Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Farmers Market Frittata

I'm feeling like my last post was all doom and gloom.   I didn't intend for that, but it really was an altering experience.   I was talking to John about it after he read my post and he said it was a good thing I closed my eyes when I did.   We were truly lucky.

Despite the storm and the disappointment that my family wasn't able to make it in due to weather related travel disruptions, Easter weekend turned itself around.    We had a great visit with family, ending with a  fabulous Easter brunch filled with gorgeous fruits, eggs, pastries and ham.    I wish I had hauled out the camera so I could show you a picture of the beautiful table, but I was preoccupied with eating it all.   So good!

The day ended with an Easter egg hunt for all the little ones.    We had some tears, white clothes and knees turned muddy, kite flying and tons of nostalgic cuteness.   I can remember my own days of Easter egg hunts in the yard on Easter morning.    I'm pretty sure my brother and I fought over an egg or two.    Kids are funny (and cute).

In keeping with the Easter/spring theme, I thought I'd share a quick and easy recipe that is perfect for a Sunday morning at home.     I used a bunch of ingredients we had left over from this weeks CSA box, but you could easily substitute your own "end of week" vegetables in this very adaptable recipe.

Farmers Market Frittata (serves 2)


2 teaspoons butter
1/4 cup red onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
2/3 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 cups baby spinach, rough chopped
4 large eggs
3/4 shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons skim or reduced fat milk
1/2 teaspoon dill
salt and pepper
1 small tomato, diced


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crack four eggs into medium size bowl.   Whisk until blended.   Add 1/4 cup shredded cheese, dill and two tablespoons milk.    Stir and set aside.

Heat medium sized skillet over medium/low heat.    Add and melt butter in skillet.    Add red onions and saute for 3 - 4 minutes until slightly softened.    Add garlic and saute 1 minute until fragrant.    Add sliced mushrooms to vegetable mixture and saute 3 - 4 additional minutes.   Add spinach and saute until wilted, about another minute.   Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour egg mixture over vegetables in skillet and swirl pan until fully coated and even.   Cook for 4 - 5 minutes over medium low heat on stove until eggs are mostly set.    Remove from heat and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Place skillet in oven for another 5 minutes until ready (cheese is melted and slight browning).    Remove from skillet and serve with fresh diced tomato.


On another note, I'm beginning to grow a small addiction to eggs lately.    I'm thoroughly excited that I just received my first batch of farm fresh eggs in the box this week.   They look like regular eggs, except for being a nice mixture of brown and white.   I can't wait to see how they taste!   I read an article on the plane this weekend about urban chicken coops.   I'm not ready to go that far yet, but this might be a nice alternative.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Calm Before the Storm

I had been watching the weather forecasts all week.   Storm predictions scattered across the midwest did not look promising and I could almost guarantee that my dad and girlfriend, coming from up north, were going to make it into Saint Louis before we did for the Easter weekend with family.   They were, in fact, scheduled to land roughly four hours before we were.

Our flight was looking good for an on time arrival until the last ten minutes before touch down.   The captain came on to announce that due to storms in the area we needed to make a wide swing and approach from the west to avoid the bulk of it.

From one side of the plane, dark skies and lightening, from the other, this gorgeous pink glow.

We landed and called my dad to make sure he had arrived.    He hadn't.

He was stuck in Chicago and his flight was cancelled due to severe weather.

Minutes later we were on the phone with John's dad waiting outside the terminal to be picked up for the ride back home.    This is when the sirens started.

John says they call this area Tornado Alley.

I always sit in the front seat of the car, with John's dad driving.   When he pulled up, I told John, "I am going to sit in the back seat, for safety reasons."

Being the planner that I am, I added "So, what is our plan if we get hit by this storm?"

Within seconds, the wind struck from one side of the car and the hail began.   John calmly instructed the driver (his dad) to pull over, stop the car, get out and get into the ditch.    But... it was too late.

The wind was violent.  Coming from every direction.  As we sat in this little metal box in the middle of the road, the sky took over.    We grew quiet and knew we weren't going anywhere unless the storm took us.   We were going to ride this out.

The car wouldn't move.   Despite acceleration.   Everything went dark, like someone turned off the lights in the sky.  Debris hurtling by.  A container the size of a large household appliance was flying directly at us, almost in slow motion.  Everything was moving and yet time stood still.

I took off my heels, zipped up my purse, put my sweater over my head, closed my eyes and crouched down in between the seats in the back of the car and prayed.     I did not see what happened next.

And then it was over.    The winds calmed, the lights came back on and the car started to inch forward.   In front of us, cars that were not there before, were backing up down the road.   The road was full of things that should not be there.

We called home.   The news said that there was a tornado that touched down at the airport.

I don't know what spared us, but I do know that we were incredibly lucky.    I never (ever) want to experience a storm like this again.  I pray for all of those that have been impacted by the violent weather  over the past couple of weeks.    It gives new meaning to life and reminds us of how fragile it all is.  

Incredibly, and perhaps ironically, I managed to be out of town on the day the tornado came through downtown Raleigh, only to fly directly into another one the following weekend.    I think maybe someone really wanted to teach us a lesson.

Life is truly a gift.

I hope everyone had a safe, healthy and happy Easter weekend with family and friends.     We're back home now in very sunny and warm North Carolina and looking forward to a much less tumultuous week ahead.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thai Basil and Mint Shrimp Stir Fry

This is my idea of a perfect dinner.

Fresh, healthy, colorful, quick.   (With a twist of lime and a sprinkling of fresh herbs.)

Back at home in North Carolina following my quick trip to visit my family up north.   Arrived home to a sparkling clean house.   A good sign that my husband really whooped it up while I was gone.   I was happy.

Time to start doing some personal cleaning.   Need to get rid of all the excessive carbs and salt from my travel.   Since I consistently gain five pounds as soon as I set foot into a restaurant setting, I usually require some detoxification time, a little damage reversal.   I always feel a gazillion times better afterwards, so it is in everyone's best interest to support me in this.

Today's recipe is just what I needed.   I love shrimp.  They take about two seconds to make (okay, three minutes) and it all ends up being very light.   This one throws in some vibrant thai flavors that, along with my super clean house, made me a very happy girl.

And on an adventurous note, this recipe gave me a chance to conquer my fear of Asian Fish Sauce.   Perhaps, an irrational one, but a fear nonetheless.    Fear, no more.

Thai Basil and Mint Shrimp Stir Fry


2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons southeast Asian Fish Sauce
5 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 medium red onion, cut into 1 inch dice
1 medium yellow pepper, cut into 1 inch dice
1 cup snow peas, trimmed
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup torn fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice


Combine soy sauce, water, fish sauce and honey in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat wok on stove over medium high heat.   Add olive oil until hot (water droplets should sizzle when added).   Add ginger and garlic.   Saute for 30 seconds until fragrant.    Add shrimp to wok and stir fry for two to three minutes until just pink on all sides.   Remove shrimp with slotted spoon and set aside in medium bowl.

Add onion, pepper and snow peas to wok and stir fry two minutes until just browned.    Add soy sauce mixture to vegetables in wok and stir.   Add shrimp to mixture and bring to a boil for another minute until shrimp is lightly glazed.

Add tomatoes to wok and stir fry another 15 to 30 seconds until coated.  

Remove wok from stove and pour into serving dish.   Add freshly squeezed lemon, basil and mint to top and gently mix.    Serve immediately.

Recipe Source:  Adapted from Food Network.    Substituted honey for the brown sugar.  Substituted olive oil for the peanut oil.   Eliminated chili's and jalepeno.   Added additional garlic and snow peas.    Served with quinoa.

What is your 'go to' detox dish? 

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Walk with my Brother

It is not often that I get to spend an entire afternoon with my brother.    It is actually pretty rare that I even get a few hours.   The man works more than almost anyone I know, with the exception of my husband.    Oh, and maybe my dad.     And probably me too, when I was working full time.

I feel lucky that I am able to visit him here in New York.    Besides the free place to stay, its been lots of fun watching him move around the city and grow up a bit in the process.    So yesterday, as the sun cleared away all the cloudy skies and warmed the spring air, he had a few hours break from his work and suggested we go for a walk through Central Park, one of my favorite spots in New York, actually in anywhere.

We walked the length of the park, talking and catching up on all the usual topics.   I tried to sprinkle in little bits of older sisterly advice in the process.     I figure someones got to do it.  

It was a nice visit that brought back lots of good and some sad memories from the past several years.   Even the sad memories are good though.  

We ended up in his old neighborhood in the upper west side. Walking for hours can make you a little thirsty!  

This is my (currently) single brother.    He may kill me for this post and make me take it down immediately, but I think he secretly wants to be famous, so here he is.   (He's a good guy.)

After a totally (un)healthy and salt laden dinner of chips, salsa and guacamole, we caught a cab back and dropped my brother back at his office and me back at his place.     I settled into the futon for yet another documentary.   Food, Inc.   Profoundly disturbing and reinforcing.     Kept me up for hours.  

Today, after a quick and wonderful visit, I'm heading back to North Carolina.   I miss home, my husband and my cat.   I said my version of prayers for those impacted by the tornadoes this weekend.  I'll have to do my own little damage patrol downtown tomorrow to make sure my place is still in tact.

Happy Monday.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Live From New York

It's Sunday morning.  

In New York for the weekend visiting with my dad and brother.   It is good to be back.  

After arriving on Friday and settling into my brother's place, we made a trip out to Brooklyn to try The Dressler for dinner.   Had a wonderful time, would definitely recommend.   Fabulous atmosphere, great food, better company.

Coming from North Carolina, I was not prepared for the semi frigid temps this weekend.   I got out for a good long walk with my dad yesterday morning before the storms blew through the city last night.    We did our usual marathon walk, which typically starts with some version of caffeinated beverage and the New York Times.  My dad also started with a green tea cookie, which was surprisingly good, but who eats cookies for breakfast?  

Post coffee, we headed north and kept walking until the rain was too heavy to continue.   We stopped in the New York Public Library for my dad to look up a book for some work research, poked into Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, even Macy's.    Good stops for a cold and dreary day.  

Before heading back home we ducked out of the rain for a bit for some hummus.   Yum.  

The rain and wind came through in full force once we got back to my brother's place.  We decided to cancel our dinner reservations, order take out and spend the night inside watching a documentary marathon on netflix.   I wasn't feeling super great anyway, so it was just a good quiet time home with the fam.  (I consider the documentary watching an upgrade from previous marathons at my brothers house, which typically consisted of things like The Hills and Jersey Shore.  I guess we really are getting old.)

This morning, another coffee stop and dropped my dad off.     Beautiful outside.   It has warmed up, the sun is out and the flowers are in full bloom.   Today is looking much more promising.

Wishing you a great rest of your weekend wherever you may be!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Strawberries and Mangoes and Avocados ...... (oh my!)

Here's exactly how I know it is officially Spring.

Strawberries, mangoes and avocados all go on sale at exactly the same time.     Crazy, right?

The obvious signs of Spring can be sprouting all around me, but it is not officially Spring until this happens.   Daylight savings, the obnoxious coat of yellow pollen, the ten foot black snake that appears on my walking trail, the frantic spring cleaning.  All great indicators, but they do not have the final say.

I know when it happens because every year I get excited that my favorites are all on sale and I buy too much.   And every year, without any sort of master plan, the first thing I always make is my special fruit salsa.

I am going to share it with you today, because I like you and I think you might like it.   It is about as non-recipe as you can get.    More a lesson in superior chopping skills.  

If there's any flaw here, it is in the fresh herbs.    Inevitably, by this time each year, I have procrastinated on planting my herb garden pots and have to give in to buying the ridiculously overpriced herbs in the plastic packaging with the dirt and roots.   I like to think there's some sort of wash rule in effect where the reduced price of the fruits cancels out the exhorbitant amount of money I spend on basil and cilantro.

What's with those packaged herbs anyway?   Is one suppose to plant these or just lop off the leaves?   (serious question.)

Strawberry, Mango and Avocado Fruit Salsa


5 - 10 strawberries, diced
1 mango, diced
1 avocado, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 handful of fresh basil, chopped
1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
red wine vinegar
salt and pepper


Add everything to a medium sized bowl and mix.    Add several generous splashes of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  

Super easy and very fresh.   Everything good about spring in a colorful little fruit salsa.    If I don't end up eating it all with spoon, I like to serve it with grilled chicken.

What is your official sign of spring? 

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Idea Was Good

I fell in love with this dessert.   Head over heels.   (if you squint and look close enough, you can actually see this illustrated in the spoon above.)

I had grand visions of recreating it at home.    Bringing back a little taste of Charleston to our dinner table.    

On our final night in Charleston, at FIG, we dined lavishly on all kinds of good stuff.    I was thrilled that they even made me a "very special" vegetarian plate for my entree.   I seriously felt awesome.   Who gets to eat a plate full of beets and sunchokes and farro on their birthday?  (yay, me.)

But the dessert, the dessert, was fabulous.    I couldn't take any pictures as the romantic mood lighting made for some horrendous blur, but trust me when I tell you how good this was.

Chocolate Budino with Sea Salted Caramel and Toasted Hazelnuts

John wasn't super excited about it as he's not a fan of hazelnuts but he definitely jumped in after my first bite.   I'd never had a budino before, an Italian pudding.    It was light, smooth chocolate silk.    As you slipped your spoon through the top layer of chocolate, you uncovered a buttery layer of salted caramel.  Topped with toasted hazelnuts and a light dusting of flaky sea salt.    I'm sure I say this alot, but we did feel like we had died and gone to heaven.  

I knew I was going to try and recreate this at home.    A way of celebrating my blog birthday and sharing something completely fabulous with all of you.

I cleared out my calendar, set aside an afternoon, turned on some tunes, laid out my ingredients and got to work.   The sun was flooding the kitchen (spring, I love you.) and I was happy happy.  

I had the makings of a caramel base going on the stove.    The corn syrupy mixture turned a deep shade of amber and I removed it from the burner to 'gently' add the cream and butter and salt.  

Here's where everything goes wrong.   Apparently, I wasn't gentle enough.  My promising caramel base turned into rock hard solid chunks of extremely salty candy like material.    So I did what all good cooks do and dumped in a ton more sugar and an equal amount of butter followed by a heart stopping amount of cream.     I whisked and stirred.    Put it on the burner and took it off.   High heat, low heat.  Prayed a little.

Eventually, I had what looked like a caramel base.    Looks, however, can be very deceiving.    (It tasted like gritty, salty, sweet, chewy, stomach rotting, grittiness.)

I crossed my fingers that no one would notice and I buried that lump of caramel like base under an almost perfect layer of silky smooth dark chocolate Italian pudding.  

Two seriously bad stomach aches later, one of which morphed into a case of viral like flu and I learned the hard way that sometimes it is just better to start over.

On a more positive note, I've been reading up on food styling and figured my little puddings would at the very least make for a fun photography session.

Any recent kitchen mishaps that you care to share?    (Sometimes, it is just best to admit defeat.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Our Home and Garden Tour in Charleston

The rest of our lovely spring afternoon in Charleston was just as wonderful as the first part.    We did not get tickets to the Home and Garden tour for this visit as we decided to do our own.   The flowers were out in full force, adding color and lightness at every corner. 

I have fallen a little bit in love with this black and cream house with contrasting grey wall.   I love how the budding tree adds a little bit of an Asian feel to this historic property.    The subtle pops of yellow and green are so fresh against the stone background.

John and I were planning to avoid lunch as we had a big breakfast and were anticipating my birthday dinner at FIG later that night.    But, all that walking and the promise of she crab soup led us to 82 Queen for some time off our feet.    I had been here several years earlier with my mother and as we had done at the time, John and I sat in the gorgeous little spring garden in the back at our own little private table for two.   I love their sweet butterfly chairs and twinkling lights.   We could have sat here all afternoon and the she crab soup was every bit as wonderful as I remembered!

After our rest, we wandered around Charleston some more, heading back to our inn to get ready for dinner.     We were sidetracked every few minutes by a stop in one of the little shops.    Love this antique shop with the dogs in the window!    We made it back just in time as the skies grew increasingly darker as we walked.      As we stepped inside, the rain started pouring.    

Is it spring yet where you are?   Are you enjoying the weather?    We're looking at temperatures heading into the 80s again later this week... can't wait!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My Baby Is All Grown Up

Subtitled:    I Can't Believe My Blog Is One Year Old!

With additional Subtitles of:     What a Difference a Year Makes; Birthday Weekend in Charleston; Look How Far We've Come and Did I Mention Vita Nostra is Celebrating its First Birthday!

A year ago today I was fumbling around with my suitcase, trying to squeeze two months worth of stuff I didn't need into something sized appropriately for dragging around Europe.    As I waved goodbye to my home and new fiance for the final time, I admit, I shed a few tears.   Anticipation and a little fear of what was to come.   Okay, if I'm honest, a lot of fear.

So I did what I always do when I get a little anxious, I form grand ideas.    I dove in and created my blog that first night as I sat all by my lonesome in my little hotel room sipping from a plastic cup of boxed wine and eating a mini frozen pizza from yet another cardboard box.    Like most of my crazy ideas, I had no idea what I was doing, but I like a good challenge and knew that I would learn along the way.   My primary motivation for starting Vita Nostra was to document my solo journey overseas and capture some memories along the way.    I had no idea I'd love it so much and that I'd still be doing this a year later.

A year has passed and much has changed.   I've grown as a person, my blog has evolved significantly from those early days of rambling thoughts, I've met lots of great new friends, experienced a life changing trip on my own and got married along the way.    It has been a good year.    I appreciate all of you who have read my blog and journeyed with me, commenting and providing support along the way.   It is the reason I continue this.

It is fitting that on this anniversary of my blogs first birthday, I share some more images from my birthday weekend in Charleston.    It was almost a perfect day.   The warnings of rain and corresponding doom and gloom were replaced with bright spring air, sunny skies and fluffy clouds.    After a grand breakfast at the dining table with our fellow guests and innkeepers, John and I grabbed our cameras and set out to explore.  

We spent the morning on a tour of the city, stopping along the way to admire the charming architecture, newly blooming flowers and all the little details that make Charleston so unique.   Like Paris, I found myself wishing I had more time to explore every nook and cranny.    (But I suppose that is what return visits are for!)

The best kind of day, we walked for hours and hours, stopping in little art galleries, breathing in the fresh spring air, tripping over cobblestones and dreaming of a life of constant travel.    Perhaps, some day?

Thanks for celebrating with me!  I have an equal sense of anticipation as I delve into year two and can't wait to see what the future holds.   For my fellow bloggers who've been at this for some time, any advice to share for someone entering their second year?

PS - Coming up next, another flavor of birthday celebration!