Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chocolate Cherry Charlottes (Page 819)

RECIPE #1203

  • Date: Sunday, August 15, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This was the last of the charlotte recipes in The Book so I figured I would finish off the charlottes by making it! I started by boiling a mixture of dried sour cherries, kirsch, and sugar. I let it stand for a bit, then stirred in some almond extract. I melted bittersweet chocolate with heavy cream and salt, added some butter, and stirred it into the cherries. I froze the filling until it was just firm. I then lined ramekins with strips and rounds of challah which were generously buttered. I divided the filling between the molds and topped the filling with another buttered challah round. I baked them until they were golden, inverted them onto plates, and topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Well as charlottes go these weren't bad! One of my usual complaints about charlottes is the soggy bread. In this case the filling wasn't very wet, and the charlottes were baked (which isn't often the case) so the bread was toasted and didn't absorb much of the filling -- big improvement! My special gentleman and I laughed that this was in the Fruit Desserts section, as it was mostly bread and chocolate. Toasted bread and melted chocolate are tasty together though, so we weren't complaining! I'm not sure this dessert was significantly better than just toasting some brioche and topping it with Nutella would have been. We both liked it but weren't tremendously wowed by it and I probably won't make it again.

The recipe is here.

Only 90 recipes left to go!

The semester starts tomorrow and I can't say I feel entirely ready. When I was growing up the first day of school always made me nervous. It turns out that remains true. My first few semesters teaching I got really stressed out right as the term started. I assumed then that in time I would be so used to it that my blood pressure would hardly rise with each new term beginning. This is my ninth semester teaching and I can definitely say that I haven't yet reached that point! As of yet I haven't had a semester exactly like a previous one -- each semester has brought some firsts. There was the first semester I taught at Stanford (which was also my first semester teaching, and my first and only semester teaching computer programming!). Then the first semester I taught at MIT. There was my first semester teaching at Indiana, which was also my first semester lecturing for my own courses. Then I had my first semester teaching a course I never took, followed by my first semester teaching two different courses. Then came the first semester I taught a graduate course. Last fall was the first semester I had more than 300 students. And this semester is my first semester at Michigan State! I am teaching calculus this term, which I have taught several times before -- this will be my eighth set of calculus students. But it being my first semester in a new place there is definitely some added anxiety. In a way it is nice that no two semesters have been the same. It is more work (and stress!) for things to keep changing, but I think the varied experiences have served me well and I am a better teacher because of them. Plus, having had 330 students the last term I taught certainly makes my class of 47 students this term seem nice and small!

Wish me luck tomorrow. Hopefully day one goes smoothly!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Herb-Braised Picnic Ham (Page 493)

RECIPE #1202

  • Date: Sunday, August 15, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

There are a lot of recipes left in the Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb section of The Book, so I am trying to make some progress on that section. This recipe was part of that effort. I started with a picnic ham, which isn't really ham at all. It is a cut of pork shoulder rather than hind leg. But it is cured (in this case smoked) like a ham, and hence has a flavor very reminiscent of ham. I started by blanching the picnic ham. I put it in cold water, brought the water to a boil, then drained. Then I cooked some leeks, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme sprigs, parsley, nutmeg, peppercorns, and cloves in butter. I added white wine, then the ham and some water. I braised the ham for several hours, then thickened the braising liquid with a beurre manie to make a sauce. I removed the skin from the ham and discarded it. The instructions were then to slice the meat and serve with the sauce, but I chose to shred it instead (what can I say, I like my braised meat to be shredded!). I had only one complaint about this dish and it was a complaint which I make very rarely -- this dish was too salty. I love salt, and it is rare that something is too salty for me, but this dish was incredibly salty. I would call it borderline inedible. In a way I feel that I shouldn't fault the recipe though, as the salt level was certainly dependent on how the meat was cured. Perhaps whoever tested this recipe was using a less salty picnic ham than the one I had. The whole point of the initial blanching step was to remove some of the salt. Presumably some salt was removed, but there was plenty left to seep into the braising medium, and hence into the sauce for the dish. The meat without the sauce was already too salty, but with the sauce it was shocking. On the upside, the herb flavors of the dish were nice and the meat was wonderfully tender. I suspect that had I blanched the ham longer, or started with a less salty ham this dish would have been quite nice.

The recipe is here.

Only 91 recipes left to go!

Last night we had our first real dinner party in our new house! On a few occasions last fall our family and friends came to visit and we made big meals, but this was the first time that we invited some fellow East Lansing residents over for dinner. There were eight adults and two toddlers. The kids were running around, the kittens were running around, and there was a ton of food. It was absolutely delightful. This summer has been so crazy with travel/moving/getting settled that I haven't had many opportunities to cook with or for anyone other than my special gentleman. In the earlier years of this project most of the recipes were made as part of big dinner parties with friends. We have been so unsettled lately though that hasn't been possible. I have also been hesitant to invite people in East Lansing over for a Book dinner. Most of the people we know here we don't know well, and while I am happy to serve some of the potentially gross end-of-the-project food to my nearest and dearest, I feel a little weird serving up octopus and tripe to new friends! Luckily there are a few reasonable things left in The Book, including many grilled recipes we haven't made because we didn't own a grill. We bought a grill last week, so yesterday we made non-sketchy grilled food from The Book and I don't think we scared anyone off!

Dinner last night made me realize how much I have been missing that feeling of having a bunch of people piled around a table. It inspired me to make sure that throughout these last 90 or so recipes from The Book I do invite people over to eat with us. It's just more fun that way!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Individual Chocolate-Raspberry Baked Alaskas (Page 872)

RECIPE #1201

  • Date: Thursday, August 12, 2010 -- 10pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. This recipe had three components: chocolate cake, raspberry ice cream, and meringue. I stared by making a rather fudgey chocolate cake. I cut the cake into pieces, which I fit into the bottom of some individual gratin dishes. I topped each cake piece with one scoop of raspberry ice cream, then froze the dishes until the ice cream was hard. I then made a meringue by beating egg whites, salt, and sugar until they formed stiff, glossy peaks (I used powdered egg whites for safety reasons). I mounded the meringue on top of the ice cream scoops, put the dishes on a baking sheet, and baked them in a hot oven until the meringue was golden brown. I think my meringue was a little too close to the top of the oven at first, so the meringue burnt a bit. I scraped off the burnt part, lowered the oven rack, and baked until the newly exposed meringue was golden. Worked like a charm! I liked this dish quite a bit. The chocolate cake, which was almost brownie-like in texture, was awesome! Yum! And the ice cream melted just the slightest amount when the dish was baked, which was great. I liked the meringue too but I thought there was a bit too much of it. With half as much meringue per dish I would have like this dessert better. As it was though, it was quite tasty!

Only 92 recipes left to go!

The recipe is here.

My special gentleman has been away for the last few days. When I came back from Wisconsin he stayed there and went up to a lake house on Lake Julia with some of our friends. So I drove back alone on Sunday, and came home to an empty house (well, not so empty now that we have the kittens!). It was my first time sleeping in our new house without my special gentleman. I was feeling fine about it -- we lived apart for three years so I am pretty used to sleeping by myself. And I was exhausted on Sunday night, so I fell asleep quite easily. However, the night turned out to not be as peaceful as I had hoped. I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 3am for no real reason. I was feeling pretty awake so I checked my email, etc, then went back to sleep 30 minutes later. I woke up again at 4am, this time because the carbon monoxide alarm was beeping. That was a little unsettling. Having never heard the carbon monoxide alarm go off I couldn't tell if it was alarming, or just telling me the batteries were low. Using the magic of the internet I tried to find a manual for it. After I failed to do so I realized that the necessary information was on the back of the detector. One beep every thirty seconds meant the batteries needed to be replaced.

Happy that I wasn't about to die of carbon monoxide poisoning, I headed downstairs to find some batteries. When I opened the battery compartment of the detector, however, I discovered that the batteries in it had leaked everywhere. And they were stuck. There was no way to stop the beeping without removing the batteries. And there was no way to remove the batteries without getting battery leakage all over my hands. Ugh. After a pretty serious struggle I got the batteries out and replaced them with shiny new ones. Then I spent some time rinsing all the battery leakage off my hands. By the time I went back to bed it was almost 5am. When my alarm went off around 7am to wake me up for a day of orientation, I was not super happy.

On the upside, nights two and three being home alone went much more smoothly than night one! And my special gentleman comes home tonight. Since I drove the car home on Sunday, he is taking the ferry across Lake Michigan, and I will pick him up in Muskegon, Michigan tonight. I am looking forward to having him home!

Provencal Braised Octopus (Page 345)

RECIPE #1200

  • Date: Thursday, August 12, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

They had frozen octopus at the fish market in Ann Arbor when I was there a few weeks ago, so I picked one up and threw it in the freezer to await the day when I would make this recipe. It sat in the freezer for more than a week before I finally motivated to braise it. It probably would have stayed in there even longer if it hadn't started to give the other things in the freezer a slight octopus smell. I first simmered the octopus whole in water, onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns. That step was easy, but unpleasant. For one thing, the octopus really smelled. Even our kittens were scared off by the smell -- they hid in the basement this entire time this was cooking. In addition to the smell, it was also pretty scary looking. Doesn't it look like the octopus is about to climb out of that pot and attack?

Despite those minor details I was feeling pretty OK about my octopus cooking experience. That is, until I got to the next step. I discarded the head of the octopus, then rubbed the purple outer coating, skin, and fatty layer off the octopus tentacles. It's hard to describe the textural nastiness involved in that task, other than to say that it was icky. Very icky. I cut the tentacles into pieces and set them aside. I then cooked some onion and garlic in olive oil. I added white wine, canned tomatoes, the octopus pieces, black olives, thyme, salt, pepper, and dried hot chiles. I braised it until the octopus was very tender, then served the dish over rice.

This dish was similar to my recent experience with beef tongue in the sense that if I hadn't prepared it, I probably would have liked it better. By the time I sat down to eat this dish I had a pretty bad attitude about it. I expected that I would like the sauce, but dislike the octopus. Actually, the exact opposite happened. In the moments when I could look past how nasty it was to prepare, the octopus was quite tasty. The typical problem with octopus is that it turns out very tough. In this preparation that was not the case at all. It was extremely tender -- the texture was lovely. Another victory for braising! And the octopus definitely tasted better than it smelled. The sauce, though, was tremendously dull. I liked all the ingredients that went into it, but the combination was bland and watery, with little depth to it. Neither my special gentleman nor I particularly cared for this dish. Were I to prepare octopus again I would definitely braise it, but braise it in a more flavorful sauce.

Only 93 recipes left to go!

This recipe isn't online.

Two full days of orientation later I am feeling quite a bit more oriented. Classes start one week from today, and I have a lot to do before then, but at least now I think I know what it is I need to do. Writing the lectures themselves is the easy part. When starting a new job it is trying to understand the administrative aspects of teaching that is the most daunting. I now have a basic understanding of the course management software, university policies having to do with teaching, etc... Certainly I can think of questions that I can't answer ("What is the policy and procedure for granting the grade of Incomplete?" or "What are the university-level consequences of an academic misconduct?"), but mostly they are the kinds of questions that are unlikely to arise in the first week!

I took in a lot of new information in the last week or so, and as I try to sort through it in my mind, various things stick out to me. One is a slogan that was brought up yesterday, at the university orientation for all new tenure-track faculty: "This job is not a marathon, it's a triathlon." The point of the comment was that there are multiple components of a professor's job, namely: research, teaching, and service. And in order to be successful one needs to achieve in all three areas, not just one. Most faculty members will tell you that finding the right balance is one of the most difficult parts of the job. The triathlon analogy struck a chord with me, and I will likely continue to think of it as I get further along in my career.

For now I will only worry about getting myself oriented and organized before the semester starts. Only one more week!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Watermelon Sorbet with Chocolate Seeds (Page 871)

RECIPE #1199

  • Date: Thursday, August 5, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty and PJ
  • Recipe Rating: C+

PJ has an allergy to eggs so when he came over for dinner I wanted to make an egg-free dessert from The Book. I only had two egg-free options left to choose from: this recipe and a recipe where the primary ingredient was pureed prunes. This one seemed like the lesser of two evils. This recipe was more than a little showy/ridiculous. The idea was to start with a watermelon, use it to make watermelon sorbet, then reassemble to look like watermelon again. The rind you see in the picture above is the original rind of the watermelon, just frozen. The rind is filled with a simple watermelon sorbet: pureed watermelon + sugar + lime juice + ice cream maker. And those "seeds" you see are shaped from melted chocolate. A little silly? I think so. But I have no real objection to silly. My actual objection to this recipe was that it just wasn't good. I love watermelon, but this sorbet didn't do it for me. It was very sweet but without a lot of flavor. Part of what makes watermelon so nice to eat is the texture of it, and that was completely lost here. There was one optional ingredient, sambuca, which I opted not to include. Perhaps the flavor would have been better with the sambuca in, but honestly it is hard to imagine anise-flavored liqueur helping matters. My special gentleman actually liked this dessert pretty well, and PJ politely ate his, but after a few bites I opted to just eat some of the leftover slices of real watermelon instead. They were definitely tastier.

The recipe is here.

As the end of summer rapidly approaches, I decided to make one last little trip, to Wisconsin. On Thursday morning bright and early my special gentleman and I hit the road. It is about 6 hours by car from our house in East Lansing to Madison, where my parents live part of the time. My dad actually wasn't in town, but my mom was in Madison and my brother Spencer was visiting from Los Angeles. My mom, Spencer, my special gentleman, and I hung out on Thursday and Friday, watching movies, running errands, eating a lot, and just relaxing. It was nice! On Saturday morning a couple of my special gentleman's swimmer friends, Grant and Paps, came down to Madison from Milwaukee and the three of them competed in an open water swim race on one of Madison's lakes. The race was 2.4 miles long, which seemed to me like quite a long way to swim! They made it look easy though, and the three of them finished very well. On Saturday afternoon my special gentleman and I headed up to Milwaukee. Our good friends Grant and Anna live in Milwaukee now and their daughter Julia was baptized on Saturday. We went to the baptism then the party afterward, which involved brats and beer in true Wisconsin style! Yum! Last night we stayed with Grant and Anna. This morning I hit the road again, and drove back home.

It was a great trip. I worried a little bit about our kittens while we were gone. But our friend Mary checked in on them every day, and when I got back they were doing great. Our teeniest kitten even gained a little bit of weight while we were gone. We worry about him because he isn't gaining as fast as he probably should, but he gained more than an ounce in our absence, which for him is a big accomplishment!

Now my last trip of the summer is done and the semester will be starting soon. I have three days of faculty retreat/orientation this week, starting in the morning. So I should get some sleep!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Green Tomato Pickles (Page 910)

RECIPE #1198

  • Date: Thursday, August 5, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty and PJ
  • Recipe Rating: B-

As of two months ago I had seven recipes left in The Book that involved canning. I like canning, but it is a bit of an ordeal so I tend to put it off. Summer is the time of year that makes me want to can though, so I motivated myself to can some sour cherries, concord grapes, bread-and-butter pickles, and these green tomato pickles. So I only have three canning recipes left in The Book! Whoo hoo. What I didn't realize before I started making this recipe is that this wasn't even canning. The recipe didn't call for the jars to get processed in the end, so they aren't shelf-stable. The pickles will keep for a long time, but they need to be refrigerated. For me this is a huge bummer. My favorite thing about home canning is that canned goods make for gifts that travel well. Every time I can something that is remotely tasty I send some to friends and family. But these aren't shelf-stable which means I don't feel comfortable giving them away. On the upside, the lack of processing meant this recipe was a little bit quicker than some other canning projects I have done. Actually it was super-quick. I started by sterilizing the jars. Then I put some kosher salt, pickling spices, dill sprigs, garlic cloves, dried hot chiles, and halved green tomatoes in the jars. I filled the jars with hot water, put the lids and screw bands on, and refrigerated. These pickles needed to sit for at least a month for the flavors to develop. I made them at the beginning of July. We busted them out when PJ came to visit because he tends to like pickled things. The pickles were OK. They were surprisingly crispy for tomatoes that had been sitting in liquid for a month. The flavor was fine -- they tasted pickled. There was nothing particularly exciting about these pickles, but they certainly weren't bad. Everyone agreed that they tasted fine, and nobody ate more than one. That pretty much summarizes it.

This recipe isn't online.

A funny story from last weekend: My special gentleman and I have a bit of extra furniture around the house since we both had our own furniture before we got married and we also have a lot of my parents' furniture from when they sold their house. So we have been selling a few things on Craigslist (e.g. my special gentleman's old dining room set). When we recently upgraded to a king size bed, we had planned to store our old full-size mattress and box spring either in the attic or the basement. We found we couldn't get them up the attic stairs though, and the room in the basement where we planned to put them is now our kittens' room, where they have their food, water, and litter boxes, and we didn't want to crowd them. We already have four beds in the house, plus a pull out sofa, plus a futon, so we figured we could get rid of the fifth bed and it would be fine.

Selling a used mattress seems a little sketchy to me, especially because this mattress was from when my special gentleman was in college. It was old. There was nothing wrong with it. It was clean, no broken springs. But it wasn't a fancy mattress to begin with, and it had been slept on for ten years. So we decided we would post it on Craigslist for free and see if anyone wanted it. We got so many calls that we had a wait list within 30 minutes of posting the ad and had to take the ad down to make the phone stop ringing. The person who called first ended up flaking, so it was the second caller who got it. From our five minute conversation on the phone it was perfectly clear that this guy was a college student, although he didn't say as much. He showed up the next morning to pick up the mattress, driving a little compact car. He was maybe 19 or 20 -- clearly an undergrad but not a freshman. He had that frat boy look. He was extremely grateful for the mattress, thanking us profusely over and over. He told us a long story about a mattress that fell through and a moldy futon.

After a while my special gentleman asked him how he was going to attach the mattress to his car. He hadn't thought of that. After some reflection he asked us for some rope. Luckily we had some and we helped him. He continued to thank us. I was already loving this experience. He couldn't have been more of a stereotypical male undergrad at a Big Ten university. And I definitely felt like the guy appreciated the mattress and would give it another few years of use. But my favorite moment, by far, was at the end of his visit. The mattress was tied to his car, he was ready to go, and he turned to me and asked, "So since you guys got a bigger bed, do have sheets and stuff for this one that you aren't using any more? Can I have them?" It totally cracked me up. I suppose it was a perfectly reasonable question. But nobody has ever asked me for my used sheets before! Hahaha. College students crack me up.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Duck and Wild Rice Salad (Page 163)

RECIPE #1197

  • Date: Thursday, August 5, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House
  • Dining Companions: Matty and PJ
  • Recipe Rating: B+

PJ came over for dinner a few weeks ago and I wanted to make something that seemed promising, so I picked this recipe. I started by making a dressing of orange zest, orange juice, olive oil, shallots, honey, salt, and pepper. Then I cooked some wild rice in onion, water, and chicken stock. When the rice had cooled a bit I tossed it with the dressing. Meanwhile, I cooked some sugar snap peas. Then I roasted some magret duck breasts. Once the duck was roasted I removed the skin, thinly sliced the skin, and put just the skin back in the oven to roast until it was crispy. I then sliced the duck and added it to rice along with the sugar snap peas, scallions, dried apricots, toasted pecans, and some salt. I scattered the crisped duck skin on top and served. This recipe was pretty good. The duck was flavorful and juicy, and I always love wild rice. The crisped duck skin (or "super bacon" as my special gentleman calls such things) really made the dish. As one would imagine it was pretty awesome -- super flavorful, super crispy... Mmmmm... super bacon. The only thing that fell a bit short in this dish was the dressing. It wasn't bad but it just didn't pop. So while any bite containing super bacon had lots of flavor, the bites without super bacon were almost a little bland. That said, the combination of textures was very interesting and everyone seemed to enjoy eating this dish quite a bit.

The recipe is here.

Although I have been in East Lansing on and off for the last six weeks or so, my job didn't officially start until yesterday. Tomorrow I have my first of several days of orientation, which are spread out across the next couple weeks. And two weeks from tomorrow, the semester starts! I am at least a little bit settled into both my offices on campus. I can (sometimes) succeed in getting to work on my bike without getting lost. I feel ready. I also feel excited. I feel as though I am standing on the horizon of a big change. This is a job that I am hoping to have for a long, long time. And now it is starting. Every time I have started at an institution in the past, either as a student or as a post-doc, there was always an end date in sight. Four years at Stanford, five at MIT, three at Indiana. There was never the idea, at any of those places, that I might be there for my entire career. That is a possibility now since this is a tenure-track job, so I feel more invested than ever. I want to do things right. I want to start off on a good foot. It's exciting, and a little stressful at the same time!

Tomorrow I have orientation events run by the university -- a morning about FERPA regulations and that sort of thing and a technology orientation in the afternoon. And I know that most people would not be looking forward to such a day, but I really am. I am ready to learn as much as I can about my job and about the university. I am excited!

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Haven-Style Clam Pizza (Page 198)

RECIPE #1196

  • Date: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I made the vast majority of the clam dishes from The Book when we were living in Berkeley this spring. This dish, however, required both clams and a pizza stone. The house we rented in Berkeley didn't come equipped with a pizza stone, so I could never make it there. I kept threatening to make it at Emilee and Brian's place in Palo Alto, with their pizza stone, but they protested so much that I never executed my threat. So, a few weeks ago when I had to go to Ann Arbor to see the doctor, I stopped by the fishmonger and picked up some clams on my way home. This dish was pretty simple, especially because my special gentleman shucked the clams for me! We started by making pizza dough. Then I shaped the dough, brushed it with a mixture of garlic and oil, arranged the clams over the oil, then sprinkled with oregano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and some of the liquor from the clams. I used a peel to put this on the stone in the oven, and baked. I was supposed to "Bake until crust is golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes." That would have happened had I not been preparing crabs at the same time and burned myself badly when the pizza had been in the oven about 8 minutes (see post below). So my pizza, like my arm, burned. To be fair, I took the pizza out after exactly 12 minutes. Under normal circumstances I would have checked it earlier, since I know it is much better to take things out of the oven when they are done rather than to blindly rely on some time in a cookbook. But I was distracted by the burn and didn't check the pizza before the 12 minute timer went off. Whoops. In addition to being burnt, this pizza just wasn't that good. It was pretty blah. And it had clams on it. More cheese would have given it some more flavor, but the cheese plus clams was already a little weird, so perhaps more cheese would have been even weirder. Maybe it is possible to create a delicious clam pizza, but this wasn't it.

Only 97 recipes to go!

The recipe is here.

We recently made a couple changes around our house that have been huge quality of life improvements. First, we bought a king size bed. Prior to the purchase we had been sleeping for years on a full size bed. The actual mattress we were sleeping on was apparently purchased at Sam's Club about a decade ago when my special gentleman was in college. But we were used to it and it was fine. One day, though, one of us had slept poorly and commented, "Maybe we should buy a bigger bed." The thought had never really occurred to either of us before, but once the seed was planted there was no turning back. We immediately became incredibly frustrated with our old tiny bed, and wanted a big bed ASAP. Had we been less frustrated we might have purchased a queen, but as our frustration with our bed grew, we decided we needed a king! Many hours of bed and mattress shopping later, we bought one. And I have to say, it is amazing. It's SO comfortable. And we have so much space in bed. Our new bed is heavenly.

As excited as I am about the bed, I am almost as excited about our other recent acquisition. We bought a treadmill! Training for the marathon I always ran outside. And I like running outside. But despite my best intentions I can never seem to motivate to do it every day. I am much more likely to exercise if I do it first thing in the morning. But I wake up cranky and half-awake, and the idea of immediately going outside to run is too daunting. On the other hand, walking down a couple flights of stairs to the basement and getting on the treadmill is no problem. I have been on my treadmill every morning since we got it, and it is a pattern that I hope will continue for a long, long time. I run, I eat breakfast, I take a shower, and I bike to work. It's such a great way to start the day. Plus, the kittens sit on the futon and watch me on the treadmill, which is pretty cute!

I only have one more thing on my To Buy list: a grill! I may hold off for a little while on that one, but I need it to finish my project!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Soft-Shelled Crabs Meuniere (Page 337)

RECIPE #1195

  • Date: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I went to Ann Arbor a few weeks ago to see my new tumor doctor. After my appointment I made a little stop at the fish market there. They had soft-shelled crabs, so I bought some and made this recipe as soon as I got home! The fishmonger was nice enough to clean the crabs for me (not such a fun job), and besides cleaning the crabs there wasn't much to this recipe. So this dish should have been a piece of cake. I started by soaking the crabs in a mixture of milk, kosher salt, and pepper. Then I dredged them in flour. I clarified some butter, then heated it in a skillet. I cooked the crabs in the clarified butter, turning once, until they were golden brown on both sides. Then I transferred the crabs to a plate. Up until that point, everything was going quite smoothly. All I had left to do was make a pan sauce from the clarified butter that the crabs had cooked in. I was a little distracted, as I was also making a pizza at the time, so I wasn't thinking clearly. The first step was to add a chunk of butter to the hot butter already in the pan. Typically when you have a pan of melted butter it isn't really that hot. If butter gets too hot it burns, so if it isn't burnt, it isn't so hot. Clarified butter, on the other hand, doesn't burn so easily because it is missing the milk solids which burn (that is the whole point of the clarifying). So, hypothetically, if you had a skillet of clarified butter which had been over high heat for 10 minutes, that butter would be really freakin' hot. And if you, hypothetically, tossed in a big chunk of cold butter nonchalantly, you might get splashed by insanely hot butter.

That's what I did, and that's what happened. In the moment when I realized I had been burned I thought, I have two choices. I could: A) Run my arm under cold water immediately to stop the burning, but in the process ruin my pan sauce because the un-clarified butter I just added would burn, or B) Finish the pan sauce and then worry about the horrible burning on my arm.

I chose B. It was a split-second decision and the rationale was something like: I can't remake this pan sauce because the flavor of it relies on the fact that the crabs were cooked in this butter. I can't cook the crabs a second time just to add flavor to a second sauce, and I don't have any more crabs. So I need to finish it. I also, at the time, didn't realize how badly I was burned. If I had been experiencing the horrible pain I experienced starting about ten minutes later, I might have chosen differently. The one upside of the situation was that the burn I got was pretty amazing. It looked just like a huge splash on my arm. I had burnt splotches from my wrist past my elbow in the beautiful pattern of a splash. It isn't nearly as spectacular now, since it has started to heal, and actually I miss it. I do not, however, miss the pain.

Anyway, so there I was, burnt and making my pan sauce. I cooked it until the butter was a golden brown then I (very carefully this time) added lemon juice and parsley. I seasoned the sauce and drizzled it over the crabs.

By the time I reached the dinner table I was hurting. I ate with my arm wrapped in cold wet washcloths. And I was irrationally angry at the crabs. Note, they gave their lives for this dish and they were dead long before I got burned. So really, I shouldn't have held it against them. But I was so riled up that I only ate a bite or two even though the crabs were delicious. Soft-shelled crab is an amazing thing. It's crazy that you can just eat the crab with the shell and all! It is usually such an ordeal to extract the meat from a crab, but with softshells you just take a fork and a knife and eat the whole thing! The simple preparation served the crab well. The pan sauce was tasty. Perhaps not worth the pain, but tasty. And it complemented the crabmeat nicely. I appreciated this dish without eating much of it, and my special gentleman happily ate two servings.

The recipe is here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Green Goddess Dressing (Page 173)

RECIPE # 1194

  • Date: Monday, August 2, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


A strange thing happened a couple weeks ago. My special gentleman and I were eating dinner and discussing how many recipes were left from various sections of The Book. I was looking at the progress bars at the bottom of the Project Index and I noted that I still had 5 recipe left in the Salads section. My special gentleman asked me what they were, and I could only name 4 off the top of my head. At this point I can easily name most of the 100 recipes I have left to make, so I was confused that I couldn't think of the fifth recipe. I pulled out The Book and flipped through the Salads section. When I finish a recipe I check it off in The Book. So I counted the recipes without check marks in the section and there were only 4. Baffled, I went through the recipes one by one and verified that the only things checked off were things I had actually made. The check marks seemed correct. Totally confused, I compared the recipes that I had blogged about to the recipes in the section and I discovered the one that was missing. I hadn't blogged about the Green Goddess Dressing. I was positive, POSITIVE that I had made it, but I couldn't remember when, where, or with whom. I flipped through some pictures on my computer until I found a green dressing. I briefly thought the mystery had been solved, until I realized that the green dressing in the picture was the Herbed Buttermilk Dressing. Slowly I became less sure that I had already made this recipe. So I decided to make it again (or, perhaps, for the first time).

To make this dressing my special gentleman and I blended together mayonnaise, anchovy fillets, scallions, parsley, chives, tarragon, tarragon vinegar, salt, and pepper. That was it! Whether or not I had made it before I was very grateful to have such an easy recipe left in my final 100. This dressing was not very tasty though. I had hoped that it would be very herbaceous, with a hint of anchovy. Instead it tasted like mayo with anchovies mixed in. Lots of anchovies. The herb flavors were lost. My special gentleman and I were both quite disappointed.

So had I made it before? Now that I have eaten it, I think maybe not. How did it get checked off in not just one, but three copies of The Book? (Yes, I have three copies of The Book.) I'm not sure. The whole experience made me glad that I have the Project Index though to keep me honest. Without it, I may have finished the project having accidentally skipped one recipe!

The recipe is here.

Only 99 recipes to go!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rabbit with Mustard Sauce (Page 408)

RECIPE # 1193

  • Date: Monday, August 2, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I can hardly believe it -- only 100 recipes left to go! This is a major milestone for me. After making 1193 recipes from The Book a mere 100 left feels like nothing. Granted the 100 I have left are some of the most complicated, with the hardest to find ingredients, and the most unappetizing-sounding end products. But never mind all that. Only 100 recipes left to go!

This recipe has been a mystery to me from the beginning. Why, I have long wondered, is this recipe in the Poultry section? Is rabbit secretly poultry? Surely, rabbit isn't included in any definition of poultry that I have ever heard... People often say that rabbit tastes like chicken, but that seems like questionable justification for throwing this in with the poultry. The mysteries only continued. Step one of this recipe was to cut my rabbit into 8 serving pieces. I have pieced many chickens in my day, and with a chicken it is easy to pick out the 8 pieces: 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts. But rabbits aren't built like chickens, and I found the 8 pieces to be non-obvious. Internet research led me to the conclusion that unlike chickens rabbits don't have a a canonical number of serving pieces, or a canonical technique for butchering them into those pieces. If you are aiming for 8 the division is what one would guess: 2 front legs, 2 hind legs, and 4 pieces from the mid-section.

Eventually I had a pile of rabbit pieces and was ready to proceed. At that point the recipe became super easy. I browned the rabbit pieces in oil, then removed them from the pan. I cooked shallots in butter then added white wine and reduced. I put the rabbit back in the skillet along with some chicken stock and simmered until the rabbit was tender. I removed the rabbit pieces and made a typical pan sauce, adding Dijon mustard, whole-grain mustard, cornstarch, butter, and parsley. I seasoned with salt and pepper and served.

This dish was pretty tasty. It had been a long time since I had eaten rabbit and I had forgotten how much I like it. Similar in taste to chicken? Sure. But more flavorful. The sauce was definitely mustard-intensive, but it suited the rabbit meat well and the combination of wine and stock gave it some depth behind the mustard. My special gentleman was a huge fan of this dish, declaring it one of his recent favorites.

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one.

It's hard to believe I only have 100 recipes left to go. Scrolling through the Project Index I feel both nostalgic and excited about being almost done. Part of me wishes I could just bust out those last 100 recipes as quickly as possible. I feel ready to be done. But of course I will miss this project. I have been at this for almost five years now. I have been cooking my way through The Book since before I met my husband! Crazy! 1193 recipes down, 100 left to go!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gazpacho Cordobes (Page 88)

RECIPE #1192

  • Date: Monday, August 2, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I was looking for some quick recipes that are left in The Book and this one caught my eye. I started by roasting tomatoes and red bell peppers, then peeling and seeding the peppers. I stirred in some cucumber, garlic, sherry vinegar, olive oil, bread that had been soaked in water, tarragon, salt, and pepper. I refrigerated the mixture for 8 hours then pureed it in a food processor. I chilled for another couple hours, then put it through a food mill. Relative to most of the recipes I have left, this one was a piece of cake! The gazpacho was pretty tasty. To be honest, my special gentleman and I aren't particularly fans of cold soups (with the exception of sour cherry soup). So did we love this? Well, no. Do I think it was a good version of gazpacho? Yes. In fact, I think it was as good as any gazpacho I have had. I just don't particularly care for gazpacho. It had good depth of flavor -- I think roasting the tomatoes and peppers added a lot to the dish. And putting it through a food mill at the end improved the texture a lot. So if I were forced to make gazpacho again I would probably make this one.

The recipe is here.

When we moved to Michigan my special gentleman and I resolved that we would not drive everywhere. My special gentleman and I both grew up in the Midwest, and while I was excited to move back my special gentleman had a few apprehensions about it. One was that he didn't want to have a car-reliant lifestyle. So in selecting a house we picked one close enough to his office for him to walk. It's about a mile and half from the door of the house to the door of his office, which is a pleasant walk twice a day. The house is also conveniently close to a bank, hardware store, grocery store, some restaurants, a dentist, a bowling alley, etc... We can walk most places. Indeed this morning we even walked to our new veterinarian with the kitties in their carrier. For my job I have two offices though. And while one is in the same building as my special gentleman's office, and hence a nice walking distance away, the other is another mile further from home. Two and a half miles is a bit far to walk each way every day, so I have decided to become a bike commuter. I hate to bike. I haven't owned a bike since college and in college I hated to bike. So I was more than a little skeptical of this bike commuting plan, although I did come up with it. Despite my skepticism, I committed myself to it, buying myself a bike that I love. It's a cruiser -- it has only one gear and back-pedal breaks. My special gentleman installed a big basket in front for me, a little bell, and a blinking light so no one hits me at night. I ride it at a very leisurely pace. I cruise to and from work. It's awesome.

This is my first week as a bike commuter, so Sunday evening my special gentleman helped me plot my route. Those of you who know me know that I am constantly lost, and I haven't figured out how to mount my GPS machine on my bike. Sunday evening the ride with my special gentleman went smoothly, despite the fact that it was the first time I had been on a bike in years. Monday morning I headed out on my own, in the rain, confident that I could make it! Three blocks from home my chain fell off the gear -- a problem I was completely ill-equipped to deal with on my own. My special gentleman biked over, fixed my bike, and then biked with me to my office in case it happened again. The bike was fine after that and I made it home at the end of the day, by myself, without incident. This morning I headed out once again. About halfway to the office I found myself completely lost. Eventually I made it. Tomorrow I am hoping to make it to and from work without incident. Truth be told, despite the difficulties I am liking this whole bike commuting thing. I am still having trouble imagining how I am going to do this in the winter, but for now, it's not bad at all.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Fried Zucchini Blossoms (Page 43)

RECIPE #1191

  • Date: Thursday, July 15, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Zucchini blossom season arrived and I figured I would make this recipe before it passed! Despite it being the season, I had trouble finding zucchini blossoms. None of the local grocery stores had them, nor did the biggest farmer's market around. I am determined to finish this project in 2010 though, so I had to get my hands on some before the season passed! Finally I decided I would just order them. They are highly perishable, so they had to be shipped overnight. As you can imagine, they weren't the cheapest zucchini blossoms I have ever purchased. Then, just two days after making this recipe we were in Pennsylvania visiting Melanie and Daniel. Mel was giving us a tour of her garden and we looked down to see zucchini blossoms everywhere! She would have been happy to give us some for free! Oh well. This recipe was super simple. The blossoms were dipped in a batter of flour, beer, and salt and then deep-fried. I then sprinkled them with salt and served. They were tasty. My special gentleman had never eaten zucchini blossoms before and he was a little weirded out by their texture, but once he got past that he agreed that they were good. Mmmmm... deep-fried flowers!

The recipe is here.

There have been some big changes in our lives these last few days! In particular, yesterday we went out to run some afternoon errands and ended up adopting two kittens! It was really the culmination of months of discussion, but I think neither of us imagined adopting them so soon. Certainly yesterday morning I had no idea we would have two kittens by the end of the day. But they are so sweet and we are so happy to have them.

Their names are Thumbs and Feet. Thumbs is the littler of the two. He is very little -- weighing in at 1 pound 11 ounces. He was apparently rescued from a meth lab (or something like that), horribly malnourished, and has been in kitty foster care for a few months. He got his name because he is polydactyl -- he has more toes than he should. So his paws look like they have big thumbs on them. Totally adorable! He is incredibly sweet and incredibly scared of everything. He spent much of yesterday evening hiding behind the washer and dryer and meowing. He was doing much, much better today though! Here's a picture of me with Thumbs, shortly after we brought him home.

Our other new kitty, Feet (named because he LOVES to "hunt" my special gentleman's feet, and then snuggle with them), is also super affectionate. He's about three and a half months old, and definitely more adventurous than Thumbs. Thumbs wants to be friends with Feet so badly, but Feet just barely tolerates the little guy (in typical older sibling fashion). The two aren't from the same litter, or even the same foster home, so they are still adjusting to one another. Thumbs tries very hard -- waiting until Feet is asleep before snuggling up next to him. As much as Feet protests, it is evident that he secretly likes the little guy. Feet is much bolder and will often walk around the house with Thumbs in tow, showing him the ropes. Here's a picture of the two of them together, playing with some yarn.

I admit, I have been all along rather neutral on the idea of getting a cat. I was neither super-excited about it, nor opposed to the idea. My special gentleman has always wanted a cat though, so I thought we should do it. He is absolutely in heaven with our two kitties, and I already love them to pieces.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sour Cherry Preserves (Page 921)

RECIPE #1190

  • Date: Sunday, July 11, 2010 -- 3pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mel, Daniel, Rachel, Eric, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: B+


The Book has quite a number of sour cherry recipes in it, and finding sour cherries has always been a problem. To this day I have never seen them in a grocery store. When I lived in Boston I couldn't find them at farmer's markets either. One summer my special gentleman and I found a farm where we could pick our own sour cherries. It was great fun, but the next year when we hoped to go back and pick more they told us it would be another two years before they had sour cherries again. I had in the back of my head that I was going to need to find sour cherries eventually in order to make this recipe. So I was delighted -- absolutely delighted -- when we stumbled upon sour cherries at our local farmer's market in Michigan. Indeed Michigan is a cherry state, and a number of vendors had sour cherries that Saturday morning. Yay!

To make these preserves I first pitted four pounds of cherries. That was neither quick nor particularly fun, and there are still places in my kitchen where you can see cherry juice stains if you look closely. I tossed the cherries with sugar and lemon juice. I had reserved some of the cherry pits and they needed to be cracked open to remove the inner white kernel. Again, not super fun. Once I had the kernels I tied them up in cheesecloth and put the bag of them into the cherry mixture. I refrigerated it overnight. I sterilized some canning jars in a boiling water canner. Then I dumped the cherry mixture into a pot and cooked it for a while. Eventually I removed the cherries themselves and cooked the liquid some more. I added pectin to the liquid. I divided the cherries and juice between the jars, then sealed them and processes them in the boiling water canner. These preserves had a very nice flavor. They were neither too sweet nor too tart. We have eaten them on pancakes and biscuits and the preserves were delightful both ways. They didn't set up as much as I would have liked, but I think this was not the fault of the recipe. The recipe called for lower-sugar pectin, which I couldn't find locally. I didn't have time to order it since I already had my cherries, so I used what I had on hand, which was a combination of regular pectin and no sugar pectin. I figured it would work out to be approximately right, but I fear that my ratio wasn't ideal. So the preserves were a little runny, but still tasty!

The recipe is here.

It's 10:45 on a Wednesday evening and I just got off the phone with our car insurance company. My special gentleman is vacuuming. Usually by this time in the evening we are relaxing -- reading, watching something on DVD, or just hanging out. These last few days, though, we have been trying to cram as much in as possible during our waking hours. Things have been a bit hectic. It seems like every email I have written lately has started, "I'm sorry to take so long to get back to you." I'm just very behind. Or at least I feel that way. In reality I think I just have a super-ambitious list of chores/work/projects I would like to get done before the semester starts, and while I check things off my list every day, I also add twice as many things each day as I checked off. But things are getting done. Now we have Michigan car insurance. And clean floors.

Yesterday I went to Ann Arbor to see my new tumor doctor. It's only about an hour from our house to Ann Arbor, and the doctors at the University of Michigan are the best in the area, so I figured it was worth it. My new doctor seems great -- maybe my favorite one yet. I went in with a long list of questions and I got them all answered. After the usual battery of blood tests and whatnot following my appointment, I met up with my special gentleman and our friend PJ for some lunch. It seems that Ann Arbor has more of a foodie culture than East Lansing, and one way in which this manifests itself is that there are more grocery shopping options there. In particular, there is a very nice fish market. I had a cooler in the car so I could take advantage of what Ann Arbor had to offer. I left with some soft-shelled crabs, littleneck clams, and an octopus! We ate the crabs and clams last night. The octopus is in the freezer for another day. It's comforting to know that there is seafood available only an hour away!

I should go to sleep, so I am ready to tackle my to-do list once again in the morning!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Walnut and Pancetta Pansoti with Asparagus in Parmesan Broth (Page 237)

RECIPE #1189

  • Date: Saturday, July 10, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose this recipe because I wanted to finish off the Pastas, Noodles, and Dumplings section of The Book. This recipe was a pain in the butt, hence I left it for last. A very brief summary: first I made a pancetta walnut filling for the pansoti. Then I made a broth to serve them in. Then I made fresh pasta. I formed the pansoti and cooked them in boiling water. Meanwhile I cooked some asparagus, first in boiling water, then in oil. Finally I assembled all the components and served. This recipe was a lot of fuss, and the end result was not as delicious as I expected. For one thing (and this is a complaint I have had several times throughout this project) the pasta was too thin. The Book instructs you to roll the dough through the second-narrowest setting on a pasta maker. I have the Kitchen-Aid attachment pasta maker and that setting is too thin for filled pasta. My major complaint with this recipe, however, was that it was too salty. I LOVE salt, so this is a complaint that I very, very rarely make. In this case the combination of the pancetta and Parmigiano-Reggiano made the dish too salty, even for me. My special gentleman didn't like the fact that the pansoti were served in broth. He would have preferred a nice sauce rather than the thin broth, and I agreed. All that said, it still tasted good. I wouldn't make it again though -- not worth the effort.

The recipe is here.

Another section done! Whoo hoo! I love, love, love pasta, so I am sad to see this section go, but I am very happy to be making some progress, checking off the sections one by one. This section had 56 recipes in it, and now they are all done!

In no particular order, my top five favorite recipes from this section:
  • Pasta Primavera -- Hands-down the best pasta primavera I have ever had. An absolutely fantastic rendition of a dish that I think is usually pretty blah when you order it at a restaurant. This is so good, in fact, that I have already made it twice!
  • Chicken Tetrazzini -- Chicken, noodles, mushrooms, and cream came together in this dish to form complete fabulousness. So good! Indeed, just thinking about it is making me hungry...
  • Butternut Squash, Sage, and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Hazlenut-Brown Butter Sauce -- I suppose it is no surprise that I loved this recipe given that I love every ingredient! Butternut squash, goat cheese and brown butter are some of my favorite things. I wasn't the only one drooling over this dish though. My special gentleman's brother Wes went on and on about how much he loved it. Indeed, it was praiseworthy!
  • Wild Mushroom Pierogi -- I have very fond memories of this dish and this meal. I made these pierogi with Rachel in my special gentleman's old apartment in Boston. This recipe was a super-fun group project and the resulting pierogi were extremely tasty!
  • Chow Fun with Chinese Barbecued Pork and Snow Peas -- These are a number of tasty Asian recipes in The Book and this was one of them. I admit, I am partial to barbecued pork, but the noodle portion of this dish was also quite tasty. Definitely a keeper.

With this section complete I now have 8 sections done, and 13 left to finish! I have a couple more sections with only one recipe left in them, so hopefully I will be checking off more sections very soon.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Spicy Stir-Fried Beef with Tangerine and Cinnamon (Page 442)

RECIPE #1188

  • Date: Monday, July 12, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I put off making this recipe for a while because I didn't know where to find dried tangerine peel. Eventually it occurred to me to just dry my own, so that's what I did. I dried some tangerine peel for a few days, then I was ready to proceed with this recipe. I marinated some strips of beef chuck in a mixture of rice wine, ginger, and salt for 8 hours. I soaked my dried tangerine peel in water for an hour, then cut it into thin strips. (Note: very frustrating to first dry the peel and then rehydrate... seemed more than a little pointless!) I heated several cups of corn oil in a wok, then deep-fried the beef strips. I removed the oil, wiped down the wok, then added some sesame oil. I stir-fried some dried red chiles, then some Sichuan peppercorns and star anise. I added the beef, water, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, the tangerine peel, and cinnamon stick and simmered for 40 minutes. I increased the heat and boiled until the sauce had the right consistency. I stirred in the chiles, some rice vinegar and sesame oil and served with rice. This dish was pretty good. I have eaten similar dishes several times in Chinese restaurants and this was easily as good as the comparable dishes I have had. It had a lot of depth of flavor. My one complaint was that the citrus was too strong for me. There was definitely some ambiguity in the recipe directions concerning the citrus peel. The recipe called for "2 pieces dried tangerine peel." How much that actually is obviously depends on how big the dried pieces were, which certainly isn't standard. Perhaps my pieces of peel were just too big. In any event, were I to make this again, I would cut back on the tangerine peel a bit.

This recipe isn't online.

The workshop I was organizing and attending in Chicago ended Friday and yesterday afternoon my special gentleman and I drove home to East Lansing. The workshop went pretty well. There were four of us there, gathered from our respective homes in East Lansing, Chicago, Austin, and Boston. The three of us not from Chicago stayed in a nice hotel downtown all week (we had funding for our workshop!). I reserved us a conference room for the week at the Chicago Public Library downtown, so we met there each day and worked together on various research projects. It was a productive week.

It was nice to be in Chicago but I was certainly glad to come home! We have another couple weeks in East Lansing before we have to travel again, and a long list of items we would like to get done before the semester starts! So my day today involved trips to Target, Home Depot, and the grocery store. Also a lengthy trip to the mattress store (We are buying a bigger bed -- we have been sleeping in a double bed long enough!). At one point today I was in the basement, wearing a respirator and knocking down shelves with a hammer. I felt like I was straight out of an HGTV show! But after a long day of effort we have made significant progress in the basement as well as on our bed-buying mission. (Pause here while I help my special gentleman remove demolished wood from the basement... OK, back.) I also worked on my ongoing kitchen organization project today, and I dare say that it is almost complete! Today was a nice day -- exactly what I needed after a week-long research workshop. It's 10pm now, and I have a little more kitchen prep to do for tomorrow night's dinner, them I am ready to head to bed!