New Holiday Traditions

My husband and I got hitched in October of 2010, but we were together for three years prior to our nuptials. Thus far, we’ve spent one Christmas apart and two together. This year, we’ll return to the snowy Midwest to be with my folks. Amidst all of the hustle and bustle of figuring out who to visit when and how to balance time between families, we’re trying to shape some of our own holiday traditions, as well. My favorite new Harpins tradition is by far the cartoon and breakfast cereal chow-a-thon.

(image credit: sceneunseenpodcast.com)

Typically on the 22nd or 23rd of December (before traveling to visit family) we savor bowl after bowl of kid-friendly (read: sugar-coated) cereals. Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Golden Grahams, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch always make an appearance, and this year, we might even bust out the Count Chocula. While indulging in the sweet flavors of childhood, we watch holiday classics – like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Elf. Lounging in our PJ’s by the “fire” (aka, a space heater), we store up on much needed R&R before heading off to busy airports and packed houses.

(image credit: abc.go.com)

What are your family’s holiday traditions? Please leave a comment. Follow this link for a video Holiday Greeting from Harpins!

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Family, Food, Holidays, Traditions

Creamy Sage Polenta with Roasted Shiitakes, Red Onion & Valdeón

The urge to cook overtook me last Sunday. I wanted a hearty, savory, and wholesome dish.  But this culinary escapade was far more than just an impulsive experiment. In fact, many events came together to inspire this meal.

The week prior, Christian and I had purchased some Valdeón bleu cheese at Whole Foods Market. Peter Murphy, our guest at the time, can attest to the Valdeón’s overall exquisiteness relative to other bleu cheeses.

Last Saturday, I had an inkling to make cornbread, but to my dismay, I discovered that I didn’t have enough cornmeal in the pantry. So my loyal servant (read: my husband) went to fetch me some more. But now I had an excess of cornmeal! What to do, what to do? A memory of distant past soon revisited me. When I asked Chef Sean Fulford of Flat Creek Estate what the difference was between cornmeal and polenta, he promptly replied, “one’s Italian.” And with that thought in mind, I decided to revisit my apprenticeship days and attempt to recreate Sean’s creamy sage polenta.

While at the grocery store on Sunday, I noticed that the shiitakes looked particularly ravishing, so I decided to buy some.  “How to cook these?” I asked myself. And I harkened back to the good ole days of being a Food & Wine subscriber. I vaguely remembered a roasted shitake recipe with bleu cheese (I had that in the fridge!) and red onions (I could buy that real cheap!).   So, all the ingredients assembled, I racked my memory, and this is what I came up with…

Creamy Sage Polenta á la Sean with Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms, Red Onion & Valdeón

INGREDIENTS

For the polenta

1 ½ c. of cornmeal
1 ½ c. light cream
1 ½ c. lowfat milk
1 c. low-sodium chicken stock
¼ c. fresh sage leaves, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 T. unsalted butter
½ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the mushrooms

1 lb. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved
1 red onion, sliced in ¼-inch-thick half moons
½ c. Valdeón cheese, crumbled
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

For the mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 425o F. Toss the mushrooms and red onion together with a generous amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Roast for 30 min., tossing every 10 min.  Just before serving, toss in the bleu cheese.

For the polenta

Everything good begins with butter

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Sauté the garlic and sage for 1 min. until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cream and milk and bring to a low boil. Add the cornmeal ½ c. at a time, whisking rapidly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to whisk until lumps have disappeared and polenta is thick and creamy. Slowly add the chicken stock until the polenta reaches the desired consistency (it should be thick and creamy, slightly less thick than mashed potatoes). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, mix in Parmesan cheese.

Serve polenta topped with roasted mushrooms and a glass of red wine on the side. Indulge.

Another happy customer chez nous!

2 Comments

Filed under Dinner, Food, Recipes

Giving Thanks

First anniversary - we made it!

I’m thankful for my husband. He puts up with a lot – my mood swings, some tears, my obsessive compulsive personality, and my long ramblings about what happened today and why it was such a BIG deal. After all of this, he still rakes leaves and gives me back rubs. He takes the dogs out at 2:00 in the morning when I’m too lazy, and he rides the moped in the cold weather because I’m a wuss.

Bella the Cat

I’m thankful for my pets. My dogs Orson and Nana jump all over me and wag their tails all around just because I come home after work each day! They also have a wonderful smell. If the verb “home” could have a smell, it would smell like my dogs. My cat Bella is a diva. She wants people to open and close doors for her (even though she can use the pet door), and she wants to be picked up and carried past the dogs (even though she knows perfectly well that they’re harmless and she could totally take them). My pets can sense when I’m having a bad day, and their temperaments change. The dogs settle down and the cat becomes more affectionate. I love this sixth sense of theirs. It’s like they have a emotional radar or something.

With Mom and Dad in Zihuatanejo

I’m thankful for my parents, who worked their whole lives so that their kids could have innumerable luxuries and opportunities. As an adult, I’m finally beginning to appreciate how much work they do everyday and that doesn’t include raising kids – because my husband and I haven’t gotten that far yet. Sans kids, the adult stuff (i.e., taxes, cars, insurance, bills, work, relationships) is really hard. I hate to say they told me so, but yes, I do miss those days when I was a kid. And yes, I do understand what life is really like now that I’m older.

Sisters don't let sisters get married without lip gloss

I’m thankful for my sister. She’s so smart, beautiful, and hardworking. She’s my confidant, my adviser, and my friend. And she’s the only person who can eat more ice cream, more often, than I can and still not have it “go to her hips.” Way to go girl. No matter what my sister does in life, she’s going to be successful. Caitlin, if you’re reading this, take a break from the books and have some fun.

Peter and Kate on their wedding day

I’m thankful for my friends Peter and Kate. They are two of my best friends who happen to be married to one another, which makes it really convenient for me to keep in touch with both of them. They are always there to support me in good times and in bad, and they’re always down for a fun time. I’m amazed that a med student and a future business tycoon (the good kind) have time for a crunchy-granola friend like me. Peter visits RVA once a month, and Kate calls “her wife” religiously. Gracias amigos!

St. Christopher's students and faculty in formation for the commemorative Saintennial photo

I’m thankful for my colleagues at St. Christopher’s and St. Catherine’s. I’ve never felt so welcomed by a community in all my life. Literally, I have felt at home since my first day at both of these schools. The faculty are amazing. They can switch from talking about pedagogy to tatooes in about 30 seconds. I’m proud to be a small part of such an accomplished and fun group.

Who wouldn't want to pet-sit for these angels???

I’m thankful for my neighbors Gene and Julie Bruner. These guys are rockstars. Not only do they manage their own jobs, family, and pets, but they also pitch in once every two weeks to help us with our pets. We couldn’t ask for more generous and kind neighbors. Oh, and did I mention that they’re both runners and Gene is a bad-ass kayaker and stand-up-paddler? Totally cool. My neighbor can out run and probably beat up your neighbor.

I’m thankful for blogging, because – aside from cooking – it’s my only outlet for creative expression. I’ve never been able to draw, paint, or sculpt; I stopped playing the piano in high school; and I definitely can’t carry a tune. I’m not much of a fiction writer (in fact, I don’t consider myself much of a non-fiction writer either), but I do find that blogging about my life, my family, and my reactions to the world around me is a fantastically cathartic process. I wish I had more time to blog (and to cook). Perhaps I’ll take the Post-a-Week Challenge in 2012…

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

7 Comments

Filed under Family, Friends, Holidays, Pets

Walking around Richmond: the View from Southampton Rd

In a previous post, I wrote how much I love our new neighborhood. But I lamented that I didn’t have any photos to show you as proof that this truly is a spectacularly natural and lush place to live. As promised, here’s the photo evidence…

1 Comment

Filed under Richmond

“Crawling” around Richmond

A few weekends ago, Christian and I were invited by our new friend and coworker, Asha, to “crawl” around the various neighborhoods of Richmond, VA, and get to know our new hometown. All three of us being Spanish teachers, we figured a Spanish-style tapeo would be the perfect way to see the city and sample the fine food and spirits of its eclectic neighborhoods.

Salud!

First stop: the Water Grill in Carytown. Like true Spaniards, we each ordered an appetizer to share. Not able to overcome the Southern gourmand in me, I ordered the fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese sauce (nom nom nom). Asha and Christian agreed upon the mussels in coconut curry broth and the lobster dumplings. Double delish!

Lobster dumplings at the Water Grill in Richmond, VA

Fried green tomatoes and Coconut curry mussels

Second stop: Sticky Rice in the Fan. When Asha discovered that Christian and I love sushi, she knew just where to take us. Apparently, she uncovered my secret love for dive bars and nostalgia for all-things-Austin. The sushi at Sticky Rice was not our favorite, but it got the job done. (We prefer Osaka on Cary St. Rd.). However, the atmosphere and the service trumped all previous restaurants Christian and I had visited. Football fans gathered around bright screens, the bar was dimly lit and musky, they had a good craft beer selection, and the place was filled with tattooed hipsters. As soon as we entered, we did a double take. Were we in Austin? Did we enter into a different time-space continuum? (To our dismay, this was not an episode of Quantum Leap).

The tapeo continues at Sticky Rice

Third (and final) stop: Kuba Kuba (also in the Fan). Stuffed with sushi and appetizers from Water Grill, we mustered up the strength to order some vino and a slice of (very rich) chocolate pie. Christian oggled plates of cuban pork and plantains that waiters were hurriedly carrying by. I loved the atmosphere. It was sort of like a 50s soda fountain meets hipster hangout, with deliriously decadent smells wafting from the kitchen window. Kuba Kuba will be a definite repeat in our future.

Kuba Kuba's atmosphere was one of a kind.

We didn’t make it to Shockoe Bottom that night. Our tapeo didn’t leave room for pizza at Bottoms Up. But there’s always next weekend…

2 Comments

Filed under Austin, Food, Friends, Nostalgia, Richmond