31 May 2014

This week's favorites

Not all of my links this week are necessarily the newest on the block, but they've definitely improved my life lately!

From Honestly Yum.

Is it sad when you're too lazy to even shake up a cocktail?  Maybe I haven't earned this one, but I love this quick and simple trick to make your gin ready to drink.

I'm not just making this beautiful borscht because it's Allen Ginsburg's recipe; it's also really good.

From Wine Folly.

This poster illustrating different types of wine is very important to my, ahem, research.

And then I can deposit all my trash in the garden, in a very useful and artistic way, of course, thanks to the brilliant folks at opensalon.com

27 May 2014

Cake: it's what's for breakfast

Remember that Bill Cosby sketch from the 80s, "Dad is great, for breakfast we eat chocolate cake"?  I never thought that sounded so irresponsible.  I mean, is it any worse than doughnuts?  However, one can make that cake a little healthier so that there is at least some redeeming nutritional content.  I present to you: Blueberry Breakfast Cake.  Enjoy it slowly, with lots of coffee, while lingering over the newspaper just a little longer than you think you should.

Blueberry Breakfast Cake

Serves 12

1 ½ cups buttermilk
½ cup steel-cut oats
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
½ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
¼ cup chopped pecans, optional

Combine buttermilk and oats; cover and refrigerate 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar, vanilla, and egg, stirring vigorously until fluffy.  Add the oat mixture, flours, flax seeds, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix into a smooth dough.  Gently fold in the blueberries (this is easier if they’re frozen) and pecans if using.

Pour batter into a 13 x 9-inch baking pan coated with butter or cooking spray.  Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack before cutting.

24 May 2014

Weekend Favorites

It has been both fantastic and awful to fully reacquaint myself with the internet after the better part of three weeks.  As you can see, I've done some surfing...

Denver has some super cool events planned for Memorial Day weekend, as always.

I love this beautifully photographed article from Food 52 with links to delish-sounding dressings. And it reminds me not to be too cheap to buy shallots, because they make life better.

After two weeks at Brush Creek Arts Camp, I am so sick of asparagus-spiked risotto, soup, and pasta.  But I will give this spicy pickled asparagus recipe a try until I run out.

My two new favorite places (both in Cheyenne, Wyo): The free Cheyenne Botanical Gardens and the equally free Wyoming State Museum. (Oops, three: Freedom's Edge Brewery.  It is not free, but get the candy sugar brown and the chili beer.)

My weird t-shirt cravings are re-emerging with this warm weather...

I cannot stop obsessing over these haunting predictions of the future's underwater cities with Nikolay Lamm's amazing illustrations:

My heart soars when I gawk at the Travel Photographers Network gallery online, a much easier way to satisfy my wanderlust until my next trip this summer.

22 May 2014

Convertible meals

I have been hosting family for over a week, which is why I have not been online much.  This visit has also reminded me of an inevitable truth about myself: I am terrible at gauging how much food I should make for more than two people. I know that I don't want anyone to go hungry or feel robbed of seconds, but for some reason I always manage to make way too much food, rather than exactly twice what I normally make, when four people are involved instead of two. I also have a small refrigerator, so I can't just let leftovers build up if I want to continue being able to close the door to the fridge between meals.  So, although I cannot seem to get portions right, I have become fairly decent at planning meals that can morph into something new in order to make the thought of eating leftovers less odious.  Here is an incredibly easy pairing:

Baked Lemon Chicken with sides

Serves 4 with leftovers

8 chicken breasts
olive oil
2 lemons, washed and sliced into rounds
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
8 twigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 head broccoli, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces (including stem!)
2 cups jasmine rice
handful fresh mild herbs (dill, parsley, basil, cilantro...) minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Coat a large baking dish with olive oil, then scatter half of the lemon slices and all of the garlic and thyme evenly across the bottom. Remove excess fat from chicken breasts and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Lay the chicken breasts down over the lemon in the pan, making sure everything is as covered as possible.  Top chicken with remaining lemon slices and drizzle with olive oil.  Place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, then turn chicken pieces over and cook another 15-20 minutes or until done all the way through.

Meanwhile, cook rice in lightly salted water according to package directions.  Steam broccoli.  When rice is done, stir in more salt if necessary along with all of the chopped fresh herbs.  When broccoli is crisp-tender, toss with the tablespoon of lemon juice and a little olive oil, along with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve chicken, rice, and broccoli in separate dishes or heaped alongside each other on a big platter.

And the leftovers...

Lemony Chicken-Broccoli Soup

Leftovers needed: broccoli, rice, and chicken in its juices
New ingredients:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Cut leftover chicken into small bite-sized pieces; remove any leftover lemon slices from the baked chicken.  In a stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat and sautee the onion and carrot until both are soft, about 8 minutes. add the chicken and the vegetable stock, cover, and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, stir in the leftover rice and broccoli, and cook until just heated through.  Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

06 May 2014

Venturing into Saratoga…

Saratoga, Wyoming is not a large town, and it doesn’t offer much.  But because it is in a quaint mountain setting, there are a couple of nice places to eat, some local beer to drink, and of course, some excellent examples of taxidermy in the local grocery store.  More on that later.

It’s easy to fill the day with work back at the artists’ camp, but eventually, we are all slowly making time to explore Saratoga, like the mental patients being brought into town for a field trip to experience normal life and test our social boundaries. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it is weirdly diverse and fast-paced in town compared to the ranch. And it’s not actually at all diverse or fast-paced in town, if you get my drift.  If you happen to find yourself passing through (or visiting), which many people do here in Southern Wyoming, here are my recommendations:

Saratoga Hot Springs: A couple of the expensive hotels in town have their own private hot tubs, but the public pool (charmingly called the Hobo Pool) is friendly, unassuming, and free.  And it’s right off the main road.

Bella’s Bistro Italian Restaurant is delicious, and the service is very friendly (although they definitely run on mountain time, like everywhere).  It's also a pretty tiny place, so if you're going during normal meal times with more than one other person, call ahead for reservations.

Snowy Mountain Brewery at Saratoga Resort and Spa: The beer is good, the accommodations are beautiful, and they make a lot of different brews.  Right now, my favorites on tap are the Indian Rye IPA, Macadamia Nut Brown Ale, and Dirty Blond, which is a light blonde with honey and coffee in it.

Saratoga IGA: I wasn’t kidding--do your grocery shopping in high mountain style surrounded by a stuffed black bear and mounted elk (multiple), moose, and more.  The owner either has a sense of humor or he has never visited other towns to see how unsettling this is.  I particularly appreciate the increased number of fine mounted specimen near the butcher’s area in the store.

Beaver Liquor: You can buy liquor here.  And take your photo with the sign.

01 May 2014

Thoughts from an Artist Residency

I have spent the last week in an artist residency with my ensemble, Verismo Trio, at the amazing Brush Creek Ranch south of Saratoga, WY. So, I haven’t been trying out any new recipes lately, but I have had a hearty helping of ranch life in the past few days.

What is an artist residency, you may wonder?  The generous owners of Brush Creek Ranch (who make some pretty impressive haul here during tourist season, I imagine) give us lodging with maid service, practice spaces with super-expensive pianos, and feed us all day so that we can just Make Art.  It is kind of ridiculous.  We even tell them what groceries to buy for breakfast, though they make lunch and dinner and bring it in, so we don’t even have to think that hard about the other meals.  I stumble in to the kitchen around 6am, clumsily pour homemade granola into a bowl and top it with yogurt, shovel it in, and head straight to a practice cabin, where I play for two hours straight. Mid-morning, I take a break to hike or run on one of the many trails on the property, which might afford a panoramic view of the entire ranch, or I may choose to stay low and run along a creek and cross the aptly named swing bridge back and forth.  Then I come back, practice a little more, and when I am hungry, there magically appears a very generous spread of soups, sandwiches, and salads in the kitchen for my amusement.  Tin the afternoon I repeat the process, replacing individual practice with trio rehearsal and my individual run with a group hike, and after dinner I catch up on email and drink wine. I am a very spoiled lady.

Many people (particularly family members) have asked why the hell anyone would pay for us to just be selfish for two weeks.  I don’t know.  Maybe they like being part of the creative process in some way.  It probably sounds pretty unfair that we get to just lay around like babies, playing and being fed all day.  But in our defense, the arts have a centuries-old history of relying on wealthy sponsors, and particularly in the good old U.S. of A., we still largely do.  I am not curing cancer with my music, so I think this is understandable, but classical music, visual art, and most other artistic disciplines are drastically underfunded in this country, and there is very little support even for arts education, which probably explains why we feel like we can so easily live without the arts in our adult lives.  Imagine if there were no sports in the schools--after a few generations, how many people would think that watching football is fun?  (Can anyone explain why this is fun, by the way?)

Most artists make their livings in other ways, with what we call “day jobs” that usual fall into the public service category, or if you’re very lucky (and highly over educated), you might teach your guts out every semester.  There is not much time in this schedule to actually practice your craft, however. So, it is with immense gratitude that I participate in this residency, and I promise you that we are all doing real things here (well, if you buy into the concept that making art is real).  In one week, we have learned the same amount of music that would normally take us a semester to get a handle on, and we have another week to go!  The writer with a tiring, unrelated day job has been in her cabin night and day without distractions from everyday life, and she doesn’t have to worry about how she’ll pay for her meals for four whole weeks, because Brush Creek Foundation has that covered.  She’s working on a novel. It’s pretty amazing.

Besides this long-winded, meandering thank you to the place, I am gleaning some little tips on eating and living on the ranch:

A generous smear of Vaseline is really the best way to prevent windburn on your cheeks at windy mountain peaks.

Ranch dogs do not like walking on bridges hanging over water, but they will do it anyway, just to please you.

A female moose will get pretty nervous when you appear nearby.  Mule deer don’t give a shit. They are honey badgers.

A sandwich, grain salad, and a cup of soup is the perfect fuel for lunch. Israeli couscous with chopped fresh herbs, plain yogurt, a little garlic, and salt and pepper or quinoa with lemon juice, chopped red onion and cucumber, and crumbled feta are easy grain salads that keep well refrigerated.   Wraps willed with chopped vegetables, arugula, and smoked salmon work for lunch or the next morning’s breakfast.  And roasted red peppers thrown in a blender with a little stock of your choice makes a perfect cup of soup.

It’s kind of nice only checking your email once a day.