pork fried rice + life reminders from a christmas roast

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I’ve never been much of one for resolutions, but the holidays have a way of making you think about life, don’t they? Or maybe it’s just turning 30 that’s finally catching up with me. Either way, I keep thinking about just how necessary it is to do–and try, and feel–new things. The first two decades of my life were definitely characterized by seeking out new challenges and having new experiences. Pushing myself. And while the past five or ten years have certainly not been lacking in the new experiences realm, the focus of my life is no longer all about me. There’s a “we.” An “us.” A “her.” Yet, still, I need to remember the “me.” I need to cultivate my interests and find new ones. I have to encourage myself to try things. Things that might be a little bit scary. (So many clichés I could use here!) I have pork roast to thank for that reminder.

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Yep, pork. I made a pork roast for Christmas. Roasted Pork Loin with Cardamon-Currant Jelly Sauce. It was a giant hunk of meat with six bones sticking out the top (side?). I had to use a meat thermometer. (Well, I actually made my husband use a meat thermometer, and we somehow managed to break two of them.) I should have used a roasting pan, but I don’t have one. A baking dish was a good stand in.

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It was exciting to cook something I’ve never made before. I felt pretty darn accomplished to take an unknown cut of pig all the way from the Whole Foods meat counter to the Christmas dinner table. And guess what? It was delicious. I left my comfort zone and didn’t fail. That was a Christmas joy.

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But you can’t stay out of your comfort zone too long. It’s good to return to what’s easy and known. Fried rice, my friends. Fried rice. The day after Christmas we went out to dinner, but the next night, I used the leftovers in the fridge to feed the crowd. I knew I could make something serviceable. But the fried rice that ended up on the table, steaming hot in the electric wok, was notable. It was a fried rice I’d like to eat over and over again. And a mighty fine way to use up holiday leftovers.

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Fried Rice with Pork and Brussels Sprouts
Measurements are approximate. The best thing about fried rice is it doesn’t matter if the proportions are a little off; more rice, more veggies, more meat, it’s all good. Use up what you have, and tweak the amounts to your liking. Don’t skimp on the eggs though, they’re key!

peanut or sesame oil, for frying
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1T fresh ginger, minced
2c leftover cooked pork, chopped into cubes
2c brussels sprouts, thinly sliced lengthwise
1c asparagus, chopped
1c shiitake mushrooms (soaked if dry), chopped
5c cooked rice
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2c cilantro, chopped
soy sauce
sesame oil
sriracha or other hot sauce

1. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a wok or other large pan. Once hot, add the aromatics and stir for 30 seconds or so. Add pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned.
2. Add brussels sprouts and asparagus. Stir-fry until vegetables are cooked through and starting to brown.
3. Add mushrooms and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add rice and stir to combine.
5. Once rice is incorporated, move the entire mixture to side and pour in the eggs. Allow to cook, undisturbed, for a few minutes. Once they begin to set, use a spoon or spatula to scramble them on the side. When they are almost cooked through, stir them into the rice mixture. Mix well.
6. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Season to taste with soy sauce and sesame oil.

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christmas eve music

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This morning, on our way home from the grocery for all those last-minute items, we came across a live holiday music performance. A group of 30 or so people were walking down the street, stopping in front of businesses to play a holiday song or two. Apparently it was students and teachers from the local music store, who meet every year to play the songs they’ve learned and to spread holiday cheer. It was absolutely delightful! And just what I needed to get into the spirit. Willa loved it too; each time a song ended she’d dramatically sign and say “more! more! more!” Luckily, we caught it near the beginning so we got to hear several songs.

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We ran into a few friends as well, and the moment made me feel very grateful. For my family and friends. For this neighborhood. For getting to be a part of such a wonderful community.

Family arrives soon and we’re making this for dinner. Followed by many other delicious treats, obviously. Merry Christmas all!

the many noodles of boston

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Since Thanksgiving, Dan’s birthday, my birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s didn’t seem like enough for a one-and-a-half-month period, we thought we’d squeeze in a trip to Boston in the middle! (Because when else but December would you go to New England!? It’s not cold at all or anything.) We’ve been meaning to make a trip back for ages to visit with friends, and we finally made it. We stayed with Rachel and Rob in South Boston, but were able to reconnect with several other great folks, and even made a quick little trip to Rhode Island.

Back in college, Rachel and I studied abroad together in China. Harbin, China to be more specific. (A city most Americans have never heard of even though it’s population is larger than New York City’s.) In Harbin, we ate a lot of dumplings, noodles, and fried rice. Fried rice with an egg on top. The best thing ever. A lot of bonding happened over those meals. And so, 10 years later, when Rachel and I get together, there pretty much has to be Chinese food involved. This visit was no exception:

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^^The day after we arrived, we hit the subway and the streets with Willa in the Ergo and made our way to Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe. The name is a bit odd in English, but even if we’d been worried Rachel would lead us astray (which we weren’t), the crowd packed into the tiny Xi’an noodle shop assured us this was the place to be. We contemplated leaving, but ultimately stuck it out and hoped some table space would open up once we’d ordered. Thankfully it did, and we were able to inhale our noodles before they got cold. There are few things that could taste better on a cold winter’s day than hand-pulled noodles. I had their simple “Hand-Pulled Noodle,” while everyone else tried the Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles. Both were delectable. My only complaint was that mine could have had a few more vegetables to accompany the noodles. Molar-less Willa couldn’t tackle the doughy noodles, but she enjoyed the tea eggs and the flatbread pork sandwich. She did her eating standing up on a stool at the high counter. It was a tad bit stressful, but the noodles eased our nerves.^^

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^^On Saturday morning we hit up Great Taste in Chinatown for dim sum. We were luckily able to get a table on our second try. They were full when we got there, but then the second place we tried essentially refused to seat us due to our littlest diner. So we went back to Great Taste, and they had the perfect table and a high chair. And thank goodness it all worked out how it did, because it was some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had. Dumplings, taro cakes, scallion noodles with tofu, crab rolls, Chinese broccoli, steamed buns, milk tea…^^

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^^We stayed in one evening, but there were still Asian noodles in play. We cooked Phat Thai out of the new Pok Pok cookbook. In the past I haven’t had much success making Pad Thai…getting the tamarind paste just right is so tricky! But this recipe was spot on (no surprise there!) and we thoroughly enjoyed two batches of hot, sweet-spicy noodles. Cooking in batches in a wok is the best; just when you’re sad it’s all gone, you fire up another round! (We also made the Herb Salad from the same cookbook, and it was equally if not more delicious.)^^

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^^We didn’t eat only Asian: one night we went to the South End and enjoyed a dinner at Coppa. Everything we ordered was delicious, but my favorite dish by far was a chestnut pasta with rabbit, kabocha squash, cranberries, and bianco sardo. I definitely ate more than my fair share.^^

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^^Not only were R&R fantastic hosts and friends, as always, but they also taught Willa lots of new things. And introduced her to her first lobster.^^

P.S. The trip brought Willa’s state count up to 17, which kind of boggles my mind but makes me quite pleased as well.

party punch

Hello! I’m just back from a fantastic trip to Boston. More about that another day, because I’ve been needing to write down the recipe for the most delicious punch I made for a party we had a couple weekends ago. It was a party with a bit of an identity crisis: part housewarming, part birthday party, part holiday party. It was mostly a housewarming; we hadn’t yet had a chance to have a big hurrah in the new place, and my 30th birthday seemed like a good reason to celebrate (although I’d already had a night out on the town as well as a trip to Sonoma, but when you turn 30 you have to do it up, right?). Whatever kind of party it was, it was a lot of fun. We’re so lucky to have met so many wonderful people in Denver in such a short time.

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So yes, punch. A week or so before the party I sent an email to my friend Rob, a cocktail connoisseur, asking for suggestions for a punch recipe. Rob knows these things. I was thinking I wanted to make one with vodka or rum, since those seem to be spirits that the masses enjoy. But Rob made a good pitch for using some rye whiskey, and I had to admit, it sounded amazing. Thanks to his guidance, this punch was a smashing success. People who claimed they hated whiskey were enjoying it. Barely any of our wine was consumed. It was all about punch. We made several batches, and it wasn’t even an extraordinarily boisterous evening.

You must have some festive gathering coming up in the next few weeks, no? I’ve heard there’s a few big holidays. This punch is an easy way to please the crowd. I’m going to try out something different for Christmas, but this punch is definitely going to play a role in many of my future parties.

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Party Punch
2 bottles Champagne or other sparkling wine (1.5L total)
10 oz. rye whiskey (we used Old Overholt)
8 oz. strawberry syrup
4 oz. simple syrup
juice from one lemon
Ice ring

Night before party:
Freeze water in a bundt pan or other awesome pan. Add fruit if you’d like for decoration.

Morning of the party:
Make strawberry syrup. Put 1 cup of quartered strawberries in a heat-proof bowl. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 cup of water. Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour hot syrup over the strawberries and let sit for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Thirty minutes before the party:
Place ice ring in punch bowl (or other large bowl, no one really focuses on the bowl!). Add whiskey, strawberry syrup, lemon juice, simple syrup, and some strawberries to garnish.

As soon as your first guest arrives:
Pop the champagne and pour it into the bowl. Ladle into glasses of your choice!

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my birthday. in healdsburg, sonoma.

Right after Thanksgiving, Dan and I celebrated my 30th birthday in Healdsburg, California. Just the two of us. We’d been to wine country before, but we had heard great things about Healdsburg and were super excited to explore the area. Mostly, I just wanted to have some wine, enjoy the sunshine, eat good food, and relax.

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Before leaving Marin, we stopped for a quick lunch at Rustic Bakery. So good! We tried their Saigon sandwich which was basically a bánh mì. Marinated chicken with cilantro, carrots, and daikon. It could have been a bit more spicy, but I guess it wasn’t trying to be authentic, so that’s fine. We also had their simple green salad which was anything but simple. It was quite flavorful for such a straightforward salad. Apparently Rustic Bakery has three locations – definitely check it out if you’re ever in Marin! Oh and the pastries looked divine, but I’d already been showered with birthday cupcakes, so I wasn’t in the market for sweets.

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Once in Healdsburg, we easily found our hotel, h2, on the main street. We couldn’t check in yet, but that didn’t matter because our plan was to grab one of the hotel bikes, and head off on a ride through wine country. The concierge provided us with a map, and just moments later we were pedaling down a country road with scenic vineyard vistas galore. Obviously, the plan was to do some wine tasting. But once we were out there, neither of us was particularly thinking about wineries. We were just enjoying the beautiful fall weather. Biking can make you feel so free.

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We did, of course, taste some wine. We first stopped at Lambert Bridge where we tried several of delicious reds in their cavernous wooden barn. Further along our bike loop, we found a place that advertised a sparkling white, which we sipped outside in lieu of doing their tasting. Finally, we stopped at Wilson winery which seemed to be letting people taste as many reds as they wanted for just $5. We had a few, but mostly just enjoyed the view of the sun going down over the vineyards.

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Just as the the light was disappearing, we arrived back at our hotel, and made our way to our room where our luggage was waiting. The h2 was definitely on trend and quite chic. The room was modern, bright, and comfortable with a fantastic bathroom and a balcony overlooking the hotel pool. And definitely my favorite part was that each floor had a “water bar.” Which was really just a place to get water, like even a Super 8 has. But the difference here was that the water bar had not only still water, but sparkling. Yep, unlimited bubbly. I love bubbly water. Especially when I’m enjoying it out of a cool green glass made from a wine bottle.

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We hadn’t made a reservation for dinner since we weren’t sure what we’d feel like, but we lucked out by finding our way into Chalkboard. It must have been a birthday gift from the food gods that there was a table free, without even a minute’s wait. The restaurant was just my style: a casual atmosphere with bare wood tables and an open kitchen, a menu full of “farm-to-table” small plates, and a smart cocktail list. (Good golly, we did not need another glass of wine!) Everything we ordered was delicious, but there were two standouts: a crudo of tuna with grapefruit, jalapeño, and avocado cream, and the dungeness crab tater tots. To me they were a bit more like crab cakes than tater tots, but whatever they want to call them, they were delicious. I enjoyed every bite of everything, along with a Vesper cocktail, which very well might be my new favorite drink.

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Overall, Healdsburg was a cute, food-focused town and a great place to stay if you’re looking to hit up Sonoma’s wineries. It was perhaps a tad too touristy for our liking, but still a fantastic spot to celebrate my birthday. The next morning, after a run around town and a tasty complimentary breakfast, we headed back feeling completely relaxed. I am so lucky to have been able to have such a wonderful night away with my husband to celebrate my special day.

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been celebrating my birthday…

Last week, I turned 30! That’s right folks, I’m in my 30s. Watch out. People have asked how I feel about it, and honestly I haven’t felt much. I mean, excited of course. A bit proud too I think, because 30 just feels more accomplished, like I’m actually an adult now. I have heard rumors that your 30s are the best decade, so here’s to that! But mostly I just like a reason to spend time with the people I love to celebrate and to eat cake. Thankfully, I have a lot of fantastic people who love me and want to celebrate with me, and who have been providing me with cake. This birthday has brought not just one, but three celebrations! Seems fitting, right? A celebration for each decade I’ve been me!

This post is about celebration numbero uno. With my parents! Since they knew I’d be out of town for my birthday because of Thanksgiving, Willa and I took a trip up to Fort Collins earlier in the week to spend time with them and to par-tay.

IMAGE_1419^^ in the afternoon we visited an awesome park, and willa had a ball running down the hills. she fell forward a few time and caught air before crashing onto her face, but luckily the grass was nice and soft! ^^

IMAGE_1420^^ my mom made us a delicious dinner: fish taco rice bowls. like chipotle, which we both love, but better. ^^

IMAGE_1421^^ after dinner, it was time for the girls to hit the town. the big girls, that is. my mom wanted to show me some of her favorite places in fort collins, so we started with social. it was super hip. you know: reclaimed wood, steel, mustachioed bartenders (although that might just have been because it was november), and exposed lightbulbs. all things i like. the entrance was a bit hidden, with only this small sign, so you felt like you were stumbling upon a secret place. (pretty sure that’s what they’re going for. but it works.) ^^

IMAGE_1422^^ this is a S.S.B.S. (strawberry-saffron basil shrub). saffron infused gin, fresh lemon, strawberries, basil, honey syrup, and balsamic vinegar. the waitress highly recommended it as one of their most popular drinks. it was quite good, but actually a bit bland i found despite the ingredient list. i prefered my first drink: a hendrick’s martini with a twist.^^

IMAGE_1423^^ we ended the night at cafe vino. sitting at the bar, we chatted with a bartender my parents have gotten to know. he makes a delicious gimlet. he also was kind enough to bring out this chocolate cake. cafe vino also has duchesse de bourgogne on draft. i love the duchesse. and my mom knows that. it was a great night! (but we did miss my sister. a whole lot.) ^^

things i’ve been wondering lately:

Where should one store cherry/grape tomatoes? They need to be left out on the counter, but they’re too small to put in a fruit bowl. They’d get smushed. Should I designate a smaller bowl just for tomatoes? Should I put them in the cupboard inside their ugly plastic container? But then I might forget about them.

How long is a manicure supposed to last, honestly? I don’t get them often, but when I do, my nails only seems to look nice for 2-3 days, max. That seems absurd. Do ladies with nice-looking nails get them done twice a week? Or are they just really good at doing them themselves? Or do I do something odd that ruins my manicure faster than the average person?

Do most Americans get their Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving? Growing up, I don’t think we got our tree on a specific day. We went when it made sense, and timed it out so the tree would be alive and thriving for Christmas and maybe a bit afterwards. In fact, I think we tended to decorate our tree relatively close to the 25th. Once I was in college we definitely did the tree once we were home for break. But judging by social media lately, it seems like many many people already have their tree. I feel like I’m learning about this tradition quite late in my life. Perhaps we’ll adopt it someday. But probably not. I need a week or so to digest Thanksgiving before diving into Christmas. I actually always thought the Canadians got Thanksgiving right by having it a bit earlier in the fall. But oh well, what can I do about that now?

How on earth does one get their baby/toddler to sleep on the plane? Try as we might, we’ve had extraordinarily limited success getting Willa to nap on a flight. When she was really little, Dan got her to sleep once or twice by pinning her arms and legs down so she couldn’t move and letting the other passengers hear her cry for a bit before she finally fell asleep. (As I write that out, it sounds pretty awful. But that’s how she is. She thrashed about when she’s tired, she doesn’t snuggle in or just start dozing off.) When I flew alone with her, I nursed her to sleep. But now, she’s weaned, and I’ve got nothing! On our flight home from Thanksgiving, she was exhausted and we did a whole bedtime routine thingy which got her into a calm and snuggly state. But she never fell asleep. Come on parents, what are the tricks? I don’t get it! How do you teach a kid to sleep upright in your arms on a plane packed full of people when they’re used to their crib? We have some longer flights coming up so really, please, I need any and all tips!

Why is the jicama I bought today coated in thick wax?

Is there a relationship between the number of toys a toddler has and their ability to play independently? Willa doesn’t have many toys. She has toys. A few bins full. But not that many. We go to the toy library at least once a month to get some new things, and we’ve borrowed a few toys from friends. And the thing is, she doesn’t play independently very much. Actually, she does play by herself, she just doesn’t play independently with toys. She spent at least 20 minutes today putting her hair barrettes in and out of a plastic cup. Sometimes I worry that she doesn’t ever play with toys because she doesn’t have the “right” toys or “enough” toys, but then I remind myself that that’s just silly. Right? I recently came across this blog post which confirms my own beliefs, but I’m still find myself thinking a lot about toys and what kids really “need.”

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