Grilled New York Strip Steaks

It’s spring!

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And to me, spring means grilling weather. I suppose we could have broken out the grill all winter long, but it was kind of wet and dreary, and I guess we’re still adjusting to living in a place where we could cook outside in January.

These New York Strip Steaks (from Make It Ahead) called for a weird spice rub. Coffee, brown sugar, chili powder, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, and garlic. Actually, it called for garlic powder, but I used fresh garlic, because I don’t remember the last time we had garlic powder in the house.

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I didn’t know what to expect. Coffee? On a steak? And, you might remember that I have some a lot of difficulty with the grill. So, I enlisted my handsome helper, and armed him with a timer and a meat thermometer.

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The steaks were perfect. The combination of ingredients in the spice rub were just right, and we’re definitely bookmarking this for future use.

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Do you know what else happens in Houston in the Spring? The rodeo! Specifically, The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Ben called it the “radio,” and it was so cute that I didn’t try too hard to correct him. We went at the end of the kids’ spring break, and had so much fun. It’s not unlike the Minnesota State Fair in a lot of ways. We rode the light rail from Palmer to the rodeo, which was huge excitement in and of itself for little Ben. The weather was great, and we saw so many cool and interesting things. And, there was a giant slide. Who doesn’t love a giant slide?

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Blueberry Bran Muffins

I don’t know what took me so long to make these (from Make It Ahead), but it was probably the fact that they call for wheat bran, which doesn’t usually appear in our kitchen. I had wheat germ, and oat bran, but not wheat bran. I found some in the bulk section at Whole Foods, and made these last night.

This might be my favorite muffin recipe, ever. I wasn’t too jazzed about them at first – they don’t look like much, even in the glossy pages of the professionally photographed cookbook. But the combination of Greek yogurt, honey (I used Greek honey from Phoenicia), and fresh blueberries, along with the heartiness of the wheat bran … wow. They’re a little bit addictive.

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I was a little worried at first, because the recipe says that it yields 12 muffins, but I made 23 decent-sized muffins out of the recipe. I’m taking a dozen over to a friend today, because she just had her third baby (superwoman!), and I signed up to bring her dinner for tonight. I love, love, love bringing food to new moms. I remember the extraordinary gratitude I felt when we brought each of our babies home, and people showed up at the door with food. I was starving from nursing 24/7, and too exhausted to even think about boiling water. If that sounds awful, it really wasn’t. I was too blissed out on baby-love to mind too much. Muffins might be the perfect post-partum food gift. These have protein from eggs and Greek yogurt, fiber from the wheat bran, and antioxidants in the berries. A person could theoretically eat them with one hand while feeding her baby. And they’re so portable and easy to bring, and can be frozen if there’s already enough food in the house. Usually, older siblings like them, too, although my kids are weird and wouldn’t touch these. More for me!

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Retro Night, Revised

Like most children of the 1970s and ’80s, Neil and I grew up eating sloppy joes on the regular. When I found out that Manwich (the chauvinistically-named canned sloppy joe sauce of our youth) contains high fructose corn syrup, I went in search of a recipe for a homemade version several years ago. It’s evolved over the years, and now we even use bison instead of ground beef.

In honor of our retro sloppy joe night, I made the Iceberg Salad in Make it Ahead. It calls for blue cheese, so naturally, I used feta. Like our sloppy joe recipe, it has evolved from its 1970s iceberg ancestors, but it still retains its vintage charm.

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Of course, once I’m in a vintage mood, there’s very little that can stop me from combing through old cookbooks. So, yeah.

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Summer Filet of Beef with Bearnaise Mayonnaise and Carrot & Cauliflower Puree

Do we eat like this all the time?

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Heck no.

But it’s a nice treat when we do.

The summer filet of beef with bernaise mayonnaise is not so different from the other slow-roasted beef tenderloin recipe that Ina has published before. The bernaise sauce is simply amazing, and really easy to make. Why the splurge? Even with pricey ingredients, it’s a lot less expensive than eating out, and the leftovers make amazing sandwiches. When I think about what we spend at the deli counter for freshly-sliced roast beef, this seemed like a steal by comparison. And I had to have some kind of incentive for Neil to try glorified baby food, or what looks suspiciously like cat barf in the photo. I have to say, the carrot & cauliflower puree was the sleeper hit of this meal. It doesn’t look like much (next time I’ll use the food processor instead of the called-for food mill for a smoother look), but the browned butter made it completely addicting.

Besides, it’s spring! We’re celebrating a great spring break, and most of us are finally sort of starting to feel better after the worst winter for illness that I can remember. At least the dwindling supply of antibiotics in the fridge would lead us to think that we ought to be feeling better… can you tell that I’m afraid to jinx it? We’re well enough to cook, anyway, which is something to celebrate.

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Happy Pi(e) Day! Math geeks everywhere are celebrating the fact that today’s date (3.14.15) corresponds with the number used to represent the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

I made this beautiful blueberry pie (from Make it Ahead) to celebrate.

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It was one of the easiest, and tastiest, pies I’ve ever made. Plus: it’s pretty.

However you choose to celebrate, I hope you all have a wonderful pi(e) day!

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Chocolate Chip Brioche Pretzels

I’m pretty sure that the first monk who made the first pretzels as a Lenten meal for his brother monks did not think “chocolate” and “brioche” would be any part of a Lenten sacrifice. But we all have our own weird-ish versions of Lent, don’t we?

I’ve never actually made homemade pretzels before, at least not as an adult. I think there might have been some church activity long ago involving pretzels, but I guarantee I didn’t make the dough, and I’m 100% certain that there weren’t any chocolate chips in it. This week, it’s been kind of cold-ish, by Houston standards anyway, and I wanted to make homemade bread or cookies, and I couldn’t decide between the two. So, I used this recipe from the smitten kitchen‘s cookbook.

Have I mentioned how much I adore the smitten kitchen? As much as I love Ina, I find Deb Perelman, the home cook behind the smitten kitchen, to be much more relatable. She’s a mom, and she’s upfront about her quirks and preferences. Her writing is engaging, and her recipes are amazing.

These were easier than I thought they’d be, but if I made them again, I think I’d add some coarse salt instead of coarse sugar at the end. Still, Rowan didn’t object, and he’s been inhaling them since they came out of the oven.

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Cosmic Balance Sheet

Even though I’m a person of faith, I don’t believe there’s some Cosmic Overlord with a Big Balance Sheet in the Sky. If there were, He or She would have a lot of puzzling questions to answer. I read these articles that basically say, “I’m an atheist because how could God let children get sick?” Um. We all have those questions, struggles, and concerns. If that’s what a person thinks that faith is, or isn’t, then I can understand why they’d be so appalled by it. Most of us are a little more nuanced than that. We really don’t think there’s a big Checklist of Fairness in the Sky. I’d like to think that most of us get to adulthood with the sad realization that bad things happen to “good” people, regardless of faith.

But if I did believe in some Cosmic Overlord, it would explain why sometimes crappy things happen around the same time that really wonderful things happen. The year that we got married, we also had a cancer diagnosis in the family, a bar exam, a broken arm (and subsequent surgery – thanks a lot, gravity), an Alzheimer’s diagnosis on the other side of the family, and a hurricane that rolled through town a few weeks before the big day. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

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We’re smiling because the air conditioning finally came back on after the hurricane clean-up.

The year that Ben was born, I was a little bit worried that I’d be manic with joy because it was spring time, I wouldn’t be pregnant any more, and I’d have a new baby. Then, Ben got colic and I got steamrolled by a big ol’ dose of postpartum depression. Rain, meet parade.

It's a good thing he was so cute.

It’s a good thing he was so cute.

This year, even though our move was overwhelming, I’d say that we’ve been more overwhelmed by joy. In love with our new home. Content. At peace.

And then…

Boom. Sickness. Big time. We have all been sick in some form or another for what seems like forever. Given my penchant for self-flagellation, I could blame myself, I suppose, as the mother and chief nutritionist, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate, or fair.  I think it’s been a bad season for germs for a lot of families, and it might be that we’re adjusting to local germs. It has been, quite frankly, a real bummer.

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Can you find the human on this couch?

But then, to balance that out and bring us back to joy again, we have the most wonderful friends.

Friends that bring us the most delicious, fancy chocolate pudding ever, even after we had to uninvite them to our Fancy Oscar Party because of a fever-ish kid.

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Friends who made us the most amazing bread before Thanksgiving, along with homemade pickles and chutney. Friends who bring us flowers. Friends who made (made!!) this beautiful wooden salt cellar (also known as a salt pig – who knew?!) in a beautiful wooden box. I might have squealed a little a lot when I opened it.

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Friends who bring us homemade chili and corn muffins. Homemade dog biscuits at our door on Christmas Eve. Little treasures left at church or at home for us. Friends who selflessly gave us delightful little Christmas ornaments from their own collection after some of ours were destroyed by what can only described as Houston Garage Conditions. Friends who give us countless suggestions for everything from doctors to hairstylists. Friends we’ve never even met – they’re friends of my parents – who made this gorgeous cookbook stand, which is almost too pretty to use for recipes, but not quite, because I’ve used it every day since I brought it home.

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Does all this wonderfulness cancel out all the sickness? Heck no. It does soften the blow, though, and hopefully we’re going to be back on our feet and softening the blow of human-ness for someone else soon. Because even though I make no claim to theological expertise (seriously – make a joke about Calvinism and watch it fly right over my head while everyone else sips their Scotch and laughs knowingly through their pipe smoke), I do believe this:

Life is short,

And we do not have much time

to gladden the hearts of those who

make the journey with us.

So… be swift to love,

and make haste to be kind.

And the blessing of God,

who made us,

who loves us,

and who travels with us

be with [us] now and forever.

(A blessing given at the closing Eucharist of the 2010 convention of the Diocese of Maine, based on the words of Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881).)

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