28 February 2011

The Garden | My Shot at Sustainability


This past Christmas we came into a little extra money and decided to start a garden. The months previous led us to this decision as we were frustrated with the abundance of produce that had been bathed in chemicals, and the general lack of high quality whole foods that we could afford. Luckily for us, a tomato plant costs about $3, and organic fertilizer- just $10 for a huge bag. Win!

It should be noted that, in the past, each try at a garden failed. I did not inherit my mother's green thumb. I now believe that I had to grow into my "thumbs" because my garden is booming! Below are before and after shots. I'm so proud! I know it's weird, but they are all like my little babies. It's only been 2 months and they are growing so fast!


Cilantro, Rosemary and Oregano (Dec 2010)

Tomato Plant (Dec 2010)

Note that the peppers (with stakes) are still too short to see! (Dec 2010)


Mint, overflowing! (Feb 2011)

A little baby red pepper (Feb 2011)

Tomatoes, full of blossoms! (Feb 2011) 

How do you contribute to a sustainable future?

Moroccan Mint Tea

Green Tea and Mint

Have you been to Morocco? If so, you most certainly indulged in this overly sweet concoction. If you're like me you found that after one or two glasses you suffered from addiction and though it was 100 degrees outside you needed a piping hot serving every hour on the hour. 

Though this recipe can never replicate the actual experience being served mint tea in an old dusty Moroccan coffee shop, it does get quite close to actual flavor. Here's step by step instructions for creating this at home:

What you will need:

Gunpowder Green Tea (I found this brand at my local Middle Eastern market)
A handful of fresh mint leaves (rinsed and patted dry)
Medium sized tea pot (I bought this at M.E. market, but can buy here)
Adorable little tea glasses (these were given to me as a gift, but you can buy something like it here)
Boiling hot water

Step 1: Boil 6 cups water in an electric kettle or a stove top kettle.

Step 2: Place 2-3 scoops of gunpowder green tea in medium tea pot. (See below)

1 scoop

1 scoop is enough to fill the little well in the cup of your hand. (I have tiny hands)

Step 3: While the water is heating, pick all the leaves off the stem of the mint plant and place in glasses (really stuff them in)

Step 4: Pour boiling hot water into medium tea pot (an inch over the spout) and let steep for 2-3 minutes.

Step 5: After 2-3 minutes, swish water around in pot and pour 85% of the water out into a glass (this cleans the leaves, the water should be murky) and then fill, again with boiling water to the same line. This will be the tea you pour into the glasses.

(Final) Step 6: Let the new water steep the leaves for about 6-7 minutes. Add 4 heaping spoonfuls of sugar pour into glasses. The higher you pour, the more the hospitality. And it creates a nice bubbling on top of the tea.

25 February 2011

Slowing Down the Weekend

Foreleg of a Male Diving Beetle (Microphoto by Spike Walker)

In keeping with yesterday's topic, I pre-determined my upcoming weekend to be lived in slow motion. Lately I have noticed that my weekends fly by even faster than my weeks. I've thought about it all sorts of ways and have come to the conclusion that it is all my fault. I'm just not taking the time to savor the moments. 

Saturday morning I will make a cup of Moroccan mint tea and sit on my porch.

Inspired by the above photo, I will spend some time with my plants. Noticing their details, and singing to them (I learned that from a study done years ago and from this joke song included in an old Audio Adrenaline CD.)

Head to the coast and plant my bum in the sand. I'm bringing along my book A Hundred and One Days so i can finally take a big chunk out of it. (Wonderful book, by the way. Read synopsis here.)

Saturday always ends at the produce market. This is one of our favorite weekend rituals. We spend forever smelling each fruit and fondling each vegetable. There's something about being surrounded by fresh produce (the kind still covered in dirt) that really helps you slow down.

Sunday we go to church and if I'm feeling froggy, perhaps I'll make a big Sunday meal. Sometimes the best way to stay slow is to leave your calendar open, though.

What are you doing this weekend?

24 February 2011

Lessons From the Spanish

Chocolate Con Churros

Ah, España. Today I miss the pace of life there. I miss the rhythm of the crosswalks, the smell of street food and the clinking of spoons in café con leche. There's something so different, so opposite the pace here in America.

On a day trip to Granada my husband and I walked up the narrow streets of the Albayzín to get a good overlook of the Alhambra. We sat in the square taking in the view, surrounded by gypsies strumming violently on their guitars- their long jet-black hair blowing around in the wind. We lost track of time.

Next thing we knew, our bus was close to leaving and we were still lost in the narrow streets where no taxi could go. Hungry from walking we hurried into a local café for some "take out" for the road. There we stood, panting; surrounded by men sipping wine and smoking cigarettes.

        John: *out of breath* Do you have take out?
        Bartender: *laughing* No take out.
        John: But we're in a hurry. 
        Patron: *grabs John by the shoulders* There's no "fast food" here.
        Bartender: Slow down.

Lesson learned. The next day back in Malaga we took their advice and slowed way down. The morning was spent at Café Central where we drank fresh squeezed orange juice, a croissant, and churros con chocolate. We sat hand in hand, both chairs pointed to the street for hours. After that we strolled along the beach and found a restaurant on the sand that served fresh fish. It was the best meal of my life. After a hefty dinner of paella, gelato, and one too many glasses of sangria we went to our hostal and curled up in bed.

Life in slow motion is so much richer. I know that life in America can be fast-paced, high demand, and no nonsense. But just stop. Stop to listen, smell, see, and think. Take a minute to notice your surroundings and the beauty of your people. Life moves fast, and in America it is just too easy to miss.

What are you doing to slow down this week?

Dare You Not to Dance, Pt. 1

Stable Song by Gregory Alan Isakov

Bande a Part by Nouvelle Vague

Blood by The Middle East

Ruby by Silver Apples

23 February 2011

Getting My Butt Kicked

New kicks (is that word still "in?")

We started a new workout program. Well, to say "new" may be misleading. It's not like we had a workout program before. We did if you call setting the alarm for 5:45am to work out and then pushing the snooze button every 10 minutes until 7:00am a program.

Anyways, we were tired of our sluggish bodies, and after finding Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred DVD on Amazon for $6 I thought, "why not?" 

Hmm, why not? Well, for starters just 2 days in and you're unable to take stairs, bend over to get something you dropped, sit comfortably on the toilet or lift your arms above shoulder height without wincing. Also, your muscles get so swole (that's right....SWOLE) that pants formally fitting for work now look like you're ready for street corner. 

I know that all these things are signs that it is working. But it hurts. It hurts like the freaking dickens. The only thing motivating me right now are my new shoes. We got them at the outlet at major discount and they fit so well. It wasn't until I found these that I realized what a good show is supposed to do for you. So the alarm hits at 5:45am, I look down at my sneaks and say "oh, I want to wear you today." It works. 

Homemade Bread | Realizing my Pioneer Life

 No-Knead Bread (Recipe @ A Chow Life)

When I was young I had an obsession with the past.  I loved classical music; I loved the dresses and the bloomers. I loved the carriages and horses. A five year old who dreams of being a princess is not unusual, perhaps a bit odd for an eleven or twelve year old. The age to which I acted out this fantasy is a bit quirky, I admit; but I was unable to control my imagination and I had the supplies at my fingertips.
My parents owned a dry cleaning business in North Carolina from when I was nine to the summer I turned 13. This was of huge benefit to my “budding career” as an actress. Local theaters would drop off period costumes for cleaning, and abandon them at the back of the store. These became mine, and so my backyard became my stage and old gowns and antique hoop skirts were my main characters. I spent my afternoons prancing around the hills, channeling Scarlett O’Hara and Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina. I was a mess. When I got too dizzy for spinning, and too hoarse from singing I would take to a life in the old west, making mud pies and grass cakes.

Not only were these wonderful memories that I now can’t imagine a life without, it was the development of an imagination, of creativity, and independent thought. This type of play is so scarce among American children today, but that’s another topic for another post. My point is- I was always pulled toward a simpler time. A time when we did things with our hands, where women wore feminine dresses, braved the outdoors, swooned over strong men, and made everything from scratch.

Last weekend I made homemade bread. Watching it rise and working it with my hands, feeling the weight of the dough and the powder up my nails reminded me of those simple times and for a moment I felt as if I was living it. As the smell of the bread wafted through the house, and my hard working husband walked in the door saying “wow, it smells like a bakery in here!” I knew I had gotten something right, and somehow, finally, realized my dream.

This is the bread recipe I made. It's the second bread recipe I have tried from Robin at A Chow Life. She makes cooking fun, and I have her to thank for teaching me that making my own bread is not only possible, but a skill I can perfect with practice.

No Knead (kind of) Bread

2 cups bread flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 & 1/2 tsp salt
1 package quick rise yeast
1 & 1/2 cup warm water
1 tblsp. cornmeal
1/2 tblsp. olive oil

Mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water in a large bowl. Dough will appear kind of shaggy when mixed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap tightly. Place in a warm place for 4 hours. Near the end of 4 hours, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

After 4 hours, knead the bread for 1 minute with flour so that it’s not too sticky and form it into a ball. Pour the olive oil into the bottom of your dutch oven. Pour cornmeal over the oil and coat the bottom of the dutch oven. Place dough in center. Place lid on the oven and cook covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook until golden 15-20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

22 February 2011

Farmers Market & Family Time

By the train station. New England Ave.

Cabbage and Carrots.


Baby Bok Choy. Over-sized Sunglasses.


Local Cheese Makers.

Three Generations. Grandma, Mom, Daughter.

Laughter is key to aging well.

Baked Mushroom Risotto

My longtime friend and co-worker, Kayla, shared this recipe with me last month. I believe she got it from a recipe card she found at Publix. Although, when I search recipes on the Publix site I am unable to locate this one. Now, if you are used to a heavy, creamy risotto this recipe may throw you for a loop. The recipe, as it stands comes out a bit more solid and string-cheesy. Still very delectable, but not very risotto-y. I modified it slightly to make it a bit more creamy and less sticky (and less fat) by adding more broth and reducing the amount of Parmesan cheese.

3 Tbsp butter
2 cups sliced Baby Bella mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or chicken broth
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan
2 Tbsp chopped fresh or dried thyme

Ready to bake.
 1. Preheat oven to 375. In a large, deep oven-proof skillet with a tight fitting lid, melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and onion, cook and stir 5 minutes or until tender.
2. Stir in rice; cook and stir until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth; season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Cover skillet and place in oven. Bake 45 minutes.
4. Remove skillet from oven. Stir in Parmesan and thyme, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Serves 6

The final product.

21 February 2011

Iran: Women in Community

This past weekend I had the privilege of celebrating the near arrival of my dear friend’s first child! Her baby shower was beautiful and the people there, even more so. My friend is Iranian. She moved to the states 2 years ago with her husband who is working on his PhD at our university. We met at an International Thanksgiving dinner 2 years ago, and we got together often so she could practice her English.

I have many Iranian friends, so I was not prepared for the wonderful surprise that awaited me at this shower. It was unlike the other times I had hung out with large groups of Persians before. This time it was all women, and it was wonderful! I was able to observe so many wonderful differences between their female culture and my own; differences that ought to be celebrated, and perhaps adopted.

I know that the gender issues in Muslim cultures can be a hot topic for Americans with so many of us holding to feminist ideologies. Many of us have a tendency to struggle with a Muslim woman's position in their society, in their family, and the implications of modest dress and head coverings. Many of these misunderstandings and assumptions are born out of fear and the unknown. It wasn't until yesterday that I realized I had made any assumptions about my dear friends, and wasn't until yesterday that I was finally able to see this aspect of their culture for what it is...a celebration of all things female!

While many Iranians are quite lax, there are some who hold to a more modest code of Islam. As the party progressed and more and more guests arrived I couldn't keep from chuckling. These gorgeous women would walk in covered head to foot and when the door closed the "veil" was lifted to reveal awesome party clothes, the cutest shoes, and gorgeous jewelry. I wanted to punch myself for all the times I had assumed they hated dawning what I saw as oppressive clothing, understanding now that underneath it all, they looked like absolute divas. 

Soon the food was served and morale was high. Ladies laughing, shouting, cheering, joking. There was a female comradery present that I have never felt when surrounded by a group of my own American girlfriends. It was an understanding that all the women there were strong and beautiful, successful mothers, daughters and wives. A sense of pride in unity of culture and tradition and a celebration of those things Persian. It was a safe place, a place where one could be understood, defended, and set free.

I'm sure many of my friends would be the first to tell you that like all women, they struggle with their appearance, their body type, their insecurities and their fears. Most aspects of being a women are just universal, but they seemed to have something right that I was just missing.

Tea was served, cake was cut, and Persian music was blaring. The ladies took turns dancing in the middle of the room, each cheering on their peer, whistling, chirping, laughing. It was a wonderful time to celebrate the beauty of each one. A wonderful time to see my very lovely and very pregnant friend dancing and enjoying this exciting moment in her life. I was happy to witness it all (and even happier to capture all these moments on camera)!

I left the party wanting more. More freedom with my friends. More enjoyment in who we are. More celebration in all that it means to be a woman- the success, the fertility, the beauty, the tradition, the love and the family. And most of all....more dancing.

What are your "girl time" traditions? How do you celebrate what it means to be a woman. If your a man, what do you love about the woman in your life?

17 February 2011

Cross-Cultural Etiquette: Barriers to Understanding


 When it comes to befriending people of other cultures and religious backgrounds, many barriers can arise. The barriers are inevitable and can either be viewed as an opportunity to learn or as a rift that makes friendship near impossible. It’s your choice.
    Some of the following may be hard to swallow, but remember that I am an American writing to my fellow Americans. I am one of you. I’ve been there. I know how hard it can be to have your thinking challenged, your ideas about the world torn apart and your “understanding” of other people redefined as ignorance. As you read through, just remember that I learned this by trial and error and you can just learn from my mistakes. Bonus!
    1. Our way is not always the right way
       Many people have a tendency to be ethnocentric. If we haven’t ever considered the idea that we don’t know everything and our way of life and order of governance may not be preferred by the masses, now is the time to do so. Our way may not be the right way but that doesn’t mean it is wrong, either. Maybe it is just a “way.”

    2. Don’t let politics play a role.
       I cannot stress the importance of this lesson. Letting politics govern how we interact with and treat someone is one of the quickest ways toward bigotry. I am ashamed to say that I have spoken with people who condemned my interaction with Arabs because “they are the enemy” or “they’ll try and kill me” (coincidently, this kind of attitude is also the quickest way to lose my friendship). Or perhaps we all have encountered the old Vietnam veteran who refuses interaction with all Asians because of his experience in the war.
     When we feel that our politics plays a role in how we view people, it is a good time to pick the brain of an international. I remember I had some solid footing on my stance on Iraq until I talked to an Iraqi friend of mine who, very solemnly, told us the story of how he has lost 24 of his immediate family members since the war started due to roadside bombs, RPGs and the like. Wow. If that doesn’t change the way we view the average Iraqi citizen, I don’t know what will. The average Arab is not the antagonist, they are the victim. If we survey the state of the world we find that is true for most areas of conflict across the globe.

   3. We must leave our stereotypes at the door.
        Not all Arabs are terrorists.
        Not all Asian women suck at driving.
        Not all Indians are computer programmers.
        Not all Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab.
        Not all Hindus do yoga.
        Not all Mexicans are illegal.
        Not all Asian kids are good at math.
       Just like not all Americans are Christians, slutty, loud, violent, rich, and always chewing gum. (How do you like THEM stereotypes?)

    4. Keeping an open mind doesn’t mean sacrificing our values.
       This can really be an issue sometimes, especially for those who hold to a certain faith. Saying that we understand or can relate to something does not mean that we believe it or condone it. Accepting someone for who they are and what they believe and condoning their faith is not the same thing. I don’t expect a Muslim or Hindu to agree with me, but I always appreciate it when they nod and accept me and my faith and we still go on as friends.

    5. The Hot Topics
       Sometimes a barrier can come up by asking what seems like an innocent question. There are certain trigger topics that probably shouldn’t be broached until you really know someone well and know they will understand your intentions in asking and digging deep for understanding. You can’t discuss it without bringing in your own take, so you have to know that your take will be understood and not seen as a threat.

        Arab-Israeli Conflict
        Sunni and Shia
        George Bush
        The Chinese take on Taiwan, Tiananmen Square or Tibet
        The caste system in India…this has been a hard topic of conversation in my experience

    6. Learn to Laugh
       This is hands down, the most important lesson. If we can’t laugh at ourselves and each other, there’s no hope for the world. Go ahead and laugh…it is OK!

16 February 2011

Hard Core Food Porn

Salmon Tartare Cornet -The French Laundry
Do you watch Anthony Bourdain? I do. I watch it religiously. Every episode he makes me laugh, and the joke is always in some way related to sex. How could one not laugh at a line like "This jamon gives me the gastrointestinal version of morning wood."?  We laugh because it is funny, shocking, and absolutely true.
If you're a foodie you know what I'm talking about. Eating good food is one of the most pleasurable experiences we can have...one of them. When I see people scarfing down their food all I can think of is a one night stand. Slow down! Take time to savor every moment, every taste and every texture. In the kitchen and in bed, foreplay always enhances the main course.

I love cooking food, growing food, smelling food, eating food, and watching food. With that said, here's some "hard core food porn" for you to enjoy...

Did you see the slow-mo buttering of the bread? Oh baby!  ;-)

What foods "turn you on"?

14 February 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! I hope that you find this day filled with love and affection from friends, family, or the man or woman of your dreams. If you are hitched, I hope that this day rekindles the fire, reunites the souls, and deepens the intimacy. If not, I hope that today reminds you of how special you are and how much those around you love you.

No matter your circumstance, remember that today is more about giving than recieving. Talk to someone who needs a friend, love on someone who seems unloveable, and remember that the gift of love has high returns.

How are you showing the love today?

13 February 2011

Coconut Creamed Corn

Lime. Scallions.

A couple months ago I changed up my game in the kitchen. In an effort to get more whole grains and veggies into our diet and reduce fat and cholesterol I switched our diet one I like to call carnivorous vegitegan. We have a diet of thirds. One third of our meals include meat, one third are vegetarian and one third are vegan. Since adopting this we've experienced more energy, more variety in our diet and happier insides!

I used to think that vegan cooking was time consuming and tasteless. My good friend and vegan cooking guru gave me her favorite cookbook, Supermarket Vegan. Donna Klein does an awesome job at creating healthy and sensible meals that are full of flavor. I cook from it all the time! Pick up a copy here.

One of my favorite recipes in her book is Coconut Creamed Corn. It is a great side dish, snack, or great served lukewarm with tortilla chips.

Coconut Creamed Corn
From: Supermarket Vegan

2 cups frozen yellow corn (unthawed)
1 cup light coconut milk
2 scallions thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1/4 tsp mild chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2-1 tsp fresh lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch or more crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine the corn, coconut milk, white parts of the scallions, chili powder and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to med-low and simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until most of the coconut milk is evaporated, 12-15 minutes.

Stir in the scallion greens, lime juice, black pepper and red pepper flakes if using. Serve warm.

What do you do to keep your diet  healthy?

12 February 2011

Moroccan Paintings

While honeymooning in Morocco back in October we set aside a decent chunk of change to invest in a couple pieces of art. John and I have an extreme love for art. I majored in art history for two years in college and he's developed some fine art sensibility spending time with me. I'm pretty sure God has purposefully kept our income modest so we won't blow it on some messy Pollock painting...that and overpriced cheese.

Anyway, we saved, and planned to blow it on a piece we would find in Morocco. The only thing better than a great piece of art is a great piece of art from a culture you've fallen in love with. Last month we were able to finally afford to get two of the three we bought stretched. I couldn't not show them to you all. They are my babies and they are a constant reminder of a beautiful vacation spent with a beautiful people.

By El Bakkar. (4' x 2.5')

By El Bakkar. (3.5' x 2')

The blue painting is so vibrant in color. I wish the camera could capture it. The paintings were hung in a market hanut (shop) in Fes. Because of the open-air environment both have experienced cracking here and there. It really adds something to their texture, and their story. Both are signed by "El Bakkar." I have no idea who this man is. But I think about him often. I wonder where he lives...is he Berber? Does he have a family? Where did he learn to paint? If you know anything about the whereabouts of the mysterious El Bakkar, contact me immediately!  

10 February 2011

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera (*)
I started making this pasta while overseas. There’s an abundance of freshly grown produce abroad and markets make them readily available. I remember being astonished that I could spend 3 dollars and come home with pounds of fruits and veggies, all of which were freshly picked and needed to be used immediately lest they be put to waste. So, my veggie pasta was born through an effort consume my beloved produce in one meal before it went bad and to stay full and healthy in an area where sanitation was completely unregulated when it came to meat.

This recipe is really just a guideline. I vary it depending on what’s fresh and in season. It makes a ton and is really great re-heated. It is a vegetarian dish as well, but I find the variety of vegetables really gives the protein and fiber needed to feel full and satisfied. If you want a little more protein kick I’m sure it would be delicious with chick peas or another white bean.

Pasta Primavera

1 box linguini pasta (farfalle or penne works nice too)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (sometimes I use ½ green and ½ red or yellow)
2 yellow squash, cut in half and sliced
1 large zucchini, cut in half and sliced
1 bunch of asparagus (chopped into 1 inch pieces)
1 14oz. can Italian style diced tomatoes, mostly drained
½ cup parmesan shavings (+ extra for garnish)

Heat large pot of salted water to boiling and cook pasta according to box. Drain, and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, heat oil on med-high heat. Add onions and garlic and let simmer 2-3 minutes until just translucent. Add other vegetables, minus tomatoes, and let simmer 5-6 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer on med-low until cooked heated through.

In a large bowl, toss together the pasta and veggies, along with ½ cup freshly shaved or grated parmesan. Serve and garnish with parmesan shavings.

*Also featured, Electric Reindeer White Zinfandel.  World Market sells this stuff around the holidays and they make great house warming gifts when visiting friends and family for the holidays. The wine is cheap ($5), and I know they say wine that cheap can never be good, but it is. Its really a matter of preference and if you are into sweet, crisp, fruity wines its the one for you.

In My Own Little Corner

Caught, red handed...
The other day, I read about a growing American trend- bathroom parties. Why of course! What better place to entertain but the loo, right? Apparently American homes have become so rich and lavish that bathrooms, originally intended for private use are more like spas where people can gather and relax.

I’m not one to judge, but I was always of the notion that the kitchen is the hub of the hang out. When I’m at my family’s home everyone congregates in the kitchen. I couldn’t imagine a better place. My mom was always concocting something amazing and we, the hungry household, would loiter like fruit flies, waiting for the meal to be plated.

My husband and I have the same mentality. Though it is just us, we also congregate there to catch up on our day and discuss recent events. And as my mother’s kitchen skills became my own I began to have someone standing over my shoulder as food was prepared.

Now, I take this kitchen thing quite seriously. Though we both hang out there I consider the room to be my own. Things have their own spot, and I’ve created my own rhythm. Lately John has noticed that I take to doing much of my daily life in there. A girl has to multi-task! Cooking can be a very time-intensive process, and so I adapt many of my other routines to my itty bitty galley kitchen.

What room have you made completely your own?