Archive | July, 2013

Freddy the Hitchhiker

22 Jul

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Considering the world is on Royal Baby Watch (and I am, too), the daily doldrums of putting a house together is nothing news worthy.  Yesterday, for example, Rob and I didn’t see each other until dinnertime, even though we never left the house (he constructed wood shelving in the garage, I made drapes for the dining room).  After a trip to Ikea, I put together two large bookcases, ALL BY MYSELF, finishing only a little worse for wear (a sore hand, a premature blister on my thumb, and a small cut on my forehead – not sure how that happened).  Our conversations have danced around topics of bookshelves, overhead lighting, paint colors, and hanging pictures.  Not exactly the tête-à-têtes of romance.

However, there is one thing – one sound, I should say – that brings us together with a smile, and helps us forget for a moment about our task at hand.  And that’s Freddy.

Before the boxes, before the enthralling home improvement conversations, Rob, my mom, and I basically camped in our house for a few days.  We ate meals off of our green, plastic camping plates, drank wine out of plastic wine glasses, and slept on air mattresses.  We used folding chairs in the living room and would get up, walk around to the back of the chair, put a hand on each folding side, 1-2-3 lift, and carry the chair to the kitchen for dinner, or the backyard for some time on the patio.  Musical folding chairs became quite standard.

One evening when sitting on the patio, we heard a noise.  It was loud.  Too loud to be far away which meant, whatever it was, its proximity to us was unnerving.  It sounded like a combination between a squeezy dog toy and a sheep in labor, and it literally halted conversation.  Finally, I got up – yes, me, not the boy who sees anything slippery and slimy and runs away like a little girl (sorry, Rob, but you know it’s true).  Perfectly smushed between the upper corner tracks of the sliding glass door was the smallest, greenest, frankly coolest looking frog I’ve ever seen.  Such a loud noise out of such a little being, but that little green tree frog was making his presence known, and clearly wanted to be a part of the party.  Mom put a rock in the door tracks to prevent any accidental casualties (imagine the noise then!).

Almost immediately he was named Freddy, which then started a debate with my dad about whether he should actually be named Teddy, as he was probably a toad.  I do think he’s a Florida tree frog, Dad.  Google told me so.

Freddy has been making appearances on our glass door, hopping and jumping and leaving little froggy foot prints as a reminder of his presence (as if the croak wasn’t enough).  Freddy must have liked us, as he called over some friends and started a little frog fraternity on our outdoor ceiling.  He found his way to work with Rob one day, clinging on to the side mirror long enough to give a little frog thanks-for-the-ride “thumbs up” when he decided to jump off.  Freddy has clearly become a household name.

So, as Rob and I have been spending our days getting all of our honey-dos done, trying to make specific efforts to enjoy this beautiful summertime, and truthfully just get accustomed to Florida’s flora and fauna, we needed to take a trip.  To Ikea.  Why is going to Ikea a trip, you ask?  Well, it’s actually a step up in the Rob ‘N’ Jill Travel World, as when we lived in Oregon, it was a 4-hour trip to Ikea and a 2-hour trip to Target.  Now in Florida, we’ve upgraded to a 2 ½ -hour trip to Ikea (and yes, we would drive to these places, because Target and Ikea are just that awesome).

Like most of our driving trips, I slept most of the ride, and woke up just in time to exit the freeway.  As I yawned and stretched and took a sip of my lukewarm tea, Rob generally stated that it wasn’t that bad of a drive.  We had made it to the-land-with-Ikea (aka Orlando) with no problems whatsoever.  Until we stopped.

Rob made a noise unlike any noise I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth.  Generally, Rob has a pretty deep voice, very masculine, and a surprisingly nice bass intonation when singing.  That is, until Freddy arrived.

I guess if it were between hitchhiking while clinging for life on the side mirror, or hitchhiking in the comfort of the Explorer, I’d choose the Explorer as well; plush seats, air-conditioned, Sirius radio.  But I definitely would not like the driver screaming at me in a high-pitched voice, and I’m sure Freddy was just as putout.  After all, we make a nice home for this little guy, let him bring over his friends, encouraged him to make loud noises way late into the night, and obviously he was comfortable with us.  So comfortable, in fact, that he silently drove all the way to Orlando with us, and then at his stop he rang the bell to get off the bus – doing so by jumping onto Rob’s arm, then his leg (and as the uncontrollable shaking and dog-hearing-only-pitched noises started out of Rob), then onto the window.  Rob rolled down the window (still making noises) and Freddy hopped directly onto his original hitchhiking spot on the side mirror (probably thinking that may have been the better option in the first place), and off to his new digs in Orlando.

Ah, I’ll miss that little guy.

On the way home, then the rest of the night, and a few times yesterday, Rob would randomly get heebie-jeebie shivers and mention Freddy.  Of course, I’ve joked about making frog-legs for dinner and such, but it just doesn’t seem to be as funny to Rob as it is to me.  Oh well.

However, we have been eating some comfort foods that can only satisfy one while they are working hard and building things, namely pizza.  Is there anything better than pizza and a cold beer after a day of home improvements (and frog attacks)?  For a moment – just a moment – we deliberated over which pizza place to call, but then I remembered I had some of my favorite ingredients in the fridge, ready to make a pizza almost anyone would love.  We indulged that night on a BLT pizza, giving all the bacony, tomatoey, mayo-y goodness of a BLT sandwich, but the comfort that only a pizza can bring.  Rob brought up Freddy.  I laughed.

Hitchhiking frog or not, you must try this pizza – it’s a winner.  On to the next improvement, and maybe even more pizza!

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BLT Pizza

  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into rounds
  • 4 slices thick-cut applewood smoked (my favorite) bacon, diced
  • 2 loose cups roughly chopped lettuce – we use a tender red oak lettuce, but whatever you like will work
  • 3 tbsp good mayo
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • ¼ c shredded parmesan cheese
  • pizza dough – make your own or store bought
  • cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

First make the sauce – mix the mayo, lemon zest and juice, and cheese until smooth.  Set aside.

In a saucepan, render the diced bacon until just before crispy.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and place on a plate lined with a towel, to soak up the extra grease.  Set aside.

To assemble the pizza, stretch out the dough to your favorite size (I like the traditional round), and use flour or cornmeal on your sheet tray or stone so the dough does not stick.  Lather the top of the dough with the mayo mixture.  Lay the tomato slices on top of the mayo, and sprinkle the bacon on top.  At this point, crack some good black pepper on top, to taste (the mayo, cheese, and bacon has quite a bit of salt, so I did not add extra salt).  Place in the oven, and remove when the dough is super crusty and the house smells like fresh pizza, about 12-15 minutes. 

Let cool for just a minute, and then sprinkle with the fresh cold lettuce on top. 

Slice, serve, and enjoy!

The Sunshine State?

16 Jul

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Growing up, we moved around a lot.  Every 2-4 years my family and I were packing up and relocating to a new state for my dad’s job, giving us new experiences and new fun.  Each place had its own charm; Bartlesville, OK holds great memories of walking with my mom to pet the horses at the ranch down the street.  And I’ll never forget Brahm’s – it’s still my favorite ice cream shop, and the taste of their burgers lingers in my mouth to this day.  Littleton, CO had the entire genuine western regime one may think of when cowboys ride off in the sunset.  I loved that place – even buried a penny in one of Jenn’s baby jars in the backyard with a note asking the treasure hunter to mail it back to me (I never heard anything).  When I moved out of the house on my own to the painted sky of Arizona, the rumors regarding the magic of the desert are more than true.  There may be nothing more amazingly beautiful than the desert sky (and yes, it is a DRY heat).

But there is one place that never really touched me as home.  I’m not sure why.  Somewhere in the lost cabinet of a house where odd socks and spare change and broken shoelaces go to hideout forever, is a videotape of a very memorable Thanksgiving in Houston, Texas.  We lived in a beautiful home on a cul-de-sac, with a pool and giant kitchen, with wings of the house that we could easily get lost in (which we sometimes did).  Jenn was 4, I was 11, we had recently gotten our dog, Casey, who was truly a wild-ass Texas dog that would run, run, run like a blur of brown and white lightning until we literally had to catch the animal like a greased hog-tie.

During times of naughtiness, we had a perfect “time-out” spot on the bottom step of our huge, winding staircase.  It was a place, which Jenn found herself maybe a few times, and my mom’s more-than-annoyed modulation of, “Go sit on the step!” during times of post-toddler vs. pre-pubescent sibling rivalry still rings clearly (although now it makes me laugh when I think of it).  Once during an “on the step” time, unknowingly to my mom, Jenn climbed upstairs, grabbed a pillow, blanket, and a Where’s Waldo book.  Maybe it was her 4-yr old way of Sticking it to the Mom, or maybe she really was clever enough to make her time-out experience somewhat enjoyable.  Whatever the reason, after a very prolonged period of quiet, we peeked around the kitchen corner to find Jenn’s legs stretched out the length of the step, book sleepily fallen on her chest, singing the zzz’s (a picture of this moment lies somewhere… Mom, blackmail?).

So maybe it was my I’m-so-cool-because-I’m-in-sixth-grade-so-everything-is-emo-and-everything-I-say-needs-to-have-an-“ugh”-noise-after-it phase of life, but I did NOT like Texas.  The Thanksgiving videotape, where Dad’s deep voice happily booms from behind the camera, where Mom’s smile stretches a mile as she delivers a perfectly browned turkey, where Jenn’s jibber-jabber about giving thanks for the strawberries and a giant chicken, and where we are all dressed for the occasion in the formal dining room, lends only the image of a Martha Stewart Holiday until my face comes into focus.

“Jilly! Where are you on this Thanksgiving?” Dad’s chipper voice was a decent attempt to change his daughter’s sullenness.

“Texas.” Period.  Ugh.  Sulk.

“Texas!” there’s the chipper again, “It doesn’t sound like you like this place so much, hu?”

Cue: another “duh, Dad” face.

Enter: Jenn almost standing on the table in excitement.

“Well, I live in Texas, and I think it’s Woooondderrfulll!!!!!” The exaggerated arm movements and the high-pitched, very fast talking voice that you are probably imagining out of my little sister at that moment are all true.

For a place that brings back so many clearly vivid memories, I never took to it.  I remember the GIANT bugs, and the greenbelt where Casey tripped Dad and cut up his shoulder.  I remember when I had chickenpox so badly during a 90+-degree summer with gagging humidity that the only thing that gave relief was just floating in the pool.  I remember the time where mom flipped out over a gecko and chopped off its tail and the tail flipped around wildly which made her scream even more, so the terrified (I’m sure) tailless gecko scampered into the scale which made the scale end up tossed into the backyard.

And I remember the thunderstorms.  The everyday cracking, pouring, God was power washing the Earth, thunderstorms.

I think all the moving of my youth kind of primed me for this military lifestyle.  As we are now in Florida, I find myself making new memories, cooking new foods, and trying to experience all we can in the short three years we will be here.  But for some reason, Houston keeps percolating in my mind – little blump, blump, blumps of familiar feelings, images, and scents.  Florida is reminding me, more and more, of Houston.

And I like it.

The icing on the cake is the thunderstorms.  Everyday we wake up to bright, goldenrod sunshine pouring in our bedroom windows, but as sure as the rooster roosts, by noon it’s pouring.  At first we were worried about Sig and his reaction to the smack-you-with-a-two-by-four thunder, but our super laid back, Owen Wilson (if he could talk), Oregonian dog did nothing more than raise his head to the noise.  Huh.  That was new.  Yawn.  I’m sure everything is fine.  But I hope it stops raining before I have to poop again.  Sigh.  Stretch.  Sleep.

Since I have been holding the house down these last few weeks as Rob becomes accustomed to his new job and schedule with the Coast Guard, I have felt it is my duty to make this house a home, especially in a place that feels so different to him from Oregon.  Meanwhile, I’m realizing my ease in the transition is that his place feels so familiar to me.

One thing that I know is Rob loves a cookie.  Especially one with chocolate chips, or, if he’s really lucky, the M&M ones Meagan bakes back in Oregon.  Personally, I feel there is something so comforting (and a little naughty) about having a cookie for breakfast, so in an effort to truly make this house feel – and smell – like a home, cookies, albeit somewhat nutritious in my book, needed to be baked (I waited for a daily thunderstorm, so at least having the oven on during the Southern summer felt validated).

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Thus, the Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies were invented.  They are little old-fashioned, two-spoon drop cookies of oat-y goodness, just sweet enough to be a cookie to return to over and over again.  Hearing the, “Babe, it smells good!” as Rob came home made me just as happy to know he was going to enjoy eating them.  Cookies help make a house a home.

So, as I’m coming to the realization that our Sunshine State is really a quite rainy one, it’s ok.  Thanks to Oregon, we are used to the rain.  Thanks to Houston, I’m used to the storms.  And thanks to the Coast Guard, we’ve got many more memories ahead of us.

Enjoy the cookies – preferably on a rainy day.  🙂

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Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 30 small cookies)

  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • ½  c quinoa flour (this adds a nice balance to the sweetness of the honey, as well as some protein – again, great for breakfast)
  • ¾ c old fashioned oats
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick room temperature, unsalted butter
  • ½ c brown sugar
  • 1/3 c good honey (preferably local – it naturally helps with allergies)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ c mini chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
  • *optional: sea salt, or Maldon salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients, minus the chocolate chips, in a bowl, whisking until combined. 

In a mixer (or using a hand-mixer), cream the butter and brown sugar together until just combined.  Add in the eggs, honey, and vanilla and mix to combine.  Scrape down the edge of the bowl, and in thirds, mix in the dry ingredients.  Once all combined, mix in the mini chocolate chips. 

Using two regular kitchen teaspoons, scoop the dough onto the lined baking sheet, leaving a bit of room for slight spreading.  I fit about 15 cookies on one baking sheet. 

NOTE: If using sea salt or Maldon salt, sprinkle the cookies with just a pinch of salt 3 minutes AFTER they have gone into the oven.  The salt really does add quite a nice, delicate touch to the sweet bites.

Bake for 10-13 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown, and the tops feel firm.  Place on a cooling rack, and enjoy when your taste buds can’t handle it anymore.  And your house will smell just lovely.

Enjoy! 

We’re Home and It’s Hot, Spicy, and Pickled

12 Jul

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Well, we’ve made it.  Our cross-country road trip taking 4 days and 3295.2 miles, reaching record-breaking temperatures across the desert (122 degrees – are you kidding me?), hastily sneaking the pup into motels, and trying not to get killed by crazy San Antonio Friday night downtown drivers, has lead us to Landed Gentry.  We’ve been in our new house now for just over a week, and have been unpacking piles of boxes taller than us, all the while trying to get used to the newfound heat and humidity (for all you skeptics out there, absolutely there is a difference between a “dry heat” and humidity).  But, my pasty Oregon skin has started to get accustomed to that strange bright orange thing up in the sky, and Rob, Sig and I are quickly becoming accustomed to Southern life.

First of all, the Farmers Markets are something unlike anything I’ve seen before – huge, sprawling, and you better know what you want to get cause these folks aren’t fooling around.  I’ve never felt intimated at a Farmers Market before, but with new experiences come new things to try.  So far, Rob and I have been indulging on true Georgia peaches, sweet corn, amazing tomatoes, and greens, greens, greens – my favorite thing.

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In between unpacking boxes, and learning how to sew picnic bench cushions (thanks, Mom!), I have even been trying my hand at some Southern staples.  After a short deliberation, a couple lip smacks, and a way-too-serious-for-tea expression, Rob announced I passed the Sweet Tea test.  Of course I docked it up by making it Lemon Basil Sweet Tea, which, probably isn’t truly a Southern staple, but it was my take on the sweet refreshingness that is cold, black tea.

At the Farmers Market, I saw a huge bag of what they called “stir fry,” which really was just a mix of already roughly chopped and shredded cabbage, carrots, onions, summer squash, and some collards.  Standing there, gaping at the bounty bulging out of the simple plastic bag (honestly, drool could have been possible), the lady running the booth, whose skin revealed that the parking lot market was a spa compared to the mass amounts of Southern Georgia farming she has done in the humid sun for probably most of her life, almost threw the bag into my hands.

“Smell it!”

“Uuuum….”

“I said, smell it, honey!”

I’ve learned quickly to do what I’m told.

And am I ever glad that I did, as my car, shortly after, was filled with the “stir fry” freshness and potency.  But my plans for this veg were not wok-ready.

On a Saturday outing of exploring and a reprieve from unpacking, Rob, my mom, and I stumbled upon a cute little eatery in downtown Jacksonville called DIG Foods.  It was all vegan, and so~o delicious.  My mom and I split a sandwich made of a black bean spread and Chow Chow, a pickled Southern favorite.  It gave me inspiration, and became the culinary destiny for my bag o’ veg.

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As my Scandi roots started bubbling to the surface, I created a pickling brine perfect for this veg to accompany any sandwich, salad, or topped on a perfectly fried chicken breast.  The key is a 3:2:1 ratio of water:vinegar:sugar.  It works every time, and the flavor combinations are endless.  For this veg, I added a spice (a few chili peppers, as I was given about 20 for a dollar at the market), sliced garlic cloves, caraway seeds, thyme sprigs, and, of course some salt and peppercorns.  The best part about a pickling brine is you can make it any flavor you’d like to compliment the food being pickled.  It’s the perfect avenue to be creative in the kitchen.  After pouring the hot brine over the veg and letting it sit for about 10 minutes to give it a good, quick wilt factor, I ladled the veg into sterilized mason jars and put in the fridge to seal.

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The next day, Rob turned his plain bologna sandwich (which, I think is fabulous in its own right), into something pickly and spectacular.  He even got comments on his lunch at work.  He took the sandwich again the next day, but wasn’t too mindful of the chilis, thus scalding his tender Irish mouth for the rest of the day.  Today, he didn’t take a lunch.  Oh well.

The recipe for the pickled veg is one to be adapted to your liking, just make sure you use the 3:2:1 ratio for enough brine to completely cover whatever veg you are using.  Use a lighter, brighter vinegar (I like unsweetened rice wine, apple cider, or white balsamic), and play with the flavorings.  Ginger, horseradish, dill, bay, rosemary, mint, pink peppercorns, you name it.  Then make it your own!  Enjoy!

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