Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quiet and Anticipation

It's been really quiet over here at Life Tonic, with the only noises of my days being the hum of my laptop at work or my sewing machine at home. Busy, busy, busy. Go, go, go. But of course, what's really on my mind is my family. I cannot wait to get home! Midnight tomorrow I will be touching down in Texas, and after an hour's ride home from the airport, this is who will be waiting for me:
That's Aiden, a black pomeranian I got when I was in college but had to leave behind with my parents. He has the kind of personality and smile (pomeranians smile!) that can't help but cheer you up, and I will be needing it since Cassie is not doing any better. Aiden is also my date for new years, and I expect the kiss to be grand! ;)

Safe travels, everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Post-Christmas Plans

Far from shopping malls and long customer service lines, the day after Christmas I will be driving to Rockport, Texas, where my grandparents (Hi, Pawpaw and Tutu!) have gone all out this year and are hosting a four day party family reunion. Anyone that knows them can tell you that they are extremely planful and organized, so it was no surprise that I received the details for the winter festivities, oh in...September or October. The care they put into planning is one of the million reasons we love them, and that the notes are typed on a typewriter make it especially endearing.

Morning: Arrival & Open period
Afternoon: Open Period. Good time for family photo on the beach.
Evening: Open Period

Morning: Open Period
Afternoon & Evening: Texas Day at the House
*Jeanne's Texas Margaritas-whenever
*Texas Barbeque (outside if weather is OK)...wet & dry short ribs, brisket, chicken wings, potato salad, beans and homemade ice cream
*Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament...only $1.00 to participate but the one winner wins all the money and prize. (Detailed instructions and team information were sent as well)


Morning: Open Period.
Late Afternoon: A family meals at POP's restaurant in Lamar. Best items are hamburgers, onion rings, fries, cold beer or whatever. Family pool tables available. Dutch treat.
Evening: Chinese Auction....don't forget your gift. Bring trash, a family antique, or even a "nice" gift. This year no rules but please no bikinis.

Morning: Breakfast burrito at Jalisco's
Rest of Day: Open...check out time is 12:00.

Texas Day? How adorable (and fun) does that sound?!?!?! And in the words of my brother, with whom I share the same sentiment:

Upon receiving the above itinerary, "I think it's cool that I know I'm eating brisket on December 27th."

I could not agree more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You know it's going to be a good day when...

you raise your head up after washing your face in the morning and realize that your face is completely covered in blood. Darn it! It's nosebleed season again. I'd like to think that frequent nosebleeds are common, especially in this season that confines us to the indoors in the blast of dry heat, but I don't know anyone else that has this unfortunate problem.

As I was laying down, waiting for the blood to stop flowing and making me increasingly late for work, I thought about some anti-nosebleed possibilities.

-Vaseline. I've heard of people coating the inside of their nose with Vaseline to keep the skin from...what does it do? Dry out? I don't know about this, though. I have a pretty strong aversion to putting anything in nose, though I guess it could be a last resort.

-Vitamins? I'm not sure that will help. A quick Google search tells me "The most common causes are dryness (often caused by indoor heat in the winter) and nose picking." First of all, I'm not really a nose picker. Remember, I don't like putting anything in my nose. I found some other potential causes as well: "Other, less common, causes include injuries, colds, allergies or cocaine use." Also negative. If I snorted coke, I probably wouldn't be wondering why I have nosebleeds and most surely I wouldn't get as much sleep as I've been getting (asleep at 9pm last night, folks!).

-Humidifier? I've seen these everywhere for as long as I can remember, yet I still don't know what they really do. Seems like they are an item for bedrooms, but I swear I spend more time in the office than I ever do sleeping (even though I sleep quite a bit, I work even more!).

I'm not any better off, am I? Here's to several more weeks of the daily blood bath!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Weekend plans

I have not done nearly enough to prepare for my trip home...a myriad of sewing projects are yet to be finished, clothes yet to be washed and packed, my apartment is a complete wreck, etc. I need to get my butt in gear!

This weekend will be spent either at my sewing machine or battling the crowds in downtown Seattle (pictured left) for some last minute gifts. I hate the crowds, but I love, love love the white twinkle lights everywhere. So festive and pretty!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I need music.

With long days of travel on the horizon, I am looking to beef up my ipod. I'm really not all that picky about music, so all genres are welcome. It's not that I don't care, I have just never been a person that seeks out a new sound or is in the know of upcoming artists. If you can't tell already, I'm a lot more into writing, cooking, and sewing than I've ever been about music, so I need your help! Anyone! If I get at least two people to suggest something, I will be ecstatic, but of course the more I get the less I need to be at the mercy of whatever in-flight movie Continental is playing.

Oh, and podcasts are more than welcome as well!

So far, Death Cab for Cutie has been recommended. Albums: Transatlanticism, Photo Album, and Plans. And "Passenger Seat" from Transatlanticism, I'm told, is a tear-jerker. I do like a good emotional song every once in a while, so I can't wait to hear it. A longtime favorite emotional song has been "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice. I never get tired of that song.

Looking forward to suggestions! I know you have some!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

happenings: sick edition

I feel dreadful. Despite my obnoxious hand washing and sick-people-eschewing, I have caught it. All plans for merrymaking this week are thus postponed. Until then I am keeping busy with the following:

sewing: several Christmas gifts. As much as I want to show you pictures (they're adorable!), even more so, I don't want to spoil anyone's surprise. I'll be sure to upload pictures post-holiday.

cooking: nada. All cooking has been sidelined until I feel better. I guess not having an appetite is figure-friendly, though I am drinking my weight in hot tea.

drinking: airborne, even though I'm skeptical of its effectiveness. In season's past I've always had to choke it down, but the new pink grapefruit flavor is surprisingly enjoyable!

drinking, part 2: basil haydens. I'm quite sure drinking whiskey on the rocks is not advised when one's loaded with cold medicine and suffering from little sleep, but eh...

putting on hold: netflix. After not using my subscription for at least a month, I finally put my account on hold. Why can't I find any movies to interest me? I'm not hard to please, but perhaps I am just feeling uninspired by film right now.

reading: Good Calories, Bad Calories (still), Your Best Year Yet, and Reporting Technical Information.

disenchanted: with Food Network's "Holi-Dazzle." If I see Paula Deen and the Dinner Impossible chef kiss one more time, I might throw up.

learning: how to curl my hair. A potential chop of my hair at the salon yesterday morphed into a trim with a hair lesson. Of course the stylist made it look easy, but how does one really create curls in the back of their head? I'll let you know how it goes. I'm dreadfully inept at styling hair. Must add curling iron and clips to my shopping list.

texas countdown: nine days. The dog I grew up with, Cassie, seems to have had a stroke and is not improving. I really hope she can make it at least through Christmas.

We don't dress up our dogs on a regular basis, but the hoodie from my old Pound Puppy fit her just right! Pound Puppies...remember those?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Roasted Ratatouille with Pancetta Stuffed with Goat Cheese

As I mentioned last week, I am "cooking the book," Everyday Dining with Wine. One thing I am finding I like about this book is that it emphasizes wine-friendly combinations of flavors more than it teaches novel cooking methods, so the ideas are easily adapted and don't require you to closely follow a recipe. An example of this, probably my favorite to date, is roasted ratatouille. Since the kid's movie this summer, ratatouille has been at the forefront of food blogs everywhere, though I never jumped on the bandwagon until now.

This roasted version appeals to me simply because roasting is my favorite method of cooking any and all vegetables. Brocollini? Yup. Cauliflower. Done it. Asparagus? Always. Brussels sprouts? My favorite. You get the idea... What's not to love about a high oven temperature's way of pulling out deep, nutty flavors and caramelizing vegetables, leaving a crunchy brown crust? Exactly.

The addition of high quality sherry vinegar, crispy pancetta and tangy goat cheese make this particular ratatouille a home run.

Roasted Ratatouille with Pancetta Stuffed with Goat Cheese
Any mix of the following: yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, all diced the same size (I used one eggplant, 1 yellow squash, and 2 small zucchini)
1 shallot, diced
2-3 T sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, enough to coat vegetables
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
soft goat cheese
fresh parsley

Toss the diced vegetables and shallot with enough olive oil to coat and several tablespoons of sherry vinegar. Season liberally with salt and pepper, and roast in a roasting pan for about 40 minutes (I think I used a temperature of 450, but I'm not sure). To ensure even browning, stir vegetables every 10 minutes.

With the goat cheese, form small patties the size of the pancetta. Sandwich the goat cheese between two slices of pancetta and cook in a skillet on medium-high, about 2-3 minutes per side or until the pancetta is crisp.

Top the ratatouille with the goat cheese stuffed pancetta and fresh chopped parsley and serve. The vegetables would be equally good if you sprinkled them with crisped pancetta and crumbled goat cheese, but I thought the patties made for a more unique presentation.

Leftovers? Use them for an omelet!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Scrambled Eggs with Spanish Chorizo and Manchego Frico

Though I haven't joined one, I am thrilled with the trend emerging from online food communities: Cook the Book Clubs. A good example is at Loulies, offered here. The premise is simple: for one month, cook everything you can out of a single cookbook and optionally share your experiences with others doing the same.

I love cookbooks, and even though I'm not yet a full-fledged collector, I already have more than I regularly use. How does this happen? I get a new cookbook, get my panties in a twist about making everything in it, then for the next year or more it gathers dust on my shelf and a good splattering of grease (note to self: get books away from the stove!).

Well, the "cook the book" idea has been nagging at me for months, so this last week I took several minutes to degrease and dust a cookbook my dad gave to me last year for Christmas (he even got it signed by the author, aww), Everyday Dining with Wine. Armed with determination and a grocery list to drain my newly plumped checking account, I set out to cook several meals from it in December. Oh boy, have I begun to do just that.

The meals are decidedly simple but emphasize quality ingredients and classic methods. I have found the "everyday" aspect is in regards to the modestly priced wine recommendations and not necessarily the ingredients. Expensive vinegars and oils abound, though I happily oblige since reading David Lebovitz' blog post, "10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Cooking," specifically numbers two and four, "upgrade your oil" and "rethink your vinegar." Come to think of it, I have started cooking with a lot of shallot as well, so that knocks out number three without even trying!

The scrambled eggs with Spanish chorizo and manchego frico called out to me in the beginning because I never realized there were different kinds of chorizo. I never even ate chorizo until I lived in Austin in a Mexican community and shopped at grocery stores that offered cases of it. Jimmy Dean even sells chorizo, though in places like Seattle you would never know it (but really, we want the real thing anyway. Sorry, Jimmy). I have since learned that I was eating Mexican chorizo, which is an uncooked variety of chorizo, one which the Spanish would call chorizo fresco. This time around, my more equipped self sought out Spanish chorizo, which is cured. I couldn't find Spanish chorizo, or Manchego cheese for that matter, at Safeway but had luck with both at the gourmet market.

The combination of flavors in these scrambled eggs makes it so much more than "scrambled eggs." It becomes a perfect breakfast-for-supper dish, especially on those nights that you are short on time or just feel lazy. The frico is really just a fancy word for cheese crisp. Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain, and broken over fluffy eggs laced with heat and spice from the sausage, offers a unique peppery bite. My food substitution book suggests Monterey Jack as a replacement, though I don't think it would suffice in this case.

Scrambled Eggs with Spanish Chorizo and Manchego Frico
2 eggs
1 ounce Manchego*, grated
1.5 ounces Spanish chorizo, diced
3 T red onion**, chopped
splash half and half
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
pepper and sea salt

To make the frico, heat grated Manchego in a small nonstick skillet until it melts into a lacy circle and begins to brown on one side. Remove from heat for about 30 seconds to let crisp, then flip and crisp on other side. Drain on paper towel.

Cook chorizo on medium heat until fat begins to render, then add chopped onion and cook until softened. Beat the eggs with splash of half and half and salt and pepper, and pour over softened onion and sausage. Scramble. Garnish cooked eggs with fresh chopped parsley and frico.

*The Manchego was difficult to grate. Next time I will freeze for 5-10 minutes just prior.
**A sweet yellow onion would have been ideal, had I had it on hand.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pork Chops in Wine and Shallot Sauce

The guys in my office always get a scrunched up, incredulous look on their face when they ask me to go out for lunch and for the zillionth time I reply, "No thanks. I brought mine." I mean, really... sticky questionable meat from the dirty teriyaki place, or home-cooked pork chops drenched in a savory wine sauce with shallots? Yep. Me too.

This sauce is about as simple as it gets yet big on flavor. Cook the pork chops in some extra virgin olive oil, browning each side to get a nice golden brown crust. Once cooked through, remove the chops from the pan and add one chopped shallot, cooking for about one minute to let it soften before pouring in about a cup of white wine to deglaze the pan. Cook the wine down on medium heat until slightly thickened and darker in color, yielding about 1/3 of a cup. Remove the pan from heat and swirl in a generous pat of butter, about a tablespoon. Finish the sauce by adding salt and pepper to taste and a handful of fresh chopped parsley.

You'll never want to go out for lunch again, or at least not have a good excuse, because meals like this are just as easy and almost as fast as throwing together a PB&J. Another way to make brown bagging it less of a chore is to cook a couple servings at once to leave in the fridge at work. One less thing to remember in the morning, and more room in my purse for books to read on my commute. Now if only I could get the guys at work on board, or at least to stop giving me those weird faces!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Picture in sidebar

I'm really not a very mysterious person. Ask me about anything, and I'll tell you. Heck, even if you don't ask, I'll probably tell you anyway (one of my favorite things about blogging). I'm not very big into memes, so I'm not going to disappoint anyone by writing a bunch of random and probably useless factoids about myself, but I do want to point you to the left to my bare sidebar to see that I posted a little picture of yours truly.

I bought a pocket camera with some birthday money (remember the little cozy I made for it?), so you will be seeing a lot more of me a lot more often. Who knows, I might go crazy some day and let someone take my picture so I can get a normal perspective! (Yes, the one on the left I took of myself on my birthday.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Steak in Scotch Sauce

Cooking as a single person means two things:
  1. You eat meals by your lonesome.
  2. You end up eating the same thing for days because of this little thing that happens when you're only feeding one person--LEFTOVERS.
And for people like me who try to save money on staples so I can afford Manchego cheese, Spanish chorizo and Prosciutto di Parma (not to eat together, mind you), it means I buy in bulk, leaving my fridge at any one time full of 8 pork chops or 10 steaks. That's a lot of meat!

Yes, the obvious solution is to buy in bulk and freeze, but do people who suggest that really have room in their freezer? I certainly don't (mostly because there are two whole ducks in there that I don't know what to do with, but shhh. I'm legitimately complaining here!).

On to the steak in scotch sauce...

*draw parallel here* (I promise I'm not this literal all the time)

I recently bought steaks in bulk, and up to this point I have been coating them with Montreal Steak Seasoning and then searing them in butter and olive oil. It's probably one of my favorite foods, but I've hit the point of diminishing return and needed to diversify.

Meet my new pan. She's purdy. I've never had a skillet perfect for making pan sauces, so I was anxious to see what she could do. In an inhospitable turn of events last night, I was without wine at home so after searing and cooking my steak, I deglazed the pan with some Chevis, whisked in some splashes of cream, then swirled in some cold cubes of butter to finish (I didn't say it was low-fat!). Scotch sauce! The verdict? I was pleasantly surprised. It was incredibly rich, but my steak tasted much more out of a fancy restaurant than a value pack from Safeway. I wouldn't dare serve it to someone who doesn't care for scotch as the flavor was powerful, but I am a scotch drinking kind of girl, so it pleased my palate in just the right ways.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Camera Cozy

Not wanting to bulk up my pocket camera with a traditional case, I decided to follow the ipod-cozy trend and sew one up for my Canon PowerShot SD750. I followed Julie Ree's ipod cozy design--the elastic closure is pure genius.

There's really not much to making one of these, though I found it difficult to stitch the opening neatly since the opening is rather small and the batting makes it predictably bulky (if you try this, you will see what I mean!).

If your camera is new, make this project even easier by using the sleeve your camera comes in as a template and just add the seam allowances as indicated (1/4" seams around all 3 sides and 1/2" at opening).