Oh, hi there, summer

That awkward part of the year when the semester is over and temperatures climb well into the 90s, but it’s not Memorial Day yet.

Let’s see, what’s new? Well, this summer I am mostly staying put in Las Cruces. Digging into some cool research, with a new advisor who actually has funding (always a plus). Mike and I have moved into our new townhouse, and I have started biking to campus. For the first time I can remember, I won’t be taking classes in the foreseeable future.

I am thrilled to report that, despite the hot temperatures, our townhouse does a good job of staying cool inside. The seller added tons of insulation, and we don’t have central heat or A/C – only a couple of wall units – but they are more than sufficient unless you plan to spend an inordinate amount of time in the upstairs bathroom or office. We also have a Bosch oven (to go with our nearly-silent Bosch dishwasher) that boasts “genuine European convection.” This is apparently oven-code for awesome.

Our kitchen

Our kitchen, which is much more unpacked-looking than when this photo was taken.

With the advent of summer comes loads of zucchini in our biweekly “small harvest box” from Skarsgard Farms CSA. I was reminded of a similar problem exactly two years ago in San Diego, when we were members of the Be Wise Ranch CSA, and I found an easy zucchini muffin recipe online. I dug it out to make some last night, and thought I’d share.

Super Easy Zucchini Muffins
we’re talking one big bowl and no mixer!

  • 3 cups peeled and grated fresh zucchini (coincidentally, this is almost always the exact amount I get when I use all the zucchini the CSA gives me on any week)
  • 2/3 cup melted unsalted butter (this is 10 2/3 Tbsp)
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • < 2 cups nuts / raisins / chocolate chips / dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the zucchini and butter.
Sprinkle in the baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well.
Stir in the flour – gradually, unless you want a flour explosion.
Add any nuts / dried fruit / chocolate. (Recommendation: 6 oz. dark chocolate chunks and about 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts!)
Coat each muffin cup in a 12-muffin tin with a little cooking spray, and fill the cups to the brim with batter. You should have at least enough batter to make 12 overflowing muffins.
Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.

These muffins make me actually want to eat a quick breakfast, and they use up my plethora of zucchini. Win-win!

Mixing Things Up

Important Life Things have a way of sneaking up on you while you’re busily tending to other matters. In this case, Mike and I were minding our own business at work and school respectively, and had the audacity to go for a walk and brainstorm about buying a car.

That would be too easy, though. Instead, we’re buying a townhouse.

To be fair, this wasn’t entirely out of the blue. (Just mostly.) We’ll be living in Las Cruces for at least another three years or so, and our one bedroom apartment is both farther from campus than I’d like and a little smaller than we need to sanely hold a living space and two office workspaces. The townhouse we stumbled upon not only solves these problems by being some 1.5 miles from campus on a bike path and having two bedrooms, but has also been outstandingly renovated to be a very “passive home,” right up Mike’s alley.

We’re presently in that crazy, in-between place of “offer has been accepted and closing is about a month away,” so there is lots to take care of and nothing is set in stone yet.

We are also presently finishing up a lovely visit to San Diego. I hadn’t been back since last June, after our wedding and honeymoon but before our Indian adventure. Essentially, we’re here for the end of my spring break. How delightfully cliche! Let me tell you… there are lots of pretty awesome things about this city. Most of them can be summed up in two words: FOOD and COMMUNITY. There are tangential bits, like music and water, but there is nothing like meeting up with good friends over good food (ok, and good drinks).

Between preparing to own a home and visiting a city we used to call home, all while continuing to juggle my other responsibilities, these last few weeks have reminded me:
it is nice to mix things up, and important to enjoy what we have here and now.

Walking

We don’t walk enough. Towns are built around cars in ways you don’t even realize until you’re forced to get somewhere by not riding in one. It’s really quite silly. Suburban sprawl and endless seas of parking lots didn’t happen overnight, but they weren’t planned either.

Yesterday afternoon, after trying and failing to bum a ride with a friend to orchestra rehearsal some 1.5 miles from campus, I wound up walking. I was mildly irritated. It was going to take me about half an hour, and I had to carry my heavy backpack and viola, and it wouldn’t have taken more than ten minutes for someone to drive me. Once I got going, though, the weather was nice, and my mood markedly improved.

Two things struck me. First: how car-centric my campus is. Yes, there are crosswalks and sidewalks, but it is simply not designed with pedestrians in mind. I find this pretty ridiculous since it is a college campus and lots of people will be walking. Parking is so cheap, though, that everyone opts to drive to campus, even though traffic is pretty slow and parking lots fill up pretty early. That said, it was a beautiful clear evening, and I got to watch the sun set. We miss a lot when we’re always hurriedly driving from A to B.

Second: how nice people can be. As I was nearing my destination, two musicians driving to rehearsal saw me and pulled over to ask if I needed a ride. I thanked them both but refused. The kindness of these semi-strangers in a small town is a lovely thing, though. Even if that small town is frustratingly backwards in many other ways.

I want the best of both worlds… I want to live somewhere that is dense and walkable yet friendly. That has the culture and resources of a city with the comfortable feel of a small town. In the meantime, I’m going to try to walk to places around here whenever I can.

Gearing up

This week is “hell week” for Doña Ana Lyric Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus. Guess what? I’m playing in the pit orchestra, and it’s grand. So grand, in fact, that I’m going to share the poster with you and tell you to come to Las Cruces to see it…

Also this week? Lent begins. And thus I will be vegetarian for 40-odd days, beginning tomorrow. I am seriously considering making one exception, however… Mike and I will be visiting San Diego in March, and I would love to indulge in some fish & chips. So, we’ll see. To clarify my dietary choices a bit: I already avoid all red meat (arbitrarily defined as coming from a four-legged animal). Every Lent, I step it up a notch and abstain from all forms of meat. I’ve been doing this since… 2006, I think? Eggs and dairy still find their way to my stomach, but anything that was once a living, breathing animal is not for eating.

These two things (the opera and the going-vegetarian-for-Lent) are both prime examples of something I do because I find meaning in it. They require preparation, foresight, planning, and dedication above and beyond what I do in my default day-to-day. Sometimes things of this nature clash with other areas of my life. But when that happens, I remind myself that they are fleeting. They increase my appreciation of the world. They give me a fresh, new perspective for a time. And they are worth it.

Indian cooking adventure

Contrary to popular belief, Mike and I do cook food on a somewhat regular basis. We often divide up a recipe so that I measure and mix while Mike chops (or otherwise prepares ingredients to be measured and mixed). I do triage cleanup on the fly and Mike tackles the dishes after we eat.

Ever since we visited India last summer, we’ve been keenly interested in making anything vaguely resembling authentic Indian food. For Christmas this year, we received a couple of great Indian cookbooks, and dove right in. We figured we’d start with something we really wanted to eat, and our very first attempt at Chicken Tikka Masala was a success!

So, of course, we made it again, and doubled the recipe this time. I also decided to photograph the process and blog about it. (Thanks to David and Karen over at Twenty-Fingered Cooking for food-blogging inspiration.) The end result is darn close to what you might get in a restaurant. Not exactly the same, but most definitely recognizable, and indisputably worth eating. It does call for a few specialty ingredients, but it is 100% worth your time to make and/or find them. Trust me… I’m lazy about stuff like this. Just do it.

Chicken Tikka Masala
adapted from 660 Curries
makes about four servings, but it’s worth doubling the recipe for leftovers!

  1. Mix the following in a large bowl.
    • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (ideally full-fat)
    • 2 Tbsp ginger paste (puree ginger with water in the ratio of 8 oz. ginger to 1/2 cup water… or be lazy and buy a tube of ginger paste if you can find one)
    • 2 Tbsp garlic paste (puree garlic with water in the ratio of 50 cloves to 1/2 cup… or be lazy and (a) buy a tube of garlic paste or (b) press a few cloves of garlic)
    • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
    • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
    • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • 1/2 tsp garam masala (if I can find this spice blend in a store, so can you)
    • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  2. Cut 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts into skewer-friendly pieces. Try to find that happy medium between “I can put this on a skewer without hating my life” and “this is a ridiculously massive piece of chicken.” I’ll note that one could easily substitute extra-firm tofu, or the god of all cheeses, paneer (if you can find some).
  3. Immerse chicken in the marinade, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. While the chicken marinates, prepare the following.
    • 1 small red onion, chopped, mixed with
    • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped,
    • 1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds, and
    • 1/4 cup golden raisins (no whining – they sell these at stores, I promise)

    • 3ish tomatoes, chopped (end goal is 1 cup – some liquid OK)

    • 1/4 heavy cream, mixed with
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt,
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, and
    • 1/4 tsp garam masala (you need this twice, so go buy some already)

    • Chop another 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, for garnish.
    • Cook some basmati rice. Do it now. Don’t forget until later like I always do.
  5. Assemble the amazing crack-sauce.
    • Heat 2 Tbsp ghee (or butter, I guess) in a small saucepan.
    • Add the onion / bell pepper / almonds / golden raisins. Cook over medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes until veggies are soft with golden brown spots.
    • Add the tomatoes and stir until mixed and heated through. Remove from heat.
    • Add the cream / salt / cayenne / garam masala.
    • BLEND IT UP! Use a food processor, blender, whatever. Try not to drink the sauce straight from your blending appliance of choice. And remember that blending hot things makes blender lids explode off of blenders.
    • Transfer the sauce back to the saucepan over low heat until serving time.
  6. If you’re like me, plenty more than 30 minutes will have passed by now, so you can broil or grill the chicken. We improvised a broiling rack using a cookie sheet and a cooling rack with legs. However you do this, use a high temperature and rotate the chicken occasionally as it cooks. Also be sure it is done before you serve it on beds of rice (er, not that we would ever make this mistake).
  7. Serve and enjoy! First put rice, then chicken, then sauce, and finally cilantro garnish.