Monday, September 24, 2018

#17 - Pickle Something

I love pickles. I love pickled things. Pickling is easy. And cheap.

Why has it taken me so long to pickle my own things?

K Rob used to pickle stuff all the time when we were roommates in San Diego. Mostly onions, of what I remember. And every time, I'd be like, dang, this adds so much to this dish.

So, I finally had my first attempt at pickling.

I started with a search on the Serious Eats website of pickling techniques. I started with the very first recipe on the article called 23 Pickle Recipes We Love: garlic dill pickles. A classic.

The recipe called for 8 ingredients. I came home from the store with 7 of them. Luckily I had bought fresh dill for a sauce for dinner, so I subbed that in for dill seeds. I'm sure that matters, but I wasn't about to walk the full block back to the store. No way. Plus, I see fresh dill in pickle jars all the time. So...

Chop, peel, boil, combine, wait.



Then, I decided to give pickled garlic a go as well. The Serious Eats article claimed that I should have been the whole garlic cloves from my pickle jars the whole time and gave me the deepest regrets of my life because WHY HAVEN'T I DONE THAT BEFORE?!

So again, on my own, peel, boil, combine, wait.


Well, I had some mixed results.

The spicy garlic dills? Delightful. Just hot enough to make the sides of my news break out in a little sweat, just like they do with McClure's spicy dills (the best pickles of all time). They had taste and enough crispness. I am so glad I can keep these on hand because a spicy pickle is my favorite cure for rough morning.

After: YES
The regular garlic dills? Nope. They tasted so much of apple cider vinegar and it was not good. However, I may try again with the same recipe with just white vinegar. Something about the acid and flavor of the apple cider vinegar made me put the pickle down, something I've never done with a pickle in my life.

Then, gem of all gems, the pickled garlic. I'm never going to need to worry about vampires again with these little guys. Yes, I ate them whole, just popped the whole clove in my mouth. I mean, not all of them. But I kinda want to eat all of them. They have that garlic bite but then they mellow out quickly and just leave a nice, clean mouth feel with that lingering garlic taste. Plus, they were so easy. I'm going to make these all the time, to snack when I need a little flavor, as a side for cheese plates, and to throw into salad dressings and other items. Yum.

I also bought pears to pickle but haven't quite gotten there yet. I'll add an update when I get to them.

#76 - Visit Tahoe

I am a sucker for a lake in the mountains. There's no place that feels more like home to me than Brant Lake, NY. The blues, the greens, the crisp mountain air, the cool lake water... My stress and anxiety melt off me within an hour of being there.

My love of that place has translated a bit where I feel refreshed anytime I'm in a lake in the mountains. From the first time I saw a picture, I had my heart set on having that feeling at Lake Tahoe someday.

My chances of finding an excuse to make the trip to Tahoe spiked when I met Mariko in my PhD program. They spiked again when Mari planned her wedding to Tim and invited me. A small wedding for someone I love to someone she loves surrounded by their loved ones, some of whom are also my loved ones in one of the most beautiful places in the world? I didn't even have to make a conscious choice.

The only downside to this trip was that I had to leave my annual week at Brant Lake with my family a few days early and fly from Albany to Sacramento at 6:00am and then drive 2 hours to Tahoe the day of the wedding. The only painful part was leaving camp. The rest of the trip was a breeze as I was so looking forward to exploring a new place.

Lake Tahoe itself is so very beautiful. It's funny. Even though I live just 2 blocks away from Lake Michigan, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, I was still in awe of the sheer size of Lake Tahoe. It's also so deeply blue and, in the summer, when I was there, surrounded by such deep greens and bright wildflowers.

What a beautiful day

I sat on this rock for a long while.
The wedding itself took place on a large deck overlooking the lake just before sunset. The reception was just inside. It was an incredible backdrop, and I'm so thankful to have spent a night with some of the people from my program, classmates and faculty, whom I grew to love and care for.

The next day, I had breakfast with Kai and then took my time, driving along the lake in my rental car with a fresh, local chai latte. I had to pass through some traffic on my way to Emerald Bay, but after I squeezed through a campground, the road opened up to mountain roads, sometimes just along the cliffs, looking over the lake. I drove, stopped, hiked, and wondered all day. 

Just being in such a beautiful place made me set some intentions for my future, and I'm thankful I had so much time to reflect.

One of the few proper uses of rock cairns I've seen on a popular trail
We also had a nice Saturday night where Heather won some money at the casino, and a group of us, including the newlyweds, shared drinks and stories until it was time to part. 

I am very much looking forward to the day the mountains call me back!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

#4 - Read War and Peace


Well, this took forever.

And I'm not sure why I did it.

Well, I have had a hard time focusing on reading anything lately. For some reason, my brain just zooms around and cannot focus on the words on the page. I've had to make myself sit still to even watch TV lately because I feel this constant guilt that I'm not doing enough. So, maybe a bad time to try War and Peace.

I did find the epilogue interesting, thinking about free will and the inevitability of world events.

But hey, onto other books now.

Monday, May 28, 2018

#18 - Learn to Poach an Egg

I love eggs. I particularly love a runny yolk but do not love a runny white, so I tend to favor over-medium eggs thinking poached eggs were beyond my skill set.

They are not.

Thanks to Serious Eats, I found a pretty simple step-by-step process for poached eggs, which was very similar to Ruhlman's suggestions. Basically, the issue with poaching eggs is that the protein in the whites isn't consistent, so if you just break an egg into the water, there are stringy bits that get in the way of the perfect poached egg. And no need for vinegar.

Serious Eats recommended using a mesh strainer, getting out that watery material before poaching the egg. Ruhlman's technique was similar, but the mesh strainer was easier, particularly as it could be used to place the eggs in the water and pull them out again.

I gave it a go when making a warm salad from the "Poached" chapter of Ruhlman's 20 Techniques at a Sunday night dinner with the Zanns and co.

I'll need a little practice getting the egg consistently how I want it, but overall, no issues. Poached eggs. Yum!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

#25 - Try 12 New Bars in Chicago

1 - The Pink Squirrel
1/9/18 with Stephanie Souvenir and Denisse Ocasio

Before I moved away from Chicago, I had a tradition with friends called Three Bar Thursday. Every other Thursday, we would pick a neighborhood and go to three bars we'd never been to before. It forced us to explore the city and we found some real gems. 

In November, I started it up again with a little modification. It's now Two Bar Tuesday and happens the second Tuesday of each month. Three bars is a bit aggressive for someone my age, and Chicago now has happy hour, so Two Bar Tuesday is no longer a late-night activity.

In January, I met up with Steph Souvenir and Deni Ocasio to Logan Square. We started at The Pink Squirrel, a small, new bar on Milwaukee. It was a delight. It has a retro diner vibe with a wide menu of craft cocktails (all $10) and one item on the food menu: turkey club. What I didn't know is that there's a mini bowling alley in the bar, two lanes with a candlepin-like thing going on. They're still working out what/how to charge, but on slow weeknights, you can bowl for free. All of the drinks we tasty and fun, and I would love to go back! 

The Pink Squirrel
2 - Deadbolt
1/9/18 with Stephanie Souvenir

Bar two from Tue Bar Tuesday in January (Described above) was Deadbolt, The Pink Squirrel's neighbor. I imagined it as a hipster joint but was actually more genuinely cool than I thought it would be though it's definitely more of a late-night joint that showcases DJs, so on a Tuesday at 7pm, when they open, we were the only ones there besides the bartenders... for 2 hours. Still a cool spot.

3 - Kubo

I took myself on a date to Sketchfest at Stage773. (Shows are hit or miss, but the tickets are so cheap, it's worth trying a few. I loved The Comedy Dance Collective and may try to see them again sometime.) After, I took myself for a drink. I was going to stop across the street at a favorite spot of one of my friend's, Cooper's... but it was gone! Tragic, yes. I decided to check out the new place that took it's spot, Kubo. I sat at the bar and had a glass of wine. The selection is way better than Cooper's. One of the staff (maybe one of the owner's) suggested I come back for dinner sometime, so I took a look at the menu. It's a Filipino place (also with American-style options), and I'm really curious to go back! 3/3 in new bars in the new year!

4 - Lagunitas

I used to volunteer regularly with 826 Chicago. Now, I just can't seem the time to make it work. It could be due to the location. It's not easy to travel south-west/north-east in Chicago, but it probably has more to do with me working 4 jobs. Either way, I got an invitation for a fundraiser at Lagunitas Chicago, and I could make it. I've never been to Lagunitas, and it's definitely a fully functioning, gigantic brewery, but the event was held in a bar area, so I'm counting it.

In general, Lagunitas Chicago is an amazing space. I describe it in detail in another post, so I won't here. It was a nice event: $10 suggested donations for tickets, $6 beers, and free food from a variety of Chicago vendors. I even had my first vegan Gyro. It was just okay. I hope to make a trip back to explore the rest of Lagunitas as it's a huge space with a lot going on.

5 - Local Option
1/25/18 with Nicole Garton and John Washo

After over a year of walking by Local Option, which is just down the street from where I work, I stopped there for happy hour with coworkers. There is a decent selection of decent beer, but I haven't been much into beer since leaving San Diego. I asked for whiskey and they had Maker's Mark and Jameson. Definitely a beer bar. But I made do just fine. It's tough to describe the ambiance but my best effort is a combination of beer elitist, demonic, and divey.

Sedgewick Stop hurricane
6 - The Kennison

2/13/18 with Nicole Garton and Stephanie Souvenir

A 2 Bar Tuesday stop! It had a decent happy hour: $5 bubbles and draughts. The food menu looked pricier than I was interested in at the moment, but I really liked the vibe. I would definitely go back and sit at the bar.

7 - Sedgewick Stop

2/13/18 with Nicole Garton

The second 2 Bar Tuesday stop after the above. Nicole and I both liked this spot. The only reason we didn't stay longer is that it was Fat Tuesday and they were having a... thing. I mean, I'd love to see a burlesque show at a rugby bar on a Tuesday night, but the $20 cover was a little more than we were looking to spend. I do hope to go back!

8 - The Heavy Feather
2/15/18 with Laura Masters and Beth Jager

What's a night with Laura Masters without trying one more place? Masters, Beth, and Alan came and played on the bar team for trivia as I hosted at Paulie Gee's, so of course we had to go get a drink after. We were heading down Milwaukee when Laura suggested The Slippery Slope. It wasn't quite the right timing for Slippery Slope, so we headed upstairs to The Heavy Feather.

What a cool little spot. Super seventies lounge vibe with great craft cocktails. I would love to sit at the bar there one night, have the bartenders do their magic, and chit chat the night away.

9 - Monty Gael's

3/13/18 with Leanne Surmin and Drea Soit

This was an accident. It was 2 Bar Tuesday and I was all psyched to try 2 new places, so Leanne and I walked there from work, and right as we were about to go in the door, I remembered I'd been to that bar before. I looked around and realized we were actually in my old neighborhood and when I'd picked the places I thought it was further west on Montrose. Oops.

So, we went across the street to Monty Gael's. There had been another bar in that spot when I'd lived in that area, but it'd gotten replaced with Monty Gael's. They had a delightful happy hour that gave us plenty of time to Yelp a second bar because, again, I used to live in that neighborhood, and at that time had been newly single and tried every bar in the North Center area.

10 - Kitsune Restaurant and Pub

3/13/18 with Leanne Surmin and Drea Stoit

Not Fox Bar but the lobby of Soho Club
Well, as described above, I kinda picked 2 bars for 2 Bar Tuesday that I'd already been to, so Kitsune was a bit of an improvisation and not quite a bar but more of a very tiny restaurant, even though the title does say "pub." The food looked great, but we just had fun cocktails. I would love to go back and eat sometime.

11 - Fox Bar

4/2/18 with Laura Masters and Alan Lee

I checked out Fox Bar for a 2 Bar Tuesday but decided to save it for a later date. But then, Michigan played in the MEN'S BASKETBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, which was completely unexpected. So I went to watch with Laura, Alan, and friends. While the game didn't give us much to celebrate, we still decided to have one more drink, as is standard of a night out with Laura. (At this point, it seems like I'm teasing, but I LOVE my random nights out with Laura where we explore new places!)

Laura said Fox Bar was right across the street and then wasn't sure if we could get in because she wasn't sure if it was a part of Soho Club. I had no idea what Soho Club was and what I was missing out on, but good news, you do not need to be a member of Soho Club to get into Fox Bar. It is this really tiny room on the second floor of the lobby area. Swinging doors. Great music. A pay phone. Awesome cocktails. Even on a Monday night, it had a nice vibe. I'd love to go back... but I imagine it gets packed at any reasonable time to go.

12 - Wooden Nickel

4/10/18 with Missy Liebs, Stephanie Souvenir, and Holly Munk

Another successful Two Bar Tuesday! Lots of gratitude to Nicole who found these places... and then couldn't come along after all.

The Wooden Nickel has a decent location and a happy hour (half-off drafts), but wasn't ideal for those of us who aren't big beer drinkers and weren't hungry. I'm not sure if I'll go back but I wouldn't be made if someone else suggested it.

Melissa, me, and Holly about to fully dive into our new favorite bar.

13 - Kite String

4/10/18 with Missy Liebs and Holly Munk

We'll call this a baker's dozen... and likely many more to come as it's only April.

This is the Two Bar Tuesday champion so far. What a great find. Thanks, Nicole! It's a new place, very small, only 4-5 high-top tables plus the bar. Cute neon kite above the bar. And what. A. De-LIGHT!

For drinks, they have a full bar, plus "bubblers." You know, those things that used to be full of lemonade at the roller skating rink and are still at a lot of pool concession stands? When we were there, there were four different pre-mixed cocktails bubbling around in there. I know what you're thinking, "Pre-mixed? Gross." But you're oh so wrong. They were delightful. I started with the bourbon horchata, but I believe by the end we'd tried them all--passion fruit punch, hibiscus negroni, limonada maragrita--and invited The Melissa. They were all tasty and quite quite strong.

They also have great little Mexican-style snacks: chips and dip, taquitos, and and alfajores. I know again, you're like, "Okay." The chips include both homemade corn chips AND beet chips, which were SO good. The dips, all flavorful and I can't remember which was my favorite. For taquitos, think the rolly machine at 7 Eleven, but then flavors like pork & pineapple and seasonal vegetable. The alfajores were from Lucilla's Home Made Alfajores down the street.

Why do I know what everything tastes like, because in the middle of the menu on the wall it says "ENTIRE MENU $20." So we were like, um... yes please. And tried it all.

Also fun, it's apparently already a Tinder meetup spot, so if you're lucky like us, you might be quite tipsy on your bubbler drinks, look over to see a couple making out at the bar, in the middle of this very tiny bar, and ask your friends, "Wait? What day and time is it?" And they'll reply, "Tuesday, 8 o'clock." And you'll lose yourself in the wonder of this life.

13 - Burwood Tap
4/27/18 with Nicole Garton

After the regular happy hour spot, we stopped at Burwood Tap. I liked it. I would like to go back place.

14 - Renaldi's After Dark
4/27/18 with Nicole Garton and Stephanie Punda


15 - Vice Brewery
6/23/18 with Laura Masters, Alan Lee, Eileen, Nicole Garton, and Jerry Munk

Sunday, April 8, 2018

#43 - Make Cleaning Supplies

I remember reading years ago about making your own cleaning supplies out of natural, easily available ingredients in Real Simple. I remember thinking, I should try that. And then I didn't. I put it on my list for years. And still didn't.

But this year, I did! I used the Google to find a blog called Keeper of the Home. I had to scroll through quite a few recipes. Most called for essential oils. In December, I had purchased a bunch of essential oils to make bath bombs and then my cat Mox got really, really sick, some kind of reaction to something. It could have been a lot of things: the kitten's food, my new laundry detergent, etc. I never figured it out. But right around then, there were stories floating around about essential oils making pets sick. And maybe they don't but it just seems like a lot to chance when I actually don't need essential oils.

Considering most recipes I found call for essential oils, I will likely rely more on earth-friendly, store-bought cleaners, but I did find a few without oils.

To start, I tried a drain cleaner that is just baking soda and white vinegar, both things I already had in my house. I was excited to try this one as recently at work someone made a comment about how once you buy your own house, you don't use certain types of drain cleaners anymore. Apparently some drain cleaners are so corrosive, they leave toxic build up and can harm your pipes.

This drain cleaner recipe was so simple. Put 1/4 cup of baking soda in the drain and pour in 1/4 cup of white vinegar after it. Wait about an hour and then pour boiling water down. (A lot of the recipes I saw have you leave the ingredients on for awhile, so the trade off seems to just be having some patience and time).

I used this on both drains of my kitchen sink. So far, it seems to have worked. The blog did say that if there's a lot of build up, it may take a couple rounds but if used regularly, it will only take once.

I'll add updates if anything exciting happens... with my drains... as I know you all are DYING to know.
The pics in this post were a bit boring, so here's JJ, my accidental kitten.

Update: I also did a very simple white vinegar application to clean my shower head. Game changer. I just filled a baggie with white vinegar and used a rubber band to keep the shower head immersed for 2 hours. I removed it, let the water run a little, and flow was much improved after all the gunk had been cleaned off.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

#90 - Try a New Snow Sport

Heading up the hill
Why try one new snow sport when you can try two in one day on a Friday in the mountains in Colorado?

This year, we held the Inaugural Post-NIRSA Retreat after the NIRSA Annual Conference in Denver, CO. Nicole Green, Dave Siegle, and I drove out to the Breckenridge/Frisco area for some time in the mountains.

I was quite nervous as I'd been suffering through the effects of the Denver elevation all week. After a week of feeling light headed and nonstop coughing/dry throat, somehow, I felt better 4000 feet further up, which makes no sense. Though, perhaps it was just that I'd been drinking so much water and so little alcohol the last few days that I finally balanced out my dehydration from the dry air.
You can't not smile while tubing.

Whatever it was, I definitely felt well enough to go tubing at the Frisco Adventure Park. We made our reservation online and spent a sunny hour riding the conveyer belt up the hill and tubing back down. It was one of those simple activities where you just can't help but smile the entire time. I don't know that I'd quite call it a "sport," fulfilling the point of this list item, but then, we definitely tried another sport immediately after, so sure, I tried two new winter sports.

Worth the exertion just for the views.

Once we'd finished up tubing, Nicole suggested we check out the cost of cross country skiing, also in the park. It was maybe a little more money than we wanted to spend, and I was a bit nervous as I've never been cross country skiing but know it's quite strenuous. Turns out, it's a lovely activity and is so low impact that while it was a great workout, the only thing that seemed to slow me down was running out of breath due to the elevation every now and then. (To be fair, I was moving pretty slow.) I also could not get the hang of skating on those skinny skis, which was a bit frustrating, but I was still moving. (Slowly.) 

I'm certainly glad I gave it a try, but honestly, the experience was worth it just for the views. It was incredible to feel so isolated in a snowy wonderland with the mountains all around. 

Breckenridge and Frisco are beautiful towns and I would love to go back and do some downhill skiing or boarding. Who's in for next year?