Easier, lighter, more joyful

Tired dog thinks I’m her bed

Tired dog thinks I’m her bed

I was in a coffee meeting the other day with another food writer/recipe developer/brand manager/”content” creator (#deathofdigitalmedia) and he said he thought that 2019 was the year that blogs were going to make a comeback. Like, real blogs, not blogs that exist to trumpet Pinterest collages and Amazon affiliate links. Blogs that actually create something joyful in addition to something useful, blogs that can take the place of some of the junk (sorry, content) that proliferates today across all kinds of media. I am not entirely convinced; perhaps it is the newsletter that will make a comeback, or else it is TikTok that’ll revive Vine, or else we’ll all just fall into the Twitter hellscape tornado because we’re all off of Facebook.

In any case, it inspired me to dust off the ol’ blog hat that I tend to dust off every couple of years when I’m not writing enough in my day job. I still have no idea what this blog is supposed to be, or if I’ll remember to jump back on here more frequently this year.

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I’ve been running again. It’s been about a year since I transitioned from hikes to runs, and it’s been a long slow slog to be able to get through five miles without feeling like death or re-injuring myself. But now that I’m there, I’m finding it easier, lighter to just run however long I feel like that day. Part of it is just being in better shape; climbing is excellent cross-training for running (or, more accurately, running is excellent cross-training for climbing) and more lean muscle just makes the miles easier. But the other part is the fact that I’ve been running with my dog.

She’s often extremely lazy about it. You’d never guess Nell is a mediocre runner to look at her. She’ll prance and fly and run circles around the house, but get her out on a running route for more than half a mile and she slows to a tongue wagging trot. She also loves to poop, especially when I’m trying to get in a very quick three miles before a phone meeting; she’ll stop and relieve herself often three (three!) times in a short 30 minutes. She’s a poop champion.

Nell also often needs some stern talkings-to while we’re out and about, and I’ve got to constantly be on the lookout for hawks, squirrels, stray dogs, random people she doesn’t like. This requires so much focus that I can’t really run, listen to music, and track my pace like I used to. I have to go it cellphone-, earbuds-, and watch-free.

A few years ago, this would have made me absolutely insane. I used to track my weekly mileage religiously and was always focused on improving splits. I was also dreadfully unhappy and highly injury-prone. My therapist at the time told me she was glad when I quit running the last time because I clearly wasn’t participating in the sport in a healthy way.

When I run with Nell, I’m running to keep her entertained (and exhausted) and I’m running just to run and I’m running to make climbing easier. I can’t pay attention to my splits because I’m carrying three bags of poop and pulling her away from a couple other yappy dogs. Yes, I love the fact that I can now run a 10K tomorrow if I want to, but I don’t need to run a 10K tomorrow. It is fun and joyful and light and far from a source of stress.

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I’ve been in food media for close to a decade now and, man, remember when it was fun and joyful and light? I’m grateful that I still have a full time food-ish job and plenty of other opportunities on the side, but now it feels far more like a job, job than a “oh cool look I made my hobby into a paying profession isn’t that incredible” job. Digital media in general is enormously depressing right now; just look at the layoffs just in the last few weeks at BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Vice and Gannet. Everyone’s a freelancer, and everyone’s fighting for those few gigs that still pay $1 per word.

It sometimes feels easier to say fuck it and move on to something else than to stick it out and see what this universe can become.

But I like cooking and writing and eating and the grownups in the room sure sold all of us millennials on making our passions into our careers. So while I sit here and stew, here’s a recipe for enchiladas. I made them for no work-related reason at all, just because I wanted them and because enchiladas are delicious. They are joyful and (not really) light and far from a source of stress.

Chicken Enchiladas

Turn the oven on to 425 or so. Adjust the rack so it’s in the middle; we’re looking for even heat around the pan here.

While that’s heating up, chop up:

1 big onion or two small ones (these can be any color or variety you want)

2 bell peppers, preferably two different colors and preferably not green

More cloves of garlic than you should

I like to be lazy and just thinly slice all of the above. You’re gonna blend all of this up later so cut or slice how you’d like. Just make them all about the same size please.

Pour several glugs of olive oil in a Dutch oven and turn it on to medium. Go ahead and add all of the vegetables you’ve chopped (the oil doesn’t have to be hot since we’re not searing; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) along with a big, fat four-finger pinch of kosher salt (Diamond Crystal forever). Stir it and then deal with your chicken.

Plop about a pound and a half of boneless skinless chicken thighs in a bowl, then add your seasonings. This week, I used the following:

Kosher salt, more than my mom wants me to

Chili powder, about a tablespoon

Ground cumin, about a teaspoon

Ground coriander, about half a teaspoon

You can use whatever you want here, just make sure to use enough salt to give each piece a snow dustings-worth, and enough spices to cover all the sides of the thighs. Get your hands in there and mix it all super thoroughly.

Meanwhile, keep stirring those veggies. You can pop the lid on the pot if you need to encourage them to soften and melt more quickly. Once you can see through the onions, add some spices:

More chili powder, or in my case ancho chili powder because I’m fancy, around a teaspoon

More cumin and coriander, a good sprinkle

Dried oregano, another good sprinkle

Red pepper flakes, as much as you want

Tomato paste, because it is delicious and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, about a tablespoon

Stir all of this in like you mean it. You want all of the spice to bloom and the tomato paste to start to caramelize. Once all that good stuff starts to brown on the bottom of the pot, pour in enough chicken broth (or water, really) to make the mix into a thick slurry. Scrape up all of the browned bits from the bottom and incorporate them into the liquid.

Now add the chicken to the pot, give it a stir, and the pour in enough additional broth so that it comes almost but not quite to the top of the chicken and vegetables in the pot. Cover, reduce the heat to low-ish, and let it all simmer until the chicken is cooked through, probably 20 minutes but I didn’t time it.

While all of this is cooking, you can crumble or grate whatever cheese you’d like to use in your enchiladas. (I used queso fresco this time because that’s what I had and it is good, but you can use whatever you’d like. Mexican cheese blend is equally good.) My dad always put chopped raw onion in his enchiladas, which I heartily recommend, so go ahead and chop up some onions if you wanna do this Loren Williams-style.

Once the chicken is done, grab some tongs and pull it out of the pot, leaving as much onion-pepper goop behind as you can. Spread the chicken out on a plate or a sheet pan and let it cool off a bit while you blend the sauce.

You can either blend the sauce in an upright blender (not recommended because mess) or use an immersion blender (highly recommended because very little mess). Get it as smooth as you can and then blend in some heavy cream or, in my case this week, a vegan heavy cream substitute made from sunchokes and nuts (actually excellent) you had leftover from recipe testing for this project. Use around a cup.

Now shred the chicken using a couple of forks and it is finally assembly time! (Yes, enchiladas take forever, sorry!)

Your last decision to make is regarding tortillas. You must use corn and they must be hot, but the heating method is up to you. You can fry them in oil (delicious, but slightly richer and definitely messier) or wrap them in a towel and microwave (faster and cleaner, but they tend to fall apart in the sauce). You can also heat them in a dry skillet and let them steam, but they often dry out too much using this method, IMO.

Anyway, heat your tortillas! Use somewhere between 12 and 15, depending on your enchilada tetris skills!

Then pour a scant cup of your sauce in the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish (or something about that size). Start building your enchiladas by filling a hot tortilla with some chicken and cheese (and onions if you’d like). How much? Try to fill the tortillas as full as you can, but make sure you can still roll them up. This depends on the exact tortilla and your rolling skills. You will figure it out!

Place the enchiladas, seam side-down, in the sauce in the baking dish. Keep going until you’ve filled the baking dish. It doesn’t really matter what direction you lay the enchiladas; you’ll likely need to sneak some in in a different direction in order to fill the pan. This is okay! Enchiladas may be a lot of work, but at the end of the day, this is basically a casserole so no worries.

Lastly, pour a lot (like I mean a lot) of sauce over the top. Add however much you think is right and then add some more. Cover the whole thing with a lot of cheese and then pop it in your now very hot oven.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is gooey and brown. This should take, ehhhhhhh, 20 minutes? I never time it, sorry!

Make sure you let the enchiladas cool for at least 5 minutes before serving so you don’t burn your tongue.