Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I know it's fall because...

Someone put a pumpkin on my doorstep. (Ok, it was me.)And I'm getting to wear my favorite boots again.

And the grapes are rolling in to the winery.

And I'm drinking at least two Pumpkin Spice Lattes a week. (Side note: Peets Coffee's are a million times better than Starbucks. The 'Buck is too sweet, and since Peets has stronger brew in general, the espresso shots balance the potentially cloying flavor nicely.)

And I crunched on some leaves walking down the street yesterday.

And How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory are all new again. (How excited are we about Robin/Barney and Penny/Leonard!?!?)

And accounts are busy again.

And I'm craving red wine instead of white.

And a lot of birthdays are rolling around. (I'm an Aquarius, and all I know about my sign is that we get along really well with Libras and Geminis, and seriously, you have no idea how many Libras I have in my life. Not as many Geminis, but I'm swimming in Libras!)

Happy October, everyone!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Homemade Chicken Stock

A long time ago, I remember reading a blurb in Glamour magazine about tips for a "Babe on a Budget", and for some reason that phrase stuck in my head. I guess I liked the idea of a modern, chic woman who wasn't afraid to admit that she didn't have all the money in the world, so wanted to find ways to still strut down the Fabulous Lane without emptying her checking account. So whenever I find myself doing something to save money, or talking about being cheap, it always pops back in and I find myself mentally, and sometimes out loud, referring to myself as that Babe on a Budget.

Combine that sentiment with my obsession with th
e foodie culture over the last few years, hearing Ina Garten over and over refer to using homemade chicken stock and reading on a few blogs about how easy it is to make - I became intrigued. I like to use chicken stock for a lot of things - certain pasta dishes like risotto - but the thing is, it's not cheap. Usually for my standard risotto recipes I have to buy two containers of it, which can add up to $10+. That considerably ups the ante on how much the whole meal is costing, especially considering that oftentimes the idea to cook at home is born from a desire to save a few bucks. So last fall when I started roasting chickens regularly, it seemed like a total waste to just throw away the carcass when I knew that something else could be done with it.

I did a little research on recipes and methods, and the basic conclusion that I came to was this - throw the carcass into the biggest pot you have, along with a loosely chopped onion, a few carrots cut into huge chunks, whatever herbs you've got on hand (parsley, thyme, rosemary, etc), a lot of salt and pepper, and then fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Bring it to a boil on your stove and let it hang out at a slow boil for 4-5 hours. It'll reduce down considerably. Then filter out all of the chicken and veggies, and you're left with the stock! Ladle it into whatever containers (portion it into quart-sized Ziploc tuperware thingys), and throw them into the freezer.


So if you're like me, you've got enough chicken stock at this point to last you for a couple of months, at least. I've heard some people say that they don't think that this is worth it for the effort, but to me it totally is. I've found it to be super easy and cheap - if you've already got the carcass from a roasted chicken, all you have to do is buy an onion, a few carrots and maybe a bunch of parsley. Yeah, it's time consuming - but as long as your schedule allows you to carve out an afternoon while you're already at home doing other things, you've got it covered!

Plus, in addition to the money saving benefits that I've already touted, let's not forget the reason why Ina and so many others all but insist on using homemade stock in their recipes - it tastes better. Now, not necessarily in a side-by-side taste test of yours and the grocery store's. The grocery store's will have a lot more sodium, so therefore will perform better just by itself, but trust me, once you start cooking with your own stock there will be no going back. Yours will have a depth of flavor and layers that add a homey quality to your dishes that you just won't get with the pre-made stuff. (Although you might want to up the salt quantity in whatever dish you are making, just to adjust for that factor.)

And, cooking the stock will make your apartment smell good for days. Trust me...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Quote of the week

"Listen to the whispers, or soon you'll be listening to the screams." - Elizabeth Gilbert, quoting her husband.

I actually think that this one is going to extend to become more than just a quote of the week for me, and hope that it is something that I will repeat to myself over and over again when I start to second-guess my instincts on certain situations.

Or more specifically, certain people.

As someone who has dated a considerable amount in the last 10+ years, I have definitely landed myself into some shitty situations. Liars, users, the insecure, the overconfident, the emotional basketcases, I think - or hope - that I've pretty much seen it all. And I know that I've gained the strength to avoid and extricate myself from these situations in a timely manner. Sadly, that wasn't always the case. And when I did end up realizing just how yucky the situation was, I could always look back and see warning signs that I should have heeded. I've long been chiding myself for not following my instincts more closely, but often times I was following other, stronger impulses - like boredom or loneliness - that were causing me to doubt my judgment.

So that is why this quote resonated with me so much - because I've gone through plenty of whispering and then screaming, and recently feel like I am honing the ability to listen and observe with an open, yet smart, heart when letting someone new into my life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Eat, Pray... Queef

I am absolutely in awe of Elizabeth Gilbert. Just around two years ago, my good friend Elijah told me that I must read her book, Eat, Pray, Love. I picked it up, plowed through it, and it changed my life. I am here in California because that book inspired me towards the courage to decide that I was ready for a change, and coached me towards the patience that is required to open your heart and allow a change to happen. Moving here was one of the best things I've ever done, and in some way I have Elizabeth Gilbert to thank for it. She taught me to slow down, listen to myself, and take care of my needs.

In preparation for the release of her new book in January (which, naturally, I can't wait for), she is touring around a little bit, talking about and reading from it. Tonight she was at an auditorium about twenty minutes away from where I live. As soon as I saw the marquee announcing her presence a few weeks ago, I immediately got a ticket. I didn't send out an email, I didn't go nuts trying to organize an evening with friends - I just dropped by the box office and purchased a ticket. For myself. Because I knew that it would be a rejuvenating evening, kinda like a spa day for the brain, and I wanted to treat myself to it without allowing myself to indulge in the normal social paranoia that inevitably ensues whenever I try to rally people to an event. So I got a seat towards the back of the auditorium, frugally saving myself about $20, and marked my calendar, giddy with anticipation.

Tonight I drove to the auditorium, had my ticket torn, and took my seat about two thirds of the way back. I sat there for five minutes before she took the stage, mainly looking at my iPhone (you know, because if I'm going to to an hour and a half without looking at it I have to see if anyone has texted, check email, and Tweet about what I am doing before I can turn it to silent) and glaring at the woman seated next to me who had the audacity to poke my elbow accidentally. When she did come on, she addressed the crowd's situation immediately.

Because it was kinda like being in church - most people were sitting towards the back. Hey, there really isn't a bad seat in the house, and it was a good $20 less for the cheap seats! So she addressed the economy, and the way the audience was seated, and then basically told everyone in the back to move forward to the front. I'm not sure if she intended to cause a near-stampede, but suffice it to say, people took her up on her offer in about two seconds flat. Myself included. And not having anyone there with me to slow me down, I managed to deftly scoot through the crowd and snag a front row seat. I could not believe my luck.

She was fabulous. Amazingly articulate. Hilarious. She said fuck at least a dozen times. She answered the few questions that people were allowed to ask with complete genuineness and honesty. She read from her new book. She endearingly showed off her new, sparkly ballet flats. And she said that, yes, she had seen the episode of South Park that mocked her book, titled Eat, Pray, Queef - and she loved it.

I sat there and listened, enthralled, excited, and breathing in slow, even breaths for the first time in a while. Let me explain that last part...

Oftentimes, I am so stereotypical of a certain part of my generation, that it kinda starts to frighten me - the MTV part. Those of us who came of age in the 80s and 90s grew up watching MTV and playing on computers, among other things. What that means is that we are incredibly used to having a lot of information hurled at us very quickly. We can understand and process it with no problems, and then oftentimes just spit it right back out, as if it never even entered our brains in the first place. It is why pretty much everyone I know jokes about having ADD - because for the most part, our attention spans are shit. It's why we don't talk on the phone anymore - sustaining a conversation without having the person right in front of you is too difficult and inconvenient. We send text messages almost exclusively, which allows us to either address quickly, or completely ignore until a more suitable time emerges, whatever issue is at hand. We check Facebook to see what people have been up to, rather than reaching out to find out ourselves, even via email.

When I'm not careful, I can become such a poster child for this generation, it's ridiculous. And lately, that's exactly what I've been. See, what happened is this - I got a job that requires me to be self-motivated and organize a lot of information in my head, and I got an iPhone right around the same time. So with my brain having to kick into a gear that the previous 8 months of under-employment had not required, coupled with the acquisition of a shiny new toy that allows me waaaay to much stimulation at my fingertips, and essentially my mind hasn't been still since. My attention span is all but gone, so I haven't read a book in two months because I can't go two pages without my mind wandering and picking up my phone to check my hotmail. I haven't written anything in two months because I can't organize my thoughts into anything but arbitrary lists. I'm becoming frazzled more easily, and forgetful of little things when that never used to be a problem. Not to grossly mis-diagnose myself here by saying that I actually have ADD, but when one can't stop at a stoplight without picking up her phone to check Twitter, things are getting ridiculous, and slight lifestyle changes are in order.

And it's amazing how contagious energy is. Seeing Elizabeth Gilbert tonight calmed me down internally, in a way I haven't felt in a few months. It's time to consciously bring my mind back down to earth, even if that requires literally imposing limits on myself about how many times a day I'm allowed to look at email, or taking a month off of Facebook, or forcing thirty minutes of uninterrupted reading time a day. Because for me, when my mind starts whirling like it has been lately, it's really hard to keep perspective on the important things - big and small. Like where I want my life to ultimately lead me, and remembering to keep food in the house and clean the litter box.

So that it, really. As of tonight, I'm turning off the TV more, not keeping the phone within arms reach as much, and basically just working on bringing my mind back down to earth a bit. Oh, and starting the countdown to when Elizabeth Gilbert's next book comes out, of course.

Monday, September 07, 2009

I just read LAST Sunday's paper

So when I say that I had a crazy week, I meant it.

It was pretty awesome, though. I got to:

- Head up to Napa three times

- Have one of my best friends visit for three days

- Play a rousing game of bocce ball at this winery with two 80 year old Texan women

- Sell wine here, here and here

- Go on two dates

- Sit on a foggy beach for a few hours

- And finished the week off with waaaaay too much online shopping and chocolate bar nibbling

Ok, ok... enough. This blog has become nothing but a series of lists. That stinks, right? Kinda like this should have:

But it didn't. It was delicious. Kinda like life right now.

Oh my God. What a horrific metaphor. I'm sorry. I'll try to come up with some actual stories to tell soon. I promise.