Monday, May 28, 2012

I Can Bake Beans?

One morning, in May of 1965, my grandmother sat at her kitchen table of their newly purchased home in Hamilton Square, enjoying her morning cup of coffee and cigarette (I know, but it was the 60s).  Suddenly, she heard a awful racket coming from the end of their street; drums and yelling and was that a bagpipe?  She ran to the front of the house and threw open on of window curtains facing the road.  She yelled to my grandfather, who was still in bed, to come quick, because something was happening in the street.  That something ended up being a parade, a parade that my grandmother and her children and friends and all their children would attend for the subsequent 47 years after that fateful morning - the annual Memorial Day Parade.
I look forward to Memorial Day every year - not for the barbecues or pool parties, but for this parade.  Now yes, it might be what some would consider a little "lame", but to me, it's tradition.  We wake up early that morning, usually pack up whatever small dish or dessert we whipped up the night before, and pick up donuts and coffee before heading over to my grandmother's.  Then, loiter on the back porch chatting - sipping on said coffee and nibbling on said donuts - until you hear the drums at the end of the street.  Then it's a mad dash to the street, where you grab a prime spot on the curb, and watch: catching lollipops and Tootsie rolls thrown at you by Girl Scouts and Bikers for Jesus; running out to play in the street during breaks in the parade just because its the only day when your parents let you play in the street; listening to your parents and uncles yell silly things at the marchers and when you're older, yelling some of your own; waving at the Firemen and pleading with them to blow the horn, even though when you were little that was your least favorite part of the parade.  And after the six high school marching bands and baton twirlers (half of which are now riding on the back of a van due to heat stroke from wearing canvas suits and velvet dance pants in ninety degree weather), the countless Little League teams, the transgender police squad, the bagpipers, the horses, and the Village People float, you make your way inside to cool down in front of the window air conditioner with a frosty glass of lemonade.

Lunch is always a late affair, put out slowly and leisurely - most of the time because everyone is too hot to move any faster.  We aren't a big barbecuing family.  Hey, not that I don't love a good cookout, but our Memorial Day was never a barbecuing day for our family - this being due mainly to my grandmother's strong Italian-ness.  The Parade Day fair is traditionally a giant pot of spaghetti and meatballs. This year, however, my grandmother decided that she wanted to cook up a ham, which meant that my family would be bringing veggie burgers.  However, I wanted to make something from scratch that I could do the night before and not have to worry over that day.  My grandmother asked for a dessert, so I decided to do a Red White & Blue Trifle - layers of angel food cake, fresh whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries.  I made the cake Sunday night, assembled the trifle at my grandmother's before the parade, and then refrigerated it until we ate.  It was super easy, looked wonderful, and was the perfect light, cool dessert that a hot day like today needed.

But my culinary needs were not met by the trifle - its been a couple weeks now since I've slaved over a hot stove, mincing, sauteing, and I have not gone to bed with my hands smelling of onion and garlic. It's terribly sad.  So, my mom suggested I do baked beans.  Now, I know this is probably incredibly naive of me, but I had never thought of making baked beans from scratch - the canned beans are good and easy, and the task seemed...daunting.  For some reason I had it in my head that making a barbecue sauce was a difficult task.  I know, I know, tons of people make their own, but I never really thought that I could.  However, my mother explained to me how ridiculous my notion was and I set about looking up baked bean recipes.  After a bit of research, I formed a basic game-plan in my head.  The recipes I found were all very similar, and basically all the recipes called for bacon or some other ham product.  I didn't want to have bacon in the beans themselves, but I didn't want to loose the smokiness and depth of flavor that it gives the beans - so what I did was cook down the bacon before hand and then use some of the fat as the oil to saute the onions.  Yeah, I know, I'm a horrible vegetarian (or vegan, or pescatarian, or however you feel comfortable labeling my diet), but if you want to cut out the bacon, just use a little butter or oil, and you could even add a bit of anchovie paste for the smokiness.  Or, if you want to go carnivore, mince the bacon before cooking and then just add the onions to the bacon, and throw the whole mix into the beans.  I used three types of beans - kidney, cannellini, and black - for a variety in taste and in texture.  I also added a bit of Guinness to the mix, since I needed a little liquid, didn't want to use water and was out of veggie stock.  It ended up holding up to the curry and cayenne while adding depth and maintaining the sweetness.  Most of the recipes call for the beans to be baked low heat for anywhere between four and eight hours.  I started the roasting Sunday night, refrigerated them overnight, and then continued baking at grandma's - all together about four hours.  You could probably roast them longer if you wanted, but four seemed to do the trick.  One change that I would have made would be to have some extra Guinness on hand to add to the beans while they were baking to keep them moist and prevent them from drying out - mine got a little thick and caramelized, which was delicious, but if you like your beans a little looser, I suggest adding liquid throughout the baking process.

Of course, the baked beans ended up being so much easier than I expected.  And let me tell you, for my first try, I thought they were kind of amazingly delicious.  The best part was when my uncle - a cook, but he doesn't think so - took his first bite and said, "Okay, so what's in here?  Curry?" and then began to orally deduce every single ingredient except, strangely enough, the bacon.
Baked Beans
6 strips thick-cut bacon
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 dried bay leaves
1 small can tomato paste
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup brown sugar
1 medium piece fresh ginger, grated
1 clove elephant garlic, grated (about 3 normal cloves)
1 tbs Vindaloo curry
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup Guiness + a splash
1 can kidney beans
1 can cannelloni beans
1 can black beans
+ Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
+ Heat a medium sauce pan to medium-high heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the bacon.  Cook until the bacon is brown and the fat is released.  Remove bacon from pan.
+ Reduce heat to medium.  Add the onion and bay leaves to the pan.  Cook until the onions are brown and caramelized, stirring very little.
+ While the onions cook down, whisk together the tomato paste, syrup, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, curry, and pepper.  
+ Once the onions are caramelized, remove from pan and set aside.  Remove the bay leaves and discard.
+ With the heat still on medium, deglaze the pan with a splash of Guinness.  Pour the sauce to the pan.  Add Guinness and stir well.  Simmer until thick, about 5-10 minutes.
+ While the sauce cooks down, place the beans into a deep baking dish.  Stir in the onions.  Once the sauce is ready, pour over the beans, mixing gently so all beans are evenly covered.
+ Bake in oven for about 4 hours, adding more Guinness if needed.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wet Wellies, Whimsical Wedding, and Wicked Good Deviled Eggs

"In the month of April in the year of 2009, 
Garrett Elise acquired a red Schwinn bicycle.
The vintage machine required mechanical attention.
Following the suggestion of 'South Pacific's' wigmeisteres
Garrett Elise asked Paul John, a well known tinkerer,
if he would tinker with the Old Girl.
He tinkered and the rest is history..."

This past Monday, one of our beloved family friends got hitched to a wonderful Englishman.  The celebration of their love and union was as beautiful and quirky and spontaneous and creative as they are.  The couple asked two things of their wedding guests: wear wellies and bring a dish for the potluck reception.  The day ended up being rainy and foggy, but it made the wellies both cute and practical.  But I'm getting a head of myself...

My mother and I spent Sunday night making six dozen deviled eggs.  Yes, six dozen.  The deviled eggs were per the bride's request, but my mom and I were having trouble figuring out how to easily transport seventy two eggs to Brooklyn.  It was my mom's idea to make whole deviled eggs and place them back in the cartons for transportation and service.  Not only was it functional, but they looked absolutely adorable and made them easy to serve (just pop open the lid and voila!  Cute presentation and easy clean-up).  But in usual Confoy fashion, we decided to put a little spin on this traditional recipe - we did two dozen Classic Deviled Eggs, two dozen Spitfire Eggs, and two dozen Golden Sunrise Eggs (don't worry, the recipes are below).  My favorite was the Golden Sunrise Eggs, made with avocado and curry, because they were sweet and spicy, but without bringing the heat that the Spitfire eggs brought - boy, were those babies hot!  I never thought of them being a blank canvas to create with, but you may be seeing many more Deviled Egg recipes this summer.
The wedding took place in Brooklyn Bridge Park on a rainy Monday afternoon - an incredible location that mixes playgrounds and gardens, beaches and water, and the industrial bridge and city skyline.  Originally meant to be set in a grassy area in the middle of the park, weather caused the ceremony to be moved indoors.  And by indoors I mean onto a glass enclosed carousel at the edge of the water.  Led by "bubble girls", the wedding party rode up on bicycles - the bride on the Schwinn that started it all.  It was a fairly traditional ceremony, but the reading of "I Like You" by Paul's son, the vows they had written for each other, and the carousel setting just added to the air of whimsy that encompassed the entire celebration.
After the ceremony, the party moved to One Arm Red - the grey rainy warehouse exterior was all but forgotten after one semi-scary ride in an industrial freight elevator which opened up to a warm space decorated with banners and twinkle lights, giving the impression of being outdoors.  Remember the wellies that I mentioned earlier?  Once we got to the reception, everyone kicked them off and donned more formal footwear.  However, our wellies were then placed along the entrance way, lit with little candles, making each person a part of the decoration, the atmosphere. The main room was breathtaking: three long tables accented with tea lights and flowers in mismatched glasses and old soda bottles; a giant heart with the couple's initials were drawn onto the twenty foot chalkboard wall (big pieces of chalk were handed out during the party for the guests to write messages to the couple); and on the other side of the room, two tables were overflowing with the potluck dishes.  There was everything from fruit salad, chili, bread and cheeses, vegan fois gras, lasagna, pasta salads, and pulled pork.  My favorites were a simple but delicious kale salad and Moroccan couscous salad.  And the best part?  The deviled eggs caught like wildfire, and all six dozen were gone within minutes.  The groom was overheard saying "These are the best deviled eggs I've ever tasted" and the bride told me later that she loved the eggs.  All I have to say is: Thank you for a beautiful evening, and you are so very welcome.
This wedding was unlike any other I've been to - even though I haven't been to many in my life, but I'm feeling like I'm entering that phase now where I'm going to start attending a lot more.  The casual, laid-back fun nature of the wedding made you feel like you were a part of it, a part of this community of loved ones that added to the experience of the couple and the other guests.  Her dress and hat were made by a friend, the food was pot luck, the decorations were painstakingly made and hung by friends, the music was played from the couple's Mac, the cake was made by a friend who just finished pastry school - everyone had a hand in making the day special, and it was very, very special.  It made me want to throw a party exactly like this - bringing loved ones together to eat, drink, dance, and just celebrate.

Writer's Note: I took a ridiculous amount of photos of the wedding, so it was very difficult picking just a few to feature.  However, if you want to see more, I've posted an entire album on the dread&butter Facebook page.  So go.  Like it and feast your eyes.

Perfectly Hard Boiled Eggs
1 dozen eggs
cold water

+ In a large pot, lay one layer of eggs on the bottom.  Don't overcrowd or layer the eggs - if the whole dozen doesn't fit, just boil them in two batches.  Add enough cold water so that the eggs are covered by two inches.
+ Place pot on high heat.  As soon as the water reaches a rolling boil, take off the heat and cover.  Allow to sit for 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of the eggs.
+ Once the eggs are done, rinse under cold water.  Place in a large bowl and keep in fridge until ready to peel.

Note: If you find that your eggs are hard to peel, don't fret!  The harder the eggs are to peel, the more fresh they are.

Classic Deviled Eggs
2 dozen eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup honey mustard
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp while pepper
1 tsp sweet paprika
+ Cut the bottoms off the eggs, exposing the yolk inside.  Squeeze the sides of the egg gently and the yolk should pop right out.  If it doesn't come out easily, carefully scrape it out with a pairing knife.  Set the hollow egg whites aside.
+ Combine yolks, mayo, mustards, pepper, and paprika in a medium bowl.  Mix until smooth, adding extra mayo to attain the desired texture.  
+ Fill a small piping bag (or zip-lock bag with one corner cut off) with the yolk mixture.  Pipe the yolk back into the hollow of the whites.  Place eggs back into carton.  Garnish with a pinch of paprika.

Spitfire Eggs

2 dozen eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup course hot mustard
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper (use more or less for desired kick)
½ tsp sweet paprika 
red pepper flakes
Cut the bottoms off the eggs, exposing the yolk inside.  Squeeze the sides of the egg gently and the yolk should pop right out.  If it doesn't come out easily, carefully scrape it out with a pairing knife.  Set the hollow egg whites aside.
+ Combine yolks, mayo, mustards, chili powder, pepper, and paprika in a medium bowl.  Mix until smooth, adding extra mayo to attain desired texture.
Fill a small piping bag (or zip-lock bag with one corner cut off) with the yolk mixture.  Pipe the yolk back into the hollow of the whites.  Place eggs back into carton.  Garnish with a few red pepper flakes.

Golden Sunrise Eggs

2 dozen eggs, hard boiled and peeled
2 ripe avocados 
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup honey mustard
1 tbs curry powder (I used a Vindaloo)
1 tsp turmeric
Cut the bottoms off the eggs, exposing the yolk inside.  Squeeze the sides of the egg gently and the yolk should pop right out.  If it doesn't come out easily, carefully scrape it out with a pairing knife.  Set the hollow egg whites aside.
+ Combine yolks, avocados, mustards, curry, and tumeric in a medium bowl.  Mix until smooth, adding extra Dijon mustard to attain desired texture.
+ Fill a small piping bag (or zip-lock bag with one corner cut off) with the yolk mixture.  Pipe the yolk back into the hollow of the whites.  Place eggs back into carton.  Garnish with a shake of curry powder.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What A Week...

Sitting at Small World drinking my chai and reading my book (this week it's Brave New World), it struck me, out of the blue, that I haven't written in almost two weeks.  At first, I was a little angry with myself, but then I realized that the past week has been an absolute whirlwind, and forgave myself instantly.  I didn't realize how ridiculous the last few days have been, but in a good way - many incredibly good ways.  So grab a mug of chai, or cup of coffee, or glass of wine, and follow along with me as I relive this insane week.  Shall we start with last Friday?

Friday was spent at work and then out running around preparing for graduation (buying dress, shoes, and getting a much-needed manicure).  It also marked the birth of the latest member of the family, Helen Marie.  My Uncle Jeff "Hunky," supposed bachelor for life, married my Aunt Tonya three years ago, and had their first child Gabriel, or Baby Gabe as I shall call him for the rest of his life.  "Lenny" is their second child, and Gabe and Tonya's daughter Cloe were over the moon.  Baby Gabe is so excited to be a big brother, and not at all threatened by the little girl - not that you could be, I mean look at that those cheeks!  When I asked him if he was going to be a good big brother he told me, "Yes, I'm going to play with her and share all my toys."  I have no doubt that he is going to be an amazing big brother to that tiny, perfect baby girl.  We ended Friday night with bottle of pink bubbly popped in honor of the newest Jarive girl.  Congratulations again to Tonya, Hunk, Cloe, and Gabe!

The next morning was a very, very early one, but the excitement made waking up fairly easy.  On Saturday, May 12th, I, Claudia, officially graduated from Montclair State University.  The weather was sunny and gorgeous, though it got a little sweaty under those heavy black robes.  Even though it was hot, everyone was in high-spirits.  Beach balls were blown up and batted around the crowd, joining us all together, especially when the campus police took them away and deflated them smugly in front of us.  After the ceremony, two of my best friends and fellow English majors, and their families all went out to brunch at Toast, a small joint in town that's only open 7 to 3, and serves nothing but brunch - and God, do they do it well.  Red velvet pancakes, tofu scramble, homemade veggie burger, crab cakes benedict, Bella Nutella (nutella stuffed french toast topped with fresh strawberries and jam) and so much more.  Plus they have great vegetarian and vegan options.   After stuffing ourselves with late-morning deliciousness, we headed to the Iris Gardens for a photo-shoot, mimosas, and some hardcore bubble blowing.  It was a perfect day, and an even more perfect close to my collegiate life.

Unfortunately, I had to wake up early Mother's Day morning for work, so I wasn't able to prepare the extravagant breakfast in bed that I had been mentally planning all week.  Instead, I stopped at the store on the way home from work, picked up some orange tulips, and got home just in time to start cooking dinner.  My mom wanted something quick and easy that we could eat outside, so I whipped up a simple shrimp salad.  I used my classic base salad (the same one I use for Salmon Salad) topped with shrimp baked in a ginger-orange marinade.  I doctored up a store bought Mandarin orange ginger vinaigrette with fresh ginger, garlic, and some fresh orange zest and juice - a similar result can be made using orange marmalade, honey, ginger, garlic, and orange juice.  We paired dinner with Sunset Mimosas, a champagne cocktail created by my father and named by my mother - champagne, orange juice, a splash of tart cherry juice, garnished with fresh raspberries).  The fresh, sunny dinner was followed by a family catch to work in my mom's new softball glove.
Monday marked my fathers forty-coughmumblecough-th birthday.  After I closed at the cafe and ran home to change, the family headed out to P.F. Chang's.  Now, I'm not usually a fan of chain-franchised restaurants, but P.F. Chang's is different - the quality of food, service, and atmosphere is unlike any chain I've been to.  While they have a sizable menu, I can't help but order the same thing every time I go - a Twisted Whiskey Sour and Singapore Street Noodles (a dish that I will be attempting to recreate at some point this summer).  Fortunately, service is family style, so I got to pick at my dad's double pan-fried noodles, my mom's Ma Po Tofu, and my brother's veggie dumplings. Our waiter even threw in a few free mini desserts since it was my dad's birthday - Thanks, Matt - my favorite being a tie between the triple chocolate mousse and carrot cake. Besides the delicious food (and copious leftovers), I don't think we've all laughed as hard as we did in quite a while.  You see, when you get all of us together, we tend to get...very silly, and quite loud.  Many times our waiters don't appreciate our playful, jokey manner, but Matt handled us beautifully - even joking back a bit.  At one point, as he was packing up our leftovers, he stopped and stared at us for a second, "Are you guys really a family?  Most families that come in here just sit in silence staring at each other."  Yes, Matt, we are a family.  And yes, we actually enjoy each other's company - well, most of the time.  Monday night reminded me why I like my family (yeah, "like".  I mean, everyone loves their family, you kind of have to right?  How many people really like their family?) and why they are my best friends.

I had Tuesday off, which was nice after a late night and two whiskeys.  It was a chilly, rainy morning, so I spent it cleaning the house for my dad's birthday.  I know that might not seem like a great gift (don't worry, I got him other things too), but having the dishwasher emptied, counters clean, dining and living room tidied mean that he doesn't have to worry about doing them and he can actually sit down and relax when he gets home from work.  Once the house was spick and span, I made a banana-almond-cashew-spinach-blueberry smoothie and headed out for some much needed yoga.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: yoga has such an incredible effect on how I feel physically and mentally, I came home a wholly new person.  I've made Tuesday and Thursday honorary yoga nights, and this routine, the regular yoga practice, has already had a huge impact on me.  Not to mention that I've kept up with my diet change, and I'll be continuing with it - when something makes you feel good, why not do it?  You know what my favorite part of yoga is?  Walking to my car and the drive home afterwards.  Maybe its an endorphin high, or maybe its the fact that the anxiety is gone and my body is loose, but somehow the world looks different, I notice more, I enjoy more.  Tuesday night, walking through Princeton, I was overwhelmed by what a gorgeous evening it was. The morning rain storms created a beautiful night - the ground was still damp, the air rich and humid, fragrant of earth, leaves, and water.  The perfect night to be out, meandering through the crowds at a carnival, strolling around town and peeking in the windows of darkened shops, or quietly people watching as you walk down the boardwalk hand-in-hand with someone tall and warm.  The perfect night to pick at some funnel cake, sip on some iced tea, or lick an ice cream come.  The perfect night to sleep with your windows open, letting the gorgeous night air bring you sweet dreams - which is exactly what I did.

And Wednesday, Wednesday was the cherry on top of an incredible week.  Wednesday, I got a car; a car purchased by my mother at  eleven in the morning on a Princeton street corner.  I've always been a homebody, never that kid that needs to get away.  So when I was younger, I never yearned for a car, and for the freedom it represented.  Now that three of us have jobs and all semi-individual social lives, the car has become a bit of necessity.  However, I am starting to feel a need for  Being able to go out if a friend calls at the last minute without having to fight over the keys, or pick up an extra yoga class after work, or just being able to drive with the windows down while I sing out-loud to the music that I want to listen to.  And now, as of Wednesday, I have found that space - his name is Humphrey Bogart and he's red (my family has only ever owned red or silver cars, so he fits in perfectly).  He needs a little love, but being my brother and my first car, we don't mind at all.  Miraculously, my grandmother presented me with baby blue  fuzzy dice that she had bought when I was sixteen for when I got my license (which I did not get until I was twenty), but like any self-respecting grandmother, she saved them in the back of a closet and remembered exactly where they were for when I finally got my own car, six years later.  And let's be serous, no car is complete without fuzzy dice.

Overall, its been a wonderful week.  I didn't even realize how much so until I sat down to think about everything that's happened - momentous life events.  And then I think about how many more are to come, how this is just the beginning of summer, of a new phase in my life.  And God, I can't wait to get started.  But right now, I'm going to put my feet up, eat a plate of spaghetti with a basil-tomato-zucchini sauce, and watch a movie with my parents.

Friday, May 4, 2012


The past month or so my anxiety has been slightly higher than usual.  I don't know if its the sudden change in schedule, or constantly changing weather, but I had more panic attacks in the last few weeks than I have in a long time.  That being said, I've been working to get my anxiety back in control and myself in a better place.

I've been spending my mornings before work sitting at Small World Coffee, sipping their chai straight up (which hurts my face...but in a good way) while pouring over my current literary endeavor - at the moment, it's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a novel that's both provoking and beautifully written, which is amazing because it was translated from French.  These slow, relaxing hours before work have definitely helped relieve some of the tension.  I've also decided to make a slight diet change for the next couple of weeks to see if that helps.  And today I did something that has a huge impact on my mental state, my anxiety control, my body, and my mood, but that I haven't done in over a month - I went to yoga.

Now for those of you who have never taken a yoga class: do it.  Even if it's just to have an excuse to breathe for an hour straight.  There's something calming and centering about yoga that can only be experienced.  Hmm, alright, let me try to explain...

Yesterday I got paid.  Now, I could have stopped and cashed the check on my way home, but I thought, that since I've been in a funk recently, and since the yoga studio is right next door to my bank, I would hold off, forcing myself to stop at the bank on my day off when I would have time to take a yoga class (and more importantly, no excuse not to) therefor tricking myself to go to yoga - clever, aren't I?  So I checked their schedule online and found out that there was a class an hour and a half after I got off work.  Perfect.

However, I always tend to get a little agitated before yoga - the mix of excitement and nervousness does not sit well with me - and having free time just meant 90 minutes of stewing in my anxiety.  So, in attempts to stave of a panic attack, I decided to park (which proved more difficult than usual, since today was warm and sunny and there are seven ice cream shops in town) and walk around a bit before class.  I parked and put an hour in the meter, planning to walk around a bit, then come back, grab my yoga mat, and refill the meter.  Unfortunately, by the time I got back to my car, I was so frantic and tense, that not only did I forget my check to cash, but I forgot to put money in the meter - a fact that was not realized until I was leaving yoga, and resulted in my first ever parking ticket.

But this isn't the point.  This is merely to give you a little background, to set up my mental state before yoga.  So, as I walk into the yoga studio, hot and overwhelmed and anxious, I'm greeted by the owner and my teacher for the evening - a middle aged man with a greying pony tail, who is both calming, warm, and incredibly intimidating and terrifying all at once.  He immediately sets me at ease, lighting some incense and welcoming me to tonight's practices.  I like his classes because they are terribly difficult, but his demeanor keeps it positive - the rigorous movements make you want to cry, but the silly rhymes he makes as he guides you through them make you smile.  And he doesn't let you slack.  He'll call you out if you stop, and come over and correct your body, pushing your knees lower or moving your arms into a position that hurts like hell but opens up the entire left side of your body (you can feel the toxins and tension leeching out your pours).

Classes always end in meditation - you lay on your back, arms and legs completely relaxed, your body sinking into the ground, and just breathe.  This is always my favorite part of yoga.  This is the part where I really feel by body and my mind connect; where the energy that I've produced within my body over the course of the class settles and my breathing becomes deep and regular; where I feel one, complete; where I realize that all of the anxiety that was balled up in my chest when I entered has dissipated into the universe.  And while I know I'm going to be unbelievably sore in the morning, its an incredible, indescribably phenomenal feeling.

When I left yoga, I was changed.  When I got to my car and realized that I had gotten a parking ticket, I didn't get upset - though I may have uttered a single unsavory word.  Instead, I chuckled, and got a teensy bit excited about my first ever parking ticket, taking it as an adult right-of-passage.  Then I rolled down the windows and took the long way home - the way of winding, hilly roads that brings me past all the massive, old-money Princeton houses; out past the farms and orchards, the horses and pastures and barns; through neighborhoods where dad's on mowers trim their lawns and perfum the air, where kids play wiffle-ball, where mom's call from porches that dinner was on the table; along the canal, where the trees overhanging the road are lush and it smells like earth and rain and sun.  It was undeniably summer and I was happy.
Yay First Parking Ticket!
Moral of the story: I need to do more yoga.  I know that it's good for me, that it helps me control my anxiety, and that it improves my overall mood and mental state.  I've been using my busy schedule as an excuse not to go, but I realize that I need to make time for yoga, because it is incredibly important to me and my health.  Therefor, in conjunction with my diet change, I am going to make time for yoga - after work, before work, days off, wherever I can fit it, I'm doing it.

And I'm challenging you, too.  If you've never tried yoga, sign up for a class - Yoga Above, where I practice, is donation based with multiple classes every day, all open to the public.  Take a class and see how it makes you feel, focus on your breathing, and I mean real breathing, and notice the change.  If you haven't changed, if you don't feel different in some way, you're doing it wrong.  If you've taken yoga before, or practice regularly, pay attention to how you feel as you walk into the studio and how you feel as you walk out.  And be thankful.

Well, I think that's enough yoga related ramblings for one sitting.

I'll end this post the way that every yoga class ends: "May the light within me honor the light within you" - Namaste.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mom Takes Back the Kitchen

In case you haven't read my posts from the past few weeks, I love my job.  However, after two months of being a full-timer, I have found one thing that I dislike - the lack of time for cooking.  When I was unemployed, I balanced my time between laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and Lifetime movies (my only downfall).  I had way too much time on my hands to think about food, and browse the internet for new recipes, and shop, and prep, and execute the dinner I had so carefully planned.  Now, after eight hours serving other people, all I want to do is flop down on the couch and have some sort of food placed in front of me.  There's something semi-mind-numbing about asking the same questions all day every day ("Here or to go? Coleslaw or potato salad?  Small or large?  Napkins and silverware in the bag?"), that by the time I'm done my brain can't even formulate a full thought, let alone plan a dinner menu.  And, if by chance, I do find enough mental and physical strength to cook, I rush the process (mainly so we don't end up eating at nine at night) and I don't really get to enjoy it.  

Now I don't want to seem all woe-is-me.  I take full advantage of my days off, which actually makes those nights that I do get to cook even more enjoyable - and delicious.  And it also gives my parents a chance to put their aprons on and get back in the kitchen.  A few weeks ago, I served as my dad's sous chef when he made Panko Crusted Cod and Two Toned Potatoes.  This week, my mom was chef, however, she didn't let me step foot inside the kitchen.  Actually, she wouldn't let me know what she was doing, or even look inside the grocery bags.  My only job was setting the table and pouring the wine, which allowed for a quick nap before dinner.
The smells wafting down the hall to my room from the kitchen were absolutely lovely, but I was unsure what was being made.  Even after the plate was set down in front of me, I wasn't quite sure what all the components were.  I anxiously waited for my mom to finish plating so she could spill the beans (baked beans, that is).  

Mom made a whole golden trout stuffed with apples and caramelized onions, baked potatoes which she then served with some of the apple-onions stuffing and a small dollop of chipotle mustard on top, and roasted asparagus with raspberries.  The meal was the epitome of balance between sweet and savory (which you know I love), with a subtle smokey undertone.  When I asked her how she came up with the ideas, she said that at a work conference, they had served a chilled asparagus and raspberry salad, but wanted to know if it would work as a hot dish - it did.  Begin a warm spring night, she went to the store with the image of a whole fish with barbeque sauce in her head.  She found a whole golden trout, but when she went to find a good barbeque sauce, she realized that every single one had high fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient.  Not being a fan of artificial ingredients, she decided to do her own spin on barbeque.  She also noticed that a large amount of sauces were Applewood-Smoked Bacon flavored, a flavor which she tried to create by using the apples, caramelized onions, and cherry juice - and I have to say, using the combination of sweet, savory, and tart, she pulled it off.

Apple-Onion Stuffed Golden Trout with Baked Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus with Raspberries
2 medium sized whole trouts
4 small butter potatoes
1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed
¼ cup raspberries
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large green apple
½ tsp chipotle mustard per serving
¾ cup tart cherry juice
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tbs butter
olive oil
salt and white pepper

+ Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  
+ Wrap each potato in foil and bake for 45-60 minutes, depending on size.
+ Place asparagus in a shallow baking dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Bake in oven for 20 minutes.  Add the raspberries, bake for 10 minutes, or until asparagus is cooked through.
+ While potatoes and asparagus are roasting, caramelize onions in a splash of oil in a medium sauce pan.  Once the onions are done, add the cherry juice to deglaze the pan.  Set onions aside.
+ Once the vegetables are done roasting, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  
+ Rinse the fish thoroughly, then place in a large baking dish.  Salt and pepper the inside of the fish. 
+ Slice ¼ of the apple very thinly.  Place apples inside the fish, then top with half of the caramelized onions.  Pour the cherry juice from the onions over the fish.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, basting the fish or adding more juice if the fish begins to dry out.
+ Dice the remaining apple, place in a medium sauce pan.  Add cinnamon, a dash of sugar, and butter.  Cook the apples - adding water if needed to keep a little moisture in the pan - for about 10 minutes, or until caramelized.  Combine cooked apples with remaining onions.
+ To serve, cut cooked potatoes in half, top with a table spoon of the apple-onion mixture and chipotle mustard.  Finish fish with a good-sized spoon-full of cherry juice from baking dish.  Add a few fresh uncooked raspberries on top of the asparagus.  A scoop of baked beans on the side rounds out the whole barbeque feel.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Graduation Rant and the Start of the Backyard-Dining Season

As of today, there are only twelve days until my graduation.  That's less than two weeks...where did the last twenty go?!  I know that I've technically been graduated since January and I already have my diploma (even though it's sitting in the envelope unopened in my room), but there's something about the ceremony that is going to make the whole done-with-college thing much more real.

And with graduation rapidly approaching, I realize that I'm not the least bit prepared - mentally or physically.  Just a few things to do: plan a trip up to school to purchase my cap and gown, find out when/where/how to pick up my tickets, pick up my tickets, buy a cute graduation outfit, buy new shoes to go with cute graduation outfit...actually as I write this, I'm thinking about more and more things that I need to do which is 1) stressing me out, and 2) probably boring you, so I'm going to stop to spare us both.

Alright, I lied, one more thing - I've decided that I'm going to cut out coffee, alcohol, and sweets from my diet, and I'm going to make sure that at dinner I eat small portions and don't go back for seconds.  At least until graduation.  Thing is, I think that I eat really healthy, but I don't feel as good as I want to, or think I should.  So, I decided that I'm going to try out this new way of eating and see how it goes.  If it works, than I'll extend it past my May 12th deadline.  However, graduation day I am popping a bottle of bubbly.  No question.  If there isn't a better excuse for champagne than graduation, than I don't know what is.

Graduation rant over.  

This morning I slept in far too late, but I'm blaming it on the fact that it was rainy and grey out, and tricked my brain into thinking it was still night-time.  Soon after waking up, stumbling out into the living room, and laying semi-awake on the couch for a bit, my mom (who had taken the day off) asked if I wanted to run some errands and pick up ingredients for dinner.  It looked terribly chilly out, so a put on my coziest sweater, big wool socks.  The sun just started to sneak through the clouds when my mom and I headed out.  The sun mixing with the wet ground and pavement made the air thick and humid - I immediately regretted the sweater and wool socks.

When we got to the grocery store, it was another five degrees warmer and the ground almost completely dry.  Not only did this change our menu thoughts, but we decided that this might be the perfect night to start the backyard-dining season.  Nothing says summer like sitting in the yard eating dinner while the sun slowly sets over the river, then leaving the table un-cleared and moving over to the fire pit to take in the warmth and relax after a long day and nice meal.

Tonight, we decided on fish tacos with a mango-strawberry salsa, and ginger brandy roasted plantains.  Fish tacos are a summer staple in the Confoy house, but I decided to spice things up with the salsa - introduce some new flavors and, of course, mix the sweet and savory.  I like using talapia because its light and has a sort of tropical feel (it could just be the name), though any other white fish would work fine.  Two small filets were just enough for the four of us.  I marinated them in a little olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper, before grilling them on the George Foreman.  
I'm not a fan of hard taco shells - I've gotten hurt one too many times with a jagged piece of taco shell.  I opt for a soft corn tortilla or small taco wrap.  We served mashed avocado, halved grape tomatoes, and chopped cilantro on the side, so that everyone could personalize their own taco.

The plantains were my mother's idea.   I've never cooked them before, but my mom had used them once instead of potatoes to make french fries, and they were delicious.  Quick note about plantains: if you want a starchier potato-like plantain, use the green ones; if you want a sweet banana-like plantain, use the brown-black ones.  For our dinner, we chose to go on the darker side, but didn't get one that was completely black - I wanted a nice balance between the sweet and savory in the plantain itself.  And with the addition of the ginger brandy, a little honey, and salt, they maintained their balanced integrity.  

Dinner was fresh, bright, balanced, and the perfect meal to christen the backyard-dining season.
Mango-Strawberry Salsa
1 ripe mango, chopped (on the verge of minced)
1 cup strawberries, chopped (again, almost minced)
½ small red onion, minced
2 serrano chilies, de-seeded (or leave them in for more heat)
1 lime, juice and zest

+ Place all ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix well until everything is combined.  Serve immediately, or cover and place in fridge allowing the juices to release and flavors to meld.

Ginger Brandy Roasted Plantains
2 black plantains, split long-ways
¼ cup ginger brandy
¼ cup water
2 tbs honey
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
½ tsp salt

+ Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
+ Place plantains, cut side up, in a baking dish.  Cover with brandy and water.  Drizzle honey and grate the ginger over the plantains, making sure each is coated.
+ Cover and bake for 15 minutes.  Then, flip the plantains over, and bake for another 15 minutes.
+ Broil the plantains to finish for about 5 minutes, or until the tops begin to brown.