Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy 10th, Won Ton!

Our eldest pug, Won Ton, is 10 years old on October 31--happy birthday, Won Ton!

This is the day we first met him, at a pug-rescue event. He was about a year and a half old. (Lovely Daughter #2 couldn't be there, for some reason):

A few weeks later, we were able to adopt him. That first day was so exciting and exhausting! He and I both ended up crashing on the floor (I have a photo somewhere of the day we brought our first baby home from the hospital, and it's almost exactly the same as this):

Lovely Daughter #2 got to meet him a few days later:

 He was so little then! Now he's a lovely, dignified gentleman with an impressive neck ruff:

He has graciously welcomed two younger pugs into his life. Here he is, showing baby Pao the ropes:

Occasionally the way he's made gives him a sad, pensive look:

But really, he's a very happy dude--downright silly, sometimes:

I can't imagine life without a pug, now, all thanks to Won Ton:

Happy birthday #10, little wonky-legged man. We love you!

String of Pearls

Funny facial features to stick on your trees have been available for purchase for several years.

But a clever homeowner in my neighborhood added this unique twist--a string of "pearls" made of ping-pong balls!

Happy Almost-Halloween, everyone.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Book, A Boy, and a Bed

We had a very young visitor a few days ago. He hadn't met my pugs before, and after some initial squealing (on both their parts), these two cuties settled into a dog bed to do some light reading:

The little boy was "reading" aloud to Mu Shu. Below, Mu Shu responds by gently plopping his head on the toddler's forearm:

I think it took him by surprise, because he pulled his arm back:

But they settled into a friendly coziness, and he read to Mu Shu while I drank in the deliciousness of the moment:

Adorableness reigned supreme.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Roasted Veggies: A Few How-To's

Last week, I posted a simple, meatless recipe for Petite Red Lentil Risotto. Today, I want to share not a recipe, really, but a method of cooking vegetables.

Roasting veggies (as opposed to steaming or sautéing) is a fabulous way to deepen and intensify their flavors. I tend to roast two or three pansful of veggies at a time, because I want leftovers--they make putting together your next meal so easy.

To roast veggies successfully, here are a few guidelines:

1) Cut everything up roughly the same size so things cook at the same rate.

2) Roast like with like: Harder veggies, like carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, and russet potatoes, roast well together:

3) Softer veggies (like eggplant, mushrooms, summer squashes) and those with thin "walls" (like bell peppers and onions) also roast at about the same time:

4) Before roasting, place each batch of cut-up vegetables into a large bowl, and toss them with a drizzle of olive oil (so they're glistening but not drowning), some freshly ground black pepper, and some coarse salt. (Although some people add chopped herbs at this point, I find the tender herbs burn and blacken too much, so I like adding them either at the very end of the roast, or scattering the herbs, uncooked, over the veggies right before serving.)

5) Use jellyroll pans (the kind with a lip) instead of cookie sheets (no lip) to roast veggies so they  don't roll off the sheets if you want to stir them halfway through the cooking time.

6) Don't crowd the veggies, or they will steam instead of roast. The pieces shouldn't touch. If you can't leave some space around each piece, then do another batch. Use parchment paper (if you want) to make cleanup easier.

7) Keep an eye on the veggies. Harder veggies, roasted at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, might take 15-20 minutes (depending on their size). Softer veggies roasted at the same temperature might be done in half that time.

8) If it looks like the veggies are cooking unevenly, remove them from the oven and give them a stir, then pop them back in.

Here's a batch of roasted veggies I made for dinner last night:

I served them hot over cooked kasha (buckwheat groats) and dusted them with some microplaned Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a sprinkling of fresh, chopped herbs from my garden:

Other ideas for roasted veggies:

1. Serve them over any other cooked grain or tossed into various pastas (they do well with the sturdier pastas, like penne, rigatoni, elbows, shells, etc.). For additional flavor, try adding some pasta sauce or a something with heat, like Sriracha sauce.

2. Chop them up finer and add them to a cheese omelette, or to a simple stock for a delicious soup.

3. Chop them finer still for a vegetarian taco (add salsa, grated cheese, avocado slices, shredded lettuce, etc.) or to top a plain cheese pizza (to avoid overcooking the veggies, heat them in the microwave and scatter them on the pizza when it comes out of the oven).

4. Buzz them in a blender or food processor with some hot stock for a pureé.

Have fun experimenting, and happy roasting!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sweater Weather

It's sunny and warm in Los Angeles. Sweater Weather is taking its own sweet time arriving.

A few nights ago, however, there was a slight chill in the air. I sat on the Family Room couch with Mu Shu, who wanted a blankie. My red sweater was all I had to offer him (without going to another room):

Which was fine, until I got up. Then my little Mama's Boy felt compelled to follow:

Ohhhhh, the Mu Shu!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Crows for Halloween

It took me years to notice that the big black birds in my neighborhood are sometimes crows and sometimes ravens.

Unless you pay attention, they all just seem like big black birds.

They both belong to the corvid family, but there are key differences. (Google "crow vs. raven differences" to learn more.) Basically, ravens are bigger, have a slightly hooked bill, a wedge-shaped tail when they fly, and make a sort of "gronk!" noise. The smaller crows have a straighter bill, a flat-across tail when they fly, and make the classic "caw, caw!" noise.

Both species are very smart. Both are capable of remembering individual people, and they teach their babies who the mean people in the neighborhood are.

I like that. I want them to think of me as one of the good guys.

So sometimes I toss a few Cheerios onto the ground as we pass by, to give the birds a treat.

Over the weekend, this bunch of corvids popped up:

They're fake, but they look quite real:

The homeowner has very cleverly perched them the way a flock of crows might perch:

They remind me of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film "The Birds."

Kind of cute, kind of creepy. The perfect outdoors decor for Halloween!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Roadside Rescue: Blanket Rack

This is my latest roadside rescue, which I'll be taking to Goodwill:

It's a blanket rack, for holding extra quilts or blankets, typically at the end of a bed. This one is obviously old and kind of wonky; there's not a lot of perfectly straight lines going on here:

But I think that adds to its charm. It has cute, knobby feet:

...and cute, knobby ends:

By the way, did you notice the autumnal-colored leaves in the photos?

At long last, it's turning a little cooler around Los Angeles. A hint of Fall is in the air.

And we're all happy about that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bris: A Photographic Essay

Recently I attended a bris--the Jewish celebration for welcoming a baby boy into the community.

When my son had his bris, it went by so swiftly, and there was nobody to record the sweet little details of the day.

I've tried to do that here. Enjoy this wordless post, my friends:

And if you find yourself humming "Sunrise, Sunset," well, that's just fine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Petite Red Lentil "Risotto"

The October 20, 2014, issue of "Time" magazine features a cover article by that culinary demigod, Mark Bittman. He examines why America has lost its way in the culinary wilderness, relying far too much on manufactured food, "fake" food, scary food. He asks Americans to give home cooking a try.

Home cooking, he argues, is easier, faster, better for your budget, and for your waistline than a diet based on fast food and restaurants:

I don't need encouraging to cook at home; I do it about six nights a week.

But his article got me to thinking about how I've avoided blogging about cooking. Why? Because it's hard to cook and photograph the steps at the same time. Because I don't have an assistant to hold a light, tilt a dish, or run out and cut me another sprig of basil to place on top of the pasta.

Excuses, excuses.

I'm going to change that. From now on, I'm going to share some easy, yummy, inexpensive recipes with you. Even if my photos aren't award-winning. Even if I'm in the kitchen by myself (I am!). Even if it is harder to do a cooking post than, say, an aren't-my-pugs-cute? post.

Today, it's a no-rice version of Risotto, which usually involves stirring a long time at the stove and three separate pots going at once.

This easy, quick version uses petite red lentils. Because of their tiny size, they cook up in a flash.

Start with the lentils: Pour them out in a casserole dish or something with a lip; pick through them and discard anything that doesn't look right. If they look dusty, give them a quick rinse in a bowl of cold water. For a generous serving for one, I used about 1/2 cup of lentils:

Cut a slice of onion, maybe 1/3 inch thick, and chop it up. Don't flip out about the size of the pieces; if most of them are about 1/3" square, you're good:

The quantities are approximate, but you want about 1/3 cup of chopped onion and a little more than that of lentils:

In a sauce pot that has a lid, cook the onion in a tablespoon or so of butter (or olive oil) until the onions soften and begin to turn translucent. Toss in a few sticks of fresh herbs, if you wish. I added marjoram, but oregano or even a little rosemary might be nice:

Add the lentils and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to fully cover everything--about a cup, maybe a little more. Bring to a boil, then drop to a simmer and cover.

Cook for 15 or 20 minutes. Stir occasionally and test the "doneness" of the lentils. If it looks like it's getting too dry but the lentils are still chewy or chalky, add a little bit more water. You're aiming for the lentils to be cooked through, but not entirely turned to mush. The brilliant orange lentils will have changed to an earthy, yellow-tan color:

When the lentils are cooked to a creamy, but slightly "al dente" consistency, remove from the stove and discard any little stalks of herbs that you see:

Top with some grated cheese and serve at once. I microplaned some Parmigiano-Reggiano:

Sit back and pat yourself on the back, because you just made a low-cost, low-fat yummy lunch or dinner for yourself.

This very basic recipe lends itself to lots of variations. You can top the cooked lentils with chopped-up leftover roasted or steamed vegetables, with cooked leftover meat, or with chopped, toasted nuts. You can add a swirl of hot sauce or olive oil. Double up on the cheese if you want. Or stir in some leftover, cooked beans or other cooked grains--oats or barley or quinoa or buckwheat would all be great.

The lentils can serve as an earthy, background taste to whatever you add to them.

Or they can come front and center with just a modest topping of grated cheese.

It's your meal, and your choice.


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