My Food’s From Michigan! (Or It’s Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day!)

The cool thing about Foodie Pen Pals is that you often discover new food. It’s easy to get into an unimaginative rut (even when you blog about food), and FPP really helps to shake things up. I love receiving items that are unique to other areas of the country. This month I received a package from Meghan at Run With Meg. And Meghan happens to live in Michigan.

OK, so, what’s the big deal with Michigan? Well, I’m from Michigan. And as college football season kicks off, I get beyond crazy homesick for the homeland – and for the changing leaves. SO, when I got a package with a return address not far from my family cottage I got all weepy and homesick and whatnot. I mean, my family cottage isn’t just a house on a lake. It’s the house my family built with their actual hands and hammers and stuff. Plus, I designed the addition to the original structure like I was Mike Brady or something. It isn’t just a place. It’s a part of my family. It’s where I went to clear my head in college. Where my family comes together. And where we spread my Bumpa’s ashes last fall.

Maybe this view doesn’t make you want to weep, but I almost can’t look at it without crying. This is my Walden. Or something.

So, anyway, enough of this morose business. Let’s talk about things that make me happy. Like peanut butter. And jelly. Specifically, the peanut butter and jelly I received from Meghan. Now, let me be clear: this wasn’t just any peanut butter and jelly — it was cappuccino peanut butter — and a ginger fruit jelly. I don’t think you know how much I love cappuccino. Or ginger. Or a PBJ for that matter, so this was some seriously inspired stuff Meghan sent me. And don’t get me started on the dried Michigan cherries! (LOVE.)

Plus there was this amazing dog wearing sunglasses in the package! Um, awesome!

I haven’t tried the lemon drops yet, but I’m sure I’ll love them for real, because I adore sour candies.

This hip dog and I are excited to eat the lemon drops.

If you want to sign up for Foodie Pen Pals, you can do so here. It’s all kinds of awesome.

There’s Booze in my Bon Bon! (Or How to Make Spiked Cherry Bon Bons)

This is my friend Tony.

Here we are on Thanksgiving. Giving thanks.

Tony is from Tennessee. And Tony makes moonshine. No, really.

See? Real legit moonshine.

He has a company called Ole Smoky, and they have been featured at the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen and all kinds of other fabulous places. Even though Tony couldn’t come to my birthday party this year, he sent some of his amazing moonshine cherries in his place. (Almost as awesome as having Tony at my party. Almost.)

The cherries are great by themselves and in cocktails, but I was looking at them this week and thought, “I must put these in chocolate.” So that’s sort of the genesis of my spiked cherry bon bons. (I also look at Slurpees and think, “Vodka!”, but that’s just me.)

If you don’t have access to Ole Smoky, you can soak maraschino cherries in vodka for 24 hours and use those. I tried both versions and I have to say the moonshine cherry variety was a little more subtle than its vodka soaked friend. I’m not just saying that because I love Tony. (For real.)

So anyway, if you want to make your own spiked cherry bon bons, here’s how you do it.

Spiked Cherry Bon Bons

Serving Size, 12 bon bons
(measurements are approximate)

12 moonshine cherries
12 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
4 C vanilla ice cream
4 tsp shortening

Scoop ice cream with an ice cream scoop. Place a moonshine cherry in the center.

It’s essential to use a pig scooper to remind yourself not to eat all of the bon bons in one sitting.

Fold the ice cream around the cherry, forming a ball with your hands. Place immediately in the freezer. Repeat with remaining cherries.

After the ice cream has sufficiently frozen, melt the chocolate chips over a double boiler adding shortening, as necessary, to thin the mixture until it is suitable for dipping and pouring.

Dip the ice cream balls into the chocolate. If you find that the chocolate is not adhering uniformly, you can drizzle a little more chocolate on those areas later.

Immediately return the bon bon to the freezer and allow the chocolate to harden completely before serving. Repeat with remaining ice cream balls.

This boozy bon bon is all kinds of amazing. Truth.

This would probably work best with a firm ice cream (especially a homemade vanilla like this one).

I used a rather cheap generic vanilla and found that it melted faster than I would have liked. It still tasted amazing, though.

Now, crank up George Jones’ White Lightning, and go out and get you some moonshine. Now. Here’s a list of the places where you can pick some up.

I’m in a Long Distance Relationship With a Burrito (Or How to Make Las Fuentes’ Pollo Con Rajas Burrito)

This is my attempt at making the best burrito in LA.

There’s this Mexican restaurant deep in the San Fernando Valley that my aunt and uncle discovered about 15 years ago called Las Fuentes. It’s not a fancy joint, but it’s fabulous. They often get takeout burritos when I go to their house, and I have fallen absolutely in love with the pollo con rajas burrito.

The restaurant is only about 16 miles away from me, but in LA that distance can easily mean an hour and a half in the car, roundtrip. This city is so stupid! I mean, I dated someone who lived 16 miles away before and I swear it was like being in a long distance relationship. Our debates over whose turn it was to drive across town nearly required an intervention from a UN Peacekeeping unit. (Obviously, we broke up.)

So anyway…

Since I can’t justify spending 90 minutes in the car — even for the best burrito in LA — I decided to replicate the tastiness at home.

I made the chicken in the slow cooker, so it’s a pretty low maintenance dish that can be assembled quickly. It would be the perfect entree for a party where you don’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen.

Here’s the recipe:

Pollo Con Rajas Burrito

Serving size, 2 burritos

2 large chicken breasts
1 C chicken broth
4 garlic cloves, peeled
dash of salt
1 medium onion
2 pasilla chiles

refried beans
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
extra large tortillas
avocado, optional

Slice the pasilla chiles and the onion into strips. Place the two chicken breasts in the slow cooker along with chicken broth, garlic cloves, half of the onion, and strips from one pasilla chile (setting aside the rest of the chile and onion slices for later use). Allow the chicken breasts to cook on the low setting for about 6 hours.

Shred the chicken with two forks. Discard the broth, onions, and chiles. Place the reserved pasilla chile strips and the sliced onions on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with oil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until slightly brown on the edges.

Slather refried beans on the tortilla. Top with chicken, chile, onions and cheese.

This pile of tastiness is ready for melting. Then eating.

You can heat the burrito in the microwave or the oven — your call. OR you could heat up the refried beans with the cheese in a pot on the stove and just warm the tortilla before serving. Whatever works best for you.

If you want to add avocado, do so after heating up the burrito.

Top with salsa or salsa verde.

I’m Baking Tofu and Falling in Love (Or How to Make Baked Tofu Stir Fry with Broccoli and Quinoa)

I made something healthy. Can you believe it?

So, remember how I said I was working on falling in love with the new Yeasayer album? Well, it happened. I’m in love. Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect or anything, but there are three tracks I can’t live without so far. The others may never move me in the same way, or their meaning will hit me at another time. For now I’m all about Longevity, Fingers Never Bleed, and Glass of the Microscope.

And the working on falling in love part? Let me explain. But first, allow me to digress for a moment. Last March I heard Scott Snibbe speak at SXSW. He collaborated with Bjork on her last album, and he was absolutely my favorite speaker at the conference. I have pages of notes from his talk, but there’s one thing I didn’t need to write down because it blew me away with its profundity. It was this:

“We’ve lost the falling in love phase with music and we’ve gone to the hooking up phase.”

Think about that for a moment, ‘cuz it’s totally true. We’re not taking the time to fall in love with music. We’re quickly buying the track we liked on XM, discovered on Pandora, etc. We’re not sitting with the liner notes. We’re not looking at the album art. We’re having this impoverished experience in a way. Because I absolutely can’t shut my head off ever and this blog is mainly meant for making shapes with frosting, I am spinning off and starting another blog here. With that blog I will delve deeper into the intellectual and emotional quagmires that absolutely keep me up at night. Every night.

So anyway…

I’m taking the time to fall in love with the album, but it’s because I dug the band in the first place. See, I don’t think you can make yourself love music or a person if there isn’t some sort of spark there initially. But the falling in love? That probably takes some time. In my 34 years on this earth I HAVE NEVER grown to love someone I didn’t feel a bit drawn towards in the first place. Not really. You just can’t force these things.

It’s probably the same with our polarizing friend, tofu. I happen to have felt a spark for the extra firm variety the first time I tasted it, so I was willing to take the time to play around with it. If you don’t dig tofu, this recipe probably isn’t for you. And don’t worry: I’m not trying to turn you into a tofu convert. I’ll still be your internet friend if you don’t like it. I promise.

Baked Tofu Stir Fry with Broccoli and Quinoa

3T vegetable oil
3T rice vinegar
3T soy sauce
1 tsp red chili pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cornstarch

14 oz extra firm tofu
1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 C quinoa

Preheat the oven to 425. Mix together the first five ingredients. Drain the tofu and apply light pressure with your hands to remove excess water.

Slice the tofu in 1 cm (roughly 3/8 inch) slices. Cut each slice into thirds. Submerge the tofu slices in the marinade and then place them on a baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and slightly brown on both sides. You will need to flip the tofu over after roughly 10 minutes, so keep on eye on it.

Prepare the quinoa according to the instructions on the box. While the tofu is baking and the quinoa is cooking, bring water to boil in a separate pot. Add the broccoli florets and cook until al dente.
Add the cornstarch to the remaining marinade. Heat the marinade mixture in a skillet over low heat.

Serve the tofu and broccoli over quinoa, adding sauce to taste. If you prefer a less salty sauce, try using low sodium soy or cutting the sauce with a few tablespoons of water.

Fall Means Football and The Race for the Rescues (Or Why We Walk)

Labor Day is rapidly approaching. And even though the oppressive heat isn’t really waning, fall is technically on its way. And while I will defy my strict WASP upbringing by wearing white well after the 3rd, I am preparing for the two events that define fall for me: college football and the Race for the Rescues.

See, I love football. Like, my mood for the entire week is determined by the performance of a pack of 19 year old boys in spandex, love football. So this is basically going to be me until December.

Photo courtesy of someecards.

Not only does football mean yelling at my television for four straight hours every Saturday, but it also means football parties. Be on the lookout for great game day recipes in the coming weeks. And I will absolutely do my best to be a lady and not subject you to my rants about bad play calling and interceptions. I will save those for Facebook where my college friends and I come together to publicly mourn, berate, and celebrate our boys in blue.

The other event that means fall for me? Is the annual Race for the Rescues at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It’s a 10 K benefiting 12 non profit animal welfare organizations in Los Angeles, and I do it with my dogs every year. You can read more about it here. The participating organizations rehabilitate wildlife, provide low cost veterinary care for low income families (including free spay and neuter clinics), and also place adoptable animals in loving homes.

Why do we walk?

Because 400 dogs and cats are euthanized in Los Angeles shelters each week. That means more than 20,000 adoptable animals die in Los Angeles shelters every year. Because approximately 3-4 million animals are euthanized nationwide. Because 60% of dogs and 70% of cats who enter shelters will never find a home. And because I can’t close my eyes and wish those statistics away.

I do not mean to make anyone feel guilty for obtaining their loving pet from a responsible breeder, and I understand that pet adoption is not for everyone, but it is for me. I have adopted four dogs in my adult life and each one has enriched my life immeasurably.

So, October 7, my two red rescues and I are walking in honor of Woodley’s littermate, Peyton, who has brought joy to her new mommy. (That’s a long story for a different post. Just know it’s not advisable to adopt litter mates.)

Peyton was adopted in December and even though I miss her, I know she has a safe, loving home.

And we’re walking in memory of Brady, Hunter, Rocco, Max, and Bella who are all playing together in Dog Heaven.

This photo was taken the last Christmas Brady and I spent together. On December 29, 2007, he lost a long battle with congestive heart failure.

Hunter was Brady’s best friend, and I was by Huntie’s side when he died. Hunter and his mommy have a special place in my heart. Forever.

Rocco was a beloved big brother and family member. He was skilled at unwrapping presents and making everyone smile. He loved his family and his soap operas. We miss you, Mister Roccos!

Bella put up a valiant fight against cancer, but lost her battle last week. Blake, Audrey, Matt, and Kelley miss their beautiful girl. So this is me giving them a huge internet hug because my arms aren’t long enough to reach to Chicago.

Max was by his mommy’s side for so many adventures including a move to Mexico last year. He died suddenly this summer, and now this little angel has real wings to match his amazing ears.

I need to make myself an event shirt to honor the pups. If you have any ideas, please send them my way!

If you live in the Los Angeles area and want to participate, it’s not too late to register! If you are interested in making a tax deductible donation to our walk, you can do so here. Please don’t feel obligated, though. We all show support for the causes we care about in our own ways.

If you or a friend is mourning the loss of a furry family member, Bella’s mommy recommends the book Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant.

Wag on, guys.

I know I owe you all kinds of recipes for things like pina colada cupcakes and pollo con rajas. I haven’t forgotten. I promise!

What if Baby Connor Doesn’t Like Owls? (Or How to Throw an Owl Themed Baby Shower)

Even though the owl shower is on hold for now, I  figured I’d tell you how we’re going to do it. And hopefully Connor likes owls, ‘cuz the guest of honor is now attending his own shower, which is actually kind of awesome.

Menu

Mint and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

These simple sandwiches are oh so delicious. And easy to make.

I recommend using Persian cucumbers because I think they’re more flavorful than English cucumbers. I also think the sandwiches are better open faced because the bread can be too overpowering otherwise. The recipe is here.

Albacore and Artichoke Sandwiches

Albacore and artichokes are awesome with basil. Really.

Canned albacore in oil is a great substitute for Italian tuna in this recipe. Though the recipe calls for lemon juice and lemon zest, it’s also nice with lime. You can check out the recipe here.

Other sandwiches to complete the finger sandwich menu might be:

Roast Beef Sandwich with Horseradish Mayonnaise
Recipe here.

Turkey Sandwich with Cranberry Relish and Blue Cheese Butter
Recipe here.

I’d also throw in some prosciutto, mozzarella, and melon skewers as well as a salad.

Drinks

Mimosas
Lavender lemonade
Recipe here.

Desserts

Owl cupcakes. (Tutorial here.) For the base of the cupcakes, I would use these banana cupcakes.

These owls are blue and yellow because baby Connor was basically a Michigan Wolverine at conception.

Chocolate Ganache-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes with Seven Minute Meringue Frosting
I have made these many times, and Connor’s mom, Jody, digs them. They are amazing. The recipe is here.

Shower Gift

Owl Sachets. (Tutorial here.)

These lavender-filled owl sachets smell better than they look. For real.

You can get really elaborate with the decorations and go with a woodland-inspired rustic look for the cupcake stands as well as the flowers or you can keep it simple. If you’re looking for more owl baby shower ideas, you can check out this board I created specifically for Jody’s shower.

And this board includes a ton of owl ideas for a shower, a birthday, or a sorority party. (Fun fact: both Chi Omega and Kappa Kappa Gamma have an owl mascot.)

My Mac is Back and It’s Time to Talk About Owls (Or How to Make Owl Sachets)

And my MacBook is back in business. Like Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, rising from the ashes, my Mac (and its mouse) are all miraculously healed.

Sweet relief. I have a full computer screen — and a mouse that works.

So, anyway, I figured it’s time to talk about owl sachets. I should preface this tutorial with the admission that the last time I sewed anything I was about nine. And it kind of looked like a Pound Puppy. If you squinted. Hard. (I also made a panda that week which was equally heinous. I then decided I was done sewing forever and I went back to playing basketball like a proper tomboy.)

See, I own a sewing machine but prior to suggesting we give owl sachets as baby shower gifts, I had not actually removed said machine from the box. I found threading the machine more challenging than the actual act of sewing, but after watching a YouTube tutorial in Portuguese about 15 times, I finally mastered it. (I found the manual utterly useless because it skipped steps assuming one had some rudimentary understanding of sewing. I did not.)

The inspiration for this madness was this fabulous pin I found on Pinterest.

These darling owl pillows are made from Amy Butler fabric and are available on Etsy. Photo courtesy of April Foss on Etsy.

Perhaps a sensible person would not have volunteered herself for a sewing project when she did not actually know how to sew, but I like learning new things. And I am not sensible. Plus, I work best under pressure. If you’re not a lunatic like me, or if you’re pressed for time, you can buy adorable owl pillows from April Foss on Etsy. She has an amazing array of designs. Hers are not sachets, but they are still super cute.

If you want to go the DIY route ‘cuz you’re crazy like me (or actually gifted like April and Martha, which I am not), then here’s the how-to:

I cut an owl shape out of fabric and used it as a pattern. I then pinned it to the fabric I was cutting out.

Woodley decided to help me sew. And by “help” I mean she rubbed her face on the fabric before falling asleep on it.

I sewed around the ears and the sides leaving the bottom open. To achieve a firm three dimensional shape, I filled the sachets with some stuffing I picked up at Jo-Ann’s and I mixed in the dry lavender. Then I hand sewed the bottom of the sachets.

Next I cut out eyes from white and black felt and glued them on with a hot glue gun. I opted to skip the beaks because I thought they were superfluous. I’m sure real owls don’t feel this way about their beaks, but whatever….

Here are my owls getting ready for their glue gun eye jobs.

The adorable gray and yellow fabric is Amy Butler and I found it online. The pink fabric was donated by the other shower host from her stash, so I don’t know who the designer is.

I’ll finish gluing the eyes on the sachets when we reschedule the shower. (See, the guest of honor, baby Connor, decided to arrive 5 weeks early, the day before his own shower. He and his mom are happy and healthy, and now he gets to meet everyone who bought him strollers and stuff.)