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We've been busy preparing for the holidays. We even got a tree this year, which I have refused in the past (as I am adamantly against holiday decorations of any sort). However, something about owning a house made having a tree seem palatable.
In the craziness between the two holidays, we've managed to learn to make souffles, brush up on Spanish grammar, host a holiday party, guest host another holiday party, attend a wedding, make candy with family, shoot our first semi-professional family portrait session, finish a capstone paper to be published in a scholarly journal (Alex), provide background music at a fancy Christmas party (me), and still manage to finish our Christmas shopping (albeit at 1:00 am last night). Now we just have to pack for our annual trip to Minnesota!
Oh, and we decorated the tree too...

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season! More to come :)
~Sonja

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Is it too late for a Thanksgiving recap? We had a wonderful holiday and thoroughly enjoyed our first time hosting a holiday in our home. It was a great day to relax with family and friends. The cooking went smoothly and all the food turned out wonderfully, thanks to help from our guests!

We had never cooked a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal before, and I was pleasantly surprised at the results! We enjoyed:




Herb-rubbed turkey with roasted garlic gravy
Recipe








Leek and herb stuffing
Recipe (we substituted leeks for the onions)









Goat cheese and sage mashed potatoes

We made them up - just boiled red skinned potatoes, mashed them with their skins on, and added sour cream, milk, goat cheese and sage to taste. I don't normally like mashed potatoes, but these were very good!




Green beans with roasted peppers

This was a recipe from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook -- basically you combine blanched green beans with roasted peppers and onions. It was a great colorful addition to the menu!






Brussels sprouts with pecans

Our friend Meredith made these, which were excellent - I have a new appreciation for Brussels sprouts!







Salad with pears, apples, cranberries, and walnuts

We threw together this salad with a homemade honey dijon dressing, which was very good.






Pumpkin pie

I actually made pie and it turned out! I used my mom's crust recipe and my grandma's pumpkin pie recipe, which was her mother's recipe. I have never had better pumpkin pie than the pie that my grandma makes, and her recipe definitely delivered! I'm going to keep the recipe a family secret (mainly because I'm too lazy to type it out).

My plate-- mmmmm....


Unfortunately we were so consumed with cooking that we didn't get to watch much of the parades or the annual dog show...though we managed to catch the end :)

 
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well!
~Sonja

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It seems that I'm in a rut of only posting about food. But with Thanksgiving a day away, it's timely, right? I will work on some more creative subjects for future posts, but I have to get another food post out of my system!

We've been enjoying soups and stews lately. They seem to be the perfect meal for the colder months - easy, relatively quick to make, and delicious! Our friend Meredith has caught the soup bug and has been making some incredible soups for us and our friends, including this escarole and meatball soup and this asian dumpling soup.

We recently tried out this recipe for spicy tomato and black bean soup that I found on a random blog and loved it! I have never had chipotle peppers in adobo sauce before, but I am a new fan!
Oh, I had a breakthrough the other day and created a meal without a recipe (shown at the top of this post). It was a proud moment for me, since a few years ago my extent of making a meal was microwaving a hot pocket (sad, but true). I threw together the following ingredients to make a quick curry:
-1 can chickpeas
-1 can diced tomatoes
-Broccoli
-Yellow pepper
-A bit of tomato paste
-Around 2 tsp curry powder
-Red pepper flakes
-Fresh parsley
It was incredibly delicious, and I will definitely be working this into the repertoire more often. It's not a stroke of genius, but it's a big step for me :)
Tonight we'll be preparing to host our first holiday in our new home...more details to come.
Happy Thanksgiving!
~Sonja

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Somehow it's already fall...and well into it at that! We took this picture two weekends ago, and all of the leaves on these trees are now in a damp mess on our lawn.

We did enjoy the season, while it lasted. We had our annual fall get together at Alex's mom and stepdad's house, complete with picking apples and making our own cider with a cider press! We had a great time - click here for pictures from the weekend.

We've also been enjoying time with our new puppy...

...and fall wouldn't be complete without comforting fall foods! We had two great fall-inspired meals last weekend, one we cooked ourselves, and another cooked for us by our friends. I'll let them blog the recipes from the meal, but it was an incredible four-course feast that included potato and leek soup, pear, walnut and gorgonzola salad, spice-rubbed pork, mushroom and edamame risotto, lemon madelines, and dark chocolate with dried fruits. AMAZING.
The night before, we attempted a simple fall dinner (at least, all the recipes were simple on their own - I'm always surprised at how compounding "simple" recipes exponentially increases the time and effort in the kitchen...)
Anyway, I picked two recipes randomly from epicurious.com, and I was pleasantly surprised at the results! I based the first course on a similar salad I had recently at R Bistro, my most favorite restaurant in the world. I will save singing R Bistro's praises for another post, but let me just say that it is the BEST food you can get in the area, and is the establishment that introduced me to the creativity and artistry that is possible in the culinary arts.
First course: Persimmon, Cashew and Goat Cheese Salad
Recipe: Peel and slice persimmons (drop them in boiling water for a couple minutes to loosen their skins) and place on lettuce with cashews and cheese (the original recipe used French feta). My recreation wasn't half as good as R Bistro's, but it was still very good!
Second Course: Tilapia with Creamy Leeks

Recipe: Click here. This was SO good, and healthy at that! The leeks were amazing.
Dessert: Chinese Five-Spice Roasted Pears with Toasted Almonds

Recipe: Click here. This was also SO good! I am now addicted to Chinese five-spice. The toasted almonds and ice cream were the perfect addition.
Now I'm on to brainstorming ideas for our Thanksgiving menu, which we're excited to be hosting this year!
~Sonja

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We had the pleasure of a visit from my parents a couple weeks ago. The four of us had a great time exploring Indianapolis, visiting the Art Museum, Zionsville, Locally Grown Gardens for their excellent hog roast (check it out if you're an Indy local), and Kahn's for their wine tasting and excellent beer selection. One of our favorite parts of the visit, of course, was the excuse to cook! We decided to go with a French-inspired theme since my parents love the cuisine (and were probably jealous of the French meal we cooked for our friends)!
Since I have promised to blog about these recipes for several weeks (I don't know how my friend Erin manages to post in such a timely fashion about all her meals), here they are! (Unfortunately I just had two meals this weekend that I am itching to blog about, including another Smiley dinner, but first things first...)
Menu

Vegetable Tian
Salmon with Lentils
Spinach and Frisee Salad with Radishes
Bananas Foster
(not French, but slightly related...and so good)
Lavender Infused Chocolate Truffles

Both the Vegetable Tian and Salmon with Lentils recipes were from Ina Garten's (of Barefoot Contessa fame) Barefoot in Paris cookbook, and turned out to be EXCELLENT. We will definitely make both again, especially the lentils, which are my new favorite food (though I do say that about a lot of things...).

Vegetable Tian
Recipe
 
Salmon with Lentils
Recipe

Bananas Foster
 
Lavender Infused Truffles
~Sonja

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Many of you have probably heard our big news (I've learned to be careful saying that when you are married - people tend to assume things), but in an attempt to be semi-timely about documenting the events in our lives...we got a puppy!

Yes, I cannot believe Alex convinced me to get one. I have always loved dogs (see my previous post on our beloved family dog), but I figured the soonest I would actually own one would be around 2025 or so. However, somehow a visit from our friend Lauren's foster Pomeranian put the idea in our heads that it would be fun to have one of our own. After accidentally visiting some Pomeranian puppies at a breeder, we immediately fell in love with a very tiny red Pomeranian puppy that looked more like a fox than a dog. I tried to hold out and be the practical one who said that we didn't need more responsibility in our lives (especially one that you have to commit to for 15 years), but like I said, Alex can be very persuasive. Thus, Luna entered our lives!

Here she is on the day we got her, looking like a puppy calendar pinup...



So far having a dog has been more fun than stressful, actually (despite my earlier apprehension). She is totally hilarious and incredibly smart - she's already learned come, sit, stay, shake and play dead in her 2 weeks of living with us. Somehow she's melded seamlessly into our lives and seems like a natural part of them. I look forward to watching her grow and experiencing the joys (and drawbacks) of dog ownership!
Click here for our Luna photo album
~Sonja

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From Alex

I made a discovery this week - the 50% of my lineage that is French is where I should be drawing my culinary exploits from. In our never ending quest to upstage our friends, Lynne and Kirk, we decided to make a French meal for their latest visit to our house. (See the post below for the last meal that they made for us.) Coming into this quest I had little idea of what French food meant, but Sonja had been inspired by the food blogs that she is constantly stalking. Sonja was lent a much loved copy of From Julia Child's Kitchen from someone much wiser than us, and was immediately engrossed in a land of fancy French words that I can't pronounce. For the next couple of days are conversations sounded mostly like this:

Sonja: "Doesn't this sound good: poisson avec des oignons et fromage et steak avec des côtelettes d'agneau et les pommes crêpes et de la crème au beurre?"

Me: "Huh?"

Sonja: "Never mind, doesn't this sound better: ragoût de l'anguille avec le sel et l'ail sur un pain français tomate garnie de fromage de chèvre et vin rouge?"

Me: "Huh?"

Anyway, Sonja finally narrowed down a menu from cook books by Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck, and Ina Garten (yes, the 641.5944 section has been cleared at the local library). After watching and loving several Julia Child episodes from the 60's on Saturday night, we set aside our Sunday afternoon for a cooking extravaganza.

From Sonja

I don't know where I got the French idea. I toyed with several ethnic theme ideas, but I wanted to do something very gourmet for our dinner with Lynne and Kirk. Somehow French food came to mind as being a very elegant cuisine. I started doing some research and immediately became enthralled, especially with Julia Child. (Originally I thought that she was just some old lady with a cooking show, but it turns out she is an incredibly knowledgeable French chef and charming personality! More on my obsession with Julia later).

Anyway, I spent hours narrowing down a menu and finally came up with this meal. Overall, it was the best meal Alex and I have ever cooked, hands down! Each course was really wonderful, and it wasn't too much work to put together (if you have several hours to make a multi-course meal, which we did)! Here are some notes, as well as the recipes:

First course: Tranches d'Aubergine à l'Italienne - Eggplant with Tomato and Cheese


Eggplant recipe

These were incredibly good, and very easy to make! We followed Julia's recipe exactly. We used store bought tomato sauce, but simmered it with onion and garlic to get more flavor. We also used an Italian blend of cheese to top them, which was excellent (I think it included parmesan, mozzarella, asiago and some others).

Second course: Côtes d'Agneau Echalotes - Lamb Chops with Cream of Shallots
Purée de Céleri-Rave - Celery Root Puree

 Lamb recipe
Celery root recipe

I discovered that I am in love with lamb. I have always loved gyros meat, but I didn't know whether it was the lamb or the spices on it that made it so good. I discovered that it was indeed the lamb - it has this amazing, spicy quality all on its own. I will definitely be eating more lamb in the future. This recipe was great - the cream of shallots sauce was excellent and would go well with any meat. We modified Wolfgang's recipe a bit, and we may have reduced the sauce a little too much because it ended up with a lot of shallots and not as much sauce as I thought. It tasted wonderful though - I'd like to make it again.

The celery root puree was great as well. It showed up in several of the French cookbooks I'd been reading and I thought it would be fun to make since I had something like it at my favorite restaurant (R Bistro) a while ago and loved it. I loosely followed Wolfgang Puck's recipe but mashed the celery root and potato instead of pureeing it. It had a wonderful flavor. I think next time I would add less potato (or not add it at all) to have more of the celery flavor. It was a great accompaniment to the lamb.

Third course: Salade d'Epinards et Frisée - Spinach and Frisee Salad



Green salad dressing recipe

I learned in my research that the French have a salad course after the main course, and then a cheese course after that. We combined them and agreed that it was really fun to have salad after the main course - it was a nice palate cleanser and a fun way to enjoy salad (instead of having a salad to get you warmed up for the rest of your meal). This dressing recipe from Ina Garten was awesome - I will definitely be making it again. We served the salad with some crackers and herbed goat cheese.

Fourth course: Crêpes with peaches


Crepes recipe

We had never made crepes before, but we learned that they are very easy to make and fun to eat! We served ours with some peaches that we simmered in sugar and brandy, and then melted some dark chocolate to drizzle over the top. It was great and a fun way to end the meal! I am excited to try out lots of new crepe fillings.

All in all, it was a wonderful meal that we enjoyed thoroughly! I can't believe we actually made it, because cooking has never been a forte of mine. It's neat to start to explore new interests and to enjoy the experience together. Stay tuned for more!

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So we've been a bit remiss in posting lately. We have countless things we've been meaning to post about, but life has been rather crazy lately (and on top of that, the Olympics has kept us fairly sleep deprived)! At any rate, I wanted to write a long overdue post about some great food we've had lately.

It bears mention that I've been getting more and more obsessed with cooking and good food -- I'm becoming a wannabe "foodie" of sorts. The past couple weeks we've been eating lots of vegetables and a fair quantity of meatless meals, which is better for the environment, and also a fun change! We love going to "Ron's", a produce market set up in an old gas station two blocks from our house (actually called Locally Grown Gardens, but the owner's name is Ron). He sells local in-season produce year round - read about him here. We stop by almost every weeknight to get our veggies for the night. Our new plan is to try to avoid taking big trips to the grocery store and just get the food we need for one or two meals each night. Seeing that we have Ron's two blocks away and the new Fresh Market two blocks away, it makes it quite easy to literally run (or walk) to the store to get food for the night!

The other day Alex found a recipe on a food blog that seemed enticing and perfect for the ingredients we normally pick up at Ron's - zucchini trifolati with cherry tomatoes and basil. The blog is great - the guy who writes it always makes amazing food and has beautiful pictures to accompany it. He provides inspiration for aspiring foodies like myself! (He made an amazing looking paella recently, which I have been itching to make but feel might be a bit over my head at this point. I think I need a beginner's paella recipe.)

Anyway, as was mentioned on his blog, the zucchini trioflati is more of an idea than a recipe - throw zucchini, garlic, tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil in a pan and cook to perfection. I was suprised at how wonderful the combination of flavors were, though there was really nothing special about the recipe itself. It really brought out the natural flavor of each ingredient.
 
We recommended the recipe to my friend Erin, who tried it out with veggies from her CSA - see her review here. She has a great blog about all her culinary adventures, among other things. I highly recommend it! (She also reviews Minneapolis restaurants with her husband Ben in this blog.)

I also wanted to mention the most recent amazing meal made for us by Lynne and Kirk, our friends with whom we have a recently formed tradition of cooking delicious food for each other every couple weeks. They outdid themselves and made a splendid Cajun feast, which Kirk blogged about (including recipes) here. I'll mention the menu because I love reading menus (I live vicariously through them - it's almost as good as eating the food myself):
Popcorn shrimp with basil mayonnaise
Blackened chicken breasts
Maque choux
Green beans with bacon and almonds
Bananas foster
It was incredibly delicious, and so much fun to eat and enjoy the company. I was most blown away by the maque choux and the bananas foster, so much so that I was compelled to make them again as soon as possible! We made both the next weekend with Alex's family since we were going to visit, and it seemed that everyone enjoyed them a lot! I highly recommend both recipes, and the bananas foster is a great easy dessert (though we found it difficult to get any sort of flame both times - any recommendations on how to do it?).

See below for pictures of our meal:
 
 
 

More food posts to come :)
~Sonja

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When I have my camera in hand, flowers seem to always have a way of catching my eye. From walks through the streets of our neighborhood, to my inlaws' gorgeous tiered garden, I have been clicking away all summer. It's fun to use the flower-iconed macro setting on the camera for actually taking floral pics. These shots also served as an impetus to get out my camera's user manual and figure out the manual focus (see the sweat bee below). Today I realized that I have 126 of our best flower pictures sitting on Flickr, just waiting to be viewed. Click here to see.
A few of my favorites:
A yellow begonia


A beautiful orange lily

A sweat bee on spiderwort.


A weed outside Positano, last summer

~Alex

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h50
All my life I have been told that money can't buy me happiness. And, fool that I am, I bought into this belief for 26 years*. Money may not buy happiness, but (thanks to several birthday contributions) it did buy me a shiny new Sony-H50 super-zoom camera this past May.
I have always enjoyed photography. I think it started with classes that my mom sent me to at the FWMofA when I was but a wee middle schooler. I fell in love with the darkroom, and experimenting with the cheap plastic 35mm that I had. Those several weeks of classes led to a more in depth experience in high school. Along with pottery and painting, I burnt through all of the photography classes and independent studies that my high school could provide. Unlimited film, darkroom time, and a Canon AE-1 gave me a free reign to grow a love for photography.
canon
As I grew into adulthood, however, film just became an expensive nuisance. In 2001, I justified buying my first digital camera by financing it with the money my aunt gave me to paint a mural on my cousin's bedroom wall. Art buying art. It was, of course, a 2 megapixel point and shoot that was outdated by the time the automatic doors shut behind me at Best Buy.
I had fun with this camera, but I found that my artistic side was repressed by its lacking features and low picture quality. I replaced my passion for taking pictures with a passion for manipulating them in Photoshop. This lasted until our honeymoon in Italy. We were armed with Sonja's very nice FujiFilm F460, a surprisingly quality little camera. Rome was the destination of my photographic dreams,pantheon and I became obsessed with milking the best pictures I could out of every moment (that is, every moment that I could pry the camera from Sonja's artful grasp). Between our time in Rome and the Amalfi coast we took (or rather brought back) over 2000 pictures. And every one was cherished by us. In the year since our trip, I have been reinvigorated with a passion for taking photography.
Ever a geek for gadgets (I've been known to lurk at dpreview.com, now and then), I took keen notice when a few of our friends got nice digital SLRs. I even had the chance to shoot with them a couple of times. The memories of my old Canon SLR came rushing back to me. I remembered my times back in high school, taking dozens of shots, trying to capture the perfect lighting and focus. I remembered the adrenaline rush of waiting for the photos to nerdsdevelop in the darkroom. I wanted an SLR.
However, they are hefty - in price tag and in weight. And I loved our skinny little FujiFilm camera. I wanted the quality and options of a SLR, but the convenience and price of our point and shoot. On Feb 25, my wish was granted in a press release from Sony - the H50. Sure, it may not be as skinny as our old camera, and it may not be quite as crisp as a D60, but its fun. And it has a 15x zoom. Cool!
Since I bought the camera in May, I have been going nuts with picture taking. We bought a Pro account on Flickr and I'm quickly getting addicted to the digital photo world. I've enjoyed relearning photography throughout the summer. The camera has great automatic features (even a smile detector), but what's more fun is regaining the knowledge of manual photography. The best part is that it's free to practice. A few hundred pictures of a garden here, 370 pictures of one dinner there and its starts to come back to me. I absolutely love taking pictures.
If you've made it this far it the post you must really have a boring life. I can never read a blog that has more text than pictures, but apparently you are able. I hope you enjoyed listening to my story, and hopefully many more posts will come with details on my photo experiences!
~Alex
*That's sarcasm, money can't buy you happiness. Nothing in this material world will bring you happiness... but that's another rant for another day.

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Our beloved family dog, Gio, passed away this weekend after having a stroke. He was 16 years old but was very lively up until the end. We were lucky enough to see him twice last month on our two trips to Minnesota, and, aside from being slower after waking up from naps and losing most of his hearing, he acted much like he did when he was a puppy.
My sister and I have adored Gio since we got him as 10 and 6 year olds, respectively. We dressed him in our doll clothes, taught him tricks, took zillions of pictures of him, and had countless Gio-worshipping sessions (in which we told him repeatedly how cute he was). I think you probably would have had to see us around Gio to fully understand the intensity of our love for him (obsession is probably a better term!).
He was a wonderful dog who was loved just about as much as a dog could be. We are all very sad to not have him in our lives anymore, but we are so glad to have been able to spend the last 16 years with such a happy, healthy and loveable dog!
~Sonja