Thursday, December 20, 2012

Let it snow.


Can I tell you a secret? I kind of hope it snows tonight. They're saying it will, although they said there would be blizzard-like conditions by now, and outside, it's still just raining. I know my future self, the one who will be knee deep in snow, longing for sunshine in the middle of March, will hate me for saying so. My past self, the one has spent hours shoveling her parents' driveway from just one snowfall, the one who has brushed off a half a foot of snow off her car only to find two more inches of ice to chisel away, would probably throw a snowball at me for saying so. My husband, if he reads this post, might just name me Official Driveway Shoveler from now until we die. So I feel wrong for saying so.


But it also feels wrong when Christmas comes and goes, and there is not a single snowflake to be seen. When outside, instead of white, bright and sparkling, it's gray, dreary and just plain cold. There is something to be said about a white Christmas. And guys, it may not be December 25 yet, but Christmas has definitely begun.

I can tell by the steady stream of sweets and cards on the treat table next to the printer at work. By the ribbons and wrapping paper and unwrapped gifts and Sour Patch Kids candy canes that currently surround me. By the gifts under the tree -- a big box for Murdo, from me, and three from him to me. We're opening them tonight, our first Christmas exchange in our first home with our first Christmas tree (which is covered in Star Wars ornaments, complete with a Yoda tree topper). We'll have a fire in the fireplace. I'll have either bourbon or hot chocolate. Or both!


Next week, we'll spend Christmas day with my entire family for the first time in years. We'll watch my nieces, ages 6 and 3, rip open their gifts from Santa. I can't wait to see their faces light up, the way that only a child's face on Christmas morning can. We'll celebrate my nephew's first Christmas. We'll wander downtown Chicago with Murdo's family, and enjoy the city lights and German beers. We'll throw a baby shower for my sister-in-law. And maybe, if it snows, we'll get some sledding and snowman-making in.

But if it doesn't, that'll be OK, too. There's enough white and bright and happy in that last paragraph to make up for it, and then some. 

Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 2, 2012

A slow cooker, an easy dinner, chicken and biscuits.

10:30, Sunday night. I was perfectly fine spending the rest of the evening packing up my bag and lunch for tomorrow, playing Angry Birds: Star Wars, and going to bed. But then I saw my laptop sitting in the corner, this space untouched for a week or so, and well. Here I am, with not much to say. It was a quiet weekend -- we put up our Christmas tree, took a walk on this 60-something-degree day (hello, December?), tried a new Chinese place just three minutes from our house. 

What I do have for you tonight is slow cooker chicken and biscuits. Or, the easiest dinner ever. 


Here is what you do: the night before, chop the vegetables and toss with flour in a big Ziploc bag. Gather all of your other ingredients (chicken, spices, chicken broth, wine if you're using it) and keep them somewhere easily accessible and obvious so you won't miss them in the morning, when you're getting ready for work and suddenly remember that you also have to cook dinner before you rush out the door. It also helps to pull out your slow cooker and put it on the counter the night before, so when you see it in the morning, there's no way you'll forget. 

In the morning, grab your bag of veggies and dump them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Nestle in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, chicken thighs, salt, pepper, broth and wine. Cover, turn the slow cooker on (don't forget that one), and go about your morning. Maybe you'll still have time to stop for coffee! But probably not.

When you get home, dinner is almost ready. All you have to do is add some peas and milk (or cream) to the slow cooker and let your oven preheat while you take a quick shower, or pour a glass of wine, or settle on the couch to think about nothing at all, just for a few nice minutes. When the oven is hot, throw in some biscuits (we like Trader Joe's canned biscuits; don't judge), and 15 minutes later, dinner is served. 

I love how easy this dinner is. I also love that Murdo loves it, enough that when I was agonizing over what to make for dinner last week, he suggested "that chicken stuff" and I could've hugged him for that. I don't know why I didn't. But mostly, of course, I love that when I'm eating it, I often stop and look down at my plate of food and wonder how something so easy can be so good. And then I wonder where I can find more recipes like this. 

Let me know if you have any suggestions. Also, make this for dinner this week. 



Slow Cooker Chicken and Biscuits (from Real Simple)

4 carrots, cut into large chunks
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (trimmed of fat, if you have time)
fresh thyme or rosemary
salt and black pepper
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup of white wine (if you don't have white wine or don't want to use it, just add more broth)
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup heavy cream or milk
6 biscuits, canned or homemade

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, toss together the carrots, celery, onions, garlic and flour (I usually do this step the night before, tossing all together in a large Ziploc bag, along with some salt and pepper). Place the chicken on top of the veggies. Insert a few sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary between the chicken and veggies. (If you don't have fresh herbs, just use whatever dried herbs and spices you have on hand. I also throw in some dried oregano.) Add salt and pepper, then broth and wine (if using). 

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for 4 hours. When it's done, add the peas and cream and stir to combine. Let heat through, about 10 minutes. Prepare biscuits according to package directions about 20 minutes before serving. 

To serve, split one or two biscuits in half and place at the bottom of a shallow bowl. Top with chicken mixture and plenty of broth. Don't be afraid of the broth -- the biscuits soak up most of the liquid to make the dish thicker and less soupy. Then pat yourself on the back for making such a delicious dinner, and eat it up. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Right now.




The sun sets.
Folding chairs and tables propped up in the living room, from an evening of drinks and pizza and family and friends.
A husband stirring downstairs in the family room, freshly woken from a nap.
Turkey stock simmers on the stove.
In the fridge: leftover turkey and ham. Plus: Popeye's chicken, deep dish pizza, a slice each of pumpkin and blueberry pie, wine, beer, polish sausages and sauerkraut. In my belly: the last of the stuffing, mashed potatoes, cheesy broccoli casserole.
Clean dishes in the dishwasher.
Loads of laundry.
Slippers.
A lit up  Santa's rosy face, hanging from the house next door.
A glass of milk. A snickerdoodle.


Martha Stewart’s Snickerdoodles (from Martha Stewart's Cookies)
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Put butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.
Stir together cinnamon and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 20 (1 3/4-inch) balls; roll in cinnamon sugar. Space 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Bake cookies until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on wire racks. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

On food, and photos, and why.


Her question got me thinking. 


I started taking photos of my food when I got my first camera, and I was unemployed and living at my parents' house, and I started cooking them dinner every night because I had the time and they paid for the groceries and washed all the dishes so why not. And it was more of a "Look what I made!" kind of moment when I took out my camera and started snapping pics of eggplant parmesan, enchiladas, chilli. 



I guess somewhere along the way, once I started getting more into photography and amazed at how a photo can turn a simple moment into so much more, that I wanted my food photos to represent that, as well. "That" being the moment. And more. Here is where I struggle today.

There are times when I take pictures of my food because I just love the way runny egg yolk explodes over a dish. It's the same feeling I get when I cut into a perfectly ripe avocado, and see that gorgeous green color. Looking at photos of foods that make me happy makes me, well, happy.



And then there is this photo hanging up in my kitchen of an omelet. I couldn't even tell you what was in that omelet but I can tell you that I took the picture in Mexico, during my sister's wedding week, and there is a glass of juice on the table because there was a fresh juice bar every day at breakfast, and Murdo is in the shot, blurry but there, and when I look at this photo I am taken back to this moment. It's one of my favorite photos (and moments).



I take pictures of food because I love food. I love what food says about who we are and the people we share our meals with. How the smell and taste and look evokes feelings, memories. Transports us back to long summer days in Mom and Dad's backyard, or an apple orchard in Michigan on a wedding day, or a house in California with a lemon tree outside the window. Right now, looking at the pictures of food hanging on the wall next to me, there are all of these things. Captured, framed, forever.




Thursday, November 15, 2012

Real blogging.


Things I think about lately when it comes to my blog:
  • I don't feel like writing. Or cooking. Or taking photos.
  • I can't believe I took a day trip to Madison and didn't take my camera out once.
  • This cilantro-onion mix is crucial to taco night. Do I blog about it? What's to blog about? It's cilantro and onions, chopped finely and mixed together with fresh lime juice. 
  • Why do I need to post a recipe, anyway?
  • I would take photos around the house, but god this house is a mess. And it doesn't look like how I want it to. 
  • It's too dark to take pictures of food. 
  • I need pretty pictures to blog. 
  • I need a recipe to post. 
  • Is this still technically a food blog? Does it have to be? Do I want it to be?
  • There was that chicken paprikash I made. Three months ago. 
  • I want to blog real life. Real meals. Where I live. What I eat. Not a gussied up piece of what I think my life should be like and what I think I should be eating and blogging because that's what other bloggers are eating and blogging. Not just a corner of the table where I've cleared the bills and papers and mess out of the way, laid out a pretty towel and a plateful of food so I can take a picture of only what I want you to see rather than what's really there. 
  • Truth: We use Taco Bell seasoning on our taco meat. 
  • There I go, talking about tacos again. We've been eating a lot of tacos. No one wants to hear about tacos.
  • I'm been playing a lot of Scramble on my iPhone instead of writing.
  • Maybe my iPhone can help me start writing again. And taking photos again. And making things again. 
  • I downloaded the following apps in the last three days in hopes that my iPhone can help me to be more creative instead of sucking the creativity out of me: Evernote, Evernote Food, Houzz, Pepperplate, Buy Me a Pie
  • I know they are not the answer. 
  • I will find one, and I'll be back here. 

And now, a picture of tacos. Taken with my iPhone. 


Monday, November 5, 2012

Written Together. And fried sweet potatoes.




It was summer, and it was hot. We were outside, in my backyard, sitting under a tree, and the air was thick but not enough to make us move indoors. I was eating a popscicle. My friend Shanna was back in town from Nashville, and we were talking about the things we always talk about: blogs, writing, taking photos, everyday life, food. I think I said something about how she should write a book, which I feel like I tell her every time I talk to her, because her writing has this honesty to it that you don’t find in many places -- the type of honesty that reveals vulnerability and yet, only makes the writer stronger by recognizing it and makes the reader nod along, thinking “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel sometimes, except I never really knew how to say it.”




And Shanna mentioned casually that she was thinking about writing an ebook, and she talked about it so nonchalantly, like it was just something in the back of her head, an idea swimming around but not quite gaining speed just yet. I knew, right when she said it, that it would happen. Just like over lunch a few years before, when we were talking about jobs and happiness and how, as writers, it’s great to have the option to freelance in order to make time for other passions. And then, she quit her job and started freelancing, and hasn’t looked back since. Or, when we complained about the weather in Chicago, and how we longed for warmth and sunshine, and then Shanna up and moved to Nashville to be with the man she loved. While I’m the girl who just talks about these things, Shanna is the one who does them. 



She wrote an ebook. “Written Together: A Story of Beginnings, in the Kitchen and Beyond.” And it’s about all of those things she did -- starting a blog, quitting her job, falling in love, moving to Nashville. Cooking. Eating. Finding truth in big things and small things. I think my favorite part of the book is the way she describes Tim, her now-husband who she met through the blog and whom I’ve only met a few times but, just from the way she writes about him, I feel like I really know him. And I love that. I love that Shanna and I became friends through our blogs, which we started on the exact same day in 2008, and found a connection that made the huge, growing universe of bloggers feel much less lonely than if we hadn’t met each other. And that I got to know Tim through her book, getting a more detailed backstory of a tale of which I only knew on the surface -- bits and pieces here and there through blog posts and lunch dates. I look forward to hanging out with them again soon, and for more stories, and more beginnings, and more blogging and writing, together.

You can buy Shanna's book here, and read more about it here and here.



Fried Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Oil
Shanna's ebook also includes recipes! This one is inspired by her recipe for fried zucchini in coconut oil. I used a sweet potato instead because I had one on the kitchen counter just begging to be eaten. I sliced it into thin rounds, fried them in coconut oil and butter, and ended up with a cross between sweet potato fries and sweet potato chips -- slightly crisp on the outer edges, soft and sweet inside, and gone after just a few minutes out of the pan.

1 sweet potato
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper

Peel and slice sweet potato into thin rounds. Heat coconut oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add sweet potato slices in a single layer in the pan (you may have to do this in two batches), and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cook until browned on one side, then flip over and cook a couple minutes more, until crisp. Remove to plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with remaining batches.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sometimes.










I know I'm all about celebrating the everyday in this space.
But sometimes every day
makes me very, very tired.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two.

Murdo was my first serious boyfriend. The first guy I brought home to my parents. When he met them for the first time, over Christmas break nearly eight years ago, he had driven an hour and a half from his house to ours to take me out to dinner. "He must like her a lot," I remember hearing my dad say.

We started dating in college. I was at the University of Illinois, and he was finishing up classes at Illinois State. The first week we started dating, he sent me a card in the mail, after I had mentioned how I loved receiving mail but never got any. The card had a sepia-toned image on the front, an old-timey looking photo of a young girl wearing a white bonnet and dress, sitting on a donkey, staring straight ahead with a blank look on her face. The outside read, "Nothing much going on here..." Inside: "Just sitting on my ass, thinking of you."

On our first anniversary, he surprised me while I was at my part-time job at the physics building, setting up pulleys and ramps for undergrad-level labs. My boss let me leave early, and we went off to a fancy dinner, which he had been planning with the help of my roommate all week.

Our relationship was long-distant for the first three years. There were a lot of hours-long phone calls, emailed love letters, poems, long drives. There were small, dirty apartments with crazy neighbors, jobs we hated and jobs we couldn't get, weekdays apart, weekends together. We talked on the phone before bed and dreamed about the day we'd live together, and be able to kiss each other good night, every night.

He proposed on a spring day at the arboretum. The flowering trees were just starting to bloom, and we had followed a pretty bird to a hidden waterfall, where I stopped to take photos and he wandered toward a nearby willow tree. "Hey, come look at this," he said. I walked toward him suspiciously, and there, hidden among the roots of the tree, was the small box holding my engagement ring.

Two years ago today, I married him.


I think about marriage a lot -- about what it is, what it's supposed to be, or, rather, what we think it's supposed to be. Sometimes I get caught up in the "supposed to be," forgetting that every marriage is different, but at its core, I've been learning that it's about love and growth. Love that changes. That grows from first dates and butterflies in your stomach and looking into the other's eyes, afraid and excited at the same time, not knowing what he's thinking but knowing that you're happy. Into family. Sharing a home, sharing triumphs, big and small, and seeing the best and the worst and the every day. Being afraid, and happy, together. Being together through it all.

Last night, we made tacos together. I minced onion and cilantro and tomatoes, cooked ground beef for him and prepared a bowl of black beans for me. He grated the cheese, then sprinkled it onto tortillas and heated them on the griddle until the cheese was hot and melty. We ate in front of the TV, rewatching episodes of "The Wire," him sitting on the couch, me perched on a cushion on the floor. Scattered around us, second grade worksheets with questions about telling time and writing stories with a beginning, middle and end, waiting to be graded. A pile of clean laundry on one corner of the couch, and a cat napping on a chair. A box of unpacked picture frames on the floor, and the only decor in the room a collection of old cameras lining the mantle. It may not seem as romantic as a surprise dinner or a sparkling engagement ring, but it's where we are after two years. In our very first house, eating dinner that we both prepared. And it will only grow from here.

I don't have a recipe for tacos for you today, since you probably don't need one. I do have a recipe for baked sausages and potatoes, adapted from Jenny Rosenstrach's "Dinner: A Love Story." I thought it appropriate to share a recipe from this book on our wedding anniversary because it's more than just a cookbook. It's a story about being newlywed, being married, and building a family through dinners together. I love that. Also, this dish was recently approved for our regular dinner rotation, making it a small triumph (although I've only made it once so far, so hopefully this post doesn't jinx it). That's another thing about marriage -- among all the big stuff like new houses and new jobs, there are the little things, like a familiar meal at the dinner table, and a sink full of clean dishes, and quiet weeknights. Together.


Baked Sausage and Potatoes (adapted from Dinner: A Love Story)
The original recipe is called Baked Sausage with Apples, Potatoes and Onions,  but I knew Murdo wasn't going to be crazy about the apples. So I adjusted the dish to our tastes, adding green pepper and a small handful of grape tomatoes. Jenny suggests serving the sausage, potatoes and apples with a dollop of mustard, but Murdo ate his with warm tomato sauce, instead. 

4 cups baby red or gold potatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 large bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
4 to 5 sweet Italian pork sausages

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Combine first 6 ingredients in a large baking dish, mixing well to coat the vegetables with oil. Place the Italian sausage links on top of the vegetables. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, until sausage is brown on top. Using tongs, flip the sausages over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, until fully cooked through. (I pulled mine out after 10 minutes, cut each of the sausage links in half, and put back in the oven for the last 5 minutes.)


Top photo by Jen Badalamenti

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Anytime crustless spinach quiche.

There is a chill in the air this week, forcing us to shut the windows as the days grow shorter and pull sweaters from the top shelves of the closet. I consider turning on the heat in the car in the morning, then quickly tell myself not to give in. My morning commutes became longer and more congested once school started, so that by the time I'm almost at the office, I'm cursing and swerving and close to tears from frustration.

But yesterday, as I slowly approached a stoplight, on the road for just 10 minutes, there was this.


I thought about that image all day.

I've also been thinking about what I can say about this crustless spinach quiche, besides the fact that I've made it four times in the past three weeks, and that I found the recipe through Shanna, who has been posting some really heart-warming stories lately about family and friends and gathering around the table.



This quiche is perfect for gatherings: I made it for a bridal shower at work, and then again for Murdo to bring as an appetizer to a work lunch party. The leftovers keep well in the fridge, and are great for feeding a snack-hungry Mom, Dad and sister when they come over one Saturday to help paint the kitchen and pull weeds in the backyard and bring a pudgy little nephew for bouncing and playing.


I can also tell you that besides a snack, this quiche makes a fine breakfast, lunch or dinner. Cold, room temperature or heated. Plated with toast and jam on a Sunday morning, or eaten in a park out of a small Pyrex dish during lunch hour.

I figured I should tell you all this before it really started getting cold out there, and cravings started transitioning from light and simple to deep and rich. Although this crustless quiche is so easy and versatile that I bet it'll hold its own in the cold weather menu rotation, as well.


Crustless Spinach Quiche (adapted from AllRecipes, via Food Loves Writing)
The original recipe calls for Muenster cheese, but I've used mozzarella as well as cheddar with great results, while Shanna combined three different cheeses in one go. I've also cut down on the cheese, increased the spinach, added green onions. You can pretty much do anything with this recipe and it'll still be delicious.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
8-10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (I thaw mine by running under water in a mesh strainer and pressing dry)
5 eggs, beaten with 1/2 cup milk
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook until excess moisture is evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine eggs, cheese, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add spinach mixture to bowl and stir to blend. Fold egg and spinach mixture into a 9-inch pie pan sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake 30 minutes, until eggs have set and edges begin turning golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Their wedding story.

I'm not a chatty person. Although I do love a good conversation, sometimes I just like to sit back and be quiet. Observe. This can often make people think I'm bored or, even worse, that I don't like them. Truth be told, I usually just don't have anything interesting left to say. I'm not bored; I'm just boring.


I think this is part of the reason I love being behind a camera. My camera allows me to step out and look in. I know this kind of sounds like I use my camera to avoid talking to people, but look, that's not how it goes (not most of the time, anyway). I'm just taking a break from the conversation to tell a story in a different way. Or at least try to.  

When Nick and Marli asked me to take photos at their wedding, they said they thought it would be something I'd have fun doing. 


Guys, I had so much fun. 


A wedding day is such a rush of emotion. As a former DIY bride (I feel like we should receive some sort of medal for surviving the wedding planning process), I can no longer attend a wedding without seeing all the work that goes into it, and paying close attention to the behind-the-scenes excitement going on among close family and friends who have been involved the last few days (weeks, months) of planning, making, organizing, stressing out. I felt honored that Nick and Marli invited me and Murdo (he was a groomsman) to be a part of it. 


Here is their wedding day story, as best as I can tell it.*




































*All images in this post are digital. I took a couple of rolls of film that day but haven't gotten them developed yet! Stay tuned for the film shots...