Category Archives: Month of Exploration

I Am So Seldom Alone

My companions for the day. AKA Total puppy chaos...but they are so happy how can I be mad?

I am so seldom alone and while I rationally understand this must be, no is, the result of a specific construct I create in my life it often doesn’t feel that way, seeming more akin to a giant tidal wave that picks me up and carries me along. While this is generally fun, and can be exhilarating at times, there is also that moment when the ocean swallows you up and tumbles you in its depths, dumping you unceremoniously on the shore with sand in your bathing suit, scrapes on your knees, and a bruise to your ego.

So this Saturday with Matt happily off to the mountain, a pork shoulder marinating in the oven for yet another round of Paseo’s Cubano Sandwiches for tonight’s book club, and Leo and Duke, the two puppies wildly running about, I have a day alone in front of me. It is so rare, and while I’m excited at the thought, I must also confess it makes me a little uncomfortable.

What do you do with a blissful day all to yourself? I could use some guidance here people.

 

 

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Filed under Month of Exploration, Personal Work

Puerto Rico Primas: Mango Cucumber Salad

Jumping for joy in Culebra

“How do you all know each other again?”

“We’re COUSINS!!”

“Oh…huh. Really? Okay. Well, you ladies want a beer?”

So went many conversations during our week adventure in Puerto Rico. Perfectly normal to us that four cousins would fly across the country, pile into a pimped out Honda Accord with a decidedly loud muffler, and explore all over the island, turns out that’s not most folk’s M.O. But it is ours….and it was fun.

The last to arrive in San Juan, I was greeted curbside at midnight by three beauties hanging out of the car with the tunes blasting. From there we would spend a week sunning, laughing, dancing, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, and naturally, eating.

They say that Puerto Rico isn’t know for its food, and I would be tempted to agree. There is an abundance of slightly tired, deep-fried “things” (sorry, can’t think of what else to call them), but the real culinary beauty of PR comes in the incredible fruits and vegetables that one can buy for next to nothing from little stands on the side of the road.

This Mang0-Cucumber salad was the perfect accompaniment to the Citrus Shrimp (recipe coming) and Pilaf we enjoyed our first night at the Culebra Beach Villas.* Exceedingly simple and fast to prepare, it is also very refreshing. We were out of avocados, but you could definitely toss some of that in as well. Serve when looking out at the ocean from your private villa, feet covered in sand, cheeks kissed with sun, and surrounded by the laughter and love of dear family.

Mango Cucumber Salad

Mango Cucumber Salad

Mango Cucumber Salad

2 large cucumbers, peeled and diced

2 large mangoes, peeled and diced

1 lime

Salt and Pepper

Mix the cucumbers and mangoes in a large bowl. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over it. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

*For the record, these villas are outstanding. We stayed in 2B, and it literally was steps from the beach, with grand vistas out to the ocean and surrounding cliffs. Culebra itself is a small island approximately 17 miles off of Puerto Rico. Accessible via ferry it offers the perfect respite from the bustling, and at times overwhelming, San Juan. The people are lovely, the pace relaxed, and the beaches breath-taking.

Cousins

Erina, Kate, Margaret, and Annie-Laurie

 

**All photos by my lovely cousin Annie Laurie Malarkey.**

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Filed under Health Conscious, Month of Exploration, Salads, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Day 30: Gourmet Meatball Subs

I can be a bit of a snob sometimes.

I don’t mean to be, but there are moments when seemingly out of my control, my East Coast upbringing kicks in and up my nose turns. It might be the result of poor manners, tacky decorating, or bad food. You know what I mean…those meals they served in elementary school like Sloppy Joes or Tuna Casserole? Up until a short period of time ago I would have included Meatball Subs in the shun-worthy category. That is…until I tried the recipe from the “Tartine Bread” cookbook.

Tartine Bread

The book that changed it all

These things are amazing. Granted…the addition of pesto, fontina, and arugula definitely provide for a lift in status, but in addition to that they’re just really dang tasty.

Having reached Day 30 of my “Month of Exploration” these feel like the perfect culinary representation of what I’ve learned: Faster isn’t always better, glamorous isn’t always worth it, and sometimes it’s okay to admit you’re happy with just plain ‘ol good.

Serve these for a casual weeknight dinner with friends paired with a great bottle of red wine, such as a Malbec.

Gourmet Meatball Subs, adapted from Tartine Bread to make a bit easier to prepare and lactose free

Serves 6

3 TB Olive Oil

1 large white onion, chopped

1 lb ground beef with at least 20 percent fat

1 pound ground pork

4 large eggs

2 cups panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Two 16-ounce cans chopped tomatoes (splurge on the good, organic option)

6 crusty sub rolls, or one large crusty baguette cut, split in half lengthwise

Good pesto, store-bought (yes, homemade is better, but for a Wednesday, store-bought is just fine)

6 slices fontina

2 cups baby arugula

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9×12 baking dish. To make the meatballs, in a large deep skillet over medium-low heat, warm 2 TB of the olive oil. Add the onions and saute until they are translucent and beginning to color, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. In a large bowl combine the beef, pork, eggs, panko, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and cooled onions. Mix well to combine. Form the meat mixture into balls the size of golf balls. Add to the baking dish and bake until cooked through, but not overcooked, about 25 minutes.

Ingredients

Ingredients for the meatballs

Meanwhile, in the onion skillet add the remaining 1 TB olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and deglaze the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned residue. Bring the tomatoes to boil and reduce the heat to very low. Add the cooked meatballs to the pan and simmer for 20 minutes, turning occasionally.

Simmering meatballs

Simmering meatballs

Spread the top half of each roll with the pesto spread. Add the cheese to the bottom half (skipping if you’re making lactose free) and top with meatballs and sauce. Add the top back on and loosely wrap in aluminum foil. Bake until the cheese has melted and the bread is crispy and toasted, about 25 minutes. To serve, unwrap from the foil, top with fresh arugula, and offer extra sauce for dipping.

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Filed under Comfort Foods, Lactose Free, Month of Exploration

Day 18: Reflections at 30,000 Feet

At least once a day someone used to ask me, “How are you?” and at least once a day I would cheerfully respond, “Good! Good, good, good. Work is great…super busy, so that’s good. Matt’s working on a really cool project, so he’s feeling good about that. Family? They’re good. All is good. Good, good, good.”

The only thing more worrisome about this response, besides my seeming lack of vocabulary, is that up until a few weeks ago I seldom actually thought about the question.

How was I?

On paper, things were great. Killer job, happily newlywed, loving family, great friends, etc., etc., etc.

But the reality was I often felt like I was missing something. So desperate to “maximize output” and “cost benefit ratios” I charged around like a woman on a rampage. A woman on a rampage at the park, at the grocery store, brushing my teeth. It was exhausting for me, and I’m hearing on good authority from friends and family, not entirely enjoyable for them either.

And so when this opportunity to take a month off presented itself I pushed back the feelings of fear and self-doubt and dug into my month of exploration.

And in case you’re wondering….I’m loving it.

I’m loving the adventure and I’m loving the quiet. I’m loving not having my day scheduled in 15 minute increments, and I’m loving saying yes to things I never would have before. I know this reality isn’t for me forever, I’ll be very excited when the time comes to return to work, but for now this little diversion is the best thing to happen to me in a long time.

Soon to be landing in Dallas, then on to Puerto Rico for a week of swimming, sunning, snorkeling, and of course, snacking.

Stay tuned for lots of delicious PR inspired recipes and meal ideas…and until then, thanks for reading!

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Day 10: World’s Best Macaroni and Cheese

World's Best Macaroni and Cheese

World's Best Macaroni and Cheese

Today was a spectacularly beautiful day in Seattle. The kind of day that makes you appreciate living in the NW and just a tad bit smug that you aren’t living in New England and bracing for the next foot of snow to drop. The sun was shining, the buds on the trees starting to awaken, and Seattle-ites out in full force enjoying every minute of it. Onca and I were no exception and enjoyed a long walk along the lake and a trip to PCC complete with Onca’s backpack so she could pull her own weight (and by own weight, I mean beer, wine, cream, and milk). It was an exhausting trip and clearly required a full nap afterward.

Such a busy day.

While Ms. Onca slept I pondered what we should have for dinner that would be worthy of this day. Having enjoyed an amazing dinner with our friends Wendy and Andy at The Walrus and the Carpenter last night I was eager to keep the creative foodie genius I’d experienced going. And clearly, nothing says creative foodie genius more than a January BBQ and Bonfire with neighborhood friends.

Matt volunteered to do burgers, and Angela claimed ribs and spinach salad, which left me with no other choice but to make a big dish of the World’s Best Macaroni and Cheese. This is based  on Beecher’s famous recipe, but with a few suggested tweaks/additions, and I would challenge you to find a recipe you like more. This is certainly a treat to make since it’s so undeniably unhealthy, but as a once-in-a-while splurge there’s really nothing better.

This serves 8, but halves beautifully, or you can also make it in two smaller dishes and freeze what you like for a quick dinner some weeknight. Also, feel free to experiment a bit with the cheeses and use whatever you have in the fridge. Goat cheese is a nice addition and doing a bit of Parmesan gives it a slightly more complex flavor.

World’s Best Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

1 lb  penne pasta

Beecher’s Flagship Sauce (recipe follows)

1 ounce cheddar, grated ( 1/4 cup)

1 ounce Gruyere cheese, grated ( 1/4 cup)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

1/2 cup Panko Bread Crumbs

BEECHER’S FLAGSHIP CHEESE SAUCE

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

14 ounces semihard cheese, such as Beecher’s Flagship, grated (about 3 1/2 cups)

2 ounces grated semisoft cheese, such as Beecher’s Just Jack

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

dash of hot sauce (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Oil or butter a 9×12 baking dish

Cook the penne 2 minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse pasta in cold water and set aside.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cooking for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, salt, chile powder, garlic powder, mustard, and hot sauce. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes.

Combine cooked pasta and Flagship Sauce in a medium bowl and mix carefully but thoroughly.

Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheeses, chile powder, and panko. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: The sauce can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to three days.

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Filed under Comfort Foods, Month of Exploration, Pasta, Vegetarian

Day 5: Quiche Lorraine and Locust Pose

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine

Forget Eat. Breathe. Love.

Try Eat. SWEAT. Love.

Today I did yoga with my lovely friend Angela, at Bikram Yoga Renton, aka The Hot One. And hot it is. The room is 105 degrees with 40% humidity, and the class is 90 minutes. I’m not sure when the last time I was silent for 90 minutes save sleeping was, and I wouldn’t say I exactly got a gold star today as I did get sternly hushed at our first water break for looking over at Angela and quietly whispering, “This is insane!”

Insane it is…but it also felt great to stretch and strengthen in ways I never have before. The added bonus? Rumor has it each class burns between 600 and 900 calories, which means I felt totally justified in my craving for burgers and beers afterward. I did abstain, since I’m still trying to stick to my booze-free-month, but the Quiche Lorraine I had made this morning was a close runner-up.

You can make this with homemade pie crust, or for a quick fix use puff pastry as I did here. Below recipe is for a traditional quiche but I also did these as mini quiches in muffin tins this weekend and they were just as yummy.

Quiche Lorraine

Great for breakfast, or serve with a simple salad for a light lunch or dinner.
Serves 6

Flaky Pastry Dough or One Sheet Puff Pastry, thawed and rolled out to 12 inches by 12 inches

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup half and half

3/4 cup fat free milk

Generous grating of salt and pepper

Dash of dill

4 slices bacon, cooked and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 oz goat cheese, loosely crumbled

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees, and position one rack in the middle and one closer to the top.
  2. Prepare pie dish by lightly greasing with vegetable oil or cooking spray.
  3. Lay pie crust across, turn edges in, and gently crimp
  4. In a medium mixing bowl add the eggs, cream, milk, salt, pepper, and dill. Mix well until slightly frothy.
  5. Sprinkle the goat cheese evenly across the bottom of the pie dish.
    Quiche Dough
  6. Follow with the bacon.
  7. Pour the egg mixture over the bacon and cheese.
  8. Add quiche to oven’s middle rack and cook for 25 minutes.
  9. After 25 minutes move to upper rack, increase heat to 400 degrees, and cook another 10-15 minutes or until filling is nicely browned and set.
  10. Allow to stand 5-10 minutes before cutting.
    Slice of Quiche Lorraine

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Filed under Breakfasts, Month of Exploration, Uncategorized

Day 1: Artichoke Hearts, Prosciutto, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Fettuccine

Artichoke Hearts, Prosciutto, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Fettuccine

Artichoke Hearts, Prosciutto, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Fettuccine

Day 1 of my self-imposed month of personal work (or what my dear friend Emma more generously calls “my month of exploration.”)

Doggedly determined to do (and enjoy) all those things I always swore I would do if I wasn’t sitting at my desk at 7a I slept in, albeit waking up at 6:30a on the dot and smugly noticing that the “on” button on my alarm clock was humbly dark. I lounged in bed in my PJs. I ate toffee for breakfast. I watched two (two!) episodes of The Office and I even thought they were funny.

I made it until 12:15p.

And then, I couldn’t take it anymore. I leapt out of bed, cleaned the house, tidied up the kitchen, walked the dog in the pouring ran (the long loop!), picked up cupcakes for book club, and began organizing my closets.

Looks like I’ve got a ways to go until I reach that highly enlightened and peaceful state. In the meantime though, there’s always pasta.

This is very simple, quite yummy, and adapts well to being a base from which you can throw random leftovers into and use them up.

Make it on a rainy Thursday when you realize it might take more work than you thought to slow down.

Artichoke Hearts, Prosciutto, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Fettuccine

14 oz can whole artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

1/2 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

1/4 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced

4 oz sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced (packed in oil)

8 TB Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Fettuccine for 4

1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)

Parmesan (optional)

  1. In a large non-stick skillet, add four TB olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the artichokes, season with salt and pepper, and cook until artichokes are softened and fully blended, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to a boil and cook fettuccine according to directions. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water before draining.
  4. Add the basil, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, and remaining four TB olive oil. Stir well and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally, about another 5 minutes.
    Artichoke Mixture

  5. Add the artichoke mixture and pasta water to the cooked fettuccine and toss well. Like all things, this is better with a bit of cream, so if using that add now and toss to combine.
    Tossed
  6. Top with black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan.
    ArtichokeHeartsFinal

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Filed under Comfort Foods, Lactose Free, Month of Exploration, Pasta, Uncategorized