January 2014 archive

a few of my favorite (Costco) things

By Kristina

20140128-205023.jpg

Even though our household is only two people, we still stock up at Costco. Their produce, frozen fruit, eggs, spices, and beverages are surprisingly good.

Himalayan pink salt – $4.49
Avocados (6) – $5.49
Bananas – $1.99
Grapefruit – $6.99
Cherries – $13.99
Eggs (2 dozen) – $6.99
Avocado oil – $9.89
Green tea (100 bags) – $13.99

the eater 38 essential boston restaurants

By Kristina

Pondering these for Sunday night dinners.

Proud of Somerville for having so many on the list!

1. Highland Kitchen*
2. Giulia
3. Journeyman
4. Bronywn
5. Casa B
6. Dali
7. Bergamot
8. Rino’s
9. Trina’s Starlite Lounge*
10. Rialto
11. East by Northeast*
12. Santarpio’s Pizza
13. Oleana*
14. Bondir*
15. Hungry Mother
16. West Bridge
17. Strip-T’s
18. Rendezvous*
19. Craigie on Main
20. Neptune Oyster*
21. jm Curley
22. Troquet
23. Taiwan Cafe
24. O Ya
25. Shanghai Gate
26. Island Creek Oyster Bar
27. Asta
28. L’Espalier
29. Erbaluce
30. Shojo
31. Sportello*
32. Menton
33. Hamersley’s Bistro
34. Myers + Chang
35. The Gallows
36. Toro
37. Sycamore
38. Ten Tables

*already been to

Of the top 38, which ones are your favorites and which ones are you interested in trying?

Sarma

By Kristina

20140126-224131.jpg

Last night we went out to Sarma with my old roommate Chitra who was in town from San Francisco. She and I often bonded over our “Sunday night blues” (her: med school, me: lesson planning). It’s now wonderful to bond over Sunday night dinner. I’m digging the Sunday night dinner lately. Like many other teachers on Friday nights, I want to curl up on the couch in a fuzzy blanket and go to sleep early. Sometimes it’s hard to snag a dinner reservation at hip new places like Sarma (the newest venture from Ana Sortun of Oleana and Sofra). Most of all, I like the Sunday night dinner as a relaxing way to kick off the week, rather than saving those hours for a little extra lesson planning or grading. The Sunday ambiance at Sarma was perfect for a leisurely catchup meal with a great friend! I’d been curious to try it ever since hearing about it from several friends, including Denise.

The menu is arranged from lightest to heaviest, and it’s recommended that each person order an average of 3 meze to be shared, tapas-style. Servers also walk around with trays of special menu items, dim sum-style. We chose the butternut squash pancake with the date butter from one such server. It was good, but now I wish we’d held out for the fried chicken that got so many rave reviews on Yelp.

We ordered the following to share:
PORK BELLY BUNEULO rosemary, green olive, quince $9
HOT DATES goat cheese, pistachio, cranberry-harissa $6
SEVEN LAYER HUMMUS falafel crackers $11
FAVA BEAN PATÉ capers, red onion, soft-cooked egg $6
CRAB & RED LENTIL KIBBEH coconut, green papaya, zhoug $12
LAMB RIBS pomegranate, pita crumb $12
HALOUMI CHEESE vine leaves, roasted grapes, raisin emulsion $8
HARISSA BBQ DUCK carrot, orange blossom, almonds $16

I enjoyed all of them. They were all consistently good and worked well together (a la Oleana). My favorites were the harissa BBQ duck, fava bean pate, and pork belly buneulo. Looking forward to going back!

Sarma
249 Pearl St
Somerville MA
617.764.4464

Cupcakes and Cocktails with Blog and Tweet Boston

By Kristina

_cupcakesandcocktails__bcae

Last Friday I took Cupcakes and Cocktails with Dustin Rennells in a class provided via
Blog and Tweet Boston. My school is right next door (152 Arlington St vs. 122 Arlington St), so I’ve often thought “hey, maybe I should take a class there” on my evening walks back to the T. Six years later, I am glad that I finally did!

If you take this class (it’s being offered again on March 28), definitely get dinner beforehand. The BCAE provided a cheese & fruit plate for us to snack on and Polar seltzer for us to drink, but I think I would have been on a sugar high and starving if I hadn’t eaten an early dinner with Jess and Erin first.

Panera YP2 Spinach Power Salad and Turkey Chili

The Teaching

As a math teacher, I love to pick up new teaching strategies in my fitness classes or other occasions for learning. Cupcake class definitely supplied me with some.

1) Divide and Conquer: Dustin partitioned out the tasks so that we all got to participate. He did the most error-prone tasks (e.g., making chocolate ganache). I had wondered beforehand if we were all going to try to follow the recipes at the same time and bake 12 sets of cupcakes. In fact, Dustin partitioned out the tasks for the 3 cupcakes and 3 drinks (e.g., lining cupcake pans, chopping fruit, frosting cupcakes). I got to chop a pear and lemon for the sangria as well as frost the spring break cupcakes. I wish there was a way to do this division of labor with math!

_cupcakesandcocktails

For the actual cupcake making, he doubled the recipes and had two pairs come up to the demonstration table to mix. This also allowed for us to take pictures and observe.

_cupcakesandcocktails (1)

2) Learn Names: Dustin made a valiant effort to learn participants’ names and use them. I appreciate that in any class, whether it be Pure Barre or Cupcakes and Cocktails! I found that I only caught about half the names and wanted to be able to connect people with their blogs, twitter handles, and Instagram handles. I would have liked name tags with name, blog, and social media information.

The Wealth of Knowledge

Though BCAE provided an excellent recipe packet, I found the baking tips from Dustin to be the most valuable aspect of the class. Tons of cupcake recipes can be found on the Internet, but the expertise of someone with 30,000+ cupcakes under his belt can’t be beat!

1) Cracking Eggs: Crack them individually into a glass to check for shell particles or a bad egg. I wish I had known this during a brunch I hosted for Cambridge Running Club a few years ago. I cracked all 18 eggs for the egg casserole into a mixing bowl…then screamed with revulsion when a bloody egg came out. I had to send a friend to Whole Foods to buy more eggs.

2) Bake At the Same Level: This helps avoid burning the tops or bottoms of the cupcakes.

3) Set a Timer for 2/3 of the Time: It’s always easier to undercook and bake more than it is to find burnt cupcakes.

4) Take Cupcakes out of the Pans to Cool: Dustin had us take out the cupcakes and then cover them with saran wrap. If the cupcakes remains in the pans, they will continue to cook. The saran wrap kept the steam emitted by the cupcakes trapped over them so that they would not dry out before frosting time.

5) Check for the Bounce, Don’t Use a Toothpick: If you poke the cupcake and it bounces back, it’s done. The toothpick method is not as accurate and can cause overcooking.

6) Kitchen Aid Tips: Using the “stir” setting won’t meringue the egg whites by mistake–that causes your baked goods to collapse. Additionally, when scraping down the sides, scrape around the dimple of the bowl as well.

7) Flip Before You Click: We used ice cream scoops to dispense the cupcake batter (use 5/6 of the scooper, then completely flip it before you click the button). This is to avoid air bubbles. Someone sang “you have to flip it, before you click it” after this directive. Dustin mentioned that it reminded him of a tessellation song from Pre-Algebra (“slide, flip and rotate”). Ha, math is still strong!

8) Chunks of Butter are Not Okay When Mixing: But chunks of sugar or flour are.

9) Leave Butter out for 5-6 Hours: This softens it to a good texture. Otherwise, microwave it in 15-second increments. My formerly germophobe self did not realize that it was safe to leave butter out that long! It is apparently totally fine to leave it out; it just develops a “skin” after 24 hours.

10) Aerate, Don’t Sift: Sifting is an antiquated practice left over from the days when gravel used to be in flour. Aerating means that you use another measuring cup to gently shake the flour into the measuring cup you are actually using. Then scrape off the excess with the flat edge of a knife. This results in the proper amount of flour for your recipe (while sifting it will often add enough extra that it will alter the recipe).

11) Add All Powdered Sugar at Once: If you add in increments, some sugar will get blended down super fine and the rest will be gritty.

The Cupcakes

_cupcakesandcocktails (6)Brandied Peach Cupcakes with Tangy Brown Sugar Frosting

Jess and I got to make this one. In spite of misconstrued directions (when Dustin said “now each of you crack an egg into the bowl,” all four bakers did, not realizing that he meant each *group* crack one egg), the cupcakes still turned out fine. Peaches are actually incorporated into the batter. To have them be suspended in there, Dustin partitions some of the flour from the recipe to coat and mix them before adding them to the batter. I love cream cheese frosting, fruit, and brown sugar, so these were almost my favorite.

_cupcakesandcocktails (4)Spring Break Cupcakes

I like that this cupcake included cake mix and jello. I wasn’t expecting such down-to-earth ingredients! Dustin says that he stockpiles unusual cake mix flavors such as strawberry. He advises not to substitute champagne or beer in the rum in these. He also suggested adding coconut, chunks of fruit, or chocolate chips because these do not alter the baking chemistry. These are very light and lemony.

_cupcakesandcocktails (5)
Sangria Cupcakes with Fruit Compote

This looked so difficult to frost well! Dustin filled a pastry bag over the top of his Cuisinart food processor and then created little walls that he then filled with compote. Then he melted chocolate and drizzled it over the top. These ended up being my favorite even though I initially thought I wouldn’t like them. The red wine flavor is very light, the chocolate is rich without being overpowering, and there is fruit 🙂

_cupcakesandcocktails (7)

The Cocktails

_cupcakesandcocktails (2)Birthday Cake Frosting Shot

This shot, which included pineapple juice, amaretto, and Deep Eddy vodka, was quite cute and popular with the class, but I found just one overwhelmingly sweet.

photo (5)Red Wine Spicy Winter Sangria

I definitely liked the sangria the best. Infused with cloves and cinnamon sticks and brimming with lots of fruit = delicious! I would love to make this for a winter party along with the sangria cupcakes.

Apple Cider Hot Toddy

I didn’t end up taking a picture of this drink. It looked like what I imagined butterbeer from Harry Potter to be. It also included butter and Cool Whip, so it was extremely decadent. Now I see why some Paleo folks put butter in their coffee!

Overall, I enjoyed the class so much! It was great to meet fellow bloggers and put faces to Twitter handles. I was also proud of myself for getting out on a “school night”–though I was so grateful that this was a Friday night event. I’m looking forward to taking more classes at BCAE and to experiment more with cupcakes. Dustin mentioned that he has also cooked savory cupcakes (cornbread + scallion, Vidalia onion + cream cheese + pancetta). I would love to make those…and try some of his cupcakes from Bad Boy Bakeshop!

photo (5)_cupcakesandcocktails (8)cdc037bc854a11e39cab0e21832907bf_8 I left with 9 cupcakes in a lovely cake holder and a tin of Victoria’s Pie Spices.

Upcoming Classes with Dustin:
2.22 Comfort Food Classics
3.9 Top o’ the Mornin’ Treats
4.6 Boozy Brunch
4.6 How to Throw a Killer Dinner Party
4.11 Paint the Night Red
4.12 Cookie Workshop
4.18 More Cupcakes and Cocktails

Other Classes I’m Eyeing at BCAE
3.3 – 4.14 Knitting: Beyond the Basics
4.9 Righteous Ramen
4.14 Magnificent Mexican: Mexican Cuisine and Margaritas with Chef Erwin Ramos of Ole and Olecito
a May session of First Steps: Wedding Dance Workshop

coffee math

By Kristina

Fotor0126132534 Photo Credits: Epoch Times (Starubucks cup and beans), Old Bisbee Roasters

My fiance recently got a new office, so we decided to do some of our Sunday work here instead of Bourbon Coffee Shop. The spacious kitchen features a Latte Lounge machine that serves up coffee, hot chocolate, lattes, mochaccinos, and cappuccinos for $0.50 each. That’s much cheaper than the $1.87 12 oz coffees at the Brown & Brew coffee shop above his old office.

He asked me “how much cheaper is the French press coffee we make at home?” Here’s how much will $30 pay for when drinking 2 cups of coffee per day (on a per-person basis).

Starbucks Tall Coffee (12 oz): Since I don’t make daily stops anymore, I don’t actually know, but will estimate $2.00 based on this for a morning coffee run and an afternoon one. $30/($2.00 * 2 coffees) = 7 days

Brown & Brew 12 oz Coffee: $30/($1.87 * 2 coffees) = 8 days

Latte Lounge 12 oz Coffee: $30/($0.50 * 2 coffees) = 30 days

The last time I bought Old Bisbee Roasters was 12/2/13 and it arrived about a week later. That 2 pound purchase lasted until Friday, January 24 (so about a month and a half for 2 people – or 90 days for 1 person).

So that’s one way to approach it…I think I will pose this question to my students (completely open-ended though, with no guidance for problem-solving heuristics).

keen on quinoa

By Kristina

Quinoa_salad_with_olives__chickpeas__spinach__celery__and_a_lemon_shoyu_dressing

Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 15oz can chickpeas
1 cup Castelvetrano olives
3 cups baby spinach
1 cup chopped celery
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp nama shoyu sauce
2 tsp Penzeys Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave seasoning
1/2 cup chopped scallions

1. Cook quinoa in chicken stock.
2. While quinoa is cooking, saute chickpeas and olives in olive oil.
3. Chop the celery and scallions.
4. After about five minutes, add the celery and spinach.
5. When the quinoa is done, combine it with the chickpea-olive-spinach-celery mixture in a large bowl.
6. Mix well and add the lemon juice, nama shoyu sauce, Penzeys seasoning, and scallions.

This recipe made enough for two lunch tupperwares and one dinner serving.

chili willy

By Kristina

Turkey_chili

Today’s chilly snow day called for some spicy chili. The following recipe made 6.5 servings.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 pounds ground turkey
1 28 oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 15 oz can Muir Glen fire roasted petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
3 cloves garlic
2 jalapeno peppers
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
6 tbsp chopped scallions
Spices: I was out of Penzeys Chili 3000, my go-to for chili, so I experimented with a combination of chipotle, cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes, and Aleppo pepper. Next time I will stick with the Penzeys Chili 3000.

I browned the turkey and put it in my Le Creuset dutch oven (not sure why I didn’t just brown it in the dutch oven). I added all the tomato products and spices, then let the mixture simmer. In the meantime, I cut up the garlic, jalapenos, bell peppers, and celery (adding them to the dutch oven as I finished each). I let it simmer for about 20 minutes, then subdivided into dinner portions and tupperwares (topping each with scallions).

favorite student

By Kristina

I keep a small Lucite box of Russell+Hazel Quips + Queries cards to use as hall passes or notes for students. I know that scrap paper would do just fine, but I enjoy the little luxury that makes me feel like a 1900’s lady handing out her calling cards when visiting the neighbors.

My students like writing on the cards too…reminders to save them the red cow sticker for their next skill mastery (yes, puffy animal stickers can still motivate the most macho of wrestlers), reminders to “laugh and sing Sexy and I Know It” so I won’t be stressed out, and reminders about who reigns supreme as my favorite student.

I find myself supremely lucky for being unable to pick just one from all my little chickens. There is so much to love in each of them. Sometimes I try to articulate the qualities of these favorites, and I think Fawn Nguyen puts it best.

“A kid who wants to think, is not afraid to struggle, laughs easily, cares more about learning than grades (has parents who believe the same), shows kindness.”
Fawn Nguyen

Celebrate that kid. If only grades could accurately measure how much that kid is worth…

Red Lentils

By Kristina

20140114-214237.jpg

Loving these red lentils with a few additions. I was home sick and didn’t have the tomatoes or coconut milk that other recipes called for, so I looked for simple red lentil recipes that I could improvise with.

Spiced Red Lentil Dal

2 tablespoons peanut oil (used olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup dried red lentils, washed and picked over
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (used powdered ginger)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 cloves (used a pinch of powdered cloves)
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Salt
2 tablespoons cold butter (optional) (used this)
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish. (used scallions)
2 cups baby spinach

1. Put oil in a skillet over medium high heat; when it is hot, add onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients except the salt, butter and cilantro in a saucepan. Add water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Adjust heat so mixture bubbles gently, and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper and keep cooking to desired tenderness. Lentils should be saucy but not soupy.

3. Remove cloves from pan and add reserved sautéed onion. Stir in butter if you are using it. Taste and adjust seasoning, then garnish with cilantro and serve.

I also added 2 cups of baby spinach at the end when I microwaved the first serving of lentils.

Yield: 4 servings.

body image

By Kristina

The world is overrun with reality shows like Say Yes to the Dress, popularity of bridal bootcamps at barre studios, and the idea that you will look the best you ever will on your wedding day. It’s harder to shake the idea that the engaged woman should be toiling through circuit training, eschewing gluten, and aiming for this idea of wedding day perfection. I signed up for the Pure Barre Bridal Special; I’m not immune. And I liked the cute “bride to be” barre socks that came with it. 😉

However, my focus lately has been on better time management and creating healthy eating habits rather than hitting the barre or the Minuteman Trail. I’ve started walking more instead of sitting all day (and expecting an hour of barre to counteract that). I pack lunch instead of running out to Berkeley Perk Cafe for a sandwich. One triumph: resisting junk food snacks and free food in the teachers’ lounge when I’m not actually hungry. However, this is difficult at lunch duty with the 8th graders. Our custodian is somewhat of a Renaissance man, and he often cooks up creations such as venison, pork chops, sausage and onions, oreo truffles, and potato soup in the cafeteria, then offers these creations to the teachers and students.

Yesterday, I went down to lunch duty having already eaten the tofu red curry I’d brought from home, and I turned down a pastrami sandwich from the custodian. As soon as I uttered the words, “I already ate lunch, and I’m on a wedding diet” I realized how very un-immune I was. I wanted to snatch the words back from the ears of the 8th grade girls who like to sit with me every single day. One of them said “why are you going on a diet? you’re skinny!”

There it went: the dreaded “S”-word.

I often encourage my female students to eat healthy and try sports so they will maintain positive body images. I tell the girls who join Running Club so they can “impress cute boys” or “get a hot butt” to focus on improving their speed or to set a goal to finish a 5K. I worry that their motivation and self-worth becomes too entwined in what boys think of them or in comparisons to girls who post thigh-gap pictures on Instagram. I want them to look up to me because of my teaching, not my Body Mass Index.

I’d indirectly praised the exact thing I wanted to tear down from its pedestal: the Skinny.

That was an eye-opener for me–I can say all I want, but contradictory actions undo the best-intentioned words. I’m going to keep building the healthy habits versus the mentality of “sweating for the wedding.” As June 28 approaches, I’m not going to put my self-worth in how I look in that white dress. I’m glad that my 8th grade lunch buddy didn’t immediately agree with my statement or ask “ooh can I do it too?” Don’t sleep on the younger generation, people…sometimes they will teach you more than you can teach them.

1 2 3