Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mushroom Tartlets for the New Year

Well, 2011 is coming to an end and it looks like 2012 is going to be a great year! I've got some big changes on the horizon, but until the details get hammered out mum's the word--stay tuned for future updates!

This afternoon my family is gathering at my grandma's house to celebrate my cousin Phillip joining the Marines, which will transition into our annual New Year's Eve gathering. I came across a recipe for mushroom tartlets yesterday and thought they sounded pretty good, and using the basic "mushroom in a pastry cup" idea, I created my own mix of ingredients.

These little guys are super easy.

1 yellow onion, chopped into pretty small pieces
5 (or whatever you want!) pearl onions, cut into small pieces
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, chopped
a handful or so of fresh baby spinach, chopped
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed and rolled to 16'' by 12'' and cut into 4'' by 4'' squares
feta cheese to top as needed

You start by caramelizing the onion until it's nice and golden. Then add the chopped mushrooms and cook them down until you're satisfied with them. It's important to get a lot of the moisture out, or they'll weep a lot when you bake the tartlets and make things too mushy.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Once the mushrooms have cooked down I chopped a bit of spinach and stirred it in to wilt. This mixture was then put aside and let cool so that the cheese and sour cream wouldn't completely melt/burn on the hot pan.
In the meantime I rolled out my puff pastry, cut the squares, and put them into a mini muffin pan. 1 sheet of pastry will make 12 cups (more if you do 3x3 squares, which would probably work just as well). I rolled the edges of my pastry cups, while my mom left a few with pointy edges. It's really up to you!

The little puff pastry cups then got a good dose of the mushroom filling--it's probably more than a tablespoon, I can't say for sure. Just divide evenly. I then sprinkled just a touch of feta cheese on top of the cups.

Bake 12-15 minutes, until the edges of the pastry are golden, and the feta on top is beginning to brown. Super easy, right?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'm still here!

Have no fear, I'm still here! Well, kind of. In the past month I've:
-Finally finished a sewing project! I was an owl for Halloween, which meant sewing lots and lots of felt "feathers" onto a sweatshirt. It looks pretty cool. Alice had to help.

-Made some interesting hand pies to take for lunch. They were filled with peas, onion, and ricotta cheese.

-Worked, a lot. Like, 12 days straight before having a real weekend. This included planning a project on the Snoqualmie River where we had 60 teens plant nearly 1,000 trees!
-Become very familiar with the dog park. Alice has a ton of energy and getting her to run around with other dogs is a surefire way to wear her out. On Thursday morning we were at the dog park for nearly 2 hours! One of Alice's latest tricks is to jump on command--she gets some really good height!

-Gotten back into yoga. I'm trying to go at least 3 days a week, though this Thanksgiving break has kind of thrown me off.
-Visited Seattle's Volunteer Park and the beautiful conservatory.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Roasted Carrot Soup

I've been absent for so long! Alice is doing well in our house, though at times she has more energy than she knows what to do with. I continue to enjoy my job, and it keeps me very busy! I just spent three days in Yakima for AmeriCorps SERVES, the annual conference for AmeriCorps members to get essential training and network with eachother. I won't have a work-free weekend until November 19, and hopefully I'll be able to take full advantage of finally having two consecutive days off!

I spent some real time in the kitchen tonight, for the first time in what seems like months. Until just recently I had a huge dislike for soup--couldn't handle the texture. I'm not sure what caused a change, but now I'm all about soup! Frozen french onion soup from Safeway has been our go-to Friday night dinner for a few weeks now, and it got me thinking. I had a bit more energy than normal after work today so set to making the roasted carrot soup that I'd been thinking about.

Turning a few simple ingredients into a fantastic soup does take a little bit of time, but it was definitely worth it!

Roasted Carrot Soup-Ingredients:
2 pounds carrots cut into pieces for roasting
1 large onion, cut into 8 pieces
3 cloves garlic
olive oil as needed to coat vegetables
4 cups vegetable stock

And here's how to!
Preheat oven to 450. Toss the carrots and onion with olive oil, then spread in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil on garlic cloves (leave the peel on!), wrap in aluminum foil, and put on top rack in warm oven.

Roast vegetables for 25-30 minutes, until tender. Stir once or twice to make sure roasting is even. The garlic cloves will probably finish much sooner, so keep an eye on them and remove the foil packet when they're done. 

After removing vegetables from the oven, put in a sauce pot on the stove. Squeeze garlic from peels into the onion carrot mixture. Add enough vegetable broth to cover the vegetables--I used about 3 cups.

Bring vegetables to a simmer and make sure the carrots are nice and tender! When the carrots are sufficiently cooked transfer the vegetable mixture to a blender. Do this in small batches so your blender isn't more than half full at a time. Add more vegetable broth as needed to make sure that carrots can move in the blender. I added at least an additional cup during the blending process.

When completely blended the soup can be transferred back to a saucepan to re heat, but I went straight to serving alongside my oven-fresh bread.

I was very impressed by how creamy this soup was, even though it contains no dairy! It has a great mouth feel, and I highly recommend you make this roasted carrot soup!

The bread I whipped up was pretty easy--
2 cups very warm water
1 packet yeast
2 Tbl sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3-4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 425 and place an oven-safe dish in the bottom of the oven.
Mix the water, sugar, and yeast and let proof for 10 minutes.
Stir in salt.
Mix in flour. I had a very soupy dough, so probably used more than 4 cups of flour. Add until your dough is smooth and not sticky then knead until elastic.
Next, cut the dough ball into 4 sections. Roll each into a rope (mine were 12 inches long, you could go longer). Twist two ropes together to make a loaf. Do the same with the final 2 ropes.
Now you can put straight in the oven, or let rise for another 15 minutes.
At the same time you put the bread in the oven, pour 2 cups of water in the dish in the bottom of the oven.
Bake 15-18 minutes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Introducing Alice!

What has four petite little paws, a curly tail that wags like crazy, cute little tan eyebrow spots, a love for walks, and what seems to be a complete inability to sit still for photos? Alice!!!

I spent a lot of time this summer prowling the internet for dogs, even meeting a few prospects. On Saturday, September 24, Mom, Mel and I drove to the Kitsap County Humane Society to look at some dachshunds that were up for adoption, thinking we would stick with our current breed. Well, they were cute, but walking through the kennels a little dog sleeping on her bed at the back of the kennel caught my eye. She was curled up on the bed, not showing much interest in the people or dogs walking by, but when she looked at me she stole my heart. I bent down to get on her level, and she slowly got out of bed and walked to the front of the kennel. She looked fearful--slinking over, tail and head low. A few treats helped to bring her out of her shell, and I was sure I needed to meet this dog. Unfortunately, she was on a stray hold until Sunday the 25th, so she couldn't be taken out of the kennel and introduced to us on Saturday. 

Saturday night saw a lot of thought, and I emailed the humane society to ask for more information about the dog in kennel 45, going by the name of Albion. They couldn't tell me much, since she'd come in as a stray, but the main fact that was communicated was that she would not be spayed until someone wanted to adopt her, so my hopes of waiting to drive back to Silverdale after she was spayed were dashed. After church on Sunday Mom and I drove back to the humane society. Silverdale is no short journey! It takes at least an hour and a half to get there, so this dog hunt took up most of my weekend!

With the stray hold off one of the humane society counselors brought Alice into an outdoor run to meet us. There was never any doubt in my mind that she would be my dog. She showed interest in people and happily rolled over on her back for Mom to rub her belly--more personality than other dogs we'd me there!
Once I had committed to adopting her they were able to schedule her spay, but that meant she couldn't come home on Sunday. Monday (Sept. 26) morning I got a call from the shelter that she was out of surgery and would be ready to go by 2, so guess where I was Monday afternoon! Mel and I hopped in the car and headed, for the third time, to Silverdale.

Alice was still coming out of the surgery anesthesia and we had to carry her out to the car. She rode on Mel's lap the whole way home. Because the weather was so bad on Monday and we didn't want to sit in traffic through Tacoma, we elected to take the ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle, so Alice got quite a few new experiences at once. And she handled it great!

She and Sammy (our other dog) are getting along relatively well. While she tends to ignore him, he barks a lot when she approaches any of his people or his space (he doesn't share too well). In just the past few days Alice has figured out how to play with Sammy, so they're getting along better and better.

Alice weighs about 25 pounds and is estimated to be 7 months old. She was found as a stray somewhere in the Tri Cities in Eastern Washington, and for some reason was transferred to the Kitsap Humane Society, in far Western Washington. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I found her! She's such a mixed breed that the shelter wouldn't even try to identify what she is; her paperwork says "shelter mix," though best guess places her as some sort of beagle miniature pinscher mix. She was obviously loved by someone before, as she knows very well that she should be able to hop into our beds, and she settled very quickly into her own dog bed. She's a fast learner--we've already got sit down pretty well, and it only took one lesson for her to figure out the heel command. So far I haven't heard her bark, which is just fine with me!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Work + Mushroom Toast

I've now had my first week of work training at the Metrocenter Y, and starting on Monday I'll be working at my assigned location in Bellevue. Part of my day will be spent in the office working on the logistics of the program, and then 2-3 hours will be spent working with the students at the schools that I am assigned to. So that's what things should look like in the coming week.

Tonight I broke out one of my favorites for dinner--mushroom toast. I guess you'd call it an open-faced sandwich. I toast some bread and pile on sauteed mushrooms, top with mozzarella cheese and broil for a few minutes, and voila, dinner!

I start by slicing about half a pound of mushrooms and chopping a couple of cloves of garlic.

I then simmer the garlic and a little bit of crushed red pepper flakes (to your preferred taste level) in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When we were driving north from San Diego my mom and I stopped and bought some a lot of California olive oil. Tonight's oil choice was Calolea made from early harvest manzanillo olives. The label says "very grassy" and it sure wasn't lying! This oil doesn't really suit my taste for bread dipping, but it certainly worked well when cooking up my mushrooms.

Once the garlic and the crushed red pepper had simmered for a little bit to mellow the garlic and kind of infuse the oil with its flavor, I added the sliced mushrooms and proceeded to cook them rather slowly. I use roughly medium heat and cook the mushrooms until they're not giving off much more moisture. When they start to look almost ready, slice up a loaf of bread and toast those slices so they're ready for mushroom topping.

We got four pieces of toast from those 8 ounces of mushrooms. I pile the mushrooms on, try to spread them as evenly as possible, and then top with a thin slice of mozzarella cheese. The toasts then go under the broiler to melt the cheese. I find the mozzarella moderates the heat of the crushed red pepper, and it can help hold the mushrooms together so they don't fall off the bread so easily. We had our mushroom toast dinner with a big salad, but if you're looking for a quick, easy snack the toasts are great on their own!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back from San Diego

This post is kind of late in coming--I've been back in Newcastle since Sunday the 11th but have been kind of busy since arriving, and still haven't unpacked! My last night in San Diego was kind of interesting; we experienced the great San Diego Blackout of 2011! Try this link for a story that's better than I could tell it. On Thursday afternoon my friend Heather came over for lunch, and before we left I took her out in the back yard to show off the view of Mission Valley. One of the things that stood out to me was that from where we were it was quite obvious that there was a trolley stopped in an abnormal spot on the track. We mulled over the strange sight for a minute, not thinking much of it. Until a neighbor informed me that the power was out.
We were at a loss as to what to do for a few minutes. It was still light outside but we did take a few minutes to find the flashlights, check batteries, and put some candles out for when it got dark. And we turned on the radio to try to figure out what was going on. The first reports about the outage were not very informative--no one knew what had caused the outage! I should probably mention that the power was out all over San Diego County. That's 1.4 million customers; at least 3 million people. What was very worrisome were the estimates to the time it would take for power to be restored--at least a day, maybe 2 or more. Keep in mind this is all happening on Thursday, and my plan was to leave San Diego on Friday. What would I do if the power wasn't restored? It's a bit harder to find a working gas station when the power is out. Luckily, everything turned out just fine. The power ended up coming on around 10 that night (much sooner than expected!), and we had no trouble driving north from San Diego on Friday.
Now that you've read through that whole synopsis, I do have a couple of photos! The first is what the westward view from the back yard usually looks like at night. The second is roughly the same view on the night that the power was out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cactus Garden

Next to the rose garden on the east side of Park Blvd. you will find a cactus garden. One of my intern jobs at the Safari Park last summer was to inventory the plants in the Baja Garden. This meant donning long pants, long sleeves, and my giant sun hat, and spending a few days scrambling through the poky landscape to check the accession tags on the plants and match them to what the GIS database showed. It's from that project that I emerged with a love of agave (and I don't mean tequila!).

What I find most beautiful about agave is the way they have serrate imprints on their leaves from being tightly wrapped in the bud at the center of the plant.

There was also some yucca blooming in the cactus garden. That's a plant I have a particular respect for because I can't tell you how many times I'd come away with gashes on my legs after walking too close to one--even with long pants on!

You also have to respect the cacti with those tiny hairlike spines! You think you haven't touched them or you've avoided injury by not running into a large thorn, but the itty bitty ones get in your skin, are invisible, and just won't leave! I'm pretty sure there's still part of a thorn lodged in the pinkie of my left hand, though it's been a year since it found its way in there!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Morning in Balboa Park

I love mornings. Unless I'm really exhausted, it is practically impossible for me to sleep past 9:00, and if I do try to stretch my sleep time I usually end up with a terrible headache that just doesn't go away--so I'm good at getting up and getting moving in the morning!
Last summer when I was working at the Safari Park I was waking up at 4:30 Monday-Friday to catch the vanpool and make it to work for a 6:00 clock in. Being a creature of habit, I didn't sleep in too late on weekends, either. On Saturdays I'd wake up slowly, kill some time, and then around 7:00 head to Starbucks to get a coffee and make my way to Balboa Park. Once there I'd settle in on a bench next to the lily pond to read, reflect on life, watch the people as the trickled by, and write letters to my friends. Now that I'm running out of time in San Diego I'm suddenly trying to make the best use of my time here and made one of those early morning trips to Balboa Park yesterday morning.
Usually when I visit Balboa Park I just do a cursory walk--park by the carousel, walk through the Spanish Art Village, past the botanical building, over to the organ pavilion, then turn around and head back. In my four summers here I had not crossed the bridge and gone to the other side of Park Boulevard. Yesterday I finally did, and I wish I'd done it sooner! Once you cross the bridge to the east side of the street, there are two gardens: the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden and the Desert Garden.

This was perhaps the best rose garden I've seen. All of the bushes are filled with blooms right now, and catching them in the morning means their fragrances are hanging in the air. My friend Michaela subscribes to the stop and smell the roses philosophy--whenever we're out shopping and there are flowers for sale, it's mandatory to stop and smell the roses. Well, while I was wandering through this vast planting of roses, I remembered to stop and smell! One in particular, Wild Blue Yonder, smelled amazing and definitely helped set my day off on the right foot. Just a few shots for today... Desert Garden to follow!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A baby giraffe

Not too much to report--I'm still enjoying my last days as a tour bus driver! Things are wrapping up on a positive note, as I've gotten more good feedback from visitors in the past few days than the entire rest of the summer!

I went to work early today to take some photos before my shift. We had a new giraffe calf born on the morning of August 30, so this morning he was less than 36 hours old for the photos. The poor little guy had one of his front hooves tucked under in the womb, so the tendons are hyper extended and his leg bent in a very disturbing way yesterday. Luckily our vet staff wrapped the leg, including a splint (I think), so now he it stays straight when he walks on it instead of bending at terrible angles. They expect the tendons to shrink back to a normal range soon, and he'll be walking like a normal little calf.

The keepers moved the mother giraffe (Nicky) into the barn before the arrival of the vet this morning, leaving the calf outside by himself. The rest of the herd was very quick to check and make sure the calf was ok. Imara, the giraffe to the left in the photo above, is 5 months old. She and the new calf share a father, and she is very interested in this baby! Yesterday morning when I took a tour by Imara was leaning as far over the fence as she could, sticking out her tongue to try to lick the new arrival.

Above: Suricata suricatta, meerkat! They're cute, that's all.

And a Siberian lynx!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Strawberry Quesadilla

I'm going to start this by shouting, "It's SO good to be me!" Life is quite ordinary right now, but I still feel so good about everything! I now have less than two weeks left at the zoo, and I will definitely miss it. I enjoy working nights when the crowds are smaller and everyone is more relaxed, and I imagine that is what the off season would be like. A few days ago I got to watch as a reindeer was walked down the road that leads past the lion and jaguar exhibits in Elephant Odyssey. The jaguar was very interested in this prey animal and came right up against the exhibit fence, much to the delight of everyone on my tour bus. It's funny how life can seem so ordinary, then I have an experience that reminds me that I work at this incredible zoo, and I just feel so excited and happy to be alive.

On a less exciting note, I had a frenectomy on Tuesday. Big word for a periodontist using a tiny little scalpel to cut the piece of skin between my lower lip and gums below my lower teeth. I was so glad to be heavily numbed during the procedure--just feeling the pressure and watching the blood made me cringe. I'm very glad that a nutrition course was required for my degree at WSU, as I learned a lot of things to take with me into the future! Vitamin C is very important for collagen synthesis (think scurvy!), so I've been vitamin C loading to support fast healing of my mouth!
This super sweet morning treat needs some tweaking, but it was a good start!
Today's breakfast creation probably didn't get me as much of the antioxidant as I had planned (vitamin C is very easily destroyed by heat), but it was still pretty yummy. Having some flour tortillas on hand, I chopped up at least a quarter of a cup of semisweet chocolate chips in the food processor (chocolate overload!), then 5 strawberries. The strawberries were spread on the tortilla, and the chocolate on top. I had wayyyy too much chocolate. I warmed it in the pan until the chocolate was melted (this did get pretty messy), then flopped it onto a plate to devour. My next adaptation of this recipe will be to use Nutella instead of chocolate chips. Then I can just make a chocolaty, strawberry wrap!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Wouldn't you just know it, once things finally get interesting it's almost time for me to leave. It's taken me a couple of months to get settled in and now that I finally know a few more people, I have to say goodbye to them! Leaving the great people behind is always the hardest part of moving on.

But you know what's awesome? Being young, single, employed, and full of excitement for every day!
My friend Selena came to visit last week and I got out and did the things that I never do by myself--visiting a couple of bars, getting a major sunburn at Coronado, and playing tourist at the zoo.

When September 8 arrives and my car is packed to start the long drive home, I will be sad to go. But I will also be very excited for the adventures that await!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Great Summer Day

Today was my first day off in a week, and while I didn't have much time to lounge around the house, the out and about activities were quite worthwhile! We had lunch at Bali Hai on Shelter Island to celebrate Aunt Barbara's birthday. It was the best restauraunt meal I've had in a long time! I had a grilled tofu wrap that was pretty delicious, but the atmosphere is what made it great. We chose to sit outside, and that made all the difference. It was pleasantly warm, and we were blocked from the breeze off the bay by the four foot tall plexiglass railing around the whole terrace. Sitting outdoors was significantly quieter than inside the restauraunt, which meant we could actually carry on a conversation! Bali Hai has a spectacular view of the San Diego bay, and we watched two navy ships come through; the USNS Yukon and USS Bonhomme Richard. By the time we got home from lunch it was nearly 5:00, so dinner was certainly going to be late...

After spending a couple of hours reading and relaxing, I finally hauled myself off the couch to find some dinner. We've been buying corn while it's in season, but not doing the best job of eating it. Knowing that there were three ears in the fridge I was about to lose to the damages of time, I threw together some very quick and simple corn cakes. Seriously simple. This is all it takes:
Kernels from 4 ears of corn
1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
butter for the pan

You could glitz things up a bit by adding chives or spices of some sort, but I was going for fast and easy. I stirred everything until the flour was well incorporated, squishing the corn just a little bit to add some extra binding liquid. Then melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat, and scoop the corn mixture into your pan by 1/4 cup scoops. Use a spatula to press corn into a patty shape, and cook for about 5 minutes per side.

There was a bit of debate in our house as to what kind of topping these corn cakes required--I had mine with sour cream, but the other two ladies went with butter and syrup, which I think most people would prefer. Overall, this turned out to be one of the simplest (and easiest cleanup!) meals I've made in a long time, and it was tasty and satisfying!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pain au Chocolat

I recently came across a quote that was attributed to Michael Pollan. It was something along the lines of If you're willing to make it, you can eat it. I might have to get my hands on a copy of Food Rules or In Defense of Food to see if there's more to that quote. No matter who said it, those words do ring true. Costco's chocolate croissants often call to me from the shelves, but I always pass them up because I know that those bulk quantities are more than I need to be consuming, and there are ingredients in them that I don't want to be consuming!

That's what I like about cooking--100% control over the ingredients in my food. Pain au chocolat is nowhere near a health food, but the simple ingredients that went into my lovely batch of butter flaky goodness were are things that start out rather whole and haven't been processed into something we don't recognize. So I followed Pollan's advice--I wanted croissants, so I made them myself!

I was very glad I read through the recipe ahead of time, as making those flaky, buttery layers required rolling and folding the dough 4 times, letting it chill for 30 minutes before each rolling. After the final folding the dough sat in the fridge overnight, waiting for the morning's final rolling, cutting, and shaping. Let's start at the beginning.

For the croissant dough:
3/4 cup warm milk
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

And for the butter layer:
1 cup cold butter
1/4 cup flour
1-3 tablespoons lemon zest

Start by stirring milk and yeast together in a large bowl. (Have a minor freak out when suddenly your dslr lens doesn't appear to be working correctly, hence some odd photos.)
Add eggs, vanilla, and sugar to the yeast bowl--mix well.
Add one cup flour and the salt, again, mix well.
Slowly add remaining flour to dough. (Have another minor freak out as it suddenly seems that there may not be enough flour to complete this recipe. Squeak by with only about 1/2 cup of extra.)
Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes).
Wrap that dough baby in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

While the dough chills, combine 1 cup cold butter, 1/4 cup flour, and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest. Beat until smooth and set aside for later.
When the 30-minute chilling period has passed, turn dough ball onto lightly-floured surface and roll into a 13'' x 18'' rectangle, about 1/4'' thick. Spread the butter mixture over 2/3 of this rectangle. Fold the remaining 1/3 of the rectangle over, covering half of the butter. Fold the remaining butter side over. Cover dough with plastic wrap, refrigerate for 30 minutes.
You repeat the roll, fold, chill process 2 more times.
After the final folding, put dough in fridge for 5 hours, or overnight. When you return to work, roll dough to 1/4'' thick, then cut into rectangles (mine were about 4'' x 6''), and fold/roll into pain au chocolat shape. I put chocolate in about half of the batch, and left a few others plain. They all came out with just a hint of lemon, so I'd probably add more lemon zest to the butter in the future. Place seam side down on your baking sheet, or they will probably come unrolled in the oven.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 14 minutes, until golden brown.
 See how wonderfully flaky they turned out? It is very tempting to dive right in and start eating when your croissants are fresh from the oven, but wait! Cooling gives the butter layers a chance to solidify, which is how you get the most of that flakiness that screams croissant.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Last week I took Mom and Aunt Carol to Balboa Park one morning to visit my favorite spots. When I visit Balboa Park I usually only go as far as the pond in front of the botanical building and find a bench to relax on. I haven't been in a single museum this summer, though there are some cool exhibits right now that I should check out. Maybe I'll take advantage of museum air conditioning with my Thursday and Friday off!

Last summer I discovered that the crown plants near the entrance doors of the botanical building were absolutely loaded with monarch caterpillars. This summer there seem to be fewer of them, but still enough to elicit wonder at the jeweled chrysalises the caterpillars use for their transformations. 

How many caterpillars can you find in the photo? This crown plant was absolutely loaded!
In other news, San Diego has been terribly hot and humid lately. When I got done at the dentist at 10:30 yesterday morning it was already so hot and muggy that I felt like doing nothing but coming home and enjoying the air conditioning. This means that I've been getting a lot of reading done! The first day of each month book publishers make Kindle editions of select titles free to a limited number of readers, so bright and early Monday morning I downloaded a bunch of free books to add to my reading list!  I'm continuing in my zero-cooking trend; the stove makes the kitchen too hot! A 5am cooking session may be required to actually get something done!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Family Visits

The last week has been very eventful--Aunt Carol arrived on July 23 to spend  few days in San Diego, and my mom and sister arrived on the 24th. They visited the Zoo and rode on my tour bus, we spent a morning exploring Balboa Park, spent a few hours at Seaport Village and on the Midway, and mom and Aunt Carol spent more than a few hours looking at family photos and hearing stories from Aunt Doris.

Mel and I found this cute cutout in the Children's Zoo.

On the 28th Mom, Mel and I went to the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park. The day started with a Caravan Safari, where you sit in the back of stake bed truck and cruise around the large field exhibits for two hours. We got to feed giraffes and rhinos! While at the Safari Park I was sure to point out the areas that I worked in last summer, making sure to show mom the gardens that I spent so many hours in.


Feeding lorikeets at the Safari Park.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Busy Summer Days

For a moment I thought I'd start this post with "Well, things have been pretty boring lately." Until I realized that was completely untrue. Things haven't been boring, I've just been busy, which leaves little time for cooking and other more noteworthy pursuits.
I've been working a lot--which is great. And every day something interesting happens. Like today when I encountered a guest along the bus road (which is supposed to be pedestrian-free) and asked him "Where did you come from?!" Bless his heart, because it took him less than a second to answer me--"Taiwan." Oh boy, sorry, rephrase! "How did you get to this pathway?" And then I just gave up and walked them to the entrance for the bus tour. 
Then there are the events where children run in front of this incredibly large bus. Earlier this week I had a tour bus full of people, and was cruising up the hill to the polar bears. As I went up the hill I could see a group of boys on the sidewalk to my right having a play sword fight. One of the boys suddenly dashed away from the group, straight into the road, about 10 feet in front of my bus. I was going slow, so he wasn't really in any danger of getting hit. But still, his friends saw this giant bus and yelled at him to get back on the sidewalk, and I'm pretty sure a lot of people on my tour saw him run into the road, because there was a collective gasp from somewhere (and I don't think it was me...).

Work is definitely exciting!
My Aunt Carol arrived in San Diego today for a visit, and my mom and sister will be here tomorrow, so we have a full house for the next week. This should be fun!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

UnBirthday Lunch

Right now our kitchen looks like it was hit by a tornado. Dishes from cooking, serving, and dining litter the counter and sink as each of my aunts and I take our turns making a little bit of headway in the mess. Perhaps I should work on being a tidier cook... perhaps not. With the luxury of a dishwasher, missing from my life while living in college apartments, the cleanup work after having company happens at such a better speed!

Today we hosted lunch to pre-celebrate Rosalie's birthday. Though I don't eat meat, and have only cooked it once to my memory in the past five years, I took the plunge to find a good chicken dish that would impress this crowd. It just so happens that Pat and Gina Neely of Down Home With the Neelys had exactly what I was looking for--Buttermilk Baked Chicken. I read the recipe thoroughly, then scrolled through many of the reviews for any additional hints or tips. When I went to the grocery store to purchase the meat I ended up on the phone with my mom, wondering "Skin on or skinless?" I chose skinless, then immediately thought I'd ruined the whole recipe when I read the note at the bottom, Cook's Note: Remove the skin to save calories. Ok, phew, crisis averted, this might just work out after all! And it did! I ended up cooking 3 thighs, 3 drumsticks, and 3 breasts, for which I doubled the buttermilk marinade from the recipe.

The chicken was served alongside my amazing lemon pasta, and it got good reviews.

Then for dessert, a wonderful strawberry cobbler! I usually prefer to use less sugar, but the sweet syrup that this recipe creates makes it so yummy! And I did a really poor job of taking photos today--we were having too much fun to worry about such things!

This is my go-to cobbler recipe, I vary the fruit but use the basic guidelines for the crust all the time.
For filling:
6 cups fresh strawberries, halved
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoon flour

For crust:
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter, cubed

Basically, mix the sugar and flour together, then mix with strawberries. Transfer to a greased 11x7 baking dish.
In a separate bowl mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter for crust. Cut butter in with a fork, though I quickly move on to using my fingers until the mixture is crumbly. There's so much butter in the recipe that there's usually enough moisture, so you could add 1/2 a cup or more if needed/desired.
Bake in 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until browned and bubbly! In this house, you don't eat cobbler without ice cream, so be sure to add a big scoop!

New Lens

Not much to say... Took my new zoom lens to the Zoo yesterday to see how I like it. Used my super amazing macro lens for the above shot. The shots below were with the new zoom lens.