Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seven Snaps! 1/21/12 - 1/27/12

1/21/12 - Staring contest, go.

1/22/12 - Egg and cheese on an everything. The usual.

1/23/12 - I spy: a satellite dish, an old blue armchair, and a good dog.

1/24/12 - New friends! Danielle Tsi of Beyond the Plate

1/25/12 - Far from home, me thinks.

1/26/12 - I spy: an abandoned winter garden.

1/27/12 - End of a long week.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Project Recess!
5 Things That Made Me Clap My Hands Like a 3-Year-Old

All That Glitters: The History of Shiny Things (Etsy) - So shiny!
Extraordinary Insect Origami (My Modern Met) - Definitely folded by ants.
Tiny Envelopes Made from Magazines (Angry Chicken) - For the Fairy Post, of course.
Crow Sledding Down a Rooftop (YouTube) - Again!
Lucky Charms Panna Cotta with Crispy Cereal Marshmallows (BraveTart) - The bubbles kill me.

See anything lately that made you clap your hands with glee?

More about Project Recess here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Seven Snaps: 1/14/12 - 1/20/12

1/14/12 - Nightcap

1/15/12 - Blues at the Farmers Market

1/16/12 - I often have dreams where I can fly, but realize the sky is crossed by power lines.



1/19/12 - More power lines, rainy afternoon


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Very Good Bowl of Chili

I must apologize. This post...well, it's not for you, really. It's for me. Here's the thing: every time I go to make chili, I think back to a particular pot of chili I made roughly five years ago for a small gathering of friends. This chili was good. Very good, even.

I remember that the beans were just the right shade of soft while the tomatoes were silky and sweet. The ground beef had cooked for exactly the right amount of time so that it was tender and made the whole dish taste rich. The cumin and chili powder and oregano were playing nicely together. The stars were aligned over this pot of chili is basically what I'm saying.

After the dinner party, one of my friends asked for the recipe. I distinctly remember scribbling it down for her and then making a second copy for myself. Because, hey, this was an excellent pot of chili we're talking about here.

Now, every time I want to make chili, I search for this paper. I look in all my usual hiding spots, ignoring the fact that these are the same places that I checked the last time I wanted to make chili. Because maybe, this time, I will find it. I do not find it. I check my old blog. Then I wonder if maybe I shared the recipe over on The Kitchn. I find this one, but just as I'm getting excited, I remember that this recipe is actually a slight variation on The Very Good Chili, which I varied for reasons unknown.

 Bottom line: no recipe. It's lost, gone, nowhere to be found. Ultimately, I make up the recipe every time. And every time I think, "Wow, this really IS a very good bowl of chili! I should write the recipe down." Then other things happen and I don't do it. Repeat times infinity.

This ends here, friends. For you, for me, for all of us, here is my recipe for a Very Good Chili.
A Very Good Chili
Makes enough for several adults and plenty of leftovers. It also freezes beautifully.

4 slices of bacon, diced
2 pounds ground beef - however lean or fatty you like it
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced (or if you're feeling industrious, two roasted red peppers.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup amber beer or red wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups (or 2 cans) black beans
1 cup frozen corn
Extras: hot sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream

Warm a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon. Cook until all the fat is rendered and the bacon itself is golden but not yet crispy. Pull out the bacon bits with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Drain off all but a teaspoon or two of the bacon fat.

Cook the ground beef in the bacon fat with a teaspoon of salt, breaking it up into bite-sized morsels as you go. Don't stir it overly much and you'll end up with some nice seared spots on your morsels. When all the beef is uniformly brown and seared, scoop it out and set it aside. Pour off all but a teaspoon or so of the fat. (Alternatively, if you used lean meat, you may need to add a teaspoon of oil back into the pan.)

Cook the onions with a half teaspoon of salt until they are soft and beginning to turn brown. Add the peppers and cook until they have also softened. Clear a little space in the middle of the pan and tip your garlic in. Stir it around for a few seconds until it gets fragrant, then stir the garlic into the other vegetables. Sprinkle the seasonings over top.

By this time, a nice sticky dark film should have formed on the bottom of your pan. The French call this the "fond;" I like to call it "delicious." Pour your beer or wine into the pot and scrape away at this brown layer as the beer simmers and bubbles.

Once you've scraped up as much as you can get and the beer has reduced a bit, add the hamburger back into the pot along with the chicken broth. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for a good hour or so until the hamburger tastes tender and succulent. Add more salt or other seasonings if you think the chili needs it.

When the meat is ready, stir in the tomatoes (reserved until now because the acid in them can make the meat take longer to become tender), the beans, the corn, and last but not least, the reserved bacon. Simmer a little longer, maybe another 10 minutes.

Give it a taste and add more of anything you think is missing. If the soup tastes a little flat to you, try giving it a squeeze of lime or lemon juice or a shot of cider vinegar to brighten it up. A little Worcestershire or soy sauce can also add depth if you think that is lacking. Trust your taste buds. They won't lead you wrong.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Seven Snaps: 1/7/12 - 1/13/12

1/7/12 - Flipping naan from the tandoor at the farmers market.

1/8/12 - Bird-watching perch and pillow.

1/9/12 - Sprinklers in the middle of January. Only in California.

1/10/12 - My favorite place to shop.

1/11/12 - Just out of reach.

1/12/12 - Waiting for 3pm.

1/13/12 - A bit of Narnia in the suburban wilderness of Sunnyvale.
I have been having a blast playing around with these pictures using various apps on the iPhone. An absolute blast. So far, I've just been wandering around my neighborhood snapping shots of various lawn ornamentation and bits of California greenery. (Side note: greenery that's actually green in January is still kind of magical to me.)

I didn't start out intending to only take iPhone photos, but that's how it's turned out. I love my SLR dearly, but it's big and draws a lot of attention to itself when I'm wandering around on my daily errands. By contrast, the iPhone is small, discrete, and takes surprisingly good pictures.

The shots I'm taking aren't anything particularly amazing, but it's a) gotten me to think outside of the box...or rather, the kitchen, b) helped get me into a daily habit of taking photographs, and most importantly, c) super fun.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Project Recess! 5 Things That Made Me Belly Laugh

27 Rules of Conquering the Gym (WSG) - My favorites are #1 and #8
Fun with Moms on the Internet (XO Jane) - I love you, Mom. I really do.
The Saddest Thing I've Ever Heard on a Plane (The Oatmeal) - So hilariously true.
Clever Illustrations to Brighten Your Day (My Modern Met) - Mmm...puns...
The Moth Podcast - Chicago GrandSLAM Part 1 (The Moth) - Warning: do not listen to this while on your daily run because you will start laughing and people will look at you like you're a crazy person. (Also streaming HERE via TuneIn if that link doesn't work.)

Had a good laugh lately?

More about Project Recess here.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Seven Snaps: 12/31/11 - 1/6/12

12/31/11 - I'll take them down next week. I promise.
1/1/12 - A quiet start to the New Year.

1/2/12 - Long day.

1/3/12 - Bottling homebrew!

1/4/12 - Clean dishes are much nicer than dirty dishes.

1/5/12 - Above the lemon bush.

1/6/12 - Spanakopita for dinner.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Recess! Resolving to Take Time to Play

Me and Dad, San Francisco, Dec 2011
By now, many of you have probably read the fantastic piece from Pico Iyer in the New York Times, "The Joy of Quiet." If you haven't, go ahead and give it a read. I'll wait.

My dad (that's him up in that picture with me) sent me a link to this article a few days before New Years when it was first published in the newspaper. It isn't that this article, although well-written and meditative, says anything so terribly new or revolutionary. It was the timing of it. I read it in that reflective space between Christmas and the end of the year, and felt drawn to statements like this one:

We barely have enough time to see how little time we have (most Web pages, researchers find, are visited for 10 seconds or less). And the more that floods in on us (the Kardashians, Obamacare, “Dancing with the Stars”), the less of ourselves we have to give to every snippet.

And this one:

...It’s only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it. 

I read this article and I thought, "Yes." Yes, this is what I need. I need quiet space and time to filter all the words, images, and messages that bombard me so constantly that there are days when I feel physically battered by the time I pull down the covers and slip into bed. I need quiet space to recharge myself and remember why I am doing what I'm doing and to find new inspiration. Quiet space. That's exactly what has been missing.

So, of course, I made a New Year's resolution to make more quiet space in my days. This felt good and healthy and spiritual and all sorts of other noble things.

On New Year's Day, my husband Scott and I took a walk and I broached the subject: how do we go about making quiet space in our days? And there was silence. From both of us. And not the good kind of introspective silence that was the point of the whole conversation, but more the awkward kind of two people completely flummoxed.

I tried asking it in another way: what does quiet space look like? Feel like?

I thought of sitting meditation. Yoga. Staring out the window into space. Napping. Going for runs without listening to music or podcasts. Turning off the computer. Turning off the iPhone. Even putting down my book and setting the magazines aside.

Is it just me or does quiet space sound pretty boring?

It sounds like the kind of thing that would feel good and healthy and noble for about a week before kicking it to the curb. It sounds like all things that I've done before, none of which ever stuck. This realization was frustrating to me. Because I do feel overwhelmed with the barrage of information that flies at me every day. I do feel that need to step away. But I don't think quiet space is really the answer for me.

Mom, drinking Blue Bottle Coffee, San Francisco, Dec 2011
Over the next few days, I kept mulling this over. Quiet space. Quiet space. Quiet space. I thought about the times when I feel happiest and most relaxed. Sometimes that happens when I'm staring out the window at nothing. Sometimes that happens when I'm paging through blogs on the computer. The feeling can come up while listening to Rage Against the Machine on an afternoon run. I actually feel it quite a lot when I'm snapping pictures with my iPhone like the ones in this post.

There were many characteristics that tied these moments together. Here's the revised list quiet space qualifiers: timelessness, lightness, creativity, spontaneity, joy, abandonment (the good kind), playfulness.

Then I finally put it together. My "quiet space" looks an awful lot like "play time." That made me smile.

Play time is exactly what I need. It's what I've always needed. If left to my own devices, I tend to be a very serious person. Focused. Logical. Hardworking. Play time is for later, after all the work is done. The kind of quiet time described in that New York Times article sounded, to me, like more of the serious focus that I already have in spades. I need time to play.

So that's my New Year's resolution: take a recess every day, in the middle of the day. Exactly like we used to have back in school. It's unstructured time with relaxed rules and no set schedule. And then back to work, but a little more refreshed and ready than before. Yes.