Tuesday, March 30, 2010


having fresh cut flowers
on the table every day
certainly helped me get through
this winter.

Friday, March 26, 2010

happy friday.

a few more film shots
from california.
unfortunately, there are no blossoming trees
here in illinois.
have a good weekend, all!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Just a few steps behind, with beer-braised sausages.

So I know it's spring and all (though judging by the cold, wet snow that blew in on Saturday, you might not have known), and that means the transition from bubbling comfort foods to green salads is well under way. But on Friday, when the sun was still shining after coming home from work and I threw open the sliding glass doors in the living room, instead of dusting off the grill for some outdoor cooking, I braised.

It felt a little wrong, I'm not going to lie. Especially since there were Italian sausages involved, which I absolutely love on the grill, paired with green peppers and onions and slathered with red sauce. I really can't explain my reasoning here, except that it seems I've woken up from some kind of deep winter sleep, during which I lost all motivation to cook anything new and survived simply on old stand-bys and leftovers and a great deal of eating out.

Now, as I blink open tired eyes and fumble around the kitchen, while everyone else is waiting on the edge of their seats for the radishes and the asparagus and sausages on the grill, I'm just a few steps behind, braising. But the way I've been cooking all weekend (three trips to the grocery store in the last three days!), I'm sure it won't take long for me to catch up.

These sausages are simple and satisfying. And easy, which is exactly what I'm looking for in a Friday night meal. The potatoes simmer with the sausages in the braising liquid to soak in all the flavor, and in the end, the liquid is cooked down into a rich, thick sauce. There's beer involved, too, which -- let's face it -- is welcome any season of the year.

Beer-Braised Sausages with Warm Potato Salad
(from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausages (original recipe calls for sweet, but I used hot)
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons
12 ounces pale ale beer (I used New Belgium Mighty Arrow)
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, halved
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

In a large heavy pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausages and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add onion and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Add beer, potatoes, and 2 cups of water; season with salt and pepper and press to submerge the potatoes in the cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the sausages to a serving platter and keep warm. In a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon oil, vinegar, and parsley. With a slotted spoon, transfer the potato and onion mixture to dressing, reserving cooking liquid, and toss to combine.

Return pot to high heat and boil cooking liquid until reduced to 1 cup, about 12 minutes. Return sausages to pot and cook until heated through, 2 minutes. Serve sausages with sauce drizzled over top and the remaining sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings.
Calories per serving: 484

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Here comes the sun.

It's happening.

Today, I wore a short-sleeved shirt and left my jacket in the car. I jogged around the park in the sunshine and breathed in the fresh air. I drove with the windows down. And I came home to fresh tulips and an apartment filled with evening light.


I want to believe that it's here for good. I really, truly do. But this time last year, there were those same blue skies and sunny days and then, too, I was skeptical. And for good reason, because come April, there was snow. It was an "I told you so" that no one ever wants to admit.

I don't know if it's the Chicago-winter survivor in me or if I'm just an eternal pessimist (or if the two go hand in hand?), but I'm no stranger to this combination of hope and skepticism. This past weekend, I decided that it's time to start making changes in my diet and lifestyle -- cutting back calories, exercising more, keeping track and being more aware of what I eat. Really this time. It's going to mean a lot of meal planning and cooking lighter foods, eating out less, working out more, and portion control. Once I got started, I realized something: It's really not so bad.

Did you know that a cup and a half of homemade soup, paired with a big salad, can go a long way? That if you slow down while you eat, you start to feel just how full you really are? That fruit is delicious? I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I just learned all of this in the past several days, but better late than never, I suppose. No, make that better late than never, most definitely.

And then that skepticism starts creeping in, and I start to tell myself that it's still too early to be so hopeful. These are still just the first sunny days, after all, filled with tulips and blue skies and fresh air, and it's all so new and exciting. But what happens if the snow returns? Will I find myself getting tired of the prepping and planning, grasping for motivation and finding nothing but a frozen pizza and a couch?

Instead of waiting around for all of that to happen, however, I will remain hopeful. Spring is near, and I'll take every warm day it gives me. I may not be able to control the weather, but I can control how I live this life. And that means I can have my creamy pasta dish and eat it, too.

p.s. Thank you, Jenny, for the motivation and the inspiration.

Creamy Cajun Shrimp Linguine (Adapted from Cooking Light)

1 cup water
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
6 ounces uncooked linguine
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms
1 large red bell pepper, cut into (1/4-inch-thick) slices
1/2 cup of frozen peas, thawed
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
2/3 cup half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste

Combine 1 cup water and broth in a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Break pasta in half, add to pan and bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 8 minutes. Add shrimp to pan. Cover and simmer for 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion to pan and cook until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and red pepper to pan and saute until moisture evaporates. Add flour and Cajun seasoning to pan and sauté 30 seconds. Stir in peas and half-and-half; cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add shrimp and pasta mixture to pan; toss. Serve with a side of lightly dressed greens.

Serving size: 1 1/2 cups. Makes 4 servings.
Calories per serving: 365

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Go-to. And Honey.

When it comes to eating out, most people have their everyday go-to for just about any kind of food. And if you don't, you probably should. Because sometimes that craving just hits, out of nowhere, maybe even during a jog around the neighborhood, and you'll come home with that craving just burrowing a hole in the pit of your stomach. And before you can even kick off your running shoes, your fiance peeks his head up from his spot on the couch and suggests innocently, "Wanna go out for Indian food?" And you're reminded, once again, that you were meant for each other.

Murdo and I currently have a go-to spot for Chinese food, sushi, gyros, schnitzel, Cajun food, deli sandwiches and, most recently, Indian food. We realize that we eat out too much, and we're working on seeking help.

There's something about the go-to that makes it different than other restaurants. We discovered most of ours through the Clipper, our local coupon magazine that comes once a month, which I'm not ashamed to admit that I kind of look forward to. (Fifteen percent off sushi! Buy one get one free entrees! Free appetizer!) I've also noticed that they're usually not winners in the decor and ambiance category. Elevator music plays in the background. The walls are pink. Just yesterday at the Indian place, I told Murdo that I felt like we were at a potluck in the basement of a church. And then our food arrived, and we inhaled the samosas and slathered our rice with tender chicken and fragrant sauce and, mouths full, mumbled, "This is soooo gooood."


These types of places are dangerous, people. They may not look like four shining-star reviews from the outside (or the inside), but they don't have to. Once you've tried the food, you're hooked. So hooked that after a few weeks, you have to look your significant other in the eye and admit you both have a problem. As a result, Murdo and I only allow ourselves Chinese food once a month. And you better believe that on the first of the month, we are so there.

And then there are places like Honey. I went to Honey one Saturday morning in February with Shanna, and as soon as I set foot in the door, I just wanted pull out my camera and start taking pictures. The light! The artwork! The flowers! This place is so cute and bright and happy. We took a seat in the back near the window, and chatted away about food and photography and Lost and life, as we do (and do quite well, I might add).

Honey is a good place for that -- for catching up with a good friend, and for sitting back and enjoying the surroundings, and oh they serve food here, too?! Awesome. Good food, nonetheless: Eggs Benedict over smoked salmon and spinach kind of good. Veggie burger and thick-cut sweet potato fries kind of good. That's right, it's like that.

I wasn't shoveling my food into my face, and I'm not craving to go back right this instant, but it is certainly a place I will return to. I did suggest it to Murdo one day, and upon looking at the menu online, he made it apparent that this was not his type of place. It would not be an everyday go-to for eggs or veggie burgers. Which is actually fine with me, because I'd rather save it for brunch dates with girlfriends. It's good to have a go-to, but it's also good to have that special, once-in-a-while treat that you can come to with a friend who always loves a good adventure. (Thanks, Shanna!)

If you ever find yourself in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, here are a few of my (and Murdo's) favorite spots.

House of Emperor
Cuisine of India
Sakura of Tokyo
Heaven on Seven
Nicky's Red Hots
Schmaltz Deli

The Bavarian Lodge
Passero's Pizza

Glen Ellyn:
Bistro Monet
And, of course, Honey.