Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Orange Scented Black Bean Vegetarian Tacos

I have a terrible record with oranges lately.   Love them, just can't seem to eat them fast enough.

January usually has me craving citrus.     A month when oranges are actually good and not those dried up flavorless versions you find during non-citrus months.  

I also have a small addiction for buying boxes of little cuties clementines.    (Whoever came up with the idea of little cuties is a marketing genius.)

So, this week, I found myself with an aging box of cuties and a bag full of fresh from the backyard oranges from a friend.    As if this wasn't enough, John arrived home from work with a gift box filled with perfectly wrapped Cushman honeybell oranges which we promptly taste tasted and declared to be some of the juiciest, sweetest oranges we've ever had.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Moving On

Wow.   I don't know if it is the New Year, the fact that my wedding, honeymoon and other assorted festivities are now in the distant past, or some other strange unexplained phenomena, but I suddenly have a colossal burst of energy to get things done.

So much to do, but where to begin?    

We are in the midst of combining households (I may hold the record for longest move-in ever) and trying to figure out what new married life looks like while balancing the ginormous task of the incredible amount of paperwork, phone calls and planning to be done (okay, I may be making this a bigger deal than it is) and I just feel like playing or doing pretty much anything other than packing boxes and filling in forms.

The sudden burst of energy though has me on a mission to accomplish everything and more in the shortest time possible.  The sense of urgency is back, which is super exciting.   While planning the wedding and all the fun stuff was, well, fun, there was a little part of me that missed my old self.     I'm looking forward to this new post wedding life of mine.

But, first, I must finish this move.    The days of bringing over one thing at a time from my old house are over.    I swear, I've tried moving numerous times over the past year.   It usually consists of me driving to my house, looking around and instantly freezing.   Sometimes accompanied by a minor panic attack.    Followed by leaving and resolving to coming back "later".

Moving is an emotional task, to say the least.   Other than changing my name, which will happen eventually, it is kind of like the final goodbye to my old life.   Sad, in a sort of happy, but yet sad, but happy way.   Make sense?

Anyway, time to move on.     I've been absent for the past week or so as I've finally starting digging in.   My days have looked a little something like this:

  • Putting on my moving clothes and driving a car full of boxes 20 minutes to the old house. 
  • Lugging boxes up three flights of stairs. 
  • Wrapping up a million things in at least as much newspaper.   Permanent newsprint on hands.   
  • Lugging one box at a time down three flights of stairs to the car (or persuading John to come over after work and carry the 'really heavy' ones).
  • Getting temporarily sidetracked with trips down memory lane by looking at old photographs, reading old letters, etc.   
  • Driving back to the new house, slowly, to make sure nothing breaks along the way.    
  • Lugging one box at a time into the house where it sits until the next day.     I thought our house was a mess before with all the wedding stuff, boy was I wrong. 
  • Unwrapping each piece and cleaning every single item before it finds a home.    I'm sure it was clean before, but now that it has a new home, I suppose it needs to be super clean. 
  • Rearranging cabinets, shelves and drawers, over and over again, until space clears up for new things. 
  • Back to step one. 

So much fun...  I can hardly stand it.    

On a positive note:

  • I will have a lot more time on my hands when this is done. 
  • Every day is a little like Christmas.   Wrapping, unwrapping, repeat.
  • My things will be really (really) clean. 
  • I finally have my wok back. 
  • The days of the house as "Man Cave" are numbered.

Once this move thing is finally done, I have lots of new things to share and some exciting ideas brewing.     Plus some fun new wedding and honeymoon posts on their way soon...  Moving on is a good thing!  

(now... back to work...)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper and Avocado Whole Wheat Pasta

Lately, you've been seeing a lot of baking showing up here on the blog.   There's actually a bit of method to my madness.  

I have always been one who expresses my creativity in the kitchen.   Helps relieve stress.   My zen time.   My husband views it as the opposite, affectionately referring to me as the 'little tornado'.    

I was thinking that maybe there was some truth in this observation.  Perhaps my cooking could use a little more precision.   Hence, all of the baking as of late.    As you know, following the recipe is pretty critical to achieving the end results.   Definitely requires focus.

(A minor, but surmountable, challenge for me as I've never been one to follow directions or play by the rules.    That said, it has been a wonderful learning experience and well worth the effort.)

Today's recipe is getting back to my roots, one of those random creations that actually turned out quite well, and I might add, is full of lots of healthy nutrients which for me, is most important.   Plus it contains so many of my favorite ingredients... what's not to love?  

Before you cringe at the combination of red pepper, avocado and lemon, it is actually very good. The avocado adds creaminess and the roasted red pepper and lemon add extra depth and brightness.   Top that with a little feta cheese and green onion... makes for a very striking and vivid presentation.

Roasted Red Pepper and Avocado Whole Wheat Pasta

2 roasted red peppers*, sliced and seeds removed
1 medium sized ripe avocado, pitted and quartered
juice of one lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tomato, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
fat free feta cheese
sliced green onion
1 pound whole wheat pasta (your choice, I used penne)

1.   Boil water in large pot.    Add whole wheat pasta and cook until al dente.   Drain, reserving one cup of pasta water and set aside.
2.   Add roasted red peppers, avocado and juice of lemon to food processor.    Process until creamy and any lumps removed.   Set aside.
3.  In large skillet, heat olive oil on medium heat and saute garlic until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.    Add diced tomato, cook another 1-2 minutes.  
4.  Add reserved pasta to large skillet and toss with tomato and garlic until warm and mixed.  
5.  Add roasted red pepper sauce to skillet and toss until heated.    Add additional pasta water if needed to thin sauce.
6.  Serve with fat free feta cheese and sliced green onion.

*I roasted my own red peppers, but I think this could also work well with drained roasted red peppers in a jar.

Healthy, colorful and hearty enough for a cool winter's evening.    Comfort food with a creative twist.

What's your cooking style?    Creative, throw stuff together type?   Baking queen?   A little bit of both?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Culinary Risk Taking

Do you have a list?

You know the one.

The "list of everything I need to do/accomplish/attempt before 'x'" (insert age of 30, death, baby, marriage or any other significant life milestone).

We all have them.  Some lists may be more organized than others.   Mine is filed away mentally, although I am seriously considering putting it down on paper one of these days.   For two reasons, one, because my memory just isn't what is used to be and two, because if you put it down on paper, then somehow, it is more real.   Besides, then you get to check stuff off of it and this is (almost) the best part.

My list is long.   It has many things on it.   I've been hacking away at it this past year.   Some items are big, some not so big.   All are things I'd like to give a shot.

Today's post isn't about the big things.    Not the skydiving, flame eating, swimming with sharks or public karaoke singing variety.   (I lie, none of these are on the list.   John's maybe, not mine.)

It is about a small little portion of the list, a tiny corner reserved especially for culinary risk taking.    You may laugh, but I am serious.   I have a list of things that I have always been a little timid to try.   (too many ingredients, challenging technique, just darn impossible, etc.).   Most of recipes definitely require a little time, a luxury which I have actually had this past year.    

I have been slowly but surely working through my list.   Some items I will make public, many I will not, some are still in hold status, requiring a true bout of courage.

(Macaron anyone?  I will conquer these ... someday.)

So when John came home before the holidays and announced that he needed  a gift for the office... like, tomorrow, (Is this what it is like to have kids?  If so, sigh...), a little brain child appeared that softly whispered to me.... "Make Caramel.   (Preferably caramel squares wrapped in an outer layer of soft pillowy marshmallow.)"


First, I've never made caramel in my life.   Wait, I've never made candy in my life.   But it is on the mental list and I suppose there is no time like the present and I'm sure John's office won't mind being guinea pigs (yet again).

Did I mention that I do not have a candy thermometer? (Warning One - Please do not try making caramel at home without one. I had no idea what I was delving into.)

Caramel making is a tedious process.    It requires time and lots of patience.   Lots of time.   Lots of patience.    Slowly (slowly) but surely the little list of sweet and buttery ingredients will transform itself into what is was always intended to be.    (Warning Two - You WILL get sick if you "taste test" too much of this stuff.    I am like a little kid with sugar.   Too much is never a good thing.  Trust me on this.)

In the end, we had a lovely little gift of individually parchment wrapped caramels for the office.     I am skipping all of the steps in the middle, because my point here is really about risk taking, not the recipe.     The quote I can never remember but that would apply here is the one about if you keep doing the same things over and over again, you will keep getting the same results.    And one of my favorites, what's the worst that will happen that if you try and fail?  

(PS - If you are wondering, huge fail in the marshmallow wrapping.   Huge.   Disgusting in fact.   I'll leave that to your imagination.  Also, incredibly fun to clean up.)

You can apply the lessons above to the little things, in this case, culinary risk taking in the form of a small adventure in caramel, or you can apply them to the big things.   As an added bonus, a little success in the way of small things will go a long way in giving you a little extra courage for the big things.

Besides, all of this gives me a nice little answer to those that ask me what I do on my days at home.   Culinary risk taking has a nice ring to it, I think.    Kind of even makes it sounds important.

So throw caution to the wind and give "it" a shot!    What's next on YOUR list?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010 - A Magical Year

Some years are pure magic.    2010 definitely made my top ten list, probably top three and quite possibly my favorite year.

So many life changing moments and memories.   I am a little saddened to leave it all behind but truly excited about what lies ahead.     After several very difficult years, it was a year filled with hope and love and happiness.  Five years ago if you would have asked me what I would be doing in 2010, I would have never predicted it.   I am a bit of a planner by nature and this year was all about adventure and going with the flow.    As we move into 2011, I'm moving back into planning mode again, re-energized from this free spirited year.  

A few of my favorite memories!


I admit, I've got nothing here.    This was my first month as a 'free woman', spent largely cleaning, getting organized and resting.    I suppose this is what January is all about.    That, and I topped it off with my first ever car accident (no fault of my own, but still a minor milestone)!


A visit to one of my favorite cities to see my favorite (and only!) brother, followed by a sweet case of what I like to refer to as my time with the 'swine flu'.   


The moment we'd all been waiting for (mostly me!)   A surprise trip to Rome and a very romantic proposal!


An Atlantic crossing, Spain, Portugal, new friends and a lifetime of memories.


A month in Rome.   Apartment by the Spanish Steps.   First time traveling alone.   Visits from Dad and John.    Words won't do this one justice, an unforgettable experience in my favorite city.

Paris in the Springtime.    Is there anything more romantic?   (time to head home)


Home Sweet Home


Celebrating our engagement, introducing family and diving head first into wedding planning! 


Who can forget the Blueberry Boy Bait?   And all of the time behind the scenes trying to work it off...


A marathon wedding planning weekend in Asheville, engagement photos, shower in Saint Louis, dress fittings, details, details, details...   An incredibly fun month!


My Fairytale Wedding.   Intimate and small.   Surrounded by Family and lots of love.    Marrying my best friend.  The wedding of my dreams.  


More Celebrations!!!!  The photo doesn't do this justice.   This was an incredibly fun party.  (and of course, a very exciting first official Thanksgiving)


More parties, holidays and a truly wonderful honeymoon!  Photos and details will be coming...

Phew.   That was a fun little trip through time.   Almost impossible to boil that down to a few favorites.   I hope you've enjoyed traveling with me this past year!    This blog was born in April is an ever evolving labor of love.  There will be some exciting changes in the New Year, I hope that you will continue along with me... thanks for all of continued your friendship and support!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fresh Perspective

"Look around you.   Notice anything different?"

The question was asked last night.   The night we arrived home from our most amazing honeymoon.   We had nothing to eat in the house and were forced to march our overly tired selves out to the grocery store as we were fairly confident there would be no candlelight dinner awaiting us at home (Sigh).  

I won't reveal the exact answer I gave, but the question and the context was the most telling part.   Sometimes it takes getting away to really begin to see (again).    When everything around you is fresh and new, you can't help but notice the details.  Traveling brings out a desire, and often times a requirement, to see and think differently.  

As we start this new year, back at home following an amazing honeymoon with my new husband, my goal and wish for you is to bring this fresh perspective to each day, whether you be at home or afar.   See things in a different light, as a traveler would.   Live each day to its fullest.  Dream big dreams and each day put one foot in front of another as you continue along your journey.    Bring along a map to ensure you reach your major destinations, but leave time each day to just go where the wind takes you.    Sometimes, in these little moments, the smallest of experiences, the details, we find the most joy.

And most importantly, Smile.

Happy New Year!   2011... another step in an ongoing journey.   Wishing you a year filled with the hope from the promise of fresh perspectives and new beginnings.