Whatever I Want Day

Today is my Sunday, which is basically code for ‘do whatever you want’ day. What I did after exercise and breakfast:

Took a bubble bath. Started Catching Fire. Did my laundry. Sang “Laundry day, see you there, underthings tum-ba-ling. Wanna say ‘love your hair.’ Here I go mum-ba-ling. With my freeze ray I will stop the world” while doing laundry. Made some soup in the crock pot:

Vegetable Barley Soup

  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup homemade tomato sauce (diced tomatoes are a good swap, but I wanted to use what I had)
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup barley
  • 1/3 cup mixed frozen vegetables
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Dash of worcestershire
  • Pinch each of curry powder, paprika, garlic salt, and pepper

I set this to low and let it cook for about 4 hours. I added about 1/4 of leftover northern beans right towards the end, since they were already cooked and just needed to be warmed up.

*****

Blow dried and straightened my hair. Finally got dressed. Did the dishes. Ate some soup–it was good. Had a piece of cold veggie pizza, too. Cold pizza rocks my socks off.

With multigrain toast to make crouton crumbles.

Put on my trusty green Chucks (socks somehow found their way back on).

Took a walk to the mail box. Threw most of the mail away. Greeted Dave with enthusiasm. Drank some more tea. (Warm Hearth also rocks my socks off). Went to Menards. Went to Festival. Went to Goodwill. Found some new dishes for cool food photography:

Went to Target. Finally convinced Dave to buy some new sleep t-shirts (his old ones were literally disintegrating). Came home. Read more Catching Fire. Went to Panera for dinner. Ate this delicious meal:

Half a Tomato Mozzarella Panini on whole grain, half a Greek Salad, dressing on the side. Shared half the French baguette with Dave, then wanted to go to France and consume nothing but baguettes, cheese, and wine. Drank some Ginger Peach tea:

Met friends for drinks. They’re pretty cool. Had an old fashioned:

Had a Pomegranate Cosmopolitan:

Plenty of water was consumed as well. Wanted a cigarette. Didn’t smoke one. Came home. Going to bed. Pretty good ‘whatever I want’ day.

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Babysitting Take 1

My sister Moriah and I offered to babysit our niece Aurelia this evening, the occasion being my sister Emily and her boyfriend Christopher’s two year anniversary. Aurelia is just over six weeks old and hasn’t yet been from her mother for more than a couple hours.

Let’s get this straight: I have never really been a ‘baby’ person. I would love to have kids someday, but when I was growing up, babysitting never interested me. In fact, after my sisters (who are two years younger than me), I have never held a baby until my niece Aurelia. She changed my outlook on the wee little ones, and I consider her a delightful gift in my life.

The time I have spent with her thus far has involved very few tears, and I was expecting that tonight when Moriah came over for pizza and Frasier. I made two pizzas for the occasion.

Regular Ol’ Vegetarian Pizza

  • Flatbread Pizza dough (sans sundried tomatoes)
  • Tomato sauce (1 can crushed tomatoes, 3 oz red wine, 1 small onion diced onion, 3 garlic cloves, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste)
  • 4 oz mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 oz Parmesan, shredded
  • green pepper
  • red pepper
  • black olives
  • mushrooms
  • artichokes
This pizza was pretty straightforward as pizzas go–simply assemble, bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, and allow to cool 5 minutes before cutting.

 Salmon Pizza

  • Flatbread Pizza dough (sans sundried tomatoes)
  • White sauce (1/3 cup greek yogurt, 1 tbsp sour cream, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 tbsp dill weed)
  • 1/2 zucchini, sliced
  • 1/3 red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 4 oz salmon, flaked into small pieces
  • 1 oz parmesan cheese, shredded

I believe this is my fourth, and best, attempt at a salmon pizza. To begin, spread sauce over rolled crust. Add red onion and zucchini. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and top with flaked salmon and parmesan cheese and bake an additional 12-13 minutes. After removing from the oven, sprinkle capers over pizza and let cool 5 minutes before cutting.

Pre-pizza, I had a salad with romaine, mushrooms, olives, red onion, dried cranberries and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. My first pizza plate:

After that I could have stopped….but I wanted more pizza!

Both the pizzas were really good, but I was so pleased at this version of the salmon pizza that I’m going to say it was my favorite of the night. I’ve tried many different ways of cooking a salmon pizza with different components, but this is the best method thus far. I also really like this flatbread crust recipe. It’s the perfect combination of chewy inside and crispy outside On the side, I had a club soda with a splash of lime juice.

After we ate, Aurelia began to cry. And cry. And cry. We fed her, changed her, bathed her, bounced her, flew her through the air (safely). Moriah said, “I feel like I’m getting a workout!” after doing five minutes of side lunges with her, and my arms got tired after a few minutes of lifting her up and down (for some reason this seems to make her happy, but it’s hard to keep up for long bouts).

Finally, Moriah calmed her and gently set her in her chair:

I want to be a great Auntie, but I haven’t figured out how yet! Practice, practice, practice.

The Hunger Games Review

I love days off that afford me the luxury of several hours reading time. Add a teapot, and I’m all set for the day. You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me either, Clive Staples Lewis! (Really, his middle name is Staples? Bilius doesn’t sound so bad now, eh Ron?)

I may have graduated with a degree in English, but that did not stop me from slipping away from the latest and greatest in the literary world. I don’t get the newspaper, I don’t have any magazine subscriptions or television (I have a TV for movies, TV shows on dvd, etc., just no actual TV channels), and I rarely let myself get close to Barnes and Noble anymore, in fear of leaving with empty pockets or broken-hearted because I can’t afford 100 books.

For this reason, I had only glimmers of The Hunger Games trilogy’s presence; the occasional whisperings of it in crowds or the casual facebook status. But suddenly, the movie came out, and everyone was talking about it. I felt left out and had to download it for my kindle (Is it supposed to be capitalized or not? I can’t figure it out) this week and finished it today.

I generally don’t like science fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction. When I read, I like to throw myself right in the thick of it, feel like I can picture the setting so well that I could draw it. Most of these genres tend to alienate me on this point but somehow this world had enough hints of my own world to keep me satiated. A strong female character who doesn’t have to try too hard to be badass is always good in my book, and Katniss did not fail to deliver. (Ex: I like Eowyn, but I think she uses her ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ mantra way too often). I also enjoyed the character’s names a lot. Like Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance authors), Collins created names I’d never heard before but still felt familiar on my tongue. Which is more than I can say for some of the new parents these days…

Being able to hunt for your own food is pretty badass, don't you agree?

I found the plot fresh and interesting; while reading it, I never thought, “This reminds me of insert book here or author’s writing style.” Instead, it surprised me. I am an excellent plot guesser (just ask Dave), most of the time I can predict the ending at least partway through a novel, TV show, or movie. This book threw me for a loop. I never expected the tournament to end the way it did.

Things I didn’t like? The first person perspective. First person is my least favorite writing style for fiction; I rarely ever use it myself when writing. Although it’s supposed to make you feel closer to the character, I always feel more distant. If the story is told in first person, I feel I should know absolutely everything about the character, and I usually don’t. (What I hate even more? Books in first person where the main character surprises the reader by being the killer, etc. at the end. I feel like I’ve been hoodwinked, and I hate that feeling)!

I felt distant from Katniss while reading this book; even though I liked her character, I still felt there were too many pieces missing from her personality, like I couldn’t call her a friend quite yet. Also, the fact that I didn’t predict the ending was refreshing but also confusing. I felt like I was being tricked, like something else should have happened but didn’t. However, that is also the reason that as soon as I finished The Hunger Games, I immediately downloaded Catching Fire.

Collins, you have my attention.

Dave Made Pancakes!

One of my favorite TV series is Gilmore Girls, once I got over the fear that it was a girly teen drama and realized how smart and funny the show actually is. Movies and TV shows rarely make me laugh aloud, but even Gilmore Girls can draw out a chuckle from me which is a testament to its writers. In season 3, one of the town’s quirkiest characters, Kirk, started printing daily t-shirts with a topical headline of something he witnessed around town, the first being “Babette ate oatmeal!”

If I had a daily t-shirt to wear today, it would read “Dave made pancakes!” It’s not everyday I wake up to such a lovely treat. Unfortunately, Dave was all set to go at 8:00am, and since I have the day off, I wanted to have a leisurely morning. He kept the dry and wet ingredients separate until I required their presence in my stomach.

He also told me he made them healthy; when I asked how, he said, “I added oats!” 😀 He also skipped the oil in the batter and added blueberries (superfruit!) so that’s healthy enough for me.

I only had one glass of wine last night, but since I haven’t been drinking very much lately, it gave me quite a buzz and my body demanded a cigarette. I refused and supplied it with handfuls of granola and cereal instead. Boy, is it hard to stay away from food when you quit smoking! At least it’s granola and cereal and not cheeseburgers and fries.

I made up for my grain binge by doing Level 1 of Six Week Six Pack this morning. Perhaps I imagined it, but I think I was having a bit of an easier time breathing today. And I am proud to say that I did the whole program without any modifiers or cheating today! I did every single second of the mountain climbers without any tiny breaks. Go, me!

After I showered and dressed, I had a Dr.’s appointment to discuss my insomnia. It turns out I’m doing everything right. I exercise nearly every day, but only in the morning. I limit my caffeine to about two cups of coffee or tea a day, but only in the morning (occasionally I’ll have a cup of green tea at night, but usually it’s herbal). I don’t drink too much alcohol. I sleep in a cool, dark room with no television. And I usually read about half an hour before bed so I’m not looking at bright lights from the TV or my computer. So it’s Tylenol PM for me until I can get back into a good sleep cycle. I’d rather not take any stronger sleeping pills if I don’t have to.

When I returned home it was after noon, and I was hungry. Dave was kind enough to make the pancake for me (having waited over four hours for me to be ready):

Per Alton's instructions, Dave sprinkled the blueberries on after the pancake was formed, so as not to make the batter blue. I wouldn't mind a blue pancake...

Nom nom nom.

Sprinkled with a little powdered sugar and drizzled with some maple syrup.

Sometimes food tastes better when you make it yourself, because you know the hard work that went into it. Sometimes food tastes better when someone else made it for you, because you didn’t have to lift a finger. Pancakes have a strange effect on my body, similar to Chinese food–I can only eat one or two and am incredibly full for an hour and then starving again. We’ll see how long this one holds me over.

Dave asked if it was good, then said “You’re not supposed to eat the first one anyway, you’re supposed to give it to the dog.” Apparently the pan is either too hot or too cold to cook the first pancake perfectly. Call me Rover. I thought it was plenty good.

I had half of this Green Goodness smoothie on the side to get some extra fruits and veggies in.

Dave said it tasted like half fruit and half dirt. 🙂 (I think I’m doing too many ‘Dave saids’ today). I thought it tasted really fresh, and I liked the fact that it tasted like a fruit and veggie combo. Of course I could easily make this at home someday, so I probably will.

I work Saturday and Sunday so today and tomorrow are my weekend. I’m free as a bird! I’m babysitting my niece Aurelia tonight with my sister Moriah, so I’m going to make pizza for us to eat for dinner. One traditional veggie and one salmon. First, I’m going to read more Hunger Games…I’m getting close to the end. But one of the awesome things about waiting until a fad is over is that you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out!

Bean’s the Word

We still have leftover beans in the fridge (I made a big batch Sunday), so I decided to make a mashed bean sandwich for lunch. I never would have thought to use beans as a sandwich filling, but I eat veggie bean burgers all the time, so how much different could it be?

The sandwich consisted of about 1/4 cup of mashed northern beans, two sliced black olives, half an ounce of cream cheese mixed with about a tsp of pesto (a dangerously good combo), and a couple slices of romaine lettuce to protect my multigrain toast from getting soggy. We keep most of our sliced bread in the freezer (leftover from Dave’s days at Breadsmith), so I always toast it to get it back to my personal edibility standards.

It was so chilly today that the idea of a cold sandwich wasn’t appealing, so I heated it in the microwave for thirty seconds, just enough for the cheese to get warm but not enough that the lettuce got mushy. The sandwich was delicious! The cream cheese pesto combo melted and oozed around the beans perfectly. Great combination of flavors.

On the side I had carrot and celery sticks dipped in black bean hummus and a few Mozzarella Marinara Multigrain (hello, alliteration) chips from Target’s Archer Farms brand. I like crunchy things with lunch.

While I ate, I started the much-talked-about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’m only about twenty pages in, but I’m already hooked.  It was very nice to have a hand-knit cover to keep my Kindle in today; I felt so much safer with it in my large carry-all bag.

I will always love the feeling of holding a real book, but I have two shelves of books already; moving gets more difficult with each novel I add to my collection. I’m already looking forward to reading more Hunger Games when I get home tonight!

*****

I came home still freezing, although the wind died down a bit which was nice. Note to self: once you start losing your protective layer of fat, you need to start keeping warmer clothes handy! I couldn’t believe I had to wear a camisole, a turtleneck sweater, and a shawl cardigan to keep warm today while some people wore short sleeves and had fans at their desks! I am definitely ready for summer. I am truly a creature of the heat.

I was so cold I wanted something spicy for dinner to warm me up, and I knew exactly what I wanted to make: a Thai Peanut Stir-Fry. I’ve been meaning to use my tofu and try out my powdered peanut butter to make a peanut sauce, and I decided tonight was perfect since leftovers are minimal.

Thai Tofu Peanut Stir Fry (3-4 servings)

  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup prepared brown rice
  • 1 block tofu, pressed and cubed
  • 4 tbsp. powdered peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup peanuts (optional)

Prepare rice per package directions.To prepare tofu: place a block of opened extra firm tofu in between two plates lined with paper toweling. Place a heavy object on top of the top plate (like a can of soup, etc) and let excess water drain about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the sauce, combine powdered peanut butter, wet ingredients, and spices in a small bowl on the side.

Saute veggies and tofu in separate frying pans over medium-high heat in olive oil or non-stick cooking spray for approximately 10 minutes or until veggies are crisp-tender and tofu is golden. Remove from heat, add together, and carefully stir in peanut sauce. Serve over brown rice and top with peanuts and additional red pepper flakes, if desired.

Since I was once again cooking for one, I quartered the recipe and still ended up with plenty of food.

Mmm….I know I didn’t always love veggies this much, but I’m so glad I do now! The trick is to find new ways to cook with vegetables, even if you think you hate them. If you learn to love them, your body will certainly thank you for the favor.

I think I’m finally getting the hang of cooking with tofu. I remember a time when my sister Emily and I tried to grill tofu and veggie kebabs…what a mess. I think I would have better luck now that I know what I’m doing.

Oh my gosh, this was amazing. The photo certainly does not do it justice.  The sauce was absolutely perfect–I would like to test this out with regular peanut butter and see if it’s still as good. I ate this very slowly (against my natural instincts) to savor the flavor as much as I could. I’m going to have to make this again soon and see if Dave likes it as much as I did.

Off to do some dishes, then read some more of The Hunger Games!

Sunday Sendoff

Tonight’s post is going to be quick, because the combination of being outside all day and too much food has left me exhausted (not to mention my poor sleeping habits as of late). It’s interesting how being outside seems to make me more tired. The food coma following a large meal is no surprise.

My mom made these delicious whole wheat banana applesauce muffins that I had to sample when I got to her house. I intended to eat only a bite, but it was so good, I ate the whole thing. I guess this muffin plus my two ‘skinny monkey cookies’ (about 100 calories total for the cookies–I’m guesing the muffin was around 175) was my lunch for the day.

I celebrated the day with a brew:

I got a mixed six pack from Festival, and all the beers I picked out were pretty good–I didn’t hear any complaints, anyway. While on my first beer, Dave cut the chicken. I think I’ll be chickened out after this weekend, but at least this one was prepared with a different marinade.

Cutting the backbone

My parents didn’t have a kitchen shears, so Dave used one of my Dad’s tin snips that he cleaned very well beforehand. Dave has noticed that these humane certified birds are a lot tougher than commercial ones–most likely because they have lived a longer life to get that size rather than being plumped up quickly from processed feed.

So as not to be wasteful, we quickly threw together the ingredients for chicken stock using the leftover bones, mirepoix, and herbs in my parent’s crock pot:

Waste not, want not. I helped Dave prep some eggplant using an Alton Brown method–purging them with salt to expunge extra water, then wringing out the extra water. We used a homemade Jamaican Jerk rub on the eggplant that was a little heavy on the cinnamon for Dave’s taste.

Wringing the Eggplant

I worked on a dessert pizza using a crust my sister Emily made, some mascarpone cheese, sliced strawberries and grilled peaches, drizzled with a bit of agave nectar and sprinkled with chai spice. I intended to cook the entire pizza on the grill, but so many family members showed up at my parents today that there was no room! I cooked it in Mom’s oven after her roasted veggies were done.

Second beer started before I headed back outside:

At about 7:30pm, everything was off the grill. My first plate:

Salad, chicken, roasted veggies, baked beans, and grilled eggplant. The baked beans turned out really well! I’m very pleased with the recipe; it’s definitely going to be in our regular rotation. Mom’s roasted veggies were excellent too; she said she used just salt, pepper, cumin, and basil with a bit of olive oil. Food was so abundant and delicious, I had a second plate:

And a piece of dessert pizza:

Then a tupperware of Starburst jelly bellies miraculously showed up on my parent’s counter. I don’t really care for jelly beans, but I really like the Starburst ones! I had two handfuls and then hid the tupperware in my parent’s bread box so I wouldn’t eat more. I started drinking a lot of water to rehydrate.

We stayed and chatted at my parent’s house for awhile before heading home. I definitely ate more than I would have liked today, but that’s why I eat a little less during the week; I know weekends will always be a little bit heavier than normal. I have to be to work earlier than usual tomorrow, so I’m going to spend a little time with Dave before I head to bed.

Beans & Leaves

In one of the short stories I wrote for college, the main character owned a coffee & tea combo shop called Beans & Leaves. Two of my favorite beverages. It is fitting for this morning’s title, because I’m making Baked Beans and having Chai Banana Oatmeal for breakfast!

I slept well last night, thank Hypnos (Greek god of sleep) or Dave’s presence. When I awoke this morning at seven am, I was already contemplating dinner. I swear, I am thinking about food fifty percent of the time.

Sundays are implied ‘family days’ with my immediate family. We all live within 30 miles of each other, and we’re one of those crazy families that get along really well with each other. My brother and sisters are three of my very best friends–I could probably go out into the world and find three other people who share my same sense of humor, world views, love for books, and taste in movies and music, but this is so much easier.

Tyler, Emily, Moriah, Me

Even though my family works different schedules, on Sundays we all try to get together at my parent’s house or go to the beach in the summer, and most of these gatherings revolve around food. While I lay in bed this morning, I contemplated making baked beans for dinner tonight. This is something I really should have thought of last night so I could have soaked them overnight, but my foresight is not always great.

I followed the package directions for a quick soak and am now simmering them until tender. After I drain them, I plan to follow this recipe for Boston Baked Beans from allrecipes.com sans bacon and with the addition of chicken stock after they have cooked. (Sidenote: Dave says allrecipes is his Pinterest.) 🙂

*****

Since it’s a lazy Sunday, I postponed my exercise for a bit to sit on the couch with some coffee and my Kindle while I waited for the beans to finish their first round of cooking. After enjoying my cup of Hot Buttered Rum coffee, it was time to get moving.

I know a lot of people take rest days, but when I get into an exercise routine, I rarely take a day off. Instead, I pick one day to do something less cardio-intense. Yesterday was my ‘rest day’, because I focused mostly on upper body instead of pushing my heart rate up too much. Today, I wanted to push myself, so I did Level 1 of Six Week Six Pack again.

I’m glad I was prepared for the second go-round this time, but I still had to stop for a few seconds of deep breathing. My breath always gives out before my body gets tired. The mountain climbers are still my bane of existence. I know there are harder exercises, but that one just kills me for some reason; it is definitely not one of my favorites.

After a quick shower, it was time for my weekly weigh-in. I was resolved not to care too much about the number, because I feel fantastic, my clothes are looser, and my arms and legs definitely feel stronger. However, I couldn’t help but smile when the scale showed 125. It’s so nice when hard work pays off!

By the time I was dressed, I was ready for a late breakfast. I set out to make some Chai Banana Oatmeal, loosely based on this Kashi recipe that showed up in my Facebook newsfeed the other day. I wanted to use chai tea made with milk, but I was saddened to find I’m all out. Guess I need to pick some up from Mom today; she sells loose-leaf tea, the only kind of tea you should ever drink.

In a saucepan I combined 1/4 cup steel cut oats, 3/4 cup vanilla almond milk, 3/4 cup water, a pinch of salt, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, 1/8 tsp ground cardamom, 1/8 tsp turmeric, 2 ground peppercorns, and 1 tbsp. of honey.

After it came to a boil, I turned it down to a simmer, let it cook for about 20 minutes, added half a sliced banana, and let it cook the remaining 10 minutes. (Note: you’re supposed to add the oats after the water comes a boil, but I added them right away. Oops. It still turned out.)

While my oats were simmering, I set to work on the baked beans for later.

Boston Baked Beans

  • 2 cups navy beans
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 tbsp molasses
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange (cooked) beans in 2 qt casserole pan and layer with onion. In a saucepan, combine molasses, salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and pour over beans. Pour in just enough chicken stock (or reserved water beans were cooked in) to cover beans. Cover dish with lid or aluminum foil and bake for 3-4 hours. Remove the lid halfway through cooking and add more liquid, if necessary.

I have just the right amount of Dave’s homemade chicken stock for the beans. I think it will add a lot more flavor than just the plain water. I plan to cook the beans a few hours here, then a few hours on the grill at my parent’s house.

Meanwhile, my oats were done! I scooped them into a bowl, topped with the remaining slices of banana, and a handful of toasted pistachios.

Holy deliciousness, batman. This was my favorite breakfast all week. Yes, it took about half an hour to make but I’m worth it! If you like your oatmeal plain Jane, you probably won’t like this, because it was packed with all sorts of crazy amazing Indian flavors.

Definitely going on the recipe page. First dishes, then I think I’m going to head to the grocery store for a few items for the week while Dave stays to babysit the beans in the oven.

 

Pinteresting Evening

Yes, I am one of the people who actually makes some of the things she pins on Pinterest. Case in point, past project found on Pinterest that I made for our bedroom:

And I’ve used quite a few recipes already, including cauliflower poppers, mozzarella sticks, and Chai cocktails. Today’s project was using a few old t-shirts to make produce bags.

I’m glad I didn’t throw the t-shirts away, because these bags will come in handy at the Farmer’s Market for fresh veggies or at the beach for sandals, towels, etc. They took me about an hour and a half to make, because I don’t have a sewing machine, but I didn’t mind.

Whilst I was crafting, Dave did some online gaming and put up the bird feeder we bought at Fleet Farm the other day. It had only been up a few minutes when a chickadee (? couldn’t see it well) came to feed.

Athena and Artemis are already delighted at the view.

After I finished the produce bags, it was time to think dinner. Dave cut the Chel-approved chicken (humane certified):

while I looked up a marinade recipe. We loved the orange marmalade and rosemary marinade I concocted last time but wanted to try something more savory this time. I found this recipe from cookinglight.com, and I halved it for our needs.

Zesty Dijon Marinade
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp salt
2 spoonfuls of minced garlic (I added extra because I love garlic!)

I put the marinade in a gallon plastic bag with the chicken to let it sit.

Dave wanted to prep the sweet potatoes:

He sliced them into thick chunks and tossed them in a mixture of Cholula, Liquid Smoke, Pickapeppa, Chili Garlic sauce, garlic salt and Worcestershire.

Meanwhile, I cut up some cabbage for foil packs with a tsp. of butter each, some minced garlic, green onions, salt and pepper.

These simple seasonings are my favorite way to dress up cabbage. I also cut up an underripe mango to grill and drizzled it with a bit of honey and coconut rum. I have intentions to recreate the grilled mango salad I had a Tuscon’s someday, but tonight we are just going to test out the grillability of mango and have it for dessert with greek frozen yogurt.

Chicken on the grill:

This is why you always leave skin on your chicken! It takes all the burning and leaves all the flavor.

Grilled taters:

Yes, my precious. Ready for dinner!

Nothing looks very ‘green,’ but it’s all healthy! We’re going to enjoy dinner while watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Guess we’re feeling kinda nerdy tonight.

Verdict on dinner: I think we skimped a little on the seasonings for everything tonight. The chicken was incredibly tender and juicy, but I had to dip it in some Dijon for more flavor; I don’t think it had enough time to marinate. The sweet potatoes were quite good, as usual, but the cabbage needed a little extra something. I guess I prefer my cabbage sauteed so it’s a bit crisper.

Winner of the night: the greek frozen yogurt with grilled mango. The frozen yogurt is as good as I hoped, both sweet and tangy at the same time. I’m enjoying it by my computer while Dave turns the chicken bones into stock.

Here are the chicken bones in our slow cooker:

Add mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery) with seasonings:

Total ingredients needed for homemade chicken stock:

  • bones from one chicken
  • 2 onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
  • 3 quarts of cold water or enough to cover

Set slow cooker to low and heat overnight (or at least six hours).

Lovely Day for a Bumbershoot

Despite the grey weather today, I was in a good mood. I used an umbrella on my way into work, and doesn’t an umbrella always make you feel a bit fancier? I imagined I was in a London Fog advertisement with my Victorian brocade jacket and black bumbershoot.

I'm certain I looked just like Christina Hendricks. Mostly because there was no one to disprove me.

I got several “Cute top!” compliments throughout the day. My blue button-down is not really cute, but one should never underestimate the power of well-fitting clothing. How easy it is to trick others…

*****

I would like to break for a quick ‘products I love’ insert. I am happy to announce that despite my button-down, I had no underarm stains today. I am not someone who sweats heavily, but certain shirts and jumps in temperature (happens a lot where I work) result in damp spots under my arms. Does this happen to anyone else who wears button-downs? In the summer, I use regular antiperspirant with tank tops, but I have switched to the clinical brand for all other days and seasons. Works like a dream!

My ex-roommate, who was actually prescribed clinical deodorant, said it never helped her at all, so maybe it only works for people who aren’t super-sweaty. Nonetheless, since it takes me several months to go through antiperspirant, I consider it worth the higher price tag (it’s about $7 per stick at Target). I’ve tried the clinical brands of Dove, Degree, and Secret (whichever happens to be on sale at the time), and they all seem to work similarly.

*****

Another four hour shift for me, so no lunch today. However, since the 11:00-3:00pm time slot over laps my lunch, I brought a new Luna Bar for sustenance. This one was Iced Oatmeal Raisin:

These bars are perfect for days when I don’t have time for a sit-down lunch, because they still provide enough energy to help me make it through the day–I may just be a Luna convert. I’m really quite impressed with the flavor of these bars. They’re really well-rounded, and the texture is amazing. This kind tasted almost like a slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; it was a little too sweet for me to eat very often, but still really good. I think I’m getting an aversion to sweet things that aren’t dessert…hmm..

I spent a small part of the afternoon chatting with Dave (haven’t seen him all week!) and cleaning my closet a bit. Then we headed to Home Depot and Fleet Farm to look for a grill brush and ended up buying a bird feeder (to entertain the kitties) and bags of dried fruit and trail mix instead. By that time, my Luna bar had worn off and I was hungry!

We decided to eat at Kavarna, a really great local vegetarian coffeehouse with fantastic food and beverages. I ordered the Spicy Black Bean Burger with fruit:

And half a house salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette on the side:

I really love places that know how to make a salad. No iceberg lettuce here and plenty of veggies.Thanks, Kavarna!

Dave had a Mediterranean Burrito for the first time (one of my regular orders) with fruit:

And Yam Fries with Wasabi Sauce on the side:

Fun fact: I used to hate sweet potatoes until I tried these fries for the first time at Kavarna a little over a year ago. Now I love them! I had only had sweet potatoes mixed with brown sugar and marshmallows before; apparently all I needed was a little salt.

It had gotten much chillier and was definitely a tea evening. I had Tangerine green. Dave had August Peach black tea.

Dave even let me take his picture!

On our way home we stopped at Target, because Dave wanted to see the new produce section. It’s really quite good, and the prices are fairly reasonable. I got very excited about these two finds:

Frozen Greek Yogurt. I heard about this awhile ago, but could never find it anywhere. How cool that Target had it!

And about eight different varieties of gelato! This kind is Amaretto Cherry, and it’s the Archer Farms brand, which was relatively inexpensive–$4.99 for 30 oz.

Dave and I are going to watch a little I Love Lucy together, and maybe I’ll break into some of the gelato. 🙂 Tomorrow we plan to do some spring cleaning of our apartment, so it will probably be an early Friday night for us.

St. Patrick’s Day Hoopla

As I mentioned in an earlier post, St. Patrick’s Day has become a big deal in my family. Not in a drink green beer at a pub until we get hammered kind of way, but it has become a time to enjoy each other’s company, partake in traditional (and non-traditional) Irish food, beverages, and music and celebrate the land that we hope to visit someday.

For the last six years, since I started college, I have taken March 17th off from school or work, pored through cookbooks and online recipes, and spent all day at my parents cooking an Irish meal for friends and family. My cooking has certainly evolved over the years. The first year I made a Bailey’s Mousse pie with so much gelatin that it could have bounced around the house. The second year I made two pans of a parsnip potato mash that no one particularly liked.

Since every year I am cooking foods for the first time, they are not always perfect. But as my cooking skills and acquired tastes have grown, so has my ability to pick out which recipes I will be able to cook and everyone will like. Although I’ve usually steered away from Corned Beef and Cabbage (because it wasn’t really consumed until the Irish came to America) and towards more traditional Irish meat, potatoes, and root veggie dishes, this year I borrowed the Avoca Cafe Cookbook from a family friend in an effort to mirror Ireland’s more modern favorites.

There were so many fantastic-sounding recipes in the book that I couldn’t decide on just a few things. This year’s menu consisted of:
-Tomato, Celery, and Apple Soup
-Baked Garlic and Onion Cream Soup
-Broccoli, Hazelnut, Feta, and Tomato Salad
-Red Cabbage and Red Onion Salad with Bacon
-Kilmacmonague Meatballs over Herb-Laced Couscous
-Normandy Tart
-Irish Soda Bread with Caraways Seeds & Irish Soda Bread with Dried Fruit

Since these recipes are not posted online, only in the Avoca Cafe Cookbook, I will not be posting the recipes. However, if you like to cook, I would definitely recommend this cookbook; in fact, I hope to add it to my own collection. This was the first year that I was proud of the way everything turned out.

First, I set to work making the Baked Onion and Garlic Cream Soup. Since I have incredibly sensitive eyes and had already peeled a dozen onions the night before, my Mom was kind enough to help me peel these. 🙂 In the roaster: onions, garlic, and thyme with half the portion of stock:

The aroma of this coming out of the oven was divine. While this was in the oven, I worked on the Broccoli salad. Although the recipe called for raw broccoli, I parboiled it, preferring both the taste and color of cooked broccoli. I also used only about half the dressing called for. All mixed together:

When the onion garlic soup and broccoli salad were done, I set to work on the Normandy tart using the shortcrust pastry I had prepared the night before. The only alteration I made to this recipe was using half the amount of berries–while it called for 2 lbs, one pound seemed to be more than sufficient. Plus, I got to sneak some berries!

I had plenty of coffee while cooking and stopped for a midday snack so I wouldn’t be famished and overdo it at dinner. I made a small salad with spinach, carrots, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, and feta. (And after my salad, my special St. Paddy’s day treat to myself: a small glass of Bailey’s on the rocks.)

When the Normandy tart was out of the oven, time for Irish soda bread! I intended to use Heidi Swanson’s rye soda bread recipe but couldn’t get my hands on it, so I used the Irish soda bread recipe out of the Avoca Cafe cookbook and made one with caraway seeds and one with raisins, dried cranberries, and dried figs. Both turned out quite well, but I didn’t add nearly the amount of buttermilk either recipe called for, closer to 2/3.

Dave showed up in time to help me with the cabbage salad. While my sister Emily fried the bacon, Dave sliced the red onions. I salted the onions and let them sit, then added the bacon to the marinated red cabbage.

This was a simple salad, yet very tasty and beautiful in color. After the cabbage salad, all that was left to do was the main course: the Kilmacmonague meatballs. Since I had made both the couscous and tomato sauce for the meatballs the night before, the task was made much easier.

I have never made meatballs, but with Dave and the cookbook’s help, we came up with these:

After baking and mixed with the tomato sauce:

This photo does not do justice to the splendor of these meatballs. The recipe for the sauce alone is worth the cost of the cookbook.

At a little after 7:30pm, the eighteen people who arrived were ready for dinner. My plate:

I also had a small bowl of the Baked Onion and Garlic Soup, another half slice of the Caraway Soda Bread, about five Kerrygold cheese cubes (delicious!) with crackers, a slice of Normandy tart, and one of my sister Emily’s shamrock cookies.

I got so many compliments throughout the night on the food. I thrive on compliments. I may not be the best conversationalist or the most interesting person, but cooking is one of the ways I give myself to my friends and family. Cooking and baking for them is like saying “I like you.” And when I get a compliment, it’s as if “This is fantastic!” is really “I like you, too!”

I also had three beers throughout a span of seven hours: a Killian’s, Smithwick’s, and New Glarus Spotted Cow. We spent the night quietly chatting, listening to Celtic favorites, and ended with a cup of Warm Hearth tea. When I finally got home, it was after midnight, and I was so exhausted I could have fallen asleep standing up. All was well.