Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. We've been eating A LOT of local peaches from the farmers market. Juicy and delicious. So much peach flavor. Then one day we woke up and there were no more peaches. Sadness. So SP grabbed the coupon for peaches at Market District. This morning I had one for breakfast.

There's no way that super firm bordering on hard, not juicy, not peachy, not flavorful blob can be called a peach. What exactly did Market District sell us?!!

I couldn't even finish it.

2. We got our deck power washed and sealed this week. The deck looks great, but the poor herbs are suffering. We moved them into the sunroom on Saturday in preparation for the washing (which was done Saturday afternoon). That turned the sunroom into a greenhouse. It smelled so overly herby in there! Not especially pleasant!

The sealing was done on Monday and we were told to wait a few days before moving the herbs and furniture back onto the deck. After 3 days in the sunroom, the herbs were looking sad so Tuesday morning, we moved some of the herbs to the front patio, risking a deer or bunny or groundhog munching on them. So far, so good. Those herbs look much happier now that they've been released from the sunroom.

The ones that had to stay in the sunroom were the ones in the HUGE pots. Way too heavy to carry around! Fortunately, the basil and tomato pots went outside again this morning. They are already perking up from the fresh air and sunshine.

3. I got one of my library books read before the due date! It was The Girls From Corona Del Mar. I really liked this book but it's not a feel good book! The first half is great, and then it kind of gets bogged down, but overall, I enjoyed the read, even if I did speed read/scan the second half.

The book I did not get to was Land of Love & Drowning. I had to return it, unread. Maybe I'll request it again, we''ll see. Meanwhile, I have 4 more books that are ready for pick up/in transit, so looks like a lot of reading over the holiday weekend.

4. My parents are moving back to Pittsburgh this weekend! We're excited to have them closer, but kind of sad that we no longer have a free place to stay in Las Vegas! They'll be staying with us for a bit until their new place is ready.

5. Zero progress on the office light situation. Hoping for some this weekend.

6. The first car repair quote was ridiculous. I have no idea what this jerk was doing. First off, we specifically said to only quote repairing the driver door. I have no idea why car repair jerk decided to quote repairing the front bumper where some other jerk with a trailer hitch backed into us and gouged the bumper (but of course left no note). I have no idea why car repair jerk quoted a bunch of repair work for the rear door. There's nothing wrong with it. I also have no idea why the quote says 'royal blue' for the side mirror when we have a silver car. And I have no idea why fixing a 12 inch crease in one of 4 doors would take 8 days when we've had much more extensive work done on other cars that took far less time.

Car repair jerk has not responded to requests for explanation and clarification.

So. $1500 repair cost plus 8 days in the shop plus 8 days of car rental and now I really want to kill the idiot who did this to our car. If that's what it is really going to cost us, maybe we should just go through the insurance...?

We are getting other quotes.

7. Hope everyone has a fun 3 day holiday weekend!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Peaches, Burrata, and Tarragon

In one of the summer issues of Bon Appetit, the magazine 'reinvented' the caprese salad. Much as I love tomatoes~mozzarella~basil with olive oil and/or balsamic, the 'reinvented' versions sounded pretty darn tasty.
The Peach~Burrata~Tarragon version really stuck in my mind. Probably because we both love local peach season. And probably because this year, we bought a tarragon plant. It's our first year growing tarragon.
This seemed like a great way to enjoy our fresh tarragon. Also - cheese. This is an easy, quick, cool, refreshing, and delicious appetizer. Just like the classic tomato~mozzarella~basil version.
Slice peach, place on plate
Top with burrata
Sprinkle on fresh chopped tarragon
Salt and pepper everything
Drizzle olive oil over everything
Enjoy

*We bought our peaches at the Original Farmers Market in South Fayette/Cecil
**We bought burrata at Market District. It's a little pricey, but for a once a year splurge on fresh peaches...
***We bought our tarragon plant from The Frick Greenhouse

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Toast Kitchen & Wine Bar

Last weekend had the potential to be a traffic nightmare for us. Our 4 year old niece was having her birthday party. She lives in the eastern part of the city. The Squirrel Hill Tunnels outbound were closed and while we didn't have to go through them, we could have been stuck in the backed up/detoured traffic. Then, there was a concert at Star Lake (Yes! Star Lake! Not whatever name it currently claims! It will always be Star Lake!) which usually means a traffic nightmare on the parkway west/in the area where we live, so we weren't looking forward to driving home.

So we plotted an alternate route for going to the party and made dinner reservations for after the party in hopes of avoiding the concert traffic. We went to Toast Kitchen & Wine Bar on Baum Blvd in Bloomfield. We've been wanting to try Toast for a while.

Sadly, there is street parking only, but happily, we found a great spot. It's smallish inside, a wood bar, wood ceilings, wood beadboard/wainscoting (never quite sure of the difference), wood tables & chairs, a reddish wall. Cozy. We each ordered a 4 oz white wine: a Bordeaux Blanc for SP and a Curator Chenin Blanc Blend for me. I liked his better than mine.

We ordered a lot of food! A lot of dishes sounded really tasty, so we figured, what the heck, we'll just have leftovers. Here's what we ate:
Fried Green Tomatoes, smoked ham relish. It's been four and a half years since our trip to Savannah/Charleston and I still think about the fried green tomato dishes I ate on that trip! I don't see them too often on the menu here in Pittsburgh, and when I do, I always order them. These tomatoes may have been more yellow than green, but there were delicious and ripe and so good. Just a dusting of cornmeal, such a nice thing, so much yummier than tomatoes caked in a batter and fried. The ham relish? Oh my gosh. Flaky ham with a vinegar tang - so good.
House Made Andouille Sausage, creamy lentil salad, bacon, jalapeno, BBQ sauce. This was more for SP than me since he loves sausage and he likes lentils. I'm not much of a lentil person, though I have to say that when they are creamy and mixed with bacon and BBQ, they are pretty darn tasty. The sausage, however, was the standout. I always think andouille = hot and spicy, but it doesn't, and this wasn't. I don't know what was in this andouille, but I almost stole the plate from SP so I could eat all the sausage, that's how good it was.
Pork Rinds, BBQ seasoning, garlic aioli. This, too, was more for SP than me. I'm not a huge fan of pork rinds. I tried one, and it was super crisp and crunchy and porky and tasty. These arrived at the table still snapping and popping in the bowl. We took some home and the next day when SP ate some, they were still very crisp. We had expected them to lose a lot of that crunchiness, but they didn't.
Shrimp & Grits, trinity vegetables, tasso ham. Another dish I fondly remember from our trip to Savannah/Charleston. This version was so darn good. It wasn't doused with/sitting in a pool of heavy sauce, but was in a light broth. The trinity vegetables really stood out - they weren't just cooked to a background flavoring. Creamy grits. Succulent shrimp. More of that tasso ham. No garlic (I checked).
Vegetable Flatbread, peas, asparagus, green onions, manchego. Chewy flatbread, lots of tasty peas and asparagus, salty manchego. Not soggy in the middle.
Peach & Basil Risotto, arugula, gruyere. The risotto we make at home is always good, but there's something about risotto made by the real chefs! I expected the peaches to be cooked in with the rice, but instead they were placed on top with the arugula and just 'wilted' a bit from the warmth of the risotto. Creamy, al dente risotto rice. Fresh peaches and arugula. A very nice freshly chiffonaded basil flavor. That delicious nutty gruyere flavor. Really good.
We both ordered decaf House Blend La Prima coffee and although we were full, we decided to order dessert: Fried Dough, cinnamon sugar, ginger syrup.
It's hard for me to pass up fried dough. It's hard for SP to pass up desserts with ginger. We each ate only one dough stick because we were full but they were tasty and the ginger syrup was good, too, I think, although since I dipped gingerly I maybe didn't get the full effect (I didn't want to drip on my shirt!).

Our server was fantastic. She knew a lot about the wine and food and checked with the kitchen when we had questions. SP guzzles water, and his glass was kept filled. We enjoyed our food. We liked the cozy atmosphere. We'll be adding Toast to the 'definitely return to' list - which, sadly, knowing us, with all the places we enjoy, means it might be a year before we return, but hopefully it'll be sooner than that. After all, I've finally found delicious fried green tomatoes and shrimp & grits that rival the versions I had in the south.

Toast Kitchen and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tomato~Fontina Torte with Rosemary Crust

It's my favorite time of the year. Not just summer, with all the tasty berries and veggies, but specifically it's tomato & peach season. I wanted to make a tomato tart with some of our tomato bounty, but was a little bored with our usual go to tomato tarts. Happily, the recent issue of Food Network Magazine had some tasty sounding tomato tart ideas. Like this one: Tomato~Fontina Torte with Rosemary Crust.
This tart (torte) is a little time consuming, but it's worth it. It's not difficult. SP whipped up the crust Sunday morning whole I was showering. At last - a chance to use some of our fresh rosemary, which is finally large enough to use. So nice after last year's complete rosemary growing failure and this year's slower than molasses rosemary growing.
Lots & lots of tomatoes! On the left are our tomatoes and CSA tomatoes. The right are the farmers market heirloom tomatoes. Do you have to use heirloom tomatoes as the recipe states? I say no. Use whatever kind you want. Note: I sliced and salted way more than we ended up using, so we've been eating the leftover slices on the side, on sandwiches, for quick snacks.

The next part? Super easy: layering.
Chilled crust

Sprinkle panko on crust, add first layer of tomatoes

Next, the capicola, we used sweet, not spicy

Cheese layer! Fontina & Parmesan (we didn't use pecorino romano)

Keep layering tomatoes and capicola and cheese, finishing with tomatoes on top

The final layer - a sprinkle of Parmesan

Out of the oven & cooling

This smelled so good. It was tough to wait an hour to cut into it, but fortunately, we had a lot of clean up to occupy us. Like with lasagna, structural integrity is important, so you really do need to wait that hour for it to set.
It was delicious. Fontina is kind of a mild cheese (to me) but it melts oh so smooth. Fresh tomatoes? So juicy and flavorful (but not so juicy as to make the tart a watery mess). The crust? It looked and acted like a shortbread when SP made it, but it tasted like a pie crust. Very nice rosemary flavor.
Even though you can see lots of flecks of rosemary in the crust, I think next time we would add a bit more to the crust and sprinkle some additional herbs in with the layers.
You could use regular ham, or rosemary ham, or spicy capicola. Maybe tiny cubed/sliced chicken. Salami slices. I think next time we might try it with a different cheese. The Fontina is oh so delicious, but with that deliciousness comes a price - more than we expected! We might try a cheaper fontina-like cheese, like fontinella, or maybe mozzarella, or maybe provolone.

But for sure, we'll be making this again.

Recipe here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

White Chocolate Ice Cream with Candied Cherries & Stracciatella

Sadly, summer is coming to an end. I feel like it has flown by way too fast. Even though autumn is my favorite season, I'm just not ready for pumpkins. I am more than willing to stay stuck in summer if it means I can enjoy cold treats like this: White Chocolate Ice Cream with Candied Cherries & Stracciatella.
The recipe is from - where else?! - A Perfect Scoop. I never much cared for white chocolate as a kid. My appreciation for it has grown with my age. White chocolate is tricky, though - it can be bad, chalky and pasty and just disgusting. Or, it can be a very high quality one that is so smooth and creamy. That's what I envisioned for this ice cream.
I wanted to mix something into this ice cream, just in case the white chocolate flavor wasn't strong enough or satisfying enough. The stracciatella from the Gianduja-Stracciatella Gelato we made in July seemed like a good idea.

In his book, Lebovitz suggests candied cherries as a mix in for this ice cream. I like cherries a lot and it was tempting, but I kept remembering the laborious process of making candied orange peel and thinking, no, candied cherries will be too much work, too time consuming, we have so many other things to accomplish over the weekend.
But then I actually took the time to flip to the candied cherry recipe and read it. Oh my gosh - so simple! Basically, cook cherries in a pot with water, sugar, and lemon, cool, refrigerate then drain and chop before mixing into ice cream. So we decided to make the cherries.
So worth it. This is a really, really good ice cream. One of our favorites. I know I have been saying that about every ice cream we've made this summer, but this summer, we've made some really, really good ice creams. The white chocolate ice cream definitely has a very nice white chocolate flavor, it's smooth and rich and creamy. The wee bits of stracciatella add a nice chocolaty crunch. And the cherries - something about cherries and chocolate - so tasty! They were not too sweet/sugary.

Another make again ice cream. Pretty soon we're going to have way too many 'really want to make again' ice creams and not enough time in the summer to make and eat them.

White Chocolate Ice Cream recipe here.
Stracciatella recipe here.
Candied Cherries recipe here.

*After churning and placing in the freezer, it took 36-48 hours for the ice cream to be more frozen solid and less melty soft. We still ate it after 8-9 hours in the freezer, but it was very soft and melted quickly. It got better (taste & texture) as it aged.
**We used Lindt white chocolate candy bars (not baking bars or baking chips)
***We used chocolate chips for the stracciatella even though the recipe says not to use them.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. At the end of May/early June, we planted sunflowers. We've been watching the seeds grow and grow and grow and at last, we have sunflowers. Huge ones! The flowers are bigger than SP's head! They're planted where we cannot really see them from inside the house, so SP cut some for me and we put them in a vase.
The stems are so thick and the flowers so huge and heavy that moments after the top photo was taken, the three sunflowers decided to make our evening a little less sunny and they tipped their vase over, sending water everywhere. Grrr!

So we got out my great-grandma's super heavy glass water pitcher for one sunflower and we dug out an old, large utensil holder for the other two. No more tipping over! They make me smile every time I go in the kitchen.
2. Tomatoes! Since that photo was taken last weekend, we have eaten the majority of the tomatoes. Some were from our garden, some from the CSA, and some from the farmers market.
3. Last weekend our Saturday Dinner Out was at Burgatory. I'm a little addicted to the bacon jam and the sweet potato chips plus this special shake sounded yummy: Strawberry Nutella. It was indeed yummy - and spiked with Amaretto.

4. Somehow I have 3 library books and just 6 days to read them before they all are due. Oops. I spent yesterday reading the 'lightest' of them, Unlucky 13. These Women's Murder Club books are so... fluffy. I've been reading them since they first came out, but they've definitely declined in quality.They no longer seem well written or thought out and the characters are not really all that interesting anymore. The 3 story lines seemed a little ridiculous and one never really got resolved. Pirates attacking an Alaskan cruise ship? Belly bombs? A heart-broken crime journalist thwarting/out thinking a devious criminal who has eluded police for quite some time?

5. We're still loving Sherlock. The Leftovers got a little more interesting last week, enough that we'll watch the last 2 episodes. True Blood finale this weekend! I've enjoyed parts of this season (Eric & Pam), but overall, it's been a little disappointing and dragging a bit.

6. That's all for Thursday!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Universe Is Out to Get Me

1. I know, it's not Thursday, but there are a lot of thoughts this week. So today is going to have some of them. The not-so-happy ones. The ones that make me think the universe is trying to tell me something. Or simply drive me crazy.
2. Let's start with a small annoyance. My lunch turkey. Giant Eagle Market District House Roasted Turkey. It's supposed to be slices of in house roasted turkey. Instead it's crumbles of roasted turkey. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make a sandwich with those wee crumbles? Or to eat a sandwich of wee crumbles? Let's just say the dustbuster is working overtime this week. Thanks, Market District, for selling lunch meat that crumbles when you touch it.

3. While I'm thanking companies, let me thank Cinemark for NOT sending Tuesday's correct movie times to the Tuesday newspaper. We've been trying to find time to see Guardians of the Galaxy and we finally decided to make the time and go last night. Dinner was super quick and easy. SP was home by 7 pm. I checked the movie times in the newspaper yesterday morning when I read the paper and confirmed that it was at 8:45 pm, just like it has been for 2+ weeks.

Except that when we got to the theater, we discovered it wasn't. There were no evening showings of that particular movie because there was a special event. A special event that wasn't listed in the newspaper.

So. Annoyed.

4. So we went to Lowe's to return the ceiling fan/light remote. My office ceiling fan/light has not worked for 2+ years. I've been managing with 2 lamps, but they really do not offer enough light when it's dark outside. Evening darkness is coming earlier & earlier. So I made it quite clear we need to remedy this situation.

We assumed the problem was the existing remote and transmitter because 2 years ago when we popped a new battery in, nothing responded. So we finally bought a new remote. But SP says he needs to completely remove the ceiling fan to locate the old transmitter and put in the new one. Removing the huge ceiling fan isn't something he can do by himself, and I cannot help.

So last Sunday, after determining that any fan removal would require assistance, we again tried a new battery in the old, existing remote. Maybe it just needed a good long rest?

The fan will now operate, but the light won't. Changing the light bulbs didn't help either.

So now we think it's not the remote. It must be the light part. So we returned the remote we bought last weekend and looked at new ceiling lights. However, when we painted 6 years ago, we didn't completely remove the ceiling fan, so there's some question of the size of the hole in the ceiling and the area of 6 year old paint and the area of older than 6 years paint on the ceiling - we really do not want to re-paint the ceiling. And I won't be happy if I see the old paint next to our paint.

We spent quite some time in Lowe's trying to find a light that we liked that would completely cover any potential paint mess and sit flush against the ceiling to hide any ceiling mess.

Stay tuned for more on this exciting project.

Lesson Relearned: Nothing is ever an easy fix in this house.

5. After Lowe's we returned home and watched another episode of Sherlock Holmes and then it was bed time. I was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, when I was attacked by a MONSTROUS MAN-EATING spider. It popped out of the vent and sat on the bathroom floor, between me on the toilet and the closed door offering escape. I was trapped. I was terrified to turn my back on it and scoot onto the wheelchair and terrified I'd run it over with the wheelchair while trying to escape and then have gross spider guts on my wheelchair. So I did what any sensible girl would do.

I screamed so loud for my husband that he thought I fell again and broke another bone. I screamed his name over and over until I heard him pounding up the stairs and then I started screaming for him to kill the monster.

He agreed it was large for a wolf spider. Who knows what it had been feasting on but it was HUGE. He got a shoe and smushed it, thus saving me from the monster. And then I made him use a Clorox wipe to clean the floor so that there wouldn't be any disgusting spider gut residue.

6. It's only fitting that I be attacked by a giant spider just hours after seeing the first stink bug on the kitchen window. Yup. Must be time for the little stinky monsters to wiggle their way inside for the winter. Time to douse the kitchen windows with stink bug killing bug spray.
7. Last weekend, we were exiting a store in Robinson and as I looked out at the huge parking lot for our car, my eyes were caught by a car with the driver door smushed in. It looked awful in the bright sunlight. Who on earth would have that kind of awful bashed in door from an accident and not fix it and... OH EFF THAT'S US WHAT THE EFFFFFFFF???????

Sometime in the last week, someone, something, smushed the driver door. We have no idea what. Or who, because the jerk didn't leave a note. I took some photos with my phone and this week I emailed them to my brother.

My brother was a material science engineer who did internships at a steel mill roll manufacturer and at a steel company and then after graduating was hired to work at Honda. We have a Honda. He knows about Hondas - and about car metal and car doors and car bodies.

His opinion: some jerk ran a bicycle handle bar into the car. They creased the door with quite some force and scratched the paint as well. And, did I mention, DIDN'T LEAVE A NOTE.

We have no idea where we have been in the last week that a bicycle could've hit the car. We live in the suburbs and go to places like Costco and Walmart, with huge parking lots and no bicycles around. He parks in a garage at work. In a garage at home. I'm thinking maybe it was actually a shopping cart, but seriously, who forces a shopping cart between cars with such force that it creases metal and scratches paint???

So we're getting some quotes on repairing it. The car is only 4 years old, and we have been hoping to keep our Honda for 10 years like we did with the last one. We're just annoyed that someone was so stupid and rude and now the repair cost is on us because they didn't leave a note because THEY ARE A JERK.

8. Did I mention the car needed $500 of 'routine maintenance' to pass inspection last month? Yeah. So really not happy with additional expense on the car.

9. Not to mention the likely extra expense of renting a car while ours is fixed. We have only one car because only one of us drives. I no longer drive because I do not feel safe driving given my health issues.

10. Our car luck this year? Not good. Not only ours, but remember me writing about getting rear ended in OR while sitting at a red light? Yes, the insurance for the guy who hit us is covering the entire cost to the car rental company, but we got a copy of the bill, and it was a little over $2,000 for the car repair and then another $1,000 in fees from towing, rental replacement, lost rental income, etc. Yikes!

11. On the bright side, we have finally decided on a tree company to remove the dead trees and overgrown trees (7 trees being removed and 5-6 pruned). And we lined up the guy to clean and seal our deck since it has been 2 years. But between the car and trees and deck and ceiling light... thousands of dollars are flying out of the bank account. Kind of stressful.

12. Oh and lucky us - the niece who just turned 4 and lives in the east is having a birthday party this weekend and the Squirrel Hill Tunnels outbound (going east) are going to be closed this weekend. According to the news, the last tunnel closure resulted in delays of up to 2 hours. The detours are through/around Squirrel Hill and Oakland area, where all the Pitt students will be moving into their dorms this weekend. Oh joy! There are some steps we can take to get where we need to go and not be on the parkway, but at a certain point, I'm not sure how much they'll really help given where the detour takes you and the fact that college students are returning this weekend.

*sob* do you see why the universe is out to get me? *sob*