Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Penzeys Spices December 30, 2008

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 10:50 pm

Life is great when the freshest, highest quality option also happens to be one of the least expensive.  Such is the case with Penzeys spices.  Penzeys is a mail order spice company (www.penzeys.com) with a small number of stores throughout the country.  The only store in the Los Angeles area is in Torrance.  Their catalog is entertaining and has a folksy feel, with recipes and descriptions of where spices come from. 

I can’t remember how I first discovered Penzeys spices, but I do remember that after smelling the cinnamon and vanilla, I vowed never to go back to supermarket spices.  The spices are incredibly fresh and have a strong scent of what they are.  In contrast, supermarket spices smell bland.  Penzeys also offers dried herbs, and spice and herb blends.  You can also order gift boxes, which are either pre-packaged or you can customize your own.  The spices can be ordered in small or large jars, or in bags (which is why they can be much less expensive than supermarket spices).  I order the spices and herbs that I use regularly in bags and refill my jars.  (Note: a funnel is a useful tool for the refilling operation!)

Some of my favorite spices and herbs to order are chili powder (they offer three levels of heat), cinnamon, cinnamon-sugar blend (yes I know it’s so easy to make yourself, but how convenient it is to have it ready-made for cinnamon toast — plus they use two kinds of cinnamon blended with vanilla-sugar), cocoa powder, cumin, Italian herb mix, peppercorns, Sandwich Sprinkle (garlic, salt, a variety of herbs, and pepper — excellent for croutons and garlic bread!) and vanilla (I buy the double strength).

Speaking of which, I have an order to place…..

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The Cheese Store of Silverlake

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 10:07 pm

When you approach The Cheese Store of Silverlake, you see a sign on the door asking that you keep the door closed, to maintain the proper temperature for the cheeses.  When you walk in, you’re engulfed by the delicious aroma of cheese.  This is a serious cheese shop.  If I were to adopt the French custom of the cheese course, this is where I’d come to shop.  

The Cheese Store of Silverlake also sells a variety of gourmet food, and, my reason for going there, they make sandwiches.  They offer about six or seven choices, some of which are always on the menu and some of which change.  Some are panini, and the others are on a baguette.  I prefer the baguette sandwiches — the bread is crusty — but I have friends who swear by the panini.  The sandwiches come with cornichons on the side.  Some of my favorites are goat cheese brie with thinly sliced apple, braesola with a creamy cheese, and prociutto with a brie-like cheese.  I’m not doing justice with my descriptions, as the cheese and meats are extremely high quality and the sandwiches include olive oil, sea salt, greens, or other minor adornments (one sandwich I ate had fig jam).  The sandwiches are so good that The Cheese Store of Silverlake has become my and my office pals’ go-to lunch place when we need a pick-me-up.  Learn  more at www.cheesestoresl.com.

 

The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs December 26, 2008

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 12:14 am

Esquire magazine editor and writer spends a year adhering to the Bible’s laws as literally as he can.  Say no more?  This was a funny, yet thought-provoking and inspiring book.

A.J. Jacobs, who previously wrote a book about reading the encyclopedia cover to cover (which I have not read), approached this book as a project, researching the Bible(s) and listing all the rules.  The book was mildly frustrating at times, because Jacobs seems to take more satisfaction from following obscure rules literally (e.g. not wearing mixed fibers) rather than following rules that give him a sense of meaning.  He says that the rule-following appeals to the obsessive-compulsive side of his personality.  However, it is interesting to learn about these rules, their origins, and their applicability (or not) to modern life.  (more…)

 

Middlesex and Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides December 25, 2008

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 10:30 pm

I recently read Middlesex and enjoyed it so much I wanted to immediately read Virgin Suicides, Eugenides’ first novel.  Unfortunately, Virgin Suicides didn’t appeal to me nearly as much as Middlesex.

Middlesex, a 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner, is about a hermaphrodite, so you might imagine the book would be strange or lurid, but in fact it’s the opposite.  Eugenides’ narrator, Callie, tells us her family history and the events that lead to her transforming in the the young man, Cal, in such a matter-of-fact manner that the reader can identify with her.  The book reads as a simple, coming-of-age story.  The transformation from Callie to Cal is not sensationalistic, but a natural progression in her life’s story.  

Virgin Suicides did not provide that same sense of identification with the protagonists.  Unlike Middlesex, which is written from Callie’s point of view, Virgin Suicides is written from the point of view of the boys living across the street.  Although this provides an interesting vantage point on the strange family with the five suicidal sisters, it does not allow us to get to know or develop sympathy for the sisters.  Over the course of the book, the boys go from seeing the sisters as a unit, all the same, to five distinct personalities.  Unfortunately, I did not see this distinction.   I may be alone in my assessment, however, because Virgin Suicides has received fantastic reviews.

Both Middlesex and Virgin Suicides are dispassionate views of seemingly “normal” families with dysfunctions that reveal themselves over the course of the novels.  Because the writing is good, both are interesting reads.  But only Middlesex made me care about the main character, which is vital to me in a novel.

 

Indignation, by Philip Roth December 23, 2008

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 11:10 pm
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Truth in advertising, Philip Roth is one of my favorite authors. So I’m inclined to like anything he writes. Indignation is sort of a “coming of age” novel about a young man that leaves home for the first time to go to college and discovers the world beyond his family, or as much of the world as you can discover in Winesburg, Ohio.  Like some of Roth’s recent novels (e.g. Everyman), it’s a relatively short novel and a quick read.  Paul (my hubby) didn’t like it that much because of a plot device that Roth uses and because he thought the novel’s events were arbitrary.  I liked it, however, because I developed sympathy for the main character as well as the other characters.  Roth’s characters are never one-dimensional.  Although the main character leaves home because of his father’s obsessive and intolerable behavior, the book portrays the father sympathetically.  If a book makes me care about the characters and is well-written, I can forgive some strange plot devices and events that some (myself excluded) would call arbitrary.

 

Emma’s List of Funniest Youtube Videos

Filed under: OeMmaG!! — eclaireintherain @ 10:15 pm

Well first, if we’re talking about funniest Youtube videos, there HAS to be Bon Qui Qui at Kingburger. 1 word: RUDE!! You have to see it to understand :]…..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZkdcYlOn5M

Another one is a parody of “Fergalicious” by Fergie and while I like that song (my advice is don’t listen to the lyrics) it was born to be made fun of. The video is called Mathmaticious and it’s life from a math geek’s point of view…..rapped to “Fergalicious”!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cAs1YBELmA

Have fun :]

 

Menu Planning December 22, 2008

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 9:50 pm
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As a busy working mom (yes, I know there’s redundancy there), I find online menu planning services to be indispensible.  I have tried two — The Six 0′ Clock Scramble  (www.thescramble.com) and Relish (www.relishrelish.com).  Both are excellent.

Online menu planning  has many advantages:

  • Only one trip to the grocery store per week (ok, ok, I also go to Trader Joe’s and the farmers’ market).
  • No time spent wondering what’s for dinner, poring over cookbooks, and making lists, only to forget to buy ingredients for side dishes.
  • We eat balanced meals, and our diet overall is balanced since we generally have one chicken dish, one beef and/or fish, and some vegetarian meals each week (although my kids probably prefer the old days of pasta every night).
  • It’s fun — I feel like I’m getting a new cookbook every week.
  • It’s easy — the meals can generally be made in about a half-hour (more or less!) and they’re healthy and tasty.
  • Saves money?  Yes, if you tend to go out to dinner rather than cooking.  But it probably does not save me money since I used to build meals around what was on sale at the supermarket and now I just buy what’s on my shopping list.  And let’s face it, you can’t get much cheaper than quesadillas, which was our go-to food before menu planning.

Online menu services work like this: you subscribe for a relatively low fee (varies by service) and you get e-mailed a menu once a week with a shopping list.  The shopping list is awesome – just take it to the store and you come home with ingredients for five meals!  There are many different services, and most or all offer a free trial.  I recommend trying various services until you find the one that fits with your style of cooking. 

My two favorites are Six o’ Clock Scramble and Relish.  Six o’ Clock Scramble e-mails you a menu with five meals.  If you don’t like one of the meals, you can go into the full database and substitute any other meal.  You can also designate “favorites” so you don’t have to hunt around for a good substitution (although the database is user-friendly).  Relish e-mails you a list of 15 choices and you pick five.  They often offer an extra, such as a dessert or a delicious apple butter that I cooked in my slow cooker.  You can also make substitutions if you don’t like the 15 choices, but only from your designated favorites.  There are minor pros and cons to both services, but on the whole, they are both excellent and it comes down to personal preference.  Those who love to cook may scoff at the constraint of being told what to cook for dinner, but for me, it’s one less thing to think about.  And hey, what are dinner parties for?  (maybe someday…..)