The Emperor’s New Dinner

Soooo…here I am making dinner*. I’ve got some tilapia, I’m not really sure what I want to do with it** and so I’m looking for a jazzy new recipe online. I’m a very visual person when it comes to recipes – I want to see the finished product before I decide if I’m going to invest time and ingredients, hopes and dreams and all that. I’m thinking some wine, some capers and I come across this:

What the… Food photo cheat! And then I realized that it’s a Weight Watcher’s recipe, so maybe it’s some sort of new-fangled diet tilapia meal in which the portions are really, really, really small.

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Here’s how the real dinner turned out. I ended up throwing some garlic, salt, pepper, dried chives, “italian herbs”, red wine, olive oil, lemon juice, capers, green olives and  white onion in a bag, tossing it around a bit, then throwing the whole mess into the oven at 350F for 20 minutes. Nom nom nom. I made broccoli and cheater-rific Trader Joe’s pre-made risotto as sides. Nom nom nom.

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* Cuz if there’s one thing we young things know how to do, it’s make some dinner.

**I mean, I know what I want to do with it; I want to eat it. I’m just not sure how I want to prepare it.

The Emperor’s New Dinner
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Not for the faint of tastebuds

Yeah, this had “I have a bad feeling about this” written ALL over it.

Me: Hey, what should I make for dinner tonight?  Hmmm…I love tacos, and I love crab meat – hey, I should combine the two!

Me to Myself: Ummm…are you sure you want to do that?  You might ruin perfectly good crab meat, or perfectly good taco seasoning mix.

Me to Me to Myself: But, I like fish tacos.  And I like shrimp tacos.  So crab tacos would probably be tasty.

Me to Myself: You’ve only eaten seafood tacos made by professionals.  In restaurants.  Have you ever attempted to make any sort of seafood taco with canned seafood meat?

Me to Me to Myself: No, but I have eaten canned crabmeat and it’s pretty tasty.  And how hard can it be to make seafood tacos?  It’s the same thing as beef or chicken tacos, except with seafood. 

Me to Myself: Have you ever used a pre-made taco mix on any seafood before?

Me to Me to Myself: Well, there was that one time with the shrimp…

Me to Myself: You were drunk, you don’t even remember what that tasted like.

Me to Me to Myself: True…

Me to Myself: Soooo?

Me to Me to Myself: You know what?  I’m going to try it anyway.

Some time later…add a little lettuce, tomato, a dab of sour cream.

Me:  Here we go!  Canned crab meat tacos! [eating commences – nom, nom, nom – a slowing of chewing, a hard swallow and a pause] Ugh… this is horrible!

Me to Myself: *sighs* You never trust me.

Me:  I hate you.  [Mumbled grumbling.  Chew.  Swallow.  Repeat.]

Not for the faint of tastebuds

Fresh Pesto and Tabouli

September 22nd marked the official first day of Fall, and I (admitted defeat, bidding a woeful adieu to summer) celebrated by cutting all of my basil, parsley and chives down to the ground.  When one has grown a ton of basil and parsley over the length of an entire summer, it only makes sense to prep some pesto and tabouli.  A few glances at the interwebs and a quick dash to the Wedge Co-Op for fresh tomatoes, garlic, green onions, some walnuts and quinoa, and I was ready to begin.

Pesto

First I made the pesto.  I stripped all of the leaves from the stalks and chopped the leaves using my mini Cuisinart food processor, then I chopped the walnuts, crushed the garlic and shredded the parmesan-reggiano.  I mixed everything in a big glass bowl and then added half a cup of olive oil.  That’s it!  It was lover-ly.  For more blow-by-blow, this is the recipe I used from Simply Recipes.

The big white pieces are broad, flat shreds of parmesan…mmm… A little pesto goes a very long way when mixed into pasta.

Tabouli

I used this recipe from greatpartyrecipes.com to make the Tabouli, but I made a couple of changes.   Instead of the gluten-containing bulgar I used quinoa, I skipped the mint because it was exorbitantly-priced, and I left the cucumber out because I somehow lost it between the checkout line and home, and I didn’t feel like going back out to buy another.

I started cooking the quinoa and then chopped the parsley – stems and leaves – in the food processor.  I diced tomatoes, minced the garlic, and sliced the green onions.  Once the quinoa cooled a bit, I mixed everything together and finally added the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

It was also lover-ly and simple.

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Afterwards, the kitchen looked like this.

I was done with cooking for the evening, so I threw a little of the extra quinoa on a plate, mixed in some pesto, added a side of tabouli and had a loverly (if quite herby) dinner.

Fresh Pesto and Tabouli

Perugia: Saturday Morning

The city of Perugia has installed several public scala mobili e ascensori (escalators and elevators) around the city to make navigating some of the steeper hills easier.  One of  the neatest set of escalators that we’ve found are those that start at the Bus Station (Piazza Partigiani) and go up under the city to end inside the Rocca Paolina, a gigantic fortress built in the 16th century and situated in the middle of the Centro Storico in Piazza D’Italia.

 
 

Stairs at the Piazza Partigiani, Second entryway to the scala mobile, Mom on the steep escalator.

Inside the Rocca Paolina:

The last escalator ends in a cavernous section of the Rocco Paolina.

One of the now empty underground rooms of the fortress.

As we left the Rocco Paolina we were delighted to discover that Piazza D’Italia and Via Vannucci had been taken over by a street market!  We wandered around the park and up Vannucci admiring the drawings, jewelry, antiques, purses, sundresses and other wares being peddled by the vendors. 

Along the way home we stopped for lunch at Gus, a trattoria and sushi joint.  We had the yummiest seaweed salad before the main sushi plate arrived.  It was this good: 

And finally, after our busy morning it was back home to the apartment for the traditional Italian mid-day rest.

Perugia: Saturday Morning

Perugia: Gluten Free Dining

Yesterday we meandered through the San Pietro area.  One of the highlights of the trip was finding this random crepe kitchen, Le Cre.  It was tucked near the end of a tunnel-like alley next to the Pozzo Etrusco, an ancient Etruscan well.

I noticed the word “glutine” in a few places around the shop and then I saw a newspaper clipping with the words “gluten free” in the title along with a picture of the place.  The bar tender saw me pointing and saying “gluten free” and she nodded.  She pointed up and at the ceiling and in that moment I learned one of the loveliest phrases of my trip thus far: Senza Glutine.  Directly translated it means “without gluten”.

She spoke a fair amount of English, and was able to explain that the senza glutine side of this particular kitchen has been dedicated to gluten-free food preparation.  She told us that there were a few GF restaurants in the area, and that they were very prevalent in Southern Italy.  So it was that I enjoyed a crepe in Italy.

We nom nom nom on a nutella e crema senza glutine crepe

On Wednesday we ran across another luncheon place that had a senza glutine section on the menu, so I was able to enjoy PASTA in Italy 🙂

Thatsa lotta pasta carbonara – and it’s gluten-free!

Tonight (Wednesday evening) we stopped back at Le Cre for one final crepe dinner.  The owners close up Le Cre for the summer on Friday, so even though we’re surrounded by bars, paninitecas, pizzarias, tavole caldas and ristorantes, we decided to vist them one more time. 

One of the cafe staff makes my senza glutine crepe

Salami, cheese, whole marinated “spicy” button mushrooms, lettuce, mayo on a GF crepe

Mom said she needs a short break from “Italian food”.  Tomorrow night – sushi!

Perugia: Gluten Free Dining

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group Brunch Experience

The Uptown Cafeteria and Support group, or “The Cafeteria” is located in Calhoun Square, right across from Stella’s Fish Cafe.  The Hubby and I decided to make our first visit to The Cafeteria on a lazy Sunday morning when we could have the place to ourselves.  The Star Tribune recently did a piece on this trendy new Minneapolis hotspot and everytime we’ve driven by the place has been packed!  The rooftop – SkyBar – is supposed to be excellent in the evenings, but we didn’t get a chance to explore upstairs at brunch.

The cafeteria has garage-door windows that are raised up in nice weather; diners are inside but exposed to the sidewalk and the Uptown crowds walking by.

The picture above is from our table by the windows- it really was empty when we stopped by!  The food was simply alright.  Our eggs, bacon and toast were typical fare, and the potatos were too oily and heavy to be enjoyable.  On the plus side, the servers were very pleasant and attentive.  But there’s no doubt that The Cafeteria’s main attraction is its unique style.

This close-up photo of the bar really doesn’t do it justice – the bar is very long and has room for a lot of patrons.  I like the combination of liquor bottles and beer taps, top-shelf liquor cabinets and fancy flatscreen TVs set against a greasy spoon-style countertop and chairs.

The hallway to the bathrooms and kitchen is “wall-papered” with actual cafeteria trays.

The bathroom decorations are fun.  The Hubby took the picture on the left and the pic on the right is from the women’s room.  I think the women got cheated – we should have pictures of cafteria men or women glaring at us on the backs of bathroom doors while we pee!

I did not get a picture of the booths or the awesome walls covered in shag carpeting.  As I said earlier, our food was just meh.  But I love the ambiance and I’ll be back to try their evening fare, and definitely to check out the rooftop bar!  The Cafeteria seems like a great place to bring some friends for before or after dinner drinks!

What: Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group
Where: 3001 Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis, MN
When: Quiet brunch on the weekends, trendy crowds and yummy drinks in the evening.
Website: http://www.uptowncafeteria.com/

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Uno giorno fino a Italia!

One of the gorgeous cities of Cinque Terre

I’m going here, to Perugia

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group

Time is way too one-directional.

This was my To Do List last night.

Make dinner.

I made this – Fancy Hot Dog Stroganoff from simplyrecipes.com.  I substituted quinoa for the egg noodles and added spinach.  This picture is from that site – My dinner was so yummy that it was all gone before I remembered that I wanted to snap a photo.

Change the litter box.

Blech.

Research wireless routers and make a decision on which one to purchase.

Ah, technology.  How I take you for granted until you break.

Transplant my tomato plant, and also the parsley and chives.   Plant new lettuce and spinach seeds to replace the ones that drowned in last week’s summer deluge.

Done!  I can’t believe how much the tomato plant exploded!  This is my tomato plant on April 17th:

Practice my Italian.

Aprenda a hablar italiano.  Verb book, flashcards, iPod Italian language apps, Easy Italian workbook.  Crappy, blurry photo.

Update the biodork blog with Sunday’s Pride Parade post.

See this big empty rectangle?  That’s my Pride Parade post – no Pride pictures for you!   You get this post with me whining about how busy I was last night instead.  But I’ll have Pride pics on Thursday.

Start rereading Terry Pratchett’s The Color of Magic and be done in time for CONvergence on Thursday.  Come up with some costume-ish thing for Saturday night at CON.

240 pages – no problem!

Plan rail transport from Rome to Perugia for 7/19, book my scuba dive in Sorrento, go to the bank and let them know that I’m going to be using my credit card overseas so they don’t shut down my account while I’m in Italy, figure out where/when to exchange USD for Euros, figure out how to pack enough clothing for two weeks (allowing for trips to la lavanderia) in my tiny little backpack, and…and…

Okay, that last one was really all about making the list, rather than accomplishing everything on the list.

Phew!

Time is way too one-directional.

Local Books and Food

I don’t always read the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Metro section because it has a tendency to be depressing.  It seems like a lot of the stories are about local people involved in drunk driving crashes, child abuse cases, murders, robberies, scandals,  etc.  Yeah – go neighbors!

However, yesterday’s Metro had two inspiring stories – one on the James J. Hill Library in St. Paul, and the other about EBT being used at the Midtown Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis.

In the James J. Hill Library story, author Jean Hopfensperger introduces us to the James J. Hill library.  For some of her readers I’m sure it was a re-introduction, but I had never heard of the JJH Library in St. Paul.  And I love libraries!  Especially old libraries with leather chairs and lots of wood and marble accents like JJH Library has.  Look at how gorgeous this library is (source):

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The library’s board of directors is renting out the space for conferences, music and art exhibits and weddings.  I found these pics in a google image search – gorgeous!


I can’t wait to get over to St. Paul and check this place out!

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The other article was by Gail Rosenblum and it was all about the Midtown Farmer’s Market, located by the intersection of Lake Street and Hiawatha in south Minneapolis, and “Market Bucks” available for users of EBT.  EBT is what they used to call “food stamps”.  The USDA defines EBT as “an electronic system that allows a recipient to authorize transfer of their government benefits from a Federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received.”

So low income families can go to Minneapolis Farmers’ Markets and use their EBT to buy groceries, just like they can at most retail grocers.  The Minneapolis and Northeast Farmers’ Markets also accept EBT, but Midtown is offering an additional benefit: For the first $5 spent in EBT, a user will be given $5 additional “Market Bucks” that they can use to purchase additional food!  The program isn’t funded by taxpayer money, but by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.  From the article:

Blue Cross is funding the Market Bucks pilot, using proceeds from its 1998 Big Tobacco settlement. The effort is one of many created by Blue Cross (think “Do” campaign) to get all Minnesotans to eat better and fight rising obesity rates.

I think this is an excellent use of Big Tobacco money!

I mentor a teenager whose mother uses EBT.  One time several months ago I offered to take her to the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market on Lyndale and she told me that she didn’t have the money to shop there.  I can’t wait to tell her – I hope it will give her an opportunity to enjoy the Market and have a unique shopping option.

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The vegetable photo above is not from the Midtown Market, but I thought it was a very pretty composition and it does resemble the open air atmosphere of Midtown.

Local Books and Food

More randomness.

I had a lovely dinner with friends last night – London Broil, Yukon Potatoes and Tossed Salad with Bleu Cheese dressing – yummy!  Good food, good company. 

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Is your Droid sucking all of your battery up in mere hours?  No!  Bad Droid! 

I installed the Advanced Task Killer for Android on my HTC Incredible.  It’s supposed to save my battery life by closing Apps that aren’t in use.  I’m game.  Currently I have been getting about 5 hours of battery life on my phone (sob!), and the charging cord – for car, computer and wall charging have been constant companions.  Hopefully this will elongate my time between charges.

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I signed up for my PADI Open Water Dive!  I’ll be taking my final classes at Golden Acres near Stillwater, MN in early July.  Hopefully the weather and the water will have warmed up a bit by then…grumble, grumble.  After the dives at Golden Acres I’ll be a PADI-certified Open  Water Diver, and just in time for Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast! 

We’re getting super excited for our trip – The Hubby and I spent a couple of hours last Saturday flipping through guide books at Barnes & Noble.  We leave for Italy on 7/18/10.  We’ll fly from Minneapolis to Rome (through Detroit – ah well).  When we arrive in Rome we’ll jump right on a train to Perugia, Umbria, Italy where we’ll meet up with Mom.  We’ll spend 7/19-7/28 romping around Italy.  We’ll spend the last three days of July in Rome.  On the way home we have a “forced” overnight layover in…Amsterdam!  We’ll get into Amsterdam at ~5:30pm and leave for Minneapolis at 2:30pm the next day.  Love it!  I’m excited about taking original photos for this blog, and about being able to write up some of our adventures here.  For now, take a gander at these shots from travelers who have gone before me:

 

Amalfi Coast – photo source

Sorrento Diving – photo source

Perugia, Umbria – photo source

Roman Forum, Rome – photo source

Amsterdam Downtown, aerial view – photo source

Doesn’t it look like FUN!?

More randomness.

Gluten Free Pancakes

I make gluten-free pancakes at home.  I use a traditional recipe, but substitute in a mix of sorghum, rice and garbanzo (chickpea) flours for all-purpose wheat flour and I reduce the baking powder.  The result is a decent, but slightly drier and firmer, version of a pancake.  But tasty – especially if most carby goodness treats are not an option for you.

GF Flour Recipe
This recipe was given to me by a friend from her sister.  The sister has celiac disease and says she formulated this mix herself.  A google search for “Gluten free flour mix” will yield a ton of recipes, some claiming to be better suited for different types of baked goods.  I usually make about 1/2 gallon of the stuff and keep in it in a container for general use.

1 1/3 cup Sorghum Flour
1/4 cup Sweet Rice Flour (I usually use the easier-to-find Rice Flour)
1/4 cup Garbanzo (Chickpea) Flour

GF Pancake Recipe

I found this recipe on the internet ages ago using a general google search for “pancake recipe”.  I can’t give credit to a specific source anymore, but most of the recipes I found in a recent search resemble this one:

1 1/2 cups flour (GF or all-purpose)
1 tsp baking powder (if using wheat flower, up baking powder to 3 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp white sugar
1 1/4 cup milk
1 egg
3 tbsp butter, melted

Yum, yum, yum!  The Hubby eats the GF pancakes and enjoys them, but sadly, I can’t compete with the traditional buttermilk pancake.

However, The Original Pancake House of Eden Prairie can.

YUM!

The Hubby and I had breakfast at The Original Pancake House (OPH) in Eden Prairie this morning.  He really likes pancakes, and I figured that I could get some sort of egg-based breakfast.  I only cut gluten from my diet about three years ago, and when I was growing up OPH in Tinley Park, Illinois had been one of my favorite breakfast places.  I would always order the Apple Pancake.  For those of you who like pastries of the the apple persuasion, and who haven’t had an OPH Apple Pancake, you must take thee to an OPH location and have one at your earliest convenience – it is the pinnacle of apple+pancake experiences.  The apple is baked into the pancake, but it’s also baked on top of the dough and covered in cinnamon and butter.  Seriously, it adds another hour onto the treadmill, but who cares?

 

This is the Original Pancake House’s signature Apple Pancake...drool…

So back to this morning’s experience:  We get to OPH at 9am and the place is swarming with families – lot of babies and kids, tired looking parents, and patient grandmas and grandpas playing with the kids and cajoling the parents.  This is the last place on Earth I ever really want to be.  I drop the Hubby of at the doors so he can run inside and see how long the wait would be.  I drive in a circle around the packed parking lot – dodging the occasional excited kid or the zombie-looking-mom-with-stroller combo, and twice stopping for some idiot on a cell phone who blithely meanders in front of my car.

I think, Thank goodness I sent [The Hubby] inside – the wait’ll probably be 30 minutes or more and we can go someplace else. I make my round just as he’s coming back outside.  I make eye contact and start to drive forward, already planning Plan B, but he signals me to park and come inside and then dashes back through the doors.

Noooo!  I start to grumble thinking that he’s put us on the waiting list.  He can be much more patient that I am when it comes to restaurants.  He’ll wait 20 minutes in line to eat at one location, while I’d rather drive 20 minutes away and to eat somewhere with no wait.  But I’m a good wife, so I go park the car with only one little sigh and start the marathon trek back to the restaurant.  I even leave the smartphone, the iPod and the Saturday  paper in the car because The Hubby likes to have conversations when we eat out.  What up with that?

I get to the door and end up holding the door for this huge family of 12 (I counted), which isn’t so bad, except one really wound-up kid ends up going in and out three times before being pulled to a screeching halt (the screeching part…that’s literal) by a harried looking woman who I’m guessing is Mom.  I see the Hubby across the lobby-sized waiting area and he motions me over.  I give him my best shoulder shrugging “how the hell am I supposed to get over there” look as I begin sidestepping and weaving my way through the throng.  Inside I’m groaning, how long is this wait going to be?.

But behold, a veritable miracle – he’s gotten us a place at the bar!  We sit down, the guy brings coffee, water and menus, and we’re off.  They’ve got some tasty looking omelettes and sides.  I glance longingly at the Apple Pancake (curse you, gluten!), and then, a glorious phrase leaps from the page:

Gluten Free Batter is available at no charge for most of our pancakes.

Woahhhhhhh…..

Ceiling Cat be praised – gluten-free pancakes!  It looks like OPH started the gluten-free menu in 2007.  I was sad because they couldn’t make me the Apple Pancake with gluten-free batter, but I decided to get pancakes with a spinach, mushroom and goat-cheese omelete.*  I was pleasantly surprised by the pancakes – they were light (but not quite fluffy), and they actually absorbed syrup!  Woo-hoo!  I’ll definitely be going back, especially because there is no extra charge associated with the gluten-free batter.

As *anyone* who follows a GF diet knows, it is possible to find substitutes for our pastas, pizza crusts, sandwich breads and pastries, but by the Flying Spaghetti Monster do we end up paying a ridiculous amount of money for them!  Pizza Luce in Minneapolis/St. Paul serves GF Pizzas, but they’re much more expensive.  A small pizza made with wheat crust may run you $12.  The same pizza with GF crust will cost you $18.  A loaf of regular old sandwich bread may run $3; plan on spending $6-$9 for a GF loaf plus a trip to a specialty bakery.

So, a big thank you to OPH, and I promise never to complain (too loudly) about having to navigate the circus of families you attract every weekend!  I enjoy the quality of your GF pancakes, and I appreciate your willingness to offer GF options free of charge.  We’ll see you again soon!

One more shot of the Apple Pancake:

*As an aside, that’s way too much food.  I don’t recommend doing that unless you’re sharing or taking some home.  Ugh.

Gluten Free Pancakes