Things I’m Reading and Loving

Hello there! One very subtle shift in summer to fall for me is that suddenly, my nose is always back in a book. I’ve always been a voracious reader, so much so that my parents used to buy books for me for vacations and hide them so I didn’t read them before the trip. However, in the throes of boring adult life, it seems like I never have time to stick my nose in a book; that is, until the seasons change, and there’s less weddings on weekends and allergy appointments and beach days (not bad things to be preoccupied with, other than allergy appointments.) I’ve been sick since Monday with a terrible cold, and the only positive of this crud (well, that’s being dramatic, because there’s lots of positives — like it’s not ebola, I work from home, and I have access to doctors and medications should I need them), is that I’ve had lots of time to read. Here’s what I’ve been reading: (And no, none of these are sponsored endorsements. As usual, if you click the link I may make 4c (I’m rich!), but these are my own heartfelt recommendations.)

1) Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This book was given to me by an awesome friend and coworker, and it’s a wonderful mental vacation through the minds of a bored but genius architect mother and her 15-year-old daughter. Here’s the official blurb:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

I really liked the way the book was written via different forms of communication: email, letters, post-it notes, etc, and from so many different points of view. I liked the snarky commentary on the tech world that comes about from Bernadette’s husband’s job, and the creative twist on perspective offered by Bernadette and her dreary suburban life. This is a book you’ll rip through quickly, and I promise you’ll feel good at the end.

2) The SkinnyTaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka

I’ve been a fan of the Skinnytaste blog for years, loving that these light and delicious recipes aren’t loaded with chemicals or weird ingredients. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single recipe I’ve made from Skinnytaste has been a hit. Pinterest? Not so much. (Pssst: Visit Pintester.com, which cracks me up, especially this post, because I’ve recently had the same fail.) I can’t wait to make the Skinnytaste Baked Potato Soup, or her watermelon lime granita, which I just may do as our dollar store is having a few sad looking late-season watermelons rolling in. The photos in this book are gorgeous, the instructions are easy, and I’m all about beautiful cookbooks that you can ooh and ahh over without feeling the button on your jeans simultaneously stab into your roll of tummy flub.

3) Not That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham

I don’t watch a lot of TV(probably less than two hours a month), but occasionally, I would check out old episodes of Girls. I didn’t fall in love with the show, but it did intrigue me; I appreciated the different perspective of ladies my age in the media. I enjoy following Lena on Twitter, and also enjoy seeing her challenge the media in a bunch of different ways: by wearing froofy pink and red ball gowns, by pointing out the very obvious fact that every time she gets told how “brave” she is for going naked in a film it’s implying that she should feel brave because she’s showing off her imperfect, non-Hollywood body, and by her unwavering stance on feminism and equal rights for all. Lena’s book is hilarious — it’s not going to be for everyone because she’s brutally honest in ways that may make some people squirmy, but her chapter about her food diaries had me guffawing and realizing how very much like her struggles with weight echoed my own life and my own Double Chin Diary. I think Lena and I would be friends in real life, and I already have two people in mind who are getting this book for Christmas.

4) Ebola’s Cultural Casualty: Hugs in Hands-On Liberia

As a sometimes journalist (Go CSUN, Class of 2008!), it warms my heart when I read a piece of journalism that not only informs, but also gives you all the feels in terms of story. This piece was the first piece of news about Ebola that made me really grasp the severity of what Africa, and now Spain and America, are experiencing. The piece specifically talks about the challenge of having to go touchless in a culture that is so built upon touch, and it’s a heartbreaking and eye-opening look into what this horrifying illness is doing. Read it.

What recommendations do you guys have for me? Now that I’m through these latest books, I need ideas for others! 🙂

Belly Flop in the Kitchen: Paneer

You know how there’s always that one thing you want to try in the kitchen, but you never get around to? Well, today I attempted something I’ve wanted to make for a long time – homemade Indian Paneer! Paneer is a very simple farm cheese made from milk and some sort of acid component – you can use lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt. The steps were simple – heat 2% milk until boiling, add yogurt, and stir until curds separate from whey. Then drain the mixture in cheese cloth. This part was easy enough, and I felt like Mario Batali with boobs as my homemade cheese drained in the kitchen sink.

The cheese drained and then I got ready to cut it into cubes – so far so good.

Freshly made paneer

Like any good chef (or hungry person), I sampled the fruits of my labor and was pleasantly surprised with the simple, milky taste of the cheese – and the fabulous squeak squeak as I chewed. I cut it into cubes to use in my recipe for dinner.

Paneer was a success! ... So far.

I decided to follow the Paupered Chef’s Matar Paneer recipe, and I diligently ground up ginger, onion and garlic in my trusty food processor. Do you have a food processor? If you don’t, you should get one, because my food processor is hands down one of my top three favorite kitchen accessories/appliances; along with my lime squeezer and OXO vegetable peeler. I browned the paneer and set it aside, continuing to mix all of the other ingredients. The recipe was coming together nicely, filling my house with aromas of India.

After everything was cooked and mixed, the recipe said to add the paneer to the mixture and let simmer gently for 20 minutes. I placed the paneer in and noticed it was starting to crumble a little bit, but I didn’t think too much of it. Unfortunately before I even knew what was happening, the paneer fell apart and disentegrated into tiny little crumbly curds. Sad, sad, sad. The curry still tasted fine, but it definitely wasn’t good. I was so bummed! There’s nothing worse than putting a lot of time and energy into a new dish and then having it be a total belly flop at the end. I ended up tossing the whole dish, because I just couldn’t get over the grainy texture and mismatched flavor. Lame.

The finished product - Matar Paneer

However, I did have one kitchen success today – homemade salsa with veggies from my garden. Lime juice, green pepper, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, tomato, garlic, salt – that’s all you need for an amazing homemade salsa.

Garden Grown Salsa Saves the Day

So yeah – unfortunately my first paneer recipe was a flop. I’m going to try it again though, and this time, let the curds and whey soak longer, and avoid cooking the finished product as long in a recipe. I hate it when a new recipe turns out sucky, but I have to remember that that’s part of learning the cooking and kitchen process. Stuff gets screwed up all the time – and even master chefs have belly flops every once in awhile. (Usually all my belly flop recipes come from Pinterest!) What was the last kitchen belly flop you had?

Tortilla Time

Tortilla making has a certain amount of allure behind it, and if you are like I am, you like to imagine apple-cheeked Abuelitas standing over hot coals patting out paper thin tortillas with their soft, wrinkled hands, instead of scary metal machinery cranking out tortillas en masse. The closet I can get to making a tortilla is ripping open the package and throwing them in the microwave, so I was delighted when my friend Monique offered to make me authentic Mexican tortillas. Here’s what you need:

  •  2 Cups of Self Rising Flour
  •   3/4 Capful of Corn Oil
  •  3-4 Shakes of Salt
  •  1 Cup of Hot Water – not boiling, but as hot as your delicate hands can stand
  • A rolling pin or if you’re very fancy, a pelote
  •  A cast iron pan
  •  A clean dish towel and large zip lock bag

1) Set the cast iron pan on medium.

2) Put two cups of the self rising flour into a large mixing bowl.

3) Slowly add a cup of hot water, mixing the water into the dough as you go. SLOWWWWWWLY. If you get excited and dump it all in, you’re going to have a mucky, floury mess that doesn’t mix well.

Slowly add hot water

4) Keep mixing with your hands until the dough feels like bread dough – soft and pokey and mostly together, like this.

Just the right consistency

5) Once you’ve made a well-formed ball, press your thumb into the center of the dough ball to make an indentation. Pour the 3/4 capful of oil into this hole, and leave the dough to rise for five minutes.

6) Waited your five minutes? Good. Now, knead the dough again with your hands, making sure the oil is well mixed into the dough. Separate the dough into 5 separate lumps on a lightly floured cutting board.

Roll!

7) Using your rolling pin or pelote, roll the ball upward once, then downward once. Roll from side to side until the tortilla is quite thin.

8) Throw it on the hot pan. It will bubble up immediately. Don’t be alarmed if you smell smoke, that’s normal. Using your fingers (‘cmon – be daring), flip the tortilla over on to the other side. The tortilla is done when it looks like a tortilla. Don’t over cook or it will be hard and yucky. This may take some time to get right, so don’t cry if your tortilla crisps up like a critter on the fourth of July.

Brown and bubbly and delicious!

9) Wrap the tortilla in the dish towel and place it inside the ziplock bag while you cook your other tortillas. You want them to stay steamy and warm inside.

10) Serve with other yummy things. We did shredded rotisserie chicken, el pato salsa with tomato, onion and cilantro, cheese and fresh cabbage. SUPER YUM!!!

11) Enjoy fat food coma and unbutton jeans. You did it!

Yummy

My letter to Paula Deen

 

Oh, Paula. I remember the first time I watched your show. How delightful it was to see an apple-cheeked granny, someone who looked like my own Nana, flit around the kitchen with hands full of flour and butter and dough. I loved that you wore your wedding rings while you cooked, and I loved it even more when you’d say, “I’m not your doctor, I’m your cook.” And oh, how I loved watching rings of dough fry in glittering canola oil, or how pats of butter melted into sweet yellow pools on top of vegetables gone bad, like green beans braised in bacon grease. Your food reminded me of home – of all that’s good about Southern food – the richness, the heritage, the rib-stickingness, the warmth that comes from a freshly-baked biscuit or a slice of gooey pecan pie.

I don’t know how to feel about your recent announcement. Nobody is surprised, frankly, but guess what – many of us, including the author of this post, are obese. So it’s not fair to blame this just on your weight, because there’s so many things that are factors to diabetes – smoking, genetics, heredity, stress…. It’s likely that your weight was a big contributor to your diagnosis, but it might not be the only thing. However, I’m irritated that your Diabetes is a bigger deal than SOPA, a bill that threatens the free speech of the internet that allows me to write things like this post. I’m also irritated that because you’re a woman, the story is gigantic, more gigantic than it would be if Mario Batali or Emeril was diagnosed with diabetes. Your gender makes everything more controversial, like the Lindsays and Britneys and Madonnas who get so much press coverage, yet the Charlies, Mels and Ashtons get a day or two in the press and are then freed from the scrutinizing public eye. (Don’t get me going on media discourse. It’s scary.)

How do I feel about the fact that you’re signed up as a spokesperson for a diabetes medication? Are you “selling out” like everybody thinks? Guess what, Paula… you’ve been selling table cloths and body lotions and pots and pans for way longer than you’ve been hawking pharmaceuticals, so I say go girl. Make some more money out of that diagnosis, and give some of it away, maybe to healthy school lunch programs, or to sponsor urban gardens.

Many people have suggested that now that your diagnosis is out in the open, you should re-work your recipes and opt for a leaner, lighter presence on TV. This is the one area where I’m going to say I hope you stick to your guns, and keep doling out the butter. I’m a strong believer in everything in moderation, and I believe you once famously said, “I don’t want to spend my life not having good food going into my pie hole. That hole was made for pies.” Your sons are already re-working your genius recipes into lighter, leaner versions of the fat bombs we all know and love, so your TV presence should stay the same – because that’s you. I’m no famous TV personality, but even when I lose all my extra weight, I’m still going to eat popcorn with butter on it, because that’s what I love. It’s part of who I am!

Keep walking on your treadmill, and cut down on the splurges. But for the love of God, Paula, keep your cooking show the same. Your TV presence is just what I want to see when I’ve got 5 points left to eat for dinner and all I want to do is bathe in mayonnaise. You’re not Jamie Oliver, You’re not Giada DeLaurentis (she’s impossibly perfect looking), You’re not Anthony Bourdain.

You’re Paula Deen.

You’re the house that butter built, and nobody can take that away from you.

Not even Diabetes.

All Squashed Up

I like squash. Zucchini, yellow squash, butternut, acorn – it’s all pretty tasty in my book. However, there was one elusive squash that I had seen fabled across the internet in food blogs- but this sunny yellow gourd was beyond the reach of my standard suburban Ralph’s grocery store.

This squash is heavy! Don't drop it - you may just Squash your foot. Har, Har!

A new “Sprouts Market” opened up near me, and on Sunday afternoon, I walked out with a slab of bacon muenster (it’s for my dad – no, really!), a probiotic juice drink (will blog about that later), a hothouse cucumber, three tomatoes, six cartons of Wallaby yogurt (my new favorite) and a giant, yellow Spaghetti Squash! I was so excited to have found one and decided to make my version of Pasta Carbonara.

Get rid of the seeds and goopy guts.

First, I cut it in half with a giant butcher knife after Matt made his tell-tale big eyed “You’re doing something dumb look” and warned me to be “Careful!” as I attempted to hack it with my favorite’s chef’s knife. Then, because I’m lazy, I looked up how to cook it on the internet and we decided to microwave it instead of bake it. If you want to know how to do something fast, find a lazy person to do it for you!

Like Magic!

I nuked it for seven minutes on each side, cut side down. Once I took it out and let it cool for a few minutes, it was time for the shredding to commence. I took the fork tines to the soft, tender insides … and WOW!!!! It’s really like spaghetti! The strands easily lifted out of the shell of the squash, and it had a nice, fresh taste.

Can you tell I'm excited?

I had precooked three slices of bacon, a small onion, two garlic cloves and 2 cups of peas. I added the squash and gently sauteed for three minutes before serving with some grated parmesean. All I can say is YUM – this squash will be making regular appearances in our home. It doesn’t taste exactly like spaghetti, but it has a nice meaty, crunchy texture that is just bland enough to blend in nicely with other savory flavors. I’m going to try it next as mock chowmein noodles in an asian dish. Have you ever tried a spaghetti squash? Will you now?

Delicious!

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What’s in my Pantry? Round 1

Hey peeps. Sorry it took me a bit to get to this post, life is kaaa-razzzz-yyyy right now. Can’t wait till school’s over – As of may 17, I’ll be half way done with my Master’s Degree! Woo, woo! Anyhoodles – let’s take a peek into the Curran pantry, shall we?

Top Pantry - canned goods.

Pretty standard, right? Nothing too too bad, though some would argue cooking with coconut milk is like pumping lard straight into your veins….

The junky part of my pantry.

Ok – here we go. This is the bad part, haha – or as I call it, carb central.

  • Pretzel Slims. So crunchy… so salty… so addictive.
  • Way in the back, Pita Puffs. They’re like pita cracker pillow things. Not very impressive. (From TJs)
  • You can’t see it, but there’s a big box of 100-cal popcorn. Yum.
  • Crystal Light Pure Fitness. This stuff is kind of meh compared to the original Crystal Light, but it keeps me from swigging 10,000 cans of Diet Coke a day.
  • Pop Tarts. I wasn’t fooled by the “20% Fiber” claims.. I know they’re still crap at 190 calories a piece. Sugar bomb!
  • Apple Watermelon Dried Fruit Snacks. These are just ok. They’ve been in there awhile.
  • Another thing you can’t really see- Trader Joe’s individually packaged Kettle Corn. Delicious!
  • Golden Raisins (old people food, but necessary for banana bread)
  • 100 Calorie Pack generic cheez-its. Don’t buy ’em, they taste nothing like the real things.
  • Golden Grahams – Matt must’ve bought these because I had no idea we had them.
  • Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds. LOVE these. Filling, so salty…
  • Fancy Feast – It’s the latest diet fad! (For my kittehs)
  • 1 Giant Sack of Chocolate Whey Protein Powder. For after a good work out.

I feel that this part of the pantry definitely reveals more of my eating habits. My weakness is all about the carb – and the salt. If it’s crunchy and salty, I’m all over it. I also realize from writing this blog that there are a lot of things in my pantry that have been there an embarassingly long time because they didn’t suit my fancy (I can count three or four things on the list above. heh) Perhaps the lesson is I need to clean out my pantry more often?

So come on – some other bloggers should post a picture of their pantry. It’s fun! and revealing! and let’s you know what’s probably covered in mold or stale to the point of breaking a tooth! 🙂