Sunday, January 26, 2014

Going Retro in 2014

How you wonder? Clothes – nope. Discman – nope, but I do own and still use it for my meditation cds. Elimination of mobile phone – no way. So how am I going retro? I’m mailing out birthday cards this year.

Yes. I said mailing out birthday cards.

I remember growing up and would begin checking the mailbox after September 10th for that very special piece of mail which was only for me. A card with a birthday wish celebrating the day I was born.

Fast forward and birthday wishes are now done via an electronic card or by posting on someone’s Facebook wall and that’s when I realized I wanted to reconnect with people the old fashioned way.

How’s my plan going? Interesting is the only way I can describe it. I purchased cards at my local C.V.S. and noticed the card aisles have diminished to a card aisle. When I went to send them, I realized I had no stamps as I either pay every bill online or have auto withdrawals from my checking account for large bills like my mortgage. Once I got my hands on some stamps, I was at a loss for my address book. In fact, I have yet to find it, but luckily the internet provided me with the addresses I needed.

I never asked my January birthday friends if they were surprised or even enjoyed getting something in the mail that celebrates the date of their birth, but I really enjoyed doing it and am glad I decided to go retro in 2014.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Can someone tell me when sending a R.S.V.P become optional?

Can someone tell me when a sending R.S.V.P become optional? Better yet, why is it so hard for people to commit to a social event? Have social invitations between friends fallen prey to the same bad behavior of online dating? Are people thinking that I’ll just wait to see how many invites I get and decide which one is the best offer before committing? Seriously, I want to know.

Every now-and-again, certain topics will get me going and this is one of them. If I invite you to dinner, just say yes or no. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to, but I’m planning dinner and need to know how much food to buy. However, I find that over the last decade people just think an invitation is a mere suggestion of something they can do, but they need not reply either way. For people like this I say: Bite Me.

For others that show real interest in getting together don’t read my invite and never respond. What you don’t realize is that I’ll send the email through Facebook so I know that you’ve read my message. It amazes me that you’ll read the message, not respond and get upset with me when I tell you I’ve made plans as I never heard back.

I’d like to say this is a novelty, but it isn’t. My point is this –if you’re not sure you can make it, let the person who sent you the email know it may not work with your schedule and that you’ll get back to them; better yet, throw out some dates that work for you. At some point if you continue this behavior, I’ll stop inviting you to do things because I’d like to think you want to spend time with me. Quite frankly, if I’m chasing you down, I’ll feel as if I’m another one of your obligations and friends should never feel like obligations.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cookbook Project : Book #2 - Everyday Vegetarian

This is a recent edition to my cookbook collection. I came across it after reading an article about this blog Green Kitchen Stories ( While the blog is all about vegetarian fare, it really is a food porn site. Oh. My. God. The pictures in this blog pop out and make you want to recreate them even if you’re in the mood to sink your teeth into a juicy rib eye steak.

I figured if I was going to ask my husband to take the plunge and eat a vegetarian dish, he should like what he’s eating. As I thumbed through the book, I was excited with the unique recipes I’d never find in an American cookbook. The authors live in Sweden and I find European cookbooks may use spices/herbs I wouldn’t see in an American cookbook – and they also combine ingredients I never thought I would.

I selected 5 recipes and my husband picked a breakfast recipe. I thought I’d make this the morning after cleaning up a very messy kitchen from the dinner party we had the night before. I made the right choice. This recipe required very little ingredients and hardly any dishes, so I knew I wouldn’t have another messy kitchen to clean up.

Opinion: I have to admit, I’m not an oatmeal fan, but the combination of the berries and seeds with maple syrup made the dish more like a muffin than oatmeal. The oatmeal absorbed all the berry juice as it was cooking and somehow took on more a cake texture. While I used the blackberries and pumpkins as called for in the recipe, I think I’d like to try blueberries and walnuts next time.

We both liked the dish and so did the electrician who was working on our house (he even asked for the recipe) so I’d make again. This would also make a great breakfast if you have house guests staying with you – fancy, yet casual dish.

The dish looked like this:

Baked Crunchy Blackberry Oatmeal

- 14 oz/ 3 ¼ c fresh blackberries (thawed if using frozen)
- 2 c rolled oats
- 1 t baking powder
- ½ t ground ginger or 1 t grated fresh ginger
- A pinch of sea salt (I’ve read a ‘pinch’ is 1/8 t)
- 2 lg eggs
- 2 ¼ c almond milk (or milk of choice)
- 1 t pure vanilla extract
- ¼ c pure unsweetened apple syrup or honey, maple syrup or agave syrup (note: there is a recipe for apple syrup in this cookbook, but I used maple syrup)
- 1 T coconut oil (at room temperature), plus extra for greasing the pan
- ¾ c pumpkin seeds (pepitas) generous ½ c hazelnuts toasted

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Grease the bottom of an 8x10 in baking dish with coconut oil and spread the berries in an even layer in the dish, then set aside.
2. Combine the rolled oats, baking powder, ginger and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, add the milk and vanilla and whisk well to combine.
3. To create the crunchy top layer, put the apple syrup, 1 T coconut oil, pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts in a small bowl and mix with your fingers to make sure everything is well coated.
4. Spoon the oat mixture into the baking dish to cover the blackberries, and then pour the egg mixture over the oats so everything is evenly soaked. Sprinkle the seed and nut mixture on top and bake for 35-40 minutes. When it’s done, the oatmeal should be set and the nuts and seeds lightly browned and crunchy. Leave to cool slightly before serving.
Tip: For a vegan alternative: measure 2 T chia seeds into a small bowl and 1/3 c water. Stir with a spoon and place in the fridge for 15 minutes. Use in place of the eggs.
Tip: For a gluten-free alternative, choose gluten-free oats.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cookbook Project: Book #1 - Essentials of Italian

I got this book many moons ago when I used to take cooking classes at William Sonoma in the Stamford Town Mall. I loved the teacher and took classes for 3 or 4 years with her because she'd use ingredients I never worked with or thought to work with. She's the first person that opened my mind to really trying new foods.

The week I posted my decision to count my cookbooks by trying a recipe from every cookbook I own, is the same week I called a good friend and asked if she'd be a guinea pig. I have a dinner right after Christmas and know that I'm serving braised short ribs, but thought Polenta with Gorgonzola sounded like an amazing companion to the ribs. Guess what. I was right.

I have to admit, I've never made polenta and have always heard how you have to watch it like you would a small child around an open flame; both burn easily if you look away for one moment. However, this recipe boasted that it was creamy, but made in the oven. No hovering. No needing to keep a watchful eye out for it to cease up on me and turn into a big ball of goo. The recipe literally called for me to mix several ingredients together and pop it in the oven until the last 10 minutes of cooking when you stir in gorgonzola and butter to give the polenta the incredibly rich, silky, cheesy flavor that went perfectly with the red wine braised short ribs.

The only change I'd make is I'd pull it out at 48 minutes, instead of the suggested 1 hour cooking time to stir in the cheese and butter. However, I wonder if it is because I chose to cook this in my toaster oven -- things may cook faster in the toaster oven than my 50 + year old vintage oven.

Would I make this again? Absolutely.

Polenta with Gorgonzola

2 C whole milk
1 C coarse-ground polenta
Sea Salt
1/4 lb Gorgonzola cheese, rind removed and crumbled
2 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375.

2. In a 2 qt (2-l) baking dish, whisk together 3 C water with the milk, polenta, and 1 tsp sea salt. Bake, uncovered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the polenta is tender, about 1 hour.

3. Remove the dish from the oven and whisk the polenta until creamy. Stir the Gorgonzola and butter into the polenta, distributing them evenly. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly over the top.

4. Return the dish to the oven and bake until the chesses are melted and the top is lightly browned about 10 minutes. Serve at once directly from the dish.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Cookbook Project

I openly admit I love and own an insane amount of cookbooks. Some may say I have an obsession with the amount I own, but in my defense, I've been collecting books for years.

When friends and family ask how many books I own, I instantly respond: "Oh, about 250". The truth is I have no clue. I have cookbooks in my living room, hall closet, office, back room off bedroom and my attic. I've never counted them and recently been contemplating how long it would take me to finish all the reading books I've purchased or projects I've started. As I was relaxing this past weekend on my living couch, I took a hard look at the cookbooks I walk by everyday and thought it's time to count my books. However, I don't want to just count them, I want to use them.

When I first started buying my own cookbooks, I wouldn't buy one unless I knew I was going to use it. Over the years, when I cooked from a recipe in one of my cookbooks, I'd make notes next to the recipe of when I cooked it, who for, any adjustments made, and final opinions of the recipe from me and the people who sampled the recipe with me.

Based upon my desire to know how many books I own, I decided to create my own personal Cookbook Project. Every week, I am going to cook 1 recipe from a minimum of 2 cookbooks. My husband has offered to lend some help. I'll pick out various recipes in the books and he'll be the one who decides which one is going to be cooked. Because he likes to cook, I'm hoping to rope him into actually helping me.

Once a week I'll post the recipes selected, books chosen, personal notes about it and maybe pics of the end result. In my personal notes I'll will tell a little bit about why/when I bought the book, difficulty, if I were to make any changes to the recipe and what they'd be, and of course I am going to note whether I'd make this recipe again.

I'm looking forward to getting started and have already selected my first 2 recipes I plan on making this weekend.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera...

I'm in a book club and next month I get to select the book we're going to read. When I started thinking about my choice, I started to go to the New York Times' Sunday book review section before it hit me: I own many books I haven't read yet, why am I going outside my own stash?

Of course, this thought naturally progressed to the next one: How many books, magazines or projects have I not read, finished or even started? Am I a procrastinator? Hell yes, when it comes to cleaning. I have a sister who loves to clean, and while I love the results, I seem to be missing that gene. However, for everything else, I realized I have a lot of open projects because I have a lot of interests. I guess you could say I like shiny objects, but in this case, objects = interests. And I realized this makes me happy.

I've always wondered if there is an age where your curiosity to try or learn new things shuts off. I'm happy to say it hasn't happened to me yet. However, I would like to take the next year to act on/finish/make a dent in my books, interests (cooking, writing) or projects (I really thought recycling old t-shirts into squares for a quilt was a great idea. However, I've had a bag full of squares in my back room for the past year, maybe it's now time to create the quilt. Granted, I'm calling it the "ugly quilt" because I've never made one, but have started asking older sister questions on how to do this since she made one years ago).

When I asked my sister, "Yoga Girl", if she had a lot of unfinished projects she said without skipping a beat "of course". "How could I not when I'm never home." I forgot how the routine of daily life prevents me from finishing every project. However, I'm now intrigued to want to start completing some of what I think is open just to see if the book lived up to it's book cover; or if I have the patience to transform a bunch of fabric squares into my new picnic quilt (really, did you think this 1st time creation would go on my bed?).

As I was thinking about this subject, while content with having a lot of unread books on my shelves or unfinished projects because it means I'm still curious about anything, I have to wonder am I the norm? Are there more people out there like me with the unread books and projects that take a decade* to complete; or do most people buy and read a book before they start another one? I'd be curious to know.

*For the record, I consider organizing my attic as a cleaning project and since I've already stated that I procrastinate when it comes to cleaning, I'm not going to put that into the same bucket as an unfinished project of interest.

Friday, October 4, 2013

One Size Does Not Fit All

Contrary to popular belief, one size does not fit all especially when it comes to advice. I think one person's path to happiness is a journey and everyone should remember this.

Years ago, I would freely dispense wanted and unwanted advice, but today, I just mostly listen (although, I can't say I keep my mouth shut 100% of time, but try). The other night I was having dinner with a friend when she shared with me that she's basically in a 'funk' without admitting she's sad with the circumstances of her life. She's in a routine that has become a rut and trying to figure out how to get out of it.

I wanted to scream "Well, why not just try something new?", but instead, I chose to ask "When is the last time you've nurtured yourself?"

I think it's easier for most to share what works for them other than to throw the right question back to the individual -- the type of question that leads the individual to the answer of their own problem. I want to believe if it works for me, and we're friends, it should work for them. The truth is, it may work for them, but if the person who is at the tail end of receiving the advice isn't really open to making the changes, it's about as useful as reading the dictionary to someone. I'm also a firm believer that it can often take many attempts to change your circumstances or lifestyle. You can easily stumble, but the next time you attempt to make a change, it may stick just a little longer until finally the change you wanted to make sticks.

I know most people believe if they're not successful with the first attempt at making a change, you're a failure, but I disagree. For me, I believe you learn from your mistakes, tweak them and carry them forward when you want to make that change again.

I did share with my friend that twice a week I go to Panera's where I write this blog and was surprised how this one act had such a significant affect on me. I was purposely carving time out of my daily routine, my own rut, just for me. Because I work out of my home, I have a tendency to grab what is in the fridge, eat in the house, and go back to work. I explained how this one act refueled my passion for writing and has become one of the highlights of my week.

Not all changes have to be over the top. Sometimes it is the small changes that make us the happiest.