Friday, August 31, 2012

August in Instagram

Wow, it seems like half of these things happened a year ago.  August has been fun!

Aliens have landed in Italy, Texas.

Chihuly Glass Installation 

Watson and Crick Bobbleheads at the Cold Spring Harbor Giftshop

Rockefeller Center


Took my first run along the Riverwalk as part of my half-marathon training and saw these cool fish suspended under a bridge by the Art Museum.

I firmly believe in playing with your food!

Fixed my overheating laptop (thanks to Geoff's supervision and supplies), but opening up made me really nervous!!

Finally made it to the Darwin travelling exhibit at the Witte Museum a week before it closed.

3D IMAX movie date to watch Born to be Wild.
(Baby elephants feeding themselves bottles is even cuter than you're picturing it.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy National Waffle Day!!!!

What's that? You didn't know it was the 143rd anniversary of Cornelius Swartwout's U.S. patent for the waffle iron?  Not to worry, International Waffle Day is coming up next March 25.  Or, I suppose, you could just make waffles because they are delicious and make people happy.  Tonight, the Waffles of Insane Greatness as adapted by Molly Wizenberg made these people very happy (the bacon may have also helped).

These waffles really are insanely great.  The real appeal of waffles to me lies in a crispy exterior and this recipe has them in spades.  Veronica and I ripped open the first one hot off the iron and it was unbelievably crisp with a fluffy and moist interior.  It is everything you could want in a waffle and hard to resist eating plain, standing around my kitchen, with mimosas in our other hands.  But, we restrained ourselves after the initial waffle and ate the rest topped with blackberry-blueberry compote at the table.  Any berries that are on sale or you have in the freezer would work.  I just cooked them down with some maple syrup for sweetness and then thickened with a tiny bit of cornstarch slurry to give it more body.

Our lovely neighbors provided the waffle iron this evening, but I'm thinking that I'll be needing one of my own soon.  As insanely great as these waffles were, I'm constantly afflicted with culinary wanderlust and could never be tied down to a single waffle recipe when there are yeasted buckwheat waffles, cornmeal-bacon waffles with thyme-infused syrup, and liege waffles to be had.  Do you have a favorite waffle to add to my list?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Life is a (Half) Marathon

I've been seeing a lot more early mornings lately.  Why you ask?  Because I'm training to run the San Antonio Rock'n'Roll Half Marathon on November 11th!  13.1 miles is a long way, but it's for a good cause.  I'm running to raise money for Spina Bifida Texas, a local charity which works with children and families affected by neural tube defects which frequently results in leg paralysis and, for most affected individuals, life in a wheel chair.  

Spina Bifida Texas has many programs to support children with disabilities and two of my favorites are a nutritional and activity program to help children in wheel chairs manage their health and well-being.  The other is FashionAble which pairs high school students interested in fashion design with kids who need specially tailored clothes to accommodate medical devices when they attend a big event, like their prom.

With limited funds from philanthropic societies, these and other programs are at risk without private donations. That's why I'm running this race and why I'm asking for your support.  You can donate securely HERE just scroll to the bottom and click "Donate" under my pretty face.  For every $10 you donate, you'll earn one spot in a raffle for a custom-knit scarflet, hat, or fingerless gloves!  If you want to gift your knitted goodness, I'll even be sure to get it to you before the holidays.  Thank you so much for your support - financial and emotional - it keeps me running!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Savory Jams

I've mentioned before that I try not to can things that are readily available at the grocery store.  Sweet and savory tomato jam definitely falls into that category.  I saw this on the Wednesday Chef blog more than a year ago and was drawn in by the idea of a tomato jam to use on sandwiches and especially as a new twist on my favorite Sunday morning toast and sunny-side up egg.  It is accented with cumin, which I love, but contains too much sugar for my taste.  I'm working on coming up with ways to use up the rest of the jar, but I've realized that I'm just not that into sweetness outside of dessert.  I like the idea of a tomato jam, but perhaps something halfway between a sauce and tomato paste with lots of herbs and a spicy kick.

My other canning experiment this month was the result of a very overgrown serano plant at Veronica's place.  While I was cat-sitting, I picked nearly a pound of red and green peppers and still left quite a few on the plant!  I had seen this recipe for pepper jelly at Confections of a Foodie Bride and decided that would be the perfect use for this bounty.  I have fond memories of party appetizers from my undergrad days consisting of just the block of cream cheese covered with jalapeno jelly and served with crackers.  I made a half-recipe each with red and green seranos.  A few notes of caution on this recipe.  First, boiling hot peppers in vinegar should only be done with the exhaust fan on - unless you are trying to drive guests out of your house.  Second, seranos are HOT, so I added back only a tiny amount of pulp that came through the sieve and the result was still pretty spicy.  If you don't like the heat, you can make a milder version by removing the seeds before boiling the peppers or increasing the proportion of bell peppers to spicy peppers.  This jam includes a lot of sugar, but here it is really necessary to cut the heat of the peppers.  The richness of the cream cheese is a great complement to the jam and I think this is the best way to serve it.  If you're facing an excess of peppers, consider making some pepper jelly and canning it in small jars.  The red and green would make for pretty stocking stuffers or hostess gifts.

I took the jam and cream cheese to a pool party with some girl friends which we all enjoyed until the first thunderstorm we've had all summer rolled through!  Not to worry, there is plenty more summer to be had here in south Texas so we'll have plenty more chances for lounging by the pool.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Break from the Heat

The morning after we returned from Dallas, I boarded a flight to JFK to spend a week at Cold Spring Harbor Labs.  I was attending a course on the Genetics of Complex Human Diseases at the Banbury Center, a small conference center overlooking the Long Island Sound.

I learned so much this week from some really outstanding instructors and I've already put a lot of it to use since I've been back.  The days were long but the setting was incredibly peaceful.  Most nights we watched the sun set over the water and the cool mornings were perfect for runs.  My attempt to run along the beach, however, was met with swans and wobbly ankles.

Because we were the only people on campus, everyone at the conference had the chance to get to know each other in the evenings.  It was a bit like summer camp, complete with ping-pong and board games.  Here I am completing my first ever game of Monopoly (although I quit many in my youth).  It ran almost the entire length of the Olympics' closing ceremonies.

One night, we took a break and all went into Manhattan to see a few sights - Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Times Square.  I hadn't been to Manhattan since 2005 so it was fun to walk around, even if just for an hour.  Rockefeller Center always reminds me of the very first trip I took to NY with my mom when I was about six. 

As the sun set, we made our way to a rotating restaurant on the top floor of the Mariott.  The view was incredible as the city lit up.  From high above, you are removed from the noise and crowds.  There was something surreal about it.  I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching a movie and Spiderman was going to swing by at any second.

My absolute favorite part of the trip, however, was getting to see friends on the way to the airport to fly home.  We visited the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.  Who knew that there was a bird sanctuary in Queens?  Only getting to see my little buddy, once a year means I'm constantly surprised at how much she has grown!  She's really turning into her own sweet, smart, little person and it was great to get to spend the afternoon with her (oh, and her parents).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Long Weekend in Dallas

Sorry I've been quiet around here lately, I've been traveling!  Two weeks ago, we met my parents in Dallas for a long weekend.

We went to the JFK museum, but the real draw was the temporary Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum.  

Dale Chihuly is an amazingly talented glass artist whose work my family has enjoyed for quite a while.  I've seen several of his large-scale works indoors but this was totally new environment and the first time I've seen so many works in one location.

Some of my favorites were positioned in water, this grouping made me think of Venetian Carnival boats (or what I imagine those are like). 

The glass works have a wonderfully organic feel and the color pops like flowers against the drab colors of Texas in August.  I really can't say anything better than what you can see in this small selection of the 200 photos I took.

If you live near or are visiting Dallas before November 5, check it out!  Admission is only $5 during August, but go early because it is HOT!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

In a Pickle, Again

This was my second attempt at homemade pickles.  My favorite pickles are extra-garlicky and super-crunchy.  So basically, I want to can pickles that taste like refrigerator pickles.  It's a lofty standard, but I decided to try out this recipe for ice-brined spicy garlic dill pickles.  Supposedly, pre-brining the cucumbers overnight on ice keeps the pickles from getting too soft during canning.  I don't really follow the science of this, but I gave it a try.

I brined the cucumbers whole but sliced them before putting them in the jars because I mostly use pickles on sandwiches and burgers. I forgot that I was making a half-batch of these and included the full amount of pickle spices.  I didn't really notice a difference, but the pickling liquid is rather yellow.  After a couple days to let the vinegar penetrate the cucumbers, I cracked open a jar.  The pickles were good, but not particularly crisp.  This may be a case where store-bought will always trump my homemade.  I'd much rather spend my time making peach butter.

So what do you do with 8 jars of sliced pickles?  Make oven-fried pickles of course!  I've had my eye on this recipe from Skinnytaste for a while and I wish I had made them sooner!  I added an extra step by flouring the slices first before dredging in egg and the cornmeal/Panko mix resulting in a nice, thick crust that stayed on the pickle chips.  The results were delicious, especially when dipped in ranch dressing spiked with horseradish.  I took these to a ladies' night last weekend and got a bit of good-natured teasing for having biked to the farmer's market to buy these cucumbers, canning the pickles myself, and then making the breaded pickles and horseradish-yogurt ranch dressing from scratch.  That is, when their mouths weren't full.

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