Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year Reflections

I've already made my resolutions for my 27th year, but the new year is also a time to reflect. When I think back on the last year, I feel proud of all that I accomplished and all the experiences I managed to pack in. Despite the lack of sleep (see above resolutions, which include going to bed earlier), it was a year that saw me realize several steps toward being the person I want to be. 2011 was the year I:

* Started working for an environmental nonprofit, where I have now survived a year of the steep learning curve there.

from a restorative work retreat in Vermont

* Started bike commuting, managing 20-40 miles most weeks since March.

* Joined a band (the garage rock/punk band Sexy Neighbors).

* Played my first solo shows since 2007 and wrote several new songs.

* Met my awesome boyfriend.

* Finally visited Portland, Oregon, the land people have long told me I would love

* Visited my friend's little cottage on Cape Cod for a fun August weekend of lobster and beaches

* Was membership co-head of the Bushwick Food Coop for six months. 

* Moved twice and now live with my best friend.

* Meanwhile, we have dealt with a three month scourge of bed bugs (and no it's not quite yet over), so the new year will hopefully bring us a return to home normalcy. In the meantime, life goes on and work goes on and I go on trying to be the person I want to be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Make Your Own Deodorant

This looks like a photo of regular deodorant, but it's actually my homemade deodorant. I'd been meaning to try this out for a long time as part of my general trend toward eliminating personal care products and their associated risky chemicals from my life. In fact, back in 2009 I considered going deodorant free, but that never happened (probably for the best). But I recently realized that even the natural deodorant I'd been using, while free of aluminum, still had a low rating on the Good Guide due to a questionable ingredient called propylene glycol. This fall when this deodorant finally ran out, I decided to follow my successful homemade replacement for shampoo and make my own deodorant.

It was as easy as mixing coconut oil, baking soda and corn starch. I left out essential oil since coconut oil itself has antibacterial properties and I like the scent of it. I started out with Crunchy Betty's recipe of 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup cornstarch, and 5 tbsp coconut oil but found that I had to add a little more of this and a little more of that until I got a consistency that was solid enough to refill my deodorant container. Winter is a good time to try this out, since coconut oil is only solid below 76 degrees Fahrenheit. I would prefer to use a little glass jar rather than a plastic container, but since I need to carry my deodorant with me for bike commuting, it's better for the container to be lighter. I also figured I would be able to roll it on like I was used to, but the homemade stuff doesn't hold together as well, so I scoop out a little and rub it on with my finger. I don't even necessarily have to worry about washing my hands afterward since the ingredients are all safe and edible.

Do I smell? I don't think I sweat or stink anymore than I did on regular deodorant. I don't shower after biking to work, I just reapply this and I'm good to go. My boyfriend said he would warn me if I smelled too much and that hasn't happened. Now, I just smell slightly of coconut, which I find pleasant. My roommate is impressed and wants to try it out, so I need to remember to make her a sample soon.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Make Your Own Mustard

When I went to my make mustard for my father's holiday gift this year, I realized that I've never posted the go-to recipe I've been using for years now. The concept behind making mustard is very simple: soak mustard seeds in a vinegar-based liquid and then blend it. That liquid can be just vinegar and water, but I like to use beer or wine for more flavor, as well as honey for some sweetness to offset the spiciness. You can also add whatever spices your heart desires for endless variations. Despite using white seeds, which actually look yellow and are supposed to be the most mild of the types of mustard seeds, this comes out hotter than the storebought stuff and takes a few weeks to mellow out. I also recently learned you can heat the liquid first, which will cut the mustard's bite, but I haven't tried that yet.

Mustard seeds can be found in the spice section of most grocery stores. Some seeds I've bought are harder to blend than others for no apparent reason and result in a coarser mustard - just a warning. This makes a very simple gift, which you probably wish I told you a few weeks ago, or is a simple way to impress barbecue guests, or is just a good thing to have in your fridge since the anti-bacterial properties of mustard mean it will last for months.

Also, happy holidays!

Homemade Spicy Honey Mustard

1/4 cup white mustard seeds
1/4 cup beer or wine
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp salt
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp honey

Combine all ingredients in an empty jar* and put in the fridge for a week. One to seven days later, blend the mixture until seeds are mostly ground and it reaches your desired consistency, adding a little water a tablespoon at a time if necessary.

* It is suggested that you rinse and save salsa and peanut butter jars since they are perfect for homemade condiments.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Last week I turned 27. I'm finding that life keeps moving forward, and I have to just take advantages of opportunities for enjoyment wherever they can be squeezed in. The bed bug saga is still ongoing and draining, so I drew out my birthday with multiple celebrations...happy hours on my birthday, a romantic dinner, drinks and dancing with my friends, some very nice little presents, and plans for ice skating with another birthday next week. And, I highly recommend wearing a homemade paper crown to one's birthday party.

I've now crossed off most things on my 26 things to do before turning 26 list (which also turned into my before 27 list). And so, a new list for this new year of life...couldn't quite get to 28 but I'm sure I will think of more as the year goes on:

1. Live in a home that is bed bug free as of May 2012, and then not again as of Sept 2012
2. Live in a home that feels like a real home as of May 2012
3. Record a solo EP someday....
4. Book more solo shows played 2/14/2012 and 4/5/2012
5. Record an album with my band released an EP on 4/29/2012
6. Play at SXSW didn't perform there but did go to watch others in mid March 2012 
7. Perform with my boyfriend we played a song together onstage on Valentine's day 2012
8. Go to the gym on lunch breaks only managed to go once every other week on average...would like to get to regular twice a week
9. Leave work on time regularly no :-(
10. Go to bed earlier no :-(
11. Visit New Paltz went for a romantic getaway 9/28/2012
12. iVsit Caitlin's house upstate again went 
13. Visit Elaine and her new baby 2/4/2012
14. Go camping camped in Queechee VT for my sister's college graduation nearby 6/8/2012
15. Visit my parent's beach house (somehow I never went camping or to the beach house in summer 2011). Memorial weekend 2012
16. Go to Founder's Day at my college didn't go, hopefully next year
17. Possibly visit my sister while she studies abroad in London didn't go
18. Model in a shoot for my photographer friend still haven't done this
19. Go ice skating 12/9/2011 at the Standard Hotel
20. Trim my own hair 12/25/2011
21. Stop a bad habit not yet...
22. Bake pumpkin cinnamon rolls, which I have been thinking about doing for years now New Years Day 2012
23. Make homemade pasta not yet
24. Host another pizza potluck hosted one 5/19/2012
25. Try a yoga class first yoga class was in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest, followed by a few at a neighborhood yoga studio and free lunchtime classes led by a coworker
26. Make ice cream cake for Evan's 30th birthday party 8/25/2012

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

It's been three years since I was last lead cook for Thanksgiving. This year, I made all the side dishes and my own turkey legs. My mom made the big turkey and gravy and pies and my relatives brought the rest of the desserts. I came home Wednesday to give me plenty of time for cooking ahead and wrote out a schedule of food prep to follow on Thanksgiving day, which helped it all go smoothly. Except that I can never get the hang out how my mom's oven is consistently hotter than every other oven I've ever used and doesn't brown when roasting but goes straight to burn.

Roasted turkey legs
Roasted for about 90 minutes at 350, turned over halfway through.

My mom continues to insist on a free Shoprite turkey, so this year I did what I should have done in other years and brought my own portion of turkey from the farmers market to eat.

Rosemary no-knead rolls
Prepare the no-knead bread recipe, double it and add a bunch of diced fresh rosemary. The next day, two hours before baking, grease two muffin tins. Lightly press down the dough, pinch off pieces and roughly form them into balls and place in muffin tins. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Makes 24.

These rolls were a little tough on the outside. I think the crunchy crust that this no-knead method can create translates to toughness in rolls. Probably I need to try rolls made all in on day with milk for a fluffier texture.

Green beans with lemon, shallots and almonds
Sautee shallots and almonds. Meanwhile, steam green beans in a few inches of water for 5-10 minutes to desired tenderness. Combine in one dish with the juice of one lemon.

I don't like green beans that much but I liked this just fine.

Roasted Brussels sprouts
These sprouts were small enough that I didn't need to cut them in half first, just roasted at 400 for about 20 minutes on one side and ten minutes on the other.

A classic that pleased my grandfather who thinks boiled brussels sprouts taste terrible, despite being slightly overbrowned.

Mashed potatoes and celery root
I think celery root lends an elegant flavor to mashed potatoes. But I only used one large celery root to about 8 potatoes, so the ratio was off and it should have been more like two celery roots.

Hasselback sweet potatoes with maple syrup and sage
Slice sweet potatoes almost all the way to the bottom. Finely dice one bunch of sage and mix it in with two tbsp olive oil and two tbsp maple syrup with sage. This is messy, butuse your fingers to spread the sage, olive oil and mayple syrup mixture in between the potato slices. Bake at 400 for about 40 minutes. Can be made ahead and rewarmed.

My mom usually makes just straight up baked sweet potatoes, so this is classier and prettier and creates a nice hint of sweetness and sage. However, it was time consuming to carefully slice the potatoes and spread the sage mixture.

Roasted butternut squash with chickpeas and parmesan
Cut one large butternut squash into small one-to-two inch pieces. Roast in olive oil at 400 until browned. Afterward, add one to two cups of pre-cooked chickpeas and grate in a half cup of parmesan. Can be made ahead and reheated the next day in the oven.

A favorite combination of mine.

Stuffing with celery, apple and onion
Dice two red onions, one bunch of celery and three apples. Sautee in one stick of butter (!) until softened. Tear up two day-old baguettes into small pieces. Combine vegetables and baguette in a container of vegetable stock and add sage and poultry seasoning. Let sit in the fridge over night. Use some stuffing to stuff the turkey. The remainder will fill a casserole; bake at 400 until warmed through and browned on top.

This is the stuffing recipe I have been eating my whole life, made with baguette instead of pepperidge farm bread crumbs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pumpkin Ice Cream

I made pumpkin ice cream last year and never posted about it here, which was silly. Because ice cream with fresh roasted pumpkin puree, fall spices and crunchy walnuts feels homey like pumpkin pie. So here it is now. I like mine with walnuts, but not everyone does, so that's optional. I recommend roasting your own pumpkin rather than buying a can at the store, unless you like BPA in your food. Roasting a pumpkin is easy - you just cut it in half, stick it in the oven, take it out a while later and scoop out the puree. More on that over here. Plus you'll have extra pumpkin leftover for other baking and you can make roasted seeds for snacking.

According to my boyfriend, this ice cream was at its best the day after it was made - creamy with a subtle texture from the pumpkin flesh. But by the time I tried it a few days later, it had frozen too hard, similar to how my hand-churned ice cream comes out. Maybe the pumpkin puree affected the way the creaminess ratio held up in the freezer?

If you want to go extra fall, this ice cream makes an excellent ice cream sandwich inside my pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies.

With all the ice cream I've made since I originally posted my standard recipe last year, I've updated my recipe in a few ways. First, just use the whole two cups of heavy cream that come in a pint, because that's how cream is sold and it's silly to have a little cream leftover. Second, you don't need to get the cream-milk-sugar mixture that hot to dissolve in the sugar, which also means you don't need to wait as long before adding the eggs. Third, cooking it into custard can take upward of 20 minutes and is an imprecise science. Sometimes I'm not sure if it got thick enough so I just give up after a while and the ice cream still turns out fine.

Pumpkin Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream (1 pint)
1 cup milk (I use 2%)
2/3 cups sugar
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
3 whole cloves
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Warm cream, milk, and sugar in a saucepan and stir vigorously until sugar is nearly dissolved and just before steaming. Remove from heat and wait approximately 10 minutes to let cool. Whisk three egg yolks in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk half a cup of the milk mixture into the eggs, and then another half cup, to temper the eggs. Then, slowly whisk the egg mixture into the saucepan. Add spices. Cook over low heat for approximately 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until custard thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat, and let cool. Remove cloves. Transfer to an airtight container in fridge overnight to chill completely.

Prepare according to ice cream machine directions, or hand churn by putting container in freezer and removing to whisk every 30-90 minutes over the course of a few hours until it reaches the desired consistency. Stir in walnuts if you want. Scoop. Enjoy.

Apologies for the strage juxtoposition of iphone and DSLR photos.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sweet and Spicy Sriracha Brussels Sprouts

While I've been away from the blog over the past few weeks, I have been dealing with a NYC rite of passage...bedbugs. My inconsiderate downstairs neighbors got them first but didn't tell anyone so we didn't take any precautions, and my landlord didn't take proper action (which is to spray all apartments in the building immediately and simultaneously), so they escaped to the rest of the building. You don't have to throw out your mattress, but you do have to put it in a cover, run all of your clothing and shoes through the dryer (and yes, as I've learned, even wool and most "dry clean only" garments and shoes and bags and purses will make it through a dryer unscathed if not washed first), and then live out of plastic bags for several weeks, and do your best to clean all other objects and furniture and the floors with alcohol and vacumming, and hope for the best. One good thing is that our exterminator used a potent spray of essential and mineral oils rather than a pesticide. We're now in between sprayings and hoping for the best. When I'm home, I feel like I should be cleaning, or I'm spending way too much time sifting through the plastic bags of clothing, or else I escape to my boyfriend's apartment where it hopefully seems the bugs have not spread.

In these past few weeks, it has also become late fall-almost winter. There is no choice but to embrace vegetables like brussels sprouts. Simply roasted sprouts is one of my favorite winter vegetable preparations, but here we sought to recreate the Vanderbilt's honey and sriracha brussels sprouts. This combination works just as well at home, taking it up a notch with a playful sweet and spicy flavor. They were paired with Wilklow's deliciously fatty pork chops and cornbread using bacon drippings, from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which unfortunately and surprisingly was a dense let down.

Sweet and Spicy Sriracha Brussels Sprouts
Preheat the oven to 425.
For a pound and a half of sprouts, trim the ends and chop in half.
In a large bowl, whisk together about 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp honey, 3 tsp sriracha and salt and pepper. These are the measurements I remember, but you may need to add more honey or sriracha to taste.
Add the sprouts to the bowl and stir until they are all coated.
Roast about 40 minutes, until browned and crispy. But I like mine totally browned and softened and overdone. If you like yours with some green vigor and crunch left in them, check around 25 minutes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall Locavore Dinner

My gentleman friend's father hunts deer, so his freezer is stocked with various forms of venison (like pepperoni and bologna!?) and sometimes we get to enjoy venison steak. It's a lean meat that reminds me of bison. This back strap cut was particularly tender and added to what felt like an indulgent yet wholesome fall locavore dinner.

I thought a bunch of sage I had picked from my mother's garden would be a nice flavor accompaniment to mashed sweet potatoes, and it certainly was. I wasn't sure how to best incorporate it, so I decided to chop and sautee the sage and then add to the mash. He said the pieces of sage were off-putting in the otherwise creamy mashed potatoes; I didn't mind. Next time, I wouldn't bother cooking the sage and would more finely dice it. On the side was also kale, simply sauteed with olive oil, salt and pepper, because sometimes that's all it needs.

For dessert, we made apple crisp using fruit from the annual upstate apple picking adventure and topped it with vanilla maple ice cream. The boy loves ice cream so much he eats it every day. I love making ice cream and taught him how. Now he's got himself an ice cream machine and can achieve creamy perfection (especially thanks to Milk Thistle Farm), that my handchurn technique can't quite reach.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Biking to Fort Tilden

I took advantage of the surprise summer weather this weekend to bike to the Fort Tilden beach. I'd been there before, but last time we drove there and the flies chased us away. This time it was perfectly lovely. Hour + 15-30 minute bike rides flanking lazy lying on the beach. The water was too cold for me, but my companions enjoyed floating in unusually calm water.

After researching and trying both routes, we figured out that you can either take Ocean Parkway or Bedford Ave. Ocean Parkway has a pleasant separated bike lane, which is better for conversational biking, but adds two miles to the ride. If you take Ocean Parkway, turn left onto Neptune Ave before you reach the boardwalk, which turns into Emmons Ave. If you take Bedford Ave, you take a left right onto Emmons Ave. Either way, when you reach the intersection of Brigham and Emmons, you will see a path set off to the right of the ramp onto the Belt Parkway (pictured below).

You want to take this bike path (not the ramp onto the highway), which follows the wetlands along the shore and takes you right to Flatbush Ave and over the bridge to the Rockaways. We passed an area where Hurricane Irene had washed away the path, despite the bags of sand buffering the coast - no matter, just walk your bike through the sand at this spot and enjoy the view.

Once you're over the bridge, make an awkward left just before all the field and parking lot business, and then turn right just before the beach and follow the path through the woods until you reach at least post 22 (which also has a bike rack) in order to hit the lawless Fort Tilden beach, rather than Jacob Riis. It's not the most straightforward journey, which is why I thought it would be helpful to put these directions on the internet.

map via brooklyn by bike

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mary Finished the Trail!

While in Portland, I also got to catch up with my friend Mary. She recently completed the Continental Divide Trail after a five month solo hike. She survived a grizzly bear encounter along the way. And lots of knee deep or higher snow in the Colorado mountaintops. In recognition of having now completed all three of the US National Scenic Trails together with the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, she received the coveted Triple Crown Award. I could never imagine doing any of that in a million years.

She's put up an amazing gallery of photos on her blog Married to the Trail, where she plans to continue blogging with her reflections and experiences from hiking. Check it out!

In search of better stuffed peppers

Every time I make stuffed peppers, the stuffing doesn't cook much.

For this version, I combined cooked orzo, cooked chickpeas, grated cheddar cheese and raw leeks, stuffed this inside peppers and baked it at 430 F for about half an hour. I figured the leeks would roast inside the peppers, but they didn't really.

Tell me what I am doing wrong. Should it stay in the oven longer? Should the stuffing all be pre-cooked? Do you have a great recipe for vegetarian stuffed peppers?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Back from Portland

I'm back from a weeklong trip to Portland, OR with friends who want to move there, and it's easy to see why they love it. The city lives up to its stereotypes. It's like Brooklyn - with hipsters and bikes and second hand clothing stores and quality locally sourced food and craft beer everywhere - but in a smaller, more manageable size and more beautiful and spacious setting. Instead of dense apartment buildings, it's cute house after cute house with small but green lots.

When I saw Portland's quiet, bike laned streets, I understood why it's good for biking - the city is laid out in a grid, appeared not-too hilly and has plentiful side streets that look much safer than NYC's busy streets. I could see myself easily getting around primarily by bike there. But while Portland's public transportation is much lauded and some of our friends there do get by without owning a car, I found that it's more of a car city than you'd think. The light rail doesn't even go to southeast Portland and the rail and buses stop running around 12:30 nightly. Somehow, you can always find street parking, so it's often easier to just drive to your destination, especially when you're with a big group of people who include tourists who don't have bikes.

This one speaks for itself.

Food not lawns!

There are movie theaters where you can enjoy pizza and beer while watching the movie, all for only slightly more than the price of just a movie ticket in NYC.

Food trucks! Unlike in NYC, where they are mobile and elusive and require twitter to track down locations, food trucks in Portland get permanent devoted areas in parking lots called "food truck pods" so you always know where you can find your favorite late night pizza or breakfast sandwich.

The most memorable meal of the trip was at Pok Pok, a Thai street food restaurant with a a James Beard Foundation award winning chef and amazing spicy fish sauce chicken wings.

We got to enjoy two hot springs - Bonneville Hot Springs in the Columbia River Gorge just across the border in Washington, which was more of a resort and was unfortunately treated with chlorine.
Columbia River Gorge

Much better was Bagby Hot Springs, where a 1.5 mile hike into the woods leads you to an old wooden structure where you can soak in carved out logs.

When people warn you not to go to the coast because it's rainy and windy, you should listen, because what they really mean is that there will be driving rain with gale force winds that rock your car and threaten to blow you over so you won't be able to hike or see any of the beautiful views.

Also, everyone we met was super nice and willing to make time to hang out and make introductions to other people. Very refreshing compared to New York. Here are some new friends having fun climbing the columns in Cathedral Park in North Portland.

I also heard a lot of complaints about the rain and unemployment problems, so just make sure you have a job lined up and don't mind wearing a raincoat if you plan on moving there...