Friday, July 31, 2009

Food Friday: Lemon Artichoke Pasta

So, you know how much I love pasta. I've only mentioned it about a hundred times, right? But sometimes (like in the summer when it's hot), traditional pasta is just too heavy. This doesn't make me happy, because I don't like limitations on my pasta eating.

So, we were browsing through the farmer's market and spotted a stand where they were selling locally made pasta. I've bought Nonna's Noodles before, last fall, but I noticed this time they were selling "Lemon Juice and Zest" linguine. It was hot that day, and it sounded awesome. I thought to myself, "I can definitely do something with this."

I got home, and started perusing my cabinets to see what I had that would go well with the noodles. Of course I had some zucchini (at least, until I killed it all), and I had a can of artichoke hearts. Mmm... it was definitely starting to sound tasty.

I still needed some sort of sauce, though. I didn't want just plain olive oil... I wanted more flavor than that. So, the next time I was at Trader Joe's, I saw that they had Artichoke Lemon Pesto. Oh baby, now we're talkin'!

Now, I realize that not everyone can probably find lemon pasta, or the pesto. I know I have seen lemon pepper fettuccine at the store before, so don't assume you can't find it before you actually look. If you can't find it, I'm sure that plain ol' pasta will work just fine. For the pesto, my suggestion would be to get some fresh basil, olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and some artichoke hearts. Mix it up in a blender with a little salt and pepper (and maybe some garlic), and that's all you'd need to do. Or, I'm sure you can find a recipe online. Save your leftovers and use it to spread on crackers or fresh bread. Mmm.

This turned out super tasty. It was so lemony and fresh. I'll definitely make it again. So, obviously I made this recipe up so I don't have exact quantities. But I'll do my best to give you an idea so you have something to work with.

Lemon Artichoke Pasta
4 oz. linguine or fettuccine (lemon-flavored if you can find it)
1 medium zucchini, sliced
3/4 cup artichoke lemon pesto (this amount is really personal preference)
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 clove garlic
olive oil
Parmesan cheese

1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a saute pan with 1 clove garlic. Add zucchini and dried basil. Salt and pepper to taste. Saute until just barely tender (I prefer my zucchini still a little bit crunchy).
3. When the noodles are finished, drain and add zucchini and artichoke hearts. Keep on low heat until warmed through.
4. Add pesto, toss all together, and serve immediately. Top with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I heart Portland

Here it is, friends! All bloggers do it, and now I'm joining the ranks by writing the inevitable anniversary post. Yep, that's right... today is the one year anniversary of this blog. It's also been just over a year since we packed up and moved ourselves across the country. So, today is a time to pause and reflect. Based on this reflection, I will, of course, be drawing conclusions and making assumptions about myself and the great city of Portland. I'm going to do my best not to get all sappy on you, but just in case I do (and let's be honest, I probably will), I'll apologize in advance. But I know you'll cut me some slack because you're loyal friends.

I don't think I ever told you why we decided to move, so here it is: I was miserable at my job, and I was ready to leave Nashville. I lived there for 20 years, and I wanted a change. Actually, I was ready to move a long time ago, but it's the sort of thing you have to build up to, make plans for, wrap your head around, etc. I never made it a big secret to my friends and family that I wanted to try living somewhere new and different for a while. I always said, "I don't want to be one of those people that never leaves." Some people are happy with that, and I don't judge them. I'm just not one of them. And, the truth of the matter is, I knew that it was very possible I would move away, hate it, and end up right back where I started. But, at least I would know. You know? No regrets.

Justyn moved to Nashville from San Francisco in 2002. I was ready to move then, but then we started our relationship and he had already just moved across the country, so it wasn't really an option. We fell in love, bought a house, got married, (yes, in that order), and things were great. We worked together, so leaving would have been hard... because we would both have to quit together. But things were great for a while, so we waited. Then I started to get really miserable at work. Like, so miserable that I was physically ill most of the time. Justyn was still happy with his work, but since he knew first-hand the drama and politics of what I was dealing with, I think it tainted his work experience. He knew I wanted to get out of the South, and after 5 years, I think he was ready too. So, he put his "feelers" out (as he likes to say) and soon got a job offer in Portland. That very same day, I had a disagreement with my boss and had come home and immediately typed my resignation letter. I was quitting, whether we moved or not. That much I had decided.

The job offer came in the evening, a couple of hours after I had written my letter. I'm not fanatical about such things, but I do believe that fate pushes you in a certain direction sometimes, and the coincidental timing wasn't something I could ignore. A string of similar "coincidences" followed, and after having several tearful discussions with my parents and close friends, we decided to do it. It was time.

I've mentioned several times before that moving was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I think that all depends on the person, and where your head is. We have some friends that moved here around the same time we did from the east coast (the guy also got a job in Portland) and they were miserable. They barely lasted a year before leaving. The difference? I don't know. I was ready. I was itching to leave. I wanted to like it here. So, that whole thing about life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it? I think it's pretty true.

It's taken right at one year, but I finally have some friends. Not many... but a handful. And that's all I have ever really had. I'm one of those people that would rather have 5 close friends than 50 acquaintances. My new friends here are great. Of course, we're still getting to know each other which will take some time. But I think most of them have great friend potential. That being said, there are times when we are surrounded by our new friends, and a wave of emotion washes over me and I miss my friends in Nashville. It's like, everyone in the room is laughing about something, and I just pause, and look around, and realize that there is a glaring omission in the room where certain people should be. The same thing happens with family. Justyn's dad came to visit for Father's Day this year (the first Father's Day I've not spent with my dad EVER). We had some family from Seattle down to visit, and it was fun, but it just didn't feel quite like it ought to, you know? My dad was missing.

And so, this is the way it goes. I think it will always be that way, though. No one will ever replace the friends I've had for nearly 20 years. Maybe that's all homesickness is... I guess I don't really know. I guess I had mental pictures of myself curled up in a ball in the corner of my new apartment, bawling my eyes out because I wanted to go home. That, of course, never happened. Maybe it's different for everyone. Maybe it's just different for me.

My homesickness comes in whispers and quick pulses of yearning. It comes when I least expect it. It's a flash of emotion, sort of like your stomach sinking when you realize you've forgotten something important. Then you remember it, and the feeling goes away. It happens sometimes on the bus to or from work, when I look around at all the strangers and realize that no one here knows me. It's lonely, but it's liberating. Maybe, as time goes by, the flashes will become more regular, and that's how I'll know it's time to go back. Maybe they'll fade, and I'll know I should stay. Maybe this is how it will always be.

So, here I am. Writing a blog. I never thought I would be a blogger, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with it. I started it as an outlet for me to cope with all the changes I was going through. Then some of my friends and family in Nashville started reading it, and used it as a way to keep up with me... with what I was doing. Then some of my new friends started reading it. I don't know why... maybe to get to know more about me, maybe because I can be funny and interesting sometimes. Now a whole bunch of people I don't even know read it, which I never expected. It's fun, and I like it. Sometimes I don't have anything interesting to say at all, and I want to tell you thanks for reading it anyway during those times.

And, so what about Portland? Well, after a year of being here, I can honestly say that I really like it here. I don't love it yet, because I think that kind of thing takes time. If I had just come to visit for vacation, and someone asked me if I'd been, I would say, "Portland? Oh, I've been to Portland. I love Portland." But loving to visit a place and loving to live there are two very different things. There's nothing I hate about it. The weather is great (no matter what anyone else says), it's beautiful everywhere you look, the food is amazing, there are tons of things to do, and I have a job that I love.

I feel like a different person here. A better person. In Nashville, I always labelled myself as kind of boring, a little bit high strung (easily stressed), extremely shy and quiet, and generally exhausted. But I referred to myself as "shy" the other day while at a barbecue with some of my new friends, and they laughed at me. They said, "You? You don't seem shy." I was taken aback, honestly. I've always been shy. I guess Nashville Stephanie is shy, and maybe Portland Stephanie isn't. I don't know... I can't explain it. All I know is that I feel more laid back, more outgoing, healthier, happier, more active, and I have more interests and hobbies than ever before. That, I think, is the true test of a relationship, whether it's with a person, a job, or a city. If it makes you better, then it's a keeper. And so far, Portland is definitely a keeper.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gardening Lesson #2

n. pl. ca·su·al·ties

1. An accident, especially one involving serious injury or loss of life.
2. One injured or killed in an accident: a heat wave with many casualties .
3. One injured, killed, captured, or missing in action through engagement with an enemy. Often used in the plural: Vegetable casualties were high.
4. One that is harmed or eliminated as a result of an action or a circumstance: The prolific zucchini plant was a casualty of the 100+ degree temperatures in Portland.

Yes, my friends, I am here to report further casualties. The gruesome pictures aren't until later, though, so don't worry... I'll ease you into it.

This tale of woe begins on a happy note. My zucchini plant has been extremely healthy. It has grown bigger than I ever anticipated (bigger, even, than it is here.) The leaves are big, strong, and bright green. I had lots of babies on the way, and I was content. I saw 4 pretty big zucchinis well on their way to being ready for harvest. Every day I went to check on them, and they appreciated the attention. The first one was getting pretty fat, but was still shorter than I thought it should be - so I waited. Patience, I've been told, is important when gardening. Well, a couple of days later, I went out and it was huge! Definitely time to pick. In fact, I probably waited a bit too long. See?

Yes, that is a Saturday Night Fever album in the background. Leave me alone. You know you like the Bee Gees.

This particular zucchini is what I believe most experts would call "gone to seed." I don't know a whole lot about it, but my guess is that if you leave some veggies on the stalk too long, they get really "seedy" and don't taste very good. This is definitely the biggest zucchini I've ever seen. And no, even though it looks like it's on steroids, I am not using chemicals. It's all organic, baby. You know me better than that. So anyway, Gardening Lesson # 2 is: Don't let your veggies get too big. This is actually harder than you'd think... you don't want to pick them before they're ready, either, so there's a delicate balance.

A couple of days later, I figured I should pick this one too. It was starting to look a little bulbous, as well.

I did get one regular sized one, though. He's in the middle:

See my little tomato??? I'll talk about her in a minute.

Okay. Are you ready? Here's where it gets ugly. So, I had a 4th zucchini that was looking good. I went out and checked on it every day, just like the others, but it didn't seem to be getting any bigger. And then I noticed that a lot of the other little babies weren't really growing either. And pretty soon they started turning yellow. I'm no expert, but I realized immediately that this was not good.

I called my local gardening store (where I bought the zucchini) to ask them what I should do. She said it could be one of three things. Scenario ONE could be that I let the first one get too big, and now the plant thinks it has done its job of procreating. I guess as soon as one of the veggies goes to seed, sometimes the plant will stop producing. I'm hoping this is not the case, because I want more zucchini. Scenario TWO could be that it's been too hot. Apparently most vegetables don't like temperatures over 90 degrees, and yesterday was a record-breaking 103 degrees here in Portland. Scenario THREE could be that it is not getting enough steady watering. I guess zucchini doesn't like a dry - wet - dry - wet watering cycle. They like to have wet soil all the time. I'm not sure how I can accomplish this without overwatering, so I'm hoping that scenario 2 is what's happening so I don't have to figure that out.

Anyway, she told me to go ahead and pluck off all the bad veggies so it can sort of reset and start over. The leaves of the plant still look strong and healthy, so that's a good sign. Hopefully all is not lost. So, if you're ready, here are my dead babies. All 7 of them.

Sad, huh? Most of them barely got over 3 inches long. They'll soon be buried with a little ceremony over the compost bin.

But, I can end on a happy note! Here she is, my very first Sungold tomato!

Isn't she beeeeeautiful? And, I have lots more on the way. I see some cucumbers in my near future, too. So, get ready for that!
You see, with gardening, I've already learned that you win some, and you lose some. Hopefully the next few will be winners.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Food Friday: Citrus Rosemary Salmon

I'm posting a non-vegetarian recipe today. I know! It's the first time ever. (Except the whole steak incident but you don't even remember that, do you?) I haven't talked to you about my flexitarianism in a while, so rest assured, I am still striving toward a mostly vegetarian diet. But, come on. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and even someone with a willpower of steel can't resist some locally caught salmon. I know I shouldn't eat it. Salmon is probably the most over-fished fish there is, and I should know better. I do know better. But I caved.

Salmon is not my favorite fish. It's one of Justyn's favorites, and really he's the one that pressures me into eating it. (See how I don't take responsibility for my own eating choices? Clever, huh? Spouses are good for lots of things, and one of them is using them as a scapegoat. Come on, you know you've done it.) And, when you're walking through the farmer's market and you pass by the fish lady and see that she just caught some fresh salmon this morning, it is hard to resist, even for someone like me.

Anyway, Justyn loves salmon about a hundred times more than I do. But sometimes, it's just too fishy tasting for me, you know? It's got a strong flavor and I have to be in the right mood for it. So, I'm always trying to find a different way to cook it so that I can enjoy it with Justyn when he gets one of his cravings.

I can't take credit for this recipe. I went to a friend's house and she made the salmon this way. I have changed it a little bit, though, and let me tell you, it is so good. The rosemary and the citrus really help cut any fishy-ness that you might taste. And, it's so light and fresh-tasting for summer. I served this with asparagus and some roasted squash and it was a great meal.

Citrus Rosemary Salmon
Fresh salmon fillets
Fresh rosemary sprigs
olive oil

1. Put the fish in a baking dish (if using an oven) or a large piece of foil (if grilling). Remember to spray the bottom with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Drizzle the fillet with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Slice half of the lemon and half of the orange. Use the unsliced portions to squeeze the lemon and orange juices over the top of the fish. Watch out for seeds!
4. Cover the fish with 2-3 sprigs of rosemary, and then lay the lemon and orange slices on top of the rosemary.
5. Cover your baking dish, or close up your foil packet, and cook at about 350 degrees. A regular sized fillet (1/2 pound or so) takes about 20-25 minutes. When it's flaky and lost its shininess/translucency, then it's done. I usually check mine after 15 minutes and go from there.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Creepy Basement Bathroom, part II

Today I'm continuing (and wrapping up) the saga of the creepy basement bathroom.

After I threw my anti-centipede super diva temper tantrum, Justyn agreed we needed to start the remodel. We only had a couple of weeks to get it done before company came into town, so we had to get started asap.

First, we had to cut and hang all the drywall. Now, I don't know if you recall, but about 3 months ago, when we were refinishing the hardwood floors in our house, Justyn and I had a conversation about hanging drywall. You can look back at it here, but I'll give you a recap. This is exactly what I told you about that conversation:

We were sitting around on one of the last days of this project and I said, "Honey, please tell me this is as hard as it gets." He was like, "Oh, yeah, this is definitely the hardest I've worked in a long time." And I was thinking, Whew, what a relief! Then he said, "I think hanging drywall might be harder, but luckily we don't have to do that." (Plaster, people. Our house was built in 1925.)

Clearly, I did not factor the unfinished basement into the equation at that point in time.

Let me tell you, cutting and hanging drywall is the worst. Luckily we only had a small bathroom to deal with (at least for now, until we refinish the rest of the basement.) The pieces of drywall are huge-mongous, and you have to cut holes for every little nook and cranny before you hang it up. Measurements must be precise. Well, guess whose job it was to measure and cut the drywall? Mine. Oh yes, my friends. I have another thing to add to my growing list of skills. So, you have to measure the drywall, score it with a utility knife, and then break it along the scored line. After you do that, all these little fiberglass-y type hairs stick out of the ends, and they get in your skin and they hurt. And it's heavy. So, after you've cut everything you have to get it into place on the ceiling or wherever, and then hold it while your mate/partner/whatever screws it in.

Then you have to get drywall tape and mud to cover all your seams, which also sucks. It's super hard to get it right, and even after we've finished we're not really happy with the job we did. But, hey. It's my first time, okay? I should cut myself some slack. After all, it is just a basement bathroom. Then we primed it, and painted it. That was the easy part (mostly because Justyn did it all... ha ha).

After that, it was time to tackle the floor. It's a bare concrete floor, and in basements you have to be really careful with your floor covering or you'll have moisture issues. So we went to Linoleum City to see what our options were. I don't know what that name cracks me up, but it does. I never thought I would step foot inside a place called Linoleum City, let alone give them some of my money. But, they had a pretty cool piece of linoleum that looked pretty good (like stone tiles), and it was cheap. Plus it was a super easy installation process. Some types of linoleum require you to etch the concrete floor and then put an adhesive down. The one we got doesn't need any of that. It's heavy enough that it just lays down flat. So, that 's what we got.

It comes in a big roll, though, and so again, you have to cut out all the little nooks and crannies for the sink, toilet, shower, notches in the wall, etc. We still had a whole bunch of packing paper leftover from the move, so we decided to tape some pieces together and make a pattern to use to cut the linoleum. But first, I had to iron it so it was flat (it had been all wadded up in a box).

Then we laid it on the concrete floor and traced the outline of what we needed.

The linoleum is easy to cut with a utility knife, so, we just laid the pattern right on top and cut it out.

Well, just when we were about to lay the floor down, I noticed a wet spot on the floor behind the toilet. I flushed it, and sure enough, more water came out. Greeeaaaat. We were really rushing by then, and the last thing we needed was a leaky toilet. Luckily Justyn has mad skills, and he figured out that it just needed a new wax ring. So we bought one and replaced it. It's totally gross, by the way. Nasty, gnarly business, dealing with toilets. Yuck yuck yuck. I made Justyn do that too. :)

After the toilet was fixed, we had just a few other small things to deal with. We had to spray foam fill an old fan in the wall, and I repainted the inside of the rusty medicine cabinet. (I know, right? What is it with me and medicine cabinets?) We hung some towel hooks and a new towel rack, put some art on the walls, installed an exhaust fan and some new light fixtures, and Ta Da! It was done.

Since we finished it, we have had Justyn's dad come visit for 2 weekends, my dad and stepmom, and some friends from Colorado. Justyn's mom is coming this weekend, and my mom is coming later in August. We bought basement shoes for everyone so they can wear them on the way to the bathroom, and so far no one has complained. (I know, some places give you a robe, we give out shower shoes.) We still have a few things to do later on, though (my previous observation that nothing is ever all the way done still stands). There's a weird gap between the shower and the wall on one side, so Justyn is going to build some shelves to put there. And, now the sink is leaking so we have to deal with that relatively soon. But, it's usable, bug-free (as far as I know), and much, much less creepy, so I can't really ask for anything else.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gardening Lesson #1

Remember my beautiful lettuce?

Well, I have bad news.

I killed it.

Not on purpose, of course! (Considering I was really enjoying my homemade salads.) But I guess lettuce doesn't like as much sun as other vegetables. I'm going to show you a photo, not because I'm mean and want to make you suffer, but because I'm honest. I told you there would be failures. Didn't I?

WARNING: The photo below is not for the faint of heart. If you are a sensitive person, especially about food and gardening, then I suggest you seriously consider the ramifications before you scroll down.

Last chance!

Okay, you asked for it:

I know! I know! Isn't it awful? My heart breaks every time I go out there. I should probably just dig it up. But, I guess I'm holding out hope that some of it will come back.

So, the moral of the story, kids, and filed under "Gardening Lesson # 1" is: Plant your lettuce somewhere it gets a little bit of shade. Tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies love full sun, so don't do what I did and plant a big patch of lettuce right in the middle of 4 tomato plants. It gets mad, and then it dies.

I guess I'm going to have to start buying lettuce. And that sucks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Creepy Basement Bathroom, part I

Today I'm going to tell you a scary story about a girl and a creepy basement bathroom.

You see, when we bought our house, the listing said there were TWO full bathrooms. Which, we were excited about because our last house only had one bathroom and it was sort of a pain. Fine for a young couple starting out, not so fine when your husband's entire family is crashing at your place for Christmas. Anyway, we were cruising through the house checking it out, and had only come across one bathroom which didn't even really have a shower (Incidentally, that bathroom, my friends, is an entirely separate story which I'll get into in just a minute.) So, I was anxious to find the other bathroom. We only had the basement left to explore, which already was red flag number one.

The basement in our house is unfinished, in every sense of the word (concrete floor, concrete walls, no drywall, etc. I was just starting to wonder, Where's the other bathroom? Then I saw a door. Then I opened the door.

Okay, now here's where I want you to start playing some scary horror movie music in your head. (I suggest the soundtrack to the bathroom scene from Psycho). Ready? Okay. So I opened the door, and I saw this:

Then I screamed! (No really, I didn't scream out loud. But I did scream on the inside. I assure you. I was screaming bloody murder.) I mean, really???? This is the second bathroom? Oh. My. God. You have got. To be kidding. Moldy walls? Concrete floor? No ceiling? Mysterious fan with a cord to nowhere? Raw, exposed light bulbs??? If this is not straight out of a horror movie, I don't know what is.

Okay, look. I'm no diva. Those of you who know me, know that I'm not the girly-girl princess-y type. But right then and there, I declared for all to hear, that I would not, could not, absolutely refused to ever use that bathroom in its current condition. Which, in a house with two bathrooms, shouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong. As I mentioned, our main floor bathroom doesn't really have a shower. See?

It has a shower head, but it's mounted to the wall at about knee level, and there's no shower curtain, so water gets everywhere and it's less than ideal. Have you ever been to Europe? I have found this is quite common with Euro showers, if that gives you an idea of what I'm dealing with. And, I can't just enclose it with a regular shower curtain, because that would put the light switch inside the shower (see picture). I'm no electrician, but I'm pretty sure that's not a good idea.

Anyway, I thought dealing with the euro shower was a small price to pay in order to not use the creepy basement bathroom. This lasted about 2 weeks after we moved in, where there was a daily euro shower ordeal. It was always a big production and took waaayyy longer than any bathing process should ever take.

So Justyn, being the boy that he is, decided he'd had enough and was going to start using the creepy basement bathroom. I said, "Fine. Go ahead." And I continued with my daily bath/shower routine. I stuck it out for another week or so, and then I started getting jealous of his 10 minute showers. After some gentle prodding by him, he convinced me to just try using it. He said, "It's really not that bad once you get used to it. Just get in, and get out." So I gave in, and even though it was super creepy and weird, I sort of did get used to it. This lasted about another week.

Then one fateful day, there was an incident. I had just finished my shower and turned off the water. I pulled the shower curtain back, and I beheld a long, blackish something. On the floor of the shower. By my bare foot. I didn't have my glasses on, so I bent over to look at what the something might be, and it was a freaking centipede. Well, I screamed, Justyn came running, and I made him get rid of it. (I will save spiders all day long, but centipedes? In the shower? With me? They die.) A heightened discussion ensued, in which Justyn did a lot of laughing at me, and I did some crying, interspersed with protests like, "I draw the line at showering with bugs!!!" and "What would my dad say if he saw how I am living in squalor??" Punctuated by my declaration, "I refuse to make our guests come down into this bathroom! Something has to be done!" Obviously, that was the end of the "Stephanie Showers In the Creepy Basement Bathroom" era. Then I went back to my upstairs euro shower existence.

Luckily we had guests coming relatively soon. So, we decided it was time to make the creepy basement bathroom uncreepy. And that, my friends, is what we have been working on. It's done now, but it was a big project so I'm going to give it to you in stages. This is the preface, or the Introduction, if you will. The middle part will come shortly.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Food Friday: My Favorite Salad

I never ate a salad until I was 22 years old. Until that time, I referred to salad and most anything related to it (i.e. green vegetables, or vegetables of any breed for that matter) as "rabbit food." I have talked to you about this before, but I neglected to mention that I inherited this disdain for healthy food from my dad. To this day, he will not even try broccoli (unless it's mashed up, cooked for a few hours and added to a cheesy soup of some sort... and even then it's a stretch).

One of the first solid foods I ever ate was a Pinwheel. For those of you who don't know, it's a ring-shaped chocolate cookie with marshmallow on top, all covered with a thin chocolate coating. This guy has a good picture in case you care. Apparently my dad snuck me a pinwheel when my mom wasn't looking, and next thing she knew I had scarfed the whole thing. This was a serious error on my dad's part, and shaped very poor eating habits for me at too young an age. My dad still brags about this incident, and my mom is still flaming pissed.

But, I digress. The first place I was ever brave enough to eat a salad was at Olive Garden. My best friend absolutely loved their salads, and finally convinced me to try it. And, it was tasty.... but really all about the dressing. So then, for a long time the only salad I would eat was from OG. But then I learned that you could actually buy bottles of their salad dressing, so I started buying it and making salads at home (with, of course, the exact same ingredients they use at the restaurant, lest I mess up the good thing I had going at that point.) Well, I say exactly the same ingredients, when what I mean is minus the olives and pepperoncini peppers. I still can't eat olives. I'll get into that another time.

So when Justyn and I started dating, he was a vegetarian fresh from San Francisco and I think he suspected there was something seriously wrong with me. You see, part of my salad issue was due to the flavor which I had not acquired a taste for during my first 20 years of life. The other part of the issue was size which I have also mentioned before. I have sort of a complex about bite-sized food, and as you know, most salads out there are not well-chopped. This, of course, leads to big leaves of lettuce flopping about all over your face until your entire chin is covered with balsamic vinaigrette. I don't know what my issue is, but I simply cannot tolerate this. Thus, the salads I make at home require quite a bit of time at the cutting board so I can scoop up the goods easily and efficiently with my fork with no stragglers trying to wave goodbye on their way inside my mouth.

As I got more comfortable with my homemade salads and started actually enjoying them, I decided it was time to experiment. I tried different ingredients and different dressings (of which there are many I currently enjoy - except creamy dressings which I still can't handle). I've come a long way since I started eating salads, and since I now have my very own lettuce to enjoy, I thought I'd share my favorite salad recipe with you. It's not really a recipe, I guess, because there are no amounts. Everyone likes their lettuce/dressing/accessories ratio a little different, so I'll leave it up to you if you like a gallon of dressing or just a splash.

I won't go into the nutritional benefits of eating salad, because you're not idiots. Everyone knows salad is good for you (unless you load it up with ham, bacon, boiled eggs, chow mein noodles, cheese, and ranch dressing). Even if you prefer a heavy, non-healthy salad, I urge you to give this a try. It's perfect for summer, a fabulous, light introduction to virtually any meal. I have a salad nearly every day now, and if I skip a day, I end up a cranky monkey, indeed. Okay, get ready to chop! You know I like my stuff chopped.

Stephanie's Favorite Salad

Crispy lettuce fresh from the garden (usually a mixture of red leaf, green leaf and baby spinach)
Fresh cucumber, sliced and quartered
Tomatoes, also sliced and quartered, or if using smaller varieties (like cherry tomatoes) halved
Walnut pieces (I actually prefer sugared nuts, but I haven't been brave enough to make those at home so just plain ol' roasted nuts are fine with me. Pecans work well, too, for this salad.)
Fresh blueberries
Dried tart cherries (Trader Joe's has an excellent choice) or dried cranberries are good, too
Feta cheese crumbles (if I'm feeling brave - I don't usually like cheese on my salad unless it's parmesan)
Your favorite vinaigrette dressing (I prefer Newman's Own Italian)

Chop, toss, and you're good to go. Mmmm!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Oh, boy. I'm sooo behind on updating you. So, let's just pretend for a second that I posted this about... oh... one month ago. Okay? Okay.

So, when we first moved into our new house, this was in the backyard.

As you know, we don't have kids. (Or at least, if you hadn't guessed by now, then you maybe thought I was a really bad mother for not having mentioned them anytime over the last year.) So, this little monstrosity was quite a problem. What do I do when I have a problem? I go to Craigslist, baby.

I was cruising through Craigslist trying to see how much these things go for, and if it was possible for us to actually make some money. I was about to post it for $100 bucks when I came across an ad by a lady who was looking for one for her kids. She said she couldn't afford to buy a new one, but wanted one in good shape and could pay a little bit. Well, it tugged on my heartstrings, so I contacted her and told her I had one, and said if she would come and get it, she could have it for free. So, she came with a big group of guys and took it all away, and she gave me $50!

It was nice to have it out of our yard, see?

Ah.... much better! So, then, what to do with all the space? Why, a garden of course!

I have tried gardening before, in Nashville. It didn't work out all that well for me because I tried to plant too many things in too small of a space. I'm pretty sure I had about 6 different tomato plants, 2 or 3 cucumbers, some peppers, etc. all in about a 4' x 6' space. Ha! No wonder it didn't work out. Plus, the space I was using apparently had a big slab of concrete underneath it that I didn't know about, so there were only about 6 inches of dirt (obviously I didn't dig around to investigate too much before I planted my veggies). I only discovered this when I tried harvesting my carrots and they came out like a bunch of little knubs. Plus, it gets so swelteringly hot in Nashville, that you have to water constantly. I don't have that kind of discipline, so the whole thing turned out to be quite a disaster.

Anyway, based on the amazing variety and quality of produce at the farmers markets here, I quickly deduced that things were much easier to grow here in Oregon, and obviously as soon as we got our house, building some sort of garden was at the top of the priority list. One of my super nice neighbors from across the street had told me about a cute little garden store near our house, so I went to check it out and found that they had organic vegetable starts for $1.99 each! What a deal! But, next year I think I'm going to start everything from seed on my own. I just didn't have time this year, since we moved in after the growing season started. Anyway, I bought my starts, and a $30 trip to Home Depot (for lumber) and about 2 hours later, Justyn and I had built a couple of raised garden beds. Check it:

Bed #1, right after I planted my vegetable starts (day zero).

Bed # 2, day zero.

Okay, okay... I guess I have to explain the grid. Everyone asks me, so here goes: I'm OCD, okay?? I measured out 12" squares, and used string to make a grid. This way, I knew to make sure all the plants had the proper amount of space. Plus I like the way it looks. It seems so orderly and neat. Admit it, you know you're a little jealous.

So, we did all this on Memorial Day (I know, I know... I told you I was behind.) Now, a month and a half later, lookie!!

I don't really have room to post pictures of all my babies, so I'll tell you what I've got going on. 4 different kinds of tomatoes: Sungold (cherry-sized tomatoes that are orange in color), Old German (a very large, marbled heirloom tomato), Roma, and a mystery tomato that one of my neighbors gave me. The picture above is the mystery one. I also planted some strawberries (which, incidentally, I think are duds because they're getting bigger and bigger but not blooming or bearing fruit). We have 2 different kinds of lettuce: Romaine and Red Leaf, 2 different kinds of peppers: jalapenos and orange bell peppers, 2 different kinds of cucumbers: lemon cucumbers and regular ones, and 2 different kinds of squash: zucchini and bush delicata.

Our lettuce has been ready for quite a while, so now I'm just waiting for all the others to catch up. Everything has bloomed and has babies on it (except the strawberries). And, look how much bigger everything is in just 5 or 6 weeks!

Bed # 1, week 6

Bed # 2, week 6

I'm so excited to start having my own veggies!! I'll keep you posted and let you know when I pick the first one!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Food Friday: Raspberry Cobbler

Okay, don't be mad.

...I'm repeating a recipe. But wait! I can justify it! It's not out of laziness, I promise.

I have truckloads of raspberries to use.

And, it's a really good recipe. I wouldn't give it to you again if it wasn't damn good.

I'm also throwing in a bonus lesson of how to freeze raspberries, so hopefully it's not a totally déjà vu experience for you.

At this point I really wish I had a kitchen scale, because I seriously think that I've been getting somewhere between 1-2 pounds of raspberries off my raspberry bush every day. And, that is NOT an exaggeration, folks. It's been really awesome, but I also have trouble keeping up.

This recipe calls for 2 generous cups of berries. Well, I had a LOT more than that (because I hadn't picked berries for a couple of days), so I doubled the recipe, and still had about 2 cups leftover. I'll tell you what I did with the rest some other time.

So then, I skipped picking berries again for a few days. Hey, I'm a busy gal. I've had two sets of parents in town this week, not to mention we wrapped up a bathroom remodel and threw in an electrical upgrade to our house for good measure. So excuse me if I skipped a few days. Geez.

Anyway, when I finally got around to picking them again, I think I had about 5 pounds of berries. And, no real plan to use them (at least not in the near enough future to keep them from going bad). Also, I figured out that if you leave them on the bush until the very last minute, they will keep longer. I knew I didn't have time to make anything on those days, so instead of picking the ripe ones and refrigerating them (which doesn't work all that well, honestly), I just left them on the bush and they were fine. It just means you have more to pick later, but it's kind of fun to pick berries so that's okay.

So, when I had this obnoxiously large supply of berries and no agenda, I kind of freaked out. Even though I can't use them all right now, I am afraid every day that the berries will run out. I just know one of these days I'm going to go out there, and they'll all be gone. And that, my friends, will be a sad, sad day. So, I refuse to throw any away or let them go bad. I will not allow it to happen. Not on my watch.

So, I did some research about how to freeze berries, and it turns out that raspberries are super easy to freeze (strawberries, blueberries, etc. I think are a little different, so if that's what you have, check into it a bit because there are a couple of extra steps). Just get a bowl of clean water, and submerge the berries a couple of handfuls at a time. Remove them with a slotted spoon and lay them out on a towel to dry (or you can probably use a paper towel if you don't want raspberry stains on your kitchen towels).

But be careful! Raspberries have this cute little hole in the middle where the water will like to hang out. You want to make sure this doesn't happen, because the more water that is surrounding the berry, the more ice crystals will form, and that breaks down the structure of the berry and contributes to freezer burn. So, what I did is turned them all upside down on the towel like this:

(Incidentally, my little 2 year old nephew likes to put his finger in that hole and wave it around a bit before he eats them. It's super cute.) And just let them sit for a while, pat them dry with another towel on top, and then you're ready to freeze them. After they've dried, lay them out flat on a cookie sheet (one that is small enough to fit in your freezer). Make sure they're flat, and not stacked on top of each other. Then put the cookie sheet in your freezer for one hour. This freezes the berries enough so that you can transfer them to another container and they won't stick to each other. Then, when you need to thaw some berries, you can just scoop out what you need and you don't have to worry about breaking them apart. Cool, huh?

Anyway, after they've been in there for an hour, you can take them out and put them in a freezer bag, Tupperware, or whatever and then return them to the freezer. They should keep for about 6-9 months. I read that it's best if you have one of those fancy schmancy vacuum sealers for this kind of freezing. But I don't have one, so I made my own:

I just put them in a freezer bag and zipped up the top until it was almost closed. Then I stuck a straw in the hole and sucked out as much air as I could. I'm sure it's not the best vacuum sealing job that was ever done, but it works for me.

A couple of recipe notes: You can obviously make this with any kind of berry. You know I've done it with blackberries before, but honestly, the raspberry is so much better. Also, I have made this with Splenda instead of sugar, and it's still damn good. The butter? I don't have any suggestions to make that healthier. And, the butter flavor really makes this recipe, so I wouldn't mess with it too much if I were you. Don't worry if you don't have self-rising flour on hand. I never have it, but you can make it yourself if you have all-purpose flour and it's super easy. For each cup of flour you need, just add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Works every time.

Seriously, you should make this ASAP. It's the perfect summer dessert. Just add ice cream.

Pioneer Woman's Raspberry Cobbler
Remember I doubled this recipe.
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup of self-rising flour
2 generous cups of raspberries (frozen or fresh)

Melt butter in a microwaveable dish. Pour 1 cup of sugar and flour into a mixing bowl, whisking in milk. Mix well. Then, pour in melted butter and whisk it all well together. Butter a baking dish. (Or, you can do what I did, and put the butter in the bottom of your pan while it's preheating in the oven. That melts the butter, and when you pour the batter into your pan, it doesn't mix completely and so you get little pockets of buttery goodness after it's baked. Mmmm. Plus you don't have to butter your dish. I love an excuse to skip steps.)

Now rinse and pat dry your berries. Pour the batter into the baking dish. Sprinkle berries over the top of the batter; distributing evenly. (I also sort of mush mine down into the batter a little bit. I don't know why, I just do. It's a compulsion.) Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the top.

Bake in the oven at 350 for one hour, or until golden and bubbly. If you desire, sprinkle an additional teaspoon of sugar over the cobbler 10 minutes before it's done.