Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend Roundup - An "oh so sweet" one

Well, inspired by the bedtime music in my ears and the threat of insomnia I decided to go ahead and make the post that has been floating around in my head but that I decided to forego in pursuit of a full nights sleep and an early morning.  The full nights sleep may not happen now, but I'm still holding out hope for the early morning.  I found that Sunday my head is always buzzing with reflections on the weekend..and lately since I started writing posts here those reflections seem to slowly manifest themselves into blog post drafts in my head.  And as I have the evenings that come along that I feel the distance between my family and other friends so heavy in my gut, it often becomes a necessity to make these silly posts.  I always feel a little closer to those distant far off places when I do.
Since it's nearly been a solid month since I've traveled away from home, had visitors or been out of sorts I'm starting to find my routine here.  I am starting to compare my surroundings less and less to what was the past and develop habits and hobbies and potentially a personality of my own.  The things I really have started to love up here are the beauty, the proximity to so many places, the City and all its culture and the well organized cyclist culture.  I could probably think of a new activity or place to explore every weekend for countless weekends.  And although that in no ways means life is whole and meaningful it is something I've come to appreciate.
This weekend was another weekend in the city.  A great weekend of recharging activity, new experiences and fabulous food.  Because where would my post be without talking about food :)  A friend (3rd removed) I met last time I was in the city invited me to this monthly potluck he holds.  This isn't just any potluck, it's a brilliantly executed potluck where each month there is a new theme and most likely new faces to go along with it.  It's such a great idea, I don't know why I had never been or done anything like it before.  This tradition has been built and grown for 6 years.  I ventured to it with my childhood friend and it was very entertaining to see all the different faces, dishes and stories about how they had ended up being invited to this potluck.  The theme this month was the anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union (20 years).  Pretty creative.  You had to bring a dish (or beverage) from a nation in the union.  There were lots of potatoes and dumplings, vegetable and meat concoctions, breads, home made ice cream and 2 Baklavas - one of which was ours.  Baklava is kind of a stretch..but really it's a staple dessert throughout the region, so who cares if it's Greek or Turkish or whatever it is.
So this is different than my normal post..where I diddy on about some extremely fabulous, flavorful but healthy dish that I throw together in my kitchen.  Baklava is really a Hammer when it comes to desserts.  BUTTER, sugar, nuts, filo dough, cinnamon, spices and a dash of lemon.  But oh so fabulous I almost think our dish should have gone on the Savory list instead of the sweet..although that it is and then some.
Our Baklava - a nutty, buttery sugar casserole of nuclear proportions
Don't ever call Baklava dry - Our Baklava could pick a fight with any of your people's Baklava
I don't know if we ever heard an official vote on which Baklava was reigning champion of the potluck (ours was a Walnut/Almond combo with a sugary, cinnamon filing and the other girl's was Pistachio/Almond with more of a honey drizzle.
So today was another venture back to the 'burbs from Astoria..that is after the traditional NY bagel & shmear, some Yoga and a little bit of shopping.  I came back home, walked in the humid air up to Walgreens and got home to do some work and relax/have leftover Baklava and tea just before the rain hit.  We are a bit fortunate here in CT because even though we don't miss out on humidity, it only seems to come just before a rain storm.
Well I couldn't leave you without at least a little shot of more home cookin.
A quinoa, spinach(from frozen), brussel sprout, sesame seed tofu mixture with ginger and Tamari
I saved room for one of my favorite desserts/movie combos though.  Air popped corn with agave nectar and cinnamon. Don't knock it till you try it.
Caution: will cause sticky fingers
Here is wishing everyone a happy, healthy and fulfilling week.  Also, I've discovered a new App that is really good at tracking my cycling routes.  If you want to follow my rides Go Here!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Down at the Sunset Grill and My Love of Mason Jars

Last week I ate 2/3rds of all my meals out of Mason jars.  That's right, Mason jars are awesome.  I made a vegetable soup and rationed it out for the week, brought that along with my morning oatmeal and enjoyed delicious, free meals in minutes all week! And they don't spill or give you nasty BPA cancerousness..  So it may have taken a lofty investment from Whole Foods last week, but I can't tell you how happy I am that I didn't have to eat the treacherous food from the cafeteria AT ALL last week.  The cafeteria at work is pretty decent, they have a salad bar with various option, sandwiches prepared however you want, a grill station, hot entree of the day and soup.  But for some reason I keep finding that, not knowing what they put in their food, meals there are often followed by aches and pains in the gut.  Worst of all is "fill up Fridays"..popularly called "F up Friday" around the office...usually fulfilling it's namesake on your stomach..
Magical Mason jars all filled up and ready for duty!
This weekend was another classic stay at home weekend.  I feel like I've had so few of those this summer..the whole last few months are a blur.  My goal this weekend was get my house cleaned and go on a long solo bike ride.  I always loved those Saturday mornings in Arkansas. I woke up at the crack of dawn and slipped out into the quiet dewy morning to gather a long bike ride, just me and the road, fog hovering over fields.. I would return tired all over but rejuvenated for the day.  It was most often followed by a rewarding walk up to the square for some Farmers market.  This Saturday I had about the closest I possibly could get to a typical Saturday morning back home.  I left the house on my bike and road 35 miles up to a reservoir called the Saugatuck Reservoir. Really beautiful roads with historical colonial houses, rolling hills in the forest and many other cyclists enjoying the warm fresh CT morning.  I mapped my ride here: The Daily Mile.  Afterwards I went with a friend up to the Farmers market in New Canaan.  Not the same as Fay Farmers market but still a place for great food finds and iced coffee :)

I also discovered another hidden gem this weekend.  A fabulous summer hangout/restaurant/bar down the street from my house.  It's about 2 miles away, right along the sound.  It's called the Sunset Grill..and the weather Friday and Saturday were so amazing it felt like I was on a patio on vacation in Florida. They had a guitarist playing melodic classic tunes in his own sort of unique style.  I spent Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday night hanging outside was fabulous.  The crowd for dinner were your usual local rich yachtsmen & women..but at night the crowd was a little more chill.  Below, a picture and video from the grill..
Sunset the Sunset
Sunday of course was a rare weekend when the only reason I left the house was to take out the trash..nuff said.

Tonight I made an awesome Tofu, Tomato, Basil Pasta with some farmers market cherry tomatoes.  I cooked the tofu, onions and pepper slowly drawing out the juices but got a little impatiant towards the end and the tomatoes and pasta ended up a tad under-cooked.  But it was delicious anyway.  The tomatoes were so tough and juicy they wouldn't quite wilt down..but were still good.  I also got the bread from the farmers market..the local New Yorker had me sold..especially the guy sampling some with fresh mozzarella and arugula pesto!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Weekend Haunting

I had a great weekend, really couldn't have asked for a better weekend.  Unfortunately, it didn't stay behind, to be remembered by my fond memories.  Monday was a weekend haunting.  It could have been the Bloody Mary bar at Boxcar Lounge, the giant greasy slice of New York's finest pizza, the hot steamy weather, the giant bottomless/endless/mysterious dinner in Korea-town..or possibly the hour long nasty train ride home at 9 o clock to top it all off...  Who knows, I was hoping the wholesome Yoga + Fruit smoothies I enjoyed in the morning would offset all the bad deeds..  Well, regardless, I woke up ill, to say the least, and spent the day laying on the couch with my computer on my lap answering emails and attempting to be productive with about a third of my usual energy.  Sometimes the price you pay for having a little fun.

Sometimes I forget how crazy NYC can be on the weekends.  When I've gone in recently it seems to have been either on a week night or middle of the day on the way to the airport.  When I got off at Grand Central (after a delayed train ride that included being stranded on the tracks and being "rescued" by another train) there was an overwhelming mass of people.  Luckily I have mastered the art of darting through crowds in the city and was able to sneak through to the subway.  I had some important ladies to meet up with at the MET!  I've been to the MET the most out of any of the museums in New York.  I wouldn't say I find the art and artifacts especially interesting compared to most museums but somehow the atmosphere is always conducive to spending time wandering in good conversation.  Which was perfect for us, three girls who grew up together who had some catching up to do.  That probably sums up my entire weekend..good food and good conversations.  Which is to be expected when you are spending time with old friends.  sSaturday night conversation was held at Mercadito - an intimate cantina on the lower west side.  Sunday morning on a fire escape in Queens, a backdrop of the NYC skyline, over a bowl of fruit and oats.  Later, in a tiny crowded bar in Alphabet city called The Boxcar Lounge and finally in a loud, borderline hysterical Korean restaurant in Korea Town (name forgotten/never learned..).  Overall the weekend wasn't too crazy, which I liked, although it did kind of end in a craze.  On a side note: Boy am I getting good at my NYC neighborhoods knowledge now!

So needless to say, after all of the relentless travel lately, today really begins a period of "wholesome living" for me.  Writing in this blog more frequently, as well as becoming connected to other blogs has really inspired me to add a little routine to my life that involves culinary exploration and diligence to both improving and enjoying life.
So where did I start tonight?  Whole Foods.   Where did I end?  Broke.
Okay, not really..actually I got quite a bit of stuff for the amount I paid.  The fun part was carrying it all up the stairs..thank goodness I found a close parking spot.
All my booty - delicious treasures
The plan was to stock up on the basics..pantry stocking.  I made a list of things that are in a majority of the recipes I have seen online and won't spoil too quickly.  Now..thanks to the beauty that is Whole Foods I ended up back home with a lot of UNPLANNED things as well.  You ever go to the grocery store and by the end of your trip, as you are unloading your cart, you get to the bottom and completely forget ever picking up the things that are there?  Yah..that was me today.  But I'm still proud of myself because it all fit in the 4 bags I brought with me.
So unfortunately I had to postpone the soup I was going to make tonight since I didn't get home till 8.  But I did make some quinoa, jar some beans and slice an avocado to take for lunch this that's something.
Dinner tonight was quick and tasty.  I'm going to post pictures..because I can..
Brown Rice, Black Bean, Avocado, Salsa, Kale and Parm
Dessert :)
Frozen blueberry mango soup!  - Hemp Milk, Frozen Fruit and Cinnimon
Yeah I'm a nerd..but deal, you know you want some. ;)
I am looking forward to the next month or so which involves NO travel.  Whatever will I do with myself!  Guess you'll have to stick around and find out.
Apparently the south is about to get pummeled by mother nature, stay safe fam and friends!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Are you down with TVP? Yeah you know me! - Improv hour in the kitchen.

Brown Rice, TVP, Brussel Sprouts, Almonds & Chunky Frontera Salsa

Improv seems to be a big theme in my life lately.  It's kind of an odd theme but its appearance has been numerous enough over the last few days that I think it is a fitting title for my evening in the kitchen.  First of all, I was in Chicago for the past 2.5 days for a work team meeting.  The trip was thankfully just long enough to get in some good nights of letting lose a little with my coworkers but short enough to not totally exhaust me.  Part of our meeting involved a kind of scavenger hunt that took us to various places in Chicago.  We had to complete multiple tasks for points against other teams.  One of our challenges was to perform a skit related to themes of the meeting (insert corporate jargon) in front of Second City, the famous improv comedy club.  Also, I have been reading the book Blink-The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  It's kind of interesting to hear about powerful unconscious processes that happen in our mind that effect the decisions we make.  The chapter I read on the way home from Chicago discussed a particular Improv comedy group and how they are able to make split second decisions based upon the practice of Acceptance while performing.
So tonight fits into improv a little bit.  Acceptance definitely came into play as well.  Acceptance of new, untasted foods.  I came home from running errands all afternoon, didn't have time to go to the grocery store and decided I was just going to save money and go home and wing it.
I read recently on one of the blogs I've been browsing for food inspiration about TVP.  Textured Vegetable Protein.  Sounds pretty...yuck..right?  Well basically it is de-fatted cooked and dried soy flour (says Bob's Red Milll bag).  It is an excellent source of plant based protein.  I'm no vegetarian, but I am always open to new forms of getting lean protein.
It's really easy to make, basically you just boil water, pour it over the TVP and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.  It comes out looking kind of like canned tuna (chopped in little pieces minus the fish smell).  Tonight I whipped out the rice cooker, sauteed up some frozen brussel sprouts and added some seasoning (salt, pepper, oregano & basil) and chunky tomato salsa.  It was easy and actually ended up tasting pretty good!  Except one thing keeps coming to my mind as I sit here on the couch: FIBER!  I knew I shouldn't have eaten the entire bowl + a Kashi fruit bar...I feel like I shoved a school bus full of children in my stomach!  The TVP has about 16% of your daily value per serving, so watch out when you combine it with rice and veggies..some recipes combine it with beans too.  But, it is a healthy meal, although a little goes a long way.  I would recommend giving TVP a try, I'm sure with more time and resources on your hands you could come up with a much more creative rendition than me.

This weekend I'm going to get a little taste of Arkansas in the Northeast!  I'm headed in on the train to the city tomorrow morning to spend a weekend with old friends.  My good friend Zach recently returned to the states to NYC from Afghanistan, where he has worked the past few years.  So us local Fayettevillians are congregating in honor of his return! Very excited, always love seeing familiar faces up here.  Especially faces I've known for nearly 20 years. :)
Happy Weekend to everyone!