My good friend Nicola is visiting for the week, and we're keeping busy. She's great - she's come to see me now three years in a row - which is wonderful times a million.

We're going thrifting today for a couple of photo shoots.

Something wonderful happened yesterday.We swam. In the ocean. Which I haven't done since I moved here to California four years ago. I know - it's ridiculous - but the combination of friends who don't like to swim and my aversion from wearing a swimsuit have cause this long hiatus of one of my favorite activities. Thankfully, a good friend and an OK swimsuit have changed things.

Now, I think it will be hard to keep me out.

More later.



The Dr.

I'm pretty excited to say that one of my good friends, who I lovingly call K-Pax (and no, I've never seen the movie) has completed her final licensing tests and is now a pharmacist. Yay!

I'm really proud of her, because she is a great person and deserves a wonderful, happy life. She works harder than most people I know, and it payed off - she finished second in her class. I know that she's got a really, really bright future.

We had a small party for her on the night of her final test. I have been jokingly promising her that I was going to bring her an Ace of Cakes cake, which obviously, was something I couldn't really do. So, I decided that I would do the next best thing - create my own crazy cake for her.

I think it turned out pretty well. I'm most proud of the cake's shape, created using my new set of hinged baking pans. They're great - instead of trying to pry out the cake after it's pulled from the oven, the pans have a hinge on the side, which, when released, pulls the form loose and drops the bottom of the pan out. I love it. I honestly can see myself baking cool cakes every week with how easy it was. David and I also had a fun time creating all the pills out of fondant.

The inside of the cake was one layer of Red Velvet, one layer of Yellow, with a whipped vanilla and white chocolate frosting sandwiched between. It tasted alright, but in the future, I'd really like to learn to make cakes from scratch.


Weekly Menu - Sunday August 23

Tilapia Rigatoni with Avocado and Mango

Now, before I get started, don't give me any lip about once again eating pasta. I'll be honest in saying we eat a lot of pasta 'round these parts, because it's cheap, and we like cheap.

Anyway, on with the recipe!

What's in it:

  • Two flanks of tilapia, pan cooked in lemon juice, veganaise and black pepper with a hint of olive oil
  • Rigatoni pasta
  • (almost) from scratch pasta sauce, made with tomato puree, fresh garlic cloves (minced), cayenne pepper, red peppers and white onion (minced) and kosher salt
  • Sliced avocado
  • Sliced mango
This is a super, super easy recipe that I made up basically on the fly last night. I knew prior to cooking that I'd be making tilapia with pasta, but I have been watching a lot of Iron Chef and other Food Network shows recently which gave me the experimental bug. I wanted to create a couple of different tastes within the plate. This is super experimental for me. It's like colors - some match, and some go. The latter is the real challenge - with the real payoff.

The pasta sauce you get at the grocery store always tastes really sweet to me, which, is good, but for the sake of this experiment I wanted something that took on a different personality. I used kosher sea salt to give it a pop-your-tastebuds savor, cayenne pepper to create a bite at the middle of the tongue, and super fresh, super minced garlic cloves to explode at the end. I added peppers and onions for a little texture.

White fish is difficult to cook. I'm pretty impatient with the burner, so I end up putting the heat too high and ending up with unevenly cooked fish. Lately, however, we've been getting a good deal on frozen tilapia that really tastes pretty good when added with something. It's given me more time to practice my craft and thankfully, I'm starting to get the hang of it.

Aside from being touchy in the pan, white fishes are also often difficult when it comes to taste. Some whitefishes, like Catfish, have a great natural flavor, but Tilapia is NOT Catfish. I have struggled with how to get it tasting as I'd like it to. So far, my favorite method is to smother the unthawed slabs of tilapia in a bit of Veganaise, and top that with a bit of black pepper. I then fill the sautee pan with lemon juice, adding a drop of olive oil for flavor. I keep the burner down, around 6, and cover the fish while they cook. The lemon juice really helps to bring out the flavor of the fish and keep it moist instead of flaky.

Now, in order to create some compliments, I sliced an avocado and a mango. I know everyone reading this blog has had avocado, but if you haven't had mango...you should do it right now. It's the sweetest, most wonderful fruit on the planet. The sweetness of the mango and the thickness of the avocado made the tomato sauce almost to wonderful to even imagine.

My favorite part about this meal was creating my first pasta sauce. Tomato puree is so inexpensive, that it's actually a cheaper and fresher way to cover noodles. I will be trying some different things in the coming months.



Weekly Menu - Tuesday, August 18 2009

Vegetarian Chili

I love chili. It's one of my favorite foods - technically. However, throughout my life I've looked for ways to get around a couple of key things that most people's chili includes - kidney beans and hamburger. I never liked kidney beans. They are horrid, almost as bad as peas. But that's another story.

Honestly, when I finally started cooking in my early 20s, I almost jumped for joy when I realized I could make chili without those things! I enjoy this recipe, which I sort of pieced together from outside sources and my own trial and error.

What's in it:

  • Two Red Peppers, chopped
  • Two Green Peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 White Onion, chopped
  • 1 Can Black Beans
  • 1 Can Garbanzo Beans
  • 1/2 Zucchini
  • 1 can of Corn
  • Three whole garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Can diced tomatoes
  • 1 Can tomato puree
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • three taps basil
  • a few crunches of peppercorns
  • pinch of sea salt
The measurements for the above spices are rough. I generally work with my brain, my hands and my taster when it comes to spices in anything - I feel it out as I go. It is important with veggie chili that you get the paste nicely seasoned before you cook, though, because the absence of meat definitely leaves some room for flavor.

I cook the chili in my wonderful, wonderful slow cooker on high for about 4 hours, ideally, and then another two on low.

Now, before you complain about the monochromatic pictures, please know - I planned on topping our chili off perfectly with a dollop of Vegan Sour Cream. However, I forgot to pick it up :( Thankfully, we've got a ton of leftover chili that will serve as tomorrow's dinner, and I'll be making sure that I make a trip to the Natural Foods Market!

Weekly Menu is my attempt at creating a weekly pescatarian dinner menu on Sunday night night and sticking to it for the whole week. I'll post the basic recipe, preparation, and photos of each meal daily - please hold me accountable! I'm rallying around my many recipe books to try out new ingredients, spices and scenarios.



Weekly Menu - Monday, August 17 2009

Spaghetti and Garlic Bread

This is just garden variety spaghetti, but it's my spaghetti - my combination of my favorite ingredients and what I plan on passing down as the best spaghetti ever to my children.

What's in it:

  • Whole Wheat Thin Spaghetti
  • Garlic and Olive Oil Sauce
  • Boca Crumblers Veggie Burger
  • Red Peppers, sliced
  • Portabella Mushrooms, chopped
  • Sweet Yellow Onions
The garlic bread is also my "secret" recipe, which is probably no different than anyone else makes it. I don't care, though, OK? I grew up on nothing but tv dinners and goulosh, so learning to cook like a real person is a big deal for me.

What's in it:
  • Fresh bakery sourdough baguette
  • Freshly chopped garlic cloves (2)
  • Olive Oil
  • Light Butter
  • A touch of salt, pepper and paprika
How do I do it?

Let me get one thing straight: I suck at cooking pasta. By that I mean, the boiling and cooking of the noodles. I cannot get it right. I think it's patience, really. I do find that adding salt to the water helps to keep the noodles less sticky AND adds a nice flavor. We eat wheat spaghetti, because it's better than the enriched white stuff, and doesn't cost much more. I've learned to really love the flavor of the wheat, but it does cook differently - less time in the water. It also tends to get stickier on its own.

While the water is boiling, I prepare the garlic bread. The sourdough loaves I use for this are really huge, so one half is enough for two people. I take 1/4 olive oil, 1 tablespoon of Smart Balance, and freshly chopped garlic cloves and heat them up until they're a nice smooth liquid. Then, I pour it over the bread - making sure that the cloves are spread out (they're powerful!). Once that's complete, I crack a few black peppercorns over the whole thing, add a little sea salt, and toss the whole thing in the oven to toast at 300 degrees.

Red peppers and sweet yellow onions are amazing. Well, I like any onions or peppers - but, for spaghetti, I like to use the yellow onions and red peppers because they have a sweetness to them that works well with the tomato sauce. I love finding the right onion and right pepper for a recipe - it's fun to enjoy the differences between them.

Anyway, for the spaghetti, I use a plain old frying pan with just a dab of vegetable oil and a lid. The veggies should be soft, not crunchy, so the steaming that happens with the lid on really gets them tasting scrumptious. Once they've gotten almost completely soft (you can tell by checking the color - darker = softer), I toss in a few chopped pieces of portabella mushroom. The mushrooms don't need much time at all to cook. And what's better than a portabella? Not much.

Once the veggies are cooked, I toss in the Boca crumblers (faux meat) to warm. The crumblers are pre-cooked, so they just need a few minutes in the pan. There are lots of different kinds of faux meat products out there, but I love Boca - it's got the best taste. After the crumblers have warmed, I add the spaghetti sauce, turn the heat down to simmer, and add garlic powder, cayenne pepper, basil and rosemary.

The bread takes about 15 minutes to toast, so if it's in the oven as I'm starting the boiling water, it is finished by the time everything else is. I usually end up getting it in too late and waiting for it, but it is worth it. Fresh garlic bread is wonderful, smells wonderful, and tastes wonderful.

As you can tell, we're garlic people. And pepper people. Bring it on.

So, there you have it - my "Secret" spaghetti and garlic bread. I'm launching Weekly Menu with an old favorite, but just wait - I'll be mixing old favorites with new and uncharted recipes as time goes on.

Weekly Menu is my attempt at creating a weekly pescatarian dinner menu on Sunday night night and sticking to it for the whole week. I'll post the basic recipe, preparation, and photos of each meal daily - please hold me accountable! I'm rallying around my many recipe books to try out new ingredients, spices and scenarios.


And now, your originally scheduled menu

Things are changing around our household. The Drummer is going back to school next week to obtain his education credential, after which he'll be free to teach English, should he choose to do so. I will be back in school as well. We'll both be working full-time and trying to continue our other activities outside of work and home, so time will be minimal. Very minimal.

It's not so bad. It's only two semesters, and once those two semesters are over, many new life decisions will be made and things will change again, for the better.

Anyway, with that being said, I've decided to try a new process around here to A. save money B. eat healthier and C. spend less time worrying about what dinner will be. What's that new process, you say? Well, I'll be planning our meals for the week on Sunday night, making sure that the necessary ingredients are in stock, and sticking to the plan.

I've tried this before, and I failed. It's not that I don't want to...it's just that I failed. This time, I really want to make it work. So, I'm going to blog about it - and hope that my readership at large will hold me accountable.

Please? :D



Patience, The Way I See It

There are days, like yesterday, when something simple, a song or a memory or similar reminds me of who I am, who I have become naturally, in my soul (not at large in the world). Those days, I can find a little bit of patience in the daily grind of responsibility and bills and emails and struggling. Patience in knowing that someday it won't be like this, someday - one day, I'll have paid the dues that beat me down now, finding a prize in what stability means to me. These days I feel like those dues are worth every cent, even at the price of the sweat and blood and tears it costs.

Patience, sometimes a virtue, sometimes a skill. By force, I'm working on the latter. The fear of unfruitful patience is simple and complex all at the same time; a vortex of thought and punishment that results in knowing patience only pays when you're willing to work for the prize.

Because this is the way I see things.




Wasting Time

I have a lot to do. So much, in fact, that I've gotten myself tangled in one of those lack-of-organization-causes-explosion webs were I'm afraid I don't even know where to start.

So, what's the best way to get out of a web like this? As far as I can see it's doing something completely unrelated to hopefully clear out the head and take a step forward.

I figured, hey, why don't I work in a medium that I never use to create something new. Over the weekend we walked through a lot of galleries and the MOMA, which all focus on paintings,something I never really tried to do (save a few continued attempts with watercolor). I bought a canvas and pulled out my acrylic paints, brushes, and forgot about the world for the past three hours.

Here's where I am so far:

There are three things you should be able to note from the above picture of said painting in progress.

  1. I have been drawing female faces for most of my life. It's "the" thing I draw (the only thing)
  2. I have a favorite artist, and you can tell.
  3. I have no f'ing idea how to paint with acrylics (note unsuccessful shading on forehead and neckline) but it sure as hell doesn't work like colored pencils.
Do not ask me about the lack of an eye. I will get there. In all my years of doodling I have still never conquered the t-scale of creating two eyes at once. I think this is because I spend an ungodly amount of time simply crafting the first eye that I get afraid of how to duplicate it. I am working on it.

However, now I'm wondering if I should keep it that way. What do you think? One eye?

Anyway, I'm enjoying myself. Hopefully, it gives me the push to get some stuff done. I need it.

****NOTE: If you've been wondering where all the photography is around here, it's because you aren't visiting my new professional website and blog, located here. Please do - I'd love to see comments on the work I share there. Please contribute, it makes me happy to hear from you! ****


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