Cold Corn

This winter reminded me of another a few years ago during another contentious campaign season.  I'm watching loved ones age, dealing with my own aging body, and witnessing mothers and fathers passing away. I'm losing people I love at an alarming rate and this new year kicked off a slew of new losses. It reminds me of the January a few years ago that we found ourselves in Iowa for the coldest winter of my life.  And it turned out to be the last time I saw my Father-in-Law.

So, on this rainy day I decided to share a letter I wrote to a friend during that long cold winter when I found myself far away from home.

Dear Jack,

I'm writing you from "sunny" Iowa (that's a joke because it ain't!).  Christmas Day brought some troubling news.  My Music Man's dad was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve and we hightailed it out of town before the New Year got started.  We arrived on New Year's Day to a toasty 5 Below Zero (who lives here?!).  Luckily, we were able to find some decent flights at the last minute.  We planned to be here a week, but with his release from the hospital, we realized he needs serious Home Care and he's not set up for that.  This illness appears to be long term, his recovery is slow with many details to ensure his safety and ongoing basic care before we leave.  We changed our plans to stay until February, if we don't freeze first.

DSC_4507My Father-in-Law just came home a couple of days ago.  We're still trying to sort things out, help with the transition and continued care.  It's a challenge, I'll tell ya.  The good news is that he is doing better, griping about any money we spend (he doesn't like that we are buying groceries).  He gripes when we do anything for him to help ("OH, just sit down and stop working so hard!").  So, every day I see improvement.

My Father-in-Law treats me very well.  But, it's hard to hear him bellyache.  I resolve to stay out of the middle of father and son.  My Music Man tries to help, to assist, and his father gets annoyed.  I know why -- he's mad at his own body for not working the way it used to.  And, my Music Man says he's okay with that.  He is amazingly calm, patient, sweet, etc. in the face of his father's grumbling, so I need to keep my mouth shut.  This is an interesting lesson for me.  Learning to keep quiet.  I watched him this morning sit and listen to his dad complain about everything from oatmeal to milk to shoveling snow to keeping everything the way it is (even though his home is riddled with hazards for an elder who is not quite steady on his feet).

And there are hazards everywhere.  He has fallen before but won't listen to reasonable ideas or suggestions (such as replacing a slippery rug near the kitchen sink with one that has a rubber bottom).  No hand rails in the bathroom... well, you get the idea.  The house is simply not set up for an elder who has obvious limitations.  Heck, if the doctor prescribed it, he'd jump right on the bandwagon.  If there's a pill for it, he'll take it.  But, by god, anything we suggest to make improvements, especially if it requires any effort or money, is met with stubborn resistance.

I know it's hard to hear this from your kids.  I had the same problem with my grandma.  Funny thing -- their stubbornness is what keeps them going to a ripe old age, so you can't make that go away.  I just don't want the same thing to happen to him that happened to my grandma, like the time she fell in her home and no one knew for a whole day she couldn't get up.  Anyway, it's the challenge we face.

As for me, I am feeling a bit isolated.  My Father-in-Law doesn't have cable, relying only on what these old-fashioned "rabbit ears" pick up for the TVs in the house.  Old TVs, no VCRs or DVDs, the internet is at a snail's pace (I can't look at any videos on the computer because they only show 5 seconds at a time with a 10 second pause in between, and downloads take forever).  I never thought of myself as an internet addict, perhaps I'm just dependent and maybe just a little bored.

It's crazy cold here (it barely gets above 32 degrees) and there's about 2 feet of snow on the ground.  It's getting black and dirty now, since it hasn't snowed in a couple of days...they say it's supposed to snow tonight.

There are no vegetables in Iowa (okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration).

There are no Whole Foods, either (that's true).

"Organic" is a foreign term.

Houses the size of ours are going for about $120,000.  No wonder housing prices are higher in California -- right now, I'd pay triple!

And, to make matters worse, the day after we arrived, I promptly got sick with a really bad cold which meant I had to call my doctor and get some antibiotics because things were going downhill fast.  I feel like a mucus factory.

I've decided to focus all my energy on being supportive of my Music Man in the face of his father's apparent anger (which I think stems from the fact that he can't do anything for himself and feels bad when people try to help him).

We (briefly) talked about even moving here for a little while to help with any transition we might need to facilitate.  The truth is, I don't think I could stand it.  It's very "white bread" out here.  My Music Man went to the grocery store yesterday and came home with some hilarious stories.  They just live differently than we do.  Which is fine, but, when you're used to having what we have at our fingertips, being away feels a bit stifling.

Believe me, it would be a huge fight to get my Father-in-Law to move to California.  I think he'd rather die.  It's more likely that we will find him an assisted living situation and plan to return here often.

Life sure is interesting, isn't it?  Never thought I'd find myself here in the dead of winter doing this.  It was very interesting, though, to be here for the Iowa Caucus.  I'm able to follow the campaigns very closely (too much time on my hands, perhaps).  Scouring the internet the most entertainment I can find.  Luckily, my Father-in-Law has some great old books here, so the reading is like a gourmet meal.

What a rich full life we live.  It gives new meaning to the saying, "There's no place like home."

Gee, I miss CALIFORNIA.

Life in the Slow Lane

Image I'm feeling lighthearted today. Not only because it's a National Holiday and most folks aren't working, but because I got some much needed sleep last night. It's amazing how bright and sweet mornings are when you feel rested.

My Music Man and I have been hard at work these past couple of weeks. I'm not complaining, though. It's kind of like harvest-time when the vines are ripe. You have to work day and night to get your fruit off the vine in order to reap the bounty of your toil and get some value out of the blood, sweat, and tears that you put into your business and your life.

Today is all about the red, white, and blue. I'd like to share some yummie patriotic munchies to celebrate our country's birthday and hope that we have a few hundred more.

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You can really enjoy watermelon even more on July 4th when it's cut like stars. Put these in a cold fridge for a day or so and serve really cold!

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My personal favorite - this is like a little spark of fireworks in your mouth!

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Be honest...doesn't this make you want to jump in and try a little taste?

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And this little gem  is on my list of things to make out of our old barn wood....

Enjoy your freedom today. Remember we get to choose it every day.

Flyin' High

When I’m standing on the ground, my hometown is pretty magnificent. Surrounded by farms and ranches, Tomales is a tiny town on the coast of Northern California, a juicy slice of West Sonoma-Marin Heaven and deeply dependent on the economic bounties (and sharply impacted by the inevitable bounces) of agriculture, fishing, and tourism. While I live in the middle of town, I'm still surrounded by the billowy hills and lively vapors from nearby pastures. The quiet calm of my neighborhood awakens the soul. But from the air, it is far beyond breathtaking!

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The First Meatloaf I've Ever Made

Magic Meatloaf

Sometimes slow food is easy food...

I've never made meatloaf before. I know, that's amazing. My hubby recently disclosed that this was one of his favorite meals from childhood, "one of the few things" his mom cooked that he liked. Together, we experimented, uncovered several recipes and created this one. It was tender, juicy, held together nicely, and extremely tasty. It was easy, fun, and delicious. Now, I'm a huge fan!

This recipe can be adjusted by substituting canola oil for the butter, adding seasoned ground turkey instead of pork, adding celery, corn, or shredded carrots to the onion mixture (lightly cooking before adding to the 'loaf). Consistency and cooking time are the keys to success.

Late last night I caught him having a midnight snack, slicing off a bit of the 'loaf to nibble. Must've been a success!

Prep Time: 15 Min Cook Time: 1 Hr 10 Min Ready In: 1 Hr 25 Min Recipe Yield 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 pound Italian seasoned pork sausage
  • 3 slices wheat bread, toasted and crumbled
  • 7 buttery round crackers, crushed
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons Straus Plain Whole Milk yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce, divided in half ( you will use the other half at the end)
  • 3 tablespoons BBQ sauce
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, and cook the onion and garlic 5 minutes, until onion is tender. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper.

3. In a large bowl, mix the onion and garlic, meat, crumbled bread, crushed crackers, eggs, yogurt, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 can tomato sauce. Gradually stir in the liquid ingredients until mixture is moist, but not soggy. Transfer the mixture to a loaf pan.

4. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C), and continue baking 15 minutes, to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (70 degrees C).

5. In a small bowl, mix the remaining tomato sauce and ketchup. Brush over the top of the meatloaf to make a glaze, and continue baking an extra 10 minutes. Once removed from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes.

Club Secrets

Deep within all orphans, there is a quiet longing that never fades. We never get over the loss of a parent, no matter how old we may be, or how sick they may be. This is the great secret of the club. The grief just burrows deep within us, but it never leaves. I want to tell my friend that the love from our fathers never leaves us, they transition to something more powerful, more accessible. But, the grief is buried underneath our Everyday Face.

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"Frosty"

Today I met 7-year-old Naomi, the daughter of My Music Man’s old high school buddy.  She was delightful and quickly brought out my inner little girl.  As we chatted about the snow on the ground here in Iowa, I told her that I very much wanted to create a snowman and she volunteered to be my “partner-in-crime.” Last night, while we were sleeping, a steady snow fell and over 4 inches accumulated overnight.  I am told this is only an average.  Some places got more, some less.  I am sure we got more.  The snow was beautiful, very fluffy, and piled up everywhere.   There was so much snow, the snowplows were working around the clock.  I can’t imagine how tired they must be of this cold powder called “snow.”  For the last 24 hours I have seen more snowplows, John Deere tractors with attachments, and little “mini plows” than I’ve seen regular cars.

And I've learned something I never knew  - not all snow is created equal.  Snow has certain properties, depending on the outside temperature.  This is a noteworthy fact because the temperature never got above 20 degrees today.  It was so cold that the snow did not stick together at all.  It was like holding very cold talcum powder.  Try to make a cohesive ball out of talcum powder.  It simply doesn’t work.  This flies in the face of my old believes about snow.  I used to think that snow was snow.  Can’t you always make a snowball with snow?

I have heard that in the Inuit culture, they have many different words for what we simply call “snow.”  After today, this makes sense.

My ultimate objective was to make my first snowman in over 2 decades.  I innocently thought that with all the snow that had fallen overnight, there would be plenty…and there was!  I just couldn’t make it stick together enough to make a simple small snowball!  I quickly learned that I had to take off my (warm) gloves and hold the snowball in my warm-ish hands and blow to bring it up to a temperature that would cause it to stick together.   This only worked for a short time because after a couple of small snowballs for the body of the snowman, my  hands were frozen.  I didn’t know how badly they were frozen until I went inside to use the bathroom.  Suddenly, I felt a great deal of pain in my fingers and a throbbing warmth that felt like my bones had been set on fire.

The final result was a beautiful little “mini” snowman that Naomi named “Frosty.”  We searched the land to find the important accessories that all snow people must have -- the buttons, the arms, the eyes, the pipe, the nose (we imported a raisin for this), and, of course, the hat.  He started out bald and we decided that he had to have a hat, or hair, however the observer wanted to interpret our art piece.  The search for these snow-fashion-accessories was an adventure all by itself.  We knew that we would have to be realistic about the size of our precious snowman.  He would have to be small or we would get frostbite.

Frosty the...

“Frosty” was about 8 inches tall, and he played hockey.  We found him a wonderful hockey stick and a hockey puck that looked more like a soccer ball (that is if you were to calculate the scale of our new friend).  He had precious red berry buttons, eyes made from the pods, which created an “eyelash-y” look.  His hat was made of an evergreen pine bush and Naomi insisted on finishing our creation with a dusting of snow over his head.

The snow feels and looks like the sand at Dillon beach a couple of miles from my house, and it behaves about the same way.  I couldn’t make a “sand ball” with the sand there, but I could try to make a sand castle and that is the very logic that I used to make “Frosty.”  Basically, adding water (in this case, damp heat) you would make the crystals stick together.

While I tediously worked on the little guy, Naomi made snow angels in the front yard.  Given the amount of snow and the powdery consistency, it was far easier to make a snow angel than it was to make our snowman.  She was obviously a veteran.

As the afternoon peaked, the sun sparkled on the snowy ground.  with in weather that is too cold to even contemplate, there was no chance of melting and I knew that “Frosty” would guard their house for a while, given the promised weather forecast.  By tonight, it would dip down to some number with a negative in front of it and the temps forecasted in the coming weekend didn’t bode much better.

To say that I’m glad to be heading home on Monday would be a given.  Yet, this adventure is full of fertile education.  I have learned a lot about snow, things I never knew, and things I thought I did know have been up-ended.  I’ll never think of Iowa in the same way, heck, I’ll never think of snow in the same way.  It makes me want to learn all those Inuit words that describe all the many types of snow that exist and find out how to make a snowman out of each and every kind.

But, most of all, I learned that I never want to waste a good snow.  I'll never pass up the opportunity to make a snowman with a sweet little angel named Naomi, even if it means I get frostbite.

Flat Chest and Big Feet

Angel ‎"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends."   ~Richard Bach

It was a small thing, really.  I'm not sure she ever knew what it meant to me.  It was a note passed to me secretly in class that I held onto over the years.  My elementary school years were not happy ones.  Trouble at home cascaded into trouble at school.  While I made good grades, the other kids teased me incessantly, often resulting in a beating at the end of the day or on the playground during recess.  My flat chest, big feet, and buck teeth were the stuff that bullying was made of.  I was the fodder for their fun.  Memories of the daily taunts still bring a gripping feeling in my gut, even these many years later.  Most of the girls in my school were cruel and dishonest, promising friendship but instead bestowed betrayal, duplicity, and deceit.  I had come to believe that friendship had conditions, that I had to be someone else in order to fit in.

So it was when I was 12 that I decided life wasn't worth it.  I couldn't make it another day.  I didn't have the strength, the courage or understanding to know how to stop the daily abuse, so I figured that God would let me start over.  Obviously, I failed in my attempt to end this life because I'm here now to write about it.  Which brings me to the note.

Before text messages and email, there was the plain ol' note written on lined paper, folded in triangular shapes and tucked, ever so neatly in the palm of your hand.  They were passed clandestinely, sometimes intercepted by the teacher.  To our extreme embarrassment, they were often read aloud.  But, this one made it to me safely.  This one simply said, "You are so smart and special.  Thank you for being my friend," signed "Debbie."

As I left childhood behind, I became a connoisseur of many things.  One of those things is friendship.  Looking back, I've had the extreme privilege of redefining friendship and have gathered a treasure-trove of friends along the way.  Now, 5 decades into this life, I've worked hard to leave those childhood bullies behind.  I'll bet that they've grown up themselves and left their own "stuff" behind, most likely forgetting all the vicious tormenting and threats.  People like Debbie taught me how friends should behave and offered the promise of how they give our lives such meaning and joy.  I wouldn't know how to live on this earth without them.

Debbie was one of those optimistic people.  I can still hear her voice, bright with encouragement.  I looked up to her, admired her.  She was an inspiration in so many ways. A loyal friend from the beginning, she never let me down.

Together, we tried out for the school drill team together.  Night after night, we practiced hard.  She spent many nights at my house helping me to learn the routine for try-outs.  I made the team, and she did not.  But, this only made her proud for me.  Yes, I knew she was disappointed, but she never took away my delight with her own feelings.  She only supported me.

Years later, our friendship still blossoming, I watched her become a successful business woman.  She kept her body healthy with dedicated exercise and watching what she ate, always keeping an eye on her weight.  I don't think I ever told her how much I admired her, that the note she sent me years before stayed with me.  Debbie's encouragement throughout these decades were part of my own success.  She was a role model, a bright star in my sky.  As I write this, I realize that she was more than just a friend, she was a beacon.

What I didn't know was that she spent her whole life battling an eating disorder that eventually killed her.  Truthfully, I felt I had let her down.  Her death was a shock I never saw coming.

Debbie is now one of the loveliest angels in heaven with a smile that would light up a village.  I only wish I could have told her how she lit up my life.   

Live Pies Served Up Fresh

There are Pie People and there are Cake People. My Music Man and I are confirmed Pie People. I simply love pie. I’d rather have pie than cake. It’s not just a matter of taste, it’s a matter of substance. Pies are efficient, pies are practical. Cakes are fanciful. All that icing seems like such a waste. I know there are those who would argue this point, but I'm solidly sure of where I stand.

Tonight in our little corner of the world, the “Academy Awards of Pie” went off without a hitch. The Annual Live Pie Auction served up thick with slices of cheesy Americana. It just doesn’t get any better than this. In our small town, homemade pies are treasures born of hands in dough, fresh fruit from back yards, baked with love, and decorated for those of us who understand the fine art of pies.

27 precious pies were auctioned off to raise money for the local Valley Ford Volunteer Fire Department. Even though it was our neighboring town, Valley Ford, that hosted the event, in our neck of the woods, anything within 10 miles is local. The little schoolhouse filled to the brim, shook with such a ruckus in the back that the auctioneer had to tell us to "Shush" so he could hear the bids. Unaware of all the back room deals, he only sensed the behind the scenes cahootin'. Those of us standing in the back like vultures were eying the pies on the back table, strategizing, how to get our prized pie, knowing there was competition, knowing they were strategizing, too.

 

We had chosen two pies. Each with its own unique winning strategy.

The first pie was ours. Strike fast, strike early. The bidding had yet to really get heated up so we were thrilled when the pumpkin pie went for a mere $17.50. What a deal. We had won The Stolen Pumpkin Pie. The pie maker confessed that the pumpkin used for this pie had been stolen from her neighbors yard…”Well,” she said coyly, “It was almost in my yard, so I took it and decided to use it for a pies.” The neighbor, sitting patiently on the long bench, didn’t seem to mind, seemed to say with his quiet smile, “Yeah, it’s okay, I had enough pumpkins, anyway…” I suspect he received his own pie in exchange for his silence.

As the pies rolled by, the bidding became heated reaching a feverish pitch. At one point, the auctioneer sold a very special ginger pumpkin pie for $115.

This development brought me to the edge of my seat. I had my eye on a three berry pie, a gorgeous “peek-a-boo” cut crust, sprinkled with sugar. This beautiful pie had been saved for the final round. It was one of the only berry pies, rare among all the apple, pear, and pumpkin pies. We were sure to be outbid.

The bidding commenced and after some active volleying, we won the prized berry pie for $50. I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much for a pie before, but it was going for a good cause…and it was beautiful. I was happy, I had won my pie and was looking forward to eating it.

Earlier in the evening, as the auction began, my Music Man met a couple from Alaska on a cross-continental bicycle trip heading for Argentina. They'd just happened upon the Live Pie Auction while on their journey. It turns out they had also been eyeing the triple berry pie. After we won, my Music Man informed me that not only did they have designs on that pie, had lost the bid on it, but the day before had been the guy’s birthday...so, what could we do? We cut the pie in half and presented it to him unflinchingly. We couldn’t let him go without some pie for his birthday. The look on his face was priceless, and it felt good in our hearts, too. Pies are made for sharing.

It’s not about the food, although the food is wonderful - fresh ingredients, together with a priceless home-made, lusciousness. We didn’t come to compete for the pies, provided through the generosity of our neighbors and friends. We came for the sport, for the warmth and to support our local folks, and we came away with so much more - precious moments overflowing with laughter. For some, it was the pumpkin, others, the apples or the pears, a few craved the berries, but we gathered tonight to pay homage to the pies of the season, to celebrate that which is better than cake, an abundance that only pie can deliver. With this year's Live Pie Auction behind us, there was no doubt it was a huge success. We never figured out what a Dead Pie Auction would look like, but we were all relieved they decided to auction off the Live Ones.

“Let them eat cake” only means that they get what’s left over...cake can never compete with a well made pie. For me, I’d eat a pie, crust and all, lick the plate clean and leave the cake behind. I’m deliberate like that.

I’ll Buy a Fantasy for $10, Please: Lady Luck Beckons

Wine in the Making Last Saturday night we celebrated the 50th birthday of a new friend.  We’re connected to each other because he lived next door to one of my close girlfriends.  She eventually moved away, but still keeps in touch.  Good neighbors are special.  I’ve been lucky enough throughout my life to have a large collection of them.  We chat over the fence, share meals, discuss local issues, and know the generalities of each others’ lives.  I appreciate privacy, but because we share a rather intimate space, rely upon certain combined resources, and breathe the same air, we often depend on one another.

As the party blossomed, several of us chatted together about the wine business.  Living in the Northern California wine country means that you can’t throw a rock and not hit a vintner, or someone directly connected to the industry.  They joked with each other that winemaking would make you poor.  You die happy, but spend all your money in the process.  That’s when the subject of the most recent lottery frenzy came up and I confessed that I’d actually fantasized about how I would spend the money.  Everyone nodded.  Of course, they said, we have all had those fantasies.

Generally, I don’t play the lottery.  I don’t go to Vegas, either.  I just don’t enjoy leaving the fate of my money to a fragile marriage of chance and my own ignorance of how to play the game.  Lady Luck and I have never been friendly.  So, I keep my distance and let her break other hearts.

This time I chose to buy a ticket.  And, honestly, I felt terrible about it.  It was almost an obsessive thing.  But, the Lady Herself had winked at me and said, go on, it’s your turn to feel unbelievably rich.  Such a seductress...

I’ve heard all the discussions about having a better chance of getting hit by lightning.  It could be said that you’d have a better chance of getting hit by lightning twice.  I’m sure that those unfortunate folks who’ve actually been hit by lightning twice would agree that it’s pretty much an impossible statistic.  But, who develops these statistics and should we believe them?

So, I finally bought a ticket at the very last-minute.  My car made its way to the local convenience store and ejected me into the store.  It took me a while to actually buy the ticket because I had to thoroughly read the instructions, interview a few starry-eyed patrons, and used one of my “phone a friend” cards.  There were several different lottery products to choose from.  How did I know which one the Lady wanted me to play?  Once I found the Big One, the tiny red writing on the back provided detailed, but ambiguous instructions on how to mark the form.  It was all very stressful.

Driving home with my shiny new ticket, the fantasies began to swirl.  In my head, I envisioned myself as the winner.  Pictures flashed as I imagined I'd won a jackpot of historical proportions.  What would I do next?  Would I scream?  Cry?  Hide?  By the time I arrived home, I had composed a list of things I would do with the money, enjoying the impact the windfall would have on family, friends, and neighbors.  The most amazing thing was that I could easily spend every single penny in a very short amount of time.

Back at the party, one of my party mates said, “Well, it’s a cheap fantasy anyway, you know?  It doesn’t cost that much and the fantasies themselves are priceless.  Heck, my bar tab tonight will be several times more than a measly lottery ticket.  Think of it as a transfer of wealth.  We’re all basically buying a chance to dream.”

Many might argue that you can dream without the ticket.  But, we all agreed as we stood together revisiting our wildest fantasies that it would be like going to the front of a carnival and never crossing through the gate to ride the roller coaster.  You can imagine how it feels, but it’s not like actually standing in line ripe with anticipation.

Lady Luck beckons to us like a siren and delivers a fantasy in return.  She enjoys that lustful look in our eyes and fans the fire with promises of fortune and fame.  As we listen to her song, enticing as it may be, we should remember what happens to sailors blinded to the rocks below.  They go down with their ship.

So, here's what I'd like to know:  Did you go on an adventure with the Lady on your own fantasy trip?  Where did she take you this time?

Burning Love

Wow, salsa, peppers and chicken all baked up together? This I had to try…as always, we mixed it up a bit and made it our own, but here it is, beware: it's spicy. 

I’m always looking for tasty ways to impress my family and friends. These days we're eating out less often, but don’t want to give up the communion that sharing meals with loved ones offers. Recently, I’ve discovered that focusing on simple dishes utilizing the oven instead of the stove top provides us with the most freedom to enjoy our guests. For a recipe to be considered Guest Worthy, it has to include the following components (besides being delicious):

  1. Prep happens before guests arrive, maximizing the “experience” by eliminating distractions.
  2. The Oven does all or most of the work (as opposed to managing the intricacies of the stove top.
  3. The dish is a balanced meal – include veggies and meat.
  4. Great for leftovers.

My Music Man and I made this together last night for some low-key entertaining with some close friends. After the first helping, he looked at me, smiled and nodded. No other words were necessary. This one made the cut. His only request was that next time we used thighs instead of breasts. We call this...

SAUCY RED HEN

Prep Time:
  20 Min

Cook Time:  
45 Min

Ready In:
  1 Hr 5 Min

Recipe Yields 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 5-6 (about 4-5 lbs.) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 fresh Serrano peppers, minced
  • 1 fresh Jalapeno pepper, minced
  •  4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 4 carrots, grated
  • 3 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 large (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 ½ cup chicken broth
  • 2 cups uncooked long grain rice
  • 1 large lime, squeezed
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 (2.25 ounce) can sliced ripe olives, drained

Directions

In a large skillet, brown chicken in olive oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and keep warm. In the same skillet, sauté the onion, celery, peppers and garlic. Add mushrooms. Cook until tender. Stir in the tomatoes, water, rice, broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Pour into a large greased baking dish; add carrots, stir in lime juice, top with chicken.

Cover and bake at 325 degrees F for 45-50 minutes or until rice is tender. Uncover; spoon salsa over chicken and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 minutes longer  to melt the cheese. Garnish with olives.