Category Archives: Adventures

White Girls Got (Indian Cooking) Skills!

This is Sara.  She’s beautiful, smart and funny.  She also makes incredible dosas!

IMG_1155Piyush and I were lucky enough to meet Sara and her family at a wedding a month–or so–ago.  I’m always excited to meet new friends as a couple, but I get especially excited–like really excited–when those new friends also love Indian food!  And it’s extra neat when the wife is a blonde (just like me!) and the husband is from India (just like Piyush!).   Continue reading

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The Easiest (& Best!) Banana Bread…and a Weekend Away

After a change in our plans, Piyush and I decided to take a weekend trip to Grand Marais, MN.

Grand Marais is a small town located on Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.  It holds a very special spot in my heart; and, in my opinion, just might be among the most beautiful places on this Earth.

Riding the waves of Lake Superior…

When I was a teenager, my parents purchased a cabin in Grand Marais–off the famous Gunflint Trail.  Now, if you’re from Minnesota–or even Wisconsin–you’re probably pretty familiar with the term “cabin.”  If you’re not, “cabin” is a term that usually describes a second piece of property and can mean anything from a rustic shack in the woods to a magnificent mansion on the banks of Lake Superior.

My family’s cabin is definitely not a mansion, but it’s no shack either.  It’s more like a charming cottage, hidden along the banks of a beautiful lake about 10 miles away from Lake Superior.

I absolutely love it there, and it really does feel like a second home.

View from the dock at the cabin. It’s so peaceful!

Unfortunately, Piyush and I only seem to venture to Grand Marais about one or two times a year.  I wish we could go more often, but it’s 6 hours away…and there just aren’t enough weekends in the summer (and there is way too much snow in the winter!).

Piyush and I left Friday morning and decided to take our time.  Usually we’re in such a rush to get to the cabin that we don’t really stop or enjoy any of the sights along the way (excluding Duluth.  We always stop in Duluth).

This time we stopped at a few antique shops, played 18  holes of golf, and even stopped for some pie.

Betty’s Pies is a relatively famous Minnesota destination.  Personally, I think it’s history is more interesting than the pie, but  I’m not much of a pie person.  We picked up a Bumbleberry pie (raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry) to share with my parents.  When I opened the box, this is what I saw:

Isn’t that the maddest pie you’ve ever seen?  I got such a kick out of the pies angry-face!  It still makes me giggle.

pie in the woods!

The filling was yummy! …the crust, meh.  It was pretty dry.  But I guess dry pie is better than no pie, right?  …Right?

Piyush and I also stopped for dinner at The Angry Trout.  The food was amazing, and I wish there was an Angry Trout clone in Rochester!

Fresh grilled trout (caught in Lake Superior), Minnesota wild rice, and a big veggie salad

The trout was fresh caught in Lake Superior, and the taste was incredible.  I don’t usually enjoy fish all that much, but I think I could eat this everyday!!!  YUM!

The view from the restaurant was pretty incredible too…

The Angry Trout Restaurant: Grand Marais, MN

Once we finished with dinner and began driving north on the Gunflint Trail, I noticed all the beautiful wild flowers were beginning to bloom.  Lupine, roses, and blackberries (among other things) grow wild along the roads.  It’s such a lovely welcome, and I always look forward to it.

Wild Lupine

Wild Roses

Lake Superior

The weekend was so relaxing, but unfortunately it rained all of Saturday.  We didn’t get to spend much time on the water, but that’s okay.  Just being in Grand Marais was good enough for me!

Now…on to the banana bread!  

This recipe for banana bread is the easiest version I’ve ever come across.  It is also probably the first thing I really learned to bake myself.

The recipe allows for all sorts of variation, and a lot of times I’ll toss in some dark chocolate or dried cranberries.  It always turns out incredible, and I’ve never baked a dry loaf.  There really isn’t anything worse than dry banana bread.  Yuck!

This recipe makes amazing muffins!

I couldn’t tell you where this recipe came from.  I don’t know if it was from a book, my grandma, or maybe I found it online.  I don’t know.  I’ve had it for well over 15 years.

What I do know is that if you make this banana bread…you won’t regret it!

Easy Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 browned bananas- smashed
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. butter- melted
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together smashed banana, and the melted butter.  Once everything is combined, add the egg and mix again.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is combined–but don’t over-stir.  Add any mix-ins (chocolate, dried fruits, nuts…) and stir until they are evenly distributed.
  • Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 325 degrees F.
  • Remove from oven, let cool a couple minutes and remove from loaf pan.  Let the bread cool on a rack for about a half hour or so.  Enjoy!
**I sometimes sprinkle the top with raw sugar crystals before baking.  It makes the crust have a pretty shine.  :) **

This recipe freezes extremely well! 

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(Accidently) Spicy Vegetarian Cauliflower Curry…and a Trip to the Farmer’s Market

This past weekend was pretty dreary.  It was cold, rainy and quite boring…actually.  Piyush and I had intended on going somewhere fun for our anniversary; but because of the weather, we changed our plans and decided to stay home.   Our actual anniversary is Wednesday–May 9.  Three years have just flown by!

05.09.2009 …Grand Marais, MN on Lake Superior. It was so cold!

So instead…Piyush did a lot of golfing.  I did a lot of reading.  We both watched Hindi movies, and got absolutely no yard-work done.  It turned out to be a perfect weekend! Continue reading

Ready to be steamed!

Vegetarian Momos! …and Remembering Darjeeling

While on our trip to India, Piyush and I met tons of incredible people, visited many spectacular places and tried many different foods (well…different to me!).  I didn’t really think too much about it while I was there, but now that I’m back home in the states…I can’t get Darjeeling out of my head!

Darjeeling is a beautiful town located in the foothills of the Himalayas, very close to both Nepal and Tibet.  It’s a major tourist destination, and like most everywhere in India…it’s crowded!

A street in Darjeeling

Tibetian Monks in Darjeeling

One of many Darjeeling Tea Estates

Darjeeling is also quite famous for the fabulous tea grown all along the hills…and for the momos!

I only ate momos twice while we were on our little holiday, but gosh, they were so good that I wish I would have had them every day!  Oh, the things I take for granted…

Have you ever heard of momos?  No?  Probably not.  I know I hadn’t before our trip.  I don’t know if there are many places in the states where you can find sub-par momos— let alone the authentic, delicious momos.  The closest you might get is a potsticker or dim sum, which although very similar, are not momos.

So what exactly is a momo?

It’s quite simple, really.  A momo is basically a dumpling made with a flour/water based dough.  They are native to Nepal and Tibet, and are very popular in the North-Eastern part of India.  Inside the dough is a mixture of veggies, meats (optional) and aromatics. They can be steamed, fried and even boiled in soups.  It’s amazing how something so basic can be so versatile, so tasty…and so addicting!  After doing a little searching online, I found a couple recipes that looked promising.  I took a few things from each recipe and came up with something that tasted almost exactly like I remembered.

In fact…they turned out so good, Piyush ate 8 of them in less than 10 minutes—and then he licked the plate!

The only piece of criticism he gave me was that I made my momos larger than I should have. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with making them large, the taste is the same; but they’re meant to be more “bite-sized” than “hockey-puck-sized.”

formed momo, before steaming

My recipe will make approximately 30 large momos—you could probably get 45 or 50 if you make them a little smaller.  Out of curiousity I plugged my final recipe into a calorie calculator, and guess what?!  Each large sized momo is around 85 calories!!!  Awesome!!!

The dough is easy to make.

  • 3 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • water —enough to make an even, stiff dough.

Pour the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.  Add 1 cup of water to begin.  Don’t use a spoon to mix, use your hands!  Knead the dough, adding flour and water as necessary.  I probably ended up using 3 1/5 c. flour and around 1 1/2 cups water—-but this will vary!

Cover the dough and let it rest for around 30 min. (I managed to wait 20.  Patience is not something I possess…)

While the dough rests, make the filling.

  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 cups cabbage– finely shredded (I bought it in a bag, pre-shredded.  I hate shredding cabbage!  Hate it!)
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, smashed and minced
  • 1 giant potato (or 2 medium)—made into around a cup of mashed potato
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Kalaunji seeds (substitute cumin seeds, mustard seeds, or leave out all together)
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Mix the onion, cabbage, carrot, ginger, cilantro, salt and mashed potato in a bowl.  Stir it until everything is combined.  Heat the olive oil on the stove-top and pour the kalaunji seeds in and once they start to pop, dump all the oil/seeds in the veggie mixture.  Stir everything until mixed together, and set aside.
Next, take the dough and pinch off little balls—about 1 tbsp.  Roll the balls out into a some-what circular shape.

Roll the dough out (make them smaller if you're making bite-sized momos)

Pick the dough up in your left hand and plop a good heaping tablespoon of filling in the center.

Next, start crimping the edges and form the momo into  a circular shape.

crimp and pinch the dough around the filling

Ready to be steamed!

***Make sure you keep a damp towel over the momos and the dough as you’re forming them.  You don’t want the dough to dry out. ***

Once you get the momos all formed, you can either steam them right away or you can freeze them.  I froze all of mine because I wasn’t sure when Piyush would be home to eat them.  I placed them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, popped them in the freezer and let them stay there a couple hours.  Once they were fully frozen I put them into a giant ziplock bag, and back in the freezer.

When you’re ready to steam them:

Put water in a steamer pot and bring to a boil.  Place the steaming basket(s) in the pot.  If the water touches the basket, pour a little out.

Once the basket is in the pot, spray it with a little cooking oil (I used my misto)—you don’t want the momos to stick!  Work in batches, and place momos in the basket in a single layer so they don’t quite touch.

Set the timer for 15 minutes and don’t take the lid off the pot until it buzzes.  Resist the temptation.  Once the timer goes off, take them out of the steamer and serve with some soy dipping sauce, chile sauce, or tomato chutney!

Enjoy a little bit of Darjeeling, half a world away!

Have you ever visited some place that was so amazing, it left you wishing you could go back?  I have heard quite a few people who have been to Darjeeling say that they would love to retire there.  I can totally understand!

Enjoy a couple more photos!

Baba enjoying some Darjeeling tea

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Great Day to Pick Some Grapes!

The weather here in Minnesota has been really nice the past few days.  It’s been in the 80’s, and feels much more like summer than fall!  I have so much yard work to get finished before we leave for India and this weather has been perfect for it, but I haven’t done any!  Nope.  I haven’t picked up a rake or touched my shears.  I haven’t pulled out the tomato plants from the garden nor have I mulched anything.  Instead, I decided I wanted to buy some grapes and make jelly.  I never actually got around to making the jelly yet (are you surprised?!), but I did make nearly 30 cups of concord grape juice!

After searching online for concord grapes, I was surprised that I could find them right here in Rochester!  I ran a few errands and then plugged the address into my phone.  It was a little outside of town, but very easy to find.  The farm is called Firefly Berries (you can check out there website HERE).  I’ve never picked grapes before and didn’t have any idea what to do, how to tell if they were ripe, or how many I would need to make some jelly and juice.  The lady that helped me was very nice and answered all my questions.  Picking the grapes was kind of fun and it went really quickly.  I picked 17lbs of grapes, and at $1.00/lb, I thought it was a good deal!

I also bought a container of the juice they make there.  I thought Piyush would really like it.  I wasn’t sure exactly how much juice I would get from the grapes I had bought and wanted to make sure we could enjoy some fresh concord grape juice when I was done making the jelly.  I’m not a juice drinker really (probably why that juice diet never really stuck all that well), but concord grape juice is probably the only one I crave once in awhile.  I usually just want a taste.  Man!  The juice they made was awesome!  I can’t wait until next year when I have some time to put up a bunch of grape juice myself.

Once I got the grapes home I became a little terrified of all the bugs hanging out in that box with them.  I didn’t want any bugs or spiders (eeeekkk!) coming inside my house so I got a few bowls and set everything up on the trunk of the car.  I started pulling the grapes off  and sorting through them.  This is when I started wishing Piyush was home because I desperately needed someone to take care of all those bugs!  There were a lot more than I had expected, but I realize that I intruded on their habitat and they weren’t there just to annoy me, so I probably shouldn’t complain too much.  I don’t like to kill them and I don’t like to touch them, so I’m sure my neighbors were laughing at me dancing around in the garage with a stick in my hand trying to coax them away.

They were everywhere!

I survived, thankfully, and then left my bowls of beautiful grapes in the garage while I filled the sink up with water.

I figured that soaking them this way would clean them real good and also allow for any stems (and bugs!!!) to float to the top, where I could skim them off.  It worked well.

I tried using my juicer, but realized it would take forever. Seeds kept shooting back out of the top at me whenever I took the plunger out to put more grapes in.  It just wasn’t going to work.  So I pulled a big pan out of the cupboard and filled it with about 3lbs of grapes and 1 1/2 cups of water.  I smashed the grapes and cooked everything until it boiled.  Once it boiled, I reduced the heat and cooked it for roughly 10 more minutes.  I then dumped everything into a sieve to separate out the juice from the skin, pulp and seeds.  Once the juice was separated I poured it into large jars that went into the fridge.  Making juice this way also took quite awhile, but I enjoyed it.  We ended up with approximately 30 cups of juice!  That’s enough to make about 48 cups of jelly!!!  I don’t think we need that much.  I put some in a pitcher to drink (strained it through a cheesecloth and added some water until I was satisfied with the taste).

I also made a grape cake this morning when I got home from the gym (it’s cooling now, so hopefully I’ll have a post up about it soon!)  For the rest of the juice, I’m going to give some to a couple friends and then freeze the rest for when the “jelly makin’ bug” bites me in the middle of winter…and I know it will!

Oh!  One other thing I learned today about concord grape juice:  Do not give it to a 1 1/2 year old—no matter how much you dilute it (and I diluted it a LOT!)—when you are babysitting.  They will get a major sugar high and act like a crazy animal! And definitely do not give it to them in a sippy cup, even if the sippy cup says “leak proof”.  It will most definitely leak, and grape juice is really hard to clean up (especially on white cupboards!!!)!

Piyush and I were watching my niece, Madelyn, while my sister and brother in law went out for dinner and to a movie.  She’s so cute and I love spending the day with her, but Piyush was definitely not ready to keep up with all her energy.

Madelyn loves picking cherry tomatoes off my decrepit plants. She picked a bowl full last week too.

It was hard to get a photo when they were both looking at me...this is the best I could do.

By the time my sister and Brian got back from their movie (at around 10pm), Madelyn was still going strong…and Piyush was ready to pass out!  It was kind of funny.  But lesson learned.  No more grape juice for Madelyn!

I was trying to get all fancy and put the rice on the outside. This roll was delicious...well, they all were actually!

Sushi Party!

I love dinner with friends, the more the better!  Summer and I have been trying to plan a get-together and we decided that tonight was the night.  Her daughter, Isabelle, loves sushi and had been asking when they could come over and make some.

Piyush and I learned to make sushi from a couple of my friends from the gym, Leah and Sheila.  They told me that they’d teach us but we had to pay it forward and teach someone else.  We’ve had sushi “parties” a couple times now and let me tell you…they are fun!  Making sushi is really easy and everyone can customize their rolls to include whatever they like.  Its also quite economical after you purchase the initial supplies.  The first time you make sushi it may seem a little expensive.  That’s because you have to buy the mats, rice, nori, chopsticks, rice wine vinegar, sake…and the list goes on and on.  My advice:  take a trip to your nearest Asian store.  Things will be way more affordable!  At our local Asian store I can find 10 sheets of nori for $2.99.  At the grocery store it sells for $6.99.  I also like to purchase veggies from the Asian market, as they are usually cheaper there too.

As for the fish, I like tuna.  We’ve used salmon before too, and it was good.  Make sure that when you purchase the fish it is sold as “sushi grade”.  I usually get it from our grocery store and we’ve never had any issues.  Just slice it up right before your guests arrive and put it back in the fridge until you need it.   We also usually grab some of those imitation crab meat stick things.  I find most people like them…and Isabelle LOVES them!  I try and have a pretty varied veggie spread too, but sometimes what I want in my sushi just can’t be found.  Like sprouts! Where in the world can a person buy sprouts in Rochester?!  We went to 3 different stores, including the Asian market, and left empty handed.  I slice everything and lay it on a cutting board so its easy for everyone to pick what they want.

I whip up some “Spicy Tuna Sauce” because who doesn’t love a nice spicy tuna roll?  It’s really easy.  Just take 4 parts Hellman’s Mayo to 1 part sriracha hot sauce.  Add a tiny squirt of sesame oil.  Whisk everything together and put it in the fridge.  The flavors need to mingle awhile before you should use it.

I also cook up the rice an hour or so before everyone arrives.  When it’s finished, keep it covered with some plastic wrap and it should stay warm enough.  To make the rice I throw 4 c. sushi rice along with 4 c. water into my rice cooker.  I forget about it.  On the stove top I mix together 1/2 c. sugar, 1 c. rice wine vinegar, and 1/4 c. sake.  Let it be until the sugar dissolves.  When the rice is done cooking I dump it all out on a cookie sheet.  I use the little paddle to separate the rice before I dump the vinegar mixture on top of it.  I keep going at it with the paddle until the rice is evenly flavored.  Now, it’s ready!

Then get to rollin’!

It helps if you cover your mat with plastic wrap before you start…I use press-and-seal.  I also set a couple bowls of water out too.  It comes in handy when your fingers are so full of sticky rice that they seem like they are practically glued together.  This will happen.  I promise.

Adding the finishing touches to the sushi rolls

This girl loves sushi!

Courtney rolled like a pro!

I was trying to get all fancy and put the rice on the outside. This roll was delicious...well, they all were actually!

Time to eat!

Summer made some awesome Egg Drop soup, I don’t have the recipe but it looked really easy.  We also had some chicken fried rice and sesame chicken on the table.

Summer also fried up some green tomatoes—which really didn’t go with the sushi, but were super amazing!

Of course they're delicous! They're fried in butter!

We were all so stuffed after dinner that Summer and I didn’t even break out the wine!  Unbelievable!  It was a fun night and I can’t wait to do it again!

Busy as a Bee…errrr…Hornet.

Finally, I had a day off from work today!  I used it wisely too, if I do say so.  I slept in (this felt nice!), Bought new running shoes, did some thrifting, nearly killed myself at the gym, did some laundry and I made a pretty good dinner (although the broccoli had to be sacrificed).

This morning after I woke up and got ready I took a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods.  They used to have this really awesome shoe insurance program that I took as much advantage of as I could.  Basically you buy a pair of running shoes.  You pay an extra $10-$20 dollars to put the insurance on the shoes.  Once the shoes are worn out, in about 3 months, you call up the insurance company, they send you a label and you send the shoes back to them.  They then send you a gift check to Dick’s for the full purchase price (including tax if there was any).  You can use this towards your next pair of shoes and just pay the premium again—or you can use it towards whatever you want.  Unfortunately they stopped doing this program Jan. 2011.  I still had a gift check left over and I desperately needed a new pair of shoes.  I wear the Asics Glycerin.  I have high arches and roll outwards if I don’t have the correct shoes along with my orthodics and out of all the shoes I’ve tried these seem best.  It seems that every year the new model is different though.  I wanted last years model…and it was on sale!  Only 80 bucks.  That meant that I had almost 60 bucks left over.  I could have been a good wife and I could have given it to my husband to buy some more golf crap, or I could have saved it to use towards my next pair of shoes…but I do either of those things! Nooo, I bought myself a brand new yoga mat!  I’ve been eying this baby up for the past year but couldn’t really justify spending 75 dollars on a yoga mat when the gym provides top quality ones for free, also I don’t really exercise at home. But now that I only had to spend $25, it didn’t seem so bad.  I don’t even know if I could get one at Target for that much?

Anyway, I got the Manduka Prolite in navy blue.  I love these mats.  We have Manduka Pros at the gym—the only difference is mine is just a tiny bit thinner.  I hope it inspires me to attend yoga more often.  I feel so good when I practice, so I don’t know why I don’t do it more often.  I think its because I’m lazy.  Actually, I’m pretty sure its because I’m lazy.  I’ll have to work on that…

Wow, its getting late and I work at 5:45 tomorrow morning, so I’m going to make the rest of this short and sweet.

Thrifting:

$12 This is perfect for my entry way!!! Now, What color to paint it?!

I was so excited about this dresser that I promptly tore off the handles and started sanding her down before I realized I should take a photo.  I have high hopes for this makeover!  I also got a neat shaped wilton bundt pan ($4).  I didn’t have a bundt pan and thought maybe I should.  I also got a baguette pan ($2) and some giant blue mason jars ($2 ea.).  No photos of that stuff though—they’re in the dishwasher!

While I was sanding down the dresser I spotted something weird going on inside of our outside light.  Ha! That sounds weird.  Anyway, I got a little closer to see what it was and this is what I saw:

It freaked me out!  I know it shouldn’t because its just doing its normal thing for survival, but my husband swells up so big from hornet/bee bites that we just can’t have something like that around such a high traffic area.  I feel really terrible, but I went to Menards and got some spray to take care of it.  Is that normal to feel so bad?  I don’t know, but I do.

Then I went to the gym for a cable class…it was HARD!  I haven’t been getting to the gym much this summer and this work out really proved it!  I can’t believe how out of shape I’ve gotten in such a short time.  Paula, the instructor, told me that I’ll get back in the groove really quick because of muscle memory.  I hope so!

After Piyush and I got home from the gym he put the chicken that I had been marinating on the grill while I took a shower.  When we’re really busy and know we won’t have a lot of time, we love to grill out.  I get it prepared in the morning and then it’s ready to cook by the time our day has settled down.  I bought an Amish raised chicken (these are amazing! Not too fatty and they have amazing flavor) and I sprayed it with olive oil.  I shoved an onion and some garlic in the cavity and then salted with pink Himalayan sea salt.  I ground pepper all over it and then sprinkled Herbes de Provence all over it too.  There’s something about lavender.  I’m obsessed.

Anyway, we stood it up on a can of 7up and roasted it in the grill at 35o degrees.  I think my husband takes it out when the temp of the bird is around 165 degrees. Its the tastiest, juiciest bird you’ll ever eat!

Just off the grill! I tied the legs to make it look a little more modest for the photo.

While Piyush was tending to the poultry, I was making some mushroom and thyme couscous.  This stuff turned out awesome!  I didn’t really write down the recipe, but I used something like:

  • 2c. homemade chicken stock
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • kosher salt
  • ground black pepper
  • pinch saffron
  • 1.5 c. couscous
  • a big package of mushrooms that were on their last life
  • fresh garlic
  • a little olive oil for cooking the mushrooms

I threw the mushrooms in a pan and sauted them in a little olive oil.  Once they cooked down a little I threw in the garlic and salted/peppered everything.  I added the thyme and let it mingle a little while.  I turned the heat off and set them aside.  Then I boiled the chicken stock and added the saffron to let it steep.  Meanwhile I put the couscous and the mushrooms in a big plastic bowl and mixed them together.   Once the broth got hot enough, I dumped it on the couscous and covered everything with plastic wrap.  It was done perfectly in less than 5 minutes!

I was going to steam broccoli too, but the stuff that we got from the farmers market had little green wormy things and I couldn’t rinse them all off.  It grossed me out, so it went into compost.

Believe me, It tasted better than it looked!!!

Goodnight now!!!