Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A rambly salsa recipe.

This past weekend our town was holding it's annual Salsa Festival, which happens to be held a few blocks down from our house. After a lazy Saturday morning, we walked down in hopes of enjoying lots of tasty, free, salsa samples. The closer we got, the more over-whelming the crowd became, so we ditched at the last minute. We walked around the festival to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that sells delicious, authentic $1 tacos. Every word on the menu is in Spanish and our ordering process involves the cook holding up various meats and ingredients for us to point to. It's delicious, cheap and a good reminder that we need to learn some Spanish.

On every table, they have drizzly, not-too-hot, flavorful salsa. The kind you can splash on an omelet or taco, or shovel into your mouth with a tortilla chip. (Or, pour over Greek yogurt and eat with your husbands new rice & quinoa crackers from Cosco that are incredible and gluten-free.) It was so good; it inspired me.

Since we didn't get our fill on salsa at the festival and we have tons of tomatoes laying around, I decided to try a new recipe. My housemate Cynthia recently picked up a Mexican cookbook at a local grocery store. It's a collection of family favorites from people that live nearby, in this primarily-Hispanic town of ours. There were a few pages dedicated to salsa recipes, but I picked the first one I saw: table salsa. Not only did the title have me imagining classic restaurant salsa, it also didn't call for any cilantro (Matt's archenemy in the kitchen).

Table Salsa: Original Recipe

4 whole tomatoes, chopped    1/2 clove garlic
1 jalenpeno chile, chopped      1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 small onion, chopped         1/2 tsp. salt
1 (6oz) can tomato paste         1/4 tsp. paprika    
1 minced chilitepin                   1 tbsp. vinegar

Mix all ingredients, adding seasonings last, in a blender or food processor. Mix for desired thickness. Salsa will keep for a week refrigerated in a closed container.

The original recipe is really good. Obviously the quality of your salsa all comes down to the quality of your tomatoes. Ours were a bit too ripe and needed some boost in flavor, so I made some changes to the recipe. Like I said, it's a great recipe, most of my changes are just preferences (I never turn down an opportunity to add lime and can never get enough garlic).

The tomatoes I was using were garden fresh and the skins were a bit haggard, so I ended up peeling the skins off with heat before chopping them. I don't know what a chilitepin is or where to get one, so I omitted that. I also added twice as much garlic and cut the amount of paprika in half, adding only a pinch. I squeezed in half a lime and added a splash of balsamic vinegar to increase depth of flavor. And, like a true American, I added a teaspoon of white sugar. I also added in more chopped onion for a bit of crunch. So, here is my altered recipe: 

4 whole tomatoes, chopped and peeled       1 large clove garlic 
1 jalenpeno chile, chopped                                   1 small pinch paprika
1/2 cup chopped white onion                             1 tbsp. white vinegar             
1 (6oz) can tomato paste                                     1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. white sugar (optional and probably unnecessary)
juice from 1/2 of a lime
salt & pepper to taste
1. Combine tomatoes, jalenpeno, tomato paste, lime juice and half the amount of onions into a blender or food processor. Pulse a few times. 
2. Add in the remaining ingredients and blend for desired thickness. 
3. Stir in the rest of the onion.
4. Chill for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to set.               

Monday, July 29, 2013

Italian Herb & Cheese Zucchini Chips

I've been seeing recipes on Pinterest for baked zucchini chips the past few days, so when a friend dropped off a few fresh veggies from their garden, I thought I'd give them a try. I decided to spice them up a bit because if I'm going to be reaching past my Kettle Chips for these, they better be pretty good, right? So this is an altered version of this recipe.

1. Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet with one roughly chopped clove of garlic. Heat until garlic is fragrant and sizzling. Discard the pieces of garlic and remove skillet from heat, allowing oil to cool.

2. Chop the zucchini into thin slices (I used a mandolin which only took a few moments and created even slices). Press the slices between dry paper towels to draw out liquid and shorten baking time. Lay out slices on a baking sheet.

3. Brush the top of the slices (just one side) lightly with the garlic infused olive oil. Sprinkle them with a pinch of salt (they shrink when they cook so go easy or they'll be too salty), Italian herb seasoning and grated Parmesan cheese.

4. Place them in an oven and bake them for around 2 hours at 225 degrees or until lightly brown and crispy.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Back home.

Since we've been back from the south, we've been staying with these fine people:

Alan & Cynthia have been like family to us the past year or so. (You might remember them from our Christmas.) We came into their lives right as their kids (and grandkids) were moving out of the house and across the country. Matt and I are living away from our families too, so we all shrugged and started spending holidays together. Even though we all met in California, they are actually from Portland and I went to high school with their daughter! It's all very endearing.

When Cynthia's not running her household, she can be found in the backyard throwing clay in her studio and listening to Beyonce. (And I can be found watching her with glee and wonder as she turns dirt into beautiful bowls!) 

Since I haven't started work yet, I've been following her around, learning her homemade granola recipe and overall enjoying her company. We pour glasses of wine and make dinner together every night, listening to music and laughing over old (or not-so-old) stories of recipes gone wrong. For someone who really misses living near her mom and someone who really misses her daughter, we are pretty good company for each other.

Their house is over a hundred years old, big and beautiful. The back door slams loudly when you walk through it, the bathrooms have claw foot tubs, the stairs creak and the rooms have beautifully restored chandeliers. I start my day off in the sunroom with Cynthia, drinking coffee and watching the neighborhood come alive.

 Although the house is wonderful, it's not as wonderful as the Clother's hospitality. They are so gifted at hosting and are such generous people. Their front porch is home to a few straggly, stray cats and a haggard raccoon. There's always extra food at dinner and a constant, unspoken open-invitation for guests.  We don't feel like we're renting a room from them. It's more like we're joining their family and living life alongside them. It is such a gift to be able to live here!

Our friend Sascha has been living with them for the past year and stays in the room down the hall from us. After staying in a house with seven people, it is actually a great transition to come back to a full house. Matt and I have always talked about living with other people and these happen to be a few of our favorites! I'm pretty out-numbered by introverts around here, but it's nice to at least have people around. Extra people to play cards with. Someone to keep Matt company when I fall asleep during a movie. It's great.

 We don't know how long we'll be living here, or even how long we'll be in California (more on that later), but for now it is the biggest gift ever. Financially, emotionally and spiritually. We love you Clothers!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The last bit of Texas

We had such a great time in Texas. My posts hardly do any justice to the life-giving week we spent with our friends. Words like "marvelous", "wonderful" and "fun" fall short. Our trip to Texas was like a warm meal at a full table after a long day of working. It fed us in so many ways. 

Even in the literal ways of feeding us, it was incredible! Justin and Jenn provided fresh, healthy and delicious meals for us. Justin has become quite the artisan cook since we last saw him. Eating anything he made was seriously a worship experience, but his vegetables were especially amazing. Matt ate vegetables. He hates vegetables! I've been sneaking them in his meals like I'm packing secret messages to an inmate. But he got second helpings of Justin's kale salad and chomped on Brussels sprout chips like they were Fritos. I think that says it all about Justin's cooking. (Let that be a lesson to the kids out there: anyone can enjoy vegetables if you have the right recipe. And lots of lemon zest.) 
 A very special part of our trip was getting to see the Partins. Chels and I have mastered the art of long-distance friendship, but it was so wonderful to get to see her in person and spend some quality time with her. And by "quality time", I mean shopping, eating and going out dancing. I hadn't seen her or her husband David in a little over a year, so their familiar faces were a great delight after spending a couple months traveling around to unknown places. They drove up from Del Rio and treated us to a night in Austin with them. Lucky for us, our husbands get along great and we had a lot of fun playing downtown together.

Our first stop after breakfast was the Austin farmer's market. After trying out some samples and holding someone else's puppies, we sought out to find somewhere air conditioned to be. We ended up at Frank's Hot Dogs and ate snacks exploding in calories (like chocolate covered bacon), drank unconventional iced coffee and read The Onion-on paper! A real excitement to loyal fans of the usually web-based satirical news.

As much as I loved exploring downtown Austin, I have to admit that the highlight for me was going out later that night. I'm usually entirely content cozying up to my introverted husband on the weekends, but it's nice to be unleashed once in a while, break my bedtime and dance it out. Especially with two really great friends who know you well and you can completely be yourself around.

I loved seeing my sweet Texas friends one last time before they head out to North Carolina! Chelsea took way better pictures of our weekend together, which you can see here. We love you guys! Thanks for such a fun weekend together! And let's all agree to skip the chili waffle fries next time.

Our last few days with the Gerhardts were so fun. We overlapped with the Longs visit and got to spend a couple days with them as well. It was such a treat to watch Matt in his element with the people that know him best. There is seriously nothing like being with people that love & know the person you love & know so well. It feels like we have been transitioning to and from communities our whole marriage and our constantly feeling out of place in California, so I cherish any moment I see Matt relax and be himself. I loved sitting in a living room with people that have known Matt longer than I have, listening to their inside jokes and predicting his behavior. Not having to bridge any gaps or explain ourselves. It's such a sweet thing to have friends become family, isn't it? 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Texas and the Great American Fourth of July

I wouldn't really consider myself super patriotic, but I really love celebrating any and every holiday, so as a result of that, I love to celebrate the Fourth of July. It's the only holiday we really get after St. Patrick's Day to hold us over until Christmas, you know? 

We planned to get to Texas in time to celebrate Independence Day with the Gerhardts and I am so glad we did. It was great. I've had some pretty great Fourth's and many-a-pool-parties, but Texas does it better. And bigger, of course. 

photo credit: Jenn Gerhardt

It started off, just like it should, with tiny voices yelping "wake up, it's the fourth of July, you guys!" three inches away from your face. We put on as much red, white and blue as we could (hard to do with my primarily gray wardrobe) and loaded up our arms with camping chairs and water bottles and walked up the street to the Round Rock Parade. 

It was definitely the most exciting and patriotic small-town parade I've ever seen (and when you've spent around five summers in the small town of Lebanon, Oregon you definitely have something to compare it to). We joked that half the town was in the parade and the other half of the town was watching (at least I thought we were joking).

As Matt and I settled into our seats, London approached us with her hands on her hips. "Alright, here's the deal. The people on the floats are going to throw out candy. Now, you might not get the kind of candy you want. And adults don't usually get candy, but you can definitely try. Oh, and don't throw rocks at the floats." Not her first rodeo, my friends. 

 photo credit: Jenn Gerhardt

They also handed out root beer and plastic American flags because, what else are you suppose to hold during a parade?

After the parade, in true small-town fashion, we walked up the street to Justin & Jenn's friend's house for a party. We ate all the appropriate Fourth of July foods and sat around the yard with plates of cherry pie on our laps watching the kids play on the slip 'n slide, wondering whose idea it was to hand out squirt guns. It was perfect. 

Justin and Matt collaborated in the kitchen and we had an amazing feast of brisket tacos and corn & blueberry salad. It was good. Jenn's guacamole practically stole the show; we were all politely fighting over the last few bites of it!

After dinner we packed up dessert and some blankets and headed out to see some fireworks. We drove up on some traffic so we changed plans and headed over to Justin and Jenn's future church land and parked the truck in a huge, beautiful, overgrown corn field. With a wide open sky above us, we could see two different firework shows going on. We listened to Tom Petty and ate fluffy, still-warm gluten free biscuits drizzled with freshly made blueberry sauce and piled high with homemade whip cream. 


Wonderful people, great food, and the adorable renditions of a Katy Perry song from a certain 4 year old all contributed to what is easily the highlight of our summer. And easily the best gluten free dessert.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An ode to London & Eve.

After wrapping up our time in the south, we packed up our rental car and drove 12 hours to visit some friends near Austin, Texas. We were greeted by the sweet faces of London & Eve (and Leo the rat) and enjoyed nearly ten days soaking up their stories, laughter and overall joy.

The last time we saw the Gerhardt family was nearly two years ago, on the day of our wedding, at the end of the aisle after London & Eve had trailed flower petals. Justin & Jenn are two of Matt's best friends that he considers family and I got to marry into the wonderful relationship he has with them. Visiting them was the perfect ending to a long two months in the south. 

We love the city of Austin and we love the Gerhardts, so our visits with them are always great. Our time with them in the past has always been pretty short, crammed full of site seeing and late nights trying to catch up with them and get a glimpse of the city. This trip was really special. We just got to jump in on their lives for the week and be a part of their family. This included, but was not limited to: singing songs in the car, giving piggy back rides, turning them into human pizzas, spotting mermaids in the pool, pouring cups of apple juice and shamelessly taking pictures of just about everything they did. (Can you blame me? Look at them!)

Not only do Justin & Jenn do a spectacular job of parenting them, they are also just great kids, full of wit and personality way beyond their years.

This is my favorite picture I took our entire trip there. It's perfectly candid and captures exactly how wonderful it is to be smothered by their love and energy. (Not a bad shot of Leo either!)

It was especially wonderful to watch Matt with the girls. I've always known he's great with kids (better than I am), but his love and adoration for London & Eve turns me into a giant puddle of when-can-we-have-kids-lets-start-now. (Sorry Mom, not yet.)

We love you London and Eve! Don't grow up or change at all until we come back to Texas.