Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Journal Day: A Haircut Can Change Your Life

Here is today's prompt from Sometimes Sweet:
Looking at all of the life you've lived so far, can you pinpoint one time frame or instance that you feel truly contributed to your growth as a person?  This may be a turning point, a positive or negative experience, a moment or collection of moments that stand out in your mind...something that changed you as a whole. 
Write about your own experience on your blog and share it with me and Sometimes Sweet in the comments. Links welcome!

This journal prompt couldn't be more fitting as I pack my belongings to head off to the place where the biggest turning point of my life occurred some six years ago. I'm flying to Denver tomorrow for an Americorps reunion and while my flight itinerary say DEN, my emotional itinerary says OMG. You see I abruptly left my Americorps assignment that year, and all my best gal pals, on a stroke of intuition.

My life in Denver was great. I was just out of college, my colleagues were the most interesting and fun people I'd ever spent time with, and I was adjusting well to a new city and a new life. All this despite facing the end of a two year live-in boyfriend situation, working seven days a week, and making very little cash. I was on a serious mission to be the most independent, fearless bitch you ever met. And oh baby, did I ever accept that mission full-force. It was just so great to be free; free from boyfriends, free from living near anyone I knew, free from college, free of expectations. I had never felt more like myself. In no time at all I had an amazing group of friends, a new boyfriend, and dreams for the future I'd never even considered. 

And then came the ring. My live-in boyfriend situation showed up in Denver unexpectedly and asked me to marry him. I said yes. I didn't think, I just said yes. Yes to a man that in some weird knowing way, I always knew I'd be with. 

He came to Denver and moved in with me. Everything changed. I couldn't be Denver Gwen anymore because here was this person who knew me in a very different context and it just didn't work anymore. We fought. I wanted my Denver life and the ring. It just didn't work both ways. 

He rented a U-Haul and started to re-pack his things. We cried all night after making the decision to split, again. The day he was to leave I was sitting in a salon getting my haircut. 

And then.

And then something hit me hard in the guts. As I watched the stylist comb my hair I knew that this wasn't how it ended. Something else took over and there was no way I was going to let him leave like that. I blew off work and rushed back to the apartment. We went for a walk. As we circled the park again and again, I knew it was time to go, this wasn't going to work in Denver, in the context of my new life. 

So we bought some plane tickets that very hour and got the hell out of there. 

This was the hardest choice I ever made. But those rocks in your gut don't lie. Do I miss my friends and think about how different my life could be? Yes. Do I have an amazing husband and life I never could have dreamt of in a million dreams? Hell yes. 

It just doesn't work both ways, and that's ok, this is how it's meant to go. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lunch for One

One of the great joys in life for me is cooking a meal for myself. Just for me. No leftovers, no reviews, no expectations. Just lunch, the way I want it.

Leftover Roasted Carrot soup, salad of tomato & arugula, biscuit with English cheddar

For whatever reason, I feel pressure when I have to cook for other people and sometimes that pressure takes over the flavors. Stress soup is not something people want to eat.

When I cook only for me, that stress evaporates off the back of my neck because all I'm thinking about is what tastes good, about what I want right now. Never about how it will turn out, how it will look on the plate, if I'll make it ever again.

And it turns out beautifully. In taste, on the plate, in my belly.

Watching Anthony Bourdain while eating. Hey, I do what I want. 

Judith Jones wrote about this topic wonderfully in O magazine once upon a time. Her cookbook on the topic, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, is on my wish list.

What do you think? Would you rather cook for yourself, or for a crowd?

Or for a kitty named Abba Zabba who likes yogurt, fish, and hummus but never steak or milk (too fattening)?

And by the way, I will be in Denver through the weekend if anyone out that way reads this blog and wants to meet up. Just send me an email: gwenedwards82 (at)

Dinner for Two: Our Week in Food

Introducing my new weekly post! I'll be sharing what we eat for dinner every night, plus some fun links, and highlights. Just another way to put my life in food parentheses.

Monday: Swiss Chard Salad with Crouton Overload

Tuesday: Veggie burger at Splasher's with waffle fries (my favorite)

Wednesday: Pasta with Arugula Pesto and garden tomatoes

Thursday: Musubis, chips, and deli salad after helping Dustin out at the shop. We make it to the beach just in time for sunset. Dinner on the beach is always good, no matter what you eat.

Friday: Roasted Carrot Soup with Biscuits. Thanks to my friend Becky for the inspiration!

Saturday: Breakfast for dinner with eggs, potatoes, and leftover biscuits. Made by Dustin, he really does a mean breakfast.

Sunday: Vegetarian musubis. Traditionally these hot sushi type rolls, a Hawaiian specialty, contain SPAM and I'm constantly finding myself sneaking a musubi when no one is around to witness the violation. A true guilty pleasure that must be stopped. Hopefully, my creation will curb the cravings. I'll let you know how it goes.

Highlight of the week: Speaking of guilty pleasures, mine was featured on the Joy the Baker podcast this week. If you listen in, I'm the girl who likes to rub her eyes;) This was super exciting for me since I love this podcast more than any other form of entertainment at the moment. Yay!

Hope you have a happy and healthy week ahead! I'm heading to Colorado to meet up with some friends next week, so I'm not sure how much blogging will get done, but you'll forgive me, right?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cookie Bars that Talk

 What do you say when a friend is going through a tough time? Tougher than anything you've gone through in you own life? There are no pieces of advice you can offer or condolences to give.

But you can make cookie bars. You can measure out the flour and oats and salt and sugar.

You can lovingly cut in the butter with only a fork and your hands. There's lots of love in your hands.

You can arrange it just so in the pan, making it perfectly straight even though life is far from it.

You can watch it bake in the oven and count your tiny blessings.

 You can think good thoughts for your friends and bring them these cookies bars when there's nothing you can say. Because cookie bars, and anything you make from your heart, does the talking.

Do something nice for someone right now.

Maybe you'll make these cookie bars. Here's the recipe: Raspberry Cookie Bars
I used blackberry in place of raspberry jam.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Swiss Chard Salad with Crouton Overload

Have you been listening to the Joy the Baker Podcast? I certainly have been. Slightly obsessively. It is too entertaining for words, so check it out. Joy the Baker hosts the show with Tracy from Shutterbean, who both write killer food blogs.

Tracy recently posted a recipe for "Tuscan Kale Salad with Pecorino." As usual I didn't have exactly the right ingredients and this girl is way too lazy to go out and buy them so here is my version of Tracy's salad.

 This is the fancy salad spinner my sister gave me for my birthday. It is really nice to have dry greens when you need them. I hear you laughing, but dry lettuce is highly under-appreciated.

 One of the few times I've busted out the mortar and pestle. This salad will be my justification for keeping it over the next year. You see, my husband is the ultimate organizer and systematically rids our home of "extraneous" items. You should have seen him cringe at the size of the salad spinner!

 This salad was very flavorful. So much so that in my version of the recipe, I added more greens and more bread. But I have a wimpy tongue, so adjust the amounts to your liking.

Let's talk about this New York plate I got at Target. I'm not sure why they make New York plates and sell them in Hawaii, but for a girl who is obsessed with this city it was a natural choice. I'm planning a trip to the city next summer so it will likely be a long year of pining.

Oh yeah, we were talking about salad. The reason I used so much bread for this salad was because we are little piggies at this house and needed a little more substance in order to make it a stand-alone meal. If you are serving it as a side dish, maybe go easy on the bread and only use half a roll or 1 slice of bread.

Swiss Chard Salad with Crouton Overload 
from Shutterbean

6-7 cups Swiss Chard, stems removed and sliced into ribbons
1 roll sliced and toasted (I used a ciabatta roll but use whatever you gots)
1 garlic clove
1/4 tsp or so kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup grated comte cheese
3 TBL olive oil
juice of 1 fresh lemon
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
cracked black pepper

Using a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic clove with the salt until it forms a paste.
In a large bowl, whisk together your dressing ingredients: garlic paste, cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and pepper flakes.
Toast your roll and throw into the food processor, tearing it in chunks, for a few pulses to get irregular shaped "croutons."
Add the chard to the bowl with the dressing and toss well. Allow to sit and soak up flavors for about 5 minutes.
Put it on a plate and dump those croutons on top. Add a little extra cheese if desired.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Food Tales: Beach Feast

So a SPAM musubi may not be what some people call "vegetarian." But it is also what some people (ok, me) call "the world's most perfect food." Every time I pass ChoiceMart, I have to stop and get one. Go ahead and judge me, eating SPAM pretty much goes against everything I believe in.

Let's balance things out with a nice seaweed salad.

And a weird fruit called jaboticaba. Hawaii has lots of weird fruits and that's fun.

What's an afternoon at the beach without a cold one?

 This beach is known for a pod of dolphins that hang out in the bay. If they are feeling friendly you can swim with them. Yeah, I did that.

Don't forget the boiled peanuts. What a beach feast!

My sister set up camp at this beach for a few days, wish I could join her. It seems the women in our family have an affinity for solo camping. It is a wonderful way to do some self-reflection.

Hey, before you leave, take a moment and vote for my Hawaiian Style Fish Chowder. All you gotta do is click HERE and give me a "thumbs up." Mahalo blogger friends!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Take Better Photos: Tips from a Pro


No, I am certainly not a pro when it comes to photography. But I know someone who is! And this someone has graciously agreed to give me some advice, which I am passing on to all of you, because this photo taking business sure is tricky.

John Bernunzio, who owned a wonderful photography studio in Portland, Oregon hired me at the age of sixteen as a photography assistant. You may assume I learned a great deal about the art at that time, which I did, however 16-year-olds don't often have enough perspective to appreciate such a gift, leaving me now to often wish I'd taken more time to learn from him. Actually the gift John gave to me at that time had nothing to do with photography, he was my mentor in life. He happened to be one of the few (semi)sane adults in my life that I really looked up to. I also often wonder how I would have turned out without the studio as my refuge.

Let's talk about photography now, shall we?

I'm planning to do a series of these so let's focus this one on:

Gear: What the heck do I need to take good pictures?

I'm currently using a Canon Rebel XT for all my food shots.

John says: The camera you have (Canon Rebel) is perfectly fine for what you're doing. It has all the features you'll ever need for your main purpose.

Sweet! I'm using the standard 18-55mm lens.

John says: The lens you have is good for general picture-taking, which is what that one is designed for. But this lens is not appropriate for your food shots. You need to use a longer focal-length lens, like THIS.

Good to know, I'll start saving my pennies. What else do I need?

John says: You must have a decent tripod. If you don't use a tripod for each shot, you're really hurting your chances for success. 

I've read time and again on other blogs not to use flash when taking food photos. True?

John says: Whoever told you that you shouldn't use a flash for photos is wrong.                                       HOWEVER... there's using flash - and then there's using flash. Again, more learning through useThe use of reflectors and/or additional light sources in your food shots are CRITICAL!!! You can MAKE your own reflectors using assorted materials. This step alone would make a huge difference for you.

Obviously, not an easy question to answer. AND I clearly have a lot of learning to do. 

Do you have a question for John? Email me at gwenedwards82[at] or leave a comment and we will try to meet your photography needs! 

Next installment: restaurant shots! 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Polenta is a fancy word for Mush

For some reason I've been intimidated by polenta.

Then it dawned on me that polenta is Italian for "cornmeal mush." Words just sound better in Italian.

So don't be scared, make this.

Layered Polenta Tart
serves 4

3 cups water
1 cup polenta
1/4 cup cheese (I used comte and brie)
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
2 TBL olive oil, divided
handful sliced mushrooms (I used ali'i)
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, sliced (these yellow ones are from my garden, yay!)
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
salt & pepper

In a large pot bring water to a boil. Slowly add polenta (it will clump if you dump it in) and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir constantly for 10-20 minutes (this part depends on your polenta) until thickened. It should come away from the sides of the pan and be thick enough to support a spoon. Pour polenta into a wax paper lined pie pan. The paper may not be necessary, the polenta won't stick, I was just avoiding cleaning.

While the polenta sets, heat 1 TBL oil in a pan. Add onion and mushrooms and saute until onions are golden brown. Add garlic and salt & pepper and saute a couple more minutes.

Begin the layering process. Drizzle another TBL oil over set polenta. Spread sliced or grated cheese on top. Then add the onion and mushroom mixture. Arrange your tomato in a pretty pattern over all and top with torn basil and more salt & pepper.

Serve like pieces of pie with a side salad if you wish. Enjoy!

And I'm off to the beach! Please vote for my Hawaiian Style Fish Chowder in the Flavors Take Flight recipe contest by voting HERE. Thanks!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Grains Gone Wild: Quinoa Salad

It's like I forgot about the bulk grain section of my natural food store. I did forget.

Can you tell these photos were taken on my desk at school? I love the last one because it even includes one of my student's drawings.

 I go through bursts of creativity with my cooking and this past week was a bit of a low point. Until yesterday when I re-discovered the whole grain rainbow.

Millet, quinoa, bulgar, and polenta all made their way into my shopping basket. Time to get creative. A healthy leftover lunch really makes my day, so let's cook it up.

Quinoa Salad with Beans and Tomato
(inspired by Epicurious)
serves 3 (2 for dinner, 1 for lunch;)

2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
2 TBL lemon juice
2 TBL unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 TBL olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt & pepper to taste
1 can black beans, drained
2 tomatoes, diced
1 green onion, sliced
1/4 torn basil leaves

In a big pot bring the water and quinoa to a boil. Immediately turn down the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 12 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and allow to rest (covered) for at least 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk lemon juice, butter, oil, sugar, and salt & pepper. Add quinoa to bowl and stir well so quinoa is coated with dressing. Mix in beans, tomato, onion, and basil.

Wasn't that easy? Do something great for your bod and make this salad. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rosemary Cocktails

Stick some rosemary (there's lavender in there, too) in a big bottle of vodka.

 Let it settle for a few days.

Serve with lemonade. 

I also attempted to make a garnish with sugar coated rosemary sprigs. The sugar melted. Whatever.

Infusion board on Pinterest

Here are some other fun vodka infusions to try. I'm really liking that lemon thyme action. 

Oh and hey, if you feel like helping a sister out, vote for my recipe in the Flavors Take Flight contest by clicking HERE


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life is Zesty (cake that is)

Nothing celebrates life better than a lemon cake.

You start to realize these things as you slowly escape your twenties.

I'm one of those people who refuses to make her own birthday cake. Apparently I'm also one of those people who do not own round cake pans.

So my husband made me a cake. He's so good. No really, he made an amazing first-time-ever-making-a-cake-from-scratch cake.

Let's pretend I don't get mad that he is good at everything. Yay Dustin for making better cakes than me!

Can I just say that Oprah is officially off the air at 4pm on weekdays. No more reruns. This is real. Be nice to me, I'm in mourning.

So, not only did this guy make a great cake, he chaperoned my ladies only birthday party without complaining and kept secret that my friend flew over from Maui to surprise me. Three cheers for life!

All this comes at a perfect time. I've been feeling quite low lately, but a healthy dose of love and gratitude ain't got nothing on the blues.

Life is Zesty Cake
(from Cooking Light)

2 TBL plus 2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (plus more for greasing pans)
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 TBL grated lemon rind
2 TBL fresh lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 TBL lemon rind
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 (8-inch) cake pans with butter. Line bottoms of pans with wax paper. Coat wax paper with more butter and and dust with flour.
Spoon 2 cups flour into measuring cups and combine with baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a whisk.
Place sugar and 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (5 mins or so). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and buttermilk to sugar mixture slowly. Beat in lemon rind and 2 TBL lemon juice.
Pour batter into pans and bake for 32 minutes on until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool pans for 10 mins before removing from pans.
To make icing, combine powdered sugar and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk until smooth.
Ice your cake after cooling. Enjoy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

29 is not 30

Not only did Dustin make me an amazing lemon cake, my friend from Maui showed up at my party to surprise me. Surprises are fun. And so is sharing my 29th birthday with amazing friends and family. This girl feels so blessed, lucky, thankful, happy, and loved.

Coming soon: a lemon cake recipe and all the things I'll be working on before my 30th year.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Split Pea Soup with a Thickness

This split pea soup has guts. So much guts we could call it a split pea stew. But not a stoup. Let's never use that word.

My copy of Joy of Cooking actually creaks when opened. No, my soup recipe is not from Joy, it's just where I keep all my loose recipes. I even write recipes on the inside cover.

While the soup was simmering I tried on some outfits for my upcoming birthday bbq.

I just need an excuse to wear these awesome boots my cousin gave me while visiting Portland.

Soup obsession seems to be happening to me. I even entered a recipe contest with one of my soups. Check it out and vote here: Flavors Take Flight. Your support would mean the world to me!

Split Pea Soup with a Thickness
serves 4

1 cup short brown rice
1 cup dried green split peas
1 TBL olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
1 chipotle pepper in adobo (optional)
salt & pepper

Cook rice separately in a rice cooker or pot. In a heavy soup pot over medium high heat, saute onions until soft in the olive oil. Season with salt & pepper. Add garlic, split peas, pepper (if using), stock, thyme, and more salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered for about 90 minutes or until peas are soft. Add cooked rice and adjust seasoning, if needed.

You can blend, for a creamier soup, or use one of those emulsifier things. I did neither for the rustic version. Serve with bread or cheater bruschetta (toast with olive oil and tomato slices). Enjoy!


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