29 September 2009

Walkin, slingin, and experimentin.

When I lost my job, just about eight months ago now (yikes!!), I was certain I'd make good use of my time. No job = perfect opportunity to volunteer my butt off. While, let's just say that hasn't necessarily happened. I just haven't been able to get motivated to pick dog walking back up, tutoring for 826 just never felt like my thing.... so I try to take advantage of opportunities whenever they arise, like helping out at Planned Parenthood whenever they need me -- I can stuff envelopes with the best of them! And walking and raising money for other worthy causes, like this past Sunday with Sarah and Mike (and sicky Lisa Z. in spirit), when we walked in the Ann Arbor AIDS Walk. As Team Berkshares, we raised $405, making us the fourth top-earning team. Go team go!

My trusty teammates prepare for battle!

Pigtail power!

In other "last week volunteery" news, I also helped out at the 11th annual Planned Parenthood Beer Tasting (my third year slingin' beer for the cause). This is such a great event, and thanks to all my peeps who came and supported us! Stayed tuned this winter for details on the fourth annual Get Down for Choice event. :)

I always call seniority and snag the best beer.

My beer-pourin' partners.

Since I've been sooooo busy -- ha -- I haven't had time ("time") to cook much. But I was inspired by the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine and tried out two new recipes. First up, lightened up mac and cheese (can I ever pass up a new mac recipe?). I can't find the recipe online, and Brad is nagging at me to get off the computer, so I'll just give you the highlights (and if you want it, I can email the recipe directly to you or you can grab the issue yourself -- it's a really good one!). What is different about this mac is the use of evaporated milk instead of milk, butter, and flour. Also new is the inclusion of a cauliflower puree to thicken up the sauce.

I typically make stovetop mac and cheese and call it a day. Every time I've tried to make baked mac and cheese, it just ends up a big ole dried out mess. Well, this sauce was everything it advertised itself to be -- super creamy, super super creamy, and it held up its creaminess after baking, too. But first, everything was topped off with slices of muenster.

And how would it taste?!

Well, creamy, for sure. Which made me happy. Was it the best mac and cheese ever? No. But... I think I know how to fix that next time. It just wasn't strong -- it had a very mild cheese flavor. I blame the shredded cheese mix I used, which I didn't think about when I was making it. The recipe calls for sharp cheddar. Oops. So definitely sharp cheddar next time, and maybe more of it and less muenster. But I'm totally sold on the evap. milk method!

The second recipe was for cheesy stuffed shells, with tofu instead of meat -- my first tofu dish! Again, nothing too special, but a stuffing mixture of tofu, spinach, and cheese... Oh yeah, and some carrots and mushrooms in the sauce.

Put us in the oven!

Out of the oven and lookin good.

This recipe suffered similarly as the mac and cheese -- super super mild flavor. Again, partially my fault; I used fat-free cottage cheese without even thinking about it. And while there is plenty of mozz and parm on the inside, it probably could have used some ricotta, too. It wasn't bad; in fact, it was quite tasty. BUT it definitely could have been better. This just means I get to make it again, and make it even yummier. :)

25 September 2009

Sly as a fox.

A few weeks ago I spotted something very interesting at the dog park... (which is on the grounds of a vet/animal rescue)... something white and cute with pointy ears... A FOX! Specifically, a Georgie fox twin! He was sleeping last time I saw him, but today he was up and running around so I snuck over with my camera and snapped a few shots of the cutie pants. I want to smoosh him!!

"See how cute I am? I stick my tongue out at your less-cute-than-me-ness!"

Some of my party were none to pleased about being left in the car, though...

*Note the ears sticking out the sunroof.... :)

20 September 2009

If Gayle says so.

For the past six or seven years, come football season, I've spent a lot of Sunday afternoons alone. Brad and his guy friends have season tickets to the Lions. Lame. Well, now his guys have girls. So, to celebrate the start of football season, me and said girls (Sarah M. and Melissa S.) decided to have a Lions Widow Afternoon. First up, pampering. And, luckily, Sarah knew a lovely little salon in Royal Oak that was also surprisingly affordable (my favorite combination). In no time, I was the proud owner of shiny Barbie pink fingers and toes.

Next up, brunch. We decided on Cafe Muse, which was new to all of us. Brad and I caught it on Oprah a few months ago, but it's only open for breakfast and lunch, so we've never been around when it's open. We figured it would be good, but didn't know what to expect (other than the grilled cheese Gayle raved about). Setting wise, it's a super cute little cafe, and we snagged a perfect tall window table. We sat down, ordered some drinks (no mimosas [boo!] so I settled on a cherry Italian soda, which was made for me at the table with a little fizzy gun squirt bottle), and checked out the menu.

I have to say, this is one of the most impressive menus I've seen. Breakfast and lunch items, plus at least 10 daily specials. And at least every other item is something I wanted to try. We all had quite the time deciding, and both Sarah and Melissa got help from the waitress with their decisions. Before we ordered our meals, though, we knew we had to try the famous grilled cheese -- is that not the most perfect appetizer?!? I admit, we were all a little leery of the honey, but would Oprah lie?!

Looks beautiful... Smells beautiful...

Ooey gooey on the inside...

But what would Ms. Picky Pants think?

I am happy to report that each of us fell in love with this delicious sandwich, and we all even agreed that the honey tasted good. The basil was also another odd but tasty addition. We gobbled it up before the waitress could even bring us plates.

After the grilled cheese, we found we were even hungrier. We couldn't have been happier when our entrees arrived -- everything looked amazing.

Sarah ordered the grilled portobello, ammoglio, and fresh mozzarella sandwich with a side of cous cous. She was very pleased.

PS. Apparently ammoglio is an Italian sauce with tons of garlic -- my kryptonite! But it came in this super cute little mini (for you, Lisa darling) pot.

Melissa ordered the pound cake French toast (yes, pound cake French toast!) with fresh berries.

I snagged a few bites of this and it was heavenly. Seriously. I adore French toast. In fact, I should make it more often. At least once a week. Or every day. That's healthy, right?

I struggled with my decision a bit, too. Pancakes with apple+pumpkin butter, French toast, two smoked salmon dishes, shrimp salad, tuna salad (I saw someone eating this on the way in and it looked super yum)... But once I saw the specials list, I was sold. Cheesy grits and shrimp on top of an English muffin, all topped with two fried eggs. Mmmmm. See how happy I am just looking at it?

I think you need a close-up.

Have you ever seen two more perfect eggs? Seriously. This was groan-out-loud good. I kind of want to eat it again right now. The grits were the perfect amount of cheesy, the perfect amount of moist (ew, did I just say moist?), and those eggs.... the eggs... So fluffy! I'm 100% completely and totally sold on Cafe Muse. And I can't wait to go back. Maybe football season ain't so bad. :)

13 September 2009

This little piggie.

I've been busy this past week, I guess, doing, well, I don't know what, but busy enough that I've missed noting a few notable meals. Last Thursday, I fell in love with a giant cabbage and had to have it. I brought it home and Sunday made my first attempt at stuffed cabbage rolls. It's instances like this that I wish recipes were VERY specific. I made the somewhat fatal flaw of not precooking my cabbage long enough before stuffing and cooking. It just wasn't clear! I blame you, cooks.com! I steamed my cabbage leaves in the microwave until they were just pliable. Turns out, that's just not long enough. But they looked fine cookin up...

And, honestly, I really really liked them still. Brad couldn't get past the texture of the cabbage and all the work it took to cut it, but I was surprisingly reminded of how delicious cabbage is. If Brad will trust me, I will absolutely make this again soon.

So after all the work of the cabbage rolls (not a ton of work, but, you know, work nonetheless), it reminds me how some of the simplest meals are the best. Case in point, burrito night.

*This is the infamous broccoli I steamed alongside a gigantic grub. I still shudder at the thought.

Just some tortillas, refried beans, shredded cheddar, lettuce, and guacamole. Perfect. Later in the week, I made another delicious but simple discovery: pasta + Trader Joe's vodka sauce + 1/2 log of goat cheese = best. meal. ever. I highly recommend checking out this super duper quick combo.

And if I was having any doubts about not eating meat, Brad and I visited the Saline Fair on Friday, and, of course, roamed through all the animal exhibits. I wanted to smoosh them all. And luckily, most of them I could. Except for this piggie, who smooshed ME!

This dude thought he was pretty sweet. Brad and I had to agree.

And the fair, THE place to be as a kid, looks just about the same as I remember it. Although, of course, back then it seemed massive (and now it costs almost as a ticket to Cedar Point once you add everything up!).

And finally, a quick shout out to one of my oldest friends. Hope you had the best bachelorette party ever, Tabi!

Down the hatch, Mrs. Feeney-to-Be

11 September 2009

Creamsicle love.

I mentioned a while back that I've been busy knitting hats to donate. I've got a handful done so far, and today I got to give my first hat. An older woman that works with my mom has several different types of cancer. A year away from retirement, she is also about to lose her job with the department. Such a sad story, and, of course, when my mom asked if she could give her one of my hats, I had her pick out one she thought her friend would like best. I hope my creamsicle hat will at least give her a little smile during her hard times. Saying a little prayer for her.

04 September 2009

Home on the grange.

Last Thursday, Lisa, Birgit, Mike, and I hit up Slow Foods' Local Food Awards and Coming Home movie premier at the Michigan Theater.

The event started at 6 pm with local snacks, including super delicious toasts spread with smoked salmon salad, trout salad (which I spread on bread), cous cous salad, meats and cheeses, and apple cider. We'd only paid a $5 admission, so the food alone was worth the money. There was also a table for, well, The Local Table. Here we got local passports to track our visits to local restaurants and vendors -- if we hit 10 places (the event counted as one!), we get a free teeshirt. I like free stuff. Also snaggable at the table were free chicken buttons. Who can pass up a free chicken button?

Onto the theater we moved, where Frog Holler won the first Local Hero Award (visit them at the AA Farmer's Market!). Then it was time for a showing of Coming Home about the reinvention of the local economy. I think we expected something more along the lines of Food Inc and instead were presented with what was more like a 40-minute infomercial/school filmstrip. It certainly had some interesting information, but a lot of the economic detail was over my head and I couldn't relate it to the real world. Much of the film focused on a community's development of fake local money, which seems like a real nightmare to monitor. The camera work and editing were pretty shoddy, the narration was way over the top, and the interview subjects weren't very eloquent. Let's just say, when the movie was over, we hightailed it out of there instead of sitting through another hour of discussion, about the movie! Eep! Rather, we hit the planned after party early.

As luck would have it, the after party was planned for The Grange, so it gave us an excuse to finally (well, finally for some of us) check the new place out. Downstairs is the main dining area, while upstairs is a small bar area (small means small). We managed to snag a few seats at the bar and settled in for a few drinks and some snacks, and Sarah was able to meet up with us, as well.

Drinks first, of course. And the drink menu is super interesting with lots of yummy-sounding signature cocktails. Birgit, Mike, and I ordered up the back porch lemonade.

The silly menu won't open up online right now, but it included something like ginger syrup, vodka, I'm guessing lemonade.... haha So something like that. Either way, it was DELICIOUS. And certainly quite reasonable given the gigantic glass. I had two. I typically avoid lemonade because of the acid, but it was tempered well and I didn't have any issues. Other than, you know, the spins.

That's right it's ladies' night. Oh what a night.

Chillin at the bar.

iPhone nerds. :)

Next up, snacks. And Mike convinced the (other!) girls to try scotch eggs with him. Hard-boiled eggs wrapped in bacon and deep fried (or something like that), served with a mustard sauce.

Normal me probably would have tried it, but because of the bacon I passed. They seemed to be a hit, though, with Lisa even enjoying the mustard despite not being a mustard fan. Definitely a good boozy snack.

After a while, I needed some food, too. And luckily I was able to order the fried egg sandwich minus bacon (and with runny yolk, mmm) because it sounded delightful. And guess what? It looked delightful, too!

I was surprised to find the bread not toasted, but it was a pleasant surprise. Everything mixed so well together. The runny egg, the soft bread, the spicy mayo (that I'd forgotten about and was taken aback by at first -- I couldn't figure out how an egg could taste quite like that, ha!). I gobbled it up and have been thinking about it ever since. Somehow something so simple can really taste that much better with fresh, high-end ingredients. (Mike ate the fries cooked in duck fat -- thanks for the help!)

For now, I don't know that Brad and I will hit the restaurant proper for a full-on meal (it's definitely a special occasion place), but I'm looking forward to taking him back for a light meal and some drinks in the bar. But on a random weeknight -- that place is small, and busy!

Overall, a super duper fun and local night!

02 September 2009

Knit it forward.*

Well, as Jessica pointed out, I have gone from grasshopper to master (grassmaster!). Well, "master" is subjective, but I have taken on my first knitting pupil. Last Friday, Rachel and I hid from the rain with our yarn and knittin needles--she's drunk the yarn koolaid!

"This is what I think of casting on!"

Rachel and I have worked together for a lot of years (in fact, we're just celebrating our eight-year anniversary. aww). We work well together and just know what's what when we're working through a project. So obviously, the lesson went fantastically, and Rachel was well on her way to hat goodness in no time.

Floyd assumes the official dog-knitting position.

Eventually I had to end the lesson and venture back out into the rain (after knitting through Gingerdead Man and Cheerleader Party, that is). Rachel was already well on her way to knitting fanatic. Welcome to the club, my pet.

Well, less than a week passed (more like four days!) and Rachel was ready to start finishing her hat. Lesson number two time!

Licorice hat.

And wouldn't you know it? Rachel was also ready to learn purl, ribbing, and start on hat number two! I couldn't be prouder.

Gold star!

*Written whilst wearing my new $6 Halloween tee from Target. It has an owl. And says Spooky Hoot! I luv Halloween.