The Calm Before the Storm

Well, I made it to Texas and got all moved in and I am spending my last day before things get really busy doing some for-fun reading and catching up on all my television shows.  I am currently reading a book called “What Now?” by Ann Patchett that my mom and dad gave me as a “woohoo you’re going to grad school” present.  Or at least that’s how I like to think of it.   It’s actually a transcription of a commencement address that she gave at Sarah Lawrence, so I guess it’s a bit fitting for me as I head off into the great unknown that is life.  I think that the idea was to calm me down and help me stop worrying about the future, but unfortunately that is just not the way I work.  It’s nice to know that other people are out there worrying too, though.

Funny College Ecard: Research is what I am doing when I do not know what I am doing.

My worries have lessened a little bit though, since I finished my epic struggle with building an IKEA queen sized bed frame by myself.  This involved two trips to the nearest Home Depot, staying up until 2:00 am one night, and swearing quite a bit.  I now have some lovely bruises and my arms are quite sore from hauling wooden slats around my bedroom.  But I slept SO well on my new bed last night that it was all worth it.  I am trying not to be overwhelmed by all the things that I still have to do, most of them pertaining to my car, and so yesterday, instead of stressing, I went grocery shopping and came home with three pounds of clementines, a pound of strawberries, some nectarines, and the worst decision of all, a bag of white cheddar popcorn (I haven’t finished it yet, though!).  I’ve been eating egg, cheese, and croissant sandwiches in the morning with Chobani yogurts, so that’s delicious, but not entirely blog worthy.  I’m sure that once I get into the swing of things I’ll be able to share some good food once again.

I can tell you all about these pizzas that I made on the grill last week.  They were AMAZING.  I’ve never made homemade pizza dough before, but with a bit of yeast, sugar, water, salt, and flour, things came together pretty well.  We had a bit of trouble with the first package of yeast that we tried—the yeast never reacted with the sugar and so we determined that the yeast was not in fact “active” even though it said so on the package.  The second time worked, though, and the dough rose like we expected and we divided it into thirds to make three small pizzas.  It worked like a charm.  Dad would put the rolled out dough on the grill, close the lid, and then two minutes later the dough would bubble.  We’d flip it and then brush it with olive oil, add the toppings, and then close the lid again and about three minutes later the pizza was ready!  We made three different pizzas: ham + cheese + tomato, tomato + basil + olives + cheese, and tomato + olive + onions + green pepper + cheese.  We ate all three of them between five of us and the dough recipe is definitely a keeper!  It was a lovely recipe to try at home before everyone goes off in their separate directions.

Funny College Ecard: What do you mean Hogwarts doesn't accept FAFSA?

My little brother is also headed off to college today (at Case Western Reserve University) and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there with him and my parents to help him move into his first dorm room ever.  Tonight he’ll learn all about the dining hall food that he will be eating nineteen times a week and he will probably be sorely disappointed.  He will meet some people that could become his best friends and also meet some people who he will have nothing in common with and never want to talk to again.  My first day at Carleton I met two of the girls I would end of living with my senior year, made friends with a boy who perplexed me for the rest of my Carleton career (and still perplexes me now, when I think about it), and made friends with my RA who I also ended up living with and who is still an incredible friend of mine.  The food during those first few days at Carleton was really good, but once they decided to stop impressing us, it went back down a notch or two.  In the end though, the food doesn’t matter half as much as the friendships and the fun and the learning.  So I’m really excited for Ian.

Hoppin’ John

I’ve had a really eventful last few days.  I finished my job at the restaurant and said goodbye to all of my coworkers.  (Of course, I ended up going back to the restaurant two more times to gather up paperwork and do some other errands.)  I packed my bedroom into my car.  I managed to consolidate everything enough that I only have to mail one box to myself, which I consider an incredible accomplishment.  The only thing that has proven difficult is my mangrove plant.  Tomorrow will be the true test: once absolutely everything else is in the car, will there be a way to fit in my tree too?  I watched several movies and played a lot of board games over the weekend.  I ate incredible food, some of it homemade and some of it at restaurants.  I spent some quality time with my parents, Ian, Tom, and of course, my cat.  Basically, I’ve said goodbye to my home.  Now onwards, towards the southwest and a new beginning.

I want to share a southern recipe that we’ve been eating periodically for as long as I can remember: hoppin’ John.  I have absolutely no idea who came up with the name and what it refers to, but this recipe is absolutely delicious.  Typically it is made with either ham or bacon, but I’m sure that this could be substituted or even left out, as this recipe is incredibly malleable.  Served with another vegetable, this would make a lovely dinner on its own, but this time Dad and I made it as an accompaniment to baked salmon and fresh asparagus.

Hoppin’ John

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 oz. country ham or bacon, sliced into thin strips
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 quarts vegetable broth
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of thyme
1 bay leaf
dash of rosemary
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 lb. black eyed peas, fresh or soaked overnight
1 ¾ cup rice

Heat the oil in a large pot.  Add the ham or bacon and cook until fragrant and well done.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion becomes translucent.  Add the vegetable broth and herbs and bring the mixture to a boil.  Add the black eyed peas and bring back to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 1 ½ hours, or until the black eyed peas become tender.  Add the rice and simmer, covered, for another twenty to thirty minutes, or until the rice is cooked and the water is mainly absorbed.  You may remove the lid and cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end to evaporate excess water.  Serve hot.

Onions, Okra, and Country Ham

Dad grows fresh black eyed peas in the garden in our backyard, and this year black eyed peas have been the crop that’s taken off the most and gone gangbusters.  Dad likes to say that black eyed peas could grow in the cracks of a sidewalk if someone tried to plant them there.  The plants are really durable and this meal was the fruit of the second black eyed pea harvest this summer.  We also grow okra in the garden, and our okra plants have been a bit slower, but are still relatively productive.  In this recipe, we tossed in four okra pods, sliced horizontally, at the same time as the onions.  Extra vegetables can’t hurt!

Hoppin' John

Now personally, I love okra, but a lot of people have never tried it because it is such a southern food.  I have to warn you, okra has a very distinct texture.  It honestly can be a bit of a turn off, but if you can get over the texture, I promise you’ll enjoy the flavor and depth that a few okra add to this recipe.

Hoppin' John, Salmon, and Asparagus

It is now most certainly my bedtime, as tomorrow my mom and I are going to make the drive to Little Rock, Arkansas and the next day we’ll begin moving me into the apartment in Austin.  Here it goes!

Shrimp Santorini and (a Lack of) Packing

I am, very slowly, accomplishing bits and pieces of what needs to be done before I head to Texas.  Today’s progress: buying a bike rack and then testing it out in my neighborhood and also on the highway, because there is a lot of highway between Kentucky and Texas AND filling out some paperwork that needs to be faxed tomorrow.  I’m debating the merits of packing some books in a suitcase (you know, because suitcases have wheels and books are heavy) and I’m also trying to decide what clothes need to be packed where and where am I going to put my plants in the car?  Tomorrow or Thursday, Ian is going to help me trial pack the car to make sure that everything I need to bring will actually fit into my vehicle.  I foresee soreness and a little bit of frustration in my future.

No worries, though.  All of my friends and my coworkers and my family are convinced that I am way on top of this and that everything will be all right in the end.  My problem is that I have to wait for everything to be all right and I want it now!  Clearly patience is not my strongest asset.  I think it goes hand in hand with being just a little bit of a self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive personality.  I like to get things done, and then I like to cross them off my list and move on.  Things have not been working like that lately.

The good news is, as I shared with the cupcakes last time I wrote, cooking is a bit of a way for me to relieve stress, and cooking seafood is even better.  This recipe is one that we’ve had for as long as I can remember and it’s one that we cook without really thinking about the proportions.  It’s a Greek dish and my mom found her original recipe in an old newspaper somewhere, but over the years it’s evolved into something much more our own.

Shrimp Santorini

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 small bell pepper, diced
½ onion, diced
3-4 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup (at least) white wine
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
block of fresh feta cheese, diced
juice from one lemon

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan.  Sauté garlic, onion, and bell pepper until the vegetables begin to soften and become fragrant.  Add tomatoes, parsley, and wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the tomatoes break down and the sauce has thickened slightly, at least twenty minutes.  Add the shrimp and bring back to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the shrimp are cooked through, about five minutes.  Add several cubes of fresh feta cheese and the lemon juice.  Cover and simmer for about five minutes, or until the feta has begun to melt.  Serve over rice garnished with a slice of feta.

Shrimp Santorini

This recipe is delicious and elegant and incredibly simple.  The only potentially troublesome ingredients are the feta and the shrimp, but it is totally fine if the shrimp were bought frozen and then thawed—it will still be delicious.  I would recommend getting a nice block of feta from a distributor that isn’t your average Kroger, for example, because the quality of the cheese really matters.  It’s best to find feta that can either be purchased in a bit of brine, or feta that is vacuum sealed and is clearly not dry.  Dry feta doesn’t seem to have as much flavor and it doesn’t melt the way that it needs to in this recipe.  We get out feta from a place called Lotsa Pasta, which is a lovely little store that sells fresh cheese and olives and artisan breads and crackers and the like.  This time we tried a goat’s milk feta and it was incredible.

Goal for the rest of the night: pack my books and then relax with Game of Thrones or an episode of Sherlock or Doctor Who and eat some cake.  I very much look forward to sleeping in tomorrow morning since I don’t have to be at work until 11!

Stress-Relieving Mocha Cupcakes

I’ve been a little stressed out lately.  By a little I mean a lot.  So of course, after a couple of meltdowns, I’ve decided to pull myself together and make cupcakes.  I wanted to change it up a bit because whenever we have cupcakes we always have the same ones: chocolate with chocolate frosting.  We actually use the same recipe for this cake; we just put it into a muffin tin and reduce the cooking time.  Don’t get me wrong—those cupcakes are really wonderful, but sometimes you just need to try something new, you know?

A quick Google search later and I arrived at the answer: mocha cupcakes with mocha frosting.  My parents drink dark roast coffee every morning, afternoon, and sometimes evening) so it’s always in the house just waiting to be baked into something delicious.  I knew these were going to be good the second that I swiped a taste of the batter:  chocolate-y, a little bit warm, and a burst of coffee flavor.   The smells coming from the oven when I baked the cupcakes were almost as enticing as the flavor.  Next came the icing.

I am one of those people who tastes as I go.  With icing this habit can get really problematic because tasting soon turns in to eating and then all of a sudden I have a lot less icing than I thought I did.  This was one of those times.  I used really high quality dark chocolate (88% cocoa) that was a gift from Tom, and again, used the nice quality dark roast coffee.  These two combined to make a really delicious icing. Here’s a secret: I swiped a taste between frosting each cupcake.   Another secret: in order to get such smooth surfaces of icing, I gave up the knife and actually dipped each cupcake into the bowl of icing.  Then you can use the tip of the knife to drizzle just a little bit of frosting across the tip to be extra decorative! Granted this will only work if your icing is still relatively warm, but it makes for a really lovely cupcake.

Mocha Cupcakes with Mocha Icing (adapted from Taste of Home)

Cupcakes:

1 cup sugar
½ cup coffee
½ cup canola oil
2 eggs
3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix sugar, coffee, oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla with a whisk until smooth.  Add flour, salt, cocoa powder and baking soda and stir until smooth with no lumps.  Using either a greased muffin tin or a paper-cup filled muffin tin, fill each cup about ¾ of the way full.  Bake at 350⁰ F for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool on a rack.  Makes 12.

Waiting to Bake

Icing:

3 tablespoons dark chocolate
2 ½ tablespoons butter
2+ tablespoons coffee
1 cup powdered sugar

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan.  Pour into a large bowl.  Add coffee and powdered sugar and mix with an electric hand mixer until integrated.  Add more coffee or sugar to reach the desired consistency.

Mocha Cupcake

Deeee-licious!  I plan on enjoying a few of these over the next couple days—who am I kidding?  I plan on enjoying these tonight, before my little brother gets his hands on them and eats them all.  We’re having shrimp santorini for dinner, which I will happily blog about tomorrow or Sunday in yet another attempt to relieve my stress levels.  No, really, blogging helps.  As do reruns of Doctor Who.

Whey Bread

Guys, I’ve gotten lazy.  I don’t know what’s happening, but on the days I don’t work, I lay around in bed until 10 am (which is practically unheard of considering the fact that I get up at 6:08 am regularly).  I eat on strange schedules: today I had breakfast at about ten, but then I didn’t eat lunch until nearly 3:30 pm.  (Granted I was sitting around at the county clerk’s office for a while in between.)  It’s as if I know that I’m going to have to be incredibly productive when I get to Austin and my body is just rebelling right now by being incredibly UNproductive.  I did make a bit of progress today, though: I cleaned out my dresser and went through my winter gear as well and ended up with a decent pile of clothing to donate to Goodwill.  I found two shirts that need bleaching and a sweater that I need to fix with a bit of red thread (though I did not actually do the bleaching or sewing, merely set the offending items to the side).  I also bought a car and fixed my registration, in addition to stocking it with maps of all the states that I could possibly be driving through in the next year (or ten).

So I feel like my productivity today has made up for the lack of productivity from all the days beforehand.  Yesterday the most productive thing I did when I got home from work was manage to take a shower.  We went to a baseball game last night and ended up with front row seats right above the away-team’s dugout.  In addition to the two soft baseballs that we caught, I ended up getting us a free pizza and we got five free boxes of Girl Scout cookies when we left the game.  If only I liked Do-Si-Dos.  Our team won, by the way.

I got off work really early on Saturday so I took advantage of me being home at the same time as my dad to suggest that we make some cheese.  We’ve only done it once before, but it’s the perfect season for homemade mozzarella because we have all sorts of fresh tomatoes coming off the plants on our back deck.  I mean, what could be better than homemade caprese salads with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil that is also homegrown.  In the end we just at the mozzarella with the tomatoes—we couldn’t stop ourselves to bother with picking basil from the porch.  The cheese was delicious with the tomatoes (heirlooms), and we finished it all within two days.  But the REALLY cool part about this story is all about whey.  Remember Little Miss Muffet?  She ate curds and whey?  Well that’s a reference to cheese making.  The curds are what eventually become the cheese, and the whey is this milky/watery liquid that ends up mostly going down the drain.

Fresh Mozzarella and Tomatoes

Well we found a recipe for bread that uses whey as its liquid!  It seems to me that if you’re going to go through the process of making cheese, you might as well get all of you can out of the byproduct so it’s not a total waste.  Imagine: one gallon of whole milk yields about a baseball-sized ball of mozzarella.  So you really end up throwing a lot of stuff away.  Bread-making time it became!  I’ve got a recipe for the bread we made, and the good news is, for everyone who does not currently have whey sitting around (i.e. everyone), you can substitute milk, so you still will end up with delicious bread!

Whey Bread (adapted from Ricki’s Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit)

1 package active dry yeast
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
½ cup warm water
1/6 cup butter
3/8 cup whey (or milk)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Cornmeal

Rising on Top of the Fridge

In a large bowl, whisk together yeast, sugar, and warm water.  Let sit for about ten minutes, or until the yeast starts to proof (or until the solution begins to get a layer of foam on top).  Meanwhile, melt the butter with the whey (milk) and whisk together.  Let cool to room temperature.  (You can speed this up by putting it in the fridge for just a few minutes.)  When cooled, add the salt and whisk the whey solution into the proofed yeast solution.  Add the flour one cup at a time, stirring steadily until the flour is all worked in.  The dough will be sticky.  Lightly flour a countertop and knead the dough, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and much less sticky.  Roll the dough out into a 12 inch by 8 inch rectangle.  From a 12 inch edge, roll the dough up, pinching together the ends to create a loaf that is similar in shape to a baguette.  Lightly grease a baking sheet and dust with cornmeal.  Place the loaf on the baking sheet and set in a warm, undisturbed location for about an hour for the dough to rise.  When the dough has risen, brush with an egg white.  Bake at 425⁰ F for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool on a rack.

Whey Bread

This bread turned out super tasty.  The ratio of whole wheat flour to white flour was light enough so that the wheat flavor wasn’t overwhelming for those who prefer white bread to wheat bread.  The wheat flour also makes it a little healthier than it would be otherwise.  We’ve used this bread for toast, for grilled cheeses, and just for eating warmed up with a bit of butter and it takes well to each task.  I’m sure it would be lovely dipped in soup (but since it’s so hot out we haven’t been eating much soup lately so I cannot test that theory).  As far as making bread goes, it is not quite as simple as beer bread, but it’s definitely an approachable recipe and one that I will happily make again.

Cold Cucumber Salad

My priority with this blog post is to finish it before the newest episode of Endeavor comes on PBS at 9:00 tonight.  My family enjoys all the BBC productions that get passed down to PBS over time (speaking of which, where is the newest season of Sherlock??).  We are also enamored with D.C.I. Banks, but I think Endeavor is our favorite.  In other news, today I started packing.  I packed an old wine box full of bath towels and a shower curtain, and then I packed a large flat(ish) box full of glassware.  I have inherited four Derby glasses!  As someone from Louisville who has grown up drinking out of Derby glasses, this is really exciting to me.

Yesterday I went to see Ian Anderson perform Thick as a Brick: 1 & 2 just outside of Cincinnati with my dad.  The concert was a-freakin-mazing.  I really don’t have enough words to describe how much fun I had.  I would definitely say that it’s the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life, and considering that Jethro Tull has always been my favorite band since I was born, it’s one that I was long overdue for seeing.  As the encore, Ian Anderson and his band played Locomotive Breath, which was lovely and the crowd got super into it.  I had a blast.  If he ever goes on tour again in his lifetime for a different album, I’m there.  I’m just so there.

I’ll leave you with a recipe that comes with a funny story.  I say funny, but really that depends on your sense of humor…around here, bathroom humor always seems to take the cake.  When I was a kid, and I mean younger than ten years old, I remember very specifically eating a few slices of fresh cucumber.  I’m not really sure if I liked it or not.  In my head cucumber is a lot like watermelon: pretty but with very little flavor.  Anyways, I ate the cucumber and then several hours later I ended up puking my guts out and ever since then I have claimed that I am allergic to cucumbers.  Is this true?  I have no clue.  Mom claims that I had a virus and it just happened to occur right after I’d eaten cucumber.  Regardless of the actual truth, I haven’t eaten cucumbers since.  Even the smell of them makes my stomach turn a little.  (So that is sign number one that it is probably an aversion and not an allergy.)  But, Mom and Dad have a cucumber salad recipe that they claim is amazing and delicious and whenever we have fresh cucumbers, we always seem to have it in the house.  So when Dad brought home some fresh cucumbers from the office, it fell to me to make the salad.

Cucumber Salad (from Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook)

2 cucumbers, thinly sliced (round, not long ways)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
a few turns of the pepper grinder
a generous pinch of dried dill

Place the cucumbers in to a large Pyrex bowl with a lid.  Pour all of the other ingredients over the cucumbers.  Cover and shake the container to distribute the seasonings evenly.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Serve with a slotted spoon.

Cucumber Salad

(The liquids probably won’t be enough to completely cover the sliced cucumbers.  No worries.  Just give the covered bowl a shake every once in a while and the flavors will distribute themselves evenly enough.)

Family Vacation: Big Sky Country

I’ve been moderately productive since coming home from Montana, but first let me tell you all about vacation.

1. We went white water rafting.  The water was 39° F and we got really, really wet.  Thank goodness it was about 90° that day with full sunlight otherwise we would’ve been out of luck.  It was super fun though—we were on the Bigfork River and the rapids we class 3 and I think everyone had a really good time.  Afterwards we went to The Huckleberry Patch and tried huckleberry pie and huckleberry milkshakes and bought everything huckleberry.

2.  We spent a couple of afternoons on boats.  The first time was a speed boat on Whitefish Lake for a few hours.  The water was chilly, but definitely nowhere near as cold as the river.  I tried tubing for the first time and really enjoyed it, even though it was a little bumpy at points (but that was definitely the goal of the whole tubing adventure: drive the boat so that Megan falls off the tube).  To my credit I hung on for a decent amount of time!  The second boat outing was on Flathead Lake, which is a bit south of Whitefish.  It’s a huge lake (the largest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi), and we took a boat to Wild Horse Island, where we got out to hike around for a while (and to see the wild horses) and then boated on back and drove home for a nice dinner in the condo.

Wild Horses

3.  We went into Glacier National Park for some hiking and sightseeing.  The Going-to-the-Sun road is a little bit harrowing at times.  The road drives right along the edge of the mountains and when you look out the window it’s like you’re looking out into this vast empty space and there isn’t always much there to catch you if the car were to say, accidentally tip over and tumble down the mountain.  It reminded me a bit of the road up to Mesa Verde, with the sheer drop offs right next to the road.  My brother gets a little bit wary when heights are involved so he tends to put us all a little on edge.  Anyways, the views were spectacular.  We got out to go hiking at Logan Pass, which involved hiking overtop of a glacier in 70° F weather, which is a really bizarre feeling because its snowy, but you’re wearing shorts.  We saw mountain goats and bighorn sheep and plenty of mule deer.  We saw some sort of ground squirrel and bison and golden eagles.  It was really quite lovely.

Wildlife!

4.  We took a trek called “Walking in the Treetops” in Whitefish which started out as a nature hike but ended up with us walking on wooden two by fours suspended up to seventy feet in the air by airline cables and us tied into an emergency cable system in case we were to either fall off of the wooden planks or, I suppose, if the wooden planks were to break in half.  I want to point out that seventy feet are a lot of feet to be suspended in the air, but the views from that angle were amazing too.  The treetop planks were on the side of a mountain, and the mountain overlooked the valley in which Whitefish and the lake both rested, so it was amazing to be surrounded by these huge conifers and looking down at this tiny city in the valley below.

In the treetops

5.  We did a lot of gallery hopping in all of the small towns that we visited: Missoula, Whitefish, Bigfork, etc.  There are a ton of artists living in Montana.  I don’t blame them.  They all must get so much inspiration from their surroundings: mountains, lakes, waterfalls, prairie…it’s incredible.  We also ate at a lot of local restaurants and tried some great food.  Whitefish had a crepe shop featuring things like smoked salmon, spinach, and green curry sauce crepes and dessert crepes with strawberries and dark chocolate.  In Missoula we stopped at a café that served soup, sandwiches, and gelato.  I tried an affogato: tiramisu gelato with a shot of espresso poured over the top of it.  It was divine.

Affogato

So that was vacation.  Since coming home I have gone back to work, purchased a set of dishes, thought about packing and decided that the Ikea in Round Rock, Texas is going to solve a lot of my transportation problems (aka I don’t have a mattress or a car that one will fit in).  I went on a walk with my friend Ellie and ate some amazing fudge that she brought back from vacation.  I’ve eaten fresh cherry tomatoes from the plant on our back porch (fantastic), and fresh plum tomatoes from a friend’s garden.  I’ve written my pen pal and sent off birthday presents.  I opened an Etsy shop because I’ve gotten all excited about my printmaking again and I have grand aspirations to get all caught up with my scrapbook before I leave. I am simultaneously very on top of things and 100% sure that I am forgetting just about everything.  But hey, I’ll get there eventually.

PS. I have a recipe waiting.  Be so excited.

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