Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm so behind!

Okay - real quick.Two upcoming blog posts I hope for you all to see very soon:

1) N.C. State fair (and Raleigh weekend in general)
2) Pumpkin Party

I've gotten way behind in my blogging and I'm sure there will be much more soon!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Travel Tips to Have Your Cake and Eat it too

Everyone loves a vacation, but I don't know anyone who likes to go broke because of it. Tomorrow, Ash and I are getting ready to take an extended weekend trip from Philadelphia to Raleigh. While I know we'll be eating many of our meals out, I also know we won't break the bank, thanks to a few good food-related, money-saving tips.

I booked our hotel using Priceline. It's the first time I've used their hotel service, but I'm pretty happy with what was available! Our hotel is brand new, super close to the main place we'll be going over the weekend, and top top it off, it had some of the best reviews.

The first money-saver is that our hotel offers a free continental breakfast, but not just the cereal and fruit spread you typically find. The breakfast features a little more, such as scrambled eggs and a few other hot options. It'll be a great chance to get our day started with a hearty meal, and even pick up an extra piece of fruit for a snack later in the day. The next time you are preparing to book a hotel for a trip, check for free continental breakfast.

Another bonus is that our room (and all of them in our hotel, for that matter) has a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker. The mini-fridge is great for stocking a few extras like juice, soda, yogurt, cold cuts, fruits and veggies, etc. Lunch time is usually when you're on the go, so it's extra convenient to be able to make yourself a sandwich to bring along for your day, and supplying the ingredients yourself will certainly be cheaper than picking up something while you're out.

I love when hotels have a microwave in the room. It's perfect for heating up dinner leftovers for a late night snack, making popcorn before bed, heating up water for tea, etc. And of course the coffee maker automatically saves you a couple dollars each morning. Rather than run out to a local coffee shop, you can make it yourself and have a cup while you're getting ready. Most hotels even supply the coffee for you, or you can bring your own. And with the mini-fridge, you can even bring your own cream so you aren't stuck using the non-dairy, powdered creamer (ew).

Finally, the best places to eat out when you go on vacation are the locals' favorite spots. Think about your own habits at home - do you go out to tourist-trap or similarly pricey restaurants on a regular basis? Doubtful. I've never been a fan of chain restaurants - imagine what they have to do in order for the food to be the same at every location across the country. Not something I want to eat, that's for sure. Since I lived in Raleigh for a few years, I already know some of the best spots in town, and I can't wait to get my grub on!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sunday Funday: Apples and Pumpkins

True to Sunday Funday tradition, Ash and I set off on an adventure this past Sunday. Our intended destinations were in central-ish PA - Hawk Mountain (to go hiking and watch for migrating raptors) and Cabela's. Bonus points if we came across a pumpkin patch on the way.

A hellish traffic jam led us to take a different route, which just so happened to dump us out on a corner where Ash saw the sign for pick-your-own pumpkins, apples and raspberries. Jackpot. Down some winding farm roads we went until we came across a few more signs, pointing us in the direction of the farm. Back up a winding gravel road and over hills we went until we arrived at the top. Totally. Amazing. The views were gorgeous and they did indeed have pick-your-own apples (four varieties) and pumpkins.

When we got home, I checked out Ontelaunee Orchards online, and found out that it began in the 1920s and the fruits are still harvested by hand, rather than machines. So cool.

The pumpkins growing in the field were fairly small, but who cares! We both whipped out our knives and cut our chosen beauties right from the vines. It's not like we settled...there are definitely more pumpkin patches in our future. 

We ended up spending so much time wandering around the fields and picking plenty of Golden Delicious and Jonagold apples, that we decided to save Hawk Mountain for another day and head straight to Cabela's. Holy sensory overload. That is a pretty awesome store.

So hawks or no hawks, we certainly made an adventure. I can't say we were prepared to be sweating our butts off in 80 degree temperatures on an October afternoon, but at least we had a good snack.

Next weekend, it's off to Raleigh to visit some of my favorite haunts and go to the N.C. State Fair!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Last minute things

Some weekends, you're just having too much fun to bother with silly little tasks like grocery shopping. Some mornings, even though you wake up to the entire block lined with idling utility trucks, chainsaws buzzing and wood chippers grinding tree limbs, you try with desperate futility to sleep 20 more minutes. Then you remember that silly little task you forgot to do. Cuss. That's when you have to get ready at lightning speed, thank your lucky stars that the dogs already woke up up pre-dawn to go outside to tend to business, and you get your butt quickly out the door.

On the rare (cough, cough) occasion something like this happens, I'm glad the grocery store is only a mile away, and I just have to loop back toward my apartment - on the same street, no less - to get to work. So, having neglected grocery shopping and desperately needing something for lunch, I buzzed through the grocery store in just a couple minutes and then was on my way.

Straight to the bagel bins - good, lots left. Grab a toasted onion bagel. Across the produce section to grab a bag of baby spinach. Oh - on sale. Holla! Down the aisle and around the corner to the pre-sliced/pre-packaged deli meats. Turkey. Also on sale. Double score. Back up the aisle to self check-out and out the door. And this is what I end up with:

Not too shabby. And now I have enough spinach and turkey for a few more sandwiches this week, too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Well, because it's Friday...

I almost made it, but not quite. The last meal I had planned for this week was one of my favorites, but a favorite I haven't made in several months: falafel (sorry, I'm not quite sure what happened to the pictures from this post!).

I've been up way too last the past few nights, and especially last night. Around 1:30, just as I was about to doze off, I heard the snap of the mouse trap I have set up behind the refrigerator. Ugh. When you live in a house that was built in the late 1800s, you get a few uninvited guests as the weather starts to get cold. By the way, no harm done - when I check it this morning it was just tripped and flipped over - no critter. In any case, I yawned my way through the work day (I think they're brewing half-caff...agh!), and when it was time to go home, I couldn't bear the thought of going to the grocery store during the mad pre-dinner rush (it seems no one in my neighborhood plans dinners and shops ahead...ever), and then spending another 30-40 minutes preparing the meal. Because it's Friday, and because I was hanging out with puppies, and because I'm a big girl and can do what I want, I ordered a pizza. I have to remind myself periodically that my body is not built to eat garbage. My tummy would have been much happier with falafel.

In other news, Ash has taken to home-brewing beer, and I want to tell you all about it, but it's really late and I have horse stalls to clean bright and early tomorrow. So...I'll save it for later.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One fish, two fish - revisited

So remember last week when I was so excited about my dinner that I didn't snap a picture before digging in? Well I re-made the same dinner (yes - even the side was so good!), and this time I did take a picture. So now that you know how to make parmesan breaded tilapia, here's what it looks like:

Fall-ing in Love

Friends, I've got to tell you something. In case you didn't already know, I have just the slightest obsession with all things Autumn. Really, it's just a little weensy thing, I swear.

In my office, we have your typical office supply catalog, drip-pot mud served up every morning, but I'll tell you what. Pour some pumpkin spice coffee creamer in there and I could drink a gallon of it. Really, it makes a world of difference. And you want to know something else ridiculous? I checked the expiration date on the bottle of creamer I picked up at the grocery store earlier this week. January. Do you know what that means? I can stockpile pumpkin creamer in my fridge and enjoy it all the way through January. Yes!  

Another love of fall is festivals and fairs! Get me outdoors in that crisp air and holy crap. You might need to put me on a leash. We've had some pretty soggy weather in Philly, and humid too. Gross. But the countdown is on. In two weeks, Ash and I go back to Raleigh, my old stomping grounds, for a long weekend at the N.C. State Fair! I think saying "I can't wait!" doesn't even cover it. He always makes fun of me for my lists, but I don't even care. I have a huge one started of alllll the things I want to do or take him to see (or favorite places to EAT!) while we're there. This post might be lacking in the visual stimulation, but you better believe I'll have some photo-packed posts after that trip. I'm already drooling thinking about the pulled pork sandwich I'm going to devour when we go to the fair on Saturday night. Whoa.

This weekend we were going to wander through Cabela's and then do some hiking at Hawk Mountain where, you guessed it, you can watch the hawk migrations, but Ash is fixing the front brakes on my car. Another weekend, I guess. We have a whole list of fall activities we're ready to enjoy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Spice Bread

Last night I had a brilliant idea something along the lines of "I should make apple spice bread." As I said, brilliant. Okay, maybe not so much. It's no stroke of genius, but it's fall and there are apples and it's just what you should be doing on an autumn night - baking with apples and spices.

To my trusty Better Homes cookbook! (Imagine me blasting off toward the kitchen, something like Superman, but maybe with a wooden spoon or a whisk in my hand.) Oddly, the recipe for apple bread is the same that is used for zucchini bread. Hmm. If nothing else, I was going to use my all-time favorite banana bread recipe. Below you'll find the BH recipe, with slight adjustments to the amount of spices, mostly because I overflowed the measuring spoon...oops!


1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon (1.5 for me)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg (1/2 for me)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (my addition - a must for all baking)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 1/2 cups finely shredded, peeled apple*

*I cut mine into tiny chunks rather than pull out the food processor. It ended up being 2 cups, or 1.5 apples of the Pink Lady variety. I really wanted to use honeycrisp, but I only had one, and I wanted to be an apple purist. No mixing varieties.

Okay so I was being all Betty Crocker, getting my ingredients together in the separate bowls (see below) until I opened the cabinet to get the oil. Crap. I used the last of it when I made pumpkin bread a week or so ago. Just one more thing I forgot to put on the shopping list...uh oh. But! I did have just enough plain yogurt in the fridge, so I used that in place of the oil.


1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease bottom and 1/2 way up sides of loaf pan; set aside. (I made a dozen muffins instead.) In medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder and nutmeg. Make a well in center of flour mixture; set aside.

2. In another medium bowl, combine egg, sugar, shredded apple, vanilla extract and oil (or yogurt). Add apple mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Spoon batter into prepared pan. I sprinkled the top of the batter with a cinnamon-sugar mix.

3. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on rack. And here's another thing - I didn't set a timer. Go by smell!

Another Meatless Meal

If I stick to the meal plan I've made for the week (well, the 5-day work week), I'll be eating meat one night, and fish another. The other days, my meals will have protein from soy or garbanzo beans. It's important to me to not only eat well for my body, but eat well for sustainability.

Tonight's dinner was another easy one with a Morningstar Farms product. I love their buffalo "chicken" nuggets, but the store where I did some grocery shopping over the weekend didn't have any. Bummer. Had to go with the plain old "chicken" nuggets instead. Throw 'em in the toaster oven on a sprayed baking sheet at 450 degrees for about 16 minutes. Flip 'em over once and let both sides get crispy.

I had leftover saffron rice from last night's tacos, so that was an easy side dish. Thanks to Ashley's garden, I had a fresh bell pepper for a veggie.

Fun fact: The past few photos I've posted have been taken with the Instagram app on my iPhone. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Less is More

Some nights, just as much as I love trying a new, elaborate recipe, I love falling back on something simple. Tonight's "simple staple" is vegetarian tacos. 

With a choice of white corn or yellow corn taco shells, I like the lightness of white corn. The two imitation beef products (soy-based) I use are either Morningstar Farms or Boca. Personally, I prefer Boca. It has the lightest flavor of seasoning already added to it, and it seems to cook better than the MSF product. To bulk the tacos up a little more, I made a pot of yellow rice. 

The ingredients and cooking instructions are as simple as they come. 

Rice: Get a box or bag of yellow rice; follow the cooking instructions on the package. One extra ingredient is a tablespoon of butter. 

Tacos: Spray a frying pan and pour desired amount of frozen "beef" crumbles in; cook on low to medium heat until the crumbles are heated all the way through. Sprinkle in a little taco seasoning if you want (I always keep a couple extra packages in my spice cabinet). Throw the shells in the toaster over at 250 degrees for about 5 minutes. 

Stuff the shells with rice, "beef" and cheese. Done and yum!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One fish, two fish

In my extreme hunger and eagerness to eat dinner last night, I didn't snap any pics of the meal before we dug in...oops.

The last time I went to the co-op, I picked up a few different meats and fish for the main course of several meals. Last night's dinner was tilapia, which I think may be my favorite fish to prepare and eat. Because this white fish has such an un-fishy taste, you can prepare it so many different ways to feature the flavor of your ingredients. I decided to bread and bake.

I prepped by using two shallow dishes - one for a mixture of one egg beat with a couple tablespoons of milk (this was plenty for dipping two fillets). The other dish had a mixture of breadcrumbs and a few tablespoons of grated parmesan/romano cheese. I prepped a broiler pan by spraying the slotted tray with a thin layer of cooking spray, and nested it on top of the drain pan. After I dipped the fish in the egg mixture, I completely coated both sides in the bread crumb/grated cheese mixture, and placed on the broiler pan. Into the 425-degree oven for 20ish minutes it went, flipping the fish over halfway through. The breading was nice and crispy without drying out the fish. Perfection. I think I could have eaten both mine and Ashley's servings (shhh...).

Side dishes were steamed basmati rice (which you want to start before your fish, since it may take longer), and steamed broccoli (start the broccoli just a couple minutes before the fish is done). As always, I toasted the rice dry in the pan before adding the water. Let it boil for a minute, then reduce the heat and cover. With basmati rice, you'll notice a nice fragrance as the rice is cooking. It almost perfectly coincides with the rice being done.

I chose to mix my broccoli and rice and sprinkle with shredded Mexican blend cheese; Ash kept his separate and mixed hot sauce into his rice. We both had happy tummies after that dinner!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Food and Exercise

Now that I have an office job again, I've started packing smarter lunches and eat it throughout the day, rather than all at one time. My stomach is definitely getting used to it. I've been eating like shit. I partially blame it on Ashley because he's all about eating out (even though he really likes my cooking...he wants to give me "a break" it's something to do). The problem is we don't usually eat out places where you'd eat a real meal (umm...veggies?). It's usually more like bar food, cheesesteaks, etc. Blah.

I've brought an organic fruit strip, raw carrots and a piece of fruit both days so far. Yesterday I had some leftover saffron rice from the previous night's dinner, and today I have a container of plain organic yogurt with a scoop of Amazing Grass stirred in. Breakfast has been carbs (a couple of donut holes leftover from the weekend on Tuesday, and a bagel this morning). But mid-afternoon, all I can think about is what  I'm making for dinner. I definitely have to pick up some raw almonds or other type of snack to fill me up a bit more. I get in a routine of eating certain things, but it never fails that I get sick of eating it before I run out (hence, why there are so many Kashi bars in my cabinet and I always try to pawn them off on Ash for breakfast, haha).

A few weeks ago I made a big batch of turkey chili, and another of chicken soup. I have a few containers of each stored in the freezer, but then the hurricane hit and I ate all of those portions so they didn't go bad while my power was out for about three days. Kind of a bummer, but it's not like I can't just go get the ingredients and make that stuff again. I've also been thinking about longer-range dinner planning so I can get back into the habit of more streamlined grocery shopping. I don't mind going to the store a couple times a week to be sure that I have fresh produce, but going every other night because I realize I don't have all the ingredients I need to make dinner is pretty annoying.

Up until the past few days of non-stop rain, I had been taking the dogs on a short walk around a few blocks in the neighborhood once a day. Our forecast shows rain through the weekend, which is annoying when I depend on good weather to allow me to exercise. Aside from not being able to walk the dogs (which makes me feel bad for them), the rain also means I'm not walking to work, and that is just lame. It's only three blocks away! And really, I only have about another month-and-a-half of walking to work, because I wouldn't feel comfortable walking home after dark once we have the time change.

Here's to hoping we get a break from the rain and I can get in a decent grocery shopping trip this weekend!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dancing in the Dark

Here I am, the naysayer, about to eat my words.

On Saturday night, Ashley and I went out to one of my new favorite places: El Camino Real in the Northern Liberties section of the city (oh my God - best pulled pork sandwich, salsa, guacamole, fries, margaritas...I could go on). I didn't bring my phone inside because of the torrential downpour we had to run through to get from the parking lot down the block to the restaurant doors, so I missed a call from my neighbor telling me the power went out in our apartment building. Damn.

A ridiculously large portion of a ridiculously large tree in front of the neighbor's house broke in the wind (landing on one of their cars...ouch) and ripping down the electrical line that connects to our building. It came to a crashing halt in our driveway. Double damn...not only did I lose my ever-so-carefully chosen parking space (one that seemed to be clear of all potential falling branches) and have to find an alternative on the street, but the darkness came too early.

Thank goodness I picked up the last couple packages of tea light candles I could find and an extra package of AAA batteries for my camping headlamp. When it's dark, it's...dark.

Without the usual hum of the fans, we heard every. little. noise. there was to hear, and of course popped up to look out the window any time something that sounded like a large truck drove by. Despite all the wishing and watching, no PECO truck for us. Sunday morning brought the neighborhood out to clean up. Some helped cut and move the tree, I babysat my landlord's dog...a great figure in the neighborhood...and we all chatted, thankful that people were safe and the damage wasn't much worse.

Luckily we have gas stoves/ovens and a gas water heater, so we weren't at our worst. I went to a few stores to look for a large cooler and ice so I could empty the contents of my fridge and pack my freezer. By yesterday afternoon, the freezer didn't seem to be faring so well, so I packed everything up and took it to the office to load in our freezer so I didn't lose everything. Thankfully I hadn't done a major grocery shopping trip recently.

After coming back from delivering my freezer contents to the office last night, my neighbor and I smelled something burning. We walked all around the outside of the house, and eventually around the block, but couldn't find a source. Twice we were passed by a fire truck and heard sirens in the distance - I guess they were having a bit of trouble, too. Maybe it was the paranoid state my mind was in, but around midnight I shot out of bed, unable to remember if I'd locked the office door on my way out. I could visualize when I set the alarm, but the door wasn't in my memory. Back to the office I went to check the door (locked, of course), and just a minute after getting home, a PECO truck drove around the corner and slowed in front of the house. YES! They were here to replace the electrical line!

About an hour-and-a-half later, we were back in business. I was giggling at all of the people who would be woken up when their lights, fans, TVs, etc. came back on in the middle of their slumber.

So, we survived.

Beer by candle light.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene, who?

Yes...the whole east coast is talking about this Irene chick. Weird, huh?

I never like to believe the hype, and certainly don't want to be seen as one of those gullible fools clearing the store shelves of water, non-perishable foods and batteries (I even saw people stocking on up on a lot of paper goods like TP and napkins...weird). I especially don't want to believe the hype for a hurricane...hitting Philadelphia. We don't even have a coastline for cryin' out loud. But, we do have two large rivers and a creek that serves as a significant tributary to the Delaware, and with the wettest month on record, suppose there are a few things to worry about.

This post doesn't have much to do with food...except maybe I took stock of my "storm food" which consisted of half a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, a few bananas, a peach, a few avocados and kiwi, some carrots, saltine crackers, cans of tuna, a few extra pitchers I filled with water...and a case of Leinenkugel's Autumn Sampler beer. Luckily, I have a gas range/oven so even if we lose power, I'll be able to cook "real" food.

I went to the barn this morning and we stocked up on hay and filled water troughs in the indoor riding arena, and secured the door open so the horses could come in to shelter if they need it. Good luck, boys!

There's a parks and recreation curfew going into effect at 6 p.m. and all of the city's public transportation is stopping at 12:30 in the morning. We're supposed to get the worst of the storm (up to 70 mph winds) after midnight. Perhaps we'll all be sleeping with one eye open tonight.

A tasty treat

One of my all-time summer favorites - Caprese salad. The tomatoes are from my garden!

Tomato slices, fresh mozzarella, basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recap: Smokey South African Lime Chicken

I previewed this recipe in my last entry, and I'm finally getting around to writing the final review of the recipe. 

I bought a package of two full boneless, skinless chicken breasts and ended up just using one, which was plenty of chicken for the both of us - there was enough left over for me to have as a lunch-sized portion the next day. 

To start, I trimmed the chicken breast and separated the two breast pieces. I adapted this recipe from a pepper-lime chicken recipe, so I juiced two small limes for the marinade (use more or less depending on how tangy you want the flavor). To replace the pepper, I used a new seasoning mix:

It is called South African Smoke Seasoning Blend and Ashley found it at Trader Joe's. If you want to season meat to achieve a deep smokey flavor, this is your stuff! It's really good. 

In a Pyrex dish about 2 inches deep, I poured the lime juice and placed the trimmed chicken breast. I sprinkled one side with the seasoning, let it sit for a few minutes, then flipped and sprinkled the other. Surprisingly, all of the seasoning stayed on the chicken. I put the lid on the Pyrex dish and put it in the fridge until I was ready to start cooking.

These chicken breasts can be grilled, broiled or baked. We got a little rained out, so I baked mine at 375 for about 30 minutes and flipped halfway through. The end result was great, and I'll definitely try this recipe again, hopefully grilling next time. 

The side dish was scalloped mashed potatoes baked in a cheese sauce, but I wasn't very pleased with the recipe. I think it calls for too much butter and the cheese (sharp white cheddar) was too bland. I may try that again as well, but definitely reducing the amount of butter and using a more flavorful cheese like a smoked gouda. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Smokey South African seasoned & lime chicken and cheesy scalloped potatoes

Hi friends! It's been awhile again. I swear there's a backlog on photos on my camera waiting to be downloaded for blog posting. What can I say - life is sort of busy.

Anyway, I'm really excited to try two new recipes for dinner tonight! A couple of weeks ago when we were in the grocery store, Ashley saw boxed cheesy scalloped potatoes and said "...that would be really good if it was real." And so came the inspiration for tonight's dinner. I'e been in kind of a food rut lately...we both coming up with dinner ideas has been difficult. I decided to turn to one of my trusty old cookbooks and look for a chicken recipe that would go well with the potatoes. That's when I found the pepper-lime chicken recipe. But of course I can't just take a recipe and prepare it as-is. The last time we were at Trader Joe's, Ashley found a South African smoke seasoning blend (he loves BBQ and spicy flavors), so I'm subbing that seasoning mix (it comes in its own grinder/mill) for the pepper in the recipe.

Hopefully all comes out well and I'll have pictures and a great review after dinner tonight!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gardens, Breakfasts and Dogs

Good morning, glories! While I was sitting at my desk yesterday morning, I couldn't help but admire the pattern my coffee was making in the mug while I was slow to drink it, so I had to take a snap.

It's no secret that I've been loving my garden this season! And I'm not the only one. Occasionally I forget to check the squash, and they get too big to eat. What does that mean? Dog toys!

Wheeler has her mouth full with a piece of summer squash.
Marty gnawing away on his piece of squash. 
Besides the squash, I've had some lovely yellow tomatoes. They're really tasty, and a perfect size. So far they are the earliest to ripen and I've picked a half dozen or so. I'm also super excited because tomato plants started coming up in places where some rotten tomatoes must have fallen last year, and at least one is my absolute favorite, but most difficult seed to find - the Garden Peach tomato!

And finally, how about these "green" beans? They are an heirloom bean - a deep purple on the vine, but supposedly when you cook them, they turn an emerald green. I love them too much raw to cook them, so I suppose I won't see that magic trick in the kitchen.

So what's with all these funky veggies? I really love the heirloom varieties, and this season that's pretty much all I bought when I was picking out my seeds. Do you realize how much genetic diversity you are preserving by choosing one of the "weird" varieties, as opposed to your typical big, red tomato or regular old bush bean? Saving seeds used to be a necessary part of the farming process for farmers years ago, which is how we've been able to have so many wonderful varieties available to us today. 

Also, you may have at some point heard about monoculture (growing all of the same variety) versus polyculture (growing many varieties). That's kind of the idea here, too. I'm growing about 6-8 different varieties of tomatoes, all in my backyard garden. Again, it preserves the genetic diversity, but may also be beneficial if pests decide to attack any of my plants. 

I'm not the only gardener around. Ashley loves to spend evenings in his garden (and I love that about him!) and often brings me some of the veggies he's grown. Currently I have a handful of hot peppers drying. It was pretty cool over the past couple of weeks to watch them turn from green to bright red and shrink up into almost fake looking little peppers. 

But this past weekend, he brought a paper bag full of red and white potatoes. We washed them, chopped them up, cooked them in olive oil and sprinkled them with a hefty dose of Old Bay. Delicious! 

And then we have the equivalent of the "his and hers" breakfast. Go ahead...just call us brunchaholics

Ashley's brunch with local turkey breakfast sausages. 
My meat-free brunch with a fresh croissant from a local bakery. 

Are you growing anything new in your garden this summer? What's your favorite part of your weekend breakfast or brunch? Happy Tuesday everyone!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'll Stop the World and Melt with You

At this the minute...10:38 p.m. to be exact, we're still suffering a heat index of 101 degrees. Yuck. I think the high heat index of the day reached 107 degrees. Tomorrow's actual temperature is supposed to be 101 degrees with not a cloud in the sky. Beautiful, right?

Anyway, for an hour this afternoon, I escaped obligations and enjoyed this: 

And believe me, I wasn't out of that water for a second until it was time to dry off and go home. Someday when I am married and a homeowner, there will be a pool in my backyard...if my husband knows what's good for him. *insert angelic smile and batting eyelashes*

Before I headed off this afternoon to complete two more of my member work hours for the co-op, I spied this little guy sitting on the door of my car:

Until this summer, I have never seen a praying mantis in Philadelphia. A couple of weeks ago, I found one on the foyer door in the entryway of my apartment. They're following me! When I was a kid, my mom owned a business and in the strip mall where her shop was located, there were large, brick planters with shrubbery in them. I always found praying mantises around them. I was so fascinated by their fragile, interesting little bodies. I guess I still am! Have you found any interesting, summer critters at home or while on vacation? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's not spring, but I'm still cleaning!

If you don't already know, I have two children...two furry, four-legged, barking children. One of my pups, Marty the poodle-terrier mix, is quite the sloppy eater. His messes could probably rival the mess that children of the two-legged variety make, for those types of parents out there.

Tonight I spied an army of black ants trying to make off with a piece of half-chewed kibble Marty spit onto the floor (Did I mention what excellent manners he has? No? Hmm...) and that was enough for me. I muscled up and pulled the refrigerator away from the wall and out into the middle of the kitchen floor.

Let me tell you friends, everything in the kitchen is not all sugar and spice. It's also part dust bunny, part army-carried kibbel chunks, part random food wrapper you could have sworn ended up in the trashcan, part dried mystery crud on the floor....yeah, you get the picture. I could sum it up in one word for you: EW.

After sweeping and scrubbing the floor (I use a pet-friendly mix of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle), I also remembered a good environmentally-conscious tip: dust off the coils on the back of the fridge. Keeping the coils free of dust can help your fridge operate and cool more efficiently, and we all know what that means. New shoes! Just kidding - it could mean a lower electricity bill (which I just may find a tad more exciting than a new pair of shoes)!

And not to be out-famed by Marty, I have to be fair my girl Wheeler, the queen of the castle!

My Favorite Dinner

Mmm...seitan and veggie stir fry! I was introduced to seitan by the wonderful, health-conscious mother of the kids in my neighborhood who I used to babysit. Part of the family ate a vegetarian diet and part ate meat, so seitan was a popular item in their house. Thank goodness for that, because it's one of my favorite meat substitutes, now!

I went for seasonal veggies to add to my stir fry - thin asparagus stalks, carrots and a summer squash from my garden. As you can see in the photo, I also used onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and of course, the seitan. Not pictured are the olive oil and rice.

The process is simple and uses one pan and one pot, at most. In a large frying pan, pour enough olive oil in the bottom to almost cover the the surface. Start with your peeled and slice carrots and seitan (I pull it apart into smaller pieces). Let them simmer a couple minutes on their own, and then add the minced garlic, ginger (I love the zing it adds, so I use about a teaspoon) and chopped onion (this was a small, yellow onion - I used half). The reason why I don't add the onion and garlic immediately is because they have a tendency to burn when heated the entire time. Next, add the squash, followed by the asparagus (washed and cut, of course). Finally, add the teriyaki and soy sauces in whatever amounts suit your taste.

As you can tell, I add my ingredients to the frying pan based on the length of time I want that particular ingredient to cook. The carrots and seitan need much longer to cook than the asparagus. I lucked out and already had a large portion of basmati rice leftover from dinner two nights prior, so I put it right into the frying pan and stirred it up with the seitan, veggies and sauces until it was completely heated. Talk about an an easy meal! This is one of my absolute if I could just get Ashley to eat veggies...

BBQ Pulled Pork

Ashley's birthday was on a Sunday in June. He's not really into big celebrations, so we stuck to our usual "Adventure Sunday" (I'll elaborate more on that in a future post) and explored a natural wildlife refuge in the area. I did get him a birthday gift, but while while we were out for the day, I think his favorite birthday treat was simmering in the crockpot at home.

Painted turtle sunning itself on a log in the pond.
I couldn't remember exactly how I prepared the chunk of pig (your best best is a pork shoulder with one fatty side and the bone still in it) the last time I made pulled pork, but I'll let you in on a little secret about the most important ingredient: beer. Not just any beer though - a stout (or three). Look at a million recipes online for BBQ seasoning and you'll find about the same mix of seasonings: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, brown sugar and chili powder. Of course there are more (or fewer) spices you can mix together to meet your particular tastes, but those are the basics. 

I like to mix all of my spices in a bowl, and then rub the pork shoulder really thoroughly with all the spices, just like you'd prepare dry-rubbed ribs. After the meat is coated in spices, I put it aside for a few minutes while I caramelize onions. Slice up a yellow onion into rings, add a bit of olive oil to a large pan and pour in a few tablespoons of brown sugar. On low heat, sauté the onions until they are golden brown, then dump them into the bottom of the crockpot. 

I add a bit more olive oil to a the same pan (You really think I'm going to clean up that many dishes? Please.) and brown all sides of the meat, just to get the cooking started and seal in the flavor. Once all sides are browned, into the crockpot it goes, resting on a bed of caramelized onions. Next I throw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme and pour in 2-3 bottles of beer, depending on how large the piece of pork is. 

You want the piece of meat completely covered with liquid, even a little extra so it remains covered as some of the liquid steams out. The beer selection is crucial. You want a dark, flavorful beer. You can choose one with a coffee or smokey undertone, or a sweeter taste. You can find any of these flavors in numerous stouts and porters. Don't be afraid to mix different types of beer. The first time I made pulled pork, we sampled all of the beers in a make-your-own 6-pack and chose two with flavors we thought to be complimentary to each other. So pour in your 2 stouts or porters. I topped my liquid off with half a bottle of a honey weiss, which is a lighter wheat beer. You can always add other flavors such as hot sauce, molasses, BBQ sause, etc. to enhance the flavor of the meat. Be creative!

After all the prep work is done, put the lid on your crockpot, set the temperature to medium or high and give the meat 6-8 hours to fall apart. When it's time to pull the meat apart, I like to keep it in the crockpot and the liquid so it can continue soaking up the flavor and not get dried out. I use a big two-pronged meat fork and a large serving fork since the meat shreds so easily at this point.

Ashley's birthday dinner was complete when the pulled pork was served on toasted potato rolls with homemade cheesy mashed potatoes, made from red potatoes. We ended the day with a picnic on the roof. It was such an awesome meal that I ate three sandwiches! 

Birthday boy's pulled pork and mashed potatoes.

Chow down, birthday boy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Improvising the Sunday Brunch

Is that my awesome boyfriend I spy making breakfast? It totally is. One Sunday morning I'd whipped up the pancake batter, then took the dogs outside and swore I could smell breakfast food cooking (even though I said I'd start cooking as soon as I came in). When I got back inside, Ashley had the pancakes almost finished and was about to start on the eggs. He's the best.

Here's where things got interesting...I don't eat breakfast sausage (in fact, it wasn't until very recently that I even ate a grilled chicken sausage). Usually though, I have some breakfasty meat product in my fridge or freezer for Ashley to eat on the weekends. Except this time. He finished the sausages the weekend before, and I'd put the bacon in the freezer so it wouldn't go bad. Oops. Being the good sport and brave food eater that he is, he opted for a turkey hot dog and said "why not?." So he chopped it up and threw it in with his eggs, scrambled it all up and called it good.

Cutting up 1 turkey hotdog into bite-sized pieces to add to the eggs.

Mixing it all together.

Scramble time!

What lesson did we learn today, friends? Fake it so you can make it!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Cheater's Margarita

In the spirit of the weekend (as if we need a reason...ahem), how about a drink recipe? I like to call this one the "Cheater's Margarita" because, well, I cheated!

When it comes to a mixed drink, there's nothing I find more unsatisfying than an overly sweet, not quite real enough fruit flavored drink mix (probably loaded with calories, no less) to be the deathbed of good alcohol. You catching my drift here?

That said, the last time I made these margaritas, I wasn't exactly in the mood to be squeezing lime after lime (time after time?). So, read on my friends and find out how to cheat your way to a delicious margarita!

Liquor: silver tequila and triple sec
Other: Simply Limeade and Simply Lemonade

In a shaker (ok, who am I kidding? a pitcher...) with ice, add a 1:3 ration of triple sec to tequila. Then, shake up your bottles of Simply Limeade and Simply Lemonade really well. [Note - these do have pulp, so if you don't like it, use a strainer when pouring them into your pitcher.] Add about the same ratio (1:3) of lemonade to limeade. The lemonade cuts the tartness of the lime just a bit and makes a really smooth drink. Stir or shake it up, and test the flavor. Adjust to meet your taste preferences, then pour and serve.

And there you go...sit back and enjoy a summer day while sipping on a Cheater's Margarita!


Growing up on the Outer Banks, one of my favorite summer activities (well, besides going to the beach...duh) was picking blueberries. If I remember correctly, the blueberry farm was on Waterlily Road. We went several times during the summer and every time would leave with loads of blueberries. As a kid, it was super exciting to stop at Joe's "Tarheel Produce," where he'd pay you a couple bucks a quart for your extra blueberries. Cash-money, baby!

So, needless to say, I still love picking blueberries. A few weekends ago, right at the beginning of blueberry season up here in PA, Ashley and I went to Solebury Orchards in New Hope, PA for some fresh berries (they also have the best apple cider donuts I've ever, to die for...but shhhh, don't tell anyone!).

Picking was decent. We both ended up with a lot of those not-quite-ripe-but-who-cares-because-they're-the-best-ones-anyway berries in our quart-sized containers. I ate all of mine by Thursday (we picked on a Sunday), and Ashley froze his (I know, kind of a sin, right?). He has good reason though! He recently bought an at-home beer brewing kit and as a substitute for some of the sugar, he's going to add the quart of blueberries he picked. We've had some good fruit-infused beers, and I think it'll turn out really well! His kit is for a Belgian Triple, so if he does it well, the end result might be a little something like the Three Philosophers beer that he loves, just with blueberries instead of cherries.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Repeat that last title...

Gosh, I am getting bad at this. So there are a lot of new things on the horizon.

The public school district where I have been working as a Special Education teacher for the last 5 months has gone to hell. That being said, I'm currently without a teaching job for the fall. I didn't realize I was going to love teaching as much as a did. I'll tell anyone I meet that I love a challenge, and that's certainly what I was handed when I began working in February. And you know what? All the more reason why I loved it. Disrespectful students began to respect me, themselves and each other. Apathetic students began to care about their progress in classes. Students who were used to failing had a taste of success, and I became their biggest cheerleader. Students who weren't used to guidance were given a dose of tough love. The transformation for them (and me!) was amazing. I wouldn't have traded any single tough day...days when I wanted to throw the books down and go running out the door in tears...for anything in the world. And that's why I'm so passionate about getting back in the classroom this fall.

A college friend is following his dreams and starting an online, location-based magazine, and he has asked me to be the editor! Right now it's just a side project with collaboration from friends and friends of friends, but we're really hoping to see this go somewhere. And that's why I want you to check it out (and if you feel so compelled, by all means...spread the word)! We're called Culprit Magazine. Follow the link and you'll be taken to our website, which will be going live with the first issue August 1st! You can also follow us on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook. It's all about staying connected! Through Culprit Magazine, you'll be able to browse events calendars (tailored to each of our initial major cities - NYC, Philadelphia and L.A.), read articles related to events or activities in each of those cities, as well as read articles that may interest anyone in any location. We're all about access, so we've created a wide variety of interest categories to appeal to our readers. Hope to find you browsing the site in August!

Finally (I know, I know...I'm just like those TV shows that show all of the good stuff on commercials, then you find out that clip is from the last minute of the show), what people originally started coming here to read...the food. I have a ton of pictures to upload and meals to write about, my garden to rave (and fuss) about, restaurants to discuss and much more. But for the rest of the night, I must put on my editor's cap (ok fine - glasses) and read through my first batch of stories.

So for now, I'll leave you with a tasty imagine of summertime from the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk in Delaware. Yum!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dang, it's been awhile

I've been back to the grind after enjoying an awesomely uncommitted 9 days off from work...thank you spring break! I was just a tad bit lazy, waking up most days around...err...10. It was so nice to take my time getting out of bed, making a cup of coffee and taking the dogs to the backyard to play.

I finally did some serious work in my garden, tilling in some topsoil, marking off planting locations for the little guys still sprouting inside, and getting the direct-seed fruits and veggies in the ground. This year I hope to be enjoying a bounty of: cantaloupe, summer squash, Boothby's blond cucumber, dinosaur kale, kaleidoscope mix (colorful!) carrots, assorted beets, a purple heirloom bean, garden peach tomatoes (my favorite from last year), carnival (more colorful!) bell peppers, and lots of lettuce for salads. I'm just crossing my dirt-covered fingers that everything sprouts.

Another wonderful think about spring: seasonal beer. Well, that's wonderful about any season, but it's extra fun with a cool bottle opener. I picked this one up during my birthday trip to Baltimore, and Ashley also bought one. He's going to turn his into a door knocker, which is a cool idea. Having grown up at the beach, I can't pass up anything that's mermaid and awesome.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pizza and Beer Night

Never mind the 6-pack and extra large pie from the local pizza parlor. This was a make-it-yourself night. My local Whole Foods is also home to a great little pub. If you know Pennsylvania, you know the odd beer-purchasing laws of the state (i.e. beer purchases are mostly restricted to buying entire cases from beer distributors), which is partly why I love WF so much. In the pub, you can buy large, individual bottles of some of the delicious microbrews or seasonal 6-packs from the walk-in fridge room; fill up a growler to go or enjoy a pint inside the pub. It's a small spot, and every time I've been there it's been full of people.

At the local bar, I enjoyed a delicious Belgian dubble, so I was excited to see one inside the fridge room. Ashley's been on a hunt for a random beer I had leftover after my neighborhood Halloween party - Three Philosophers. It's a cherry Belgian tripel. Whole Foods had it!

We were planning to make our own pizzas for dinner, originally on pitas, but then Ashley spotted the garlic naan. Best idea ever. The garlic flavor of the "pizza crust" added a little extra something to the pizzas. We bought a package of four and ended up using all of them (Ashley ate both for dinner; I saved one of mine to have the next day).

To start, we rubbed a little olive oil on top of the naan (the secret to all great pizzas!), and then the sauce. I used Muir Glen's organic pizza sauce, which already had Italian spices in it, so we didn't need to add our own. And finally, mozzarella cheese and we each chose our own toppings (he likes pepperoni and I like olives). Into the oven they went at 400 for about 15 minutes...perfect and tasty!

Chik Patties Parmesan

Confession: I am a wanna-be vegetarian. I seem to have commitment issues with my food relationship though. While I still enjoy a little bit of meat from time-to-time (except beef), I often opt for vegetarian choices when possible.

I love to make chicken parmesan, but this time I wanted a vegetarian option, and a shortcut (I know...seriously asking a lot, right?). Not exactly. I was able to get both with Morningstar Farms Chik Patties and the resulting meal was great!

Prepared as normal, I poured a little sauce on the bottom of a glass baking dish, then placed the Chik Patties on top, covered in more sauce and mozzarella cheese. In the oven it went at 350
for about 20 minutes. I have a gas oven and my broiler drawer under the oven is really shallow, so I was able to put the small dish in the toaster oven under the broiler for just a couple of minutes to completely melt the cheese. The meal was great! Overall, these aren't bad "chicken" patties and I will definitely try them in a few more recipes. The box comes with four patties.

Dear Blogger,

I 98% hate you and your 987385970235897243589724 screw-ups per day. Now I remember why I stopped posting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ashley's Man Sandwich

My man has his own sandwich, that is.

Sure, he has the cupcake-making side:

But he loves some "dude food." His usual kitchen activity involves watching me cook, and then
being awesome and cleaning up the dishes, but he makes some tasty scrambled eggs.

The scrambled eggs in his man sandwich had mozzarella cheese and some Italian spices. The
potato roll was toasted to burnt perfection. His reasoning? Hot eggs have steam...steam makes bread soggy...bread needs to be extra toasted to avoid getting soggy. He also loves his Zing's a sauce from NC my mom always used in her awesome bean dip. It adds a little kick to the food. Mmmm.