Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Heart : Stomach :: Brain : Refrigerator, or, How I Learned to Stop Stressing and Love Zucchini

Inspired by this fascinating photo essay, today I share with you the contents of my refrigerator and freezer. We're at a moderate-fill level right now -- most of our basics are in stock and some extras as well, but we're not exactly as full-up as I usually like to be.

I should start by saying that I like cooking. I've mentioned previously that it makes me feel more sane to have control over what I'm making and eating. I enjoy finding new recipes, planning what I'm going to eat, when, and the 1/2 hour or hour in the kitchen every day helps calm my mind and makes my tiny little apartment feel more like home. As a sidenote, I also love the nights I come home to find E making me dinner, and cooking together is one of my favorite date night activities. We try to eat sensibly and economically, and I think the contents of our fridge (and the list of basics we try to have on hand at all times) reflects that. So, without further ado...

...our fridge! I told you it's looking kinda empty right now. The Brita pitcher is obviously always in there, because E is convinced it tastes better than tap (even though some studies, such as this one, show otherwise) and is better for you (even though our tap water source is rated 13th in the country). So that takes up a lot of space in our tiny fridge -- it's only about 5 feet tall. We also have 2 different kinds of milk: skim for me and Lactaid for E, who doesn't tolerate dairy too well. Other things we pretty much always have are giant jars of minced garlic, whole wheat bread, eggs, butter, margarine and orange juice. Right now we've got some fresh parsley as a bonus.

In the vegetable drawers, we pretty much always have red potatoes, red onions, some kind of squash, tomatoes, and apples. Sweet potatoes are usually on hand as well. We are lucky to have several green grocers within about a 2-minute walk, where we get amazingly priced produce. 50¢ avocados? Yes, please. Zucchini for 69¢ a pound? Definitely. And oftentimes they tell you where it's from, and it's usually relatively local, so that's pretty exciting when you're trying to figure out ways to eat more sustainably. We got amazing late summer tomatoes harvested on Long Island for 99¢ a pound in August, and they were huge, bright red, and fabulously tasty.

Here's our freezer. We buy a lot of frozen vegetables, especially in the winter months, when fresh produce often leaves much to be desired. Brocolli and spinach get a lot of play. We had a few slices of turkey bacon and a couple of pork chops in there, as well. Overall, we have greatly reduced our meat intake for environmental reasons, but we still use it a lot. If I were only cooking for myself, I would cut meat out entirely, but E is a big fan of meat (and truth be told, I like it, too) so we still cook with it. In a few weeks we're going to start buying ethically sourced meat directly from farms at farmers' markets, which I'm excited about. I have no qualms about eating meat, but I think it can still be done in an environmentally responsible way if it's a minor part of your diet.

The white stuff in containers on the top shelf is buttermilk, since every time I bake with it I have to buy a quart but only need a cup. You can also make your own buttermilk substitute, but I use it regularly enough that I just buy it and freeze what I don't use til the next time I make something delicious that requires it.  I've also gotten in the habit of freezing leftovers. On the bottom shelf (behind the pint of ice cream that E has somehow had for close to a month without devouring as I would have done) is a container of veggie tortellini stew from last night that is awaiting a night we don't feel like cooking and can just defrost some homemade stew instead of something super processed.

Winter time is prime stew time in our home, mostly because you can cut up a bunch of veggies, throw them in a pot with some spices, and have a hearty, delicious, and supremely healthy meal in an hour. In this case, I used a little leftover ground turkey to start it off and give it a little flavor, and then added red and white onions, green peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, spinach, and cheese tortellini. I put in 2 cups of water and let it simmer for about 30 minutes while we assembled a cabinet for our bathroom. It came out delicious and perfect for the weather lately (Temperatures dipped into the single digits with wind chill yesterday), and we have some in the fridge for a couple more meals, and that frozen portion for a later date.

Tonight I also tried making Blondies for the first time! They came out pretty good, but more on that next time, when I'll be reviewing a few recipes I used for holiday baking: Blondies, Red Velvet Cake Balls, Chocolate Chip Meringues, and Chocolate Pudding Pies.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sniffling is not conducive to running.

For the first time since a mysterious summer flu that knocked me out of commission for a few days right before our big move, I am sick. Stuffy-headed, blocked nose, nighttime cough, body aches kind of sick. As I mentioned previously, my mom, sister and I drove up to my older sister's house on Christmas Day, where my super-adorable 16 month old niece was sniffling and sneezing and covered in baby snot. I woke up the next morning with a sore throat, and have deteriorated since. This morning was slightly better, and I'm hoping another few nights of solid 8-hour sleeping will set me right before the New Year.

In the meantime, however, I am just yearning for my sense of taste back! We were lucky enough to receive  a slew of cooking items (bakeware, serving utensils, margarita glasses, a standing mixer) for the holiday and I am dying to try each and every one of them, but not while everything tastes like, well, cardboard.

The illness has also forced me to continue my running break. I took 2 weeks off for finals/holiday travel & cooking & shopping & craziness, and now, right when I was stoked to get back into running, I'm unable to breathe through my nose and am coughing and sneezing every five minutes. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be able to load up on cold medicine and get back on the road, because I miss it! And I want to get through Couch to 5K so I can be focused and prepared to start 1/2 marathon training.

Luckily, I anticipated a rough winter for training. My initial plan when I started running in November was to do Couch to 5K and then launch immediately into 1/2 marathon training, with juuuust enough time to finish a program and fly down to Orlando for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in March. It would have been a tight fit and would have required that I miss no days of training and accelerate both the 5K and 1/2 marathon training programs a bit. As it started to get colder, though, and when my knee started acting up and school started getting more intense with end-of-the-semester stuff, I realized this was impractical. So, I decided to focus on finishing the Couch to 5K program, even if I had to redo some weeks/miss some days due to weather and scheduling and other such nonsense. I'd maintain that level through the rough, cold months, and then in early spring I'd start a 1/2 marathon training program, with the goal of running a 1/2 in May or June. At that point I'll decide whether to just maintain the 1/2 marathon level or to really push myself and start training for a full marathon, and in January 2011 I hope to participate in either a 1/2 or full marathon during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. This works out wonderfully because I'll be just finishing my MA, and will be ready for a long weekend in the House of the Mouse. Plus, every account I've read of running in a race at WDW has been overwhelmingly positive -- it's a generally flat course through the Disney theme parks, with entertainment at every mile. What's not to love?

I finally bought a compression shirt today at Target, so I can run outside without getting wet and freezing to death. The rain over the weekend melted all the snow that was making the sidewalks and intersections miserably impassable. Now I just need my lungs to cooperate so I can breathe properly and get out there to pound the pavement.

Tomorrow: A glimpse inside my refrigerator! Inspired by the fact that I just finally cleaned it out/scrubbed it down and it is now full of deliciousness I am about to convert to cooked deliciousness!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Holidays, however many families you have to split your time between.

It is both a blessing and a curse for your significant other to be from the same area as yourself. E and I met working a summer job in college (a job which deserves a post all its own in the future), when we were each living at home about 20 minutes away from the other. He went to college about 45 minutes away, so luckily we were never so far away from each other that we couldn't hop in the car in case of emergency or boredom or anything else, really. When we both lived at home after we graduated, it was again a good thing to be close together.

The interesting moments come now that we're: a) in a serious relationship; and b) living elsewhere -- as in, 2-hours-away elsewhere. We come back home for holidays and other Big Goings On, and then we usually begin whirlwind days of each visiting our own and the other's families and friends, driving a lot (which is strange when you're used to getting on trains that magically deposit you where you need to be every day), and usually disappointing some friend or family member or the other.  This Thanksgiving, we did 2 hour shifts. Breakfast at E's dad's, then 2 hours at E's mom's, after which E stayed at his mom's and I went to my aunt's, and 2 hours later E joined me at my aunt's for dessert. It did the job and we fulfilled all of our familial obligations, but at the end of the day we were both completely exhausted.

Because our families live close together, we are able to see everyone for the holidays. However, it also means that we have completely full schedules and spend the duration of our time at home dashing frantically from one gathering to another. We're heading back home to New York tomorrow, but in the last 3 days I have done Christmas Eve with my family (+E) at one sister's, Christmas morning at my mom's, then Christmas Day at another sister's house in Massachusetts, breakfast with a former coworker this morning in Connecticut again, then belated Christmas at E's mom's house. Tomorrow morning I'll be up early for breakfast with another sister who we didn't get to see at Christmas Eve, and then possibly visiting with a friend and her baby who are passing through town.  E and I are going to pass out on the couch together (and with our kitty!) as soon as we get back inside our apartment. I almost wish our families lived far enough apart that we simply had to choose one family to visit each holiday, because it might make things easier on us.

All that being said, it has been wonderful spending time with so many people we love in so short a time. These are our first holidays together since we've gotten engaged, and although it sounds corny, we've grown a lot as a couple in the last few months, and it's really brought our relationship to a whole new level and made it even more exciting to participate in each other's families' traditions and rituals, to spend time hugging the babies in each family and telling jokes with the adults. Today I spent 15 minutes trying desperately to remember hand games from elementary school with E's 8 year old cousin, and on Thursday night E got his very own gingerbread man from my aunt, who makes one for every member of the family at Christmas. We're still figuring this family-blending-action out, but so far it's great to have a whole extra set of folks to get to know and to share traditions with. And we'll just have to put off sleeping (on our awesome new ridiculous thread count Christmas gift sheets) until we're back home in New York.

I hope everyone's holiday was simply delightful!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The downside of public transportation.

When I was in high school, I played the Alto Saxophone, a habit that has long since gone by the wayside. I was never terribly good, but I loved being in band, so that's pretty much the only reason I played. My family has a long love affair with the Alto Sax. Three of my sisters played it, and one of my nephews is currently playing it. My younger sister and I had one year of high school together (I was a senior and she was a freshman), and one of our favorite songs to play was Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." See, my high school's band was very focused on football season (my town was very much a football town), so after Thanksgiving there was a mad rush to prepare for the Christmas concert, which meant that we played the same songs. Every. Year.

Among them was "Sleigh Ride," and it was hard.  The saxes had melody for once, and it basically took you two years to get comfortable with it, and another to master it, so by senior year you could actually play it without feeling overwhelmed. It starts off nice and proper, and then gets a little jazzy and sloppy and essentially awesome. When I hear the song, I can still hum the alto sax part because of the hours and hours I spent practicing.

Anyway, my younger sister and I have had a bit of a tradition for the last few years of calling each other anytime "Sleigh Ride" was on the radio and cranking up the volume so the other one can hear it. I'm not sure how it started, but it's pretty great. This year, I haven't been in my car... at all, really. So I never listen to the radio and therefore never hear "Sleigh Ride" blaring over the speakers so I can call my sister. Tonight I'm driving home for the holiday, and I probably won't hear the song then, either, so I'm posting it here as a virtual OMG-IT'S-SLEIGH-RIDE phone call to her!

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Let it snow (paper), Let it snow (paper), Let it snow! (...paper)

The East Coast has been hit by a pretty big storm, and NYC is blanketed in its first layer of the cold, white stuff. E and I had a fun morning of shoveling out the car, dealing with a disgruntled old man who was upset we got a little snow on his sidewalk, and then discovering that the car wouldn't start anyway. We're holding out hope that it'll be an easy fix, though the tow truck driver who came to rescue us guessed it was the starter and not the battery as we had suspected. I don't know anything about cars, by the way.

In honor of the snow, I wanted to finally put up the paper snowflake tutorial I'd been talking about for ages. I learned to make paper snowflakes from my eighth grade algebra teacher, and her method has been the best I've tried! I love to string paper snowflakes up in windows, and they also look pretty on garlands strung up over doorways! Really, the trick is in the folding, and don't be afraid to experiment with different shapes when you're cutting!

1. Start with your nice, clean sheet of regular old copy paper. Get out your safety scissors, and grab any children old enough not to cut their fingers off while using safety scissors.

2. Remember when you were in grade school and you made cootie catchers? You're going to use the same procedure to achieve a square of paper for your snowflake. Fold the top edge down to meet the left hand edge...

3. And cut off the bottom strip of paper! You can use this to make smaller snowflakes if you want!

4. Fold your folded triangle in half...

5. And half again, and you're ready to start hacking away with those scissors! Also check out my awesome glitter-tipped festive holiday nails!

6. If you want your snowflake to be essentially round, you want to cut off the top corner, starting on the longest side, or the hypotenuse. Make it rounded, in the general direction I've noted in this photograph. You can also just work with the shape as is, but you're going to end up with a square-ish snowflake.

7. Get to work cutting! You're going to focus on cutting into the center of the triangle from the folded edges, so everything that you cut will be mirrored. For example, above I've shown you how to cut hearts and stars into your snowflake. It's pretty self-explanatory. So just cut, cut, cut...

8. Til your snowflake is all snipped out. Remember, don't cut straight across the body of the snowflake, or... you'll just be cutting your snowflake in half. Womp, womp.

9. BIG REVEAL! Carefully unfold your snowflake (more detailed cuts can kind of get stuck on themselves, so be gentle!) and you're good to go! I like to give the paper a quick once-over with the iron so it lies flatter.  Tape it to the window! String it from the ceiling! Whether you're in California or Canada, you can have a White Christmas!

And here are some other snowflakes I've made this season, though I have yet to hang them up.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

World Wide Web of Deliciousness (Bacon-wrapped pork, potatoes, rocky road cookies)

E finished his first semester of law school on Thursday, which led to an evening out, which led to a very unproductive Friday of sleeping til 1:30 and then being miserable for the rest of the day, for reasons I'm sure you can guess. But, when we did finally get our acts together, we went GROCERY SHOPPING for the first time in about 3 weeks. We had nothing left in our cupboards, and we had been living off takeout for about a week, so I was really excited to get back in the kitchen.

So, in honor of my triumphant return to meal planning and deliciousness-producing, which also seems to help keep me feeling more sane, I bring 3 recipe recommendations, all from one of my favorite food blogs, The Crepes of Wrath!

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Chops with Apples & Onions
As strange as it is to think about eating a piece of pig wrapped in a piece of another pig, this recipe was absolutely delicious. We used all real bacon this time because we had it from another recipe, but I wouldn't hesitate to sub in turkey bacon for half or all of the bacon.
Crispy Smashed Potatoes
These were a great new way to make potatoes! I should definitely have left them to boil for a little longer so they would be softer and more mush-able, but they still came out great. I also sprinkled some parmesan cheese on top before baking them, and served them with some sour cream, which was great!
Rocky Road Cookies
These are a perennial favorite around here, and every time I have brought them to a party or potluck they are devoured with happy little food exclamations! This time I forgot to get white chocolate chips so I just threw in a few more chocolate chips, and they are delicious. The marshmallows kind of melt, so make sure they're not hanging off the sides of any cookies before you bake them.
We also cooked up some zucchini and yellow squash, some of my favorite vegetable accompaniments to any meal. In case you hadn't figured it out based on this entry, The Crepes of Wrath is one of my favorite food blogs. Everything we've tried from here has been delicious (Peppermint Patty Brownie Cupcakes! Roasted Garlic and Cherry Tomato Penne![!!!!!] Spiced Honey Lemon Chicken!) and she does a great job writing things out and giving her own little hints and tips. She also includes appealing photos that make you want to make everything she publishes, as you can see in this entry. Her sweets in particular always have me drooling, and I'm planning to use her DHARMA Initiative Fish Biscuit recipe for an upcoming party with some LOST fanatic friends. Just looking through the site to get links to these recipes had my mouth watering!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Now I will never be in the Tour de France.

Summer 2008. E and I are hitting tag sales (yard sales for those of you not from Connecticut) to pick up a few odds and ends for our new apartment. You know, light-duty vacuum cleaner for the hard wood, a few mugs and plates and things -- basically, stuff that no one who isn't moving into their first apartment together wants anymore.

We arrive at one tag sale, where I see this beautiful red vintage bike, in great condition but for the flat tires. The people selling it, an older couple who were very nice, ask for an offer, and I get the bike for 10 bucks, which is obviously basically free. I brought it home, inflated the tires, and relearned how to ride a bike. That's right, folks, it was a little touch-and-go for a while there, but I made it with all of my skin intact. The bike traveled with us to Boston, where I never rode it (I blamed Masshole drivers and our apartment's location halfway up a pretty steep hill), and almost sold it before we moved down here. But I didn't, and we crammed that stupid bike into our moving truck and brought it down here because I had visions of grand summer bike rides in flowing dresses and cute shoes, hair blowing in the breeze and picnic basket strapped onto the back fender.

We've been here for 4 months, now, and I haven't learned. Haven't even ridden it around the block. It's been sitting in the lobby of our building with another tenant's bike, completely unused. The truth is, I'm still terrified of biking on the streets, and I would never ride on the sidewalk because I want to KILL anyone who endangers me, the pedestrian, by flying down sidewalks on bikes. But the other night, I came home, expecting to see my happy, disused red bike greeting me in the lobby, only to see that it had disappeared!

That's right, someone stole my bike. Now, for some reason, I am actually more upset about this fact than I have any right to be. But somehow, thinking of someone else getting use of the 10 dollar bike I never rode really grinds my gears (pun intended). How dare they!? And now I will never get to be the hip, eco-friendly cyclist whooshing past befuddled pedestrians on my way to the museum, or the park, or whatever it is these kids do these days. I could have at least sold the damned thing and made my 10 bucks back.

There is also a chance that my building's superintendent noticed that I wasn't using it anyway and put it in storage for the Winter. I only think this might be the case because his bike, previously stored in the same place, has also been missing for a few days now. But I am too wimpy to ask him about it, so I will continue to pout.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The way they look will prevent other people from eating them (No Bake Cookies)

This weekend is the last of the semester, and it's going to be hectic. I have papers coming out my ears, and E is immersing himself in studying for the last of his law school exams this week. I predict a weekend full of takeout and not much in the way of speaking to each other. The other night, though, I made some no-bake cookies as a quick little treat, and they were so easy and delicious I figured I'd share the love.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what they look like. I know. But they are delicious!! That photo and the recipe are from here.

No-Bake Chocolate, Peanut Butter & Oatmeal Cookies
Yield: 2 to 3 dozen, depending on how large you make them

½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup milk
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups quick-cooking oats

1. Add the first four ingredients (through the cocoa powder) to a 4-quart saucepan.
2. Bring to a rolling boil and let boil for 1 minute.
3. Remove from heat.
4. Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla until smooth, then stir in the oats.
5. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto wax paper-lined baking sheets.
6. Let cool until set. (It took about 30 minutes for mine to cool -GF)

They are sweet and melty, and the oatmeal makes them pretty substantial. Also, they're rich enough that even I, the chocolate queen, can only eat 1 or 2 before I am done for the day. And just a note, they don't change once you put them on the wax paper, so you probably want to flatten them out and make them look more like cookies than... well, you know. Or maybe you don't.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where I am running...

When I was in 5th grade, some of my male friends made a secret club. As you may have assumed, this club had an imaginary "NO GIRLS ALLOWED" sign on its imaginary clubhouse door.  In short order, my budding feminist self had my girlfriends in a right tizzy over this outrage: You cannot discriminate on the basis of sex or gender!, my 10-year-old self would have said if she had had the worldly knowledge to do so.

Instead, I just demanded that they let us join.  "Okay," said their ring leader (I still remember his name and his lisp and his red-haired, freckled head... in fact, I am about to Facebook him), "You can join. If you each beat one of us in a race."

Here is the truth: I have never been a runner. I have never been an athlete in any way, shape or form. Climbing trees and playing games, sure, but unlike my sisters I was never on an organized sports team and was completely content to keep it that way. So when these boys challenged me, I knew I had to use my brains to beat them and gain access to their club.

We went out to the soccer field during recess. The boys said, "We start here, we end here," and lined us up. I was racing a boy who in 6th grade would awkwardly become my first boyfriend (he painted my name down his leg on field day; I was mortified). And then, someone shouted something or other, and we were off. I was doing okay, keeping to his pace, when suddenly i cut sharply to the right... AND RAN STRAIGHT ACROSS THE FIELD TO THE FINISH LINE. Yep. While my opponent ran allllll the waaaay around, I was defending my decision on the fact that they had only said where we would start and where we would stop, but they didn't define the actual course.

In the end, we were denied membership in the stupid club with the stupid boys, so we made our own and it was ten times awesomer. Yeah.

So anyway. That was probably the height of my running career. The next year I ran a 10-minute-mile during the annual fitness tests (ugh, kill me), and it was all downhill (except I guess that expression doesn't really work here... it was more like a brick wall) from there. I have, through the years, toyed with the idea of being athletic, but it has never stuck. Then, this fall I watched the end of the New York City marathon, and suddenly felt inspired. No, not to run a marathon (ARE YOU CRAZY?!), but to run a HALF MARATHON!!! Luckily, my best friend was ready and willing to pretend to be a runner with me, and we started the Couch to 5K Running Plan together. I'm currently about to finish Week 5 of the plan and while I am nervous for a 20 minute run tomorrow, I'm excited to power on through.

It's strange to have run 3-4 times a week for over a month, now. I've finally started to enjoy it, and I think I get why all you running nuts go so crazy for it. I feel more focused, and I look forward to my runs as a time to focus on myself and let the rest of the world melt away.

Hopefully in the next few weeks we'll finish the Couch to 5K program and maintain that over the winter, and then in the spring we'll pick up our training again and start working on our 1/2 marathon. The eventual goal? A 1/2 marathon (or maybe a full? AM I CRAZY?!) in Disney World. I am really excited. If only my 10-year-old self could see me now...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Triumphant over the boy.

I spent a lot of time with the guy in that video last night. His voice is actually pretty soothing. My fiance, E, had an interview today for an internship next semester, and decided he wanted to rock a Windsor knot as opposed to his usual half Windsor (who knew tying ties could be so nuanced?). So, for the last week or so, I would occasionally see him reading or watching tutorials about how to tie it, and last night he finally actually got out a tie to practice.

Cut to about 20 minutes later. He's frustrated because he can't tie the damned thing and I am sick of listening to him complain. I go get one of his ties and sit down with the video above. After a few incredibly unsuccessful attempts, I did it! It was sloppy, but it was done! I kept practicing and sooner or later I had it pretty much figured out. Tried to help him learn, watched the tutorial with him, etc., but this is the guy who has trouble fitting a whole load of groceries in the fridge. He's not exactly gifted with spatial reasoning skills.

Finally, he handed over the tie he was planning to wear today (and a sharp tie it is) and, head hung low, asked me to tie it for him and then slip it off without untying it so he could just wear it today. Yes, this happened. He then watched me tie an expert Windsor knot (I believe his words were, "You look like a fifty year old man who's been doing this for 25 years.") without even the aid of my buddy in the video. That's right, kids, I've got it memorized. And this morning, he slipped the tie over his head, neatened it up, and was off to his interview, looking very authoritative with that fat knot. My dad, who taught me to tie his ties when I was about 9, would be so proud.

I kind of wish women wore ties with their professional getups. The tie sections in men's stores are full of bright, shiny colors, and it's like one of those wire MENSA 3D puzzles, except you can actually figure it out without getting out lock cutters.

Generally fabulous!