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Freddy the Hitchhiker

22 Jul


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!


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!

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!). 







Weeknight Pizza Remix

8 Feb

When I was growing up, my mom had some pretty fantastic go-to meals.  Her pan-fried chicken breasts were awesome, the chicken “drumsticks” with green beans was a classic, and her tuna noodle casserole – out of this world.  But one of my favorites (and one she still makes for me whenever I visit) are English Muffin Pizzas.

I’m not sure how or when this meal was created (I think by my Nana), but she often made it during a weeknight when Jenn needed to be picked up from soccer practice, and my basketball practice ran late, and there was still homework threatening late-night hours if it wasn’t quickly attended to.  I can only imagine what it feels like as a parent to have a nutritious dinner on the table on nights like that.  I remember jumping into the hot shower after practice dreading the pre-calculus problems that should have been done way prior to it being dark outside, all the while feeling exhausted from the many “suicide” runs Coach made us do for “conditioning.”  I would take my time – too much time – showering and step out to be greeted by one of the best food smells: toasted Thomas’ English Muffins with marinara sauce and melted American cheese – the Kraft kind.

Mom served it with an Italian salad, but I always ate the salad last as to not miss out on the straight-from-the-oven goodness.  The English Muffin would crunch, the cheese would stick to the roof of my mouth, and the taste was so familiar, so comforting, that it gave me the warmth and energy to attack those pre-calculus problems before bed.

Well, last night was one of those nights where I jumped into the shower after a decent pilates/yoga class (where I found I really need to work on my balance – I looked like a drunk penguin trying to balance on one foot) wishing I had that English Muffin Pizza waiting for me afterwards.  Alas, I realized I had no English Muffins (and only the Thomas’ kind would work), no marinara, and I think our Kraft singles might have seen their last days a few months ago.  My best ideas come to me while I’m in the shower, and I think most people would say the same thing (though they may not outwardly admit it).  It’s a good thinking spot – relaxing and warm, just comfortable.  Craving the English Muffin Pizza and not able to have it, I pondered the never ending question – what to make for dinner?

I had my leftover soup for lunch, and didn’t want to double dose in the potato starches, and being that The Bachelor was going to start in an hour (much more fun than math homework), something quick, easy, and healthy were necessary.  Remembering the Italian Flatbread dough I had pre-made and saved for times just like this, I toweled off, made a flurry of a mice en place, and whipped up a Raw Italian Pizza.

Now, this “raw” pizza is not the never-to-exceed 118 degrees Raw.  I call it raw because of the length of time it takes to cook the sauce: 15 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, this is no 4 hour bolognese and will not have the same depth and sweetness that tomatoes take on after being exposed to heat for an extended period of time.  But being a tomato lover, especially now when they are nowhere near seasonal peak goodness, the canned stuff is the best bet.  Good plum tomatoes are canned at their peak, retaining that juicy, tangy, acidity that raw tomatoes are known for.  So, a quick hot bath with some excellent Chianti did the trick for a tangy 15-minute sauce.

Now the toppings – something simple, elegant, and loaded with flavor: pesto.  But this isn’t your usual pesto.  Using blanched broccoli as the base, this pesto combines healthiness with a flavor so intense you’ll never go back to simply basil pesto.

Layered with baby spinach leaves and shaved parm, this rustic looking flavor bomb left Rob and me chewing and speechless at the dinner table.  Granted, it did not take place of Mom’s English Muffin Pizza, but it was definitely worth the try!

Raw Italian Pizza
-With the below ingredients, you will also need baby spinach leaves (or another green of your choice), and shaved Parmesan Regiano cheese.

Italian Flatbread (makes 3-4 large, very thin flatbreads)

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 c all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2-4 tbsp water
  • s&p

Mix all ingredients in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, until mixture forms a ball.  Turn out onto floured surface, and knead for about 7-8 minutes.  Slice into 3-4 pieces, and make them into disks.  Wrap with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 30 minutes (after rested, dough can be put in freezer to use at a later date).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out dough into a rustic shape (I just let the dough do it’s thing – you’ll break apart the flatbread, like a lavash, later), until very thin, about 1/8 of an inch.  Sprinkle with a bit of s&p.  Bake for about 10 minutes, until browned and crispy.  Dough will start to bubble in parts, but that is ok.

15-minute Tomato Sauce (watch out – this sauce is addictive.  You will want to put it on everything)

  • 1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes in juice (unsalted, unseasoned)
  • 2/3 c good Chianti or Sangiovese wine
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • s&p

NOTE: When you want to get all of the juice from the can of tomatoes, pour in the wine to “wash” the sides of the can (above picture).  That way you make the most out of all of your ingredients.  Heat all ingredients in a large saucepan on high heat, for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring and breaking apart whole tomatoes with wooden spoon.  Sauce will reduce and thicken, become sweet, tangy, and remain very tomato-y.

Broccoli Pesto (makes about 1 packed cup)

  • 1 medium head of blanched broccoli (heat cut florets in salted boiling water for 2 minutes.  When bright green, quickly remove and shock in ice water to stop cooking)
  • 1/4 c basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor.  Add a bit of oil to get the blade moving, and once ingredients are pulsed, pour the rest of the olive oil in a thin stream into the feed tube while processor is running.  Taste for seasoning.  The final texture should be like a paste.

*** Assemble the ingredients: flatbread on the bottom, top with tomato sauce, baby spinach leaves (or other green of your choice), a dollop of pesto, and shaved parm reg.


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