about bliss

Friday, December 23, 2011

daily bliss: happy holidays!


We're happy holidays folks in our household, not because we hate Christmas and everything it stands for—we both grew up celebrating Christmas at home and at church—but because we have a wide and varied circle of friends who celebrate the range of early winter holidays, and we want to include them. We want the transition between the old and new, the days of dwindling light and growing darkness, to be filled with warmth and love. And, in our minds, that's what all of the holidays do. (save Festivus, but that's a whole other post).

On the solstice, which was also the second day of Hanukah, I made latkes, using the recipe from the red tome of awesomeness otherwise known as the New York Times Cookbook. I riffed a little on the recipe, adding finely chopped rosemary to the batter, and using regular flour (having neither potato flour nor matzo meal). I fried them in less oil than called for, and used a mixture of olive and canola. 

In lieu of the traditional applesauce, I made a chunky pear sauce, infused with vanilla bean and topped with a hint of cinnamon sugar. 

The latkes were tender inside and crisp outside. The pears were edging on sweetness and fragrant. The sour cream, which these two dairy lovers couldn't resist, was tangy. 

As we ate next to our Christmas tree and observed the crystalline night sky, we felt warmth, and most of all, love.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

twd: bittersweet brownies


Bittersweet...

Coming back to the ritual of TWD baking in the last weeks of the journey...

The last few golden leaves shimmying and clinging to near-bare branches...

Friends close yet distant...

A semester two-thirds completed...

Saying goodbye to friends who are embarking on new, exciting paths...

Bittersweet...

Like most of life, sadness and happiness intertwined. Longing and fulfillment coexisting.

Bittersweet...
My favorite kind of chocolate, and my favorite kind of brownie.

Leslie from Lethally Delicious selected this week's recipe, which I had made before, but made again on Sunday. While I'm still partially to the fudginess of cocoa brownies, I love the depth and richness and, yes, of course, the bittersweetness of these brownies, not to mention the ease of preparation (one bowl, one baking pan).


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

twd: depths-of-fall butternut squash pie

As of last Friday, I'm on a facebook hiatus. I had several low days last week, and I realized that part of my blues (besides the encroaching winter and shortened daylight hours) was at once a disconnect from the ones--and hobbies--I so love, and a sense of hyper-connection. That's to say that my time connected to virtual worlds seemed to be taking me away from the pleasures and slower pace of real life. And so, I posted a semi-dramatic status to announce my intent, and logged out. 

Since then, my days have been a bit more reflective and contemplative, with a greater appreciation for sustained thought and activity. I believe the studies that show how technology, with its clickability and fast pace of ever changing stimuli, is changing the way we think. I know it has worked its (evil) magic on my brain. And, so, I'm retraining my brain--with long novels (reading and writing) and projects to be started and completed in one continuous unit of time. 

Activities like baking, especially for Tuesdays with Dorie, the baking group I joined years ago, and abandoned this summer, called to me. My mom is a faithful reader of other TWD bloggers and she told me the group was poised to finish the book at the end of the year. I clicked over to the TWD website and decided to start baking along, again. 

This week, I selected the Depths-of-Fall Butternut Squash Pie chosen by Valerie of Une Gamine dans la Cuisine based on my ingredients at hand--frozen roasted squash, one organic pear, dried cranberries, and the remains of last year's Alabama pecans found in the depths of my mom's freezer.

I used a Martha Stewart pâte briseé recipe, which rolled out beautifully.

I diced (pear) and chopped (butternut squash); I infused (cranberries in bourbon) and roasted (pecans). I sprinkled (cinnamon) and grated (nutmeg) and zested (orange). And the filling looked like a fine stuffing or culinary confetti. 



I spooned the filling into my diminutive pie tin. 


I draped the top crust on, crimped the edges, brushed the top with water, and sprinkled with my favorite hot pink sanding sugar.


With mugs of black vanilla tea in hand, Gregg and I sampled the pie. 


Interesting, different, and texturally unique, the pie intrigues me. I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie, so I was concerned about this pie, but the various fillings and cinnamon-centric spicing keep it from veering too heavily into pumpkin territory. The orange flavor (from zest + juice) was a bit too pronounced for my taste, and I would have liked a touch more sweetness. However, the pie ages and mellows well, and I enjoyed my second piece, eaten two days later, even more than the first. 

Mostly, I enjoyed the mindful creation of the pie, and the expanse of time on a long Sunday afternoon, free of digital distractions, to refocus on myself and my favorite pastimes. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

daily bliss: sailing away


The docks creak as the boat pulls away, easing into the harbor. I'm sleepy awake—a short night's slumber, an early morning, two non-drowsy Dramamine—and I feel a little woozy.

Around me, fellow passengers eat breakfast from trays and the air smells smoky sweet, essence of bacon and maple syrup. Families file outside to watch as we glide into the open sweet water sea of Lake Michigan. People dot the breakwater and piers, waving to the big ship as it cruises west for the last time this season.

The Michigan dunes are impressionistic autumnal. The lake rolls with small waves, and the ship lumbers along, at a slow 16 miles per hour.

I am sad.

The falling leaves, the last day of sailing, both signs of the coming winter. My mom, now out of sight, driving back down the lake, farther away form me. My cell phone spins and roams, still connecting but not for long.

A group of Great Lakes Maritime Academy students gather in the lounge downstairs, and a young man with piercing eyes stares my way.

I sit in the upper aft deck, where small round tables fill an airy enclosed room. I can face forward, which is west, which is the direction of my chosen home, where my fiance waits for me.

A toddler with long blond hair and a pink sweatshirt grapples with a glittery Rubik cube. She sits on her grandma's lap; her mom types a college paper on her laptop, a classic composition notebook at her side.

The boat is full.

A stack of papers fills my clipboard and my purple pen is uncapped and poised to critique my students' words.

Old people, young people sport sea bands to prevent motion sickness, and drink coffee. The ruffle of cards being shuffled, and the banter of multi-person games surround me.

My cell phone sits next to me, as I hope to catch the moment when we slip between time zones. The phone is confused, switching back and forth, and time eludes me.

Our here in the middle of the lake, I am somewhere and nowhere. I am home.

The boat bustles with conversation and activity. A dedicated stream of people perambulates the outdoor deck, eyes shining in the bright morning sun, hair winging back in the light breeze. My cell signal is lost, and I settle in, deeper, into myself.

The 410 foot ship plies the water, frothing the dark aquamarine depths into a deep V and enfolding whirls. One hour away from docking, and the shore of Wisconsin begins to rise on the horizon, shadowy and ill-defined.

A father and young daughter eat soft pretzels. A Grandma walks briskly around the boat. On the fore deck, books claim chaise lounges and, inexplicably, a Canadian flag flutters from the bow.

Back in the aft lounge, a brother cajoles his sister to smile for the camera, "Bree! Say cheese!"  while a large family eats pizza and plays cards. Behind me, a woman meticulously pores over bound lab reports.

People move, shift, pack up, and disappear into the boat, but I stay rooted, a stack of papers, now graded, a slim volume of short stories beckoning like candy.

As we glide into the harbor, I scan the shore for my neighborhood, my workplace. As we pull closer to shore, poised to back into the dock, I circle around to the port side and scan the shore for a familiar figure, tall, dressed in short sleeves and jeans, lifting a Nikon, and walking with a gait I recognize from a distance.

The captain blows the horn a few extra times, and the dock replies. Soon, she will depart for one more trip across the Lake and then settle in for winter.

I gather my bags, walk down the stairs, head into the bright sun, and a warm hug.


Friday, September 09, 2011

daily bliss: late summer, meet early fall

Warm sunshine hits my bare shoulders, and the lake sparkles with caribbean hues. At the farmers' market, huge zucchini and cucumbers share table space with hard shelled butternut squashes and crisp apples. The sun sets earlier everyday, and darkness brings chilliness. It's almost time to put the cotton blanket back on the bed, and to haul out the lightweight sweaters.

My days are filled with teaching, reading for class, and responding to student writing, balanced with journaling, reading for fun, watching football, and trolling wedding sites for inspiration.

I love these bridge seasons of summer to fall, and spring to summer, when the best aspects of each season balance each other.

Like returning to the classroom, and dreaming of the future.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

daily bliss: not a princess but a woman

this is not my dress. this is a BIG dress. a heavy dress. 

Highstepping into a big, ballgown, strapless wedding dress, I tried not to look too closely in the mirror until I was zipped and clipped in.

Body image issues, bridal style.

Magnified by layers of tulle or disguised under heavy lace.

My inaugural wedding dress shopping experience left me feeling frustrated with this body of mine, and wondering about what kind of dress would feel right.

I am not a princess.

I do not want to utter that stock bridal phrase, "I feel like a princess," at any time during this betrothal-wedding process.

I want to recognize myself in the mirror, whether clad in lace or tulle or denim or cotton.

I left the shop, glad for the fun outing with two of my attendants/best friends, Mom, and Grandma, but unsatisfied with the dresses themselves.

On Monday, back in Wisconsin, I drove diagonally across the state to Premiere Couture, a dress boutique on one of my favorite streets in Madison. Once I walked into the shop, I felt hopeful.

Laura selected several dresses for me based on my descriptions of what I wanted. The dresses were light, elegant, bridal, and beautiful. No overwhelming tulle or heavy laces. Just pretty gowns.

The first one I tried on looked and felt...like me only...bridal. I loved it.

While not all the dresses felt like me, they all felt sophisticated and bridal and relevant. The collection at Premiere Couture stands out; as Laura said, they have dresses for women. (not princesses, I thought).

Readers, I bought the first dress I tried here and I love it. I can't describe it just yet, but I can tell you that I feel absolutely beautiful, elegant, romantic, and absolutely accepting of my body as it is right now in this dress. And that is amazing.

Now, if I can just find some back-to-school clothes that elicit that same feeling:)


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

daily bliss: betrothal



It's all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Emily Dickinson, #26

"Are you awake?" Gregg whispered.

"Mmm," I mumbled.

"Wanna go see the sunrise?"

"Okay." I looked at the clock: 5:15 am. I rolled out of bed, twisted my hair up in a clip, pulled on my favorite pink Patagonia shirt, and grabbed my glasses, camera, and phone. 

By 5:30, we were driving the two minute route down to sunburn beach (called so in memory of our fourth date when we got lost in conversation and forgot to reapply sunscreen). The light was dim, an almost colorless pastel, with blue-grey clouds popping over the lake. 

"I think it's going to be good," Gregg said, an undercurrent of doubt in his words. 

"It won't rise until 5:45, according to the weather channel," I added, ever optimistic. 




 We waited, cameras poised, until we saw a hot pink ball slip slowly above the horizon, huge and magnificent. It plied its way through the low lying clouds and ascended, turning golden the higher it rose.




I sat on a big white boulder, wrapped in a beach towel from Gregg's car. I was half asleep, waiting to go home and snuggle back into bed and delicious sleep. 

Gregg reached for my hand and pulled me up. We walked along the shore, and then he led me into the water. It was right on the edge of chilly and warm, still, lapping our calves. 

"In light of our conversation last night..." Gregg started and I looked confused, as he began to lower one knee into the water. (last night's conversation about weddings and marriage and such was provoked by the film Sweet Home Alabama, which I love, and which was on cable TV).

I looked at him with some degree of disbelief, which I come by naturally, readers, since he has assumed this position at least twice before to ask me questions as awesome as "Will you write a monthly food column with me?" and as mundane as "will you go to the movies with me?"

He reached in his pocket, and suddenly he was holding a shiny, shimmery, sparkly ring that looked an awful lot like the one I tried on in Douglas, Michigan a few weeks ago. 

Neither of us can remember his exact words, filled with love and the desire to share the rest of our lifetimes together, but we both remember the all important question: will you marry me? 

"Yes, of course!" I replied, stunned and utterly surprised and all of the sudden waking up from my half-sleep. This is really happening! I can't believe this is really happening!

Gregg slid the ring on my finger and I gazed at him in wonder as I giggled and said silly things like "We're engaged!" and "You're my fiancé!" 

We reveled in the moment, alone on the beach, feeling that our lives were both different and the same all at once. We drove home and waited a little while to call our parents. I brewed coffee, which Gregg actually drank (he has a policy that he generally only drinks straight-up coffee on holidays. I noted that this was definitely a special day, if not technically a holiday).


As we woke up, we decided to treat ourselves to a lovely, long brunch at the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, something we've also put in the "special occasion only" category. On our drive to the restaurant, I called more family and friends to share the news. "I'm engaged!" "We're engaged!" The words formed in my mouth as they took shape in my head. I stared at my finger, at this gorgeous, sparkly vintage 1920's ring from the town where I was born, and loved the symbolism on so many layers. What an amazing gift from my best friend, who I now call fiancé and will (relatively) soon call husband (we're working on dates and plans). 


I don't have a ring to offer him (though an engagement gift is in the works), so for today I offer up the Emily Dickinson poem that starts this post. I share myself, I share the world, I share forever. I love you, Gregg. 




Wednesday, July 27, 2011

100 words: Myth

As serendipity would have it, this week's prompt, myth, comes from Adrienne Rich's poem "Diving Into the Wreck," a poem that haunted me last week. In fact, my final project for my Shipwreck workshop integrated the poem. And, so, here is a 100 word imagining of a wreck becoming myth. 


When the Gales of November Come Early
A cloudy morning, a forceful gale, an icy drizzle. She wraps her scarf tight around her neck and head, only her eyes exposed, and steps up the ladder to the main deck. Gripping the railing, she feels the wooden schooner heave and sway. Waves splash over the sides, coating the deck with water that will soon freeze. She’s been here before—not on this ship, but on the steamer New Orleans when she collided with the William Linn on Lake Huron. They were rescued before the ship wrecked. This time, she envisions a dark, watery grave. She descends into myth.

100 Words is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Velvet Verbosity. Check out the prompt and read the other entries here

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

daily bliss: rooted



When I was 17, I left home for college, with most of my worldly possessions tucked into my parents' silver Surburban. From that moment, I never truly lived at home again, beside summers home from college and one six-week stint when I moved back to the Midwest after my first year out of graduate school.

Dorm rooms shifted into apartments and duplexes, and finally, half of a house I claim as my own home, and share with my love.


My heart still tends toward home, to that patch of 10 acres nestled near Lake Michigan and dotted with blueberry bushes and pine trees and the house that my Dad built and my Mom made home.

Several times a year I go home, driving around the Lake, through Chicago, across four states. I go back to the old country neighborhood with the elementary school across the street and long driveways obscuring homes in the summertime. I drive past the house where my great-grandma lived, now run down with too many vehicles in the yard. I wonder if the buttercups still dot the back yard in summer, and if the wild blueberry bushes still stand on the back corner of the lawn.

I round the corner from my parents' house and drive a half mile to my Grandparents' house, where tractors sit in the pole barn and a old blueberry picker awaits the harvest. I remember the greenhouses filled with potted plants, now replaced with Grandma's big garden.

Memories of summer wash over me--sunshine and berries and stories and ice cream and heat and frustration and longing to be somewhere else, in a story, to be someone else, an olympic gymnast or nineteenth-century maiden.

Lake. Berries. Family. School. Books.

My legacy, my home.

***
On July 1, 2011, two days shy of his 92nd birthday, my Grandpa died.

Across the lake, I heard the news and longed to be home, in the place where this news, this loss would be real.

***
Lake:

Gregg and I sailed on the midnight crossing of the S.S. Badger, swaying to the rocky rhythms of the lake, curled onto benches in a fitful sleep.



The next day, my brother L and his girlfriend K, Gregg and I, headed to the local beach where L and I spent many hours as kids. We walked the shores, tested the water, talked, and laughed, as the familiar landscape and constant waves soothed our souls.

***
Berries:


July marks the beginning of blueberry season, and from the 4th of July on, talk revolves around when to start picking. My family grows two varieties: bluecrop, an earlier, flavorful, and large berry enjoyed fresh; and jersey, a later, smaller, and less flavorful variety often used in processing. A few outlier bushes of earlier varieties stand in the corner of one field, and Grandpa would pick a handful on his birthday and enjoy the first berries of the summer. My uncle visited the bushes on the morning of Grandpa's funeral, and tossed the berries into his grave.

***
Family:

My parents hail from neighboring counties; I grew up in the same neighborhood that my Dad did, and my Mom's hometown, and where my maternal grandparents live, is a short 20 minute drive South. Aunts and Uncles on both sides live in the two county area. My generation has drifted beyond the borders of the counties, the state.

Coming home means being immersed in family, in tradition, in history, in old patterns, and familiar rituals.

Trips to the beach, Saturday mornings at the farmers' market, afternoons on the porch, dinner at Marro's, ice cream at Captain Sundae.

Family jokes and stories.

Rivalries and old wounds.

Making room for new family members.

Allowing the bonds to help us feel, grieve, mourn, and heal.

***
School:

At the visitation, we stood in an airy, sun filled atrium of my grandparents' church, awaiting visitors.

I looked over and saw my two favorite elementary school teachers and started crying...

...I was a school girl par excellance. I love(d) school, books, learning. Knowledge was my birthright; books enlivened my imagination.

Mrs. Mulder, my first grade teacher, allowed me to create my own reading group (designated pink) and created a classroom where learning happened naturally, and students could escape to Australia (see Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day).

Mr. Kraii, my fifth grade teacher, read to us from The Great Brain and integrated softball games into our curriculum. He helped me manage some big adjustments (a new baby brother, a new last name), and prepared us for middle school.

As I hugged and chatted with these two teachers, I felt the connection of education, of the power of this work that they did and I now do to change lives and build on the strong family foundation to give young children, young adults, or returning students the confidence and tools to soar, to excel, to be everything they can be.

***
Books:


After the family bonding, after the visitation, after the funeral (complete with full military ceremony and ice cream bar), after the final graveside service, Gregg and I boarded the boat and left my Michigan home for our Wisconsin home.

The next morning, I turned to my bookshelves--the poetry section--and selected some verses to read, to give me that comfort I craved in adapting to this loss.

to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


Mary Oliver, from "In Blackwater Woods"


***
Home:


To be rooted and grounded in a place and a past, and then to live and create and love and follow that bliss to new homes. To understand that home is many places--a rural Michigan neighborhood, a great lake, the shape of a poem, an embrace, a fresh blueberry pie, a classroom, a cloudy Tuesday morning. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

daily bliss: a weekend in Madison


Last week, I had the pleasure of dining in Madison, Wisconsin all week long. This first installment chronicles the weekend that started my adventure, a short 36 hours that Gregg and I spent together, and with friends.

We arrived on Saturday morning, ready to hit the Capitol Square and the Dane County Farmers' Market. We joined the slow, lurching crowd and marveled at early summer produce, amazing plants, pretty peonies, and hearty breads. We paused on a street corner to hydrate with bottled water, and watched a small crowd of pro-Walker supporters get overshadowed by a group of brazen, nude bicyclists. After stocking up on Cress Springs Bakery bread, we left the throng and headed to Graze for a light brunch. Gregg ordered the egg special, which included a dollop of the most delicious hashbrowns we've ever eaten, while I ordered the seasonal pancakes topped with compound butter, strawberry compote, and maple syrup.

That evening, we spent time with friends C and C!, who shared some of their favorite eateries with us: dinner at Lao Laan-Xang, fruity drinks at Jolly Bob's, and a glass of wine at the Weary Traveler, all on the currently deconstructed Willy Street.

I'm a fan of southeast Asian cuisine, and I was eager to distinguish the differences between Laotian and Thai cuisine. I found the flavors similar, and perhaps the biggest difference was the combination of vegetables in the curries. I ordered the famous squash curry with tofu, spiced at level three...a generous three. A mouth and back of the throat sizzling three. Two Singha beers tampered the flames.

A fruity concoction at nearby Jolly Bob's extinguished the lingering flames. My drink--the Seafoam--looked like tropical waters, and tasted of pineapple and amaretto. We talked of vacation and dreamed of warmer climes before heading down the street to our next stop.

The Weary Traveler was an early meeting place for the Leftist Cocktail Party, a Madison based group who gathers weekly in solidarity during these troublesome times in Wisconsin. While I've missed the actual parties, I attend vicariously via facebook, and was excited to see one of their favorite hangouts. I enjoyed a glass of pinot noir and the dim, wooden, eclectic ambience.

The next morning, we joined our friends for a brunch blowout at Sardine, a French inspired bistro. Champagne cocktails, bloody marys, and monster mimosas filled our table as we developed a strategy. Our friends suggested eating in stages, and so we (er, they) began with mussels and oysters.



The presentation of both fruits of the sea was stunning, but I choose to crunch through the airy, buttery layers of a perfect pain au chocolat.



The cool, damp morning gave way to warmth and overcast humidity as we sat outside on the patio, framed by bright flower planters, and overlooking Lake Monona. The next course arrived--a simple fines herbes and gruyére omelette, served with frites and a mixed greens salad. The omelette was pretty and delicious--the tang of tarragon tasted quintessentially Parisien. A glass of Italian rosé was the perfect accompaniment.

We hesitated only momentarily when presented with the dessert menu, which featured a layered chocolate and hazelnut creation that rivaled the layered chocolate and hazelnut creation I enjoyed in Paris last Spring. Gregg and I tried to linger over the slim rectangle of crisp nut crust and creamy ganache, sliding our forks through the thick caramel. However, within minutes the dessert was a memory and a final taste in our mouths.



After saying goodbye to our friends, we headed downtown to explore State Street and to people watch as our lunch digested. Small boutiques and large bookstores beckoned us inside, where we mostly window shopped. We sat outside at the Union Terrace at UW-Madison and drank beer (!) while watching boats sail across Lake Mendota.



We headed to the nearby Monroe Street area to shop at Trader Joe's, relax over Italian sodas at Barriques, and then finally, eat dinner at Pasqual's. As our burritos and tacos disappeared, I started to feel sad that our weekend together was over. Gregg was heading home while I was staying in Madison for a week of workshops. I longed to hop in the car with him and chat about our adventures on the drive home, but alas, I checked into my hotel room and began preparing for the week ahead...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

daily bliss: vegan week: day five and beyond: the ethical omnivore



Day five, my last day of vegan (mini) week, began with my usual oatmeal breakfast, my morning coffee laced with So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer. It was, to quote a slogan on a local beer, "not bad."

After a morning writing, wrapped up in a fleece blanket against the damp chill, I decided to drive to Sheboygan for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Field to Fork. I had already settled on the hummus and giardinera as a suitable vegan lunch, but when I arrived I saw that minestrone was one of the soup selections. 

Their soup is thick, hearty, and not tomatoey. Chunks of root vegetables and seasonal-ish squashes intermingle with beans and hearty greens. I ordered a bowl, and was surprised when it arrived garnished with a skiff of cheese. I've ordered this soup so many times, always reassured of its vegetarianness, and clearly not mindful of the cheese. 

I pushed the cheese to the side of the bowl, but it was melting into the soup anyway, a distinctive tang and sweet saltiness. 

Oh, it was delicious. 

Later that evening, Gregg and I headed to a graduation party, where we huddled outside, hands wrapped around too-cold soda cans, trying to stay warm in the unseasonable cold. We wandered into the garage (all the best Wisconsin parties include a garage) to fill our plates. Well, Gregg filled his plate with a variety of meat dishes kept warm in Nesco roasters (another ubiquitous Wisconsin party favorite), while I spooned some salsa and grabbed a handful of corn chips. Our friend T proudly told me his taco dip was vegetarian and even included a layer of beans. It looked delicious: cool, creamy, and crisp. Gregg explained that I was dairy free this week, and we walked back outside to shiver and munch. 

Restaurants and social situations challenge our dietary lifestyles. While some vegetarians and vegans choose to overtly share their politics in these moments, I usually try to eat inconspicuously. At moments like this--the restaurant, the grad party--part of me longs for a more conventional dietary lifestyle that doesn't complicate social relations. 

I realized during my vegan experiment how relatively easy it is to eat and socialize as a vegetarian--how friends make subtle modifications to foods, or how many side dishes and party foods are vegetarian friendly. Living vegan is much harder. Eggs, butter, milk, and/or cheese linger in unsuspecting foods. Especially in Wisconsin, these items are abundant on buffet tables and menus. 

On Sunday, Gregg and I, along with his parents, headed to our county's annual celebration of Dairy Month: Breakfast on the Farm. This breakfast couldn't be a starker contrast to my short week of plant-based eating. Scrambled eggs dotted with onions and ham, glued together with cheese; cinnamon bread spread with butter; donut holes; link sausage; handfuls of cheese curds, string cheese, and cheddar cubes; milk; and ice cream make this an absolute dairypalooza. 


We noshed our full plates under a big tent, listening to polka music and visiting with friends and neighbors. This year I particularly appreciated the squeaky creaminess of cheese curds. 



After our large, generous, non-plant based breakfast, we toured the farm, checking out huge farm equipment and mooing at dairy cows small and large. 

I was struck by the size of the farm--800 cattle!--and the "propaganda" displayed on tables and posters. These cows eat silage that is largely corn based, as described by a large sign. And, in another information booth, a major pharmaceutical company explained the importance of antibiotics for sick cows, and mitigated worries about the drugs entering the food system. 

After reading many books about modern agriculture, environmentalism, and humane treatment of animals, as well as the effects antibiotics have had on our ecosystem, I believe that we have harmed our animals and ecosystem in some fairly substantial ways. Cows, as ruminants, are meant to eat grass. Studies show that they need antibiotics because of their diet of corn. And, new strains of bacteria like MRSA and e. coli can be traced, in part, to the influx of antibiotics at all levels of the food chain. Bacteria are smart, mutating and resisting the drugs we create to kill them. 

Scary.

Enough to make veganism seem like a feasible, safe solution.

And yet, I love dairy. 

And, I love breakfast on the farm: the camaraderie, the community celebrating and supporting one its most storied and historical ways of life, and a huge economic force (our county has more cows that people). 

And yet, I wish we hadn't reached this point where we alter animal diets to our timeline and our production needs. Cows become machines rather than sentient beings. If we all ate a little less animal food or animal produced food, couldn't we preserve the animals' more natural ways of life? Frolicking in the sun, nibbling grass, and roaming pastures rather than bedding in sand, eating mixed silage, and standing bracketed indoors? 

I recognize that many people disagree with me and question the logic of my beliefs. I don't want to proselytize, but I do want people--including myself--to have as much information as possible and then make an educated, informed, ethics based decision on what to eat. Balancing ethics and tastes is perhaps one of the most difficult struggles we face. My mini-week of plant-based eating showed me the conflicting desires between preserving another creature's way of life and satisfying my omnivorous tastes. 

For now, I will continue to eat dairy and eggs, but I will also continue to support alternate foodways, seeking out organic, humanely sourced milk, eggs, and cheeses, recognizing that this is, for me, a necessity, for which I will pay higher costs. (and that touches on another tangent about the cost of such foods and the critique that such foods are the provenance of the "wealthy." Despite what you may have heard about professor salaries, I am not wealthy, but I do try to spend my values, to put my money where my values and ethics are, recognizing yet again that not everyone has this capability.)

Thanks to my readers for following along and sharing thoughtful comments that supported and challenged me throughout my mini-week. 

And thanks to Gregg, who ate vegan dinners with me all week long:)

Friday, June 10, 2011

daily bliss: vegan week: day four: chocolatey goodness and competing ethics


Yesterday was an easy, tasty vegan day. For breakfast, I ate my standard steel cut oats with nuts and dried fruit and brown sugar and soy milk, drank orange juice, and sipped a strong chai spice tea spiked with sugar and vanilla soy.

Lunch included leftovers from Monday night and a toasted whole wheat pita.

I met my friend B for coffee at Starbucks and sprang for a grand soy caramel macchiato ($4.99! woah!). Later, I snacked on my usual hummus plate.

After a trip to the grocery store for So Delicious coconut milk creamer per reader suggestions, as well as a half gallon of organic valley skim milk for Saturday and beyond, as well as a bottle of Starborough Sauvignon Blanc (a beveragetastic trip!), I drove to Wilfert Farms to purchase three pounds of asparagus. The farm is just north of town and the drive is pretty, past new mcmansions and old farmhouses.

Last night I cooked a veggie stir fry—asparagus, broccoli, carrots, vidalia onion, ginger, and garlic—with baked tofu and crushed cashews. My standard glaze of tamari, rice vinegar, orange juice, brown sugar, toasted spicy sesame oil, and red pepper flakes coated the veggies and draped the whole wheat cappellini I served with the stir fry.


And, since baking is one of my modes of bliss, I decided to bake vegan cookies: chewy chocolate chocolate chip cookies from Veganomicon, or, online, the Post Punk Kitchen. I'm out of flax seed, so I made them without. I used Valrhona cocoa powder, and a variety of Ghiradelli chocolate chips—the baking discs and the mini chips that I can find only at the outlet store (a must-stop on every trip around the great lake!). If I had more time and patience I would've toasted the walnuts.

I was chatting with my Mom (on the phone, alas) as I portioned out the cookie dough and laughed as I ate raw cookie dough. We always debate the wisdom of eating raw cookie dough, what with the danger of salmonella in raw eggs. The only danger now would be tiny insects in the flour. I tried not to think about the possibility of this non-vegan addition:)

The cookie dough was not as stiff as I thought it would be, and I worried that the cookies would spread all over the sheet. To my relief, the cookies baked up tall and firm. Gregg thought they looked weird, but with one bite his reservations were gone.

Deep, rich, decadent...these cookies defy vegan stereotypes. The premium chocolate adds so much flavor that I didn't miss the distinctive tang of butter (I used organic canola oil in lieu of my preferred baking fat). I will definitely bake these cookies again and share with friends and family.

These cookies challenge the idea that plant-based foods cannot provide satiating bliss. So does an avocado. A handful of pistachios. A perfect roasted and brewed cup of coffee.

And this is an important lesson, where taste and ethics collide. So often people respond to my vegetarianism with statements like, "I could never give up meat. It tastes too good."

After 13 years as a vegetarian, that statement/sentiment can be difficult to understand (except for bacon;)), especially coming from those who seem to espouse a vegetarian ethic, but do not commit to the lifestyle. However, this week has taught me humility and compassion to those who utter such words, since I feel the same way about milk and the pantheon of cheeses and ice creams and sour cream and buttermilk and butter. Oh, and butter.

Taste and ethics collide. Or, I should say, competing ethics: an ethics of bliss, expansion, and mindful deliciousness vs. an ethics of mindfulness and ahimsa (the Buddhist concept of doing no harm). Can these be reconciled? Is it enough to buy dairy and eggs from local producers? From certified organic, humane companies? Does supporting these local friends and farmers and regional cooperatives challenge the industrial complex that mass produces dairy and eggs with nary a thought about the cows and chickens as sentient beings? Is it enough that the cows and chickens that produced my dairy and eggs are "happy"?!?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

daily bliss: vegan week: day three: moment of truth

Day three began with a question: cafe au lait, or cafe au soy?

Whichever would I choose?!?

***
I conceptualized the vegan week experiment a few weeks ago, and shared my idea with my friend N. We're both vegetarians and yoga dorks, and we were curious about eating detox programs or plans, and I told her my tentative plan.

After a semester, nay, an academic year of stress, and laxity about my healthy habits, I needed to do something more dramatic than simply eating less and exercising more in order to shake up my system.

I settled on veganism rather than the more hard core (and, in my mind, unhealthy) juice fast, or the more challenging all whole, unprocessed foods paths. I've read about the dairy and egg industries enough to know that they're both problematic. I've read about the side effects of dairy foods--and wondered how my allergies (trees, grass, pollen, certain raw fruits) might react to no dairy. I wanted to know how much more difficult it would be to live and eat vegan rather than vegetarian.

The fact that I was ready to quit after two days speaks volumes--for me, this was a difficult leap.

With supportive comments on this blog and the various social networks I'm part of, as well as the inner over-achiever cheerleading loudly, I did not give in.

I went to Starbucks.

On Wednesday mornings, my favorite yoga teacher leads a power yoga class that challenges me...and also keeps me from eating a full breakfast beforehand. On occasion, I've gone to Starbucks afterwards for their perfect oatmeal (meh, but quick and tasty and healthier than most restaurant breakfast options in this town) and a latte. Yesterday I ordered a double tall soy latte, and somehow the baristas worked their corporate coffee magic, because the steamy, creamy beverage tasted blissful.

I survived the coffee test, and ate light vegan foods throughout the day, including a plate of hummus and veggies alongside a broiled smart dog for lunch, and a snack of triscuits and peanut butter once again in the afternoon.

The second test of the day was dinner. Late afternoon temperatures soared towards 90, and after an overheated walk and with a slow-to-kick-in air conditioner, I wasn't in the mood to cook. Gregg and I walked to our favorite Italian deli, where I ordered the veggie pasta salad: tri-color rotini with crisp carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, red peppers, and onion in an Italian vinaigrette. Our server set down a plate of garlic bread. To eat or not? To question or not?

The irony: today I wanted to eat it, so I hoped they didn't use real butter. Every other time I eat it, I hope and pray they use butter.

I abstained.

The night was lovely--an orange sun glowed in the Western sky and the warm air was tempered with a fragrant breeze. We walked to the nicest restaurant in town for good wine and beer, and the server poured my second glass (of Vermentino) full, full, full. We walked home through damp streets and heard echoey thunder in the distance. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, I promptly went to bed.

Lessons of the day: a day of light vegan food is not enough to support several glasses of wine! Also, wine is a delicious part of any dietary plan! And, finally, being surprised by difficulty is a wonderful challenge.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

daily bliss: vegan week: day two: dairy cravings

Yesterday morning I made my second cafe au soy, and poured soy milk over some organic oat and honey* granola. The latter was delicious--better than milk, even; however,  the former was disappointing, tasting nothing like my morning treat. 

Throughout the day, I kept thinking about cafe au lait, and my craving was intense. My crabbiness was fairly strong, too. My mind oscillated between two obsessions yesterday: cafe au lait, and warm weather (we were supposedly having record heat all across Wisconsin--except for the lakeshore, which was 20-30 degrees cooler than the surrounding environs). 

Still, I carried on, making a satisfying sandwich for lunch: toasted honey* sunflower seed bread with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, impromptu guacamole (avocado and lime juice), sabra classic hummus, red bell pepper, cucumber, and salt and pepper. Mmmmm!


Throughout the afternoon I puttered around the house, waiting for the fog to lift and the air to warm up before my afternoon walk. At 3:00 I headed out to the lake, bundled up, but thankfully stripping off my fleece jacket along the way. 

Cafe au lait! Milk! Latte! echoed through my head, but I came home and ate Koeze natural peanut butter on Triscuits (try it! salty, crunchy, delicious.)

After a quick trip to the Pig (yes, we have a Piggly Wiggly in our neighborhood) for a few provisions, I set out to cook up a vegan Mexican feast. Gregg called on his way home from work. "How do you feel about strawberry margaritas? And can I just say that I want cafe au lait in the worst way!"

He's used to my non sequiturs:) 

"I feel good about strawberry margaritas! And I don't see how anything could be bad with that delicious vanilla soy milk!" (he sampled some sraight up the night before, declaring it awesome, and egg nog-esque.)

Grrr. No one was going to put up with my whining about cafe au lait. 

Our Mexican meal consisted of spice rubbed baked tofu (I used a mixture of chipotle powder, chili powder, and a Penzey's spice blend called Arizona dreaming); black bean dip (black beans mashed with lime juice, onion, salt, and pepper); guacamole; sauteed peppers and onions; salsa; and, for Gregg, sour cream. We folded everything into warm flour tortillas. 


But the pièce de résistance was the strawberry margarita, made with lime juice, triple sec, tequila, and last night's strawberry sorbet. The drinks were thick, frosty, tangy, and absolutely refreshing. And dairy free! (duh! who sneaks dairy into a margarita?!?)

I told Gregg that I might discontinue the experiment on Wednesday morning, since the cafe au lait cravings were so strong. 

I mused about obsession, addiction, and pleasure. My morning (and often afternoon) cafe au laits are more than the drink itself--though the frothy, warm, robustness hits the right notes as a day begins and an afternoon slumps. More so, there's a ritual to this drink, in the preparation: using my special pan from mom to heat the milk; grinding a handful of beans; pouring cool water into the coffeemaker; wetting the coffee filter; listening to the happy perk of the machine; smelling freshly brewed coffee; frothing the milk with a small whisk; pouring the right proportion of coffee to milk. 

There's beauty in the simplicity of this ritual. 

And while the steps are all the same with soy milk, the taste is different, and the drink and ritual become less about bliss and more about sacrifice. 

Does this make sense, or am I, as I'm wont to do, overthinking?

*yes, I realize that honey is not vegan if one is strict about veganism. I've decided to give honey a pass in the few prepared foods I have on hand. I am not, however, adding honey to anything.*

Monday, June 06, 2011

daily bliss: vegan week: day one: got milk?



Breakfast, as we know, is the most important meal of the day. It's also, for me, the hardest to veganize. My favorite morning ritual is a mug (or two) of warm, frothy cafe au lait with a spoonful of raw sugar. As I heated and frothed the vanilla soy milk this morning, I was concerned that my daily kickstarter would be unquaffable. While I won't proclaim a cafe au soy delicious, I will say that it wasn't bad. On the other hand, the vanilla soy milk tasted wonderful in a bowl of steel cut oats with brown sugar, cinnamon, dried cranberries, and pecans. Its subtle nuttiness added to the complexity of the dish and I liked it better than regular milk.

I resisted any and all nibbles until lunchtime, when I ate a portion of last night's black bean couscous salad, with a handful of blue corn chips and Salpica tomato jalapeno salsa. Two cups of hot darjeeling tea and a few almonds, dried cherries, and chocolate chips completed the meal.

For a snack, I ate Sabra classic hummus with cucumber spears, carrot sticks, and pretzels. A small glass of iced tea almost vanquished my afternoon cafe au lait cravings.

And tonight, I prepared a spiced red lentil dal, based on this recipe from the post punk kitchen--vegan foodies with a hipster sensibility and a bevy of delicious recipes (they're the same folks who penned Veganomicon). I served it over a bed of carolina aromatic rice (thanks, Mom and Dad for this treat from Charleston!) and dotted it with a few garam masala roasted chickpeas. We had a few spears of asparagus left in the fridge so I roasted those too for an informal side dish.

My final celebration was to be a strawberry sorbet--I had hopes of hitting the fruit puree with a little bubbly or a little wine, but after opening two bottles gone bad I gave up. I chilled the puree and the ice cream canister and decided to give it a go after only a few hours in the cold, to no avail. Of course having a fully frozen canister is necessary! Science prevails over impatience yet again!

A handful of dry cereal and another mug of hot tea will round out my evening, and I'll go to bed with the glow of success...

...and some dairy cravings. A slice of whole wheat toast with butter. A milky, foamy cup of chai. A nub of cheese.

I hadn't suspected this desire for dairy, and I hope it fades over the next few days.

Other than such cream and fat fantasies, day one has been delicious...and nutritious.

daily bliss: black bean couscous salad



I love summer: streaming sunshine, sapphire skies, sparkling lakes, colorful blossoms, fresh produce, and more time to cook, dream, and play.

Fresh produce is still in short supply in Wisconsin--we're in the midst of asparagus season, with a smattering of rhubarb. Yet, I've been craving cold bean and grain salads. Departing from the local, seasonal mantra I usually espouse, I made this salad for Memorial Day weekend celebrations and again last night. You can adjust the recipe in size and in ingredients--add the seasonings and southwest veggies you most like. I suppose you could 'sconnie it up by adding cheese, but the clean flavors of the salad shine without hunks of cheddar. 

Black Bean Couscous Salad

salad:

Combine the following ingredients into a large bowl. You can adjust the quantities according to your preferences. This salad keeps about a day or two in the refrigerator before becoming too watery. 

whole wheat couscous, prepared
corn, sauteed with garlic, onion, cumin, salt, pepper, and ground chipotle powder
diced bell peppers
diced avocado
grape tomatoes, quartered
black beans, rinsed and drained
lime cilantro vinaigrette, to taste

lime cilantro vinaigrette:

Combine the following ingredients in a jar or small pitcher. I like a more vinegary dressing, so my proportions of oil to vinegar are usually 1 to 3. 

olive oil
white balsamic vinegar
maple syrup, honey, or sugar, to taste
lime juice
cilantro, finely chopped


Sunday, June 05, 2011

daily bliss: june is dairy, er, vegan month



Eleven years ago, I ventured into vegetarianism on a whim (and inspired by a cute southern boy I went on a few dates with).

Today, I'm happily vegetarian, eating a mostly whole foods diet, and only occasionally sampling bacon and ham (my kryptonite!).

For the last year and a half, I've thought about doing a vegan experiment, going as far as purchasing a vegan cookbook, the awesome Veganomicon. And yet, I couldn't make the leap. The thought of cafe au lait transformed with soy or almond or rice milk made my heart sink. I've eaten 90% vegan some days, but never 100%.

This week I'm going to try.

Seeking a cleansing and an overall wellness realignment, I'm turning to veganism for an almost week (Monday-Saturday) to jumpstart this return to a more healthful way of life. Today, I bought soy milk for my coffee. I thought about the foods I eat regularly that I'll need to avoid--a dish of low fat yogurt at snack time, a skiff of butter on a piece of whole wheat toast, a sprinkling of parmesan on pasta or salads.

This shouldn't be too difficult, right?

Except for dairy month.

June, that halcyon month of sapphire skies and deepening green foliage also recognizes one of Wisconsin's claims to fame: dairy. Each county celebrates with a breakfast on the farm event, spotlighting a great farm and dishing up plates full of dairy goodness.

Because our breakfast on the farm is next Sunday, I'm doubtful that this vegan experiment will turn out like the vegetarian one did.

I'll bet a wedge of 10 year aged Wisconsin cheddar on it:)

Friday, May 27, 2011

daily bliss: bridesmaids

Last Friday, to celebrate the end of the semester and a god-awful academic year, Gregg and I ate pizza at my favorite restaurant and then watched Bridesmaids in the theater.

Ahead of us, a row of female friends in their mid-late 40s munched popcorn and shared laughs before the movie began. Their talk had that familiar flow of light gossip and quotidian detail. I smiled, and felt sad. I missed my female friends.

The movie began, and I was sucked into the story until it ended--minus one disgusting scene of physical comedy and bodily eruptions. The film hits so many notes spot-on--the lethargy of hitting almost rock bottom (and then hitting said bottom), the act of putting on a happy, supportive face when someone you love is getting all that you don't have, the competition between women for friends and closeness and status, and the sadness of moving on different tracks than your once closest friends.

When we left the theater, I thought of a column my friend N had written, in which she described the particular forms of female-female bullying. Those nearly imperceptible slights, those carefully aimed barbs, those manipulations of emotions. N offered up as an alternative the practice of the female vampire bats, who adopt and feed young females outside of their natal groups when they're on their own. This supportive systems helps all the female vampire bats thrive.

I thought of this juxtaposition in the film--the movement between competition and collaboration.

And I thought that so much of this has to do with removing the "frames" from our lives and being honest. So often we share the framed photo version of our lives with others, when under the surface there's a mess of anxiety, uncertainty, messiness, hope, love, disappointment, disconnect. Though our lives may be on different tracks, I'm fairly certain we have similar core concerns about our very existence.

I cried during the movie because I could relate to the characters, and mostly to the sense of loss and feeling of sorrow that comes from growing apart from your closest female friends. Though I am friends with amazing women, of many ages and stages of life, many of them are scattered around the country and keeping in touch seems to ebb and flow. Our lives change and we seem strange to one another. Emails can't convey the depth of a late night chat over a bowl of Doritos and bottle of wine. Phone calls are difficult to arrange around busy work and family schedules. Even face to face visits are challenging, as we spend so much time within that framed photo.

And so much is lost, then.

I long to talk about loneliness and disappointment, about joy and dreams, about aging bodies and anxious minds. About relationships and kids and parents and friends and work and weight and spirit and food and ...

...about finding ourselves again through friendship. I want to nourish and nurture one another like the female vampire bats. And to reject those framed photos and revel in the surprise snapshots that capture a moment--mussed hair, spinach-flecked teeth, smudged mascara, exposed tummy, tired exhilaration: real.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

daily bliss: delayed gratification or scientific research



A year or two ago, all my baking blogging buddies were in a chocolate chip cookie frenzy. The New York Times recipe was the hip version to make.

Not always a trendsetter, but often a trendfollower, I finally made the recipe.

Now, the secret to this recipe is curing the dough for 24-36 hours in the refrigerator. (the high quality chocolate and sea salt sprinkle help, too).

This is a fantastic lesson in patience. A great practice of delayed gratification.

OR, a delicious scientific research project.

Let's say you want to make the cookies after they chill for 6-8 hours. Maybe bake two cookies, one for you and your co-taster. Verdict: yummy.

Then, you wait the requisite 24 hours. You bake four cookies, each eating one. Verdict: delicious.

And, on a cool, wet Wednesday morning, you bake five more. Verdict: yummy, delicious, and satisfying.

These cookies baked flat and tender crisp, the rich chocolate melting and hardening into pockets of messy goodness. They're a lovely counterpoint to my favorite "Mrs. Field's" cookies that bake up taller, thicker, and more solid. The sea salt is a perfect garnish. I even used part whole wheat flour, which was undetectable (and makes these cookies a health food, yes?).

Monday, May 23, 2011

daily bliss: spring awakening



Yesterday afternoon I curled on the couch with a stack of cookbooks, flipping through asparagus recipes and cold salads and then the rest of The New York Times Cookbook, suddenly hungry for everything.

"What are you looking for?" Gregg wondered, as he watched Finding Forrester.

"Oh, salads, asparagus, you know."

But really, I was looking for my hunger, my craving, my passion, my self.

And I could feel it in those pages, but more so in the simple act of browsing through recipes without a clear purpose other than interest, inspiration, and possibility.

***
This morning I walked along the lake, buffeted by brisk winds--the kind that whip up waves as they blow warm air across Lake Michigan's chilly expanse. I pushed up my sweatshirt sleeves and removed my fleece headband. Even as daffodils dot swaths of grass, I still dread the possibility of heavy, wet snowflakes.

The winter was long, precipitous, and mostly, hard.

Between increased responsibility and stress at work, political turmoil involving said work, minor medical issues, ailing family members, and my usual seasonal affective disorder, this winter replaced my passion and bliss with incessant anxiety and low level depression. I was functional, going to work, connecting to a small circle of family and friends, cooking and eating meals. I was not, however, thriving. My creativity and passion plummeted. My activity decreased; my weight increased. Bereft in April, I wondered where I was, who I was.

***
And so today, I slept late. I ate light. I walked long. I engaged my senses: damp marine scent, chipper bird song, the light touch of my hair blowing on my face, the sweetness of last summer's strawberries in a smoothie, the cycles of sun and clouds against grey and blue sky. Mostly, I sensed the feeling of recovery.

As I walked the familiar trail, I found these words to share this story, a common one, I'm sure, but one that needs telling just the same. How bliss can disappear when we forget the greater sacredness above the daily tumult. How fear can overwhelm when we forget that life's beauty is in its transience. How love and quiet and solitude and compassion and companionship and music and ritual and incense and movement and kindness can lead us back to our bliss, back to ourselves, and then, back, more fully, to the world.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

daily bliss: bubble therapy

Sometimes, it's as simple as this:

a deep tub, rumbling and roiling, smelling of lavender, puckering my hands and feet.

a tall flute, filling and fizzing, light pink and ever so slightly sweet.

a wedge of deepest, darkest chocolate stout cake.

a thick novel.

empty pages.

fast pens.

quiet.

ahh.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

twd: pecan powder puffs



When I lived in Alabama, Aunt S would send me a care package right before Christmas. In that package: a ziploc bag filled with Mexican wedding cookies. I would sit in my apartment, looking out at a blue, warm-ish December day, and dream of snow, and home, and family with each taste.

Dorie's version skips the chocolate kiss in the center, is light on sugar, and heavy on pecans. I made my cookies diminuitive, and keep popping them in my mouth on each pass through the kitchen.

These cookies bring a smile to my face, and make me think of fun times with Aunt S, who has a great sense of humor (she has to--she has three now grown sons!).

And, they make me think of Grandma C, who sent me a bag of pecans from boomland, an all-purpose fireworks and gas and pecan store in Missouri. She picks up a few bags each time she and Grandpa drive from Michigan to Arkansas to visit our kin, and we munch away for weeks afterwards.

I can't wait for summertime to eat pecans and sip wine and sit by the pool and catch up with my Michigan kin.

For now, though, I have a small pile of buttery, nutty, sugary goodness.

[note: i've been absent from TWD, mired in a difficult winter and too many responsibilities at work all while being vilified by many as a "lazy state employee." my return is less than triumphant, because, um, i'm a week behind in my recipe. please forgive me! and please enjoy these cookies just the same. they were selected by Tianne, of the awesomely named Buttercream Barbie blog.]