Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Afternoon delight

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lots o' cookbook authors and bloggers often wax poetic about the wonders of cooking for one. I hardly ever cook for just myself, mostly because there are usually leftovers available, or it's just easier to scramble a few eggs and lay them on a crispy piece of buttered toast or mix a tin of green chiles into rice. It's a rare occasion when those options aren't available to me, so I've never really dwelled on the pleasures of cooking for oneself. Today, however, was a refreshing new change for me. For my late lunch (I've taken to eating lunch at 2 or so-another identifying characteristic of an unemployed person), I whipped up one of my favorite RR pasta recipes. It's an oldie but a goodie, rigatoni, rapini, and ricotta salata pasta. Rapini, more commonly known as broccoli rabe, is remarkably hard to find out in California, which is crazy because practically every vegetable and fruit known to man flourishes here. I was able to find it regularly at the Korean deli down the street from our New York apartment (Someday I'm going to write a post just about that deli-it's one of the things I miss the most about NYC), but now it's so scarce that anytime I see a bright green bunch peeking out amongst the mountains of other fresh California produce I am unable to resist throwing it right into my basket. It is an absoutely deliciously, dark green, much more like chard or kale than broccoli, even a bit bitter. Sauteed with toasted flecks of golden brown garlic, then tossed with pasta and a generous amount of crumbling, slightly salty ricotta salata, it makes for a wonderful meal. I enjoyed it thoroughly, taking a short break from my heavy reading for the beginning of spring quarter tomorrow. Montaigne, Descartes...no light reading this time around!

The Three R's: Rigatoni, Rapini, and Ricotta Salata Pasta, from 30 Minute Meals

1 pound rigatoni (I used penne)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (twice around the pan)
2 bunches rapini (broccoli rabe) roughly cut into 2-inch pieces, bottom 2-inches discarded
1 can (14 ounces) fat-free chicken broth
A couple shakes nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon)
1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems and chopped (3 to 4 tablespoons) (I didn't have fresh thyme on hand, so I eliminated it)
1/2 pound ricotta salata, crumbled (See Note)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Start a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook rigatoni until al dente, and drain.

In a large skillet, saute garlic in oil over medium heat until garlic speaks (this was one of the earlier catch-phrases of Rachael's that didn't take-you can see why). Add rapini and cook 3 or 4 minutes. Add broth and nutmeg. Cover pan loosely with foil and cook another 10 minutes or so, until rapini becomes tender. Add drained, rinsed pasta to rapini and broth. Toss with thyme, crumbled ricotta salata, and salt and pepper, to taste. Dump out onto a serving platter. Feeds up to 6 with bread and a salad of chunked tomatoes and sliced onions drizzled with oil.

Note: Ricotta salata is an Italian cheese that tastes like a mild feta and is widely available in specialty cheese cases at many supermarkets.

As it turns out, cooking for one is indeed a satisfying, enjoyable thing. I felt quite industrious and productive, and it was nice to bang around a bit in the kitchen midday. Therapeutic, in a way. I'll have to try it again soon.

Yes, that IS my laptop open to MY blog, but I just couldn't help it-I was so happy to see my heading again that I left the screen up. It was a real damper to check my blog roll this morning and discover that my heading had disappeared. Thankfully, my SH took time out of his extremely busy day to fix it for me. Just wanted you to know that I wasn't shamelessly promoting my blog!

Top 5 Tuesday

I’ve had quite a bit of time in my absence to plot my top 5 for this week, but rather than anything especially eloquent or grandiose, I opted to stick to my favorite musical moments in movies. It took me a while to whittle down the list, but I’m especially pleased with these five. It was hard to cut out GREAT ones like What a Feeling in Flashdance or Secret Garden in Jerry Maguire, but these are truly the ones I remember the most, and watch over and over again.

5. Wouldn’t it Be Nice-50 First Dates.
This isn’t the first, or BEST, time that Drew Barrymore and a feelgood Beach Boys song have been united, but it was a perfect combination for her whimsical reunion with Adam Sandler. Those two make a great pair in romantic comedies! Anyway, I loved the scenes with forgetful Lucy painting the same room over and over again, and her unabashed, slightly off-tune singing of the sweet song. I couldn't help but include this video, by the way-hilarious!

4. If You Were Here, 16 Candles.
Ah, Sixteen Candles. I’m awash in fond memories of the many, many sleepovers spent watching this movie, the offensive re-enactments of Long Duck Dong’s drunken partying, mocking at the nerd’s expense, and most especially, gratuitous rewinding of the desperately romantic final scene with Jake Ryan. Does any girl not feel a tender thrill of nostalgia when hearing the strains of the Thompson Twins?

3. Brown-Eyed Girl/Runaround Sue, Sleeping with the Enemy. I shamefully acknowledged in this post that my first real exposure to the quintessential Van Morrison song was in this movie. I KNOW! It’s embarrassing! In my defense, I was fairly young at the time, not more than 15. The two songs together provide what is most certainly one of my most favorite Julia Roberts moments. After running from her abusive husband, Julia’s character meets and falls for a charming young theater professor, and for their first date, he takes her to the local university’s theater department, sharing all his knowledge of special effects and letting her frolic amongst the costumes. It’s a positively delightful stretch of film, made especially wonderful with the two selected songs.

2. In Your Eyes, Say Anything. This is one 80’s movie that I didn’t actually watch until I was in college, though for the life of me I don’t know why. It’s certainly the best, putting John Hughes and Molly Ringwald to absolute shame. Who doesn’t love Lloyd Dobler? How can one not be touched by his relentless quest for the love of one Diane Court? Of course, even the few who haven’t seen the movie will likely know the iconic image of John Cusack, decked out in full 80’s garb, brandishing his boombox, standing outside Diane’s window, despite the fact that SHE rejected him. The song, so significant to their experience of first love, has the best lyrics on my list. I can’t believe I didn’t include it on my wedding playlist.

1. Flightless Bird, American Mouth, Twilight.
Reputedly, Kristen Stewart suggested this song for the final, blissfully romantic prom scene. Say what you will about the moody, famously awkward actress, but she has excellent musical taste. I'm a fan, by the way-she's a fabulous actress. The song is absolutely perfect-it MAKES the scene. I don’t even need to write anything else!

Did I skip anything especially wonderful?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Coconut Bread

Friday, March 27, 2009

Let's see, what have I done today? Approximately six loads of laundry. Written five e-mails. Eaten two bowls of delicious Caesar pasta salad from my neighborhood Italian deli. Created a playlist solely inspired by songs I've heard in movie previews. Certainly not finished my previously planned post.

Thankfully, I have several backup recipes that I haven't written about yet, so my blog will not sit bereft of new content. This time, it's Tyler Florence's coconut bread that strikes my fancy. I'm not entirely sold on Tyler, although I use his recipe for lasagna and I predictably own several of his cookbooks. I think the solution to my uncertainty is just to venture out more from the sheltered comfort of Rachael Ray and try a few new things.

The coconut bread recipe is found in Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen, also the source of "Drop-Dead Lasagna," my lasagna recipe of choice. I should mention that my mom says my lasagna is the best she's ever had-that should give Tyler at least a few points. I've always read through all my cookbooks many times before I've actually made recipes from them, and the coconut bread is something that has stuck firmly in my mind as something I needed to try. I was instantly attracted by Tyler's little blurb-he and his girlfriend ate a version of the bread at a little breakfast stop in Australia, warm, toasted, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sounded like heaven to me!

The reason I decided to whip this up recently was due to the fact that I had a large quantity of unsweetened coconut milk left over from this lovely meal. I saved it, thinking I'd surely find a way to put it to good use, and not more than two days later, as I stared with disdain at my store brand box of Grape Nuts (NEVER buy the store brand of Grape Nuts) and thought longingly of the sugar-coated doughnuts at the Korean bakery down the street, I decided that the solution was to make coconut bread! Sure, I would have to sustain myself with coffee and the occasional ginger snap while the bread finished baking, but the results would probably be worth it! And they were, my friends, they were. The bread is absolutely delicious, dense and delicately flavored with coconut and hints of lemon zest. Unfortunately, I had to forgo the pineapple butter that accompanies the recipe in the book, because I didn't have any crushed pineapple on hand, but I can imagine it would make the bread positively sublime. I have two medium-sized loaf pans, and I froze one of the loaves. I'll have a solution for the next morning that I feel uninspired at breakfast!

Coconut Bread with Sweet Pineapple Butter, from Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen
Coconut Bread
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut, toasted (see Note)
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Pineapple Butter
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with butter (I used the two loaf pans I own, which are on the smaller side). In a large bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another large bowl, whisk together the melted butter with the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Pour in the coconut milk and whisk together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold everything together with a spatula until you have a smooth batter. Gently fold in the shredded coconut until evenly distributed. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and set it on a cookie sheet. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a wooded toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the bread. Rotate the pan periodically to ensure even browning. Cool the bread in the pan for 20 minutes or so; then when cool enough to handle, remove the coconut bread to a cutting board and let it cool completely before slicing.

Press the liquid out of the crushed pineapple using the back of a spoon. (If there is too much juice, the fruit will separate from the butter.) In a small bowl, mash the pineapple with the softened butter until well blended. A food processor is a quick alternative to making the compound butter, so use it if you have one. Mound the butter in a small serving bowl. Toast the slices of coconut bread, dust with confectioner's sugar, and serve with the creamy pineapple butter.
Note: To toast the coconut: Preheat the oven to 350. Spread the coconut on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, stirring it periodically. Toasting will fluff up the coconut and increase its volume (as well as make it taste better). (I should tell you that my oven is freakishly hot, so I had to check my coconut frequently, and it did NOT take 15 minutes to toast!)

Don't be deceived, my obsession has not abated!

I felt SURE my loyal few would be appreciative of a little update on what my favorite Twilight stars have been doing during these past few months. I'm sure you're all quite desperate for this information.

Looking pretty at DVD release parties.

Bulking up and taking riding lessons in a quest to become the perfect Jacob Black.

Dressing fabulously for the Adventureland premiere.

And then there's the matter of a little, insignificant GQ shoot. This wasn't actually my favorite picture, by the way, but I couldn't in good conscience put up a smoking shot.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm back.

Thursday, March 26, 2009
So I've been away a while. And I do have a post planned that will elucidate my absence. However, in these first few warm, wonderful moments back in my own home, all I want to do is write a few quick lines. I had an irresistible urge to write, just to remind myself that I'm slowly returning to my normal routine. It's comforting. Even though I don't have much to say.

I WILL mention the book that I absolutely raced through today, The Hunger Games. Another bit of juvenile fiction, it was utterly captivating. I had half a mind to pre-order the second book in the trilogy today, despite the fact that it's not even coming out until September. It's very different from the Twilight saga, but no less intriguing.

Alright, on to the many missed episodes languishing on my DVR, this evening's Duke game, and Pizza Hut's version of a whole-grain crust. We'll see how good that is.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I’ve been away for the past few days, but I did manage to snag a wireless connection today. Blogging away from home is always a challenge, but I find it comforting to sit down to compose a post, however inane or simple. Actually, this week’s list might be of use-it’s practical, after all! All the years my mother has spent perusing the pages of Glamour and Allure have given her an encyclopedic knowledge of the best beauty products, and I always follow her lead. I must admit, I’m not totally into buying makeup, so I completely rely on my mom’s advice. Here are the few items in my everyday routine that I can’t live without.

5. Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage Concealer. My go-to concealer. Everything else pales in comparison. Ha! That's almost a pun.

4. Maybelline Mascara of the Moment. Though I’ve never been a big fan of the original Great Lash, I love Maybelline mascaras, and see no reason for spending money on expensive brands. Right now, my mascara of choice is The Colossal Volum' Express. Very black.

3. Cetaphil. Um, is there anyone who hasn’t heard about Cetaphil? Universally praised, utterly affordable, cleanser to the stars AND the average Jane? It’s great, though definitely no frills. No fresh smell or creamy texture.

2. Benetint. Best. Blush. Ever. Smells like roses, lasts for hours, looks natural. I never allow myself to run out of it.

1. Bare Minerals spf15 Powder Foundation. I can’t say enough about the Bare Minerals products. Not only does my skin look better, clearer, and more smooth when using the foundation, but it’s also incredibly low maintenance. I haven’t touched a drop of any other foundation for going on three years.

Perhaps I should have had a green-themed Top 5 list today….my creative juices just aren’t flowing, though. We all have days like these.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chili Suizas Bake

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Now, I haven't always felt a really positive vibe towards ground chicken. It doesn't have the satisfying texture of ground beef or turkey, and my aversion to raw chicken is so strong that I really don't cook it that often anyway. However, after reading yet another take on enchiladas suizas in Rachael's newest cookbook, I decided I'd give this bake a try. Oh my goodness, but my results were GOOOOOD! The browned chicken was tossed with a beautiful bright green sauce of tomatillos and cilantro, layered with a mixture of shredded pepper Jack and Colby Jack cheese (my substitutions for Swiss and plain Monterey Jack), topped with crumbled tortilla chips and placed in the oven until gold'n bubbly (Yes, that is a reference to Steel Magnolias). The lovely addition of delicate dollops of sour cream scattered across the top confused me at first, but as soon as I took my first decadent bite, I understood. The sour cream melted into the tomatillos, creating the perfect "suizas" sauce, akin to a really great green enchilada sauce. DELICIOUS. I'm telling you, it was restaurant quality, if Mexican restaurants marketed dishes based on ground chicken, which they usually don't. The accompanying picture belies the wonderful flavor and texture of the dish, but I felt I should include it anyway.

Side note: I would imagine the suizas bake would freeze well, and my SH and I dined on for several days! Economical AND practical!

Chili Suizas Bake, from Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book

3 large poblano peppers (I substituted pasilla peppers)
2 tablespoons EVOO
2 pounds ground chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
12 large or 16 small to medium tomatillos, peeled, rinsed, and halved
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, a handful
2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons honey
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup creme fraiche (I substituted sour cream)
3 cups lightly crushed tortilla chips (whole grain tortilla chips, such as flax seed tortillas, add a wonderful texture and flavor-this is Rachael's note, but I did take it, and I think it made the dish better. I love those flax seed chips!)
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (I substituted Colby Jack)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I substituted pepper Jack)

1. Heat the broiler to high. Place the poblanos under the hot broiler and char until blackened on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Leave the door of the oven cracked to allow the steam to escape. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover it lightly with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to steam until they are cool enough to handle. Leave the oven on broil.
2. While the peppers char, heat the EVOO in a high-sided ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. (I just used my regular pan, then poured into a casserole dish for baking) Add the chicken and brown lightly, 3 to 4 minutes, then stir in the onions, jalepeno and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes to soften the onions. While the mixture cooks, place the tomatillos and cilantro in a food processor and process until smooth. Pour the tomatillos into the chicken mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the chicken stock and honey, season with salt and pepper, and simmer the chili for 10 minutes.
3. When the poblano peppers have cooled, remove the seeds, chop the peppers, and stir into the chili. Remove the chili from the heat and stir in the lime juice. Spoon dollops of creme fraiche onto the chili, spacing them evenly across the pan. Cover the surface with a layer of crushed chips and top with the Swiss and Monterey Jack cheeses. Place under the broiler just until brown and bubbly, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Serve directly from the hot skillet, spooning the chili and topping into shallow dinner bowls.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I went all the way to Pike Place Market and all I got was this lousy pasta.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Yes, that is what my t-shirt would say, were I to craft one based on my recent trip to Washington. While the tourists around me, my own family members included, sought out cool souvenirs and trendy trinkets, what jumped out to me immediately was the dried pasta from Pappardelle's stall in the market. I purchased several varieties-it's not actually lousy!- as I mentioned here, and I've already used a couple of them in the past few weeks.

My first effort was halibut glazed with raspberry habanero jam (my other purchase from the market) atop a mound of green jalepeno fettuccine. I felt quite confident that there was NO way that the pasta could be too spicy, and my SH and I both have extremely heat-resistant palates. I knew the jam would definitely pack some heat, but I figured it would all balance out neatly. Halibut is a sturdy, firm fish that stands up well to intense flavors. Well, the final results couldn't have been more surprising-it was SUPER hot! The kind of hot where you're gulping cold water as fast as you can finish a bite, and your nose is streaming in a most unattractive way. Don't get me wrong, the dish was delicious-the glaze made a sweet, delectable crust on the pearly white halibut, and the jalepeno fettuccine tasted great. It might have just been a bit too much spice. It certainly looked pretty, though!

This week I decided to pair my rosemary garlic linguine with a pork tenderloin. I am a HUGE fan of pork tenderloin. With a very simple, low-maintenance preparation, it can be immensely flavorful. I prefer to roast it, mostly because it's easier than watching a pan, but also because I enjoy stabbing it with the meat thermometer. I don't advice stabbing repeatedly, of course! Don't want all that delicious juiciness to go away! For our dinner, I finely chopped a couple of garlic cloves and tossed them with the zest and juice from 1 lemon, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, and some olive oil. Though it's not a revelation, by any means, I did get a few of my hints from one of my Rachael Ray cookbooks. After sprinkling the tenderloin with salt and pepper, I rubbed the lemon-garlic-mustard mixture in, and roasted for about half an hour. After my lesson with the jalepeno fettuccine, I knew to expect great flavor, not necessarily subtle, from the pasta, and it did not disappoint. The lemony roasted pork was a perfect complement.

Unfortunately, Pappardelle's Pasta doesn't show up at any of my local farmer's markets, but I may have to make a mail-order. I was completely satisfied with my purchase. It was my Seattle souvenir, after all!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Well, I did give hints of my literary leanings last week, and being that my last paper for winter quarter is due in less than 24 hours, I feel justified in a less than intellectual Top 5 Tuesday. I have decided to catalogue my favorite items from that beloved of grocery stores, Trader Joe’s. Known for its quirky products and the infamous “Two-Buck Chuck,” the mostly California-based chain is a real bonus for someone like me, who thoroughly enjoys cooking, but likes to do it without spending a million dollars. The produce is beautiful and fresh, store brand items cheap but perfectly satisfactory, and the sweets and frozen section boast all kinds of unusual and delicious things! The only real down side to Trader Joe’s is that it’s not entirely consistent when it comes to produce, and there aren’t bulk vegetables. You just can’t have it all.

Here are my tried and true favorites, the things that are always in my cart:

5. Broth Packets. These ingenious little packets have saved me from many a wasted container of chicken stock. I know, I know-I could just buy those bouillon cubes, but the sodium content for those is quite high, and I find them crumbly and gross. With these little guys, I just squeeze them into hot water, swirl around thoroughly with a spoon, and ta-da! Perfectly portioned, ready made stock! I’m obviously a cooking nerd, if this kind of thing brings me joy, right? Please try to avoid focusing on my terrible nails and man-hands. Seriously.

4. Ginger Snaps.
Hands down, the BEST ginger snaps I’ve ever eaten. I’ve always enjoyed the traditional, super-hard but pleasantly spicy Ginger Snap. Trader Joe’s has somehow infused their version with a most delicious, buttery flavor that complements the ginger perfectly. It also doesn’t hurt to have tiny shards of candied ginger scattered throughout each cookie.

3. Sparkling Blueberry Juice.
Blueberry is a super fruit, in case you didn’t know. We should all be eating them by the bucket, which is a little difficult considering their seasonal and often costly nature. I am happy to quaff this lovely, rich purple juice as a substitute. Tastes like a delicately sweetened blueberry. Check out my new glasses from Ikea, by the way! Aren't they cute and almost vintage-looking?

2. Dark Chocolate Bars.
These bars have become my go-to dessert. I buy one every time I’m grocery shopping and place it in the freezer, taking a small chunk after every meal. I’d like to say that I manage to eat only one bar a week, but that’s just exaggerating. They don’t last longer than a couple of days. I can’t help myself.

1. Mushroom Turnovers. Definitely my favorite item, without question! These perfect little turnovers are filled with a delicious creamy mixture of mushroom and sautéed onions, and they are irresistible. Every time I make them, I inevitably burn my fingers attempting to take a bite before they’ve cooled properly. It would not at all be impossible that I eventually devour a whole box by myself. They’re perfect for appetizers, when company is coming, or even if you’re making a really simple meal, and you have a husband like mine who needs a little something extra.

I'm off to finish writing! I thrive on urgency!

Monday, March 9, 2009

I couldn't agree more.

Monday, March 9, 2009

How wonderful for a huge Office junkie like myself, to find such a GREAT article, naming The Office as the most romantic show on television.

So there I was...

...dutifully pulling up the approximately 1,000,000 weeds that have flourished in our as yet-unsodded section of the back yard, when a hint of a familiar fragrance overwhelmed me. "What IS that?" I thought to myself, furtively peeking around at all the clumps of weeds. Surely there can't be something NICE growing here! Surely these are really just pesky weeds that can't help but expand exponentially in the rich California soil. I looked down at the very "weed" I was just preparing to yank (with great satisfaction, I might add) from the ground and realized that I recognized the light, feathery leaves. In shock, I plunged my nose right into the center of the plant and verified that yes, CILANTRO, cherished herb of Mexican and Indian cooking, was simply growing with wild abandon in my very own backyard! I found several healthy clumps scattered amongst the weeds. Is there anything that won't grow here?

My front yard gardening maintenance a few days later was not as pleasant, however. Growing up on a West Texas ranch has made me rather immune to fear of creeping, crawling, creatures. When you have really threatening animals like rattlesnakes, skunks, or coyotes to worry about, you really don't think too much about seeing spiders or bats or the occasional caterpillar (actually, my sister has a deathly fear of caterpillars, but she is most certainly an anomaly). I have taken great pride in myself, on more than one occasion, for the carefree way I've disposed of such pests in front of my husband and sister-in-law. They're always impressed.

Whilst clearing leaves out of the flower beds, however, I encountered a creature that I instantly recoiled from:

Gah! What an absolutely repulsive animal! Could snails be any more disgusting? There were MANY slithering through the leaves and dirt, leaving long, silvery trails of goo. Despite being an amateur gardener, I know that finding so many isn't a good thing, and I'm going to have to take care of it. This is not going to be a fun. Give me spiders and scorpions any day over these nasty snails. I don't know if I can stomach the job.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"He knows the lobster man is out there, and he's totally screwed!" OR awesome upcoming trailers for your viewing pleasure

Thursday, March 5, 2009
Sunshine Cleaning

I'm really excited to see this-it looks so sweet! Plus, I love Emily Blunt. Now, those incredibly talented people that put trailers together know exactly what to do to suck the audience in, so surely I am not also motivated to see this film because of the PERFECTLY touching song and accompanying clips. No, not me!

Public Enemies

All scandalous ranting aside, I'm a big fan of Christian Bale. His acting, anyway. I also happen to really enjoy Michael Mann's movies, although I haven't seen the poorly received Miami Vice. I haven't exactly warmed to the immensely popular Johnny Depp, but there is certainly no doubt that he's an excellent actor. He practically exudes acting talent. Did you hear that accent?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Two words: Tim Riggins. Just kidding! That only accounts for a fraction of my interest in this movie! Well, a large fraction, but a fraction nonetheless. I'm beginning to grow fond of Hugh Jackman, and I find Liev Schreiber strangely appealing. I also happen to thoroughly enjoy a good action movie, even if it is about mutants and I've never read a single comic book in my life. (By the way, I'm sorry for the annoying red band at the top of the trailer-it just came out TODAY, so I couldn't find a better video.)

Funny People

After watching the trailer something like 10 times, I knew I needed to amend this post. There is something so appealing about Adam Sandler when he takes on more serious roles, even though the funny never really goes away. I hesitated to include the trailer because it's a bit irreverent and slightly bawdy, but I have a real appreciation for movies that can bring on a genuine guffaw and hearty laughter, with just a touch of real human emotion and sweetness. Let's face it, Judd Apatow and crew are masters. Perhaps Eric Bana should channel his comedic self more often?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In the last few days leading up to my college graduation, my beloved roommate gave me a simple lined journal as a gift. We’d had great fun throughout the year posting our favorite quotes from a variety of sources on a large piece of white butcher paper that we conveniently positioned in the center of our apartment, so in honor of that tradition, she inscribed a few pages of the journal with some of our most cherished lines, along with a personal note. I began to use the journal frequently, to keep track of touching, impressive quotes or powerful passages that I didn’t want to forget. I was prone to snatching whatever writing implement I could find and quickly scribbling the words wherever they might fit on the page.

When we moved from New York to Austin, however, my little book got lost in a pile of boxes, and for these past two years, I’ve just neglected the hobby. Imagine my joy and happiness when I unearthed it on one of my many unproductive unpacking days. Yes, moments like that, when I find something really GOOD, cause me to become completely distracted. My literature journal is one of the reasons why my garage isn’t quite the organized storage facility that it should be!

I decided for this week’s top 5 to include five of my favorite random scribblings. They’re from a variety of books that I have loved. Some are just a line or two, others are full pages from the book. I’m not going to elaborate on any of them just now-I think they’re perfectly eloquent and meaningful without my analysis. Now that I’ve found my journal, I can only hope to add more and more for memory’s sake.

5. from The World According to Garp, by John Irving.
“If you are careful,” Garp wrote, “if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day: what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love.”
4. from The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James.
“The inconvenience-as always happens in such cases-was not that you minded what was false, but that you missed what was true.”
3. from Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
My mother wanted someone to feel about her the way Sherman did about Elizabeth and she knew that my father would never be that man. I used to stand on our dock looking back at that sun-struck house of my childhood and tell myself that I would one day love a woman the way Sherman did. I wanted to walk the whole world until I found a girl I could write letters to that her descendants would hang up on library walls. I would march to the sea with that girl’s name on my lips, and I would write her name in the sands until the tides washed over it. The story marked me. But it changed my mother’s life.
2. from The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth. They don’t look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week’s garbage or fear of rats. Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind.

One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.

Some days after diner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumbles. Rats? they’ll ask. Bums, I’ll say, and I’ll be happy.
1. from Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier.
When she reached the place, the boy had already gathered up the horses and gone. She went to the men on the ground and looked at them, and then she found Inman apart from them. She sat and held him in her lap. He tried to talk, but she hushed him. He drifted in and out and dreamed a bright dream of home. It had a coldwater spring rising out of rock, black dirt fields, old trees. In his dream, the year seemed to be happening all at one time, all the seasons blending together. Apple trees hanging heavy with fruit but yet unaccountably blossoming, ice rimming the spring, okra plants blooming yellow and maroon, maple leaves red as October, corn tops tasseling, a stuffed chair pulled up to a glowing fire hearth, pumpkins shining in the fields, laurels blooming on the hillsides, ditch banks full of orange jewelweed, white blossoms on dogwood, purple on redbud. Everything coming around at once. And there were white oaks, and a great number of crows, or at least the spirits of crows, dancing and singing in the upper limbs. There was something he wanted to say.

An observer situated up on the brow of the ridge would have looked down on a still, distant tableau in the winter woods. A creek, remnants of snow. A wooded glade, secluded from the generality of mankind. A pair of lovers. The man reclined with his head in the woman’s lap. She, looking down into his eyes, smoothing back the hair from his brow. He, reaching an arm awkwardly around to hold her at the soft part of her hip. Both touching each other with great intimacy. A scene of such quiet and peace that the observer on the ridge could avouch to it later in such a way as might lead those of glad temperaments to imagine some conceivable history where long decades of happy union stretched before the two on the ground.

Let the record show that I miss my sweet roommate! She was the very best! Some of my most fond and memorable moments from college were shared with her!

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Coconut-Roasted Shrimp

In the past few weeks, I've really been trying to branch out with my cooking. What is my extensive, elaborate, borderline-obsessive cookbook collection worth, otherwise? I've included a few new recipes in my menu for the next two weeks, and I'm hoping that I'll stick to my guns and actually make them. I must admit that the problem tends to be my confidence level-Rachael Ray recipes are so comfortingly simple and unfussy, and they always turn out exactly how I imagined. Thus, I struggle when facing a recipe that might be a bit more complicated.

Now, this particular dish certainly does not fall into the "difficult" or "challenging" category, so I don't know how proud I can be of myself. It was actually a breeze to put together, despite having two separate preparations, for the shrimp and soup. It's been raining for days here, which I don't find entirely unpleasant, but the constant drizzle has motivated me to cook the appropriately warm and satisfying meals. I was quite pleased with the results of this one-the bright orange soup was creamy and delicately Asian-flavored, with hints of the sesame oil mingling perfectly with the carrots and ginger. The shrimp was a lovely accompaniment-spicy and crisp, the bits of toasted coconut blended in a most satisfying way with the soup.

If my husband and I had not devoured an heavenly box of these Mushroom Turnovers first, I think we might have been a bit hungry with just the soup and shrimp. I would advise 4-5 shrimp per person and serving a green salad or perhaps warm slices of a French baguette on the side for a more complete meal. It's not especially heavy-just a bit of oil is needed, and it calls for light coconut milk and skim milk. I used 2%. I cannot abide skim milk. It looks like appalling gray water to me, and I shall never go below 1%. Ever.

I shall now share the recipe, without meandering on into a dairy-inspired post. Sorry about that diatribe!

Carrot-Ginger Soup with Coconut-Roasted Shrimp
from Food and Wine: an entire year of Recipes, 2006

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 large carrots (3/4 pound), chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter (We have a jar of PB that we KNOW is untainted, so I've continued to use it! Please, peanut butter crisis, be over soon!)
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup light coconut milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 large shrimp, shelled (Purchase accordingly for how many people are eating and how substantial you want the meal to be.)
1 1/2 tablespoons shredded coconut (I managed to find unsweetened, on sale, in the bulk containers at Whole Foods-by the way, this really is enough coconut!)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots, ginger, and crushed red pepper and cook for 6 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then simmer until the carrots are very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, peanut butter, and sesame oil.
2. In a blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return it to the saucepan and stir in the skim milk and coconut milk. Season the carrot-ginger soup with salt and black pepper and keep warm.
3. Toss the shrimp with the coconut, cayenne and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then season with salt and black pepper. Spread the shrimp on a parchment-lined (I used foil.) baking sheet and roast for 8 minutes, or until they are pink. Ladle the carrot-ginger soup into warmed bowls and garnish with the coconut shrimp.

I'm going to eat the leftovers for lunch now! Ah, carrot soup!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Afternoon bliss

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yesterday my SH and I finally took a drive down to Santa Cruz. It's a mere 30 minutes away, and it only really takes that long because the road winds and curves through the Santa Cruz Mountains in a most scenic and enjoyable fashion. Ridiculous that this is the first time that we've been since we moved to San Jose.

Waves crashing against the sea cliffs

Santa Cruz is a classic beach town. There's a boardwalk complete with an old-fashioned wooden rollercoaster, Santa Cruz t-shirt shops, and candy stores bursting with saltwater taffy. We have yet to experience much of the town as a whole, and have really just walked around a bit. Yesterday was no exception-we pulled up just short of a serious of sea cliffs and walked down towards the Natural Bridges Beach. While we weren't particularly taken in by the beach itself, the walk was absolutely beautiful. I could have easily wiled away hours just sitting on a smooth piece of stone overlooking one of the little coves, reading my book and looking up every few minutes in amazement at the beauty and grandeur of the ocean. It's truly difficult to describe how impressive and stunning it really is.

Beautiful, huge white seagulls perched near a tidepool

Some sort of lovely sea blossom

A lone sailboat

After a few more exploratory expeditions to various beaches, we decided to hike a bit in the Nisene Marks Forest, which is in Aptos, a few miles from Santa Cruz. We've done quite a bit of hiking in the Pescadero/Palo Alto areas, but this particular jaunt was different. We found ourselves deep in the forest, surrounded by palatial redwoods, so tall and thickly clustered that only bits of the sun could penetrate. That is actually quite usual for the parks we're accustomed to, but the trails we found in Nisene Marks weren't as clearly marked, and there was a bit more guesswork involved. There was more than one instance when we weren't sure we were on a trail at all! Thank goodness my husband is a former Boy Scout!

You'll have to excuse the darkness in these pictures-it really wasn't dreary! It was perfect.

The view from our log

We ate lunch perched on a huge, tumbled down tree trunk, at the edge of a robustly bubbling creek. Again, it's hard to describe the absolute wonder and beauty of the little corner of the forest. It felt perfectly private, the only sounds being the tinkling bell sound of the water rushing over smooth stones and the occasional chirp of an errant bird. We were immersed in a shadowy, hushed green world that seemed more appropriate for mythical creatures or maybe Robin Hood (what can I say? Sherwood Forest made a strong impact on me!). I could have stayed for hours, but, alas, all good things must come to an end, and my SH and I had to drive that short 22 miles back home. I can only dwell on what a lovely day it was, and how fortunate we are to have such such beautiful aspects of nature at our very fingertips.