Monday, November 30, 2009

Birthday Housekeeping

That's right, today is my birthday and I stayed home to do some housekeeping. Not the real kind, the blog kind! I enjoyed sleeping in and then sitting in my pajamas at the computer next to sleeping dogs most of the day.

* I finally created a recipe archive! I've been meaning to do this for a while, especially since I get a lot of hits from individuals who made their way here via google searches for my recipes originally posted on Wounded Chef, AND because the search function on this blog doesn't seem to go back before July 2009 when I combined blogs. So if you're wondering what to cook tonight, go ahead and browse the recipe archive for some inspiration!

* I was anti-twitter for a while, but now that more and more blogger friends are tweeting, I decided I might as well give it a try again. Click here to join me (tocolormegreen) on twitter.

* I also recently added the option to subscribe to Color Me Green via email, so if you're not already subscribed via RSS or Google Reader and want emails in your inbox to keep you updated on my ramblings, sign up using the gadget in the sidebar to the right.

PS. Don't worry, there's more to my birthday than this. I went out for a totally over-the-top meal last night, and friends are joining me at a bar later this week for celebratory drinks. Now I'm off to bake some holiday cookies with a friend! Cheers!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving and Dried Flowers

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I contributed roasted brussel sprouts and my mini apple pies and pumpkin cupcakes (and whoops, realized I left out the leavening in the cupcake recipe, which is fixed now!). Poor things got a little messy looking on the train ride, oh well. I must say, it takes wayyy longer making mini pies on your own than with a friend...dunno if I'll be doing that again.

So we feasted on delicious food and left with full bellies. No turkey for me this year, though. I am proud to have stuck to my guns about being careful what meat I eat. Given that most turkeys consumed around the country on Thanksgiving have such huge breasts that they can't walk or fly or procreate and live horrible little lives, I was okay with abstaining. I understand it's not easy or cheap, and therefore not possible for everyone, to procure heritage turkeys, but I'd love to have the opportunity to host Thanksgiving one day with a formerly happy turkey on the table.

I am now engaging in a long weekend of semi house arrest. It's very relaxing, and I'm looking forward to many more days of luxurious sleeping in coming up this month*, since I have to use up several vacation days before the end of the year.

So, these dried flowers. They would make a beautiful Thanksgiving table centerpiece. But Thanksgiving aside, this bouquet from the farmers market was $8 well spent, since they will be beautiful in my home all winter long. I got into the habit of buying fresh flowers weekly at the market, but as with following seasonally available produce, I'm letting fresh flowers give way to dried now that winter's on its way. Much easier upkeep too - like Ginny, I appreciate that there's no need to change water and trim stems. They'll perpetually stand proudly, bringing some cheer into my home. Case in point, I also still have the pussywillows from last spring. Dried flowers would be a great eco-friendly and cost-effective option for restaurant centerpieces, not to mention weddings.

I arranged them in glass vases and old bottles around the apartment, and the sculptural look of this last one is my favorite.

*I'm also looking forward to birthdays and the holidays! The end of November through the end of December is an exciting time for me...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sixpoint Oktoberfest

One of my favorite local breweries, Sixpoint, recently came out with their first Oktoberfest beer, which I tried at the release party last month in the sweet little backyard of Sycamore in Ditmas Park. Beers were served in massive three-pint steins the size of my face, along with plates of bratwurst and potato salad. Oktoberfest indeed!

This is my favorite Sixpoint beer yet. I love complex fruity and spicy beers, such as cloudy Belgian wheat beers typically flavored with coriander and orange peel, as well as Harpoon's Winter Warmer spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. If I remember correctly, Sixpoint Oktoberfest had a hint of fall spices and was a touch sweet and round around the edges, softening Sixpoint's distinctive bite. I know it is currently being served it at The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights, Flatbush Farm, and possibly Bar Great Harry. Give it a try if you see it on tap. What's your favorite beer for the fall?

It was a wonderfully warm October afternoon, so I biked to Ditmas Park. I never realized how easy it is to bike southward from Prospect Park, thanks to a dedicated bike lane on Ocean Parkway. Five miles of pure unadulterated biking on a quiet tree-lined path that takes you straight to Brighton Beach. I plan to hit that up next summer for some exercise-beach action.

photo 1 via Sixpoint's twitpics, 2 via personal collection, 3 via NYC Bike Maps Photo Gallery

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Waking Up

I think the hardest thing I do every day is

getting out of bed

I don't know about you, but I must be a night owl. I never want to go to bed. Once I'm actually in bed, I have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep*. By the time I finally get into a deep sleep, it's morning and I'm supposed to wake up even though all I want is to drift back off into slumber. It's especially hard when winter comes around. There I am, snuggled in my warm cocoon of blankets. Why on earth would I want to leave that to undress in the cold air of the morning?

I don't think I'm alone in this morning difficulty, and I don't understand why humans evolved to have BOTH a hard time falling asleep and a hard time waking up. Searching the meaning for common trait within the principles of evolutionary psychology has eluded me. I can posture that being a light sleeper would have been beneficial for our ancestors who needed to be constantly alert to danger. But can you see any way in which being a heavy morning sleeper is adaptive, when our ancestors had a full day of food-finding work ahead of them?

Because when you think about it, how did humans EVER will themselves to get up in the morning before central heat (ie. most of human history)? I still remember clearly from my childhood Laura Ingalls Wilder's tales of waking up on the most frigid howling winter mornings to light fires, break ice in water, and feed the animals at dawnbreak. Not something I could do easily.

Oh yeah, and what about the days where all I want to do all day is go back to bed? Because this has been happening a lot lately. Does all this just mean that my sleep cycles are out of whack? I know exercising is supposed to help boost energy, but it is a bit of a catch 22 when I don't have the energy to go to the gym or do anything after work but drag myself back home and into pjs.

What gets you up in the morning? I know it's probably coffee for a lot of you, which strangely has no stimulant effect on me as far as I can tell. For me, it might be bagels. I eat them way too often, but a bowl of oatmeal just isn't enticing enough to make getting out of the house and into work mode seem worth it.

via flickr

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last Weekend Pt 2: Mac and Cheese-Off

On Sunday, my sister invited me over for a "Mac and Cheese-Off." For this event, there were only four of us to eat the three dishes of mac and cheese that we had prepared. Needless to say, there were leftovers.

The winner: my broccoli cheddar mac and cheese. You gotta get your veggies where you can... (recipe below)

The runners-up: Lisa's mac and cheese with chevre, butternut squash, and caramelized onions; John's mac and cheese with crushed walnuts, gorgonzola, and Swiss MSG sauce (don't ask cuz no I didn't understand what it was either)

Afterward we walked off the cheese with a sunset stroll through Riverside Park.

Broccoli Cheddar Mac 'n Cheese
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 small or 1 large head of broccoli
1/2 lb curly pasta
3/4 lb cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375.
Grease a casserole dish with butter.
Bring large pot of salted water to boil.
Separate broccoli stems from florets. Dice stems and then dice florets, keeping them separate.
Grate cheese.
Heat butter in saucepan until melted. Slowly whisk in flour, then milk, then spices. Let simmer until milk mixture is hot. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup grated cheese, creating a melted cheese sauce.
Once water is boiling, add the pasta and broccoli stems. Bring to a boil again and cook ten minutes or so until pasta and stems are both al dente. Then strain thoroughly in a colander.
Combine pasta, stems, florets, and cheese sauce in casserole dish and top with remaining 1/4 cup grated cheese.
Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes until edges are golden brown.
Makes 4-6 servings.

Last Weekend Pt 1: Drunk Art

Before THIS weekend starts, I have to tell you about LAST weekend, because it was one of those rare weekends that left me feeling recharged and invigorated. There was the birthday party Friday night. It was my first time back in Williamsburg since the move and I think I talked a lot about missing Billyburg that night. On Saturday afternoon, there were some light errands and a new lunch place found (the ever-elusive combination of burgers for meat-eaters plus good vegetarian options for me. Meag, now I know why you liked Bar Toto!)

Saturday night I hit up First Saturday at Brooklyn Museum, which is just awesome. Get drunk and explore the exhibits*, and there is a crazy dance party. Michael Jackson + James Brown = couldn't help dancing. I went to check out the new Rock & Roll photography exhibit but it was a bit too crowded to take it all in, and there was a lot more in the museum we didn't get to see. Don't know why I've never been before, but I'll definitely be back, especially because it's such a pleasant short walk from my apartment to the museum.

It was an evening that made me feel alive. Doing something new, experiencing art, being out among other young Brooklynites, feeling a part of something exciting. This is why we live in NEW YORK CITY. These are the kinds of things I wish I did more often. It was more than just another weekend night/another boring drink at the bar. I was so energized afterward I didn't want to just go home so I ended my night at Pacific Standard, an excellent choice for craft beers and board games.

What makes your weekends exciting? What are the things that make your life sparkle and keep repetition and boredom at bay?

* Thank you to the trustees of Brooklyn Museum for entrusting your treasures within the reach of drunken revelers.

via Brooklyn Museum's flickr

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pumpkin Cupcakes and a bit about honey

So what I have I done with all that pumpkin? My friend Diana's birthday was last week, and since I hadn't seen her several MONTHS, I wanted to do something extra-nice and decided to make cupcakes for her party. I thought my cupcakes would be THE birthday cake, but actually another guest made an awesome cake - a vanilla layer topped with chocolate cake cut into letters that spelled out Diana's name - how could anyone top that? So my little cakes were woefully upstaged but still all gone by the end of the night nonetheless.

I figured my bourbon cream cheese icing recipe would be the perfect accompaniment to pumpkin, but upon tasting, I decided the icing needed some more sweetness and added a tablespoon or so of maple syrup, which was perfect. I think these cupcakes could also serve as light little muffins, if you added in some chopped nuts or chocolate chips and forgot about icing. Ignore the dark cupcake edges in the photo - I accidentally left these in the oven too long.

Also, you may notice a pattern in my recipes by now. I always cut back the sugar and replace a portion of it with honey. I do this because honey is a local, natural, less-processed alternative to sugar. In addition to containing vitamins and minerals, honey has a lower glycemic index than sugar, so it is absorbed more slowly and healthfully. I also appreciate that I can get my honey from local farmers at the Greenmarket, unlike sugar, which is grown far, far away. However, I don't completely replace sugar with honey because most honeys have a strong flavor that can overwhelm baked goods. One of these days I'll give it a try and see what happens, though. Who knows, I might be pleasantly surprised!

Some notes about baking with honey: Because of its strong sweet taste, you can use less of it than you would sugar. It's not a 1:1 substution but more like 1/3 cup honey for every 1/2 cup sugar. In addition, because it's liquid, you can cut back slightly on the other liquid ingredients in a recipe. In this case, the honey helps make up for the fact that I cut the butter down to 6 tbsp from a full stick, or 8 tbsp.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
6 tbsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp ginger
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
bourbon cream cheese icing recipe, halved, with addition of 1 tbsp of maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two muffin tins*. Cream butter and sugar. Whisk in honey, then eggs, vanilla, pumpkin puree, and finally milk. Dump in flour and spices and beat until batter is combined and smooth. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes until toothpick or fork inserted comes out clean. Let cool (in fridge or freezer if you need to save time!) before icing. Makes about 20 cupcakes.

*Or should they be called "cupcake" tins if you are making cupcakes? Why don't these things have a universal name?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fall Blur & Pumpkin Roasting

Last week was a blur of too much time sitting on my but at my office desk, bumming in my pjs at home, and sleepless soul-searching nights. So the highlight of my workweek was probably taking the time to roast this sugar pumpkin into pumpkin puree - because it means I get to bake yummy pumpkin goodies. So far I made these pumpkin "brownies," (I recommend baking for 30-40 minutes) and pumpkin cupcakes for a friend's birthday party, which I'll tell you about later. I might be making an extra-special pumpkin treat tomorrow, and I already bought another pumpkin to freeze some puree for future baking. Guess I can cross pumpkin roasting off my fall to-do list!

Roasting pumpkins is an easy alternative to buying canned pumpkin this time of year. And it's a good idea to avoid canned foods, as cans are lined with the dreaded endocrine disruptor BPA, which has been shown to leach into canned products. Make sure you find a sugar pumpkin, not a pumpkin intended for Halloween carving/decoration, as sugar pumpkin flesh isn't as stringy and yields a sweet taste like the canned kind. Sugar pumpkins are available at farmers markets and some grocery stores, but if you can't find one, you can subsitute butternut or hubbard squash.

Stay tuned for more pumpkin recipes on here soon, hopefully.

Roasted Pumpkin Puree
Preheat oven to 400.
Wash but do not peel pumpkin.
Slice the pumpkin in half and scoop out the pumpkin seed goo and stringy flesh (reserve to roast the seeds).
Lay each half in a pan with deep sides, flesh side down.
Add a half inch to an inch of water.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until flesh is completely soft and mushy.

Or if the shell is too hard to cut through, simply plop the whole pumpkin on a greased baking sheet.
Turn over halfway through baking, approximately 40 minutes each side.
At that point, you should be able to slice open the pumpkin easily.
Let cool before handling.
Again, scoop out the pumpkin seeds and reserve.

Scoop the soft flesh from the shell, and completely mash it with a fork. Store in an airtight container to cook/bake within two weeks. Or divide the puree into single-cup-size portions and freeze for later use.

My $2 sugar pumpkin yielded 4 cups of puree - a very good deal!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween on Long Island

the adorable "little house" down the street

Originally I was going to host a Halloween party. I was going to be Silk Spectre from The Watchmen - I have the hair so I figured I could rock it. But instead I ended up spending a quiet two days at my boyfriend's parents' home on Long Island. Didn't the weather on Saturday (before the rain) seem perfectly Halloweenish with the Indian summer warmth plus spooky winds blowing around crunchy leaves?

In a way I was relieved not to have to put together the superheroine outfit I'd envisioned. My plan was to buy a black swimsuit for the costume that I'd be able to wear again in real life. However, I wasn't able to find a suit that fit well enough for me to brave it on the beach, and I couldn't justify spending the money or the earth's resources on something I'd never wear again.

I started getting a little sad as the Halloween weekend approached, hearing everyone's plans of fun costumes and parades and parties and dancing that I'd be missing out on. And I despaired of yet another Friday night sitting around instead of going out. My sister came to the rescue and invited me to a friend of a friend's costume party in the West Village, so I still got my Halloween fix on Friday night before we left for the weekend on Saturday morning.

With little time, I drew upon my backup plan to dress up as a housewife a la Mad Men: heels, halter dress, apron, red lipstick, and French twist hairdo. Proving that I didn't need to buy anything for my Halloween costume after all. Sometimes it's a surprise to see what you can come up with when you apply your imagination to your own closet.

What were you for Halloween? How did you create your costume? Did you buy it, make it, borrow it, or reappropriate it from clothing you already own? Share your costumes - we can all use ideas for next year!