How to lose weight, your mind and all close relationships

My husband and I just went through the most grueling, painful and literally fruitless experiment of our entire marriage: a no-carb diet.

Me: (Serving up a whole chicken on his plate.) I’ve made meat for dinner. Again.

Him: (Turning up his nose.) Darn. I had meat with a side of meat for lunch.

Me: Sounds eerily familiar to my breakfast.

Him: (Looking over all of the different animal proteins on his plate.) When do we get to eat something from a different aisle in the grocery store?

Me: This no carb phase is supposed to last 2 weeks, then you can start introducing fruit and nuts back into your diet.

Him: I might die of scurvy before then. I feel my teeth rotting at this very moment.

Me: Oh, I brush my teeth 10 times a day just so I can taste a little mint from the Colgate.

Him: (Sheepishly.) I’ve taken to stealing the kids’ Flintstone chewable vitamins to feel like I’m eating a fruit cup.

Me: Don’t ask why all the woodwork in the house is extra lemony-fresh. Or my tongue. Bon appetit!

Him: You mean non appetit. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a steak as much as the next guy, but it’d be nice to pair it with a potato instead of a hamburger.

Me: You’re forgetting all of those eggs you get to eat.

Him: (Mumbling.) My colon hasn’t forgotten….

Me: What was that, dear? I can’t hear you over my stomach grumbling.

Him: That’s the other problem—I’m hungry all of the time. I just can’t get full anymore. No sugar, no dairy, no fruit, no grains…I feel like a hyena except I’m not laughing.

Me: (Gnawing on a rib bone.) I know, I can’t help but wonder if my appendix is regenerating.

Him: Tell me again how this is supposed to be healthy?

Me: (Heaving sigh.) I’m not even sure anymore. The doctor who came up with this is dead.

Him: Of starvation or rickets?

Me: Probably murdered from someone like me who just wanted a damn piece of Wonder Bread.

(Finishing our plates but still ravenously hungry.)

Him: What’s for dessert?

Me: Tuna fish.

Him: (Completely defeated. And hungry.) Can you at last scoop it into a cone and put a cherry on top?

Me: Of course I can. (Opening the pungent can.) Just as soon as we reach Phase 2….

©2014 Tracey Henry

A weekend in New Orleans via Instagram

As a Catholic, I know darn well when Ash Wednesday falls. As a New Orleans non-resident, casual tourist and accidental hipster, I had no idea that Mardi Gras was not limited to the weekend before Fat Tuesday, and evidently we booked our Anniversary weekend getaway smack dab in the middle of the Crescent City’s biggest party.

This suggests that we are way cooler than we are, so here is a summary of our wonderful weekend via Instagram.

Every trip to New Orleans should begin here. If you don't have 6 inches of powdered sugar on your lap, you're doing it wrong.
Every trip to New Orleans should begin here. If you don’t have 6 inches of powdered sugar on your lap, you’re doing it wrong.
Bourbon Street looks so tame at noon. Leave now while you still can.
Bourbon Street looks so tame at noon. Leave now while you still can.
'Po Boys for lunch
‘Po Boys for lunch
Bloody Marys for lunch.
Bloody Marys for lunch.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop--the oldest bar in the U.S. (Suburban Diva--the oldest patron on Bourbon Street.)
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop–the oldest bar in the U.S. (Suburban Diva–the oldest patron on Bourbon Street.)
King Cake.
King Cake.
Better King Cake...
Better King Cake…
Where to your day in New Orleans.
Where to end your day in New Orleans.
Happy Anniversary. Bam.
Happy Anniversary. Bam.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Kitchen Love on Valentine’s Day

One of the best ways I know how to show love is with some extra effort in the kitchen. Whether it’s a batch of homemade cookies, cooking a favorite meal or even stopping by a restaurant to pickup a beloved dish, when Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, you have all weekend to spread the love.

Here’s some homemade “Pop-tarts” from a 2010 Bon Appetit issue that I’ve made a few times now. They are totally decadent and worth the effort and most certainly Valentine-worthy.

Seriously good homemade Pop-tarts.
Seriously good homemade Pop-tarts.

Cookie Mom: Tour II

“Perhaps it was because I had never been a Girl Scout. I guess we couldn’t afford the fancy Brownie uniform so my mom enrolled us into the lesser-known, knock-off Campfire Girls. Instead of selling the famous cookie, our fundraiser came in the form of kindling and matches. It wasn’t nearly as successful, especially in the dry season. But that was back in the wild 70’s when our palm oil wasn’t sustainable.”

—Me, a year ago after being asked to be the Girl Scout Cookie Mom

This year, I am that haggard woman at the end of a bar telling cookie war stories over a full ashtray and an empty glass. I begin each tale with a dismissive scoff at the newbie moms who just saddled up gushing on about their huge troop order and how many booth sale locations they were able to secure.

“Heh. Good luck with that store. The manager says you can be inside but really makes you set up on the edge of the parking lot and won’t make change,” I say as I lean back on my barstool which is decorated with a personalized SitUpon.

They smile nervously. “We were told that was one of the best locations.” They order wine-spritzers.

“Ha!” I rasp. “They tell all the greenhorns that. I bet you over-ordered your Trefoils, too.”

“Three cases—the suggested amount from the manual.”

“Manual? I should have known. I hope you like shortbread because you’re going to be dunking those in your tapioca pudding at the old folks home.”

Rattled, they press on. “What about the other varieties? What about the Thank U Berry Munch number?”

“Let me give you some advice, Sister. Never call them by their full names. They’re Tags, Sams, DSD’s. Only rookies call them by their Christian names.”

“No one has told us this before.”

“Yeah, and they won’t. See this patch? It’s for running a booth in a freak snowstorm. This one here? Getting out all of my scouts unharmed when there was a run on milk and bread in said snowstorm.”

“Wow, that is impressive. Did your sales increase?”

Taking a long drag off my whiskey glass. “I told everyone going in that a Thin Mint had as much potassium as a bunch of bananas.” I wave away a flashback. “I’m not proud of that.”

Quietly, their gaze falls upon my left hand. “Is that where you got that scar?”

“This one? Nah. Posterboard cut in a particularly competitive sign year.”

They shudder. “We’re hoping to really kill them with our sign. I saw on Pin—”

“If you finish that sentence with anything other than, ‘guide for proper sash placement’, we are going to fight.”

They do not speak for several minutes. “Sounds like you’ve seen it all. Mind if I ask how long you’ve been the Cookie Mom?”

I set down my drink on a woven potholder that now serves as a coaster. “This is my second year.”

Visibly shaken, they exchange horrified glances. They see my unkempt hair, crazy eye and involuntary twitching. No doubt they hear my incoherent mumbling about the net weight of a box of Savannah Smiles and wonder if they too, are on this same sad path. As they throw a bill down on the bar, I call after them pointing to my well-decorated adult vest, “You see this patch here? That’s a badge for being tough.”

I drain the last of my whiskey. “I haven’t earned the Smart Cookie patch, yet.”

Smiling an exhausted grin I hoarsely whisper to the empty room. “But you just did when you didn’t look back after walking out that door.”

©2014 Tracey Henry

For a cooking with cookies recipe, see Dulce le leche and strawberry ice cream cake.

And if you need any cookies this year and buy from someone else, we are going to have to fight.

Dulce de leche and strawberry ice cream cake

You could really use this technique with any combination of ice creams and cookies, but try this one—it is very refreshing and unique.

Dulce de leche and Strawberry Ice Cream cake

Crust:

12-15 dulce de leche cookies
6-8 shortbread cookies
3 T. butter, melted

Pie:

2 pints strawberry sorbet (Haagen-Daz recommended)
2 pints Dulce le Leche ice cream (also Haagen-Daz)

1 springform pan

What to do with those leftover cookies. (If you had any.)
What to do with those leftover cookies. (If you had any.)

1.) Pulse cookies in a food processor. While running, drizzle in butter. Take out 1 pint of the dulce de leche cream to soften—leave the rest in the freezer.

2.) Press crust into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake in a 350℉ oven for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden brown on the edges. Cool completely.

3.)  Spread the first layer of softened ice cream on top of the cool crust, making as smooth and even as possible. Put back in freezer and take out sorbet to soften.

4.) Alternate freezing the cake between layers and softening the next pint of ice cream until all 4 layers are frozen—about 45 minutes per layer but can be more or less depending on how you want to do it.

Notes: Start this cake the morning of the day before you want to serve it. If you’re making this outside of cookie season, you can make a simple graham cracker crust instead.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Bourbon Syrup with a side of auction regret

When life gives you a giant plaster statue of Jack Daniels, you should make Bourbon Syrup with Pecans.

(And never go to another silent auction again.)

I keep telling myself it was for charity.
I keep telling myself it was for charity.

Bourbon Syrup with Pecans

1 1/2 cups good maple syrup
1/2 cup bourbon (Jack Daniels, preferred since he is now the ambassador of my living room)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 ish cup of chopped pecans

Bring the maple syrup and bourbon to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Quickly add the cream and stir to combine. The bubbling will reduce immediately, add the pecans, turn down the heat and simmer on low for several more minutes.

Serve warm on waffles or ice cream.

Or on the rocks. Obviously, a woman with a 7 foot replica of moonshiner makes no judgments.

I feel better now.
I feel better now.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Redneck Rink of Dreams

Last week armed only with a garden hose, an expired bug fogger and a Polar Vortex, my husband constructed the Redneck Rink of Dreams.

I readily admit that I was the Flo to his Andy Capp the night he came home and decided to flood our back patio to make an ice rink for the kids. I didn’t think that the retention wall made out of old logs and bean bags from the corn hole game would work. I didn’t think the pebble-studded aggregate was a particularly conducive surface in which to make a smooth base for a sheet of ice. I didn’t think his choice of equipment—a can of Off! spray attached a garden hose would create the effect he was going for. And I certainly had my doubts when we didn’t have a hot showers for three days and his “ice crew” consisted of the dog and a Swiffer.

Backyard ice crew

But I think he, too, doubted his plans at times. Perhaps at 2 am when the Titanic iceberg formed as the outside spigot froze. Or maybe again at 6 am when he decided to use the closest thawed water source—the hot water heater—to run the hose from through the house out the back door creating a cold front in our basement so bitter that Jim Cantore named it Elsa. And maybe he wavered again 20 minutes later when he heard rushing water after the hose had melted off the hot water heater valve. And perhaps the panicked text, “Buy 100 ft hose on your way home. And salve. Don’t ask,” was also a sign that things weren’t going as planned. And maybe second thoughts creeped in after he emptied the wet vac in his suit outside that his tie stood at 90 degree angle with frozen cobwebs and dust bunnies attached.

Wrist guards required

His confidence certainly wouldn’t have been buoyed when he stenciled an NHL logo with permanent paint that may or may not have bled slightly into the actual patio beneath promising a new level of spring cleanup. Or when instructing the boys on how to layer the ice in his absence included a screw driver, an oven mitt, and a Don’t Tell Your Mother speech. And when the local news stations ran story after story about the unseasonably frigid temperatures and how to stay safe and warm in the dangerous weather conditions, his habit of standing outside in his pajamas and flap hat like Cousin Eddie couldn’t have been reassuring. And certainly the complaints stuffing our mailbox from neighbors, the Homeowner’s Association and our insurance agent could not have been misconstrued as letters of support.

But Mother Nature must have had her curiosity piqued because she gave us a window just long and cold enough to make it work. And so for two nights last week a bunch of Southern kids got to do what we northerners do every weekend from November to March: play hockey outside. They strapped on their skates, picked up their sticks, and played. Neighbors came. Friends stopped by. They slid, slipped and slopped along the smoothest sheet of glass this side of the Mason-Dixon complete with graphics and overhead lighting so the game could go on all night.

And just like the movie, “If you build it, they will come.”

Even if instead of old baseball players it’s the water authority and higher homeowner’s insurance premiums.

Tennessee Outdoor Classic

©2014 Tracey Henry

Beef Empanadas

When we lived in Tampa, I used to buy bootleg empanadas from an Argentinian in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant.

Now that we live in Nashville, I have to prepare my empanadas in my own kitchen. Which is probably more sanitary, but totally less interesting.

The following recipe is not nearly as good as Arturo’s trunk goodies, but they are a pretty darn good replication.

They aren’t the easiest nor the most authentic, but worth every minute over the stove.

Beef Empanadas

(This recipe makes about 40-45 empanadas—perfect for a crowd. Make ahead, then briefly heat in the oven for about 5 minutes to crisp up.)

Filling:

2 lbs ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes

1/4-1/2 cup rough chopped green olives
3 hard-boiled eggs, rough chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper

Dough:

40-45 frozen empanada discs, defrosted (Goya recommended)
Vegetable oil for frying

1.) Brown ground beef in large skillet until no longer pink. Add onions, jalapeño, and garlic and cook until soft.

2.) Add spices and tomatoes, cook for a few minutes and then add olives and eggs. Season with salt and pepper and then add the cilantro at the last minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your tastes, then set aside. (Filling can be made ahead and refrigerated.)

3.) When ready to assemble, place 1-2 tablespoons of filling into the center of a defrosted dough disc, and fold over to seal. Crimp edges like a pie so filling does not leak through during frying. Place stuffed empanadas on a cookie sheet until ready to fry.

Empanadas before their Wesson makeover

4.) Heat oil to 350 degrees in a large, deep skillet. Fry a few at a time being careful not to over-crowd the pan. Fry for only 1-2 minutes on both sides being careful not to over-brown. They cook quite quickly. Drain on paper towels while cooking the next batch.

At this point, they are ready to eat, but if you want to do a couple of hours ahead of time, you can placed the cooked empanadas in a 350 oven for 5-10 minutes making sure not to get too browned or the filling will start to leak and get tough.

5.) Trunk sales optional.

After.

©2014 Tracey Henry

2014

My one and only post for January, 2014 is a revision of my New Year’s resolutions since the year is off to a shaky start.

1.) Post daily. Post weekly. Turn on the computer.

2.) Be the best Room Mom ever. Try not to piss off the whole class. Try not to piss of the whole school. Get out alive.

3.) Be the best Cookie Mom ever. Try to make the initial orders with no errors. Try to make the initial orders with as few errors as possible. Try not to be the cause of the biggest Thin Mint drought in Middle Tennessee history. Get out alive.

4.) Lose 10 pounds. Lose 5 pounds. Don’t gain 20 pounds from screwing up Girl Scout Cookie order and having to hide excess inventory.

5.) Get better at letting the birds fly a little farther from the nest. Stop freaking out when the birds fly farther from the nest. Build a bigger nest.

There, I feel better now. How’s the year treating you so far?

 

©2014 Tracey Henry

A holiday with a Twist

This is a post from way back in 2006 on what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

My sister called me early last Saturday morning.

“What’s up, Sister Diva?” I asked.

She heaved a sigh before answering.

“It’s German Twist Day.”

We both genuflected.

I spoke quickly, knowing we didn’t have much time.

“Do you have all of your supplies? Your equipment, ingredients, Thermos of coffee and Red Bull? Did you get a sitter arranged? What about bodily function needs? I.V.’s? Catheters? Have you cross-checked your astrological charts? Tea leaves? Is the humidity level okay up there for baking? Barometric pressure? Have all the planets aligned? Are you sure this is German Twist Day??”

She assured me of her adequate preparations; we wept together, I wished her Godspeed, and then she hung up to continue the marathon day of baking. I haven’t heard from her since.

“German Twists” are my family’s culinary legacy. Not just a Christmas cookie, but an epicurean DNA test. You must successfully bake these yuletide morsels in order for our last name to be included on your birth certificate.

The German Twist is no ordinary drop cookie. It is made with yeast; so it is a living, breathing organism, and one does not “bake” it; one gives birth to it. Or at least that’s what it feels like after 14 hours of laborious work it takes to create a batch. And the dough is quite colic-y–it must be coddled, tended and loved incessantly. It must be gently rocked to sleep after its bottom has been powdered with flour.

The other challenge to the German Twist is not only must you be an executive pastry chef to execute it, but you must also be a mind reader and a translator fluent in little old lady because this is the recipe from my great-grandmother that you have to work from:

Not exactly copy written by Bon Appetit. It’s like listing instructions for open heart surgery as: 1 patient, 1 scalpel, a needle and thread; Anesthetize and pray for the best.

I almost decided not to bake the cookies this year. I justified it by telling myself I was pregnant and supposed to be taking it easy, so maybe a 4 day vigil in front of the oven with a Petri dish of chemicals and lead gloves wasn’t prudent. Slice and bakes would have to be on the dessert menu this Christmas.

But then I got a call from my 90 year old Grandfather. For the first time in 20 years, we will be spending Christmas Day together, something that we did every single one of my childhood. He and my grandmother, my Aunt and Uncle, my sister and parents would gather for Christmas Day and after opening too many presents, we would sit down to a feast. My Mom would have made a roast beef–something she was particularly good at–and my Gram and Aunt would have brought their obligatory dishes so that every course was filled with meaning and tradition. We even made some new ones along the way. But no matter what, a plate of German Twists would be there, as well as a colorful commentary on how this year’s batch turned out. Gram would laugh that we all still poured over that yellowing index card like the Rosetta Stone trying to decipher her mother’s handwriting, and we’d laugh that hers looked exactly like it. Over the years, we tried to perfect our technique, but after decades of rising, kneading, and rising again, we determined that the German Twist–like life–is not a science but an art and recipes are merely guidelines, not insurance for what comes out of the oven. The secret is always in the spices.

Some year’s efforts were better than others, but they were always something I looked forward to making with my family and then serving proudly on a poinsettia plate that my Grandmother made in a ceramics class with “1956” scrawled in that same illegible handwriting on the back.

When the alarm went off this morning at 4am and I crawled from beneath the pile of children and dogs that were my blankets this December morning, my husband asked, “SD, what are you doing up? It’s not even close to 11 yet.”

“German Twist Day,” I answered groggily.

“Godspeed,” he said, understanding.

And that’s what makes Christmas–and life–so delicious. Feasting on memories while serving up new ones.

©2006 Tracey Henry

Detailed recipe to follow….