Thursday, February 26, 2009

Weathering the Weather

Take a good look at today's date. Now keep that in mind when I tell you this. Chicago is in the grip of a rather lengthy thunderstorm. And it's not the first one of the year. Last year we had one in January that spawned a few tornados in the outlying areas and nearby small towns. This is the weather we should be getting in say April. Or MAYBE late March. Not the tail end of February.
That being said, I have a love-hate thing going with thunderstorms. I love the drama of it. The energy. I hate the possibility that it could be hiding a tornado. I hate, hate, hatehatehate tornados. They scare the bejeezus out of me. It is currently 2:30 in the afternoon and so dark that even with floor to ceiling windows that stretch the length of an entire wall, I have to have a light on. The street lights are on! It's been staying light longer lately and we've been spoiled by that I think. Because this just plain sucks!
So last Sunday it was pretty chilly out. So much so that I didn't get a walk in. I didn't really get much of one Saturday for the same reason. So last Sunday we made chili. TWO FREAKING BATCHES. We're gonna be eating chili for WEEKS! I like chili, I do. Just not quite that much. There are currently about 6 containers that each hold two servings or more in my mother's freezer. And two in mine. This is not counting the half a stock pot that is sitting in her fridge. Or the 10 helpings that have already been consumed since we made it. If any one has ideas or suggestions on how to doctor chili or turn it into something else, please, let me know!

Texas Style Chili
serves about 6 (really hungry people)

3 lb. ground chuck
1 lb ground pork
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
1 minced serrano pepper de-seeded
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp chili caribe
1 Tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
Four 16 oz cans kidney beans, drained
1 can black beans

Combine the ground chuck, pork, onions, and garlic in a stockpot. Cook over medium heat until the meat is browed; stir the meat to break it up as it cooks. Stir in the spices and stir well to mix. Cover, and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, beans and and serrano pepper simmer for 20 minutes longer.

Note: you can add fresh cilantro when adding beans. You will probably want all the chili fixin's to go on top of this, sour cream, shredded cheddar, chopped green onions, cilantro, and for a nice touch chopped avocado. You can also add a bit of beer to the chili when adding the tomatoes if your chili looks too dry.
My chili actually has WAY more spices and peppers but I'm not gonna tell you which ones! But this is the bascic recipe to start with. Play with the recipe, make it your own.

--Little Bird has a stocked freezer

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's Not Just For Soap

Now that the worst of winter seems to be behind us, weekends are for walking. Eight miles this Saturday, and a bit less Sunday. Given that Mama Bird did not have to go to work today, we walked. Only about 3 miles, but we walked. Walking seems to have helped my recent moods, getting out in the fresh air and sun is always a good thing.
As I said, the organization continues, next up is my clothes closet. After that, I'm not sure. There are many other areas that could use the help, but without bookshelves it will be difficult. Perhaps I'll turn to thinning out the stuff I don't really need.
This afternoon Mama Bird and I baked cupcakes. Dark chocolate with lavender icing. We totally cheated and used a box mix for the cake part. We also cheated on the icing. It was from a can and was plain white icing. To this we added minced lavender, about 1/2 a teaspoon. Also added was food coloring to make it a pale, pale purple. 3 drops red to 2 drops blue for one can of icing. After they were iced we sprinkled lavender over them. Not only were they pretty to look at they taste divine!
In two weeks I will have lived here in Chicago for six years. March first. Sometimes it feels like I've been here forever, that this is where I belong. Other times it feels like I just moved here yesterday and it is like a revelation. When I was new here it felt that way. That weird duality. I felt like I had come home, but was also struck with the amazing wonder that is this city. There are things to do and places to go here. And not all of them cost an arm and a leg. Yes, winter here can be a pain (literally) and summer is fleeting. But it's a great city to live in. For one thing this city is pedestrian friendly. You can walk ANYWHERE. And I usually walk everywhere. If the weather is bad, or it's late in the evening I take a bus or a cab. If I'm going to an event with friends who drive, I catch a ride with them. I can't wait for summer when walking is easier (warmer) and the days are light for longer. For Millennium Park to start it's season of concerts again, so I can picnic while enjoying the music and the city together.
In honor of that six year anniversary I am planning a special meal. Roasted Duck, Haricot Verts with Walnut Oil, and Gratin Potatoes. The plan is to reserve the left over duck fat and make fries later. Thus the Frydaddy will be christened. I have never cooked duck before so this will be interesting. But we don't plan on using fancy sauces, and the rest of the menu should balance that out.

Haricot Verts with Walnuts and Walnut Oil

1/3 cup walnuts
sea salt
3/4 pound haricots verts, stems trimmed
3 tbsp walnut oil
coarsely ground black pepper or grains of paradise

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts in a small baking dish. Bake until you can hear the walnuts sizzling or smell them when you open the oven door, about 5 minutes. (Set your timer!!) Remove from oven and chop coarsely.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water, seasoned with sea salt so that it tastes like ocean water (not quite, but salty), to a boil. Add the haricots verts and cook until just tender but still firm, about 4 minutes. (Don't over cook: they will continue to cook out of the water) Drain, then spread out on a kitchen towel to soak up excess water.
Gather the beans while still hot and toss in a bowl with the warm walnuts and the walnut oil. Season generously with pepper (or grains of paradise) and perhaps a bit more salt.

serves 2 ( double or triple as needed)
The green beans in this are supposed to be the really skinny kind, not cut skinny, naturally skinny. This recipe is adapted from a book my bestest friend gave me. And Grains of Paradise can be found at most specialty spice stores.

--Little Bird will fall into a sugar coma tonight.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Still Organizing

Still organizing. I have decided to think about it as if I am moving. And thin out the crap accordingly. It's still gonna take time. A lot of time. And several trips to the Container Store. I think a trip to Ikea will be necessary too. Relax Mama Bird, I won't need to go there for another four or five months.
Some years ago Mama Bird and I took the Metra Train to Shaumburg to go to Ikea. HUGE mistake. The train stop is nowhere near the store. And, being way the hell out in the 'burbs, there were no taxis. Did I mention it was cold? No? It was. We eventually got a taxi (we called one) and spent something like $20 to have him drive us in circles before he took us where we wanted to go. When we finally got to the store, Mama Bird, who doesn't like to shop in the first place, had VERY little patience left. We ate, I got the comforter I was looking for, and we left. We may have poked around the kitchen department too. We took yet another taxi (this one didn't make a bunch of unnecessary circles) back to the train stop and then took the train back into town. This is why it will be difficult at best to get her to agree to go. Even if I offer to buy shower curtain liners (plural) for her.
But this is all months away. In the meantime I'll just go to the Container Store. Again.

--Little Bird is planning

Monday, February 9, 2009


The unseasonable warm weather has wrought a change. Mama Bird would say it's a good change. I just think it's weird. I'm organizing. My closets, under the sinks, and other random parts of the apartment.
I made a list of the areas in my place that need attention. I should probably mention that I am a compulsive list maker. I made a list of the things I will need to facilitate said organization. I made still another list that compiled the two and have been checking off and marking the date of the things that get done.
For instance today I : cleared out the one shelf in the hall closet that was full of old terra cotta plant pots (from a failed herb garden attempt) and other detritus. I installed some small hooks in that same closet to hang my canvas shopping bags (yes I really use them). I installed another hook in same closet to hold the duster and the measuring tape. In the other closet I used the last two hooks so the coolers could be hung up and out of the way. I also cleared out a bunch of crap from under the bathroom sink and from under the kitchen sink. AND I cleared out a lot of the useless or out of date stuff from my medicine cabinet.
Both hall closets now look pretty damned good right now. They both could use a bit more work, one needs some stacking bins, and the other has stuff in it that I can't mess with (it's not mine).
I have never been an organized person. It's just not been my nature. There were very few things I kept organized. My knives and my... um... well, I guess that's ALL I ever kept organized. I am finding it is easier to be organized with the proper equipment. Hooks, bins, boxes. Stuff like that. My goal is to get the big stuff organized. Then start organizing the little stuff. Big stuff like shoes, and books and art supplies in general. Small stuff like separating and storing embroidery floss for cross stitch projects. Bookcases would go a long way in the grand scheme of things, but they may have to wait a bit.
In all of this organizing I have been tossing ridiculous crap that I have for some reason saved. The last five drops of a particular body wash, the empty bandaid wrappers that never made it to the trash. The hair color that didn't work from when I had the hot pink hair in the back. The hair color that did work, but I no longer have long or pink hair. The shoes Mama Bird gave me when she decided she didn't want them. My feet are smaller. Bags and bags of paper trash. Old lists. Old musings. Books that I have read until they are literally falling apart.
I figure it will be July before I am really close to done. Done done, not getting there. But clothing thinned out, shoes organized, cross stitch stuff organized, small stuff too. Though I probably won't have those shelves yet. I MIGHT have additional display shelves for the salt and pepper collection though.
No recipe today, though I did make toffee bars with Mama Bird yesterday. That recipe is from the Betty Crocker cook book.

--Little Bird is cleaning nest.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Just a note.

So I'm feeling better. Sorta. Kinda. I have no idea why I felt/feel this way. But believe me, I will be having a little chat with my doctor about a possible medication change. I don't know if that's the answer, but it couldn't hurt. I think.
I'm in the process of thinning out all my stuff. Partly because I need to (the stuff is piling up) and partly because it keeps me busy and focused on something. The ficus tree went yesterday. Sometime in the next week I hope to divest myself of a desk and desk chair. The desk is in parts that are being stored in my closet. The desk chair? It's orange. A sort of vaguely translucent, candy orange color. If I had room for it, and a desk, I'd keep it.
What I really need are shelves. Bookshelves. Lots of them. You see, I have a lot of books. And I'm only going to get more. I also need a way to display a growing salt and pepper shaker collection. I have 4 of those picture ledge type shelves, and my collection is twice too big to fit on them. I have about 60 odd sets. If it seems like an odd thing to collect, you should know I try to only get the tackiest and kitschy of all shakers.
The one cool new thing about what I've done in my room is the birdie lights. I got them at Ikea, and there are five birds on the cord. So, having gotten rid of the tree I needed something to do with them. I took a wooden dowel and wrapped the cord around it. The birds are on clips, so I clipped these to the dowel too. The clips actually make the whole thing stand up. It sits on the heater/air conditioner unit.
Now that I've rambled on and on about essentially nothing, I'll stop.

Roasted Eggplant Salad

2 medium sized eggplants
1 bunch green onions
3 medium sized vine ripened tomatoes
2 cloves garlic minced
olive oil
1 red bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped

1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Pierce eggplants all over with a fork, and brush completely with olive oil. Put in roasting pan in oven for about 1/2 an hour, or until tender.
3. Remove eggplants from pan, and remove the skins (this is tricky, if roasted correctly the skins just slide right off, if not...well...pepare for some sore fingers) discard the skins. Chop into small pieces and set aside to cool.
4. Chop all the remaining ingredients and mix them together.
6. When eggplant is completely cool add to the other veggies. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can add kalamata olives to this, as well as cucumber.

It should be noted that this works best in an electric oven. I have no idea why.

I am also looking into the logistics of a failparty. Not at my place, but in town.

--Little Bird is wishing for spring