Monthly Archives: April 2013

Monday Madness: . . .


I really should do this first thing in the morning, so I don’t forget/almost forget. But that would probably mean waking up earlier, and waking up on Monday sucks enough as it is.

I survived without any coffee today. It was odd. I didn’t have any half and half, and I still don’t like black coffee unless it’s iced (and also really good), so I had tea instead. Tea is always recommended as a “substitute” for coffee, but it tastes so different that it is not a proper replacement. Tea should not be considered a coffee stand-in, but a tasty beverage in its own right. The range of flavors for tea is much more dramatic than coffee, which always tastes kind of the same on certain basic levels. Tea tastes drastically different depending on with what it is infused.

Chai is my favorite. Chai is like the god of beverages. Well, I guess that would have to be water, actually. This paragraph makes no sense, please ignore it.

I don’t really have anything interesting to say right now. Monday Madness fail. Oh well. I’m tired and I had no coffee today.

No-Recipe Black Bean Chicken Chili


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Here it is in a bowl with cheese, looking quite delicious

I was trying to get text before the picture, but it’s not letting me move the picture down. I hate not having a real camera…

Anyway, this is a picture of a food experiment I created about two weeks ago. Like the Veggie Mac and Cheese I wrote about recently, I went in without any real knowledge of how chili is supposed to be made, never having attempted to cook it before myself. I don’t remember what gave me the idea. I just thought about the ingredients I had on hand and figured I’d try it out. I’m going to get ahead of myself now and tell you that it turned out AMAZING! I was really surprised by how delicious and chili-like it was. Even though there was a chance it would be more of a soup, I still just felt like trying it, and this was definitely a success.

Ingredients:

apprx. 2 medium chicken breasts (I was using tenders, so I am not sure how it compares)

beefsteak[?] and campari tomatoes

green/red bell peppers

1 can of black beans

1 [amount] of cilantro

1/2-1 lime

Chili powder, smoked paprika, and cajun seasoning

 

Non-Recipe:

To start with, I cooked the chicken. The intention was to put it into the pot shredded, so I had to pre-cook it to the point where shredding would be possible. I pan-fried it in a small amount of oil for a few minutes on a low heat. I wasn’t concerned with making sure they were 100% cooked, as they would cook for a while in the chili itself. As it turned out they were cooked the perfect amount, and once they cooled, shredding them was very easy.

I can’t really remember in just what order I put all the ingredients in the pot, so I’ll just guess… I like my peppers to be a little bit roasted or seared, so I put them in first to cook in a little bit of oil for a few minutes. Then went in the tomatoes, which would need to cook for a while to get stew-y. Soon after went the can of black beans (Goya) and then about two cans full of water, to give it plenty of time to cook while getting to the right consistency. It was about here that the chicken went in as well.

Next came all the seasonings. I used about three tablespoons of chili powder, and it was fairly spicy in the end. I used about one tablespoon each of smoked paprika and McCormick’s cajun seasoning, which I usually use for chicken and sprinkled over fried eggs (so good, really). Plenty of fresh chopped cilantro went into the pot, and some of it stuck to my hands as well. If you want to avoid that, I recommend washing it long enough in advance that it has time to really get dry, because if it’s wet it decides to love your skin.

Stirring often is basically the only thing you do other than adding ingredients to the pot. If it looks like it’s actually boiling, turn the heat down. The order of adding things doesn’t really matter that much, because you cook it all together long enough that all the flavors will combine, and some will be more prominent but what can you do.

Later on in the process I added the lime juice, then had it cook for a few more minutes. Once it looked pretty much like a chili consistency, I decided it was done.

It was really delicious. I’m not just saying this because I want you guys to think I’m having successful cooking ventures. If it had sucked, I would tell you. I was really surprised that it went as well as it did. It tasted awesome both freshly made and as leftovers. It did make me wish I had cornbread, but… oh well. Next time.

I highly recommend making something similar. Go for it! Just wing it! You know how cooking works, you can do it…

 

 

 

Monday Madness: Why Is It So Cold Today?


It’s about that time again. I really feel like “Madness” is accurate, although not limited to Monday. My life makes me feel crazy. 😛 I can’t really explain what I mean without going into super-backstory, so I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. Don’t worry, I’m a functional crazy.

1) I am SO incredibly tired today. I got a pretty substantial amount of sleep this weekend, so you’d think I would be ok, but I really just wanted to hide in bed and sleep for the bulk of the day instead of getting up and going to work.

2) Leisurely breakfasts are the only way to actually have a good morning. (Perhaps, don’t take this so literally. There may be other ways, but I mean that most mornings I have that are good involve a leisurely breakfast, or at least leisurely coffee.) That did not happen today.

3) Isn’t it fucking spring? Why did my hands freeze while waiting for the bus this morning? Why does it have to be so damn windy? Wind is pretty much always guaranteed to ruin my mood. Wind is the enemy of hairdos, scarves, umbrellas, stacks of paper, and anything you happen to set down on the ground. Also of certain types of skirts. Just one more advantage to the pencil skirt, really…

I’m trying to determine what it is that I want so badly right now. I am not hungry, as I had a snack of a Kind bar and then a plastic container full of vegetables. But I keep craving something, like… a caramel latte, maybe. If you’ve never had one, they’re basically dessert dressing up as coffee. You know it’s not really coffee, but you go along pretending it is for the time that you’re drinking it.

Side note: Kind apricot-almond bars with yogurt are really good. I need to get some more of them for those times when I need a snack, but I’m lazy.

In the future I do want to try to make Monday Madness posts a little bit more coherent, focused on one thing, but like I said, my life makes me crazy and my brain is all over the place (and not a place that’s useful, like in my head. I don’t know where it went). So we’ll just have to try again next time.

Much sanity to you.

Serious Monday Madness: Explosions at the Boston Marathon Finish Line


Dear Readers,

I should have waited to do my Monday Madness post. About an hour ago now, two explosions went off in Copley Square, right at the marathon finish line. Numerous injuries are confirmed, although I have not heard of any deaths yet. Supposedly, there are undetonated devices that have been found. What we do know so far suggests that this was done intentionally.

There are a number of online sources and live blogs, but not a lot of information is known so far. If you are in Boston, keep clear of Copley and the surrounding area until it’s been confirmed that it’s safe.

If you are wondering, my office and home are both a pretty good distance away from Copley, and my commute won’t take me through there, so I am lucky. Others are less lucky. Keep them in your thoughts.

Monday Marathon Madness


Today is Monday. Again.

It’s also Patriot’s Day, tax day, and Marathon Monday. That’s a lot of days rolled into one. And unfortunately for me, I have a commute that crosses the city, and therefore it is affected somewhat by the mbta changes. And the mbta is bad on a GOOD day.

I am one of about three people in the office job category (ie not retail or restaurant) whose office is not closed today. I find this unfortunate.

Aside from all that, I got up rather late this morning because I was cuddling with my snooze button. I barely even had time to get dressed, let alone make coffee and actually eat breakfast. I got off the bus early and had a bagel and coffee at Cafenation. My breakfast habits make me think two things. 1) Coffee is just delicious. Wonderful. Happy juice! 2) I need to stock my kitchen with waaaaay way more fresh fruit. And also stop buying strawberries at Stop and Shop, since they always seem to be bad (either moldy or rotten). Luckily only a few of them were having mold, so I used the ones I could salvage and threw  the rest away, sadly. I really wish produce at Whole Foods were cheaper…

I don’t blame the marathon for the silly morning, I blame the bad location of my job in relation to my house. I really wish it was a reasonable walking distance. I would actually prefer a walking commute. It’s one of two things I really miss about the time I worked in Harvard Square… granted, I couldn’t walk there NOW, but when I worked there I could.

That’s life. A series of small adjustments and dealing with stuff you don’t like. Although, I might start taking the 65 bus to work every day. Or maybe just when it’s nice enough to walk. Less time on the bus, and none on the train. And it’s not like rushing through Copley at that time of day really does any good for me. I don’t know, seems like a good idea–plus I wouldn’t have to deal with Kenmore. Oh, Kenmore. I am sick of you.

P.S. Get your taxes done! Hurry hurry!

Mixed Vegetable Mac and Cheese


(Success, hell yes!)

This one needs a disclaimer; I made this about three weeks ago, so I’ll try to remember as well as I can what the process was, but I’m sure I will have forgotten by now. Also, this is NOT a recipe, so if you want to make this, I’d recommend looking up a basic mac and cheese recipe and adding the veggies to that.

So. There I was, with this whole eggplant that needed to be used up, and all the necessary ingredients to make a cheese sauce. I had a box of medium shells (so technically, it was shells and cheese, not macaroni). Also on hand were tomatoes, broccoli, and breadcrumbs. I figured that at worst I would end up with a pasta bake, and it would be edible as long as I didn’t burn it. So I just went for it, totally blind. No recipe.

I did glance at a mac and cheese recipe for reference to what tempt to set the oven to, but other than that I was just improvising. I have read mac and cheese recipes, I’ll admit, so I may have remembered a few things from them.  However, I’ve made cheese sauce for pasta several times now, so I had a good idea of how that worked. (Practice is the absolute best way to learn to cook! Who knew?)

The first thing I did was saute/steam the eggplant and broccoli while boiling the water for the pasta (and preheating the oven). The last thing to get cooked would have to be the cheese sauce, as its consistency would not keep if it had time to cool. The tomatoes would go in uncooked, just before it was all stuck in the oven.

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There’s my big pot of broccoli and eggplant (and steam). Nice, no? Once they were cooked I took them off the heat, and the pasta was still cooking as I started the sauce.

The cheese and butter all combined eventually, but at first, they were just giant clumps in the milk and cream. Melt the butter in advance if you want to avoid that, but the trick, really, is to make sure the heat is right (low-medium) and just keep stirring, slowly. If you’re persistent it will all smooth out. I mean, I added what was probably several cups of cheese, pretty much all at once, so it’s no wonder it all just kind of clumped together in the milk soup.

As the sauce cooked, I put everything else together in a large baking pan. As soon as the sauce was fully combined and of the right thickness, I poured it over the veggies and pasta and mixed it all to coat everything with cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese.

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Looks really good! At this stage I sprinkled breadcrumbs on top in a generous amount, and finished it with some more shredded cheese. It went into the oven and cooked for something around 1/2 an hour.

 

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I’ve got to figure out panko breadcrumbs, because the nice browned parts you can see on top were due to the cheese. The breadcrumbs did not get crisp or browned, unfortunately. Any tips?

The verdict: OMG. For my very first try at homemade mac and cheese, without using a recipe, I was amazed at how well it turned out. The only thing I would have wanted to be different was that it wasn’t cheeeeeesy enough. More/creamier sauce would have done that, but it was so good that I couldn’t regret how it had turned out. I enjoyed it with some wonderful dinner rolls from When Pigs Fly.

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If you don’t think this looks good, then I feel sorry for you.

I had about 6 more meals from this, because, as you could see, I made a very large amount. As leftovers it’s not quite as good, because, as you might know, reheated pasta gets a little bit chewy, and the cheesy parts were a bit thicker as well. Still very tasty, of course, but I would recommend making this for at least two, if not 4-6 people, or a much, MUCH smaller amount. I used a whole entire box of shells, a whole eggplant, a crown of broccoli, and a handful of tomatoes (I’ve been liking Campari lately).

All in all, this one is filed under “success.”

Food Evening


Like “Good evening.” but with food.

Dinner tonight was a delicious bowl of leftover chili, made yesterday. I’ll do a full post about making it–that was a true no-recipe experiment! And it worked so well. Most delicious outcome possible. Probably. Anyway. I really wanted some good bread to go with it, so I stopped at Whole Foods on the way home, as it’s the most convenient store on my evening commute that actually carries good bread. They were having a sale on split chicken breasts, so I decided to buy them while they were cheap. They’ve found a nice home in my freezer with the mixed berries, chicken lime burgers, and shrimp. (And ice.) I decided on the durum rolls. I find them delicious. And one of them can make a great breakfast sandwich tomorrow, assuming I can wake myself up early enough to make one. I’m feeling pretty good about my chances, for once…

This past weekend I had a nice little North End experience with my mom. We went full Italian. (She’s half Italian… I’m 1/4.) I had a groupon for Piccola Venezia, where we had been once before. Of course we wanted to go to Little Venice! We were in Venice once about five years ago, and we both felt all nostalgic about it. Piccola Venezia has a great ambience, quite an authentic Italian family feeling. But also like a restaurant. You know what I mean… I had chicken and eggplant parmesan. SO GOOD.

Afterward we stopped at Mike’s for cannoli, although we had them boxed up to take home, as we were extremely full. Then, for the last stop, we stepped into a little cafe called Thinking Cup. It was a little dark but with cool decor, and they were playing a silent movie in the background. Pretty lattes there. I am thinking I will go back there sometime when I can squeeze it in (and have the spending money) and do a more in-depth experience for you. For now I can definitely say that I recommend it, although I don’t know what the crowds are like in general. Might be more crowded during the day.

I would like to close by saying that I’ve been getting SO sleepy by the end of the day lately… even during the afternoon sometimes. My desk chair at work is uncomfortable and it’s hard to feel awake when I can barely manage to sit up straight. What do you think–do I just need a protein-rich snack?

Controversial Coffee


I’m watching this documentary on Netflix right now called “Perfect Cappuccino.” It’s about a woman who’s obsessed with cappuccino in particular, and coffee as an extension. She doesn’t have a great voice for narration, in my opinion, but she seems to be able to tell a story well.

It started out focusing on her experience and logistical stuff about making cappuccino correctly, and how everyone in Italy makes them correctly, and there was a bunch footage of interviews with Italian baristas and other people who know about coffee. Then the whole documentary kind of turned into an analysis of Starbucks, the quality of their products and the nature of their business, and the effect of the enormous coffee corporation in America. I was a little disappointed at that point, because I feel like I spend enough time hearing about Starbucks.

She also said that she thinks most independent coffee shops have terrible coffee, and I strongly disagree with that. She probably meant cappuccino in particular (which she says no one in America can make correctly, including Starbucks).

I talk about coffee a lot, and I do go to Starbucks, and independent coffee shops, and I just thought I’d weigh in on the whole “Starbucks is evil” thing and then move on and not post about it anymore.

I don’t hate Starbucks. I do not think that they’re a totally evil corporation that’s ruining coffee. I have a registered Starbucks card. I love their chai in particular, and some of the special seasonal lattes are quite enjoyable. I love the cinnamon dolce latte, and the eggnog latte once in a while (although it’s a little weird, because eggnog steams differently than milk, because it’s thicker). I also don’t love starbucks. I think their dark roasts are rarely good when I buy them at the stores. I like them fine when I brew them at home. Their lattes are just ok to me. The whole “drink customization” thing seems a bit out of hand to me; one or two extras or whatever is one thing, but coffee should not be that complicated to order. And there’s almost never anywhere to sit because it’s such a popular hangout, people get in there and they sit for hours. I had that problem once when I resorted to Starbucks for an internet connection, years ago; I’d have to stand around sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes before I could sit down. And to me, their pumpkin spice latte is disappointing. It tastes too much like syrup and sugar and not enough like coffee.

I like the independent cafes better. I almost always find their coffee is better than Starbucks, and the lattes are definitely better. I prefer the atmosphere in them too. Not because of the art on the walls, but the space just feels more pleasant to me. The food is almost always better. They are also a little bit pricier–but not usually by much, unless they’re super fancy, in which case it’s just not somewhere I’ll go a lot. So Starbucks is the slightly cheaper option, but I usually feel okay about spending a little more at the independent cafes to get that extra deliciousness. Unfortunately it makes enough difference saving those few cents that I can’t just go to the local shops. In addition, Starbucks shops are everywhere and they are predictable, which is one of the things this documentary mentions.

Sometimes I want the special, new experience, and sometimes I want the quick and predictable. It depends on what else is going on at that moment. I don’t think that Starbucks is driving all the other cafes out of business. There are tons of independent cafes I can name in Boston. Some of my favorites are Cafenation, City Feed and Supply, Pavement, and Render Coffee (which I can’t afford to go to very often). I like having both available. (I’m sure they do some of those big corporation things that people hate, and I do not think they should, but I haven’t done research to talk about that and I don’t know much about economics anyway…)

I like Peet’s better than Starbucks, and unfortunately there are only two of those whose locations I can think of without using google maps.

The documentary goes on to talk about other things, like the social benefits and history of coffee shops in general, but it keeps coming back to Starbucks. I guess it only makes sense, as it’s a documentary about coffee and Starbucks is a huge name in coffee. I guess I just thought it would be more of a personal coffee journey and less of a social commentary sort of film. It goes on to talk about the spread of the chain/corporation style coffee shop in Italy. If you’d like to get a better idea of just what the film is saying, I do recommend watching it. It’s not bad.

So, that’s my general feeling about this whole issue. You should get the gist of it from this.

Monday Madness


Ah, the ever-oppressing Monday morning. If I really think about it, Mondays are no worse than any other day I have to wake up early and try to make myself presentable before I want to be awake… and so many people seem to do a Monday post, maybe to get themselves up and moving, or get the creativity flowing, for the week? I like the idea, but I am not sure I’ll always have something particularly interesting to say. I thought I’d try it anyway.

I’m so glad people are liking my Brattle Book Shop post. It seemed like a fun little adventure to write about, and for once my pictures didn’t suck. My phone camera does an ok job when there’s plenty of natural light, it seems. I have a few more adventures in mind, so keep your eye out for that. (What a strange phrase. I actually want you to keep your eyes in. If your eyes are out, how will you read my posts?)

This morning I actually managed to wake up early enough to shower and have coffee and watch an episode of Supernatural and still have enough time to put a tiny bit of effort into my look today. It’s the first real warm spring day, in my opinion, that doesn’t promise to give way to snow later in the week, so I had a break out my lovely cotton sundress with peacock feather details. Teal tights and a blue ruffly cardigan, silver-gray flats, leaf earrings, and blue and purple eyeliner go along with it. I’d try to take a picture for you, but I’m at work so that’s kind of awkward… sorry.

I’m bummed that hulu is failing at its job. It claimed there was a new episode of Once Upon a Time, but the “new” one they posted is actually four episodes old. I don’t know if it’s a computer glitch or human failure, but either way, I should have had new fairy tale drama to watch this morning. I was disappointed.

And I leave you with this: Pear flavored chobani. Who knew.

Rambling through Boston: Brattle Book Shop


http://www.brattlebookshop.com/

Recently, I decided to check one of many endeavors off of my “like-to-do” list (not a bucket list, as for me that would be comprised of things that would be a little harder to accomplish), and I hopped on a train to downtown Boston to explore the Brattle Book Shop.

Brattle Book Shop is a used bookstore just a stone’s throw from Boston Common. It’s been around since 1825. Seriously. You can get more info at the link above.

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The first thing you’ll notice about Brattle is the outdoor section of the bookstore. In the alley next to the building, shelves line the walls to the right and left. Luckily it was a sunny, somewhat mild day when I decided to venture there, so I was able to browse these books for a little while. The books on the left side shelves are all $3; the other side, $5.

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I didn’t take the time to scour every title. I rarely have the patience for that. I just scanned a good number of shelves until I had found a few books I wanted to buy. There was quite a range of books, from totally obscure titles that could only interest a niche audience to very popular books, like volumes of Harry Potter and James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Toward the back of the outdoor area, they also had this stack of cool painted doors, all book-themed designs. I’m not entirely certain what they use them for, but I’m guessing they use them to close up the shelves when the store is closed, and maybe during the winter. I snapped a picture for reference. I’m sure there are many better pictures out there, but here you go…

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Here are the books I picked up:

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The first one I spotted was the Marguerite Yourcenar book. Granted, I had no idea who Mishima was, even though he was[is] very well-known (as Wikipedia told me), but I read Memoirs of Hadrian in college, and as a result have dubbed Yourcenar one of my favorite writers. I just had to get it. Tove Jansson was a name I remembered seeing quite a bit when I was working at the Harvard Coop. The Summer Book seemed like it would be the perfect thing to read in the coming months, so I snatched that one up. The last title is an illustrated edition of The Three Musketeers from the ’50s. It’s not valuable or anything, or it would have been in the rare book room instead of the $3 wall. As you might have guessed, it’s an abridged version. it just seemed like a fun thing to own, and I thought the illustrations were pretty cool.

I decided three books was a good amount. I stepped inside to pay, first having a quick look around the inside of the store. I didn’t take too much time inside, but I can say that they had a very wide selection, on shelves reaching up to the ceiling. Fiction was on the first floor, along with a few other categories. Scholarly books were mostly on the second floor. The rare book room was also on the second floor. I didn’t check it out this time around, I think I was just to nervous at the prospect of being in a room with so many valuable books. I did have a glance over the huge posters they had stuck all over the wall leading up to the second floor showing some of the rare books they  had sold and the prices they’d gone for. I think the least expensive one was $250. They even once had a first edition Cat in the Hat. Cool.

I would recommend this store to anyone who might be looking for rare books (to buy or not), and to anyone who enjoys weeding through shelves to find something unexpected, unfamiliar, a discovery for your home library. It’s definitely a worthwhile book-lover’s outing. In addition, it’s surrounded by many restaurants as well as being very close to the Boston Common. You could get a book, then grab a sandwich or something, head on over to the grass and settle in for a picnic with your new literary find. Hell, that sounds lovely. I think I’m going to do it sometime this summer.

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