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Author Archives: Ginger O'Donnell

Beats/Beets

Beets My Pic

I have two offerings today… one was inspired by a vegetable garden; the other, by whatever algorithm Spotify uses to generate music that stirs a chord in me. Both — the fruits of the earth and that digital razzmatazz — inspire a small bit of wonder:

Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

  • Thoroughly wash, rinse, and pat dry raw beets; tear off bright green leaves and place in a salad spinner
  • Place beets in a baking dish. Rub with olive oil, salt, & pepper. Roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately one hour or until tender.
  • Let beets cool (approximately 10 minutes). Run under cold water and peel skin off.
  • Cut into chunks and place on top of fresh lettuce mixed with beet greens.
  • Add dollops of goat cheese.
  • Add any other raw veggies you like (such as celery or carrots) + lightly toasted walnuts or pignolis.
  • Dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, & pepper.

COVID-19 Choral Music 

I haven’t been to church since the pandemic hit, but I long to sing and hear choral music. I find catharsis in the gravity and somberness of these songs. What I mean is, they feel like an appropriate soundtrack for the times:

  1. “Wanting Memories,” The Concordia Choir, Beauty in the World
  2. “It Is Well With My Soul,” Audrey Assad, Inheritance
  3. Nunc Dimittis,” Paul Smith, Reflections
  4. “i carry your heart,” Eric Whitacre
  5. “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord,” The University of Utah Singers, A Jubilant Song
  6. Even When He Is Silent,” Texas All-State Mixed Choir, 2016 Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA): All-State Mixed choir and the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra

Peace,
Ginger

This Grief You Cry Out From

Black SquareYesterday I participated in a local march for Black lives.

As I screamed the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery, Eric Garner, Mike Brown… with so many others unnamed… my eyes stung with tears and chills coursed through my arms and legs.

I have spent my entire career trying to learn and grow in my understanding of racial dynamics in this deeply broken country, and the BLM signs, the calls for justice, the rallying of my community… perhaps I should have felt hopeful, but it all felt like too little too late.

Last night, as another young man died in Atlanta, I broke down into sobs for all the deaths…

This morning I find myself drawn to Rumi’s poem, “Love Dogs”:

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express is the return message!”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

Amid my uncertainty about where this will lead, Goddamnit, I will keep crying out, not only through signs and chants, but through research, action, and humble listening.

I will embrace my sadness, my anger. You say “White silence is violence?” Then let this sadness, this anger, be my saving cup.

Corona Cooking: 2+ Pastas for the Casual Pescatarian

Shrimp Dish

 

Who doesn’t love the power of food and cooking to evoke fond memories from the past.

My husband and I are trying our hand at a pescatarian diet (with a few cheats here and there), which prompted me to revive an old favorite of ours, Ina Garten’s linguine with shrimp scampi. I followed the recipe to a tee and then felt like it needed a little something more, so I dusted off the finished product with generous handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese.

Padraic lifted a forkful to his mouth and immediately went nostalgic on me, reminiscing about the time we made this together in my shoebox studio apartment in Chicago, splurging on large and expensive shrimp from the Whole Foods around the corner. Then, another time on a lakeside vacation, when my younger brother watched us pull everything together in a large skillet and told us “we made a good team.”

This is a romantic, special meal indeed — and not just because you’re shelling out some bucks for shrimp. It’s the richness of the noodles, the decorative lemon slices, the deceptively simple flavoring of olive oil, butter, lemon, red pepper flakes, garlic, and the way all the ingredients take just a few minutes to cook in a skillet, especially when there are two cooks in the kitchen.

Savor this dish on a summer night with your S.O. and bring some beachside vibes into your home.

A second, far less sexy supper is this New York Times recipe for the thoroughly GREEN “kale-sauce pasta.” Think of it as pesto, with voluminous amounts of blanched kale leaves standing in for the traditional basil.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity — it’s a bit of an undertaking to clean and stem and blanch all those ever-lovin greens, but it’s a good staple made all the more satisfying if some or all of the kale comes from your backyard.

And then… when you’re sick of the kitchen (and perhaps each other), how about a pasta sauce for the ages that never disappoints.

Onward and upward, friends!

Corona Cooking: Roasted Vegetables Over Polenta

Corona Cooking: Roasted Vegetables Over Polenta

How are you feeling today? I’m keenly aware that I am taking a privileged walk through this global pandemic… and yet I often find myself seized by a vague melancholy borne of solidarity with those who are suffering, the surreal vibe of this whole thing, and the uncertainty of what is yet to come.

I’m sure there is a great deal more I could be doing for the world, but last night I went back to basics and took care of myself and my husband with a soothing bowl of fontina-flavored polenta and roasted veggies. I fight the idea, but caring for me and mine CAN be enough on a Saturday night during these difficult times. At times, it may be the best thing we can do to hunker down and make a satisfying meal. Let’s get to it:

Roasted Veggie Ingredients

  • Veggies (I used two small butternut squash and a pile of Brussels sprouts, but go for what you’ve got on hand — broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips… hmm…)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt (preferably Kosher salt or sea salt)
  • Pepper

Instructions

  • Chop the veggies into chunks
  • Plop into a bowl and season generously with salt and pepper
  • Mix with 3 parts olive oil to 1 part Balsamic vinegar
  • Pour on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper
  • Roast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until browned and cooked through, 20-25 minutes

It’s a beautiful transformation… Raw veggies with some seasoning:

Raw Squash

Brussels Sprouts

Become better versions of themselves… roasted!

Roasted veggies

Polenta Ingredients

  • One cup loose polenta
  • One Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Small wedge of cheese, shredded (I used Fontina, but go at it, Asiago, cheddar, even dollops of goat cheese would be tasty)
  • A few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
  • 5 cups water

This is what we’re looking at, minus the water:

Polenta prep

Polenta Instructions

  • Bring water to a boil
  • Add polenta, stir, bring back to a boil
  • Turn heat on low and simmer and cook, stirring often, for 40 min (yes this is a dinner to linger over)
  • Mix in cheeses and butter at end once polenta is already cooked

Combine all in a bowl, throw a chopped fresh herb on top, and you get a version of this, courtesy of School Night cookbook:

Cookbook pic

Once you purchase (or find) a container of loose polenta, let your creativity take the reigns and repeat with different veggies or try serving with protein… something in the red meat department would appeal to me…

We capped off this quiet evening with a trip to Forest Park and took comfort in this view: Forest Park view

Peace.

Corona Cooking: Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Hey there! I’m inspired by the simplicity of #QuarantineCooking to share my favorite way to cook and EAT sweet potatoes:

Ingredients

  • Two sweet potatoes
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 T. Olive oil
  • Two large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 T. shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Herb of your choice, fresh or dried

Instructions

  • Peel and cube potatoes and dump into large mixing bowl.
  • Dump all other ingredients into bowl and coat the potatoes.
  • Pour seasoned potatoes onto sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper.
  • Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approx. 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Sweet Potatoes

Corona Cooking: Perfect Chicken Breast

Corona Cooking: Perfect Chicken Breast

Hi friends! It’s been a while. So COVID-19 has hit. Whew. Simplicity is key for me in the kitchen right now. I’d like to share a recipe from a cookbook called The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. 

It’s called “perfect” chicken breast. Minimal ingredients, healthy, can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner… or a snack!

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cooking fat (olive oil, butter, or my preference, Ghee)
  • 2 chicken breasts

Cooking Process

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Pat chicken breasts dry and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat cooking fat in skillet on medium-high.
  4. Add chicken breasts — rounded side down — and sear for 5 min. Meanwhile, prep a sheet pan with a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper.
  5. Place chicken breasts on sheet pan and bake for approx. 13 min. (Cookbook says between 10-15 but I’ve found 13 min. to be the sweet spot.)
  6. Test middle of chicken breast with knife and fork and tweak baking time to your liking 🙂

Namaste. May food bring you some peace and comfort.

XO,
Ginger

2017 Recipe Scrapbook

On this frigid New Year’s Eve, I thought it would be fun to document some of the recipes and corresponding occasions that warmed my kitchen (and my belly!) throughout the year 2017.

This year has been challenging, rich, full… then again, I suppose those are some pretty accurate descriptors for LIFE in general and not specific to any calendar year. I’m grateful that cooking has made the year fuller and richer (I think there’s a double entendre in there)!

I hope that this list serves useful to you if you’re looking for some inspiration for the coming year, and please do share your favorite recipes of 2017 in the comments section!

XO,
Ginger

Celebration Meals

mom and me smitten kitchenMy mom and I both gave each other Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites this year for Xmas. (I credit my mom with teaching me how to cook, and she can thank me for introducing her to Deb Perelman 🙂 ) After driving back from Xmas celebrations in Chicago, I was eager to create a festive mood at home (and make the most of my week off from work) by trying the book’s spiced carrot and pepper soup with couscous swirl, paired with a kale caesar [salad] with broken eggs and crushed croutons:

soup and salad smitten kitchen

Go figure that in my anticipation of the cookbook, I borrowed my mom’s cast iron skillet to make Cacio e Pepe Potatoes Anna from Perelman’s site. Potatoes wrapped with a bow, in my opinion:

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Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 1.36.44 PMIn August, my husband Padraic and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. I made a Jeffrey out of him with Ina Garten’s recipe for Real Meat Balls and and Spaghetti. (I love how Ina is always calling for food to be “real” — “real mayo,” for example. And I love her mixture of snobbery and warmth). You can read elsewhere on this blog about my first attempt with this dish.

When Padraic and I had my parents over for a celebratory dinner, I tried a recipe for sweet and spicy pineapple pork from Rachel Ray’s Book of 10: More Than 300 Recipes to Cook Every Day.

Today, on New Year’s Eve, I’m experimenting with another recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook: artichoke and parmesan galette. I tasted it for you… surprisingly lemon-y 🙂

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Weeknight Suppers

Quick and Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes is just plain awesome for weeknight, aka, work night, cooking, because the meals are not only quick and easy, but flavorful and special-feeling. For some reason I lean towards chicken when making chinese food. Perhaps I need to get more adventurous. For now, here are two keepers:

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Lemon Chicken

Lemon Chicken

Back in September, I tried slow cooker pesto mozzarella chicken pasta:

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Here’s are two more gems from Smitten Kitchen:

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

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Quick Pasta and Chickpeas

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And… two recipes from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat  that make for simple, special weeknight suppers:

Lemony Arugula Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Thai Beef Salad 

The Pioneer Woman’s Migas is filling AND cheap:

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I happened upon this yummy recipe for cauliflower-cheddar soup while waiting for a prescription to be filled 🙂

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And finally, lentils! The theme of the new chapter in my life in which I’m paying out of pocket for health insurance AND paying grad school tuition. Thank God they’re so delicious!!

Fridge-Clearing Lentil Soup
Brown Lentils and Rice with Caramelized OnionsScreen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.56.11 PM

 

STUFF I MADE THIS SUMMER

I spent the summer querying a lot of magazines, writing a long-ass article about teaching gifted students that was finally published this month, for which I still haven’t gotten paid :/ getting accepted into an MFA program, hemming and hawing over whether to quit my teaching job and then writing what turned out to be a novella-length short story about a comically inept teacher for my workshop class, digging into my role as Aunt G, and cooking like a good ole southern Grandma for large family get-togethers…

Here is some of the STUFF I MADE:

The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti

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Orange Pound Cake

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Cristina Ferrare’s Strawberry Shortcake

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My Great-Grandmother’s Baked Beans 🙂

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Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

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Shrimp & Sausage Paleo Skillet Meal

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And a few more for good measure:

Mentoring on Sunday Afternoons

This last category is bittersweet… My mentee, a former resident of Epworth Children and Family Services, is currently “on run” and so we are no longer able to meet. For a few months, though, we filled our Sunday afternoons with cooking and scrapbooking about what we had cooked. When she told me that cooking — and documenting it — was how she wanted to spend our time together, I thought, girl after my own heart!

We did a bit of a tour through Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks:

Recently, when I received a one-line e-mail from her therapist saying that she was gone, I was tempted to view our time together as “a waste,” thinking back on the volunteer coordinator’s lofty words about how it “only takes one person” to make a difference in the life of a child. What difference could I possibly have made?? I lamented.

Today, and in the new year, if there are any resolutions to be made, I believe it is to withhold judgment about any of my pursuits (or relationships) and do my best to be present in them, living one day at a time. I am grateful for my brief time with a young, resilient 14-year-old young woman. It is enough for me that we had a good time together on a few Sunday afternoons in 2017. And yet… I’m glad that we documented our time together, so that some Sunday afternoon in 2018, I can return to this page, and remember her… and the food 🙂

Cheers to the New Year, to cooking, and to treating time with a little bit of reverence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Hospitality

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While Padraic and I were visiting family in Chicago for the holidays, we made a stop at the house of one of Padraic’s childhood friends, Paul. Paul’s mom, Karen, looked at me and said, “I made some spaghetti and meatballs for lunch — would you like some?” Paul said, “Tell us what you want — we have everything!” removing several types of dips from the refrigerator, three or four large tins of Christmas cookies from the garage, along with a random cheese ball. After Karen had served me the hot plate of pasta, she stood at the counter and drizzled melted butter over a tray of homemade cheddar biscuits. “How bout a cheddar biscuit?” she asked Padraic, who already held a generous glass of whiskey (Paul had insisted he have “just one drink.”)

We regularly visit Paul’s house when we’re in town, and it’s always like this. He and his mom always have an abundance of food on hand and they always whip it out as if it was waiting just for us. 

This last visit got me thinking about hospitality, and the notion that it’s something of a spiritual gift — some people seem to have a special knack for it, and others don’t. I’m not talking about “hosting,” be it a dinner party or a weekend gathering, which involves a prescribed amount of shopping and planning and cleaning and thoughtful preparation. I’m talking about people that keep homemade cookie dough in their freezer in case the neighbors drop by, people that regularly resupply their pantry so they can prepare a homemade meal for unexpected guests, people that shop and cook and manage their households in the anticipation of company and impromptu gatherings. 

I’m a good enough host, and an enthusiastic enough home cook, but my admiration for the gift of hospitality derives in part because it takes me by surprise — it is a way of living and being in the world that doesn’t come naturally to me. I pride myself on an economy and thriftiness that rather directly opposes the largesse and exuberance of those that possess this special gift, and their sweet-smelling homes with wide open doors. 

My routine is to carefully plan menus and grocery lists to ensure that everything purchased will get eaten by me and my husband and nothing extra will gather mold or slime or wrinkles. (Hah! You should see the inside of my fridge right now). I suppose there are many benefits to this (intended) pragmatic approach to cooking, but wasn’t it so much more fun to spend the weekend preceding Christmas Day baking far too many cookies than I could ever eat, knowing that they would be eaten by somebody, even if I didn’t know who? 

It seems that the holiday season brings out a spirit of hospitality in some of us, if only for a few weeks. We try it on for size, baking cookies, bottling eggnog… Then January hits, and most of us return to our pragmatism. 

Sometimes I justify my strict, survival-mode approach to meal-planning and cooking by telling myself that I am striving for a sort of minimalism so that I can make as much space as possible for writing and reading, and pursue my MFA and my job with a singularity of purpose. And then today as I was writing this I remembered that Anton Chekhov himself was known for his constant entertaining. No excuses there… the writing life has plenty of room for serving guests 🙂 

Writer or not, wouldn’t the world be a more festive, friendly place if we didn’t rely on the holiday calendar to justify spontaneous, exuberant cooking… if, come January, we approached the new year by renewing our spirit of hospitality along with our gym membership? 

Sleeping Baby Post

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As I tap this message on my phone, a warm, clinging lump of baby is sleeping on my chest. I’m seated in a gray rocking chair in a dark, Winnie-the-Pooh themed room. A white noise machine breathes steadily as I turn my head from side to side every so often, doing my best to deal with the crick in my neck, since her little head is resting nearly atop my throat. 

For this sixteen-month old I hold, so much comes and goes, and so quickly: feelings, desires, irritations, joys. Distraction is the key that turns her universe. One moment, a bouncing ball, the next moment, a blinking toy. Both sides of the toddler coin — the unceasing curiosity and the fragile temper — challenge me to find my inner Buddha.

There’s the yin and the yang: the way her eyes always catch the gossamer white butterfly that frequents the backyard — a reminder to Look. On the other hand, when she leans in unexpectedly and chomps into my arm, I’m pretty well forced to cultivate compassion and breathe into the discomfort, whispering, “Gentle” until she lifts her teeth out of my skin.

I’ve been reading two well-known Buddhist authors recently, Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh. Chodron writes about the middle path, which describes a way of living in which a person does not move “right” or “left” in response to the moving tide of desires or fears. Instead, she does nothing, moving straight through them as they inevitably pass. 

The “middle path” obviously requires an attention span longer than a few minutes, and thoroughly contradicts the existential reality of a toddler. What’s interesting to me, though, is how many full-grown adults’ inner monologues resemble the behavior of toddlers. How many of us are, in our heads, making an angry mess, of dare I say, sinking our teeth into someone trying to look out for us? How many of us would break into tears or flail our arms, metaphorically speaking, if asked to sit with our hunger, our boredom, our exhaustion? 

So it turns out that “Haley Grace,” the little person in my charge from 8:30-5:30 before I return to my desk (or more likely, my kitchen island) to work through the latest writing or reading assignment of my MFA, has something to teach me. Gentle, I repeat, gentle… as I try to walk the middle path. 

Mountain Wisdom

Pic 1 Mountain Wisdom

When I think back on a recent weekend get-away to Asheville, North Carolina, I picture the four of us — my husband, Padraic, and I, and another couple, two of our closest friends — trekking up a steep dirt path on the Appalachian Trail, our sporadic dialogue muted by the thick prairie grass, the dense clouds overhead and the slope of mountains cushioning us at every side. This was a short hike on our way back to our friends, Allison and Nic’s, home in Nashville, but still, we took the pains to wind our way through a maze of gravel switchbacks, blocking out the road’s deep trenches, (which gripped at least one unlucky, abandoned vehicle), for the chance to be held by something soft and strong — and silent — in the midst of lives swirling with transitions.

Pic 2 Mountain Wisdom

Allison and Nic are high school sweethearts, and I’ve known them both since seventh grade. At this point in our lives, we’ve been through countless changes together: graduations, weddings, buying homes, landing jobs, changing jobs, moving across the country, picking up and moving again. So there’s something about a leisurely, circuitous hike through the mountains that can’t help but feel suggestive of the bigger picture — quite the literal version of “upward mobility”… No seriously: the rhythm of rest spots and overlooks, not unlike weddings in their capacity to present broad swaths of life from one dramatic vantage point, and the circuitous piece, of course, with the ups and downs and rapidly shifting views that somehow begin and end in the same, asphalt parking lot, with the panting dogs and the dubious bathrooms. Whether the parking lot represents the grounding force of friendship or marriage, I have no idea, but I do know that we are all slightly different on the way down than we are on the way up, and ambling sweaty and thirsty into the backseat of the car, there’s a joy to living so-called “real life” together as buzzing and blossoming life, on the side of a mountain.

Pic 3 Mountain Wisdom

In the evenings, the four of us roamed around Asheville’s city-center, snapping pictures at a local print shop of slyly Southern sayings like “Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit.” We sampled local beers and people-watched from the periphery of the famous drum circle, where I watched a fit, tanned, solo silver-haired woman skip and dip and lose herself in the drumming, beautifully alone in a circle of strangers.

Pic 4 Mountain Wisdom

Meanwhile, Padraic and I had a day to bum around Nashville while Allison and Nic were at work. We studied hanging sculptures composed of pill bottles, and abstract landscapes painted by Australian aborigines and canvases of thickly layered ribbons representing motherhood. With our heartfelt and respectful studying, a student of performance studies married to a student of philosophy, I confess that the art on the walls, with my honest reverence for it, sticks with me like the wildflowers on the mountainside – something beautiful and precious, designed with formidable intelligence, but so fleetingly experienced.

Last Pic Mountain Wisdom

More deeply seared in my memory was standing on one leg, upside down, after the art museum jaunt, holding a yoga pose next to Padraic on one of the hottest days of the summer. Trying in vain to focus on my “intention” and not simply grit my teeth through the intense heat, I watched a steady tap of sweat drip from our foreheads onto our mats. Which brings me back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and The Appalachian Trail, and hiking with Padraic and Allison and Nic, the taste of salt on our skin and the gulp of cool air when we reached the mountaintop. Perhaps it’s not the majestic views or the lovely little wildflowers that transform us, but the shared, steady suffering of the climb.

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