Sage Crimini Mushrooms Stewed in Red Wine for a Better Happy Hour

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Last night my friend Saayeh and I wanted to get together for happy hour and catch up. We decided that instead of wasting tons of money at the one (expensive) place in Waco that serves passable old fashioneds, she would just bring over her bottle of Bulleit rye and I’d make some snacks. As someone who prefers the drinks that aren’t usually on happy hours lists (ie: manhattans over something from a slushy machine) this is a very smart, very I-want-to-travel-this-summer-and-need-to-save-money-so-I-can kind of thing to do. Also, I bet sushi is the only thing that most people are not better at making than typical happy hour fare. If we’re just eating chips and salsa or appetizers or whatever, why not know what we’re actually consuming and pay way less for better stuff all around?

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I had a good sharp cheddar, leftover gouda, pretzel crackers, and blackberries hanging around, but I wanted to make something fun and warm as well. So I decided to create an appetizer thing with the (probably opened too long to drink) red wine and crimini mushrooms I also had hanging around. I sauté mushrooms with red wine a lot—letting the wine reduce into a sauce and serving over salad or rice or whatever. This is a little more fun, though, so I thought I’d share the recipe (below).

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It was a beautiful winter Texas evening, so Saayeh, my roommate Jenny, and I sat outside and chatted about big life events and various less important things. We ate good snacks, drank good rye neat, and then I created a sage and honey rye smash, which was also good. One of my favorite things about happy hour is that it can sometimes accidentally last all night if you’re enjoying yourself enough; and this one did.

I think Saayeh and Jenny are my only two friends that have lived in Waco as long as I have and as our conversation turned to purging belongings and both of their probable summer moves to different parts of the country, I realized how much I’ve subconsciously counted on their presence. I think I’ve avoided recognizing how little time I have left with both of these good friends. So, we better have home happy hours a little more often. While we can. Not to get melodramatic. But maybe to get a little melodramatic. (Don’t go?)

Anyway, here’s the recipe for you. I still need to tell you about my friend Liz’s birthday visit (don’t think I’ve forgotten) but that is taking me awhile, so I thought I’d post this short Friday recipe for now.

Sage Crimini Mushrooms Stewed in Red Wine

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Ingredients

  • 1-2 dozen crimini mushrooms
  • 1 C red wine (I used Becker Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 3-4 Tbs butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 15 fresh sage leaves
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375.
  2. Clean and quarter the mushrooms, peel and squish the garlic with the flat of a knife, and wash your sage leaves.
  3. Throw everything into a baking dish, topping with slices of the butter, a couple generous pinches of salt, and many grinds of black pepper.
  4. Pour the wine over everything and stew in the oven for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve with warm bread to dip in the sauce and spoon mushrooms on.

I can attest that these mushrooms make for a very happy hour, but I think they also probably belong at your next party. It’s nice to have a hearty vegetable dish when you’re snacking on finger foods all night; these mushrooms could be a great healthier alternative to something like meatballs.

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Birthday 2013 Show and Tell

So, I’m kind of a birthday person. I don’t really want to be, and I feel a little lame about it, but when February comes around I start thinking about my birthday a lot. What should I do; who should I be with; should there be a party? Then I feel like a self-obsessed idiot and try not to think about it. When I was younger I never wanted anyone to know how much my birthday meant to me, but I think I’ve come to terms with my birthday feelings. There’s nothing wrong with liking birthdays; they’re a perfect time to be grateful for the good things in your life and consider how you got where you are and think about where you’re going or would like to go. Plus, people who hate their birthdays are weird—it’s kind of like hating your own life.

This year I had one of the best birthdays I can remember. I was enjoying myself so much the whole birthday weekend that I did not update my mother enough and she resented me for it. So, here is a full play-by-play for my mom. And whomever.

I woke up on birthday morning to the kitchen sounds of roommate Jenny making me a mango pineapple smoothie, coffee, and steal cut oats with pomegranate seeds and whipped coconut cream.

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First, kitchen sounds are the best thing to wake up to on a brisk and sunny birthday morning and every morning. Second, there is nothing better than Jenny’s pomegranate coconut oatmeal (tart, sweet, warm, and filling); except maybe mango smoothies. She’s the best roommate.

Then I went to work and tried to get something done besides reading happy friend texts. Mid-morning my friend Wendy showed up at my office with balloons attached to a caramel macchiato (which should be called a Wendy, as far as I’m concerned), a coffee gift card from her family, and a disruptive happy birthday song. Wendy is someone who will put a smile on your face all the time without even meaning to, so getting her surprise visit plus a sweet coffee treat plus balloons caused an unexpected joy overload.

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For lunch I went to the best bakery in Texas, Lula Jane’s, with the group of ladies I get to have a girls’ night with about once a week. I’ve mentioned Jenny, Saayeh, Kate and Emily before, but there are more and they’re all hilarious and kind and interested in watching birthing documentaries accompanied by delicious snacks with gross-out, birth-themed nicknames (yeah, forget I said that). Most are artists of one kind or another, and I’m always incredibly impressed with their work (for example this, this, and this). I knew I probably wouldn’t get to see them that weekend, so I hoped that at least a few could come to a last minute lunch. Almost every single one came! They even brought me beautiful birthday flowers and a bag of presents including stamps and animal print socks. We laughed and ate vegetarian chili and took up way too much space.

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Then I took a half day off from work so I could frantically prepare for my best friend Liz’s birthday weekend visit from Chicago! (That was a big reveal, if you didn’t catch it. Liz came to Texas for the first time since college!!) Since I had to go pick her up from the faraway airport late that night, a few friends kindly joined in my excursion and we went out for a nice birthday dinner in Dallas before Liz landed.

The group that came (the Dahms, DeAnn, Ryan, and Luke) went to Austin for a fancy dinner celebrating Andrea’s birthday this fall and have been making dinners, so it seemed very right to go eat a very good meal together. Andrea came in my room when I was getting ready to leave and tried to take a birthday outfit shot that I kept ruining with awkwardness. It’s a gift.

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Andrea: “Pose!” Me: “Hoooooow?”

So, six people chose to ride in one car. Sorry mom.

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I’m not exactly sure that’s legal. Rather, I’m exactly sure that’s not legal. Please don’t tell. It was for the good of the earth; and our conversation. The drive up consisted of absurd jokes, invented acronyms, philosophical conversation regarding Cormac McCarthy novels that I ignored, and birthday wish pronouncements. Typical. Several of my wishes were actually fulfilled that very evening. Several were not. (We did survive with that many people in car, we did get to the restaurant on time, we did not get all of our meals free because it was my birthday, etc.) The three adult males who rode with four people total in the back seat were pretty happy to get out of the car when we finally made it to Dallas.

Dudes.

Dudes.

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Waco ladies.

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Hutch and Steven hugs.

My best friend from college, Hutch, and her husband Steven live in Dallas so they came to birthday dinner too! They love good food and good conversation, so they bonded instantly with the Waco contingent. Plus, it’s not every birthday that you get double best friends time; especially when they live in Dallas and Chicago.

We went to Boulevardier because it is French, in my favorite Dallas neighborhood (Bishop Arts), and had good seafood options on the first Friday of Lent. The food was delicious, as were the drinks; it’s a cool place; and our server was patient with us. I recommend it.

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“Hmmmm.” -DeAnn

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“Whiskey drink!” -Ryan

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Oysters.

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Oyster cheers.

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Crawfish Beignets. Whoa.

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Scallops. Double whoa.

It was one of the best meals. The food, drink, conversation, and people were all perfect. After we ate, our server brought me out a free birthday glass of champagne, magically granting part of my free stuff birthday wish!

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Overjoyed by birthday wish fulfillment. Also, champagne.

Then we went across the street to another Bishop Arts gem, Emporium Pies, where we had birthday pie and coffee before heading out. We somehow managed to demolished slices of deep dish caramel apple and strawberry rhubarb pie after that rich dinner. Brandon and Steven bonded over a Chemex love fest and I felt very lucky to be surrounded by the people and pies that I was surrounded by.

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Pie pie pie pie pie

We then said our goodbyes to Hutch and Steven and headed to DFW to pick up Liz. I hadn’t exactly warned her of what she was getting into and everyone asked how she was going to handle being thrown in a crowded car for two hours with a bunch of strangers immediately upon arriving in Texas after a work day in Chicago. I said that she would probably just roll with it. She did.

She also just rolled with my car refusing to start at the airport because my battery was dying. It was the absolute worst timing ever, and was both the worst and best moment of the trip. It could have been horrible, and was, but was also hilarious and made for a more extended friends getting to know friends time. We sat there waiting for someone from airport security to come help us for almost an hour. DeAnn and Liz talked about teaching high school; Andrea and Liz talked about fancy pajamas; Luke and Liz talked about gardens; Brandon and Ryan stood in the cold, waiting for help. I just kept saying I couldn’t believe Liz was really in Texas and that I couldn’t believe my car was dead. Eventually Ryan went into what we call hero mode and started going around asking if anyone picking up travelers had jumper cables. Within a few minutes he had gotten a cab to give us a jump and we were on our way. Ryan Hero Mode > Airport Security.

On the way home Brandon asked what this new year of life will hold for me and I didn’t know how to answer. DeAnn and I have talked about 2013 being The Year of Casting the Net Wide as I’m now 28, have lived in the same small city for almost a decade, have a master’s degree and a good job, but still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up. But after only two months into 2013, that wide net seemed like something treacherous I got tangled in. So, talking with some of my favorite people in the whole world all shoved in one car, we determined that it would be better to call 28 The Year of Discernment. I can’t go in every direction at once, which I often try to do, so it’s time to figure out which direction I want to go in so I can actually start moving. Realizing this with a weekend of Liz time ahead of me was ideal. I’ll tell you why soon in a post all about her visit.

My birthday ended somewhere on I-35, crowded by people I love.

DeAnn Part II: Lasagna Birthday Dinner

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As I mentioned in Part I, every DeAnn birthday dinner involves a themed toast. This is a practice I highly recommend. Themed toasts are like a more jovial version of the table question (thought- or story-provoking questions that everyone at a table has to answer). My college friends always came up with table questions during dinner (and still do)—for example: What was your least favorite vacation ever, and why?; How do you fit or contradict birth-order stereotypes?; When have you most feared for your life?; Who would you eat first if we were all stuck on a mountain top?; etc. Just kidding on that last one. Maybe. Anyway, table questions and themed toast stories could have the terrible vibe of unwanted, forced games (the worst), but they shouldn’t. If they do, you’re probably eating with people who aren’t fun or who are bad at telling stories; in which case you should really take some time to think about how you got here. Table questions and toasts are good ways to maintain one conversation in a larger group and you learn funny or interesting things about your friends that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

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This was clearly a good one.

This year for DeAnn’s birthday a smallish group of us drank wine to the tune of “You may not believe this, but…” which was as entertaining as you might imagine. There were fights, brushes with glory, and weird fun facts. I love being surprised by my friends’ past lives. We were all laughing and telling stories for so long that we ended up sitting at the dinner table all night—which is a clear sign of a good time.

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DeAnn, being a good listener.

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When hosting birthday dinners I am often torn between making something exciting, labor-intensive, and new because it’s a special occasion and making something dependable and low-maintenance for the same reason. On the one hand, the event calls for something extravagant, but on the other, you want to spend time with the birthday person and your guests more than you want to spend time in the kitchen. I think that my lasagna recipe is a pretty good compromise. It’s special and semi-indulgent, but it takes care of itself and you can even make it a day early, which cuts your prep- and clean-up-time in half on the day of the party. So that’s what I made for DeAnn’s birthday.

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We had lasagna, a simple green salad, Wendy made garlic bread, and everyone else covered the wine. My dining room is small, so once you sit down you’re kind of trapped. It was nice to have a simple, family-style meal with everything on the table so people didn’t need to try extracting themselves very often.

I made the lasagna the night before DeAnn’s party, so all I had to do when I got home from work was turn on the oven, set the table, and throw a salad together. I highly recommend this strategy because I at least make a gigantic mess when putting the lasagna together. You have to cook noodles, brown Italian sausage, drain spinach, use way too many spoons, and, you know, generally make a mess.

I came up with this recipe by tweaking my mom’s classic lasagna. She keeps it simple with ground beef, sauce, and cheese. I pile on the flavor and texture by using Italian sausage and adding vegetables. Several people have asked for the recipe, which in my book means it’s a little famous. So, all rights reserved, etc.

 Heather’s Lasagna

Ingredients

  • one package of your favorite lasagna noodles
  • two (24 oz.) jars of your favorite pasta sauce
  • 1/2 C red wine
  • 5-6 Italian sausages (I prefer spicy, but sweet would work)
  • 4 C grated mozzarella cheese
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 16 oz. chopped frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
  • one large onion
  • one red pepper
  • one yellow pepper
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes

Directions

  1. Cook the noodles according to package directions, drain, and run under cold water so they don’t stick together. Do not overcook, because they will cook more in the oven.
  2. Remove the Italian sausages from their casings and brown in large skillet or dutch oven, then drain the fat.
  3. Add the 1/2 C wine and deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  4. Add the pasta sauce and pinch of red pepper flakes, stir, and turn off the heat.
  5. Slice the onion and peppers as thinly as you possibly can.
  6. Spoon a thin layer of sauce in a 13×9 baking dish, then lasagna noodles. Spoon dollops of ricotta cheese evenly over the noodles, then spinach, sliced onion and peppers, mozzarella, sauce, noodles again, and repeat until the dish is almost overfilled. Be sure to top with a layer of the mozzarella cheese.
  7. Bake the lasagna on a cookie sheet at 350 for about 45 minutes (until the lasagna is hot and bubbling). If the cheese on top is browning too much, cover with foil until it’s finished.

This lasagna is seriously the best. It’s rich, just a tiny bit spicy, and has a great depth of flavor. It is hearty and filling, but also has a fresh crispness from the barely cooked peppers and onions.

DeAnn’s favorite dessert is cobbler, so we finished the night with a frighteningly delicious berry crisp with dark chocolate that the Dahms made and some vanilla ice cream.

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The candles might have melted just a little in the hot crisp. It was probably worth it. Many happy returns, DeAnn.

DeAnn Part I: On Being Who You’re Meant to Be, Single or Otherwise

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DeAnn birthday dinners started very simply, with brownies and a story that should have ended in the horrible death of an urban legend. That was two years ago—when DeAnn was still kind of new here, so the party consisted of grabbing a beer at a local pub. I didn’t know her that well yet, but I thought that she should definitely get chocolate for having lived another year, so I made some brownies and we sang “Happy Birthday.” She told us about this time she was in England and went dancing with a stranger—being led to unknown destinations, etc. It sounded like the story was going to end with a black market organ harvest, but instead concluded with her infectious smile and a toast to “What was I thinking!?” We all proceeded to tell similar stories of imprudence or danger, with a cheers to “What was I thinking!?”

That was not the first time I had been surprised by DeAnn, but I had one of those epiphanies when you realize that someone inherently transcends the limited impressions you have of them. When you first meet DeAnn she seems exceptionally cheerful, friendly, bright, and devout—because she is. But she is also someone deeply averse to conventionality disguised as piety, who is honest in moments of darkness, doesn’t flinch when you get angry or ugly, and hates safety for the sake of safety—a woman with a strong sense of identity apart from her pretty laugh and smile. DeAnn is nice, but she’s also bold and tough and unyielding (for the right things). As much as anyone else, DeAnn has taught me how to be a single Catholic adult.

DeAnn and I met when I was getting out of a four-ish year relationship. That ex-boyfriend and I started dating right when I graduated from college, so I literally didn’t know what it was like to be single as an adult and it kind of felt like my life was ending. People who live in New York or Chicago are probably thinking I sound insane, but living in Texas, where people get married younger, and being a part of the Catholic Church, which understands every person to have a vocation either to marriage or religious life of some kind (as a priest, monk, nun, etc.), makes you hyper-aware of these kinds of things. And regardless, it’s just hard sometimes not to have a partner.

Watching DeAnn (and other friends who had been in the Church a long time, like Michael) navigate and talk about the weird not-vocation of being single gave me many sign posts and much hope in a sub-culture where you can feel like you don’t have important stuff going on if you’re not having kids or joining an order. DeAnn is a good friend to make during a hard time, but she was an especially good friend for me to make during that hard time because (though she’s honest about how hard it can be to be single) her relationship-status does not define her as it does for so many women—single or married.

It’s easy to think of women who can’t be alone, stumble from relationship to relationship, and only talk about who they’re dating as weak and lacking in identity or a sturdy self-conception; but women who say shit like “you’ve never loved or even lived until you’ve held your own baby in your arms” can be expressing the same thing from the other direction. I mean, that’s different from saying “I never loved as deeply before I…” Love is reserved for no station in life, and every relationship status comes with its own worthy challenges, lessons, and gifts.

Don’t get me wrong; being a parent is one of the best, most important things that humans are capable of doing. However, being so clearly important, motherhood can sneakily become a marker of identity to hide behind rather than a form of identity to live into. That sounds weird. What I mean is that women (or men) can use motherhood (or fatherhood) in the same way that we use careers or clothes or books or music—as crutches we want to do identity-defining work for us, instead of expressions of deep, true identities granted by God and hard-won by character—something that does not depend on our ability to make loads of money, win awards, get a spouse, or bear children. Obviously marriage and parenthood have some inherent character/virtue-developing effort built in (in ways that other things don’t) and I do believe in marriage as a vocation (meaning that many people are truly made to be married and become parents—that they are meant for and formed by that good, serious, sanctifying work). But you can still misuse or try to hide behind the title—which “independent women” and bachelors (and priest and nuns, for that matter) can also do.

I think everybody kind of wants to tell mopey singles or serial daters to figure out who the hell they are apart from the security of a relationship. Get over it. You are more than that. But same goes for people who are in relationships. When you’re feeling lost or small or alone it’s nice to have a bunch of titles around so you can be shielded from dealing with yourself directly. “I’m a lawyer; I’m that guy’s wife; I’m that kid’s father; I’m a folk music enthusiast; I’m a collector of antiquities.” I know I used to find a false sense of comfort in just being someone’s girlfriend (even when I was miserable in the relationship!), as if that said something about who I actually was. It reminds me of a scene my sister and I always quote from the movie Airplane—the plane’s in trouble and the doctor asks a couple women how they’re holding up. The first woman replies, “I’m scared. I’ve never been so scared. And besides, I’m 26 and I’m not married.” And the second woman says: “Well, to be honest, I’ve never been so scared. But at least I have a husband.” Hilarious. When my sister and I are talking about difficult things going on in our lives, we’ll often say “But at least I have a husband” or “and I’m not married!” Because we’re funny. But also because, as much as those statuses provide opportunities to shape who you are, they don’t do the work for you or provide any ultimate consolation.

It took a long time for me to realize that my weaknesses and frustrations aren’t going to fundamentally change in or outside of a relationship. Their occasions and manifestations certainly will, but either way I’m me: with the same ol’ problems to work on and the same ol’ need that no mere person is going to solve, fix, or fulfill.

Anyway; some of that’s related and some of it’s not. Getting to know DeAnn, seeing the ways that she knows who she is when she’s dating someone and when she’s not, seeing how she has an idea of who she wants to be/who she’s meant to be and won’t compromise that through shoddy work or a convenient relationship, has been invaluable for me. We haven’t even talked about all this stuff explicitly; it’s not that she’s always spitting advice; she just lives in a way that expresses this. I have wonderful married and parent friends who do as well, but it’s easier for me to track with DeAnn. She doesn’t think or act snottily like she has everything figured out, but I’m still surprised when she asks my advices or seeks out my opinion because I generally ask myself what she would do when I try to make moral decisions.

When I am tempted to date people who aren’t right for me out of boredom or impatience or selfishness, to hide behind my intellectual interests as a copout identity-marker, to disappear into a social persona rather than truly know or care for people, DeAnn is one of the best exemplars I have for choosing a harder, better, more ultimately rewarding life—to try to actually be the person I want to be, instead of just looking like it—regardless of comforts or helpers. I met her when all of my hopes and plans for the future were turned upside-down and her example has helped to significantly improve the kinds of hopes I develop now. Because, whichever vocation I have or want to have or see other people having matters only in that each might end in the same place. All of our titles and labels and roles are the different paths we take to get there; so they’re important but they’re never ends in themselves.

Anyway, geeze; this was supposed to be about a birthday party. When I toasted to “what was I thinking!?” with DeAnn two years ago I didn’t really think about how I’d be toasting to “I almost died when…” the next year and then “You may not believe this, but…” the next. When I met DeAnn I didn’t expect her to hate safety or tell hilarious embarrassing stories or be instrumental in my learning and being able to articulate all the things I just described. Luckily, our expectations rarely coincide with reality. I’m immensely grateful to know DeAnn and look forward to getting to for many years.

Since I went off on identity and character and singleness and marriage and love, I’ll save the recipes and dinner party-recap for next week. Apparently I’m on a roll, so I might actually tell you about all the things I’ve listed that happened over February. Until next time, here’s a photo of DeAnn talking to MLK at Mardi Dahm:

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