A cold front rolled in this weekend, and with it came rain that began Saturday afternoon and has fallen steadily through Sunday morning. The forecast calls for another inch of rain by night fall, which is fine by us. Rain and fog make for yucky driving conditions on the mountain so it's the perfect excuse to stay home with the fire roaring and binge on season 3 of Orange Is the New Black.
We put our housebound status to good use yesterday; Hubby assembled our new Norditrack elliptical machine in the upstairs loft, while I worked on creating a Meal Binder. I came across the idea on Little House Living, a homesteading blog that I follow, and thought it would be a great resource to help better plan dinners and, subsequently, better budget our grocery expenditures each week.
I'll be reentering the workforce in July so Hubby will become, as he puts it, Mr. Mom. He works from home and I'll be commuting to an office each day, so he'll be preparing most of our dinners from here on out. He's a good cook and really great with the grill, but meal planning and grocery shopping are my forte. So to make his life easier, I'm working on creating this Meal Binder for him that is full of our favorite recipes.
It's broken up into four sections - poultry, beef, pork and side dishes. Each week I'll choose five recipes and do one big food shop for the ingredients. I'll flag the recipes in the binder so that he knows which ones we have ingredients on hand for. All he has to do is decide which one he's in the mood to cook each evening. And then he needs to cook it. And I can come home to my little family and a yummy dinner and life will be grand. Well, maybe not so grand for him since he's the one cooking. Agree to disagree on that one.
The idea/hope/goal is that this process will a) give us a ballpark budget of what groceries should cost each week when we properly meal plan; b) deter us from ordering take-out, something which we do too often; and c) ensure that I'm not stopping at the grocery store on my way home from work each day, something I've done in the past that drove me insane. And I don't want to be insane.
I'm considering adding a breakfast section since I have a lot of quiche, frittata and pastry recipes that we eat on a quasi-regular basis. This week I baked a batch of strawberry oatmeal bars and we've been eating them in the mornings with our coffee and as snacks throughout the day. So much better than spending $4 on coffee and a bagel at Tim Horton's every single morning. Okay, Hubby won't agree with me on that one. Agree to disagree.
Strawberry Oatmeal Bars
1 & 1/2 cup oats (can be quick or old-fashioned)
1 & 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 & 1/2 stick cold butter, diced into pieces
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12-ounce jar of strawberry preserves (you can use any flavor of preserves but I think strawberry is sweet, comforting and great for the summertime)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add the butter and cut it in with a pastry cutter (or your hands but this will require a bit of elbow grease) until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Sprinkle half the mixture into the pan and pat lightly to pack it. Spoon the preserves over the packed mixture and spread evenly and gently using a butter knife. Sprinkle the other half of the oat mixture over the layer of preserves and pat lightly again to pack.
Bake until light golden brown (30 to 40 minutes). Remove from the oven and let cool in pan. Once fully cool, cut into squares and enjoy.
I'm probably part of a 1% minority when I say this, but summer has always been my least favorite season.
I blame growing up in southwest Florida where summer meant hurricane season. Which meant flooding. Which meant 100% humidity. Which meant swarms of mosquitoes. Which meant a general sense of suffering. Never mind the crispy brown grass courtesy of the 100 degree heat that didn't end until Halloween. (Sweating through your princess costume? Not so ladylike.)
No, I never did enjoy those midyear months. Despite my birthday being in May, which was just around the end of the school year and exactly when the weather was perfect for beaches and boating, I've always been more of an autumn person (though, let's face it, there's no true autumn in Florida. Just two weeks of 70 degree weather before Christmas).
But all that being said, this summer has been different. We moved to the Catskills on the first day of May when the mountainside was dotted with sprouting trees and wildflowers were just starting to bloom. Now that we're into the second week of June, we have fields of brilliant green, lily padded ponds, dreamy pink sunsets and constant cool breezes.
Hubby and I have taken advantage of the gorgeous weather by exploring the nearby Mountain Top Arboretum (pictured), dining al fresco at the local shake shack and taking afternoon walks through our neighborhood where we've spotted wild turkeys, beavers and chipmunks nearly every day.
Another thing I've learned to appreciate about summer is the gardening. Last month, I planted my very first garden - basil, chives, lavender, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers and jalapeno peppers. I've been watering and tending to my potted seedlings faithfully and am just starting to see the fruits (haha) of my labor. The vegetables are beginning to bud and the herbs are high enough to harvest.
I made risotto the other night and decided to garnish it with some of my chives. It was a very cool feeling of accomplishment when I took out the kitchen shears, cut a handful of Something I Grew, then sprinkled it over Something I Cooked.
As I ate my risotto with some chicken thighs hot off the barbecue, I was finally able to accept and appreciate summer for what is it - a respite from the harshness of winter, where afternoons are long and lazy, woodland animals say hello and the earth finally comes to life.
Creamy Parmesan Risotto
I usually associate a piping hot bowl of risotto with the cozy
comforts of a winter's day, but the use of white wine and fresh herbs
made this recipe feel summery to me. We had it for dinner on a rainy
evening with songbirds and frogs serenading us just outside our window.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup good white wine (something dry without too many fruity tones is best)
4 to 5 cups chicken stock or broth, simmering
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon lemon zest, freshly grated
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper
(Have your chicken stock is simmering in a pot before you begin cooking.)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the rice and cook until fully coated in the oil and they click like glass beads when stirred, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the wine and simmer until fully absorbed by the rice, about 5 minutes.
Add 1 ladle of simmering chicken stock (about 3/4 cup) and, stirring constantly, cook until almost fully absorbed. Add another ladle and repeat the process until almost fully absorbed. Continue this pattern, adding the stock ladle by ladle and allowing the rice to absorb the liquid, and stirring constantly (this is important!) until the rice is suspended in a liquid that has the consistency of heavy cream. The rice should be cooked al dente, tender but firm (not crunchy or mushy). This will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and fold in the butter, mascarpone 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Allow to set for a moment before spooning into bowls and sprinkling with chives, more Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
I recently read a quote by Winston Churchill - "There is nothing wrong with change if it is in the right direction."
Now I'm not one to post inspirational memes on my Facebook timeline - I'm much too cynical for that - but this particular line resonated with me. It brought to mind the magnet on my fridge with Henry David Thoreau's famous advice: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams... Live the life you've imagined."
Today marks the one month anniversary of our move to New York. Now that Moving May is behind us, we can reflect a bit. Hubby and I were talking about it last night and had to pat ourselves on the back for what we've managed to accomplish in just 30 days.
He traded in his sports car for a mountain-worthy vehicle, a brand new Jeep. A Patriot. I'll let the symbolism speak for itself.
Ala Billy Joel, I took a train down the Hudson River line and into Manhattan where one of Bobby's dearest friends gave me a personal tour of his workplace - the New York Times building. I walked the newsroom and even had lunch in the employee cafeteria, crossing multiple items off my Bucket List in one afternoon.
But beyond the material things, we feel we've grown richer simply by living where we live. We've planted a summer vegetable garden, gotten lost on winding country roads, meandered through small towns where the streets are lined with American flags, stumbled upon roadside barns in search of antiques, watched fireflies dance on a crystal clear night and seen the mountains disappear in the mist before a thunderstorm.
There will always be the stresses of everyday life, but, at this moment, we are letting ourselves simply enjoy the view. Now that we're facing the right direction.
White Cheddar Spinach Frittata
We've been making the most of our quiet mornings on the mountain by
drinking good, strong coffee and cooking hearty breakfasts like this one.
12 ounces fresh spinach leaves
2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cream or milk
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup sharp white cheddar, grated*
salt & pepper to taste
* It's best to use a block of cheese and hand-grate it. Packaged, pre-shredded cheeses have a powdery preservative on them that will prevent them from melting properly.
First you'll want to blanch the spinach by placing it in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain in a colander and run cold water over them until cool enough to handle. In small bunches, squeeze the excess water from them, then give them a good chopping and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the chopped onions until they begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn't burn. Add the spinach and heat through.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, cream/milk, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Once the veggies in the pan are heated through, pour the egg mixture over them and cook over low heat for 2 minutes.
Place the skillet in the oven and cook through, 12 - 15 minutes.
Welcome! I'm a pie-baking, dog-loving, antique-hunting patriot. I'm a fan of rustic home cooking, the Yankees and scenic drives through the mountains.