I Cooked: Spinach Pie

While I generally enjoy “Mediterranean” food, Greek has never been a particular favorite of mine. Too many olives (and not always vegetarian-friendly). The Greek food I like the most though, I REALLY like: spanikopita. My ex-boyfriend Sean introduced me to the spinach and cheese filled deliciousness, and I’ve loved them ever since. I’ve been wary of trying to make them, because I’ve heard phyllo dough can be really hard to work with, but when I found this recipe I decided to give it a shot.

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3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds spinach, rinsed, chopped (squeeze out any excess liquid)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
8 sheets phyllo dough
1/4 cup olive oil

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1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly oil a 11×9 inch baking pan or a 9×9 inch square baking pan.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion, green onions and garlic, until soft and lightly browned. Stir in spinach, and continue to saute until spinach is limp, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3. In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, ricotta, and feta. Stir in spinach mixture. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough in prepared baking pan, and brush lightly with olive oil. Lay another sheet of phyllo dough on top, brush with olive oil, and repeat process with two more sheets of phyllo. The sheets will overlap the pan. Spread spinach and cheese mixture into pan and fold overhanging dough over filling. Brush with oil, then layer remaining 4 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each with oil. Tuck overhanging dough into pan to seal filling.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Cut into squares and serve while hot.

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So, the rumors were true: I cursed loudly several times as I tried to pick up a piece of phyllo dough only to have it tear at anything other than the most delicate touch, or if the weight wasn’t perfectly balanced. I omitted the parsley originally called for because I had a hard time finding it fresh and didn’t think I would miss it (I didn’t). It came out pretty well with a few caveats: I feel like there was a little too much dough on the top half…if I made this again, I’d probably do five sheets on the bottom and only three on the top. Also, two pounds of spinach seemed like a LOT of spinach, so I bought only a pound. Mistake. Definitely get two pounds. But even with less than ideal amounts of spinach, this tasted just like it should. It was spinachy and cheesy and savory. Don’t make this on a day when you’re in a bad mood, because you’ll want to throw the stupid dough at the wall…patience is a virtue with phyllo dough. But if you’re less concerned with looks and more concerned with taste, this is for you!

I Ate: Nove Italiano

Besides the gaming and the shopping, Las Vegas is well-regarded for its dining. The classic casino all-you-can-eat buffets are still a thing, but most casinos also have several fine dining options. We decided on Italian food because it’s something everyone likes well enough, and my sister booked us dinner at Nove Italiano at the Palms. So on Saturday night, we got all dressed up (my sister refused to go for a pre-dinner picture, which really bums me out) and took a taxi to the other end of the Strip.

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We were whisked to the 29th floor, from which we had a lovely view of Las Vegas. The restaurant itself was gorgeous…lots of natural light before the sun went down, cozy mood lighting thereafter. Even the ceiling and the light fixtures were beautiful. The service was fantastic: our waiter was very attentive without hovering and answered all of our questions with grace and humor. He offered us complementary passes to ghostbar, which is in the other tower of the Palms, and was someplace my sister wanted us to go afterwards anyways. Score!

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And about the important stuff: the meal was amazing. We split four bottles of wine between the two of us: a Chianti that I picked out and everyone actually liked. I had the peninne alla vodka, which was a simple “little penne” pasta in a vodka cream sauce (I had them hold the meat, which I think was shrimp, which they did no problem). Simple food done well is a favorite of mine, and this hit the spot perfectly. I hoover-ed my entire portion, and then since the bikini appearance part of my weekend was already over, got desert to boot! The gelato was very good and tasted very authentically Italian. By the time I was done, I was absolutely stuffed to the brim. I regret nothing.

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Nove Italiano is located within the Palms casino in Las Vegas, NV on the Strip. I’m not entirely sure if reservations are required, but I’m inclined to think so. Prices are high…this is definitely fine as opposed to casual dining and you get what you pay for. I definitely think we got our money’s worth. Attire is dressy, do not roll in with a t-shirt and flip-flops. If you love Italian food and are looking for a place to have a splurge meal in Las Vegas, this is highly recommended.

Mr. and Mrs. Foley

As a lobbyist, the election cycle runs my life. Starting from about Labor Day in even numbered years, it’s election crunch time and my schedule is incredibly busy. But when your best friend from law school gets married, you make time at the end of September, even in an election year. We actually took an extra day, even, because my brother-in-law’s family was in from England and Friday was their last day in Michigan, so we came in on Thursday night around 9. After a full day of traveling (and no flight delays this time!), we were wiped, so we just went back to my mom’s house and went to bed pretty much right away.

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Friday dawned clear and warm. We were smiled upon by the capricious Michigan weather gods during this trip: we had perfect Indian summer weather the whole time we were there, 70s and sunny. The first thing we did on Friday was head out to the Dexter Cider Mill, because that was one thing I’d really wanted to do while we were there. Since this ain’t my first Cider Mill rodeo, I thought it would be best to go on Friday morning to avoid crowds. And I was right! We got our cider and donuts and then headed back into Lakeland to spend a few hours going down the Huron River Chain of Lakes on the boat. It was a perfect boat ride: minimal traffic, amazing weather, lots of cool wildlife (turtles sunning themselves, cranes, eagles, etc). We ate snacks and drank booze and hung out on the water and it was great. I really liked being able to do the kind of things with Drew that were regular, enjoyable parts of my life before I moved to Nevada…I don’t know that he always really understands my bouts of homesickness and showing him what exactly I miss makes me feel like he can get a better perspective on things.

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After lake time, we went into Ann Arbor for dinner at Palio with Tom’s family. All but one member of his family had been there for a two week trip: his mom, dad, and sister came, but his younger brother couldn’t. We didn’t get to spend a ton of time with them, but it was a lovely dinner and it was obvious that his family are good people. Not the stereotypical British reserve one might have expected, they were warm and friendly, and I’m happy for my sister that she has such great in-laws.

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Saturday we’d planned to go into Hell, since I’d not taken Drew outside of Lakeland/Hamburg last time he was there, but he needed to get a new shirt for the wedding later that night and we needed to go to Howell for that and we didn’t have enough time to do that whole trip. So, instead, I took him to one of my favorite local spots that I’m always afraid I’m going to read one day is closing: Cap’n Frosty. It’s a truly small-town local place, and I’ve been getting ice cream there for decades. It feels like it’s inevitable that, like so many things about Pinckney since we first moved there when I was 5, it will fall by the wayside and just become a memory. But it was still standing, and now Drew’s gotten to have a cup of ice cream there with me.

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After our jaunt to Howell, we got our stuff together and headed out to Plymouth for the wedding. We got a room at the Hilton Garden Inn because it was only 3 miles from the venue and we didn’t want to have to deal with driving back to Pinckney after having fun, so we checked in, changed, and drove the three miles to the Our Lady of Good Counsel church for Patrick and Kelcie’s wedding. It’s so cheeseball to say, but being there to be a part of those two starting the rest of their lives together was so meaningful to me. And, of course, the party was a blast. There were several of us law school kids there, and getting to see and catch up with Leland and Daniel, who I haven’t seen since I graduated, and Steve, who I haven’t seen since his own wedding about two years ago, made my heart happy. And the booze made my body happy…for the night anyways.

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Which is why I felt awesome about my clutch planning the next day…we were planning on meeting my dad in Ann Arbor for lunch on our way back to Pinckney and I’d suggested the Fleetwood Diner. It’s a total greasy spoon, and the famous Hippie Hash took the edge off my slightly icky feeling from the partying. Afterwards, we stopped in my old favorite Rock Paper Scissors and I bought a new Michigan mug because I’m obsessed with Michigan. And then I dragged Drew all the way up to campus so we could get some Iorio’s gelato. It’s the only gelato I’ve had outside Italy that tastes like actual Italian gelato to me, so I was desperate to get some while I had the chance. Between the lunch and the treat, it was a good thing that it was a long walk back to the car to burn some of that off.

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And then we packed up, drove to the airport, and made the long journey back to Reno. It was a short weekend, but honestly, it’s hard to imagine it going more perfectly than it did. We had a bunch of fun, the weather was almost criminally gorgeous, and I got to spend lots of time with people I care about. In some ways, going back to Michigan is hard, because I feel so anchored there. Everything feels so right, so natural. There are still moments in Reno where I find the mountains all around me to be slightly unreal, but the lush green of the Ann Arbor area feels like home. I wonder if it will ever stop feeling that way.

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I Cooked: Caprese Quinoa

I love a good Caprese salad. What’s not to like? Basil, tomato, and mozzarella are three great things even better together. So when I found this recipe, which combines them with quinoa and throws the whole affair in a casserole dish, how could I say no? Soup and Such has lots of straightforward vegetarian recipes, so definitely a good resource to check out.

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1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1.5 cups marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup grated parmesan
Big handful of basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
1 cup sliced grape or cherry tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

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1. First, prepare the quinoa. Combine the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan with the water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until almost all of the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit (covered) for about 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and set aside.

2. Combine cooked quinoa, marinara sauce, half of the mozzarella, and almost all of the sliced tomatoes in a medium bowl. Stir in the red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Then, fold in half of the basil. Transfer the quinoa mixture to a 2-quart baking dish that has been coated lightly with non-stick cooking spray or olive oil. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and all of the parmesan cheese on top. Place the remainder of the sliced tomatoes on top.

3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until hot and bubbly. The cheese should be a little brown and everything should be heated through. Serve and enjoy!

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This was one of my favorite kind of dinners: pretty short ingredient list, just a couple steps, and not time consuming…and delicious! Pretty healthy to boot…there are several versions of this out there that call for heavy cream that I’m sure taste magical, but there was enough cheese in this dish as is and I wasn’t looking to rack up the extra calories. It took about 45 minutes from beginning to end, but that includes 20 minutes for the quinoa cooking and sitting before getting mixed up, and then another 15 minutes of baking. Prepping the tomatoes and basil can be done while the quinoa is cooking, and then most of the cleanup can happen while it’s baking, so all that was left at the end to do was take care of the casserole dish and the bowls. If I were to make this again (and I will), I’ll leave out the step at the end that I followed originally, which was to add more shredded basil on top of the dish when it comes out of the oven. Since that basil hadn’t had time to bake, it was kind of chewy and I didn’t care for the texture. So I peeled the rest of it off and liked it better. This was so good reheated that I fought with Drew a little over the leftovers (when you do the buying and the baking and the cleaning up, though, you also win the leftover war). I gave him a bite, though. I’m not heartless! Anyways, this is good and easy and you should make it. Deal? Deal.

I Went: Downtown Container Park

Since I have friends that live in Las Vegas, I’d been hearing about the Downtown Container Park for a while, and how cool it was and how much people liked it. When we were making plans for what to do in Las Vegas, I insisted that we get off of the Strip for a little while and go out there so Amelia and Tom could see at least a little of what the entire rest of Las Vegas that isn’t the Strip is about.

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Like its name might suggest, Container Park is made up of little shops (food, booze, and retail) in shipping containers. There are a lot of different options to choose from: lots of clothing/jewelry type stores (including a place that sold leggings in like every imaginable variety), a few gift shops, some artist boutiques. And then there are few restaurants and even a bar, which is where we deposited Tom and Drew while Amelia and I went shopping. We wandered in and out of various stores…Amelia bought an adorable new dress, the pink flowered headband below for a music festival she went to this summer, and Darth Vader cufflinks for Tom. I bought myself two new pairs of earrings, which are my favorite accessory. This is a great concept for people who are just getting started in their business: it lets them get a small space and there is a steady flow of customers, so they don’t have a ton of start-up costs. In pretty much all of the more “artisan” type places we stopped (like a place that did watches), it was the actual designer of the merchandise that was there manning the store. All said and done, we spent about 2 hours there and it was a really fun way to spend an afternoon outside of the carnival that is the Strip.

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Downtown Container Park is located at 707 Fremont Street, in downtown Las Vegas, NV. There’s a wide variety of shopping options, they’re all independently owned and the stores are pretty small. Prices vary depending on the store you’re visiting. Recommended for a lazy afternoon of shopping.

 

29

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Last Thursday, I turned 29. I think I’ve officially entered the stage of my life where any birthday not ending in 0 or 5 is just a stopgap, a marker along the way. 27 was the last exciting birthday, for me. 27 was where I entered my late twenties, and the way things have settled down in just those two short years is remarkable. Between 25 and 27, so many things happened; I was doing and exploring and figuring out so many things about myself, who I was, and what I wanted from my life. Since 27, things have gotten more and more stable, and I’ve grown up so much.

That’s not to say that I didn’t do anything this past year. Oh no. On the contrary, this past year I:

  • Took Drew back to Michigan to meet my family, only the second time I’ve done a “meet the family” roll-out.
  • Watched my little sister get married to a wonderful man that treats her like she’s his everything.
  • Spent a long weekend in Las Vegas with my sister and brother-in-law.
  • Had emergency gallbladder removal surgery.
  • Saw two of my college roommates get married in New York City.
  • Had my best friends since elementary school come visit me in Reno.
  • Watched my dear friend Patrick marry the love of his life.

It’s been a wonderful, full year. Next year I’ll be 30. I’m already thinking about maybe planning a big party, something like a weekend in Napa with my friends. 29 was a low-key kind of thing. It was a weekday, so I went to work and had meetings and the whole bit, and afterwards Drew took me out for dinner at La Famiglia, which is my favorite Italian place in town. He got me a dress that I really like, and then we went home and drank some beer. Boom. Birthday. Veni, vidi, vici. See you in a year, 30.

 

I Cooked: Moroccan Tofu with Israeli Couscous

So a while back, I bought a big thing of Israeli couscous for a recipe I was making and it’s been hanging out in my cupboards ever since. Which is what made finding this recipe even more awesome…not only does it feature lots of my usual favorite ingredients, it’s a way to use up some of my Israeli couscous! Victory! And if you’d like some more recipes for straightforward and delicious vegetarian food, you should head over to The Seated Cook and check out everything she has to offer!

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1 cup Israaeli (pearl) couscous
1 1/4 cup water

1 package super firm tofu, cut into cubes
1 large squash, diced
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

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Heat the tofu with the olive oil in a large pan and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and cook until tofu slightly browns, then add in the squash, and cook until that lightly browns. Add in diced tomatoes, chickpeas, paprika, cumin and cinnamon. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes.

While tofu is simmering, prepare couscous by boiling water, adding couscous, and then turning down to a simmer for about ten minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Once couscous is cooked & fluffed, serve the tofu on top of the couscous and enjoy!

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So I totally loved this. It’s super easy to make, very little prep work needed (just dicing the tofu and squash, really). With both tofu and chickpeas in the mix, it’s really filling. The spice profile is mellow, but gives it flavor. I’d say it took about 40 minutes to come together, start to finish. There were plenty of leftover (that whole “filling” thing), and they tasted just as good reheated for dinner like 3 times this week. This recipe is definitely going to get used again!

I Ate: Park on Fremont

Amelia and I actually have a family friend who lives in Las Vegas: one of my best childhood friends Mary’s older sister Lindsay. She’s been out in Las Vegas for about 4-5 years now, so Amelia got in touch when our plans were made and we all agreed to meet up for lunch on Saturday. Since no sensible Las Vegan goes to the Strip unless they absolutely have to, we met downtown and she suggested Park on Fremont as a good lunch spot.

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This is a really neat, funky little place. It’s overdosed on the quirk factor a little, but not to the point where you wanted to roll your eyes (the sign in the bathroom said that “Employees must say Bloody Mary in the mirror three times before returning to work” rather than the usual admonition about hand-washing because seriously, everyone knows to do that). The food offerings are pretty underwhelming: a handful of appetizers, some burgers, and some salads. My Caesar salad was pretty standard issue: it’s hard to screw up lettuce, croutons, and cheese, but besides a veggie burger, that was my only option on the menu. The drink menu, on the other hand, was fabulous. They had a ton of interesting cocktails and interesting beers. Even my sister and I, neither of whom are especially enthusiastic beer drinkers, both found beers we liked. It was a good place to grab a bite and a drink and catch up with an old friend.

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Park on Fremont is located at 506 Fremont St in downtown Las Vegas, NV. Service was good. Prices are maybe a little higher than they should have been ($10-12 burgers and salads), but not exorbitant or anything. Not highly recommended for vegetarians, because there isn’t much for us there, and would probably be best as a lunch or happy hour spot unless you’re looking for a fairly insubstantial dinner.

Birchbox: September 2014

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Juicy Couture Viva La Juicy Gold Couture: I’ve gotten at least a half dozen Juicy Couture perfume samples over the past few years, and they have uniformly made me smell, to quote Mean Girls, like a baby prostitute. Not this one though! This is the first one I’ve actually been able to stand, and even kind of liked. I don’t like it so much I’ll go out and buy it, but I’ll probably bring it along when I’m traveling as a perfume to wear, which is A LOT more than I can say for any of the other samples.

Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate: This was my chosen sample this month, so I was excited for it. But the first day I used it, I had a spot flare up on one of my cheeks. I don’t know if I reacted to something in the cream or if it was a coincidence, but it’s made me wary of trying it again. Bummer.

TEMPTU S/B Highlighter: I don’t really feel qualified to opine on the quality of a highlighter, since it’s something I never use in real life. That being said, this was easy to apply and had a nice shimmer. I’ll never use it again, though.

Dear Clark, Resurrecting Wash: I think the conceit of calling your shampoo and conditioner a wash and a rinse is too cute by half. But about the actual product, I really did not care for the smell. It’s a very herbal, almost medicinal kind of scent…it smells like the remedy section of a health food store. If that’s what you’re looking for in a shampoo, awesome. Also, this is another low-lather shampoo so I had to use it twice to get my hair feeling clean. I appreciate that it’s very natural and all that, but it’s not for me.

Dear Clark, Resurrecting Rinse: See above. I used these in tandem. For the conditioner, an extra complaint arises about the packaging. The bottles are a hard plastic, so they aren’t squeezeable. While you can shake the shampoo out because it’s more liquid-y, the conditioner I had to dig out using my fingernails as scoops. Poor thinking there.

All in all, this wasn’t an awesome Birchbox for me in terms of results, but at least the things in there were almost all things I would actually use.

Five for Friday: Maroon 5

Ok, I know Adam Levine is a douchebag. He’s got one of those faces that makes you want to punch him a little, even though he’s pretty attractive. And I know it’s not “good” music by any reasonable definition of such. But it’s the kind of stuff that’s usually fun to sing along to, and I’ve never pretended to have good taste in music anyways. So here are five of my favorite jams by Maroon 5 (as always, no more than one off each album):

  • Animals: I’ve only listened to the new album through just the once so far, but this was the early standout for me. I know I’m doing a list of my favorite Maroon 5 songs and so I shouldn’t rip on them too hard, but after the first two albums, I feel like listening to each new one is like trying to find the few salvageable songs amidst a lot of dreck. Which probably means I should stop buying them. Hmm. Anyways, this song is kind of terrible, but I really like it.
  • One More Night: So catchy. Having been in those relationships where it’s pretty much you’re either fighting or doing it, this was a fun little song to sing and dance it out to. From the safety of my nice, normal, stable relationship, because that stuff can suck when you’re in the middle of it
  • If I Never See Your Face Again: I prefer the version with Rihanna guesting, but it’s fine either way. It’s song about those “relationships” you have (maybe not you? maybe just me and most of my friends?) when you’re in college…you’re hooking up and kind of want it to be more, maybe, maybe not really, I don’t know. This song makes me remember those day with a mixture of wistfulness for a time when the world seemed so full of romantic possibility and the regret for what I thought qualified as a romantic possibility at the time.
  • Secret: Songs About Jane is a great CD for the car (is this still a thing?)…there’s a good mix of uptempo songs with slower ballads, it sounds cohesive without every song sounding exactly the same, you can sing along pretty easily, etc. So it’s hard to pick a favorite, because the whole disc feels like summer driving during college to me. But Secret is the one that I find myself replaying the most often, so there it is. I’ve never been really sure that it’s about a one-night stand, even though I think that it is, but it’s definitely about sex and it’s moody-sounding, which is what I usually go for,
  • Stutter: I am somehow just figuring out now that pretty much all of their songs are about girls. And by girls, I mean sex.