Friday, March 16, 2012

Something Old, Something New: Barley Risotto

It's been a pretty crazy few weeks here at A Half Baked Life, though you wouldn't know it from this blog, which has been quieter than a dormouse.  (Did you know that common dormice may spend up to three quarters of their lives asleep?  You're welcome.)

N. started walking independently.  I started trying to fit in some part time remote work, and discovered that the only time I can put in real hours is at night, after I've cooked and done the never-ending laundry, leaving no time for blogging, and falling asleep at my computer.   And then, I had an interview for a real job this week, which I spent the past week trying to prepare for, and which went not as well as I'd hoped, to put it delicately.

For a week in there I had no mental energy to come up with anything new to cook.   I am almost ashamed to admit that I picked up a make-your-own-taco dinner in a yellow box.  I gaze at foodgawker, my usual go-to for foodie inspiration, and feel like everything new is the same old thing, none of which sounds all that appealing.

I struggle to find balance between the old and the new.  I admire Keiko, who started her new blog and business this past week (which, by the way, is awesome; you should go visit).  There's Trinity, who left her job and sounds like she's reoriented well.  And Serenity, who just left her job, too, to start a new adventure.  In many ways, I think experiencing the loss of one's own potential future children or difficulty conceiving them can make you a little more likely to take risks; maybe it offers some of us a sharper picture of our values, and in doing so, motivates us to pursue a happier version of our lives with a little less attention to the cost of that pursuit.

I felt brave when I left my last job.  I knew the my family and my integrity and my dignity were the most valuable things I had.  But part of me is still risk-averse.

It's sort of like being in a hot air balloon.  You've got a great vehicle, but all you do is move up and down; you and the wind become one force, and you allow it to take you wherever it's going.  It's not all bad, traveling that way.  You can see some beautiful places, just drifting through them.  But it's not exactly brave.  And being dependent on the wind does sort of limit your control over your journey.

Here's something old and something new for you.  Risotto, made with barley.  It's got a bit more crunch than usual, but it's hearty, and filling, and better for you than white rice.  Maybe I should take a lesson from my kitchen, and accept a happy medium of both.

Barley Risotto with Roasted Squash

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 T. olive oil
4 c. low-sodium broth
4 c. water
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c. pearled barley
1 c. dry white wine
3/4 c. grated Parmesan
1 t. minced fresh sage
1/8 t. ground nutmeg

Adjust an oven rack to the upper middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the squash with 2 t. of the oil, 1/4 t. salt, and 1/8 t.  pepper and spread out over the prepared baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes; set aside until needed.

Meanwhile, bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover to keep warm.

Combine the onion and 1 t. of the oil in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the barley, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 4 minutes. Stir in the wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until the wine has been completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Stir in 3 cups of the warm broth and half of the roasted squash. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 22 to 25 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups of the warm broth and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 15 to 18 minutes longer.

Continue to cook the risotto, stirring often and adding 1/2 cup of the remaining broth at a time as needed to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (about every 4 minutes), until the grains of barley are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

Off the heat, stir in the remaining roasted squash, cheese, butter, sage, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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  1. Maybe the Universe is telling you to stop applying for jobs at that particular institution.

    What is stopping you from starting that cupcake business?

  2. Hmmm, I wish I could give you some insight into what to do with your life, but as you know from reading my recent posts I have no idea how to figure that out for myself so I'm not the best person to ask. All I do know, or at least suspect, is that something will happen for you eventually and this being at home thing will be another chapter in the book that is your life. Sometimes it can be hard when we feel very ready to move on to the next chapter but we're just not there yet, for whatever reason. I'm kind of in that place right now. After I talked to that author and balked at how it took her 5 years to get published, I did the math and was like, but if it takes me that long, I'll be almost 37 when I get first published! And then I thought, well what is wrong with that? Maybe at 37 I will be stoked to be moving in that direction. Who knows.

    What I'm doing now is pursuing my interests in the small ways that I can, hoping that eventually opportunities will knock. Maybe they will and maybe they won't but in the meantime I'm at least trying. It sounds like you're doing that too, and that is really all you can do.

    I hope you find something that fits sooner rather than later, and that the waiting it between doesn't become unbearable.

  3. And the other part of the hot air balloon is deciding when to land. Should I try this field or that one? How long can I stay up? You have plenty of fuel in the tank still, and lots of daylight left. Don't be afraid to use it, see some neat sights, and enjoy the ride.


  4. I agree with anonymous. Traveling slowly way up there gives you time and perspective. When you find the right place to land, you'll be prepared. We're all depending on the winds of fate, even people who are zipping around in jets can't fly everywhere they want, they just think they can. :)

    I started out this year very inspired and full of projects. Now I've hit the doldrums where there doesn't seem to be anything but piles of laundry and half done projects with not time to finish. I've lost my mojo! Maybe it's at the bottom of the laundry pile. *sigh*

  5. Bookmarked this to try this week.

    Working at night is really hard. I'll do maybe 6 hours (scant) during the day and need to make up the rest at night. And you're just so tired by then. It's like working a full day and then working... again.

    I hope the interview gets rescheduled.

  6. I can relate so well to this. And, I agree, I do think that those of us who struggle so much to have our children are emboldened to take the necessary steps to be with them. But then what? I find myself alternating between grateful for having left academia behind and terrified at the reality of what I may have thrown away - not to mention confused as to how to proceed from here.

    I wish you luck with finding your next step. It sounds like you are truly ready to take it.


  7. Wow, sounds like some crazy busy times for you...I'm sorry about the job interview. There's nothing worse than feeling like you didn't do your best. Sigh.

    I love your analogy of the hot air balloon. I sometimes feel like I am too risk averse to make the big decisions that I need to make. I need someone to push me off the cliff. I also agree, though, that going through something really painful crystallizes your life and makes it very clear what is important and how important it is to be HAPPY in the ways that you CAN control your life.

    Butternut Rissotto ymmmmmmm

  8. There you are! I was wondering why you were so quiet. Missed you. I kinda feel like I'm in that hot air balloon too. Slow motion and no control. But like anonymous said I am trying my hardest to enjoy the view and the ride.

  9. I love this recipe...thank you!! and good luck with everything!

  10. I hope things have settled a bit for you and so sorry to hear the interview didn't go as well as you had hoped. xx

  11. Go N! We're still waiting on Moon who takes 2 steps and sits down like she has been for the past month. You'll find your rhythm. I think this one is just gonna hit you and you'll know and I totally hear you about only having free time at night when you're already tired.

  12. I think, for me anyway, it's more about paying attention to the signs around me. I truly believe that if things hadn't blown up at work the way they did I wouldn't have had the courage to step out of that situation. Even though the signs were clear and had been pointing me in that direction for a long time.

    I'm sorry the interview didn't go well. And it sounds like you have a LOT on your plate. Hoping you get a chance to take a deep breath soon.


  13. Sorry to hear the interview didn't go as hoped. I work evenings and it is hard to do. you end up just running yourself into the ground. I hope a new opportunity arises in the job sector for you soon
    take care

  14. I'm sorry to hear that the interview didn't go well, J! Wherever your hot-air balloon lands next is a place supremely lucky to host you, for real.

    I have no doubts that the whole slug-fest with infertility emboldened me to leave my job. Having Arlo and spending nearly every moment with him during my maternity leave shoved everything into sharper focus for me in terms of how I wanted to spend my time. As time passes, though, I am increasingly fearful of putting myself out there professionally. My professional sense of self has definitely been compromised over the last year.

    I have confidence that you will look back on this time and understand its worth. Hang in there!

  15. I'm sorry the interview didn't go well, although, maybe it went better than you think?

    YES: "In many ways, I think experiencing the loss of one's own potential future children or difficulty conceiving them can make you a little more likely to take risks." I have definitely found this to be true. I'm more stubborn and less likely to settle on something I don't want to do.

    Quick note: I have been trying to pin some of your recipes on Pinterest, but they show up as blank when I do?

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