Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Farmer's Market

Produce at Meridian Farmer's Market
Flowers at Meridian Farmer's Market
Fruit at Meridian Farmer's Market
Fruit at Meridian Farmer's Market
Flowers at Meridian Farmer's Market
Fruit at Meridian Farmer's Market

Farmer's Markets are beautiful enough to be almost a little bit cliche, but still couldn't resist bringing my camera along last week. Mom hunted for green beans, flowers, and peaches, while I offered the occasional opinion or reminder and paid more attention to my exposure.

Mid-week markets are always slower than the weekend ones -- fewer choices, but also fewer people to be weirded out by your giant camera, so I guess it's a trade-off. I will admit I missed the opportunity to buy fresh kettle corn, but those peaches definitely made up for it! Hoping to spend a little bit more time in places like these as the harvest comes in.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wedding Planning Party


I may have mentioned this before, but I don't live in my parents' basement. That honor belongs to another lovely young lady, Kristen. Not for long, though, because Kristen is getting married in a couple weeks!

Because we live together, because she's getting married on a shoestring, and because I am sort of on top of things and enjoy bossing people around, she's put me (along with my mother) in charge of coordinating the day of. I am equal parts dread and excitement about this, depending on how tired I am when asked.

Anyway, we had a big meeting to discuss everything about the day and get all the information we need from her. And what's a meeting without lavender shortbread cookies and matching champagne cocktails? (We mixed two teaspoons of lavender simple syrup with cheap sparkling wine. I mean, it was on sale, and who wants to spend lots of money on champagne without properly appreciating it? I'm sure you understand.)

It was a very productive meeting, once it got started. I took all these photos beforehand, since everyone else was running late and it had such excellent still life potential. Seriously, make those cookies. They're beautiful inside and out.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Austrian Breakfast

Berries, Granola, Greek Yogurt, and Chocolate
Berries, Granola, Greek Yogurt, and Chocolate

 Homemade granola, raspberries and blackberries, chunks of dark chocolate, and blueberry preserve tinted greek yogurt. This is my recent semi-successful attempt to recreate my go-to breakfast from the semester I lived abroad. Think müsli with chocolate already included, fresh berries, and greek yogurt flavored with a heavenly jam I can only vaguely translate (wild forest berries?). It wasn't quite the same, but it still took me back.

Food nostalgia gets me every time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hospital Bed Picnic

The night before we were set to leave for a race in Marquette, my father crashed his road bike. It was a weird accident that smashed up his helmet, fractured his shoulder, and removed a frightening amount of skin from the left side of his body. He's on the mend, weaning off the painkillers, and even using the sling as a makeshift purse to hold his phone and car keys, but he went straight from his crash site to the hospital, and didn't leave for two days. It was a time of lots of worry and very little sleep.

Naturally, my mother spent as much time there as she could, while I took on my role as support staff -- doing coffee runs (even in the hospital, he was jonesing for his Starbucks!) and grocery shopping. After mom had a bad experience in the cafeteria at lunch time, I offered to bring us all a picnic so we could eat dinner together. I've always felt that having family members around in these situations is almost a necessity. The patient isn't necessarily their own best advocate, if only due to morphine, and having people there to ask questions and keep company makes it less bleak. Mom and I stayed until the night nurse kicked us out. I'm just grateful I had the opportunity to help out.

Pesto Pasta Salad
Pinic on the hospital bed

Now, on to the food! The name of the game with picnics is easy, portable, and delicious-when-cold. I decided that pasta salad would fit the bill, and since I wanted it to taste fresh and as un-hospital-y as possible, I decided to flavor it with fresh pesto. The other most important thing about picnics is convenience. I packed us a large container of the pasta salad (enough to serve more than just the three of us), along with a serving spoon, a smaller container of freshly shredded parmesan, and small disposable salt and pepper shakers. Every weekend we make an enormous salad that serves us throughout the week, and I packed each of us a single-serving container of that so we could get some veggies as a first course and use it as a bowl for the pasta afterwards. To go with the salad I brought craisins, a container of shelled pistachio nuts, and a bottle of homemade dressing. After that, I just added in paper napkins and spoons and forks. I arranged it all in a reusable shopping bag and headed for the hospital!

Pesto Pasta Salad:
(Serves 7-8 or more, depending on serving sizes)
1 lb orzo pasta (it was all we had on hand, but I think rotini would also be great, if not better)
1 8 oz ball buffalo mozzarella
3-4 tomatoes on the vine
Extra parmesan to garnish
Pesto:
4 large handfuls of fresh basil (it's hard to estimate; basically just fill the food processor up with it!)
2 cubic inches parmesan cheese OR 1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons

Start the water boiling for the orzo and cook it according to the instructions on the package.

Get to work on the pesto. In a normal food processor, it should be as simple as dumping in all the ingredients! Even the parmesan and garlic should be suitably ground up after a minute or two under the blades. When the pesto is nice and uniform, set it aside.

Dice the tomatoes and shred the mozzarella (admittedly, this is difficult. It's easiest when the cheese is cold, but there will still probably be some parts you want to chop up smaller with a knife.)

When the pasta is done cooking, run cool water over it, toss it back into the pot, and stir in the shredded mozzarella, tomatoes, and pesto.

Garnish with whole basil leaves and more parmesan cheese, and enjoy with loved ones, ideally outside.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Renegade Theater Festival

Old Town Lansing
Old Town Lansing
Old Town Lansing

Renegade Theater Festival is one of my favorite events of a summer in Lansing. Three straight nights of free theater in picturesque Old Town. There are dozens of shows to choose from, some from local theaters, and some from community members. Performances are usually only about an hour long, with two time slots every night, and it's often used as a place to workshop new pieces. They even perform shows especially for children on Saturday afternoon.

This year I only went on Friday night, but we had a great time, seeing two new shows by local playwrights. First, Boomer and the Imaginary Friend Revolt, about a young man whose old imaginary friends come back to keep him company when he falls into a deep, break-up related depression. It was a really interesting concept, and the show has a lot of potential. The execution wasn't quite my cup of tea, but the acting was excellent, and since it's still in workshop, I'm sure it will only get better by the time anyone pays for it! The second, a modern musical fable called Just Wanna Dance, telling the story of a young gay man with religious parents. You can probably guess how that one played out -- somewhat cliched and stereotypical, but the performers, again, were great. We heard a lot of fantastic singing.

In between, we enjoyed a couple beers and ran into countless people we knew on the street and admired the architecture and charm of Old Town.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles

I've been trying to rein in my sweet tooth over the last few months. After a normal meal, I usually crave a little something sweet. I do mean that literally -- one or two Lindt pieces of Lindt chocolate or a couple spoonfuls of coffee Häagen-Dazs usually does the trick. Unfortunately, neither of those things last long in this house if I don't hide them, and my self control is sadly lacking. I might be satisfied with something small, but why not make myself a sundae? I'm unemployed, I deserve it!*

*Sarcasm

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I decided to take a little bit more responsibility for my actions, and made truffles. Just hear me out! The first batch wasn't quite chocolatey enough, so I decided to mix up the ratios by using some 100% cacao. Turns out, I overdid it. Not just on the cacao, but also on the Chambord (black raspberry liqueur) I used to flavor the mixture. Did you know that adding too much alcohol to cream will curdle it a little bit? Lesson learned, although I still ate them. Another lesson? Freeze-dried raspberries are extremely potent and should be used sparingly.

Anyway, it took me several tries, but I finally came up with the perfect recipe -- just enough dark chocolate flavor, tempered not just with raspberry liqueur, but freeze dried raspberry powder. They're not exactly diet friendly, but they're rich enough that one or two (ok, maybe three) will totally satisfy your sweet tooth, probably with fewer calories than a bowl of my signature ice cream sundae -- several scoops of vanilla mixed with creamy peanut butter and melted chocolate drizzled over the top. Best of all, they're really easy!

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffle ingredients

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles
Makes about 30 truffles 1 inch in diameter.

Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
16 oz dark chocolate (I use 12 oz Ghirardelli 60% and 4 oz Ghirardelli 100% for this)
2 tablespoons Chambord or Frambois (any raspberry/black raspberry liqueur will do)
2 tablespoons freeze dried raspberry powder (see instructions)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Notes:

Bring the cream to a simmer in a double boiler

As the cream heats, chop up your chocolate into smaller pieces (see picture for comparison)

If the cream isn't simmering yet, grind up two heaping tablespoons of whole freeze dried raspberries into a powder. They are brittle enough to crush with a mortar and pestle, but I have also used a small bullet blender. A coffee or spice grinder would also work.

When the cream simmers, remove it from the heat source and add the chocolate chunks immediately.

Whisk furiously until the chocolate has fully melted into the cream and the mixture is uniform. This shouldn't take more than a minute.

Now it's time to add the flavorings! Throw in the raspberry powder, liqueur, and vanilla, and continue to whisk. When they're all incorporated, set the mixture aside and allow it to come to room temperature (half an hour or so).

Transfer the truffles into a flat tupperware container and allow them to cool further in the fridge, 1-2 hours, until the mixture is cool and firm, but not yet rock-hard.

Pour 1/4 cup of cocoa powder into a small bowl, and get out a plate for the finished truffles.

Here is where it gets messy. Using a small cookie-dough scoop (mine is 1 inch in diameter), scoop out truffles one by one. Roll each one in your hands to round it out a little bit, then drop it into the bowl of cocoa powder and roll it around until it is completely covered. Then transfer to the clean plate. Repeat until you have a plate full of truffles and no more truffle mixture.

Dark chocolate chunks
Freeze dried raspberries
Freeze dried raspberries
Melted chocolate truffle mixture
Melted chocolate truffle mixture
Truffle making process before
Truffle making process after

You can eat them immediately, although I usually put them into the fridge on a plate for half an hour or so, to re-set them, before putting them into airtight containers. Stored in the fridge, they last for weeks at a time.

Finished dark chocolate raspberry truffles

Friday, August 15, 2014

Family History Library

LDS Temple Salt Lake City

When I started making semi-regular trips out to Salt Lake City, my father once suggested to me that I visit the Family History Library. Although it's true that the miniscule amount I know about my heritage has been a mild frustration to me over the years, it hadn't occurred to me to take advantage of the library. But I mentioned it to James on my most recent trip, and he took to the idea enthusiastically. He invited along his cousin to guide us, as she's much more familiar with Temple Square, but hadn't quite made it to the library yet, either.

It was a great experience, if a bit overwhelming. Members of the LDS church can give you a much better understanding of why genealogy is important to them than I can, but the material point for me (and for the rest of the world) is that they have the most impressive records I have ever heard of, and provide it to the public for free, along with a website that allows patrons to reconstruct their family trees.

How little I know about my own heritage became very clear very quickly. As I created an account on Family Search, struggling to remember exactly what year my parents were born, and realizing that I didn't know the first names of any great-grandparents, I must admit I felt a little behind. After all, I was sitting between two cousins whose relatives had already done extensive work on their trees -- James got the identification number for his grandfather on the Mormon side and immediately retrieved a tree that ran straight back to the 1500s!

In some ways, I'm jealous, but I'm mostly excited to start digging into my own family history. With my parents help, because I'm still a little unclear on the names and dates! If you've ever been interested in learning about your own history (no matter where in the world you are), you should check out Family Search. The religious aspect has the potential to scare people off, but let this very non-Mormon girl assure you that it doesn't mean missionaries stopping by your home -- just accuracy and integrity. Starting in Temple Square gives you access to records they have yet to digitize, as well as volunteers to help you out (although volunteers are also available to help at Family History Centers all over the world). Still, the site is pretty easy to figure out on your own and all the most recent records are available online. Happy history hunting!

*The photo is of the Salt Lake City LDS Temple. It is near the library, and much prettier.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Natural History Museum of Utah

When James first mentioned visiting the Natural History Museum to me, I was not terribly enthusiastic about it. But all that happened before I stumbled upon a flier for an exhibit called the Horse! It drew me in immediately, and I didn't even read it before informing James that yes, in fact, we should do the Natural History Museum while I'm here. He took it completely in stride.

Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural History Museum of Utah

The museum itself is gorgeous, with wonderful views of the mountains and architecture designed to resemble a canyon. We headed to the Horse exhibit first, because James is a saint and pretty good about giving in to my demands.

The Horse at the Natural History Museum of Utah
The Horse at the Natural History Museum of Utah

I enjoyed the exhibit so much, I soon forgot my camera in my bag. After so many years working with horses, I was surprised at how much I learned. James knows very little about riding, and I really enjoyed giving him my personal opinions on the different breeds they showcased and pointing out the styles and events I had done in the past. My favorite part of the exhibit described the many different kinds of ways horses are used across the world -- endurance rides in Mongolia, polo in Argentina and England, barrel racing in the United States.

After a healthy hour or two in the Horse exhibit, we headed out for things James would find more interesting: rocks!

Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural History Museum of Utah

To be fair, I also enjoyed this exhibit. Look how pretty they are! Since we had made it to his area of expertise, James enjoyed identifying the different minerals for me and using complicated words to describe their structures. I'm sure my thoughts on the relative value of arabians and warmbloods came at him the same way!

Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural History Museum of Utah

After that we headed for the fossils and dinosaurs, Utah's real claim to fame. We were especially intrigued by the giant sloth, a creature I only recently learned existed. I find the mere concept amusing! Modern sloths have to essentially eat all day or starve -- I wonder how one three or four times their size would manage that task.

We ate lunch in the museum cafe, which I wouldn't enthusiastically recommend or warn against. They had an interesting menu, and we sat outside, but the service wasn't great, and I had the impression that they didn't have enough food. We meant to spend more of the afternoon there, but were sidetracked by a major scheduling error on my part, and so headed home early. We can't wait to go back, though -- I care about horses and James cares about rocks. This visit gave us the opportunity to geek out about both.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Eva's Boulangerie

After a few straight days not stirring much from the house, James and I started to feel a little cabin fever. That odd, itchy, bored feeling that happens when you're spending too much time cooped up with one person. No matter how much you love them, they can start to get on your nerves. I was so relieved when he suggested we head downtown!

We headed out without much of a plan, and just figured it out as we went. We started with a place called Memory Grove, which is one of the older districts of town. It begins as an ode to the original Mormon settlers and turns into a park commemorating the men and women of Salt Lake and Utah who died in service to their country.

Memory Grove
Downtown SLC

The memorial park is right below the State Capitol, so we took the short climb up to admire it. I may never get used to how open Utah is -- there are office buildings just big enough to block the view around the Capitol Building in Michigan (although it is beautiful in its own way). Utah put theirs on a hill, and framed it with mountains.

Utah State Capitol

Fun fact: the city of Salt Lake was built with streets wide enough to turn around a horse-drawn wagon/stage coach. The more you know!

Downtown SLC

By this point, we had started to feel tired, hungry, and a little sweaty (it was a cooler summer day, but still Utah), so we headed back down the hill to Main Street to visit Eva's, a bakery I had heard good things about. None of the praise was exaggerated! The food was delicious, authentic, and comparatively inexpensive. The aesthetic hit the nail on the head. We can't wait to go back, either earlier in the day to get a better selection of pastries, or for dinner (Thurs.-Sat.). They even serve a small menu of wine and beer, which always impresses me in Salt Lake.

Eva's Boulangerie
Eva's Boulangerie
Eva's Boulangerie

If you can lose the common misconceptions about SLC, it's a really cool place to explore. I've had some great food (and great alcohol) there, as well as lessons in culture, art, and history, and I would recommend a visit to anyone.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake

I haven't really mentioned it on here, but I'm a big football fan. (By which I mean soccer fan. This is America, I guess.) I watched the last several world cup editions religiously, each time a vocal supporter of the German team. In fact, when I made Spätzle a few weeks ago, I ate them while watching Die Mannschaft finally earn the cup they so deserved.

Anyway. I never really got the hang of soccer myself, and since the nearest MLS team has never been less than a three hour drive away from me, it was only recently that I saw my first professional game. James has some family friends with season tickets to Real Salt Lake (Yes, like Real Madrid. I do not understand MLS.), and they offered us their tickets for a game while I stayed with him. I don't think I could have asked for a better first time major league experience!

Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake

I wouldn't have expected Salt Lake City to be big soccer country, but James says they regularly sell out the stadium, and Real Salt Lake is one of the top ranked teams in Major League Soccer. Not too shabby! We watched them play one of the newest teams in the league, Montreal. Real won 3-1 in the end, but the Canadians didn't go down without a fight. The game was unexpectedly lively, which was a nice surprise. Another nice surprise? Americans have adapted the European tradition of singing at soccer games! That is one stolen tradition I will happily get behind. We sang the RSL fight song many times that night.

Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake

The real magic happened after the game though, since it was still Pioneer Day, and that means fireworks. Fans were invited out of the stands and onto the pitch for a better view, then the music started, the lights went out, and the second attraction began.

Pioneer Day Fireworks
Pioneer Day Fireworks

We had a fantastic time. I think I could learn to be a genuine Real Salt Lake fan!