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Behind the Kitchen Door

Behind the Kitchen Door

Live in the moment.  Experience now.  Be fully present.

These are concepts that have received a ton of press recently but which I’ve struggled greatly with.

In my work as a lawyer I’m not exactly allowed to live in the moment.  It’s my job to look forward, to anticipate what can go wrong, to strategize how to get from Point A to Point B, to plan, and to predict arguments and defenses.  On the flip side, I’m also expected to look backward at what went wrong and analyze the relevant facts that are foundation of the strategy I must employ to fix an existing problem or resolve a dispute.  Occasionally I get a writing or research project that will pull me in to “The Zone” where I can focus and tune out the world, but for some reason those have been rare this year.  At the end of each day I feel tired and my mind goes blank, but rarely have I felt like I’ve accomplished anything productive or created any positive change in the world.

In a soulful conversation this summer with my good friend Stephanie, a chef and event coordinator at Black Star Farms, I had a difficult time articulating my lack of contentment with the Now.  Instead of wallowing or trying to “fix it,” though, she impulsively invited me to join the Black Star chefs in the kitchen for the September harvest dinner.  Stephanie is one of those people who has the gift of eminent Presence in the Now.  She focuses on nothing but you when she is with you.  She makes each person she encounters feel as though they are the most important person in her world.  She also has the gift of working very well under pressure and being a creative problem-solver.  There are no unforeseen difficulties that she can’t handle.  This is what makes her such a shining success as an event coordinator and such an asset to Black Star Farms:  she is a Present person.

Squash1That also makes her a gifted chef.  Anyone who loves to cook knows that being in the kitchen is a great way to be consumed in the moment.  I mean, one can never really think too far ahead when making poached eggs, right?  Mealtimes have been the one time and place I have been able to be fully present in my life this year.  And this last week’s Summer Squash-themed Harvest Dinner was the epitome of presence of mind.Squash3After Stephanie clothed me in her black chef’s jacket and left me in the kitchen, Executive Chef Jonathan Dayton looked at me and with his quietly intense, good-humored grin asked, “you ready for this?”  And I said, “All I want is to NOT be in your way, and to be useful.  Put me to work.”

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Ask and you shall receive.

I was given a box of about two hundred of the tiniest baby patty pan squashes you’ve ever seen.  Many were no bigger than a blueberry, with their tiny, delicate blossoms still attached.  It was my glamourous and enviable job to wash them all under cool running water.  And I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the water.  Fail.  So embarrassing.  Until one of the veteran staffers came over to help me and took three turns on three different handles before getting the water to run himself.  Not so embarrassing after all.

After surviving the new-kid hazing that was washing the baby squashes, Street asked me to chop some toasted pine nuts.  I poured about ten ounces of them onto the cutting board and immediately laughed and asked Street if he would be annoyed if I chopped them one at a time.  I got a look that said, “you haven’t been here long enough to be funny.”  I mean, there were only fourteen other things on the first plate besides those pine nuts.  Hurry the eff up, newbie.

Squash4So for the next four hours I was completely, 100% consumed with helping plate up the most incredible six-course wine-paired meal I’ve ever experienced.  The first plate was an absolute work of art.  I was fascinated by Chef Dayton’s simple method of separating and poaching egg yolks and arranging them with paper-thin slices of zucchini and summer squash to create a dish he called squash carpaccio (or, as I thought of it “squashpaccio”) dressed in a beautiful basil oil and decorated with a dozen delicate little flavor accents that I would never have thought would be so explosive together.  Purple basil, red wine salt, ricotta cheese (which almost did not end up on the plates because we all forgot about it until one of the guests asked where it was; oops!  You’ve never seen 24 cups of ricotta cheese miraculously appear on a dinner table as quickly as those did.  Way to work In the Moment, Cathy, Katie & Brad!).  Paired with Black Star’s famous “BeDazzled” bubbly dry white wine, it was clearly the favorite course of the night.

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Until the goat was served.

The goat.  My Lord.  The “main course,” it was roasted and shredded, stuffed with chevre (goat’s cheese) inside a large delicate squash blossom, coated in a light breading and baked until crispy on the outside, served over a pool of creamed corn sauce – it was a comforting combination of savory, sweet, rich and creamy that involuntarily made one’s eyes drift to a close in order to fully appreciate that first bite.  Served with Black Star’s dark red Arcturos merlot, it quietly said, “winter is coming…” and with that, the September harvest dinner was complete.

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(PS, even as I type this I’m falling back into the blissful centered zone I felt when I was there.)

There was also a smoked course with smoked zucchini “steaks,” duck ham, smoked tomato and smoked butter.  That was amazing.

But wake up!  Yes, there was a squash dessert.

Dessert.  Ahh, yes.  Everyone knows dessert is my thing.  And Stephanie is the resident pastry chef at Black Star, so it’s no wonder that we initially bonded over buttercream.  Much earlier in the night, before the dinner guests arrived, Steph and Jon were discussing the delicate timing and logistics of service and plating, including making chocolate ganache to serve with her citrusy zucchini cake with cocoa buttercream filling and Street’s zucchini ice cream.  During a silence in their discussion as they weighed the who’s-doing-what-when, I grabbed the bowl of fancy chocolate chips out of Stephanie’s hands, looked at her with all the confidence in the world and said, “ganache and I are great friends, I got this one.”  She shrugged, looked at Jon, and said, “Cool!”

(No joke, I babysat that chocolate ganache over a double-boiler all night long and was TERRIFIED I would ruin it.  I have accidentally ruined chocolate ganache once or twice.  It’s possible.)

Anyway, the dessert turned out just as good as it looked.  I will even boast that it was my idea to top it with a little flaky sea salt – which I think took it to the next level.

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I did not want that night to end.

Being the gracious and entertaining hostess, Stephanie pulled us kitchen staff out to the dining room for introductions after the dinner was complete, and gave me a second to say a few words.  I was almost in tears as I told the restaurant guests that I wasn’t really a chef, but I was a lawyer and was just playing one on tv.  I told them that Stephanie and I met and became instant friends five years ago as I planned my own wedding at Black Star.  And Stephanie knew this summer I needed to do something different, something positive and creative with a team of talented and fun artists, so she invited me to participate in this event.  I thanked Don Coe, Black Star’s managing partner who was attending the dinner, for giving his staff a license to create experiences and memories like this for their guests, and told him that the reason his business is so successful is because of the people they have taking care of it.  I thanked Stephanie (at least I hope I did) for having the vision and insight into my life to know how greatly a night in their kitchen would inspire me.  I felt like the luckiest person in the room.

2015 UpNorth-132Pulling off a successful, artful meal certainly takes planning and strategy, but more than anything it takes a willingness to be flexible to take advantage of whatever ingredients look perfect in the moment.  Steph and Street shopped the farmer’s market that same morning for many of the items that ended up on our plates that night.  And it takes preparation, training and education, but also instinct and raw talent that no one can teach you.  In the end, getting a perfect plate to the table takes attention to detail, choreography, timing, and service that is a sensual experience that must be lived 100% in the moment.  The food should be savored and appreciated with four of the five senses: sight, smell, touch and taste.  With a little good conversation and music, all five of our senses are nourished and we are made truly whole, if only for a moment.  That moment, created by the talented team at Black Star, is something I wish everyone could experience. 2015 UpNorth-119Being involved in assembling that meal was a joy I can hardly describe.  Somehow, like Stephanie, I need to find a way to be more mindful of the creative opportunities and positive moments my own work can present.  Because when we focus our energy and effort on the people and tasks immediately before us, I honestly believe the recipients of those efforts feel more aptly served and the tasks get done more effectively.  Being present now allows us to be flexible and avoid disappointment.  And sometimes, serendipity results from a lack of planning.  So I’m going to try to stop looking for the key to the door in front of me and just enjoy being in this room for a while.  Maybe what I’m looking for is right here.

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The Comedy and the Tragedy of Traveling

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You know how when we go on big trips we take lots of pictures?  And how when we get home we purge all the bad ones and carefully select only the prettiest ones to print for the photo album and share on Facebook?  Well I did that this week after we returned from our second trip to Jamaica.  I’ve flipped through the photos a dozen times, and they are just beautiful.  The sunsets, the sea, the plants, the food, the people.  Everything looks like a complete fantasy.  

Jamaica 2014
But this time it feels completely disingenuous.
 
Here are things I did not take pictures of:  
          On the 2-hour drive from the airport in Montego Bay to Negril, we passed through six or seven dirty, dusty, crowded, and littered villages and towns.  We passed farm fields where skinny cows and goats grazed with ropes tied around their necks, staked into the ground, and horses grazed in the roughage on the side of the road.  Roadside markets, ramshackle wood huts, many painted pretty colors but others just bare wood or scrap metal.  Manufacturing facilities and schools, with barbed wire on the tops of the walls surrounding the grounds.  Nearly everywhere we looked we saw trash, litter, rubbish, debris.  Plastic bags, water bottles, beer bottles, car parts, strewn in streams and along the side of the road.  
          At least half of the locals on the beach who offered to sell us fresh fruits, juices, hats, sarongs, jewelry, or wood carvings also quietly offered us ganja, x, or even cocaine.  It wasn’t terribly difficult to tune out, of course, with the heavenly colors of the diamond blue sea and clear blue sky taking up at least half of our viewshed.  
 Jamaica 2014
But it was glaring, nonetheless.  Like thorns on a rose bush in full bloom. 
          I did take a few pictures of gorgeous and interesting-looking Jamaican natives.  So many of them are stunningly beautiful people.  One well-dressed, coiffed professional woman even had a manicure matching her aqua patent-leather high heels.  Some carried gorgeous Michael Kors and LV (knock-off?) handbags.  
          But I took no pictures of the many folks lining the sidewalks who were unclean and missing most of their teeth, smoking.  
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Another thing I simply could not photograph were the animals.  Jamaicans mostly expect their pet cats and dogs to scrounge for food rather than feeding them regular meals.  The plaintive howling and whiny, snarling, fighting barks of the dogs at night is more than a little bit disruptive.  It is almost sickening.  Although the two conditionally-friendly German Shepherds guarding our Charela Inn had relatively healthy-looking coats and appeared well taken care of.  Only one of them was a little thin under her ribs. 
           The horses offered up like toys for rides on the beach were gaunt, clearly dehydrated, and sway-backed.  One little buckskin had a severe open wound on his rump, a bite from another horse or a wild dog I guessed, that I couldn’t even look at.  I carried home so much guilt for not buying that horse some food or a bucket of water. 
 
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In the larger towns the alleys between buildings have a square-bottomed, open concrete trench running down them toward the nearest river.  Full of trash.
          Interestingly enough, the beaches and yards around the resorts are meticulously swept clean of leaves, seaweed, and other debris early in the morning and again before dinnertime.  The perfectly manicured walkways and sandy areas feel and look as clean as the floors and carpets in our house.  But the leaves and other things swept away are disposed of each night in black plastic garbage bags thrown across the road into the brush to rot under the hot sunshine.  Plastic bags.  To contain the seagrape leaves swept off the sand.  To give us tourists a completely false sense of immaculate serenity.   
          Even though the only place one can find true, uninterrupted serenity is far beneath the surface of the sea in the silent company of delightful critters like this stealthy hermit crab.
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This issue disturbs me to the point of sleeplessness.  See, underneath the sugarcane and wild tangle of tropical weeds, the island is very rocky.  The island lacks good soil to cultivate for agricultural purposes.  Why are they not composting to create more fertile soil?  Why are they not encouraging scientists to develop affordable desalination technology and reverse greenhouses?  Negril has a Burger King and free Wi-Fi in almost every chicken shack & beer joint, yet they fail to improve their agricultural resources and celebrate local foods.  Instead they import most of their produce, primarily (I believe) because the large resorts and hotels insist on serving a diverse exotic (non-local) menu to satiate the unreasonable expectations of foreign travelers.   
          My ruminations from this trip remind me of why my observations in Ghana in college made me angry.  Cell phones and text messaging were all the rage in Ghana – as in the US – in the ’90’s, but they still ran channels of sewage down the roadsides into natural streams which fed their drinking water sources.  Why do developing communities adopt technologies of convenience but not of sustainability?  They want to look cool but not be healthy.  They fiercely challenge their children to concentrate 100% of their waking hours to studying math, science, social studies, and literature, but we hear that their employers want to hire graduates from US or European schools.  Even though it sounds like the Jamaican educational system is actually more difficult than ours.  They encourage higher education, charge for it, and mothers work 3 and 4 jobs 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, to pay for their children’s education.  But the country does not have enough good-paying jobs.  So their highly educated young people are working in resort kitchens and hotel front desks, driving taxis, selling ganja.  They want to connect with the modern world through Facebook and Twitter but they don’t care about protecting the natural environment or their animals.  Yeah, yeah, I know:  “First World Problems.”  
          Like do I have my perfect Blue Mountain coffee on the beach or by the pool?
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So, by the miracle of Catholic guilt, I feel responsible.  By sharing only my prettiest pictures, I’m just perpetuating the false image the Jamaican tourism industry is promoting.  I turned my back (and my camera) away from the ugliness, the trash, the poverty, the sickness.  
          By expressing these thoughts, I’m afraid my friends who aren’t as fortunate to travel as much as I do will think I’m complaining or being ungrateful.  Yes, the surroundings were generally beautiful.  Yes, we were lucky to travel to the Caribbean again this year.  And yes, I’m still looking forward to our next trip.  
          But maybe next year, instead of traveling there, maybe we bring one of our Caribe friends’ kids here.  I don’t know, it’s lofty and again feels somewhat arrogant, but our friend Marcia’s daughter Moesha is just graduating from “Fifth Form” this year.  She might like to study law or nursing.  And she’s in the top five in her class of 40.  She would like to go to college here in the United States so that she can be a top choice for one of the select high-paying jobs back in Jamaica someday.  Honestly she wants to go to MIT, but we’re lobbying to get her to apply to Michigan or CMU.  I’d like to get her to apply to the college of natural resources at U of M, followed by a degree in civil engineering so she can take back home an understanding of how to manage refuse and water runoff.  Or to MSU to study agriscience.  Or Grand Valley to major in Hospitality & Tourism Management and learn about how protecting the environment and utilizing local food products is a way to revive Jamaica’s tourism industry.   
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All of this probably sounds uber-pretentious.  I’m feeling the same way I did during my trip to Ghana in 2000.  Like I don’t really know anything but I’m projecting my own ideals – and judgment – on another culture I hardly know at all.  What do I know about the agricultural potential of an island like Jamaica?  What do I really know about environmental protection or education?  Maybe our government has it all wrong.  Maybe recycling programs are a facade and landfills are just concentrated toxic sinkholes that will someday make the Earth implode.  Maybe modern sewage and water treatment facilities are the real cause of cancer.  Maybe our educational system is indeed superior to the rest of the world.  I don’t know.  
          What I do know is that no matter how frequently or far I travel, my favorite place on earth will always be the shores of Lake Michigan.  Ungroomed.  Wild.  Unspoiled.  Perfect.  (Except during that one week in May when there’s a plague of black flies.)  I also know that water sold in individual disposable bottles is the bane of the natural environment’s existence and I will never use one again if I can help it.  (We take empty Nalgene or metal bottles with us when we travel and fill them at the airport.  Or we just drink beer.  Draft beer to conserve on packaging, whenever possible.  It’s only the responsible thing to do.)  I also know that I love local produce when it’s in season more than any other food I could eat.  Especially Grand Traverse peaches in late summer.  Mostly, though, I know that God made this amazing place infinitely beautiful.  For us.  And we need to do whatever we can to honor it so that our children and their children can obsess over their own carefully framed photos of these beautiful sunsets and oceans.  
Jamaica 2014

 

Jamaica 2014

The Non-billable Hours

Surprise!  No frosting.  No butter, no sugar, no Ghirardelli chocolate today.

Well, okay, here are some fun things I haven’t posted here:

Baking

Yes, I’ve been away from here.  And not necessarily because I’ve been busy at the Day Job, either.

That’s probably another surprise, huh?

I’m a lawyer, and luckily I’ve had a fairly steady practice since I got my license.  But in the last year, after making a big change in my work life, I’ve been very Not Busy.  Do you have any idea how bad it feels admitting that in writing?  So many of my friends are stressed to the hilt, barely able to keep one foot squarely in front of the other, maintain sanity, keep it all together.  And all the while, I sit here writing (and not sharing), reading, thinking, working out, teaching myself how to use Lightroom, sleeping far more hours than I’ll ever admit, and NOT billing clients.

A friend inspired me to let my guard down today, though, to see the good side of this and to share a vulnerable story, a potential sign of weakness, here.

In this last year, while I’ve been very Not Busy, I have found an amazing outlet for my time and pent-up intellectual energy.  Rather than pout about it, or take up areas of law practice that do not interest me, or beg Rick for more work, I used some of my vacant otherwise-billable hours to write an article for submission to a local YWCA publication.  My passion for the topic earned me an invitation to serve on the YW advocacy committee, and eventually the board, with some amazingly educated and experienced women leaders I cannot even believe I’m qualified to be associated with.   This morning at 7:00 a.m., as I crossed the bridge on my way to my first Executive Committee meeting downtown, heading east over the river, the sunrise behind City Hall was so lovely I felt awash with blessings.  (This is particularly strange, considering how much I generally loathe getting out of bed in the morning.)  The meeting was sparkling with energy, intelligence, enthusiasm and promise for the future of our community.  It was the best morning I’ve had in months.

In my downtime I’ve also done a lot of self-reflection.  This is a huge luxury that I should not be ashamed of, but somehow it feels as overly-indulgent as having ice cream for dinner.  As an exercise in self-reflection, Rick and I both took some time to consciously analyze our Four Core Values, inspired by a friend of mine who was sharing her journey with a career coach via her blog.  This was an incredibly enlightening get-to-know-you experience.  Everyone should do this at least once a year, and not in a vacuum, but with the people we’re closest to in life.

But the one thing I have not done with my available free time is spend it with a lot of random acquaintances.  During this time, which feels like some kind of major life transition for some reason, I’ve deliberately holed myself up somewhat, concentrating my energy on the handful of people I love the most.  During the course of analyzing my Four Core Values, at first I tried to say I valued “Friends, Family and Community.”  After considering that in more detail, though, I realized what I truly value is Connection.  Real, sincere, honest one-on-one connection.  This does not lend itself well to big rowdy Girls Nights Out, or large family gatherings, or networking events.  So I’ve enjoyed some one-on-one time with my brother and his girlfriend, my mom, Rick (of course), and a few select close friends, some of whom I haven’t seen or talked to in years.  Those connections make me feel completely alive and loved, even if they’re not always smooth daysailing.  The connections I have with the people who mean the most to me in life frequently bring me to tears, keep me awake at night, and distract me from the “more important” work I have to do on a daily basis.  I do not see that as a bad thing.

Friends

So this friend who inspired me to write today shared a vulnerable story on his blog.  We talked last week about the kind of business and partnership he sees himself in, and strangely enough, I gave him this piece of sage “legal” advice:  “You HAVE to love your business partners, almost as much as you would love your spouse.”  But if you read all over the web, you’ll hear that love and business are incompatible.  Profits, productivity, and growth are more important than love and relationships.  Why?  Is that right?  I’m not so sure.

Dogs

In this last year, I’ve had a lot of time to think, and hopefully contribute meaningful thoughts and ideas to a few worthy non-proft organizations and clients who are really looking for guidance.  Hopefully someday those thoughts will translate into productivity.  But for now, I’m just thanking my lucky stars that I get to be in this space and time, doing something I love to do (and sometimes love to hate!) with someone I love.  I cherish the random coffee dates I can have in the middle of the week with my friends and (usually-unbeknownst-to-them) mentors.  I thrive on the time I spend with community leaders volunteering on committees and boards.   If everyone had the quality of connections I have with people as interesting and passionate as the people I’m hooked up with, this whole world would be on fire with optimism and love.  So, I hope this year brings a good balance of Busy and Not Busy, and I’ll never again take my downtime for granted.

Sunshine, love, and octopus.

Last weekend I had an experience that changed my whole perspective on life, if only just for a moment.

Octopus.

Yes, I ate octopus for the first time last weekend. A divine experience. I can’t even describe it.

That’s what happens when you let go.

Lately I think I’ve been trying to be too in control. Of pretty much everything. And maybe everyone.

I can’t control anyone else’s emotions or behavior. I can’t control the outcome of litigation, even when I do the absolute best work I’m capable of doing. Disappointing results in this career are not a reflection of my inadequacies or deficiencies in my professional capacity. They just are.

It is what it is.

Octopus.

Man! That was NOT my idea, but I truly adore the person who had – and acted upon – the idea. I trust that person implicitly when it comes to food. Because (among other reasons) somehow, when I woke up that morning my coffee was the best I’ve ever had. This person has never observed my coffee habit. Yet there it was: in a hot carafe beside a tiny bowl of natural sugar lumps and a jug of half & half. Waiting just for me.

The night before he made us this for dinner:

After a long snowy ride up north, Rick & I took one glance at the menu, looked at each other and shrugged – everything sounded so amazing, how were we supposed to choose??? So we put the “choice” in the chef’s hands. He gave us a little bit of everything we wanted on the menu, and he had no input. It was almost like fate intervened as we finished our first glass of wine. Incredible…

So after two days and nights of delicious food, drinks, laughter and soul-baring conversation, I came home with a fresh perspective about what is really important in life.

Chocolate. Half & half. Fresh mozzarella cheese. Dedicated service to others. Hugs. Raw honesty. Sunshine. Faith. Love. Friendship.

And beer. Because if nothing else, beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Clear liquids and homemade dinner rolls

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Right now I’m lying on the couch with my head in a pretty white “ice helmet,” as my dad likes to call it, wearing hospital-issued grippy socks, watching some football and recovering from oral surgery.    Yesterday I finally had my wisdom teeth extracted – all SIX of them (I like to say: two of them were why I pretty much skipped the majority of my senior year of high school, two get credit for my honors Bachelors degree, and the other two got me a magna cum laude JD).  I probably would’ve left them in forever if I hadn’t developed a cyst in my lower right jaw that has been causing me some pain over the last few months.  Plus, I guess they’ve served their purpose.  That is, unless I ever actually go back to school again, which I think I’ve been talked out of. 

Anyway, I’ve been avoiding it because I’m a huge baby.  I HATE needles, blood, doctors offices, etc.  I knew over 15 years ago I had impacted wisdom teeth.  My dentist (now brother-in-law) just told me it was my choice whether to get them out or leave them in, and there are many people who leave them in without ever having an issue.  So of course I was NOT about to have elective surgery!  No Way Hozay.  Hospitals and I do NOT get along.  I’ve been super lucky in my life to have only had one other hospital experience, and that was a tonsillectomy at age 19, after spending my freshman year in college on an unlimited amoxicillin prescription and perpetual sore throat.  To this day I can tell when someone else has a sore throat just by the sound of their voice.  My mom used to know even before I did when I was getting sick.  Getting my tonsils out shouldn’t have been a big deal, but, man, I have horrible memories of the experience and not just the pain, which was deadly.  It was rather simple outpatient surgery but for some reason I was totally traumatized by it. 

This time I was in the hospital for a little over 14 hours because, according to the surgeon, I had some pretty severe surgery.  They wanted to monitor my pain & thought I might need a hit of morphine (or several) once the local anesthetic wore off.   When I woke up from the general anesthesia in the (thankfully empty!) recovery room, the first thing the surgeon told me was, “hey kiddo, we’re going to admit you & keep you overnight to manage your pain.”  It took all of thirteen seconds for me to wake up completely and start blubbering & crying.  The nurse asked what was wrong and I just garbled, discovering my mouth full of gauze, “Iwahwahohhommme.”  Yes.  I wanted. To Go. Home.  The nurse and surgeon both said that if I was doing okay later on, they thought I might be able to.  Hurray, I had hope!

I was conscious enough to know I had to collect myself before getting up to my hospital room so my parents & husband didn’t freak out because I was crying.  I wasn’t yet in pain and didn’t want them to worry about me.  As I was wheeled in the door I saw my dad join up with us behind my bed and I looked at him, flipped the bird, and mumbled “Uck.  Iss.”  and pointed to the room.  For a minute, he thought I was flipping him off, but soon enough I was able to clarify what I meant.  My text to my brother reiterated the point something along the lines of, “yeah, so they think they’re keeping me here overnight but they can SUCK IT!” 

I was told immediately that the local anesthetic was supposed to wear off in 6-8 hours.  I added that to the time I saw on the clock when I first woke up, 11:33, and planned my escape for 5:30. 

My parents went to lunch, then came back & let Rick go to lunch and check in at the office.  I chatted with my mom like everything was fine all afternoon.  When Rick got back I wanted to hear all about the flopped closing he was dealing with at work, and generally I kept up a great spirit.  I didn’t hit the morphine button even once (and at discharge totally tried to negotiate with my RN to unlock the machine & let me take the vial with me.  Afterall, I’m pretty sure I bought the damn thing and could at least try to get my money back on Craigslist or something.  She was sympathetic and I almost thought I had her!) 

Because I wasn’t feeling any real pain yet at 5:30 I decided to wait another couple hours, thinking I was probably still numb.  I mean, if I was supposed to need morphine then the pain was probably going to be epic, right?  Still, by 7:20, nothing.  On a scale of 1-10, a 2 or 3.  I’ve had migraine headaches that I’d categorize as a freakin 12, and I medicate those with OTC meds.  Finally, Rick & I decided we were ready to go.  It took the hospital staff about an hour & a half to administer my discharge papers and give me an initial shot of steroids & pain relievers through my IV.  During that time I’d removed the “ice helmet”, sat up, started to get organized, went to the loo, and unpacked the last round of gauze.  The IV came out smoothly & painlessly, much to my surprise (I told you I’m a baby) and I got dressed.  I had to wait another 15 minutes or so for a wheelchair driver to arrive, and then navigate the 3 floors down & out of the hospital.  By that time the pain had increased to about a 4 or 5, surprisingly.  I waited a bit for Rick to pull up the car and finally we were headed home. 

Pain – 6.  Uh oh, had I made a mistake in leaving the hospital too soon? 

We got home and I knew immediately I needed one of my prescription pain meds, but the dosage instructions said they could cause nausea so I was supposed to take them with food.  I hadn’t had anything other than a few “see, I’m fine, ready to go home” spoonfuls of green jello at the hospital, so Rick heated up some Kitchen Basics chicken broth I had conveniently opened the night before to make the most delicious chicken marsala EVER (is it just natural law that the last meal before a fast is the best meal EVER?  Because I might have to blog that recipe.). 

Anyway, I quick popped half a pain pill, then drank the warm, remarkably tasty broth, slid on the ice helmet and laid back on the couch.  Ahhh…. relief.  Within ten minutes the pain started going back down.  And I was SO glad to be home.

Rick ran to the store for jello and left me with my dad, who had come over to watch the dogs after he & my mom left the hospital around 5:30.  He chattered on excitedly about a bunch of random stuff, the dogs and their new stick, the two dinners he fed them, and the bottle of our great new Dreaming Tree wine he drank and LOVED, and I could tell he was feeling a huge anxiety release that I was finally home from the hospital and feeling okay.  He eventually told me how upset he was during my surgery that it took a lot longer than the surgical staff initially estimated.  But he kept laughing about my “Uck this” initial remark and I promised him I didn’t mean it at him.  I tried to tell him I couldn’t talk much because one of my stitches was irritating me and he told me, “I KNOW!  I tried to tell you to shut up all afternoon!”  LOL!  What a riot. 

My mom was nearly insistent that Rick call her to come over for my midnight dosage of pain meds and said she was going to stay up late putting up her Christmas decorations anyway, so we might as well call!  My parents can be crazy sometimes, but they’re the best under pressure.   

So despite the surgeon’s prediction that I’d need to stay overnight, I was lucky enough to sleep soundly in my own bed, next to my own personal nurse who fed me & kept me comfortable all night.  Rick doted on me like you wouldn’t believe.  He seemed to enjoy himself immensely – and so the “in sickness” vows have been met, and after only 3 months!  ❤  Swoon ❤ 

This morning I woke up fairly early to take my next dose of pain meds, slipping silently out of bed so as not to disturb Rick (I felt quite fine, actually).  Then I lied in bed thinking about – of all things – FOOD. 

OF COURSE!!!  I mean, it’s CHRISTMAS!  I have three parties to bake for in the next few weeks and each of them are different.  I was also thinking about different clear liquid things I could have Rick make for me today, and gradually-increasing solids.  More chicken stock, with a scrambled egg mixed in, a’la egg drop soup.  Banana-yogurt smoothies with nutritious Grade B maple syrup.  Mashed potatoes…  I must be feeling well if my appetite is this fierce less than 24 hours after surgery.

So, back to the dessert plans I have to make:  next week is Rick’s family’s big Christmas party.  I’m considering making a Yule log, but I don’t own a jelly roll pan and don’t have anywhere to store one if I were to buy one.  I also thought of gingerbread cupcakes with orange-zested cream cheese frosting like I made last year.  Or red velvet cupcakes with cool whip in lieu of frosting. 

The following weekend is my girlfriends’ dinner party.  That menu has me totally geeked:  beef tenderloin, greenbeans almondine, roasted root vegetables, homemade dinner rolls, and some amazing desserts. 

Oh, yeah, so what I wanted to show you today was this flub:

Failed dinner rolls.  And I was SO excited about this recipe from How Sweet it Is.  I mean, look at it, aren’t those pictures just amazing?!?! 

I cannot for the life of me figure out what I did wrong.  The dough mixed up perfectly, rose like a charm, (and if you try to tell me the cranberry-vanilla-orange martini had anything to do with the fail, try again)

came together in lovely little clover balls

but then plahhh. 

On the second rise, they stuck to the dish towel I had covering them and when I pulled it off they deflated.  I didn’t have time to let them rise again (and didn’t actually consider that as an option until a friend mentioned it later on), so I just put ‘em in the oven and though what the heck, they might turn out… 

Not.

While they actually tasted pretty decent, they were super hard.  We ended up eating a few, but then I crumbled them up to serve as a sort of dressing or biscuits with turkey & gravy on top as leftovers.  That wasn’t half bad. 

But I really want to impress my friends with these as a side dish in a couple weeks.  I WILL TAKE ANYONE’S SUGGESTIONS.  Ready, go:

Uh oh, here’ goes… Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes, Eventually

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(Warning: if you just want the cupcake recipe and not a long rant, scroll all the way down past the raging diatribe to the next picture.  Enjoy!) 

I’m feeling impulsive.  Big time.  Like, unreasonably-going-into-debt impulsive. 

This angsty feeling I’ve had the last month or so that I’ve tried to ignore by baking every single freaking day is going to get me in trouble.

I may have to do one of two things:

A)   Paint the entire inside of my house white, or ecru, or very very light gray.  (In order to provide a more photogenic background for my blog photos, of course.  I am deeply committed to this baking-writing hobby if you haven’t noticed.) 

or

B)   Go back to school. 

Which of the above-mentioned investments sounds less unreasonable to you?  Really, this is not a rhetorical question, I could use a little help here.  And please acknowledge that double negative so I know you’re paying attention.  (Aw quitchyerbitchin.  Did you not realize this blog would eventually try to challenge your linguistics?  Sheesh.  I will assume you don’t really want to discuss the difference between the phrases “more reasonable” and “less unreasonable,” and instead, we will move along.)

See, while some people actually buy my carefully-crafted internet persona, the truth is that I suffer cyclical bouts of major insecurity and self-doubt in both my Day Job and, surprisingly, this new blogging thing.  I just know that I could be much better at both of them.  Unfortunately it seems much easier and far less expensive to improve the skills I use in blogging (baking, writing, photography, food styling) than it is to increase my legal knowledge.  Another reason I’ve been focusing my energy on blogging rather than my real career issues is that my personality seems to work a lot better in the blog world than it does in the courtroom or the boardroom.  In baking & blogging, I can hide behind my laptop and not confront any real human beings ever, if I don’t want to.  I can even delete comments if I don’t like them.  This kind of one-sided dialogue works very well for me.  =D

I know I shouldn’t be so sensitive to criticism.  I also shouldn’t compare myself to other people but it’s impossible not to.  I practice law with my husband.  I’m pretty sure he’s the greatest lawyer I have ever met and will ever meet in my entire life.  I’m not biased, either.  He really is.  He’s brilliant, and totally cool, and a major perfectionist.  He is patient, persistent, flexible, approachable, sympathetic, understanding, creative…  Seriously, I’m not exaggerating.  He has every good quality an effective advocate, teacher and negotiator should have.  He’s also pretty darn good looking, too, which adds insult to injury.  (Luckily for me, though, he isn’t perfect.  The man is uber top-heavy and has no sense of balance so he cannot go kayaking or do yoga without falling and making himself look like a total dweeb.  Thank God he has a flaw.  I can’t tell you how much I wish I had a picture of him to insert here right now, coming up out of the water next to his kayak looking incredibly surprised and very drenched – the image in my head is priceless.)  

Okay, to my credit I do have one useful talent:  I’m generally one of the best legal analysts & writers in town.  

That’s the extent of my skills, though.  I’m impatient, skeptical, harsh, cold-hearted, inflexible and uptight.  I do not have a mind for sales or negotiating.  And my favorite word in the English language is “OBJECTION!”  Followed closely by, “facts not in evidence … attorney testimony  … SPECULATING!”  In that tone of voice, too.  With my eyes wide open in shock accompanied by jazz hands.  I have been known to mutter under my breath the occasional “pshh, whatever,” or (hissing) “liar” in court, too.  I just can’t keep my mouth shut.  

This job is for the birds.  

BUT.  I really love it.  Parts of it, anyway. And even when I really hate it, I love to hate it.  

The thing I don’t love is feeling ineffective.  I also don’t love not knowing something I want to know or should know in order to help a client move their business forward.  I also hate it when I lose the battle against my will to keep my mouth shut.  

I want to take a class on how to master the proper passive-aggressive posture and tone of voice to use when replying thusly: “Hm [thoughtful-sounding pause] interesting…” because I think that’s the single most effective and non-committal response a lawyer can make to any statement or question, no matter how crazy.  It at once acknowledges what the other person said while reserving the right to respond in substance at a later time.  Brilliant.  

I need to figure out how to do that.  

There are times I pride myself on being decisive and quick-witted.  There are times I enjoy my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings clearly, concisely and promptly. 

There are other times I want to punch myself in the face for being a Mouth and saying something I shouldn’t have or using a totally honest inappropriate tone of voice.  

Yes, I do realize there’s not a lot about these issues I could change by going back to school.  However, another degree or some audited classes could help diminish the few insecurities I can more readily control, mainly a lack of deep understanding of tax law, bankruptcy and corporate securities.  

This is so strange, looking back.  Five and a half years ago I said there was no reason I would ever need to go back to school.  I have achieved one of the highest levels of American education available.  What the heck makes me think I need another degree???  Normal people don’t even know what an LLM is (Master of Laws, fyi).  And I should probably be able to learn more about those Lost Topics by attending seminars or webcasts, or by reading on my own.  But there’s no pressure or incentive in that.  If there’s no test, no one who cares if I attend or take notes, no fear of being humiliated in class if I don’t do the assigned reading, then I’m not likely to do it.  I learned eight million random legal things for the bar exam through self-study.  I have since forgotten nine million random legal things.  I’m a pro at crashing & test-taking.  I am not so good at learning things permanently unless there’s real pressure to do so.  Honest.  I just rely on my photographic short-term memory.  How embarrassing is that?  

I disgust myself for even admitting it.  

Anyway, what should I do?  Really.  Does anyone have first-hand experience with the Dale Carnegie program and if so, is it really possible to train yourself to overcome personality weaknesses, communicate more effectively, learn how to be a salesperson or negotiator?  

It’s either personal business training or more academic education.  Self-discipline isn’t going to cut it.  

Or should I just go to Home Depot for paint? 

Oh, you came here to see pretty pictures of baked goods, didn’t you?  How about the most perfect pumpkin chai cupcakes ever?  Mmm hm, most definitely! 

I admit, these are from last year.  And – and – I made them with a boxed mix.  Why that makes me feel guilty is beyond me.  Boxed white cake mix is the BEST.  I have not yet found a comparable scratch recipe that’s so light & fluffy and bakes up dependably every time.  My use of the Box is not for lack of trying to bake from scratch or anything, it’s truly a well-informed choice.  Guilt bedamned.  So, this is it: 

Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes

Pour one dry white or yellow cake mix into a bowl.  Add 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ginger, whisk to combine. 

In a large measuring cup or medium-sized bowl, melt 1 stick of butter (or use 1/4 cup vegetable oil, depending on whether your boxed mix calls for butter or oil, I prefer a butter-recipe white mix, though), add 1 cup cooled strong tea (this is one thing that makes these subtly chai flavored), 1cup canned pumpkin and 3 egg whites.  Blend with a hand mixer for one minute.  (For the record, I reserve the right to adjust this recipe since I wrote it down a LONG time after the first time I made these, and I’m not entirely sure the measurements are perfect – this sounds like a tad too much moisture to me.)  Anyway…

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and blend just shy of 2 minutes. 

Portion out into 24 cupcakes using a an ice cream scoop and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch them carefully through the door with the light on the last 3 minutes. 

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then on a wire rack until the cupcakes are room temp.  

Filling – simple:  blend 1/2 cup canned pumpkin into 1 cup cool whip with a couple dashes of the same spices as in the cake mix.  Adjust to taste if it’s not pumpkin-y enough for you.  There is zero science to making cream fillings out of cool whip, it’s all taste & texture, just don’t blend it too aggressively or it will turn to soup. 

Once the cupcakes are cooled, carve a small cone out of the top and pipe the filling in with a piping bag or a Ziploc with the corner cut off.  Eat the cake scraps (quality control, my friends, it is your responsibility).    

Frosting –my favorite and here’s the recipe:  Smitten Kitchen’s Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  For these cupcakes, I added cinnamon & nutmeg, probably a teaspoon of cinnamon & 1/4 tsp nutmeg.  Pipe frosting on top with a 1M star tip and then sprinkle nutmeg on top for that real Chai aroma. 

Enjoy!  Next time, you can help me decide what shade of white to paint my kitchen =D  Then we can talk about how great of a painter I am.  NOT!

Home Body

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Home is seriously underrated. 

Last Saturday, although we had tickets, we did not go to the Michigan-Purdue game.  I know, I know.  We broke the 11th commandment of Michigan season-ticket-holders:  Thou Shalt Not Miss A Big Ten Game.  Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been blhaabluwwhs  yhllwwallts since my last confession. 

But hey, we planned to go.  I even got up, showered and thought we were going to go.  But I really wanted to just stay home.  I wanted to stay home so badly I cried in the shower.  Luckily Rick was silently listening in and insisted that we did not have to go and could just go back to bed. 

Last week was just really long and exhausting and neither one of us got a single good night’s sleep.  I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent, or even 85%.  I was kinda crabby, a little sniffly, a lot tired, and not at all in the mood to sit in gameday traffic or elbow 101,014 Wolverines & Boilermakers inside the stadium to get to my cramped bleacher seat.  I also did not feel like getting rained on during a relatively boring game and knew it was just one of those days.  Not quite Northwestern 2008 which was so bad it earned me my Michigan Football Fan Merit Badge, but probably damp and slow.  

So instead I watched the game in comfy clothes on the couch with the dogs, flipping back & forth between Michigan v. Purdue & State v. Nebraska.  Then I baked a pretty apple bundt cake for the church harvest bazaar. 

(The recipe is not my favorite, though, so I won’t be talking much about that cake.) 

It was SO nice to just stay home.  I wish we had more Saturdays like that.  Lazy, quiet, warm, cozy…  Aren’t I a boring old lady?!?!

Yes, I am a self-proclaimed home body. 

I’ll never forget one of the nights I was drawn to that quiet, warm, cozy image of Home in college. 

Fall semester Junior year, I had a final project due at 8:00 pm on a Friday night in my Construction Drawing class (I was an architecture major in undergrad).  It sounds kind of strange now, looking back, but after I turned in my drawing I had a little bit of a meltdown.  I was just SO. TIRED.  I think I went three or four days in a row on about 2-3 hours of sleep.  All-nighters were no joke in architecture school.  In some ways they were absolutely the most thrilling experience of my life.  Social, inspiring, challenging, creative.  Lonely, exhausting, difficult.  My memories of those dark late nights in studio are all very fond, though. 

That one night after turning in my drawing, I left the building and sat in my car for about two minutes before bursting into tears.  I didn’t even stop at my apartment to get clothes or tell my roommates where I was going (they wouldn’t have noticed my absence anyway, since I’d just spent every waking minute – and most of their sleeping minutes – in studio).  I just drove home, to my parents’ house, almost two hours away.  I needed to sleep in my own cozy little twin bed.  For about thirty-nine hours straight.  And when I woke up I wanted someone to make me bacon & eggs for breakfast.  I wanted to watch the NASCAR race on tv with my dad.  I just wanted to be Home. 

When I got there I felt kind of strange driving in the driveway, almost like I was intruding.  I hadn’t even called (this was before I had a cell phone) so my parents didn’t know I was coming.  I should’ve been at school – two hours away.  They were going to freak.  I immediately regretted the snap decision, feeling terribly guilty, afraid they were going to worry.  Nothing was wrong with me, I was just tired!  I took my time parking in the driveway and dragged my feet up the front porch steps.  And I knocked on the door.  To my own parents’ house.  I was SO.  Tired.

That sounds so sad!  But my mom answered the door with the kindest, most concerned, warm, loving look on her face.  I meekly asked if I could come home, and then I promptly fell fast asleep.  At least I think that’s what happened because I don’t remember the rest of the weekend. 

My parents knew how hard I worked in school and so I don’t really think they were that surprised to see me.  I don’t think I ever felt as much at home in Ann Arbor as some of my roommates or other classmates did.  I didn’t go out much (no time or money) and I didn’t invest any energy into forging lifelong relationships there.  My heart stayed firmly put in Bay City the whole 4 years I was gone. 

Oh I was a big talker in high school, though.  I thought I’d leave & never come back.  I had lofty goals of big cities, romantic faraway places, skyscraper office buildings and loft apartments. 

Then Dale Earnhardt was killed in the Daytona 500 when I was a Senior in college.  My brother and my dad, Earnhardt’s biggest fans, were at that race.  I found myself mourning his death like he was a family member, and I was all alone in Ann Arbor.  No one there seemed to pay attention to NASCAR.  Back home, everyone did.  Everyone should’ve known why I penned a black #3 on my left hand in Sharpie, but no one even noticed.  All of a sudden I felt really out of place in Ann Arbor.  I loved my car, a Pontiac Grand Am, and no one in Ann Arbor drove domestics, let alone gave two thoughts about what kind of wheels got them from Point A to Point B. 

I’ve always had a thing for cars. 

There was a guy in our sailing fleet who I thought was insanely gorgeous, but he drove a white Pontiac Sunfire.  I would not be caught DEAD dating a guy who drove a Sunfire!  When he sold it & got a hot Jeep Wrangler things changed significantly 😉  I kind of have a thing about cars, and it runs in my family.  My mom drove a Mustang when I was little.  My brother’s first car was an ’82-1/2 Camaro that I was secretly in love with (yes, Chevy changed the body style mid-year in 1982 – I would know, my brother is a Camaro expert).  My own first car was the sweetest ride in my high school parking lot.  I suffered a horrible complex when it went into the shop for 8 weeks after I hit a deer (8-point buck) and I was forced to drive one of my parents’ extra Buicks.   

About a month ago on my way into work, I passed by my dad driving the other way in his big old blue Chevy.  I waved.  Then I smiled for a good long time – Dad in his Chevy boat: A legend.  A couple weeks after that on the way to the office I passed my mom in her new black Malibu.  While that car is gorgeous, I HATE it because it makes my mom totally incognito, blending in with 28 other identical cars in town.  Ggrrr!  I rubberneck every time one of them passes me.  Anyway, that day mom & I stopped in the middle of the intersection to say hi & good morning.  I savored those warm fuzzies for at least the next three or four miles.  I often see my uncle Ted driving around downtown in his old GMC work truck.  Once in a while on my way home from work I’ll pass by my brother-in-law swinging a golf club at the driving range.  I love to honk my horn & wave mid-swing in the hope he messes up 😉  He’s wound a little tight & needs a check every now & then. 

Those moments mean a lot to me. 

I love being Home.  Where I know what kind of car everybody drives and never have to knock on my parents’ door, even when they’re not expecting me.