27 October 2010

buenos aires

Buenos Aires is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's like Paris fell into a rainbow of bright colors and decided to let loose.

The architecture that reminded me of Paris...

But B.A. has its own colorful South American flavor, with its iconic La Boca and San Telmo districts.

La Boca's colorful buildings were originally built with pieces of shipping containers, and the locals have continued the vibrant and artistic tradition.

It's a small area, teeming with tourists, art, sidewalk cafés and tango performances, but it's still worth a stroll-through. And sometimes you get lucky and get a little corner to yourself.

One thing I love about Buenos Aires is the abundance of great places to walk around, and San Telmo is my favorite.

The street musicians are really good, and the markets have such artful displays, it doesn't matter if you're interested in what the vendors are selling. You can just enjoy how beautifully they've showcased their wares.

26 October 2010

stop-motion wedding sequence

Stop-motion sequences are often awesome, and this Australian wedding one is great fun. Enjoy!
And if you like the wedding idea but don't have or don't want a partner, you can go it alone, like this Taiwanese woman who is marrying herself. Seriously. And while I like to push the envelope as much as the next person, I must admit I'm pretty blown away by her decision. It takes cojones!

14 October 2010

lottery ticket art and bus art

Artists are great at using nontraditional media for their art, and I thought this was especially provocative. Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom started collecting discarded lottery tickets and wanted to tap into the losing tickets' representation of lost dreams. They explain their lottery art sculptures:
We started to collect tons and tons and talk about what people dream about when they play the lottery. Then we did some serious research to find out what people buy when they do win the lottery. Through our research we found that most people, after they win the lottery, the first thing they do is buy a car.
The artists tried to match the lottery ticket dollar value to the dollar value of the item depicted, so the Hummer used $39,000 worth of discarded tickets, and this "Dream Home" used $70,000 of losing tickets.

It's sad that so many people spent the money on those tickets, but what a fantastic recycling job-- and one that might provide a visual financial lesson.

When I first saw this article on treehugger, I thought it was really cool.

But then I saw the comments and realized it would actually use more fuel to drag all of that around (not so green, after all) and that the photo wasn't even real. And one of the commenters posted the original photo, which is pretty convincing.

Oh, well. At least people are trying to do something good. (And the Photoshop artist did a pretty good job.)

13 October 2010

culinary disaster and the redeeming artichoke heart salad

I already mentioned my addiction to groupon and my new adventures into the land of culinary arts. Unfortunately, these did not combine very well with my gobble green groupon.

So, we do not own a microwave, and these fresh and wonderful vegan meals are frozen, so we have the option of either heating the food up in the oven or on the stove. I thought it would be easy enough to boil the plastic bag, but ha! I was wrong. I told my partner I'd make dinner two nights ago and then totally lost track of time until fifteen minutes before he was due home. Oops.

My partner is a saint because we had a dinner that was still frozen in parts (nothing like a brick of frozen pasta to whet the appetite), and he did not complain once. (Incidentally, the first gobble green meal we had (that my partner heated up) was quite good. The portions are small, but the "meatloaf" was flavorful with a tomato sauce, and the chickpea salad was nice and light.)

Well, last night, I decided I wanted to try to redeem myself, so I made a pluot and cheese appetizer and an artichoke heart salad that was actually quite delicious. I'm no food photographer, but I thought they looked pretty nice (especially the vibrant colors in the salad).

The appetizer was simply sliced pluot with sliced cheese (Tillamook Colby Jack-- yum), and it was a really nice combination.

The artichoke heart salad was made with what I had around: spinach, a red pepper, baby carrots, marinated artichoke hearts and an avocado (living in California is amazing if you love avocados). The balsamic dressing was made up of balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano (I kept adding bits until I thought it tasted nice). I've heard adding brown sugar in balsamic dressing is nice, too, but I haven't tried it yet.

With toasted homemade bread, it was a really nice dinner. And for dessert, we had chocolate covered salted caramel macadamia nuts. Yeah, I think I could get into becoming a foodie...

12 October 2010

venturing into the land of culinary arts

Living alone with my partner for the first time without a dining hall means we have to fend for ourselves when it comes to meals (hello, adulthood-- I'm finally here), and I'm looking forward to learning how to cook. I've been an Irma or, at best, a one-trick pony cupcake baker, but (contrary to what some may think) I realize that we'll have to eat more than just cupcakes to stay alive.

I don't know why exactly, but I decided the way to become proficient in the kitchen was to have gadgets, so I went on the craigslist prowl and found a breadmaker for $5 (score!) and a brand new Cuisinart electric pressure cooker (wooo...) for $50. I saved myself about $150 between the two machines, and they've been great!

(Aside: it's funny to remember how I swore I'd only live in cosmopolitan cities and would never become domestic. Of course, I also said I'd never live on the east coast after college, would never go to graduate school and would never get married. At this rate, I should decide never to win the lottery...)

But back to the culinary arts. The pressure cooker is like a steamer/convection oven/microwave, but supposedly healthier because it's sealed to keep in all of the nutrients. And it is amazingly fast: we had an entire chicken cooked with tender meat coming off the bone plus perfectly cooked carrots and potatoes in about half an hour.

To make the perfect pressure cooker "roast chicken," you sauté garlic and onions on the stove until the onions are soft, then sauté the chicken (turning over frequently) until the skin turns golden brown, and then throw everything in the pressure cooker with carrots, potatoes and chicken broth. I have to confess that since I'm still a novice and don't like handling meat, my partner (who is an excellent cook) did all of this.

Depending on your pressure cooker, the time will vary a bit, but our instruction manual told us to set the timer for 24 minutes to cook a whole (three pound) chicken. And then voilà, dinner-- in the time it would normally take for an oven to preheat... I exaggerate, but it's pretty amazing, considering it would take hours and hours to get the same result in the oven. Apparently, you can make some incredible cheesecakes in there, too. I'll keep you posted on that.

With our leftovers, we used our food processor (yay, kitchen toys) to purée the potatoes, onions, carrots and broth to make a nice hearty soup (which we then heated on the stove with some extra veggies). With our homemade bread, it made for a nice dinner on a cool fall evening.

Onto the breadmaker! We make a fresh loaf of bread every few days, and it's so easy! You open the lid, dump in the liquid ingredients then the dry ingredients, push a button, and if you'd like (because there's a timer), you can wake up to the incredible aroma of freshly baked bread and have a hot homemade loaf waiting for you for breakfast.

I've been impressed with the quality of the bread, too-- it has a baguette-like crunchy crust and a soft and moist interior. We've tried several different recipes that came with the instruction manual, including the deluxe white, the honey wheat, the oatmeal and the wheat, and our favorite so far is the wheat, which I'll include here, in case you have or are inclined to get a breadmaker, too.

With all ingredients at room temperature, add:

10-12 oz water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil (I think it's better with 2 tbsp)
2 tbsp molasses
2 c bread flour
2 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp active dry yeast

Select whole wheat setting and desired crust (light, medium or dark), then press Start/Stop. When display reads 0:00, press Start/Stop to cancel and remove bread. Easy peasy.

A quick note on bread flour from our manual that you might find useful:
Bread flour is milled from hard wheat and contains a higher percentage of protein than regular all-purpose flour, usually 14% or higher. This is also referred to as the gluten content, which gives structure and height to the bread. If bread flour is not available in your area, all-purpose flour with a protein content of 14% or higher is an acceptable substitution. Bread flour requires no sifting.
Also, you can use pretty much any liquid when making your bread, from milk and juice to beer and fruit purées. Using water as your liquid of choice results in a "crisper crust and more open texture," while buttermilk yields a "light, high-rising and tender bread."

The fat enriches the bread's flavor and keeps it tender and moist. If you want a softer crust, use olive oil instead of butter. If you want your bread to last longer, peanut oil (and buttermilk as your liquid) keep the bread fresh for a longer period of time.

I haven't tried making any of the sweet breads yet, but I'm looking forward to making a fresh loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, apple walnut bread, banana chocolate chip bread, zucchini bread... And if you prefer salty to sweet, you also have the option of savory breads like parmesan herb bread, cottage cheese and chives and so on. I know, I sound like Bubba Gump. Barbecued shrimp, grilled shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp scampi, shrimp cocktail...

Well, for better or worse, you can be sure there will be more posts on food to come. Do you have any recipes you'd recommend for someone starting out on their culinary adventure?

And I'm not done with travel posts, either, as I still have a few continents to catch up on...

08 October 2010

living in the happiest place in america

National Geographic and Random House are publishing a book about the happiest places on earth, and I'm lucky enough to be living in "Happy Town, USA," where "joy seems to be in the tap water." (Maybe we should stop using our Brita. Har dee har har.)

Funny enough, while the locals are proud to be living in one of the happiest place on earth (Disneyland is going down), they are also worried that hooligans and hordes of tourists will start to invade our lovely little town now that this book and the articles covering the book are coming out.

Truly, though, I was surprised that San Luis Obispo was such a perfect little oasis when I arrived and was waiting for an uglier truth to rear its head-- but it hasn't. And the more areas I discover, the more I'm impressed. And I've barely explored much at all.

Here's what I've seen so far, though. The view from my house, with pine, eucalyptus, weeping willow and a variety of other trees:

I've joined a university women's club, and while the women in the group are mostly quite a bit older than I am, I am having a blast getting to know them. And I get to visit with them and munch on dainty pastries, berries and tea with cream and sugar while enjoying views like this from their beautiful homes. This photo is of the famous Morro Rock in Morro Bay through a nice lady named Lois' living room window:

So, yes, life is good here.

From our house, we can walk downtown in about five minutes, and the residential neighborhood we live in is historic and adorable. Here are what the houses near us look like:

In some ways, I guess it isn't all that different from Disneyland, except less artificial and plastic. And people are incredibly nice. I think of it as old-school Small Town, USA, and while SLO was hailed this time around, I would guess that there are many other places in the States (and in other parts of the world) that are similarly charming and full of nice and happy people.

So, we shouldn't get too full of ourselves just yet. But, according to this Parade article, it sounds like we're too busy being active, enjoying the arts and feeling generally happy to notice all the hullabaloo anyway.