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A Real (If Short) Vacation

You may not be able to tell, but that’s us on the beach.

[Editor’s Note: Every time I think I’m just going to write a super short post and throw up some pictures, it turns out to be… well… the opposite of short. Sorry. Remember you can always skip the words and just look at the pretty stuff.]
 
We just got back from the first non-visiting-relatives vacation we’ve been on in years. True, we were visiting a friend, but… it is so not the same. We went to Portland, Oregon, which is an excellent place to be, and is the current home of my best friend in the world ever, Lindsay. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Funky city plus lots of amazing nature and only 90 minutes from The Ocean. (Which, we decided while there, should be the goal of ALL vacations.)

Aside from the Incident* with my drivers’ license, it was an awesome trip. We had some adventures in and around the city with a plethora of gorgeous views, some of which you’ll see below, we ate really well. Possibly the best ever on a trip away from home. So let me recap for you. 

Saturday.
We arrived, famished, a little after noon. 2pm our time. Lindsay had leftover roasted root vegetables (delicious) which we ate with some black bean burgers and cheese (also tasty.)

Our plan was to celebrate her birthday as well as mine (they’re about 2 weeks apart) during our visit, so she invited a handful of friends over for a dinner party. We discussed some options and hit the farmstand and the grocery store, where we snagged some tasty local wines in addition to the other ingredients. We ended up with an appetizer of some wonderfully creamy cheese (not Brie, but something like it, sorry I forgot what), caramelized shallots, and fresh figs cooked in wine on some very crusty bread. We followed it with fennel-roasted (FRESH ALASKAN!) salmon over mixed greens. For dessert, we made this Mocha Marjolaine cake, which was fantastic. While devouring it, Lindsay and I discussed the handful of little changes we would make to the recipe to take it from a 10 to an 11+ the next time. (In case you’re thinking of giving it a try – and you should – we agreed that you should ditch the almonds and use only extra-toasty hazelnuts; make the coffee whipped cream stronger and use it between all the layers; coat the whole thing with the dark chocolate ganache; and skip the ‘light’ chocolate ganache altogether.) We also grilled some peaches and served them with vanilla ice cream. Amazing.

And then? Board games and WhiskeyTime™and even more desserts because a few more people showed up with brownies. Somewhere in the midst of all this, it became way late in our time, and moderately late on Portland time, and we totally crashed into bed and slept forever.

Apparently, we took no pictures on Saturday. 

Sunday.
Until we woke up at what felt like noon but was actually 9am or so. We cooked up some eggs on toast before driving out to the coast. Once there, we had lunch at a pub/brewery, which had totally decent beer. We all ordered some kind of fish because, you know, we were on the oceanfront, so why would we eat anything else? I had some excellent crab cakes; Julia had a seared tuna wrap which was good, but would have been improved by more tuna and less wrap and a menu description that actually implied it was in a wrap (as opposed to on a bed of spinach as we imagined.)

Wave Jumpers.

Then we EXPLORED. We ran in the ocean and jumped over the waves. And maybe, just maybe, while I was trying to film one coming into shore, it might have come faster than anticipated. And I might have a video of us squealing and running away, taken on my phone-in-hand, à la Blair Witch. It is hilarious. At least to us.

We climbed up a sand dune…
Beach, with view of the sand dune we hiked up
Victory. And pretty rocks. And my finger.
…and sat on the edge of an amazing cliff…
Awesome rocks and a big cave

We ate dinner at another seafood joint near the water. Clams, Bouillabaisse, Fish & Chips, Shrimp, Clam Chowder. And then three of us fell asleep in the car on the way back to the city…

Sunset at the Ocean

Monday.
On our last full day, we decided to run amok in the city proper. We visited Powell’s bookstore, which was as huge and awesome as I remembered it. We went to a little tea shop with over a hundred varieties of tea (in bulk!) and re-stocked our supply. We wandered up and down the street around it, window shopping, trying things on that we’d never buy, trying things on with no intention of buying them and then buying them anyway…

When we tired of that, we sat on Lindsay’s front porch with glasses of wine. And then we finished the day with a bountiful, yet unbelievably reasonably priced, sushi dinner. And by reasonably priced, I mean we spent less for the four of us than we ordinarily do for the two of us in Chicago and we got more food. 

Tuesday.
We had just enough time for a quick stop at the infamous Voodoo Doughnut followed by a tour through the Columbia River gorge. Which is lovely and breathtaking and very rainforest-y.

Washington state to the left of the river; Oregon to the right
Waterfalls are pretty.

And then we went to the airport and came home to Chicago.

*The Incident: So when we got to the airport in Chicago to get on the plane to Portland, we found out the hard way (yes, that means during the TSA screening process) that my driver’s license had expired on my birthday. Which was the week before. The lady was nice enough to let us through, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But after about 24 hours in Portland, I realized I could have the same problem on the way home and they might not be so nice and ohmygod panic. Which was followed by another, smaller incident in which I was not allowed to purchase a really wonderful-sounding glass of wine because I couldn’t prove my age. So. I called Illinois, who told me they couldn’t do anything and I needed to come in person to renew it. Which, of course, I cannot do from Portland. So. I went to the airport hoping they’d be nice and let me through, and somehow, magically, they didn’t notice my license was expired and they let me through. And then Julia tried to go through but her license lists 2009 as its expiration date. But. Illinois does this stupid thing where you can renew online if you haven’t been in any accidents lately and then they mail you a sticker to put on the back which says it’s good for 4 more years. Which she’d done, and it was, so they let her through too. And then we went home. On Wednesday I renewed my expired license in about 7 minutes and hopefully that is that.

The Best Weekend

(This post should have been written on Monday. When it was fresh. But I didn’t do that because I didn’t feel like it, so I hope you don’t mind its tardiness. If you do, you don’t have to read it. But you should because there is lots of yummy food and I even remembered to take pictures.)

This past weekend, Julia FINALLY had some days off. And I don’t mean like… days off since last week, when she had days off like you do. I mean days off like damn, she opened two completely different show full of costumes she designed and made which opened within a month of each other, and for which she had to leave the show she had been running 8 shows a week on, including Saturdays & Sundays when we ordinarily see each other, which started in March(?). I mean days off as in I haven’t had a whole day off with my wife in at least three months. That kind of days off.

So we lazed around the house in our pajamas all weekend long doing nothing.

What I learned this weekend is that unlike three or four years ago when “doing nothing” meant ordering pizza, making pancakes from a just-add-water mix, and otherwise not really leaving the couch, “doing nothing” now apparently means mostly that, but instead of take out, we cook a lot of nice things…

Crispy Fish with Tomato, Corn, and Leek Sauté
Tuscan Lamb with Garlicky Tomato Sauce and Polenta

… and sometimes after consuming a bottle of wine, we decide we really want dessert so we might as well whip up a chocolate soufflé…

how to melt chocolate while drunk.
how to beat egg whites while drunk.

how to do a really half-assed job of folding beaten egg whites into melted chocolate… while drunk.

… and while it’s baking we have just enough time to do the dishes and change the sheets, and fight about how to make the bed properly and realize what a stupid fight we are having and make up just before the timer beeps, and then there is this:

how to eat a chocolate souffé while drunk? two spoons.

And lest you think that’s the laziest we get, a Sunday morning of “doing nothing” meant figuring out a new household budget, and then taking our pre-approved weekly amount to the farmers’ market so we could buy up a bunch of veggies and fresh cream and grass-fed bacon.

Eggs over Arugula-Mustard Salad with Fresh Bacon

Which became a delicious breakfast and then later, we made our favorite flavor of ice cream – strawberry basil – with all organic fresh from the market ingredients. Which is not pictured because I was eating it. Sorry.

Best. Weekend. Ever.

On the Menu This Week

Photo by Jonny Valiant/Real Simple

I thought it might be fun to put our weekly menus up on the blog. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own meal planning, or maybe you’ll just pester me for pictures and then I’ll actually remember to take them. [For example, on Friday night, I made this Balsamic-glazed Lamb Meatloaf with Cannelini Bean Salad, but since we didn’t get around to dinner until 10pm, by which time we were starving, no photo was taken. And last night I made Chili-Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato Hash, but I was home alone and remembered my camera after I was halfway done eating, which is not so pretty… so I swiped these pictures from the internet, and I am happy to report that both our meals looked and tasted as good as them.]

Photo by Con Poulos/Real Simple

In any case, here’s what we’re planning to eat in the near future. As I mentioned (I think?), we try to eat vegetarian at least 3 nights a week. To fill out the week, we do 2 fish meals (usually salmon and basa fillets), 1 poultry night (chicken, unless there’s a holiday), and 1 meat (lamb, pork, or beef). Rather than breaking this down by day, I’ll divide by type of meal. Recipes are linked where possible. (You’ll notice a lot of them come from Real Simple. They have great, interesting, easy recipes which include side dishes, so we look there a lot.)

Vegetarian
Three-Bean Chili with Spring Pesto
Southwestern Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Fish
Salmon with Lemon-Cilantro Vinaigrette (a favorite that takes less than 20 minutes!)
Crispy Fish with Tomato & Leek Saute; Mixed Greens

Poultry/Meat
Lasagna or Tacos, depending on what I’m in the mood for
Cayenne Chicken with Avocado Salsa; Mashed Plantains with Leeks & Fresh Herbs

A little meal-planning analysis: chickpeas, leeks, tomatoes, avocados, and cilantro are all used in more than one recipe. I always try to use cilantro in more than one thing because the bunches at our grocery stores are HUGE. See my post from the other day here.

What are you cooking up this week?

A New Cookbook

It’s Saturday on a holiday weekend, so I’m gonna keep this short and sweet. 

Yesterday, my copy of The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook: Local Food, Local Restaurants, Local Recipes arrived, and I am pretty stoked about it. I cannot wait to dive into some of the recipes inside. Maybe as soon as next week. Especially since the farmers’ markets are about to start up, and fresh, local produce will be readily available. I’m sure I’ll have more to say after I’ve cooked through it a bit, but for now? Yum!

What are your favorite cookbooks?

The link above will take you to Amazon, which has both paper and Kindle versions available. It appears to be available, at least locally, at the big chains, and I’m sure it will appear in some smaller operations as well. I’ll post an update if I find out where.

Down on the Farm: Goat Loin and Homemade Butter

Roasted Goat Loin over Kale, with Asparagus and Caramelized Onions

Last week at the farmer’s market, we were at one of the meat vendors, and we decided to give goat a try. They had some loin pieces that looked good, so we took a couple of them home with us and cooked up some asparagus to go with it. Delicious!

On an unrelated note, if you’re wondering what to do with that extra heavy cream you’ve got in your fridge, I’ll give you one word: butter. Gone are the days of sitting on a stool churning for hours and hours… all you need is your mixer and a little bit of time.

Whipping up some cream. Don’t be like me – use the splatter shield!

First, whip cream using whisk attachment until it breaks apart into liquid and clumps. (This is well after it looks like whipping cream.) When it starts to breakup, switch to the paddle attachment.

Butter and Buttermilk

Keep beating until it’s really divided into liquid and solid. Push the solid to one side of the bowl with a spatula and drain the liquid. Keep it – it’s buttermilk! Now you can make biscuits, waffles, pancakes, or various other delightful buttermilk-y things.

“Washing” the butter

Now that you’ve got your buttermilk set aside, we need to deal with the butter. In order to keep it from spoiling, it’s essential to get every last drop of milk out of it. So, we’re going to pour in some ice cold water, mix again, and then dump out the liquid. (This is not buttermilk, just milky-water, so go ahead and get rid of it.) Then repeat this until the water runs clear.

Voila – butter!
It turned out pretty well, but honestly didn’t taste much different than what we buy at the store. We were hoping it would be more like the Irish butter we occasionally splurge on – rich and creamy. Perhaps we need to use cream that isn’t processed, and we definitely think we’ll be adding a pinch of salt if we do this again!

Craft night redux.

If you were reading last week, you remember how our craft night became an eating and drinking night, and we kinda promised that this week we’d do some actual crafting. Well – let’s just say we crafted pizza and ice cream, and call that a promise kept. And another failure (success?) was that we devoured it before grabbing a camera. So, you’ll have to live with a description instead.

Prior to turning the night into a food free-for-all, we had discussed just having some ice cream, and Jenni tossed out the idea of peach and bacon for the flavor. You may also recall that in not making the initial shrimp dish last week, we consequently did not consume the peaches we’d bought for it. So – this was a perfect idea. Jenni volunteered to candy some bacon and we decided to mince some ginger and add it to the peaches. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. What about dinner, you ask?

Right, so early in the day on Tuesday, after finding out Greta couldn’t make it, we decided to invite Jenni and Rebecca to head over early and join us for dinner. I had been wanting to put homemade pizza on the menu sometime during the week, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. We asked Jenni and Rebecca to bring toppings for one pizza (they brought mushrooms and Mexican cheese; we used some garlic and onion pasta sauce as well) and we had some “like gruyere” cheese and herb sausage from the farmers market, shallots, and pomegranate balsamic vinegar for the second pizza, which was a “white’ (a.k.a. no red sauce) pizza. They were both delicious.

Then we made the ice cream. In order to keep it edible for everyone (Rebecca is a vegetarian) we kept the candied bacon out of it, and just sprinkled it on top. It turned out a bit more gingery than I was expecting, but not in a bad way. Everyone agreed it was yummy (though secretly Julia and I were both thinking that the strawberry basil was better.)

Next week, we’re really going to craft. I swear!

Tuesday night is craft night.

Generally, this means that a handful of us get together and work on whatever sewing and/or crafty projects we are currently working on. Of late, this has been largely focused on wedding-dress-making, and with the wedding and honeymoon actually happening this month, we have had the past couple weeks off. So, despite this being the final Tuesday of July, it was our first craft night of the month.

Here’s what we accomplished:

Fine Art Trifecta: Eating, Drinking, and Discussing.

That’s right – pretty much nothing. At least in terms of crafting. As it turned out, I (Cindy) was not the only one interested in socializing but completely unmotivated to actually craft last night. So, when Greta showed up toting two bottles of three buck Chuck and dark-chocolate-covered-almonds-with-sea-salt just as I pulled the slightly-too-melty brie with farmers’ market sun gold tomato preserves out of the oven… the mentality went from “Maybe we’ll start making shit when Greta gets here” to “Fuck it, let’s eat, drink, and talk.” Which makes this post totally allowed on the food blog. Except, of course, that we failed to get any pictures of the actual food. But trust me when I say Brie + Sun Gold Tomato Preserves + Crushed Almonds = Delicious. [In case you’re wondering about those Sun Gold tomatoes, they’re orange, they look a lot like apricot, and don’t really taste much like what your brain says is tomato. But they’re delish nonetheless. And really, really good on baked brie.]

Tonight, we experimented with Red Snapper, which neither of us had tried before. It was a tasty piece of fish, accompanied by rice, and topped with tomatoes, shallots, kalamata olives, and thyme. We did take pictures, but they didn’t turn out very well – funky lighting or something, but here’s a shot anyway:


Red Snapper with Thyme, Tomato, and Olives (Click for recipe)

Guess I’ll have to do some learning about photographing food. Tasted good though. Up tomorrow is a Zucchini “Tagliatelle” with mint, cucumber, and lemon which sounds pretty good. Hopefully I’ll do better with the camera so we can share.