I Have Blender Issues

11 Apr

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“Just think – this is the second blender I’ve bought for you!” Rob exuded knowing full-well what buttons he was pushing. I could even hear his smile on the other end of the phone line. “Have you blended anything yet?”

“No, not yet.” I responded quite flatly.

“Why not? I thought you’d be blending away!”

Again, “No, not yet.”

It got silent on the other end of the line. Opening the freezer, I realized that the frozen fruit section of Costco had found its home in our freezer and was eager to be used. Rob had gone to work for a night flight, and I was left alone in our kitchen, stocked with an assortment of smoothie accoutrements. Rob and I had taken the leap we have been discussing for a couple years now. But it took two very distinct moments to finally take the plunge: 1) I chucked my old, dilapidated, hardly-makes-a-whirring-let-alone-blend-anything blender across the kitchen (not really – I just put it down hard on the counter and probably emitted a choice word or two) and 2) Vitamix finally came out with a blender small enough to conspicuously keep on the counter.

Yes, we finally got a Vitamix. And really, it is that awesome.

But here’s the story.

It was our first Christmas together, and if you follow the blog (or have heard the stories), you know that Rob and I seem to have pretty epic moments around Christmastime. Tree spiders hatching babies, killer ladybugs, U-Cut (but not really) trees, hung-over Midnight Mass, rabid cats, kitchen fires… you know, the average holiday. This one was really what started it all with Rob buying a giant Oregon tree to decorate on Christmas Eve. It was the first time either of us had been away from our immediate families for Christmas, and we were only just engaged. So we made a point to not only incorporate our families’ traditions, but also start our own.

Months earlier, when I had been visiting Rob in Oregon, we walked through Wal-Mart and I saw a little $12 single-serving blender. Briefly commenting on how that would be great for little smoothies and dressings, we walked on and that was that.

Come Christmas day – our very first Christmas together – Rob and I exchanged gifts. It was a humble event, and we had put a lot of consideration into each other’s presents knowing that as this was our first special holiday just the two of us. We wanted to try to make it one to remember. When I got to opening this one present under the tree, Rob got so giddy; his smile stretched across his face and he looked like a little kid squirming with anticipation, wanting to rip off the wrapping himself. As I slowly removed the paper, there it was – the single serving blender.

Now generally, my reactions/responses to things are immediate, not thought provoked, and well, often blondish. My parents will attest to the fact that my whole life, the link between my brain and my mouth is about as short and fast as a duck’s sphincter. It just comes out. Usually followed with the inevitable, “Oooooooo, sorry,” (with scrunched up face to match).   Just revisit Rob’s marriage proposal to me if an example is needed.

So, when Rob gave me this blender for our first Christmas together – one that I wanted and loved and eventually used until it whirred its last whir of life – my reaction was not what he expected.

“You got me a blender?” My brain could not catch up – the words were out.

Rob’s face dropped. “Yeah, you like it, right?”

“Yeah, I love it!”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“There is no problem-“ Rob was still confused by the fact that my verbal reaction didn’t match my smile, “-you just got me a blender for Christmas!”

Rob caught on (poor guy to have to deal with me) and the conversation went on with laughs, dancing around how I was now to be a stereotypical 1950s housewife, make him all the smoothies he could ever want at any whim, only vacuum while wearing high heels and pearls, etc., etc. Needless to say, the Christmas appliance quickly became the talk of our holiday gifts.

In fact, each year the appliance-as-a-holiday-gift is joked about: one year it was a vacuum cleaner, another year copper pots! So, for the last couple of years when I’ve said I was thinking about getting a Vitamix, high-speed, fruity blended smoothies hit the fan just at the mere mention! I was quickly reminded that I already had a blender. Sigh.

We never did make the holiday blender splurge because of its price, its size, and the fact that I really don’t want to have a ton of kitchen appliances. But after Rob learned of its awesomeness (which then lead to much persuasion from him), the craving of healthier foods for the upcoming bathing suit season, the wonderful saleslady at Williams Sonoma, and the gift card I received from my aunt and uncle, we finally mixed ourselves into a frothy tizzy and bought the blender.

“So, when will you make something? I thought you’d be blending away tonight.” Rob sounded, again, confused on the other end of the line (what I do to the poor man!).

“I’ll wait for you, babe.” I turned on the sugary sweetness. “We can blend together.”

Rob’s familiar chuckle was muffled by the phone, but his smile was not. He gave a quick, “Ok,” and we moved on.

We did blend together and made a pretty amazing meal. The Vitamix does what it promises, and we created a dinner of Fresh Corn and Tomato Bisque and had Chocolate Banana Ice Cream for dessert. Lately for breakfasts, Rob’s been perfecting an Island Smoothie and I have been enjoying Almond Chai Tea Smoothies. Overall, it has been a great purchase, even if it is a blender.

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Fresh Corn and Tomato Bisque
(serves 2)

  • 2 ears corn, raw kernels cut off the cob.
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes (they just started showing up in season here – gotta love the FL warm weather!) 
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 c chicken stock, heated to a slow rolling boil over the stove
  • 2 bunches fresh basil
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill
  • s&p

**Special equipment: a high powered blender, such as a Vitamix.

Starting with the chicken stock, put all the ingredients into the blender. Start slow and gradually blend on high for 5-7 minutes. The heat from the force of the blender will cook the veg (I didn’t initially believe this. But tasting the soup and wickedly burning my tongue proved me wrong). Pour into a bowl and enjoy with a drizzle of good olive oil, or top with a rustic salsa made of roughly diced tomatoes, lemon juice, and s&p.  

Serve with a little green salad for a tasty meal.

Chocolate Banana Ice Cream
(serves 2)

  • 2 bananas, sliced into ½- in slices, and frozen until solid.
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp Agave Syrup

**Special equipment: a high powered blender, such as a Vitamix.

Put all ingredients into the blender, and whir until the mixture is combined and resembles a soft-serve ice cream. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

A United States Coastie

26 Mar

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My dad and I share a lot of “likes”: smoked salmon with dill and capers, classic rock, unplugged alternative rock, a good beer, a great wine, The Lawrence Welk show, dancing, going to bed early, stars, and road biking, to name a few. Biking stands out as a long-time memory, as I grew up watching my dad strap on those funny shoes and click away on some race he was doing that weekend, 50, 65, 100 miles no problem. I, too, eventually had the biking itch, and while I never rode competitively, I think I can hold my own on a bike.

On some long rides, as we clicked in and started down the pine and eucalyptus-lined greenbelt to reach the road leading to the hilly, California beach canyons, Dad would sternly remind me, “Eat before you’re hungry, and drink before you’re thirsty. Or else you’ll bonk.” Eating on a bike isn’t exactly gourmet, but calorie quality is a necessity.  Bananas, granola bars, and peanut butter M&Ms are all perfectly unbonkable foods.

When Rob became a serious fixture in my life, Dad was quick to ask if he rode. He did, and was quite good in fact. Even when Rob was “out of shape” he could fly passed me up a hill in a lower gear no problem.  I think even my dad was impressed.

So last weekend when we decided to take a leisurely 10-mile ride to try out the new fixie Dad has worked for me, it was odd to see Rob almost a quarter mile behind us, peddling like the dickens.  He had just gotten a new chain, and was giving it a test-ride as well. But there was no reason for such a lag, especially on these flat, Jacksonville country roads.

When we arrived to our destination (Chili’s for lunch), Rob realized his brake had been rubbing on his tire the whole time.  A convenient excuse!  But a legitimate reason nonetheless.

Lunch, sans bananas and peanut M&Ms, was nice and filled us a little too much to feel extremely comfortable on a road bike.  As we pushed through the gut-bomb feeling and picked up the pace (this time, Rob right in line), it seemed all was smooth sailing.  That is until I heard Rob’s voice from a ways back.

“We’ve got a problem!”  he yelled. I echoed the same to my dad a couple feet in front, and we slowed, turned, stopped, clicked out, and looked back. There, with another legitimate reason to fall behind, was Rob, holding his brand new chain, hanging limp, completely snapped.  There was no way to fix it (the guys tried as I watched), and they finally came to this conclusion:

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Well, they don’t call Rob a Coastie for nothing!

After the eventful ride, a good dinner was definitely in order.  Rob has started to take a liking to shrimp (Yay! Woohoo!  Hallelujah!), and of course, anything fried in these parts warrants a decent meal.  But to keep things on the lighter side, I got a little creative with my Boom Boom Shrimp.

Using a local U-15/20 shrimp (these are good medium-sized buggers, weighing in at under 15-20 shrimp per pound), I peeled and deveined them myself.  There’s something about sitting on our back porch in the early spring sunlight, peeling shrimp, sipping tea, with Sig at my feet watching the golfers go by; definitely antebellum-esque.  After the shrimp – and my hands – were cleaned, I lightly drizzled over some beautifully green grapeseed oil, and more liberally sprinkled Old Bay. Yep, we went old school, folks.

After a relaxing seasoned and oiled spa treatment in the fridge, the shrimp were ready for the jacuzzi – a quick and very light douse of s&p seasoned flour, and into a shallow, coconut oiled cast iron pan they went.  Coconut oil is 1) healthy, 2) tasty, and 3) holds a shallow pan-fry well because of its high smoking point (however, I would not use it for deep frying.  That’s when rice bran oil or peanut oil get their 15 minutes of fame).

Taking only a minute or two per side, the shrimp get pink, plump, curled, and crispy. It’s amazing that only a tiny bit of flour and a good quality oil can produce a “fried” shrimp that could probably stand up to other beer-battered Boom Booms of these parts. We had a trio of sauces; my favorite was my Strawberry BBQ sauce, while Dad and Rob loved the Asian-inspired sweet ginger sauce.  With a not-so-Southern cole slaw on the side, the meal was perfect, and filling – especially after such a hard ride!

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Boom Boom Shrimp
(serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. medium shrimp (go for a local, wild source, not farmed), peeled and deveined (keep the little tails on for easy grabbing and eating)
  • 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
  • ¼ c coconut oil
  • 1 c flour
  • s&p

Put the cleaned and deveined shrimp in a large bowl with the grapeseed oil and Old Bay. Mix well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

To prepare the frying process, heat the coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pan (I use my cast iron skillet) until the temp reaches 320, and season the flour with s&p.  Lightly dredge the shrimp in the flour, shaking off the excess before placing in the oil. After about a minute, flip the shrimp, and then let cook for another minute until curled, pink, and cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, and quickly season with a sprinkle of salt. 

Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce, and an unoaked chardonnay.

Enjoy!  

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The 100th Day of School, Writers Block, and Cardamom

4 Feb

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This past Wednesday was the 100th day of school.  My students were so anxiously awaiting the day to do everything around the number 100.  Counting forwards, backwards, by 2s, 5s, and 10s to 100, making posters of 100 things, writing 100 words, hopping for 100 seconds, and making 100-Fruit Loop necklaces were all in the mix.  In one project, a student said that if he had $100, he would buy a bologna sandwich.  Then, he also said if ate 100 marshmallows, he would vom (what our class calls vomit – It sounds nicer).  A lot of kids wrote stories about being 100 years old, sitting in a chair and knitting, while one girl said she would be in the circus.  I’ve got some pretty cool kids.

But it made me realize that these 5-year olds have the almost effortless ability and sparked motivation to think of something super cool, and immediately express it with ease, fluidity, and creativity.  How fun it must be to have the mind of a kid!  Seriously!  Remember the times when you would come up with crazy fun ideas and write stories and draw pictures and put stickers all over everything?  One girl told me through infectious giggles that she put 100 stickers on her dog’s head cone.  So much fun!

Alas, those days have gone for ye ol’ adults.  And it must be showing because when I asked my students if I looked 100 years old, they said no – more like 72.  YIKES.

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Many things have happened over the last month, much of which involved traveling and having so much fun with our family.  Yet, as I always find it hard to write when I’m on the road, returning home conversely held an anvil of writers block over my head.  Have I been cooking?  Absolutely!  Made a vegan version of grits with red-eye gravy, no less!  Have I been writing?  Sure!  There are bits and starts and notes of soon-to-be blogs all over my notepad and computer.  Have I actually completed anything?  Nope!  Just like the laundry piling up in the closet, intention is there, but execution is not.

So rather than try to come up with some fun, witty, or the occasional deeply sentimental blog post, I’ll take a lesson from those who are always taking lessons from me.  Here’s the last month, through the eyes of a 5-year old:

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Rob and I were on TV!  We made it onto the Today Show for all of 2 seconds!  It was super dark, a sign was covering Rob’s face, and you had to pause, rewind, slow-motion play, and repeat, in order to see us, but we are TV stars now!

We had LOTS of great food – my Aunt and Uncle’s football Sunday food followed by filet of beef with horseradish, potatoes, and creamed spinach hit the spot on a rainy Sunday night in Long Island.  In Connecticut, Rob’s mom made our favorites including the Chicken Francese that I will never be able to perfectly recreate.  While in NYC, we ate at a small, almost hidden gem of a steakhouse called Quality Meats.  We ordered soybeans.

Rob tried beef cheek (liked it!), shrimp (liked it!), and octopus (not so much).

I learned how to knit!  According to my students, this makes me an “old lady.”

Due to the first of these many winter storms, our flights were cancelled out of the northeast, leaving us driving all the way down the I-95 corridor to get home in time for work.

I slept through Delaware.  The state also cost us $8 in tolls.  I didn’t think that was fair.

Finally, the wonderful, yet unusual cold Jacksonville weather has inspired us with cozy, warm meals like Cardamom and Citrus Roasted Chicken.

Really, anything with cardamom is going to be amazing – it is a spice often used in Scandinavian and Middle Eastern countries.  It is the warmth in Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Bread, or as my Great Grandmother called it, “Biscuit”), and the spice that sits on the back of your throat in Chai Tea.  While it tends to fall into the cold-weather-sugary-sweet-treats spice category (think nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves), I actually prefer using it in savory ways.

When cooked with protein, cardamom adds a grassiness and earthiness to the meat that pairs organically.  With the brightness of citrus and hearty herbs, a dish is complete.  Thus was born my Cardamom and Citrus Roasted Chicken.  I actually purchased an already cut-up 8-piece chicken, as it was surprisingly cheaper than the whole Roaster.  But if you can’t find the cut up whole chicken, a whole Roaster will work just as well – just stuff the cavity with the leftover citrus and rosemary.  This recipe is also very versatile if you only like white meat (buy the breasts bone in and skins attached), or dark meat (thighs would be divine).

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Using my trusty cast iron skillet, I organized my bird like a jigsaw puzzle, drizzled over the juice of 2 tangerines, 1 lemon, and 1 lime and added the citrus shells to the dish (we are at the height of citrus here in Florida – it’s awesome).  While cooking, even more flavorful juice seeps out of the citrus, naturally basting the bird.  With a liberal sprinkling of s&p, about 1 tsp dusting of ground cardamom, and 3 large rosemary sprigs tucked in open crevices, the bird was ready for its final touch: butter.  With only 3 tbsp of butter dabbed on the bird, it browns just enough, and the fat from the butter emulsifies in the cast iron with the citrus and chicken juices, creating a fabulous, no fuss gravy for the roasted chicken.  After 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, let rest, then serve with Steamed Parmesan Broccoli, and a buttery chardonnay, and enjoy.

Occasionally, when our class is sharing our “New News” in the morning, I like to share what I made for dinner the night before.  I shared this one, and generally got responses with lots of Ooooos and Yuuummms.   Except for one, who incredulously asked, “But where’s the pasketi?”  Through the eyes of a child, a key component of my dish was clearly missing.  But, also gave great inspiration for the next night’s dinner!

Enjoy!

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