One of my favorite quotes is by J.R.R. Tolkien: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." Here I'm giving glimpses of all I am deciding in the time that is given to me. Enjoy! All pictures and posts are mine, thank you! Please ask permission for photo use.

Friday, August 31, 2012

beauty and a book, a Friday update

Today's post covers a silly update, and then we get more serious.

OK, this isn't really an update--it's more like a funny story. You may remember from this post that I've recently started running again. It's only been a couple of weeks, and it's been really slow going since I haven't been running in a while. It is the last workday of a long week, and it was 96 degrees and humid at the time I was running, so it would be an understatement to say I was dragging my feet to work up to a run. Today was supposed to be a challenge day for me, when I was to push myself a little bit beyond the intensity I've been doing lately. I certainly found it challenging, fighting the heat and overall exhaustion that was weighing me down. At one point during the run, a man in black shorts ran past me, his back streaming with sweat and muscles glistening in the hot sun...wait, where was I...

He was one of those men who has earned the right to run without a shirt on. There are others on the parkway who really have not earned this know who you are, fellas. I admired him from behind, but only for a very short while because while I was expending every ounce of energy trying to maintain a pathetic jog, he bounded ahead with steady strides. Later in my run, I had turned around and was heading back toward the parking lot. Huffing and puffing and sweating profusely, I was so focused on trying to maintain my pace that I didn't sense the man coming up from behind me (he must have turned around further down the parkway and caught up to me). He passed me and turned his head, smiling brilliantly (and momentarily blinding me) behind his black sunglasses and said to me, "Good work!" and something else about it being a rough day for a run. First of all, I was shocked that a runner would say anything to me, since we typically only give a quick glance and maybe a smile and continue on our way. He actually turned around mid-run and spoke, and I'll admit, I was momentarily distracted by his pulchritude (that's your vocabulary word for the day--look it up). I was still trying to keep up my pathetic excuse for a run, and managed to smile back, but it was all I could do to choke out some words between my gasps for oxygen. And what did I say? Something cute, clever, or witty? A wish of good luck for him on his run? A congratulatory note for beating the odds and keeping his pace? Not quite. I stumbled over my words and somehow said, "It'"

Hmmm. Not my best moment. I was able to admire him from behind one last time, but only for a little while, because he was running so well and my legs and lungs were shutting down more and more every second (they sense when I'm nearing the parking lot and get so excited they lose focus). I even said under my breath, "Wait for me!" as the man disappeared around a bend. I had no interest in talking to him (I'm already in a relationship and talking while running doesn't work for me), but admiring anatomy is no different than admiring a lovely work or art, or a beautiful place in nature, right?

OK, OK, enough silliness, I know. I just have to mention this incredible book my friend Madeleine is letting me borrow and one that is so profound my head is exploding with excitement as I read it. It's nothing new (published in 1992) and I think many people have already read it. It's called Ishmael and it's written by Daniel Quinn. I'm only 83 pages in, but I'll share two cool excerpts from my reading today. The gorilla's story about the jellyfish's creation myth is brilliant, but way too long to include here. So two short excerpts must suffice.

"The problem is that man's conquest of the world has itself devastated the world...We've poured our poisons into the world as if it were a bottomless pit--and we go on pouring our poisons into the world. We've gobbled up irreplaceable resources as though they could never run out--and we go on gobbling them up. It's hard to imagine how the world could survive another century of this abuse, but nobody's really doing anything about it. It's a problem our children will have to solve, or their children."

"They've been given an explanation of how things came to be this way, and this stills their alarm. This explanation covers everything, including the deterioration of the ozone layer, the pollution of the oceans, the destruction of the rainforests, and even human extinction. And it satisfies them. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it pacifies them. They put their shoulders to the wheel during the day, stupefy themselves with drugs or television at night, and try not to think too searchingly about the world they're leaving their children to cope with."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

po-tay-to, po-tah-to, cauliflower?

The latest creation from the Vitamix is cauliflower puree, a wondrous substitute for mashed potatoes. Seasoned with Himalayan pink salt, organic black pepper, and a small amount of organic olive oil, this side dish was divine (and I didn't even have to make it--what a treat!).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

a night of cooking

Dinner for tonight
Yes, that's a lot of fresh garlic!
 Not much extra sauce needed...only about a quarter to one-third of a cup.
  Nutritional yeast adds flavor and B vitamins.

Ravioli bought from a local farmer's market.

Meals for later in the week

Enchilada casserole

Organic vegetables (onion, tomato, and spinach) sauteed in organic olive oil.
 Mixed with organic re-fried beans.

 Using six tortillas you make three layers like this.

Lentil soup (I used a mix that was given to me as a gift but had chicken stock in the spice packet, and I'm a vegetarian, so I made it for my boyfriend to eat. Even so, it looked beautiful!)

sorbet surprise

There's a good Italian restaurant called i Ricchi in the Dupont neighborhood of DC. One of my favorite small dishes to get there is polenta tartufata ai funghi farciti, or as the menu describes it, truffled polenta served with mixed wild mushrooms deglazed in balsamic vinegar. I'm a huge pasta fan as well, and i Ricchi hasn't disappointed. Last night desserts were in order after dinner, and they were so beautiful and tasty that I couldn't resist taking snaps of them with my (old) camera phone (sorry for the poor quality!).

The first dessert to arrive was the watermelon sorbet, a refreshing concoction of fresh watermelon, sugar, and water--so simple and yet this was the best sorbet we'd ever had. I'm really picky when it comes to watermelon. Typically I don't enjoy the fruit unless it's naturally super sweet, and I hate artificially-flavored watermelon anything because it tastes to fake to me (maybe that's why I hate orange and grape sodas?). I warily tried a bite of the sorbet, and it was fantastic. What was so neat about it was that not only was it incredible to eat, the presentation was fun; the chef had molded some of the sorbet onto an actual watermelon rind and dotted it with three chocolate raisins on either side to make it look like a slice of watermelon. Add a small side scoop of sorbet with a sprig of fresh mint, two plump strawberries, a small cup of cold water to keep the spoon and drink afterward, and a  dusting of sparkling red sugar, and, in the words of Emperor Joseph II from the film Amadeus, "there it is."  There was a guest chef from Italy who was preparing the sorbet as one of last night's specials, and afterward we walked up to her to personally thank her and remark on how delicious the sorbet was. She was very kind and grateful for the compliments, and explained that she worked in a gelateria in Italy and said that the secret to any good sorbet was really fresh, really good fruit. As we started to walk out of the door, we noticed another one of her creations leaving, some sort of meringue treat with fruit and cream. The finishing touch? A crystalline butterfly made from what looked like carmellized sugar (imagine the crunchy top part of crème brûlée formed into two honey-colored wings).
The next dessert to arrive was mine, which was a delicious chocolate meringue and mousse creation with fresh raspberries and a raspberry glaze at the bottom. It too was a feast for the eyes and a treat to taste, and unfortunately I couldn't finish it I was so full from the rest of dinner!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

tres updates

Update #1 -- you may remember from this post the nasty burn I had on my arm. Three weeks later, after a lot of TLC, magical Manuka honey, aloe goodness, and acres of gauze, bandages, and medical tape, the former burn is healing remarkably:

Can you even see it in the photographs above? Look hard. The comparison is crazy; you have to see it to believe it! I'm not kidding--look back at this post to see what it initially looked like and then what it looked like after two weeks. Then look at the picture above (we're at three weeks here). Incredible!

Update #2 -- A personal dream of mine has come true. I've been lusting over this for a long, long time, and finally the moment of joy has arrived. Meet the new love of my life, my very own Vitamix:

Oh, the things we are going to cook up together...I can hardly wait. I love it and it loves me. Hmph.

Update #3 -- I know people are going to make fun of me for posting this, but I have learned to braid my hair. This is HUGE, people! I was a tomboy growing up and had no idea what to do with my hair. If it wasn't down and messy from playing outside (my mom called it a "rat's nest"), it was pulled back into a no-fuss ponytail. Honestly, hair was a pain to deal with (still is), and I didn't even try to learn to braid it. Fast forward to last night, as I'm on the couch watching Gordon Ramsay smash egos to smithereens on Hell's Kitchen, and I was just kind of trying out a french braid halfheartedly, then TA DA! I looked in the mirror, and lo and behold, there was a braid. It's not beautiful, it's super messy, and it's really crooked. But it's a braid nonetheless and I'm proud.

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    ¡viva Mexico!

    This past week was restaurant week in D.C., and I was so excited to take advantage of it to visit one of my favorite D.C. restaurants, El Centro D.F. It boasts excellent Mexican food, a mellow atmosphere, and really nice service (at least from my experiences there).

    I've always eaten downstairs, which feels like a cool, dark cave where you can escape from the bustling 14th Street and U Street area of D.C. Small wooden tables with a single candle in the middle of each are where you eat, and the stone walls have masks (Mayan? Incan? Mexican?) illuminated with green and red lights. Thin wooden slats arranged in arches constitute the ceiling, and a simple concrete floor adds to the cave-like/underground feel. The design on the shirts of the staff is a neon Dia de los Muertos skull set against a black background. For the tequila fans, El Centro has a tequileria with more than 200 kinds from which to choose.

    And aahhh, the food. My most recent meal was from a pre-fixe menu and included the following:

    Drink: Mango Margarita made with the restaurant's tequila

    Antojito (street snack or appetizer): Sopes de Nopal made with the following:
    • Chayote (pear squash)
    • Bean puree
    • Corn masa cakes
    • Crema fresca

    Entree: Huitlacoche Enchiladas (with sides of Mexican rice and spicy re-fried beans) made with the following:
    • Roasted corn
    • Oaxaca cheese
    • Huitlacoche mushrooms -- also called "corn smut," this is a fungus that grows on corn and is considered pathogenic. Many farmers see smut as a threat to corn (which it is), and yet in Mexico huitlacoche is a delicacy. Since becoming more popular in the United States, some Americans are referring to it as Mexican truffles. 
    • Entomatada sauce -- entomatadas are from Oaxaca and are similar to enchiladas
    • Epazote -- a Mexican herb similar to tarragon or fennel

    Dessert: Churros -- long and thick "Spanish doughnuts" sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar

    To close, I've included some photographs taken when my dad and his family hosted my sister and me on a trip to Mexico (my dad is from Guadalajara).

    Below: el mercado (Yes, those are dead chickens piled up in one of the photographs! The food in Mexico is fresh and delicious, and very different than the Americanized and Tex-Mex versions in the U.S. Two of my favorite finds? Quesadillas with pumpkin blossoms or zucchini blossoms and authentic, homemade horchata).

    Below: Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon (along the Avenue of the Dead) in Teotihuacán (and before the days where I owned a digital camera and could delete and take another picture!).

    Below: Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruiz en Uruapan, Michoacán.

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    heal the burn

    I felt the burn, all right. I was putting tomatoes into the oven that had preheated to about 425 degrees when the oven door slammed up and burned my arm. I immediately ran to the kitchen sink and let cold water run over it, watching the skin that had been in contact with the door turning white under the stream. I turned off the tap and quickly ran to my bathroom, slathering un-petroleum jelly on the burn because I wanted to keep it hydrated. Immediately the skin turned a dark reddish-gray. This is bad, I thought. I'm no stranger to burns (I love to cook, and in college I worked as a barista in a local coffee shop--that espresso machine gets HOT!), but this was worse than any burn I've ever had. Sure enough, the skin blistered and I knew I had to keep it covered and protected.

    Two weeks ago my burn looked like this:

    Before I continue, let me disclose that I am NOT a doctor and I am NOT giving medical advice; I'm simply sharing my own experience that somehow worked well for me. Like I said, I slathered un-petroleum jelly on the burn for the first day, thinking that a thick salve like that might help in some way, shape, or form.
    After that, I used an aloe gel that I just happened to have around the house (my poor aloe plants died when I moved, and I liked that this gel was not only organic but also infused with vitamins). I used the aloe for a couple of days.

    Finally, I remembered hearing about people using honey medicinally to help with burns (and other skin ailments, but I digress), so I did some research. It seemed that manuka honey from New Zealand was my best bet, as it has been used and lauded for its healing properties. The manuka tree is also known as tea tree, and the manuka honey is incredibly thick and has a strong flavor with hints of eucalyptus (I'm a honey fan and couldn't resist a small dollop after each changing of my bandages/gauze!). I chose Wedderspoon not only because it was organic but because the label said that it was not blended with any other honeys and that each batch could be traced directly back to the beekeeper. I chose the 16+ because it claimed it was the most potent in the line of honeys. Whether applying it to my burn or licking it off of a spoon, I'm in love with this honey:

    I burned myself two weeks ago, and while I'm still keeping gauze bandaged over it for protection, while the skin is still raw, and while I'm still having to apply the honey (and the aloe gel on occasion), it has healed remarkably:

    Maybe I'll have a scar. Maybe it'll take another two weeks to fully heal. But the honey has been a fabulous find, and I have to say, the roasted tomatoes were worth it.