Thursday, May 12, 2011

things I fell in love with while i was away...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

On my months-long blogging semi-hiatus, whilst in the middle of a stressful house remodel and exciting preparations for our little bundle of joy (who, by the way, FEELS like a big bundle!), I developed an affinity, love and sometimes obsession, with several new things. As I am basking in the glory of my new kitchen, not particularly feeling like defiling it by cooking anything yet, I thought I might share.

-the good old Bartlett pear. I am not a fruit person. It is a total struggle for me to consume my daily fruit allowance. Yes, this makes me a sort of weird anomaly amongst all the normal folk who joyfully peel oranges and virtuously enjoy bananas. Now, there are a few fruits for which I have an affection. Give me a bowl of freshly sliced pineapple and it will be gone within minutes. Douse some blackberries in cream and I'll devour them (that could be the cream, I suppose). Those fruits aren't exactly common everyday fare, though. I simply don't manage very well with fruit. Thankfully, I adore virtually every vegetable, so I'm not a complete nutritional delinquent. In the past few months, however, I have taken to eating a lot of pears. I found it strange that they've tasted so good for so long-I always think of pears as autumnal or wintry fruits. Perhaps it's our unseasonably cold spring. Either way, I am really enjoying the bounty of pears and gradually edging towards a new appreciation for fruit. The Bartletts have been especially pleasing-sweet and juicy, but more tender than apples. I might even be inspired to make, as my first dessert in the new kitchen, this most heavenly sounding cake as an homage to my newfound love of pears.

-Philz hot chocolate. Philz is mostly famous for their delicious coffee, where each cup is individually brewed. They have some sort of crazy system set up at each barista's station, with rounded slots built into the counter, each one its own little coffee pot of sorts. For obvious reasons, I haven't been going four times a week for the coffee, though I have tried it in the past and it is absolutely delicious. No, I have been visiting on an almost daily basis to enjoy their hot chocolate. Hot chocolate has been my morning beverage of choice throughout these past eight months, mostly for the comfort of having something hot in the morning. After a while, however, I got absolutely sick of it, mainly because it is just too sweet. In fact, what I've missed about coffee the most is not the caffeine, but the taste of something hot, creamy, and slightly bitter, not shockingly sweet (for the record, I am aware that hot chocolate contains an amount of caffeine, which is acceptably negligible). You can imagine my surprise when I ordered hot choc at Philz for the first time and was asked "How sweet would you like that?" Music to my ears! From that moment on, it has been an immense challenge not to go every single day to sip on a deliciously creamy, only slightly sweet cup of hot chocolate. Now, I realize that writing about a local chain of coffee shops isn't exactly fair. It's not as though anyone can run right out to the closest Philz, but those of us who are sick of the sweet can be inspired to tone down our hot choc a bit! My dear mother-in-law has this skill mastered. She uses regular cocoa (Ghiradelli, Droste, or a similar brand for the best taste), adds a tiny bit of water to make a paste, and stirs that into hot milk. Then she adds spoonfuls of sugar to taste, and tops it off with freshly whipped unsweetened cream. Divine.

-quinoa + spinach. My affection for quinoa is not new, but most of the time I've made it, I've followed a Rachael Ray recipe, which usually means it's got a nice depth of flavor from being boiled in chicken broth and is jazzed up with a medley of finely chopped herbs or lovely combination of sauteed vegetables. That's all fine and good, of course, but when trying to make lunch in a hurry, I just haven't felt like going through the hassle of throwing together a bunch of different ingredients. Knowing how exceptionally good for me quinoa is, though, and how quick and easy it is to cook on its own, I decided I needed to come up with a way to make it more tasty AND timely. Enter bagged spinach. A staple of our diet, I almost always use it as a sauteed side dish, though I know I should be consuming it raw in salad form sometimes as well. I decided that in the 10 minutes it takes the water to boil and quinoa to soften, I could easily chop up a few garlic cloves, let them get toasty and brown in a bit of EVOO, add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and then saute a whole bag of spinach. Once the quinoa is done, I throw the whole mess of spinach (which as most know, has know wilted down to a tiny sad pile) into the pot with it and mix thoroughly. Now my quinoa is flavorful and made even more healthy with the addition of veg, as Jamie Oliver would say.

-etsy. I'm not new to Etsy and its many delights, and I'm not at all ashamed to say that my first Etsy purchase was a replica of Bella's Twilight mittens. THEY ARE CUTE! DON"T JUDGE! THEY WERE A GIFT! I could spend hours perusing all the many shops, and I love the customization of the home page once you've made a few purchases. Anyway, my love for Etsy grew into a obsession when it came to baby stuff. Here you can see screen shots of my chosen fabrics for custom baby bedding, courtesy of a lovely Etsy shop. Once I found the zoo print, I started to look for all sorts of coordinating items, and it's been difficult to rein myself in. Why shouldn't I have matching stroller blankets, car seat strap covers, burp cloths, or diaper bag accessories? I jest-I'm perfectly aware that the vast majority of baby-related items out there are unnecessary. Doesn't mean that I might not splurge on the stroller blanket though...

-dinner: a love story. I'd never heard of this particular blog until I stumbled across a new column in the latest issue of Bon Appetit written by the husband and wife team who maintain the blog. The majority of the posts are written by wife Jenny, but her husband contributes occasionally. It's a GREAT food blog, and clearly also a good family blog. I feel like it was the perfect find for my new transition into motherhood.

-the killing. This extremely dark mystery is based off a Danish television series, and once I heard the American remake was going to air on AMC, I figured I must check it out. AMC has quite the reputation for quality television these days (and by quality, I mean good writing and solid acting performances, not so much uplifting stuff or light humor) and the show got a lot of good press before it premiered. It's set in Seattle, which I love, though they are doing their very best to make it look like the MOST rain-soaked, dreary city on God's green earth. I can say with confidence that it's not that bad! The 13-episode season follows a single case, which is a nice marked difference from a typical procedural drama. It's tough to watch, but at the same time, enjoyable for the lack of melodrama and unusual main characters. I'm particularly impressed with Holder, the male detective with a potentially shady past. He's also Swedish, and I must confess that I'm fascinated with the ability of European actors to imitate the American accent. He does a bang-up job.

There you have it. A few of the things that have proven welcome distractions during these long months. I should probably stop thinking about Philz hot chocolate right this moment and get to doing something productive in my kitchen!

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