Friday, September 30, 2011

Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque is home the world’s largest hot air balloon festival, and it starts tomorrow. They launch over 700 balloons each day of the festival. The mass ascension at dawn is truly an amazing experience.
The Balloon Fiesta has a special place in my heart because Andrew and I had our first date there seven (!!!) years ago. Here we are at the 2005 Balloon Fiesta. We look so young.


Mass ascension at dawn.

I love this lady's balloon haircut.
Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

That's Amore!

You know, when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie!

I’m in love with the Pioneer Woman’s pizza dough recipe. It’s so easy and quick, and I’ve had great results every time.

Pioneer Woman's Pizza Dough 
MAKES TWO CRUSTS

Ingredients

* 1 teaspoon Active Dry Or Instant Yeast
* 4 cups All-purpose Flour
* 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
* 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* _____

TO MAKE THE CRUST:

Sprinkle yeast over 1 1/2 cups warm (not lukewarm) water.
In a mixer, combine flour and salt. With the mixer running on low speed (with paddle attachment), drizzle in olive oil until combined with flour. Next, pour in yeast/water mixture and mix until just combined.

Coat a separate mixing bowl with a light drizzle of olive oil, and form the dough into a ball. Toss to coat dough in olive oil, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you need it. ***It's best to make the dough at least 24 hours in advance, and 3 or 4 days is even better.

Drizzle olive oil on a large baking sheet and use fingers to coat thoroughly. Remove HALF the pizza dough from the bowl. Stretch pizza dough into a large rectangle, pressing with fingers to finish forming. Dough will be very thin.

My notes on her dough recipe: I usually add some fresh chopped rosemary or dried oregano to the dough when I’m mixing the dry ingredients. Take the dough out of the fridge about an hour before you want to use it to let it come to room temperature before trying to stretch it out. The stretching can be slow going, but just be patient and careful and use lots of olive oil on your hands and baking sheets. I like to sprinkle sesame seeds on the edge of the crust before I bake the pies à la Outback, our favorite pizza resto in Taos. I stretch the dough out onto the pans and then pop them in the oven to cook partially while the oven pre-heats and I prepare the other ingredients.

We’ve been making pizza a lot lately, and it’s always a hit when we have dinner guests.

Here are two I made last weekend with our garden harvest:


Tomato, Spinach and Onion Pizza

Ingredients
1 ½ cups chopped fresh spinach
¼ cup minced onion
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 32-ouce can of whole tomatoes
1-2 fresh heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
8 oz (or more or less depending on your preferences) of part-skim mozzarella* sliced into thin rounds

Drain tomatoes and pour into a deep bowl. Puree with an immersion blender (or in a food processor or blender). Pour the tomatoes into a strainer to remove and discard excess liquid. Pour back and forth between the bowl and the strainer several times to remove as much liquid as possible. Divide the tomato puree in two. Use half for this pizza and half for the next.

Combine the tomato puree with the minced garlic. Spread evenly on the pizza crust. Spread the minced onion evenly and top with the spinach. Place the mozzarella evenly on the pizza pie. Top with the sliced heirloom tomatoes.

* I am normally an advocate for full fat cheese, but I’ve found that the part-skim melts better.

Bell Pepper, Cherry Tomato, Green Chile Pizza

Ingredients
¼ cup minced onion
½ of the tomato puree from the recipe above
1 sweet bell pepper – any color or combo – diced
½ cup (or more) of roasted, peeled, chopped New Mexico green chile
Half pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
8 oz (or more or less depending on your preferences) of part-skim mozzarella sliced into thin rounds

Spread the tomato puree evenly on the pizza crust. Sprinkle on the minced onion and spread evenly. Place the mozzarella evenly on the pizza pie. Sprinkle the pepper, chile and tomatoes evenly.

Bake both pizzas for 10-12 minutes at 500 degrees.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tiny Cutie #37


When I met Elsa, her name was Tiny Cute #37. I found her on petfinder.com, and she was at the Los Lunas pound. The people who work there obviously love animals and are doing their best with limited resources, but it’s a rough place. Animals that are found have three days for their owners to collect them and then three days to be adopted before being euthanized. Dogs that are dropped off only have three days to be adopted.

When I first called about her, the man on the phone told me that #37 was gone, and my heart sank. I thought I was too late, but then he put me on hold and looked her up and found her in the system. She was still alive and had one more day for someone to claim her. Someone had dropped her off at the entrance to the pound one night and the workers found her when they showed up the next morning.
looking a little shaggy at Glen Canyon
Another family had signed up before me to adopt her if she came available, but I was persistent and he said I could come and look at her but that I couldn’t actually meet her or touch her. She was in a cage with two other big dogs who had smeared poop all over her. Poor little thing. She was jumping up and down against the front of the cage barking and looking at me like I could rescue her from this scary situation. I looked her in the eyes that morning and told her I was going to love her forever.
Luckily no one claimed her and the other family that had signed up for adoption couldn’t be reached. I called so many times and then had Andrew start calling that they finally said I could just come and get her.
 I am totally in love with this dog girl!
 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Difficult Conversations

View of Three Peaks at Sunrise

We spent the weekend at the cabin. It was relaxing and rejuvenating. We hiked to two peaks and observed how many more houses there are out here now than when we first started coming. We took the good morning world walk.* We read and cooked excellent meals and drank red wine by the bonfire and watched the sunrises and sunsets. We took stock of all of the projects we need to do on the house. We napped in the middle of the day. It was wonderful.

We also had some difficult conversations. What if we sell this place?

When we were younger and more idealistic, we thought that someday soon we’d be able to live full time at the cabin. We have spent hours dreaming about our life on the mesa. We’ll work at the ski valley in the winter and for the BLM in the gorge in the summers. We won’t make much money, but our expenses will be low. We’ll spend our in-between time writing our books – the historic ranches of New Mexico for me and a mystery book for Andrew. We’ll awake at sunrise and our days will be measured by how much wood we cut and how many pages we write. We’ll have lots of time for hiking and exploring, camping and getting our exercise outdoors. I will cook amazing meals, and I’ll learn to can the vegetables we grow in our raised bed. We’ll divert the water down the hill and have a small patch of grass and a couple of trees. We’ll go into town once a week to do our laundry and eat out and buy groceries. Life on the mesa will be tough at times, but we’ll be comforted by the fact that we’re not working 40-hour a week jobs in an office and sitting behind a desk. We’ll have everything we need, and that will be enough. We’ll give up traveling on planes and buying stuff, but that seems like a small trade.



Lately, this life seems more and more unrealistic – at least any time soon. We’re not making nearly as much money as we deserve or were planning on when we went to graduate school. We live in a crazy expensive town. We have student loans and a mortgage. Last week I heard on NPR that it will be at least a decade before people our age recover from this recession. Getting ahead enough to make such a big change seems out of our reach at this point. On the other hand, if we sell the cabin, we could pay off all of our debt except for the mortgage. We could drastically reduce our reliance on our full time jobs. We could change our lives.

I’m really attached to the mesa, and we’ve poured so much of ourselves emotionally and financially into this place. This is such a special place to me and us. This is ours, and that’s an amazing feeling. When we paid it off last spring, I remember feeling a sense of relief. Relief that we didn’t have to make payments any longer, but also relief that if something terrible happened and we lost our jobs or got sick or had a major life event, we always have this little piece of land that we own outright. We always have a place to go. We’ll never be dans la rue.

This isn’t really a conversation I want to have, but I appreciate that it is a conversation worth having. Andrew always says that making no decision is the same as making the decision to do nothing. If I were married to someone a whole lot more like me, I’d honestly be happy doing nothing and just staying on this course, moving forward with plans we made years ago and not questioning it. Thank goodness I married someone so different who challenges me in ways I wouldn’t do for myself. (Even though some days I think WHY can’t we just do things MY WAY!!!)

It will be a tough decision no matter what we decide.

*named by our friend Jeremy years ago. It always makes me feel like a big hippie to call it that, but the name has stuck.

Pasta with Tomatoes, Basil and Fontina

I love meal planning and budgeting and making grocery lists and devising new recipes based on the ingredients we have on hand. An afternoon spent planning and making lists is Andrew’s worst nightmare whereas I feel so satisfied doing these tasks. So, in our house, I gladly do all of the meal planning.

Andrew makes very few requests when it comes to meal planning. He happily eats whatever I’m in the mood to make including lots of things that he would definitely never order at a restaurant like tofu sloppy joes (unless we’re at the ranch), pinto bean patties and grilled eggplant sandwiches. He’s pretty much the best person to cook for because he always compliments me on the smell of the food as it is cooking and the presentation on the plate, and he always exclaims what a good dinner we are having after his first bite. He even emails me at work in the mornings to thank me for the previous night’s dinner. It’s quite rewarding to cook for such an appreciative and enthusiastic diner.

Last week he asked me what I was going to be doing with all of the tomatoes from the garden. I thought about it for a minute and exclaimed that I can’t believe I haven’t made one of my favorite summer recipes yet. I was referring to a tomato and bread salad, and I could tell he was a little disappointed. I had to worm it out of him, but as it turns out, he was really hoping that I would make his favorite pasta dish that can only be made with the very best ripe garden tomatoes. It is a pasta dish from his childhood, a family tradition and everything. I can’t believe he didn’t say anything sooner, but it wasn’t too late because our tomatoes are just perfect right now. So, here is Andrew’s favorite summer pasta that he has eaten every summer growing up with his family – thank goodness we didn’t miss it this year!


Andrew’s Pasta with Tomato, Basil and Fontina

Ingredients

4-5 Ripe garden tomatoes – I used 3 large Cherokee Purples and about a half pint of Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
Bunch of fresh basil, cut into thin strips
6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
12 ounces whole wheat pasta

Dice tomatoes and place in a medium sized glass bowl with all of their juices. Add minced garlic and basil. Cover and let sit overnight on the counter (not in the fridge), stirring once or twice.

Cook pasta according to box directions in salted water. When pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add the tomato and basil mixture to the pot, reduce heat to medium low. Heat the tomatoes through, add the pasta back to the pot, and add the shredded Fontina. Gently stir the pasta until the Fontina has melted and is distributed evenly (this can be a little tricky because it can clump up, but keep stirring gently). Serve with freshly shredded parmesan and a few strips of fresh basil leaves on top and enjoy! I seasoned mine with red pepper flakes for a little bit of a bite.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Uncooped

I was feeling a little cooped up this week after a weekend of more projects and yard work so we headed up to the ski valley after work one day to breathe the fresh air and be leaf peepers. Unfortunately, the aspens were just starting to turn and were mostly green, but it felt so good to be on the mountain watching the sunset.

This weekend, I plan to watch sunsets and sunrises and relax with nothing on the to do list.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roasted Carrot Ravioli


Most of our meal planning these days is driven by what is ready to be harvested in the garden and what arrives in our weekly CSA. I was inspired by the roasted beet ravioli I made last month and tried the same recipe with roasted carrots.

I used a bunch of carrots from our garden, washed, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise. I tossed the carrots in olive oil and a little sea salt and roasted, cut side down, at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. I let them cool, threw them in the food processor with some goat cheese and toasted pecans, and I had a wonderful ravioli filling.


I followed the instructions for the beet ravioli for assembly and cooking. I served it with a browned butter sauce. The result was sweet and silky and very rich. It was a great fall dish.  We ate it so fast that I didn't even think to take a photo of the finished product.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Metrodome Memories

A few years ago when the Twins were building their new stadium, MPR (MN public radio) requested listeners to submit their favorite Metrodome memories.  The Metrodome is the stadium the Twins played in until recently and that the Vikings still play in.  You may remember it from when the roof collapsed last winter from so much snow.

The last game we went to at the Metrodome.  Notice all of the empty seats...
Check out the vintage 1987 World Series shirt!
I was lucky enough that the Twins won two World Series during my childhood in 1987 and 1991. So, of course, I have lots of fond Twins and Metrodome memories. The memory I submitted was going downtown after they won the 1987 series and sitting in the blue plastic seats at the Dome for the celebration with my mom. All of the players sat in the back of convertibles, and they drove around the field. I waved my homer hanky like there was no tomorrow and danced my heart out to “My Baby Does the Homer Hanky,” which they had played on tv all season long and again in 1991. When I was in college, I was driving around with my dad in the car and the real song – “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky” – came on, and I was shocked that it wasn’t “Homer Hanky.” I hadn’t realized that it was actually a real song. My dad thought that was pretty funny.   

When I was home earlier this month, I went to the new Twins stadium to see them play the White Sox. I haven’t been to a Twins game in about 5 years. The new stadium is a lot slicker, and honestly, a lot nicer than the Dome, but it did bring back some good childhood memories. Apparently, people only wave Homer Hankies anymore when the Twins are having a good season, and they’re doing terribly this year. We also didn’t get to do the wave. Do people even do that anymore?

Minneapolis and St. Paul light up and shake hands when the Twins score
 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Clear Eyes Full Hearts


I was so pleased to see that Kyle Chandler won an Emmy for his role as Coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights. He won my heart long ago as Jeff Metcalf in Homefront, which I watched when I was in the eighth grade.

We started watching FNL on Netflix last year. The glimpse into small town life in West Texas is fascinating, and (most of) the characters are so endearing, especially the beloved Coach Taylor. It has been so interesting to see these characters’ lives unfold.

The show ended this year with its fifth season so this was its last chance at the Emmys. I don’t really follow this kind of thing but from what I can tell, FNL has not been very successful at the Emmys in the past, and this win for Kyle Chandler was a surprise to most everyone as the favored nominee was Jon Hamm as Don Draper.

Clear eyes full hearts…

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dans La Cuisine (and a recipe for marinara and meatballs)

Over the past several years, I have really come to love being in my kitchen and cooking. When I moved to New Mexico seven years ago, I had just spent the previous year teaching English in a teeny tiny town in the south of France. My oldest friend was also teaching in France that year, and by incredible luck, she was placed in Digne-les-Bains, a town about an hour away on the bus. Since there wasn’t much to do in my town, I’d often spend the weekends in Digne where there was a nice community of other teachers and university students. Rosie is an excellent cook, and we made lots of friends in Digne who also loved food and cooking. We’d plan elaborate meals that required days of preparation (we only had 12 hours of teaching per week!), and we’d eat wonderful feasts. Back in those days, I didn’t know anything about cooking so I was in charge of chopping, peeling, mincing, etc. I learned a lot from watching Rosie and our friend Forest cook, but I was too scared of messing something up to try on my own. I was pleased with my role at the cutting board.

When I came back from France, I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. Once again, I had a lot of time on my hands for planning meals and cooking. Without any friends or cooking companions, I started trying recipes on my own. I had a great time making my favorite French recipes like lemon tart and crêpes. There were only a few disasters - like the time I made French onion soup for my new boyfriend (who is now my husband). I found a recipe that must have been meant to feed a crowd because it called for so many onions that I was up past midnight caramelizing all of them. Andrew’s entire apartment smelled like onions for days – even poor Lola. Since I had never cooked on my own before and I wasn’t very confident, I followed recipes very strictly back then.

Over the years, I’ve tried lots of new dishes and have become confident enough that I can adapt recipes for the ingredients I have on hand or combine several recipes to make the dish that suits me best. Cooking is now more of a journey to find just the right combination of flavors rather than a series of steps in a recipe. It is a lot more fun this way.

As I was cooking our dinner last Friday night, it really hit me how far I’ve come in the last seven years and how rewarding this approach to cooking is for me. I had decided that we needed some comfort food after a long week so I made spaghetti and meatballs…without a recipe. I thought about trying to look one up, but I didn’t have time before going to the grocery store so I just went for it. As I was standing in front of my dutch oven full of marinara and meatball goodness sipping red wine and listening to Bags Groove, I realized that this is happening much more often in the past year – cooking without recipes, just trusting my instincts, and having the confidence to experiment. It feels pretty good.



Marinara Sauce and Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients

3 pounds of ripe Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 ¼ cups finely chopped onions, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 large can tomato paste
1 small can tomato sauce
Good quality balsamic vinegar
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon or more red pepper flakes
1 pound ground turkey – if you have a higher fat content they will stay moister and be more flavorful
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 egg
¼ cup panko or bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute 1 cup of the onions in olive oil in a dutch oven or large, heavy bottomed pot until softened. Add 3 cloves minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, a very generous glug of balsamic vinegar, red wine, oregano, red pepper flakes. Bring to gentle boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least one hour.

While the marinara is simmering, combine ground turkey, ¼ cup onion, spinach, egg, bread crumbs, a dash of red pepper flakes, one grind of your sea salt and pepper grinders. Mix by hand until well combined. Form into 1.5 inch diameter meatballs.

Twenty minutes before your marinara is finished cooking, carefully place meatballs into the pot with the marinara, gently pushing them below the surface of the sauce with a spatula. Continue to simmer for 20 minutes. Do not stir at this point – just leave them alone while they cook. After 20 minutes check to make sure the meatballs are cooked through.

During this time, you can boil your pasta of choice in salted water according to package directions. Serve over cooked pasta with fresh grated parmesan on top.

Serves 6.

Leftovers make great fixings for meatball subs!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tiny Cutie

Check out this cute little horny tail toad we found at the dog park last weekend:


He was all alone on the path so Andrew picked him up and tried to put him in a bush, but he didn’t want to leave Andrew’s hand so he rode in his front shirt pocket all the way home.  He now lives in our garden.  Cute, huh?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September is National Bourbon Month


I’ve just learned from Petite Chablis that September is National Bourbon month. I love themes and holidays and traditions and… Bourbon! So this is a perfect excuse for us to try some new bourbons this month.

I didn’t think I liked bourbon until about two years ago when we started watching Mad Men. All of those Old Fashioneds that Don Draper is always ordering looked pretty good, and I wanted to try one. I timidly ordered an Old Fashioned at one of our favorite bars, and I loved the layers and robustness of the drink, the sweetness mixed with the bit of spiciness from the bitters and of course that feeling of warmness you get when you drink bourbon. I also loved loving a classic drink and a pretty sexy one at that!

I started trying different whiskeys and bourbons, and I discovered pretty quickly that Kentucky Bourbon is my favorite. Happy Bourbon Month!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nicaragua

I’ve been diligently saving my frequent flier miles on Northwest (now Delta) for the past 14 years. I used some of my miles to visit Rosie in Paris for New Year’s about 5 years (!) ago, and that’s it. Since Delta has purchased Northwest, I needed to use my miles by 2012 or lose them. I have enough miles for us to take a trip to Central America. Yay!

We’ve I’ve spent months researching and trying to pick which country we’ll visit. We want wild, deserted beaches (plages sauvages), relaxing, fishing, beautiful scenery and maybe some adventure. We loved Mexico when we were there for our honeymoon, but the areas that are most appealing to us are relatively inexpensive to fly to. (I think it might be my Midwestern sensibilities, but I’m planning on getting maximum value from my miles, and I want to fly to someplace that is really expensive to fly to.) We ruled out Belize because again, it seems fairly easy and inexpensive to get to. Everyone goes to Costa Rica, and that doesn’t seem very exciting. Honduras seems kinda dangerous. Guatemala and El Salvador just don’t seem to fit the bill of what we’re looking for on this trip. It came down to Nicaragua and Panama. In the end Panama sounds amazing, but the interesting parts are pretty remote and hard to get to. With such a short time, that won’t work for us.

Nicaragua it is! Beautiful, empty beaches (I LURVE plages sauvages); the safest country in Central America; accessible and easy fishing (we’ll be able to fish from the beach in front of our hotel); and GORGEOUS!! And for adventure… we’ll be flying to the Corn Islands off the Carribbean Coast on the national airline, which, as the guidebook tells us, will allow us to relive the glamour (and fear) of early aviation.

Also a bonus, I checked the rates for flights to each country in Central America, and flying to Managua is the most expensive!

Really, Nicaragua had me at the Corn Islands. Just look at these pictures.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Green Chile


The air is cooler and crisper now, but the real sign of autumn around these parts is the smell of roasting green chile. New Mexicans cherish their green chile, and every family has their traditional recipe for making green chile stews and sauces. Roasters set up their stands on the side of the highway, in bank parking lots and behind restaurants this time of year and sell 30 pound bags. They roast your chile for you on the spot in big drums and package it up for you to bring home and peel, chop and freeze. We bought a 30 pound bag last year, but we’ve been rationing ourselves since the spring so we’re going for two bags this year.

About half way through the first bag...
So, what do you do with all that green chile? You can put it on and in everything – sandwiches, pizza, casseroles, soups and stews, burgers, omelets and quiches, salsas, mac and cheese – and one of my favorite uses is green chile stew. The recipe below includes the stock for the soup. A mixture of hot and mild chiles will give you a more balanced flavor.


Green Chile Stew

Ingredients

1 whole chicken
1-2 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 large onion – quartered, skin on
2 bay leaves
Small bunch of parsley
6 whole peppercorns
1 pound red or white potatoes, cut in 1/2 to 3/4-inch cubes
1 ½ cups diced onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
3 cups roasted, peeled and chopped green chile
3 tablespoons diced red bell pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Fill a stock pot with 12 cups of water and place the whole chicken, carrots, celery, onion quarters, bay leaves, parsley, and peppercorns in the water. Bring to a boil slowly and once at a rolling boil, reduce to a simmer. After about 40 minutes, remove the whole chicken and check that it is done cooking. Set aside to cool. When chicken is cool enough to handle, tear the chicken off the bones into bite size pieces and set aside, returning bones and carcass to the stock. Simmer stock for another 1.5 to 2 hours. Strain stock to remove vegetables, herbs and bones. Skim the fat off the top. Set broth aside.

In a large dutch oven, sauté the diced onion in olive oil until softened and golden. Add the minced garlic and sauté one minute. Add the broth to the pot along with the potatoes, cumin and dash of salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for one hour until potatoes are tender. Add the chicken, green chile and red pepper and simmer for about 15-20 minutes more.

Serve with a green salad and warm tortillas or crusty bread.  This recipe easily serves 8, but it freezes well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Planting a Fall Garden


We had great success with our summer vegetable gardens, and now that the days have finally cooled down, I can start some cool weather crops. We’re going to be traveling later this fall so I want to grow crops that I can harvest relatively soon. We eat a lot of salad greens so I’m going heavy on those. I have 6 of my squares free so I’ve planted:

16 radishes
9 beets
8 lettuce plants
9 spinach plants
9 mixed greens

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

The Great Minnesota Get Together 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – pronto pups and cheese curds, fine arts, the tunnel of love, Democratic mini-doughnuts, lots of photo ops, giant veggies, butter sculptures, tiny cutie animals, crazy looking poultry, Grainbelt beer, GK and giant sing alongs, the giant yellow slide…

We started our circuit with pronto pups and cheese curds and lemonade:

serious business
We saw some award winning vegetables:
And princess' heads carved out of butter:
And cooed over baby goats.  He was my favorite:
We looked at seed art and picked our favs:
Posed with Obama:

And went to see Garrison Keillor at the Grandstand. 
He always comes out into the crowd during intermission to lead a giant sing along:
And we finished the night with a ride down the giant yellow slide:




It doesn’t get much better than this!

Only 357 days until we get to do it again…
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