Bring to Rolling Boil and Panic

My mom emailed me on Sunday to check in because her “mom radar” had gone off. You see, I hadn’t blogged in several days (almost a week), and when I disappear from the blogosphere, it sends off a red alert in my mother.

I meant to blog, actually. I took photos of food, I thought about what I would write, I even stared blankly at my WordPress screen. But there are forces stronger than my will to blog. They include (but are not limited to):  being overworked, over-tired, over-pollenated (in the sense that my lungs and brain are covered in pollen), etc.

This is the point in the semester when my teacher friends and I walk around in a low-grade panic. The recipe of our semester would go something like this:

1. Assemble ingredients. (Beginning of semester)

2. Whisk vigorously. (Midterm)

3. Bring to rolling boil over high heat. (Post-midterm slump that quickly ramps up to an avalanche of papers and planning.)

4. Commence panic. (End of the semester. Not enough time in the day. Not enough energy to work. And there are all these papers coming in. And I don’t have a job lined up for the summer! Which will always be a problem because I’ll always be an adjunct because I don’t have time to write a book and get published because I’m an adjunct! Maybe I should switch careers? I can’t! I’m an adjunct!)

It is with the final step, the commencement of panic, that certain other symptoms show up. Fatigue is the most obvious. Chronic headache. Propensity to either drink or eat copious amounts of baked goods. Acid reflux attack, thus nipping the drinking of both alcohol and coffee in the bud.

If anyone out there is on the fence about majoring in English, just remember:  if you want to teach, you have to go to grad school. And then you have to adjunct, a vicious circle that traps you in a job you love but ultimately have no future in. Marry rich, you young bibliophiles!

But alas, this blog is actually not supposed to center around my mounting anxiety and panic. It’s about chicken, actually.

I love working from home. I worked a six month stint as an administrative assistant in a law firm. I worked in the office, 40 hours a week, like most responsible adults will do at some point in their lives. But I couldn’t be comfortable with this. I had come up through graduate school, where I was in the office 20 hours a week, made my own hours, and could work at my convenience, grading papers at night or early in the morning. I loved that flexibility, that freedom. And though I was grateful for my full-time office job, I found myself too restless to stay at that desk.

I now do a large portion of my work from home. I still do 30-40 hours a week of work (at least) with teaching, but only 20 hours of it is in the office; the other part is at home or in a coffee shop. I freelance, I’m a contractor for that same law firm, and all of that work happens at home. And I love it. I can do laundry, brew coffee, and grab a snack. And then another snack. And more snacks. And then candy.

We’re back to another vicious circle:  how do you eat smart when you’re at home with a full pantry of ingredients for banana bread? And on the flip side, how do you keep yourself on track with work and not give in to the temptation to make big, time-consuming lunches?

You have to put your Rachael Ray hat on and plan ahead. And last week, that’s what I did. I had a pack of chicken tenderloins, and I prepared them in a way that can be used on salad, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, or just cold out of the Tupperware. It’s low-carb, full of protein, and delicious.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Breast Tenderloins

1 package chicken breast tenderloins

1 bag pecan pieces

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Large pinch red pepper flakes

Large pinch parsley flakes

Large pinch coarse sea salt

One egg (might need an extra egg if there are lots of chicken tenders)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a glass baking dish and set aside.

2. In food processor, add pecans, pepper flakes, brown sugar, and parsley. I like to ground up my sea salt in my mortar and pestle so that I get nice big, crunchy granules of salt, but you can also use regular table salt or just add your salt directly to the food processor. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

Pecan mixture

3. In a shallow bowl, lightly beat the egg. In another shallow bowl, add the pecan mixture. Set up a dipping station for your tenderloins, dipping them in the egg first, then the pecan mixture, making sure to coat both sides.

4. Line tenderloins up in baking dish. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.

Baked chicken tenderloins.

The chicken is salty, nutty, and every so often, you get a little kick of spice from the pepper flakes. That spice, however, is muted by the inclusion of brown sugar, which balances it all out to be sweet, salty, and spicy at once, which seems appropriate to this low(er)-fat version of fried chicken.

I used my tenderloins the first day to make a chicken wrap with lettuce, blue cheese, sweet onion dressing, cherry tomatoes, and avocados.

Chicken wrap – healthy, quick, and easy to make at home!

On another day, I made a strawberry salad with goat cheese, honey-roasted almonds, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers, all topped with a honey-balsamic dressing.

I have big ideas for a Southern-style pizza with this chicken as well, but I’ve been too busy to try it. But there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. The semester’s almost over. And in the brief window between celebrating the end of the semester and the beginning of the summer employment hustle, I shall create this pizza, and I shall share it with you.

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