…is fast approaching. If you’re like me, you find little goodies online that you think would make nice presents throughout the year and then forget where you’ve bookmarked them. Never fear, I’ve started a Holiday Gift Guide board on my Pinterest – I hope you can find some good ideas there.
Winter is coming. I can feel it – in the way I pull my cardigan in a little closer each morning, in the way my body longs to stay outside in the afternoon sun for just a moment longer, and in the dreaded way that darkness seems to fall just a bit earlier each evening. There’s something about winter that has always made me sad. But maybe, just maybe I can choose to view these months as a time to rest and be renewed. It’s about looking for the silver lining, right?
I love fall – cooler weather, crunchy leaves, spices – all of it. Fall is so short-lived, so fleeting here in Alabama, so when it comes, I must enjoy it as much as possible. This past weekend, Drew and I traveled to Tuscaloosa to take photos of a sweet couple and one of our friends who has been working hard and just met her weight loss goal. Earlier in the week, the boyfriend of the couple called Drew and told him that he planned to propose to the girlfriend at their photo shoot. He did just that, and it was a beautiful moment – you could see the love that they had for one another and I am so honored that I was able to be there. I took some photos of the pretty trees at Capitol Park:
I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to survive winter, I’m going to have to make soup like crazy. I didn’t understand the beauty of soup until last year. You can make it on Sunday and then eat it for days. It’s warm, it’s delicious, and it makes going to work on a Monday a little bit easier.
Adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook
Serves 5-6 Prep/cooking time: ~1 hour
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion
5 medium cloves of garlic, minced
12 baby carrots, chopped (or one regular carrot)
2 small yellow squash, chopped
half of a large eggplant, diced
1/2 Tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 Tablespoon dried basil
4-5 cups of water
1 1/2 cups of tomato sauce [we had used the other part of it a jar on spaghetti or pizza...it is delicious in minestrone because it adds extra flavor. If you don't have any, you can use a 14 1/2 oz. can of tomato puree]
1 can chickpeas [you could also use cannellini or kidney beans]
1 cup dried pasta
2 handfuls of grape tomatoes, chopped [or 1-2 medium tomatoes]
freshly minced parsley
grated parmesan cheese
1) Heat olive oil in a big pot or Dutch oven. Add onion, garlic, and two pinches of salt. Saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add carrots, eggplant, oregano, and basil. Turn down heat, cover, and cook for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally so vegetables don’t burn.
2) Add squash, water, and tomato sauce or puree. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add beans and cook for about 5 more minutes.
3) Remove lid and bring soup to a boil. Add pasta and tomatoes, and cook until pasta is tender. Turn off heat and sprinkle parsley and parmesan on top. Enjoy!
This morning, my dad is running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
I am so proud of him. Really, we all are. My mom, my sister, Drew, and I have all been over-eager to share with anyone who would listen that “OUR dad is running a marathon. He just finished an EIGHTEEN MILE training run.” There’s something incredible about my dad deciding that he would run a marathon after his 50th birthday. I’m sure that part of his desire to run was just to prove that he could do it – isn’t that what all runners hope to do?
But then again, my dad isn’t running this marathon for just himself – he’s running it for thousands of people across the country.
My dad has been raising money for several months to run his marathon for the American Cancer Society and for Teach For America. He runs in honor of thousands of teachers and their students across the country and in hopes that one day our education system will do what is right by all children. He runs in memory of my aunt and uncle and in honor of my grandma and aunt. He runs in honor of all those who cannot and all those who hope to one day.
Dad, you inspire me every day. I love you!
I have a problem.
Ok, maybe it’s not really a problem.
I am a compulsive baker.
Whenever I’m feeling happy or sad or energetic or bored, I bake (or sometimes just make homemade salad dressing). But the problem is not that I eat too many of my cookies, oh no. It’s that I don’t eat enough of them. I make food for other people. People usually don’t understand this about me for a long time.
The problem when you do this is that you end with 12 cinnamon rolls. Single ladies, I think you see where I’m going here. What do you do with 12 cinnamon rolls?
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to marry Drew, who is happy to finish any of my baking project creations. But we still had eight cinnamon rolls left over, because let’s face it – man cannot live on cinnamon roll alone…he will go into a sugar coma. All this is to say that these cinnamon rolls freeze great! As my best friend Ali once said, “You can freeze ANYTHING. Except lettuce.” It’s fine.
I used this recipe but with a few modifications:
- My cinnamon rolls weren’t vegan. I used unsalted butter.
- I used soy milk instead of almond milk.
- I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of bread flour, but I might use just plain whole wheat next time. If you don’t have any of these on hand, it’s fine to use all purpose. The difference is in the percentage of gluten that the flour contains. Bread flour has the most gluten, then all purpose, then whole wheat pastry and cake flour.
- I ended up making about twice as much of the sugar-butter-cinnamon filling because I thought the amount called for was too small.
- I didn’t make the drizzle at the end. Drew and I topped ours with a pat of butter or with a kiss of maple syrup.
You need these cinnamon rolls.
This spur-of-the-moment meal last night converted Drew into a newfound pasta-lover.
Let me explain: for the past couple of years, we’ve been eating rice (and occasionally quinoa) as the primary grain for our meals. I avoided noodles entirely after Drew told me he didn’t like them when we started dating and cooking meals together. But last night, the idea for this simple pasta meal popped into my head and surprisingly, Drew agreed.
As he and a friend sat out on our back porch smoking cigars and sharing Chatoe Rogue’s Black Lager, I spent time in my kitchen. I would have thought that I would be too tired after working all week to want to spend time chopping and watching the oven on a Friday night, but I did – I found the same peace and reassurance that I always seem to find near my stove and cabinets full of glass bowls and cookware.
Penne with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Caramelized Onions, Arugula, and Feta
1 box of whole wheat penne (13.25 oz)
1 1/2 sweet yellow onions
2 cups of grape tomatoes
2 cups of arugula
3/4 cup feta cheese
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
To make this recipe, you have to be work on three things simultaneously – the pasta, oven-roasted tomatoes, and caramelized onions. But don’t worry, it’s easy!
Caramelized onions (please note – normally I would caramelize onions for longer (around 45 minutes to an hour), but when you’re hungry, you’re hungry):
1) On a cutting board, chop onions into thin slices.
2) Turn stove eye to medium heat. Once it’s warm, add about a tablespoon or so of olive oil and the onion slices to a skillet.
3) Turn heat down to low, add a pinch of sugar, and allow onions to brown for around 30 minutes, stirring them every so often.
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2) Cover lipped baking pan with sheet of parchment paper and place tomatoes on pan.
3) Roast tomatoes for twenty minutes.
1) Boil 6 quarts of water (24 cups) in a big pot on your stovetop with a couple pinches of salt (the box might call for 2 tablespoons of salt, but I like to add less).
2) After water begins to boil, add pasta. Turn down heat just a notch and let cook for as long as your box says. My pasta was ready in 9 minutes.
3) Drain pasta and let sit in a big bowl. Set aside 2 cups – you won’t need this and you can use this plain pasta for another tasty meal.
Now you’re ready to add your tomatoes, onions, arugula, and crumbled feta to the pasta in the big bowl. You may need to add a little salt to taste. I swirled in a little olive oil just before serving. Ta-da, time to eat!
Since I graduated in May, things have been pretty…nuts.
-contracted some horrid throat infection for six weeks and received an emergency release from Teach For America
(meaning I have an open invitation to rejoin the corps within the next two years)
-lived in Birmingham with Drew’s grandparents while he finished up a newspaper internship
-lived with Drew’s parents in Montgomery for a couple of weeks when the air conditioning broke
-lived in Tuscaloosa at Drew’s apartment until the lease expired
-wrote lots of cover letters and applied for approximately 657 jobs (okay, maybe that’s a lie.)
-moved back home with Drew to live with my parents and sister in Auburn for a couple of weeks
-worked at my old job and tutored all my kiddos who are now big & old
-moved to Montgomery when Drew got a job
My days are now spent moving everything in and half-heartedly searching for a job while Drew works during the day.
But it’s not all sad – I know it will come and I know things work out for the best. Plus, this down time is giving me the opportunity to use all of my beautiful kitchen things that have been packed in boxes for the past three months. I highly recommend not being able to use your wedding gifts for a couple of months. You totally forget what you have and get to re-live the surprise & excitement all over again! But in all seriousness, my kitchen is now INCREDIBLE. I could practically run a catering business out of here now – I have all of the tools anyone could ever need. Except for maybe an extra oven.
This morning, I tried 101 Cookbooks’ Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread. It has this great subtle banana flavor and is studded with chunks of chocolate and the perfect amount of lemon zest.
I didn’t make the glaze since let’s be real – who needs a glaze when she’s home alone and slamming banana bread & iced coffee? I also subbed non-fat yogurt for the full fat stuff. It still turned out beautifully.
Your homework is to make some bread. Oh, and find me a job. In the meantime, I’ll be re-arranging my spice collection. Really, what other 22 year old has star anise, Himalayan pink sea salt, and saffron?
- What’s your favorite coffee blend at the moment? Seattle’s Best Level 4
- What’s your favorite coffee shop(s)? Urban Standard in Birmingham, AL and Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, CA
- Do you have a first memory of drinking coffee? When I was in fourth grade, my dad would give me a cup of coffee before each peewee football game so that I would run faster.
- Can you tell us your coffee-making routine? Lately, I’ve been using whole beans and grinding them in a Cuisinart conical burr grinder. I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and drink coffee recently, so I’ve been using a stainless steel Bialetti Moka pot.
- What’s a moka pot?: A moka pot is a stovetop espresso maker. It doesn’t make true espresso; it would be graphed between espresso and Turkish coffee. It’s very tasty and often brings out the darker, chocolate-y flavors of coffee.
- Where do most people go wrong when they are making and drinking coffee?: Most people use a drip-type machine and probably don’t grind their beans. If you buy already-ground coffee, the grounds will go stale pretty quickly. When you buy whole beans, you simply grind what you need that day and the result is a fresher pot. The key to grinding is creating a uniform coarseness, meaning all bean particles are the same size, so that the brewing process extracts evenly. The finer the grind, the quicker the extraction. I use a conical burr grinder instead of a spice (bladed) grinder because spice grinders create a lot of dust, leading to bitter, metallic, over-extracted coffee.
- What is the number one piece of advice you have for people who want a good cup of coffee: Don’t try to make the perfect pot of coffee on your first try and use small variables to experiment. For example, one day, use less water, and another day, brew your coffee a minute longer. It’s fun to experiment! Try using different coffee-making methods: french press, moka pot, cold brew, drip, and Chemex.
- And lastly, what is your Harry Potter house? I’m a Slytherin!
We got married in May! I walked down the aisle (too quickly, of course) in a pretty dress with a flower in my hair. I had the best parents and bridesmaids that anyone could possibly have. It was fun and hectic (especially in the last few weeks leading up to the big day) and I still haven’t fully recovered my memory from that day. So many things happened that I feel as though I still haven’t taken it all in.
A Few Bits of Wedding Advice:
1. Really and truly, invite the people you love and who will be so happy to be there for you.
2. If you or your fiance have any design/technological ability whatsoever, try making your Save the Dates before buying them. You’ll save a whole lot of money.
3. Google Doc spreadsheets are going to be your new best friend. Use them to make guest lists with columns like “Invitation Sent?” “Number of Persons” “Gift” etc.
4. Be assertive with vendors. They are there to do what you want – not the other way around.
5. Make sure that you can clearly communicate with the seamstresses who do your alterations. Just trust me on this one
6. That scene from 27 Dresses where Jane is helping the bride on the toilet – that happens. Real life. Get ready for it.
We flew across the country to San Francisco on our honeymoon. The farthest west I had been before was Colorado and New Mexico, so it was so fun to see a new landscape. Some parts out west just look like a completely different world. Lately, I get all squirmy and anxious when I’m on a plane, but this flight gave me a whole new appreciation of flying. We live in a beautiful place.
I time to read for pleasure and finally read Bossypants and Water for Elephants*. I enjoyed both, but maybe not quite so much as I would have thought based on the cult following that both have.
*I also read a stupid, silly chick-lit book similar to The Vow (based on what I’ve seen from the previews), but I feel guilty and don’t want to admit it.
And now, for the most important part of any vacation:
1. Chaat at Cafe Chaat - Drew and I happened upon Chaat Cafe on our first day in San Francisco, and I’m fairly certain that Drew’s life was changed by the experience. Chaat means “savory snack” and
2. Vegetarian Meal at Cafe Chaat – In addition to its delicious chaat dishes and friendly waitstaff, Chaat Cafe also has a special deal for a big vegetarian meal. I had it not once, but twice, while we were in the city.
3. Chocolate Sundae at Franciscan Crab House – Drew was in love with this huge giant chocolate sundae.
4. Strawberry Cream French Toast - We stumbled upon a little café complete with lots of hipsters and vegan options one morning, and Drew ordered this decadent strawberry cream french toast.
5. Blood Orange Margarita at Franciscan Crab House -Franciscan Crab House also had delicious (and expensive!) mixed drinks. Drew and I both tried their blood orange margarita, with freshly squeezed juice.
6. Veggie Sushi at Delica – We stopped for lunch in the Ferry Building (my favorite place in San Francisco) one day before heading out on a tour of Muir Woods.
7. 20th Century at The Burritt Room – Before dinner one evening, we decided we had to go to at least one bar with swanky mixed drinks and live music. The 20th Century had gin, lillet blanc, creme de cacao, & lemon.
8. Seafood at Crab House – We liked this restaurant but not such much as the Franciscan Crab House. The view was really pretty and the sea lions on the pier were celebrating their 22nd Birthday!
9. Crab Cakes at Crab House – These were pretty and nice, especially with the veggie topping.
10. Power Bagel at Noah’s Bagels – Breakfast is my favorite part of the day and I love love love trying out places that are prevalent in another part of the country.
11. Tandoori Vegetables at Viva Goa - One of my favorite Indian dishes ever.
12. Gulab Jamun at Viva Goa – We had fun trying this pretty dessert, although it didn’t receive quite as much love as Drew’s beloved chocolate sundae on the first night.
…and then it was back to the real world. More on this later!
While taking a break from cleaning my apartment this morning (y’all, things get dirty! especially when you haven’t scrubbed your bathtub in months), I took a break to do my usual recipe browsing. I recently re-discovered The Kitchn, which is an AMAZING website for all things cooking related, and decided to make balsamic glazed almonds on a whim.
A week ago, Drew and I were on a long walk when we began talking about our eating habits lately and decided that we wanted to challenge ourselves to eat only non-processed foods for the next couple of weeks. He’s been eating a vegan diet, but I’ve kept my plain yogurt and eggs. There are a lot of good reasons to eat a diet primarily of whole foods, but the ones I like the most are: 1) I detest all of the additives & chemicals in processed food. 2) I feel like a lot of processed snack foods, even the “healthier” ones that I eat, don’t have as much nutritional value as I would like. 3) I love making my own food. There’s something very fulfilling about it and I like knowing exactly what is in every dish I make.
So far, I’m really enjoying our mini-challenge. That said, I’d be lying if I told you it is easy to make all of your own food. Cooking is extraordinarily time-consuming.
The recipe (found HERE) is simple as can be with only 5 ingredients: almonds, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar (I used a mixture of sucanat & turbinado) salt, and chili powder.
Almonds, balsamic vinegar, and sugar go in a sauce pot on medium heat until all of the liquid is absorbed. The recipe says it will take 5-7 minutes — mine were ready on the shorter side.
Stir in the salt and chili powder, and then pour the almonds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Be forewarned – things get incredibly sticky at this point. Then let them sit until they cool; no oven involved!
Use parchment paper! Really, use it. Wax paper will cause the paper to adhere to the bottoms of the almonds and they’ll be ruined — I was stupid enough to use some (knowing full well that wax paper = parchment paper) because I’m out of parchment paper and had to re-make my batch. If you use just a baking sheet, good luck getting that mess off later! A roll of parchment paper costs $2-$3 at most grocery stores and is definitely worth it because cleaning up after cookie baking, veggie roasting, etc. is as simple as throwing away the parchment paper (and maybe a light rinse off for the baking sheet).
The verdict? Drew and I thought these were tasty but he suggested using roasted almonds next time. I should also add that I probably should have spread them out a lot more because they ended up getting so stuck together that they were almost like a brittle.
Next day note: Once they cooled, I put the almonds in a container and I’m sad to say that they have all joined together into one giant almond lump that is slightly impossible to tear apart. I’m not sure what I would do differently but this recipe seems to be missing something!
Recipe Roundup (or a few yummy things I made this week):
Yogi Trail Mix Bars – Note: I used 1) wheat bran instead of oat bran because I didn’t have any on hand 2) turbinado instead of plain white granulated sugar 3) pecans & almonds instead of sunflower seeds . These were too sweet and sticky for my taste, but Drew thought they were perfect! I would absolutely make them again, especially because no finicky oven was involved, and I’ll just add a little less honey next time.
Yogurt Honey Health Muffins — Note: The only thing I substituted was pecans for sunflower seeds. These were great and I’ll make them again.
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burrito Filling – Note: I didn’t add in the salsa or cocoa powder and used a lemon instead of a lime because that was all I had. Also, if you read the notes on the recipe page, one user says that the recipe makes a lot. I ended up making a half batch and we had plenty leftover. Drew loves to cook big pots of beans and finding new ways to use them is fun. This dish would be great with rice!
Although my Digital Media class has been a little frustrating lately , I really enjoyed one of my recent projects. Our class was studying scanography and one assignment was to create 5 pieces with “parts” (our own body parts, the dog’s, a watch, etc.) so I scanned Maebli, one of my mice. Here’s one of the original scans:
(There’s a lot of dust on the scanner but I later edited that out.)
And here are some of the pieces I created (we had to put filters on our scans):
I feel fairly confident that I’m the only person in my class who used a mouse.
We’ve only had Maeb for a month but holy cow, she’s grown so quickly! She’s now a chubby (almost) grown-up little mouse. Drew and I have really enjoyed watching her because she’s very cute (picture giant ears, a sniffy pink nose, & soft white fur), loves to climb everywhere, and is delightfully inquisitive.
I was talking to a friend the other day about how having mice has been somewhat of an eye-opening experience. I never in a million years thought that I would own rodents of any kind and was always prejudiced against them. Although I already sympathized animals, getting to know two mice has made me respect animals even more. The earth is so neat — every species is different and beautiful in its own way!