Category Archives: engagement excerpts

Thanksgiving chicken

Lesson 2: Roasting a chicken requires you to truss.  And trust.

To kick off our first holiday season in our new home, J & I hosted a “Pre-Thanksgiving Day” dinner with some friends.  I wiped off the dust collecting on my Martha Stewart ‘Cooking School’ book (I could have sworn Martha had a disapproving glint in her fixed smile on the cover).

With the added pressure of cooking for about 10 people, I jumped forward to Chapter 3.1 on making a “Perfect Roast Chicken.”

Remove giblets and liver from cavity.  Gross. Rinse chicken thoroughly inside and out.  I felt like I was oddly rinsing a headless 4 lb baby.  It took major restraint not to squeal aloud in disgust.

Trader Joe's free range chicken... now trapped in the pan

Once the chicken was patted dry, I stuffed their ‘cavity’ (the large gaping hole) with rosemary sprigs, quartered lemons, and chunks of garlic.  Simple enough.  With some assistance from a friend (my impromptu sous chef), I slathered on melted butter and olive oil on the chicken.  Think poultry day spa rub.  Salt and pepper with abundance.  I even tried to be fancy and stuff some extra rosemary herbs under the skin.

Upon consulting with Martha, she then said it was time to ‘truss the chicken.’  What the hell did that mean?

Trussed Chickens

After many unsuccessful attempts to ‘truss’ (tie up) the chicken legs, I finally got the string to hold.  It didn’t help that my string wasn’t long enough.  I then rested the chicken rack atop a bed of a potato medley, chopped onions, and carrots.  Pop them in the 450 degree oven and about an hour later…

Thanksgiving Roasted Chicken

One of my finest culinary achievements thus far!  Thank you to Martha and the holiday season for inspiring me to return to the kitchen.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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french press & novel writing

This Sunday morning was filled with determination.  I woke up and decided on two things – 1) to break in my new Chambord French Press coffee maker and 2) to write a novel.

The latest addition to my kitchen, thanks to the World Market.  The box states that it is “probably the best way to brew coffee.”

French Press

Coarse ground coffee from Trader Joe’s.  It was fun learning how to use the grinder machine at the store.  Another FF (fabulous frugal) tip: spend $5 on a can instead of $3 for a cup!

Trader Joe's Smooth & Mellow

Pour hot water in and let steep with the coffee grinds for 4 minutes.  Press, pour, and inhale deeply.

steep

Enjoy in a colorful mug.  A writer’s warm and tasty companion.

coffee and a book

2) The Novel

Coffee mug in hand, laptop switched on, and a good hour of stalling, I finally work up the nerve to sign up for a NanoWrimo account.  With November 1st as the starting point of National Novel Writing Month, participants from all over the world are challenged to write 50,000 words (175 pages) in 30 days.  30 days of high pressure, crappy, and spontaneous writing.  Why am I willingly putting myself through such a painful literary experience?

– I think of stories ideas that never quite make it to paper or print.

– Knowing how I tend to start things and leave it hanging.  I will be forced to start and finish.

– The focus is on quantity, not quality of writing.

– It’ll be another wonderful to-do crossed off my list

– It sounds so ridiculous and crazy, that… why shouldn’t I?

The count so far: 743 words.  30 days left to go.

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schooled by Martha

Lesson 1: Choose your kitchen companion wisely.

This is a classic case of life imitating art.  Or to be more accurate, life that imitates art imitating life.

After watching Julie and Julia, the film based on the stories of writer/aspiring home chef Julie Powell and the famous Julia Child, I felt invigorated.  Eager to write, blog, cook, and eat all at the same time!  Just as Julie Powell was inspired to go through Julia Child’s entire cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the film inspired me to also be ambitious in the kitchen.  A week later, one purposeful trip to Border’s with a friend led me to purchase Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook.

Browsing through all of the glossy covers of grinning Food Network stars, unknowns, and cheesy titles (e.g. The Cooking Bible), I found there are two types of cookbooks: 1) Ones with only recipes, 2) Ones with recipes and cooking techniques.  There are far more “recipe” cookbooks than there are “comprehensive and technique” cookbooks.  Most already assume that you know the basics, something that I did not have. Others, like Julia Child’s and the popular  Joy of Cooking, seemed intimidating and looked like encyclopedias – not too appetizing.  However, like Goldilocks who found Baby Bear’s porridge to be just right, I discovered that Martha’s book had everything I was looking for: a credible author (alright, so the lady embezzled.  That doesn’t discount her culinary and creative talents!), diagrams and descriptions of basic things like herbs, cookware, and cuts of meat, how-to lessons (I never truly learned the proper way to chop onions, to “sweat” them, or even how to blanch vegetables!), delicious recipes, and all complemented by gorgeous step-by-step photos.

I thumbed through the Basics chapter, and then worked my way into the first culinary challenge:

Chapter 1.8.  How to make vegetable pureed soup

My vegetable of choice – the lovely butternut squash.  Slightly sweet, creamy, and a beautiful orange color.

Split the butternut, scoop out the seeds, salt and pepper, and roast in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes.  These things are not only hard to cut, but I felt clumsy trying to de-skin it after I took it out of the oven.  It didn’t peel off as easily as I had hoped and I lost precious chunks at the hand of my knife.  *sigh

The “proper way” to chop an onion is NOT EASY.  This is my unimpressive attempt.  Note the irregular dice.

Letting the onions, garlic, and pear “sweat” in butter and medium heat.  I learned that the purpose of this is to extract the flavor, in addition to cooking it.  I later added the chunks of roasted butternut and chicken broth to simmer.

A few minutes in the blender and a beautiful orange colored puree emerged.  In less than an hour, J and I enjoyed our freshly made butternut soup as a healthy appetizer.  It tasted way better and heartier than the kind I buy at Trader Joe’s.  Why buy canned when you can make your own?  Excuse the “velociraptor” style arrangement of the pear slices.  I still have some presentation skills to learn. There is, in classic Martha Stewart style, a garnish chapter somewhere in her book.

My goal is to be able to get through at least 1-2 “lessons” a week, eventually gleaning and utilizing all of the techniques she covers.  And just like Julie Powell, I plan on capturing this personal project via my blog.  Please feel free to post any tips or words of encouragement as I fumble my way through the culinary world.  Cooking School is in session!

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fabulous and frugal

My current MO and lifestyle – living fabulously frugal.

One would think that the two are contrasting ideals.  Living a fabulous life connotates living lavishly and indulgently, or in my case, impulsively and passionately without much concern for the aftermath.  An expensive month in Paris after grad school? Sure!  Move to San Francisco on a random month in the year? Why not?  Take a journalism class amidst writing my Master’s thesis? I’ll make it work.  Audition for a lead role in a short film?* Let’s do it!

My main point being – all the time and energy to pursue anything and everything was in my reach.  Whatever I fancied to have or do, I found a way to make it happen.  Aside from student loans and holding down a job, I had no true obligations to anyone but myself.  I was free to spend money and time on anything I desired, so long as I had sufficient funds.  I had adapted to a lifestyle that splurged on delicious dining, getaway trips, and new adventures.

DSCN6817

So what changed?  Apparently, being engaged and a homeowner quadruples your level of responsibilities.  Not only that, but it also takes a demanding toll on your energy and financial income.  We were in love and with a very tight budget.  I nearly cried when J and I sat down to work out our monthly expenses for September – the first month of the dreaded mortgage and incoming house bills.

“But there’s no way I can go eat in the City or get together with the girls for drinks with this much for the month!” I wailed at J after I saw my remaining balance.  After accounting for bills, house expenses, groceries, gas, loans, and lunch money, I was well in the negative. J squeezed my shoulder and calmly said that I just need to be okay with cutting down on my indulgent spending.

“Babe, you need to have a plan.  You want to do all of these things, but how are you going to pay for it?” he said matter-of-factly.  I wanted to pinch him.  HARD.

I whined and sighed and cried for about the next two weeks.  Visions of our December trip to Florida’s Key West, dining out every so often in San Francisco, and buying myself a fancy new camera lens swirled down a drainhole in my head.  I was heartbroken. My old lifestyle was gone and I needed a way to move on.

And so here I am today.  Figuring out some way to still maintain some semblance of a fabulous life, but doing so frugally – in a financially conscious manner.  Things like coupons, discount stores, and promotional deals are starting to become part of my daily jargon.  Some other lifestyle changes:

* I purchased a VTA lightrail pass to commute to work.  More walking and public transit will mean less on gas & parking.

* Home cooked meals.  More practice for me in the kitchen and less on eating out.  I calculated that about $40 on groceries bought me – at least 6 meals and breakfast for 2 weeks.  If a meal is about $10 each and breakfast can easily be $5, that equals $130 worth of food for my $40 spent.  I may not be Giada in the kitchen, but J has been pleased with his dinners so far.

* Utilizing our Costco, AAA, and my education discount.  Bank of America also has a cool “Add it Up” program; cash back on online purchases.

* Of course, a wallet crammed full of coupons.  I keep the ones I’ll likely use (Safeway, Sweet Tomatoes, Target, Bed Bath Beyond etc) and have no shame in busting it out at the register.

For our recent trip to Las Vegas, J and I allocated about $50/day for food.  That sounded pretty crazy to me for a Vegas trip, but somehow we pulled it off.  Plus, it didn’t hurt that his friend’s parents comp’ed us dinner at the Rio buffet and that we stayed in downtown Las Vegas instead of the strip.  I was so happy that we saved up until the end of our trip that J allowed me to splurge the rest of it (including some of my own money) on a fancy schmancy brunch at Bouchon Bistro at The Venetian.

DSCN6824

Brunch = $90.  Oh well, it’s still a work in progress.

******

*Yes, this did happen during my brief stay in LA.  I just recently discovered that I am listed in IMDB http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1455231/.  I did not get the lead, but was cast as a lowly hostess.  Did it matter to me?  Not really; the fun was in the fact that I had the guts to go try out for a part.  Check one off my life’s to-do list.  The film trailer and website can be found at: http://www.luckylotusfilm.com/.

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