Monday, August 30, 2010

Back in the kitchen

I don't even know what happened last week. It just felt like life took over, and the blog took a backseat. But after a fun trip to a women's conference and some much needed rest, I got to spend most of Sunday in the kitchen. Something I was actually looking forward to.

I tried a couple of new recipes, so I wanted to get them posted.

In my pickup this week, I got some beautiful tomatoes. Lately I've been feeling like my tomatoes have gone to waste, and my sister suggested a tomato pie. My mom sent me her recipe, and it turned out pretty well. Here's the recipe:

Tomato Pesto Tart
  • 1 sheet package refrigerated pie crust (I used one of my pie crusts from this recipe that's been in my freezer.)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 5-6 plum/roma tomatoes, sliced (One large tomato thinly sliced works, too.)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs. jarred Pesto (I used my homemade pesto.)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 Tbs. fresh basil, chopped
Fit piecrust into a lightly greased 9 inch tart pan, trim off excess piecrust along edges. Prick bottom of crust with a fork.
Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella, let stand 15 minutes. Arrange tomato slices over cheese.
Stir together mayo, next 3 ingredients, and remaining 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Spread mixture evenly over tomato slices.
Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil.

For the first time in a few months, I didn't have anything in my freezer to pull out for breakfast. I finished my last peach scone Sunday morning, so I had to come up with something to eat this week.

My peaches were a little rough this week, and I figured the best way to use them before they were unusable was to put them in something. I found this simple peach muffin recipe in a Google search. It reminds me of my zucchini bread recipe, and it tastes good but the peaches don't have a strong flavor. I got white peaches this week (at least that's what I think they are), so that may have something to do with it. But the muffins taste good to me.

Peach muffins
    •    3 cups all-purpose flour
    •    1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
    •    1 teaspoon baking soda
    •    1 teaspoon salt
    •    1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
    •    3 eggs, lightly beaten
    •    2 cups white sugar
    •    2 cups peeled, pitted, and chopped peaches

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 16 muffin cups. (Mine made about 2 dozen medium muffins.)
In a large bowl, mix the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the oil, eggs, and sugar. Stir the oil mixture into the flour mixture just until moist. Fold in the peaches. Spoon into the prepared muffin cups.
Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks to cool completely.

I'm looking forward to a quiet week, and maybe even more time in the kitchen. I've got some green beans and peppers I need to do something with.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weekend recap in list form

I mentioned in another post that I've been dreading the return of students and was especially dreading this weekend — move-in weekend. This is what I found at Bed Bath and Beyond on Friday night. I didn't dare go in, just documented it from the parking lot.

But I was able to escape the city Saturday and Sunday and skip most of the craziness. And I had a wonderful weekend. Rather than give you a total play-by-play, here's a list with some photos that pretty much sum things up (also more photos on Facebook).

1. I live in a beautiful part of the country, every time I start to take it for granted I find myself in awe of it all over again. On Saturday we visited some caverns that were pretty incredible. My photos don't begin to do it justice, but it was really impressive.

And then Sunday I was out at a vineyard to watch a polo match, and I felt like I was in a movie. Blue sky, white clouds, mountains and green as far as you can see.

2. I love books and cannot be trusted at something like this. I got about 15 books for a third of the price. If I had stayed longer, I would have gotten double the number of books. Of course now that I've been, I know I won't be able to stay away.

There were three rooms, and the other two were even bigger than this.

3. I'm still a kid at heart. In the caverns I was much more entertained by the children's audio guide than the adult one. It was much more entertaining and gave me specific things to look for. Like this ghost:

And at the book fair most of my purchases were for a baby girl arriving in December (not mine, just to be clear). When I got home, I sat and read the books, which are some of my favorites. I also spent Sunday morning training to volunteer in a pre-kindergarten Sunday School class this year, and I am so excited to get to spend time around four- and five-year-olds every week.

4. This town has every type of ice cream out there. We've got gelato, homemade ice cream, frozen custard and the latest — frozen yogurt. Yes, we now have one of those places where you fill your own cup and add whatever toppings you want. I went for the second time this weekend and am still perfecting my combination. It's dangerous because it's four blocks away and nonfat, which makes me feel better but is not true when I add the toppings.

5. On Sunday afternoon after the polo match, we drove to a neighborhood where they filmed Evan Almighty and toured some model homes. We were in a town about 20 minutes from where I live, so I wasn't looking seriously. But I realized I'm at an age where it wouldn't be strange for me to be looking for a house, and I was making mental notes about what I like and don't like. Of course at this point I'm not willing to give up my location to actually buy something (see above, I'm four blocks from frozen yogurt), so it's still a someday thing but it never hurts to look.

6. As much as I was moaning and groaning about the arrival of students and the end of my quiet summer, I actually enjoy the excitement they bring. I was downtown on Saturday night, and it was so much more lively than it has been for most of the summer. Even church this morning felt more alive, and I was glad to see it so full and hear the strength of all our voices in worship.

7. I have such great friends. My only plan for the weekend was to go to the caverns and the book fair, but I ended up with a very full weekend that I loved. It's great that I live in a place where there's always something to do, but even better that I have friends to do things with!

8. I did zero cooking this weekend. I have no idea when I'm going to post recipes next. And I felt the need to end this on an even number.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Just pictures today

I went on a hike last week, and even though it was cloudy, it was a great view at the top:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Still surprising myself

My pick-up this week had some of the same but also some new things. Green beans returned, and I realized I had actually missed them, despite this post. Plus they were the thin, round ones, which I prefer to the flat ones. Cantaloupes were repeated, and lettuce really is sticking around.

But I got a watermelon, which is a first.

And the first of what I expect will be many shares of apples.

And then I got peppers. Somehow I have avoided peppers, even though they have been on the list before. I either trade them or they've been out of them anyway by the time I pick up. Not this week, though. I got a green pepper and these snack peppers:

Of all the things I am picky about and have actually come to like, I never expected peppers to make the list of things I would even try, much less like. Anytime peppers have been in a salad or something I wasn't expecting and I've gotten a bite of one, I would either spit it out or swallow it whole. I was not very polite about not liking peppers.

But I have eaten and even liked these snack peppers. Even though they have the pepper smell, they are actually sweet and not spicy at all. I'm not saying I'm going to like all peppers, but I might be more willing to taste them. So far I've stuffed them with goat cheese and warmed them in the toaster oven, put them on a pizza and just eaten them plain.

I'm wondering what else I will be surprised by over the next few months.

Monday, August 16, 2010

For the love of journalism

Four years ago, I got to witness something pretty incredible. A little league team from the Georgia town I was living in went all the way and won the Little League World Series. At the time I was designing the front page a couple of nights a week at the newspaper, and I got caught up in the baseball fever that took over the whole town.

I bring this up because Friday night, after dinner with friends (I'm not a complete loser), I found myself watching another team from that Georgia town win a spot in the Little League World Series.

Back in 2006, I remember writing down some of my thoughts after it was all over, and I found that document on my computer. I titled it “lovemyjob,” and if I had a blog back then, it would have been a post. I decided to pull it back out and post it here (with a few edits) because it is one of those things I don’t want to forget.

A few things to note: This was four years ago, and the newspaper had barely started to see the readership and advertising declines that would shrink the staff and the product. I also believed I would always be a copy editor and page designer, just at a larger paper. It was only a year later that I was preparing to move into my first management position at that newspaper, and three years later I moved to an all online product.

I found my niche in newspapers as a copy editor and eventually a page designer. I love what I do. I love driving people to stories with my design or headline. I love finding all the little mistakes and making a story better. I’m the reason the paper gets out every day. Yes, the printing press has something to do with that, but you have to have a front page.

Even though I love all of this, some days I wonder why I love it. I spend 45 minutes sitting in a meeting letting everyone argue what cheesy or overrated story will go on my page. I get stuck in the middle of a miscommunication or find myself fighting with the metro editor about putting too much in my section or getting a 26-inch story when it’s only supposed to be 12.

I found myself losing sight of what I loved about my job, why I got into journalism in the first place. But recently, I was reminded what it is all about.

It was my day to design the front page, and they told me the centerpiece was going to be the regional championship game the city’s Little League team was playing in Florida. I balked at this plan because in the months I had been there, I had designed at least three pages that depended on the outcome of a sporting event, and every single time the local team lost. And it completely ruined the feel of the page. Blowing out a team losing is not really happy news. I told the editors at the meeting, but they laughed me off. I spent the night on the edge of my seat, hoping these 12-year-old boys could pull it out. Not because I really cared about their egos, but because I cared about what my page would look like. In the end they won the game, and broke my curse apparently.

But at this point I didn’t realize we would spend the next two weeks designing pages around the Little League World Series. By Monday the editors were making plans to send a reporter and a photographer to Pennsylvania, and we were putting these kids on the front page day after day. I had many more edge-of-my-seat nights, but it was no longer about how my page looked, it was about me getting attached to these players. By the end of it all, I knew each kid by name, and I watched them play even when I wasn’t at work.

The paper went all out for the Series with special section after special section. Fortunately, it was all warranted. These boys were good. And they went all the way winning the world championship. Our coverage was huge the day after they won, and we continued to blow it out as they returned home.

As tired as we may have gotten of the late nights and controlling editors, I loved every minute of it. It brought me back to why I love my job. We gave them coverage that no one else could. We told their stories and more than just whether they won or lost, but why the pitcher wears his hat cocked to the side and what they did when they weren’t playing. The TV stations couldn’t do all that we did. These boys (well, maybe just their parents) will keep these newspapers for years. They will go in scrapbooks and frames as a way to remember such an amazing moment. We've been able to tell great stories and show the character of 11 amazing boys. And it wasn’t just about the boys, it was the entire community brought together by these boys – a community that couldn’t get enough of little league or pitcher and power-hitter Kyle Carter. All the bad news seemed to fade away when little league fever hit the town and the paper.

I knew getting into this job was risky. I chose a job at a paper owned by a company that was up for sale. Readership continues to decline as more people turn to the Internet and 24-hour news channels. But stories like this are the reason papers are going to survive all of this. Our pages will go into the city record, and this event will be something no one will forget. There may be a war going on in the Middle East and threats of terror attacks around every corner, but people see that everywhere. Newspapers can give readers all of that news but also the news of the community, what people are really talking about. And maybe it will shift to the Internet but the storytelling won’t die in the online world.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


One morning last week I woke up and suddenly thought: Plums! I had been trying to make my way through my share, but had managed to completely forget about my plums.

Since I had already made jam and tried plums grilled, and since they were on the verge of going bad, I needed something different. So I found a recipe for plum bread. It turned out pretty well and has served as my breakfast this week.

It's from Allrecipes and called My Mother-in-Law's Plum Bread.
  • 1 cup pitted, chopped plums
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.
Sprinkle chopped plums with 1 tablespoon of flour in a bowl, and toss to coat. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the margarine, white sugar, and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. In another bowl, sift together 1 1/2 cup of flour with salt and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, alternating with yogurt until the mixture forms a smooth batter. Lightly stir in the flour-coated plums, and pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top of the batter with brown sugar.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool in the pan 10 to 15 minutes before removing from pan for slicing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Outside the box

This blog thing has been more fun than I expected. I've enjoyed the chance to write about something besides the financial world, and it has kept me motivated as far as cooking. But I've also enjoyed the interaction with my friends and readers through comments, conversations or emails.

But sometimes in this world of instant online communication, I forget how great snail mail is. I recently got an unexpected card from my dad, encouraging me in everything I'm doing, including this blog/cooking thing.

It reminded me that a few months back, I also got a card from my aunt commenting on my blog but also reminding me of a great vacation I took with her and my uncle. She included a photo that reminded me I did occasionally try new things as a kid.

Yes, this is when I discovered I liked lobster (apparently I wasn't fazed by putting the live ones in to cook and then eating them).

We were spending the week in Maine, staying in a cabin on a lake in a small town. I was about 9, and my aunt and uncle who lived in Connecticut at the time also came up with their kids.

Most of the time I was floating in an inner tube in the lake, fishing or canoeing. In the evenings we'd go for ice cream and then sit on the dock and practice our loon calls. (I'm thinking this is a vacation I need to repeat as an adult.)

I distinctly remember being hesitant to try the lobster, but by the end of the week, I couldn't get it cracked to reach the meat fast enough.

My uncle was always telling me, "Just try it once." This applied to both food and waterslides. And most of the time, I was willing to try it again, it's just finding the nerve to step outside my comfort zone.

In his card, my dad told me he was proud of me for stepping outside my box (i.e. comfort zone) over the last year, both food-wise and in life.

I think in some ways I needed a physical move and a chance to start fresh in order to do that, and I was intentional about changes I wanted to make in my life when I moved here a little over a year ago.

In the midst of these changes, I've found a more relaxed attitude. I seem to have loosened my grip on life (or at least some parts of it). I used to be such a control freak, I wouldn't even ride places with people, and if I was going to be in a situation where I didn't have some control over what was happening, I wouldn't even participate. But I'm having more fun and more of those unexpected, amazing experiences now that I'm willing to let go of this need for control and live without always having a plan.

And that's a lot of what God has been trying to show me over the last year. My plans are not His, and I should actually be grateful for that. Instead of grieving over my failed plan, I should be celebrating the road I'm on and relaxing in the passenger seat.

Not sure how I managed to go from lobster to God's plan for me or if it even makes sense, but that's what I've got today!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some random things

Here's a few random things for a post today:

1. I'm writing this on Thursday night in the dark. My power is out for about the fourth time this summer. I'm not trying to complain, I'd rather be without power in the summer when I can get out and go places than when there is two feet of snow on the ground. But we've had a lot of bad storms here recently, and I wasn't really expecting that when I moved here. Going to college in the Midwest, I wasn't surprised that during exams in May, I usually ended up studying in a basement because the tornado sirens were going off. And in Georgia the tornado sirens were tested every week, which was a sign that they were probably built for a reason. Two tornadoes actually hit the city I was in during my time there, and there were several others that hit nearby areas. But when I moved here, I thought the fact that I was farther north and surrounded by mountains, I would be more isolated from bad storms. Apparently not. Though we haven't had a tornado, they have called two of the storms "micro-bursts," which have tornado-like winds, but no funnel cloud. Fortunately, my apartment is in the basement and stays cool most of the time!

2. YouTube has become my new how-to guide. Last weekend, I decided to clean the trap on my bathroom sink, but once I got it back together, it was leaking. And some helpful plumbers on YouTube helped me figure out the problem.

Then I had these huge cantaloupes from my last pick-up:

The last time I had a cantaloupe, I swear I threw away half of the melon trying to avoid the seeds and the rind. But this cook showed me exactly how to cut it to use all the fruit. And I'll just say, this is the best cantaloupe I've ever eaten.

3. Last Friday night, I couldn't sleep and was in cleaning/project mode (i.e. taking apart my sink), and I decided to clean my baseboards. It seemed like such a small thing to me, who never dusts and vacuums only when people are coming over, but I swear my apartment looks cleaner than ever, if only to my eyes.

4. I live in a glorified college town. It is not a place that exists solely on the university, but the students are a significant part of the city when school's in session. I moved here last summer before the students arrived, and I didn't know how good I had it. This town is definitely different in the summer, and it's something to enjoy. I'm starting to see signs that the students are starting to return slowly (you should see the stacks of mini-fridges at Target). And soon there will be heavier traffic (when I actually drive), more people going through the self-checkout at the grocery store, and fewer close parking spots at church. So while I am ready for fall weather, I'm a little sad it is August and the calmness of summer will disappear in a few weeks.

5. I've said before my job is based on three-month quarters, and every quarter there is a three or four week stretch when things are really busy. All things considered, this round has been calm and we're near the end right now. But I woke up from a dream about a company's balance sheet and earnings report the other night. Needless to say, I'm glad it's Friday!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


A friend who moved here about the time I did last summer is getting ready to move to Kenya for six months to do mission work through her art. I invited some friends over Saturday night for dessert as a going-away party.

I feel like I never post pictures of people, so here's one of everyone at the party:

We will miss you Kaylie but can't wait to hear about your experiences!

I made a blueberry cheesecake and some peanut butter/chocolate chip cookies, and I promised to post the recipes.

Peanut Buttery Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Southern Living

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter (I went with creamy.)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 (11.5 oz.) package semisweet chocolate chunks (I used semisweet chocolate chips.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugars; beating well. Add egg and vanilla; beat well.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture; beat at low speed until well blended. Stir in chocolate chunks.
Drop cookie dough by heaping tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto parchment paper-lined or lightly greased baking sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes or until edges of cookies are brown.

The good thing about this recipe is you can store the dough in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. I actually made the dough last weekend and baked half of it to take to work. Then I used the rest of it for Saturday.

So the cookies were very easy, but the cheesecake didn't turn out as well as I was hoping. I can of course see my mistakes now. I borrowed a springform pan, but it was 8 inches not 10 inches as the recipe was designed for. I think it would have been OK if I had used less crust and not overfilled the pan. Instead I got this when I cooked it:

It is of course a Pioneer Woman recipe, and she's got the step by step recipe with photos (she uses blackberries and hers looks pretty flawless), but here's the basic recipe:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  • 1 box Vanilla Wafers
  • ½ cup Pecans (I left these out and added a few extra Nilla wafers.)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, Melted
  • 1-½ teaspoon vanilla
Place vanilla wafers and pecans into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixture becomes crumbs. Add melted butter and vanilla and pulse again until combined. Pour into a 10-inch springform pan and press crumbs into the bottom of the pan. (If they come up the sides, that’s okay!)

  • 3 packages 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1-½ cup sugar
  • 4 whole eggs
  • ½ cups sour cream
Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add sour cream and mix again. Pour mixture into crust, smooth the top, and bake for 1 hour, 10 minutes. Turn off oven and open door and allow to sit in the oven with the door opened for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

    •    2 cups blackberries (or blueberries or other fruit of choice)
    •    ½ cups sugar
    •    2 tablespoons water

Add blackberries, sugar, and water to a saucepan or skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Pour blackberries over the cheesecake and place pan into the fridge to cool and set for at least 2 hours—several hours is better.
When ready to serve, remove rim around pan and slice into 16 pieces with a long serrated knife.

The good thing was once I poured on the blueberries, the crack in the cake wasn't visible. 

The blueberries did drop through the cake, which added to the flavor. Everyone seemed to like it, but I thought the filling should have been smoother. I may try it again, but I think the best cheesecake is always going to be found at the Cheesecake Factory.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Would you like some basil with that?

So last week I came home from work with plans to make this Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Pasta, and I went outside to cut some basil and found this:

I made the pasta anyway. It was OK, but my cream sauce didn't really thicken. But the point of this story is that my basil has failed me.

Then I got an email from my co-op offering basil by the pound. Of course I immediately ordered a pound for myself. At the time I did not consider how much a pound of basil was or the fact that I was already getting some basil in my share. So on Saturday I picked up this with my share:

Then this box that contained the pound of basil:
And then one of the employees at my pick-up offered to let me have some less-than-perfect basil that would be fine for pesto. So I also came home with this:

So I spent much of Saturday making pesto and chopping basil to freeze.

I made four variations of pesto; here are the ingredients and my opinion on them. (I just threw everything in the food processor.):
Pesto #1
  •  2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
  •  1/4 cup walnuts
  •  1 garlic clove
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  •  1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  •  About 2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil
I found this one to be very oily, but I think it will work well with pasta.

Pesto #2
  •   1/4 cup olive oil
  •   1/2 cup pine nuts
  •   2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  •   1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  •   4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
  •   1/4 tsp. salt
  •   Black pepper
This one was extremely strong. At first I thought it was all the garlic but after making the other variations, I realized it was the pine nuts. I'm glad to know I don't prefer pine nuts in my pesto because they are expensive.   

Pesto #3
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Black pepper
This is the same as #2 but with walnuts, not pine nuts and less garlic (also in minced form). This is probably my favorite of all of them, but I have now frozen all but about 1/2 cup of #2 so I will probably never figure out which one is which.

Pesto #4
  •   1/4 cup olive oil
  •   1/2 cup walnuts
  •   2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  •   4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
  •   1/4 tsp. salt
  •   Black pepper
This is the same as #3 but with more garlic (fresh this time) and no cheese. This one was pretty good and might be my second favorite.

So I would have "fresh" basil for recipes like the one above, I froze the rest of it. The tip from my co-op was to wash and chop the basil (I used kitchen shears to chop) and coat it lightly with olive oil. Then I put it in my ice tray and stuck it in the freezer. It is now in a freezer bag, ready for me to pull out and use in recipes.

If you're in the area and need some basil or pesto, let me know, I have plenty to spare!