Frango Semifreddo

A small frango Semifreddo with a pink plate holding more on the side.

TODAY’S MUSINGS:
Oh, my goodness.  I’m seated at my desk astonished that it has been four months since I’ve practiced my writing exercises,  over three months since I’ve posted on this blog, and well over a month since I’ve attempted writing anything at all.  How has this lag happened?  If only I could blame it on a busy life and blossoming relationship, but those are pathetic excuses.  If I have time to watch Netflix,  I have time to write.  And, full disclosure,  I have plenty of time for Netflix.  So,  what’s the impediment?  Writing for me, alas,  is a lot like my efforts at a consistent gym schedule. It’s good for me; it’s something I need to do, I’m frequently satisfied with the long-term results, but I’m not wholly convinced I actually enjoy the process.  “Write” is on my daily to-do list,  yet the climb from contemplation to commencement is a monumental crag to ascend, necessitating further tenacity when the words on the page fail to satisfy me.  After a hiatus, after putting my pen down for far too long,  the first few visits to my writer’s retreat are a trudge…a snail’s pace on a treadmill while staring at a blank wall.  I want these efforts to be fruitful, expecting to see the contours of my writer’s muscles reflected on the page immediately, yet I often gaze upon flabby dreck even following an entire afternoon’s hard labor.  It takes consistent, focused determination to settle myself and put words on the page without expectation of an inspired outcome.  It takes a few sessions before I’m once again caught in a rhythm of writing and re-writing,  before it becomes part of my day and begins to feel natural, as if I was meant to do this.  If I practice, I will, eventually, produce results.  I will write and write and, in due course, dare to label myself “writer” once more, until, a distraction throws me off  yet again – a vacation, a need to work late, a new interest – and then, before I realize what has happened,  it’s four months later,  the season has changed,  and my writer’s muscles have atrophied again. After yet another hiatus, I will sit astounded in front of the recriminating blank page, admonishing myself for veering so widely from my decided path yet again.

One of my many barriers to writing consistently is the obvious fact that my writing is at its best when I am indignant over some personal affront. When I am passionately righteous in my position,  the words flow from my fingers to the page as if the tap of a deep, dark, underground well has been cranked wide open.  Yet,  I cannot live in a world of perpetual righteous indignation for the sake of writing.  The tap runs dry, the wound scars over,  the damage, if not repaired, is razed for rebuilding.  My obsession over others’ wrongs slowly fades away into “who cares?” and with this diminishing ire, my muse also dissipates. It’s difficult to write when my life is on track. Of course, I can always tap into that faintly festering swamp of ancient hurts and childhood traumas, but it’s not pleasant spending one’s down time perpetually slogging through the mire. 

Writing,  for me, never comes easy. Never.  Even when the words flow,  there is rewriting to be done and, even when the writing is good and I complete a piece, splaying myself on the page,  I hobble from this desk, sore and a bit delirious with stiff joints and cloudy brain, not prepared to reemerge into the world outside my writer’s retreat.  The process is never straightforward for me, and yet it beckons.  So,  after four months away,  I am hunched over my laptop again,  rusty in my attempt to make these words sing, tinkering with each sentence in hopes you can relate to what I’m trying to say.  I’ve renewed my membership, returning to my writer’s gym, gently, tentatively stretching these muscles once again. 

TODAY’S RECIPE:
When choosing desserts,  mint chip is a flavor both Mr. M and I agree on,  so when I decided to whip up a quick dessert a few weeks ago,  I recalled my mom’s iconic recipe for “Frozen Chocolate Frangos.”  These “special occasion” velvety chocolate and mint semi-frozen treats were so decadently rich, wee little Julie couldn’t finish one by herself.  I dug out my mom’s  old recipe and zhuzhed it up just a bit for an adult palate. These semifreddos are the result. NOTE: Semifreddos are made with uncooked eggs.  If this is a concern for you, substitute pasteurized eggs.


Frango Semifreddo

For those who love the combination of refreshing mint and smooth chocolate, these rich, not-too-sweet semi-frozen treats will delight your taste buds. Named after Frango mints, these melt-in-your-mouth treats are a perfect after-dinner dessert.


Ingredients

    Crust and Topping
  • 14 Chocolate wafer cookies (or Oreo cookies)
  • ⅓ cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream, Slightly sweetened and whipped
  • Mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. In a food processor, blitz cookies and toasted walnuts until finely ground. Add melted butter and blitz until crumbs begin to stick together. Reserve 2 Tablespoons of crumbs. Evenly distribute remaining crumbs between 8 lined muffin tins and lightly press into bottom of each liner. I use the bottom of a ¼ cup to help pack the crumbs into the liners.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sifted confectioner’s sugar, and salt until smooth and fluffy. Add melted chocolate and beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and peppermint extract. Beat for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until filling is very light and fluffy.
  3. Pipe filling into each muffin tin until full. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top and freeze until firm, about one hour.
  4. To serve, remove frangos from freezer and let set at room temperature for 10 minutes. Pipe with whipped cream and garnish with mint sprigs if using.

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.

Classic Apple Pie

Sometimes, you can’t improve on a baked-from-scratch classic, like this Apple Pie. Apples, flaky pastry, and a bit of cinnamon is all that’s needed…except maybe a scoop of ice cream.

Apple Pie from Scratch

I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday and came across two videos of recipes being prepared in fast-motion. They weren’t special recipes – one was carrot cake and other was banana bread. I was astonished to realize the banana bread recipe had received over 8 million hits. Eight…million…hits – for banana bread. My blog is over 10 years old and I haven’t reached 8 million hits total, let alone for one post.

I have online presence envy.

The truth is that I’ll probably never have 8 million hits for a post. Those videos are for people who want a recipe that’s fast…and easy…with as little fuss as possible…and doesn’t require a special pan or spice…and results in something the whole family will love. Those videos are for what I call “Everyday Cooks.” You know who they are. After a full day at work, these folks are expected to arrive home and whip up something soul-satisfying and delicious day after day after day. God bless them. I could never do that – it would suck the joy of cooking right out of me.

Instead, I write for the food enthusiast, culinary explorers who learn about different cultures through preparing and eating their food, who are enamored by new ingredients or cooking techniques, and are willing to sacrifice gluten sensitivities and sugar phobias for the perfect slice of homemade apple pie. We relish the fuss – handmade crusts, apples harvested from the garden. We are a special breed, our numbers are small, but our passion is deep.

For my fellow enthusiasts…


Classic Apple Pie

  • Servings: One 9” pie
  • Print

This crust recipe, my favorite and from The Pioneer Woman, makes three crusts. Not sure what to do with the extra crust? Freeze it and use it for a single-crust pie later.


Ingredients

    FILLING
  • 4-5 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • CRUST
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar, preferably turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine apples, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Toss to coat. Set apple filling aside.
  2. Chill butter and Crisco until very cold by placing both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and Crisco to flour and pulse on/off until mixture resembles coarse meal (you can also combine the flour and fats using a pastry blender if you don’t want to drag out your processor – more effort, less clean-up). Scrape mixture into a large bowl, add egg mixture, and stir until combined. Don’t overwork dough.
  3. Separate the dough into thirds (If you prefer a more substantial crust, separate in half) and roll into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze for about 15 to 20 minutes to chill. (If you will be storing the dough in the freezer for a longer period, form dough into a disk and seal in a Ziplock bag. Thaw 20 minutes before using).
  4. Preheat oven to 375⁰. Sprinkle crust with a bit of flour and then, in between two sheets of waxed paper, roll out the bottom crust, starting at the center and working your way into a 11” – 12” circle. Once the dough is the correct size, peel off the top layer of waxed paper and, using the bottom sheet, transfer the dough to a 9” pie pan. Flip the dough over, peel off the bottom sheet, and gently press the dough into the pan. Go around the pie pan tucking the dough to make a clean edge. Freeze until second crust is rolled out. Roll out the second crust into a 12” circle between two sheets of waxed paper and transfer to freezer until ready to use.
  5. Remove the bottom crust from the freezer. Sprinkle with panko crumbs (this helps avoid a soggy bottom crust). Fill with apple mixture, but do not include any juice/liquid that may have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl; Dot filling with bits of unsalted butter. Remove top crust from freezer. Peel off top sheet of waxed paper, flip crust on top of filling, and trim top pie dough so that overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only about 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath bottom crust and crimp decoratively. Cut a few decorative vents on top of pie. Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake at 375° for 50-60 minutes or until crust is brown and filling is bubbly. If edges brown too quickly, cover edges with foil. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese

This Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese elevates a humble vegetable to new heights.

A blow of crunchy Celery Salad

Sometimes, I can’t help but equate my never-ending search for the perfect Bed and Breakfast purchase to online dating.  I start out searching for geographic desirability (location is key), then I’ll notice a photo that sparks my interest,  maybe smile a bit when reading the “bio” – ocean views,  fireplaces, large owner’s quarters, commercial kitchen – only to be disappointed when faced with the reality.    I found another Inn for sale this week in an ideal location along the Mendocino coast, only to be told by my broker that, according to the financials, it’s most likely a “lifestyle B&B” (read:  not making significant income).  This is the equivalent in the online dating world to “still lives with his mother.”  Sigh.

Enough daydreaming for today, Julie.  Back to the monotonous suburban daily grind that is slowing sucking away my soul – and the safe harbor of happiness called my kitchen.   This is another recipe from Joshua McFadden’s cookbook, Six Seasons.  I love that he takes humble, quotidian vegetables, like carrots and, in this case, celery, and gives them a starring role like in this crunchy celery-centric salad.


Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese

A crisp, refreshing salad that pairs well with cold poached salmon or cold roast chicken.


Ingredients

  • 8-10 celery stalks (depending on size), leaves reserved, tough fibers peeled off, sliced on an angle, ¼ inch thick
  • 4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup roughly chopped toasted almonds
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 oz. mild blue cheese, crumbled
  • 4 Tablespoons Good quality olive oil

Directions

  1. Soak sliced celery pieces in a bowl of ice water for about 20 minutes to heighten crispness. Strain, pat dry, and place in a dry bowl (I dried out the same bowl).
  2. Add the celery leaves, dates, almonds, lemon juice and red pepper flakes and toss together. Season well with salt and black pepper. Adjust seasoning, if needed. At the blue cheese and olive oil. Toss gently and adjust seasoning again, adding more olive oil, lemon juice, salt or pepper as needed.
  3. Let chill for 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine.

On a side note,  I was pleased to find my Cranberry Bakewell Mini Tarts featured on the Shari’s Berries site this week. Thanks for the shout out!

Creamy Tomato Chicken Stew

Chicken Stew
The other night, my friend commented that I couldn’t #deletefacebook because of this blog – I’ll lose my followers. It made me realize that my friends don’t understand the details of this passion hobby diversion of mine (and most likely don’t care). I take that as a good sign I’m not blathering on and on about “my blog” every second or every day. In truth, Facebook only accounts for 3% of traffic to my site. Surprisingly, my primary source in 2017 was the lesser-known Fridgg, making up about 25% of visits followed by various search engines with 13%, Foodgawker with 10% and my WordPress readers with 6%. I’m a devoted fan of Fridgg, a site that doesn’t determine what photos are worthy and unworthy based on some intangible – if the submitter believes them worthy, Fridgg does, too. Food photo democracy.

2018 is shaping up a bit differently. My primary source in 2018 has been search engines (15%), closely followed by Foodgawker (13%), with WordPress and Fridgg both at 10%. Facebook is still about 3%.

This brings me to another insight – My recent Foodgawker acceptance rates, THE site that determines if your photos are “worthy.” I think I’ve finally managed to crack their submission code. The first few years, my submission acceptance hovered around 30% – actually not too bad for the gold-standard of food photo sharing sites. Now, I’m at 45%, with February’s at 83% and March’s acceptance at 87%.

87%??! I’ll take that. I’m still undecided about Facebook.


Creamy Tomato Chicken Stew


Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cups Gruyère cheese
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cook chicken (in batches if needed) until brown on all sides. Set chicken aside. Add carrots, onions and garlic cloves to pot and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste and cook until mixture forms a golden crust at the bottom of the pan. Add tomatoes with juice and stock, scraping up the crusty bits on the bottom of the pan and breaking the tomatoes apart. Heat until boiling, then return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan.
  2. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes. Stir in cheese, cream and balsamic. Season with salt and pepper. Serve chicken and sauce over noodles, rice or polenta, sprinkled with a little more cheese, if desired.