Category Archives: Musings

Here’s a little Friday funny for you. Alex likes to look through my WordPress stats – number of views I’ve had, popular posts, etc. It must be an engineer thing because I just am not that interested in the numbers, but my brainy husband finds it entertaining. Recently he gathered together 10 of the most popular/unusual search engine terms that have landed people at my humble blogging home, and I thought I’d share them with you for giggles, but also to point you to some useful information that may have been buried in the archives. (That, and you can chuckle at how my writing style has evolved. Or not).

1) “HOW TO HANG PELMETS”
Reference Post: In which I Best the Pelmet Box

New kitchen windowI’m pretty amused that this is the number one search term. First, because I don’t claim to be a home decorating genius. And second, because the method I used is sort of anti-climactic in its super low-tech-ness. But, as they say, sometimes genius is in the ordinary. (Actually, I think the quote goes “Genius is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one.” Admittedly, I did try a couple failed solutions before arriving at the winning technique.)

Super glue.

As I described in the original post, the pelmet I made was crafted around a foam core board that I covered with batting and fabric, using heavy duty staples. The wall space around my kitchen window is limited, so I bought some small, metal L-brackets from the decking section of Home Depot and screwed them into the wall. After several failed attempts, I slathered both the fabric and the bracket with superglue, and used clamps to hold everything in place for 24+ hours. It has never yet failed me. Knock on wood.

Which would be easy to do if my pelmet box were legitimately made of wood. But it’s not. It should go without saying that this technique probably won’t work on a wooden pelmet box. I am hopeful that you would use a sturdier bracket to secure your wooden pelmet.

2) “THINGS TO DO WITH PIE CRUST/DOUGH”
Reference post: A (P)interesting Thing to Do with Pie Crust
This search term leads me to a follow-up question: Are we making pie crust and then finding ourselves to lazy/impatient to bake a pie? I mean, because the obvious answer to this inquiry would be…make a pie…right?

In all likelihood, after creating a pie, we find ourselves with a bit of scrap dough that seems such a shame to throw away, especially when it could be made into something delicious. In my post, I described a method for making a sort of breakfast pizza with the scraps. You could fill it with lots of things, really.

Alternatively, you could make hand pies! Sort of like empanadas. When I make a big batch of meat in the slow cooker, and we’re on our third day of eating barbecue-flavored beef, you just have to mix it up a little. Roll out leftover pie dough fairly thin. Cut circles with a biscuit cutter or the top of a drinking glass turned upside down. Add a spoonful of (cooked) meat (or other filling) to the center of one circle. Lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Line the edges of the dough with a bit of egg wash to act as glue, then lay a second circle on top, using the tines of a fork to press the pieces together all the way around. Brush the tops with egg wash to help it brown nicely in the oven. Bake at the same temperature you would for your pie, but you’ll probably only need to bake about 20-30 minutes–until the tops are a nice golden color. This is a decadent way to make your leftovers seem new and exciting and my current favorite way to “create stuff with pie crust” (which was a close runner-up in search term frequency).

And one more thought, you can update your soup with a pie crust lid! Put your soup in an oven-proof bowl. Roll out pie crust dough. Run some egg wash around the outside edge of your bowl. Place the dough on top, pressing it to the outer lip of the bowl. Brush the top with more egg wash and bake until golden brown.

3) “HOW TO HIDE A DOG CRATE”
Reference post: (2013) January Cure Re-cap, Week 3
So. You’ve probably seen some of those photos on pinterest where people tuck their dog crates under end tables in their living room. These, of course, would be for smaller dogs. A great dane’s crate might fit under the dining room table, you know, if you didn’t want to eat dinner there anymore. You may also have seen photos where people seem to design their house around their furry friends, giving them cozy nooks under the stairs Harry Potter-style, or entire drawers in the kitchen that house food bowls that can be closed out of sight when finished.

Dog crates area in living room "before" shotWe do not have any of these things. Nero’s and Rogue’s crates are both size “large,” and they are decidedly not hidden. Whoever searched for this probably landed on my blog, thought “omg this is definitely how not to hide a dog crate,” and moved on. But it was too late and so my post just keeps getting bumped up in Google’s search algorithms while the rest of the world laughs maniacally at my definition of hidden.

But here’s the thing. Don’t force it. Yeah, it’d be nice if we had a finished basement (or any basement, at all) that could be the dogs’ domain. But we don’t. Their crates occupy a corner of our living room, near the back door. When they’re especially tired, they like to go in to lie down, and having easy access is comforting to them and to me.

Instead, I think of it as like the “kids’ corner.” Some houses may have brightly colored plastic furniture, and storage baskets for stray toys. Ours is dog crates. Of course, the black metal grating can seem kind of out-of-place with the rest of our decor, so I covered the top with a blanket, add some decorative baskets to store things like towels (for wiping muddy paws), leashes, gloves, flashlights, and poopie bags. I also added an inexpensive boot tray where Alex and I keep our outdoor shoes in easy reach without cluttering the floor. Wouldn’t want Rogue to trip when she rockets out the door to chase a squirrel…

4) “WHAT CAN I MAKE WITH MEAT TO MAKE IT LOOK FANCY?”
Reference Post: A Fancy for Fancy Meat and others…
This goes back to a really old post in which I made Jamie Oliver’s ground beef Wellington (which also contains a link to Matambre). I’ll have you know that I have yet to make either of these recipes again. Both are definitely something you should save for a weekend or holiday meal when you have more time to linger in the kitchen, maybe while listening to some Latin music.

If rolled meats aren’t what you had in mind, perhaps you’d like to try a Chicken Cordon Bleu or Chicken Florentine. If you’re too tired to pound out a chicken breast flat, use the America’s Test Kitchen tip of slicing horizontally into the thickest part of the meat to create a little pocket to stuff your ingredients inside.

And if what you had in mind was more about how to make the food on your plate look good (including the meat), consider browsing my mini-series in which I worked my way through Louis Eguaras’s ways to make a plate look better. (But don’t laugh too hard – these were written in my novice days of food plating. The tips are good, even if my own photos say otherwise).

DIY Christmas bunting flag5) “WHAT TO DO WITH OLD CHRISTMAS CARDS”
Reference Post: What to do with Your Old Christmas Cards
This is one craft project that I am particularly proud of, and one of my collaborations with my friend, Carrie, the decorating genius behind Dream Green DIY and Carrie Waller Creative. We cut up our old Christmas cards and glued them to twine to make a bunting flag banner! Speaking of, it’s almost time for me to pull mine out of storage to adorn our house with holiday memories! In the post, I also describe a simple way to use old cards to make ornaments using canning rings–something that I will be adding to a adorn a lot of gifts this year since I find myself in possession of a population of reproducing canning rings.

6) “I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I RECEIVED A CHRISTMAS CARD”
Reference Post: umm…?
I…I mean…I’m sorry? Maybe if you sent more Christmas cards, you’d receive more? I don’t know how to respond, really.

7) “WHAT IS THE FORMULA FOR SOUP?”
Reference Post: The Not-so-Secret Formula for Soup
Base flavors. Aromatics. Liquid. Garnish. Read through the post for more details.

93c7d42cd67611e19297123138203b9f_78) “HOW TO MAKE A TOMATO SOUND SEXY?”
Reference Post: The Sexiest Tomato Cream Sauce You’ll Likely Ever Make
If you want to make a tomato sound sexy, call it a love apple. If you want to make a tomato taste sexy, make this sauce.

9) “PIPE PLUMBING NEIGHBOR SUSPICIOUS WIRE”
Reference Post: ???
I couldn’t find anything I have ever written containing these five words in concert. Sounds like you may have bigger things to fry than fried chicken (one of my early video appearances!), or than the fried eggs I made on the grill after the 2012 derecho, or than arancini.

Maybe consider making a batch of these cookies, going to your  neighbor’s house, and starting with “hello.”

10) “MAGICAL PROPERTIES OF CARROTS”
Reference Post: Magical Tales of Carrots and Ginger
When I was young, my mom told me that if I ate a lot of carrots, I’d have excellent vision. I interpreted this to mean that eating lots of carrots, would allow me to see in the dark. Meaning, I’d be able to read a book under the covers of my bed without the aid of a flashlight. What a rebellious child I was!

As it turns out, the most magical property of carrots that I have discovered thus far is its uncanny ability to pair well with ginger. Whether it’s a soup or a cake, be sure to make this a flavor combination for your arsenal. (Not sure if that knowledge will help you in this game though).

And there you have it. Curious search terms that call forth some posts from the archives for your reviewing pleasure. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Weird Search Terms

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State of the Garden, Early May 2013

ImageHello, salad season! Tons of lettuce and radishes coming out of the garden this week, thanks to the 5 days of steady rain we have received. 1 pound of lettuce (read: a lot! those leaves don’t weigh very much so it takes quite a bit to get to 1 pound!) and 11 little radishes this week alone! Surely, the peas can’t be far behind.

**

Tonight Alex and I are going to a potluck dinner. We are bringing a pound cake for dessert to showcase fresh spring eggs from a friend, as well as a rhubarb-orange sauce that celebrates the end of winter (citrus) and beginning of spring (rhubarb).

**

Are you stalking stocking up on your spring stalks? Rhubarb and asparagus won’t last long so get ’em while you can. Last week, at the farmer’s market, I was a little too amused that my tote bag was overflowing with these stalks–nothing else, just rhubarb and asparagus stalks. I laughed out loud and remarked as much (mostly to myself but definitely loud enough for others to hear), but nobody laughed with me. Am I becoming the crazy lady who talks to herself at the farmer’s market?? Has my quest to “stock up” and “put by” the things that I can’t grow myself deluded me into thinking that everyone else at the market knows why I’m buying asparagus 4 pounds at a time? I stumbled under the weight of my bags to the fresh donut stand. I probably did look a little crazy, stuffing my face with that little treat and leaving a trail of cinnamon-sugar dust from my lips and down the front of my shirt. Maybe my fellow shoppers just assume that I’m really really hungry.

**

Speaking of asparagus, I learned a neat tip for getting the most out of these babies. You know how they tell you to hold each stalk horizontally and snap off the “woody stem” at the non-tip end? (Alternately, some people rubberband a whole bunch together and just make one big chop). You can save those woody stems! Thank goodness! I always winced whenever I did that; sure, the ends went to the compost, but it seemed like such a waste of fresh green veggies! Here’s what you do: Chop into 1-inch pieces. Boil them for about 5 minutes, then shock in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Puree in your food processor and pack into freezer-safe containers. Voila! Asparagus puree. Instant baby food. Or for use in things like soup, breads, quiche, or asparagus flan, which I am very eager to make.

**

Alex and I have been living in our house for almost three years now! If I had planted asparagus crowns when we first moved in, we might be noshing on our own asparagus by now!

We Humble Home Cooks

Family

Here’s a recent shot of our happy household, transplanted for an afternoon to ascend Spy Rock. The weather finally seems to have warmed up, and to make up for lost time, spring has welcomed us with several days of summer weather. However, it’s raining now. I am thankful for the rain watering the garden and washing away that green-yellow film of pollen to which my sinuses have once again surrendered. But rainy days can make one introspective.

I flatter myself if I think that this inconsistent blogger still has regular readers, and even more so if those regular readers have stuck around long enough to wonder where all the food/recipe posts have gone of late.

I, too, have wondered why my meals no longer seem interesting enough to write about. Have I hit a dry spot in my recipe creativity? (Not really). Am I quite possibly the laziest photographer in the world? (Yes, but while photographs of food make reading about food more interesting, perhaps one need not shy away from writing just because no photos exist). Have I been occupying my time with things other than blogging? (Yeah, even if it is watching re-runs of old TV episodes). What could it be?

Sometimes overcoming a writer’s block involves reading more. When this month’s Bon Appetit arrived in the mail yesterday, I leafed through the pages as I usually do, dog-earring those with intriguing recipes or articles that I would come back to later. But then, I was surprised to find me…myself…in one of the articles, and I paused to read while I nibbled on what remained of my bacon and mushroom omelet, sandwiched between two fluffy halves of a cheddar biscuit.

“…the biscuits Ginny wants to bake are supposed to be made with buttermilk. She doesn’t have buttermilk, so she pulls out a small container of milk. The milk, though, is a full two weeks past its expiration date. Undeterred, and unwilling to make that trip to the store for an ingredient she lacks, she gives it a deep sniff, deems it viable, and adds it to the dough after a further souring with a tablespoon of vinegar.

Another recipe we are cooking with calls for sorghum syrup, which she also doesn’t have, so she uses maple. The cookies she wants to make require twice the amount of rolled oats she has. They also call for pine nuts, but she has only pecans…”

It’s an excerpt from a piece by Gabrielle Hamilton who takes a road trip to discover who today’s “home cooks” are, and alternately dines with a few different characters just doing their everyday cooking routine.

Ginny resonated with me because she is me. That is how I cook. Most of the time. Unless it’s a really intricate recipe or garnished with something super hi-tech that I don’t want to have imploding on my kitchen counter, I have gotten to the point that I can scan a recipe, amend the cooking technique for what I feel like doing (or have the time to do), using up the smorgasbord of ingredients that have collected in the fridge or the pantry. I generally know when I can replace one type of liquid with another, or swap this cheese for that one. I can even create a delicious dinner after having just uttered the words “there’s nothing to eat in this house.”

Perhaps I feared that sharing my recipes and meals with you as they appeared on our dinner plates one evening would be pointless since I would undoubtedly not make it the same way the next time. Would you feel cheated that I didn’t make it the way I wrote about it? More selfishly, would I feel like a cooking hypocrite, luring you into a false sense of kitchen perfection with each blog post?

Silly me. Reading about my style of cooking, as represented by Ginny but undoubtedly practiced by hundreds of radical homemakers and home cooks throughout the land, made me realize it doesn’t matter what I’m cooking, or how I’m cooking, or even whether it’s different from the last time I made it, and regardless of whether I published something about it or not.

All that matters is that I’m cooking.

And in the blogging world, sometimes all that matters is that I’m writing.

So tonight, friends, I’m going to be fixing this sausage and kale dish. Except, the sausages I picked up from the store today look like hot dogs and advertise themselves as containing both beer and sriracha. We’re out of pasta, so we’ll be having it over rice. And I don’t have parmesan cheese, so we might try mozerella or chevre, or both. And if I remember, I’ll snap a photo for you.

But in case I forget, just know that we will be dining joyfully, making the most of what we have, listening to the rain pelt our roof, maybe while watching old re-runs. What will you be cooking this weekend to nourish your loved ones and yourself? Do tell.

An Evening with Jackson Landers

On our Hawaiian honeymoon, Alex and I had the pleasure of eating opah, a delicious fleshy fish (ours was prepared in a miso broth with some Asian vegetables). The waiter told us that opah was once a fish held in low regard; it was bycatch from tuna fishermen and always got thrown back. Over time, they kept catching so much opah, that they decided to sell it. Now fishermen intentionally catch it, and opah has since become something of an iconic Hawaiian fish.

Opah in miso broth at The Beach House, Kauai

Opah in miso broth at The Beach House, Kauai

The story of how this fish became a culinary star is, I think, one to which Jackson Landers, the unofficial father of the “invasivore” movement, might give a boyish nod of approval. Well, a nod of approval followed by a hunting anecdote or ecological history lesson that tops that, in true storytelling fashion.

And he’s got a lot of stories to tell. Last night I ventured out in the rain to my local independent bookstore to listen to Mr. Landers speak and read from his book, Eating Aliens. Years ago, he decided to do something about the hundreds of species that are threatened out of their natural habitats and toward extinction by the invasive species that compete for resources. But rather than join an environmental organization or research team, he hunts them and eats them. Not in a Bear Grylls survival kind of way (indeed, before the talk he admits to downing a burger from a nearby Dairy Queen), but in his one-man crusade to take action and educate others. Japanese carp, nutria, armadillo, iguanas, lionfish, kudzu…these are but a few of the invasives that have found their way to Landers’s dinner plate.

He is supremely intellectual, tying together ecology with history, economy, and cuisine, but he’s also practical and down-to-earth–he’s a hunter, remember. As he talks, you can almost visibly see the synapses in his brain tying together links, theories, personal accounts, and scientific evidence from these fields. It’s clear that Landers, whom my high school biology teacher might unironically call a science nerd, “gets it.” By “it,” I mean the way that we are connected to the other living beings on this planet and how every choice that is made (by humans) has consequences that ripple through entire ecosystems. I applaud him for living a life that allows him to combine two of his passions – hunting and caring for the environment (or perhaps the two are arguably a single passion) – in a way that educates others.

One thing that hadn’t really occurred to me? According to Landers, it won’t be long before species like armadillo (“possums on the half shell”), a native of Central and South America but invasive to the southwest U.S., may be seen here in central Virginia, thanks to global warming trends that are moving armadillos’ habitats farther and farther north. Aside from opening up a whole host of potential problems (pet armadillos?), the thing about invasive species is that they will continue to invade so long as they don’t have any threatening predators and they can find food to survive. It doesn’t matter that dozens of cartoon movies and children’s storybooks and even science textbooks associate certain creatures to a certain geographic area– our planet is a living, breathing, changing being.

I can’t say that I will be experimenting with invasive species in my kitchen anytime soon, and Mr. Landers assured me that if we are ever in a situation where the culinary world’s demands for invasive species for its menus are so high we face intentionally breeding these plants and animals, he will consider his work a success (and tackle that problem when we get there). But if, like me, you feel compelled to re-evaluate some of your food choices, educating yourself and others is probably one of the most practical things you can do. It might lead you to making simple changes in your kitchen. For instance, Landers suggested replacing your canned tuna for tuna salad with canned mackerel. Tuna is rare; mackerel is lower on the food chain, meaning it is in more abundance, and you won’t taste a difference in the flavor of your tuna salad. I don’t see a reason not to try it.

If invasive species do show up on the menus of locally-sourced restaurants around here, I suppose I’ll do my part to digest them into extinction. Just because they’re invasive doesn’t mean they’re not flavorful. And besides, if all goes well, they won’t be on the menu for long.

Will you eat “aliens?” Do tell.

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Don’t Judge a Cake…

In the last of our anniversary celebration posts, I promised to recreate our wedding cake.

No, no. I don’t take credit for this one. This was our actual wedding cake, made by Jennifer of La Bella Torta.

It’s still talked about in hushed, reverent tones at friends’ weddings. I was pretty much a lone, dancing fool when the dances started after the cake cutting at our reception. The words to Whitney Houston’s “I wanna dance with somebody” were ringing a little too true as I twirled around the dance floor. Alone. I was initially fearful that I had invited a non-dancing crowd and that I would be the solo act for the evening, and that I would subsequently be shunned from society for hosting a ho-hum reception. (Did I ever mention that I sometimes entertain irrational fears in my mind?)

It was only later that I found out that no one else was dancing at the time because everyone wanted to actually eat the cake. It was that good. They were figuratively bound to their chairs, determined to finish every last bite, lest some cake-deranged wedding guest hovered a little too close with plans to scavenge any abandoned fork of frosting. Imagine that! It was so good that after our honeymoon, Alex and I ate all but one slice of our anniversary layer–a slice which I only reluctantly wrapped up and froze for the sake of tradition. I’ve been waiting a year to recreate that dance floor-abandoning cake.

So now, in a Cakewrecks worthy kind of reveal, here is the monster I recreated today:

Okay, okay. Let me explain.

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing first.

I…

…okay. Time to get a grip.

…Really, control yourself.

…Are you quite finished?

Okay. I know this looks nothing like our original, beautiful wedding cake. Here’s why*:

1. I made more batter than I needed. Not on purpose. I had enough to fill a 6″ round. And then I still had batter left over. And you can’t just let precious cake batter go to waste, right? So I made two more successively smaller layers in some ramekins I had standing around. The smallest layer might have been eaten for my lunch today.

2. I didn’t make enough buttercream. Especially since I had some extra layers to deal with. That is why, in the image above, you see what could have made a very good “crumb coating” to prep my cake for its luscious outer layer of frosting. And that’s it. This is my cake in its underwear. I was too tired to make more buttercream. We’ll call it less fattening rustic.

3. My cake display dish is too short. When I put the lid on it to stash in the fridge, the top layer got smooshed down against the top of the inside of the dome. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Actually what I thought was “oh good, maybe it will help even out the decidedly uneven layer on top.” What I failed to anticipate was that the buttercream would firm up in the fridge. Which meant that the top layer became virtually cemented to the top of the glass. I tried to reassemble it, but that’s why you see fissures the size of a pastry Grand Canyon snaking across the top layer.

*I included these disclaimers in attempt to redeem myself in your eyes as an actually competent cake baker. You see, I clearly have the wherewithal and self-reflective conscientiousness to recognize what went wrong, and the humbleness to admit that I was too busy with normal daily life to fix it. I promise if I were making your wedding cake, or even your birthday cake, the finished product would be photo-worthy. In a good way. 

Despite everything that is wrong about this cake, I definitely did a few things right (including using this Vanilla Buttermilk cake recipe and this version of Swiss buttercream). Because I’ll be darned if this didn’t taste almost exactly like the cake we fed each other one year ago.

The flavor of our wedding cake was strawberry-lemonade. To achieve this, I spread a thin base layer of buttercream on the chilled cake. Then I topped it with lemon curd (good quality from the store, but I’d have used homemade if I’d had it). I sliced up some strawberries and arranged them on top. I spread another thin layer of buttercream on the underside of the layer that would top it all off, just to help it stick together.

If you want to try to make this cake, here are some variations you could do:
– use mango or orange curd instead of lemon curd
– leave out the lemon curd layer but add the zest of one lemon to the cake batter. or to the buttercream
– replace strawberries with raspberries or blueberries
– no fresh berries? try jam instead
– slice each layer into 4 smaller layers and alternate your fillings for a beautiful cake cutaway

We’ll call it a rustic shortcake…

Would it be cliche to say that the moral of the story is… don’t judge a cake by its haphazard assembly? Alex and I fed each other the first bite of this anniversary cake (just like we did at our wedding – with forks! No cake smashed in the face for us, thank you very much). (I mean really, it would have been a nightmare to get all that frosting out of Alex’s lumberjack-wannabe beard. It was very generous of me to just feed him like a civilized person).

And as I lingered over the sweet taste of strawberries, puckered at the refreshing tartness of the lemon curd, let the buttercream dissolve over my tongue, and stared into my husband’s (my husband! yes, still makes me giddy) kind eyes, I realized that this deformed-looking cake might serve as a reflection of our lives together today–that no matter what it looks like on the outside, life is always sweeter when we’re together. Sure, I was a little disappointed that the cake didn’t look perfect for such a landmark celebration. But I dwelt on that disappoint for a moment. Because I took comfort in the fact that I also walked the dogs twice, folded 3 loads worth of laundry, worked for 4 hours, picked up groceries, and made dinner! I probably would have been more frustrated if I had spent all day working on the cake and then fretted over all the things that I wouldn’t have gotten done.

As I have increasingly come to learn, life isn’t perfect. Or maybe, life is perfect, but only thanks to its imperfections. There have been times that I know I am acting ugly to Alex and then feel guilty for it later but am too proud to apologize in the moment. (Tell me I’m not alone on this one). We both have quirks that irk the other. We may even have done the unthinkable–gone against the age-old newlywed advice and gone to bed angry a time or two in the past year. But we’ve also grown in the way that we love and respect the other for our talents, personality, and willingness to support each other–in discovering what it means to be a husband and a wife. Like the cake, we look past exteriors to shovel tasty cake into our mouths find solace in the genuine substance of love that resides in our hearts. I love you, Alex, and I’m honored to celebrate this anniversary with you!

I’ll check in later this week with some fall decor around the house (i.e., if you’ve had enough of the mushy stuff, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming).

The Hungry Woman’s Prerogative

(Wouldn’t that make a catchy name for a blog?)

Well, as sometimes happens as we get older, I find myself increasingly in agreement with my mom. Mom, this post is for you. Because I finally get it.

I finally understand why you seemed so frustrated on those nights when none of us – Dad, brother, nor I – came to the dinner table when you said “dinner’s ready!” Finally, I sympathize with the agony you must have gone through when my teenage-self reply to the aforementioned announcement was “coming!” followed by 55 more seconds of instant-messaging on AIM (with the occasional grin at the computer screen). That must have seemed an eternity while you sat there, staring at the meal you had just prepared. At last, I recognize your strategy of announcing dinner’s arrival “five minutes!” before it landed at the table, and our cues to “set the table,” or “get drinks for everyone,” or “cut up some oranges for dessert” in hopes that we might all be seated quickly and not wander off to other things, even for a second.

Finally, I get it. Of course, I value the fact that we ate dinner together at the table most nights. And you are usually one of the most patient people I know. But, I see now you had every right to be upset with us for not arriving promptly when the food was ready, patience be damned.

You were freakin’ hungry!

The tricky thing about blogging on the subject of food is that at the end of a long day at work (and possibly a killer workout at the gym), it’s taxing enough to get food on the table. I won’t complain about being busy; everyone is busy. But who in her right mind has the time to compose a thoughtful photograph of the meal she’s just made when all she wants to do is shovel it into her mouth before it gets cold?

Not me, apparently. That’s why I end up with hastily composed phone photos like this:

I know, I know my food styling leaves a little something to be desired here. Indeed, aren’t quesadillas normally served sliced into wedges rather than these floppy, pancake-like sandwiches we have here?

Nevertheless, that, my friends, is the dinner that sat on my plate while I impatiently waited for Alex to feed Nero, pour himself a new glass of water, and check some fantasy football stats on the computer. I wondered with increasing volume (in my head, of course) why he hadn’t done those things before I sat down with this tantalizing plate of sustenance just inches from my mouth?? Why isn’t he just apparating into his chair the instant the magic words “dinner’s ready” are spoken? If this were the Olympics, “dinner’s ready” is Chad Le Clos and Alex should be Michael Phelps and this is the 200m butterfly!!!!!! Can’t you read my mind yet?!?!?

Perhaps my expectations are too high.

Shrimp, Roasted Poblano, and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas
Adapted from…my brain and leftover odds and ends in our fridge and freezer? Seriously, folks, this isn’t rocket science. Just good foods in a mouth-watering combination. Eat it, adapt it, publish it, make it your own – I dare ya!

– frozen shrimp, about 1/2 pound (peeled and thawed under running cold water)
– paprika
– garlic powder
– 1 poblano pepper (or more if you like your heat)
– 4+oz. pepper jack cheese (monterey jack if you don’t like too much spice)
– small onion, sliced
– corn tortillas (homemade or store-bought)

1. Prep your quesadilla fillings.
Shrimp: Sprinkle the shrimp with paprika and garlic powder. Thread onto skewers and grill until pink (about 1-2 minutes per side). Remove from skewers. Slice each shrimp in half. Set aside in bowl. Hit ’em with some fresh lemon juice.
Poblano: Drizzle the whole poblano with a little bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and through on a hot grill for 10-15 minutes. Once it’s cool enough to handle, peel off skin (should now be charred and easy to remove), strip seeds from inside and discard, and slice pepper into strips.
Cheese: Um. Shred it.
Onion: Prepare as poblano above.

Did you catch all that? That’s 3 things you’re grilling all at once. But while we’re at it, go ahead and prepare your corn for the salad: Put a handful of frozen corn kernels in an aluminum foil packet. Wrap tightly and allow to steam on the grill for 5 minutes or so. Alternatively, grill a corn on the cob and cut the kernels off later.

2. Assemble quesadillas and heat.
I chose to grill ours. Place tortilla on grill grate over medium heat (lid open). Sprinkle with cheese. Add shrimp, poblanos, onion, and a little more cheese. Top with more cheese then another tortilla. Press down gently with spatula. After 1-2 minutes, or when cheese starts to melt, quickly and carefully flip to other side. Keep warm in plate covered with foil until ready to serve.

(You could also do these on an indoor griddle or grill pan, baked in the oven, or one at a time in a fry pan on the stove).

See me multi-tasking here? That little foil pack has the corn steaming for my salad. Quesadillas waiting for their hats in the foreground.

What? Don’t YOU grill in your gym clothes while wearing socks with your Crocs? (All efforts to ignore the pasty shorts tan are appreciated)

consider serving your quesadillas with…

Tomato, Avocado, Corn Salad

– generous handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
– 1 avocado, cubed
– splash of fresh lemon juice
– handful of cooked corn (see step 1 above)
– sprinkle of fresh or dried herbs, like basil

Assemble all ingredients. Season with a little salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine.

Alex, my love, thank you for photographing the preparation of this meal. Without your handiwork, this blog post wouldn’t be half as interesting. But allow me to share with you (and with the other he-men out there) the hungry woman’s prerogative:

The hungry woman reserves the right to become temporarily frustrated with anyone who fails to arrive at the dinner table promptly, especially when it is the hungry woman who has prepared the meal, and especially when the hungry woman is…hungry. Do not keep the hungry woman waiting. 

I think Mom would back me up on this one.

Our Night on the Set of The Walking Dead

Er. Just kidding. Sort of.

As you may have heard, a powerful storm system (winds, lightening, more winds) blew through our area Friday evening, ensnaring large trees and power lines, uprooting trees and patio furniture small and large, and creating undesirable tree “bridges” across major and minor roadways, not to mention all the tree debris that blanketed the roads. (In case you hadn’t figured it out, the trees around here took a pretty sound beating).

And thanks to the 95-plus temperatures (F) we’ve had, this will likely be referred to for all posterity as the “horrible summer storm of 2012” that left millions without power in the sweltering heat. The kind of event that each will remember where s/he was and what s/he was doing when the storm hit, and what came of the days that followed.

Here’s our version.

Alex and I were at a movie when the storm blew in. We thought it was just a bit of bad luck when the projector in our theater went out. And being in a windowless, dark theater, you have no idea what is going on outside, so of course we were surprised when the theater manager announced over the PA system that there were “hurricane-force winds” outside and they would be issuing refunds for our movie since the “heat has made the power lines flicker and they lost power.” So clearly were the goings-on articulated by this fellow, Alex and I were convinced that they were just making excuses for their shoddy theater equipment. We bought a box of off-brand Sour Patch Kids candy, claimed our refund tickets and shuffled toward the exit, listening to others’ speculations about what would have happened next in the movie, were we not so abruptly interrupted.

And then we went outside.

It was like heat lightening on steroids. Our city was illuminated with piercing lightening fractals that snaked across the sky in too-fast-to-count patterns that might even give the kid on Touch a numerical challenge. Not to mention the wind. Somehow, luckily, we felt secure on the road; the trickiest part was navigating the tree branches, trunks, and other debris, migrating towards the pavement like magnets in startling, forceful gusts.

Most of the way home, only one lane was clear, due to the fallen trees. We were about 2 minutes from our house, following a line of about five cars when suddenly there was only one car in front of us. Yes, in the blink of an eye, a tree had fallen across the road, separating us from our caravan. If a tree falls in the middle of wind storm, but no one sees it, does it make a sound? What’s that? I couldn’t hear your answer over the wind outside… We marveled at our luck, and navigated ourselves back down the hill. We had heard  from a well-meaning driver that there was a power line down at the top of the hill anyway, so even if we had made it, we may have been deterred by that, which would have been just as frustrating.

Thankful that the tree hadn’t fallen on us, Alex and I regrouped to try an alternate route home. Unfortunately this route appeared to be blocked as well. We waited in our car in an open field (away from trees) to see if the cars began moving again. They did, so we filed in, only to turn around again 5 minutes later when it was determined a tree had just smashed 2 cars in the very same line (reports said no one was hurt).

There was one more route to our house that we could try (without driving back into town through the turmoil we had just survived), but not a quarter mile in, a resident was blocking the road with his pickup truck to inform people who tried to drive that route there was a tree down blocking the entire road just a ways ahead.

Puzzled and antsy (because Nero was home alone and had been since dinnertime; by this time it was 11:00pm), we parked in an empty park-and-ride lot about 2 miles from our house. Other cars began to gather there as well, chatting as neighborly as possible about what to do, which roads were closed, how many trees and power lines were down, etc. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Alex was convinced that the Incredible Hulk someone would have teamed up with fellow drivers to clear the trees from the road on the hill to our house, so we watched other cars try to pass. When we saw the same cars come back the other way several minutes later, we knew there was only one option left if we wanted to sleep in our bed that night.

We abandoned the car, turned on the flashlight app on our cell phones and recruited other stranded folks from our neighborhood to walk home together. It was like a scene from LOST, complete with the loner who doesn’t say anything and walks at a distance that is too far from the group to be socially considered a part of the group, two beer-bellied men with projecting voices who apparently voted themselves the leaders of our pack, a girly-girl wearing a short dress and heels who reported her every move to her father on her iPhone, a mini-van mom who attempted to bring a cheesecake with her on this trek (??), and an Asian family that only talked to each other. Am I mixing up my TV shows now?

Two miles, three gigantic trees, and one droopy power line later, we arrived in our neighborhood and said our thanks and farewells to neighbors we’d never seen before and likely wouldn’t recognize in the daylight– we were united only briefly in our survival adventure together and, having survived, continued on our mind-your-own-business suburban lives. We lit candles that I had conveniently not yet put away from a spring cleaning project, and snuggled with our puppy like there was no tomorrow.

I suppose I’m being fairly lighthearted about a not-really-funny-at-all situation. Or perhaps there is healing that comes from those moments of community that arise from shared struggle (or inconvenience?), or even healing in being able to find the humor even in less-than-ideal circumstances. In all honesty, we are truly blessed and incredibly thankful that we weathered the storm (zing!) just fine. Our power was restored the following afternoon (leaving to rest the dilemma of what to do with a chest freezer full of beef), and we went on about our lives. The heat hasn’t let up, and there are thousands less fortunate than us; our hearts and sympathies are with them.

Perhaps my proudest moment of self-sufficiency came during the whole ordeal. Lacking power Saturday morning, I took my cast iron skillet outside to our gas grill and set up a little impromptu, al fresco kitchen. I opened the fridge, snagged the last two eggs, and closed that sucker as fast as I could. I plucked my first zucchini from the garden, chopped it up, and sauteed it in my hot skillet. Topped with two fried eggs, and we enjoyed my proudest yet most humbling meal to date. It was delicious. (If only the eggs had come from my own as-of-yet imaginary chickens…) And I thought about how quickly we rely on modern conveniences in this world. Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits, dare I say, necessities to functioning in today’s society with the electric amenities we have come to know and love. But maybe, just maybe, there still exists at the heart of those who grow their own food and in those who do it themselves an art. A survival art embedded in our DNA generations ago that has been inadvertently (though logically) suppressed among modern conveniences.

  

So while I wouldn’t necessarily say I enjoyed this stormy weekend adventure, I definitely learned something, and I definitely appreciated the simple things–things which are really not so simple at all, but in fact take a lot of work and love to nurture and maintain. Suffice it to say, I am still interested in growing our own food.

How now, what news? Were you impacted by the storm? Have you had similar power outage-induced “moments of clarity?” Do tell.