Why don’t I post more recipes?

I’ve been asked, on more than one occasion, why I don’t post more recipes. The answer to that is simple – I’m not good at following them. I have my go-to recipe for sandwich bread, and I usually follow recipes for other types of bread and baked goods (they tend to be finicky that way), but most of the time I like to wing it. I usually spend a lot of time looking for recipes, but I mostly use them for inspiration and approximate cooking times. I like to sub out ingredients for whatever I have on hand, and sometimes I’ll throw in a little more or less of something just because it sounds good.

Tonight, I made meatballs. And, because I’m feeling like a good neighbor, I’ll give you my recipe. I wrote this down immediately after making it, so all the proportions are correct.

Meatball Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 good-sized handfuls of breadcrumbs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 big splash of milk
  • 1 small handful of parsley, chopped (stems included)
  • a scant palm-full of garlic powder
  • a good palm-full of Italian seasoning
  • a “til you feel good” portion of shredded parmesan
  • a few cracks of pepper
  • a good sprinkle of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400℉. Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands until just combined. Make sure you’re squeezing it between your fingers so you don’t end up with chunks of plain hamburger. Don’t mix it more than you have to, because meat gets weird if you get too overzealous with it. If it seems too wet, add some more breadcrumbs. Form into balls the size of golf balls, and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a thermometer in the center measures 165℉.

That’s it! Now, I know you have questions. How much is a “handful,” how do I know if I “feel good,” and do I have to use 2 egg yolks? The answer to the final question is that I have a lot of egg yolks in my fridge because I’ve been making macarons. Feel free to use 1 whole egg instead. As to your other questions, just go with it. It’ll turn out.

If you want more of my not-recipes, leave a comment!

My baking sheet isn’t dirty – it’s well seasoned.

There’s something going around

I’m a pharmacist (among other things), and the number one question I get asked at work is “What can I take for that thing that’s going around?”

Here’s what people don’t seem to realize – everything is always “going around.” People are always sick, but not always with the same thing. Just because you have a sore throat and you know someone else who had a sore throat for a few days last month doesn’t mean sore throats are “going around.” Even if you have a bunch of close friends or family who all came down with the same sickness around the same time, it just means that it was “going around” your home or work – it doesn’t mean that your local doctor or pharmacist is going to know anything about your symptoms or what illness you have. So, no. I don’t know what’s going around. Except STDs. Those things are rampant. Did you know that 1 in 4 sexually active young women are currently infected with an STD? Many don’t even know it – they just go around infecting people. But that’s a topic for another day.

That said, if you remember my Christmas post from last month, there definitely WAS a sickness going around that house, and I still have it. My lungs have decided that this is their new normal. Every cough feels like it’s coming from the deepest part of my lungs, and my throat is very displeased with the situation. A normal person might go to the doctor, because 6 weeks of a constant chest cold does not seem normal.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to the doctor because I happen to know that post-viral cough is definitely a thing, and can last for many weeks after recovering from a respiratory infection such as the flu (which I’m 90% sure I had). I also happen to know that the vast majority of doctors would prescribe me antibiotics if I went in, because that’s what the vast majority of doctors do. And here’s the real source of my angst, and the reason I’m writing this:

You probably don’t need antibiotics.

We’ve been trained since the invention of penicillin to believe that illnesses need to be treated. If I’m sick, I need to take something. If I have an infection, I need to take an antibiotic. WRONG.

Currently, it’s estimated that between 30-50% of the antibiotics that are prescribed in America are unnecessary. So if you’ve been given an antibiotic, there’s a reasonable chance that it didn’t do anything (or made things worse). But how can they make things worse?

On the small scale, taking an antibiotic when you really don’t NEED one can cause all sorts of problems. First, it kills off your internal microbiome. We’ve evolved to live in a symbiotic relationship with all sorts of bacteria. The bacteria in our intestines produce essential vitamins that we need to live, assist in digesting our food, and take up all the available space so more nasty infections (such as C. difficile – a bacteria that is very difficult to treat once it takes root) can’t get a foothold and wreak havoc on your innards. In 2017, 223,900 cases of C.diff were reported in hospitalized patients and 12,800 of those patients died. It’s not something you want to mess around with.

Women also have vaginal bacteria that help to regulate pH and keep everything in tip-top shape. Killing off those bacteria is the reason why many women get yeast infections after taking antibiotics. It’s so common that many doctors prescribe antifungals at the same time as antibiotics. So now the one medication you may not have even needed has become two medications. Because you didn’t feel sick enough already, right? But these issues (while very unpleasant for the individual) are small potatoes in the big picture. So what’s the real issue here?

Antibiotic resistance. It’s real, and it’s a problem. More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. every year, killing more than 35,000 people. This is preventable! Antibiotics are meant to save lives (and don’t get me wrong – they definitely save lives), but their overuse is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people every single year.

Antibiotics kill bacteria (they’re anti-biotic — biotic=life — get it?). They don’t treat viruses (which are not actually “alive” – they’re actually a lot like a computer virus – they can’t do anything outside of a computer/cell, but they make that computer/cell do bad things). But antibiotics only kill certain kinds of bacteria. The only way to know which antibiotic will work is to determine which type of bacteria you have and what it’s already resistant to. When’s the last time you went in with a sinus infection or ear infection and they took a swab, waited a few days to culture it, and called you back to say which antibiotic killed the cells in the Petri dish? No. We don’t do that. Even if they do a test (such as a swab for strep), they don’t actually culture it in most cases. They send you on your way with whatever random antibiotic popped into their head first. Each doctor has their own favorite antibiotic that they prescribe to pretty much everybody, and you can almost tell which doctors are staffing the local ER each day with what the most popular meds are for that shift. Sure, there are guidelines, but with most infections there’s no easy way to know what will ACTUALLY work, so they just pick one and see what happens.

So what if they chose wrong, and your bacteria was resistant? What if it was actually viral, and the antibiotic did nothing? Well, usually you get better anyway. Because (get this) most infections clear up on their own. Hear that? I’ll say it again. MOST INFECTIONS CLEAR UP ON THEIR OWN. So why do we treat everything when it’s not necessary? Because it makes us happy to feel like we’re doing something. Nobody wants to get a sinus infection (or a cough that won’t go away – just kill me already) and just sit, waiting for it to go away on its own. We want to take something! We want to be cured! Well, tough noogies, sometimes you just have to wait for your own immune system to step up.

I’m making this sound like I’m anti-antibiotics. I am, but only in the sense that I’m anti-anti-biotics (remember – “biotic” means life!). What I’m trying to say here is that I’m pro-immune system! I’m one of those weird people who thinks that medicines should be saved for the people who actually need them (like people who won’t get better without them). Drug-resistant bacteria are becoming a bigger problem every year, and this over-prescribing trend shows no sign of slowing down in any meaningful way. Doctors are a big part of the problem, but they’re not the only ones. Don’t go to the doctor if you’re not actually seriously ill! This “I’m going to urgent care because I’ve been coughing for a week,” or “I can feel like a sinus infection is starting, so I’m going to call my doctor to ask for the antibiotic I had last time” thing needs to stop. I’m looking at you.

I captured a picture of Emmett sneezing as an infant and saved it for some reason – little did I know at the time, this post was that reason.

https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/adolescents.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/features/antibioticuse/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/HAI/organisms/cdiff/Cdiff_infect.html
https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0225-clostridium-difficile.html
https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/biggest-threats.html

Things you need to know

These “top 10” lists are so overdone, and I hate the term “musings” because it sounds pretentious, but here is a top 10 list of my random musings, in no particular order, that I think everyone should know. I hate that sentence more than you’ll ever know, but it is what it is.

  1. You don’t need to peel carrots. There. I’ve said it. Now stop wasting your time with this unnecessary step. Wash it, yes, but there are a lot of nutrients concentrated in the peel, and it honestly tastes exactly the same as the rest of the carrot. You won’t even notice it’s still there.
  2. A pharmacy is not a fast food restaurant; it’s a healthcare facility. Stop comparing your wait time to McDonald’s, and start comparing it to your local ER. Oh, and swearing at me will not make me help you faster. In fact, you might wait longer out of spite.
  3. Your armpits don’t smell bad – bacteria smells bad. So stop covering it up with perfumed deodorants and start killing those bacteria. Treat the cause, not the symptom.
  4. Spelling, grammar, and the words we use while speaking and writing MATTER. That shouldn’t have to be said. Try learning a new word each day. Those “vocab words” from school should actually be a part of your day-to-day vocabulary.
  5. Children are smart. You don’t need to dumb things down for them. Speak to them like they’re real people, and they’ll ask questions if they don’t understand. And if they’re too young to ask questions, speaking to them like they understand what you’re saying will help them to be more articulate when they’re older. Please, for the love of your child’s brain, stop with all the “baby talk” and cutesy nonsense words.
  6. Throwing things out is therapeutic. Try it. Just find something in your home that you don’t use, don’t need, or doesn’t (I’m going to say it) “spark joy,” and THROW. IT. OUT. It’s strangely freeing to realize that your stuff is just that – stuff.
  7. Composting is not difficult. If you have a yard (or I used my deck for years), just pick a spot and start throwing your food waste into a pile. It doesn’t smell, and it doesn’t attract animals (keep it to fruits, vegetables, and egg shells – meat/dairy products are what stink and pull in animals). You don’t need a fancy composting barrel or anything – just make a pile. I made a ring with chicken wire to contain it when it was on my deck, and have it contained in an open box shape with three old pallets now that it’s in my yard. It’s also a great place to throw leaves, sticks, grass clippings, you name it. Bonus – your kitchen garbage will smell better, too.
  8. Water is gross. I know I’m in the minority here, but it tastes disgusting and I won’t apologize for saying it.
  9. Don’t go to the gym – make bread without using a mixer. The result is the same, plus bread.
  10. Raking leaves is a waste of time and energy. Why rake up all the fertilizer and then fertilize your lawn artificially when you could just be mowing up your yard’s natural fertilizer. It’s like washing all the natural oil off your face and then slathering it in moisturizer. Or shampooing out all your natural protective oils, and then coating your hair in “conditioner,” whatever that is. Seriously, just stop fighting nature. She knows what she’s doing.

So that was fun, I guess. Anything you want to add?

A Christmas to remember

While my family is originally from Green Bay, we’re now spread all across the country. I’ve stayed put, but my parents have moved to the Chicago area, my sister is down in Memphis, and I have brothers in Virginia, Colorado, and another is … only about an hour south of me, actually, but I see him about as often as I do the rest of them.

Because we’re so spread out, we rarely see each other in person, and almost never get to see everyone together. This is all resolved at Christmas. Each year, my family picks a different location to spend the holiday together. My own little family doesn’t always join in, because I like for my children to have a Christmas tradition at home, but this year we decided to go for it.

This year’s Christmas was held in a 100-year-old ranch just outside of Santa Fe, NM. While the rest of the family decided to fly, we were reluctant to take a plane due to previous experiences (these children don’t sit still). Instead, we decided to take a train. Because, surely, a leisurely 24 hours in the sleeper-car of a train would be a better (or at least more interesting) trip than a relatively brief, stress-filled airplane journey.

The trip started decently enough. We arrived at the train station, and only had to wait a few minutes before we were able to board the train. This is important, as it left less time for Madeline to try to get kidnapped. I’m not sure if this is something that other parents have to worry about or not, but Madeline is all about finding the perfect kidnapper. She’ll chat up any stranger, invade their personal space, and ask a wide range of personal questions (supposedly to determine their suitability as alternative parents) until she’s stopped. She knows she doesn’t have long before one of her actual parents intervenes, so she’s learned to act quickly. She’s a tricky beast.

The train ride itself was …. long. Incredibly long. We brought activities for the kids to do, but they blew through those in the first couple of hours. “Bedtime” was one long game of musical beds. Madeline couldn’t decide where she was sleeping, so she kept everyone else awake while she tried out all the available (or not-so-available) beds.

They mostly played nicely

Eventually, we made it to New Mexico. The house was nice, the company was great. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that my sister and her child brought the plague with them – she brought a 24-hour stomach bug, and he brought influenza. These illnesses slowly traveled through each of the 12 people staying at the house, only sparing one or two of us. Despite that, our vacation was delightful.

Because at least one person was sick for the entire trip, we didn’t do much. Aaron and I went to Meow Wolf, which I highly recommend. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a crazy interactive art exhibit. Part haunted house, part mystery adventure, all trippy dream. Questions were asked like, “Is the floor shaking?” “Did you see that? Look at this mirror,” and “Should we crawl through the fireplace or the fridge first?” There was a giant neon mastodon skeleton where the ribs could be played like a xylophone. There was a playable floor-to-ceiling harp made out of lasers and smoke. There was a lion/witch/wardrobe style closet that kept going until you were suddenly in a room that was upside down. Or maybe we were upside down. Nothing made sense, stairways led to the sky, mushrooms changed color, tree houses were swanky, and a hamster was missing. It was brilliant. If you’re ever in Santa Fe, you should check it out. (Denver and Las Vegas locations are coming soon, apparently)

In between all the fevers, vomiting, sleeping, and general malaise, we had a great time. My sister and I educated the childless among us in the importance of the “wow” factor when entering the room on Christmas morning, and spent way too much time placing the presents in just the right configuration.

They were very pleased with their Christmas crafts (sparkly garland), but my dad was less than pleased with the glitter trail left in their wake.

The kids (mine, anyway) stayed healthy up until the day before we left. At that point, Madeline developed a fever and opted to sleep in my bed. Over the course of the night, she used her super powers to suck the life force from my body into hers. She woke up, the model of perfect health, and I woke up slightly feverish and unable to speak. Truly, she has magical powers.

The train ride home started much the same as the ride out there. However, that evening things took a turn. We were just about to enter the dining car for dinner when Emmett got that “look” that said “something bad is about to happen – pick me up.” Not two seconds later, he was vomiting down my shirt.

Now, if you’re not familiar with train anatomy, let me give you a brief description. Each car has a top and bottom deck. The top decks on all the cars are connected by a series of doors, so you can travel between the cars quite easily. The top decks of the sleeper cars have rooms on either one or both sides of the car, with a narrow hallway to walk through. Only one person can walk through the hallway at a time, which can make for an awkward “who was here first?” moment.

This hallway is just his size.

Now, if you think that two adults staring each other down at either end of a too-narrow hallway is awkward, picture this. I’m carrying a child who’s gone limp as a noodle and is slowly slipping from my arms. He’s got his head buried in my shirt and is actively vomiting on my chest. Now picture you’re in the middle, or even near the end, of one of these too-narrow hallways as I come barreling through. You are a rat, and the ship is sinking. Scurry! Scatter! Jump overboard! It doesn’t matter how you do it, just get out of the way! Their terror was palpable.

We finally got to our car, and I locked us in the shower (yes, there are showers on the bottom deck of the sleeper cars). Thankfully, my bra caught all the vomit, so I only had to wash our top halves. Grossed out yet? And you’re only hearing about it. I’m just glad I’m not a sympathetic puker, or we would have had a real problem on our hands. So that was fun.

When we got back to our room, Emmett just wanted to snuggle. We slept near each other, and he used his super powers to transfer health from my body to his. He woke up, fully healed, and I spent the night in a feverish haze of sweaty shivering. I’ve raised a couple of wizards, and they only practice dark magic.

We spent the following day in our room, just waiting to arrive at the Chicago station. I tried to sleep off the sickness (it didn’t work), and the kids were mostly well behaved.

Enjoying the scenery.

When we finally made it to Chicago, we had to walk 0.2 miles to get to our car. Doesn’t sound like much of a walk, except that Madeline thinks she’s a Chicago native and tried to lead the way, I was barely mentally present as my body attempted to fight off what I’m now sure was the flu, Emmett seemed to think that the ground was lava, because he didn’t want to move, and I was unable to yell at either of them because my voice didn’t work. Yay!

Finally, we had the 3 hour car ride back home. In a blizzard (well, blizzard-lite). So it was more like 4 or 5 hours. I don’t know. I was dying.

And that was Christmas. I’m still sick, by the way. Thanks, sis.

Skin woes

I have a problem with my skin. A dermatologist called it atopic dermatitis (eczema), but I’m not convinced. I like to think of it as having “lizard skin,” because I feel like if I could just molt like a snake or something I’d be good. Basically, my skin doesn’t like me and routinely informs me of how displeased it is with me and my life choices. Allergies and other irritants play a part, as does stress, but I think my personality triggers it too (I’m probably kidding about that).

Basically, my skin picks an area of my body and decides that it’s going to be itchy, red, bumpy, scaly, and all-around-awful. It first became a problem in my late teen years. It all began with my hands. One day I put some lotion on, and after a few hours my hands got itchy. It was weird, because it was the same bottle I’d been using for months. I washed it off, thought I was good, but the next day I had these weird, painful blisters on the palms of my hands. They were a little itchy, but mostly just painful. They went away after a few days, but that was when I discovered that lotion is the enemy. So that’s fun. I’ve tried many throughout the years to try to pin down the problem ingredient(s), but I haven’t figured it out yet.

The next major incident occurred when I was approaching college graduation and my licensing exams, and I had a spot on one leg and both eyelids that basically decided they weren’t interested and decided to jump ship (literally, I was so itchy that I scratched the skin completely off – it was unpleasant). After my exams, it went away almost overnight. I guess it felt like I had been tortured enough.

I had flares that came and went on my arms and legs for several years, and then things improved when I got pregnant with Emmett. Yay! I was cured! (maybe not)

After Emmett was born, the itchiness moved to my face. My doctor actually thought I had lupus, because I presented with the classic “butterfly rash” across the bridge of my nose and onto my cheeks. She was so convinced, that even though the test she did said I did NOT have lupus, she didn’t tell me that and instead referred me to a specialist who charged me $400 to say “Why did they send you here? The test came back negative. I’ll do another test I guess? Nope, this is negative too, you’re fine.” Cool cool cool.

I have an assortment of steroid creams and ointments that I use to keep the worst of it at bay, but they’re not a cure or anything. My real goal is to find my triggers and work, one by one, to eliminate them. Unless it’s food. Sorry, skin. I like eating.

So here’s the good news in this itchy odyssey – things are improving! I stopped using commercial shampoo/soap/body wash/face wash a while ago (I have no idea when. One year? Two years?), and the rashes have all but disappeared from my body. My own homemade creams, lotions, and soaps (I wash my hair with a homemade shampoo bar) do the job without causing any problems. Yay!

My face is still a problem, though. Majorly. I’m so G.D. itchy all the time. My problem here is that I can’t use commercial moisturizers to help with the dryness, because they make me more itchy. I can’t use non-irritating creams or ointments (like Eucerin or Vaseline) because they clog my pores and give me acne. I can’t wear makeup because it makes me itchy, and also it gets stuck on and under the patches of dry skin and makes everything much more noticeable. That said, on really bad days (when it looks like I’m some kind of Chernobyl refuge), I’ll wear concealer and a light foundation of some kind to minimize the scare factor, but then I pay for it later. So… yay.

But I haven’t given up hope! My skin won’t win this battle! I wrote a while ago about my cold cream adventure, and that’s still been working for me! It doesn’t have any of the icky stuff that seems to bother my skin (artificial dyes, fragrances, masking fragrances, preservatives), and it lets me wash my face and lightly moisturizes to cut down on the dryness without fear of itchy retribution. Yay!

Recently, I’ve wandered into the realm of makeup production. Because of course I did. So here’s why I’m writing this today – I’m very pleased with it, and I want to share my success! But first, let’s take a look at what I’m working with.

Wow. The lighting isn’t very flattering, but neither is my face.

Sooo…. this is what I look like on a bad-to-average day without any makeup or camera filters. Except my lips – I’m wearing my tinted lip balm (also homemade). Forgive my hair, I showered and it wasn’t fully dry yet. As you can see, my face is very red. That’s not just your screen, that’s just me. Yes, it’s itchy. Yes, it hurts. My skin doesn’t like me, okay? You get the idea. Also, I’m sure I’m doing this wrong with the camera angle and all that. I don’t take selfies, like, ever. I think you can see why.

Huh. Well, that’s not so bad, is it? Ooh, those lights are harsh though. It looks even better in more natural lighting.

Here’s what I look like immediately after applying my own makeup. Is it perfect? No. But I’m not going for perfect, because I believe 100% that if it looks like you’re wearing makeup then you’re doing it wrong. I want it to look like THIS is what I look like, rather than making it look like I’m wearing makeup and have people think “I wonder what she looks like under all that makeup?” Yes, I still have red spots and some blemishes. But, honestly, that’s fine. I look NORMAL, and that makes me happy. Also, my freckles are still visible, which is perfect. Show me a face without any freckles, and I’ll show you a fake, painted on face.

Here’s the beauty of it, though – it’s simple! There’s an “undercoat,” which is basically a tinted moisturizing sunscreen. It takes 30 seconds to apply it with a makeup sponge, and it offers light coverage, hides some of the redness, and moisturizes my skin without clogging pores, causing breakouts, or feeling heavy. This is followed up with a 15-30 second buffing with a light powder to give it an airbrushed, but still totally natural, look. The powder also contains a sunscreen, is lightly tinted to further help to hide blemishes, and absorbs excess oil to keep you shine-free all day.

Bonus: it smells faintly of hot cocoa. I’m very pleased. In fact, I’m so pleased with it that I might add it to the shop after the holidays when things calm down. It’s that good.

The quest for perfection

I’ll be the first to admit that I have flaws. Lots of them. Not too long ago, I was letting those flaws bog me down. I was depressed, I was overwhelmed, I was dissatisfied with my life. Things were far from perfect, and it made me so, so sad.

Then I started to take steps to turn things around. I realized that the hardest step was admitting that there’s a problem. I did that, and started taking medication. Then another one. I saw a therapist for a time, who helped me to see that while I may not be able to control what happens around me, I’m in complete control of how I react to my surroundings. My emotions are mine, I am not theirs.

I decided to start cutting things out of my life that didn’t contribute to my happiness. I read Marie Kondo’s book, and saw that all my “stuff” was just that – stuff. And what do you do when you realize that you’re sinking? Start throwing stuff overboard.

I realized that my entire closet of clothes made me sad, because I didn’t fit into any of them anymore (damnit, baby #2!!). I got rid of everything except for a handful of ones that actually made me happy when I wore them. The new benchmark for buying clothes at the store became “Do I feel happy when I wear this?” rather than just “Does it fit me?”

I realized that my kitchen was filled with clutter. I had several “specialized” kitchen devices that I rarely used, along with a bunch of things that I’d just had forever and never questioned, and finding a space to keep them all was stressing me out. I threw them overboard and only kept what I enjoyed using.

I realized that my children’s closet doors were broken and/or difficult to open, which frustrated me every time I tried to put away clothes or get them dressed in the morning. I got out my tool box and took them off the walls. We’re still figuring out a replacement, but I feel a sense of satisfaction every time I use their closets.

I opened my eyes to the fact that every day at work started with optimism for a productive day of helping people stay healthy, and ended with me wanting to lie face down on the ground for a couple of hours to recover from all the angry people who think their error-prone doctors are infallible and don’t even know what my job is (error catcher, not pill counter). I decided to go down to part time to keep my sanity.

I worried that by dropping down to part time I’d be negatively impacting my family’s finances, so I got another job teaching children to speak English. It’s rewarding, I get to work with children one-on-one, and I’ve found that I’m actually good at it!

I realized that I don’t have close friends to talk to about all this (which I’m totally okay with – I’m so bad at IRL friendships), so I started this blog in an effort to get it all out there. My husband doesn’t have quite as much patience to listen to me babble about the benefits of shea butter as you fine people do. Thank you!

Basically, I decided to start taking my life into my own hands. My life is still far from perfect, and that’s okay. I’m still finding new ways to improve, and am still identifying things that I can change. The important thing is that I’m running MY life, and I refuse to let my life run ME. And that, for me, is perfect.

Beef Wellington

Traditional holiday meals usually involve some form of turkey or ham. Sure, they’re good and all, but ham is a salt bomb and turkey needs a salt bath (aka a brine) to be edible. Because the traditional meats are… well… sub-par (sorry, but they are), we rely on side dishes. Honestly, the sides are always better than the “main” dish.

So that’s good and all, but not for me. In my house, the traditional holiday meal is beef wellington. I say it’s “traditional,” but we’ve only actually done it for three years (counting this one). But I can tell already that it’s THE holiday meal for us, hands down.

Wellingtons are… intimidating. I get it. Not everyone wants to blow a bunch of cash on a meal they may have never even tried before that they don’t feel confident in pulling off correctly. Because I’m overconfident (go big or go home), I jumped right in a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. That said, the number of recipe variations out there are seriously overwhelming. The average person would throw up their hands and decide that they’d rather have a mediocre bird with overplayed sides and a store-bought pie. You know I’m not an average person.

After extensive recipe searching, combining, and tweaking, I finally have MY recipe for beef wellington. It. Is. Glorious. There are two ways you can do this – all on the day of, and have a frantic day that starts early and doesn’t stop until dinner, or my way. It takes around 3 days, but it’s leisurely. Simple. Beautiful. You should try it.

My family is going on vacation this year for Christmas (our usual wellington holiday), so I made it for Thanksgiving instead. Rejoice! My early holiday feast means that you have this recipe for YOUR Christmas dinner!

Before we get into it, I’ll preface by saying that there are three major steps to making the perfect wellington. I’m going to over-explain everything with a ton of pictures, so don’t worry, I’ve got your back. These steps are all simple when you break them down, made easier by doing them on different days, and combine on the plate to make something otherworldly:
The duxelle – the most amazing mushroom mixture you’ve ever tasted
The “wellington” itself – everything rolled up in puff pastry
The sauce – you never knew red wine could be so delicious (if you’re not into wine, or just aren’t into sauces, then this is optional)

Duxelle:

  • 1 pound mushrooms (any will do, but a variety is best)
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (discard stems)
  • 1/2 c. minced shallot
  • 1/2 c. brandy
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 2 tsp soy sauce

Start this process 2 -3 days before your meal if you want this to be as easy as possible (or the morning of if you really like being stressed out). This year, I cleaned and chopped the mushrooms 3 days out, and cooked them 2 days out.

For my mushrooms, I like to use a base of white button mushrooms accented with cremini, oyster and shiitake. White mushrooms are good, but they have a pretty flat “mushroom” taste. Good, but adding in some variety really amps it up and gives it a more complex flavor.

Begin by cleaning your mushrooms. I like to just brush them off with a pastry brush, but if you’re a “scrub under water” type person, just make sure they are nice and dry before cooking. Moisture is not your friend here. This is another reason for choosing some fancy mushrooms – the really nice ones don’t grow very close to the ground, so there’s not much to clean.

That’s a lot of mushrooms!

Once they’re all ready to go, finely chop them all. If you don’t fancy finely chopping a pound of mushrooms by hand, feel free to use a food processor (just don’t go crazy and make a mushroom smoothie).

Seriously, that’s so many mushrooms. Feel free to chop them finer, but definitely not bigger than you see here.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and when it’s shimmering add the mushrooms, shallots and thyme leaves. The mushrooms will go through a few phases during the cooking process – sweating, wet, “looks done,” and “actually done.”

We’re aiming for that final stage, where almost all of the moisture has evaporated and brown bits start sticking to the bottom of the pan.

When you’ve reached this stage, deglaze with your brandy (if you have a gas stove, add it off the heat – we’re not flambeing anything today). If you’re not familiar with the term, adding liquid to a pan that has brown bits stuck to the bottom is called “deglazing” the pan. Make sure that you’re scraping the bottom of the pan – the brown bits are where your flavor comes from. If you don’t do this before the brandy evaporates, your flavor will be trapped on your pan.

When the brandy is almost completely evaporated, add your cream and soy sauce. Stir continuously until the duxelle is thick and clumps together when you shake your pan. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and then transfer to a bowl, cover, and put it in the fridge.

Take a break. Your work for today is done.

Wellington:

  • beef tenderloin, 1.5 – 2 lbs
  • 1 – 3 sheets frozen filo dough
  • 3 – 4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
  • 1 egg yolk
  • dijon mustard
  • duxelle from the previous step

Start this process either the day before (my preference) or the morning of the big meal. Or right after you finish your duxelle if you like being rushed. This step is the most labor intensive, but please don’t be intimidated. We can do this together.

So I’ll start this by saying, yes, if you’re me you’re probably wondering “Why aren’t you making your own dough?” And yes, I’m aware that I’m probably one of the only people (besides my sister) thinking that right now. The reason? You’ve got enough going on. Frozen filo and puff pastry come in a box with several sheets, and you can use the extra for some delightful appetizers while you’re waiting on your wellington to be ready. Spend your extra time working on that if you’ve got time on your hands and a hungry crowd.

That said, frozen puff and filo (or phyllo – nobody seems to know how it should be spelled) take a while to thaw before they’re usable. Take the filo out of the freezer now, and set it on the counter. Don’t worry if you’re thawing the whole box and only need 1 sheet – you can re-freeze whatever you don’t use. The puff pastry will be used a little later on, so we’ll leave it frozen for now.

We begin the tenderloin prep by looking at it. If your tenderloin looks pretty much the same size all the way down, you’re in good shape. If you notice that your tenderloin is narrower at one end, you’re going to need to fix that with some butcher’s twine. You basically want to fold the narrow end back on itself so that the meat is approximately the same diameter for its entire length.

Next, you’ll want to look at how round it is. The ideal tenderloin would be a perfect cylinder. If it’s flattened in some parts, or at all uneven, that will impact how evenly it gets cooked. You don’t want it medium in some spots and rare in others. Bring out the butcher’s twine again and tie it up nice and tight every inch or two. When it’s all tied up, and as close to a perfect cylinder as you’re going to get, you have two options. If it looks great, then proceed to the next step. If it’s still looking a little “meh,” then wrap it up TIGHTLY in plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge for a few hours, up to overnight, to set its shape. If you decide to refrigerate it for more than 30 minutes or so, put your filo back in the freezer – it should come out about 30 minutes before you move on to the next step

Next, you’re going to season the entire loin, string and all, with salt and pepper (dry it with a paper towel first if needed). Then put it in the fridge, uncovered, for the next few minutes while you heat your pan. This is going to seem strange, because the perfect steaks are cooked from room temperature, but we do NOT want to cook anything today. We’re just trying to brown the outside while keeping the inside raw.

Heat a pan (cast iron if you have it) on high with a little olive oil. When the oil is seriously hot (we’re talking just shy of smoking, here), you’re going to put your tenderloin in the pan. Cook each side for about 60 seconds, up to 2 minutes, until each side is nicely browned. If it’s sticking to the pan, it’s not brown enough yet. The meat will release the pan when it’s ready to be turned. The twine should stay in place throughout this process.

So what’s up with that? Why are we pretending to cook it, knowing full well that the inside is still completely raw? Flavor. It’s all about flavor. Searing the outside develops a flavorful crust on the meat that both locks in moisture and tastes amaaaazing.

The Maillard reaction at its finest

When your tenderloin is sufficiently browned, remove it from the pan and let it cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, REMOVE THE TWINE (seriously, you don’t want to take a bite of that) and brush the entire loin with a layer of dijon mustard. You don’t want it to be too thick, but it should definitely be visible.

It might seem weird, but I promise it’ll be good.

Put your dijon’d tenderloin back in the fridge, uncovered, to chill (the fridge is your friend when it comes to a wellington), and to dry out the mustard a bit. Too much moisture in the layers will cause the pastry to be soggy.

Now is a good time to take your puff pastry out of the freezer.

Next, prepare a double layer of plastic wrap. Why a double layer? Because if it tears at any point then you’re in trouble. So please, double it up. Learn from my mistakes. You want your plastic wrap to be roughly 2 feet long. It’s better to error on the side of being too long than too short. Position it in front of you with the short end facing you.

Take 1 sheet of filo dough (it’s like holding wet tissue paper, and will tear if you look at it sideways – make sure it’s completely thawed, and be gentle) and place it on your plastic wrap with the short end closest to you (do what I say, not what I do – I put it down sideways) about 6 inches from the end in front of you. If you tear it, go ahead and put another sheet of filo on top of it. If it tears a lot, let it thaw a bit more and/or add another layer. Don’t go more than 2 or 3 deep, though.

So what’s the purpose of a painfully delicate layer of super thin dough? What possible purpose could it serve? The filo pastry will act as a moisture barrier for your wellington. It doesn’t interfere with cooking times since it’s so thin, it won’t impact the taste or texture (you’ll barely notice it’s there), but it will keep your puff pastry nice and crisp. No soggy dough here.

As I mentioned, I put mine down the wrong way. If you’re wondering if filo actually makes a difference, scroll to the very bottom of this post to see what happened to mine. It’s fine, but the puff pastry burst near the bottom at the exact point where my filo didn’t make it all the way around. The moisture barrier is real.

Next, shingle your prosciutto on top of the filo dough. Make sure that each piece overlaps with its neighbor, and keep about a 2″ border of filo ham-free on the top and bottom, but go right up to the sides. I forgot to do this myself, and don’t forget that mine is sideways (I’ll try to remember to fix my pictures next year). If nothing else, we’re learning today that it’s okay if you mess something up, because it’ll still turn out delicious.

Take your duxelle out of the fridge, and spread it evenly on your prosciutto. Try to be as neat as possible, and make sure it all stays contained within the filo.

It’s really more “squashing with the back of a spoon” than spreading, but you get the idea. This is one reason why we leave a bit of filo dough exposed, because now the filo has no way of sticking to itself when you roll it up. Oops.

Now, take your dijon’d tenderloin from the fridge and place it on the bottom edge of the prosciutto/mushroom layer. Carefully roll it up, using the plastic wrap to tighten as you go, until the entire thing is wrapped up. Take another (yes, this would be your third) piece of plastic wrap and wrap it up again very tightly, twisting the ends to hold it in place. Put it back in the fridge.

At this point, you should have your seared tenderloin, smothered in a thin layer of dijon, followed by an even layer of duxelle, prosciutto, and finally a layer of filo. If the filo doesn’t seem to be staying together very well, that’s okay. The important part is that it’s on there. Keep it in the fridge for about a half hour (longer is okay) to give it time to stick together and hold its shape.

If you plan on cooking today, JUMP AHEAD AND START YOUR SAUCE. Seriously. This sauce can finish early, but you do NOT want it still cooking when your wellington is finished. If you’re cooking tomorrow, then keep reading.

While it’s chilling (and your sauce is going if you’re cooking today), check your puff pastry. It should be cold but pliable. Don’t fight with your pastry – if it doesn’t want to listen to the rolling pin, stop trying and just let it sit. A frozen puff will break if you try to unfold it too early (if it does crack, it can be mended once it’s thawed). If it seems warm or super soft, pop it in the freezer for a few minutes. The cold butter in the dough is what makes it puff, so don’t let it get too warm. Put a sprinkle of flour on your work space, and get out one sheet of puff pastry. The other one can go back in the freezer if you don’t have other plans for it. Use a rolling pin to roll it out into a size that looks like it could hold your tenderloin. If you need to get it out of the fridge to play around and make sure the size is right, go ahead. Keep in mind that it’s ok to make it too big, but you’re in trouble if it’s too small.

Make sure it’s the right size before you take off the plastic.

When your tenderloin is sufficiently cold (let it cool for at least 30 minutes), beat one egg yolk with about a teaspoon of water in a small bowl. SAVE YOUR EGG WHITE. With a pastry brush, brush the entire puff pastry dough with your egg wash. This will help it to stick to the filo without forming unseemly air bubbles. Carefully begin to unwrap the tenderloin from the plastic, leaving around half of it still wrapped. Be gentle with it – that filo is a fickle beast. Speak soothing words of encouragement to it.

Next, carefully roll your duxelle-prosciutto-filo-wrapped tenderloin from the remainder of your plastic onto your puff pastry (you only get one chance, so center it the best you can) and roll it up. The seam should be on the bottom of the roll. Leave enough pastry to have a slight overlap (we don’t want it coming apart), but cut off any excess. One layer of puff pastry is plenty. On the ends, fold the sides of the puff pastry into the middle, and then fold the top and bottom flaps in like you’re wrapping a present. Cut off any excess, and feel free to use more egg wash to glue it together.

When you’re done, PUT THE EGG WHITE BACK WITH THE YOLK and save the egg wash in the fridge for later (cover if you’re not cooking until tomorrow).

Now, if you’re doing this on the day of, you’re just about ready to cook – hop ahead to the next step. If you’re not eating until tomorrow, then wrap it in plastic wrap (no need to be quite as aggressively tight as before) and pop it in the fridge.

All wrapped up for tomorrow

If you’re stopping here and waiting until tomorrow to cook, then make sure you START YOUR SAUCE ON THE DAY OF YOUR MEAL AT LEAST THREE HOURS BEFORE THE NEXT STEP (unless you’re skipping the sauce) – remember, it’s okay for the sauce to finish early, but you do NOT want your wellington getting cold while you’re waiting for the sauce to finish.

If you’re ready to cook, then put it back in the fridge while you preheat the oven to 450℉ (unwrap and put back in the fridge if you made it yesterday). When the oven is the proper temperature, remove the wellington from the fridge and paint the entire pastry with the egg wash you saved from before. Use a sharp knife to lightly score the pastry (cut lines in the surface of the dough, but do not cut through it – don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world if you do cut through it).

The burrito is ready.

So why did we use just the yolk with water before, and now we’re using both the remaining yolk and the white? The egg yolk/water mixture is super sticky and helps the puff pastry hold together. When applied to the outside of the pastry, the yolk helps it to brown and the white makes it shiny and beautiful.

Bake until the center of the wellington registers 130℉ on a digital thermometer for medium rare (the temp will continue to rise as it rests). This can take anywhere from 30 – 50 minutes, depending on how cold it was when it went in the oven. Either invest in a thermometer that you can leave in the oven, or check it every few minutes once you reach the 30 minute mark. The final product should be puffed and golden brown.

Tasty. And when photographed from this angle, you can’t even see where my filo didn’t line up on the other side. Oops.

Let it rest for 10 – 15 minutes before cutting. The ends will have too much dough (some of which might be undercooked), and overcooked meat. That’s fine, and can’t be avoided. Start cutting from the middle, and discard the ends when you get to a part that’s overcooked (usually only an inch or so on each side). Yum!

SAUCE:

  • 1/2 lb beef trimmings (ask your butcher – they keep it in the back)
  • 1/2 c. minced shallot
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 – 3 fresh thyme sprigs (1 big one with branches, or 3 small “singles”)
  • a splash of red wine vinegar
  • a bottle of red wine
  • a box of beef stock (32 oz)

First off, let me say that this sauce is optional. I, as a red wine lover, love this sauce. My husband, not so much. He doesn’t think it’s bad (he poured it over both helpings of his dinner), but he’s not in love with it like I am.

Beef trimmings are the only ingredient you might have trouble with. My local grocery store doesn’t technically sell it (because throwing it away is easier), and once it hits the garbage you’re SOL. You may have luck calling ahead and asking them to save you some, or, if they don’t have any at the moment and you don’t feel like waiting until they cut up another cow, then you can do what I did this time and buy a “beef bone for soup.” It’s basically the same concept, if a bit more clunky to work with. Just make sure there’s a decent amount of “good stuff” on it (fat, a little meat, some connective tissue – nothing you’d want to eat, but that’s where the flavor is).

Well that looks… unappetizing

The red wine is the next hurtle. It seems easy enough – just buy a bottle of red wine. But here’s the problem – we’re going to be cooking it down for a long time, which will concentrate all the flavor. This sounds like a good thing, and it is (that’s why we’re doing it), but reducing a wine tends to bring all its worst qualities to the forefront. Too bitter, too sweet, too tart, too dry. In general, I’d recommend avoiding anything that’s been aged in oak, because they tend to turn bitter when cooked for a long period. If a wine is boring to drink, it’s going to make a boring sauce. My favorite? Côtes du Rhône. It’s a blended wine that typically contains several types of grapes (all from the same region of France), meaning that it’s balanced and well rounded. It makes a fantastic sauce.

Strangely enough, I don’t actually think this is a good drinking wine (for me). But it makes a damn good sauce.

Okay, so let’s get into this! First, you need to heat some olive oil in a large sauce pan over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add your beef trimmings (or bone) and get it nice and brown all over. We’re looking for a good sear, because that’s where all the rich, beefy flavor comes from. Next, turn the heat down to medium and add your shallots, peppercorns, bay leaf, and thyme sprig. Stir until shallots are golden brown.

Deglaze your pan with a splash of red wine vinegar. Just enough to scrape up all the tasty bits from the bottom of your pan. When it’s almost dry, pour in your red wine. If your pan isn’t big enough for the entire bottle, you can add half and add more as it reduces. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.

Here’s the tricky bit about this sauce – you’re going to be tempted to crank up the heat and boil the living snot out of it until it’s reduced. Don’t do that. Wine will literally change flavor as it cooks. At low temperatures, the taste change is minimal and can be pleasant. At prolonged high temperatures, such as when you’re boiling it for an extended period, it will turn bitter. Real bad. Just don’t do it. We want a nice, happy simmer, but you should not have anything going on in this pan that you might call a “boil.”

When the entire bottle of red wine has almost completely reduced (around a cup remaining, or less if you’re more patient than me), add in your box of beef stock. Again, if there’s not room in the pan for the whole box, feel free to add the rest once you have room in the pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. We’re still worried about the wine turning bitter if it boils for too long, so keep the temperature low. We’re going to simmer this for about an hour, or until it’s reduced to about 1 cup of liquid.

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but you may, at some point, see something floating at the top of your pot that resembles… how shall I say… scum. This is not uncommon whenever you’re cooking with trimmings or bones. It’s fine. I have no idea what it is, but it happens. Skim it off the surface, throw it out, and keep at it.

At this point, you can strain your sauce (a mesh colander is easiest), taste it, and season with salt and/or pepper if needed. If you’re not happy with the consistency, you can put it back on the heat and thicken it with a little corn starch (about a teaspoon of starch dissolved in an ounce of cold water). The final sauce should have the consistency of a thin gravy. I also like to finish my sauce with a pat of butter, but this is entirely optional.

Make sure the sauce is nice and hot when you’re serving it over the wellington. Seriously, so good.

Was it worth it?

Yes.

And a stunner like this doesn’t need any fancy sides. I went with roasted Brussels sprouts and a potato and parsnip puree. Magic.

Exciting new developments!

I’m so, so excited to announce that my products are in a store! Like, in a real building! Not my house!

No, I did not open my own shop. I’m not that crazy (yet). But the owner of a brand new local store, Resale & Craft Boutique, is letting me have a case in her shop to display my wares! I’m stoked!

I got confirmation that the spot was mine on Monday afternoon, and then spent all of Monday night and all day Tuesday in a frenzy of planning, measuring, mixing, melting, smelling, packaging, designing, cutting, and labeling. Big thanks to Aaron for staying home from work to help with sick Emmett so I could keep working. The kitchen was a disaster. I was at Walmart at 9:30 at night because my printer died. I got 9 hours of sleep in 2 days. It was glorious.

It might not seem like much, but it’s mine!

I have a few oldies in the mix (lotion bars and bath bombs), but I also have some brand-spankin’-new items that I’ve been developing and testing for a while now. An assortment of foaming hand soaps, made with my very own homemade castile soap (why buy an ingredient when you can make it?), heel balm made with oil I infused with calendula petals and dried lavender (they both claim to soothe skin and speed healing, but there’s no actual proof of that – they smell real nice, though), a delightful lemon cuticle cream, and some super fun squishy soap in a variety of colors. Is it play dough? Is it soap? Why not both?! More is in the works, and it will all make its way into the online store soon, but right now I feel like I could sleep for 100 days so you’ll just have to wait. And yes, the new biscotti I promised will be available for sale soon, too – I need to bake one more batch to work out the kinks. Nothing but the best for you guys.

The store’s grand opening is on November 1st, and if you’re in the Green Bay area you should check it out! I’ll try to get over there at some point on the 1st, and will be in and out as needed to check inventory and restock. Maybe I’ll see you there!

2733 N. Packerland Dr. Suite 14U

Cookies, granola and bread, OH MY!

I like to follow the law. I’m just going to get that out there right now. But what do you do when there IS no law, but only a judiciary ruling that the current law is unconstitutional?

I’m talking here about homemade food. I live in Wisconsin, and up until a couple of years ago, it was 100% illegal to sell even a single cookie unless it was made in a commercial kitchen by someone with a food processing license (with the exception of charity bake sales). And both of those things are outlandishly expensive. In 2017, three women went to the courts to try to change that. Two of these women owned B&Bs, and the third was a farmer who sold baked goods at her local farmer’s market. To showcase the ridiculousness of this law, the owners of B&Bs could serve a cookie to a paying customer, but if that same customer wanted to purchase that same cookie to eat when they left the house, that sale was illegal. And somehow this was considered to be in the interest of public health.

This is made even more silly by the fact that Wisconsinites are allowed to make and sell canned goods (which have way more potential to be dangerous), unpasteurized apple cider, honey, popcorn, maple syrup, eggs, and raw produce without any special licenses or fancy commercial kitchens.

Image result for law cookie
Stop (baking), in the name of the law!

Thankfully, the judge who oversaw this case understood that it was a stupid law that only served to keep entrepreneurs out with absolutely zero benefit to the public, and declared it unconstitutional. But what does that mean? Nobody seems to know. In an attempt to clarify the issue, I’ve been emailing back and forth with the IOSC in the DFRS at the WI-DATCP (seriously, that’s how he ended his first email, perhaps thinking I’d be intimidated by all the letters, because only smart people have titles with letters – he’s actually the Internal Operations Section Chief in the Division of Food and Recreational Safety at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and, wow – that’s unnecessarily long, and probably the real reason he abbreviates it). It’s been fun. Every email I write is like a well researched college paper, complete with a reference section, and every response is like “But… but… I don’t like that.”

He’s arguing that only non-potentially-hazardous (ie, low moisture, shelf stable) flour-based baked goods are permitted to be sold without a license. I’m arguing that only non-potentially-hazardous foods are allowed. Neither of us is right, because technically nothing is LEGAL, it’s just ILLEGAL to make it ILLEGAL to sell homemade food. So… that makes sense, right?

But I’m seriously enjoying our banter. He says he’s right, because he wants to be right, I say I’m right because I’ve got a bunch of evidence, the judge’s words from the courtroom case, his further written clarifications of his ruling, and the ability to think critically about the meaning of words and their connotations. He’s also really good at repeating sentences that have nothing to do with what we’re talking about.

I think I’m winning.

But the whole reason I started this post is to say that I’m testing out a new biscotti recipe of my own invention (matcha and white chocolate), and, while it still needs a little tweaking, it’s amAZIng. So keep a look out for that in the next couple of days. And don’t worry, it’s definitely legal.

Well that’s an odd thing to do (is it, though?)

Because I don’t have enough going on in my life, I’ve been making greeting cards. While this may not seem all that strange, you should know that I don’t send cards to people. I think I’ve purchased only a handful of cards in my life, and those were for very specific events (“sorry, I can’t come to the funeral,” “here’s some money” and “I’m getting married”). So why would someone who doesn’t send cards to people decide to start making cards? I have no idea. It’s a little odd, but I’m having fun with it.

I started with ordinary cards. No special occasion, just wanted to make something pretty and simple. Like most of my hobbies, I have no idea what made me do this.

Then I decided to try getting a little fancy. Add more elements, some glitter, maybe some words. Pop-up cards? Interactive bits? (I see you like cards, so I put a card on your card so you can write a note to go with your note) Why not?

Then things got out of hand… accordion pop-ups, weird shapes, Christmas tree forests… the possibilities are endless.

I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m okay with that.