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Monday, February 28, 2011

Hot date with my therapist

“Tell me this: are you talking to a therapist?” my aunt pressed. She was convinced I needed professional analysis.

“Umm, not exactly.” I changed the subject. I didn’t want tell her the truth: Yes, I do have a therapist. His name is Brad, and I see him on Monday nights.
Go ahead, laugh—my tongue is firmly tucked inside my cheek. But there’s a tiny nugget of truth in there. As a single, 34-year-old gal with daddy issues, what better way to analyze my own relationship trials and tribulations than through the televised dating adventures of a single, 38-year-old guy with daddy issues?

“What’s your biggest fear? Crazy Michelle asked Brad as they talked one night.

“Wow, that’s a great question,” he responded. “My greatest fear. Hmm. I guess it’s ending up alone.”

Gee, Michelle, maybe you're not so crazy. That is a good question. What is my greatest fear? I pondered it for days. Unlike Brad, I’m not afraid of being alone. I’m actually quite good at that. After a few days of thinking, I pinpointed my fear: picking the wrong person. I’m terrified I’ll sink my own ship by tying up with a vessel that’s leaky and full of holes.

My next lesson came from a phone chat between the hunky bachelor and his therapist as the selection process intensified. Okay, maybe I should be ashamed to admit it, but I literally pulled out my journal to jot this down because I thought it was so insightful:

“Don’t be afraid of making yourself vulnerable,” said the therapist. “There is tremendous strength in being vulnerable. Having the conviction to keep being real and to keep being present—that’s what strength looks like.”

Holy cow—there’s a lot of truth to that! It’s always easier to cut and run than it is to stand your ground and open your heart. It wasn't hard to realize which one I do more often.

Then there was this gem, when Brad was getting to know Chantal’s father during last week’s Hometown Dates. They bonded over the alienation they each experienced as sons of broken men. Chantal’s dad said this about his own father: “He lived a tough life. But if you live a tough life, that doesn’t mean you need to take it out on everybody else.”

Well, now. I’ll let you read between the lines on that one. But perhaps you don’t have to stretch out on the proverbial shrink’s couch in order to understand your issues. Maybe self-revelation can strike when you’re stretched out on your own sofa in your jammies!

All kidding aside, there’s certainly no substitute for being brave enough to sit down with a real therapist when it’s time to sort through the patterns that keep you firmly stuck in your past. That’s part of what drew me into this season of The Bachelor: here was a hot, muscular, successful guy who wasn’t afraid to admit on national television he’d spent years in hard-core sessions with a trained professional. And they weren’t working on his six-pack. They were facing his fears.

Don’t confuse my affinity for this show with a conviction that reality television is the path to finding true love. Going on group dates with seven (or more) other ladies won’t be the way to find the man of my dreams. But there’s just something lovable about a process that lets us all follow a guy who’s willing to be so open and honest with his heart.

I could go on. But it’s Monday night. I have an appointment to keep.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Short Ribs in Chicago: A Keeper!

What could be better than getting together with three of your best friends for a weekend in Chicago?
 Getting to spend that weekend celebrating an engagement!
Meghan and Drew are getting married. How can we not love a man who popped the question on Tuesday night so we could spend the weekend celebrating?

After a fabulous Friday dinner out, we stayed in on Saturday night and made Zinfandel-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Rosemary-Parsnip Mashed Potatoes. Two thumbs up! And this is despite the fact I am currently down to only nine functional fingers, due to a slicing incident with the potato peeler. Fortunately, the girls jumped in and made this a true team effort.

The recipe is available at the link above, so I'm not going to type out the whole thing, due to the previously mentioned digital impairment, but here are the highlights.

We only had one big pot, so we made the potatoes first (omitting the parsnips) and whipped them with Meghan's immersion blender.
Fresh rosemary went into both the potatoes and the beef.
The short ribs get salted and peppered before they're seared in the pot.
We divided and conquered. Scotty chopped and peeled the parsnips while I seared the beef.
Hilary helped chop the onions. Once the beef is seared, it's set aside, and the onions go into the pot to soften.
Next we added the parsnips. (We left the parsnips out of the potatoes only because we didn't buy enough for both the stew and the mash, as prescribed in the recipe, and we didn't want to return to the supermarket.)
Add the garlic, rosemary, wine and broth, deglaze the pan, return the ribs to the pot, cover, and it all goes into the oven to bake for 2.5 hours.
With dinner in the oven, we amused ourselves by taking some photos...
Then one of us (ahem) drank entirely too much wine and thus forgot to take more than one photo of the finished product. We also almost forgot about the parsnips at the bottom of the pot. Nevertheless, here you go.
This one is a real keeper...just like someone else we know. Welcome to the family, Drew!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lasso Lasagna

All single girls need a few recipes that are guaranteed man-pleasers. This is one of mine. And it's not just for guys: almost everyone loves lasagna!

Need a little extra credit with your sweetheart? Trying to get yourself out of the dog house? Ready to reel him in? I've decided to call this Lasso Lasagna in honor of its persuasive powers.

The original recipe is from Miss Leigh Reddick in the classic Robert F. Munroe School Cookbook. (Page 60 for those of you fortunate enough to have a copy.)

Along with its fabulous flavor, it's perfect for a dinner party because you can make it a day in advance and clean up the kitchen...then you just pop it in the oven the next evening. The only downside is you might be so busy eating it, you'll forget to take pictures of the finished product for your blog. Oops!

1/2 lb. Italian sausage
1 lb. ground chuck
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1 Tbsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1 (16 oz.) can whole tomatoes (undrained)*
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
10 oz. wide lasagana noodles
2 (12 oz.) cartons large curd cream-style cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. Mozzarella cheese, sliced

Brown sausage and ground chuck; drain.
Add garlic, parsley flakes, basil, salt, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, until thick, 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add water if necessary.
Cook noodles in boiling water until firm and tender. Drain and rinse in cold water.
Combine cottage cheese, eggs, salt, pepper, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Layer in a 13x9x2 inch baking dish lasagna, meat mixture, cottage cheese mixture, and slices of Mozzarella cheese. Top with additional Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Yield: 10 servings.

Note: May be frozen before baking for 4 to 6 weeks. Thaw before baking.

*Lynsley's Notes: I like to add some extra liquid/tomatoes to this so I can bake it without boiling the noodles. (Although, honestly, I think I've followed the original recipe and made it that way too. Is boiling lasagna noodles a thing of the past?)

This time, I doubled the Italian sausage for a 1:1 meat ratio, and I used two 28-oz. cans of diced tomatoes. I didn't realize how much I'd strayed from the recipe until I was done. But this was a good thing because I used an extra-large pan, so it was nice to have the additional sauce. I had to mix some more of the cottage cheese and mozzarella mix too so the layers were even.

I'd purchased a lot of fresh mozzarella when it was on sale this summer, so I defrosted that and put it on top. You can never have too much cheese in your lasagna.

It was scrumptious -- Leigh Ann thought it was even better than she remembered!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Balsamic Chicken with Grapes and Almonds

This is something I clipped out of Cooking Light ages ago...a great weeknight standby with nice flavor.
The magazine recommended serving it with wilted spinach and cous cous; I substituted red swiss chard for the spinach and just sauteed it in garlic and olive oil. I must report, the recipe says it serves four, but I might double the sauce next time. You can't have too much sauce! I toasted the almonds to make them extra-yummy.

Balsamic Chicken with Grapes and Almonds
4 (4-oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, saute 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
Remove chicken from pan. Reduce heat; stir in grapes, broth, vinegar and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, cook until reduced to 1 cup (about 6 minutes).
Return chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes or until done, turning to coat.
Sprinkle with almonds immediately before serving. Serves 4.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Turning Pages

I swear, I am not a pack rat.

My bookshelf would beg to differ. I've bagged up about 150 books to donate. Wow. That seems like a lot. But they're old friends who've shared my journey. They represent the people, places and pages of my life for the past 15 years. When I moved into my condo seven years ago, it seemed perfect because it had enough space for all of my books.

There's the copy of Pride and Prejdice from my high school library, complete with bar code and a due date stamped inside: April 7, 1992. When I tried to return it, Mrs. Hollingworth said I could keep it...she had others. I'm not sure I even finished it back then, but despite its duct-taped spine and falling-out pages, it's still one of my favorites.

There's Silent Spring, the book Nancy Lindstrom made my tenth-grade English class read. We whined and moaned about it...and then I was proud to have read it when I got to college and realized what a seminal text it is.

There's my collection of Faulkner novels, started with my junior-year term paper and continued during a course at Duke. Every August, I promise myself I'll read Light in August again to remember why it was my favorite.

There's my 1975 hardback copy of C.A. Tripp's The Homosexual Matrix, a study of the anthropological and biological origins of sexual orientation. Teaching a Christian faith and sexuality weekend for middle school students at my church in Dothan, Alabama, I worried how we might be expected to answer the kids' questions about homosexuality. The fatherly physician who was my co-facilitator suggested I read Tripp's book and reassured me with his intellectual approach.

There are the books that are relics to my dream of being a great reporter: autobiographies by Dan Rather, Charles Kuralt, Leslie Stahl, Maria Shriver. A copy of the Broadcast Voice Handbook, with vocal exercises stuffed in the back from a coaching session with the author.

There are books that remind me of how much I grew and learned in college, including a dozen books about the craft of writing. I'm not sure I've cracked them in this decade...but I day! There are the feminist books I saved from my introduction to cultural studies: Barbie's Queer Accessories and Forever Barbie. You could write a book about the way people play with Barbies and what it means? Cool!

There are the books that remind me of people: the copy of The Incas I got from a guy I was dating the Christmas I went to Peru. Pilots, Man Your Planes, by Jim Campbell, the World War II veteran who sat on the pew behind my family every Sunday at church. Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, with an inscription from a friend that reads: "To Lynsley, who knows what is really meant by the phrase 'bastard' in the South." I never asked what she meant. Doesn't everybody know that word?

There's a collection of Pablo Neruda love poems in Spanish and Portuguese, a gift from a Brazilian boyfriend. And a copy of The Alchemist, also in Portuguese, another gift from another Brazilian boyfriend.

I purchased El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera in the Madrid airport in May 1997 and read through approximately page 50. (I finally finished it in English last year.) My Dictionary of Spoken Spanish takes me back to the semester after I studied in Madrid, when I polished my fluency learning idomatic phrases like ver el cielo abierto (to see the open sky), which means to see a great opportunity. It sits next to the copy of Nancy Friday's The Power of Beauty from my internship at CNN in the summer of 1997. I worked in the guest bookings department, which was flooded with free books from publicists seeking air time for their authors.

There's Crazy in Alabama, which the district attorney of Dale County, Alabama, suggested I read one day as we chatted while I set up my camera to interview him about a pending trial. How can I get rid of that? I was crazy in Alabama!

I read recently that there are two types of clutter: memory clutter and "I-might-need-it-one-day" clutter. Reading that, I realized most of my books easily fall into those two categories. And I realized holding on to the books was about holding on to the hopes and memories of what they represent...who I am, who I was, who I'd like to be. I don't have to hold these books in my hand anymore for them to remain a part of my life. You don't have to see or touch your friends every day in order to treasure them.

I'm keeping a precious few favorite books. The rest are sitting in my car now, waiting for me to drive them to the used bookstore that benefits Charlotte's Habitat for Humanity. I'm trusting that these books have been a gift to me, and now they can be a gift to someone else. Sometimes you have to create space on the shelves of your life so you can let new things in. Otherwise, how can you see the open sky?

It's time to turn the page.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ritzy Chicken

There are some winter nights you know you should eat something healthy, but you just want something creamy and comforting.

When I lived in Dothan, Alabama, one cold night my then-boyfriend Eddie had a mad craving for his grandmother's chicken casserole. He called her to get the recipe, and it's still folded in my recipe box, written on the back of a Dothan Utilities envelope with his roommate's signature on the flap. This is what it says:

4 chicken breasts
Boil until tender w/ salt
1 cream of chicken soup
8 oz. sour cream
1 roll Ritz crackers
1 stick of butter

40 min. 350

Between the crackers and the butter, there's a little arrow that says "stir."  I decided to make it recently but got a little crazy and added some frozen broccoli.

First I boiled and shredded the chicken.
Mixed the chicken with the soup, sour cream (I used Greek yogurt because that's what I had) and the frozen broccoli.
Melted the butter and mixed it with some Club crackers I had in the pantry (these were kinda stale, so I put them in the oven for a while at 250 and kept tasting them until they were good again).
Baked it all in the oven at 350 for 40 minutes.
Yes, this is a typical Paula Deen-style "You start by melting a stick of butter" recipe, so let's not even think about how much fat is in there. But it was good, people! I made some white rice to serve it with (that's how I like my chicken Divan), but with all of the crackers, you're better off just eating it straight.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Salmon and Zoe's Beans

One of my favorite fast-casual spots these days is Zoe's Kitchen in Midtown. They offer a side of white beans with garlic and rosemary. I figured the dish couldn't be hard to recreate, so I gave it a shot recently.

In my freezer, I had a bag of cooked white beans. (I'd saved them from something else I'd made, probably chicken chili. I think it's fun to cook with dried beans, as they are inexpensive and lower in sodium than the canned ones.)

I defrosted the beans and covered them in a pot with some chicken broth. Then I added a generous teaspoon of chopped garlic and another teaspoon or so of dried rosemary. I just let them simmer for a while so they'd get the sort of mushy, stewed consistency that I like at the restaurant.
When they were almost ready, I drizzed them with a little high-quality olive oil and added salt and pepper.

To go with the beans, I poached some salmon fillets in white wine and mustard. I just put the fish in a glass dish, drizzled the wine, squeezed on a little Dijon mustard, and sprinkled with s&p. Then I covered the dish with foil and baked at 375 for 20 minutes or so.
 Added some steamed green beans and enjoyed an easy, yummy, healthy (I think!) dinner.

Welcome In

Tidiness is not my strength. I hate cleaning almost as much as I love cooking. Nevertheless, a childhood lesson lingers: You always clean up for company.

When my mom would host a party in the 80s, Leigh Ann and I had to spend what seemed like an entire day cleaning our rooms. She even made us clean up what was under the beds.

"Mom, seriously? Who's even going to go in our rooms during this party, much less look under the beds?" we'd ask.

"You never know! You need to do it anyway. Get in there and finish up and stop all this belly-aching," she'd insist.

Now that I have my own place, I often fail to keep it clean when I am home alone. But I still remember what my mama taught me: you pick up when you are expecting company.

However, there are certain occasions when, no matter how sloppy my home is, I'll allow a close friend to come inside for an unexpected visit. I still remember feeling hurt when a good friend insisted I couldn't see the inside of her home it just wasn't clean enough. On an emotional level, it felt as if she wasn't willing to let me in.

I reflected on those thoughts about tidiness and hospitality in church recently, as the choir sang an anthem entitled "Who at My Door is Standing?" The song is about hearing God's call at your heart and opening it to let Him in, no matter how chagrined you feel about your untidiness or lack of preparation: 

Within, the rooms are darkened, all filled with dust and sin.
How shameful, how unworthy for Christ to enter in.
Yet, the tones are falling: "Now open the door for Me!
If thou wilt heed My calling, I will abide with thee.

It reminded me of the famous Holman Hunt painting, Light of the World, which hangs in St. Paul's Cathedral and is the subject of a stained glass window in my childhood church.
God--or anyone else we want to be in close relationship with--isn't company. He's someone who doesn't mind seeing us as we are, with all our messy stuff. Will we leave him outside knocking, embarrassed by the fact we still need to get things in order?

Or will we let him inside as a true friend: one who sees our dirty dishes and unfolded laundry, our stacks of newspapers and empty cans ready to be recycled. They see it all, they love us anyway, and they pitch in to help us get our house organized. I think God must be like that too, a God who takes us as we are, loving us in spite of--or even because of--the messy parts.