Homemade Vegetable Stock

A few weeks ago I was out of vegetable stock and feeling pretty cheap... so instead of going to the store to buy some, I researched how to make my own. It really is a fairly simple process and also a great way to use up your leftovers - I'm actually surprised more people don't do this one their own on a regular basis.

Vegetable stock from scratch is also a great way to use odds and ends from your veggies if you don't compost. Rather than tossing out the ends of your onions, the shavings from your carrots, or the stalks of your celery, pop them in the freezer for saving. They're still full of flavor and handy for homemade stocks.

Pretty much all you need to do is save up plenty of vegetable scraps for flavoring. I think it's most efficient to do this over time - whenever you have leftover ends, skins, leaves, and the like from vegetables, pop them in the freezer to save for a nice batch of stock. Any veggies will do - tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, carrots, celery, eggplant, onion, bell peppers. Once you've got a hefty amount of vegetable scraps at your disposal (at least a few cup's worth) you're ready to go.

No matter what type of vegetable make-up you've got in your stock pot, it's important to always add a few essential flavors: garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper. I like to smash at least a few garlic clove and throw them in the mix as well as some herbs, fresh or dried depending upon what I've got on hand. There's really no way to go wrong here as long as you don't use anything too potent or aversely flavorful (ie. I suggest opting for basil, parsley, sage, thyme, and/or rosemary). Then just a few turns of pepper and some salt are all you need to round out the flavors and perfectly season your stock.

The process couldn't be simpler - all your vegetables and seasonings go in the pot with a lot of water. I used about 6-7 cups for this batch and I had probably 4-5 cups of vegetable scraps. I heated the mix up to a boil, then brought it back to a simmer for about an hour after which I allowed it to cool before finely straining out all the solids (which can then be saved and reused for composting!).

This simple and easy stock can be made any time and requires very little effort from the chef. It's a great way to use those odds and ends you hate to throw away and saves you money when it's time to do some grocery shopping (especially come the winter months when soup season is in full swing and veggie stock is in high demand).

Has anyone ever made vegetable stock at home before? What about a chicken or beef or even a fish stock? I'd love to hear your stories of success, horror, or anything in between!


Words and Photos from the Weekend

I wasn't very good about taking photos this week, so I don't have too much to show for my week visually. Nonetheless, I had an absolutely delightful weekend. My family and friends surprised me with a bridal shower on Saturday and it was such a sweet day. I had a sneaking suspicion that my shower was approaching soon, but it was still nice to see how many people were in on the surprise. Though I didn't take any pictures at the shower, here's a few shots from the aftermath.

Some bright orange potted tulips I received as a gift. And the best thing about them - once they die, I'll just replant them and wait to see them sprout again come next spring! A gift that keeps on giving!

I love hydrangeas, so my mom bought some of these lovely blue-hued ones from Trader Joe's to decorate. This stalk was the only one of six that she purchased that weren't wilted and sad by the end of the day. I'm just glad at least one bunch was still in good enough form for me to photograph on my drive home!

My little sister Leanne bought me these gorgeous and colorful martini glasses I'd been eyeing at Pier 1 for quite some time. I originally had wanted to use them for candles but now I'm just not so sure. Any thoughts?


Away We Go

I know that this movie came out over two years ago - in fact, I saw it in theaters three times the summer it was released. But I have a very dear attachment to this film and I didn't have a blog way back then. So I figured that it was about time I give this movie a little time in the spotlight.

One of the reviews I read for Away We Go (sorry, I can't remember the source) described it as the kind of movie that sneaks up on you and catches you by surprise. Though I know all viewers and critics didn't share in this feeling, I personally could not agree more. Away We Go came out at a time when there were plenty of other movies I was highly anticipating going to see - this was not necessarily one among them. I went in with little background beyond the fact that John Krasinski (better known as Jim from The Office) was in this film and that Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida were the writers behind the screenplay. I left the theatre feeling like this was just the movie I'd been waiting for without even realizing it.

Backed by the beautiful sounds of Alexi Murdoch, Away We Go documents a youngish couple who finds themselves pregnant. Burt Farlander, portrayed by Krasinski, and Verona DeTessant, played by Maya Rudolph, met in college and, post-grad, settled down in the same town as Burt's parents. But when the Farlanders decide to move to Belgium just months before their grandbaby is due, Burt and Verona realize that all ties to the place they call home are gone. The two take off to search for the perfect place to settle down and start their family of three, visiting family and friends along the way.

Part of this film's charm is the very relationship between Burt and Verona. Maybe it's because I can relate to the dynamic between a goofy but lovable boyfriend paired with a more straight-laced girl. Or maybe it's just because they're a well-written on-screen couple. It could be that Krasinski and Rudolph just have great chemistry. More accurately it is probably a combination of all three. Their relationship achieves the perfect balance of fun, humor, sincerity, kindness, companionship, and love. Their characters are relatable but humorous, so it isn't too long before they've won you over.

As Burt and Verona seek a potential home, they travel to locales far and wide and encounter a wide array of characters, portrayed by Jim Gaffigan, Allison Janney, and Maggie Gyllenhaal among others. Most of their connections to these new towns are tenuous at best, and nothing feels quite right. But don't mistake this for a cheesy drama - though the couple learns about themselves through the course of their trip, the movie doesn't play like a made-for-TV movie. Rather it is an alternative take on the coming of age story where our main focus is not on a single character but instead on a loving and stable couple.

Though I won't give away the conclusion to the story, I do have to say that the ending of Away We Go is absolutely beautiful. There is something undeniably compelling about the soundtrack paired with the images on screen and the very feelings that the final 5 minutes of the film evoke. After having seen all sides of Burt and Verona, after having experienced the range of emotions that their trip elicits, I think it is only natural to feel as content and calmly satisfied as the characters on screen when the movie comes to an end.

Now go get your hands on a copy of this movie asap! And let me know what you think! And in the meantime, here is the trailer for the film.


I Feel Great and You Will Too!

During college, my friend Audrey introduced me to one of the most inspiring men I've ever come to know in my life: Pat Croce. Though you probably don't know his name, he is the epitome of the entrepreneurial renaissance man. Well-connected with celebrities and powerful people, Croce is successful primarily by virtue of his incomparable drive and determination. This man's accomplishments are endless: physical therapist, movie producer, author, owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers trainer, entrepreneur, TV personality, and the list goes on.

I first heard about Mr. Croce when Audrey told me about his book I Feel Great and You Will Too. It had been given to her by a high school teacher and she fell in love with the man's message about optimism, attitude, and pushing our perceptions of what is possible. She let me borrow the book and I couldn't help but fall under Pat's spell. Though I'm usually not one for particularly motivational pieces and I never would have picked this one up on my own, it really challenged me to think about what I wanted out of life and how to get there. Croce stresses again and again the importance of attitude, of never taking no for an answer, of relentlessly pursuing your passion, of taking advantage of every opportunity life presents to us - it's hard to not feel motivated to do something when you put this book down.

When I say that I've "come to know" Mr. Croce, I don't mean simply by having read his book. No, Audrey and I were lucky enough to meet the man, but it was not nearly as difficult as you would imagine. One of his major philosophies is, "If you don't ask, the answer is always no." Inspired by this credo, we sent a message to Mr. Croce through his website. At the time I helped plan events in the dorms, so we sort of exaggerated my role and asked if Mr. Croce would come to speak at our campus. Within a few hours we received a kind reply from Pat's secretary. Rather than have Pat come to us, how about we come to him for an interview? We were absolutely ecstatic and could barely believe our eyes. But Mr. Croce lives by the words you'll find within his books and I truly believe it would never have occurred to him to turn us down.

After emailing back and forth with Mr. Croce's secretary, we set a date to head to his office for our interview. Our excitement was infectious and there wasn't a single person living on our floor who didn't have at least the slightest notion of who Mr. Croce was. We made countdown calendars and marked off the days... This was obviously a big event in our lives.

A countdown calendar displayed for all our hallmates to see.

The second of three countdown calendars we had.

When the interview day in November finally rolled around, we headed up from Delaware to Pennsylvania and found ourselves driving through some of the most beautiful and tastefully grand homes we had ever seen. It was a perfect fall day with brilliantly colored leaves adorning the trees and scattered over the lawns of the nearby houses. The closer we got to our final destination, the more we began to suspect the Pat hadn't just invited us to his office, he had invited us to his home.

Audrey and I on our way to Pat's house.

Finally we pull up to the house. Large and gorgeous, it was unlike any home I have ever known. We got inside the attached office and waited downstairs with a man who turned out to be Pat's son. Mr. Croce is a huge pirate guy, and actually told us that he was behind a pirate film in the works with Steven Spielberg - but that's the kind of guy he is and those are the kinds of connections he has. The office was decorated with pirate paraphernalia everywhere. From the books on the side table to the woodworking details on the staircase, pirate life was positively channeled in every last detail of the office. It was quite a sight.

After a few nervous minutes we were led upstairs to the man's office. At first we bumbled awkwardly around for a few minutes - we weren't really sure where to start. Mr. Croce thought that we were going to have set questions and materials for an interview, but we had nothing prepared. It wasn't like we had any forum to write and publish a piece on our visit at the time - we didn't work for the newspaper and this blog was years away from being born. We simply saw an opportunity to meet this amazing and inspiring hero of ours and took it. Despite the minor miscommunication, we sat down and talked with him about our lives and our plans for the future. Like Croce, Audrey wanted to become a physical therapist and he was nothing less than absolutely encouraging toward her and that goal. At the time I was pretty set on completing a cross-country bike tour and though my plans significantly changed by the time summer rolled around, Croce made me realize that I should not let anyone or anything stand in the way of an opportunity that I have to do what I want to do.

I worry that my story reads cheesy and sentimental, so I won't regale you with too many more details from our visit. Nonetheless, Mr. Croce was a truly inspiring person to meet. He would not allow us to make any excuses when it came to perceived obstacles standing in the way of our goals. Warm, welcoming, friendly, and encouraging - these were all the things this most wealthy, powerful, and busy of men embodied to us young college girls who simply wanted to meet him in the flesh.

I'm not suggesting you all contact Pat and expect to be invited for a personal interview, though if you even so much as suggested it to the man, I'm sure he would welcome every last invitation with open arms. Rather, I want to stress his philosophy and attitude about life and suggest you give his book(s) a try. All too often I make excuses and don't take personal responsibility for my happiness which is unfair to me and the people around me, as well as a pretty unrealistic way to lead your life. At other times, I make big plans with little follow through, usually because I don't believe in the possibility of realizing them. But if you don't try, you'll never know what actually is possible. It's little morsels of realistic encouragement like these that make Mr. Croce's message so important.

We sent Mr. Croce a thank-you note and then got one in return!

Though my goals and interests have changed a bit since that fall day when I met Mr. Pat Croce, I can still apply his opportunistic message to my new plans. For me, blogging and writing are passions that I tapped into relatively recently, yet hope to continue pursuing for many years to come. There are times when I worry I don't reach enough readers, that people won't be interested in what I have to say, or that there is no place for me in the already crowded blogosphere. But then I think about Pat and realize that if I don't at least try to see where I can take this, I'll never know for sure. And I think we can all benefit from a little bit of his philosophy in our lives every once in a while, if not everyday.


Savor the Flavor of Spring's Harvest!

For most foodies I know, once springtime rolls around, it's all about the freshest produce prepared in the simplest of manners. After hibernating all winter, subsisting on stews, chili, pasta dishes, and frozen meals prepared months ago when their ingredients were freshly picked, I can't help feeling giddy to see farmer's markets setting up, asparagus and lettuces appearing at the stalls. As soon as Daylight Savings time arrive, I'm ready to start planting my vegetable garden and including some freshly picked veggies in all three meals each and every day. It's just so hard to go without for so long; to feel as though you're wasting away all winter without the nourishment of handpicked vitamins and homegrown minerals.

For those of you who are less culinary-minded and food-obsessed as myself (it's kind of a problem - as soon as I finish one meal, I'm already thinking about the next!), maybe the coming of spring isn't a cause for such celebration. But I really wish that for more people, it was. You see, the vegetables and fruits you find in the grocery store throughout winter have traveled countless miles to make it to your store after being cultivated and harvested out of season in far off lands. So they're wrecking havoc on our environment just by virtue of traveling so far to our plates. And beyond that, they're not at their prime when picked, which reduces their flavor, texture, and nutritional content - and for me these are the things that yield greatest satisfaction.

I'm not saying you've got to stave off vegetables during the winter months to save the environment or your health. But I am trying to impress upon anyone who reads this the very importance of being aware of these food factors. Because when we know that certain choices are healthier for us and our loved ones than others, we're more inclined to make the best choices when the possibility to do so arises. So plant a backyard vegetable garden this spring, frequent your local farmer's market, join a CSA so you can have farm fresh produce delivered right to your door. If you've read this blog regularly, you've probably heard these things before (and in fact, you're probably tired of hearing them right now). But if you're a thoughtful, concerned citizen with an interest in your own health, that of the ones you love most, or that of the environment, think twice when you drive past the farmer's market on your way to the grocery store.

In this day and age, there are some things that people just can't avoid buying from the grocery store (though there once was a time when grocery stores, and some of the very items we think that we need from them, didn't even exist). And most of us can't imagine living without the efficiency and immediacy of store-bought foods and handy kitchen gadgets like microwaves and toast ovens. We rely on pre-packaged dinners loaded with additives, preservatives, and corn syrup since they make our hectic lives easier. But when did sustaining ourselves become such a chore? When did we start to value convenience over the real reasons that we need to eat food, health and nourishment?

I am inspired by people who thrive on the process of making bread, crackers, and other grain-based products by hand (and anyone who can find the time to do so!). Some love to harvest their produce from the safety of their own backyard, while others value building relationships with trusty farmers they know by name. These do-it-yourselfers, locavores, and gardening fanatics are helping to reverse the trend toward food efficiency by valuing the most sustainable and healthy food options available. They also provide evidence of the functional alternative food systems in place for anyone who hopes to avoid the dangers of industrial agriculture. Ensuring that you have the knowledge about the production process behind the meal on your plate is a sure-fire way to improve the nutritional quality and environmental-friendliness of your diet. Plus, gardening from home is best for your budget while providing a much tastier product than anything masked behind a plastic bag or tin can on the shelf in your local grocery store.

So go to your local garden center and pick up a few seeds or, to make it even easier on yourself, wait a few weeks and get the varieties that have already been seeded. All you've got to do is find a sizable pot or a nice sunny spot in the backyard garden for transplanting. Then a little bit of tending, especially early on in the season, goes a long way. My garden is located in the backyard and, since I use the back entrance to my house, I walk by my plants every time I come or go. This makes it unbelievably easy for me to take notice of their progress. I can keep an eye out for things such as sad, droopy leaves which usually indicates a thirsty plant, or the emergence of still-young weeds. And the internet makes it easier than ever to keep plants alive. Anytime you notice something strange in your garden, a simple Google search is likely to yield plenty of information to help you prevent plant fatality and maximize productivity. By recognizing indicators and researching abnormalities in time, gardeners can tackle problems as soon as they present themselves and be more efficient.

The pay off for such care and attention is delicious, wallet-friendly, and fundamentally rewarding. Who wouldn't feel good biting into a juicy and flavorful tomato picked fresh from the vine, knowing that it was (a) grown by their owns hands and (b) infinitely better than anything that could be purchased out of a grocery store bin?

And so ends my little diatribe for the day. I just can't stress enough how delightful and satisfying it is to be able to do some grocery shopping in your own backyard, and now is the time to start planning ahead for that summer harvest!


Art for Social Justice: Ricardo Levine Morales

Ricardo Levine Morales' artwork is a fusion of creativity and activism. From his experience in both the social justice movement and the artistic community, he has created a body of work that speaks to issues of fundamental significance. Topics included range from labor issues to global warming, from independent alternative media to world peace.

Most of Ricardo's work is fairly literal, with his intended message literally spelled out across the canvas for you. Nonetheless, his use of words and imagery in combination is extremely compelling. Morales' work is a prime example of how art can be aesthetically pleasing and still make an explicit statement.

Here's a sample of some of my favorite pieces. To see more of his work, visit Ricardo's site here.


A Week in Food, Photos, and Words

The perfect way to start off any weekend morning - sunshine and a cup of tea.

Cheese, cheese, and more cheese. A delectable dairy lunch courtesy of my father's extensive cheese selection!

A glass of wine and a good book (The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball) makes for a perfect quiet Saturday night at home. 

I finally got around to making my own crackers. These Olive Oil Crackers (recipe courtesy of 101 Cookbooks) were impossibly easy to make - and they're healthy too! The only ingredients I used were 100% whole wheat flour (the recipe calls for semolina flour of which I had none), water, salt, and olive oil. Nothing more, nothing less (although I did add some dried rosemary and thyme to a few batches for some extra special flavor). 

Mike and I finally made it to Dangerously Delicious, Baltimore's very own beloved pie shop. We had already committed to sourcing our wedding pies (in lieu of a wedding cake) from Dangerously Delicious, banking on the smashing reviews we'd heard from all around. We headed down to the city on Saturday to taste for ourselves. We shared a slice of the Baltimore Bomb, a pie filled with chopped up Berger cookies, a local specialty shortbread cookie loaded with chocolate ganache icing. It was unlike any other pie I'd had before - the filling's texture was a cross between a custard and a bread pudding, punctuated by chocolate bits all throughout.

Because we have zero will-power and were craving sweets again on Sunday, Mike offered to make the drive into the city for some more pie. This time we scored a BBQ Pulled Pork Pie (absolutely delicious! there was a hint of pickle relish in there that made the whole thing to-die-for) and a Mixed Berry Pie. Anyone in the Baltimore area (or in DC - they now have a Washington location too!) who has yet to visit Dangerously Delicious needs to head over there asap for some seriously good eating!

I did a lot more shopping this week than I'm normally prone to. But, last weekend, Mike and I went to a nearby thrift store and I found a beautiful secondhand couch in perfect condition for a mere $250. It was cozy, comfy, and the perfect replacement for our unbearable old futon that finally had to go. I went back Monday morning, just two days after I first came upon my dream sofa, with every intention of making the purchase and the sofa was nowhere to be seen. Much as I hate to admit it, I was absolutely crushed. 

And from that little experience I learned that sometimes I need to be impulsive and not allow myself the time required for thinking things over when my gut says go. So I did just that. I rushed to Craigslist, found a great looking sofa on the first ad I viewed, and made the call. It was pretty serendipitous that the first listing I came across offered us not only the most ideal and beautiful but also the most affordable couch listed! And by the end of Monday night Mike and I were thoroughly exhausted but extremely pleased to have a new couch in our living room at less than $250! (It came with a cavernous armchair, which I gave to my sister, for a total price of $250 so I value the sofa at around $200). It's the perfect addition to our now friendly and inviting living room!

I also bought a vermicomposter! It really isn't a very pretty sight and it's stuck in our ugly basement so I won't bore you with photos. But the worms are on their way and I hope to be composting by the end of the week!

I also finally made it out to DeBois Textiles, a great vintage/thrift store in the Baltimore area. My stylish friend Sarah accompanied me on Saturday morning and we each scored some great finds. The vintage stuff was a bit pricey for my low budget, but the thrift shop was awesome. Not a single item in there was priced about $5.00 and some of the merchandise included leather jackets, winter coats, and fancy-shmancy sweaters, blouses, and the like. For Baltimoreans looking for a great shopping hot spot, I highly recommend running by DeBois. You're bound to leave with at least a few prize finds.  


The Johnson's: The Zero-Waste Family

My supervisor at work showed me this great clip from Vitality on Yahoo! News about The Johnson Family who are a model of zero-waste living. The video snippet is really informative and fairly comprehensive so I highly recommend viewing it for a full run-down of this family's efforts to live waste-free.

After downsizing their home, the Johnson's decided to take greater efforts to downsize their lifestyle and the trash it generated. A majority of their shopping is done in bulk and groceries are taken home from the store in glass containers, mesh laundry bags, and reusable jugs, rather than plastic and paper bags. They use homemade cleaners whenever possible and compost to put old kitchen scraps to good use. Their home isn't riddled with a bit of clutter but rather with clear counters and clean lines. Though the aesthetic that dominates the design of the Johnson home is not my ideal, their lifestyle choices most certainly are.

At one point in the video, Mrs. Johnson shows the camera just how much trash her family of four accumulated in a few months' time. All the trash items can be held in her two hands and probably would not even fill up an average shoe box. In fact, one of the identifiable trash items was a broken wine glass - and that accidental trash item dominated the pile. Obviously their efforts to reduce their waste are truly working if they have so little to show come trash day.

I watched this clip and was truly inspired. I live with my fiance and my cat and try to reduce my waste as much as possible. Here is a family of four generating virtually no waste whatsoever. I felt simultaneously lazy but also inspired by the potential changes I could instill in my own burgeoning home. Though I hope to grow and buy fresh from farmer's markets a majority of my produce in the coming months, mesh laundry bags are a great alternative to the plastic alternatives littered throughout the produce section of most grocery stores. I always try to buy the largest size available of products that don't go to waste, such as shampoos and cleaners, to reduce packaging. But truly buying in bulk further eliminates extraneous packaging - and those unnecessary multiple trips to the store that drain your car of gas.

There are some aspects of the Johnson lifestyle that probably won't be as attainable for the average person as we would all like them to be. Much as I would love to frequent a grocery store whose offerings can be purchased free of packaging, I think the inconvenience of finding and regularly traveling to such a market would outweigh the environmental and moral benefit for me. There are natural markets in the area where I can find a good amount of bulk nuts, grains, pastas, dried beans, and the like, but none within 20-miles of my home. But even if I don't commit to grocery shopping exclusively at markets such as these, I can make other adjustments whenever possible and smarter decisions in conventional grocery stores to come closer to that zero-waste goal.

I know there are plenty of excuses we could all make to justify our inability to commit to a zero-waste lifestyle (in fact, I just made a few in the last paragraph). But I think that this family demonstrates that we need to put some of our excuses aside and determine the full range of possibilities available to us in reducing waste. So I can't feasibly bring home all my grocery items in reusable containers free of packaging. But I can try to buy in bulk to reduce packaging for my essentials. I can make kitchen staples from scratch to further lower the number of packaged items I need to purchase (ie. bread, pastas, crackers, condiments, sauces, dried fruits, etc.). I can bring my own bags and containers to the grocery store, reducing my need to rely on paper and plastic. These small little efforts can add up once they become habitual and routine.

Another way I vow to make my life less wasteful - I'm going to finally start composting. I've been wanting to do it for years but allowed myself to be overly worried about the apparent complexity of the system at first glance, the importance of striking the perfect balance between browns and greens, and the cost of a commercial composter.

I did my research and learned a little bit about worm factories. Vermicomposting is one of the easiest and most foolproof compost methods available today. You simply throw your old kitchen and yard scraps into the composter where specially-purchased Red Wiggler worms do all the work for you. I found this great Worm Factory on Amazon that seems to be the perfect fit - with multiple levels, you can throw in scraps as they accumulate, then remove them layer by layer as the worms work from the bottom layer up to create fresh and beautiful compost. And even better, this system contains all the moisture generated my the worms and allows you to drain it off to use as natural fertilizer. Composting really couldn't be any easier or affordable at just $80 (if you've looked into full-blown compost systems, you know this is quite a steal)!

Though I've long been cognizant of the amount of waste I generate (and proud that my two-person, one-feline household only accumulates about half a trash can full of waste each week), I've long known that there is more I could be doing to reduce, if not utilize, my waste. The Johnson's are proof that nearly eliminating personal waste is absolutely attainable - and that there are no excuses for putting off waste-reduction efforts. I hope you'll take the time to watch the video and commit to at least a few waste reduction strategies. Just think of all the plastic bags, bottles, cans, tins, boxes, papers, containers, scraps, and more that you throw out in a week or even a day. Now imagine how simple and easy it could be to avoid some of that waste in the first place. And think of how joyous it would be if you didn't have to remember to take the trash out week after week!

So what do you plan to do to reduce your waste today?


Florence and the Machine

If you're from the UK, you've probably heard of Florence and the Machine. If you're a fan of college radio or independent media sources, you may have also been fortunate enough to hear some of this group's infectious alternative rock-soul-pop stylings. But if you are entirely new to Florence, I highly suggest playing at least one of the videos posted below - you'll be in for a real musical treat!

Lately I haven't been inspired by too much musically, but whenever I heard it on the radio, I couldn't help dancing to Florence's "Dog Days Are Over." As I am wont to do, I heard the single on the radio and requested the full CD from my local library. Usually I'm underwhelmed by the time I've listened to the full album, but Florence and the Machine's debut CD entitled "Lungs" totally crept up on me and tangled me in its web of beautiful noise. Their music is up-tempo and danceable without being frivolously pop-driven. Florence has got one of the most powerful voices I've heard in some time and each and every one of the 13 songs on "Lungs" highlight her full vocal range (I guess Lungs was an apt title, huh?).

I'm not really sure with whom I would compare this band to better describe their sound. On the one hand, Florence's vocal style is comparable to Regina Spektor, but the group's music is a bit edgier and harder than that of the latter artist. There's also an element of soul that calls to Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, though the bands have two distinctly different sounds.

I worry that this post has done little to adequately explain my current obsession with Florence and the Machine, or to encourage others to listen to this up-and-coming band's debut album. So I'll just let the music speak for itself and hope it has the same affect on my readers as it did on me: an undeniable urge to dance, a complete lack of desire to skip a single song, and a compulsion to listen to the album on repeat to better learn all the lyrics and sing along.

P.S. It was really hard to choose just three songs to post. I highly suggest you visit Florence's YouTube page to hear them all!


We Have Met the Enemy

Just wanted to quickly share an interesting book I picked up at random while in the library recently (okay maybe not so randomly - the cover image of a donut kind of reeled me in a bit). Daniel Akst's We Have Met The Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess had the potential to be highly informative or extremely bleak. Fortunately, it proved to be the former end of the spectrum.

Akst provides a thorough account of the existing knowledge concerning self-control, from university studies on delayed gratification to centuries-old literary texts evidencing precommitment self-control devices. He introduces us to nearly all sides of the issue through a variety of methodological lenses: psychological, sociological, philosophical, biological, etc. Though he never provides an unequivocal answer to the question of free will, Akst provides readers with plenty of arguments on both sides of the issue in this humorous, entertaining, and highly readable volume. All throughout We Have Met the Enemy readers are posed questions that call for consideration regarding their own sense of control, restraint, indulgence, and the like. 

There were plenty of great discussion points raised throughout the book, but I appreciated what Akst had to say regarding the changing times, in particular the increased demands on our mental ability to exercise self-control. More and more Americans are plagued by obesity, laziness, addiction, exorbitant spending, and the like in this day and age. While we are continually finding new ways to understand such personal problems, whether conceptualizing them as diseases or finding social ills to blame, Akst's premise is essentially that we are lost in a sea of choices among which we are ill-equipped to decide upon. Modern culture is truly an age of excess, requiring more self-control than any other period in history. Society has gone full-steam-ahead while our human capacities for moderating all of these stimuli are evolving at the same old pace. As Akst explains "Modern life simply requires an unnatural degree of self-control, and one of its side effects is self-control fatigue." 

This book won't provide you with fool-proof solutions for resisting a second helping of dessert or keeping your hands out of your savings account, but rather it will offer you hints as to how to do so through the evidence garnered from innumerable studies in self-control. Ultimately the two best methods to employ for optimal self-control are altering one's environment and forming good habits. Akst repeated returns to the importance of outside factors in determining or affecting behavior. Though many of these things may seem outside of our control, there are, in fact, plenty of ways we can prime ourselves for making (and sticking to) the kinds of decisions we want to make. Whether it be as simple as getting a little exercise, changing the lighting in your office, or leaving your credit cards tucked away at home, there are plenty of things we can do to manipulate our environments, and thus, our ability to demonstrate self restraint. 

Furthermore, if we can cultivate positive habits to replace those that run contrary to our self-control goals, we can make our work of self-control much easier. Making it a habit to go for a 30 minute walk every morning is positively-reinforcing - each morning's walk will improve mood and health, while further improving the odds of a walk the next morning - while also a great way to replace negative habits, like sleeping in or not exercising. Changing patterns of behavior until they become so habitual as to be like second nature is another sure-fire method of managing behavioral preferences without having to put up a fight with oneself. 

Based upon academic knowledge and anecdotal evidence, We Have Met the Enemy will get you thinking about the various factors that keep you from doing what you know is best but Akst sprinkles quips and quirks throughout to keep readers interested, engaged, and entertained.


Pea and Parmesan Barley Risotto

Sometimes when I don't have all the right ingredients on hand, I make substitutions that ruin a dish. But sometimes, if I'm lucky, I create a surprisingly delicious new concoction that becomes a classic in my kitchen.

Fortunately this risotto is a case of the latter for me. I'd been meaning to make it for months and finally got around to it just a few days ago, only to discover I was all out of white wine and yellow onion. I worried that a red onion would add too much sweetness and a half cup of red wine would create too distinct a flavor. I was delighted to find that they combined to create a magical risotto combination.

Risotto is one of those seemingly daunting culinary quests that actually only requires a bit of time and an arm workout. This barley risotto is a bit of a twist on the classic risotto made from rice. I stuck to the staple ingredients of the most basic risottos out there, so it's got a wonderful time-tested flavor profile that is sure to please. It's a great comfort food and really versatile - once you get the basics of risotto down (stir, stir, stir!), you can make all sorts of herbal, cheese, wine, and vegetable variations.

The recipe below is the recipe I created and intended to use. My particular version as photographed used a red onion in place of a yellow one and red wine instead of white. If you don't have all the listed ingredients on hand or you'd like to follow my variations, feel free to experiment! Enjoy!

Pea and Parmesan Barley Risotto

  • 3 cups cooking stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup peas
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat cooking stock over medium to medium-low heat.
  2. In large sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic until soft and fragrant.
  3. Add all the barley to sauce pan and toast 2 minutes.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of stock and stir constantly. Once liquid is mostly evaporated (barley will begin to get sticky), add another 1/2 cup.
  5. Continue this process of constantly stirring and adding 1/2 cup stock once the previous addition has been absorbed and/or evaporated.
  6. Once half of the stock has been used (about 3 half-cup additions), add the wine, continuing to stir constantly. As soon as the wine has been evaporated, continue stock-adding process.
  7. Add peas with the last 1/2 cup of stock.
  8. Turn off heat and add cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Give a good stir and then serve. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan if desired. Enjoy!


Monkey Bread, Books, Bloggers, and More: The Week in Review

What to do when you've got a hankering for monkey bread but no appropriately-sized oven-safe dishes? Reach for the Pyrex. I had a small case of Pillsbury Grand Buttermilk Biscuits and no small dishes for my monkey bread - so I poured it all into my handy Pyrex measuring cup for some safe and delicious baking. I'm pretty proud of my resourcefulness!

 Finally I made it back into the kitchen to cook a few well-rounded meals. Barley risotto anyone?

Or how about some homemade guacamole, courtesy of Trader Joe's Guac Kit? I try to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible but broke my own rules a little bit with this one. It's nice to indulge and pretend it's summer every once in a while.

I also had all the makings for some uber-delicious artichoke pasta complete with authentic Italian penne rigate!

I like to finish all of my healthy meals off with some Oreos & peanut butter for dessert. And yes, those are red-creme-filled Oreos for Christmas, not Valentine's Day. One of the few times when I'm grateful for the highly processed nature of so many foods these days: an extra-long Oreo shelf life!

I've been raiding the local library lately (though this doesn't really mark any significant change in my regular bibliophile behavior). Nonfiction dominates my reading list these days and I'm particularly excited about each and every one of these books! I'm currently working my way through Omnivore's Dilemma - look out for plenty of reviews in the coming weeks!

On top of doing a bit more cooking than usual, I also had enough free time this week to do some long-awaited blog seeking. Here are some of my latest finds:

First is a relatively new blog called 182 Days that is one of the most honest, inspiring, heartbreaking blogs around. This blogger was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given only 182 days to live. Her blog is a testament to her strength and will to live in the face of such earth-shattering news. She takes us along for the journey as she does the things she's always wanted to do and lives these precious days to their fullest. I find her completely inspiring and refreshingly honest and am so glad to have come across a blog such as hers. 

Then there's Heart Zeena from London-based textile designer Zeena. She posts about all sorts of goings-on in the world of ethical fashion which I absolutely love and she's a really talented woman to boot!

The Vivification of Mrs. Moment is one of my other most treasured blog finds as of late. Blogger Kat is all about random acts of kindness, humanitarianism, activism, and life lessons learned and shared. I've been on the hunt for a blog with this kind of content for sometime now and am so glad to have found it in the talented, thoughtful, and powerful Kat!


Red Velvet Donuts

So I've had this idea to make Red Velvet Doughnuts for some time now. I love doughnuts, I love red velvet cake - what more could I ask for then two of my favorite sweets in one? 

I searched for recipes for doughnuts, red velvet cake, and red velvet cake doughnuts and came up with the following adaptation of sorts. The results weren't super sweet and, since I don't have a doughnut pan, I made them into doughnut holes rather than in the traditional doughnut shape, so they don't look quite like doughnuts either. 

I tried using muffin tins, a baking sheet, and even frying them. The muffin tins yielded the best looking doughnut holes, the baking sheet batch tasted greatest, and the fried ones were delicious but not very well-crafted (I was a bit impatient with the frying process and didn't take the time to carefully shape them into small, round doughnuts - they were too large to cook all the way through but over-fried on the outsides). 

Even though it may sound like this wasn't an extremely successful endeavor, I think with a real doughnut tin, these would be absolutely great. I also didn't ice them at all, unlike your average store-bought cake doughnut, which would make them more conventionally sweet. (Side note: I was watching some behind-the-scenes doughnut show once and learned that doughnut batter actually isn't sweet at all, but the final product always tastes so sugary because of the glazes used. The host made an unglazed-doughnut filled with hummus for a delicious savory treat to demonstrate. So maybe my batter was right on the mark!) 

So I imagine with a bit of icing, or at least a little dousing of simple syrup glaze, these would be pretty delicious. And with the right pan, they would look like the real thing. They were obviously pretty darn tasty since I finished them up before ever getting around to making a glaze and/or icing to recommend... Just don't expect them to be very close in sugar content to your Krispy Kremes and Dunkin Donuts (my personal favorite!). 

I will probably attempt these Red Velvet Doughnuts again, just with a little more forethought. The one thing that I really love about this recipe is that it sticks to traditional red velvet flavors - the buttermilk, the vinegar, the cocoa. Red velvet has this slight acidity to it on account of the buttermilk and vinegar, which lots of people don't recognize - they just assume it's chocolate cake with some red food coloring. But it is so much more and, when paired with a cream cheese or marshmallow or buttermilk frosting, there is nothing better than anything red velvet.

Red Velvet Cake Doughnuts 


  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp red food coloring
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp distilled white vinegar


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare doughnut pan or muffin tins with butter or cooking spray (I would recommend using butter for optimum sweet taste!).
2. Combine melted butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine.
3. In a separate small bowl, combine cocoa powder and food coloring. Add to butter and egg mixture until fully incorporated.
4. In a separate medium bowl, mix flours, baking powder, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine. 
5. Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the wet ingredients in alternating batches until fully incorporated.
6. In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar. Whisk to fully dissolve, then add to the batter. 
7. Give the batter one final thorough mix to fully combine all ingredients. Pour into pans or tins until about 2/3 full, leaving room for the doughnuts to rise. 
8. Bake 16-18 minutes. For added sweetness, try a simple powdered sugar and water icing, a simple syrup glaze, or the cream cheese frosting from Paula Deen's recipe. Enjoy!


2011 Sendai Earthquake: How to Help

I borrowed the following How to Help guide from my friend Sarah who borrowed it from The Daily What. Given what has occurred as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, all efforts to spread the word about how to help are absolutely necessary. 

Here's the blurb from The Daily What full of ways you can provide aid to those suffering from the recent events in Japan. Even if you can't afford to donate your time and money, post a link to The Daily What post about how to help on your facebook page, blog, twitter, or other social media venue. At the very least, please keep the victims and their loved ones in your thoughts this weekend. 

2011 Sendai Earthquake / How To Help: President Obama released a statement earlier announcing that “[t]he United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial.” Below is a list of charities and relief organizations you can donate to in order to help bring aid to those affected by the worst earthquake in Japanese history.
  • The American Red Cross has set up a special designation for disaster relief efforts in Japan. To donate, click here, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to instantly donate $10.
  • International Medical Corps says it is putting together relief teams and supplies to aid Japan “and other affected countries.” Donate here.
  • Click here to donate to AmeriCares’ emergency relief response.


Eating Animals

Most of you probably know Jonathan Safran Foer as the author behind Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. He's also husband to fellow writer Nicole Krauss, who herself is author of The History of Love and Man Walks Into a Room. All great pieces of thought-provoking, meaningful fiction. This is an undeniably talented couple.

I was intrigued when I first heard of Foer's latest literary effort entitled Eating Animals. I was curious as to the sort of style or approach Foer would take on such a topic as vegetarianism, food culture, and factory farming. Though the book was bound to be good, would it just be a repeat of the information we're fed by the Michael Pollans of the world (and don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of those types) or would Foer bring to light a whole new arena? Though I wouldn't say he completely unveiled a world previously unvisited in food non-fiction, Eating Animals has definitely forged a new place amongst the increasingly-popular sect of food culture literature.

Foer sets out to learn more about the meat we eat as he prepares for the birth of his first son. This book is a meditation on what food, and meat in particular, has meant to him at various points throughout his life, but also a more logical and oftentimes disturbingly realistic look at where this food comes from - and how we need to reshape some of those meanings as individuals and as an eating culture.

As my friend Sarah, who also highly recommends this book, pointed out, Foer's account of the way in which farmers raise the animals we eat is highly readable and a bit more narrative in form than the accounts of some of his counterparts. While the content itself is quite disparaging if not downright disturbing, Foer offers us a look at some of the factory farming practices that are both cruel and detrimental to our health. He creates compelling arguments as to why we should abstain from eating meat, at least the meat which is produced by the most widespread and common practices, that play on everything from empathy for animals to logic regarding our future, the environment, and our health.

This book isn't necessarily a plea to turn to vegetarianism. Though Foer is a vegetarian and poses plenty of reasonable arguments for choosing to do so, his main purpose is to further understand the implications of eating animals and how to lessen, if not eliminate, those which are detrimental to people, humans, and the world at large. Though he may not encourage you to completely rule out all meat products, Foer will at least give you cause for pause in purchasing and consuming your proteins.

Just a few of the alarming bits of information and poignant truths revealed in reading Eating Animals:

  • Industrial agriculture has transformed conceptions of farm animals as machines rather than living beings. And in so doing, we've kept meat, eggs, and dairy costs relatively low, while other significant costs of living, such as housing and transportation, are escalating at rates far beyond those of food. I understand the necessity of low cost meals, but I also think we need to give consideration to why animal proteins are currently cheaper than ever before (taking inflation into account) - because the methods used to produce these food items are driven by profit margins, with no regard for consumer health, the environment, or the most basic fundamentals of humane behavior.
  • "Americans choose to eat less than .25% of the known edible food on the planet." Though this statistic is not directly related to our meat consumption, as a food-lover it makes me quite sad. Think of all the deliciously exotic and delightfully unknown food possibilities out there that we eschew in favor of mass-produced, antibiotic-injected proteins. 
  • "Deciding what to eat (and what to toss overboard) is the founding act of production and consumption that shapes all others. Choosing leaf or flesh, factory farm or family farm, does in itself change the world, but teaching ourselves, our children, our local communities, and our nation to choose conscience over ease can. One of the greatest opportunities to live our values - or betray them - lies in the food we put on our plates. And we will live or betray our values not only as individuals, but as nations."
  • "Not making a decision - eating 'like everyone else' - is to make the easiest decision, a decision that is increasingly problematic."
  • "Responding to the factory farm calls for a capacity to care that dwells beyond information, and beyond the opposites of desire and reason, fact and myth, and even human and animal."
  • "Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless - it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another. Consistency is not required, but engagement with the problem is." This point really stuck with me. I'm often overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that I want to fix with the world (hunger, labor issues, poverty, homelessness, the environment, the food system, etc. etc.) and have difficulty deciding which battles to fight first. Foer gives me reason to believe that I don't need to decide, that they're all intertwined and that every action we take, whether publicly picketing or privately eating, can take on the ramifications of positive activism. In constantly making thoughtful and careful choices aligned with our beliefs, we can affect change in a wide range of seemingly disparate areas.

I could go on and on about this stuff and how I think consumerism is ultimately at the bottom of all that is wrong with this world (I'll try working on this one for another day). But I'll leave it at this: if you care about animal rights, worker's rights, healthy eating, organics, the environment, global warming, hunger, poverty, consumerism, capitalism, infectious disease, vegetarianism, veganism, the health and well-being of future generations, the health and well-being of yourself and your loved ones - pick up this book. You don't need to be radical or even a devoted activist to make an impact, it can begin by simply educating yourself, making informed choices, and passing on those seemingly small decisions and meanings to others. And then, hopefully, along the way a certain frame of consciousness will take hold, both collectively and among individuals, to make a call for obvious, necessary, and humane change.
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