Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer Pastas - Episode 2

I love brussels sprouts. They have a bad reputation as a kind of stinky, cabbagey vegetable, and most kids would turn their noses up at them. But to me, they are delicious little buttery bites of healthy happiness.

I have three favorite ways of cooking sprouts; one is to steam them and then mix them up with cooked sausage (recipe here), another way is to steam them and then cover them with caramelized onions and blue cheese (arguably not healthy at all), and the third is to saute them and add a shot of balsamic vinegar at the end.

So, the other night I was really craving the balsamic sprouts, but I did not want to deal with cleaning the pan when I was done. When you add the balsamic, a syrupy coating from the vinegar can harden onto the bottom of the pan, and it's very difficult to get off. So, I thought, why not try steaming the sprouts WITH balsamic vinegar on them? And that's exactly what I did. Added a little broccoli, pasta, and cheese, and I had myself a light pasta dinner with minimal cleaning up to do.

Method for these sprouts (and broccoli):

*Peal the outer leaves off the sprouts and cut off the hard stems.
*Fill a large pot about 1/4 full of water, and put a couple garlic cloves in the water.
*Place the sprouts in a steaming basket above the water, and season them with salt (not pepper), olive oil, and a generous splash of vinegar. (Generous because some of it will drip down through the holes of the basket, and you want enough to stay on your veggies.)
*Cover and steam for about 15 minutes from the time you turn the stove on, or until the sprouts are easily pierced with a fork.
*Serve over pasta with a teensy bit (or a lot) more olive oil, garnish with parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

This recipe is incredibly adaptable. You could easily do it with zucchini, carrots, broccoli, or any vegetable that you like to steam. The balsamic vinegar adds a flavor that is not too strong, and very pleasant.

Let me know what you think about this and other posts on my facebook page!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Pastas - Episode 1

Some people might say that pasta is not a summer food, but I disagree. I think pasta is an all year food, and it's one of my favorites at that. But in the summer I never really crave heavy sauces. No meat, no thick, garlic-filled tomato sauce. I like my summer pasta simple: usually with just olive oil, salt, pepper, and cheese. Always with cheese.

My garden is growing very nicely, and it makes me really happy to see it filling out again with healthy growth. One of the rose bushes has a bloom on it, and my basil is shooting right up to the sky. Last week I picked some basil leaves for the first time, and combined them with a sprig of Greek oregano (which I grow indoors), some garlic cloves, and some vine-ripened tomatoes.

Here is the official recipe:
*First, boil the pasta. Keep a little water in it, then set aside.

*In the pot that you boiled the pasta in (no use getting two pans dirty!), heat a generous pour of olive oil.

*While the oil is heating, cut a couple tomatoes into large-ish chunks.

*Drop your peeled garlic into the oil to get it nice and aromatic. You might want to chop up your garlic ahead of time, if you like to eat the garlic in the end product. Personally, I put the whole clove in the oil because I prefer to take it out before I eat the finished product. It's up to you!

*Turn the heat down and add the tomatoes. Let them simmer until they start to dissolve.

*Add your herbs last and let them wilt a little.

*Add the cooked pasta back to this mixture and mix everything together.

*Salt & pepper, to taste.

The finished product is light and fresh - perfect for summer!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

learning to rest in the pose

Here is another instance of yoga practice being applied to real life. I have been reading "Meditations from the Mat" by Rolf Gates. I pick it up periodically and read a passage or two, usually in the mornings before I meditate (I have to admit that this is still an infrequent practice, but I'm working on it!). The passage I read yesterday was about learning how to make restful periods a part of your yoga practice. Instead of adopting a "no pain, no gain" attitude towards your body and yoga, give yourself permission to rest, and make resting an active part of your practice. He says:

"We enter a posture, the heat builds, and before long we want to get the heck out of Dodge. That is one option - retreat. But another option is to just back off a little within the posture, rest for a breath or two, and then see if you can deepen the pose."

Reading this passage was not super meaningful to me yesterday morning when I was groggy and struggling to just clear my mind for 5 minutes before work. But today, I found that it resonated in my mind quite a bit.

My living situation has been up in the air for months. And really, I have not felt settled anywhere since I graduated college 3 years ago. Over the weekend I found an apartment that I really fell in love with, and it seems as though everything is going to work out for me to move there. But today I learned that I'm not the only person applying for the place, and just that little nugget of information caused me to panic a tiny bit, and feel like my expectations were caving in and that I would probably never find a place to live, ever.

But then I took a deep breath, and then a few more, and I remembered what I had read yesterday morning. This is a difficult situation to be in, but can I find rest within it? Can I take a step back from my panic and stay grounded during this turbulence? The answer is yes, I can. Even though this is really challenging, and I feel scared and unsure about what my future holds, I can continue to breathe and make decisions that are right for me, without retreating.

So, here we go.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Salads

While it is blisteringly hot outside, I find that eating a nice, refreshing salad is ideal. And while I love my old standby of basic romaine, tomato, pepper salad, I have lately been taken with eating a tomato and mozzarella salad almost every day for lunch. My garden basil is not ready for me to start picking leaves off it yet, but I do have a small oregano plant in my kitchen, and its leaves add a nice peppery taste to my caprese salad.

So, here's the recipe:

Vine tomatoes (or heirloom, which I hear are sublime)
Mozzarella (you might be a wiz and make your own, or you might buy it like me)
salt and pepper
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
basil and/or oregano leaves, to taste

Just slice up your tomatoes and cheese and mix them together in a bowl. Be generous with your oil and vinegar (then you can sop it up with some crusty bread!) and add your spices to taste. Easy!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cultivating a Green Thumb

I am not very good with plants. I'm amazed by my friends and family members who have the knowledge and finesse to grow things, whether inside or out. In my new neighborhood in Washington, DC, many many neighbors have beautiful, luscious gardens, and so since I moved here last month I've wanted to help our tiny sad garden become beautiful again. So, since today is my last day of unemployment, and since the heatwave has broken somewhat, I decided to try and make something happen!

Here is what our garden looked like before I started:

It was intimidating. Jungly, thorny, dry, rocky. I wasn't sure if I would be able to make anything out of it. But thanks to the internet and my mom and dear friend Kate, I gained a tiny bit of knowledge and felt confident in pruning the rose bushes, pulling up all the weeds, adding some healthy soil, and planting some new plants. So, I went to the hardware store and got started.

The guy who checked me out at the hardware store LOVED the fact that I was buying manure. He could not say do-do enough times. Anyway.

So I came home and pruned, dug, airated, mixed, watered, and planted. Et voila! The garden looks like a place where life can happen! I also said a little prayer for the plants to not die. Not sure if it will help, but with my reputation for killing plants, I figured it was worth a shot.

Here is my after shot:



And a peony!

I feel like this was a success, and my first step towards becoming a competent gardener. It was sweaty and dirty and exhausting, but I'm pretty excited to watch my garden grow.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Smattering of Thoughts

Coffee update: I have not had any coffee since I last wrote. I've been sticking with black and green tea and it's going great! One thing I didn't mention before is that part of the reason I really want to quit caffeine is because I've started a meditation practice in addition to yoga. And meditating when your brain is ping-ponging around on a caffeine high is unpleasant.

So yesterday I went on a meditation retreat. It began at 9 a.m. with yoga, then we switched between sitting and walking meditation until 3:30, with lunch in the middle. Then I did another yoga class from 4-6. It was a long day, but I'm glad I did it.

Meditating has been a challenging thing to do, because it's hard for me to sit quietly with my mind for 30-40 minutes, or even for 10 minutes. Part of what I find challenging is that I'm self conscious about it. I often feel like I'm not doing it "right" because I'm not seeing immediate results. One thing I've been learning, though, is that all you have to do is sit, and over time you will see the benefits. There is no end to the practice--you never reach a final point and then say, "my meditation practice is complete." Even if you reach enlightenment, or nirvana, or you leave your physical body for a few seconds, you always come back to Earth, and then you try again, and so on. This has been a hard concept for me to grasp, and so it's hard for me to write down, but I hope it makes sense. To quote Hey Arnold, the journey is the destination.

I keep thinking of something that my clarinet teacher Rick Faria said to me once. At the time it meant a lot to my clarinet practice, and now I'm finding that it's really relevant to most areas of my life. He said to me that even though it feels like your playing is having all these dramatic peaks and valleys - one day you're playing something perfectly, and the next you're squeaking all over the place - your general ability is progressing, and that's what really matters. So when you think you are in a rut (or harder: when you're flying high), just proceed as usual and know that you're heading in the right direction, as long as you're moving forward.

So I'm learning that each moment is brand new, and the moments that came before don't dictate the moments that will come later. And knowing this, my mind and heart are slowly opening more and more. It's pretty neat.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Caffeine Chronicles: Prologue

Hello there. It's been so long since I've posted, I can hardly believe you're even reading this right now. Have you been waiting since January, checking my blog each day, thinking to yourself "maybe today..." and then letting out a long sigh when you find that my blog's latest post is still the one about some book? Well, today you will sigh a sigh of relief, because I'm back! And I'm here to write about coffee.

I have been addicted to caffeine for a long time. I don't remember when it started, but it was somewhere between high school and college. It flared during the summer after my senior year, when I was watching Gilmore Girls excessively while house sitting. The gilmore girls are hopelessly addicted to coffee, and they speak about coffee every 5 seconds. All that mention of coffee, combined with boredom and the novelty of being in someone else's house, I started drinking coffee about 3 times a day.

Four months later and I was living in New York City, working two jobs, one of which was the closing shift at Starbucks. Working at Starbucks fanned the flame, to say the least, and before I knew it I was drinking a venti iced red-eye on the way to work in the mornings. (A red-eye is coffee with a shot of espresso in it.) My addiction continued unchecked for another year, give or take a couple months.

Last winter, I vowed to make over my life. I had started doing yoga, and I wanted to begin a macrobiotic diet. Macrobiotics doesn't allow caffeine (or meat, dairy, tomatoes, or alcohol), so I tried to quit cold turkey. I have to say it was extremely difficult to cut off all vices in one fell swoop, and all of them slowly crept back into my life. But I did manage to stop drinking coffee and switched to black tea. I stayed with black tea until very recently, when coffee slowly came back into my life, and now I am a lunatic for the stuff again.

Now, you might say, black tea has almost as much caffeine as coffee, so what's the big deal? The big deal is that I can function in the mornings before I have tea. I don't have dramatic ups and downs in energy level. I don't turn into a huge b-i-t-c-h or fall asleep at my desk if I don't have a cup of tea in the afternoon. Coffee, though, has a vice-like grip on my brain, and it makes me nuts.

So, I'm going to start over. I know what's coming: blinding headaches for a couple days, irritability. But I know that it's worth it, and I think it will help to write about this endeavor in this here blog, and I hope you'll bear with me. I'm going to take a step-down approach, switching to black tea first, and then down to green tea.

The sad irony is that what fuels my determination to quit coffee is, in fact, a giant cup of coffee.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chronic City

Well, I have just been tantalized by the deliciousness over at my friends' blog "Tea and Limpets," and am now moved to contribute something to the blogosphere as well. While I didn't bake any bread or create a dessert of mini brownie pie shells filled with mousse, I have been reading a pretty great book. In my last post I talked about how excellent characters can override my experience of reading a terribly written piece of literature. Now, though, I am soothed by the deliciously long sentences of Jonathan Lethem.

"Chronic City" is Lethem's most recent novel, and so far I think it is his best. I read "Fortress of Solitude" and "Motherless Brooklyn" in college, and I loved both of them. Both FOS and MB play with different narrative styles: FOS is in 3 sections: the first from the point of view of a little boy living in Brooklyn, the second an extended fictional liner note written by the same boy, and the third from the point of view of the boy many years later as an adult. "Motherless Brooklyn" is narrated by an autistic man. In "Chronic City," the narrative easily moves between first and third person, but always stays true to itself, and is not as self-conscious as either of his two earlier books. (He has written many other novels and short stories, but I haven't read them all.)

When I was living in New York I actually met Jonathan Lethem twice. The first time was at the Cooper Union (location of the Lincoln-Douglas debates), where he was discussing the work of a science fiction writer whose name escapes me. At that meeting I was overcome with excitement at meeting my then-favorite author, and I could barely speak as I asked him to sign my copy of Fortress of Solitude. The second time was at a bookstore on Prince Street called McNally Jackson. This time he was with a musician named Paul D. Miller, discussing a book called "Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture." The book seemed incredibly interesting, and the audience was very engaged in the discussion of sampling and ownership of music in this digital age. After the presentation, I went up to meet him again, and when I offered my hand for him to shake, he just didn't shake it. Maybe he was sick, but I think probably he is an eccentric person. But I still like him!

So with that, I want to share with you a sentence in "Chronic City" that practically made my eyes pop out of my skull and my heart leap with delight, especially after enduring the short, stiff prose of Twilight:

"To live in Manhattan is to be persistently amazed at the worlds squirreled inside one another, the chaotic intricacy with which realms interleave, like those lines of television cable and fresh water steam heat and outgoing sewage and telephone wire and whatever else which cohabit in the same intestinal holes that pavement-demolishing workmen periodically wrench open to the daylight and to our passing, disturbed glances. We only pretend we live on something as orderly as a grid."

Bonus interesting factoid: Lethem splits his time between New York and Maine now, and I like to think he wrote his twisty descriptions of underground Manhattan from the comfort of a wide living room with windows facing a lake surrounded by dense forests, far from the noise of the city.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You should know I'm not immune to the vampire craze.

Seeing as the title of my blog comes from a Billy Collins poem, you may guess that I am an appreciator of the written word. Some might call me a bibliophile, and they'd be right. I love reading, and I like to think I have good taste in books. I majored in English, after all. There is just one thing that I can't really explain. I love the Twilight books.

Still reading? Thank you. Now, I say I can't really explain it, but I am going to make an effort. The Twilight series has universal appeal because it is a love story, and I think that most people enjoy love stories - especially those with happy endings. The series has the added interest factor for me of being about different kinds of love: romantic, friendly, familial. So that is the reason I like them. But, there are also reasons why I think they are terrible.

Aside from the basics - namely, the fact that the vampires in these books COMPLETELY depart from historical vampire lore, combined with the old-fashioned-bordering-on-pre-women's-lib values that the characters adhere to - the books are not well written. Stephenie Meyer's prose style is halted, overly descriptive, and lacking in a very robust vocabulary. In the fourth book she misuses the word "ironic" more times than I could count.

What I think has carried these books to the level of international phenomenon is that the characters are strong and memorable. When you read the books you really feel like you are in the narrator (Bella)'s head, feeling everything she feels, and wanting everything she wants. There is a juicy level of temptation and longing in the first two books that keeps the pages turning.

Also, I mentioned the old-fashioned values. Twilight has been criticized for being anti-feminist, but I don't think that's entirely true. The book has a simple hook for young women: girl meets boy, he loves her back, everything works out. She doesn't start a career and have blazing success in the business world, she doesn't go on a quest for self discovery. She falls in love, and that gives her life meaning. Now, of course I know that this is not something that fits into the realm of feminism, but I think that the reason it has such appeal for young girls is precisely BECAUSE it is old-fashioned. I think that feminism has pushed this ideal independence so far that young women are longing to go back to a simpler time. For a better written and more cohesive take on this argument, please read this article:

So there you have my thoughts on Twilight. Even though the terrible writing drives me absolutely insane, there is something about these books that keeps me coming back for more. My advice is: don't start reading them.