Mind Your Manners

To my mother’s credit, I am probably one of the most well mannered people you’re going to find in this day and age.  I always send thank you notes, even to my parents and siblings. I can tell you which fork to use at a formal dinner party (generally speaking work from the outside in).  I can tell you that it is rude to butter your entire roll (rather you should butter only the piece you are about to consume).  I can properly set a table – bread plate and forks on the left, knife (always with the blade toward the plate), spoon, and drinks on the right.  I am the consummate hostess (Martha Stewart aside), always striving to make my guests feel like they are staying at the Four Seasons.  It is to the point that I have even been referred to as “Emily Post” by certain friends in a half joking manner.  As a matter of fact, I was consulted on etiquette for my own bridal shower.

I must tell you, however, that there are a few draw backs to all of this politeness…

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And Tonight’s Dinner is…

It’s one of those nights.  You’re exhausted from work, have virtually nothing in the refrigerator and absolutely no motivation to go to the grocery store. Here’s the contents of my refrigerator right now: shredded rotisserie chicken that is at least 2 weeks old (not edible at this point, but I’m going to let the culprit throw it out), some arugula that needs to be used or thrown out, leftover basmati rice, half an avocado, 3 radishes, 1 mango, a package of mint, a quarter of a bunch of cilantro, several condiments, orange vinaigrette leftover from making Arugula, Watermelon and Feta Salad, lunch meat (no bread), prepackaged, pre-sliced scallions (that cost twice as much as unsliced scallions but the store was out and I needed them) and a block of parmesan cheese.  It’s not much to go with, especially considering the questionable chicken.  So what in the world can I do with all of this (or at least some of this)?  Well let’s look at the major players: rice is a good start, produce should be utilized, and I have that leftover vinaigrette….

So I tossed the rice together with the remaining arugula, diced up pieces of the half of an avacado I had, half of the mango, some mint and cilantro leaves, and the remaining orange vinaigrette. The chicken would have been a nice addition if I hadn’t thought it might kill me.  If I had any sliced almonds or maybe some cashews that would have gone well with it for a little crunch.  I pulled some Tomato Basil Soup out of the freezer, zapped it in the microwave and voilà: we have dinner.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of thinking a little outside of the box.  Rice is used in cold salads, so it wasn’t a great leap to think of dressing it up with the lettuce and herbs that needed to be used. The orange vinaigrette is light and not over powering, but even an Italian vinaigrette would have worked (though maybe not with the cilantro).  I also could have added in the radishes, but I wasn’t in the mood.  If I had thought about it at the time, there is almost always frozen shrimp in my freezer and they take all of 3 minutes to defrost under cold running water.  The possibilities are only limited by the contents of your refrigerator and pantry. I think a lot of people are afraid to venture out beyond the recipe box, but really, what’s the worst that could happen (other than burning down your house)?  If the food ends up tasting horrible at lease you know what not to do next time and you can always order pizza at that point.

 


Oh, Baby

The past three weeks have been a blur.  We have the new puppy, I have been working insane hours (not as in a lot of hours, only about 45 per week, but just really strange and varying times), and I have barely seen my husband.  When one is home, the other is away.  This works out great for the puppy, but not so well for my sanity.

I have found myself swinging back and forth between elation at this new, fuzzy, loving creature in our care and what I can only describe as post-puppy depression.  The puppy’s constant need for attention and love does not pair well with the 3 hours of sleep I have been getting each night.  Add to that the demands of being the only one home when I am here coupled with an I-never-get-to-see-my-husband level of loneliness and it’s a recipe for frustration.  I think I’m losing my mind.

Here’s an example of my recent daily schedule:

1. Fall asleep around midnight or 1 am because I am a night owl and just cannot fall asleep any earlier than that no matter how hard I try.

2. Kick my husband awake at 3 am when the puppy is whining to go out hoping he won’t recall the kicking part and that he’ll think it was the puppy that woke him up.  Promptly fall back asleep as bleary-eyed husband shuffles outside with the dog.

3. Blindly slap at the off button on my alarm clock at 4:57 am.

4.  Stumble to the bathroom, trying not to wake the dog or the husband. Dress in the dark.  Go to try and kiss the husband goodbye, run into post on bed.  Swear loudly waking up both dog and husband.

5. Apologize to now fuming confused husband and whiny puppy as I scramble out the door.

6. Trudge through 8 1/2 hours at work.

7. Drive home.

8. Kiss husband in garage as I arrive and he leaves.

9. Walk inside look at the dog, look at the bed, look at the dog.  Sigh.

10. Feed the dog.

11. Take dog outside.  Praise her lavishly for peeing.  Run inside to get the treat I forgot to bring out.  Return to find the dog eating landscaping bark. Remove bark from dog’s mouth, try to interest her in a tennis ball.  Dog looks at me like I am crazy, jumps up and grabs another piece of bark. Repeat process.  Try to coax dog inside using the treat, chance of success 50%.  If the plan fails, give up and physically carry the dog inside.

12. Sit down, realizing how tired I am.  Dog is immediately by my side with a toy.  Play with dog.

13. Repeat step 11.

14. Come inside and sigh in relief as the dog lays down for a nap.  Try to relax.  Fall asleep.  Wake up in a panic 40 minutes later to realize the dog has peed on the floor.  Sigh.  Repeat step 11 and clean carpeting.

15. Husband gets home, give him a half-hearted kiss, tell him I’m going to bed.  Lay there fruitlessly trying to fall asleep for 2 hours until he and the dog come to bed.  Finally fall asleep around midnight or 1 am.

16. Slap off alarm at 4:57 am.

The one thought that keeps going through my head in the midst of all of this craziness is “how do parents do it?”  I can barely handle a dog and she can be crated when necessary.  What do people do when there is a little person in your life that is even more demanding that a puppy?  I just cannot imagine finding the time and energy for a baby.  And I know there is still plenty of time, it’s not at all that I feel I need to do anything about it now.  I guess I just worry that maybe it’s something that will never feel convenient.  And then again, why should it?  There is nothing at all convenient about changing any part of your routine and having to make allowances for others, but in the end they say it is worth it.  And while I will say that every parent I know somehow makes it work, and eventually manage to return to some level of normalcy, I just really don’t think we’re there yet.  I like my sleep (and the puppy will sleep through the night sooner rather than later) and I like my quiet, orderly life.   For now I think a puppy is about as much as we can and want to handle.


Arugula, Watermelon, and Feta Salad

Some days you just want something incredibly simple for dinner.  Last night my husband suggested hotdogs and me in my sleep-deprived state jumped all over it.  We stopped at the grocery store and I thought, “maybe I should make a fruit salad to go with the meal, just something easy.” That’s when I saw the watermelon.  Granted, it’s not really watermelon season just yet, but this watermelon looked perfectly ripe and Ina Garten‘s watermelon feta salad is the perfect compliment to a casual dinner or picnic lunch.

Ingredients:

Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup freshly squeezed Orange Juice

1/4 cup freshly squeezed Lemon Juice (2 Lemons)

1/4 cup minced Shallots (1 large)

1 tablespoon Honey

1/2 cup Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Kosher Salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

Salad:

3 cups (4 ounces) Baby Arugula, washed and spun dry

1/8th Seedless Watermelon, rind removed, and cut in 1-inch cubes

12 ounces good Feta Cheese, 1/2 inch diced

1 cup (4 ounces) whole fresh Mint Leaves, julienned

Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, shallots, honey, salt, and pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly, to form an emulsion. If not using within an hour, store the vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator.

Place the arugula, watermelon, feta, and mint in a large bowl. Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to coat the greens lightly and toss well. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately.

Tips and Tricks:

I did not plan very well for this meal and thus I did not have a shallot at home.  I substituted 1 minced garlic clove and 2 tablespoons of minced white onion.

If you want to simplify it even further you can certainly buy the crumbled feta you can find in the deli section of the grocery store.

You could substitute watercress for the arugula if you prefer.


Grilled Artichokes with Remoulade Sauce

Artichokes are a mean and vicious vegetable, but they taste really good.  If you are willing to put aside 30 minutes to prepared these spiky bulbs and risk personal injury in the process (they can and will cut you) you will be well rewarded with succulent artichoke leaves and hearts to enjoy. They are the perfect indulgence.

Ingredients:

Remoulade Sauce:

1/2 cup Mayonaisse

2 teaspoons Lemon Zest

1/2 tablespoon Capers, minced

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce

1 tablespoon Parsley, chopped

1/2 teaspoon Prepared Horseradish

1/2 teaspoon Whole Grain Mustard

1 tablespoon White Wine Vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper, ground

1/4 teaspoon Salt

Artichokes:

2 Artichokes

1 Lemon (reserved from Remoulade Sauce)

2 1/2 cups Water

1/2 cup White Wine

1 teaspoon Salt

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Orange Biscuits

I am always happy when I find* a recipe that makes entertaining a little bit easier.  These orange biscuits fit the bill, they can even be prepared the night before and then cooked when you need them.  A morning coffee date doesn’t get much easier (or tastier) than this.

Ingredients:

Glaze:

1/4 cup Butter

1/2 cup freshly squeezed Orange Juice (about 2 oranges)

1/2 cup Sugar

2 teaspoons Orange Zest

Biscuits:

1/4 cup cold Butter, cut into small pieces

2 cups Flour

2 teaspoons baking Powder

1/2 teaspoon Salt

3/4 cup Milk

1 1/2 tablespoons melted Butter

Cinnamon Sugar:

1/4 cup Sugar

1 to 2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon

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Here Comes the Sun

Things have been excessively busy in our household the past three weeks (hence the less than regular posting). We have had visitors from out of town and I have been working 6 days a week.  To top all that off, I just accepted a new temporary position (with the fervent hope that it turns permanent) and we finally have adoption proceedings in place on a beautiful 8 1/2 week old puppy.

I have not actually cooked anything in 3 weeks (unless you count oatmeal). Come to think of it, I haven’t even gone to the grocery store in the past 10 days (much to my husband’s dismay!).  Needless to say the cupboards are bare.

Things are going to be chaotic for the next several weeks, and there will be a new family member who I don’t think will appreciate my extensive editing process, but we’ll make it work.  I am very happy that things are moving in such a positive direction.  Not to say that it will all be smooth sailing, but at least it seems to be going in the right direction.  I am happy to see the sun peaking out from behind the clouds.  Stay tuned for your regularly scheduled programming, er, blogging.


Conversation Heart Cupcakes

My husband’s 30th birthday is coming up this weekend. I was reminiscing about past birthdays in anticipation of this one and I thought I would share what I did for him a few years ago.  There was a short period when I had to fill in and be the pastry department at work.  I was leaving the house at hours previously unknown to me and I was not going to see Patrick at all on his birthday.  I decided to make conversation heart cupcakes so that they could cheerfully greet him that morning in my absence.  These would, of course, be the perfect addition to any Valentine’s Day party or even as a treat in a loved one’s lunch box. It’s a creative and yummy way to say “I love You.”

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

1 box of Cake Mix, your favorite flavor (look, these cupcakes are somewhat labor intensive in the decorating department, there is no need to go overboard and make a cake from scratch unless you have several hours to kill).

Eggs, as specified on box of Cake Mix

Oil, as specified on box of Cake Mix

Water, as specified on box of Cake Mix

Frosting:

1/2 cup Butter, softened

4 cups Powdered Sugar

2 teaspoon Vanilla

4 tablespoons Milk

4 pack of Food Coloring

Writing:

4 ounces White Chocolate Chips

Special Equipment:

Silicone Heart Shaped Cupcake “Pan” (such as one sold by Wilton at craft stores)

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The Seven Year Itch

Courtesy of http://www.pollsb.com/photos/ o/30135-itch_scratch.jpg

Okay, maybe it hasn’t been seven years, but time is relative.  No, I am not talking about a deep stirring desire to find greener pastures, I love my husband (and we haven’t even been married for seven months yet).  I am talking about hives. Hives that I have been breaking out in randomly for 2 1/2 long years.

It started right around the time we got engaged (coincidence I am sure).  I would wake up in the middle of the night with my feet and hands swollen, red, and itchy.  It was awful.  And, having rarely dealt with even a simple pollen allergy prior to this, it took me months to try taking an antihistamine in response (it just never occurred to me).

The antihistamine “solution” was something I stumbled upon accidentally as I was on a cruise a few months after this all started and was absolutely going to distraction with the itching one night.  My entire back was inflamed.  All I had in my makeup bag was a Claritin so I took it.  And there it was, sweet relief.  I started taking one a day, and for a month I was itch free, but then the hives came back and I was so dejected I dismissed the Claritin as no longer useful and suffered through the bouts.

Now a sensible person is asking themselves at this time, “for God’s sake, why have you not gone to see a doctor yet!?”  And I really don’t have a good answer for that.  I guess I didn’t want to hear that I was allergic to anything.  After all, I am a chef and I can think of nothing more tragic than to find out that there is a food or wine out there that I simply cannot have. Ignorance is bliss as they say.  But, one can also only be uncomfortable for so long.  Eventually I gave in.  Because they would come and go with no pattern I took pictures (which I will spare you the sight of as they are enough to make someone without a tendency toward hives to break out) and booked an appointment with the dermatologist.  They were extremely (read: not) helpful.  “Yep, those are hives.  Go see an allergist.”

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Arugula Pesto

I would have to say that arugula is my favorite lettuce, it’s got a crisp, peppery flavor that compliments everything from hamburgers to turkey sandwiches.  The one problem with my arugula love affair is that I very often end up with more than I can eat before it goes bad.  The solution?  Make pesto.

Ingredients:

3 cups Arugula Leaves

1/4 cup Pine Nuts, toasted

1 tablespoon Lemon Juice

2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated

3 Cloves of Garlic

1 tablespoon Salt

1 teaspoon Pepper

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