Bean and veggie tostadas

When I saw this recipe in Real Simple, it totally took me back to the days when we were still vegetarian and both working 9-5 jobs. Sometimes I wonder what the heck we ate then, since we had so little time to cook. But I guess we ate a lot of things like this — quick, easy, satisfying.

I made a few adaptations to the recipe (mainly that I think you have to crisp the tortilla before you put anything on it), and here is what I came up with:

Bean and veggie tostadas

2 zucchini, cut into thin half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small or half a large onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix
8 corn tortillas
1 15-ounce can vegetarian refried beans
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium and saute all the veggies until they are cooked through and just starting to brown. Partway through cooking sprinkle on the taco seasoning, reserving a little bit for your refried beans. My taco seasoning is just a mix of 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 tablespoon chili powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay out your tortillas on a lined baking sheet (you might need 2 to fit them all) and poke holes in them with a fork so they don’t puff up. Bake the tortillas for 5-7 minutes so they start to get crisp.

Stir up the refried beans with a little sprinkle of taco seasoning. When the tortillas are cool enough to handle, spread a little bit of beans on each one, and sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake again for another 5 minutes, or until the beans are warm and the cheese is melted. Top with the sauteed veggies and any other condiments you like.

June happenings

May was kind of a nutty month. I had a ton of orders (which was awesome!) and most for rope knit items that also needed to be dyed. Days were busy busy busy. I had a package fall off a FedEx truck and thankfully be found by a very nice old man who wanted to help me get it to the right person.

June has felt like a reprieve in comparison. I did get called for jury duty, but the trial only lasted 3 days, and sales have slowed down enough that it wasn’t a problem.

I’ve been reading Pride and Prejudice in my free time. I have all these classic books that I have never actually read, so I figured it was time for a little Jane Austen.

I got my first strawberries out of the garden. They grew so easily I am thinking of planting more in the future.

I made egg salad with fresh dill from my herb garden. For some reason slicing the eggs in rounds makes it seem more sophisticated.

Mike doesn’t like watermelon, so I found a small one at the store that was just my size.

I busted Sadie hiding under a pillow fort. She is the queen of burrowing.

Oh, and if you haven’t tried Sonia Kashuk’s nail polish, you totally should. Not only are the colors great, but the polish stays on really well with hardly any chipping.

We’ve gotten to that point in the year when it stops raining for several months. It’s sunny and warm now, but soon the morning fog will start rolling in every day. So for now, I’m enjoying dappled sunshine, Jane Austen and pink toenails as much as I can.

The ultimate recycled blanket

Remember this guy?

Well, after a few years of constant use on our couch it was looking a little rough around the edges. The yarn had started to get fuzzy and pill. And I was just starting to wish for something new. I was all ready to find some yarn on sale and start a new blanket. But if you’ve ever made a blanket yourself (especially one of this size), you know that it always ends up costing more than what it would have if you just went out and bought one.

So I thought about if for a while and decided that I would try to make a new blanket out of the old one. I’ve always loved those colors, and they go so well with our orange couch. So I pulled the whole thing apart.

It took me the better part of a week to get the pill-y yarn wound into huge balls. But once it was done it really did feel like a fresh start. And there were only a couple parts that needed to be cut out because they were beyond repair.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on the new blanket here and there. I improvised a color block pattern as I went along. And I finally got it finished!

I love how it turned out. It’s obviously not as attractive as a brand new blanket would be. But since it will most likely be claimed by the dogs most of the time, I’m OK with that.

Reggie loves it already.

Speaking of blankets, my sister just finished this adorable love birds quilt for a friend of hers who was getting married.

I’ve never made a quilt before, but I have the ultimate respect for those who are talented at sewing.

And I hear that Megan’s cats were a big help in the process. Especially Vladmir.

Cooking through Super Natural Every Day

A few weeks ago I was feeling like I was in a cooking rut. I was looking through my cookbooks for inspiration, and when I got to Super Natural Every Day, I realized that I hadn’t just marked a couple of things to try one day. I had pretty much marked the whole thing.

So I thought that instead of taking years to get to all those, I would commit myself to making all of them in the coming weeks. I ended up making all but I think two of the ones I had marked. I feel pretty good about that, and sure that I’ll get to the rest of them soon.

Along the way I added some items to my pantry that I hadn’t used before. I think I will keep them on hand regularly now. First, whole wheat pastry flour. Not only is it healthier than white flour, it makes your baked goods light and fluffy. The batters I made with it were downright silky.

The other item is natural cane sugar.

It’s somewhere in between fine white sugar and turbinado sugar. Since sugar seems to really affect my diet, I appreciate any ways I can take it back to its more natural form.

Both of these (and the copious amounts of maple syrup in her recipes) are more expensive than traditional baking ingredients. But not terribly so, and I think they’re worth the extra dollar or two.

One of the first recipes I made was a blackberry compote.

It’s pretty easy to make, and nice to have around since you can use it as a topping for pancakes, ice cream, and the like.

I went ahead and made the multigrain pancakes to go with the compote. They were awesome!

I think I liked them even better than my whole wheat pancakes, so they might become my go-to pancakes now.

The book is packed with great breakfast recipes, so I continued making those. I had never cooked with millet before so I was excited to try the millet muffins.

They came out a little crunchy on the outside, sort of like a cornbread muffin (but a healthier one). Again, the whole wheat pastry flour seemed to help a lot.

I also tried the bran muffins.

They were good, but I think if I’m looking to make a “healthy” muffin, I’d probably rather have my carrot muffins.

I can’t say the same for the granola, though. It turned out so much better than any granola I’ve made before.

I’m not sure why I’ve struggled (and burned) so many pans of granola before. But I think using the thicker shreds of coconut makes a big difference. I will definitely start making this instead of getting the storebought stuff.

It couldn’t be easier. The only thing I might change is halving the recipe because it makes a ton.

One week I was craving biscuits and gravy, so I thought it would be a good time to make the yogurt biscuits.

I don’t get too excited about baked goods that I have to roll out, but these were pretty easy to assemble. And the layering of dough produced exactly the stacked look I was hoping for.

They’re good by themselves, but they also make a perfect base for sausage gravy.

Though it’s in the dessert section, I ended up having the buttermilk cake for breakfast a few times.

It’s not overly sweet at all. I put apricots on top instead of plums, and used about 1/3 the amount it called for.

These apricots were really tart raw, but that made them perfect for baking. I can’t believe I’ve never baked with them before.

Another dessert we loved was the sweet panzanella. It calls for golden raspberries, which I haven’t been able to find yet at the store. So I used regular raspberries, and I thought they worked well.

The only thing I would change is the bread. I used a big loaf of white bread, but it called for an artisan loaf of wheat bread.

We’ve since discovered La Farine’s wheat levain, which would be perfect. Next time!

You top the sweetened crisped bread cubes with the mushed raspberries and there you have your bread salad. It could not be easier.

Getting to some of the savory dishes, I tried the frittata one night for dinner. My expectations weren’t too high since baked egg dishes aren’t usually my favorites. But this one really surprised me.

The golden potatoes and salty feta cheese with the fresh asparagus made for an excellent combination. And again, a pretty easy dish to throw together. I finally found some better quality eggs at the grocery store that don’t cost a fortune, and I think those made a difference too.

I had high hopes for the vegetable curry, but it was just OK.

I think the vegetables and tofu produced a lot of water, which thinned out the sauce. Then you were supposed to add broth, which thinned it out even more. I think I will try it again, though, because I love the overall concept.

I got excited about the cauliflower soup because I finally had an excuse to buy orange cauliflower. I always notice the interesting varieties of cauliflower at the Berkeley Bowl, and this time I got to buy one!

I also loved the idea of the Dijon flavored croutons that go on top of the soup.

The soup itself came together well with some help from my immersion blender. It doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it’s definitely the kind of soothing dinner that sounds good on dreary days.

So, after all that I have some recipes that will become staples and some that won’t. I got to try new ingredients: millet, apricots, orange cauliflower. I found a new way to make croutons and a technique for rolling biscuits. And I certainly feel like I have accomplished something!

I think the only thing to do now is buy her other cookbook.

European cruise photos

So when I was trying to find that photo of the pizza Erin and I ate in Italy, I kept searching for my blog posts about our trip. After some fruitless searching I had to ask myself if it was possible that I didn’t actually post anything about it. Apparently I kept it all to myself! Maybe I thought the blog wasn’t supposed to be about travel at the time, or maybe I posted about it on my work blog, which I had back then.

We took the cruise in June of ’07, to celebrate Erin’s masters degree, and because her grandmother had left her some money that we wanted to use to take a trip together. So, we booked a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean, starting in Venice and ending in Barcelona. We planned excursions, sometimes two a day for every day that the ship wasn’t at sea. We were not going to miss a thing!

The first problem came a couple months before the trip when the back pain I’d been having for years became so unbearable that I had to have surgery. Blessedly, I had a quick recovery and was able to do everything I wanted to do. It was just a little stressful there for a while. Then, the day we left we had a total disaster with our flights. We started in Kansas City and went to Chicago. When we got there to board our flight to Germany, they told us that it had just left. What the hell? We thought we were early. Well, it turns out that Lufthansa had changed the time of that flight, but no one from the airline or Princess told us, and we never thought to check. So we were stuck at O’Hell, waiting on standby for a flight to Europe during a very busy travel time. We waited for 9 hours and finally gave up and got a hotel that we had to pay for. We tried to find our luggage but only came up with one suitcase, which was a little unnerving.

The next morning we went back to the airport and got back in line, thinking we would have to change our flight to the next stop on the cruise. We found some seats and had our luggage moved to that flight. But at the last minute they said they could get us on a flight to Germany so we would just make it to Venice in time for the cruise to leave. Yes! Unfortunately, we would have to leave right that second to make it on the plane. So you better believe we ran through that airport. Right as we got to security, dreading the long lines, some security person opened up another line and we raced through. It felt like some kind of miracle. We were running with our shoes in our hands as they were calling our names for the flight. That was seriously insane. I have a pretty big fear of flying, but I was so happy to get on that plane I didn’t care.

Up all night, but relieved to be getting on our last flight.

The sad part was that we were late getting to Venice. By some miracle our luggage made it through all those transfers (and we almost lost it again in Italy), but we had to skip all of our excursions in Venice. Basically we drove to the boat, got on, and left. But that was the last time we had any worries on that cruise. It was absolutely spectacular.

The water was unbelievably blue. We had perfect weather every day. We sat poolside while people brought us cocktails.

The ship was bigger than the Titanic, I think, and almost brand new. If I can ever afford that kind of vacation again I will most definitely take it.

Our monstrosity of a ship, spotted from land.

After we left Venice, our first stop was Athens.

The Old Olympic stadium.

It was hot, dry, and had the worst parking conditions I’ve ever seen. Maneuvering this enormous bus around tight corners, our bus driver actually got out at one point, moved some construction cones, and drove around them.

We saw the Acropolis and many other ruins.

Unfortunately, the Parthenon was under construction, at the time.

It was the first time I’d seen an olive tree or an orange tree (which seems funny now).

After our tours we had some free time in the city so we wandered around and got an ice cream cone. As we were standing outside of this building, all the sudden a bunch of police officers started clearing everyone out of the building and closing off the street. I guess I shouldn’t have said we didn’t have any more worries because it turned out to be a bomb threat! But at that point everything pretty much rolled off of us. It was a little chaotic while we tried to find our tour guides, but we made it back OK.

Next stop: Turkey. We started in Kusadasi and then saw the house where the Virgin Mary had lived.

I saw my first fig tree.

Then we toured the ruins of the city at Ephesus.

It was pretty incredible the level of technology they were able to achieve with what they had at the time.

This sign cracked me up.

After that we went to Istanbul. Got a beautiful view of the city from a distance.

Teenagers are the same everywhere.

You know what else is everywhere in Turkey? Cats!

We toured the Hagia Sophia, which is just beautiful.

I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but I was desperate to use the bathroom, and after waiting in a very long line had to use one of the scariest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. I think I’m scarred by that experience!

But I loved Turkey, and would love to go back. Not only is it this fascinating mix of cultures, but the beachy vacation spots are just as beautiful as anywhere else in Mediterranean Europe but a lot less expensive.

Later that day we got to tour a rug factory, where we bought tiny Turkish carpets. The rugs are so expensive, it was all we could afford. But they aren’t really my style anyway, so I can appreciate the little square I have as a souvenir.

Before we left Istanbul, we got to go through the Grand Bazaar and buy some pashminas and a soccer jersey. That place is absolutely gigantic. We definitely wished we had more time there.

But we had to get back to Greece. Our next stop was Mykonos.

It’s definitely a gay hot spot (as Club Ramrod confirmed), but it seemed family friendly as well. It was certainly the Greece I had imagined with all the whitewashed buildings and little churches.

I could have stayed there a long time — it was so beautiful and relaxing.

In fact I would really like to be there right now. Sigh!

After Greece we went to Naples. We took a harrowing drive, then hiked to the top of Mount Vesuvius and looked down into the volcano.

The belly of the beast.

Then we took a tour of Pompeii.

Again I was fascinated by how well preserved the history was there.

They still had bread ovens, brothels, intricate tiles, and ruts in the road where cart wheels wore them down.

Naughty, naughty!

After Naples we went to Rome.

It is pretty much impossible to see Rome in a day, but we sure tried. We actually got a jam-packed experience by picking the Angels and Demons tour (all the places from the book). We had this adorable tour guide that had the uneviable job of keeping us, and the other long-winded tour guide, on task.

Our view through most of Rome.

Better view!

The long-winded tour guide.

We managed to see the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and the Vatican, and still have time for a pasta lunch and gelato.

Note to self: Remove dorky tourist gear before taking photos. 

I was really blown away by all the artwork, the architecture — the fact that I kept recognizing things from my art history classes and there they were in some tiny dark church.

I think I was just totally overwhelmed that day. You really can’t describe the feeling of seeing something like Saint Teresa in Ecstasy or The Pieta in person.

I would love to go back with Mike. I think for a history buff (or a foodie) Rome is the ultimate.

After Rome we went to Pisa. I really loved it there because it felt like exactly what I imagined Tuscany to be like. Sunflower fields, wineries, bikes with baskets on the front.

One funny thing: We had to ride in this tram thing around Pisa, and at one point our tram scraped into the side of some guy’s car and dented it. He was so upset, of course, and he and our driver were screaming at each other in Italian. By that point we just had to laugh.

We saw the leaning tower, which was cool and somewhat scary. Then we got to tour this beautiful winery called Varramista. I was very jealous of whoever got to live there.

They also make olive oil there — I bought a sampler, of course. We had a tasting with bread and cheese, too.

Our last stop was in France. We went to Aix-en-Provence, which is really pretty and has this great outdoor market.

I remember I ate a yummy risotto with peas, and we ordered rose because that is the specialty in that region. (I can’t believe I did not photograph the food! My, how times have changed.) I wish I could say my many years of high school French paid off, but I was too intimidated to use it much.

Then we drove to this tiny town called Lourmarin.

We bought pretty French tarts and walked around the little alleys. It was so picturesque.

We had the option of staying in Barcelona and doing some excursions there. But I think by that point we were exhausted and out of money. So we basically just went to the airport. Thankfully our flights home were completely uneventful. And of course I went back later for my honeymoon.

It was definitely one of the best trips of my life, and it totally opened my mind to just how much there is to see out there in the world. We basically just checked off a bunch of tourist stops. Imagine how much there is to see beyond those. So even though I hate to fly I will still keep doing it because I can’t stand to think of missing out on all there is to see. Life is too short not to see as much as you can.