Saturday, February 23, 2013

I Like This Whole Birthday Week Thing

An old Birthday Crown
I felt it was needed to get the point across.
So about a week ago, my friend Pyro and I were having a conversation about Valentine’s Day and birthdays. I was telling him about how I never liked Valentine’s Day because it distracted from my birthday and due to the fact of being single. Then recently I realized that I still don’t really have a big thing for Valentine’s Day, and I’m not single anymore. I figured out that I must just be that self-absorbed about my birthday.

As a kid, my Dad had his birthday on January 19th, my brother had his on the 31st. So once February hit, I knew it was all about me.

(I liked that.)

Every day would be one day closer.

Except for that one day.

That one day seemed to break all concentration from the all-important, most vital day in all of February.

Valentine’s day.

It was terrible.

(Believe me.)

Discussing my feelings with Pyro, he nonchalantly states that as he’s gotten older, he’s always felt that his birthday has become “just another year,” that it’s not as special.

I firmly disagreed. I told him flatly that that would never happen to me. My birthday has always been, still is, and always will be an awesome day. I told him that my birthday would never become “just another year.”

He made sure to make a mental note.

This year has been anything but just another year.

The birthday celebrations began on Friday night, (the 15th). My Mom and I went out to our first pick restaurant, Celestial Cafe. It’s situated in a plaza; the outside fits the look of the normalcy around it, but once you’re inside, you kind of forget that right outside is a gas station, a Dunkin’ Donuts, and a Subway.

The atmosphere is so cozy, that even though for the most part it’s all one open room, when you’re seated, you feel like you’ve got the place to yourself.

I enjoyed my favorite (I keep trying to try something new…But it never works out.)

Portabella Peanut Thai.

My Mom (more adventurous than me that night) tried, for the first time, their Chicken Carbonara.

She also gave me a new book!

Saturday night (the 16th), my Dad surprised me with Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King. Who’s name and books will never be absent from my bookshelf or Kindle. I was happy.

I also received a basket stuffed with goodies from my Grandma. 

Sunday (the 17th, aka, my birthday) I woke up, excited and ready for my day. A little nervous due to the fact that I usually have one big break down on my birthday, but other than that, I was ready.

It started out as a normal Sunday morning. I headed to church thinking that The Boy wouldn’t be joining me; fortunately I was proven wrong. Standing in the lobby I watched as he walked in and began to look for me. After church, The Boy, Pyro, and I began the first stage of my birthday plan.

1. Go to store; buy lots of ingredients
2. Stop by my house to grab additives (peanut butter, BBQ and teriyaki sauce, mustard, fruit, etc.)
3. Head to The Boy’s
4. Have The Boy cook birthday dinner

The chips were mainly for snacking.
They did their job well.

Thankfully The Boy was gracious and willingly went along with my plan.

It worked for his favor.

The meal was delicious.

Steaks for the non-vegetarians (all marinated in a different marinade). Raspberry Vinaigrette for one, his own special marinade for another, one a honey balsamic vinaigrette (he thinks, haha), and one was done in a skillet in a white wine sauce. For all the vegetables and fruit I picked out, he made a stir-fry. It consisted of bell peppers (red, yellow, and orange), two onions, a can of pineapple chunks, and a mango. The sauce, chosen by The Boy, was teriyaki sauce and my Haitian hot pepper peanut butter. In to the leftover white wine sauce he decided to put the chopped up portabella mushrooms. He also boiled some brussel sprouts (I love them) then sauteed them in garlic butter. The feast (yes it was a feast) could not be matched. Definitely, positively one of the top birthday dinners I have ever had (that’s including my mother’s home cooked meals and my various first choice restaurants).

Desert couldn’t have been more fitting either. The Boy actually looked up a flourless peanut butter cake. Mmmmhm. Due to lack of springform or pie pans, the party indulged in flourless peanut butter muffin tops. The texture is actually quite surprising. You would think they contained more than just sugar, eggs, and peanut butter (lots of peanut butter).

Yesterday the celebration continued. It opened with getting to work have finding an absolutely lovely 20 dollar gift card to Marshalls. 

After work, to conclude my birthday festivities, my grandmother took my mother, my brother, and I out for dinner. (Dad was sadly gone to New Jersey to help out my Aunt and Uncle some more and my grandfather wasn’t feeling good.)

Where you may ask?

Where else?

Celestial Cafe.

My Mom and I couldn’t help but make the suggestion. It was all too tempting.

Trying hard to choose something else on the menu, I succeeded to temptation and fell in love with the Portabella Peanut Thai all over again. 

Side Note 1: I've been experimenting with sweet potato and soup. So far, success!

Sweet Potato, Spinach, Sautéed Onions & Mango. Spiced with my favorites,   curry, cumin, red pepper, and cinnamon.  

Sweet Potato Stew: Sweet Potato with Red & Yellow Bell Peppers,  Onions, Mango, and Celery. Spiced with the same as the last soup. 
Of course both of these had a decent amount of peanut butter added as well. The flavors were exquisite. 

Side Note 2: The Boy and I definitely have something special going on. These were our late night snackings on Wednesday.

This is not an accurate depiction of just how much ketchup was in that bowl.

Hehe...Peanut butter and rice.
Side Note 3: Got my birthday present from The Boy last night!! NO! It's not an engagement ring! It's my brand new beautiful promise ring. Promising he won't leave me because of how crazy I am (or in the words of his brother, how "broken" I am, hahaha). 

Friday, February 15, 2013

It's Officially Pie Day

Back around Thanksgiving, I seriously wanted a pie that I could safely consume. Looking through online recipes I found one of my favorite pies: sweet potato. The recipe I used can be found at The Witchy Kitchen: Vegan Sweet Potato Pie

My friend, who shall be nicknamed Pyro, had decided to surprise me with a Hannah-friendly pie. So Friday the 23rd of November officially became Pie Day. I was souped.

The Boy also hung out that day (sadly he did not get to fully join our festivities; he does not like sweet potato and he was gone by the time Pyro’s pie was ready). While I baked my pie he had the idea to finally try out the new donut pan I’d bought a few weeks earlier. Awesome right? I have a boyfriend who LIKES to bake and cook. Plus! He wanted to make the recipe I had found, peanut butter donuts. This new adventure made Pie Day ten times more fun.

As for my sweet potato pie, I followed the recipe as is. I like to the first time I make something to see what the original is like, the next few times I’ll start playing with it. Like for this, next time I may add some peanut butter to the filling itself. For me, you can just never have too much peanut butter.

The pie did take most of the day to make. I didn’t mind though, I got to spend the day cooking. It may be important to say that my day started at 10:30am…so…yea, that might have had something to do with the time frame.

It wasn’t hard work, just a lot of baking and cooling. For the most part the hardest thing was probably making the sweet potato as smooth as possible. But once again, I wasn’t using an electric mixer or anything, just a trusty old fork.

Making the pie basically goes as follows:
1) Bake the sweet potatoes; let cool
2) Make crust out of oats, pecans, dates, oil, water, and peanut butter; stick in fridge
3) Peel and mash potatoes till smooth; then to potatoes, add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and mix together
4) Then add milk (substituted almond milk), yogurt (substituted coconut yogurt), and vanilla
5) Pour mixture into the pie crust and bake again; then let cool for a couple hours

See? Simple stuff, just takes time. All the best things do.

In fact, the pie was quite tasty. I love sweet potato pie, so this Thanksgiving I was extremely thankful for this recipe.

The donuts…were more of an experiment. The Boy and I didn’t have all the ingredients for the original recipe. So, we did what the best experiments call for, we improvised. 

Pyro was nervous about our end result. But honestly, the improvisation worked out just fine. However, the minor detail that I had previously used basically all of our measuring utensils that morning and the night before…That made it a little difficult.

Most of our eyeballing worked, except for one. Baking powder.

I knew we shouldn’t have eyeballed baking powder. But what else we were supposed to do?

(Sure I could have cleaned off one of the teaspoon measures, but really, that just seemed like the easy way out.)

On the bright side, we underestimated. The first donuts tasted wonderful, just didn’t rise correctly.

The next few tasted just as good AND rose to a nice fluffy height. 

Later on, the feasting commenced later in the day on Official Pie Day. Pyro came over after he ran a few errands; he had made a yogurt and whipped cream (oil based so I could eat it) pie. It has to refrigerate for a while. So we did our own improvisation and stuck it in the freezer.

I was quite impatient.

I wanted pie.

The Boy had to leave, but Pyro and I stayed dining and talking over two distinct and tasteful pies.

Conclusion: Official Pie will definitely become a tradition.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Smell Without Taste

There seems to be a debate on how many senses the human body has; however, two senses are readily agreed upon and strictly connected: Smell and Taste.

For a long time, humans have known that these two senses are intricately intertwined. It’s why, grossly, after getting sick, to eliminate the wretched smell from your nostrils, you have to brush your teeth. It’s why some people say that they can taste snow before a single flake ever falls. Also, for the reverse of my first example, it’s what makes food so much more than just fueling ourselves to keep us alive, but an entire experience able to be enjoyed.

Or to be avoided. One unfortunate family dinner at my Grandparent’s went from a homemade Shepherd’s Pie to a quick run down to the local pizza place. As the food was served, before anyone even tasted the meal, the odor emanating from our plates removed any volition to actually eat what sat in front of us. Some ingredient (still debated till this day) had obviously soured without my grandmother’s knowledge. Most of my family never ventured to try the pie, I did (it was hypoglycemic act of desperation, I needed food). It tasted wonderful; I experienced no adverse side effects from whatever had gone rotten, but once everyone else’s reactions were made public (and loudly) I immediately stopped my consumption.

Smell and taste can hardly be separated.

This connection baffles me. I understand it. It makes perfect sense. Yet it still confounds me.

I often hear, “Wow Hannah, that smells amazing!” Or “Hannah, that smell is making me want to cook something.” When my parents order pizza (which I cannot eat) or go out for dinner, I experiment with my mine, having the kitchen to myself. My mom tells me all the time during these situations that the smell is almost making her feel guilty for not cooking something of her own.

This is where my confusion comes from. I hear comments like these, I say thank you, then politely offer them a bite. Their reaction every time “Oh no. But thanks.” Their response is either coupled with a laugh or stated quite matter-of-factly like they would never eat something like that and why was I even asking? If smell and taste are so mingled within our functioning, how can they be so willing to smell my food, but not taste it? Isn’t smelling half of tasting?

Maybe there’s a block in most people’s brains. And maybe my wacko-ness somehow broke down that blockage. Maybe that’s an indicator I’m meant to be in the food world. Most foodie people seem to have broken through that block.

Three specific instances of this (even though this happens just about every time I cook) are when I cook my Veggie and Quinoa Stir-Fry, when I cooked my first ever portabella mushroom burger, and my recently created black bean soup.

My Veggie stir-fry doesn’t have much to create a smell other than the sautéing vegetables themselves. I only put a little black pepper in the quinoa and nothing else really. The sauce is what creates the aroma: peanut butter and horseradish mustard. The sauce sounds strange, but it’s a simple way to add tons of flavor to a stir fry. My mother always tells me “Wow, that smells great! I wish I was cooking something that smelled and looked as good as that!”

Will she taste it?

Of course not.

A few weeks ago I tried my first “burger” made from a portabella mushroom cap. I slathered some peanut butter and horseradish mustard (hadn’t had this combo in a while) on the bread. On top of the mushroom, I lavishly layered some onions and pineapple, sautéed in worcestershire sauce. While I was cooking the onions, pineapple, and mushroom, my dad walked over and exclaimed, “I have got to tell you, Hannah, that really does smell amazing!” Accompanied by his classic laugh and facial expression that goes along with statements he’s surprised to be making.

Would he try it?

Of course not.

Okay, I’ll admit, the latest dish I’ve concocted looked nasty. Like not terribly nasty, but it sure wasn’t the prettiest dish I’ve ever made. Black bean soup. With peanut butter. Separately, they both look appetizing and taste good. Together, they’re still tasty, absolutely creamy. However, when they get together any chance of physical attraction disappears.

The soup was spiced well though; it had cumin, curry, cinnamon, and red pepper (my favorite mix). I added diced peaches, onions, celery, and peanut butter. It was a result of another late night need to cook. I actually made it a second time and kept it in the fridge for dinners. I have yet to eat this warm, but I did do quite a bit of “taste-testing.”

When I give the ingredient list people admit that it’s got good stuff in it, they’re attracted to the spices, the peanut butter throws them a little bit, they admit (while I’m cooking it) that obviously it smells good, but will they taste it?

Of course not.

Smell without taste.

Maybe it’s our sight that messes things up, or just stepping out of ones comfort zone. Either way, smelling without actually tasting…Just doesn’t seem fun to me.