Good Grief Out of My Comfort Zone Hot & Sour Soup

Hot & Sour Soup

Hot & Sour Soup

If you have been following this blog from the beginning you already know it is about me stepping out of my comfort zone. Being such a private person exposing myself in a blog is a huge jump into a world I consider uncomfortable. Both my kids made stepping outside the comfort zone seem easy. They relished life off the beaten path venturing into worlds of unchartered territory. My goodness they both swam with sharks. William in the Pacific doing some night spear fishing (yikes) and Caitlin in the Caribbean collecting data for a coral reef project. Suffice to say their brave bones did not come from me.

Will & Cait inspire me to be brave

Will & Cait inspire me to be brave

They both have adventurous palates, too. While I easily forego dishes like balut (A balut or balot is a developing duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell. ), cow tongue and snails my children dive right in. They will try anything at least once. For the competitive cook in me these children are a blessing testing my experiments in the kitchen.

chicken broth

chicken broth

This week I stepped outside the comfort zone by playing with chicken feet. If you think the photo above is nasty just consider what they are like in the flesh. Icky is a good word! Apparently, it takes good bones to make good chicken broth, so I went all in with the chicken feet, neck bones and backs. I have to admit it is worth the time and effort. Way better than the canned stuff. Bet you already knew that.IMG_0830

This week begins the Chinese New Year. It’s snowing like nobody’s business in my neck of the woods and my husband has been working the snow blower. To warm him up I made his favorite hot & sour soup. We love Asian food and often judge a restaurant by how well the chef prepares this dish. It’s tricky business to get a balance of flavors and a good broth consistency.

Hot & Sour Soup

6 ounces thinly sliced pork , cut into slivers( boneless pork chop works)

3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, divided

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided

1 teaspoon corn starch, divided

1 ounce dried shitake mushrooms

1 ounce dried wood ear mushrooms

1 ounce dried lily buds, cut into 2-inch lengths

4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated ginger

½ teaspoon Asian 5 spice powder

6 cups chicken broth, home made or store-bought

1 (12 oz) package extra-firm tofu, diced

¼ cup Chinkiang vinegar (black vinegar)

½ to 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 egg

chopped fresh cilantro, optional

In bowl, marinate pork in 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and ½ teaspoon cornstarch for 30 minutes. In large bowl, rehydrate mushrooms and lily buds in hot water (just enough to cover them) for 30 minutes. In saucepan, over medium high heat, cook pork, green onions, garlic and ginger, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in 5-spice. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Add tofu, mushrooms, lily buds, vinegar, sriracha, white pepper, remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Bring to a simmer and adjust seasoning to your taste with vinegar and sriracha. (if you find the vinegar to harsh you can balance out the flavor with 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar).  Beat the egg with the remaining ½ teaspoon of cornstarch. With the soup at a simmer slowly pour the egg in a thin steady stream. Let set 10 to 15 seconds to cook before stirring. Season with kosher salt, if necessary and serve topped with additional chopped scallions and cilantro.

Note: if you don’t have an Asian market where all these ingredients can be found substitute fresh mushrooms, canned bamboo shoots, and a mix of equal parts rice and red wine vinegar for the black vinegar

The Sweet Stuff


Very early this morning I had a whoosh moment with William. I woke up as I often did (life in the military) worried about him, but as if he were still alive. I was dreaming that he was taking a nap and I needed to be quiet, so as not to wake him. His scout sniper platoon training often deprived him of sleep and that deprivation was the most likely cause of his accident. I felt that bear hug squeeze that only he could deliver. It is a sweet moment. He must be liking the blog.

Military wives and mothers are an amazing group of women at least the ones I have come to know. They are loyal, loving, dedicated pillars of strength. One deployment after another they hold down the fort, alone, with great care and devotion. They are so very protective of their children. I have never met Charlena and Laura Beth, but they knew William. He was “like family”, so ventured out to find me. They bravely stepped forward to share “William” stories and surrounded me with their tender touch. I love them, am inspired by them and thank them for THEIR service.

If there is one thing a person can do to facilitate healing it is to share stories of the one who has been lost.  Don’t be afraid to tell the good, the bad, the ugly and the funny. One does not really know one’s child until others start sharing their personal interactions and secrets, which are now safe to tell. Many tales began with, “If he knew I was telling you this he would kick my a$#!” which always drew laughter.

Write your story in a card or a letter or tell it over the phone. Grab some coffee and come by the house to share a story. In this day and age deliver it by email or private message or instant message. I’ve heard tales from his “brothers”, classmates, teachers, friends and family from far and wide. Every sweet word is cherished, treasured, welcomed and healing.

Clearly, one of life’s sweet moments is William’s homecoming party from Afghanistan. It was just 3 years ago this month. His favorite chili is on the menu. What makes it special is the touch of sweetness it gets from real maple syrup. No other sweetener can match the flavor and richness that maple syrup brings to the table. It brings back memories of a sweeter time when the kids were little and we tried to make our own maple syrup. We tapped the trees, collected the syrup and then nearly stripped the wallpaper from the kitchen walls as the boiling process created so much steam. Lesson learned—buy it at the store! Learn about it here: pure canada maple

home coming chili

home coming chili

Sweet William's Homecoming Chicken Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce

1 pound diced chicken or turkey

1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed

1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

1-teaspoon ground cumin

1-teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1-cup low-salt chicken broth

1 (15 oz) can small white beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen sweet corn kernals

¼ cup chopped fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, flat-leaf parsley

Heat oil over medium-high heat in Dutch oven or large stockpot. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add garlic and chipotle; cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add chicken and sausage; stirring, until no longer pink. Add tomatoes, 1-tablespoon chili powder, maple syrup, cumin, salt and pepper; stir well and cook for 10 minutes. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes. Add beans, corn and additional chili powder, if desired; cook 15 minutes. Stir in herbs.  Leftovers taste great spooned over a baked potato with cheddar cheese.


Inspirational Kid-Friendly Meal


Crispy Coconut Chicken Dippers with Wowee Maui Mustard.   Photo by: Southern Living

It is a rainy Saturday morning in Connecticut on April 16, 2011; a good day to make lentil soup and prepare for the Easter week ahead. Like many families, the kids are coming home for the holiday and thoughts of sandwiching myself between my two babies fills my heart with fun anticipation reminding me of just how blessed I am. It’s delightful to be planning a menu around their favorite dishes. As my thoughts turn to Crispy Coconut Chicken Dippers with Wowee Maui Mustard the doorbell rings.

family photo

my favorite sandwich

Through the window are two men in uniform. My heart begins to race and before I say hello I ask, “Why are you here? He has been safely home from Afghanistan for 6 months. “ All I could do was invite them in, turn off the soup, wait for Bill to come home and hope to wake up from this nightmare. My head is spinning handing the military chaplain a photo album illustrating the last 5 years of William’s life and commitment to the Navy. The only sound comes from the front porch where the Navy and American flags are trembling in a rain of tears.

Cooking and baking are so very therapeutic. There is nothing like getting into the kitchen and banging a few pots and pans together to de-stress and express something from one’s heart. The food is about who I am, where I’ve been and those who inspire me. It’s a generous piece of me on a plate. Find something you are passionate about and just do it. Be inspired by the ones you love and the ones you’ve lost. Out of chaos comes creativity and our very survival depends on that.

As I am constantly tinkering with my recipes I rarely make the same thing twice. This recipe is an exception. After all it is one of my children’s favorites and won the “Kid’s Category” at the Southern Living Magazine Cook-Off in 2005.

Crispy Coconut Chicken Dippers with Wowee Maui Mustard

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup lime-flavored seltzer water

2 cups sweetened flaked coconut *

1 cup fine dry breadcrumb

vegetable oil ( for frying)

salt (optional)

Maui Wowee Dipping Sauce

1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 cup red pepper jelly

3 tablespoons whole grain mustard

Cut each chicken breast into 4 to 6 (1-inch) strips. Whisk together flour and next 4 ingredients in a bowl. Combine coconut and breadcrumbs in a large shallow dish. Dip chicken pieces in flour mixture, and dredge in coconut mixture. Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches in a deep skillet or Dutch oven; heat to 350°. Fry chicken, in batches, 2 to 3 minutes or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt, if desired. Serve with Wowee Maui Dipping Sauce.

 To make the dipping sauce simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl

*Note: unsweetened coconut works well, too. I like Bob’s Red Mill unsweetened shredded coconut