Cheery Observations

Celebrating the Unique, Sustainable, and Creative

Real Simple Recipes December 16, 2008

Filed under: food and recipes — meaghin @ 11:34 pm
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I have been subscribing to Real Simple for a long time now and while occasionally the magazine is not exactly pertinent to me (I’m not a mother in my 30s!), the recipes rarely disappoint. I organize all my recipes in a program called ‘Yummy Soup’ and about 50% of the recipes are Real Simple creations. The recipes are true to their name (real simple) for several reasons:a) they are organized in a way that makes it easy to quickly scan the recipe and b) they are usually no longer than 5 steps and so the entire hands on time is quite minimal.

I wanted to post a few of my ‘go-to’s’, either for weeknights or when I’m cooking for others:these always reliable!

Chicken Curry in a Hurry:
It packs a slight amount of heat: the moist chicken combined with the curry powder is a great way to spice up a basic chicken and rice meal.

chicken

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (optional)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 2 cups cooked white rice (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes. Sprinkle with the curry powder and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the yogurt and cream and simmer gently for 3 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, and tomatoes (if using). Remove from heat.

Slice or shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Divide the rice (if using) and chicken among individual bowls, spoon the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with the cilantro.

Makes 4 to 8 servings

Parmesan Pasta with Chicken and Rosemary:
The first time my fiancee had this he went ‘mmm’ after every bite! (Sometimes without even being aware he was doing this!)It’s one of the simplest meals I’ve ever made, but the combination of the broth and rosemary with some delicious fresh pasta is unbeatable.
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  • 12 ounces (3 cups) orecchiette pasta
  • 1 3 1/2- to 4-pound rotisserie chicken
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Shred the chicken, using a fork or your fingers, while the pasta cooks. Discard the skin and bones.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/4 cups of the water. Return the pasta to the pot.

Add the reserved pasta water, chicken, rosemary, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the pot. Stir over medium-low heat until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.

Divide among individual bowls and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

Tip: Using water reserved from the pasta pot is a classic cook’s trick. Starchy and salted, it makes a light, flavorful sauce when tossed with cheese and herbs. It’s also great for thinning pestos and marinaras.

Makes 4 servings

Pesto Pasta with Green Beans and Potatoes:

This is hearty, meatless meal. Crisp green beans and fresh potatoes and parmesan make this meal healthy and delicious. Whole Foods sells wonderful fresh pesto (of course you can make your own!): good pesto is the key ingredient in making this into a satisfying dinner.

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  • 1 1-pound box linguine or spaghetti
  • 8 ounces Yukon gold potatoes (peeled if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 10 ounces green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1 cup store-bought pesto
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes and salt in a large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are almost but not quite tender, about 15 minutes. Add the beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes and green beans in a colander. Let cool slightly. Cut the potatoes into a 1/2-inch dice and cut the green beans into 1-inch pieces.

Place the pasta in a large bowl and add the potatoes, green beans, pesto, Parmesan, and pine nuts (if using). Toss to combine.

Tip: There’s no need to peel thin-skinned potatoes like Yukon golds. But be sure to scrub them.

Makes 4 servings

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Christmas in Denmark December 14, 2008

Filed under: Local Interest and Travel — meaghin @ 8:06 pm
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I studied abroad in Copenhagen during the Fall and early Winter of 2003 (So long ago!).  My thoughts and memories frequently stray to Denmark:  the main walking street (Stroget) and Hygge (the truly Danish concept of enjoying people’s company in a cozy environment, with drinks of course, and lasting for as long as possible.  This is a great description I found on Hygge House The Danish word hygge (hu-gah) is a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. It’s about owning things you only truly love or that inspire, being present in yourself and your life, putting effort into your home without being Martha Stewart or buying a bed in a bag. Words like cosiness, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of Hygge.).

I also think happily about Tivoli, the water front and canals, and the numerous bicycles.  My last memory of Copenhagen was Denmark during the Christmas season.  In November, I spent 3 weeks traveling around Europe.  When I returned, it was the end of November and the holiday season was in full swing.  I have never felt the Christmas season or spirit more keenly than that month in Copenhagen.  Christmas in Denmark is a truly special time:  the decorations, the attitude, and most importantly, the traditions were prevalent and eye-opening.

As we are well into the Christmas season this year, I certainly don’t want to ignore the traditions and customs that I and my family have, like decorating the tree shortly after Thanksgiving, buying stocking stuffers, drinking mulled cider, and admiring the Christmas lights.  Those traditions are special to me.  I do find myself feeling overwhelmed by the consumer culture that surrounds me, living in the DC area.   Maybe it’s because D.C. operates in a bubble: the economy is pretty dreadful, but it’s hard to relate when there are throngs of people shopping in Georgetown and Tyson’s Corner.  I love shopping for others and I do get a special feeling from finding that ‘perfect’ present for someone.  But I am lacking something…a feeling of peace and contentment that I felt so prominently in Copenhagen.

When I was abroad, I lived with a host family who had two young sons (quite adorable!).  Christmas traditions that I remember included: elves all over the house, paper hearts, glogge, Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen plates and ornaments, and holiday parties that did not  focus on who was wearing the most expensive dress or bag but on genuine happiness to see another person.  The holiday parties (and all other parties) at my host family’s house were hour long affairs (7 plus hours sometimes) full of toasts and drinks and amazing food.  Even though I did not speak the language, except for a few phrases, I somehow, surprisingly felt included and swept up in the merriment.  When wandering around the city with friends or by myself and seeing the lights along the walking street, or going into Tivoli for the Christmas wonderland, I really felt the Christmas spirit.

Here are a few images that really evoke a Denmark Christmas :

Holiday Heart Ornaments from Huset:

anneblackbluehearts

Georg Jensen Christmas Ornaments:

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Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates and ornament:

roylcop

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Paper Hearts:

heart

Elves (Nisse):

nisse

Tivoli at Christmas:

tivoli

 

Slumdog Millionaire December 9, 2008

Filed under: movies — meaghin @ 2:53 pm
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After a mishap or two, I went to see Slumdog Millionaire this past weekend. Based on the book Q and A by Vikas Swarup , the movie centers around the story of a ‘slumdog’ in Mumbai who wins the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. The movie was nothing like I expected!

I try to stay up-to-date on movies and various pop culture, but if there is a movie I’m potentially interested in seeing, I do everything I can to avoid previews and reviews of the movie. Obviously this doesn’t always work out so well, especially with certain movies that garner a lot of buzz: I am powerless if the preview is played every other commercial on TV! (Doubt would be one example: I saw the play on Broadway, and loved it, so in this case, I at least already know the story line).

Anyways, here is what I knew or thought I knew about ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ before seeing it:

The movie was set in Mumbai and had something to do with a ‘slumdog’ (someone who lives in the slums of India) beating odds to win ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’.

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So, I already knew that the main character, Jamil, had won, so my hunch was that the story wasn’t about whether he won or not.  I thought the movie was going to be structured fairly linearly and chronicle his life up to winning and how his life changed after winning. It sounded like a basic, but heart-warming concept.

The actual movie ultimately was heart-warming, but it was more layered and nuanced than I had predicted.  The movie starts in the near-past with Jamil already on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, very close to winning. It then cuts to a scene of Jamil being tortured under the assumption that he must have cheated to win. It then goes back to Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It then goes to the present, with Jamil sitting with the chief investigator, watching the show and explaining and justifying his answers to the chief.

This is where the movie becomes especially effective and touching. In order for the audience to understand Jamil and how it was possible for him to win, we go back to different scenes in his life (shown in chronological order): each scene shown has had an important impact on Jamil and left a lasting memory with him. These memories help with the questions (be it: Who is on the $100 dollar bill or the singer of a certain song.). Many times the audience is unaware how the back story connects with the Millionaire question until the end of the story. The movie progresses along in this manner, cutting between Millionaire questions and clips from his life.

Jamil was the reason this movie was so touching to watch: his total goodness and honesty in the face of often horrible, unimaginable circumstances:he believes in telling the truth, the goodness of his brother (despite evidence to the contrary) and most importantly to his survival, in true love. His contact with his ‘true love’ was brief throughout his life, yet he was certain about it. His reason for going on Millionaire was not win money and fame, but for the hope that Latika would see him and find her way to him. That entire concept is so touching and unfamiliar in a movie where betrayal and violence reign supreme.It seems like Jamil’s entire life was spent running and hiding and cowering and begging. His motives were still so pure and true and in the end, he did find happiness,
despite being from the slums, despite being beaten down, orphaned, penniless.

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I left the movie feeling pensive about my own annoyance with the little things that our lives can throw at us. I feel more resolved to be thankful for the things in my life that do matter. With my slightly cynical streak, it takes a well done movie to leave this message with me and not have it feel corny or clichéd.  Slumdog Millionaire succeeded.

 

Reindeer December 3, 2008

Filed under: housewares — meaghin @ 11:40 pm
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Here are a few reindeer decorations I’ve found from three ‘go to’ kitchen and housewares chains (all of which I enjoy!).

The first is from Sur La Table:  a small reindeer votive.  It’s simple and would look cute on a mantle or table, just as a casual decoration.

sur-la-table

The second is from Crate and Barrel:  I look at them in the window everytime I go to the gym.  They come in three different sizes and look festive when paired together.  I can picture them on a front porch, by a fireplace, or in the front hall of a house.

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Finally, I like these twig reindeer from Pottery Barn.  They bring a modern edge to Christmas decorations, with the branch-like qualities of the reindeer.  Each one is unique and can come in a bronze or silver finish.   This would be an especially nice decoration in a modern house or loft, above the fireplace.

pottery-barn-reindeer

 

Special, Affordable Jewelry December 1, 2008

Filed under: fashion — meaghin @ 1:44 pm
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I am picky about jewelry. I don’t like anything overly flashy or too large, but it’s hard to define what I like. Something that is slightly different, yet will work with a lot of different outfits.
A strand of pearls works well with many kinds of outfits: a button down, a strapless dress, a turtleneck, etc. I found this unique twist on a pearl necklace recently from Simple Element’s Design. By having just 5 pearls off a chain, it’s simple and perhaps more ‘fun’ than usual. I think the drape of the pearls is quite elegant.

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I also really like this turquoise necklace. It is a stunning color! Double strands frequently feel too heavy or bulky to me/on me, so I like the way this necklace is a modified double-strand. It won’t weigh down the neck, but still has the nice effect of a double loop.
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