Thursday, June 28, 2012

Earthy, Smoky Fresh Tomato Soup

It's a hot, humid day today, but it didn't really stop me from making some good old tomato soup. Sometimes, when you're feeling down, tomato soup can really perk you up. One day, they're going to discover some sort of compound that legitimately proves why it brings back nostalgic memories of happiness.

I know everyone has their own tried and true recipe for tomato soup, but I like to experiment every time I make it... like a boss. (Haha, no. I promise I won't say that again.) This version has a hint of smokiness thanks to the cumin, an earthiness from a surprising source, and a whole lot of freshness because... it's tomato season! Whoooo hoo!

To serve two main dish or four appetizer, gather up:
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 smallish yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 6 or 7 well-sized Roma tomatoes, chopped coarsely
  • Pinch cayenne pepper 
  • 1/2 a mushroom bullion cube (Trust me on this.)
  • 1 generous tsp dried oregano or 1 tbsp fresh oregano minced
  • 1 quart vegetable stock (I used Trader Joe's low-sodium)
  • 1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed (I used Goya's Small White Beans)
  • salt to taste (remember, bullion cubes are salty too)
  • Handful fresh torn basil
  • Your favorite cheese for garnish (I used one of those tubs that have parm, asiago, etc. mixed together.)
And chop, stir, cook:
  • Warm olive oil in a stockpot or dutch oven over medium high heat and add in the diced shallots and onions and let cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Then, stir in cumin and garlic and cook for 30 seconds until aromatic. 
  • Add in the chopped tomatoes, stir, and cover, allowing it to cook over medium high to high heat until broken down and very soft. Sprinkle the cayenne pepper, add the bullion cube, and season with oregano. 
  • Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 5 minutes. 
  • Then, add in the white beans, stir, and cover partially and let simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, depending on how hungry you are like right now
  • Now, my favorite part. I discovered this method when I first moved and had no blender either upright or handheld. Turn off the heat and take a potato masher (I have those wire ones that look like a squiggly line) and mash the beans and tomatoes together. Do a few good mashes just to break down the beans a little bit and let the soup become slightly thicker. You don't need to turn the whole thing into a smooth puree, and besides, you couldn't no matter how good your mashing arm is. 
  • Taste! Then, season with salt. And taste again!
  • Sprinkle basil and cheese on top and serve with oven-toasted whole grain bread.
  • Reminisce. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The "Miracle" Workout

It seems like everyone's always on the lookout for the next "miracle" workout or the "perfect" diet. Remember the 90's and its aerobics and carb craze? Then, there was the Atkin's diet, kickboxing, Pilates, South Beach diet, you name it, someone's done it. In reality, there isn't a single one-size-fit-all method. It's all about what's a miracle for you and what's perfect for you. (Photo Source)

Let's talk about working out. I was not a big fan of working out until Guitar Boy came along with his bicycle and gym membership. He was active and all about eating right while I preferred the couch and didn't think twice about food. Eventually, I felt like a sluggish plump person next to his lean and strong physique. He didn't do anything to cause me to feel like that. I did it to myself and I hated it. It wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and well, that causes problems in a relationship whether you admit it or not.

So, I gave in and went along with him on some of his bike rides. I signed up at the gym and became the cardio queen. 30 minutes on the elliptical and I was out of there, but at least, I was doing something. Then, I built up the confidence to be able to head over to all the weight machines. (It took over a year, really.) It wasn't fun for me though. While I liked doing the cardio, it all eventually got boring. Which is why when I moved and had to end my membership, I was secretly relieved. No more dealing with a bunch of sweaty people; no more fighting for machines; no more feeling like you're being gawked at even when you're really not.

But... I had something else in the wings. Something that I couldn't wait to do, that made me excited, and without fail, made me feel amazing when I was done. I realized, that's what working out should be. It shouldn't be work, it should be just using your body and feeling great about how your body is functioning. My miracle workout is yoga.

Yoga should be for everyone. There's a million ways to go about it, it's very low in cost depending on what you choose to do, and its benefits are endless. You can use it as strength training or to exercise your heart. You can use it to aid in ailments and body aches. You can use it to relax yourself at the end of a long day and to relieve stress. Unfortunately, yoga has a reputation that most "macho" men don't want to go near with a ten foot pole. They're really missing out.

I want to introduce you to my favorite yoga flow. It's called Sun Salutation and it's just a great way to get a stretch in your whole body and to revive yourself. This graphic found through Pinterest is gorgeous and helps you remember all the steps. Plus, you can even do a series of these quickly to raise your heart rate for some cardio. Click to see a version for beginners at Yoga Journal.


It's quick, easy, and cheap to get started. You can look for local yoga classes at your gym, rec center, or yoga studio. Just do a search for yoga and your zip. Or, do what I do. I bought a $5 yoga mat (thank you, Five Below,) and I follow yoga routines found on Hulu (Yoga Zone is my favorite) and Netflix. Sometimes, I hit up YouTube for variety. Esther Ekhart is a great instructor. The only problem with doing it at home is that you're never really sure if you're hitting the positions. Having a mirror nearby helps. So is calling out to your significant other and asking if your "butt is in the right place and if not, can you help?" The answer is usually, "Oh, can I?" with a leer. But that's okay.

The point of yoga is doing it so you improve yourself little by little and feel good. It's not a competition and it's not an instant transformation. Without the pressure of getting results, you can actually enjoy it and that is the best type of workout one can ask for.

What's your miracle workout? Do you like to run for hours? Or are you a Pilates fan? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sweet Summer Corn Spaghetti

I wanted to go all alliteration-y on you and call this Sweet Summer Squash Spaghetti, but there's proportionately more corn than squash in this dish and I cannot tell a lie.

Since we're not telling lies, I'm going to tell you that this dish was pretty simple to make and surprisingly good. Though, it shouldn't be surprising when you get all your favorite produce at this awesome farm off the Towpath Trail named Szalay's Sweet Corn Farm. Guitar Boy and I bike, pick up some goods, and bike back home. It's the good life.
(Photo Credit:

So, here's what you need to have. (This will serve 2 big portions):

  • Enough spaghetti for two (I prefer whole wheat for its taste and health benefits, so why not?)
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 zucchini, cut into half and sliced into 1/4" pieces
  • Splash of dry white wine (optional, see method below)
  • 1 - 1 1/2 tsp Mediterranean, Greek, or Italian seasoning (or your favorite)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 a pint of grape tomatoes (give or take depending on your preference,) halved
  • 2 sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob
  • 2 garlic scapes, minced (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Basil and a handful of Parmesan cheese for garnish

And here's how you make it:

  • Prepare a pot of salted water to boil the spaghetti while cooking the vegetables.
  • In a large pan, warm up some olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the shallots, carrots, and celery and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook until softened as well, another 4-5 minutes. 
  • Here, I added a splash of white wine because I was getting some burned bits at the bottom of the pan and wanted to deglaze it. This is purely optional. If you're doing this, let it cook down to about 1/3 the amount. 
  • Season with your preferred seasoning and garlic and cook about 30 seconds until you can smell the garlicky goodness. (Mmm, I'm a big fan of garlic. The more, the better, but adjust to your desired garlicky level.) Then, stir in the halved grape (or cherry) tomatoes with the corn and the optional garlic scape, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the tomatoes release their juices and the corn warm through, about a few more minutes. Reduce to low.
  • Using tongs or whatever else you'd like, transfer the cooked spaghetti to the vegetable pan. Add a few spoonfuls of the spaghetti water to help create a sauce. Then throw in as much cheese as you like, I used about a palmful, and let the dish meld together. Serve with shredded basil and cheese on top.

This dish can really be made with any sort of vegetables you like. Use peas instead of corn, add broccoli, swap zucchini for eggplant, whatever you like. Most of my recipes are variations of other recipes I've done, read about, or been told about. It's pretty tough to go wrong with a dish like this!

What's your favorite summer produce to pick up at the farm or the market?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Perfection Shouldn't Matter So Much

I thought it'd be fun to do a video showing you how to make a simple chain necklace with a couple charms and a dangling bead. Technology got in the way so I'm still working out some camera glitches, but never fear! I will persevere!

Before I put it up though, I wanted to tell you my... er, unusual method of working and my scant amount of tools. When I first launched Birdcage Bohemia, I had a little quote I liked to use because it described what I do so perfectly.

"Where do you get your inspiration?"
"Poverty and imagination."

Like I said in Meet Beatrice, I had piles of vintage jewelry lying around. I went to the store and bought a cheapie set of jewelry pliers: a chain-nose, a round-nose, and wire-cutters. Super cheap, not high quality or anything. But I tell you, they have served me so well. So well that I'm still using them. Do I wish I had a fancy schmancy set of stainless steel tools with cushy grips and a swank holder for them? Of course, I am human after all. Do I really need it? No, not at all. 

Using vintage jewelry gives me a lot of flexibility. As in, nothing has to be perfect. If it was perfect, it won't look right. Perfection is not the point. I have no patience for it, actually. It's tedious and never looks like it should. Be imperfect! Find those flaws and celebrate them! The jewelry is all the more warm and beautiful for it. Plus, I love how the limitations vintage jewelry give challenged me and my creativity. I am a firm believer that one can create something far more beautiful using finite resources rather than having all the choices in the world laid out at her feet. Wouldn't it be overwhelming to have so many choices? 

I should also mention I am entirely self-taught. I didn't even once pull up a YouTube video to learn a method in the beginning. It wasn't until I randomly picked up a jewelry making book when I realized that some of my technique were rather unorthodox. Did I immediately change what I did? Nah, old habits die hard, and besides, my work hasn't failed me yet so why screw around with a good thing? So if you happen to see me demonstrating something entirely different than what "it should be," please don't blow up my comment box with, "You're wrong! You are so TOTALLY WRONG! I am never buying jewelry from you again!" Just, um, don't buy jewelry and go on your merry way. Thanks.

I guess my point is, some people completely psych themselves out when they want to learn something new or start a project. They research techniques and buy supplies and drive themselves up the wall thinking they're doing it all wrong anyway. In my case, ignorance was complete, total, beautiful bliss. Just do it, half-ass it, learn, make mistakes, and yes, quit if it actually makes you angry. Nothing wrong with that!

Do you have a similar story you want to share? I want to hear it. Let's let people know they can do whatever they like however they like and not be so scared.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Vegetarian Creamy Farmer's Market Polenta

Typically, polenta is hearty and creamy and usually not summer weather fare, but if you mix in some super-fresh produce and herbs, it can definitely be the perfect meal after a trip to the farmer's market.

Where, of course, I had just gone and picked up some grape tomatoes, garlic scapes, zucchini, and fresh basil. So what went into this meal was a complete no-brainer. The polenta was the longest and, well, hottest part so make sure you have plenty of ventilation. If you want to make this go quicker, have all the stuff for the vegetables cut up and ready to go into this vegetarian dish as you stir the polenta.

To make the polenta:

I find that a 1:6 polenta:water ratio makes a really nice creamy consistency. You can use your preferred ratio or do some research to find one that works best for you.

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy bottom pot. (It helps prevent burning that may happen with a thin bottomed pot.) Season well with salt. Pour in 1 cup polenta in a nice thin stream while either whisking or stirring with a wooden spoon rapidly to prevent any lumps from forming. (Lumps formed for me so I just pressed them against the side of the pot to break them up, haha.) Then, bring it down to a simmer and stir frequently to prevent sticking. You will need to cook it for about 45 minutes if not more, then read below for the finishing touches.

For the vegetables:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large leek, washed and chopped
2 carrots sliced into 1/4" pieces
2 celery sliced into 1/4" pieces
2 large zucchini halved and sliced into 1/4" pieces
3 garlic scapes sliced thinly
1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
A few leaves of basil, torn into small pieces

Either before you make the polenta or while you're making it, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium low heat. Add the leek, carrots, and celery and cook until slightly softened. Then, add in the zucchini, the dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste, and let cook until slightly softened as well. Once's that's done, I throw in the garlic scape, let it saute for 30 seconds, then pour in the grape tomatoes. Let that cook together until the tomatoes have popped and everything is tender, about 10 minutes. Taste and add more seasoning if desired. Set aside until the polenta's done.

When the polenta is nearly done, it will be thick, creamy, and leave the sides of the pot as you stir it. Taste it and season with a little bit of salt and pepper. Pour in about a couple tbsp of olive oil to help keep it soft and loose. Then, while it's still over the heat, pour in the cooked vegetables and stir well.

To serve: Scoop the vegetable and polenta into a bowl, top with a drizzle of yummy olive oil, and garnish with pieces of basil.

Tip: Keep a well oiled casserole dish by to pour your leftovers into. Polenta will harden as it cools so move fast. Then, you can cut slices of it once cool and panfry it with a chunky tomato sauce or a garlic infused olive oil drizzle for the next day.

It was a hit in my house and I hope it becomes a hit in yours! Will you make it? What would you do differently? Write in the comments below, I'd love to hear your take!

As a disclaimer: I cook like most people, by the handfuls and pinches and tasting and adjusting and tasting. The measurements are my best, best, best estimates so you should take this as a canvas for your own preferences. Add more oregano, use an Italian herb mix, switch up the vegetables, use two big tomatoes, whatever you like!

P.S. I just realized that this meal is not only vegetarian, but vegan as well. Although, if you want to add cheese, that's fine by me!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meet Beatrice of Birdcage Bohemia!

Meet Beatrice (me!) and get a quick introduction to what Birdcage Bohemia is all about.

Yes, feel free to laugh. I was a complete dork in this, but I'm hoping that with a little bit of practice, these videos will have a lot less "Umm..." and "And..." and "Soo...."'s. So if you get through this, bravo!

You can also find this permanently on display in the About & Policies Section of my website for more laughs.

But now that this introduction video is out of the way, get ready for some tutorials and... I guess whatever else strikes mine or your fancy, meaning you can totally ask me to do a video answer if you like.

Best part? It's captioned for those who need them! :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Weekend Frolics and Photos

I made this curtain. I desperately needed to get rid of the dusty blinds that came with the place in the bathroom and voila. A pretty café curtain that lets light in and lets no one see me taking a pee.

  • Okay, I didn't make the whole thing. The white curtain came as a set of two from Target's clearance section. (Does anyone else walk manically up and down the end-units looking for the clearance sections? I know it's not just me. Fess up, people.) But! I did add all the pretty green embellishments and the ties. Recognize the fabric? It came from my seat covers.
Went to the Farmer's Market here in Highland Square and discovered garlic scape. Never heard of these things. They are endlessly fun to play with and delicious in all sorts of dishes, like this Farmer's Market Polenta I made with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and the fabulous garlic scape.


I took a million and one photos for vintage clothing featuring the lovely Sarah. Here is her frame-by-frame dramatic monologue as she discovers a butterfly, gets drenched in a rainfall, swipes a spider off her arm, and finds the butterfly once more. Maybe it was one of those things where you had to be there, but you have to admit, she's fascinating to watch.

  • P.S. The gauzy white top will be for sale soon. It's perfect to throw on for summer!
We, then, discovered a poor little egg outside. I'm a bleeding heart so now it's all wrapped up and nestled in a blueberry carton and warming underneath a reading lamp. It's hopeless, I know, but I can't just abandon the poor baby!

Last but not least, a gratuitous photo of my kitty, Chanel. She is spunky, and awesome, and comes with much less baggage than her namesake. Is she not the best cat in the world, I mean, really?!

How was your weekend? You can post your pictures on the Birdcage Bohemia Facebook and request to be added to the Pretty Weekend Photos board on Pinterest so you can post your pretty photos anytime!