Three-Minute (at Most!) Bathroom Update

The ’80s called, and they want their crystal faucet knobs back.

Especially this one with its off-kilter label.

Here’s my new rule:  I’m going to tackle at least one update each month around my house. And once a year, I’m going to take the “Swedish Death Cleaning” approach to my space (especially my closet). This is where you clean and organize like there’s no tomorrow. Really no tomorrow. The idea is to go ahead and clear out all the (often needless) stuff you’ve accumulated over the years so loved ones don’t have to do it after you’re gone. Think of it as the ultimate consideration.

Margareta Magnusson explains it in her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.”

On a less morbid note–and also once a year–I’m going to consider what I would change/update/replace/repair/ditch if I were going to sell my house tomorrow and have it be as nice as possible. Why wait? Why do those awesome things for someone else?

It’s OK to start small. Take a look at your space, and see what bugs you. Maybe it’s a paint color. Maybe it’s some hardware. Maybe it’s an easy fix.

So last Saturday, I made two trips to Home Depot and got replacement knobs for our old bathroom faucets. Two trips were necessary because I first bought the “universal” versions. Do not do that. Go ahead and get replacement parts specific to your brand. In our case, it was Delta.

The chrome knobs came with everything we needed to make a big difference with very little time and money. We (OK, my husband, Rick) popped off the old knobs and slipped the shiny new ones in place using the Allen wrench included in the package.

Voila! A happy bathroom!

 

Dinner at My House: Black Bean Chorizo Casserole with Pickled Onions

When my family requests something specific for dinner, I almost always comply. Cooking for my husband and kids is one of my favorite ways of showing how much I love them. Sometimes, though, the requests are bigger than other times.

Melissa Clark‘s Black Bean Chorizo Casserole with Pickled Onions is a big ask.

This recipe, from the New York Times Cooking site, involves multiple steps–the first being the shopping. That’s not entirely a chore because it takes me to Mi Pueblo, which is always a treat. (See my blog post about the delights of shopping there.) This recipe also involves a trip to The Fresh Market for the cured (cooked) chorizo (do not substitute!). But then, with the shopping done, there are several steps to this recipe and it can take a while to make.

It’s worth it though. The sauce especially, made with fruity, smoky dried pasilla peppers, takes this Mexican casserole to a whole new level.

You can get your ingredients ready early and then assemble this casserole and cook it later in the day. The best thing (other than the incredible textures and flavors):  There are usually lots of leftovers, and this dish is even better the next day.

Black Bean Chorizo Casserole with Pickled Onions

INGREDIENTS

1 cup Mexican crema, crème fraîche or sour cream

Zest of 1 lime and 1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 red onion, halved root to tip and thinly sliced into half moons

2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed

2 ½ teaspoons sugar

2 ounces dried pasilla (also called negro) chiles rinsed, seeded and stemmed (6 to 8 chiles)

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound cured (cooked) chorizo, finely diced

1 white onion, diced

1 small bunch cilantro, leaves and stems separated

2 teaspoons ground cumin

3 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained

4 cups chicken stock

8 garlic cloves, unpeeled

12 6-inch corn tortillas

12 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (3 cups)

½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

PREPARATION

  1. Make the lime crema: In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and lime zest. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Make the pickled onions: In a separate bowl, combine red onion, lime juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Let the onion pickle at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the chiles for the sauce: Heat a very large skillet (or use a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat until hot. Lay chiles flat in skillet and toast until fragrant and pliable and color darkens, 10 to 15 seconds a side; do not let them burn and turn bitter. Transfer chiles to a large bowl, cover with hot water and let stand 30 minutes. Wipe out skillet.
  4. Make the bean-chorizo mixture: While chiles soak, heat 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add chorizo and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.
  5. Stir white onion into skillet and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Finely chop 1/4 cup cilantro stems and add to pan, along with cumin. Cook 1 minute.
  6. Return chorizo to pan. Stir in beans, 1 cup stock and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook gently 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  7. Make the chile sauce: Heat broiler. Place garlic cloves (in skins) on a baking sheet. Broil, turning once, until very tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Peel garlic when cool enough to handle.
  8. Drain chiles and place in a blender or food processor. Add peeled garlic and 2 cups stock. Purée until smooth.
  9. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chile purée and simmer vigorously, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Be careful, and do not let it burn! Add remaining 1 cup stock, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently, stirring often, until sauce reduces to 1 1/2 cups, about 25 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and remove from heat.
  10. Assemble the casserole: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread a quarter of the chile sauce over bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place a layer of 6 overlapping tortillas on top of the sauce, followed by another layer of sauce, half the bean mixture and half the cheese. Cover with another layer of 6 tortillas, a layer of sauce, remaining bean mixture and remaining cheese. Spoon remaining sauce on top. Cover pan tightly and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until casserole is bubbly around edges and cheese is melted, 20 minutes more.
  11. Let casserole rest 10 minutes, then serve topped with dollops of lime crema, some pickled onion, pumpkin seeds and cilantro leaves.

Fox 6 Books: May

Real and unreal. Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on May 1. There’s a brand new memoir/cookbook from Rick Bragg and a great guide to being a confident girl. Then things take a different turn with an educational book of folklore and a smart, twisty mystery.

The Best Cook in the World:  Tales from My Momma’s Table (Knopf) Rick Bragg, the beloved and bestselling author of All Over but the Shoutin’ is back with a new book in a familiar setting. This one is part food memoir, part cookbook but, overall and especially, a loving tribute to his mom.  Readers will find more than 30 chapters, with delightful enigma-like titles like “Salt is Good,” “A Ham Hock Don’t Call for Help,” “Till it Thunders,” “Ribs in the Dead of Night” and “Untimely Figs.” Each section showcases a region and its food and its people with stories that will stay with you and recipes you’ll probably want to make. Because this is Rick Bragg, the stories are amazing, and you’ll know the remarkable people in them before this is all over. The recipes shine, too, with dishes like Wild Plum Pie, Fried Chicken (and Fried Chicken Gravy also known as “Water Gravy”), Real Biscuits, Vegetable Soup in a Short Rib Base, Fresh Fried Crappie with Hush Puppies and Tartar Sauce, Ham and Redeye Gravy over Fresh Diced Tomato. I’m not so sure about Baked Possum and Sweet Potatoes or Pan-Roasted Pigs Feet (even with a homemade barbecue sauce). The instructions are straightforward (to a point). The recipe lists exactly what you will need. Perfect Fried Eggs call for lard,  eggs and luck. “How to cook it” is where this book really gets interesting. The directions become a conversation that meanders here and there and ultimately ends up with some tasty food on the table. It’s like standing in the kitchen and visiting and cooking alongside a traditional Southern cook like Bragg’s mother or my own grandmother—women who did farm-to-table long before it was a thing, women who measured in smidgens and dabs or, my favorite, “just some,” women who sustained those they loved with much more than the food they put on the table.

The Confidence Code for Girls (Harper) The authors of The Confidence Code, a bestselling book aimed at helping women of all ages at all stages of their careers have the self-assurance to achieve their goals, are back. This time, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written a book just for girls because this is how it starts. “Confidence,” they say, “gives you the power, the lift, the oomph to be yourself and do what you want—even when it’s scary.” Talk to an intimidating teacher? Check. Start a new club? Check. Join a basketball team, try out for a play and compete with boys in the classroom? Check, check, check. The book is cleverly written with graphic novel strips, fun lists and quizzes. Those, along with the stories from real girls and the authors’ wise advice, will leave a lasting impression and teach a lot of valuable lessons. Research shows that the tween and teen years are the best times for confidence creation. The idea with this book, written especially for girls ages 8 to 12,  is to give these young women useful and practical tools to live bolder, braver and more confident lives—starting really, really early. Check!

Hairy, Scary, but Mostly Merry Fairies (NewSouth BooksThe subtitle of Renee Simmons Raney‘s book—Curing Nature Deficiency through Folklore, Imagination, and Creative Activities—is a bit more serious than the title. That’s because connecting children with the natural world around them is increasingly more important and harder to do. Whether it’s a park, a farm, a forest or even a backyard, Raney believes every child deserves his or her own personal landscape. That’s where children can seek (and find) adventure and cultivate creativity, she says. This book, with charming illustrations by Carolyn Walker Crowe, combines fairy stories and folklore with hands-on, nature-related activities. Children learn about diverse habitats, creatures (supernatural and otherwise) and changing seasons while becoming more confident in exploring the wild outdoors. Raney is the director of the Conservation Education Institute of the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust. Fans all over the U.S. (and even worldwide) have enjoyed her environmental education programs, storytelling and fairy workshops. She includes in this little book a guide for educators that incorporates writing, math, art and science. You’ll even learn how to build a proper fairy house.

I Let You Go (BerkleyI do I love a twisty novel! I Let You Go is exactly that. And it’s set along the coast—the cliffs and beaches—of Wales. In this mystery thriller by Clare Mackintosh, Jenna Gray is running—from her old life, from a tragic car accident and from the loss of her child. The remote Welsh coast seems far enough away from all that, but she soon finds it is not. Meanwhile, back in Bristol, detectives are scrambling to finally solve a frustrating hit-and-run case where the leads have often led to nothing. As Jenna finally finds the courage to move on from her painful past, and even hesitantly pursue a relationship, she soon realizes that it’s impossible to free herself entirely from her old life.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.