Sunday, October 28, 2012

So Much Fun!!!

The Boy arrived home from Outdoor Ed on Friday afternoon. I’d had our new puppy, Barklay, home for just twenty-four hours. When The Boy first met Barklay, he thought we must be dog sitting (because we do that so often… NOT). When I told The Boy that Barklay was ours, his face lit up. I have now witnessed love at first sight.

Not sure how we happened upon such a wonderful, easy-going dog. At only three months of age, Barklay already loves to play fetch. He’s not a messy eater or drinker. Although he doesn’t love his crate, he goes in without a fuss. He sleeps all night long. Of course, we’re having potty training issues; I expected that but we’re only working on seventy-two hours with this wee boy. It will happen.

What’s amazing is that The Captain has yet to meet our newest cRitter -- and it’s killing him. He keeps texting me requesting more photos. I’ve sent him so many pics, and videos too, of us playing fetch and cuddling. The Captain found Barklay in the first place and is our resident dog whisperer. He tried to come home twice but didn’t make it. Those pesky ships keep coming into the bay needing assistance. He’ll just have to race home on Tuesday.

I’m so glad to have a doggie in our house again. We’ve missed our Maggie so much. However, our geriatric felines are not so thrilled. Both Bart and Lisa have taken pot shots at Barklay. In fact, Bart has abandoned us for his other family altogether (again). He stayed home and slept with me, like usual, the first night but not since. I haven’t even seen him. L Of course, the weather has been really nice lately. We’ll see what happens when it gets colder. Lisa, on the other hand sticks around the house, coming inside occasionally for short periods but I have to watch both dog, who wants to play, and cat, who wants to kill. Lisa continues to come home each night in time to crawl in bed with The Boy as she’s done for years.

I’m so happy to have a full set of domesticated livestock again. We can’t wait for all those firsts: first swim, first camping trip, first time at the beach. Many good times ahead! And, eventually, hopefully, peace. J

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Sweetest Little Pup in the World

One sacked out little guy

We’ve been looking for the right dog for a couple of years. We’ve considered purchasing from a breeder but we can’t justify their prices for a dog. We’ve applied at several rescue sites to no avail. Finally, we resorted to checking our local shelter’s site regularly only to find the only dogs available were either Chihuahuas or Pit Bulls. One is too yappy, the other, too scary. No thanks. We’ll keep looking.

Until Tuesday night.

The Boy left for Outdoor Ed with his fifth grade class on Monday. The Captain left for work on Tuesday and texted me that night asking me to look at our local animal shelter’s website for a specific little puppy. I fell in love at first picture. Wednesday I arrived at the shelter at opening time and held this precious baby – only to find out that someone else had already put in an application for him but would I like to put in a back up application, just in case? After a moment’s hesitation, YES!!! Yes, I would.

I asked the staff when we would know if he was ours. Twenty-four hours. They had just heard from Applicant #1’s landlord (after three days) that they were okayed for a pet and had left the applicant a message giving them twenty-four hours to retrieve their puppy.

Needless to say, I was at the shelter Thursday, twenty-four hours later. I waited twenty-three minutes (but who’s counting?) to get help, as I was the third person in line. I was soooo nervous that one of them was there for this puppy. Nope. The first guy I’d already ruled out since I knew him and we talked before the doors opened but I wasn’t sure about the other couple. Nope, again. They were waiting to find out whether their kitty had been found. WHEW!!!

To make sure she did her due diligence, the staffer called Applicant #1 once more since they hadn’t heard from them. She ended up leaving a message saying that they had waited not just the standard one day, but four days from the time of application and the dog was now going to another applicant. About fifteen minutes later, while I was still in the middle of the adoption process, Applicant #1 called and read the staffer the riot act. I was so pleased when I heard the staffer say, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but the dog is already gone.” All Applicant #1 would have had to do was call and leave a message saying they couldn’t be there at noon because they had to work but they’d be in at whatever time. They hadn’t.

In the meantime, The Captain was texting me every three minutes to see what was happening. No pressure. But…

He’s ours! Ours!! ALL OURS!!!

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, people.

Welcome to the family, Barklay!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad

First, I'll apologize for the lack of a visual on this post. Our main computer took a dive and I can't get to our photos. I'm hoping they're still there. yikes! When we're back up and running, I'll revise this post to add a photo.

Last weekend two lovely ladies and I co-hosted a baby shower for a mutual friend. We served lunch under the pergola on a gorgeous patio. Everything was simply but beautifully decorated and we lucked out on the weather, especially considering it is mid-October. No breeze and mid-70s. Perfect.

Continuing our simple but beautiful theme was the menu. We greeted guests with from-scratch French onion dip, sparkling limeade, iced tea, and mineral water. We continued with chilled grilled shrimp skewers, greens lightly dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar then finished with Hawaiian sea salt, and Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad. We finished the day by serving delicious mini peanut butter chocolate cupcakes. The beauty of this menu was that it was all done in advance so guests walked into the party and were greeted by a relaxed hostess (or hostesses J).

Yours truly was responsible for the French onion dip and Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad, which was adapted from a Barefoot Contessa recipe my sis-in-law turned me onto years ago when we gave a bridal shower for a dear friend. The veg was all roasted and refrigerated the day prior. My OCD tendencies (I only have a few...) didn’t allow me to throw all the veg on one sheet pan and toss it in the oven. No, I roasted each separately to make certain nothing over cooked (and, no, I don’t have two ovens). I even went so far as to chop the scallions, juice the lemons, and toast the nuts so all I had to do the day of the party was cook the orzo, cut up the cheese, and throw it all together. Easy but there are several steps.

Admittedly, I haven't changed that much of this recipe but I think my changes are worthwhile.

Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad
1 small bunch of asparagus*
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red onion
1 whole head of garlic*
olive oil, salt, and pepper

½ pound orzo pasta
2 cups chicken stock*
2 cloves garlic, crushed*

 cup lemon juice
 cup olive
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

4 scallions
1½ cups cubed feta (not crumbled, if possible. The French feta I used ended up a
      combination of cubes and crumbles...)
15 fresh basil leaves, julienned
½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped*

* = where substitutions or additions from the original recipe have been made

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the red and yellow peppers and onion into 1-inch pieces and place on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes (check at 30 minutes). Use your hands to make sure all the pieces are coated. Cut the top quarter or so off the head of garlic and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Roast with peppers and onion. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for ten minutes.

In a large pot add the chicken stock to the pasta water and bring to a boil. Add the crushed garlic and salt the water. Boil orzo per package instructions then drain.

While the pasta is boiling, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk together. Squeeze the garlic out of the head and chop/smash fine and whisk into the dressing.

In a large bowl combine roasted veg, hot pasta, and dressing. (It’s important to add the dressing to hot pasta so it soaks it up.) Cool in fridge until just before you’re ready to serve then add the scallions, feta, basil, and nuts.

There are so many ways to change this and make it your own:
  • Israeli couscous, barley, or brown rice instead of orzo
  • Use all stock instead of water to boil the pasta or grains
  • Steam the veg to reduce the fat content
  • Add blanched green beans, fresh tomatoes, arugula or other greens
  • Switch the cheese to shaved parmesan, manchego, or omit it entirely
  • Change the basil to tarragon, parsley, thyme, or whatever you like
  • Incorporate pitted olives or marinated mushrooms
  • Make it a main course with shrimp, salami, chicken, tofu, or even tuna (to create a nicoise-inspired salad)
  • Do as the original recipe suggests and serve it warm.

Mmmm... so yummy and healthy, too. Had lots of raves and requests for the recipe so here it is. Off to put the folded laundry away. … yaay

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Little Tiny Comfort Food

Like many in America, we’re not eating as much bread as we used to. When The Captain and I were first married in the late ‘90s, a loaf a French bread was a common accompaniment to our weeknight meals. We’re fortunate that we live in the north Bay Area where Model Bakery, Raymond’s Bread, ACME, and other amazing boulangeries are just around the corner or in the next town – therefore, really fresh. However, in the last ten years we’ve taken to buying those delicious loaves only when we have company – or decide to have Shrimp Mosca….

Unless the Captain’s family is over and we serve “Lorna Bread” (garlic bread that ends up blackened in the broiler while we’re distracting Lorna J), we end up with leftovers. (We still devour the Lorna Bread. Hey, people eat blackened fish…) I absolutely hate throwing bread away. Why, you ask, when it’s so easily found? Because a) I love croutons on my salad on occasion and b) when Thanksgiving comes around and I make enough cornbread stuffing to feed an army, one of the flavors/textures I love most is the sourdough mixed in. (I’ll post my Cornbread Stuffing recipe next month.) Bread already cubed and in the freezer saves purchasing and cutting it up all at once, which is tedious and time consuming but not so a little at a time. It only takes a minute or two to cut leftover bread into cubes, throw it in a zipper bag, and toss it in the freezer -- ready and waiting.

The best thing about cubing the bread prior to freezing is that the entire leftover loaf need not be defrosted. You take out only as much you want to use. For instance, last night I had a hankerin’ for some comfort food but knew I needed a salad instead of homemade mac and cheese so I made croutons to scratch the itch. The Captain was working so it was just The Boy and me. I only needed a handful. The chicken was already in the oven when the inspiration hit me so I tossed some cubes in a bowl, drizzled in a bit of melted butter mixed with olive oil, threw in salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. After mixing the still frozen bread cubes with the butter/olive oil and herbs, I placed them on a small sheet pan and put them in the oven with the chicken for about 15 minutes at 400°F. Oh, so good, especially still warm from the oven. mmmm

Even better, I made just enough that I don’t have leftovers and am, thus, not tempted to continue snacking on them.

A little insight as to why I began cutting the cubes in advance is that when I started with a whole loaf a couple of Thanksgivings ago, not only was that a monotonous task but I’m not a patient person. Therefore, the cubes began as ½ inch and ended up closer to an inch toward the end of the loaf since I bore easily (I’m a Gemini, whadya want?)… those don’t work as well for either croutons or stuffing – unless you want to stuff your mouth. I was ready to give the rest of the project up to crustini for bruschetta or just dump it in the trash and tell my family to forget about stuffing that year. That would not have gone over well.

While not a big fan of her recipes, I do subscribe to the Rachael Ray method of measurement. I eyeball things. If you’re not comfortable with that, I can try to be a little more specific for you but this really isn’t rocket science. It's also hard to give exact measurements when it depends on how much leftover bread you have. A couple slices or two-thirds of loaf is a big difference.

Crouton Recipe, Shmecipe
Cut some crusty bread into ½ inch cubes (fresh, two or three days old, does
         NOT have to be sourdough (but old hamburger buns do not work...),        
         whatever you have)
Melt some butter (use your best judgment. this isn’t a bread float. How much
         would you put on that much popcorn? use half of that because…)
Mix with about the same amount of olive oil
Salt (go easy) and pepper
Herbs of your choice (I used dried Herbes de Provence because it was within
arm’s reach). Rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon, Herbes de Provence, Italian Seasoning, whatever you have on hand.

Toss all ingredients together and place on a sheet pan in a preheated 400°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Something else to try is thinly slicing garlic and gently simmering it in the butter and/or olive oil for just a couple minutes, not giving it time to brown even a little. Remove the garlic and then drizzle over bread before baking… numnum OH! Or you can cheat a little and use powdered garlic.

Oh, Oh, Oh! Or parmesan cheese (when I was a little thing I used to call it Farmer John cheese. Too funny.) added toward the end just to melt it over the bread and get it a little bubbly… oooh, yeeeah. More like parmesan AND garlic butter/olive oil.

Is it any wonder I need to lose a few pounds? Maybe I should get up from the computer and … fold laundry then walk and do some yoga. Off I go!