Wednesday, April 30, 2014

on chinese take-in.

so i am doing my best to throw myself back into cooking this week. these past few weeks i have been so bummed and frustrated about our situation here. but on sunday i shook off those blues, got to cooking the best i can, and feel much better. i still hope this ordeal ends soon - either the gas coming back on or us moving out - but until then, the slow cooker it is. i saw this recipe on a few blogs, each with slightly different variations and measurements - this one sounded like the best to me. and now, one less reason to order takeout!
sesame seeds are my jam. when i order in chinese, i'm usually going for the sesame chicken. and when i get my bagel on the weekend, it's always sesame as well. so i was pretty thrilled with how well this turned out. put your pound (or so, i used a pound and a half) of skinless chicken breasts (or boneless and skinless thighs) into the slow cooker and season with salt and pepper. dice your onion, mince your garlic, and mix with honey, ketchup, soy sauce, vegetable oil, and red pepper flakes. pour this sauce into the slow cooker, making sure to cover your chicken completely, and put it on high for two hours.
after two hours take out your chicken and shred it with the help of a fork and a big old knife (mine shread and cut very easily). before you start (and after you take the chicken out), mix your corn starch with water, pour into the suace left in the slow cooker, mix well, then put the slow cooker on high for another ten minutes. when that's done (and you're done shredding), put the shredded chicken back into the slow cooker, stirring until all of the chicken is coated with sauce.
serve it up with a side of veggies, rice, or both, sprinkle some sesame seeds on top, and voile - chinese take-out at home. this was absolutely delicious and made enough for 4 - 6 people (yay leftovers!). enjoy!

Monday, April 28, 2014

on my weekend in pictures.

this weekend brian and i went to my old hometown outside of d.c. to meet up with his family. my parents moved to charlottesville my junior year of college and i don't get many opportunities to go back to my real hometown, so i had a lot of fun being back in a place that i called home for the majority of my life. while it's grown and changed in some ways, it's the same town i remember. i was able to show brian my elementary school, old parks, my favorite houses in town, and stop in at the most amazing tiny french bakery that makes the best cinnamon buns, among other pastries. there are gems to be found everywhere! we also went to our first national games, and had dinner at an amazing restaurant that is definitely a new addition to my hometown. every time brian and i take trips we are reminded of how many amazing places there are to live in this country - from food to culture to people to sports - we've fallen in love with so many places. it's a nice reminder particularly with the lure of new york and all it has to offer - while nothing will match nyc, and as brian said - nyc is an awesome place to live, not necessarily a nice place to live - there's a lot out there that offers so much. so keep it up america, we love you (especially you, virginia).

Monday, April 21, 2014

on my weekend in pictures.

happy easter weekend everyone! this weekend was pretty glorious - perfect weather and a perfect holiday. while christmas is my number one, my love for easter has really grown as an adult. the only downside this year was not making anything - brian and i have really gotten into the festive spirit years past, particularly with our cooking and baking (everything from bacon jam to a rebirthday cake for jesus), but even still we managed to enjoy ourselves this year. and, of course, easter mass is a favorite - everyone is so happy, festive and all the ladies wear hats. what more could a girl like me ask for? in addition to easter we also enjoyed strolling around brooklyn. we ended up in a very italian neighborhood - we checked out their church, where they offer mass in english and italian - and soon after leaving we began to smell meatballs. seriously, the scent of meatballs was just wafting in the air. we walked a couple of more blocks, where the scent grew stronger, and decided to stop at a little italian restaurant with a few seats outside. no surprise here: we ordered the meatballs and they were beyond. beyond i tell you. the only other people in the restaurant were cops and people over 80, which tends to mean you're in the right place. we enjoyed our meatballs and a glass of wine in the sun before hopping into the bakery across the street and picking up italian easter bread and some cannolis. i had not seen italian easter bread before, but my mom confirmed it's a big italian tradition at easter that she often had growing up. it's basically a sweet braided bread made with orange or lemon and anise flavoring, with a hard boiled egg tucked into it (google images helps with a visualization). it was an interesting new easter treat to say the least! we tucked into those cannolis last night and oh my word - best cannolis i've ever had. that little corner in brooklyn was filled with so many wonderful things, we must make our way back soon. i hope everyone had a wonderful and delicious weekend, enjoyed great weather, and if you celebrate, had a wonderful easter!

Friday, April 18, 2014

on that bean curd life.

we are still without cooking gas. yes it's been a month and no i don't want to talk about it. it has hampered our eating style majorly. my desire to bake is almost painful at this point. while i don't think i have ever taken my kitchen and a home cooked meal for granted, not having a kitchen in the past month at least makes it quite clear to me what i'm missing. and it's tough, big time tough. while i truly hope it gets resolved soon, i also truly believe it won't. because big cities and big management companies and working permits are what make the fabric of this story. and that fabric is a really shitty polyester blend. anyways.
with only a hot plate at our disposal, we've had to be creative, especially in the protein department. a lot of eggs and, in this case, tofu (which i have always affectionately called, bean curd). while i realize tofu isn't for everyone (brian is still working on it), i really like the way it easily picks up flavors and seasonings while packing a lean protein punch. additionally, it's a great way to get protein without getting it from another animal. easily, very easily, one of my pet peeves is the trend to immediately and forever remove something from one's diet. i understand some do it for medical reasons (e.g. celiac disease), and i understand the re-setting of your body (looking at you whole30 peeps), but the boastful extreme dieter is my nemesis: "i cut out all sugar, i cut out all dairy, i no longer eat chicken, i cut out all gluten, i only drink my meals." if anything makes my middle finger rise faster than one of those statements, i have yet to find it. and the queen and king of all of these are vegans, usually because it is similar to a religion and they consider themselves evangelicals - it seems hard for them to grasp world views and ethics of others. but what seems to be missing from all of these is a general thoughtfulness about what we're eating, and it's something i think about a lot. it's led me to eat less meat - i find it extremely easy for to eat meat in two of my three meals, maybe all of them. and i don't think this is particularly healthy, good for my long-term health, natural, or great for the environment. so i try to watch myself on it (hence this recipe). but that's only scratching the surface. where do my coffee beans come from? who picked them? where does my produce grow? who manufactured the bag i carry my groceries in? where are my avocados from? is california's drought caused in part because of me? what are growing conditions like? what are workers treated like? when i see all the protests and biased articles and smugness of those i mentioned above i think - why stop there? why are you not thinking or caring about all of it? because at some point something becomes inconvenient for us. or exhausting. we can all only do so much. so i try to be thoughtful, rather than extreme, in all areas. i won't hold myself to extremes, and each day and each choice can be hard. and every week, in fact, every day i fuck up - i fuck up according to what it is i want my tiny little impact on our food chain to be. i don't think we need to live to extremes, but i do wish i felt like i had more people to talk to about general thoughts surrounding food, not extremists who want to judge me, make me live by their morals, or pretend that a sugar-free life leads to a far healthier life than moderation. and so, here we are. tofu. bean curd, if you will.
this recipe reminded me of why i love asian cuisine so much - so many different flavors all in one bite. the combination of spicy, sweet, and salty is a classic in this cuisine, and i really, really love it. i'm not someone who eats a lot of spicy food, but when it's combined with other flavor profiles it not only becomes tolerable, but something i crave. here we have sirarcha, mint, lime, soy sauce, garlic - great flavors combining into an awesome dish. to prep, be aware tofu can be a little tricky due it's moisture. i drained mine, soaked up extra moisture with paper towels by pressing on it on all sides, let it sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then soaked up some more moisture with paper towels before cutting it into cubes. the moisture in the tofu can make it stick to the pan, but i don't mind it getting a little shredded on it's way to my plate. when it's ready to go, cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown - it took ours a little longer because  hot plate! - and i used tongs to help me turn these puppies when the time game. 
cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown - it took ours a little longer because  hot plate! - and i used tongs to help me turn these puppies when the time game. before, or while they are cooking, combine the garlic, soy sauce, water, and sriracha in a cup. when the tofu is done searing, pour the sauce in, allowing it to heat up for 30 seconds. remove the pan from the stove when it's heated and mixed through, sprinkle with mint, squeeze a healthy dose of lime in it (i used half a lime), and you're ready to serve.
we paired it with brown rice, and it made enough for me to bring in leftovers the next.
filling, healthy, super tasty, and quick. a great weeknight meal to add to my repertoire, and maybe one day i can make it on a stove! a girl can dream, right?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

on my weekend in pictures.

finally! this weekend, this weekend. it was a true weekend filled with love and lots of family - my cousin got married out on long island so my parents and sister came up and we just partied all weekend long. it was a true long island wedding - ice sculptures, food as far as the eye could see, a million dessert tables, strobe lights, fog machines, an emcee - the works. i love going to weddings in different parts of this great country and seeing new traditions, styles, and culture. long island, while i've gotten to know you super well from the one million visits i have bestowed upon you, this was a side i had not seen yet. thank you for not disappointing me. sidenote: the weather this weekend? pure gold. even snuck in a walk across the brooklyn bridge, which felt and looked like heaven.
***
while i'm not here to tell the story of my cousin and his bride, i will tell you a little. my cousin's youngest sister (also my cousin, naturally) has down syndrome. she was born long before doctors tested for it, and the day she was born was a big one for my family. it changed all of us, particularly her family, forever. family stories about who said what and how everyone reacted are ones we hold close and that are very special to us, particularly the actions of my grandpa the day she was born. big changes and little changes have persisted throughout the years, and overall she has changed all of us for the better, given all of us a much healthier, compassionate, joyful look on life, and for a few she has altered their paths very deeply. my cousin's bride is a triplet - she was born the only girl of the three, with two brothers who would later be diagnosed as severely autistic, while she was the picture of health. her brothers' lives and diagnoses went on to change and alter her life in similar ways, and it was one summer, working as counselors at a camp for children with mental disabilities, that my cousin and his now-wife met. which is to say: there are some challenges life gives us that are not easily overcome. challenges that we will face every single day of our life. and sometimes it will be very, very hard to find the silver lining, or the joy, or the meaning in them. sometimes, it can take years to put it all together and make sense of it. but know that hardships can sometimes lead to our greatest joys, can sometimes help shape us into the people we were meant to become, and can sometimes even lead us to the love of our life.
***
during the wedding a slow song came on and my grandma's niece got up to dance with her husband. i believe they are both in their 70's, and the dance floor stayed relatively deserted as they danced along, the whole time her softly singing the lyrics to him. i turned to brian and i noticed her eyes were just as damp as mine. when they came off the dance floor i told her how sweet they were, how encouraging it is to see that as young couple, and she said to me:
"we've been married for 45 years. every time i see him come through the front door my heart leaps, the same way it did 45 years ago. i don't know why, i don't know how it still does, but it does. every day is precious. i know we are lucky, but every day is precious. we don't take this for granted, we appreciate every day."
and he said,
"i come in the back door now."
love is a many splendored thing, no?

Friday, April 11, 2014

on signs of spring.

the first sign of spring in many places is baseball - and it's no different in nyc. brian and i went to our first yankees game this week, or as he likes to call it, "an orioles game", and it was great to sit outside for the night (even though gloves were still needed, as seen below). a baseball game is one of the easiest things to experience in new york - both mets' and yankees' stadium are accessible by the subway - and although i like mets stadium better, i do love seeing my yanks. i like the bleacher seats - cheap, good views - but as it gets hotter i only recommend them for night games. also, if you have kids you may not want to sit in the bleacher section as it's filled with many, shall we say, verbose fans. i think my favorite last night was what one young lad yelled at the orioles center fielder: "say hi to your wife for me - and my kids." ouch. but if you like a little entertainment along with a great view, it's not a bad place to be.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

on blues and pinks.

when you're growing up everyone always asks what your favorite color is - and for many little girls that's pink, and for many little boys it's blue. while other factors may be at play in those answers, usually as you get older the spectrum widens (purple, am i right?) but i was always torn - i really loved pink AND blue equally. and these picks below show that - in fact, even better, i love pink and blue together. all the light blue and pink pastels of the season are singing to me - i love, love, love them. i'm digging deep in my closet to find my old favorites, i'm loving everyone who is following this trend, and i might even treat myself to an item or two (see: pink lipstick). what are you loving this spring? 
Spring for Blue and Pink Pastels
blue bag: coach has been killing it lately. i am really, really impressed with the past two seasons of bags they've put out after mostly catering to a younger demographic, and this spring is no different. i definitely skew towards structured bags, and the robin egg blue here just makes this one perfect.
***
pink shirt: i have a paper thin, soft, pink t-shirt i picked up from j. crew five years ago - i'll be wearing it a lot this spring, and if i didn't have it this would fit the bill.
***
pink jade earrings: these beautiful earrings come to you from...overstock.com? we got our awesome dining chairs from overstock, perhaps their earrings are just as awesome in person, too?
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pink belt: pink and snakeskin and gold hardware - j. crew does it again. this item is a trifecta of some of my favorite things, and even better - it's on sale.
***
blue shirt: and to follow that up, a perfect blue j. crew shirt for spring, complete with florals. i bought a shirt last season with a huge pink peony on it and have worn it maybe a hundred times. i'm looking forward to wearing it a hundred more.
***
pink clutch: the designer bags are killing it this season with color, and givenchy leads the pack. i can't find one thing wrong with this bag (except for the price).
***
hello shirt: downplaying the pink and the florals in a subtle way. probably something i should focus on.
***
pink lipstick: nars makes my favorite lip products and this light, light pink is a dream - i already own this, i already love it, and i highly recommend it.
***
blue flats: while flats will never replace my love for heels, when i do wear them they better actually provide my feet support (sideye to all the ballet flats in the world) or be totally funky and out there. these are the latter, and i think they're the coolest.

Monday, April 7, 2014

on my weekend in pictures.

this weekend was a glorious one for northeasters - that's right, it was the first weekend where spring really was in the air. i wore a light coat all weekend, i needed sunglasses to shield my eyes, and i even went a few hours without shivering. spring arrived, in full force, not a moment too soon (could have been sooner). with it came one of brian's friends from saratoga, who we treated to a saturday in red hook - probably our favorite part of brooklyn outside of our neighborhood. we went to fort defiance, one of my favorite spots for brunch, we wandered around enjoying the blue skies, we picked up baked goods from a cream of the crop bakery called baked, and yes, the boys shared a pina colada while taking in a vista of the east river at brooklyn crab. the rest of the weekend was pretty much the same - the gym, watching basketball, enjoying a walk in the park on sunday. it felt really, really good to be outside more, and i think i say this for all new yorkers: thank god. or, perhaps i should say, THANK GAWD.

Friday, April 4, 2014

on two for the price of one.

you know you write a post sometimes and it comes out nothing like how you wanted it to? and you go back and you retool it and you rewrite one section and you fiddle with a sentence and it gets even worse? and you're like - yikes. i would not want to read that drivel. well i had a post, but it stunk to high heaven and i won't subject you to it. what i essentially wanted to say was: the standard for yourself is you. no one else has your talents, your shortcomings, your body, your mind, your past, your heritage. it's fine to look at others lives, what they have, what they have achieved (and where they have failed) as motivation to better yourself, but get to know yourself, figure out what works for you, and set that bar. we are each a bundle of separate and distinct talents and misgivings - be your own standard. try your best to live up to it. and realize that setting others as your standard is a practice in futility. if you're born with a certain body type, mind or talent - figure out what it's strengths and weaknesses are, embrace them and make them the best they can be. learn from your failures, accept your innate shortcomings, focus on where you excel. i think this is especially important for women to know, and i am learning more and more to do this everyday. what do you think?
***
in other news, as i was lying in bed last night, thinking about how to turn my convoluted writings into something worthwhile (shorter, always shorter), i thought of how strange people think it might be that i (though i suppose that is now a we) still have a stuffed animal in our bed (dumbo, procured when i was five whilst on my childhood sojourn to disney world, which was magical, and do you like how the first half of that sentence was written in the manner of shakespeare to talk about a trip to disney world? me too). he's like a throw pillow to us, just another decoration for the bed, but i think to onlookers it would be a smile and nod type of situation - oh, is that a stuffed animal on the bed of a basically 30-year-old married couple? how quaint. (how crazy). honestly, i would think the same, it's true. but, he is a fixture and he is not going anywhere (sorry not sorry). and this led me to remember that growing up i would be very concerned about the mental health of stuffed animals i owned, and, the mental health of stuffed animals in general. if i was ever allowed to pick one out for a gift or birthday i always sifted through them to see if one had a nick, was missing an eye, was missing tufts of fur and so forth. if one fit that profile it would most definitely be the one i wanted, due to the fear that it would get left behind and feel inferior to the other perfect ones at the top of the pile. so, throughout my childhood, as my collection grew, i would sleep with dumbo every night and have a rotating schedule of who would join us. my stuffed animals were at the end of my bed and each one got a different night, in a set order, so as to feel included and part of the group (i was quite the stuffed animal floozy). this also strikes me as a compassionate, highly type A viewpoint of the world, which is amusing (who schedules their stuffed animals on a sleeping schedule? hilarious but also a little disturbing). and, please, not to oversell myself here - i was mostly a nice kid but i loved making people laugh and sometimes i did that at the expense of others. additionally, if you were an ass to me or my friends you could count on me making a cruel, well thought out comment to bring you down. everyone has weaknesses, i was adept at spotting them, especially if you were a 7-year-old boy. i saved my mother teresa act for my bedroom stuffed animals only, so please don't think i was a kind-hearted, sparkly eyed child all the time. just at bedtime. anyways, i thought i would share that part of my history with you, which came to mind when figuring out how to write the above post. to all the stuffed animals that ever graced my bed: you're always in my heart, even if dumbo is still the only one who is always in my bed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

on my favorite soup.

while this recipe is coming at the tail end of winter, and will therefore be shelved in the near future, it is a big, big winner. split pea soup is my favorite soup (potato leek is not far behind), and there are many places out there that make it just the way i like it, which encouraged me to try my hand at it. for example, our favorite italian restaurant in our hood makes the best vodka sauce ever. ever. ever. i would never think i could recreate it. but you try enough good bowls of split pea soup here and there and you realize - hey, i can do this too! and so i did.
this is another slow cooker recipe (no gas yet, womp womp), and it makes a very thick soup - if that's not your jam, head the other way. if it is your jam, grab some crusty bread and enjoy. below are a few stars of the show...
...and in addition you'll need chicken or vegetable stock, garlic, fresh or dried thyme (i used dried), and bay leaves. the recipe also called for a bell pepper but i eliminated it - i don't love bell peppers, occasionally on my pizza or with my italian sausages it's cool, but i didn't really see the need for it (and the soup turned out just beautiful). so, before we go on, let's talk about ham hocks, also known as a pork knuckle. they are typically sold smoked and are often used in southern cooking - soups, collard greeds, beans, and so forth. my butcher counter regularly sells ham hocks, but if yours doesn't just ask your butcher if he or she can get one for you. i always feel that butchers or fishmongers are underused at grocery stores - they can, and are happy to, do a lot of things for you (mince, grind a certain blend of meat, de-bone, and so on). if they say no, see if they can give you a recommendation on what store might have them, but these are pretty ubiquitous because of their many uses, especially in the winter months. and if you're a reader from the southern united states i'm sure you're rolling your eyes at this captain obvious statement. onwards!
just a gratuitous picture of the amazing white roses i picked up last week (from my local deli, mind you) that brightened up the whole apartment. way to go local deli. now, for real, onwards!
since we are limited with our cooking, i am focusing on recipes that don't require any browning of meat or pre-cooking of some sort. this recipe called for pre-heating the stock up to a boil but i skipped it - again, didn't make a difference. to save yourself another step, you could also pick up pre-made mirepoix at the market. trader joe's sells it year round and it is the best timesaver - had i not had carrots and an onion i needed to use that's what i would have done. so, into your slow cooker go all the ingreidnets - cook on high for six hours and BOOM, done (well, almost). the slow cooker recipes that just require you to put everything in one pot, no work beforehand, and turn it on are the best for busy weekdays. when it's done cooking, or when you get home from work, take the ham hock out and cut off what you can and dice it. this can take about ten minutes and you have to cut here, there, and everywhere - there are some bones and fat that you don't want to put back in the soup, but it's mostly delicious (and smoky) ham.
 then? enjoy. it makes a lot, so it's great for a family, big get together, or leftovers to last throughout the week. i absolutely love split pea soup and i am personally very pumped about this recipe - it will be in heavy rotation next winter. bookmark this one for sure, or use it for some of the blustery spring nights ahead!
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