Archive for March, 2011

I have been so lazy about cooking lately.  There’s been a lot going on at work, and singing and various social things have kept me busy in most of my off hours.  So I have been eating out a lot, or making meals out of an assemblage of snacks.  Tonight I actually shopped and cooked a lovely (though admittedly simple) meal, despite the fact that I was feeling awfully tired after work.  I felt like I could have fallen asleep in the shuttle to the parking lot, yet stopping for fast food on the way home just didn’t appeal.

Instead, I decided randomly to make fish baked in parchment (or en papillote if we want to get really fancy.)  I am not sure what came over me.  I rarely cook fish, and I had never cooked in parchment before, but why not?  Whole Foods had some wild Coho salmon (Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable – woot!) on sale, so I bought half a pound.  I wanted to make something that was simple and seasonal (it actually felt like spring today – yahoo!), so I also picked up lemon, leeks, and red potatoes. 

When I got home, I preheated the oven and chopped the leeks.  Leeks are often full of sand and dirt, so after chopping them, I throw them into a big bowl of cold water and swish them around.  Then I let them sit for a few minutes, so that the grit can fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Then you can scoop out the leeks.

While the leeks were soaking, I thinly sliced the red potatoes and a lemon, reserving the ends of the lemon for juice.   Once the leeks were drained, everything was ready for packaging.

I laid out two pieces of parchment (I kind of like the unbleached, brown parchment that I happened to grab at the store) and layered the leeks, potatoes, salmon, and lemon slices, as in the picture at the top of the post.  I seasoned each layer with salt and pepper, and added a little thyme, tarragon, and fenugreek on the salmon.  Then I drizzled the whole pile with olive oil, before folding the packages.

After folding the paper in half over the ingredients, you have to start at a corner by the crease and roll or fold the edge of the paper up little by little all the way around the food.  It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s easy to do, once you get the idea.

I baked the packages for about 25 minutes, and boy was I ready to eat!  I tore open one of the packages and could immediately smell the lemon and spices, and I was eager to dig in.

Man, this was delicious!  It was bright and springy and somehow delicate and flavorful at the same time.  The lemon was the predominant flavor, but it didn’t overwhelm the leeks and seasonings.  I scarfed the whole thing down in no time, and I am really glad I decided to make two servings, so I have leftovers to look forward to tomorrow.

I am kind of proud of how outside the norm of my cooking this dish is.  What I tend to do best in the kitchen are hearty dishes, stews, pastas, polenta, and the like.  This is unusually delicate, though not at all fussy and still satisfying.   And it has the advantages of very little cleanup (a cutting board and knife, the bowl for cleaning the leeks, and the barely soiled baking sheet) and short enough prep and cooking time to make it a really good weeknight option.  It’ll definitely stay in my spring rotation. 

Spring Salmon in Parchment (serves 2) 

1 small leek                                                       1/2 tsp. thyme

2 medium red potatoes                                  1/4 tsp. tarragon

1 lemon                                                              1/2 tsp. fenugreek

2 3-4oz. fillets of salmon                               olive oil

salt and pepper                                                parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Trim off root end and dark green leaves from leek.  Cut in half lengthwise and slice thinly.  Place sliced leeks in a bowl of cold water and stir to loosen any dirt or sand.  Let sit for a few minutes, then remove leeks and drain.  Thinly slice potatoes and lemon.  Sprinkle salmon fillets with thyme, tarragon, and fenugreek.  On one half of a piece of parchment paper layer half the chopped leeks, half the sliced potatoes, one salmon fillet, and half the lemon slices, seasoning each layer with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Repeat with remaining ingredients on another piece of parchment.  Drizzle olive oil over ingredients.  Fold parchment over and pleat along edges to close.  Place parchment packets on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes.


Read Full Post »

  • I am addicted to checking the stats of my blog.  Worse yet, I get a thrill when this site gets a lot of hits.  (“A lot” is a relative term here.  You all get to be the cool kids who read it before it goes viral.  🙂 )
  • If you want to get more search hits, write about something related to beer – my post on the Anheuser Busch brewery seems to be drawing some traffic.  Bet this site is so not what they were looking for!  They are welcome all the same (see first bullet point.) 
  • Blogging is enabling.  I discovered a cupcake shop in my neighborhood over the weekend and bought two cupcakes, because I couldn’t adequately blog about the place if I only tried one flavor! 

Read Full Post »

Wowed by the Web

My friends and I regularly quoteKatamari Damacy, “My, the world is full of things.” The internet often inspires my use of that declaration. Helpful things, bizarre things, time-wasting things, and in the cases of the following links, awesome things.

Daily Affirmations for Realists are cracking me up. They are created by two of my college classmates, the delightfully warped minds behind Idiots’ Books (I highly recommend The Baby is Disappointing.)

I am a crafter, so the idea of making a rag rug is already appealing, but making one with old t-shirts using a hula hoop? That sounds like fun!

Already Pretty’s post on over- and under-dressing was one of those posts where you just nod and grin as you read. I completely agree with her, and she says it so much better than I could.

I adore how whimsical and Seussian these trees dressed in colorful knitting are. They just make me smile, and with all the turmoil, war, and disaster in the world, we can all use more smiles.

What’s caught your eye on the web lately?

Read Full Post »

You guys, I feel like a fool.  There’s a vintage shop, Dame, only half a mile from my apartment, and I didn’t even know about it! It’s been there two years. Argh! Ah well, since there’s no time like the present, I visited Dame this weekend and even made a purchase. Dame isn’t big, but it is charming and has a great selection of lovely vintage clothing with very reasonable prices. I tried on a couple dresses, and ended up going home with this adorable, peach, summery dress that was tagged as being from the 60’s. The fitted bodice and high neckline seem right for the 60’s, but the full skirt and detailing (a combo of lace and painted studding in a swirl pattern) made me wonder. At any rate, it fits perfectly and is fun and flirty, so I couldn’t resist it. It only set me back $45! It’s going to be hard to resist wearing it right away, even though it is still cold here in Boston.  I fear the color may wash me out a bit, but I am sure I will still get a fair bit of wear out of it.

Here are three ways I can wear my new dress.

Sweet and summery:  Fabric flower headband bought on sale at Anthropologie.  Faux pearl studs.  Cream and silver bracelet from an indie gift shop in my neighborhood.  Ann Taylor Loft strappy heels, bought over 5 years ago on clearance.

This would be a fun outfit for a daytime wedding or a dressy bridal or baby shower.  I could also wear it Easter Sunday, if it warms up enough.

Businesslike with brown: Orange and peach medallion earrings found on clearance at Burlington Coat Factory.  Brown, lace-knit sweater from a thrift store.  Belt that came with the dress.  Indian gold and orange bangles, gift from a former volunteer I supervised at work.  Brown tights from Target, I think.  Naturalizer shoes, an outlet purchase.

This is a little dressy, but I could probably pull off wearing it to work.  With the tights and sweater, I can wear it in spring and fall, so I will get more mileage out of the dress.

Prairie girl: Gold-tone hoop earrings.  Gap brown leather belt.  Shell inlay cuff bracelet that I think came from my mom’s jewelry box ages ago.  Ann Taylor Loft, cream, tiered skirt, worn as a petticoat, bought on clearance.  Diba, tall, suede-look brown boots, another outlet find, I believe.  This would be nice with a cream sweater or a denim jacket, too.

This is the most out of the box look for me, but it’s fun.  I’d maybe wear this for a nice brunch with friends or an al fresco summer dinner date.  I’d love to add a couple chunky wooden bracelets.

Read Full Post »

It’s tough to watch and read the coverage of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan.  Not really being able to help, other than making a little donation, makes it even harder for me.  I have found myself avoiding a lot of the coverage.  The other day, though, I was reading Barbara Meltz’s parenting column in the Boston Globe, and found her advice on talking to kids about the situation.  I am trained in explaining scary scenarios to kids, and I have to say that Meltz does a fantastic job of outlining the key points. It dawned on me that it may be a little thing, but I can help a bit by using this blog to share tips on supporting kids during times of tragedy and disaster.

Many parents are tempted to shield children from disturbing news or try to dismiss the fears that may arise.  After all, many adults are struggling to understand how these things can happen.  I don’t think it is helpful, though, to totally shelter kids.  For one thing, images and discussion of the disaster is everywhere, so it is almost impossible to prevent even very young kids from learning about it.  For another, if we protect children from distressing news, they will never learn how to cope with the tragedies that they will inevitably face and we rob them of an opportunity to develop empathy.  Many kids will never face a serious earthquake, much less a tsunami, but if they are given the chance to learn about and discuss such an event in a supportive and loving setting, they will gain resilience that they can use in situations they face in their own lives.  That is not to say that it is okay for kids to be constantly exposed to the intense, rapid-fire, confusing images and sound bites of media coverage.

Like Meltz, I firmly believe that we should be honest with kids and give them permission to talk about scary events, so that their impressions and thoughts don’t grow and get distorted.  I love her suggestion to ask kids if they have seen or heard about the earthquake and tsunami and let them know you are willing to talk about it.  Many kids will feel that the troubles in Japan have nothing to do with them and may be totally unconcerned.  That’s normal and okay, but it is also normal for kids to fear that a similar disaster could happen to them.  The latter kids will need reminders of their safety, such as Meltz’s suggestion to point out how far away Japan is or that earthquakes don’t happen often in your area.  No matter how outrageous your child’s fears may seem to you, they are real.  Telling a child not to worry, probably won’t work, and may make him hid his feelings from you or even intensify them by giving the impression that the situation is too horrible or terrifying to talk about.

Play and other open-ended expressive activities are great ways for kids to deal with the fear and stress from disasters and other tragedies.  Kids naturally try to make sense of the world in their play, so you might see a lot of block buildings being knocked down by earthquakes or drawings of big waves.  You can gently ask your child to describe what is going on in her dramatic play or pictures and use that to guide your conversations.  Children may not want to talk, or they may not have the words for what they are thinking and feeling, though.  You can help ease fears by suggesting safety and rescue elements: “It looks like Buzz Lightyear got hurt when the building fell down.  Here comes an ambulance to help him.”  Outdoor and very active play also help kids deal with strong feelings indirectly.

Children who have a strong reaction to the disaster may regress or become unusually clingy or moody.  Try to be matter of fact if your child suddenly needs a nightlight, has toileting accidents, fights more with siblings, or doesn’t want you out of his sight.  Such issues should be temporary, but if problems last a long time, talk to your pediatrician or seek help from a counselor.  Similarly, kids may have occasional nightmares or episodes of sadness, but it is cause for concern if they are persistent or interfere with school and favorite activities.

At times like these, children are likely to need as much familiarity and predictability as possible in their lives.  Disasters can be a reminder to count our blessings, so we may be tempted to shower children with extra affection or goodies.  Letting your kids know you love them is always a good call, but letting go of family rules or greatly relaxing expectations can actually make kids feel less secure, by sending a signal that something is awry with their world.

Doing something to help disaster victims can be therapeutic for kids (especially middle- and high-schoolers) and adults alike.  Involve your kids in brainstorming  how to help, whether it’s collecting pocket change from friends and family or having a garage sale and donating the proceeds.  (Charity Navigator has great tips on how to help, along with a list of highly rated organizations involved in Japan relief efforts.)

Read Full Post »

As you’ve probably all figured out by now, I love nature. The “I wonder” part of iwonderandiwander has as much to do with my frequent awe of the world around me as it does with the questions that run through my head.  When I travel, I really enjoy visiting parks, gardens, and natural landscapes and marveling at the beauty and variety of the natural world.  In Phoenix, I got to hike in the Sonoran Desert Preserve, which was a short walk from our rental house, go geocaching in an undeveloped area neighboring the subdivision, and visit the spectacular Desert Botanical Garden, so I really got to experience the desert flora. (The desert fauna made appearances, too – in addition to the javelinas I mentioned in my restaurant post, we saw rabbits, lizards, ground squirrels, and lots of quail.)

The Desert Botanical Garden was gorgeous, fun, and informative.  There are, of course, scads of cacti, in every imaginable shape and size, and some we never could have envisioned.  Fishhook cactus, strawberry hedgehog cactus, enormous saguaros, teddy bear chollas, prickly pear, cacti that undulated across the ground like tentacles, cacti in bloom.  I even managed to pick up a barbed cactus spine in my leg.  It was tenacious, but thankfully painless.  My friend, M, and I also learned that cacti have wood inside.  I suppose I always assumed that cacti were fleshy all the way through, until we saw the woody remains of dead cacti at the garden.  The wood of some cacti even has a beautiful honeycombed look.

There was plenty to see beyond cacti, though.  The garden has thousands of other plants, too, mostly succulents like agave and aloe.  We were amazed by the wide variety of agave plants.  Some had flower stems up to 26 feet tall that looked like something from a Dr. Seuss book.  We also really liked the type with delicate, white, spiraling tendrils among the spiky leaves, and a variety called Queen Victoria’s agave, which had striking, almost geometric, white veining on the dark green leaves.

We seemed to be catching the tail end of the desert spring, so there were some cacti and other succulents blooming, and the garden has a number of other types of flowering plants, too.  The creosote bushes had pretty yellow flowers and fuzzy, white globes of seeds.  I was quite surprised to find lupins growing in the desert, since I associate them with Maine (though it turns out there are species of lupins all over, and they are the state flower of Texas.)   The garden also had a tiny, gorgeous variety of iris that I had never seen before. We kept seeing signs for a mimosa-like flower with the adorable name baja fairy duster, so we were excited when we finally found one with the unique magenta blossoms.

Beyond plants, we checked out the ethnobotany section of the garden, where there are traditional Native American structures and interactive exhibits on how those early desert residents used the native plants.  We got to pound mesquite seeds and see fencing made of spiky ocotillo branches.  We also visited the butterfly pavilion, which was pretty much chock full of colorful beauties in both insect and flower form.

M and I both took tons of photos during our visit, and you can see the best of mine in the slideshow below.  The garden is more beautiful in person, though, so visit it if you are ever in the Phoenix area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read Full Post »

I don’t know where to begin, other than to say that I loved this book.  I started it on the Friday evening before my vacation, and finished it on the plane early that Monday morning.  Clearly, it was a page turner.  The most notable element of the book is that it is told from the perspective of a five year-old.  I am a tough critic when it comes to how kids are portrayed, since my job is based on knowing how kids think, and Donoghue does an excellent job of showing the ways in which a preschooler’s thinking is both literal and magical.  Yet she also manages to give the reader a thorough view of the little boy’s mother, the book’s other main character, even though we only see her through his eyes.  Sometimes when an author uses such an unusual point of view, it can be gimmicky, but in this case it really works and even enhances the plot.

The subject matter of this book is not cheerful, so if you don’t like novels with sad or disturbing elements, it is not for you.  Room as a whole is not depressing, though.  I tend to like books that involve characters struggling with but ultimately triumphing over difficult circumstances, and Donoghue’s story does just that.  The characters are imperfect and there is no fairytale ending, but the book is positive in a realistic way.  There’s some fascinating character and relationship development, as well.  (You know, it is really hard to write a review that captures why I love this book without any spoilers!)

I’d love to discuss Room with anyone who has read it, so please comment with your thoughts.  If any spoilers are involved, I will edit this post to include a warning.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »