Ice, Ice Baby

As I filled my ice trays last night, I thought about the fact that my last blog was more than two weeks ago. I’ve been in Alabama during that time to see family, and my return back to Texas last week was also a return back to my day-to-day routine. Aside from an unplanned trip to the vet this week with Fish Taco (he’s on the mend), everything has been status quo lately. Truth be told, I’ve wanted to write for days but couldn’t think of a topic. Last night I had a moment over the sink, holding my plastic ice trays: “I could blog about ice.”

“That’s stinkin’ ridiculous,” I said back to myself as I stuffed the tray into the freezer, sloshing water onto the floor. In addition to being clumsy, I talk to myself.

But then this evening, I discovered that one of my newfound podcasts, The Sporkful, recently did a show about — tah dah — ICE CUBES! Apparently, they’re kind of a bone of contention among drink snobs. Something about the surface area to volume ratio… You can listen to the entire podcast here (it’s episode 73).

Somewhere along the way from their liquid to solid state, ice cubes have gotten fancy pants. How about some legos in your drink?

It’s hot as Hades in Texas, and that means I’m making iced tea like a mad woman. But ice trays can do more than make ice: the little plastic vessels are multi-functional tools. When I make pesto, I freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays. That way, I have individual servings when I make pasta. You can also freeze leftover broth or sauce this way.

You can also use your trays to freeze coffee, so you avoid diluting your iced coffee with regular ice as it melts. Homemade Simple also recommends using trays to organize your office or craft supplies (admittedly, I’m not sure how well this would work, but feel free to try it for yourself).

Sometimes though, the best use for an ice cube tray is regular old ice, and regular old ice happens to be one of the main ingredients in my new favorite treat. Patrick and I are trying to visit Dairy Queen less frequently, and we’ve found a lovely substitute for ice cream. Almost nightly the last week or so, we’ve been making mango lassis. They’re much healthier and are deliciously refreshing during a hot summer evening. Interestingly, I don’t like mango fruit by itself. But when pulverized with yogurt and ice, I find it delightful.

To make the lassis for two (or three if you do small servings), take one large mango or two small mangos and peel the skin off. Cut the fruit away from the hard stone in the middle. Put the fruit, about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of plain yogurt (Greek yogurt will make a thicker drink but regular yogurt will also work well) and 6 ice cubes in a blender. (This is completely optional, but I also add a few drops of vanilla stevia extract.) Blend the ingredients until the mixture resembles a thick milkshake. Depending on your blender, you may need to add some milk to get things moving. Pour into glasses and enjoy!

Texas Love

There are things about the town I live in now that took some initial getting used to. One of those things is my town’s version of the ice cream man. Growing up, I’d delight at the sound of “Turkey in the Straw” each summer as the ice cream truck would slowly roll through the neighborhood. Upon moving here, I heard the sound of jingling bells every evening, a sound I eventually learned was coming from the popsicle peddler. The peddlers ride around neighborhoods with a little refrigerated cart attached to their bicycles. The sound of their bells is so uniquely Texan, but the joy they bring to children’s faces is universal.

Out here, Patrick and I have also developed a love for Mexican grocery stores. Back in Nashville, we frequented the Indian grocer and the Asian market in town. We love looking at foods that are unusual to us, and nothing makes me happier than buying a 20 pound bag of rice (I’m taking suggestions for how to re-use the empty burlap bags).

On Saturday night, when other normal couples went on date night to the movies and out to dinner, Patrick and I headed to the new Mexican grocer in town to delight in fresh garbanzo beans and ogle tamarind pods. On our trip to Marfa we discovered a Mexican sparkling mineral water called TopoChico.

It’s refreshing and bubbly, and, best ever, it comes in lime and peach flavors (in addition to plain old original). Yesterday, it got up to 90 degrees here, and we both decided it was the kind of day where all you want to do is drink TopoChico. If yesterday is indicative in any way of the kind of summer we’re going to have here, it’s safe to say we’ll be going through a lot of TopoChico (I’m taking suggestions for how to re-use the empty bottles).

Summer’s Last Hurrah

The weekend has come and gone, and somehow in the brief time I haven’t posted fall has set in. The air has that sun-scorched grass scent of fall and the trees look different — more ready to throw in the towel after a long summer of trying to resist the heat.

Friday night, though, brought with it one more opportunity for a summer meal. I made a quinoa salad with roasted vegetables and grilled salmon. For anyone who has known me long enough, eating fish represents a serious departure from my lifelong diet. Despite this, I am trying to come to terms with the idea of being a pesco-vegetarian. I have been feeling a lag in my energy levels, and I’m hoping that the introduction of a new protein to my diet will give me the power surge I need.

The fish was simple. I coated it in olive oil, lemon zest, minced garlic, dill and salt and pepper. Then we grilled it on a cedar plank. It turned out surprisingly delicious, and I ate more of it than I expected.

The quinoa was fresh and satisfying. Quinoa (pronounced key-nwa) is a seed predominantly eaten in the Andes with a high protein content and an abundance of essential amino acids. It’s easy to cook and can be prepared in a variety of different ways. It’s also gluten free! I enjoy this salad best at room temperature. Judging from the picture below, it doesn’t look like there’s any quinoa in the dish, but it’s there, believe me, buried under a mound of veggies.

Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:
1 cup zucchini (cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 cup yellow squash (cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup quinoa (soaked for 15 minutes and rinsed thoroughly)
1 red bell pepper (cut into bite sized pieces)
1 red onion (halved)
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts (I prefer the spicy ones in the olive bar)
2 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1 handful feta (crumbled)

Dressing:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat the zucchini, squash, red pepper and red onion in oil and salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread out the squash and onion halves. Place the pepper in a smaller oven-safe dish, and put all the veggies in the oven to roast for 15-20 minutes. The squash and onion will be slightly brown around the edges when done. Remove the squash and onion and turn the oven to the broiler setting. Broil the pepper until the skin is blackened. Carefully place the pepper in a zip-lock bag, seal and let cool for about 20 minutes. Once the pepper has cooled, peel the skin and slice the pepper into strips. Peel the top layer off the roasted onion and slice.

Meanwhile, cook the quinoa according to package instructions and let cool slightly. Combine the veggies and quinoa and toss with oil, vinegar and spices. Top with feta cheese.

Solstice

Today I have another animal story. Once again (and I apologize for not knowing the outcome), I’m not sure if this story will have a happy ending.

I was walking to my car at an A&M parking lot today when I saw a girl hovering over something in the dirt beneath a tree. Under her gaze was a baby bird, holding on for dear life after falling from its nest. The bird had feathers, but it didn’t appear quite ready for flight. The mother bird sat on the tree limb above squawking for her baby. It was really heart breaking to watch.

The girl and I wondered about what we should do. Red ants were starting to attack the little bird. I had a newspaper so we put it in front of the bird and he scooted onto it. We called the vet school on campus, and they were willing to take the bird. My new animal-loving friend put the bird, newspaper and all, in her car and drove him to safety.

I don’t know if the little bird will survive. Watching him suffer was painful, but I pray he is safe now.

On this first day of summer, I can only think about new transitions. I think about the time I left the nest, the safe protection of my parents’ wings, to venture out into the real world. They could only watch and have faith that I would fly and not fall. This bird left very much by accident, but perhaps because of the kindness of strangers he will survive and thrive. This is all we can hope for: that the kindness of others will keep us safe and strong throughout our lives as we transition from season to season.