healthy gluten-free pumpkin sugar-free zucchini agave brown-butter baked bread with. . .

Crotchety old lady time: is it just me, or have recipe titles gone haywire?  By the time I get to the “with” part of recipes, I’m gasping for air and wondering WILL I HAVE ANY FOOD LEFT IN MY KITCHEN IF I MAKE THIS?  and SHOULD I HAVE DONE A MASTER’S THESIS ON THE COMPLEXITY OF RECIPE SYSTEMS?  Here are some real-life examples.  These aren’t even the worst offenders because I threw away/stopped following the worst offenders.

  1. Spiced Sweet Potato and Roasted Broccoli Toasts (know how to make toast, roast broccoli, and add spices to sweet potato?  You got it!)
  2. Spicy Lime-Ginger Grilled Shrimp (No, Lime-Ginger is not some mysterious hybrid.  To make recipes look shorter, cooks have started adding hyphens.  This recipe requires you to marinate shrimp in lime, ginger, and spices, and grill it.)
  3. Asian Glazed Salmon with Roasted Broccoli and Asparagus (Asian-glazed, or is the salmon Asian?  Again, the problem of too many words. . .)
  4. Aleppo Pepper-Roasted Pork with Shallot Vinagrete
  5. Strawberry-Brown Butter Banana Bread (again with the hyphen?)

Recipes are like old friends.  My brownie recipe has been re-written and folded over and over, and passed around to various people.  OK. . .maybe like slutty friends.  It has a butter smear on it, a speck of vanilla and, of course, a couple drops of chocolate.  But you know what it’s called?  “Heather’s Brownie Recipe,” just like Betty Crocker used to name them.  Don’t you miss the chance of reading a recipe like a delicious secret that’s going to unfold before you?  For example, Recipe #1 above could be titled “Vegetable Toasts” or “Sweet Potato and Broccoli on Toast,” and then you would read on and find out how everything is spiced, and roasted (ooh, yay, roasted!) and that not just any kind of toast will do.  I’m much more likely to read someone’s recipe if I can’t figure out how to make it from the title.  Then the ingredients/how to lists read like a mystery I can’t wait to dive into.

Pet peeve #2:  Jane Austen said “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”  This always convicts me because I try to be too agreeable, but that’s another blog post.  Recipes can be too agreeable, especially when they are labeled “healthy.”  Healthy is such a relative term.  It’s so agreeable.  It’s the new kale of the culinary world, right up there with aleppo pepper.  I’m pretty sure fatty foods are not healthy for people with cholesterol problems, and even desserts heavy in fruit sugar are not good for severe diabetics, and banana nut muffins aren’t healthy for people with nut allergies, etc.  “Healthy” has become a marketing tool.  Let’s all agree that anything with lots of unprocessed ingredients is better than the McDonald’s egg sandwich and large coffee I had yesterday for breakfast, mmmmmkay?

Pet peeve #3 with recipe writing: when foodies wax philosophic in a really weird way.  Like one food blogger who shall remain nameless compared a dead friend to spiced meat, because this friend had the spice of life too.  Not. Kidding.  The post was really about the friend but the blogger had ten photos of this dish, complete with a full recipe.  I want that to be my legacy: “Heather was hearty and comforting, just like these Healthy Slow-Cooker Parmesan-Aleppo Pepper Chicken Dumplings, which you should TOTALLY try this weekend.”  Americans are one of the few cultural groups who can elevate a necessity like eating into an art form, while so many people lack access to food and water.  Let’s not add insult to injury by making recipes poetic.  Complex dishes are a privilege, fun to eat, and fun to share.  That’s about it.

And in conclusion, it does NOT say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty. . .sorry, I can’t say “In conclusion” without hearing Cher’s voice in my head.  But in conclusion, I will be posting a recipe for Pumpkin Zucchini Bread soon.  It’s gluten-free, has browned butter and all those other lovely things.  But it’s a recipe worth reading!

tip Tuesday: this could save your life

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I’m hoping this info might save someone’s life, or the life of someone you know.  I haven’t talked much about Lucy’s birth, except to mention that she was TINY.   Michael took this picture the day after she was born.  You can see her shoulder is the size of my thumb.  There was a reason for her size, the emergency induced birth, and everything else that happened.

We had an uneventful pregnancy.  Even enjoyable.  I LOVED being pregnant.  (I know, I know.  All you moms who have been pregnant, feel free to shoot death glares).  No indigestion, no nausea, no throwing up, and low to perfect blood pressure.  I was able to work two pretty active jobs until week 34.  Then at week 35, my blood pressure jumped up.  My doctor decided to test for protein in my urine to rule out preeclampsia.  The test came back slightly high, but he said “we’ll keep an eye on it.”  That happened to be the week that I was in the process of switching to a birthing center, so I had to go in for THEIR full physical, merely a day after the tests at my previous doctor’s office.  I got a phone call the next day from the birthing center nurse:

Nurse: So, here’s the deal Heather.  Your blood pressure was high, but the protein in your urine has sky-rocketed.  It could be a lab fluke, but we are going to send you to the hospital to confirm.

Me: Why can’t I take the test again at the birthing center?

Nurse: Because if they confirm what we found, you are going to need to have an induction, since that means you have severe preeclampsia.

Me: Preeclampsia?  But my old doctor took tests yesterday.  He wasn’t concerned.

Nurse: Sometimes it can happen suddenly.

Me: So if they confirm the test, then what. . .they’ll schedule something for next week?

Nurse: Umm. . .no.  You’ll be having the baby.  Like now.  If you wait, you could lose your baby or even die yourself.  You might want to pack a bag.

I burst into tears.  I’d quit work the week before to nest, buy baby things, research lactation stuff, watch videos. . .I just wasn’t. ready.  at. all.  But this baby was happening.

The labor was 36 hours long, from the time of induction to the scheduled c-section.  I tried to hold out a long time and have her naturally, but it just wasn’t working, despite Michael being the best birthing partner ever, and my doula telling nurses to F off every time they said I should just cave in and get an epidural.  My mother-in-law was awesome the whole time too, not sleeping for two days and bringing ice chips (the only thing I was allowed to have!)  Later we found out why Lucy couldn’t come out.  When the doctors finished the C-section, I heard a couple of “oh my goshes,” and gasps, (side note: doctors should always have poker faces AND voices to not freak out their patients) followed by a cry I knew was wrong.  It sounded less like a baby and more like a very tiny cat.  Michael and I squeezed each other.  The doctor holding my other hand went off to examine Lucy, came back and said, “OK, here’s the thing.  We thought she was going to be about 5-6 lbs. based on her height and the amniotic fluid and everything.  She’s really tiny—3 lbs. 14 oz.  That means she has to go to the NICU right now.”  They brought her to me, looking like a swollen tomato, and I kissed her little nose, said I love you baby, and she was whisked off.   I didn’t see her for another 16 hours.  The doctor told me it was good I’d resisted a C-section so long though—those extra hours meant I had reached 36 weeks, and her lungs were given more time to develop and she weighed more than she would have had they done a c-section right away.

After I was out of the drugged state, the doctor came to visit me and explained I’d had asymptomatic preeclampsia.  In ultrasounds during my pregnancy, they measured Lucy’s spine and the amniotic fluid looked great.  She was actual pretty long, and they calculated her weight based on her height—which all of us short fat people know is a stupid way to conduct business.  She wasn’t getting the nutrients she needed and her growth was stunted.  I called her “my little monkey” when she was born because she was all limbs and no fat.

I found out that Lucy’s weight could have been determined within a couple ounces by a simple 3D ultrasound, which my doctor couldn’t do, but other clinics could.  Next time I am pregnant, if I have to drive 200 miles to get a 3D ultrasound, I will do so.  Had I not switched to the birthing center and they’d done my physical again—had we not questioned doctors and prolonged the birth, Lucy might not be here right now.  I might not either.  So that’s your tip for today.  Get a 3D Ultrasound.  And completely rule out preeclampsia.  If posting this will help one woman to not hear “oh my gosh” in the delivery room, then it is worth it!!

PS.  Just told Michael “I’m writing about the importance of getting a 3D ultrasound to avoid what happened to Lucy” and he said, “You gotta make sure yo baby’s a baby! Like Oh my God!  It’s a rat! But the spine looked great!”  :)

PPS.  I didn’t discover Downton Abbey until after I had Lucy, and am SO GLAD for that fact.  One of the main characters dies from preeclampsia, and they show the whole thing.  Lucy woke up right after I watched the episode, and I picked her up and was sobbing and holding her close.  We are way past early modern modern medicine, but I hope my story will show not that much.

Ginger Pear Cake

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I didn’t fall in love with ginger or pears until moving to Japan. Maybe that’s because I’d only had canned pears growing up, and thought ginger only belonged in ginger snaps at Christmas. It took awhile to even identify the gnarly root, get a good grater and figure out how to grate it without slicing my fingers and bleeding into a batch of dough. I eventually figured it out and started adding it to everything—curries, cookies, cakes, stir-fries, etc. This recipe doesn’t call for fresh ginger, but freshly grating it gives the cake ZING and a little more moisture!  (Sidenote: “moist” is my least favorite word in the English language.  Just typing that gave me goosebumps.)Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Michael, along with a couple good baker friends, have helped me to overcome my fear of baking. Baking with him is like dancing in the kitchen–he does the wet ingredients, I do the dry, and we cut cooking time in half.  I know, very mushy ;)  But even without a sous chef, you can make this awesome ginger pear cake in 15 minutes. The rest of the time is the oven doing its magic.
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If you are looking for a perfect fall recipe that’s crisp, light, and fairly healthy, look no further. Temperatures are FINALLY dropping in Pittsburgh and we had the urge to make something earthy and comforting.  The key is eating salad for dinner so you can really indulge in this dessert.  I significantly modified the original recipe to make it a little more “gingery” and healthy, so the recipe below is what we actually did.  Enjoy after dinner, and save the leftovers for breakfast!Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cup wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1-2 tbs. fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup agave (agave is more concentrated than sugar, so this cuts the sugar in the original recipe by a lot)
  • 1/2 cup plain fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup hot, fresh coffee

Topping:

  • 5 pears (we used William pears)–cheap at Trader Joe’s!
  • 1-2 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 tbs. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Directions (again from seriouseats.com, with several modifications):

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F, with a rack in the lower third. If you use a skillet, oil it.  If you use a regular frying pan (like we did) it will still work, but coat the pan in butter.
  2. Stir together flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together the oil, melted butter, brown sugar, agave, yogurt, ginger, and egg in a large bowl until well blended and smooth. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in half of the flour mixture.
  4. Stir the baking soda into the hot coffee until dissolved, then add to the batter and stir until combined. Stir in the remaining flour. Transfer the batter to the prepared skillet and spread evenly.
  5. Cut the pears lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange the longer slices on the batter in a circle at the edge of the pan, overlapping them slightly and with the narrow ends pointing toward the center. Arrange the shortest slices in a second circle in the center to cover the batter completely. Dot the pear slices with the butter along the outer circle only. Mix together the brown sugar and salt and sprinkle evenly over the top.
  6. Bake until the top springs back when you press it lightly in the center and a toothpick inserted in the center tests clean, about 45 mins-hour. Transfer the skillet to the stove top to cool.
  7. Serve warm, cut into wedges and top with more yogurt. Refrigerate leftover cake, tightly covered, for up to 4 days, or freeze, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 months. Bring to room temperature before serving.

**Modifications for next time:  If I could make this cake again I would substitute some of the wet ingredients with applesauce and lower the sugar & agave.  It was slightly drier than what I like a cake to be, but the yogurt and juicy pears on top kinda balanced that out.  If you make it, let me know what you think and how you played with the recipe!

a chipmunk in fall

This was me, 10 days ago:
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This was me on steroids, 7 days ago:
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I tested negative for the mumps and allergies have been ruled out.  Steroids were my happy pills but I am off of them now and have gone back to looking slightly like the first picture.  Now I’m being tested for every auto-immune they can think of. Lupus, anyone? I feel like I’m on an episode of “House,” and I don’t even get to kiss Hugh Laurie. (Sidenote: have you noticed the sexiest thing about House is his voice?—Hugh Laurie’s nasalized British accent just doesn’t do it for me. It was such a let-down when I saw him in an interview.) My doctors called specialists and have had whole meetings just to “discuss your case.” One doctor told me, “I bet you’re tired of being the most interesting patient we’ve had in a long time. You just want to feel better.”  YES. I’m ready to explore Pittsburgh, get a job, and have a normal life.

On the worst days when I’m in pain, I’ll watch lots of cooking shows and click on every single Buzzfeed/trashy internet compilation of “10 Stars who left Hollywood. . .you won’t believe what they’re doing now!” etc. I click on those banners despite EACH star being on their own page. . .which means you have to click and click and click. Don’t judge. . .even my professor husband is caught by the headlines. What if we miss a star who is particularly interesting?

I know it’s not technically fall yet, but our little Victorian apartment gets cold enough to use several quilts at night, so I’m calling it. Fall, the BEST SEASON EVER is here! There are some exciting recipes I’ve been testing and will post soon. Am I the only person who hibernates in summer? I mean seriously hibernates. Maybe one of these years I’ll lose the rolls around my waist and the faintest breeze will make me reach down to my skinny waist and peel off the cardigan conveniently placed there for when it dips down to 70 degrees. But until that day happens, I’m seriously miserable with anything above 75. Michael and I actually went out last night to our favorite tea place and the iced tea with the wind whipping through the cafe every time a new customer came in got me all shivery and excited. It’s the best cuddling, cooking, and reading weather.

I won’t be posting any more medical things on here because God knows it’s a boring rabbit hole and I hate those bloggers who are all woe is me when other people in the world are permanently disabled/debilitated, but just say a little prayer/send positive, healthy thoughts my way. I also accept dark chocolate, funny YouTube videos, and gourmet coffee. And a big THANK YOU to my gorgeous friends who have cheered me up on the phone/Skype—you and Lucy Jane make this chipmunk smile! :)

anyway

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”

:: Mother Teresa ::

lately (in pictures)

I was diagnosed with the mumps this morning.  At least my doctor thinks that’s what it is but is “doing more research and asking [his] colleagues during lunch.”  Go parotid glands!  I look like a chipmunk and can’t wear my glasses because EVERYTHING is puffy. It’s been like this for two days, and I’m starting to feel like Bates in “Psycho,” peering out from the motel curtains and hoping no one guesses my secret shame.  In hindsight, thank the Lord we canceled our get-to-know the neighbors mixer on Saturday night.  Can you imagine?  “Hi, nice to meet you, here’s your whiskey sour!  Congratulations, you may now have mumps!”

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Medical problems aside, we are LOVING Pittsburgh.  Here, as requested, are some prettier pictures of what’s been going on lately.

almost to Pittsburgh!

almost to Pittsburgh!

Pitt stop #1: Trader Joe's

Pitt stop #1: Trader Joe’s

first cooked meal: fried chicken, baked mac and cheese, edamame, green beans

first cooked meal: fried chicken, baked mac and cheese, edamame, green beans

Grandmas are awesome

Grandmas are awesome

inside the Cathedral of Learning

inside the Cathedral of Learning

Michael between the Cathedral of Learning & Phipps Conservatory

Michael between Pitt’s Campus & Phipps Conservatory

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Pitt Stop #2: Phipps membership

rooftop garden

Phipps rooftop garden

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Bedroom window looking onto porch

we have a back porch too!

We have a back porch too!

my closet is a winding, closed-off staircase.  Creepy.

my closet is a winding, closed-off staircase. Creepy.

every time she rolls over, she makes this proud of herself face :)

every time Lucy Jane tries to crawl, she makes this proud-of-herself face :)

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Michael’s classes start tomorrow! Send good vibes!

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helping Mama with laundry

helping Mama with laundry

She used to be the length of this eye mask.  Seriously.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. . .

I’m always the photographer so there are no pictures of me.  The chipmunk one will have to suffice ;)