Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Experience of Crispy Black Bean Tacos

Ask me what I do and I’ll probably say “marketing”. It’s a nice catch all—but it doesn’t really catch all of what I do. Lately, I’ve been doing much more UI/UX (user interface, user experience) stuff.

This means I take problems mostly from our product and customer service teams and figure out the best way to solve them for our on-site shoppers. Problems like opting for the larger size conference table means the package won’t fit through a standard doorway when it’s delivered—how do we explain that before someone buys?

Then there’s testing. Does this link really get the attention we think it does? Are users moving in a clear path from browsing to checkout? Does anyone know what “merle” means? To be honest, it’s more fun than marketing; it’s like solving a new puzzle every day, in a web geek sense.

The crispy black bean tacos I made last night reminded me of the good user experience I strive for at work. First, the ingredients of this recipe are simple and straight forward. The spices may be the most unusual (though hardly), but they go a long way in taste factor. Second, it’s apparent mid-cooking how delicious it’s going to be—the cheese goes melty, the tortilla shell turns golden and hard, the black bean mixture becomes fragrant in a way that’s cool for beans to be fragrant (if you’re picking up what I’m putting down).

Then there was the glowing review from Ben—affirmation that these suckers are delicious, fast and should become a regular staple in the dinner rotation. Essentially, he liked the experience so much he wanted more. That’s music to UI/UX person’s ears.

Crispy Black Bean Tacos
Ingredients
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ cup salsa
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Corn tortillas
¼ cup oil (canola or coconut)

Directions
1. Combine beans, spices and salsa. Coarsely mash to combine.
2. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan.
3. Spread black bean mixture across tortilla and sprinkle on some cheese. Fold it in half and place it in the pan. Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

Notes
My tortillas were about six inches in diameter. If yours are bigger, I’d suggest cutting them in half and making these as crispy triangle quesadillas. It’s a lot easier to fold and flip them if they’re smaller. Also the original recipe called for corn, not flour tortillas. It’s minor but I think it does make a big difference on taste.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lentil Coconut Curry Soup

I have a strong feeling we’re in the thick of winter already, friends. It’s cool though—I’m bringing my A game and battening down the hatches early.

I bought a new winter jacket that’s essentially an arctic parka.
I busted out my trudge-through-the-snow winter boots.
We put up Ben’s bike on the trainer for some indoor cycling.
Also, I’ve altered my grocery shopping game.

'Tis the season for hearty, long lasting ingredients that will stay well past a week. It’s extra awful to go on a mid-blizzard grocery run. Have you ever pushed a shopping cart through 4 inches of parking lot slush? I’d rather ride the bike trainer in my snow boots and arctic parka.

This soup recipe has a lot of ingredients, but most of them are items I regularly have on hand. The directions are simple, too. But to be honest, it had me at lentils. Lentils are my jam, yo. I’m also partial to curry and coconut flavors. They’re tropically soul warming in a way that I won’t be experiencing for a while. A long while.

The first night I made this I poured a small serving into a smaller sauce pan and thickened it slightly with a coconut milk/cornstarch slurry. I poured the stew-like result over a bowl of cold rice and nommed down on it hard.

Now my freezer is full of single serving lentil coconut soup jars, my stomach is full and my heart is happy. As long as I’ve got this meal on hand—let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Lentil Coconut Curry Soup

Ingredients
1/2 a medium onion finely chopped
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 jalapeño finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon curry paste (or curry powder)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup tomato paste
7 cups water
1 can lite coconut milk
1 1/2 cups dried green lentils
1 15-oz can of chickpeas—drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon lime juice
cilantro to garnish if you want

Directions
1. Cook the onion, bell pepper and jalapeño in a big stock pot with 1-2 tablespoons of oil (I used coconut) for 5-8 minutes until they’re soft.
2. Add the ginger, garlic, curry paste or powder, cinnamon, salt and tomato paste. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the water, coconut milk, lentils and chickpeas. Simmer for 20-25 minutes. Add the lime juice and serve.

Notes
This makes a lot of soup. I got something like 10 servings out of it. You could half it, but why would you want to?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Friendsgiving 2014


DOH! I’m late with my Friendsgiving post! For shame I didn’t share how fun our night of hosting went. Will you ever forgive me? Good. Now on with the story of our dinner.

Last year we did a small Friendsgiving with two other couples. This year, we, ahem, expanded. We had 12—tah-whelve—people at our apartment for a pre-Thanksgiing feast.

I (again) roasted two chickens and made a vat of roasted vegetables to go with it. We also had pizza roles, cheese and jam crostini, mac and cheese, green bean casserole, tomato and basil and avocado salad, spinach pies, sangria, beer by the plenty, Oreo balls, apple pie and drunken gummy bears. Are you full just thinking about it? I’m 4 pounds heavier just thinking about it.

The best part, I think, was the set-up. We hauled in a desk and office chairs to “extend” our kitchen table, seated two at the kitchen bar and set the coffee table and couch to accommodate more place settings. Co-zay.

Post-dinner we played Catch Phrase (denoting team members with who wore one of my winter or fashion scarves or not) and Scattergories before calling the night a wrap. It really was one of the best Saturday nights we’ve had—amplified by 12.


White Thanksgiving


Happy winter, y’all.

We’re staying warm and moving slow under a blanket of 12-18” of snow. Since Sunday, weather radar maps have shown a consistent 6-10” circle around Grand Rapids. Since Sunday, it hasn’t stopped snowing for more than 15 minutes or so. We’re no Buffalo, but we’re in full lake effect snow mode just the same.

As of November 16, I heard Boyne Highlands is open for skiing. Skiing! Before Thanksgiving! The horror! The fleece pajama pants have come out and the Christmas music has been turned up. Bring on the holidays—assuming we can get home for them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Four

Armed with a butter knife and a bottle of Goo Gone, Ben spent a few nights last week scraping stubborn labels off glass bottles and jars for me. Cleaning jars for centerpieces is one of several wedding related jobs I’ve tasked him with, and one of several he’s taken on with no complaint or questioning.

He did most of the bottle cleaning work while I was in bed—reading my usual two pages from a bedside novel before I toss it onto his pillow and conk out cold. By 9 p.m. I’m drained from a big, huge, ginormous work project; wedding work (currently in the form of designing invitations) and household chores.

But each morning I wake up recharged, my book magically relocated to his nightstand, my limbs tucked in to our warmest purple blanket and more clean bottles drying on the kitchen bar.

It’s not entirely glamorous, but it's life right now. And on our fourth dateiversary, I'm relishing the simple and quiet moments of caring for each other that come far more often than the big celebrations or exciting events. It's the little things that dig me deeper into a cheesy pit of love.

Happy four years, Ben—and happy six months more until we put those fantastically clean bottles to use.