little paths so startled

living, decorating, and eating in hattiesburg, mississippi

Archive for May 2011

summertime salsa

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Even though it’s felt like summer here since March, and even though the summer solstice is June 21, I still like think of Memorial Day festivities as the kick-off for summer.  And this means it’s time for summertime salsa.  This is Daniel’s specialty, and it’s different (but fabulous!) every time he makes it.  There are no measurements, and the ingredients and proportions vary, usually depending on what we have around or can find at the store or market.  When we first started making salsa, we followed the Pioneer Woman’s Restaurant Style Salsa recipe, and it is delightful.  Daniel just can’t be encumbered with recipes, and we both agree that taste-testing as we go is way more fun than measuring ingredients.  Furthermore, it’s hard to anticipate the exact heat level of peppers, so it’s always good to leave some room for seasoning at the end.  And, finally, why would we use canned tomatoes and Rotel when we live in Mississippi and can have the real thing?

Daniel says the most important step in making salsa with fresh tomatoes is freezing the tomatoes first.  (This requires a bit of forethought.  Every time we go to the farmer’s market, we stock up on tomatoes and freeze most of them, so we’ll have them when we’re craving summertime salsa in January.)  He washes them and puts several in a Ziploc bag and stows them in the freezer.  Apparently, when tomatoes freeze, their cell membranes burst – and when they thaw, the water begins to come out.  Once they’re at room temperature, Daniel simply punctures the skins with a knife and gently squeezes the water out.  This is crucial step if you want your salsa to be more about tomatoes than water.  And above all, Daniel says, do not use store-bought/hothouse tomatoes.  Use canned tomatoes if you don’t have access to (or time to freeze) fresh-grown tomatoes.

Those well-drained tomatoes provide the perfect texture base for salsa.

I agree with the Pioneer Woman: cilantro is the unsung hero of salsa.

Today’s salsa is comprised of farmer’s market tomatoes, cilantro, onion, garlic, and a couple of peppers from Daniel’s garden.  It’s seasoned with lime juice, organic agave, cumin, a dash of sea salt, red pepper, and freshly ground black pepper and lemon pepper.  He usually starts with everything but the pepper seasonings, which he’ll add in at the end (along with the agave) to achieve a balance of sweet and spicy.

We believe there can never be too much garlic. Our friends may disagree.

Daniel knew these particular garden peppers weren't very hot, so he added a liberal seasoning of freshly grounded black and lemon pepper to the base.

When it’s time to start blending, we pull out the trusty immersion blender.  (Ours is a Cuisinart Smart Stick, and it’s a lot of bang for your buck.  In fact, we don’t own a food processor.  We use the immersion blender for everything from salsa and hummus to smoothies.)

We like to preserve some of the original textures, rather than nuking it into salsa purée, so the immersion blender is ideal for controlling just how much you want to blend.

After that initial blending, Daniel stirs in any additional seasonings to avoid over-blending.

And then comes the best part: taste-testing to adjust and balance the seasonings.  At this point, Daniel is usually focused on the heat.  When the salsa is just for us, we like to make so hot it’s almost painful to eat – but we wouldn’t do that to our friends.  This time, we added a little heat and a little sweet (via agave).

Taste-testing: the best part of homemade salsa.

I’m always wanting to make the salsa hotter during taste-testing, but Daniel reminds me that when the flavors marry, the salsa almost always gets hotter (and better) on its own.  So we make sure to allow at least a few hours for the flavors to work their magic before we serve the salsa.

It's go time, salsa.

Resource note: The serving piece above is The Good Earth Pottery in Mockingbird. 

Written by Ann

May 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

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review: bakers burger co.’s vegetarian black bean burger

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This week, Daniel and I discovered vegetarian fare in what we thought was an unlikely place: Bakers Burger Co., a local burger joint that opened awhile back. I never considered it, frankly, because I assumed there wouldn’t be vegetarian options and I don’t much care for typical fast food. When Daniel went to lunch there with his colleagues, he was pleasantly surprised to discover a vegetarian black bean burger on the menu, as well as whole wheat buns and sweet potato fries. I had to see it to believe it, so he took me to experience it for myself. I, too, was pleasantly surprised. As noted in Eat Twin Forks‘ review, the black bean burger actually has discernible tastes – unlike the shady concoctions I’ve encountered elsewhere – and is downright enjoyable. Ingredients seemed fresh, and while I think the sweet potatoes could cook a bit longer, they’re still tasty. A fun discovery, for sure.  For more great vegetarian options in Hattiesburg restaurants, check out my list of favorite local vegetarian dishes.

Vegetarian black bean burger and grilled mushrooms on a whole wheat bun with a side of sweet potato fries.

By the way, if you’re looking for a yummy vegan black bean burger recipe, check out Chloe Coscarelli’s Mexicali Sliders with Cajun Yam fries.

Written by Ann

May 27, 2011 at 5:02 am

DIY art

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As much as I would love our condo to double as a well-curated art museum, I know that collecting quality art on our budget will take years and will be well worth the wait.  In the meantime, we had to put something on these 14-foot walls to make the space feel less stark.  But on this scale, it’s go big or go home.  Enter our photo library and a frames sale at Hobby Lobby.  For the living room wall, we decided to go for a mish-mash of colors, textures, shapes and sizes for an eclectic, homey feel.  Daniel created the final arrangement and was the mastermind of (painstakingly) hanging each frame.  (We decided not to attach the frames permanently in that configuration to allow for flexibility in the future.)  All the photos are of places we’ve traveled – from California to Istanbul – and they function as great conversation pieces.

We stair-stepped the right side of the arrangement to follow the lines of the stairs and bridge the spaces.

When we travel, Daniel likes to take panoramic shots sans panoramic/wide-angle lens.  He carefully positions the camera and takes a succession of photos until the scene is covered.  Our favorite panoramic is the one he made of the Golden Horn in Istanbul (from the Galata Tower).  He printed all the images and taped them together, then mounted them in another frame we got from Hobby Lobby.  It wasn’t originally a double-glass frame; we had to get another piece of glass cut and remove the original backing/matting.  (By the way, we got the idea for this from some friends of ours who did the same thing with a panoramic of the rooftops in Florence, Italy, and in a way-cooler frame.)  The Istanbul vista now graces the dining room wall.

We LOVE Istanbul.

Our upside-down bottle tree was inspired by a similar (but much larger and more complicated) art installment at the Jackson Anthropologie about a year ago.  Since the bottle tree was our first project here (even before the furniture got moved in), I don’t have images documenting the how-to, so I’ll do my best to explain.

Materials used: empty bottles and rope. That's it.

That large beam has holes spaced across the lip on one side, so we doubled some rope through that hole and created a large loop for hanging.  Then we cut various lengths of rope and paired the bottles by equivalent size/weight.  Each length of rope has a pair of bottles, one on each end of the rope; we loosely formed square knots on each end, stuffed them through the necks of the bottles (a tedious, frustrating process) and pulled the knots tight.  We draped each bottle pair through the main hanging loop, staggering the bottles to create the clustered look.  I’d love for it to be even bigger, but we can’t fit any more bottles through the hanging loop and are afraid to add more weight to an already-heavy structure.  In short, it was a painstaking process, but well worth it.

The installment at Anthropologie had lights hanging among the bottles, and while I would have loved to do that with ours, it wasn't logistically possible. I do love, though, that the light from the windows and overhead lights catches the bottles and makes them shimmer.

Finally, I wanted something on the wall over our headboard in the bedroom/study.  Once again, cheap frames to the rescue.  Instead of having a large wedding portrait framed (as is customary in these parts, it seems), we opted for a more economical option.  We simply selected our favorite images from the CD we got from our wedding photographer, printed them in black and white 5×7’s, and put them in these matching frames from Target.  I wanted to contrast the living room photo collage by having uniformity in the bedroom/study collage.  Once again, Daniel patiently measured, spaced, and hung each frame.  Et voilà.

Since the collage is also visible from the living room, I like that the wedding-ness of the photos is muted by the uniformity of shapes and colors.

But I do love a good wedding shrine.

Written by Ann

May 26, 2011 at 4:27 am

beer bread and blueberry jelly

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So good I can't be bothered to photograph them until they're nearly gone.

I love to bake, but I’ve not ventured much into the realm of bread making.  I don’t own a bread maker, and the fact that I’m terrible at gardening suggests to me that I’d be terrible at keeping a starter alive, too.  Solution: beer bread.  Since Daniel brews his own beer, I let him do the hard work and use the beer as my starter.  It couldn’t be simpler: sifted whole wheat flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, less than a teaspoon of salt, and 12 ounces of beer.  Mix it up, grease a loaf pan, dump in the batter, pour about a 1/3 cup of melted butter on top for a yummy crust, and bake for an hour at 375.  With a bit of low-sugar blueberry jelly from the farmer’s market, this makes a hearty and tasty breakfast, snack, or dessert.  Or lunch.  Or all of the above.

Written by Ann

May 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm

renting and gardening: outdoors and indoors

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Full disclosure: I am not a gardener.  I love the idea of plants and gardens but am no good at nurturing them.  Daniel, however, is great at it.  He would live off the land as a farmer if he could, but our renter status has curtailed that dream, at least for now.  That’s not to say we don’t have options here.  Our landlord told us we could garden on the Walthall grounds and even offered to loan us his tiller.  But since the land belongs to the neighborhood association and the soil seems a little iffy, Daniel decided to go with a modest container garden this summer.

Tomatoes soon.

We've got herbs, peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

Buddy contemplates the garden and approves.

But that’s not all the gardening we do; we have an indoor garden, too.  Situated on the pony wall that divides the bedroom from the landing (and the rest of the condo, for that matter), the garden soaks up light from the 8-foot windows and provides additional privacy/screening.

Pothos plants on the pony wall.

Duck pitchers-cum-planters from Anthropologie.

And of course we enjoy the landscaping around our building and on the Walthall grounds.

Back patio - site of many al fresco dinners.

Our little grove.

Front of the building.

Written by Ann

May 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

stir-fry: mushrooms, red bell peppers, and tofu

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Even though I’m technically a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I try to cook and eat vegan when I can.  This stir-fry was adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe in his wonderful tome of a cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  (Check out his website here; he’s an omnivore, by the way.)

From markbittman.com.

Grocery shopping for vegetarian and vegan cooking can be challenging in the Hatt, but there is hope: the New Yokel Market here in downtown, my source for tempeh, tofu, sundry vegan items, and organic/whole/local foods.  (If only I could afford to shop exclusively there.)  Consider this post my humble contribution to the movement to rescue tofu from its terrible reputation among omnivores (and, perhaps, some vegetarians).  It’s all about preparation, friends.

My tofu pressing system.

I buy the extra-firm, organic tofu–mainly because that’s all there is to buy here.  I drain off the water in the package, put it on a bed of paper towels, cover it with another layer of paper towels, and then press it with my super-fancy pressing system for at least 15 minutes.  This does miracles for the texture and the likelihood of it not falling apart when I’m cooking it.  Since I only cook for two, I use half of the tofu at a time.  I chop it all into half-inch cubes, put half of it in a Ziploc bag, and freeze until the next tofu meal.  (Bonus: freezing tofu makes it even firmer/chewier.  Extra bonus: it keeps up to three months, or so I hear.)

Stowing away some tofu for another day.

I was working with what I had in the frig tonight, so this was a fairly simple stir-fry.  I chopped a red bell pepper, a large clove of garlic (or about a tablespoon), and the caps of some local mushrooms.  The other ingredients were vegetable stock, low-sodium soy sauce, olive oil, and of course the tofu.  (I recently began spraying rather than pouring olive oil as a way to use less and cut back on fat.  Where has my Misto been all my life?)  I also seasoned with ground ginger and onion powder at the end.  Fresh ginger and a real onion would be ideal, I imagine, but they weren’t too badly missed.

Ready to go.

First, I sautéed the pepper until tender-crisp and charred on the edges.  I scooped it out with a slotted spoon, set it aside, and did the same with the mushrooms–just until they were good and browned.  Then I cooked the garlic (in a little puddle of oil) for a minute before adding in the tofu, which I cooked until it began to brown.  I was careful with my stirring to avoid breaking the tofu.  (Note: I don’t use nonstick cookware because of concerns about the possible carcinogens in the material, so I had to spritz some extra oil on the tofu and keep a close eye on it to minimize sticking.  It’s sticky stuff.)

Browning the tofu with the garlic.

Finally, I added in a bit of vegetable stock and a dash of water and let the tofu-garlic mixture cook a bit more, until some of the liquid evaporated.  I added the pepper and mushrooms back in, seasoned with soy sauce, ground ginger, and onion powder, gave it a few more stirs, and voilà.

Finished product.

Around here, food is doing pretty well to make it onto plates before we eat it.  Table?  Not usually.

Delish.

in review: a year of decorating

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This months marks our first anniversary in this condo.  We’ve been rather nomadic in our first four and a half years of marriage; we moved four times and have yet to live anywhere longer than a year and a half.  (This condo should break that streak.)  We’ve gone from a fabulous old 1920s house (a parsonage-type situation) to a 400 square foot cell apartment in campus housing to a builder-grade cookie-cutter apartment complex to our current abode: the Walthall Condominiums in downtown Hattiesburg.  The building is a former elementary school that was rescued from decay and converted into loft-style condos.

For most of these past four and a half years, my style has been, well, whatever I can get.  Daniel and I were both in graduate school for the first three and a half years, so we happily accepted hand-me-downs and supplemented with bargain finds.  I didn’t have a defined style.  As the years have passed, I’ve learned more about decorating and about my own style.  It still doesn’t fit into a neat phrase like mid-century modern, minimalist, modern rustic, vintage, etc.  It’s something more like hand-me-down/DIY-chic.  It wants to be modern vintage, I think.

At any rate, this first year in the condo has fomented the most dramatic style evolution yet, one that I document here:

Phase I

We’ve been wanting to get in this building since we’ve been in Hattiesburg.  We went to a party at another condo in the building, and we got to take a peek at this one then.  But at the time, they were trying to sell it for a price that was out of our range.  One morning, almost two years later, in May of last year, I happened to be looking through ads on Craigslist and saw this condo listed for rent.  We signed the lease that afternoon.  The condo is 1400 square feet: 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom.

Upon signing the lease.

This is what it looked like when the boxes were unpacked.

Everything came straight from our previous apartment – no new purchases.  Below are the sources of the hodge-podge of furniture displayed here.

Living Room

Media console and bookshelf: built by Daniel

Couch and cushions: Unclaimed Furniture, Jackson, MS

Coffee table/trunk and entryway console shelf: Target

Green arm chairs: hand-me-downs (originally from Pier 1)

Rug: Walmart

Kitchen

Appliances and island came with the condo

Stools: Target

Dining Room

Digital piano: a Yamaha from Mississippi Music, Hattiesburg, MS

Cherry table: hand-me-down (originally hand-crafted for my parents’ breakfast room by a friend)

Cane-bottom chairs: hand-me-downs from my grandmothers (the two on the ends came from my maternal grandmother, and the four in the middle came from my paternal grandmother)

Landing/Nook

Upside-down bottle tree (hanging from beam): DIY, inspired by décor at the Jackson, MS, Anthropologie store

Papasan couch and cushions: Pier 1

Bedroom

Bed: a wedding gift from my grandmother (from Batte Furniture, Jackson, MS)

Matelassé coverlet and pillows: Target

Dark wood desk: hand-me-down from my dad’s office (originally from Bombay Co.)

Desk chair: Pier 1

Papasan chair and cushions: Pier 1

Standing desk/bookshelf: built by Daniel

Rug: Lowe’s

Curtains: came with the condo

Chalkboard: original to the building

Phase II

Fast forward a few months to early fall 2010.  I rearranged furniture, painted the dining chairs, and made a few accessory updates.  I was so thrilled that I created a Facebook album, aptly entitled “a purely self-indulgent tour of our condo.”  I was also really into the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone.

Of note: the mirror and the chest of drawers in the bathroom are hand-me-downs from my grandmother.  (Future plans for the chest of drawers include new drawer pulls, probably from Anthropologie.)  The bookshelf in the brick wall nook was a garage sale find.  The patio table and chairs on the landing/nook are from Pier 1 and were purchased for our previous apartment, where we had a patio.  We’re making it work indoors as additional seating and my desk.  The white shag rug in the living room came from Target.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, despite the fact that we have two big dogs.

Phase III

After September, the reality of the fall semester set in, and then the holidays.  During what was left of my winter break, I devoted my energies to organizing all the closets, shelves, and drawers in the condo.  Take that, entropy.  Storage baskets from Target and Crate and Barrel became my friends.  It wasn’t until the end of the spring semester (the last month or so) that the rest of the changes happened.  Here we are, a year into the condo, and here’s what we’ve got.

So, the papasan furniture and the green armchairs went to my sister for her new post-college apartment.  All rugs went away.  The living room bookshelf is color-coded, or at least somewhat.  The windows got a major facelift.  The piano and wicker trunk (former coffee table) moved into the bedroom, the two desks changed places, the dining table changed its axis, and there’s new furniture in the living room.  (No substantive changes to the bathroom or kitchen.)

New stuff:

White club chairs: hand-me-downs from my grandmother.  We had these in our first house, and they were still covered in their 70s green-and-white striped velour.  The chairs were originally purchased in the 1950s from Batte Furniture in Jackson, MS.  They are lovely and supremely comfortable.  Having them recovered was the most expensive decorating investment I’ve ever made–and, admittedly, I could have bought a few Eames rockers with the money–but there’s something to be said for reusing and repurposing, especially when the items are high quality.  These, I believe, are heirloom pieces.

Pillows on couch and club chairs: Anthropologie.  Just the right injection of color, whimsy, and graphic element – especially since we’ve concluded that rugs are not sensible in our (dog) house.

Coffee table: Anthropologie.  Finding this at the New Orleans Anthropologie during a day trip was an epiphany.  Daniel and I had yet to agree on a coffee table, and we had considered many, many options.  This one immediately pleased both of us.  We loaded it up in our handy little Prius, brought it home, and have been delighted to finally have a real coffee table in the house.

Bed pillows: West Elm.  Actually, they’re in a seasonal transition.  I ordered bright-colored shams for the square pillows (similar to the little bolster pillow) for spring/summer, but they are on back-order.  The Jean-Paul Philippe shams were my fall/winter couch pillows.

New curtains: JCPenney.  A much-needed upgrade.  Enough said.

So, there we have it.  Here’s to another year of evolving style.

Written by Ann

May 20, 2011 at 8:59 pm