Here, Taste This : Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower

For most of my life, my relationship with vegetables was very comme ci, comme ca. They were a bland bump on the road to healthy living. I didn't eat them willingly. I ate them grudgingly, with resentment. "Fifty grown-up points to me," I would mutter, and then slice myself a large piece of chocolate cake as a reward.

And then, a few years ago, I discovered roasted vegetables. I'm not exaggerating when I say something changed in me that day.

"This? This crispy, salty, creamy thing is a vegetable?!? This is AMAZING. This is luscious. This is something I would crave."

Ever since, I've been a roasting mad-woman, willing to throw almost any vegetable in a rip-roaring oven to see what delightful thing might come out.

I hesitate to call this is a recipe; it's more a technique that can be applied to just about any vegetable you have in the crisper. The basic concept is high heat + oiled veggies = caramelized sugars, browned proteins, crispy exteriors, creamy interiors. But today we'll use it on broccoli, cauliflower, because roasting transforms these scorned veggies into Most Popular in Class. Once you master this recipe, feel free to go crazy. I've roasted sweet potatoes, red potatoes, carrots, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, peppers, mushrooms, onions, butternut squash and zucchini with great success.

And now, when I need a reward, I roast some veggies and eat the whole pan.

And then I have a slice of chocolate cake too. Because why limit a good thing?



Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower

1 head broccoli
1 head cauliflower
3-5 garlic gloves, unpeeled

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Cut broccoli and cauliflower into bite-sized florets, about 1" to 1-1/2" each.
3. In a big bowl, toss broccoli, cauliflower and garlic cloves with enough extra virgin olive oil to coat. Sprinkle generously with Kosher salt.
4. Spread veggies out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
5. Bake in the 425 oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing once halfway through if desired, until crisp and golden

Tips:
1. The two most important things to remember when roasting vegetables: The more uniform the size of the cut-up veggies, the more evenly they will cook. And give them space on the baking sheet. Crowded veggies means they won't get the golden color or crunch. Use a second baking sheet if the veggies are starting to look like they're riding a crowded New York City subway.
2. If you want to save a bowl, feel free to go rogue and coat the veggies with oil right on the baking sheet. That's what I usually do. Just drizzle the oil right on top of the veggies and then use your hands to make sure each piece sports a sheen. I sprinkle with salt right on the baking sheet too.
3. Check the veggies after about 15-20 minutes. If they look like they need to be turned, go ahead. But you have permission to skip that step. Just know the veggies will be slightly darker and more caramelized on the bottom.

Irresistible

I don't lose my temper much. I have many faults, but anger isn't one of my issues. I'd rather shake off a situation than rage against it.

But there was that time, in college, when I returned from a trip to find one of my roommates had eaten my cinnamon bread. When I left, it was a fresh loaf of cinnamon goodness from Byerly's, begging to be toasted and slathered with butter. I put it in our dorm's tiny fridge and looked forward to enjoying that treat upon my return. When I got back, it was nothing but two paper-thin end pieces, hastily wrapped in plastic.

I was livid. No. Not livid. I was in a fury, angry as though I'd never been angry before. I stomped around the dorm room, frothing at the mouth. I wrote Post-It notes like, "Eat your own bread pig" and "Aren't you fat enough already?" and put them up around the kitchen. I was out to inflict maximum damage. Be mean to my face, and I'll probably shrug. But eat my cinnamon bread? Oh no. That is war, friend. War.

Thankfully, God let one of my other roommates be home that afternoon. She had never seen me so worked up before. I'm sure she was horrified at my tantrum, but being one of my closest friends, she did her best to calm me down. She followed me around the dorm and took down every nasty note as I hung it, she tried to talk forgiveness in a sing-song voice and, when nothing else worked, she laughed at me. She made a joke out of the whole escapade and she sweetly mimicked my outrage over cinnamon bread. She pointed out the absurdity of the situation without resorting to logic and reason.

And that worked. Because laughter is simultaneously my greatest weakness and greatest strength.

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This morning, I woke up to this.

Six inches of wet snow. On April 23. The knock-out blow of a never-ending winter.

It was ridiculous.

And ridiculously beautiful.

Excessive, even.

Irresistible.

I wanted to be angry. We haven't hit 60 degrees yet in 2013. I'm bone-weary of being indoors and wearing coats.

But driving to school surrounded by such extravagant beauty, I felt my indignation melt away like spring snow.

"What do you have to be angry about?" I heard the gentle question in my heart, accompanied by quiet mirth

I snort-laughed.

Well-played God. Well-played.

#HopeForSpring


This was the view outside my kids school today. Overcast skies, wind chill, dirty snow. Brick wall. Only a sliver of earth.

We are having a nice winter this spring, aren't we? Minnesota's April has been particularly brutal. We are currently staring down another week of gray skies, low 40s and snow. Minnesota is all: UGH! And WOE! And our average high right now should be 60! And THIS SUCKS!

I know we aren't alone. I would say the northern two-thirds of the country are dealing with sloppy, cold, miserable springs this year.

So let's fight back.

Last week, I was chatting commiserating whining with a few of my Minnesota besties, and we decided we're not falling down this rabbit hole without a fight. Winter may have our bodies, but it can't have our souls! So we are going to start, today, right where we are, giving thanks. We are blessed, so blessed. We all know that. Let's fix our eyes there, and let gratitude - eucharisto - remake our hearts. Call this the Ann Voskamp Remedy for Never Ending Winter.

And while we're at it, how about we look for signs of spring and share them? I'm going to share pictures on Instagram under the hashtag #HopeForSpring. Join me there or share them on my Facebook page. And don't feel like you can't play if you are already seeing green grass and flowers bloom. Share! Yes, I'm jealous. But it also gives me hope in a way I can't explain. It infuses me with courage to keep swimming sideways.

Because you know what happens when you bend low and give thanks? You might come face to face with tiny flowers, growing carefree, mindless of the snow next door.



Glory.

Swim Sideways



I'm a relentless optimist. The glass is always half full, the sun will come out tomorrow and if life hands you lemons, make lemon cake.

But this winter, man. It's beaten me to the ground. Our temps won't climb out of the 40s, the snow melt is achingly slow, the lakes are still iced over and nothing is growing except our discontent.

And now we're looking at a freak snowstorm that could dump as much as 12 inches of spring slush on us the next few days.

Winter, you win.

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One of the first skills I picked up when Corey and I moved to San Diego was how to survive a rip current, also known as a rip tide.

Rip currents are invisible areas next to the coast where, for many reasons, the water flows out instead of in. It will look like the waves are rolling toward the shore, but the undercurrent will pull a swimmer or surfer away from the coast, out to the open sea.

Most people, when they realize they are being pulled by an invisible force away from the place where they want to go, start to fight like mad. They swim fiercely toward the sand, eventually exhausting their energy in a hopeless endeavor. More than 80% of a rescues performed by ocean lifeguards involve people caught in rip currents.

The solution to this catastrophe is simple: Swim sideways. Don't try to fight the current. Swim parallel to shore, and eventually, you'll escape the danger zone and be able to get where you want to go.

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So if you see me later this week and I'm doing this:


Just know: Kelly is swimming sideways.

Or if you hear that I'm feeding my kids ice cream for dinner, just say to yourself: Swimming sideways.

Or if you see my minivan driving around town like this:

Swimming sideways.

And zen with it.

It's the only way to survive.

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Maybe you're dealing with an April snowstorm too. An unrelenting winter. Maybe it's literal. Maybe not. Maybe it's a spouse who's in a thick season of work. Maybe you feel adrift in life, without mooring and filled with a heavy load of doubt. Maybe you're grappling everyday with an illness that isn't critical but that saps you of joy, nonetheless. Maybe you have a child who's struggling to find their bearing.

To you, I say this: Swim sideways.

Spring is coming.

Here, Taste This : Lemon Chiffon Cake

Spring is taking sweet forever to get to Minnesota this year.

To wit:
Last Saturday, we hit 56 degrees - for the first time since November 22.
The Twins home opener on Monday showcased a wind chill of 15.
For the entire month of March, only three days enjoyed above-average temps.
I still have snow drifts in my yard taller than my dog. And she's a border collie.

So basically, we are Canada without Tim Horton's.

Always winter. Never spring.

Unless you make this cake. Which I did, for Easter, because I needed some hope in my kitchen to celebrate the Hope in my heart.

Lemon Chiffon Cake is spring in the form of a baked good - light, sunny, moist, tangy, sweet, rich. Enough contradiction to make your head spin coupled with brightness that's irresistible.

It brought spring to my mouth.

Baby steps, Minnesota. We'll get there. Until then, we have cake.



LEMON CHIFFON CAKE

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
7 egg yolks
7 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 235.
2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Make a well and add oil, egg yolks, water, lemon peel and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth.
3. In a mixing bowl, beat egg white and cream of tartar on high speed until stiff peaks form.
4. Add about a cup of egg whites to cake batter and fold together to incorporate. Continue gently folding in the egg whites until the two mixtures are just blended.
5. Pour into an ungreased tube pan, 10x4 inches.
6. Bake about 75 minutes or until top springs back when lightly pressed. Invert cake pan and let it hang until the cake is completely cool. Remove from pan and frost with Lemon Butter Frosting.

Tips:
1. This is Baking 301. There are many intimidating tasks here, but fear not. Online tutorials are here to help. If this is your first time separating eggs, check out this slideshow and video at the Food Network. If you are trying to determine if your egg whites are stiff or not (#TWSS), Better Homes and Garden has a great explainer. Or, for a little bit of everything - egg separation, egg white whipping, egg white folding - I love this blog post at The Joy of Cooking. And of course, I am always here for you. I'd be happy to answer questions in the comments.
2. A tube pan is also called an angel food cake pan, and it is a requirement for Lemon Chiffon Cake. Without that removable bottom, I'm not sure how you'd get the cake out of the pan. (See also: Do not make this in a bundt pan unless you plan to eat the whole cake by yourself, with a fork, standing over your kitchen sink. Because it will never come out.)
3. My tube pan has these awesome little stands on it so I can tip it upside down on my counter while it cools without smooshing any of the cake. If you don't have stands on your tube pan, thread the middle tube through a bottle of wine instead and let it hang there as it cools. (The things we do for cake.)

LEMON BUTTER FROSTING

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2-4 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions:
1. Beat the softened butter and gradually add the powdered sugar.
2. Add in the lemon peel and the lemon juice until the frosting is fully and of spreading consistency.

Tips:
1. I like my frosting thick, so this recipe works for me. But honestly, it's not the best icing for a delicate cake. So feel free to add more lemon juice and/or warm water, a tablespoon at a time, until you get the frosting to more of a glaze.
2. The cake must be completely cool before you try to frost it. But you knew that, right?
3. I garnished the cake with paper-thin slices of lemon to make it look pretty. If you have Meyer lemons available to you, use those as garnishes. They are sweet enough to eat.

This Picture Really Is Worth A Thousand Words

I have to admit, I was a little sad when I realized April Fool's Day fell on a school holiday this year.

Last year, my prank backfired. I tucked fake grilled cheese sandwiches into the big kids' lunches the night before, and I was so pleased with my ingenuity, I could hardly stand it. Then I picked the kids up after school and they both scowled at me and said, "Why did you send grilled cheese in my lunch? That's so gross. I didn't even open it."

Kids: 1, Mom: 0.

Of course, when I forced them to take a bite out of said grossness and they tasted cake and icing, they were appropriately sheepish. So maybe it's more of a tie.

I had plans for this year. Oh I had plans. But they all involved the kids being at school, and Easter Monday meant they were at home all day, which meant my feverish plots had to wait.

Enter: The Daddy.

Comparing Corey's prankster skills to my prankster skills is like comparing Chuck Norris to Napoleon Dynamite. Which is to say: The man is a professional. It's taken me 20 years to read him, and even now, I have to concentrate and use The Force to discern when he's trying to pull one on me.

But our kids, our sweet innocent children, they have little-to-no defense skills. Gentle naiveté. Trusting simplicity.

Suckers.

And so it was, Monday night, as I was cleaning up the kitchen, that Corey walked up to Connor and Natalie with a look of disgust on his face. He held in his hands a diaper, which wasn't entirely unusual since he had just put Kieran in the bath. But this wasn't just an ordinary diaper.

"You guys, you have to see this dirty diaper," he deadpanned.

The kids recoiled.

"No thanks, Dad. We're good."

"No really, it's so weird. It looks exactly like chocolate."

Stares of horror.

"I think it might even smell like chocolate," he says, opening the diaper and holding it out.

The kids started to back away. Horror has reached abject levels.

"In fact. ... I wonder...." he said, and then he put his tongue out and LICKED THE DIAPER'S CONTENTS.

Kids. Minds. Blown. Connor claps his hand over his mouth and dives over the couch. Natalie is stunned into utter You Did Not Just Do That.

"DAD!" Natalie finally shrieked. "YOU DID NOT JUST LICK THAT POOP!"

Corey simply stuck out his brown tongue.

Connor rushed to the bathroom to dry heave. Natalie screamed and ran down the hall, away from the insanity.

Corey followed them. "You guys! Seriously! You have to try it! It tastes just like chocolate!"

Teyla came running to see what was going on.

Corey repeated his stunt. By this time, I was laughing so hard, I figured the jig was up, so I grabbed my phone.

And I captured Teyla's expression.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we celebrate April Fool's Day at our house.

We have throughly scarred our children. Our work here is done.

(In case you didn't attend a baby shower in the 90s, this prank is a riff on a disgustingly common game in which candy bars were melted in a newborn's diapers, giving the shower attendees a chance to guess if the fake poop with puffed rice was a 100 Grand or a Nestle Crunch. Because nothing says "Welcome to Mommyhood" like handing a pregnant woman a toothpick and a stack of diapers filled with nasty.)

(And a tip, in case you want to pull the same prank someday: Corey melted three squares of Hershey's and mixed it with some crunchy peanut butter with great effect. But if you use the microwave, the diaper may start to spark and melt after 15 seconds on high. So be careful out there.)