Monday, July 27, 2009

Own It!

If you're going to be "That Guy," then you'd better be ready to own it.

Dave and I finally made it back to Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio's Rollercoast, this past weekend, and we were delighted at the spectacular people watching it once again delivered. For those of you who have experienced it, you know that while the coasters are record-breaking, the beach is beautiful and the 360 degree views are panoramic, Cedar Point has another, much more lofty, credit to it's name: It's always a mecca for the fashion backward, including people decked out in matching couple outfits, fanny packs and big 80s hair. Chances are, that's one of the reasons you enjoy going. In fact, Dave and I are so enamored with the fashion displays at CP that we dressed as a Cedar Point couple a few Halloweens ago. Let me just tell you that had we worn our costumes last weekend, we probably wouldn't have gotten so much as a raised eyebrow. How awesome is that?

This year's fashion theme was dominated largely by extreme short shorts, though we did see our fair share of fanny packs, man tanks and even a banana clip or two. But two of our most memorable outfit sightings were actually ensembles we admired. Yes, we were shocked as well.

The first was a guy wearing a "Callahan Auto" tee shirt. The other was a fella whose shirt sported the words, "More Cowbell." As we are obsessed with the movie Tommy Boy and pretty much all things Will Ferrell, both shirts got us a little excited. OK, so the Tommy Boy obsession is more my thing, but Dave knew he had to hop on that train if he was going to marry me. And he has lived up to my - high - expectations ever since. (For the uninitiated, Callahan Auto is the fictional Sandusky, OH auto parts company from Tommy Boy, and "More Cowbell" is from the infamous Will Ferrell/Christopher Walken SNL sketch. If you haven't seen Tommy Boy, RENT IT! If you've never experienced the cowbell, GOOGLE SEARCH IT NOW! You won't regret either decision.)

While I was pleasantly surprised to see such ingenuity - and surprisingly appropriate humor - in Cedar Point garb, I was shocked by the complete disparity in the reactions of the two fellas wearing the shirts.

When we approached the guy in the Callahan Auto shirt (we just HAD to know where he got it, as we're co-hosting a Tommy Boy theme party and were eyeing that sucker up as a possible prop), he was gracious and didn't seem particularly put out by our enthusiasm. I should note, though, that it was somewhat obvious we were the first people ever to actually stalk him over his tee shirt. But I'm sure he was flattered. Who wouldn't be?

Well, I'll tell you who wouldn't be! On the exact other end of the spectrum was the reaction we received from the guy wearing the Cowbell tee. As we passed him, I excitedly demonstrated my enthusiasm for his cult tee shirt choice by giving him a little "More Cowbell!" whoop, and pumping my fist in the air. It would be an understatement to say he didn't not react with the expected affirmation. In fact, the dude looked at me like I'd threatened him with bodily harm from a grapefruit spoon! So herein lies my point: If you're going to be That Guy wearing the tee shirt, YOU'D BETTER OWN IT! You do no justice to the shirt, the comic geniuses that spawned its existence, or the loyal (and cultish) audience said comic genius has amassed. You really should be ashamed of yourself.

Because That Guy was so clearly not one with his inner funny, I have to assume someone gave him the cowbell guy that shirt. Chances are he was not even aware of what it meant.

Sigh. It's such a tragedy when good humor is wasted on the humorless.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Viva La FemJocks!

If there's anything I've learned in the three years since taking up tennis again, it's that sports can really destroy a girl's pedicure. All of that running, stopping and starting is great cardio, but it sure takes it's toll on your pretty little digits. It doesn't matter how many pedicures I get during the summer: One good singles match and my toenails are chipped and snagged like a hobbit's.

As a life long non-jock, it never occurred to me the sacrifices those talented gals made in the personal pampering department. Yes, I knew they were dedicated, staying after school to run many, many miles (horrific!), getting up at the crack of dawn and jumping in a pool when it was 10 degrees outside (absolutely unthinkable!), not shaving their legs for weeks on end to build stamina and resistance (OK, so this wasn't unique to my swimmer friends. Most of my fellow all-girls school classmates passed on shaving too, until it was necessary for their date that weekend. Why bother shaving every day when you can instead sleep for 10 minutes longer and cover your gams with tights? It's really all about getting your priorities straight, ladies). I just never realized these fit and dedicated athletes were also giving up pretty feet!

Because I was blatantly terrible at sports as a kid, I never thought I would ever be so dedicated to something that could affect how cute I looked in the fabulous shoes I can't resist purchasing. I mean, for as much as my parents tried to find something for me to latch onto, I quit just about every activity I tried when it wasn't immediately obvious I'd be the next superstar. I gave up on swimming lessons once I could float, tread and motor around the pool because it was entirely too early and too cold to be jumping into a pool. This explains why attempting to do the freestyle or any other formal "stroke" just results in my running into the pool walls.

I passed on more than one session of tennis lessons because running laps around the courts in 90 degree midday summer heat just plain sucked. (As an aside, was it really necessary for the instructor to make a bunch of 10 year-olds run laps in beginner tennis lessons? Shouldn't we have been more concerned with HITTING THE BALL?)

I was not coordinated, rhythmic or graceful enough to keep up with the ballet or tap (though I did LOVE the costumes!). After a summer or two of getting stuck playing catcher in the local recreation department's softball league, I became one with the fact that NOBODY SHOULD HAVE TO CROUCH DOWN FOR THAT LONG! I mean, really. And my abilities during my short stint at basketball and volleyball were limited to the fact that I was tall.

Now that I've developed a love of certain sports as an adult, I realize that passion comes with some sacrifices (my days racing on sail boats created so many bruises a woman once conducted an impromptu intervention in an Old Navy dressing room because she thought my explanation of my bruises as "boat bites" was a blatant demonstration of denial).

So I feel it's only fitting to give a shout out to all my girlfriends who rocked their inner jock, getting up early, staying late, going on dates with furry legs or bruised appendages and just generally busting their cute butts in pursuit of competition. You go, my sassy sistas!

And now you all deserve a little pampering, so get yourself to the spa already. And call me when you make that appointment, because now that my tennis season is over, I fully intend to schedule a pedicure that might actually last for more than a couple days.

Viva La FemJocks!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bountiful Goodness

Sometimes a challenge is just the thing to get you out of a rut.

I love to cook, but summer is always a time when I tend to revert back to my quickest, easiest go-to recipes because it seems we're always on the run. Between playing as much tennis as possible, keeping up with the chores and just enjoying the extra hours of daylight, we're rarely home in time to make a big meal. All of this summer fun means I've been cooking less, which is such a waste now that all of nature is exploding with fresh fruits and veggies.

Fortunately, we have our very own garden to sow and Dave took initiative this spring to sign us up for a local CSA (community supported agriculture). Basically, you buy a share of produce grown at local farms and every week you pick up your portion of whatever they harvest. We get ours from LEAF in Lakewood and once a week get a surprise bounty. It's an amazing way to gain access to fresh fruits and veggies and the benefits are numerous:

1. It's inexpensive.
2. You're supporting local farms and businesses.
3. You're reducing your carbon footprint by buying local.
4. You're exposed to all kinds of new produce you might not normally try (consider kohlrabi, celeriac and kale, for instance).
5. You reduce exposure to pesticides and other preservatives because whether it's certified "organic" or not, your food has fewer miles to travel to your kitchen.

And this brings me to my final point: You're forced to use what you pick up. Not only must you "clean out the fridge" as is my hubby's constant goal, but you also need to be somewhat creative about it, particularly if you've never prepared that week's items.

Now, in the interest of fair disclosure, I must admit I haven't been very good about using up our produce in creative ways so far this season. In fact, for the past few weeks, I've been pawning off our half of the share we split on our friend Kristine because we just haven't been home. Fortunately for us, she's quite the cook herself and has been kind enough to invite us over for several delicious and nutritious meals made from the bounty (note that the hubby shamelessly invited himself over to enjoy the beets because, as he said, "Kelly doesn't like them so she won't make them." Insert the sad Dave face and you know why Kristine invited us over. Her beet and goat cheese salad was delicious, by the way).

But this week I'm turning over a new leaf (pardon the pun!). I vow to use our share of the bounty and to try out several new recipes. To do this, I've consulted one of our favorite cookbooks, Farmer John's, which quite handily was compiled by a CSA farmer in Illinois to help his shareholders learn new ways to use their produce (great to know I'm not alone in my quest, or in being unfamiliar with how the heck you're supposed to use celeriac!).

And let me tell you, our share this week was bountiliicious. We have zucchini, summer squash, pickling cucumbers, kale, beets, romaine lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, onion, green tomatoes and eggplant. And that's not even taking into account the massive amounts of herbs just harvested from our own garden, including basil, dill, lemon balm and mint. So here are a few of the recipes I have in mind to use up this week's hooch. I'm also sharing the delicious dish Kristine made for us last night using the previous week's bounty. I will definitely make it myself sometime soon.

Whether or not you're signed up for your local CSA, you should definitely consider taking advantage of the fresh, seasonal produce to create new levels of yumminess in your own kitchen!

Kale and White Bean Soup
with sundried tomatoes and saffron

(adapted to from Farmer John's Cookbook)

3 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 cups leeks
1 medium potatoes, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 1/2 cups peeled chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
6-7 large kale leaves, stems removed (3-4 cups)
3/4 cups cooked or 1 can (rinsed, drained) white beans
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and fennel seeds, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add onion and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add potato, carrot and parsnip and cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

2. Add fresh or canned tomatoes. Pour in stock. Stir in bay leaves and oregano. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce heat so it continues to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the kale, beans and sun-dried tomatoes. Simmer until veggies are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat; add saffron.

Marinated Cucumber Dill Salad
(from Farmer John's Cookbook)

3 large cucumbers, very thinly sliced
1 tbs coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2/3 cup white or apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
2 tbs finely chopped fresh dill

1. In a large bowl, use your hands to thoroughly but gently mix the cucumbers and salt. Place a plate on top of the cucumbers, then place a 2- or 3- pound weight on the plate (helps release salt). Set the cukes aside to marinate at room temp. for several hours or in the fridge overnight.

2. Drain the cukes thoroughly in a colander and pat dry on a clean dish towel. Rinse and dry the bowl, then return the cukes to the bowl.

3. Mix vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper in small pot over medium heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 mins. Remove from heat.

4. Our the hot vinegar mixture over the cukes. Sprinkle with dill and mix to combine.

Baked Zucchini Halves with Wild Rice and Quinoa
(from Farmer John's Cookbook)

1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise
1 ½ cups cooked quinoa
½ cup wild rice
(note, I may substitute bulgar wheat for one of these grains)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 rib celery, chopped
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
Butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut out the center from each half of the zucchini with a paring knife, being careful not to puncture the bottom or the sides; reserve the centers. Transfer the hollow halves, cut-side up, to a baking dish.

Coarsely chop the zucchini centers and put them in a large bowl. Add the quinoa, wild rice and Parmesan. Stir until combined.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery, cook for 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the bread crumbs are well mixed in and heated through, about 1 minute.

Add the bread crumb mixture to the quinoa/rice mixture and combine well.
Stuff hollow zucchini halves with mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 40 mins.

Remove foil. Continue baking until zucchini is very tender and the filling is golden brown, 10 to 20 mins.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan
(My own concoction, so consider the measurements just "guidelines"! I never measure unless I'm following a recipe)
Serves 4

1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced into thin strips lengthwise (make them thin if you like crispy eggplant and thicker if you like yours meatier)
1 cup bread crumbs (you can use any kind: regular, whole wheat, panko, cornmeal)
1 tbs Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
2 egg whites
jar or homemade marinara sauce
whole wheat pasta
Optional: 1/2 cup fresh shredded Romano cheese or mozzarella

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add dash water to egg whites and whisk with fork in wide bottomed bowl. Pour bread crumbs, Italian Seasoning, salt and pepper into separate wide bottomed bowl or plate and mix. Dip eggplant in egg whites, covering both sides, then use same dipping technique with bread crumbs.

Lay coated eggplant strip onto baking sheet (if you have a wire rack to put on your baking sheet, this will work best. Otherwise, be sure to spray it really well). Bake for approximately 15 -20 minutes until bread crumbs brown, turning once and checking often. Note: The thinner the eggplant, the faster it will cook). If you like, sprinkle the tops with fresh Romano or mozzarella cheese. Or both if you're feeling spunky! Put back in oven until melted.

Serve with pasta and marinara sauce.

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans
This is the recipe Kristine made for us last night! Yum.
(from Eating Well)
Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 16-ounce package shelf-stable gnocchi (see Tip)
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup water
6 cups chopped chard leaves (about 1 small bunch) or spinach
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
¼ cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often, until plumped and starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and water. Cover and cook until the onion is soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add chard (or spinach) and cook, stirring, until starting to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Stir in the gnocchi and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 3 minutes.

Tip: Look for shelf-stable gnocchi near other pasta in the Italian section of most supermarkets.

Nutrition Information
Per serving: 325 calories; 7 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 8 mg cholesterol; 55 g carbohydrate; 14 g protein; 6 g fiber; 616 mg sodium; 360 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (50% daily value), Vitamin C (40% dv), Calcium & Iron (19% dv).3 Carbohydrate ServingsExchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 1 lean meat, 1 fat

Zuppe Toscana
(This is one Kristine's sister Ashlee created to mimic one of her Olive Garden favorites. It's extremely tasty! Check out her other recipes at Thanks to Kristine for making this for us when Dave invited us over for dinner.)

1/2 lb. Italian turkey sausage
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes, quartered and sliced
4 c. chicken stock
2 c. 2% milk
2 c. shredded kale (or spinach)
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes

In a soup pot, saute sausage over medium heat. Lightly brown, drain, and put back in pot over medium-low. Saute in garlic and onions, season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.
After 5 minutes, add in potatoes and stock.

Cover and bring to a simmer, cook for 10 minutes. Add milk and spinach, bring back to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve with a salad and crusty bread.

(Just pick your favorite herb! Basil, Lemon Balm and Parsley all work well. You can also used cooked kale or spinach)

1/2 cup herbs
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
6 tbs olive oil or chicken broth if you want to reduce the fat (another trick from Ashlee)
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 tbs fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Optional: toss in a few sundried tomatoes add a different twist

Combine ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Use on pasta, toasted bread or sandwiches.

Note: Pesto freezes well, so it's a great way to use up your herbs. Put spoonfuls into an ice tray, let freeze and transfer to freezer safe bags. This is great for winter nights when fresh herbs are more scarce/expensive. Just add to skillet with veggies and pour over pasta or defrost in the microwave.