Sunday, December 13, 2009

Green Your Hanukkah!

Being half Jewish (and not a very good half Jew at that), I'm prone to forgetting significant Jewish holidays.  This year, Hanukkah really crept up on me.  I honestly didn't even think to look at the calendar until I was unpacking the Christmas decorations on Thursday (yes, ironic, I know), saw the menorah, and thought, "Oh, hey, when does that thing start?"  The answer: Friday night.

Friday was a busy day for me, and I was out and about until after sundown anyway, so I blew the first night.  As the second night approached, a half-joking thought crossed my mind: "I wonder if there's an app for that?"  And I'll be damned if there isn't.

Image snagged from

iMenorah, for the Jew on the go (their real slogan is "For the Jew far from home!" but I like my version better).  I downloaded it and was able to light the menorah while Mr. L and I were out to dinner on Saturday night.  It was great!  You tap to light the shamash, then light the other candles from left to right.  After you light them, some random voice recites the prayer aloud, and the candles slowly burn down over the next few minutes.  Genius!

This image also snagged from

But being half Jewish, I still have some guilt about not actually lighting the menorah at home.  So I'm going to rationalize it in a couple ways.  First, they donate 10% of the proceeds to a San Francisco charity (the app costs $2.99).  Second, it's more sustainable, right?  Conventional candles are often made with petroleum products, and more petroleum products are used to transport them to the store and then back home to my house.  Plus, when you burn them they emit all sorts of nasties, I'm sure.  But this app is the totally green alternative!  Minimal inputs, no transportation costs, no indoor air pollution from the burning.  It's great!

Now, I won't get too smug about how charitable and green my new Hanukkah ritual is.  But I will tell you this: while iMenorah does make Hanukkah a bit more fun for me (using it made me giddy) and might actually be greener and all that, it just didn't feel quite the same.  Next year, I might try sourcing some locally produced soy Hanukkah candles and see how that feels in comparison - perhaps it will make me even more smug?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Awash in a Sea of Produce

Keeping up with a CSA is hard!  We really struggled to find ways to use all the yummies we got before they went bad, and we still weren't entirely successful.  Not big fans of eggplant, those went to the break room at work for someone else to put to good use.  We had so many peppers we couldn't possibly use them all, and some of them have become shriveled and sad looking.  The rest, however, went into some tasty meals.

We used many of the peppers in a fresh salsa.  I roasted one of the poblanos, then minced and added it to the salsa, along with a few serranos and jalapenos. Some of the other peppers went into a chili Mr. L made later in the week, although even then, we still couldn't use them all up.

Lettuces and some of the carrots went into yummy salads for dinner and lunch.  And I triumped over the kohlrabi!  Thanks to Wendy over at I Love Baby Quilts! for sending me to a link explaining all the great ways to eat kohlrabi.  I went with the simplest - peeled and shaved raw over a green salad.  Delicious!  It really does taste like a raw broccoli stem - sweet and a little earthy.

I tossed the fennel and remaining carrots with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme and roasted them according to the instructions posted at TheKitchn last week.  Super yummy!

The butternut squash went to very good use in an amazing Butternut Squash Risotto with Shrimp from Bon Appetit's November 2009 magazine.  The risotto is infused with the sweet, earthy butternut squash flavor.  Because you saute the pancetta and shrimp separately and then stir them into the risotto at the end, they retain their individual flavors and as you're eating you discover pleasant pops of smoky pancetta and sweet-salty shrimp.  Divine!

The risotto looks a little monochromatic in this photo, but I assure you the orange squash, 
pink shrimp, and reddish-brown pancetta all pop on the plate.
The beets were fabulous in a Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop (thanks to SBITC and fortunecookiejunkie for reminding me of this awesome recipe!)  My favorite thing about this recipe is that it features the beet greens as well, so you really use the entire food.  And it has goat cheese, which is also always a plus. 

Lastly, the Swiss Chard went into a delicious recipe for Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans from Eating Well's January/February 2009 issue.  This one just didn't photograph so beautifully, but trust me when I say it tasted great!

We picked up this week's CSA delivery, and it contains much of the same as last week, including lettuces, carrots, beets, peppers, and two small butternut squash.  We received a few new items as well, including fresh dill, new potatoes, and bok choy.


I'm still a little stumped by what to do with all the peppers we're getting, though.  We just can't use that many serranos and jalapenos in a single week.  Do any of you have a solid way for preserving these?  Smoking and canning?  Pickling and canning?  Help!

I'm also having trouble identifying these peppers this week.  They're the size and shape of a poblano, but much closer to an anaheim in color.  Anybody have any idea what they are?  Can I stuff & bake them?

The largest of these guys is about 6 inches long, much closer to a poblano in size and shape.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Bushel and a Peck

Our kitchen is literally busting at the seams with produce right now! We joined a local CSA recently, Johnson's Backyard Garden, and yesterday we took our first delivery. For those of you unfamiliar with CSAs, the gist of it is this - you buy a share in a local farm, and in exchange you get a portion of the harvest each week. For about $30 a week, we're getting roughly half a bushel of farm fresh, organic, local, seasonal produce. Look at all the beautiful stuff we got yesterday!

Here's the breakdown:
  1. Red and green leaf lettuce (1 head each)
  2. Chard (1 bunch)
  3. Eggplant (2)
  4. Japanese eggplant (1)
  5. Kohlrabi (3)
  6. Beets (4)
  7. Fennel (1)
  8. Carrots (1 bunch - about 13)
  9. Assorted peppers (including seranos, jalapenos, possibly some Anaheims, and some others I haven't yet identified).
Vibrant purple eggplants.

I truly doubt I could have picked up all this organic food for just $30 at the local farmer's markets, or even at Central Market. And I love the idea of supporting a small local farmer who's doing something they love. My only problem now is - what do I do with it all???

Gorgeous beets. I haven't managed to get any of the beet seeds I planted in my backyard garden to grow like this.

So, at the suggestion of my good friend Sarah over at Pretty Bird Press, I'm challenging myself to use everything I receive from my CSA each week. I'll post my efforts here, as well as any recipes I use. My hope is that this will not only help Mr. L and I eat more healthy foods, but also to expand our horizons and introduce us to some ingredients we haven't tried before.

Working all these peppers into our diet will definitely keep us warm on the cold fall evenings Austin's been having lately.

I need a little bit of help from you, though. Do you have any ideas for what I should do with all this deliciousness? I'm especially curious about the kohlrabi - I've never cooked with this before, so I need all the suggestions I can get!

The daunting kohlrabi - I won't let you stump me!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 4

Day 8 (Tuesday , October 20)

Today we departed Florence and made our way to Rome. Before leaving town that morning, I decided to make one last trip to the leather markets, where I picked up what I now affectionately call "my lovely."

Soft black leather, chocolate brown suede lining, pockets for my phone and iPod, and it even smells like leather - all for the low, low price of €50 (or about $75). sigh. I think I'm in love...

We caught our train to Rome, and during our 3 hour trip I took another series of really blurry photos from the train. The windows on this train were even dirtier, so the photos look extra bad. But, it was still nice to see some more of the Italian countryside. A few of my favorites.

After arriving in Rome, we walked the few short blocks from the main train station to our hotel, Roman Residence. This was, by far, the nicest and most comfortable hotel we stayed in - modern decor, complimentary bottled water, a flat screen TV, a shower with plenty of hot water, and a reasonable nightly rate. The hotel is small - only 4 rooms - and the owner, Massimo, is very helpful.

After dropping our bags and settling in, Dennis and I decided to explore Rome on foot. The hotel isn't located in any "prime" tourist areas, but it was in walking distance to everything and very close to the train station. We stopped in at a pizzeria for lunch and had what might have been the most disappointing meal of our trip. They confused our order and brought us a seafood pizza that was absolutely terrible. On the bright side, we did pick up a couple very valuable pieces of information for future reference: squid ink on pizza is not tasty, and putting pre-cooked shrimp on pizza before putting it in the oven results in shrimp with about the same texture as a super bouncing ball.

With a thoroughly unsatisfying meal in our bellies we continued our stroll north, eventually winding up at the top of the Spanish Steps. Looking past the faux Egyptian obelisk at the top of the steps, we had a lovely view of the streets of Rome.

Descending the Spanish Steps.

The view from the bottom of the Steps looking back up wasn't quite as lovely, in part because the
Steps were cast in late afternoon shadows and crowded with teenagers. We lingered on Piazza di Spagna for a while, watching the crowds and absorbing the atmosphere.

A chestnut vendor.

This poor horse can't possible know how funny he looks.

We left Piazza di Spagna and headed west, finally arriving at the Trevi Fountain. The amount of detail in the carving is astounding, and it transitions from semi-natural formations to formal sculptures seamlessly.

Next we headed to the Pantheon, where I got a little bit obsessed with photographing the domed ceiling.

The Pantheon ceiling. It's awesome.

Then it was on Piazza Navona, where we found another faux Egyptian obelisk and a vibrant artists' market. We also got to enjoy a serenade from this guy:

Not Pavarotti.

Finally, Dennis insisted we head to Campo de' Fiori. So we trekked on, and once we got there we spent a whole whopping minute looking at a statue of Giordano Bruno. And then we left.

We walked a lot further than we realized because the walk back to the hotel was a long one. Along the way we passed Trajan's Column, but we were too tired and focused on getting back to the hotel to be impressed. Exhausted from our long day of walking, we skipped dinner and collapsed into bed.

Next Time: We explore the peculiar specifics of the Vatican's dress code.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 3

Day 6 (Sunday, October 18)
Our first full day in Florence! Today was a day devoted mostly to wandering, which we excel at.

The streets of Florence.

After breakfast at the hotel, we made our way toward the heart of downtown Florence. Our first stop was at a little house museum devoted to Dante, author of The Divine Comedy and a resident of Florence. This was a thoroughly strange place. What we didn't realize at the time was that this building didn't actually exist until after the turn of the 20th century - the local government demolished the pre-existing building in order to build one to stand in as Dante's home. On top of that, it had this....

...a mime. A mime who appeared to be voguing for us beneath a bust of Dante. It reminded me of the mime-statues you see at Caesar's Palace or The Venetian. It was just such a strange sight.

We moved on to wander the streets of downtown Florence, which are lined with clothing stores. We spotted all sorts of American intrusions, like Foot Locker, H&M, and, of course, The Disney Store. I'm always amazed at how The Disney Store manages to work its iconography into everything. Take the border around this tray ceiling, for example.

You might have to squint to see it. No? Okay, try looking closer.

Mouse ears! Even when they try to reproduce classic "Italian" architectural motifs, the mouse ears creep in.

Next we made our way to the Piazza della Signoria, where we saw the Palazzo
Vecchio. A replica of the Statue of David is located in front of the Palazzo, as well as a few other statues. Then we headed over to the Uffizi Gallery. This contained quite a few famous works of art, including Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus". Not being an art person, I wasn't very engaged. However, there were some really pretty views of the Ponte Vecchio.

After we finished up at the Uffizi, we headed down to see the Ponte Vecchio up close.

Looking across the Ponte Vecchio, lined with gold and jewelry shops.

After several hours of wandering, we slowly made our way along Florence's cobblestone streets and back toward the hotel, stopping in the leather markets and perusing vendors' stalls along the way.

We took a short nap, had a thoroughly unremarkable dinner at a nearby restaurant, and purchased a HUGE dish of gelato for dessert that we both shared before returning to the hotel for the night.

Day 7 (Monday, October 19)
We decided to make the most of our last full day in Florence. After purchasing our train tickets to Rome for the next day, we headed to the Duomo with the (foolish?) inten
tion of climbing the 463 steps to the top. This was a thoroughly exhausting idea.

Going up...

...and up...

...until you finally reach the breathtaking view.

The view in every direction is absolutely beautiful, as are the building's architectural details.

After taking in the view and catching our breath, we descended the 463 steep, narrow steps very, very slowly.

Back on the ground, we headed back toward the Ponte Vecchio and crossed over the bridge to the Oltrarno neighborhood. We wandered the area's narrow streets, poking our heads into shops along the way.

An Oltrarno street.

A small corner grocery.

A head of Romanesco, or Roman cauliflower at the corner grocery in Oltrarno.

Mopeds and motorcycles line all the streets.

After our stroll, we headed toward the hotel, perusing leather markets (again) where Dennis kissed the Porcellino. We also encountered the most glorious thing ever: the waffle cart. Here, you can buy two small Belgian waffles, and sandwiched between them is your choice of fillings: powdered sugar, Nutella, chocolate spread, etc. It was, in a word, divine.


We finally made our way up to Via Cavour and the Galleria Michelangiolo, a small private museum with working scale models of many of Leonardo da Vinci's machines and inventions (no photos allowed, of course). Then, off to the San Lorenzo market, which had the pushiest vendors we encountered in Florence.

For our final meal in Florence, we headed back to I' Daviddino, or Little David, where we ate dinner our first night in town. It didn't disappoint the second time either. We had a caprese salad and bruschetta to start. I had tortelloni for my main course, and Dennis practically cleaned his plate before I could snap a picture of his gnocchi. For dessert, Dennis ordered the amazing ice cream truffles...

...while I was disappointed to learn they were out of tiramisu. The waitress suggested the torta nonna instead, which she described as an almond cream cake. Topped with a liberal dusting of powdered sugar, it was absolutely, positively to die for. And it didn't have an ounce of chocolate!

We wrapped up our last evening in Florence with a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, where we rested up for our rail trip to Rome the next day.

Up Next: Dennis & Erin Take Rome by Storm!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day

At my parents' house in California this holiday, I'm thankful for a dad who's willing to brave the air quality police to build a Thanksgiving fire ("no burn ban is going to keep me from having a fire in my own fireplace on Thanksgiving!"), a mom who insists on making both pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake even though there are only four of us eating, and a husband who quietly puts up with the unique brand of crazy swirling around him at his in-laws' house.

Happy Turkey Day, Y'All!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 2

Day 4 (Friday, October 16)
Dennis and I both slept poorly last night, but we still managed to get up at a reasonable hour. After a quick hotel breakfast, we headed down to the nearby waterbus stop and caught the line to Murano. The bus ride was long - about an hour - because of all the stops the bus makes, but we got a nice view of the city and San Michele, the cemetery island where Venetians are buried.

Following Rick Steves' Venice Lagoon Tour in our guide book, we hopped off the bus at Murano. Murano is known for its glass-blowing, so we fully expected to see glass workshops at every turn. Not so much. In fact, we didn't see a single one. We decided to make our way to the Glass Museum, and along the way we took in some lovely views of the island. And then there was this weirdness:


Maybe if it wasn't surrounded by crowd barricades. Or in shadow. Or had some sort of explanatory label. Maybe then I'd get it. But instead, all I could think was, "Thi
s is no Chihuly."

After touring the glass museum, which had some lovely glass and cera
mic artifacts excavated from the island (no photography allowed, but you can see some of the collection here), we made our way to the stop to catch the bus to the next island, Burano (yes, they rhyme). Along the way, we found this little piece of awesomeness, attached to the exterior of a building:

Double huh?

I'm going to take a stab in the dark and guess this has to do with the island's tradition of glass blowing. But something is just not quite right here...

After a lengthy wait (Burano is a less popular destination so there are fewer
buses) and a 40-minute ride, we arrived in Burano. Burano is known for its lace-making, so we were hoping to see little old ladies lining the streets, tatting to their hearts' content. Instead, we found what we came to call l'isola dei gatti - the island of cats. They were everywhere.

"That's right, this is my boat. You got a problem with that?"

"Why yes, I do make all the lace sold here myself. Why do you ask?"

We found Burano to be much more picturesque than Murano. It had a much more "lived-in" feeling - like real people make their lives there.

Houses painted in pastels and laundry hanging out to dry. Sigh.

So lovely.

Since the island's Lace Museum was closed for renovation, we strolled the island, had lunch, and then made our way back to the bus stop. We waited a while for our bus, then sailed back to Venice. The ride took about an hour and parts of it were decidedly unpicturesque, and we were pretty tired and windblown by the time we got back to Venice.

After a short nap, we headed out to dinner at a restaurant near the hotel that the staff recommended to us, Ristorante Antica Sacrestia. This place was down a dark alley and around a corner, but it seemed to be drawing plenty of diners. We were lucky to be seated immediately; folks arriving just a few minutes after us were lined up out the door. The ceilings were low, the lights were dim, and the tables were packed in like sardines. But the owner greeted us and the servers were attentive (though clearly busy). And the food was mostly tasty. Appetizers were good, wine was tasty, and Dennis's fish was excellent. I ordered the cuttlefish "alla veneziana" with polenta. Turns out that in this case, "alla veneziana" means "cooked in its own ink." Also turns out that I don't care for the taste of cuttlefish ink or food that looks like a solid black mass. I can't hold this against the restaurant, though, and since everything else was great, I'm guessing it's more an issue of my taste than the restaurant's preparation. On our way out, the owner stopped us and gave us a complimentary bag of house coffee (perhaps because I ordered yet another caffelatte after dinner? I'm so enamored with these now). A perfect ending to our last night in Venice.

Day 5 (Saturday, October 17)
We got up early this morning and took the #1 water bus line to the train station. The nice thing about this bus is that it travels the length of the Grand Canal. The major drawback is that it's a little slow (about 45 minutes from San Zaccaria to the train station) and it's seriously crowded - especially during the morning "commute," which is when we were aboard. Still, since we didn't take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal while we were there, it was nice to see the full length of the Canal before we left.

After arriving at the station much earlier than necessary, we eventually boarded our Eurostar train to Florence. Since we're wimpy Americans, we booked first class tickets and wouldn't have it any other way. We sat next to a nice Australian family with two adorable kids who weren't at all annoying (so rare for other people's kids!), and I shot a series of really blurry photos from the train during the 3 hour train ride.

The closest thing to a good shot from the train.

Dennis was very patient with all my photo snapping.

After we arrived in Florence, we made our way to our hotel, Hotel Casci. We got a little lost along the way, and it was made all the more nerve-wracking by the fact that this was the first Italian city we'd encountered that had cars. Cars with drivers who seem not to value pedestrians' lives at all. But, we finally arrived at our hotel, checked in, and collapsed in our room. This one was about as well-equipped as the last, but lacked the picturesque Venetian view. It also had the world's most awkwardly placed toilet paper dispenser and a combination sink/fold-out bidet that released the most disgusting rotten egg smell every time one of us took a shower. Not cool.

After a brief rest, we got a snack at a cafe and then we made our way to the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze. We reserved tickets in advance, which was a good thing, since it allowed us to bypass the line and the super-aggressive street vendors who hassled waiting tourists. The highlight was, of course, Michelangelo's Statue of David (no photography allowed, although this didn't seem to stop most visitors). I was really struck by how large the statue was. For some reason, I always thought it was much closer to life size, but it's actually much larger. There was also a special exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs located throughout the galleries, which made for a really interesting juxtaposition of nudes in the arts over time. Kinda cool.

After David, we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap (which, of course, went too long thanks to me), and then headed out for a late (by American standards) dinner at a cafe down the block. This turned out to be an awesome find. Named I' Daviddino, or Little David, the food was excellent and reasonably priced. I had tortelloni filled with spinach and ricotta in a cream sauce with ham and zucchini. I really regret not taking some photos of it, because it was sublime. We wrapped up our day with a stroll back to the hotel and much-needed night's rest.

Coming Up Next: Dennis & Erin do Florence!