Life | Table | Uncategorized

A Tale of Smelly Plants and Delicious Wraps

July 24, 2013

Once upon a time, an unemployed English major discovered flat bread. And her life (and the life of the happy-go-lucky engineer she was married to) changed forever. Because you can do anything with flat bread. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

You can put veggies on it. Meat. Rice. Beans. Salsa. Hummus. Mayo. It’s an endless blank slate of colorful possibilities. I have no idea why I’m discovering flat bread at 25. But, readers, don’t be like me. Don’t live without flat bread for one more second.

Let me start at the beginning. The stinky plant was blooming at the Botantical Gardens. In D.C., this is a big deal. Apparently. The Washington Post even ran an article on it. This plant only blooms every couple of years and only is in bloom for 34 hours. Then it dies.


To top this off, it was advertised as smelling like a dead corpse. (It smelled more like decomposing leaves, but I speak from ignorance, since I’m not around a lot of corpses.)

Obviously, Mark and I had to go see this phenomenon. And I believe every early evening expedition in the summer must be paired with a picnic.

So we went to see the smelly flower and then ate this lucious meal while lounging at the tables on the patio of the Botanical Garden.


Although the smelly plant is gone for another couple of years, you too can enjoy the picnic part of our expedition.

Here’s how your day should go if you want to end it with a glorious picnic:

1. Buy some flat bread. Costco sells it in big packages of Roll-Up Bread. It’s probably called something else at your local grocery store. It looks like this:


2. Arrange two pieces of flat-bread on two pieces of foil that are only slightly larger.

3. Make this rice.

4. Spread a thin layer of hummus over the bread, leaving about a 1/2 inch on each side.

5. Chop up some baby kale or spinach. Spread a thin layer of that on the hummus. (Keep every layer thin. Trust me.)

6. Spread a thing layer of the rice over the greens.

7. Chop up some colorful bell peppers. Spread them thinly over the rice. (You’re getting the idea.)

8. Carefully roll the wrap, starting with the end close to you. Push gently on the bread as it can tear easily. (Remember that time I told you to make each layer thin? If you didn’t follow my directions, this whole rolling process will be messy and your wrap won’t be as pretty.)

9. Wrap the pieces in the squares of foil, sealing the ends.

10. Grab some wine (or sparkling water if, like us, you live in a heavily populated area with open-container laws).

11. Have a picnic.

The End.

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Heat Wave

July 17, 2013

This week in D.C., it. is. hot. Let me say that again. It’s that time of year when I just avoid going outside. I briefly scamper out to water the crepe myrtle in the afternoon, looking around suspiciously as if I was in enemy terrritory.

I am such a wimp. Mark still bikes to and from work in this weather and just drinks some extra water. I refuse to even acknowledge that these temperatures exist. They don’t, in fact, in northern Michigan, and weather everywhere should imitate the example set forth by that place.

So I keep myself busy in air-conditioned places like my living room and car and pretend that it’s a balmy 72 outside. Which it is not.


Yesterday, for instance, I kept myself cool in the local Social Security Administration office. Not normally my locale of choice, but a mistake on my new (married) Social Security card forced me to spend two hours there in line. Not my happiest morning. Not my worst, either, since I freely acknowledge my addiction to people-watching and the people-watching material abounded between the elderly woman concerned with the child-bearing habits of her younger neighbors and the fight that broke out in line, for which there seemed to be no particular cause besides general boredom.

Did I mention that I also try to cook cooler foods when the heat is raging? Something about standing over a hot stove for hours when heat warnings are being issued doesn’t fit. Sometimes I just want a dinner tha is quick and light and happy. A picnic when picnicing is impossible, one might say.

I’d eat gelato every night for dinner if I were single, probably. But being married puts a damper on behavior like this. Last night was an exmple:

(9:04 p.m.) Emily: “I want one of those peanut-butter cookies.”

Mark: “Did you eat enough dinner?”

Emily: “Dinner was hours ago. I’m starving.”

Mark: “I biked 12 miles today and I’m not starving.”

Emily: “You don’t want a soft warm peanut-butter cookie?” (Notice my attempt to gain a partner in crime.)

Mark: “Not really.”

Silence ensued for about 30 minutes.

(9:34 pm) Emily: “I’m seriously famished. I think I’m dying. I need to go eat some of those cookies.”

Mark: “You’re going to turn us into one of those fat married couples.”

Emily: “Do you want me to die? I’m hungry!”

Mark: “Go eat. I’m not hungry.”

*More silence*

(10:04 pm) Emily: “You sure you don’t want to come eat cookies with me? You said it was important for us to do things together.” (Notice my subtle attempts to guilt him into joining me in my late-night search for food.)

Mark: “You are ridiculous. Go eat something if you’re hungry. I don’t like to eat this late. It’s bad for you.” (He’s so irritatingly reponsible sometimes.)

Emily: “It’s also bad for me to starve.”

Mark: “Then go eat. Just please don’t expect me to follow you in this fat-finding adventure.”

Don’t worry, dear readers. I promptly consumed enough peanut-butter cookies for both of us. No regrets.

But gelato and cookies aside, my favorite go-to this time of year is pasta salad. It works well because it’s a salad, a main course, and a side all in one. The recipe can be modified depending on the contents of the fridge. It takes about 15 minutes and the clean-up is minimal.

Pasta Salad

Pasta – 1 box, any shape.

Black large pitted olives – 1 can

Musrooms – 1/2 lb

Bell Pepper – 1 red

Nuts – 1/2 cup Pistacios or chopped walnuts or pecans

Celery – 3 stalks

Cherry tomatoes  – 1 handful

Fresh oregano  – 1/8 cup

Olive oil – 1/2 cup + 1 tbl.

White Wine vinegar – 1/4 cup

Balsamic vinegar – 1 tbl.

Garlic – 1/4 tsp.

Pepper – 1/4 tsp.

Sugar – 1/4 tsp

In a small pot, bring water and a 1 tbl. of olive oil to a rolling boil. Pour in pasta and boil for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, chop black olives, oregano, bell pepper, nuts, celery, and mushrooms. Combine with cherry tomatoes. 

Drain pasta and rinse in cold water until cool. Combine the pasta with the chopped vegetables in a large bowl and chill in the fridge. Meanwhile, whisk 1/2 cup olive oil, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, garlic, pepper, and sugar together in a measuring cup. Blend thoroughly and chill for 15 minutes.

Immediately before eating, blend the oil and vinegar mixture again and pour generously over the salad. Toss lightly.

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Monday Meal: Veggie & Bean Wrap

July 18, 2011

Sometimes, after a long day, dinner needs to not only be quick but substantial. This can be accomplished easily by modifying a quesadilla.

2 flour tortillas
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 an onion
1 can of refried black beans
1/4 cup of extra sharp Cheddar cheese, finely grated
2 tbls.  of milk
1 tbls.  olive oil
Additional extra sharp Cheddar cheese, finely grated

Turn heat on medium and pour olive oil into pan. While the oil warms, prepare peppers and onion. Saute on medium heat in olive oil until peppers are soft and flexible and onions are transparent.

While the vegetables are heating, heat the refried beans, milk, and cheese in another pan over medium heat. Remove the vegetables from the pan and allow tortillas to warm in the pan on low heat.

Sprinkle cheese lightly in a line down the center of each tortilla, leaving about half an inch of space between the top and bottom edges and the cheese.

Add a layer of beans on top of the cheese. Add sauteed vegetables. Tightly wrap tortilla around the cheese, beans, and vegetables.  Repeat for the second tortilla. Place both wraps back in the pan and cook on medium heat until cheese is fully melted and tortilla begins to brown.

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Monday Meal: Quesdilla

July 4, 2011

This recipe is quick, flexible, and satisfying.

2 flour tortillas
1/2 a bell pepper
1/2 an onion
olive oil
Sharp Cheddar cheese, finely grated

Pour 3-4 tbls. olive oil into pan. Thinly slice pepper and onion. Saute on medium heat in olive oil until peppers are soft and flexible and onions are transparent. Remove vegetables from pan.

Swish tortillas around in oil, making sure both sides of each are lightly covered. Let tortillas warm in pan on low heat. Remove tortillas from pan.

Cover half of each tortilla with a thin layer of cheese. Add a layer of vegetables. Fold uncovered layer of tortilla over covered half so that each tortilla resembles a half-moon.

Place both quesadillas in pan. Cook on medium heat and flip occasionally until each side is satisfactorily browned. Enjoy! And Happy Fourth of July!

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Monday Meal

June 27, 2011

Another one of my favorite, quick, go-to meals during the week is a twist on the simple grilled cheese sandwich.

 Pepper-Jack Cheese Panini

1/2 a pepper
1/2 a red onion
Pepper Jack cheese, thinly sliced
2 slices of sourdough bread
Olive oil

Pour 2 tbls. olive oil into a medium frying pan. Slice peppers and onion thinly. Saute sliced peppers and onions in olive oil on medium heat until onions are transparent and peppers are soft and flexible (about ten minutes). Transfer peppers and onions to a plate or bowl.

Sweep one side of each piece of bread around the pan to oil. (One side of each piece should be lightly covered in olive oil.) Lay one piece of bread flat in pan. Cover with one layer of thinly-sliced cheese. Cover cheese with sauteed onions and peppers. Add another layer of cheese. Add final piece of bread (oiled side up).

Cook on medium-heat, pressing firmly occasionally with a large spatula. Once cheese has begun to melt and the bottom-piece of bread has begun to brown, flip quickly.  Continue to cook, pressing firmly on occasion with spatula.

When cooked as desired, enjoy!

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Monday Meal

June 20, 2011
I love trying new recipes and expanding my food repertoire. There's just one tiny obstacle: the reality of time. In reality, I have a job that generally requires me to leave my before 7:45 in the morning; during a typical week I don't ever get home before 6:00 and often walk in the door after 7:00. 
This is not an unusual dilemma…..most of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues also work (or study) between 40 and 60 hours a week.
I refuse to eat dinner out for the sake of time. If I am spending time with friends over a meal, fine. But I have fully boycotted eating out or relying on fast food simply to save effort. Among other reasons, eating out tends to be both less healthful and more expensive than cooking. 
So how does one balance a desire for healthful, beautiful food with the reality of a crazy work week? Building an arsenal of quick yet healthful recipes takes time, but there are many healthful, creative, lovely meals that can be prepared with a minimum of time and effort.
For a while, Mondays around here will be dedicated to these kinds of recipes. I'm determined to build my repertoire and I hope you'll share in my search! For now, I'm going to share one of my go-to week-night meals.
Pasta with Veggies and Basil
1/2 a bell pepper
1/2 a red onion
Fresh basil leaves
Olive oil
Farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
Mozzarella cheese
Fill a small pot with hot water. Add 2 tablespoons (all measurements are approximate) of olive oil and stir. Let the water come to a full, rolling boil and then add pasta. Let the pasta boil for about 9 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Wash and chop the bell pepper, red onion, and fresh basil leaves. Place the chopped vegetables and basil in a medium frying-pan with about 1/8 cup of olive oil. Sprinkle generously with garlic and pepper. Saute on a medium-low heat until onions are transparent and peppers are pliable. 
Meanwhile, chop tomatoes. Place in a cereal-size bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese over the tomatoes. When the pasta is done, drain well and add to the bowl. Add sauteed vegetables. Stir. (The vegetables and pasta should be hot enough to melt the cheese.) Enjoy!

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One Chili Night…

February 2, 2011
One recent cold Saturday night found a group of people at my house for dinner. All of us were nearly strangers to each other and to the city. We came together over warm chili and soft bread and tangy lemon cupcakes to relax, to share, and to connect.
We laughed a lot about our persistent and often awkward attempts to feel at home in this sprawling strange city. We compared notes about work and friends and our homes far away. And after a few hours, we parted ways feeling much less like strangers and much more like co-wanderers and friends.

Gather some family, or some friends, or some friends-to-be together over a warm pot of chili this February.  When I used this familiar recipe, I halved the large quantity and still had plenty for six people as well as leftovers that lasted well into the week.

2 lbs. hamburger (extra lean)
1/2 large minced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz cans tomato sauce
1 6 oz tomato paste
2 16 oz can red beans (I used kidney because that's all I had on hand, but red are definitely preferable)
1 16 oz can white Northern beans
3 tbl chili powder
3 or 4 large fresh basil leaves (1 tsp crushed dry basil)
1 tsp ground pepper
½ cup Merlot or equivalent red wine (white is an acceptable substitute. Again, all I had on hand…)
In a large stock pot, brown hamburger, minced onion, and minced garlic cloves. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Simmer for at least 45 minutes and up to 3 hours.

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Chicken Fajitas

February 1, 2011

This recipe, I'll admit, almost feels like cheating because it's so quick and simple. But that's the heart of this blog, I suppose…carving out a satisfying, beautiful meal in a short space of time.

Saturday night, a friend came over rather spontaneously. With this recipe, I was able to quickly and easily prepare a wonderful meal for us to enjoy without too much forethought or preparation.

Chicken Fajitas

1 rotisserie chicken (or any leftover chicken you may already have on hand)
2 bell peppers
1 onion
Olive oil
Flour tortillas

First I purchased a rotisserie chicken from the store. The rotisserie chickens that every grocery store sells really are miracles. You can barely buy an uncooked chicken for the price of a cooked one.

I poured a little olive oil in a pan (1-2 tbls. should be sufficient.) Then I sliced up the peppers and onions thinly and added them to the pan. Next, I added small pieces of chicken. I sauteed the combination on low-medium heat, stirring constantly until the onions were transparent and malleable.

Meanwhile, in a shallow frying pan, I poured about 1tbl. of olive oil. I tossed a flour tortilla into the pan and turned the heat on low. Sweep the tortilla around a bit to be sure that the entire bottom is lightly covered in olive oil.

When the tortilla begins to warm and soften, flip it over, covering the other side in oil. Continue to flip the tortilla at intervals until it is soft and most of the oil has been absorbed. Avoid allowing the tortilla to become crispy.

Once the vegetables and chicken are done, place the tortilla on a plate and add the vegetables. Wrap, adding cheese if desired. Voila!

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