Spatula smatula

Last day of August, 2010. I have to say SOMETHING!

Yesterday I was boiling water to make pasta and there was a spatula resting nearby where the plastic handle was touching the pot I was boiling. I smelled something funny but didn’t realize it until the handle was a melted crook.

The Gift of Downsizing

Living in a smaller space has significantly improved my quality of life. I always knew it was better to live in smaller quarters for the energy efficiency, but there were some of spillover benefits I didn’t realize until I actually started living in a smaller place. For instance, I don’t buy as much, and I appreciate what I have more. I’m more resourceful, efficient, and I save a lot more money because of that. When I had a lot of space to stash things, I could just keep buying stuff. Whereas before, I had a whole second bedroom to use as my closet of clothes and a garage of shoes I didn’t even remember I had, I now have three rods to hang clothes, and a few shelves and drawers. The limitations make me carefully consider what I have and what I need. Now that I only have so many items of clothes to choose from, getting dressed takes less time too. It’s either the pink t-shirt, pink button down, or pink stripey shirt with the black or brown pants. No more rummaging through two bedrooms full of clothes. There just aren’t the massive piles of crap that I know I’m not going to wear and yet still have to dig through. With the limited space, I’ve also stopped most of my shopping. And I don’t feel deprived because I dig out more of my previously purchased outfits that I had never worn and wear them! Imagine that. New clothes without the shopping. Even now having taken such a hiatus on shopping, I still have clothes I don’t wear or have never worn. Come this winter, I will be cleaning out my closet again. Last winter, I bagged up 6 or so trash bags full of clothes and accessories. That feeling of getting rid of stuff is very cleansing. I feel less weighed down by crap. And I don’t miss those items at all. I can’t even remember what they were really.

Now there was a time of adjustment that I needed to get used to smaller quarters. The kitchen was one of the challenges. With limited cabinet and counter space, I have to be better about putting things away and not buying too many kitchen gadgets or dishes. But it hasn’t kept me from cooking and entertaining guests. I’m also more careful at considering and reconsidering my needs versus wants. Now, instead of placing an Amazon order frivolously or whenever it occurs to me, I put things in my cart and leave them there for days or even weeks before I finally order, or not. The hairdryer in my shopping cart has gone down by $5 in the weeks it’s taken me to think about buying it. I’m still thinking.

I also live more comfortably. It’s easier to regulate the temperature of a small space. Also, my commute is ridiculously easy and I don’t have a car, nor do I miss it or the bills and the maintenance that comes with it. I don’t miss vacuuming big rooms either. A quick swish of a sweeper and the floors are done. And I’m even lazy about that, frankly.

Less really is more and I don’t miss the square footage.

My calling

It’s the last week before the start of school. Not that I had any 2-month long summer break. Still, it feels like fall is just about here and before we know it another year has rolled by. Gosh what a fast year. So what did I do all summer? Let’s see, in reviewing my past entries: eating. Peach picking. Hanging out with friends. Traveling. Blogging. Reading. Gardening. But guess what one common theme ties them all together? Yup – anything edible. I think every activity I’ve engaged in this summer has revolved around food.

Update on the aquarium

In less than 8 hours after they were added to the tank, one of the shrimps keeled over. So we have 2 shrimps now and one missing conch. He was around somewhere last night but today, he’s gone into hiding. It’s been interesting for us to watch them explore their new surroundings. We even had dinner in front of the tank last night to watch as they poked around. They are doing very well getting along with the clown fish and the hermit crabs and they seem to like hanging out together too.

Summer Rolls

Because it’s Summer, of course! And even if it isn’t, whatever, they’re good. Here’s how I make em.

Pluck mint from garden.
Pluck basil from garden.
Bask in the glory of my green thumb!

Summer rolls are like egg rolls that you don’t need to fry or do any heat cooking whatsoever. I’ve only made vegetarian versions of it because when you take out the meat, cooking and the clean-up which follows, is just so much easier. Once you have it down, you can fill it with anything.

Summer rolls
So to make these wraps, I buy rice paper from an Asian grocer. I prefer the larger size without sesame seeds. Just round plain rice paper.
I like a thick peanut sauce too though I’ve tried it with fish sauce as well. For the peanut sauce:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 small garlic clove mashed to a paste
  • 1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup water

For variations, I’ve added a dash of fish sauce before, a tablespoonful of vinegar, more hot chili-garlic paste than the recipe calls for, and held the mashed garlic clove, in different combinations.

To make the wraps:

  1. Grease a large flat pan where you will lay the finished rolls.  They stick together so you have to have enough room to lay them flat and not touch each other.
  2. Lay out your fillings in an assembly-line fashion. Or however you want it. (I’ve used grated carrots, cucumber, jicama, mint, basil, cilantro, purple cabbage)
  3. Fill a flat pie dish with water.
  4. Dip one sheet of rice paper in the water until it’s wet (5 seconds or so) then lay it atop a cutting board or other non-smooth or greased surface.  This stuff is sticky so you have to work quickly.
  5. Put a row of the filling in the bottom center of the rice paper leaving room at the bottom and two sides.  I try to make it about the size of 2 rolls of quarters. By now the paper has softened.
  6. Fold the bottom flap up to cover the filling, then the two sides towards the middle, then roll it right up!  You don’t need any binder or glue because the rice paper sticks to itself.  Don’t worry about tears or whatnot.

New additions to the family

We went to a sorta nearby saltwater fish store today to get these guys!
Skunk cleaner shrimp
Skunk cleaner shrimps.

And this dude.
Fighting conch
Fighting conch.

Everything saltwater is so pretty. Many of the anemone look fluorescent under the lights. I’m looking forward to seeing these four walking about. For the longest time, it’s been just the percula clown fish, hermit crabs, and snails.

Love-Hate Caffeine

This time, it’s not like I actively quit coffee so much as July-August isn’t exactly a time for hot beverages. Yesterday, we had an all-day meeting at work. I didn’t want to doze off and someone was kind enough to bring a gigantic supply of Starbucks so I sipped a small cup. Then another. Then another. By the time my heart was racing it was too late. And it’s 3AM and I am still wide awake!

Herb Roasted Chicken

Baby SageI started the balcony garden 4 months ago (has it been that long already?!). Since then, I’ve enjoyed fresh basil and mint on a regular basis because it’s so easy to use. The other herbs, I just let it grow and grow into a tangled mess. Then, I trimmed it back a bit. Like the lemongrass, I’ve had to mow that once already and it needs to be mowed again. (Really I just take scissors to the overgrown leaves. It grows like crabgrass and smells so divine!
oregano, sage, rosemary
This weekend, I finally put the herbs to use. Not the lemongrass, but the Greek oregano, sage, and rosemary. I chopped them up with garlic, salt, sugar, and pepper and made a rub. It sat in the fridge for two days and then I roasted it in the oven. Mmm…

And tadaa!
herb roasted chicken

A New Puppy!!

Our neighbor got a new 3-month old French bulldog pupster. Her name is Lafayette and she is as cute as you can imagine. She arrived three days ago to a warm family and a very tolerant cat. This puppy as you might imagine has already started her reign of puppydom on the household. I can’t wait for them to go on vacation so I can babysit the cat and puppy. Heck, I might be knocking on their door before they go on vacation just to play with her some more. She’s such a handful, teething with sharp puppy teeth, but very friendly.

What good timing, we were just considering fostering a dog, with their help (she’s home during the day, most days). But now that they have a dog, even better. I can play with her without being responsible for caring for the ball of energy!

She toddles when she walks, and isn’t too steady on her feet, it’s so cute. It’s 11pm right now, or I’d go knock on their door to play with her again. I’m going to be the annoying kid next door who keeps asking to play with the dog. Maybe I’ll come in handy for walks in the wintertime. I should learn how to knit puppy booties. Ack!

FINALLY! INTERNET! (Oh and grilled cheese)

This doohickey that needed to be plugged in to the computer came out so that’s why I was Internet-less for almost 2 weeks. It was okay though, I played a lot of Sims2. I figured it out just now, it dawned on me randomly. So here I am, back to talk about more food.

Weeks ago, I raved about the best grilled cheese I ever had at Northside Social, and a couple of people told me to just go make my own! So I took the advice and got three different kinds of cheeses and slapped it all together. It tasted great but I committed a very common grilled-cheese mistake – burnt bread.
grilled cheese

Here’s what I learned from the Internet:

  • Butter your bread, not the pan so the butter is evenly distributed on the bread.
  • Grate the cheese for optimal melting rate.  The faster the cheese melts, the less your bread burns.
  • Flip the sandwich!
  • Basil is a nice addition, as well as tomato, sauteed onions, or even a fried egg.  I haven’t tried the onions or egg but it sounds tasty.

Here are the cheeses I used:
The Port Salut is a soft spreading cheese. It goes on like peanut butter. Aside from the burnt bread, it was very delicious and fantastic with tomato soup! I won’t need to go out for this anymore!