Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Oh My Gosh Goulash

Recently, Max and I were reflecting on our Germany and Austria babymoon and found ourselves pining for one meal in particular. While in Salzburg, I enjoyed the best bowl of goulash soup in the whole wide world - according to me and my limited range of goulashism. In the moment while enjoying this bowl of greatness at the cutest little Austrian pub, I filed that one away as something to make again during the winter.

Here in Texas, we aren't having much of a winter, however, we can pretend. This was easy guys and as much as you can buy from the grocery store pre-chopped, the less amount of time it takes you to do, which in my book means even easier. I started this dish when I got home from work, was able to accomplish changing clothes, changing Hadley, nursing Hadley and decompressing while watching an episode of Grey's Anatomy (yep, started that one from the beginning again) - then viola, dinner was ready. It is a great meal to make when planning to have leftovers to eat throughout the week. I researched various Viennese versions and created a combination of a few different ones, including my Beef Goulew shared last year, with ingredients I thought would work best - and they were perfect together. Enjoy!

Yields 6-8 servings
  • 2 lb. sirloin, cubed (1 inch)
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian Paprika, divided in half
  • 1 tbsp. garlic granules
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 packet of onion soup mix
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine (I like to use a Merlot - it enhances the flavor and the guy at the wine store told me that Merlot and Bordeaux are better to use over say a Cab because of the acidity levels - and I'm sure there was more to that explanation but I claim baby brain.)
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 tsp. parsley
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce (I use gluten free tamari)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 cups chopped carrots (I like to get these pre-chopped to save on time)
  • 2 cups potatoes, cubed (small, like half inch)
  • 1 tbsp. Cornstarch (optional)
  • Water (optional)
  • Sour cream (optional garnish)
1.) Combine the flour, 1 tbsp. paprika, garlic granules and salt & pepper in a large mixing bowl, stirring to combine. Add the cubed meat and toss to coat. In a dutch oven, braise your beef in about 2 tbsp. of oil on high heat, browning on all sides. Remove and set aside.

2.) Lower heat to medium and add onions. Saute until translucent, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and the bell pepper.

3.) Add beef back into the dutch oven. In a small bowl combine the onion soup mix, broth, tomato paste, red wine, remaining 1 tbsp. paprika, parsley, Worcestershire, and soy sauce. Whisk together then pour into the dutch oven. Set the timer for 90 minutes and walk away.

4.) 90 minutes later, that beef should be nice and tender, the flavors melded together beautifully, and your kitchen smelling phenomenal. Give it a good stir and then add the chopped carrots and potatoes. Allow it to cook another 20-30 minutes until both carrots and potatoes are easy to pierce with a fork.

5.) At this time, you can also choose to either thicken the liquid or leave it as is for more of a "soup" like consistency. If you would like to thicken, that is where the cornstarch and water comes in - which I learned was called "making a slurry". For a dish of this size, I use 2 tbsp. cornstarch in a small bowl, then add 2 tbsp. water, mixing to form the slurry. Once combined without any lumps, add it to the pot. Let it simmer to continue to thicken. Repeat this process 1 tbsp. at a time to reach your desired consistency.

Max likes his goulash with sour cream, so you can add a dollop or eat it plain!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Something in the Water

A month ago we baptized our baby girl.

We baptized our son in a hospital room. We believe he had already entered the kingdom of Heaven but we wanted the memory of being able to baptize him together as a family. It took place in the early hours of the morning with the pastor who married us. He came to the hospital, my family members and our nurse gathered around the bed in a circle, Max and I held one another while holding Hudson. The holy water was in a styrofoam cup. It was tragically beautiful. There wasn't a special outfit or family traditions, it was the best we could do at the time. For the very limited amount of time we had with him.

Before Hadley was born, we started planning her baptism. We had wanted to baptize her as an infant for various reasons, but the time of year was also really important to us. The holidays were so brutal for us a year ago when they should be a time of joy and celebration. We clung to one another as we "celebrated" our wedding anniversary and everything that had made up our marriage to that point with the devastating elephant in the room that we had become parents but didn't have a child anymore. We hurt. We were broken. We had experienced a time of for better and for worse early in our marriage. Coming up on this fourth anniversary we had talked about how special it would be for us to make that weekend about Hadley and to baptize her in the same setting that we were married in. To have that healing from the year prior. The baptismal gown that my great grandmother made was worn by my mom, her sisters and their female cousins. It was worn by me and my cousins. Now we had a third generation to wear it and needed to do so before she outgrew it. I wore that gown at 8 weeks old and so did she.

The church altar was covered in poinsettias the way it was when we stood up there together last. This time, two of the poinsettias were donated in memory of Hudson and in honor of Hadley. This time, we stood up there with our baby girl and our son was represented right there with us. The baptism took place at the beginning of the service and we stood at the altar together, surrounded by our family and some of our best friends, like we were four years ago for our wedding. This time the words we echoed back were an I Do to raise her in the church and nurture her through faith in Christ our Lord. She was baptized and we all laid our hands on her and prayed. The Reverend walked her down the aisle to introduce her to the congregation. The sermon was about brokenness and I found myself clinging to every word as my husband held our sweet girl and she squeezed my finger. Christmas carols were sung by the choir and congregation, then at the very end we happened to sing one verse of Silent Night, my Christmas lullaby to Hudson.

At the conclusion of the service, we walked together as a family to visit him at the church's columbarium, taking Hadley for the first time. Emotions poured over as Max held Hadley, tears in both of our eyes, and he kissed her little hand to then put on Hudson's niche. Our extended family members joined us and for some, it was the first time to see his resting place. A baptism was one of the only memories of something we had done with our son, and here we were with his sister on her baptism day, yet he was there too.

We celebrated her back at our house and we continue to make precious memories with her each day. I can't believe she will be three months old in just a few days. The time has flown by so fast and I know it will only continue. I remember a friend telling me that her babies' baptisms were two of the most special days. The way both my babies' baptisms have occurred, though very different, I have to agree. Thank you to our families, our church family and the special friends who were there to take part in this very special day for us!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Comfort and Joy

I started writing this in early December. Writing has been a huge part of my grief expression and sometimes the words just flow and it's an immediate release of my emotions. Other times I have to hit pause and come back over and over again because I need to process what is in my heart. In December, I had a lot going on internally that I needed to process. This time, I needed to hit the pause button a few times.

This holiday season was beautiful. A complete 180 from the year before. However, my grief changed that month. Instead of dealing with it the way I have over the past 19 months - 19 months, he would be 19 months right now - I put my grief on the proverbial shelf. In a closet. Locked on the other side from where I wanted to deal with it. I extended myself to others in their grief and was able to be a solid structure, there to provide support like those who did for me for those walking their first holiday season without the baby they thought they would have, but this year I wouldn't let myself go to my place of grief. I would feel it start to come on but then felt guilty for that sadness because of what we had this year, our daughter, so I wouldn't let myself go there. I had felt it stirring when we put up the tree hung his ornaments, when I got new stockings because I didn't have enough and needed him to still have one, when we took Hadley to visit Santa. When I went to buy gifts for the Angel Tree little boy in honor of Hudson and I stood there in the aisle of Target in a catatonic state, numb and frozen, looking at the things that should fill our home because of the little boy we would have, had the terrible thing not happened. I longingly thought of how the family traditions we were starting should be in their second year, not the first.

After we opened our Christmas Eve family package of pajamas, a book to read together, and a dish set for Santa's Cookies and Milk, I sat by the tree with our little blessing in my arms. What I haven't followed up with here is what we found out about my placenta abnormality. At our 6 week post-partum check up at the beginning of December, my doctor told me that it was actually a blood clot. A blood clot that wasn't detected in the 20+ sonograms we had and was the likely cause of the cord high blood pressure, not the marginal cord insertion, and that it could have been fatal to her and detrimental to me. Our doctor told us she needs to look into this more because I didn't present with any of the usual causes for this such as placental abruption, and my blood work wasn't consistent with a blood clotting disorder, gestational diabetes or a deficiency of some sort. She said we will discuss it more when I come back for a follow up at 8 months postpartum. She said let's enjoy Hadley right now because she is our little miracle. That most likely the clot was a fluke, but it is concerning to have two flukes with both pregnancies.

So I held this baby, the baby we longed for, knowing she could have not made it as well, but she did. I held her with just the light of the tree illuminating the room. Everything that had been building inside of me since around Thanksgiving just came out. I sobbed into her as she slept on my shoulder and Max came over to the couch to hold me. I couldn't verbalize everything in my heart out loud but I simply was able to say that I am so thankful for her and I wish Hudson were here too. I wanted to have our family in its entirety. The days leading up to Christmas, I kept thinking about last year. We did what we could do to try to enjoy the most wonderful time of year, but we did what we needed to survive it.

Surviving Christmas. That was our grief reality last year. That's what many people's realities are when they are missing a loved one for an important holiday. Outside of his due date, this was the beginning of the milestone round of firsts to conquer and they were wrapped up in the holiday season, the most family-centric time of year. We had made the month of December all about baby the year before as we spent the month slowly sharing with family and friends that we were expecting and dreamed of the following Christmas with a third member of our family. A year later that little one only existed in our hearts. He wasn't with us, it was a time of joy to the outside world around us while we were stuck in deep sadness.

So in order to try to comfort our hearts, we escaped to try to find joy. We went somewhere that the magic and message of Christmas still existed but we escaped the version that made us sad. We needed to be vacation us.

Vacation us is carefree.
Vacation us says yes to adventure and opportunities.
Vacation us wants to experience everything we can.
Vacation us is whoever we want to be.
Vacation us is a happy couple who were not surrounded by the every day reality that their son died and all the grief that accompanied it.
Vacation us is not sad.

So we were vacation us, escaping Christmas memories and of what we had already imagined, for something new and different when our hearts couldn't take the reality of the season. However, it did make me sad, I didn't want to have to skip Christmas, but trying to do it the way we always did hurt more. Escaping was the lesser of two evils.

I didn't write about it last year because it was laced with dark humor. The nutshell version is that when we tried to escape our grief, we ended up lost in a cemetery on Christmas Day.

Here's the full version. We woke up on Christmas Day in Montreal and it felt blah. We had attended a breathtakingly beautiful Christmas Eve Mass at the Notre Dame Basilica and the experience was too much for words. I described it some in my seven month letter to Hudson but even reading back through it with tears in my eyes, it still didn't do it justice. It was emotionally draining but at the same time, a highlight of our trip.

Waking up on Christmas Day we had sweet messages from friends and family who were thinking of us and wishing us peace. When I plan trips, I plan a day full of things to do. Going into that trip, I didn't know what to plan for Christmas Day. I didn't know how we would feel, what we'd be up for, if we'd order room service and just lay in bed all day allowing waves of emotions to consume us, or if we'd need distraction. So I looked into what was open and had created a list just in case. I made a spa reservation and a dinner reservation but the rest of the day was up in the air with ideas if we needed them. There was an emotional hangover that morning and we decided on distraction. Out of all the things, we had read that Montreal was known for its bagels and there are two spots that compete to be the best bagel. So we decided to go check out the dueling bagel shops. We asked our uber driver on the way there about Mont Royal. We read it was filled with park space and tourist opportunities, it boasted the best views of the city from a scenic hike and a chalet at the top. We had our bagels - which were completely unimpressive if you were wondering - then went into a coffee shop to actually eat them since both locations were line only. The owner of the shop elaborated on the reviews and told me Max would propose there. I told him we were already married. He then said he will propose again because it was so romantic. He told us it was walkable and gave us the scenic route but that it would take 45 minutes. We used the GPS on our phones to come up with what we thought was an alternate route and quicker, since we had massage appointments later that afternoon and had about 2 hours to spend before we needed to get to the spa.

Taking "short cuts" we followed French signage to Mont Royal but what no one told us was that the lovely oversized hill/small mountain was 85% cemetery. No exaggeration, I found that percentage AFTER the fact when we got back to the hotel. So we had taken this vacation to get away from our holiday sadness due to the fact that our baby had died and wasn't with us, but here we were lost in a cemetery. The dark humor in us found it rather comical at first. But after 30 minutes of trying to find our way out because headstone after headstone finally became enough, coupled with my own guilt that I was stuck in a Jewish Orthodox cemetery of strangers rather than visiting my own baby's final resting place on Christmas, it reached a breaking point of get us the $%!& out of here.

We followed a chain linked fence up a steep hill, trying to catch a view of what was below us. Max then spotted an opening in it and we decided that was our shot. We had already walked so far into it, this seemed like the fastest option out. I was sweating at this point and had taken off my coat, scarf and mittens in the 34 degree weather. Holding all of this, I followed Max as he crawled through the hole in the fence. We saw a road with human life form and the famed lookout points below us. Once we got through the fence, we found ourselves on a slope we had to get down carefully and then onto a bit of a landing patch before another slope down to civilization. From the top of the fence hole, this looked pretty simple. However, as we were doing it, we realized it was much more steep than we thought.

We carefully sidestepped our way down the first incline reaching the landing where, to our right there was an easy way, a gradual decline to the sidewalk. However, I kid you not, a fox was sitting in the middle of it staring at us. Have you ever seen a fox in person? I had never seen a fox in person. They are smaller than I thought and actually really cute. If I wasn't so angry at that point in time, I think I would have liked to cuddle it and it's beady little eyes taunting us. Instead, I was ready to throw something at it (calm down PETA, not hit it of course) to startle and move him out of the way. Max told me if I wanted to be attacked and get rabies, that was a solid plan. To our left was our other option - a very steep, about 8 foot drop off. There were some tree roots we could see through the leaves and Max used those almost like a ladder to get down. When it was my turn, I threw down my purse, my coat, gloves and scarf and used the excellent traction of my Ugg boots (heavy sarcasm here if you can't tell) to scale down. My legs were too short to scale it the way Max did. So another small detail was that it had rained heavily the day before. Under the leaves we could see was a ton of mud we couldn't see. My foot slipped out from under me and I went down the incline on my rear, using my hands to try to slow the fall. I reached the bottom on my butt, hands covered in thick mud, Max looking at me wide-eyed and trying to gauge an appropriate reaction. There were two college-aged girls with luggage at the tour bus stop right at the base of this opening who turned around and looked at us in horror. I looked up at them and simply said we got lost. The mud was caking onto my hands and I asked Max to dig through my purse to get the kleenex packet from the church service the night before. We were now in the tourist area of Mont Royal, there were people, and lookout points but I was so over it. Max found one spot and we ventured out onto the rocks as far as we could for that incredible view. I was still wiping mud off my hands and my sweet husband lightened the mood and asked, so do you like, want to get married or something?

We finally found the chalet and went inside to warm up a bit and I had a chance to wash the remaining mud off my hands. Then it came time to heading back down. We could take the road or there were steps built into the "mountainside" and we did a combination of the two. The massage appointments we had immediately following at the Scandinave Les Bain Vieux were more appreciated than we could have imagined. That evening we sat by candlelight and enjoyed dinner at a popular Jazz bar in the Old Town of Montreal. I remember eating that dinner thinking it's almost over, we've almost finished escaping Christmas. We went to bed that night exhausted and the same thought echoed through my mind that had for every holiday since Hudson died - surely, just surely, we will have a baby in our arms at this time next year.

This year, his little sister was in our arms. Grief still existed, though I tried to escape that this December instead. I wish my son was learning how to be a big brother to his sister. I wish they both were in the picture of visiting Santa. I wish we had Christmas gifts for both of them under the tree. I wish he was the toddler he would be, more engaged in the holiday than he should have been the year before. He will always be missing, I'll always picture him there with our family, among the cousins, next to her. Last year at that midnight mass I cried my eyes out to Silent Night, a song that now had an entirely different meaning to me. Sleep in Heavenly peace. It is hauntingly beautiful to me. This year, I couldn't hear that song without crying still. I don't think I ever will.

We all find our comfort and joy in different ways. As a parent of loss, I will seek the comfort needed to experience the joy there is.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cornbread Chili Bake

We were in an Eatzi's a few weeks after Hadley was born when I saw a chili and cornbread bake and my mind was blown. Sure they go together like peanut butter and jelly but I had never thought to combine the two into one dish. You guys, this was revolutionary. Don't just serve your cornbread with chili, serve it IN your chili. The next day when shopping at the grocery store, I found what I needed and in three easy steps, I had a really tasty meal in under 30 minutes. 

This has been a great meal to easily make and take to others, to serve a group, and we have loved it just for the two of us to have then reheat for nearly a week of leftovers. You can make your own chili and use that, or you can do what I did below! 

(Yields 8-10 servings)
  • Cookwell & Company two step Chili mix (I've also had their green chili mix and highly recommend it)
  • A honey cornbread mix, I use the Central Market Honey Cornbread and whatever ingredients the cornbread needs according to the box. 
  • 1-1.5 lb ground meat (I've used both ground beef and ground turkey)
  • Garlic granules, to taste
  • Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed (optional, I like to add for additional protein, iron and fiber)
  • Shredded cheese (flavor of choice, I do a mild Cheddar or Monterrey Jack)
  • Green Onion (optional)
  • Sour Cream (optional)
1.) Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees or whatever your cornbread mix says. While oven heats, brown your meat in a skillet and season with garlic granules. 
2.) While the meat cooks, grease a large casserole dish. Mix your cornbread in a bowl then pour the mix in and spread to even it. Cook for 10 minutes. 
3.) Once meat is cooked through, add to chili mix in a bowl and kidney beans if you opted to include. Spread on top of the half-cooked cornbread, top with cheese and pop in the oven for 10 more minutes. 

Remove when timer goes off and serve, garnishing with green onion and/or sour cream!