Pizza Margherita

A pizza margherita with a slice taken out

Today’s Musings:
When you press the “start” button, you expect electronics to…start.  So, when something doesn’t, like your computer, it can be unsettling.  At first, you don’t panic. You check the cords and the outlet. You remove the battery, wait ten seconds, replace it, press the “start” button again and nothing happens – at all.  Frustrated at this point, you try pressing the “on” button multiple times (although this tactic never works) then try holding the button down, yet you are still met with a black screen – not a blue screen of death, not a beep, not a whir. Nothing.  Now, you are frightened.

You know you should backup your files on a regular basis.  You know your laptop has been unreliable in recent months, and yet you just assume it’ll turn on nightly, as needed.  You’ve been contemplating buying a new one (an expense you don’t really need right now), and rue the realization that you should have spent the dough (cost be damned!).  You envision the hundreds of food photos saved only there and the photos of you with family and friends, long dead.  You recall your resume and the retirement documents you worked on diligently and saved nowhere else.  You are acutely aware of the hours your fingers have massaged the keyboard this past month –  first finishing a 60-page memoir on love that hadn’t been touched in 11 years and, more recently, the beginnings of a book and the 16,000 words you have typed already – and you thank providence that you at least backed up both on a jump drive last week – only some of the work will be lost.  You think about the list of book club selections for 2021 only saved on the desktop and multiple half-finished blog posts and recipes that are irretrievable.  You feel sick.

You hope it’s merely the AC adaptor, order a new one, and deflate when you see it’s not scheduled to arrive for 12 days.  Can you wait 12 days?  If not the adaptor, the next step is the computer hospital, but they weren’t much help on the last visit, just a few weeks ago.  You had plans to write this weekend.  It’s rainy, it’s cold, and your plans for the day included a log in the fireplace, candles scattered on your desk, a sleeping kitty on your lap and words, words, word.  You try to remain calm; you adjust your weekend plans for more time in the kitchen.  If not writing memoirs, then perfecting recipes it is.

You promise yourself that if you can, just one last time, retrieve your files, you’ll buy that new laptop immediately.  You write all these thoughts out longhand – your hopes, your frustrations, your disappointments, your fears, and realize you just need to put your panic aside and move forward.  12 days cannot come soon enough.

(Update:  The AC adaptor did the trick – sort of – it still took me five tries to boot up.  I need a new laptop – and a backup drive – today. )

Today’s Recipe:
With unexpected kitchen time on my hands, and a 25-lbs. bag of “OO” flour reaching its expiration date, I decided to try my hand at a simple Pizza Margherita.  Many of you probably have a pizza stone – I don’t buy a lot of kitchen gadgets, including a pizza stone, so I don’t mention one here, but if you have one, please feel free to use it – it’s only going to help.


PIZZA MARGHERITA

  • Servings: One 14” Pizza
  • Print

The perfect pizza margherita is crisp along the outside and, when you cut a slice, the tip just slightly dips down.


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup water, 105⁰ – 110⁰
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 ¾ cups “OO” flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 14-oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, chopped*
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼” slices
  • 6-10 fresh basil leaves, torn if large

Directions

  1. In a liquid measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and set aside for about 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine yeast mixture, 1¼ cups flour, salt, and olive oil. Mix ingredients on low until fully combined. Add additional flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. On medium-low, knead the dough until smooth, soft and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Form into a ball, place into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap in a warm draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cook garlic in a little oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juice and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 500⁰ F. Scrape dough onto a large piece of lightly-floured parchment. Pat, stretch, or roll dough into a 14” circle on parchment.
  5. Spread sauce over dough, leaving a 1” border. Arrange cheese on top, leaving a 2” border (cheese bubbles and spreads). Slide pizza on parchment onto preheated baking sheet. Bake until pizza is crisp and golden and cheese is bubbling and browning in spots, about 15 minutes. With a spatula, look underneath the pizza to ensure it is well browned. Transfer pizza to cutting board, cool 5 minutes, sprinkle with basil leaves, slice and serve.

* You may be tempted to pick up a can of diced tomatoes to save yourself the work.  I don’t recommend it. Diced tomatoes contain calcium chloride, which means they won’t break down like regular tomatoes.  They’ll retain their bite and shape even when cooked and we are not looking for a chunky tomato sauce.

Tarte Flambée (Flammekueche)

Today’s Musings:
During my semi-regular pilgrimage to the Mecca known as Trader Joe’s, I follow a specific ritual.  After anointing my red shopping cart handle with sanitizer, I weave my way through each aisle, starting at the first station, flowers and fresh vegetables, and completing my procession at wine and cheese, before ultimately paying my tithe to the cashier.  In the frozen food aisle, alongside the frozen pizzas, without fail, I slightly genuflect, reaching into the freezer to pull out one, if not two, Tarte Flambée. 

I discovered Tarte Flambée in 2006 while visiting my grandfather’s hometown of Strasbourg, FR.  Strasbourg and the surrounding Alsace Lorraine region is unlike any other in France.  Situated along Germany’s border, Strasbourg has, at certain points in history, been annexed to both France and Germany, a result of various wars.  In fact, my grandfather considered himself German, while his sister, Lucette, was decidedly French. Oui?  The official language is French, but the indigenous language spoken is Alsatian, which is its own beast – a southern German dialect influenced over time by French. So, although part of France, they don’t really speak French, the city doesn’t look French, and their food in undeniably heartier than most French fare. 

On arriving in Strasbourg, our hotel proprietor recommended we dine at a local neighborhood winstub.  Winstubs, as you can probably guess by now, are distinctly Alsatian – and unlike any French bistro I’ve frequented.  These charming little wine bars are snuggled within old, half-timbered buildings, and chocked full of Alsatian charm – rustic tables, low ceilings, wood-burning stoves, and comfortable, cozy nooks where you can relax, sip a local wine and order something to nosh. 

This particular winstub was brimming with locals; we being the only foreigners.  The limited menu catered to our adventuresome palates.  I recall braised rabbit, choucroute, foie gras, and something called Tarte Flambée.  Neither my tablemates nor I were familiar with Tarte Flambée and asked our server to explain – of course, we don’t speak Alsatian (or German or French), and she didn’t speak English, but from what we could gather through hand gestures and vigorous head-nodding (and after a trip to the kitchen to show us the ambiguous “herb” she managed to translate),  we discovered Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza (although any Alsatian would slap me for even mentioning pizza) with a creamy sauce of crème fraîche and fromage blanc (a fresh cow’s milk cheese), sparingly sprinkled with lardons (thin slices of slab bacon), and onion,  grilled hot and fast for a crispy, cracker-like crust, and sometimes garnished with “herbs” (typically parsley or chives).  Oh heaven!  We devoured our first Flambée in minutes and then proceeded in the next week to make our way through Alsace Lorraine ordering Tarte Flambée whenever we had a chance, usually for lunch with a salad or pâté.  During our travels, we happened upon a few variations which included adding a sprinkle of local Munster cheese (la gratinée), or thinly sliced mushrooms (la forestière), although I prefer the simpler version. 

Trader’s offers a pretty damn good frozen facsimile in a pinch and I enjoy one almost weekly.  Eschewing the directions on the box, I bake the frozen (and therefore stiff) version directly on the oven rack (no sheet pan) and tend to cook it in a bit longer than recommended (I’m aiming for a crisp crust from edges to middle).  The serving suggestion of 2-4 people makes me giggle – serving for one is more like it. 

Today’s Recipe:
When I have more time – or I don’t want to trek to Trader’s, I use the following recipe.  The trick to an authentic Tarte Flambée is “restraint” which, for anyone who follows this blog, knows isn’t a strength of mine.  However, if you pile on the bacon and onions and add tons of cheese, you’ll never get the crisp crust holy grail you are looking for.  Also, I’ve simplified the recipe a bit – substituting the fromage blanc for 100% crème fraîche.  Finally, unlike pizza, this crust doesn’t require yeast, making it quicker to throw together.


Tarte Flambée

  • Servings: One 12” tarte
  • Print

Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza with a creamy sauce, sprinkled with bacon and onion, and then grilled hot and fast for a crispy cracker-like crust.


Ingredients

  • 2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • ⅓ cup onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup water, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • parsley or chives (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small pan, partially cook bacon until fat renders, but not until bacon is crispy. Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. Partially cook onion in bacon fat until soft, but not brown. Add to bacon.
  2. In a medium size bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add oil and ¼ cup water. Slowly combine using your fingers until it becomes a shaggy dough. If the dough is too dry, add additional water 1 teaspoon at a time. Knead dough 2-3 times and shape into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat a baking pan on the lowest rack of a 550⁰ F. oven.
  4. While the dough is resting and the oven is preheating, combine crème fraîche, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Dust dough with flour and roll into a 12” circle between 2 pieces of parchment. Remove top layer of parchment and spread crème fraîche mixture over dough leaving a ½” border. Dot with bacon and onions and decoratively pinch border of dough.
  6. Using lower parchment sheet, transfer Tarte Flambée to preheated baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not be alarmed if edges of parchment darken in the very hot oven. Remove from oven, let cool for 1-2 minutes, sprinkle with parsley or chives (if using) and cut into wedges. Enjoy immediately.

Thai Peanut Chicken Rice Bowls

A white bowl with composed salad and chopsticks

Today’s Musings:
It’s a new year and time to shove 2020 out the window, welcoming a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

The Final Chapter

“First it hurts, then it changes you.”
– unknown

When you begin researching covert narcissists and realize you’ve endured this form of emotional abuse, the first descriptor you’ll likely come across is “victim.”  “Emotional abuse” and “victim” – those two words punch you in the gut and knock the wind out of you. When you first hear the V-word, your blood may freeze in your veins; you’ll most likely be in disbelief.  The tough, female warrior inside you may scream, “That’s not ME. I am not a victim!” Yet, this word clings to you, like the sour smell of booze after a night of too much drinking.  In our world, victims are seen as weak, helpless, unwilling to take responsibility for the role, however small, they may have played in this reprehensible charade.  No one wants to be the victim, but that’s what you are.  You unwittingly gave yourself to a con-man, an emotional con-man, who never cared about you, never loved you, and only saw you for what he could “get” from you – nurturing, sex, status, or money – each of these creatures is looking for something different to feed their ego. It is a disorder and this sickness makes him incapable of significantly bonding with anyone – even fabulous you. 

This will be the most difficult concept for you to comprehend – no matter what he whispered in your ear, no matter how sincere he sounded in the moments when he gazed into your eyes, no matter how many little kindnesses he did for you, it was all an act; he never cared about you. You’ll want to hold on to these little moments as “proof” that you made him feel something, but they are lies.  In his world, you are not special – you are replaceable, something to be used up, like a tube of toothpaste. The charming, good-guy mask he’s been wearing can only stay in place for so long. Finally, it will slip and you’ll be left hurting, alone, and profoundly confused. Where did Mr. Wonderful go? With the final discard, you will feel his tangible lack of empathy or remorse – when he is done with you, he is DONE. 

As you learn more – and you will – researching what just happened to you is part of the process victims of narcissists go through –  watching YouTube, reading books, listening to podcasts, joining Facebook support groups, maybe even talking to a Therapist – you’ll begin to hear the word “survivor.”  Survivor sounds tough, strong, invincible. Being labeled a “survivor” provides hope.  At first, you’ll think it’s just a dolled-up euphemism for “victim,” that shameful stench that still swirls around you.

So, are you a victim or a survivor? 

You are both.  The language we use has significant impact on how we view ourselves and how the world views us.  The word “victim” focuses on what has been done to us and, in the beginning, this is unfortunately where we need to focus.  A victim has been damaged and mistreated; they are defined by the pain that has been heaped upon them by the narcissist. Their strength and resilience has been assaulted and may even feel non-existent.  Victims are divorced from their power.  On the other side of this trauma is where the survivors dwell – and you will make it to the other side.  Survivors acknowledge the abuser for the pathetic creature he truly is. We’ve processed the disbelief, the hurt, the anger, the realization that people like this actually exist. We recognize that narcissists are incapable of feeling loving emotions and acknowledge our humiliation that, for all our savviness, we fell for their con.  A survivor moves forward, stronger and changed.  We not only continue to live, but we grow and prosper, sharing our human emotions the narcissist can only fake. As survivors, our power is reclaimed, and the narcissist, for us, shrivels into nothing and dies.

Today’s Recipe:


Thai Peanut Chicken Rice Bowl


Ingredients

    Cucumber Salad
  • 1 cup cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • Peanut Dressing
  • ¼ cup bottled peanut sauce
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Rice Bowl
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup edamame, sprinkled with salt
  • 1 cup cooked chicken breast, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Sriracha Sauce (optional)

Directions

  1. Make cucumber salad: Combine all ingredients and let marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Make peanut dressing: Whisk together all ingredients.
  3. Divide rice between four bowls. Arrange edamame, chicken and cilantro on top of rice. Add marinated cucumbers.
  4. Drizzle with peanut dressing and sriracha, if using.

Slow Cooker Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Lamb Tagine over couscous in a white bowl

Today’s Musings:

It’s a new year and time to shove 2020 out the window, welcoming a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter Six

I learned a new term today, although I’d rather I hadn’t a need for it – trauma bonding.  At its essence, trauma bonding is a form of Stockholm syndrome.  It occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of love/reward and anger/withdrawal/punishment.  This roller coaster of emotion, this give and take, creates a powerful brain cocktail that contributes to a person’s “addiction” to a toxic partner – the reason we stick around when any “sane” person would run for the hills.  These chemicals include oxytocin (for bonding) endogenous opioids (creating pleasure and dependency), corticotrophin-releasing factor (creating feelings of withdrawal) and dopamine (creating feelings of craving and wanting).  The intermittent reward and punishment of a relationship with a toxic partner amplifies the doses of these brain chemicals until the victim is powerfully bonded to the emotional abuser though the push-pull of fear, affection, sex, excitement, and withdrawal.  It’s a drug addiction. This traumatic bond is even stronger for people who have grown up in emotionally abusive households, because it feels to them like a normal part of any relationship (yup). Initially, a toxic partner is inconsistent in their approach, with long stretches of love/reward, a Pavlovian technique, which slowly develops into an intense sturm und drang perhaps not matched by any of the victim’s previous relationships (yup!). The abused partner may even rationalize or defend the emotionally abusive actions, feeling a sense of loyalty to the abuser (yup again!), a result of the trauma bond.  They may blame themselves for the toxic relationship or hide the emotional abuse from others, hoping the abusive behavior will abate and things will go back to the idyllic “normal” of the first few months. It doesn’t. Get out.

Today’s Recipe:

This recipe calls for preserved lemons. You can find them at well-stocked grocery stores or make your own.


Slow Cooker Moroccan Lamb Tagine

Slow cooking the lamb results in meltingly tender meat.


Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into 1” pieces
  • 8 Medjool dates, pitted and cut in half
  • ¼ cup preserved lemons, thinly sliced plus more for garnish
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups cooked couscous
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • ½ cup packed cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup toasted sliced almonds

Directions

  1. In a slow cooker, combine lamb, dates, preserved lemons, garlic, coriander, smoked paprika, cinnamon, salt, pepper and ¼ cup water. Cook on high for 4 hours until lamb easily shreds with a fork. Add kalamata olives and heat through.
  2. Cook couscous according to package directions. Serve the lamb over the couscous, sprinkled with cilantro, toasted sliced almonds, and a few slivers of preserved lemons.

Paprika Chicken with Potatoes

Today’s Musings:

It’s a new year and time to shove 2020 out the window, welcoming a fresh start.  The following handful of posts are a series, written a lifetime ago, that track my journey from a painful breakup with a man I adored, to the shock of discovering the truth behind his mask, to glimpsing the depths of his depravity, and finally acknowledging my own error in blindly trusting him.  This tale ended long ago, but only now am I ready to disclose it – and perhaps help others who find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you to those who shared evidence and convinced me to tell my story.

 Chapter Five

I deleted the photos last night.  Every.  Last. One.  I almost said “our photos,” but there was no “our” about it.  It was a con, from the beginning to the end.  An emotional con – and I was the dupe.  For the majority of our time together, his actions towards me were sweet, kind, loving – but it was an act. He went through love’s motions without any emotion behind them. I deleted our numerous 10-page email arguments last week, but not before showing them to someone who specializes in creatures like him.  She sees how I tried with him and shakes her head at his pathetic responses, full of lies and gaslighting.

And the lies and the photos and the texts keep piling up. Unbidden by me, his friends continue to drop these pieces of evidence at my feet, like the bloody and lifeless mice my cats leave me as presents. To counterbalance these blows, some reassure me that he “cared” for me at some point.  Oh, how my tender heart wishes it were true, but he and I know the truth, don’t we?  He is incapable of it – devoid of any authentic feelings, except his own self-pity and feelings of persecution. He “cared” for me in front of his audience; he “cared” for me on his terms.

He knows he’s damaged, deficient in something essential – what did he call it that one night, “demons”?  He lacks empathy and has no remorse for how his actions injure people.  I was not special.  I was a “source” for him, nothing more, and once he used me up, he discarded me and moved to his next sources already waiting in the wings (although I’m convinced they were in his bed while I was still there – in retrospect, the signs are too numerous to be coincidence). What’s ironic is that he’s not very good at them – all his lies.  They are mediocre and unimaginative, at best. Had I wanted to, I could have caught him out early.  I just chose not to see them. I chose ignorance in pursuit of what I thought was love.

How many times did he say, “If you believe nothing else, believe this,” only to have me discover later that he lied about that very thing.

And his secret – the one that’s recorded in yellow and blue?  Like Prometheus nailed to the cliff side, this one agonizing torment is his atonement for the damage he carelessly inflicts. It’s his subconscious trying to fill that insatiable void inside of him.  He may resist for a few months, but it will be with him forever.

Yet even now, after all he has done, against my rational judgment and friends’ admonishments, I still feel deep compassion for this creature. I cannot imagine living in a world like his.  I’m not sorry he’s gone from my life – I’m just relieved I survived. 

Hyperbole, you say?  Read this directly from a narcissist’s mouth.

Today’s Recipe:


Paprika Chicken with Potatoes

Chicken, potatoes and sweet onions are tossed in spices before roasting in the oven. Add a salad and you have a great weeknight meal.


Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons paprika (not smoked paprika)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 ½ lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
  • 2-3 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼” thick
  • 1 sweet onion, cut into ½” wedges
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 500⁰ F. Mix olive oil and spices in a large bowl. Add chicken, potatoes, onion and garlic, tossing to ensure all pieces are well coated.
  2. In a 13”x9” pan, layer potatoes along the bottom, cover with chicken, skin side up, and nestle onions and garlic under and around chicken.
  3. Bake until chicken registers 165⁰ and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. If chicken skin is not crisp, broil another 5 minutes until skin is crisp and tips of some onions are black.