So wishing that 500 Days of Summer was going to be available before Christmas. I'd definitely be giving it as a gift. To myself.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
What's that you say? You erroneously believed my affection for Twilight ended with the books and films? The answer to that is a resounding NOPE! I'll admit it-I have succumbed to the Robert Pattinson phenomenon. I may have watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire an additional four or five times since discovering him in the role of Cedric Diggory. I might have surreptitiously snuck into a quaint independent theater to watch Little Ashes, cringing and covering my eyes in certain compromising scenes. It's entirely possible that I followed the casting of Remember Me closely enough to know that Emilie de Ravin would be Rob's leading lady before they even began the notoriously difficult NYC shoot. Now I know that Rob is something of an attractive guy-okay, that is a major understatement for the 23-year old actor who almost knocked Johnny Depp out of the running for People's Sexiest Man Alive and boasts cover spreads on both GQ and Vanity Fair-but what I find even more appealing about him is his self-deprecating British humor and adorably awkward goofiness. He refused any media training in the months leading up to Twilight, but he manages to sail through interviews and press conferences seamlessly, relying entirely upon a plethora of wit and charm.
Lest you think I'm merely swayed by the face that graces nearly every entertainment magazine on a weekly basis, you should know that I'm crazy about both Twilight leads. I'm a BIG Kristen Stewart fan. Not only do I admire her acting ability-subtle, nuanced, and very serious-but I'm impressed with her sincere effort to remain aloof and separate from all the drama that inevitably surrounds a successful franchise. She displays a substantial maturity and presence for her age, standing in stark contrast to other teenybopper types (think Hayden Panettiere, Miley Cyrus, even Lindsay Lohan!). She's got style (see here and here, very cool but also age-appropriate, no cut-down-to-there evening gowns), she likes Camus, and she could care less what the world generally thinks of her. Granted, KStew has her moments of awkwardness (which I find endearing, for the most part), and she betrays youth and inexperience at times, but I kind of dig her. And yes, I know about the infamous pipe-smoking incident and the Joan Jett haircut and the extreme movie choices. I may not always adore every movie Kris chooses to make, but I certainly respect her. Trust me, we'll be hearing about her for years to come, and not just for the Twilight saga or feel-good 80's movies with awesome soundtracks like Adventureland.
After all this expounding on the individual talents of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, I cannot help but confess that the very best part of both is when they're together. Yes, I'm a naive romantic at heart who cannot help but be swept up into the idea of a love story forged between the two who brought Bella and Edward to life. The two seem very MFEO, if you know what I mean...
Chris Martin performed solo for charity in Mountain View, mere miles from me, and I DID NOT ATTEND! Among the glorious acts I missed was an acoustic cover of "Earth Angel." My mind cannot even begin to fathom the deliciousness of Chris Martin singing the words "Will you be mine..."
I finally got around to seeing X Men: Origins, Wolverine, which I watched for the sole purpose of supporting Taylor Kitsch, better known to me as Tim Riggins, #33, football hero and consummate townie, principal character of my beloved Friday Night Lights. If you have not yet been exposed to the wonder that is this show, I suggest you start immediately. It. Is. The. Best. Poignant and powerful, with the most complex and well-developed characters on television, hands down. It is a crime, a CRIME, that it has been snubbed time after time during awards season. Besides being interesting, occasionally funny, and an impressive depiction of a very real tradition in some pockets of America, it is incredibly emotional. I have been known to say that at times when I'm watching, I feel as though my heart as literally been pulled from my chest and wrung viciously. It can be gut-wrenching. Like the moment when Luke Cafferty, new running back for the East Dillon Lions...oh, shoot. I'm getting all choked up! Ay!
I was nothing short of thrilled when Wolf Hall finally became available on my Kindle. I'm kind of obsessed with the story of Henry VIII, which somehow never gets boring-one can always count on a new, fresh take on the "mercurial monarch", whether it's Jonathan Rhys-Myers tempestuous, petulant king on The Tudors or exhaustive biographies of Anne Boleyn. This fictional tale focuses on the life of Thomas Cromwell, a formidable figure who rapidly rose to power as Henry's right-hand man, but, like so many others before him, did not manage to avoid the blade. I'm only four chapters in, and it's already riveting. If only I didn't have to keep pounding the books about the plague...
Imagine my sadness at discovering, on MULTIPLE occasions, that previous commitments would keep me from ever seeing my Kings in concert (at least on this tour). Enter my newly acquired concert DVD, the second best thing. I am not ashamed to admit that I sat approximately one foot away from the tv, completely transfixed by Caleb's vocal stylings. Yes, I merely admire his musical ability. That is all.
Yup, the mania has already begun. 6/30/10. In my defense, Eclipse is my favorite of the series. It's only natural that I should MOST eagerly anticipate the film. I think the poster is a nice homage to the "fire and ice" quote in the opening pages of the book.
Well, I suppose this is enough for now...I'm off to indulge our newfound fascination with Modern Family. Hilarious.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I have never claimed to have good time-management skills. In fact, mine are downright atrocious. I'm a mess, known for such behaviors as staying up until 3 am to finish papers for school that were known about for months, forgetting for days on end to drop off dry cleaning, and returning unfortunately large or small items of clothing on the literal last possible date for return. It's pathetic, really. My SH is the absolute opposite of a mess, thank goodness. We were meant to be.
Needless to say, despite my love of cooking and preparing delicious meals for us, the fact that it's tremendously difficult for me to get things done often prevents me from branching out much beyond beans and rice. That and my inexplicably STRESSFUL job, which I shall not speak of.
On one particularly trying and looooong afternoon, I was rushing into my beloved local Trader Joe's when my eyes lit upon the colorful and rather haphazard pile of autumn squash, conveniently located near the front door. Inevitably placed there to honor the plethora of butternut squash-themed recipes that practically choke every issue of fall food magazines, I was immediately struck by the slightly scarred, bright yellow spaghetti squash, remembering my EXTREMELY successful first experience with the very aptly named gourd.
I came across a recipe for spaghetti squash and meatballs in an old issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray. Not surprisingly, I own every issue (save the pilot, original issue), and my collection has a prominent place in a wicker basket next to my bookshelf of cookbooks. I've always enjoyed squash, but there is something supremely satisfying about the unique qualities of spaghetti squash. Once cooked, with the pulpy, seedy section removed, it is possible to scrape the warm, sunny center with a fork, resulting in thin, delicate, and indeed, spaghetti-like strands. Tossed with a bit of butter and topped with delectable, spicy sausage meatballs, it makes for a warm, comforting, and yes, autumnal meal.
It was the simplicity of the recipe that drew my attention on my dash through the store. All I needed to pick up for dinner was the hefty squash and a package of spicy sausage. Granted, with the inclusion of sausage and butter, it's not the healthiest dish on the planet, but it was perfect at the end of an exhausting day. We ate ravenously, twirling golden strands of squash around our forks and devouring every last spicy bit of sausage. Not bad at all, for a last minute meal. Not bad at all!
Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs, adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray, October 2006
1 large spaghetti squash (about 4 pounds), halved lengthwise and seeded (2 notes here: My squash was exceptionally large, requiring me to cook it a bit longer. Be very careful when halving the squash-it can be unwieldy and dangerous!)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces (I cut down on the butter)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound uncooked chicken or turkey sausage, casings removed (I have to admit it-I used pork!)
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 basil leaves, torn (I neglected to put in the basil, although I'm sure it would be even more delicious with it!)
1. Place the squash, cut side up, on a damp paper towel in a microwaveable dish. Microwave on high until tender, about 15 minutes. Using a fork, scrape the strands of squash into a microwaveable bowl and toss with the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Meanwhile, combine the sausage with the bread crumbs and form into 1-inch meatballs. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat (I didn't use any oil, due to the high fat content of the sausage). Add the meatballs and cook, stirring, until browned, about 6 minutes. Cover and cook over low heat until cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
3. Reheat the shredded squash in the microwave and top with the meatballs, cheese, and basil.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Tonight is the night! The day is mine! (a la SNL Celebrity Jeopardy Sean Connery) I head out to see my beloved stars in New Moon tonight. You should know that I have MAJOR movie theater anxiety, and the way I feel about crowds at a movie theater is something like what it must be like for an agoraphobic to go outside for the first time-obviously, I'm very committed to this franchise.
Here are my gratuitous photos of the whirlwind press tour-do you think much has changed in a year? My beloved sister and I are on our way as I post!
(credit for last photo: http://socialitelife.celebuzz.com/ Check out the moonstone! LOVE it!)
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I just returned from a much-needed trip home to see my family. While the crisis we're enduring persists, it is an infinite relief and burden lifted to be able to be all together, in the same room, even if it is a hospital room.
A trademark of prolonged hospital stays is the necessity of friends and family members facing the inevitable thrice-daily decision of where to eat. Unfortunately, most hospital cafeterias leave something to be desired (Jamie Oliver, where are you when we need you?!), but truthfully, quite a bit of the time it just feels good to get out of the building for a while, sucking in fresh air and sunshine.
On one of these ventures, my sister decided to take my dad to an old pancake house, one of those establishments that's been around forever, retains a crusty, old-fashioned facade, and serves its regulars by the hundreds throughout the day. While it boasts a typical diner menu, the restaurant's specialty is German-style Dutch baby pancakes. When I received a MOST enthusiastic text message from my sister, describing in detail the "heavenly" Dutch baby, I agreed that they were something I would have to try when I arrived. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that the idea of a Dutch baby sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember where I'd heard it.
The morning after I arrived, we headed straight to the Ol' South Pancake House, ready to devour some Dutch babies. My sister was practically bursting with anticipation, whilst I reveled in the scene. I've always loved diners and breakfast spots in particular. There is something so satisfying about getting up early to eat a good breakfast. I wrapped my hands around the sturdy, thick-handled mug of coffee and we chatted about light, insignificant matters (very comforting in our circumstances) while we waited on our pancakes.
The waitress appeared less than ten minutes after we placed our order, balancing two plates that each held two Dutch babies, and two bowls of warm halved lemons. Fascinated, I watched as she unfolded a Dutch baby, which at that point looked something like a thick omelette-some kind of cross between crepe and pancake. Laid flat, I could see that it was covered with a generous amount of melted butter and a pile of powdered sugar. The waitress squeezed the juice from the lemons directly on top, a flood of tart juice engulfing the pancake. In a matter of seconds, she folded the baby back up again, and pushed the plate across the table, ready to go.
My first bite=HEAVEN. Tart, citrusy warmth cut through the golden, buttery cake, a perfect melding of lemon and sugar...pure deliciousness. As I made quick work of my second Dutch baby, thinking for SURE that it was the best breakfast I had ever had, I finally remembered why they seemed familiar. One of the chapters of Molly Wizenberg's (aka Orangette) book, A Homemade Life, boasts a story and recipe for the Dutch baby. I love the way she described her inaugural Dutch baby meal, and I thought it would be generous of me to throw in the recipe for good measure.
Molly's thoughts on the Dutch baby:
"When Jimmy pulled the Dutch babies from the oven, they were tinged with gold and gorgeously rumpled, like omelets with bed hair. Rebecca and I had no trouble putting away an entire baby each. Doused with lemon juice and dusted with powdered sugar, they were miraculously light, their eggy richness countered smartly by the citrus. I scooped up every last clump of lemon-soake sugar and scraped my plate until it shined."
Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar
adapted from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my kitchen table, by Molly Wizenberg
This recipe is based on the one Jimmy uses, only with a more moderate amount of butter. He likes to make his in two 6-inch cast-iron skillets, but I make mine in a single, deep 8-inch skillet. (A 9- or 10-inch would also work.) If you don't have a cast-iron skillet of the appropriate size, you can also use a metal or Pyrex cake pan or a pie plate.
For the pancakes:
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the topping:
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Powdered sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 425. Put the butter in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet and place over low heat. Alternatively, put the butter in a similarly sized cake pan or pie plate, and place it in the preheated oven for a few minutes. As the butter melts, use a pastry brush to coax it up the sides of the skillet.
Meanwhile, in a blender, mix the eggs, flour, half-and-half, and salt until well blended.
Pour the egg mixture into the warmed skillet. Slide into the oven, and bake for 18-25 minutes. The mixture will rise and puff around the edges, like a bowl-shaped souffle. The Dutch baby is ready when the center looks set and the edges are nicely risen and golden brown.
Remove from the oven. Drizzle-or splash, really; abundance is good here-with lemon juice and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
I've moved on. I've put aside my beloved summer playlist in a quest for greater musical horizons. I've decided that "taper jean girl" is so last summer and clearly indicative of my curious love for the movie Disturbia and its dashing young star, Shia LaBeouf (the song was prominently featured in the flim). I've opted to seek out newer, cooler, acts, the more hip and up-and-coming types that frequent Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo. I've turned to my musical guru, Pretty Cheap Dress, for assistance. I've...
Who am I kidding?! As IF I could turn away from my twin musical loves, Coldplay and Kings of Leon. That delectable summer playlist has continued to spin on my simple school stereo and comfortably blare from my Ipod each day on my drive to school. It just so happens that a few new favorites have emerged, warranting the creation of an autumn playlist.
I'll confess immediately that the New Moon soundtrack features heavily on my autumn playlist. Setting all Twi-obsession aside, it's AWESOME, and I highly recommend that you download it immediately.
meet me on the equinox-death cab for cutie. This song was the first release from the soundtrack, a hint at great things to come. It's not typical Death Cab fare, in my humble opinion, but still a very cool song. It's possible that I may be biased because of the gratuitous film clips in the video, but I actually think it's very fitting.
bang! bang!-the knux. One of the two songs from my free Austin City Limits 2009 download. I could not stop listening to it.
zero-yeah yeah yeahs. If I was a responsible, fit person, this song would definitely go on a "Workout" list on my Ipod. Right now, I use it to pump myself up when working on paperwork.
strawberry swing-coldplay, left right, left right (live album). No list I make will ever be devoid of Coldplay. This song is the epitome of sweetness. I feel overwhelmed with affection every time I hear the thunderous, yet subtle, opening strains.
the bucket-kings of leon. My playlist is, once again, very KOL-heavy. Part of the reason is that I would like to expose the general public to KOL's earlier stuff. I think this album (Aha Shake Heartbreak) is their best, even though I'm totally sucked in from the minute I hear Caleb Followill's voice. He could be singing about garbage, and I would still be enraptured.
song for you-alexi murdoch. A really sweet, simple song. I've been listening to Alexi Murdoch for year, and I'm always soothed.
lasso-phoenix. Pretty Cheap Dress was MOST impressed by Phoenix when she attended ACL this year. Of course, I immediately checked them out, and was pleasantly surprised, as usual, by her apt review.
monsters-hurricane bells. I can't wait until the release of the first Hurricane Bells album. Thank you, Chris Weitz, for finding Hurricane Bells, and spreading the love!
red morning light-kings of leon. An offering from the very first KOL album. I haven't been to a concert yet, but I hope when I finally get the chance that they play at least two or three from their first go-round.
i gotta feeling-black eyed peas. Is it lame that I heard this song for the first time at a wedding a few weeks ago and totally dug it? It's probably been playing on the radio for days, maybe even months. I'm so out of the proverbial loop.
sweet disposition-the temper trap. By far, the moodiest, coolest song on my autumn playlist. It's a discovery from the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack, and I can't wait to hear more from them.
a white demon love song-the killers. It's kind of quirky, but that's to be expected from The Killers. I'm into it. Plus, the Edward and Bella connection is so obvious!
in the middle-mat kearney. I have a soft spot for this song, and I can't explain exactly why. Mat Kearney is an interesting guy, and his songs are always unusual. "No parachutes, or safety nets here..." Awesome refrain.
there is a light that never goes out-the smiths. "To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die..." Yes, I discovered this classic gem when watching 500 Days of Summer. I've listened to it over and over, so much that I can repeat each word longingly, and perform a perfect imitation of Zooey Deschanel in the elevator, sharing her affection for the Smiths with a soon-to-be-smitten Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
you belong with me-taylor swift. I love her. She's darling, a total gem. PLEASE DON'T CHANGE, TAYLOR!
slow life-grizzly bear. Give this one a chance. I know that you'll hear the opening strains and feel doubtful, but the chorus is so moody and delicious that you'll immediately know why I had to include the song on my list.
wavin' flag-k'naan. My second ACL discovery. I was attending the wedding of a dear friend during this year's festivities, but I continue to be impressed at the selection of unique acts. I wish I had been there to hear K'Naan-I'm sure I wouldn't have been disappointed.
mystery in the making-eli young band. Long ago, Pretty Cheap Dress told me that I would love this song. She is never wrong. It's the bit of country on my list.
forever-chris brown. Let it be noted that I do NOT endorse Chris Brown and his abusive ways. I simply could not leave it off the list, when the song "forever" is so permanently imprinted in my brain as a connection to Jim and Pam.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
As any casual reader of my humble blog knows by now, I love movies. All kinds, from deep, meaningful, critically-acclaimed films to the most pedestrian fright flicks. I actually don't discriminate too much-hardly anything is more delightful to me than an afternoon or evening spent at a movie theater. I am PROUD, not ashamed, of the many times I've gone to see a movie alone. I revel in my exhaustive (I'm not boasting, I really know my stuff!) knowledge of upcoming films and what may or may not be called out at the Oscar podium. As the year comes to a close, I thought I would put together a little list of the movies I am confident will be on my printable ballots at my 2010 Oscar party.
I will guarantee this movie's presence at the Academy Awards this year. It was a huge success at Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival, and praise from critics has been practically universal. I like what a writer from IMDB.com stated about it: "His take (Lee Daniels, writer) on the hardships faced by the titular character is only semi-sentimenal, and it implies that a person's conviction is the one thing that remains when their circumstances are remarkably bleak." I expect supporting actress nods, though not for Mariah Carey!
Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel sits on my desk, where I gaze upon it wistfully and hope for the days when I'll be able to read something for enjoyment rather than necessity. I'm not completely familiar with his work-in fact, I've only read No Country for Old Men. Both novel and film were excellent, and I have high expectations for The Road, even though post-apocalyptic tales aren't usually my cup of tea. It should be known that I also have a soft spot for Viggo Mortensen. A hint of the extent of my admiration? I own the film Eastern Promises.
You should know that I'm not usually drawn to stories involving smarmy men and the downfall of naive young women. This one, however, seems a bit different. There is something more real and thought-provoking behind what could be a stereotypical seduction tale. The whole film world has been RAVING, absolutely RAVING about it, calling Carey Mulligan a "revelation." She does seem lovely, and I find her voice to be tremendously appealing. As of late, the inexplicably appealing Shia LaBeouf shares my sentiments-the two of them have been spending quite a lot of time together outside of filming the sequel to Wall Street. Shoot, did I just undermine my entire recommendation of An Education? Ignore my Shia reference!
I've seen the original Danish film, Br∅dre, and it did not make as powerful an impression as the few minutes we see here, in the American remake. Looking back on it, I think that was mostly because the actors in the Danish movie are beloved favorites for my SH and I. We're used to seeing them in hilarious yet dark and twisty roles (Danish humor is VERY twisted!), so it was strange to see them taking on something so very serious and intense. The new version looks gut-wrenching and suggests exceptional performances from the three leads. I have to admit, I shudder when watching the trailer-Toby Maguire is genuinely frightening.
Up in the Air
I should note from the start that I am not a fan of George Clooney. I do not find him attractive, am not particularly impressed with his acting ability, and am highly suspicious of his inability to sustain a relationship at his age. That said, I trust the instincts and ability of Jason Reitman, director of Up in the Air-he brought us Juno!-and the buzz about the movie has been hugely positive. Setting aside my feelings about George, I can tell the movie is going to be good. It also features Twilight star Anna Kendrick-she was a huge standout in Twilight, and Up in the Air is inevitably going to place her firmly on the map.
The Hurt Locker
This is the only movie on my list that has already made its run in theaters. Nary a negative word was written about it, and though it was a limited release, it was unquestionably a critical success. In our troubled times, war movies are hard to swallow, and are often dicey ventures for filmmakers. I think it's very possible that The Hurt Locker is an exception. It's a contender, mark my words.
Yes, I know this list is quite lengthy, but there will be TEN nominees for Best Picture this year. Don't be surprised if even the delightfully hilarious, so-incredibly-funny-I-have-to-own-it summer hit, The Hangover sneaks into the arena. I should note that in an interesting turn of events, the highly-anticipated Martin Scorsese-Leonardo diCaprio collaboration, Shutter Island, was moved to mid-winter 2010. Very strange move considering the new 10-nominee policy.
I'm going to include one more trailer, for my own viewing pleasure. It's not applicable for my post, because of its 2010 release, but it stars one of my faves, Benicio del Toro, and the always appealing, soon-to-be wife of John Krasinksi, Emily Blunt.
Admit it. It looks SUPER cool.
Source (Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt)
Thursday, October 22, 2009
It's a struggle to come up with a pithy, interesting blog post title when you've been painfully absent for days. Weeks, actually. I know that I have a good excuse. In fact, even on top of my family's concerns, I have more work for graduate school and more responsibilities at my day job than I've ever had. It's been a tough few weeks. Plus, my time management skills are sorely lacking. I've never been really the best about getting things done.
Thankfully, I have a pile of recipes stored up for posting about, a few movie/television related news bits, and of course, the obligatory Twilight posts. I want to write about our wonderful weekend away at Point Reyes (a hint of which I've shown above), my fave songs of the fall season, and how even though I miss the extra time I used to have to recap Top Chef, it doesn't seem to matter in light of the fact that the final four chefs seem terribly obvious.
For now, I'll stick with my prized pictures of the best birthday gift ever, sent from my BFF Rose (aka Pretty Cheap Dress).
I can't post a picture of my new bag without showing its creative packaging. Look, it's my very own Louis Vuitton bag!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
In my defense, it has been yet another crazy week in the world of work and school. It's only natural that after a whirlwind weekend attending a wedding in Long Island followed by pounding out an extremely challenging paper at 35,000 feet on my way home, the first post I might be able to compose would be related to my beloved vampire saga. "Meet Me on the Equinox" is the first released single of the highly-anticipated New Moon soundtrack, which is due to arrive on October 20, exactly one month before the movie's premiere. And I do not just mean highly-anticipated by me. The success of the Twilight soundtrack was unprecedented, and I'm SURE the response to New Moon will be even greater. I can't wait-exclusive, original songs from Bon Iver, Muse, and Thom Yorke...it's going to be awesome. Hard to believe that not quite a year ago, I was writing practically the same words.
I solemnly swear that my next offering will not be all about vampires. Really.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It's been a long time since I've let so many days go by without blogging, even if it's just a little something, like one of my obsessive Twilight-related posts or a peek at a new movie trailer I've loved. This time, however, I can not blame it on poor time management or a busy social calendar. Instead, I'm in the throes of coping with a family crisis that has been nothing short of a mind-numbing shock, the kind of thing that knocks you off your feet, sucks the air from your chest, and wrenches your heart.
While the crisis is far from over, part of me cannot help but seek comfort, however selfishly, in the routine and normalcy of daily life. In truth, it's probably a good thing-tales of the mundane or daily minutiae can be a welcome relief from medicinal issues and treatment concerns.
Thus, my first offering after this long hiatus is a light, refreshing Rachael Ray recipe. I made it almost a month ago, and found it to be a perfect summery bowl of pasta, an homage to the end of summer. Or, at least the end of summer in more seasonal places, not here in California where the sun literally always shines. I ate the leftovers for several days, and even sent a tiny bag of salt-sprinkled leftover cherry tomatoes with my husband's lunch. Delicious, and even virtuous!
Salt and pepper
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
1 large clove garlic
One 14-ounce can artichoke hearts in water, or artichoke bottoms, chopped or thinly sliced
1 pound penne rigate pasta
2/3 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino-romano cheese
1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup EVOO
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup ricotta cheese
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a ladle of pasta cooking water.
2. While the pasta is working, using a food processor, puree the parsley, parmigiano-reggiano, vegetable stock, almonds, tarragon, mint, and garlic; season with salt and pepper. With the machine on, drizzle in the EVOO.
3. In a serving bowl, combine the artichoke hearts and pesto. Add the reserved pasta cooking water, then stir in the pasta and season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, season the tomatoes with salt.
4. Serve the pasta with the tomatoes and ricotta for mixing in.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
For the past three weekends, my SH and I have stuffed our trunk with piles of brightly colored towels and backpacks stocked with books and sunscreen and driven along the winding road into the mountains which lead the way to Santa Cruz. Our beach of choice is not in Santa Cruz, and because of its perfection for our purposes, shall remain an undisclosed location. We stumbled upon it one cool spring weekend, on a trip to Monterey. A wide expanse of plush sand, set against towering sea cliffs, facing perfectly formed waves that toss and foam onto the shore...unimaginably beautiful.
While we managed to get away to the beach once or twice during the summer, the past month has seen a steady addiction to its stunning shores begin to grow and develop. We found a shorter, even more scenic route, which shaves off some time on sunny, more popular weekend days. I've worn the same thing for three consecutive weekends, tossing my favorite long Old Navy tank tops and lightweight roll-up cargo pants over my swimsuit, and my beauty routine (already pathetically short to begin with) has consisted of a tiny smattering of mascara and Benetint to go along with a heavy smearing of sunscreen. We're now used to packing our picnics, varying the menu from peanut butter sandwiches to delicious corn and black bean salad. We always stick with the same side of the beach, and have learned how far back to place our towels to avoid getting soaked by an aggressive high tide.
We were thrilled to discover that while our newly discovered beach wasn't deserted, it could hardly be called crowded. Even over Labor Day weekend, we had a perfectly manageably and roomy section of sand to ourselves. We cavorted in the waves, and while I will admit that the water is fairly icy, I cannot deny the exhilarating feeling that ensues from frolicking in it. Not only does the water feel remarkably fresh and clean, but you feel a sense of accomplishment upon realizing that you can actually remain in frigid Pacific waters more than ten seconds. My mother-in-law and I were amazed at the wealth of sea creatures to be encountered: live sand dollars swept to shore along with hundreds of tiny crabs and shellfish burrowing frantically in the sand with every crashing wave.
We've usually left the house fairly early for our weekend beach jaunts, but last Saturday, after I spent the morning complaining needlessly to my SH about my desperate desire to relax and not have to leave the house, I decided that we should just try a late afternoon beach trip. We were a bit anxious, knowing we wouldn't arrive on the beach until after five, but our worries were completely unfounded. An utterly quiet beach awaited us, soaking in the warmth of an unseasonably warm day. We had a romantic picnic, and stayed through the sunset. I wish that I could describe how wonderful it was, but there really aren't proper words for it. All I can do is profess how unbelievably lucky we are, that such a place lies so easily within our reach.
And the name of our new haunt? Wouldn't you like to know!
Monday, September 7, 2009
It's a somber morning in the Top Chef mansion. Jen struggles with the fact that she was on the losing team and has only been in the top four 3 out of the four challenges. She is clearly a perfectionist. Jesse, on the other hand, is mourning her consistently poor showing in the challenges. Gosh, I miss the days of Hosea and Leah flirting constantly, Ariane mourning her ineptitude, and Dr. Chase flexing his muscles.
Mark Peel, Padma, and a "mountain of potatoes" await the chefs in the Top Chef kitchen. Mark was a particularly fun chef to watch on Top Chef Masters this summer, so I'm pleased to see him. He shares his "humble" beginnings peeling vegetables for Wolfgang Puck with the cheftestants, and they learn that it's going to be a remarkably simple quickfire: in 40 minutes, make an "out of this world" dish featuring potatoes. Jesse loves potatoes, all kinds, Russian banana fingerlings, red sweet potatoes, French fingerlings...there are many more than I knew existed.
Jen immediately thinks of making mussels with a potato-based sauce. She has shown remarkable prowess thus far, and I'm now sure her final product will be delicious. Ron, the Haitian, decides to make a sweet potato-crusted yellowtail snapper, and in the first of many endearing comments throughout the episode, states that he is like Bob Marley with food. I love him more and more.
Ash decides to go for sweet potato ice cream. I don't know Ash, do you really have time to successfully make ice cream? I'm also worried about Mike Isabella's potato risotto-kind of dicey if you ask me. And I'm not so sure about Ashley's potato gnocchi-forty minutes is SHORT, Ashley, a brief window of time! Is it even possible..oh no! The drama! Preeti accidentally took the gnocchi-boiling water! Ashley is understandably furious, but holds it together and finishes the dish on time. It's lucky for you, Preeti, that you didn't take Jen's water. She will cut you!
Ash improvised on the fly when his ice cream didn't pan out, calling his final product a custard, which Mark and Padma loved. Michael V. confitted everything, basically. How many times can one say "confit" in one sentence? Several chefs made potatoes three ways. I, for one, don't think that is a particularly creative approach. Mattin pronounces cod as "code." His accent is beginning to verge on annoying. Ashley's potato gnocchi with sauteed hen of the woods mushrooms and homemade ricotta is a hit, despite the pot of water fiasco. By the way, I looked up "hen of the woods" mushrooms out of my intense curiosity, and learned that their official name is "grifola frondosa", though they also go by "maitake" when used in Asian-influenced cooking. Good old, reliable Wikipedia! Always comes through in a pinch!
In the end, Jesse's soup is too cayenne-heavy, Eli's sweet potatoes were too sweet (not to mention that his puree included one tiny pistachio shell out of millions that of COURSE Padma had to melodramatically remove from her delicate mouth), and Ron's side dish of leeks was better than the fish. To no one's surprise, Jen was the most successful at finding the "essence of the potato." Mike Isabella is beginning to resent her, while my hatred has begun to drift away. It's wrong, simply wrong, not to respect her talent.
As the chefs gaze eagerly at Padma, awaiting the announcement of the elimination challenge, a dapper military man with an authoritative, yet kindly air enters the room. A patriotic tune begins to play as he greets the chefs. Turns out he is Colonel Dave Belote, commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. The chefs are to report to the base to prepare a meal for 300 airmen, who, contrary to popular belief, do "possess discerning tastes." They'll be working as a single team, but they won't know about their ingredients or cooking equipment until they arrive at the base. Predictably, the chefs are in a slight state of panic about those working conditions.
Back at the house, Ashley and Mike Isabella help to gather the chefs for a planning meeting. Mike Isabella (yes, I enjoy typing his whole name) puts it out there that it might be a good idea if there was one head chef who facilitates and helps run the kitchen while the rest divide up into 7 teams of 2. Because Jen is immune, he suggests that she would be the one for the job. Turns out, she's PERFECT for the job, but I'll get to that later.
The pairing up was interesting. Preeti and Laurine join up because of their California connection, Kevin and Eli have a "fat kid bond" (plus, they're both from Atlanta), Ashley and Ash join forces, and Jesse and Ron are stuck with each other. In a slightly adorable twist, Michael V. and Bryan both find themselves slightly disappointed not to be working with each other, due to Mike Isabella's instant attachment to Michael, with whom he has previously worked.
The chefs leave the desert mansion what is to them the crack of dawn, heading out to the air force base in a military transport vehicle. As they head into the kitchen, the vast majority are floored to discover that what they have to work with is essentially a traditional "mess" kitchen, stocked with canned goods and containing economy-sized vats over heating units instead of burners. Kevin is unfazed, and says that it's exactly what he expected.
Jen gives all the chefs a "go" after they've decided upon a decent dish, and the chefs get cracking. It was nice to see the generally positive attitude as they began to work. Michael V. is gradually becoming more and more appealing, saying that if the airmen can use a kitchen like that every day, they can certainly prepare a good meal at least once.
Preeti and Laurine work on a pasta salad, which I feel is an uninspired, far too safe choice. Michael V. and Mike Isabella work on a most delicious sounding braised pork belly. Mattin and Bryan decide upon a traditional steak dish with a cauliflower gratin. Kevin and Eli go south, opting for braised pork and potato salad.
Ron asks Jesse how she feels about chowder, and before an array of warning bells go off in my head (Chowder? On a hot day in Nevada? Bad idea, Ron! Very bad!) he lets us know that he has won the Montauk Chowder Festival not once, but FOUR TIMES. This was stated in the most humble, straightforward tone imaginable. Plus, "you know those troops-they love chowder." And I love Ron.
Hector and Robin work on a three-bean chicken chili, which he is not worried about at all because the well-documented fact that if one eats something hot on a hot day, the ensuing sweat will end up cooling one down.
As Preeti and Laurine scrape their undoubtedly NOT al dente pasta out of a gigantic vat, we learn that space for cooking is becoming a problem. Jesse and Ron are freaking out about their chowder, because they need that soup kettle. Unfortunately, "Frenchie" (as Ron has aptly named Mattin) needs the kettle for his bechamel. It's very stressful.
Never fear, chefs! You have chosen the unflappable Jen as your leader! It doesn't take an expert to see that Jen is absolutely suited for the job, and is probably a most remarkable asset in Eric Ripert's kitchen. I take back everything negative I've said about her-there is almost nothing that I respect and admire more than someone who proves to be a good leader, who knows what they're talking about, delegates effectively, and doesn't take any crap. Those qualities are not easy to find! She'd probably be a great teacher. Without all the bourbon-swilling, of course.
As the chefs finalize all the dishes, I have to give them (and any military cook!) credit-it must have been tough. Every dish looked unmanageably large and precarious. They even had to stir with what looked like giant metal bars!
The chefs headed over (by convoy, of course) to a spotless hangar, with pristine blue and white-tableclothed tables, for the elimination challenge. They get a little swept up in the moment as they head in, but pull themselves together quickly and begin to organize the serving tables. The pasta salad looks lame and pathetic next to the other dishes, particularly Michael V.'s pork belly.
It was too much to see Padma's long legs and animal-print clad self emerge from the vehicle, too much. A bit cinematic. But that is Bravo for you! A huge line begins to form, and the chefs start to sell and serve. There was a palpable feeling of honor amongst the chefs-you could tell they felt proud (if a bit stressed) to be serving the service men and women.
The standout dishes were Michael V.'s (and Mike Isabella's) braised pork belly and Kevin and Eli's southern pork and potato salad combo. Both salads were, predictably, abysmal failures. The crowd loved the chili and the chowder, so I felt confident that my two faves, Jesse and Ron, were safe from judgment.
At the meal's conclusion, the Colonel thanked the chefs, sharing a few stories about the service men and women, some who were on the verge of returning to duty. It was heartwarming, and felt truly meaningful. Emotions were high. I even teared up!
Back at judge's table, Kevin, Eli, Michael V., and Mike Isabella were called forth as the victors. Though the potato salad and pork shoulder were very successful, Michael Voltaggio's addictively delicious pork belly (comprised out of what would have been a simple slab of bacon!) triumphed. Tom was quite impressed by Michael's ingenuity-he is really beginning to stand out! Much to Mike Isabella's chagrin, he found himself on the bottom (along with Preeti and Laurine) for his poor attempt at a Greek salad.
While Preeti and Laurine floundered about for a decent explanation for a poor dish, Mike Isabella seethed at the fact that he was at both the winner's and loser's table. While he made the poor choice (like Ashley in the previous episode) of making another unnecessary dish, he was at least able to admit he had made a mistake, and was "angry at himself." Preeti and Laurine felt a vegetarian dish was necessary, and weren't even able to determine who had the idea for pasta salad. Preeti, yet again, spouted off about how she felt their dish was so flavorful and delicious, and better than several of the other dishes. Preeti, this is really bad behavior for Top Chef-if the judges don't like your dish, the last thing you should be doing is talking about how great you think it is. THEY ARE ALWAYS RIGHT. She was sent to pack her knives, and Laurine was spared. Preeti's three appearances on the show don't leave me feeling that she deserved another chance-come back in a few years, girl!
The previews for next week look intense! A chef eliminated during the quickfire? Cooking for the best French chefs in the world in only the fourth episode of the season? Balls!
It’s a new day in Vegas at the exotic desert mansion. The colorfully tattooed chefs prepare for a strenuous day. Quite a bit of time is spent on grooming and hair preparation. Clearly there is a need to fill the slot of time that had been devoted to ogling Dr. Chase’s sculpted abs. Michael V. amps up the cool factor by shaving with his cap on.
The judges head into the Top Chef kitchen and, as is the usual response upon the reveal of each episode’s guest judge, immediately recognize the rather smarmy-looking Todd English. Now, I had heard of Todd English before this episode, due to his previous Top Chef appearance. It continues to be a mystery to me how the cheftestants spew forth all sorts of fun facts about each guest judge. They’re not all as famous as Jean Georges!
A large craps table, conveniently placed in the middle of the kitchen, was a dead giveaway that this would be another “high-stakes” quickfire (with a $15,000 chip). The chefs learn that they will be rolling the dice to determine how many ingredients they will use to create a dish. Salt, pepper, and oil are the only ingredients that don’t count. Obviously rolling a 12 or a 3 would truly increase the difficulty of the challenge, and most of the chefs correctly speculate that it would be best to roll a modest, fairly low number. Michael V. decides to be risky-this is becoming a theme with him. Jesse accidentally grabbed a nonstick pan, which will be useless when it comes to searing her scallops. Kevin is freaking out about having 10 ingredients, but I feel he will persevere.
Jen C.’s jalepeno emulsion makes me realize that maybe I shouldn’t hate her. Michael V.’s Richard-esque antics are pleasing to Todd English, though he refers to his toast as “bread toast.” Kevin made a delicious looking salad which contained fennel cream. I am beginning to understand why the Voltaggio brothers were selected for the show-they are both clearly talented, albeit in different ways. Bryan’s dish, though not loved by the judges, was beautiful.
Todd English did not enjoy Eve, Jesse, or Bryan’s dishes. I believe he referred to Jesse’s scallops as “blond.” Did he mean bland? Hmmm. Jen C. (clearly a major contender for this season), Kevin, and Michael V. were the three favorites, and Michael was selected as the quickfire winner. Of course, we had to get a few words in from Bryan hinting at sibling rivalry.
Now on to what I found to be one of the least imaginative elimination challenges of the entire series: pairing dishes with hand-picked shots for a joint bachelor/bachelorette party. Padma refers to the challenge as a “Battle of the Sexes”, which jointly offends (in the case of Ashley) and irritates (Jen C.) a majority of the chefs. It is true that Vegas is a popular destination for these debaucherous (thanks for that little adjective, Kevin) soirees, but I don’t know that I would go so far as to call it a Vegas tradition.
Karen and Greg (bride and groom) march in with precariously balanced trays of shots. The men will be preparing food for the ladies, female chefs cooking for the men. Of course. The bride is a pescatarian who loves to pour sriracha on everything. The groom loves lean fish-those were his exact words. Both teams are extremely confident as they head into Whole Foods, though you can tell that they are dubious about the undeniably lowbrow pairing of fine food with shots.
Nothing particularly eventful occurs during preparation, though Bryan goes on a bit about how he wants to beat his brother. Curious, considering that they are ON THE SAME TEAM. The Top Chef warning music plays when Ashley announces that she wants to make a second dish. Word to the wise: do not EVER make a second dish on this show if you don’t have to. It’s one of the MANY kisses of death that one might encounter throughout the competition.
The challenge takes place at an admittedly beautiful pool and cabana area at the M resort. I am immediately concerned about the heat factor, because a WIDE array of seafood has been chosen for the pescatarian and her fiancé.
Michael V. is taking about risks again, which could be a red flag or a sign of future success. The same could be said about Preeti’s shiso leaf garnish. No way to know at this point. Laurine hints that that the girls have prepared more familiar food than the boys.
A little aside: Mattin LOVES the ladies. He thinks they look hot, and is momentarily distracted by their beauty.
Eve’s ceviche looks absolutely wretched-even I could see that she didn’t use enough lime juice to keep her avocado from discoloring. Jen C.’s cevich, on the other hand, was loved by all. Apparently octopus goes well with tequila. I think Jesse’s lettuce cup looks fresh and cool, but Preeti’s tuna is an alarming shade of purple. The judges hated both dishes. Ashley’s watermelon carpaccio was a hit, but she ruined her good impression by making the second dish. I told you, Ashley! Kiss of death!
While the women’s dishes were being judged ruthlessly, the men were enjoying shots with the bachelorette and her gals. It’s immediately obvious that their dishes are indeed more complex: Michael V.’s goat cheese cookie with apple sorbet, Kevin’s chilled almond soup with king crab, cucumber, and white grape… The judges almost exclusively adore them, with the exception of Mike Isabella and the Haitian. By the way, I’ve come to love the Haitian. I could listen to him talk all day. The women seem defeated at the end of the challenge, but the men jump joyously into the pool, clothes and all. Well, Mattin kept his red scarf on.
Not surprisingly, the men were chosen the winners of the challenge. Bryan, Hector, Eli, and Michael V. were singled out for their unique, delicious dishes. It came down to a choice between the two brothers, and this time, Bryan and his sweet and sour macaroon filled with guacamole, corn nuts, and corn puree, were victorious. Of course, he didn’t get a $15,000 chip, but he considers it a redemption of sorts. I’m thinking he is a bit too serious for my taste.
Eve, Jesse, Preeti, and Ashley were the cursed bottom four. Despite my love for Jesse, I’m thinking it’s obvious that she just doesn’t have quite as much experience as is necessary to “hang” with most of the contestants on the show. Preeti’s dish was too pedestrian, and she committed the cardinal sin of not acknowledging her mistakes. Ashley realized her own mistake in making two dishes, but Eve could barely summon any sort of explanation for her shrimp ceviche, and was truly the obvious choice to go home.
Even if I had not had a ridiculously busy week, I wouldn’t have felt particularly inspired to write a recap for this episode. Fortunately, it was followed this week by a fabulous episode that I cannot WAIT to write about. I am now a Jen C. fan! We get a hint as to why Ron was chosen to compete on the show! Jesse doesn’t end up on the bottom! Aren’t you dying to read about it?
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Swim Upstream for It: Seared Salmon with Soy and Garlic + Spicy Cilantro-Scallion Rice with Sweet and Sour Cucumber and Red Onion Relish
Right after we've enjoyed a salmon dinner, my mother-in-law inevitably pushes her chair back at some point, sighs with pleasure, and states that "eating salmon is like having candy." Truly, I could not put it better. I love salmon, with its wild, distinctive flavor, which is unlike any other fish. Barely anything has to be done to it to produce good results, and it takes practically no time at all to cook (though you could say the same of most fish). It's exactly the kind of thing I need on my now-limited evenings, when the last thing I really want to do is prepare something complicated.
I've made this particular recipe before (minus the relish), and it was heavenly. I thought I'd try it again, and if I must say, I did an even more of a bang-up job this time than I did the first time. The salmon gained a slight, satisfying char from its quick drenching in tamari and garlic, and when placed atop a fluffy pile of rice, one could see tiny, flavorful rivulets of my hasty marinade begin to thread delicately through the rice. That side dish alone would be worth making as a dinner for one on a busy evening-flavorful and subtly spicy, enhanced by bits of barely sauteed jalepeno, light, spring-green scallions, and the ever dependable exotic flair of cilantro. The relish is really what pushed the dish over the edge into a more refined territory. At least, that is what I thought to myself as I scattered the spicy brine of purple-tinged red onions and chunks of cucumber somewhat haphazardly across the salmon.
2 rounded tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 European seedless cucumber, cut in half lengthwise then thinly sliced into half moons
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (eyeball it)
1 serrano or jalepeno pepper, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups long-grain white rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (2 generous handfuls), chopped
6 scallions, thinly sliced.
Heat a medium sauce pot over medium-high heat with the vegetable oil, 2 times around the pan. Add the pepper halves and the garlic cloves, cook for about 1 minute, then add the rice and stir to coat it with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the rice, reduce the heat to very low, and cook the rice for 18 to 20 minutes, until it's tender. Add the cilantro and scallions and fluff with a fork. Remove what's left of the pepper halves; some small pieces may have broken away but they will be tender and flavorful (I left the pepper halves in the rice).
Seared Salmon with Soy and Garlic
1/4 cup tamari (dark soy sauce; eyeball it)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander, 1/2 palmful
6 skinless salmon fillets, 6 ounces each)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (eyeball it)
Freshly ground black pepper
In a shallow dish, combine the tamari, garlic, and coriander. Add the salmon fillets, turn to coat them, and let them marinate for about 5 minutes.