That Time I had a Nervous Breakdown – Talking about Mental Illness, Part 4

I’ve been writing about my experience with anxiety and depression on this blog for the last several weeks. In general, things are better. I sleep better. Medication and therapy are doing their jobs. I’m feeling like myself.

I’m at a point where I look back at the last thirteen weeks and think “Whoa. I went through some shit, didn’t I?”  Well, yes. Yes I did. Up until recently, though, I hadn’t really given a name to what I had gone through in those early weeks. I would speak about it and say, “During this current episode…” or “In this anxiety and depression spiral…” I think I found pretty ways to tidy up my experience because subconsciously I wanted to make sure others would respond with compassion and understanding and not with Oh god! What is WRONG with her?! By the way, no one has been so douchey as to look at me like I’m some poor bedraggled head case (but try telling that to my wonky brain.)

I was a little surprised that I didn’t automatically flinch and go on the defensive when last week at breakfast, my mom started a sentence with “When you had your nervous breakdown…”

Nervous breakdown?  Nervous breakdown. Yep. That sounds about right. That night, I ran the conversation by my sister (as I always do when my mom and I have been together):

Me: Mom said I had a nervous breakdown.
Sis: Well… you kinda did. The term is stupid, but I think you had a bit of a crisis.
Me: It was pretty bad looking in from the outside, wasn’t it? Because it was pretty fucking shitty from the inside.
Sis: It was bad. [insert appropriate David Tennant super sad face in the rain gif]

The term “nervous breakdown” has zero clinical meaning. It’s not a diagnosis. It’s a colloquialism. Though I’ve used that term in the past, it wasn’t until this experience did I finally understand what it meant.

If my brain and my psychological state were an electrical system (because they kind of are), I guess you could say I blew a fuse. I became so overwhelmed by anxiety and stress and my emotions that I just shut down. I spent two weeks in such an extremely heightened state of anxiety that at some point my brain just tripped its breaker and said, “That’s it. I’m done.” Then came the depression.

I had been depressed before, but nothing like this. This was very different. This was the kind of feeling that the only safe place for me was under my blankets in bed. I felt exposed and raw any time I was out of that nest. I forced myself to pick up my children from school every day, but as soon as we came home, and I handed them snacks and the TV remote, I was back under the covers.

I began to fear being alone. I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. My husband was able to work from home for several days a week. The days he had to go into the office were days that I had appointments with my therapist or my NP. I didn’t have to be alone for long periods of time.

I stopped eating. I stopped caring about how I looked. I stopped doing things I enjoyed. I was so, so tired. I crawled into bed each night just as soon as the we put the kids to bed. Sleeping was safe. When I was asleep, my mind was turned off.

I seriously considered finding an inpatient treatment program to check myself into and my beautiful husband said that if that’s what I needed then we would find a way to make it work. (I didn’t tell him that I had been looking at this super swanky facility in San Diego that probably cost half a year’s salary, but he would have been supportive if I said I had to go there.)

Sleeping too much. Not wanting to do anything. Feeling down and disconnected. I’d been to these places before. I knew what they were like and that I could get out of them. What I didn’t know was this time I felt a despair that was like nothing I had ever felt before in my life. It was so profound. I have never had before and did not have any suicidal ideation during this crisis, but in those brief moments of the most intense and absolutely unrelenting feelings of complete hopelessness, I understood.  I got why suicide feels like the only possible answer to make the pain stop. I felt it in the deepest parts of me. I don’t have the right words in English to really describe it, but it is incredibly powerful. It terrified me.  Somehow I would pull myself back from falling into that abyss but sometimes I would wonder if I would be able to the next time I felt that despair.

I’m thirteen weeks out since my breakdown (mental health crisis? Burnout syndrome? Crackup? I kind of like crackup. LOL!)  I’m moving forward. I’m coming back to myself.  Sharing this story is mostly for me. I don’t want to forget about this because I don’t want someone else to ever wonder if they’re the only ones who’ve been through this pain. I don’t ever want my children to wonder if they’re completely alone in having mental illness should they go through what I’ve been through. I also want to share that mental illness doesn’t make one unfit or broken or weak.  I’m still kind and funny and intelligent and sarcastic and creative and capable.

And I’m strong. So strong.

 

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Passover done Passed Over: A recipe for Migas Brei (Tex-Mex Matzo Brie)

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This is not my matzo, but I did buy this stock photo.

I may have mentioned once or a doze times on this blog that I am a Jewtina (Jewish Latina.)  It’s kind of a fun mix to be. So much color and spice and the opportunity to confuse the hell out of regular ol’ people who think all Latinx folk are Catholic. Newsflash: we’re not. Oh! But I understand the assumption.  I wasn’t always Jewish…well I wasn’t always a practicing Jew. And in my little part of the world, I, too thought most Latinx folks were Catholic. Honestly, I thought everyone was Catholic. I grew up in a place where most of my friends were Catholic — German Catholic and Irish Catholic and Mexican Catholic.  I was the oddball out with no particular religious upbringing.  But just in growing up in a heavily Catholic community, I go to know a lot of about Christmas. And Easter. But Passover? Not so much.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and here we are! I’m Jewish. I’m Mexican American. I know a whole lot more about Passover and I really think we’d all be much happier if Passover was shortened to about two days.  So far I haven’t found any fellow members of the tribe to back me on this and it turns out we don’t have a central governing body who can undo millennia of tradition.

So for eight days during Passover we remember our escape from slavery under Pharaoh and into freedom. As we beat cheeks across the desert, the story goes, we didn’t have time for our bread to rise and instead we carried these bland, flat crackers we call matzo (matzah? matzoh? We can’t agree on that either.)  And forever more, during those eight days, the descendants of those Hebrews will only eat matzo and no other grains, specifically wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt. And the celiacs among us rejoice!

Now if you’re Ashkenazi, the prohibitions don’t stop there. A whole new class of no-no foods called kitniyot have been listed and given reasons as to why an observant Jew should not consume them. But I won’t go into that here. Why?

Because we’re Sephardi! And the Mexicans rejoice! Sephardi Jews are those of us who are descended from the Jews of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal.) What this means for us during Passover is that we have traditionally never followed the prohibitions regarding kitniyot. So bring on the corn! Bring on the rice! Give me a bowl of beans!

My husband, however, is Ashkenazi. *whomp, whomp* We celebrated our first Passover together in 2006 and I remember him telling me about what his mom would make for him and what he couldn’t eat. He told me he really loved matzo brei. Cue me all “Huh?” I had no idea what that was and he described this matzo-egg-fried deliciousness. It sounded similar enough to one of my favorite anytime breakfast dishes – migas, but during Passover, at least for him, they weren’t allowed.

Migas Brei was born! Congratulations for making it through all those words just to get to a recipe with no picture (sorry!)  Please give this recipe a try! You don’t have to be Jewish to make and love matzo brei. If you decide to forgo the matzo (and I honestly can’t blame you. That stuff’s like glue on the old digestive track), you can sub corn tortillas (skipping the soaking step and going right to the frying step) and make migas, instead.

Migas Brei (Tex Mex Matzo Brei)
serves 4-6

Ingredients:
4-6 matzo, broken into large chunks
6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno or Serrano, seeded and vein removed, finely diced (optional)
1 glove garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup tomato, finely diced
vegetable oil
salt and pepper
salsa and cheese for serving

Directions:
1. Break up matzo sheets into medium size chunks (bite-sized) and place in bowl. Pour warm water over the top and let them sit until softened.
2. Whisk eggs and milk until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.
3. In a large skillet, add 1-2 T of vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Add onion, jalapeno or Serrano. Saute until softened and the edges of the onion begin to brown.
4. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (usually about a minute.)
5. Drain the matzo very well and add to the pan, stirring to mix with the vegetables, and cook until edges of the matzo start to brown.  You may or may not need to add a little more oil. You be the judge.
6. Add the eggs, tomatoes, salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate matzo and vegetables and cook until set but not rubbery.
7. Top with salsa (and I recommend warming salsa before putting it on hot food. Cold salsa + hot food = what would you do that?) and cheese. Serve immediately.

Shakshuka a la Tejana

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Stock image – Dreamstime Images

OH-EM-GEE! I love shakshuka! I don’t know how familiar you may be with this dish, but if it’s not a regular part of your budget-friendly-crowd-pleasing-eat-it-any-time menu, you need to add it, like yesterday!

So what is shakshuka (which iPhone likes to auto-correct to “Shark Hula.” We’ve started calling it that around the house because, you know, kids)?  Short story is that shakshuka is a tomato and eggs dish. Eggs are poached in a savory, spicy tomato sauce that is flavored with onions, peppers, and cumin. It’s a very popular dish in the Middle East that originated in areas of North Africa and you’ll find variations in just about every area of the region.

My sister suggested this dish to me when I was having a very uninspiring season when it came to feeding my family. She had just returned from her second trip to Israel and said I had to try this deliciousness.  Everything about the dish spoke to my Jewtina heart and I quickly adapted the recipe to my Tejana-Mexicana palette.

There are recipes for varieties all over the Internet and I certainly don’t claim to have The Only recipe for shakshuka, so feel free to add your spin on it. All the flavor profiles can be adjusted to taste or preference. Being Mexicana, I love a lot of heat in my food, so you’ll see that I use serrano peppers rather than mild green peppers, but certainly feel free to substitute peppers of you choice.

I’ve even made a version with roasted hatch chilies when hatch season is upon us (if you’re from the Austin area, for some reason this is a huge deal, but I know it’s an even bigger deal in New Mexico. Shout out to my New Mexican readers!) I’m less about the cumin and more about adding paprika. You may love that smoky, pungent cumin flavor. You do you!

Because the sauce is so soppable, shakshuka is generally served with some kind of bread item – challah, pita, tortillas even (dude! We’re in Texas!)  I’ve made this dish during Passover and ladled it over big pieces of matzo.  Of course, cheese is life and so I’m pretty generous with feta or queso cotija sprinkled on top of my shakshuka. Many people also like a smattering of flat leaf parsley or mint to dress it up. I’ve even seen it get even more Tej-Mex by adding cilantro (pero, not me. Cilantro me sabe a jabon.)

Without further delay, I give you my recipe for Shakshuka Tejana

Ingredients:

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Notice that there are no peppers in this picture. I’d already chopped them up when I thought “Hey! I should take a picture.”

  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 to 1 large onion, diced (small or large dice, it’s up to you)
  • 1-2 serrano chilies, diced (you can keep the seeds for more heat or remove the seeds and veins for a less spicy dish)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T of tomato paste (this is optional, but I do find that it deepens the tomato flavor)
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cumin (again, this is to your individual taste buds’ delight)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil, lots
  • 6 eggs
  • pita or other bread for serving
  • feta or queso cotija for serving
  • parsley, mint, or cilantro for serving

Directions

  1. In a hot large, heavy bottom pan (I’m using an enamel cast iron braising pan), drizzle a generous amount of olive oil.
  2. Once oil is just slightly shimmering, add onions, peppers, and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent, edges just barely begin to brown, and garlic is very fragrant. Keep heat at medium and be careful not to over brown the garlic.
  3. Add paprika and cumin. Stir to coat vegetables and allow spices to bloom.
  4. Add tomato paste and stir. Then add one can of petite diced tomatoes with the juice. Use this juice to deglaze the pan.
  5. Allow mixture to gently simmer for a few minutes.
  6. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir.
  7. At this point I let the dish simmer on low until I’m ready to drop the eggs in. You definitely want to make sure the tomato mixture is nice and bubbly hot before you add the eggs, but timing this step can be tricky timing if you want the eggs to have cooked whites but runny or soft yolks. My advice is to drop the eggs a little bit before you want to serve. They’ll take only a little time to set the whites and still maintain a runny yolk.

Dropping the eggs:

Using a wooden spoon, make 6 little “wells” in the tomato sauce, being careful to space them out. Gently crack an egg into each well. Reduce the heat, cover the skillet, and cook on low until the egg whites are set.

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I dish up one or two eggs in a bowl with lots of the tomato mixture, dress with a little olive oil and sprinkle on the herbs and cheese. Serve with pita or bread of your choice and dig in. Bete’avon!

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A Recipe for Hummus

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I have a household comprised of 75% adventurous, I’ll-try-anything eaters, and 25% “I’ll have beans, please” eaters.  My son, Mr. Selective, is crazy for pretty much any legume and I’ve tried hard to hang on to any foods remotely nutritious that he’ll eat.

But like I said, he’s selective. He has particular tastes and opinions about the food he eats (and shouldn’t we all, really?)  He loves hummus but not just any kind. Most store brands are too grainy or too garlicky or have too much cumin or not enough cumin or not enough lemon (actually this last part is also a complaint of mine. People are afraid of the acid. Embrace it! Lemon makes life, and food, bright!)  He prefers the hummus served at a couple of local restaurants and after many attempts, I’ve finally created the perfect recipe.

And today I’m sharing it with you! So get ready to makes some delicious hummus!

What you’ll need:
Ingredients

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  • 3 cans garbanzo beans, drained but reserve the liquid from one can (you can cook up your own dry beans and use those. Be sure to reserve about a cup of the cooking liquid. I didn’t have time to cook my own, so canned it is. If you want to control the amount of sodium, purchase “no added salt” beans.)
  • 1-2 juicy lemons (when selecting lemons at the store, go for the thinner skinned ones. You want smooth, thin, yellow fruit that should feel heavy for their size)
  • 2 small garlic cloves (more if you like your hummus garlicky)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided (I know this sound like a lot. Trust me on this.)
  • 1/4 cup tahini (don’t skip on this ingredient. Most grocery stores now carry this product.)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin (or more if you like)
  • salt to taste
  • Paprika for serving

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, combine garlic cloves, 2 T of olive oil, and 1/4 cup tahini. Process until the mixture is smooth and well incorporated.
  2. Drain the garbanzo beans, reserving the liquid from one can, and add ONLY the beans to the food processor. Process until beginning to become smooth.
  3. With the food processor still running, slowly add the reserved liquid until you reach a very smooth consistency (I usually end up using all the liquid however if you like your hummus thicker and less creamy, use less liquid).
  4. Stop the processor and taste. Now is a good time to add salt if you think it needs it. Because the canned beans are pretty salty, I didn’t add any to my recipe.
  5. Adding the lemon – I started with the juice of half a lemon. Add the juice, process, then taste. Keep doing this until the hummus has enough lemon for your taste.
  6. Adding cumin – Cumin is a very pungent herb and lends depth to recipes. I started with a pinch of ground cumin, processed, then tasted. Sometimes I add none and sometimes I had as much as 1/2 tsp depending on how many beans I’ve used.
  7. Mr. Selective loves his hummus served with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika. When you’re ready to serve, drizzle the remain olive oil over the top and sprinkle with paprika.
  8. Enjoy!

Hummus is a food I make weekly and we usually have one dinner a week where it is the main event. I serve it with Greek cucumber-tomato salad, various raw veggies, greens, warmed pita, and olives and feta. Other times (like I’m doing right now as I type this), I just eat it with a spoon!

 

Passover has Passed Over!

Huevos haminados - photo credit http://www.thekitchn.com

Oops! It looks like I fell off the blagon (that’s blog-wagon. I tried to make a new word. Yeah, anyway…)  I’m kind of notorious for that, by the way. Dropping off the page for a bit and then trying to cram in updates later on.

March is over and we’re in to the middle of April already. Yowza!  The last week was occupied with Passover, or as I like to call it: my Annual Gluten Detox since I do my best to avoid as much matzo as I can.  This year we made a good faith effort to actually be more observant where our son was concerned. He’s four and starting to understand more of why some of the things we do as Jews are different than his classmates (who are pretty much not Jewish) in preschool do things.

This presents a particular challenge for school lunches. Snacks are provided by the preschool and we have a wonderful staff member who is very conscious of Passover and won’t serve chametz for snacks. It’s nothing we ever asked for, but it’s nice to be considered.  He’s pretty accustomed to one kind of lunch: PB&J, cheese cubes, fruit, and maybe some Pirate’s Booty.  Observing Passover makes it hard to have sandwiches and PB&J on matzo is pretty unappealing.

Luckily, in my opinion, we observe Sephardic food traditions during Passover which means we’ll eat certain foods during the week that are forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews (the predominant Jewish ethnic group in the U.S. and who most of the non-Jewish public thinks of when they think about being Jewish in America).  We’ll eat corn and rice and legumes. A bean and cheese quesadilla on corn tortillas is usually a winner in Ben’s lunchbox. However, these foods are in a class called kitnyot and Ashkenazi Jews are forbidden to consume them during the week.  I have to say that being a Sephardic Jew lends itself well to enjoying a wider range of culinary variety during Passover. My Ashkenazi husband has been all too happy to take on the ethnic observances of his wife!

I’ve also found that the Easter/Passover crossover is harder to explain than the Christmas/Hannukah dilemma. In an effort to help my son understand the similarities and differences between being a Jew during Passover and his friends celebrating Easter, I decided to focus on the similarities. The thing he notices most are Easter eggs. We did participate in some egg hunts this year but they got me thinking about lesser known Jewish traditions and how eggs my feature in those customs. It seems we have a Ladino custom of something called huevos haminados (pictured above).

I didn’t discover these until late in the week when a rabbi friend of mine had mentioned them, but I think they’ll be a great, fun activity (and delicious treat) for next year!

Huevos Haminados – Recipe and photo from www.thekitchn.com

Dinner from the Garden: Chard with Garbanzos and Tomatoes

I'm still trying to get the hang of photographing food, but I have to say that this picture is looks almost as delicious as it tasted.

I’ll be completely honest with you: this is a meal of supreme laziness.  Closing in on dinner time and I realized that the chicken dish I wanted to make wasn’t going to happen. Still had frozen chicken. I blame the Supreme Court. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trolling the interwebz for news about the hearing regarding the health care reform act. I digress.

I was headed out to check on my garden bed and see if those m-effer fire ants had finally beat it (oh yeah… didn’t tell you. I have flucking fire ants in my bed. Arrr!!!) I noticed that my chard was out of control and just begging to be harvested.  So I did. I managed to get about a pound and a half of leaves from my three plants.

So now I have this bunch of chard and no idea what to make for dinner, then brilliance strikes. Thank goodness for a well stocked pantry. One can of garbanzos and one can of organic diced tomatoes, a bit of this and that from the fridge and the spice cabinet and viola: chard with garbanzos and tomatoes.

This is a perfect spring time, meatless 20 minute meal.

Chard with Garbanzos and Tomatoes

Ingredients:
1 shallot (or 1/2 a medium onion), chopped small
2 gloves of garlic
1 to 2 lbs of chard, rinsed and chopped
16 oz can of garbanzos, drained and rinsed
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, mostly drained
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh if you have it on hand)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh if you have it on hand)
olive oil
salt & pepper

Directions:
1. In a large saute pan, heat oil on medium high heat. Add shallots and saute until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute a little longer until fragrant.

2. Add chard, garbanzos, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir a bit to incorporate shallots and garlic. The moisture from the beans and the tomatoes will help wilt the chard. Continue on medium to medium-low heat until chard is wilted and flavors meld. Serve hot and enjoy!

We didn’t have any on hand (remember, this was a what-do-I-have-that-I-can-feed-the-hubs), but a slice of sourdough with a bit of butter would go perfectly with this dish!

Clever food: Picadillo Empanadas

I am a huge fan of fun food. I love things that can be carried and snacked on. Empanadas are a perfect example of clever food. A pastry hand pie (for lack of a better descriptions) that is filled with all kinds of delicious sweet treats like pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, nuts and raisins.  My favorite flavors for empanadas, however, are savory combinations.

Picadillo, a savory-sweet meat dish, is a perfect filling for empanadas.  There are many traditions of picadillo all through Latin America and Spain. Each region has its own favorite meat, spices, and complimentary ingredients.  My dad first introduced me to picadillo when I was a kid. He is the family chef and from whom I’ve learned most of my cooking skills. He would use ground beef, add chili powder, cumin, garlic, onions, tiny diced potatoes, and other good stuff. This is the picadillo that I know best.

Surprisingly, it is not my favorite. I actually enjoy the savory-sweet combination of a more Caribbean picadillo from Cuba or Puerto Rico. The recipe below is my version on that.  I use spices like cumin, coriander, and oregano as well as sweeter tastes like cinnamon and golden raisins.  Keep in mind that in the recipe below, I have purposefully made this filling drier than a picadillo that you might serve as a main dish. To make it as a main dish, increase your liquid by not draining the diced tomatoes before crushing them in the food processor or blender. Serve with rice.

Now let’s get started on picadillo empanadas!

Picadillo filling

Ingredients:
1lb ground beef, about 93% lean (too lean and the meat is less flavorful. Too fatty and you lose a lot of the bulk.)
1 small onion, diced small
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained and pulsed smooth in a food processor or blender
1/4 to 1/3 cup of sofrito*
3/4 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed fine
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed fine
1 tsp of sugar
1 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of chopped green olives
salt & pepper
Olive oil

*A word about sofrito. Sofrito is a wonderful mixture of various aromatics such as tomatoes, onion, garlic, sweet peppers, and other flavors. It adds a richness to any Latin dish.  In this recipe I did not plan on making my own sofrito and used a store bought product by Goya.

1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium-high and add onions. Saute on medium heat until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute about 1 minute more. You want the garlic to release its flavor and aroma but not brown or burn.
2. Add beef and cook until browned.
3. Once beef is browned, add tomatoes, sofrito, spices, sugar, raisins, and olives. Allow to simmer slowly on low until flavors begin to meld; about 20 minutes. You want to stir it frequently so that it doesn’t scorch. Be sure to taste the mixture for any needed seasoning. I find that with the olives, very little additional salt is needed.
4. Allow mixture to cool completely and then refrigerate until ready to fill the empanadas.

Empanada dough

Ingredients:
3 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cut in to several pieces
1 egg
6-8 tablespoons of cold water

1. In a food processor, pulse mix the flour and the salt for a few seconds then add the butter.
2. Process the butter and flour until you have pea sized pieces. Add egg.
3. While mixing the flour and butter and egg, slowly add the cold water until the dough forms a ball.
4. Remove the ball from the processor, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Assembling your empanadas

What you will need:
Picadillo filling
Emapanada dough
1 egg, slightly beaten
A pastry brush
A small fork
Rolling pin
Round cookie cutter for cutting circles, abut 4″ to 6″ in diameter (I just use a small cookie tin lid.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. On a clean surface, liberally flour your rolling pin and counter. Begin rolling out the dough.
3. Roll to about 1/8″ thick and then begin cutting your circles. This dough is similar to biscuit dough and can become tough if over worked. You want to be careful not to over handle the dough.
4. When you have cut out your circles, place 3 to 4 Tbs (eyeball the dollops. You don’t have to be precise) of filling on one half of the dough and about 1/2″ from the edge of the circle. Using your finger or a pastry brush, dab a bit of cold water on the free edge, fold the remaining dough over and press firmly.  With your fork, press along the edge of the dough to seal it.
5. Repeat step 4 for the remaining empanadas.
6. Arrange empanadas on a large cookie sheet. With your pastry brush, brush a light coating of slightly beaten egg across the top and along the pressed edge. This will give your empanadas a beautiful golden color and help seal the edges.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

I hope you’ll try this recipe and even play around with the various ways one can make picadillo. If raisins aren’t your thing, try diced mango or currants. If you want a spicier, more savory dish, leave out the fruit and add chili powder or diced fresh chilies or even a couple of chipotle peppers.  Try your hand at making sweet fillings for your empanadas. Experiment with various fruits and even fruit and nut combinations.

Buen provecho!

*Conversations with Ben – 3.18.12

*Conversations with Ben was something that I had started doing on previous versions of my blog experience. The wit and wisdom of a preschooler just can’t be beat.

On our way home from breakfast with my family, celebrating my uncle’s birthday. We had eating at a local favorite Mexican food restaurant and I had deviated from my usual breakfast for something richer and much more delicious, but with less than great results.  Ben’s comment:

“You know mommy, when you eat karmic masalad it makes your tummy hurt. I think you need to go home and go to bed.”

My friends, karmic masalad is also known in Spanish as carne guisada. And lo, there was much chuckling in the car on the way home.

Tomato, Tomahto

I sort of want to be a farmer. Not a big, millions of acres farmer, cranking out commodity crops like corn and soybeans. I want to be the kind of farmer that has a little bit of land, some delicious varietals, and booth at the local farmer’s market. You know, a yuppy farmer. *smile*

What I am is a housewife who bought a deal on one of those deal-o-day sites for a 4′ x 4′ raised bed and some transplants. When I got the deal, a wonderful man-o-the-earth type of fella installed it in our backyard. He planted two kinds of lettuces, some Swiss chard, broccoli, spinach, carrots, and radishes.  They’re doing quite well so far.

But when I envisioned a garden, what I really wanted were tomatoes. And lots of them! I love tomatoes. I love their sweetness, versatility, their cannability (ooh, canning! This is something I do not know how to do, but I imagine having loads of canned tomatoes and pickled okra in my pantry.)

Not really knowing the first thing about planting tomatoes and my assumption that they are persnickety, I asked one of the gals at my favorite produce stall in the market about how she plants hers. She said three words, “Five gallon bucket.”   Plant them in a big container, give them lots of sun, water them, don’t crowd them, let them do their thing, and she assured me that they will fruit delicious tomatoes.

So last weekend my sister, my son, and I headed to the organic nursery and then hardware store. We bought tomato plants (Amish Paste, which looks like a Roma, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and Black Cherry, two heirloom varieties), soil, and got a few tips on planting.

They should fruit in a few months but in the mean time, with the streak of warm weather we’ve been having, they’re quite happy in their paint bucket homes. That’s my little farmer in the background.

Back Row, l to r: Amish Paste, Brandywine
Front Row, l to r: Cherokee Purple, Black Cherry