Friday, September 30, 2011

How does YOUR garden grow?

 Because ours looks like a jungle right now - the pumpkin vines have taken over the entire garden, the tomatoes are overflowing, the grape vines are spreading, and soon it'll all be dead.  Here's hoping we can rake in some good pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and herbs before the next frost (because covering all of that for the first, super early, frost was ridiculous and I refuse to do it again!).
She really loves pulling the green cherry tomatoes off the vine and eating them!  (Not the red, ripe ones!)
The trellis system has been started!

Who needs to go to a pumpkin patch when you have one in your backyard?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fall Recipes

As the weather has quickly cooled off, and we still have a ridiculous amount of produce left in the garden (mostly tomatoes), I've been trying a few new recipes. Last night I tried out this simple tomato sauce with onion and BUTTER recipe from the Smitten Kitten. I tweaked it as I was 1) using fresh tomatoes that were threatening to rot on my countertop (I blanched and peeled them this way - SUPER quick and easy - who knew?) and 2) I had a lot more tomatoes, and lots of fresh herbs, so I didn't have the true tomato to butter ratio that the recipe is for. I did one pan of tomatoes (red and yellow) with yellow onion cut in half and the butter, but then added fresh thyme and oregano. The onion was supposed to be removed at the end, but I ended up breaking it up as it cooked in the sauce and left it in. The other pan was tomatoes, a roughly chopped red onion, butter, and basil. I also didn't remove the seeds from the tomatoes, which I was worried about, but it turns out if you simmer them long enough that extra juice will cook off. We're eating this over pasta tonight, so I'll let you know if it's horrible. I was just happy to find a relatively quick and easy way to use up all of those tomatoes!

From the Smitten Kitten:
Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions
Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking Another thing that blew my mind about this sauce: I, for one, am a grated parmesan junkie. I not only sprinkle it over my bowl of pasta, I like to have additional nearby, to apply a fresh coat to the layers of pasta that follow. So you can imagine my shock to find that I liked this dish even more without the parmesan. The flavor of the sauce is so delicate, fresh and sweet that it needed nothing at all.
Serves 4 as a main course; makes enough sauce to lightly coat most of a pound of spaghetti
28 ounces (800 grams) whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzano, if you can find them)*
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt to taste
Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste (you might find, as I did, that your tomatoes came salted and that you didn’t need to add more) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.
Serve with spaghetti, with or without grated parmesan cheese to pass.

Last week we made Spaghetti with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic, and Pancetta from the Italian Dish - SO GOOD.

From the Italian Dish:
Spaghetti with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic, Pancetta
adapted from Canal House Cooking

serves 4

3 ounces diced pancetta (or bacon if you can't find pancetta)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pasta
2 anchovy fillets
1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs*
4 tomatoes, tops sliced off, seeds scooped out
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
small handful fresh thyme, parsley or basil leaves, chopped
salt & pepper
8 ounces spaghetti

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Fry the pancetta in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crisp around the edges.  Use a slotted spatula or spoon to lift the pancetta out of the skillet to a plate.  Leave the rendered fat in the skillet.  Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the anchovies to the same skillet.  Use a wooden spoon to mash the anchovies until they dissolve.  Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring often, until they are golden.  Keep the cooked pancetta set aside for later.

Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a baking dish and slip some garlic into each tomato.  Season the tomatoes with plenty of salt and pepper.  Mound some bread crumbs onto each tomato, getting some inside the tomatoes.  Scatter herbs on top.  Drizzle 4 tablespoons of olive oil over all.  Roast the tomatoes in the oven until they have browned a bit and the interior is supple but the tomatoes have not collapsed, about one hour.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water.  Drain.  Return the pasta to the pot and remove the tomatoes from the baking dish and set aside.  Stir the oily tomato juices and any bits of bread crumbs from the bottom of the tomato roasting dish into the pasta.  Add a little olive oil and the reserved pasta water and toss. 

Pour the pasta into a serving bowl, place the tomatoes on top, sprinkle the pancetta over all and serve.
And finally, this didn't use up our produce, but it was a good fall meal: Acorn Squash stuffed with Harvest Quinoa. We decided we really loved the harvest quinoa, but next time we'd make that separately and just have the acorn squash on the side (with butter and brown sugar, as we like it!) - the quinoa could stand on it's own as a meal!

From Craft:

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Harvest Quinoa


1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups cooked quinoa
2 cups baby spinach, chopped and steamed until just wilted
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed into 1-inch dice
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Sea salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
2 medium-sized acorn squash
1 cup lower-sodium vegetable broth
or homemade stock
1/4 cup milk cheddar cheese, shredded
Serves 4


Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cook quinoa according to package directions. In a small pan, sauté onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until softened but not browned. Place in a large bowl and add quinoa, cranberries, sweet potato, apple, almonds, and sage. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Step 2: Slice acorn squashes in half lengthwise, and scrape out seeds and strings. Place face down in large casserole or roasting pan, fill with 1/2 inch of vegetable stock, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Step 3: Remove squashes, reserve any remaining stock, and place them face side up in pan. Fill each cavity with about 1/2 to 2/3 cup stuffing. Drizzle with olive oil and any remaining stock, and cover tightly with foil.

Step 4: Bake until squashes are cooked and slightly soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking, sprinkle with cheese, and bake until cheese has melted. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
You need to check out the original sites for photos of all of these - yummy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Amelia Update, 20 1/2 months

Twenty and a half months will really be twenty-one months in just over a week! Fall is here, the early frost (3 weeks!) wreaked havoc on the gardens, flower pots, and fields, so I'm feeling the pressure of fitting things in before the snow arrives again. That included getting the living room painted and the oak tree taken down (see below), but will also include (hopefully) getting some cement re-sloped near our house to avoid future water in the basement, trimming the remaining trees on our property, planting 2-3 new trees (yay! hopefully this weekend!), and finding some time to get some family photos taken with the fall colors. Which brings me to the Amelia update, which has been a long time coming! Looking back over the summer, I can't believe that we're dealing with the same kid - how did she get so big so fast?? She's constantly jabbering now, and will frequently answer your questions - granted, it's usually all "Yeah" or all "No", depending on her mood, but she answers in a way that makes you think she really means what she says!. Other times, she'll pause and go, "Umm...." (wonder who she gets that from!) She also says a lot of "Oh no!" and "Whoa!" She is starting to sing! She really loves listening to us sing "Old MacDonald" and the alphabet song, plus she'll try to request songs at bedtime (usually "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"). She can even kind of sing "E-I-E-I-O." She's even trying REALLY hard to count! She's got 1 down, and usually 2, but 3 is a bit harder. We count ALL of the time now! She's definitely gotten bigger and stronger - she pulls herself onto everything - including the dining room table! She hasn't crawled out of her crib yet, but I have caught her swinging her leg up, so I think it'll be soon (yikes!). She LOVES her slide in the backyard and when we drive past the park on the way home from daycare, she says "Whee!!" She'll even go down the big slides at the park by herself. We're currently trying to teach her to jump, stand on one leg, and throw a ball, which is pretty amusing for all of us. She still loves Piglet (she takes him everywhere!) and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse - although she's more excited about Minnie these days! She loves to watch mom cook and bake, trying to color, playing dress up, doing puzzles, and reading books. She's very demanding - she will make sure you know EXACTLY what she wants, so I think we'll all be happy when she finally can just SAY what she wants! Here's a little bit longer video- she was having fun watching herself in the camera viewfinder!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Home Improvements (?)

I have a bit of writer's block today (not good, considering my experiments weren't ready to go this morning and all I need to be doing is WRITING), so I'm going to share our recent house projects with you (but I'm probably not going to be able to actually SAY much about them!). The weekend before last, the hubby and I went a little crazy and decided to repaint our main floor living room in TWO DAYS. This is saying something because 1) we have a TODDLER and 2) the walls in our living room are textured and therefore take extra time to paint, plus they go all the way upstairs as we have an open staircase in that room - thus, we ended up painting 1.5 rooms instead of just 1! The only way this project was even remotely feasible was because we had lined up my brother and his girlfriend to babysit on Saturday as we had an evening wedding, and since we then couldn't use our season tickets for the Gophers' football home opener, they took the kid to the game. So...they took off with her at 10:30am for tailgating before the game, and we had 6 hours before we needed to actually leave for the wedding. We almost didn't get the first coat on in that time! We had spent time the night before moving furniture and decor out of the room and wiping down the walls, but we still needed to tape off everything before we started painting on Saturday. It was nuts. Luckily, we were able to pop in an old Big Bang Theory DVD and hammer it out. The next day, Mia cooperated by agreeing to go in her pack 'n play and watch Toy Story in the middle of the (well-ventilated) living room while we hastily put on a second coat. Here's a look at the previous wall color (yes, it's mint green, don't judge, I kind of loved it). Sorry for the weird pics, I took one quick as we were moving things out, and I just found an old one that was actually supposed to show off our (then new) stained floor, but you get the idea.
And, viola! Here's our new living room - freshly painted, with new curtains (they still have the wrinkles from the packaging), and a new rug that I found on clearance (both the rug and the curtains are from Target). I think it's perfect!
The wall above the couch is blank in these pictures, as we're in the process of creating a gallery wall of photos and prints. I'll share once it's a little farther along... Meanwhile, this past week we had our beautiful, old oak tree in the front yard removed, as it died this summer. Here are just a few shots of the process. We found a guy that was willing to come in and take it down for far less, by himself, and it only took him 2 days (plus a few hours on the third day to finish the clean-up). It was so sad to see it go - and now we notice how much privacy it added as I feel like our entire front yard is on display (which isn't actually true). We plan to plant a tree this fall yet to help make up for it! Just to give you an idea of the size of the tree...
My attempt to get a shot of the "rubble" - but I didn't want to interrupt the man with the chainsaw, so it's taken through our window!
Our new view. So sad!

Friday, September 16, 2011

There's No Place Like Home...

I found Miss Mia some sparkly red shoes to go with her Minnie Mouse Halloween costume, and promptly tried them on her yesterday...didn't realize that my photo would come out looking quite so much like the Wicked Witch of the East! Love it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Contagion Microbial Billboards

Just saw this come across on Twitter - in Toronto, Warner Bros. had microbial billboards made to promote their new movie, Contagion! Here's more on the making of the billboards. The time lapse of the billboards is above, while the trailer for the movie is below. I haven't seen the movie yet, but the billboards are genius! See, microbiology is cool!

Oh, and for those of you interested in the science behind Contagion, here's an interview done by Maryn McKenna (author of Superbug) with the science advisor for the movie - beware, it has spoilers! I haven't read it yet as I'm waiting to see the movie for myself first!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Trip 2011

The hubby and I finally took our first official vacation since having Amelia! Since we weren't traveling for a conference this time like we did last April in Florida, I'm counting this as our first actual vacation-only trip. So where did we choose to go on our first vacation post-baby? LA! - because the Gophers played USC over Labor Day weekend - so where else would we go?!?

We flew out Friday morning, did the kitchy-tourist stuff around LA: Rodeo Drive (we didn't last long, but it was fun to see in person!),

Robertson Blvd, which was much more to our taste - we even ate at The Ivy, (but didn't see any celebrities),

and of course, Hollywood Blvd (which I loved - too much fun! and way less fancy!). We found miss Mia some Minnie Mouse stuff to bring home with us (she is in LOVE with Minnie Mouse right now!) at the Disney studio shop, which was great.

Oh, and did I mention that we drove around town in a Ford Mustang convertible?!? It was fabulous. We were going to rent a Jeep with a soft-top, but opted for the Mustang since we could get a good deal on it (trunk space for luggage and an automated top goes a long way to making things easier on us!). Oh, and we had to stick a big M on the trunk!

Here's the HOLLYWOOD sign - if you look really closely! We didn't try to get any closer, but it was fun to look up and randomly see it!

That evening, after checking into our motel near the USC campus (the Vagabond Inn - cheap, but clean, thank goodness!), we ventured out to find a wonderful Mexican restaurant nearby (La Barca, which had great food and good margaritas), then mustered up the energy (we had been up since 4:30am our time!) to get all dolled up and go out downtown. We hit up The Edison, which is a prohibition-style lounge in downtown LA that had a dress code, a bouncer that was enforcing said dress code, and a $50 per person minimum to get a table. Lucky for us, we had already eaten, so we headed down to the bar and enjoyed a couple of prohibition-style cocktails before deciding we needed to get some sleep. I would HIGHLY recommend this place, and if we're ever back in LA, we'll be making reservations and enjoying some more time there.

Saturday started out with a FANTASTIC breakfast at Jack's and Joe near the USC campus (OMG. Amazing food. Cute spot. I want this in my town!) We sat at the breakfast bar (on tractor seats!)

and watched them make the food.

The place was full of USC fans, but we were welcomed anyway. Then we sweet-talked our motel into letting us leave our vehicle parked in the lot until after the game, walked across campus, and met up with the rest of the 3,000+ Gopher fans, about half of which were at the alumni tailgating party, which was inside a park on campus.

The lines for alcohol were long, and they ran out of tequila, but the food and company were great! We even ran into friends from Trimont - Adam and Eve - (also UMN alums) and got to catch up with them for a bit! Then it was onto the Coliseum for the game.

The seats were great, the fans were loud, the USC student section was impressive (wow), and the game was close - what more can you ask for, besides what would have been a stunning win for the Gophs?!

Between the 3rd and 4th quarters, a guy (dressed as a Trojan) rode a horse onto the field and the torch was lit!

Oh, and we saw Glove Guy! This guy sits in our section at the Bank, and always wears these ridiculous maroon and gold gloves. He was about the same distance in front of us here as he is back home!

After the game, we picked up our car and took the coastal highway up to Santa Barbara to enjoy the rest of the weekend. The coastal drive was beautiful, and well worth the extra time.

That night we got settled into our B&B and walked down to the Brewhouse, which was a nearby brewpub (because who doesn't want to end a day of football with beer sampling and fried apps?). On Sunday we drove about 30 minutes into the mountains to the Santa Ynez wine region. With good intentions to take a more complete survey of the vineyards in the area, we started in Solvang and never left! Solvang is a Danish touristy town that has 6 or so wine tasting rooms (most of which are from vineyards that aren't open to the public). We started the morning off with delicious Danish pastries and coffees at Mortenson's Bakery, then hit the following:

1) Lucas & Lewellyn (recommended by Adam and Eve and the best wines overall, they had the best merlot and cab sauv by far!)

2) Sevtap (cool vibe! the winemaker was actually doing the tastings, and he was one crazy and entertaining Turkish guy! I loved the old half wine barrels to hold the wine and the chalkboard walls! This one also had a stage for live music.)

3) Carivintas (all proceeds go to dog rescues! cute place, great watercolor-type labels of different dogs for all of the wines!)

4) Lion's Peak (recommended by a cyclist that David knows)

Lunch (finally!), and then...

5) Tocatta (we didn't really love this one, I think I was getting burned out from all of the wine!)

We grabbed a coffee and some water and headed out of Solvang in an attempt to hit Gainey Vineyards before heading back to SB, but they closed early and we missed out (evidently the owners of Gainey are originally from Owatonna, MN!). Instead, we made the trip back to SB

and hit one of the many wineries in town - Carr Winery (which, as I was numbering these, I realize is 6 wineries. That was too many!). The tasting room was actually in the warehouse with all of the wine! They also served wine on tap, which we were fairly fascinated by and ended up grabbing a bottle of their "sparkler" to take back to the B&B with us.

We hit up State St, which is the main street for restaurants, shops, and bars in SB, grabbed sushi at Arigato, headed home to drop off the car, and then walked back to State St to grab a beer at another brewpub (and happened to catch part of the Vikings/Texans game being replayed, which was random!). Monday we were moving a little slowly after all of the wine and sun, but we ran up to UCSB and picked up my cousin, Taylor, who just started college there and took her out for a quick lunch.

This is the beach just down from her campus. Ridiculous, right? She said they don't go to this one because they have their own private one - ON CAMPUS!

After that it was back to the road for us as we had 4 1/2 hours to drive back to LA, turn in the rental car, catch a shuttle to the airport, check in, and get on our plane to come home! It was touch and go for a bit because of all of the holiday traffic, but we made it with a little bit of time to spare! All in all, it was a fun trip, but went by too quickly and we came back feeling like we needed another vacation already! Luckily, we had taken the next day off, so we could play with Mia, unpack, do laundry, mow the lawn and do other various things that need to be dealt with when you return from vacation. Now it's back to the grind, which is why I haven't posted this for over a week!