Monday, December 22, 2008

Wedding dress shopping

This past weekend I took Tomboy and went shopping for my wedding dress. I tried on lots of different styles - strapless, a-line, princess, mermaid, trumpet, lace, plain, embroidered, beaded, silk, satin, taffeta, blah blah blah. My favorite one was this very simple taffeta dress with tip-of-the-shoulder straps, some very flattering ruching along the bodice, a lace-up back, and a moderate train (yes, this is moderate!). Bear in mind that this dress, being the shop's sample, is two sizes too big for me, so mine will be significantly more snug. And the color is ivory, although the camera's flash makes it look like it's white in the picture.

Click the photo for more wedding dress pictures (this one and others I tried on).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Foodie Hiatus


I've been taking a bit of a hiatus during these hectic months. Between getting engaged in October, visiting my sister in Portland after her new baby was born, and dealing with the holiday stuff, I haven't been good about getting my recipes up on the site, and for that, I'm very sorry.

My new year's resolution will be to foodblog more regularly. In the meantime, here's a few photos of some dishes I've made recently. In the upper right, you'll see our Thanksgiving spread: a NINE pound turkey breast (JUST the breast!) and all the trimmings, even though there were only five of us at dinner.

A couple more photos & quick recaps:

Tropical Chicken Stir-Fry

A quick and kid-friendly dinner made with peapods, carrots, bell peppers, chicken breast and a simple sauce made with pineapple juice concentrate!



Mac 'n' Cheese Florentine

A slightly more healthy version of the perennial favorite, macaroni and cheese. I used Gruyere for the cheese sauce, and added a package of thawed chopped spinach (one of those boxes from the frozen section).

Monday, December 15, 2008

White trash

I have a confession to make: I love super-tacky Christmas decor. I like colored lights instead of plain white (the blinkier the better), multicolored and multi-themed ornaments, gold instead of silver, Grinch dolls next to nutcrackers and fake poinsettias, Bass-Rankin and Peanuts Christmas specials, Bing Crosby on the radio, and I love, love, love that loose tinsel that they don't sell anymore (anyone know where I can find some?). My Christmas tree this year has three different multi-colored strands of lights on it, only one of which blinks (for extra tackiness!). There are homemade ornaments next to mirrored disco balls, resin cartoon characters next to plastic crystals, glittery snowflakes next to colored glass balls.

I wasn't always this way. I have a very traditional and classy gold & white angel at the top of the tree, because in my early adulthood I decided that I would only have gold and white ornaments on my tree and white lights. That lasted for one year. The following year I added red ornaments to the mix, and the year after THAT...well, the tacky urge came on strong, and I wound up with about three dozen more ornaments, all in different colors. Now I long for the glitter-bedecked homemade star we had on the tree when I was growing up. It was the star that topped my fairy princess wand one year at Halloween, and it had ribbon streamers and was super awesome. I wish I could find something that cool for the top of my tree, but I have been unable to find anything suitable in stores, and for some reason my attempts to make a replica have all fallen short of ideal.

So when I came home from my trip up to Portland earlier this month and saw that Mr Wonderful had decorated the entryway to the house with three different types of outdoor Christmas lights (blinky multi-color, white "icicle", and blue LED's) it was the just about coolest thing he could have possibly done.

Almost as cool as the porn-star mustache he's growing for me. Yes, apparently the fondness for super-tacky stuff has spilled over into my "real" life. I blame Swingtown. It was a television show that ran this past summer (and was sadly cancelled after just the one season), set in the 70s and glorfying that decade beyond all belief. Even if I wasn't born in the early 70s, I would have fond memories of that decade after watching this show. And one of the main characters, Tom (played by Grant Show, of Melrose Place fame), had a luxurious, incredible porn 'stache. Mr Wonderful and I looked forward to watching the show each week, so when I asked him to grow a mustache for me, he agreed.

This man must love me like crazy, because on Thanksgiving night, when I came downstairs after taking a shower and saw his new facial adornment, I just lost it. I laughed for about five solid minutes. He threatened to shave it off, so I pulled it together. And I'm so glad I did -- this porn 'stache is awesome. It makes people smile, if not outright laugh. It brightens my day every time I look at it. And once again, I am so grateful that I have a man in my life who doesn't take himself too seriously, and is willing to do crazy things for me just because I ask him to. I can't wait to marry this guy, y'all.

(All this and he does dishes too!)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Crazybusy

God, things have been so busy lately, I've barely had time to think. Quick recap here:
  • Attended & helped organize a protest against Prop 8 in WC on the 15th
  • Waged war on the pantry moths that had completely infested our dry goods cupboard; I think I've won but it may just be a lull in the battle
  • Semi-regular dinner out with supervisor
  • Fought off a cold
  • Attended big Adobe conference in SF, 17th-19th (which entailed unfortunate late nights coupled with even more unfortunate early mornings in which I had to ride stupid BART into the city. Hello, two-hour commute!)
  • Parent-teacher conference
  • Thanksgiving dinner planning, including ordering the organic free-range turkey breast (even though it's just the four of us, and possibly Babydaddy, we will still have the requisite big turkey feast)
  • Finished two sweaters (Sister's Christmas Present and my big green squishy Mmmmmalabrigo v-neck)
  • Started a baby sweater
  • Started and FINISHED a super-secret surprise Christmas present for someone (at least those long BART rides were good for something)
  • Successfully kept myself from killing the kids so far (they're home a lot this month thanks to Thanksgiving, Veteran's Day, staff in-service days and parent-teacher conferences)
  • Finished most of my Christmas shopping
  • Crazy busy with work stuff (being gone for three days at a conference does not help)
And this is just the last two weeks, mind you. AND, today is Mr Wonderful's birthday. Thankfully, he decided that what he really really wants for dinner is pizza and beer. I can totally deal with that. But what he wants for his present is to get his computer fixed. Ugh. The thing needs a new motherboard, if I remember correctly (it's been at least six months since it got fried), and probably a new processor and a couple of fans too. *sigh*

Things I still need to get done:
  • Family picture for Christmas cards
  • Order Christmas cards, and when they get here, address & send them out
  • Thanksgiving
  • Get paver stones to edge the patio (between cement patio & new sod)
  • Finish baby sweater
  • Sleep for fifteen years
On the plus side, I found out that you can order NyQuil-D through your neighborhood pharmacy. NyQuil-D is the original formulation of NyQuil, and contains the magical ingredients that knock you on your ass. I have ordered some and it should be ready to pick up along with my turkey tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Clarifying my position

I got a comment on my food blog about my position on Prop 8 the other day, trying to point out my hypocrisy by invoking the argument of polygamy.

Let me be perfectly clear. I have no moral issue with polygamy. I do take offense when old men try to marry off little girls to their friends. I do not approve of child endangerment and sexual abuse of minors (or anyone else for that matter). A thirteen year old, while physically mature enough to bear children, is NOT mentally ready to be a wife and mother. But I don't have any problem with consenting adults marrying each other. As long as everyone is mentally and emotionally mature enough to deal with their decision (and at 18, we are legally considered to be mentally and emotionally able to enter into legal contracts), then go for it. You're not hurting anyone else. Even if you have a bunch of kids, as long as you're a big happy family, then I'm fine with it. Multiple mommies? No problem. Duplicate dads? Just more love.

And this is essentially my problem with the Prop 8 proponents: why are you so sure that YOUR morals are the right morals for everyone else? Why are you so convinced that your way is the only way people should live? What gives you the right to arrogantly decide to strip away the rights of others just because you don't like their choices? I may think you're an idiot for believing that a cracker is the body of Jesus Christ, but do I try to outlaw communion wafers? No, I don't. Because it's none of my goddamn business what you do as long as it doesn't directly affect me.

And gay marriage does NOT DIRECTLY AFFECT YOU unless you are actually in a gay marriage.

So why? Why are you so afraid to let people who love each other get married? It doesn't have anything to do with what kids are taught in schools; California law specifically states that parents can opt-out of having their kids taught anything about health/sex education. That includes gay marriage and homosexuality.

It doesn't have anything to do with religious freedom, either. There has never been any case of a religious leader being sued for not performing a marriage ceremony. NEVER. There was a lawsuit against a justice of the peace in Massachusetts who refused to perform a marriage ceremony for a gay couple, but he was a government employee who was bound by the laws of his state. Let me state this perfectly clearly: there was NEVER a requirement for religious leaders to perform marriage ceremonies that go against their beliefs. When did you last hear of a Rabbi being sued for refusing to marry two Gentiles? When's the last time the Catholic church got sued for not recognizing a marriage between two atheists? Never? Oh, that's right. Because this argument is completely irrelevant.

And don't give me that crap about homosexuals having "equality" with the civil union laws. "Equal but separate" is not equal at all. In fact, it's a slap in the face. And if it's just a question of semantics, then why are you so rabid about keeping gay people from getting married? If it was just a word, you wouldn't care. By fighting against calling it marriage, you are proving that civil unions are NOT the same as marriage. And I'm sorry, but no, you can't own the word "marriage." Marriage is both a legal AND a religious term. Therefore religion alone does not get to dictate who gets to use that word. You are not that special.

Dictionary.com defines discrimination as "treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit". I can't think of anything that describes this hateful proposition better. They are seeking to remove the rights of a group of citizens, simply because they happen to love people with the same set of genitalia. And here's the thing: discrimination will not last. White men tried to keep women and blacks from being acknowledged as equals - TRUE equals, not that "equal but separate" crap - and it worked for a little while, sure. But to quote Martin Luther King, Jr, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." If you don't believe him, look at our new President-elect: for the first time in the long and bloody history of America, we have elected a black man as our President. It took years of fighting against hatred and intolerance, but we have achieved TRUE equality for African-Americans and women. We would have had a female Vice-President next year if we didn't elect a black President (and we came awfully darn close to having a female Presidential nominee). And you can be sure that the fight against intolerance towards homosexuality is not over, either. Already we have made enormous strides; in just a few years, California went from losing gay marriage rights by 22% to losing by only 4%. And the courts are with us; discrimination is NOT tolerated, and Proposition 8 will be defeated. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon. And someday we'll all look back and wonder why we got so torqued up about it.

So you might want to think about what you're really standing for, when you stand against gay marriage. Because the veils of education and religious freedom are thinner than the paper you used to write this hateful bill, and not as many people will believe the propaganda the next time around. Gays are not going to just fade into the background and agree to be marginalized and live as second-class citizens. Truly, you don't actually believe that will happen, do you? You don't believe that all the gays are going to up and decide to "go straight" just because you don't approve, do you? You don't believe that homosexuality will get shut back into the closet of our nation, do you? You can keep screaming that gay marriage is wrong, but all that's going to happen is you're going to lose your voice. Because the tide of righteousness is stronger than the ideology of hate.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, we did


Will post my disappointment about Prop 8 later, but for now...thank you, America. Thank you for voting for hope, instead of fear. Thank you for proving that we can move past our old sins and work for a brighter tomorrow. Thank you for coming out in droves, to put the most principled, intelligent man I've ever seen in the White House.

The people have spoken, and after eight long years, I feel like they're finally speaking my language again.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Off topic: Prop 8

I have temporarily disabled Google Adsense on my blogs because I learned that they are running "Yes on Prop 8" ads in California. I do not know if this ad displayed on my blog in the past weeks, but if it did, please let me assure you: I am NOT in favor of Prop 8. I do not support discrimination in any form.

Be sure to vote tomorrow!

One more day

One more day left for McCain to think he's got a chance at gaining the presidency. If you're an Obama supporter who's feeling just a bit antsy and scared about the possibility of losing again to the Repubs, check out FiveThirtyEight.com, which has the very latest polls and aggregate data, showing Obama with a 96.3% chance of winning tomorrow. Or check out this article on HuffPo, which shows all but one of the political pundits predicting an Obama win. That one dissenter is, of course, a Fox News pundit. (Big surprise.)

One more day left before the Dems rout the Repubs in Congress, too. Now, I'm not saying we're going to get the 60-seat majority in the Senate; that seems unlikely. But I think folks are pushing for a clear change this election season, and there's a lot of angry, bewildered people out there wondering why their 401Ks are essentially worthless scraps of paper now.

And one more day left, most likely, before the conservatives in California outlaw gay marriage. I'm heartbroken over this, truly. If Prop 8 passes, I cannot imagine a bigger blow to equality and basic human rights. If you haven't heard yet, Prop 8 is the gay marriage ban, and it's one of the most hotly-contested and expensive races this season, apart from the presidential race. Supporters of the bill are claiming it stands for religious freedom, the preservation of marriage (huh??), and the continued innocence of our Kindergarteners.

Now, let me just refute these points one by one.

First, religious freedom. The proponents of bill say that if gay marriage isn't outlawed, churches will be forced to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples or risk losing their tax-exempt status. But don't churches already discriminate in who they will or will not marry? If you do not belong to their congregation, a church will often refuse to allow you to have your wedding there, or to have your wedding performed by their officiants. I don't think this argument holds much weight. In fact, I think the Mormon Church (LDS) may be in danger of losing its tax-exempt status for substantial political lobbying on this particular proposition. The IRS tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations (specifically including churches) from "[substantially] attempting to influence legislation." What legally constitutes "substantially"? I don't know, but I'm sure the LDS has their lawyers hard at work coming up with reasons why this doesn't apply to them.

Secondly, the "preservation of marriage." This is a joke, right? How does banning marriage protect it? If they really wanted to protect marriage, they'd be better off trying to outlaw divorce. What they really mean, of course, is that the bill preserves the fiction that heterosexual couples are somehow extra-special and the only ones who should be allowed to be married. Why is it wrong for two consenting adults to profess their love and commitment to each other? Why should they be satisfied with only calling their relationship a "civil union" when heterosexual couples get to be "married"? If the only difference is semantics, then why should there be any difference at all? Religion does not have a lock on the English language, and doesn't get to dictate which words can be used for legal relationships. And if the basis of your argument is a religious one (i.e., "the Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman") then your argument is irrelevant and unconstitutional, because there IS a lovely little part of our constitution that demands the separation of church and state. Marriage is both a religious AND a legal state, and therefore cannot be dictated by religion alone.

And finally, somehow, they've convinced people that passing Prop 8 is going to save our children from being taught about gay marriage in school. Look, people: if you're that worried about your kids learning something at school that you don't want them to know about, then you should really homeschool your children. Kids learn a LOT at school, and not all of it is in the classroom. What they hear from their peers is usually much more objectionable than what they hear from their teachers. And quite frankly, I don't recall my son ever learning about heterosexual marriage in school, much less homosexual marriage. The California Superintendent of Schools has definitively refuted this; children are not required to be taught about gay marriage, and whether or not Prop 8 passes will have absolutely no bearing on the fact. But honestly, people, are you really that concerned about your child learning about gay marriage? And if so, do you supervise every moment with their peers? Do you quiz their friends' parents to find out if they watch Will & Grace or Ellen before allowing your child to spend time with those friends?

Homosexuality is not hidden in the closet of our country anymore - it's out in the open, and I for one am glad. Secrets breed intolerance and bigotry. And "civil unions are legally just like marriage" is the same thing as "equal but separate" - you know, like when we had "equal but separate" schools for black kids and white kids. So please, think before you cast your ballot tomorrow - think about what's fair, and think about how you would feel if someone wanted to take away YOUR right to marry the person you love.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Contest closed

The free pasta dinner contest is now closed, and the winners (by random computer number-picking script) have been contacted. They are:

#2: Lisa
#8: Teri
#29: Carrie

Congratulations, winners! If you haven't received an email from me, please check your spam folder. (Except for Teri - I had to contact you via DeltaPOST because I couldn't find an email address for you.)

Congratulations to the winners, and enjoy your free dinner! Be sure to come back & post a comment letting us all know how you liked it. :)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Free Dinner!

I am proud to be able to host my first blog contest: a free dinner giveaway! I have three gift certificates for a Tuscani Pasta dinner from Pizza Hut. The kids & I had the Chicken Alfredo version on Friday, and let me tell you, this is quite a bit of food. It's three pounds of pasta, plenty for four adults (the kids and I only ate about half the pan), plus five warm, soft breadsticks.

If you'd like a free pasta dinner, all you have to do is add a comment to this blog post. I'll pull three names at random tomorrow night (Tuesday) and contact the winners to arrange delivery of your gift certificate. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stuffed Pasilla Peppers



I've been promising to make stuffed peppers for Mr Wonderful ever since he got transferred to the local hospital, in celebration of his massively reduced commute. But the thing is, I hate stuffed peppers. It's basically meatloaf in a green bell pepper. Ick. But the other day I saw a 30 Minute Meals episode where RR makes a poblano pepper stuffed with corn & topped with cheese, and I thought it sounded perfect. Mr Wonderful & I love Mexican food. I decided to change it up a little, though. I had leftover chipotle peppers in adobo and some enchilada sauce (after making Yum Yum Chicken Enchilada Casserole for a friend who just had a baby), and this is what I came up with. It may not be the most photogenic meal I've made, but it is one of the tastiest!

Stuffed Pasilla Peppers
2 pasilla peppers (the store didn't have poblanos, but they would work just fine if you can find them)
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 c frozen corn kernels, defrosted
1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
1 14.5 oz can fire roasted diced tomatos, drained well
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 chipotle peppers in adobo (from a can), minced
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 c shredded cheese (I used bagged Mexican mix, but you can use jack or cheddar or whatever floats your boat)
1 c enchilada sauce
salt & pepper

Preheat the broiler. Wash the peppers and put them (intact) on a baking sheet & pop them under the broiler. Broil for about 10 minutes, turning once or twice to ensure even charring. You want them blistered and blackened just a little bit, but not completely deflated and turned to mush. (Leave the broiler on after taking out the peppers. You'll need it later.)

In a saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and corn. Season with salt & pepper, and allow to brown up just a little. Then add the black beans, tomatoes and cumin. When everything is warmed through, turn off the heat and add the fresh cilantro.

By this time your peppers should have cooled enough to handle. Make a slit from stem to tip (not cutting all the way in half, just slicing the pepper open), and remove the stem and seeds. You should have a kind of floppy pepper "cup". Fill the cup with the corn mixture - really load it in there. Top each pepper with about 3/4 cup cheese. Pop it under the broiler, keeping the door cracked open just a bit so you can keep a close eye on it. Don't let the cheese burn! You just want it to melt and get golden brown.

Heat the enchilada sauce in a pan or in the microwave. When the peppers are finished, plate them up and spoon about 1/2 cup of the warmed enchilada sauce over each one.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Smoky-Sweet Butternut Squash Soup

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The leaves change colors, the weather turns brisk and sweater-worthy, and everything returns to a regular schedule. The kids are back in school. Television stations stop showing reruns and cheap summer filler. What's not to love about autumn? So to celebrate the advent of autumn, I fixed my favorite soup, the one that most clearly evokes autumn for me: butternut squash soup.

Smoky-Sweet Butternut Squash Soup
1 Tbsp EVOO
3-4 slices bacon
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 golden delicious apple, peeled, cored and diced
About 1 dozen fresh sage leaves
1 jar butternut squash puree (I get those big jars from Williams-Sonoma), or one large butternut squash, roasted & pureed (if you're not lazy like me)
2-4 cups chicken stock (one big box = 4 cups)
2 Tbsp butter
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry until crisp; remove and drain on paper towels. Add the onions to the pot and saute in the olive oil and bacon grease for a few minutes, until translucent but not browned. Add the diced apple and saute for another couple of minutes. Chop up about half a dozen sage leaves and add them to the apples and onions, and season everything with salt & pepper. (Reserve another half dozen large, beautiful sage leaves for garnish.) When the apples are nice and soft, add the butternut squash puree and about two cups of chicken stock and raise the temperature to medium-high. When the soup starts to bubble a bit, lower the temperature back down to medium and break out your immersion blender and blend it up until smooth. If the soup is too thick, add more stock (final amount will depend on how much butternut squash puree you have and how thick you like your soup). When everything is heated back up again, taste the soup, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

To garnish, melt two tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is completely melted and done foaming, add the reserved whole sage leaves, making sure to keep them separated. Remove the sage leaves after about 30 seconds, and drain on a paper towel. The leaves should be crispy. Chop the cooked bacon and the fried sage leaves and top your bowl of soup with a little of each. Delicious!

My favorite thing today

(Click to view full size)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel

Mr Wonderful likes fennel, but I haaaaaate black licorice, so I was a little leery of cooking with it. I figured if I mixed in some orange juice, and cooked the fennel down a bit, it wouldn't be so strong. It ended up being delicious, with just a little hint of heat from some cayenne pepper. Plus it gave me a chance to put my new All Clad pan through its paces!

Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel
2 Tbsp EVOO
2 boneless pork rib chops
1 small onion, cut in half and then sliced radially to make thin wedges
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
juice and zest from one orange
1/2 c chicken stock
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt & pepper

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the pork chops with salt & pepper, and when the oil is hot, add them to the pan, and then don't move them for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, flip the chops over and brown the other side for another 3 minutes. Remove the chops to a plate and cover with foil.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet, and then throw in the onions and fennel. Let them cook for about 5-6 minutes, until they get soft and begin to caramelize. Add in cider vinegar and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add in the chicken stock, orange juice and orange zest. Let the veggies cook for another minute or two, then add in the nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Add the pork chops back into the pan and cook until the interior temperature of the chops reaches 145.

I served these garnished with supremed orange wedges. I'd show you a picture of it all plated up beautifully, but I had to pack it up into tupperware and take it over to the hospital because Mr Wonderful was working the swing shift. He started working at the local hospital a few weeks ago, and I've taken dinner to him a couple of times now. It's nice to share dinner together, even if it is in the less-than-romantic atmosphere of the laboratory break room.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tom Yum Soup

I was craving some spicy Thai soup but needed something low-cal (and low-carb!) so I picked up some lemongrass and threw together some Tom Yum. It turned out to be really quick and easy to make, not to mention absolutely delicious.

South Beach Tom Yum Soup
5-6 c chicken stock
1 stalk lemongrass
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
2-3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c sliced mushrooms (I used cremini)
1 red bell pepper, sliced (slices cut in half so they're not too long)
1/4 c thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts divided
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp Sriracha
2 cans light coconut milk
1 lb cleaned, shelled shrimp
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro

First, prepare the lemongrass: remove the tough outer leaves, trim off the root end, and then thinly slice just the ivory-colored part. Take the thin slices and either pulse them in a blender or food processor, or do what I did, and have your Rugrat mash them well in a molcajete. The lemongrass should end up looking like little bitty threads.

When the lemongrass is prepared, put the chicken stock into a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. I used about a box and a half of chicken stock (about 6 cups). To the chicken stock, add the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and the white parts of the green onions. Add the fish sauce and Sriracha, and then let it simmer for about 5-7 minutes, until the veggies are tender and the flavors have had a good chance to combine. Add in one can of coconut milk and taste the soup. Mine was very strong at this point, so I added another can of coconut milk to mellow out the flavor a little bit. If you need a bit more salt, add another shake or two of fish sauce. Bring the soup back up to a simmer and add in the shrimp. Let the shrimp cook about 2-3 minutes (if your shrimp are on the small side; 4-5 minutes if you've got bigger ones), until they're opaque, pink, and curled up. Take the soup off the heat, stir in the green parts of the green onions and the chopped cilantro, and serve.

Note: You could add some fresh shredded basil to this and it would be wonderful; I just didn't happen to have any and it wasn't looking all that hot in the grocery store.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Black Bean Soup

This soup is based on the recipe in the South Beach Diet: Super Charged book, but I made a few changes.

Black Bean Soup
2 Tbsp EVOO
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced (or one small diced onion)
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 wax peppers, chopped (I had these in my CSA box last week)
1 serrano pepper, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 large tomato, chopped
2 c chicken stock
1 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp Sriracha
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil in a fairly large pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the celery, onions, bell peppers and wax peppers. Season with salt & pepper. Saute until the veggies begin to soften, maybe 4-5 minutes. Add in the serrano pepper, garlic, and the white parts of the green onion, and saute for another minute or two. Add in the black beans, tomato, chicken stock, cumin and Sriracha, and stir well to combine. Let the soup come up to a simmer and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Then, using an immersion blender, blend up the soup until it's only a little bit chunky (you can transfer about half of the soup to a blender and puree, then return the blended soup to the pot, if you don't have an immersion blender).

Serve hot with low-fat shredded cheddar cheese, some plain low-fat yogurt, and the reserved sliced green parts of the green onion.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Slow Food Nation

In my big recap last week I forgot to mention my trip to San Francisco for the Slow Food Nation expo! Read all about it and check out my sad iPhone camera skilz here.

I gotta say, the South Beach thing isn't as bad as I thought it would be. We're on day eight now, and while I definitely have moments where I'm craving carbs in a big way, for the most part, it's not a big deal. You don't ever have to be hungry on this diet; you can eat pretty much all you want, as long as it's on the "approved" list. I have eggs just about every morning for breakfast and it keeps me full for several hours.

One thing I was really worried about was beverages. Missing out on my Dr Pepper is tough, but it's not as bad as I thought because of two glorious products on your local grocery store's shelves. First: Crystal Light. I hadn't tried it in several years, and vaguely remembered a very saccharine-tasting faux-fruity Koolaid substitute. But it's really improved a lot; I've found four flavors that I really enjoy - Sunrise Orange, Cherry-Pomegranate, "Hydration" Mixed Berry, and the White Tea-Blueberry. And at only 10 calories each, that cuts a lot of calories out of my daily intake. Don't get me wrong, I don't drink these all day long. I drink a lot of water, too, and I have a cup of green tea in the mornings when I get up (no sugar, no milk). But the Crystal Light really helps when I'm craving a glass of juice or just something sweet to drink.

The other thing that's helped a lot is Coke Zero. I HATE HATE HATE Diet Coke. I know it's got its devotees, but I cannot stand the aftertaste and how it tastes all sickly-sweet. Coke Zero is made with a different sugar substitute, though, and if you drink it ice cold, it has NO aftertaste (somehow it gets a bit weird when it warms up a little). Love this stuff. And it works quite well for the daily afternoon caffeine boost. It's no Dr Pepper, for sure, but I think I can live with it.

Spicy Seafood Stir-Fry

This is a great refrigerator-clean-out meal that you can throw all kinds of veggies into. It could easily be a vegetarian meal, if you omit the shrimp. And it is perfect for South Beach: for Phase 1, leave out the rice; for Phase 2, use brown rice instead of white.

Spicy Seafood Stir-Fry
1/4 c low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Sriracha
1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/2" wide half moons
1 chopped bell pepper (I used red)
1 cup chopped mushrooms (I used cremini, but any would work)
3 baby bok choy, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 container of tofu, diced (I used silken but I think firm tofu would hold up much better)
1/2 lb cleaned & shelled raw shrimp

First make the sauce: in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, Sriracha, ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Add the tofu and set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is rippling slightly, carefully throw in the zucchini, bell peppers, and mushrooms. After the veggies have started to soften and brown slightly (just a couple of minutes), throw in the bok choy, the tofu and sauce, and the shrimp. Cook just until the bok choy is wilted and the shrimp is done (opaque, curled up, and pink). Serve over rice (or not, if you're on Phase 1 of South Beach).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Caribbean Dinner

I was having a craving for coconut rice a few weeks ago, before I started the South Beach diet, and came up with this easy, quick dinner.

I roasted the chicken bone-in, skin-on, as usual at 400 for about 40 minutes, but with a Jamaican Jerk seasoning on the skin rather than the standard salt & pepper.

The long grain white rice was cooked per package instruction, but instead of water, I used one can coconut milk and enough chicken stock to bring the liquids up to 3 cups. After cooking, I fluffed up the rice and tossed with some fresh cilantro and green onions.

But the black beans were my favorite part...

Caribbean Black Beans
2 Tbsp EVOO
1 small chopped onion,
1 chopped bell pepper (I used orange, but red or yellow would be fine)
1 minced (seeded) jalepeno pepper
1 minced clove of garlic
1 can beans
1 large tomato
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
2 green onion, sliced thinly
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Throw in the onion, bell pepper and jalepeno, and saute until the vegetables are softened. Add the minced garlic and saute for one more minute. Then add one can of rinsed & drained black beans and a large chopped tomato (I used an heirloom from our CSA box) and just let the beans warm up. Take the beans off the heat and toss in some chopped cilantro and green onion. Serve with the chicken and rice.

The beans are vegetarian, so I've tagged this post as vegetarian. You could easily omit the chicken and still have a filling, delicious meal.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Greetings from low-carb land

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of back-to-school prep, board meetings, PTA volunteer duties and all kinds of things. Rugrat started back to school last week, and he's already had a clash with his new teacher. Big surprise. The kid is nothing if not strong-willed, and when the teacher asked the class to lay out their math homework a certain way, he decided that HIS way was better because it used less paper. And proceeded to argue the point with the teacher. So we had a little phone conference yesterday, and of course Babydaddy and I hammered the point home that following instructions is just as important as getting the correct answers. I love my son like crazy, but honestly that kid is not an easy one to live with sometimes.

I'm editing the monthly PTA newsletter this year, as a way to stay more in touch with what's going on at Rugrat's school, and because it was something I could do from the couch. You know how I am about my couch. LOVE it. Anyway, this is a bit of an adventure; there's lots of people involved in submitting articles, reviewing the draft of the newsletter, and sending me changes. There are a few people who (I have been warned) are consistently difficult to deal with: late submitting articles, etc. I've laid down the line in the sand though; I have said that I can work on this on weekends only since I have a full-time job, and if the principal of the school doesn't get me her article on time, oh well. The world won't stop turning.

I am also on the board of a new project that my supervisor at work is starting up: Classes for Causes. The basic premise is that people will teach classes, and the proceeds from those classes will be donated to the charity of the teacher's choice. The site is currently in development but we will be rolling out the beta version very soon, because we're planning to have our pilot class at the end of October. Supervisor is holding the first class: Search Engine Optimization and Internet Marketing. I am considering teaching classes in knitting and creating your own cell phone ringtones. Mr Wonderful is even getting in on the act; he'll be teaching a course in self-defense. Anyway, we've had two board meetings so far, and as the Board Secretary, I am responsible for typing up the minutes. Which took like an hour and a half last night, because we had a three-hour Strategic Planning meeting on Tuesday. My eyes were BURNING by the time I shut down the computer.

And things have been crazy busy at work. I'm desperately trying to get on top of things, but there is just SO much right now. So I'm working like a demon, trying to get done by the end of the day, so I can pick up Rugrat or go to the gym and fix dinner.

Speaking of dinner, Mr Wonderful and I have started the South Beach diet. Essentially it's a low carb diet for the first two weeks (meat, veggies and lowfat dairy only), then you add in complex carbs (whole grains, fruit) for the second phase. We started the diet on Monday, which was interesting because we were gone all day - since it was Labor Day and we both had the day off (joy!) we took a day trip to the coast. A nice drive through Sebastopol and Guerneville, out to where the Russian River dumps out. We saw a bunch of seals frolicking in the water, skipped rocks in the river, watched the pelicans dive for fish, saw a paraglider (is that a word?) jump off a cliff and float down to the beach, and ate crunchy veggies with a vegetable/ricotta dip.

Phase one hasn't been that bad, actually, although I do miss Dr Pepper and chips. Crunchy salty things are my downfall, and I've been missing the faux-cheese flavored snacky foods. But we've stuck to the plan (on day five now!) and have each lost five pounds already. We took measurements (waist, chest, hips & thighs) at the beginning and will compare when we take measurements again at the end of phase one. I'm pretty excited about this; I didn't think I'd lose weight this fast, and it's a great incentive to keep going. I doubt it will continue falling off at this rate (it must be mostly water weight, right?), but it's great to have some validation.

But man, I would LOVE to have a piece of fruit right now. I can't believe how much I am craving fruit these days, now that I know I can't have it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Slow Food!

Saturday I went to the Slow Food Nation expo in San Francisco, courtesy of Foodbuzz, the food blogger portal that I am affiliated with. I had a fantastic time, eating lots of great food and meeting the swell folks from Foodbuzz (why did I never put it together that "RyanTheGirl" is actually Ryan, the Managing Editor?), as well as some other food bloggers. In fact, the highlight of my trip was, of course, a visit to the CHEEEEEEESE pavilion, where I met Stephanie of The Grub Report. In my little Internet-centric corner of the world, that's like meeting a celebrity - she wrote recaps for TWOP once upon a time. She's got my dream life: a freelance writer, trained at culinary school, and she works in the best CHEEEEEEEESE shop in the world. Where, presumably, she gets to sample the wares all day long. Lucky, lucky woman. How she stays so thin, I have no idea.

Here's my quick recap of the Food Pavilions at the Slow Food Nation event (please excuse my sad iPhone camera skilz):

First up - cheese!
Of course, the cheese was glorious. That yellow cheese was STRONG - I can't remember what it was (and they didn't have a sticker), but it wouldn't be first on my list of cheeses to take to a desert island. The Northern Lights Blue was fantastic though, as was the fresh goat cheese crottin from Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery.

Next, I went to the wine pavilion. I don't have any pictures of the wine, but I had a lovely Stag's Leap Petite Syrah. Yum! I then headed for the fish pavilion, where they were serving (from bottom to top) calamari in a lemony vinaigrette, a sardine on a toasted baguette with sauteed onions and lemon, and albacore tuna with baby greens (I *think* it was arugula). Delish!

Then I went over to the charcuterie pavilion, where I had some amazing jerky made in Berkeley, a slice of salami, cotta, and a little bit of toast with "cured" lard with rosemary and garlic.

Next I wandered over to the pickles & chutney pavilion, but didn't stay for a taste of everything because me + pickles = ewww.

I decided instead to mosey on over to the beer pavilion, where I tried a Jamaican Red brew that was a bit hoppy for my tastes, but still quite yummy.

Then it was off to try some bread! Yummy, warm naan from the Indian side of the bread pavilion (there was also an Italian side, with brick-fired slices of pizza, but I was all about the naan on Saturday).

I wasn't too enamored of the potato-stuffed naan (it was actually too spicy for me, which is really saying something), but the other two were amazing. And the green dipping sauce was wonderful - verdant and spicy and fresh tasting all at once.

It was getting pretty late, so I decided to have a bit of dessert and tea, and head out. I stopped off at the honey & preserves pavilion and got this little bite of deliciousness: a honey mini-cupcake with rose-scented royal icing, topped with a half a pistachio. I'm sorry, but this is the best photo I got with my phone. You'll just have to trust me that it was beautiful and luscious.

And then it was over to the ice cream pavilion for one of the highlights of my day. I got to try salted caramel ice cream! And it was unbelievably good. It wasn't salty, but the salt brought out a kind of tang or something in the caramel that made it richer and fuller, somehow. I'm not even sure how to describe it, other than by saying that it was damn good, and if you ever get a chance to try salted caramel ice cream from BiRite Creamery, you should NOT pass it up. The other two ice cream flavors in my bowl were "Mr Espresso" and something called "Foresta Noci" or something like that. The coffee ice cream was good, but nothing earth-shattering, and the other one was just kind of odd, with these little crunchy bits of *something* in them. (Again, horrible photo, I apologize...)

Lastly, I visited the tea pavilion, which was lovely, but took a crazy-long time to go through, because each "tasting" is actually a 15-minute tea ceremony with a tea guide. The tea was good, but not something I'd probably drink on a regular basis, as it had very strong tannins. However, I did learn that your cup of tea is only as good as the water you use, and that mineral water is best to bring out all the flavor elements in your tea.

And that wraps it up! I headed for home full of new ideas and flavors, and happy to have been a part of this amazing food movement.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Easy Asian Sole

I do not like fish. I will go out of my way to eat anything other than fish, unless it is deep-fried or comes inside its own shell. But I am trying to eat healthier these days - I consider myself kind of "in training" before starting the South Beach diet in earnest - and I've been inspired by watching reruns of the BBCAmerica show You Are What You Eat. So with that in mind, I picked up two petrale sole filets at the grocery store and whipped up this quick and easy meal. And here's another first: with all the delicious green onions, cilantro and ginger, I'm submitting this as my first entry to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted by Cooking 4 All Seasons this weekend.

Easy Asian Sole
2 filets sole
1 cup milk (approx)
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 c low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp chile paste (sambal oelek)
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 green onions, sliced (green & light green parts only)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Put the sole in a wide dish and pour the milk over it - the milk should just barely cover the fish.

In the meantime, mix up all the rest of the ingredients (except green onions and cilantro) in a bowl. Mix in about half of the green onions. After the fish has soaked in the milk for 20 minutes, pat it dry, season with salt & pepper, and put it in a shallow oven-safe dish. Pour the dressing over it. Bake for 10 minutes, until the fish flakes easily. Serve over brown rice (they have frozen brown rice at Trader Joe's - cooks in 3 mins in micro!) and spoon a little of the marinade over the top - the rice tastes great with the dressing. Sprinkle with the reserved green onion & the cilantro.

This really turned out well, and soaking the fish in milk first removes a lot of the "fishy" taste that I hate.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

Paraphrased from Chocolate and Zucchini:

The Omnivore's Hundred is a list of 100 foods that Andrew Wheeler, British food blogger, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life.

He offered this list as the starting point for a game, along the following rules:
  1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  4. Optional extra: post a comment on Very Good Taste, linking to your results.

My list is below. I've had exactly half -- I guess I have a ways to go before considering myself a true "foodie!"

Please feel free to repost on your blog, and if you don't have a blog, share your personal list in the comments. :)

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (I've had turtle soup though!)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Phở
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (mmm...unpasteurized cheeeeese)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes (one of my very favorite foods)
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (oh, hell no!)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I've had mango, but not salted)
34. Sauerkraut (ew ew ew!)
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (I've had cognac, and I've had cigars, but not both together)
37. Clotted cream tea (yum!)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo (eaten in New Orleans)
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (Absolutely NOT!)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/€80/$120 or more
46. Fugu (I don't think I could bring myself to try it. Too chicken.)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I've obviously had McD's before, but never a Big Mac)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (I hate gin. But I've had a dirty vodka martini & loved it)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (no thanks)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs (recipe here)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (This is another one of those "not just no, but HELL NO")
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict (no no no! Runny eggs! Ewwww!)
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (what does it say about me that I would eat a rabbit but not a horse?)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Thursday, August 14, 2008

CSA

If you haven't heard about them before, CSAs are Community Supported Agriculture. Basically it's a system for buying produce directly from local farms. Often the farms grow organically, and the produce is always seasonal and super-fresh. I've been thinking about signing up with a CSA for a while now, and since Mr Wonderful and I are planning on starting the South Beach diet soon, this seemed like a great time to do it. So today I signed up with Farm Fresh to You, a CSA north of Vacaville, east of Lake Berryessa. It's extremely flexible - they do deliveries every week, every 2 weeks, or every 4 weeks, and there are several different options to choose from (fruit only, veggies only, mixed, small box, regular-size box, etc). And they deliver right to your home or office! Considering food prices these days, it seems very reasonable, too.

I'm excited to start eating more locally & seasonally, and Mr Wonderful & I are both looking forward to losing some of our extra "fluff."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Best new food blog

Naked Mohawk-Baby Carrot Jockeys

And also:

I'll Take My Chances

I can't stop laughing...

A summer cold

Last week Mr Wonderful came down with a nasty summer cold. I thought I'd escaped it, but apparently I wasn't so lucky...I started feeling it while I was driving home on Sunday, after dropping Rugrat off at summer camp. I just hope that he doesn't come down with it - what a disappointment it would be (not to mention a waste of money) if he had to come home early from camp!

As much as I hate being sick, at least I'm getting this cold thing out of the way while the kids are both gone (Tomboy's at her mom's this week) and before we head down for our vacation in Palm Springs next week. And I'm feeling much better today; yesterday was miserable but I got 10 hours of sleep the last two nights (thank you, NyQuil!) and have been drinking lots of liquids, so I'm feeling a bit better today. We'll see...it does tend to get worse as the day goes on, so I may be prematurely optimistic here, but I'm not as "out of it" today.

I know I've been lagging on posting here. That happens when I feel like I need to do a recap of something, and then I keep putting it off, and thinking that I can't blog about anything else until that is done. I'm talking about the camping trip we went on at the end of June, of course.

It was really very nice, and would have been ideal if it weren't for the damn mosquitoes. Rugrat got bitten so many times on his face that he looked like a boxer who'd just done ten rounds; his eye was swollen almost shut on the ride home. But other than the bugs, it was great. We spent a lot of time at the river nearby; I'd brought a huge inner tube (meant for pulling along behind a boat, so it was very sturdy) and we spent some lovely hours just floating in the water. Niece, of course, was absolutely ecstatic to be in the water - she's always been drawn to water, and would live her entire life in the water if she could. Mr Wonderful took Rugrat fishing for a little while, and I sat on the beach chatting with Sister and Brother-In-Law, knitting my cushy green v-neck sweater. You may think that wool and knitting needles are not appropriate for the beach, but hey, it's my vacation. I get to relax however I want. :)

And the food was glorious. I'd pre-made some Ribollita and some Mexican Chicken Chili before we left, and we also had hot dogs, eggs and bacon, biscuits, tacos, sandwich fixin's and snacks, plus lots of beer and soft drinks and water. Sister brought deviled eggs...mmmm....and they made us chicken-pineapple kabobs one night that were fantastic! Sister & BIL had gotten a really cool new camp stove; one side is a grill, the other is a regular burner, and it was very handy.

The best of the pictures of the camping trip are up on Flickr, if you're interested.

Oh, and let me leave you with this little snippet of conversation, overheard about 10 minutes after Sister & her family showed up:

Cousin: You suck!
Rugrat: No, you suck!
Cousin: We both suck!
Rugrat: Yeah, we both suck!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lemony Chicken & Peas

This was a quick dinner I pulled together that had a light, lemony sauce and healthy brown rice. How did I manage a quick dinner with brown rice, you ask? Trader Joe's frozen organic brown rice -- it cooks in three minutes in the microwave!

Lemony Chicken & Peas
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
zest and juice of one lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 - 1 1/2 c chicken stock (I used turkey because that's what I had on hand)
2 roasted chicken breasts, shredded into bite-size pieces (I roast several chicken breasts at once and use them for the next few days for quick & easy dinners)
1 1/2 c frozen peas
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
3-4 c cooked brown rice (I used two packages of Trader Joe's frozen organic brown rice)
salt & pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat in a saute pan. When the butter is totally melted, add the olive oil, rosemary, lemon zest and minced garlic. Season well with salt & pepper. After a minute or so, add the flour and stir. Cook the flour for a minute, and then add the stock, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add the lemon juice and then throw in the chicken, frozen peas and parsley. Once everything is heated through, it's ready to go. Serve over the brown rice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Whole wheat goodness

Over the past few days I've made a couple of loaves of bread from scratch. The first loaf I tried was a white bread, no-knead recipe that I followed to the letter. The second time I decided to get a little creative. The bread turned out fairly dense, with a fine crumb and a fantastic crispy, crunchy crust. With the antioxidants in the flaxseed, this will be my submission to Sweetnicks' ARF/5-a-day roundup this week.

Wheat & Flaxseed No-Knead Bread
1 1/2 c unbleached all purpose flour, plus a little more for working the dough later
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
1 heaping Tbsp honey (I used a nice local wildflower honey)
1 3/4 c water

Mix all the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Add the honey and the water, and mix just until the dough comes together in a big ball. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and leave alone for 12 hours. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle with a little flour to keep it from sticking to your hands. Pull the blob of dough from one end into the center, turn and repeat. Do this until all four edges have been folded into the center. Turn it over so that the "seam" is on the bottom and pat the dough into a circle shape. Cover it again with the dishtowel and let it rise for another hour.

Preheat oven to 500 with a 5 1/2 qt round covered dutch oven inside the oven while it heats. When the oven is preheated and the dough disk has risen for another hour, put the dough in the dutch oven and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 10 minutes. Immediately remove the bread from the dutch oven and put it on a rack to cool. Leave it alone until it is completely cooled or you just can't stand it anymore and have to try it (it will cut much better when it's cooled).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sorta off-topic

So I'm sitting here browsing my Tivo "suggestions" and decide to watch an episode of 30 Minute Meals. And OMG, I love love love Rachael Ray's new haircut! I am so distracted by the retro gorgeousness of her hair that I don't even care what she's cooking.

Must. Get. Haircut.

Spicy Spaghetti

I popped in to Kinder's (a local butcher) the other day for some chicken breasts and peppered bacon, and the sausages caught my eye. I asked for two mild links, thinking I'd make some spaghetti for an easy weeknight dinner. Turns out, the butcher gave me the wrong ones and our spaghetti turned out much spicier than I planned. It was way too much kick for Tomboy, but Mr Wonderful loved it and said it reminded him of when he lived in New Orleans.

Spicy Spaghetti
1/2 lb angel hair pasta (I used the Barilla Plus kind, which is a healthier multigrain pasta)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 hot Italian links (any spicy sausage would be good here), cut in half lengthwise and then into thin half-rounds
1 large can (28 oz) petite diced tomatoes
1/4 c fresh basil, torn or sliced into thin strips
salt & pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute the onions until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for another 30 seconds or so. Throw in the sausage and cook for another few minutes. Add the tomatoes. Wait for the sauce to start bubbling a little, and then turn down the heat to low. You can simmer this for a loooong time; I did for about half an hour, waiting for Mr Wonderful to come home. The flavors just all mix together and get better and better. Just before serving, add the basil and adjust the seasoning (the sausage probably added plenty of heat and salt, but check just in case).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Best news ever!

I know I owe y'all a recap of the camping trip and I am slacking on it. In the meantime, you can enjoy the photos on Flickr.

But! Mr Wonderful and I got the Best! News! Ever! yesterday. He was offered a position at the local hospital and accepted it, and will be transferring out here next month. While a job offer may not sound like the best news in the whole wide world, in this case it is. It means 3+ hours per day not spent commuting anymore. It means about $400 in gas not being purchased. It means Mr Wonderful won't be so freakin' exhausted all the time anymore. It's a swing shift position (afternoon to late night) so we'll miss our evenings together, but it also means that he can start taking classes at the local community college in the mornings to fulfill the prerequisites he needs in order to take the Kaiser course to become an ultrasound tech.

And he'll be working only five minutes away!!!

Wait, let me say that again: Five. Minute. Commute.

Best news ever, folks!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pork Chops and Roasted Fingerlings

I was watching Rachael Ray the other day and saw her make a meal with huge veal chops topped with a "raw sauce" (which was essentially just a salad). I wasn't impressed with the pompous name, but it sounded tasty (hot meat, cool salad) and I had all this organic produce from Trader Joe's, so dinner was born.

Pork Chops & Salad
2 thin cut boneless pork chops
2 tsp salt-free seasoning blend
2 c baby salad greens
1 c chopped heirloom tomatoes (cherry tomatoes will work fine instead)
1/2 small red onion, diced
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper

In a large-ish bowl, combine the greens, tomatoes and onion. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and then about 1 Tbsp olive oil. Season well with salt & pepper. Toss to combine, then let this sit off to the side while you make your pork chops.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Put 2 Tbsp olive oil in the skillet. Prepare the chops by sprinkling liberally with the seasoning blend, and salt & pepper. When the oil is shimmering in the pan, you'll know it's hot enough - add your pork chops. Remember that these chops are really thin though, so don't overcook them! I cooked mine for about three minutes, TOTAL - about 1 1/2 minutes per side.

Serve the salad with a chop on top and the roasted fingerling potatoes on the side (see below).

Roasted Fingerlings
1 small bag fingerling potatoes from Trader Joe's, cut in half
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp salt-free seasoning blend
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

On a rimmed sheet pan, toss the potatoes with the olive oil so that all sides are coated. Sprinkle with the seasoning blend and salt and pepper. Turn all the potatoes so the cut side is facing down, then roast 'em for about 25-30 minutes, until they are shriveled a bit and beautifully browned on the bottom.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Review: Cocina Medina

This is one of my favorite restaurants, and I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance. That’s a very good thing, because their margaritas are excellent. In fact, sometimes the boyfriend and I walk down there, get a pitcher of margaritas to share, and then stumble home afterwards, very satisfied and happily buzzed.

I’ve had their taquitos, camarones (both with the spicy “diablo” sauce and the milder garlic sauce), chimichangas, enchiladas, tamales and chile rellenos. Everything I’ve tried has been fantastic, with the possible exception of the tamale, which was a bit dry. Nothing beats their chile rellenos though…swimming in a smoky mole sauce and filled with molten jack cheese, it’s nothing short of incredible. The chiles always have lots of flavor and retain some “bite” rather than turning to a flavorless mush, like so many others I’ve tried.

If you’re in the area and hankering for a taste of authentic Mexican food served with a smile, give Cocina Medina a try.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Human tetris

What a terrible loss

RIP George Carlin. You will be sorely missed by millions. :(

Corny

I posted this on my other blog, but I thought it would be appropriate here as well:

I got a book from the library the other day, called The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's all about what is really in our food, and how to make conscious choices about what you're eating. I'm not even a third into it yet and I am disgusted by the political-agricultural industry. Something like 75% of our food comes from corn - mainly from corn-fed animals and processed corn in processed foods (seems like just about every unpronouncable additive in processed foods comes from corn). I have been so horrified by the information in this book about cattle feedlots that I've made a decision to only buy meat and eggs from Kinder's, a local butcher shop that has only grass-grazed beef (no antibiotic shots either, according to the girl I talked to on the phone). I'll check to be sure, but I'm guessing that if they've got grass-fed beef they also have only free-range chicken and therefore free-range eggs as well. This decision is not only, or even mainly, about the mistreatment of the animals on the mass-produced meat farms, but about the quality of the meat. Corn-fed feedlot beef has more saturated fat and less Omega-3 fatty acids. And they wallow around in their own crap all day. Who wants to eat that?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Corny

I got a book from the library the other day, called The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's all about what is really in our food, and how to make conscious choices about what you're eating. I'm not even a third into it yet and I am disgusted by the political-agricultural industry. Something like 75% of our food comes from corn - mainly from corn-fed animals and processed corn in processed foods (seems like just about every unpronouncable additive in processed foods comes from corn). I have been so horrified by the information in this book about cattle feedlots that I've made a decision to only buy meat and eggs from Kinder's, a local butcher shop that has only grass-grazed beef (no antibiotic shots either, according to the girl I talked to on the phone). I'll check to be sure, but I'm guessing that if they've got grass-fed beef they also have only free-range chicken and therefore free-range eggs as well. This decision is not only, or even mainly, about the mistreatment of the animals on the mass-produced meat farms, but about the quality of the meat. Corn-fed feedlot beef has more saturated fat and less Omega-3 fatty acids. And they wallow around in their own crap all day. Who wants to eat that?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Swingtown

Anyone else watching this show? It's on CBS, Thursday nights at 10 PM here. Mr Wonderful and I are loving it. It could so easily have been overdone, but it's quite engaging. The acting seems really good and the sets & soundtrack and costumes and everything are totally awesome and retro.

And here I thought CBS was on its last legs. Who knew they had this up their sleeves?

Short-timing

I'm totally short-timing right now. You know, when something you've been looking forward to is coming up really soon, and you're just counting down the minutes until it happens, and you're totally not in that "work mode" at all? Yeah, that's me right now. I've been looking forward to this family camping trip for months, and next Wednesday morning we're outta here!

My sister & I have been obsessively planning (ok, maybe she's not obsessive about it, but I am) for weeks now. We've got our meals planned & coordinated. We're each cooking a "group dinner" one night, and our Mexican-themed dinners will also be on the same night (tacos for us, burritos for them). Unfortunately, my cousin & her son are not going to be able to join us, but in a way it turns out to be a blessing in disguise, because now we'll get to spread out a bit more. I was a little worried when I saw "small tent sites" on the notes for the campsites, and here we are with TWO tents to set up (one for Mr Wonderful & I, and one for the boys to share). So it might be a good thing that we've got an extra campsite available.

And the weather is going to be fantastic -- I've been checking, and it looks like the highs will be in the mid-80s all week, with lows in the mid- to upper-40s. Nice.

But in the meantime, I've got work to do and my mind is SO not on it. I'm short-timing, y'all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Technobabble

Rugrat has been bugging me for a while now to teach him how to "build a website." I tried explaining that people study for years to learn how to build websites, and that it's not something he can just sit down and learn in an afternoon. But he just kept on bugging me.

So, today I built him a very, very simple website, while I talked him through the whole process. I showed him where to put text, how to add an image or a link, and how to build a table for layout. Since I'm a programmer, I showed him how to do all this by writing the code, not with some silly little point and click "web builder" software. We also created a simple background image to use on his site, and then created links to other pages. So it was a pretty thorough introduction to web developing.

And as if that's not enough, I set him up with a Gmail account and pointed him in the direction of Blogger. He figured that out all by himself (it really is foolproof), and set up a blog called Lizze's News (Lizze is his pet lizard's name). Take a look and be sure to leave a comment - I'm sure he'd be thrilled to find out people are visiting his blog!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Overenthusiastic

Apparently my skin is a leeetle bit overenthusiastic when it comes to healing. I went to the dermatologist this morning for what I hoped would be my final checkup, and she wasn't happy with my scar, because it's all puffy (Dad's comment yesterday: "I just thought it was a zit!" Nice.). So I'm going back next month for dermabrasion, to grind that puppy down. Ouch.

On the plus side, we had a lovely Father's Day yesterday. Babydaddy came over for dinner last night, as did my Dad. (Dad & Stepmom are up here visiting, because Stepmom's father just passed away. Very sad, but on the other hand, it was a nice surprise to be able to spend Father's Day with my dad.) Dad got to check out my scar firsthand and take pictures of Rugrat tearing around the court on his bicycle. I got to check on Dad's Thank-You Socks, to make sure they're turning out to be an appropriate size (so far, so good!). Then Mr Wonderful BBQed some steaks, and I sauteed some yummy local white corn (freshly cut off the cob!) and put together some tasty fruit & yogurt parfaits for dessert.

Oh yeah, and Dad & I tossed back a few glasses of scotch. Mmmm...Glenmorangie. There's just nothing quite as cool as (legally) drinking with your dad.

Summer fruit parfaits

The strawberries and blueberries were calling my name at the farmer's market this weekend, so I whipped up some tasty, healthy parfaits with fruit and yogurt for dessert on Father's Day. This will be my submission for Sweetnicks' ARF/5-a-day this week; be sure to check out her roundup on Tuesday night for more tasty recipes.

Summer Fruit Parfaits
2 c fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 c fresh blueberries
1/4 c good balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar (or a little more, if your strawberries aren't very sweet)
4 c lowfat plain greek yogurt
1/4 c chopped roasted pistachios
2 Tbsp balsamic glaze (I got this at Williams Sonoma)

In a large bowl, mix the strawberries and blueberries together with the balsamic vinegar and sugar. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour to let the berries macerate.

In six parfait glasses (or juice glasses), divide the berries and yogurt, layering first the yogurt, then the fruit, ending with fruit. Top each parfait with a sprinkling of chopped pistachio nuts and drizzle with a little of the balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.

Perfect roast beef sandwich

I've had such a craving lately for roast beef sandwiches. This is my idea of the perfect combination of flavors for a roast beef sandwich.

Perfect Roast Beef Sandwich
2 half-inch slices toasted sourdough pugliese bread
2 Tbsp dijon-horseradish sauce (see below)
3-4 slices thin, rare roast beef
1 thin slice sharp cheddar cheese
1 leaf butter lettuce

Spread the both slices of toasted bread with the mustard sauce, then top with the meat, cheese and lettuce. Enjoy!

Dijon-Horseradish Sauce
2 Tbsp lowfat sour cream
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp prepared horseradish
salt & pepper

Mix the first three ingredients together in a small bowl, and add salt & pepper to taste. Makes enough for 2-3 sandwiches.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Snapshots

Trying not to pee myself, I'm laughing so hard...

Great Olan Mills Photos

And also:

Typos of the Day

Growing up

Rugrat's last day of school is today. The end of third grade!

He's been really impressing me lately. First of all, he hasn't lost his housekey yet. He's been working hard on his goals - remembering to bring all his stuff home from school, taking care of his responsibilities at home (homework, cleaning his lizard's cage at Babydaddy's house, etc). He's walked to school several times by himself (Babydaddy followed him the first couple of times just to be sure). And....he finally learned how to ride his bike.

I've tried a few times to teach him to ride his bike, but he was very resistant to even trying. However, I made this a prerequisite to him being able to be a latchkey kid next school year; I'd rather have him be able to ride his bike to/from school than just walk. So a few weeks ago, Mr Wonderful took him out in our court and taught him how to ride. It took him less than 20 minutes before Rugrat was riding his bike completely solo (including starting off and stopping without falling over). I was absolutely flabbergasted. It helps that Mr Wonderful is a lot stronger than I am, and that learning to ride the bike felt more secure and less wobbly while he was holding the back of the seat. But I think Rugrat was finally just ready to learn. Now, of course, he LOVES riding his bike. He couldn't see what the big deal was before, but once he learned how to do it, he couldn't believe how fun it was. And I had nearly given up on him ever learning to ride a bike, so when I saw him take off for the first time, completely on his own, I almost started crying. My little munchkin is growing up!

This is such a golden age of childhood, and it makes me especially excited about our upcoming camping trip. I've taken Rugrat camping before, but only once, for a single night, and it was a few years ago. I think this is going to be one of those vacations that he remembers for the rest of his life. We'll have three adjoining campsites: my sister & her family, my cousin & her son, and Mr Wonderful, Rugrat and I (unfortunately, Tomboy is not able to join us this time). It'll be five days of getting dirty, hiking, swimming in a river, fishing, and playing with his two cousins that are just about the same age as him. I've gotten a separate tent just for the boys to sleep in, and I really think they're going to have a blast. S'mores around the campfire at night, hot cocoa with marshmallows in the mornings, and long summer days playing in the woods and the river with his favorite cousins. What could be better for a nine-year-old boy?