First, I finished Windy City, by Scott Simon. It’s a novel about Chicago, framed around the political tumult that ensues in the week or so after the death of the very popular mayor, and the adventures of the mild-mannered Indian alderman who takes the position of interim mayor. It was interesting, but not enthralling. As much as I love Scott Simon, I didn’t looove this book.
The second book I read was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! I was afraid the book would be a little dull because it is about a family of five girls in 19th century England whose primary focus in life is on who they are going to marry and when. It seemed a bit shallow to me at first, but the main character, Lizzy, is so interesting and complex – her assertive personality is really compelling, particularly when the other characters in the story are introduced. She’s a little bit of a spitfire and the dynamics of the sisters together is something I think we can all relate to! On top of all the characters, the story takes some really interesting plot twists, which made the book really fascinating. I could hardly put it down! I’d definitely recommend it, if you haven’t read it.
But, as Lavar Burton said, “You don’t have to take my word for it!”
Next on my list is The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
So…. what do you have your nose buried in these days?
The past two weekends, Meredith and I have had some very cultural excursions.
Two weekends ago, we ventured out to the San Francisco de Young Museum to see an exhibit of artwork on loan from Paris’ Musee d’Orsay. It was lovely! And, although we both agreed we missed all of the free museums in Washington DC, the exhibit was great. The exhibit was called, “The Birth of Impressionism” and it featured 100 pieces of art from some of our favorite impressionist artists, Monet and Manet, Renoir, and Degas.
We saw so many wonderful paintings, and it was just incredible to see them all in their original form – seeing the size of the paintings and the texture of the paint really was surreal. We loved seeing all of the familiar favorites, like the Van Gogh dancer girls and Monet’s gorgeous landscape paintings.
Meredith and I were both reminded of another favorite, Renoir’s “The Swing.” The original of this painting is life-sized! It was so big, colorful, and complex. We were so impressed. We could not stop staring at it and taking in all of the little details.
I also found a new favorite! It’s called the Floor Scrapers by an artist named Gustave Caillebotte. I love the dark colors and the feel of the painting. It’s so romantically Parisian (notice the wine bottle) but is simultaneously gritty, depicting the hard work of the working class. It was actually rejected by “the Salon” because it showed the working class, believe it or not!
After a full morning of art Meredith and I felt very cultured.
But, we were ready for a little variety and, this past Saturday, accompanied Torre & Andy to a Strikeforce event at the HP Pavilion in San Jose and saw some crazy live fights! Each of the fighters walks out to a huge display of music and FIREBALLS and FIREWORKS! It was insane. One fight was between two women, including one of the most badass fighters out there, Cris Cyborg.
She is a crazy punching machine and the way she recklessly throws punches all over the place is jaw-dropping. Her opponent impressively lasted into the second round before getting knocked out.
We also saw Cung Le, who is 38, knock out a young guy with a spinning back kick. It was like right out of a Bruce Lee movie. Speaking of movies, Forest Whitacre was there! He’s a big fan of Cung Le & we spotted him signing some autographs for people who were there. After Cung Le won, he said he had given up chocolate and pizza for 7 weeks and that there was a bag of chocolate chip cookies waiting for him. I was jealous.
There was a LOT of build-up for the main event that featured one of the greatest fighters of all time, Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelienenko. He’s a huge, beefy, Russian dude who lives in a very small house in a small town in Russia, who fights for the glory of his mother country and to take care of his family. He is pretty unique and was definitely the crowd favorite. Unfortunately, he made a critical tactical mistake and suffered the second loss of his career that night in just over a minute. It was a little disappointing but Meredith and I still very much enjoyed the whole experience (Torre and Andy on the other hand were pretty depressed and didn’t want to talk about it!).
So, there you have it, two weekends, two sisters, and two very diverse cultural experiences!
This is essentially a “how to make pasta from scratch” post. I’ve had lots of people react with bug eyes and dropped jaws when I say that I make pasta from scratch. It is time that everyone learns how incredibly easy fresh pasta is to make (not to mention how delicious it is). So in an effort to do just that, I had my good friend, Jenna, over the other night (thanks for playing photographer!) and we got started.
First, the ingredients:
Flour, salt, an egg (or two).
Seriously that’s it. You want to get fancy later on? Get some squid ink, or pesto and add that in there too. But this is the basics. For just two people one egg is enough. If you want leftovers, or are serving four people, or are making a lasagna, then 2 eggs work. Once you start making this you will see how much comes out of each egg and can adjust based on each meal from there.
Step 1 in the process is putting combining the ingredients. Pour about a cup of flour (no need for real measurements here) on the counter or flat surface. Make a little well for your egg and crack it right in there. Season with some salt. To start the kneading process I use a fork to get the egg into the flour before diving in with my hands. When you do get your hands in there it is helpful to have a little flour on them and to mostly use your palms. Using your fingers can result in lots of dough in between your fingers and not in a nice ball.
You’ll probably knead the dough for maybe two minutes? It doesn’t take long to get it into a nice ball. You want it to be not too moist (like playdough) and not too dry (the tougher it is, the drier it is, if you’re killing yourself kneading this, it is probably too dry).
Once you have your pasta dough ball, put that in the fridge to chill for 20-25 minutes. Then you’ll want to divide the dough before rolling it out. If you went the 1 egg route, you only need to divide it once. Two or more eggs is probably worth dividing it into three or four parts. The next step is rolling the dough out. No matter if you have a dough press or attachment for your kitchen aid mixer or are rolling it old school (like I did) with a rolling pin, you first want to flatten the dough with your palm before rolling action. The idea here is getting the dough as thin as possible without creating holes (patch the few that may show up). If you’re using a press, follow the instructions for that press. If you’re using a rolling pin and counter, be sure to sprinkle flour on both surfaces to prevent sticking (and reapply as necessary).
Again, since I don’t have a press, I cut the pasta with a knife. You can use a pastry cutter here too. When the pasta is cooked it will expand, so go as thin as you can, it’ll fatten up. You’ll basically always be making linguine (unless you have a fancy press that might give you different cuts that can go narrower than my knife.
Get some water boiling with a healthy dash of salt. Throw in your pasta. It will cook super fast – 2 minutes. Not much of an al dente option with fresh pasta like this, but with the way this tastes, you won’t care. Then add this pasta to your meal! For dinner on this night we did a lovely white wine tomato sauce with some bay scallops. I took the pasta straight from the boiling water and into this sauce to mix it up.
Ta-Da! Now go treat yourself to some fresh pasta. Or, better yet, impress your significant other with fresh pasta for dinner! Happy cooking!
The other evening I had the opportunity to attend a cooking class as part of a networking event. We made Thai food and I got to meet a number of other women professionals in my field. I loved it!
We made a full Thai meal (from pork satay and spring rolls to beef curry and coconut cake) AND we made everything from scratch – even the peanut sauce! Now, we had about 20 women making the various dishes and many hands make light work, but I’m hanging on to these recipes for an Asian-themed evening. My favorite dish was the Green Papaya Salad, which is a refreshing and cool healthy treat. The recipe is below, but if you’re interested, all of the recipes are available here: http://handsongourmet.com/wp-content/cookbook/recipes/Thai/index.html
Many of the recipes call for a mortar & pestle but a food processor is a good substitute (the chefs cautioned that the texture would not be quite the same, but I suspect their palates are slightly more discerning!). Also, many of the recipes call for special Asian ingredients. Most of these ingredients can be found in the Asian food aisle of any grocery store but, if you can’t find them there, you may have to trek to your local Asian market.
This recipe is courtesy of the company that hosted the event: Hands On Gourmet!
Green Papaya Salad
For the Dressing
1 cup tamarind paste
1 cup water
4 tbsp palm sugar (about two discs), melted in 2 tbsps water to make a thick syrup
5 thai chiles, rough chopped
15 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
4 tablespoons dried shrimp
Juice of 5 limes
¾ cup fish sauce
For the Salad
8 cups green papaya, julienned
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
4 cups long beans, cut in 1” pieces
½ bunch thai basil, roughly shredded
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
½ bunch cilantro leaves
Large mortar and pestle
Mandoline (or box grater or food processor shredding attachment)
Chinois or fine mesh strainer
For the Dressing
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, dissolve your tamarind paste and water until it breaks down and becomes a paste, about 10 minutes. Pass the tamarind mixture through a chinois or fine mesh strainer and reserve ½ cup of the liquid. In a small sauce pot, melt the palm sugar with the 2 tablespoons water over medium heat until a syrup is formed and reserve. In a large clay mortar and pestle, pound the garlic, chilies and dried shrimp together until it forms a paste and is homogenous. Transfer this paste to a medium bowl and add the tamarind syrup, palm sugar syrup, lime juice and fish sauce. Mix well and reserve in the large bowl.
For the Salad
Julienne the green papaya and carrot with either a mandoline, a box grater, or the shredding attachment on a food processor. Chop the long bean into bite sized pieces. By hand, tear off a few thai basil leaves. Add these four ingredients to a large stainless bowl and pour some dressing over them. Using the pestle, bruise lightly to meld the flavors then add more dressing to taste. Now toss in the Cherry tomatoes and check the seasoning. Adjust with more dressing or one of the dressings components. It is almost ready to serve. Before serving, garnish with cilantro leaves and crushed peanuts.
I have been going to a hairstylist, Shannon, for about a year now and she has introduced me to a new way to care for my hair: sulfate-free shampoo. First, a few things about Shannon: she started out specializing in curly hair, her focus is now on “soft and natural” hairstyles (she also cuts hair using the “dry-cut” method, which is exactly how it sounds). So, her advice can work for all of us natural & sometimes curly-haired gals.
Shannon has convinced me to begin using sulfate-free shampoo. Sulfate-free shampoo is shampoo that doesn’t contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS). Sulfate-free shampoos also tend to be made of natural and sometimes even organic ingredients. Shannon explained that the sulfate in shampoos is an extremely strong cleanser – unnecessarily strong. In the past few years, there’s been discussion in the “hair world” that washing your hair with sulfate-containing shampoo can damage your hair and scalp, and can be potentially drying.
Now, maybe San Francisco has made me a little crunchy, but I have really noticed how healthy sulfate-free shampoo keeps my hair! It still washes your hair but it uses much gentler ingredients to do so.
I use shampoo from this great line of hair care products called UNITE (btw – somehow they’ve managed to make almost all of their products smell ridiculously delicious). It may be on the pricey side and I get it at my salon but I’ve noticed a number of other options that might be a little more wallet-friendly and are available in places other than my cute little salon. These brands include Abba, which sells at Walgreens, Alba, available at Whole Foods (though not all Alba shampoos are sulfate-free), Burt’s Bees Herbal Treatment & Grapefruit/Sugar Beet Shampoo (CVS & Walgreens), even mom’s old favorite brand, TIGI, makes sulfate-free shampoo. I haven’t tried all of these, and I understand that not all sulfate-free shampoos are the same. And, although the shampoo I use from Unite creates a pretty nice lather, you may notice that the lather is not as super-sudsy as you’re used to. This may take a little getting used to, but it is only because you are using gentle soap, not supah-strong detergent, on your hair. Check it out & give your hair some love!
Check out this site: Earth Aid. They are a company that rewards individuals and companies for their reduction of energy and water use. For blog readers, they’ve got a very active blog with daily posts, you will surely never be bored waiting for a new post!
All you have to do is create an account, link it to your utility bills (which requires your utility account numbers) and watch your household usage of electricity, gas, and water (if you have the accounts for all of them) go up and down. It is pretty cool really. To create incentives for people to reduce their energy usage, they collaborate with corporations and local businesses to provide discounts and other rewards. Each time your energy usage goes down, you earn points. These points can then be used towards the rewards offered. While it is hard to see how one person, one family, or one household can do to contribute to a healthier planet, this is a great way to have a tangible result of going green. Plus you see your usage go up and down on a nice pretty graph.
You can also make teams to collaborate on saving energy to get even more rewards! What do we think about a team Forney? I think we’d kick some ass.
Team Forney is welcome to all Forneys and nonForneys, must be 18 or older to participate, participation not valid in Puerto Rico. To participate click here.
Well! It’s asparagus season. I love getting vegetables when they are in season – they are so much more flavorful and delicious. And asparagus, especially grilled (or broiled) in the summertime is a classic.
Here’s a twist on asparagus that might help you enjoy asparagus in more unusual places, like a sandwich, or on top of some pasta. And, it’s from our favorite “How to Cook Everything” author, Mark Bittman. Let me know if you try it out! (I will too!)
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
- 1 clove garlic, or more to taste
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as desired
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste.
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
- Add the asparagus and cook until fully tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Drain well, reserving some of the cooking liquid, and let the asparagus cool slightly.
- Transfer the asparagus to a food processor and add the garlic, pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid.
- Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and gradually add the remaining extra virgin olive oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if necessary.
- Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste
- Pulse one last time, and serve over pasta, fish or chicken (or cover and refrigerate for up to a day).
yield: 4-6 servings