Wednesday, June 30, 2010

travel break

Well its the last day of June, its Wednesday, and I think its about time we take a travel break. In exactly 17 days I'll be heading to Ireland with my family, and I absolutely cannot wait. The cooler temps will be a much-needed break from Hotlanta, and staying in this house is sure to give me the peace and tranquility that I so desire:

Just read this description:

" the sun set over Galway Bay, as the sea is just steps from your door. On a fine day, you will want to reach out and touch the Aran Islands and Connemara, they will seem that close, and the view will take your breath away.

Sound too isolated for you? Don't worry, the village of Doolin is a few short miles away and noted for its traditional music which can be heard in O'Connor's, McGann's, and McDermott's Pubs.

The famous Cliffs of Moher are just a few miles away, and can be seen in the distance from the cottage. Fishing is just off the rocks and the area is known for its underground caves which are a favourite with potholers. Nearby Fanore offers pony trekking."

Potholing? Pony trekking? Cliffs, traditional music and sunsets? Count me in, I can't wait.

Are you going anywhere fantastic this summer??? Please let us know, so that we may all live vicariously through you.

And in case you just need a little food update.....
Remember my post last night about my lackluster risotto? For lunch today I decided to throw in about a quarter cup of sunflower seeds to give it texture, which helped a lot. I think when I get home I'm also going to mix the remaining mint sour cream into the risotto for some extra fun. I'll let you know if this is a big flop or if it becomes my new favorite dish. Also, stay tuned for a post about a dish I started preparing last night.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Can I get some cheese with that?

Asparagus, Leek and Barley Risotto

1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 cups thins sliced leeks, white and light green parts
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup barley (I used quick cooking)*
1/2 cup cooking sherry wine
3.5 cups vegetable stock (you can also use store bought)
1/2 pound asparagus
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
1 t lemon juice
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Warm the olive oil in a pot. Add leaks, garlic, green onions, a little salt, and saute until softened. Add the barley and the wine, simmer until the wine has evaporated. Add the stock and 1/4 t salt and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and put in the oven for about 20 minutes (or one hour if you are not using quick-cooking oats).

Meanwhile, remove the hard ends of the asparagus and chop asparagus into 1 inch pieces. Steam the asparagus and the peas until tender. Remove the pot from the oven and stir in the lemon juice, black pepper and steamed veggies.

This dish would have been better if I had added the suggested 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and 1 T butter, but being that I'm trying to revamp my diet I didn't add them. But you should!! Instead, I added a few tomatoes to the side, which was yummy enough for me!

*If you are not using quick cooking barley, leave the pot in the oven for about an hour, until liquid is absorbed.

And whats in store for tomorrow? I'll leave that a surprise, but your hint is that I will be soaking some black beans overnight. That can mean one thing....... delicious!!

Roasted Potato and Eggplant with Vegan Mint Sour Cream

Oh goodness what a treat! Today's lunch is - in a word - delightful!! Last night's labor sure did pay off, and now I am enjoying a simple and yummy dish for lunch.

Roasted Potato and Eggplant

Several small thin-skinned potatoes (about 1 pound)
1/2 a small eggplant (I would use more than this next time)
1 T olive oil (Check while cooking so the potatoes and eggplant do not dry out - more oil may be needed)
Sea salt

Cut potatoes in half (when I make this again I'll cut them in fourths so they cook faster and are easier to eat). Chop eggplant. Place in a baking dish, cover with oil and salt. Mix all together.

Put dish in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. I checked these at 20 minutes, added about another tablespoon of oil and cooked for another 10 minutes. Here is the finished product:

Vegan Mint Sour Cream

6 oz (1/2 box) firm silken tofu
1 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice (or more - I probably added 3 T to get that sour cream tang I was craving)
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup fresh mint

The recipe initially called for dill, but I didn't have any dill and needed to get rid of my mint so used it instead. Remember my initial idea for using the mint? Can't do that anymore what with my alcohol ban and all.

Combine all of these ingredients in a food processor and process until you reach a smooth consistency. This sour cream can be stored covered in the fridge for up to five days.

And since you have a half box of silken tofu left over, don't forget to store it as well. I'll be using the rest of my silken tofu in the next couple of days, so check back soon!

 For lunch I heated up the potato/eggplant mixture and added some cool sour cream on top. Delish!

Right about now you may be saying: But wait, I'm not a vegan (or even a vegetarian)!
Thats ok! The wonderful thing about cooking is that nearly everything can be adapted for your individual taste and style. For example, I modified the potato and eggplant dish from a similar dish that told me to use only potatoes and to cut them in half, scoop out the inside with a melon baller, slice off the bottom of each half and bake upright to create a bowl for the sour cream. Really? Would you have time for that? No, I wouldn't either. So I just modified that recipe to fit my needs and it worked wonderfully. So if you wouldn't dare use silken tofu to recreate sour cream, then just use sour cream! I think blending mint (or dill, or whatever you fancy) into sour cream would be wonderfully tasty. This dish could very easily be a side dish to some fish, chicken or hamburgers.

The point? Don't be afraid to experiment, don't be afraid to change a recipe, and don't be afraid to break every rule in your cookbook.

Bon appetit!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Detox? No. Vegan diet? No. More Wholesome Foods....

After much thought and consideration, I've decided to revamp my diet - at least in the short term. This little diet change will last a few weeks, and is my attempt at being healthier and eating less processed foods. I can't afford to go all organic or all local right now (though I would eventually like to - especially when I have a kiddo or two), so for the most part all of my ingredients will come from my chain grocery store.

So what is this new diet called? Its not a detox, because that would probably entail making my own organic celery juice and eating it with paprika and organic lemon or something. Its also not a vegan diet, because although I will be eating mostly vegan stuff, I was put off by lots of the vegan recipes that I found. Many of them called for imitation meat and cheese products, and since I truly believe in eating real whole foods, I'm ruling those options out as well. I guess its just an attempt at eating a more wholesome diet, so I'm going to try to maximize my fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake. I'll eat some soy too.

Here are the rules I'll be following:

1. No meat
2. No dairy (except for yogurt)
3. No alcohol*
4. Very limited processed foods
5. No coffee

*I already plan to break this rule on July 3rd. I have plans to hang out with friends all day and watch a July 4th parade, and we're starting out the day with mimosas and bloody marys. If you think I'm going to cancel that, you're either crazy or you don't know me. Other than that, I plan to follow my rules.

Of course, the detox/vegan diet/etc. will all come to a close when I travel with my family to Ireland on July 17th, where I plan to drink and eat to my hearts content. I love trying new foods and travelling more than anything, so I'll pretty much be eating whatever I can find on that lovely emerald isle.

A lot of my recipes for the next few weeks will be coming from a lovely cookbook that I own called The Healthy Hedonist: More than 200 delectable flexitarian recipes for relaxed daily feasts, by Myra Kornfeld. Now doesn't that title just make you want to jump up and down with glee? This book is mostly vegetarian with lots of vegan recipes, and everything I've tried from it so far has been tasty. Recipe number one for me? Basic Vegetable Stock. I also cooked two other dishes, but I'll post those recipes tomorrow during my lunch break.

Basic Vegetable Stock

1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and green parts, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stocks, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup sherry wine (or use white wine)
10 parsley stems
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 quarts water (8 cups)

Warm the oil in a large pot. Add the leeks, carrots, onions, celery, zucchini, green onions and garlic, and saute about ten minutes over medium low heat.

Add the wine, turn up the heat and reduce for five minutes. Add all the other ingredients.

Bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes. Notice how most of the color has come out of the veggies in the finished product:

Strain the broth.

Allow to cool, and store in the fridge for up to one week. 

I'm going to be using this broth in a few recipes this week, so stay tuned! Notice that pink sticky note? I decided that if I'm going to be making lots of perishable sauces and such that I needed to devise a system of making sure that I eat my food before it goes bad (because nothing gets me more fired up than throwing food away!!). So I make my own little expiration tags, which helps me track the remaining life span of my creations.

Do you have any tips for me as I start this venture? Any favorite recipes? Things to eat? What should I keep in mind so that I don't become nutrient deficient? Any advice would be much appreciated by this vegan newbie!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

dog days of summer

Gotta keep this one short, because I was about to go upstairs and I saw my Barley monster in this position:

Does she look depressed to you? Something about her puppy-cuteness combined with the way she's cuddling her little Eeyore toy stirred a little motherly concern in my heart, so I'm going to spend some time cheering her up.

Maybe I'll show her my new favorite website: It sure cheered me up, so maybe it'll work for Barley too. These posts had me LOL-ing. I couldn't pick a favorite, but I'm particularly drawn to June 19 and June 21. What about you?

Live in Atlanta and don't have any plans for the night? Think 'spelling bee' and 'rated R' don't go together? Want to see a very talented Marcy Park in action? If you answered 'YES!' to any of these, please go see my friend Leslie in 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at the Rosewater Theater.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

donating blood

About every quarter, the American Red Cross sets up shop in one of the large conference rooms in my building to take blood donations. I've been meaning to go since I started working here, but have been in a meeting or out of the office each time. So I have had an excuse not to go haven't had an opportunity to go. I must admit that donating blood is not high on my list of fun things to do. I have an aversion to needles and panic on the inside (and outside?) anytime I am forced to be stuck by one. But I also fully recognize that requiring a blood donation cannot ever be a fun moment in your life, and I cannot at all fathom needing a blood donation and then being told that there is no blood available.

So when I got the email that the friendly ARC folks were coming again, and I saw 6/24 as a gloriously open day, I signed up for the earliest slot possible. In fact, I was the first person in line and was out of there before I knew it. I'm not going to lie and say it was the most thrilling moment of my life, but it wasn't too bad. I got to watch todays CNN headlines on the TV that was set up, and afterwards I even got some juice and cookies! Only two people have commented that I look pale, so things must be all right.

Do you have things on your list that you should do but that you really don't want to do? I always have those nagging lists in the back of my head, so this year I made "donate blood" a new year's resolution. I also added this resolution to a list I have going at the nifty site This site is great, and you can list 101 things you want to do in the next 1001 days. They keep track of how many days you have left to complete your tasks, which is great because it makes you accountable to your own life. If you'd like to check out my list, please feel free. I only have 38 things on it right now, but its a work in progress (and you can see that I already checked off 'donate blood').

**This post (and any others that occur midday) are done on my lunch break while I am eating, so no taxpayer money is being wasted on the words written here**

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

improvising: something new and something tried and true

This evening I decided to whip up another batch of Summer Barley Salad, but I needed to come up with something to go with it. Not thrilled with the idea of driving to the grocery store, I decided to scrounge in my cupboards and throw something together. I found some spinach spaghetti in my freezer (I buy it fresh so it needs to be eaten within a couple of days or be frozen), and decided to make that and throw a little red sauce on it.

Looking through the cupboards revealed approximately zero bottles of marinara sauce (a travesty!), so I thought of my alternatives. I nixed the idea of eating sauceless spaghetti right away, so said a quick prayer and mustered up the courage to try my hand at homemade alfredo sauce. Oh I've made alfredo sauce before, but never with skim milk (all I had on hand). Jumping in with both feet, here's how it went down:

1/4 cup butter
1 cup skim milk
1 T flour
salt and pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
spinach spaghetti
capers (and a little caper juice for fun)

Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. After it is melted, add the milk. Make sure that you watch the milk closely. If it gets too hot, it'll boil over and may burn. After stirring the milk and butter together for about five minutes, it didn't seem to be thickening so I added the flour. This just created clumps of flour in my sauce, but in the long run I do think it helped. After a few more minutes I became impatient and added the cheese. Jackpot! The sauce really thickened up nicely, and after a few more minutes (and the addition of some salt and pepper) I poured it all over my spaghetti (fully cooked and drained). I threw in a few tablespoons of capers (and some of the juice), stirred it all together and called it dinner.

The spaghetti and the barley salad were quite yummy together, but honestly I'm just super thrilled that I was able to make a nice creamy sauce with skim milk.


inspiration fit for a librarian

Lunch break today left me cruising around the interwebs, and I found a blog post that left me absolutely giddy with excitement. I have lots of books. I accumulate them from everywhere, and even though I've donated boxes of them over the years I still have more than I can handle. But without a library, they sort of just end up in random bookshelves and in piles around the house. So today when I saw Jolie's creation I was in heaven. Just look at what she did with an unused closet in her house:

Isn't it just beautiful? Those French doors are just the icing on the cake aren't they? If we weren't trying to sell Tom's home (anyone looking for a lovely townhome just north of Atlanta?) I would take on this project in a jiffy (I know the perfect closet thats just waiting to be converted!). But like many of my other projects, they'll just have to be stored away until that glorious moment when I own my own home and am free to make all the renovations I can dream of. Until then, my future to-do list is rapidly expanding!

Have you found a creative way of breathing life into an unused space? Do you have any suggestions for how to store my books? And seriously, is anyone looking to buy a townhome???

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

success, preceeded by a series of failures

Tonight was date night. Not just any date night, but a date night Inside the Perimeter (ITP). Atlanta folks like to divide its citizens into those that live within the city (ITP), and those that live in the burbs (Outside the Perimeter - OTP). I'm an ITP gal, and Tom is an OTP guy. Soon after we got engaged, I moved OTP to be with Tom in the burbs, and I sure do miss my Atlanta time. 

I've been looking forward to this date for a while, because Tom's offer to take me on an ITP date was nearly unprecedented. The plan was to go to Taqueria del Sol and the High Museum of Art (where we scored a discount membership a few months ago), and I was thrilled. But when we drove up to Taqueria, the place was closed. We decided sushi would be our backup plan, and just as I started to mentally choose which rolls to order, we saw that Sushi Avenue was also closed. We ended up at Twains, a great little bar in downtown Decatur, where Tom ordered a Reuben and I got a Mediterranean Platter.

Taste buds doing the happy dance, we were off to the High. After scoring a perfect parking spot and walking up to the front doors, we learned that the museum had closed up shop at 5pm (we missed it by 20 minutes). I tried to keep a cheery demeanor, but this fail date was really starting to get me down. No Taqueria? No High?

Just as the storm clouds started rolling in and Oscar the Grouch began knocking on my door, I thought back to when Tom and I started dating. Nearly every date that we planned failed. On our second date, Tom tried to take me to four different places for dinner. After driving around for much of the evening together, he dropped me off without us ever getting any dinner. And you know what? That was one of the best dates of my life. We had a blast just driving around and talking and reflecting on our terrible luck (it really doesn't hurt to date a funny guy).

And that wasn't the only 'fail' date. There was the time that I cooked chicken cordon bleu and tried to take Tom to a French film at a museum (French date), but I got horribly lost in Atlanta (embarrassing) and we never made it. Or the time we went to the Braves home opener with a group of friends and the hail (and subsequent flooding) almost killed us. For more on that, view the video below.

Sometimes what we view as failure is really just success in disguise, and I would bet that none of us would be who we are today if we hadn't had some really solid fall-flat-on-face moments along the way. So as much as I want to say that tonight was a failure, I can't. Because when you are able to spend time with the ones you love, when you can put food in your bellies and walk around Ikea for two hours dreaming of your future house (because we knew they would be open), you have only blessings to count, not failures.

Do you try to see the good in a bad situation? Are you a glass half full type of person? Have any advice for the rest of us that tend to get bogged down with whats going wrong instead of with whats going right? Or are you the realist who calmly suggests that we just not go on an Atlanta ITP date on a Tuesday?

Monday, June 21, 2010

jazz up this monday

I've been finding it more and more difficult to focus on my work lately, and though I have tried to diagnose myself as having shift work disorder (without the actual fluctuating shifts, of course), I am thinking its my drab cubicle. I know I'm not the only one who suffers from the brain drain that occurs from sitting in a box, but I am beginning to think that I'm the only one who is seriously considering doing something about it. I keep looking for cubicle decoration ideas online, but the only tips I find are "buy pretty file folders and matching paper clips. Choose a different color stapler for a pop of color." Um, no. Not what I had in mind. And though I like the thought here, its not quite what I was going for either:

So I'm going to blaze a new trail and try to come up with a way to decorate my box in a way that is fun and fresh while still professional and conducive to LOTS of work output. My lucky bamboo, Smithsonian nature calendar and Yoda bobblehead just aren't keeping me motivated anymore.

Does anyone else out there get where I'm coming from? Have any tips or ideas to share? If so, now is not the time to be bashful. I need all the help I can get.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

happy fathers day

Happy Fathers Day to all the Dads out there, but most especially Happy Fathers Day to my very own Pa. I am thankful for my father every day, but I take this day to reflect on a few of the many things I am thankful for.

Pa's Lessons

1. Budget. When I was young (perhaps 8), Pa explained to me that I could not buy all of the books that I wanted because we must budget our money. This (seemingly) two hour conversation has been fondly referred to as 'The Budget' conversation ever since.
2. Never ever ever give up
3. Appreciate the outdoors
4. Anything is possible. My father always made me believe I could do anything I set my mind to, and he never made me feel that that thought was followed by "even though you're a girl."
5. Fresh tomatoes from the garden will never be matched in quality by anything you can buy from the grocery store.

I just watched the most inspiring Fathers Day video. What a devoted Dad, huh?

What are your favorite Dad/Pa/Father/Grandpa moments?

fruit salsa

My friend Carrie just got back from Africa (read about the project she worked on here), and so naturally her and her husband had a party to welcome her back. They provided burgers and potato salad and sangria (yum!), and we all brought a side. I decided to bring fruit salsa and cinnamon sugar tortilla chips, which is kind of the dessert version of chips and salsa. It was a pretty easy dish as long as you don't mind chopping (I used to hate chopping until I got a santoku knife - thanks Mom!!).

Fruit Salsa:
two golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced
8 oz raspberries, diced (is it really possible to dice raspberries? no, it is not - do the best you can)
1lb strawberries, diced
2 kiwis, diced

Cinnamon Sugar Tortilla Chips:
10 flour tortillas
butter flavored cooking spray

Mix all the fruit together. Chop and add the apples last so that you can immediately add them to the other fruit. The juices from the other fruit will keep the apples from turning brown. Chill the fruit in the fridge for 15 minutes or longer, and then enjoy with tortilla chips (keep reading for recipe).

There are probably lots of ways to make these tortilla chips, but here is the method I found easiest: Lay a couple of tortillas on a cookie pan. Spray with the cooking spray. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar all over the tortillas. Spray again with the butter spray. Use a pizza cutter to slice the tortillas into triangles. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes. Repeat for all tortillas. I used the smaller tortillas (not sure of the size, but the ones for tacos, not 10" burrito tortillas), and could fit three per cookie sheet.

We broke out this dish as a dessert (along with some peanut butter chocolate bars from Kat - yum!), and it was really yummy. I'll definitely make this dish again, especially because its pretty awesome to be able to say you made your own tortilla chips. But if you'd like to save some time (or its just too darned hot to turn the oven on!), you can pick up a bag of cinnamon sugar tortilla chips at the store. I know Trader Joes has some, but I'm not sure if all grocery stores carry these.

If you have leftover fruit, there are lots of other things you can do with it. Tom and I had it over yogurt this morning for breakfast.

What are your favorite summer cookout dishes?

**Pictures to come

Friday, June 18, 2010

hold the lettuce

I absolutely love bacon. I could give up chocolate for the rest of my life, but if someone told me I could never eat bacon again I just might die. I actually contemplated becoming a vegetarian in my early 20's (oh wait, that just made me feel old.....), but bacon was really the thing that kept me from going for the gold. I don't usually keep it in the house because that means I'll eat it (I usually at least try to be healthy). Tom, however, does not try to keep bacon out of the house, so I am given no choice but to eat it.

When considering what to eat for dinner tonight, I spied my fresh-from-the garden tomato and thought of the bacon in the fridge and knew that I needed a BLT (hold the L). I toasted some white bread and added some mayo (on both sides!), three slices of maple bacon and a fat (1/2" thick) slice of tomato.

I'm not even going to pretend that I "forgot" to take a picture of this dish. Tom's camera was sitting right next to my BT, and I decided that y'all could probably envision the dish just fine without a pesky snapshot. My only regret? That I didn't cook more bacon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

holy macaroni!

Mac and cheese must be the best comfort food ever, and since I've been craving it all week, I decided to give it a go tonight. Its a simple recipe, but a bit different than the standard.

8 oz macaroni, cooked
8 oz light sour cream
8 oz mild cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
12 oz light cottage cheese
1/4 cup skim milk
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix together, put in a 9x13 inch pan, and cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

**Feel free to use higher fat versions of all of the ingredients, but I found the recipe rich enough for my tastes by using these lighter varieties.

I chose not to add a topping, but this recipe would probably be even better if you put some sliced cheddar cheese on top and baked it (just how my mom makes it!!). You could also mix bread crumbs and melted butter together and put it on top.

My family always used to put a jar of stewed tomatoes (from the garden!) on our mac and cheese, and that is how I like my mac the best. Since I didn't have any stewed tomatoes, I put a little of my leftover gazpacho on top instead and it was pretty yummy!

Yay for eating homemade mac and cheese while watching 'cloudy with a chance of meatballs.'

Side note: you could also add bacon bits to this dish...... this was Tom's special request, and though I aim to please, you've gotta draw the line somewhere don't you?

Today I'm going to point you to another food blog. Back when i was in grad school at Emory, I was in Grad Senate with a gal named Julia, who has the funny/entertaining/useful blog Cooking for Gringas. Aaaaannnnndddd, her current blog post is completely fitting, because I happen to love mojitos, and I totally know where she's coming from when she says that you can't find a decent one anywhere. And since I happen to have mint in my fridge right now, I just may be using this recipe in the not-so-distant, courteous of Miss Julia......

lunchtime musings

it's my lunch break, and in addition to eating some leftover gazpacho, i'm also giving lots of thought to Pope John Paul XXIII's Daily Decalogue:

1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

cold gazpacho on a hotlanta day

Phew, yesterday was HOT! It just came out of nowhere, and looking in my fridge I knew there was only one thing that I wanted to cook, and it certainly didn't involve adding more heat to the house. Thats right: I put together some veggies and made gazpacho.

Gazpacho is a wonderful Spanish treat, because it is easy, healthy, and very refreshing. I used this recipe, and the only revisions that I made were to use fresh tarragon and basil rather than dried. And I used low-sodium tomato juice (biiiiiiig mistake). Also, I used my immersion blender rather than putting everything into a blender. In fact, I would say that my immersion blender is right up there as one of my all-time favorite kitchen must haves (thanks Mom!), just after my pink garlic press (thanks Lisa!).

I must say that my gazpacho did not turn out exactly as I wanted to, and I think it stems from the fact that I used low-sodium tomato juice. I don't know why I did that. The dish really needed the full-salt variety, and after I made the soup and allowed it to chill for two hours it was evident that the dish was missing something. Adding more salt helped, but I think that full-salt tomato juice and maybe also more lemon juice would do wonders for this dish. The fresh basil was a delight, and I will add more next time I make this dish (I only used about two or three large fresh basil leaves).

The world played a lovely trick on me, and just before feasting on gazpacho the heavens opened and we were blessed with one of those huge thunderstorms that produces hail and cools the hot summer air. We switched out electric lights for the many candles Tom keeps around the house (gotta love the guy!), and drank cool white wine and ate cold gazpacho and Italian bread just as the air outside turned cool. Oh well, its the thought that counts right?

That Italian bread was no accident by the way. I have a delicious (I hope) recipe coming up later this week that calls for stale Italian bread, so we ate half of the fresh stuff last night and will use the other half once it gets a little old. I'm trying to embrace the whole "menu planning" thing rather than going to the grocery store every night, so if its ok with you I'm going to give myself one shiny gold star for this little pre-plan of mine.

Anyone have any tips for how my gazpacho could be improved next time? I'd like to have a good recipe in my box, because these hotlanta summers leave me with a need for cool refreshment.

And for the fun post of the day, check out this post: This gal is truly inspirational, and I LOVE the hand-painted knobs, love that she is from Atlanta, love the idea of supporting an independent artist. When I get into redecorating mode, I'll definitely look her up. I'm kind of partial to the orange knobs, what about you?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Spanish Rice minus the box

We've all been there. You just got home from work, you're tired, the dog wants to go out, and all you want to do is veg out and eat potato chips. The thought of cooking anything is daunting, but you suppose you can whip up a box of Spanish Rice. But oh hold on.... Perhaps making Spanish Rice from scratch is almost as easy and tastes waaayyyy better than anything you can get in the supermarket.

Its true. I just made Spanish Rice and it was quick, easy, and if I may say so myself very tasty. I'll keep the instructions super short too so you can just get up and make some fancy rice right now.

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
1 cup rice
2 cups water (if I do this again - and I will! - I'll use chicken broth instead)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes with chopped jalapenos
1/2 t cumin
2 t chili powder

Put the onion, bell pepper and garlic in a pot with the olive oil on medium-high heat until onion becomes translucent. Add rice and cook until rice begins to brown. Add water (or chicken broth!), tomatoes and spices. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is cooked. If you're feeling super motivated, chop up some parsley and mix in to the rice.

Food pics below.

Notice how the garlic appears to be so important? Not accidental. Yummmm

The rice before it begins to brown oh-so-nicely

The ingredients just before they are covered

The finished product. Not afraid to admit I ate three bowls

Now you may not believe it, but this fine dish was my entire dinner. If I was cooking for both Tom and I, I feel pretty confident he would have insisted on a meat dish and a piece of bread to accompany this creation, but when its just me I prefer to rely exclusively on side dishes. If you are trying to lose weight, decrease your  grocery costs or save time, this strategy may also work for you. And if it wouldn't, I'm betting you could throw some chicken in this dish and make most of your family happy.

Are you partial to the meat/potato/side tradition of the good old U S of A, or do your 'side dishes' take center stage? Or, are you as fabulous as my Grandma was and eat your dessert first so that you'll never have to say "I'm too full for dessert?" 

If you have any cost- or time-saving cooking tips, please let the rest of us know!

Fruit of our Labor

After getting home from vacation last night, Tom went to check on the garden. Our absence didn't seem to phase our little Eden one tiny bit, and in fact Tom came back in with this little beauty:

This tomato only leaves us with one agonizing decision: what to do with it. I think our inaugural tomato just might need to be eaten as is. In fact, eating a tomato much like you would eat an apple is one of the true joys of summer. Now don't go trying such a feat with one of those knock-offs you'll find in your grocery store. Those are a completely different species (in my opinion) than the kind you'll pluck from your garden (or from the bin at your local farmers market).

And while we're on the subject, when's the last time you took advantage of the delights of a farmers market? Besides getting higher quality and more tasty food, you'll also be filling the pockets of your local farmer and getting to know the people who sustain you. Not sure where to start? This website will point you in the right direction:

If you've got a favorite tomato recipe or any ideas on how to enjoy fresh produce, kindly leave a comment. Your idea just may end up being featured right here on this little blog.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

bike rides, alligators and a book about dreams

Yesterday Tom and I left the ocean to take a bike ride. After getting past the grocery stores and golf courses, we managed to enter a bit of the 'real' South Carolina, as I like to call it. The part that's been here since before tourism and before condos. We even found a little marina that offered tours to Sandy Island, 9,000 acres of protected woodland rich in history. According to the website, this island is home to about 120 people, most of whom are descendents of slaves who worked the rice patties prior to the Civil War. Sadly, tours to the island have been cancelled for 2010 due to military deployment. Maybe next time.

I also was hoping to spy an alligator on our Tour de South Carolina, but sadly no. I found lots of potential spots, but though I did find a couple of little turtles that slid into the water as soon as I came near, the alligators were not to be found.

Since Tom spotted an alligator on the golf course a couple of days ago, it is possible that the alligators in these parts are too upscale for swamps like the ones above.

I'm currently reading my favorite book of all time, which I haven't opened since I was in high school. But what better time than now to read a book about following your heart and living you dreams?

The Alechemist, by Paulo Coelho

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

the $200 meal

For two years now, I've been wondering when exactly I'd take a stab at Eggplant Timbale. After watching Giada De Laurentis effortlessly craft this beauty on TV, I decided that I would wait until the perfect occasion and do it myself. And when I got a springform pan for Christmas last year, it is of the timbale - and not a cheesecake as intended - that I dreamt.

So when I heard that each of us would be responsible for a meal while at the condo this week, I knew immediately that I would try the timbale. I usually don't try daring new meals for the first time when I am trying to impress people, but I figured I'd throw caution to the wind this time and give it a whirl. So when Tom got back from golf this morning we headed to the local Piggly Wiggly to pick up our supplies for this meal. Plus some snack, breakfast and lunch foods... and about 60 dollars worth of alcohol and mixers. And when the final tally rang up at $200, I thought to myself "this meal better be good."

Eggplant Timbale is rated difficult by Giada, which really does add a certain amount of intimidation. The recipe can be found here:

Despite Giada's warnings, I must say that this recipe was really not too difficult. I didn't cook my eggplant on the grill, and just put it in a pan on the stove to cook, but other than that it was pretty straightforward. If you can line a pan with eggplant and fill it with meat, pasta and sauce and then cover the whole pile of goodness with more eggplant and bake it, well then you too can make a timbale.

Slicing eggplant

Cooking the eggplant (a little olive oil, salt and pepper on each side)

The finished product

Take-home message: Don't let a difficulty rating keep you from making a recipe for two whole years. You've got it in you, and it probably really isn't that difficult to make anyway. If you find yourself questioning yourself, enjoy the process, look out the window to gain perspective, and start again with gusto. Julia Child wasn't born a chef, but she sure did have a lot of fun. And really, can there be anything more admirable than taking joy in creating something out of nothing?

Monday, June 7, 2010

life on the beach

Vacation. Its funny how the word means different things to different people. Some people need the beach, some the mountains, and some people only need the finest shops and a good dose of retail therapy. I think I just need wide open spaces, good food and good people. Sitting on the beach this afternoon while the sun was setting and while watching my two future nieces play in the surf, I felt completely at peace. A whole week here is going to do wonders for my soul I am sure. And if that weren't enough, I get to spend some time with my future nephew John, the happiest baby I've ever met.

As much as sitting in my cubicle for 8+ hours leaves me empty at the end of the day, sitting here and breathing in the fresh salty air for an entire week is sure to fill all of those voids and leave me refreshed.... until I reenter my life back in the box. Researchers even say that looking at open vistas (even briefly) helps to reduce depression. I've tried to implement this theory by putting a picture of Driftwood Beach next to my computer.

But while I've got the real vista right here in front of me I'm happy as a clam. My favorite pic of the day is this one of Emily and my future father in law.

I also have to close with a request that you send a quick prayer to our friends who live/vacation/work/play on/in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of corporate greed/inadequate environmental regulations/an accident (?), these people now wonder how to feed their families, where they will take their children for vacation, and how to find work when their only known method of subsistence has been taken away from them. So as much as I consider myself lucky to be here on this beach on the Atlantic, I know that there are many others who have had this taken away from them, and tonight it is of them that I think.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Last night my future sister-in-law invited me to dinner, and since I was so lazy yesterday I didn't even make a side (so unlike me I know!). Instead I went to the grocery store to pick up some brie and crackers. Upon entering the store, I spied something that gave me intense and immediate joy: blueberries! Blueberries are my absolute favorite fruit, and with good reason: those little round morsels of delicious sugary refreshing goodness are unmatched by any fruit I have ever tasted in my life.

 Raking low bush blueberries (the sort grown in Maine) is back-breaking work. The technique has not changed much since 1930, and if you would like to see footage of men raking blueberries back in the day watch the little video at this link:

I especially love the reference to the housewife about 3/4 of the way through the video. Maybe the method for raking blueberries hasn't changed much, but thank goodness our treatment of women has!

Well I'm keeping this one short because I've got to get all packed up and ready to go to Pawley's Island, SC for the week. I'll be updating from there, so be sure to check back for breathtaking sunset pics, yummy recipes, and of course random musings about this southern land that I now call home.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

art break

Last night I went to the First Friday Art Walk at Marietta Square with my good friend Pat. It was great to walk around and look at local art (and eat mango Italian Ice - thanks Pat!), but I believe that the finest piece of art was from Pat himself! Just check out this table of his!

Isn't it gorgeous! He is still working on it, and is also working on his own guitar (really wish I'd taken a picture of that). I think he hopes to sell it, so if this would be the perfect piece in your home just let me know and I'll pass on the word.

Another thing I have become obsessed with lately is old maps. There is nothing that puts who you are into perspective like looking at the world from above. I definitely owe this obsession to my land surveyor father, who looks at maps for a living and has a map of Maine bigger than I am hanging on the wall.

My favorite accessory is an old purse I found at a thrift store in San Deigo (for $10!) with the world map on it. It was created when the USSR was still around, so its also a neat piece of history. I've stopped using it because the leather is wearing on the shoulder straps and I'm afraid it'll break (I've already had it fixed once). Would putting something on the leather help? I'd like to actually use this beauty rather than admiring it hanging in my closet.

Isn't she a bute? I've definitely had more than one person come up to me from across a store or the street (and once the National Mall!) to ask me where I got it because oh please please please they must have one just like it! And for an unfashionable girl like me, it feels good to have that one timeless piece that can go anywhere with me.

I hope to one day find old maps of Georgia and Maine (a tribute to Tom and I, awwwww.....) and then frame them and hang them next to each other. I found a nice one of Georgia last night, but it was $130 and thrifty me said no to that. But I'll definitely be on the lookout at thrift stores, yard sales and flea markets.

Any other suggestions on how to decorate with maps?

If you're beyond crafty, I mean so much so that craft is now your middle name, then perhaps you could try this: This girl is inspiring!

Speaking of crafty people I know, check out these beauties that share a permanent residence on our guest bed:

My beautiful sister Laura made these for my birthday last year, and when I opened them I actually thought they were from Anthropologie. I didn't find out until a bit later that she made them! This becomes even more impressive when you look at these little beauties up close.


This summer weather is absolutely perfect, and my dog Barley is itching for a trip to the dog park. For the love of all things dog, I'll leave you with these beautiful photos.

My absolute favorite is the one at the end.... It makes me feel that the monster may need a friend for when I'm not here during the day. Anyone that can convince Tom we need two bundles of love gets a giant gold star for persistence.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

keeping it simple

Today's meal was kept simple and made possible by a very generous coworker who happened to have too much roast pork shoulder and gave a large piece of it to everyone he works with (um, yes please!). Because Tom and I are strange (but mostly because we didn't have any bbq sauce), we decided to put the pork over some mixed greens and add caesar dressing.

Woo hoo for thoughtful coworkers!

Well, that was the quickest dinner I made all week, and while looking out the window pondering what to do with myself, I spied a lonely little friend who I once had very high hopes for.

When I bought this little Sugar Sweetie (don't you just love the names they come up with for vegetables?!) at the Oakhurst Community Garden spring plant sale a few months ago, I envisioned putting this little plant in a very large container. Peering now at the large container, this is what I saw:

Yuck, this standing water may have been breeding this year's crop of mosquitoes!

Feeling very inspired to tackle such a job and give my little plant new life, I pulled out the drill and put a few holes in the bottom to allow water to drain. Don't you think the drill bit on the right would be wonderful for putting large holes in my pot?

Au contraire mon frere! That large (1/2") bit would only make an indentation, not a full hole. But when I tried a smaller bit, it went through like a champ.

Now, I'm not sure if these smaller holes will actually drain successfully, but I think it will be ok and I know it's better than it was. Plus, doesn't this little guy look cute as a cucumber?

I even had time to pot this beauty

And I also found, to my delight......

From a tomato plant I put in the ground a couple months ago

But here's the deal.... I'm not much of a pesticide type of girl. And I know my soil quality is really low (sadly low). What can I do to prevent my plants from doing this:

Bug Paradise!
Or from being stunted like this:

Also planted 2 months ago and still playing Mini Me to the fruit-producer next door

Any ideas would be so welcome at this point, because even though I mixed in about three inches of compost over the whole garden before I planted, I'm still not seeing the lush greenery that I want to see. It also doesn't get too much sun, so I guess I've pretty much got a trifecta of forces working against me huh?

Anywho, this perfectly simple evening left me with a yummy and quick meal, and also with a much happier garden. This left plenty of time to persue my other ambitions in my new favorite part of the house.

Side note: Since I've started exploring this blogging world (a little late I know), I have been continually amazed, inspired, and thrilled by what I have found out there on the world wide internets. There are so many wonderful people doing what they love and sharing it with the rest of us. My daily dose of inspiration is now so often coming from the writing, the photographs, the creativity of all of you.

Case in point: please check this out the blog post below. I bet you'll never look at your ugly too-small-to-be-useful closet the same again. I actually told Tom that I wished our house had an ugly too-tiny closet so that I could whip up a masterpiece, and after rolling his eyes he kindly suggested that I convert my walk-in closet into my very own office. Tempting....... but nah.
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