2014 Goals: April

Books: I finished Jeffery Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot and Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. In conjunction with a professional development course I enrolled in, I’ve been reading the PMBOK Guide. Stimulating stuff. I’m sure you’re all looking forward to the book review. (Don’t hold your breath.) Annual total thus far: 9/15

For May: See the light, pass this course, and back to fiction reading!

Exercise: The outdoors are fun again! After months of rain and gross and more rain, I was looking for  change of pace. On the suggestion of my pal Kinzie, I’ve been doing videos with Blogilates. Full disclosure: Cassey is uber peppy. But! I can work out in my living room with the patio door open. I don’t feel like a need to mad rush home so I can get to the pool before lap swim closes. Kat can make fun of me when I do the weird dog peeing move as a hip opener. There’s really something for everyone here.

For May: Go outside!

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Selfie with Sharon Jones. NBD!!!!

Shows: Oh man, I’ve been looking forward to April for months! I kicked it off with back-to-back shows: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings at the Showbox followed the next night by Neural Milk Hotel at the Neptune. The Sharon Jones show was ah-may-zing. Amazing. She often invites people on stage and I joked to Rachel and Kat that I should get a selfie with Sharon. Well, when she invited ladies to join her on stage I threw all the elbows necessary to get me to the front. Those stage lights are hot! At the end of the song, she was introducing all her impromptu backup dancers and I knew I had my opportunity. When she came to me, I grabbed my phone and asked her to take a selfie. The crowd absolutely lost it. Easily the most awesome moment of my concert going life. It was such an epic story that my friend Nick turned it into a video project.

Neutral Milk Hotel is a band I’ve loved for a long, long time. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was on constant rotation in high school and college. As April Ludgate says, it’s the only album you ever need. The show was amazing. The musicality of the band is beyond words, MB described it as a “glorious cacophony” which is probably the most apt description. It’s a rite of passage for a particular teenage experience to shout-sing King of Carrot Flowers parts 1-3 with hundreds of other people.

The month continued with bluegrass boys Yonder Mountain String Band at the Showbox and new favorite St. Paul & the Broken Bones at the Tractor.

For May: I’m bringing in the class with my first trip to the symphony this year.

Travel: Soleil came to meeeeee! I love sharing my city with new folks!

For May: Plot, plan, repeat.

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Book Review: The Marriage Plot

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The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides

The Marriage Plot, Jeffery Eugenides

On the cusp of her graduation from Brown, Madeline Hanna is about to step into adulthood and has no idea what to do next. She got rejected from her graduate programs,  broke up with her boyfriend, Leonard, and doesn’t want to rely on her WASP parents. Meanwhile, Mitchell, who has long harbored a crush on Madeline is on an upswing: admired by a notable professor and about to embark on a yearlong round-the-world adventure. Eugenides provides enough road markers for the reader to guess how the plot unwinds for the next 400 pages but the love triangle of Leonard-Madeline-Mitchell is more than first meets the eye.

You’ve got to admire Jeffery Eugenides. Dude releases about one book a decade (1994/2003/2012) and manages to be consistently discussed among Book Folks.  I was completely immersed in Middlesex when I read it a few years ago. It’s sweeping coverage of multiple generations across two continents gave it a grandeur that stuck with you. The Marriage Plot is a smaller book, covering just three primary characters over the course of one year or so. And for that simple reason I liked it less. Standing alone, the book is solid. It is commendably approachable for having a plot structured around Ivy League liberal arts grads. The characters are well written and convincing. If you’ve never read Eugenides, I’d start here. If you liked Middlesex, give this one a shot too.

Lizzie rating: B+

Meal Planning Week: Dinner Swapping

To round out Meal Planning Week, I asked my buddy, Evie, to give us the 411 on the meal swapping plan she and some friends have cooked (ha!) up. (Sorry about the dad jokes, E.) You can find more of Evie’s delightfulness at A Cup of Shit. Have a great weekend! xo, L

How to Have Dinner in the Bag a Few Nights A Week

1. Become tired of spacing out in the produce section in your sweaty gym clothes at 7 p.m. trying to remember how food happens, Googling “how can dinner?”, as your plummeting blood sugar causes your vision to narrow.

2. Find a few friends who are good candidates for a dinner exchange: unfussy eaters, leftover enthusiasts, reliable, hardy of spirit. 

3. Be a good candidate yourself! If you will worry your fingernails to the quick wondering how your cooking will be judged, this will just make you miserable. Or this will force you to get over that! 

4. Buy a set of communal glass casserole dishes with lids in which all meals will be transported. Decide which day of the week will be the swap day. Discuss how exchanging will work. Will you alternate each week who makes the deliveries? Will you meet in one place?

5.Cook 4 (or 6) servings and portion them into the containers. Swap. Heat and enjoy. If it’s really really good, you may have to step up your game next week. Or don’t. You’re a child of the universe. It’s okay.

I got into more details about my weekly dinner share over at the Billfold last year, if you’re interested. And I collected some of my “greatest hits” recipes from the past year in a post on my unvarnished-lifestyle blog, A Cup of Shit.

What else can we tackle by farming it out to friends? Housecleaning? Taxes?

I’m trying to get some momentum going on this idea where you get together a group of five people and do a baby-shower-share. Each year, everyone in the group throws in $75, and then one person shops for and attends for all the baby shower invites for that year. Four years in five without baby showers! It’s so beautiful I can’t hold it in my mind for very long without getting misty. What can I say, I’m a sap.

True, it might be awkward to be the proxy at someone’s cousin’s shower. But what I’m saying is if we get enough people on board, it will become normalized. 

“Oh hi, I’m Evie, you must be the mom-to-be. This is my baby shower year. Ooh, profiteroles!”

Meal Planning Week: The Shop

Meal Planning Week continues today with advice on tackling the grocery store. Check out the other meal planning posts here

Ok, you’ve got yourself a plan. High five, team. Good work! Let’s go shopping!

I typically grocery shop on Saturday or Sunday afternoon simply because it works best with my schedule. Weekly grocery shopping is the right pace for me but you may find that twice a week or even every two weeks fits your schedule and/cash flow. You do your thing, we’re all good here.

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Grocery list broken down by store sections

The pride of my life is that I can get in and out of the grocery store in under 15 minutes. I accept my competitive nature; Leslie Knope is my patronus*. One of the best tips to make your grocery shop efficient is to bring a detailed list. Build your shopping list while you’re deciding on your meals for the week. Organize it to follow the flow of your grocery store. I favor the pocket notebooks from Rifle Paper Co because they are small, unlined, and oh so pretty. My mom uses a legal pad. Some folks use phone apps. There are tons of options here. Again, do your thing. I trust you completely.

Buy Basics Too

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My pantry: a still life

I would be remise to not proclaim my love of Trader Joe’s. Joe is my favorite boyfriend. Love that guy. Baring the zombie apocalypse I will always have the following items in my house:

frozen brown rice (I made the decision long ago that it’s 3 minute prep time is worth the slightly inflated price)

black beans (Kat and I have recently been favoring the Cuban style beans but the basic black are old standards)

free range chicken broth ($2/carton every day, best price in town!)

kale (hi, I live in Seattle)

frozen turkey meatballs (use in everything from soup to pasta, pizza to plain)

chili, or other shelf stable soup/stew

raw, unsalted almonds (for snacks or salads)

taco seasoning (we empty the packets into a jar and use as much as needed)

frozen Indian (because we have no shame)

On the surface, these seem totally random but they are the building blocks to so many of my “back pocket dinners”. Add a few perishables to this line up and you can make stir fry, a hearty salad or vegetable soup. Turkey chili and frozen Indian are our last line of defense before ordering take out and I can’t tell you how many times they’ve saved us. They can sit in the pantry or freezer for weeks just waiting for you to need them. So helpful, loyal, and true they are.

Not mentioned but you know it’s always on the list: wine. No one in our house ever claimed to be good.

 

 

 

*In googling that Leslie Knope gif I found the most amazing Buzzfeed quiz. You’re welcome.

Meal Planning Week: Building the Plan

Welcome to Meal Planning Week! This week I’ll be breaking down strategies, tips, and tricks to build a plan to feed you weekly. Happy planning!

I’m not a laid back person. Adaptable, yes, but if something is within my realm of general control you can bet dollars to donuts I’ve got some ideas about how to execute it. About three years ago I was standing in the Safeway produce section at 5:45pm frantically texting my boyfriend, “What do you want for dinner?” “I dunno. What do you want?” Um, to stab you in the eye because you’re sitting on the couch and I’m under florescent lights surrounded by dozens of other hangry people. I have no idea what I ate for dinner that night (probably take out) but I swore that I would never put myself in that situation again. And so, the meal plan was born!

There are tons of reasons to meal plan: save money, reduce stress, eat healthier, decrease food waste. My goals have changed but having a basic structure to what I’m eating throughout the week gives me one less thing to think about each evening. And some nights that makes all the difference between clean-out-the-fridge stir fry and $30 take out.

Two Plan Approaches

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The Type A meal plan

Each week I build my meal plan around my actual schedule, what I have in my fridge/pantry, and what I’m in the mood to cook. I’ve found that matching meals to your plans for the evenings just sets you up for success. No one is going to throw you a parade for cooking out of Bon Appetit every night. Most of us are just trying to feed ourselves reasonably well without spending our retirement plan at Trader Joe’s every week. No shame in that game. Long day at work? Use your slow cooker. Trying to work out in the evening? A stir fry will come together in less than 20 minutes. Want something to look forward to on Friday? Pizza at home! Sunday is generally the day I reserve for more ambitious cooking. It gives me a time to do something a little more creative without letting my blood sugar to dip to dangerous levels.

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The laid back meal plan

My friends, Sam and Rachel, have a slightly different approach. Instead of assigning meals to particular days they brainstorm 4-5 menu ideas, grocery shop based on those ideas, and then decide each night based on their mood. This allows them some flexibility but avoids the dreaded evening grocery stare down. This plan works best when you have a mix of fast and easy with 1-2 more involved dinners.

What to Cook

I hear what you’re thinking, “Ok, great Liz. Any idiot can make a list. It’s content generation that makes this process hard!” I hear you. I happen to like cooking so it follows that I read a fair amount food media. But week after week, there are a few basic meals I rely on: bean or turkey tacos, vegetable stir fries, meatballs (frozen or homemade) over polenta, soup in fall and winter, big salads in spring and summer, risotto, sauteed vegetables topped with a fried egg. Dinner: A Love Story calls these “back pocket dinners”, dinners you can cook on autopilot. Identifying a few of these and rotating through a few of them will give you the space and flexibility to try new-to-you recipes. Which meals do you find yourself cooking time and again?

My food pinboards: Weeknight meals | Sunday dinners | Slow Cooker Favorites | Pizza | Meatballs

Some of my favorite food blogs: Smitten Kitchen | Shutterbean | Joy the Baker | Dinner: A Love Story | Cookie and Kate

Other resources: Weeknight Menu Planner | 80 Meals in Under 40 Minutes | Plan to Eat

Tasty Bites

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Papparadelle with mushrooms, asparagus, and peas

Recipe: modified from Gnocchi Primavera from Cooking Light

It’s been a wonky few weeks. Turned in a major grant at work and have felt sort of listless every since. It’s just a deadline hangover that I’ll get over once the next project comes down the pipeline. In the meantime, I’ve been embracing spring and all of its delicious flavors.

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Spicy shrimp over rice with arugula salad

Recipe: Shrimp and Avocado Salad from Pinch of Yum

I was a bit under the weather for a few days and got throughly sucked into PBS’ Mr. Selfridge (available on Amazon Prime). I binge watched the first season in about four days. Edwardian London is a fun counter to the slightly later country storyline of Downton Abbey. Honestly, we all know I’m a sucker for any and all Masterpiece Theater but when you add department stores and suffragettes, I’m guaranteed to be sold. Give it a try and let me know if you get hooked too. We can discuss what we think will happen with Agnes, the ambitious shop clerk, Henri, the French window designer, or Mr. Grove, the chief of staff who made a surprising choice at the end of season one.

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Turkey meatballs and roasted broccolini

Recipe: Grilled Turkey Meatballs from Shutterbean

I watched this 16 minute documentary from the New York Times last night while I was prepping dinner. The “do what you want!” mantra is one that always resonates with me so I found this video quite heartwarming and charming. Upon further reflection these types of things always drive me nuts due to the overwhelming privilege that “dropping out of society” is predicated on. But this guy cracked the code and frankly we all deserve a little more time on sunny beaches.

Book Review: The Paris Wife

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On the train to Portland

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain 

Lizzie rating: 3/5

Hadley Richardson meets and falls in love with a younger Ernest Hemingway. After a brief, mostly written, courtship they marry and subsequently move to Paris to support Ernest’s writing career. Over their five and a half year marriage Ernest writes several short stories, covers the Greek occupation of Smyrna, and publishes The Sun Also Rises. They are an unusual couple in their circle, Hadley does not aggressively pursue her own artistic projects or a career as many of the other, younger women do. They are truly in love but the partnership is under the constant strain of Ernest’s ego, pride, and the perceived success or failure of his immediate work.

I read and learned to love Hemingway while reading For Whom The Bell Tolls in Italy last summer. I was originally intrigued by Hemingway’s first wife after reading Jacqueline’s review of Paris Without End on The Hourglass Files. (Author’s Note: Jacqueline’s blog is fantastic and you should definitely click over and check it out.) The Paris Wife is a more accessible entry point and was a great read for a train trip. The story is told in a first person narrative by Hadley with very occasional insights into Ernest’s thinking. I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book but was annoyed and distracted by the final section. McLain depicts Hadley as a confused doormat. While Hadley admits to never truly fitting in in Paris, she certainly worked hard to support her husband, was extremely athletic, and made many friends in the ex-pat, artistic circles they frequented. Ernest conducted the affair that ended their marriage in the most horrific way, continually asserting that he was just as pained as Hadley. Puh-lease, you want your cake and eat it too. Spare me your hand wringing.

Ernest Hemingway was a complex man. Obviously, a talented writer but also a man that struggled with person inadequacies that he shuttled between four marriages in an attempt to overcome. McLain had the opportunity to write Hadley as equally complex; motivated by a feeling of service but rooted in a strong sense of self-awareness. Perhaps another author could do better.

In the Kitchen: Warm Kale and Leek Salad

Sunday morning, Kristin and I woke up and walked to downtown West Seattle to have breakfast at the insanely delicious Bakery Nouveau and stroll through the farmers’ market.

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Many colored daffodils

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It was Take Your Friend to the Market Day so we each got four market bucks.

We picked up some braising greens and leeks for lunch plus some apples for snack before stopping at Bakery Nouveau (yes, round two) for some bread to go with our lunch. The market is always such a nice way to spend a Sunday. Even on a blustery morning like this one the folks selling fruits and vegetables, cheese and meat, honey and pastries are some of the nicest people around.

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This is not my beautiful house. This is my beautiful friend.

Kristin and I have been cooking together for years. We were the two in charge of the Annie’s shells and cheddar at sleepovers in high school and would make dinner together in college because we were broke and wanted to spend our money on beer.

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Warm kale and leek salad with quinoa bread

Warm Kale and Leek Salad serves two

1 medium leek

Garlic salt and red pepper flake to taste

4-5 ounces braising greens mix

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Handful roasted almonds, roughly chopped

Slice the light green parts of the leeks into half moons and submerge in water to clean. Drain. Pat dry with towel.

Heat oil over medium heat and add leeks. Season with garlic salt and red pepper flake to taste. Cook until leeks are softened, about four minutes. Add braising greens mix and saute until tender. We both prefer our winter greens to still have some heft to them but not everyone likes that strong flavor. The greens will take between 8-15 minutes to cook depending on how soft you’d like to cook them down. Remove pan from heat and add red wine vinegar. Serve and top with chopped almonds.

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Totally not still daydreaming about this bread.

Out and About: Taylor Shellfish

Oysters are a religion for me. Briny, sweet creatures that deserve all the praise people foist upon them. My buddy, Kristin, is my number one partner in oyster crime. Remember when she was here last summer? And for Christmas? Yeah, we eat oysters a lot.

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Oyster origins

I’ve been meaning to try Taylor Shellfish’s new location for a while. For years, Taylor Shellfish Farms have been the name in Northwest shellfish. They run a robust wholesale business and a few retail shops in the south sound. When they opened a oyster and chowder bar in Melrose Market, I was pumped. More oysters!

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You so fresh

The space is small; only seats 30 and centers around a custom built holding tank displaying that day’s oysters, mussels, clams, and geoduck. Whole and half crabs are also available. But let’s get real. Oysters are our jam. K likes ’em small and either briny or sweet. I like mine to lean briny regardless of size. We each ordered some Kussis and Komomatos. I tried a few of the Fanny Bays and K experimented with the Olympia variety. The beer fridge pleased Kristin the Home Brewer. I settled on a delightful, reasonably priced glass of cava. Everything was perfect and wonderful. I plan to move it next week.

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So! Excited!

Taylor Shellfish is open for lunch and dinner Sunday-Thursday until 9pm, Friday and Saturday until 11pm. Can’t make it to Seattle? Check out their shellfish recipe roundup!