Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sheapshearing Festival

I was unable to attend this event last year (and I think it rained, besides), so I was delighted to go this year with my friend, Laura, who was visiting from Pittsfield. She might have had visions of an urban escape from the pastoral Berkshire hills, but I dragged her to look at farm animals. I couldn't help it.

I've always had a soft spot for sheep ("shear a sheep" has always been on my list of things to do in life) and I had a great time at the 21st Annual Sheapshearing Festival at Gore Place in Waltham. There were some wonderful craft booths, too, from which I found some much-needed inspiration right now.

We were so impressed with the Sheepdog Herding demonstration. I have never seen such obedient, hard-working dogs! Five of them worked together, listening carefully to commands, to round up small groups of sheep and goats (and ducks!). By the time we watched them, the dogs had been working since the opening of the festival. Their owner mentioned that, at this point, the dogs weren't quite as attentive and were baffled that they hadn't yet finished their herding job (they sure looked attentive to me!). He spoke about the importance of playtime and the dogs' understanding of worktime versus playtime. After hours of hard work, a special whistle was blown, and the dogs immediately left their workposts, happily running free about the field. It was a great metaphor for my own life, really — inspiration from a very unexpected source!

At the other end of the field were the sheapshearing demonstrations. Safe to say, I have scratched "shear a sheep" from my list of things to do in life! Here, a man sheared an angora goat...with big, pointy horns.

A group of shorn sheep:

Exploring the different vendors' tents, we were able to see the wool yarn-making process, starting with unspun wool.

A man spinning wool:

The yarn was so soft and vibrant! Thank you, sheep!

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Family

I confess, this is officially old news, but I came across this photo earlier today, and it's one of my favorites — ever.

Last summer, my father's second cousin (I think?) married Gene Shallit's daughter. It was an outdoor affair, and my dad (whose photos always crack me up, anyway) took this blurry photo of Gene as he processed.

I love it. He looks like a covert villain, pondering his plan to steal some tiny woman and tie her to a railroad track.

Asian-Style Pork Tenderloin

Here's another recipe handed down to me from my mom, who got it from Mr. Food. Well, not directly, but, you know...

This meal has become John's specialty! It is so easy and so good, and apparently, it's a great way to impress company (Mr. Food calls it Company Pork, and sure enough, we have friends who serve it at dinner parties all of the time!). And, darn it, it's good for you!

Company Pork Tenderloin
• pork tenderloin
• duck sauce (or apricot jam, I'll bet!), 1/4 cup
• soy sauce, 2 TBS
• red pepper flakes, pinch

Preheat oven to 400. Place the tenderloin on a foil-lined cookie-sheet-type thing. Mix together the duck sauce, soy sauce and red pepper flakes, and spread 1/2 of the mixture on the pork (being careful not to cross-contaminate the remaining sauce, which will be used as a dipping sauce). Cook the tenderloin for an hour. Let it rest (if you are accustomed to doing such things), slice, and serve with remaining sauce!

(Yes, that's more kale.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Huge Organizational Project - Completed!

I have a lot of CDs, and man, are they ever difficult to manage. No shelf has ever been large enough, and they fill multiple giant bins when it comes time to move to a new apartment.

My mom purchased two of these awesome CD books from my Amazon WishList in August 2007, and I finally completed this project last night. Interestingly, rather than discard or recycle the empty jewel cases, I posted them as a free item on CraigsList - they were claimed immediately (weird)! I also have all of our DVDs filed away in a third giant binder. Feels good.

Here's one of the stranger page combinations:

Hmmm...this gives me inspiration to look for a Chaka Khan/Pink Floyd mashup!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Trip to Southern Maine

My goodness, Maine is closer than I thought! A few weekends ago, John and I decided (pretty much simultaneously) that we needed to get away. (This, after we decided to axe our planned trip to Chicago later for June.) We booked a pre-peak-season package at The Cliff House in Ogunquit, where we had a very relaxing, much-needed weekend. The perfect weather was a bonus!

I knew that I was on vacation, of course, but my internal alarm clock had no idea. I was awake at 6:15am on our first morning away. It's hopeless for me to try to fall back asleep once I'm up, so I opted to put on some clothes (and my winter coat), grab my camera, and head out to capture the effects of the sun low in the sky. Here are some random early-morning coastal Maine photos:

I should add, too, that we had a friend along for our trip, who we (well, I) have decided to name Minnie - our new, wonderful, smart Garmin nuvi GPS that I hope never to be caught without. She made the trip to and from our destination, and everything in between, ridiculously easy.

Salad a la Faneuil

OK, not really. I was planning to make a simple green salad this evening, but by the time 5:30 rolled around, I knew I would end up starving (and craving mini Snickers bars) if I didn't add a little protein to the mix. On my way home from the train station, I stopped at the teriyaki place in the food hall in Quincy Market - the one that lures you with tiny pieces of meat on a toothpick. I brought home some teriyaki chicken and tossed it in my arugula, pear and onion salad with slivered almonds. It was really good!

I'm very excited about springtime and the salads that pair with the warmer weather. As a condiment queen with a strange affinity for vinegar, I get very excited about making my own vinaigrettes - there are endless combinations of ingredients! For this salad, I used rice vinegar, teriyaki sauce, olive oil, sesame oil, chili sauce, and tonkatsu sauce.

Kung Pao Shrimp

My mom has a wonderful recipe for Kung Pao Pork (of an origin unknown to me) that I have made many times over the years. Feeling particularly lazy yesterday, I decided to switch out the pork for shrimp that I didn't have to cut. Of course, I did need to take time to peel them, so my logic might have been off. Still, it was something new, and it came out great, served over soba noodles.

Kung Pao Shrimp
• 1 lb medium (easy-peel) shrimp
• 1 big red pepper, roughly chopped
• 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
• 4 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 lemon, juiced
• 4 TBS sugar
• soy sauce, about 1/4 cup (divided)
• 4 tsp corn starch
• red pepper flakes, a pinch
• oil for cooking (I used olive oil)
• unsalted peanuts, handful

Marinate shrimp in soy sauce for at least 30 minutes. In a wok or good sized pan sauté shrimp and garlic in oil over medium-high until shrimp starts to turn pink. Toss in red pepper, onion, and red pepper flakes and cook for about 3 minutes. In the meantime, mix together lemon juice, 4 TBS soy sauce, lemon juice, sugar, corn starch and 1/4 cup cold water. Add the mixture to the hot skillet and cook until sauce thickens. Toss in the peanuts and serve over rice or noodles - yum!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Quinoa Salad

Oh, how I try to eat healthily. This salad has been on my immediate to-make list for several weeks. After a vacation weekend of eating lots of everything, I thought we should come home to a super healthy lunch of Cranberry (OK, Cherry) Walnut Quinoa Salad. It'll be in the bento tomorrow (it's already packed!).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Homemade Bread, Unplugged

I have wanted to make this no-knead bread recipe for a long time. However, we almost never have bread in the house, and my BreadMan is collecting dust...why should I go to the effort of making bread by hand?

Why, I'll tell you why.

It is so satisfying! I have never been more proud of anything I have cooked than I am of this lovely loaf. The concept of bread is so fundamental, and it feels so good to create a perfect loaf from a handful of ingredients - in this case these ingredients were flour, water, yeast, salt. People of all cultures have made bread for thousands of years, and it is a staple of many diets. Who, besides my grandmother, has ever said that they don't like bread?

This recipe involved very little effort, a hefty chunk of (inactive) time, and lots of anticipation.

The dough, after sitting at room temperature for 18 hours:

After some quick shaping, and another 2-hour rest, the dough is plopped into a preheated (450-degree) dutch oven:

The lovely loaf!

I was thrilled to break the bread and find that it was filled with a soft interior, marked with holes!

Meatballs - Attempt #5

I never seem to enjoy my own meatballs. Actually, I think I favor the sodium-filled, super-artificial-tasting kind (think: Subway meatball sub), which would explain my frustration in making homemade meatballs. That's not going to stop me from trying.

I must admit, Alton Brown's recipe was quick and easy...and pretty good. It also felt good to use my mini muffin pans for something other than Christmastime tassies. I did omit the ground lamb this time, but I will be using this recipe again and might add it (and onions) in. And, for the first time in many years, we had jarred Ragu! I do like that stuff...

Steamed Veggie Dumplings

Thanks to my roommate's steamer, I tried making steamed pork dumplings a few years ago. They were really very good. I gave up on trying to figure out my bamboo steamer (it no longer lives in our kitchen), and I have no interest in buying a steamer - especially when I find I can use my All-Clad Multi-Cooker to steam everything. It's multiple steam baskets would allow for an entire meal to be steamed - I love this thing. AND, it doesn't carry the price tag (for its size) of other All-Clad items, since its sole purpose is to boil eater (no fancy heat distribution needed!).

I have also been trying to make more vegetarian meals, so, I've been eyeing Alton Brown's veggie dumpling recipe for a while. I especially wanted to add them to my lovely little bento box meals. I did modify the recipe, using broccoli slaw instead of grating my own cabbage and carrots. I mean, come on, I only have so much free time! I made a little dipping sauce with soy, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, chives and ginger. Awesome.

Dumpling assembly line:

My super-versatile All-Clad steamer, steaming away:


Frittata, Revisited

It was over a year ago that I made my first frittata. We loved it, it was a fairly quick meal, but somehow I forgot about this new discovery. I was excited to whip out the recipe again, although I took my own advice from my last attempt and added some bruschetta and basil to the mix - the result was truly great! (Pardon the blurry image!)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

They took away our WHAT?!

We at 84 State Street were warned early this week that the Starbucks in our building would be closing at noon on Friday because it had been chosen as the location for the scene of a feature film.

Crews spent hours setting up lighting and wiring and fog machines, and 'extras' lined the sidewalks waiting for the director to yell, "Rolling!" They waited a long, long time...and I have a feeling that the 5 hours they spent on our street corner will translate to about 5 seconds of film: man buys two coffees, man runs out of Starbucks with said coffee and crashes into someone.

This is going to be a great film (insert sarcasm here). I have learned it's called "The Proposal" and it stars the man mentioned above, Ryan Reynolds, whose name I did not recognize, but who I vaguely recall from the horrifically-named TV show "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place." But, since every one else seems to know the guy, I thought I'd grab a photo for the ol' blog along with some shots of the whole crazy film-making process. I confess, I got way more excited about this event than I (or anyone) would have expected of myself. I think part of me knows I won't be living in the city for too much longer, get it.

The film crew:

The extras (it never occurred to me that sidewalk walkers were cast!):

The spectators:

Ryan Reynolds and some seriously star-struck people:

As my coworkers and I were retuning to our office, we shared an elevator with some crazy young woman in a big fur hat. She was not from around here, and seemed very concerned for us that the outside of our building was in disarray - she spoke as if this sort of thing happened all of the time at 84 State. As she confusedly exited the elevator, she shouted, "They even took away your Starhole!"

That they did, lady. That they did...

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Discovery

I am SO not "white."

Looks like I might be a special blend of inks, but I'm looking pretty close to PMS 4665! (Will do another Pantone Matching System comparison in July...)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What My Mom Made Yesterday No.2

My parents visited us a few weekends ago and brought a much known-about, talked-about gift. It was, however, so special and so magnificently crafted that it was an incredible surprise.

While we were planning and creating/designing our wedding decorations in 2006, my mom came up with the idea of making table centerpieces out of jewel-toned velvet fabric, on top of which we placed bundles of wheat. This, alone, would have been lovely, but then she used a heating technique with autumnal rubber stamps to deboss areas of the velvet.

They were a centerpiece, indeed (I really need to find a better photo)!

A close-up of the de-bossed velvet:

We collected each of these centerpieces after the reception, and my mom (along with some very generous, talented friends!) sewed together each of these squares, binding them to a super-soft Minky backing, and quilting the entire blanket with a swirly stitch to form the most beautiful, heavy, luxurious quilt I have ever seen. I am afraid to use it!

A landscape of velvetness on one side:

Unbelievably soft, beautifully quilted Minky fabric on the other:

And, as an added surprise, an embroidered inscription on the back:

Chicken Saltimbocca

Let's face it, food that is rolled or stuffed is just plain good fun. (Or, at least it seems fancier.) I've been wanting to make brasciole for some time, but then I happened across this recipe for Chicken Saltimbocca - thin slices of chicken rolled with a slice of prosciutto, spinach, and parmesan cheese, then browned and simmered in freshly squeezed lemon juice and chicken stock. I daresay, neglecting the tiny prosciutto percentage, that this was both a healthy and delicious meal. And it was easy and pretty quick!