Bring on the cookies

20091212-DSC_2251Less than two weeks before Christmas and I finally start doing some holiday baking. I have a cookie exchange tonight so I waited until the last minute to get going on four dozen Double Ginger Cookies. We picked up a box of Rice Krispies at the grocery store today so Dev can make his first batch of Rice Krispies Treats tomorrow. Then I’m hoping to get in another batch of cookies for our family holiday party next weekend.

Beyond that, I’m not sure I’ll do much more holiday baking. The less sugar in the house the better. But I do hope to parlay this short spurt into something more regular during the colder months. Dev loves to help. I envision muffins and other goodies in the future. Something healthier that he can pop in his lunchbox for a snack. Something without crystallized ginger, though. The look on his face when he tried it was pretty priceless. It’s got quite a zing to it!

What was so hard about that, I ask you?

I’m not the type who savors a challenge. I, in fact, will often shrink from one.

Which is why, for all these years, I have never taken on a recipe that required whipping the egg whites “to form soft peaks.” In articles I’ve been cautioned that I need to be VERY careful not to get any yolk in the white. And it’s VERY important to use just the right type of mixing bowl. And so on. It just seemed like there were too many factors I could screw up, so why try at all?

I decided to make a trifle this weekend, though, and that required some angel food cake. The store didn’t have any of those boxed varieties you always see around when you don’t need them. But I was really determined to make this trifle. And my determination often trumps my fear of complicated, challenging activities. (This meshes well with the water-balloong-filling fiasco we had yesterday, too, but no one in their right mind would want to hear about that un-adventure.)

So I bought a dozen eggs and took a deep breath and plunged right in.

Ya know what? It wasn’t hard at all. It was EASY. Easy, easy, easy. I’m pretty sure I got some yolk in there and who knows if I used the right bowl. And the egg whites did just as they were supposed to. They formed soft peaks, yes they did!

I’m doing my Happy Egg-White Dance right now.

20090704-DSC_4224

Finally, I made the sangria

20080622-DSC_6400.jpg

I always drool over recipes in magazines. Lately I’ve come across a ton of great drink ideas. But there’s always some ingredient missing or some step I don’t have time for. This sangria was super easy to make, but required at least two hours for the mix to chill. Two hours isn’t forever, but it seems like a crunch most evenings when we’re running around trying to get dinner together, a dirty kid bathed, a dog walked, etc.

Hooray for weekends! I stirred up the lime mixture last night and put the drinks together tonight. Just in time to spend a little time out on the deck. Next on tap? Peach mojitos!

I loves me some curry chicken salad

20080326-DSC_3289.jpg

And I get a big kick out of abusing grammar etiquette too.

So I cooked tonight. This used to be a normal occurrence. Lately not so much. I don’t do well with small windows of time. I feel too pressured. It also doesn’t help when Devin comes in the door from daycare expecting dinner to be on the table. The child has zero patience and whines the entire time I’m cooking.

“I’m hungry!”
“I’m soooo hungry!”
“Mommy, I can’t wait for dinner!”
“I can’t!”
“It’s taking too long!”

Oh, sheesh. Who can cook with all of the racket? I manage it sometimes, yes. Still, my kitchen endeavors have been severely curtailed over the past year or so.

Fortunately, this recipe is pretty darn easy. Unfortunately, Devin didn’t like it. But you can’t win ’em all. It’s one of Scott’s favorites so the kid dined mostly on pears* and some dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.

*Side story: I cut up some kiwi and put a slice on his plate. He’s quick to reject new foods these days, even though he ate kiwi frequently when he was a more adventurous toddler. Tonight he took one bite of it, upon request, and scrunched up his face in disgust. A few minutes later, though, while I was in the middle of recounting a story to Scott, he exclaimed, “Mommy, I ate the kiwi! And I LIKE it!” He was so happy with himself. Then quickly dismayed when he realized there was no more since we’d eaten the rest. He also told me that one of his dinos touched the chicken salad and, “Guess what? I’m going to eat it anyway!” Silly boy.

Pop* go the crescent rolls!

20080226-DSC_2377.jpg

I bought these babies for a recipe that involved wrapping them around some chicken sausages. But I was craving garlic bread with tonight’s pasta and this was the closest thing I had. I’ve opened pandora’s box, though, because the boy was in love with them. “More bread, Mom!” I’m sure my future efforts will pale in comparison since he often appreciates packaged foods more than the home-cooked variety. They must put crack in that stuff. Only way to explain it!

*I’ve always loved the way the tube “pops” open.

“M” is for Mocha

20080125-DSC_1733.jpg

We visited my mom in Kalamazoo on Friday. Devin had the brilliant idea that we “Go see Gramma when I wake up in the morning.” So, yeah. We did.

I miss K-zoo. I wanted out so badly when I was younger. All I could think about was Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. And I’m so very proud of myself for setting a big goal and going for it. It’s one of the biggest accomplishments of my life that I overcame my shyness and hounded Larry White weekly for my first lowly associate copywriting job. With just two weeks notice I secured an apartment and hightailed it to the big city.

Happy? Yes I was. I loved it. I felt like Mary Tyler Moore herself, conquering my fears and embracing all that was the big city. Practically dancing down the streets as I explored my neighborhood and trekked through all of the others.

Yet something truly nagged at me. I missed home. I had wanted to leave home, but hadn’t realized how much home really was, well…home.

Within a couple of years, Scott and I were talking about where we would live next. D.C., Boston, San Francisco, etc. And where did we end up? Just 45 minutes away from home.

And I still miss it!

OK. So let’s get to the coffee already, right?

I’m a big fan of going local. Especially when it comes to coffee. Starbucks is OK from time to time, but local shops are my faves. And I’ve been dying to try out Water Street Coffee Joint. I’ve seen their location in downtown K-zoo, but it was always as we were driving past or late at night when coffee is a definite no-no for me.

So as we were getting ready to drive to Grandma’s, I plotted a visit to the location just a few blocks from her house. Finally, a chance! And, boy, was it worth the wait! My mocha was darn good. Not to mention the homemade food in the case that had my mouth watering. Now I just have to nab a diner mug for my collection!

My only beef? The styrofoam cups.

Jammy goodness

20080104-DSC_1387.jpg

These? They are good. Very good.

And simple. Very simple.

I ran to Grand River Grocery during my lunch hour on Thursday to grab a Michigan Turkey Sandwich (my favorite sandwich!) and they had these sitting on the counter for sampling. As a big fan of sampling, I took the bait. Boy, am I glad I did!

Take a cracker, a smudge of cream cheese, then top with a dollop Stonewall Kitchen’s Roasted Garlic Onion Jam.

Of course I had to procure a jar of the stuff for myself. I put a few of these together for a lunch appetizer yesterday, although the boy wasn’t interested at all. “Just a cracker, Momma.” Fine, more for me!

Shoot me now

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of resisting sweets lately. Not a perfect effort, but a laudable one if you know me and my magnetic attraction to sugar.

Still, there’s one item that seems ever-present in my client’s office and that does me in every. single. time.

Costco cake.

I can walk by most any sweet concoction. I might hesitate. I might eyeball it. I might even lick my lips. But I’ll eventually keep walking because the extra calories just don’t seem worth it.

Today’s Costco cake? With creamy chocolate filling? A piece of it ended up on my desk. So there ya go.

Have I mentioned how much I love goat cheese?

Yes, I probably have. Because I love it. Very much. In fact, I just bought a huge log at Costco yesterday. To show my love for the creamy cheese.

The funny thing is that I’d never had it until I was 30. That’s true of a lot of foods, actually. I was slightly food-sheltered as a kid. My mom cooked the traditional stuff: goulash, pot roast and veggies, spaghetti, burgers and fries, mashed potatoes, soup. She cooked what she knew and we didn’t really venture beyond that. I was a picky eater as a kid, so that didn’t help her cause much either.

I seriously never ate Chinese food until I was 21. I went on a date with this guy and he was appalled that I’d never had hot ‘n sour soup. His jaw basically hit the table. (He agreed to a second date, though, so I couldn’t have been all bad.)

So just imagine my reaction when Scott, my then boyfriend, wanted to take me to an Ethiopian restaurant for my 27th birthday. I balked. I did agree to German, though, which was slight progress toward ethnic exploration.

Living in Chicago, a city bursting with exciting restaurants and culinary adventures, teamed with dating a guy who would eat anything, loosened me up a bit. I started trying things. And liking them. Thai food. Indian food. Mediterranean food. Greek food. And, yeah, Ethiopian food. I found something to like in every cuisine. Hummus! Kalamata olives! Feta cheese! Injera bread! Satay! Samosas!

I have no idea when or where the goat cheese came in, but I have vivid memories of a to-die-for goat cheese enchilada in Montpelier, Vermont.

It’s so funny to look back 20 years and see how far I’ve come in the food department. I even persuaded my mom to try hummus and she loves it. Although there’s a lot more she won’t try. And I’m OK with that. More goat cheese for me!

My first and last restaurant review

070326_a.JPG

Our friends took us out to dinner on Friday night. To the newly revamped Cygnus 27, perched atop the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. Chad then tasked me to share my impressions on my blog. OK…sure!

I should start by saying that I’m bucking any “restaurant review” etiquette because I took no notes during the meal and I have zero experience with conveying such an event to an audience other than to rave to a friend, “Wow, that was a great restaurant. I loved the food. And it had this funky decor. Yada yada yada.” Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I love food. Love it. But I don’t have much time to compose this entry and I’m too much of a perfectionist not to offer up a disclaimer for its lameness. So there you have it.

And here you have my slightly disjointed review of Cygnus 27:

I’d never been to the original Cygnus before, so I have nothing to compare it to. From what I understand, though, it’s a complete 180 from what was there before. They’ve ditched the whole swan logo from the past and launched a contemporary, celestial-themed dining experience. I’m sure it’s meant to tie in with the restaurant’s lofty position in the GR skyline.

I was first struck by the bar. You round the corner from the elevator bank and it’s hard to miss. It glows. Literally. There’s an opaque marbely exterior that’s lit brightly from within. You can’t help but look at it. It’s a nice touch.

We were led in a circular path by a very slow-walking hostess (who wasn’t my favorite employee of the bunch) to a window table that overlooked the in-progress J.W. Marriott across the street.

I loved the table. I couldn’t tell you what it was constructed of (because I didn’t ask since I didn’t yet know I would be sharing my impressions), but it had a butcher-block look about it. Not in size or width or even weight, but in the pattern of the wood. Each table was topped by a grid-like textured covering and the place settings featured square red-glass plates. It’s a very natural look that managed to be both elegant and down-to-earth at the same time.

The only negative was the glowing sculpture plunked in the middle of the table (see the photo above). I just couldn’t get on board with it. It seemed at odds to me with the natural woods and materials. The feeling was compounded by the fact that the colors continually changed. Red. Pink. Orange. Green. Blue. Purple. Hmmm.

I was also highly disappointed when the very nice waiter came and took away my big square red plate. Then I proceeded to complain to Chad…”Why did they take away my plate? I liked it! What’s the point of having the plate there if they’re just going to take it away?” (Makes you want to dine with me sometime soon, eh?)

Tiffany and I perused the wine list and the waiter recommended a tasty shiraz (I believe it was 6 Sense, but…). The bread basket was filled with goodies, my favorite being the round ones in the photo below. I can not, for the life of me, remember any of the names. But I sampled all of them, believe me!

For appetizers, we chose the lettuce wrap, which you assemble yourself by spooning spicy Thai chicken and crunchy bean noodles into the lettuce leaves, and calamari with red pepper aioli and lemon mayonnaise for dipping. Moon-shaped appetizer plates brought back the celestial thing that I felt had been a bit displaced by the “natural fibers” theme of the table. I think it’s more of a mix, actually. A bit of sky…a bit of earth. That’s my humble take on it.

Scott decided on the sea bass, Chad and Tiffany both selected the New York strip, and I went with the (drum roll, please)…gorgonzola and marscapone pasta topped with pistachios and almonds. I love that they offer small and large sizes so you can be more realistic about your appetite. I chose the small. It was creamy but still tasted light, and the marscapone added a lovely hint of sweetness to it. Delicious! I think I left just a few spoonfuls.

The dessert options were varied and uniquely presented in small parfait glasses. Ideal because you don’t overindulge. I went with the black forest cake, Tiffany had the carrot cake, and Chad picked the cinnamon apple tiramisu. (Scott was being a good boy.) Then we sat and chatted and gazed out at the city lights.

I’d definitely recommend it. Nice atmosphere and decor. (I forgot to mention the attractive square lantern lighting throughout the restaurant.) Tasty food. Great service. And other than the weird table sculpture and the iffy hostess, there wasn’t much to complain about.

Oh, and the bathrooms were pretty cool too. Modern fixtures, frosted-glass walls, and moody lighting.

I thought about toiling over this review and wordsmithing it to death. Instead, I’m just going with the impressions and words that tumbled out of my head two days after the fact. I can say I left Cygnus 27 with the definite opinion that it’s a restaurant worth returning to. If only they’d let me eat from the pretty red plate next time!

070326_b.JPG

070326.JPG

Celebrating 20

022407.jpg

So my favorite magazine has a new look for their 20th anniversary. I’ve been a Cooking Light subscriber for 11 years now. And, much to my husband’s dismay, I haven’t thrown away a single issue. There’s just something very comforting in flipping through it and finding great recipes that are both healthy and delicious. I’ve rarely been disappointed with anything I’ve made from the magazine. Gorgeous photography. Great writing. Tons of recipes. What’s not to love? I’ve already spied a yummy take on brown soda bread that I may have to try this weekend. I’ll certainly snap a pic of it if I do.