Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Can't Read

I have serious ADD when it comes to sitting down and reading. I think it all started when I was a kid and my parents put us to bed at an obscenely early hour. Like... sun still up, school bus still dropping kids off (I'm not sure of this fact, since I never took the bus, but I assume it's true), soap operas still on TV kind of early. I hated it. Obviously, it was too light out to sleep, but it was "bedtime", and thus we had no choice. Our parents were bigger than us.

Our only escape from evening after evening of laying on our backs, trying to identify faces of cartoon characters or former presidents in the textured ceilings, was to read. We were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted if we were reading. That was the rule. And it sucked. According to my mom, I used to love to read. This is one of those romantic memories she has. (Did I mention my mom is a teacher?) Maybe she caught me reading one day and had a warm tingly feeling in her heart like "Oh my, I can't believe my luck! I have a daughter who is reading on her own, and she seems completely content!" And for some reason, that stuck in her head. I remember it differently.

There is one exception to this inexplicable loathing... I can read about food. I can read 20 different recipes from 20 different chefs on how to make the simplest potato and leek soup (by reading the way several chefs do something, it prevents me from taking any one perspective or recipe as gospel, and teaches me a certain amount of improvisation), or read Marcella Hazan's Marcella Cucina from start to finish for the 4th time and learn ten things I didn't pick up on the last time.

And it isn't just cook books. It's anything about food. Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything is one of the few books I'm so glad I picked up (used, on for 37 cents, mind you) and read from start to finish, including chapters entitled "Why Aren't the French Dropping Like Flies?" and "Salad the Silent Killer". What is it about a compare and contrast session on 35 different types of ketchup, or learning the precise temperature at which a potato should be mashed (180 degrees) and why that helps avoid it turning gummy (it has to do with finding the balance between where the potato's cells are no longer strongly bonded to one another and where the cell walls weaken and rupture), that fascinates me?

I honestly don't remember the last time I read a non-food book from start to finish... I'm sure it wasn't in the past 5 years... maybe not even in the last 10. I don't mean that food is my only interest, but it is the only topic of text that undoubtedly captivates me, and that truly and directly translates into real life. You can take a lesson learned and put it on a plate that very evening, and never forget the reason behind the lesson. I understand food people, and I think they understand me. There is always more to learn, and someone great who is ready to teach.

If anyone has a food book they just can't live without, please let me know! I'm officially on the hunt for the next great one.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Soupy Weather

Ahhhh, rainy days in Arizona! Is it just me, or does cold, rainy weather just call out for a hearty soup, yoga pants, and a comfy blanket? Last week, when the cold weather really hit us hard (it was high 40's/low 50's out... BRRRR!!), I whipped out the dutch oven and made a seriously amazing Winter Squash Soup from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris (the only changes were to use only about 1/4 c of heavy cream and only about 1/2 of the can of pumpkin puree, since I had that much left over from making pumpkin french toast the day before). I can't give this soup enough credit... it's cheap, easy, hearty, and freaking delicious!! Not to mention, I didn't have to buy a dang thing, since I had everything in my kitchen already!

Today, the rain is coming down and it's dark and gloomy outside. And so, for tonight's sure-to-be-crappy Monday Night Football game (STL @ SEA), I've created a hearty winter soup with spicy andouille sausage, potato, kale, and lentils. Here's how I did it...

1 lb spicy andouille sausage
Extra virgin olive oil, for sauteing stuff
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 russet potato
2 ribs celery
1 carrot
1 yellow onion
1 bunch kale
1 T fresh thyme (or as much as your poor, sun-deprived plant can spare)
1 c green lentils
4 c chicken stock or broth
A splish splash of Worcestershire
Heavy cream, if you so desire
S&P to taste (this should go without saying, but you never know)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, because you want it to be tasty

0. Begin streaming an appropriate rainy-weather Pandora station. I prefer Adele or comparable British crooner for this particular type of foodventure.
1. Cover the lentils in boiling water (use a lot... they soak it up!) and let em hang out for 15 mins while you prep your other stuff.
2. Chop the veggies however you will want them to be in the soup. Cut things in slices, dice it, freakin food process it for all I care. Just make sure you adjust cooking time so that things are cooked through. I trust you!

3. Cook things, preferably in an aesthetically pleasing dutch oven like I did. Start with the EVOO, onions, and garlic. Then add the sausage (remove the casings first!) and brown it up. Once that's done, toss in the carrots, and celery, thyme, S&P, and cook those for about 10 more minutes, until they look delicious and the smells make you so hungry that you just can't take it anymore.

4. Make it soupy. Add the chicken stock, potato, lentils (drain them first!), and a little more S&P. Bring it to a boil, and let 'er simmer for an hour or so uncovered so that your whole house smells delicious. Dance around to Duffy or watch the rain to pass the time. If you check the soup and it needs more liquid, add more chicken stock or water. After an hour or so, make sure the lentils and potato are cooked through, and then move to step 5.

5. Finish this son of a gun! Add the kale in bite-sized pieces so you and your friends don't look like Neanderthals when you're eating (remember to take out the tough stem part). Let that cook down for about 5 mins, then add the Worcestershire and heavy cream, if you're into that type of thing. S&P again as needed, spoon into bowls, and top with cheese. Then eat it while watching the Rams get their bootays handed to them on national tv.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Puppy Love

Ok, I guess since he just turned FIVE yesterday, my little munchkin probably can't still be considered a puppy. Although, I can't think of many things that have changed in his demeanor or energy since those puppy days... He'll still play until his stub-legs give out, seeks approval and attention from anyone he comes across, and thinks that every time I leave the house it's the last time he'll see me. It's freaking adorable, really.

Anywho... Back to the point. We spent the better part of yesterday (after work, of course) celebrating at the dog park and then letting the little one pick out some treats and toys at PetSmart. I have to say, one of my favorite things about living in the southwest is that even in the middle of December, there are people at the dog park in t-shirts and shorts wading knee-deep in the water with their pups and enjoying the sunshine.

Growing up in San Diego, we had dog beaches, which are like... 1,000 times cooler than a fenced off section of grass, dirt, or mud that some communities call a dog park. I call Del Mar Dog Beach the "happiest place on earth", and it truly is! Not only are the people of San Diego friendly and willing to strike up a conversation (be it with human or dog), but there's something supremely relaxing about sipping Starbucks and watching the little four-legged ones romping in the surf, playing jump-the-wave just like we did as kids.

Living in Gilbert, I consider myself so lucky to live near Cosmo Dog Park, with its man-made lake and ample running room. Ry gets an amazing workout chasing those retrieving dogs off the dock. He's a herder, so his exercise is basically chasing other dogs around, making my job of sitting at a picnic table reading Sunset Magazine and picking up the occasional um... turd... pretty easy. I kind of feel bad for those suckers wading in the water with their Chuck-Its... But I'd also like to thank those suckers for giving my dog a legitimate workout. He's sound asleep now to prove it.

To celebrate the tiny bug's 5th birthday... a photo splurge!

The day I brought him home... Notice the floppy ears. All together now... AWWWWW!!
 He did the best job finding random places to sleep. This is on the bottom part of a coffee table.
 Such love!! Also, a 70's style kitchen. Be jealous.
 The happiest place on earth! And on a gorgeous day... It doesn't get much better!
 Sexy over-the-shoulder look.
 Best. Cuddler. Ever.
 Again at the beach... Surprise!
 And a pool party... Yeah, he's spoiled.
 Road trippin' with my favorite ally
 Action shot! Note the Chuck-It (that's not me)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Saving Some Green by Growing Some

I get so frustrated with how much I spend on such simple things at the store! Yes, veggies and some proteins are super cheap at the right store (I'm lucky enough to be less than a mile from a Sprouts Farmer's Market, which is basically the best place ever), but I still spend so much on herbs and stocks, both things that I SHOULD (read: SHOULD) be able to grow/create at home. A box of chicken/beef/veggie stock or broth runs me between $2.50-5.00, and I often need more than one box to get the job done! And don't get me started with herbs... those stupid little packets than run you $2-3, and they go bad so quickly I hardly get my money's worth (if there is such a thing when paying those nosebleed prices for such small amounts). 

Enter:  the solution.  A couple months ago, I started my pretty little rosemary, thyme, and basil plants. Those are were my big spending herbs. I buy bought them the most often, and I've saved so much already by having them sitting right here at home! Plus, I never have to run to the store to pick up one stinkin herb. It's GLORIOUS!! And now, I start a new adventure:  I'm going to make some stocks so that I never have to buy another box again! I think I can get some great flavor from scraps I just toss in the kitchen. They freeze beautifully in little ice cube trays, and then get transferred into baggies (the same method I've been using for leftover boxed stock). And now... to start collecting my ingredients! Veggie stock up first, since that's the easiest. I plan to save veggie peelings and ends and get a delicious batch of veggie stock without spending any additional money. I'll update once I get it done... I can almost promise!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

BOOM! yeah... I did some stuff...

Yeah, I'm definitely horrid at blogging... Days and weeks and months just seem to fly by, plus there are episodes of Law & Order to watch, so it seems like there really isn't much time for writing about my life. So sorry, you poor, pitiful blog.

I wasn't completely wasting time... I've had some amazing culinary adventures (I have got to start taking pictures of these foodventures... such goodness can be shared!), traveled a bit, and had a daily internal struggle about whether this heavy caffeination thing can possibly be healthy.  PLUS, I did some things on my list!! You may or may not remember that I made a list in my last post of 25 things I'm going to do I plan to try to do while I'm 25 (I'm actually 100% confident you do NOT remember, since nobody reads this little non-gem). Well, as it turns out, I only have about exactly 11 weeks to get the rest of these things done... Yeah... Totally feasible... Anywho, here's an update on things I've done!

4. Take someone on their first vacation:  I took my best buddy Adrien on his first real vacation in July! We took a long weekend for the 4th of July and went to California.  I'm from San Diego, so we spent some time down there, including the holiday itself, but we also made sure to hit up Disneyland and an Angels vs. Dodgers game. We had a BLAST! Personally, it's hard for me to be on a true vacation if my phone still works, but he considered it a vacay, and therefore so do I!

5.  Dye my eyelashes:  I'm calling this one complete. I didn't exactly dye my eyelashes, but I did wear fake ones for the better part of a week. Can you say ADDICTION??? OMG I LOVE IT!! I'm a natural ginger, so I have really light lashes, which make my eyes look all small and weird when I'm not slathered in mascara and eyeliner. Fake eyelashes changed my life. There, I said it.

6.  Go to the Grand Canyon:  I took my MOMMA! We made it a very long (but very fun) day trip back in August.  Like any good daughter, for Mothers' Day this year I bought her a plane ticket to come visit.  I'm a huge fan of half-selfish gifts. We grabbed some snacks, some coffee, and set out on the 5 hour drive to the Grand Canyon! We did a good amount of walking, but of course for some reason I figured flip flops would be appropriate (decision made pre-latte), so we didn't get to do TOO much hiking (oh, darn!).

 This is my mom... Whippin' it good!

15.  Visit 3 new states:  One down... Florida! Nicole and I went to Miami and on a cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale. We made sure to spend a weekend in South Beach, which was awesome! The nightlife is crazy... I was honestly a little overwhelmed. I was sooooo out of my element. We also got to see Key West on our cruise, and met some sweet southern boys who showed us around on their scooters.

16.  Go to a pro sports game at a stadium I've never been to:  When in Miami, Nicole and I made sure to hit up the Dolphins vs. Bills game at Sun Life Stadium. I don't think I've ever spent that much on taxis in 3 days, but MAN was it worth it!! Of course, we ended up at the one game of the year it was pouring, but we found several friendly tailgaters who were kind enough to share their shelter. Floridians (??) are quite hospitable. [Note that I remembered later, when editing this post... the ANGELS game in Anaheim was also at a stadium I've never been to! That's pretty cool... Two in one year!]

 Our buddy Laz, who was also one of our gracious hosts at the tailgate

17.  Parasail:  Ohhhh yeah... I did get a chance to do this on a cruise! I really thought it was going to be intense, but it is so amazingly calm up there! You can see for miles, see all sorts of wildlife swimming around in the ocean below, and you can hardly hear anything except the wind whistling thru your heart-shaped earrings.

20.  Grow and maintain an herb garden:  I'm so impressed with myself on this one. Granted, the little buggers have only been alive and in my care since early October, but I think I'm doing quite well!  The freezing cold temperatures have brought my little experiments inside for the time being, but I have a thriving rosemary plant, fragrant thyme, and basil that doesn't like the cold, but has still managed to more than triple in size! I have the most non-green thumb ever (I use a red Solo cup to water these guys), but somehow they are still truckin thru!  *knocks on wood*

Starting point...
 Present day... Keep in mind that I have used each several times for various kitchen concoctions!

WHOA!! That's more things than I thought I did! 7 out of 25... Not too shabby! I'll write again... sooner this time, I promise!