When The Going Gets Tough, Cheeky Street Heads For Comfort

October was ROCKY on Cheeky Street, friends!  My husband and I have been experiencing unexpected stress and pressure in every area of our lives.  Lots of “fight or flight” hormones are flying around between us, and that is never good on a sustained level.  How do I cope?

Some may find solace in the comfort of one good friend.  For me, when my life starts getting out of whack, especially since I had to learn healthy self-care, I always go back to my “solids”:  Family, Friends, Faith and Food.  

At age 50, I  have had to learn the difference between positive self-care (the kind that nourishes your spirit to move forward ) and numbing (exacerbating fear and anxiety by temporarily dulling natural impulses to react).  I have spent long hours reading about addiction and the brain and the impact that repetitive behaviors and thoughts have on the actual wiring of our brains.  And our ability to re-wire the brain by forging new ways of thinking – reinforced by repeating the new, changed, healthy behavior.

I believe, as neuroscience is starting to discover through research, that humans have the innate ability to literally change the pathways of our brain to become healthier, happier beings.

This means that some old behaviors have to be modified.  Overindulging, which has always been my go-to coping mechanism during stressful times, usually leads to regrets, unhappiness and failures.  In Recovery, my challenge has been to fine-tune my self-care regimen by scaling back on positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors.

I’ll start with Family.  As the youngest of 7, my role has pretty much been to entertain the family with my foibles.  If I could make everybody laugh, that would relieve family tension and boost my self-confidence.  And prevent me from ever being responsible – for anything!  I have had to learn new ways of relating to my family – especially when I need their comfort and reassurance – by being honest about my feelings and willing to accept natural consequences of what I receive in return (not just going for the easy laugh).  The result?  While families are almost always complicated, I am learning it is so much richer to connect authentically with siblings and other relatives – instead of going for laughter, I am trying to just be real and say things like, “I really don’t know how to do this – what do you think?” instead of glossing things over with humor.  I have spent 50 years avoiding emotional pain, for whatever reason.  One of the great gifts in Recovery is freedom from the weight of any expectations:  when you commit to just be yourself, be real, get hurt, feel anger or rejection – you find that the Universe manages to nourish you just enough to cope with real life and your relationships move out of the darkness. Family may not always be the first place I look for comfort – because honesty sometimes hurts – but I have learned that my family will never lie to me, and it is up to me to accept the truth or not.

Now about Friends:  this is a complicated part of my life because I have spent so many years trying to please others.  The friends I have are the friends that accept me and have no expectations whatsoever.  I have stopped pursuing “friends en masse” – especially when my heart stings after seeing another “happy girls trip” featured on someone’s Facebook post!  I am a one-on-one kind of girl, and my friends are diverse.  My friends don’t get alot of “tending to” from me because I always put my children first.  So the friends I have are self-confident, tough and resilient.  Not needy.  I don’t have a lot of time or interest to “fuss about” with shallow relationships, so I prefer a few deep friendships.  Some of my friendships have lasted decades!  In any event, in times of deep need, like this past month, the friends I have are thoroughly “on board” with me, even though I am not my light-hearted self.  That is so comforting.

Faith.  That anchor, that sense of believing things are happening for the best, even though you are in the midst of the dark unknown:  it is STILL with me.  Spirit has never abandoned me, not once, never will.  Yes, I get terribly frightened and confused.  Yes, I do and say regrettable things.  Yet I am confident that Spirit will guide me and my family to the right circumstances at the right time.  I try not to let FEAR drown out the voice of CALM.

My faith is a distance runner built for marathons and fear is just a puny little sprinter.  Fear may be fast and furious but Faith is ready for the long-haul.  That’s the kind of faith I am experiencing these days.

Finally, my favorite old friend in times of distress:  FOOD!

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In particular, COOKIES!  How I wish I could be strong like so many of the gorgeous women I see on Facebook, and go for that extra workout during times of stress.  But Madam Cheeky heads for her staples:  Butter and Sugar.  Food is still my weakest link and I am really striving to move toward a healthier body in Recovery.  For now, though, oh my GOD, the cookies are delicious!  This week I baked a batch of – are you ready – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies – and friends, they did not disappoint.  Here is the recipe for you, courtesy of The New York Times:

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups four
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon alt
  • Pinch of clove
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt and clove.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Add the pecans and mix just until combined.
  3. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Cover with another sheet of plastic and shape into a square (I was too lazy for this step).  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough between the plastic to 1/4-inch thick, and into a 9 1/2 x 11-inch rectangle.  Refrigerate for a t least 1 1/2 hours, or up to 2 days.
  4. Position two oven racks so they divide the oven into thirds.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Discard the plastic sheets from the dough.  Trim the edges to form a 9 x 10.5/2-inch rectangle, then cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares.  Place the squares on the baking sheets, then, with a fork, pierce each cookie twice all the way through.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 9 minutes.  If desired, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while still hot.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Adapted from “Baking:  From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan

Dinner for a Droopy Day!

I’ve been feeling “droopy” (a “Miss Rhetta-ism” – my Momma’s signature speaking style) lately.  The heat and humidity of summer persist, fall schedules and allergies are pressing down on me, and I have a serious case of the “I don’t Wanna’s”!  Weighing heavily on my mind is the fact that it is my beautiful daughter’s SENIOR year of High School.  I am overloaded with scheduling ACT tests and tutors, college visits and organizing volunteers and resources for all her Drill Team fundraisers this year.  This girl needs some delicious, cream-based sauce and crusty bread for dipping!!!!

That’s when I go to the kitchen for comfort.  Sometimes, it is a tried and true recipe that comforts me, other times, it is a new one I’ve had my eye on that I will try.  Of course, leave it to me  to take a Cooking Light recipe and make it unhealthy and delicious!   I am ready for crisp weather and my French Girl dipping sauces made with scrapings of lovely browned bits from my saucepan.  I am at least 1/8 French (Grandmother’s maiden name is De Lisle, my legal Middle name), so craving delicious sauces is natural for me!

Here is the FREAKING OUT OF THIS WORLD pan chicken recipe I modified from the January/February 2016 Cooking Light magazine for my family last night – prepare to drool.

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Skillet Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Skillet Chicken with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots 

(Cooking Light Magazine, January/February 2016)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 8 ounces baby carrots
  • 8 ounces small, red potatoes, halved (*I did not include this in my recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (*How I wish I had an herb garden!  I used dried).
  • 8 thin lemon slices, seeds removed
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided (*I went for it and substituted one pint of heavy cream)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (*all I had on hand was vergetable stock)
  • 1/3  cup fresh flat-leaf parsley (*I never have this so I don’t use it)

Directions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees;
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil, swirl to coat.  Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes or until golden brown (*I always cook a few minutes longer because I am scared to death of food poisoning); Turn and cook 2 minutes.  Remove chicken from pan.  Place carrots and potatoes (*I just used carrots), cut side down, in pan; sprinkle with thyme.  Place pan in oven; bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.  Return chicken to pan; top with lemon slices.  Bake at 425 degrees for 10 12 minutes.  Remove pan from oven.  Place chicken and vegetables on a plate.
  3. Combine 1/2 cup milk (*remember heavy cream is WAY yummier – lol!), flour, and the rind in a bowl.  Return pan to medium-high heat (do not wipe out pan).  Add flour mixture, remaining 1 cup milk, and stock to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits (this is where your heavenly taste will come from); cook 3 minutes.  Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Add chicken and vegetables to pan.  Sprinkle with parsley.

Razzle Dazzle Your Diners With This Simple French-Inspired Dish

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

James McNair’s Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons

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One of my favorite wedding gifts looked like this wooden salad bowl and stand.  It got lots of use for many years.

 

Twenty years ago, my husband and I received a beautiful wooden salad bowl with a stand and tongs along with a salad cookbook, “James McNair’s Salads,” as a wedding gift.  The stand is long gone but we still use the large bowl and I have memorized the recipe for Caesar Salad with homemade garlic croutons – and serve it on special occasions!

Here’s the recipe from the cookbook and a brief excerpt from the Author’s Introduction:

Since its inception in a Tijuana restaurant, this classic has never gone completely out of favor.  Recent years have seen the resurgence of its popularity in America’s trendsetting restaurants.

I prefer to leave the lettuce leaves whole, to be picked up with the fingertips for nibbling.  If you would rather use a fork, break the leaves before tossing them with the dressing.

The dressing may be made without the traditional coddled egg; a drizzle of heavy cream will add the richness normally provided by the egg.  James McNair

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Wash, dry, and chill the lettuce leaves.  Prepare the Croutons

Croutons

Ingredients

  1. 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  2. About 1/2 cup fruity olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
  3. 2 tablespoons minced or pressed garlic
  4. 4 cups day-old bread, preferably French style, cut into cubes or thin slices.

    Directions
  • In a large sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter with the oil over medium-low heat
  • Add the garlic and bread and toss until the bread pieces are well coated.
  • Reduce the heat to low (or transfer to a preheated 350º F oven) and cook, stirring and turning frequently, until the bread is golden on all sides, about 20 minutes.
  • Transfer the bread to paper toweling to drain and cool slightly.
  • Use immediately, or cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 1 day.

Salad

Ingredients

  1. 4 medium-sized heads romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves discarded, separated into about 48 leaves
  2. 4 cups Croutons, made with plenty of garlic

CAESAR DRESSING INGREDIENTS

  1. 3 eggs
  2. 6 flat anchovy fillets, drained and minced
  3. 1 tablespoon minced or pressed garlic
  4. 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
  5. 1 cup fruity olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
  6. About 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  7. About 1/4 teaspoon salt
  8. About 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  9. 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, preferably parmigiano-reggiano
  10. Freshly ground black pepper for serving

DIRECTIONS

  • Just before serving the salad, prepare the dressing.
  • Bring a small post of water to a rapid boil over high heat.  Place the eggs, one at a time, on a spoon, lower them into the boiling water, and boil for 1 minute.  Transfer the eggs to cold water to cool.  Break the eggs, separating the yolks into a small bowl; discard the whites.
  • Add the anchovy fillets, garlic, mustard oil and about half of the lemon juice to the yolks and whisk to blend.
  • Whisk in the remaining lemon juice, or more to taste, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a large bowl, combine the whole lettuce leaves, about half of the croutons, and half of the cheese.
  • Add the dressing to taste and toss well.
  • Arrange the salad on a serving platter or individual plates.
  • Sprinkle the remaining croutons and cheese and serve immediately.
  • Pass a pepper mill at the table.

Serves 10 to 12 as a salad course, or 6 to 8 as a light main course

 

 

Lazy Sunday Dinners Are Madam Cheeky’s FAVORITE!

img_20130320_143213_971  It is only January 11 – still technically the holiday season.  A brisk wind whirs around my house keeping the temperatures cold and ice is on the way.  Christmas cards still not finished and packages to family yet to be mailed (sorry, family!!).

But today, I shall enjoy the day doing my VERY FAVORITE THING:  preparing a winter’s feast to enjoy by the fire in my precious Fairway home with the dearest of the dear – my family and close friends.

Here is the menu – if you BEG me, I might post recipes:

634_96 baked fontina The Barefoot Contessa’s Baked Fontina;

LemonAndMintBigLovely fresh greens with Colorado Cache lemon mint dressing;

Linguine Primavera a la Mikey Tamburini;

Chocolate-Chocolate-Chip-Cake  And “Hell YEA!” Madam Cheeky drove way the hell out to South Johnson County to the “Nothing Bundt Cakes” store for a chocolate chocolate chip cake to top our tummies off.  I will post a smiling pic of the guesties around the table like those fancy entertaining magazines do, PROMISE.

Meanwhile, Mario is begging for Grandma Rhetta’s Bran Muffins so I need to hit the kitchen!!!

Happy Sunday, everyone, and may all your meals be cozy!!!!