July 2, 2010

Oh-ho say can you see...

A three day weekend?
Pizzas on the grill?
My grandma's 83 birthday?
Taking cool pictures with sparklers?
Fireworks with cheesy music blasting in sync?

Independence day has always been a big deal in my family, because it is my grandma's birthday! We always have a big BBQ at her house and then walk across the street to the golf course for an awesome fireworks show! I'm super excited.

Then...next week is my last week at work!!! Whooooo! After that, Zak and I are going to Chicago for 4 days, and then driving to Michigan to visit one his sisters and her family. I can't wait!

I still haven't taken any pictures of my garden, because I am a horrible slacker blogger, and am rarely home when the sun is out, due to my YTTP. Soon though, I promise :)

Will post grill pizza recipes next week, happy holiday weekend friends!

June 30, 2010

Pot Holders!!


I firmly believe that it makes life a little bit more enjoyable if you have everyday items that delight you. For example, getting a toothbrush in your favorite color rather than plain white, or a coffee thermos in a pretty floral pattern rather than a plain silver one.

One of my sisters in law (sister in laws?) well, she is my husband's sister, and therefore my sister too. She is a professional costume designer, and is very talented at sewing things. She has recently opened up a little etsy shop to sell amazingly cute pot holders, they are perfect examples of how to make an everyday item something delightful! She sent me a pair for my birthday a while back, and I absolutely adore them. They are made with beautifully vibrant fabric, and are very high quality (better than you would get from target! lol)

Please, if you are looking for a new pair of potholders, or searching for a nice housewarming gift for somebody, check out her shop, Canezou on etsy.

Here are my little beauties

I love them so!

June 25, 2010

Black Beans

When I was a child, I had a very unpleasant experience with beans. A boy sitting at my lunch table chewed up his beans and spit them on to my tray (little asshat). I was so disgusted with this that I never ate a bean again, until my wedding day. Our good friend was the cook for the catering company we hired, and he was so proud of his black bean recipe, that I had to eat some, or risk hurting his feelings. If you were ever a picky eater as a kid you can imagine the internal battle that took place within my head as I got ready to take that first bite. "but...but I don't like beans...I HATE them!!" "yeah, but if you don't at least take one bite and tell him how amazing they are, he will be so sad, because he was so excited to make them for you!" So I did it....and I tell you, I can't believe how delicious black beans are! The whole point of this little allegory is that stubbornness rarely pays off, and can even make you miss out on something delicious for 15 years.

I have made up for lost time however, and have come up with a simple and delicious recipe for black beans that you can use for burritos, eat over some brown rice, or just enjoy alone, as a side. I made these last night, and what made them even better is that I was able to use cilantro and jalapeno (sorry I don't know how to do the tilde thing above the n) from our garden, so satisfying!

JFB Black Beans

1 can of organic black beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
1 jalapeno, diced
1 tsp lime juice
1 handful of cilantro, diced finely

Warm some olive oil in a sauce pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook until the garlic starts to brown, and the onion is translucent.

 Drain the black beans and add them to the pot. Lower the heat to medium and squirt the lime juice over the beans and stir everything up so it is well mixed.

When the beans are well heated, mix in the cilantro, make sure to do this right before you serve because fresh herbs loose their flavor if they are cooked too long. That's it, it's a very easy process :) Enjoy!


Black beans are incredible nutritious. They are low in calories, fat free, high in fiber, high in protein, and contain the entire daily recommended intake for hard to find vitamins such as folate. If you would like to read more about the nutrition profile for beans, or any other food for that matter, check out whfoods.org, here is the link to the article on black beans. I really like whfoods because it's easy to read, and includes a little history and also gives advice on choosing the food at the store (like how to pick ripe produce) as well as how to cook the various foods. It is a cook friendly nutrition database, by that I mean, they do not sacrifice the flavor of a dish just to make it as low in calories or fat as possible. They also believe that health is not just about the absence of disease, rather, it is a state of happiness, and freedom. I heart them :)

June 21, 2010

Holy Cow!

I just put in my resignation at my job! I had a revelation on Friday that this was it, I was done working here. I'm not really motivated to do a good job anymore, and me leaving is best for everyone. My supervisor was really nice and understanding when I told her. So now I just have 3 more weeks left and I'm out!

What comes next?

I am going to be looking for some kind of yoga related job, but until I am actually a certified teacher I can't start teaching. I might just get a part time waitress job, or working  retail, just to tide me over until I get enough teaching gigs. We'll see what I can find. Honestly, I am just excited for a change of scenery. I feel like my life is becoming everything I dreamed it would be.

I fully intend on keeping this blog and updating it as much as possible with my kitchen adventures and other random musings. Don't be surprised if I start quoting ancient Sanskrit texts, because I have been reading lot's of them lately for my YTT ;)

I have a few posts planned for this week, including a garden update, so stay tuned!

June 14, 2010

Pretzel Turtles...not as weird as it sounds.

Yes, I have to review another recipe from another blogging buddy, Ali from Three Baking Sheets to the Wind.

This Saturday, all the folks in my YTTP got together for a BBQ, except it ended up being more of a dinner party inside due to some completely un-Colorado-y rain that lasted the entire day (our rain usually only lasts 10 minutes!). Well our get together was a pot-luck, and I wanted to bring something snacky and fun. Lucky for me, the day I decided to search for recipes was the day the Ali decided to do this post on Pretzel Turtles.

She found this recipe from Rachael Ray Everyday, but if you are going to try these, you must use Ali's version, because let me tell you, she is one funny gal...just go to the link and see for yourself. Her pictures also make following the recipe extra enjoyable :)

Just so you know what your are getting yourself into: these are basically pretzel nuggets, wrapped in caramel, dipped in chocolate, covered in almonds... I know...YUM! They are easy and fun to make, however, for me, they were time consuming. This is a perfect thing to do on a weekend afternoon, possibly with children (they would have a blast wrapping the caramel!).These little guys are delicious little paradoxes, sweet and salty, crunchy and chewy. Also, since I have been posting so much about eating healthily lately, I feel the need to balance it out with something indulgent.

Enjoy!


=

Disclaimer: These photos were taken as I was rushing out the door, I am sorry for their poor quality, they do not do the pretzel turtles justice, what-so-ever. A better camera is definitely on my list of things I want.

June 9, 2010

Online calorie tracking

I have been tracking my caloric intake and physical activity for about 4 months now, because I am actively trying to loose a little weight I put on when I started sitting at a desk 40 hours a week. I use the "MyPlate" tool on Livestrong.com.

This is a healthy living website brought to you by the foundation of Lance Armstrong. Basically, the MyPlate tool is an online food and exercise journal, you enter everything you eat, and the amount of physical activity you do, and it shows you your overall caloric intake (minus calories burned). It also shows your intake of basic nutrients like sugar, protein, and fiber versus the recommended daily allowance (from the FDA). It is free to use, but they only keep your journal for something like 40 days, than it is cleared. You can pay for a higher level membership, and they will keep your journal forever and you get more features, but for me, just seeing the calories add up daily is really useful.

I love the MyPlate feature because you can search for specific foods from specific brands or restaurants. I mean, they have everything! My Toufayan whole wheat pita, and Sabra classic hummus? Yep, they have the nutritional info, confirmed from the manufacturer. They have the nutritional content of many dishes from small and large chain restaurants (like Chipotle, Noodles & CO., Pei Wei, etc.) as well as the info for basic foods like fresh fruits and veggies. You can also add in your own recipes and get the nutritional analysis for them, it's pretty amazing.

I have always considered myself a pretty healthy eater, I don't eat fast food, or fried food, I rarely drink soda, and I almost always eat whole foods, rather than pre-made packaged stuff. Still, I was surprised at how quickly the calories add up in the day, and especially shocked at how hard it is for me to keep my sugar intake under the RDA. Seeing my calories add up using this tool has helped me "just say no" to unnecessary snacks, bites, and tastes, because it is just not worth the extra calories. So far, using this tool, and being more active (hello YTTP doing yoga 20 hrs a week!) I have lost about 5 lbs of solid fat (not including water weight fluctuations) in 2 months, but more importantly, I have lost inches. I can fit into pants that wouldn't even button back in February!! That is freaking satisfying!

Disclaimer: I am not paid by any of the companies or services I recommend or review on this blog (unless otherwise stated). I just like to share things that I find interesting or useful!

June 8, 2010

Cadaver Lab

Last night, I got to participate in something that I will never forget. Last night was one of the best nights of my life, it was one of those nights where I was hit with such a blinding flash of inspiration, and also moved to tears by how amazing life is. I might risk sounding morbid, and maybe even slightly creepy, but last night we did a cadaver lab for my YTTP and it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.



I want to start this post off by saying that I have a profound sense of respect and gratitude to the people who have decided to donate their bodies to the cadaver programs that make these labs a possibility for students. Once you see what the inside of a human body actually looks like, how everything fits together so perfectly, how intricate it all is, you never look at another person the same again. Through participating in cadaver labs, I have gained an immense respect for human life (and all life forms for that matter).

In college, I took anatomy, and we had a semester long cadaver lab, but those cadavers were dissected by the lab TA, who is by no means a professional, and it was very hard to see the difference between the tissue types, the shapes of the organs, etc. Everything kind of looked the same. The lab we went to last night was completely different. These cadavers were preserved with such great detail that they were infinitely better than looking at a plastic model.

We began with the extremities, and were able to see all the different muscles, ligaments and major nerves of the arm and leg separated out. Then we saw the whole body, the skeleton with the muscles. We were able to see the major muscles used in yoga, and how they are positioned in the body. Then he showed us all the major organs, and where they are positioned in the body, each was accompanied by a lecture and discussion about how that organ is affected while doing yoga. At the end of class, we had a whole body, put together again. It.Was.Amazing. It was very moving for me to hear somebody from a scientific background talk so beautifully about how yoga benefits the body and mind in so many ways. The lab director who gave us the lecture and demonstrated the cadavers (he also does the dissections) really understands that the human body is more than just a bunch of different parts put together. He talked about how the mind and the spirit have a profound effect on the physical state of the body.

The word "Yoga" can be translated to mean "Union". Ultimately, the goal of yoga is to create a union between the body, mind and spirit. In my YTTP we are inspecting each of those things in detail, in order to gain a more intimate understanding of how they can all fit together. I am so grateful to be in this program, I just can't even put into words how much I am growing from this process.

June 7, 2010

Burger Review!

Burgers on the grill are the harbingers of summer, one fleeting whiff of the burning charcoal and meat can send me into an elaborate day dream involving cute summer dresses, bare feet, beer, fresh fruit salad, strings of pretty garden lights, and of course a deliciously juicy burger, just off the grill.

My blogging buddy Liam at My So-Called Knife, posted his recipe for the Perfect Burgers a few weeks ago, and I got the chance to try them out on Memorial Day. His recipe intrigued me because of its use of interesting and exciting ingredients. Unfortunately, on the big day, I woke up with a terrible cold, and no sense of taste, due to a stuffy nose :( Never-the-less, I forged on and made these for my family to enjoy, and enjoy they did. My mother, grandmother, sister, husband, and brother-in-law all declared them the "best burgers ever!" I think is has something to do with the pork sausage...my family has an unhealthy obsession with pork... Even in my sick state, I thoroughly devoured my burger, and it was juicy and perfect, even though I couldn't taste it as well as I wanted too :)

This recipe is also great because he goes into the subtleties of burger making, a great way to take your burgers to the next level of awesomeness!

From MSCK:
"My perfect burgers call for a mix of ground beef and sausage, at about a 70%/30% ratio. I could probably increase the perfection quotient on the burgers if I started grinding my own meat, but that will have to wait for another day. I also occasionally have been known to use some buffalo meat in the mixture if I can get a good source for it. But for this base recipe, we’ll just go with the beef and sausage.


Perfect ingredients…

- 1 lb ground beef (you can go lean if you want, but I usually don’t)
- 1/3 lb pork sausage (Italian, sage, mild, spicy, whatevers – mix it up)
- 2 heaping spoonfuls of sour cream
- 5-6 splashes of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 c bread crumbs
- 3 or 4 slices of cheese (I used Swiss in this iteration)
- 1 egg (optional)
- hamburger buns

Perfect toppings…
- 1/4 lb bacon
- lettuce
- caramelized onion
- raw onion
- mushrooms
- tomato
- your favorite ketchup/sauce

AWESOME ALERT! I got to use my own lettuce for this, grown in a container on my back deck. It’s the first non-herb food product of any sort that I’ve eaten that I have grown myself. I had to have a moment.

Anyway.

First thing you want to do is fry up the bacon for topping. Fry it in a skillet (cast iron if possible), and as it’s frying prep your toppings – slice up the tomato, onion and mushrooms to appropriate size pieces.

After the bacon’s finished frying, take it out of the skillet and lay it out on a paper towel so the oil will drain off. Reserve bacon fat in the skillet and set aside, we will be using it later.

Next, set out a large bowl and put in the beef, the pork sausage, the sour cream, the bread crumbs, the Worcestershire sauce, and the cheese. Break the cheese up into small pieces as it’s going to be mixed in with the burger meat.

You can add an egg here into your mix, I occasionally do, but if you do then you probably want to add more bread crumbs – with the sour cream and the sauce in there already, it gets pretty runny if you add an egg. Top off with more bread crumbs if it is too liquidy, until you get a consistency that’s solid enough to stay together on your grill.

Step away from your bowl now and go fire up the grill. If you’re using a charcoal grill, fire it up 20 minutes ago.

Take your hands and mix all the ingredients in the bowl. You will get good and messy here, so just suck it up. You want to make sure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly but try not to over-work the meat.

When forming your burger patties, go for something a little bit smaller than the size of your fist. Flatten it out a little bit in the center but not too much. You want it to cook evenly so bear that in mind as you are making the patties.

By now your grill should be pretty warm and ready to go.

Cook the patties over a medium-high flame for 7-9 minutes. You should see the meat browning just shy of half way up the patty when it’s ready to flip. Cook the other side another 7-9 minutes.

Whatever you do, do not flatten your burger patties while they are on the grill. I’ve known people to have a tendency to do this, thinking that if you flatten them they will cook more evenly. Well, they might, but in doing so you’re squeezing all the juices out of the meat when they could be cooking into the burger and you’re losing all your flavor.

Optional bonus: sear over high heat for just 1-2 minutes on either side right before they come off the grill.

While the burgers are cooking on the grill, heat the bacon fat in the skillet back up. Sautee the mushrooms and onions in the skillet in the bacon fat. Take them out after the onions have browned slightly and the mushrooms have taken on a semi-transparent quality. Set aside on a towel to drain.

Can’t make a perfect burger without perfect toppings.

Take burgers off grill. Top with awesome toppings. I like to use Bigg Riggs Awesome Sauce instead of ketchup. It’s technically a wing sauce, but I like it on all kinds of stuff.

Eat. Enjoy. "

Liam, my family and I thank you for making our Memorial Day, Memoriable...memorable...you rock!

May 27, 2010

Liquid Calories


*Quick note: I am currently working on giving my blog a makeover for Spring/Summer, so don't mind me if it gets a little schizophrenic around here while I try out new looks.

Today, I was innocently checking out one of my Favorite blogs, Not Martha, and came across a link to
this article:

After reading the whole thing, I feel like my innocence is lost, a part of my soul gone... forever...I have been critical of bottled beverages for a very long time, but I don't think I ever really knew the depths of their wickedness until now.

This article reviews several of our nation's worst beverages, and gives the "sugar equivalent" in junk food. The sugar content is not the only shocking thing about the drinks, MANY of them reach 1000 calories or higher. Here's the thing about liquid calories, they don't really make you feel any more full than before you drank them, but your body processes those calories just the same as the calories from solids. This means you are taking in a crap load of empty, potentially harmful (don't even get me started on the evils of high fructose corn syrup, I will save that for another post) calories on top of your daily food intake. This leads to fat storage, weight gain, and all that goes with it.

Now, I could certainly go off on a tangent about food companies and their questionable ethics in making these beverages (especially the ones marketed to children!), I could go off on the FDA for allowing them to sell us this junk, but I won't. One of the nice things about living in a capitalistic society is that we have the choice to NOT PURCHASE these items, and drink water instead (or at least go for a lower calorie option...c'mon). We are fortunate enough to live in a time where nutritional information is widely available on the Internet, and in most establishments where food and drinks are sold. All you have to do is ask, it's easy, I do it all.the.time. It's not embarrassing, and the person behind the counter doesn't mind, as long as you smile and ask politely.

In this day and age, we finally have the opportunity to empower ourselves, and make to good choices that lead to a happy, healthy diet.

When consumers show whats most important to them by buying the healthier (the real thing, not just something claiming to be healthy on the label) options at restaurants and grocery stores, the people making this crap will listen, and supply us with more of what we want. I am an optimist, and I believe that the movement that some call a "trend" or a "fad" to buy whole (not processed), local, and organic foods is going to change the way our nation relates to what we eat.

OK, I will get off my soap box now. I guess that all there is left to say is "power to the people!"

May 25, 2010

Goosebumps

I found out last night that two other girls in my YTTP lost their dads in May as well. I used to say that I didn't believe in fate or destiny, but as I slowly move into a more spiritual and emotionally fulfulling part of my life, I might be changing my mind. You know when you first see someone, you can kind of tell you could connect with them. Well, I felt this for both of the girls. I felt sort of drawn to them, like "hm they seem insteresting, I bet we could become good friends."

I was talking with one of them last night before class, and we got on the subject of what we were doing before the program began, and then the subject of loosing our fathers (both in the first week of May) came up, and we both got goosebumps. It was amazing. I think there is a bigger force at work here.

You know what else gives me goosebumps? This song.
 

I know it's old news by now, but I love it. I think I'm a little bit in love with Imogen Heap. I heard an interview with her on NPR about how she makes her music, and it was enthralling to say the least.

May 17, 2010

Update

I want to thank all of my blogging buddies for the love and support in the last post's comments. My dad passed away last week, and needless to say, I am feeling a lot of complicated emotions, and not really feeling very inspired/motivated to cook, or write about anything. We've been eating a lot of omelets (my go to slacker dinner). We are having a service tomorrow for our Denver friends/family and another in June for people in our home town where my dad (as well as myself and my sister) grew up. Thankfully we have managed to stick together as a family and help each other out through all this. So, thanks friends, even though I've never met some of you, your words of support have meant so much to me.

I started my yoga teacher training program last week as well, and oh, it is everything I imagined and more. I love all of my classmates and teachers, and I have already learned so much, it's hard to believe this is only my second week. When I come home from my classes I feel physically tired and mentally/emotionally invigorated, which is the way it should be, rather than mentally exhausted and physically pent up. My love for yoga is deepening everyday, and I can not wait to share it with the world.

We have also been slowly getting our garden in the ground. So far, we have corn, loose leaf lettuce, rosemary, basil, oregano, cilantro, sugar peas, cucumbers, yellow onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, cayenne peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and broccoli. We still need to cultivate the plot behind the house before we can plant the pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and watermelon. I can hardly wait until the little sprouts become a rowdy bunch of green leaves and vines, with bursts of color where the fruit and veggies are growing.

I will leave you with one of my favorite songs. The best version I could find on YouTube is from the Watchmen soundtrack, which is ironically one of my favorite movies. It's like rain washing over me, and taking away all the mud and dirt.

May 6, 2010

New beginngs, and also an ending.

This is a very special time in my life. This Saturday, I will begin my yoga teacher training program (YTTP), I have been dreaming of being a yoga teacher since I was 16, and have been dreaming of attending this particular program since I moved to the city when I was 18. It will last for 15 weeks, the class is two nights a week, as well as a half day on Saturdays. I don't know if I really believe in destiny, but I have truly felt a calling to teach yoga for a long time, and I feel that I now have the patience and maturity to embark on achieving that goal. I really feel like this is a beginning of a new life for me, one where I am living my dream!

This is also a sad time of goodbyes. I mentioned in my last post that my family is going through a tough time, and in the spirit of being honest, I will explain. My father has had type I (insulin dependant) diabetes his whole life. When I was 17, his kidneys failed, and he has been on dialysis ever since. He has had a multitude of health problems due to his disease, and last Friday, they finally took their toll. He is dying, and while this is not a surprise to us, it is, of course very difficult to go through, especially for my mom. If you wouldn't mind keeping us in your thoughts and prayers, it would be greatly appreciated. All we ask for is that his passing is relatively painless.

So often in my life, big transitions are bittersweet like this, one wonderful thing happening simultaneously with something that is sad. It is a constant reminder that life will never be perfect, but we have to focus on and appreciate the good times, and to support and be supported by our loved ones through the bad times.

May 4, 2010

Make your granola at home...

...you won't be sorry! It costs about half as much as store bought granola, you get to customize it to your taste/health factor preference, and it tastes better! Not to mention, it makes your house smell amazing all afternoon.
 This weekend, I gardened and made granola. After a very stressful Friday, it was exactly what I needed to feel like myself again. I love making granola because you can start with a base recipe, and just get creative and add whatever your heart desires. I love to go to the bulk section at the local healthy market (Sunflower Market for those of you in CO) and choose my ingredients, it's fun to try different combinations of nuts, seeds and dried fruit to come up with new flavor profiles.

I got my base recipe from none other than Mr. Alton Brown, I just used this as a guide for measurements and cooking time. I had read online that if you mix in an egg white, it will give the granola more clusters, so I decided to give that a try as well.

Toasty Granola with Coconut and Cranberries
3 cups oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup shaved (or shredded) unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey extra if too dry
1 egg white
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.













Combine the oats, nuts, seeds, coconut, and brown sugar in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, vanilla and salt. It will become thick, with a honey like consistency. Combine both mixtures and stir in the egg white (if the granola seems too dry, mix in 2 tbsp of honey).
  

Pour into 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color. Remove from oven and transfer all the granola into the same vessel, mix in the cranberries, and enjoy!


















This turned out to be so yummy, it is perfect in Greek yogurt with a little honey. Zak actually deemed it "the most delicious food ever." Well, I don't know about that, but it is some of the best granola I've had.

It might get a little quiet around here in the next few weeks, because my family is going through a bit of a tough time, and my energy will be used up supporting them in any way that I can. Please bear with me if my posts are few and far between.

April 29, 2010

Yoga Inspiration

These two videos sum up two of the most important values of yoga. The first is a video about a man who has lost over 300lbs, over three years, by doing yoga and eating healthy. To me, this video represents how yoga can give you the power to make changes in your own life that may seem impossible, but through consistent practice and making little changes over time, you can overcome almost anything, no matter how long it takes.



This second video is of a woman who has been doing yoga her entire life, she is now in her 90s and is still teaching classes! Yoga is not just an exercise, it is a lifestyle. If you choose to live this yoga lifestyle, it will continue to provide you with mental/emotional/physical/spiritual benefits for your entire life. Living the yoga lifestyle also gives you to power to have a positive influence in other people's lives. Whether you are like the woman in the video, and leave a vast legacy of teaching hundreds of people yoga over the decades, or you just smile at others more and perhaps let them merge into your lane in traffic, you are bringing more light and happiness into the world. Like the instructor in my class said last night, "you can't just come to class 1 hour a week, and be an asshole the rest of the week, and be a yogi." lol, so true.



I hope these videos has inspired you to do something positive with your day, whether you practice yoga or not, namaste!

April 27, 2010

Book List

In addition to my Life List, I have also begun working on a Book List, I got this starter list from Thebest100lists.com. I chose this particular list because it has been voted on by regular people, rather than literary critics (whos' opinions I do not really value that much). I'm just not that into the heady, high brow take on literature. I just love a good story, and high quality writing. I've crossed off the books I've already read, and put stars by my favorites :) I will probably add to this list as time goes on. Please feel free to email me suggestions at jfo_55 at hotmail dot com. Thanks!

1984 by George Orwell

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien *

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen *

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck *

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling *

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Ulysses by James Joyce

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

East of Eden by John Steinbeck *

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez *

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain *

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand *

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess *

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand *

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley *

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger hated!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman *

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Life of Pi by Yann Martel *

Middlemarch by George Eliot

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

On the Road by Jack Kerouac *

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Stand by Stephen King

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden *

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Dune by Frank Herbert

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Persuasion by Jane Austen

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Emma by Jane Austen

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Light in August by William Faulkner

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

April 26, 2010

Grilled Artichokes with Lemony Garlic Sauce

Yesterday was the perfect Sunday. Zak and I went out to breakfast (paid for by his poker winnings!) at Snooze, a very popular Denver breakfast joint. With popularity comes a 30-45 minute waiting list, buuut, they provide free coffee to keep you from getting too cranky about that. So we sat on the sunny sidewalk (yay alliteration) and played scrabble on Z's phone. We're both pretty bad a scrabble, but it sure did pass the time.Zak got the breakfast burrito, and I got the blueberry pancakes (I just can't seem to get anything else when we go out!). Man, that burrito is the size of a kitten (best analogy I could come up with sorry) so he definitely saved half for lunch later in the day.

After that we played with Irving, my mother's puppy (who we are currently pet sitting), and Watched Jurassic Park II, and let me just say, dinosaurs taking over San Diego? Totally awesome! Finally, we got our garden ready to plant by digging up the weeds and grass clumps and tilling the soil. Then, I made dinner. On the Menu: Grilled Artichokes with Lemony Garlic Sauce.

Please forgive the low quality of this photo, it was really rainy and dark out!

I build the rest of the meal around the artichokes, we ended up having porkchops (also cooked on the grill), salad and mashed potatos. I had been searching for an interesting artichoke idea for a few weeks, because, to me, artichokes symbolize the beginning of the warm season and all the outdoor fun it entails. I came across this recipe on allrecipes.com, and actually followed it to a T because it is simple, and perfect. You will love it, I promise!

Grilled Garlic Artichokes
(with my notes in parentheses)

2 large artichokes
1 lemon, quartered
3/4 cup olive oil 4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Squeeze the juice from one lemon wedge into the water. Trim the tops from the artichokes (this was not easy in any way, I had to sharpen my knife twice, but it was worth it in the end), then cut in half lengthwise (remove the purple fuzzy inside with a paring knife), and place halves into the bowl of lemon water to prevent them from turning brown (I thought it was easier to just squeeze the juice over them, because the juice got inbetween the leaves better this way).


2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high heat (use charcoal if you can, sooo much better!!).

3. Add artichokes to boiling water, and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain. Squeeze the remaining lemon wedges into a medium bowl. Stir in the olive oil and garlic, and season with salt and pepper (This turns out to be very hollandaise-esque, it's cool how the lemon juice and olive oil emulsify so easily, I had no idea they would!).

4. Brush the artichokes with a coating of the garlic dip, and place them on the preheated grill. Grill the artichokes for 5 to 10 minutes, basting with dip and turning frequently, until the tips are a little charred. Serve immediately with the remaining dip.


These turned out to be sooo delicious, I can't even begin to describe how satisfying the smoky, lemony, garlicy heart was when you finally got to it. This recipe is definitely going into my repertoire for the grill. Speaking of artichokes, did you know that if they are left un-picked, they become these insane looking, but beautiful purple flowers? Pretty cool!

April 22, 2010

San Francisco Road Trip

Last weekend, I flew out to SF with my little sister to help her pack up her apartment and move back here. We drove back in 2 days, staying with friends in Salt Lake City. It was a whirlwind of a trip, but we managed to have a really fun time, and I got to finally eat my beloved Parisian Macarons. I sampled them from two different shops, La Boulange, and Miette. At LB I got a raspberry and vanilla, and from Miette I got a lavander rose, and a grapefruit. These cookies are so wonderful, they are crunchy on the outside, and gooey on the inside. My favorite thing about them is how colorful they are, it's absolutely delightful to see them all lined up in a shop window according to color, ranging from chocolate brown, to bright pistachio green, to pink raspberry.






We also drove to the beach, where I got to put my feet in the ocean (not a common occurance, living in a landlocked state). The water was freezing cold, but the sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day. After that we went to haight-ashbury and my sister sold some clothes at Buffalo Exchange to make some extra gas money for the trip home. Then a little more driving around the city, and visiting with a friend before we left SF and headed to Sacramento to stay for the night.






The rest of the trip was just driving, driving, and more driving, except for a brief stopover in Provo, UT (near SLC) and some much appreciated hospitality from some friends who live there. Spending so much time in the car allowed for some serious sister bonding, music listening and book reading. Since my sister opted to drive the whole way (lucky me, I don't like driving) I was able to sit back, and enjoy the ride.




Note my sister's shirt...Bob Marley indeed.

We saw some breathtaking sights, and some really boring ones as well (WTH Nevada?) but just getting out of my city and being on the road provided a nice breath of fresh air for me. The break from my regular routine left me feeling emotionally rejuvinated.

April 20, 2010

Caramel Apple Pastry

My sister in law pointed out that I had promised to post my recipe for Caramel Apple Pastry and never did! How flaky (pun intended) of me lol. Sorry to anyone waiting for this, and Medora, thanks for reminding me!

I love love  LOVE this dessert. There are so many ways you can adjust this concept to be as quick/easy or as complex as you want. There are 2 main componants of this dessert, obviously the APPLES, and the PASTRY.







First... the apples. You can slice them thinly and arrange them in a pretty design, or you can chop them finely in the food processor with almonds to a relish-like consistency. No matter how I disassemble the apples, I always use the following spices: a big amount of cinnamon, a medium amount of ginger, and a small amount of all-spice. I don't measure the exact amounts, but a good guess is, for 2 cups of apples, use 1 1/2 tsp Cin., 1/2 tsp ginger, and 1/4 tsp all spice.

Now, the pastry.  I suggest just buying the frozen puff pastry in the "dessert" section in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store if you don't know how to make your own (I don't... yet). I am not a puff pastry purist.

For the caramel, I like to use easy dolce de leche, you can find the recipe in this post.

Caramel Apple Pastry

















1 box frozen puff pastry
2 cups chopped or sliced apples (granny smith are the best)
1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp all spice
1/2 cup dolce de leche

Honey spice glaze (optional)*

Pre-heat the oven to 325 F. Take the frozen pastry sheet and cut into smallish, rectangles about the same size of a napolean (or about 4x2 inches) you will need 3 rectangles per pastry. Put on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and store in the fridge to thaw.

Core, peel, and prepare your apples however you like. I usually put them in a food processer with the spices and pulse until they are small chunks. If you slice them, toss with the spices.

Take out your puff pastry rectangles and arrange them in groups of three for each pastry. Place the apples on two out of the three rectangles, leaving one alone (for the top). Make sure to leave about 1/8 in of pastry along the edges. Spoon about 1 1/2 tsp. of dolce de leche on top of the apples.

Bake the pastries un-assembled for about 15-20 minutes, or until the top layer rectangles are completely puffed, and slightly brown.

After the pastries have cooled enough to handle, stack the two apple covered layers, then top with the plain layer. Drizzle with honey spice glaze, or a little powdered sugar or cinnamon. Enjoy!

* Honey Spice Glaze
Heat a sauce pot over medium high heat, add 3 tbsp. honey. Once the honey is melted and thin, add 2 tbsp. butter and swirl until the butter is melted and incorporated into the honey. Now add a dash of cinnamon, and allspice. Finally stir in a cap full of vanilla extract, swirl until everything is incorporated, and take off the heat immediately. Drizzle over your pastry and enjoy!

An Award!

Kayla, at Sense of Style is Eternal, has graciously passed on this award to me, thanks K! Her blog is lot's of fun, with some great outfits and now wedding planning! Check it out!
The Rules:
•Accept and thank the person who gave it to you!
•List 10 things about yourself
•List 5 additional things you DON'T like

10 Things About Me:

-I'm short, 5 feet 1 inch

-I am a geek and love Harry Potter, LOTR, Star Wars, and any other good sci-fi or fantasy lit and/or films

-I had a pretty chaotic life growing up, but have overcome the bad things from my past and have a really happy and stable life :)

-I am borderline obsessed with ABBA, I absolutely love their music, and listen to it almost every day

-I did Tae Kwon Do in college, and will probably start taking some kind of martial art (aikido?) again as soon as I can afford it

-I am going to start the Yoga Teacher Training Program of my dreams in about 3 weeks, and I am so excited/scared/nervous I can barely contain myself

-I grew up on a ranch, and hope to move to the country again someday

-I love to dance, even though I look like a total freak when I do

-Biology is my favorite subject to learn about

-I think funny/ugly faces are just about the funniest thing ever, nothing makes me laugh harder

5 Things I don't Like:
-Red onions
-Flying insects
-Driving
-Rude people
-Fried food

I will pass this award on to: anyone who would like to use it as an opportunity to share more about themselves! I just can't choose any one particular blogger because you are all so wonderful and unique :)



Thanks for the award Kayla, you're too kind :)

April 15, 2010

Strawberry Clafouti

Last weekend I made strawberry clafouti. I was inspired by Kelly at Make Grow Gather, and her lovely looking confection. She recommends using this recipe, so that's what I did. While mine didn't turn out quite as nicely as hers, it sure was tasty! I served it with some vanilla ice cream on Sunday night when my brother in law came over for dinner.

I had never heard of a clafouti before, so I did a little research on good ole wikipedia and found out that a Clafouti is a version of a Flaugnarde made in the Limousin region of France. It usually uses black cherries with the pits still in, because, apparently, this enhances the flavor. I will definitely test out this theory later in the summer when cherries are in season.

I love this dessert because it is so easy! It took me about 10 minutes to prepare, you can't beat that with baked goods! It comes out of the oven all puffy like a soufle, with the gooey strawberries popping up here and there, very satisfying looking. I tried this twice, the first time I did the recipe as is, and the second time I added lemon zest. I must say, the zest really brought it to a whole new level for me! The texture is very similar to bread pudding, so I served it warm with some vanilla ice cream, very delicious!

Strawberry Lemon Clafouti
(From here, with slight modification by me)

Ingredients:
1/2 tablespoon butter
8 ounces strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 2-qt. baking or gratin dish with the butter (or use bakers spray with flour, worked fin for me). Toss strawberry halves with cornstarch until evenly coated, then arrange berries, cut side down, in bottom of dish and set aside. In a blender, whirl eggs, milk, flour, granulated sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt 15 seconds. Pour batter over strawberries. Bake until puffed, golden brown, and set in the center, about 50 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.



This weekend, my little sister is moving back to Colorado, so I am flying out to San Francisco tomorrow to help her get packed up. Then we are driving like mad to get back here by Monday so I don't miss any more work! It will be a crazy.ass.weekend that's for sure. While I am there, I only have one goal, and that is to finally try a Parisian Macaron. I have seen pictures of these little delicacies all over the internet, and I have even tried to make them. Unfortunately, I failed, and there is no place in the whole state of Colorado (that I have found) that sells these little guys. So please, wish me luck in my pursuit of the most yummy looking colorful cookies!

*sigh* soon we will be together my loves!

April 14, 2010

Finally! Garden Plans 2010...

I think it is finally time to start planting my garden! The trees have began to blossom, and the bugs are coming out in full force. Last weekend, I evaluated our new outdoor space to see what I could do, and it looks like the little bed in front of our house is perfect for a vegetable garden, it gets about 8 hours of direct sunlight a day, and is right next to our house, so hopefully only the bravest squirrels and birds will try to eat my produce.  I am going to try to grow some tomatoes upsidedown this year. I read about this in Real Simple Magazine. If you grow your tomato plants in hanging pots, you will not have to try to prop them up with flimsy wire cages! I am also going to plant my pumpkins and squash in the backyard, away from the rest, because in my experience, these will take over the entire garden if they are in a confined space.

Front yard flower bed:
Corn
Bell peppers
Jalepeno peppers
Loose leaf lettuce (field greens)
Spinach
Broccoli
Cucumbers
Carrots (I've never been successful with these before, so we'll see how it goes)
An herb garden with:
Basil
Cilantro
Parlsley
Oragano

Tomatoes in hanging pots on the patio

Back yard:
Pumpkins for carving
Pumpkins for eating
Butternut squash
Possible more corn

I will also plant a few flowers, just for fun :)
I have 2 calanchos that desperetely need potting and 2 primroses that also need a home.
Growing up, our entire porch was covered in morning glories, they are one of my favorites. It is such a consolation to me when I have to get up early to see the lovely flowers that only come out in the early morning.

I have found that the Farmer's Almanac website has a plethora of gardening advice, so I will be basing the planting dates off of their guide for my region. I will make sure to take tons of pictures as things start to pop up and grow!

April 12, 2010

Today=FAIL

Today, I had grand plans of posting about a delicious strawberry dish I made this weekend, buuuut instead I am posting about my insane morning. On my way to work today, my stick shift started feeling weird when I was changing gears, almost loose. As I was getting going after a stopping at a stop sign, all of the sudden the stick wouldn't go into gear, the stick was wobbly and felt disconnected. Luckily I was on a residential street, and only going about 15mph, so I coasted over to the side of the road, and parked.

I pulled up the leather cover from the stick shift to find that the part that connects the stick to the rest of the car was held on with DUCT TAPE and had come apart! Oh my gosh, I can't believe I have been driving a car that is held together with tape.

LUCKILY we just got a AAA membership a few weeks ago, so I gave them a call and they sent a tow truck to come drag my poor car to the mechanic. Our membership means that the whole tow was covered, so we didn't have to pay anything for it! Which is great since we just found out that it is going to cost $400 to fix the car.

Well, all I can say is that I am SUPER lucky that we got that AAA membership, and also that we have a mechanic that we can trust. I would have been feeling a lot worse right now without those two things.

I left my camera with the pics from this weekend's dish in the car...so as soon as I get it back...Strawberry Clafouti! Weird name, delicious dish :)

April 9, 2010

Pinatas for adults, and a mustache and rootbeer party


A month ago I asked my husband "what do you want to do for your birthday?" and he answered "I want to have a moustache and rootbeer party!".  So I basically took that and ran with it. For our wedding we had a DIY portrait station where people could pose for funny photos with some props and costumes I had made. The most popular prop were these felt moustaches I cut out and put on sticks so you could hold them up to your face. So my sister and I made a buch of these for the party to hand out as favors. I also asked the guests to bring a few bottles of their favorite rootbeer for a rootbeer tasting.  I love organizing surprises, so I decided to get a pinata for the birthday boy and surprise him with it during the party.















There is actually a really cool pinata store about a mile from our house so I ducked in there (underneath all the pinata dragons and ponies hanging from the celing) after work and picked out a traditional star shape. To fill it, I wanted to do something a little different, that adults would have fun with, because I didn't think our friends would want a bunch of crappy candy. I went to a dollar store and picked out the following things:

glow sticks
fake roses
mardi gras beads
mini bubbles
1 bag of candy























Once everybody had arrived, had a beer and a burger in hand, and was appropriately moustached, I told everyone I had a special surprise for Zak, and brought out the pinata. We strung it over a tree with an extension cord (I couldn't find my string!) and let the birthday boy do the honors. When everyone saw the contents they went nuts! I wasn't expecting it to be that big of a hit with everyone, but they were as excited as kids running around trying to get different color glow sticks and putting the flowers in their hair. It was so much fun!


























































That vampire/scarecrow in the background was a wedding gift from zak's bff, so we set him out as an honorary guest.

















After everyone had settled down from the pinata frenzy we had a little bonfire in our landlord's fire pit...
I am the fire Master!!




































Everyone decided that since there was a pitchfork, we just had to do an "American Gothic" photo, please excuse my horrific hair, the wind was blowing!

Finally, we all went inside and had some strawberry shortcake :)





































haha, looks like someone was caught having 1 too many servings of dessert :)

































Mr. Birthday boy was falling asleep by the end of the night, now that's a good party!

April 2, 2010

Old Family Photos & My husband's birthday!

My grandfather was a well known horse trainer, he invented a special kind of saddle and wrote a book on his method.  It's is my family's one and only claim to fame! He was also a pretty good photographer and has passed down these great photos to us. My grandparents had a horse ranch in Texas before moving to Colorado in the late 50's and building the ranch that would later become my home.

This is my grandpa

This is my grandma

Here they are in KS where my grandpa was stationed in the army

On the ranch with my uncle as a baby

Apparently hats are a great way to scoop up and drink water while hearding cattle!
I don't know who this is but he's pretty badass!
My dad and his big brother on Christmas day, this photo cracks me up :)

This is my dad doing some fancy tricks!
My dad is on the right, the other guy is some dude who came to our ranch to study with my grandpa.

                                   
Yet another un-named badass.

This was a road trip my grandma took before she was married, I LOVE these because it reminds my of "On the Road" a little bit :)

I am currently working on scanning all the old family photos onto the computer so we can have them forever. I think these are the best heirlooms, I just can't imagine anything more wonderful than seeing what life was like for my amazing grandparents. I feel so lucky to have these photos!

Also, today is my dear husband's birthday. He is 27 today, and it is our 5th birthday together :) We have been together since I was 19 and he was 22, and we have really done a lot of growing up together. This quote pretty much sums up how I feel about our relationship:

"We had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two." - Captain Corelli's Mandolin
He is the love and light of my life. I am so lucky to call him my partner in crime for life!