Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Hike Around Lower Mystic Lake

Not too far from our house is the Lower Mystic Lake. It's a beautiful, serene lake surrounded by lush greenery and trees. While it's not very large, you see folks boating, kayaking, fishing, hosting cookouts in little hidden spots along the water's edge, and hiking and biking around the water's edge. The funny thing is, it took us about a year to even realize this lake was there, as they're so surrounded by trees or little out of the way neighborhoods. This weekend we finally went for a little trek along the Lower Mystic Lake and then down to where it feeds into the Mystic River, which continues on a winding path through Medford. 
It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day without a cloud in the sky. If only Boston could be that nice year round! We followed little paths, worn down from foot and bike traffic over the years, to wherever they led us. We came upon a quiet little spot at the edge of the water, where we plopped down on a raised tree root to rest our feet,skip some stones, soak up the sunshine, and admire the view. I find lakes so peaceful and relaxing. 
Here we are, and while we're quite good looking, I think the water is probably the better view!
Eventually, we left our little perch and continued our walk, eventually arriving at the point where the lake feeds into the Mystic River. The water becomes shallower and greener, lilly pads clump together in little inlets, and tree branches hang low over the water. Walking paths continue along much of the river, and you can find large grassy areas dotted with sun bathers, dogs playing fetch, cyclists, couples strolling hand in hand, and shaded benches to take in the view.
I'm so glad to have discovered this right in our backyard, as it's a perfect way to spend a sunny weekend afternoon! Hopefully we'll get to enjoy a few more hikes in the area before the weather turns cold. Hopefully another sunny weekend is in store as the long Labor Day weekend approaches!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blackberry Apricot Jam

Last week I wanted to preserve every piece of fruit I could find, probably because I am desperately clinging to summer, trying to make it last forever. I know the long New England winter is on its way, and maybe a little summer in a jar will help get us through it. First I made honey-preserved plums with some pretty yellow plums from the Medford Farmers Market. Then I tried a variation of this gorgeous Blackberry Apricot Jam from Food in Jars (the force behind my favorite canning cookbook).
This weekend we ate our way through the one odd jar that wasn't quite full. We swirled heaping spoonfuls into steel coat oats. My husband made biscuits that we spread generously with butter and jam. Then we stirred some into plain greek yogurt. It's sweet, a little tangy, and the hint of cinnamon gives it a little taste of fall so that the change of the seasons doesn't feel quite so scary. 
Finally, if you're new to jam and canning, dive right in! It's not nearly as intimidating as you might think! If you're looking for a kit to help you get started, I like this one.

Makes ~2.5 pints

1 1/2 cup blackberries (two 6-oz containers)
3 1/2 cup apricot puree (one 1.25 lb container + a pint basket)
2 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 - 1/2 orange, zested and juiced
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 Tb classic pectin (or 1 pouch of liquid pectin)

First, prepare to sterilize your jars in a large stock pot. Fill the pot with water, and place a metal steamer basket (or canning rack) in the bottom to keep the jars completely surrounded by water. Submerge the jars, cover the pot, and let it come to a boil while you prepare your jam. When ready to fill the jars, simply remove them from the boiling water with tongs, and place on a clean dry towel.

While the water is coming to a boil, prepare the fruit.  Coarsely mash blackberries in a bowl. I used a muddler, but you could also use a potato masher or a fork. Halve and pit the apricots, and puree in a blender or food processor.
Heat a non-reactive pan (enameled cast iron dutch oven, stainless steel) over medium-high heat.  Add mashed blackberries, apricot puree, and sugar, and let the mixture come up to a boil stirring frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan periodically to avoid burning.
Add the cinnamon, orange zest, and orange juice. Once the mixture starts to thicken, stir in the pectin, and let the jam boil for about 5 minutes, continuing to scrape the bottom periodically to avoid burning.
(Note: I used classic pectin which is said to set more firmly than liquid pectin).

Remove the jars from the boiling water onto a clean dry towel. Meanwhile bring about an inch of water in a small saucepan to a very gentle simmer (not a boil), and drop in the lids for a few minutes to soften the sealing compound while you fill your jars.

Fill your jars with the jam (I use a ladle and a canning funnel). Wipe the mouths of the jars clean with a damp cloth or paper towel. Remove the lids from the simmering water and place over the mouths of the jars. Then screw on the rings to hold the lids in place.
Submerge the jars in the boiling water and process for 10 minutes. Remove the jars and place them back on the clean dry towel.
Once the jars are cool, remove the rings and check to ensure that the lids sealed properly. If sealed, stash the jam in your pantry, saving it for some cold winter's day when you need a taste of summer fruit. If any jars don't seal, merely refrigerate them, and use them within the next couple of weeks.

(Note: This recipe makes enough for 2.5 pint jars. I still processed my half-full jar but stored it in the fridge and opened it this weekend to use immediately, as it will not keep as well since half the jar contains some air)

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Very "Mini" Addition to Our Family

Guess what?? This has been a pretty exciting week for us, because we (and by "we" I mean my husband) negotiated for a sparkly new Mini Cooper, and we've been eagerly awaiting it's arrival . Finally, yesterday afternoon, we got the call. Our car had arrived!
We pulled into the dealership, and there it was. Tiny. Adorable. And very orange! 
I still kind of can't believe that it's actually ours and that they let us take it home! It made our commute this morning so much more fun!
Can you tell that I'm just a little excited?
Now we just need to come up with a good name for her! Update 8/29/13: We have officially christened her as Clementine!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Date Night Idea: deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

Sometimes we get in a rut when it comes to dates, and thanks to a work function (of all things), my husband and I had a really fun date night this week at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.  A coujple years ago, I visited with a group of girlfriends, and ever since I've been wanting to go back with my husband. Sculptures are scattered around the rolling landscape.  Some are hard to miss, like a hot pink pole brazenly displayed in full view, while others are more hidden, tucked into nooks and crannies where if you blink, you might miss them. You can view it all at your own pace and see as much or as little of the grounds as you like.  It's a great way to soak up some sunshine together, stretch your legs, and feel a little more cultured!
While there are exhibits inside the museum, I enjoy the rotating sculptures outside the most. And I think my favorite part about deCordova is the variety. I'm admittedly one of those people that doesn't quite "get" modern art, yet deCordova seems to cover the gamut of sculptural pieces. Some I find truly beautiful, others are thought-provoking, and then there are those that I just find comically ridiculous  (example: an overturned 4-wheeler is considered a sculpture).  It's so much fun to walk around the park varying between admiration, confusion, awe, and laughter. You find something different at every turn.
So if you're ever in the mood for an outing that's a little out of the ordinary, grab a hot date or a friend and check out the deCordova Sculpture Park!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lemon Arugula Pasta with Truffle Butter

I whipped up this pasta last week when my refrigerator was pretty bare, aside from a box of arugula, a lemon, and an almost forgotten tiny tub of truffle butter (thanks to a gift box from a friend). I didn't have the energy for the store, so I improvised. And you know what? It turned out really well!  The wilted arugula gives it a little bite. The richness of the olive oil, vermouth, and truffle butter sauce is balanced by the bright lemon. A generous sprinkle of nutty Parmesan is the finishing touch.

This pasta can stand on its own as a quick, filling dinner, but you could serve it alongside a green salad, roasted vegetables, or grilled meat.  Maybe best of all, this is one of those recipes where you don't have to take measurements too seriously, and you can make it work with what you have. Try swapping spinach or sauteed swiss chard for arugula, trading butter and crushed red pepper for the truffle butter, white wine for vermouth, tortellini in place of pasta, Comte instead of Parmesan cheese.   It's a pantry meal with plenty of possibilities!
Serves 2

6-8 oz pasta (I used Campanelle)
1/2 lemon, juiced
Splash (~2 Tb) of dry vermouth (white wine works too)
~2 Tb olive oil
~2 Tb truffle butter (or plain ol' butter)
Handful or two of arugula
Parmesan cheese, grated for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a sauce pan of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.

Once cooked, drain the pasta while reserving a little pasta water.

Place the sauce pan back on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the truffle butter to the pan, and once hot, pour in the vermouth. Let it come to a boil and reduce by about half.

Lower the heat to medium and whisk in the lemon juice. Stir in a little pasta water, if desired, to thicken the sauce a bit, and add a little freshly ground black pepper.

Add the pasta to the pan, and toss to coat. Then stir in a couple handfuls of arugula until it wilts slightly.

Serve topped with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Barismo Coffee Roasters

This weekend on our way home from lunch at Lone Star Taco Bar (yes, it's so good that we went two weeks in a row), we stopped in Arlington for an after lunch pick-me-up at Barismo, a local coffee roaster. They sell their beans at various spots around town (and even have a bike delivery service), and while we usually grab a bag when we see it on the shelf, this was our first visit to their "home"! They've recently expanded, enabling them to serve their coffee with a few tables inside and a patio out front.  
While they also offer espresso-based drinks, we opted for pourover coffee using V60 ceramic drippers. The barista carefully tested the water temperature and slowly poured over the freshly ground coffee in little concentric circles.  While she poured, we browsed the shelves of coffees, teas, and brewing equipment and took a peek at their roasting setup. Once it was ready, our coffee was served in cute mismatched mugs and saucers.
We took our mugs outside, as it was a beautiful day, and we made ourselves at home at one of their new patio tables, surrounded by planters of happy little yellow flowers. We sipped slowly, trying to enjoy the warm weather before summer gives way to chilly fall. 
Barismo is a small space that's not too much to look at, but if you want quality coffee brewed not 20 feet from where it's roasted, it is most definitely worth a trip to the suburbs. Thankfully for us, it's just a couple miles away!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shrimp and Cheese Grits with Roasted Green Chiles and Charred Corn

My husband got to craving grits this week, so using a couple ears of sweet corn and Anaheim green chiles from the Medford Farmer's Market, I tried a spin on shrimp and grits. The sweetness of the beautiful charred corn balanced really nicely with the heat from the roasted green chiles. The grits, spiked with pepper jack cheese, are creamy and comforting.  The shrimp are sweet and tender. This is what comfort food is all about. 
Serves 2

1/2 lb shrimp, shelled
2 ears of corn, husks removed
1-2 Anaheim or Hatch green chiles (depending on your spice tolerance)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 Tb olive oil
2 Tb butter
salt and pepper

2 cups water
1/2 cup quick-cooking grits (I use Quaker's Quick Grits in the blue canister)
~1/2 cup pepper jack cheese, grated
2 Tb light cream (or milk)
2 Tb butter
salt and pepper

Rub the chiles and corn with a little bit of olive oil. Roast on a hot grill, turning occasionally, until the chiles are charred and blackened all around the corn is lightly charred. 
(Note: For those without grills, this can also be done using the flame of a gas stove burner or by placing them on a baking sheet under a hot broiler)
Place the blackened chiles in a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let them sit for about 5 minutes. The steam will help loosen the skin on the chiles, making them easier to peel. 

While the chiles steam, cut the charred corn off of the cob. Then remove the chiles, peel off the charred skin, remove the stems and seeds, and finely chop the chiles.

Cook the grits according to the package directions. For Quaker's Quick Grits, bring 2 cups of water to a boil, slowly star in 1/2 cup of grits and a pinch of salt, then lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the grits cook, heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted and hot, add the garlic to the pan, and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Add the shrimp in an even layer across the skillet, avoiding overlap. After 2-3 minutes, once the shrimp are about half opaque, flip the shrimp over. Add the corn and chiles to the pan and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Toss everything to combine, and remove from the heat.

When the grits are done, remove from the heat, and stir in the butter, grated cheese, and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Spoon the grits onto a plate or shallow bowl, and top with the shrimp, green chiles, and corn.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Knitting Bowl

I got the coolest present for my birthday this year that I just had to share with everyone. I opened a box from my parents to find a glazed stoneware bowl with a curled knotch down one side.  I had never seen anything like it, and while I thought it was absolutely beautiful, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. On the packing slip, it was called a knitting bowl. Still a little stumped, I called my mom to thank her for my gift...and to ask her what it was!
Turns out, a knitting bowl holds a ball of yarn, and you pull the loose end through the knotch. As you knit (or crochet), the yarn rolls around in the bowl, feeding smoothly through the knotch.  And not only does it help feed yarn smoothly, it prevents the annoying scenario where your ball of yarn inevitably falls off the couch and rolls across the room!

So in case there are any other folks out there into knitting or chrochet, I had to share this cool new discovery! If you want one of your own, my bowl is from The Woolery, though it seems they are temporarily out of stock. I found even more beautiful choices on Etsy!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lone Star Taco Bar

Sunday was a beautiful day in Boston. It was warm but not hot, blue skies, and breezy. We were headed to Fenway for a Red Sox game, but we needed lunch first. Since we wanted to park along the Green Line, I had a stroke of genius. Why not drive over to Allston, a rather inconvenient location for us normally, and check out a new-ish restaurant called Lone Star Taco Bar?
I read about it a while back, a little spot opened up by a Texan and a Californian (the same folks that own Deep Ellum next door, named after a neighborhood in Dallas), serving up tacos and margaritas. They had me at "tacos." And at "margaritas." Always missing the flavors of home, I had been dying to give it a try! We walked in to the relatively obscure spot (there's no real sign -- just a star jutting out from the top of the building and a chalkboard on the sidewalk) and grabbed two seats at the beautiful pewter bar top.
We browsed the menu, and when our eyes landed on the "Chili con Queso", wide smiles broke out on our faces. Because if there's one thing that's kryptonite to a Texan, it's queso. When our order arrived next to a pile of homemade tortilla chips, we dug right in. Now, as much as I love the classic combination of Velveeta and Rotel, this was next-level queso. Made with real cheese and chock-full of chiles, it was perfectly cheesy and spicy and delicious.
Next we each ordered a Carnitas taco and a Dallas Spicy Beef taco along with margaritas. My house margarita was just a touch sweeter than I like, but it's still the best margarita I've had in Boston (outside of our own kitchen).  My husband's breakfast margarita, a creative twist on the original, was fantastic with St Germain and grapefruit thrown into the mix.

Our tacos were even better than the drinks, served along with two homemade hot sauces (the green sauce with agave was a bit too sweet, but we really enjoyed the sweet potato habanero sauce). The Carnitas tacos were fall-apart tender and paired perfectly with tangy salsa verde and queso fresco. The Dallas Spicy Beef were gloriously messy and spicy on lightly fried corn tortillas.
Lone Star Taco Bar gets four whole-hearted thumbs ups from my husband and I. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine that you're back in Texas, because it tastes like home. If I could give the owners a big hug, I most definitely would. We're already dreaming about when we can go back for another taco fix!