Friday, April 29, 2011

the stare-down

This is what I deal with every day starting around 4pm. "If I stare hard enough and look pathetic enough, surely she'll feed me early today!"

fun with artichokes

On Easter, I cooked the baby artichokes from last week's CSA haul. Cleaned them down to their tiny hearts, sauteed them with garlic and walnuts, and tossed that with some gnocchi and lemon zest (and perhaps a pat of butter). Springy and lovely, but I think I'll try something even simpler with this week's even-tinier artichokes:

It's perfect because I've been craving calamari. I just hope they have chopped squid at the grocery store...I'm not sure I'm ready to dissect a whole squid. My first time cooking live clams and mussels freaked me out enough.

takes a lot of leaf-removing to get to the heart

gnocchi with artichokes and walnuts - not so pretty when your artichokes turn brown the instant you slice them

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Easter was a lovely day, you know, aside from being thousands of miles away from all of my family and my husband spending the day at work. But I got dressed up anyway and schlepped off to church where I had to park a bazillion miles away because I didn't get there an hour ahead of time. On the upside, it was another warm sunny day, mass was outdoors under a giant tent, and the choir sang, I kid you not, the version of Joyful, Joyful from Sister Act 2 (minus the rap obviously and possibly unfortunately). The reason I recognized it? Sister Act 2 happened to be one of my sister's and my favorite movies when we were teens. We had practically every line memorized. Embarrassing, maybe, but who doesn't have a guilty pleasure movie...or 5?

I cooked a nice dinner too (although in my mind, I usually cook a nice dinner!) One thing I re-learned: don't roast a leg of lamb to 163 degrees. Seriously, Trader Joe's, I knew that was too high, but I followed your package instructions anyway. Dry lamb just isn't as good as juicy pink lamb. The leftovers made decent tacos though!

Lamb Tacos:
1. Simmer cut-up lamb in 1 cup water, 0.5 cup ketchup, 1-2 chopped chipotles in adobe, 2 crushed garlic cloves, oregano & salt & pepper.

2. Serve on corn tortillas with queso fresco or feta, lettuce, and other desired taco fixings.

One of my taco fixings was the nopales (cactus pads) I mentioned last week. 

Luckily, the needles had already been scraped off when we picked them up at our CSA. I experimented with this foreign food by searing them in a hot frying pan and slicing them up. 

Unfortunately, the amount of slime that came off the sliced cactus was alarming. They tasted good - surprisingly lemony - but the texture was similar to okra (kinda icky). Next time I have the chance to cook them, I'll try another method I found online: chop raw, boil in salted water with baking soda, rinse, and then sear in a hot pan.

Have you cooked with any adventurous ingredients recently?

Monday, April 25, 2011

get out

Spring and its tolerable temps are quickly fleeting here in Phoenix. Pair that with a masochistic desire to tear up our yard and there's not much time left to get out and explore the desert.

Our last hike was over 3 weeks ago. We drove 40 minutes out to Usery Mountain Regional Park which is right on the edge of Phoenix's suburban mega-sprawl. We didn't quite make it all the way around the mountain (7 miles) and even still, the poor doggie was wiped out on our way back to the car. I think she really appreciated the cheese I shared with her during our post-hike gorging at In-n-Out. It made the hike completely worth it.

Ocotillo flowers.

Shade is hard to come by out here.

I love me a dead cactus.

Craaaaaazy arms.

I walked a bit further than our turn-around point to catch a glimpse of the Four Peaks.

Ginger scrambled up this steep hill in pursuit of a lizard. And then she couldn't get down.

See how exhausted she looks towards the end of the hike? I've never before seen her lay down to drink her water.

I bet he thought about stealing this saguaro for our yard.

Friday, April 22, 2011

tiny things = cute

Our CSA haul is pretty exciting this week. It includes 6 adorable artichokes and 2 nopales. I'm skeptical that the tiny artichokes will yield much edible matter but they'll be fun to photograph. Here's a bad iphone preview:

Can you see my battle scar from yardwork? I almost lopped off my fingertip with pruning shears last weekend. It bled A TON and warranted a tetanus shot for me but looks nowhere as painful as Todd's arms - completely covered in scratches from removing deadwood from all of our shrubs. I'll spare you from that image.

And more than likely you're wondering what nopales are. Prickly pear cactus pads! More on that in a few days. Off to hunt for a recipe...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

afternoon shadows

Lounging by the pool - but not in it yet. Still a wee bit chilly.

Friday, April 15, 2011

two more things

I'm link-happy today. Wanted to share two more reasons why Arcade Fire inspires me.

When I first listened to their first album, Funeral, back in 2005, I assumed they were super serious, pretentious and a little scary. Here are two great examples of how my first impression was totally inaccurate:

who the heck is Arcade Fire?

Finally checked off a long-standing item on my life's to-do list Wednesday night: saw Arcade Fire in concert! And it was amazing! While the venue was a way too large for my tastes (a 10,000 seat theater isn't exactly intimate), the energy was high and the band expertly translated the highly emotional qualities of their recordings to the stage.

P.S. This is where this post's title comes from.

Highlights (besides the entire show):
  • Stage was set up like a drive-in theater complete with (Harry Potter!) trivia and this fantastic movie trailer projected onto the video screen right before the band came on. It set "The Suburbs" mood quite well. They're such a thoughtful, passionate, theatrical band. They were there to put on a SHOW, not just another boring straight concert.
  • Regine skipping around the stage in her gold dress and sequined and fringed wrist cuffs - playing the drums, accordion, hurdy-gurdy, tambourine, singing, dancing...
  • Will Butler, the most animated crazy person ever, running around the pit, beating the living daylights out of his drum and hugging unsuspecting concert-goers.
And here's a thoughtful review of the show - far better than I could attempt to write. Part of the reason Arcade Fire is one of my favorite bands, besides the amazing relatable music they make, is summed up by this quote from the above review: "the band's ability to project a mix of showmanship and humility while forging a connection to the people they played for is what really stood out."

Definitely not the same as being there in person, but a fan recorded fairly decent clips of much of their performance Wednesday night. I added a few other links from other shows. 

I just thought I'd type this all down - mostly as a diary-type entry for myself. And hey - maybe Arcade Fire will score a few more fans too.

Encore break
Ready to Start
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) 
Mountains Beyond Mountains

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

is this weird?

It's my new favorite snack that I concocted using random ingredients lying around in the pantry. I wanted to try bulgur wheat as a breakfast cereal but it just wasn't that good heated up with milk. This is MUCH tastier.

1. Cook up some bulgur.
2. Spoon some warm bulgur into a bowl.
3. Add a bit of honey, shredded sweetened coconut, salted nuts and dried cranberries.
4. Stir and eat!

It's kind of like a granola bar that doesn't stick together. A little sweet, a little salty, a little chewy - a tasty way to get some whole grains into your tummy. Unless I'm just weird.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


It just stopped raining and it's only 50 degrees out. (I swear it feels colder though - darn desert turning me into a wuss.) Todd's out there digging a hole for his precious blood orange tree that he called all over the city trying to locate. Since it rained half the day already, you'd think the ground would be nice and loosened up. It was...for about 3 inches down.

I'm definitely impressed by his planting gusto. This will be his 7th large hole dug. If only we had two shovels, I could help out... One more big plant to go and then lots of little guys. And then we sit back and watch everything grow!

Friday, April 8, 2011

blossom week: day 5

To end the week, I present to you two more strange flowers.

This first flower is at the end of a long stalk on one of my new succulents. I bought a bunch at the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum's Spring plant sale and I just got a wide terracotta dish so all the wacky succulents can hang out together. Another weekend project.

And this is a fuzzy flower cluster from one of our two eucalyptus trees.

They remind me of the muppets - specifically the mahna mahna number.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

blossom week: day 4

Our awesome ginormous Mediterranean Fan Palm spits out these funky flowers:

And Oleander blossoms - toxic to dogs but luckily Ginger has no interest in them. She sticks to munching on grass.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

blossom week: day 3

We have at least eight varieties of cacti in the front yard. And I can only identify one with certainty. This is not that one. But I do know that it produced the earliest cactus flowers of the season. Pretty!

Here's the one that I do know - prickly pear. It doesn't have flowers right now, but I had to take a photo of its strange paddle buds. I'm not sure why but my skin gets all crawly whenever I look at those things. <shudder>

And another cactus just started blooming yesterday!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

blossom week: day 2

In honor of their last day in our backyard, today I share with you three surprising blooms.

Texas sage is everywhere here in Phoenix and is most often shaped to "perfection". It's a pity because when you let the branches grow naturally, they sprout out pretty little purple flowers, exuberantly after generous rains. We have roughly 15 of these guys in our yard and I think they were planted back in 1988 when the house was built. They've suffered from all the taming over the years, and some of them are just way too big for the space. We'll have to find another way to bring purple into the yard, because it's just so pretty.

Miniscule rosemary flowers - the bees LOVE them.

And Indian Hawthorne. This shrub is hidden behind a sprawling rosemary bush. It's too bad because it survived our exceptionally cold winter like a trooper and is blooming like crazy right now. I'd ask the landscapers to extract it intact so I can plant it elsewhere in the yard but it's a whole lot bigger than I remembered.

Monday, April 4, 2011

backyard war zone

Chaos and destruction are in the works for tomorrow. The targets of this deadly mission?

Overgrown mangled Texas Sage hedges. From another angle:

 Insane quantities of rosemary and more Texas sage:

Don't forget the half-dead bottlebrush tree monstrosity. I hope to hear our next door neighbors clapping when that thing comes down.

In the next few weeks after the epic battle, the plan is to create a beautiful low-water low-maintenance desert garden. (Designs by Todd, "Helpful" Suggestions by me.) I hope the cheery new garden will help me get past the guilt of ripping out some perfectly fine plants. That poor rosemary doesn't know what's coming.

april blossom week

The yard isn't in full bloom yet (the oleanders and red bird of paradise took quite a beating with the handful of freezes we had), but there is still quite a bit of Spring color already. Wanna see? I'll be posting a few snaps every day this week.

First up are the edibles. My Purple Cherokee tomato plant. This is going to be a funky-looking tomato.

The orange tree has been blooming for a few weeks. It smells heavenly!

And tiny oranges are starting to grow. They'll be ready next January. Until then, we still have some second-rate oranges (we already got all the best low-hanging fruit) and good grapefruit to pick (they survive on the tree longer than oranges.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

etsy rocks

Etsy is the best. How else would we ever hear about chairs made from surfboards and bowls molded from produce? Here are a few cool finds I've come across lately:

  • If I lived in Hawaii (and was made of money), these re-purposed surfboard chairs would totally be planted on my patio.
  • Vegetabowls? The shop name speaks for itself. So cute!
  • And a sign from The Steel Fork will most definitely be hanging in my kitchen soon. As soon as I can decide on the perfect word...

arrr matey