Photos of the Week

This week I have a collection of simple photos that I took at the Three Rivers Arts Festival a few weeks ago. I love when this yearly festival comes to Pittsburgh because it is such a wonderful way to support local artists and walk away with some fabulous and unique pieces of art! There is an artist’s market (which to me is the interesting part) as well as many local music events in and around the city. Make sure you check it out next summer if you haven’t yet!

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Apartment: Step 1

The apartment search has now gotten real. Wahoo!! This afternoon I am heading out to physically look at two apartments that I am interested in renting. I could not be more excited. I am so very much looking forward to being independent again. On top of that, I have been dreaming of decorating ideas for the past few months now. I have created a Pintrest account for the sole purpose of organizing and documenting my thoughts. I am a very visual person so that website is wonderful for me! My ideas are so all over the place right now (and rather extravagant) that I doubt I will be able to accomplish it all. But hey, shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars right?

First off is the kitchen… as you may know already, I spend a good majority of my home time in my kitchen so I am looking for an apartment that has a nice kitchen. I have seen a few layouts online that have the kitchen and the living room combined as one big space. To me, that would be perfect! I’m also looking for a nice amount of counter space. I have some great ideas for counter top storage and I’ll need space for my new blender that I just got for my birthday! =]

For the living room, furniture is going to be a big challenge for me to find. I am going to take a few pieces from my parents, and my sister’s old TV, but that still won’t fill the room. The couch is the scariest one for me to tackle because I don’t want anything exorbitantly expensive but I also want a nice piece that will last many years and not lose it’s appeal. I have been very interested in the idea of “up-cycling” (like recycling, but better) an old door into either a table (coffee, or dining) or a nice large piece of art. That also depends on what luxuries I have with hanging things on my walls.

My bedroom will be easier than the living room because I am just going to take most of the furniture from my room here in my parent’s house. Convenient, huh? Again, I am thinking of painting one or two of the pieces though. I’ve had this furniture since middle school so I am ready to give it a fresh look to go with my fresh new life! =]

Moving is so very stressful usually, but I’m not feeling much of that yet… I don’t expect I will get overwhelmingly stressed either. I am moving within the same city, I have my parents and many friends to help me, and I have several months (with not much else on my schedule) to get it done. I can see it now… Take a few boxes over, unpack them, then spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool. Sounds lovely right? Boy am I excited!!!

Great Things Come in Three

Since returning to my humble abode I have been unavoidably graced with an immeasurable amount of free time. I was well aware it was coming. I was looking forward to it in a way. Some days (like today) there is something oh-so-satisfying about lazing around in my pajamas until the early hours of the afternoon. Other days, I can’t imagine anything worse. On those days where my need to prance around begins to drive me crazy, I cheer myself up with a few fail-proof activities… shopping, taking pictures, and cooking. My triad of stress relievers.

I’d say shopping has fallen behind the other two activities for the time being due to my current unemployment and dwindling funds. The holiday season really brings a crushing blow on one’s account. The unemployment matter will be resolved in just two days however. I am about to begin part-time intern work, a perfect solution to earn money while still having enough time to maintain my same level of focus on ballet.

Photographing has come in second place. For a little time almost everyday I have either taken my camera out to take pictures or have sat and edited photos on my computer. When my mind is involved in a creative task (be it photographing, editing, dancing, or even cooking) I forget about all the other upsets that so frequently occupy my thoughts. It gives my mind freedom and thus helps me relax and enjoy the calmer moments, keeping me emotionally balanced.

Cooking has certainly been at the fore front of my activities in this past week at home. My dear mother has been loving my enthusiasm to cook and is enjoying the weight I’ve taken from her shoulders by aiding her with the task (or pleasure) of making dinner for my family nearly every night this week. The week began with us collaborating in the kitchen. As each day went by I began cooking the meals more and more on my own. From minestrone, to an omelet and roasted sweet potatoes, to homemade pizzas which I made from start to finish entirely on my own. Ok, I started with a pre-made pizza crust and sauce. Those were already in our fridge so why not use them? In fact, I put much of this meal together by creatively combining ingredients that were already present in our kitchen. An activity I rather enjoy the challenge of.

I made three different pies.

Grilled chicken and roasted broccoli.

To a certain extent this was a request from my little sister who is not the boldest when it comes to ingredient affection. For example, I left a corner of the spinach pizza without cheese because she doesn’t like goat cheese. (What a nice big sister.) The chicken I pulled from the freezer, it was left over from a previous meal, and the broccoli was hanging out in the veggie drawer of our fridge. I chopped the broccoli into bite size pieces and tossed it in a pan with some salt and olive oil and let it roast in the oven for about 15 minutes until it began to soften and get a nice brown to it. To assemble the pizza I first put just a few large spoonfuls of sauce onto the dough and spread it around. I left about an inch of dough around the edge that I then brushed with some herb infused olive oil to make a lovely golden crust. Sometimes the crust can be my favorite part of a pizza. On top of the sauce I arranged the pieces of chicken and broccoli and then slices of incredibly fresh mozzarella. I made sure to evenly place all the ingredients so each bite had a mix of different flavors. The pizza went in the oven directly on the wire rack and baked at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes until the crust began to brown and the cheese was fully melted.

Mushroom and onion.

I sadly must admit this was the blandest of the three. I am an avid fan of mushrooms. I just did not put enough seasonings on this pizza, or maybe shiitake mushrooms were not the best choice. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible. I just know I could’ve made it better. I began this one by sautéing some onion and the mushrooms with a bit of salt and olive oil. This is where I should’ve thrown in some extra seasonings. I spread the sauce out just as I did on the previous pizza, brushed the rim of the crust with olive oil, and laid the toppings on in the same fashion as before. In the oven under the same guidelines, yadda yadda. If I were to make this again I don;t think I would sauté the mushrooms first. They became too wet and lost much of their mushroom flavor. I would also put in more seasonings like oregano and basil and other pizza flavors. Maybe some crushed red pepper would’ve given it a nice level of excitement.

Spinach and egg with goat cheese.

This was the first time I have ever made a pizza with egg on it. I have eaten it in a restaurant before (Serious Pie in Seattle, WA) and absolutely loved it! The egg adds such a wonderful richness and depth of flavor.  We had both spinach and eggs in our fridge… what better time than the present to give it a go? For this one I decided to forgo the traditional red sauce and instead brushed the entire crust with the herb-infused olive oil that I had brushed on the rim of the other pizzas. I then spread around the spinach that I had quickly wilted in a pot with a little water. I cracked two eggs into a bowl, one at a time, to make sure I didn’t get any stray eggshells. I delicately poured them on the pizza far enough from the center that they wouldn’t collide. Into the oven this one went. It was in there for a few minutes less than the others, I didn’t want to over cook the yolks so they would still be a little runny. Once the pizza came out I crumbled fresh goat cheese on all but the corner I left cheese-less for my sister. This pizza was my favorite. It was the simplest yet had the most interesting flavor combinations. Upon reflection of all the pizzas I have made, this night and previous nights, I don’t think I am always the biggest fan of red sauce on my pizza. It is hard to use jarred sauce and get the same flavor complexity as a sauce made from scratch that many restaurants use. I also have struggled with what is the best amount to spread on the pizza.

My family members all commented several times on how great the pizzas were. I was left unimpressed but I am most definitely my own worst critic. All three pizzas were completely gone by the end of the meal so I am happy they were well appreciated by my fellow diners. That is what matters most.

Deliciousness and a Dream Come True

Yesterday I did some exciting things. It was a long day. I went to sleep much later than I should have, I’m paying for that today, but my adrenaline was just too high to sleep at my usual bed time. Let’s start at the beginning…

The morning began in the standard fashion. My alarm went off at 7 am. The sky was still dark. Torture. I stumbled in to the kitchen for breakfast and lots of coffee, read a little paper, did my usual morning tasks and headed off to ballet. One class later and I was done dancing for the day so I headed back home. To kill some daylight hours (until my Mom returned home to be my activity buddy) I decided to replenish our granola stash. Home made granola. Oh yes. It seems that nearly every person who makes his/her own granola swears by one certain recipe, likely his/her own, and says that is the best granola recipe ever. Well guess what, mine is really freaking amazing too. I can’t get enough. There was still a little bit left from the previous batch but I made more to guarantee we wouldn’t run out. A morning without my granola just doesn’t start off the same way. I have come to depend on it as much as coffee. Ok, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point. It is unbelievably simple to make and takes under 45 minutes from start to finish.

Granola

6 c. old-fashioned oats

3 c. seeds and/or chopped nuts (feel free to use your favorites. I use almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and sunflower seeds)

1 heaping T cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2/3 c. maple syrup

1/3 c. honey

1 – 1 1/2 c. dried fruit (depending on how fruity you want it!)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl then add the maple syrup and honey. Make sure you mix it well. Spread the mixture evenly on a sheet pan. I split mine between 2 pans so everything has room to breathe and get extra crunchy but I’m sure it would all fit on one. Put the pans in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. After about 15 or 20 minutes give the granola a little stir so it can brown more evenly. I have found that 30 minutes is a little too long when I bake my granola on two pans. I always keep a close eye on it after the 20 minute mark. Once it is nice and golden brown it’s time to come out. Be careful it doesn’t burn. No one likes burnt granola. Trust me, I’ve done it. After you take the pans out of the oven sprinkle the dried fruit on top, split evenly between the two pans. Give each pan a gentle stir and just let it sit in the pan to cool. Once it is cool transfer your delicious granola into a container. I store mine in the fridge because it keeps it nicely crisp and crunchy. I like to keep my nuts and trail mixes in the fridge for the same reason. It’s just how I roll.

I should've taken more pictures...

Well, after I finished making (and consuming) my granola I moved on to exciting thing number 2. Camera shopping. For quite a while I have been interested in photography and have wanted to buy myself a nice camera. The time has finally come. I have saved up enough to make my dream come true. For a few days prior to yesterday I constantly read websites, got advice from my uncle, and browsed the market to find the camera of my dreams. The winner is the Sony DSLR A-580. A stunner of a choice if I may say so myself. It has an incredibly fast shutter speed so I can capture magnificent balletic moments. That was one of my main criteria because in addition to taking pictures of every day beauties and oddities I would love to take photos of ballet. Having never used a DSLR camera before I intend to take a class or workshop of some sort to familiarize myself with all the features that will be at my fingertips. There is only one slightly sadder aspect of this story. I don’t yet have the camera in my hot little hands. I went to Best Buy to look at the camera in person but they only carry the Sony A55 in the store. They have other brands too but I was most interested in Sony. I can’t really tell you why. I returned home camera-less but shortly thereafter placed my order online. That was probably beneficial however because the website that I purchased the camera from (B & H) also featured an “essentials kit” that I got. Being a first time camera buyer I am lacking a lot of knowledge and am without any materials so I just got the whole shebang right off the bat. The camera lady at Bust Buy mentioned I would need to get a few things in addition to my camera before I could get started like a memory card, case, and lens filter. Those items and many more were in this “essentials kit” so I’m thinking it was a good buy and will save me some trips to the store later. This way I can start using my camera as soon as it touches my doorstep and I rip open the box. It should arrive sometime next week. I will be waiting by the door.

It was due to my excitement from that purchase that I could not get myself into bed. Worth it? Without a doubt.