Happy New Year

My 2-yr-old in awe of the cars & skyscrapers of NYC

Happy Leap Year, everyone!

Are you ready to write 2012?  My grandma would always joke with us, making sure we’d remember to write the new date on all of our papers at school.  No more papers at school, but there are certainly checks and bills to write..not quite the same.

So, I am back after a short break and ready for a new year!  2011 brought many disappointments — the loss of a job and leaving a community & place we love, but it also brought us back to family and new opportunities.  Not to mention a new decade for me.

I can’t say that I have any specific resolutions per se but I am excited to continue learning my camera and the art of (mostly portrait) photography, read some good books, and write.

Tomorrow, I’ll be featuring a book I discovered in the “new” section at the library.

Stay tuned,

Taking it Home: Recreating Restaurant Meals

Growing up, we often went out to eat as a family, mostly on special occasions or after church or around holidays and sometimes just because. My grandmother loved to go out and discover new restaurants with her friends and then take us there as a family. It was always nice to give the ladies a break from cooking and to enjoy one another’s company. When hubby and I were dating and newly married, we also enjoyed eating out for the very same reasons. However, with the arrival of our June Bug, we find ourselves a little more pressed financially — like many families do — so eating out is not always an option. When we do, though, the Bug has a blast, sitting in the high chair, interacting with the server and taking in his surroundings. It makes me smile and think of my grandma.

So, I’ve been inspired to bring the restaurants to us by attempting to create certain dishes we enjoy from various eateries. Tonight I was inspired by one of our favorite places, Sol Food, (they have a really cool website). You can’t miss the Bright Green Building in downtown San Rafael. They specialize in simple yet flavorful Puerto Rican cuisine, and every time I’ve eaten there, my belly is always satisfied. I usually order the chicken combiaciones, which comes with rice and beans, plantains, and salad so this is what I made tonight. It was surprisingly easy and economical and the only special ingredient needed was the plantain! I roasted chicken legs, which I marinated overnight in olive oil, salt and pepper. I used pinto beans in lieu of black beans this time (but you can do either). After reading several recipes for plantains, I learned that they have to be a certain ripeness – yellow with some black markings – and sliced them and fried them in canola oil and garlic for several minutes on each side. The salad was simply mixed greens, tomatoes, and some leftover avocado, tossed with oil and vinegar. And who can forget the Te Helado (mango iced tea) – I’m sure you could make it from scratch but we happened to have some from Trader Joe’s in the fridge. You need a sweet drink to complement the garlic and saltiness of the dish.  We even used mason jars like the restaurant does, to top off the experience.

Of course, there’s nothing like the real thing but everything was delicious. I’ve been learning more and more that quality ingredients really do make the difference in cooking. For example, I recently bought fresh local tomatoes from the farmer’s market. It’s really a bargain, but the trick is that you have to go towards the end, when the merchants start marking down their goods! There is one farm in particular that will mark down to 5 lbs for $5, mix and match, so we usually bring home a variety of fruits and vegetables – everything from peaches and plums to tomatoes and grapes.

I’m wondering what the other restaurant re-creations we can make at home!?

Newspapers, Magazines, and Books, Oh My!

My grandmother was an avid reader.  Her love of reading trickled down the generations to my mom and to my sister and me.  She would choose a good book, magazine, or newspaper over the “boob tube,” as she called it.  She often would share pieces of a thrilling mystery or send neatly cut-out articles from the Toledo Blade when I was away at school.  I recall many-a-night where I would be up late reading, frequently pulling the flashlight-under-the-covers trick until my mom would come in or until I’d fall asleep.

Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters’ Club were all series I enjoyed.  We had a special Christmas book box that came out in December filled with classics such as The Night Before Christmas, A Christmas Carol…

Now I find myself hunting down the classics for my family.

What are some classics you grew up with or that you would recommend?