Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pretty in Pink

Originally uploaded by R Stanek
I've started wearing scarves on breezy days to stay warm. In fact, I try to always have earrings and a scarf on when I leave the house -- since I don't wear makeup, it's a good way to feel less frumpy, and to make sure I'm taking care of myself. Anyway, I love the feel of the light scarves, and the fringe, so when a weekly theme group on Flickr chose "colorful", it was an excuse to finally get off my ass and take a picture of the scarves!

I'm not super-thrilled about this picture -- maybe I should have lowered the contrast? -- but it's fun and bright and I like the fringe.

(Maybe this will end up being the year that I get much better at post-processing?)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tilted a New Way

Lined up
Originally uploaded by R Stanek
It's been raining here for the past week, so time to dig into the archives again. I love the Santa Barbara Harbor (Marina? Does it have an official name?), and yet for all the happy times I've wandered around there with my camera, I've only uploaded about half a dozen pictures. At the same time, three weeks into my Project 52, and I noticed that a lot of my pictures rely on diagonal lines. Too many of them, perhaps.

So here's a picture from the harbor that's nothing but horizontal and vertical lines! I really love the parallel lines here, but I'm not crazy about this picture. I can't quite put my finger on how it could have been better. Different focal length, maybe?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pining for more time

Spiny Piny
Originally uploaded by R Stanek
What is this? A picture actually taken in this calendar year? You don't say!

Sam will be starting daycare in three weeks -- eeek! -- and while he won't be there full-time, he still has to get used to taking his food from the bottle, instead of directly from the tap. We're still at the point where I have to leave the house when Eli feeds him, and luckily it's been nice enough for me to wander around with my camera. I may not have a chance to download and edit the pictures right away -- which is why my resolution is to upload pictures, not just take them -- but I'm glad to have the opportunity to take them in the first place!

When walking this past weekend, I was absolutely taken by the sunlight through this pine tree. I dug out my trusty National Audobon Society Field Guide to Trees, Western Region, and . . . well, it's some sort of pine. Maybe a Knobcone Pine, I don't know. I just love the needles and the golden light, and I'm pleased to get good pictures at noon -- a notoriously difficult time of day for photography.

(I know most of you are already seeing my pictures via FB or Flickr, but if I don't blog about it, I might not keep up the resolution!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mexican Rice

You can't have cheese enchiladas without rice and beans! So here is our favorite Mexican rice recipe, which can be made in parallel with the enchiladas. (I must admit here that we usually use canned refried beans with the enchiladas, although I promise to post our refried bean recipe in the not-too-distant future). The recipe has been adapted from here, with many modifications.

Mexican Rice

1 cup white rice (we use basmati)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, grated
1 1/2 cups water, hot
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt

Heat 2-3 Tbsp peanut oil in a heavy skillet or saucier (a saucier works great because it's harder for the rice to get stuck in the corners). Heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the rice, and stir continuously. If it begins to stick a lot, add a little more oil. After about 2 minutes, add the onion and garlic. Saute until the rice is golden brown. Add the tomato, hot water, chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover. Cook on very low heat for 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes. Stir and serve!

Grating Tomatoes

In my last recipe, for cheese enchiladas, I said that the tomato for the chili gravy should be "grated". (We also use a grated tomato in our saag paneer recipe as well as the forthcoming recipe for Mexican rice). This has caused some confusion and consternation amongst the legions of fans of the Beckyan Deli, so I am posting this here as a primer.

Grated Tomato

1 Tomato

For the method, it's easiest to go back to the source: Madhur Jaffrey's excellent World Vegetarian cookbook. Take it away, Madhur!
How to grate a tomato: When a coarse tomato puree is required, the easiest way to get it is to hold a ripe tomato over a bowl and grate it on the coarsest part of a grater. The skin stays in your hand while the puree collects in the bowl. Sometimes the tomato slides along the grater and does not engage with the sharp holes. In such cases all you do is cut a thin slice off the tomato. This will get it going.

We use a box grater, and it works great!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cheese Enchiladas

Some time back in 2004 or 2005 Becky and I first tried to make cheese enchiladas. I've loved cheese enchiladas since I was a kid, and this is a fantastic and fun vegetarian meal. We first tried the recipe from the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook, and it was awful. Bland, unsatisfying, strange, and dry.

So we turned to the Internets!

I found a much better recipe online here. I've continually adapted it over the years, and now I'm finally ready to share it with the world. The construction of the enchiladas usually takes two of us. Stay tuned for our recipe for mexican rice for the side!

Cheese Enchiladas

Makes 12 cheese enchiladas

12 corn tortillas
1 1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, Mexican mix, etc.)
3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
2 cups water or vegetable stock, hot
1 tomato, grated
1-2 Tbs chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
canola oil

Start by cooking the onions over low heat in a couple tablespoons of oil until soft. It helps to start this before making the chili gravy.

For the chili gravy, start by making a roux by melting the butter in a small saucepan. The saucepan should be large enough to accommodate one of the corn tortillas. Stir in the flour and whisk over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot water or vegetable stock until fully incorporated. Add 1 Tbs chili powder, tomato, and cayenne. Taste for salt and chili powder, while cooking down the gravy for about 10-15 minutes, whisking frequently to keep it nice and smooth. When it has thickened satisfactorily (it needs to adhere to the corn tortillas), remove from heat.

Now prep the enchilada station. Grease a 9x13 inch oven-proof dish, and preheat oven to 400F. Have cheese, onions, and chili gravy ready to go. Heat oil over medium heat in a frying pan, deep enough to easily cover a tortilla. The oil is ready when a piece of tortilla dropped in sinks to the bottom and immediately resurfaces.

For each enchilada: Pick up a tortilla with tongs and place into hot oil for 15 seconds to soften tortilla. Dip tortilla into chili gravy, covering both sides. Place tortilla in 9x13 pan, putting cheese and onion on, and rolling it up. (Use the right hand for the onion, left hand for the cheese, right hand to roll it up and slide into place, and left hand to drink beer. Any other combination will leave you with "club hand".) Make sure each tortilla is seam-side down. Repeat for all 12. Pour remaining chili gravy on top of enchiladas, making sure that the corners are moist so they won't burn. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven and let them sit for a few minutes (like pizza, digging in too soon can be hazardous to the roof of your mouth.) Enjoy!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cleaning Up and Looking Back

Lighting the way
Originally uploaded by R Stanek
I've never met a hard drive I couldn't pack to the gills. Even so, in 2007, when I got my current laptop, 160 GB seemed like an enormous amount of space. That was before I got a DSLR with 12 MP, of course. Two thousand pictures later, some of them need to be cleared off the harddrive -- I was down to 6 GB of space left on my harddrive.

Going back through old pictures was good. It was reassuring to see that as time has gone on, there are a higher fraction of pictures from each day worth keeping. And I also found some pictures from my travels last summer that didn't make it online, due to my rush to get pictures online. So here's a picture from Tivoli Gardens, which is a small amusement park in Copenhagen. The rides are okay -- although being 5 months pregnant at the time, I couldn't ride any of them -- but it's absolutely lovely at night, when all the lights are turned on. And dear Eli was very patient as I spent several hours wandering the park with my camera.

In related news, I have flossed every day in 2010. (Full disclosure: daily flossing was a New Year's resolution of mine in both 2001 and 2006. Maybe the third time's the charm?)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wine Tasting with Aunt Amanda!

Eli's sister Amanda visited for a few days, so what did we do, as we do with all our guests when I'm not pregnant? Wine tasting! It was a gorgeous day on the central coast for some wine tasting.

We started at Zaca Mesa, whose viognier we really love. The wines, and my brief comments on them:

  • 2008 Estage Z Gris. I'm generally not a fan of rosé, but this was the driest I'd ever had. It wouldn't be bad with cheese and crackers on a summer afternoon.
  • 2008 Estate Viognier. Love!
  • 2006 Estate Roussanne. I didn't think I liked this -- it tasted kind of strong to me -- but it had a really nice finish.
  • 2006 Estate Grenache. I was surprised by how much I liked this, since I don't tend to like the light, sweet reds.
  • 2006 Estate Z-Cuvee. Unmemorable.
  • 2005 Estate Syrah. Extremely disappointing. But when an employee overheard us complaining about it, she then poured the 2006 Estate Syrah, which was amazing -- best wine of the day. Crazy! It's only become available in the last few weeks, and that's just in their tasting room -- it won't be available elsewhere for a while yet. What an astounding difference between the two years.
  • 2005 Estate Z Three. Eh. I'm not big on blends.

After lunch in Los Olivos, we headed to the Qupe tasting room, as we are big fans of their syrah. They were also pouring tastings of Verdad and Ethan wines. I didn't like any of the whites, but the three syrahs we tried were all very nice:
  • Qupe Syrah - "Santa Barbara County". Only available in the tasting room. It was my least favorite of the three syrahs, but still good.
  • Ethan Syrah "Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard". This was fantastic. Only 100 cases of it were made, and the guy claimed that only 11 bottles are left.
  • Qupe Syrah "Alisos Vineyard". Nearly as good as the Ethan syrah, but a much higher alcohol content. Whoa. I've never been able to hit more than two wineries or tasting rooms in a trip to wine country, so things always kind of blend together by the end of the day.

We had a lovely, lovely time, and it was no problem taking Sam. We're learning that when going out, we need to budget an extra 45 minutes every 2.5 hours for feeding Sam, etc. But on a lovely day like yesterday, there are far worse things I could be doing than sitting in the sunshine at a winery and nursing Sam. What a wonderful day.

(Picture: Eli, Sam, and Aunt Amanda, on the Zaca Mesa grounds.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

The more the merrier
Originally uploaded by R Stanek
Last year I made two New Year's resolutions -- see more live music, and go to the beach more often -- and I kept both of them. Hooray! So here we go for this year:

  1. Floss every day.
  2. Upload one picture a week to Flickr.

Now, that second resolution may seem like nothing to those of you who are doing Project 365. But I have a two-month-old, and I'm going back to work in February, so I need to be realistic about my time. On the plus side, I have this crazy idea that having a kid will make me a better photographer, because I have to get the picture right the first time. I can't count on having a chance to go back with a different lens or at a different time a day -- it's now or never. So hopefully that will force me to be more careful about setting up the shot in the first place.

Besides, this is what happened en route to uploading a picture today:

  1. Edit a few family pictures, while I'm at it.
  2. Wonder why DPP doesn't seem to save my changes when I convert to JPG.
  3. Swear a lot at the computer.
  4. Feed the baby.
  5. Eli, tired of my complaining, looks into the issue.
  6. Eli figures out that it doesn't save the white balance if I use Color Temperature to adjust it, but everything else works.
  7. I edit and upload pictures to my liking using other settings.
  8. Feed the baby.
  9. I look for an update to DPP.
  10. I download and install the update to DPP.
  11. Since the DPP update requires rebooting my computer, I figure I may as well run software update.

All that just to get this picture online. But I quite like it, and hopefully there'll be many more to come.

Happy New Year!