Wrangler Dani

Writer, editor, marketer and communication strategist. I'm also a wife, mama, hiker, cowgirl and experimental cook living in beautiful Central Oregon.

Archive for the ‘comfort food’ Category

November 17th, 2015 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Homemade Stock

In the fall and winter months, I have homemade broth or stock simmering in the Crock-Pot at least once a week. We smoke a chicken or roast beef shanks and afterwards I plop the bones in water and let them simmer away for a day or two. The whole house smells comforting, like chicken-noodle soup, and I have stock on hand for making rice or stew or deglazing a pan.

Homemade stock takes longer than buying a can or carton of stock from the grocery store. My Crock-Pot gets dirty and I have to strain out the bones when the broth is done. Sometimes I don’t want my house to smell like chicken noodle soup, and sometimes I’m tempted to throw away the remnants of a smoked chicken rather than mess with it.

But I don’t. I tell myself that it’s worth it to make something right – that tonight’s dinner will be that much healthier and more fulfilling because I took the time on this component. I try to see the simmering and straining and cleaning up afterwards as my act of gratitude – that I don’t take the roasted chicken for granted, but instead use every piece of it, making something simple into something special.

Because making stock is living with intention – it’s time-consuming and sometimes annoying. Sometimes I’d rather just run out and buy a can of stock – no muss, no fuss. But I’m always glad when I choose intention over convenience. I’m so grateful when love trumps necessity, when I take the time to care about small things and they become big and meaningful in return. Today, I’m grateful for homemade stock, and a homemade stock kind of life – one that simmers and flavors everything with intention, time and grace. It’s not easy or clean, but the smell and taste of homemade chicken noodle soup is worth the effort.

November 5th, 2015 by Dani

Ask, Seek, Knock

The last few years have seen a lot of asking, knocking and seeking happen in our family. It sounds Christianese-y and removed from the reality of hard work and effort, but it’s true. We asked God for new direction, we sought and found a home, we knocked on every door and turned over every loose stone until we brought Adelay home. I thought, “ahhhhhh” – maybe my asking and seeking days could be over for a while.  (It’s OK, you can laugh. I’m certain God did.)

I’ll be honest, I don’t want to ask for anything more. I’m tired of requesting prayer for this or that legal paperwork or financial hurdle in this adoption expedition. I’m tired of knocking on doors looking for wisdom, for peace, for how to not cry in the middle of the grocery store when it’s just been that kind of day and someone asks where I got my baby. I always thought Jesus said, “ “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you… and you’ll never have to walk through another door or find another thing ever again. This door is magic and there’s everything you need for life and happiness behind it. Handy, right?”

But he didn’t, actually. In the same breath he uses the imagery of a child asking for lunch: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone… …If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Food is the best example here, which makes sense because Jesus used it. Maybe I’ve been too hard-headed to see it, to focused on the end-goal to realize that maybe the seeking and asking and knocking is the point. I love to cook and I realize that I love to cook maybe a little more than I love to eat (which is really saying something). There’s something cleansing and centering in the stirring, seasoning and perfecting of a dish. I don’t always get it right – sometimes my chicken and rice soup is more like savory porridge or I burn the potatoes to shriveled crisps. Sometimes I am over-ambitious and try to cook a fancy dessert even though sugar cookies are more my wheelhouse.

But in the cooking I find peace. I am asking and seeking, if you will, coaxing a humble chuck roast to become a succulent wine-braised serving of warmth and family, a bowlful of security. It wouldn’t be satisfying to have cooked one delicious meal and return to my kitchen every day at 5 p.m. to a pot of the same on the stove, ready for serving. It wouldn’t feel like a warm welcome to friends and family, or like a gift to my husband or like an homage to my mother. It would simply be eating, because eating has to happen and I guess we can have the same sad dinner again and keep up our strength, like survivors instead of celebrators. Because celebrators spend all afternoon on a dish, while survivors eat what they can get, in a hurry as they run to the next shelter. Celebrators ask, seek and knock – finding the rare spice or the perfect wine or the essential cheese  – celebrators think “this will make our meal so wonderful!” with joy, enjoying the seeking almost as much as they relish the finding. Celebrators take their time, lay out the good silverware and eat with intention.

I am still seeking and knocking, asking and searching. The state of the world makes me both sad and passionate, as I think about how to protect my daughter and my family from the evil that lurks around us. But I am striving to see this as a lovely ritual, like mincing garlic or rubbing spices on a roast. Passing through the door is wonderful, just as dinner is delicious. But tomorrow morning we’ll still want a cup of coffee and something to eat, and we’ll begin the seeking all over again as we peruse a cookbook or pull chicken breasts out to thaw.

So I’m asking, seeking and knocking and I will not give up. Because I was made to ask and made to create. Just because I am tired does not mean I’ve failed – my burned biscuits do not make me a bad cook and my raggedy feelings do not make me a bad wife and mom. Today’s a new day, with a new recipe to seek again, ask again, knock again – and wait for even more doors to open.

November 20th, 2014 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Easy Gluten-Free Foods

Having a major dietary change is really difficult, and sometimes all I want to do is go through a drive-thru or eat some junk. Then I remember that I can’t do that, and so I glumly search for yet another protein bar in my purse, feeling very woebegone because of the lack of cheeseburgers in my life these days.

But then, I head to the grocery store, and wouldn’t you know it, right there on the snack aisle are GF crackers, quick snacks and cookies. Sure, it’s annoying to have to read labels and buy more expensive products, and yes, those fast-food cravings usually can’t be fulfilled, but there are gluten-free options available, and I didn’t have to drive to Portland to get them! Every time I go to a new grocery store I prepare myself to potentially find very little that I can eat, and every time I am amazed by how many good gluten-free options there are. I mean, Trader Joe’s has GF Pumpkin Pancake mix, for crying out loud. My love of all things pumpkin and my previously-dampened holiday spirits soared when I saw that, and I promptly bought two boxes.

Most restaurants now understand and accommodate dietary restrictions, and many people are paying more attention to what they eat, so it’s a relief to not constantly have to explain what gluten is and what I can or can’t eat. I wouldn’t wish dietary restrictions on anyone, but I’m definitely grateful that I live in a town with great groceries and restaurants, with a husband who has gladly given up on a lot of gluten-y goodness, and friends and family who are supportive and give me tips and tricks for GF baking.

Today, I’m grateful for a pantry filled with GF options: for popcorn and Rice Krispies Treats, for cheese and chips and salsa, for pumpkin pancake mix and corn tortillas and rice pasta. Now if someone can just point me in the direction of a decent GF cheeseburger, I’ll be set.

November 8th, 2014 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Gas Range and Oven

For six weeks, from mid-September until the last day of October, every meal we had at home was either from the grill or Crock-Pot. (Actually, we added a microwave about four weeks in). We washed dishes with the hose and we made our coffee in the bathroom. All of these inconveniences are tiny, however, compared to the joy of a full-size gas range and oven after six weeks without it!

When we lived in San Clemente, we had a gas stove, but it was “apartment-sized”, which was a popular size back in the 1960’s, supposedly. In case you’re wondering, “apartment-sized” really means “good luck roasting that chicken, amateur” or “HAHA a dozen muffins you MUST be kidding” or “I know I have four burners, but four pots is just too much to ask. I will now push your pots onto the floor, like so”.

When we first moved to Bend, our apartment stove was normal-sized, but electric, which meant that I either served burnt or raw food when using the range, because electric ranges are terrible (I can’t responsibility for my cooking failures, but not when I’m forced to use electric. It’s that awful.)

Now, this house had an electric stove, but I cackled with glee when we pulled that baby out. We placed a propane tank and a gas line, and glory hallelujah we are cookin’ with gas! Our range is so pretty I can hardly stand it. I’m making pastas and risottos and scrambled eggs with abandon and it’s awesome. Who knew that something so basic could bring so much joy? Come over sometime, we can stare at the blue flame together and I’ll cook something scrumptious.

Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe my feeling about the new range and oven. Ecstatic? Overjoyed? Fall-on-my-knees thankful? That sounds about right.

November 6th, 2014 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Beer and Hot Wings

My diet has changed quite a bit in the last month. The hardest thing for me to give up has been beer, since Adam and I both love breweries and good-old-fashioned football food. Set us up with beer, hot wings and/or a pizza and we’re going to be happy there for a very long time.

There is gluten-free beer available at most grocery stores, but drinking a bottle of GF beer at home wasn’t even my main concern; what really broke my heart was the thought of our casual date-nights going away, and also keeping Adam from something he loves because of my dumb disease.

Last week, we had an appointment downtown late in the afternoon. “Want to head to Deschutes?” Adam asked carefully when we finished, knowing that eating out tends to make me either panicky or tearful as I’m navigating this new diet. I was feeling courageous, so I said yes and we walked to the Deschutes Brewery Pub. Outside it was drizzling, so once inside we went into the bar and found a sweet little table right by the fireplace. SportsCenter was rolling, the fire was crackling and I felt almost like a normal person. Deschutes has a GF beer on tap, so I ordered it and couldn’t believe my tastebuds. Delicious! We asked for gluten-free food options and were brought an entire GF menu, and folks, this is where it gets good. We ordered hot wings and fries, all gluten-free and all amazing. I cried as soon as the hot wings came out, because I just couldn’t believe it. Here we were, enjoying the kind of low-key evening that epitomizes “us” and almost nothing had changed. Adam started to worry that my tears were the upset kind, but I assured him that no, I can’t believe what grace we have – I can’t believe how good this is – I can’t believe how blessed we are.

So today, I’m grateful that not everything has to change, that sometimes love is shown most poignantly through the simplest things. I’m grateful for beer and hot wings.

December 5th, 2013 by Dani

Texas, in Beverages

It’s a giant Coke Zero at the Movie Tavern, refillable without leaving your seat, (what magic!) companionable because it’s with family, and it’s what Ashley and I both get, along with a shared bag of popcorn. It’s coffee in the morning, sweetened with everyone’s favorite flavored creamer and accompanied by holiday week indulgences like pigs in a blanket. It’s evening coffee in a worn reindeer mug that I remember fondly from the very first Thanksgiving I spent with the Nichols, and from-scratch homemade apple pie that made you want to sing Hallelujah and have another piece.

It’s craft beer in a hipster watering hole, laughter with an old friend, disbelief that we’ve really known each other that long. It’s getting my father-in-law to try craft beer, and the joy we have when he likes what we do. (Don’t judge, but he’s a Budweiser man.)

It’s fall sangria – a magical mix of oranges and cinnamon and apples and red wine – paired perfectly with Thanksgiving fare. It’s the sampler pack of Shiner Bock that Adam bought for our pork loin feast at my mother-in-law’s – a new adventure with an old favorite. It’s a purple plastic cup with holograms of “Fear the Frog” emblazoned on the side, filled with Diet Dr Pepper, drank in-between cheering loudly for TCU and jumping out of our stadium seats in excitement. It’s coffee with whipped cream on top in a fancy mug at a supposedly funny movie. (I cried at “Delivery Man”. I know, I know).

It’s a fishbowl of beer, served to me as I sat on a saddle barstool in the Stockyard Hotel bar, feeling swanky as could be. (The two gentlemen next to me were real rodeo cowboys, who stopped into the bar for college football updates. They were very chivalrous to me, and I think I impressed them with my “saddling up” abilities. (That’s a lie, they thought I was going to fall to my death off that barstool.) (So I’m clumsy.)).

It’s a flimsy plastic cup encrusted with salt and filled with a hastily concocted margarita, sipped while singing along to Texas Country at the World’s Largest Honky Tonk. It’s a salted caramel latte that greatly confused the Starbucks barista, much to Ashley’s and my merriment. It’s Diet Coke and shared queso. It’s “Dani and I will split this bottle of red wine!” at a dinner on the rooftop (we did finally decide to let Adam have a glass too).

It’s laughter and sharing and family and a week of Texas. Cheers and bottoms up.

November 13th, 2013 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Great Food

“Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. The you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.” ― Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

The fall is a foodie time of year, let’s be honest. We’ve moved from on-the-run tacos and light salads after swimming to braised pork chops and all-day stews, fresh pies and butter cookies with hot coffee. It’s the perfect time of year to savor something new.

Last night, I made grilled mahi mahi (on the salt block, Adam is becoming a master at it, and it’s our favorite way to eat fish these days), sauteed broccolini and baked potatoes. It’s a simple meal made delicious with a few perfect spices and a little butter, which, honestly, is just the best kind of dinner, isn’t it?

I’m so grateful to live in a great food town, to have a husband who’s as excited about my cooking as I am, a collection of exciting cookbooks for inspiration and the freedom to try new things when the mood strikes.

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” ― Julia Child
November 8th, 2013 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Pumpkins (bonus Slow-Cooker Pumpkin Chili Recipe)

This is the time of year when pre-packaged food producers whore themselves out to the pumpkin-craving public, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m a sucker for Pumpkin Spice Lattes, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin soups. I grab an extra can of pureed pumpkin “just in case” nearly every time I’m at the store and if a recipe calls for pumpkin and nutmeg, I am in. In short, I am very grateful for pumpkins. 🙂 Since I like to cook (and Adam and I both like to eat) I also really love creating new ways to use an ingredient like pumpkin – hence, Pumpkin Chili.

So, without further ado, here’s my Slow-Cooker Pumpkin Chili recipe, for your enjoyment on chilly fall evenings.


  • 2-3 cups dried navy beans and kidney beans (depends on how much meat you use)
  • 1 lb. (or more if you like meatier chili) beef stew meat, chopped into bite-sized chunks. I used a roast, but anything will do, since it will simmer for quite a while this is a great opportunity to use a tougher cut.
  • 1 Sugar Pie pumpkin, peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 45 ounces beef or chicken stock
  • 1 14-ounce can of pumpkin puree
  • 1-3 cans of light beer (I like to use Budweiser) this enhances flavor, but how many cans you’ll need really depends on how long you slow-cook your chili
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6-8 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons red chili flakes (less if you don’t like it too spicy)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (more if you want a strong chili flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon of oregano
  • 2 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put it together:

  • Soak the beans overnight in cold water, and then rinse them, drain them and place them in the Crock-Pot. They can hang out for a bit and wait for their buddies.
  • Start the onion and garlic in a pan with butter or oil, until it begins to carmelize and become fragrant. Add the beef and get a nice sear on all sides, once you have good color, toss it all in the slow-cooker on low with the beans. You can add the spices at this time to the Crock-Pot, except the oregano and parsley. Also add about a third of the stock.
  • Put the rest of the stock and the whole can of pumpkin in a pan (you can reuse the same one from before) and let it start to simmer together and combine. You could probably get away with just putting it all in the Crock-Pot, but I want to be sure that the pumpkin puree will break down and create a nice base, so I like to keep it separate just in case. Add some salt and pepper and stir occasionally, watching for your two ingredients to become one. When they are well combined and you can smell a “savory pumpkin” fragrance, it’s ready for the slow-cooker too.
  • Put your Sugar Pie pumpkin chunks in your hard-working pan with a little butter or oil. The goal is to carmelize the pumpkin chunks and enhance their color and flavor. I added some salt, pepper, ground cinnamon and chili powder to it too, but you don’t have to. Let the pumpkin saute for a while – the lower and slower you cook it, the better it will be. When it’s done, you can put it in a container and save it until it’s needed, or you can wait and cook the pumpkin chunks right before you serve your chili.
  • Let the chili cook for at least 12 hours. I actually prefer to start it the night before I want to eat it, so that it cooks more like 20 hours or so. The longer it cooks, the better. As it simmers, add beer or stock as needed to keep the right consistency.
  • 10 minutes or so before serving, add the pumpkin chunks, oregano and parsley. This insures that your chili has bright pops of color – so pretty!

This chili serves 8-10 people happily, and it will satisfy those fall cravings (I took it to a chili cook-off recently and everybody loved it, except vegans, but let’s face it, I don’t know how to cook for those guys). Serve with onion and grated cheese on top, and if you want to get really fancy, break a cinnamon stick into several 2-inch pieces and put one in each bowl as a garnish.

Is it time for dinner yet?

August 19th, 2013 by Dani

10 Barrel Brewing Company – Bend, Oregon

NEW_Barrel_Name_smallerYou really can’t visit Bend without trying a brewery (or five), and what makes our breweries so special is how central they are to Bend (and really, Northwestern) life. You can’t attend a backyard BBQ or church campout without craft beers making a celebrated appearance, and there’s hardly a weekend without a festival, tasting or pouring of some hoppy, foamy, this-weekend-only brew from one of our local favorites. Even though good beer is so prevalent, it’s not commonplace – locals and visitors alike have a reverent respect for craft brews and are always eager to lend a sip, an opinion and a sigh of satisfaction to any beery proceedings.

This is part of what makes 10 Barrel Brewing Company so special – it’s widely regarded as the best brewery in Bend, and it’s not like there’s no competition. The wait times at almost any hour for their Westside Pub and the fanaticism their beers engender proves that they’re not a fad, a gimmick or an easily toppled empire – this is a brewery that has cracked the code for imaginative pub food and surprising, boozy, flavorful beers.

What’s imaginative pub food, you ask? It’s nachos made with steak, bacon, gorgonzola cheese and surprise! homemade potato chips – an appetizer that adequately fills up a party of four and yet leaves us all wanting more. Their best burger is made with lamb and feta cheese, their cheeseburger pizza will satisfy any In-N-Out craving and their sandwiches, salads and wraps all have that “it” factor: classic bar food, removed toward artisan flavors without losing that greasy, brewpub essence.

Their beers are also astoundingly tasty. They tend to have a higher alcohol content than most, but also have more distinct flavor as well. This is not the place for bland pale ales or shrug-worthy stouts – you either love or hate these beers – the massive flavor profiles and distinct styles leave no room for ambiguity. My personal favorite is the ISA (India Session Ale) a citrus-y, bitter, light beer that tastes like summer perfected. Their IPAs are almost universally loved, and even some of their weirder beers (such as Swill, a sweet seasonal lager) have their own set of devotees.

10 Barrel also succeeds in that it’s a chic place to hang out. Located on the west side of Bend, the pub is easy walking distance from shops and restaurants and the open patio gives it a casual, house-party vibe.
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There are four garage doors on the building that slide open when the weather is nice, giving the inside of the pub an open, breezy feel. There’s even bar seats that are technically outside but face in – a brilliant move for summer in Bend, where everyone wants to be outside all the time. Tables, chairs and barstools are ridiculously heavy, made from welded metal and thick, weathered wood – but they have a cool, updated look without losing the casual, my-daddy-was-a-logger vibe of the Northwest. The outside patio has a firepit and strung lights, and if you’re lucky, the black metal smoker will be belching out delicious scents and fresh, IPA-drenched pulled pork. The staff is courteous, knowledgeable, well-trained and on-time – we’ve never had a bad service experience, missed order or forgotten beer.

If you come see us, we’ll likely take you here – not just because it’s a great place to get good food and beer, but because it feels like Bend – laid-back but still reliably excellent, every time.

May 15th, 2013 by Dani

Zydeco Kitchen – Bend, Oregon

I’ve been informed by my family that I need to start writing more about food. I guess it makes sense, since looking up new places to nosh is one of my very favorite activities (second only to the noshing itself, of course).

So, I’m going to regale you with a tale about one of my very favorite places to eat in Bend: Zydeco Kitchen.

“Zydeco” refers to a style of folk music from Louisiana, so it’s no surprise that this Zydeco’s menu has a distinctly Cajun flair.  This was actually what first drew me to Zydeco – you all know that I am a Southerner in a Westerner’s life, and nothing makes me happier than a hush puppy and some shrimp and grits.

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The neat thing about Zydeco’s menu is that it pulls from Cajun traditions without losing the Oregonian sensibility of locally grown and processed foods (they’ll even waive the corkage fee on any wine from Oregon or Washington). Everything tastes fresh and healthy without tasting like a vegan restaurant (no offense, but I’ll see your Chia-seed-cous-cous with almond milk and I’ll raise you one grass-fed ribeye and sauteed broccolini with garlic sauce).

The roasted clams appetizer (with capers, piquillo peppers, olives and lemon butter over grilled bread) might be the best thing on the menu. We first tried it on a frosty night in December, and it was enough to make you want to hide under the tablecloth and never leave. The soft, buttery clams mixed with the tart acids of capers and olives is a match made in culinary heaven, and soaking up the peppery, slightly salty juice with fresh grilled bread – I have to stop, because I’m drooling on the keyboard and it’s getting weird.

Artichoke and corn fritters with honey-jalapeno and baux mayo dipping sauces. Yepsir.

Artichoke and corn fritters with honey-jalapeno and baux mayo dipping sauces. Yepsir.

Zydeco clearly has more than just inventive flavors going for it, though, because every protein we’ve gotten has been cooked to absolute perfection. The fish is flaky and delicate, shrimp are perfectly finished, steak, duck and pork are all cooked the way you request, not some happy hour cook’s version of what medium-rare looks like. I come from a long line of waiter-eyebrow-raising “burn it!” requesters, but they will even burn it for you, no questions asked.

They have a full bar and an excellent seasonal cocktail menu that isn’t just bits of fruit stuck on the outside of a low-ball, but real, delicious mixes of fresh juices and inventive flavors with just the right amount of high-quality alcohol. Bend being Bend, they also have a great craft beer list, and, as I mentioned, some good local wines. Back in December, I had a version of a whiskey sour that forever changed my view on the humble party drink, and for Mother’s Day I indulged in a marionberry margarita that was a northwestern summer in a glass.

Zydeco embodies one of the things I love about the new food revolution – it’s possible to get a truly gourmet meal and five star service without ordering Chicken Cordon-Bleu and wearing a tux. We’ve sat inside and out and the waitstaff is well-timed (none of this “you’re in the middle of a super emotional story, may I ask how you’re enjoying the halibut?”), knowledgeable and friendly. When my mom ordered her Wild Boar Tenderloin well-done (burnt!) the waiter wrote it down without so much as a condescending eyebrow twitch. You want it well-done, it will be the most delicious well-done tenderloin you’ve ever tasted, and we won’t even judge you for it.

It’s a good place to eat, is what I’m saying. Now, show of hands, who actually hung in for 600 words about my food loves?