Saturday, August 30, 2008
I recently made the MOST delicious fish tacos. Not that I'm bragging about my culinary skills, because the recipe certainly wouldn't register a high level of difficulty, but the tacos were wildly successful. I've made fish tacos several times, and they're actually one of my favorite things to eat or even order in a Mexican restaurant. The other recipes I've tried were all good, but this one has proved to be the best. It came, of course, from Rachael Ray, in the May issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray. The picture that I've posted is actually from the magazine, as my husband and I were too busy scarfing them down to take our own picture.
The recipe actually calls for using two layers of tortilla for each taco-a corn tortilla hard shell and a flour tortilla. I deviated from this aspect of the recipe, mainly because I don't really love store-bought flour tortillas (I'm from West Texas, the land of sublime Mexican food!) and I LOOOOVE soft corn tortillas. I found the perfectly sized package of corn tortillas at Trader Joe's and used them instead, with only one tortilla per taco. I also used tilapia instead of mahi-mahi, another common practice of mine. Tilapia is a good sturdy fish, with a subtle, non-fishy flavor, that happens to be very reasonably priced!
These tacos are unique because of the addition of jalepeno and red onion-spiked black beans, which act as a spread for the tortilla. They're topped with the nicely flaked fish (I made sure to season my fish well with salt and lime juice) and a red cabbage slaw, a condiment traditionally used for fish tacos. It was the first time that I've made the cabbage slaw for fish tacos, and it made a huge difference to the intense flavor of the dish. I was quite liberal with the hot sauce that goes into the slaw, so the tacos were extra spicy. I also made fresh guacamole, which the recipe didn't call for, but made it all the more delicious!
Making guacamole is one of the most satisfying activities for a cook, especially when the avocados are just right. I mashed two avocados, a finely chopped jalepeno, chunks of two red plum tomatoes, and sliced scallions all together, then squeezed a generous amount of lime juice over the mixture and added salt and pepper. I dolloped the guacamole on top of the fish, and we dove into the tacos.
While they weren't the neatest dish and the added layer of beans caused the tortilla to bend a bit under the weight, the tacos were heavenly. It felt a bit like eating a barbecue dinner so good that you don't care about how much sauce is getting on your face and hands. I definitely plan to stick to this recipe when I make fish tacos again!
Here's the recipe:
Friday, August 29, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
You know, entertaining, or preparing to entertain, is not a carefree or breezy activity at all! We are having my brother-in-law and his girlfriend over this evening, and I have been preparing ALL AFTERNOON! Slaving away! Preparing kebabs, making a pie, washing dish after dish, unloading the dishwasher, scrubbing the kitchen sink...it would seem that the preparations are never-ending! And here I was wanting to congratulate myself on the brilliant idea of having chicken and shrimp kebabs. Part of my penchant for kebabs involves the pure satisfaction of threading them, but I also consider them to be a lovely plan-ahead dish. Chop the meat/vegetables, prepare marinade, thread meat/vegetables, place in fridge until time to grill! Simple, right? No, actually! Not when you have to chop each piece of chicken or decide to be so overly ambitious that you prepare not one, but TWO marinades. As though my family will think, "My, these kebabs are so delicious, and with such great, and different flavors!" Even if they did!
I also made a frozen peanut butter pie, which barely fit in the freezer and may turn out to be horrible because I used a springform pan instead of a pie pan. Thank goodness I have a trusty container of Breyer's mint chocolate chip ice cream. It's my favorite mint chocolate chip-instead of being that ghastly minty green it's pure snow white, and studded with huge chunks of DARK mint chocolate. At least I know one part of the meal has the potential to turn out right.
All of this preparation and typing has exhausted me...I'll now remove myself from the front of my computer to take a nap.
My current situation, that of a stay-at-home, non-Mom, housewife, has caused me to dwell a bit more heavily on the original purpose of my blog, which was essentially to write only about what I cooked and read. A perfect purpose for me, really, when I have a full-time job that occupies my thoughts for most of the time. As things stand now, I see no reason why I can't just write about any old thing that comes to mind.
Thus, I decided to write about my new morning routine. As you can see from the picture above, this routine consists of a delicious bowl (or two!) or Cocoa Beach (for more on this divine breakfast, read my previous post), a cookbook to peruse, and an episode of Top Chef in the background, all accompanied by a hot cup of coffee and a few shiny, bright fresh strawberries. Ah, how relaxing! Nothing could be better. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I prefer such a combination to the New York Times. I should be more aware of the goings-on in our world, but I'd much rather read about grilled blue cheese burgers and blackberry lemonade. Hearing the drama and dishes in the tension-filled kitchens on Top Chef not only inspires me to get into the kitchen and cook for myself for lunch but also entertains me greatly. There is something comforting for me in watching old episodes of TV shows that I love-one of my favorite things to do is to have Friends playing on my computer while I'm cooking. Sounds a little weird and TV-obsessed, I know, but it's undeniably calming.
Unfortunately, I have to end my morning routine a bit early today. My in-laws are returning from a two-week trip and I'm going to vacuum, do the laundry, get some groceries, and pretty much clean the house from top to bottom. All the more reason for me to feel not one bit guilty for having that extra bowl of Cocoa Beach.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Yes, I know it's silly to dedicate a post to a box of cereal, especially considering that I did not make the cereal myself. I can't help it, this heavenly granola from Kashi is just sooooo delicious!
Let me list the reasons why you should immediately search and find every box of Cocoa Beach you can:
1)The delicious, subtle chocolate flavor that reminds you, just a little, of the chocolate cereals that you consumed as a child.
2)The huge shards of dried coconut mixed into the aforementioned chocolate granola.
3)Chunks of almond, a welcome addition to any cereal, granola, entree, or snack.
Oh, Cocoa Beach, how glad I am to have finally found you, after scouring aisle after aisle in store after store. How grateful I am to the Safeway on El Camino for stocking you on its shelves...
Yes, I should return to the more serious posting. After I've had a mid-afternoon snack of Cocoa Beach.
This summer I took it upon myself to take a Continuing Studies course at Stanford taught by the dean of the MLA program, in which I am now enrolled. She'll be teaching some of my later courses, in the second year of the program, so I thought it would be good to establish my relationship with her early. Incidentally, her area of expertise is Victorian literature, which just so happens to be MY area of "academic interest." The summer course, "Bleak House: From the Slums of London to the Haunted Parks of Lincolnshire" was irresistible to me. For all my professions of adoration for Charles Dickens, I am ashamed to admit that I've only read (now that I've completed Bleak House) four of his novels. That's certainly enough to acknowledge and respect his tremendous talent, and I have embarked on a quest to read all of his works.
Of the Dickens novels I have read, Bleak House stands as the most triumphant, a truly brilliant novel that defies expectations, not only for the fine writing and deft storytelling, but pure entertainment value as well. It's a story of the connections that are made in a society that has become rife with corruption and degradation. With the law and an interminably long civil case setting the background, we are introduced to a wide and diverse cast of characters who seem to be connected to each other in more ways than we can imagine. (My professor emphasized throughout our course that on a second reading, the connections are even more profuse and evident!) It is told in two separate (well, seemingly separate) narratives, one through the voice of Esther Summerson (Dickens' only female narrator!) the other through an omniscient narrator.
To summarize the story in the briefest way possible, Esther Summerson is an orphan of unknown parentage who is taken under the wing of John Jarndyce, an heir of the infamous Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, along with two other young innocents who have some interest in the case, Richard and Ada. Alongside this central story of Esther is the mystery surrounding Lady Dedlock, the wife of Sir Leicester Dedlock, a member of the steadily dwindling aristocracy. Lady Dedlock has a potentially devastating secret, and the the ruthless, heartless attorney Tulkinghorn is set to discover the specifics of the secret.
At the time that Dickens wrote Bleak House, London was steadily become more of an urban center. Progress was everywhere, though squalor was increasingly evident. The rich were getting richer, but the poor were getting poorer-London had grown rapidly, but without a plan to take care of its citizens. It was a world without health or clarity. The upper and middle classes seemed to either have no idea how bad things could get, or chose to ignore it. In the core of London, poverty and disease were rampant. In writing Bleak House, Dickens wanted his readers to "Take a better look at the rotten world in which you live." Throughout the novel, we meet all kinds of characters who are representatives of that world. Jo, the poor crossing-sweeper, angelic in his simplicity; Mrs. Jellyby, a shocking and silly example of philanthropic stupidity; Harold Skimpole, who proposes to know nothing about everything and lives his life dependent on the charity of others; Allan Woodcourt, a kindly doctor who feels a burden for those suffering around him; and Inspector Bucket, the incorrigible detective who is intent on ferreting out the truth, but in a more hopeful and true way than Tulkinghorn. Though Dickens seems to criticize almost every element of society, from religion to the courts, he builds a story that is difficult to turn away from.
As it turns out, Esther is the illegitimate daughter of Lady Dedlock, who had believed that Esther died at birth. Esther's father, dies a penniless opium addict, and she never learns of his existence. Lady Dedlock is devastated to learn that her child is indeed alive, and heartbroken at the pain that would be caused by the public revelation of these facts. The reader is never made privy to the details of Lady Dedlock's relationship with Esther's father; suffice to say they certainly loved each other and were seemingly separated by unknown societal concerns.
There is much more to the story than this central mystery, and I shouldn't like to take away from the powerful significance of the cast as a whole. I would like to include a few of my favorite passages in this post.
Mr. George, sharing with the Bagnet family his feelings about leaving his mother many years ago:
"The time will come, my boy," pursues the trooper, "when this hair of your mother's will be grey, and this forehead all crossed and re-crossed with wrinkles-and a fine old lady she'll be then. Take care, while you are young, that you can think in those days, "I never whitened a hair of her dear head, I never marked a sorrowful line on her face."
Sir Leicester at the time of his realization about Lady Dedlock's secret and his ensuing devastation at her flight:
It is she, in association with whom, saving that she has been for years a main fibre of the root of his dignity and pride, he has never had a selfish thought. It is she whom he has loved, admired, honored, and set up for the world to respect. It is she, who, at the core of all the constrained formalities and conventionalities of his life, has been a stock of living tenderness and love, susceptible as nothing else is of being struck with the agony he feels. He sees her, almost to the exclusion of himself; and cannot bear to look upon her cast down from the high place she has graced so well.
And, even to the point of his sinking on the ground, oblivious of his suffering, he can yet pronounce her name with something like distinctness in the midst of these intrusive sounds, and in a tone of mourning and compassion rather than reproach.
This last passage is the most poignant to me-I was moved to tears as I read, and still feel choked up as I revisit the words. My professor shared a most wonderful belief about Dickens with us-he believes in the power of the human heart, to redeem us all. I think of that when I read about Sir Leicester's suffering. I know, because I read the book, that Lady Dedlock did indeed love her husband-the story isn't really so much about her love for Esther's father, but so much more. And yet, she crumbled under the weight of the pain and love in her heart.
I could continue to write about Bleak House, and these few mere words are not justice enough for it-I merely wanted to document a bit about what I learned, and share some of the words that I cherished most.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Throughout the summer (which is quickly coming to an end, alas!), I have had the privilege of attending several lovely evening parties. One of my favorite things about California is the penchant seemingly shared by all to entertain outside, taking advantage of shady backyards, cool patios, Adirondack chairs and teak furniture. Usually the gathering starts in the late afternoon, so you can still enjoy the warmth of the sun as you sit with a beverage in hand, chatting with neighbors who feel as lucky and happy to enjoy the weather as you do. As the evening moves on and the air tends to become more crisp and cool, a fire pit is often called for, and usually everyone will choose to remain outside, warming their hands by the fire and enjoying coffee and dessert.
I brought a dessert to two of these evening parties, which just so happens to be so easy and delightful I had to share it. It's a simple white layer cake, and it's light, refreshing and a breeze to prepare!
White Cake (from The Settlement Cookbook)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups cake flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
grated rind of 1 lemon
3 egg whites
Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter, add sugar, and continue beating. Sift flour once, measure, sift with baking powder 3 times, add to the butter mixture, alternately with the milk, beat thoroughly until smooth, add flavoring. (By the way, I did not do all the sifting-it didn't seem to make much of a difference) Carefully fold in egg whites (this is the step that my sister declared makes the cake more complicated than I think, and it is annoying and slow to beat the egg whites, but the finished product is very nice), beaten stiff but not dry. Butter and flour a 12 x 8 pan (yet another flexible part of the recipe-I used two mismatched round springform pans and attempted to pour approximately the same amount of batter in each one, again, it all turned out fine). Put the batter into the pan and bake about 1 hour (My baking time was shorter-after 30 minutes I began to check the cakes regularly. They definitely did not take an hour to bake.)
While the cakes bake, whip fresh cream (at least 1 cup, but more is always nice). Slice a pint's worth of strawberries (again, more is always nicer) and sprinkle with sugar. When the cakes are done and cooled, spread a thin layer of jam (raspberry, strawberry, or any sort of mixed berry) on each layer. Top the jam with sliced strawberries, then with a layer of whipped cream. Repeat these steps for the top layer. Try to artfully arrange the strawberries on the top layer, and add a mint leaf or two for a nice touch.
That's it! A delicious, heavenly summer dessert!
Well, I must admit...the Twilight saga hardly qualifies as literature. Teenage vampire romances and the works of Elizabeth Gaskell hardly belong in the same sentence. I am not so pretentious a reader, however, to discriminate to such an extent that I would deny myself the pleasure of what I call "fluff" reading or "mindless entertainment." Goodness, Stephanie Meyer would probably cringe if she heard her writing referred to as fluff. I love reading, and while I planned to focus on the books and novels that I've found to be extremely influential or powerful (namely, classic literature, Pulitzer Prize winners, recommendations from my mother, etc.) I must deviate just this once to express my absolute adoration for Twilight.
I picked up the first book only due to my sister's insistence-she sheepishly admitted her addiction to the story over the phone, even hinting that she had to attempt to restrain herself from immediately diving into the second and third books. I vaguely remembered seeing bits and pieces about it on www.ew.com, one of the websites that I shamelessly read through every day. Yes, I'm a pop culture addict, and I know how utterly useless my vast wealth of pop culture knowledge is-there is absolutely nothing productive or helpful about it!
Needless to say, I agreed to read the book-I was going to be home for Bloys Campmeeting-a delightful week of every year which deserves its own post-and I love having the aforementioned fluff reading for a vacation. I thought Twilight would suit my needs perfectly. Little did I know that I was soon to be swept up into, yes, a teenage vampire romance!
I'm not sure what it is about the books that makes them so utterly captivating, what specific aspect of the romance that is so heart-wrenching, enviable, and compelling. Certainly the wry, self-deprecating tones of the heroine, Bella are appealing. She's unusual in that she is plain, perfectly ordinary, and in fact quite clumsy to boot. Grace is not one of her redeeming qualities. And Edward...smooth, devastatingly handsome, a hero every girl imagines could be real. Perhaps it is those very qualities in him, and that he should choose to fall for someone like Bella gives the ordinary girl hope. These are all very obvious reasons to enjoy the story, certainly. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the undeniably sensual nature that seems to hover over the private scenes with Edward and Bella. It's a commonly known fact that we all tend to want what we cannot have, and in Edward and Bella's case, what they cannot have, seemingly, is a normal future. A future where they can actually be together, and where, in the words of Robert Pattison (the captivating, charming, PERFECTLY cast actor who will be playing Edward on 11/21/08), Edward won't want to "kill her, like, all of the time."
To get back to the slightly embarrassing subject of sensuousness, I must admit, one can't peruse the pages of the romance without feeling a bit "hot and bothered", for lack of a better description. The author is Mormon, and she does not allow for anything explicit, gratuitous, or impure. Despite their desires, so carefully kept in check-though not without difficulty-, Edward and Bella retain their virtue. Rarely in our world of instant gratification do we come across, in literature or film, a couple like them. And yet, it's impossible not to become completely absorbed in their romance, which is so not of this world...
So yes, I recommend, HIGHLY, the entire Twilight series. I dare anyone (well, anyone female, at least) not to enjoy it, or at least one book or two. I myself have purchased the entire series so that I can return to the romance whenever I feel like it. It's an irresistible story, and certainly difficult to forget.
*Since writing this post, in a most stream-of-consciousness way, I have had the chance to dwell on the books a bit more, and I have to add more to my comments. A great part of the appeal of the series is most certainly found in the inherent goodness of the characters. As I mentioned before, it's not often in our current society that we encounter anything not marked by the more depraved aspects of humanity-television, film, books, and magazines are filled to the brim with filth, darkness, and depression most of the time. Rarely are positive role models celebrated or even put forth. Instead, most heroes and heroines of pop culture have attained their status by simply not being "too awful" or compromising only a little. The Twilight series presents a cast of characters that are almost exclusively kind, generous, and real, who value virtue and goodness. The books are a breath of fresh air.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
From the very beginning, I didn't plan to be an obsessive blogger. I planned to post when I felt like it, when the urge to write, to spill the words out, was overpowering. I can't deny that in spite of those feelings, I'm disappointed in myself for letting months slip by without a word, even though I know that it's only one or two people who even check to see that I've written. Blogging, for me, was just supposed to be something therapeutic, where I shared something that I'd cooked or a book I'd read, purely for me, really. My circumstances as of late, however, have made me wonder whether or not blogging is something that I SHOULD be doing, all the time! Maybe I'm made for blogging! At least, at this point in my life, I might be made for it...
I've been living in California now for just over two months. It's always been a place that I felt "suited" me. I love where I come from, and that I'm a Texan at heart will never change. I've always been something of a wandering soul, however...it's as though I knew that I would end up somewhere different from what I'd always known. It is rather arrogant of me to assign such a romantic description to myself, I know.
To return to my contemplations of my new life-I love California. Just look at the picture above! "Is this Alaska?", one might wonder. "Colorado?" Actually, it's not. It's in Yosemite, in California, with all its glory. Northern California, in particular, is a place of beauty, golden hills studded with stalwart redwood trees and all manner of foliage, turbulent grey-blue waves crashing onto wild shores, the scent of every lovely plant known to man in the air (oranges, rosemary, fennel...the list is seemingly interminable!). I understand why the land is so valued-it is essentially because a precious little has been left for any sort of human development and the rest is untouched. This is a place where I can thrive, and I certainly consider myself fortunate.
What is new for me is the experience of not working. For the first time since I've graduated from high school, I do not have a job to start in these few days that mark the advent of autumn. What was I thinking?! How could I have imagined that I would ENJOY the time off, that I wouldn't miss the crisp air, freshly sharpened pencils, and acrid smell of wax on the school floors? I can tell myself a hundred times over that it's an opportunity that doesn't come along every day, but I am saddened and a not a little bit lonely when I think of myself sitting at home instead of laboring at school. Of course, I've recognized this mistake, and I now have plans in place-all of my paperwork should be arriving soon from Austin, I've begun to fill out many applications for substitute positions, and I'll be taking a California certification exam soon. However, for these days until I (hopefully) start receiving calls, I have to ponder what it's like to be out of work.
Now I'm led to my blog, once more. I could be one of those people, who don't let a day slip by without an update, who feel more complete because they've posted, who, at times, have supplemented a career with blog writing. I'm not sure if that's the path that I'll commit to, but it's certainly not a bad option. It's certainly better than sitting and checking the updates of other bloggers relentlessly.
Future topics for my blog: my reviews of "The Thorn Birds", the "Twilight" saga, and "Bleak House." I haven't been totally useless all summer.