Monday, February 28, 2011

My Home Away From Home

As soon as I get to my hotel room or the equivalent when I'm on vacation, I need to unpack.  It's a compulsive thing, and I'm a bit antsy until I can get every last item out from the crevices of my Samsonite.  I didn't even realize I did this until I started vacationing with John and he started to laugh at my desire to unpack as soon as we entered our room.

Most people don't do that?  I guess lots of people will just live out of their suitcases, but not me.  I unpack even if I'm staying for one night.  It just makes it feel like I'm at my home away from home.

Trust me, this St. Martin villa is nothing like my home in California. For one thing, we don't have it decorated in a bright green and white motif.

I also don't spend my days napping with this view.

There are no wicker lamps hanging in threes above our outdoor glass dining room table.

And none of my furniture looks like a coral-branch-spiderweb thingie.

I do have one of these at home though.  With him it always feels like home.  Particularly when he's making fun of me for unpacking.


If you need me, now you know where to find me.  I will be soaking in this outdoor bath adjoined to my room at our villa in St. Martin.  Yes, you heard that right, an outdoor bath.  I've heard of outdoor showers before (the other two bedrooms have one), but an outdoor bath seems a lot more exciting to me.  It's like your own personal pool where you can control the water temperature (don't worry, our villa has a pool too).  Hope all is well in the United States!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Five Things

A long week is over in our household.  John is done with the bar exam and I'm done waiting for vacation to start.  We leave Saturday morning at some ungodly hour like 6:00AM.  That means we leave the house around 4:00AM.  Eesh.  John has a thing that vacation starts as soon as you are through security, so I guess I should just be thankful my vacation is starting a little bit early this time.

Next week I will struggle to come up with five things making me happy in the Caribbean.  It is going to be tough.

As for this week, I had quite a few bright spots.  Firstly, I bought a box of Tagalongs from some Girl Scouts peddling them outside our farmers market last Sunday.  Kale and tagalongs don't exactly go hand-in-hand...mostly because both of your hands are busy stuffing tagalongs into your mouth and you are completely uninterested in kale.

Have you ever heard of toast tongs?  I bought mine at Pearl River in Soho, thinking they were tongs to take tea bags (without strings) out of tea.  I now realize they are toast tongs, and I am all the more grateful for them.  No more burning your fingers on the hot coils (or bread for that matter)!  These are insanely cheap, take up almost no room, and work a heck of a lot better than a knife.

I cannot even begin to describe how much more I like our current dog walker than our former dog walker.  And it isn't just because she baked John cupcakes to wish him god luck on the bar exam.  She's a senior in high school with a sweet, easygoing personality and I'm not sure what we'd do without her.

I admit it, I've been a bad library patron lately.  Not because I have overdue books, but because I haven't been in several months.  This meant I went the Amazon route for this vacation and picked up two books that couldn't be more different.  Hunger Games for reading in the shade and Black Heels to Tractor Wheels for reading in the sun.  Trash reading ahoy.

I don't drink soda, but this week I was drinking Mexican coke (made with cane sugar) and GUS (Grown up Soda) Ginger Ale.  Both were to ease this bizarre stomach upset I had for a few days.  I can't say whether either worked, but they sure were tasty.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fort Funston Doodle Romp

John and I went to our first doodle romp last weekend at the beach.  It was amazing to meet lots of great doods and their parents.  And I might have figured out how to take action photos.  It's about time.

These two doodles are both named Kooper and are brothers!  Apparently the breeder, by mistake, told both families they were getting a dog named Kooper and the name stuck for both families!

Doodles love kids and kids love doodles.  A perfect relationship.

Our neighbor's pooch, Mochi, lead the pack.

Harper was like the little neighborhood kid who tried to play with the bigger kids and they just rolled their eyes.

This dog, Rylee, was also a puppy and Harper had a blast with her.

It was really amazing to see all those doodles playing together.  Doodles are always so sweet when they play.

Dogs with long curly hair do not look their best wet or half wet.  Good thing when it's your own dog they are always beautiful to you.

God I love California.

The two Koopers had an amazing run-in at the end of our walk.  They met their mama, Mocha, who randomly happened to be at the beach.  Maybe one day we will run into Harper's mom or dad!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Our Little Graduate

This Saturday Harper graduated from Puppy Kindergarten.  I was told there would be an actual test at the end to see if your dog was sufficiently trained, but that didn't really happen.  A couple of the delinquents got asked to come to an extra class next week, but they still got to put on their graduation caps.   Apparently PetSmart is a touchy-feely-school, not a hardcore institution.  Who knew?

Harper was always one of the top pups in the class, mostly because we actually worked with her every night on what we had learned that previous Saturday.  I was amazed at the people who would come to class not having worked with their dogs.  Of course their puppies don't know how to lay down - you didn't teach them!

Doesn't this look like her "Uh oh I was a bad girl" face?  Hopefully we'll see this face less and less as we train her more and more.

We signed up for the intermediate class that starts in early March.  Apparently this is where we teach dogs to heel.  Oy, that is going to be rough.  For now we will celebrate our minor success.  To Harper!

Slow Cooker Chicken Chipotle Tacos

Let's be real, one of the best parts about a slow cooker is the convenience factor.  Don't get me wrong, it does a great job making food tender and delicious, but I can also do that by simmering something on my stove or cooking it in the oven.  The beauty of a slow cooker is that you can leave it on your countertop all day while you are at work and not worry about burning the house down.  Well, not worry too much about it, I guess.  The problem is that most slow cooker recipes are not really suitable for a weekday morning throw-in-the-ingredients-and-go.  I may manage to chop an onion before work, but I have no expectations of being able to pan fry some chicken before going to work.

That's why this slow cooker recipe is particularly wonderful.  Sure, it tastes great, but the magic lies in the fact that you throw in raw chicken before heading to work and then come home to delicious shredded chicken for tacos.  Assuming you can handle microwaving some tortillas, cutting a lime, and slicing up some iceberg lettuce, dinner is done.

I've made this recipe twice already and it is going to continue in rotation.  It uses chipotles for a bit of heat and smokiness.  The chicken has some kick to it, but add the amount of chipotles you feel comfortable with based on your heat tolerance level.  For me a year ago this would be about a 1 on a scale of 1-10.  Nowadays I'm more likely to go for a 5 as my idea heat level.

The recipe works well with chicken breasts or thighs, so use whichever you prefer.  It tastes a lot less time than any other taco meat method and had the bonus of being healthier than ground meats of any sort.  I like these tacos best without cheese, though I'm not sure why.  To me they taste best with shredded lettuce and a nice squeeze of a lime.  Sour cream is a perfect addition too, if you have that on hand.  So next time you are craving tacos, skip the ground meat and break out your slow cooker.  You won't be sorry.

Slow Cooker Chicken Chipotle Tacos
Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1-2 cups tomato salsa (your own or store bought)
1-2 canned chipotle chiles in adobe, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
Kosher salt
Ground pepper

For serving:
Taco shells/tortilla
Sliced iceberg lettuce
Sour cream

Add chicken, sliced garlic, chopped chipotles, salsa, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chili powder in a slow cooker.  Mix until chicken is covered with other ingredients.  Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.  Do not remove lid until cooking is complete (or almost complete).  Pour chicken and sauce into a large bowl and shred with two forks (it should be falling apart).  Serve with heated taco shells or tortilla, shredded lettuce, sour cream, and a nice squirt of lime juice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Five Things

I admit that maybe I took 4 out of 5 of these pictures about an hour ago.  Thursday night came quickly this week, what can I say?

I'm running a half marathon this June with Natalie - so long as work doesn't get in the way like it is threatening to.  I love running almost as much as cooking, but when describing runner's high I can't say I feel the same as this commenter on the NY Times today:

"I’m not sure exactly what runner’s high is, especially since the experience is subjective. However, when I run, I think of people who have passed. Sometimes it’s a friend or someone I saw on t.v. with an exceptionally emotional story. As I’m running I think of these people and I envision myself running for them. Within minutes I feel “prickles” up and down my back, the hairs on the back of my arms stand on end, and I feel a strong floating sensation. It’s fabulous."

(What a weirdo.)

I got my second Microplane zester a few weeks ago and have been grating up a storm.  This one is a lot bigger and is perfect for Parmesan.  I'm not really sure how I can justify having two of these things, but I'm probably going to get a third eventually, let's be honest.

Trader Giotto's (ha) extra virgin olive oil is mediocre and perfect at the same time.  $6 for a liter of olive oil is about as cheap as it gets, which is really all you need when you're roasting vegetables or pan frying some chicken.  Great olive oil is essential, but only for when you're eating it raw (salad dressings, bread dipping, etc.).  I got through a liter of this cheap olive oil every two months or so, and I save my good stuff for what matters.

Some my all time favorite things are the jewelery I have inherited from my mom and grandmothers.  I lost my grandmothers years ago, but it's wonderful to be able to have reminders of them around me all the time.  Some of the jewelery is real and some of it is just costume jewelery, but it's all meaningful to me.

I love this picture of John; what a cutie.  Good luck on the bar exam next week!  Better you than me this time around!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Day (Observed)

John and I observed Valentine's Day on Sunday night, and it's a good thing we did since neither of us got home from work until 8:00 PM on Monday.  Usually Murphy's Law would dictate that our planning ahead would mean we had plenty of time to celebrate on the actual holiday, but apparently Murphy was off celebrating with his wife and forgot to make an appearance.

There is a thing around where we live where instead of vendors selling flowers in anticipation of Valentine's Day, they set up these white tents and sells creepy bears of all sizes wrapped in cellophane.  John and I saw them all weekend leading up to Valentine's Day and kept laughing about how bizarre they were, especially because any recipient of said creepy bears would know they came from a parking lot.  Because John and I have exactly the same sense of humor, he naturally stopped at one of the white tents and picked up a stuffed bear and stuffed rose (who knew they even made those?) for me.  When I opened it I burst out laughing and immediately said, "Did you get this before or after I made fun of these?"  Luckily his answer confirmed what I should have already known.

I didn't only have a gag gift to open, though.  He also got me two Le Creuset pieces.  This cobalt crepe pan will find some use this weekend, I hope.  I've been meaning to share my grandfather's crepe recipe for some time but haven't gotten around to it.  No more excuses.

John claimed this dish was a self-serving present because he has been bugging me to make him casseroles.  Where I am supposed to find these casserole recipes, I don't know, but I better find a way.  Casserole recipes aren't very popular on blogs, but John said I should be ahead of the trend since "food is cyclical."  I think maybe fashion is cyclical, not food trends, but whatever, honey.  Thanks for all the goodies!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies

In honor of Valentine's Day, I bring you a story of love, loss, and finding "the one."

First, the love: these chocolate peanut butter brownies with pretzels are the brownies to end all brownies.  They are rich beyond belief and have the perfect combination of sweet and salty (from the pretzels and the salt you sprinkle on top).  I had never made non-mix brownies before and I am happy to say that, not surprisingly, these were roughly a gazillion times better.  I am a huge fan of peanut butter and chocolate, because I have a pulse, but I also adore the combinations of chocolate and pretzels and peanut butter and pretzels.  The combination of all three sent me into a tizzy I won't get into.  These are amazing, and I love them.  Or, loved them, until I ate all of them.

Now, for the loss.  John was at a work dinner one evening so I was whipping up these brownies...maybe for dinner...maybe just to make them.  We won't get into that.  As I was washing up my dishes and the brownies were baking away, I noticed that a hunk of my blue Le Creuset spatula was missing.  I searched in the sink and in the peanut butter, but I couldn't find the missing piece anywhere.  This got me a little paranoid that perhaps the missing piece was in the brownies.  Ruh roh.  So I decided I wouldn't be able to bring the brownies into work (or send them with John to work) for fear that baking reputation might be tarnished if someone were to say, choke, on a hunk of silicon spatula in something I made.

After two days at home with the brownies, I decided I couldn't have them around me for too much longer or I might consume the whole pan.  This wouldn't be a problem, except I am going on a Caribbean vacation in two weeks.  What are the chances that a piece of spatula actually made it into the brownies anyway?  And what are the chances I would actually bring the brownie with the spatula hunk into work?  Well, apparently the stars were aligned, because the spatula hunk did make it to work that day.  I brought six brownies to work and when only one was left I felt like it was time I had my piece.  As I bit into it I thought "man, I would feel a lot better if I would miraculously get that piece of spatula in my brownie."  As you can probably guess, a little piece of blue was peeking out of my brownie and somehow my attempts to choke a coworker were thwarted.  I felt relieved and a bit embarrassed - I almost did ruin my baking reputation, and likely would have had I not been craving a salty sweet treat at 3:00PM.

The moral of the story is that you should make these brownies, fall in love, and not share them with anyone. 

XOXO, Harper Girl

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For brownies:
1 stick butter
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon instant coffee/espresso (optional)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Coarse sea salt for topping

For peanut butter swirl:
4 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

One large handful of pretzel sticks

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the upper third of the oven.  Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish, line with parchment, and grease parchment.

Bring one inch of water to a boil in a large sauce pan.  In a heatproof bowl placed over the boiling water, melt  and combine butter, chocolate, and espresso powder.  Stir continuously and when butter and chocolate are melted, remove from boiling water to allow to cool slightly.  Whisk granulated sugar into chocolate mixture until the sugar is combined.  Stir in the vanilla extract.  When the chocolate is no longer too hot, whisk in the eggs one at a time.

In a small bowl whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.  Fold the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture until just combined.  Using heaping spoonfuls drop the batter into the prepared pan.

To prepare the peanut butter swirl whisk together peanut butter, melted butter, powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla.

Pour the peanut butter mixture on top of the chocolate batter and run a knife through the batter to create a swirl.  Top the batter with a few sprinkles of coarse see salt.  Lightly crush some pretzel sticks and scatter over top of the batter.  Bake at 325 degrees until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs, 35-40 minutes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Five Things

This week has been better with each passing day as my pups grow stronger, and I get closer and closer to the weekend.  We are heartbroken that it will only be 68 degrees on Saturday, how will we survive?  (Answer: with the heat blasting.)  

Of course, how could I not include in my list of favorites my beloved chipotle peppers in adobe sauce.  I've been picking mine up at Whole Foods and have been opting for the more adventuresome looking cans, those made in Mexico.  I can't say they taste better than the ones made in the U.S. (since I haven't tried those), but I do know they cost more.

John got me this garlic peeler as a stocking stuffer a couple of years ago.  I don't know why I haven't posted on it yet, but this is essential for anyone who loves garlic.  I don't use it for peeling one clove of garlic, but if I'm peeling upwards of three cloves, I will break it out.  You shove the garlic in the center, rolls with your palm and magically the skins are removed.

My obsession with Tex Mex is leading me to use my slow cooker a lot more lately.  I promise two new slow cooker Tex Mex recipes coming soon.  Yes, they both include chipotles.

Anika recommended this book to me, and I've since passed on the recommendation to a few people, including my boss.  David Busch writes books specific to lots of DSLRs.  They are infinitely more user-friendly than the horrid manuals that come with these cameras and really help you figure out how to use the silly things.

Thank goodness our Maddie girl has been recovering well.  Her days of home cooked food are coming to an end now that she's almost back to normal.  As much as I enjoyed cooking for her, I did not enjoy the mess it made all over the floor as she ate (imagine a toddler on all fours).

Have a great weekend, everyone!  We'll be walking around at parks and such all weekend and celebrating Valentine's Day at Dio Deka.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

California Dreamin'

It is my life's mission to convince everyone I know to move to California.  That is why I am not the least bit hesitant to brag about our incredible weather in California.  While the rest of the country battles snow and ice, we had a 70 degree weekend that we spent walking around outside in t-shirts.  Isn't it time you realized California is calling your name?

I never realized how much I liked spending time outside until I moved somewhere that made you want to be outside every day.

We spend almost every Saturday afternoon walking a couple of miles around Point Isabel with Harper - it's one of our favorite things of each week.

We aren't the only ones who love California, Point Isabel, and spending time outside.  Every week there are hundreds of people and pups enjoying the same things we do.

Harper doesn't mind California either.  Get her, girl!
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