One of the best things about this year has been establishing and nurturing friendships with some “in-the-neighborhood” women. It has felt effortless and fulfilling, like that bite of rich bittersweet chocolate after a salty snack (don’t deny it, you know what I’m talking about).
Prior to my horseback riding accident two years ago, I had a few good friends and many acquaintances, but my need to nurture those relationships wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I had a needy family to tend to, a 60’s home to maintain, an executive chef job to consume me, and many, many other things to keep me…busy. And that is what I was, busy. My hands were busy (dishes, laundry, driving, chopping, dicing, mincing, searing, sweeping, mopping, organizing, planning). But where was my heart? Surely it was there, obediently loving my husband and children, making time for weekend visits with my extended family, and squeezing in a coffee every month or two with my close girlfriends. But I was not really heart centered, as I now feel I am so much more of the time. Being heart centered, really dropping down into the core of who I am, allows me to slow down, be in the moment, and realize the important things in my life (not your life or what you think should be important in my life).
Take advantage of that last hug before he darts off to the bus -instead of getting that dirty bowl and spoon into the dishwasher; watch the bus pull away from the drive and wave a reassuring “I’ll be here when you get home” to her as the bus pulls away -instead of sorting through that stack of homework and tests that haphazardly were tossed from her backpack; or take 10 minutes after both kids have begun their journey to school to meditate…or do my physical therapy exercises…or just sit and look out the window and be grateful for the blue sky, crisp air, and the last few red, orange, and yellow leaves hanging onto this beautiful autumn morning -instead of facing that growing pile of clean laundry that really needs folding.
Did it take a traumatic brain injury to bring me to this place? Perhaps. Did that part of my brain that valued accomplishments, a clean kitchen, a tidy house, a completed to-do list, the mantra of “a busy day means a good day”, need to be re-routed with new neural pathways to allow me to have this perspective? I will never know. But I am grateful for the opportunity to be more present. I am grateful to find myself more heart centered. I am grateful for my new girlfriends. Grateful for wine nights, coffee dates, patio parties, bonfires, hayrides, real live phone calls to say “hello”, dinner parties and Friday afternoon manicures.
One particularly fun night, I hosted a trunk show for my dear friend, Kristin, and her handmade infinity scarf business, Eleven:Eleven (they make great gifts for your girlfriends, wink wink). She brought in her collection of scarves and suggestions on different ways to wear them while I brought in some friends and family and made some drinks and hors d’oeuvres. If you don’t know by now, I always love an excuse to get busy in the kitchen…and plan a party. It’s my way of creating something with my heart and my hands that allows me to show my friends what they mean to me.
I set up a bar in my dining room on our antique dry sink. We offered beer, wine, strawberry basil moscow mules from the great blog MarlaMeridith, and iced tea. Next to the bar on the dining table I staged the hors d’oeuvres. In the picture above you can see how I prepare in advance of my guest’s arrival – selecting platters/bowls/utensils for each item I have planned to serve on the menu. Typically, I then place a sticky note on each serving piece with the food item to go onto that plate written on the note so that I remember, or more importantly, if a friend offers to help, it’s clear what I intended each item to be plated on.
I made hummus with my Vitamix and topped it with some toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and served it with an array of fresh seasonal vegetable crudités. My goal was to accommodate all of my guests dietary needs, from gluten free to vegetarian.
Since I knew there would be a few pre-teen daughters joining their moms at the party, I made these playful bacon wrapped tator tot bombs which were stuffed with cheddar and rolled in bacon. I found that recipe on Damn Delicious – and yes they were!
My favorite appetizer of the evening was, hands down, something I had never had before, chicken and waffles. Apparently, a favorite among expatriate African American Southerners, it is typically bone in fried chicken, often dark meat, served on sweet waffles with a drizzle of maple syrup and a hit of Tabasco. My inspiration for this recipe came from Jonathan Melendez, the blogger behind The Candid Appetite. Of course I had to adapt his recipe to make both the chicken batter and the waffle batter
gluten free and I tweaked a few spices to my taste, creating the most satisfying “sandwich” I have had since going gluten free. The bacon, cheddar and scallion flavor in the “sort of” sweet buttermilk waffle were reminiscent of that satisfaction you get when eating a salty pretzel dipped in chocolate – that lovely combo of sweet and salty that just feels right. The highly spiced flour and cornstarch mixture that the chicken pieces dry off in after their buttermilk and Tabasco bath fries up beautifully to offer a deliciously moist interior against a perfectly spicy “remember the colonel?” chew.
- 8 oz sliced bacon
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 cups all purpose gluten free flour: I recommend The Culinary Artist Gluten Free Flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1½ teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 6 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
- Cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Line a sheet pan with heavy duty foil. Top foil with a rack. Lay bacon in a single layer on top of rack and place in center of oven and cook bacon until browned and crisp, turning over once halfway through the 20-25 minute baking time. When the bacon is cool enough to handle, chop or crumble it into small pieces. Set aside.
- Preheat waffle iron.
- Add enough of the bacon fat from the foil lined sheet pan to the melted butter to measure a total of ⅓ cup fat. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Make a well in the center of these dry ingredients.
- Crack the eggs into a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the buttermilk. Whisking constantly add the butter/bacon grease.
- Pour the eggs/buttermilk/fat mixture into the well in the bowl of flour and stir gently with a wooden spoon until just combined. Mixture should remain lumpy. Lastly, add the cheddar, scallions, and bacon.
- When the waffle iron is hot, spray the surfaces with cooking spray.
- Ladle the recommended amount of batter onto the iron according to the manufacturer's recommendation. Close iron and cook until the top and bottom are golden brown and waffle is easily released. I typically cook mine another minute after the chime rings before checking, but every machine is different so experiment until you get a crispy exterior. Enjoy immediately or keep warm in a 200 degree oven on a rack set upon a sheet pan.
I added sliced plum tomatoes, avocado, mayonnaise, and a baby spinach spring mix for some additional color, texture, and flavor. These sandwiches are divine because the components can stand alone. I usually have a few squares of the waffles leftover after a meal, so I save them in the fridge until the next day when a craving strikes. I toss the waffle in the toaster to re-crisp the exterior and heat it up a bit, then top it with the fixins’ for a BLT, or a turkey and swiss, or just simply eat it straight up. On one occasion I made a double batch of the waffles so that I could freeze the additional waffle squares and pull them out as needed, again toasting in the toaster. The chicken reheats great, as well. Perhaps best reheated in the oven. Don’t make the mistake of just using this chicken in the waffle sammiches. It works great on a bun or slice of bread, topped with melted provolone, and tomato sauce for your very own chicken parmesan hoagie or served to the kids plain for dinner (with a side of something green like broccoli or peas, cuz my mama said so). If your kids are like mine, they will like to dunk them into ketchup, mayonnaise, or ranch dip.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoons hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup gluten free all purpose flour: I prefer The Culinary Artist's Gluten Free Flour
- ½ cup corn starch (non GMO preferred)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- Neutral, high heat oil for frying, like organic expeller pressed canola, peanut, or light olive oil.
- Cut each chicken breast half in half lengthwise to create a chicken "finger". If your chicken pieces are exceptionally large, cut again in half crosswise.
- Mix the buttermilk, hot sauce, and salt together in a large bowl or zip top bag. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or zip bag closed and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.
- In a large bowl mix the flour, corn starch, salt, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper and paprika. To coat the chicken, remove several pieces from the buttermilk bath, shaking off excess, and place in the bowl of seasoned flour. Toss gently to coat. Remove from flour and return to the buttermilk. Repeat tossing in flour, giving each chicken piece a double breading to create an extra crispy texture. Allow the chicken to "air dry" on a cooling rack set over a sheet pan for 10-15 minutes which will encourage the breading to adhere to the meat.
- Heat 1½" of oil in an electric skillet or cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. Once the oil is to temperature gently place chicken pieces (without overcrowding) into the skillet and fry in batches 5 minutes on the first side and 5 minutes on the second side (bone-in chicken will take longer). Remove to a wire rack set over a sheet pan and keep warm in a 250 degree oven. Continue frying chicken in batches until completed. Chicken should register 165-170 degrees using an instant read thermometer in the center of the meat.
Now go pick up the phone (no texting this time) and call that someone special you haven’t seen in awhile and schedule a date to connect. Or better yet, challenge yourself to initiate plans with someone you’ve been wanting to get to know better. Someone who brings out the best in you – cuz you deserve it.
Here’s to yummy sammiches and heart centered living!
Linking up to Allergy Free Wednesdays