Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pasta with Asparagus Pesto

Last night, I made an asparagus pesto recipe from Gourmet. It was an interesting spin on a traditional pesto, with a subtle and unique flavor. I adapted the recipe slightly, cutting the quantities in half, since I was cooking for two. However, I did not halve the asparagus; instead, I started with a full pound of asparagus, from which I removed the woody ends, leaving me with closer to 3/4 of a pound. I also reserved the asparagus tips to add to the pasta at the end, for a little more of a veggie-feeling to the dish (it could have used even more veggies added to the sauce).

As per the suggestion of a commenter on epicurious.com I added a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice and just a little zest to brighten the pesto's flavor. You'll also want to season this with lots of fresh pepper and salt to taste. While you may be tempted to add more garlic, don't. Asparagus is so much more subtle than the strong herbs with which you'd traditionally make a pesto that 1 to 1 1/2 cloves will be plenty to give you a good garlic-y flavor.

Pasta with Asparagus Pesto
Adapted from Gourmet

1/2 pound pasta
1 pound asparagus
1/8 cup pine nuts lightly toasted
1 1/2 medium garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/3 cup)
Salt and pepper
Scant zested lemon peel
Squeeze lemon juice

1. In a 6- to 7-quart kettle bring about 5 quarts salted water to a boil for pasta.
2. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Trim woody ends from asparagus. Cut asparagus stalks crosswise into 2-inch pieces, reserving tips. In a steamer set over boiling water steam stalks, covered, 5 minutes. Immediately transfer asparagus to ice water to stop cooking. Drain asparagus well in a colander and pat dry. Repeat with reserved asparagus tips and steam, until just tender, about 1 minute.
3. In a food processor pulse pine nuts and garlic with salt until finely chopped. Add asparagus stalks, lemon juice, lemon zest and oil and pulse until asparagus is coarsely chopped. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano.
4. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta in a colander. Add pasta, asparagus tips and reserved cooking water to pesto, tossing to coat, and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, July 25, 2011

DIY Inspiration: Sombrilla

When I go to the beach, a sun umbrella is a must. When I was in my early 20s I could spend a day in the sun, but now I prefer to enjoy the beach while sitting in the shade slathered in SPF 45. In fact, this past weekend, we had two umbrellas working in tandem for an even larger shaded area on what was one of the hottest days of the summer. So, I was delighted when I spotted the Sombrilla, a beach tent, on Pinterest. How cute and clever are they?

Manufactuered by an Australian company called Hollie and Harrie, these beach tents seem like a great alternative to a beach umbrella. For one, they would be much less awkward to store and you wouldn't have to worry about a wind kicking up and uprooting your umbrella. I also love that you can adjust the strings to change the position of the canopy as the day goes on.

Sadly, the Sombrilla is a little pricey at $150 plus whatever international shipping would cost. However, I think this could be a great DIY project: Don't you?


Cutting Wedding Costs: A Dress from eBay


A lot of women will be horrified by what I am about to write, but I hope many others will read my words and take confidence from them. I bought my wedding dress on eBay. For $99. That's right: My dress was less than $100 off the internet and I am thrilled about it. Now, mind you, I am not a clothes horse, nor am I the type of gal who had her ideal wedding dress picked out long before marriage was every a question. I just wanted a tasteful dress.

I found my dress by googling "J. Crew wedding dress;" it was a model from a past season, which Real Simple had deemed the choice "If you're tall.." which I am at 5'10" (don't you dare, click that link Mr. Wells). When I realized it was no longer available, I checked on eBay, and there were multiple listings for the dress. Not sure what size to order, I consulted J. Crew's website, which, of course, left me more confused. However, searching for the dress name and the word "forum" lead me to a super-helpful thread about the sizing of J. Crew dresses, which lead me to opt for the smaller size.

I also went to the J. Crew bridal shop in New York, because even at full retail J. Crew's dresses are much, much cheaper than almost everything else on the market. I fell a little in love with one of their current dresses (don't look at that link either, just in case!), but just couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger on a $575 dress. So, I went back to eBay, where sure enough, the dress was listed for sale by multiple vendors. On a whim, I made a low-ball bid on one in my size and ended up winning it, as well. I love both dresses, and frankly,  I feel like I beat the system getting a dress for so little. (Note that most wedding planning sites tell you to allocate 10% of your budget to attire!)

I am 99% sure, I'm going to go with the first $99 dress, but I've got another month to decide, at which point I'll bring the winner to a tailor for some minor alterations. I'll sell the other one on eBay, and post-wedding, I'll plan to sell my dress, as well. because really, I'm not ever going to wear it again, unless, of course, I had it dyed...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

For the Love of Pistachios

You know the routine: Costco lures you into trying new things with its low, low prices. Among my recent discoveries through Costco are Everbody's Nuts Salt & Pepper Pistachios. A long-time pistachio lover, the addition of pepper to a traditional, salted pistachio is nothing short of genius--I am not exaggerating when I say that these are incredibly addictive.

I'd also like to share a word of love for pistachios, in general. I think they're an ideal food to keep on-hand in the event that you need to serve your guests a little nibble before a meal (or late night after cocktails). They require zero preparation, snapping open the shells keeps guests hands occupied and a big bowl of nuts gives you a real sense of abundance. Another thing I love to do with pistachios is de-shell them and put them into salads, as they're a little less expected than a walnut or a almond.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wafarers, I'm In Love

With the exception of a pair of prescription sunglasses I had for a summer in junior high when I played tennis and still did not yet have contact lenses, I have never owned a decent pair of sunglasses. A month or so back, my fiancé's brother left his Ray-Ban Wayfarers at our apartment. Naturally, I wore them everywhere until we say him next. By the time I returned his glasses, I had fallen in love.

So, just before Fourth of July weekend, I treated myself to my first pair of grown-up sunglasses. I opted for Ray-Ban's "New Wayfarer" in a tortoise frame, which are slightly smaller than the original Wayfarer frame. I adore my new sunglasses and I only wish I'd decided to take the plunge and buy some decent sunny specs sooner!  Here's a snap of me in my new glasses at a friend's field day-themed birthday party last weekend (I've got a 1st place ribbon because my team won!).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cutting Wedding Costs: Cake

While I'm on the subject of cutting costs, let's talk about cakes. Neither of us felt strongly about having a wedding cake, and we had vetoed the idea of cutting the cake and feeding it to one another at the reception (it just seemed a little silly to us). So when I found out that even a simple wedding cake would cost $450, I decided we'd forgo the traditional cake and opt for cupcakes instead. A local baker has said they could do the cupcakes for just $27.25/dozen, which would put us at $220 for eight dozen.

Now the big question is: Do we need to rent small cake plates ($.075/plate) or can we just have our guests pick up a cupcake and a cocktail napkin? What do you think?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cutting Wedding Costs: Flatware and Plates

Despite my best efforts, it is incredibly hard to find ways to pare down the budget for our wedding: Many things simply cost what they cost, like a tent, rental tables and chairs, the church fee, etc. So, I'm trying to find creative places where we can cut back.

I'm debating opting for disposable bamboo flatware and plates for the meal. Renting plates costs only $0.75/plate and buying the bamboo ones is about $0.70, so we wouldn't save a huge amount there, but the flatware is $80 for all the forks and knives we would need. Whereas these Greenware disposable forks and knives are only $6.49/100. What do you think, would they be acceptable for a wedding?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bookshelves Up High

I loved the little Greenport, NY house featured in the New York Times last week, and it came as no surprise that the original owners of Three Lives & Company bookstore have devised clever ways to store all of their books. My mother has been suggesting a high up book shelf all around the perimeter of our living room, like the one below. Seeing these pictures, it seems like an excellent solution for a household overrun with books.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Our DIY Wedding Invitations

The prospect of spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on our wedding invitations was not an option for us, but we still wanted to create something that was personal and tasteful. We turned to Paper Source, Staples and eBay for the materials for our invites, which ended up costing just over $175. Here's how we did it:


The invitations are the Scallop Laser Cut A7 Printable Party Invitations (20 for $18.50), for which we designed the text layout and then printed at home on our ink jet printer.


For the reply card, we got a little crafty. We purchased a vintage postcard from our wedding locale, Shelter Island, NY, on eBay for $12. We then scanned the front and back of the card and re-sized them to fit onto Staples® Inkjet Postcards, 5 1/2" x 4 1/4", Matte (which I happened to have on-hand leftover from another project). We added text about the wedding to turn the vintage card into a reply card, and once again we printed them out on our home printer.


The envelopes are A7 Pool Envelopes (10 for $4.25). We also ordered a custom return address stamp (Ampersand Flourish Custom Stamp - PS design, $39.95) from Paper Source for the invites, but I'm not including it in our wedding budget, since we'll be using it long after the wedding is over.  


For postage, we went with one of the LOVE stamps and an herb-themed one for the post card. I used a Kuretake Zig Memory Writer Marker that I had on-hand to write out the addresses.

In total, we ended up spending about $177 on the stationary and postage -- not bad, right? Here's the cost breakdown, with the items we either already had or plan to use after the wedding in brackets:

Invitations: $74
Envelopes: $38.25 (including ones I messed up)
Vintage Postcard: $11.98
Postcards: [$17.99]
Postage: $52.81
Marker: [$2.65]
Return Address Stamp: [$39.95]

Total: $177.04  [$237.63]

We're just starting to get the reply cards back today, and it's very exciting to see friends and family members' handwriting telling us that they will be attending out wedding! Hurray!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Heidi Swanson's Little Quinoa Patties


A while back I wrote with excitement about Heidi Swanson's cookbook Super Natural Every Day. I've been cooking out of it off-and-on since I purchased it, and so far, I've been a little disappointed (possibly because I had such high expectations for it). However, last night we tried the Little Quinoa Patties and they were a sure winner; it makes me eager (and happy!) to keep trying more recipes from this book, despite having started off on the wrong foot.

The batch makes A LOT of patties. We cooked three small ones for each of us to go with a big salad, and I cooked another four today for lunch and there's still a good amount of quinoa patty batter in the fridge. Having cooked them the day after, I highly recommend preparing the mixture at least a few hours in advance, if you have time. My day-after patties stayed together much more nicely than the fresh ones last night. Also, please note: Your patties will look nothing like the ones in the photo above. They will be messy, misshapen and very handmade. Don't worry--they'll still taste great.

Also, I used fresh basil instead of chives and panko breadcrumbs instead of whole wheat ones because that's what we had on-hand and they were delicious -- I bet most herbs would work well. Also, the patties were a little dry on their own, so we whisked some mayonnaise and Sriracha together for a simple spicy sauce to dab on top (perhaps not so "super natural," but super tasty).


Little Quinoa Patties
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

2 1/2 cups/12 oz/340 g cooked quinoa*, at room temperature
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup/.5 oz /15 g finely chopped fresh basil
1 small yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup/.5 oz/15 g freshly grated Parmesan
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup/3.5 oz /100 g panko bread crumbs, plus more if needed
Water, if needed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the basil, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes (or several hours!) so the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture you can easily form into twelve 1-inch/2.5cm thick patties. I err on the very moist side because it makes for a not-overly-dry patty, but you can add more bread crumbs, a bit at a time, to firm up the mixture, if need be. Conversely, a bit more beaten egg or water can be used to moisten the mixture.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat, add 6 patties, if they'll fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Turn up the heat if there is no browning after 10 minutes and continue to cook until the patties are browned. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties. Alternatively, the quinoa mixture keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a few days; you can cook patties to order, if you prefer.

*To cook quinoa: Combine 2 cups/12 oz/340 g of well-rinsed uncooked quinoa with 3 cups / 700 ml water and 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, decrease the heat, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the quinoa is tender and you can see the little quinoa curlicues. (NOTE: I halved this and had exactly the right about of quinoa for the patty recipe.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Cy Twombly


I was saddened to hear of the death of Cy Twombly. I only discovered a love for Twombly's work in December of last year when visiting my fiance's family in Houston, TX. While there we visited the Menill Collection, an incredible art museum, which has a separate gallery devoted to Twombly.

Somehow with all my classes in modern and contemporary art at NYU, Twombly was not a name I knew, but I immediately liked his work. The canvases at the Menill gallery are hung so that they feel like landscapes that you can enter. They have an almost dream-like quality. I meant to look Twombly up and learn more about him, but I didn't. It was only upon seeing the headline about his death that I read more about this American artist.

The photo of Twombly above (from the New York Times) shows him in one of the galleries there, and you can see just how large these photos are. Funnily enough, I took a similar quick snapshot in front of the same painting of my fiance and his father in front of the canvas. I hope to re-visit the gallery the next time I am in Houston and spend more time with this incredible work.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Fun Find: Unison Home


Today a catalog called Unison arrived in our mailbox. It is a surprisingly appealing collection of table linens, bedding, pillows, throws and a few selected home items. The products themselves are very straight forward: Striped and solid prints, made from natural fibers, primarily cotton. Most of the linens seem to be made in the United States and the bedding in Portugal. Plus, the photographs are nicely lit and elegantly styled (apparently shot by Francois Robert and styled by Dana Renninger and Ricki Hill -- the catalog has production credits). Design-wise, it's nothing ground-breaking, but these simple, tasteful things are often impossible to find -- trust me, I've looked. I wish I knew more about who is behind this unfamiliar brand. Does anyone know anything about Unison Home?


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