Glen Hansard

I've long considered Glen Hansard, front man behind the bands the Frames and the Swell Season, to be something of a musical genius. From the first scene in the film Once when I was introduced to Mr. Hansard performing an acoustic cover of Van Morrison's "And the Healing Has Begun" on the streets of Dublin, I knew that this Irish singer-songwriter had an inordinate amount of talent. He quickly earned his place among my favorite musicians and has remained there ever since.

After hearing news that Glen was releasing a solo album this summer, I've been anxiously counting the days until its release date on June 19th. In the meantime, YouTube offered me some musical solace with these little gems. I don't know if any of these tunes will make it to Glen's new album (though I'm pretty sure the song featured in the final video, another Van Morrison cover, won't be one of the tracks), but they offer some wonderful listening in the meantime. Enjoy!


Oodles of Udon

When Mike and I were on our epic cross country road trip a few years ago, we stopped for Chinese takeout at some nameless place along the West coast. I ordered the nondescript "Healthy Noodles" on a whim and was utterly delighted with my meal - thick, doughy, and flavorful noodles tossed with stir-fried veggies. I thought about those Healthy Noodles many a time since then but only recently discovered that they were, in fact, udon noodles.

When I ordered udon noodles on purpose for the first time, not knowing exactly what they were, I finally received some long-awaited closure. My dish arrived, full of those same thick and delicious noodles I'd had years ago. I finally learned that my beloved Healthy Noodles were udon.

Next time I headed out to the Asian market, I happened across some udon noodles and decided to try my hand at preparing udon in my own kitchen. The package I decided upon actually contained pre-cooked noodles - all I had to do was add them to whatever dish I prepared. They could not have been easier to use and my final product tasted just as authentic as that of the two restaurants where I'd first tried udon.

This was the kind of meal that I composed primarily by feel. No measurements, recipes, or real direction guided my preparations - I simply added whatever I felt was necessary after each ingredient. First was some butter, sesame oil, and chopped oyster mushrooms. For a bit of protein, I added in some tiny cooked frozen shrimp (more accurately, shrimp-lets). I doused the whole thing with a little mirin (a sweet cooking sauce) and hoisin sauce (an Asian barbecue sauce of sorts) once the shrimp were fully defrosted. After introducing the udon noodles, I threw some greens in the pan to finish things off. As soon as the greens wilted, my udon delight was ready to serve.

There is something so appetizing about these doughy wheat noodles and their almost-but-not-quite-chewy texture. These are quite certainly going to become a new staple in my kitchen, especially since the local Asian market carries an affordable no-cook brand.


The Beginner's Goodbye

My introduction to Anne Tyler occurred in eleventh grade English. We were to select an author from a list provided by the teacher and read three of their novels, than fashion some sort of analytical report about the author's work. I went with Tyler on my mother's suggestion and was delighted with the prospect of delving into her work quite quickly after I started to read my first Tyler selection. And so marked the beginning of my Anne Tyler fandom.

I think part of my fondness for Ms. Tyler has something to do with the fact that she is based in and tends to set her stories in Baltimore. It's an unexpected comfort to read a novel rife with references to my own hometown, to follow a cast of characters frequenting landmarks with which I am highly familiar. Beyond this Baltimorean bond, however, Anne Tyler's novels are the kind I simply cannot fail to enjoy. Her protagonists are always the kind that are strangely alluring, humanized by some sort of defect whether physical, psychological, or both. The plots are never highly complex in nature but they explore very compelling human themes that make for engaging and moving reading. 

Her evasiveness when it comes to the press is pretty intriguing, and impressive, as well. Tyler hardly ever gives interviews in-person and her books are well-received despite the fact that she doesn't travel on book tours. With a Pulitzer Prize in the bag for her ninth novel Breathing Lessons, the world seems to be in agreement that Anne Tyler has got something special in the writing department.

Much as I adore Tyler's work, I caught word of her most recent release, The Beginner's Goodbye, only in passing and immediately sent out a request for it at the library. Despite the busyness of work and school and gardening and housework and all the rest, I found the time to knock out this engaging and plainly delightful novel about a grieving widower named Aaron in just a few days. 

Though the construct of the story is downright tragic (Aaron's wife Dorothy is killed in their own home by a fallen tree), The Beginner's Goodbye is not a necessarily somber book. Aaron is editor of his family's publishing business which specializes in a beginner's guide series on topics from kitchen remodeling to dinner parties to funeral planning. After her passing, Dorothy continues to appear to her late husband. Through these visits, we travel with Aaron through the grieving process, with recollections from the couple's initial meeting all the way up to the moments before that fateful tree ended Dorothy's life. Though no how-to manual could ever direct Aaron out of his grief, encountering Dorothy helps navigate Aaron through his despair, much like the books which he edits are intended to guide novices through the new phases and challenges of their lives. 

Tyler's story is comforting, tender, and appropriately touched with levity. The Beginner's Goodbye is a subtle and simple story but one that, like most of Tyler's work, provides deep satisfaction and resonance. 


Broccoli Basil Pesto

A recent issue of Whole Living magazine opened my eyes up to all the possibilities of pesto. I've tried using different combinations of herbs and cheeses before to make this flavorful and healthy spread, but Whole Living's recipes included ingredients as varied as carrots, pistachios, red bell peppers, spinach, lemon, and broccoli rabe. These were totally outside my realm of imagination and I couldn't wait to try them all.

Inspired by Whole Living's recipes and an excess quantity of broccoli in my freezer, I tried my own hand at playing with pesto and I came up with a healthy, delicious, and relatively inexpensive version that I love. Using veggies can really stretch a pesto without sacrificing on nutrition or flavor, and the very combination of ingredients involved sound pretty impressive to the foodie's ear.

I wasn't very exact while preparing my pesto, so the following recipe is more of an estimation of how I created my delicious and complex pesto. If there's one thing that I've learned about pestos, in addition to just how versatile they can be, is that they are extremely forgiving.

After thawing out some frozen broccoli, I added between 4 and 5 cups of the veggies to my food processor. Since they are pretty mild in flavor but bright green in color, these were the perfect compliment to my fresh basil (about a cup or so) and pungent garlic (I used a whole head for this recipe). Instead of adding the pine nuts, as traditional pestos do, I used a combination of slivered almonds and pumpkin seeds. Once everything was in the bowl of my food processor, I added a touch of salt and pepper, then pulsed until everything was finely chopped, making sure to wipe down the sides so no ingredients were left behind. Then I continued to combine my pesto ingredients while streaming in olive oil (between 3/4 and 1 cup).

The result was a bit of a flavor explosion with all the bright greenery of broccoli, the delicious flavor of garlic, and the earthy hint of basil. I topped some wasa toasts with my pesto and a smear of goat cheese for a light lunch and froze the remaining pesto in small portions for easy weeknight meal-making.


Goat Cheese and Quick Onion Jam Toasts

Sometimes in my kitchen, necessity is the mother of invention. When I make it home after a day at work and a night of classes, the last thing I want to see is a near-empty fridge. But with so much of my time consumed by my various jobs and my education, I find less and less time to worry over what to feed myself (which may, in fact, be a good thing). Nonetheless this also means less time to plan elaborate meals and get in some strategic grocery shopping.

But for whatever reason, there always seem to be onions on hand in my house. Though I may run out of fruits and vegetables, onions are one of the most constant and dependable staples in my kitchen, and they never seem to run dry. I'm a fan of the onion myself, cognizant of its value in countless cuisines and flavorful possibilities, but Mike is not so found of these pungent recipe staples.

When I recently found myself out of produce after a particularly exhausting day, the idea for these simple and sweet toasts came to me. I had plenty of reliable onions on hand and, thanks to Sam's Club, a huge log of creamy goat cheese. An old pack of hearty Wasa crackers buried in the back of the pantry (but far from expired) seemed the obvious vessel for this quick and surprisingly elegant dish, though any unflavored cracker or toast would do.

One of the most wonderful things about the onion is its sweet side. A little caramelizing goes a long way; sliced raw onion rings become caramelized when warmed over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. I used two medium onions which required only a few tablespoons of agave and a single tablespoon of sugar to bring out all their sweet goodness. I let the thinly sliced onions cook for 12 to 15 minutes in canola oil, then added agave and finished up with a sprinkling of sugar 5 minutes later. Once the sugar was fully dissolved, I removed the onions from the stove and divided them among my goat cheese-covered crackers. The onions were sticky and sweet, a wonderful complement to the creamy tanginess of the goat cheese. 

This dish has quickly become a staple in our house on account of its ease, reliability, and impact. We can enjoy them as a quick snack on a busy night or as an impressive appetizer for a friendly dinner party. The ingredients aren't hard to find and are nearly constantly on hand, the process could not be simpler, and the results are a flavorful delight.



This was the first weekend yet that truly felt like spring to me. Sure, I had tons of homework on my plate and Easter obligations tied up some of my precious free time. But the sunny days and warmish temps were quite welcome, and I can't complain about having longer days and thus more hours of natural photo-taking light after work!

Since the office was closed on Good Friday, I took advantage of my extra time off to get some stuff done around the house. My mom lent me a hand with painting the bathroom, and on one of our trips to Home Depot, we came across an array of succulents that were too beautiful (and cheap!) to resist.

Planted in some bright terra cotta pots, these succulents are the perfect cat-safe way to fill up some empty space in our living room. I love the look of these plants with their cool blue and green hues and thick, milky leaves. It doesn't hurt that they are also unbelievably low-maintenance and that my cat Digby won't go near them.

I realized that I've become quite the garden geek as I've progressed into my mid-twenties. There's just something about the colorful blooms of spring, the anticipation of the backyard harvest, and the cheery look of a few well-placed house plants that lifts my mood immensely.

PS - Mike and I saw 21 Jump Street on Saturday and absolutely loved it! It's been quite some time since I laughed in a movie theater like that. Though I never watched the original show, I definitely would recommend the movie remake to anyone who considers themselves a fan of comedy or Jonah Hill!


Being Flynn

It's been a pretty good month for me in movies and I was pleasantly surprised when Mike and I headed out to see yet another indie flick this past weekend. Being Flynn is based on Nick Flynn's memoir entitled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. I was intrigued enough by the book's title when I came across it years ago to buy a copy for myself, but it was only recently that I actually sat down and read the thing. Though I enjoyed Flynn's memoir, this was one of those very rare cases (if not the only case) in which I enjoyed the film version better than the book.

Paul Dano, as Nick Flynn, and Robert De Niro, as Nick's father Jonathan, both deliver excellent performances as would be expected of two such talented actors. Though Jonathan was largely absent throughout the majority of his son's life, Nick knew of his father's delusions of being one of the nation's most brilliant writers. With this knowledge in the back of his mind, Nick hesitantly followed is his father's wayward footsteps, pursuing the written craft himself.

Though Nick's path is not quite as turbulent and disarrayed as his father's was, the younger Flynn inherits plenty of baggage from his parents, the unconventional single mother home in which he was raised, and the constant rotation of father figures that entered and quickly exited his life. Nick stumbles upon work at a Boston homeless shelter while in between jobs and soon finds himself stationed in gainful employment. When Jonathan shows up in line at the shelter one winter night, however, the small semblance of stability Nick has forged is quickly thrown off balance.

I appreciated Flynn's memoir and the story he had to tell; it was only his narrative style that left me less than satisfied. I entered the theater with less than high hopes for the film version, not sure how Nick's complicated story would play out on screen. But I was very much pleased by the cinematic storytelling, the pacing of the movie, and the performances delivered. Though there is yet to be an exceedingly positive consensus from the critics (according to Rotten Tomatoes), I definitely think Being Flynn is worth a shot. I left the theatre feeling good, satisfied with the $7.50 investment I made with my matinee ticket and glad that I gave the film version of Flynn's story a shot.


More Mangan

I posted about Dan Mangan a few months back. He's easily my current favorite artist and I've been listening to both of his albums nonstop these days. I found some excellent live performances of songs from his most recent album, Oh Fortune, that I thought were worthy of sharing. Now if only he would come to Baltimore so I could see him perform these live and in person for myself!


Brownie Pudding and An Endorsement for Pinterest

One of my loosely framed resolutions for the year was to reduce my time in front of screens, whether television or computer. Much as I do enjoy exploring the blogs of others and mindlessly sorting through craft projects, recipe ideas, and the endless array of talented artisans selling their crafts on Etsy, I also worry about the amount of time I waste in cyberspace. My fear is that, by becoming too ingrained in the virtual world, I will be unable to experience the real one without comparing my days to those depicted in the blogs of others or without making reference to some anecdote recounted by a friend on facebook.

That's not to say that the internet isn't a useful tool for connecting and sharing with people near and far. I love that I can find inspiration from people the whole world over within the space of a few keystrokes, that I can keep up to date on the lives of friends traveling abroad, and that I can even reconnect with people I thought I would never have the opportunity to meet again. The amount of knowledge that can be shared and the way that information can be so easily accessed is still absolutely incredible to me, though at times incredibly dangerous.

But the number of hours I waste aimlessly browsing the internet scares me off of it too. The thought of how many books I could have read, conversations I could have engaged in, meals I could have prepared, and experiences I could have had in the innumerable hours I've lost during the past twenty three years of my television-watching and internet-accessing life fills me with inklings of regret. So I vowed to spend less time in front of a screen this year and more time doing, being, and experiencing in the real world.

Then I found Pinterest. I had refrained from joining the pin-board social network for quite some time, aware of how quickly it would consume my rare free hours and unfamiliar with the necessity of one more social networking tool. But I began to grow more and more interested as my internet bookmarks grew increasingly overwhelming and disorganized, despite my ardent attempts to keep things methodically categorized. The idea of a visual organization system, obtainable wherever the world wide web can be accessed, was appealing to an A-type such as myself. I decided to give it a try. And I pretty quickly bought into all the hype (I'm still a staunch anti-Twitterer though!).

All this to say that Pinterest is not nearly as overrated as I had imagined it would be. In fact, it has provided me with some incredibly decadent and delicious recipe ideas, dishes I would never have otherwise found. Organized as Pinterest is, I can browse hundreds of ideas quickly, filtering through what I do and don't want to retain without wasting an inordinate amount of time. In the space of five minutes, I can find recipe ideas for the whole week, whereas pouring through food blog after food blog for the perfect seven dinners would take an hour or more. I guess eventually I might have found Tracey's version of Ina Garden's recipe for Brownie Pudding through some inadvertent path, but Pinterest brought it right to me just when I needed something chocolatey and gooey the most. 

Mike and I devoured these little pots of chocolatey goodness too quickly for me to snap a picture of them, so these shots are from my original sources. Pretty so we had stomachaches on account of the speed with which we consumed such an inordinate amount of chocolate. But the pain in our bellies was well worth the deliciousness of this brownie pudding. They were simple to make (I accidentally beat the eggs and the butter, rather than the eggs and the sugar, in step #3 and my puddings still turned out excellent!) and highly adaptable I imagine. Next time I plan to add a little Nutella to the mix and maybe I'll even try a few with peanut butter too!

Photo from Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Brownie Pudding

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder 
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place the butter in a saucepan and melt over medium-low. Set aside to cool once fully melted.
  3. Sift cocoa powder and flour together into a medium bowl.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar until the batter is very thick and forms ribbons. On low speed, add vanilla extract and the cocoa and flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Then pour in the melted butter, mixing until just combined
  5. Spread the mixture into baking dish. Place baking dish inside large roasting pan, adding hot water to roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the baking dish.
  6. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted about 2 inches from the edge comes out partially clean.
  7. Transfer baking dish to a wire rack to cool. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!



Had a nice, quiet weekend with my dog, my husband, and my homework.

I've been MIA as of late on account of school, work, and dreary days of pre-April showers. Things are calming down a bit on this end and more posts are soon to come!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...