Thursday, May 31, 2012

Things are Quiet Here and I'm Asking Your Opinion

If the story of my life reads like a book, this chapter begins thusly:
Once she realized that they really weren't coming back, she set about organizing the refrigerator.

I know that we'd been talking about it for months, now. Years even but it happened over the weekend: my brother and sister-in-law and their three beautiful kids moved away from me. I speak of this personally because, for crying out loud, this is my life and everyone in it is a supporting character, right? Okay, false. But if you don't watch yourself it can feel like that really easily.
Uncle Andrew with Amos and Penny on moving day

I'm just saying that a big chunk of my everyday life has been altered. No big deal, really. It happens a thousand times a day all over the world.

But when they were moving, I got 98% of the contents of their refrigerator (Andrew got the full jar of Claussen pickles--damn him!) and I just took everything up to my fridge and shoved it in. There are a LOT of condiments in my apartment, is what I'm saying. Three. Bottles. Of ketchup. I think we need to have friends over for a chicken nugget/ french fry bar to get rid of some of this stuff.

So when it was all said and done and I was sitting in a very quiet apartment, I just went into the kitchen and pulled everything out and then put it all back in. I took a "before" picture so that I could take an "after" photo but they looked so similar that it was kind of dumb to do that. Or mention... Derp.

My apartment is lacking in background noise for two reasons, one being that the apartment that once held five (not quiet) people is now completely void of human life (don't worry, it will be filled up again before the end of the month--today). The second being that the internet connection was in their name. So, since Saturday, my house has been a Facebook/ Spotify/ Pinterest/ Gmail free zone.

Let me tell you--I love it. I am loving it.

My time has become very intentional. Granted, I still have a kitchen full of dishes (though I did manage to take out the garbage and clean the litter box yesterday) but not doing the dishes was a choice that I made. I chose to watch movies rather than dishes instead of saying, "I really need to do the dishes but let me just check my email first" and then getting caught up in mindlessly clicking through a friend of a friend of a friend's wedding photos for 30 minutes before realizing that I'm still running water in the sink. I do that--all of the time. I am a terrible steward of our natural resources.

So, Ryan went ahead and set up internet in our house and is willing to give me the password but so far I haven't asked for it because I like this new little routine. I've been in the habit of waking up at 6:30 (sincere thanks to my noisy nieces and nephew for this) for about a year, now, so I spend my mornings reading, journaling, writing letters, mailing them (!), and listening to music that I own. I have listened to my Over The Rhine albums on repeat for hours and hours. I can't get enough of Willoughby or She or Suitcase. Every time those songs end, I just play them again. Now that I think of it, once you listen to those songs, it probably sounds like I'm going through a horrible break-up but I assure you that's not the case. I just think Karen's voice is so pretty and I have unreasonable fantasies that I can sing like her.

I've liked not sharing every single thought that comes into my brain via Facebook. I've liked having the time and energy and thought to write in my journal and keep my personal life kind of personal. It's a habit that I want to keep up, I think. I know it sounds ironic--writing a blog about not sharing so much on the internet, but I can be selective here. This is an exercise in self-control.

So, I brought my laptop to the coffee shop this morning at 6:45, ordered a large skim, coconut latte and started writing to you. I have a lot of ideas for my blog and I'm putting pen to physical paper about those.

I love to cook--we all know that. And I want to bring this blog around to that direction more. But I'm also a real cheapskate and so I tend to buy the same ingredients over and over again because I know what's inexpensive and I know what works but I need to branch out. I want to experiment with new ingredients and I want to take great photos. There are a few food blogs that I follow simply because the photographs are astounding. So, in the interest of branching out, I got a subscription to some new magazines, including Bon Appetit (ignore the fact that the only reason that I remember how to spell that because it basically says "ape-tit"--I am such an American) and I have a goal to make at least three recipes from each issue that comes out and I'll write about them. And I'll take pictures. And we'll all get better and better at what we like to do.

And my friends are just gonna have to be guinea pigs. Who wants to volunteer?

In fact--let me let you into the driver's seat: Here's the table of contents from the June issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

I'll make whatever you want. Go to that link, find something that sounds delicious and I'll make it for you (provided it's reasonable and I can get the ingredients in my very small, Midwestern town). The first person to respond with a reasonable request ("reasonable" will be determined by myself), gets dinner. Even better if you live locally--but if not, you at least get a shout out.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Small Towns, Tiny Cobblers, and My Blog Crush

Fact: there is not one blogger that I feel like I can relate to more than Hilah.

A Pronto Pup stand comes to our little town once a year when we celebrate what is called "All Schools Day". I don't understand the purpose, point or history behind All Schools Day. All I know is that there's a parade, a Queen and King get crowned, I get a day off of work because it is considered a local holiday and there are Pronto Pups. Ten points to living in small towns!
Photographic evidence of the adorableness of my town.
Feat: my niece and sister-in-law with the Girl Scout float
But for the past three years that I've lived in McPherson, I have yet to have an opportunity to eat a Pronto Pup. Last year I was out of town, this year I was sick, and the first year I just didn't know any better. That first year, after realizing that there were Prontos to be had and that we'd missed out, Ryan and I went searching the internet for homemade corn dog recipes. We found Hilah and I think we've both had a sort of a crush on her ever since. I even thought about hooking her up with a friend of mine at one point until I realized that I have never met Hilah in person (only been weird over the internet) and also she lives in Texas. The very coolest part of Texas (according to the internet), but still. Texas.
I like Hilah because she cooks like I do. Throw a little of that in there, add some of this--or don't, your call, sing songs while you're mixing away. She knows what she's doing, though, and that's how we differ. She knows the names of things, and actual techniques. For the longest time I just said, "You know, like you're making cream gravy but with butter instead of sausage and before you blah blah blah..." but I was really talking about a b├ęchamel. Thanks, Hilah.
Hands-down, though, the recipe that I use of hers is her peach cobbler. It is my favorite. I almost always have the ingredients on hand for when friends come over and I've never added or changed anything to her recipe (which is a rarity for me). 
Until this morning. I woke up bright and early at 6:00 am and I had it in my mind that I absolutely had to make this cobbler--but in muffin tins. Could it be done?
Yes. Yes it could.
Unfortunately this (supremely not-awesome) photograph is the only picture I could snap as the lighting is not great, today. It's a dark, overcast morning. But it's hot. You know the type. 
At any rate, my breakfast consisted of one of these little guys, a splash of milk, the rest of the strawberries, and a hard boiled egg.
I want you to go see Hilah's video, and so I won't give it to you in full here but I will link it to you. Though, I will tell you about the adaptations that I made.

The recipe says to put butter in your baking dish and put it in the oven to melt it. This is key. No, you can not substitute for oil spray--I've tried it. No, you have to use the butter. You don't have to eat it all but you do have to use butter.
So I buttered the insides of my muffin tins, filled the batter about 3/4 of the way up, and then dropped in little hunks of apricots and strawberries.

Mine baked for about 25 minutes. They probably could have used another five minutes just to brown them up a bit but I will tell you that these were fully cooked and, if you let them sit for just a little bit of time, hold their shape when you run a knife around and pop them out of their little spots.

I ate two and then ran the rest down to my sister-in-law so that I wouldn't eat what is, essentially, an entire cobbler. Serve these hot for desert and scoop a little bit of ice cream on top or throw some wheat germ in with the flour and justify your breakfast.


Thursday, May 24, 2012


I had Katie over for dinner, tonight. I'd been craving a BLT something fierce and once I realized that I had all of the ingredients for said sandwich at my home, it was decided.

I got so excited. I came home and started cooking bacon--slowly--over medium heat. Anything worth having is worth waiting for. And bacon is worth waiting for. I think that BLT's are one of the prettiest sandwiches in the animal kingdom and so I knew I wanted to photograph it and I wanted to blog all about it. Blog about the deliciousness of simple ingredients, the crunch of perfectly cooked bacon, the juice of a (mostly) seasonal tomato. Work was slow, so I pretty much thought about it exclusively for a good twenty minutes while I stared at the wall. I decided to borrow Ryan's camera, which is much more fancy than mine and take photos every step of the way.

But something happens when your friends come over and stand around you while you crisp bacon in a skillet and slice tomatoes and a multi-grain boule fresh from the bakery section of your local supermarket. You start talking and catching up and pouring drinks and learning that you either took a pivotal misstep in the Mint Julep recipe or you just really don't like them. And you laugh. And the bread gets sliced, mayonnaise gets spread, lettuce, bacon and tomatoes get piled up and promptly devoured and nary a photo gets taken. And that's alright.

Because you need to talk to your friend, anyway.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Rare, Feminist Rant

 For the most part, I've been mostly transitioning over to fun, un-ranty things on this here blog. Lots of photos, lots of food, lots of how-to-do-stuff stuffs. And I do like that but there is always, will always be a chord in me that, when plucked, will send me singing until my voice is heard. And this is a lovely platform for singing. Except not singing. Mostly just ranting. I'm annoyed to say that it was an email forward that sent me into a tizzy. Usually, if I ever get an email with even one "FWD:" in the title, I'm hesitant to open it but if there's two, then it promptly gets deleted. But I started a new job, recently, and I get so few emails in a day that I decided to just open this one from a sixty-year-old co-worker (who, by the way, immediately after hitting "send", ran into my office and said "did you get my email!?"
Sub-rant: Nation, when you send someone an email, you don't have to, then, find a way to let that person know that there's an email waiting for them. I know there is because gmail gets this handy little (1) in my task bar and alerts me that there have been recent developments. This notification is sufficient. I do not need a visit, text message, Facebook alert or an old-fashioned telephone call to alert me of its presence. Do we understand?
 I gestured at the charts on my desk and asked if it's important. She said that it wasn't something I needed to get to right then, but I should check it out before I left for the day. So, while she watched, I opened up this email forward that read, "Neck Exercises For Women" featuring tons of exclamation marks and comic sans and blinky, probably virus-ridden icons that I mistakenly thought died with Myspace. Following were dozens of photos of hard-bodied, shirtless, greased up men--each photo flipped on its side so that you have to tilt your head to look at it properly (hence the "neck exercises", I presume).
She said, "So? Pretty funny, huh?"
Uncomfortably, I suuuuuper fake-laughed and said, "Have I been complaining about my aching neck that loudly?"
She hooted and laughed and went out to the other girls and said, "See, she wasn't offended!!"
Record Scratch

This was some kind of test to see what kinds of emails it's okay to forward to me? Wait! I want a do-over! DO OVERRRR!!! If I get to pick, I pick zero email forwards but I would choose "Obama is a Muslim" emails over naked-men any day! At least if you send me emails about how gays cause all the natural disasters, I know that you're just a crack-pot and I can dismiss you. But greased up hunks? If the genders were reversed, you can guarantee that women would be all up in arms. But since I'm staring at man nipples instead of lady nipples, it's hilarious! (?) I can not so easily dismiss the objectification of any person. 

Why do humans exist only to get into the pants of one another?

The Feminism of our great-grandmothers gave us political equality. The Feminism of our grandmothers gave us work-place equality. The Feminism of our mothers gave us the right to choose to stay at home or go to work (a war that's still being fought--mostly on the internet and amongst ourselves which only suits to distract us from current problems). And the Feminism of my generation is working damn hard for the reigns to their own reproductive and sexual rights. And this is awesome! This is wonderful and this makes me proud. It should make anyone proud because at the center of it all is not the idea that women want to be better than men or even that women want to be equal to men. It's that humans want to recognize the dignity in one another. No one ever started out higher than the other, so how did we get to this point?

It is gracious and kind and loving to make dinner for yourself and for your family and your community. It's gracious and kind and loving to go to work and provide a life for yourself and for your family and your community. Neither is not a chore or a duty or a job that needs to be passed off on anyone. Does a man not appreciate a clean coffee cup in the morning as much as a woman does? Is a woman not a skilled accountant? The idea that a man is doing the dishes in order to turn on his wife is still degrading. Do we not understand that? Why don't you just caption it, "Honey, even though this is where you belong, I'm going to climb down from my mighty throne and take care of it for you so that you can spend your time getting all excited about the sex you owe me." When did sex become the driving force in everything? Why can't people be kind for the sake of kindness. For the fact that sometimes life is difficult enough notwithstanding the dishes that need to be done.

But I guess the question is, how do we want to get our equality? Do we want to drag everyone down to a place where we're all barbarians who exist for our own pleaseure just so that we're all on an even playing field? Or can we start to look at every person as dignified, deserving, human beings and maybe find a way to pull each other out of the ditch?

That is all.
Thank you.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Photo Journal

Monday, May 14, 2012

Crispy Tofu for the Dinner Times

I've been trying to make tofu as delicious and crispy and flavorful as the stuff I fell in love with at Noodles and Company years and years ago. And suffice it to say that I have failed miserably.  I have accepted the fact that I won't be able to make it the same way but I do keep trying to make it in a form that my friends will no longer refuse to try.

Tonight was that attempt. So I made crispy tofu and served it with string beans, broccoli, red peppers and mushrooms that I just tossed around in a skillet to warm them through with little more than a little smidgen of soy sauce.

But the tofu:
I am no expert but I think it's super important to start with some unsoggy tofu stuffs. So I wrapped it in a dish towel, put some heavy plates on top and walked away. I did some dishes, ran an errand, Pinterest-ed. The usual. It was probably draining/ getting squished for a few hours. I don't know how long ordinary people drain their tofu but this is how I do.

I dredged it in a greek yogurt mixture and bread crumbs before pan frying it in a little grapeseed oil. You can use olive oil or vegetable oil or whatever. In the end, while no friends offered to try it--I didn't offer it to anyone on accounta the fact that it's a solo night. But I have no doubt that this would get some of my Midwest lovelies to lose their tofu virginities.

Allow me to get unconventional and give you the ingredients list amid the instructions. Can you handle this? Probably.

You will need these things and you will need to do these things:
1/2 block extra-firm tofu, thoroughly drained and cut into thin slices. Set aside.

In a shallow dish, mix together:
1/4 c. greek yogurt
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

In another shallow dish, pour some bread crumbs. I don't know, maybe 1/2 a cup of bread crumbs. I had a lot left over.
In a small skillet, heat 1/4" of oil over medium-high heat.

And then you assembly line it. Be very ginger because your tofu can fall apart if you go at it like a hulk. Treat it like a lady. Take that lady and coat her in the yogurt, then over into the bread crumbs and then into the oil. I let it cook for maybe two minutes and then flipped it over. I used a pretty small skillet because I don't like to waste all that oil just for the sake for faster food. I believe in slow food. Which is why I like the idea of gardening.
Let her drain on some paper towels. Sprinkle her with some more salt and just the teensiest bit of cayanne pepper. After a few minutes of cooling/ residual crisping, stack on the veggies, admire what you've created, take a picture, and then eat it.

Eventually I did bust out the bottle sweet chili sauce and it was delicious but there's just no photographic evidence.
For the record, I'm absolutely doing this again.

Let's All Make Savory French Toast

After the French Toast experience from last week, I had it in my brains to make a french toast that is not particularly sweet. The main reason for that being that I don't like starting my day with sweets. It just sets the stage for a jelly bean lunch and chocolate pudding dinner. Plus, something like this would make a supremely delicious brunch or brinner. So, let me tell you what I came up with. But not without first saying that this is a work in progress. I have ideas.

Here's what we need:
A loaf of bread from the day-old rack of the fancy section of the grocery store. Mine is an asiago, semolina loaf. It's super chewy and really salty and absolutely perfect for this.
2 eggs
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 T plain Greek yogurt
1 T skim milk
1 T parsley
ground black pepper and salt
1 T butter

Cut the bread into 3/4" slices (or whatever you want--I went with what I would describe as "medium thick").
In a seprarate bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, eggs, parsley, and salt and pepper and whip it all up. If you feel like it needs it, thin it down with a titch of milk. This was the first time that I'd ever made french toast with Greek yogurt and, just in case you're wondering, I'm not totally certain what it is that prompted me to use it. I've never seen a recipe that calls for it--I just knew that I wanted a batter-type consistency and not something super runny that would sog up my bread. This helped it to cling to the outsides a little more and I really like how it all worked out.
Melt the butter in a skillet, dredge the bread in the batter as usual and then cook over medium heat. It's important not to use high-heat with such a thick slice of bread because when the outside is done, the inside will still be a raw egg, soggy mess. So, patience is key. Also the longer that it's allowed to cook, the more it puffs up in the middle and becomes delicious. So take your time. When the underside gets brown and crisp, flip it. For me, it took about 3 or 4 minutes per side. You'll know when it's cooked through when you press on it and it doesn't feel soggy inside. It'll feel, rather, airy but still full. Because it's full of so many delicious things.

I put a little butter on mine and it was delicious. Then I got a little bit carried away and warmed through some artichokes and mushrooms to put on top with some parmesean. But, frankly, it was better without all of the extras.

In my mind, I'm making another with cilantro and spices and pico de gallo and another one with bruschetta toppings and balsamic vinegar. This is not the end of savory French toast. Not in my house anyway.