Classic Wedge Salad (& keepsakes)

I have a few treasured items that have been passed down to me from family members.

An old wooden box from my grandmother’s childhood, used to store trinkets and treasures.

My mom’s mom’s cookbooks with hand-written notes in the margins and a full set of formal table linens.

The plastic container my dad stored iceberg lettuce in the entire time my sister and I were growing up.

This final item may be the most precious. This Tupperware was around long before I was and, most likely, will be around long after me, as is the nature of those lovely containers made decades and decades ago.

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Coffee & Cola Pulled Pork (& strangers)

My grandma has never met a stranger.

Do you know someone like that? Can meet anyone, anywhere and find some common ground, some topic to discuss, or a mutual acquaintance.

It happened two weekends ago when my grandma finally met Seth. I knew immediately they would hit it off – as Seth also has a touch of that gift. He’s open and welcoming, able to hold a conversation with anyone (including the befuddled bartender who thinks he’s dreamy and sheepishly slides him her number ahem.)

They sat and chatted in the sunshine, eventually coming to realize they had mutual friends in common – decades apart and separated by miles. I drifted in and out of the conversation – remembering a story my grandma had told me.

She had been at the grocery store, surveying the pork butts that were on sale. She selected hers; put it in her cart, ready to head for the checkout. A woman stopped her, “Um, excuse me? But…how do I cook this?” Gesturing toward the roasts, at a complete loss, looking for guidance.

My grandma explained her routine, the different seasonings and a bit of liquid in a crockpot.

“I like to use a nice dark soda or a cup of coffee,” my grandma told her.

Listening intently, the woman nodded and asked, honestly, “With cream and sugar?”

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Brioche Burger Buns (& barbecues)

‘Tis the season, y’all!

It’s warm enough for a cookout!

Burgers.

Brats.

Hotdogs.

You name it, I want it on the grill. Piled high on a paper plate. Served with a side of corn on the cob. Or coleslaw. Or Jell-O salad (God bless the Midwest and the ability to call something that’s half Cool Whip a “salad”).

All those burgers and bbq need a soft place to land, a comfortable place to rest. Enter, these brioche burger buns! Buttery, soft, tender as all get out! They will elevate any backyard shindig and are the perfect beginning and end to a summertime sandwich.

You can thank me later.

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Pork Belly Bibimbap (& frustration)

Things haven’t been going right this week.

Pork Belly Bibimbap

Four recipes have flopped. Photos haven’t been great. Posts haven’t gone up.

Now’s the time where I can either focus on those missteps, those mess-ups and throw in the towel. Or, I can focus on what has gone right. I can go to bed before 9pm, take Edgar for a nice long walk, and eat another bowl of bibimbap.

Pork Belly Bibimbap

Because this turned out. Beautifully. Deliciously.

This was the first time I ever cured and roasted a pork belly, the first time I ever attempted bibimbap. I sent many texts to my former coworker, Kris, who is a master at pork belly (among other things), pleading and pestering. For months I watched him cure and roast pork belly (and smoke chicken wings and braise chicken thighs and cook perfect grits) but never paid enough attention to the exact process. I was busy baking burger buns.

Pork Belly Bibimbap

Turns out, it’s way easier than I thought! All it takes is a little bit of time and a willingness to have 5 pounds of perfectly cooked and undeniably juicy pork belly on hand.

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Melba’s Lasagna (& intuition)

Apparently your stomach has more nerve endings than your spinal chord. When people talk about “gut feelings” or “butterflies” or a “sinking feeling” – they’re actually talking about those nerve endings.

Melba's Lasagna

I think a mom’s stomach has even more. And they’re far more sensitive than a regular human’s.

At least, that’s how my mom is. For months before I decided to move back to Wisconsin, she would drop suggestions for my return, consistently and constantly. She knew her child wasn’t happy, she could feel it in her gut.

“You know…you can always move back home…”

“Mom. No. I’m fine.”

Round and round we went. Until my brain finally caught up to her gut, and I came home. Even after my return to Wisconsin I was unsettled, unsure. She could tell. She offered the spare room to me time and time again. Eventually, I conceded. And I’ve been happier at home with her than I would’ve been willing to admit.

My mom is a special lady. Friends in South Carolina thought I was making her up when I would describe her. The penchant for tie-dye, the affection for unicorns, the unhealthy reliance on Mountain Dew. While I didn’t inherit any of those traits, I did get her fierce independence (some would say stubbornness) and sensitive heart. As I get older, and my parents do too, I see them more as people and realize the affect they’ve had on me (for better or for worse).

Melba's Lasagna

My mom is an original – take her or leave her, she’s not going to conform to what other’s think she should be or do or say. This quality is rarified in people, women especially. To be honest, when I was little all I wanted was a mom who looked like all the other moms, who acted like all the other moms. One who didn’t have purple hair or her head half-shaved, one who wore khakis instead of Crocs, one who hired a repairman instead of buying a roll of duct tape. It took me a long time to appreciate who she was, how she was. It took me even longer to realize she was teaching me a very valuable lesson – about being myself, no matter what. About pursuing my happiness, my fulfillment, no matter what. That being comfortable in my own skin was more important than being how others thought I should be.

I’m grateful for that lesson, even if it took me a long time to learn it. My gut gets more attention, its voice is louder. And it sounds a little bit like my momma.Read More »

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken Tacos with Pico de Gallo & Guacamole

If it isn’t obvious enough from the lack of baked goods being posted, it just hasn’t been my week in the kitchen. My mojo is no mo’. At least for the moment. I accepted it after the fifth batch of failed cupcakes.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken Tacos | via Midwest Nice Blog

This has happened before. And will likely happen again. Ebbs and flows. I will have days, weeks, at a time where things just don’t turn out in the kitchen. My touch and talent seemingly gone. While it’s very uncomfortable for me, and a serious blow to my confidence, it won’t last forever. But just in case, I did a sage smudge and deep cleaned my house for good measure.

I’ve learned that the most important thing to do when a funk like this happen is to not force it. Which, admittedly, I had been doing earlier this week; wanting so badly to bake the ideas from my imagination into a reality. It was a lot harder not to force it when I was baking professionally. It was my job to bake. I couldn’t just not. I had to force it. And the results were always less-than-ideal. Dry cupcakes, over-risen bread, croissant dough riddled with holes.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken Tacos | via Midwest Nice Blog

Eventually, things settle down. Things get back to normal. My cupcakes will turn out, my cookies will not crumble.

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken Tacos | via Midwest Nice Blog

Until then, there’s tacos. With pico. And guac. They’re so delicious and so simple – made in the slow cooker so that even my struggling-self could knock them out of the park.

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