Friday, January 30, 2009

Argentina and Spending Hiatus

We have decided that we are going to take a trip to Argentina in the middle of February! I'm actually really excited about this for several reasons. Because it's on the other side of the equator, it's summer there! I've heard lots of great things about Buenos Aires and how it is like a South American version of Paris. And last but not least, I will get to see one of my bestie former coworkers who moved there this year to be with her Argentinian boyfriend (cutest love story ever)!

Another plus is that it's not going to be as expensive as I feared, since flight costs are signficantly cheaper than what they once were. Factoring in our credit card rewards redemption, we're paying about $450 each for the flight, and once we're there, everything is much cheaper than up here in the states.

To compensate for this trip, we're going to try to go on a spending hiatus back in the states for Feb and March - We are going to cut eating out from once or twice a week to once or twice a month. Same goes for bars, plays, concerts, and movies. And we won't buy any new clothes, gadgets, stuff, etc. As for cutting costs on the vacation, unfortunately this loft is already taken, but I'm hopeful we can still find a place to stay with a kitchen so we won't have to eat out every meal while we're there. At least I hope so, so I don't feel so crazy for agreeing to this spontaneous vacation on such short notice!

So if anyone has any recommendations of things to do in Argentina, I'm all ears!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Winter Doldrums



Dear Winter,

I really thought you and I were getting along okay this year. Up until about last week, I didn't hate you like I have for the past few years. For whatever reason - I'm not quite sure - walking outside in the cold didn't seem to be all that insufferable. Maybe because I've grown to accept and love the circle of the seasons and the different foods and rituals and celebrations they bring, and take comfort in it all.

But slowly winter ennui has overtaken my brain over the past two weeks. My new boots are uncomfortable, I'm cold and tired all the time, and I don't want to do anything. It's taking all of my resources to simply get out of bed every morning and do as little as possible before getting back into bed. You are not helping me with my new years resolutions to exercise and be more social.

I think the turning point was the realization that you're sticking around for another two months. Why do you have to be so long? We all know that even though the first day of spring is March 21, true spring and its accompanying warwm weather, lack of snow, green buds, and fresh produce, doesn't really arrive until April. I'm really missing the vibrancy of summer.

Maybe, since we're all stuck with you, you can at least suggest some ways to deal with the winter blues. Like drinking spiked hot chocolate, throwing a luau party, wearing more bright colors, and eating lots of mac n' cheese? Your cooperation would be appreciated.

Yours grumpily,
Color me green

photo by me (the view from my window)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Beet Oreo Cakes


I've been feeling culinarily challenged lately. What's the point in telling you about the same old dinners all the time? And the internet is annoyingly spotty in my apartment, making it hard to upload photos and post regularly.

But a couple weeks ago I did host two dinner parties, both lovely. I had some extra time to get ready for the second one, so I decided to experiment with using beets in baking. I was aiming for brownies with edges by baking them in cupcake tins, but they really came out more like dense little cakes, not quite fudy enough to be brownies. I also added some oreo crumbs leftover from my last baking endeavor to make an amazing crunchy topping that really set these cakes over the top. The hint of beet flavor made these cakes rich, moist, complex, (and slightly reddish). I'll definitely be using beets more often in my chocolate goods.

adapted from here

Beet Oreo Cakes
about 4 small beets
3.5 oz dark chocolate
6 tbsp butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup crushed oreos
1 tbsp butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350. Boil beets with skins on until fork tender. Let cool, peel, and then puree in a food processor. You should have about 3/4 cup of beet puree.

Melt chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, stirring until melted completely. Set aside to cool.

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Whisk in eggs, then chocolate, and beet puree. Add flour, baking powder, and cocoa powder, and beat until smooth.

In a smaller bowl, make oreo topping by combining crushed oreos and butter until butter is incorporated.

Pour batter into two greased muffin pans. Sprinkle oreo topping over each cake. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until knife inserted comes out clean. Enjoy!

This Old House

A spontaneous trip upstate to deter the boredom that threatened to overtake us this week. We stayed here and it was nice, especially the large whirlpool tub and the pumpkin waffles with bacon for breakfast. But the inn was built only a few years ago and has that slightly sterile Pottery Barn feeling of new construction. I'll take this private, homey cottage for a getaway instead any day. We also had a fabulous (and seasonal and sustainable) dinner at Beso in New Paltz, a place that is definitely worth returning to on future trips there.

Everytime we go upstate we dream about moving to the country and flip through real estate magazines. This time we looked at this beautiful old stone house built in the 1800s. Unfortunately, it was too in-the-middle-of-nowhere to be able to commute to NYC, so it was really just a fun pipe dream to wander through its rooms and imagine ourselves there.









It also got us interested in stone homes - stone is natural insulation that keeps a house warm in the winter and cold in the summer. It's eco-friendly from the olden days when people used to consider how to harness the environment to their sustainable advantage when building a home, before artificial heating and cooling systems made everyone forget that knowledge.

I grew up in the country and would like to move back there someday. But after living in the city, would I feel isolated upstate or does a slower pace of live bring a greater sense of community? Would all the driving wrack me with eco-guilt? Am I too hooked on Brooklyn and its cultural and culinary and social offerings to leave? I guess all the possibility keeps the future from looking too boring right?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Productive

I had a very productive weeekend, shopping-wise. I normally avoid shopping like the plague, but time was drawing nigh. I needed to stop limping around in the snow on broken boots.

I checked out one of my favorite consignment stores first. The problem with thrift and consignment stores is that things don't come in multiple sizes, so it's hit or miss to find anything that fits. Alas, I did not leave with any shoes, but I did find this great deal: a leather Lucky Brand bag, which retails for over $200, for just $43. I am in love with it. It's pretty and it looks vintage, and it should last a long time so someday it will be kinda vintage. And it's big enough to fit all the crap I bring to work, replacing my stodgy plain black bag.

I ended up finding boots at Nine West, which is having a sale. My goal was to find boots for under $100, and these were $90, so not too shabby. Previously I would balk at spending so much - my shoes have mostly been from Payless, and they last me about 2-3 years. But lately I'm seeing the value in buying good quality stuff that should last even longer. So I really hope these last for three years and then even longer after getting them resoled, to make it worth the extra cost and the environmental impact of buying new shoes.


I do feel guilty about buying shoes newlymade in a factory in China, but I didn't have the inclination to research for better brands or scour thrift stores for weeks in search of shoes that I needed yesterday. But next time around I'm going to try to do some research first. If anyone has any tips on "green" shoe brands that involve recycled materials or independent ethical craftsmanship, I would appreciate it, because I'm going to look for new flats next month!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Resolutions

A year ago I wrote that "2008 is going to be the year that I take hold of my life."

Well, I wouldn't really say that happened. Life has just continued to carry me along. But nonetheless resolutions are an opportunity to contemplate the eternal question of how to create a life worth living. To that end, here are some things I hope to accomplish in 2009:

- Exercise - this one is such a cliche, but I recently learned that I'm at increased risk of getting arthritis as I age, so I need to try harder to keep my body healthy! Unfortunately, I haven't made it to the gym once this month yet.

- Drink a glass of milk a day for strong bones

- Avoid hangovers - if I don't actively drink water and pace my drinking, I get destructive hangovers

- Bike to work at least once a week (starting in the spring when the weather warms up)

- Volunteer with Transportation Alternatives

- Learn how to can foods

- Bake new kinds of bread

- Learn how to knit something besides scarves

- Write more often - I have so many things I want to say here, but it's hard to find the time because the internet in my apartment is often broken, and I'm supposed to be working while I'm at the office

- Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge - still haven't done this

- Go out dancing!

- Go camping

- Spend more time with friends - I really struggle with finding a balance between spending time with my boyfriend and spending time on my own with friends. Any one out there have advice on how to balance relationship and social life?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Oreo Cupcakes

My sister and I threw a party on Friday night to welcome her to the hood. She made these fab Oreo Cupcakes, displayed in a new cupcake holder I got for Christmas. Scroll past the pictures for the recipe


Oreo Cupcakes
1 cup butter
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 oz melted chocolate
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
dash cinnamon
dash ginger

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Oreo Frosting
1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
chocolate shavings

Combine ingredients, frost cupcakes, and top each with Oreo crumbs and one large Oreo chunk.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Table skirt


Over vacation, I finally got around to checking one thing off my "Operation Homestyle" to do list - making a skirt for this little coffee table. Because this is NYC and my kitchen is less than 60 square feet, my food processor, blender, and other large appliances are stored under this table in the living room. To hide them, I cut an old fitted sheet in half and nailed it to the table. No sewing involved because I was too lazy for that. Ta da. I left the elastic trim on because I liked the ruffled shape and it hides the uneven cut.


But then today I see this table skirt on Design Sponge and immediately wish mine was as cool as that. Nice clean lines, and she handprinted the fabric with carrots! Now I'm worried mine looks too much like a bed ruffle. Oh well, I'm lazy, and I think this shabby country chic table skirt still looks better than it did before.

Healthy Beans and Rice


It's a typical story but true - after gorging on food of all sorts over the holidays, I actually couldn't stand the thought of any more sugar and started craving whole grains and greens. So I devised this healthy version of rice and beans, with spinach, brown rice, and quinoa for added nutrition. For flavor, I tossed in salsa and cheddar cheese, but plenty of other cheeses would work well with this, and you can dial down or up the cheese as much as you want. This recipe is endlessly flexible. Use all brown rice, or all quinoa. Swap in an onion or shallots for the leek depending on what you have on hand. Other greens besides spinach, such as kale, swiss chard, thinly sliced cabbage, or even chopped brussel sprouts will work just as well here.

My boyfriend called it his "favorite thing you've ever made." Of course - this is exactly the kind of one pot dish he loves - a creamy bowl of hearty grains, protein and greens. I only wish I had made more because he ate about 3 straight servings, leaving me without leftovers, so next time I might double the recipe.

Healthy Beans and Rice

1 cup dried black beans (or 2 cans black beans)
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup quinoa
1 leek
1 bunch spinach
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 cup salsa
salt
pepper
crushed hot pepper
cumin

Soak dried beans overnight (or bring to a boil and then let soak for one hour). Rinse beans and then return to pot covered with two inches of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 60-90 minutes.

Combine rice, quinoa, and 2 1/2 cups water in a small pot, and simmer for about 40 minutes until rice is tender.

After about 30 minutes, rinse and chop the leek into half moons. In a large pan, sautee leeks over low heat. Then rinse the spinach, chop into small pieces, and sautee until wilted. Add salsa to pan to warm.

When rice and beans are done, combine in pan with spinach, grated cheese, salsa, and spices. Makes about 4 servings.