Lazy Summer Day

There are days when you want to do everything and anything. Spend the day cooking, doing laundry, cleaning out drawers, being productive at work, getting the grocery shopping done, etc.  And then there are days where you want to sit on the couch, read a book and watch mindless television.  Yesterday was pretty much the lazy day for me.  While John went to check out his grad school options and Bob went to work, the kitties and I did very little around the house.  At one point I was watching Olympic tennis and looked up to see Tigger in the perfect picture of a happy, contented, lazy kitty.  (The best kind of kitties, in my opinion.)  The view got even better when I looked over at the other couch and saw little Miss Leia.

I’m just not sure you can get much cuter than these two.  Well … add Gracie and Jessie and it is possible, but I’m pretty sure Gracie was out making treaties with the alligators and vultures, and Jessie just hates having her picture taken, so I will take what I can get.  These days are few and far between, but I will enjoy them while I can.

Hope you get at least one lazy summer day before they are all gone!

 

Sometimes you just have to …

Sometimes, despite the desire to eat healthy and be really, really good, you just need to eat something that maybe, just maybe, isn’t that great for you. I am a firm believer in moderation; most food, eaten in moderation, is fine. Too much of anything isn’t good for you (except maybe mangos, carrots and tomatoes – I could eat those every meal, every day and be very, very happy). But this weekend I just wanted something a little less good for me, and with John here, we went for it…

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Bradley’s sausage, my version of coleslaw and baked beans. Not the healthiest lunch, I admit, but sometimes you just have to indulge. The sausage was from our last trip to Tallahassee where we always stop at Bradley’s Country Store for the sausage. I am a very picky eater and don’t generally like sausage, but these are exceptional. Spiced beautifully and made so you can taste the care that goes into making them. Yes, I am waxing poetic about sausage (because they are that good). I would make special trips to Tallahassee for these, but luckily, in the cooler months, they ship!

The coleslaw isn’t a real coleslaw. It has no mayo in it because I have an aversion to the stuff. I just do not like the idea of mayo, the smell of mayo or the texture of mayo. So instead I start with shredded cabbage, add carrots, cucumbers and red onions. For the dressing, I use brown sugar, molasses, chili peppers, cilantro, garlic, ginger, lime juice and peanut oil. This is one of those dishes that is best made about an hour or two in advance to let the favors meld. So while this was not a meatless, grainless dish, it was an excellent summer lunch.

And what lunch would not be complete without some homemade cookies. Hey, if you are going to go off the ranch for a day, you might as well go all the way off.

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I had to do it. Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. I could not decide if I wanted regular chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate chocolate chip cookies. So I compromised. Instead of doing a full double chocolate cookie, I added just a quarter cup of coco powder to the butter/sugar mixture before adding the flour and other dry ingredients. The results were amazing – a little extra chocolate flavor, but not so much that all you taste is chocolate. It is just a really good chocolate chip cookie.

On a side note, we had another odd sighting when taking Jessie for her walk yesterday …

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I wasn’t exactly sure what this was, but Bob said it was a vulture. It was not afraid of me or my camera in the least – but is was a little uncooperative and would not move into better light for me. 😉

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

Today we took advantage of John being here to do something that neither Bob nor I have ever done – we drove down to Fort Myers to tour the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but it was beautiful. Two homes, Edison’s build in the late 1800s and Ford’s in the early 1900s with gardens (we all know how much I love gardens), Edison’s lab and some particularly beautiful views. Some of the highlights were …

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Banyan trees. These trees were everywhere, and HUGE. Having lived in Florida a few years now I have become familiar with these, but the sheer size if these was amazing.

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The pond and coconut grove. Just a serene place and very, very pretty.

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The moonlit garden. One of the only parts of the property to be designed by a landscape architect, this garden is designed to bloom and come alive at night. Even in the daylight, it was simply beautiful.

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The river. I don’t think I can adequately describe how beautiful the river area is on these estates. The breeze from the river, combined with the sea wall, the waves and the trees just made it amazing. At some point on our walk along the river all three of us made some variation of the comment “this doesn’t suck.” Yes, we were being understated – it was amazing.

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Probably my favorite sign on the estates. Really after Mango-palloza how could I not love this sign. Especially when you look up and see mangos just hanging there.

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And of course, the houses themselves.

I will add more pictures to a gallery page, so if ya have any interest, just go there. The rest of today is going to be pretty low key – hang out, watch a little Olympics and grill up some Bradley’s sausage. There are so many things I just love about Florida.

Darwin’s

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We took advantage of John being here to go back to a fabulous restaurant in Sarasota. Darwin’s on 4th is a Peruvian inspired restaurant that does some microbrew beers and really fabulous food. The guys (John, Bob and Dad) had a Beer sampler each – five, five ounce beers from a choice of twelve. So Bob and Dad had their favorites and John had his.

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Yes, that was fifteen beers on the table.

But as good as the beer was, for those who like beer, the food really is the star at Darwin’s. We started out with the beef skewers and pork taco with avocado aioli. (Sorry Erin, this was not a vegetarian friendly meal.) I kinda of forgot to take pictures of these, and really they didn’t last long enough to get a picture, but I made up for it with

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The Arroz Con Mariscos

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The Skirt Steak with plantains

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Bob had the special – Veal chop with potatoes

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And Dad’s Lomito Al Jugo

We could have, and probably should have, but we did have to go for dessert.

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John had the Banana Flann.

Mom and Dad, and Bob and I both split

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The Chocolate Pot of Chocolate Cream.

So worth every calorie.

The Good, The Bad, And …

It has been an interesting couple of days. I’ve gone into work a bit more and have a few new projects to occupy my time before I go back full time in August. The one that frustrates me most is having to administer the retakes for an End of Course exam. For those unfamiliar with Florida testing requirements, we test kids until everyone – teachers, students, administrators and parents – are all ready to snap, and then we test a little more. This past year we spent eight weeks testing. Yes, eight weeks of the school year. I fully admit that not every student spent eight weeks testing, but for a smart 8th grader with two high school courses, that student would have tested in 8th grade Reading, 8th grade Math, Science, Writing, Algebra or Geometry and potentially Biology. I had one student (a junior) who ended up testing in Reading, Math, Geometry, Biology, US History and the College Placement Test. I am all for solid data, ensuring students have mastered material, and improving educational opportunities and outcomes; I just think we need a new approach – one that does not require multiple choice questions and tests designed by people who do not teach.

That is my rant for the year. I will make every attempt to not bring it up again and move on to happier topics.

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On a good and not so good note, I tried salmon for the first time this week. I picked some up at the store the other day, and grilled it that evening with my veggie cake experiment. (I’ll come back to the salmon in a minute). The veggie cake was based off a Sarah Molton recipe for corn cakes, but as corn is not on Bob’s new eating plan, I completely changed the recipe. Instead of corn, I used two cups of grated carrots and zucchini. To that I added one large egg, some almond flour and coconut flour (no wheat) some chili pepper paste, cilantro paste (it keeps longer than fresh cilantro until I can get it to grow in the garden) a touch of baking soda and a splash of buttermilk. Yes, I know I should measure and report quantities, but I don’t measure when I cook most of the time, so I honestly have no idea how much I used. I mixed all that up, and then fried them in a little bit of olive oil until both sides were nicely crusted. I moved them to a cookie sheet, added a slice of tomato and some cheese (I used the Corra Linn from Scotland – a sheep’s milk cheese that has a great flavor) and popped me in the oven at 375 for about 15 minutes. The results were fabulous. Lots of flavor, some nice texture and a grain free, meat free option that could become a meal unto themselves.

The salmon, on the other hand …. Well, I grilled it and had a hard time telling when it was done. Part of the cut was very thin, and part was very thick. Thanks to Bobby Flay’s grilling cookbook, I was able to figure out when they were done, but … I did not care for the taste, and hated the texture of the fish. It vaguely reminded me (the texture that is) of foi gras which I cannot stand. So I had three bites of the fish and decided it was not for me. Unfortunately before I totally finished dinner, my stomach rebelled and it appears that while I am not technically allergic to fish (according to the allergy test) my system cannot handle it. On the up side, Gracie and Jessie seemed to like the fish just fine.

John is in town for the weekend so hopefully we will have some good outings with lots of pictures. I’m thinking the Edison and Ford Winter Estates tomorrow if the weather holds.

Eating Heathier

One of the difficult things about changing how we eat is coming up with new recipes that will translate into relatively quick weeknight dinners once the school year starts up again for me (in less than two weeks!!!). So to that end, I’ve been taking pictures of food, noting what has worked and what we didn’t like, and tried to figure out how to adapt recipes for less prep time, or how to store prepped meals in the fridge.

So … Sherry pork chops with vegetable timbale

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This awesome little dish was pretty easy, except for the chopping part. The pork chops were simple – salt and pepper on the chops, into a hot pan and, after tuning over once, add a splash of sherry to “deglaze” the pan. Brown on both sides and then popped in the oven for ten minutes to finish.

The vegetable timbale came from my “Joy of Vegetarian Cooking” cookbook and could have been a meal unto itself. Not being sure about it, however, I opted for the pork chop with it. I chopped green and yellow squash, but you can use almost any veggie for this one. It is kind of like a warm, savory custard (it does have cream and eggs in it) and it does have some texture if you don’t purée the veggies too much. I will say, this was a great tasting dish and I loved the flavor. I have to see if I can make this ahead of time and just cook it on a week night. If I can it is going in the rotation.

My veggie basket this week contained lots of really pretty carrots. I saw a lot if really neat side dish recipes but very few main dish ones featuring carrots. But I did find this …

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This is a Moroccan Stew and I have to say he flavors were fabulous even though I did not have cardamom on hand. Potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and onions make the base of this dish and are finished with green and yellow squash and chick peas. I’m pretty sure if Bob were sticking to the “slow carb” thing religiously, he would not have eaten this, but since he is focusing on limiting grains and starches, he happily ate it. The only complaint I have is the chick peas. I want to like beans, I so want to like them. But, alas, I don’t. The flavor is fine, but I absolutely hate the texture. Falafel is great and I love it, but whole chick peas … not so much, so note to self – skip the chickpeas next time and up the veggies.

And now we come to the chicken dish of the week. I’m not sure if I should call this a chicken salad, tropical chicken or chicken with pineapple and peach salsa. This was another “no recipe at all” dish and it came out pretty darn well.

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It is a simple chicken breast, pan fried in a tiny bit of olive oil. The red leaf lettuce makes the bed for the chicken and I topped it with pineapple, peach, cucumbers, tomato and red onion that was marinated in a little lime juice. This one is a very easy and quick dish, so as long as I have pineapples available, it can be a week night staple.

Tonight I am attempting salmon for the first time. First time cooking and first time eating it, so we shall see how that comes out. I’m more interested in the zucchini and carrot cakes I’m pairing it with.

If anyone has any suggestions for weeknight meals, I’d love to add them to the experiment list!

French Lessons

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There are a few things I dislike with such intensity they border on fear – talking to strangers, talking over a computer and attempting to speak aloud in a new language. I tend do do ok with understanding languages, but when it comes to attempting to speak, I freeze. I understand where this come from – I hate making mistakes in front of people; I hate being wrong. This is not to say that I am never wrong or don’t make mistakes. I do both with great frequency, but I still hate it. So what am I doing tomorrow as part of my quest to learn French? I’m going to talk to a native French speaker over the computer in French. Take the three things I don’t like and do them all at once. I figure the only way to get over this fear of speaking in a foreign language, and really learn it, is to just try. Similar to my fear of bridges, I’m going to approach this the same way – grip the stealing wheel, take a deep breath and hope to the heavens that there isn’t a strong wind or j#^%+s who wants to make the trip as miserable as possible along the way.

I think I’m doing fairly well with the French. I am still having problems with differentiating who, when and what, but that is just going to take memorization and practice (there is a reason Emmie and I are starting this a year out from the Brussels trip). The vocabulary is coming ok, and I’m even getting, at least according to the computer, the pronunciation of most words correct. I’m still having trouble with “chaussures” which pains me as I L-O-V-E love shoes.

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Speaking of shoes, Gracie also likes shoes …

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or at least shoe boxes.

Au revoir!