Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dans La Cuisine, Episode 1

I thought it would be fun to post about my cooking adventures. I was inspired by this blog. My photography isn't nearly as cool as hers (indoor photography is the bane of my existence!) but I'm a pretty good cook and I like coming up with my own recipes.

On tonight's menu:

Fresh Vegetarian Lasagna

You know the frozen lasagna you can get at the grocery store? This is the exact opposite of that. With so many fresh ingredients, it's light but full of flavor.


1 box lasagna, uncooked
8 medium tomatoes, diced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 big handful fresh basil, chopped
1 small handful (don't you love the exactness of my measurements?) fresh oregano, chopped
12 oz ricotta cheese (part skim is fine)
1 c sour cream
16 oz fresh mozzarella
Parmiggiano Reggiano
olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 350˚F. Combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, and about 1/2 c olive oil. Salt to taste. It will look like a fresh tomato salad - resist the urge to eat it right then and there.

2) Combine the ricotta and sour cream. (No photo of this stage because I forgot the sour cream at the grocery store. It's fine without it, but I like it because it adds an extra smoothness to the filling.) Add salt if needed.

3) Spread half the tomato mixture in a layer on the bottom of a 13x9 pan. Place lasagna noodles on top, overlapping the edges.

3) On top of the pasta layer, spread a layer of ricotta and then slices of fresh mozzarella on top.

4) Spread the rest of the tomato mixture over the cheese, then cover with more pasta. Spread the rest of the ricotta and mozzarella on top of the pasta. Sprinkle grated parmiggiano reggiano over all the other cheese, then drizzle with olive oil.

5) Cover with foil and bake at 350˚F for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until lasagna is lightly browned and bubbly.

This is a fun recipe to improvise. I've tried different vegetables (spinach, broccoli, shredded carrot) and different cheeses (chèvre, Camembert, provolone) and it always turns out delicious.

Here's the finished product. On the side is a simple cucumber salad with onion, olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Good Reads

Lest you think all I do is watch TV and browse YouTube for funny commercials and political skits - here are a few of the books I've read recently. I read one or two books a week; these are the best ones I've come across in the past couple months.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. This was recommended to me by my middle school French teacher. I called her when I got my mission call to Bordeaux and she told me I had to read this book before I went. I never got around to it then, and just recently found this copy in a pile of books at our recent ward swap. It's wonderful. Peter Mayle describes his adventures as he (an Englishman) and his wife buy a house in Provence and make it their new home. They get to know their neighbors, learn about the French work ethic (the construction workers that renovate their home show up only if nothing else is going on - and there is never a guarantee that they will be back the next day), drink wine, and above all, eat! Roasted lamb, beef en croûte, coq au vin, baguettes, Camembert, chèvre, mousse au chocolat...I found myself getting hungry every time I picked it up. If you've ever lived in France you'll recognize all the characters and relate to the love he has for the people and places he encounters. There are several follow-up books and I plan to read them all.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. Another one I picked up at the ward swap. Nothing like a free book! And a good one at that. I'm a sucker for neo-feminist historical fictions (see my post about The Red Tent) and I really enjoyed this one. The story takes place in 15th century Florence, and the protagonist is Alessandra, the daughter of an upper class merchant who wants nothing more than to become a great painter. She consents to an arranged marriage because her husband-to-be promises her complete freedom - but it comes at a cost. They find themselves at the mercy of political events that endanger their lives and the art they love so much. There are parts of this book that are a bit too romance-novel-y for me, but overall I enjoyed the story and especially the way the history and culture of Florence is entwined with the plot. And there is a pretty big twist at the end, which I always love. This would be a great book to bring to the beach this summer.

The Book of General Ignorance by John Mitchinson and John Lloyd. I bought this book for Eric for Christmas (classic case of giving loved ones what you really want for yourself) and just read it the other week. It's a collection of trivia - things you think you already know but really don't. It's fascinating and easy to read in bits and pieces since each section is short (Eric calls it a great bathroom book.) Some examples:
-The guillotine was not invented in France - it comes from Halifax, England. It was used there in the early 13th century, long before the French adopted it as their execution of choice in the Revolution.
-Who said "Let them eat cake"? Not Marie Antoinette. The phrase had been used to describe the decadence of the aristocracy since at least 1760, and the French Revolution didn't happen until 1789. It was likely invented for propaganda.
-The largest organism in the world? A mushroom, the common honey fungus. The individual clusters are small, but they are all interconnected at the roots and make up one huge organism. The largest one is in Oregon - it covers 2,200 acres and is at least 2,000 years old.
-Thomas Edison invented the word "Hello". During his testing of Alexander Graham Bell's prototype telephone, he suggested using this word to initiate conversations because it could be heard from far away, like "Halloo" which was used to call hounds and ferrymen. Bell preferred saying "Ahoy!" but Edison's "Hello" caught on more quickly and became common usage. Personally, I think it would be kind of cool if we all answered our cell phones by saying "Ahoy!" but that's just me.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Love me some OSC! This is a reread for me, since my book group is discussing it soon and I haven't read it since college. It's the second book in the Ender's Game series, and in my opinion the best one of them all. Thousands of years after Ender facilitates the extermination of an entire alien species, he has become a Speaker for the Dead, a traveler who speaks at funerals in a most unusual way - by telling only the truth. He is called to the planet Lusitania, which is the home of another sentient species - the pequeninos. The storytelling is fantastic (this is Card after all!) and incredibly thought provoking as it explores the boundaries and limitations of civilization, morality, language, and what it means to be human. Immediately after finishing I had to reread Xenocide, the next in the series - that one gets even more metaphysical and some passages read more like a philosophical essay than a novel. I think Speaker strikes a better balance between philosophy and plot, but really the whole series is excellent.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hillary v. Obama

I know, I know, I'm on a roll with posting video clips, but I couldn't resist this one. A possible future in which Barack Obama is the president of the United States. Who does he call when he needs help? Hillary, of course!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Office is Back!

Thursdays are (almost*) right again, starting tonight. Dunder Mifflin employees visit Michael and Jan at their condo for a dinner party and have at least one conversation about Michael having three vasectomies. Not uncomfortable in the least (both the conversation and the vasectomies.) And according to one of the sneak peaks, Jan and I share a hobby: candle making (I wonder if she makes Mandles?) Set up your DVRs!

*They'll be all the way right again when LOST comes back.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Do you ever wonder what kind of gift to buy a manly man who doesn't like girlie scented candles? Here is the solution - Mandles! With scents like A1 Steak Sauce, Urinal Deodorizer, and Chuck Norris Sweat, what manly man wouldn't love one of these?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The One Dress

Arianne did a post about the story behind her wedding dress and I loved it so much I wanted to do one too.

We got married in the spring and I wanted the dress to reflect that. And I wanted a long train and lots of poof! (Sorry for the craptastic quality of these pictures, I scanned these on an ancient machine that I believe has been around since the Middle Ages.)

Our wedding was in the morning and it was cold and raining on and off, so the pictures at the temple look gray and cloudy. We had an evening reception and by then it was sunny and warm, so those pictures turned out much better. This is behind the reception site. The dress looks too long here because I changed into flip-flops for the dancing and I forgot to put my heels back on for the photos. Doh!

In sharp contrast to every other shopping experience of my life, this was the very first dress I tried on. Of course I didn't believe it could be that easy, so I tried on a lot of others, but in the end this was The One. I didn't even have to have it altered; I fit into the size 6 perfectly (oh, those were the days!) In her Maid of Honor speech, Andrea used the analogy of the dress in describing my relationship with Eric; he was my first love, but I had to "try on" a lot of others before I realized that he was the one. Made me sound kind of slutty, but that's OK.

My bouquet had tulips (my favorite flower), irises, roses, and freesia. I gave the florist a very loose idea of what I wanted and I was thrilled with what she created; it was exactly what I had envisioned, without me actually having specifically envisioned it. We released butterflies at the end of our ring ceremony and one landed on my bouquet. Totally unplanned. I also like this picture because you can see my engagement ring, which is now at the bottom of the Atlantic, presumably somewhere near the Outer Banks (that's a whole other traumatic story.)

No, that's not Eric - this is me dancing with my dad. Not the most flattering picture of either one of us, but you can see the details on the back of the dress. The embroidery covered the whole bodice and the embroidered flowers in my veil matched the flowers on my dress.

One more shot so you can see it bustled in all its poofiness (I believe that is the technical term used by designers.) This was during our ring ceremony, which was performed by my dad before the reception. Also in this picture are (L to R) my little sis Erin, Andrea (Maid of Honor and BFF extraordinaire), and Eric's brother and Best Man Spencer.

If only I could wear my wedding dress every day! I loved every second I spent in it on one of the happiest days of my life. They should make it so you have to get re-married every 10 years or something, that would be so fun. Expensive, but fun.

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