Movin on up

I’ve been spouting this on Facebook like I’ve got nothing better to do with my time (I don’t), but I haven’t announced it yet to the blogiverse. So some of you may not know that…


We’re moving back to Colorado! In a feat of sheer daring and good ol’ fashioned begging, we managed to convince a string of actual military generals to let us go home instead of going to Mississippi. That means that our orders for Mississippi were officially revoked, and we officially received assignment at the Air Force Academy. This is UNHEARD OF in military circles, so please appreciate what a serious miracle has occurred.

The Academy is Chris’s alma mater. The very place where he went from being a tiny 18 year old with hopes and dreams to being a much larger 21 year old who had still never seen an actual boob up close because of some school-wide imperialist policy against beer pong and slutty coeds. The place where he spent hours walking along lines of tiles, like a giant game of “don’t step on a crack,” only if he screwed up, instead of breaking his momma’s back he had to do push ups and get yelled at by angry republicans. The place where he crashed his first plane. Ahhhhh memories.

Sure, he has to do four days a week of internal medicine and only one day a week of allergy for the time being. Sure, some days his commute will be over an hour because of snow. Sure, he still has to wear his hat when he goes outside. But it doesn’t matter, because WE’RE GOING HOME.

In two months time, I’ll be having barbecues where, at about 8 pm, I have to put on a light sweatshirt because the sun has gone down and the temperature has dropped from 90 to 60 degrees in a hurry. I can’t WAIT. And to see the mountains whenever I walk out my front door— to know that this time next year will be the tail end of snowboarding/snowshoeing season? Glorious. I’m giddy.

And no longer heading toward homelessness! We bought a house in Parker, and will be living very near to my mom and friends and Chris’s family. This is the first time either of us has owned a home, so that’s pretty exciting. And we managed to do it without giving our budget unsightly stretch marks, and using a fixed VA loan, so it should be a slightly lower stress endeavor than many first time homebuying experiences. I guess that’s the benefit of renting and saving until we were older than the average bear.

I’m pretty excited to hear one of the cats making the “hork hork hork blech” sound, and knowing that it’s MY VERY OWN CARPET they’re yarking on, and that I won’t have to lose my deposit over it. Bulemic assholes. Fortunately we’re mostly hardwood in the new place, so they can shoot flaming bile in whatever direction they so please.

Here she is:

And the new kitchen digs:

The kitchen has a walk in pantry, a separate room that can be used for a butler’s pantry, and currently has all-new GE Profile appliances. Much nicer than I would have been able to put in on my own. And we’re swapping the electric cooktop for an induction.

The current house has no kitchen ventilation system (WTF??), so we got a bid to put in a hood over the island, and it looks like it’ll be less complicated than we originally thought. Only a few hundred dollars for the ductwork, and then the cost of the range hood of our choice. I like the glass and steel Electrolux because it minimally interferes with the room at eye level.

Other than that, we don’t really have many improvements to make to the place right away. We got it well under market value, given the current housing situation, and will just have to build our equity off of that. We’re not a handy couple. “Fixer upper” would have likely killed us. No. Really. Like, actually killed us. Via electrocution or falling ladder or something.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last week and a half. Buying a house. Pacing my current house. Making easy spring food like grilled caprese pizza. Doesn’t really warrant a whole lot of blog fanfare, but I’m definitely in more of a cooking mood now that things are settling down a bit, so I’ll start posting more interesting things soon.

Pinky swear.

My way or the highway

I have returned from wedding week in Colorado! My brother is currently married and getting loaded with the locals in Barbados. And I? Well, right now I’m full of Kashi and fruit. Time to undo a weekend of eating unhealthily at what appeared to be an extended college rager.

What a blast I had, too. I was part of the bridal party, but due to my family ties I spent most of the week surrounded by drunk, shirtless, 23 year old groomsmen. I picked them up off of lawns. I painted ties and last names on their chests and backs for the 5k. We took my mom’s cats on Chatroulette for Kitteh Parteh time. And I made them sandwiches.

You have never seen a group of more pathetically grateful, naked youths than those who are hungover and have been given sandwiches.

“OMG YES! How did you know I wanted a sandwich? You’re a genius, Kristie. Aw, man. Yessss!!!”

Sometimes it doesn’t even take a sandwich. I just cubed up some lebanon balogna and put it in a ziplock for my brother to eat, and was given many slurred accolades about the “sack of mastodon meat.”

I’ve known many of these guys since they were eating Handi-Snacks out of their lunch pails. It was bittersweet to see them all-growed-up, so to speak. And it was more difficult than I thought to keep them rounded up night after night, trying to prevent them from being ousted from the hotel or arrested. Or both.

And while I tried to keep them from killing themselves or innocent bystanders, they tried to kill me. Like with their wedding 5k (it’s family tradition at this point–mad props to me). It was held at Red Rocks amphitheater, which is gorgeous and a favorite of bands from the Beatles to Dave Matthews to ICP. It’s also a course that involved almost 1000 ft in climbing elevation over a three mile run that BEGAN at pretty intense elevation, ending in a run up these stairs: I wish I were kidding. The good news is that IF I vomited blood, it was minimal. The other good news is that my brother managed to make it even more challenging than my wedding 5k, which was through Garden of the Gods. The bad news is that my family is one of immense pride and competition, so my sister’s wedding may involve running directly perpendicular to the ground. Possibly up a skyscraper or something.

After the run, we all had a quick lunch and then had the rehearsal and ensuing dinner. This is the dinner I had written about, where they had trouble coming up with a good vegetarian option. They ended up going with one of the options that I had suggested, which was great. The only teensy downside is that they over-thought it. It was clearly vegetarian food that had been prepared by a non-vegetarian. The chef had put so many different vegetables on the plate, many of which were not-quite-crisp, that it became muddled and lacked focus. The colors looked stew-y.

What I had suggested was grilled parmesan-polenta cakes with mushroom confit and grilled asparagus with lemon-thyme butter. Delicious. Simple. Clean.

What the chef prepared was so much more WORK than that. It was two half-dollar-sized polenta cakes with a small amount of sauce, plus three white asparagus spears, plus a slab of summer squash. Plus a slab of zucchini. Plus a bed of cooked spinach. Plus a carved, winter-quality tomato with broiled cheese on it. Plus a slab of carrot. There was just SO MUCH happening on that plate.

I know he or she felt compelled to make it look fancified and worth the expense, but sometimes bright and simple and fresh is better. Sometimes it’s worth more, too.

When I made a version of the flavors at home, it looked like this:

Granted, it wasn’t exactly what I had suggested, but we’re all thinkers here. I didn’t have any mushrooms, for one. But it was grilled parmesan-polenta cakes, still crispy on the outside from the grill. They were full of butter and corn and goodness. Then there was a fresh asparagus soup that was so bright I almost had to wear sunglasses to eat it. Perfectly crisp-tender tips were laced throughout the soup for crunch, and it was topped in egg yolk drops that had been cooked in thyme-infused clarified butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

It took me under 30 minutes to prepare, aside from pre-cooking the polenta so it would be set for grilling. And that was while I was doing other things, like obnoxiously facebooking and playing with my dog.

So my suggestions to the chef at the Briarwood:

1- Cook your vegetables less.
2- Don’t put so many vegetables on a plate. It’s a vegetarian entree, not giant ratatouille
3-Sauce should go under the polenta cakes, not on top. The crisp exterior is part of their charm
4-Don’t serve “fresh” tomatoes in winter
5-Don’t ever, ever carve a tomato into intricate scallops or roses or whatever. All it says is that someone was touching it a lot.
6-Let your ingredients speak for themselves. Part of that involves buying the freshest, in-season ingredients. Part of that involves restraint. But it’s important.
7-Pick a focus for your plate and stick to it. Even if that focus isn’t steak. The other ingredients are just supporting characters.

I’ll stick with seven suggestions, because GO ELWAY.

And I so did appreciate the effort to which they went to ensure a “new” entree for the vegetarians in the group. I don’t want to sound ungrateful.

Oh, and whatever that crab dish was (only Smith ordered it)… it smelled like major hookers. Seriously.

And I apologize for the number of people who ate their steak above medium-rare. I yelled at them, I promise.

With that, I bid you adieu and must go work some more on house hunting and not being fat. With the exception of the 5k, it’s been a week without concentrated exercise, and I feel myself starting to wobble like a refrigerated pot of high-quality stock.

Marriage and Fried Things

The other day I was invited to go into the man cave to play video games with Chris. Usually if we play together, then we play in our family room. But from 3-5 pm every day in the summer, light from our super-high windows hits the television screen and obscures the picture completely. So we both retreated to his man cave, which is blissfully cold and dark, and also has a decent setup for gaming.

I was stringing together magic attacks against what appeared to be a giant robot armadillo on Final Fantasy XIII when Chris out of the blue announced, “Kristie, you’re the perfect wife.” After I finished off the robot armadillo, I asked him to elaborate. After all, it was Easter Sunday and I was not barefoot and pregnant in an apron basting a spiral-cut ham. Nor was I outside hiding eggs for masses of freshly-washed offspring. Nor was I fighting back against the giant robot pile of laundry upstairs. No. I was sitting on my duff hogging the game console.

He went on to elaborate. “Maybe I’m saying it wrong. You’re also the perfect PARTNER.” Wrong answer, good sir. The correct answer here would have been “you’re the perfect wife because you’re a total babe and funny and awesome and look good in a short skirt.” I am too young to be the “perfect wife” and I am FAR too young to be the “perfect partner.” I’m still striving to be the perfect girl. And I’m not ready to give up that journey just yet.

I was trying to explain to him, through his clear alarm and confusion, that partners and wives are both like a great pot roast. They’re nutritious and hearty and delicious and they warm the home with great smells and sounds and comfort. But the perfect girl is more like a martini. She’s sexy and dirty and unpredictable and makes you feel free and kind of wild and mesmerized. And that I’m totally down to be a pot roast most of the time. Hell, I’d be grateful to be the perfect pot roast. But I still want to be a martini, too.

Basically I was having a married life crisis, right there in the man cave. In clear violation of the spirit of the man cave, I might add. And it was left unresolved because he said that he thought being warm and comforting and a good partner was more important than being sexy and unpredictable. Which I think is wrong, and possibly directly insulting.

Anyway, the end result of this was that I Googled “properties of a good wife” and most of the Google results were related to being a Godly wife and woman. The websites suggested that Chris should have married someone humble, quiet, content with the hearth and home, modest in her looks, and someone who doesn’t manipulate to get her way.

In other words, Chris did not marry the perfect wife or partner. He married the WORST POSSIBLE wife and partner. Looks like he’ll have to settle for a mediocre pot roast and a martini. But doesn’t all food taste better after a martini?

As I reflect on my own marriage, my little brother gets ready to tie the knot. He’s 22. He’s still very much in his martini phase of life. So my wish for him and for his fiancee is that they enjoy their pre-dinner cocktails together, and that when they’re ready to be pot roast, that they do so together and it ends up being perfect. Cheers to both of them!

In the run up to the big day, though, I’ve been asked to come up with a couple of vegetarian options for the rehearsal dinner. Here’s (part) of one of them–

Arancini (deep-fried risotto balls) stuffed with mozzarella and served with fresh roasted tomato soup (thick enough to almost be a puree)

I’ve blogged about arancini before, because I love them so much. But this was somewhat different and SO GOOD with the stuffing of mozz. And roasted tomato soup? Such a gimme when tomato season begins (it’s in its early stages in Texas right now).

Quickie, simpleton recipes to make this at home:

Risotto (must be made at least 4 hours ahead of time)

2 T butter
1/2 sweet, white onion, finely diced
2 C carnaroli or arborio rice
6 C chicken or vegetable stock, hot and salted to taste
A splash of dry white wine is optional
1 T butter to finish

-Melt butter in a large, high-sided skillet.
-Saute onions until they start to become translucent.
-Add rice and saute (dry) until it starts to turn semi-translucent as well. Have it on medium-high heat.
-Add a splash of wine and stir until it’s completely absorbed and the rice looks dry again. Or skip this step.
-Then add about 2 C of hot stock. It should sizzle pretty loudly because the rice is dry and hot. Stir with a wooden spoon in circles, slowly and constantly. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, and a wooden spoon leaves a trail across the pan, add another 2 C stock. Keep stirring in circles. Repeat, until your rice is al dente (meaning it still has a touch of firmness to it).
-The final texture should be creamy, with almost a very thick “sauce” forming around the rice. This is just starch from the rice combined with stock.
-Pull from the heat immediately and stir in another T of butter. Then immediately spread on a cookie sheet or hotel pan to cool. After about 10 minutes, cover it and put it in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly.

Tomato puree/soup (the easiest version)

5 Roma tomatoes
6 vine-ripened slicing tomatoes
1/2 C sweet white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 C olive oil
handful of fresh basil
1 C chicken or vegetable stock

-In a large saucepot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
-Add garlic and onion and saute gently until completely translucent and sweet
-Meanwhile, cut the stem end off of the tomatoes and stick them all in a 400 F oven on a piece of parchment paper.
-When the tomato skin splits and starts to shrink, and the liquids that are seeping out begin to turn a bit brown, take the tomatoes out of the oven and peel them.
-Make sure your onions and garlic don’t brown, which may mean keeping them on super-low heat
-Add the tomatoes and stock to the onions/garlic mixture and cook over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes.
-Then blend them in a blender on high speed until they’re well-pureed. Add salt to taste. Then add the handful of basil and puree again.
-Cover and refrigerate

Arancini assembly

1 egg
2 C breadcrumbs (dry)
1 pan cold risotto
8 small pieces of mozzarella
at least 3 inches of vegetable oil or olive oil, heated to 355 F (I use a deep fryer)

-Form balls of risotto with an ice cream scoop. Pack tightly with your hands.
-Form a well in the center and stick in a piece of cheese. Repack into a ball.
-Roll in egg wash
-Roll in bread crumbs
-Repeat with remaining risotto
-Fry in oil until golden brown on all sides
-Drain on a paper bag or towel

Reheat the soup until warmed through, then serve with the hot arancini. Done. And duh. It took no time at all to assemble, and it’s delicious and filling and fancy looking.

Serving this with a white bean salad tossed in basil oil would make a meal of complete protein. I’ll discuss that more tomorrow, but it’s basically because the combination of rice and beans makes for all of the amino acids that you would find in a slab of chicken.

I’m hungry again.

And this serves 3-4 people, one of whom is Chris. He’s a MACHINE of eating. Maybe that’s why he’s so into the idea of marrying a pot roast?