Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Club II: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

The book club I was just invited to selected In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan as their April Book choice. Lucky for me, my original book club had picked this book for our January read.

Overall it is an educational book, or at least it was for me. The basic idea is: eat pure foods. If the food wasn't alive or directly derived from something that was living at one point, don't eat it. When buying prepared foods, the fewer ingredients listed the better the food probably is for you.

Did I change my food choices as a result of reading the book? No.
Do I buy organic? No, because I am cheap.
Have I increased my fruit/vegetable intake? Yes. However this change is unrelated to the book.
Does it make me think about the foods I eat? Yeah, sometimes. I think about it more with light, fat free or low-cal products. Only because I wonder how did they make it fat free and what was added to make it "healthy."
Is there anything I want to change or do as a result of reading this book? Yes. I kind of want to subscribe to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. As a member you receive weekly deliveries of sustainably grown produce during the standard growing season (June-October).

At book club we barely discussed the book, but that's okay. It was a great excuse to get together and meet new people (and talk to some I don't see often enough). I asked to become a permanent add and am excited to find out what the book is for next month.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Le petit déjeuner

This is a picture of my breakfast this morning.
{It's not a lovely picture, I know but it is the best I have.}

Here is the reason I took the picture:
Those eggs are Original Egg Beaters and this was my first ever Egg Beaters experience.

I'm not sure if it was my imagination or not, but I thought the Egg Beaters took longer than regular eggs to firm up during the cooking process. Outside of that and the fact they are poured from a cardboard container, they seemed like regular eggs.

I added garlic powder, dried basil, pepper and some bacon salt while they cooked and then gobbled them up post-photo.

My verdict: I like them! In fact I have already planned to have them for breakfast again tomorrow.
*Yes. I've been living under a rock. I know Egg Beaters have been around for a long time now and this is not a new-to-market product. However, it is still new-to-me.

Addendum from Egg Beaters website:
What's the right way to scramble Egg Beaters?
For skillet scrambling, spray nonstick skillet with PAM® No-Stick Cooking Spray and preheat over medium. Shake and pour desired amount of Egg Beaters into heated skillet. Cook without stirring until edges and bottom begin to set. Lift cooked portion and gently turn to scramble. Continue cooking until set.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Club: The Monsters of Templeton

Our April Book was The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.

In short I liked it! I thought it was a fun read - light and breezy, but still interesting.

The book is about a girl (Willie) who returns to her home town after a 'mishap' at graduate school. Then Willie's hippie mother lets it slip that Willie is not the love child of an unknown man from San Francisco, but instead was fathered by a man from her small town. The remaining story involves Willie's intense research to identify her real father.

Oh yeah - and did I mention that the day she arrives back to the town a huge monster (similar to Loch Ness) is discovered dead in the lake? Well, there's that too.

But I swear it is a good book. Don't let the monster throw you off... it's worth the read.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gopher FB Spring Game

Today the Gopher football team kicked off the year with a Spring Game outdoors. The Minnesota football team played at O’Shaughnessy Stadium on the campus of the University of St. Thomas.

Being the good fans we are -- we went to watch and cheer them on!!

Gold vs. Maroon scrimmaged against each other, the A vs B team. It was fun to watch some of the runs and catches. The game ended in a tie, 17-17.
*Frankly I was a little surprised it didn't go into overtime.

The score was kind of significant too! Only 17 more days until we select our seats in the new TCF Stadium!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes + Cream Cheese Frosting

This week is our year end at work which in short means = busy. In years past it has also meant snacks. As of today we didn't have any snacks in our team - so I decided I would bring some in. I mentioned it to my friend and she also wanted to contribute with a baked good. Long story short - I sent out a survey to the team to find out the top two craved sweet treats. The winners? Brownies and Cupcakes.

I've been wanting to try piping frosting on cupcakes, so I jumped at the chance to make those. I baked the cupcakes as soon as I got home so they could cool and be frosted.

Then I made the frosting [Uh. I love cream cheese frosting!!], put it into piping bags and started frosting the cupcakes.

Rich took pictures of my first time frosting cupcakes with a piping bag. It was a far faster process than when I frosted the sugar cookies for my first craft.

Here is the finished product:

I filled the cupcake carrier with 24 cupcakes destined for the office. I thought they looked pretty good for my first try. Update: Another treat that disappeared! Yea!! These were gone by 9:40a.

Six bonus cupcakes didn't fit in the carrier, so Rich got some too! With these I got to experiment with the other reason I wanted to make cupcakes: filling them.

This also worked!! I already have plans for a next time...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Say Cheese!!

Today after work I attended a Cheese Education class regarding the perfect condiment pairings for various cheeses.

First off, let me just say: YUM!!! This was one of the most delicious experiences!

I wish I would have taken more photos of the spread when I originally arrived, but I was camera shy. In fact, all of these pictures are quick snap shots...

Each table was loaded with bread, water, pears, almonds and grapes. Our instructors handed out a worksheet and we started tasting 9 different cheese/condiment pairings.

Here's a blurry Mary (I turned the flash on after this) - scooping out some pistachio honey to accompany her Malvarosa cheese.

And me with the Guava Paste partnered with the Ossau Irraty. [We also tried it with Quince paste.]

After we reviewed each of the pairings on the worksheet, we continued to pass around the cheeses and various accoutrements for second and third tastings. This allowed us to add a bit of variation to the recommendations and create our own ideal coupling.

Here Mary and I are after the class; at this point we had been eating cheese for 1.5 hours [notice the St. Agur blue cheese directly in front of me - this was also one of my favorites].

As a result of this course, I have decided: I will be having a wine and cheese tasting party and soon. Double Yum!

Here is the complete list of pairings we sampled:
La Tur + Prosecco Jam [one of my favorites]
Malvarosa + Pistachio Honey [another fave]
Comte St. Antoine + Hazelnuts [and another]
Brie Chatelain + Pears
Ossau Irraty + Quince Paste [and another]
Vintage 5 year Gouda + Prosciutto [and another]
Saint Albray + Warm Truffle Honey
St. Agur + Chocolates [another]
Grafton 4 year + French Nugget [and again]

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Avocado Ice Cream

A while back we saw Avocado Ice Cream made on Good Eats with Alton Brown. Rich has mentioned on occassion that we should try it. Seeing as we finally finished the Bacon Ice Cream from Valentine's Day (which I still swear I will create a post about in the future), I decided it was time we give it a whirl.

The ingredients are very simple and the process even easier. Without eggs, there was no need to create the custard base typical in ice cream. Which meant I was able to make the base and the ice cream on the same night.

Avocado Ice Cream
(Source: Alton Brown - Food Network)

3 small to medium avocados
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice [After tasting the mix, I increated this to the juice of 1/2 a lemon]
1 1/2 cups whole milk [I substituted fat free half and half here]
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream [I substituted skim milk here]

Peel and pit the avocados. Add the avocados, lemon juice, milk, and sugar to a blender and puree.

Transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl, add the heavy cream and whisk to combine. [I added the half and half to the blender too so as not to dirty an extra dish.]

Place the mixture into the refrigerator and chill until it reaches 40 degrees F or below, approximately 4 to 6 hours.

Process the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. However, this mixture sets up very fast, so count on it taking only 5 to 10 minutes to process. For soft ice cream, serve immediately. If desired, place in freezer for 3 to 4 hours for firmer texture.

I packaged some ice cream for us and another container for my parents and brother.

This ice cream sets up HARD!! I think that has something to do with the fact there is not the egg/custard base. Either way, it's kind of an avocado ice cube. But when subjected to the microwave for ~30 seconds it seems to be just fine.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spring Has Sprung

**These next few posts are back-posts. While I had a lot to type about last week, I didn't have the time.**

Finally it is beautiful here - warm, sunny and things are greening up!! I took a half day from work today to work in our yard.

We raked all of the remaining leaves from the yard and those that blanketed the berm and landscaping we put in last year. We applied new mulch and put down grass seed & fertilizer throughout the backyard (that's all of the bright green stuff on the lawn).

And of course - planted pansies and violets.

I also managed to find a need for an additional assortment of plants for my favorite blue pot.

This is our first year with a perennial garden and landscaping to care for. I'm excited to see what comes up!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rich started smoking...

Rich started smoking a little after noon today, 12:50p to be exact. He slow smoked a pork roast on the grill for 4.5 hours, pulled it apart and then poured his homemade Carolina hot sauce on the meat.

The best part? I was at work until after 6:30p and came home to a WONDERFUL home-cooked meal prepared by my man!!

{The proud chef with the pulled pork}
Have I mentioned how fantastic it was?! It was the best pulled pork I have ever had. Rich mentioned tweaking the sauce recipe, but my response was, "Why would you want to mess with perfection?!"

I don't actually have the recipe to share because I didn't play a role in the process. BUT - I am quite certain we will make this again (and again, and again) and this time share with others. [We have already discussed bringing it to tailgating this fall.] We'll be eating pulled pork sandwiches lunch and dinner for a few days; you'll hear no complaints from me!


Kettlebell Class V

Our fourth class was a lot of circuit work, so I didn't write it down. I did, however, jot down what we did today. It's a little hard to believe this took a full hour, it doesn't seem like there's much there... but it did!!

- Around the body
- Figure 8
- Slow Arm Curls; 1 minute
- Arm Curls (gradually increase speed); 1 minute
- Darcy (switch hands mid-swing); 1 minute [repeat x1]
- Snatch (R); 10 reps
- Snatch (L); 10 reps
- Snatch (R); 15 reps
- Snatch (L); 15 reps
- Turkish Get up (2 sets) [This is a pretty complex sequence of moves and took quite a while to teach]
Circuit Work:

- Squats: 7 [Repeat x2]
- Squats: 6 [Repeat x2]
- Squats: 5 [Repeat x2]
- Kettlebell Pommel Horse (not the official name): w/ two bells on floor, get in plank position, swing legs through bells, lift each leg individually and then lift both legs simultaneously (similar to pommel horse)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Work = Busy

I am really busy at work. We are approaching the end of our fiscal year and everyone wants to prepare for next year. As a result I've been working significant hours to meet demands.

The first photo is at my company's newest campus. The photo itself isn't a lot to look at - but - note the cup. There is a Caribou Coffee in the building! In fact, I sat in the Caribou area, fired up my laptop and used the Wi-Fi for several hours last Friday. I had all the benefits of being at the office but was in close proximity to a warm latte. It was great!! [I should have taken more photos - the building itself is really impressive!]

This was my desk when I got home from work tonight. The weather has perked up the last few days and while I had a lot of work to do, I couldn't imagine doing it indoors and missing the weather. So I set up an outdoor workspace and pulled together some data for my meetings tomorrow. Outside and productive, love it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter in WI

We had a terrific Easter weekend with Rich's family. They live ~2 hours away, so we pack up the dog and make a vacation of our visits. We left the house around 10a and made it there by 11:58a. AMAZING timing!! The wind must have been behind us.

Once we arrived we settled in, played with Malin for a while and then headed inside for Barbecue (aka Sloppy Joes) sandwiches my mother-in-law had prepared for us. They were super yummy! I have her recipe and will make and post-it sometime...

After lunch my father-in-law suggested Rich and I take a ride on the 4-wheelers. I rode with Rich and we took in some scenery. It was a LOT of fun. After we got back I wanted a turn driving. So Rich got behind me and we went for a quick slow spin in the field. (I'm not a very fast driver on that thing... )

{Me and Rich: Happy in WI}
Sunday we went for a tasty brunch with the whole family. All of Rich's siblings and spouses were there along with a majority of the nieces and nephews. After brunch we went back to the farm and headed to the river. We all sat along the bank enjoyed the beautiful spring weather, chatted and caught some sun. After a while we were hungry so we headed back to the farm for dinner and people starting having to take off.

{Rich's siblings & dad}
Malin loves being at the farm! There is so much open area for him -- though for the most part he stays pretty close to us. Throughout the weekend we played with his "Chuck-it" and new Frisbee. He's certainly showing improvement at giving the toys back so we can throw them for him.

Before we packed up I asked to take one more spin on the 4-wheeler. (What can I say?! It was pretty fun!) The bonus this time was we decided to tucker Malin out, so while I drove he chased me. [Uh - our dog is really fast] I drove as fast as I dared and he was right behind me. I had a blast - and from the looks of it - Malin did too.

{Malin chasing me on the 4-wheeler}

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I love my Peeps!!

Happy Easter!! We are in WI with Rich's family to celebrate Easter this year. [It is so nice to see his family! We haven't seen them since Thanksgiving, which is WAY too long!!]

In celebration of today, here is some Easter Trivia:
• The name Easter owes its origin from Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess who symbolizes hare and egg.
• Easter always falls between March 22 and April 25.
• Pysanka is a specific term used for the practice of Easter egg painting.
• The initial baskets of Easter resembled bird's nests.
• Next to Halloween, Easter holiday paves way for confectionary business to boom.
• Each year witnesses the making of nearly 90 million chocolate bunnies
• Nearly 700 million Peeps were sold in 2007; they can make up to 4.2 million Peeps a day!
• When it comes to eating of chocolate bunnies, it is the ears that are preferred to be eaten first by as many as 76% of people.

By the way: 1 Peep = 28 calories; 1 serving is 5 Peeps. That was surprising to me!!

Want to know how Peeps are made? The Chicago Tribune did a photo feature on the Peep-making process last week (or at least that's when I found it). I love picture #2.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A wrinkle in time

I've noticed I am starting to get defined lines around the corners of my eyes. It's not a huge deal, but I'd like to try to slow my wrinkling if possible. The other week my friend Laura and I were talking about our respective wrinkles and the products we use.

Strangely enough, I've turned to Costco for help. (Love that place!!) They sell face creams in two packs; kinds that I am too cheap to buy on their own. The paired packaging works terrific as I've been able to split the cost with my mom and aunt.

We've bought both the Roc Deep Wrinkle Day (+SPF) and Night treatments and the Oil of Olay Regenerist Micro-sculpting Cream. [I really can't imagine I will need more than those...]

The Roc creams are supposed to diminish "expression lines" and deep wrinkles. Of course it also acts as a moisturizer, SPF (the daytime version) leaving the skin smoother and younger-looking. And who am I kidding - that is the goal!

The Oil of Olay stuff is supposed to regenerate volume and shape, restore elasticity and firm sagging skin. I may be delusional, but as far as I know I don't have any of the problems above and things will stay that way. [Okay… maybe I am delusional… ]

I mentioned my expression lines to my friend Mary, too. She's an esthetician and knows preventative (and reactive) measures to reduce the signs of aging. Her first suggestion: wear sunglasses. So I bought a fresh pair of sunglasses (from Target this time) and will make an effort to wear them!
Here's what I don't have (and kind of want): Oil of Olay Microdermabrasion & Peel System. Laura has it and uses it twice a week. It sounds interesting. It's two products: derma crystals and an activator serum. Apparently the serum reacts with the crystals creating a conditioning foam and warming sensation. It resurfaces the skin's texture, activates cell renewal and diminishes fine lines and wrinkles. I'll wait a while on this one. Maybe Costco will start stocking it…

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Care Package II

One of the cards/envelopes I made in March was for my brother's girlfriend in Poland. She'll be coming to visit soon, so I made her envelope using a map of MN and indicated where our parent's house was versus our home to help her get the lay of the land.

Since I had to go the post-office to mail her card, I figured I might as well send her a care package, too. (After all, the first time I sent care packages was in February. And it would be fun!)

I stopped at a local drugstore to buy some goodies and then wrote her an explanation as to what I had picked for her and why:

  • Boyer Marshmallow Cups - The brand name is just two letters different than my maiden name
  • Pearson's Maple Bun - It's made in Minnesota!! My mom's favorite is the Nut Roll, but they weren't selling it at the store where I stopped.
  • Charleston Chew & Boston Baked Beans - These I bought because they are both cities in the US (Charleston, SC and Boston, MA)
  • Pop Rocks - Just because they are fun
  • Jumbo Banana Split Lip Balm - Also fun, but I figured one should be a non-food (even if it was food-inspired) surprise

I had my bro let me know as soon as she received it so I could post this blog entry. I hope she liked it!!

[Coincidentally, Dominika had sent us a care package of her own to my parent's house. In our package we had a card, an Easter Palm, Sugar Lamb and intricately painted wooden egg. So cute and fun *and* considerate!!]

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Brightest Bulb

I've tried to be patient. I've tried to reason with myself. I recognize the outdoors is not plant-friendly at this time of year. I know these things... but...

This weekend I finally cracked and bought plants for spring!!! Nothing grand and nothing that can't survive right now. I only bought bulbs and from Costco, but that only equates to two bags: Calla Lilies and Dahlias.

For now the bulbs are sitting in our garage, in the bags they were purchased in... but in the next month they will be planted. Each bulb should sprout in summer and hopefully provide flowers not long there after.

It's going to happen. Spring will not forget us. Spring will come again this year and when it does, I'm still going to buy pansies or violets right away. Yup same plan, same warning.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Loose Tea Time

My brother has been a tea enthusiast since the semester he spent in England. He recently found a great deal on tea mugs with an infuser. He, being the thoughtful brother he is, picked up two more than he needed so that Rich and I could each have one too.

Now that we have these awesome cups that accommodate loose tea, we needed loose tea. Of course I could have just bought a tin of loose tea, but I didn't want to commit to one flavor. Bulk tea was the solution.

I mentioned my search to mom and aunt and they recommended Teavana. What a great suggestion!!

I walked into Teavana and quickly tried all of the four tea samples they had out. Then I headed to the counter. They have these huge tins of tea in all sorts of varieties, types, caffeine levels and flavors. You pick one that sounds interesting and the employee takes off the lid and fans the aroma your way. I probably had the poor woman take out 10+ varietals - each one smelled terrific!!

I ended up finding three different teas to buy. The first one is Blueberry Bliss. This is a caffeine-free tea and made with dried blueberries. It smells fruity and is super light and tasty.
The second type I bought is Zingiber Ginger Coconut tea another caffeine-free tea. This one for sure smells like coconuts and the tropics, but the taste is much spicier. I read the description and apparently this has black pepper... so that explains the spice.

The final version I purchased was Almond Biscotti Black tea, 20% caffeine. This smells like a baked good, so the name is very fitting. It tastes like one too! What a nice start to the day!!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Kale + Lemon + Parmesan Salad

In addition to candy sushi, I brought a Kale salad to my family's Spring Celebration. It is a super lemony salad, so if you aren't a lemon/citrus fan you probably won't want to make this one.

Kale is typically blanched before use, but this recipe calls for raw kale. The lemon juice acts a pickling agent and tenderizes the kale, so it best to allow the salad time to marinate before serving. [I've tried both waiting a few minutes-hours and think overnight is ideal.]

Kale + Lemon + Parmesan Salad
serves 4
1 large bunch kale, washed and trimmed of stems
4 ounces Parmesan grated [Pecorino, Romano or other hard, salty cheese would work too]
1 lemon, juiced
[Optional: 1/2 cup olive oil]
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

Remove the stems of each kale leaf [I found the best method was to fold the leaf in half, cut along the stem and discard.]

Roll the stack of de-veined leaves tightly and thinly slice into ribbons. [I go over the ribbons again with a knife to get the pieces even smaller, similar to parsley in tabouli. I should mention, the photo is from the first time I made this salad. It was after this attempt that I decided to cut the kale into smaller pieces.] Place the kale ribbons into a bowl.

Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a bowl. [Whisk in Olive Oil if using. I omit the olive oil, but if you want your dressing to be more of a vinaigrette, use it.] Pour lemon juice over kale.

Grate Parmesan over kale + lemon. Mix salad contents and add salt/pepper to taste. Cover and store in fridge. [As I mentioned, I let the salad marinate overnight occasionally tossing and turning the marinating salad to make sure all Kale is coated with the lemon juice.]

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Winner, Winner, Sushi Dinner

Neither one of our brackets were very pretty this year. We each correctly chose only one Final Four team, UNC. The difference was I had UNC going to the championship and Rich didn't.

Here are the results:


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Craft #4 - Candy Sushi

Before April even started I had a plan for this month's craft. I spotted Candy Sushi online earlier this week and considered making it for April Fools Day but decided instead to make it for our family Spring Celebration earlier today. Candy sushi looks like regular sushi but is made with rice crispies, gummy worms, licorice, fruit roll-ups and other candy options.

I started by making a batch of rice crispy bars following my usual recipe, the one on the bag of marshmallows. I added an extra handful of mini marshmallows to make sure the bars were pliable enough, but next time I would add quite a few more to the mix (maybe close to doubling the amount). I poured the rice crispy mixture into a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Press the mixture (damp hands help curb the stickiness) into a thin layer (~1/2" thick). [The recipe I used made 1 full cookie sheet and a 9x9 pan.]

Once cooled, I trimmed the bars into rectangles the width of a fruit roll-up and added candy.

I rolled the Rice Crispy around the candy, but only one time around (otherwise the "rice" layer will be too thick).

I trimmed the excess with a sharp knife, wrapped the log with a fruit roll-up and squeezed. [Green roll-ups would have been ideal, but fruit roll-ups are surprisingly hard to find!! So instead I settled on Tropical Tie-Dye and Crazy Orange Wildfire.]

I removed the cellophane wrapper and...

...cut the log, again using a sharp knife, into 1" rounds. [I liked to leave the candy sticking out the log ends, similar to sushi rolls at restaurants.]

My one batch of rice crispies made 12+ rolls of candy sushi. Each roll provided 5-6 sushi pieces.

I also had extra rice crispy trimmings that I turned into nigiri. Gummy octopi [plural for octopus] and Swedish fish served as my nigiri fish pieces and I placed them on a 1"x2" block of rice crispy.

I cut a fruit roll-up into ~1/2" strips and wrapped each gummy/rice crispy block.

Ta-da! I had created my own all-you-can-eat version of candy sushi!! The sushi sparked a lot of fun comments and conversation at the party; hopefully everyone thought it was tasty too! [As far as taste goes, I "tested" several pieces during the creation process for quality purposes ;) and I thought they were good. ]

[It's not pictured here, but I also created mock-wasabi and ginger. I took green food coloring and coated mini-marshmallows for wasabi and piled sliced strawberry fruit roll-up for ginger. I found another SUPER cute idea, but discovered it post-party: chocolate sauce for soy sauce. So cute!!]