So I’m sitting here listening to my Pandora’s Norah Jones station, with a bit of writers block as to what I can write. Not what to write (since the last month has surely brought about many normal wavelength peak and trough events, and many good meals), but what I can write without getting myself in a whole taco-added-combo-pack of trouble. This is the World Wide Web, after all.
Then, Anna Nalick’s song, “Breathe” came on the virtual radio. Remember that Grey’s scene– where Meredith has her hand inside a body cavity with a living bomb and it’s literally in her hands to lift it out and give it to the bomb squad? (Trust me, it was a good one!) Well, surprisingly enough, the only person who dies is the mean bomb squad guy, and the episode ends with Meredith and McDreamy recounting their last kiss, and the lavender smell of her hair. It was adequately mundane following a nail-biting brouhaha.
I’m about at the stage of taking the time to remember the lavender smell, after the craziness. To trace the pattern in a doily after coffee has spilled on it. To close my eyes and watch the sparkly pattern of excess light make strange shapes on my eyelids. Too artsy-fartsy? Ok, then just to breathe.
My dad has this un-comeback-able phrase that he utters whenever my sister or I belly-ache about working life: “You know, they don’t call it work for nothing!” and he’s right. Work is work. Although, I’d like to add that work is not as bad work with an IV drip of espresso (yes, my doctor-ordered-to-quit habit is back. Like a good caffeine addict I have many justifications and blames: I’m tired, I focus better with it, it’s my ADHD drug, the rain made me do it). Meanwhile, even though every night our little Siglet still happily tries so hard to climb onto the coffee table to drink our wine, he is costing us hundreds of dollars in vet bills, and nonmonetary amounts of worry at the moment. (Maybe because he keeps trying to drink our wine??) Finally, as nothing is as sure as death and taxes, Rob and I have been getting all the loose ends tied up for his deployment, including our taxes. For his 6-week deployment, Rob will be on a big-ol’ boat that will spend some time in Australia. Come to think of it, the Vegas-Australian Thunder from Down Under show will be at our little Coos Bay casino during the time he is gone – since he’ll be in Aussie country, I think it’s only fitting that I attend. 🙂
With an effort to create a better balancing act, I have been trying to take some time to just breathe a bit. But in my just-breathing, the provisions that every household needs have either 1) caused me to go to Walmart at an ungodly time wearing a winter coat and Ugg boots over sweatpants hoping no former students, nor parents, nor co-workers, nor anyone with eyes, will see me, OR 2) forgotten about all together. For example: we have no eggs, and haven’t for days (this is a big deal considering we go through about two dozen a week). I did the oh-so-frowned-upon-request of asking Rob to pick up girly firming lotion on his way home yesterday. And finally, I went to get dressed today and remembered I have no deodorant. Not even the half-used little travel sized that gets stuffed in the back of the cabinet.
Now I know we live on the Oregon Coast and all, but I don’t think I could take my natural ways that far. So, in our haste of life, combined with the effort to reduce the haste of life, the result is that I smell like a man today – Old Spice, “Swagger” to be exact.
So what does this call for? More coffee – absolutely. But something we can all enjoy? A recipe! Last week, Rob and I took some time to try and slow down a bit an enjoy one of his favorite meals: Shepherd’s Pie.
Lift your chin off the table – I know I don’t tend to cook many meat-and-potatoes meals. There was no quinoa, there was no soy, and there were definitely more than just a few ingredients. But the result was absolutely amazing. I even had seconds.
While our first choice was to use ground lamb, it was unavailable at our butcher, so we went with the next best thing (in Rob’s eyes), ground beef. Actually, he did a great job finding a 90-10 organic local Oregon brand, which made me feel a bit better about scarfing down the beef. It happened to be a cold and rainy night (imagine!), so the meal hit even another nerve of comfort. I used a version of my mother-in-law’s recipe for mashed potatoes, and baked that pot of tasty meat and carbs until it was thick, rich, and browned.
During the meal, Rob recalled his days at the academy when he would eat multiple plate-fulls of Shepherd’s Pie, and I made a playful-squeamish face while piling that second helping onto my own plate. We just-breathed, and just-ate, and just-had-a-good-time. That is until Sig tried to jump up on the table again and drink our wine.
Ladies, make this for your men (just make sure you smell like a girl when you do)!
- 1 lb. organic ground beef (or lamb)
- 2 strips applewood smoked bacon, diced
- 1 red onion, diced
- 3 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 c frozen peas
- 1 large tbsp tomato paste
- 1 ¼ c chicken stock
- 1 tsp minced thyme
- 1-2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, chopped (skins on), and boiled until fork tender
- 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
- ¾ c skim milk
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 tsp more for topping.
- ¼ tsp hot paprika
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
First, make the mashed potatoes: using a hand-mixer, beat the cooked potatoes, mascarpone cheese, milk, and butter together until desired creaminess (I prefer a bit more lumpy mashed potatoes, for texture). Season with paprika, s&p to taste. Set aside.
Then, in a small (2 qt) dutch oven or pot, brown the bacon until crispy over medium/high heat. Remove from pot, and place on paper towel. Sauté the onions in the bacon fat until they start to soften. Lightly season. Add the carrots, sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Lightly season. Sauté until the garlic just starts to become fragrant. Add in the peas, and the ground meat. Lightly start to brown the meat in the pot (it doesn’t have to be completely browned because it will finish cooking in the oven). Finally, add in the thyme, the cooked bacon, the tomato paste, and chicken stock. At this point, taste the mixture for seasoning – will probably need s, and especially p.
Top the pot with the mashed potatoes. Try to make it fairly even, but it doesn’t have to be smooth (actually, having peaks and valleys of potatoes browns beautifully in the oven). Dab the last tsp of butter in pieces on the top of the potatoes.
Place pot on a sheet tray (some liquid may boil over) in the oven. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until top is golden and crisp.
Let set and cool for a few minutes before serving. The liquid cooks down and becomes a lovely gravy for the meal… try to get a bite of everything on one fork!