Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Winter Park, Florida

I'm going to write a bit about Orlando soon, but first I thought I'd share some photos from another favorite spot we went to while we were away: Winter Park. It's a darling little town just north of Orlando. We loved it!

We went to lunch at Ravenous Pig. We originally tried to get dinner reservations, but they were all booked up. I'm so glad we were still able to visit! The space is modern but warm. The menu isn't huge, but everything we ate was amazing - Po' boys, shrimp tacos, charcuterie and the grower salad were all devoured.

After lunch, we went over to Rifle Paper Co. It's a tiny shop, with their workshop in the back. I love their products, and it was such a sweet, happy place. I came home with floral coasters, a notepad and some place cards (for the next time we host Thanksgiving!).

Aren't these hearts adorable? My mom bought a 24x18 print of it to hang in her newly redesigned sun room. The shop girl told us that Urban Outfitter is going to be selling the print soon, so be on the look out if you'd like to snag one yourself!

In the later afternoon, we took a lake tour. After being in Disney World for a few days, an hour out on a boat was heaven.

The Spanish Moss hanging down is so lovely. I wish this would grow in New England!

There were huge houses, and a great view of Rollins. I love looking at colleges, even from afar, so that was a fun treat!

Finally, while my mom, sister and I went to visit the local Lilly store, the boys had a drink at Prato. It was wide open to the street, had a lovely, dark bar, and they report that it had an excellent beer list.

If you're in the Orlando area, I highly recommend a visit to cute Winter Park!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Such is life

(Tulips + my last paper white bulb of the season)

We are back from a wonderful week in Florida! Oh, it was so lovely. It was warm! Flowers were blooming! I saw fireworks!

Re-entry is always sort of difficult, though, right? Yesterday afternoon in the airport parking lot, we found our car had a dead battery. This morning, the shower head broke, spraying water all over the bathroom. I'm fighting a cold. It's time to get our taxes in order. Such is life outside the magical world of Disney!

I hope you all are well! My reader is bursting at the seams, and I can't wait to catch up. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happiest Place on Earth

I am off to Florida this weekend, and I could not be more excited! Peter and I are spending the week in Orlando with my family. We'll visit Micky and Minnie, play some golf, and I hope to read the entire Hunger Games series so I can be finally understand what all the fuss is about!

I'm looking forward to checking out Ravenous Pig and Rifle Paper Co. If you have any other shopping or restaurant suggestions, I'd love to hear! 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Crafty February: Homemade Ricotta

I mentioned earlier this week that my first attempt at homemade ricotta was a total bust. I followed Smitten Kitchen's recipe, and it just didn't curdle properly. It was sort of lightly turned milk (gross). I used Meyer lemon juice, and maybe it wasn't acidic enough? 

After I bit of research, I came across this food lab article by Serious Eats. I tried again with vinegar and only whole milk (not a combination of milk and cream). After I added the vinegar, I kept the pan on the stove, with the heat off, for five minutes. As you can see, it worked! When I placed the mixture over the cheese cloth, the whey drained off really quickly. I only let it strain for five minutes (instead of over two hours the first time!). It came off of the cheese cloth like a nice, fresh blop of cheese. Success!

I was so proud. It was almost better because of the first failure, you know? This week we ate it in a pasta dish with cauliflower, and also mixed it with pesto for an artichoke pizza. So good!

You will need: 

4 cups whole milk (not ultra pasteurized - it's science!)
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vinegar (white or apple cider)

Using a candy thermometer, heat milk and salt in a pan to 180-200 degrees F, stirring occasionally. With the heat still on, add in 3 tablespoons of vinegar. Turn the heat off, and stir gently once or twice. Let the mixture sit undisturbed for five minutes. It should be very curdled and look like the second picture, above.

While letting the vinegar and milk mixture sit, place a fine mesh colander over a bowl. Line with cheese cloth or a few layers of paper towels. Pour the mixture over the cheese cloth. Let sit for one to five minutes, depending on how "loose" you'd like your cheese to be. Place ricotta into an air tight container and refrigerate. It can be stored for up to four days.

I dumped the whey out (it looked like...lemonade, to be polite), but some people find good ways to use it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The lucky lady

Last night Peter came through the door with a bunch of flowers. He thought it would be more of a surprise yesterday. It was! 

While in the flower section of the grocery store, he ran into one of his students buying roses. When he told me about it at dinner I was all, "Does he have a girlfriend?! Or does he just have a crush on someone and he's going to surprise her with the flowers? I wonder if she likes him back...Oh my gosh, I hope so. That would be so embarrassing if she doesn't. Or maybe they're for his mom!"

Unfortunately, none of my questions were answers. If I was a teacher, I would be (maybe a bit too) invested in my student's relationships. Peter takes the opposite (probably more healthy) approach. Anyways, I sure hope the lucky lady appreciates those flowers!

I wish you all have a very happy Valentine's Day! Tonight I'm picking up some lobsters and throwing this together to go with. Usually I'm most excited about dessert, but I'm drawing a blank this year. Are you baking anything special for your sweetheart?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Crafty February: Felt Ball Garland

Last week was a crafty February fail. First, homemade ricotta came out like a bowl of cooked milk (ew). Then my fabric covered box project turned into a lumpy mess (boo). So! I am showing you this felt ball garland.

I whipped this up in under twenty minutes. I've had a bag of little felt balls for a long time. I picked out the pastel colors and stung them together using embroidery floss and a big embroidery needle. It will probably go on my Easter tree in a few weeks, but for not, it's strung up on the mantle.

Have you ever made ricotta at home? I'm tempted to try again if anyone has a recipe they've used with good results!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Tale of Two Dinners: The Best of Times

We had my sisters- and (brand new!) brother-in-law over to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. There was deep sadness about the Patriot's loss - and we aren't even really fans! I think the local angle got to everybody.

But the food and snacks were on point. Peter made chili, and he claims it was his best batch ever. His secret ingredients? A splash of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of curry powder!

Inspired by Joanna Goddard's post, I put together a baked potato bar with all kinds of toppings. Above you see bacon, butter, grated cheddar cheese and chopped chives. I also sauteed mushrooms and steamed broccoli, and of course, people could put chili on top, too.

For dessert, oh my. Compost cookies! I've wanted to make these for a looooong time, but I guess I was waiting for some sort of over the top eating and snacking event to justify potato chip + candy cookies. I should not have waited! These are so good. For candy, I used chopped Heath bar, chocolate chips and peanut M&Ms. I made the dough on Saturday, and baked up a sheet of cookies after half time so they would be warm and gooey.

All week, I've been making a couple of cookies each night for dessert. I was always v. skeptical about people who keep cookie dough in their fridge or freezer to do this. Such restraint! But I've drank the cookie-dough-in-the-fridge Kool Aid. Having a single warm cookie on a Wednesday night while watching Inspector Lewis is one of life's great pleasures.

This whole meal was a winner because I followed the rules: make things ahead, and repeat old recipes. Peter, you have my permission to remind me of this when I start pushing for us to try turducken for the first time next Thanksgiving.

And I think on another level, it was fun and successful because it was so easy. For a normal dinner with friends, I wouldn't serve potatoes and cookies and call it a day. That's so silly, though! Those things are delicious and (almost) everyone likes them. I need to treat more gatherings like they are the Super Bowl, even if we eat at the dining room table and don't get to gush over E*Trade baby commercials.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Tale of Two Dinners: The Worst of Times

On Saturday night, Peter and I hosted a couple friends at our house for dinner. Between me and one of our guests, I worked around allergies to beef, cheese, eggs, gluten, tomatoes, sage and soy. Ha!

I carefully planned my menu: Dorie Greenspan's chard-stuffed pork, roasted domino potatoes and green beans with toasted hazelnuts. Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it was no where near our best work. The meat thermometer wasn't reading right, and we kept checking (and cooking!) the pork longer than it needed. The domino potatoes turned into charred potato chip-like things around the edges, and dry potato disks in the middle. And the green beans? I overcooked them until they became a grey-green pile of ick.

I tried to follow Julia Child's golden rule of entertaining - “You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.'" But I couldn't stop myself! We all knew it was really not so good. I didn't follow my own golden rules, either: never cook something new (domino potatoes) and always have one thing completely ready ahead of time (i.e., kale salad instead of green beans). 

I know these things happen to the best of us, but it's still annoying, yes? I need to be better at letting these (very tiny in the grand scheme of things!) disappointments go. 

Anyways, tomorrow I'll give you a peak at a Best of Times dinner we made for family just one night later! Proof that the best remedy to culinary let-down is to brush yourself off and get back in the kitchen.

Monday, February 6, 2012

House Tour: Guest Room

The guest room, like our bedroom, still feels a bit incomplete, so I've been hesitating to finish out the house tour. That's silly, though, because this is my best pitch for you to come and visit me! I have a real bed for you to sleep in, and there are doors that you can close!

I've never had a guest room before. A lot of people complain that an extra bed takes up lots of space that's hardly ever used. I quite like it, though. I usually call this bed the "vacation bed" and will take an afternoon vacation there to read and hang out in a room not my own. That sounds super weird now that I write it.

Do you have a guest room? Please tell me you like to visit it on the reg. for cheap vacations :)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Here Comes the Sun

I bought a tiny bouquet of daffodils and a big pile of forsythia branches at Trader Joe's last weekend. They both slowly opened up throughout the week. I'm not usually drawn to yellow, but this shot of sunshine throughout the apartment is absolutely delightful.

That middle photo is an artichoke tart with polenta crust - basically the best thing I've made in a while. It was inspired by this recipe posted on The Wednesday Chef, but I'm not good at following recipes exactly. I subbed out the goat cheese with blue, replaced the scallions with leeks, and threw in a handful of grapes just for fun. Holy moly, this was good.

Happy mellow yellow Friday!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Valentine's Day Crossword Puzzle

Last year, I made Peter a set of itty bitty love notes for Valentine's Day. These were so fun to put together (and they went over really well!). But I didn't want to do the same thing this year. After scouring the internet for another sweet and inexpensive idea, I found this puzzle maker program on Discover Education. Jackpot!

There are a bunch of different puzzles to choose from, including a few I'd never heard of, like crypographs (?!).  I went old school with a crossword puzzle (they call it a criss cross puzzle). In the blank field, you write the answer, then add a space and write the clue on one line. I also put this information in a Word doc so that I have a key, just in case I forget my own crafty answers between now and then. Though I will never forget the answer to number 3 across! (My self-esteem is thriving!).

We'll see how easy or hard it is. I tried to mix in obvious things with some inside jokes that I thought he'd really have to think about to guess right. I hope it will be fun!

Do you all have plans for Valentine's Day yet? I know it's sort of a silly holiday, but I (obviously) love it. We're doing a fun dinner at home with lobsters!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Crafty February

After I gave up my arts and crafts column in the Examiner, I basically stopped doing little projects (outside of the odd sewing job). I've gotten in the habit of coming home, cleaning a little, doing laundry, reading, making dinner. You know, normal stuff. But I'm happier when there are extra little projects mixed in with all that jazz.

For the next month, I'm going to try to share one new project each week. I'm hoping this will help get me back in the saddle. Making things is so fun!

I have three of the projects already figured out, but still need to settle on the last one. Have you made anything awesome lately?! Please share - I'd love to hear!

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