Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No-Sew Napkins

Here's a great idea I came across yesterday on a backyard wedding. She made napkins for her wedding by finding sheets from thrift stores and cutting them into size with pinking shears. I love the use of pinking shears, which hide the lack of stitched seams with fun angles. Not only does this DIY method save money, but it's also eco-friendly to repurpose old cloth instead of buying new, and it adds a nice personal touch to an event, whether it's a wedding or a dinner party. Or in my case, I keep meaning to make cloth napkins for my slobby boyfriend so he'll stop destroying the planet with his bazillion crumpled paper napkins.

from a backyard wedding

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Staycation's All I Ever Wanted

With my parents away on a real vacation in Europe, I thought it would be a nice time to take a staycation at their place, to get out of the city, kind of like going to a B&B except it's free. And unlike a B&B, I had to feed the ornery goat that resides in our backyard barn. Interestingly, I'm so used to living in 550 square feet in the city, that my former home in the country felt too large, with its dark, empty, creaky, dusty open spaces.

I had envisioned a gorgeous fall weekend of colorful foliage, hiking, apple picking, and so on. Instead it was dreary gray and miserably drizzly all weekend. We still managed to fit in a visit to Applewood Orchards & Winery - I think it was the only winery left in the Hudson Valley that we hadn't yet visited.
I couldn't tell the difference, but Jesse thought Applewood's wines bested them all, so we actually bought a whole case, when normally we'd politely buy just one or two bottles.

Applewood also features orchards for picking, but we weren't in the mood, so we just walked around, saw their pretty gardens, and headed back home.

The chilly gray day called for a warm, hearty dinner. I made chili, using the wealth of banana peppers and tomatoes from my mom's vegetable garden, along with some local onions, half a bottle of beer, and ground turkey (nonlocal and nonorganic because there wasn't much selection at the Warwick Shoprite). The chili wasn't very spicy because of the dearth of spices available in my mom's kitchen, but it was simple, fresh, colorful, and yummy. I put Jesse in charge of making cornbread, using the recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill course-ground cornmeal package, and it actually turned out great. He's a good sous chef. We paired it with Applewood's hard cider, a perfect accompaniment.

Now I'm back at the grind, back in the city. I finally managed to get a shot of the view from the deck of the apartment I don't really live in. The huge monolith of a building on the right is some kind of Verizon station, and the tall buildings straight ahead are the Bushwick projects.

Friday, September 26, 2008

As promised

Thanks to Luke for this fab picture of me pretending I'm drinking with the bigwigs at a work gala, while really we were just having a blast imbibing wine and taking photos of each other behind the scenes. Another great night with my lovely coworkers :-)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cheap Wine Glasses

Why are wine glasses so easy to break? I just broke another one tonight to add to many broken past glasses - while mildly washing a champagne flute with with an angry drunken disposition - leaving me with a bloody finger, and just one red wine glass, one white wine glass, and one champagne flute in my kitchen cabinet. Can someone in design please do something about that?

I'm really into design and decor and hairpieces lately. Like oh my deer's gorgeous hairpieces below. She has more for sale on her etsy. Can I just say I finally get etsy? It's filled with tons of pretty handmade one-of-a-kind things - jewelry, clothes, aprons, crafty things galore - the kind of things that I think, oh I could make something like that myself - or I could let these talented people do a better job for me, and they don't tend to charge that much either.

Appropriately enough, a picture of me with a flower in my hair at the event that caused aforesaid drunkenness is forthcoming.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Heart Attack Day

I hadn't had red meat in a while, and I'd been craving it for weeks. Finally, last Friday I picked up a package of bacon from Flying Pigs and a cut of Grazin' Angus Acres steak, and then unintentially cooked both meats last Sunday, on what you might call "Heart Attack Day." Except since I eat pork and steak so infrequently, I think it's okay to treat myself once in a while.

Brunch was a spiffed up breakfast sandwich featuring sunnyside eggs, bacon, and sliced tomato on toasted rye bread.

I wanted to experiment by cooking one batch in the oven and one batch on the stovetop. Google led me to many rave reviews about how awesome oven-baked bacon is - crisp meat and simple cleanup. But I cannot agree. As directed, I preheated my oven to 400 degrees, lined a baking pan with aluminum foil, laid my bacon down, and put it in the oven. And kept checking. And checking. Recipes indicated that it would only need about 15 minutes in the oven, but after more than 30 minutes it still wasn't crispy, even after turning the heat up to 400. So I took it out and ate it as it was - which was fine, it just wasn't that awesome crunch I was craving.

My stovetop bacon was undoubtedly superior - crispy to the point of crunchy - which was the way I like it. It was done in under ten minutes, and I didn't think cleaning out my pan was all that hard. So I definitely fall in the stovetop bacon camp.

Once brunch was devoured, I set to work at marinating my steak. I bought a flat iron steak, because it was the only cheap cut he had left. I read that this is a relatively new cut in the world of meat, taken from the shoulder, and it tastes best after marinating, much like flank steak. After trimming off a ton of fat from the steak, I laid it in my usual marinade mixture of balsamic vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, water, diced garlic, salt, and pepper - and this time I added some chopped fresh sage from my deck.

I let the steak marinate for about eight hours while I enjoyed a very relaxing Sunday....dreamily reading through pretty magazines on my sundappled bed, and then a scrabble game and pumpkin ale in Black Rabbit's pretty green backyard.

In the evening, the resident griller achieved a beautiful charred crust on the steak, though I have no idea how, because he wouldn't tell me - he's keeping it a "chef's secret"!

For a side, I whipped up colorful smashed potatoes and rainbow swiss chard (the purple tint comes from a mixture of Adriondack blue potato and yukon gold potato). I was going for a cross between potato salad, with its crunch and mayo-mustardy flavor, and colcannon mashed potatoes, dotted with creamy greens. I ingeniously chopped the swiss chard stems into little pieces to stand in for the traditional celery of potato salad, while swiss chard stood in for the cabbage that's traditionally mashed into colcannon. It turned out as deliciously as I had dreamed. I meant to save some for lunch the next day, but it was so good I ate it all at dinner - oops! Together with the hearty iron-rich steak, this dinner was exactly what my body needed!

Smashed Potatoes and Swiss Chard
2 medium-large sized potatoes
1 bunch swiss chard
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon

Rinse and chop potatoes into 2 inch pieces. Add potatoes to a pot of salted boiling water and simmer for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain in colander, reserving a tablespoon of cooking water.

Rinse swiss chard. Chop stems into small pieces and set aside. Chop swiss chard leaves into chiffonade. Sautee swiss chard leaves in olive oil over medium low heat until wilted.

Combine potatoes, wilted swiss chard, and swiss chard stems in a bowl. Add reserved cooking water, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and then mash with a fork or wooden spoon to desired smashed consistency. Serves 2 as a side dish.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Roasted Garlic Herb White Bean Dip

I haven't felt very inspired when it comes to cooking lately. My life is still all out of sorts, and I've moved but not really, so half of my cooking supplies are in one apartment, and half of them are in another. I made a couple of meals this week, but neither is worth dishing out to the blogosphere (pasta with roasted tomatoes and chicken; attempted indian spiced crock pot vegetables).

There's just one thing I've made recently that was a huge hit, unexpectedly. I had a "housewarming" party (for an apartment I haven't really been living in) last weekend, so I whipped up a white bean dip on the fly, not sure what to expect having never tried making a spread with white beans before, but everyone loved it. White bean dip is so flexible. I thought it would taste great with sundried tomatoes or roasted red peppers, but I didn't have time to procure those, while fresh herbs beckoned from my deck.

This week, as cool fall air begins to set in, I've really been itching to bake up a storm of sweet treats to satisfy my daily afternoon chocolate cravings, so hopefully you'll see some delectable baked goodies on here soon.

Roasted Garlic and Herb White Bean Dip

1 can white beans or 2 cups of home cooked beans 
2 heads of garlic, whole, unpeeled
1/4 cup olive oil
a few handfuls of fresh herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, or marjoram
zest and juice of 1/4 lemon

Through the garlic onto the baking sheet while making crackers. After about ten minutes, when the crackers are done, squeeze the garlic out of its peels. Throw all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy. Add additional seasoning as needed. Spoon into a serving dish. Reserve a few of the fresh herbs to sprinkle over top. Serve alongside crackers.

Monday, September 1, 2008

APLS: What affluence means to me

In another excuse to procrastinate from packing, I'm going to blog some more. There is this new blog carnival called ALPS: Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. I missed the boat on their first monthly roundup, but here goes for their September question, which is really me ranting about my issues with money.

Affluence. What do you think of the term? Does it apply to you? Do you dislike the word? Feel uncomfortable with it? Are there certain responsibilities that come with accepting that term?

I'm not sure if I would define myself as affluent. Affluence is all relative. I could be considered affluent in comparison to others, but when one further looks up the scale, I could look poor and miserly. Growing up, it always felt like we scrimped and saved, and those values have stayed with me my whole life. I'm obsessed with saving, I'm guessing because my parents are too. My mom still shops at places like Kohl's for clothes (kind of like a smaller slightly classier Walmart) even though she doesn't need to anymore. I realize now that my parents must have more money than we did when I was little, so I can reasonably classify our family as upper middle class. Putting three kids through college, owning a second home - those things take money. I didn't have any student loans to pay off when I got out of college two years ago, and during college I didn't think anything of it, but now I know I am very lucky, because it has really put me ahead. I'm able to save money, unlike my friends who are just making ends meet by slaving away to pay their loans every month.

I tend not to think of myself as rich. I work in the nonprofit sector. I can probably expect it to take me at least a few years to reach the salary range that is my boyfriend's current salary after receiving a raise six months into his first job. I don't really ever expect to reach the 100k salary bracket, not on my own.

But, all of my saving means that I have more money saved than anyone else I know my age - except for those trust fund kids or others with built in life savings care of their parents - I don't even want to imagine how much they have. It's nice, having this cushion of money that means I can take a vacation if I want, or buy a friend dinner if I want, or not have to worry about the recent expenses associated with moving, etc. But I also have decisions to make. Like yesterday - I went out to buy sheets, and I had the choice between cheap regular cotton sheets or to pay more for supposedly sustainable, nontoxic, nonpesticide sheets. But those sheets weren't even organic (the store didn't even carry organic), and I questioned how green they really were. And I really didn't want to pay the higher price. Because even though I can, I don't want to. I want more money in the bank, because it means I will be able to buy my own apartment/house all the faster. Now I realize I should have done research first, and went to a store that I knew would have reasonably priced sheets. I feel guilty. I think, I'm not as green as I think I am. But at this point, I have to sleep on a new bed tonight and I need sheets now and I don't have time to go poking around hellish big box stores throughout this city.

So even though I don't spend money on typical girlie things like clothes and body products, what I do spend it on is food. Now, I think I spend a lot of money on food, because I spend about $340-400 per month, which includes about $20-35/week at the farmers market, about $90 per month at Fairway for bulk groceries, other small grocery trips, eating out, and just things like buying a bagel on the street. Every month I try to make that number go down, but that range has been pretty steady for the past year or so, and I know it's accurate because I religiously track all of my spending. And that's just for one person - my boyfriend probably spends another $300 something on his share of food, lunches and diners out. And $700 for two people is a lot! I know theoretically two people should be able to feed themselves on much less. But we are in New York City, one of the most expensive places on the planet. I'd be curious to hear how much others spend on food.

Then, I read Jen's recent post on Last Night's Dinner revealing how much her and her husband spend on food. I've always marveled at her blog, which I browse for inspiration. She takes stunning photographs of beautifully crafted meals, made with fresh, local ingredients, seemingly restaurant quality. It turns out they most recently spent $100/week at the farmers market and another $100/week at Whole Foods! And I'm sure that does not include miscellaneous bites out to eat and so on. No wonder I've always felt like I can't keep up in the goal to make beautiful meals like hers every night. From time to time, she remarks on how she feels privileged and lucky that she has the money to eat quality food. I totally agree that it is good to spend money on food, which is something that nourishes and feeds our bodies and souls, and I am lucky that I can spend as much as I do, even if I am not lucky enough to have as much money to spend as Jen. I think realizing that you are in a place of privilege is a mark of affluence. I see so many poor children in this city eating McDonald's or chips or candy on the subway, their little bodies puffed out unbelievably, wishing there was something I could do to help them.

I also think we take our cues on who is rich based on how people choose to use their money. Because I like to save money instead of spending it, I know I do not look rich. I wear clothes over and over until they're disheveled and torn, and then I still wear them. I feel so much more comfortable in Brooklyn, where people wear whatever relaxed outfits they want with windblown hair, than I do in Manhattan, where I feel awkward everytime I go out to a bar, among preppy kids with their perfectly styled hair and make up and pricey dresses.

Then there is my boyfriend, who comes from a neighborhood where everyone. is. rich. I have seriously never experienced that before. My hometown is a mixed bag. But when we drive through his town, every single house looks two times as big as it needs to be. It truly baffles me. It's really hard for me to understand that people have that much money in the first place and it's hard for me to understand how they choose to spend it. Once when we went out with his friends from home, we pointed out to each other that I was wearing $11 boots from Payless whereas those girls were probably wearing $300 designer boots. I can definitively say they are affluent.

When I think about what I would do if I had a lot of money, here are my ideas: Maybe I would buy a nice apartment in Brooklyn with a pretty grassy yard. Or I would buy a house in the country. Or maybe I would buy a tiny second home in the woods or on a rural beach. Or I would buy a B&B in the country and run an eco-friendly B&B for work. Or I would open up a bar decorated with flea market found furniture and a garden in the back serving only Northeast craft beers and NY state wine. Or I would travel more. Or I would invest in real estate and not be an evil landlord. I would give to charities that really need it - health and environmental causes - not gifts so that cultural organizations can all try to outcompete each other for the biggest baddest hundred million dollar building while people are starving and all that rebuilding is destroying the planet. Among these ideas are prime examples of how you need money to make money. I think I would love to open a B&B, but first I would need the money. And how do you get that money? By staying on the treadmill of 9-5 cubicle jobs, paying my dues, plugging along and saving money, like I'm doing. That's the plan.