Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hot Off the Presses!

Check out some of my newest wares! I designed a poster series for Chautauqua Institution...a nearby vacation/resort/community/cultural center on the lake. The prints feature iconic landmarks from the Institution including the Amphitheater, the Athenaeum Hotel, the Miller Bell Tower, the Bestor Plaza fountain, the Hall of Philosophy, and the lake itself. Each 12x18 inch design is available in yellow, gray, green, or blue.

I think they are simple, but the best of ways! Hopefully their modern design will provide a fresh and appealing art option for the vacationers this summer. The Chautauqua Bookstore is stocking the prints and they are hot off the presses! It's an honor to have a real live brick-and-mortar store stocking my goods...hopefully they'll sell like hotcakes!

I've got the posters for sale in my Etsy store as well, so check them out if you are interested!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Khao Soi {Chiang Mai Curry Noodles}

There are some meals you just can't live without. The first time you encounter them, it's love at first bite and you wondered what you got excited about eating before. Khao Soi (known as Chiang Mai Curry Noodles to some) is one of those dishes!

We were introduced to Khao Soi when we lived in Chicago and frequented the most excellent and wonderful Opart Thai House in Lincoln Square. (Side note: If you live in Chicago, stop reading and go there right now. You can thank me later.) It was so ridiculously good we ordered it time and time again, salivating as we awaited its delivery. This dish is such a perfect combination of some of the best ingredients out there: noodles, coconut milk, curry (that isn't spicy), cilantro, lime, garlic, shallots, and green onions. Where could you go wrong with that line-up?! It is seriously perfection in a bowl.

When we moved to Chautauqua County, NY where the Thai scene is...well...nonexistent, we dove into my dad's copy of Quick and Easy Thai which I had bought for him many moons ago.  Lo and behold, Khao Soi is the dish on the book's cover and the recipe seriously hits the jackpot! Not only is it to die for, it is eeaassyy to make.

If your grocery store has a halfway decent international section, you should be able to find all of the ingredients you need for this winner. If not, Amazon does. When choosing Asian ingredients to cook with, it's best if you can purchase brands that are - shocker - from Asia and your dishes will taste more authentic. Sometimes we don't have that luxury, but sometimes we do.

The recipe is below, but you basically boil your Chinese egg noodles (set aside after boiling), saute the garlic, red curry paste, and chicken, then throw in the coconut milk, broth, and other spices and let the baby simmer for 10 minutes. THAT'S IT! Once the soup is ready, you'll place the noodles in your bowl, ladle on the curry, top with the best garnishes known to humanity and enjoy, one savory and splendid bite after the next. You think I'm bring dramatic and going overboard, but it's one of those meals you eat and say to yourself, "this is the meal I was born to eat!" I prefer to have the garnishes and all ingredients ready to go from the beginning because it doesn't take long to prepare and before you know it, you're ready to feast.

I hope you'll try this recipe and I hope you'll love it as much as we do in our house. Even if you are under the impression that you don't like curry, you might be pleasantly surprised with this one. If it's new to you and you make it, I'd love to hear what you think about it. If you've made it before, I'd love to hear if you have other ingredients you add or if your method is different. Enjoy!

Khao Soi {Chiang Mai Curry Noodles}
1/2 lb. dry Chinese-style egg noodles (or 1 lb fresh)
2 TBSP red curry paste or panaeng curry paste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite-size strips)
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP chopped garlic
1 can coconut milk
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
2 tsp curry powder
2 TBSP soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro (chopped)
1/3 cup green onions (chopped 1/3 inch)
1/3 cup shallots (diced)

1. Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan/skillet (that has a lid to use later), and then add garlic. Toss well and add the red curry paste, mashing and stirring to soften in the oil, about 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook 1 to 2 minutes tossing now and then to brown it evenly and mix it with the curry paste. add the coconut milk, chicken broth, curry powder, soy sauce, sugar, and salt and stir well. Bring to a gentle boil and adjust heat to maintain a lively simmer. Cook about 10 minutes, until meat is cooked through. Stir in lime juice, remove from heat, and over to keep curry warm while you prepare the noodles.

2. Cook the noodles in a large pot of rapidly boiling water, until tender but still firm, as little as 2 minutes for fresh and 7 minutes or more for dried. Drain, rinse well in cold water, drain again, and divide noodles among individual serving bowls. Ladle on hot curry, and sprinkle each serving with the shallots, cilantro, and sprinkle each serving with the shallots, cilantro, and green onions. Serve hot.

3. (Optional) For some extra crunch and intrigue, you can make ahead some fried noodle nests to top off your soup. Using 1/2 pound of fresh egg noodles, heat about 2 cups vegetable oil in a wok to about 375 degrees. Carefully add a handful of noodles, let sizzle and brown a few seconds, then transfer to a platter to cool. Serve on top of soup.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013 Summer Bucket List

For me, I get more done when I have a list to check off once accomplishments are made. In full disclosure, I'll admit that when I sit down to make a list for the day I write down some of what I've already done just for the thrill of crossing it off. Lists help me acknowledge what I've done and they help me not let the day or week go by without taking care of what needs to happen.

Despite the recent temperature readings, summer is upon us...and like any summer season I've experienced before, it will be gone before we know it! It was clear to me that we needed a summer bucket list to check off and mark our days before September is here and done. Here's what we've got for 2013!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gorge Hike

I'll be honest. The area we currently live in is (in my opinion) basically depressing all winter. I won't whine or go into details. The good news though is that this place comes alive when the weather warms up. As a summer tourist destination (wineries, nature, the lake, Chautauqua Institution, etc.), it's like we've collectively woken up to the good life.

Our dear friends Amy and Andrew visited us for a long weekend recently and we took advantage of the good weather and the outdoors by taking a trip to the Chautauqua Gorge. We hiked, skipped stones, and enjoyed mother nature beside a beautiful series of beautiful, small waterfalls. The photos below are courtesy Andrew Daigle who acted as our weekend photographer.

I swear Sawyer could just throw stones into water all day if we let him. Whether it's a puddle or an ocean, it makes no difference...he loves it. He also loved jumping off the shale rock ledges...which was a treat for me and his dad who did our best at just letting him be while praying he didn't slip into the raging river not more than three feet away from him. I'm still shocked we have yet to make a trip to the emergency room with this boy, but the kid is good on his feet.

Little miss took in the sites and sounds as well.

If you're ever in Chautauqua County, New York, I highly recommend a day trip to this stunning location! There are a few camp sites too available if you want to go all out and sleep over. Here are the details. What a perfect nature getaway for me and my posse who have been chomping at the bit to come out of our hibernation after a longer-than-expected winter!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Vegetable Garden

Our garden is finally in and ready to produce! We planted a variety of vegetables and herbs a couple weeks ago, but now the fences are up and the plants are starting to grow. We're starting out simple with just one raised bed (12'x4') and we've got tomatoes, peppers, carrots, broccoli, beans, basil, cilantro, rosemary, and thyme. We maintained a garden for a few years in Chicago and it's rewarding now to know the plants we're working with by just looking at their leaves and to have a better sense of how to grow them.

When it comes to outdoor living, TK doesn't do anything half-hearted so the plants are now protected from deer and other pesky animals with a heavy fence that was built with love, plastic fencing, and two-by-fours.

There's not much that warms my heart more than seeing my boys working together on something and enjoying the outdoors. Here's hoping our garden is bountiful this season and that it will provide for many meals enjoying each other's company!

Monday, June 3, 2013

5 Benefits of Budgeting and Planning for Meals

Oh, hello. Remember me? I'm slowly but surely emerge from the fog of having a newborn while wrangling a three year old and not living in our own place. We've been busy around these parts...up to our ears in diapers, house-hunting, three-year-old adventures, and living the daily grind. I won't make excuses as to why I haven't been blogging (because the Lord knows no one probably even cares), and I'll do my best to get back into the swing of things.

My "contribution" to our current living situation with my parents is that I plan and prepare a majority of the meals we eat each week. This has been a good practice for me, since before we moved we basically were in limbo between the post-college-we-eat-frozen-pizza-most-nights-or-go-out phase and the responsible we're-33-years-old-and-have-children-who-need-to-eat-something-remotely-healthy phase. In my mind I had built up meal planning to be some sort of skill that took practice and was certainly a hidden knowledge of which I was lacking. Budgeting for meal planning was something I had repeatedly told my self I didn't know how to do as well.

Here's how to successfully budget and plan for meals: Get an envelope and put cash in it. Get a piece of paper and write down each day of the week and what you want to eat (don't forget your veggies). Go to the store and buy what you need with the money you have. It's really not that complicated and it's actually quite a competence-inducing activity. Some of the benefits I've observed include the following.

1. You will eat and be able to prepare a variety of foods. Meal planning has given me a way to use tried-and-true recipes and at the same time has given me the space to force myself to try new ideas. All those recipes you have pinned and waiting to be used can be put to the test. The cookbooks making your kitchen shelves look pretty while they collect dust can stop whimpering each day that goes by while they remain untouched. When you live in a small town like we currently do and the Thai, Mediterranean, and (___insert any food besides pizza and subs you like___) restaurants are non-existant, you learn how to make some pretty good ethnic dishes of your own. I'd venture to say our house is one of the best places to get Thai food in at least a 50 mile radius and I'm not kidding. Necessity is the mother of invention.

2. You will waste less food. I can't even begin to try and count the pounds of food that have spoiled and been thrown away over the years because of good intentions I had on a whim at the grocery store. When you plan for meals, you buy what you say you're going to buy and you eat what you say you're going to eat. It's that simple. We usually plan a night of leftovers as well to make sure food that was bought is eaten and doesn't go bad. If we bought too much, we eat leftovers until they are gone...if that's not enough to force realistic expectations of what to spend and make, I don't know what is. Once I got excited, went overboard, and made way too much chicken chili and we were eating it night and day for nearly a week. Lesson learned and now I know how much to make in the future.

3. You will eat healthier, more whole foods. Now this does require planning for food that is somewhat healthy, but even if you're making unhealthy meals chances are you are eating real food that is not full of preservatives and that has less calories, fat, and sodium than you would be eating at your average restaurant. Meal planning on a budget will force you to eat less pre-packaged food as well. Less fake equals just does.  

4. You will save money. Keeping a budget allows you to know exactly where your money is going. This might seem like an obvious point, but to so many clowns (myself included) in my generation this is not something we really "get." I don't know why, but we don't. Knowing how much cash you have for food and what food you'll buy means you're not flippantly spending money every day figuring out what to stuff in your face. You'll spend less money on gas making last minute trips to the store and you'll spend less on impulsive buying once you're there. You also will have groceries in your home that need to be eaten (since you planned meals around them) so you'll be less likely to eat out as well. To stick to your budget, get an envelope and put the cash in it you plan to spend...not complicated.

5. You will feel competent in the kitchen. I'm no 50s-wanna-be-housewife but I'll admit I feel a sense of competence at a home-cooked meal that I made for my loved ones with only a small amount of stress included. I think anyone would! Planning your meals on a weekly basis allows you to know what is in your fridge at all times (aside from the random Matchbox car or toy train your toddler hides there), it allows you to know what to expect for the week, and it allows you to become a better cook (see #1). All these things combined enable you to not find yourself grasping for ideas at the last minute and either a) making a hellish meal concocted of random ingredients where you're second guessing your every move (i.e. "green onions can go with syrup, right?") or b) throwing in the proverbial towel and just going out to eat because you "don't know how to do anything in the kitchen." With meal planning, you will be the master of your kitchen instead of feeling like a foreigner who doesn't belong there.

Growing up, instead of "practice makes perfect," my mom always said "practice makes better," and she's right.  If you believe that meal planning and food budgeting would be helpful for your roommates, family, or yourself, I encourage you to just start! It's not complicated. You'll learn tricks along the way for what works best for your home, but you won't get better at it if you don't do it.

Now that I've droned on and on, I'll let you go. As a parting gift I'll link you to a great menu planner/grocery list all-in-one from Real Simple. Here it is, but you don't really need it. All you need is a piece of scrap paper and something to write with. Just do it. Go forth!