0820 Big Bowl of Kale

Big bowl of kale

Recipe for a good solo dinner:

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Thinly slice two large cloves of garlic and add to the oil, moving around until golden.  Wash, stem, and shred as much kale as you happen to have in the fridge.  Shake out the excess water, then add to the pan.  If you have a lid that fits – or that kind of fits, or that at least covers your pile of kale – cover the kale and let it sweat a little, removing the lid and moving the kale around every so often.  Eat while reading cookbooks and planning the next week’s meals, then go for ice cream later.

12 Books, 12 Months

It’s on!  Since 6 people have expressed interest, I think we have a quorum.  After some discussion with Shane, here are the rules:

12 Books, 12 Months Challenge

  • Pick 12 titles from your To Read Pile.  These should be titles you currently own in whatever format you prefer.
  • Acquisition of other formats or translations is permitted.  So, if you have a paperback but want to read on your Kindle, you can get a Kindle copy.  If you have a library copy but want to buy your own, that’s kosher.  Heck, if you own a copy and want to check another out from the library, I’m not gonna stop you.
  • Post your list in your public space of choice by September 1, 2010.  If you prefer not to post, you can just leave a comment with your list.
  • Read all 12 titles between now and September 5, 2011.  Might as well tack on an extra long weekend at the end for cramming.
  • When you finish a title on your list, post about it in your public space of choice.  If you prefer not to post, you can just leave a comment with your review.
  • Once a month, I’ll post a round-up of the reviews posted from that month so that we all know what everyone else has read.

My list:

  1. Boris Akunin – The Winter Queen
    I don’t remember how I came to have this one on my wishlist, but it looks interesting, and I don’t read enough fiction.
  2. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and the Margarita
    We each brought a copy of this to our collection, but I don’t know that either of us have read it.
  3. Lawrence Durrell – Reflections on a Marine Venus
    Durrell’s prose is intoxicating, and I’ve been intending to read more of his work since ~2003.
  4. William Least Heat-Moon – Blue Highways
    I loved River-Horse, and would like to read more of his work.
  5. Henry Miller – Tropic of Cancer
    I’ve owned and intended to read this book since college.  By my calculations, that means I have moved it at least 12 times.
  6. Barack Obama – Dreams from My Father
    I meant to read this in advance of the 2008 election. Now we’re 2 years into the Obama presidency…
  7. Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma
    Because every other foodie person on the planet has read it, but it put me to sleep.
  8. J.R.R. Tolkein – The Hobbit
    I’ve read Lord of the Rings, but not The Hobbit.  It’s time.
  9. Anne Tyler – The Accidental Tourist
    Need to confirm that I actually own this one. The movie based on the book was nominated for Best Picture, not that that means it’ll be a good book.
  10. David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
    I missed Infinite Summer. This is also one of Shane’s favorite – if not THE favorite – books. No more excuses. See also: The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
  11. Duncan Watts – Six Degrees
    I picked this up my first year of grad school because Duncan Watts’s research is interesting and also he is dreamy.
  12. E.B. White – The Points of My Compass
    My good intentions for this book date back to my first attempt at organizing a book club.

What are YOU going to read?

0819 Garden-Fresh Snack Dinner

Snack Dinner
Shane’s favorite grapes, which I included in our wedding vows because it was important to me to remember. Golden beets from our garden and the market plus a couple of huge sweet garlic cloves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, then wrapped in tinfoil and roasted at 375 for about an hour. Green beans from the market, but Szechuan pickled by me.

Snack Dinner
Sopressata. Sharon Hollow goat cheese with garlic and Tellicherry pepper, a $5 impulse buy. The last of a loaf of Italian bread, and a handful of tiny cherry tomatoes that sprung up by surprise in our garden.

Snack Dinner
Green beans from our garden, quickly blanched. Cucumber and radish freezer pickles, also from our garden.

Snack Dinner
All in all, a glorious spread.

Virtual Book Club Challenge

One of the things I really enjoy about Goodreads is getting regular emails about the things my friends are reading.  (No offense, LibraryThingers – Goodreads is just what clicked for me.)  I’ve also been enjoying the long-form reviews over at letters and sodas.  In a recent post, Heather linked to Emily’s Attacking the TBR Tome Challenge – basically, a challenge to pick 20 books off your To Be Read pile or shelf or list and commit to reading them in the next year.

This got me to thinking about our failed attempt at a DC book club and various other virtual book clubs I’ve attempted to organize or participate in – which led me to wonder if a virtual book club where everyone committed to reading something that THEY wanted to read might work better.  Here’s roughly how I imagine it working – drawing heavily from Emily’s previously posted challenge:

  1. 12 months, 12 books from the To Read pile.  The pile can be physical or electronic.
  2. All titles should be ones you already own in your format of choice.
  3. Your titles are selected in advance, and posted on your blog, Facebook, Goodreads or LibraryThing or your book site of choice, by an arbitrary date to be determined.  If you don’t do any of these, email me with your list, and I can include it in a round-up of participants.
  4. Upon finishing each book, you post a review – long or short.  If you don’t blog or do Facebook, etc, find your own way of notifying the world that you’ve just read something and you loved/hated it.
  5. At the end of 12 months, we rejoice in our shared good fortune.

So who’s with me?

0818 Tom Collins: Official Drink of Knights of the West Side

Tom Collins
Photo by bichromephoto

I’ll be honest – I spent most of today looking forward to cocktails at the second meeting of the Knights of the West Side. I even did a little research as to what constitutes a classic cocktail, mostly to determine whether or not I should be able to order a Vesper martini. By the time we we got to Knight’s, though, I chickened out. I guess I didn’t want to have to explain a drink that I’d never had before? Either way, I had a dirty martini, while Shane and Matt had Tom Collinses (Toms Collins?), which I think is now the Official Drink of Knights of the West Side.

Side note: I’m still a little fuzzy on the punctuation of Knights of the West Side. Is it Knights, plural, because there’s more than one person going to Knight’s? Or is it Knight’s, with the same punctuation as the restaurant, which is named after the owner?  Regardless, we enjoyed our drinks and a quality old-timey steakhouse meal: pot roast, new potatoes and carrots, a salad, and gorgeous golden dinner rolls, so hot out of the warmer that we could barely tear them open.  We left full and happy – good food, and good friends.

0817 Tomato Toast and Corn on the Cob

We had planned to have grilled chicken with another batch of that delicious cilantro pesto – but Shane and Aaron’s moped work ran long, and I ate solo instead.

I’ve never been intimidated by eating solo.  I’m not sure why this is.  I’ve always relished the experience of going to a restaurant, ordering whatever I want, eating it at my leisure, and lingering over a glass of wine and a good book.  Sometimes it’s lonely, but most of the time, it’s a lovely and indulgent experience.  I can probably say this because I’m in a relationship and eating solo is the exception rather than the rule – but this was the case even when I was single.

At home, though, solo eating is more of a mixed bag.  Sometimes I’m eating down the fridge, making bizarre-o meals out of whatever’s available.  Sometimes I forget to eat.  Sometimes I prepare elaborate dishes.  Tonight was somewhere in between – an ear of extra juicy sweet corn with a pat of butter so tempting that Mina kept stealing it, followed by tomatoes on toast with a good pinch of fleur de sel.  And then, later, a small bowl of Cheerios, a convenient snack while knitting and watching TV.

0816 Tender Chicken Legs with Sweet Cherry Tomatoes

This is such a beautiful and simple meal – it just takes a little time.  It was also a really good excuse to break out our new butter-yellow enameled cast iron pot that we received as a wedding gift.  Into the pot went two chicken legs, a handful of cherry tomatoes from the garden and the market, a couple of huge cloves of garlic, and basil from the front stoop – with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper.

An hour and a half later, we dug into an amazing summer dinner.  The chicken was tender and flavorful, the  tomatoes collapsed into a sweet broth, and the garlic cloves were caramelized and perfect for spreading on a few slices of bread.  I need to remember this for next summer.

Tender Chicken Legs with Sweet Cherry Tomatoes from Jamie’s Dinners

Mid-year Resolution Check In

Actually a little past mid-year, but who’s counting? Besides, I usually give myself until my birthday to finish up the previous year’s list.

1. Focus on my relationships and be a more patient and loving partner and friend. Also cat parent to Basil, who is adorable but drives me freakin’ nuts.

Working on it, but then this will be a work in progress for the rest of my life.  I feel – if I haven’t mentioned it before – like the biggest change I’ve noticed since getting engaged/married is an increased focus on just this issue.  Like it’s more worth the work, and less like ‘work’, you know?  So that’s pretty awesome.

2. Get married. This should be action item #1, but item #1 on this list is actually much more important.

Done and done, and I still haven’t posted about it.  Wedding photos are up, though, and I can give you a guest pass if you’re not on Flickr.

3. Save aggressively for a house and for overall financial stability.

We’re working on it! Wedding gifts helped us pay for new tires rather than having to gouge our savings, and we’re plugging away each month with the intention of buying next summer.

4. Go camping and generally explore our new state.

No camping yet, but we have been to Muskegon and Detroit a couple of times, plus stops through Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Marshall (all cities/towns that coincidentally house great breweries).

5. Get over my fear of DPNs and knit the kittyville hat.

I’m feeling more competent with DPNs, but have yet to make the hat. Lots of other hats, though.

6. Write two more issues of my zine.

Thought about it but haven’t done anything in that direction in a while.

7. Run 500 miles. This works out to roughly 9.5 miles per week.

My fitness tracker on SparkPeople says I’ve gone 416.7 miles, but a fair chunk of that has been walking. I’d hoped to be able to use data from Nike+ or RunKeeper, but both have been unreliable. Either way, I’m back to running 2-3x per week regularly after recovering from a knee injury in May, so that’s a good thing.

8. Learn CSS. I mean really learn it.

Launching the new site helped considerably towards this end. I still have a lot to learn, but am a great deal more competent than 6 months ago.

9. Read 30 books. This works out to 2.5 books per month.

14 books so far, including books of craft and cookery. Totally counts if you read them cover-to-cover, as I did.

10. Kitchen Diaries project.

A big success, though it has resulted in a few people complaining that our blog is all food, all the time. I’m glad this is a one-year project, though. As much as I’ve enjoyed it, I look forward to the days of being able to eat a lousy dinner and not having to figure out how to get a good blog post out of it.

0815 Pisto Manchego

pisto manchego.JPG
Photo by zordor

Without actually realizing it, I think I’ve been making pisto manchego all summer. A Spanish take on ratatouille, it is peasant food at its finest – putting together a bit of whatever’s available to make a filling and nutritious meal.  This recipe did an effective job of clearing out the crisper, using up the a handful of tomatoes, two peppers, and yellow summer squash all from our garden.

What the recipe lacks, however, is much spice.  As I was sauteing the vegetables, I was concerned that the dish was going to be boring, that I’d just wasted the last squash from our garden – curse you, cucumber beetles!  The recipe recommended serving the dish with tinned tuna or hard boiled eggs – we went with the former, and it made all the difference.  We were both quite pleasantly surprised by the complexity of flavors, especially the sweetness of the pepper in contrast with the savory fish.  I’d like to try this again with fried eggs – perhaps a Spanish improvement on the shakshuka from earlier in the year.

Pisto Manchego
Adapted from Spanish

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium green peppers, seeded and chopped
2 medium zucchinis, thinly sliced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
hard boiled eggs (optional)
tuna in olive oil (optional)

Heat the oil in a large heavy pan – larger than you think you’ll need, trust me – and cook the garlic and onion until soft.  Add the peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.  Season well and cook gently for about 20 minutes.  If you’ve used a pan that’s too small to allow everything to make contact with the cooking surface, it may help to cover your pan with a lid for part of the cooking time.  Stir in parsley just before serving.  Can be served hot, topped with chopped egg or tuna, or cold with a drizzle of olive oil.

0814 22 Pints of Tomatoes

What can I say?  I spent my morning setting up the kitchen – including the all-important wind tunnel formed by the stand fan in the living room and the air exchange fan in the kitchen window – then the afternoon washing jars, boiling water, peeling tomatoes, boiling jars, wiping jars, coring tomatoes, changing ice water, burning myself on the tea kettle, lifting hot jars, adjusting sealing rings, and sneaking out for ice cream.  If I don’t cook anything for a day or two, I think I’ll have earned the break.

And in case you’re wondering, 22 pints of tomatoes equals roughly 18 pounds, half of which came from our garden.  There would’ve been more jars, but our Romas have been affected by blossom end rot, so I had to toss a pound or more that turned out to be nasty on the inside.  I don’t remember how many pints I canned last year, but I think this might be enough to get us almost all the way to next July.  At least I hope so.