Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Holiday Crunch Time Again!

Oh man, I am so far behind this year. We're working on a small redecorating project in our living room that's managed to take most of the year. Almost done... but not quite. The furniture is still pulled out from the wall, a ladder is still central focus in the room. Therefore, no tree. In fact, no decorations at all. More to come on the project - it's simple, but really exciting!

We did string lights on the tree in our front yard, to give the impression of festivity inside.

Not one present is wrapped yet. We still have many more to get. There's still time... right?!

This isn't to say that we aren't in the Christmas spirit. Quite the contrary - we have a Christmas mix CD in the car and are constantly singing one holiday song or another (right now, Christmas by Blues Traveler is on repeat in my head). We've had holiday parties at work, this Sunday we're going to see The Nutcracker - holiday spirit abounds!

Just no decorations. Which is okay, because it's what's inside that counts, and inside, we're all about the Christmas!

We even broke out the footie pajamas!

Last weekend, Mr. Awesome and I accompanied my mom and bonus dad to St. Louis to see Wicked and eat yummy food. We did a little shopping, had an excellent brunch and enjoyed the show - yes, even Mr. Awesome sort of liked the show. Hey, he didn't fall asleep, so that's something.

Over the next few days we have lots of last-minute shopping to do, lots of presents to wrap, lots of songs to sing, fun to have, laughs to share, hugs to hand out, love to give. Christmas Eve will be spent with Mr. Awesome's family, and Christmas Dinner will be with  mine. As long as we are with people we love, it doesn't matter how organized we are, how perfectly the gifts are packaged, how many ornaments are on the tree (if there even is one). Where we are, where love lives, Christmas is.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanks-giving about Thanksgiving!

I’ve gotten behind on my thankfulness shout-outs, but I’m a fan of ketchup (I even put it on my sous vide steaks – shh… don’t tell anyone!), so here goes:

Thanksgiving thanks: I am thankful that Mr. Awesome and I get to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with our parents. My mom usually pulls out the china decorated with turkeys, and she and her Mr. Wonderful host me, Mr. Awesome and Mr. Awesome’s parents for dinner. This year, after suffering the great dishwasher flood of 2012, her kitchen was unavailable, so the whole gang went to Houlihan’s in Overland Park for Thanksgiving dinner. It was terrific! Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, veggies, bread, pie – the works! Plus, no dishes to clean. Mom’s planning on hosting dinner on Christmas day so we can see her new kitchen floor.

Related: The only other time I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant was when I was a kid . It was mom’s turn to host dinner for the whole family, and she decided that year to take everyone to… Houlihan’s! I recall having a great meal that time, too. Alas, the Plaza location is no more.

Friday thanks: I am thankful for the inspiration provided by Pinterest, especially when I actually take actions based on that inspiration.

Saturday thanks: Every weekend, Mr. Awesome makes us his famous “weekend breakfast” of scrambled cheesy “eggs” with salsa and sour cream, toasted English muffins with jam, and orange juice (water for me).

I am thankful that he willingly does this, and that he can make fake eggs taste like heaven on a plate. I look forward all week to our weekend breakfast together.

Sunday thanks: I’m thankful for the paved trails at Happy Rock Park. Two or three miles fly by when we can enjoy the trees, the stream, the birds, the squirrels and all the rest.

Monday thanks: I lead my first large training session today, for about 20 people. Geek speak for a minute: we’re implementing a new incident management system at work and I’m the lead for documentation and training. The project has had its ups and downs, but overall I’ve learned much and really enjoy the opportunity to take the lead on the training. For this, I am thankful. I am also thankful that my first group acted interested and were very supportive. I work with great people! Two sessions down as of today (Wednesday), five more to go…

Tuesday thanks: I’m thankful that I am doing better in my French class than I thought I would be at this point. My final is next week. Merde! I’ll be really, really thankful when that’s done.

Wednesday thanks: I am thankful for amazing bonus parents. When I was 9, my dad married Susan. Even though that didn’t last forever, my admiration and love for her will. She introduced me to the virtues of small-town life and country traditions – Santa on a fire truck, making a wooden dollhouse, stringing cranberries and popcorn for a Christmas tree, Frontier Days talent shows, porch cats, hound dogs, all of that. As I became an adult, she has been one of those strong, inspirational, charge-headlong-into-your-dreams kind of people, filled with courage and enthusiasm for the next great adventure. Oh, and she’s the mother of my sister Jamie, who, as I have said previously, is a pretty awesome individual herself.

Steve is everything I would have picked for my mom and more. Mr. Awesome loves him because of that one time he let us ride a Segway around their driveway. I love him because he loves my mom and she loves him. Oh, and he’s generous of heart, spirit, time, laughter and love. What more could you ask for? How about a pretty kick-ass bonus sister in his daughter, Danielle. She’s gonna be famous someday, in a good way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five days of thankfulness!

Friday thanks: I am thankful that my co-worker and friend Cass Nedblake taught me to knit almost two years ago. I love it, and I'm so excited to knit cute baby stuff for her.

Unfortunately for everyone else (or not?), I'm a selfish knitter. I adore hats and cowls and mitts and scarves, and am constantly finding new patterns that I  want to make for myself. I'm currently obsessed with the Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret pattern - it's a perfect way to use up extra yarn. I've knitted two - one in purples/reds and one in blues/teal, and am currently making a third in grey.

Saturday thanks: I am thankful that Mr. Awesome is such a great sous chef. I love that we cook together, and make such great meals almost every day. Tonight, we had salmon with cucumber salsa over cilantro-lime rice. he did all the chopping. It was delicious!

Seared Salmon with Cilantro-Cucumber Salsa
Servings: 4

1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 c. cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small red onion, diced
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and diced
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 salmon fillets

In a bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, cilantro and Serrano pepper. Toss gently to mix. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, 1 teaspoon of canola oil, the agave, red pepper flakes and salt. Pour the lime juice mixture over the cucumber mixture and toss gently to coat evenly. Set aside.

Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat in a large, nonstick pan. Add the fish and cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, about 4 minutes per side.

Transfer the salmon fillets to plates and top each with salsa. Garnish with more cilantro and lime.

Serve with white rice - mix in some cilantro, lime juice and salt for extra-tasty rice!

Sunday thanks: I'm thankful for my sister, Jamie. She is so joyful and generous and kind - she is the sort of person you want around you when you're happy or sad, or neither or both at once. Though there's a 10-year age difference between us, we're remarkably similar people. I can't say I love her more than she knows, because she knows.


Monday thanks: I'm thankful for space heaters. My office is cold regardless of season, and if not for my space heater, I'd be bundled up like an Eskimo all year long. Hurray, space heaters!

Tuesday thanks: I'm thankful for Spotify. I can listen to just about anything at any time. Yesterday, it was the entire Avett Brothers collection. Today, it's the Broadway cast recording of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Tomorrow, who knows!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When was the last time someone was thankful for D'Nealian?

Tuesday thanks: Tuesday, as I do on many days, I went for a walk at the park across the street from my building. While my building may be slowly sinking into oblivion (for real - our chairs have to be bungied to things to keep them from rolling around on the slanted floor), the beauty of the Discovery Center and Kauffman Legacy Park just steps away offers welcome respite. Frogs and turtles in the spring and summer, rabbits and squirrels in the fall and winter. I give thanks for the beauty that is nature, and that it's so close at hand on a daily basis.

P.S. How spectacular has this autumn been? Mother Nature completely nailed it this year. Good show!

Wednesday thanks: It was so hard to get out of bed on Wednesday. I give thanks for heated mattress covers, memory foam mattress toppers, Tempurpedic pillows and luxuriously soft sheets (held on by an object of previous thanks).

Thursday thanks: Today, I am thankful for the quality public school education I received courtesy of the North Kansas City School District, followed by a first-rate college education at UMKC. That I can and very much enjoy reading, can and like to write (in D'Nealian, no less!), that I can think critically, study effectively, organize my ideas and generally entertain a thought without having to accept it are in large part attributable to my education at these institutions. And to my mom. And oatmeal.

And just for fun - here's the manuscript for D'Nealian. Though I now write in a freakish amalgamation of D'Nealian, printed letters and something that resembles Arabic, I still like to write this out as a doodle during especially boring work meetings.



I think it's rather beautiful, and reminds me of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Sheri Coffman. While she's currently the director of the award-winning Theater department at Winnetonka High School, I was a first-grader in the first class she led as a new teacher.

She brought a Tessie Talk ventriloquism doll to class and sang "You Are My Sunshine." I loved it so much I demanded a Tessie Talk for Christmas and spent the next year learning that I wasn't cut out for ventriloquism.

Her and her husband introduced us to melodrama via a production in the school cafeteria, and she gave me my first acting gig as the narrator angel in The Littlest Angel.

Mrs. Coffman didn't mind when, as the boys all chose to be Indians and the girls chose to be Pilgrims in a Thanksgiving hat-making activity, I decided to be an Indian because I wanted to make a headdress out of construction paper feathers and call myself "Little Bear" rather than make a dumb hat with a buckle on it and call myself  "Charity."

Shirt Tales stickers, pinatas, Christmas pageants - I loved first grade and I loved Mrs. Coffman. So I suppose I'm thankful for her influence, too.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A weekend of thanks.

Saturday thanks: I'm thankful for excellent restaurants that are cropping up all over Kansas City. Especially those that serve contemporary American and farm-to-table. Frank and I wanted to go out for a good dinner on Saturday night, and it's a joy to have so many choices: Room 39, the Reiger, Bluestem, Julian... and many others. We decided on Justus Drugstore in Smithville, MO. We'd last been two years ago, and it was up until then the best meal we'd ever had. Our return trip over the weekend was just as excellent, and I see us returning much more frequently.

I'm also thankful that I was never allowed to have a picky palate when growing up. My stepfather, Howard, would order spinach salad and escargots from Houlihan's almost every Sunday when I was a kid. When I was eight, he tricked me into eating an escargot, and I loved it. It was revolutionary, and I never forgot the lesson that good things can come in odd packages.

Sunday thanks: I'm thankful for those clip things that hold my sheets on my mattress. Sheet slippage is the scourge that has been vanquished from our home!

Today's thanks: I'm thankful for cute pictures of animals on the Internet. Whenever I need an "aww" moment, I am never disappointed bywww.reddit.com/r/aww. Some examples:







If the Internet is never used for anything other than as a cute animal search engine ever again, it would still be the miracle tool of our age.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sagan all my love for you.

Today is Carl Sagan's birthday. He would be 78 years old. With Carl in mind, today I am thankful that, billions and billions of years ago, some cosmic dust started on a path that has led to everything we are and know and do today.

Carl once said, "We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself." How beautiful and profound. Our very existence is so incredible and yet, here we are, the living, breathing personification of a vast and mysterious universe.

It's the vastness of space and time that Carl spoke of in the most eloquent of terms. How does one deal with the knowledge that we're but a small and insignificant collection of beings on a little, inconsequential rock?

This - the ability to think scientifically and logically and reasonably, and at the same time have such emotion and humility with his words - is what makes Carl Sagan such an important figure in the history of humankind.

Carl was an avid proponent for lifelong learning, for skepticism, for keeping an open mind, but, as he said, "not so open your brains fall out." He understood and tried to explain that great truths will be uncomfortable to accept, but that doesn't make them any less true.
“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counter-intuitive  It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true."

Such a way with words, that Carl Sagan.

Netflix has the entirety of Carl Sagan's television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, available for streaming. It's a little cheesy in parts, but the science and historical information are just fascinating.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Heart (cardio) and soul (food).

Yesterday evening we went to the gym for some cardio. Fifty minutes on a Precor AMT machine can get pretty boring. Therefore, I am thankful that I can stream Netflix on my phone at the gym. Dr. Who makes cardio so much better.



I just started watching Dr. Who about a month ago. I started with the new episodes starring Christopher Eccleston and am up to the second David Tennant season. He's dreamy, by the way. The episodes are funny, dramatic, exciting and emotional. Cardio time flies by thanks to Netflix streaming.

Today, I'm thankful for the place I work and the people I work with. I'm lucky to work at a university, a place that's constantly reinvigorated with new energy every semester, a place that values critical thought and offers unlimited opportunities to learn new things and meet new people. I love giving of my efforts and talents to a place that contributes so positively to the world through education, research and community involvement.

I am also lucky to work with and around people that I genuinely like - people that make me laugh, make me think, challenge me to be better every day.

I love helping people work through their problems, in any way I can, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to do so every day via my job. As technology changes, I get to adapt, and help others adapt, too. It's fun, it's challenging and it makes me enjoy my job even more.

And I'm incredibly lucky to get to work with my husband - how many people have someone at their job that they can trust 100% and know is looking out for their best interests? It's comforting to have this. Plus, carpooling is great, and seeing each other for lunch every day is even better. :)

There are many places and jobs that pay more money, but few give so much back as a university. This place is filled with people - including me - who love what they do and love the environment they're doing it in. They love the satisfaction of watching people achieve academic successes, big and small. They love seeing the benefits our university provides to the community and to our city, and they love the people they work with, for and around.

I am thankful for my job - where I work, the people I work with, and I what I get to do every day.

If I could only figure out a way to incorporate cooking into technical support, I'd be on Cloud 9!

Speaking of cooking...

This recipe has nothing to do with any of the above, but it's one of the best things I've ever eaten. I made it on Sunday and had leftovers yesterday, and will have more leftovers on Friday. I wanted to share it with you right away: braised short rib ragu. We've been serving it over gnocchi, but I'll have it with polenta later this week.
Braised Short Rib Ragu
Inspired by Closet Cooking
Servings: 6 or so

1 oz dried mushrooms (oyster or porcini)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. short ribs, 2-3 inches long
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 c. celery, diced
1 c. carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. anchovy paste
1 c. red wine
1 c. tomato puree
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbps. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
3 c. beef stock
1 bunch parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Soak the mushrooms in 1/2 cup hot water.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the short ribs until brown on all sides and remove to a plate. You may need to do this in batches.

Reduce to medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots and saute until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and saute until fragrant, about a minute.

Add the red wine and deglaze the pan.

Add the seared ribs, the mushrooms and their liquid, tomato puree, tomato paste, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and enough beef stock to cover the ribs.

Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to the oven to cook until the meat is falling off the bones, about 3 hours.

Remove the beef from the pan, set aside to cool. Discard the bay leaves.

Using a stick blender, puree the sauce until no large chunks of anything remain. Stir in the chopped parsley.

Pull the beef from the bones, shred it, return it to the sauce and simmer to thicken if desired.

Serve over gnocchi or polenta.

The braise takes a bit of time to get going, but once it’s in the oven, it’s pretty hands-off. Incredibly savory and satisfying – comfort food at its best. Freezes really well, too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Right to choose.

Today, like so many others in the United States, I am thankful that I have the right to vote for government representation, and that l don't have to worry about getting maimed or worse for voting for the "wrong" person.

I am thankful, but I am also disillusioned by much of what counts as politics. It's all red and blue, us and them, you and me. I know I should be thankful for our differences, as that's what makes us as humans so interesting. But really, those differences, sometimes, just make me sad or angry or frustrated or all three at once.

I struggle with this - the concept of respecting the beliefs and opinions of others. The truth of the matter is that there are some things that vast swaths of Americans believe and think that I don't respect at all.

I don't like football. But I understand why others do and I respect that.

I don't care for baby corn, but I see the value and I respect the choice of those that could eat it with every meal.

Football and baby corn, I get. Those are easy. Those don't affect me or my friends or my family in any meaningful way. But I don't respect the choice by many people to deny the right to marry or adopt children by loving couples who happen to be of the same sex. I don't respect the decisions of those who refuse to discuss anything other than abstinence with their teenagers, then try to prevent them from getting access to birth control of any kind. I don't respect people that claim to be pro-life, so long as that life has yet to be born, at which point the life must pull itself up by his or her bootstraps (where newborns get boots is of no concern to them).

I want to value our differences, respect the opinions of others, just get along, but when so much light is shown on our differences during these political seasons, I get tired. I tune out. I want to crawl into a burrow and not emerge until November 7th.

Keeping an open mind is hard, and something that I continue to work on every day. But it just gets so frustrating to know in my soul that my belief on something is right, and so many people think it's wrong - I just don't know where to go with that, you know?

Anyway, today is about exercising our freedom of choice. Even if your choice is different from mine, please vote. I really, sincerely mean it. As it says in my favorite song from my favorite musical:
I chose, and my world was shaken- so what?
The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not
You have to move on...

- "Move On" from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George
Regardless of how the election plays out, we will move on. I'm thankful for that, as well.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thankfulness from the weekend and today.

While I didn't post anything here over the weekend, I still kept track of what I am thankful for.

On Saturday, I was thankful for the extra hour of sleep I get from the Daylight Savings time switch. I really, really like sleep.

That said, I'm not thankful for what the time change does to my evenings - since there's less daylight after work, I can't go for a walk in the park because it's too dark. Park walks are, for the time being, reserved for days off and weekends. All other fitness walking will be done at the gym. Thankfully, it has an indoor track.

On Sunday, I expressed my thanks for Mr. Awesome.

Mr. Awesome is everything I am not, and I'm everything he's not and together we're something complete. I am thankful that we met when we were 15 years old and get to spend our whole lives together. I'm thankful he doesn't mind rescuing me from the occasional spider, and that, rather than smash that spider, he catches it and takes it outside.

Today, I'm thankful for my mom.

I read recently that happiness is 50% genetic, 10% environmental (your workplace, your living conditions) and 40% personal choice. I'm a (mostly) positive and happy person, and I can attribute 50% of that to my mom, as she's (mostly) positive and happy, too.

She's been and continues to be the example by which I model my own life. Her considerate nature, thoughtfulness, strength, and genuinely great capacity for love are evident in everything she is and does. I have friends who have some pretty difficult mothers, and I am forever thankful that my mom is just plain wonderful.

This isn't just lip service - I don't know of anyone who knows her that hasn't experienced the goodness that is her firsthand. Kindness, humor, compassion, love - these are the words that make up my mom.

Mom, I love you. I am so very thankful you're my mom.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Here. Now.

Yesterday I was thankful for instant oatmeal. I ate some this morning, and it was delicious, and I was thankful for it all over again.

Today, I am thankful for modern domestic conveniences.

How wonderful to have had the providence to be born in a place and age that gives me access to clean water, complete with indoor plumbing? What a stroke of cosmic luck to be alive in the age of electricity, and all that comes with it - light that extends the day long into the night, a climate controlled house, refrigeration, ovens, washers, dryers, all of it the stuff of daily necessity, and all of it stuff I regularly take for granted.

When in recorded time have we been so fortunate in our ready access to knowledge – so much of it a point-and-click away – and comfort and information? True, the weight of it can become overwhelming at times, but that’s when we adapt and learn our personal limitations and allowances.

My alarm clock, set by syncing with a signal out of the air, wakes me, I shower, I get dressed in a lighted house long before sunrise, I drive to work, and listen to one of a hundred different radio stations. My pedometer talks to my computer talks to my phone talks to my car. My day is filled with inventions and concepts people 100 years ago couldn't imagine possible. Is all of it necessary? No. But we're alive, and it's here, and I'm thrilled by it all.

I am thankful for the technology of now.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A month of Thanksgiving.

Happy November, everyone! November signals the start of the holiday season and I LOVE the holidays. Warm sweaters, the smell of burning firewood and cookies, hot chocolate, snowflakes, pumpkins, pine trees, candles, joy, excitement, love, happiness - all of these and more make up the holiday season in abundance!

This month, I'm going to try to post about things I'm thankful for, and if I'm really good, I'll post lots and lots, because I am thankful for lots and lots.

Today, I'm thankful for instant oatmeal.

Every morning at work, I eat instant oatmeal out of a mug at my desk and drink coffee and catch up on whatever needs catching up on from the night before.

Oatmeal reminds me of bundling up on chilly days, of my mom making breakfast on snowy mornings, of warmth and comfort and home. Thank you, oatmeal. Thank you for coming in an instant variety. Thank you for being so inexpensive and delicious.

My favorite oatmeal right now is Better Oats Oat Fit. It comes in Maple and Brown Sugar or Cinnamon Roll flavors, and I use a pouch of each to keep things interesting. So good, and two pouches is 200 calories - how great is that?! I find it at Target, and sometimes Costco, and recommend it highly to oatmeal lovers everywhere.

A couple of weeks ago, I made pumpkin butter for the first time. Aside from cutting the pumpkins in half for roasting (protip: find a friend with a band saw), it was really, really easy. A tablespoon or so of pumpkin butter stirred in my oatmeal took it to another level. Seriously good eats, folks.
Pumpkin Butter
Adapted from Oh, She Glows

4 c. fresh pumpkin puree (made from ~3.8 pounds roasted sugar pumpkin - I followed this tutorial)
1/3 c. sweet apple cider or apple juice, more if needed
1 c. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Put pumpkin puree in a blender. Add juice and blend until smooth, stopping to push down the pumpkin when necessary. It may take a bit to get it going.

Add the brown sugar, agave, cinnamon and nutmeg. Process again until super smooth and no clumps remain.

Spoon mixture into a medium-sized pot. Cover with lid and prop lid ajar with a wooden spoon. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a low boil. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until it’s as thick as you want it. Stir frequently and be careful - this stuff will spatter like crazy! Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and lemon juice.

Cool completely and then store in a sealed container in the fridge. Should keep for 2-4 weeks.

Aside from oatmeal, you can put this pumpkin butter on just about anything - breads, fruit, ice cream, or just eat it outright. With lots of fiber and nutrients from the pumpkin, it's not nearly as decadent as it tastes.

What are you thankful for right now?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shorter days... quicker meals.

There are lots of reasons to love fall - the cooler temperatures, the colorful leaves, the pumpkins, the sweaters, apple cider, boots - lots and lots of reasons. But I don't love that by the time we get home from work and cook dinner, it's too dark to go for a walk in the park. We can walk at the gym, but it's not nearly as satisfying as being out in nature, with the trees and wind and dappling light. We've been able to squeeze a few walks in by making some super-quick dinners, but with the whole Fall Back thing happening in a couple of weeks, even the quick dinners won't buy us any extra daylight.

That said, our current favorite super-fast meal is a white bean and tuna salad, inspired by one I found in a Nigella Lawson cookbook. It's a no-cook, toss-together-with-pantry-staples option on the evenings when we are short on time and/or short on thawed proteins.

Tuna and White Bean Salad
Adapted from Nigella Larson
Servings: 6

1 small red onion, finely chopped
Juice from 2 lemons
2 (14.5 ounce) cans white beans (like great northern or similar)
1 (8 ounce) can good quality tuna
2 tsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Put the chopped onion into a bowl with the lemon juice and let it steep while you prepare the salad. Drain the beans and rinse them to get rid of any gloop, then put them in a serving bowl. Drain the tuna and flake it into the beans.

Add the olive oil to the onion and lemon juice and whisk it to make a dressing and pour this over the tuna and beans. Fork the salad through, seasoning with salt and pepper, and then scatter over the parsley.

I like to serve this salad on open-faced on sandwich thins with some fresh spinach. It's even better after sitting in the fridge overnight.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chili when it's chilly!

When the weather turns chilly, it's time for some chili!

We wanted to try something a little different with our chili last weekend and opted for a white chicken chili, rather than the traditional tomato-and-ground turkey variety. I looked through lots of recipes and put my own together based on personal preference. The end result was a chili that's homey and comforting, a little spicy, savory, creamy, chunky - all the things you look for in a hearty dish. This chili comes together quickly, yet has a slow-simmered flavor.

The best bonus? It's healthy! Very little fat, but lots of protein and fiber. That's what takes it from awesome to super-awesome.


Lyndsey’s Super-Awesome White Chicken Chili
Servings: 8

For the chicken:
1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. tequila

For the chili:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and minced
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cups chicken broth
3 cans white beans
1 (14.5 ounce) can corn
Salt and pepper

For garnish:
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Sour Cream
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges

For the chicken:
Preheat a Sous Vide Supreme to 147 degrees. Season the chicken with chili powder, salt and pepper. Put the chicken into a food-safe plastic bag, add the tequila, and vacuum seal. Sous vide for about an hour. Remove from the bags, shred the chicken or chop into chunks, and set aside.

For the chili:
Puree one can of beans and the corn in a blender and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and slowly cook until tender. Mix in the garlic, peppers, cumin, oregano and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook and stir the mixture until tender, about 3 minutes. Mix in the puree, chicken broth, chicken and the rest of the beans (drained). Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with garnishes and cornbread!

Cornbread is definitely necessary here. Corn tortillas would probably be good, too.

You can pre-cook the chicken any way you like - boiled, poached, etc. - but it's so tender and moist when it's cooked sous vide style.

We made this on Sunday and I had this as leftovers on Monday for lunch and Tuesday for dinner. It was delicious every time. This recipe is a cold-weather winner!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

There and back again.

At the end of August, I was able to accompany Mr. Awesome to San Francisco for the first couple of days of his week-long VMWorld conference trip. We traveled with Brian and Courtney who, like Frank, stayed for a week while I had to return to the real world of a new fall semester after three days. Three days is better than no days. Over the next few days we squeezed all we could out of San Francisco. Some highlights:
  • Eating dinner at Boulevard, the 2012 James Beard winner for Best Restaurant. On the way back to the hotel, our cab drove past Fleur de Lys, the restaurant run by Hubert Keller. Guess who we spotted standing out front, at 11 at night, in his white chef's garb, looking all chefy and awesome. Yep. The man himself. It was surreal and special.

  • Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • Eating meatballs in the Castro.

  • Eating lunch with Courtney at The Slanted Door. Can't go wrong with Vietnamese. Also, notice the "eating" theme. We were the group who ate San Francisco.

  • Walking up and down steeper hills than during our Rocky Mountain hikes.

  • Going to the bathroom in the Academy of Sciences building so we could see the dinosaur without paying for admission.

San Francisco is a lively, exciting, fascinating place and I am looking forward to hopefully returning soon so we can hit up sights we missed this time around (I'm looking at you, redwoods).

Upon our return, we had a couple of weeks off before we headed out again, this time for a week in Texas for a few Ben Folds Five shows. The shows were great, and we managed to find a few really great things to do in Texas that we highly recommend to anyone heading there in the future.

1. The Dallas World Aquarium. Nestled downtown, it looks like an office building with some tropical plants scattered about the exterior. But once inside, the place is amazing! Otters, a sloth, an octopus, alligators, birds, fish, turtles, a jaguar - so many things to see! We loved this place.

2. The Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Thousands of butterflies, a cocoon viewing area where you can watch butterflies being born, more butterflies, spiders, ants, centipedes, and even more butterflies. Butterflies everywhere!


3. Densetsu sushi restaurant in Plano, Texas. One of the most creative - and affordable - sushi places we've been. Super fresh, lovely and delicious. Here's our spread from one of two visits:

We would have eaten there a third time, but we got a flat tire on our way from Houston to Dallas and didn't end up in Dallas until late.

So now we're home for a while, and though I love traveling, seeing new places and eating my way through new cities, I'm really glad to be home. I'm ready to do some home cooking!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Just do it.



“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The way they kiss in the land of the north.

 


6:59 AM by Shane Koyczan

I’ve been told
that people in the army
do more by 7:00 am
than I do
in an entire day

but if I wake
at 6:59 am
and turn to you
to trace the outline of your lips
with mine
I will have done enough
and killed no one
in the process.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rocky mountain high.

We went to Colorado last week. It was a really spectacular trip. On Saturday, just before we arrived in Denver, we witnessed a car chase and the unfortunate aftereffects - the driver of a stolen pickup smashed into two cars, injuring their drivers, before being stopped by road spikes.

On Sunday, we spent the day hiking around the Rocky Mountain National Park. We visited four lakes (Nymph, Dream, Emerald and Hiayaha) and hiked over 13 miles of some of the most beautiful country anyone can experience.

 After our RMNP hike, we headed to Boulder for dinner at Aji, where we ordered the entire Happy Hour menu.

Monday, we headed towards Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We stopped just outside of town for a hike Hanging Lake. This trail was pretty difficult - about 1 mile straight up the side of a mountain - but the rewarding view is truly incredible.

It's like something out of a movie. Paradise just off the interstate. After leaving Hanging Lake, we headed towards our hotel. About three miles from our exit, we found the interstate closed due to a hazardous waste spill in a tunnel. We were informed that the road would be closed for about 4 more hours, and the only alternate route to our exit was a six-hour detour. Disappointed, but not discouraged, we headed back to the last town we had passed, Eagle, Colorado, and found Luigi's Pasta House for dinner. We feasted on sangria, spaghetti and meatballs, and chocolate cake. It was really excellent. Three hours later, the road opened (earlier than expected - yay!) and we made our way to the hotel for some sleep.

Tuesday we started out for the Thomas Lakes Trail, but found that in Colorado, "accessible by car" means "accessible by high-set 4-wheel drive vehicle." After the road turned into what was essentially a dry, rock-filled creek bed, we turned back and approached the trailhead from another route, about 10 miles out of the way. Our 4-mile hike was terrific, moving from desert-like scrub landscape into aspens and pines over the course of the trail.

Dinner on Tuesday was at Six89 in Carbondale, the restaurant of 2011 James Beard award nominated Best Chef-Southwest, Mark Fischer. Our meal was incredible, and incredibly affordable - a three-course prix fixe dinner runs $26.89. We had halibut ceviche, vegetarian tamales, seared halibut with hominy, white chocolate bread pudding and butterscotch mousse. Even the drinks were outstanding - I had a Moscow Mule made with house-infused vanilla bean vodka, lime juice, angostura bitters and ginger beer on the rocks. Divine.

We headed to Breckenridge on Wednesday for a mountain hike. But first, we had to eat a mountain cannoli!

That gave us the fuel we needed head up Peak 8 on a chair lift in the rain towards for our guided hike on the mountain. The rain persisted for about an hour, during which we waited in a restaurant that's closed during the summer, but open for shelter from storms. Once the rain passed, we headed out for a 1.5 mile hike on top of the peak, and because it had just stopped raining, we were alone with our guide and a whole bunch of marmots, pika, and even a fox!

He watched us for about 3 minutes before trotting up the mountain and into some brush cover. After the hike we had a so-so dinner at a Breckenridge restaurant before heading back to our hotel for some sleep.

Up bright and early on Thursday but, as it turned out, not early enough. We left the hotel at 7am and headed to the Mt. Bierstadt trailhead in Georgetown, Colorado. Mt. Bierstadt is a 14r (pronounced "fourteener"), meaning it's one of the fifty-three 14,000+ foot tall mountains in Colorado. Our intention was to climb to the top of Mt. Bierstadt, and for a while, things looked good. We started out at 8:30, and headed out through the willows. Easy peasy. Then the climb got steeper, and steeper, and eventually we had to stop for frequent breaks, offering beautiful views.

We climbed up and up and up for 2.5 hours (and over 3 miles) before the storms started to move in. We'd been warned to stay off the high peaks when lightening is around, so with much disappointment, we abandoned our quest to reach the summit of our first 14r about 1/2 mile from the top and turned back for the 2-hour descent. It was a bummer not to complete the hike, but we got really far and learned a whole lot about our skills and climbing in general. First rule: start earlier than you think. Those storms come in every day and it's best to beat them down the mountain. We're going to keep building strength and endurance so we can tackle Mt. Bierstadt next year!

After our climb, we headed to Denver and ate dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant, Sushi Den. We ate there last October and couldn't wait to go back. It was so worth the wait. In addition to some incredibly fresh and flavorful sushi, I had some yellow tomato "gazpacho" with lemongrass and crab. It was really more like a cold soup than a gazpacho, and I'm trying to figure out how to recreate it at home. Especially with the amazing tomatoes available at farmer's markets this time of year.

A good night's rest at a hotel in Aurora, Colorado was sadly followed by the morning's news of the theater shooting, which occurred about a mile from where we were staying during the night. It was a surreal way to wake up, in a place so beautiful, after days filled with sun and nature and blue sky and great memories, to find such shock and horror just down the road. Fifteen years ago, we might have been in that theater, but we're not really movie theater people anymore, so we were never in any danger. But sadness and madness and chaos can occur anywhere at any time, which makes it all the more important to appreciate the great moments - like a week in Colorado, or a kiss goodnight, or a joke or a special event or an everyday occurrence - with everything you have and are.

Our drive home was made bearable - nay, I'll go so far as to say enjoyable - thanks to our discovery of the best podcast in the known universe, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.   Such a simple premise - two funny friends pick, eat and rate a snack - made into something hilarious, interesting and brilliant. I can't recommend this one highly enough. I'm a viewer (I know I'm not a viewer) and you should be, too.

We're glad to be back, but miss the mountains already.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A bird in a bag is worth two in the pot.

When I was a kid, my mom and stepdad Howard would tag-team barbecue chicken. Their recipe was  a two-step process that went something like this:

Step 1: Mom boiled the hell out of chicken until it was cooked through and then some.

Step 2: Howard would slather the boiled chicken with Gates BBQ sauce and burn the tar out of it on the grill.

Despite growing up with a poor example of BBQ cooking technique, I still have a fondness for barbecued chicken, and have yet to find a version that's not too dry/too raw/too flavorless/too saucy/not charred enough/charred too much/etc. In short, the idea of barbecued chicken far outweighs the actual execution of the end result.

Show me a BBQ joint that can do chicken right and I'll show you a good BBQ joint.

*crickets*

You get the idea.

So what's a girl to do when it's summer, and the sweet and spicy call of barbecue sauce and grills calls out of the humid June air? The typical girl would suffer through with whatever overcooked bird she could rustle up.

But the girl with the sous vide machine - well, she's got all the right tools in all the right places.

For your viewing pleasure, a modernist girl's guide to perfect barbecue chicken, in four easy steps:

Step 1: Brine the bird. The best way to get flavor into poultry (or pork) is to brine it. I made a solution of 4 cups water plus 1/4 c. salt, put two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts into a zip-top bag and poured the brine over the chicken. Seal and store in the fridge overnight. Rinse the chicken under cold water before moving on to remove extra saltiness or you'll be sorry.

Step 2: Sous vide the bird. It's not easy to cook chicken to the perfect doneness by any method - it's either not done and inedible, or overcooked and barely edible, unless tended to by a skilled hand. This is especially true with a grill - by the time the outside is cooked to a good level, the inside is not done at all. If you cook the inside all the way through, the outside is overcooked, tough and oftentimes burned beyond all recognition. The sous vide technique solves this problem. By cooking the chicken sous vide, it's perfectly done, moist and flavorful edge to edge - no overcooking issues to worry about.

After brining and rinsing, I put my chicken breasts in food-safe bags and added some 3 Little Pigs BBQ sauce, then I sealed them in a chamber vacuum (you can also use zip-top bags and the Archimedes' principle).


I put the bags in the Sous Vide Supreme preheated to 147 degrees and left them in there for an hour and a half, during which time I took Finnie for a walk at the park with her new backpack.

Step 3: Grill the bird. After I got home from my walk and the chicken was cooked, I removed it from the bags, added more BBQ sauce, and grilled it on a wicked-hot grill for about 2 minutes on each side, until it was nice and burnt - just how I like it!


Step 4: Eat the bird. Behold! The barbecued chicken of your dreams!


The chicken was moist, flavorful, succulent, well-seasoned and out-and-out incredible. The only thing I'll change for the next time is I'll remove the skin before grilling it. I love the burnt bits, but don't like chicken skin. Since the chicken just needs a quick scorching, the skin isn't necessary to retain moisture - the sous vide cooking method ensures moistness throughout.

Am I wrong, by the way? Are there places in town where one can get really good barbecued chicken? Other than my own kitchen, I mean.

I'd love to know.

Friday, June 29, 2012

It's all fun and games until it stops being fun and games.

I'm going through a blog identity crisis of sorts.

Three years ago, I decided to split my blog in two - this one would be for general topics, and a new one, dubbed sitstaycook, would be for cooking and health-related topics. For a while, it worked. But after a bit, it stopped working.

After a while, maintaining two sites becomes more of a chore than anything else. Which one should content go on? Do I have enough material to update each on a regular basis? Eventually, I cut back posting much altogether because it kind of became stressful to think about. When it stops being fun, it's time to reassess the situation.

I realized that as I cook more, and exercise more, that those things can't be split away from the parts of me that love reading and knitting and music and absurd humor and all the rest. I am not two separate people. I can't manage two separate blogs.

So I'm going back to my roots. I'll still retain ownership of sitstaycook.com, but that address will eventually redirect here, to my original love, sitstaygoodblog.

This is a work in progress, as am I. So forgive the dust for a bit while I settle back in.

I'm looking forward to continuing on this journey, wherever it takes us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Feel the burn!

I came across this picture the other day:



Looking at this, I finally understand what it means when people say that muscle weighs more than fat. I get it now, how one can gain weight while losing mass. Do you see? Do you get it?

Does it click for you, too?

This clicked so hard for me, that I joined a gym - the North Kansas City Community Center - in order to build more muscle, which in turn will help me burn more fat.

Because, you see, I have decided to try something new. I've been fat - had a high body fat percentage - for as long as I can remember. Since childhood. I've never not been fat. So I've decided to try not being fat for a while and see how that goes. In order to give it a run, I've got to do some work in the form of weight training, cardio and all the rest.

Speaking of cardio - I started Week 4 Day 1 of the Couch to 5K program yesterday. After a 5-minute warm-up walk, I ran for 3 minutes, walked for 90 seconds, ran for 5 minutes, walked for 3 minutes, ran for 3 minutes, walked for 90 seconds and ran for 5 more minutes before walking a cool down. For those keeping score, I ran a total of 16 minutes yesterday, a personal record! Sure, I'm not a speed demon at this point in my running career, but I'm not working on speed. I'm going for endurance. Once I can run for 30 minutes in a row, then I'll work on how far I run in that 30 minutes.

All of this running and walking and weight training means we've been trying to put together quicker dinners lately. Luckily, it's summer so there's all sorts of fresh fruits and veggies out there to throw in the mix. Also, salmon sears up fast!

Tonight we're having baked fish fillet sandwiches with leftover tabbouleh - I'm on a tabbouleh kick lately - before heading out to the gym for an upper-body workout. My arms are going to smart tomorrow, but I'll earn that pain.

Remember - sweat is just fat crying. I love to watch it cry.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Keep moving.

So I'm doing it!

Last Thursday, I started the C25K program. Since I'm new to running, I'm taking it a little slower. So instead of running for three sessions then moving to the next week, I am going to do Week 1 through the end of this week. That way, I can build up my endurance and muscles so when the intensity increases, I'll be ready!

I'm following a mix of podcasts/apps. On Thursday, I used the C25K app and that version of the program. It had me alternating 30 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes, with 5 minute warm-up and cool-down walks. On Saturday and Monday, I followed the 5K101 podcast, which had me alternating running for 2 minutes with walking for 3 minutes, for 20 minutes with 5 minute warm-ups and cool-downs. Tomorrow, I'll go back to the C25K version, and I haven't decided what I'll do on Friday yet. I like this approach because it varies things up a bit to keep things interesting.

I've read a good deal of information about proper running form and how to take care of myself before, during and after a run, so I'm not going in blind. One of the biggest things I keep in mind is that this isn't a race - speed and distance at this point isn't important. The most important thing at this point in my development is building endurance. So while I may run for 2 minutes, I might not get that far. But I run for the entire 2 minutes. If I start to feel sore or breathless, I slow down, but I keep running. And so far, this has worked really well for me.

Of course, I've run about 24 minutes total so what do I know?

By the way - since I started walking (and now running) with my Fitbit and tracking my food with the program (about 2 1/2 weeks), I've lost 4.5 lbs. That's pretty motivating, too.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On the run.

I've been in a weight-loss slump for the last year. I haven't gained any back (thank goodness), but I haven't lost any, either. I needed something to get me going again - a jump-start. A kick in the (still larger than I'd like them to be) pants.

Enter the Fitbit.

The Fitbit is a high-tech pedometer that tracks steps, distance, stairs, calories burned and activity levels, then syncs the information via a base station to a website. The website then shows graphs and charts of activity through the day, and can also be used to track food, weight and health stats. There's a social aspect in that you can Friend others with Fitbits, and keep track of their information via a leaderboard - who walked the most steps, was most active, etc. It will even track sleep patterns, though I haven't used it for that (yet).

Mr. Awesome and I got Fitbits about two weeks ago and have since turned into walking machines. Our goal is to walk at least 10,000 steps a day, but we've exceeded that by thousands every day so far. We see it as a competition of sorts - who can walk the most during the day at work, can we be at the top of the leaderboard - and that keeps me motivated to want to walk further.

It's also what is making me want to take up running.

I've never been a runner. In high school, I avoided physical activity of that sort like the plague, and have never run more than a couple hundred yards in my life that I can remember. That is, until the last few days.

Gradually, as we walk on the trail near our house, we're inserting short bursts of running. "To the end of the fence!" "To the scoreboard!" "Make it to the big tree - not this big tree - that big tree up there!" Over the last few days, as I've been able to run in these short segments and realize that I'm not gasping for air or tripping or keeling over in pain, my self-confidence has grown and I am coming to believe that yes, I can be a runner.

Last night, I ran almost a quarter of a mile in one stretch. I wasn't fast, but I made it, and when I reached my goal point (a light pole somewhere on the trail) I almost cried.

I can't wait to do it again tonight.

If you have a Fitbit, befriend me at http://www.fitbit.com/user/234NVL. If you don't have a Fitbit, consider getting one. It's changed my life - I really don't think it's too soon to say that.

All this new activity requires proper fueling for the body. Lately, we've been eating a lot of salads for dinner.

I'm planning on starting the Couch to 5K program in a few days. I'm optimistic - for the first time in my life I can actually picture me not just slimmer, but active and physically fit. This is really exciting - I'm going to be a runner!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The hits and the misses.

There's a downside to learning to cook great food at home: most restaurants just don't do it as well as I can.

This isn't a conceit - it's the truth. I get to focus on two or four plates, not an entire restaurant. I can tailor the flavors to my own palate, the nutrition to my own needs and the level of execution to my own standards. This isn't to say I'm rigid in what I like and dislike - on the contrary. Those who know me know there aren't many flavors or foods I won't eat. When I give it real thought, it's a short list, and based on experiences I can pinpoint:

  • Yuzu and lemon together - an unfortunate tart at a restaurant in Denver

  • Duck confit - overly-greasy at a school in Kansas

  • Torchon of foie gras - a much-too-large portion at a bar in KC

  • Baby corn - general disappointment each time it appears


Even those examples aren't deal-breakers for me. My rule is, if I don't like something, I need to try it prepared by a chef I trust. If I still don't like it, I don't like it, but I gave it the best effort. I learned to love Brussels Sprouts because of a dish at Room 39. I crave beets thanks to a preparation at Rioja in Denver. Both of these items were on my short list before I had them prepared in the right way. Who knows, there might be a right way to prepare baby corn. I doubt it, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

I digress. The downside to learning to cook at home. It's like learning to knit. Now that I can, and I know how simple it is, I can't get myself to pay $40 for a cowl at the GAP. I will, however, spend $30 on yarn and make the cowl myself, with improvements. Same with cooking - spending money on a meal that I know I can do better at home is just aggravating. So I seek out places that hopefully can do things better or, at the very least, inspire me to do something new in my own kitchen.

Such was the mindset as we made reservations at The Farmhouse last Saturday. We'd never been, but the reviews were positive and the menu looked very good. Unfortunately, our experience didn't meet our expectations.

The Farmhouse is located in the River Market area at 3rd and Deleware. The restaurant space is quite nice - it has that rustic upscale feel that's been popular for a while, with dark hardwoods and antique furniture alongside bright artwork and twinkling lights. The feel is romantic and cozy, and we were charmed. I especially liked the chalkboard towards the back of the main dining room which listed the sources for all of the ingredients used in their dishes. A very nice touch indeed.

It wasn't easy making dinner choices - everything sounded so delicious in the menu. We each ordered a different salad, but chose the same entree, and split dessert.

The salads were just okay. The ingredients were fresh, and both had high points - a perfectly fried slice of goat cheese on mine, and some beautiful polenta croutons on his. But they both had lackluster dressing with little flavor and too much oil. They were overdressed to the point that the oil flavor masked the fresh, local vegetables the restaurant is so proud of.

Our entrees were sort of a disaster. We both ordered a chicken roulade dish with smoked mushroom duxelle, sweet potato puree and arugula.  The presentation was lovely - the chicken was browned and crisp on the outside, the puree was smooth and creamy, the arugula was bright and fresh. The first couple of bites were very good. But then things went south. Neither of us could cut through the center of our chicken - they were completely raw in the center. At about this point, the smokiness of the mushrooms became overwhelming, then intrusive and ultimately boring. We ate about 75% of the dish (the cooked part) and informed our server that the rest of our chicken was raw. We didn't want replacement meals, and asked that he simply inform the chef so that future diners didn't suffer such a dining fate.

Not completely satiated from our entrees, we opted finally for a slice of pecan pie for dessert. Again, nothing special. My molasses pecan pie is much better, and Pillsbury crust is flakier and had more flavor. We both agreed that our meal at The Farmhouse was less than stellar, but we also agreed that some of that is due to our own culinary skills at home.

Some good things did come out of the meal. We'll be making polenta croutons soon, and will also be adding some thinly sliced pear to our salads on occasion. The biggest revelation, though, is the chicken roulade. After some discussion, we decided that we can perfect this dish by tightly vacuum-sealing the chicken roulades, and cooking them sous vide until done. Then a quick sear in a hot skillet to finish. This will guarantee tender, perfectly formed, perfectly cooked roulades. I'll let you know how that works, when we try it.

The Takeaway: The Farmhouse (http://www.eatatthefarmhouse.com/) just didn't rise up to our admittedly high standards. Overdressed salads, raw chicken, lackluster pie - nothing was outstanding. However, their commitment to locally sourced ingredients is commendable. This may make a good brunch spot, but someone else will have to fill me in as we won't be returning any time soon.

The Farmhouse
300 Delaware Street
Kansas City, MO

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Somewhere, out there...

Since my bone marrow donation in October, I hadn't heard anything about how my recipient was doing. Paulette from Be The Match said this happened sometimes, that no news was good news, that we might hear something at the 6-month mark. I resigned myself to not knowing anything about her, other than her age and disease, hoped for the best regarding her recovery, but prepared for the worst should I get an unfavorable update somewhere down the road.

But yesterday, I received a welcome surprise: Paulette called and told me that my recipient had send me a letter and small package, and that "because of the language" I would be able to figure out where my recipient was from. Since knowing those sorts of details before the allotted time period is a no-no, Be The Match had to approve sending the package on to me, and had to black out some specific information that would give away more information that they thought appropriate at this point in time.

In a matter of minutes, I learned that my recipient was not only alive, but doing well enough to put a letter and package together. Not only that, she wasn't from the United States as I thought, but from another country. When my cells were rushed to the airport, they caught an international flight to points unknown! I was overwhelmed with happiness at these developments. To know that my recipient was alive and relatively well is, well, I just don't have words.

This morning, I received a FedEx envelope at work containing a typed letter (with names of towns and people blacked out). I started to read the letter out loud to Mr. Awesome over the phone, but I couldn't finish because I started to get all teary. It's one thing to think about how my recipient is doing. It's another to read what she thinks about my contribution. Her words are ones that are burned into my heart, and as much as she tells me I have done for her, she has done just as much for me.

It's clear from the letter that English is not my recipient's first language, but it didn't give away any country of origin. However, included with the letter was a Christmas card and small wooden ornament.

There was German writing inside - my recipient is from a country that speaks German!

The text on the card is from a poem by German poet Arno Holz. Here is the Google translation:
And now again be in the dark,
the stars twinkle their Christmas
Thr lights illuminated even every home
and the Christ Child tells out the gifts.

I took a minute to read a little about Arno Holz. He was fascinated with the work of Charles Darwin and believed it was scientifically possible to eliminate subjectivity from art. He summarized this philosophy in the following formula:

Art = Nature - x, where "x" is the materials needed to produce art

While I don't agree - I believe art is based on subjectivity and it's value is derived from the emotional impact is has on a participant - I respect the attempt to quantify such a broad idea.

My patient wants to meet me someday. I would like to meet her, too. Perhaps we could talk about life and art and nature. Or we could just hug each other and be happy for one another's existence.

I have a little scar just above my clavicle from the central line, and whenever I think about my patient, I reach up and touch it and send a good thought into the universe for her. The scar is my badge of honor, a reminder of my experience and how fragile we all are. I send good thoughts into the universe for my patient a lot. I like to think it helps her heal. I know it helps me. Maybe one day we can talk about that, too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Salad days.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to eat was the Caesar salad at the Savoy Grill in Kansas City. The salad was prepared table-side in a large wooden bowl and I was fascinated that so many odd-smelling and -looking components could combine to make something so delicious.

I was thrilled to open my copy of Ferran Adria's The Family Meal to find a very workable version of this classic salad, conveniently portioned for two.

With anchovies and egg yolk at the ready, I prepared to take on this classic... and won the day, with a few minor adjustments from the original recipe.
Perfect Caesar Salad for 2
Servings: 2 (just like in the title :) )

1 garlic clove, minced
1 anchovy, minced
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. sherry cooking wine
1 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper
14 croutons
1 medium head Romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves removed, cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch strips

Combine the garlic and anchovies in a jar or glass using a hand blender until smooth. Add the egg yolk and continue blending, then add the sherry and vinegar until fully incorporated. With the hand blender running, slowly drizzle in the oil and blend until mixture is thick, sort of like mayonnaise. Add half of the Parmesan cheese to the dressing and stir by hand, then season with salt and pepper. If the dressing should be thinner, add a little water or vinegar, depending on your preference.

Toss the dressing with the lettuce and the rest of the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Divide onto two plates, then divide the croutons between the salads.

A salad fit for an emperor, or just your average Monday night. Hail, Caesar!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The simple pleasures of sofrito and sous vide.

In the spirit of people making New Year's Resolutions, I've vowed to expand my cooking horizons in the new year.

This vow has stemmed, in part from the fact that I received many excellent cookbooks for Christmas. Many. Excellent. Cookbooks. This will receive its own post as soon as I unload my camera (I probably should vow not to procrastinate as much this year, but I think I'll save that one for next year).

One of the books I received was Ferran Adria's The Family Meal, a well-done, practical guide to simple, straightforward cooking. Loaded with photos to guide you at every step along the cooking process, the book is filled with recipes for complete meals made from common and inexpensive ingredients. Like many cookbooks, this one has a section of "basic" recipes for things you can use in other recipes. Things like pesto, tomato sauce, and the first thing I decided to make from the book, sofrito, which is a combination of onions, garlic and tomatoes used as the base for many dishes.
Sofrito
Servings: 2 1/3 cups – for use in other recipes

9 garlic cloves
1/2 c. extra-virgin oil
4 1/3 c. onions, finely chopped
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1 dried bay leaf
8 oz canned tomato puree
1/2 tsp. salt

Put the garlic into a tall jar or beaker, then process to a paste using a hand-held blender. Put a saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. Fry the garlic until browned.

Meanwhile, process the onion in the blender. Add to the pan with the garlic. Lower the heat, add the herbs, then fry, stirring frequently, until the onion has browned.

Add four-fifths of the tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes. Add the remaining tomato, cook for 30 more minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

This will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for 6 months.
I then used the sofrito to jazz up some Tikka Masala. I based my recipe on one I found from Weight Watchers, but tweaked it quite a bit to fit my proclivities in the kitchen - like the addition of sofrito to the sauce, and using the sous vide cooking method for the chicken. Using sous vide for the chicken cut down on time, in that I could cook the chicken and marinate it in one step. The chicken came out melt-in-your-mouth tender, and was intensely flavorful. Sofrito added a depth of flavor to the sauce that isn't normally found in quick-cook meals, and really took this dish to the next level.
Lyndsey's Chicken Tikka Masala
Servings: 4

For the chicken:
2/3 c. low-fat plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. fresh ginger root, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp cumin seeds, divided
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast(s), cut into 2-inch chunks

For the sauce:
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp. sofrito (see above)
1 small jalapeƱo pepper(s), minced
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1/2 tsp paprika
8 oz canned tomato sauce
1 cup(s) fat-free evaporated milk
1/4 cup(s) cilantro, fresh, chopped
2 cup(s) cooked white rice, basmati, kept hot (we used TJ's Frozen Jasmine Rice)

For the chicken:
Heat the Sous Vide Supreme to 147 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, lime juice, ginger, garlic, cumin and pepper; add chicken and toss to coat. Put into a food-safe bag and vacuum-seal on medium. Sous vide for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken from bag and pat off most of the marinade.

Heat 1 tsp. oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Just when the oil starts to smoke, add the chicken and sear for 1 minute on each side. Remove to a plate while you make the sauce.

For the sauce:
Heat 1 tsp. oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the sofrito and jalapeno; cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add remaining teaspoon of cumin and paprika and stir to coat. Add tomato sauce and evaporated milk, reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add chicken back into skillet with the sauce and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve with rice.

Both Mr. Awesome and I loved this dish and plan on putting it in the permanent rotation.

This will be a year full of love, laughter, good food and good times. Hello, 2012!