Thursday, December 30, 2010
I think I'm starting to know how to cook! I say that because just a few years ago even if I followed a recipe exactly I would still mess something up somehow. But now I'm able to experiment and it
actually turn out! The more I cook, the more I learn what herbs and spices blend well together. What vegetables make good accents to a dish. And I know how to make a roux!! I also learn things NOT to do. Like confuse my powedered sugar and flour jars.
The more I cook, the more I realize how creative I can be. The more I realize why culinary art is an ART. The plate is my canvas. Spices, vegetables, meats, herbs, broths and so many other ingredients are my "paints" and my kitchen utensils are my brushes. I love being able to take a clear plate and an empty skillet and create something beautiful. Though, I mjust admit, there have been many times my art looks and tastes more like a pile of goop than a picasso. But I have learned.
This dish was inspired by Tyler Florence's Pan Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms and Rosemary. I needed a reference point to start and then went out on my own. I created my own version and it was delicious!
4 bone-in chicken breasts with skin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Whole head of garlic, top chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 shallots, halved
1lb mushrooms (portabella are my fave with this recipe)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Season the chicken on both sides with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Place a cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Drizzle the pan with the oil and lay the chicken in the hot fat, skin-side down. Cook for about 5 minutes until the skin begins to set and crisp. Throw in the mushrooms, shallots,garlic and rosemary. Stick the whole thing in the hot oven and roast for 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked, and the mushrooms and shallots are soft and roasted.
Let the garlic cool a bit and gently squeeze it out of it's shell. The last thing to make is a quick sauce using the flavors left in the bottom of the skillet. Take all the stuff out of the pan and arrange on a dinner plate to keep warm while preparing the pan sauce. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered chicken fat and return the skillet to the stovetop. Add flour (eyeball it) to desired thickness. Keep whisking the sauce as you slowly add the flour. Cook the liquid down for about 5 minutes. Drizzle the pan sauce over the dish, season with salt and pepper.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
So my inner budget spirit came out today and here's what I created:
I love the colors blue, purple and silver for NYE. I found the ornaments for sale for $2.50 and I had the tissue paper at home. I made a table runner out of tissue paper as well as place mats. I put some ornaments in a tall vase to give the table dimension.
Then I had a genious idea. Lighting is crucial and so of course I wanted candles on the table. However white candles would be too boring. I read a tip in a book I'm reading, Lulu Powers Food to Flowers (an awesome entertainment/party planning book btw!) to add tealight candles to water for a simple yet chic decoration. So I did that and then also added blue food coloring to the water. Simple! I do still need to verify if that is safe. I don't think food coloring is flammable.
I then printed some Happy New Year Tags to use as namecards and it came together nicely. Now if I were actually hosting dinner I would glam it up much more. I would use a black table cloth (maybe white), add silver tinsle to the table, use silver charger plates, blue or purple colored wine glasses and find some pretty napkins to match the theme. I'd also add party hats and such to the table for some fun.
I REALLY like what Chris at Celebrations at Home did for a backdrop for one of her beautiful parties:
I think the clear beads would look really cool hanging from my table or even laid out on it as well.
Hope everyone has something fun and special planned for New Year's!
Impatience and Ignorance
I often feel impatient with Little Wright and even ignorant of her feelings and actions sometimes. It’s a challenge to understand her temperaments. Not only that, but she’s a smart kid and I think I have higher expectations than I should. When it comes down to it she is a tiny little human being still learning about the world around her. I want to be more compassionate of her needs and less ignorant of the fact she is 3 years old and will have melt downs and even do mean things. Mr. Wright and I are her teachers. It is our job to show her otherwise and I want to make that my train of thought.
When I feel impatient I will stop and think: how important is this to make me feel upset? Is me getting impatient or annoyed going to help Little Wright in anyway? How can I better react? I’ve practiced being more mindful the last few weeks and it really has helped. It makes me feel more calm and in turn actually makes her feel more calm. I am her parent and it is from her parents she is learning how to behave and act. I want her to be a sweet person. A patient person. A happy person. I am the one that needs to set that example. So going into the new year I will practice controlling impatience and ignorance.
Another emotion I want to combat is anger. I don’t have anger issues. Honestly! However there are certain discussions or topics that get me heated because I am so compassionate and passionate about them. Like gay rights for example. That discussion gets me riled up and makes me want to be mean to the people who are being mean. But really all it does is make me bitter and it’s toxic to feel that way. Instead I want to come from a place of understanding (which is super hard!) so I’m not ignorant for one and for two so I can understand how to more efficiently discuss my opinion.
The only way to teach or change people to be more compassionate towards gay rights is to be that way myself. Take something negative and be positive. You don’t have to agree with or like a homosexual lifestyle, but be compassionate in the fact that all humans deserve the fundamental right to happiness so long as no one is being harmed. Me getting riled up just puts other people on the defense. And as soon as someone becomes defensive they lose all sense of logic and become emotional and just want to be right or prove a point. I’d much rather not put someone on the defense and make them think.
Lust, Jealousy and Insecurity
Lust and jealousy are emotions I don’t feel very often, but those too are poisonous. I do sometimes feel blog envy of people who seem to be able to do it all. The mom that makes breakfast, lunch and dinner all from scratch. The woman who has a perfectly decorated and clean home, is the perfect hostess and attends all the social events and oh by the way has the perfect marriage. Yeah, it can make me feel a little jealous sometimes. But I’ve come to realize a few things. One, to let that feeling go. And instead of feel jealous feel appreciative. Being jealous makes you stagnant. Being appreciative allows you to learn and improve your own self. Another I’ve come to learn is a blog is a place for people to showcase something there are the good at. Of course people want to display their talents and best ideas and work. But the truth is we are all human. We all feel a little insecure at some point and overwhelmed and frustrated even. But as with the other emotions I will feel jealousy and lust from time to time. It’s normal. It’s up to me to control it. If there is a person or situation who constantly makes me feel like that (the on uppers ) then I will remove them from my life. One of my favorite sayings is “If it doesn’t bring you joy, beauty or happiness, get rid of it”.
I am going to practice meditation to help reflect and analyze any faults that have developed so I can inhibit more favorable and positive qualities. I’m reading Becoming Enlightened by the Dalai Lama and one of the daily practices he suggests is reciting the following mantra in the morning:
“Destructive emotions will arise, but I will not voluntarily rush into them. Today I will do whatever I can to read texts, reflect on their meaning, and work at developing wisdom. I will also do whatever I can to generate altruistic intention to become enlightened and implement compassion in my behavior. May whatever obstructs the generation of these practices be pacified.”
Looking forward to hearing what others are committing to for the new year :)
Monday, December 27, 2010
I'm very happy to report that my Christmas Eve dinner turned out amazing.
I grilled some filet mignons and made Ina Garten's Gorgonzola Cream Sauce. *drool*. It was perfection. Absolute perfection. Gorgonzola has a very pungent flavor, however in this sauce it's not overpowering at all. I did use a little less gorgonzola and a bit more parm cheese though. It was the perfect compliment to a perfect cut of meat. Perfect perfect perfect! Did I mention how perfect it all tasted?
Also made steamed crab legs (tradition to have crab legs for Christmas Eve dinner), scalloped potatoes and homemade apple and sausage stuffing.
Then Paula Deen's pumpkin pie for dessert.
Her recipe really is the best pumpkie pie recipe. Ever. The end.
We decided this year that after Christmas Eve dinner we would open all our gifts, except for the ones from Santa. That's how they do it in Europe and if you think about it, makes more sense. Jesus' birthday is on the 25th. Let that day be about the celebration of him, right? So technically I should have opened my gift from Mr. Wright on Christmas Eve.
I've got mad negotiating skills and a severe problem with patience. So after a few hours of begging, I got to open my gift a tad bit earlier :)
Mr. Wright did VERY good this year and got me the best gift. I didn't even know how much I would love it. I call it my super duper fancy new cookbook. But most people call it an ipad. I found the COOLEST app for those us foodies out there. It's call My Recipe Book (click the link to see an overview). Basically you can import any recipe you find online into the app. You can also manually add recipes from your own cookbooks. I think it can pull recipes from ebooks too, though I haven't tried that yet. You can organize all your recipes by catergory, modify recipes to how you like them, add notes and my favorite feature? You can select all the meals you would like to make for the week and add those recipes to the grocery cart. It then provides you with a grocery list that you can email to yourself! You can also search your own recipe database for a meal you'd like to make in 20minutes. I think they make this app for iphone too!
I love that I can bring it anywhere with me.
There are some seriously cool apps. I downloaded an Elmo book that is a visual audio book. Meaning there is someone who reads the book aloud as we turn the pages. But that's not what is cool about it. What is cool is I can also read the pages of the book and record my own voice! Which is really neat in the event I'm ever away. Which is basically never b/c what reason do I have to ever be away? BUT. If the occassion ever did arise, my babies could have a story read to them by "me". Or if Mr. Wright ever leaves for a work trip or something he can do the recording too. OR! Maybe if I get to meet Obama one day I could ask him to record one page for me. Hmmm. See this gift really is the coolest gift ever. Only problem is Mr. Wright and Little Wright also think it's the coolest new toy.
I am now on the ipad lovers bandwagon and can see why so many people love em'. The sweet thing about this gift is hubby used some of his bonus check to buy it for me. Awww.
Then, to top if off we had a very snowy, white Christmas!
I really can not remember the last time I had a white Christmas. Or if I've ever had one THIS white.
Honestly, the best part of this holiday season though is that I have a happy and healthy family.
This is the first picture I've posted of Mr. Wright! Yup, that's the man I'm stuck with forever :)
Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday! Oh and Happy Kwanzaa!
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
How many are left?
The frog made a decision but took no action.
This is a buddhist philosophy that speaks loudly to me these days. With the new year coming next week (yikes!) I'm trying to change my way of thinking. To focus more. To be more brave. More patient. I want to cultivate my dreams and make them a reality one way or another. I want to make decisions and act on them. I want to put myself out there and be a bit more true to who I am. I want to make the decision to overcome a few fears.
I read so many blogs where people are very comfortable with sharing personal information with the whole world wide web. I use a lot of descretion and am hesistant to share or say things I really think and feel. It's nothing drastic, but I have a fear of being judged. I need to get over it, I know. There are several things I'm passionate about and would love to write about, but I don't.
It's my blog and I can say whatever I want. I know that. But then I think what if someone gets offended or doesn't agree with me? Or what if down the road when I go back to work an employer finds my blog? Does anyone else also hold back on things they really would want to share?
I have so many opinions and ideas that I want to talk about. This is the one place I should voice an opinion, right? A place where I should express my ideas, curiosities and questions. So going into 2011 I made a decision to be more brave. Now I just need to act on that :)
Friday, December 17, 2010
In Germany they have glühwein. In France they have vin chaud (warm wine). I'm sure there may be technical differences between the two, but when I was in France I loved the vin chaud much, much better than glühwein. It reminds me of a winterized sangria. It's quite delicious and is sure to warm you from your head to your toes. And make you feel really happy too!
Ahhhhh. C'est la vie!
I just eyeballed the amounts, but here is what I used:
bottle of dry red wine (cheap works great!)
clementines very thinly sliced
apple chopped into small pieces
dash of cinammon
cinammon stick for garnish (optional)
Place all in a pot and bring to a simmmer. Add a little bit of each ingredient at a time, taste and adjust. Serve warm and enjoy life as the french do. Enjoy!
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Magical. Cold. Festive. Charming. Quaint. Beautiful. Warm-cider-wine-that-warms-your-soul. Breathtaking. Memorable. Colorful. Twinkley. Delicious. Surreal.
Just a few words to describe Christmas in Europe. I've been to 4 different markets this year and each one has gotten better and better. It's a very different experience to be in Europe for Christmas. It feels more special. Less commercialized. More memorable in some ways. Perhaps it's just the novelty of cobblestone streets or being surrounded by an array of foreign speakers with lovely accents or the ancient architecture of nearly every building reminding you of the rich cultural history or the street performers playing their accordians and clarinets.
[caption id="attachment_1022" align="aligncenter" width="518" caption="Noël à Strasbourg"][/caption]
European countries in and of themselves are oozing with cuteness and charm. But add Christmas sparkle and music and it's just dreamy.
Nearly every city and town in Germany participates in a Weinachtmarkt, or Christmas market for us English speaking folk which takes place outside. Where it is cold. Freezing cold to be exact. (about 20 F tonight) And there is nothing better to warm your hands and your soul then a steaming cup of Glühwein.
[caption id="attachment_1024" align="aligncenter" width="412" caption="Glühwein, cheers!"][/caption]
If you've never heard of Glühwein (vin chaud in France) or even tasted it, you are missing out! It tastes like warm red wine mixed with apple cider. I believe that is essentially what it is.
Of all the markets I've been to thus far Strasbourg, France is by far my favorite. I think I may be bias in a few ways. For one I understand the language better. I took 5 years of french once upon a time and remember enough to get by and converse decently. (Except for the one time I told a guy I am a toilet. I'll share that story another time). But also the wine is much better than German wine in my most unprofessional sommelier opinion. I could guzzle the vin chaud in France. But aside from all that the city is just beautiful. And even more so during Christmas.
[caption id="attachment_1026" align="aligncenter" width="491" caption="Noël à Strasbourg"][/caption]
The buildings, streets and churches are dripping with seasonal decor and the city is illuminated at night by the pretty glow of thousands of Christmas lights.
[caption id="attachment_1031" align="aligncenter" width="491" caption="Noël à Strasbourg"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1032" align="aligncenter" width="491" caption="Noël à Strasbourg"][/caption]
The vendor huts (for lack of a better term) offer so many different types of trinkets and goodies. From ornaments and candles to chocolate and woodcrafts.
[caption id="attachment_1028" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="Noël à Strasbourg"][/caption]
Check out what I bought.
You put little tea light candles inside them. So pretty!
I am offcially warm and fuzzy inside with Christmas cheer. And not just because of all the vin chaud I drank :)
Hope everyone is having a Happy Holiday season! Christmas is only 12 days away!
Sunday, December 12, 2010
I have a few confessions.
1) These cookies are semi-homemade
2) Despite the fact they are semi-homemade they were still yummy.
3) It only took me 2o minutes to make these and only 2 dishes to clean! (the cookie pan and a knife)
4) It's noon and I'm still in my pajamas.
Ok. I feel better for being honest.
I've mentioned before how I suck at baking. But that was before I started using my food processor. Which seems to be a magic machine that mixes all the ingredients together to create perfect pie crust and sugar cookies. (And salsa, pesto and soup, but those have nothing to do with baking of course).
Yesterday when I was strolling through the frozen section and I saw a tub of Otis Spunkmeyer Sugar Cookie dough. Even though I don't fear baking so much anymore, I still couldn't resist the idea of a super easy cookie.
I considered them for a minute and then thought, nah I'll make my own from scratch. But right as I was about to walk away I saw boxes of candy canes.
And then I had an epiphany.
I've been wanting to make a cookie involving nutella somehow. Because nutella is just one of the greatest foods to exist in my opinion. Sugar cookies, nutella and candy canes? How could that not taste heavenly?
So the verdict?
Yup. They were good. And they were easy. And the fact that there were only 4 left this morning, says it all.
You could of course make a homemade sugar cookie. But for those of you in a crunch for a time or who don't have a baking cell in your body, the premade stuff works nice.
All you need is:
Sugar Cookie Dough
Crushed candy canes or peppermint sticks
Bake cookies according to directions. Let cool for 5-10 min. Spread nutella on each cookie. Sprinkle with crushed peppermint.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Now that I have two little ones, the holidays seem even more special. As we get older as a family I want our tree to be a reflection of memories of years past.
I remember making a handprint ornament when I was a kid and thought it would be fun to do with my own kiddos this year. Something we can put on our tree each year to remember how small they were when we lived in Germany. This is such an easy way to create a memory and a keepsake for your Christmas tree! It would also make a great gift for grandparents. I found the recipe here.
I didn't use food coloring, but instead just painted the handprint after the mold had dried.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
It's interesting how much I am able to pick up from mannerisms and body language though. For example when I first went to the german grocery store, they would always ask a question after I would pay.
After the first time they asked me a question I realized they were asking if I would like my receipt. I couldn't even tell you what it sounded like or what the question was. I just knew based on previous experience and body language they would ask if I would like my receipt to which I would always reply "nein".
After awhile I started to recognize the word for receipt which is "rechnung".
There was another time when baby Wright was only 5 weeks old that some older lady had stopped me asking about the baby and all I picked up out the the sentence was Mädchen and Junge. She was asking if he was a girl or a boy.(you can never tell with a newborn) And then just based on her tone of voice and body language I could tell she was saying how tiny and cute he was.
Most people I know say german is the hardest langauge to learn. I've also been told it's the closest to english. I really think a lot of the words and sentences sound like english to me. I've always been weird like that though. Things most people get, I'm clueless. And then the things most people don't get, like german, I don't think is so difficult.
The hard part about trying to learn and speak german where I live is that most people speak english. Even when I try to speak german, like at a restaurant for example, the people just come back to me in english.
There are many, many times when knowing german would have been highly beneficial to me. But for the most part when I say "Mein deutsch ist nicht sehr gut" (my german is not very good) people will either respond in english or we will point and signal our way through conversation. I haven't had any really rude encounters. I've dealt with the occassional person who seems annoyed, but that is to be expected. All in all the people are far more friendly that I would have expected. I know back home spanish speakers or people with a thick indian accent aren't treated so nicely. Ever seen the fb page that says to like "I live in America I shouldn't have to press 1 to speak english"?
So glad it's not like that here.
But today was one of those days where I really wish I knew how to speak and understand more. Two repair men came to my house and didn't speak any english at all. (duh I live in Germany!) They were here to fix our heaters because it has been freezing. (side note: We don't have central heating here. We have radiators in each room. I actually like that better. Saves money to centralize the heat in the rooms you spend time in). I knew a few words like "kaput" and "danke". And that's how we communicated. I pointed to the radiator and said "kaput".
They kept saying something to me in german even though I said I don't speak it and then would speak louder as if that would somehow magically make me understand. Thank God for internet because I was able to have the guy type into google translate.
And then tada! I learned why the heat wasn't working.
So lesson of the day: I won't always have google translate with me. Wifi doesn't work everywhere. I should learn to speak the language of the country in which I live.
Monday, December 6, 2010
I have a good idea for a breakast brunch this holiday season! A breakfast burrito buffet!
It could be as fancy or as simple as you like. The reason I like the burrito buffet idea is because it's simple and doesn't take much time at all. Here's what I included in my buffet:
Homemade salsa made the day before (store bought is ok too, but I highly recommend homemade!)
Saricha hot sauce (best stuff ever)
Orange juice in fun champagne glasses
Guests can add whatever they like, roll up and enjoy. MMM!
I set the table up first. It makes things much less stressful this way. If you want to create a festive holiday table, gather items from around your house or even purchase a few pieces for your buffet table. This can be as fancy or simple as you like. But I do recommend at least having some fresh flowers. Flowers and brunch just seem to go together.
Arrange the plates and servingware where you'd like them to go. I put out the shredded cheese, salsa and tortillas on the table ready to go while I prepared the potatoes, sausage, bacon and then the eggs.
I recommend cooking the eggs last because everything else can hold up fine for 30min or so whereas eggs get cold. And cold eggs are just not good.
Next time I will add avocados and jalapenos though. Some fresh fruit on the side would be nice too.
A burrito buffet is so versatile and can easily be made into your own. For example add sauteed vegetables like red and yellow peppers with onions for vegetarian guests. The world is your oyster.
Hope everyone is having a happy holiday season!
If you want to take your breakfast burritos to a new level add some seasoned potatoes! It really makes a difference and they are so simple.
3-4 baking potatoes
3-4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped parsely
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat cast iron skillet over medium heat. While pan is heating, chop potatoes into bite size pieces
and then chop parsely.
Melt butter in the cast iron skillet. Once butter has melted add potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir potatoes frequently with a wooden spoon so they don't burn.
Cook through until potatoes are nice and brown.
Remove from heat and toss in the parsely. Add more salt/pepper if needed.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
It's been snowing since Thanksgiving Day. Not a whole lot. Maybe 2-3 inches at the most. But enough to add some extra charm and a sense of novelty to the holiday season.
Except for when it's enough to require the driveway and sidewalk be shoveled.
You see, here in Germany there are very specific and direct laws in regards to snow removal or Straßenreinigungssatzung (street cleaning statute). Say that 1 time fast.
As soon as it starts to snow, you’re supposed to shovel and keep your walkways clear. Especially between the hours of 7am and 8pm during the week. Even if you are sick or out of town, you are responsible to have someone clear the snow for you.
Most people oblige because if anyone falls on the snow or ice in front of your house, you can be sued and are liable. Even as a renter.
Soooo since hubby had to be at work early this morning and since I was awake anyway and since I have a pound or two or five to lose, I decided to go ahead and shovel the sidewalk and driveway.
I made a very specific point to start shoveling while it was still dark. It’s kind of like parallel parking. I know I suck at it and I’d prefer no one watch me make a fool of myself as I hack and scrape at the sidewalk. (It had been snowing since last Thursday and since we had not shoveled since today there was a nice thick layer of ice underneath the snow).
It was sort of fun except my toes and fingers were frozen and I realized if this is to become my new responsibility I definitely need some new boots. Preferably these beauties
[caption id="attachment_979" align="aligncenter" width="165" caption="Sorels Cate the Great"][/caption]
A friend introduced me to Sorels today and now I just can’t get these out of my head! Seriously. I must get these.
So the lesson learned today was if we want to avoid a lawsuit I need these boots.
Oh and also that I suck at shoveling.
Our driveway is on the bottom. My neighbor’s is on the top.