Mini lasagnas are on my mind and in my hands…

Mini Wonton Lasagnas

Like many of my friends, my friend Oliver is really into food. I wouldn’t say he’s as obsessed as I am, but I do know we share a tendency to pour over online menus, planning our meals before we even set foot in the restaurant. We also cook dinner together once a week before settling in to watch a few hours of (usually pretty trashy) TV. It’s one of those random routines that has worked fairly effortlessly for us for years.

The only hard part is deciding what to make each week. While our food preferences can vary a bit (I probably couldn’t pay him to try foie gras), the main issue is actually our timeline — we meet at 7pm and try to be done cooking within thirty minutes so we have ample TV time.

Even working with this limitation, we have put out some damn good food, including this crispy orange chicken and a roasted rack of pork with vegetables. But one of my favorite things we cooked recently were this little mini lasagnas, made by using wonton wrappers.

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The profound ups and downs of pork chops and pineapple

Making this meal put my emotions on a roller coaster ride. Thankfully it was the type of ride that as soon as you’re finished, you run to get right back in line.

It started with the build up of anticipation. The second I saw this recipe for Pork Chops with Pineapple Fried Rice on The Pioneer Woman’s blog, I immediately posted it to my friend Oliver’s Facebook page with the question, “Should we make this?!” I got back an almost instant reply of “Yes. Like now.” Even though it would be pure torture to wait a whole week, we planned to make it for our next Gossip Girl extravaganza.

I was so excited by the pictures Ree posted, that the next day I couldn’t help but show all the girls in my office so they could drool with me. My friend Ariel, whose desk is right by mine, was immediately hooked. I promised I would tell her the following week if it lived up to the hype, but she told me, in no uncertain terms, that it looked so good, she was going to beat me to making it.

And she did. Two days later she was nonchalantly eating her leftovers for lunch while I hovered enviously near her desk waiting for her recipe feedback. In between bites of rice and pork, Ariel confirmed that the recipe was equally easy and delicious.

Oliver and I spent the next few days eagerly discussing how magical “pork chop night” was going to be. Then — finally!! —  the big day arrived.

If I'm cooking, you can bet that there will be beer involved. That is a promise.

We convened at my house, where I had the rice already cooked and cooled. Oliver arrived with pork chops (we decided to go for boneless chops just because) and a jar of pimentos. We got down to business.

I pounded the chops just a bit and Oliver started cutting the pineapple into chunks. We weren’t ambitious enough to grill it, so we just cranked up a heavy skillet and sautéed the fruit until it was tender with a nice golden color. While that was working, we seared up the pork chops in a separate pan, added the onions and let it cook down into awesome-ness. The smell was overwhelmingly good.

Then came the wet ingredients (honey, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar). The pork chops actually cooked pretty quickly so we removed them and let the sauce cook down with just the onions. Once it had thicken, we poured it on top of the pork chops in a bowl while we got rolling on the fried rice.

Look at how pretty this fried rice is!

Here’s where things took a sudden dive. We cooked the rice exactly as instructed and it certainly looked divine, but when we tasted it, the flavor was a bit flat. It just wasn’t quite snappy enough. We were panicking…well, I was panicking — Oliver wasn’t overly concerned. But after all the anticipation, I was not going to settle for sub-par fried rice. I threw in a bunch of chopped green onions, a squirt or two of sesame oil and reread the instructions. Sure, there was the sauce with the onions, but when we poured it in the bowl with the pork, it didn’t seem saucy enough to punch up the flavor in a full skillet of rice.

After a bit more soy sauce and some lime juice, I finally decided to stop tinkering. It would just have to do, I thought sadly. At least it looked pretty and colorful, and even if it wasn’t amazing, it would be good enough.

Then things took a final upward swing. When I pulled out the chops to slice them, the sauce seemed to have tripled. I felt a ray of hope as I threw half of the saucy onions into the rice and gave it a good stir. Then we plated up our rice, pork and finished it with caramelized pineapple, generously drizzling extra sauce over the top.

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I actually succeeded in making something crafty from Pinterest!

About seven years ago or so, I helped start a crafting group with my friend Oliver Lucky. It was called the Crafty Bitches and consisted of the two of us and a mutual friend. As the Crafty Bitches, we would get together on Sundays (we tried to meet consistently every week, but then we’d fall off the wagon) and enjoy a day of eating, drinking and crafting.

While it was certainly a blast, the problems were plentiful and quite obvious. We were not that great at crafting — even though we had big dreams, we seemed to fall a little short talent-wise. We didn’t always have all of the supplies we needed and often had no clue how to go about actually making some of the things we wanted to try. We also drank a lot of wine when we crafted and our ambition tended to crumble. We once decided to mainline six consecutive hours of the Real World/Road Rules Challenge instead of learning how to mosaic a stepping stone.

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Stray Cat Strut: Meet Friday — the prettiest kitty of all time…

* Friday is the only one of our cats who did not actually come to me as a stray. But I saved her from the possibility, so I think it counts.

Back in the fall of my junior year of college at HSU, I was living in a house with five other people, one of them my former roommate Oliver Lucky. There was a knock on the door one evening, and we opened it to find a woman standing there with two small children holding a basket of kittens. All of us were enamored with their adorableness (the kittens not the children) but I was the only person who didn’t think taking one was a good idea.

This is surprising, I know, considering my serious cat obsession. But we were college kids with no jobs and no real responsibilities. Cats are certainly less maintenance than other pets, but none of us had even committed to living together for any longer than the year. Sure we were all friends, but senior year was completely up in the air. And none of us planned to spend the summer in Humboldt County, thus a pet would have to travel with someone during school breaks.

And yet, we took one. The little black one to be precise.

We named her Friday because she was a black cat born on Friday the 13th. She was a sweet kitten with a sense of adventure and undeterred curiosity — until she was stung by a bee. After that she preferred to stay inside where she became infamous at our small parties for her devotion to fetching everything from glitter ball cat toys to bottle caps.

One year later, as suspected, I was Friday’s sole owner (something Oliver has heard ad nauseam ever since). But I have to admit I wouldn’t have it any other way. After I graduated, she came with me to Portland, meowing the whole way, and was basically my best friend for the first few months I lived here.

Wait — that sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? Well, it’s true. I soon made friends, both in my neighborhood and at culinary school, but it was Friday who kept me company when I was home. No longer just a college kitty, she began to settle in to our quiet life in Portland. She had never been overly affectionate, but she developed the habit of sitting on my lap while I was on my computer, purring away. At night I would give her a little “tsk-tsk” and she would come running to cuddle under the covers.

This lasted until we adopted Lucifer. Used to being an only cat, she resentfully avoided us for a few months. Now she’ll come and cuddle but it’s always on her terms. If she’s in the mood for pets, she will meow and swat you. If she’s not — stay away.

All of my cats have fairly distinct personalities and though Friday is easy to just pass off as just a slightly cranky and neurotic old-lady cat, she really has a lot more going on. She enjoys water — as a kitten she used to love to have the sink running so she could paw at the stream coming from the faucet. Now she still likes water, but mainly just drinking it out of things that are not meant as water bowls.

This has led these defiant acts of kitty thirst quenching:

She is also far from a pushover. Our other cats are boys who came straight from the streets, basically the unruly teenage punks of the feline world. Friday was declawed when she was only a couple of years old (a decision I still regret) but that doesn’t stop the other two from being terrified of her.

If they get too close, she gives them an earful — hissing and growling as if she was actually going to fight them. I think she sleeps with one eye open just in case they get any ideas. They might be rough-and-tumble former alley cats, but she clearly rules the roost. Lucifer gave up on trying to play with her years ago and Gus Gus gives her a wide berth, though occasionally his curiosity gets the better of him and he tries to initiate contact. This does not go well.

In fact here’s a picture from almost a year ago, when Gus Gus was still new to the household. He didn’t know that Friday values her personal space as much as she does her dinner time and tried to edge her out of the eating area. She showed no fear and, ears pulled back, taught him a lesson on who eats first in our house.

She’s still my sweet little girl though, and the first pet who belonged to just me. Not a family cat that my parents help take care of, but a pet that (after that first year) was actually my sole responsibility. We’ve been through a lot together in the past twelve years and I think we’ll always have a special bond because of that.

Banana-Rama Birthday Bonanza!

Make a wish….and you better make it a good one!

First off, I want to dedicate this post to one of my best friends, Oliver Lucky. We met our freshman year of college, probably our first day of being at school seeing as we lived in the same dorm. It’s hard to believe we’ve now been friends for 15 years — it doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were raising hell in Chinquapin Hall.

In the time that we’ve known each other, our friendship has been fairly fluid, from living in the same city to living a state apart, from seeing each other daily to maybe a few times a year. I’m lucky now because (finally!) we live within walking distance of each other and it’s been pretty awesome. However, since his time living in my neighborhood, we’ve regressed once or twice back to our college-day habits. There was an incident involving a little too much booze that may have ended with me waking up on my living room floor to find Oliver fast asleep on the couch. Or not. It’s hard to say.

Anyways, it’s his birthday today and to celebrate I made a Black-Bottomed Banana Cream Pie. This came about for several reasons — because I needed to make another recipe from my folder to keep my resolution going and because I made the mistake of buying two bags of bananas at Costco and then promptly forgot about them. That place is dangerous!

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