Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trying To Be A Paradise People

One of the goals I had on our trip to Nicaragua last fall was to try my hardest to be a paradise people and not feel guilty about it. What better place to practice than paradise?

I read Garrison Keillor’s book Leaving Home when I was in college, and ever since I read the story about the church ushers who don’t go to Hawaii, I’ve been striving towards being a paradise people. I grew up in Minnesota, and it is clear that my people are not naturally a paradise people.

GK’s story is about a group of church ushers from Lake Wobegon who save up enough money to fly to Hawaii to attend the finals of the Ushers Team Competition at the National Church Ushers Convention. The group ends up not advancing past the semi-finals so they don’t go to Hawaii.

Although they were going to pay their own way for the trip, they couldn’t just fly over to Hawaii for their own pleasure. No, they are Minnesotans and Lutherans, and they need a good reason to visit Hawaii – a complicated web of circumstances that will practically force them to go all the way to paradise. As GK writes, “God knows you don’t want to go to paradise, but you got to. There’s no way out of it. It’s that kind of deal.” This is because our people “aren’t a paradise people.” Nope, not a paradise people. “We were brought up to work hard, not complain, accept that life is hard, and make the best of what little we have, so when we come to the grandeur and grace of an eternal flower garden ringed by mountains beside the pale-blue coral sea under continuous sun, we naturally say, ‘Oh no thanks, it’s too much, really, I don’t care for it, just give me some ice, please.’”

For the most part, I was able to fully embrace paradise and just enjoy myself while we were there. It’s sure a lot easier to be a paradise people when you’re actually in paradise. But, before we went and after we had returned, I found myself justifying to people why we could even go to Nicaragua. We had frequent flyer miles I had to use before 2012 and it is very affordable once we get there and Ometepe Island is a sister island to Bainbridge Island where Andrew grew up and we picked our dates based on when we had vacation days from work so we didn’t have to use too much annual leave and… a complicated web of circumstances that forced us go.

Rationally, I know I don’t need to justify the trip to friends, family, coworkers, even strangers, but guilt is not a rational emotion.

Are you a paradise people? If so, have you always been that way?

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Treat for a Manic Monday

This weekend at the gas station, I heard the song Manic Monday over the loud speaker and it reminded me of the seventh grade, dancing up and down the hallways at my friend Kelly's house with that song at full blast.  That led to creating a Manic Monday Pandora station, which led to a weekend full of eighties hits and lots dancing around the kitchen.  We were really in the mood to watch an eighties movie by Sunday night, and one of the few that we can agree on is Quicksilver. We don't own it and all we could find online was clips, including one of my favorite scenes of all time - bike tricks from the Quicksilver bike messengers. This clip always brings a smile to my face!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Happy Birthday Baby Blue Eye

Today is Lola’s seven year anniversary with us. I can’t believe we’ve been together for so long.

This dog has truly changed my life. I met her at a time when I was feeling a little lonely in a new city and a little overwhelmed in a graduate program I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in. There is just something special about spending time with a dog that makes me so happy.

oh, puppy Lola, I miss getting to pick you up.

I know Lola will always be special to us in our lives. She was the first dog either of us had as adults, and she has been an integral part of our relationship. When I think of our first years dating or living in that shady house in the north valley or our grandparents dying or moving to Santa Fe or getting married, she has been with us through it all.

She is the smartest and most sensitive dog I’ve ever known, and when I’m upset or scared, she surprises me with her ability to seemingly understand how I’m feeling and comfort me. I know this dog would walk into to traffic for me and protect me with her life.

I’ve always said life is so much happier with a dog around, and Lola brightens my day everyday. She is always reminding me that work can wait, housecleaning can wait, all that practical stuff can wait because now is the best time to have some fun and run free. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

Cheers to my sweet girl . Boof, long life, happy living!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

At Home on Ometepe Island

The view toward the lake and cabins.

When we were in Nicaragua last fall, we stayed on a sweet little farm called Finca Mystica on Ometepe Island. It is run by an American couple from Colorado, and it has four little cabins you can rent with views of the lake and beautiful sunsets. I randomly found it on trip advisor, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but we felt right at home in our cabin, which could totally be in Taos (although the setting is so different).

The cabin is made out of cob, which is similar to adobe. The look and feel of the buildings at Finca Mystica, which even had bottles in the walls, reminds me so much of handmade houses on the mesa.

When we mentioned that it reminded us a lot of the area where we have our cabin, they even asked if we are on Two Peaks or Three Peaks – most people in New Mexico have never been there so it is crazy to travel all the way to Nicaragua and meet someone who has been to Two Peaks!!

Even the bumpy driveway reminded us of the mesa.

Monday, January 23, 2012

More Life Lessons From the Slopes

After having a mental breakdown while skiing a couple of weeks ago, I have been reluctant to try any new runs or really push myself past my comfort zone. But, this weekend, emboldened by the 14 inches of fresh snow we’ve gotten over the past week, I forced myself decided to try a run with uneven terrain and unmarked obstacles (rocks and trees…eek!).

Andrew was with me again, thankfully, and when I started to panic, he coached me through staying calm and focusing on each turn and section rather than feeling overwhelmed by the sum of them all.

One of the things I was nervous about on this run was that I’ve tried it before, and in my opinion, I did a terrible job. I had a hard time focusing on this particular day and not remembering what I did last time. I was rehashing the past beyond the point that it was helpful anymore. I also found it challenging to not think about mistakes or previous turns that I had just made seconds before. Writing this, it seems obvious what I needed to do, but in the moment, I was bogged down by these thoughts and doubted myself so much that it seriously impeded my ability to complete something I know I can do.

I’m so happy to report that with Andrew’s coaching I was able to pull it together and finish the run, and then I went back and did it again.

One run at a time - that's how I'm going to realize my dream of some day being a good enough skier that I can go skiing in the Alps, and ski the upper mountains. I've only skied in the Alps once, and it was before I knew how to ski so I spent the whole weekend on the bunny slopes. We did take the gondola to the top to see the view, and it was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. I was so jealous that everyone else got to ski off into that gorgeous setting while I had to get back on the gondola and ride down. Honestly, it's so hard for me to imagine reaching that goal and how I will ever do it, but I'm just going to chip away at it a little at a time by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and continuing to try runs that scare me.

A long ways to go, but I’ve also come a long way with skiing – four years ago, even the thought of getting on and off the chairlift was enough to keep me up at night. It has been rewarding to pursue a hobby that is scary and exhilarating and that has such measurable results for progress. I don’t mean for it to sound trite, but I think it has really been a good learning experience in pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and dealing with different situations. It’s also been a good learning experience in realizing that my husband is a pretty good therapist.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Same Page

We’ve developed a lovely and somewhat odd routine at our house. Every Sunday night we watch Sunday Night Football (the odd part) and talk to my best friend Ellie and her husband Edd on speakerphone (the lovely part). I’m not sure how we got started, but everyone is happy with the arrangement. Andrew and Edd are happy that we’ve taken an interest in watching football, and Ellie and I are happy that we get to talk every Sunday. I’m going to miss our little routine now that the football season is winding down.

Andrew jokes that he’s not sure who we like as much as who we dislike – Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, and those terrible Ryan brothers Rex and Rob. So, when I saw this little graphic over at A Cup of Jo, I laughed because while Ellie and I do likes lots of the same stuff, we’re definitely on the same page about what we don’t like.

 from GraphJam via Cup of Jo

Friday, January 20, 2012


We hosted my mom in Santa Fe for the long MLK holiday weekend, and although I was really sad to see her go, I’m looking forward to relaxing this weekend with no plans on the horizon for traveling or house guests or visitors or big plans of any sort.

Despite trying our hardest to live a slow life at pedal speed, we’re pretty busy people. Every month since April 2008 (I really can’t believe it’s been that long!), I’ve been traveling for work at least three nights per month and often as many as nine, traveling for pleasure, and/or receiving visitors. I also graduated, started two new jobs, moved twice, bought a house, planned a wedding, and got married during that time. That’s 45 straight months, and I’m just plain tired.

Now that I have a new job, I no longer need to travel around the state every month, and we don’t have any plans for traveling on our own until May. A whole five months without staying in a hotel or getting on a plane or driving for more than a couple of hours to the cabin – I’m so excited!!

Over the past several years, we’ve tried really hard to slow down and enjoy experiences despite all of the traveling and commitments, and now I feel like we’ll have a little more time to do so. For starters, I’m really looking forward to lounging around in my flannel pajamas in front of the fire this weekend (and lots of future weekends, please!).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Wallpapered Bathroom Test

When I was about three or four, my parents decided to remodel and wallpaper the (tiny) bathroom in our house. I remember them joking several times growing up that they knew their marriage could survive anything because they had wallpapered the bathroom together. I’ve never wallpapered a bathroom (or any room), but I can imagine a bathroom with all of the fixtures and tight spaces would be a pain. They still bring it up sometimes, and it’s been almost thirty years.

When I was younger, I didn’t really think much of the wallpapering test of a relationship, but then Andrew and I found ourselves in GIS (geographic information system) class together and I realized that this was our wallpapered bathroom. Back in graduate school, we happened to take the class at the same time, and to save money, we shared a book. Because the computer lab was only open certain hours, it made sense for us to sit at computers next to each other with the book in the middle and do our assignments (which involved making maps and analyzing data) at the same time. The computer lab in the old architecture and planning building (the only place with GIS installed on the computers!) was literally 90+ degrees, and I could only last about 30 minutes before I would get sick from the heat so time was crunched. And there he was next to me, clicking up a storm, zipping through his homework and waiting for me to complete the steps so he could turn the page. He was impatient with me; I was impatient with the software. I was also stressed and rushed (and usually on the verge of puking because I was so hot). In addition to the repressing heat, this computer lab was particularly charming in that the servers often crashed, data was routinely lost and the program was finicky on all of the machines. It only took a couple of weeks into the semester to realize that if we could survive GIS class together, we could survive anything.

After about four years of not needing to use GIS, I am now making several maps at my new job. I open up ArcMap almost every day so I often think back on that class and how we survived it still speaking together. Just like my parents and their wallpapered bathroom, we laugh about it now, but man were we miserable back then.

So, what’s your wallpapered bathroom?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Potato Soup Recipe with a Little History

Back in high school, I used to eat potato soup at the Lincoln Del in Minneapolis with my aunt Mary Jo. It was thick and creamy, and we’d top it with cheddar cheese and popcorn. Sadly the Lincoln Del closed years ago - another one of my favorite Minneapolis restaurant dishes lost to the ages. Harumph!

Well, fast forward several years, and I met Andrew who was always raving about his dad’s potato soup that they eat every year for Christmas. His dad has been making this soup for decades dating back to before Andrew was born. I love to imagine Andrew’s dad bobbling around his kitchen in Manhattan thirty years ago making this recipe, all the kitchens in the houses they’ve lived in over the years, and now this year in our kitchen in Santa Fe. The recipe has traveled the U.S. pretty well over the years.

This recipe for potato soup is a little more sophisticated than the Lincoln Del’s – no beer, no cheddar cheese, no popcorn topping – but it DOES have history and stories.

Another good use for the immersion blender!

Potato Soup

6 slices thick cut bacon, cut into strips to form lardons
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 leek, white parts only, thoroughly washed and chopped
1/2 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound cabbage, chopped
1 pound red potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups veggie or chicken stock
1 cup shredded gruyère cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
Dill (1 Tbs, fresh or 1.5 Tsp dry)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, cook lardons over low heat until cooked through (not crisp) about 10 minutes. Add onion, leek, carrot and cabbage and saute for about 5-7 minutes. Add potatoes and the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer for 40 minutes on low flame. Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend until smooth. Slowly add cheese, stirring frequently until melted. Add heavy cream. Add dill to taste. At this point you can adjust how thick the soup is by adding additional stock to thin it or cream to thicken.

Serve with crusty french bread and green salad.

Note: We usually double or triple this recipe so that we have leftovers.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vegetable Stock

My aversion to canned soups also includes prepackaged soup broth. I just can’t stomach it. I like to make a lot of soups in the fall and winter and freeze servings so that we can enjoy quick dinners after work or after a day of skiing. So, in preparation for all that soup making, I make big batches of vegetable and chicken broth to keep on hand in the freezer.

Here is my recipe for veggie broth, which I prefer over the chicken broth because it is a lot easier and less mess and it tastes great. I like to freeze different quantities in mason jars (we have a ton from the wedding) – just don’t fill them too far or they will crack in the freezer. I can easily thaw what I will need for the particular recipe that I'm using. This recipe is easily assembled and will really strengthen the taste of any soup you make - depth, body and character unmatched by any water-based soup according to Rebar. This recipe makes about 14 cups of broth.

Basic Vegetable Broth
From Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

1 Tsp vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, greens only, coarsely chopped (and washed really well)
1 garlic bulb, separated and smashed
4 carrots, coarsely chopped
4 celery sticks, coarsely chopped
1 apple, quartered
4 bay leaves
1 Tbs whole black peppercorns
1 Tbs coriander seeds
1 Tbs sea salt
6 sprigs fresh parsley, thyme and/or sage
20 cups cold water
Note: Use organic vegetables if you can. According to the Rebar, vegetable stocks are more subtle than meat stocks so top-notch ingredients are essential.

Heat oil in a large stock pot and add onions, leeks, carrots, celery, salt and bay leaves.  Saute for five minutes, stirring often. Add all of the remaining ingredients, including the water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and cool if not using immediately. Store in the refrigerator up to three days, or in the freezer up to two months.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Princess and the Pea

Lola has been in desperate need of new dog beds for a while. After I got my new job, I decided to splurge and buy her two new beds from Duluth Pack. Well, you can imagine my disappointment when I unpacked the new beds and piled the old ones in the kitchen to be put in the garage. Look familiar?

I hate change!

I'm happy to report that she has come around and is now enjoying her new beds, but when I turned around and saw her in the kitchen clinging to her old beds, I thought of the princess piled high on all of those mattresses.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cheddar Pie Crust Recipe

This savory pie crust recipe is amazing! I found it in an old Everyday Food issue where it was recommended for apple pie, and it does shine in apple pie. But, everyone I have served the apple pie to has said that the crust would be well suited for quiche so I tried it this weekend. It did not disappoint! I made a caramelized onion, spinach, and roasted cherry tomato quiche with this crust, and it was so good that I had to write about it.

Before baking


Thank you, my loyal little cooking companion!

Cheddar Pie Crust
Adapted from Everyday Food November 2008

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/ 4 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp sugar
4/5 stick cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
2 Tbs+ ice water

In a food processor, briefly pulse flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and cheese; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-sized pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with two tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly, but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to two tablespoons water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time).  Don't overmix.

On a floured surface, roll dough to 14-inch round with a floured rolling pin. Unroll over a 9-inch pie plate. Gently fit into the bottom and sides of plate (do not stretch dough). Using kitchen shears, trim dough to a 1-inch overhang. Fold under itself to form a rim and press seal. Using thumb and forefinger, crimp a rim of crust. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to one day.

Use crust for quiche or apple pie (double recipe for two crusts) and enjoy!

Caramelized onion, spinach, and roasted cherry tomato quiche

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thoughts on Traveling

On our trip to Nicaragua in November, I traveled differently than I ever have before. I deliberately planned a very slow vacation. We spent three weeks and visited four places. When the guidebook said to spend three days somewhere, I planned for twice as many. We even spent eight whole days on a teeny island off the coast doing nothing but spending our days on the beach fishing, reading and swimming.

When I travel and spend so much money and precious annual leave to go on vacation, I feel like I really need to make the absolute most of it. In the past, when I was younger, that meant cramming as many museums and famous sites as possible into my vacation. On this vacation, it meant giving myself permission to do exactly what I wanted to each day – even if that was only sleeping and eating and reading – and letting go of the thoughts about what I should be doing. It felt great.

The other thing about this vacation that is different that other vacations I've taken is that we traveled to a place mostly for its natural beauty. I've always ever traveled to Europe before and my vacations were packed full of museums, sights, relics and good restaurants. In Nicaragua, we mostly went seeking beautiful beaches, volcanoes and sunsets.

Before we took our trip, I thought that we’d wait another five years or so before we would take another big trip, but while on vacation, we both realized that we need to do this more often. This way of traveling is so much more relaxing and rejuvenating. I’m hooked!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lessons in Partnership: Facing the Fear

I know how you feel, girl!

I found myself in a situation this weekend where options were limited, fear was overwhelming and panic set in. I accidentally ended up on a ski run that was too hard for me, at least mentally, to complete. I was terrified of continuing down, unable to turn around, and had no way out. Instead of keeping cool, calm and collected (as I wish I could tell you I did), I FREAKED out. Even though I knew that the worst that could happen to me was that I would fall, I couldn’t even bear the thought of trying to ski down this run that was so intimidating. In hindsight, it doesn’t seem so bad, and I think I probably could have done it, and I know I overreacted, but in that moment, I was totally paralyzed by fear and I panicked. Ugh, just thinking about how I felt on that run makes me want to cry.

Luckily Andrew was on the run with me, and he realized what was happening. I was so mad at him at the time for encouraging me and trying to talk me through a strategy to get down from there and not just indulging me in my fear. I remember wanting to shout at him (actually I’m pretty sure I did really shout at him) that, “NO, I can NOT do this and I do NOT want to be here.” I was ready to just give up, which really wasn’t an option because I still needed to get down.

But, instead of letting me give up, he talked me through each turn, which took a really long time because I was so hesitant to even move. He encouraged me, and when I made a mistake, he’d point out the positive side that I was still able to maintain control and use defensive techniques to keep from falling. He stayed calm, positive, helpful and patient. I was really thankful for the strength and courage I was able to muster from him.

It was a good lesson in partnership and balance and trust and helping (and accepting help) through a scary situation. We usually joke that we’re opposites, and thank goodness that we are or we might still be up there freaking out together.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fondue Savoyarde

Early days of fondue back in our tiny house in Albuquerque.

Since pretty early on in our relationship, Andrew and I have enjoyed making fondue together. We started with an old fondue set we found at the thrift store, and we’ve graduated to a fancy enameled cast iron (waaaay easier to clean) pot that Andrew’s mom gifted us. 

Fancy pants fondue pot, but the recipe is the same!

When we met, I had just moved to New Mexico after living in France where my friend Vanessa taught us the proper French way to make Fondue Savoyarde. Over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe, and here is my version, which I find is best enjoyed after a full day of outdoor sports in chilly weather.

Even though we have a nice fondue pot to use now, we've rigged up some pretty good substitutes over the years. If you don't have a fondue pot, be creative and fashion one with what you have on hand. We made one at the cabin by nailing spare pieces of wood together to make a triangle stand. We put one of the grates from the gas stove on top with a candle underneath for the heat source. It works just as well!

Fondue Savoyarde

2 cups gruyère cheese, shredded
2 cups comté cheese, shredded
1 Tsp flour
1 clove garlic
2/3 cup dry white wine, at room temperature
2 Tbs Kirsch
1 Tbs corn starch
1/8 Tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 Tsp paprika
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Dipping stuffs of your choice – day old baguette cut into cubes, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, apple slices, etc.

Slice garlic clove in half and rub the inside of the fondue pot all over with the garlic. Toss the cheese with flour to coat lightly. In a small bowl, mix the Kirsch and corn starch. Heat the wine and lemon juice over medium heat until hot and gradually add handfuls of cheese. Stir constantly in figure eights. Let the cheese melt completely before adding another handful. Once all of the cheese is melted, add the Kirsch and corn starch mixture. Stir until the cheese becomes smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in the spices and transfer to the lit fondue stand.

I like to serve with a charcuterie plate and big green salad and, of course, plenty of French red wine.

Note: this recipe makes enough for 4 people.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Keep on the Sunny Side, Always on the Sunny Side

2012 is New Mexico's Centennial and today is Statehood Day. In honor of this occasion, I'm keeping on the Sunny Side of Life with a Lemon Tart. This recipe is from Patricia Wells who tells me that in Provence, people believe that eating lemon helps them capture energy from the sun. I've introduced the lemon tart into our Christmas traditions in the hopes of harnessing energy from the sun as we start a new year, and it seems fitting to have it again this weekend in honor of the sunniest state in the Union!

Sun Lovers Lemon Tart 
from At Home in Provence by Patricia Wells

Lemon Pastry Shell
8 Tbs (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled.  Plus additional amount for buttering the tart pan.
1/4 Tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 Tsp pure almond extract
Grated zest (yellow peel) of 1 lemon, preferably organic, blanched and refreshed
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups plus 1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour (I only needed about a cup total)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
2. Butter the bottom and sides of the tart pan. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine butter, vanilla and almond extracts, grated zest, sugar and salt. Mix with a spoon to blend. Gradually incorporate enough flour to form a smooth, soft dough. (The dough should resemble soft cookie dough)
4. Place the dough in the center of the buttered pan. With the tips of your fingers, press the pastry evenly on the bottom and sides of pan. The dough will be quite thin. (You do not have to weight or prick the shell)
5. Place the shell in the center of the oven and bake just until the dough is firm and lightly browned, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes before filling. Do not remove from the pan.

Lemon Tart
1 recipe for Lemon Pastry Shell
2 large eggs, at room temperature (I set the eggs and butter on the counter the night before I'm going to make this)
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
8 Tbs of butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
Grated zest (yellow peel) of 2 lemons, preferable organic, blanched and refreshed
1/2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained

1. Prepare Lemon Pastry Shell according to directions.
2. In the top of a double boiler set over, but not touching, simmering water, combine the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. Whisk frequently (not constantly as I've learned) until the curd is thick and pale lemon colored, 8-10 minutes.
3. Add the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, allowing each tablespoon to melt before the next is added. Add the zest and lemon juice, whisking frequently until thick and custard like and the first bubbles appear, about 4 minutes. The mixture should not boil.
4. Pour the curd into the prebaked and cooled pastry shell.  Smooth with a spatula and set aside until set, about 30 minutes.  To serve, cut into thin wedges.

Note:  To blanch and refresh zest, boil zest for about 3 minutes, drain and rinse with cold water to refresh.  Drain well and let dry thoroughly before using.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers, Lardons, Caramelized Onions and Baby Spinach

I started out trying to recreate a pasta dish I had a restaurant last week, and I ended up with a bit of a kitchen sink pasta dish to finish up holiday leftovers. I’m happy to report that this version is even better than the one I was trying to recreate. I love the smokiness of the lardons paired with the sweetness of the roasted peppers.

Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers, Lardons, Caramelized Onions and Baby Spinach

2 red bell peppers
6 strips of thick cut bacon, cut into ½ inch strips to make lardons
3 handfuls baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 small onion coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 – 15-oz can tomato sauce
Red pepper flakes
1 – 16 oz bag of whole wheat pasta

Caramelize onions in olive oil until deep brown. Roast red peppers under broiler turning until black and charred on all sides, about 10 minutes. Place peppers in a brown paper bag and let sit for 15 minutes. Mix cherry tomatoes, minced garlic, a pinch of sea salt, and a modest glug from your olive oil jar in a small bowl. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, turning them half way through. Set aside. Cook lardons in a skillet over medium-low heat until slightly browned and cooked through; drain and set aside. Peel the charred skin off of the peppers, slice in half and clean out seeds and stems. Dice and set aside. Once onions are caramelized, add the tomato sauce, roasted tomatoes, lardons, and diced peppers to the pot. Season with red pepper flakes and sea salt according to your tastes. Heat sauce over low heat. Meanwhile cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup pasta water. Add pasta to the sauce mixture, tossing to coat. Add pasta water as desired to thin sauce. When thoroughly coated with sauce, add spinach and toss until spinach starts to wilt. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Getting a Hold of My 30s

Starting 2012 feels like a new beginning and fresh start. It feels like this is the year I’m finally going to get a good hold on my 30s. Turning 30 was a big milestone. It was a little scary, but it was full of hope and grand plans. Turning 31 last year was a real bummer. There I was a whole year into my 30s, and I still felt stuck.

My 20s were so full of change – graduating from college, moving to France, moving to New Mexico, buying a cabin, graduating from graduate school, moving to Santa Fe, getting married, buying a house. I entered my 30s with a lot of forward momentum from all of these major milestones, and for the last year and a half, I’ve felt so stagnant and ready for another change.

When we found out that we were going to have new jobs before our trip to Nicaragua in November, it felt like a turning point in our lives. I’m so excited to be starting 2012 with a major change in my professional situation and a plan for our financial situation that will hopefully open a lot more choices for us in the future. It is so encouraging to feel hope and optimism and courage to make intentional choices as we start a new year.

Spicy Tomato Soup with Blue Cheese

It seems like a couple of years ago, sriracha sauce was popping up everywhere. I had never cooked with it before, but all of a sudden, it was in all sorts of recipes I wanted to try. Bon Appétit even announced that it was the official condiment of 2010 (well, maybe that was just me, but they definitely profiled it as a head turner that year). One of my favorite recipes that I discovered during that sriracha frenzy of 2010 is this one for spicy tomato soup with blue cheese. Spicy and creamy and velvety! Yum!  I learned about this recipe from Maggie over at the Freckled Citizen.

I believe that 2010 was also the year I discovered the immersion blender, an absolute kitchen necessity (in my opinion) for anyone who is blending soups. No need to mess with the blender or food processor, pouring large boiling pots of soup back and forth and making a big mess. The immersion blender is a breeze and really shows off its stuff in this recipe. Seriously, if you don’t already have one, go buy one now. They are super affordable and save a ton of time and mess.

 Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup
adapted from Michael Symon's Live to Cook via Maggie
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
Kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cups heavy cream
2 Tbs sriracha sauce
1 Tbs fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup of the creamiest blue cheese you can find (buttermilk is best)

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add the onion and a three-fingered pinch of salt and sweat for two minutes, stirring frequently. (Onions should be sizzling gently.) Add the garlic and continue to sweat for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice and stock and bring to a simmer with a small pinch of salt. Gently break apart the tomatoes with a spatula. Add the cream, sriracha sauce and oregano and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the blue cheese and use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve with crusty french bread and a green salad.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goals for 2012

My main goal for 2012 is to AC-CENT-TCHU-ATE the Positive...

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene

Good advice from Mr. Johnny Mercer.  

Here are my other goals for 2012:

Continue to live healthy - exercise 4-6 times per week, spend lots of time outdoors, eat healthy, and cook tasty vegetarian meals and only eat high quality meat.

Stick to our budget - so we can enter 2013 ahead for once!

Consciously try to reduce and eliminate stress - I'm a worrier by nature, and if left on my own, I'd let it take over.  I've done a pretty good job in the past several years of keeping stress in check, but when things get really stressful, my body and mind suffer.  I want to really work on it this year with some specific strategies.

Visit Zach (my brother-in-law) in New York - Zach is applying for graduate school in California this fall, and we still have never visited him in New York.

Continue to improve my skiing - continue to push myself with the goal of becoming a pretty good skier by next year at this time.

Spend a weekend rafting on the Chama with just Andrew 

Install a fence in the front yard

Make a plan for the cabin.  As much as I'd like to just put it off, we'll need to have some difficult conversations.

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