Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pesto, pasta, party

Yesterday, my brother and sister and I piled into my parents' house for a cooking lesson or three! This post is about two of the three cooking lessons. The third, spring rolls, will have to be a post for another day, simply to prevent this from being the Longest Post Ever.

First: the pesto. Well, as you might remember, I already plainly adore making pesto, so this was mostly to show my brother how easy it is. (Answer: so easy!)

I bought three bunches of basil at the farmer's market on Sunday morning. Sometimes it's kind of tough to eyeball how much you need of an item when you're not in your kitchen, isn't it? I ended up with about a hundred pounds of basil. (You know what that means, don't you? Extra pesto to take home!)

We started with this:

And with a little garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil and probably lemon, thrown into the handy food processor, that turned into this!

Next up was the main event: the pasta. After borrowing my aunt's pasta maker to make ravioli last fall, my mom had been angling for one ever since. My sibs and I got her one for her birthday, and it sounds like she has been just loving it. But we hadn't seen it in action yet!

First: mixing flour, semolina, and eggs. That's it!  I mixed the flour in too aggressively and it made my batch a little tough. Don't do that. My brother looks smug in the following picture, like he already knows I've botched it. But the good news? My mom said it's pretty difficult to really mess the dough up.

Sidenote: I don't love the layout of vertical photos in Blogger. Sometimes they take up too much space when they are large-size. But extra-large size is very, very large. Thoughts to ponder, right?

Then the dough rests. Then you knead it very seriously for 10-15 minutes. Or maybe your mom spells you from kneading so you can take a few photos.

You were probably wondering how Wish was doing during this whole process. Just about like this:

No meat? I'm bored!
 Then the dough rests some more. While that happens, set up the pasta maker on a counter top!

And that's where the fun really begins. You chop the dough up into fourths or sixths or whatever you fancy, and then put the dough through the crusher (roller is probably the more accurate word) several times, each time making the sheet of dough narrower and narrower.


I don't know how people or fictional characters such as Strega Nona do this themselves. It is sort of a three-person task: one to hold the dough going into the roller/crusher, one to pull the dough out, and one to crank the machine's handle. (Enter my sister!)

And then the dough gets veerrrrry stretched out!

You put the dough back on clean towels on the counter and let it relax some more.

Then it's time to make the noodles! This happens via an attachment you put on the machine.

Check it out!

 Toss those noodles back onto the towel while you make sure the water is good and boiled.

They don't have to be neatly arranged, either. Piles and piles of noodles!

Should you cut the pasta into sections, we asked?  Mom said no, this way is more fun.

Drop them into the pot of water and cook them for a few minutes. A little while later, after Mom stirred the pasta into pesto-cream sauce and added shrimp for the meat-eaters, you could say that we had pasta coming out of our ears!

Thanks to Mom for teeing up this joke!
I should probably note that my sister doesn't normally cruise around town in a fish-printed tank dress. She drove over straight from practice and went into my bedroom closet (which is now the catchall for all discarded clothing, including but not limited to dresses I wore to high school dances) and found this fish dress. I hope she does wear it around town more from now on. She wears it well.

Making pasta is much less laborious and much more fun than it seems! It was kind of mesmerizing to watch the sheets of pasta turn into little ribbons, and we got to enjoy the fettuccine of our labor (so to speak) before heading outside for cherry-peach cobbler on the porch. And we made a double-double batch, so I literally have about 15 pounds of pesto pasta in my fridge now. Yum.

Try it sometime! Thanks to Mom for teaching us!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Marvelous Monday: Week 31

It's Marvelous Monday! What is marvelous about yesterday, today, tomorrow and this week?

1. I am getting into some serious training weeks for my fall marathon, and I got in a tough workout this morning that went better than I expected! Fingers crossed that this bodes well for the rest of the week's miles.

2. Even with the brouhaha about tape delay and spoilers, I'm loving the Olympics.

3. I got Wish a new bone-shaped chew toy designed to entice dogs to chomp their way to dental health. Wish is not a big chewer by nature (knock on wood) and seems to forget that the bone is around most of the day, but when we remind him, he gets totally jazzed and without fail pounces on the bone. He will not approach it without a pounce. It cracks me up.

4. I went to the farmer's market yesterday. It was early in the morning and raining and it was about the most quiet I've ever seen it on a Sunday morning in late July. I tottered around and got some wonderful items, including sweet corn, a monstrous bouquet of flowers, and a monstrous bag full of basil, all before the clock struck eight. (And maybe two donuts, too.) More on the basil tomorrow!

5. I saw resiliency in action this weekend in nature. (Well, nature sounds a little overdramatic for the real subject at hand. Yes, I'm talking about my windowboxes again.) I've learned that I need to just flip my windowboxes every couple of weeks, just as one is exploding in prosperity and the other is spiraling into turmoil. I thought I had waited a couple of days too long and that one box wouldn't recover. I flipped them so the sad windowbox was in the partial sunlight and gave it a healthy drink of water, and hours - literally, hours later - it had perked up to the point that there were buds on the plants. And now there are flowers. Let's have a hearty cheer for impatiens!

Happy Monday evening!  Any new recipe projects of your own this week, Reader? Do you have any adventures planned for the days ahead?  Please share!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Weekly Wish

Yesterday we took Wish on his first picnic!

That kind of makes it sounds like we go on picnic adventures all the time, but this was actually our first picnic in a very long time, too. We stopped at a deli to get sandwiches and bottles of root beer and then headed over to the Como Zoo's picnic grounds.

At first Wish neither understood nor appreciated what this leisure activity was all about.

You guys sit there and eat meat? And I get nothing? This is worse than the time you took me to get my nails clipped.

And what's even worse, there were people walking by carrying scary things like coolers!

At least his shadow was pretty.

But once we were done with the lunch portion of the afternoon and moved on to the part that involved hanging out with Wish on the blanket, he was much happier. He relaxed. He got belly rubs.

And then he was so very tired and had to go home for a nap after such a gigantic adventure.

The End

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bellow trees

This morning I got to run with Katie, my running buddy from the training group I joined last year!  It was the first time I've run with her this summer, and it feels so strange to type that because we did literally almost every Saturday long run together last year - plus most of the workouts on Mondays and Wednesdays, too! Anyway, she's wonderful, and I was happy to get the chance to spend a Saturday run with her.

Added bonus: the weather was amazing! Minnesota is in a nice little streak of just plain old sweet summer weather: lower humidity, temperatures in the low 80s - you get the idea. This morning was sunny and breezy, with temperatures in the mid-60s when we started. We also got out early enough so the trails around the Minneapolis lakes weren't too crowded. We circled three of the lakes - Calhoun, Harriet and Isles - and I know I've written about this before, but the miles tick by so quickly when you're chatting with a friend like Katie. Most of my solo runs, even the best ones, include as least some element of counting down the distance remaining. Not today! When we were back onto Lake of the Isles to close out that loop, I couldn't believe we were almost done with 10 miles.

Katie was looking to run about 10, and I had 12 on my schedule, so I headed back out for a little shuffle around Lake of the Isles to finish up the distance. (I cut a bunch of runs short this week for various little reasons, so I figured I could finish up the full 12 miles on a gorgeous Saturday morning.)

But make no mistake, it was leisurely. Lake of the Isles is the most quiet lake on our loop, and it's chock full of beautiful willow trees - or as I used to call them when I was little, bellow trees. I started my cooldown on the trail and kept zigzagging over to the trees, all in the name of practicing using my camera. Let's be clear: this mile probably took twice as long to cover than the mile I raced on Thursday night. It sure was fun, though.

You can meander over to the trees, stand under one, and have a peaceful little moment when you look up:

And then you'd back away and see an even prettier view:

And you'd probably get distracted by some little yellow flowers next to the shoreline, too, right?

There are no willow trees in this photo, either, but look! You can just barely see the Minneapolis skyline on the horizon:

Finally, just as I was about to veer off from the lake paths and head home, I saw a kayaker paddle past:

It was a peaceful way to close out such a fun morning with a friend.

The forecast for today is beautiful, so I'm off to either resist or give in to the urge to watch Olympics coverage all day and read my book about fonts. Pup and I went for a long stroll yesterday, and another one of those could be in the cards, too. Happy Saturday to you!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Opening ceremony

Ahhh! The Parade of Nations gets me every time. What a magnificent event!

Will you be watching? What events do you love the best? Unsurprisingly, I love pretty much all of them equally, but you can bet the track and field races will be adding some oomph and zing to my own miles back in St. Paul.

I am so looking forward to the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three Things Thursday

What's going on today, you ask?

Well, first and foremost, it is Mom and Dad's wedding anniversary today. I posted this photo last year on this date but love it so much that I could probably post it weekly and be just fine:

Isn't that great?

I will introduce some additional topics, in a tidy trio format. (This is apparently the only part of the post that actually adheres to the title.)
  1. I raced the Rice Street Mile tonight! I finished a piddly two seconds slower than my personal best for the mile but was genuinely happy to be that close. It was my first mile race in many years and man oh man does a mile get tough by the end - but it's also over so quickly. I would definitely like to try this distance again before the fall and see if the PR can finally fall. My brother also raced it and was only a few seconds away from his own personal best!
  2. I finally, finally tried a trick I recommended to a friend literally years ago. You know how sometimes you just read the words chocolate chip cookies and launch a frantic search to assemble the ingredients? (Just me again? Okay.) Well, I was in that mood the other day. But sometimes you don't want to, you know, eat four dozen cookies. I finally mixed up a batch, baked five or six, and made the rest of the cookie batter into little individual cookie-sized scoops, plunked them all into a Ziploc bag and froze them for another day. That way you can bake one or two cookies at a time, whenever it strikes your fancy. Yes!
  3. I got the word from the library that Just My Type: A Book About Fonts was waiting for me. I picked it up yesterday and cannot wait to start reading it. I flipped through it last night, just to see what glorious graphics awaited me, and I saw an illustration of a map with Bodoni marked on it. I am so excited.
Bonus: The Olympics open tomorrow night!

Double bonus: These guys:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Music at the zoo

On July 25, Josh and I went to a concert...outdoors...at the zoo...on a weeknight!

Wild and crazy! And with a brand new hat, to boot!

Not every music fan on the premises could have pulled off that hat, though:

It was my first concert at the zoo (this was Los Lobos, by the way) and it was a good one. I will remember this evening on winter nights for sure. Despite my ever-present dew point-watching this season so far, summer in Minnesota is a lovely thing indeed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Local history

On Sunday morning, after Natty and I woke up and helped Wish and her pup forge a friendship, we were talking about what we should do that day. We talked about going for a walk, maybe checking out a yoga class or heading over to the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis. "There is one more thing," I told her hesitantly. "There are these neighborhood architectural tours on Summit Avenue...and I've never been on one but always read about them...and I don't know if you're interested, but..."

Well, I should have known. This is the girl who loved our hummingbird class in March as much as I did, after all. Peas in a pod. She was in for the tour!

After Highland Fest, we lugged our lemonades (cherry for me, lime for Nat) over to the James J. Hill House in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood. Tickets for this walking tour are $10 for adults - and let me make a long story short, it's worth every penny. We waited outside for a couple of minutes with about 25 other people, a crowd that eventually split into two tours.

At 2:00, our guides came outside and started the introduction.

The Hill House belonged to James J. Hill, the founder of the Great Northern Railway. It was built in the late 1800s, and many of the homes in the area were built in the Gilded Age (around then or just afterward). This has always been a fascinating era to me.

We learned all about the architectural styles of the street's homes. For a lot of the structures, our guide passed around photos of what the houses used to look like. Apparently the Queen Anne look, which I loved and Natty didn't, went out of style in a major way a little farther into the 1900s, and a lot of owners scrubbed their homes free of Queen Anne style and totally remodeled their homes.

Summit Avenue is the longest stretch of restored Victorian homes in the country, and because of the wide sidewalks, picturesque views and neat measurements (the stoplights are almost all exactly one-half mile apart!), the street is very popular with local runners, walkers and cyclists.

You get the idea:

The last several miles of the Twin Cities Marathon course go up Summit, too. The funny thing, though, is how much I've missed in the hundreds or even thousands of times I've run, walked or biked on various sections of Summit. I'm talking about the layers and layers of history that line this street, of course, but I'm also just talking about the physical, tangible parts of the street.

I was practically dumbstruck, for example, by this door frame:

And this railing!

And these windows:

If you love learning new words, this is also a good tour. You know that category of words you've read and read but are surprised when you hear someone say them? (Think epitome or posthumous. Do you have a favorite example?) Anyway, I always pronounced cupola in my head as kuhp-OH-lah. Our guide pointed out a nice KEW-pew-luh and I whispered, "Wow." Cupola.

The second new word - well, besides all of the architectural styles I couldn't have told you one thing about before this tour - is quoin, an architectural term to describe mostly decorative cornerstone (kind of like trim) on brick structures. It's pronounced the same as coin, by the way. Our guide introduced this term by saying, "As soon as you identify this, you'll see it everywhere" and my ears perked up. I love stuff like that - and of course, she was totally right.

(I should stop here and note that our guide was just wonderful. She kept the tour moving along but dished just the right amount of facts and juicy tidbits and still had time to entertain our questions. The whole thing was absolutely fascinating, even with the heat and humidity that accompanied the 90-minute tour.)

Anyway, these houses are magnificent, in part because each house finds a balance between the big picture and the small details.  Like this...

...tucked into something like this:

But what, you ask, was my favorite, favorite building? That was easy. It's tucked away on another side street on which I've never stepped. It's one of several places in the neighborhood where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived  - here, I think, with his grandmother. I also heard on the tour that he and Zelda used to attend dances on the rooftop of the Commodore Hotel, not too far away. I would like to go on a 1920s tour next.

I love the red stone.

Whether you live in St. Paul or are visiting from anywhere else in the world, I highly, highly recommend this tour. I ran on Summit by myself yesterday, and my perspective felt completely different. I noticed so many new things - quoins and all - and now I know a little bit more about the people whose feet have touched these sidewalks before me.

This tour will be hard to top, but I'm going to track down some more around town. Any ideas?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Marvelous Monday: Week 30

Some Marvelous Mondays are previews of the upcoming week; others are true snapshots of the day. Today? We've got a weekend recap on tap.

1. I had a truly wonderful 37-hour weekend with Nat (and her husband and pup, too!), who were in Minnesota for a too-brief stopover en route to their new home on the East Coast. We went for a long walk, wandered around town, ate good pizza and ice cream, and checked off items on her summer road trip scavenger hunt via her hometown newspaper. I also tried to convince them to move back to St. Paul instead of continuing eastward. (They are on their way to Chicago now, so my campaign didn't work.)

2. Wish made his first dog friend since moving in with us. (See #1 and also yesterday's post.) He was wary at first but warmed to Nat's dog quickly and is now downright perturbed that everyone's gone.

Here we are!

3. Nat and I visited St. Paul's Highland Fest yesterday and loved it. I got a corn dog and cherry lemonade. (Yum.) We also visited the Half Price Books tent sale, which was one of the best things I've ever seen. We could have spent hours there but had plans for later in the afternoon, which I'll detail tomorrow. We didn't even get halfway through the children's section, let alone teen, adult fiction and adult non-fiction. It was incredible.

We also stumbled on some interesting children's books in the boxes. I was particularly struck by Snakes Live in the Grass. Nat?

4. We now have a working itinerary for my first trip to Washington, D.C. since I went there with my family when I was 13.

Cherry blossoms, here I come!

5. Before our houseguests arrived late Saturday night, we went to the movies (to watch the baseball documentary Pelotero), grilled our dinner (steak for Josh, caprese sandwich for me) and bowled. I bowled a triumphant 113 in the first game before my paltry score of 62 in the second. We have a season pass at the local lanes, and it's time to start using it more!

What do you think, Reader? Should we close with an unnecessary photo of my dog? I think so.

He's actually gazing blissfully at a steak on the grill (I'm not even kidding), but just pretend he's thinking about Monday. I hope you feel the same way about the day!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Egg in the middle

This post's for my dad!

I love breakfast. I especially love cereal for breakfast: in the summer, a blend of brands covered in strawberries and blueberries and peaches; in the winter, oatmeal with peanut butter stirred in. But when  it's a rainy Saturday morning and the cereal boxes are empty - but a loaf of bread is on the counter and eggs are in the fridge - what's a girl to do?

Egg in the middle, of course!

When I was growing up, this was a Saturday morning favorite, with an accompanying chant from my brother and sister and me that went something like, "Egg in the middle! Egg in the middle!" (Creative stuff, right?) My dad makes a really good egg in the middle, although our opinions differ on the perfect one: he likes the yolk a little bit runny and I say cook it all. He'd cook our eggs through and probably grumble, "Kids just don't know what's good" - a statement of which he and my grandpa were fond, one that could also be applied to things like mushrooms and oysters and other grown-up foods.

My brother has gone on to be able to cook a mean egg in the middle of his own. On the day after Christmas last year, when we were all at home and I merrily charred my own first attempt at egg in the middle, he told me the key is patience: to keep the heat low and let the whole thing come together slowly.

So, what do you do?  (Let's see if Dad is perusing Miles and Laurel today - he can weigh in if my advice is off-base.)

Get out a piece of bread. (Watermelon smoothie in upper-right corner optional but recommended.)

Lightly butter it and make a circle cutout with an upside-down small glass.

Remove circle. (But don't throw it away, because it's really good toasted.)

Lightly coat a pan in cooking spray (or butter!) and toss the bread onto the pan over medium-low heat. Let it toast for a little, then crack open an egg and drop it into the open circle. If you'd like, scramble it gently first. Season it a little with salt and/or pepper. Marvel at how lopsided your stovetop actually is as the angle starts to mangle your egg in the middle.

Whether or not this has happened to you, a couple of minutes later, finagle a cook's best trick to hide such problems: flip the project over. Flip the egg in the middle onto the other side and let the rest of the egg cook.

Disregard/eat the weird egg spillover, text your dad to report a successful egg in the middle (or text me, if you're following my instructions to a T but your own dad would be totally confused by such a message), and enjoy!