Tuesday, December 22, 2009

track your nutrition

I've been playing around with The Daily Plate on Livestrong.com and it may be the coolest thing ever.  Lately I've needed a little extra motivation to eat better and pay more attention to what exactly I'm eating, and I think this is going to help a lot because it's fun!  Not only does it give you calories of what you're eating, but it provides GRAPHS, which really puts those numbers into perspective.  Just for kicks, I plugged in my award-winning chili recipe.  What an eye-opener!  Those results are for 1 cup of chili (approximately, of course).  Yowzers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

glory is mine!

Today was the office chili cook-off. We had nine chili entries and a whole host of cornbread, biscuits, chips, spiced nuts, and beer. The competition was steep: there are some very good cooks among our staff. What were we after? Besides bragging rights? The golden spoon of victory! (see below)

This trophy is made from a real wooden chili spoon, spray painted with high-quality gold glitter craft paint, and laced in ribbon in our official office colors. (kinda like high school, huh?) Guess who walked away with the title?

That's right! None other than yours truly! Frankly, I'm just relieved I can back up all that trash-talking I did leading up to the cook-off. OK now here comes the bragging (hey! I earned it!): This is the second chili cook-off I've participated in and won! The last one was 2004, my senior year of college. I remember that chili being good, but nothing spectacular; I think the only reason it won was I dialed it back on the spice so the judges could actually taste it, whereas Adam, whose chili was probably truly the best, made it so spicy it burned all the way down. Those small details are what make a winner, folks!

I kept my recipe this year secret until I had claimed victory, but I think it's safe to share it with you now. You are welcome to take it and tweak it as you like for any chili cook-off you dare to enter.

a chuck roast (don't spend more than $6) cut into 1-inch cubes
$6 worth of pork also cut into 1-inch cubes
*side note: I'm giving you measurements in dollar amounts because I can't remember what the poundage was; I just eye-balled it and then said, "yep, I can afford that."
4 Tbsp chili powder
1Tbsp-ish kosher salt + more at your discretion
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups diced sweet onions
1/2 ancho chile, seeded and coarsely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, blanched and coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp turmeric
1 pint beef stock (or turkey stock with beef bouillon added, which is what I actually did)
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2 cans black beans
2 cans red kidney beans
1/2 lb bacon coarsely chopped
1 cup Oaxacan mole sauce
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2-3 Tbsp red wine vinegar (more or less to your taste)
cayenne pepper, shake it how you like it, baby!

In a pan, brown the beef and pork (you'll probably want to do it in batches)
Throw them into a crock pot, toss in the salt and chili powder, put the lid on, and cook it on low for 4 hrs, turning the meat gently maybe twice during the course of the slow-cook
In your soup pot, cook the onions, ancho chile, and garlic in olive oil until the onions become translucent.
Add the cumin and turmeric and cook a little longer
When you get bored, add the stock, tomatoes in juice, 1 can of black beans, 1 can of kidney beans, and cook a little longer, stirring with a wooden spoon.
While that is simmering, cook up your bacon in a separate pan, and then add it to the pot.
Puree everything in the pot either in the blender, cuisinart, or (if you're lucky like me) your immersion blender. When you feel it's been mixed to your taste, put the put of soup back on the stove and add the second can of black beans and kidney beans, the mole sauce, and the brown sugar.
Add the red wine vinegar (stir and taste at 2 Tbsp, and only add the 3rd if you think it needs more of a kick). If you think it needs more heat, shake in some cayenne pepper until it's hot enough for you
When your meat is good and ready, add it to the pot. If you have time, let it sit over night in the fridge and then reheat in the crock pot.


-The Champion

Monday, December 14, 2009

I survived H1N1 and all I got was this fantastic quilt.

For those of you who don't know, I was quarantined at home Thursday afternoon through the weekend recovering from swine flu (or so my doc says). I had gone in to see my doctor to make sure I didn't have pneumonia - my lungs were feeling soupy - and she hit me with a swine flu diagnosis instead! Can you believe it?? Honestly, it was the easiest flu experience I've ever had, but that's not to say it was pleasant. I had chills, aches, fever, and a raging sore throat last weekend, and wasn't able to fully shake the bug all week. It was nasty. So I stayed home.

I couldn't go anywhere and didn't really feel like asking any of my friends to take a gamble on their health and visit me, so I decided to watch movies and make a quilt, just to see how far I could get. I did damn well! I'm about half done with the hand quilting and then I just have to add the binding, and voila! It's a Christmas gift for Andrew's sister.

Hope she doesn't mind I coughed all over it.... just kidding. ;)

Monday, November 23, 2009

everything is just chair-y

Remember this?

...which became this?

Well, I took a couple evenings and made it into this:

(Yep, I'm still uploading pictures from my camera phone.)

Let me just say, I feel triumphant!! I have had this charcoal gray felt in my possession for nearly a year, and it's been just sitting there, taunting me. The last time I reupholstered the chair I used that brown/gold grandma-style floral jacquard. It was ugly and DIRECTIONAL, which made for quite a challenge. The idea was that I rip off the original fabric to use as a pattern for my pieces. I think the first project was a month in the making; I whipped this baby out in two evenings. Not having to pry out hundreds of staples and not having a directional fabric changed the turn-around time dramatically. It was actually invigorating to see the chair come together the way it did.

I also learned which portions could be fitted as slip-covers first and then stapled into place, rather than trying to stable each individual piece on. My favorite part was actually the most time consuming, but came out great: the detail stitching on the foot rest part (sorry it's hard to tell in the picture I uploaded). I ended up having a lot of scraps that weren't big enough to cover any single piece of the chair, but cut into strips and sewn into "stripes" on the foot rest ended up being just the way to use them. I may even have enough left over to do my second chair the same way. Really, I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out.

Here's the question of the hour: Do I spray paint the legs a glossy black, or just leave them with the dark wood stain? Your thoughts?

Friday, November 13, 2009

look what i did!

This is how I spent my Friday afternoon. I think I'll make a series.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

ok so i eat a lot. what.

Today a friend and I went in search of soup and salad for lunch. It's a blustery day here in Seattle and that just sounded good. Cruising down 4th Avenue, we saw a sign swinging in the gusty rain:

We both got bowls of the soup du jour: French Onion (bien sur). They brought it to us in those heavy indestructable white ceramic bowls I remember from my time in Paris, and served the bread on the side rather than toasted and crusted under the gruyere in the bowl where it would get soggy (much appreciated by me).

It was the best damn French onion soup I've tasted. Ever. Run, don't walk, to get yourself a bowl.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

apple crisp

Yesterday one of the designers, out of the goodness of her heart, made up little gluten-free crackers topped with cream cheese, lox, and capers for me for an afternoon snack. I love food, and I love gifts, and it totally made my day.

So this morning at 7am I decided to make a little apple crisp to bring to the office and share, giving my snack buddy the first crack at it. The prep time was literally 5 minutes (I looked at the clock when I put it in the oven: 7:05am) so this is something even a super busy morning can handle. If you have 5 min to prepare it and another 1 min to remove it from the oven when it's done baking, all you really have to worry about it getting your timing right.

I made it with real flour so I wasn't able to test-taste it, but it got rave reviews so I feel pretty good about it. One of my colleagues asked for the recipe, but this is one I just eyeball so I made some guesses on the ratios for official purposes --even though I often use measurements like "pinch" and "dash" I don't write them into recipes because I know that stresses some folks out-- and since I had it all written down in an email, I thought I'd post it here as well for those of you who are looking for recipes that require little effort and yield delicious returns.

Apple Crisp:

Slice apples thinly (this helps cut down on baking time). I use granny smith; if you use other apples, toss the apples in fresh-squeezed lemon juice (1/2 lemon per apple)

Spread apples in your baking pan, making sure each slice has been separated from one another so they cook better. Leave ½ inch of room at the top

Topping (these are just the ratios – you may want to adjust the amount depending on your taste):

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp – or more if you like – apple pie spice (a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice)

Stir dry ingredients together

Cut in with a pastry cutter 1 stick butter until pieces of butter are about pea-sized.

Spread mixture over the apples and shake it down into the apples a little.

Bake at 350 for 30 min to an hour depending on how big of a pan you made. My little 6x8 pan that holds two large granny smith apples, sliced, only needed 30 min.

Another variation: Andrew likes it when I nestle little cubes if Kraft (not the inferior Brach’s) caramel within the apples.

Monday, November 2, 2009

cheers to a great costume this year

This year for Halloween we went to a Mad Men themed birthday party. Everyone dressed in conservative attire from the early 1960s. It was amazing to see what everyone found. Before we headed out, Ani came over to get ready (and her beehive was totally worth the effort). That, my friend, deserves a cocktail!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

no will-power

I've been trying to eat better and stay gluten-free. So, of course, today at lunch I needed pizza and nothing else would do. A friend and I raced over to the favorite spot at 4th and Cedar: Bambino's. It was delicious; I knew it would be. But was it worth it? I can't decide.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ahhhh Seabrook

Over the weekend a group of 17 went back to Seabrook for the first time since the economy tanked. It was my favorite lady's birthday, so how could I say no? We had a great time just lounging about, playing games, eating, drinking, hot-tubbing....

It's hard to describe the experience there, so I pulled two of Abby's pictures from that first morning of our mini-vacation to give you an idea. Yep, it's that good.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Holy Fudging Heck

This week has been the week to end all weeks. I have been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to coming in to work each day this week. We consolidated the library (did you know I'm Marian the Librarian?) and moved it to another floor in our building. I got about a quarter of the space I once had to work with so the plan was to brutally pare down our resources to the bare essentials and have our vendors haul the rest out. I've been dirty, sweaty, and harried since Sunday when I started.

The office goal was to have every employee moved to the new area by today (didn't happen for me), and the old space to be cleared by Oct 1st. I'm going to need all the luck and karma cash-ins I can find for that to work.
I got home last night at 7pm after 2 cocktails and a belly full of sushi and went for an hour-long power walk in my neighborhood. Much needed. By 9pm I was fast asleep, exhausted from what seemed like the longest week ever.

Friday, September 11, 2009

not a food blog

My intention for this blog when I started it was initially to practice my creative writing... then I decided more people in my life would be interested in updates on my diy craft projects. Well, it's been a busy busy summer and all my fun little projects got cast aside temporarily to make room for other things in my life I've been wanting to do like spend more time with Andrew (I know we live together, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to spend an entire Saturday in the same room and pay zero attention to each other), work out more, enjoy the sunshine, and that all good stuff. I haven't sewed in weeks, and worse, my fantastic chairs I started sanding have remained partially sanded and taking up room in my spare bedroom.

It seems the only creative thing I've had time for lately is cooking. Hey - a girl's gotta eat. I'm also conducting an interesting food experiment: going wheat-free. One of my college roommates suggested I try it, and I thought, what the heck? To be honest, I feel a lot better after a month of steering clear of wheat. The reason I know this is I had three bud lights last night at a comedy show. They were delicious, every one. Here's the kicker: I was crazy swollen and felt like garbage this morning... kinda like I used to feel every morning. It was an "ah-ha!" moment, if you will... and I will. Here's what I discovered:

Not pretty, eh?

But beyond that, maybe I should avoid wheat when I can. I've made a lot of delicious meals this past month (I even baked!) and didn't once feel like I was missing out. I do have some "don't be a pain in the a**" rules, though:

  1. I promise to never ask the server at a restaurant, "is this gluten-free?" I won't die if I accidentally have wheat and my server is not my personal research assistant.
  2. If I am invited to dinner at a friend's I will eat what is served and not say, "oh sorry - I have this thing..."
  3. I will not buy gluten-free bread. There is a reason it's hard to find: no one wants to eat it; it wasn't meant to be.
This brings me to the bowl of soup you see pictured above. It's SO DELICIOUS! I took the recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and replaced ham with bacon (of course). She suggested to serve it with a salad and bread, but I did cucumbers as a side - cool, crisp, and refreshing - and that was just perfect. The other thing this soup is great for is drizzling on breakfast tacos. Two corn tortillas, a scrabled egg, and a little dab of this soup is my new fave breakfast (RIP english muffin half... you are made of wheat and I will miss you very much). Please try this soup. You'll be glad you did!

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Hippie" Cookies or "Indoor Kid" Cookies...

I'm not quite sure what to call these cookies. They are your standard chocolate chunk cookies, but with some mods. I have been experimenting this week with cutting wheat / gluten out of my diet (don't ask why), and the real bummer - or perk, depending on how you look at it - is that cookies are out of reach. I know there's a way to mix certain flours to get a blend that will bake like regular old flour, but it sounds like more hassle than I have time for right now. Fortunately, Red Mill has a pre-mixed blend that they advertise simply as gluten-free baking flour. For the quantity, it costs just slightly less than your right arm, but for peace of mind in my first go-round of staple subs, it was worth it. I decided to incorporate the flour into this recipe, but I didn't stop there....

Andrew's mom has a lot of food allergies, which include gluten, eggs, and dairy, and every time we host A's parents for dinner I have to remind myself not to bake something for dessert she can't eat. We usually do some kind of sorbet or coconut milk ice cream, but it would be nice to have more options. I thought this would be the perfect time to just go for gold and see if I can make it happen. So in addition to the gluten-free flour, I subbed the eggs with egg-replacer and the butter with a combo of canola oil and butter flavored crisco. Here are the measurements of the subs:

1 + 1/4 c butter became 3/4 c canola oil + 1/4 c butter flavored crisco.
This seemed to be the right liquid-to-dry ratio, but I hate to say this: it needed more butter flavor. I don't think I'd up the crisco at all, but I'm toying with buying imitation butter flavor, just to see what it's all about. Worst thing that could happen is a batch of cookies tastes terrible. I can live with that.

2 large eggs became the milky white concoction that the box of powdered egg-replacers recommended for 2 eggs. It worked all right, but I think I'd put 3 "eggs" in it next time, just to see if the texture is better.

I threw in chocolate chunks instead of chips (waaaaaaaaay better results than chips) and baked 'em up for 15 min. Right out of the oven they are super soft and fall apart easily. I think that's just the way the flour is, so it is best to let them cool just a little to avoid a crumbled cookie. Andrew and I split one last night and decided they're actually pretty good. No, seriously! They tasted a little nutty because of the flour, but I think if I'd added peanut butter it would have disguised all of that action and no one would know they were not traditional cookies.

Sooooo.... the only real dilemma I'm facing is what to call them. I started out referring to my little creations as "hippie" cookies because they are vegan and gluten-free, and it makes me think of self-important preachy hippies who lecture anyone they can about eating animal products (but they can eat these!!), but then I was thinking that "indoor kids" with lots of food allergies (and probably an asthma inhaler) can also eat these. So what marginalized-yet-still-living-semi-comfortably-in-mainstream-society group should I name them after?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Missin' My Mama

My mom was raised by conservative classy parents in the 1950s and 60s.

[she's the tall brunette in the back row]

Then she went to college and met my super liberal dad.

[yep. she was a hottie. nice work, pop!]

Then they graduated, married, moved to Milwaukee and met even more liberal folks through my dad's grad program at Marquette.

[gotta love my dad's 'stache]

Then they moved back to Seattle and my mom had kids who kicked up so many shenanigans that now nothing fazes her.

[wasn't my little brother the cutest baby?]

Now, at 60, she's pretty much the coolest person I know. She defaults to to prim, proper, and always appropriate, but she's not uptight. When the time is right, she will get out the blender, fill it with pina coladas, kick off her shoes, and dance around the living room with me to the soulful sounds of Aretha. She can talk to anyone. She's amazingly creative. She's laid back enough that I can tell her anything.... anything. I love that she lives 15 min away and I can pop in any old afternoon during the summer and she'll just be hanging out in the garden sipping iced tea and admiring her work.

So why the homage to my mother? She has been in NYC for two weeks taking classes at Columbia as part of her ongoing teacher training (she's a 2nd grade teacher). We're pretty close and I reeeeeeeally miss her. So, to tide me over until she's back, here are a few photos of us being goofy together:

[we used to cut our own christmas trees. i'm pretty sure i'm posing as a reindeer in this photo]

[the annual mother-daughter tea party, complete with tiaras, circa 2000]

[celebrating my bff's wedding a couple years go, doing a tipsy irish jig]

Hurry home, mom!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dear Deb of Smitten Kitchen, I Love You.

Now I want to talk about food. I'm thinking about all of the delicious things I want to make but can't because they require an oven or a stove.

I made the poor decision of turning on my oven last night. I had my heart set on pizza, because I'd made some pizza dough out of Cooking Light July and nothing else would do. MISTAAAAAAAAKE! The pizza itself was delicious, but what a dumb idea to preheat my oven to 500 and bake a pizza! Who does that when it's 92 in the SHADE? Apparently, I do.

I think we'll be grilling out today, if we can stand that heat outside. I have a million hot dog buns left over from my birthday BBQ, so that seems the right way to go. But what I reeeeeeeally want to do is browse Smitten Kitchen and choose a recipe from her stock to try. For those of you who don't know, Deb of SK is the best food blogger out there. She is the Barefoot Contessa of the blog world: simple, delicious recipes made accessible to cooks of all levels. When I didn't know what to do with my remaining half a roasted chicken, I looked to Deb for a chicken and dumplings recipe that ended up being one of the most delicious meals I've ever eaten (I improvised a little and left out the tarragon because that's what I do). She is a constant source of culinary inspiration to me. Oh, hell; I'm going to browse her recipes anyway and daydream.

Monday, July 27, 2009


It's blazin' hot here! Do not tell me I'm a pansy who's used to a balmy Seattle summer. While this may or may not be true, the fact of the matter is we Seattleites, and I especially, live in a world largely without air conditioning. My 1939 apartment building has no air conditioning, my shiny new green office building was designed without air conditioning, and just recently all air/ac went out on my lovely little '93 Ford Escort (I drive with the windows down, even on the freeway). Good times over here in summertime Monicaville.

Sooooo, today at lunch I snagged my friend Chris to walk down to South Lake Union Park, a mere three blocks from my office. See the pics I posted? This is where I jumped into the lake. Subtract all clouds and add 88 degrees of muggy heat. I was worried the lake would be so cold I'd feel a shock when I jumped in (this is what I thought about whilst I phsyched myself out for 10 min at the edge of the dock before the plunge). Finally after threats of a bumrush from the peanut gallery, I leapt. Then again. And again. It was the perfect cool down. I'm already planning tomorrow's post workday plunge. See you there at 5:30?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thinking About [The Place That Shall Not Be Named]

I have been daydreaming about the coastal getaways my friends and I used to take when times were better. There is an amazing beach town at Pacific Beach that offers cottage rentals at amazing rates. It's the perfect place for Seattleites like me to take a weekend away to relax and connect with friends. There are community spaces with game equipment, shared bikes to coast around the neighborhood, and the cutest houses you'll ever see. It's like pleasantville on the coast. Then, something terrible happened... everytime one of us mentioned this magical place by name, someone lost his job or had her pay cut within days of its mention, causing us to cancel beach-bound plans due to economic hardship. Finally, once we concluded the economy had bottomed out, we started to whisper about [the-place-that-shall-not-be-named]. This fall is the birthday of one of the organizers, so we're thinking it might be safe to dip our toe into the water again. Dare we? It's tempting. Here are some reasons:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making Progress...

This is the project I'm most excited about this summer. I found two sleigh-backed dining chairs at Value Village for $7 a pop (better than Good Will prices these days). They're solid chairs with a great shape, but ugly as all get out. The dark finish on the wood is somewhere between waxy and crusty, and the upholstery on the back and seat is a dingy embossed vinyl. I'm sure at one time it was white or maybe a nice cream, but that was years ago. Again, I'm taking pictures with my camera phone so the quality is terrble, but you get the idea.

On Sunday when I got home from Bellingham, before we went to the concert, I really wanted nothing more than to work on one of my projects, so I got out the sand paper, took one of my chairs out to the lawn and started in. I thought I'd just sand down and chipped parts, spray paint, and be done. As soon as I began, however, it became clear that I needed to sand off the finish entirely if I wanted the chairs to look right. Two hours later I still wasn't done but I was going to be late for the show if I didn't hop in the shower immediately. So I don't have an "after" picture just yet, but I do have a during shot. I really just have a little more do sand down on the lower part of the legs before I can paint. I'm hoping Wed evening I'll have a nice shot of the finished chair.

I'm planning to sell this pair of chairs when I'm done. I just hope I don't get too attached to them in the process.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Getting Older, If Not Wiser

Yesterday was my 28th birthday. Summer birthdays in my family happen in several layers. We do lunches, bbqs with friends, a family dinner, at least one wild night, and the actual day. I'm exhausted. Every minute was fantastic - the exact way I wanted to spend my birthday.

We kicked off the weekend with a bbq Thursday night at Andrew's and my place. About 20 friends gathered on the dock right on Lk Washington for a pot luck grill out. I made tequila soaked watermelon slices for the event. I have no pics to share - sorry! I will tell you it was beautiful; the weather was perfect, and we hung fabric solar-powered lanterns around the umbrella tables for low evening lighting.

Friday night was my night to celebrate Monica-style. I consider this to be the essential birthday activity, meaning if all other celebrating didn't happen and I only got to choose one thing to do, this would be it: family dinner. It was my mom's birthday celebration as well (hers is just 4 days before mine), so it makes sense that we rally into one grand feast. I come from a family of good cooks and control freaks, which sounds like a nightmare in the kitchen (you know the saying), but it actually works out really well once everyone has his/her station. My brother is easing his way into restaurant management from a line cook role, so I was able to sit back and enjoy my wine this year and let him give the orders. I can't believe he's so grown up.

my brother and me taking a break in the kitchen

My mom made a fresh green salad out of veggies she plucked from her garden. She has an amazing green thumb - something that never made its way to me. House plants fear me.

mom going to town on the salad

Andrew is my designated grill man. I do 90% of the cooking at home, and he does 100% of the grilling (something he is fantastic at). We are all-weather grillers. Luckily on Friday the weather was fantastic. We did chicken drumsticks, beef and zucchini skewers with red onion, and corn on the cob. We also grilled all the ingredients that went into the dipping sauces. It was an amazing meal.

Andrew at the grill

my best friend Abby and god father GT

Really, what I wanted was a typical summer night at my parents' house: hanging out on the deck with wine, hors d'oeuvres, and some of my favorite people who have become family to me. Abby made a gorgeous chocolate-guinness cake (a Hot Buns Bakery fave), which we topped with a birthday candle my brother Brian and his gf Lorena bought at a fireworks stand. I've never seen anything like it in my life. It starts off with a huge rocket flame, and then the petals all open up, each adorned ith a candle, while the entire thing spins and sings happy birthday. Pretty fantastic.

get a load of that candle!

Saturday we packed up the car and headed out at 1pm to Bellingham to celebrate Summer of Crab with Sabina (far right), and more importantly her engagement to Geoff, who has been hosting this party for years. Six of her ladyfriends trucked up for the party, and we were all invited to camp in his back yard. After a couple detours on the way, we arrived at 5pm. After setting up the tent I promptly had 2 strong mojitos on an empty stomach. I became a charmer, a fantastic dancer, and found everything hilarious. Monica, Monica, Monica....

all the ladies assembled

Oh what a night. I woke up grouchy with a headache on the day of my birthday, which could be placated with nothing other than an Americano from sbux. At least I had my ladies there to laugh at me.

That night, Andrew took me to see Death Cab for Cutie at Marymoor Park. Again, the weather was perfect and we arrived early to get dinner and set out our blanket. It was a fantastic show. I couldn't have asked for a better day.

view from our blanket
hanging out on the grass enjoying summer life