I Cooked: Chow Mein and Quinoa

I’m not big into fast food. I lived behind a McDonalds for a whole year in law school and never went inside. But I do have a weakness for Panda Express. I know it’s terrible, y’all, but I love it. So when I found this recipe for a copycat Panda Express chow mein on Pinterest, I knew I had to try it!

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1 cup quinoa

1/4 cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 packages refrigerated Yaki-Soba, seasoning sauce packets discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced diagonally
2 cups shredded cabbage

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For quinoa: prepare according to package directions (two parts water to one part quinoa…place both quinoa and water in pot, boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes, let sit for 5 minutes, fluff with fork and done!)

For chow mein:

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, ginger and pepper; set aside.

In a large pot of boiling water, add Yaki-Soba until loosened, about 1-2 minutes; drain well.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and celery, and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in cabbage until heated through, about 1 minute.

Stir in Yaki-Soba and soy sauce mixture until well combined, about 2 minutes.

Serve immediately.

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In terms of actual effort to goodness of food, this is off the charts: very minimal effort expended for very yummy food. Not fancy, obviously, this is knockoff Panda Express. But yummy nevertheless. As in, there were no leftovers because Drew and I polished it off the same night I made it. I paired it with quinoa rather than the traditional rice so as to actually get some protein in the mix, which made for a good match. This takes only about half an hour from start to finish to put together and is perfect for a night when you just want something tasty and warm that’s not hard to make.

I Drank: ghostbar

When my sister had done Las Vegas for Spring Break with her friends in college, her favorite club they went to was ghostbar, so she wanted to come back on this trip. Since our waiter at Nove Italiano had been kind enough to offer us free passes so we didn’t have to pay cover, we headed straight over after dinner. I was still incredibly full from the food I ate at dinner, so I didn’t feel awesome for the first little while we were there. Thinking back on it, that might have been one of the few warning signs that my gallbladder gave me before it caused all that trouble. But anyways, we’re not here to talk about my full tummy and angry gallbladder, we’re here to talk about the bar.

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It’s very much a lounge-type atmosphere. The place is ringed with couches, both inside the bar proper and outside on the observation deck. We were there in April, so it was very pleasant to be outside in the evening…cool, but not cold. The big pain is that literally every seating area, both inside and out, was labeled “reserved”. This appeared to have been a lie, because no one came to claim the majority of them during the few hours we were there. We ended up just plopping down at an outdoor table that had been occupied by a group when we came in, but they left about 30 minutes after we got there (so there was no “reserved” tag on the table anymore) and no one came to bother us about it at any point, so we chalked that up as a win. The drinks were actually pretty reasonable when we first got there, because it was early yet, but prices go up to the normal overinflated Las Vegas point later in the evening. I just had a screwdriver because I’m boring. The real reason to come here is the view. It’s spectacular.

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ghostbar is located at the Palms on the Strip in Las Vegas, NV. It’s a trendy lounge/bar and it’s Las Vegas, so dress up. Drink prices are not bad earlier in the evening, but are typical for the Strip once you get into prime club-going hours. There is a cover charge, but we didn’t have to pay it because we got the free passes. I actually liked this place much more than I was expecting to like any Las Vegas bar…the view is that amazing and it was so nice to sit outside. I’d definitely want to come here again.

In It For The Long Haul

Before Drew, my relationships tended to be…tempestuous. Emotionally charged. Uncertain. Which is to say that I usually got into huge fights with the boys I loved, and they usually broke up with me. This was often followed by a getting back together, which would be all fine and well and nice until we got into another big argument and then lather rinse repeat. It taught me bad relationship habits, like swallowing down things that made me upset because if I actually asked the guys I dated to change, they would decide that it was probably time to break up again, if I didn’t like how things were going. But it also kept things in a constant state of flux, such that I spent much more time thinking about maintaining and preserving the relationship rather than if I wanted to be in a relationship with that person at all. I would have laughed if anyone had said I have commitment issues. Me? The one who goes to the ends of the earth trying to keep things together? But the stability I have with Drew has made me realize that everyone has commitment issues to some extent. Even me.

When you spend all your time trying to keep your boyfriend from dumping you, you don’t think of your relationship as being something that will stand the test of time. The idea of still being together one year down the road seems like forever away. Five years? Ten years? Doesn’t even cross your mind. It never occurs to you that a relationship could ever be boring in any way, because when you’re on a steady rotation of break up and make up the last thing in the world a relationship would be is boring. With Drew is the first time I’ve ever found myself thinking hypothetically about what else might be out there, if there might not be someone out there who is better or right-er for me that I’m closing myself off to because of my relationship. Which is totally dumb because obviously being with Drew is the steadiest and best relationship I’ve ever had. I love him with my whole heart and he makes my heart happy. It’s not until I was in a stable relationship that I realized that it’s a choice, every day. A choice to continue to be together, to stay committed to each other. And that’s a wonderful thing, to make that choice and to keep making it. To know that it’s the choice I make because I want to. To know that it’s the choice he makes because he wants to. I may have a bout of commitment anxiety here or there, but I know that I’m making the right choice. Every day.

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!