Frankenstorm-proofing


Usually I write about food and recipes on Mondays, but what with Frankenstorm bearing down on the lovely state of Maryland this afternoon, I thought I’d share our preparations (some practical, others maybe not at all as much, but they make me feel better). Here are a couple of prevention measures we’ve picked up from the crazy weather we all deal with now.

1. The most practical prevention we learned after Isabel last year was to clear the basement floor of anything that is not plastic or that will be a disaster to clean up when soaking wet (in case the the basement floods).

Don’t be jealous of our gorgeous basement. While I was gone at a wedding this weekend, D found time after his twelve hour day (he works in emergency management) to clear up anything that would be potentially yucky in a flooded basement – drop cloths, cardboard boxes of ornaments, etc. His dad and I had a blast cleaning up after our sump pump stopped working during a courtesy-of-Isabel power outage last year, so that’s our attempt to avoid it this time around.

2. Which brings me to tip #2. Shop vacs are your best friend. 

Here you see ours ready to perform its magical sucking up of tropical storm water. Last year it was buried behind many other various and sundry basement inhabitants (Christmas tree stands, ornaments, painting supplies, lacrosse gear) but it now waits in an easy-to-access place of honor. Once again, hopefully it won’t come to that, but if it does, it will be relatively easy compared to last time.

3. I prepared a “go kit” yesterday. A go kit implies a need to leave and go to a shelter, but really you should have one in your vehicle and your home, for “shelter in place” situations when you can’t (or shouldn’t) leave your home (like right now). 

Here’s a list of what you should have ready in your kit. The rule of thumb is you should be able to be self-sustaining, without power, for 96 hours (four days). We have plenty of non-perishable food, a can opener (super important), water, batteries, candles and matches in a waterproof container, re-chargeable flashlights, a first aid kid, blankets, pillows, pet food, other practical odds and ends like duct tape and a mini-tool kit, and a laminated list of emergency (police, fire, power) and family contact numbers. Optimally, I won’t need to burrow in a (hopefully) non-flooding basement, but should the need arise, I’m ready to go. Which brings me to tip #4.

4. Create a space that is relatively cozy to hunker down in.

I stored a bunch more candles, extra pillows and blankets, flashlights, etc. Not being able to leave the basement is, of course, worst case scenario (especially if we get water in), but if the wind were to get so violent that windows were an issue, I’d be ready. And maybe I wouldn’t be thinking about it if the situation got that bad, but it really makes me feel better to have some nick-nacks around that I like – dried flowers, pretty pillows and a candelabra. 

Of course I followed other practical tips like ~

1. filling up all the pitchers in my house with water (by the time I got to the store, there was literally no bottled water, but why buy it when I can get it out of the tap?) You should account for at least one gallon per person in your household per day,

2. filling up the bath tub in the event water stops running (to be able to flush toilets),

3. charging up cell phones and computers fully,

4. using as much refrigerated and frozen food as possible in case the power goes out.

If you’re on the East Coast, good luck with Sandy! 

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Croquembouches


Have you ever heard of a croquembouche ? Behold …

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Despite my affinity for all things French, I had not. It’s a sort of “cake” (well not really), but a dessert which can resemble a cake in its form. Croquembouches can be composed of many different types of French pastries, including but not limited to macarons (my most favorite French decadence), dragées, candied fruits, éclairs (which I just learned used to be called pains à la duchesse – duchess bread – love that) or croquignoles, small crunchy pastries, among many others.

These elaborate, ornate constructions remind me of old France, pré-Révolution. I’ve yet to see one in person (although maybe I just looked past them in patisserie windows during my Parisian life), but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled next summer. What do you think? Too much or just right?

Recipe highlights


Salut, les amis ! I hope you all enjoyed a beautiful fall weekend. I was so excited to get back to the farmer’s market and witness the amazing squash, pumpkins, gourds, pears and other fall-time treats. Secretly, I prefer the fall market to the summer. But I’m a veggie-a-holic so that makes sense. Here are some recipe highlights from last week, the first one headlining spaghetti squash, the perfect fall treat.

D claimed it was the first time he’s ever enjoyed this veggie I love to pretend is pasta. Maybe he was just being nice. But I have to admit, it was rather tasty. Mine was inspired by this recipe, but I think you really don’t need to follow any specific set of directions, measurements, etc. Do what looks natural to you and use the spices you prefer. Here’s a rough plan of what you should do:

1. Painstakingly halve the spaghetti squash. Be careful! Even with our amazing Shun knife, it was a task. 

2. Bake the squash skin side up, “meat” side down at 350 degrees for about an hour. 

3. Fork out the spaghetti squash and alternate layers, starting with squash, ending with cheese, of cheese (I did a mix of cheddar and parm – it was what we had), sliced tomatoes, squash and spices in a greased 8 x 11 baking dish. I did dried parsley and onion powder because that’s what the original recipe author called for. I substituted garlic powder with chopped garlic and basil from my herb garden for dried just because I always prefer fresh if I have it.

4. Bake the whole concoction for about a half an hour, uncovered, at 350 degrees. 

Next time around, I’m going to use a smaller baking pan (maybe my squash didn’t yield as much as hers) and go lighter on the cheese. I didn’t use all the cheese the recipe called for, and still felt there was a bit much (if it’s possible for there to be too much cheese, of course). 

The other yummy veggie recipe we tried last week was this absolutely delicious creamy avocado pasta that D made while I had parent-teacher conferences.

Normally, I can’t get him to crack a cookbook, but with my Pinterest craze we are trying lots of new recipes. It’s hard to believe this is vegan with the intensely rich creaminess the avocado sauce bestows upon the dish. (And I don’t mean that as a knock against vegans AT ALL, I’m just so addicted to cheese that I can’t imagine my diet without it.) D’s version was inspired by this recipe, but if you don’t feel like clicking through, follow these simple steps:

1. First pulse  3 large cloves of garlic, the juice of 1 lemon and 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil in the food processor. Then add two ripe avocados, 1/2 cup of packed basil leaves and salt to taste and re-pulse.

2. Then cook the pasta to your liking, drain and toss with the sauce. 

Délicieux ! My only caution on this one is to eat any leftovers ASAP since avocados spoil quickly once cut.

Paris in the falltime


October brings me vividly back to Paris, and my mother’s first “big” trip to see me there. (She had previously spent a quick week with me at New Year’s when I studied abroad.) This trip, however, would be two weeks, and I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with her as the previous trip-let. I had carved out my own little life, going from class to volunteering with the English speaking kids at the school down the street, to let’s face it, a daily apéritif at my favorite café-bar.

Compared with the demands of true “adult” life, it all sounds quite quaint and remarkably stress-free, but I was eager for my mother to see me as the adult I perceived myself to be at 22. I was so proud I had found a way to achieve just the life I wanted post-college and wanted her to be, too. I couldn’t wait to show her around my new neighborhood, have her partake in an apéritif amongst friends both old and new, and of course get in some requisite cultural outings and site seeing.

When I think back to those two weeks, what stands out to me is the many afternoons and early evenings we spent at different cafés, both famous and hole-in-the wall. We enjoyed Croque-Madames and French onion soup at Le Départ, a cafe adjacent to the Place St Michel …

… and Notre Dame …

… and known more traditionally for late night revelers than late afternoon mother-daughter outings.

We sipped delicious and rich hot chocolate on an unseasonably cold day in Chartres …

We sipped on cheap red wine in our not-so-tiny (by Parisian student standards that is) apartment. That’s actually my home-sweet-home of two years right there. We’re in those apartments hidden behind the little dormer windows on the top floor.

We tried died-in-the-wool French classics like Brasserie Balzar on the rue des Ecoles.

My mother and I (as I’m sure many of you are) are extremely close. The high schools years, by both of our standards, were not the calmest in our relationship. And we’re still not perfect. I should revise that. I’m still not. I can be bossy with the people I’m closest to, and my mother graciously puts up with that. But when I think back to when we grew as close as we are now, when we shed the drama of my growing pains, I think it must have been when we started to travel together, in my late college years. By finding solutions to (and sometimes squabbling about) problems as simple as which métro stop to take to more complicated ones like deciphering how-to guides in another language, we learned to communicate more clearly. Emphasis still on me learning to be more patient since my mother is about as patient as can be with her children. She doesn’t utter an unkind word, makes us feel accepted no matter what we are currently interested in and in fact makes a great travel companion. I’ll miss her on my French exchange next summer but I’m sure she’ll be ready to hear all about it and actually want to look at every picture I take. What are your best memories with your mom?

Images via ~

Place St Michel

Notre Dame

Chartres

Denfert Rochereau

Brasserie Balzar

New uses for old things


I love those articles in Real Simple about new uses for old things. We picked up a mini wine rack (for free!) at a yard sale, but with our crazy animal kingdom, the bottles being so close to the floor started to make me nervous. There’s nothing I hate more than clutter, so I realized it was a cute way to store magazines. 

Wine magazine rackNow they are all out of the way, but still easy to access. I don’t buy too many magazines these days, but the ones I do have are full of great ideas that I refer back to for projects, holidays, recipes, you name it. It proved to be the perfect solution which included no sacrifice at all 🙂 

Healthy(er) treats


Between a French club cheese tasting early Friday evening and out-of-town friends in for the weekend, I had a couple of excuses to try out some trusty Pinterest recipes. I love unhealthy food but don’t love how it makes me feel, so I’m always looking for ways to cut corners without sacrificing taste. (Greek yogurt for sour cream or mayonnaise, all natural sweeteners like Tru-via for chemical-laden Splenda, or beans for flour.)

Instead of bringing cheese to the French club gathering, I was tasked with a fruit plate, so tried out a twist on the traditional marshmallow fluff fruit dip, which is simple, only requiring 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1 container of marshmallow fluff and 8 oz of softened cream cheese. I take no issue with powdered sugar since we don’t  eat much of it in our house, but I just can’t level with marshmallow fluff, its main ingredients including public enemy #1 corn syrup as well as “vanillan”, which is chemically-derived vanilla. No thanks.

So I tried to think what might approximate the fluffiness of the “fluff” and opted for whipped cream cheese instead of regular. Then I substituted Greek yogurt to approximate the consistency (although obviously it’s wetter than the fluff

I beat my substitutes and scooped it all into a cute little Paris bowl. The result was delicious, but I would recommend beating at a high speed for a couple extra minutes to get that extra frothiness to make up for the absence of the processed fluff.

I had also been wanting to try a delicious recipe I spied for 7-up biscuits. They included 2 cups of Bisquick, 1/2 a cup each of sour cream and 7-up and 1/4 cup of melted butter. I rationalized the melted butter since I was only using it to coat the pan and then substituted the Bisquick for Trader Joe’s buttermilk pancake mix (no preservatives), the sour cream for Greek yogurt and the 7-up for organic sparkly limeade. 12 minutes in the oven at 425 degrees produced these guys:

They were so much moister than regular biscuits I’ve done from scratch or from a box, and the butter-coated pan made all the difference in terms of taste. You can’t tell from this picture, but I cut them in a really irregular way, so some of them turned out almost cracker-like. Délicieux ! Have you discovered any (sort of) healthy treats recently?