Sunday, September 23, 2012

Soul Food

It's taken a few days to be able to write something that wasn't either a rehashing of words I've already repeated or a story that managed to be both too personal and not mine to share. Mostly because Thursday, JP's first real day of unemployment, was awful. Awful. But it is done.


This is how Claire walked into our bathroom Friday morning. Her outfit and expression (which I was too slow to capture) both screamed, "Let's DO this day." And so we did. And it was better.

(Landon is No. 7; JP is gently reminding him of the location of the ball)

Weekends are easier. For one, not every waking moment between 8-6 is reminding JP he doesn't have a job, and it feels like a benefit to not have to log in and work on Sunday afternoon like he's had to do every Sunday afternoon since he started the job 16 months ago. He assistant coached Landon's soccer team on Saturday. He's an awesome coach. Truly, it is a gift.

The kids swam in the now freezing pool, probably for the last time until Spring. JP sliced open his leg with a saw while taking down a branch in the front yard. He insists it does not need stitches; I am not so sure, but am humoring him while applying lots of neosporin. He may be headed to the doctor tomorrow. In the meantime, it forced him indoors to prop his leg up on the coach and look up jobs while the kids played, quite literally, at his feet. Their new game is to make houses in whatever room JP and I happen to be in. A "house" is made up of a barrier of just about anything- a line of books, a hodgepodge line of tiny toys collected from goody bags over the years, cardboard boxes pulled from the recycling, and/or a strategically placed cozy coupe. There was a lot of "knocking to come in the house" and "squealing and exiting the house." As always, watching them play together makes my heart happy.

ready for yoga

I went to yoga, grocery shopped, and cooked a lot. One benefit of our cutting back completely on restaurants is that I'm trying all kinds of new recipes, and one benefit of my job and its decreased pay is that I have the time to spend making them. I enjoy cooking; I love the dicing and little prep bowls and music playing and kids underfoot. But I enjoy it a lot more now that I'm home from work at 5 and don't have my blackberry on the counter with me.

Tonight's menu consisted of Beef Bourguignon, whipped potatoes, and fat crusty bread. I made the mashed potatoes this morning, boiling Yukon potatoes, and mashing (and then whipping with an egg beater), and adding butter and sour cream and salt and heavy cream until I couldn't stop licking the results off the beaters. I spread those in a casserole dish, topped with little slivers of butter, covered with foil, and stuck them in the fridge for later.

Then, at 2:30, I began the Bourguignon. I read about 5 different recipes online and combined them all to make this one (which I'm sure is probably some violation of the French classic, but oh my lands it was delicious).

Beef Bourguignon

1-1.5 lbs. beef stew meat, trimmed
1.5 Tbl. flour
4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1" pieces
1 onion, sliced or diced
1-1.5 c. red wine (pinot noir is great)
1.5-2.5 c. beef broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. dried cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used about half; I usually hate mushrooms and didn't yet know the magic that butter and red wine would bring to them)
1/4 c. butter (4 Tbl)
1/4 c. red wine

1. Prep beef (trimming all visible fat), carrots, and onion. Place meat in mixing bowl, add flour and toss to coat/combine. Place carrots and onion together in separate bowl to wait their turn.

2. Heat 1-2 Tbl. oil in dutch oven over high heat. Add meat in batches, cooking 4-5 min. one one side before turning to cook 2-4 min. on other. Remove meat to new bowl (bowl #3 if you're counting) as it is cooked. Continue in batches until all meat is browned.

3. Heat 1 Tbl. oil in dutch oven, still over high heat. Add carrots and onion, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 min. until onions are golden brown. Add browned meat back to pot.

4. Add 1+ cup wine, stir, bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 5 mins.

5. Add 1.5 cups beef broth, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf. Stir, bring to boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 2 hours (I only did 90 minutes as we were too hungry to wait). Stir frequently, making sure bourguignon isn't sticking. Add beef broth as needed throughout if pot gets dry.

6. After 1.5 hours, melt 1/4 c. butter in small saute pan. Add mushrooms, 1/4 c. wine, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir frequently, sauteing approximately 5-7 minutes, until mushrooms are soft and cooked.

7. Add entire contents of mushroom pan (it should still be soupy) to bourguignon pot.

8. Stir and simmer together 10-30 mins. more, until you can't stand smelling it anymore and not eating it. Serve over mashed potatoes and/or beside warm crusty bread.

It was amazing. The separate sauteing of the mushrooms was my own invention, but I hate mushrooms and usually leave them out of any recipe with more than five main ingredients. This one didn't meat that threshold, so I thought that maybe if I made the mushrooms taste like wine and butter they wouldn't be so bad. Well, it worked! Even the kids ate every bite and there wasn't even a scrap left on the bottom of the pot when we were done. The rest of the week consists of the following first-time-trying from scratch recipes:

Mon: pad thai with chicken, snap peas, and dumplings from Trader Joe's (update: the pad thai was not good, way too sweet and saucy, but the TJ appetizers were a delight as always)
Tues: pan fried pork chops, zucchini, corn, and tomato side dish
Wed: lasagna soup, garlic knots
Thurs: leftovers of the above
Fri: homemade pizza

My fridge is full of produce and proteins, the kids are healthy and happy, and JP, despite the gaping wound in his leg, is largely back to his optimistic entrepreneur-y self. He applied for another job tonight (this time in Seattle, because why not move twice in one year) and has calls and other potential leads sprinkled throughout the week. Life really is quite good, even if small parts of it are sometimes not, and I'm so glad I know I can come here to write about both.


  1. Your dinner sounds amazing! It's going on the list for next week. I'm glad it sounds like you've come through the shock and are moving towards an optimistic, adventurous place. Seattle's pretty awesome...

  2. Selfishly hoping JP gets a Seattle gig. (But very much hoping for you that a move is not necessary.)

    Hugs from Portland.

  3. Sounds like a good weekend in contrast to the suckiness of the work week. I try to cook in advance like you do, but geez, I get tired after making one meal. Maybe it will be better when my baby is no longer a baby who needs to be held all the time.

    Good luck on JP's job hunt! Hope he finds the perfect one close to home. Although, Seattle is kind of awesome too. But I'm a little biased :)

  4. Wow, what a menu! Over here it's soup from a can Monday, skip dinner Tuesday, frozen peas and plain chicken breast Wednesday, Rubios (fast food fish tacos) Thursday, whatever food is at the firm happy hour Friday and maybe, just maybe, I cook a real meal on the weekend. Very impressed with you.

    Re yoga, what do you like better, yoga or barre classes?

  5. We are also just starting out (about a month in) on the unemployment train in our family.

    Your cooking exploits sound incredibly delicious!

    Chef John (He keeps a blogspot called "Foodwishes") is an incredible resource; please check him out if you have not already done so.

    I hesitate to mention this as I know what a researcher you are (by personality as well as profession), but please be careful not to use Neosporin for a period longer than the advised duration. I had a friend foolishly do so over the summer, and he would up with a not pretty condition and way too many (expensive, ruinous to health) steroids (topical as well as oral) to take. (Doctor advised him to use "antibiotic cream" for something, he went all out on those instructions without getting a specific product recommendation or consulting the product info.)

  6. I hope you won't find this an unhelpful comment, but - someone earlier posted about JP's swim school activities & would he consider re-starting that?

    My hubby (also UT MBA) also graduated at a crappy time (fall interview season was fall 2001 - even Dell canceled all outstanding offers to UT students). He went through a long job search resulting in what ended up being a short-ish stint (also less than 2 years).

    We ended up brainstorming from scratch (ruling out nothing - not limiting to "MBA-worthy" jobs) where he would be happy and where he could carve out a new career. This led to an unpaid internship at a museum in fundraising/development . . . which then led to a paid position which has turned into his "real" career. His MBA is useful and most certainly helped him get the job in what is a really insular universe (museum development). But certainly this career was not what he or I had in mind in $ terms when he decided to go to business school.

    This choice has consequences for our lifestyle - for me (I remain the primary breadwinner by far even though I think I harbored hopes of not being the primary breadwinner back when we made the business school decision). But it's OK; actually, it's a lot better than OK - he is undoubtedly happier in his career than he would have been as a consultant (or whatever MBA-worthy job he "should have had") - and truth be told, I think our family might just function best with me in the higher-stress, higher-paid job than it would if roles are reversed.

    Just a plug for thinking out of the box. $ (salary) does not equal satisfaction or happiness. No sense in being hung up on whether the cost of the MBA was "worth it" - by all means if JP will only be happy with a certain type of job then so be it.

    And although the pay may be lower , you should feel really secure in your job - a kind of security that no law firm offers. That is some comfort as well!

  7. Are you on Pintest? I have found my friends pin great recipes that I can pick and choose from. Saves me tons of time :). Trying quinoa thyme patties tonight!

  8. I'm sorry that people who work as hard as you and JP do ever feel ashamed to take advantage of unemployment or deferment options. We have those things in place for exactly the kind of thing you two are facing. I know how hard it is to apply for unemployment, I had the same thing when I was out of work and it was 2009 and the economy was worse than it is now. But I have worked all my adult life and I had paid into unemployment for exactly the scenario I found myself in. And using unemployment and deferment for my student loans prevented me from losing my housing and allowed me to purchase groceries. Look at unemployment as a savings account for emergencies; same thing for deferment. You have paid your bills in the past, and when JP gets a new job, you'll pay them again. It isn't a moral failing.

  9. As someone who's gotten the axe too many times to count now (it's as though simply hiring me brings down entire corporations, ugh), I feel his pain (and damage to ego). But at the end of the day, it was just a job, and there will be other jobs, and everything will be okay. If there's one thing I regret it's spending the time I was unemployed stressed about it, rather than just enjoying the time I had to do all the things I never seem to make time for. There will be plenty of time for slaving away for the man again soon enough!

  10. I just wanted to say how restorative and helpful these posts are.

    I finished a contract unexpectedly 3 weeks ago, so am "between contracts".

    It brings me a great sense of peace to know I am not alone - and living economically, planning meals, doesn't feel like a hardship, but it feels somehow like I belong to the club of "good people who aren't receiving money right now.

    Once again you have inspired me - and your writing is making it much, much, easier for me to be at peace with my circumstances.

    So thank you. Again!

  11. Girl -- get a pinterest board!!! I have many recipes and I'm dying to pin yours. DYING.

    You are awesome. Your family rocks. You have an UBER steady job. Sending you love & light.

  12. This is me:

    I have a preschool snack board too!

  13. Beef Bourguignon is amazing. I actually use extra mushrooms to cut down on the meat (for health, not cost) because they really take on a meaty quality in the dish. Hope you all get a clear path soon. In the meantime, Clare seems to be leading the cheer squad. Cute! :)