Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ga-ga for Goat Cheese

So I really don't know why I feel the need to use alliteration in all my post titles, but somehow it just happens...Anyway, goat cheese. I am obsessed. I've always liked it, but I ate a ton of it when we went to Europe, and it's just so gosh darn delicious. I know that I wrote about this in my previous post, but probably the best goat cheese dishes I had were when we were in Paris. I had an amazing goat cheese quiche at a cafe near the Louvre, but the best goat cheese dish I had overall was the SALADE DU B√ČARNAIS I had at at Le Relais Gascon. The salad had fresh greens, fried potatoes, bacon lardons, and the most amazing goat cheese. A few weekends ago, Cam and I tried to recreate it at home using what we could find at Whole Foods. The trickiest element was trying to make the bearnaise dressing taste like theirs, but we came pretty darn close, and the salad was delish. (It probably would have been better had I not filled up on the baguette, Camembert, and wine that we bought to snack on while we were making the salad....whoops). Here are some pics I took of our finished product:



More recently, I made a recipe I've been dying to try for awhile-White Pizza with Arugula a la Ina Garten. It's the pizza in the picture on the back of her Back to Basics cookbook, and thanks to my Barefoot Contessa obsession, I just had to try it. (The pizza itself is really similar to the Truffle Pizza they serve at the Jolly Pumpkin on Main Street in Ann Arbor, a dish that's a personal favorite of mine and another reason I wanted to try making Ina's version of it!) The recipe in Back to Basics calls for you to make 6 individual pizzas, but I opted just to make one big one. I also took a little bit of a Sandra Lee approach and used some frozen whole wheat pizza dough I picked up at the farmer's market instead of using Ina's recipe for the dough. (The pizza dough is from the same company that I've been getting fresh pasta from since we've moved down here, Rio Bertolini's, all their stuff is AMAZING) The key to this pizza is the beautiful combination of flavors. You start by taking your dough and brushing it with garlic oil. This is what makes the pizza; you take some good olive oil and simmer it for 10 mins with lots of chopped garlic. This infuses the oil with intense garlic flavor and makes the pizza taste amazing. You then cover the pizza dough with cheese....and lots of it. Shredded mozzarella, shredded fontina (an Italian cow's milk cheese with an intense flavor), and of course GOAT CHEESE (so good). The pizza is then sprinkled with more of the garlic oil (heaven), and then baked. When it comes out of the oven, you top it with arugula tossed in a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. The blend of the garlic, the intense flavor of the cheeses, and the slight kick of citrus makes this pizza a must-try recipe, and a great use for goat cheese. Here's some pics of how mine came out:




So one day in the far away future, Cam and I will live on a mountainside and have a pair of goats, where I'll be able to get fresh milk and make cheese whenever I want. (Seriously though, I really would like to get some goats, I've already got names for them--Hansel & Gretel...or Maizey & Blue...I haven't quite decided yet...) But until that day comes, I'm going to have to settle for mixing store-bought goat cheese in to my weekly menus now and then!

When you wish upon a star...


This past weekend, Cam and I took a little trip to the happiest place on Earth--Walt Disney World! We had originally planed to go there last year for Cam's birthday, but we ended up going to Tennessee instead. So this year, Disney had a promotion called "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day," where if you volunteered you received a free one day pass to the park. The goal of the program was to inspire one million people to give back to their communities, so back in April, Cam and I spent a Saturday removing invasive plants from a park in Ann Arbor. We decided we wanted to go and use our passes in the fall because we had heard that was a much less busy time at the park. Another reason that I really wanted us to plan this trip to Walt Disney World was because Cam had never been. This concept was so foreign to my family/everyone Cam met in Michigan because it seems that everyone in the Midwest makes the pilgrimage to Orlando at some point or another. But since Cam is from Oregon, he hadn't gone, so we thought it would be fun for the two of us to go down there, because Disney is not just for kids...

We left on Thursday afternoon, and flew out of Asheville, NC...on Delta...so our flight was delayed...both out of Asheville...and Atlanta...I'm not the biggest fan of Delta, can you tell? But we finally made it to Orlando, and boarded Mickey's Magical Express Shuttle to our hotel a little after midnight. There were tons of families with little kids on the bus, and even though it was so late, they were all so excited. All the parents looked exhausted, but were taking pictures and video of their kids on the bus, and all the enthusiasm of the kids was contagious. We finally made it to our hotel, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and were really impressed; it was beautiful inside! The decor was very tribal, and their were African artifacts all over the place. We had a room overlooking the savanna in the back of the hotel, so when we woke up Friday morning, it was great to get ready and drink our coffee while watching the animals from our balcony. There were lots of different overlook points to see all the antelope, zebras, giraffes, birds and other animals from all over the gorgeous hotel grounds, so we had a lot of fun exploring. I'd highly recommend staying here to anyone going to WDW.


We spent Friday at Epcot, and I was really excited because I thought that this was the park that Cam would like best since it has such a focus on science. A lot of the rides and exhibits at Epcot are about technology and the environment, and we had a great time checking everything out. The other half of Epcot is the World Showcase, which features 14 different "countries" from around the globe. We had crepes in France, gelato in Italy, and Chinese food...in China, obviously. (There is also an American section...where Cam got a turkey leg that was so good!) Clearly we wanted our visit to these fake countries to be just like our real visit to Europe, aka eating as much as humanly possible. We watched Epcot's fireworks show and went on the GM TestTrack ride which was really cool!

 

Saturday, we got up early and went to have breakfast at the Contemporary Resort right by the Magic Kingdom. We had breakfast at Chef Mickey's, one of the Disney restaurants where you can dine with the characters. We ate a huge buffet breakfast, and we got pictures with all the characters which was lots of fun. Then it was time for the classic Disney experience--going to the Magic Kingdom. While Cam really liked Epcot, I don't think it was quite what he was expecting because it's a lot more about science and travel than it is about Mickey and Minnie. But the Magic Kingdom had all the magic and whimsy that he was looking for, and no matter how old you are, you feel like a kid when you walk in to the park. MK was all decked out for fall, with pumpkins and adorable harvest decorations everywhere. (Never mind the fact that it's only September and it was 85 degrees outside...) We walked up Main Street USA to the castle and I even got a picture of Cam in front of the castle/Walt & Mickey statue wearing his bright orange "1st Visit!" button. (He refused to wear it around the park, but said he'd take one picture with it on!) We had a great day at the park and got to ride all the classic rides, with no more than a 20 minute waits for anything, which was awesome. The only thing we didn't get to ride was "It's a Small World" because it was closed for renovations, but other than that, we were able to ride everything, and we were ready to leave the park by 4 in the afternoon. We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing by the pool and eating dinner @ Artist Point in Wilderness Lodge. We were back at home in Greenville by Sunday afternoon, so it was a really fast weekend. I'm really glad we went, and that Cam got to have the Disney experience. But I'm pretty sure that we won't be going back for at least 10 years until we have some little kiddies to take there!  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Office Eats

Having a job where you're sitting at a desk all day has it's pros and cons. For me one of the major cons is the constant feeling of wanting to snack all day, so I'm always looking for quick, healthy snacks to munch on that aren't full of empty calories. Almonds are one of my favorite go-to snacks; they're filled with nutrients, the protein fills you up, and their perfect to keep on hand in your purse or desk drawer. That's why I was so happy when I discovered a new take on my favorite afternoon snack--Emerald's Cocoa Roast Dark Chocolate Almonds. I am obsessed with these things. They roast the almonds in cocoa powder, so they're sweet and crunchy, but not nearly as bad for you as chocolate dipped almonds, so they give you all the chocolate flavor without the calories. They're the perfect solution for a 3pm sugar fix you can feel good about and they're my new go-to snack. Just thought I'd share them with all my fellow cubicle dwellers!

Money money money

Now that Cam and I are settling in to life in here South Carolina, we've been working to make sure that our finances are in order. Even though we've been married for a year, this is the first time that we're both working full-time, now that Cam is done with grad school, so we're really trying to make sure that we start things out on the right foot financially. I must admit, I am really blessed that Cam is much more gifted then me when it comes to finances. (He's definitely a numbers person, while I'm a words person...I'm sure this comes as a shock) He's really taken the reins in this area to create a plan to make sure that we're contributing to our retirement, growing our savings, and sticking to our budget. Ugh. Budget. I'll admit, I am not a huge fan of this word. I just hate the feeling of being constrained that we can only spend this amount on this category in this month. I know that's not exactly how a budget works, but that's how I feel, like I have these strict parameters that are so confining. Deep down, I know that having a budget and sticking to it is the key to real financial freedom in the sense that it ensures that we spend within our means, have money saved for important purchases, and are prepared for the unexpected. However, I have also come to realize that there are a great number of parallels between money and food. The relationships that people have with these two things account for a lot of the problems in our society, but it's really amazing how similar they are. They are meant to be used as tools to help us live fulfilling lives, not as forces that have control over us and create destruction, but unfortunately that's the role they play in many people's lives. Just as food gives you energy and health to enjoy life, money should provide you with the resources to achieve your goals. And as Ben Franklin once said, "eat to live, not live to eat," making money shouldn't be what your life revolves around. But while all that's well and good, the places where I tend to struggle with money is the same place I struggle with food--consuming empty calories. What do I mean? I eat things that aren't good for me that I don't really enjoy when I'm not really even hungry. For example, I will mindlessly eat Nutella and graham crackers in front of the tv; I'm not really enjoying them, they're not really satisfying my hunger, and I just end up feeling like crap later. I notice that I do the same thing with money quite often. I'll go to Target (such a landmine for me!) and inevitably end up spending $100. On what? A random collection of things that I don't really need, I probably won't remember buying in a week, and I usually regret after. All this guilt, less money, more calories, on things I'm not even enjoying. So this fall, I am really trying to make a more concious effort to stop spending my money/calories on mindless things I'm not going to enjoy, and instead to save them for things that are really worth it. So this means holding out for a decadent dessert at a restaurant or a nice pair of leather boots instead of my normal tendency to just buy cheap boots at TJ's that I know will fall apart after I wear them a few times or polishing off the remains of a bag of stale marshmallows while watching Bravo. So I'm trying to work on this issue, I'll admit, I can get really bored talking about finances, however, Cam's been wanting to talk about our budget a lot lately, and sometimes I just get a little overwhelmed. But I happened to be at the library a few weekends ago and I saw this bright pink book with a high heel on the cover in the new books section. I picked it up thinking it was a new chick-lit novel, but alas it was a book about personal finance! (I just can't get a break from all this money talk!) "Shoo, Jimmy Choo!" by Catey Hill is basically a modern girls' guide to money. I flipped through it and found it very funny and entertaining, and I felt like she was describing me and my friends. She basically tries to give a basic overview of all personal finance issues to 20-somethings that could use some help managing their money (aka you have a degree in Communications like myself). And while it is fairly repetive and all common sense, it really speaks to a demographic that I fall into, aka working college grad with a penchant for shopping, and it tries to make finance more relateable to a young woman's life. One thing that she talks about that I could really relate to was identifying your spending triggers, aka the whole empty calories issue. But everyone has different issues when it comes to finances and this book helps you identify what your trouble spots are, and helps you put a plan in place to reach your financial goals. So while this book isn't really providing any earth-shaking information (basically it was everything Cam and I had been talking about, the only difference is the message comes wrapped up in a bright pink package with a stiletto on the front), it's definitely a book that I would suggest to any of my girlfriends!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Positively Pesto

Since coming back from Europe, Cam and I have been on a huge pesto kick. We had some amazing pesto when we were in Cinque Terre, Italy. Cinque Terre is on Italy's Ligurian coast, the birthplace of pesto; specifically, pesto originated in Genoa, the Italian city just north of Cinque Terre, and traditional pesto from the region is known as Genovese pesto. The pesto we had there was so creamy and delicious, definitely some of the best meals I've ever eaten. Since pesto is my favorite, I tried it out at quite a few of the restaurants we went to in Italy, but this really traditional place in Riomaggiore where we ate dinner on our anniversary had the best of the bunch by far. Our waitress was really nice, and so at the end of our dinner, I tried my best to grill her on exactly how they made their pesto. (I wish I could say we had this convo in Italian, but alas, my Italian skills are terrible despite 5 semesters of Italian at U of M...I'm determined to brush up on them more before the next time I go back to Italia!) She said that they used fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmigiano reggiano, and pecorino romano cheese in their pesto. She also stressed the importance of not adding any salt. I made a mental note and swore that I'd make it when we returned to the states. We ended up buying a few jars of prepared pesto before leaving Cinque Terre and enjoyed those this summer when we got home. (I also had some excellent fresh pasta with pesto when I was in Portland this summer at Piazza Italia in the Pearl District, extremely authentic!) I did try making pesto as part of another dish last month, but I used walnuts instead of pine nuts. That's a money saving substitution as pine nuts are generally pretty expensive, but I wasn't too worried about making amazing pesto as it was just one of the components of the dish.

Anyway, over Labor Day weekend, I got a bunch of fresh basil from the Farmers' Market in downtown Greenville, and I was determined to make a big batch of traditional Genovese pesto. After scouring the internet for recipes, I found that what our waitress said was true, most traditional Genovese pestos consist of basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmigiano reggiano, and pecorino romano cheese. (Although not all the recipes I found called for pecorino, some just used parm, but I wanted to follow the instructions of our waitress exactly...some of the recipes I found also said to use salt, so I opted not to include that per her direction). The recipe I used was basically a mixture of a bunch of the recipes I found online, I wanted to make a huge batch, so I just increased the quantities of most of the recipes I found:
  • 10 cups of fresh basil, stems removed (this how much I got from 2 large bunches)
  • 8-9 cloves fresh garlic (I may have gone a tad overboard on the garlic, Cam and I both love it, but I think that I could have used a little less)
  • 1 1/2 cups of pine nuts (It's definitely worth the money to use pine nuts instead of walnuts or any other substitution if you're trying to make authentic pesto, totally worth the $30 Whole Foods charged me for 2 small containers)
  • 3/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
  • 3/4 cup pecorino romano, grated
  • 1 1/2 cups of good olive oil (add more if it seems dry)
Supposedly, truly traditional pesto is made using a marble mortar and pestle, however, I took the easy way out and used my food processor since I was making such a large batch. (Since we do actually have a marble mortar and pestle, I do want to try making it that way at some point). I read online that heat from the food processor can damage the flavors in the pesto, so I stored my blade in the freezer before preparing it. Basically I just put everything in the food processor and blended it until it was creamy.

Cam and I had some of the pesto over pasta that night, and it was excellent! Not quite the same as eating it on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, but pretty darn close. Over Labor Day weekend, in addition to buying basil, I actually bought some prepared pesto from one of the local farms and we had that a few days ago and it was very tasty as well. (I told you we are on a pesto kick!) Since I made such a large batch of my pesto, I wanted to freeze it to have later on, and upon doing a little research, I stumbled across a very handy way to freeze pesto-in an ice cube tray! Instructables (a favorite website of Cam's actually) had a post about freezing pesto in an ice cube tray (and ironically the post included a pesto recipe from the Produce Station in Ann Arbor, small world). I put all my remaining pesto in to a Ziploc bag, and then cut a corner and piped it into the ice cube tray (there's a pic of my finished creation at the beginning of this post). I covered the trays with plastic wrap and I was surprised how quickly they froze up. Now when we want to have pesto, I can just pop out 2 cubes and have a quick and easy meal anytime. But my guess is it won't last long, as our obsession with pesto doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Happy September!

Now that September is here and Labor Day weekend is over, I'm starting to get uber-excited about my favorite season-FALL!! Now that autumn is upon us, some of the things that I'm most excited about are:
  • Michigan Football: The Wolverines took the field Saturday, and I'm pretty bummed that this was the first time in 5 years that I wasn't be in the Big House for the kickoff game. However, Michigan Football prevailed against UConn, with a 30-10 victory, a great way to start the season!! I'll definitely be cheering for my Wolverines all the way from South Carolina for next week's game against Notre Dame! 

  • Fall Clothes: I love fall clothes--scarves, boots, sweaters, coats, all the rich textures and colors, I love it all. Even though I'm not going back to school this year, I always have the urge to buy new clothes and shoes to welcome the change of seasons. (Ok, who am I kidding, I always have the urge to shop!) The stores down here in SC are starting to fill up with fall collections, however, I'm finding that I have the problem I usually have in MI in the spring--the weather doesn't match up with the clothes! Down here in Greenville, it's still pretty consistently in the 90's, so I'm not quite ready for chunky knits and suede over the knee boots quite yet. (aka the same problem I always had in Michigan in March when stores are filling with up with light, airy, spring clothes and there would still be two feet of snow on the ground!) So while I'm going to be rocking my shorts and sandals for a few more weeks, I did buy some gorgeous nail polishes the other day to help get myself in the mood. (The polish are Sally Hansen's new Complete Salon Manicure, which I really like because they go on so well!) I picked out a deep reddish burgundy and a grayish purplish mauve, which I hear are supposed to be hot shades for nails this fall. So even though my feet may be in flip flops for awhile, at least my toenails will be fall-ish!
  • Cooler Weather: Even though it still is pretty warm here in South Carolina, it is starting to get a little more comfortable than it was in July and August. I know that Cam and I are both looking forward to plenty of beautiful weather this fall as temps continue to drop, and while the chill in the air won't be quite as crisp as in Michigan, it will still be nice to have things cool off a little. We had gorgeous weather this weekend, and this cooling weather means something else I'm excited for this fall...
  • Visitors: Now that we've settled in and the weather isn't so hot, we're looking forward to people coming to visit us in our new home. My mom and aunt and grandma are came down this weekend for Labor Day, and it was great to spend time with them. We went out to eat, went shopping, and I had a lot of fun showing them around my new city. Cam's parents are coming in October, as is my friend Lisa, and I'm looking forward to visits from whomever would like to come down to experience some southern hospitality! 

  • Changing leaves: The colored leaves are one of my favorite things about fall, and I'm looking forward to taking hikes, camping trips, and weekend drives in the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains to see the forests at their most beautiful.  

  • Weekend trips: Cam and I definitely plan on taking some hiking/camping trips on weekends this fall, but I'm also really excited for the weekend trips we have planned to Disney World and Michigan! We're going to Disney at the end of Sept for a long weekend to use the passes we got for volunteering as part of Disney's Give a Day, Get a Disney Day program that they introduced this year, and I'm really looking forward to it. We're also coming to Michigan in October for the Michigan/Michigan State game. I'm so looking forward to seeing friends, eating No Thai & Zingerman's, going out to South U bars, being back in the Big House, going back to Lake Orion, going to the cider mill, spending time with my family, and enjoying a crisp Michigan fall weekend.We're also going to Savannah for the weekend with Cam's parents, and I've never been there, so I'm really looking forward to checking it out! 
It's been an amazing summer, but I am looking forward to a fantastic fall!! :)

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