Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To See the Monkeys

Another snow storm? I barely even flinched, honestly. It's almost cliche, after all, this year (at least around here... any of you in Southern Cal or other tropical geographies, no comment, but I think I've got something here that'll look good even to you).

As you might imagine, with piles of (black-soot-covered) snow as high as 5 feet in some areas (still!), my mind turns to thoughts of warmer (if not, monkey-friendly) places.

No, we didn't hear about the recent snowstorms snow and bolt... we actually found this sunshine long before even a hint of Snowpocalypse but only now did it actually become a crucial matter to break out these pictures - after all, every picture I've taken in the past month or so has had some element of snow in it so seeing a (couple hundred) pictures with no white stuff reflecting up was the perfect remedy. Consider me officially ready for spring (hint, hint).

But let's not ruin the moment. The one in which memories and a few pictures of our (not too distant) Costa Rican vacation boast enough sun and tropical weather for tonight's (pithy) 1-3 inch dusting (quit with the snow-complaining already, I know).

This was my first middle-of-the-winter beach vacation and it didn't take long for me to get why it's the high-season in Costa Rica, as in many other warm-weather spots. I'm a beach over mountains (read: snow) girl any day, as it is, but the vistas of majestic, lush, green mountains and beautiful expanses of sandy beaches, just further confirmed this.

And then the monkeys... oh the monkeys. At our first stop near the base of the Arenal volcano, Chris indulged me in a game of what I called "chase the tour buses"; I'd quickly gathered that if we followed around the vans packed with tourists, we'd be led straight to all of the exotic wild life including three-toed sloths, toucans, and families of quick-moving monkeys.

Not having a clue how prolific all of these animals would be at our next stop, I was (more than) a bit obsessed with finding each and everything that the Costa Rican land had to offer. Luckily, I had nothing to fear - after a (slow and steady) drive across the country (stopping for an absolutely amazing sunset break near Jaco Beach), we arrived in Manuel Antonio and to my delight, almost immediately saw a three-toed sloth, as if he was waiting to greet us.

But the real treat for me would lie in the Manuel Antonio National Park. Not only was the beach breath-taking (they say even disposable cameras take postcard-perfect shots here and it's true!) and the hikes full of interesting flora and fauna, but there were adorable monkeys everywhere. Throughout our trip, we were fortunate enough to experience Costa Rica's capuchin, spider, and squirrel monkeys... and we weren't far from a troop of howler monkeys if the noise was any indication. *truth be told, I think you'd be hard-pressed to go to this lovely country and not see your fair share of these cute animals

We were sad to leave such a unique and beautiful country but so thankful for the opportunity to experience the wonderful Tico culture. Everything from the people and their love of the land to their food and relaxed attitudes could not have been better (though, admittedly, the drivers could use some work).

And just in case this has tempted you to book a trip (do it, you won't be sorry... it's an extremely affordable and family-friendly vacation), I feel obliged to pass along the invaluable tip of buying the GPS option if you choose to rent your own (4-wheel drive, even in the dry season) car (big huge thanks go to Andrea for that one). There's no way to describe the roads and experience of driving in Costa Rica so just take our word for it... oh, and definitely hire a driver if you are afraid of heights.

So even if the weather here (or wherever you are) is anything but tropical, hopefully these pictures and monkey-filled adventures have provided even the slightest glimpse of springs and summers to come!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's My Weakness

If my recent, earth-shattering, trick wasn't enough to really prove my worth - I'm about to blow the roof off this kitchen. Just you wait.

A short year and a half ago, I admitted that I'd never successfully hard-boiled an egg. Now I'm back with another shameful admission. Why I do this to myself (and assume you care), I have no idea. But lucky for you, on the other side of embarrassing myself, you'll get the recipe for an amazing Roasted Poblano and Corn Chowder. It's worth the wait... I promise.

You've probably noticed a few things about the way I run things around here... if I can't cook an entire recipe pretty much from scratch, the chances of it being made are slim to none. And using (what I consider) to be weird ingredients? Not gonna happen. So you can imagine my hesitation when I saw that this recipe included poblano peppers (who live somewhere close to the top of my list of unusual ingredients - embarrassing fact #2893) and not only did you have to find them, but then you had to roast them, yourself (to this day, the only roasted peppers included in any recipes I'd made were the bottled version - embarrassing fact #4589).

You can't make stuff like this up. It's true... this pot of lightly creamy but packed full of hearty vegetables chowder represents my first foray into roasting my own peppers... whether of the bell or poblano variety (and so goes my continued loss of credibility as someone who rambles about food). With this admission comes a whole host of excuses that I will spare you from - but just know I've got 'em. Thinking it was necessary to have a gas stovetop may or may not have been one of them.

Luckily, though, you get to enjoy the fruits of my er... test (can't call that labor, roasting the peppers was so darn easy!). Although not entirely since sadly you won't be able to dig into this jam-packed full bowl of chowder.

But before you're off a-roastin' and chopping, please indulge me... what's your deepest, darkest kitchen secret? Do you always burn your microwave popcorn? Is the taste of PB&J on fluffy (store-bought!) white bread still your absolutely favorite meal in the world? Or perhaps, some of your most oft-requested recipes are crafted from the humblest of boxed mixes?

Roasted Poblano Corn Chowder
brought to you by Kim

2 TBSP butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1/3 C flour
4 c chicken stock
1 carrot, diced
2 lbs potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 lb frozen corn
1 red bell pepper
3 poblano peppers
1 c milk
½ cup cream
½ lb frozen spinach (whole leaf)
cayenne, to taste

Roast peppers (poblanos and red bell): lightly coat a small baking pan with cooking spray and place your whole, washed peppers under the broiler. Monitor and turn until all side of the peppers are browned; quickly move to an airtight container (or paper bag) to steam for about 5-10 minutes after which you will gently rub off the roasted skin. Use the back of your knife to scrape away seeds and white pithy spines inside the peppers. Chop your freshly roasted peppers into a dice.

Chop garlic, onion, and celery and saute in butter until soft. Add flour to make a rue and cook for about one minute (to eliminate any flour taste).

Add stock and stir to combine. Add potatoes, peppers, frozen corn, and carrots and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.

Cook until all veggies are soft, then slowly add milk.
Bring back to a boil, and then turn off the heat and add your spinach (can add frozen or fresh), cream, and salt, pepper, and cayenne, to taste.

Optional: top with cheese (cheddar or Monterey Jack), or avocado, or tortilla chips.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Change Your World

I'm here (hi there!) with a trick that is certain to blow your minds. Really. I even hesitate to post this knowing how it's sure to revolutionize kitchens across the globe.

It's the secret to my sanity... well, that is, aside from our freshly painted and organized closet. Honestly, though, without this little plate of magic, my time in the kitchen would undoubtedly be less enjoyable.

Before I dazzle you and earn years of your devotion, I must give credit where it is due. Yup - you guessed it, this comes straight to you (via me) from the sparkling clean kitchen of my mom (sorry dad, you had your day in the sun (though surely more to come)... what would I, er - the snow, do without your table?)

You see... I am one of those clean-as-you-go types. But in the unusual event that I either can't immediately clean the utensil that I just dirtied or it's just impractical to do so (i.e. I'm about to use it again), I use said magic plate. Note: your impression of how magical this plate might be is admittedly subject to your own opinion It couldn't be easier. The only catch is that you remember your plate before you dive into your recipe (otherwise your sticky hands inevitably defeat the whole purpose).

I've found it's best laid as close to your primary work-surface as possible but that can be adjusted to how you move around your kitchen. Then get started... as you work, any utensil, measuring cup or spoon, spatula, is quickly placed on your plate in between uses. This allows for easier-than-you-can imagine access and re-use as well as a spotless countertop (at that you hear an audible sigh from this gal).

This same method can also be used to "catch" pesky coffee/tea stir spoons.
*How's that for a 2-for-1* Simply place your cutest saucer or salad plate next to your hot beverage set-up with a clean spoon (or two) resting on it et voila, presto clean counter and obvious real estate for those used stirs.

How do you keep your sanity while cooking and baking? Am I the only one who enters the kitchen with (an embarrassingly detailed) strategic plan?

And with that, I promise to turn it back to edible treats from this kitchen, not just the tools I use to make them.

Monday, February 08, 2010

There's Hope

We absolutely love this little house that we call our home. And we have since day one. Well... I should explain... it truly was love at first sight, but after moving in, with every inch covered in boxes, we went through a bit of a hate period... happily, though, soon after we returned to our blissful state.

And while we were fortunate to largely like the house the way it was, we did set about to painting (almost every room) and making some aesthetic changes to suite our tastes. Virtually every time I walk through our house, I see opportunities for a DIY project (to Chris' dismay) or a way to better highlight pops of accessories without cluttering the space.

So with the list of things to do in our house continuously growing ("welcome to home-ownership" is an oft-heard line coming from my parents), cleaning up an already functioning (and thankfully invisible with the door was shut) hall closet wasn't considered urgent. At least until we took a good look at the shelves. Not only were they peeling but we realized that they weren't even really shelves at all but three thin (light pink!) pieces of wood held together by some overly bold and seriously dated contact paper.

Thankfully, you'd be hard-pressed to find a smaller project to tackle than a hall closet in a 1940s home. Within a day, I had emptied the closet (which also led to a needed purging* of stuff) and we were on our way. After measuring how large we'd want the shelves and a quick trip to Home Depot, we were back home sanding and priming. Every inch of the interior of the closet as well as the shelves needed this treatment (that makes it sound really fancy - which is obviously an over-exaggeration since this couldn't be more basic).

We used the same color for the walls and ceiling as our dining room (a bright celadon) but decided to use two simple coats of our trim paint (a general white) for the shelves, trim, and door. As everything was drying (we waited extra long for the shelves and "brackets" so nothing would stick), I went shopping (around our house and in the basement!) for some pleasing-to-the-eye and functional storage containers and Chris took the door off, sanded and painted it and soaked all of the hardware to remove years and coats of old paint.

The end-result? I'd say it's best described as stress-reducing... and that's huge for someone like me to admit. Everything we need is easily accessible, housed in organized storage containers. The shelves are sturdy and clean (see, I told you... stress-reducing!) and there's even room left-over that we will surely need. Best of all - the only thing we purchased for the whole project was a large piece of wood (to the tune of $20) for the shelves; we used primer and paint that we already had and all of those (admittedly, inconsistent) containers were found around the house and given new life.

And I can vouch for the fact that it still looks this way today, over 2 weeks after the make-over was completed. Ahh... just thinking about it brings a smile to this face.

Does it look like this... not by a long shot, but every (very little) bit helps, right? I've actually found myself opening up the closet door as I walk by every so often just to gaze at the well-organized, fresh and clean closet. It's the little things, right?

*Purged? Really? Then why the huge stack of mis-matched towels?! This little lady demands to be washed pretty often and those are ah-hem... hers.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Just Warm Enough

Have you heard? It's snowing here. A lot. And there's more coming shortly following this bunch. I'm more than happy, inside with this girl (who'd rather be outside) tucked in between us, acting as our economical and energy-efficient heat blanket.

This has almost nothing to do with what was on my mind, food-wise, today. But I thought you should be aware of the circumstances that we're dealing with here.

The last time I thought about (read: craved and subsequently proclaimed that it would be ours) this spinach quiche the view out our windows was quite a bit more colorful. And the only thing falling from the sky was a rainbow of leaves, lightly floating their way down; and while the current snowflakes descend just as peacefully, they certainly make quite a bit more of an impact.

And thus for no logical reason, as the piles of white grew higher and higher this morning, I fell deeper in denial that it would actually paralyze our city. So in an effort to not give in to every predictable freezing-weather comfort foods, this quiche popped into my head.

I can not tell a lie, however. This not-too-creamy (allowing the spinach to shine through) but just-the-right-amount of cheesy quiche (encased by a perfectly buttery crust) sadly wasn't what we consumed today. With almost two feet of snow on the ground, my sedan wasn't about to get me to the (in all probability closed) grocery store.

But the memory of it (effortless preparation, economic ingredients, three cheeses blended seamlessly with dark green spinach, sophisticated presentation) was enough to keep me warm - mind you, not paralyzed-by-the-snow warm, but comfortable enough.

*I should mention that this pie crust recipe is the first one I can claim as 100% fool-proof. And, lucky us, it makes enough for two quiches/pies (you get the idea) and stores perfectly in the freezer so you can bet I'll be pulling the second out for round two in a matter of days.

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