Wednesday, June 3, 2015

California Dreamin'...

Major update on my so called life. Back in December 2014, E and I were driving home from church. More like, we went to church, drove around for 45 minutes looking for parking, gave up and decided to go home, sad at yet another attempt to find parking near our church in Brooklyn. During our drive, E turned to me and said, "I think I'm ready to leave NYC." Gasp! I had been wanting to leave for quite a while although that desire had been waxing and waning for years. But in the more recent months, the need to figure out next steps in life made certain things very clear to me: 1) We did not want to live anywhere else but Brooklyn (and only certain areas of Brooklyn), Manhattan (again, only certain areas) and Queens (only I was open to the idea of heading back to Queens, and again, only certain areas). The idea of moving to Long Island or deeper into any of the outer boroughs to accommodate a family was just not something we were excited to do, 2) other than my sister and cousin, we really did not have family in NYC anymore, 3) a majority of the family we wanted to be near to were on the west coast, and 4) if we ever wanted to buy a home, we would get more for our money in anywhere but NYC.

Of course there were a billion other pros and cons. And the biggest problem was that we were both very much in love with NYC. And we had a very good situation going on...why mess things up? We both had pretty "easy" jobs given our professions, we had a large and amazing one bedroom apartment in a great neighborhood, with parking and very below market rent, we were close to all our friends...but we were in a constant state of "gray" - are we moving? are we not? do we lay down roots here? And to be frank, I was so over it. So off we went to visit Los Angeles in early March and while we were there, God must have blessed this decision because I went on 6 interviews at 3 different places, E went on 1, and within a few days after flying back to NYC, E had a job offer and I was still doing my next round of interviews. By week 2 since our return, I too had a job. Six weeks later, we were gone.

Now we are here in sunny CA. It's different, it will take some adjusting. The people are so much nicer here, but IMHO, they just do not have the hustle. I'm sick and tired of going to Target, buying a bunch of little things, and then having to gather everything into my arms because I forgot to bring my own bags. Or dealing with awful awful LA drivers who are completely absorbed in their own safety or their phones, and therefore become irresponsible and reckless drivers (can you tell how much I hate them?). But I love going to Trader Joe's on a Saturday afternoon and having no lines. Or people who say "hello" "how are you" "goodnight" just as you are walking by. And I love that most of my fruits and veggies come from the many farmers markets in the neighborhood. And I love that I get to work right across the street from the beach (albeit in business formal).

We are learning, adjusting, figuring things out. But regardless, I am so grateful that this move even happened at all, as smoothly as it did, and with both of us having jobs. God is good.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Love Affair with Breakfast Sandwiches

Dear Reader,

Pre-Made Frozen Breakfast Sandwiches
Does this happen to you? You open your eyes to a beautiful weekend morning, sun is shining, your mind begins to wander to all the things you want to accomplish for the day, and then *grumble grumble*. Your friend the appetite monster begins making some unreasonable demands - something about "breakfast now!" and "where is my coffee!" and "HELLO we've been on a fast for 7 whole hours, where is the FOOD?"

I can relate. This is me on a consistent weekend (and weekday) basis. I've written about my hangry stage (appears around 4pm every weekday), now you meet the appetite monster. So much of my world is driven by a narrow agenda - my next meal.

My usual breakfast cravings are for hearty breakfast sandwiches. In an effort to save time (get. in. my. belly.) and money, I decided to take an hour to pre-make breakfast sandwiches in bulk, package and freeze them for easy consumption. Huge success, even E loved them and brought a few for lunch! Super convenient, super cheap and super easy.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mangia! Mangia! Homemade Fresh Ricotta!

Dear Reader,

I've mentioned in past stories of dinner parties where I tried my hand at making homemade Ricotta. If you haven't tried making cheese at home, please do! And then tell me all about it because Ricotta is the only one I've made so far. I've heard that Mozzarella is also fairly easy to make, but the added ingredient of rennet always deters me (gotta find it, then go get it, you know, first world problems). One day I'll make Mozzarella, and lay freshly grown tomatoes and basil leaves on it from my organic garden, the garden that I hope will one day exist in my reality instead of just in my food fantasies. In the meantime, Ricotta will do because it's very very simple to make and is sure to wow any dinner party. I use the Ina Garten recipe, which only requires 4 simple ingredients. You can dress up the cheese however you like - my favorite is to use fresh herbs like dill, chives or even rosemary.

For my last dinner party I made this cheese plain and turned it into a delicious bruschetta with heirloom cherry tomatoes and reduced balsamic vinaigrette on top of a crusty baguette buttered to the nines. Simple, affordable, and made with a lot of love.

Homemade Ricotta - adapted from Ina Garten
Curds and Whey
Makes about 2 cups

4 cups of whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar (white vinegar is fine)

Pour the milk and cream into a pot, preferably stainless steel or enameled and add the salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat (so as not to burn the liquid) and stir occasionally. Once the liquids have come to a boil, add the vinegar and stir. Leave the liquid to stand for about 1-2 minutes. You will start to see the liquid curdle, eventually separating into two parts, the curds and the whey (yellowish liquid). During this time, take out a cheese cloth and put it over a sieve or a tall bowl to allow the water to drip down. Pour the liquid into the bowl and let it drain for about 30 minutes. The longer you allow it to drain, the thicker the cheese will be. Make sure the liquid does not touch the cheese cloth. Once you are done, transfer the ricotta into a bowl and discard everything else (unless you want to keep the whey - that's for another recipe). You can serve the cheese immediately or you can cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Mcgyver'd Cheese Drainer

I didn't have a cheese cloth and used a nut milk bag instead, it worked fine. And since I didn't have a sieve big enough I Macgyver'd my way into hanging my nut milk bag onto a wooden ladle, which then hung over a stock pot. I also ended up draining my cheese for about 2 hours which made for extra thick ricotta. Very yummy.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A (Pork) Shoulder to Lean On

Dear Reader,

This past week and half has sped by so quickly. The holiday season is now over and I feel as if I never really got in the spirit, and now, it's too late. Our Christmas tree has been taken down, ornaments put away, and all of the holiday festivities are over. I always get a little blue from January - April, since these are the hibernating months in NYC. When winter really sets in and snow storms pass through overnight. When it's so cold that going out for a quick walk is just out of the question. The good news is that these are the perfect months for hearty stews and meats, roasted vegetables and even more dinner parties since going from house to house sounds so much nicer than going from venue to venue in the bitter cold.

Braised Pork Shoulder Goodness
Today, E and I decided to have a lazy day (these come all too often) and stay in instead of running much needed errands. We put on two pots of coffee, watched Sons of Anarchy and snuggled. Since we were staying in all day I decided to braise some pork shoulder in the oven, as inspired by a friend of mine when we visited her house. I've been trying to think of more dishes that could be made in bulk and saved for lunches and leftovers and affordable protein is always a plus. Pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) is relatively cheap at about $1.50-$2.00 per pound. For a healthier option, you can purchase pork shoulder raised without antibiotics for about $4.00-$4.99 per pound and still make a large amount without breaking the bank.

Braised pork shoulder is great because the actual prep time is very minimal, it's cheap, it can last for a long time, it's versatile and it's very difficult to mess up. I researched a few recipes and ended up making my own, but really, almost anything goes. This recipe is meant to be a guide, feel free to substitute with whatever you think will work. The Kitchn has a great post on the different ways to cook and use pork shoulder.