Friday, December 23, 2011


Yesterday, my family and I rode past a drugstore that had a sign outside, much like this one:

My response?

"I'm pretty sure that my alter-rapper-ego would be named T-Dap. Can I get a whoop-whoop?"

My family's response?

*blank stare, then laughter*

At least they got it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Santa Clown

Every year, my immediate family heads to southern California for the holidays...

...which means eating out is the rule, not the exception.

...which means I eat excellent things that no one should eat, no matter how much they run, like a cheesecake baked into a german chocolate cake (the San Jacinto cake) at Sherman's Deli.

(I'd share a picture, but I'm pretty sure that a) that would count as [food] porn, and b) I ate it and forgot to take a picture.)

I did forget my camera USB cable this trip (d'oh), so pictures will follow as soon as I get back. However, I do have to share this gem with you:

*Family sitting around diner table. Bell dings, signaling someone has entered the restaurant*

Dad: What the...

[Enter Santa Clown]

Me: Quick, here's my camera. Get a covert-ops-style picture for me!


Me: *face-palm*

Picture of me and brother with Santa Clown coming soon.

(P.S. Don't Google-Image search "Santa Clown." Some people are into some weird stuff, yo).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coffee and fudge

About a month ago, my mother and I decided to (insanely) join a bike tour of the Outer Banks of North Carolina-- the first vacation either of us had taken in almost a year. We thought it'd be great to re-energize our workout motivation for the coming winter months.

Little did we know that we'd eat so much good food that we wouldn't even feel like moving.

We started out in New Bern, NC... the home of Pepsi-Cola. My mother ordered a Diet Coke at a restaurant and got a VERY dirty look.

Also hit up a killer coffee shop called Port City Java. I guess it's a chain, but I loved it! Especially the fact that they had corn cups and that the coffee was locally roasted.

We also stopped at Bear City Fudge, where they had over thirty different kinds of fudge! Our favorites were the caramel pecan (left) and the tiger butter (right). 

Our fearless tour leaders, Cy and Wayne, worked culinary magic in the trailer for a picnic lunch on a long ride day. Cy made an incredible raw seaweed, kale, and collard green salad with an asian vinaigrette (recipe coming soon!):

And a simple, fresh crab salad:

Once we made it to Ocracoke, I immediately located the "locals" coffeeshop, The Ocracoke Coffee Company, and plunked down with iced coffee, a cinnamon roll, and the best raisin-nut bran muffin EVER (once I crack that recipe, it'll be up here for sure). My mother worked on her National Novel Writer's Month project, and I worked on... well, homework.

We also had an incredible home-cooked breakfast the next day at the B&B we were staying in, The Castle. Pure southern hospitality... and lots of bacon grease.

Then we ferried over to Hatteras and biked the length of that island. Along the way, we stopped and stuck our faces in a pickle.

And saw another fudge shop claiming to have been on the Food Network... They really like their fudge down in North Carolina.

Another ferry ride the next morning to get to the trail leading to our last stop on the route, Beaufort. Again, coffee is key.

Once we got to Beaufort, I had to locate the coffee shop there. I still have no idea what an "ice rage" is, but it sounds intimidating, to be sure.

This was also the place where a townie proposed to me... and where I threw up a little in my mouth because it was so gross.

After one last day of cycling, we ended at Beaufort Grocery.

Flaming cheese. Mmmm...

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Favorite Things Episode

Today, my incredible mother gave me this necklace from Dogeared that I'd been coveting for the past year as an early holiday gift:

Apparently, it was not easy to hunt down, because Chicago's very own Oprah decided to make it one of her "favorite things" this year. 

Let's not let Oprah have all the fun... Here are some of my favorite things this holiday season:

Terry's Toffee-- made right here in Chicago. Fancy-pants toffee-- the very same that is found in the Academy Awards gift baskets each year-- in incredible flavors. My favorites are the Cran-Orange and the Chai-cago Spice. Their biscotti is also life-changing.

If you're ever in town, stop by their flagship store to try samples of their confections. If you're lucky, Terry himself will be there-- such a sweet guy (both literally and figuratively!) 

The Spice House
is another favorite place of mine. Every day, they blend spices on the premises, fresh. You can choose from hundreds of spices and mixes... and they have six (count 'em-- SIX) different types of cinnamon!

I'm pretty sure this is the one place on earth where my love can be bought. If you only try one thing, though, make it the Old Town Sugar Blend-- perfect in your morning coffee!

Beautiful letterpress stationery makes my heart go pitter-patter, too. I love Paper+Cup designs-- they make really darling fill-in-the-blank invitations and emergency cards. I have some of these sitting on my desk at home, waiting to be sent out for my birthday:

One thing I never leave home without is my SPI belt. It collapses and folds up nicely, but unfolds and expands to hold all your necessities while on the go. I usually stash my cell phone, iPod, ID, cash, and keys in it when I run-- it doesn't budge! 

My last obsession is something that my dear friend Kay gave me for the holidays: A Corkcicle.

You pop it in the freezer, then put it in your wine bottle to chill and cork it. Perfect, since I always forget to put the bottle back in the fridge and end up with a second glass of warm wine. (Yes, second glass-- don't judge!)

Do yourself a solid-- buy someone one of these lovely items and buy yourself some love!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Awkward on air!

Some of my favorite podcasters, Andy, Nathan, and Greg, decided to devote one of their entertaining, informative party podcasts to holiday parties-- and took my question about freshening up cookie decorating parties on the episode! They vary elegantly answer my (awkward) voicemail on air!

They plan a party (or two) on air, including the one they threw last week!

Be sure to check it out, as well as their blogs. These gentlemen will make even the most hesitant host(ess) want to throw a party!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sweet potato and tofu stir fry

Since I have moved to this small city in southeast Minnesota two years ago, I have yet to find a great stir fry dish at a restaurant.

Ergo, I take matters into my own hands.

When my friends come over to watch "Big Bang Theory," I usually cook a fun, easy meal for them. A few weeks ago, I put out sliced veggies, tofu, and chicken, and had my friends put their selected ingredients in a bowl. I quick stir-fried them and served them over rice-- perfect for kicking back in front of the television with friends.

Spinach, broccoli, sweet potato, mushrooms...

Slice sprouted tofu and dry it really well. I like to press it between paper towels and top it with a book; let sit for a few minutes. Not drying the tofu enough is the mistake that most people make, which is the reason why tofu gets such a bad rap for being "slimy."

Sliced sweet potatoes...

Meets friends broccoli and 'shrooms...

Fry up the tofu until crisp.

Add veggies and cook until tender.

Top off it with stir fry sauce. I like Trader Joe's Island Soyaki.

Stir in cooked brown basmati rice.

Serve right from the skillet!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finals week...

Means breakfast for dinner...

Simple sauteed mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and spinach, topped with scrambled eggs and sriacha and a side of toast-- made slightly more indulgent with homemade ketchup and raspberry preserves.

Look out, bioinformatics exam, here I come!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rainbow birthday cake!

Inspired by CakeSpy's post, I decided to tackle a rainbow cake for my friend Kristen's birthday.

Start out with a basic yellow cake batter, and add food coloring to get desired levels of awesomeness.

Pan it!

Bake as directed, allow it to cool, and assemble with chocolate buttercream frosting...

Make it pretty...

The big reveal...

Taste the rainbow!

The best reaction ever!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Worst case scenarios...

Let's say you wake up feeling foggy and ill after a crazy week filled with holiday parties, assignments, meetings, classes, research...

Let's say you walk to the fridge, hoping to have something easy and warm to make to fill your belly...

And you find, that in your crazy rush of a week....

that you have forgotten to go grocery shopping. Soda, leftover cake, tofu, and homemade condiments. Not gonna cut it.

You do, however, find lentils and rice in your cupboard. The solution? Make a basic dahl!

Lentils, onion powder, salt, garlic, cumin, garam masala, cloves, and coriander.

Add lots of vitamin G! (Garlic!)

Put a lid on it, and don't peek!

As I learned from watching Aarti Sequeira, don't throw the salt in until the end, unless you want your lentils to take forever and a day to cook. If you're rocking the cold medicine buzz, though, you might want to throw it in, take a nap, and wake up to dinner.

Serve over rice for a worst-case-scenario-best-case-scenario bowl of warmth.

Basic Dahl

1 cup yellow lentils
2 cups water
1 onion, diced (or, in the case of a bare cupboard, 1 tbsp onion powder)
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp sriacha
1 tsp each cumin, cloves, and garam masala
1 tsp salt

  • Clean lentils and soak for 30 minutes. 
  • Combine all ingredients in a pot and cover. Cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes.
  • Add salt to taste at end.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Good life choices.

'Tis the season for food, friends, gifting... 

...and re-gifting. 

(For the record, the face a reaction to a camping kit for, er, relieving onesself).

So when my turn rolled around for our monthly supper club, of course we had to do a white elephant gift exchange. We warmed up with black bean and butternut squash chili, which satisfied my vegetarian sensibilities and filled the bellies of my favorite omnivores.

A couple of rounds of chili, salad, garlic bread, and sweet red wine, and we were ready to see what everyone had brought for the exchange!

Some highlights: A glass toy that bubbles if you're ready for love...

A plastic balloon animal...


Top it off with better-than-sex cake, and you've got a holiday party that can't be beat!

Good life choices.