Good Things: Wednesday Edition

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and a little under the weather.  I’m trying not to wallow in either, though, because neither is particularly productive.  Instead, a list of good things from this week!

  • We bought this blender and it’s kind of really awesome.  We used to have a blender, then sold it a few years ago because we never used it.  I spotted this one in the Crate & Barrel catalog, and was sold on it when we played with the components at Bed Bath & Beyond.  Thanks to the wonders of Amazon Prime, it arrived in 2 days, and Shane has already blended 2 things with it.  Hooray!
  • It’s totally gorgeous out – 64 and sunny – and my new window bump office was nice and warm in the afternoon sunshine.
  • My photos from Amber came in the mail today and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out!Only 3 weeks left in the semester!  That means a fair amount of grading, but also the imminent return of guiltless free time!
  • This time next week I’ll be on a mini-break with five of my best ladies (and two of their adorable progeny).
  • And OH YES, our first wedding anniversary is Sunday.  Happy almost one year to us!

Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter – April 13, 2011

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): “He who wants to do good knocks at the gate,” says Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore in one of his “Stray Bird” poems, while “he who loves finds the gate open.” I agree completely. That’s why I advise you, as you get ready to head off to your next assignment, not to be burning with a no-nonsense intention to fix things. Rather, be flowing with the desire to offer whatever gifts and blessings are most needed.

Like Fancy Ladies

Would you look at this fancy lady?

Birthday Sipes!

Jackie’s birthday fell on the first full day of ACRL, so after my early morning presentation and a day of conferencing, we were determined to find some sort of mischief befitting two fancy ladies celebrating a special occasion. That is how we found ourselves at Varga Bar, which not only caters to fancy ladies, but also features pictures of fancy ladies on the walls! Perfect. While the cocktail menu was somewhat uninspiring, we were overwhelmed with delicious choices for dinner, and ended up selecting four things, all of which were excellent.

First: the house pickles: cucumbers, carrots, squash, beets, onions, and artichokes, all lightly pickled and perfectly crunchy. Sorry, Mr. Pickle.

Mr P and Curcubit Cousins

Second: duck confit chicken wings – sweet, spicy, and savory in a pomegranate molasses glaze, and served with a blue cheese dipping sauce that could only spuriously be called a sauce. It would be more accurate to call it a wee cup of blue cheese. I don’t normally like chicken wings, but we ate these right up and asked for more blue cheese, which I shamelessly ate with my fork.

Third: the Varga salad: arugula, fava beans, fresh peas, grilled artichoke, shaved parmesan, and a light lemony vinaigrette – a crisp and fresh counterpoint to the delicious excess of the wings.

And finally: the best damned Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had. Now, I’m a fan of Brussels. You know that. I will eat them in just about any form, with just about anything, and without the slightest bit of provocation. But these sprouts? They were something else. Crispy and light, tossed with olive oil and parmesan, and bearing a more than suspicious resemblance to movie theater popcorn. That’s right: buttery, salty, delicious movie theater popcorn – except Brussels sprouts! I wish we’d ordered more, as they were the best part of the entire meal.

We thought about dessert, but really, who needs dessert when you’ve just had the most perfect Brussels sprouts of your life? Or, for that matter, when you have a librarian dance party to attend?

Mr P Takes the Decks

12 Books #6: Love in the Time of Cholera

To some extent, I want to wait to post about Love in the Time of Cholera until after tonight’s discussion with my other book club – but at the same time, I want to capture the things that I felt about it before they are tainted by my friends’ reactions, positive or negative.

Love in the Time of Cholera has been on my to read list for several years, since the magical vacation when I read 100 Years of Solitude and was utterly transfixed by Gabriel García Márquez’s prose. 100 Years of Solitude is a remarkable book, and from the first few paragraphs I felt myself transported to another time and place, immersed in one family’s epic, complicated tale. I had hoped for the same experience with Love in the Time of Cholera, and when my first attempt to read it failed to produce that feeling after 46 pages, I shelved it.

I’m thankful, then, for another attempt and greater incentive to finish – both for 12 Books and for my local librarian-type book club. Love in the Time of Cholera was my pick for March, and I finished it last night, just in time for tonight’s discussion. And by ‘finished it last night’, I mean that I sat on the porch until the sun went down, then sat in various places inside with Mina while pushing through about 250 pages in a couple of hours. Part of that pushing through was in order to meet the deadline – but it really didn’t feel like hours and hours because I was enjoying the book.

The parts of the story that resonated the most with me were the depictions of old love. Perhaps this is because I’ve often commented to Shane that I can’t wait to be old together – or perhaps because I recognize my loved ones in the compromises and commitments of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Fermina Daza, whose greatest fight resulted not from an affair or in-laws or the many trials of half a century together, but over a forgotten bar of soap. Their love isn’t idealized – or ideal. In fact, it doesn’t start out as love, and frequently barely resembles love. However, their love is more real than the fire in the heart of Florentino Ariza, who whiles away fifty years in the arms of other women while hoping against hope that his one true love, Fermina Daza, will be widowed so that they can at last be together, rekindling the flames of a childhood passion which one never truly felt but the other can never truly relinquish.

As with 100 Years of Solitude, the non-linear narrative makes it hard at times to know how you feel or what you think about a particular character, action, or event. I’m left unsettled by the ending, not because it’s particularly good or bad, but because it doesn’t make sense to me. It isn’t consistent with the Fermina Daza the reader has come to know, and the final turn of evenings are a little too convenient for Florentino Ariza. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t read it – just that I don’t know how I feel just yet. Maybe I’ll write another post after tonight’s discussion.

Two Recent Conversations Over Breakfast

A couple of weeks ago:
Shane, eating breakfast: “Where did this bread come from?”
E, making coffee: “It’s just the normal baguette.”
Shane: “Oh! It’s really good! I thought maybe it was still some of the Roadhouse bread that Gemma had bought.”
E: “That’s maybe the best compliment you’ve ever made about my cooking!”

And then this morning:
Shane, eating breakfast: “Why does your food taste better than my food?”
E: “My food has a greater degree of chaos”

So Into Grain Salads U Guys

I survived nearly 30 years on this planet before encountering grain salads. Sure, I had the odd meal of couscous and roasted vegetables – but no quinoa, no Israeli couscous, and definitely no wheatberries.

Wheatberry Salad with Cherries and Roasted Asparagus
Photo by esimpraim

This all changed when we started doing our grocery shopping at Plum Market, where I fell in love with their wheatberry salad: nutty grains, dried cherries, and toasted pine nuts tossed in a light vinaigrette. I really kind of can’t get enough of it. I’ve had good intentions of duplicating this salad for the better part of two years, but instead the jar of wheatberries has lingered in the cabinet.

So imagine my delight when Jackie and I went to Marathon for a late dinner and found an entire section of the menu dedicated to “Greens and Grains.” I couldn’t pick just one – but they had a sampler platter, so I got to try several, though they had run out of two of the four that I requested. I did, however, have beets with goat cheese – always a good thing – a creamy, nutty, savory dish of wheatberries, roasted mushrooms, and braised cabbage, and a lightly dressed green salad besides. So good! I wish I’d had the promised Brussels sprouts – but was quite happy with my wee salads and two refreshing cocktails (absinthe and champagne! white grape martini!).

Oven Roasted Red Beets - Home Bistro
Photo by Tammy Green (aka Zesmerelda)

Of all the stands at Reading Terminal Market, I happened to find myself in front of yet another grain salad on Friday – this time cracked wheat or barley, corn, and green beans nested in greens, and served with roasted vegetables. Not as glorious as Marathon’s offerings, but a delightful and delicious find among stands selling pretzel dogs (Thursday’s lunch), absurdly large apple dumplings, and cookies by the pound. I wish I could tell you the name of the place, but I was too hungry to make note of it, and too turned around to be able to locate it on the Terminal map. Just walk around until you find something healthy, and maybe you’ll end up with a magical grain salad as well!

If you go:
There are a variety of locations, but we had dinner at 10th and Walnut, and if I hadn’t gotten the grains and greens, I would’ve gone for the pork nachos, which looked amaaaaazing.

Coffees of Philadelphia

I spent three days in rainy Philadelphia last week while attending (and presenting at) the biennial ACRL national conference.  This was my second trip to Philly – the first being three years ago, when we drove up to visit Karin, ate a lot of bacon, and generally spent the weekend making mischief.  This trip was slightly more professional, but no less busy – or delicious.

last drop
Photo by taulu

After a rough flight, I paid a little extra to get on Jackie’s train, and we fancy ladies made our way up the east coast and landed at The Last Drop, a totally adequate coffeeshop around the corner from the apartment we were renting.  Now, there’s not much about The Last Drop to commend it in comparison with the lovely Spruce Street Espresso around the corner, but I wouldn’t object to having The Last Drop in my neighborhood.  Here’s why: the coffee’s cheap, they have an array of baked goods, and the The Smiths were on the stereo the whole time we were there – just the sort of thing I loved about Caffe Paradiso.

Elizabeth studying at Paradiso on a Friday night
Me at Paradiso waaaay back in the day, photo by Oldtasty

I’ve made this complaint before – that Ann Arbor’s just a little too fancy, that there’s nothing good-grungy about it.  There’s no place to settle in with a sandwich and a cup of coffee for an afternoon of grading, or for a decaf and a brownie with friends in the evening.  We tried to go out for dessert in our first month or two in town and ended up spending $35 for two drinks and a shared treat.  So it’s kind of funny to me that I was disappointed by exactly the sort of place I miss so much.  The same thing happened Friday morning, when I went to Cake and the Beanstalk for breakfast on my way to the Convention Center – totally adorable, but my toasted bagel was still cold, and there was nothing special about my bagel.

Cake and the Beanstalk

Spruce Street Espresso, on the other hand, met my requirements for good coffee and a cute neighborhood vibe. Alas, I didn’t have time to stick around and enjoy my excellent cappuccino, as I had a presentation to give. I’d love to have Spruce Street in our neighborhood as well, though Comet fills the niche quite nicely.

Photo by confusedbee

If you go:
The Last Drop
1300 Pine St (corner of 13th and Pine)

Cake and the Beanstalk
1112 Locust St (near the corner of Locust and Quince)

Spruce Street Espresso
1101 Spruce St (corner of 11th and Spruce)

25 Recipes #6 Take 2: Pie from Scratch

I meant to tell you about this pie weeks ago, but then I went out of town and then I came back and then, well, now I have no good excuse.  Especially when the pie looked like this:

Chicken Pot Pie

But wait til you see what was inside!

Chicken Pot Pie

Much better than failure fridge pie in all respects – faster, prettier, tastier, AND better for us! I love that chicken pot pie is basically chicken soup that has been thickened a little, then baked in a flaky crust. In this case, I baked individual pot pies in ramekins with only a lid – then used the remaining crust and filling to bake a tart-sized pot pie which we froze for later enjoyment.

Crust: Basic Pie Dough from Williams-Sonoma
Filling: Chop your desired filling into bite-sized pieces and saute until almost soft. Add cooked chicken (or your protein of choice, or no protein) and enough broth to just cover the filling, then simmer for a bit. Thicken with flour or corn starch, then add to prebaked pie crust (if you’re using two crusts) or individual ramekins. Top with crust, then bake 25 minutes at 375, or until top crust is flaky and golden.

An Unlikely Runner

Jr High Track

I’ll be honest: I spent the better part of 15 years actively avoiding running. I was in track in junior high – 1st row, 2nd from the right – but I don’t think that you could call what I did “running”. Mostly it involved “getting out of breath” and “knocking over hurdles”. In high school I had a legitimate excuse to not run – a totally mysterious hairline fracture on my hip of the sort that is most often seen in football players – and that contributed to years of sloth.

What I’m trying to say here is that if you’d told me at any point in the last 18 years that I would be regularly running, much less running because I enjoy it, much less running TEN MILES IN A RACE, there’s no way I would’ve believed you. But that’s what Tina and I are going to do on Sunday.

Team Helpful Paws