The Stratasphere

I've realized of late, or maybe I have always known but it feels more profound because the winter adds an extra layer of comfort seeking to the daily repertoire, that I love the robust goodness that is strata. Beyond the comfort factor, it brings textures together from different worlds to coexist: crusty breads, tender vegetables, sharp cheeses. It also enables us to waste not. Stale bread or sad slightly wilted escarole is no longer beyond salvaging. 

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My very first Staub piece came from Molly Yeh, as part of her book launch giveaway so it's especially dear because I love her work and her willingness to build up other home cooks and invite them into her narrative. 

Thus far I have used this beauty for mains where bread/cake is the protagonist- Panettone French Toast and this Vegetable, Egg, and Cheddar Strata. But next up I am definitely making Molly's Tater Tot Hot Dish, from "Molly on the Range."  

I hope you'll join me on a trip to the stratasphere.  

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You'll need:  

  • Cooking spray  
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil  
  • 1 cup sliced bell peppers
  • 1 cup sliced zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 pepper, divided
  • 8 cups cubed day old, crusty bakery bread
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar or jack cheese
  • 3 cups milk
  • 6 large eggs 

To prepare: 

  1. Coat 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat; add peppers zucchini or your desired combination of crunchy vegetables and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes.  
  3. Stir in thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Place half of bread cubes in even layer in baking dish, then top with half of vegetable mixture and half of cheese. Add remaining bread cubes, then remaining vegetables and cheese.
  5. In large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread, vegetables and cheese in baking dish. 
  6. Here you can refrigerate  for several hours or overnight. I was hungry. I put it right in the oven and it turned out beautifully. 
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes or until golden brown on top and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Adapted from Cabot Cheddar  

Resolution Reject

It's a new year. I get caught somewhere between elated and absolutely horrified when people ask me what my resolution(s) is(are). The promise of self improvement that resolutions afford is alluring. Everyone surely has something they can tweak. Is that not why we are here; to do a little better for ourselves and for our world? But what to resolve?

The week of Christmas I had two unpleasant conversations with women I previously looked to for guidance and support. In a place I had felt safe, I was stripped of that security and felt something like inadequacy and/or shame. I kid you not, one told me I was a fart in the wind and lack a backbone. Yes, "fart in the wind" is a direct quote. What must I smell like, I thought. After I reemerged from the rubble of my mind, I dusted my shoulders off, grabbed my lady pants and decided to make a change for better or worse. I welcomed the concrete ending of the year and approached resolution making with the same perfectionism that while well intentioned has been a detriment in my past and continues to challenge my serenity today. At first it was euphoric. I thought really deeply about what has been working and what hasn't. I made lists. I sought resources and found outlets for the best resolution themes. I identified 20 goals if not more. My goals had goals. Media and industry flooded me at every touch point. And I picked on every part of me in response to these conflicting stimuli.

Get a partner.   Dump your partner.    Leave your job.    Find a friend.     Sign up for that cleanse.     Did someone say online dating? Kabbalah.    Try crossfit.    Travel. Meditate !!!    Give up bread. Um yeah, no. 

My theme for the upcoming year is "nourish and flourish." What is yours? But don't be afraid if you do not yet have one. Even resolution rejects find their way. 

My theme for the upcoming year is "nourish and flourish." What is yours? But don't be afraid if you do not yet have one. Even resolution rejects find their way. 

I was going to learn every skill I ever endeavored to learn and scrapbook all the keepsakes I have saved since as long as I can remember. I would make it to church each Sunday, on time,  ten pounds lighter. Bye bye student loans. Hell, I would meal prep.

Then I started to get anxious, afraid even. Afraid I could not even get a resolution right. What if I was a resolution reject? Ruminating set in as it always does. Gosh I need this in my life but where to start and will I ever have time to commit to this formidable goal?  I scoured the internet for options.

PSA: Never scour the internet for options.   

  • Personal budgeting software. 
  • Gym membership.
  • Time management tools.
  • Weight watchers, of course.  
  • Thirty day guide to happy, healthy, nasty, wonderful, wicked, everything YOU.

The self help groups have brought their "A" games I thought.  I need to read all of these books. All of them. The e-course on courage. The Zumba trial. Oh the cleanses. The entities I will call the resolution committee churned out paragraph after paragraph of ways to be our best selves. I felt defeated before I even began.

By the end of my brief, frantic journey to identify my resolution, I was tired. Am I really that in need of repair, I thought. Did nothing work last year that I should be compelled to do everything a different way? If I don't achieve these identified outcomes, then what? THEN WHAT?

The painful advice I received in a way was an invitation, an invitation to evolve, but in trying to do so I hit the gas and spun out, tire treads burned into the driveway. I dialed it back and identified some overarching themes. Wellness, mindfulness, and the fostering of creative opportunities. Realistically there is and always will be room for growth. That's part of the whole miracle of being human. Someone told me living life is like preparing a meal, a perfect analogy for this hungry overthinker. In her gentle, calm voice she said that some days you will cultivate the parts of the meal that warrant the most care. This pot or that pan may go on the back burner, to regain attention down the road. But the process is unending. The most critical element of this picture that she painted is just that: continuity.

You cannot force an awakening and my resolutions, if they can even be called that, will not change me overnight. A soft shove in the right direction will do for today. 

What I learned in 2016

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The talk around town is that 2016 was pretty awful but I refuse to overlook that moving forward or backwards still means you are moving; movement is half the battle. Moving with intention and effort is life. 

I have been summarizing the past few years with these little reflections and I have learned to find comfort in this annual recall.  

I learned that marriage is a privilege but not a cake walk. Everyone says when you find the right person, marriage is effortless. But I don't buy it. Coexisting with another person with a different set of needs and quirks does take work. Anything formative and worthwhile does. We celebrated our first anniversary in October and our year was filled with both elation and dissapointment. I learned that when it comes to relationships, it is ok to dislike a moment and not dislike a person. Hell, you can even hate a moment. I welcome that rise and fury in my belly. It means I still care. Hate isn't the worst thing.  Apathy is.   

I learned how to be matronly as my sister married her Mikey.  I learned I could sing Ave Maria at her wedding and not throw up all over myself with nerves. I always did have stage fright. I learned gladiator sandals are the way to go for wedding footwear and everyone loves a dessert bar. 

I learned a boat load about food thanks to immersion in gorgeous books by Molly Yeh and Sarah Kieffer. I started using tahini and marzipan and made coffee, yes coffee buttercream.  

People come into your life. And some will leave. If they are meant to be there, they will find their way back. If they don't resurface, you are probably better off. 

My nana's cat was very sick and I thought he would die in my arms. I learned I had the courage to hold him and encourage him to breathe and drink water despite being very afraid. My pal Adrianna, a veterinarian, helped me over the phone all the way from the Cayman Islands. 

I learned a man with no political experience could mobilize enough people in this country to get elected to the highest office in the land. Politics aside, it made me wonder if perhaps I should try something far away from my comfort zone or area of prowess. Bird calling, carpentry, maybe join the Police Academy? I'll table this.  

I spent an hour in the car with three colleagues, all women of faith and women of color. I learned more about race, tolerance and empathy from this dialogue then I could have bargained for. They heard me. And I heard them. I have faith we as a people can and will make progress over time, together. We belong to one another. There is simply no other way. 

I learned intolerance is ugly. Truly ugly. I learned that hurt people, hurt people. I learned a smile can change the course of your day, maybe even your life.  

I have learned an exorbitant amount of patience as my husband teaches himself guitar.  

I learned from others how I am perceived. Some of the realizations hurt me, but they were food for this journey. I also learned I am not living for them or their approval. I am living for me.  

I learned I need to develop a more firm resolve and sense of self assurance. I need to trust my judgments and have faith in my choices. To loosen up and laugh a little when I want to retreat, clam up or cry.  

My dad taught me the world isn't made of just circles and squares. It takes all kinds of shapes. 

I learned friends that are dear to you need not be at your side for you to feel their warmth and their love. Days, weeks even month may pass, and the kinetic ties that bound you still remain firm.  

I learned you cannot please everyone. It's exhausting to try. You can care about someone deeply and not have the ability to improve their mood or status. But you can still show up anyway. 

I saw James turn his dream of teaching into a reality and then exceed that goal as he stands today the Director of a culinary school. I learned his commitment to taking progressively lower paying jobs in pursuit of his dream, working too many hours, and shouldering many responsibilities can and did amount to the realization of his sincerest aspiration. 

I am still learning how to say no without guilt.  

I am hoping we as a people continue to learn and exercise empathy.  

I learned moving with intention, even if you land in a place other than you envisioned,  is life.