Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Rustic Wreath

One of my favorite blogs is Pure Style Home. The author, Lauren Liess, is a talented interior designer, with a clean aesthetic that really appeals to me. Her style is definitely more sophisticated than mine, but I take a lot of inspiration from her incorporation of natural elements into her home.

She posted today about wreaths, and featured this one from Martha Stewart, which is the one I loosely emulated for the wreath on our door.

She mentioned that it looked like it might be over her head. I was so excited to comment that I, a only very slightly crafty person, found it totally doable, and offered to post a photo of mine. Then I went outside to take a few pictures.

Ok, so it doesn't look much like Martha's. But I like it! It's rustic and a little wild, and you can't really tell, but the silver beads look kind of like always-lit lights.

The real star, as far as I'm concerned, is the glittery faux eucalyptus, which will definitely reappear in Christmas future. Cam quickly dubbed it "sparklyptus." So, anyway, Lauren if you happen to read this, I'm sorry my wreath doesn't exactly live up to my enthusiastic response! But we love it anyway, and I bet you could do a much more faithful interpretation of Martha's, if you ever choose to.

I just couldn't part without one more shot of Sweeney under the tree. What a cutie.

In Media Res

So, yes. I've been absent for quite some time. Last Tuesday, I finally started writing again. And last Tuesday, we got some pretty terrible news about a beloved family member. It's turned things upside down.

Now, the sunshine and light post I have saved in my drafts folder, the post I was literally in the middle of writing when I got the awful call, isn't right. But at the same time, this isn't blog material, and as weird as it always seems when you get that sort of news, life does go on. So, onward. Post in a minute with some Christmas-y stuff.

Monday, November 16, 2009

James Beard Did Me Wrong

A couple of nights ago I picked out some birthday cards at a bookstore, and then browsed the discounted titles. I found a copy of Beard on Food tucked in amongst the Food Network cookbooks, and for $6, couldn't leave it behind.

James Beard is, per the subtitle to this work of collected columns, "the dean of American cooking." I've read about him here and there, but this is the first time I've dug in.

His writing's inviting and accessible, and his familiarity with the delights of Maryland and DC instantly ingratiated him to me. So when Cam and I picked up some beautiful fresh cod on the way home from a weekend on the Shenandoah River, we turned to Beard for inspiration. We settled on his method for poaching fish, and chose his garlic aioli recipe to accompany the fish and broccoli.

Beard recommends a "simple court bouillon" for poaching -- white wine, water, parsley, lemon, onion, cloves, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme, simmered for 20-30 minutes. Once strained, it makes a fragrant bath for the fish, which was cleanly delicious.

The aioli, however, was a whole 'nother story. It seemed so simple. Egg yolks processed with garlic and salt and a long, fine stream of olive oil. Et voila, a creamy white sauce. With a cup and a half of oil, I knew it'd make a ton, but I figured it'd be good on sandwiches.

I'm not sure if the oil never emulsified or if Beard's proportions were just way out of whack, but WHOA. This did not work. We ended up with garlic oil, rounded slightly by the egg yolks. I poked around on the interwebs, and it seems like this is possibly what I was supposed to end up with, but it's not at all what I had in mind. We drizzled the garlicky oil on the broccoli and fish, and it was good, but I just wasn't comfortable keeping it.

And I couldn't leave well enough alone, either, so I researched how to resuscitate an un-emulsified aioli. Two more egg yolks (plus the one I accidentally lost to the garbage disposal), whipped anew, then another long slow dribble of the oily eggy garlicky stuff.

It still didn't work. And now it's in the garbage. So, James Beard, you're on probation. Your fish was delicious and your oxtails sound heavenly, but that aioli was not my cup of viscous, vibrantly yellow tea. Onward.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let It In

A friend of mine passed along some advice her family holds dear, particularly in heavy times.

"Now is the time to let all the love around you come inside you."

It's beautiful, isn't it? And so, so true. You have to let people help you, let people love you. And focus on the positive, of course. Last night I volunteered again. This time I scooped an enormous vat of couscous bean salad into individual containers. It looked really good -- couscous, tomato, cucumber, kidney beans, mint, and some other stuff, I'm sure. After that I moved on to chopping carrots. I'm not sure if they were for salads or mirepoix. What I can say, with certainty, is that they were the absolute biggest carrots I've ever seen in my life. We chopped a 50lb bag of those bad boys, and watching the whole carrots turn into diced carrots filling up huge bins lifted the weight for a while.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is It Getting Heavy?

It just keeps happening. It's so heavy, and it's everywhere. It's Fort Hood, it's the DC sniper's execution, it's the woman shot point-blank in the face at the liquor store she worked at for nearly two decades, after she handed over the cash.

It's a friend's stepfather's cancer diagnosis, it's a family member's intense unhappiness with her professional life, it's a neighbor's concern over recent violence, so acute that he meets me when I walk home from the bus to see me safely to my door.

It's job instability, it's a prescription for intensified chemotherapy, it's a feeling of being trapped.

It's heavy. But I never think to myself, like Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips does, that it's already as heavy as can be. It can always get heavier.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Turkey Diversion

What do you do when life's gotten pretty heavy, but you've made a semi sorta to yourself promise to blog as much as you can for a while? What do you write about, while keeping the private, private?

The good times, I think. So this past weekend Cam and I attended something called, loosely, a "Turkey Shoot." In this case, a turkey shoot is a fundraiser held by a Moose Lodge, and it goes a little something like this. First, get in your truck and head South.

Pick up your best friend, then pull up to the site. In this case, it's a field by a gas station, pickups and people tailgating all around, with a concession stand, a place to register, and a range, with 20 lanes and targets about 30 yards off.

There are 36 relays, or rounds, and each relay features a prize -- in some cases, a frozen turkey, but also hunks of beef, pounds of shrimp, slabs of bacon, and in a few cases, money. You get one shot per relay, at $5 per. You register for the relays you want to participate, then get a slip of paper and wait your turn.

Relay 28's a long wait, but there's plenty of sightseeing and strategizing to be done.

When your relay's called, file up, and receive your shell...

Then head to your lane for your one shot.

Once the range is clear, folks working the shoot run out to collect the targets...

... and run them back in to be judged.

This guy compares all the shot patterns, looking for bullseyes.

The participants crowd around, hoping to take home a win.

Sometimes, it's a close call.

Other times, there's a clear winner!

Who feels like turkey tonight?

He's not free range, organic or hormone-free. But he came home with us! And by home, I mean to my Mom's basement chest freezer. But by golly, he's ours.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dr. Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys

Dr. Ralph Stanley has absolutely still got it. If you're not familiar with him, he covered Man of Constant Sorrow for the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and got a ton of well-deserved popular recognition for it. But he's so much more than that, a bluegrass banjo legend who's been touring for 60 years or so, been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, won numerous Grammys, and earned the National Medal of Arts. And you may remember this:

So, yeah, he's a true icon and we got to see him in a small concert hall, from the front row, tonight. The evening was an engagement gift from Cam's best friend, and I'll never forget it.

One more thing -- news on the chili cookoff front! Stay tuned! Ha. But seriously, Cam's creation kicked butt at the cookoff, details, and hopefully, a recipe to follow, if we can remember how we made it. All this, and I haven't even mentioned the turkey shoot today! The hits, they keep on coming.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mucking With Chili

Tonight, Cam and I are going to a chili cookoff. Last year we took home the coveted "Chili that looks the most like DCPS cafeteria chili" award, so even though it was indisputably delicious, we decided to take a different tack this time.

We've been having so much fun with cooking, and cooking together, that Cam proposed a "chili" way, way out of the box. We've got a pot of something pretty incredible-smelling simmering on the stove. Cam calls it Middle Eastern Lamb Chili, and we're hoping it'll taste good. He dug up a recipe for Cincinnati style chili, which uses a paste of spices, including cinnamon and allspice already, then boosted its ME credentials with some cloves, cumin and harissa. We subbed in chickpeas for kidney, lamb for ground beef, and we'll serve it with Greek yogurt and fresh mint chiffonade.

I meant to take pictures, of course -- browning bits of meat, finely chopped habanero, spices prepped in a cute little bowl -- but nope. You'll just have to trust that it smells great and you can see how it looks simmering in its dark green Le Creuset home. I'll let you know how it tastes!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cattle Ranch Photography

There are quite a few characters in my neighborhood, and one of my absolute favorites is a man I call "Cattle Ranch Photography." Weird, I know, but this guy stands on the corner opposite my bus stop, so I walk past him many days. When he's there, he's always got some phrase he's shouting in various intonations, sometimes conversational, sometimes as a sort of announcement, but never (so far) confrontational.

I try to make notes on my phone about the things he says, since, at this point, quite a few coworkers know about him, and of course I always share with Cam. They were mostly on my old phone, unfortunately, but Cattle Ranch Photography was the original. He seems to have a thing for words, and I've seen him walking around with a science textbook. He's interesting, to be sure.

Today was special, however. Today I came in a little late, so as I was walking toward his usual corner, he was walking up the street toward me, instead of loitering. I had a feeling he'd try to engage me as we passed, and I wasn't disappointed. Exchange as follows, all conducted in lovely, friendly tones:

CRP: You got my dictionary?
ED: No, I'm sorry, I don't!
CRP: You don't got my dictionary?
ED: I don't, I'm sorry.
CRP: Aww, that was a beautiful dictionary. I was in love with that dictionary.
ED: I hope you find it!
CRP: Me too. I love that dictionary.

Sometimes, I wouldn't trade my wacky neighborhood for anything in the world.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

3 Nevers

Megablogger Dooce started a forum for her gazillions of readers, and today she's featuring a question posed by one of the members, Becky O:

If you have them, what are the three "nevers" of your life?

Interesting question. Off the top of my head, I know it's a total cliche, but I do believe in "never go to bed mad." Of course, it's never that simple, but I do believe in getting to the place with your beloved where you're not mad anymore, even if you have what I call a "fight hangover." You know that feeling, when the disagreement's been resolved, and you're actually in a really good place with the outcome, but you can't quite kick the mood? Fight hangover.

More and more, when it comes to shopping, "never pay full price." It's just too easy these days, with sites like Gilt and RueLaLa*, email coupons, discount codes, and the like. There's no reason to pay retail, and a friend of mine has even shown me that you shouldn't really be paying for shipping, either.

OH, and the best one, a lifelong never passed down by my parents, well, it doesn't start with never but it's the thought that counts. "Don't say yuck until you've tried it." Eat everything you can, try it all, and you don't have to try it again if you don't want to. But you know what? Try it again. Two of my longest held "don't likes," mushrooms and capers, have recently worked their way into my diet. Cooked mushrooms I've been good on for a while, but this past weekend on a minibreak in the Poconos, I ate raw portobellos and loved them. And two weeks ago, Cam made a pork picatta coated in capers, and I practically licked the plate. So, don't say yuck until you try it, and then if you don't like it... Maybe try it again later.

So what are your nevers?

*If you don't know what these sites are, check them out. And if you want an invite, just email me.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Boots Or Ferraris, You Choose

Fact: My checking account has zero, zippo cushion right now. 5 weddings in a season will do that to you, what with all the travel, fun clothes, and surrounding celebratory events.

But it's a new season, and this new season especially, this Fall, is trouble. Fall's always trouble for me, shopping-wise. You know the drill -- crisp air, sweaters and layers and jeans and tights and boots. I dig out last year's clothes from storage and prune and organize. Usually I'm excited to see the things I haven't needed for 6 months, but this year, I'm down to not much. Decent jeans, a pair of nice boots, and... Not much else. So, please. Explain why I just purchased these:

And can't get these out of my head:

I'm boot mad! The worst part? I have two beautiful pairs already, and they bear significant resemblance to the two pairs above. The worst WORST part? I hardly ever wear the pairs I have!

My cowboy boots aren't as broken in as I'd like, so I don't wear them (and I only ever wore the tassels for Halloween - they're removable). That makes sense. Yeah. My wedge boots are adorable:

And I love them. But, well. I have massive calves. It makes it really hard to find boots, so when I found these, I was thrilled. Two things stop me from wearing them constantly.

1. One time when I wore them with a dress, I walked by a guy drinking beer on the corner by the mini mart and he said, "Girl's legs is BIG!" No kidding.

2. More seriously, I have a really hard time wearing anything the least bit flashy or "not me." Things that I consider flashy include, well, just about everything. Boots, boots tucked in jeans. Jewelry beyond the ring, earrings, and simple necklace I wear every day. Scarves and wraps. Belts over tops. The list goes on and on, and it's absolutely stifling. So day after day, I dress like Ellen. Seriously. Jeans, tshirts and sneakers - remember my aforementioned casual workplace? Even my hair never changes. Always down, and never adorned with barrettes or bands.

So, clearly, my boot obsession is a cry for help, a feeble attempt to dress in new ways and be more stylish. I got a few cute things this summer (A maxidress! So daring! Gladiator sandals with studs!), and loved wearing them. So I'll keep you posted on my daring fashion adventures. And I'm still looking for makeup guidance, ladies. Is it midlife crisis time already?!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

1,000 Stalks Of Celery

Well, the day that began with 45 minutes in a Pilates class wrapped up with an hour and 20 minutes of chopping celery. Now my back's sore and I've got a blister on my right index finger the size of a dime, but I'm not complaining. I'm proud, it's my sore, slightly puffy badge of honor.

I've recently started volunteering for a local organization that makes meals for sick clients. It's a pretty amazing place -- they serve tons of clients across three states, three meals a day developed by in-house dieticians and chefs. I work in the kitchen, and while it's not glamorous work, so far, it's a blast. On my first night I dropped scoop after scoop of sliced, hard boiled eggs onto spinach salads. Tonight I chopped the aforementioned celery, and then finished out the night "stirring" -- and by stirring I mean turning with a shovel, essentially -- an enormous vat of turkey salad. I like being in the kitchen, seeing what food production is like in a commercial setting, even though I'll never do more than simple prep. Plus, tonight, the chef who's in charge of the Tuesday night crew had chocolate chip cookies for us.

So tonight I'm sore and tired, but it feels great!

Make Me Up

This morning I did something I hadn't done in a very long time: I attended a Pilates class. Note, I did not say I *did* Pilates, because what I did in that class only vaguely resembled the practice of Joseph Pilates. It's been a long time, people.

Last year, I took a semester of Pilates at a studio near where I live, and it was fantastic. I don't love yoga (too much holding of poses, I get bored and whine incessantly in my head. It's the opposite of relaxing.), but I have the world's weakest core, so I gave it a shot. I learned a ton and got a lot stronger and more flexible, but when it ended, I realized that I should spend the money on a gym membership instead. So I did, and I love my gym, but boy do I miss my old teacher.

I'm sorry, we've been over this before, but am I insane to think that my considerable posterior puts me at a disadvantage for some of these moves? Even with "booty assist," as today's teacher put it (using my hands to assist my core in sending my legs skyward), I cannot just roll up onto my shoulders without a good lurch&heave that's antithetical to Pilates. Granted, regular class attendance should help. Maybe I'm just whiny.

But none of this is the point. This morning, the locker room was packed after class with women getting ready for the workday. I've got a very lenient workplace when it comes to dress code (read: there isn't one), so while I try to class it up from time to time, I generally wear jeans to work. I just try to wear flats with them, or at least, wear clean sneakers. Like I said, lenient. So anyway, I'm used to being under dressed among the working women of this fair city, but before this morning, I don't think I ever really thought about my hair and makeup.

Ah, hair and makeup. For a regular workday, I brush my wet hair to get bangs and part in the right places, then apply drugstore concealer (when IN THE WORLD will I ever not have acne? And don't say when I get wrinkles. Got those already, thanks.) and brush on some mascara. Right now I've got Fresh Supernova, which I like, but I think it leaves dust on my cheeks by the end of the day. And... That's it.

I'm fine with my hair. I get good cuts that take into account my disinclination to blow it dry, curl it, style it, or even add any products. Sure, I'll do that stuff for fun, but for work? Not interested, for the most part. But I feel like I could do a bit more on the makeup front. What's your routine? What could I add to mine (feel free to mention specific brands you like) to turn things up a little (without freaking everyone out)?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Pips & Spitz & Choo, Choo!

What a blur October was! Following our fantastic week away and kitty-filled homecoming party, we had a quick week at work, a weekend, and then BAM! Enter swine flu.

My poor sister and her husband came down for a visit and a trip the ever-awesome Maryland Renaissance Festival, an annual tradition for more years than I care to count. She wasn't feeling great, and by Sunday, she was getting pretty sick. We didn't know what she had, but Monday, Cam, two of our friends who we'd spent the weekend with, and my Dad all dropped like flies. It was kind of nuts how fast the H1N1 came on, but now that we've seen it through, I can report a couple things. First of all, it's pretty yuck. Across the 5 sickies, the worst symptoms were significant fevers, extremely sore throats, coughs and congestion, and torso and back pain, which seems to be this bug's hallmark. Most of them kicked it in about 4 days, though my sister and my Dad are having a bit of a harder time with it. And, then, my Mom got sick too, after most everyone was on the other side.

What's weirdest to me is that I haven't gotten it. I nursed Cam, working from home, I shared food with my sister before we knew the score, and did everything all the sickies did last weekend. But now, it *seems* I'm out of the woods. I was paranoid as all get out last week, of course, particularly because I had plans this weekend to go to a friends "cabin" (read beautiful 3 bedroom house) in the Pocono mountains. I didn't want to miss out, but more than that, I didn't want to typhoid Emma all my friends.

Cam and psmee convinced me I was being a little crazy with the paranoia, so after taking my temperature 5 times throughout Friday, I got in the car and headed north. I took it twice more on the drive because I'm a total freak, and then, in the clear, met up with the girls. We had an incredible weekend of food and wine and laughing like crazy, and I felt fine throughout. We also played a full game of Mexican Train Dominoes (is the name offensive? It's the official name of the game, like, on the box, but it's got to be offensive, right?), one of my absolute favorite games. Turns out the little dots on the dominoes are called pips, which one chica misheard as spitz, so there's a fun fact.

So, I guess time will tell if I made it through the swine flu unscathed. I'm optimistic, and hopeful I may have even pirated a few of Cam's hard-won antibodies. I'm still getting that vaccine if I get a chance, though!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Back To Reality

Hey Mom?

I'm cold. Really cold.

Me too.

You don't even know.

It's so cold I have to tuck my nose into my tail.

Yeah, that's right, we're home! And when we got here, it was more than 20 degrees colder here than it was at the beach, and pouring rain. Enough to make a girl turn around and run South, but we persevered because we knew our beloved monsters would be excited to see us. Plus...

...we had beautiful red drum fillets to cook, which we caught just the day before! I got Cam a half day on a charter fishing boat as a sort of an engagement present, and it was a blast. We -- plus my Dad -- caught about 40 bluefish, these 2 drum, and all kinds of other fish too small or too junky to keep (flounder, black bass, grouper, pinfish, lizardfish, sea grunts). The red drum's a regional specialty, and Cam just broiled in it olive oil with salt and pepper, delicate, simple, delicious. I improvised a weird little recipe to use some beautiful Swiss chard and some leftover ciabatta.

I prepped the chard (learned a new method from a Cooks Illustrated video - hold the chard by the stem, and with a sharp knife, just slice down one side of the stalk, then the other, clearing the leafy part clean off the woody center. When you're finished, stack the leaves and leaf bits, then cut in slices. Worked like a champ.), then sauteed it simply with minced fresh garlic (seriously... If you use the jarred kind, chuck it out the window. Fresh garlic is the only garlic. Garlic powder is acceptable in certain applications, such as steaks before grilling, and garlic salt, in egg salad.), salt and pepper and olive oil. After 7 or 8 minutes, it was still chewy but tender. I took it off the heat, stirred in a big hunk of goat cheese, then spread it on toasted ciabatta.

Tomorrow we return to work! I'm packing a freshly baked apple cake to maybe cast a little of the attention in a direction other than the third finger on my left hand. Any bets on how well that'll work? Maybe I should also print out all these kitty pictures as an added distraction.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

He Put A Ring On It!*

Remember how Cam woke me up the other morning with "Good morning, beautiful. When you're ready, it's a great morning for a run?" Well, every morning since then I've woken up to something even better, infinitely better... Variations on "Good morning, my future wife."

Yup, that's right, Cam proposed on Monday night, and I am over the moon. I had no idea he was going to do it that night (or ever, really -- I mean, I hoped and hoped, and even had a couple false alarms, and I had no reason to doubt he would, but still, it was never something I'd let myself count on.), and never in a million years imagined so perfect an evening.

We went to dinner Monday night with my parents, at an island restaurant where we had a great meal last year. Cam and I walked in a few minutes after my parents, and the table was set for six.

"Hey," I said, "How come our table's so big?"

Dad said it was all they had, and though I could see empty four-tops, I'm not the type to dig in too deep when there's a menu to peruse. But then Cam's parents, who also live hundreds of miles away from the island, walked through the door! I flipped, completely confused but happy to see them, and before I had time to connect the dots, I heard Cam in my ear, quietly repeating my name, trying to get my attention.

I turned around, and in an instant, Cam dropped to one knee, pulled out a ring, and asked me to marry him. I'll save his words for my memories, but though it was quick, it was so meaningful, and I flushed bright red, my eyes pricked with tears, and I sort of squealed "Yes!" I grabbed him and hugged him so tightly, and all around us the rest of the diners were clapping and cheering.

When we finally broke our embrace, he held up the ring, and our hands shook as he slipped it on my finger. It's gorgeous and fits perfectly, and sparkles like I can barely believe.

The rest of the night was, of course, a blur of toasts and blessings, with couples coming by the table to share their joy and memories. One gentleman and his wife bought us a bottle of champagne!

So,for the past few days I've been working the words fiance and fiancee into my vocabulary, and being absolutely disgustingly cute with my betrothed. He's been filling me in on the back story of Monday night -- the guest orchestration, the procuring of my vintage ring. It's magical, I can't pretend any different.

I am so happy.

*I really did ask him if it was Beyonce who convinced him to ask me. I can't say I'm disappointed it wasn't, but I still don't think she hurt our case!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vacation, All Is Right

What a beautiful day.

The ferry ride took nearly three hours, which we spent the first part of on the deck watching the mainland disappear. Wary of the sun, we headed to a shaded part on the starboard side, where four men who were traveling together could not get over the awesomeness of this.

What are these things called, anyway? At any rate, a bit later I headed inside and immersed myself in Born Round, while Cam peered at the horizon through his binoculars. He ran back inside to get me when he spotted a sailboat, and the water tower, meaning we were getting close. By the time we reached the island, it was nearly 90 degrees out.

We had the whole afternoon to do what we would with before meeting my parents and checking into the house, so we made our way to the pub with its beer list as long as my arm and college football all around. A couple beers and a crabcake for me, a couple beers and a tuna steak sandwich for him, and we were sufficiently fortified to explore. We found a little lake access beach and poked around picking up hermit crabs, then had a glass of wine at a cafe with wi-fi -- our phones, somewhat happily, don't work here, so Cam called Dad on Skype to get an ETA.

We met their ferry after poking around in another inlet, then came home for beers on the porch, shrimp pasta, and then, sleep.

This morning I woke up to "Good morning, beautiful. When you're ready, it's a good morning for a run." So we pulled on our socks and sneakers and headed out, then home for breakfast, and now, football.

Next up is a walk on the beach and some fishing for Cam, and tonight, we're grilling lambchops, and roasting Hasselback potatoes. I think my stomach's growling already!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Beach Food

Quite soon (keeping it vague for all the robbers who spy on this quasi-anonymous blog. There are creeps/grebes out there!), Cam and I will depart on an incredible trip south to the beach. The beach in October - possibly stormy, still quite warm, and the fishing should be great. We're just a smidge excited.

We'll be spending a week in a huge, beautiful house on an island with my parents. The view in most directions is acres of marsh, and a ways off, the ocean. Last year we only got to spend 3 days there, but this time, we get a full, luxurious week. Cam just reserved our ferry, and Friday night, over cupcakes quartered and shared, Mom, Dad, Cam and I began to outline the food plan.

The food plan is crucial, of course! First of all, since our destination is an island, grocery items are scant and pricey. And secondly, I'll state the obvious: In my family, the food matters a lot, as does the drink.

Per our rough sketch, Mom and Dad will head up two or three dinners, as will Cam and I, and then 1 or 2 we'll go out for. More on that in a minute. The four of us like to play breakfast simply -- I'm practically married to my oatmeal with pumpkin puree, Mom and Dad like bananas, and Cam likes eggs and toast and bacon. For lunches we'll pack plenty of salad and sandwich supplies, to be supplemented with dinner leftovers. We're packing in steaks and lamb chops, shrimp, and pasta, and we're hopeful for fresh fish caught in the surf. I've got a bag of potatoes and a bag of onions in a bag by the door, ready to go. I plan to make a batch of granola.

Oh, and then there's the wine and beer and scotch. Yes, we've got that covered.

So, a question. What else should we bring? What beach snacks do you consider essential? What desserts would pack nicely, or would be easily made in a well-stocked but not-my-own kitchen?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Help: How Do You Organize Your Recipes?

Nearly every day I read a recipe I want to try (at a minimum -- often, I drool over multiple recipes) on the Internet. I know you do too! I know it! What I don't know, however, is what you do with those recipes. Personally, I think "Oh yum! I should make that for (dinner, x's birthday, breakfast with y)! It's perfect!" And then I move along, and before the day's out, I've probably forgotten it. Sorry about that, x and y, I'm sure it would've been delicious.

So what do you do with the recipes you find online and love? I'd rather have a system that doesn't involve printing them out, as I try to do that only for the most elaborate recipes, or ones I'm not cooking at home. I'm sure there's got to be some fantastic app or aggregator that everyone but me knows about, so please share. At this point I've got some halfhearted bookmarks, half of which are on my work computer where they're pretty useless, and an exploding recipe box jammed with printouts. There's got to be a better way.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pie Masters!

Complete exaggeration, of course, but we did it! Saturday night we made Smitten Kitchen's Tomato & Corn Pie! I've been dreaming of it for ages, been gently prodded by a reader who assured me it was simple, in spite of being pastry-based, and even blogged about it for work.*

Saturday, incidentally, pretty much ruled from top to bottom. Cam and I hit a new farmers' market that looked dismal upon first glance, but actually had a really great variety of produce. So singular was my mission, however, that I just grabbed tomatoes, chives and corn, and completely ignored everything else. Now our crisper and counter top are woefully bare... Way to go. Anyway, later that day I saw The September Issue, which wasn't the best doc I've ever seen, but it was interesting on a number of points -- the fashion and publishing industries in particular, and as a somewhat unsurprising profile of Anna Wintour and her foil, Grace Coddington. Plus, pretty clothes!

My beloved Bulldogs had the late game on Saturday, so around 6 Cam and I went to a new wine bar near our neighborhood. We had the best of intentions -- a glass each, maybe some cheese -- and did reasonably well. I had a Shiraz and a Granache, he had a Malbec and a Cab (we like our big reds!), and we had a runny turning goat cheese, a sheep I don't much remember, and some speck. I'd never had speck before**, but it was delicious, like a more mellow prosciutto.

At any rate, when we got home after that fun, we got into some pie. I made the pastry, and Saint Tigerlily was right - it's "un-mess-up-able." Cam blanched the tomatoes and peeled them (a task he's undertaken before, but without Smitten Kitchen's helpful "cut a cross in the bottom of the skins before blanching" tip, which made peeling much simpler, he reports), and cut the corn from the cobs, while I pastried and grated cheese snipped herbs and mixed mayonnaise with fresh lemon juice. We layered everything into the shell***, covered it, and slathered the top with melted butter. Once cooking, it made the house smell so good we could barely keep our faces out of the oven, and when it'd cooled just enough to eat, we, too, devoured half in one unseemly seating.

I beseech you, as I have been beseeched (?), take advantage of the late tomatoes and corn, and make this. You won't be sorry!

*I don't talk about work here, but if you know me, you know blogging's part of my job. I have a ton of freedom with what I blog about, so I blogged about summer ending, but needing just one more weekend so I could make this pie.
**The waitress totally busted me checking out the Wikipedia entry for speck. She was interested in their definition, and generally supported it. It made me wonder, though -- is the proliferation of smart phones making servers feel less useful/fulfilled?
***How in the world did SK get such perfect layers?! She's a genius, plain and simple.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Embarassing Revelation #2

Ok. This one's a little more serious than #1.

I'm scared of babies. I'm getting better about it -- my bff, the girl, now woman, with whom I literally had the necklace, just had her second baby, and she's helped me a lot with my comfort level around the little ones. She's such a natural mom, and so unconcerned that I'll drop her little bundles of joy and ruin their lives. With her adorable first, I wouldn't hold him that first day in the hospital unless I was sitting down, and I was terrified to hand him off lest I drop him in the exchange.

With #2, a beautiful little girl, I did a little better. As has become our tradition, her first morning in the hospital with her infant I went over at the beginning of visiting hours, laden with bagels and good coffee (decaf for her). This time, she handed me her daughter and I walked all over the room with her, talking to her and watching her respond to the light playing across her face. I bounced her and made the sitting-to-standing and back again transition a number of times and didn't stress out. It was a big step for me, and I left the hospital completely infatuated with the little girl.

I think the reason I'm so scared of babies is because I really did drop one once. I was young, maybe 10 years old, and sitting at the dinner table in a room full of adults. Someone handed me a baby -- I don't even remember whose baby it was, it was a gathering of adults I didn't really know -- and before I knew what happened, the baby had slid off my lap and onto the floor. It wasn't far to fall, and was actually, to my memory, reasonably gentle -- many people didn't even notice, and the baby wasn't upset -- but it scarred me. I wasn't ready to be responsible for a baby, and the baby fell.

I'm still a bit wary of them, obviously, but being around my bff's children and my other friends' babies is helping. I know it's not entirely rational, but I can't be the only one -- anyone else a little more scared than you should be of dropping babies?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Making Beauty

OK, I fear I may be entering into stalker territory here, what with my Orangette obsession, but bear with me. I'm reading Molly Wizenberg's entire, sizeable archives right now, and it's a treat I look forward to like settling in with a juicy novel. It's tougher to cuddle with my laptop, but the feeling that washes over me when I read her blog is almost as good as curling up with a book. Her writing is precise and contained, so perfect it's almost precious, but that's probably just a green streak of jealousy. She's really, really good. So forgive my repeated references, and be forewarned: There may be more of this yet to come.

So the thing she wrote that got me thinking this evening is this:

"Cooking is a way to make sense of my days, and to make something beautiful of them. We all find ways to do this, I think, whether we are conscious of it or not."

That's good. I know just what she means, and I think you probably do too. I think running -- rather, exercise in general -- is the most regular way I make my day beautiful. Gross though I look (and smell) during and after, workouts cap my days, however trying, with something worthwhile. I sweated 18 buckets. I ran 3 miles. I tested my heart for 45 minutes. It's inelegant, and certainly less romantic than cooking, but it's mine.

Secondmost is probably cooking, or baking. The satisfaction of producing something more than edible sets me right. I remember coming home after an especially difficult day at work, a day where my post-work treadmill session failed to get the stink off me. I walked into the kitchen and set to work, and whereas Cam and I usually soux chef for one another, he just let me go. And when I produced a sustaining, even tasty meal, I felt better. Finally. Something beautiful.

Beyond that, I dream of other ways. Regular blogging. Better photography. Actually listening to my massive record collection. So how do you make something beautiful of your day?

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Orangette Afternoon

Today, I took the day off of work, just for me. We've been on the road more than we've been home since late May, it seems. Certainly, we've had more weekends away than in the city.

Remember these two?

Winston and Sweeney spent the duration of our recent trip to the Salt Lake City area in the incredibly caring hands of my boss and her husband, the Watsons. When we got home after 5 days gone, these two felines, who usually act like we've been gone for months (the typical I'm-ignoring-you-oh-you-were-gone? made famous by cats only lasts a second around here), instead greeted us calmly, like at the end of a regular ol' workday. I tell you, the Watsons are the BEST at cat sitting. How to thank them?

Orangette's granola, modified slightly. I couldn't find rice syrup at the one store I tried, so I subbed in maple. As I'm sure you can guess, it worked just fine. I omitted the sesame seeds, and used half almonds/half pecans. It's my first attempt at granola, and it won't be long till I bake round two. The scent alone -- swoon! The house was still heady with cinnamon and ginger hours later, though it's currently being overtaken by lemongrass and ginger (not that I'm complaining! Cam's winging Thai for dinner.). Anyway, it's crunchy and sweet and nutty and delicious, and will disappear quickly heaped over yogurt, sprinkled on ice cream, and gobbled by the handful straight out of the fridge. Next time I'll be a bit more liberal with the salt, and cranberries, added after the baking, will fit right in.

Before I made the granola, I pulled together a batch of these Chewy Cocoa Cookies with Chocolate Chips, also courtesy of Molly Wizenberg. More accurately, I pushed and smooshed together a batch -- the dough is quite dense. The cookies, too, are dense, and so thoroughly chocolatey. There's none of that dissatisfaction I usually have with chocolate cookies. Chips I have no dissatisfaction with -- it's the stuff holding them together, when ostensibly chocolate, I generally find to be bland, even flavorless. But that's not an issue here.

So the house smells delicious and it's reasonably clean, and I have all manner of homemade goodies to share and to horde. To me, that's a solid day off. I'm so thrilled to have a relatively blank calendar for the next three weeks, to have time for farmers' marketing, for homecooked meals, and for the chance to make plans -- like the date I have with Tomato and Corn Pie. I promised myself to her, in writing, on this lovely blog, and I intend to call on that pie on Sunday. I can't wait.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Corn, Tomatoes, Potatoes and Bacon

Lately, the recipes I've found appealing for dinner stray from the traditional protein/veggie/veggie or starch formula I picked up growing up. We always had three things on the plate, a meat -- most frequently chicken, but seafood, beef, or pork sometimes too -- a starch, Mom and I preferred potatoes or macaroni & cheese (Kraft, please!), but sometimes we had rice to appease my Dad and sister -- and a green vegetable, beans or peas in the colder months, salad in the summers. This makes it sound overly simple, and reduced, not nearly as appetizing as it was, but we ate well and healthfully.

One of my favorite dinners, I'm realizing now, was more of a one (ok, 2) pot meal, like the ones I've been drawn to lately. It's my Mom's version of Chili Mac, and it's still a homey favorite. It's basically ground beef browned with onions, garlic, cumin and chili powder. Throw in a can of tomatoes (I always preferred crushed, but sometimes they were chunkier), season, serve over noodles (we like tricolored spirals and elbows), and coat with a healthy layer of shredded cheese. Yum.

So, as I mentioned yesterday, tonight I had plans for a simple recipe I found on Epicurious called "Corn and Potatoes with Heirloom Tomatoes." We had lots of corn and tomatoes (though not heirlooms) from my abandoned inclination to make Smitten Kitchen's corn and tomato pie, and after reading the blurb,
This recipe alone is reason enough to grab your tote bag and head to the farmers market. Blackberry Farm dresses up the dish with parmesan foam and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, but the ingredients stand on their own beautifully. Slip a fried egg on top, and you have an easy summer supper.

I started cooking.

First, brown some chopped bacon.

Pull out the bacon with a slotted spoon, then sautee a minced shallot in the fat.

Add a little white wine, then some water and the chopped Yukon Golds. Cook down for a bit, and while you're waiting, blend 1 of your 4 cups fresh corn with a bit of water, then strain out the solids and keep the milk. Add the corn and some more water, a bunch of sweet smoky paprika, fresh thyme, and salt (at just about every stage, you add a bit more salt).

Cook down till the liquid's nearly gone, then pull off the heat and add the tomatoes, the corn milk, and salt and pepper.

Top with the crumbled bacon, and add a sunny side egg to the top, if you're so inclined. We were, and the yolk made this homey meal luxurious. If I'd thought to add the parmesan and balsamic, it'd have been even more so, but it was delicious as you see it -- especially once I added some Sriracha.

I hope I revisit this recipe. It seems infinitely modifiable, and like the sort I'll be able to internalize quickly enough and free myself from constant recipe consultation.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Homemade Soup

Why have I spent so much time not reading Orangette?

Unlike a lot of the (tiny number) of people who read this blog, I wasn't with Molly Wizenberg from the beginning. I'd heard of her Orangette, but I never read her properly till she appeared on my desk in hardback form, A Homemade Life. Her book is thoughtful and spare, sprinkled with recipes and stories about what makes the dishes special. It's beguiling, really, and after I devoured it, I, of course, checked out Orangette. Just once. And then I left.

I'm not exactly sure why, but I revisited it last week and was smitten anew. And tonight, in a long overdue move, I made one of her recipes. Of all things, in this season of sweet Maryland corn and tomatoes, stone fruits and all things fresh and good, I made her broccoli soup with lemon-chive cream. It was simple, fresh and delicious, perfect for Sunday dinner after a weekend of excessive celebration (another lovely wedding, of course! Cam's sister wed her love in a brief, giggly ceremony, followed by food and dancing.). I joked to Cam that it could also be called onions five ways -- you'll need leeks, onion, spring onions, chives, and garlic for this soup. And, having made it, I wouldn't leave any of them out.

Never fear, tomorrow night's dinner's already planned, to take advantage of said corn and tomatoes: A sort of corn/potato/tomato hash, cooked in bacon fat, topped with crumbled bacon and a fried egg. Mmmmm.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quit Hasslin' Me, Pip

See that little girl down there, the one who's complaining about her sedentary lifestyle and trying to goad me into a run?

She's a bit of a pip.

She's also a liar! I have been running. I didn't while we were in California, but in the month since we returned, I've gotten back on the 'mill. It never fails to amaze me how much easier it is to build up my (modest, but important to me) mileage once I've established a foundation. Before we left, I was running 3+ miles 2-3 times a week. After almost four weeks off (2 weeks on vacation, followed by two bouts of sickness in quick succession), I could struggle through two and a half miles. But within 2 weeks, I'm now back up to 3+. It feels amazing!

Anyway, my little Nike+ girl (did I ever give her a name? How about Pip? Ok. Pip.) has been getting some bad information. Somewhere in California, I lost the receiver that my Nike+ transmitter talks to. It plugs into the bottom of my Nano, so it seems that'd be a logical place to keep it, but it drains the battery so I packed them separately (and used neither). Now I can't find it. I'm lucky, because my transmitter will also talk to my iPhone, but I don't want to run with the phone, and I have a spotty record of remembering to start the program when I'm on the treadmill. So Pip's a liar, I have been running.

Incidentally, it doesn't seem I can buy a new receiver, only a receiver and a transmitter, or just a transmitter. But not a receiver alone. What?

A weird thought to wrap up this ramble: Some mornings I work out before work, and use the toiletries (shampoo/conditioner/body wash/lotion) provided by my swanky gym. Then all day long, I feel like someone else is standing near me, just out of eyesight, because I don't smell like myself. It's bizarre.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Welcome To The Family, Robot!

Hello, lover! Or, more accurately, hello birthday gift from Cam. He's too much, I swear. This thing is freaking gorgeous. World, meet Robot (the "t" is silent), short for Robot Culinaire. Combined with this little beauty...

...We are in business! Maybe literally. But that's a story for another time. This is the story of our first dinner with Robot. Shrimp Cakes with Chili-Lime Cream Sauce, from Bon Appetit. I think it's supposed to be a first course, or appetizer, but did that stop us? Of course not. So, while Cam peeled and cleaned the shrimp (exceptionally grody ones - half of them had orange stuff lining their, um, tracks - roe? We'd never seen that before.), I mise'd the place.
Green onions and an egg, some butter, of course.

White wine, chopped ginger and shallots, and lime juice form the base for the sauce.

Those formerly icky shrimp.

The cakes! 12, as the recipe promised. Very simple, really - just 16 large shrimp, a green onion, some dijon mustard and Sriracha, salt, pepper and panko. We omitted the cilantro - I have the tastes-like-soap issue with it from time to time. Robot 'em up, form cakes, roll in more panko, and refrigerate for a bit to firm them up.

If you looked at the recipe, you may notice two more ingredients we "omitted." An egg, and some lemon juice. Oops!

Fry 'em up in peanut oil. I tried not to watch. One of Cam's favorite things to torture me with is the Fry Daddy. We do NOT have one, and I maintain we don't ever need one - fried food should rarely be consumed, and you should have to leave the house for it. Anyway...

Plated with the sauce, which I would've eaten over dirty socks, it's that good. Started with the above foundation, then made ridiculous with butter, cream, and about two tablespoons of Sriracha. I die!

So, yeah. Easy recipe, and delicious, even without the egg and lemon juice. My only real critique is that the cakes were a little dense, but I'm sure that's all about me forgetting the egg. I'd make them again, and serve them to anyone. You, if you're lucky.