Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rikki in Stages

Rikki wants some camera time, just like her cousins out in California.

Mama, I am sooo sad just sitting here. Please give me love.

What, no belly rubs? You're just going to keep taking pictures?

Fine, I hate you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

No-Cook Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

At the beginning of my fickle, sputtering, on-and-off-again relationship with my ice cream maker, I discovered that most recipes for ice cream begin with a flavored egg-based custard, which you must gently cook in a double boiler in order to...I don't know, like kill bacteria or get good consistency or something. I don't exactly know, so don't repost that somewhere and be like "oh well Fresh Brioche said it so haha".  In any case, it's kind of a pain because who wants to cook when you're making ice cream.

But then I bought this book...

 ...which is AWESOME because: (1) Ben & Jerry make the process seem so fun and approachable; (2) it is filled to the brim with illustrations (not helpful ones, but this girl needs pictures in her books); and (3) most importantly, they *do away* with the whole egg-cooking thing. And guess what? I haven't died from salmonella.* Hooray.

Oddly that book doesn't have a lot to do with this post, although I recommend it to anyone who just got an ice cream maker because it's super approachable and fun to read/skim.

The book did help me appreciate the ease of no-cook ice creams, which comes into play because last week I was looking to make something for dessert last week for guests.  I decided that the dessert would involve strawberries because that's the fruit that tastes best now at the supermarket (in between the sugarless, acrid pebbles they call blueberries and the green monstrosities they are touting as peaches).  So I flipped through a cookbook and found this recipe for strawberry cheesecake ice cream.

Oh holy ice cream grail.  Not only did it not require cooking eggs, but it didn't even have eggs! I wouldn't have to worry about food-poisoning my guests! Sweet.

It's basically all this stuff:
  • 3/4 pound (1 quart) strawberries
  • 8 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
blended together in a food processor (although they stir the cream in after everything's blended, presumably so you don't make whipped cream).  I just made a few changes.  Por ejemplo, I used half and half, about a tsp of grated lemon rind, and a tsp of vanilla extract.  Next time, I will put in more lemon rind.  I would like to put in more lemon juice, but the more liquid there is, the icier your ice cream will be, which is already a problem for fruit-based ice creams (the water content in the fruit--some people macerate the cut fruit with sugar for about 15 minutes and then put only the fruit into the custard and leave the seeped juices behind, but I didn't want to take another step and I feel badly for the poor juices).

Strawberries and cream cheese, the star ingredients:

Everything blended together:

After cooling the mixture in the fridge (this is an important step because if you put it in your ice cream maker at too warm a temperature, the ice cream will not get cold enough and incorporate a sufficient amount of air, and become very dense/hard as opposed to a fluffy ice cream), put it in the ice cream maker and have it whir at a surprisingly high decibel for about 25 minutes.

I don't know if you can tell the difference in consistency, but it starts kinda like this:

And ends like this:

Yeah, you can't tell. And yeah, that's a swipe left by my finger.  That's okay. So it is ready to eat? NO! Jeez they make you work for this thing. You then have to put your freshly aerated and chilled ice cream into another container and into the freezer for a few hours before eating.  Making ice cream is easy but there's a lot of waiting time. Bastards.

But then you end up with this:

I can't tell you how tickled I was when one of the guests held up his plate to me, like Oliver at the orphanage, asking me please, Miss, may I have more strawberry cheesecake ice cream? I practically cried.

It's been a long, long, long time since I used the ice cream maker. I'm surprised it still works.  However, after this recent success, I may have to re-explore our relationship.

*If your immune system is compromised or you're pregnant, obviously don't take chances, and cook the base.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Profile Pic

In a feeble attempt to snazz up my blog, I posted a profile pic.  When it went up, my reaction was Damn! That's large! My face is eclipsing the monitor screen. I don't know how to make it smaller. I guess I shouldn't have cropped it so that my face was pushing against each edge.  

So this is just my announcement that I acknowledge that I look self-indulgent and narcissistic by posting such a huge close-up of my face, but it's too late now because it's already up there and I'm too lazy to change it.

And just to clarify, that's how I look every single day. Yes, I do. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Farmers' Market

On Sunday mornings, there is a small farmers' market a few minutes from our apartment.  While NYC farmers' markets pretty much blow the big one compared to California farmers' markets, it's still nice to go, especially when the weather turns warmer and there's more than just the tedious supply of apples (which, by the way, some of the stands still sell in June--it's outrageous).

We also like that we get to take the dogs, although Bunni has now learned that there are bits of food on the ground, and has become a general pain in the ass to walk as she's trying to dive under every single table.

We went this past weekend with my mom.

Fragrant lavender

Veggie/greens stand that also happens to have kimchi. Nice.

Expensive cherries.  We didn't partake.

Pretty, but don't let the color fool you.  Jersey farms just don't produce sweet fruit.  This has been a hard, bitter lesson to learn over several years.

Grandma let go of me there is food to be had.

Trot, trot. Talk to our bumholes, folks.

There are several untruths in this last picture.  One, Kevin did not participate in the Track & Field team.  Haha I'd like to see that.  Two, Kevin did not go to Penn State. I do not know why he is wearing this shirt or where he got it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grandparents and Pugs

My parents came to visit last weekend.  My mom called from the car, saying that they were in the neighborhood, but had to look for parking.  I said great, to just come by when they found parking.  Then she sheepishly admitted that they were double-parked outside our building, wanted to see the pugs NOW, and that I should bring them out.  In our family, pugs take precedence over everything, I guess.

When Bunni recognized that it was my mom walking down the street towards her, all 15 pounds of her bucked like a little bronco in a frenzied attempt to reach my mother, except that this bronco was on a leash, which I was holding. Bunni then gave out a string of excited barks when she saw my dad.

Why all the excitement?  We nickname my parents "the big pieces of food" because that's how our pugs must see them.  My parents truly believe it is their God-given duty to offer a bite of whatever it is they are eating to the pugs.  Everything.  We made the mistake of leaving Bunni with my parents one time for a few weeks while we were on vacation, and when she came back, I almost didn't recognize her because of the weight gain.

After that visit, my dad was about to give her a piece of salami and I went apeshit, asking him what he was doing.  You know what he says to me? In a somewhat exasperated tone of voice: "She likes salami." Oh really? And just how exactly does she know that she likes salami? I was soon to learn that Bunni had discovered at my parents' house that she apparently likes a great many things, such as cheese, cabbage, blueberries, drippings from roasted meat, a little wine--you name it she ate it.

Whenever my parents make the 5-hour drive to NYC, they pack a cooler like they're going on a weekend camping trip to the edge of civilization.  When I brought it into the apartment, the pugs were immediately interested.

Also when my parents come to visit, we have a 6-pack of Beard Papa cream puffs waiting because they're my mom's favorite (she actually got mad one time when we forgot to haul those things down on the train to her place). Every time she picks up a cream puff, she makes a public avowal of not giving any to the pugs.  And then she inevitably caves, and stealthily gives the pugs a taste, thinking that I'm not seeing the whole thing.

So our pugs have learned to wait, with barely containable hope.

Exhibit A that the pugs look at my parents as big pieces of food.

Still waiting. Actually I think this is after they already had some.

Grandpa was not to be outdone.  Exhibit B.

Look at my dad waving his hands in the next picture, trying to tell them that he doesn't have anymore. Like they care. They know they just have to wait him out.

Do you see the tongue at the left, lapping up that last bit of rich, creamy goodness? These spoiled pugs, I tell you.

The next day, Rikki practically jumped into a car where an Asian dude was eating an orange with the car door open.  Bunni has walked up to middle-aged Asian women in public (airport, park, etc.) and plopped her ass down, looking up at the stranger with an expression of hope.

Beggars and decidedly not smart are what they are.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I know this is belated, but about a month ago the peonies and lilacs were in season and plentiful at the corner bodegas, filling the air with a heady scent.  All inspired by my wedding, I decided to make a flower arrangement.  It is surprisingly not easy, although perhaps not so unsurprisingly for somebody as aesthetically-challenged as I am.  Looking at the flowers made me happy, though, so I wanted to share some pictures in case it brightens a minute of your day.

And if the flowers don't do it for you, perhaps the picture of the pug in the background?

And the scent! Oh the luscious fragrance of lilacs and peonies...

And for the *prettiest* flower of them all...


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday Dinner: Pasta with Preserved Tuna and Olives

Monday again. WWHHYYY???

Anyway, I figured it was time for one of my favorite recipes--pasta with tuna, olives and capers.  It's relatively easy and super, super tasty.  However, just to warn you, cheap it is not.  Why is that?  It requires few ingredients, but they have to be good.  Here are some of the main ingredients:

Yeah, see that stuff on the left? It's tuna packed in oil.  As the sign in the supermarket said, this ain't your regular canned tuna. The recipe is insistent about high-quality preserved tuna, so high-quality preserved tuna I use. To the tune of $8 for 7 ounces. Oh, but wait, I need 14 ounces. Yes, so it's $16.  But it's honestly delicious. I can eat it straight out of the jar.  That's why, while I love this recipe, I don't make it terribly often. Here's the ingredient list:

  • 1 pound dried fettuccine

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic

  • 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed, dried, and minced

  • 1 1/2 cups canned tomato puree

  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped

  • 1/4 cup Gaeta olives, pitted and chopped

  • 14 ounces excellent-quality tuna preserved in olive oil

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

  • Let's not forget this:

    First, I chop up everything that needs...chopping--the garlic, parsley, anchovies, and olives.  I'm not a big fan of anchovies on their own, but I really love using them in cooking. The just melt away into your dish and add this salty earthiness.  Again, use the good quality stuff packed in olive oil for this.  You're supposed to rinse them before you chop, but I didn't. 

    Now for the Gaeta olives. I imagine you can use Kalamata also.  To pit the olives, I gently crush them with the side of a knife--do this carefully, as they are slippery and you don't want to sever tendons. 

    Flattened ones at the bottom, unblemished ones at top

    When you crush them, you'll find that it's very easy to kinda pry them apart and squeeze/pull out the pit.

    See? Olive deconstructed: a retrospective.

    The recipe calls for 12 ounces of tomato puree.  I don't know if that's the same thing as tomato sauce.  Tomato sauce tends to be a little sweet, so to be safe I just took a can of 14 oz peeled whole tomatoes and pureed them.  Then add 1 TBS of capers (you're supposed to rinse them first, but I didn't).

    Saute the garlic in some olive oil (I actually used the oil that the tuna was packed in), add the anchovies and cook for a few minutes, then dump in the tomato/capers puree.

    The recipe says to then add cooked pasta, tuna, and olives, but I cooked the sauce for about 30 minutes.  I feel like extra simmering time for pasta sauce only helps.  After the pasta was cooked, I added it to the pot, along with the tuna (broken up), the chopped olives, and parsley. I found the parsley to be particularly refreshing in this dish.

    Ah, the beauteous tuna.

    Since I was lazy and neglected to rinse the anchovies and capers, *and* used the salty tuna oil for sauteeing, I didn't add any salt.  The dish was still a tad salty, so if you want to be more careful, rinse the anchovies and capers, and/or use olive oil instead of the tuna oil.


    Monday, June 21, 2010

    The Truth About Bali

    Kevin and I spent about 10 lovely days in Bali for our honeymoon--4 nights in Jimbaran Bay and 6 nights in Ubud.  So how was Bali? This is kind of hard to admit, but I don't think I appreciated the great parts of our Bali trip until I had some distance from it.  I mean, did I love being on vacation just after having been married, and not having a care in the world except whether to sit by the pool or the beach during the afternoon? Yes, of course I did.  Part of the joy of a vacation is the state of mind.  And we were in a great state of mind.

    On the other hand, after we got back and people asked us how the honeymoon was, I almost felt like I *should* say "Oh it was wonderful" and blather on.  But honestly, there were some things that we were not prepared for that kind of threw us off (I'll get into it later).  I'm not sure if our expectations were to walk into a Gauguin painting or something (in which case we really should have looked at a globe first), or whether there was all this pressure because it was our "honeymoon" and we spent a "shitload of money" and Bali is supposed to be "paradise" and what have you, but we almost felt guilty about pointing out certain tips and criticisms, like we were miserly. I mean, was it just us? Were we ungrateful malcontents? 

    Now that some time has passed, I do find myself really appreciating Bali and the time we spent there.  Is it rose-colored hindsight further fuzzified by a longing for another vacation? I don't know.

    Looking back, I remember lounging on a peaceful beach...

    Getting side-by-side massages in an open air...cabana type thingy (?)...with sumptuous oil and royal treatment at Jimbaran Puri Bali:

    The beautiful, vibrant flowers and fruit:

    The greasiness and stickiness from sunscreen, bug spray, humidity and general grossness:

    The modern yet pampering loveliness of our hotel in Ubud, Komaneka at Bisma:

    The amazing breakfasts and afternoon tea they served:

    This was breakfast, folks.

    Greasiness check? Yep, still there!  Bali's still hot and humid as hell!

    The gorgeous scenery we saw on day trips:

    The details of a culture we could see just by taking a walk:

    And the amazing pork and duck that we had in Ubud (for pork, get yee to Ibu Oka; for duck, order the smoked duck at Casa Luna one day in advance, and do try the crispy duck at Dirty Duck and Bumbu Bali (I think this is the place I'm not sure, although the smoked duck reigned supreme).  

    Proof of yummy duck gnawed to the bone? Check.  Greasiness still in full force? Check.

    So you might ask yourself, what kind of things was I unhappy with? Am I insane? Well, here are some things I wish someone had told me about Bali, or things to which I wish I would have been quicker accustomed.

    Point 1
    Yes, you've seen my shiny, greasy face several times in this post. While I'm usually a combination skin kind of gal, let me tell you that in Bali, no matter what your skin type, you will be covered in a layer of grease that is the result of the commingling of your sweat, sunscreen, bug spray, and the thick, permanent blanket of humidity in Bali that wraps itself around every nook and cranny.  Don't listen to weather.com.  It said 80's. Wrong. It was in the 90's and felt way into the 100's because of the humidity.  Plus, the sun is set on permanent nuclear-level force because of the proximity to the equator.  We asked a native of Jimbaran Bay what the Balinese do during the hottest parts of the day, and he laughed and said "nothing".  I don't think people were meant to move during the hottest hours. Really. So, what's a traveler to do?

    Just chill out between the hours of 11 and 3. Get a massage. Sit by a pool. Read a book in your air-conditioned room.  Go on a day trip but spend most of it in an air-conditioned car.  The heat was seriously, seriously debilitating. If you don't take my word on this it means you are a child of Hades and/or have no regard for your well-being.

    Point 2
    Bali is poor. Really fucking poor. The cost of living in Bali is extremely inexpensive, which is great for tourists, but it's hard to avoid the cognizance that you are benefiting on the backs of people who deserve much, much more than, among other things, a crippled government and economy that require them to *pay* for public education for their children. It's heartbreaking.

    All the guidebooks tell you that the vendors charge you three times as much as what you should pay, and bargaining is the name of the game.  So we kinda got into the "game" a few times. But then you realize you're trying to bargain someone out of $1. It's...not cool.

    There is a tinge of desperation from the 15 men who will say "taxi, taxi" to you during a 2-minute walk, all of them hoping to make a few dollars, and then maybe, just maybe, parlay it into a full day 8-hour trip which will cost a whopping $40, including gas.  Many vendors will ask you to refer your friends to them, to ask when you're coming back, to see how long you're staying, if you need a driver, a tour guide, anything...it's a little difficult to see what was probably once a self-sufficient culture so very dependent on tourism.

    Just know that it's poor. I know this sounds really naive of me--of course I know that most beachy tropical places have a culture of poverty, but I didn't realize the extent and I wish I had been more psychologically prepared.  I mean, what kind of asshole would I be if I were like OMG it's the most beautiful place on earth wow I had the most amazing aromatherapy massage it's magical by the way I saw someone bathing in a ditch?

    So that's why it was a bit difficult to talk about Bali when I first got back. But do I love that I got to go? Of course! Did I have a great time? Of course. The heat I think one can work around by just relaxing (except when you have a husband that likes to take death marches and doesn't particularly enjoy massages and sitting by the pool. who did I marry).  As to the poverty, I was affected by it, but I am not selfless enough to let that overshadow memories of my honeymoon.  It's just a conflict that I have to accept as part of the whole "life is not perfect" thing. Okee.