June 26, 2013


Top to bottom: Climbing grape tomato. Cluster close-up. Some of my potted herbs. "Round Midnight" purple basil. Thai basil.

My garden grows. The grape tomato plant is now officially a monster - about seven feet tall. You can see on the right side of the top photo that I've had to start tying it gently to the porch column for support. I can't even reach some of the ripening clusters right now, and it shows no signs of stopping.

This week I've been making plans for all my plants while I'm in Michigan. It's the one downside to my trip so far, as July is usually one of the most productive months. My more mature basil plants (genovese and "Round Midnight" purple) have begun to flower, so tomorrow I'm harvesting the main pot of them and turning them into blueberry basil popsicles and pesto. The slightly younger pot with lemon basil, Thai basil, parsley, and sweet basil will hopefully be adopted by one of Micah's colleagues (who will also enjoy any tomatoes that ripen while I'm gone, as Micah isn't a fan of them raw). I'm moving all the remaining pots (sage, spearmint, one tiny sweet basil, lavender, rosemary) to the front porch, and giving Micah instructions on watering them.

His beans are coming in, and we've already harvested multiple rounds of his banana peppers, which are yielding way more than either of us thought they would. Second generation morning glories have also been popping up (and climbing around) in all of his plots – a welcome surprise.

June 24, 2013


Top: Friday and Sunday's breakfast. Yeah - twice in three days. Everything bagel with cream cheese and the donut du jour (this one was vanilla chai) at Monuts Donuts. Obsessed.

Bottom: Saturday's dinner. Salmon with lemon and dill smoked on a cedar plank.

Micah took Friday off, so I got to enjoy a lovely weekday breakfast with him. Saturday, we went to Duke Gardens with a blanket and ice-cold drinks and planned the rest of the day. We bought and experimented with some fresh halibut and salmon. We took a Sunday drive and explored Durham's peripheral neighborhoods. We watched too many episodes of The Dog Whisperer and bought the summer's first variety pack.

This week, I'm trying to stay calm and present, because next week I leave for Michigan. I'm trying not to check my online countdown too often, and trying not to pack until a few days out. Apparently I get this way every time.

June 20, 2013


Above: I passed this overgrown yard on my walk yesterday. I want to rescue and rehab every sad house I see right now. 

So, this week we got pre-approved for a loan. A small step in the home-buying process, but an important one. (And isn't the whole process made up of a million baby steps anyway?) I've been aching to buy a home since at least January – and the desire has only gotten stronger since then. The last few months have seen a lot of penny-saving, listing-stalking, and covert potential-house-drive-bys. We've watched houses that we loved go from "active" to "contingent," and felt the frustration of not being able to move on them. We found a realtor who came highly recommended by several of Micah's colleagues. We gave all our financial information to a stranger so he could decide if we were fit for a mortgage. We got pre-approved for way more than we thought we would, then decided on a number we were more comfortable with. And now we're ready for the next step – the next million baby steps.

June 18, 2013


Truth time: I grew my herb garden for two basic reasons: cocktails and ice cream. And ice cream like this reminds me that it's allll worth it.

I've made mint chip ice cream before, and loved it. I kinda wanted to make it again, but kinda also wanted to try something new, and kinda really needed to use as much herbage as possible. So - I decided to add basil to the mix. I followed this recipe pretty closely, except I probably used 1/3 basil and 2/3 mint, increased the steeping time to about an hour, and added a pinch of vanilla and salt. Micah and I have also informally pledged to buy as much local dairy / eggs / meat as possible - so I just want to proudly mention that this batch of ice cream was made possible by the lovely animals at Latta's Egg Ranch and Homeland Creamery.

The basil isn't as overt as I thought / worried it might be - it just gives a bit of an anise kick at the end, and makes the mint taste all elegant and grown-up and complex. It's basically classy mint chip ice cream, which I will, of course, take any day of the week. Which reminds me!: I recently had an amazing scoop of rosemary ice cream at G2B (where Micah and I celebrated our last anniversary with this amazing beer dinner), and it's got my wheels turning on other possible herbal ice creams...

June 13, 2013


Last weekend, Micah and I ventured back to Eno River State Park for a scenic hike. I still can't get over how different this landscape is than Oklahoma: dense forests full of soaring pines, cool undergrowth, green grass in the summer, steep hills. We've been looking at houses near Eno for this very reason: it personifies everything we still find enchanting and alien about the East Coast.

In the past we've chosen shorter trails closer to the river, but those are also more likely to be full of families playing in the water this time of year. So, we took Cox Mountain Trail, about a half-mile into the park: 4 miles of forest and streams, with a 750-foot elevation to keep things interesting and sweaty.

It was varied and beautiful enough to keep us curious and distracted, and just challenging enough to make us feel like we got a solid workout in (and deserved beers and tamales at Geer Street Garden afterwards). There are still so many more trails to explore; I can't wait to come back again.

June 11, 2013


Image by Paper Fort Studio.

I've followed Krystle of Paper Fort Studio for a while now. We both quit our advertising agency jobs to pursue crazy dreams at about the same time, and she's a cat-loving Michigander – a woman after my own heart. Today, I've written a guest post over on her blog for a series entitled "Fear Confessions." It's a little more personal and introspective than what I usually share over here – no food photos, I promise! – so go check it out if you're interested in exploring the dark recesses of my mind (and explore her blog while you're there!).

June 10, 2013


Top two: Saturday's breakfast. Sauteed green beans and portobello strips with havarti, a fried egg, caramelized onions, toasted almonds, and balsamic reduction. Side of fruit salad.

Bottom two: Sunday's breakfast. Apple almond pastries. (Micah had a craving for bearclaws and tried to approximate them with what we had on-hand. I love that kind of cooking.)

This weekend was equal parts quiet domesticity and sweaty adventure. We ran overdue errands together and tried not to spend too much money on "going out" (as we often end up doing on weekends). We also hiked a steep new (to us) trail at Eno River State Park – more on that later. And tonight we're going to see The National in Raleigh!

June 7, 2013


I made this ice cream for a few different reasons. First, chai is one of my favorite flavors (and my guilty-pleasure drink at Starbucks). Second, I was super curious about dairy-free, egg-free, naturally-sweetened ice cream. Would the consistency be "right?" How would it scoop? Would it taste fatty enough to even pass as ice cream?

But really / thirdly, I made this ice cream because Kathleen wanted me to. She linked me to this recipe months ago, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. I wanted to test it out to see if it was worth making when she visits me in Michigan this summer. I have this pretty detailed fantasy of us watching the sun set on the beach after a long day of swimming, sauna-ing, kayaking (or just laying around doing nothing), pigging out on this delicious, vegan-ish, not-terribly-bad-for-you ice cream and reveling in how awesome our lives are. It's an incredibly romantic fantasy, I know.

And guess what? This ice cream turned out (surprisingly?) AMAZING. I used cornstarch instead of arrowroot, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. I was worried about the coconut flavor being too strong, but the tea, honey (I used local raw honey that added a nice complexity), and spices came through beautifully. The texture is exactly like "regular" ice cream, it scoops like a dream, and it tastes like... well, ice cream. It was also one of the easiest (and quickest, prep-time-wise) ice creams I've ever made, since you don't have to deal with tempering egg yolks or thickening dairy. I've been making ice cream sandwiches with it ever since this happened - perfect beyond words.

So, obviously, I'll be making this again this summer. It's also made me curious to try other coconut milk-based ice creams – maybe wild blueberry, or lime-basil (everybody!: put the lime in the coconut...).

June 5, 2013


I've always had weird skin. Sensitive, dry, pale, and prone to mysterious allergic reactions that have send me to Urgent Care a few times in the past few years. I'd also started to become wary of some of the skin / hair / face products in my life, with their long lists of unnatural, unpronounceable ingredients. So, last winter I started thinking about what I could do to be a bit more proactive about caring for it (probably also prompted by my dry, itchy winter skin, which is the worst).

I did some research and kept coming back to two things: coconut oil and dry brushing. The former, to replace my body lotion and facial moisturizer. The latter, to regularly invigorate and exfoliate my skin and body as a whole.

Every time I'm about to take a shower, I brush my entire body in short, even strokes, always towards the heart (and always using a natural bristle brush - synthetics will scratch). I start with my feet, work my way up my legs, then work my way down from my hands and arms. It supposedly stimulates the lymphatic system and aids in skin cell renewal. I'm still not totally sold on all of the claims behind it (like cellulite removal?, however nice that would be), but I love it because it feels amazing. I felt a bit ridiculous at first, like a show horse brushing myself down after a race or something, but I am a total convert now that a few months have passed. My skin breaks out less and feels way smoother. Using showertime as a trigger has also really helped solidify the habit - I can count on one hand the number of times since January that I skipped dry brushing (I was sick, or people were over, etc.), and it felt wrong. Showering immediately afterward also washes off the dead skin cells / toxins you've just shed – so dry brushing without showering also feels wrong. But maybe that's just my overactive imagination. Anyway!

After brushing and showering, I moisturize. At first I was a bit skeptical of coconut oil – something you could cook with and slather all over your body? – but it's been used for both to great effect for thousands of years, and I liked the simplicity of it (and how it makes me subtly smell like a tropical beach). I bought the best coconut oil I could find (this, at Whole Foods), and keep it in an apothecary jar in my bathroom. Now, whenever I step out of the shower, I use it on my entire body, including my face (and I usually rub the leftover oil in my hair as well). I add a few drops of tea tree oil if I'm breaking out anywhere, and I'm done.

I feel good about simplifying and naturalizing my skin care routine – and my skin feels good, too. It might not be for everyone, but I'd highly recommend doing your own research if you're curious or not happy with your own skin care routine.

June 3, 2013


Above: Sunday's breakfast. Nectarine galette and stuffed sweet peppers.

I love that we basically had an appetizer and dessert for breakfast. Micah conjured up these stuffed sweet peppers from odds and ends in the fridge (stray cheeses / mushrooms / bacon), and I revisited this cornmeal pate brisee. It's become my default Impressive Yet Easy Crust.

As of today, I have exactly one month until I go to Michigan... for a month. The planner in me wants to start a celebratory packing list now. The haven't-taken-a-day-off-since-February-person in me wants to just start walking there, now. But even my inner voices know I need to wait a little longer: for the lake to warm up slightly, and the wild blueberries to ripen, and my people to get there as well. It'll be worth it.

(I still might start that packing list though. Mmm... lists.)