Homemade Chicken Phở + #wifeloreealready

This morning I spent a good five minutes staring blankly at the spice rack at Albertson’s. Nowadays they stack that sucker with an abundance of spices from all over the world in alphabetical order to make it fast and efficient for confused folks like me to find their weapon of choice. Despite alphabetization, this was the third store I visited to try to find STAR ANISE. So there I am, staring at the “S” section, like I’ve done two times prior, where saffron threads hang out, and I can’t find STAR ANISE for the life of me. Does it not exist? Must I venture outside the country? Right when I’m about to throw my hands up and give up, I glance at the top of the rack only to find ANISE STAR. Lesson learned for next time I’m on a mad hunt for STAR ANISE/ANISE STAR. This turned out to be the most crucial spice for homemade chicken phở, as insisted in this Smitten Kitchen recipe (<— click that link for the recipe!), originally adapted from chef Charles Phan.

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Why the heck would I make homemade phở when you can get it for $5 a bowl? Well, because for starters it yields more than you would get for less money. And in case you aren’t caught up, I’m on a quest to get Chris to move closer and closer to marrying me. Now, I can make homemade pho! Whaaaaaat!?! #wifeloreealready. If you follow this recipe and manage to find ANISE STAR/STAR ANISE, you gotta set aside a few hours and try it one day because it is soul-warming and mighty delish.

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While I was standing over the table trying to take pictures of this soup I slaved over all morning, Chris stood on the sidelines licking his lips, asking me how much longer I was going to take. Hence, these pictures are rushed and taken on my phone. I gave him the very bowl of soup pictured here, and told him it was worth it to marry me one day.

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Super Easy Mini Chicken Pot Pies + Hey, Why Don’t You #wifeloreealready

Chris and I are not married. Don’t get me wrong, we have a wonderful relationship. We just celebrated our 3 year anniversary and have grown tremendously as young adults and as a parenting team. We’ve talked about marriage and all the wonderful reasons to wait, and ways that we can continue to strengthen our relationship together no matter what our labels may be.

Nevertheless, I started a hashtag project called #wifeloreealready. It was mostly a joke that began a couple months ago when I posted a picture on instagram of a beautiful cold marinated steak bowl I made from this recipe, and I snuck in the hashtag “#wifeme.” This quip appeared on subsequent foodstagram posts with the more urgent hashtag, “#wifemealready.” I wanted to make a lighthearted point that I can make some pretty damn delicious homemade meals that increase my wifey potential,* meal by meal. So then I thought, why not take it a step further and create my own unique hashtag so folks can follow my culinary journey to getting wifed up. Thus, #wifeloreealready was born.

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I invite you to get on Instagram and check out my #wifeloreealready, where I make mouthwatering food like hazelnut brown butter cookie bars for dessert and shakshouka for breakfast.

Joking aside, there is some underlying truth that one day I’d like a special someone to put a ring on it (when the time is right for both of us). For now, I suppose I’m cool with my girlfriend-baby-mama-wifey-decent-cook-supermom status. But on a final note, if this hashtag project collects more than a hundred unique pictures of scrumptious concoctions and I become some kind of wizard in the kitchen, I better have a ring on it at that point.

Super Easy Mini Chicken Pot Pies: yields 10-12, 45 min-1 hr prep

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Ingredients:
1lb Chicken Breast, cut up in small bite sized pieces
2 – 10.5oz cans Cream of Chicken (I used Campbell’s)
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 – 1 cup frozen peas
(or use frozen vegetable medley, or any vegetables around the kitchen)
2 tablespoons butter or oil
2 lbs frozen pie dough, thawed (I used puff pastry)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 egg + 1 teaspoon of water for eggwash
cooking spray

Other tools:
2 circular cookie cutters, 1 larger than the other to fit into muffin tins (You can use the rim of drinking glasses, used tin cans, or used plastic tubs.)
Muffin tin

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray.

1) In a deep saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add onion and carrots until onion is translucent and carrots are bright orange, about 3 mins. Add the chicken and stir until mostly cooked, 3-5 mins. Then, pour in the cream of chicken, peas or other veggies, thyme, salt, and stir. Reduce heat slightly to avoid splatter. Cook until chicken is cooked through, another 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool.

2) On a clean surface, sprinkle flour and lay out thawed pie dough. Cut up 10-12 big and little circles. Press down the bigger circles of dough into the muffin tin cups and up the side. Spoon in the chicken mixture until it levels out on top, and cover with the smaller circles of dough. Pinch the sides of the dough to seal in the chicken mixture. Repeat until all pies are formed.

3) Beat a whole egg and a teaspoon of water to make eggwash. Brush the tops of the pot pies with mixture.

4) Put in oven for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Let cool for 15 minutes before enjoying!

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And remember, #wifeloreealready 🙂

* I am not saying that a woman needs to be a good cook in order to be a good wife. I’m saying it would be nice to make me your wife if you want something good to eat every now and then. Especially if your name is Christopher Valenzuela and you can barely cook.

“You Make Motherhood Look Easy”

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“You make motherhood look so easy!”

Said a friend one day. A very kind and well-meaning friend. His statement took me aback and overwhelmed me with this odd mixture of guilt and gratification. I plopped my 14-month-old down to eat in the middle of a lively party. She calmly picked her black beans, one by one, and shoved them hungrily into her mouth without a fuss.

Frankly, I don’t remember how I responded. I don’t recall if I said thank you, or told him truthfully that motherhood simply wasn’t easy. I might have not said anything at all. I do remember, for a split second, trying to see myself from his point of view. There I was in my nicest jersey knit dress, makeup on my face, my hair actually done in gentle soft waves, toting around a baby/toddler creature and peacefully watching her eat. The truth was I was blessed with a good eater. The truth was that I locked myself in the bathroom for 30 minutes while I told Chris, the birthday celebrant, to watch our daughter so I could make myself look decent for his party. The truth was, I have never washed that nice jersey knit dress and if my friend were to look close enough he would see coffee stains on it. The truth was, I hadn’t washed my hair in three days and that’s why it was mysteriously wavy maybe thanks to the avocado and banana caked between my strands. The truth was, and is, and will always be, that motherhood/parenthood is just not that easy. It’s pretty, boringly, disgustingly, sleeplessly, insanely, loudly, stinkily, randomly, colorfully, outright difficult.

My dear friend doesn’t see the times I spend grumpily wiping the fruit stained handprints off the “stainless steel” refrigerator while Josephine sits in front of the TV to watch her second episode of Sesame Street. He doesn’t see the naptime battles, or the grocery store tantrums, or the times Josephine picked up or landed on dog poop in the backyard because for a moment I didn’t have my eyes on her and my reflexes weren’t quick enough. Sometimes I secretly let her eat cheerios off the floor. One time, she rolled off our bed and fell, with a loud and scary thud, onto the hardwood floor. We were both there, and we both regret not being fast enough to catch her. I’m sure had someone seen those moments, they would have thought, man — they are lousy parents.

But my friend paid me a very high compliment, and I knew that by his choice of words in saying that I make motherhood “look easy” implied that he knew it wasn’t easy, but in that moment I appeared to be a Happy Domestic Goddess Supermom who hopped gracefully off the cover of the front page of a Superb Parenting magazine. (side note: I really hate those magazines.)

So I guess my response to his rather far-reaching compliment is a simple thank you. Mothers (parents and caregivers in general) are far too often left unrecognized and under-appreciated for the multitude of roles and odd jobs they take on. As difficult as it is for me to receive such a compliment, I will take it, because it won’t get any easier. It gets harder. But we get better at this parenting gig. And the baby will grow up to be an adult one day, and she still might accidentally land in dog poop. (I mean, even I still do.) It’ll all be okay, because I’m confident we’re doing our best.

So, dear compliment-paying friend, one day when you plop your toddler down to eat and he miraculously obliges with minimal mess in front of a dozen or so people, and someone nearby watching says, “Dude, you make fatherhood look easy,” pat yourself on the back, because you’ll finally understand the weight of such a compliment.

3 Years Later

Some of you are already familiar with the Cinderella Story, but just to revisit history, it started when we met in the Netherlands while studying abroad our senior year of college. We liked each other, Chris asked me to go steady with him under the sparkly Eiffel Tower exactly three years ago, and somewhere between then and now, we made a baby in South Korea.

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This has HANDS DOWN been the most adventurous three years of my young life. We’ve trekked through Europe and Asia together, made a (very exuberant) human being, and moved to Los Angeles where the adventures keep on coming. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding. I’ve learned that sometimes patience and kindness don’t come easy, and that sometimes spending time with your significant other means putting your head on his shoulder while he watches your rival team play basketball. I’ve learned that communication and compromise is key, and that rock, paper, scissors (2 out of 3) is the best way to figure out what you’re going to eat for dinner or who changes the next poopie diaper. I learned that while honesty may hurt, it’s important to be transparent, especially in the case of body odor.

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Happy 3 year anniversary to my biggest adventure buddy, my baby daddy, and the only Dodgers & Lakers fan that I will love. You complete me us.

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