone, "And you're making the Gazpacho, right? Right?"

And so it begins...
I have had plenty of Gazpacho at restaurants and none of them compare to my mother's. Maybe it's just the happy memory of my youth rushing through with the first bite. That first crunch of a tender, fresh pepper; the tang of the soup bursting on my tongue, showing me pictures in my mind of family and friends, catching lightning bugs, and watching fireworks. Or maybe hers really, truly is the best.

My hand is starting to cramp from all the chopping. I need another glass of wine.

And yes, you read that right. I said crunch. That's what sets this recipe far apart from all the other Gazpachos out there. Instead of being puréed into a smooth, textureless soup, this one boasts finely diced veggies, so that every mouthful brings cold, crunchy delight. You can actually taste all the flavors of each vegetable as you eat. Peppers, tomatoes (Mom says Jersey are the best, I say Hanover are), celery, and olives. Oh! That's another big thing. I hate olives. I hate them with a nauseated fire of a thousand suns. But I actually like them in this Gazpacho. That's how miraculous this recipe is.

I admit that it's a lot of work to finely dice all those veggies instead of throwing them into a food processor, but it's so worth it. Especially if you have someone who's willing to help you slice and dice (offering them a nice glass of wine while you work doesn't hurt either). Mom says that as much as she hates to part with this recipe, I earned it being passed along after all the years of helping her chop. Taken from the pages of Southern Living Magazine (we think) decades ago, she's changed enough of the recipe to now call it her own. Don't let summer slip away without giving it a try yourself.

This doesn't exactly show off our knife skills (hello huge chunk of radish), but it still tasted amazing.

Mom's Gazpacho

4 slices of bread, without crust and cubed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 cup of oil (vegetable is best)
3 Tbsp. +++ of white wine vinegar (to taste)

Put salt, garlic, oil and vinegar in the bottom of a large pot. Mash and mix, then add cubed bread and thoroughly mash and mix. Taste just a small bit of bread to make sure the mixture has enough tang. The following vegetables should be peeled, seeded, and finely diced:

1 1/2 lbs. tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 large cucumber
small bag of radishes (not peeled)
1 can of pitted, drained black olives (not peeled)
2 stalks of celery
1 red onion
1 small mild chili pepper (optional)

Add veggies to the above mixture, stirring well. Add 8 ounces of tomato juice, and 2 ice cube, mixing well again. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Enjoy! And thanks, Mom!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

GG - Now On Bloglovin'!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Hey everyone! This is just a quick update to tell y'all that you can now follow me on Bloglovin'! Feel the love, follow the GG, and discover new blogs! All you have to do is click on that cute little button you see to the right in the sidebar. Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Gleeful Gourmand Goes To The Beach!

I've been on a little hiatus - we just got back from our wonderful family vacation in the Outer Banks (that's in North Carolina for those of you who don't know). We had an amazing time running the kids from sun-up to sun-down, swimming in the frigid water, getting sunburned, and generally having the time of our lives. We even saw a humpback (we think) whale! That was a first for me - I've been going to the Outer Banks since I was a little girl, and I've never seen a whale off its shores. And so close, too! Dolphins, porpoises, pelicans - yes. Whales - no. It was truly a magical thing to witness. And thank goodness Buck just happened to be looking out of the window at the right time!

We also had a really fun 4th of July that included a town parade, more fireworks than you could shake a stick at (especially since they're illegal in N.C.), and a terrific feast that included my mom's famous gazpacho. It's not summer without it, and that will be my next post.
The view from our porch.

It's really hard being home now after such a great time. Getting back into routines, and trying to find things to do to keep these kiddos occupied and happy is not easy. I think we all got a little too used to having the beach as our backyard. Like all wonderful things, our vacation went way too fast, but we really got some excellent memories out of it. It was so fun to see the girls really interact at the beach this time, and watch them fall in love with it as much as we do. It's safe to say that we've created three little beach bums just like us. 'Till next time, OBX!

Getting these three to smile at the same time was no easy task!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Buck's Mixed Up Chicken Barbecue

Burgers. Hot dogs. Are you really going to serve them again at this year's July 4th cookout? No, is the resounding answer. How do I know? Because when I was going over our July 4th menu a couple of weeks back it was met with, "No burgers. No hot dogs. We need something different!" It seems like a lot of people out there want something different too. There is no more "norm" for a classic July 4th cookout. From what I've read, anything goes: from steaks with chimichurri sauce to Korean barbecue sandwiches. So there you are, sifting through countless magazines, foodie blogs, and Pinterest boards, trying to figure out what in the world to pair with all those patriotic snacks and desserts you've been pinning like crazy. Let's do different.

What could possibly go better with skewers of fresh fruit sliced from star-shaped cookie cutters? What is different enough, crowd-pleasing enough, and yet look fantastic next to that American flag you've painstakingly crafted from strawberries, blueberries, and mounds of whipped cream?

Barbecue Chicken. But not just any barbecue chicken: Buck's Mixed Up Chicken Barbecue. It's what we're serving this year as the main course. And it's super delicious, and super easy, which means you'll actually get to enjoy yourself at your party. Some of you may recall that I tacked this beauty of a recipe from my husband onto a post last year around this time, so I apologize if this is a little redundant. But guess what? This time I have pictures!

Looks good, doesn't it?

Buck's chicken starts in a marinade of your favorite Italian dressing the night before, which kind of acts like a brine. You know what you get when you brine, right? Tender, juicy meat falling right off the bone.

Sweet peaches, and crispy, tangy chicken. That's a whole lot of flavor for one grill.
Next, it gets hit with all sorts of spices, and breadcrumbs, then put on the grill to sear all the juices inside and give it a fantastic crunch - just like the crunch you'd get with fried chicken, but without all the frying! Crunchy, juicy... what are we missing? Tang. At the last half of your cooking time, slather on your favorite BBQ sauce (we like Stubb's original) and now you've got crunchy, juicy, kick-in-your-pants barbecued chicken that will have your guests calling out - nay - demanding for more!

Maybe it's not the prettiest plate at the dance, but it tasted damned good.

In these pictures we grilled some fresh peach halves, and served them both alongside corn on the cob, and a medley of tomatoes. It ended up being a rather orange/yellow plate, but the flavors were fantastic. This year for our July 4th cookout, we'll be serving it alongside the freshest gazpacho you can imagine, potato salad that has been passed down through generations, and my blueberry pie. So if you're looking for different this summer season, and you want a crowd-pleasing entrée; this chicken is just the ticket.

Buck’s Mixed Up Chicken Barbecue

• One large package chicken drumsticks (about 12), or a mix of drumsticks, and thighs (chicken breasts work nicely too, just adjust your cooking time)
• One bottle of Italian Dressing
• Sea Salt, Pepper, Paprika, Garlic Powder, Ground Red Pepper, Ground Ginger (Tbsp. of each)
• 2 eggs, beaten
• ½ cup Panko Breadcrumbs
• 1 cup Flour
• ½ cup Italian Breadcrumbs
• Any mild to medium Barbecue Sauce

Put drumsticks in a Ziploc bag and pour the Italian Dressing over them. Let marinate for 4 or more hours in the refrigerator - overnight is best!

Take drumsticks out and dredge through the beaten eggs, then through the flour, lightly shaking off the excess. Next put the chicken, spices, Panko and Italian breadcrumbs in a Ziploc bag and shake, being sure to coat evenly. Shake off excess again.

Place on a grill with the heat at medium. Grill for 40 minutes, turning as necessary to avoid burning. (Note: Buck didn’t use a thermometer, he could tell they were done when the meat started to pull away from the bone. Use your own discretion in this area)

In the last 5 minutes, baste the drumsticks all over with your favorite barbecue sauce. Enjoy!