Saturday, October 30, 2010

Anthropologie Winter Discoveries

Anthropologie, you slay me.  I cannot function with your website trying to love me like this.  We just had a very expensive affair and you are not good for me.  You make me feel stunning and glorious but you also make me feel so poverty-stricken that I should go huddle in a shed among power tools and dead squirrels and go chew on half a rock because I cannot even afford a fifty-cent bag of Apple-Os.

Anthropologie, do you not understand this problem?  You are gnawing at my life support, and you are so irresistible that I actually want you to do it.  For the love of mercy, you cretin, stop making such cute clothing!

For example, stop making me want to move to a much more expensive loft with factory windows so I could showcase ridiculously expensive curtains like the Kediri Curtain so that they would glow in fresh morning sunlight.  Apparently, you can also hang these curtain panels upside down.  Isn't that brilliant?

But, for the love of God, please just trash this gorgeous olive Everything-In-Place Cape, which is clearly just rubbish and nothing that I would ever want to wear day in and day out.  It's even got a cute plaid lining.  How could you imagine that anyone would be attracted to this?  I sense insanity in the marketing department.

Besides, this Cassandra Cape is just ridiculous.  Who would want to go out to dinner feeling like a French style icon?  Who, I ask you?  That's right.  Nobody.  Nobody wants to don this over a pair of sexy bluejeans, some brightly sparkling earrings and some heeled boots and walk down a snowy street like they own the world.  Pssht.

The same goes for this Le Soir Magnifique Coat.  Why would anyone want to wear a stylish, swinging black coat showcasing slim legs, making a graceful walk effortless, and conveying undeniably alluring hints of 1940s glamour?  Especially since it looks so comfortable you could live in it?  Why?  Sometimes I think these designers take us for numbskulls.

And this.  This!  This Crowley Coat is ridiculous!  It's only the classiest throwback to the 1960s I've ever seen, coupled with the intense fear that, should you wear it, you would spill tomato sauce on only the white parts.  Ridiculous.  Bring us something more worthy of our admiration!  Anthropologie, I challenge you to do better!

...Like, aha, yes, maybe the Andrick Coat, a chic asymmetrical piece of red and black wool winter perfection that carries a flavor of imperial Russian fashion.  I don't know what to do.  What have I gotten myself into?  Why am I looking at these?  What is going ON with my subconscious?  Thank goodness I made the cat sit on my wallet for safekeeping.

Well.  It's not important.  Let's steer away from coats, because clearly they are dangerous substances, like crystal meth, and I don't want my basement or my checking account to explode.  Let's take a look at the Caidal Top instead, because clearly nothing for merely $68 could possibly look cute enough to tempt me after that slew of coats...not that it doesn't look gloriously cute, swingy, comfortable, and not that it comes in a wine-red color that would go brilliantly with my skin tone...practically everyone's skin tone...

No!  No!  Maybe dresses?  Let's look at dresses!  I barely ever buy dresses!  Yes!  Let's check out this Spinning Lace Dress and mock its gorgeous vintage lace overlay and its sweet combination of black trim with ivory, and imagine the skirt as it romantically swings out were I to spin sweetly on my tiptoes--

Oh, Lord, I don't know where I'm going.  I'm wandering in a dazed pattern now and practically falling over, were it not for this one helpful doorframe that seems to be my upright support and also the entryway to a mystical place marked shoes...and the Caladoc Heels, which rise 4.75" high with a stacked heel.  Grape suede and a dark straw platform.  Lace-up oxfords taken to the next level, and that level is heaven.

But then I turn to see the Forest Flower Oxfords, and I crumple in submission.  Forest-green (suede?) leather oxfords with rosettes and a stacked 4" heel, the emerald color of my dreams, the price of my nightmares.  I give in, Anthropologie.  Just take me.  Violate me!  Violate my wallet!  Frighten the cat away who is trying to eat my wallet and let me give you everything I own!  You win.  You do.  Until your fashion will live in my wardrobe, and then I will win.  Eternally.  Because that is how well I intend to take care of this season which is clearly emanating down to earth as the breath of angels.

I think maybe Trader Joe's shouldn't sell such good wine for $5.49 a bottle.  ;)

The Rally to Restore Sanity Could Have Done More

I don't know what everyone else was expecting of the Rally to Restore Sanity.  But I'd really like to know how many people were disappointed by it.  I was, truthfully.

Especially after all the hype, I was expecting something more than two and a half hours of Colbert making a distracting ass of himself and an incredible amount of musical guests.  I think that I was hoping for something more than a comedy presentation.  Because, honestly, this country does make me afraid.

I'm horrified of the extreme reactions that lead people to do idiot things like arrange a Koran-burning rally, elect candidates based on things that have nothing to do with policy or intelligence and much to do with notoriety and the ability to catch media attention by, for example, condemning masturbation.  It terrifies me to think that there are intelligent, capable candidates who won't be able to be elected to serve today because they may be Islamic or because they're Democrats.  And I feel offended, hurt, and outraged whenever I listen to people making statements about atheists being parasites, liberals being Marxists trying to bring down the Constitution, Democrats being terrorists, college-educated people being racist elitists, and the like.

On the other side of the line, I also have a tendency to protest when people tell me that all Tea Partiers are racists, or that conservative policies will ruin the world and bring down the next Apocalypse.  I realize that this kind of talk is stupid, generalizing, and ultimately untrue.  Along with Jon Stewart, I like to save impressive labels for those who can tote forth the unpadded résumé.  This isn't to say that I agree with most commonly-toted conservative ideas and policies:  I don't.  I believe that a country with a massive amount of poor, sick, unaided people making up a large percent of its population has the bright future of a  very determined door-to-door hand grenade salesman driving his van into a wall at 120mph.  This is my perspective, and I know this, and I am perfectly willing and happy to talk to people who have a totally opposite point of view.

But, you see, I said "TALK".

Not argue.  Not debate.  Not blame.  Not scream endlessly until one person's rudeness, temporary deafness, and ear-splitting screams have drowned out the other person.  I really mean "talk".  I will listen, and in return I expect the other person to do the same.  It needs to be an option for people to really open their ears to what the other person has to say, and this means possibly even making concessions when the other person is right.  It means reminding Americans that we are not, no matter how convinced we are, ever going to be right about everything, so we should shut our loud mouths for once and pay attention to the other human being in the room.

So, yes, I truly wanted the Rally to Restore Sanity to have much more to say than it did.  I wanted persuasive speeches that would try to shake the nation into something approaching middle ground.  I wanted to shut Stephen Colbert up somewhere quiet until he could stop interrupting, because by hour two, I was pretty darn tired of of watching no actual serious points get made because Colbert's script kept him married to his ridiculous fear-parody.  The last half-hour of the rally just wasn't enough.

For once, for once, sane people had a cause around which to rally, and I would have liked them to celebrate their commitment to not being crazy, not drown it out with musical performances and R2-D2, as cute as he was.  (Although R2-D2 running over Jon Stewart's foot was probably one of the funniest parts of the rally.)

Seriously.  Why do we need this rally?  Why do we need medals of reasonableness, and why is what sane people all over the world are doing important?  I'd have liked to see this explained, and promoted--not in a liberal sense, and not even in a political sense, but in a pretty darn sensible "Hi, we're all humans,  we're not going to blow up the world because we're not that unhinged, and we should probably stop dividing into factions and killing our country from within" kind of way.

This kind of division and occasional hysteria isn't specific to our time.  Revolutions, as the name implies, don't happen just once.  I'd be very interested to discover a historical atrocity or a governmental overthrow that happened because people weren't extreme enough and sat around trying to see both sides of an argument.

I cannot see any harm to being only moderately passionate about your causes, as long as the cause you're opposing is not actually killing people, animals, or things like the world's freshwater supply.  If you're opposing a specific genocide, that's not the time to pussyfoot about.  But for the rest of your life, if you find yourself closing yourself off to any other potentially rational point of view by the sand surrounding your head, just think twice.  If someone else is being rational, they deserve to be listened to rather than to be shut into a fearmongering, pigeonholing corner of the national media's profit margins.

That, I feel, is what I wanted the Rally to Restore Sanity to elaborate on.

What about you?  Did you watch it?  What did you think?  Were you happy, or did you want more?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spicy-Sinful Thai Red Curry

Ever since working at Lemongrass Thai Bistro in Macon, GA, I've been a huge, huge fan of Thai food.  However, I'm also addicted to trying to figure out amazing recipes and making my kitchen smell awesome.  One of my favorite recipes at that restaurant, and one I always find myself ordering, despite the summer shrimp basil rolls, the duck with mandarin oranges, and the clay pot, is the red curry.

That dish is simply unbelievable, and I'm going into so much withdrawal that I refused to just buy red curry paste.  I had to make it for myself.  Especially since I've got a Thai basil and a Thai chili pepper plant doing very well on my balcony; check out the picture!  I'm pretty proud of that hot piece of flora!

Needless to say, this will be a much simpler task if you just go buy red, green, or yellow curry paste at your local Asian market or online.  Amazon had 480 results when I typed in "Thai red curry paste," of which I'm assuming at least thirty are actual jars of potential food.

Thai Red Curry Paste
Makes about 1 cup

1/3-1/2 cup Thai chili peppers
1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 cloves garlic
1 1-inch piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup lime juice
2 Tbsp soy sauce, preferably Nama Shoyu
1 Tbsp fish sauce (optional; add a pinch of sea salt to substitute)
1/4 cup canned coconut milk (or about 2 Tbsp almond milk for detoxers)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Put all ingredients except the coconut milk (or almond milk) into a blender or food processor and process very well to create a smooth paste, unlike the picture.  I do not have a Vitamix for optimal demonstration, sadly.

Add the coconut/almond milk a little at a time if your machinery needs a little help processing into a paste.  DO NOT taste this without a glass of something soothing and cool nearby.  (I was out of ice cubes so I ate about half a tablespoon of pumpkin butter.  Surprisingly, it worked!  The chilies did not shatter my skull with their immense powers to torture.)  It will be hard to gauge, anyway, because the flavor's supposed to be so strong and spicy--if it's off, you can tell best when you're actually using it in curry.  Fix it then.  Use whatever you need immediately and put the rest into an airtight container; store in the refrigerator.  After 10 days or so, transfer it to the freezer for optimal storage.

Thai Red Curry
Serves 1-2

1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
12-oz can coconut milk , minus the 1/4 cup used for the paste (or 1 1/4 cup almond milk for detoxers; in which case, use much less or no vegetable broth)
1 Japanese eggplant, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup broccoli
1/2 cup red bell peppers, chopped
8-10 shiitake mushrooms, chopped into thirds
1-2 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2-1 cup vegetable broth, as desired
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil or coconut oil (preferred)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
5-6 Thai basil leaves (optional)
2 Kaffir lime leaves (optional)
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
Salt and pepper

In a large sauté pan or a wok, heat the coconut oil over medium high.  When sizzling, toss in the chopped eggplant, onions, red bell peppers, mushrooms, and broccoli.  Toss until coated in the coconut oil, then add the curry paste.  Toss to coat the vegetables in the curry paste and let sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring as needed.

Add in the coconut/almond milk, cinnamon stick (if using), and green onions.  Stir and cook for about 1 minute. The sauce should be fairly thick now.  My favorite version of this curry has a great souplike sauce that welcomes a good deal of hearty brown rice, so I'd add in a decent amount of vegetable stock, but simply add a little at a time, stirring, until you get the consistency that's right for you.  Add in the cilantro, Thai basil (if using), and Kaffir lime leaves (if using).

I actually did not use the Kaffir lime leaves, because I was on a budget, and it still turned out great--however, they're fantastic as well as authentic.

Taste-test the curry:  if too spicy, add more coconut/almond milk.  If too salty, add a little bit of lime juice (this also works well with too-salty guacamole); if not salty enough, add soy sauce, fish sauce, or salt.  If not spicy enough, add anything spicy in your cupboard, although Thai chili garlic sauce works best.  If too sour, add something sweet: stevia, agave nectar, or honey.

Before serving, remove the cinnamon stick (if used).  Serve in individual bowls, either by itself or with a mound of rice per person.  Sprinkle some cilantro over the top and enjoy!

Trader Joe's Opening in Athens & Stovetop Espresso

Trader Joe's Athens (736) - Scheduled to Open Oct. 29th!
1850 Epps Bridge Parkway
Athens, GA 30606
Phone Number: 706-583-8934
Trading Hours: 8:00 am - 9:00 pm
4.6 miles


Okay, so I haven't been waiting for this forever--it's something I found out Thursday in the costume shop while cutting up gas station Mexican blankets.  But!  Trader Joe's opened today!  I am going to be there as early as the boyfriend can stand to get out of bed, believe you me.  No more two-hour drives to Atlanta!

I am going to get so much wine, you guys.  I am going to go and stock up on wine and goodies.  The wine rack we inherited from the boyfriend's grandfather is going to be respected as it should be!   I'll be able to buy 100% pure stevia--as opposed to freaking Truvia!

Maybe, just maybe, they'll carry French chestnut puree.  I  bought so much of that in Paris this summer and had to throw it all out at security, because apparently substances that do not move when you turn the jar on its head with the lid open are considered a liquid and not allowed on planes, wtf.  (Seriously?  Nutella is also not allowed in your carryons; did you know this?)

The sad thing is that I don't think I'd be this devastatingly excited if only I could shop at our local EarthFare and be able to afford more than half a pomegranate and a tablespoon of Nama Shoyu.  At least Trader Joe's respects its wine enough to allow a great deal of it to be imbibed by, ahem, significantly lowering the price.  It makes no economic sense, but then I don't think it is intended to; the story I heard is that the Two Buck Chuck comes from a vineyard that suffered from a divorce; it's a vindictive asset-dumping issue or something like that, and the determination to refuse the ex as much money as possible is keeping down the price.

Although I just googled it, and apparently that is total myth.  The grapes are just from a less expensive region of Napa Valley.  Or, as another Google source claims, the grapes are from anywhere but they are BOTTLED in Napa Valley, which is cheating but tremendously funny.  (Oh, Google.  You're as bad as Wikipedia.)

On the schedule for this weekend:  reading, researching, memorizing, and redecorating the house for Halloween!  This will most definitely involve a jack o'lantern.  Oh, yes, it will.  And roasted pumpkin seeds, miniature pumpkin pies in ramekins, and probably some butternut squash soup.  (I invented this soup a year or two ago, and it is superfantastic amazing.)  And wine.

Yes.  Wine.

You guys, this means I don't have to buy presalted cooking wine from the vinegar aisle anymore, which is so nasty by itself that you can buy it on Sundays!  I'm dancing in my seat a little.

However, before I go buy out Trader Joe's, I want to recommend this Gatao Vinho Verde highly; it's great for those who don't want an incredibly sweet white wine, it's inexpensive, and good for cooking.  I've used it in any recipe I've posted in the past month that involves white wine.  I bought it because it was a Vinho Verde and it had a cat on it, but it was surprisingly good.  Price is between $6 and $8, so it's a pretty good deal for a nice, crisp wine.  Check it out on Google Shopping; you can even find it for $3.99.

This morning was gorgeous, because classes were cancelled and I spent a lot of time hanging out with the cat and a Georgette Heyer book, and it was chilly and sleepy enough for me to be seriously interested in a cup of coffee.  However, I don't drink or make coffee much, so it's a waste of counter space to buy a coffee maker.  Instead, I have a gorgeous little macchinetta, which is a stovetop espresso maker, and I believe it is one of the items, like the garlic press, that my mother picked up while traveling all around Europe auditioning for orchestras.

Want espresso but have no desire to plunk down $100-$1,000 for a fancy espresso maker?  Seriously, don't spend over $30.  The traditional espresso makers are amazing.  But they're not totally self-evident, so I photographed the process!

What You Need
Italian macchinetta
Freshly ground or pre-ground coffee
Filtered water
Coffee fixings (optional)

So you begin with this cool shiny coffeepot, and you think "How in heaven's name does this make espresso?  I am confused.  Let me go search the Internet for directions.  I feel that operachild may have written something about this recently.  AHA!

There are five parts to the coffeepot:  the bottom, the middle filter with the downwards-pointing tube, a round piece of rubber, a small disc with holes in it, and the top bit with the handle and the lid that opens.  The small round disc goes into the underside of the top part of the pot (with the handle, on the far right), and the round piece of rubber holds it in place.

Then, you fill the bottom part with filtered water.  If you want to make the maximum amount of espresso, fill the pot until the water level reaches a small raised aluminum line on the inside.  Put the large filter with the downwards-sticking tube in it onto the bottom of the pot, like so:

Add the ground coffee.  It usually isn't more than 1/4 to 1/3 cup.  As a rule, the stronger you want your espresso, the more coffee you put in.  But don't fill it full to bursting; you want to be able to screw the top on.  You don't have to use an espresso roast; use whatever you like best.

I switched from Starbucks Sumatra to this African Kitamu, because it looked interesting and was on sale.  Normally, I'd try to buy whole beans and then grind them at home, but this was only available in preground--and it still turned out a nice cup of coffee.

Screw the lid on and place on the stove.  Turn the heat to medium-high and wait.  This will take between 4-6 minutes, but you will hear the coffee steam bubbling up through the middle of the pot.  You can pop the lid open to check and see if it's full, because you don't want overflowing coffee on your burner, pot, and stove, but don't do it too often; you don't want to let the steam that's making your espresso have a chance to escape.

Pour and enjoy!

I drink my espresso black, because I remember thinking in college that only cool, hardcore coffee lovers drank their coffee black, so I would learn to love it.  I think this is the same reason I drink mostly red wine.  So don't be a dunce like me, and drink yours however you want to!  I occasionally fiddle with the idea of adding a bit of almond milk.  You never know.

One other thing:  the macchinettas are sold with measurements like "3 Cups" and "6 Cups".  The cup measurement has nothing to do with huge eight-ounce mugs; they mean demitasses.  Check out the picture on the left:  they mean the really small white one.  I believe that mine is a six-cup macchinetta, but it fills about two of the gold and white cups at the right of the picture.  Keep this in mind when you're buying.

Voilà!  Enjoy your very inexpensive, very traditional homemade espresso!  Which, by the way, you can also use in a variety of baked goods, including some out-of-this-world coffee cake.

I leave you with a cutesy quote from the "vegan" list of products on the Trader Joe's website, which, coincidentally, is also from one of the two plays I'm in:

Sir AndrewAguecheek: "I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit."
Sir Toby Belch: "No question." 

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene III

Monday, October 25, 2010

Embarrassingly Dirty Googling

I feel I should mention that I just googled this blog for kicks and giggles, and one of the really fun snippets of text that popped up was "If a bit of garlic is really stubborn, blow through the holes and make a fun spitting sound that entertains children worldwide!"

It is, in case you are curious, the third result that pops up if you just type in "observations of an opera child."  I have rarely been so embarrassed, and have never felt that a sentence about a garlic press could possibly be so indescribably dirty.  Indescribably.

I am still cringing.

Yet, I notice, not cringing enough to make me go back and edit that post.

I feel that I want it to stand there in all of its naked spitting shame for all of eternity, mostly so that I have yet another thing to bring me back to earth if my ego starts to inflate so much that I start to hover.

Blogs, I feel, are either for those with stupendous self-control or the willingness to be publicly unveiled as a complete idiot.  Really, they aren't for the in-between.

On a totally different note, I have a surprisingly busy school year ahead of me.  I just got cast as Aunt Dan in  Aunt Dan and Lemon, which is going to be, let me tell you, a misery to memorize.  I counted, and my monologues take up a total of twenty-three pages.  TWENTY-THREE PAGES of just me talking.  Lemon's worse off; her last monologue alone is a staggering eight pages long.  It's a very cheerful play, too:  all about the virtues inherent in lacking compassion, like the Nazis.  Aunt Dan is also pretty much in love with Henry Kissinger.  It will be fun!

Other plays include Twelfth Night, in which I'm playing Olivia, and Samuel Beckett's Endgame, in which I am playing Nell and spend most of the play except for eight pages buried in a trash can in a nightie and a lot of age makeup while disdaining my husband's biscuit and wanting to die.  It is a very, very good play, and they are cutting holes in the back of the trash can so I don't have to squat on my heels for an hour.  In addition to that, I've got a whole lot of memorizing to do over the weekend so that I can suitably beg Hubert not to burn my eyes with a hot iron in a scene from King John.

Also a paper for my 8100 Critical Methods class, in which I have got to come up with a way to apply Materialist theory to something relevant.  The other option is being a white girl and talking about a play using race theory, which, haha, I clearly cannot do because I cannot fully comprehend what it is like to be anything but a white girl.  That last pretty much bums me out, because I tend to err on the "our DNA is like 99% similar across the globe ANYWAY, so shouldn't the important thing be that we're all human?" side of things, but apparently I am only white girl human, and cannot speak about male human, black human, Latino human, Asian human, or South American human..  I'm just not the right kind of human.  Irritating, but whatever.  I shall still hug my theory of universal equality to my chest and cuddle it to keep warm at night.

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman once wrote this amazing sentence in Good Omens that I am now paraphrasing, and it goes something like this:  "Newt felt uncomfortable around African Americans, in case they turned around and blamed him for two hundred years of slave trading."

I've thought about that sentence a couple of times in the past month after running into some very angry people who apparently generalize so freely about white people that I suddenly became responsible for all the historical atrocities committed against African-Americans, even though half my family is from Germany, the other half from Austria, and about a drop of blood comes from Pocahontas.  It does not matter that I did not know what racism was or that it existed until setting foot on American soil when I was nine, or that I think it is cruel bullshit.  The only thing that mattered to those very angry people was that I have pale skin.

Now, I may be ridiculously naive, but I feel that behavior like this is just exacerbating a pretty horrid situation instead of actually making it better.  Tell me if I'm stupid, please, but doesn't it seem to you that the best way to eradicate racism might be to quit focusing on the minor bits of DNA that make us different and instead focus on what we can actually do together?

...Although there are some boundaries that prejudice probably needs to keep standing strong, like the prejudice against people who don't bathe making my coffee.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Woot T-Shirt Contest: Release!

I'm going to shamelessly plug my boyfriend's design for the Shirt Woot T-shirt derby, because it's gorgeous and I want it to win so that I can buy it and wear it everywhere!

The theme is autumn, and along with other stipulations designs may not include coded messages to the criminally insane...  ;)

Didn't he do an amazing job?  I love the disintegration effect, it's gorgeous enough so that I'd be interested but cool enough so that a guy would like being seen in it, the limited color palette is dramatic and striking...and you've got to keep in mind that he had never drawn in his life before January 2010.  And he's this awesome.

Doesn't that warrant your vote?

Voting is pretty simple:  you have to have bought something from Woot before, and then you can give your vote to as many entries as you like, although only once per entry. Woot's shirts are just $10, and we have a pretty good collection of some awesome designs.  They hold up well in the wash, too--I accidentally washed the boyfriend's favorite black on white shirt with some red sheets, and although the red came out when I boiled it with dye remover, the black design stayed on.  They're pretty darn good quality, and will last you for awhile.  They're also really nice gifts, because they're so unique.

Release! by astryfan
So come on!  How can you not give this gorgeous design the chance to be printed?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Freshly Revamped Black Bean Mango

No matter how tired you are, watching your cat try to be a Monorail Cat in order to cheer you up always makes everything instantly awesome.  Check him out:  he not only folds his feet underneath himself but his tail, too!

I came running when the boyfriend called "Oh, come look!  He's sitting on his feets!" and this is the ridiculously adorable spectacle that presented itself.  This cat actually stayed put while I went, got the enormous camera, folded up the huge strap that holds the camera around the wearer's neck so he wouldn't jump up and paw at it, accidentally took a picture with flash, and then tried to take them without flash before realizing the focus light was still, basically, Simon got flashed in the face a lot for this picture and he still looks breathtakingly cute and trusting.

He fascinates me. =)

This evening's kitchen experiments were all about trying to make my own Black Bean Mango, one of my mother's favorite Kashi frozen entrées.

I've always loved the general idea, but the price is an issue and it also bothers me that everything's frozen and you have to nuke all the ingredients in the microwave.  I realize there is an option to heat it in the oven, but come on--I'm not wasting all that money and electricity to power the oven for 30 minutes just for one frozen dinner.  So the next best plan is--find a way to make it myself!  And I think it's better, cheaper, and much, much fresher.  Bow down, Kashi!

Although I will add that if you can make this with the actual Kashi 7-grain pilaf, you might want to try that.  I've still got to talk our Kroger into carrying it, sadly.

These pretty jars carry my makeshift pilaf:  millet, cracked wheat, and whole grain bulgur, and although I thought those last two were exactly the same thing, apparently this is not the case, hence the color difference between the two on the left of the picture.  Could anybody explain this phenomenon?

Multigrain Pilaf with Black Bean Mango 
Serves 4

Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 cup uncooked mixed grains (I used 1/2 cup millet, 1/4 cup cracked wheat, and 1/4 cup whole grain bulgur)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
2-3 shakes of cumin
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Black Beans and Mango
1 15-oz can black beans, drained
1 ripe room temperature mango, peeled and diced into small cubes
1/2 cup bell peppers, sliced into matchsticks, preferably red and green (just for color)
1/4 cup carrots, sliced into matchsticks 
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
1 large lime, juiced
Few shakes cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle olive oil into your pot, turn to medium high, and add the garlic when hot.  Before the garlic browns (this can happen quickly), add in the pilaf mixture.  Toss and/or stir to coat the grains in the olive oil and garlic, then keep the pot over heat, stirring often, to toast the grains and bring out the flavor.  

After about 3-4 minutes, or earlier if the grains are starting to turn dark (bad!), add in the 1/4 cup of white wine, cumin, salt, and pepper.  Stir and cook for about 1-2 minutes, or until the alcohol has evaporated.  Pour in the vegetable broth, stir once, and cover.  
Cook for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit 10-15 minutes.  

Optional:  add the matchstick carrots and bell peppers after about 8-10 minutes to lightly steam them, if you aren't a huge raw vegetable fan.  Personally, I love the crunch...

Black Beans and Mango
In a large bowl, combine drained black beans*, cubed fresh mango, bell peppers, and carrots.  In a small bowl, combine lime juice, honey or agave, garlic, cilantro, a shake or two of cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir pretty vigorously.  Pour over the mango and vegetable mixture and toss well.  

To serve, place a few spoonfuls of pilaf onto each plate and top with the black bean/mango mixture.  Shake on a little bit of paprika for color...and maybe add a few avocado slices or some leftover guacamole (as I did) for garnish!  Enjoy!

*You really do not need to warm this mixture.  If you like, drain the black beans with very warm water; that will bring the temperature up comfortably, and if you begin with a room temperature mango, the heat from the pilaf will do the rest.  This way, the cilantro stays bright green and gorgeous!

I also think the bean/mango mixture would work excellently as a sweetish savory salad.  I wanted to gobble it all up without the pilaf!  I don't subscribe to the idea that we need an incredible amount of grain to survive, and the vegetable flavors marry so beautifully with the fruit that I was truly in awe.  

Mango, cilantro, and lime together are my new favorite threesome.  =)  Although nothing can really beat the awwwww factor of my Monorail Cat.  

Orange-Kiwi Oatmeal

Simon seems to have a real thing for biting anything that has even the most minute potential to wiggle. Currently, his little focused kitty attention is riveted on my heart necklace, and I am typing with the occasional interruption of a misplaced paw batting at my nose.  We clipped his claws the other night, so it's actually kind of cute.  
But one thing he is NOT allowed to get his precious little nose into is my newest oatmeal breakfast.  It's been so chilly lately in the mornings that I've gone through a whole cylindrical box of oats in the past week and a half!  The latest experiment comes from the amazing amount of fruit my mother blessed me with and some leftovers from my eager days of making truffles.  (I have a knock-your-socks off Earl Grey Truffle recipe that will make you slip into a blissful state of uninterrupted enjoyment and calm, and I shall have to bring that one out once it starts getting cool enough for me to stand over a double boiler.  It's heavenly!)

So here we go!  Oatmeal experiment number...I forget; probably 56.  =)

Orange-Kiwi Oatmeal
Serves 1-2

1 cup original flavor almond milk
1/2 cup oats
Pinch freshly ground salt
1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract*
1 kiwi, rind on or off, chopped (but do take the rind off if it isn't organic)
1 small orange
Drizzle agave nectar
Cinnamon (optional)


In a small pot, bring the almond milk, salt, and orange extract to a boil, stirring occasionally.  (Almond milk WILL behave like regular milk and bubble over the sides of the pot if you are not careful, so you have to watch it!)  Pour in the oats, stir, and cook for 1 minute.  Turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes.

Fold in the chopped kiwi and stir.  Pour into bowl(s) to serve.  Drizzle with agave nectar.  Take a microplane and grate some of the orange skin into zest just over the bowl of oatmeal, to garnish and for an extra citrusy zing.**  For a little bit of a warming spice, sprinkle some cinnamon on top.  Happy breakfasting!

*This is also pretty darn good with a grapefruit theme; just cut off the top and bottom of the grapefruit, set it on one of the cut ends, and with a knife, carefully slide your knife along the inside of the rind in strips, going from the top to bottom, getting rid of all the white pith along the reddish grapefruit flesh.  With the knife, cut out each grapefruit wedge from the dividing skin pieces.  You will be left with a very juicy grapefruit core.  Squeeze it into the pot instead of orange extract, and garnish with the grapefruit slices.  If you like, you can even zest some of the rind over the top of the bowl.  Voilà:  grapefruit oatmeal!

**If you like, you can add some orange slices to the oatmeal, but keep in mind that they have so much juice that they will water down the oatmeal a bit; you might consider adding about 1/4 cup more oats.  And be sure to keep some of the rind intact so you can zest it!
I think this calls for a bike ride to the store to pick up some more oatmeal...I'm still loving it!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guacamole and Asparagus Feasting!

I had an amazing time in my kitchen last night.  So many vegetables said goodbye to the world, and it was glorious!  My apartment's refrigerator (which I am not complaining about at all, because the last one leaked and management replaced it immediately) has a tendency to freeze everything in the very back of the freezer and to undercool everything else.  So the first thing that had to go was a beautiful bunch of asparagus with slightly soft tips (bad!) and frozen ends (not so bad, really).  I have never made vegan asparagus cream soup before, but let me tell you, it's pretty darn hard to mess up asparagus!  I thought it was pretty darn fantastic.

I also had my first-ever successful foray into the world of baking your own vegetable chips.  We're having people over tonight, and I thought I'd practice yesterday.  (The secret, as I found out, is to grease the baking sheet!  Rocket science, I know.  I felt pretty silly when I realized that, let me tell you.)  I thought they were pretty darn good, and so did the boyfriend, who is notoriously picky.  He can get past the "sweet potato" part when he hears the "chip" addendum.   I felt very proud when I figured this out.

The last recipe is my dearly beloved guacamole, which my mother and I are nuts over.  We've tinkered with this recipe for years, and I think I may finally have a world's-best-guacamole recipe.  Just maybe.  It's a contender, at the very least.  But here they all are!  And, not least...they're all vegan and all part of a starch-based Natalia Rose dinner.  I was so proud.  =)

Creamy Vegan Asparagus Soup
Serves 2-4

1 bunch asparagus, chopped
1 sweet onion, diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1-2 cloves garlic
Spike Vegetable Seasoning, to taste
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Pinch herbes de Provence
2 cups original flavor almond milk
1 lime, juiced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Sweat the onions in a tablespoon of olive oil until translucent; add a few pinches of salt and pepper.

Add the chopped asparagus, the garlic, the white wine, the red pepper flakes, the herbes de Provence, and the Spike seasoning; simmer for about 3 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Turn down the heat to Medium and add the almond milk.

Stir and simmer for about 1 minute, then pour into a high-speed blender.  (Oh, you with the Vitamix god, I envy you so much.  I want one desperately.)  Blend very well.

Pour back into the pot and add salt, pepper, and Spike to taste.  Add the juice of the lime, stir well, and voila!  Magnificent savory magnificence!

Sweet Potato Vegetable Chips
Serves 2-4


2 sweet potatoes, washed (or a combination of other vegetables, like zucchini, parsnips, beets, carrots, yucca, etc.)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional:  herbes de Provence, rosemary, garlic, dill, or your favorite spices

Preheat the oven to 375.  Cover two baking sheets with aluminum foil (less mess!) and grease it with olive oil.

Slice the raw vegetables into very thin slices on a mandoline, or just slice them very thinly with a knife.  I like to leave the skin on; it keeps in a few nutrients, tastes good, and looks interesting.  Take each slice of vegetable and rub it onto the greased baking sheet, on both sides.  Arrange the slices closely but do not overlap them.  Sprinkle chips with salt and pepper, or anything else you like (just on one side; otherwise it ends up waaay too overseasoned)

Bake for 13 minutes.  Remove from oven, turn the slices over, and bake for 10 more minutes.  Let chips cool while still on sheet and NOT overlapping; if they do, they will get soggy.  They crisp up after they come out of the oven; so don't worry if they are pliable when they come out.  Transfer to a bowl and scoop up some guacamole!

Out-Of-This-World Guacamole
Serves 4-6

3 very ripe avocados

1 sweet onion, minced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 limes, juiced
3 shakes cumin
2 shakes cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste

Run your knife lengthwise down each avocado and split it in half.  Grab the pit by sticking your knife into it and pulling/twisting the knife and pit out; discard the pit IN THE TRASH; NOT IN THE GARBAGE DISPOSAL.  Take your knife and slice the avocado up in a chess-board grid pattern while still in its skin; do not cut through the skin.  Take a spoon and run it around the inside of the skin, letting all the avocado chunks fall out into your mixing bowl.  Repeat for each avocado half.  Take a fork and mash the avocados up pretty well until you get the consistency you want (some may like it very finely mashed, while I like a few chunks), and remember, this is easier the riper the avocados are.

Add in the minced onion, the tomatoes, the garlic, the cilantro, the cumin, the lime juice, and the cayenne pepper; mix well.  Taste, and add in salt and pepper as needed.  Scoop up with an amazing sweet potato chip and smile as your taste buds dance!

My final recipe for the evening is for all those out there who aren't as into the health food thing but have people who cook for them who are.  It's a thin-crust pizza:  take a 10-inch wrap, place it on a greased baking sheet, add a small amount of sauce, some cheese, and up to two toppings of your choice (the boyfriend likes pepperoni with some herbes de Provence)--slide into a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes, and you have a thin-crust pizza!  Fast and simple--and with far fewer simple carbohydrates than getting pizza delivered.  And it's cheaper!  Mmmmmm.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seasonal Produce Bliss

Arabian Nights finally opened and closed!  Guess what that means?  Extra sleep and family visits!  My mother came up to see the show, and she stared at my sadly depleted refrigerator, which was totally devoid of fruit by that point (thanks, new oatmeal addiction!), and by the time I came back from our last performance on Sunday night, there were a few Publix paper bags in front of my door:  a gorgeous yellow-and-orange potted mum (yes, the one in the picture) and two bags of produce--mmm!  Ripe plums, three Bosc pears, a whole bag of grapefruit, limes, asparagus,  a mango, two tomatoes, a few little cucumbers, and a pineapple!  And she'd sneaked about five avocados into my dining room, too.  Isn't that simply amazing?  I thought so.  =)  

She's left me with a challenge:  to help her recreate the Kashi Black Bean Mango frozen entree and to revel in guacamole.  I absolutely cannot wait!

And in other seasonal news...check out the photo to the right:  see that crazy pink liquid in the wine glass?  It's red grapefruit time!  

I love that time of year when grapefruit actually turns bright, beautiful reddish pink.  It tastes seventy thousand times better, and it's so gorgeous that I want to do everything from juice all the ones I can find to displaying slices of grapefruit gorgeously on top of salads or making a grapefruit tart.  Something.  It's so inspiring!  The picture to the right doesn't do it enough justice.  

So, for the past few days, I've been luxuriating in actual, fresh produce, actual sleep, and actual free time!  My favorite salad, which I threw together last night, is as follows:

A few handfuls of Spring Mix
1 diced tomato
1/2 minced sweet onion
1/4 cup each chopped red, yellow, and green bell peppers
1 cob of raw corn, cut off the cob
1/4 cup cooked, chilled beets
A few sliced portobello mushrooms
Julienned basil, to taste, plus sprigs for garnish

1 tbsp walnut oil
1 lime, juiced
1 tsp Dijon Country Mustard
Pinch herbes de Provence
Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

I mix the dressing in a small bowl, add in the minced onions, whisk together, and pour on top of the mound of chopped produce--mmm!  There's something about raw corn with the mustard and walnut oil dressing that just makes me smile--sweet, tangy, and flavorful!

I leave you with a picture of that glorious red liquid grapefruit elixir.  I'm choosing it hands down over wine right now, guys.  That's some seriously good stuff!

Guacamole and cream of asparagus soup (well, with almond milk) are on the recipe for tonight, so hold onto your hats!  I have never, ever, heard anything but awe and praise for this guacamole recipe...