Friday, January 1, 2016

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Along with baking, I love reading. With my 3 year work anniversary being in December, and my aunt knowing how much I love to read, I ended 2015 with a couple of gift cards to Barnes and Noble. I generally have some anxiety when buying new books. Sort of a fear of missing out mentality. What if the book I spent my hard earned money on ends up being horrible? What if I hate the writing style? What if there is something better out there? I do better at book sales where the stakes aren't as high.

I thoroughly believe that books do in fact come into your life when you need them the most. It's one of the reasons I buy books I've already read. Sometimes you need to go back to one part of a book and reread it because the author manages to say something you're feeling, but don't know how to say yourself. This story was no exception. I heard about almost 9 months ago, but didn't pick it up until now. I've been to the library many times since then but never sought it out.

I used part of the gift cards to help round out my collection of "Outlander" novels. I also ended up buying a couple of books I had never read and never heard of. My last buy was a book called "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin. It was featured on NPR in March/April, and I've been waiting to read it since then. I had to go to two separate book stores before I finally found it. The staff member at the first store mentioned how much she liked it when I asked if there were any more in stock. Always a good sign. When I finally found a copy on 28th street, I opened it up and felt disappointment to see that it was written in third person present tense. This is my least favorite form of writing, as I prefer third person past tense. I figured that since I'd been looking forward to reading this book, I'd give it a go. I found a comfy chair and cracked it open. 

4 pages in and I was hooked. I stayed up last night reading. I read it until it was over and it was lovely. It struck a chord, or many chords really. I think every chapter had something in it that gave me the feels. Bits like "Her mother likes to say that novels have ruined Amelia for real men." Or "Sometimes books don't find us until the right time." Or even "A place is not really a place without a bookstore." It's a book about someone who loves books. Give it a go. It's worth it.

I'm about halfway through my 50 book goal that I started in June. I used to read 50 books in a summer when I worked at the library. Now that I work, it's not something I have as much time for. I do cheat a little bit by including audio books on the list. When I'm driving, I can listen. When I'm at work, I can listen. I'm working on spending less time directly in front of a screen and spending more time reading or coloring or baking or even doing yoga, so here's to a book filled, colorful, delicious, flexible new year.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Eggplant Pizza

The life of an architect is not nearly as glamorous as people may believe. 

We are not Ted Mosby or Mr. Brady. 
We don't make gobs of money. 
We wear a lot of neutrals, especially charcoal gray and black.

It's a long road for the architect. 

5-8 years or schooling
3+ years of interning
7 exams

Did you know all of that? Most people don't. 

I took my first exam in March 2013. And I failed it. 
So I took some time off and took the same exam again in December. Failed again.
Once you fail, you have to wait 6 months to take it again.

That means no site planning for me until June. 
But, I can take other exams. So I took Programming, Planning and. Practice today. I've got to wait about a week to see if I pass (fingers crossed) or fail (the four letter f word) and then it's on to the next one.

All of this being said, I've finally got a few minutes to think about good food again. The last two weeks have been simple crockpot foods and hoarded freezer meals. Not that those are bad foods, they just get boring.

To be honest, I made this recipe a while ago, but I was reminded of it again when a coworker brought it to work this week. (Hahaha, "reminded of it" turned into "erotic indeed", silly autocorrect)

Cook up some eggplant and top it with whatever pizza toppings you like. Simple as that. Keep to a normal sized eggplant. If you get one too big they have lots of seeds and the texture is weird. I also found that I don't really like the skin, so next time I'll peel them off before I cook them.

Eggplant Pizza
Originally from Closet Cooking

  • 1 eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 ounce pepperoni
  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with the coarse salt, let sit on paper towels for 20 minutes and wipe dry.
  2. Brush the eggplant slices with oil and season with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.
  3. Roast the eggplant in a preheated 400F oven until it just starts to turn tender, about 15-20 minutes. (Do not let them become too soft or mushy.)
  4. Top the eggplant with sauce, cheese and pepperoni and broil until the cheese has melted, about 3-5 minutes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cloudy Eggs

Looks at these beauties. 

They're eggs. Are you surprised? They sort of look like bread or potatoes, but they're gluten free AND low carb because they're actually just the whites of the eggs. I jazzed them up with some bacon and some Swiss cheese. They're pretty, but they taste like eggs and I'm pretty meh about eggs.

I would recommend making them for brunch if you want to impress your guests. 

Egg Clouds
originally from Rachel Ray

4 eggs
1/4 cups cheese
1/4 cups bacon
2 tbsp chives

Separate the eggs, whites into one bowl and yolks into separate bowls. Make sure the yolk doesn't break.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Use a hand mixer, not a whisk. Your arm will fall off if you use a whisk.

Carefully fold in the cheese, bacon and chives. 

Spoon into four mounds and make a deep well in each. It's like making a mashed potato volcano.

Bake at 450 for 2 minutes and then drop a yolk into each well. Bake for another 2-3 minutes until the yolk is set. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Napa Chicken Salad

I use Pinterest a lot. It's probably one of my favorite places to find food recipes because they were made by real people

4 cups cooked chicken chopped into 3/4 inch dice.

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup mayo

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 tablespoons dried tarragon

1 cup small diced celery

1 cup red or green grapes cut in 1/2

1/2 cup almonds


Place the chicken in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add mayo, sour cream, tarragon, celery, grapes and almonds. Toss well and refrigerate for several hours. Enjoy over lettuce or as a sandwich.

Pita Bread

I've never had good luck with making bread with yeast. Maybe my house is never warm enough so it doesn't rise properly. Maybe I'm just impatient. It's something. This was no different. I let them rise longer than it said, but the pitas still didn't get the little pocket in them. Maybe you'll have better luck.

I only made these because I was craving chicken salad. That recipe will be coming up soon. Sorry for the lack of pictures, we eat things before I get pictures.

Pita Bread

1 tablespoon yeast
1 ¼ cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
3- 3 ½ cups flour

Dissolve yeast in water for about 5 minutes in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add salt and 1 ½ cups flour and with the dough hook, beat to make a batter. Add additional flour until a rough, shaggy mass is formed. Knead 8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it is too sticky.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into six pieces for large pitas or ten for smaller. I make all sorts of sizes to suit different snacks and meals. Form dough into balls, then flatten with a rolling pin into ¼ inch thick discs. Try and keep an even thickness as this is what helps them ‘puff’.

Let rest on the floured surface 30-40 minutes until slightly puffed.

Preheat oven to 425F.
With a large spatula, flip the rounds of dough upside down on to a baking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes until light golden. Stick around for the first five minutes of baking when the pitas perform their magic and puff up from flat pancakes to proud, four inch high pitas.

Crunchy Asian Pasta Salad

I've had this recipe in a binder for a while now. Probably about three years. I've been looking for some new recipes lately and stumbled on this guy. 

It's a little overwhelming as a main course, but try it with burgers or hot dogs on the grill or something else summery. Matt loved it. I had it for lunch today with some yogurt and fruit and it was perfect. I thought of my friend Kristen when I had my lunch today. She was always getting on my case about eating multiple colors in my meal. This meal had so many colors I can't even start counting. Yummy.

Also, it counts for a Meatless Monday.

1 box Betty Crocker Suddenly Salad classic pasta mix
1 pkg (3oz) Oriental flavored Ramen Soup Mix
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 bag broccoli slaw
1 cup snow peas or sugar snap peas, cut on the diagonal into ½ inch pieces
1/4 - 1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds)
2 cans (15oz) mandarin oranges, drained

Empty the pasta mix into a pot of boiling water. Gently boil for 10 – 12 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and shake to drain again.

In a large bowl stir together the seasoning mixes from the pasta and the soup mix, sugar, oil, vinegar, water and soy sauce. Add the pasta and the remaining ingredients. Toss to combine.

Just before serving, coarsely crush the dry noodles from the soup mix and stir into the pasta mixture. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Spicy Parmesan Shrimp Skillet

My mom gave me this recipe a few weeks ago and I finally made it. It's pretty simple and quite delicious.

When she gave me the recipe, I was surprised to see that it was one of my favorite Bloggers, How Sweet It Is. Now that I have the iPad, I don't have the reading list of blogs like I used to. I must have missed this one because I definitely would have tagged it for making.

Spicy Parmesan Shrimp Skillet
from How Sweet It Is

Serves 2-4

1 pound raw, peeled and deveined shrimp
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups uncooked whole wheat penne

In a bowl, whisk together olive oil, Parmesan, brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and red pepper flakes together. Add shrimp to a large zip-lock bag, pour marinade over top, then seal bag and shake to coats. Place in the fridge to marinade for 30 minutes to overnight.

When ready to eat, bring water to a boil in a large pot and cook penne according to directions. While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and marinade into the skillet and cook until shrimp are pink - about 2 minutes on each side. Be carful not to overlook. As soon as the shrimp is finished, add penne into the skillet and toss to coat completely. Top with additional Parmesan cheese, then serve.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spinach and Chicken Pizza Blanco + Book #6

I horde recipes. I have binders full of recipes, some of which I've made and some of which are just waiting to be made. 

I've been holding on to this one for a while. It sounded delicious. It looked delicious. It was. :)

Look how pretty those ribbons of spinach are. Matt helped out and cut them up very nicely. He also cooked the chicken. That's definitely one of his jobs in the kitchen. I hate cooking meat, so he does it.

And in the end, it got a thumbs up. There are very few pizzas that would get the thumbs down from him, but it still feels good to hear how tasty it was.

After dinner was date-night. We went and saw Garfunkel and Oates as part of LaughFest. I highly recommend going to YouTube and checking them out. Just beware that they use very strong language and sing about some pretty racy things.

 Spinach and Chicken Pizza Blanco
1 prepared pizza crust
1 chicken breast, cooked and diced
1 cup fresh spinach, cut into ribbons
1/2 cup mozzarella
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove minced garlic
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp basil

Start the pizza crust according to the directions on the package. 

Melt butter in a small saucepan and add minced garlic. Allow garlic to saute for about a minute, then add flour. Stir until thoroughly mixed.

Slowly whisk in milk, adding gradually. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Will thicken upon standing.

Top the crust with a few tablespoons of white sauce. Top with the chicken and spinach. Top with cheese. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Bake until cheese is melted. 

Book #6
The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen

I picked this up at the Hamburg Library booksale a few years ago. I snagged it in their $2 bag deal. Fill a bag up for only $2. I got 18 books out of that deal.

This one looked light-hearted and an easy read for my 50 book goal for the year. I got behind while I was studying and now I'm hitting it hard. I've missed reading.

It's a book about coming into your own. When everyone has always defined you by your family and how you acted as a child, it's hard to break out of that idea. But that's what the main character Josey is doing, even if she doesn't know it. It's a coming-of-age story and a love story and a little bit of a mystery. I found it funny and sweet (ha) and rather fluffy. I think I'm working my way up to some of the more hefty books on my shelf. This one took less than a week to finish.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Philly-Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers + Book #5

Sometimes I make manly things for dinner. I find them on Pinterest and say "hmmm, Matt would love this." 

Also, I hate mushrooms, but I will cook them for Matt. This sounded like a perfect recipe for him. I tried the mushrooms, but I still hate them.

I bring my leftovers to work for lunch most days. I brought one of these in and my friend Katie insisted on the recipe. She's always looking for new recipes to try and I'm sure her new husband loved these. The cheese was a little squeeky. That's really the only way I can think of to describe it. I wish it would have stayed gooey longer. I bet they would have been more delicious if there weren't any mushrooms.

Philly-Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers

8 oz. Thinly Sliced Roast Beef
8 Slices Provolone Cheese
2 Large Green Bell Peppers
1 Medium Sweet Onion
6 oz. Baby Bella Mushrooms
2 Tbs. Butter
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Garlic – Minced
Salt and Pepper – to taste

Slice peppers in half lengthwise, remove ribs and seeds.

Slice onions and mushrooms.  Saute over medium heat with butter, olive oil, minced garlic and a little salt and pepper.  Saute until onions and mushroom are nice and caramelized.  About 25-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400*

Slice roast beef into thin strips and add to the onion/mushroom mixture.  Allow to cook 5-10 minutes

Line the inside of each pepper with a slice of provolone cheese. 

Fill each pepper with meat mixture until they are nearly overflowing.

Top each pepper with another slice of provolone cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese on top is golden brown. 

Book #5
The Bear Went Over the Mountain - William Kotzwinkle

A simple children's song turned into a much bigger book. 

A writer takes a sabbatical into the wilderness of Maine and writes his masterpiece.  He hides it under a tree where it gets stolen by a bear. The bear takes it to New York where it becomes a hit. This is the story of a bear who gets in touch with his human side and a writer who gets in touch with his bear side. 

I quite enjoyed it. The chapters were relatively short and easy to read. I got through it pretty quickly. 

Matt gave me this for Christmas. He gave me a book for my birthday and bought the same one for himself so we could read it together. At Christmas, he did the same thing, and so did I. Little did we know that when Christmas came around, we'd actually be living 17 miles from each other. I quite like reading the same book together. It's just an extra something to talk about.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Twice Baked Potato Casserole + Book #4

This Easter was probably the first one that I intentionally missed, not because I was too busy, but because I didn't feel like driving two hours across the state for ham.

I had a ham. Each year, AMDG gives each employee a gift card for HoneyBaked Ham. My card bought me a 4.18 pound ham. Do you know how much that is? Enough for Matt and I to eat dinner, leftovers for lunch, and lots to cut up for other recipes. 

Easter dinner was ham, green beans, rolls and potato casserole. I thought it was good, but it could have been creamier. It's a nice combination of potato, cheese, milk, bacon...mmm. I added the bacon. Twice baked potatoes should always have bacon. I might have gone a little overboard on the piggy in this meal.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

4 Medium Size Potatoes – Quartered
1 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 scallion
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking dish.

Cook potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain. 

Add milk and mash potatoes. Add 1/2 cup of cheese, seasoning, green onions, sour cream, and egg. Mix well and transfer to baking dish.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes uncovered ( top should be lightly golden brown). 

Book #4
Crumbling Walls - Laura Strandt

I worked at a library once (probably my favorite job ever) and met a great person named Laura. She's the children's librarian and does some really great summer reading programs for the kids. I've seen her little girl grow up and I'm rather fond of her and her family (which includes the library folk).

For the last six years, Laura has done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Always excited to do some more reading, I volunteered to read the first draft of this book. It was great of course. Now, it's a real book. I have the Kindle version and the paperback is due out June 1. Pre-order it. For real.

I think Laura has a great way of writing dialogue the way people actually talk. Since I know her, I could really hear her voice telling me this story. It's about two teenagers and it's kind of a standard boy meets girl kind of story. It's told with some twists and has a nice depth to it. I can't wait to read the next one since this book leaves the ending open to a few more books. I know there are more. I can't wait. 

For more information or to BUY IT (!) go here: Crumbling Walls on Amazon