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Friday, October 22, 2010

The Five Stages of Healing and Homemade Chicken Stock

After you've had surgery, you have a lot of time to think. Or, as some might say, over-think. I've thus decided there are five stages of healing -- stages injured people must endure before they make a full and complete recovery. These are mine. Your mileage may vary.

Stage 1: Pain. With surgery, comes pain. A lot of pain. Did I mention a lot? And with pain comes apathy, in that you really don't care much what's happening around you. Sunny and beautiful out? Oh well, the sun will rise again tomorrow. Maybe then I'll care. Your friends are headed out for a fun night on the town? Whatev. It's time for my nap. Thomas Keller wants to make a special tasting menu designed just for me? Eh, I'm really not that hungry anyway.

Stage 2: Frustration. After a while, the pain eases up enough so your mind can focus on other things. The things you like to do, whether it's cooking, running, skydiving or sailing. But here's the catch: you can't do any of it. Nope. No fun for you. You notice that everyone around you actually has a life, in which they partake in enjoyable activities and accomplish things. The world is moving, and, well, you are not. And, because you're literally not moving, you feel achy in all sorts of other places that never ached before, and this is annoying on top of frustrating.

Stage 3: Glee. This is the fun part -- when you start feeling well enough to actually DO something. You can tie your shoes without help. You choose to wear jeans instead of ratty sweats or PJs. You realize you're not planning your day around your pain meds. You shower and apply makeup just because. The mere act of stepping outside your home is a revelation.

Every bit of progress feels like a major victory -- you cheer yourself on the way we applaud for a toddler when she takes her first step or finishes his broccoli. You feel gratitude, satisfaction and a little bit giddy. In other words, you're no longer a complete hot mess. Squee!

Stage 4: Deflation. This stage tends to accompany a setback in your healing. You've overdone it, or suffered a re-injury. Me, I got hit with a horrific chest cold.

Now, I know, for most people, a cold is no big deal. They accept it like adults and move on. But, apparently for me, it involves melodrama and a hit to my pride. You see, in my mind, I have a natural and superior immunity against the rhinovirus. Uh-huh. I've been crumpled up into a grumpy, whiny, pity-partying gal who can out-hack a lifelong smoker.

Stage 5: Who knows? I'm firmly stuck in stage 4. But it'd better be good. : )

Homemade Chicken Stock

They say homemade chicken soup can cure all ills. While I think that's a gross exaggeration, I do know making your own stock will make your cooking infinitely better. If you're really organized, you'll save and freeze the carcasses and bones from your roasted and baked chickens, as well as vegetable scraps. If you're like me, you'll improvise and use what you have on hand. You'll also ask your husband to make this for you, and you'll fail to get a decent photo (see Stage 2). Resist the temptation to use old, wilted veggies -- it's just not respectful, nor will it make for a tasty stock. Freeze the stock in large or small plastic bags, label them, and use it as the base for soups, add a splash to enrich sauces, or ladle a cupful for the drama queen in your life. Trust me, you'll both feel better.


1 whole chicken, 3.5-4 pounds
2 large onions, quartered
4 large carrots, halved
4 stalks celery, halved
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
20 sprigs fresh parsley, with stems
15 sprigs fresh thyme, with stems
5 sprigs fresh basil, with stems
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns

Place all ingredients in a large stockpot over high heat. Add enough water to just cover the contents of the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 hours, skimming the scum and froth occasionally. Allow to cool slightly. Strain stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander into a large bowl or container. Refrigerate stock overnight, then remove the congealed fat. Use immediately or freeze for about three months.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Irony and Roasted Tomatoes

It's been four weeks since my back surgery, and I'm stiff, sore and tired. Exactly where I should be. The procedure, though more extensive and invasive than originally planned, went very well.

Having surgery gives a gal a lot of time to think. My mind is filled with gratitude. I'm grateful for family and friends who sent flowers, food and thoughtfully written cards. For those who called, stopped by and sent little "checking on you" notes electronically. And for my husband and mom, who have been more helpful and supportive then they could ever know.

Having surgery, aside from the pain, the limping, the endless fatigue, the wicked drug-induced side effects and the stunning shock to your system, is really pretty fascinating.

I can't remember a time in my adult life when I've had a singular focus. My job is to heal. Sounds simple, and in some ways it is. Walk a little every day. Slowly. Then, rest, relax, and rest some more. Read, rest, and read some more. Nap.

For years, my multi-tasking mind and body has yearned for time to simply slow down. And I'm grateful in more ways than I can express for this time. I can't imagine doing anything else right now.

But, honestly, it can also be frustrating. My mind wants to do things my body can't do. Yoga, for example. For years, I've wanted to start a daily morning yoga practice. Perfect timing, right? Um, nope. I mean, shouldn't I be using this time to write, create, cook, DO something? Anything?

Sorry, not happening. Because even my brain is off. Fuzzy, off-kilter, reaching for words. I've been trying to write this post for two weeks and could hardly string a sentence together.

Meantime, the rest of the world continues to move full-tilt. It feels strange, sitting on the sidelines. I feel a little left out. Yet, the thought of re-entering my old world and my former pace feels overwhelming.

And then there's my kitchen. It taunts me. I'm aching to start cooking again. I've worked full time for my entire adult life, and have never had the kind of time I'd like to devote to cooking. Now I have the time, but not the ability. Yet.

Well, I can make little things. Grilled cheese, roasted tomatoes, simple salads.

But I want to be making homemade bread. Pie crust from scratch. Braises and soups and glorious fall dishes. I want to be canning the last of the Roma tomatoes from my garden.

Not that I really even want to eat what I hypothetically could cook. My appetite is weak and my digestion is battered.

In the meantime, I've shifted into planning mode: scouring magazines, cookbooks and blogs for inspiration, developing recipes on paper, and making a list of dishes to whip up once I'm ready.

By the time I can really get cooking again, I suspect I'll be back to work and my chaotic schedule. Ironic, I know.

Roasted Tomatoes

This is hardly a recipe; it's really more of a technique. But it is a staple of my kitchen, a good way to use up some of summer's bounty, and even allows you to enjoy tomatoes in the middle of winter, when they're out of season. I add them to pastas, soups, salads, side dishes and to other vegetables. They're delicious plain. Feel free to play with the seasonings -- you can add crushed red pepper, smoked paprika, lemon zest -- the tomatoes are a blank canvas. Sorry, no photo this time -- that would require a level of organization and coordination that just doesn't exist at the moment.

1 package cherry or grape tomatoes, whole or halved, or plum tomatoes sliced medium-thick
Good olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh basil or thyme
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place sliced tomatoes on cookie sheets lined with a Silpat, parchment paper or foil. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and combine well with hands. Arrange on the cookie sheet -- give them some room to breathe. Pop in the oven and cook until the skins are wrinkled and lightly browned and the tomatoes begin to collapse, about 15-20 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with fresh herbs and cheese.