Sunday, December 11, 2011

Haven't Done That in a While

Those things that I hadn't done in a while and that I did in November:

(1) Paint the Dining Room
I am so excited I decided to have Danny paint the dining room. The much loved/much hated red wall & yellow ceiling dining room is gone. For all the haters, you put up with it for nearly 15 years. For all the lovers, I'm with ya, but I'm sorry--I needed a change. In its place, a Benjamin Moore (Aura Paint-awesome!!!) Rooftop Garden Dining Room with a Silken Pine Ceiling.
Michael and I both love the new dining room. As paint often does, it changes color all throughout the day and night depending on the amount of light, kind of light, etc... Sammy called it Army green. Hmmm, isn't that kid supposed to be color blind? Sometimes it does look a lot like Army green :), other times, not at all.

Obviously you cannot see the ceiling in the above photo as I am highlighting the Thanksgiving table, which brings up the other thing that I hadn't done in a while: (2) have Thanksgiving at our house.
Not only did we host Thanksgiving, but we (3) had a Vegan at our Thanksgiving table. This made coming up with a menu very exciting for me. Thank goodness for Pinterest. I was able to gather recipes and ideas on my Thanksgiving Board, organize and edit them and come up with a final menu. Everything was delicious.

Thanksgiving Menu
Obviously not Vegan. I used our home canned raspberry/strawberry preserves and slivered almonds. We served it with a sliced baguette.

(I made this Vegan by using Earth Balance margarine instead of butter on the squash)

Main Course
I cooked one turkey whole and also made a separate turkey breast. I really like using the turkey breast and will do that again when we feel like fresh home cooked turkey. No one ever eats the legs anyway. We had just enough left overs to last about a week.

Using his amazing cooking skills, Joey made this vegan tofu main course, but we put it on top of sauteed red cabbage instead of brussels sprouts.

This is the most delicious cranberry sauce. I do not like canned, so I always make my own. This is the best recipe I have found. A big hit!!! (and Vegan)

Side Dishes
I made these the day ahead and re-heated in the oven before serving. Perfection!

Tastes just as good as non-vegan. For the past couple years, I have been cooking my stuffing outside the turkey. Not because of safety issues, but because the turkey cooks faster and the stuffing tastes just as good. Just make sure to add plenty of liquid (in this case vegetable stock) and it will never be dry!

I like to make a cornbread stuffing from this recipe, but I add pancetta and mushrooms. I start by pan frying about 1/2 pound of cubed pancetta (Boar's Head is great). I remove the pancetta from the pan and then add the celery and onions. After the celery and onions are soft, I add about 1/2 pound of diced crimini mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms have released their liquid. Then I proceed with the rest of the recipe. Remember, plenty of chicken stock keeps it nice and moist.

This vegan version of the standard green bean casserole is BETTER than the original. I kid you not! This recipe is fantastic and it IS The World's Best Green Bean Casserole!

Because I LOVE avocado and I didn't want an old wilted salad for Thanksgiving, I made this chopped salad with avocado, cucumber, pistachios and green apple. Yum! The grocery store did not have fresh chives, so I used cilantro in the dressing. It might not be everyone's favorite salad, but I thought it was fantastic. My kind of salad!!!

Grammy brought the fresh & delicious Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Dinner Rolls
and the yummy sweet potatoes

because I don't do dessert without at least something chocolate

This recipe is so delicious. I cannot describe. With a little vanilla bean ice cream or whipped cream. Heaven!

and, for the grand finale... because we had a Vegan at the table, I broke down and made a Pumpkin Pie. I have never made pumpkin pie before. I do not really care for pumpkin pie, however, this is some really tasty pumpkin pie and totally vegan!

There is a link in the recipe to a vegan pie crust. I made the pie crust too! If you are vegan, or vegetarian, or lactose intolerant and even remotely like pumpkin pie, I urge you to try this recipe.

I am infamous for trying new recipes all the time and using dinner guests as guinea pigs. Thanksgiving was no exception. I had never made any of these recipes before. They were all delicious and turned out perfectly. What luck!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crazy Whirlwind Trip

A couple weeks ago I went with Michael on a business trip.
Michael is crazy. Michael likes to do maybe three meetings a day. Michael doesn't mind traveling to different cities every day. We were gone 10 days, took 7 flight segments, stayed in 5 cities and we had a blast.

First stop: Philadelphia.
I had never been to Philadelphia. We were there for exactly 19 hours. For me, at least 8 of those hours were spent sleeping and about 4 were spent working. That left 7 hours for eating and sightseeing. We had lunch across the street at the Four Seasons Hotel. Amazingly delicious, which was to be expected.

We then jumped on the on/off bus (stop located conveniently outside the Four Seasons) and rode it around 1.5 times. It was a beautiful, sunny 68-degree day. Warm for November I would think. We got off, strolled over to the Liberty Bell, took a walk to Reading Terminal Market and shared a Philly Cheesesteak sitting at the counter. We then walked leisurely back to our hotel through City Hall (Occupy Philadelphia), LOVE Park and all that and caught a taxi to the airport. I want to go back. Right now!

Philadelphia Art Museum

Next stop: Chicago
I had never been to Chicago. We had a lovely view of lots of buildings, The Hancock Tower and the lake beyond from our room at the Sofitel Water Tower. Great location. Nice hotel. Bad room service. There is so much great food in Chicago, such a pity that we got in so late and thought room service was our only option. Apparently there was kind of a dive diner (Tempo Cafe) 1/2 block from our hotel that has great late night people watching. Ah, next time! Anyway... Michael had meetings all over the place the next day and took the rental car out at about 7am. It snowed off and on for most of the morning and early afternoon. It didn't stick, but was very pretty.

That evening we went to the The Art Institute of Chicago and saw lots of great art. We had dinner at the museum restaurant: Terzo Piano, conveniently serving dinner only on Thursday evening. I wanted to stroll around Millennium Park, but Michael didn't have a coat. Sheesh.

The next day, we took a two hour tour around Chicago. We got the low down on all the buildings, history, etc... We wanted to take the architecture tour by water, but it was pretty chilly. Chicago was actually the only chilly spot on our trip. After our tour we headed to Lou Malnati's for some deep dish pizza. It was yummy, but oh so filling. We ate half of a small.

We walked quickly back to our hotel (it was chilly), grabbed our car and headed to the airport. A total of 44 hours were spent in Chicago. I definitely want to return.

Third Stop: Cleveland.

We spent the weekend in Cleveland. We got a fantastic rate at the Ritz-Carlton. Yeah, they have a Ritz-Carlton there. I know, I wouldn't have guessed it either. It was nice. Not luxurious, but nice and we had great views from our room of the awesome weather! It was close to 70 and sunny in Cleveland! What luck.

Joey drove his beloved Chevy Chevette into Cleveland and we headed out to The West Side Market. There was quite a selection of meats, cheeses, baked goods, ethnic food, cheap produce and a fun atmosphere. The market has been around for something like 100 years. Steve's Gyros is supposed to be really, really good, but the line was out the door.

After the market I dragged Joey and Michael to A Christmas Story House & Museum. I kid you not, this is #4 on's "Things to Do in Cleveland." West Side Market is #3. In case you were wondering, The USS Cod Submarine Memorial is #1 and a CEMETERY is #6. Gotta LOVE Cleveland!  Funny thing, they did not use the inside of the house for filming, but someone bought the house they had used for the exterior shots (pretty recently) and renovated it to look like the movie set. A guy two houses down sells "parking" for the "Christmas Story House Tour" for $5. Parking is plentiful in the neighborhood. Right outside the house even. Crazyville. We did not take the tour of the "fake" house, but the gift store and museum were a hoot. All in all, worth it to me, but I wouldn't go asking Michael and Joey their opinion :)

That afternoon we took Joey to his favorite Cleveland record/electronics store, Play It Again Sam. Of course everything is used, refurbed, etc... We bought him an old turntable (yes, for playing records) as a belated birthday present. Joey's dorm room has a bit of an 80's thing going on.

For dinner Joey directed us to Happy Dog. I had actually seen this place on The Food Network. We weren't too adventurous, but they have all kinds of great toppings, like: black truffle honey mustard, momocho's habanero sauce, garlic-tomato-basil jam, "alien" pickle relish, chunky peanut butter, french brie cheese.... and so much more. I know everyone is going to want all this great info for their next jaunt to Cleveland!

On Sunday we drove to Oberlin College and had brunch with Joey and his roommate. Joey then gave us a tour and it was another really lovely day. The college looked much more beautiful on a warm day in November with beautifully colored leaves still on the trees and green grass. As opposed to brown/burnt grass, 95 degree temps and 100% humidity in the heat of the summer, which is what we experienced when we dropped him at school August of last year.

Below is the courtyard between the art museum and the art studio building. Joey likes to hang out here.

After almost two days in Cleveland, we flew to La Guardia Airport in NYC, rented a car, and drove to somewhere'sville, NJ. Frankly I cannot remember the name of the place we stayed. It was a nice Marriott though, perhaps Hanover. Anyway, the next day Michael had meetings all over NJ and it was a lovely day: 70 & sunny, again.

And then, we finally made it into the city, Manhattan. We had three glorious days in NYC. We ate, we walked (in the lovely 60 degree evening temperatures), we saw 'Book of Mormon The Musical', we ate some more, we walked some more.

On the last day, it rained. We walked about a mile in the rain to Grand Central Station for the most wonderful crab cakes, clam chowder and lobster rolls I have ever had at Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant NY. Perhaps it was because I was soaking wet and starving, but I am telling you, this food was amazing. Grand Central Station is pretty amazing. NYC is pretty amazing. Other great food to mention: Blue Smoke Restaurant for BBQ, i Trulli for homemade pasta/Italian, Island Burger for amazing burgers and shakes.

On our last night in NYC we saw another musical: Avenue Q. We got half off tickets and it was a fun show, if not a little raunchy (nothing compared to BofM The Musical). We donated $20 to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and got our picture taken with Trekkie Monster.

Like I said, it was a Crazy Whirlwind Trip!

And Just Like That....

My Baby Turned 18!
It happened over a month ago.
I know, unbelievable.

Sammy, Age 3 months

Sammy, Age 2 years

Sammy, Age 7

Sammy, Age 11

Sammy, Age 13

Sammy, Age 18

It does, it happens just like that. You turn around. A snap of a finger. He's all grown up.

We got it!

A professional photo of Joey that I am affectionately calling his Senior Photo, because I am weird like that and there doesn't seem to be a lot of significance to a Sophomore College Photo.

Anyway, I love it!

Where did it go?

I am speaking of the time, of course. Three months since my last post. Whoa!

I did and I did not finish my canning. I finished some of the things, but not others. It was real trial and error this year and some things worked, some did not.

We got quite a few jars of tomato sauce, but not as many as last year. Many of the tomatoes on the vine did not ripen before cold weather hit. I tried some indoor ripening that, for the most part, worked. I did not go out and buy extra tomatoes this year. The sauce is not as rich and red as I would have liked, but I can fix that in the recipes I make.

I am very excited to announce, we had grapes this year! Lots of them. Unfortunately, my attempt at grape jelly was only a moderate success. At first it would not set, so I gradually added more pectin and then BAM! It was too thick. Oh well. I got five jars and I will be able to use them in recipes. Not sure how spreadable the jelly is for say, peanut butter sandwiches?

Beautiful little grapes from the garden. Our fruit harvest is growing. We now have blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, plums, blackberries (if I don't pull them) & grapes. We are supposed to have kiwi, but I have yet to see any of those on the vine.

I am disappointed in myself that I did not get the time to can the applesauce/apple chutney. I did make a wonderful batch of apple butter, but we still have a bunch of apples in cold storage. I used some for Thanksgiving. They are reaching their limit in terms of storage/freshness. Perhaps this is the weekend for some warm, cinnamon applesauce. I am not excited to pull all the canning supplies back out, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canning Part 3: Pickles Three Ways

Late last Saturday afternoon, Michael and I decided to head to Sauvie Island for some pickling cucumbers. This being our first time making pickles, or picking pickling cucumbers, I think I should have done a little more research. But alas, lazy as ever, we just headed out to Sauvie Island Farms for some U-Pick. Last year I stopped at Kruger's Farm Market and grabbed the already picked peaches I needed and some canning supplies. I did not pick anything myself. When they pick the fruit and veggies for you, they know what to pick. When you pick for yourself, I suggest doing some research.

It was a beautiful Saturday and we arrived about an hour before closing.

We headed to the pickling cucumber patch.

We picked nearly 20 pounds of pickling cucumbers

I had heard there were beaches on Sauvie Island, but I had never been to one. Michael and I took a drive around the island until we found a beach. See, here I am, on a beach, on Sauvie Island.

And here is where my pickling adventures began. Michael had done a much better job of picking cucumbers that would fit in the jars than I had. It became obvious that for many of the pickles (too long or too fat) I was going to need to slice them into rounds or spears in order to fit them in the jar. Also, some were too ripe with large seeds (when pickling cucumbers get beyond a certain size, they are too ripe). I decided to go ahead and not waste any of the cucumbers. I pickled them all.

I started with a recipe for Garlic Dill Pickles from the food blog Food in Jars

As you can see, there are lots of large seeds because I chose the largest cucumbers for slicing into rounds.

I then handpicked all the cucumbers that would fit into the large jars and pickled those whole using a combination of simple recipes. To each jar I added fresh dill, dill seed, mustard seeds, red chili flakes, peppercorns, cloves of garlic and a simple water, cider vinegar and pickling salt brine.

and then processed accordingly.

The jar below is very large... too large to fit in any water bath I own. So these will just go in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks. 

I then took the shortest and fattest of the cucumbers and cut them into spears.

We ended up with 21 jars of pickles. Apparently they need to sit for at least three weeks before they are ready to serve. Once we give them a try and make sure they are edible, we will probably be looking to give some way. That's a lot of pickles.

(Above photo taken by Michael)

And finally, Stinky (er, I mean Tinkerbell) the Pickle Queen gives her approval.