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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!

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Licking up the Pieces

31 May

It was turkey and mashed potatoes day in the cafeteria today.  Our staff also celebrated the May birthdays today which comprised of a small potluck in the teacher’s lounge featuring the main event: chocolate cake.  By 10:45 this morning, I was licking an already licked clean gravy spoon and using my first three fingers for what they do best: smooshing moist cake crumbs one by one onto my fingers to make sure not one morsel got left behind.  Can anyone relate?  Anyone?

Mashed potatoes count as a veggie serving, right?

Well, without going into too much detail, I didn’t sleep much last night.  And if chocolate cake and mashed potatoes is what kept me going today, then so be it.  Our new addition, an adorable little sheepdog mutt puppy, is a handful.  It’s a good thing he’s cute – it’s hard to stay mad at him for long.  But, I have to keep remembering that he’s a puppy, and puppies do puppy things, that’s why they’re called puppies.  Ah, I’m very tired.

But I must say, our little Sig (named after Sig Hansen) is a dog after my own heart; he is a foodie.  Well, maybe not so much a foodie, but a fury vacuum cleaner.  It took Sig only a very short time to figure out that the kitchen is where the action is in our house, and the noise of the stove lighting and pantry opening will most likely trigger rogue crumbs.  Per my mom’s great teaching, I’ve learned to be a fairly clean cook.  That said, chopped herbs still often become airborne, and diced vegetables do have an occasional tendency to go AWOL.

Enter Sig.  He sits between my feet with one little paw resting on my toe, physically anticipating my next move.  After the accidental kick or two, followed by a few choice words, he realizes he’s in the way and moves to a less precarious, but still observable position.  Then, while plates are coming together and dishes are about to be served, there will be one more inevitable soft trip over the sneaky little fur ball, as, by that time, his anticipation is overflowing and he’s sprawled out on his belly, his tiny hiney sticking out from under the cabinets as he goes to town literally licking up the pieces.

Rob enjoys this, as he is the one who usually mops the floor every few days – Sig is making his job much easier.

Sig got a treat this weekend – it was Memorial Day Weekend – the first day of grilling season!  The first twinge of summer in the air!  So the three of us lived it up.  Starting early Sunday morning, I made breakfast cookies, and laid out my plan for the day.   Straying away from the normal burgers and hotdogs, we decided to grill one of our fave
foods: pizza.  My grilled pizza needs homemade pizza dough, and fresh ricotta.  Both completely doable, but need time (I generally like to bulk ferment my pizza dough in the fridge for a few days, but this time I kind of sped up the process by letting it rise twice, and then bulk fermenting for a shorter time).  Then it was onto the fresh ricotta and changing Rob’s face from are-you-crazy-disbelief to delicious amazement that we were actually going to make cheese.

We made the cheese, and the rest was super easy to put together.  My mom’s grilled mustard onions and some melon with pepper and prosciutto served as fabulous side dishes to our two grilled pizzas: White Pizza with Arugula and Spicy Mushrooms with Mozzarella and Basil.  Brushing the dough with almost too much olive oil and then throwing it onto a super-hot grill makes a bubbly, crispy, and wonderfully chewy way to prepare the base.  And on top of good dough, simple ingredients are all you need to keep the pizza modest and magnificent.  Both pizzas turned out well, but we agreed the White Pizza was a definite homerun (and when Sig gets older, maybe he’ll even be treated with the crust, rather than just the crumbs).

During the cooking process, Sig chased us around, hopping from the kitchen to the backyard grill, sensing the tangible anticipation of the exciting dinner.  When we ate, he sat and looked at us – not begging, but in a way that was wondering why we got pizza while he got kibble.  Such is a dog’s life, I guess.  The night ended with a little bit of wine tasting and a very strategic game of Killer Bunnies with our neighbors.  With leftovers to look forward to the next day, we all went to bed happy and full (including Sig).  It was a fabulous way to celebrate the holiday.

But now, it’s time for a  nap…

Grilled White Pizza with Arugula (serves 4)

  • about 1/2 lb pizza dough, about the size of a softball (make yourself, or buy – Trader Joes has a good whole wheat dough ready to be cooked)
  • 1 c fresh ricotta (homemade is the best, but if you don’t want to venture into the cheese-making world, then find a really good brand)
  • 1/4 c finely grated parmesan regiano
  • 2 c baby arugula, rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 c olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • sea salt and coarsely cracked pepper (fancy s&p) 
  • sprinkle of cornmeal 

Preheat the grill until about 500 degrees.  While grill is heating, prepare dough by sprinkling your surface with cornmeal.  Spread the dough out using the tips of your fingers pressing out equally around the surface.  Spread dough until you have desired thickness and shape (I like this pizza very rustic looking).  Liberally spread the olive oil on the top of the pizza, and bring out to the grill.  In a quick motion, lay the pizza dough on the grill, not over the direct flame (if using a gas grill).  Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes. 

After 5 minutes, spread the ricotta cheese and sprinkle the parmesan regiano cheese on the dough.  Then give a decent sprinkle of sea salt and cracked pepper.  Heat until ricotta is slightly melted and creamy, and the dough lifts off from the grill without any resistance (the hot grill gives the dough a very crispy crust with a chewy, airy center).  

Place on serving plate, and while hot, pour on the baby arugula leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of s&p, and squeeze the lemon on top.  Serve with a great oaked chardonnay and red pepper flakes (for those who like a bit of spice!). 

 

Enjoy!  

 

 

 

 

Tsunami Warnings and Killer Bunnies

13 Mar

It has been an interesting weekend.  Daylight savings always feels a bit strange, and as I write, it is pouring outside with 60 mph wind gusts which, earlier, almost blew down our fence.  Although, strange as it might be, sitting by the fire with tea by my side feels like the perfect way to round out all of the events that have occurred the last few days.

As promised, let me first start of by talking about our Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday dinner last Tuesday night – amazing!  The pancakes were just delicious, and so not your traditional pancake dinner.  They were stuffed with apple, roasted hazelnuts, and manchego cheese, and then topped with a sweet and tangy caramelized honey and meyer lemon syrup.  We crisped up some Rosemary Maple Bacon, and baked some sweet and spicy kale (had to have something green on the table), and just indulged in true Mardi Gras fashion.  I even won myself some beads. 🙂

This week seemed to have flown by, but then it all came to a screeching halt Friday morning around 6:00am.  I woke from a half-dreaming state hearing the phone ringing, which I know, even in groggy sleepiness early morning phone calls do not usually lead to positive things (unless it is my sister calling from the east coast just to say hi – it took her a few times to remember the 3-hour time difference).  I did not get to the phone in time, and on top of that did not recognize the phone number on the caller ID.  Neither did Rob.  Looking at him, I could see the reflection of my confusion in his face, and then with the phone still in our hands, it rang again.  This time the ID read my parent’s number.  Oh no, this is not good.

Right as I said ‘hello,’ my cell phone started beeping text messages, as Rob’s was as well.  Within about a 30-40 second period, we had gone from blissfully sleeping to wide awake and scared, obviously knowing something was very wrong.  My dad proceeded to tell me about the massive earthquake in Japan, and the fact that the Oregon Coast, especially our area, was on a Tsunami Warning – not watch, warning.  The other calls and text messages were school officials notifying me that schools were cancelled (I have heard of, and have had, Snow Days before, and once in California we had a Fire Day due to bad air quality from the infamous wildfires.  But I can honestly say, I had never even conjured up the thought of a Tsunami Day).

Driving along the Oregon Coast, there are these big blue and white signs that indicate Tsunami zones.  It is a picture of a stick figure running away and looking back at a giant wave about to crush it.  Some souvenir shops even sell sweatshirts with a screenprint of the road sign and the caption “Run Like Hell!”  We have always laughed at these signs (as they do look quite hilarious), and even considered buying the sweatshirts, but I don’t think we ever considered it would actually happen.

Well, long in short, we were not hurt from the Tsunami, and the extent of damage were broken docks, and heavily damaged boats.  The Coast Guard had all helicopters in flight and ready; Rob happened to be oncoming duty that night, so he was not called in for the daytime flights.  The whole day, though it was unusually sunny and warm, felt like it had a strange feel about it.  And as we watched the news, we felt helpless, just sending up prayers for Japan.

Saturday was a day of trying to get back to normal, and of course, we did this with food.  The night before I had shared a wonderful, comforting seafood feast with another Coastie family who are great friends, and I woke up still having the motivation to cook.  So, we delighted in a baked omelet – mushrooms, shallots, and swiss chard all held together by runny eggs and lots of cheese.  But the yummiest meal of the day was the one right before Killer Bunnies took over.

For dinner we had a beautiful gourmet pizza.  I experimented a bit with my usual pizza dough recipe, bulk fermenting it in the fridge for about 3 days.  After the first warm wise (of about 2 hours), it rose slowly in the fridge and formed beautiful, yeasty, gassy bubbles, just ready to be popped and stretched into a classic pizza dough.  Then, topped with an easy-to-make chili oil, large rounds of mozzarella cheese, sliced red chilies, and basil, the easy, really yummy pizza was done after a short hot time in the oven.  We ate quickly, to prepare for the Bunnies.

Killer Bunnies is a game – one that temporarily took our minds off the drastic fury our earth chose to reek on Japan.  If you have never heard of it, or played it, go BUY IT now!  It is the most ridiculous, hilarious, interesting, and down-right entertaining experience any extreme genocide of furry animals could be.  Rebecca and Chris (our Coastie friends mentioned earlier), Rob, and I sat around their table with amazing glasses of wine, cold ice cream with hot chocolate sauce, and handfuls of playing cards, strategizing ways to destroy each other’s bunny cards.  We laughed so hard at times, I thought that wine would eventually squirt out of someone’s nose.  Really, just go buy the game – it’s totally worth it!

This morning we had another comfort food gut buster with Rosemary Maple Bacon Butties.  And now, after a day of cleaning, I’m getting ready to make a roast chicken for Rob and I, another bit of comfort food on this blustery evening.  I’m going to try something new and use a cast iron pan to do the roasting, rather than my usual roasting pan, and see what happens.  Fingers crossed!!

With everything that went on this weekend, I’m so thankful we have search and rescue operations, and heroes to dive in and help those in need.  I wish I could do more for those in Japan, but my prayers and hopes for better times will have to do at the moment.

(Will include the recipe for the Meyer Lemon and Chili Pizza on my Week-Long Easy Recipes page, coming soon!)

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