Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cupcakes Are Not a Commitment

I find it timely to discuss cupcakes as a metaphor for life especially in light of today’s celebration of National Cupcake Day. Anyone looking to truly understand me should know that for me, this is a metaphor for life. I believe it’s important to commit to some things – family, health and Glee on Wednesday nights. But, like so many things in life, I’m also committed to dabbling – I’m a dabbler.

There’s far too much pressure these days to be an expert. Let me begin with the fact that I enjoy cooking and admittedly I’m pretty darn good at it. Really, I fancy myself a sort of a Kitchen McGyver – able to pull together a dinner party at a moment’s notice simply from what the pantry and refrigerator hold. (Ironically, I’m featured as an expert, in the upcoming February/March issue of Kiwi magazine in an article on “Pantry Meals.” Check your newsstands.) In fact, I find it an intriguing, little challenge like Felix the Cat, reaching into his little bag of tricks to prepare an impromptu dinner for six.

Now, with that said, I do not like to bake. It makes me anxious. There’s simply too much pressure having to follow recipes to the letter or risk a birthday cake that resembles a volcano that must be served in the dark. (Yes, this did happen – a big shout out to all of the folks that were at Rich’s 30th birthday party – it wasn’t just mood lighting—it was yet another baking disaster.)

However, cupcakes are a different story. They’re small enough to inspire a whimsical gasp of delight but not so serious as taking on a big, scary layer- cake. Eating and making cupcakes is kind of like dabbling in dessert.

Now, on life…it’s two-fold. On one hand, it’s clearly more manageable to look at life and its challenges in bite-sized morsels. On the other hand, indulging yourself in the freedom to dabble opens doors to all kinds of undiscovered opportunity. Unfortunately, it also fills a guest room closet with a graveyard of equipment to include everything from tarot cards to roller blades to a variety of craft supplies that will never see the light of day. But is it wrong? You may say, a jack of all trades, master of none. But, no, I say it broadens knowledge – it’s kind of like life’s tasting menu. And let me just add that with all of this knowledge, you want me as your Trivial Pursuit partner.

To that I say, have a cupcake. No guilt, all good.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pop culture crazy. One of my young singleton colleagues actually remarked the other day that I’m a “nineteen year old girl, trapped in the body of a wife and mother.” Well, it’s true and the shame ends now. I’m unabashedly addicted to Gossip Girl on the edge of my couch waiting to indulge in details of who Serena wearing and why is she sidling up to yet another inaccessible older man. And, it’s not just about the trends. I’ve loved a good vampy romance since the days when Buffy and Angel were stirring up trouble in Sunnydale. Twi-moms – bah, they’re just Johnny Come Latelies! Now, do I faithfully read the Sunday New York Times and listen to NPR on my morning commute? Yes, admittedly, I’m also a news junkie. I think it’s the ying to my yang, the peanut butter to my jelly or the fleur de sel to my chocolate covered caramel (yum). However, as of today, I no longer make excuses. I pity the dinner guest who haughtily claims to know nothing about Glee, never delighting in the weekly rantings of the ascerbic Sue Sylvester and head to iTunes to download the next fabulous cover with giddy abandon. I think what validates me is my plight to strike a balance. Can I go toe-to-toe with discussing the merits of the healthcare private option? You bet – well, at least for a little while. But, can I make the case that pop culture, delivered through television, movies and social media, is truly a progression of classic, literary tradition providing commentary on topics such as the blurry, and slippery line, between good and evil through the eyes of a melancholic teenaged vampire? In the words of Sarah Palin (or Tina Fey)…you betcha. And, let’s face it, who would you rather be seated with at your next dinner party? Yes, well, just send me an Evite and I’ll set the TiVo.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reconnecting with my Inner-Martha

After a recent move to our nation’s capital, I’ve been feeling, well, a little disconnected from the role of military spouse. In the last several months I’ve returned to an almost full-time post at a fantastic public relations agency, Zeno Group. It’s filled with wonderfully creative colleagues and clients who inspire, entertain and challenge me each day. But, I feel as though I’m a civilian again, not really connected with my peeps – the merry little band of military spouses that I hold dear. Yes, we do all manage to stay connected on Facebook, through a myriad of random quizzes, pithy quotes and photos that chronicle our lives and locales. And, while I’ve got a few mil-side girlfriends scattered across Northern Virginia, it’s not the league of ladies that often inspire civilian questioners to ask, “Is it just like Army Wives?” In a nutshell, I’m feeling a little removed from the dinner parties and Air Force squadron-sponsored events that peppered our lives and awakened my inner-(Military) Martha --Stewart, that is.

Then spring sprung. It all started at the Farmer's Market. I’m not sure if it’s the ramps (that I’m still not quite sure just what to do with), the baby arugula from my favorite lettuce grower or the fancy, French radishes that have inspired me to take a little time and explore the kitchen -- that has become simply utilitarian in the past few months. With cookbooks and gardening magazines strewn across the floor and a little dose of sunshine...my inner-Martha is back and ready to cook (and write) again, albeit maybe not attending the latest squadron pot luck…well, at least not this week.

With all that said, ironically, none of these things will be found at your local Farmer’s Market. It’s weeknight meals that have been on my mind lately. How do I make something relatively low maintenance that can do double-duty and not feel tired and boring during the week? Searching my freezer for inspiration, I uncovered items that I deemed as a “great deal” weeks ago while shopping at the commissary (a.k.a. base grocery store). I unearthed a frozen piece of brisket…of course, brisket. I must credit Gary, my boo, for this fantastic and easy preparation for the best party and soulful entree around. This brisket has made the rounds from Uncle Herb’s lucky 07/07/07 birthday party for the masses to a perfect freezer meal, that once prepared is at-the-ready for a home-style dinner fix. It’s great in a hearty sandwich, accompanied by corn on the cob and creamy potato salad – if you’re feeling jaunty. Rejuvenate it later in the week over some toothy papardelle pasta, or egg noodles, with a peppery arugula salad, tossed with a lemony vinaigrette and shave of salty parmesan. This is also perfect atop some creamy polenta.

Give it a try. No kidding, I’m headed for the fridge.

Beef Brisket
5 lbs. beef brisket
28 oz. canned tomatoes (Muir Glen fire-roasted, if you please)
28 oz. V-8 juice (low sodium)
3-4 beef bouillon cubes
½ c. prepared horseradish (not creamy)

Note: The following details the directions for preparing this in a low-and-slow oven. But, if you’ve got a Crockpot, mix all the ingredients, as specified below and cook on low for 8 hours. I prefer to do mine overnight, chill it during the day. Then it’s ready to be reheated for dinner later in the evening.

Crockpot-Free, Oven Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lay brisket as a single layer in a roasting pan and cover with tomatoes and juice, then stir in some horseradish and bouillon. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, then seal with aluminum foil. (The parchment ensure that the acid in the tomatoes doesn’t react, creating a barrier from the aluminum foil.) Cook for 1 ½ hours, then taste for seasoning - it may need a little more of the salty bouillon or horseradish for a little more zip. Continue to cook for another 3 ½ - 4 hours.

Remove from the broth and let cool, slightly. Remove the fat cap from the meat and discard. Then take two forks to pull the meat into shreds. Return to the broth and refrigerate. When fully chilled, skim off any remaining fat that may have surfaced.

Reheat, serve and enjoy.