Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lazy Sunday

No, not that Lazy Sunday...

I've spent the day doing whatever sounded good at the time. I watched Rachel Getting Married, which was very good (especially if you have any experience, on either side, of the subject matter). While watching the movie I finished knitting the left front of my Silk Cocoon Cardigan, so now I only have the right front to go. I made mock tuna sandwiches for a late lunch (quasi-recipe to come). And then I took the dogs out for a walk.

I have been taking Mac on my walks with Ayla more often lately because he jumps off his spot on the couch and runs to me at the door whenever I start grabbing collars and leashes. When we're out walking he goes very, very slowly, but he never wants to turn back. We did this a few days ago: we started on the walk and Mac was lagging behind Ayla and I quite a bit. I assumed Mac was tired so I turned around to head home after only a short distance, and he just stood there and looked at me. As soon as I started moving forward again he resumed his slow walk. A little ways farther and I tried to turn home again, and again Mac just stood there refusing to follow. Rinse and repeat once or twice more and I finally realized that Mac is just growing up into an adult bulldog. His normal pace is now a mosey, with the occasional trot thrown in when circumstances call for it. And when we get to the areas where I let them off-leash Mac will nearly keep up with Ayla running around.

Tall sweet grass to munch

Sometimes the grass eats you

Ayla's too busy visiting the salad bar to worry about Mac

Surveying what he considers his kingdom

Little stud muffin

My slow walks with Mac and Ayla have been quite nice. Ayla is really learning to go slowly despite her preferred speed-walking pace, making her overall walking manners nicer. It slows me down too, I pay more attention to the scenery and sensations, which is almost meditative, and come home feeling very relaxed. 

How do you relax?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lemony Spinach and Orzo Soup


I love soups - they're generally fairly easy to prepare; they're easy to eat on the couch, holding the bowl or even using a mug; and they're filling and often healthy. I saw this recipe for a spinach and orzo soup over at Gimme Some Oven last month, and finally got around to making it. It is light, yet filling, and makes a great lunch when its reheated. My only changes were to cut down the amounts so I didn't end up with a ton of soup.


Lemony Spinach and Orzo Soup
Adapted from Gimme Some Oven
Serves 4

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped small
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
8 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
3/4 c. orzo pasta
4 c. vegetable broth
2 eggs
Juice of 1 to 1-1/2 lemons
Fresh flat-leaf parsley to serve
Grated Parmesan to serve

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot and cook the garlic and onion over medium heat until fragrant and slightly translucent. Turn the heat to medium high and add the red pepper flakes, spinach, and orzo. Cook for about a minute, then add the broth. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the orzo is just barely tender. Take the soup off the heat and let it cool down a few minutes.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice for a couple minutes; the mixture should be thick, pale yellow, and creamy. Add a small ladle-full of the soup broth to the eggs and whisk well. Whisk in two more ladles of soup broth to temper the eggs.

Add the egg mixture to the soup pot and whisk well. Return to very low heat, stirring the whole time. Cook carefully over low heat until the soup has thickened slightly. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley and Parmesan if desired.

Friday, February 26, 2010

365 Photo Friday

Cherry Blossoms

Big chewy banana chocolate chunk cookies

Sweet green grass



Blossoming tree

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parsnip Fries


Ah, the lowly parsnip, that anemic cousin of the carrot. The parsnip is richer in vitamins and minerals than the carrot, especially potassium. And its a good source of dietary fiber. They are slightly sweet, with a little tang, and roast up wonderfully, like many other root vegetables. Parsnips are a great addition to soups and stews as well, since they become creamy after cooking. Make sure to buy parsnips that feel heavy and solid.

I came across Sprouted Kitchen's recipe for Roasted Parmesan Parsnips in my Google Reader the other day and just had to make them. Roasted parsnips coated in Parmesan? What could be better? These are similar to how I make oven fries, so I'm calling them Parsnip Fries. Mine are very close to Sprouted Kitchen's, but without the fresh herbs and on a smaller scale.

Parsnip Fries

Slightly adapted from Sprouted Kitchen 
Serves 2 to 4, depending on how hungry you are.

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into sticks of roughly the same size
1 egg white
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Marinara sauce for dipping

Preheat oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with foil, sprayed with cooking spray. Beat the egg white until frothy and add the dried oregano. Dip the parsnip sticks in the egg white (do this in batches as necessary), and gently roll in the Parmesan cheese to coat. Arrange parsnip sticks on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I threw the leftover Parmesan over them too. Bake for about 20 minutes, until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Serve warm with marinara sauce.

Now go check out Sprouted Kitchen's site - wonderful recipes and pictures!

Monday, February 22, 2010

What We've Been Up To

There's been a lot of snuggling with the rainy weather...


Whenever I put a blanket on Ayla, Gretel is right there to lay on top of her...


When the weather is nice we go out to play...

Or just hang out on the patio...


Or nap on the couch...

Sometimes with friends...


 And with our favorite blankies...

And on days like today Ayla and I go for a walk to the park about a mile away, where I let her run around in the grass if there's no little league practice going on, and she runs around like crazy until she falls on her head while trying to make a tight turn and then gets up again like nothing happened.

What have you been up to?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hearty Cherry Muffins

When I was little I loved going to my grandparents' house. It was a big production, since they lived a 7 or 8 hours' drive away and my parents would have to pack up us three kids, as well as a dog or two, into the minivan to make the trip. The minivan was probably a huge blessing for my parents, since us kids didn't fight (or fought less at least) on long drives in it. It was a Ford Aerostar, blue, and there was plenty of room for everyone. Dad usually drove, wearing his straw hat, and I could see his fireman's mustache in the reflection of the rearview mirror. Mom rode in the passenger seat, often with a foot or both propped on the dashboard, peeking out from one of her long sundresses that always made her seem to float rather than walk. My little brother rode in the middle set of seats, and I would watch his head bob up and down to the side as the motion of the van lulled him to sleep. My older sister and I sat in the back, on either side of the van with an empty seat in between where we would seatbelt in our Cabbage Patch Kids. One Christmas we each received one of the dolls that could talk, and sometimes they would talk to each other, which was fun and eerie at the same time.

My grandparents lived in Southern California, in a big mobile home on a huge (to me, at least) lot. Grandma always had a batch of her Monster Cookies for us, giant cookies with M&Ms in them, made from a batter so stiff she'd have Grandpa stir it for her. When I was a bit older we all had our own rooms there: I had the room my Aunt Peggy (Aunt Pegasus) used to live in; my parents had Aunt Ruth's old room, where I used to sit with her on the bed and do word-search puzzles; my sister had the office with the fold-out bed where Grandma kept her two doll-babies. Gee, where did my brother sleep? Maybe it was the living room. He was just a little kid and didn't care I suppose. Or maybe he still did the camp-out in my grandparents' room, in a sleeping bag or blankets next to their bed and reading The Giving Tree before going to sleep. There was a concrete path from the house all the way to the garage at the back of the lot, which sat on a large concrete pad and provided hours of entertainment for roller skating or running around. And they also had a good-sized garden, with orange and grapefruit bushes on one side of the path, apricot and almond trees behind the garage, and vegetables in neat rows to the side. And along the fence was a mass of thorny raspberry bushes. We had to be careful picking those, but it was wonderful eating the foods sun-warm and straight from the plants...

I've been buying frozen berries lately. They're great in drinks since they don't water them down as melting ice does, and they're a good sources of antioxidants. I bought a big bag of frozen blueberries that has lasted me forever, and I've been using them in cookies, pancakes/waffles, oatmeal, and on my cereal and yogurt. Last week I bought a bag of frozen dark sweet cherries, and boy are they good! They are huge, plump, juicy, and meaty. I think I'll always have a bag or two of some frozen berry, and perhaps other fruits, on hand.

The cherries were just calling out to be made into muffins. I wanted something hearty, but still with a light crumb. Since I have a bag of polenta kicking around now I decided to toss it in as well, though I would suggest using cornmeal instead since the polenta stayed fairly firm and chewy. Then again, extra chewing might equal extra satiation, so who knows? Whipping the egg whites and folding them in at the end gives a lighter texture to these muffins, though you can certainly skip it to save time and an extra bowl. Whatever you do, only mix the batter until it is combined; overmixing will give you tough muffins. And if you like it sweet, add more sugar.

Hearty Cherry Muffins
adapted from Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian"
Makes 12 regular muffins, plus a few mini muffins
3 Tbsp. melted butter
 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cornmeal or polenta
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs, separated
1 c. milk
1 1/2 c. frozen cherries
(chopped in quarters if yours are huge like mine were)
1 tsp. lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a muffin tin or line it with muffin cups.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Beat together the egg yolks, milk, and melted butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Stir and fold until just combined. Gently stir in the cherries and lemon zest.In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff, then very gently fold into the muffin batter.

Spoon the batter into the greased/lined tins; an ice cream scoop works very well for this. Pour 1/4 c. water into any empty cups. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until browned and a tester or toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let rest for 5 minutes in the tin, then remove. These are very good served warm, with butter. Mmmm....

Friday, February 19, 2010

365 Photo Friday

Is it springtime yet?

Dinner: creamy broccoli soup, green salad, grilled cheese with caramelized onions and avocado

My new Bromeliad, a sale item I picked up after Valentine's Day 

Tiny yellow flowers

Another muffin teaser

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Kitchen!

And its courtesy of my pets. This is kind of a long story...

It was a Wednesday. About three weeks ago. I was woken up at 5:00am, by a sound that you never want to hear in your home, much less in the early morning hours when you had been soundly sleeping just before. I won't go in to detail, but suffice it to say I have a sick bulldog on my hands. Unfortunately I frightened him when I leaped out of bed and he ran through the house and onto the couch, taking his... sick... with him. Thank goodness I have a leather couch.

Anyway, we cleaned up and sent Mac outside. We had a Little Green Machine carpet spot cleaner, and Chris sprayed a bunch of cleaner on the carpet in the bedroom to clean up after Mac. It was then that we discovered that the carpet cleaner no longer had suction. Our carpet had become a sewer. Now, we had talked about tearing out the carpet in the bedroom quite a few times before and installing the same laminate flooring that we have in the living area, but its a good deal of work and we're inherently lazy. That laziness was cured!

On his lunch break Chris headed over to The Home Depot to pick up the flooring. That's when we found out it had been discontinued. Fortunately there were some packages of it still in the store, though they were nearly all opened and re-taped. The worker helping him told Chris he could have 15% off the opened packs, and the other worker who helped him get it all up to the register asked for 50% off, to which the cashier agreed. And then the cashier only rang up one pack, at 50% off, and completely ignored the other six or seven! Chris felt bad for a moment, but they would just throw out the opened discontinued packs anyway, so headed on out. Score!

That night we tore the carpet out of the bedroom. That's not quite as easy as it sounds, since we can't really remove the bed frame and the Bowflex, so we had to move pieces of furniture around and wrestle it all out. That completed, a few nights later we started the installation of the new flooring. I had to dismantle the closet organization system so we could run the flooring all the way across the room, but by the following evening we had it all completed. I still need to install the baseboards, but I really dislike miters so I'll get to it eventually.

How does this relate to my new kitchen? Well, my dishwasher died on the same day that Mac exploded and the carpet cleaner stopped sucking. It stopped draining and made horrible loud clicking sounds when I tried to run it. I have to admit, I was not disappointed since it was the loudest thing in the house. Seriously, I hated it. I would run it before bed or before leaving the house so I didn't have to listen to it. And Chris has been wanting a new fridge with an integrated ice maker so he didn't have to keep refilling ice trays. In fact, he's been talking about it forever, so we figured we'd buy a dishwasher and fridge. And hey, if we could toss in a range for a good price, why not?

After I played a concert that Saturday I headed over to Sears to check out their appliances. That was a mistake. They treated me like an idiot, I swear. And I can't even put my finger on what it was in particular, but I did not feel like a valued customer there. The guy "helping" me even gave me grief for wanting a specific height since we keep our microwave on top of the fridge. But we have limited counter space and are taller people, so it works just fine for us. I headed home defeated.

The next day we went together to Direct Appliance, where we had a much better experience. We decided on a floor model Frigidaire dishwasher for a great price, and ordered a matching range. They didn't have the fridge we wanted, so we headed on over to Lowe's where we found one that would match fairly well, though its not stainless steel like the other two but "silver mist" (easier cleaning!). A few days later the fridge was delivered and we installed it ourselves. Then I got a call from Direct Appliance that they have double-sold the dishwasher, so they would give us the next model up for the same price. Wow! Last week the range and dishwasher were delivered, and we installed those too.

I now have a new fridge that makes ice and has more room that my old one. I have a new dishwasher that is so quiet, its music to my ears whenever I run it. And I have a new flat-top stove/oven with two big burners rather than just one, and a window in the oven so I can check on what I'm cooking without opening it. And they're all energy-efficient. Its incredible! And the kitchen looks so nice now:

The new range
I made muffins, which I'll post in a day or two

The new, whisper-quiet dishwasher

 And the fridge!

This became our Valentine's Day and anniversary gift for each other. While Chris doesn't cook often, he does enjoy eating, so it works out for both of us. :)


Friday, February 12, 2010

365 Photo Friday

This was a busy week, so I only have some photos I took on a walk the other day.


 Yellow flowers

 Blade of grass

 Tire tracks

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In Bloom

There has been a glut of food posts lately. In fact, Chris is kinda teasing me about it and asked where the dogs have been. So honey, just for you...

We've had quite a bit of rain lately, which makes taking the dogs out for walks a little difficult and unpleasant. However all of this water has caused an explosion of greenery and the flowers are starting to really proliferate on our favorite walking hill. I took Mac and Ayla up there the other day, so here's a little slideshow of our walk. Ayla zooms around like crazy, bounding over the tall plants (and Mac), while Mac huffs along right in front of me, stopping to eat the occasionally tasty bit of green. The rainclouds filling the sky give a little extra drama to everything as well. Its a beautiful time of year in the Bay Area.

(You can pause the slideshow at any point by hovering your mouse over it and then clicking on the button with the square in it, aka "stop.")

Friday, February 5, 2010

365 Friday

Down the rabbit hole...

Home improvement (more to come...)

Chambord and champagne

My Reebok EasyTones finally arrived

Creepy Ayla will eat your soul

Happy Ayla will run around like a giant doofus

Bird's nest and tree buds