Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How I survive the holidays.

It's the official start of the busiest 3-4 weeks of nearly anyone's year. Everyone has his or her special tips for how to survive. For me the truth is...I don't just survive! I enjoy the holiday season for all it's worth.

Here's how:

1. I committed long long ago to never ever buy a Christmas gift or participate in a Christmas activity out of obligation. If it's not fun for me, I won't do it. This saves me from too many parties, and stressing out over a huge shopping lists. Don't get me wrong, many presents are still purchased for my loved one, but this is because I am excited to show my love through giving gifts. This goes for throwing a party, too.

2. Building off of tip #1, I rarely buy children gifts. I realize for many of you with kids, this is just not possible. I do not have kids yet. The mobs and shopping terrors commonly occur around toy departments, so I avoid them like the plague. Also, the way kids in our culture tear through presents, throwing them aside and looking for more to unwrap without a bit of gratitude is off putting to me. We have 9 nieces and nephews, and about five years ago we started a tradition of taking them to eat pizza and play arcade games while we are in California. They really look forward to it now, and we're giving them a long lasting memory rather than a toy that they will break or lose interest in. IMPORTANT NOTE: For those of you who do have kids, you too can give an experience rather than another toy. Think a trip to the zoo, or minature golf.

3. If I can avoid it, I will not buy mass-produced merchandise. Unless someone really wants something specific. This also aids in circumventing the shopping mobs. I much prefer to buy a gift for someone that they wouldn't have been able to get for themselves, whether it's a regional wine or, a trinket I picked up while overseas, or a special baked good.

4. I give consumables to people who already have more stuff than they know what to do with. Again, this may be something I baked. However, it could also be a photo calendar made on Shutterfly, a delicious piece of chocolate, a box of special oranges, tickets to see an event, or a great chapstick.

5. I relish not only our family traditions, but also little traditions I've made for myself. Things like ordering a peppermint mocha and walking slowly through a mall to look at all the decorations, reading a book while listening to George Winston's 'December' album, sewing a pair of PJ pants for Raj, drinking as much egg nog as I want, opening a bottle of red wine and watching holiday inn, or putting up my little brass Christmas tree.

6. I eat cheese. How amazing do some of these Martha Stewart cheese platters look? Yum!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What is Kombucha?

According to Wikipedia:

"Kombucha is a fermented tea that is often drunk for medicinal purposes. There are scientific studies that support the health benefits of Kombucha that show it to be antimicrobial, anticancer, to havehepatoprotective qualities, and to be antioxidative among other benefits. Kombucha is available commercially and can be made at home by fermenting tea using a visible, solid mass of yeast and bacteriawhich forms the kombucha culture which is often referred to as the "mushroom" or the "mother"."

Sounds delicious, no?

Seriously though, I luuurves me some Kombucha.

It makes me feel good.


And naturally.

Part of that reason is that, being fermented, Kombucha contains traces of alcohol. Not enough alcohol that anyone should worry. It is perfectly safe for anyone- including children and adults who for whatever reason don't drink alcohol. However, there is definitley something in the drink that makes you a bit more....relaxed. In a good way.

On top of that, the long term health benefits of Kombucha are phenomenal. People claim that it has been the driving force in fights against all kinds of cancers...and even the word "cure" has been thrown out there a few times. While most nutritionists will tell you not to drink anything with your meals, including water, the exception to this is, yes, Kombucha, which actually aids digestion rather that hindering your stomach acids.

With that said, it's for sure an acquired taste. Upon your first drink, it will taste vinegar-y and odd. I encourage you to try different flavors in order to find your favorites. Mind are guava and ginger. After a while you will, as I have, grow to love the flavor. It is naturally effervescent, which satisfies when I am craving something bubbly.

I don't think conventional grocery stores sell Kombucha drinks yet. You will have to check health and specialty food stores. Or you can make you own quite easily...if you don't mind "mother mushroom" bacteria sitting in a jar on your counter for 3 months....

Friday, November 26, 2010

Epic Win

I had absolutely no intentions of making dinner on Wednesday after a full day of Thanksgiving prep. However, the record breaking sub-freezing weather and ice rink roads decided differently for me. Luckily, I had this amazing soup in my "to make" file, so at 5:00 pm I did a run through of my pantry and then rang Raj and asked him to stop and buy 2 pounds of cod on his walk/light rail ride home from work.

This soup took only about 30 minutes to make, and combined with the quinoa I used instead of couscous, made a perfect and healthy pre-Thanksgiving dinner for the 6 people I am feeding right now. Fish soup is just a little different for Americans, which makes it even more exciting.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Menu

I hope that you are all cozy in your homes, prepping for your day of feasting tomorrow. I only have a bit of time to rest and tell you what we have planned this year. We are going very traditional, consisting of the best recipes we have found over the years. (Here are the links, also, if you need some last minute inspiration)

~Pumpkin pie (made with home made puree, and all butter pastry dough)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Great Fact of the Day

Something you should buy at Costco: Kirkland Signature Organic Olive Oil
"Costco's Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil may be the best-kept secret in the store. At $9.99 for 1.5 liters, it is roughly half the cost of the well-known Bertolli brand, and yet, according to at least one independent study, it's much better. In a recent comparison of 19 olive oils on the market, The Olive Center, a research group at the University of California-Davis, found that Kirkland Organic was one of only five in the study not mixed with cheaper refined olive oil that can spoil the taste. The other four at the top of the list were all high-end brands that cost as much as five times Costco's. Make sure you buy the Costco version that's labeled organic, though, as opposed to the one that's simply called "extra virgin olive oil." It'll cost a little bit more, but it's worth it."

Something you should not buy at Costco: Imported Shrimp

"Most shrimp sold in the U.S. is imported from countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia, where environmental regulations are often lax or not enforced, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, (EDF), an education and advocacy non-profit. The EDF classifies shrimp imported from these regions as "eco-worst" for the environmentally destructive ways in which they are often farmed. Greenpeace took aim at Costco's seafood sustainability practices last June with an aggressive campaign called Oh No Costco. While Costco seafood buyer Bill Mardon says his company has entered into a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to set global standards for shrimp farming, the specific objectives are still being discussed.

"Costco gets credit for starting down the road," says Tim Fitzgerald, senior policy analyst for oceans at of the EDF, "but they are still very early on." In the meantime, you're better off buying shrimp at Trader Joe's, which is much further along on the same path. After Greenpeace launched its Traitor Joe campaign in early 2009, Trader Joe's pledged to remove all non-sustainable seafood from its stores by the end of 2012, and it's already taken concrete steps in that direction."

{Information comes from this article here}

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do you want to be a baker?

It's around the holidays that I miss and I don't miss having a baker job all at the same time.

On the one hand, it really gets you in the holiday mood. Seasonal pastries are being made, the bakery is cozy, and the joy and excitement on customers' faces when they see what you have made are infectious. You rush about the bakery trying to make deadlines, all the while feeling like one of Santa's elves.

On the other hand, you really do bake right through the holidays. If you get time off, it's only on the actual holiday. It's a small price to pay, though, for all the fun you have with the other bakers and pastry chefs in a commercial kitchen.

Whatever you are doing, don't forget to stop and enjoy this holiday season. Find joy in whatever you do. And HAVE FUN!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seriously Basic Roasted Chicken

A few weeks back on Oprah, Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry's wife) did a show about simple and healthy cooking. While her and Oprah kind of got on my nerves, I couldn't help but acknowledge how spot on this basic roasted chicken recipe was. Seriously, anyone can make it.

Seriously Basic Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables Recipe
  • 1 whole chicken (4 pounds)
  • 1 Tbsp. and 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp. crushed black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 pound carrots , cut into 3-inch sticks
  • 1 pound parsnips , cut into 3-inch sticks
  • 1 pound small red potatoes , halved
Heat the oven to 400°. On a sheet pan, toss the carrots, parsnips and potatoes with 2 tablespoons of oil, 4 sprigs rosemary, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken and season with the remaining salt and pepper, then rub with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Pierce the lemons several times with the tip of a paring knife and stuff, along with 2 sprigs of the rosemary, into the cavity of the chicken. Using cooking twine, tie the legs together.

Nestle the chicken among the vegetables and put in the oven—with the chicken's legs toward the back of the oven. Roast, stirring the vegetables once, until the chicken is cooked through (the internal temperature reaches 165° in the thickest part of the thigh), 55 to 60 minutes.

Carve and serve with the roasted vegetables.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

...and mine!

My mom likes to shop early.

So, you see, I'm doing her a favor.

Dear Santa (aka Mom & Dad),

{Mighty Leaf Tea Stainless Steel Tea Top Travel Mug $15. I saw this in a gift set today at Cost Plus with 8 tea bags and the mug for $19. So cool!}

{Set of 5 assorted reusable grocery bags made with vintage fabrics $35. Ahh, so cute! I'd probably use them for everything but groceries!}

{Recycled glass wine glasses $7.95. I love the greeny tint of recycled glassware, and the vintage feel of these.}

{Twixit clip combo pack $5.50. Don't tell any who sells, but I have found much of the Pampered Chef to be a bit disappointing. Not these chip clips, though. I forgot about an open bag of tortilla chips once for 3 months, and they were still crunchy! That's actually kinda scary...}

{Kamiak 2006 Cellar Select Red Wine. Will someone PLEASE find more of this for me? PLEASE???}

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Holiday shopping- the Etsy edition.

So it just dawned on me that in two weeks exactly we will be eating our Thanksgiving feast, and then the radio will be playing Christmas music (if it hasn't been already), and then we will blink and the time frame for shipping online gift orders is going to be passed! Aaaaugh!

Anyway, a few kitchen ideas from Etsy, most under $25. I know I appreciate something hand made so much more than mass produced merchandise. One of a kind gifts can be really special. Even better if these inspired you to make something on your own.

{Vintage parfait set $36. Seriously, how cute are these? I am about to buy them myself}

{Hand thrown travel mug with lid $22. There's something I love about pottery, and I'm really impressed if this was made with a water tight seal. That takes precision, folks.}

{Modern hot pad $10. Can't go on Etsy without finding a cute, hand made pot holder.}

{Large gingerbread boy cookie cutter $6.95. I've never seen such a fat little gingerbread man. It made me giggle!}

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A story and a recipe

My new brother in law, George, grew up on a Greek island- Crete, to be exact. His idea of winter is largely what mine was for the first 18 years of my life growing up in Los Angeles. That is, perhaps cool enough to wear long sleeve top at night time. Another interesting fact about George is that he is fluent in 4 languages. I only say this to let you know that when I talk about his funny mishaps with the English language, it's not to make fun of his intelligence...for Heaven's sake, I can barely get basic French!

As I said, George's English is fantastic, but we've found that although he knows certain words, the exact usage of said word can be a bit tricky. This combined with the fact that George has never lived anywhere cold has created a funny discussion around what the word "cozy" means. We have tried to explain it to him as a pleasant situation; something warm that makes you happy inside. He then later responds to that with an observation like, "Look at that cute squirrel! How cozy!"

"No no, George." We say.

But really, how do you explain cozy when it's such a...feeling? I've even tried to describe it with pictures of things that, to me, are cozy:

{my all time favorite Christmas album}

{a thick sweater}

{hot tea}

{snuggling with Toby in my down comforter}

{hanging out with my family and watching sports on a holiday}

{a weekend retreat to a cabin during the winter}

{a spice colored, soft, snuggly blanket}

Still, no amount of describing things can invoke a feeling.

Until...a few days ago when we took Toby for a walk. The sun had just gone down, it was chilly outside and silvery gray. We walked for a long while until we were freezing, and then went back to our house. When we walked through the door, we were greeted with golden light, jazz on the radio and the aroma of bean soup wafting through the door.

George said, "Oooh! This is so nice!"

"No, George," I said, "This is cozy!"

White Bean and Kale Soup

2 cups finely chopped kale

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large cloves garlic

2-3 cups cooked white beans

1 ½ cups stock

1 cup water

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 fresh sage leaves

1 teaspoon sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Freshly grate pecorino cheese

Wash kale and remove the stems from the leaves. Roll up kale leaves and cut into thin ribbons. Set aside

In a 4 quart soup pot, heat olive oil and sauté the garlic briefly over medium heat. Add about half of the cooked beans and the stock. Puree the rest of the beans and water in a blender along with the tomato paste and sage Stir the pureed beans into the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix in kale and simmer until wilted (about 10 minutes). Add the lemon juice and enough water to make the soup a desirable thick consistency. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings. Serve the soup topped with pecorino.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Being Lavished Upon

I have yet to convince my husband of this idea, but I am a firm believer in the "Birthday Week." That is, rather than just celebrating your birthday and feeling special for a day, take that happy feeling and turn it into a week. Now, this doesn't mean having a party and getting presents every night like Hanukah or anything. I just try to do something each day, no matter how small, that makes me happy. It could be anything from a latte from my favorite cafe' to a walk through a beautiful park.

Keeping that in mind, it's not even my birthday yet, and already I feel like I have been lavished upon by my friends and family. I have been taken to Salumi for lunch, to the Harvest Vine for brunch, and been baked a delicious home made apple crisp (by a friend who doesn't like to bake, mind you). Tomorrow (my actual birthday), I am being taken out to lunch, then for dinner my sister is making me a meal of my choosing (I asked for lamb burgers and home made yam fries, by the way). Wednesday I am being taken to afternoon tea at the Queen Mary Tea Room, and then finally Saturday we are going to Kell's Irish pub for an actual birthday get together of dinner and drinks and music.

Also, even before my actual birthday I have been given some incredibly thoughtful gifts. One friend gave me my favorite chocolate bar, and blew me away by tracking down and buying saomao- the fruit that I had in Cambodia and loved. Another gave me a delicious gourmet cupcake.

Do ya think people know I love food?

But you know something I love more than food?....PEOPLE! As fun as all these shared meals, gifts, and festivities are, I feel sooo blessed to have all these people who love me enough to take time out of their days and busy schedules to spend time and celebrate with me during my Birthday Week.

Here's to a week of fun!

Friday, November 05, 2010

It Doesn't Take Much...

...to make me happy.
Just an amazingly beautiful, 70 degree fall day in November.

A pumpkin muffin from one of the best bakeries in the country.

And a perfectly made eggnog latte from a family owned cafe'.

Top it off with a hot bath at the end of the day and I am one happy camper!

That's all.

(Oh, and a new pair of boots doesn't hurt, either!)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Learning to Love Your Veggies

Recently two articles from the New York Times about eating your vegetables came out. The first here was about the health benefits of veggies and how it's still not enough to inspire people to eat them. The second was in response to the 600 emails they received with tips on getting yourself and your family on the veggie train.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


That's what we agreed a nice bistro could charge for the meal I made tonight:

Cod Croquettes, Sweet Pepper Gravy, and Mashed Potatoes With Spinach. It does make it quite difficult to find places to eat out at when I know that I could make just as a good a meal or better at home.

Anyway, it was wonderfully delicious, surprisingly quick, and a complete meal in and of itself. Also, it made a lovely presentation.* The most shocking part of all was that the entire thing came from Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals....I know, can you believe it?

*Except for the fact that the red pepper gravy looks a little like throw-up to me....
Ooooh, dear, did I ruin that for you?