My first piano

Remember the start of the New Year? Remember how I made a resolution? Sigh. I had resolved to stop procrastinating as much. Specifically, I resolved to spend a little time here and there to cross out items on my task list. I would try not to exaggerate the importance of certain minor to dos. Eight weeks in, it’s not looking great.

I wish I could report otherwise. I did eventually follow up on the process available through to reduce my junk mail. I sent a series of emails to those charitable organizations that continued to send me unwanted mail. Strike a line through that one!

Something that has been on my list for at least a year, if not two, is to find a piano for the house. There was a piano at home my entire childhood, because my mom had played since she was young. I took piano lessons regularly starting at age 7 and continuing through early high school, at which point sports and after-school activities crowded out practicing time. I was no virtuoso, but I could handle playing occasionally at church, and I even assisted in accompanying/teaching my high school choir for several weeks my senior year. My piano knowledge made it easier for me to learn mallet percussion to play in elementary, middle and high school band. I played bells in the high school marching band for six years, followed by four years of college. College marching band was where I met my wonderful husband, Matt (who celebrates his birthday this week–HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) You can see how the piano connects to significant parts of my life and history.
I digress. The point is, I want to maintain my ability to play piano. I haven’t sustained any sort of practice routine with pianos outside the house; it may be as rare as once per year at my parents’ house. I believe there’s a much better chance in my own house. Also, pianos can be wonderful additions to the home (the racket is welcome some times more than others).

In June 2012, I read this article in The New York Times about the increasing numbers of piano sent to the dump rather than transferred to new owners. There are so many people who have a piano so old or so undesirable that they would rather toss it than give it to a family member. For some, disposal is the less expensive choice, as fees for tuning, repair, and moving stack up-this I am learning for sure! As for prospective buyers, like me, it is a gamble to take on an old piano that may have serious tuning issues, when there may be fairly inexpensive pianos available new (from China). Used pianos have much in common with used cars, in that respect. When I told Matt that grand pianos can run $30-$40,000, at least, he noted that one could choose to buy a luxury sports vehicle, or one could buy a piano.

The New York Times article informed me about the Piano Adoption website. I checked the site periodically in the following months, but it didn’t seem to be kept up to date, and I never received responses to the inquiries I did make.

Craigslist must keep tons of goods out of the landfill. People who are tired of their “stuff” get connected with people who are willing to make a trip and exert some effort to get a good deal. I’m happy that a few horror stories haven’t caused the demise of Craigslist. It can be a great resource for finding furniture, specifically. My friends over at There’s Treasure Everywhere made some amazing transformations with Craigslist merchandise. Previously, I bought some nearly-new furniture items, and also sold a small dining room set through Craigslist. I was happy with how it all went.

Last week, I made the decision to reach out to some sellers of pianos on Craigslist. The first one I ended up seeing was housed fairly locally, making it convenient. It was Baldwin brand, but the smaller, spinet size or upright, which reduces the richness of the tone. It was out of tune, but certainly functional, and felt comfortable under my fingers. And unlike many of the pianos I saw photographed, the color and finish of this one was nicely preserved. I made an offer, arranged for piano movers, and welcomed the piano to my home last week!
I discussed my piano purchasing venture with the music director at my current church. Once I shared that it was in hand, he congratulated me on my “first piano.” I had to stop for a moment at that statement, because I thought, wait, but I had a piano for years in my parents’ house, so this isn’t my first! But of course, that was my parents’ piano. This piano is mine, and therefore special. It is like your “first car” for which you make your own car payments, or your “first child,” even you have played with other people’s kids before.

Now I wait for the piano to “settle”, and pray that it will hold its tune. After that, I’ll be able to contribute to soundtrack of our happy home! (Yes, I realize how cheesy that sounds).

One of the most beautiful songs written for a Disney movie. Who knows which movie?

One of the most beautiful songs written for a Disney movie. Who knows which movie?

Meatless Manic Monday

Let’s talk about this relentless winter. Like a demanding toddler, this winter has been running around all over the country with its snow and ice, and if for one minute we seem to be forgetting about its power, it wallops us to get our attention. We have been at the mercy of frequent snow storms in the Northeast. Last week, I had not one but TWO snow days off from work. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where having a few days with the office closed doesn’t put me incredibly behind at work, nor threaten my vacation days. I’m not in danger of having a shorter summer, like the teachers, and I don’t have kids to scramble to find care for or to keep entertained myself. For me, these days can be viewed as wonderful gifts. I should be thrilled to have extra time to cook, or to take care of my task list, or take on creative projects.

The truth is, both of these days went by very quickly. The main feeling I had, by the end, was that I was cooped up in my house. I missed my routine, and felt a little lost having such open chunks of time. It is nice to have somewhere to go every day, even if you don’t necessarily love the place you’re going. I get the feeling that you all might be a little tired of these disruptions too? For some reason I wasn’t drawn to cook those days; in fact, I had a hard time pulling myself from the computer, which is dangerous because lengthy computer use can sometimes negatively affect one’s mood. I did use one of the days to leisurely prepare these chocolate hazelnut linzer heart cookies from Smitten Kitchen. It required me first to trudge around or through uncleared sidewalks and in the traffic lanes of slippery roads to the corner store for Nutella (why didn’t I have Nutella on hand? Good question.) It was worth it.

On Monday (another day with extra time because of the President’s Day holiday) I decided I wanted to prepare simple sandwiches for my husband and me. Hot paninis to be exact, because a cold sandwich never quite satisfies to the same level–my husband feels this quite strongly. A week or so earlier we had an awesome portobello mushroom panini out at dinner, so I picked up a few caps thinking I would give it a shot. It helped that, once again, we had a some of his delectable homemade bread on hand.

Grilled Portobello, Pesto, and Roasted Red Pepper Panini
Inspired by La Bottega restaurant and A Hint of Honey

2 portobello mushroom caps, stemmed and gills scraped off
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices hearty bread
, wheat or multigrain
2 slices of cheese – provolone, cheddar, swiss, havarti, or whatever you have
1/4 Cup basil pesto
2 slices roasted red pepper
, patted to dry slightly

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.

Heat your grill pan. You might have a stovetop grill pan that works, or like us, a Cuisinart “Griddler” which is ideal for paninis.
A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.

A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.

Brush both sides of portobello caps with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms on grill and cook on medium for several minutes on each side, until soft.
De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.

De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.

Top mushrooms with cheese so that it melts while the mushrooms are still over heat. Set aside on plate, temporarily.
Meanwhile, spread about 1 Tablespoon of pesto on each slice of bread.
Layer sandwiches grilled portobello, cheese, and roasted red pepper. Return to the grill/Griddler/panini press to further melt the cheese and toast the bread. You may want to brush a little olive oil on the surface of the bread.
You might notice that these photos look a little below par--I was so lazy that I didn't even get out my SLR camera, so I only used my iPhone.

You might notice that these photos look a little below par–I was SO lazy that I didn’t even get out my SLR camera, so these were taken on the iPhone.

Remember my urge to preserve? We are enjoying this same basil pesto from the summer! I could have made and jarred my own red bell peppers too. Now, in the middle of winter, we can enjoy a taste of summer flavors. We’ll just keep the shades closed so we aren’t so keenly aware of the mess outside.

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

I have not cooked nearly enough squash this winter, and I love squash. Squash can be used to create some very interesting combinations. Dishes made with squash can be lower-calorie without feeling like spa food. You see, I have returned to the lighter side, once again.

Spaghetti squash is particularly unique. Whoever opened a spaghetti squash up for the first time and cooked it must have been quite surprised by the noodle-like texture.

I’m sure you all are familiar with spaghetti squash. It does share similarities with noodles (thin rice noodles or vermicelli maybe), but no one is going to get the two confused. The texture is much wetter, even with straining, but the flavor is pretty mild so that it can take on whatever you use for a sauce. I liked the idea of using squash as the noodle for a pad thai preparation. For the record, I looked it up and calling it Pad Thai is not a misnomer–according to Merriam Webster online the literal translation is “Thai stir-fried mixture.” It doesn’t have to have rice noodles to be called pad thai.

In fact, pad thai can incorporate a variety of vegetables. You may see in the original recipe that it called for a red pepper, which I didn’t have, so I left that out. I think the key ingredients here are the bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, lime, and egg. I love peanuts and enjoy them in pad thai, but I’m not sure they are even required. What do you think “makes” pad thai?

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai
From A Couple Cooks
Make 4 generous servings

1 large spaghetti squash
1 bunch green onions
½ Cup fresh cilantro
, chopped
3-4 small carrots, fewer if they are large
4 cloves garlic
2 whole eggs
1.5 Cups bean sprouts, divided
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
, preferably peanut
3 Tablespoons sweet chili sauce
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime
Sriracha to taste
(I don’t suggest leaving it out!)
½ Cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Preheat to 400°F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half carefully–you’ll need a large, sharp knife. Scrape out the seeds and guts. Drizzle olive oil over cut sides and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet and cook until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes.
When the squash is done, scrape out the flesh of each half. Place the “noodles” in a colander to drain out some of the liquid for at least 10 minutes or as long as you are finishing other prep.
Meanwhile, get lots of prep bowls ready to facilitate mise en place.
Peel and shred carrots. Mince garlic. Thinly slice green onions and add to bowl with garlic, reserving about 1 green onion’s worth in a different bowl. Chop the cilantro and set aside in its own bowl, or combine with reserved green onions.
In a small bowl, beat together two eggs.

In another small bowl, mix together the sauce: 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, juice of ½ lime, a few squirts of sriracha.

So many bowls.

So many bowls.

Next, heat 2 Tablespoons oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and green onions and cook about 45 seconds, until fragrant. Pour in the eggs and scramble until almost cooked.
Add the crunchy vegetables (carrots and 1 Cup of the bean sprouts in this case) and squash noodles. Add 3 pinches kosher salt and toss together. Add the sauce and stir to combine.
Cook until the vegetables are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Garnish with plenty of crushed peanuts, fresh bean sprouts, and chopped cilantro and green onion.

It struck me as ironic that the week after a “Bacon Optional” post, I cooked something vegetarian and almost vegan, minus the eggs. I swear it wasn’t intentional!

Also, I was very surprised to find my husband was interested in eating this. Have I not yet divulged his history of reluctance toward fruits and vegetables? Well, when I told him I was planning to make this vegetable-heavy dish for dinner later that night, I totally assumed he would opt to eat something else, but instead he said “I’ll eat that.”

“Even the bean sprouts,” I asked? Yes, even the bean sprouts. But don’t ask him to eat an orange. Ugh.

Small vegetable victories!

Small vegetable victories!

Bacon Optional

I’ve been doing OK lately at cooking and documenting healthy recipes. It’s true, two of my featured recipes in January came from Cooking Light. Then we hit Super Bowl weekend.

Along with Super Bowl weekend came the inspiration for a party menu theme: “wrapped or stuffed.” “Wrapped or stuffed” certainly leaves open the opportunity to use fruits and vegetables and grains, but one is much more likely to please certain crowds by using cheese and bread and…bacon. One of the dishes I served was cream cheese stuffed jalapenos with bacon topping (optional).
These jalapenos were spicy, and a bit of work to clean out, so I ended up having a handful of extra ingredients this week. Somehow I came across a recipe for jalapeno corn fritters (yes, more fritters!) that could be made entirely with ingredients I had on hand. I don’t even remember what search terms I was using, or whether this was Pinterest, but I’d say I struck gold.

Jalapeno Popper Corn Fritters
From Closet Cooking

1.5-2 Cups corn kernels, frozen is fine
1/2 Cup flour
1 egg
scant 1/2 Cup cheddar cheese
, grated
1/4 Cup cream cheese, room temperature
2 jalapeno peppers (to taste, and depending on size), diced
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon coriander seed
, toasted and ground
2 green onions, sliced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, as needed

Begin by toasting coriander seeds and then grinding in a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or with mortar and pestle.
Prepare vegetables.

Yes, those are gloves! I recommend them for using with hot peppers.

Yes, those are gloves! I recommend avoiding direct skin contact with hot peppers.

Mix all of the ingredients (corn, flour, egg, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon-if using, paprika, coriander, green onion, cilantro and lime juice) in a bowl.
Heat a little oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Form mixture into patties, about 1/4 Cup each. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2-4 minutes per side.
You could serve these with a creamy, buttermilk-based dressing, or consume them as is, like me. The recipe author even used a jalapeno popper flavored dressing.
These didn't even make it to the table before being consumed by my husband and me!

These didn’t even make it to the table before being consumed by my husband and me!

To add to the gorging, I also had some free bags of regular potato chips lying around and was thus inspired to make a potato chip cookie recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It may be the copious amount of butter, but they were extremely delicious. Now that the week is over, I’ll be cutting back on the cheese, butter, and bacon…I swear.