Saturday, April 20, 2013

how to feel good

I think many of us share the sentiments The Onion shared this week (note- contains profanity!)

Thank goodness some of the awfulness is behind us (though it all felt a bit Fahrenheit 451-esque yesterday, watching the manhunt- literally seeing a Google Earth image of the house where the shootout was happening). Texas and the US Congress are still a mess.

So here are some things that make me feel better, this week and generally.


If you are lucky enough to love someone and have him or her in hugging distance, give ‘em a solid one. Hugs are great. Particularly if you are blessed with a boyfriend with really great arms.

If you have a pet, hug them. Stroking an animal reduces your blood pressure and floods your brain with oxytoxin, the happy bonding chemical.

And let’s be honest we crave time with animals at times of stress. I spent some of Friday texting back and forth with my friend Eireni, who was trapped inside in Boston. She opined how much she wished she had a puppy with her. I, glued to the TV news at my aunt’s house, snapped a cell phone picture of her Scotties and sent it back. I hope it helped!

Cats are also very cute, obviously. Sheila continues to obsessively monitor her “bunker”, the hollow, dug-out area under the front stoop into which she squeezes and hides out from time to time.

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The Movie Pitch Perfect

Good Lord! That movie is really funny! When I saw the ads I thought it’d be a singing version of Bring it On but it is- and I mean this in the best possible way- absolutely bizarre. I loved the fact that some parts of it echoed the real world (aka most of the people in it looked like REAL PEOPLE, not Hollywood automatons; and they really captured some of the little details of college, even things as stupid as watching movies on laptops with friends in your dorm room). And then parts of it were not at all real like nighttime alleyway sing-offs between a capella groups.

It made for a great, girlie movie night with my cousin. Probably don’t subject someone who isn’t a slightly weird music enthusiast to it without prior warning.

Deep Dish Pizza

If you are in the greater Chicago area, you can buy one. If your only option is the Pizzeria Uno’s at the mall, make your own. From this absolutely succulent and astonishingly easy King Arthur recipe.

It makes for a very fun date night, making deep dish together.

Get started with the dough and whatnot, take a walk or something, then start putting it all together. Note that since we don’t have a deep dish pizza pan, we ended up using two eight inch cake pans and one nine inch pie pan. We also made our own sauce  and pizza seasoning just with dried herbs and some crushed red pepper flakes. For toppings, we opted to use spinach and mushrooms and since Steve prefers them raw we didn’t bother to saute. And in the FINAL change, we added just 1 cup or so whole wheat flour because we simply ran out of white flour.


It. was. awesome. We agreed that the crust was a mite oily and could’ve stood to be a little less soft; and that we’d enjoy adding more cornmeal just because both of us are partial to the deep dish at Gino’s East in Chicago and theirs is delightfully corn-y and crunchy. That being said, it was far and away the best homemade pizza I’ve ever tasted; a near perfect replica of the restaurant stuff and yet surprisingly quick, easy, and intuitive to make.

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My family is Greek Orthodox Christian and we’re on a different calendar so our Easter isn’t til May 5th. My sister was trapped at CVS waiting for a prescription, and, in an excellent example of making lemonade out of life’s lemons, the theme of this post, she used the opportunity to buy greatly discounted Easter candy and eggs.

And hid them around our house, making for a very very fun few weeks. Fun and chocolatey.


The resilience of nature

The pansies planted in our little garden box in the front have colonized the most inhospitable parts of our property.

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The ones on the lawn have subsequently been mowed, sigh. I really look forward to leaving the suburbs soon. People care way too much about their lawns.


This is the most exciting thing on the list, and exceedingly topical for April. When I left my aunt’s house, she sent me home with some leftover seeds she had from planting her garden!

Zucchini, basil, mint, two kindsa heirloom tomatoes…


… plus a random pack of dill seeds I got in a Triscuit box!


So I got to planting. Planting seeds is one of the most pleasant, relaxing activities there is.

I opted to give my little seedlets a gentle beginning to their life, nurturing them in smaller containers indoors til they sprout, then bringing them outside. (Steve is doing something similar with the cutest little greenhouse kit he got as a gift from a friend. He’s been diligently moving the plants in and out of his apartment to give them daytime sunshine and nighttime warmth).

Lacking a cute little greenhouse kit, I grabbed some random containers from the recycling bin (strawberry containers work particularly well, as you’ll see when you take a look at the planter) and stabbed holes in their bottoms for drainage.

Then I sowed the seedlets per package direction (er, for the ones that had directions… on the other ones I guessed!) and covered them up with moist soil. (Obviously, I did this part outside… then moved them back in).

Labeled everything, since I haven’t the slightest ability to differentiate different plants’ leaves.


As in my tomato growing adventure last year, I will undoubtedly document this year’s garden journey with the same unrelenting obsessiveness.

What brought you joy during this sucky week?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

the great outdoors

I took some pictures, intended for the blog, in late summer 2012. Then, due to the kind of job that frequently ended up with me doing infinite hours of work… on a Sunday… while on vacation… it was fall and the pictures no longer seemed topical.

Then, we had a spot of shockingly temperate weather in the late fall and I said, perfect! I can now post about these lovely warm-weather experiences. Surprise surprise, didn’t happen.

And now it is April, and at last warm enough again (with my qualification for being “warm enough” being, of course, the ability to grill outdoors with comfort). So at long last I seem to be ready to publish the pictures (though of course I’m only three short paragraphs into this post as I type this, so you never know, you may be reading this in 2016).

Regardless of the time of year, I love the W&OD Trail. It is particularly atmospheric on the days it threatens to storm.


When the sky began to look decidedly ominous (albeit beautiful)…


… Steve and I decided we could be warmed and sheltered in one of our favorite spots, The Pure Pasty. If you live within, say, 200 miles of Northern Virginia I’d recommend coming just for a pasty.

1. The crust is a buttery, subtly tangy, flaky, chewy taste of heaven.
2. The fillings range from perfect executions of traditional fillings to delightful experiments, including a seasonal vegetarian one that in the past has included roasted autumn vegetable delight, Indian lentils and potatoes, and spinach and feta for summer.
3. They get local, sustainable, humane meat.
4. You can get all kinds of fun British treats like bourbon biscuits (<3<3<3) and digestives.
5. Yes it’s a lot of calories but there is a beautiful and long trail a mere block and a half away to burn ‘em off!
6. Or if you want to let your inner fat kid run free (recommended), there’s a great cupcake bakery next door and a Great Harvest a few doors down.

This time we opted to split one (meaning I wasn’t hungry but Steve is Steve so he got one and then I had to take some bites cause read the above please).


And, as has happened MULTIPLE times near closing, they offered to send us home with pasties that hadn’t sold. For free. Like four. (Note that the way to differentiate the pasties is the little shape they carve on top of the crust).


Then it looked REALLY ominous. So we went to the coffee shop next door. And, knowing us, probably also stopped in the pizza place a few doors down from that (can you tell there’s a lot of good food on Church Street?!) so Steve could get another “snack”


Remember when I grew tomatoes? Tending and then harvesting them was one of the most rewarding, fulfilling, emotionally soothing experiences of my life.

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Now that grilling season has returned, here are two things you have to do:

1. Make Martha Stewart’s grilled chicken with lemon and oregano. Butterflied whole, marinated with lemon-herb awesomeness. So amazing.


2. Grill peaches and serve them with cream (we had leftover cream from somethingorother and GOD cream is good).



Now we’ve moved up chronologically to last fall, when I made the yummiest salad.


It really had the whole shebang of flavors: dark, bitter farmer’s market salad greens; buttery roasted cauliflower; protein-rich hardboiled egg; sweet and crunchy chopped apples.

Best of all was the dressing: Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and mango chutney. I HIGHLY recommend this combination.

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And now we have reached the present day, where my family hosted our first cookout of 2013!


We knew we wanted some nice grilled fish for the party, so I picked up some beautiful steelhead trout (very similar to salmon; I would’ve gotten wild salmon but Costco didn’t have it and while steelhead is farmed sustainably, not so much for salmon, per the Monterey Bay seafood guide).

For a vegetable side dish, what was fresh and beautiful and the farmer’s market- leeks- served as inspiration.

My mom found another Martha Stewart recipe, for grilled leeks. I’ll be straight with you: cleaning leeks is a huge pain, and since the recipe recommended two leeks per person (which is completely unnecessary if you buy big leeks, as ours were) it took a good long while.

Then I blanched them til just tender..


And grilled ‘em til charred and gorgeous. I had to kind of splay out their innards so they’d get charcoal-licious all the way through.


The steelhead soaked in this tangy lime marinade for about an hour and then I grilled it whole.

Grilling fish is tricky. Keeping on the skin as long as possible is helpful for holding it together, but at some point you have to take it off to get both sides that nice grilled flavor.


It all worked out. The fish was really yummy.


And I channeled my grandmother in multiple ways with dessert; first, as my mother reminded me, my grandmother always served fish with lemon dessert.

And, this dessert was really her signature. My family goes crazy for it; we were scared it had died with her, but my aunt found the recipe and I’ve made it a few times. It’s extraordinary how tasting this dessert makes all of us feel like she’s with us.

And that recipe is… Gingersnap and Lemon Ice Cream Sandwiches.

A few things to note:

1. The gingersnaps are chewy. They’re also buttery and homemade. But I want to just emphasize, these are not dried-out store gingersnaps. They are CHEWY.


2. The lemon ice cream is just that- ice cream. Not sorbet. Creamy, lemony ICE CREAM.

Enough said.