Editor’s Note: This article was first published in February of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…
Automobiles are everywhere, so it might come as a shock to some that the culture surrounding their creation and appreciation is dying. America has a long, rich history with the automobile — to the extent that you could call it a love story. Many a man and woman have been bewitched by the thundering horses under the hood, the smell of rich leather, the pulsing power felt underfoot, and the consequential adrenaline rush from a short spin around the block. The automobile is an essential piece of the cultural fabric of America. We helped to invent it, fine-tune it, unleash it… and, in the end, we fell in love with it. Owning a car became a source of pride, as well as a symbol of success and freedom. What’s more American than the image of a green, 1940s Chevy pick-up driving down a stretch of Route 66, a tan arm resting on the rolled-down window, fingers feeling the wind? It makes you want to yell, “America!” and go drink a Coke on the 4th of July.
Unfortunately, I’m not so sure this vision is a reality anymore. The vibrant love between car and man that inspired an entire culture of auto devotees now seems to be dwindling. The gear-head enthusiasts will always motor on, I am sure, but what happened to the average American? Simple respect and appreciation for the metal beast has shifted to sheer disinterest in cars. The following is the sad, draft-obituary of America’s car culture…
“Exercise more” or “lose weight” are both popular New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, sometimes our busy lives, lack of willpower, insecurities, or confusion as to where to start keep us from accomplishing exercise goals. It doesn’t need to be this difficult. You need to do as Nike says and “just do it.”
Here are 7 steps to get you started:
Step 1: Make Exercise a Priority in Your Life
Only YOU can force yourself to work out, run, play kickball–whatever you do. You need to make the conscious decision to make time in your schedule to get some activity in. Look through your calendar. Make two categories—label one MUST-DO ACTIVITIES and the other WILD CARD ACTIVITIES.
“Must-do activities” are things you have to complete that day in order to survive/avoid jail—such as, take a shower, cook dinner, pick up the kids, do laundry, or complete your taxes.
“Wild Card Activities” are things that you would like to do after the “must-dos” are done and aren’t necessarily time-dependent. Examples are: spray-paint the ugly, rusty mailbox, finish the last chapter in that funny book, watch that movie you borrowed from your neighbor, etc. Sort your activities into these two categories. For most people, “exercise” ends up in the WILD CARD ACTIVITY section. This is a no no. The key is to train your mind to view “exercise” as a “Must-do” activity–and follow through. As soon as you convince your brain that exercise is a priority, your body will follow.
Step 2: Hold Yourself Accountable
Tell your spouse, friends, kids that you are planning on making a lifestyle change. They are sure to be encouraging and might even join you! If others know about your new commitment, they will be sure to ask you about it…and you won’t be able to hide on the couch, eating chips.
- Join a work-out class or running group—having other people around you, sweating and feeling miserable (with you), will motivate you to keep going.
-Bring the family dog on that jog or roller-blade ride—he will have limitless energy and will keep you smiling through it all.
-If you really need someone to keep you in line, hire a trainer or get your fitness-guru friend to help out.
Breakfast for dinner is one of the best dinners a person can have. I made Ina Garten’s roasted asparagus and prosciutto with homemade Hollandaise sauce for dinner this week. Good ole’ eggs, meat, and veggies!
1 lb. fresh asparagus
6 large slices of prosciutto (or bacon!)
1 ½ tablespoons butter (unsalted)
3 large eggs
Ina’s Easy Hollandaise Sauce (recipe below)
Ina’s Hollandaise Sauce:
2 large egg yolks (at room temperature)
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
a pinch of cayenne pepper
Let me just start by saying that this is a delicious recipe—and that it might be one of my favorites so far. Now that I got THAT off of my chest, I’ll tell you how to make it.
To begin, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. I also put a sauté pan on the stove at medium heat.
I snapped the “woody end” off of the stalk of the asparagus and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Before placing them in the oven, I drizzled the asparagus with olive oil and dusted them with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Next, I prepped the bacon (I decided to use bacon since it was already in my freezer). I placed the thawed strips onto a baking sheet and placed them in the oven with the asparagus. I roasted the asparagus for 10 minutes. For the bacon, follow the baking instructions (mine was done in 10 minutes—perfect timing with the asparagus!) If you are using prosciutto, bake for 5 minutes.
You win some. You lose some. This will be the unfortunate theme for today’s recipe. (Don’t worry, I didn’t burn the house down.)
This week, I elected to make Ina Garten’s spinach with feta and pine nuts.
2 ½ tablespoons good olive oil
1 ½ cups yellow onion (chopped)
1 pound fresh baby spinach
1 ½ tablespoons toasted pine nuts
½ cup feta (diced)
1 lemon (1 ½ tablespoons juice)
kosher salt (1 ½ teaspoons)
black pepper (1 teaspoon)
I chose to halve the recipe because a) this type of dish doesn’t keep well and b) I didn’t want to eat 1 lb. of spinach by myself.
First, I heated the olive oil in a sauté pan and added the onion. I cooked the onion over medium heat until it was tender (about 8 to 10 minutes). Next, I added the lemon juice (about 1 ½ tablespoons if you are making the full recipe) and the spinach. I used tongs to turn the spinach in the pan until it was slightly wilted. Then, I topped the spinach with a bit of lemon zest and removed the pan from the heat.
Now, here is where the problem started. “Frailty, thy name is Salt.”
Ina says to mix in 1 ½ teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, the Feta cheese, and pine nuts after the pan has been removed from the heat. I halved these amounts because I was making half the recipe. Unfortunately, even with half the salt, the dish was too salty. When I attempted to choke down the final result, I felt like I was reenacting James Bond in Casino Royale after Le Chiffre poisons him and he is forced to drink salt to vomit… It was that bad. Way too much salt!!
This recipe is good in theory—it is very simple to make and the lemon is a nice touch–however, the proportions for the ingredients are a bit off. I suggest starting out with ½ teaspoon of salt in your dish and going from there. Don’t forget that Feta in itself is quite salty!
I hope you all have better luck than I did with this recipe. If you manage to get the proportions correct, let me know! I will try to make this one again in the future—but with less salt.
Love you, Ina. This time, it just didn’t work out.
Kiev in in flames and Caracas is rioting.
Here are some pictures from protests happening around the world via Instagram.
Change is in the air.
The U.S.A. (the well-established, dominant power in speedskating) has had an abysmal performance at the Olympics this year. Big names like Shani Davis and Heather Richardson haven’t held fists full of medals as predicted. So far, they haven’t even been close. A piece in The New York Times (as well as several other news sources) are reporting that the equipment was possibly to blame. The victim? The U.S. speedskating team’s racing suits. (Of course, it must be the equipment’s fault…)
At the games, the U.S. team debuted state-of-the-art skin suits made by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin. The suit was called the Mach 39 and was crafted in a wind tunnel. It was cutting edge.
Athletes and coaches decided not to unveil the suits prior to the Olympics because they didn’t want anyone to steal the technology. Ah, ze secret veapon!
Suits worn but no medals.
It is whispered that the suits must have been defective…
Nope. Stop blaming the suits–and here’s why…
Sometimes, the decision to make (or not to make) a recipe comes down to cook time. Will I be slaving over this meal for hours or will I be able to eat within 30 minutes?
I wanted an easy recipe this week—less cook time and fewer dirty dishes—as well as a dish that reheated well for lunches and dinners throughout the week. Thankfully, Ina Garten’s cookbook had me covered. This week, I made Ina’s orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage.
½ pound sweet Italian pork sausages
½ pound hot Italian pork sausages
1/3 cup good olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 (14.5 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup tomato paste
1 pound dried orecchiette pasta (I used radiatore)
2 bunches broccoli rabe (2 to 2 ½ pounds total) (variation: use broccolini)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in October of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists of 2013. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…
I was what every freshman girl in college was: new, bright-eyed, and looking for friends. Although my campus was small (2,100 people total), I wanted to find my niche. I decided to go through the sorority-recruitment process in order to meet other girls on campus and, hopefully, find a home away from home. Although recruitment season usually indicates long days, sleepless nights, and over-caffeinated, stressed-out girls, this process does teach life lessons–such as how to be strong in an interview or a good conversationalist.
I know this last sentence sounds preposterous. How could going through the process of recruitment or “rush” to join a “house” of women on a college campus prepare anyone for life? Or a job interview? Or how to carry on a conversation?
Hear me out.
Having a bad day? Need something to make you smile or chuckle? Love animals?
Instagram has become my new source for “cuteness.” Here are some of the cutest “must-follow” animals on Instagram. Check them out and enjoy!
1. Biddy the Hedgehog
Instagram Account Name: biddythehedgehog
Watch Biddy explore the world, take a bubble bath, or run his hilarious little hedgehog butt through leaves and grass. I really want a hedgehog now…
Editor’s Note: Spend your Valentine’s Day with Frank Underwood! Catch up on Netflix’s House of Cards with this collection of articles Washington D.C.-based Becky Graebner wrote analyzing the first season, concluding with her predictions of the highly-anticipated season 2 that becomes available on February 14.
Here’s a table of contents for the nine articles Becky wrote last summer and her season 2 preview from January; jump to the ones that interest you or just dive in from the beginning in this 9000-word collection:
Part 4: Why We Love to Hate Politicians
Part 5: Can Evil Sometimes Be Good?
Part 6: A Cast of Master Obfuscators
Valentine’s Day is coming up which means some of you may be running around trying to decide what to do for the occasion. If you’re staying in and cooking, here are three, simple dessert sauces that can pair easily with things already in your kitchen. Sometimes, a simple and classic dessert is the best dessert. Spend less time cooking and more time with the people you love!
All of these recipes an be found in my favorite, handy-dandy sauce cookbook, The Top 100 Quick and Easy Sauces.
1. The Classic: Chocolate Fudge Sauce
heaped 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
heaped 1/2 cup sugar
2 oz. good-quality semi-sweet chocolate (broken into squares)
4 tbsp. butter (diced)
3 tbsp. light corn syrup
vanilla extract (a few drops)
4 tbsp. light cream
Grab a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the sugars, chocolate, butter, and corn syrup. Heat the mixture slowly until it is smooth. Stir continuously.
Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer over low heat for five minutes. Stir continuously.
Remove from heat.
Add the vanilla extract and cream. Mix well.
How to serve: pour this over ice cream, sliced fruit (strawberries), or baked goods (hello, double chocolate brownies!) Add some pink, red, and white jimmies for decoration.
I was in Naples, Florida last week and was introduced to a local gem—a restaurant called Greek Gourmet. Their food was great, and their tzatziki sauce was to die for. I knew Ina had an “Easy Tzatziki” recipe in her “Foolproof” cookbook and I planned to see how she stacked up to my new favorite restaurant in Naples… (Spoiler Alert: It makes the cut.)
2 (7-ounce) containers of Greek yogurt
1 hothouse cucumber
¼ cup of sour cream
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (I think this is too much–start with 1 teaspoon and go from there.)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
(No oven to preheat this time!)
I placed the yogurt, sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, and pepper into a bowl. I only added in 1½ teaspoons of salt. (Start with 1 teaspoon and add more to taste.)
Next, I grated a large cucumber into a separate bowl. In the process of grating my cucumber, my mind decided to check out and I succeeded in grating part of my finger. This was my first kitchen injury… maybe the Greek gods don’t like me? (The cut made dealing with lemon and garlic a little tricky.)
The next step in the recipe is to pull the cucumber “guts” out of the bowl, ringing out most of the liquid, and then adding it to the bowl with the other ingredients. I wasn’t about to put my maimed finger in a bowl of grated cucumber, so I created a “press” with a large slatted spoon. If you aren’t privy to getting your hands dirty, or if you also grate part of your hand, use a slatted spoon so scoop out the cucumber pulp and then press the “guts” with another spoon, pushing the liquid out.
After pressing out all the liquid, I mixed up the ingredients into a thick sauce.
Ina suggests serving the tzatziki with olives, feta, and toasted pita breads (you can also use pita chips if you don’t want to toast your own pita breads). By the way, is it “kitchen legal” to eat this sauce with just a spoon when I run out of pita breads? Just wondering… it’s that good.
For some reason, whenever I enter the produce section of a grocery store I am afflicted with temporary amnesia. I forget what veggies and fruit I have at home and I tend to duplicate what I already have in my fridge. “It’s ok…I’ll use it up…”
I am notorious for serial buying onions. Onions do tend to last forever, but this week I really wanted to get rid of at least one sulking in the back of my refrigerator. (What one person needs three onions?) I decided to consult my magical book of sauces.
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped (red or yellow)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk
freshly ground black pepper
Knife (for chopping)
- Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in the saucepan.
- Add in the onion and fry for 10-15 minutes (or until soft). Remove pan from heat and set aside.
- In the second saucepan, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter.
- Add the flour and cook for 1 minute while stirring.
- Remove the pan from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk.
- Return the saucepan to the heat and bring to a boil. Stir/whisk until sauce thick and smooth.
- Simmer sauce for 2-3 minutes and stir continuously.
- Add the fried onion.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.
This recipe suggests pairing this sauce with roast chicken, baked ham, broiled haddock, or monkfish.
Yum yum yum! Enjoy! (and hooray for one less onion!)
1. The players were puppies.
2. There was no crying in the stands after plays
3. Kittens! (one even used a parachute)
4. You didn’t cringe after the ball was snapped…
5. You stayed awake.
I usually shy away from meatloaf. A. It is called “Meat-loaf”…it just doesn’t sound appetizing. B. The shape…it is meat trying to masquerade as banana bread. C. Meatloaf seems to be one of those dishes that is either REALLY good or REALLY bad.
Despite my misgivings about meatloaf, I decided to try Ina Garten’s “1770 House Meatloaf” recipe that is featured in her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust. This recipe isn’t a Barefoot Contessa original. It actually comes from one of Ina’s favorite restaurants, the 1770 House, in East Hampton, New York.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped Spanish onion (I used 1 large white onion)
1 ½ cups diced celery
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons kosher salt (I used only 1 tablespoon since I had less meat)
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 ½ cups panko
I edited this recipe (as usual). For starters, I only purchased 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground pork. (The meatloaf was PLENTY big with only 2/3s the meat). I also went without chives (a no-go at the store), substituted regular milk for the whole milk, and halved the amount of salt (only 1 tablespoon). If I had had them in my fridge, I would have mixed in carrots and bell peppers too. (I love veggies).
Are you familiar with “Christmas in July?” Well, how about some “summer in January?” For those of you who see mounds of snow outside, I promise that summer will be back soon (only a few more months!). In the meantime, here is a picture-perfect dose of beachy warmth to keep you motivated.
Pasta is HANDS DOWN my favorite food. (runner ups are sour gummy worms, which is hardly a food, and steak.)
I decided to take a break from meat as a main course and serve up some delicious pasta! Today’s recipe is Ina Garten’s “Straw and Hay with Gorgonzola.”
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces prosciutto, cut crosswise in ½-inch-thick matchsticks
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 large)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 ½ cups heavy cream
4 ounces Italian Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
8-10 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccine
2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup julienned fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Remember House of Cards? Well, lucky fans, season 2 will premiere on Netflix on Valentine’s Day 2014. I know, such a sweet holiday for such a sweet show! *Snort*
You may recall that I closed my series on season 1 with a few predictions for season 2. (Click here to read the original article.) After watching the trailer for the upcoming season, I decided that I needed to make a few more. Like season 1, season 2 is going to be brutal and people are likely to get whacked by the Underwood Power machine. I decided to take a leaf out of Beatrix Kiddo’s book and write my own “Death List Five” for season 2. My “Death List” is composed of the characters that, in my opinion, are most likely to end up dead by the final episode. I am open to suggestions.
Becky’s Death List Five:
1. AN ANNOYING OBSTACLE: Mr. Raymond Tusk
After watching the trailer, it looks like this man is going to find himself in Frank’s cross-hairs. Nobody comes between Frank and power.
Being BFFs with the President might make him seem untouchable, but nobody says “no” to Doug Stamper… there might be an unfortunate chain-saw accident on Tusk’s property. You just never know…
2. KARMA SUCKS: Zoe Barnes
One of my fellow, HoC watchers submitted Zoe as a possible dead body for season 2. They argued that “there was no way she could walk away from Frank (alive) after being in so deep.”
I could be persuaded to agree.
3. NICE BUT NOT A PIVOTAL CHARACTER: Lucas Goodwin
Lucas is a likable character, but with Janine as Zoe’s other sounding board and accomplice in “Operation Sink Underwood,” it wouldn’t be too upsetting to the plot if Lucas kicked the bucket. We all know the writers like to keep things interesting…
Would Zoe even bat an eyelash? Meh, maybe.
4. DANGEROUS WITH A PEN: Janine Skorsky
I think Janine is fairly likely to die because she is a) a nosy, outspoken journalist, b) already on Stamper’s radar, and c) underestimates the bad guys she is trying to expose.
Stamper and Underwood wouldn’t allow her to live long enough to write a juicy, tell-all story…
5. LOOSE ENDS GET SNIPPED: Rachel Posner
Of all the characters, I think Rachel is the most likely to end up dead. The trailer shows Rachel brandishing a butcher knife in front of Stamper (or, at least, it looks like Rachel). This might be a sneak peek of Rachel’s demise. Rachel is what Stamper calls “a loose end”–and we all know Stamper’s track record when it comes to cleaning up loose ends…
I rediscovered a cookbook in my kitchen (The Top 100 Quick and Easy Sauces) on sauces that has become my “go-to” for using up herbs and extra ingredients from my Ina Garten cooking journey. I thought I would share a few of these easy recipes with you in the coming weeks. Cooking motto: waste not.
If you are like me and bought a large bundle of parsley for cooking and now find yourself wondering what to do with the excess, look no further. Here is a easy and versatile recipe for those extra bunches of parsley.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 ¼ cups milk
2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley
freshly ground pepper
Knife (for chopping)
- To begin, chop up that parsley! Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
- Add the flour and stir for one minute.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk.
- Return the pan to the stove and bring to a boil. Continue to stir/whisk the sauce until it is smooth and thick.
- Lower the temperature and simmer the sauce for 2-3 minutes. Stir continuously.
- Stir in the parsley and season with the salt and pepper to taste.
This book suggests that you serve this sauce on cod, haddock, baked ham, fava beans, or spinach. I poured it over a bowl of pasta. It was light, simple, and delicious. (I’m going to try it on tilapia tonight!)
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 was the first snow day for Washington, D.C. in the new year. Instead of working, District residents documented the winter wonderland:
I meandered into the “sides” section of Ina’s cookbook again. Maybe it was the bright colors in the photograph or the fact that I like the color orange…whatever it was, I chose “orange-braised carrots and parsnips” for today’s recipe.
1 pound carrots with the greens attached
1 pound thin parsnips
1/3 cup small-diced shallots (1 large)
2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 ¼ cups freshly squeezed orange juice (or bottled juice)
1/3 cup good olive oil
6 springs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
My first thought when I began reading this recipe was, do I even know what a parsnip looks like? Nope. I didn’t. I only found them at the grocery store after reading all of the tiny labels in the veggie section. Even then, I thought it was mislabeled because it looked like a geoduck!
This was my first time cooking with geoduck, er, I mean parsnips. Welcome to the club if this is also your first time! (They turned out to be very tasty.)
Washington, D.C. isn’t everyone’s favorite town….but you have to admit it is beautiful.
Here are some Instagrams of our picturesque capital, Washington, D.C. (most were taken in the last 24 hours).
Before I begin my recipes, yes there are two today, I want to mention that it took me five solid days to eat all of that round roast from recipe one. However, I never got bored with it (so please don’t be afraid of Ina’s bigger recipes)! I used thin slices of beef on sandwiches, sautéed pieces and tossed them with pasta, and even chopped up and sautéed beef with chilies and eggs. But enough with the versatility of beef. Today’s main dish is CHICKEN.
I selected Ina’s “Crispy Mustard-Roasted Chicken” because it allowed me to use up the older chicken breasts and thighs that were chilling in my freezer.
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups panko bread flakes
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup dry white wine
1 (3/12-4lb) chicken, cut in eights (Becky used chicken breasts, thighs—all the misc. chicken in the freezer)
First, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees.
I really wanted to use my new mixing bowls, so, although the recipe called for the minced garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, bread crumbs (I used 1 cup regular and 1 cup panko), lemon zest, olive oil, and butter to be combined in a bowl and then poured out on a plate, I just threw it all in a medium-sized mixing bowl. (No reason to dirty a bowl and then a plate).
In a separate, smaller bowl, I combined the white wine and mustard. I used honey Dijon (I know, I finally found it after needing it last week!), oh well.
When breading something (like chicken pieces), usually the ENTIRE piece of meat is covered in the breadcrumb mixture. Not this recipe—so here’s the twist:
Dip the entire piece of chicken in the mustard-wine mixture, but only cover one side with the breadcrumbs. Then, lay the chicken breadcrumb-side up on the baking sheet.**
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Then, turn the heat up to 400 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and cover with foil until ready to eat!
Now, on to the side dish!
**I tried to use of the rest of my breadcrumbs by adding them to any exposed areas on the chicken but I ended up having a lot left over. Since there was no egg used in the process that could have “tainted” the breadcrumbs during the dipping, I decided to save the remaining breadcrumbs. (I Tupperwared them up and put them in the refrigerator.)
This video titled “Uncle Henry Gets Surprised on Christmas” has only been online for a few days. It already has more than 2 million views. Why? Because it’s a feel-good video that will probably make you tear-up and laugh. (Humans secretly love losing control of their tear ducts in a surge of compassion and happiness.)
Watch Henry unwrap his Christmas gift and demonstrate what true happiness and appreciation look like. This video gets me every time.
I hope you enjoy.