Sunday, 29 January 2012

ROTW Week 4: Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Almonds

You've probably figured  this  out by now, but I have weird food leanings.  Not that I eat things that are truly weird, but that I wake up one morning and I say to myself something like:  This week, I must absolutely eat something made using quail eggs  or  a soup seasoned heavily with cumin and coriander or other very flavour-specific directions.  I often choose what we are going to have for dinner not based on what we actually have in the fridge or pantry, but based on whether I feel like tasting cilantro and avocado (and lets face it, that's often), or whether I feel like cheeeeeese, or whether I am looking for cooked protein I can squeeze lemon juice all over...

Basically, I am as multi-faceted about cooking as I am about most things, and equally as obsessive.

So randomly, I decided last week that it was time for cauliflower soup.  Because, why not?

And I don't even like cauliflower.

Here we go:  adapted from Gourmet, found on

  • 1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (3/4 cup) ( I used a giant shallot instead, because I cant stand cleaning leeks.  And also I didn't have any.)
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 (2-lb) head cauliflower, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces (6 cups)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 3/4 cups fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fl oz)
  • 1 1/4 cups 1% milk
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
* I also added about 2 tbs dry cooking sherry, and some ground cumin, at the end.

Wash leek slices in a bowl of cold water, agitating, then lift out and pat dry.  If you're using shallots, just slice.

Melt butter with water in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add cauliflower and leek and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower begins to soften (do not let brown), about 5 minutes. 

Add coriander and cook, stirring, 1 minute, then add broth, milk, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

While soup is cooking, toast almonds in a dry skillet over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 3 minutes.

Purée soup in using your method of choice (I love my immersion blender!) until very smooth. Serve soup topped with toasted almonds (additional I would recommend some fresh cracked black pepper, and very possibly some parmesan cheese.)

Serve with delicious toast, or crackers, or Tostitos Black Bean Garlic chips (which are possibly even more delicious than Tostitos Hint of Lime).

Cooks' note: Soup can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Almonds can be toasted 2 days ahead and kept separately in an airtight container at room temperature. Reheat soup before serving.

Friday, 27 January 2012


2012 is already way better than 2011.  And 2011 was the year of my long awaited wedding.

I am super duper excited that I am going to be attending Christy Tyler's photography workshop in April!!  I've wanted to improve my dSLR skills for some time now, and I think this is just what I need.  Plus, Christy could not be sweeter, and I love the idea of learning from someone so passionate, talented, and just downright nice.

Plus I'll get to see my ladies in Chicago!!  Very very excited.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Wedding Graduates - my other half

I realized today, when I was wondering how I would feel as my grad post went up, that my groom is notably absent from the post.

That is not because I don't love my husband (although I would hope that would be obvious) and more because my post was a lot about grappling with how I felt after the wedding.  And while Brandon's thoughts and feelings were a part of that, a ton of it just had to be sorted out in my own head.  But maybe, if you wandered over here, you want to hear a little bit about Brandon too, and our story?

Brandon and I met in the 6th grade, in day care after elementary school, run by the county.  I loved his outgoing personality even then, and did some playground chasing.  When we went off to middle school, he and I had a bunch of classes together in the 8th grade, and got a tiny bit more comfortable with each other (as comfortable as an 8th grade girl and guy are ever going to be amid all those hormones...).  When we were assigned a budgeting project at the end of the year in civics, we took the leap and "got married" for the sake of the class.  Oh irony.  We had to stand up in front of the class, with an elasticized bow tie for Brandon and a fake flower bouquet for me.  Try not to be mortified for me 8th grade self - it ended up being worth it.  We danced the last dance together in 8th grade, and things seemed rosy heading into high school.

Oh I forgot, high school is hell for a reason.  We then didn't speak to each other at all for 3.5 years, and both of us focused on other things.  Senior year, we had one class together, architectural drafting, and the flirting began in earnest.  We started dating on New Years Day 2003.

We went to different universities, but we spent hours on the phone every day.  I remember my dad's outrage at my first cell phone bill.  My parents were worried I would be making a mistake not looking to meet someone else in college, but I have a stubborn streak (which I came by honestly) and we made it work.  My mandatory year in Rome came and went, and things seemed to be going well.  We had some difficult moments when I was in my final year (5 year architecture program) and Brandon had already graduated, and we ended up calling it quits for a while there.  I graduated, and accepted a job in London, and Brandon entered graduate school here in VA.

And then I was delayed getting my visa, and spent a whole summer remembering why I fell so hard for this guy in the first place.  Before I knew it, we were officially back together, this time for the long haul, getting ready for yet another stint of long distance relationship.

The rest was easy, by comparison.  I spent 20 months in London, and Brandon proposed when I was home for Christmas in 2009.  By June 2010 I was back home, and we were starting the life together that seems so natural now.

Brandon has always been so solid, which is one of the reasons we make this relationship work.  He gets me when I'm crazy, and he doesn't seem to mind.  He has seen me through pimples and awkward puberty, to my semi-adult state now, in good times and hard times.  He is always willing to apologize or accept my apology - he doesn't hold grudges, and he rarely lets things get to him.  He is a great barometer for whether something is really important, especially during the wedding planning.  If Brandon didn't care, it was probably something only important to me, and didn't matter too much.  But most of all, he lets me be my honest-to-God crazy self, taking on as much as I can handle and then some.

We've only been married 1.82 Kardashians, but we already know this works.  The wedding was really just a tiny blip on the radar of the life we hope to have together.

Hell yes that is a bid with a tiny glittery top hat!  Remind me to get the tutorial linked up here sometime.

Photos by Jenn Link Photography - offering a huge 20% off deal for APW's who book in the next 2 weeks!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

ROTW, Week 3: Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti

In honour of my boy, who was a big fan of anything baked.

from Smitten Kitchen, Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti.

** Lisa, and all my other GF friends:  because this recipe is not at all dependent on having a soft/springy texture, I am positive you could substitute GF flour mix for the all purpose, and make this work.  If you try it, let me know how it goes?**

purrrrrfect with red wine, or on their own, or eaten in mass quantity.

1 1/2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
Special equipment: an electric coffee/spice grinder

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse peppercorns in grinder until coarsely ground.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, 2 cups cheese, and 1 tablespoon ground black pepper in a large bowl. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3 eggs with milk and add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quarter dough. Using well-floured hands, form each piece into a slightly flattened 12-inch-long log (about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch high). Transfer logs to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging logs about 3 inches apart.

Whisk remaining egg and brush some over logs, then sprinkle tops of logs evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper. Bake, rotating sheets 180 degrees and switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until logs are pale golden and firm, about 30 minutes total. Cool logs to warm on sheets on a rack, about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Carefully transfer 1 warm log to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut sides down, in 1 layer on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining logs, transferring slices to sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total. Cool biscotti on baking sheets on racks, about 15 minutes.

Do ahead: Biscotti keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Design to death

from here.

Sometimes, I am sick to death of design.  In general.  Making aesthetic and functional choices, walking the line between budgets, beauty, and g@#^ d$%^@#%^ storage/function/bizarre need of the client, every single day.

I watch HGTV and I think, HA! This isn't real - in real life, the designer never gets to just waltz in, explain to the clients what they're about to do, and then just do it...that stuff is TV only.  In real life, most clients second guess  every paint swatch, decide they've changed their colour scheme, decides they've halved their budget, decides they don't even want to share a house with the person with whom they were planning a master bedroom makeover... the list goes on.  People don't always value designers (to cover the spectrum of us), because they think it has to be easy, but they often don't see the delicate balancing act of considerations.

I love what I do.  I love having a job where those things all matter, and I love having the kind of brain that gets a kick out of making it all fit together AND telling a story aesthetically.

But it takes a toll on you to constantly weight your work on such a completely subjective scale.  It doesn't matter whether you are the most avant garde, or the most traditional - someone hates your work.  It doesn't matter how "good" you get - someone hates your work. Sometimes I wish I had just become an engineer.  Because at least then there is an answer (most of the time), and it is possible to be just plain-old right.

I've struggled for a long time to not allow what other people think to be the basis against which I judge myself, and my work.  But part of what I do is not for me:  I am not a "pure" designer, sitting up in some lofty tower designing only for the betterment of mankind.  I design for clients.  Real people.  People who need to like what I produce.  So at what point does what I personally think cease to matter?  I would like to believe that my work can have integrity, that I only produce things I am proud of.  And at the end of the line, you came to me because something about what I do worked for you.  Whether that meant the price was right, or you really liked my previous designs, you picked me.  There are millions of other people who can do what I do, literally.  And while I really really REALLY want your business, and I want you to love what I've produced for you.... that's not enough for me, as a person.

And sometimes, when you let me do what I do, you'll realize that you love the result.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Silver Linings

Unexpected upside to chopping off all my hair?

Not a single person has told me I look like Sarah Palin.


Thursday, 12 January 2012

ROTW, Week 2: Pork Chops with Blackberry Port Reduction

I scheduled this post a few days ago.  I was going to pull it, because honestly I don't feel like doing anything now except talk about my dog and how much I'll miss him, but then I reconsidered.  Partly I consider this resolution to be a good one, and partly because I am not really ready to talk about Boris yet.  So here we go:

I should have clarified at the beginning of the year: sometimes, I make new recipes others have written for me.  Sometimes, I just make stuff up.  I think this counts. This week, we stepped it up a notch.

These were surprisingly delightful, given that I don't really love pork chops AND this is an invention.  However, I don't know of too many recipes involving garlic, butter, and red wine that are not at least sort-of tasty.

Here we go:

4-6 pork chops.  Ours were thin cut.
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 or 2 shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (I like everything garlicky.)
1 fresh cayenne pepper, minced (I had one?  So I threw it in.  Did not notice it.)
1/2 cup blackberries (fresh, this is like 10 berries.)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup port wine
1/2 bottle red wine (I used Charles Shaw Merlot.  Ahh Trader Joes and 3 buck Chuck.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine butter and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add shallot, garlic, and cayenne pepper, and cook until lightly browned (and your kitchen smells amazing.)

Add blackberries and cook until you can see the blackberries are going soft, then add port, chicken stock, and red wine.  Heat bring to a simmer, and cook until reduced by half (this could take 20ish minutes.)  Puree sauce using your method of choice (I use my delightful immersion blender, wedding gift of Brandon's aunt and uncle.) At this point, keep it warm until pork chops are cooked.  If the sauce is nice and thick. BE CAREFUL because it will splatter.  This could burn you, and also, blackberries stain.  If it is thin, don't worry, and use this time to let it thicken up.  You can always add more red wine if the sauce is too thick for your taste.

Cook the porkchops.  We grilled them on our new grill pan (thanks Mom and Dad) but you could just as easily pan fry them, or bake them if that's your thing.  Whats important is that after you season them with salt and pepper, cook them until delightfully caramelized on the outside, and put them on your plate, is that you adorn them with this beautiful sauce.


Monday, 9 January 2012

Christmas 2011 - the recap

in honor of my puppy, I bought these English Sheepdog ornaments for everyone.  Not that he's a purebred anything, but it reminded me of him.
We are finally far enough away from Christmas that I feel like talking about it again.  And also, I've just been going through my photos, and realized that I took a bunch on purpose to demonstrate the typical Heller/Carling Christmas Madness.

Lets begin, shall we?  First family tradition: the wrapping room.

Current obvious choice for the wrapping room is the now-mostly-empty bedroom of my sister.  When she moved out, my parents made her take EVERYTHING.*  SO this lovely empty room is where we each hole up for a day, and wrap our gifts in secret.

Think we have enough wrapping nonsense in this room?  Obviously not, since that bag to the left of the table is wrapping paper I actually purchased this year, and decided to bring over.  Really?  This seems nuts, even to me.  Next year, no more wrapping paper purchases, I don't care how pretty.  Must. us. up. current. supply.  Or my basement will look like the bed above in 20 years.

Second family tradition:  We eat our body weight in delicious foods, and wash it down with booze.  This is a tradition I will be continuing, for sure.

Third family tradition:  We spoil each other ROTTEN.

careful Lisa, or some bugs might fly in there.
This Christmas tree contains gifts for 7 people, none of whom are children, this does not count the stockings, and it doesn't include gifts too big to fit under the tree (my letterpress, Lisa's new stereo, and Dad's photo taking backdrop setup.)

Tradition number 4:  The Christmas Morning "treasure" hunt.  This was a thing in my mother's family, and it has come down to us.  My Grandad, the distinguished gentleman in some of the following photos, is a word-game fanatic (as is my Grandma.)  They play Scrabble together almost every day, he prints out crypic crosswords from the Times, and then he actually solves them.  Without looking at the hints.  Whole other level of good with words.

So when my mom was growing up (and I am hazy on the details because I wasn't actually there) he would write them a series of clues, each one leading to the next hidden somewhere in the house.  We open our stockings first* solve the treasure hunt (which has the decoding system for how Lisa and I know which gifts are ours (Dad hates tags)) and then we eat breakfast, before going back to open the tree-gifts.

The way this translates directly:

  • Grandad, or Mom and Dad filling in when he isn't there, writes us a series of clues.  When we were younger, he would do two separate ones, so that they could be tailored to the ages we were.  Now, they are so stinking hard we just get one, for the three of us.
  • We spend an hour or so bitching about how hard the clues are.  Because they are! and there is very little more annoying that being 3 people on a treasure hunt through your house, walking past smirking parents and grandparents who already know the answers.  Bah.
  • We solve a bunch, and then we get to the one that Grandad secretly knew was way too hard for us.  There's always one...and is always gets us huffy, and wishing we could just stop.
    • We aren't allowed to just give up, one eats breakfast until we are done.  So the parents are at least motivated to give us hints...
  • Let me give you a sample clue.  "Lady Gaga, although no lady, holds US soldier captive."  This obviously tells you where to look in our house for the next clue, right?  Ha.  Lets break it down, cryptic crossword style.
    • My sister correctly guesses that although no lady is telling us to get rid of the word lady, and just use Gaga.  Ok, fine.
    • We then fixate on the fact that he used the specifc "U.S." when referring to the solider.  This has to mean something - in cryptic clues, every word means something. 
    • At this point Brandon, who had solved the last 2 clues himself and was holding up very well, wanders off in his patented method of problem solving entitled "something will come to me"
    • Mom, tired of waiting for her breakfast, comes in to help.
    • She has been solving these clues for most of her life now, so she figured out that the point of the clue is to make a word by taking the letters GAGA and wrapping them around a word standing for US soldier.
    • So we name all the different branches of the US military, and try and figure out whether ganavyga means anything. (nope, it doesn't.)
    • Then we have the breakthrough that when Grandad thinks of the US military, he is thinking of words that were used in HIS peak years, at the end and after WW2.  Mom realizes that the word for US soldier is probably GI.
    • Can you guess it yet?
    • I sure as hell hope not, because that would mean 1) you know what objects are in my house and b) it took us another 10 minutes.
    • The answer is: Gaggia, which is the brand of espresso machine my parents have on the kitchen counter.
  • And that was one of the easy ones.

After that, tradition dissolves a little bit, and we do whatever the heck we want, mostly.  We get together again after breakfast and actually open the gifts under the tree, and then we have lunch (this year we were so slow solving the hunt that we didn't even eat lunch.), and then regroup for a dinner of roasted lamb with shallot/merlot sause.  Truly, that sauce is unbelieveable, and its the reason we've been eating the same dinner at Christmas for the past 10 years, give or take.

The rest?  Just pretty photos

Hope you and yours enjoyed a great holiday, whatever you celebrated.  All the best in 2012.

*This caused a fight so large I actually walked out of the house on Christmas morning to blow off steam and avoid throwing things.  Lisa has a problem when she thinks people mess up her traditions, and I have a problem when I think she is making them up to suit whatever she feels like doing.  She has an interesting memory, my sister.  But it a pointless fight, because neither of us can be 100% right, and neither one of us is willing to not be stubborn in order to make peace.  Lisa, I will delete any and all comments you leave on this subject, so just fucking drop it.  You want to go complain about it, go start your own blog.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

ROTW, Week 1: California Chicken Club

Hell yes. California Chicken Club

Welcome to the first ever edition of Recipe of the Week.  This week, the most delicious sandwich I may have ever made for myself.

Grilled chicken breast, crispy bacon, sharp cheddar, nummy avocado....I am drooling right now.

Here's how you make one!

Ingredients (per sandwich):
1 chicken breast
2 slices of thick cut bacon
1/2 an avocado, sliced
lettuce of your choice
3 slices sharp white cheddar
2 slices hearty bread

Grill up the chicken breast.  At the same time, cook the bacon using your method of choice - I prefer the saucepan, but I know microwaving it works.  Drain fat from the bacon if you cooked it in a pan, and set on paper towels to soak any remaining grease.

Toast or grill the slices of bread.  To stack up your sandwich: slice your chicken breast along the thickness (this will help you get your mouth around this monster sandwich later.) and place on one half of the toast.  Add sharp cheddar, avocado, lettuce, and finally top with your nice crispy bacon.

Voila.  Delish.  Sorry if you didn't need instructions on how to make a sandwich - you guys know I am particular about this bizness.

See you next week!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

First things first

So when I published that post yesterday, I cheated.  Not because I hadn't resolved to do this thing before I took care of it, but because I was so slow to blog that it had already occurred by the time I posted.

It was time to knock off the most important thing on that list.  And by that of course I mean fixing my stupid hair, because it has been making me CRAZY lately.

It started with the perm.  Bad idea.  Crazy idea.  Should never have happened.  This is what my hair looked like as of Wednesday, Dec. 28th:

Yes, I realize this is not beautifully styled.  But this is what it looked like most of the time that I had it like this, so it is accurate.

Fed up, I took step #1: fix colour.

much better.  Doesn't hurt that I also straightened it a bit.
Somehow, still not enough.  I have been itching for change for a while now, and I kept stopping myself because of the perm disaster.  But on New Year's Eve, in the mall in search of a new outfit, I just went for it.  

9 inches off!  Exciting.

New Year's Eve
and now?  Its back to being curly... but I think I can handle it now that its only 6 inches long.  Here's to 2012 being a year of good hair!!

Monday, 2 January 2012


So, 2012.  More fun to say for sure than 2011.  The Olympics are this year! And Oranje will have a chance at redemption.  Diablo 3 might finally get released?

And it will be my first calendar year of being married from start to finish (woohoo!).

On NYE Brandon and I celebrated 9 years of being together, from our kiss at midnight.  We finished the night in much the same way - passed out on a basement sofa.  Classy.

I have goals for 2012.  Dreams, hopes, that might finally come to fruition, schemes for how I can make my life get the idea.  And because one of them it to get my sh*t in order, I give to you, numerically presented:  my resolutions.  In no particular order

  • Make Ribbons & Bluebirds a success, if only in my mind.  Which means I get to decide what makes it successful (win!)  It also means that I am more than happy for the IRS to view it as a tax loss, too.
  • Figure out this taxes business.  Ugh.  This already sucks, and I have spent a large part of my holiday on it.  But I am going to figure it out so thoroughly this year that next year, it will all be set up for me.
  • Have better hair.  My hair used to be my thing, and now it kindof sucks.
  • Stay this size, if possible.  Last year was the year of amazing motivated weight loss, so lets hope this year is the year of pleasegodletmestopneedingnewjeans.
  • Make real progress towards some important long-term goals: saving enough to buy a house, having a lifestyle that could support a dog, etc.
  • Stop leaving my shoes all over.  This infuriates my dearest husband.  And there are enough things I do that infuriate him that are NEVER going to change that it would be best to take care of the little things.
  • Make one new recipe a week, every week, in 2012.  This si the big one, my wimpy version of a 365 project.  The criteria are simple:  recipe can be for anything, can be as simple as a cocktail or a dipping sauce, or as complicated as a 6 tier baked dessert.  Just has to be something new.
  • Teach Brandon how to use the camera.
  • Learn to type faster.  If Twitter has taught me anything, its that I cannot keep up.  If I am going to be in the conversation, and I do want to be which is why I joined Twitter in the first place, I need to be FASTER.  And also learn about hashtags.
  • Take some further steps towards licensing:  exams.  boo.  yucky.  need to be done.

2012- lets do this thing.

PS.  My baby is not doing so well, and it seems like it will soon be time to say goodbye to the sweetest mongrel in my life.  Please send him all the loving vibes you can spare - we are doing everything we can to make his last weeks with us full of joy, but he really enjoys any extra affection that comes his way these days.