I Cooked: Cheesy Spinach Baked Farfalle

Two weeks, two baked pasta dishes in a row. Can you tell that session is leaving me feeling in need of some serious comfort food? I had actually come across this recipe quite some time ago, but I was stressed and in need of cheesy carbs so I moved it around on the schedule.

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Nonstick cooking spray
Salt
12-ounce box farfalle
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
One 28-ounce can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
One 8-ounce block part-skim mozzarella (half grated, half cubed)
One 16-ounce container 1-percent cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
6 oz fresh spinach, chopped

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Mist a 2 to 2 1/2-quart rectangular or oval baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente.

While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a medium pot set over medium heat. Add the fennel seeds and garlic and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, lowering the heat if the sauce bubbles too vigorously, until the sauce has thickened slightly, the flavors have blended together and the raw tomato taste has cooked out, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with additional salt and pepper. Pour over the cooked pasta and toss well to coat. Add the cubed mozzarella and transfer half the pasta to the prepared baking dish.

Put the cottage cheese in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the shredded mozzarella and Parmesan and pulse two to three times. Combine half the cottage cheese mixture with the spinach and mix to break up the spinach. Drop in spoonfuls over the pasta in the baking dish. Top the spinach layer with the rest of the pasta and then the remaining cottage cheese mixture.

Bake until bubbly and golden brown on top, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes, and then serve and enjoy!

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First of all, this makes a LOT of food. Second, that food is super delicious. I literally ate the leftovers four nights in a row and I regret nothing. While it’s not as rich as it would be with ricotta, I thought the cottage cheese/parmesan mixture did a pretty good job of mimicking the taste and texture without the heavy calorie load. So while this is a little prep-heavy, what with the food processing, it’s definitely worth it when you’re in the mood for hearty and yummy (to feed you for a week!)

I Went: Dexter Cider Mill

When Drew and I were in Michigan last fall, I knew one place we absolutely, positively had to go (besides the wedding we were there for, obviously): the Dexter Cider Mill. Without much exaggeration, I can say going to the cider mill is one of my very favorite things about fall, and one of the things I miss most now that I live in Nevada. Drew had heard about the amazing fresh cider and the delicious cinnamon sugar donuts so many times that I HAD to take him there. No ifs, ands, or buts.

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Doesn’t this just scream “bucolic small town America”? This trip to the Cider Mill was better than most because if you look there, you’ll see that there was NO LINE. This is what happens when you go on a Friday morning. During the weekends, it feels like just about everybody in the Ann Arbor area decides that a trip to the Cider Mill would be perfect right about now. It usually moves efficiently, but it gets long. This day, though, there wasn’t any line at all, so we got to head right in.

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When you head in, there’s a bunch of local and/or organic fall-related goodies on the middle shelves, and the back there is where you go to get your cider. It’s incredibly fresh: it’s made constantly throughout the day on site in their cider press and brought up to the store for sale. It’s not pasteurized, and there are no preservatives. It spoils within several days. But don’t worry, it won’t last that long because it is so perfect and crisp and fresh that you just can’t stop drinking it. I’m actually not especially fond of what’s usually sold as apple cider at the grocery store. But this…this is a different experience. The cinnamon sugar donuts are not to be missed, and the caramel apples are amazing. Basically, everything here is awesome.

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There’s a little area with picnic tables right up against the Huron River, which makes for a lovely setting in which to enjoy your cider and snacks (and watch people canoe). But here is the ONE downside to the Cider Mill: making all that cider on site attracts a TON of bees and wasps. Usually, when there’s a good size crowd, the bees are kind of spread out. But when you’re one of the only ones there, like we were that day, all of the bees converge on you and don’t go away. I’ve developed a bee sting allergy as I’ve gotten older and am afraid of getting stung, so we had to retreat to the car to cider and donut up. But that’s like the only thing that isn’t perfect.

The Dexter Cider Mill is located at 3685 Central Street in Dexter, MI. There is a small lot on site, but street parking is available nearby. If you go on a Saturday or Sunday during peak fall, there will be a giant line. Go during the week or near the end of the season (they usually close up shop in mid-November) for an easy-in, easy-out experience. Prices are reasonable, but bring cash because they don’t take cards. This is an absolute must in the fall in southeast Michigan!

20 Things I Learned In My 20s: Have Fun, But Know Your Limits

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My first year of law school was a pretty awful time for me, honestly. I was homesick, stressed, sad. The adjustment from undergrad to law school, the exponential increase in how hard it was, feeling like I might not be capable of the work…that alone would have been difficult to cope with for someone who had spent her whole life self-defining as the “smart girl”. But when you added in being far away from my family and friends for the first time, feeling completely out-of-sync with the world around me, having a hard time making new friends…I spiraled out for a while there. I gained a not insignificant amount of weight. I struggled with depression. And I dealt with that depression through alcohol. I didn’t drink much, if at all, during the week, and I never got to the point where I felt like I had to have a drink, but when the weekends rolled around, I poured it back. I didn’t stop after 2 or 3…or even 4 or 5. I drank to get blackout.

I did things I shouldn’t have done during that time period, drinking and driving not even the worst of it (to this day, I’m thankful that I never hurt anyone or myself when I got behind the wheel that year). I drank to numb the pain, to deaden the negative feelings that were overwhelming me. It didn’t solve anything, of course. It just added a hangover to my problems.

As unlikely as it seems, I really date my “recovery” from that dark period in my life (that sounds so dramatic, I know, but I was in a bad place) to my summer with Scott. He wasn’t a very good boyfriend-type, not in the least because he wasn’t really trying to be. And I drank plenty during that summer, but there was a real difference: with Scott, I drank and it was fun. It wasn’t the only way to have fun, of course, I didn’t need it to have a good time. But my drinking became a thing I did in conjunction with fun: I drank for positive reasons . It also flattened out. A beer or two in the afternoon during the week if I felt like it, maybe one or two more during the evenings on weekends when we partied. I learned to recognize the feeling of “enough”. I learned to say “no more” once I’d gotten to that point. Why overindulge? There’s always going to be more tomorrow if you want it, and you don’t need it, so why wake up feeling like disaster?

Figuring out where that line between “fun” and “enough” is was a really important part of my 20s. It’s not just with booze, of course, that’s just the example from my life where it’s the clearest. Part of being in your twenties is experimenting with vices: sex, drugs, booze, or whatever else you indulge in. None of which has to be damaging or harmful, but if used beyond your limits (which might not be the same as your best friend’s limits), it can go too far. Your twenties are a time when you have a lot of freedom to figure out what you like, what works for you…and just as importantly, what doesn’t, or how much of a good thing is too much. Finding that boundary line feels like growing up.

I Cooked: Easy White Sauce Penne

I’m not huge on white sauces on pasta. I’m a red sauce girl. But when it says easy, like this recipe, I find it hard to say no. I’m easy like Sunday morning, y’all. Well, Sunday evening, which is usually when I do my cooking.

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1 box penne pasta
1 cup of milk
6 minced garlic cloves
1.5 teaspoon butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
Italian Seasoning
Red pepper flakes

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, mince the garlic. Save around ½ cup of starchy pasta water before you drain and then wash the cooked pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process.

In a pan, heat oil. Add the butter and chopped garlic on medium flame. Sauté for a min or two and then add milk and saved pasta water. Let the milk simmer for around five to seven minutes. This will let the sauce thicken and at the same time the garlic flavor will mix with the milk. Add some red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning to taste.

Add grated parmesan and let it melt. Mix cooked pasta and sauce to flat glass dish and bake for about 15 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

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So I made a couple modifications to the original: yellow instead of red onions, Italian seasoning instead of straight oregano mix, and baking instead of grilling. I don’t have a grill, so that wasn’t really an option. Since I was baking, I had to guesstimate, so I went with 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Next time, there will be an increase in either bake time or temperature. But there will be a next time. This was a very light white sauce, which I really appreciated because heavy sauces aren’t my deal. And it was super tasty. So tasty that there were no leftovers because I ate them all.

I Ate: The Blue Plate

Back a few months ago, I went out to lunch with some people, and we went to a little place just about two blocks from my office: The Blue Plate! It’s one of the more unusual fusion restaurants I’ve ever come across: Greek and Asian.

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The interior is bright and feels kind of like a modernized diner…the black and white tile floor feels cozy, while the glass tops of the tables give it a clean and updated feeling (as compared to the scuffed tabletops and chrome of your traditional diner-style establishment). The large windows let in a lot of light and make for some prime people-watching.

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Since I wasn’t especially hungry that day, I just had some spanikopita, one of my Greek favorites. It’s designed as an appetizer, so it’s super light, which was exactly what I wanted. It was perfectly made: the filo dough was crunchy and flaky, and the spinach-y insides were savory and delicious. This place is run by actual Greek people, so it’s definitely up to snuff.

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So bad news first: this place has actually closed in the few months since I ate there. I debated whether or not to even publish this, but then I figured that there was no harm in it. It’s a post I sat down and wrote, so I might as well put it out there. But since it no longer exists, I’m omitting the usual location-type details I put at the end because no one can eat at Blue Plate anymore if they wanted to. BUT, there is already a new restaurant in that space, Centro, so I’ll be sure to visit sometime soon and write it up!

Mr. and Mrs. McCotter

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I can’t remember, really, when Crystal and I became friends. I feel like it had to be second grade. I don’t think it was first grade, so that leaves second (I bounced around between elementary schools a bit, and she would have definitely been at only one of the two). We were close through elementary school and middle school, and the beginning of high school as well. And then we had a split. 15 year old girls aren’t the most emotionally mature was part of the issue, but I really remember it stemming from her telling the boy I had a huge “secret” crush on that I liked him. I was mortified and furious, and we didn’t really talk much in high school after that. And then I went off to college and made new friends, and then I went to law school and found myself living in the South, and seeing from Facebook that she was also in the South, and we began to reconnect on social media. Then we both ended up in Ann Arbor again, and went to a football game together, and then it was like we’d never stopped being friends in the first place. She’s probably the person I’d consider my best friend, and on April 4th, I was a bridesmaid in her wedding as she married her fiancee Eric.

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Since it’s during session, I couldn’t take a LONG long weekend and got into Michigan Friday night. I headed straight to the house of the friend that was hosting the bachelorette party: just a girls night in with booze and Cards Against Humanity. You know what? That was so much better than wearing penis sashes around town and paying too much for booze and trying to find seating at the bar. It was just chatting and drinking and hanging out with the people we wanted to be hanging out with anyways.

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The wedding was late in the evening Saturday, and my sister’s birthday had been a few days prior, so I told her I’d have the early afternoon free to spend some time with her. Whatever she wanted, for her birthday. What did she want? To go to Hash Bash, of course. Her husband Tom really isn’t into that scene, so we spent a few hours just the two of us seeing the sights (and other activities, in her case), and then met up with Tom for drinks at Ashley’s! I got to have a summer Oberon, so all is right with the world. Then it was time to head down to Vinology for the main event.

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Crystal had the genius idea of renting our bridesmaid dresses from Rent the Runway, and it worked out perfectly. We got ready, helped Crystal get ready, and took lots of pictures. The wedding itself was the fastest I’ve ever seen: pretty much just simple vows and then kiss the bride and then more photos! And then snacks and drinking and dancing. And then home to my sister’s place to sleep for the night.

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My dad’s birthday was on Monday of that coming week, so I’d arranged to spend a little time with him on Sunday. Since that Sunday was Easter, after dad time, I headed back out to my mom’s for Easter brunch with Tom. We had a nice little meal and then I headed back to the airport, and back to Reno. It was too short, as always, but it was amazing to be able to take the time during session to be able to stand by my best friend as she married the man she loves. These are the special moments in our lives, and being able to be there was wonderful.

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I Cooked: Noodle Stir-Fry with Chickpeas

I like stir-fry a lot when other people make it. In theory, it should be hard to mess up: add ingredients, stir, and fry, right? But for whatever reason I’ve never had an easy time with it. When I found this recipe, though, I figured it looked so tasty that I might as well try again!

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2 teaspoons olive oil
10 ounces squash, sliced thin
10 ounces yakisoba noodles
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups sliced cabbage
1 small carrot, diced small
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 can chickpeas
2 cups spinach
1 tablespoon soy sauce

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1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the squash and sauté, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Remove squash with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.

3. In same pan, add 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 or 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrot, and pepper and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add chickpeas, squash, and soy sauce and continue stir-frying another 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Add greens cook until wilted. Stir in remaining sesame oil.

5. Add the cooked noodles and stir to combine. Serve and enjoy!

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So apparently I’m still looking for the stir-fry that’s going to work for me, because this isn’t it. I don’t think it’s the recipe, though, I think it’s the skill of the cook. I think it’s also that I really need a wok…I’ve been using a large skillet and I don’t think it’s doing an effective job of stir-frying. Also, leaving in the mushrooms would have given it a more savory flavor, but since Drew is such an avowed mushroom hater, I subbed in squash and I don’t think it was really an effective sub here. It wasn’t bad, I ate two bowls the day I cooked it (as did Drew), but no one ate any leftovers. That’s it. Before I try another stir-fry and wonder why it didn’t come out as delicious as I wanted, I’m going to buy a wok. Stay tuned!

I Ate: Steamers

The final day of Kailey and Crystal’s trip out to Reno, it was just us girls. Drew had to work, and that actually worked out for the best. We started the day out in Truckee and hit the shops hard, then went down to King’s Beach and spent a few hours just hanging out by Lake Tahoe. Even though it was September, the weather was still gorgeous (like it usually is in in the Reno area well into October), but since kids were back in school and such, the beach was pretty empty (it probably helped that it was a Monday). Which was awesome. We were feeling peckish in the early afternoon, so we stopped for a little snack and some beers at a place Drew had recommended: Steamers.

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They were practically empty inside, but we elected to sit outside, where there were several picnic tables set up, to keep enjoying the weather and sunshine. We were totally alone, which meant we could continue talking loudly and probably inappropriately (I don’t remember specific conversation topics, but I can be pretty sure it was inappropriate) while noshing up and drinking down. And enjoying that view, because seriously? That. View. Lake Tahoe is so gorgeous.

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Unfortunately, I don’t have anything in particular to recall here about the food or drink, except that they were both generally fine (it’s hard to mess up cheese sticks). They didn’t have a super-extensive beer list or appetizer menu, but both were perfectly sufficient for our purposes. Our waitress was friendly and prompt. This is not the place to find fancy upscale food and bev. This is a place to find food and bev that’s tasty enough and convenient from the beach. Since it wasn’t trying to be anything more than that, it was great.

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Steamers is located at 8290 North Lake Boulevard in Kings Beach, CA. I’m not entirely sure what the parking situation is like, because we just walked over from where we were parked at the beach. As you can see, it’s super close to the water, so I can imagine it gets really crowded during the high season in the summer. Food and beer were reasonably priced during happy hour when we were there, a little pricey for what it is during regular hours but not exorbitant. Standard pub fare, but you can’t beat the view!

Birchbox: April 2015

This box wasn’t a big deal either way to me…nothing really registered as either a huge YES or a huge NO.

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Number 4 Volumizing Shampoo: Just as a side note, there have been two boxes recently now where I’ve gotten a shampoo but no conditioner. That used to never happen. Not that I felt a pressing need for more conditioner or anything, but now that I’m thinking about it, it strikes me as strange. Anyways, this shampoo is effective at like, cleaning my hair, but wasn’t especially volumizing. My hair looked the same as it usually does.

Whish Shave Crave Shaving Cream: This I’m actually rather ticked off about. It’s a duplicate to a product I received a few months ago, just in a different scent. Same stuff. Usually Birchbox will realize their mistake when they do something like this and send me points to make up for it, but not this time. I didn’t even especially like this stuff the first time around. What the hell, Birchbox?

POP Beauty POP Portfolio Eyeshadow Palette: This was my sample choice, and I’m pleased with it. There are three neutral-ish colors in there, and it works about as well as other eyeshadow (nicer than drugstore, less nice than my MAC eyeshadow), so I’ve just scored some new shadow that will suit me just fine.

Beauty Protector Protect & Oil: I actually haven’t used this. Want to know why? Well, first of all, the last thing my hair needs is more oil. I probably would have tried it, though, if not for the fact that there’s no way to get it out of there. It’s a tiny screwtop WITH NO DROPPER. If the package recommends that you use a certain number of drops, you would think you’d need to make sure it had a dropper. Products like this drive me bananas.

Real Chemistry Luminous Three-Minute Peel: This was probably my favorite thing in this box. I’m usually wary of anything that could be rough on my skin, but this was super gentle and really helped remove the dead skin cells from my face. Great product.

I Cooked: Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Garbanzos

So, this? I’m pretty sure this is my new default pasta sauce. Pasta is just pasta, for the most part, what matters is what you put on it. I spotted this recipe and saw an opportunity to eat more chickpeas (I’m always looking for an opportunity to eat more chickpeas), and it came out really well. I think I’ll fuss with the ingredients a little to personalize it a little (maybe more garlic? some bell pepper?), but this is definitely going to be the basis of my default sauce.

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1 bag spinach
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 box pasta
1 onion, diced
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic

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1. Boil a large pot of water for pasta; cook pasta according to instructions on box
2. Saute diced garlic and onion in olive oil in large skillet
3. Add spinach, sauteeing on medium heat until wilted
4. Add rinsed garbanzos and tomatoes
5. Saute on low heat for 5-6 minutes until blended
6. Add 1-2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese and stir into sauce
7. Add salt and pepper to taste
8. Serve sauce over pasta and enjoy!

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As should be obvious from the gushing above, I really liked this. I dumped my two boxes of half-empty pasta into one and called it good. This also refrigerated and reheated very well. I added onions because I think most things are more delicious with onions, and as I experiment a little with this, I might add other veggies as well. But this is definitely good as a base red sauce, because the chickpeas give it protein and keep it from being a total carb-fest (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Doesn’t take long at all to pull together and it makes a ton, so there’s leftovers! Simple and satisfying meal for today AND tomorrow (and the day after, maybe, depending on how hungry you are)? Sold!