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March 17, 2013

Wanderlusting

We're in that icky stage of winter where it just drags on and on and you feel like you'll never see green grass again. Each new forecast of snow and bitter cold feels like a personal insult. I'm sick of my bulky winter cloak. I'm done with the cardboard-tasting tomatoes. All I want is to get on a plane and see new things and hear new sounds and smell new smells and eat the most delicious fresh produce ever.

I've been torturing myself with staring at these Frenchy photos from my trip last August, which provide a double-whammy of longing for both gallivanting and summer-ing. Only three months and two weeks until my next day off...










March 14, 2013

Ma P-P's Jewish Penicillin

Passover's coming up. This is the holiday where everything delicious (i.e. carby) is banned for a week. I have a history of fainting and/or becoming unbearable to be around during these eight sundowns, to the point where my coworker made note of the dates in her calendar so she knows not to get up in my grill.

Much of my crabbiness stems from feeling like there's nothing I can eat, and thus I don't eat and thus my blood sugar drops and thus the fainting and the biting off of people's heads.

This isn't true though; unlike people on the Paleo diet I don't have to eat like a dinosaur. I could snack on a sugar packet. Or a butter sandwich without the bread. SO MANY OPTIONS.

One of my favorites is my mom's matzo ball soup. In addition to being K for P (Kosher for Passover), it has mysterious healing powers. In my experience, this magic potion has the ability to cure at least 97.3% of what ails you. (The remaining 2.7% can be cured with a few Freddy snuggles.)

Ma P-P happened to be in town this weekend, and when we got the news that a very dear girl in our lives had been admitted to the hospital, our natural inclination was to set to work making matzo ball soup and other goodies to get her back up to snuff.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for Ma P-P's Jewish Penicillin:

1 cut-up chicken, plus an extra thigh and leg
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
2 leeks, cleaned, root side sliced off.  Be careful--these guys can be seriously muddy. Use the whole leek--white and green parts.
2 carrots, scraped and chunked.  Remember, you will use these for the soup later on--cut into one- or two-inch chunks.
1 whole onion, paper skin removed, scored. 
1 small turnip, peeled and chunked.
2 parsnips, peeled and chunked.
fresh dill (enough for the preparation of the broth and then later as garnish)
fresh parsley for broth
salt, pepper to taste
Matzo ball soup mix

Wash and dry chicken parts, place in stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off scum.  Add the broth powder from the chicken soup mix.  Stir well.  Add veggies and herbs.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for a few hours.

Make matzo balls and keep in fridge until ready to cook.

After soup is finished, strain off all the meat and veggies, reserving carrots. Following the instructions on the package, drop the matzah balls into the broth, cover, and boil.

Slice carrots into coin shaped pieces and add to broth.  Add dill for garnish.

 A bonus is that you can eat the mushy glop you used to make the broth for days afterwards. It's especially great if you have no teeth.

March 10, 2013

Progress report: Living Room, Bedroom and Bookcases

Our week has closely mirrored that of Justin Bieber's, except that instead of dealing with Lil' Twist crashing an expensive car, the ire of Britain's parents after starting concerts many hours late, and paparazzi picking fights with us, we dealt with ice dams, a sick dog, and a gas leak. Unlike the Biebs, however, we do not make an estimated $6,500/hr. Mint is having a cow.

Havoc aside, we've been quite busy making the hizzy not quite so bare. The couch, chair, and and bed we ordered from Slumberland arrived last week. allowing us to retire the all-purpose air mattress. The living room now actually looks like a place where people live, and not a site where vagrants have decided to set up camp. Please enjoy the following pics in which Dude is studiously ignoring me and Freddy is photo-bombing like a boss.



Living Room To-Dos:
  • Buy a couch
  • Buy armchairs
  • Buy an area rug
  • Mount the TV above the fireplace
  • Make a painting/picture mural above the couch
  • Make curtains
*****

We got our new Posturpedic mattress along with the couch and a chair, but the foundation didn't fit around the tight corners going up the stairway to the master suite. We floor-slept for another week while we waited for them to deliver a lower-profile model. This mattress is a dream. A life-changer.  As long as you don't have a snuggly puppy hacking up a lung in the middle of the night, you will sleep through the night like a baby. 




Bedroom to-dos:
  • Paint an accent wall
  • Get new lampshades/ spray paint bases
  • Get a desk and/or chair for the half-wall by the stairs
  • Get an area rug
*****

Last night I was seized by the need to ROY-G-BIV our bookcases. This was right around the time I called the gas company to check out the odor I'd smelled near the dryer. If we're going to get all psychological, I was clearly desperate to assert some control over our living space. Hence: RAINBOWS!



Here is your lesson of the day: if you think you smell gas, call the gas company right away. The benefits are many:
  • The visit is free. There's no reason not to put safety first, friends.
  • If you call at 8 on a Saturday night, you get to hear the night shift guy's many, many war stories. He might be incredibly racist. He might give you lots of tips on what all the pipes in your basement are for. The morning after he leaves you might discover a mysterious liquid spilled on your washer. These are just a few of the examples of things that can happen.
  • The stress of imagining the death by explosion you narrowly avoided can be funneled into some really valuable home projects.
Now that the living room, kitchen, guest room and master are more or less acceptable, I will be focusing my energies on our pretty pink office and the basement, where we've been stashing all the stuff I don't know where to put yet.

You can come visit now. We have at least four places for you to sit. 

March 8, 2013

Shakshuka

I've had Israel on the brain for awhile now. Brother Bear went there for a conference in December, and I used the occasion to regale him of all the delectable breakfasts I had scarfed up when I went on a trip for college journalists circa 2007. Everything else I stuffed down my gullet was also quite excellent, but the breakfasts at our hotel in Jerusalem were just insanely fresh and good. Fish. Cheeses. Fruit. Toubouleh. Oy!

I've been seeing Kat's instagrammed pics from her Birthright trip to the motherland last month, and my girl Lo returned just days ago from the Land of Milk and Honey. The subsequent social media blitz of camels and deserts and holies of holy set my heart a-achin'.


Then I happened upon Kat's blog entry on her shakshuka foray, and came across David Lebovitz's version but days later. The universe was clearly telling me I needed to make this spicy tomato-and-eggs dish, stat.

Here's the recipe from David's blog, which he adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts. Smitten Kitchen also has a version on her site. You should probably make different versions of this every day. Because if you can't get yourself to the other side of the world, you have to bring the other side of the world to you.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 – 1 chile pepper (or to taste), stemmed, sliced in half and deseeded, finely diced/minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika, smoked or sweet
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed, or 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 pounds (1kg) ripe tomatoes, cored and diced, or two 14-ounce cans of diced or crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon red wine or cider vinegar
1 cup (20g) loosely packed greens, such as radish greens, watercress, kale, Swiss chard, or spinach, coarsely chopped
4 ounces (about 1 cup, 115g) feta cheese, cut in generous, bite-sized cubes
4 to 6 eggs


1. In a wide skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until soft and wilted. Add the chile pepper, the salt, pepper, and spices. Cook for a minute, stirring constantly, to release their fragrance.
2. Add the fresh or canned tomatoes, tomato paste, honey, and vinegar, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened somewhat but is still loose enough so that when you shake the pan it sloshes around. (Fresh tomatoes may take a little longer to cook than canned.) Stir in the chopped greens.
3. If you want to finish the Shakshuka on the stovetop, turn off the heat and press the cubes of feta into the tomato sauce. With the back of a spoon, make 6 indentations in the sauce. Crack an egg into each indentation, then drag a spatula gently through the egg whites so it mingles a bit with the tomato sauce, being careful not to disturb the yolks.
Turn the heat back on so the sauce is at a gentle simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes, taking some of the tomato sauce and basting the egg whites from time-to-time. Cover, and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
4. To finish them individually, preheat the oven to 375ºF (180ºC.) Divide the sauce into 6 baking dishes and press the feta cubes into the sauce. Set the baking dishes on a baking sheet, make an indentation in each, and crack and egg into the center. Bake until the eggs are cooked to your liking, basting the whites with some of the sauce midway during baking, which will take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes – but begin checking them sooner to get them just right. If the yolks begin to get a little firm on top before the whites are cooked, drape a sheet of foil over them, but avoid having it touch the yolks.
Serve with lots of crusty bread for scraping up the sauce.

March 2, 2013

February: The Month Mint Wouldn't Stop Yelling at Me

Do you guys use Mint? It's a website and app that let you budget and track your spending. If Mint doesn't think you're making very good decisions, like incurring an ATM fee or spending $12 at  coffee shops for the month when you specifically told it you were only going to spend $10, you'll receive an email alert to guilt you into being more responsible.

Sometimes Mint nags you so much that you have to ignore it or risk constantly feeling like a failure of a human.

Mint totally hated me in February. I would get emails that were like, "You just spent tens of thousands of dollars on housing! You usually spend $600. What's wrong with you?!?! Don't go buying any furniture now. Don't do it. I'm serious. Don-- DAG NABIT!"

"Why on earth are you spending money on pets??? Have I taught you nothing???"

"Do you FREAKING REALIZE that you just spent $4 more on groceries than you said you would?! You are going to end up a homeless pauper, with nothing to your name, no one to love and nowhere to live. IDIOT."

You know what, Master Mint? #Hidontevencurr. These groceries are delicious. This house is a palace. And this dog, now officially named Ellis Alfred Swearengen, is the coolest sentient being on the planet. I can save money when I'm dead.