Birthday Lessons Learned

August 22, 2008

It’s my sister’s birthday on Sunday and, shockingly, the celebrations only started as early as Wednesday of this week. She clearly has not learned from her older, wiser, beautiful-er sister: birthdays should last an entire month, not a mere five days. We did our best to jumpstart her birthday on Wednesday night, having a Family Dinner Fiesta, complete with a birthday gift, burritos, salsa, guacamole and drinks. Better late (and, yes, when the first celebration occurs a mere five days before the big day, it is late) than never.

Falling just a bit outside the night’s fiesta theme was this birthday (cheese)cake. But it was the birthday girl’s request. Er, sort of. My sister and I can be impossibly indecisive. As in: “I don’t know what do you want to eat?” “I don’t know where do you want to go?” And the most oft repeated inquiry of all: “What should I wear?” We make a sorry pair when in it’s just the two of us deciding what to do with ourselves. Perhaps that’s why we often find ourselves staying in, being homebodies.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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That Time of Year

August 21, 2008

I know, I know. It was tomatoes yesterday and it’s tomatoes again today. But, it is August after all. And today’s recipe is actually quite different from yesterday’s. Instead of the über-simple slice-and-salt method at the heart of yesterday’s sandwich, this recipe requires some elbow grease. But, trust me, it’s worth it. Here’s how it works. First, take a gaggle of romas (bonus points for multiple colors) and halve them. Using a melon baller (or a grapefruit spoon or regular old spoon) scoop out the insides and gently tap out any excess liquid in the tomato:

But, don’t forget to save those insides! Roast them up in a baking dish with a drizzle of olive oil, some salt and red pepper flakes. Pour the whole melty result into a blender or food processor and whir until you’ve got yourself a very tasty marinara. I speak from experience.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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Defying Genetics

August 20, 2008

I have news, friends. Do you remember how I told you about my grandfather and his pretty spectacular green thumb? Heck, the man’s thumbs are probably both green. Well, what I failed to mention is that, sadly, I did not inherit this trait. It must be a recessive gene that didn’t make it’s way into my quadrant of the Punnett Square. Despite great effort, our flowers struggle and our herbs wither. It’s a sad thing. Even knowing this, my grandparents generously entrusted us with a tomato plant when we were in Minnesota at the end of July. I guess they supposed that even I could not reverse a half-summer’s worth of nurturing.

And, oh how I tried. First, there was the matter of the storm I mentioned a couple weeks back. The tomato plant did not fare so well, though it fared better than our deck furniture, much of which blew away completely. After that blustery night, we nursed the tomato plant back to health. Even so, days after the storm I’d keep finding still-green orb blown into one corner of the deck or another—debris from the storm. This induced a constant lower-lip-jutting-out on my part, which in turn induced Kevin to suggest we buy the plant a proper cage to support the wooden stake that was then (half-heartedly) holding up the plants’ limbs.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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Move Over Banana Bread?

August 19, 2008

I have to say, I’m kind of happy to have put the whole here-are-my-photos-from-my-vacation thing behind us yesterday. It’s not that I don’t love a good round of show-and-tell. And, after last season’s Mad Men finale, I am totally on board with the whole slideshow nostalgia. It’s just that I’ve been really, really wanting to tell you about this bread—an almond poppy seed quick bread.

Actually, this bread played a minor role in my road trip. I brought along a couple slices for the ride down to Nashville. It’s a good thing, too, because after we narrowly escaped the jaws of a speeding ticket (a warning!) a mere hour into the trip, we were hungry. Turns out that I’m-Sorry-Officer-ing is hard work. That, and the baggie full of tantalizing slices of this bread was staring us down from the console between the two front seats and we barely made it past Gary, Indiana before digging in.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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Sip of the South

August 18, 2008

I am back in Chicago after four days in the South, touring a small slice of Dixie (two nights in Nashville and one in Greenwood, Mississippi). As I said last week, I was with my friend Maggie, who grew up in Nashville and whose childhood best friend lives in Greenwood. Today’s recipe—peach sweet tea—is in honor of the trip, because I’m not quite ready to quit savoring my taste of the South just yet.


Like this tea, my hopes for the trip conjured visions of hot thick air; sprawling verandas, spilling over with greenery and dotted with porch swings; and out-of-the-ordinary (for me) tastes. Happily, neither the trip nor the tea disappointed. Our two days in Nashville were jam-packed with tour guides (led, expertly, by Maggie) and with as many glimpses of the Olympics coverage as possible. We saw downtown Nashville, along with its rows of bars [above, top row, left] that boast both stories of legends discovered on their stages as well as nightly line-dancing. We spent an hour or so roaming the Country Music Hall of Fame [above, middle row, left and right], reading about and listening to Hank Williams Sr. and Jr., Johnny Cash, Pasty Cline, Dolly Parton and others. We also saw the Parthenon (um, yes, Nashville is home to an impressive recreation of the Parthenon, because Nashville, as I learned, is the “Athens of the South,” and also because, well, why not) [above, bottom row, left] and the Cumberland River (a river, incidentally, that is meaningful to me because on its banks is where Kevin and I first made eyes at each other during a camping trip in Kentucky) [above, bottom row, right].

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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