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School Supplies & 10 Minute Pasta

9 Aug

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I went to Target yesterday. Oh, let me preface that and say: school starts next week and I went to Target yesterday. It. Was. Nuts. At one point Rob looked like he was about to straight-arm a 7-year old just to get to the crayons. I stood at a safe distance while he ventured in and out of the school supply section with Bear Grylls-like prowess, emerging triumphantly with the 64-pack of colors with the sharpener in the back. Rob was unscathed, but as we walked away with the echoes of children crying, yelling, running, my eyes widened with what awaits me in the coming week.

It’s funny; the teacher supply section is not at all near the kids supply section. It is quiet in the teacher section and the glossy books happily stand, emitting joy and hope of future learning. Among one of them, standing out like a beacon of necessity, was Color Me Calm 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation. An adult, Zen coloring book which intends to “help bring you to a relaxed emotional state as a way to self-soothe.” Not so much a teacher resource, but definitely a teacher necessity.

People, do not pass “go,” do not pick up $200, summer is over and all signs point directly to Back To School.

Which, of course, makes me reminisce on the summer. It was a fun, busy, and traveling break, visiting my sister in New Orleans, my friends in SoCal, and hitting every state in New England. Rob and I went to a couple weddings, camped in Maine (praying the lightning storm wouldn’t kill us in the tent – well, I prayed, Rob thought it was cool), backpacked and camped in New Hampshire (cooked a quinoa and cod salad on a rock in the middle of the forest), made it to the top of Mt. Washington, and discovered the wonderfully quaint (and delicious) town of Stowe, Vermont. We spent time with both of our families, relaxing in Connecticut, wine tasting and dining on the North Fork, and currently we are finishing this shooting match back in Jacksonville by lying on the couch as much as possible before time runs out.

While we were very blessed to have such an eventful summer, we are also aware that the whirlwind days of school and deployments are right around the corner.

When Rob deployments coincide with the start of the school year, I kind of fall into a cooking rut. It’s just me (and Sig) in the house; so cooking a full-fledged meal, with leftovers, seems a bit superfluous. My nights can consist of popcorn, wasabi peas, peanuts, and if it was a bad day at work, frozen black truffle cheese pizza. If I’m at all feeling the effect of those really trying days, I’ll even resort to my famous microwaved nachos (organic blue corn chips and shredded jack/cheddar cheese nuked for 30 seconds, then topped with too many drips of Tapatio). But being determined to make this new school year a healthier start, I did a solo-dinner test run.

With Jacksonville’s heat historically lasting well into October, a culinary silver lining is that farm-fresh tomatoes are ripe, fruity, brightly acidic, and will be perfect for a good while now. Another thing about the heat is that spending anytime outside is next to dreadful, and sitting inside gaining cooking inspiration from my many cookbooks is ideal. So after reading Tina Nordstrom’s Scandinavian Cooking recipe for Gnudi with Sage-Roasted Tomatoes and Caramelized Butter, I was inspired.

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When inspiration strikes, I act quickly. My waiting-too-late-to-figure-out-dinner-when-Rob-is-on-a-night-flight hunger made me made me act even more quickly. Thus born was the 5-ingredient, 10-Minute Pasta dinner suitable for a solo meal, elegant enough for quick company, yet comforting and fresh enough to leave anyone feeling last-bite-satisfied.

Ms. Nordsrom has a thing for browned (caramelized) butter, and I don’t blame her. The stuff is awesome. Fabulous, even. And frankly, I don’t use it enough. So here’s my interpretation:

While waiting for 3 tbsp of unsalted butter to heat, melt, and brown in a large pan over med-high heat (browned = the kitchen starts to smell like popcorn and the happy, sputtering butter sound immediately ceases), slice a good pint of farm-fresh grape tomatoes in half. Tossing them into the pan with the butter, the acid from the tomatoes immediately starts to release and emulsify with the fat, creating a silky and fragrant sauce. Seasoning with s&p is key here. I also added about ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, because I’m spicy like that, but it’s not necessary to the dish. Add whole wheat spaghetti (not my favorite, but works oh-so-well here with its nuttiness becoming a star flavor) into a separate pot of salted boiling water. Once cooked through, add the pasta to the tomatoes, and thoroughly toss over low heat. If needed to thin the mixture, add ¼ c of the starchy pasta cooking water to the pan. Adding ¼ c freshly, and very roughly chopped Italian parsley, as well as 3 tbsp of toasted pine nuts into the pan finishes the dish.

This meal was so perfect – super easy, unbelievably tasty with brown butter/pine nut/ wheat pasta nuttiness and tomato-tanginess leaving a lasting buttery taste, cut only by the fresh grassiness of parsley.   I don’t make pasta meals all that often, but this one will absolutely be a back to school staple.

On a side note, that Zen adult coloring book, it is so much fun. Of course I bought it! A supposed calming resource in the teacher’s resource section provided right before school starts? Completely worth the try. Then again, so is the pasta. Back to school or not, this is an end-of-summer recipe homerun for just one, two, or a few to devour!

Enjoy!

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I’m So Tired

28 Aug

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Kindergarten is hard.  There are a lot of kids with a lot of germs who need to learn a lot of things.  Last week, my mom was in the classroom modeling everything she knows regarding 5-yr old behavior management.  Thank goodness, because it’s been a long time since I’ve worked with the little ones.  But after one day of repetitive, non-expressive, repetitive, non-expressive, repetitive, non-expressive… polite requests, they got the hang of it.  Now, we are fully in the swing of things, and school is on a quick upswing towards the rest of the year.

With the beginning of the school year inevitably comes the feeling of fall, football, pumpkin spice-scented candles, and one of my favorite things: comfort food.  I tend to try and create comfort food in a more healthy way, but there are some things that you can’t get away from, like, pasta.  Pasta is awesome.  Although I know pasta can be healthy when it’s eaten in appropriate 2000-calorie serving sizes, blah, blah, blah, but really, how often does that happen?

So that spurred on the Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Pasta.  Easier than you’d think, with all the vitamins of sweet potatoes, the fiber of whole wheat, and the comfort-deliciousness-chewy-goodness-of-everything-you-crave-after-a-long-day-of-Y-E-L-L-O-W-spells-‘yellow’ that is PASTA.

Like I said, I’m so tired.  There are many stories to share, but my throat is already starting to show signs of testing the beginning of the year immunity, and my bed is calling my name.  I’ll promise to do a better job than last year at cooking and posting during the school year, and I also promise to tell the story of Rob and me paddle boarding with alligators.  Until then, make and eat this pasta.  It’s.  Downright.  Good.  Enjoy and goodnight!

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Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Pasta
(makes 4 servings) 

  • 2 c whole wheat flour
  • –       plus more for dusting
  • 2 small-medium sweet potatoes, diced and boiled until very fork tender
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

After the sweet potatoes are cooked and cooled, put through a potato ricer, food mill, or shred with a heavy fork. 

Pour the flour onto a clean stone counter, or wood board.  Make a well in the middle, and add the sweet potato.  Making another well in the potatoes, add the eggs, and the olive oil. 

Using a circular motion with a heavy fork, slowly mix the eggs with the potato and flour mixture, adding the outside layers of flour into the middle of the mixture with your opposite hand.  When the mixture starts to come together, start using both hands to combine, and kneed the dough for about 10 minutes.  The dough should be soft, smooth, and elastic to the touch.  Set aside for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set up your pasta roller (NOTE: if you don’t have a pasta roller, this dough will make a great gnocchi.  Just roll into thin logs, and cut into 1-inch pieces).  Roll until a “4”, and cut through a linguini cutter, or thinly cut with a very sharp knife. 

Boil water with a handful of salt, and boil until the pasta reaches the surface, about 1-2 minutes (fresh pasta cooks much, much faster than dried). 

Toss with a flavorful, light sauce – I like brown butter with freshly grated nutmeg, rosemary, mint, spinach, and a touch of Riesling.  Add some rotisserie chicken for a protein packed meal. 

Enjoy! 

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Wine Stained Lips

2 Jun

Did everyone have a nice Memorial Day last weekend?  The long weekend always denotes the unofficial start to summer, and in the education profession, the difference in students is tangible once they are aware that the long weekend signifies summer is right around the corner.  Even this year, having not been in the classroom, I, too, am more than excited for the summertime.  It will be our last summer in the area, and I have my Oregon Bucket List growing daily.

In the meantime, as I look outside at the beautiful, sunny, warm day, I can’t help but reflect on some of my favorite things we’ve experienced in this area thus far.  The biggest one has to be the wineries.

Having not an ounce of the pretention NorCal wineries can be rumored to have, the Southern Oregon wineries are some of the best kept secrets of the wine world.  Literally, seriously, and truthfully, I’ve had some of the most amazing wines out of barrels and libraries in Oregon, and more importantly, have met even more amazing people in the process.  The Friday of Memorial Day weekend was a perfect example.

Rob and I decided to go to two wineries last Friday: King Estate (a very well-known Oregon winery), and TeSóAria, an up-and-coming phenom. We took our time tasting, enjoying the views, the conversation, and of course the wine.  Also unlike the Napa strip (which I say with love – Louis Martini is on that strip and still, to this day, Lot 1 Cabernet is hard to beat), the Southern Oregon wineries are physically far apart from one another.  Kind of a blessing really, as it forces the legal limits and saves the wallet from purchasing cases of what-was-the-name-of-that-grape-again? slurred through wine stained lips.  So as we make the hour and a half trek over to TeSóAria, we knew we were pushing the 5:00 closing pour.

But then, with a smile and a hug for me and a firm handshake for Rob, John Olson greeted us with exuberance, quickly introducing us to the other couple visiting that day.  One of my favorite songs of all time, REM’s “Nightswimming” was crooning in the background, softening the edges of an already comfortable surrounding.  After catching up, chatting about the new wines, and falling in love with Molly the Jack Russell Terrier, Rob and I realized we had stayed way past our patron welcome; 5:00 had come and gone as quickly as that last amazing taste of the new year’s Bulls Blood.  Stating that we realized we had kept him from his evening, John’s rebuttal was generous and hospitable – to the barrel room we went.  Rob almost skipped (oh I know you can picture it).

John had an unnamed bottle of a red blend – an experiment of sorts – unlike anything I’ve experienced in wine.  It could only be compared to when Robert Plant partnered with Alison Krauss for a duet album: big and bold, but subtle and complex.  Complimentary enough to pair with a steak (which we did), nonetheless multifaceted enough to stand alone (which it did).  While I won’t give away his blend varietals or percentages, I will say that the man is plain genius.

The night proceeded to unfold with private cellar tastings, and the six of us (by this time Joy, John’s wife had joined in on the fun – it would’ve be hard not to as we all, at that point, were standing in her kitchen) helped prep, cook, and enjoy dinner together.  We told stories, exchanged laughs, and marveled at how strange it was that all six of us knew Arizona’s Javelina Leap.  The view from the backyard patio, overlooking sun-kissed estate vines dewing from the evening Oregon mist, was in a word, magical.

We drove home happy, full, thankful, and blessed to have shared an evening with such simply wonderful people.

Like John’s wine, this memory should stand alone, unmuddled by my own soupçon.  So rather than give a huge life-changing feast of a recipe, I’ll leave a small taste, a simple indulgence.  We ate this the day after our dinner with the winemaker. The simple flavors really stand out in this dish; the lemon, and olive oil are like a quiet old married couple, content in love.  Savor the humility of the meal, enjoy with good wine, and create lifelong memories with fantastic friends, and family.

Herbed Pasta Salad (serves 6-8)

  • ½ lb (CHECK THE BOX) mini bowtie pasta
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 tsp chopped mint
  • ½ tsp chopped thyme
  • ¼ tsp chopped rosemary
  • 3-4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon (you may want more juice when tasting)
  • s&p

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente (still has a pleasant chew to it).

Meanwhile, mix the herbs in the bottom of a large bowl, and add the lemon zest and juice (really get in there with the juice.  Use a fork to prick the pulp if need be).  When the pasta is done, drain well.  Still warm, add the pasta to the herbs and quickly start drizzling the olive oil over the pasta.  Quickly mix well until everything is incorporated.  Season with s&p, and taste for more lemon. 

I like to garnish the pasta with paper-thin slices of lemon and whole basil leaves.  Serve at room temperature.  

Enjoy! 

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