I Can’t Contain The Wanderlust…

June 18, 2009


There are certain books I look forward to every year with equal parts dread and anticipation. Books that simultaneously fill me with longing, despair and jumpy excitement.

The Lonely Planet Bluelist/Best in Travel books.

Published yearly with different themes, they explore some of the world’s best adventures, journeys, festivals and destinations. These are the books, that every year, make me realize that I may have played life this far with just a little too much responsibility and practicality. I read these books and my brain starts to buzz and my skin starts to tingle.

This year’s book is no exception. With lists of top ten countries, regions, cities and other things, as well as a special section all about water, I’m left trying to figure out just how much money I need and how many vacation days I really have. Here are some of my personal favorites from the book, the things that would definitely be on my “to do” checklist. (And these are in no particular order).

  • The Best Things To Throw Yourself Off
    • This is the list that makes me think they really do write this book with me in mind. From hang gliding in Patagonia, sky diving in New Zealand and cave diving in Mexico, this is pretty much my ultimate list of things to do.
  • The Best Underground Experiences
    • Grottos, caves and catacombs, oh my! I think the most interesting ones one the list are probably the Sagada Burial Caves in the Philipines and the Cappadocian Underground cities in Turkey.
  • The Best Ecotrips
    • South America by train, horseback riding in Patagonia, kayaking the Yukon River in Canada….I think I’m giddy.

I could talk about this book all day. The water section of the book is particularly interesting. In addition to water themed lists such as fabulous ferry rides, water festivals and icy experiences, the guide examines the effect the changing climate and environment has on the way we travel and the places we go.

This is the kind of book that makes me want pick where to go by closing my eyes, opening up to a random page and blindly point to a destination. Today, that would mean going to Egypt to eat a Siwa Oasis date, a hand pollinated fruit that supposedly dates back to the times of Alexander the Great.

Who knows where tomorrow may take me.


Julie, Julia and Me

April 21, 2009


This probably comes as no surprise (especially to those who have see my house), I have an enormous pile of “books to be read”. I buy books that look interesting or books that I know I will want to read someday when I have the time, especially when I find used and inexpensive copies of them. However, many of these books end up sitting in the “to be read” pile forever, languishing until I finally feel like I’m in the right mood to read them, or I’ve finally caught up on all the library books that I have to read first (unlike the books I own forever, the library likes theirs returned on time).

In light of my new mindset on cooking and blogging I decided that the time had finally come to read Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell (the subtitle of which, given the upcoming movie release, has been unnecessarily changed to My Year of Cooking Dangerously). Julie is a woman who, in response to her unfulfilling job as a secretary and a rapidly approaching 30th birthday, decided that she is going to spend the year cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s epic book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, blogging about the experience as she goes along. Her husband gamely (but warily) accepts that this is just something that she has to do, and the Julie/Julia project is born.

The book covers her (mis)adventures and triumphs as she cooks her way from vegetables dishes to parts of the animals that even made me a twinge squeamish (a girl who, among other things, has voluntarily eaten worms and bugs before). I found myself laughing out loud and really relating to Julie, not only in our mutual and semi-fanatical love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but also in her descriptions of the different ways she and her friend deal with stress (drinking and cooking vs. running and cleaning).

Then, just when I thought we couldn’t have anything more in common, I got to Julie’s chapter about eggs, where she describes her utter distaste for them, how she had “never in my nearly thirty years of life eaten an egg”.

Recently, a friend who I have brunch with on a very regular basis, told me that she doesn’t think I like breakfast food. I quickly defended myself, saying how it wasn’t true…I like homefries, sausage, pancakes, ect….but nowhere on that list did I mention eggs. Eggs, that in some form or another, that I consistently ordered every week.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I don’t usually eat the actual egg part of what I order; and when I do, it certainly isn’t my favorite part of the dish. Omlets, I eat the filling. The “someday you’ll die of a heart attack” Everything on a Bagel…I eat everything but the egg. Crab Benedict…I do eat some of the egg, but only because it is really hard to pick around it.

My current attitude towards eggs is a relatively new development, one that puzzles me. Unlike Julie, I have always eaten eggs in the past, with no problem at all (and if they were covered in cheese, it was even less of a problem). For now, egg sandwiches are still tolerable, but I think that is only because when eaten in this form, the taste of the egg is heavily masked but the bacon, cheese and English muffin goodness.

So, my plan is now to spend some time exploring different ways to cook eggs, figuring out once and for all if and how I actually like my eggs…or if they are just another excuse to be able to eat cheese and bacon.

Adventures in Cooking

March 20, 2009

I recently realized that I spend a lot of time thinking about food. I read cookbooks and cooking magazines compulsively, bookmarking and copying things that sound interesting. I plan weekly menus (that I often don’t actually follow), making sure that if I buy cilantro for one thing, I will be able to use the rest of it in something else later in the week. I even read all the weekly grocery ads, make elaborate lists of what I should buy at each store.

Some call it obsessive. I find it comforting. I enjoy seeing what produce looks fresh, and thinking about all the different ways I can combine different foods and flavors. I find the repetitive action of chopping vegetables relaxing. I seldom cook from recipes (I seem to just like collecting them), and I eat different things all the time. Cooking using instinct means that nothing ever comes out quite the same way twice.

However, despite the variety, lately I’ve felt like I am in a cooking rut. Many nights, I find convenience winning out over my interest in cooking, and I end up making whatever is easiest with the ingredients I have on hand. I think becoming a better cook comes from challenging yourself to make dishes you wouldn’t normally make, or use ingredients or a technique that you have never used before. And I just haven’t been doing that lately.

My answer has been to get back to basics and start using more recipes. There are many things that I’ve never cooked, or haven’t cooked in a long time. I’ve never made some of the classic simple foods that for some reason, I think every cook should know how to make. Things like chicken pot pie or beef stew; both of which I have now made recently.

I’ve learned several things with this approach. In order to make Potato Crusted Halibut, I either need to spend hours practicing how to cut paper thin slices of potato or else finally invest in a mandolin. I shouldn’t store leftover Caramel Apple Crisp in the same dish I baked it in; it will take a week to soak and scrape the pan. I still find chicken drumsticks with the skin on fairly…well…icky.

There have been some successes with recipe method (as there should be!). I’m going to write weekly updates and recipes of some of the new things I make, sharing my favorite successes. I mentioned that I had made beef stew recently, it has been my favorite thing that I’ve made in the past few weeks. At first I wasn’t sure about the seasonings and herbs that the recipe called for, but it was delicious, and I can’t wait to make it again. Here’s the recipe, it is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Bon Apepetit: Fast, Easy, Fresh by Barbara Fairchild.

Spiced Beef Stew with Carrots and Mint
2 Servings

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 ounces beef tenderloin, cut into 1 inch cubes*
1 cup sliced shallots (about 3 large)
8 ounces peeled baby carrots
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice**
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1/3 cup choppped fresh mint, divided

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Add beef to skillet and saute until cooked to desired doneness, about 2 minutes for medium rare. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to bowl. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add shallots and carrots and saute until golden, about 3 minutes. Add all spices; stir 30 seconds. Sprinkle flour over; stir 30 seconds. Stir in broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until carrots are just tender, about 8 minutes. Return beef to skillet; cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Season stew to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped mint. Ladle stew into bowls. Sprinkle with remaining chopped mint.

*I used a package of beef stew meat instead and just made sure I simmered it a little longer. It was so much cheaper and tasted just fine.
**If you don’t have any, it is very easy to make your own.

Dewey Knows Me Best…

February 24, 2009

I realize that this doesn’t count as a real thoughtful post, but the results were so dead on I just had to share….

Brandi Kenyon’s Dewey Decimal Section:
990 History of other areas
Brandi Kenyon’s birthday: 10/12/1978 = 1012+1978 = 2990

900 History & Geography

Travel, biographies, ancient history, and histories of continents.

What it says about you:
You’re connected to your past and value the things that have happened to you. You’ve had some conflicted times in your life, but they’ve brought you to where you are today and you don’t ignore it.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at Spacefem.com

Surfing Picutures

February 15, 2009