Making Christmas “Cookies”

While I’m not a “traditional” person in general, when it comes to holidays, I’m all about traditions. My family probably has the most traditions surrounding Christmas, and the one that generally falls on my shoulders is the baking of Christmas cookies. This year, I’m not going to be able to get home until LATE on the 23rd (like, midnight late), so the cookie baking will largely fall to my mom, with the exception of some I made over Thanksgiving (which I will talk about when it gets closer to the holiday), and oyster crackers, which I made today.

They’re not cookies, per se, but for as long as I can remember, they’ve been a part of our Christmas spread.

They’re so easy to make – just a box of oyster crackers, Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix (the powdered kind), dill, and garlic powder. Even the recipe is a sort of tradition (I’ll post a picture when I get a chance at home); it’s written on a square of paper, by my father (who knows why he was writing it), it’s not at all organized, and I think me or one of my brothers drew all over it. It always makes me smile to read it.

Making them this year was a little different – I had to borrow a roasting pan from my friend, I don’t have wax paper or a porch where I can spread them out to cool, and the Kroger brand crackers are larger than I’m used to.

They still taste the same, however, and just making them makes me feel a little better about not being with my family right now. And that is, to me, the essence of traditions – not necessarily recreating the same thing every year, but recapturing the same feeling of happiness year to year. And with these, I’ve accomplished at least some of that :)

December 12, 2009 at 8:41 pm 1 comment

Baby It’s Cold Outside

Well, I wanted a Michigan winter, and I seem to have gotten it…Mind, there aren’t the heaps of snow (it seems we’ll leave that to Iowa right now), but it is cold. Supposedly, right now it’s 11 degrees F, and feels like –6. Lovely.

And because I’m apparently sadistic, I decided to go for a run today. In my defense, I wanted to sort of test my limits, see what I could physically take. Remember, this is my first real winter of running, and my first winter in Michigan as well. Aside from the frigid temps and high wind, it was actually quite nice outside. The sun was shining and there was no precipitation, so I figured, why not go out and run.

The first mile was pretty bad. I could barely open my eyes because of the wind. I warmed up though, which basically just meant that my lower half was nice and warm (even my exposed ankles), and my upper half was still cold. My arms were only cold when I moved them, my back when the wind was blowing, and my face the whole time. Honestly, I half expected to come back to complete frostbite…

I was running in my non-running gear, as I did laundry today, and everything was still drying. I’m still up in the air about what I still need, however, but some sort of ski mask would be nice, as would a windproof jacket. Dear Santa…

In the eating world today, dinner was the only thing worth talking about. I made Snobby Joe’s, because they’re nice and warm and spicy and delicious.

I even froze some this time (hence the lines in it)! I need to start doing so more often.

I also made some Trader Joe’s Cornbread to go with. This is my favorite cornbread ever, which is why I made it a muffin tin. Already portioned out :) This is only half the box, leftover from the last time I made some.

Altogether now:

Carrots as well. Because I love carrots.

Dessert involves some sort of combination of the following (I’ve only eaten the clementine right now) and The Office Christmas special!

Which I’m watching buried in a blanket, because I only just now found the thermostat. Our window has ice on it :(

Happy Holiday season!

December 10, 2009 at 10:19 pm Leave a comment

Last Vestiges of Thanksgiving

I used up the last of my Thanksgiving turkey today! I brought back a bunch of turkey from home, and have been mostly using it to make sandwiches. However, while perusing the Mushroom Channel today, I found a recipe that seemed perfect, Turkey Fricassee with Mushrooms. According to the recipe, a fricassee is “poultry in a stewed preparation with a creamy sauce”, although this one is thickened with eggs instead of cream or milk (good thing, because I ran our of milk yesterday).

I halved the recipe, and made a few changes – it was so easy to make! I used:

  • a bit of butter
  • ~1 T olive oil
  • the rest of my turkey – probably a little more than a cup or so, chopped up
  • ~1/4 of a large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, one diced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • ~5 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • ~1 t dried rosemary
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 egg yoke
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • S&P
  • ~2 T walnuts, toasted on the stove and then chopped, added right before the egg

And then followed the recipe exactly. Mostly, there was a lot of idle time, the rest of the recipe was just chopping and throwing together. I did, however have to improvise a bit on the covered pan…

It seemed to work fine, though.

The recipe also shows it with rice; I used polenta that I had lying around.

What a delicious recipe! I’m actually not a huge fan of turkey outside of in sandwiches and a little for holidays, but the other ingredients were so flavorful, there wasn’t that overpowering “turkey” taste to the dish. I was a little worried about the egg, but it really did just add a creaminess to the dish, and the lemon added a little zing. The polenta was also perfect, it added an extra layer of flavor and texture that I really liked.

I also had some leftover cranberry sauce, which I admit, I mixed in with bites of the fricassee (I love combining all my food together – it’s a habit I picked up in Germany).

A clementine rounded out my meal.

Currently, I’m watching Elf! Yay for Christmas movies :) Have a nice night!

December 7, 2009 at 8:18 pm Leave a comment

Following Foodie – Columbus, OH

Today, my brother and I drove down to Columbus, OH to watch his girlfriend play at hockey game at THE Ohio State University (I find it so funny how some universities make such a big deal about the the at the beginning of the name – The Pennsylvania State University is the same way).

I’ve been to Cincinnati a million times before, but I’ve actually never been to Columbus. Using a couple (non-food) blogs for reference, I noted a few places to visit before leaving – mainly the neighborhoods Short North and German Village.

Firstly, the drive to Columbus was certainly different from the times I’ve driven down to Cinci. We traveled on quite a few two-lane highways, through a bunch of cute little towns.

A not so big secret about me – I love “rural” places and small towns (someday soon I plan to write a post about my summer vacation to Kansas), and like to fantasize about living in one.

The drive was fun, but Columbus itself was impressive. There’s something about southern Ohio that I just really like, and Columbus did not disappoint.

We started our day with a walk around the German Village. We definitely didn’t get to fully appreciate it (we had a hockey game to get to), but what we did see was so nice! We stopped for breakfast at Cup O Joe first, a nice little coffee shop with two locations in Columbus, I believe. I got a Five Grain Bagel with cream cheese, and their pumpkin latte.

The bagel wasn’t anything to write home about (it was a good bagel, but it wasn’t fantastic), but the latte sure was. They claimed it was made with fresh pumpkin, and I would believe them completely! It was so thick and even a little textured – which sounds gross, but was actually quite delicious.

We next went to the Book Loft, where I had to literally hide my money from myself.

Why, do you ask? Well, take a look at the map for the bookstore:

Yup, a map. Because the Book Loft has 32 rooms of books. And not only books – discounted books! Most have a discount of around 5%, but there were some with a 30-40 or more percent discount. I have no money for books (all my money goes to food :) right now, so I didn’t buy anything, but wow, what a place. It was a “proper” bookstore, with high shelves and windy rooms – I could have spent all day in there!

But alas, we didn’t have all day. We drove over the the campus, and were greeted first with the sight of the Horseshoe.

The game was fun – I really like hockey, and Michigan won! (? I still can’t call myself a Michigan fan, but I’m glad for my brother’s girlfriend…). Before beginning the drive back to Ann Arbor, my brother was so kind to indulge me and drive through the Short North.

If I lived in Columbus, this is where I would live! So many interesting (and local!) shops and restaurants, with really cool architecture as well.

It’s also home to the North Market, a public market in Columbus.

Inside there were quite a few interesting places to eat, but I ultimately decided to get a Vegetarian Crepe at Taste from Belgium.

My brother opted for Skyline

Verdict? Columbus = pretty awesome. I’d love to go back…And at only ~3 hours from Ann Arbor, I think I will do :)

Edited to add: Thank you so much to Mt. Victory, OH’s website for mentioning my post! I’ve now tagged the photo accordingly…and am already attempting to plan a trip back :)

December 6, 2009 at 10:40 pm 3 comments

Grange Kitchen and Bar

Friday night was my running buddy’s birthday, and as she is something of a foodie as well (most of our time hanging out is spent discussing or eating or watching food…), she had the awesome idea to go to Grange in Ann Arbor. Grange is a local restaurant that’s dedicated to serving local, seasonal and sustainable food whenever possible, and the resulting menu is absolutely fabulous.

But before getting ahead of myself, let’s start with drinks, shall we? I love restaurants with a creative cocktail list, and this definitely didn’t disappoint. I don’t like bourbon, and therefore didn’t want to order the GBK Manhattan (bacon infused Bulleit Bourbon, maple syrup, orange bitters, brandied cherries), but a member of our party did, and he let me try it. Bourbon aside, it was good! You could really taste the smokiness from the bacon – the aftertaste just kept coming at you, but in a good way. I did, however, order the GGGinger (fresh mint, ginger syrup & fresh lime juice, Tanqueray, ginger beer, crystallized ginger), because ginger beer is possibly my favorite drink in existence. Not beer at all, it’s just a really gingery ginger ale type beverage that I used to drink all the time in London:

The presentation of my drink was stunning – everyone at the table wanted a drink/to take a picture of it!

And believe me, it tasted as good as it looked. As did the cute bite of crystallized ginger on top…

Along with the drinks came some crusty bread and butter – I helped myself to a piece.

And so onto dinner. My philosophy when I eat in “fancy” restaurants is to always eat something that 1) I wouldn’t cook at home, 2) I probably couldn’t cook at home, even if I tried, and 3) I wouldn’t want to cook at home. So, following all of these rules, I ordered the Fried Pig’s Head with Mustard and Sauce Gribiche for my starter.

I didn’t know it when I ordered it, but sauce gribiche is (according to wikipedia), a “mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce”. I’m actually glad I didn’t know that – I don’t really like mayonnaise (though I’ve never tried to make it at home), and I’m sure it would have negatively influenced my opinion of it before I tried it. As it was, it basically just tasted like a soft stone-ground mustard. And as for the pig’s head – it was so tender and flavorful. And the crust was some sort of breading, I think, which in and of itself was delicious. On the side was something of a spring mix (arugula and something else?) lightly dressed. Yum…

For my main course, I ordered the Sautéed Perch with Swiss Chard and Squash Gnocchi.

The fish and the chard were pretty good, but I have to admit, the gnocchi were definitely my favorite part of the dish. I could have eaten an entire plate of them!

I also got to try a bite of the pork belly, which I’ve wanted to try as a meat for awhile – it’s also a well-known dish at the restaurant. It was so tender as well – it just fell apart! I was really happy with my dish, though :)

If I were to voice any complaints about Grange at all, it would be that the service could have been a little quicker – we waited awhile for both of our courses. We were a big party, true, but at an upscale restaurant like that, I would expect something a little quicker. However, our service was quite nice, and even agreed to split the bill between the 9 of us, which was awesome. 

If you are ever in Ann Arbor, and are looking for a really nice place to eat at, eat at Grange! It seems they also have a slightly less pricey lunch menu now as well – I’d like to go and try their burger!

December 6, 2009 at 9:34 pm Leave a comment

There’s always tomorrow (for a better run!)

I’m watching the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas tree on TV, and it’s really making me miss New York. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually pretty glad I’m not there anymore (life is so crowded and stressful!), but aside from the crowds of people, Christmas is definitely the best time to be in New York.

There’re markets

giant Nutcrackers

and of course, the Tree.

*Sigh*. Thanks for that little trip down memory lane…

In other Christmas news, look at the beautiful wreath I got at the Farmers’ Market today!

I’m still trying to figure out how to/where to hang it; right now it’s an (actually really pretty) decoration on my TV.

Also, it rained today. WTF Ann Arbor/Michigan?? I was all prepared for feet of snow before Thanksgiving – as of yet, there’s been nary a snowflake. Now supposedly, that’s changing tomorrow, but I’m not going to get my hopes up…

In the part of my life that doesn’t have to do with Christmas (which, honestly, is not too much right now – ‘tis the season!), my run this morning was not so fun. For one thing, it was cold, and for the first time, I really felt it, especially in my cheeks. I also managed to get lost, not once, but twice, adding around 1.5 miles to my run…Sigh. I mean, I’ve done this run before, but only once, and that was right after I had mapped it. My directions were completely wrong, and I managed to pick the wrong way at two different turns. Not fun at all. Also, my iPod died halfway through…It was just one of those runs, you know? Unfortunately, they can’t all be perfect…

My run ended up being 8.1 miles, which I did in a (little over a) 10 min/mile pace. I’ve felt so slow lately! I don’t know if it’s the cold weather, or what, but I haven’t felt very powerful while running recently…I hope it’s just all in my head.

Food today was pretty uninventive. I had the same exact breakfast and lunch from yesterday, yogurt mess

and amazing salad.

A bit boring, yes, but as I’m running a little low on cash, I’m trying to use everything in my fridge/pantry, etc. And since the salad was so amazing, I felt there was nothing wrong with eating it again :) Don’t worry – I’m all out of asparagus, now, so I’ll have to think of something else tomorrow.

Snacks throughout the day included a Peanut Butter Cookie Larabar, this random trail mix my brother tossed me before I left home

and a few bites of chocolate, which apparently I have no picture of…

Dinner was something a bit different, and new to me. After all the Indian food love seen across the blogworld, for channa masala specifically, I was more than excited when I saw this frozen version at TJs.

Even better is the fact that I have naan bread on hand to go with it :D I also had a small slice of this cheese I found:

Altogether now:

Verdict? The channa masala was pretty awesome, but I feel like I could recreate it pretty easily, and pretty cheaply. The cheese was a really big disappointment, actually – I didn’t realize when I bought it that it was reduced fat, and unfortunately, cheese is one thing that I just have no tolerance for if it’s not the real thing. It was just so rubbery. Le sigh.

Time for Top Chef! G’night!

December 2, 2009 at 10:56 pm Leave a comment

‘Tis a Gift to be Simple

Today was filled with really really simple, but really really delicious food. I love it when that happens!

Before getting to the food, though, I started my day with an awesome 7.75 mile run with my running buddy. It was pretty hilly, and we managed a ~10 min/mile pace during the run. I love going on long-ish runs during the week; it’s almost like there’s more sense of accomplishment :)

My breakfast was a pretty standard yogurt mess (for some reason, even though it’s getting colder here, I’ve been craving yogurt and fruit lately) with apple, banana, orange, flax, and TJ’s Blueberry Muesli. I jazzed it up a bit this morning, though, with the addition of some pomegranate arils.

Inspired by all the POM love seen around the blogworld, I used Caitlin’s guide to opening a pomegranate, and have been enjoying the arils ever since. Yum – they add such a juicy crunch to yogurt, etc!

One other thing they’re (POM) wonderful on is salads! I’ve been eating pretty crappy lately, so I’m really trying to eat better (easing up on the carbs and fat, and eating more veggies and fruit). I’m not a huge fan of salads that I make at home, but a glance into my fridge showed that I had some pretty fun ingredients to make an awesome (and not boring!) salad.

I started by roasting half a bunch of asparagus (that my mom gave me) at 400 degrees (with some olive oil, S&P) until they were nice and roasted. I chopped up a few clementines (one of my favorite “Christmas” foods), used about a quarter of a can of garbanzo beans, and put it all over a mix of spinach, arugula and baby greens (or so says the TJs bag…). Topped off with some pomegranate arils, and a sprinkle each of grapeseed oil, balsamic vinegar, and agave, this salad was amazing.

I had a piece of Trader Joe’s Garlic Naan alongside it, and then a piece of Dark Chocolate with Almonds for dessert – what an awesome lunch!

I tried really hard to be “good” at Great Harvest today – I “had” to try one of their new chocolate cherry muffins, and some Naturally Nutty Butter Toffee Peanut Butter (we sell it, and I’ve been wanting to try it for so long!), but it was nothing like the carb-fest that I usually have there. I’m trying my best to only have one “treat” a day at work. None of this eating every single end off the bread board…It’s almost Christmas, and I want to be able to enjoy the holidays, not worry about my weight!

Dinner was possibly not the healthiest of choices, but it sure was delicious. I’ve seen a bunch of these “leftover sandwiches” popping up, and I’d like to share my own:

  • Great Harvest Michigan Herb bread
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Stuffing
  • Green bean casserole
  • Turkey

Yum! I’m going to be sad when my leftovers are gone…

I also had some carrots on the side. I love raw carrots, but hate cooked. True facts – I prefer the raw form of most veggies; there’s just something about mushy vegetables that’s a complete turnoff for me!

For dessert (while watching The Biggest Loser!) I brought back my wonderful "yogurt love" dessert.

Basically, it’s just vanilla Greek yogurt, PB&Co’s Dark Chocolate Dreams and Annie’s Chocolate Bunnies. All mixed together to create the most satisfying dessert ever. YUMMY!

Also, here’s a few pictures of the Christmas decorations I’ve put up :) I hope to get a few more over the next couple of days, but I’m actually pretty pleased. I love Christmas, and have been listening to Christmas music pretty much nonstop to get in the mood!

It’s not much, but it’s amazing what a difference a few decorations make…I love looking up at my shelf!

Happy December…

December 1, 2009 at 10:14 pm 3 comments

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