Thursday, June 30, 2011

Benvenuti in Italia

Welcome to Italy.

No, Boyfriend didn't surprise me with a weekend getaway. There was no squeezing my life into a carry-on bag, no mid-flight peanut snack, no endless wait at the baggage claim, no line to exchange money, and no ham-fisted attempts at hailing a cab.

There was a post-8-mile-run and pre-car-ride appetizer, a bit of circling around trying to find a place to park, a few occasions for photo ops, and a bill to pay...

But all jokes aside, today's lunch venue (Paciarino's Restaurant and Store), atmosphere, and food was so authentic it tiptoed over into surreal. The two owners, Fabiana de Savino and Enrico Barbiero, moved from Milan to Maine only three years ago and have done an outstanding job of incorporating a taste of Italy into the Old Port.

Paciarino's in Portland

Housemade sauces simmered in the kitchen off to the left, bottles of wine and olive oil adorned the walls, a small menu scratched on a chalkboard in a mix of Italian and English took center stage, a friendly waitress with a prop de-mystified the different kinds of freshly made pasta, a few communal tables filled the open and inviting space, the starter bread was flanked by a meat sauce and a spicy sauce, and the entrees were served in what appeared to be quintessential Italian pottery (but upon closer inspection betrayed a "made in China" sticker).

For Sale: Specialty Items (Some Homemade, Some Imported)

Today's Lunch Menu

Drink Tray, Day-old Bread

Sidenote: I was a little apprehensive about our jaunt over to Italy for lunch because I knew I couldn't order a sandwich and a fruit plate. I knew I wouldn't have many choices outside of carbs, sauce, and cheese. I knew that in all likelihood my lunch involve an intimidating pile of pasta. I knew there might be pesto (love the stuff...but recently realized how high in calorie it is). I knew it would be dinner food for lunch - gasp! But to say that bending my routine was "worth it" would be an understatement.

The food was delicious...and by the end of the day I had savored every last speck of basil pesto.  

My Organic Garden Salad, Dusting of Parmesan

My Gnochetti Al Pesto

Mom's Melanzane Con Butter And Sage

Brother #3's Milano Alla Bolognese

Brother #3's Just-Made Tiramisu

Mom's Decaf, Distinctly European Tiny Spoon (Even If It Doesn't Look It Here)

My only complaint was that while Mom and Brother #3 received perfect portions of ravioli, I got enough mini gnocchi to sink a ship...but no matter, I got to save half for dinner!

To-go Box, With Bow

For dinner I threw together a quick stir fry with chicken, veggies, and the leftover pasta from Paciarino's. The funny little green noodles tasted even better the second time around, and the pesto lent a nice flavor to the other ingredients.

1 Cup of Pesto-Covered Pasta

POTENT Onions From Mom's Garden

Vegetable Medley, Chopped

Breaking All The Rules (Raw Chicken & Veggies, Same Pan)

Stir Fry Success

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wedding Weekend

Last week, my lack of creativity in the hair department was at the top of my Imminent Things to Worry About list (witness the hysterics here).

I'm not supposed to be making these kinds of lists anymore, but rest assured there's a large section roped off in my cerebral cortex (hey, high school anatomy class!) dedicated to feeding my idiosyncrasies...whether or not they make it to paper in the end.

In therapy we talked about re-directing some of that brainpower towards having fun. Dr. Seuss says fun is good.

This weekend I had some (at Boyfriend's best friend's sister's wedding)! I tried penne alla vodka, I met enough new people to successfully mix up all their faces, I danced (insert vehement protesting here), I ate wedding cake, and I stayed up past midnight.

There was a group of adorable little boys in wrinkled tuxes, a three week old baby girl sleeping the night away, a place card with our names in a delicate calligraphy, an exquisite white gown, a tear-jerking father-daughter song, a grown-up candy bar, a generous piece of filet mignon, a mass of good-natured and tipsy guests, a bouquet of pink roses, an inspired playlist, a collection of abandoned heels by the dance floor, and a basket of mints for the taking...

Mints! (Altoids)

But I had the best time before the reception took place...surrounded by mirrors in the luxurious hotel bathroom, with traces of hot-curling-iron smell still lingering in the air and an army of bobby pins littering the floor, while Boyfriend's mom worked her magic on my hair.

I wish I could tell you what she did (in an impressive 20 minutes)...but I only know that it involved a roll in the front, a twist in the back, a hefty amount of hairspray, and so many pins that I knew I'd be in for a treasure hunt before I crawled into bed later that night. I gave her total creative license and the result was a regal-looking up-do that showcased my long gold earrings and strapless dress. Thanks again C!

Up-do for the Wedding

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Calorie Police = Off Duty

While I was away last weekend, Brother #3 sent me a picture (and a caption) that made me laugh out loud.

"See how we eat when you aren't here?! I should start my own blog!"

While the cat's away the mice will play...

In 2006, Mom committed to baking all 50 of the cakes listed in the Country Living Great Cakes cookbook. At the rate she's going, it will take another 16.666667 years to check off all 50 recipes (but to be fair - this is because we keep asking for Maple Walnut Cake instead of encouraging her to try a new one and because I get grouchy when there are too many desserts around). Since the flourless chocolate cake (#15) was demolished by the time I got home, I had to rely on everyone else's reviews: adequate, good, acceptable, decent, fine...but not wonderful.

Around here, we like fabulous cakes. Cakes that become half a cake on the first night, and then a quarter of a cake, and then a crumbly single slice of cake just begging to be polished off. We like cakes that are made from scratch and have complementary sides (read: ice cream, fresh fruit, homemade hot fudge sauce, etc.). Amazing cake recipes (on batter-splattered, bookmarked, and falling-out pages) are covered with handwritten exclamations of success and are made again and again. They become staples (to borrow a word from Brother #3).

Torn and Tired Go-To Chocolate Birthday Cake Recipe

Mom's Comments

More Comments

In the absence of the calorie police (read: me), Mom pulled out sticks of butter to soften, dusted off her favorite cookbooks, and donned her apron in the late afternoons. When I got home yesterday, I was greeted by the aromas of a second baking cake and a whirring timer. Like a warm blanket slipping over my shoulders, the comforting smells of butter and vanilla engulfed me in a hug and steered me towards the oven. I pressed on the oven light...and sighed with longing.

An Opened Cookbook = A Big Hint

Even my rigid diet doesn't stand a chance against homemade cheesecake. Admittedly, I "earned" (welcome to the world of Hannah) my slice by running 12.3 miles and by eating a dinner of fish, brussel sprouts, and dry salad...but I enjoyed every single last bite. No guilt. Not even a taunting whisper. This, my friends, is progress...especially since I typed up the recipe (two pounds of cream cheese) as I ate it.

Basic Cheesecake

Cheesecake, Cake Stand

Recipe for Tall and Creamy Cheesecake from Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan (we served it with candied pecans, raspberries, and strawberries...but there are countless ways to dress up this dessert)

Candied Pecans, Just Roasted

For the crust:
1 3/4 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups combination of heavy cream and sour cream

To make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch springform pan and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil (to prevent water leakage).
Stir the crumbs, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl.
Pour over the melted butter and stir until all ingredients are uniformly moist.
Turn the ingredients over into the springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs over the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides.
Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Center a rack in the oven and place the springform on a baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake (reduce oven temp to 325 degrees F).

To make the cheesecake:
Put a kettle of water on to boil.
Working with a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until soft and creamy (about 4 minutes).
With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat until the cream cheese is light (about another 4 minutes).
Beat in the vanilla and add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the sour cream and heavy cream.
Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in a roasting pan that is large enough to hold the pan with some space around it.
Scrape the evenly-mixed batter into the springform pan (the batter will reach the rim of the pan).
Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into it to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top should be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan.
Turn off the oven and crack open the door to allow the cheesecake "to luxuriate in its water bath" for another hour.
After the 1 hour day at the spa is up, remove the setup from the oven.
Lift the springform pan out of the roaster and remove the foil.
Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and refrigerate overnight.
At serving time, remove the sides of the springform pan and set the cake on a serving platter.

I Wish My Plate Still Looked Like This

Only one other scent in the world rivals the smell of baking cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies all combined: Bath and Body Works True Blue Spa Shea Cashmere Body Lotion. This creamy concoction just smells like Mom to offers a softer hint of the irresistible butter-and-vanilla fragrance that lingers in the air after an afternoon of baking. It's incredibly soothing and often makes me forgo my scented deodorant can act as a perfume all by itself. Buy a bottle for yourself - strangers will be leaning in alarmingly close and telling you that you smell good in no time.

Shea Cashmere Creams

Monday, June 27, 2011

Breakfast for Lunch

I managed to convince Brother #3 into running 9.6 miles with me in the rain and into making omelets for lunch afterwards. I'm glad to see my begging, bribing, and guilt tripping skills are still intact (they tend to get a little rusty with a summer away from Boyfriend).

My newfound love for omelets is no longer quite as new (see here and here)...but today I did something unheard of. You see, in the world of Hannah breakfast foods are eaten at breakfast (preferably by 7 am). Lunch foods are eaten at lunch (as close to noon as possible) and dinner foods are eaten at dinner (at 6 o'clock on the nose). As you may have guessed, "brunch" (that odd mix of breakfast and lunch options offered during the lull in between 7 am and 12 pm) throws a total wrench in my plans.

I wish I could tell you that I overcame my fear of brunch and ate a breakfast/lunch at 10am like the rest of the college population...but that would be a lie. However, I did eat a breakfast food for lunch (a little bit after 12pm)!

Brother #3 and I were too lazy to go buy cold cuts for lunch after our run so we started hunting through the cabinets and rifling through the refridgerator. What could we make with garlic and herb cheese, red pepper, onion, salsa, chives, parsley, eggs, and bread? Enter the omelet sandwich. 

Omelet Prep

Cooking Omelet (Thanks Brother #3)

While Brother #3 manned the stove, I dug out my favorite plate (a gift from Grandma) and cut up a mini fruit salad (a section of juicy cantelope, a handful of blueberries, and a sliced Cameo apple).

"Love" Heart-shaped Plate

Quick Fruit Salad

I popped our pieces of toast (3 seed bread from a local favorite) in the toaster oven and took a quick shot...

Omelet Sandwich

...Before digging right in!

Somewhat Hidden Thumb & Cross-section of Breakfast for Lunch

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Necessary Luxuries

My new wish list (see the last one here) is just begging to be shared. As usual, it's a daydreamer's collection run explosion of offensively expensive and entirely unrelated items (divided into two groups for your viewing pleasure). Enjoy!

Shopping Cart #1

A whole outfit in cobalt blue, a printed pompom fringed scarf (to jazz up a plain tee), a new bikini top to mix and match, an essential white tank (with a sequined pocket just for fun), a long turquoise pendant, a new pair of tech socks, and a to-die for leather jacket...

(From left to right, top to bottom)
1. Intermix's Enza Costa Striped Tank and Rag and Bone Cobalt Belles Jeans
2. Anthropologie's Printwork Scarf
3. Victoria Secret's Very Sexy Push-up Triangle Top
4. Piperlime's Son of John Show Off Tank
5. Sundance's Circle of Blue Necklace
6. Runningwarehouse's Drymax Hot Weather Run Mini Crew Socks
7. Madewell's Leather Moto Jacket

Shopping Cart #2

A maximum impact belted maxi, a fun and flirty first date top, a barely there nail polish (perfect for french manicures), a buttery soft journal, a handful of chocolate-covered raspberries, a bright orange stapler to add some fun to desk work, a cozy blanket to fend off an ocean breeze, and a pair of sky high wedges for Fourth of July...

(From left to right, top to bottom)
1. Shopbop's Milly Strapless Hostess Gown
2. J.Crew Collection's Exploding Bow Blouse
3. Sephora by OPI's Bare to Be Different Nail Polish
4. Anthropologie's Prospero Journal
5. Bissinger's Chocolate-Covered Raspberries
6. Poppin's Orange Stapler
7. Pottery Barn's Waffle Weave Blanket
8. Tory Burch's Araminta High Wedge

What's #1 on your current wish list?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Solitary Sport

No matter how many people inspired you, how many sources you referenced, or how many people helped you to coax a whisper of an idea into words on a page, writing is more or less a solitary sport.

No one is going to sit with you while you chomp your fingernails down to nothing, while you stare at a blank screen for what feels like hours, while you rearrange your desk drawers, while you get up for a quick drink, while you bite the inside of your cheek, while you look at a post-it without really seeing it at all, while you pad over to the window (still in your pajama shorts and with a bun on the top of your head)...

No one, except for maybe your dog.

#1 On My "To Buy" List

Sometimes I'm overflowing with ideas and can't wait to write. This seems to happen about once every two weeks - and when it does I write furiously...six or seven blogs at a time. It's oddly cathartic. Writing takes a weight off, one paragraph at a time.

This is probably one of the reasons why my therapist wanted me to write in the first a time when I felt like I could do little more than cry and stare at my spiral notebook full of lists (Things to Stress About Today, Things to Worry About Soon, [Big Picture] Things to Really Panic About, etc.) for the entire hour.

It was incredibly easy to fill those lists. But the blank pages of a journal? Sometimes it's like someone has begun to slowly turn off a faucet. The gushing flood turns into a steady trickle, before becoming a periodic drip and then nothing at all.

Flukey Faucet

Feeling bone dry makes the prospect of sitting down to crank out words, string them together in coherent sentences, and form (hopefully) interesting prose incredibly unappealing.

Nevertheless, I love writing. I love writing in the same way that I had hoped to love math, economics, environmental studies, and French (and all the other ill-fitting majors I considered). I love writing in the same way that Brother #1 loves cars and loaves of bread, that Brother #2 loves running and traveling, that Brother #3 loves money and the market, that Mom loves birds and papery things, and that Pops loves real maple syrup and working in the barn.

Writing, the Old-Fashioned Way

The problem is, I don't quite know what to do about it. It's too late to be a journalism major or an English minor and still graduate on time. It's too late to get the "big internship" away from home the summer going into senior year (that would have hopefully led to a job offer after graduation) as I had planned. I don't know if I want to be an editor or an author. I don't know if I want to write a magazine column, an article, or a book. I don't even know  what I want to write about.

I'm anxious to know right this minute what my career path will be. I want to know how to get started - which seminars to attend, where to live, and who to contact. I want to know how to deal with rejection and how to get promoted. I want to know if you can truly make a living doing something that you love.

But most of all, I don't want to hear another already successful person say:
1. It's all about networking
2. Something will open up when you least expect it
3. It will all work out

Friday, June 24, 2011

Recipes and A Reunion

I've really missed cheese. Tonight we kissed and made up before I had some other yummy things too.

We had a big salad (standard for summer nights), 3 cheese focaccia garlic bread (noteworthy because this is one of my fear foods), fennel baked with tomatoes and onions (significant because fennel is a NEW vegetable!) and a chicken and sweet potato stir-fry (fun because it came from a forgotten cookbook).

I. The Salad

My Favorite Salad So Far

Green romaine lettuce, red lettuce, spinach, pea shoots, carrots, celery, cucumber, radishes, orange pepper, red pepper, green grapes, golden delicious apple, raw almonds, pomegranate craisins, sesame sticks, sesame seeds, basil, parsley, chives, and pepper...

This is the kind of salad that you can happily eat without salad dressing. The kind of salad that makes you wish that the clean-up man fills up on other things so there is some leftover for lunch tomorrow.

Worth mentioning: The green grapes (sliced in half) added just a touch of tartness and will be a welcome addition to our salad ingredient rotation from now on...And the irresistibly sweet and salty sesame sticks were a great substitute for traditional croutons.

Sesame Sticks

II. 3 Cheese Focaccia Garlic Bread

I'd love to tell you we spent all afternoon slaving over this focaccia - but we cheated and brought it home with us from the a plastic bag since I forgot to grab our re-usable ones (oops). I may be in the doghouse, but after a piece of this bread (all melty and toasty after a few minutes in the oven) I don't really mind.

The King of Cheese & Garlic Bread

III. Fennel Baked with Tomatoes and Onions (and Cheese!)

Fennel = Unknown!

Serves 4
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 lb)
1 large onion (sliced)
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A sprinkling of low-fat Mexican and low-fat Mozzeralla cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the oil into a 7x11-inch baking dish. Trim the base of the fennel bulbs. Cut across the top to remove the darker green portion of the stalks and the fernlike fronds. Discard the stalks and chop and reserve some of the fronds for a garnish if desired. Cut each fennel bulb in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into slices about 3/4 inch wide.
2. Combine the fennel in the baking dish with the onion and tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat evenly with the oil.
3. Cover the pan with foil and bake, stirring once or twice, until the fennel is almost tender when pierced with a fork (about 35 minutes). Uncover, sprinkle on cheese, and continue to bake until the juices reduce and thicken slightly (about 10 minutes).
4. Before serving, season with additional salt and pepper to taste, and scatter the reserved fennel fronds on top if desired.

Worth mentioning: Apparently fennel tends to have a distinctively licorice "bite"...but when it's cooked this way (and disguised with a bit of tomato and cheese) it's not offensive at all. Not exactly a ringing endorsement - but it was good. Not to die for, but good. And I tried fennel.

IV. Chicken and Sweet Potato Stir-Fry

A Variation of Chicken Stir-Fry

Serves 4
Stir-fry 2 very thinly sliced sweet potatoes in 2 tbsp vegetable oil (3 minutes)
Add 1/4 lb (125 g) snap peas and 1/2 of a gigantic Vidalia onion (2 minutes)
Add 4 cooked chicken breasts (sliced into strips), 1/3 cup of orange juice, 1/4 tsp marjoram, and 5 fresh sage leaves 
Stir often until potatoes are tender-crisp (another 3 minutes) 

This was also good. It was a nice change from my usual chicken stir-fry dishes at school - which involve a measly piece of chicken (cut into bite size), a rainbow of veggies from an upended vegetable drawer, and a heavy-handed "sprinkle" from assorted spices all lumped together. These types of dinners often have an extra instruction tacked on to the recipe: Cross your fingers and hope for the best! 

And as always, here are the poorly presented and cringe-worthy photos of my plate and of Brother #3's jungle:

My Plate (Sans Salad Here)

Brother #3's Attempt At Organization

*Recipes III and IV were adapted from Chatelaine's Food Express Quickies: Ten Quick Ways With Everyday Foods by Monda Rosenberg

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Caught Red-Handed

Sliced on top of cereal. Mixed into salads. Dusted with sugar for dessert. I could eat strawberries morning, noon, and night.

Just Picked and Just Bursting with Flavor

I love to eat strawberries that look clean enough straight out of the container. I love to eat strawberries that are covered in dirt right off of the vine.

The Ripeness Guide

Although this will be the third post this week about strawberries (mentioned here and here), I just can't resist sharing our first strawberry picking experience.

Where we went:
Lavigne Strawberry Farm in Sanford, ME

Old Sign, New Season

This fairly flat farm has wonderful directions set up from the highway, ample parking, a friendly staff, and 12 acres of strawberries.

Good Directions

Strawberry Field, Line for Weighing

Things we learned:

1). The early bird gets the worm (prime picking is at 6am, not 11am)

2). Timing is everything (we got last picks in the morning field and missed the rotation to the afternoon field)

3). Berry season is short but sweet (only about a 2 week window around here)

4). Check to see if you need to bring your own containers...and then find your own row!

5). Pick one, eat two...good for filling up my stomach, not so good for filling up my basket

6). Strawberry picking in theory is alot more fun (my lower back is still screaming)

7). Bring enough cash (although it was much more reasonably priced than we had anticipated)

8). Don't abandon the strawberries in the suffocatingly hot car to spend two hours at the nail salon

9). Drag Brother #3 along next time so he can pick like a maniac while I park myself in the shade and eat every berry in a three foot radius

10). Freeze the strawberries on a cookie sheet first so that they don't all stick together in the bag

At least we had the foresight to strawberry pick before we got our manicures and pedicures!

Playful Purple French Manicure (No Thumbs Today)