Would Dexter Like My Pastries?

Cinnamon Sugar Pastries

The answer is yes.  But that’s not really what this post is about.  I just couldn’t think of a title.  What this is really about is the joy of grocery shopping, the consequences of not planning, and the murderers hiding in my bushes.

First of all, unlike murder, I’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping.  I can never seem to get out of the store in under an hour because I end up wandering around imagining the meals I could make, then doubling back for things that I still need.  If I planned ahead I could get in and get out, but I don’t really want to.  My meandering process of grocery shopping puts me in a relaxing reverie…until, for example, I see a girl vigorously grab her boyfriend’s ass right in front of me, like I saw today.  But that’s another great thing about leisurely grocery shopping: people watching, even when they do things you don’t really want to see.

My grocery store of choice is Central Market.  I wasn’t enchanted my first time there, but I’ve been back millions of times and have fallen in love with the variety and quality of food.  I like their bulk section for grains, legumes, trail mix, and other items because it’s cheap, I can get exactly the amount I need, and it’s environmentally friendly (cuts down on packaging!)  They also have a section with prechopped veggies I can buy by the weight, like Whole Foods.

I did my grocery shopping there today. It was one of the two productive things I did today, the other being going to the gym for an hour.  Instead of studying and planning, like I should have, I blew my entire day on the following things, in order of most time-consuming:

  • spending hours and hours in the itunes store and app store browsing apps for my phone and computer and installing them
  • watching a few episodes of the 90s series Twin Peaks
  • reading The Devil in the White City.
     Useless.  It’s all because I didn’t make a plan for today.  I’ve realized that without a schedule or to-do list I don’t really do anything.  And I’ve also realized that I’ve been watching and reading way too many things about murder and serial killers lately.  Twin Peaks is about a murder investigation and The Devil in the White City is half about a serial killer in Chicago in the 1890s.  To top it off, I finished up the third season of Dexter yesterday.
     Not going to lie, all this murder has definitely made me look over my shoulder.  You should have seen me taking out my trash last night: I peered out the door of my apartment carefully, scanned the bushes for murderers lying in wait, hopped a few steps out the door, tossed my trash six feet to the pickup spot, and lunged back inside.  Right before I reached my front door I saw a neighbor looking at me from the balcony of an adjacent apartment, so once I was inside I felt like the idiot that I was. Am?
     Yesterday was more productive.  I made my second attempt at puff pastry and it was to die for (hehe.)  It took the whole day, of course, between the folding, rolling, and chilling of the dough.  I used the dough for a sopapilla recipe from the Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry website because it was easy.  I just had to cut the dough into squares, bake it until puffy and golden, then cover them in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.
     They turned out flaky, buttery, and sweet…but I had to ask myself: is making my own puff pastry worth it?  What took me a day could have taken me 20 minutes with the pre-prepared stuff.  Although you can’t really beat homemade…
     If homemade truly is the best, the solution is just to make a ton of dough myself and freeze it.  That way I don’t have to block out a day to make it.  But out of curiosity, next time I’ll try a really high quality butter with my dough and get a Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry sheet so I can compare results.  This is an experiment I don’t think I’ll mind testing.  And I can watch Season 4 of Dexter while doing it.

Horne and Dekker is (adjective)!

A menu is a magical piece of literature, as enthralling as any epic tale.  Sure, there’s a familiar plot…appetizer, entree, dessert…but there are unique characters, such as lamb and mushroom risotto and red velvet twinkies.  Then there’s the suspense of waiting, the thrill of watching the plate being brought to the table, the climax of the first bite, and finally the satisfying conclusion of the last delicious morsel.  Now some stories end up to be tragedies, but the menu at Horne & Dekker ended in happily ever after.

Horne & Dekker is one of the many great restaurants on Henderson Avenue.  It serves gourmet comfort food, or as they describe on their website, “the stuff your mom would cook–if she was a ninja.”  I’ve had ninja-mom food, and they truly deliver on their promise.

Comfort really is their goal.  As soon as we walked in, we noticed that it smelled like a warm and cozy campfire.  Even though it was a Friday night, we were promptly seated at our table at a booth lined in red velvet.  (It helps that we got there at 6:30, kind of early.)  The waiter gave us each a little teacup of a light berry drink, which, he explained, the chef likes to serve to get the palate started.  He told us the special, asked for questions, and left us to our menus.

I know I’m at a great restaurant when I literally become giddy as I begin reading the menu.  I grin and squirm in my seat like a kid.  My mind starts spinning with excitement, and I can barely read the words on the page.  It’s like starting a novel you’ve been dying to read, and you know you’re going to love just from the first paragraph.

The waiter brought us fluffy biscuits and butter to start off.  He placed the plate on personalized Horne & Dekker tin cans that served as a table centerpiece, pedestal, and advertisement for their happy hour and Sunday specials.  I ordered a peach mojito first, which was refreshing.  The peach and the mint were balanced perfectly.  I picked lamb and risotto for my entree.  I’m not a lamb connoisseur by any stretch, but it was tender, juicy, and delicious.  The accompanying salad was crisp and tart, and the mushroom risotto was earthy and creamy.

Lamb and Mushroom Risotto - please excuse the iphone3g-quality picture...

For dessert, I had the whimsical red velvet twinkies, which they served with a carton of milk.  It’s a kid dessert for grown-ups, and it perfectly represents the attitude of the restaurant: laid-back and light-hearted.  It tasted like any standard red velvet cake, which isn’t by any means a bad thing.  I definitely enjoyed it with my milk.  I preferred the dessert of my dinner buddy, the Engineer.  He ordered banana nut bread pudding, which came with a scoop of heavenly vanilla ice cream and little crumbles of what might have been toffee or some kind of brittle.

Red Velvet Twinkies

The service was attentive and unobtrusive.  Our water glasses always stayed topped off, sometimes without us even noticing.  The Engineer noticed that they were very careful not to reach across the table to fill glasses or get plates, opting instead to just go around the table.  The chef even came around to our table to ask how things were.

We received a comment card with our checks to give our feedback and to my delight it was in the form of a mad-lib!  You remember mad-libs, where they give you the story and you fill in with nouns, adjectives, and adverbs where indicated.  With this one, you filled out information about the food, service, and your company in the form of a story.  One part read something like, “I came here with my family/friend/date (circle one).  They are (adjective)…”  I couldn’t help but be amused at the thought of how many awkward situations that has probably caused and how much fun they must have reading these.  My (friend) and I left the restaurant very satisfied with the conclusion of our meal.  We drove off into the sunset, full and happy.

Goal-Setting for Gluttons

One of the rules of successful goal-setting, that I just now made up, is this: don’t make contradictory goals.  For example, don’t set a goal to never drink beer again while setting another goal to start your own brewery.  You will not set yourself up for success. Common sense enough, right?  Another example: don’t set a goal to get super fit while also setting a goal to make perfect pastries from scratch.  Well, despite my own thoroughly researched advice, I have set those two goals.

My goal of getting fit came first, and I had been doing an ok job the past month and a half:  joining a gym, getting myself to go to the gym, working out regularly, eating decently, etc.  Then I went on vacation to Florida, where it became a distant memory.

Before I went to Florida, however, I bought a few sessions with a personal trainer at my gym, something I had never done before.  I figured I could use someone to kick my ass and teach me how to correctly use the machines in the gym.  My first session was yesterday, the morning RIGHT after I came back from my weeklong junk-eating, laying-around extravaganza in Florida.  Short story short, I almost threw up during the workout.

Afterwards, to make myself feel better, I went to Half Price Books and bought a book about making puff pastry.  The second goal, to make the perfect puff pastries, came about before I went to Florida.  I had made some pastelitos de guayaba (guava pastries) like I always do, using Pepperidge Farm Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets.  My friends enjoyed them, but they tasted so bland to me. That’s when the wheels started turning and I decided I would learn how to make awesome puff pastry from scratch.

After I bought the book at Half Price, I went grocery shopping and bought some kitchen supplies I didn’t have.  As much as I love baking, I had managed to survive almost a year in my apartment without a roller.  (One time I used a wine bottle I wrapped in plastic wrap…)  I got home, put my supplies out on the counter, and…took a three hour nap.  The exhaustion from the workout caught up with me.

I did manage to make myself some dinner, a Crunchy Curry Pasta Salad.  Since I needed to save a greek yogurt cup from expiration, I adapted a dip recipe from the June issue of Women’s Health (Sweet-And-Spicy Yogurt) for the “sauce.”

I combined a cup of greek yogurt with 1/4 cup diced peaches, 1 1/2 tsp of curry powder, 1/4 tsp of cumin, and a 1/4 tsp of salt.  I also added a little bit black pepper, cayenne, and a few drops of sriracha sauce to taste, because I wanted a little more kick.  I put this mixture in the fridge while the whole wheat elbow macaroni cooked.  Once it was done, I drained it and then mixed it with chopped carrots and cabbage (which I bought prechopped at Whole Foods–so convenient) and the yogurt sauce.  The next step would have been putting it in the fridge to let the flavors develop, but I was really hungry…I put half in the fridge and the other half in a bowl to eat leisurely on the balcony while I plotted my pastry plan for the next day.

The Edge Of Glory, Summer Vacation

I charge out of my cool apartment into the Dallas sun, and my skin develops a slick sheen of sweat within three minutes.  I elbow my overflowing beach bag closer to my body as my flip-flops slap the burning pavement. I catch the soft edge of a generous breeze as I reach the pool area of my apartment complex. I am the only soul there to soak up the sun.  I stop.  I smile.  It is noon, on a Wednesday, and I am not at work.

My first year of teaching is behind me, and at this point all I can say is…I’M FREEEEEEEEE!!!  The thermometer has been creeping up for weeks, and I have been craving summer.  Not just vacation, but the tastes of summer, like a charred burger straight from an outdoor grill, topped with cold tomato slices and crispy lettuce, all between pillowy buns.  In fact, I believe I’m dangerously close to crashing a cookout.  Today I saw a lonely potato chip abandoned on a lounge chair by the pool, and only my dignity prevented me from rescuing it into my mouth.  And I don’t even like potato chips…except during cookouts.

With the looming certainty of three-digit temperatures in the future, I want to enjoy the double-digit heat while I can.  I plan to leisurely eat on patios and be in or near bodies of water as much as possible.  But I won’t just be lounging this summer.  I’ll be studying for my last certification exam and the GRE, planning for next year, working out, moving to a new apartment, and getting back into writing.  I’ll also explore more of what Dallas has to offer since I’ll finally have the time!

A few months ago I was thinking of getting a summer job, but I realized I need this summer for myself.  My first year of teaching was challenging, stressful, depressing, rewarding, overwhelming, and downright exhausting.  I think I’ve earned some “me” time, and I can’t wait to explore the possibilities.

A dad falls asleep by the pool with his daughter sleeping on his chest and a balloon tied around his wrist. Awful picture but too cute to not share. :)