Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wedding Photo Wednesday: The whole affair

Here's a fun wide-shot my stepfather took of our wedding. It was fairly small, considering the size that may weddings are these days, but we still had all the important people. (Click image to see the full view):

Photo by Alfred Lambert

Monday, March 28, 2011

Around the house: On the walls

The reason I still feel like a college student might have a lot to do with the fact that our wall art consists of posters stuck to the wall with 3M. I love many of these posters and wouldn't dream of getting rid of them, but I want to frame them at some point, if only to finally feel at least a little bit like an adult.
At the same time, I've fallen in love with new pieces. Like this one:

Which I bought at Target for $6.99.

And this one:

Which I haven't bought yet, but might this week, especially since it's on sale right now for $18.99.

And there's always this:
There's nothing like supporting small companies on Etsy, with this print from the Keep Calm shop.

I love the graphic simplicity of all these prints. Plus, typography is just awesome.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quick-fix Sunday: Asparagus for breakfast

Asparagus Omelet
6 spears of asparagus, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano
2 eggs
3 slices baby swiss
  • Heat oil in a pan. Saute asparagus with oregano until softened. Remove to a plate.
  • Whip eggs with milk. Add to pan. Cover and cook until egg has almost solidified and the bottom is golden. Flip the eggs.
  • Place a slice of swiss on egg. Add asparagus back on one side. Place another slice of cheese on top.
  • Fold egg over and hold to encourage the cheese to stick.
  • Cover omelet with one more slice of cheese. Let melt.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Around the house: Kitchen organization

So we've been in our house since October and I've only recently gotten motivation to really make it ours. Our plan is to keep renting this house for as long as we can. Luckily, our landlord is also all about keeping the same renters as long as possible. So this gives me the ability to really make this place our home, especially after moving twice in the last year.
Unfortunately, getting the house the way I want it will take a lot of time. I made a huge list of tasks. Seriously, it's several pages long and a bit overwhelming. But Travis, in all his wisdom, just said to take it one step at a time.
First step? Fix this mess:

The top of the microwave has essentially been another area to throw stuff that we don't have a place for, namely our pizza stones (one for pizza and bread and one for cookies), cutting boards and some silpats. But it's also continually annoyed me.
So I purchased a $5 black letter organizer from Target and filled it with all the extraneous things.

I want to get a canister for the coffee filters, but for 5 bucks and a couple minutes, I am quite happy that this little eye-sore has been repaired.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Corned beef redux

One of my favorite things about corned beef is that it stretches really far. So, you have your night of corned beef and cabbage, but you also have a chance to make a LOT of other dishes from the original meal. And since I KNOW all of you went out and bought a beautiful slab of corned beef (most likely at a discount since St. Paddy's Day is over), I thought I would share my ways of enjoying corned beef in different ways.

Frozen corned beef broth
Corned beef broth
When you're putting leftovers away, don't throw out the broth! That took hours to make and you now have several quarts of it! Pour it into a few ice cube trays and freeze. Next time you need beef broth, all you have to do is grab a few cubes from the freezer and melt them. Instant homemade broth. If you have the capability, you might want to strain corned beef broth because of the spice packet's abundance of mustard seed and other odds and ends.

Corned beef hash
1 cup diced corned beef
1 cup diced potatoes (this is a great opportunity to use up the leftover potatoes)
1 cube corned beef broth
2 eggs
  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the beef, potatoes and broth and cook until heated through, stirring to keep the bits from burning.
  3. Lower the heat to medium-low and crack open the eggs right on top of the hash.
  4. Cover and cook until the eggs reach your preferred consistency.
And a quick rundown of the recipe in photos:

Chop the corned beef and potatoes

Fry in a pan until almost crispy. Add the cube of broth and cook until incorporated. This adds the amount of liquid needed to help make everything sort of stick together.

Crack two eggs right on top. Don't break the yolk unless you don't like creamy yolk running into the corned beef hash.

Let cook until the whites are solidified and the yolk are cooked to your desired doneness. I covered mine to help the process along.

Serve with a cheddar biscuit and French press coffee. YUM!

Corned beef melt
Inspired by the Summer Reuben at The Weekend Pub

2 slices bread
1 pats butter, melted
Corned beef, sliced
Swiss cheese
Spicy brown mustard
2 tbsp shredded cabbage
  1. Preheat a large frying pan or griddle.
  2. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread mustard on the other sides.
  3. Put cheese on the bottom and beef on top of that and grill on both sides.
  4. Add the cabbage last so it stays cold and refreshing. I actually cooked the sandwich, then when I pulled it out of the pan, I opened it and added the cabbage.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wedding Photo Wednesday: Family moments

When Travis and I discussed our wedding, we always talked about how important family was to the whole affair. The best part of of the day was getting to see so many great parts of the family. So in this week's wedding photos, I'll be sharing some shots featuring family.

Mumsy-in-law and me

Travis' maternal grandparents. His grandmother is so sweet!

Dad and I during the father-daughter dance. We danced to "Follow You, Follow Me" by Genesis.

Photos by Alfred Lambert

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Irish girl's dream

If my hair doesn't give it away, nothing will: I'm a lot Irish. Well, at the very least, I know for sure that my maternal grandfather is Irish-American, which in this country means you're Irish. And I love celebrating that part of my heritage, just as much as I enjoy a good German stout, which, by the way, stems from that fact that German blood makes up the bulk the rest of my family tree.
Nothing, to me, says "Irish" more than corned beef. Sadly the poor meat has been mistreated in this country. Either it's the pinkish gruel that tastes good (especially when a big plate of grease is the only guarantee you'll get over that hangover) but looks a little too much like cat food, or its a thin slab of grayish meat that's more gooey fat than anything else.
Unless, that is, you have a grandmother who can make the best corned beef in the world. And I've aspired to make her corned beef ever since I struck out on my own. After another failed attempt last year, I finally decided that was it, I was GOING to make the PERFECT corned beef.
And I did. It's not the same as grandma's, but my tweaks make it my own and that's the beauty of food: Great dishes remind you of your childhood but are still your own.

Guinness Corned Beef and Cabbage
Recipe created from my grandmother's advice and my own instincts
1 Corned Beef Brisket (size doesn't matter, but make sure it's small enough to fit in your pot and comes with a packet of spices*)
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1 can Guinness Draught (don't get the stout, since it turns everything bitter instead of delicious)
1 half a large green cabbage (or a whole small cabbage), quartered
6 medium carrots
5 medium Yukon gold potatoes
  1. Clean and pat your brisket dry. Trim any extra fat, but it's OK to leave a little bit.
  2. Place in the bottom of a stock pot, fat side up. Sprinkle the spice pack over top. Add the garlic and the brown sugar.
  3. Pour the can of Guinness over the meat. Add the water until the meat is covered by a half inch.
  4. Bring to a boil. Immediately turn the heat down to your lowest setting. Skim any foam that has been created off the top with a slotted spoon.
  5. Allow to simmer on low for 3 hours.
  6. Pull out the meat.
  7. Add the carrots, potatoes and stir. Press the cabbage cut side down, leaving most of the cabbage above the broth.
  8. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook the carrots and potatoes until al dente.
  9. Add the meat back in, but bring the cabbage back to the top of the pile and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the everything is softened.
  10. IMPORTANT: Pull the meat out and let it rest at least five minutes. You will see little indentations in the meat running parallel with each other. This is the "grain" and you need to cut across the grain! If you don't heed this warning, you can resign yourselves to chewing on shoe leather for the meal. This goes for most cuts of "cheap" meat by the way, flank steak and all brisket included.
And now for the photos!

The secret to perfect corned beef is in the marbling. A bit of fat offers flavor and juiciness, but a inch-thick slab of fat is kind of disgusting to eat. Look for marbling and less fat, but don't worry if there's a bit. You can always trim it off.

The spice packet looks like this. It's mostly pickling spices (mustard seed, etc.) and cinnamon, sage, fennel and allspice. You can make it at home if you have a well stocked spice rack, but most corned beef briskets come with the packet.

When you add the Guinness you get this lovely head that the beer is so famous for. But you will end up skimming a bit of it off once it boils. Don't skip this step though, or your broth will be gross and your veggies will be just as disgusting.

Corned beef is best with large chunks of root vegetables. Try to keep them relatively the same size, but bigger is better.

I recommend Yukon Gold potatoes because they hold up well in boiling water, but they also have a buttery creaminess that is perfect with salty corned beef.

You'll see I left the "stem" of the cabbage on. This helps keep it together so it will soften but not disintegrate. It also makes a pretty platter if that's what floats your boat.

Once the root veggies are done, you put the meat back in to just warm it back up. The goal with all this take it out, put it back in nonsense is so you don't toughen the meat by boiling the broth a second time, which is pretty much the only way to get the carrots and potatoes tender. I also don't recommend putting the veggies in at the beginning because by the time the meat is cooked (minimum 3 hours total), all those pretty carrots and potatoes will have become mush.

See the little grooves running in the meat toward the top right corner of the photo? That is the grain. If we were cutting this meat within this photo, you'd put the tip of your knife in the top left corner of the photo and the handle in the bottom right, or "across the grain." Then cut the brisket into traditional, thin strips and you have tender, beautiful meat. Easy, right?

Top it all off with from-scratch cheddar biscuits and a tall glass of Guinness and you'll be thankful for the Irish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wedding Photo Wednesday: The actual wedding

My stepfather acted as the photographer for our wedding. His camera is amazing, but he had a lot of trouble with white balance, thanks to the crazy bright sun. That's one of the reasons I've been putting off fixing these photos for so long. I'm afraid I won't be able to rescue some of my favorites and then I won't have a good record of the day.
This week I started working on some of those especially problematic photos. These are all from the wedding itself, and I absolutely love them and the fact that I was actually able to rescue them.
One tip for those asking a friend or family member to do their photos for any event: If they can take photos in the RAW format, make sure they do. If I had, these would not have been so difficult for me to fix.

Exchanging rings

First kiss as husband and wife

Photos by Alfred Lambert

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When it's cold outside...

My puppy takes over the couch and bundles himself up under the covers. He's the cutest!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wedding Photo Wednesday: Not-so-insurmountable project

We have a huge project ahead of us, one that I've been putting off since September. That's right, I still haven't edited wedding photos. Beyond scanning the photos given to me by my stepdad or uploaded to the paid Flickr site we set up just so we'd have easy access to all of our guests' photos, I haven't even really given a second thought to how we would preserve our wedding for posterity.
It's not that I don't enjoy looking through the photos. So much of that night was a blur, so it's fun to go back and relive some of the moments that have grown fuzzy. The problem is that completing the task always seemed a little insurmountable.
Not only would I have to tone and crop the photos, I'd have to weed out the ones that, despite how much I like the moment they represent, really don't deserve to be printed due to quality issues. There seem to be a lot of those, unfortunately.
Luckily we were introduced to a program from Creative Memories that makes it much easier to pull something together that we can eventually have professionally printed. Basically we purchased the company's Memories Manager, which not only organizes files but also allows me to edit photos within the program and with many of the more useful Photoshop tools, and Storybook Creator, which is basically a program that lets me lay out scrapbook pages using a computer interface similar to scaled-down InDesign. In fact there are some options I wish PS or ID had that are really easy to do in the programs. Plus, instead of buying our programs straight from the company, we were able to support a friend who also happens to be a consultant (go to her page if you are interested in scrapbooking! If you look at her profile picture, you may recognize her husband as a pretty awesome biology professor at CNU). She is EXTREMELY passionate about the programs. Seriously. A quick demo from her was all it took to convince us. Plus the awesome markdowns that were going to end two days after we finally had time to meet with her. Talk about serendipity.

I say all that to preview a new weekly post I'll launch today: Wedding Photo Wednesday will be an ongoing look at some of the photo editing and scrapbook page layouts I've been working on. This serves the purpose of giving me deadlines (which I work better on) and giving you guys a chance to critique some of my work.
I'm brand new to this particular program, but like I said, it's so similar to PS that I had no trouble adapting (though I miss a lot of the useful shortcuts Adobe developers spent so long coding) and already have examples of editing that I've done.

This first picture is an example of some of the detail shots that I am really grateful that some people thought to capture. The colors in this particular shot are sort of washed out and there a few pesky background components that really annoyed me.

So I cropped it to bring the centerpiece in as the focal point. I did a few other things, but if you can't find them, then I'm happy not to point them out:

I loved this next shot for capturing a great shot of dad getting ready to give me away, and Travis ready to take me. Can you guess what annoyed me about this one?

Well, color definitely became an issue. My dress in most of the photos looked white when it's not white at all. In fact, my favorite thing about that dress was the color, and that of course is my biggest challenge with most of the photos. But that wasn't even the hardest part with this shot.

If you thought I just cropped my mom's elbow out, you're wrong. If had just done that, I would have lost my bouquet (which took too much work just to crop out) and that detail of Travis in the upper, left hand corner ready to receive me. So I used the editing software's simple cloning tool.
It only took me about 5 minutes to not only completely rid my mom from the shot (sorry, Mom), but to also replace it with believable details, like continuing the pattern the sun was making in the grass and remembering to give Travis the leg my mom was blocking in the original.

So, what do you think?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Collard greens

I cannot recall actually eating a collard green. Oh, I know I have at some point. But it must have been so bad that I blocked the experience from my memory. So when my neighbor behind us (we have a common fence) offered up his huge collard greens that I had been intrigued by (see, I even snuck a pic of them a couple of weeks ago) since I noticed them in his garden plot (I want a garden plot!), I couldn't say no. It seemed it was time to face my fear of the repressed memory and see if collards are as good as everyone says they are. Now to find a great recipe. A quick google search reveals this:
I'll let you know which one we choose. With three large bunches, we'll likely be able to tackle at least two kinds (I'm thinking bacon and citrus). I'm actually already thinking of making the citrus collards and serving them with pork chops that were marinated in an orange juice based sauce (like this Asian-inspired one or even this spicy version).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Brightly colored treasures

Here's the thing: I hate shopping. Maybe it's the crowds or the fact that I am spending money, but I rarely shop. In fact, I've only been shopping twice in the last couple of months, and both times included my mother. See, when she comes into town, I am suddenly willing to shop. And our favorite places are the outlets in Williamsburg, mostly because they tend to be on the cheaper side.
This go around I found many things I absolutely loved but couldn't afford and a few things I liked the price and look enough to purchase. Since everything I was drawn to during the trip featured bright colors, I'd say I'm definitely looking forward to the arrival of spring.
Here's a rundown of why I bought what I bought and what I would have purchased if I had more disposable income than I could ever need.

Because I need more than one
I currently have one belt and I love it. It's a white Star Wars belt with black graphics depicting the Battle of Endor.

But the bright colors and comfortable, flexible knit on this one from Eddie Bauer was just too much to say no to, plus the price was affordable.

Because of the irony
When I got my first checking account, I bought a wallet from Walmart specifically to hold my checkbook. 10 years later I'm still using the same wallet, but it's stuffed to the brim with junk I've been collecting since high school. Yet, I haven't purchased a new one because I couldn't take the hit a brand new wallet might have on my... well, you get the idea.
But a recent trip through the Fossil outlet revealed a sale on the wallets I've been drooling over since I found them there several years ago.

What I can't afford and really don't need
And here's a look at my favorite things that I couldn't bring myself to buy, all of which were found at the Le Creuset outlet. Despite the outlet discounts, everything there is still sadly overpriced. I've wanted a tagine since my trip to Morocco. Unfortunately the quality examples are ridiculously expensive. Like this gorgeous kiwi green one, priced at $120:

And while this piece wasn't really expensive, it is a waste of money considering I don't really need a honeypot. But I still love it:

And here are a few more items that I didn't take pictures of because the salesladies were giving me weird looks. Plus, I've never really taken pictures in a store, so I'm not used to the guilty feelings I was having, as if I was breaking some sort of law.The Zen style is so me, but since I get so much use out of my electric kettle, this might be more of a decoration than anything. I definitely couldn't spend money on something I would likely never use.
As for these pepper and salt mills, I know I could snag similar ones for at least half the price of Le Creuset. But they really are gorgeous. Sigh. My aversion to spending money on a whim sure gets to me some times.

By the way, being Le Creuset items, everything in my didn't-buy category comes in pretty much any of their colors, except that sweet honeypot (forgive the pun). That only comes in the gorgeous sunny yellow that such an item should be. Pooh, at least, would be proud.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More visions of Spring

Spring is popping up everywhere in Virginia. Grass is taking on a more lush feel and tiny flowers are coating areas of my backyard that had previously seemed dead.

Winter generally feels like it will never end, so it's the little reminders of spring that I am grateful for.
And it seems that spring is arriving on the blog as well. A bit of cleaning up here and there and updating many of the sections I have recently let stagnate has left me feeling cheerier. I've finally posted my columns under the "Outsider in Suffolk" tab and put the black bean soup recipe under the "From my kitchen" tab. And, as you might have noticed, I'm updating again. It's been a difficult few months, but I'm beginning to notice a new spring in my step, if you'll forgive the pun, and hopefully that will encourage more productiveness on my part.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Quick lunch

Since I don't go to work until 1 p.m. or so, I generally try to eat lunch at home. This allows me to get some more cooking time in (since I can't really cook dinner when I'm working) and also saves me money.
However, I find that I can't make elaborate recipes for lunch. It's just that I'm not really awake enough to keep track of a ton of ingredients and steps. I'm always looking for a quick fix that is easy and filling (since it needs to last me through the prime snacking hours, when I indulge far too often in the candy/cookies/treats that various coworkers bring in). Usually I just make something up from what I have.
Now that it's spring (almost), I've been more into throwing together large salads with homemade dressing, but recent cooler temperatures are bringing back my craving for soup. A quick scan of my cabinets led me to create this yumminess:

Here's what I did:
1) Sauteed chopped up onions, garlic and mushrooms for three or four minutes.
2) Added half a red pepper, chopped, and a few handfuls of canned corn.
3) Two minutes later I added a couple of cups of black bean soup and brought it to a simmer.
4) Finally, I poured the soup into a bowl and garnished it with more fresh peppers, hot sauce, cheese and cilantro.

The soup was both filling and yet light, thanks to the summery corn and red peppers. I used Trader Joes Cuban Black Bean soup as the base, in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring has arrived

Despite the return of chillier temperatures to the area, during a walk with Miyagi I discovered this beautiful sight:

Despite the leaves that we never bothered to rake from last fall, these daffodils have still managed to push their way into my yard, offering tidings of a great season.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New plan for an old fave

I have a slight obsession with cork - but not in the way you might think. I truly dislike the traditional corkboard that we were all given as a going-to-college present. But I love when the beauty of cork - it's earthy color and it's usability - gets repurposed into something unexpected.
Case in point:

The best part is that this looks incredibly easy to do and has the potential for plenty of applications. Ergo, you won't be wasting a whole bunch of cork since you won't be buying a whole roll for just one project. Looks like spring is bringing on a whole bunch of inspiration for me to try new things!