Tag Archives: food

Strawberry Spinach Salad

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A quick search online will yield an overwhelming number of strawberry spinach salads. Some have cheese, some slivered onions. But I think this one is best.

It’s one my mom pulled from the Washington Post ages ago, but I haven’t been able to find it on their website. The salad is quick to pull together, yet impressive enough for parties, where my mom has served it, several times. Share it with a few friends at a pool party, or just enjoy for a weekday lunch.

A tangy-sweet dressing, specked with poppy and sesame seeds clings to the spinach leaves. Almond slivers add a crunch, and the strawberries, of course, offer a sweet and colorful bite.

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Day 3: San Antonio

Don’t let the title of this post fool you. Texas didn’t swallow the three of us up, with it’s sky-sized flags and cowboy hats. We made it to San Diego long ago–I have a job! It’s sunny! We need to buy furniture!–but first, I want to finish telling you about how my dad and I got here.

After leaving snowy Virginia, driving through flat Mississippi and eating tasty fried seafood in Baton Rouge, my dad, dog and I began the drive into Texas. Let me tell you, it’s a huge state, more than a day’s drive across. I-10 keeps going and going and going. Luckily, this first day wasn’t too bad, for we only drove 5 hours from Lake Charles, Louisiana (home to many oil refineries) to San Antonio.

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Roanoke’s third worst snow can’t stop us

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We started our cross-country road trip in the midst of Roanoke’s third worst snowstorm, ever. Twenty to 25 inches of snow fell Wednesday afternoon through late Thursday afternoon, stopping interstate traffic and trapping Virginians in their houses. Meteorologists started saying over the weekend that this wouldn’t be one of those over-hype clipper systems; this was the big ‘un. And it was. After my parents helped pack up my house and fill in the dog’s holes in the backyard over the weekend, I spent my last two days of work running errands to the post office, UPS (quite the sticker shock for some of those 50-pound boxes), UPS again and Goodwill. Plans to wrap up my life in Fredericksburg on Wednesday had to change quickly–I wasn’t messing with this storm, and it wasn’t messing with us.

So I said goodbye to friends and coworkers, played Tetris with my remaining bags and boxes in my car, and drove to southwest Virginia late Tuesday night. The snow began just about 12 hours later, flakes immediately sticking to the frozen ground and accumulating on roads. The world turned gray, and cars skidded on slippery roads. The next morning, we had about 1 foot, but plows had already come through our neighborhood once. My dad and I thought we would be set… and then, it started snowing again.

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Over Thursday afternoon, another 8+ inches fell as a system swirled over and over Roanoke. We watched the radar, and the gray blob kept circling. Cars, patio furniture and tree trunks disappeared, but Rachel found all this snow to be one of the best things ever. She leaped and bounced and smiled as her lean body plowed paths through our yard. If only she understood this would be her last snow for awhile. Using a fair share of s#!&’s and other appropriate words, my dad, aunt and I shoveled out the little Camry from the front yard, hoping plows wouldn’t block it back in, if/when they returned. All we could do was eat soup and wait.

When we woke up Friday, amazingly, our road had been cleared, and the warming sun  was beginning to soften the remaining snow.  Other streets in our neighborhood, and three-quarters of the city, hadn’t been touched even once, so I’m incredibly grateful to Roanoke City for taking care of us. My little sister had loving shared her stupid cold with the two of us, so, on top of it all, the two of us were sneezy and sniffly. (We’ve since been quickly working through a few boxes of Puffs Plus and a bag of drugs.) But, we were determined to begin the trip. A tarp on the snow became our staging area, and we ferried boxes and bags down the driveway to where the car had been parked before the storm.

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Somehow, it all fit. Even the three extra boxes of pint glasses, the half-full bottles of liquor from the Firefly Distillery, the Kitchen Aid mixer and two trash bags of extra clothes that I was trying to avoid paying to ship. The car is cozy, for the side contains our overnight bags, a blanket and pillow, a huge bag of snacks to tide us over the next 3,000 miles, a lunchbox of yogurts and hummus, and a whole bag of refillable water bottles, which we go through daily. Pup has about half the back seat, which is at least more than what she had on our trip home to Roanoke.

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And by about 11 a.m. Friday, we were off. On to Tennessee and Alabama for Day 1.

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Emma’s Mac-A-Roo, the ultimate macaroni and cheese

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That’s my silly sister, on a day long before end-of-the-year work consumed her life. 

Emma put in 14-hour days all week just so she could be home for my last weekend.

Busy season for accountants on the audit side is January and February, and 12-hour days aren’t uncommon, as she’s learning in her first year as a newbie at one of the Big Four. Saturdays are required too, unless, apparently, you present extenuating circumstances like your oldest (and favorite) sister is moving across the country. So she clocked in at 7:30 a.m. all week, getting home at 10–or later–at night. And, she still had to spend a few hours with a calculator and laptop and scary spreadsheets while our pups played. (And mind you, she wasn’t as happy as she was in the above snapshot, taken before a UVA game this fall. Far from it.)

But, Emma: I’m so glad you were here. It may be awhile before we can again cuddle, lunch with a great friend, or shop for running sneakers together. Or, eat mom’s macaroni and cheese.

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Perhaps most memorable this weekend, we dined on some favorites: Mac-A-Roo and later, grandpa’s fluffy and delicate pancakes. Watching “The Wizard of Oz”–she’s obviously seen this classic too many times and knows every single line–while cozied up in grandpa’s living room wrapped up a low-key evening. (Along with this dark chocolate caramel panna cotta.)

For some reason, Emma and I refused to like homemade macaroni and cheese when we were kids. Was it too saucy, too different than what’s from the blue box, too flavorful? But then, our family went to Outback. And life changed. Emma ordered the kid’s Mac-A-Roo, a simple bowl of noodles tossed with a rich, creamy cheese sauce. My mom, astonished, said, “I could make that at home!” With the macaroni and cheese recipe from Betty Crocker, homemade Mac-A-Roo quickly became a favorite for our family.

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It’s simple and hearty–start with a roux of butter and flour, whisk in milk (for a bechamel sauce), and then melt in cheese. My mom tends to use a mix of American (no longer available in a blue box though, she lamented, just sliced) and grated cheddar. Spoon it over pasta for a saucier dish, creamy cheese clinging to the tiny ridges on the penne, or bake and allow the noodles to soak up the extra sauce and the whole dish will get crusty on top. Emma prefers it unbaked, but my favorite is baked; this weekend, she won. A side of peas always complements Mac-A-Roo, though I don’t know why. That’s just what we’ve always done. The peas are a tad sweet, green (and thus healthy), and blend in well to a bowl of ultimate richness.

Like Dorothy says, there’s no place like home.

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Mac-A-Roo (aka Macaroni and Cheese)
From Betty Crocker

2 cups / 7 oz. uncooked pasta
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups milk
2 cups / 8 oz. cheese (equal parts American and shredded cheddar)

If baking the finished dish, heat oven to 350ºF.

Cook macaroni as directed on package.

While macaroni is cooking, melt butter in 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.

Stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constanly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in cheese. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted.

Drain macaroni.

Choose how you’re going to serve: Either spoon the sauce onto bowls of pasta, or, mix the sauce and all cooked pasta together and pour into ungreased 2-quart casserole. Bake uncovered 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly.

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Warm Sweet Potato and Lentil Salad with Maple-Mustard Dressing; Packing Lunches for Long Days

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Today is going to be a long day. Snow that’s slowly approaching on the radar may change my schedule for work–a 10 a.m. ceremony is already canceled, so keep your fingers crossed for meetings at noon, 1:30, 3 and 7 p.m., phew!–but either way, my meals are packed and prepped. Covering government meetings makes every other Tuesday challenging. I don’t particularly mind sitting in the board chambers, or listening to local elected officials volley ideas back and forth. There’s always something new to learn, and I feel so very fortunate to be a journalist. [Update: No meetings today!]

But honestly, if I can let you in on a little secret, what most concerns me is what I’m going to eat. With no microwave or refrigerator or even a table, what to pack for a lunch and/or dinner calls for creativity. I typically leave my lunch bag in my car for a few hours too, meaning nothing should be prone to spoilage. Peanut butter and jelly or banana is always a safe choice, but sometimes, I want some more vegetables, more flavor, more variety.

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Warm up 2014 with Mark Bittman’s Chili non Carne

Happy 2014, everyone!

We’re off to a bitterly cold start here on the East Coast, and I’m just starting to get back into my normal routine after a busy holiday season. We’re thawing out from our -3 degree, 25-minute walk, which required layers upon layers to protect my body. Pup didn’t mind, of course. But frostbite isn’t a joke, I read multiple places! For my legs, two pairs of socks, running leggings layered under lounge pants with thick JMU sweatpants worn on top; to warm my core, a long sleeve shirt, fleece, sweatshirt and winter coat; thick gloves on my hands; a knitted scarf around my neck, with a running headband over my ears, a fleece hat, my coat’s hood pulled up and another wide scarf wrapped across my face.

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The next few weeks will be just as hectic as the last three, so I’m thankful to have this morning to slow down, cuddled in a blanket, Rachel nesting in the rug nearby.

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Salad with grapes, blue cheese and pecans

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Rushing through a trip to the grocery store, I didn’t pay close attention to which bag of grapes I picked up–just selecting one in the front with giant red-purple grapes. A new episode of “How I Met Your Mother” was waiting on my DVR at home, so obviously, I had to get back quickly. Into the cart went the grapes, then the shopping bag, and then the fridge, and onto the couch I plopped.

The next night, rinsing off a few to eat discreetly during a late meeting, I popped one in my mouth to be sure they were sweet. And they were. But yikes–seeds! Who actually buys seeded grapes? They seem to be a danger to the casual grape-snacker who likes the convenience of the bite-size fruits. No snack bag was packed in my purse for that meeting, but the challenge was on–I knew I had to find some other way to use up the grapes aside from just tossing them back, and I certainly didn’t want them to go to waste.

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White Beans and Wilted Greens, a nourishing power couple from Alice Waters

Last week was rough. A soothing pot of rice pudding ordinarily is my ultimate comfort food, and could have eased some heartbreakingly difficult decision-making. Instead, a giant bunch of kale–yes, kale, quite opposite from milk+rice+sugar+cinnamon–stared at me from the overpacked refrigerator. I came upon Alice Waters’ recipe for White Beans and Kale in Chez Panisse Vegetables, and the power couple’s effect was magical. The white rice stayed put in the pantry, and instead, this healthy and hearty bowl filled me up, fortified my mind and heart, and soothed a few bittersweet edges. The dish offered nourishment for the incredibly exciting, warm and sunny adventure ahead. It’s a lot to ask for a bowl of beans and greens.

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Not the prettiest, but satisfying, nonetheless. Toast with a good slather of local got cheese completed the meal.

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