Zucchini Noodles with Shrimp and Tomatoes

FINALLY feeling normal after our 1 year wedding anniversary / belated honeymoon trip to Hong Kong and Japan, we had to take a break from sorting through the 3000+ photos we took, which I hope to share you with one day.  As much as I know we are going to sound like SUCH  snoots, we had a hard time ‘adjusting’ to the food in NYC after the incredible meals we had for 3 weeks in Asia, but honestly some home cooked meals are in order to begin our post vacation ‘cleanse’.

With that, what better place to get our groceries than at our neighborhood farmer’s market?  Check out these Komet tomatoes plump and glowing in red in the speckled sunshine! It was hard to resist buying them even at $5.49 /lb (gulp)….Such as farmer’s market goes though, you never know what you might find. To make up for those pricey red beauties, we passed by Monkshood Nursery selling some amazing looking organic GIANT zucchinis ON SALE for $1 EACH!!!! Holy crap.

Komet Tomatoes

$5.49 / lb Komet Tomatoes

Giant Zucchini !

Giant Zucchini !!!!! Courtesy of Monkshood Nursery

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Bird is the Word

Even the birds know that winter in NYC is finally over and are joining the Spring fling that’s in full swing.  Bird migration season is here and Central Park is teeming with these incredible little animals!

This past Sunday alone (5/3) we saw 4 new birds we’ve never seen before just with a few hours of “casual” birding: Yellow Rumped Warbler, Blue Headed Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and the Prairie Warbler. Not to mention other visitors & favorite regulars: Black and White Warbler, American Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker, House Finch, White-Throated Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Titmouse, Brown Creeper, Pine Warbler, Red Winged Blackbird, Cowbird etc. etc etc.

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Nashville Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Blue Headed Vireo

Blue Headed Vireo

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

I never used to care about birds, a sparrow’s a sparrow and a pigeon’s just a flying rat, right? Well partially right, pigeons ARE indeed flying rats but a sparrow is definitely not just a sparrow.  In North America alone, there are at least 35 species of sparrows and now that I’ve been birding for a few years, being able to identify different kinds of sparrows have become somewhat of a holy grail.

Nerdy, I know, but bird watching truly brought about a whole new perspective on life for me.  It’s a great activity that will bring you outdoors, make you look up, and realize that NYC is not just about people and the latest restaurants.  It allows for the appreciation of the details in life that distinguish the “little dots” in the sky with incredible beauty.

Some tips for first time birders:

  • Get out there! Start with the birds that are easy to find in your area. In NYC those would be: Cardinals, Robins, Blue JaysEuropean Starlings, Grackles
  • Once you get the hang of identifying the more abundant birds and get familiar with their favorite hangouts, start listening to their songs!
  • When you’re ready to take your birding to the next level (bird nerds unite) get a pair of binoculars and check out this great video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Download the free Merlin Bird ID app to help identify birds and ask what birds birders around you are seeing. We’re nice peeps!

Perfect Chinese Dumplings – For The New Year & Beyond (Updated)

Happy Lunar New Year of the Sheep! Chinese New Year is one of my favorite holidays growing up in Hong Kong. A celebration of Spring’s impending arrival, we would fill our homes with fresh flowers (boy, do I miss the sweet scent of the Narcissus bulb!), see friends and family, and eat a lot of food that typically only gets served during this festive time of year.

While these precious gatherings are harder to come by these days, I hope to carry on this great tradition by making the foods that remind me most of home. Turnip cake is a solid staple, while it does take a bit of work, it’s so worth it to make your own – check out my recipe (and menu) here. This year, I’m going to dive into another gold star staple, the Chinese dumpling!

Ready to wrap and roll!

Ready to wrap and roll! 

Our household favorite savory dumpling recipe features some unusual ingredients like bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms (for crunch), and Chinese chives (more garlicky than regular chives). You can omit or substitute those ingredients and the dumpling would still be delish – this recipe is pretty forgiving. To learn more about wrapping, serving, and storing your dumplings, check out this great noshon.it post:

Ingredients (makes 50 dumplings):

– 7 – 10 Shitake Mushrooms chopped

– 10 – 15 pieces Wood Ear Mushrooms chopped (optional)

– 1 small can Bamboo Shoots chopped

– 2 small Carrots chopped

– 5 – 6 Napa Cabbage (or green cabbage) leaves, blanched, cold bath, chopped

– 8-12 stalks of Chinese chives (or 2-3 stalks of spring onions if unavailable) chopped

– 1/4 cup Cilantro

– 1 tablespoon Grated Ginger

– 1 egg, whisked

– 1 pound Raw shrimp (as binding agent for the vegetable mix) grounded into a paste using a food processor (or you can use 1/2 lbs Ground chicken and 1/2 lbs Ground shrimp)

– Soy sauce and sesame oil to season dumpling mix

– 50 Dumpling Skins (should be able to find Nasoya brand at Wholefoods or local grocery store)

– Soy sauce or Citrus dumpling sauce with a drop of seasame oil for dipping

Instructions:

1. Chop all listed vegetable ingredients

2. Mix all vegetables, whisked egg, and shrimp (or chicken) well with soy sauce and sesame oil 

3. Wrap a small spoonful of mix in a dumpling skin

4, Steam, Pan fry, or Boil your dumplings and serve hot with dipping sauce on the side

5. Have a dumpling party!

Chinese Dumplings

Wrapped up and ready to go!


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Boiled dumplings

Gift Great Hair – Homemade No-poo & Conditioner

Happy holidays everyone!!!  I can’t believe the end of 2014 is nigh.  This has been a seminal year for me and the husband as it signifies our first marital Christmahanakwanzika together!  In lieu of buying material things for the holidays (and in general), we have made the conscious decision to shed the clutter in our lives and minds.

But… gifting can be fun.  Which brings me to my perfect procrastinator, yet super practical, 5 minute (no joke) gift idea – a gift of great hair.  Who would say no to that?

Homemade Shampoo and Conditioner

Homemade Shampoo and Conditioner

I came across this homemade solution a few months ago when I was desperate for hair products that are organic yet effective.  Since I had all the ingredients readily available, I figure, why not?

No-poo Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon of Baking Soda
  • 1 Cup of Water

Conditioner Ingredients:

Other Materials:

  • Ketchup / Mustard squeeze bottle or an old shampoo bottle
  • Essential oils, if you’d like. Here’s some guidance on properties of essential oils for hair

Directions:

  • Mix No-poo / Conditioner ingredients in their respective bottles. Shake well.
  • To use No-poo: Wet hair and scalp thoroughly. Squeeze enough baking soda solution on scalp till you feel scalp is well drenched, massage and let sit for a few minutes. Rinse. Your hair should feel squeaky.
  • To use conditioner: Pour vinegar solution onto clean hair, massage and rinse. For extra shine, rinse with cold water (closes hair cuticles)
  • Do a happy dance. VOILA. It is THAT SIMPLE

Now you may think this is weird, I did too. I also know that the solution doesn’t foam like commercial products out there, but here’s my “why not” logic:

1. Baking soda is a known cleaning agent. It’s a mild abrasive and attractant (picks up dirt), and it is also alkali, which deodorizes. No brainer! In fact, after you apply the baking soda “shampoo”, you’ll notice that your hair is SQUEAKY CLEAN.

2. Apple cider vinegar has the same acidity as your hair, thereby restoring the alkali environment that the baking soda shampoo created. It also works to naturally de-tangle your hair and binds closely to your hair cuticle.  Ooooo, silky AND shiiny hair.

3. It’s works! It’s natural! It’s magic!

I have been using this solution for a few months now and have experimented on my husband (lol), we have both noticed a big difference in the health of our hair.  I have received more compliments on how bouncy, voluminous, and shiny my hair is over the past few months than I have in past years (even my hair stylist said so, therefore it must be true)!

This has since been recommended and passed onto many friends and family of ours and we’ve heard some pretty great feedback.  Now, this solution shouldn’t be used every day as it is pretty potent, so definitely listen to your scalp and adjust as needed. And try not to get the vinegar in your eyes, it WILL burn.

On that note, HAPPY OWLIDAYS and see you all in 2015!

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Just Stew It – Polish Edition (edited)

Winter gettin you down? No sweat (it’s too cold anyway), lift your spirits with some Polish Hunter Stew!

I still remember the first time I had this radiant stew years ago at an unassuming New Jersey catering spot.  With loads of vegetables, the slight tang of sauerkraut, smokiness of kielbasa, spiciness of cayenne pepper, this Polish national dish (Bigos) is anything but forgettable.

   
 Far from being a “quick” dish, this stew is a great alternative to your traditional stew and is worth the extra TLC.  What’s more? It freezes well, keeps well, AND it tastes even better by days 2 and 3! BOOYAH!
Bigos - Polish Hunter Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 thick slices hickory-smoked bacon
  • 1 pound kielbasa sausage, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 pound cubed beef stew meat
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage (green or napa,both ok)
  • 1 (16 ounce) jar sauerkraut
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon caraway seed, crushed
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 ounce dried mushrooms (ok to skip)
  • 1 dash bottled hot pepper sauce
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons canned tomato paste
  • 1 28oz canned diced tomatoes

Directions

1. Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and kielbasa; cook and stir until the bacon has rendered its fat and sausage is lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat and transfer to a large casserole or Dutch oven.

2. Add the garlic and onion in the pot, sautee until golden (approximately 3 minutes), then add carrots, fresh mushrooms, cabbage and sauerkraut. Reduce heat to medium; cook and stir until the carrots are soft, about 10 minutes. Do not let the vegetables brown.

3. Remove vegetables with slotted spoon and sautée floured beef in pan until browned. 

4. Deglaze the pan by pouring in the red wine and stirring to loosen all of the bits of food and flour that are stuck to the bottom. Season with the bay leaf, basil, marjoram, paprika, salt, pepper, caraway seeds and cayenne pepper; cook for 1 minute.

5. If you have them, mix in the dried mushrooms, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, tomato paste and tomatoes. Heat through just until boiling. Pour the vegetables and all of the liquid into the casserole dish with the meat. Cover with a lid.

6. Cook on low to medium heat for at least 1 hour or until meat is very tender.

Give a gift of food!

From Poland, via NYC, gifted with Love!

Credit goes to All Recipes with my notes and modifications