Goodness. I got sucked into a black hole for a bit there, didn’t I? The last 2½ months have been a particularly enjoyable and energetic black hole while I road-tripped all over Mother Earth. Zooming round and round Washington, down into Oregon, and up into the Great White North, except it wasn’t white yet because it was only the end of October. I’ve mostly been chasing volcanoes, seeing how many mountain passes I could romp over before the snow flies, and shooting stuff with a studly camera that’s been hopelessly underused this year. I also met up with and enjoyed a *SANE meal with some of you. Frankly, I’ve had a rip-roaring time, and it was sorely needed.
Somehow it’s now Thanksgiving and I must admit I’m glad to be home this week, in a kitty-filled house, with a steaming mug of Candy Cane Green Tea (Oh, Trader Joe’s not a day too soon did you get it back in the stores!), the dishwasher whirring ever-so-quietly in the background, a bowl of Cheesecake Ice Cream custard lolling in the fridge waiting for its 20 minutes of fame in the churner. I am soaking up the silence, wallowing in my fat, fluffy slippers, with a hair-do that is channeling Pebbles. And, while there is no one here to cook for today, nor was there yesterday or the day before that, I am pretty darn excited that for the first Thanksgiving in 8 years (EIGHT YEARS!) I am going to be sharing my turkey.
As evidenced by my post earlier this week, I am cooking again. And it feels mighty fine I have to tell you.
It started when a couple of Fridays ago I revisited my fiendish plan to inveigle unsuspecting friends over on a Friday night to eat dinner with me, and in the process unwittingly become taste-testers for a slew of delicious new *SANE recipes. Just like that the Friday Night Dinners are back on! Whoop!
Two Fridays ago I served up Sage and Onion Pork with Tarragon Green Beans, and Leek and Celery Stir-fry. Then last Friday I whipped up Baked BBQ Chicken using SANE BBQ Sauce, with Spinach and Apricot Salad. Since I was deeply excited about the SANE BBQ Sauce and just couldn’t wait to post it, I’m giving you the last Friday Night Dinner recipes first. Let’s call it recipe developer’s license.
Mmmmmm. Juicy, crisp chicken thighs slathered in BBQ Sauce. Wildman *really* loved those thighs, and because he likes a lot of sauce he had extra on the side. It’s SANE, why not have an extra dollop on your plate?
I served those luscious thighs up with Spinach and Apricot Salad (up next!).
Fast, no mess, and simple as can be. Sling the chicken in marinade the night or morning before, toss them in the oven to bake, smother them in SANE BBQ Sauce and finish them off under the broiler (grill). Throw together a salad. Dinner = done.
(NOTE: I also cooked two skinless chicken breasts using the exact same method to see how they fared. Not to be recommended. Significantly drier than the skin-on thighs.)
Look. Yes. I am fully aware that it is rushing towards the end of November and that for those of us in the northern hemisphere, BBQ season was over two months ago. I am also aware that for our friends in the southern hemisphere, BBQ season has just started, and for everyone who lives closer to the middle, BBQ season is a year-long affair. My point is, I am completely unrepentant about giving you a SANE BBQ Sauce recipe in mid-November. Not only I am completely unrepentant, I am way more excited than I probably should be about this recipe. Here’s the thing: I’m British. I didn’t grow up with BBQ as part of my national heritage. Brits typically don’t have barbecue grills the size of small cars, nor ones that have the ability to cook an entire gourmet meal on them.
As I recall, my family got our small, round, charcoal-powered barbecue when I was around 16, and we really had no clue what we were supposed to do with it. We were hopeless at lighting it, and it took forever to get hot enough to cook anything. All we ever cooked on it were frozen hamburger patties. Oh, wait, I think we did progress to chicken kebabs at some point, but our repertoire was exceedingly limited. Plus, the whole barbecuing thing was more of a pain than anything else. Net net – when I landed stateside just about 14 years ago I was not a barbecue girl, and I wouldn’t know good BBQ Sauce if it hit me on the head. Americans, I soon learned, will merrily barbecue anything that stands still long enough, and grilling – as they refer to the act of cooking outside on a barbecue – is as simple as turning a gas tap and pushing start. Americans grill at the drop of a hat, in all kinds of weather, and with a ton of glee. Americans love their BBQ.
Given that Americans also know their BBQ Sauce – I’m surprised it’s not their national dish – it was with a pretty major amount of trepidation that I finally finished procrastinating, heeded all the requests in my inbox, and bit the BBQ Sauce bullet. How do you make a *SANE version of something you’ve never made before? How do you make a SANE version when you don’t really know what it is you are recreating? Not to be outsmarted by a bottle of deep reddish-brown, viscous liquid, I began thinking about how I was going to get the same result without using molasses (black treacle, lovely English readers) and / or dark brown sugar, both of which impart a depth of flavor, color, and body all their own. While xylitol can replace the sweet part of the equation, color and flavor not so much.
I mused for several days, letting ideas marinade in my mind while I focused on other things. Molasses-y thoughts occupied my mind in the shower, at the traffic lights, and at 1 am on Thursday when Mr. McHenry bounced on my chest and I couldn’t get back to sleep again. I wandered around PCC and Trader Joe’s looking for inspiration. And then it hit me. You’ll never guess in a million years, so I’ll give you a clue: root beer extract.
I also ventured into the world of Liquid Smoke to get some hickory going on. I’d always imagined that Liquid Smoke must be some horribly processed bunch of laboratory chemicals, but turns out it’s real live smoke from smoldering wood, that’s been collected, cooled, and condensed into a liquid (at least the brand I bought was). Who knew?? (Yes, friends from England, you can buy this at Amazon and other places online if you can’t find it in your local grocery store.)
I was terribly excited when I’d finished dabbling and had a jar of finished sauce sitting jauntily on the counter. It tasted just like other *inSANE BBQ sauces that I had tried since being stateside. Nevertheless I was eager for Wildman to show up for The Friday Night Dinner so he could give me his bona fide all-American, BBQ-expert opinion. When he arrived in the kitchen – the air still heavily scented with BBQ – he headed straight for the jar with a spoon.
“Wow! That’s *really* good!” he exclaimed.
Then I used the BBQ Sauce to rustle up Baked Barbecue Chicken (post up next!). I think you’ll love that too. Wildman did.
I spent the rest of the evening and most of Saturday randomly yelling, “I made SANE barbecue sauce! I made SANE barbecue sauce!” Because to me, SANE BBQ Sauce is all kinds of exciting. Not only that, but this is the first recipe I have created for you since March 7th. To say that I am wildly enthusiastic to have my cooking mojo back is putting it mildly. There were times when I wondered if I would ever cook again.
This BBQ Sauce is super simple to make and although it takes time to cook, the hands-on time is very short. It’s really just assembly that gets simmered for 45 minutes.
And you want to know the best part? This *SANE BBQ Sauce is a vegetable side. Yep, you read that right. Go get your barbecue on, people!
PS. If you are not in the US, I wouldn’t drive yourself mad looking for root beer extract. Yes, I believe it’s a better flavor and color (definitely color!) with it in it, but the world won’t end if you leave it out. If you can get it – great, if not, enjoy it without. This is the brand that I use. I also used this brand for my Riveting Root Beer Ice Cream.
Yesterday was the most glorious day up here in Seattle. Blue, sunny, and warm enough to wear a t-shirt if you were out doing something energetic like leaf-blowing, hiking to a pretty lake, or lugging 30lb tubs of cat litter from your car to the garage. I wasn’t doing any of those things, but if I had been I’d have been in a t-shirt for sure. The weather was all the more remarkable because it was November 8th. NOVEMBER 8th!!! Last weekend the sun was setting at 6 pm, this week it’s dipping its lights at 4:40. Suddenly it’s all go to work in the dark and come home from work in the dark. And it all happened so quickly. Looking back, the whole year happened quickly, although it sure didn’t feel like it for much of the time.
November a year ago I was just getting ready to embark upon my third cookbook. On a side note, I made this dish from that book on Friday night when a friend came over for dinner, and boy! did we both have happy mouths afterwards.
This November I have just come off 2 heady months of fantastical road-tripping and shooting. How’s that for a shifting of gears and focus.
So much has happened in the last 12 months, and it’s a whole new world over at the Brown house and Marmalade HQ – all of it unexpected, and all of it good – but I am definitely having to recalibrate my thinking in order to navigate these new territories I find myself charting. One of those territories is self-care. Self-care has taken on a completely new meaning this last year, and it has become a hugely important aspect of my being in the world.
I learned that self-care – which looks different for everyone – is vital to surviving and thriving in this crazy world. I learned that self-care – a happy, healthy, balanced Carrie – is the best thing that I can offer to the people who are important to me. When I mention ‘people that are important to me’, I want you to know that includes you. Yes, YOU. Even though I know almost none of you personally, I care about your health and well-being. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this blog or creating new *SANE recipes for you. During the course of what has been an entirely crazy year, it has occurred to me more than a few hundred times that for me to give you what you deserve from my work, I need to be the best Carrie I can be – and that requires self-care. You don’t deserve a tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and out-of-balance Carrie. You deserve the best – my whole creative self, my energy, my passion, and yes, my love. Sorry for the sap but it’s true. Just keepin’ it real.
So this year I’ve been working on self-care, although admittedly it took a crisis for me to recognize that it was vital to my existence as well as making me more useful to the world. In addition I learned that being healthy includes so many more things than eating good food and exercising. Like pedicures. Pedicures are definitely included in my own personal version of self-care.
It used to be that I equated pedicures with getting color on my toenails, something that I was more than capable of achieving myself and without having to get dressed, pull the car out the garage, drive, be trapped in a chair for an hour with someone who spoke a different language, wait, pay $30, and then drive again. Yes. I could definitely paint my own toenails – so much faster, cheaper, and more effectively than having someone else do it. Nowadays I see pedicures in a whole new light, which is why today I had a pedicure that did not include getting color on my toenails. Wait. What??
Pedicures mean a blissful hour out of the house and away from the bajillion things within it clamoring for my attention. For an hour I sit still and listen to beautiful, soothing music. My back and neck get a relaxing deep tissue massage while I loll in an oh-so-comfortable leather chair. For 60 magical minutes I experience the healing powers of human touch as my feet and lower legs are massaged, exfoliated, and richly moisturized. One glorious hour of freedom from all forms of technology. Heavens to Betsy! That’s time to think – or not – as the mood takes me. The rough, gnarly bits that build up on my heels are gently smoothed away. There’s toenail and cuticle trimming, and swathes of skin-softening moisturizer. Which all adds up to an hour of peace, quiet, rest, and relaxation – something that is impossible to build into a 2½-minute lick of color to my toenails while sitting crouched on my bathroom floor listening to the *ping, ping, ping* of my cell phone and laptop merrily demanding attention. Toenail polish aside, when you’re in the house how hard is it to just sit and be for an hour? How often do you allow yourself to lie on the couch listening to beautiful music after having switched off all forms of electronic gadgetry? Yep. One year later and I’m all about the health benefits of getting my tootsies done at a salon.
So I just wanted to stop by and share my new-found take on the magical powers of the humble pedicure. Pedicures, I have concluded, are sane. Maybe not all in capitals, given that they are not something one ingests, but definitely sane. Over the last year I have come to recognize that not only do we need *SANE, we also need sane. Things like the things in this list. And pedicures. Go on, go get yourself one.
I do like a good drive. Driving is so much more to me than merely getting from A to B. It is my nirvana; the only thing that quiets my brain other than yoga. I can drive for hours and hours on end and experience deep peace and happiness. It’s pretty darn beautiful. I’ll road trip at any given opportunity, and, as the weather around here has been remarkably congenial for September, opportunities have abounded. I wasn’t going to waste them since I finally managed to lever my body off the couch, and I’ve made it my business to haul my a** over every mountain pass in Washington – or at least the ones within a days drive of my humble abode.
The majority of the passes close when the snow flies, so the race is on to get them all traversed before winter. Heaven forbid that I could let there be a break in the proceedings and do some of them in the Spring. Nope. All before winter. Oh! the joys of being an all-or-nothing kind of gal – I can just picture my therapist shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Update: he did.
A few Sundays back it was the turn of Chinook Pass to surprise and delight me, which required first hopping over Snoqualmie Pass to Ellensburg – I highly recommend taking the 10 instead of the I-90 – veering right over Manastash Ridge to Yakima, and then turning right again to head West over Chinook Pass before ending up at the eastside base of Mount Rainier on Cayuse Pass, followed by Crystal to Greenwater Pass.
The weather was ridiculous. Join me for a pictorial re-run.
A week later I continued my quest to traverse every Pass in driving distance by heading up Cascade Pass – the route to which involved an awful lot of washboard-y, pothole-y, gravel-y awesomeness. It’s one of those side roads that gets skinnier and skinnier the higher you go, leaving you wondering if you are going to run out of something to drive on before you get to the top, or at least a worthwhile view of something. The end of the “road” did not disappoint. Mid-day sunshine is arguably the worst time to photograph anything, but even so, you get the idea of how stunning the Cascade Mountains are.
The other week I owned up to the elephant in the room. Announcing to the world there was a colossal beast crammed into my living room made it magically seem smaller and much more manageable, even though pushing the publish button made me want to crawl under my desk, assume the fetal position, and not poke my head out until Spring. La la la la la.
I needn’t have worried. Once it was out there the flood of virtual support I got from strangers all over the world made me wish I had outed that pesky pachyderm earlier. I hesitated for quite a while before I typed ‘strangers’ in that last sentence because I don’t think of you as strangers at all – I think of you as friends. It’s just that we don’t know each other in person, so stranger seems the most accurate word, although really not the most appropriate. My point is that a whole tanker-load of lovely people the globe over – most of who I have never met – sent emails and comments galore, full of love and support and all good things. You made this thing so much easier. The relief that washed over me for the next several days after I unloaded the burden was immense. THANK YOU.
So many of you have written since, wanting to hear that I am OK, that I am alive, safe, and on my way back. Thank you for asking. I am! As evidenced by my recent writings, weekend road trips gallivanting around the extraordinary Pacific Northwest, the dusting off of my big girl camera, pictures of my feet, and Big Breakfast Adventures galore, the elephant has all but skulked out of the room.
The cure? In my case, an anti-epileptic. A tiny amount of 6-(2,3-dichloro phenyl)-1,2,4 triazine-3, 5 diamine pressed into a little white tablet and swallowed whole every morning. I don’t even need water to get it down. Who knew?
It was like one of those new-fangled light bulbs – you flip the switch and for a few seconds it slowly gets brighter, then shazam! full-on glorious light. Yep, just like that. Almost overnight I was back to being the real Carrie Brown – the passion, the get-up-and-go, the loving of life, the humor, and the energy. I wanted to race out and do all the things that had brought me so much joy in the past – I had the desire to shoot, to write, to cook, to travel, to help and inspire those around me.
For 8 scary, tortuous months I wondered if I would ever feel joy again – because for those 8 months I felt nothing. I was numb and empty and every single day I wanted my life to end. I longed for the sweet relief that death would bring to my tormented conscience. Every day I went into battle to fend off the waves of suicidal thoughts that crashed upon the shores of my mind. Like a hurricane bearing down – unwelcomed and unrelenting – battering me slowly to death, no shelter in sight and nowhere to run to to get out of the storm. Oh how thankful I am for the miracles of modern medicine! After a couple of weeks taking small white pills the suicidal thoughts stopped just as quickly as they had started raining down on me back in January. There were other things, too, that helped while I was in the slowly-getting-brighter phase, but in the end my brain just needed a little dose of chemical to get everything hooked back up again.
I am sure there are those who will criticize and condemn my choice to medicate. I don’t give a damn – because I am not risking my life to keep a handful of anti-pill-poppers quiet. There may be people out there who think that my brain hiccup was caused by my hardcore *SANE diet. Let me assure you that I embarked on my hardcore SANE diet in response to both my adrenal glands and my brain going offline, not the other way around. I can only imagine the additional chaos that would have ensued had I been pumping my body full of edible product instead of real, fresh, whole foods. *SANEity may well have saved my life by not putting additional stress on my system. On the other hand there may be people out there who think all suicidal depression is simply a matter of eating the right foods. If someone would please let me know what food contains 6-(2,3-dichloro phenyl)-1,2,4 triazine-3, 5 diamine – or has the same effect on brain chemistry – I will happily munch on it until the cows come home, because heaven knows my diet was as perfect as it could be during the 8 long months that my brain wanted to kill me. Until such a food shows up I’ll merrily keep taking my little white pill – for the rest of my life if need be – because I DO NOT WANT TO SPEND EVEN ONE. MORE. HOUR. FEELING THE WAY I DID FOR THE FIRST 8 MONTHS OF THIS YEAR. It was just in the nick of time when they suggested an anti-epileptic. I was right at the end of my rope. Yes I am taking a pill every day, but guess what? I’M ALIVE.
Depression is extremely complex. Some people are able to control it with diet – I’ve had emails up the ying-yang from people whose depression has lifted since they started a SANE lifestyle. Oh how I wish that was the answer for everyone. An anti-epileptic won’t work for everyone either, although I am grateful beyond words that it is working for me. For 7 months we tried all sorts of other drugs in varying amounts and combinations to try and flip that switch. Regrettably, with depression, it typically comes down to trial and error and whether you can find the right thing in time – before you simply cannot survive the mental and emotional torment for one more minute.
After publishing The Elephant Post I shared the link on my public Facebook page. It was a few days later and with considerable trepidation that I decided to share the link on my personal page as well. Why trepidation? For reasons that I don’t quite understand it was easy to share it with the world. Sharing it with people who I have a relationship with in real life was immeasurably harder. I have work colleagues on my Facebook. Heck, my boss is on my Facebook. They might see the link in their feed. They might read the post. Would it be bad if they knew? How would they react to it? Would they treat me differently now? Would they stay away from me or try to avoid working with me? Would my company try to terminate me because they imagined I could no longer do my job? And what about my friends? Would I lose some? How many would hit that unfriend button? Would they stop connecting with me for fear that when they saw me I would be a depressing, gibbering, suicidal wreck that they had no idea how to – and didn’t want to – deal with?
No one had any idea from my public behavior that anything was wrong. Whenever I spent time with people I was the outwardly happy, bubbling, driven, oh-so-positive Carrie that they’ve always known. They just never knew the heroic effort that went into that behavior. So why tell them? Why change their perception? Why rock the boat and risk relationships? My boss hired me in the middle of this tumultuous episode and when I asked him why he hired me he said, “Your personality, your confidence in yourself, that you are a demonstrated leader in your arena, what a great fit you would be with the team, and how you presented yourself.” My inner turmoil was completely inconspicuous.
So why would I share something that had the capacity to change every area of my life, and not necessarily for the better? Should I post it to my personal page but hide it from my boss and other people at work? Why was it important that I share something so difficult? Because the weight of keeping it to myself was becoming impossible to carry any longer; and – more importantly – because I realized that despite what others may think or do as a result of reading the post, it is what it is. It is my reality, my truth, and therefore not something that should be hidden away in the depths of the closet, never to be spoken of. It’s been the major part of my life for the last 8 months and I felt that to keep it from people was not being honest. Heaven knows I have the inner strength to deal with whatever fallout that might come my way. If I could get through the last 8 months, I could deal with a few negative reactions without crawling off into a corner under a pile of shame and anxiety.
So I shared it on my personal page. The results were fascinating.