The Bossy Edition: Peel Your Eggplant! Make This Salad! Cook These Recipes!

In an effort to keep this blog from being dominated by cooking, this is a three-part post, full of bossiness.  If you follow all of my instructions, your life will be transformed.  Seriously, it will be.

1. Peel your eggplant!

I heard this instruction on Food and Wine (a local radio cooking show).  To be honest, that show is so often pretentious and ridiculous, I almost wrote it off.  As in, the chef said (in a of course everyone knows this voice), “Oh of course, never put eggplant skin in ratatouille.”  But then, a few weeks ago, I made ratatouille and decided, why not try it? So I used a vegetable peeler to take off the skin before chopping up the eggplant (super easy) and it was the best ratatouille. I’d ever made.  Then last week, I made this super delicious barley salad with roasted eggplant.  Again, I peeled the eggplant before chopping and the roasted eggplant was so amazingly delicious, I had to stop myself from eating all of it before dinner.

As it turns out, it’s not that I don’t like eggplant.  It’s that I don’t like eggplant skin.  That’s why I love melitzanosalata so much.  Repeat after me: I promise to always peel my eggplant before cooking it.

2. Make this salad before watermelons go out of season!

Laura’s Watermelon Salad
(modeled after an amazingly delicious one eaten at Blue Hill Tavern several years ago)

008 (800x533)This is fancy schmancy – usually we just put it all in a bowl and chow down!

Cubed watermelon
crumbled goat cheese
thinly sliced red onion
caramelized walnuts (I sprinkle mine with salt while stirring – I have to make twice as many as we need so that there’s enough left for dinner.) :)

Arrange on a plate or in individual bowls and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Make sure you have all parts in each bite.  Wish that watermelons are in season year-round.  Dream of next summer’s watermelon.

(I use a method similar to this one to caramelize my walnuts except that I don’t bother with er – just sugar, walnuts, and salt.)

3. Cook these recipes! Here’s a bit of a roundup of recipes we’ve been enjoyed over the past few weeks (in case you need an idea for what to cook for dinner tonight).  (Clearly, I like Smitten Kitchen.)

Sweets:

  • Brownies (I made some with dark chocolate cocoa powder last weekend -YUM.)
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars (leave out the strawberries, double the rhubarb, increase the sugar a smidge and you have an amazing rhubarb bar.)

Go forth and consume delicious food, NOW! :)

 

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Classics Club, Book #8: Middlemarch (from August 2014)

This is my eighth post for The Classics Club (just a couple weeks late).  I’ll be reading one classic book a month for the next 4-5 years.  Track what I’m reading for the Classics Club here.  I’ll try not to include too many spoilers in my review but I may need to discuss some in order to fully review the book. I’ll warn you if I’m going to mention one.  

Middlemarch by George Eliot

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  • Year Published: 1874
  • Reread? Or new to me?:  New to me
  • Number of Pages: 838
  • Date Finished: 8/23/14
  • Number of Days it took me to read it: I read 100 pages in the first two weeks of August but we were also on vacation so I just didn’t do much reading.  Then between 8/16 and 8/23, I read the rest of it.  So I’m going to say that it took me 11 days to read it (counting the first two weeks as three days.)
  • Page/Day ratio:  76:1
  • Will I reread this?:  Probably not, just because it was so long and so many parts of it dragged on and on for me.

Review: 

I have to admit, I almost gave up on this one.  I was bored, B-O-R-E-D, for almost the first 200 pages, which is an entire book by most people’s standards.  I didn’t understand much of the politics being discussed, the characters were less than intriguing. I could tell the planned marriage was an awful idea, and I really didn’t seem much point in continuing on.  Enter, “I told the world I was going to read this book so I’d better finish it.”  I also was averaging about 30 pages a day, which meant that it was going to take me close to a month to finish the book, which is an eternity for me.  So I buckled down, read for hours on end, ignored Nik for a few evenings, got no sewing done, and finished it in a week.  In short, this was the first book in a long time that I actually had to work at to finish.

Thankfully, the book shifted for me around the time that Lydgate and the other main characters entered the picture.  After that, the rich texture of the book began to become apparent to me and I found myself invested in Dorothea’s [perhaps unfounded but] incredibly faithful devotion to her husband, Lydgate’s ill-fated desire to reform his profession, Rosamund’s awful treatment of her own husband, and more.

I did my best to read every word of this book but still found my eyes glazing over when it came to the discussions of mid-19th-century politics and religion.  I think I would have really enjoyed taking a college class devoted only to this book as it’s incredibly rich with social commentary.  I’m sure that even a semester wouldn’t be enough to learn all there is to learn from delving deep into this book.  As it was, most of that flew right by me as I read just for the plot itself.

In the end, I’m really glad to have read this book.  I probably won’t ever read it again because it’s SO long.  However, I do wish I had been reading my own copy because I did come upon several passages, particularly related to marriage and faithfulness, that I would have underlined and come back to had I been able to.  (And yes, I know I should have been marking them with paper but I never had any handy.)  So perhaps, someday, I’ll pick it up again, skip to the middle and take it on again.

How about you? Have a favorite Middlemarch character? Studied it in college?  Read it many times?  Even liked the first section?

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Would you like to join me in reading Austen’s Northanger Abbey in September?  (Actually, I already finished it but probably won’t be posting my review for awhile.  So you still have time to read it before I review it!)

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Couldn’t resist two more shots with Mark featured a little more prominently (even if you can’t see the book title)!

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A bit of an Ellie and Mark Fix

A boy with his bunny and an obsession with looking outside on the off chance he might see trucks or buses or any other thing that goes:

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Mark proudly inspecting the fruits of our garden from last week:

005 (800x533)Cuddle love!009 (800x533)Mark’s first taste, and Ellie’s second, of fast food because, well, Nik was off having fun at the US Open and I had been cutting up corn and tomatoes all day and the house was a mess and Yiayia thought it would be fun, and why not, right?  Loosen up the rules just a tad every two years or so? :)

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Ellie’s trip to the “candy store”

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I especially love that she didn’t even know enough about candy to be able to call it anything other than “paintbrush candy” and “pencil candy”.  Just goes to show that I’ve done a passable job of suppressing my desire to eat a Snickers bar every time we go to the grocery store! :) (And sorry about Mark’s shrieking.  He’s definitely starting to assert himself if he doesn’t get what he wants!)

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First Fig of the Summer! Opa!

Our fig trees were killed back almost to the ground by last winter’s crazy cold and snow.  Now, thankfully, they’re growing great and last week we found one ripe fig!  Ellie, Nik, and I enjoyed it greatly although Ellie was a bit put out when we told her that she only got two tiny bites!  (She does love figs!) Mark, on the other hand, looked at me as if I’d offered him poison when I offered him a bit!

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Mark may not be Greek enough to love fresh figs [yet] but he certainly can say “Opa!” with the best of them! (And excuse my poor pronunciation. I’m sure I could say it better than I do.)

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Special Striped Visitors

My poison ivy is much better!  Thanks to you all for your kind wishes, prayers, and advice.  I still have some crazy looking spots on my arms but they don’t bother me anymore.  Poison ivy and I are keeping a uneasy truce at this point.

Last Saturday, as we were leaving to meet Yiayia for dinner, we discovered that we had some very special visitors on our butterfly weed plants (which is a species of milkweed).  We have a bed of native flowers, including lots of butterfly weed, that runs the length of our driveway.  We were a bit late to meet Yiayia because we were having so much fun watching our visitors!

019 (800x534)a Monarch caterpillar! 

We ended up finding at least eight monarch caterpillars, in varying sizes from quite tiny to quite large.  We were so excited to see them as they are such strikingly beautiful caterpillars.  We especially loved watching this one eat a piece of a blossom.

Now, six days later, I can’t find any sign of them or their chrysalises.  All I can find is their frass, which is what I’ve just learned is the official name for their poop. So I’m not sure what happened to them, other than that they got eaten by birds.  We were looking forward to possibly seeing some butterflies emerge.  Sadly, I don’t know that we’ll be able to see that happen this year.  Still, we were glad to know that the monarchs found our butterfly weed to lay their eggs on!  (We did see at least one monarch flying around a couple weeks ago so I guess that explains where the caterpillars came from.) Come visit anytime you’d like!

P.S. So for any of you monarch experts out there, I thought that the life cycle was such that the butterflies lay eggs every so often, the new ones emerge, keep flying north and then the final generation flies all the way back to Mexico to overwinter before starting over again.  It doesn’t make sense to me that the caterpillars would have time to turn into butterflies and then get all the way to Canada (with a few generations more in between) before flying south in October.  I can’t seem to find any information about this online though.  Can anyone enlighten me: Is it weird that we found these caterpillars in very late August in central Maryland?

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Dear Poison Ivy: How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

I got into some poison ivy in our yard on Friday, 8/22.  Here’s my hate letter to it.  It references a few gross aspects of poison ivy, which you may or may not enjoy reading.

Dear Poison Ivy:

How do I hate thee?  Let’s just count the ways.

1. You make me itch.  I’ve had flea bites and mosquito bites and those are NOTHING compared to the itchiness from you.  Peppermint essential oil is keeping it mostly under control but when it wears off in the middle of the night and I wake up itching (which, by the way, makes it worse) and then Mark pushes his feet down my legs and makes them itch even more, really, I just want to scream.

2. You hurt me.  Couldn’t it have been enough that you make me itch?  Did you really have to add in the waves of shooting pain up to the tips of my fingers and down to my elbow?

3. You are insidious and sneaky.  I’ve been battling that English ivy all over our yard for seven years.  SEVEN YEARS!  And I’ve never met you, not even once.  Why now?  Couldn’t you have just left us alone?

4. You make me paranoid.  I have so much ivy left to eliminate and now I’m scared to even touch it.  I didn’t even see any sign of you on Friday and yet, I’ve got it all over me.  How am I going to know when you’ll show up again?  My kids are outside with me all the time when I’m doing yard work and even though I’m going to be wearing shoes, socks, gloves, long sleeves, and long pants every time I touch the ivy from now on, how am I going to keep my kids from getting it?  How am I ever going to get this project done if I have to do it when Nik’s at home?

5. You just won’t stop.  Why couldn’t you just show up all at once and get it over with?  Why do you have to show up, a blister or two at at time, day after day after endless day?  (On second thought, maybe I should be grateful to you for this because I don’t know if I could have taken the initial itching from all the spots at once.  So I guess I only strongly resent you for this one.)

6. You gross me out.  This oozing has really got to stop.  Who thought it was a good idea to make the blisters ooze orange sticky fluid for days on end?  Couldn’t they just pop, drain, and be done with it?  Do you really think I like looking gross and disgusting all the time?

7.  You distract me.  Seriously, I’m not a very good driver when you are all over my arms.  I keep getting distracted by it and not paying very good attention.  (Don’t worry though – I’ve given myself strict instructions to PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROAD.)

8.  You raise my hopes and dash them.  When the first patch of rash popped out, after it had fully developed into blisters, I hurt from the tips of my finger tips to my elbow.  Even though the patch was near my wrist and my skin looked fine otherwise, it hurt to touch.  But within a couple days, the pain/itchiness had localized and the rest of my arm felt fine.  Then yesterday, another patch of blisters popped out, on that previously clear skin! (See “You just won’t stop” above.)  Why?  Why did you take back skin I’d already reclaimed?

9. You make me want to push my kids away. With blisters on both arms, both legs, and a bit on my back, I don’t want anyone or anything to touch me.  How do I tell that to a 20-month old who wants to nurse and needs a lot of love and touching?  How do I tell that to an “almost-four”-year-old who’s going through a particularly touchy, affection-seeking phase?  I really can’t.  So I do my best not to yell at them when they run and grab my legs for fun or when they pile onto me, wanting to wrestle.  Then I [gently if I can] move them off my blisters and wait for the itchiness to subside again.

10.  You exhaust me.  It’s hard to sleep when I’m itchy and in pain!

Here’s the only thing I don’t hate you for.  You’ve helped me get the faintest, tiniest glimmer of understanding of what it might be like to live with a chronic medical condition, such as lupus or fibromialgia.  You’ve helped me understand that even if you’re in great pain, somehow you just go on.  You just push through because you have to. You just get up in the morning and do what you have to do.  But even while you’re doing that, your day is tainted.  My poison ivy will eventually go away.  Many people don’t have that hope.  I’ll do my best from now on to offer what compassion and help that I can to those I know who are suffering because, I get it.  Maybe just barely, but I do.

P.S. I was going to show you some pictures of the patches of poison ivy all over my body but really, who wants to see that, right?  So instead, let’s all feast our eyes on my mom’s amazingly gorgeous garden and wish we were all in Alaska with her, because as I always like to say,

In Alaska, you might get eaten by a bear but at least you won’t get poison ivy.*

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*Seriously, I’ve been saying that for many years but now I really mean it!

 

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Classics Club, Book #7: Emma (from July 2014)

This is my seventh post for The Classics Club (just a month late).  I’ll be reading one classic book a month for the next 4-5 years.  Track what I’m reading for the Classics Club here.  I’ll try not to include too many spoilers in my review but I may need to discuss some in order to fully review the book. I’ll warn you if I’m going to mention one.  

Emma by Jane Austen

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  • Year Published: 1815
  • Reread? Or new to me?:  Reread (I bought this copy in England in 1999!)
  • Number of Pages: 386
  • Date Finished: Somewhere in the middle of July, I forgot to write it down.
  • Number of Days it took me to read it: 6 (???)
  • Page/Day ratio:  64:1
  • Will I reread this?*: I may not.  I’ve read it at least three times and I don’t think I have the desire to push through it again.

Review: 

So far, this is my least favorite of Jane Austen’s six novels.  It’s far longer than it needs to be and drags so badly that I kept going to the chapter summary at the back of the book to see if it was even worth reading.  Miss Bates’ droning was funny the first time but by the sixty-millionth time, I had to force myself to push through pages of chatter.  I couldn’t help but wish Austen had had a better editor for this one.  Emma irritated me.  I found Frank Churchill fairly repulsive and Mr. Knightley overbearing and not all that attractive.  (Maybe I was just in an annoyed mood the whole week I was reading it?)

Frankly, my favorite character on this reading was Mr. Knightley’s brother.  He’s so obviously an introvert and I had fun reading all his character descriptions and off-handed comments, such as “Why would anyone want to leave their house at night to go to a dinner party if they don’t have to?” :)

Does anyone else share my lack of love for Emma?

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Had I posted this at the end of July like I should have, I would have invited you to read Middlemarch by George Eliot in August with me.  But, somehow I managed to finish that gigantic thing (and will try to blog about it before the end of September).  Perhaps you’d like to join me in reading Austen’s Northanger Abbey in September?

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*I decided to ditch the question, “Would I have wanted to read this in English class?” because I was finding it difficult to answer.  I frankly don’t really remember myself from almost 20 years ago (YIKES).  My intent in asking myself that question every time was really to get at whether or not I enjoyed it enough to be glad that I’d read it.  So I’ve replaced the question with, “Will I reread this?” and we’ll see if that question works for me.

010 (800x533)Mark was so cuddly I couldn’t keep from laughing! :)

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