Wednesday, January 30, 2013

what's on my plate, take 2

You need to make this beef stew. Period. It is amazing.

searing the stew meat
adding the meat to the caramelized veggies

cheap dry red
This is one of those meals that looks so humble and non-assuming, but totally blows you away with the first bite.

The end result is well worth the investment of standing over a cast iron skillet, searing each individual piece of stew meat a la Julia Child. It is worth making your own bone broth a few days in advance. It is worth restraining yourself from drinking the wine instead of using it as the recipe states.

Zao's Daddy requested beef stew the other day, due to all this cold rainy weather we've been having. In my search for a good paleo beef stew, I stumbled upon this one and used it as a guideline and source of inspiration.

I have no doubt that the original recipe is fantastic, but as with everything, I have to modify to suit our particular set of dietary parameters.

Zao's Mom's Beef Stew


3 pounds beef chuck, trimmed & cut into 2 inch pieces
olive oil
sea salt
granulated garlic powder
dried oregano
rendered, reserved bacon fat (can I pause to say, never never NEVER throw away your bacon fat. You paid for it. It is a powerhouse of flavor, and if you've purchased the good stuff, an excellent source of hormone- and antibiotic-free saturated fat. Pour it into a jar, keep it in the refrigerator with a date for reference.)
4-6 carrots, peeled and diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 yam, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 cups beef bone broth
1/4 cup almond meal
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper


1. I trimmed and cubed the meat on prep day (Sunday), and to help it keep until I made the stew, I tossed the meat in olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and some oregano before refrigerating. This is not a step I would recommend if you want optimal caramelization on the beef later (moist beef cubes won't caramelize as well as dry - haven't you seen Julie & Julia?) but in my opinion, marinating the beef really enhanced the flavor of the stew.

2. Assemble everything out on your counter, ready to hand. This is called your mise en place, everything in place. It is the single most important thing you can do to make cooking easier. Consider cooking the meal as a play, and all the ingredients are the actors. They need to be ready for their cues in make-up and costume. So chop your veggies, measure your wine and broth, et cetera, etc., and have them on your counter ready to go.

3. I had two pans heating on the stove on medium heat: a dutch oven, for the veggies and stew, and a ten-inch cast iron skillet for searing the beef cubes. Olive oil in the dutch oven, bacon fat in the skillet.

4. Saute the veggies in olive oil in the dutch oven over medium heat. Lower the heat if it is burning instead of browning. Stir just so the veggies don't burn.

5. Sear the beef cubes in bacon fat in the cast iron skillet over medium heat. Do not crowd the pan, please. It's tempting, as this part takes the most time, but it really is worth the restraint in the end! As the meat is done, place in a bowl off to the side. Once all the meat is seared, add it to the vegetables in the dutch oven.

6. Add the broth and wine to deglaze the dutch oven. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with utensil of choice, to release all that lovely, lovely gunk, called fond. The fond, like bacon fat, contains massive amounts of flavor.

7. Mix in the almond meal and apple cider vinegar. Turn the heat to low or simmer, and allow the stew to stew for at least 2 1/2 hours.

8. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy!

There you have it. Amazing, amazing beef stew. If you make this, let me know how it goes, what you changed, or what you think needs changed! I like feedback.

Monday, January 28, 2013

this week in meals

My second week of menu planning is underway and off to a very good start. Huzzah! It makes me happy. Prep day especially makes me happy: it is such a great time-saver for the rest of the week, and while in process I remember just how very much I love cooking

green juice (fresh-pressed)
eggs your way
breakfast balls (follow the link for the the recipe! I make ours without maple syrup.)
yam hash

mixed berry muffins for Zao (gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free) 
sweet potato carrot cakes

grilled chicken
tuna salad (made with homemade mayo)
green beans
leftovers, if any


beef stew + veg
moroccan meatballs with cumin-roasted carrots
lemon garlic chicken with roasted broccoli
omelets or frittata
*all the above meals include a green veg, it's standard in these parts

snacks/meal additions
fruit (green apples, bananas, oranges, berries)
spiced almonds

celery + sunflower seed butter

Please comment and let me know if there is a recipe that you would like (if the link isn't already provided above). My mom taught me how to share! 

rainy days and mondays always get me down

This morning I awoke to a naked toddler, a huge puddle of pee, and the experience of stepping in poop barefoot. It wasn't the greatest moment of my life. 

If you are a mom and haven't yet had a day where you are ready to throw in the towel as soon as you awake, you aren't being honest with yourself. Or it is forthcoming. #doom Motherhood is a uniquely difficult experience; mine isn't necessarily exacting or tough in the the same way yours may be, but I think all moms can chime in and say as one that "yes, it made me tear my hair out/yes, it made me prematurely grey." 

Zao's Daddy took these photos the other night, and I haven't stopped looking at them, or recreating the scene, since. The way Zao and his Sister are with each other is centering, grounding, and makes my heart swell. 

These moments are why we press on, ladies.

Zao and his sister love each other so much. They each light up at the sight of the other. Witnessing this special bond between the people I made siblings is humbling.

I know, I know - that may change one day. But not today. Today is when I needed it most.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

friday night

Today's photo barely needs a caption or backstory. 

The kids are always happy to have Zao's Daddy home from work. I am, too. Not just because it grants me a little reprieve from being the sole source of everything for the two; Zao's Daddy is my best friend.

I'm blessed. 

Friday, January 25, 2013


I thrive on routine and quiet time alone. I've been enjoying getting up before everyone else, making a cuppa tea or joe, and sweeping the cobwebs out of the ole grey matter by blogging. 

Sadly in the past few days, the kids have gotten wise to this scenario. I'm sure it's because they are concerned that I might get lonely during that time (they certainly would!), thus they've coordinated together to alter their sleep schedules that they might now keep me company. So very kind. 

Alone time is hardwired into my personality: I am an extreme introvert, believe it or not. I've learned to function and be smiley and pretty at social functions, but I prefer being a wallflower, or better yet, entertaining a close friend at home. I didn't realize the depth of my introversion, or how "OK" it was for me to be such, until I took the Jung Typology Test. It turns out I have one of the rarest and most oft misunderstood personality types. Yay me! It certainly explains a lot of my quirks, to me and to my husband! Zao's Daddy humored me and took the test, too, despite being skeptical about the whole thing (which came as no surprise in hindsight, as skepticism is a big part of his personality). It gave me great insight and has helped me to understand him much better. I'm sure it will help him, too, once he reads my results. We are an INFJ and an ESFP, respectively. 

What about you, reader? Have you ever taken a personality test? Did you agree or disagree with the results?

Thursday, January 24, 2013


You know the saying: you know you are getting older when you look in the mirror and see your mother looking back at you.

Even my grey hairs are starting to look like my mom's these days, wiry and a bit coarse, pitiful attempt at curling. 

I've had grey-to-silver hairs popping up since I was sixteen years old. Only lately have they started doing that. It gets me thinking about how much has changed in the past few years.

I turned thirty this past July, quite happily. My twenties were tumultuous and I am happy to put them behind me. Looking back, I see that I didn't feel the freedom to be myself, probably because I didn't love myself. My efforts to improve myself were, at the core, efforts to be someone else. At thirty I feel something I never felt at twenty: I like me. I'm comfortable with me.

When I see the grey hairs multiplying, I don't wish to go back and be a younger version of myself with today's knowledge and wisdom. I wish that at twenty I could've known who I'd be, and where I'd be, and what all I was going to do, by the time I turned thirty. I highly doubt I would've been so depressed or so pessimistic about the present or the future. I would've lived with more confidence and hope.

In the past ten years, I graduated culinary school at the top of my class. I spent my three-month internship in England and Wales. I visited the Caribbean. Twice. I learned to cook, I learned cakes, and then I put it all aside and learned about auto glass and how to answer phones and be kind to people. In the span of three years I drove from (and lived in) Arizona to Florida to Connecticut to upstate New York, back to Florida then on to Pennsylvania, and back to Arizona. I learned about people, about myself, to hear my own voice, and the voice of God. I went through and conquered an eating disorder. I've tasted the bitter gall of grief; two grandparents, a cousin, far too many children of friends, buried. I found my champion and married him, only to find out he was my best friend, too. I gave birth to two children, in the quiet still of water, in the intimacy of my own home, without intervention or drugs or panic. I've learned the depth of my own commitment, and strength under pressure.

I look backward and am amazed at how far I've come, not just with tangible things, but with the intangible as well. I am stronger and healthier now, physically, mentally, emotionally, than ten years ago. I'd trade so much to have my twenty-year-old self feel the pride, love, and self-worth that I do now, and to move forward in life with that as an anchor, understanding my value as a woman irregardless of accomplishments or failures. Maybe that's why I have a daughter, Zao's Sister. ;)

What will the next ten years teach? There is so much I suck at in life, so much I have yet to learn to do (like potty-train a toddler), yet I have anticipation and optimism. If I, who loathed and hated my own soul and my own flesh at times, I being so weak of character, can have climbed out of it and through it, then truly there is no limit to what can be accomplished in any of us. I think it just takes time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

what's on my plate

Last night's dinner was shrimp & spaghetti squash, with a side of roasted veggies. It was pretty fantastic, despite not looking quite as I'd visualized it. I over-sautéed the squash. (That's the pile of gray-green hiding in shame beneath the shrimp.) 

 As meals go, this turned out to be one of my more involved undertakings. I did discover a few more short-cuts for next time.

The broccoli and brussel's sprouts are trimmed and ready for roasting, slathered in olive oil, salt, and garlic.  I baked these for about an hour at 400 degrees, stirring them around once so they wouldn't burn on one side and be soggy on the other. The only thing that makes this better is garnishing it with some diced, cooked bacon. Mmmmm. So good.

The prep for spaghetti squash sautee: 

cooked and separated spaghetti squash
diced green bell pepper
diced celery
granulated garlic
olive oil 
salt & pepper to taste

Most of this was already prepared and in the fridge from Saturday (or, "food prep day" as it shall heretofore be known), except for the celery as that was an after thought. Huge time saver, prep day! 

I sautéed the pepper and celery first until caramelized, then added the squash and seasoned to taste. In the future I won't do this so early in the game; the compilation sat on low heat far too long and the squash lost her pretty color. 

A little over a pound of wild caught shrimpies! Huge buggers. Marinaded these ladies while the veggies were in the oven roasting: a little grapefruit juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and some Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning. Tony's is a standard in our house. It goes on everything.

Once skewered, they were grilled, and we built our plates. (see above) 

It was good eats. The shrimp was hearty and rich, and neither me or Zao's Daddy ate as much of it as we projected we would. Which is a-ok, because that means there leftovers for lunch!

Monday, January 21, 2013

meal plan

I don't typically plan out and write down our meals. I've been more of a new-menu-daily sort of chef; what looks good, what's in season (or on sale), what do I feel like cooking, today? 

Immediately after I had Zao's Sister, the art of cooking went out the window and it became all about survival, because now there are two and one of the two is perpetually at my breast. Dinner happened whenever it managed to happen and didn't have much rhyme or reason. (Breakfast for dinner, anyone?) 

Recently menu planning came back on my radar, and in such a fashion that I realized I had been really over complicating the simplest time saver on the planet. Thank you, Susan!

Obviously this snap was taken of the menu in progress. ;) In the future I'm not going to bother writing down breakfasts, unless there's something special planned. We eat the same thing every day, so it's kind of a duh situation.

Anyway, here's the break-down for the next few days:

eggs your way
breakfast balls (it's just fun to say. I made ours without maple syrup or onion)
liverwurst for me (yum!)
yam hash

grilled chicken
boiled eggs
green beans
leftovers, if any

citrus carnitas with cauliflower rice
grilled creole-style wild-caught shrimp with spaghetti squash
steak with zucchini and yam fries
meatballs with cauliflower mash & gravy
salmon patties with tbd veg
*all the above meals include a green veg, it's standard in these parts

snacks/meal additions
fruit (strawberries, blueberries, green apples, bananas, oranges)

Now before you get excited and say to yourself, "Man, that's a lot of meat!" or "Man, that's a lot of cholesterol!" or "Man, that sounds pretty freaking awesome!" let me state that if you are thinking the last statement, yes, you are correct. It does sound pretty freaking awesome. Thank you.

As a family we eat a lot of meat, and we eat a lot of cholesterol. We eat what some like to call a "Paleo Diet," although I must say I hate the word diet. Diet is a nasty four-letter word. I've eaten this way off and on for over a year and a half now, but both Zao and his Daddy are new converts. I intend to write more on the reasons of why we eat this way in future posts. Disclaimer: it is not my intent to convert anyone, or tell those that resist that they are wrong and going to food hell. It's just food. So fear not!

If you can't wait that long and are just burning for some information, as I would be in your case, you can read a summation here and here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

blue eyes

Pictures of Zao are usually blurry.

Because to be Zao is to be in motion.

"Stand still, I want to take your picture," I said.

He heard: "Put your face about an inch away from the camera lens!" 

He stood there for a few moments, impish grin hovering in the corner of his mouth, eyes bearing into mine. "Do you see me? Am I still here to you?"

Admittedly there are times that I don't see him, all I see are the things that need to be done, all I see is the unruly and trying behavior. I see interruption and interference. 

Dr Laura Markham, on her blog Aha! Parenting, writes a lot about connection. I think it is the single-most valuable thing I have learned from her. Connection has become the most effective tool in my parenting arsenal. It turns a craptastic day completely around. Every single time. 

Connecting with my children is actually quite a challenge for me. I am a doer, go-getter, motivated worker bee. I am efficient and quick-thinking; I know how to get sh*t done, man. Ask Zao's Daddy. He'll tell you. It drives him NUTS sometimes. 

Connection doesn't call for any of that, at all. Being a restaurant chef, or a good housekeeper, sure! I can make a tight ship of a kitchen; I can keep this crib so sparkling clean it'll blind you. Connection, though, that's a different speed, that's a whole different side of existence that does not come naturally to me. Yet it is the most important thing I can do for my children. 

And so I try. Some days I succeed, and those are always, always, such brilliantly marvelous days! Most days I'm still just trying. 

It helps to have reminders around. On my refrigerator I have a piece of plain computer paper on which I've written the words: "There are no emergencies. BREATHE. CONNECT." Oh, it also says, "They're acting like children because they ARE children." :) I am not exaggerating when I say that having it written out like that has helped me a lot. The Daddy uses it to hold me accountable, too. 

Connection means I have to stand still and stop doing in order to see and to be present. Though presently it is difficult, in the long run I know I will be glad to have worked toward it. Otherwise, it's all just a blurry picture of a life. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Zao's Sister has monkey-toes. 

She gets that from me, this ability to spread them out wide like fingers. Very useful for gripping, and picking things up. :) Maybe it's a genetic throw-back to a time before shoes. Lord knows I hate wearing shoes!

I love how she's looking at me in this picture, as if she's thinking, "This creative stuff has you acting really odd, Mama...what is up with your fascination with my feet?"

She is fifteen weeks old now, and if I were to guess, weighs around twelve pounds. She has the same stunning blue eyes as her brother; indeed they really are two peas in a pod when it comes to looks. Imagine that. *wink* 

Zao's sister is eager to be my best friend. She prefers to be at my side at all times, or better yet, in my arms, facing outward to see what I see so we can talk about it later. Laying on a blanket on the floor, from which she can see and talk to me, is infinitely preferred to a man-made baby-entertainment or carrying device, or even Daddy's arms (sometimes). She will talk to me forever, going on and on and on about the things that make up her little world. I wish I could understand her! I am sure there would be great insight. 

She is my sunshiny girl. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

first photo: mat time

I'd like to introduce you to Zao and his Sister. 

Every day for the next year I will be taking a photo and sharing it on this blog. I hope to become a better and more creative photographer through this endeavor, but most especially I am using it as a means to help me become present and appreciative of the moment.

I love this snapshot. It is entirely spontaneous and real, and you can truly see the love in Zao's smile. 

I paused in the middle of today's workout to take this photo. It was too sweet to pass unrecorded! This is how they've passed the time lately while I do my workout, smashed together on the floor mat playing with baby toys.

I used to be of the mindset that exercise had to be "my time," and that it was so important to try to squeeze it in while one or the other of the kids napped, or miracle of miracles: they both slept simultaneously. It was a recipe for stress and frustration. I've learned, because they taught me, to just do it. It doesn't have to be complicated, long or drawn-out, or even at a gym. Stop, drop, and do some pushups. Bang out some presses. Do sun salutation. I do what I can as I can, and try do it consistently. Their little faces watching me, or laughing together, are such a delight, and such an improvement over stinky, sweaty gym-goers. (I'm not hating on the gym, guys! It just isn't in the cards for me right now. And let's be honest, sweaty strangers aren't everyone's favorite crowd.)

You know what else I've learned? I love it this way. I think it is so cool that Zao and his Sister are growing up watching me lift weights, do pushups, squats or warrior pose, and struggle (and improve!) with chin-ups. Exercise and being active is just a part of life, as it should be.