Bird Moment: Downy Woodpecker

These downy woodpeckers decided to greet me from a perch in the tree by my front door.

Whassup?

Whassup?

Not a bad way to come home, if I do say so myself.

Let’s hear it for central PA living!

Nosh: Roasted Parsnip Fries

Welcome to the easiest and most versatile recipe you’ll ever…ever…encounter.

In the long, cold winter nights, like everybody else, I long for comfort foods. You know the kind, the ones that exude savory warmth and just make you feel good and safe and warm, from your heart outwards. For me–and believe me when I say I have no idea why–I get the warm-fuzzies from parsnips.

Parsnips are a less-popular cousin of the carrot, and while I enjoy the noble carrot, I have no idea why parsnips take second place. They taste better. You can do more things with them. And their flesh is almost-creamy, so you get a textural treat as well. If parsnips are still in the ground when the first frost hits, they become even sweeter than they are in summer, so yay for winter produce! They weren’t anything I ever ate when I was a kid; I didn’t have my first parsnip until well into my adulthood, but I took to them so fast it’s like I’m making up for lost time. I’ve eaten them practically every way possible; roasted with balsamic glaze, mashed, sauteed…you name it, I’ve tried it. But turning them into oven-roasted fries is my current favorite parnsip incarnation, as it fills both my inner yearnings for yummy parsnips and the “I want to eat my weight in french fries” craving.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. parsnips
  • Olive oil, enough to coat the parsnips
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Seriously. That is all you need. More on this in a little bit.

Preheat your oven. Remember how I said this was versatile? Well. Are you roasting anything else this evening? Put the parsnips in at that temperature. Depending on the size and thickness at which you slice them, they may take a little more time, or a little less, than the expected 400°, 25-30 minutes, cooking time and temp. For example: we have sliced them thicker, and let them cook in a 450° oven for twenty minutes, turning them once mid-cook-time. In today’s blog, the parsnips were cut super-thin and cooked for exactly 22 minutes at 390° (the spinach and mushroom tart we made for dinner had a very specific temperature, it was kind of funny), and they came out beautifully browned and crispy. (And the tart was OK, but I won’t be blogging about it. Please focus on my beautiful parsnips.) The point is, you can make this recipe work with whatever else you’re roasting.

Often, the core of a parsnip is a little woody. Your first objective once the ‘snip is washed and peeled is to take out that woody core, so cut the parsnip in half. You’ll see a definite line where the core differentiates from the flesh. Carve out the core and start slicing your parsnips into surprisingly addictive ersatz fries.

Cored, and ready for fry creation.

Cored, and ready for fry creation.

A few things.

1) If you have a mandoline you’re not terrified of using, that would make the julienning process easier. I do not have a mandoline that doesn’t terrify me. Look at this as an opportunity to improve your knife skills. Slicing them is the hardest part of the entire recipe, and slicing’s not so bad, right?

2) I think thinner is better, in this instance. The parsnips bake up nice and crispy when they’re cut thin, but of course, this is your kitchen so cut the fries as thick or thin as you like.

When you’re done, you’ll have a beautiful pile of parsnips.

IMG_0223-001

Just waiting for you to do with them what you will.

Toss them with the oil and your choice of seasonings. I’ve seen them roasted with a wide range of herbs and spices, so if you’re devoted to the idea of adding in more spices, the go for it! You can use thyme, or rosemary, or Aleppo pepper,  or chili powder, or Parmesan cheese, and so on, and so on. But I recommend making them relatively au naturel the first time ’round, so you get to experience beautiful parsnips in their inherent radiant beauty. Sometimes, less is more.

Once you’ve herbed and spiced and oiled your ‘snips, lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Pretty much it.

That’s pretty much it.

Then pop them into your nice hot oven. Turn them once every ten minutes to ensure even cooking and so you can check on them. As I said before, these were in for exactly 22 minutes. We probably could have pulled them at the 20-minute mark, but we gave them a few extra moments to maximize future crunch. When we were done, we had a beautiful pile of gorgeous, totally delicious parsnip fries.

Don't even think about trying to steal fries off my plate.

Don’t even think about trying to steal these fries off my plate.

George and I have been known to eat every last bit of parsnip in one sitting; they are THAT good. And they’re best when they’re crispy-fresh, straight out of the oven. Overnight, they tend to soften, though they still taste incredible. We’ve probably made these a dozen times in the past few months, and will make them again and again. Because parsnips.

(Side note: Mom, did you ever imagine, when I was a kid, that I would be such a vegetable junkie? No. Me neither.) 

 

Sunrise, Myrtle Beach South Carolina, Feb. 21, 2015

It was another successful trip to Myrtle Beach, another successful visit to see the family that moved down there. George and I had a great time, went and saw some very cool…and kitschy…stuff (blogs on things we did while visiting, coming up), and spent the old QT with the fam. Double-QT, as both my brother and G’s niece live down there, and both sides of the family get along. It was all one grand time. Awesome. 

And, as I am busy trying to rebuild my photo portfolio since losing my external hard drive (yes, people, I’m on the cloud now–unlimited photo storage for Amazon Prime members! Hooray!), it meant I had to get up early and head to the beach for a second Myrtle Beach sunrise photo shoot. There are worse things to have to do with one’s time.

It was kind of a cloudy morning, but I caught all the sun almost anyone could see, that morning. By 10:30 it had completely clouded over and was gray and drizzly all the rest of the day. Here’s to the benefits of early rising! All photos were taken alongside the pier at Surfside Beach.

At Surfside Pier.

At Surfside Pier.

I’m including more photos than I normally would, and don’t have a ton of narrative.

No sun yet.

No sun yet.

Because mostly, the pictures speak for themselves.

I love when the birds show up.

I love when the birds show up.

Speaking of birds…

This guy's going about on very important gull business.

This guy’s going about on very important gull business.

I almost started to think, maybe this was as good as it was going to get, with the weather looking sketchy.

Clouds were moving in.

Clouds were moving in. At least the birds were having fun.

 Then I started to see the sun peek out a little.

Hey.

Hey.

And a little more.

Well all right all right.

Well all right all right.

And then…holy pockets!

We got us a sunrise!

We got us a sunrise!

This clear patch of sky is the definition of “window of opportunity”.

This always gives me a sense of peace.

This always gives me a sense of peace.

And the low clouds helped keep the light golden.

IMG_0187-002

Funny how clouds can be a good thing.

I had to check out how things looked under the pier.

Mid-pier.

Mid-pier.

And from the other side.

Here's looking out your side entrance.

Here’s looking out your side pilings. Baby.

For a moment things lightened up and started to look suspiciously like a Monet painting.

But there's a lot going on in that sky.

But there’s a lot going on in that sky.

And then? Le BOOM! Back to gold.

I love the fiery pinks in the clouds.

I love the fiery pinks in the clouds.

Though the sun was getting ready to disappear for the rest of the day…

Not long after this, it was all gray and cloudy.

Not long after this, it was all gray and cloudy.

…it sure put on one hell of a show for me when it showed its glorious face.

This photo right here? Is why I get up early.

This photo right here? Is why I get up early.

I hope you enjoyed the sunrise! I know I did.

 

Travel Theme: Details

Ailsa has issued this week’s photo challenge at Where’s My Backpack?, and this week, the devil is in the details. 

Like this one, close to my home. This weekend we get to feast our eyes on a ton of ice sculpture for the annual Lewisburg Ice Festival. (Bonus! It’s neither unseasonably warm nor raining, so the sculptures will make it through the festival, so long as the weather lasts.) I love this little walrus guy, and his detailed whisker holes and scary walrus tusks. 

I am he as you are he as you are me. Or something like that.

I am he as you are he as you are me. Or something like that.

Next stop: Venice! We were at a glassblower’s shop on Murano Island. The artist was showing off his mad glassblowing skills (which were prodigious), but every so often, you have to look elsewhere. I liked this schematic for an upcoming art glass project. 

There's a lot of fire in that hole.

There’s a lot of fire in that hole.

Heading home…and I mean, really, heading home from Italy, we were starting to descend and I realized we were flying right over Long Island. Which, might I say, is really long. And is made up of a lot of barrier channels and quirky little islands, like this one. I had no idea, until I saw it from above.

Greetings from New York. Now go home.

Greetings from New York. Now go home.

While we’re in New York…

…New York State, that is…

…let’s make a stop at Dr. Frank’s winery, on Keuka Lake. The wine? Delicious. The view? Gorgeous? But the little grape cluster cut crystals that comprise the body of the chandeliers in their tasting room? Swoon-worthy.

Want.

Want.

And finally, we end with a visit to my beloved Boston. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has some extraordinary exhibits, but their musical instruments room is exceptional. Here’s a close-up of a hand-worked guitar inlaid with a salacious amount of mother-of-pearl. And check out the carving in the sound hole. Crazy!

What? Like making this was hard?

What? Like making this was hard?

That’s it for now. Enjoy the photo challenges, everyone! See you around Ailsa’s page. 

Nosh: Hot Pepper and Tomato Sauce

Hey, all.

First things first: regarding my previous post about damage done to my external hard drive, the verdict is in. My photographs have been deemed unrecoverable. Gone. Kaput. I still have some stored in various places, and (silver lining, I suppose) most of the images I posted on this blog are what I considered among the best of my photographs. So I have the blog photos too, of course. It breaks my heart; there were a lot of shots I wasn’t done with yet, but I wallowed long enough and wallowing won’t bring them back. The fact remains that they are unrecoverable and I am tired of wallowing. Ever forward.

Now. On to the good stuff.

Oh, this pepper…sauce? Condiment? Magical addition to one’s food lineup? A word of warning: if you don’t like garlic or hot and spicy food, then this recipe is soooooo not for you. But for me? Garlic + spicy = perfect. We are in the home stretch of vegan January (necessary to rid myself of the clutter of forty pounds of butter I ate while making cookies this holiday season) so it’s perfect for us to eat right now, but it’s always good. I’ve made this so many times that I don’t remember where I first heard about it, and I think by now the recipe for it has coded itself into my DNA. Do note: it takes 40-45 minutes to cook, so it’s not a super-speedy recipe, but it’s all delicious. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 large-ish bell peppers (whichever color you prefer)
  • 2 hot peppers; I generally stick with serranos but use whatever you’d like
  • 2 or 3 or 4 cloves of garlic; it’s all dependent on your taste. And my taste for garlic is deep and abiding.
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 (ish) cup vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil

That’s it! No long list of spices, no hard-to-get ingredients. That’s one of the things I love about this pepper sauce. It’s a simple approach that makes things that already taste really good, like peppers and tomatoes and garlic, even better. Getting started: Assemble your ingredients.

Off to a good start!

Off to a good start!

Start some oil in a pan, over low-to-medium heat. Cut the bell peppers into nice, bitey chunks. Slice the serranos into nice, thin wheels. The sauce is supposed to be hot, so don’t remove the seeds from the hot peppers. Cut the garlic into thin slivers. Toss everything in the pan and add some salt.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Let these start to cook, but stay nearby and stir the peppers and garlic fairly regularly. You want them to get soft, you don’t want them to fry and get crisp. After about twenty minutes, they should be nice and soft–not totally squishy, but definitely flexible.

On their way to savory goodness.

On their way to savory goodness.

Once the peppers and garlic are ready, add the tomato puree and enough vegetable stock to give the ingredients something to hang out in for a while. I found that a cup of stock tends to work. Give the mixture a taste; because of the varying and unpredictable heat of hot peppers (if you look up serranos on the Scoville Heat Scale, you’ll see their heat ranges from 6,000 to 23,000 units, and there’s no way to tell which peppers are hottest without cutting them open and tasting them), your sauce may actually need another jolt of spice.

If you find that’s the case, don’t be afraid to shake in a little more hot pepper; cayenne works well. But be judicious about adding in extra cayenne. The sauce will thicken and concentrate the flavors, and you don’t want your beautiful spicy sauce to morph into a pan full of molten agony. If it’s still not spicy enough for your liking at the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in a little more cayenne and call it a day. Continue the cooking at the same medium-low temperature, and–again–stir it fairly regularly. At the end of another twenty minutes or so, you should have a nice, thick sauce. You can always use the back of the spoon test to see if the sauce is thick enough. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Ahhhh…now it’s ready.

So what do we do with this? Oh, so very many things. This hot pepper sauce can be:

  • Schmeared on sandwiches
  • Stirred into pasta sauce
  • On top of chicken breast
  • It tastes great with arugula. So…anything with that
  • Mixed into beans
  • Over a baked potato topped with broccoli and cheese (I speak from experience)
  • And so on. The possibilities are endless!

The first thing we made with this batch was hummus and pita pizzas. Homemade pizzas of any ilk are a great way to use up random leftovers and/or open things in the fridge, so see what you’ve got in there and go for it. Here’s how:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Smear some hummus on howevermany pita breads you want to make and place them on a cookie tray. Spread some of your delicious, spicy, peppery, tomato-y sauce on the hummus.

Oh, hells yeah!

Oh, hells yeah!

This is a delicious nosh as it stands, right now, with nothing else done to it. But hold on! We can make it even better.

Top this with whatever you choose. George and I had some onions we’d chopped up and an open bag of arugula (a staple in this house) sitting in our fridge, so on they went. We also had a bunch of leftover roasted acorn squash, so that got chopped up and put on top.

Almost home!

Almost home!

We put that in the oven and let it all roast for 12-ish minutes; turn the baking sheet once after 8 minutes or so to check on how it’s doing. When you take the pitas out of the oven, top them with some fresh parsley, if  you have any on hand. In the end, you’ll have a lovely, toasty pita topped with roasted veggies, hummus that turns almost nutty in the oven, and this amazing, savory, thick, spicy, all-around vegtastic, and (best of all) healthy sauce. Because that’s how we do in central PA.

Plus, it's good cold the next day.

Plus, it’s good cold the next day.

Vegan January ain’t so hard to handle when you get to eat food like this. Enjoy!

The New Year Thus Far

Yes, I know, it’s been a while. Christmas always seems to knock my blogging off-kilter. There’s just so much to do, what with decorating and festivities and a bajillion cookies to make and some writing and teaching shoehorned into the middle of all that…

What’s that? You think I exaggerate when I lay claim to a bajillion cookies? Oh ho ho, my friends. Behold!

Bajillion.

Quantity: One bajillion.

Plus pumpkin fudge and green tea marshmallows (OMG YES) and Turkish delight, which is like eating soft and beautiful rose-flavored clouds. I could hoover that all day long.

The last few years have had rough beginnings/endings to them. Two years ago, January ushered in back-to-back funerals and the most vicious stomach flu I’ve had in a decade. A year ago in December, George and I got into that terrible car accident and totaled our Honda.

And just last week, as I was getting set to emerge from the Christmas cocoon without a funeral or a car accident in sight (all good things!), I dropped my external hard drive and broke some kind of connector thingie inside. The hard drive had EVERY SINGLE PHOTOGRAPH I’VE EVER TAKEN (more or less, minus what was on my phone, and the few files I’ve loaded onto the new computer) on it, moved there after my old computer’s hard drive died on me earlier this year. It is dead to me and all my photos are completely inaccessible. Yes, I know I should be in the cloud and your well-meaning point has been taken, but that advice? Is no good to me right now.

To say I laid around for two days wallowing in despair…that’s not so much of a dramatic re-interpretation of my days as it is a spot-on description of what I did. Every. Photograph. Thousands and thousands of them. (For those of you who know I’ve written a book, don’t worry. The book is the safest thing I have, backed up in several places–including a copy in my email–and sent in full to the writing partner. At least there’s that.) As we speak my hard drive has been sent off to a data retrieval service, and so I wait. And wait. At least I’ve crawled out of my apoplectic coma. The howling in my head has stopped. And I feel the need to write again. These are all good things.

So. Here is one of the few photos I currently have in my possession, taken in a nearby corn field on a cloudy, yet bright, day.

What happens to corn stalks in the winter.

What happens to corn stalks in central PA in the winter.

Ever forward.

Travel Theme: Golden

Ailsa’s travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack? is “golden”. Groovy! I don’t have much time to be chatty today, so let’s get to it, shall we?

First stop: close to home. Beautiful Lewisburg, PA, where the trees put on quite the seasonal display and turn a stunning shade of gold in autumn.

It's kind of spectacular here in the fall.

It’s kind of spectacular here in the fall.

These Italian fig bundles look like little golden dessert ravioli. Stuffed with figs. They’re like a dream come true.

IMG_0062

Bask in their golden aura!

 

And speaking of Italy…here’s a cozy little street in Florence that turns golden once the sun starts to set and the lights come on.

I want to live here. That is all.

I want to live here. That is all.

Relax during the holidays! Be like Buddha, in perfect tranquility in a lotus flower. As seen at the MFA in Boston.

I feel all zen and groovy.

I feel all zen and groovy.

And finally…here is a sunrise that’s about as golden as it gets. Taken at North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It’s one heck of a way to start the day.

Nature is so effortlessly beautiful.

Nature is so effortlessly beautiful.

This was a great challenge for me to do. It’s been an opaque gray here for about a week; I’ve been starved of brightness. (No, wait. There was one notable hour of sunlight; we were all so happy to see it we made sure our friends and neighbors checked out that strange fiery sky orb, but I digress.) I hope you enjoyed the photos! Or, of course, you’d be more than welcome to participate. See you ’round the internets.

XOXO

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