Salty

It never ceases to amaze me, the things I learn at the ripe old age of 28. For instance, you know how everyone always says that sweat contains a lot of salt? And while you know that you know this I’m going to assume you never really stopped to ponder the implications of this beyond remembering that if you are working out & sweating for more than hour replacing your lost salts & electrolytes is important. Sports drinks that taste like death, FTW! Anyway, this concept came rushing back to me when after my 40 mile bike ride I wiped my face to discover it was covered in grit. At first I was certain this was lovely bits of road, bugs and other detritus but then, no, I realized: salt! Crystallized salt! All over me! How exciting, and by exciting I mean hooo boy free salt scrub, this sure is disgusting……

It gives a whole new mental image to salt encrusted fish, that is for sure.

I hate sports drinks, of all kinds, speaking of. Gatorade, Poweraid, coconut water, you name I have tried it and I have spit it back out in horror. What is that stuff and why do teenage boys drink it like it is going out of style? It tastes like fake berry salt water! Or fake lemon salt water, or fake icy rush salt water or fake stomething with salt in it, YUM drink it down! My point is: blech. And yet with my new hobby I’m trying to find something that is somewhat palatable and by palatable I mean: I can’t taste the salt in it and the flavoring agent doesn’t taste like what scientists think strawberries should taste like, which is to say nothing remotely similar to a strawberry. So far I’m getting by with Nuun tablets, strawberry lemonade flavor to be more precise.  I can still taste some of the salt in it, but it isn’t as offensive as the premixed drinks that is for sure.

I also don’t like most energy bars, goo’s, gels and other assorted vomit tasting crap packaced  in a convienent wrapper for on-the-go nutrition. Yuck. If I had it my way I could stop ever 20 miles or so for a quick piece of fruit, cheese and perhaps, maybe, a small sip of wine? No? Damn. I bet they get civilized snacks of this sort on the Tour de France, basing this opinion solely on the geographic region. My Dad rode in a race where they served pickle juice to all the riders, which while unique, is not the sophisticated refreshment I’m envisioning.

A wine & cheese bike race. Is this too much to ask for?

Pancetta & Spring Vegetable Risotto

When I was offered the opportunity to compete in a recipe contest with prizes that included trips to BlogHer and the ability to become one of the Knorr Four to provide insight to a brand I actually purchase, I jumped at the chance. By jump I mean I filled out the form with great excitement and began contemplating the “secret ingredient” if you will- Knorr Homestyle Stock – which comes in a very handy little concentrated package.

 

One package makes 3.5 cups of stock and in my cramped city “pantry” I’m happy to move my hefty stock cartons over for cookies. I mean barley. Anyway. One of our favorites around here is risotto and I figured what was better than a classic risotto with in-season vegetables and everyone’s favorite Italian bacon, pancetta? Exactly.

 

This recipe takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour (depending on how fast your stove is working) and makes six adult servings of risotto – perfect for having friends over after work without having to cook all day long. You’ll need:

3 packages Knorr Homestyle Stock 
10.5 cups of water
1 3/4 cup of Arborio rice
1 cup of frozen peas (you can use fresh but alas my market was out!)
3 large carrots, peeled & sliced into coins
1 bunch of asparagus rinsed, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
3 oz of pancetta, diced or cubed
4 oz of goat cheese
1 wedge of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbs olive oil

  • In a large tea kettle, pour 7 cups of water and bring to a boil and add 2 packages of Knorr Homestyle Stock, stirring until dissolved. Turn heat down to a high simmer. In a sauce pan or stock pot that has a steamer insert, add remaining water and bring to a boil. Add 1 package of Knorr Homestyle Stock, stir to dissolve and turn down to low.
  • In a large dutch oven over medium high heat, brown pancetta until crispy. Remove pancetta from the dutch oven and set to the side.
  • Add onion and carrots to dutch oven with 1 tbsp of olive oil, browning for five minutes. Add all of the Arborio rice, stirring constantly to toast for 1-2 minutes, then pour 1/4 cup of simmering stock into the dutch oven from your tea kettle. Stir while scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stock from the tea kettle into the dutch oven, stirring the rice and veggies. Once the stock simmers down, add another 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stock, stirring again. Repeat this process for about 10 to 15 minutes or until you have used a little more than half the stock. Add 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper.
  • Turn the heat back up on your separate pot of stock. Add steamer insert into your pan, then add the peas and asparagus into the steamer basket. Put lid on pan and allow veggies to steam for 10 minutes. While they steam, continue adding stock to the rice and vegetables until rice is soft and creamy, about 5-10 minutes.
  • When veggies are steamed, remove from heat.
  • Add goat cheese and pancetta to the rice mixture, stir three times and put the lid on the dutch oven. Remove from heat and let sit for 3 minutes.
  • After 3 minutes, the rice will reach the perfect texture – creamy and with a tiny bite to it. Stir to incorporate cheese. Gently fold in steamed peas and asparagus. Serve hot, garnishing with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Disclaimer: I was gifted one package of Knorr Homestyle Stock in order to facilitate the recipe creation. I was not compensated for this post.  

Rat Race

I’ve mentioned before that I live approximately 30 miles away from my job, which is in the Northern suburbs of Chicago where numerous corporations and companies are located. It is a mecca of office complexes and chain dining, with the occasional gas station thrown into the mix.

Oh America.

I get up at 5 am on the three days I drive into the office so I can hit the road by 6 and get to my desk at 7. In the morning. I know. It takes a lot of coffee to get me there, trust me. This flex schedule means that I typically leave the office around 3 in the afternoon but I don’t get home until anywhere between 4:15 and 5:15. If you do the math that means that I often spend up to three hours a day in the car which wastes both time and money. It also causes me to weep, as I stare at miles of brake lights in front of me, all going to the Cubs or Sox game and all in my way, get out of my way, MOVE and for pete’s sake, LEARN HOW TO USE THE TOLL LANES. 

There are two general ways that I can drive to and from the office. One takes me up and down the Kennedy Expressway and one takes me up and down the Edens Expressway. Please note that the term “express” is used very very humorously in Chicago which is to say they are not in any way express unless it is 2 in the morning. If I take the Edens I end up back on the Kennedy for the last part of my drive (or first, depending which way I’m going) and go through what is in the top 5 worst traffic interchanges in the United States and it is generally referred to as the Junction. The Junction is awful. If I take the Kennedy I have to pass by the Junction and I also have to navigate an interchange onto the Tri-State tollway system which is the nicest and least congested part of my drive.

Anyway. I digress.

Construction near my office has rendered the main artery to the Edens impassible unless I feel like sitting for over an hour to drive (I’m not kidding) four miles to hop on the Edens. When I say “construction” I’m saying that a HUGE road is down to one lane in both directions and the agony of getting stuck on it is so awful kittens die when they think about it. This of course has led to congestion everywhere else as people try to avoid the nightmare that is one lane. So as of late, it has been just me and Kennedy. Sure, I have to drive through the Junction as the Edens commuters merge in, but hey, it is faster so I take it.

Today of course it was announced that the interchange from the Tri-State to the Kennedy is undergoing construction and will be closed.

Until 2012.

And the re-route involves getting caught up in the Chicago O’Hare Airport traffic, and if you have ever even contemplated flying through O’Hare you know as well as I do that the only logical reaction is to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

Which means I have 2.5 options in front of me. The .5 option is sucking it up, taking the detour and sobbing for the last hour of my drive home. I don’t like this option. Also, this detour, in my guesstimation will add approximately 9 million hours onto my commute. Give or take.

The next option is to take the Tri-State all the way South to a third “expressway” known as the Eisenhower, and the only thing I’m going to tell you about the Eisenhower is that it is the only road in Chicago worse than the Kennedy. It makes grown men weep. It has a federal board looking into how to make it “faster” and it is generally worthy of mind numbing traffic like you have never, ever seen. It will add another 10 miles and I’m guessing at least 45 minutes to my drive. At least. On a good day. With no events downtown, accidents, gaper delays or dogs running down the side of it. No really, that happened twice.

The final option is to take the train. THE TRAIN! you say with glee and excitement. Of course you should take the train. You can read! Nap! Use that time wisely! And I nod in agreement until I explain it all to you. One, taking the train costs more money than driving. This is because I do not live near the train station so I must purchase CTA fare to get to and from the station which adds up to about $5 a day unless I purchase an unlimited pass, which is $80 a month. Then my train tickets add up to $60 a month minimum and hey, now I’ve spent more on tickets than I do on gasoline for the car. Then there is the shuttle from the train station to my office which is free, but if you have been paying attention I have now taken a bus, a train and a shuttle.

I’ve still gotten up at 5, but now I don’t get to the office until almost 8 and the train home won’t put me in the front door until after 6. AFTER LEAVING MY OFFICE AT FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. The only thing that keeps me getting up at 5 is the miracle days here and there where I leave the office at 3, walk in the front door at 4 and spend the rest of my afternoon eating bon bons while the rest of America toils away. IT IS MY ONLY BENEFIT. (By eating bon bons I mean I go to the grocery store before the masses arrive so I can actually spend time contemplating which bunch of bananas is nicer looking and I can chat with the seafood monger for an inordinate period of time while contemplating which shrimp I’m going to buy.)

So what I’m saying is, I get to retire soon, right?

 

Summer Vacation

Our vacation to Northern Wisconsin was all I hoped and dreamed. There was fishing, sunshine & grilling out. Even some fire works. It was a much needed break from city living:

That is the face of someone who needs some fresh air. Please indulge me while I engage in the time honored tradition of sharing my crappy iPhone photos of my vacation with you. You’ll wish you had been there! Or at least that I had a better camera.

Rhett Butler was not a fan of the bonfire but this was mostly because he was required to wear a leash and this impeded his ability to run up and down the hill from the dock to the cabin as many times as possible within 10 minutes. He has formally requested we buy him his own hill for Chicago. We are getting right on that, buddy.

He did however enjoy riding around on the boat and napping in the sunshine. He was noncommittal towards the fish.

 

 

While I caught by far the least amount of fish between us all, I did catch the last fish of the trip. In my cardigan. 

The humans on the trip all had a great time as well. Cheese was eaten, beers were enjoyed and the lack of connectivity to the internet was liberating.

Oh and about that life jacket…..

Needless to say, he would prefer arts & crafts camp to swim camp.

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