Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You need these ...

Just a quick public service announcement. If you haven't already discovered the peanut butter chips from Trader Joe's, you're missing out.

the best thing
{the best thing}

I've been swapping them in for half the chocolate chips called for in my favorite recipe (I usually just cut the chocolate in half, because I like more cookie than chip). They are slightly salty and so, so good.

They get soft easily so I keep them in the freezer. But that might just be because our kitchen becomes an oven at the drop of a hat. Hard to tell.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reading, lately

I had a pretty good run this time around! And I may have overcome my Didion aversion, although I'm not sure we're ever going to be on close terms.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway - Self-destructive, drug addicted, semi-psychic detective with a biting sense of humor. Loved these. If you're looking for a straightforward (or realistic) murder mystery, these probably won't be your thing, but I fell into them deep. The writing is great, the character is unusual, the cover art is awesome. And of course, now I'm left impatiently waiting for a third one. I would never have found these if it weren't for a reader recommendation.

The Last Thing He Wanted - In an attempt to get myself to appreciate Joan Didion, after two failed attempts, I checked out every Didion novel the library had available at the moment and dove right in. For the first couple chapters I was resistant because her voice is so strong and to be honest, it can drive me a little batty. The loooong sentences with complex construction that leave me hunting around for clauses. The frequent use of "it seems" or "it occurs" that distract me from the narrative. The constant repetition that still leaves me feeling like we're circling around a point instead of driving it home.* But then I fell into the story and was able to let go of Didion (mostly - it's fiction but there are an awful lot of references that sound drawn from Didion's actual life) and the writing actually started to work for me. The novel centers around a female protagonist who ends up being an accidental pivot point in an international incident on an unidentified Caribbean island. The plot is complex and dark.

A Book of Common Prayer - Since I was already warmed up to Didion's writing style I decided to keep going and I was able to get caught up in this immediately. Again, the main character is a female on a foreign island who becomes embroiled in political issues. I enjoyed this quite a bit and found the protagonist really intriguing.

The Year of Magical Thinking - I did not enjoy Blue Nights, which is Didion's other book on her experience of loss. The Year of Magical Thinking felt completely different to me. There isn't as much of Didion's signature voice and it's laid out in a much more straightforward way. I found Blue Nights incredibly painful/irritating to read because I hated the constant circling (and the weird obsession with referencing expensive clothes/restaurants/neighborhoods). This book is easier to manage and I found myself sympathizing with Didion. I can totally understand her obsession with attempting to control uncontrollable situations by marshaling as many facts as possible and it felt like the most relatable trait she has, as far as I'm concerned.

Run River - This ended up being my favorite of the Didion binge. It's a dark drama based in personal conflicts rather than political ones, which is always more appealing to me, Philistine that I am. None of the characters are particularly appealing, but why do they have to be (is what I ask myself every time I voice this complaint about a book)? They are interesting, which is more important.

Little Failure - It was hard not to take a break from Didion the second this became available, but I was afraid of getting derailed. It's probably good that I waited because this book is amazing. I knew it would be funny (it is) but somehow I wasn't expecting the raw emotion and unflinching exploration. Shteyngart doesn't pull any punches when it comes to himself or his relationship to his parents and yet in the end it's surprisingly tender. Now I want to re-read all his novels.




* I know, I know! Didion is a literary icon and I am an idiot for not appreciating her unique voice immediately. All of these books later and I'll admit that some aspects of her writing style still grate on me, so I guess I'm just have to live with that failing.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

And so it goes ...

As soon as I had that first planter hung I started thinking about two more. I wanted something that would balance the first one, which is pretty intricate, so I decided to go both simpler and smaller.

planter trio
{planter trio}

We're still adjusting the heights (and I am really sad that I didn't have brass rings and brass chain, so that everything is totally matching) but I think it's going to be good.

I didn't work with a tutorial for these. I knew I wanted brass incorporated in both and I knew I wanted to try out a tripod style for one. I just messed around with them a bit and because there are so few knots they came together really quickly. The bowls are from the same line as the larger white one, also from Sunset Nursery. I used all cotton cord again but a much thinner one. D picked up the brass rods at the hardware store.

For the one on the left I just used a length of brass rod and threaded the cord through it.

brass rod
{brass rod}

The one on the right was a little more complicated, but I basically just threaded the strands through the three pieces and then threaded some clear fishing line through to make the triangle a little sturdier.

brass triangle
{brass triangle}

But maybe just a little dessert bowl sized one should be floating in the back, closer to the wall? I think I'm just making up excuses now.



Just ignore the fact that we're apparently never going to get around to hanging any more of our artwork.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Around here

A few scattered photos from the last few weeks ...

triangle
{triangle}

salsa prep
{salsa prep}

monday night dinner
{monday night}

notes
{notes}

I finished a couple more planters and incorporated some brass. Really happy with how they turned out. Pictures tomorrow.

We made the best tomatillo salsa.

Trying to plan the simplest meals possible, so that I'm not standing over a hot stove for too long. We're relying heavily on salad.

Re-discovering my love of index cards since I unearthed a package of them during our office desk set up.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Eugene and Portland

I had a work trip to Eugene so I made the most of it by tacking on a quick visit to Portland and getting D to join me there. We didn't have much time (and I didn't take many pictures) but we kept busy!

boxes to go
{ninkasi brewery - eugene - boxes to go}

ninkasi flight
{ninkasi flight}

falling sky brewery
{falling sky brewery - eugene}

falling sky flight
{falling sky flight}

international rose test garden
{international rose test garden - portland}

climbing roses
{climbing roses}

because we had to
{because we had to...}

dulce de leche hazelnut
{blue star - dulce de leche hazelnut}

egg sandwiches
{egg sandwiches}

crepes at cartopia
{crepes at cartopia}

Despite the fact that I had the most days in Eugene, I also had the least free time. I was completely booked until my last night there. But I took full advantage of that one evening! I walked three miles to the Blair Blvd area and had a flight at Ninkasi and then stopped in at Falling Sky and had dinner and a pint. Going out by myself is a rare pleasure and I love it. I don't usually read and I make a point of not messing with my phone much. I just sort of zone out and tune in at the same time, if that makes sense. Also notable in Eugene - coffee from Perk with housemade burnt sugar syrup.

D had flown into Portland and spent some time with friends and family and he met me in Eugene on Friday afternoon. I loved both breweries so much that I did the whole thing over again with him. Which was awesome, because the one downside to solo brewpub hopping is that you can't possibly taste enough beers without someone to help. At Ninkasi I loved, loved, loved the dry hopped pale ale (sadly, not available in bottles) and the Tricerahops. The tasting room is lively and full of people getting their growlers filled for the week. Falling Sky is just down the street, and it's a beautiful light filled space with the best graphics I've seen at any brewery. Their food is awesome and their beer list is extensive. Make sure to come with at least one other person so you can share a couple flights. But if you're alone, they're very nice about recommending some options and giving you tiny tastes so you can make a decision.

After a small dinner in Eugene we drove up to Portland, really appreciating the long days because we could see the scenery the whole way. It wasn't dark until after 9:30 pm, which felt crazy to me. We had a late second snack at Lardo and stopped in for drinks at the Lucky Labrador.

Because we had the rental car until 10 am, we woke up early and drove to the International Rose Test Garden, which is gorgeous in June. We returned the car and made a quick stop at Voodoo Doughnut, because really, how could we not? The donuts were fine but the experience ended up being even better. Just as we'd sat down with our donuts a wedding started at the front counter. Apparently you can get married there. The packages look like a pretty good deal, I have to say.

We were staying in Southeast Portland to have better access to the breweries but we walked all over on Saturday, crossing the river and heading towards the Pearl District in downtown, stopping by the Saturday market on our way. We browsed some of the boutiques on Alder, including Alder & Co, which was lovely. We wandered into a little alley of shops and found Quin, an all natural candy store (try their version of Starburst!). I have no idea what the alley is called but ETA - A kind reader informed me that the alley is called Union Way! You can enter from Burnside just after 11th St and it's full of fun places, including a Steven Alan, although we resisted that particular temptation.

We ate several crepes from Perierra at Cartopia, a little collection of food carts with a seating area on the corner of SE 12th and Hawthorne. If you're there, you must try the coconut milkshake with basil and sea salt. It was crazy. We also had a pizza from Pyro Pizza and french fries from Potato Champion.

Despite staying in Southeast specifically to be close to the breweries, we overestimated how much we could get to in one day and it quickly became clear that we were going to max out. We made a point of visiting Cascade Brewing because they specialize in sours, which can be hard to find. The frite galois was insanely good. After a long walk and an afternoon nap we decided to switch to cocktails and ventured out to Rum Club. If you're looking for an understated yet perfect Tiki bar, Rum Club is a must. The drinks were amazing and the bartender even gave us the recipe for one of our favorites of the night. I'll get it up here once I have a chance to track down the ingredients.

On Sunday morning we had a couple hours so we walked in the other direction, east along Hawthorne, and stumbled into Blue Star Donuts. I had a dulce de leche hazelnut donut that was so ridiculously good that after one bite D, who is not that into donuts, went back up to the counter and ordered one for himself. I was sorely tempted to bring back several dozen.. I rounded out my breakfast with an awesome egg sandwich from Fried Egg I'm in Love (all the sandwich names are puns involving song titles, so you kind of have to sing to yourself while you read the menu).

If you're wondering how we managed to try so many food items over the course of ~36 hours, well, it's not for the faint of heart but it works out okay if you graze. We try to order just 1 - 2 things at each place and share. That way we can eat at a different place in two hours. This works best if you aren't eating at sit down restaurants, obviously. We share beer flights (duh) but not cocktails or pints (one cocktail for two people is just embarrassing). However, tasting the other person's drink is always a given. In the end, you also just have to accept that none of your clothes will probably fit when you get home. We all have to make sacrifices.

It was a great trip but waaaay too short. I'm hoping we get a chance to go back and spend a little more time here in the future.

And yes, we had Stumptown coffee, which was wonderful, although D feels the latte at Ristretto was actually the winner.

I am bummed that we ran out time (and liver stamina) to do tastings all along distillery row, because that looks awesome. I also would have liked to try more restaurants, but given the short time frame our cart grazing worked out well.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Meals, lately

Okay, people have asked about our usual recipes or what a standard week looks like, so I'll try to keep doing these every so often. I've been stashing the old meal plans in the back of my binder so I can pull them out and do little round ups. But I neglected to write dates on these, so I had to piece them together a bit. I think I got everything in more or less the right order but it took some detective work and I'm not sure I got it all correct.

meal planning 5

Week 1:
Salad (Monday): Wild rice salad with roasted green beans and cranberries
Meat/lentils/pasta (Wednesday): Chicken in cashew nut sauce
Easy meal (Thursday): Burritos

Planning thoughts: Auditioning another new grain salad recipe, balancing it out with one of our favorite old recipes.

Advance prep: I made the wild rice salad on Monday and also made an extra large batch of the cashew sauce. I divided it and froze half of it (originally intended to freeze 3/4, so that's what you see written).

Recipe thoughts: I liked this wild rice salad but the cranberries made it just a little sweet for me. It was great as leftovers on a green salad though.

meal planning 6

Week 2:
Salad (Monday): Kale salad with slow cooked salmon
Meat/lentils/pasta (Wednesday): Pizza - sweet potato with brie + marinara with sausage
Easy meal (Monday): Sweet potato and black bean burritos (from Moosewood)

Planning thoughts: I had pizza dough in the freezer (need to share the recipe we've been using soon!) and I must have been feeling like sweet potatoes. Things changed during the week, though. I ended up making the burritos (not actually an easy meal, but I freeze at least half, which will mean an easy meal later on) and the salad on Monday and then the week got busy and we didn't need the salmon. I never buy meat until right before we use it, specifically because of situations like this. Note - I always purchase sausage from Whole Foods and buy just as much as we need (same with pretty much all our meat) which is why you never see leftover meat that needs to be worked into my meal plans. For this week I bought a single sausage, which feels a little ridiculous, but is just enough for a pizza.

Advance prep: Not much this week, unless you count the fact that I was benefiting from previous prep by using up the pizza dough I had ready.

Recipe thoughts: All of these are standards for us. I really love the sweet potato and brie flatbread. These sweet potato/black bean burritos are great but I'd forgotten just how much filling this makes! I have a ton in the freezer now.

meal planning 10

Week 3:
Salad (Tuesday): Cilantro noodle bowl with broccoli (posted about it here)
Meat/lentils/pasta (Monday): Mushroom rice casserole
Easy meal (Thursday): Eggs with black beans and tortillas

Planning thoughts: Trying out new recipes again! Not much left over to use up.

Advance prep: None. Luckily these were all pretty quick.

Recipe thoughts: The casserole was great. Maybe too good, because we definitely didn't get that many servings out of it! I think we got four servings, so either we're pigs or it's intended as a side dish. The cilantro noodle bowl was also really good. I used more broccoli than is called for in the recipe, because I like a really high vegetable to noodle ratio. We grilled the tofu on our large cast iron griddle and it was perfect. The easy meal is just TJ's cuban black beans on a corn tortilla (must be heated directly over the flame to get it a little crisp) with a fried egg on top. Add salsa, sour cream or just tapatio if that's all you have on hand. 

meal planning 1

Week 4:
Salad (Monday): Pearl couscous with prosciutto, mushroom and asparagus
Meat/lentils/pasta (Tuesday): Soba with peanut citrus sauce (+ steamed broccoli)
Easy meal (Thursday): Bean burritos + green salad

Planning thoughts: Nothing much that needed to be used up (just some broccoli and some burrito fixings), had some new recipes (couscous and soba) that I was eager to try out.

Advance prep: Minimal. I worked from home on Monday which freed up the time I would normally spend on my commute. I made both the couscous and the soba that evening and we ate the soba the next day.

Recipe thoughts: I liked the couscous pretty well but still haven't decided if I'll make it a standard. It might be better for winter. The soba noodles were good but still not quite what I was looking for!

meal planning 3

Week 5:
Salad (Monday): Meyer lemon grain salad with asparagus, almonds and goat cheese
Meat/lentils/pasta (Tuesday): Mom's beef stew (+ green salad)
Easy meal (Thursday): Roasted vegetable quesadillas (based on Moosewood Cookbook recipe) + green salad

Planning thoughts: I had leftover bell pepper, bok choy, asparagus, broccoli, sour cream, salsa, tortillas. The grain salad was another new recipe I wanted to test out. I didn't make a note of this, but I must have had a long day at work planned because that's usually when I treat us to the beef stew, which is a crockpot dish that apparently I've never shared. It's a really simple one.

Advance prep: I prepped the meat and veggies for the stew after I put the grain salad together and I also roasted the vegetables for the quesadillas at the same time. I actually put the entire stew together and then store it in a bowl in the fridge overnight, then put it all in the crockpot the next morning. I used to just put everything together in the ceramic liner but I read that refrigerating in the liner is a bad idea because the crockpot takes longer to get up to temp and it can be a food safety issue. This is a bummer and I've been doing it that way for years with no issues, but why take the risk over a single extra dirty dish?

Recipe thoughts: The grain salad was pretty good and we both liked it. I'll probably make it again soon. My only complaint is that it felt a little heavy because of the cheese. Again, I liked it as leftovers on top of a green salad better. This might be a personal issue.

meal planning 8

Week 6:
Salad (Monday): Spring wild rice salad
Meat/lentils/pasta (Wednesday): Chicken in cashew nut sauce (again)
Easy meal (Friday): Frittata (leftover chives, goat cheese, asparagus)

Planning thoughts: We had leftover goat cheese, chives and asparagus from the grain salad the previous week. I also had frozen cashew nut sauce from a couple weeks previous and I still had some wild rice leftover in the bag that I could use up.

Advance prep: None. Luckily these were all pretty quick.

Recipe thoughts: The wild rice salad was great. I subbed black lentils for the split peas because those are what I had. The color contrast was obviously lacking, but it tasted really good. Frittatas are just a good way to use up random leftover ingredients.

When I look back over this I realize we rely pretty heavily on a rotation of various burritos and quesadillas. I think we get caught in a cycle because we buy salsa or sour cream and then want to use it up over the course of a few weeks. This is fine with me.

Whew. I'll try to start doing more regular posts with our meals so you don't have to look at a month and a half at once!




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Noodles

I'm not sure why I ended up on a quest to find the exact noodle bowl I've been craving, but now I can't let it go. So far, this recipe from 101 Cookbooks is the best one I've come across. Maybe I'll stop here?

chopping and washing
{chopping and washing}

I didn't have romanesco so I used regular broccoli and I went heavy with it. I like a high ratio of veg : noodles.

tofu slices
{tofu slices}

I cooked the tofu slices on my large cast iron griddle which I oiled first. I do have a tiny non-stick skillet but I just don't love using it.

cilantro noodle bowl
{cilantro noodle bowl}

These noodles are really simple but hit the spot perfectly. The sauce is like a light cilantro pesto. I'd consider adding even more vegetables next time (maybe some radish or carrot?). I did find that I needed more salt than the recipe called for, but I'm a heavy handed salter.

I think this one's a keeper.