Playing around with an SLR Camara

My life has just been transformed.  It’s like tasting the difference between good wine and two buck Chuck.  For as long as I’ve been blogging, yeah, I know, not that long, I’ve just used my measly Blackberry camera phone for images.  Once or twice, since it’s recently been found, I’ve been able to use our pocket digital camara, an Olympus FE-20, but now, I’ve tasted the joy of my first ever SLR camera.

No, I haven’t forked over $600 for one…yet.  Actually, it’s a pretty great set-up.  I contacted the photography teacher at the school I teach at and asked if I’d be able to borrow a camara, just like the students do.  Mark, that’s the photography teacher’s name, was encouraging.  So now, for the next week, our Spring Break, I have the most incredible camara I have ever used in my possession.

Within the first hour, I’d already taken about 100 shots, playing around with the automatic settings, mainly portrait, close up, and no flash indoors.  Here are my favorites.

My first shot eva'

While Kris stayed inside, I went outside where the sun was shining.  Everywhere I read said USE NATURAL LIGHT, so I followed suggested directions.

Here’s a close up shot of one of my succulent plants.

I love the color that the camara picks up

If you look close, you can see the tiniest trace of a spider’s web on the left side of the succulent.  I love how the camera picks up the waxiness and light bouncing off the plants’ bumps.

This picture is of weeds!  Weeds!  And look how pretty they are!

Weeds next to my raised bed

Then I went to take pictures of the flowers on our peach tree, and this camera truly catches the exuberance of Spring.

So detailed and fast that I photographed a fly

Close up of peach blossoms

Of course, I went crazy photographing Titania.  She actually followed me outside, unlike my husband.

Titania, profile shot

Titania sniffing the air

Titania, over the shouldar pose

Another sniffing the air shot

Titania, a regal shot

This is so exciting.  This camera is truly able to show how incredibly cute our dog is, not to mention how funny she is too.

Oh…I’m in love.  My life has either been ruined or saved, depending on your perspective.

Half Marathon Music Vol. 5

Ooophs…I’d been doing pretty well, training-wise, but I haven’t really found much new music, so I’ll post one of my old songs that gets me through my workout.  For those of you new to my Half Marathon Music Collecting you can see Vol. 1 here, Vol. 2 here, Vol. 3 here and here (it was a surreal week), and Vol. 4 over yonder.

Since my first real long run, I’ve created 2 different playlists, and it’s been quite successful.  There’s “Movin’Along” with its fun rhythms and melodies, then there’s the secret, my “Pump It” play list.  There are 3 songs that I rely on heavily, my last ones, all in this order: “Only Girl,” by Rihanna, “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” by deadmaus, and “Satisfaction” by Benni Bennasi.

Few songs in my playlists actually have lyrics that connect to my interior monologue as I jog; “Satisfaction” is one of them, and the version I have lasts about 6 plus minutes, not the measly 2.5 of the music video.  The main phrase that gets repeated is “Push, push, push, push…”  Granted, I know that the lyrics have nothing to do with pushing one’s hardest while exercising, I can project my needs onto the the lyrics if it will help me jog one more mile.  I’m not feelin’ the music video, pretty women with power tools is not really my thing, but I must admit, this song’s beat, tempo, and (most) lyrics, forgive the pun, “push me.”

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Manchego Quesadillas with Sweet Potato and Kale

I am not a kale fan.  I grew up seeing this curly leaf brassica as filler on the salad bar at the pizza restaurant I worked at.  I didn’t know humans could eat it until a college roommate one night added it to her vegetarian stir fry.

“Wait,” I hollered at her, sometimes she was on the ditzy side, so I thought this ingredient addition was just another fluke.  I mean she once burned one of my pots boiling water, really!?

However, she began to teach me about kale’s amazing vitamins and dietary benefits.  I tried it, hated it because of its bitterness, and vowed never to trust her stir-fries again.

Fast forward 8 years, Kris and I are walking on a beautiful November day at our local farmer’s market, and I see a brilliant, beautiful purple leafy vegetable lounging on the table, next to kale and other salad greens.  Curious, entranced by its stunning purple color, I ask the stand worker what this jewel of a vegetable is.

“Kale,” he says, smiling.  He must have been amused by my look of disbelief since he added an explanation of the 3 types of kale he had.  “Dinosaur kale, curly kale,” and noticing my affinity for the colorful purple one, “Russian kale.”  Without hesitation, so hypnotized by its color, we buy two bunches.  I am convinced that nothing this beautiful in hue could be bitter, and so far, the two recipes I’ve made with it, have confirmed my color/lack of bitterness hypothesis.

Such a stunning color

This recipe is to use up all those Winter vegetables.  Two words best describe it: nutty and gorgeous.  It’s a combination of whole wheat tortillas, the manchego cheese, sweet potatoes, and hint of ground cumin.  The blast of orange from the sweet potato and the contrasting purple of the Russian kale make this easy dinner an aesthetic and gustatory pleasure.

Manchego Quesadillas with Sweet Potato and Kale (2 servings)
Ingredients:
-whole wheat tortillas
-roughly chopped Purple/Russian kale, 2 springs per serving
-2 small sweet potatoes
-2 cloves garlic
-2/3 cup shredded Manchego cheese (Fontina would be good too, or smoked gouda)

1.  In a small saute pan, add 1 Tablespoon olive oil.  Heat over a medium low setting.  Mince garlic with a press over the pan, and cook garlic for 1 minute, being careful not to burn it.  Add in roughly chopped kale.  Saute for about 4 minutes.

Maintain purple kale color at all costs

2.  Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes, and chop into 1/4 inch disks.  Place in a small sauce pan, add a touch of water to coat the bottom, then cover and cook over high heat until soft, about 6-7 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces you cut.

3.  When sweet potatoes look cooked through, they turn bright orange, drain excess water, and mash up the potatoes in the pot with a touch of butter for flavor (optional).

Gorgeous Color, and I'm not talking about the butter

4.  When kale is cooked, set aside in a bowl, then clean out your pan with a paper towel.  This way you have less dishes to clean.  You want to get any leftover bits of garlic so they don’t burn with further cooking.

5.  Grab a tortilla, place in the pan, then add about 1/3 cup Manchego cheese.  Also add a pinch of ground cumin on top of the cheese for extra flavor.  If you’ve never had Manchego cheese, you will die and go to heaven the second you do; it is that awe-inspiring.

6.  Top cheese with half the potato mash and half the sauteed garlic kale.  When the tortilla is warm, fold the other half over.  After a couple minutes, when the bottom side is lightly golden brown, flip quesadilla to the other side, and cook until golden delicious brown on that side too.

Cooking with color is so beautiful

Enjoy!!

How to Not go Insane Jogging over 6 miles on a treadmill

Jogging on the treadmill is not my preferred method of working out.  Trust me, working out in the world not only goes faster, but offers much more engaging scenery.

However, when Mother Nature downpours, I have 2 options for my long run schedule: fuggetaboudit and feel guilty all week long plus make it even harder for myself on the next long run, or suck it up and do it at the gym.

I can handle 3.5 miles on the gym treadmill, not that bad, but this long run was 6.6 miles long.  At my slow pace, about a 15 minute mile, that’s 1.5 hours. So, I now have a new realization about the gym treadmill.

The treadmill at the gym is Purgatory.  It is a state of limbo, of going somewhere-nowhere.  If you prefer the Greco-Roman mythology,  the gym treadmill is Tartarus.  The display tells me I’ve gone 3 miles, yet here I am, staring at the same broken TV screen that has a pixelated picture of some sports journalist, frozen in time.  I watch as EVERYONE else comes, goes, probably wins the lottery in the time it takes me to finish.

The only thing that keeps me sane is completely covering the display with my hand towel.  I have ABSOLUTELY no desire to watch numbers infuriatingly go up by .01 mile.  The treadmill display is cruel like that.  I try to look away, only to see above me the same pixelated frozen frame of the Philidelphia reporter, her long, blonde hair like one of those cut-outs where you can change the face to someone else’s.  You’d think I’d remember her name since I looked up at it every other second.  I suppose that’s how repression works.

My saving grace is music.  Since there’s nothing to look at in purgatory except a display that moves up .01 miles in what feels like a minute or at Miss Philadelphia’s blurred square face, I’m able to drown my boredom in music.

Don’t get me wrong.  This boredom had nothing to do with easiness.  Wogging 6.6 miles gave me the feeling of an out-of-body experience, since all I wanted to do during this long run was forget that I even had a body.  Well, I didn’t run the entirety; I’m not that talented.  I walked .25 at the beginning and .6 at the end.

Still…I did it.  Yup, folks, I’ve passed the 6 mile mark.  This magical number has held such mystery for me.  I always thought that if I could run 6 miles, I’d be one of those gorgeously athletic runners.  Ha…reality, like the treadmill, is a malicious jokester.

My first ever really long run

Part of training for a long distance event, like a half marathon, are the weekly long runs.  At the beginning of my training, I didn’t pay much attention to them, as I was focused on being able to jog more then 2 miles.

So, Natalie and I met last Saturday for our first ever long long run.  Our training schedule said 5.66 miles, and we were going to meet, wog together, then go our paces, and meet at the end.

5.66 miles, definitely the most I’ve ever wogged in my life.  I’d been able to do the 3 and 4 mile wogs fine, but this past week, I really wanted to challenge myself with how far I could jog.  So far, the max had been 3.5 miles.  Ultimately, I was unable to jog the entire way, I still was able to jog about 4.5 miles of it, the most ever in my life.  Yup, a proud feat.

There were 4 strategies that helped me get through that first long run.

1.  Making an exercise date.  Natalie and I made plans to meet at the park, so I couldn’t procrastinate.

2.  Making 2 different playlists on my ipod.

One I call my “Movin’ Along” music.  It has good songs with rhythmic beats, but the songs are not that intense.  “Movin’ Along” includes songs like “Rolling in the Deep,” “Ride a White Horse,” “Bad Romance,” “Telephone,” “Billie Jean,” among other songs.

The second playlist is called, “Pump It.”  It’s for when my body does not want to jog anymore, but I have to somehow trick it to keep going.  Songs on this playlist include, “La Loba,” “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” “Hot n Cold,” Only Girl,” “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff.”

3.  Playing mind games with myself.  Here’s how some of my interior monologues went: I have to jog just until the end of this song, oh no, I like this next song a lot, I’ll jog until the end of this song instead.  What?  Only .75 miles to the end of the trail, ok, I can jog another .25.  Only 1/2 mile left, OK, just one more quarter mile.  Oh goodness, come on now, I can see the end of the trail.  (Cue the ghosts ‘n’ stuff for the 2nd time in a row)

4.  Walking when I really have pushed myself.  After 2 miles, I walked about 1/2 mile.  Then, I started back up again and was able to jog about 2.5 more.  See #2 and #3 for how
I was able to miraculously do that.

Here were a couple of my mistakes:

1.  Eating bacon for breakfast.  OK, it was 1 piece.  Kris made Swedish pancakes, and they are oh so good, so I ate a few of those too.  After about 3 miles, I started to feel nauseous, and got burpy, and guess what flavor started to come out above all others?  This tells me that I need to really start figuring out how to eat properly before a long run.

2.  Not stretching.  This is a big one for me.  I have not been very consistent with my stretches, but it’s been slowly changing.

Oh my goodness, my body was in pain the next day.  Sore, but at the same time, I have never felt so proud of myself.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs

Photo courtesy of http://www.culturemap.com

There is nothing quite so classic as spaghetti and meatballs, but it is quite an undertaking.  It was the third sauce (see Arugula Pesto and Sinful Alfredo for the others) I made for our Make-Your-Own Spaghetti Night, but it was the one that I completed first, over the course of 2 days.  It can be done all at once, it’s just a lot of work putting everything together.  It’s really 2 recipes, one for the mushroom marinara sauce, the other for the meatballs.  I made the marinara sauce Friday evening, the meatball mixture Saturday morning, and then shaped the meatballs and cooked them Saturday afternoon after my first ever, longest run of my life.

Marinara Sauce Ingredients:

-2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
– 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
-2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
– 1 large onion, diced
-7 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 Tablespoon honey
-2 bay leaves, ripped in half
-1 Tablespoon dried basil
-1 Tablespoon dried oregano
-1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
-1 teaspoon dried rosemary
-2-3 teaspoons dried thyme

1.  In a large non-reactive (stainless steel) pot, place enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom and saute diced onion until translucent, 3-5 minutes.

Saute onion until translucent

2.  Add minced garlic…7 whole cloves.  Don’t worry, the garlic won’t be overpowering.  Saute a few more minutes until the garlic fragrance has scared away all vampires in a ten mile radius.

Add garlic to onion, saute

3.  Add all herbs to the pot and mix well.

Add herbs and saute

4.  By this time if you have anyone in your house, they will come to the kitchen and ask what’s cooking.  Just warning you to be prepared.

5.  Open tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your bare hands.  It’s a lot of fun and reminds me of playing with play dough.

Drain and Crush tomatoes in a colander

6.  Add tomatoes and tomato paste to the pot.  Take 3-5 pieces of dried porcini mushrooms (sooo incredibly woodsy tasting) and also add them to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer it down for 30-45 minutes.  This can be made several days ahead of time.

OK…now for the meatballs.

Ingredients:  Isn’t my dog Titania cute in the back there?

Ingredients Meatballs

-2 small onions
-olive oil
-1 small head garlic
-1.5 cups whole milk
-1.5 cups of day old Italian or French bread
-2.25 pounds ground beef
-3 large eggs
-zest of 2 lemons
-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
-1 Tablespoon dried parsley
-1 Tablespoon dried basil
-1-2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning

1.  Coat a large saute pan with olive oil.  Add the onions and saute until translucent, 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and herbs and cook a few minutes longer.

Saute onions, garlic, herbs

You heard me right, an entire small head of garlic.

Garlic...one small head

2.  In the meantime, slice the bread into 1-inch chunks.  You could also just rip the bread into chunks, depending on your mood, I guess.

It's ok to eat a couple of chunks while you do this

3.  In a large measuring cup, measure out 1.5 cups of whole milk.  (Come on, it’s a dinner party, no skimping on fat, see alfredo sauce post)4.  Add the bread chunks to the milk and mix around so that the bread soaks up as much milk as possible.  Soaking the bread in whole milk will make you meatballs taste a million times better than just dry, plain, boring store bought bread crumbs.

Add bread chunks to whole milk

5.  VERY IMPORTANT: squeeze out the excess milk from the bread and place milk-moistened bread in a large bowl, something big enough to mix everything together.  Trust me on this, speaking from experience, you don’t want your meatballs to break apart easily in the cooking process.

6.  Mix onions and moist bread together.

Mix onions and milk-moistened bread

7.  Add to this the lemon zest, eggs, meat and grated cheese.  Mix until just barely combined.  Too much mixing= tough meatballs.  You can refrigerate mixture for 1 day or power through the rest of the recipe.  I opted to go for a 5.66 mile wog with Natalie.

8.  Take small bits of meatball mixture and shape into 1-2 inch balls.  Place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet.  We made about 50 meatballs, give or take, i didn’t count, but we filled up 3 cookie sheets.

9.  Coat a large saute pan generously with olive oil, maybe like 1/3 cup.  Heat up oil for cooking meatballs.

10.  Arrange 10-12 meatballs around the pan and brown the spheres as best you can.  I usually brown one side, then flip it.  You are not cooking them all the way, rather just getting a beautiful browned outside.  They are circular, so it’s hard to get all sides evenly browned unless you are some kind of genius.  You’ll need to repeat this step several times, depending on how many meatballs you were able to form.

11.  Once the meatballs are browned, you have 2 choices for finishing the cooking process.  Option 1: place them gently in the mushroom marinara to finish cooking.  This is good for about 15 meatballs, after that, you have no more room.  From this point on, you have to be super careful when stirring the marinara so as not to break the meatballs which are quite delicate.  It’s more like making a “Figure 8” pattern along the bottom to prevent burning.

Option 2: Bake the meatballs on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy!  I’ve made these meatballs twice now, and they are always quite a hit.

Absolutely sinful, creamy, decadent alfredo sauce

This recipe is for once a year purposes only.  It’s one of those recipes that makes you feel guilty just looking at it, so I have no photos.  OK, really I have no photos because I made the sauce 15 minutes before our guests arrived, so I was just a little frantic.

It’s part of our recent dinner party honoring friends who were preparing to head to Germany.  The menu, Make-Your-Own-Spaghetti with 3 different sauces, Arugula Pesto, Marinara with Meatballs, or Creamy Alfredo.

Like most good alfredo sauces, it’s pure fat which comes in 3 forms: butter, cream, and cheese.  Oh, did I mention that that is also the list of ingredients too?

WARNING: Make this recipe sparingly, and only when you have LOTS of company to help eat it, this way you have no leftovers acting as temptation.

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), cut into chunks for faster cooking
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmasean cheese
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a medium sauce pan, heat the butter and cream over medium heat until the butter has fully melted, about 3-5 minutes.

2.  When simmering, add in the grated Parmesan and mix with a small whisk until all of the cheese has melted.  Add salt and pepper to your taste.

I know it goes against everything that this classic recipe stands for, but I am determined to create a lower-fat version of this sauce that is just as tasty.

Arugula Pesto

Two wonderful friends we’ve met in the journey of graduate school are now leaving the US to go to Germany for career opportunities.  This past Saturday, Kris and I hosted several lab mates in a going away dinner party.  We’re living on a grad student and teacher salary, so of course it was a pot luck.

As hosts, we were responsible for the main entree, and I chose my favorite go-to for a large dinner party, Make-Your-Own-Spaghetti.  No, not making homemade pasta (though that would be fun), but having one large bowl of pasta with 3 different sauces.  The sauces this past dinner: arugula pesto, creamy alfredo, and marinara sauce with homemade meatballs.

It’s so much fun to have dinner parties where the guests help create their plate and food experience, and I don’t just mean bringing something for the pot luck.

This pesto was invented from my base pesto recipe, with a couple of small but absolutely delicious changes.  The first comes from the cooking blog Simply Recipes.  Elise, the author, has an amazing secret for getting a subtle garlic flavor without the sometimes overpowering shock of raw garlic: roasting the garlic quickly on the stovetop before adding it to the food processor.  Genius!!

Of course, next comes my mistake of sometimes not reading recipes fully (I know, and then ironically I post recipes on my blog).  Technically you’re not supposed to use oil, you just cook the garlic in a pan, but I added a little olive oil, then added my pine nuts in to toast up while things were heating up.

Ooophs at first, but by the end, my mistake became delicious!  The nuts brown up FAST, almost burning in my case.  You really have to watch them and get them OFF AND OUT of the heat as soon as you see brown color and smell its nutty perfume.

One guest, who’d lived for half a year in the Andalucia region of Spain on a WWOOF experience, told me it reminded him of salads he’d had while in Southern Spain.  He was working with a botanist who’d go out around dinner time and gather wild greens, including rocket (another name for arugula) for salads.  He said the pesto reminded him of those salads, “Some of the best I’ve ever eaten.”

The pesto has a spicy kick; it’s spunky, full-flavored and downright demands the full attention of your taste buds.

Use a food processor if you can, or a blender if you have to, and if you really must, because you live in the stone age or are some kind of pesto purist, a mortar and pestle.

Ingredients:

Arugula Pesto

2 cups baby arugula (if using wild, be sure to trim the woody stems, baby arugula doesn’t need this extra step though)

5 garlic cloves (4 with skin on, 1 peeled and chopped)

zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil

1.  In a medium saute pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add 4 cloves of garlic with skin still on.  Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes.

2.  Add 1/2 cup pine nuts to the pan and toast for 3 minutes or so.  BE SO VERY CAREFUL, the pine nuts burn very easily, but their aroma will permeate your entire house with nuttiness.  (As if my house needed anymore nuttiness:-)

A beautiful golden brown tint on the garlic

3.  While these brown up, place the following ingredients in a food processor: the arugula (put this down first to create a bed for everything else), Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice.

4.  Once the nuts are gently browned, QUICKLY take them out of the pan and add to the food processor.  Yes, I mean quick, don’t let them stay in that hot pan where they might burn on you and ruin everything.

5.  Take the skins off the roasted garlic and add them to the food processor.  Also chop up the 1 clove of raw garlic and add to the processor.

Roasted Garlic in 10 Minutes

6.   Pulse everything in the processor until it combines into a gorgeous green paste.  Scrape sides if necessary, usually it is.

7.  Place processor on “on” and stream in olive oil until it makes a smooth texture, not too thick, not too thin.  You want a texture that can be spread on bread or can coat spaghetti.

Smooth and Luxurious Pesto

A Brilliant Snack

Half Marathon Music Vol. 3 revisited

Remember when I was stuck without internet for 5 days on a Southern California college trip? I wrote about Shakira’s song “La Loba,” but couldn’t share the video, well, time to change that.  I don’t know what’s up with her 1/2 there, 1/2 not outfit; it reminds me of one of those cheap hypnosis spirals.

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Half Marathon Music Vol. 4

I’m prepared for it…”I told you so,” coming from my husband, the electronic music aficionado. No matter how many times I’ve tried to avoid listening to electronic music or made him find someone else to accompany him to electronic music shows, I have to admit, when I’m at the peak of a workout, with one more mile left, the only thing that keeps me going is a driving beat. So far, dance/electronica has had a consistent driving rhythm that keeps me moving. Yes, even when I don’t want to jog another 10 steps, electronic music somehow pushes me beyond that breaking point.

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