Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


The Recipe Project

In the interest of saving space, I've embarked upon a project. The first step of this new project has been to sit down with years worth of cooking magazines and cut out individual pages of recipes that I like or still want to try. I currently have a four-inch pile of these pages and I've only gone through about half of the Cooking Light issues (with the issues of Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, or any of the other half dozen titles I've bought over the years).

My next step is a little ways off yet but eventually I'll have to DO something with all these sheets or they'll be no use to me. Originally I thought I might just put the sheets in binders but I'm going to have inches and inches (feet?) of these recipes from magazines and I can't even begin to think of how to organize them all. One of the big problems with saving recipes out of magazines is that there are often recipes that run for more than one page, or recipes on opposite sides of the page that don't go together organizationally (main dish on one side, dessert on the other, frex).

Now I'm reconsidering this plan I'm a bit at sea about what to do. I've been pondering several options for a re-design of Nikchick.com for a year or so. I could try to put all these recipes into a format where they could be saved and searched-for on my recipes page. My feeling is that would be a LOT of manual data entry but I'd probably be happy in the end. I could just put them into some sort of recipe organization program for use on my computer but not as part of my webpage. I have at least three of those programs (each with their own benefits and drawbacks).

I still have a while to go on step one so I have a while to figure out step two. Pasting all these recipes to note cards like I did in high school is not among the options I'm considering.

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You Need Food to Live

With the pantry reorganized and the Hunger Awareness Week behind me, I decided to go ahead and do an inventory of the freezers, then cleaned and restocked the fridge. After not shopping during the hunger challenge my produce was in a pretty sorry state and I also rid myself of a few things that had gotten lost in our cheese drawer round about last summer sometime (I need a bigger cheese drawer so things don't get buried or pushed into back corners!) but the waste from the fridge wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. My kitchen stores are in such a state that if Gordon Elliott were to pop round for an episode of Doorknock Dinners he and his chefs would be fixing me quite the meal indeed. HA!

One handy little habit I'm cultivating is to use a magnetic notepad on the fridge to write down pantry items as they get used up. No longer will I end up with three jars of cumin because I remembered that I used it but can't remember that I bought a replacement, or conversely forget time and time again that I've used the last of an ingredient but keep forgetting to buy a replacement. I've used the notepad technique on and off for a few years and encourage Chris and Kate to leave their requests on the list as well but under the current, reorganized pantry the notepad system seems to be working much more smoothly than in the past.

I'm pleased to say that I've replicated my success with the "Old Reliable" French Bread recipe and have produced yet more edible bread for the family. This may become a regular routine, at least as long as the price of flour and yeast remains a fraction of the price of "artisan" breads at the grocery store. I started buying bakery bread when I was doing my research into high fructose corn syrup and discovered it was in everything, including our grocery store bread.

I've tried three new recipes this week with good results. Two I pulled from my copy of the Cooking Light Annual 2010, one I pulled up from Southern Living, which is about as far from Cooking Light as you can get (and has the cup and a half of half-and-half, four large eggs and ten strips of bacon to prove it). All three are online through MyRecipes.com so I'll just go ahead and link to them there. I was able to make all of these with ingredients that I already had around the house, still cooking from the freezer and the pantry with what I have on hand.

Spinach and Bacon Quiche
Penne with Sage and Mushrooms
Singapore-Style Noodles

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French Bread

French bread
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
This is Hunger Action Week in King County. In 2007 I shared my thoughts on the Oregon governor's Food Stamp Challenge. Everything I said then is true now. If anything I feel even more strongly , considering the way the country has changed in the last three years.

In theory I'm up for this challenge but having felt plenty of food insecurity not only do I have no desire to relive the experience but keeping my pantry stocked "just in case" is, hmm, obsession is too strong but let's say it's a high priority. So instead of tracking my spending and trying to cook from only what I bought for the week I've been trying to honor the spirit of the challenge by using what I have on hand in my newly reorganized pantry and my freezer. In a case of handy timing, our "junk food" cupboard is bare so there are no chips, pretzels, sodas or other prepackaged snacks in the house at the moment.

Despite all of my food-loving ways I've never had good luck with breads. I can whip up a quick bread, muffins, cakes, cookies, or bars with good results. Yeast breads, dinner rolls, even biscuits have been another story though. Even using a bread maker has been 50% disappointment. Seattle has many lovely local bakeries supplying the local markets with an array of fresh breads but at $3.00 to $4.50 per loaf (and with a daughter who loves bread just slightly less than potatoes and slightly more than rice in her largely white food diet) that can get spendy, especially when I know full well how inexpensive the base ingredients for bread are in comparison.

With the Hunger Awareness Challenge in mind and bread in the house running low, I decided to try again yesterday. I decided to shy away from the bread machine and try going with the Kitchen Aid and my plain ol' oven. I couldn't find my Kitchen Aid recipe booklet I had to rely on the handy Internet. Google helpfully turned up an entry from someone else who didn't want to misplace their Kitchen Aid recipe again and so put it up on RecipeZaar under the name "Old Reliable" French Bread (for Kitchen Aid Mixers). How could I resist a recipe called "Old Reliable"? I couldn't!

What do you know, it worked, too. To my shock and my family's delight, I have successfully made two good loaves of French bread for about $1 in flour. Not quite as excellent as the $4.00 loaves from our local bakery but certainly at least as good as if not better than the $2.00 loaves from the grocery store. If not spurred on by the Hunger Awareness Challenge I wouldn't have made this breakthrough.

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Christmas Baking 2009, Round 1

Christmas Baking 2009, Round 1
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I did my first round of Christmas baking today.

Today's dishes: ginger-wasabi popcorn, fudge sauce, barbecue spice rub, sugarplums, chocolate-filled croissants, apricot rugelach, and chocolate gingerbread bundt cake.

Only one of my planned recipes met with disaster, because my oven was running a little hot. Two cookie sheets of mixed spiced nuts ended up burning. They weren't uniformly burned, just enough so that they tasted gross. After sampling I decided to toss them.

Oh, I also made some cheddar and chive scones today. Don't like the recipe I used as much as the Cooking Light and America's Test Kitchen recipes for scones I've used in the past but they were satisfying enough with a couple of cups of coffee.

I've got cranberries marinating in a simple syrup for tomorrow's two-fer recipe: sugared cranberries, with the bonus of leftover cranberry-infused simple syrup! Must mix up some cocktails with that this holiday.

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November Food Recap

It all started around my birthday. I got a great response to my call for birthday recipes and my head was swimming with the possibilities. Chris threw me a delightful brunch with a dozen friends, rich with food and cocktails. In fact, it was Serafina's first day with their new seasonal menu and everything but two Serafina standards was new to me.

A few days into my 41st year, I was assaulted by yet another food extravaganza! I choose the word assaulted on purpose because I've never had an experience quite like it. Ray and I went out to Elemental @Gasworks which I hadn't even heard of before let alone been to (I'm a bit out of the loop on the hot new high end places these days) but Ray had and thought I would enjoy. I'm glad Ray had been to the restaurant before and warned me a bit about it because it apparently has a bit of a negative reputation with some foodies and I could easily have been put off by the experience if I hadn't been warned in advance. Here's the deal: if you're going to go to Elemental, you'd best be prepared to have the experience wash over you and be willing to go with it. Host and owner Phred Westfall said approximately five sentences to us through the entire multi-course dinner. He offered us a table, asked us if we were ready for a cocktail, asked if we had any food allergies, and um, pretty much nothing else. There was no pretense, no gushing over how the greens were locally sourced or this vintage of wine came from the Yakima region. Nothing. No explanation whatsoever. When a small poultry dish of some sort was set in front of us I actually tried to ask Phred if it was quail or something else... but he dropped the plate and was off again without a word of acknowledgement. Another time I had fallen behind on the wine pairings, to the point that I hadn't even tasted the glass in front of me when he was ready to serve the next course... and there went the wine glass, bye-bye, I don't even get to taste it because it no longer goes with the food in front of me. the lighting was also very dark, so honestly it was hard to see what we were eating! I can really see how this would rub some food-lovers the wrong way!

That said, I had a fabulous dinner. The food was EXQUISITE. Yes, many times I was forced to stick my finger in a sauce and say "I think it's mustard... and hazelnut..." or "Yes, there's some sort of fish with this salad... I'm not sure what it is... it's GOOD though." I had the best lamb chops I've ever had in my life, that had me unashamedly gnawing the bones to get every scrap of meat right in a public restaurant. Each course was served with a generous pour of a paired wine and wow, by the time we finished dinner I was a little woozy. I wish I could even remember (or knew to begin with) what I'd eaten! It was lovely and they're clearly very talented, kind of the anti-Herbfarm (where they give you a little menu of what you've eaten as a keepsake).

The following week I took advantage of another birthday gift, this one from John and Jenny, who gave me a gift certificate to Theo Chocolate. Wednesday night I attended one of their Chocolate University classes, "Chocolate: Exotic and Erotic" where I learned how to make simple chocolate scrubs, lotions, and lip balms in the first half and then listened to a lecturer from Babeland (NSFW) who delved into the erotic and sensual (chocolate lotion, chocolate candles, chocolate body paint, and ahem, more) and was a great presenter, lots of humor. I passed on picking up a "better then chocolate vibrator" but did gluttonously spend the rest of my gift certificate plus some picking up assortments of chocolates (including their collection of scotch-infused chocolates, using great single malts like Oban and Talisker!) and several seasonal varieties plus a couple of body scrubs and lotions from our earlier presenter, whose products I was familiar with already.

Rounding out November was Thanksgiving. We spent this Thanksgiving with John and Jenny and their extended family, which was a great deal more fun than staying home just the three of us let me tell you! We participated in the potluck dinner by contributing Kate's favorite Pumpkin Pie (which she made herself) plus some Wild Rice Stuffing, a cranberry-pear-ginger cobbler (recipe I'll post later) and a cranberry-vanilla bean sorbet that didn't set up properly in the ice cream maker but was really yummy anyway. We ate SO MUCH, sampling everything we brought, plus turkey, gravy, bread stuffing, brussels sprouts, grean beans, and more. So good, a really nice night.

I've bene doing a little more cooking again after a bit of a hiatus where Dragon Age consumed me and pizza, beer, and xbox sounded like the best thing in the world. I'm better now. A couple of the recipes I've been particularly pleased with include Ancho Pork and Hominy Stew and this Corn, Clam and Mussel Chowder, without the mussels.

I've been tinkering again with my website, hoping to find a better way of displaying my recipes for people who want to browse or print them but I'm still unhappy with the way things are so I'll keep limping along with the current format for now, I suppose.

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Table for 15

Table for 15
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Last night we had the pleasure of dinner with some friends of Chris's from high school. Elizabeth and Geoff live in Seattle with their blended family (her son and daughter plus his three sons). Elizabeth's sister was in visiting from Boston and another Boston to Seattle transplant plus the Lindroos-Pramas-Freins brought the party up to six adults and nine kids (mostly boys).

Dinner was a gigantic feast of Dungeness crab, cooked in perhaps the biggest pot I've ever seen in a home kitchen, plus corn, cornbread, a summer salad packed with seasonal vegetables, slabs of watermelon, and plum tarts with ice cream.

Very few of the kids had eaten crab before and Geoff was enthusiastic about introducing them to a real crab feast. Kate, a burgeoning near-vegetarian, was a little queasy about the crab but gamely tried it and then filled up on corn bread and watermelon (which is what I would have predicted). She's trying to expand her food horizons and challenge her palate but she has a hard time with fish and "sea bugs".

As the night crept on and the adults lingered first over wine and then over dessert and coffee, the youngest children started to drop in place, curling up with pillows and under chairs to stay close to the action until they just couldn't keep their eyes open any longer. Meanwhile, several of the boys (including at times both dads) stepped over to an adjoining room that was packed with musical instruments and began jamming. They were FANTASTIC. I tried to get some video of the moment but my phone video was too dark and really couldn't capture the energy and skill of the group. At one point Geoff and his step-daughter were swing dancing while the boys jammed but I was too slow to capture the moment with my phoen (and didn't have my real cameras with me). Kate, an only child, the oldest child there and a girl out-numbered, played a card game with some of the younger kids and then stuck close to the adults as has always been her way.

It was glorious chaos and good for the soul. I had a marvelous time.

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Cooking and eating

I've been getting back in the swing of cooking around here again but not back in the swing of blogging about it. During my recent silent period I did a bunch of work in the back yard of the house, including finally putting in those raised beds that I've been talking about installing in the side yard for years now. I've got tomatoes, peppers, winter squash, basil (sweet and Thai), and several other herbs, doing really well. The strawberries are unhappy, the onions were looking pretty sad even before I got them in the ground. Jury is still out on the beans and peas. I'm still hoping to see some sunflowers and wildflowers from the seeds I spread.

The other night I cooked up a couple of halibut cheeks wrapped in prosciutto (inspired by Cook Local's Prosciutto wrapped halibut with asparagus sauce and then grilled, along with scallops with basil (from the garden!) also wrapped in prosciutto that came out pretty well. I've been keeping a steady stream of asparagus in the house from the farmer's market and just loving it. The farmer's market has been a great source of inspiration lately, full of strawberries, rhubarb, great bunches of mint, spring onions, amazing tomatoes, Columbia City Bakery's baked goods, and lovely rarities like kohlrabi and sunchokes. I also baked Blondie and Brownie's fabulous raspberry-rhubarb pie though I used about half as much of the chai-oatmeal crumble topping as called for and might cut it back even further in the future, I've been on the Cooking Light minimalist-style of pie baking for too long, I guess.

Speaking of Cooking Light, it remains my go to for excellent, good-for-you recipes but I have been branching out a bit. After many years of almost but not quite getting a grill, I finally have one and the weather's been cooperating so I've been going through Steven Raichlen's books for recipes and techniques, or doing a little more experimenting via new-to-me food blogs. I also have a bit of a food crush going on for Eating Well magazine right now. Picked it up on a whim and was pleased to note their nutrition and health advisory board includes people like Marion Nestle (author of Food Politics and Safe Food) and Brian Wansink (currently the Executive Director at the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and author of Mindless Eating). The rest of their advisory board members are similarly prominent nutrition scientists, professors, and researchers but Nestle and Wansink jumped out at me in particular because I just finished reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food which quotes both Nestle and Wansink; I read Wansink's book last year myself.

Anyway, I'm interested in the sorts of things that are appearing in Eating Well at the moment and it's a fresh take on food and nutrition that I really appreciate. My current favorite recipe is their Huevos Rancheros Verdes, which I've been making for a couple of weeks now. Dead easy and everyone in the family likes it! I'll post it below. Give it a try, if you like it you might like the rest of Eating Well Magazine, too.

Heuvos Rancheros Verdes
Eating Well Magazine May/June 2009

1 1/2 cups very thinly sliced romaine lettuce
1 scallion, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
3 teaspoons canola oil
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup salsa verde
8 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine lettuce, scallion, cilantro, 1 tsp. oil, lime juice, 1/8 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a bowl. Set aside. Combine beans and salsa in another bowl.

Coat both sides of each tortilla with cooking spray. Place tortillas on a large backing sheet in four sets of overlapping pairs. Each pair should overlap by about 3 inches. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the bean mixture over each pair of tortillas and sprinkle with 3 tbsp. cheese each. Bake until the beans are hot and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack each egg into a small bowl and slip them one at a time into the pan, taking care not to break the yolks. Season the eggs with remaining 1/8 tsp. salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook undisturbed 5 to 7 minutes for soft-set yolks. For hard-set yolks, cover the pan after 5 minutes and continue cooking until yolks are cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes more.

To assemble, place an egg on top of each pair of tortillas and top with a generous 1/4 cup of the lettuce mixture.

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Freezer Party Postmortem

Jenny's handiwork
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Overall I think we can call this little escapade a success. The hardest thing for me personally is always working in someone else's kitchen, not having my own tools at my disposal. I brought several cutting boards, baking pans, a George Foreman grill, measuring spoons and cups, and my Dutch oven in addition to everything J&J already stocked in their house and the items Evan and Michelle contributed from their own kitchens but I still found myself reaching for things that I didn't have with me. Not that we didn't successfully pull it off, just admitting that I'm a bit of a kitchen diva.

Considering this was our first effort, we worked as a pretty efficient team. John would be cooking up chicken breasts while Evan made calzone dough and Jenny prepped ingredients for kabobs. I'd be cooking up some salsa verde while Michelle prepped enchilada filling, Evan made manicotti filling and John did some dishes. we rotated pretty well between jobs, though the checklist I'd meant to put together for each recipe would have been helpful if I'd gotten around to it. Next time!

Here's how each dish went:

Teriyaki chicken kabobs: Jenny did a marvelous job putting these beauties together. We had enough ingredients to make several more than planned. One thing that wasn't ideal was that the skewers were a smidge too long to straight into gallon freezer bags and the points poked holes in a couple of bags. John lopped the pointy ends off with some kitchen sheers and that helped some but it still wasn't an ideal set up. We got the skewers done and put in the fridge right off the bat and almost forgot to make the teriyaki sauce, which I whipped up and portioned out at the very last minute. The marinade called for in the recipe didn't seem like enough to me but we'll see how it turns out when cooked.

Lime marinated shrimp skewers: I shelled and deveined 4 pounds of fresh gulf shrimp, which was messy and took longer than I would have liked but I choose to stubbornly believe the results will be worth it. Instead of marinade we ended up using some seasoned skewers I had brought. We had exactly enough for the amount of shrimp, resulting in 2 pounds of thai coconut lime and 2 pounds of Indian mango curry. This was total improvisation on my part so we'll see how they work when cooked up but the skewers smelled amazing when they were opened.

Chicken enchiladas verdes: We ended up with three 9 x 12 pans and one 8 x 8 pan of enchiladas. Michelle and Evan handled the assembly, choosing to dip the tortillas into the salsa verde before wrapping them up, traditional style. I'd had some really beautiful tomatillos to work with and used the homemade roasted chicken stock that I contributed so I have high hopes for flavor, though I think we could have used more sauce to pour over the top of the enchiladas before baking. I'll probably whip up some extra sauce for my portion before serving.

Calzones: I chose to make extra of the sauce that was going on the manicotti, forgetting that it's a pretty watery sauce (because the manicotti use softened no-boil lasagna noodles and finish cooking up in the sauce) so I might have inadvertently sabotaged the calzones which need nice dry dough edges to make a good seal. Evan made homemade pizza dough on the spot but we had our hands full with other prep and left the dough sitting too long, so it rose and expanded a lot. I guess we'll see how they hold up on cooking. The concept is sound and we can certainly try again if these come out less than ideal. We had extra sauce and extra cheese to bag up and put in with the calzones for serving time.

Manicotti: These are so easy and really delicious, it's hard to go wrong with this recipe. I hadn't brought enough ricotta but we made up the difference with extra mozzarella. When the filling was being mixed up we forgot to add the chopped spinach (still frozen in the cooler!) so we ended up with extra noodles, but that was okay because by that time we were running out of baking dishes! Even so everyone who wanted some got a portion and Chris and I even had some for dinner when I finally got home. I can vouch that they turned out great, lack of spinach not an issue at all.

Chicken packets: My sense is these came out just fine, though I think I over-stuffed the first four I filled.Jenny took my filled packets, brushed them with melted butter and coated them in panko, then they went into the freezer on a baking sheet to firm up before being slipped into freezer bags for storage. I may make more of these for my house because I know Chris likes them and I suspect a teenage Kate could add these to her after school starvation-prevention routine.

Brazilian marinated chicken: While Viv was napping Kate was at loose ends and was eager to help so she made the Brazilian lime marinade. This is the one thing we needed to make a run to the store for. Even though I'd brought over a dozen limes or so they were not very juicy limes. One was rotten on the end and had to be chucked out and the others put together yielded less than half the amount of juice that we needed. John ran out to QFC and grabbed up some more limes. It only took one or two of the QFC limes to bring us up to the amount of juice we needed... it was kind of amazing. It also reminded me that when we're talking about getting a cup or more of juice together for a recipe, I should use the electric juicer! Next time for sure. Chicken breasts were added to freezer bags and marinade added. Success!

Lemon marinade: This is a cooked marinade, with onions, jalapenos, vinegar, brown sugar, and lemons. Unfamiliar with J&J's stove, we were too cautious with the burners and it took this marinade a long time to get up to temp (and then cool down enough to put into bags to freeze) but I have no doubt it's going to be great as always. I have pork tenderloin marinating in this mix in my fridge for dinner tonight, in fact. Definitely another solid success.

Vegetable ragout: This is the one that we completely failed to get around to. Only Michelle and I planned to share portions of this, so when we were already running overtime and our hosts had to start focusing on feeding and attending their toddler, there was no reason to even start with all the peeling and chopping and roasting. I'm planning to whip this up later.

Things that would help for next time: more large mixing bowls and bowls for holding prepped ingredients (we could have worked some things more efficiently or in a different order); a checklist for prepping ingredients (knowing that we needed X lemons squeezed and Y lemons sliced or X onions sliced plus Y onions in 1" pieces would have meant that all the onion chopping could be done at one time); recipes converted properly before hand (my plan was to photocopy the recipes for everyone and then mark up a photocopy with the doubled or tripled amounts so we didn't have to do it on the fly but my photocopier broke down as I was trying to do that the morning we were cooking, so I had to bring my books and calculate on the fly which slowed things down and led to a few mistakes and omissions); more containers/baking dishes (we moved a few items into freezer bags because they were handy instead of reusable containers or because we needed the baking pans back; scheduling the order in which dishes are assembled or rotated into the oven (so we don't let the dough turn into a man-eating blob or bake the 400 degree recipe before the 350 degree recipe).

Must admit that between the late Friday and Saturday shopping and the cooking itself on Sunday I'm pretty worn out but I'd do it again, more efficiently this time I think, and I love that I have an orderly freezer filled with foods I like and can whip out for lunch or dinner at a moment's notice. In fact, I'm probably going to add to my personal stash, because I still have freezer space calling out to be filled.

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The Freezer Cooking Experiment

This weekend is the culmination of several weeks of planning that will bring together four families intent on stocking our freezers with wholesome, homemade food. I've posted a few photos of the beginnings of the supplies we've stocked up on.

I was the instigator of this little project. The participation of Family Frog Taco and Family Gracey's Mansion meant that there would be toddlers involved, and since my home is no longer toddler-proofed, the event itself is being held in the much more child-safe Gracey's Mansion homestead.

I've done "freezer cooking" before, also known as Once a Month Cooking (the title of one of the earliest cookbooks on the topic) or OAMC. I had a pretty good selection of recipes that work well in the freezer and researched several others. I put together a list of about 25 options and asked everyone for their top 5 or 6 choices. From that we whittled down the menu to those things that had at least two votes.

Once we had the menu down, I estimated how much of each ingredient we needed. We chose to do a number of chicken dishes and ended up needing over 25 pounds of chicken altogether. Then I divided up the ingredient list into things I should buy in Costco-sized bulk and those things I could buy at regular markets, vegetable stands, or specialty stores like the fishmonger. I also added a healthy supply of freezer-quality Ziploc bags and heavy duty aluminum foil.

I'm on my way out to location as soon as I post this, with the food, plus my personal stash of knives, cutting boards, extra pots, storage containers and other helpful odds and ends.

The plan is to come home with portions of:
lemon marinated chicken
Brazilian garlic-lime marinated chicken
teriyaki chicken kabobs
lime shrimp skewers
chicken enchiladas verdes
baked spinach manicotti
chicken packets
roast vegetable ragout

Will post and after action report, assuming my friends don't end the day by killing me and cursing that I was ever born for suggesting this craziness.

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Dinner 2/9/09

Dinner 2/9/09
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I haven't gotten around to doing any posting of new recipes yet, but I've tried quite a few new dishes already in 2009. Tonight's dinner was roasted vegetable couscous (photo here) and which you can find online at MyRecipes.com here. I followed up with some tea-poached pears in chocolate sauce made from the cooking liquid, served with a little Greek honey yogurt (recipe from The Veganomicon).

So far 2009 has been good for getting my head back in the cooking game. I received some gift subscriptions to cooking magazines over the holidays, though I am sad to note that Bon Appetit is now half the magazine it used to be (literally! I compared the March 2009 issue to the March 2001 issue still on my shelf and it's half as many pages). My latest new cookbook is the aforementioned Veganomicon. I'm in no danger of converting to the lifestyle ("I'll eat your food, but I won't join your cult!") but I would very much like to have more modern, less hippy vegetarian recipes at my fingertips. I like vegetables! I like soy! I am not satisfied with the old school vegetarian recipes ("slather tofu strips in barbecue sauce, broil.") any more than I'm satisfied with the old school family recipes that involve opening a couple of cans of condensed soup, mixing with hamburger, and calling it a "casserole".

The Veganomicon has potential but the authors are already running afoul of one of my hardcore recipe peeves: don't measure things in "one carrot" or "a small onion"! What is a small onion to you? What if I don't have a small onion, only a jumbo onion? How much chopped onion do you want me to end up with? That kind of easy-breezy writing style has a place but I prefer a little more precision in recipes. I might branch out or do my own thing after I learn a recipe but I grit my teeth every time I have to stop and figure out for myself what they're asking for when I'm first trying out a new dish.

Anyway, maybe I'll get back to the Veganomicon later.

Recipes I've tried but haven't written up so far in 2009:
Mixed Vegetable Biryani
Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken
Gratin of Belgian Endive with Bacon
Vegetable Tagine with Preserved Lemons
Kalamata Olive Bread with Oregano
Slow-Cooked Tuscan Pork with White Beans
Cherry Tomato Spaghetti with Toasted Pine Nuts
Roasted Root Vegetables in Maple Glaze
Pork Chops with Ancho Chile Rub and Raspberry Glaze
Peanut Crusted Chicken with Pineapple Salsa
Sesame Noodles with Broccoli
Satay Burgers
Roasted Tomato-Beef Goulash
Lemon Chicken with Olives
Baja-style Grilled Tempeh Tacos
Creamy (vegan!)Tomato Soup
Kasha Phyllo Pie

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Brunch at Verve

Pork Belly and Egg Close-up
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Verve is a spacious wine bar in Columbia City, tucked around the corner from more visible eateries like Jones Barbecue and Geraldine's Counter. I'd been there once or twice before shortly after they'd opened but for one reason and another hadn't been back. Until this week I didn't know they do a weekend brunch. Since this happens to be my first Kate-free weekend since before Christmas, it occurred to me that it would be a swell time to try out the brunch.

We were not disappointed. In fact, we were quite thrilled with the results of our excursion. For about $5 more than we would have spent on a satisfactory breakfast at Geraldine's Counter we had a spectacular breakfast at Verve. I'll take that for a fiver!

It was also the first time I got some decent shots in with the camera we got as a Christmas gift, so I hope this will mean a return to my food blogging in 2009. I do so enjoy the food blogging.

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2008 Recipe Round-up

Because of all the things that were going on in my personal life last year I didn't ever really get a chance to keep up my recipe pages as I would have liked. I did do some cooking and I posted a few of the more successful recipes I tried as individual blog posts but I really wanted to have the whole thing cataloged better for my own use and for those of you who've told me you like using my recipe pages as a resource.

In that vein, I've finally put several of my favorite recipes that I tried out in 2008 onto my recipe pages where they belong. This certainly isn't everything I cooked in 2008 and not even all of the successful recipes but it's a start and better than nothing at this late date.

Apple and Raw Beet Salad
Baked "Manicotti"
Beans and Wild Mushrooms in Fennel Broth
Broiled Fennel with Lime and Parmesan
Cabbage Braised with Ham and Reisling
Chunky Lentil Soup
Coriander-Crusted Scallops in Fennel Broth
Curry Udon Hotpot
Espresso Black Bean Chili
Fennel Broth
Fennel, Carrot, and Cranberry Salad
Fresh Pea Soup with Mint
Honey Cured Pork Loin with Juniper-Fennel Seed Rub
Lime Peanut Salad
Napa Cabbage Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Oven-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
Sesame Crusted Swordfish
Spinach and Pear Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Toasted Wheat Germ Soup

I have several recipes that I've tried since the new year started and I will try to get those up in the coming weeks so I can stay on top of this project better in 2009. In addition to the reorganization taking place in the house, I'm hoping to do a little reorg on my webpage and social networking sites.

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Another Public Service Announcement

Seattle diners, this one's for you!

For the last 15 years I have enjoyed Muhammed Bhatti's wonderful restaurant, Cedars on Brooklyn. When I heard Cedar's was changing hands this spring and going to be Cedars in name only, I was dismayed! I needn't have worried, because Mr. Muhammed is back and better than ever in his new location, Northgate's fantastic new Saffron Grill.

We're in the midst of the annual Green Ronin summit and I had a few places in mind for tonight's team dinner but those went out the window immediately when Marc told us that we could have the same delicious Cedars food, the same friendly and attentive service, at a new and better location. I knew I had to bring the guys there.

I was blown away by the modern new space after many years of being cramped into Cedars on Brooklyn. It's a crying shame that a restaurant calling itself Cedars still occupies the space that Mr. Muhammed's restaurant lived in for so long because this will certainly result in confusion as the zombie "Cedars" continues to trade on the reputation that was built by others. Kate has tried butter chicken all across Washington and in Vancouver BC and solemnly declares the Saffron Grill's (to her, still "Cedars") to be "the best ever, seriously."

The heart of the Cedars on Brooklyn we've known and loved now beats in Northgate's Saffron Grill. Pass it on!

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Family Weekend

Saturday I awoke feeling much more human, especially after getting myself up to normal Seattle-style caffeine levels for the first time in a week. Mmm, delicious coffee. I'm still not exactly a coffee snob but if I had to drink Applebees' coffee on a regular basis I would just quit and switch to tea.

Chris spent the day investigating some game stores and miniatures rules with Rick so I alternately worked oncatching up on Green Ronin stuff and doing fun or interesting things with Kate. One of the things we did was head down to the Sound Transit Safety Fair, where Martin Luther King Jr. Way was closed off for a few hours and there were safety and information booths, bands and student performers, and speakers as well as a light rail car parked in Othello Station and open to the public to roam through. I took many photos with my phone but haven't begun to mess with them to see if they turned out, let alone if I can get them off my camera. I spent much of my time at the street fair talking talking to State Rep. Zack Hudgins who was on hand because transportation is one of his key concerns in the legislature. I took the opportunity to ask Rep. Hudgins if it was likely that we were going to see relief from the "rental" tax on car-sharing programs like Flexcar and Zipcar and he admitted that no, especially with the projected budget deficits the legislature was not going to be in a position to offer any tax exemptions, and went on to explain that before the state budget situation he wasn't in favor of lifting the tax. While I was disappointed that the situation isn't going to be resolved in the way that I'd like, I'm all too aware of the forces that pull our representatives in government one way and another and I accept that they often have to jockey for position and influence, anticipate the ways in which well intended legislation can be abused, and keep an eye on several competing interests at once. Goodness knows, I'm certainly not cut out for politics. Hudgins was quite open and spent an age talking to me about all sorts of things: light rail and car-sharing, Proposition One (the new transit vote) this fall, lead testing (he was aware of the "lead in the pipes" issue that broke here at New Holly), the increase in crime, violence, gang activity, and drugs here in the south end combined with the lack of services and how that's impacting the community spirit in New Holly and the neighbors who are going to be surrounding Othello Station when the light rail finally starts running. I found him open and honest and willing to go into as much detail as I cared to hear (he apologized a couple of times, saying he didn't want to be a "wonk" when he felt he was getting too deeply into detail but I assured him that I was really enjoying it). Didn't always have the answers I wanted to hear but it was always stuff in the realm of disappointing but not outrageous.

Chris came home from his gaming sojourn just in time for me to run off to the store to pick up a few things and then Kate and I were out for the rest of the night on a babysitting favor. We got to spend time with a sweet little girl of nearly seven months old who reminds me SO much of Kate as a baby. I could go on and on about the ways in which I see these children as being similar but mostly I was pleased that my baby-minding skills aren't too rusty. She went to bed like a dream (which I was pleased to reassure my friends when they called in for a "Nervous Parents" check-in) and made one tiny squeak over the monitor when she turned over or hiccuped or something. Kate really wants to start babysitting herself and I thought it would be fun and interesting for her to see a little bit of what it takes while there's an adult at hand and, indeed, she was interested and happy to be along. Extra bonus, my friends repaid my favor with ice cream! Not just any ice cream, but Molly Moon's Salted Caramel which my whole family just loooooves.

Today was a casual day of catching up on computer work combined with cleaning and purging around the house. I currently have three big garbage bags of clothes and shoes to go out to donation, boxes of books to go out, and we noticed that one of the shelves in the office is sagging precariously under its load of books and games so those are getting a good culling as well. I feel like I got a good deal accomplished without knocking myself out completely and heading back into the land of the permanently exhausted. Also got some homemade dinner (baked "manicotti" made with no-boil lasagna sheets, from a recipe I saw on America's Test Kitchen) which was awfully nice and got thumbs up from the whole family to boot.

Tomorrow it's a date with our nutritionist and then I go in for a battery of allergy tests. I'm tired of the low-level allergy symptoms I suffer with constantly and my sinuses have definitely become a huge problem this year that has dragged on. Time to take more action.

Finally, I also heard from my mom again about my grandma. Grandma waqs moved out of ICU, which is absolutely cause for celebration. She had her first round of dialysis and that has also seemed to improve her recovery as the pain killers and anesthesia that were lingering in her system are now (finally) being processed out. She's still very weak but got up for a short walk (to the door of her room and back) which she was utterly unable to even consider on my last day in Arizona. Thanks again to everyone who has been keeping her in their thoughts, prayers, and well wishes. I'm cautiously optimistic that she'll see a better recovery from here.

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Cooking Digression

Things around here have been a bit chaotic of late and I've been doing far less cooking than I intended when spring started. When I have mustered the time or energy or preparation to do a little cooking, I've been relying on things like ready-to-grill kabobs from Metropolitan Market. We haven't done the CSA this year and I've barely visited the farmer's markets. Even so, I did manage to try a couple of recipes that were good enough that I felt I should pass them along.

First, I have tried yet another winner from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking. If you haven't bought this book yet, why not? It's seriously the most unique, delightful, astonishing collection of recipes I've had the pleasure to discover in a long time. Here's an example:

Lime-Bathed Peanut Salad

2 cups unsalted raw peanuts
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 large jalapeno chile, seeded and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350. (Since it's summer, I moved this step to the toaster oven to keep the heat down and it worked just fine.)

Place peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan a couple of times for more even browning.

Combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro in a bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Gently stir into the tomato mixture to combine. Just before serving, fold in the peanuts. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

The other success I had was serving a fresh pea/mint soup from Cooking Light alongside some wild salmon patties.

Fresh Pea Soup with Mint

2 teaspoons butter
1 cup coarsely chopped green onions
4 cups shelled green peas (about 4 pounds unshelled)
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (I used half vegetable broth, half chicken)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint
Cracked black pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions to pan and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peas, broth, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until the peas are very tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let stand 15 minutes. Stir in juice, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Place half of pea mixture in blender and process until smooth. Do this carefully as hot liquid expands very fast in a blender; I recommend holding the lid down with a kitchen towel just to be safe. Pour pureed soup mixture into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining pea mixture. Strain this half of the pureed soup mixture through a sieve over a large bowl, reserving the liquid; discard the solids. Return strained soup to pureed soup mixture. Ladle about 3/4 cup soup mixture into each of 6 bowls; drizzle each with 1/2 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle each serving with 1 teaspoon mint. Garnish with cracked pepper, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

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Rock Band Camp finale

People have been asking how it went, so here's a little clip that the school put up. I took video from a different angle of the whole performance (including Kate's favorite, Back in Black) but this will give everyone who doesn't have Mom-level devotion a taste.

Kate was scheduled to go back to Canada to spend some time with her dad on Sunday morning but there was a change of plans which means Kate and I are getting to spend extra summer time together and we've made the most of it. Saturday was a viewing of the new Hellboy and some barbecuing with Ray and Christine (taking advantage of the long overdue nice summer weather) and Sunday Kate and I hit the summer festival circuit while Pramas got some work done.

First we stopped by the Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon down on the waterfront. It was a gorgeous day and we walked a little way along the water before heading into the convention space. Unfortunately the exhibit space was sweltering and many of the exhibitors were having trouble because their chocolates were melting on their tables. I tasted at least a dozen interesting chocolates, truffles, caramels, brittles, cocoas, and brownies. The hands down winner for the "WOW, I've never had anything like this!" award has to go to the savory chocolates from Eugene, Oregon's Kekau, especially their "Smoky Blue" which is made with Rogue Creamery's Smoky Blue cheese. Holy crap was that good. Their Black Truffle Honey was another winner. There were many other delights (such as Poco Dolce's Aztec Chile chocolates topped with grey sea salt and I have a list (and a bag full of things I couldn't resist buying) for further study. We also tried to hit the rumored Berry Bash at the Pike Place Market but we arrived too late for any pie eating contests and saw few stands that were anything "special" that we couldn't find regularly in the market or at one of the excellent area farmer's markets, so we didn't linger too long. Instead we hopped the bus down to Seattle Center for their Bastille Day celebration. Food, live music, and perfect weather for playing in the fountain.

Unfortunately I ended the weekend with a flare-up of my TMJ, which hasn't happened in many months, and the pain/popping/locking is still plaguing me today. Add in a couple of doctor appointments, a bunch of household chores (like trimming our front foliage before the HOA decides they don't appreciate the natural look) and our printer spewing magenta toner all over everything and making very, very bad grinding noises and the work week seems off to a pretty bum start but at least the weekend was pretty glorious.

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Game Night again

Our game night has been pretty sparse since Jess and Tim both moved to California within a month of each other. The last couple of weeks it's been down to just three of us getting together, four if we're lucky. Tonight it was three again.

Luckily for us Kate is getting to that age when we can play adult strategy games together and still all have fun. Tonight we played 3rd edition MagBlast. We've been MagBlast fans through all the editions. It's been a little jarring to go from the more 'serious' science fiction version of MagBlast to the most recent version with the Kovalic art and the more 'wacky family game' feel but we're still all on board. Kate was very excited to play as this is one of her favorite games ever. We had fun but had to gang up on and kill Kate once it got to be 11:00 since it's still a school night for her. Poor kid, someday she'll be able to stay up as late as she wants. Heh.

Ev's currently on a restricted diet as he tries to sort out some allergies and whatnot so I went to Metropolitan Market and just let myself be inspired by what was available. Between all members of the group we've got to be carb conscious and avoid wheat, soy, dairy, and seafood at the moment. I was going to make some of my favorite sesame noodles with shredded chicken with some rice noodles but remembered there was also soy in the dish and decided to look elsewhere for dinner. Instead I bought a bunch of Indian-inspired ingredients. I made a Sri Lankan eggplant curry from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, some peppered cauliflower, some packaged Neera's Urad & Channa Dal (a hit, will definitely try again, along with others in this line), rice, Sharwood's papadums, and a round (or two) of tamarind martinis. Kate helped a lot with the food prep tonight, which was great! She helped with something in every dish and made several things largely on her own (including the cauliflower, the papadums, and the dal). She also made dessert, a rosewater and strawberry sorbet. Good meal!

Tomorrow Pramas is headed for Enfilade in Olympia. I have to get up for 6:30am yoga. Kate and I are staying home for a "girl's weekend" with Rosie (the World's Sweetest Pitbull [tm]). Monday we're having people over to play Descent. Next week looks to be busy as I continue to catch up from the Month of Travel ad prep for Book Expo. I fly out on Thursday!

Not too bad of a day, I'll say.

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Live from Vegas

Pramas and I spent the weekend in Las Vegas before the GAMA Trade Show officially kicked off. Gabe "Mondo" Vega is eve expanding his ConQuest gaming convention empire and this year he kicked off ConQuest Vegas. We came down to show our support. They had a lovely space up on the 26th floor of Bally's (rooms with a view!) where the GTS seminars have been held. In the future I hope to be a bit more involved than we were this year (the lead-up to Vegas coincided with having to get a lot of other things under control around GRHQ and Chez Ronin). We may even make an appearance down at the next ConQuest franchise: ConQuest Reno in November. We'll see.

Pramas and I were here early on Saturday and couldn't yet check into our room so we went over to enjoy brunch at the Las Vegas incarnation of Thomas Keller's Bouchon . Really good idea. Great food, relaxing atmosphere, and it killed just the right amount of time to allow us to go back to Bally's and check into our room. We've also enjoyed meals at Wing Lei at the Wynn (the only Michelin starred Chinese restaurant in America, where we enjoyed the Peking duck tasting menu) and Michael Mina's Seablue over at the MGM. We also made a trip over to the Stage Deli at Caesar's Palace before Pramas had to pack up and hit the airport. So, the eating's been alright so far. Ha.

Chris heads home tonight to rejoin Kate, who has had a grand little adventure of her own bouncing around to various friends and hitting going away parties and Passover dinners, among other excitements. We waited all day to see if there were going to be any further announcements of clarifications on the situation with the GSL but we didn't glean any further information. No one we've talked to seems eager to sign on for 4E support current conditions. It seems like WotC has cast somewhat of a pall over things as retailers and distributors (not just third party publishers) try to make sense of what's happening and try to predict what the gaming landscape is going to look like in six to nine months time. At least one RPG liquidator is already offering to buy up any and all d20 products publishers will be forbidden to sell after the end of the year. Meanwhile I've already seen an absolutely adorable book that I can't wait to snap up from Atlas Games. I look forward to seeing more stuff tomorrow when the exhibit halls are set up for real.

Will try to find time to get some of my food photos posted this week but it may all wait until I get home. Damned getting older. 9:30 in Vegas and I'm dead tired (and the exhibit hall hasn't even opened yet!). For now, this is all the news I can think to report.

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Food is Fuel

Doctors appointment at the crack of dawn tomorrow but today was all about the fennel broth.

Met with the nutritionist today. It's energizing to be told I'm doing the right things. She seems to find me amusing, she laughs a lot. "Oh Nicole!" she gasps, and writes things down. She asks about my recent cooking forays and I try to give her an idea of the sorts of things I've been successful with. I tell her about Super Natural Cooking, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and A New Way to Cook. I tell her about soba noodles, tofu and vegetables... about homemade fennel broth, curry noodles, braised cabbage and smoked ham. "I've written a cookbook but nothing like this," she says, jotting, jotting. We laugh and joke for half the appointment. This talk invigorates me. I'm doing the right things, approved by a professional. She is looking forward to my restaurant recommendations from Vegas after GTS.

This afternoon Christine needed a ride home after an appointment at the PolyClinic. I caught a distinct vibe that she might also need some fennel broth so I whipped some up and brought it with me, then ran off to get Pramas and groceries and returned with provisions enough to make Coriander-Crusted Scallops in Fennel Broth. I improvised a bit with the recipe (the original calls for saffron noodles but I substituted a bed of sauteed spinach and roasted root vegetables) and bought but forgot to add the creme fraiche and chopped herbs but it was delicious anyway and we ate like royalty.

The recipe, as it appears in A New Way to Cook:

Coriander-Crusted Scallops in Fennel Broth

4 ounces saffron noodles (or tagliatelle or linguine)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups fennel broth
1/3 cup coriander seeds
1 1/4 lb. sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp creme fraiche
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mixed fresh herbs

If using noodles, boil in salted water until al dente, drain and run under cool water. Toss lightly with 1/2 tsp. oil to keep them from sticking together (this is where I wilted some spinach and roasted cubed parsnips, fresh fennel, carrots, sweet potatoes and a couple of mushrooms for good measure).

In a small saucepan bring the fennel broth to a boil and reduce to about a cup and a half to concentrate the flavor. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

In a small skillet, toast the coriander seeds over low heat until fragrant. Grind into a medium-fine powder with a grinder, blender, or mortar and pestle.

Sprinkle the scallops lightly on all sides with mixture of salt, cayenne, and sugar. Thoroughly coat the scallops in the coriander. Shake off excess.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add 2 tsp of the oil to coat pan and heat for 30 seconds. Add scallops in a single layer without crowding in the pan (cook in two batches if necessary). Cook for about 2 minutes per side.

Stir the creme fraiche into the broth.

At this point I layered the veggies into shallow bowls, arranged the scallops on top, and topped the whole thing with the hot broth. I should have garnished with herbs, but I forgot both the herbs and the creme. It was just dandy anyway.

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I wanted to thank everyone for their sympathy on the whole friend moving away issue. I really do appreciate it. I just needed to cry a little for myself so I could move forward being supportive and positive for my friend and his opportunities. Everything about this move has the possibility to be good for him, personally and professionally. I'm fully supportive of him taking this and running with it, he deserves it. He's even considering starting a blog so we can all keep up with him, which would be great. I've been able to remain closest to distant friends who are enthusiastic internet users.

Meanwhile it was game night last night, so I made up some Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf and Guinness Chocolate Cake in his honor and we drank some Bowmore 17-year and had one last game night hurrah. We even squeezed in a couple of games of Tsuro right at the end so we could say we actually played games on game night.

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Food Blogging

I'm desperately behind on updating my recipe pages because I'm also desperately behind on a bunch of stuff that is way more important. Still, I'm continuing to try new things. Earlier this week I made seared sea scallops with a side of the tabbouleh we made at Ray's and some broiled fennel with Parmesan and lime which was simple and really, really good. Last night it was shrimp and papaya salad over spinach (from Pacific Flavors) and tonight it was leftover salad plus a curry udon pot (from Super Natural Cooking). The udon pot was really quick to make and pretty delicious, though Kate objected because it contained flavor. She prefers her udon in an artificial chicken flavored salty broth. Will be eating that for lunch this week. Yum!

One of these days I'll get the recipes (and my various modifications) posted. Right now I'm struggling with some new medications that are knocking me for a loop, cutting into my already tight schedule. I absolutely had to take a nap this afternoon because I was so devastatingly tired, a side effect from the new medication that I started yesterday. On the good side, I got some much-needed sleep. On the bad side, I awoke feeling groggy and I lost two hours in the middle of the day where I'd hoped to be productive.

Kate's class play is over at least. Now it's just the distraction of getting her class trip to New York sorted out. The teacher swears he'll get me their itinerary tomorrow. As we leave in less than 30 days, I'm increasingly anxious about not having the details in place. I finally just had to make my own plane reservations because I couldn't stand not having that part sorted out less than 5 weeks from the travel day. Luckily I got a really good rate for us so it won't be any more expensive than flying with the group (and probably less).

Fingers crossed that I can make some progress on things this week without too many distractions, crises, doctor appointments or general wackiness.

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Dinner Tonight: Otsu

Followed this recipe from Super Natural Cooking. Midway through prepping the ingredients, we got a call that we could pick up a package we've been waiting for at DHL but only for another 20 minutes. As the sole driver in the house, I took off to get the package and Pramas finished the dinner prep. I arrived home to a spicy, tangy blend of soba noodles, cucumber, tofu, green onion, cilantro and sesame seeds in a lemon-ginger-honey-rice vinegar-sesame oil dressing. Kind of a cold salad. Our family likes soft tofu better than fried so we skipped that step altogether. This is a great jumping off point for all sorts of permutations on the provided recipe. I would have enjoyed twice as much cucumber and could see adding other veggies or elements to the dressing easily.

Good food after a long day of running around and being "on" and stressed. I can't do anything tomorrow until I go to the nearest gas station and fill up, though, because I accidentally ran the poor PIF severely under the empty line tonight. Really glad I didn't run out of gas on the road or out in the dark and remote industrial park where the DHL office was!

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Village Voice on Iron Chef America

I laughed my way through this story on Iron Chef America today.

Hint to Robert Sietsema: Kit isn't really a talking car, the actors in Star Trek didn't actually "beam" anywhere, and that cute baby from Full House was played by twins. TWINS!

Of course tv shows are edited for maximum excitement. And we totally know that "The Chairman" isn't really a "chairman" of anything, or the nephew of the Japanese actor Takeshi Kaga who played the role of the original Chairman. ::roll eyes::

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Mark Bittman

Coming clean about my vast collection of too neglected cookbooks, I have to admit that poor Mark Bittman has been among the most neglected. For years I've had his cookbooks on my shelf. How to Cook Everything, The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, The Minimalist Cooks at Home. I received How to Cook Everything Vegetarian off my wish list this Christmas. Over the years I've browsed each book idly but cooked precious little. I've marked a single recipe (Fish Simmered in Spicy Soy Sauce) as "very good" but I can't tell you how many years ago it was that I tried it.

This is shameful behavior on my part because Bittman deserves better.

It was a little over a year ago that I started to reawaken to Bittman. I can trace the moment exactly: it was when every foodie blog and cooking site went absolutely nutso after his No Knead Bread in the New York Times. What really won me over to Bittman was when I started getting New York Times video content through TiVoCast. The Minimalist segments were right up my alley and Bittman's goofy, good-humored personality won me over immediately. It was the first time I'd seen or heard him instead of just reading him and that was the key.

He's recently started a blog at the New York Times website, Bitten which has quickly become one of my favorites. today's tip on parboiling brown rice in advance so you can use it in quick recipes later as you would white rice is a nifty trick. Though I don't shy from just taking the time brown rice needs not everyone has that luxury and so they miss out on whole grain specialty rices, which is a shame.

Once I've plowed through the list of recipes I want to try out of Super Natural Cooking and A New Way to Cook, Bittman's recipes are next on the list for trial. I may even screw up the courage to try the No Knead Bread (though my anti-bread aura is nearly as strong and infamous as my anti-technology aura).

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Wine and Games

Jess has a wine locker at a wine storage place here in Seattle. One of the benefits of this is that they have a room that members can use for private tastings or small gatherings. It was the perfect location for a little wine and gaming. Originally we were going to play some old-school D&D but we were down a couple players and the GM had a hard week so we defaulted to Descent instead. Great space. I took a bunch of photos.

Sunday Pramas left for GDC so Kate and I cooked up a batch of food John and Jenny. Yesterday was the official due date (though no baby sign yet) and we wanted to make sure they were loaded up with some food in the freezer while they wait for their little pumpkin to arrive. They got a batch of Thai-style Ground Beef, a couple pans of Chicken Enchiladas Verdes, and some Lasagna Rolls that Kate did herself from start to finish. Then we baked up a pan of Chicken with Olives and Lemon and a rice cooker full of rice and arrived with dinner hot and ready to go. Had a nice dinner and and even nicer visit. Am very excited to see them with their baby... not long now.

I also uploaded a gazillion photos that have been sitting on my hard drive waiting for attention. I've got a set for our trip to Boom Noodle, my visit to Brouwer's for Belgian beers and pomme frites, a photo set from the Theo Chocolate tour, photos from Jenny's baby shower last month, a look at the room where Chris did his sleep study, and a recent visit to Aoki Sushi.

Whew. You'd think I'd been busy or something.

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Theo + Kawali Grill + Spiderwick

Busy day. I've got photos and whatnot to recap with over the weekend if I find time but I'm frankly exhausted. In addition to prepping for a gigantic shipment of individual orders related to Green Ronin's Freelancer Fundraiser I had a pretty action packed day.

I went on a tour of Theo Chocolates in Freemont. Pretty fun and interesting (except for the oompa loompa dance, ug) and definitely worth the $5. Came home with lots of interesting chocolates and some freakin' awesome chocolate scrubs and lotions to boot (that stuff cost more than $5 but sooooo worth it).

I attended a meeting at Kate's school to go over the so-called details of the trip with the other parents and kids (supposedly). This was not at all fun, so I'm not going to dwell on that right now except to say that I may just be begging for crash space with people I know in New York because I can't imagine actually trying to stay 27 miles out of the city in a random New Jersey city ("I can't remember the name, it starts with a P.") in a $55/night Days Inn with 38 kids and calling that a trip to "New York". Ug.

After the meeting Kate and Chris and I decided we were going down to Columbia City to catch the Spiderwick Chronicles. We decided to have dinner out tonight and instead of going to one of our usual favorite restaurants I suggested that we try something new and hit up the Kawali Grill. Kawali Grill looks a little like a Pho joint or some other casual dining establishment and the food is unpretentious but the chef is top notch and the food was some really good and interesting Filipino-inspired stuff. We had some truly fantastic chicken satay with a great peanut sauce, then Chris tried a dish called Lechon Kawali and I had the house special Oxtail Kare Kare and Kate confined herself to a grilled cheese and fries. Food was fantastic, the Filipino television was hilarious, the chef personally came out to check in with us a couple of times and we were the only white folks in the place (usually a good sign of authenticity). Oh, and Kiro 7 News showed up to film something while we looked on but we couldn't quite figure out what it was about.

Spiderwick was enjoyable. I thought the visuals were incredibly faithful to Tony D's original artwork, which was so cool. The kid playing the role of the twins was convincing as his double character, and even though Kate ran down for us all the changes between the movie and the books I thought the changes were sensible and acceptably faithful to the source. A solid family movie. Congratulations to Holly and Tony!

And now: bed!

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Official: My new favorite cookbook

This one is a real winner! I'm ashamed of myself that I've never done more than look through some of the pretty photographs in this book before now. Maybe if I'd read this glowing review in The Atlantic Monthly ...which it turns out I completely agree with, seven years late.

Yesterday I made a simple fennel stock from scratch from the recipe in this book. Glorious! It was hard not to just sit down and eat the broth as it was. I had something else in mind for the stock, though, and for dinner we moved on to the recipe for Beans and Wild Mushrooms in Fennel Broth. I used the pressure cooker to cook up some dried Great Northern beans from scratch instead of using canned, so I followed the recipe for Basic Cooked Beans from the book, and then combined my beans and broth with the remaining ingredients for the soup. I used oyster mushrooms because they were plentiful at the store but this soup would be incredible with something more like a morel instead. Chris, upon trying the soup, proclaimed that had he been served this soup in a fancy restaurant he would not have been disappointed.

Fennel and fish go well together so I used last night to hit my goal of having fish once a week and whipped up a recipe of Sesame Crusted Swordfish with Cilantro and Coconut Chutney, once again from A New Way to Cook. Simple, easy, and very yummy.

Another excellent bonus of this book is the author includes nutritional information for each recipe in an index, so I could quickly calculate the calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber of these dishes. I've been spoiled by having Cooking Light as my go-to source for recipes all these years and have been finding that I really want to have the nutritional breakdowns for the things I'm cooking at home. That information is not included in most cookbooks, so extra bonus points to Sally Schneider for figuring out and including the information in hers.

I expect I'll properly update my recipe pages over the weekend for my own reference. I am kicking myself because I made some excellent baked beans with kale at some point this winter (prepped the dish ahead and put it in the freezer for later use) and I've now forgotten where among my vast collection of cookbooks, magazines, and online resources I got the original recipe! Updating my recipe pages is one way for me to keep track and I've been terribly lax about it these last several months. No more!

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Pizza and PIF-fany

Tonight was wargame night for Pramas so Kate and I had a girl's night out and we went to Stellar Pizza for dinner. Kate was cracking me up, just random stuff like referring to Washington apples being grown "way out there in Tukwila or something," (part of Tukwila shares our zipcode, but to City Girl Kate it seems like the sticks or something) or, when I said that I really didn't like the heavy metal that was playing because I'd lived through that once in my teen years, she said, "What, did they play it at the dentist?" (in her mind my dislikes must somehow be related, I guess...) meanwhile I'm laughing my head off imagining a dentist's office that played heavy metal and Kate says, "Just imagine, your dentist was a former tattoo artist!" Frickin' hilarious, that girl. We were having a good time.

Amidst the topics of conversation was Inn Fighting and how much Kate likes it. I teased her that of course she likes it, she wins at it! Next thing I know, I look over my shoulder and who should be sitting with a large group in the next section over but Inn Fighting designer Rob Heinsoo and his lovely wife! Kate couldn't go over because they were in the over 21 section but I sneaked over and tapped him on the shoulder. "My daughter loves your game." We caught up briefly (they were in after a successful soccer game with the rest of their team) and then I excused myself back to join Kate in the family section. Rob and Lisa were nice enough to come by our table again for a few minutes to say hi to Kate and we gossiped about neighborhood politics and whatnot. Rob threatened to challenge Kate to a game of Inn Fighting someday.

It was then that I realized that the only reason Kate and I were out tonight was because we have the PIF, the good ol' Pay-It-Forward car. Going out for pizza for a couple of hours was precisely the sort of activity that I would have denied myself most of the time if forced to do it by Flexcar but with the PIF it's possible for us to roll the mile down the hill and back without expense or having to watch the clock the whole time or any of that nonsense. I mentioned this to R&L because I knew that before J&J had the car it had been gifted to them and they'd been the ones who had passed it on to John, who had since passed it on to me. I didn't bother to tell them I've dubbed her PIFfany because it would have taken too long to explain. We declared that it was, indeed, a Good Karma car.

How lovely to spend a fun evening with my girl and run into Rob and Lisa all in one night.

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A New Way to Cook

Having exhausted myself on Cooking Thin for the time being, I've been combing through my excessive collection of cookbooks in search of other inspiring options. I have about a week's worth of recipes from Super Natural Cooking that I can now put together at any given moment (minus one or two ingredients). I expect we'll have some Otsu this weekend.

I also pulled out a book of mine that I got sometime between 1993 and 1997, when I was living in Vancouver, BC. Several pages in the section on rice and noodles are filthy, marked, and well-used. When I was living in Vancouver on my husband's grad student stipend, we couldn't afford the recipes that called for shrimp or salmon or steamer clams and I haven't looked much at it in the last decade or so. An interesting book of Asian fusion cooking, it was good for its time but many of the recipes rely very heavily cilantro, ginger, garlic and lemon or lime over and over. I guess a decade ago, those were ingredients that were common enough that it was safe to build a recipe around them with slight variations and still capture some of that "Pacific flavor" but even trying very hard to only pick recipes with the most differentiation, I felt my mental palate beginning to tire. I'm still interested in trying a couple of the recipes I've flagged but I have to admit they show their age a bit. Still, the Thai Papaya Shrimp Salad sounds good enough that I'm going to give it a spin as soon as my green papayas are sufficiently ripe.

Another book I've had for the better part of 7 years is one that I've looked through once in a while but never tackled in any meaningful way. This weekend I went through it thoroughly. Unlike Pacific Flavors, A New Way to Cook remains fresh and enticing. With my current nutritional goals in mind, suddenly this book was singing to me. I went through it thoroughly over the weekend, taking notes and marking out almost a dozen recipes that I can hardly wait to try. Cabbage Braised with Smoky Ham and Riesling. Sesame-Crusted Swordfish with Cilantro and Coconut Chutney. Honey-Cured Pork Loin with Juniper and Fennel Seed Rub. Beans with Wild Mushrooms in Fennel Broth. I'm so excited about these new flavors, I can barely contain myself. I didn't have the energy to make homemade fennel broth when I got home from the store tonight at close to 10pm, but soon, very soon, it will be mine.

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Today's Excellent Meal

I just adore Heidi Swanson's food blog, 101Cookbooks.com so when I was thinking of what to make for lunch today (which turned into a bit of an impromptu Bed Day when Kate went over to a friend's house for the day) I immediately thought of the gorgeous Vegetarian Split Pea Soup recipe she just posted. Inspired, I added her Curried Egg Salad on a piece of whole grain dark toast.

It turned out great! The soup really benefited from the garnishes: olive oil, smoked paprika, and just a hit of lemon zest. Wow, what a winner!

Heidi's book, Super Natural Cooking, is also an excellent resource. I highly recommend browsing around Heidi's generous blog archives and if you like what you see, give the cookbook a look for yourselves.

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Nikchick Eats More Veggies

Met with a nutritionist today. Wow, was that RIGHT up my alley. It was great to have my gut instincts validated by a professional who gave thumbs up to my recent food choices and was able to laugh at my enthusiasm when I blurted out things like "I already have that in the fridge!" or "I have a great recipe for that!" in response to her suggestions. Her selections of rubber foods to demonstrate portion sizes for everything from peanut butter to pork chops were a hoot. Hooray for nutrition therapy, that's what I say.

Am continuing to move my diet back to including many more vegetables. Now, I'm a former vegetarian and I have a broad palate and no fear of veggies or soy but I've also got a weakness for meat and cheese. I am, after all, a Midwestern girl at heart and the daughter of a hunter to boot. Trying to be a vegetarian in my dad's house meant a lot of iceberg lettuce. Blech.

Three more recent recipes, simple but different enough, both from the Kathleen Daelemans book that I've referred to before.

Oven-Roasted Carrots and Parsnips

1 pound peeled carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound peeled parsnips, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Put vegetable chunks in a ziptop bag with the oil and shake to coat evenly. Pour vegetables onto a baking sheet in a single layer, salt and pepper to taste. Roast uncovered 25-35 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until vegetables are cooked through. My parsnips were softer than my carrots, so I would recommend judging doneness from the tenderness of the carrots first.

Fennel, Carrot, and Cranberry Salad

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 head fennel, cored and grated or finely julienned
2 carrots, peeled and grated or finely julienned
1/4 cup dried cranberries, cherries, or raisins
salt and pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey and olive oil. Combine fennel, carrots, and cranberries in a medium bowl and toss with half the dressing. Refrigerate for at least four hours. Before serving, drain off any water given off by the fennel and re-dress with the remaining dressing. Season to taste, serve immediately. This salad was absolutely delicious and went great with a broiled herb-crusted tilapia fillet.
EDIT: That should be 1/4 cup dried cranberries, NOT 14 cups dried cranberries. Yikes!

Apple and Raw Beet Salad

1 tsp. grated ginger root
1 pound beets
1 large Granny Smith apple
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (I actually used 2 Tbsp raspberry vinegar and 1 Tbsp cider vinegar)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 to 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Grate fresh ginger directly into a medium bowl (definitely use a microplane grater for this if you have one! It also works to press the ginger through a heavy duty garlic press if you have that instead). Grate beets and apple with a large-sized grater (I used my food processor for this but you could use a box grater just as easily). Toss until ginger is evenly distributed. Add vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil to the bowl and toss to coat evenly. Adjust seasonings if desired. Serve immediately or chilled.

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Cooking Again

Monday I had a minor procedure done at Virginia Mason and when dinner time rolled around, I did not feel up to being on my feet and cooking anything. I was also definitely not in the mood to drive (or ride the bus!) anywhere in the cold and damp. Luckily for me, my sweetie is a capable cook and stepped up to the plate.

It's undoubtedly a factor of my childhood poverty that drives me to keep my house ridiculously stocked with food. That tendency has served me well (like the summer when I was pregnant and my grad student husband didn't have a job... we lived on little but my stores got us a long way through what could have been an even more unpleasant situation) and came to my rescue again this week. Chris was able to pull from a selection of foods that I'd prepared in advance and chose some lean pork chops that had been frozen in a ginger-soy marinade. We had the spinach-pear salad with them and called it a good meal.

Tonight I was in the same frame of mind but for a different reason. After a week that involved a lot of stress and a lot of running around, today was Bed Day. I made a thermos of hot tea and took it to bed with me, where I watched my ancient VHS tape of Groundhog Day (from back in the days when you didn't have to watch commercials before the movie you just bought), read my Cooks Illustrated 2007 Annual, lounged, napped, and never got out of my jammies.

Pulling together a dinner from leftovers and what we had in the fridge, I sliced a couple of remaining pork chops and sauteed the strips, heated some leftover Black Japonica rice that I'd served this week with some sweet and sour tofu, dug out some whole wheat tortillas, shredded romaine, a little extra sharp cheddar and a jar of salsa to make a hearty and delicious meal. I wanted to make my favorite tomato, avocado, and preserved lemon salad but when I went to cut into the avocado it was gross so I improvised a tomato-hearts of palm salad with balsamic and lime instead. I was inordinately pleased with the dinner.

Lest I give the impression that everything is a success, I made an egg and vegetable dish for breakfast that took so long to prepare it turned into lunch. First I had to slice and grill (or roast) several slices of zucchini and eggplant. I had bottled roasted red peppers so I didn't do those from scratch, though they undoubtedly would have tasted far better. When the veggies were roasted, they were layered in a baking dish with a chopped mix of herbs between each layer (I used fresh parsley, oregano, and thyme) and four hollows made and then four eggs cracked into each hollow. The whole thing was topped with a little tomato sauce and grated Parmesan and baked. I was feeling pretty good about it (the directions for the recipe I was following said bake for 7-10 minutes until the yolks set) but my yolks absolutely would not set! I baked for 10 minutes. Nothing. Five minutes more, still not even close. I tried giving the whole thing a zap in the microwave and the yolks finally set. Once the dish was done, it was fine and all but pretty much not worth the work. As I said to Chris, it's no Eggs Beatrice (though to be fair, it doesn't have the better part of a stick of butter in it, either).

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What are you cooking?

Visiting with a friend recently, he asked me what I'd been cooking. I realized that I my usual convention season cooking hiatus had extended itself through the holidays and was clinging on. I haven't been nearly my usual cooking self.

I'm turning that around and have been trying a bunch of new recipes. Here are a couple of easy, tasty salad recipes that we've given the thumbs up to:

Napa Cabbage Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
from Cooking Thin by Kathleen Daelemans

1 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
8 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
1 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro leaves (or, if you're Marc, sub in parsley)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, grated
1 cup toasted peanuts (I used low salt dry roasted) roughly chopped

Whisk together sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add ginger and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together cabbaqge, cilantro, scallions, and carrot. Toss in peanuts. Toss all with dressing until evenly distributed.

Spinach & Pear Salad with Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette
from Seattle and King County Public Health

2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pears, cored and sliced lengthwise
8 cups torn fresh spinach
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, whisk together the water, vinegar, olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, and black pepper. In large bowl, add the pear slices and 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Add remaining dressing, spinach and onion and toss to coat

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Motivation (or lack thereof)

Chris and I are having a cocktail party this weekend and I'm struggling to get properly motivated. Mostly, I'm feeling cramped. Kate is out of school, needing attention or just kind of bumping around in the background. Rosie, the world's sweetest attention sponge, is staying through the next week and is really a very sweet girl but she's desperate to be right on top of me if I so much as sneeze, plus there's a Christmas tree up and taking up space along with the usual assortment of boxes and random whatnot.

Usually I'd find the prospect of preparing for our cocktail party very energizing but I'm having trouble ramping up for it and I'm running out of time. Tomorrow is going to be insane. In addition to prepping for the party I'm meeting friends for lunch at Farestart (something we agreed to do in lieu of exchanging gifts, although a certain friend cheated and handed us "stocking stuffers" anyway) and Bruce is in town and joining us for dinner at Umi Sake House tomorrow night.

I was out running errands today so I got to start my morning at the Columbia City Bakery, which makes my favorite Americano in Seattle (not to mention the delicious pastries). I did not see any donut muffins as reported at Cakespy recently but I'll be keeping my eyes open from now on. At the tail end of my day of errands, I treated myself to lunch at the newly reopened Hangar Cafe. I heard about the reopening thanks to JvA over at Mid Beacon Hill and finally found myself out, about, and absolutely starving at the right time. Had a delicious ham-packed Hangar Crepe and a couple of steaming mugs of coffee on this cold and crappy day. I'll definitely find an excuse to go back soon. I haven't checked my camera to see if my stealth photos (when you're one of three guests in a place that has a total of seven tables, obsessive food photography can be a little obtrusive so I try to be as inconspicuous as possible) turned out but I'll post 'em up soon if they did.

Now to figure out why I'm not tired when I should be and hopefully get some decent sleep tonight. Busy day tomorrow.

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