17 October 2011

730 days

730 days ago, I made a covenant to do life with this man.
These days have been wonderful.

I wanted to type a 10 point list about the things I've learned in marriage.
But I've only been married 2 years. 
I know that I'll learn so much more in the coming years.
And it's likely that I don't even know 10 things about marriage.
(Though I'm certain I had a 10 point list about marriage before getting married!)

So for now, I'll share two things I know about our marriage.

Laughing together is necessary.
Not just a chuckle, but a good, long, hard laugh.
Like laughing till tears come is a great thing for us.

Smelling his cologne.
Sometimes life just gets in the way.
We kiss quickly in the mornings before I jet out the door, and then return home just as crazed.
When we sit still with each other, I like to be close enough to smell his cologne.
Then, I know that we can connect.

These are my things. Laughter and cologne.
Maybe next year, I'll come up with something more profound.
Or maybe something else just as simple that makes our marriage work.
Either way, I know that I'll love my husband more and more.

11 October 2011

Pasta with Avocado, Basil and Parmesan

By nature, I'm a planner and a list maker. So it's no surprise that my meals are planned each week with corresponding grocery lists and recipes printed. I know what we're having on the days that I cook, which are: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday. I shop on the weekend for all of our groceries and rarely have to back to the store during the week.

One day last week, I was all set to grill pork tenderloin and roast acorn squash and Brussels sprouts. I reached for the squash and found that it was rotten to the touch. Gross. If you don't cook winter squash often, you should know that it can last for weeks before cooking it, so the fact that I'd bought it two days prior--and it was already bad--was a bummer. After a quick trip to the store and chat with the produce manager, I returned home set to switch meals since time was at a premium. We'd have quiche (prepared by my mother-in-law) and sauteed mushrooms. It'd be a quick dinner. Only the quiche had gone bad.

At this point, I should have called it a night and ordered something for Husby to pick up on his way home. For some reason, I didn't. I looked through the fridge, hoping that something would present itself. I had an avocado. I had pasta. I remembered pinning a pasta recipe with avocado cream sauce. I knew that I could make dinner. The only deterrent for following the recipe was that it uses a food processor. Now, I received a beautiful food processor as a wedding gift, and I'm so thankful to have it when needed. BUT...it's such a pain to use. I don't like cleaning it. So I used the recipe as inspiration for a wonderful Pasta with Avocado, Basil and Parmesan. I sauteed the mushrooms, and we ate them and some olives as a side.

Pasta with Avocado, Basil and Parmesan

2 cups dried pasta (I used fusilli)
1 avocado
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 6 cups water to a boil. Add pasta, reduce heat to medium high. Cook 10 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, mash one avocado in a medium bowl. Add lemon juice, salt, basil. Stir together.

When pasta has finished cooking, drain, but do not rinse. (The starch left on the pasta will make the ingredients "stick" to the pasta.)

Add pasta to bowl with avocado. Before mixing, drizzle olive oil on top of pasta. Stir pasta into avocado mixture. Add Parmesan cheese and stir until all is incorporated.

Makes 2 servings.

06 October 2011

savannah: the food

I like to think of us as novice foodies. We like good food, wine, enjoy eating out, and love to cook. We're learning the foodie ropes. That being said, our vacations tend to have an element of food to them. I decided to keep track of our meals. We like to reminisce. About food. Our time in Savannah was no exception. I grilled the valet parking attendant at our hotel as he gave a recommendation. I wanted to know where he would go eat; not where his boss tells him to tell customers to go.

He didn't steer us wrong, even though I almost did when I asked him to give us directions. He couldn't find the location on the map, and then I discovered it was the map of Charleston. Smooth move. We walked to a pizza place called Vinnie Van Go Go's, where they make the pizza dough everyday. Although they have a multitude of toppings, we had a simple pepperoni pizza that was wonderful.

Our Ghost Tour was scheduled for that evening, but my choice of footwear wasn't appropriate for walking the streets of Savannah. We made our way back to the hotel, but along the way found Lulu's Chocolate Bar. We were both uber-satisfied with our choices. Husby ordered the White Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cheesecake; I went with a Peanut Butter Cup Martini.

The next morning, I was desperate to find a non-Starbucks coffee shop. {My name is Kristina, and I'm a coffee snob.} I don't like Starbucks. I'll drink it, if necessary, but I prefer good coffee. I used a nifty app on my phone, and we breakfasted at Gallery Espresso. It was quaint and artsy. I discovered that iced coffee is big in the South. Not iced cappucinos or mochas, just plain coffee with a little cream. It was nice, since the heat wave of 2011 hit when we arrived in Savannah. We (or maybe I) loved this little shop so much that we returned for iced coffee and muffins the next day.

After our bike tour of the city, our tour guide recommended Soho South Cafe for lunch. Although the wait put us dangerously close to the reservation we made for dinner, we stayed. Husby had a rice salad, which was refreshing. I chose a panini with ham, brie and granny smith apples. It was so good, that I've recreated it at home.

Then there was dinner. We were torn at whether or not to eat at The Lady & Sons--Paula Deen's restaurant. We heard from many locals that it isn't good. BUT how could we be in SAVANNAH and NOT eat at PAULA DEEN'S? We decided to do it. Normally, there is a wait to make a reservation, but while on our bike tour, NO ONE was in line. Husby hopped off his bike and made our dinner reservation.

Oh, dear. I really wanted to like it. I mean, it's Paula Deen. Although I'd been warned to stay away from the buffet, I wanted to know what the hype was about, so I went with the buffet. Husby ordered the chicken pot pie.
Husby's chicken pot pie was beautiful, but all of the puff pastry was a little much.
He also said that mine is better. I married such a good man!

My buffet plate (clockwise from the chicken): fried chicken, mac & cheese, collard greens,
one boiled Brussels sprout, okras & tomatoes, black-eyed peas, lima beans.
The verdict? Meh. They had very few pieces of dark meat, and the white meat was dry,
my mom makes better everything, and why in the world do you serve boiled Brussels sprouts?
No wonder people don't like them. Dessert was about the same: not worth eating.

I'm glad we ate there, but any return trips to Savannah will exclude The Lady & Sons. Although disappointed, we still had a whole day of meals to eat. After breakfast at Gallery Espresso, we toured a house, visited the old cemetery and then had lunch at Caraway Cafe. I can't remember what we ordered, but I do remember that Husby had a sandwich with basil mayonnaise. I loved it so much that I ordered a side to go with my sandwich.

After lunch, we just couldn't pass up Leopold's Ice Cream next door. Oh mercy. It was good! I had a scoop of coffee chocolate chip; Husby had the coconut. Both were amazing. The best in the South. But not the best in Texas. That's reserved for Blue Bell.

That evening, we had dinner at The River House on the Savannah River. I really wanted to try Shrimp & Grits, so that's what I ordered. It was quite good. Husby was super satisfied with his steak.

I would love to return to Savannah for a long weekend. I think it's the perfect sized town for a three day getaway: not overwhelming, but plenty to offer, especially in terms of food.

05 October 2011

savannah: the tours

This summer, Husby and I vacayed (that's the past tense of vacay, right?) in the South. 

(Just to clarify: Southerners are quite adamant that Texas is not considered as part of the South. To further clarify: east Texas--and the town where we live--is more Southern than some cities in the South. But that's fine, we don't have to be included. It hurts, but Texans are resilient.)

(Speaking of Texas, did you know that we can fly our flag at the same height as the United States flag since we were once a nation? It's true! [We also love to brag about things like that, even as others roll their eyes.])

Back to vacaying...we had a fabulous week in the South. We decided to fly into Atlanta and drive to Savannah, and then onto Charleston and back to Atlanta. That wasn't the smartest plan since it's a five hour drive from Atlanta to Savannah--it looked so much closer on Google maps! We were so tired by the time we arrived. But it paid off in the end when we were able to spend time with dear friends.

Savannah is beautiful. The architecture is stunning and the history is amazing. Although I love the great State of Texas, we just don't have as much history.

Our first night in Savannah, we took a Ghost Tour. Although I hate scary movies, I like hearing spooky stories--unless I'm going to be home alone or walking alone at night (which doesn't happen very often or ever, by the way). I didn't think I'd need my camera; I forgot about capturing spirit orbs. Dang it. Savannah is considered the most haunted city in the United States. And I'd just like to say that there should be no complaining about this: THEY MOVE GRAVES AND BUILD ROADS OVER CEMETERIES AND FORGET WHERE PEOPLE ARE BURIED. Yeah, you're gonna have a ghost or two or forty six.

We learned that a couple of terms used today come from Savannah in the 1800s. They had three bouts of yellow fever. (Again, no complaining, you brought slaves over. You deserve it.) A symptom of yellow fever is extremely low pulse. There was an occasion where non-dead yellow fever victims were buried alive. The following morning they were found outside of their graves. Dead. So they started tying string to a finger of the "dead" with a bell attached on the outside of the grave. If they heard the bell in the night, they called it a "dead ringer." This shift late at night listening for dead ringers in the cemetery was called the "graveyard shift." Cool, huh?

When we go to a new city, we also love doing some type of a walking or biking tour. Luckily, there's a bike tour offered in Savannah. It was so much fun, even though I thought our tour guide was going to melt off of his bike. Evidently, some people can't handle the heat.

There is a large Catholic population in Savannah. The Irish came to Savannah and worked as cheap labor; Savannah had a huge Irish population, and has the second largest St. Patrick's Day festival after New York City.

Savannah is laid out in a grid system and very well organized...except for the names of squares and monuments. Oglethorpe Square does not include the monument to Oglethorpe. You'd need to visit Chippewa Square to see that.

Spanish Moss [which is neither Spanish nor moss] grows along the Live Oaks and Crepe Myrtles. Supposedly Spanish Moss doesn't grow where unsettled spirits still roam.

After our bike tour.

Our final tour in Savannah was a Dolphin Tour. I was super excited about this. Until we started speeding out into the middle of the ocean as water splashed in the boat. I was convinced it'd sink. Luckily, it didn't. Our guide told us all about the dolphins he'd seen on the three previous tours that day. Including..wait for it...baby dolphins that were two feet long and swim beside their mamas. Precious! I just knew my heart would melt. Which is probably why it was a good thing we only saw ONE dolphin in an hour. It was so sad; she should have been with an entire pod. I worried that she was being bullied. She gave us a few jumps out of the water.

We had a lovely time in Savannah, even though we arrived with a heat wave. (If you're keep track, this is our second vacation in a row with record temperatures. Next year, we're headed north.) The city is laid out for walking, which we love. We had way too much amazing food. And even more sweet tea. I'll share all about that tomorrow!

04 October 2011

Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash Recipe

Husby's mom is from the Midwest. Actually, Wisconsin, to be exact: the land of (amazing) cheese and winter squash. Actually, I'm not sure that it's the land of winter squash, but I'd never had butternut squash (or acorn or buttercup) until I started dating Husby. I remember well the first time I had it. My future mother-in-law made Ina Garten's Caramelized Butternut Squash. I scooped it onto my plate; the first bite I took melted in my mouth. I'm pretty sure I had two helpings that night, and then I ate all of the leftovers that we took home. My reason? He's had it his entire life; I have some years to make up for missing out on winter squash. For all that Texas has to offer, winter squash isn't one of them.

We try to eat one vegetarian meal a week. And we're attempting to expand the whole grains that we eat. I bought a cookbook a few years ago called Super Natural Cooking. We read all about real, natural foods. Farro was one of those. I bought a bag of it, and it sat in our pantry, silently intimidating me for about a year. Finally, I decided to use it. I googled "farro recipes", and happened upon a recipe on 101 Cookbooks Blog, which is the author of Super Natural Cooking. My inaugural farro dish was Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash. And? It was fabulous; even Husby loved it. I'd consider all of the ingredients to be favorites, so it really worked for me. I often cook a bunch of whole grains like farro and barley (a good farro substitute), and then divide them into quart sized bags and stick them in the freezer. Another shortcut I take is using frozen diced butternut squash. I prefer fresh, but this--along with thawed grains--works for my busy days.

(Also, I have a weird scar on the knuckle of my right pointer finger. The pressure put on it by cutting winter squash [and other things] can become painful. Strange, right?)

Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash
from http://www.101cookbooks.com/

If you are pressed for time, opt for a lightly or semi-pearled farro (actually easier to find in some places), which will cut the cooking time for the grains down to about 20 minutes. Barley, both hulled and pearled, would make a nice substitution if you are having trouble finding farro. Also, I found the beautiful red spring onions at the farmers' market but regular red onions will work well, and will be much easier to find.

2 cups farro, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
5 cups water (or stock)
3 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large red onion cut into 1/8ths
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup walnuts, deeply toasted
3 tablespoons toasted walnut oil (or more olive oil)
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine the farro, salt, and water in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the farro is tender, 45 minutes to an hour, or about half the time if you are using semi-pearled farro. Taste often as it is cooking, you want it to be toothsome and retain structure. Remove from heat, drain any excess water, and set aside.

While the farro is cooking toss the squash, onion, and thyme with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a couple big pinches of salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange in a single layer and place in the oven for about 20 minutes. Toss the squash and onions every 5-7 minutes to get browning on multiple sides. Remove from the oven, let cool a bit, and mince just 1/2 of the red onions.

In a large bowl gently toss everything (except the goat cheese) with the toasted walnut oil (or olive oil). Taste and add a bit of salt if necessary. Serve family-style in a simple bowl or on a platter garnished with the goat cheese.

Serves 6 - 8 as a side, less as a main.

We ate this as the main course. It would be wonderful with an arugula salad. I used a large red onion and used additional olive oil in place of the walnut oil, since I didn't have it on hand.

I just stocked up on frozen diced butternut squash and bought a ton of farro in the bulk section of our grocery. I cannot wait to make this again. It's so fall-like and cozy.

03 October 2011

a sick day (with the gilmore girls)

Today I stayed home sick. I'm pretty sure it's just allergies based on the fact that I can't breathe through my nose and water is pouring out of my right eye, but just allergies has got me down. With symptoms that worsened over the weekend, sleeping at least 10 hours a day, and my husband telling me last night that I sound horrible, I decided a little couch time might do me good. Plus, I had a round o' antibiotics about for my first illness about a month ago. When I reported that illness to my school nurse, she said that by getting ill that early in the year means it will happen again. And possibly again. Yea, germy kids!

When I stay home sick, I have absolutes. I set up camp on the couch, surrounded by necessities: laptop, phone, remote control, a drink, tissues, Crickett, and most importantly:

Although I didn't follow Gilmore Girls religiously, I did see the occasional episode or a re-run and loved it. When Husby and I dated, he brought an entire series to me when I was sick, along with orange Gatorade and saltine crackers, which are absolutes when I have a stomach virus. I must equate being sick with watching Gilmore Girls, although I do watch GG at other times. Here are a few reasons that I love GG:

1. Stars Hollow is the quintessential small town (much like Mitford in the Mitford Series). I wish it were real; we'd move there. Each season seems perfect. But the thing I love most is the interaction of the people. They talk to each other, have community-wide events, and the expected gossip that comes from living in a small town.

2. The quick, witty banter can't be matched on any other show. (Veronica Mars could come close, though.) I also love the humor; it's so cute. Can humor be cute? I think it can be. Again, jokes are quick and often point to pop culture and [then] current events.

3. Every time I watch it, I feel okay with my coffee addiction. In fact, I often make a pot of coffee at some point during a Gilmore Girls marathon.

4. I love that Lorelai is independent and energetic.

5. Reading is portrayed as an intellectual activity that should be part of every day. Rory is an avid reader, and I like that. I'm a reader, and I feel like reading has been dumbed down in recent years. I cringe when I hear, "I'm just not a reader." I think that it's fine to have a fun book to read for pleasure, but I hate it when Twilight is considered literature. Just for fun, here's Rory's reading list from the show.

6. The theme song lyrics are good for the soul:

If you're out on the road
Feeling lonely, and so cold
All you have to do is call my name
And I'll be there on the next train

Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead 

7.  Since I'm a college advisor at a private school, Rory isn't far from some of my students. I live in a world of PSATs, college exploration, debate results and the like. In most episodes, the portrayal of these topics is quite accurate. Good job, writers.

8. The writing is fantastic. More than getting components of Rory's education correct, the writers really pull the audience into the story. We know the characters. We know: that Emily, Lorelai's mom, is condescending and opinionated; that Kirk is difficult and quirky; Sookie is a little ditsy; Luke is gruff. And there are so many more characters that we know well.

9. Lorelai and Rory's relationship is unconventional, but it works for them. I'm a big believer of not being friends with your child, but Lorelai is able to successfully play the "mom card" whenever needed.

10. They love food. From take out to Sookie's amazing creations to Luke's Diner, there are tons of references to food. They appreciate a great pizza or ice cream with extra toppings.

I think my day of no activity will serve it's purpose. Although I'm still a little sniffly and stuffy, I hope to return to work tomorrow.