Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Ned Relocation Program

This is Ned. S/he has been living in our front door for a few months now. The bottom left side of the screen door frame was not sealed and s/he found his/her way into it. With a web that swept in a triangle from the corner of the front porch out across a portion of our Welcome mat, s/he scrambled out of the frame and onto the web when s/he felt the door open, but then would scramble back into the frame when s/he realized (thankfully) that we are not food.

I would guess Ned is about 2.5 inches long, from leg to leg.

For months, we had no idea what was living there, only that there was a large web we were too lazy to sweep up. And since it was not a widow's web, we didn't care much. It was a couple of months before I caught a glimpse of him/her and I was immediately terrified and amazed. I have never seen a spider like this in my life. Usually just daddy-long-legs and widows. That's what I am familiar with. So I asked dear Google what s/he was. Consensus said that s/he was a Funnel Web Grass Spider, essentially harmless to people. So I let him/her stay. And then I named him/her Ned. Hubbs even fed Ned a moth.

As the weather got warmer and warmer, Ned became visible more and more often. The setting sun shines on our front door almost directly, and I can only imagine how hot the metal door frame must have gotten. When I came the other day, I noticed Ned was hanging out on the bottom of the screen door itself - on the inside of the door, between the screen and the front door. It has been so humid here lately that our front door has swollen so much it cannot be closed completely. I decided it was time to evict Ned. I like Ned, outside. If Ned were to get into the house I would not hesitate to scream and beg someone to step on Ned. And the guilt would set in. So that would not do. Ned had to move.

Not before snapping a few photos, of course.

I had hubbs sweep Ned into a mason jar, and we carried Ned to a bush on the opposite end of the front yard. He gently plunked Ned onto the bush and s/he jumped in. I hoped that Ned did not land on a lizard.

Dearest Ned, I hope you are happy in your new home, far away from my front door where I cannot say Hi to you every evening. I will not be sad if you don't visit. Just send a card now and then.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pinterest Noms Challenge: Carrot Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Most people have to "hide" zucchini in something sweet in order to get their families to eat it. Not me. I love zucchini. I have it on hand almost all year, or at least as long as I can find it. I can't wait to have proper planter boxes so that I can grow my own.

On the other hand, I do have to "hide" carrots. I dislike carrots very very much. It comes down to this: when I was four, I wanted very much to be Bugs Bunny. I asked my grandpa to get me carrots at the grocery store, found them in the lower bin of the refrigerator later that day, and mowed into one without washing or peeling or cooking. It was like the day I chugged cinnamon because no one ever called my cinnamon toast "cinnamon-SUGAR toast". So, I hide carrots.

I don't mind them in curry, stews, tiny bits on salad, carrot cake or even gingered like I had in a local Ethiopian restaurant. I ogle them on veggie platters at social gatherings and wish I could, just once, stomach them drizzled in Ranch dressing. Alas, I cannot. Dear carrots, you taste like ass and that is why I am blind. Scapegoats are awesome, right?

Anyhow, I found myself at the grocery store the other day, once again flirting up the carrots. So I broke down and bought some. And some zucchini. After two days in the referator, I remembered a luscious looking recipe for carrot zucchini bars with lemon cream cheese frosting from Real Mom Kitchen that I had pinned a few months back. Oh my, yes! YES! This is what carrots are made for!!

I learned quickly that shredding carrots by hand is lame, so I pulled out the food processor I have been swearing to use more often when sunbeams broke through my window and birds started chirping. This, my dear readers, is what that damn thing was meant to do.  It tore through four carrots and a large zucchini in a few seconds flat.

I added a bit of cinnamon and substituted apple sauce for the oil, which I read about here to make sure I could go 1:1. I did, and it was amazing. The overall process is simple: whisk together all of the wet ingredients plus the brown sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Fold the shredded carrots and zuchs into the wet mixture. Then fold the dry mix into the wet veggie mix. Spread into an ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan (and spread evenly because it didn't level out like I hoped it would).

It will look a little like rabbit vomit but don't despair. It will not taste like it. (Unless of course this *is* what rabbit vomit tastes like. In which case I may ask to be reincarnated as a bulimic bunny.)

Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees and then let cool, in the pan, on a wire rack. When cooled completely, beat the crap outta the cream cheese, lemon zest and powdered sugar until it becomes light and fluffy. You can either spread the frosting on like a cake or cut into bars and pipe the frosting in neat little zig-zags. If you opt for the z's, I recommend halving the frosting recipe because I ended up with a lot left over. And four extra carrots. Here bunny, bunny...

I thought this was the perfect opportunity to practice piping and I'm glad Idid. In the beginning, they were schmoozy but by the twentieth bar, they were pretty pretty. This is thicker, denser, and a bit chewier than a cake so I am glad I opted for the bars. They were just the right size and easy to pick up and eat like a carrot.

Carrot Zucchini Bars

2 eggs
1/2 c applesauce
1/4 c honey
1 t vanilla
3/4 c brown sugar
1.5 c shredded carrots
1 c shredded zucchini
1.5 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t baking soda

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

8oz softened cream cheese
1 c powdered sugar
zest of one lemon

Makes ~20 1-inch bars. Store in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Real Mom Kitchen, originally from Better Homes and Garden.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Kitchen Window Garden... and how to "regrow" things

     If you've not been living under a rock for the last six months, you know about Pinterest. Well, I think of myself as living under a rock as far as pop-culture is concerned (who is Nicki Min-whosiewhatsit anyway?) but even I know about Pinterest. So if you don't know about Pinterest perhaps you are living under something larger than a rock. A very very large rock. Anyway, this is how I learned about "regrowing" stubs from lettuce, green onion and the right way to root pits from avocados.    And that's what makes up my little kitchen window garden.

      Isn't the "Grow" sign awesome? I picked that bad boy up in the $2 clearance bin at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago. It's the little things...

     I purchased the green onions (in the tall glass) from my local farmer's market close to two months ago. I've cut them down and "regrown" them three times. Each time, the shoots get thinner and less flavorful, but they grow nonetheless. This may be their last round, but we'll see.

     I've tried to root avocado pits a dozen or more times. Because I always forget about them, they dry up and die. The little bugger in the A&W mug is the very first one to actually sprout. In fact, I had moved him and his buddy (there was a second one in another mug) off of the dining table where they once lived to set the table for a family dinner and completely forgot about them. The mugs dried up completely and the roots were limp by the time I paid them some attention. I filled them up again and noticed this one had a sprout - looks like a spy glass from an old Hollywood submarine, pointing to the right. Since then its grown an inch, I swear. Apparently, they like water.

      Pinterest also educated me about "regrowing" lettuce. I used to rip apart my lettuce leaf by leaf, leaving almost nothing at the bottom because I'd just cut off the stiff ends and toss them out when I made sammiches. I saw a pin that showed someone had cut off the stump and tossed it in water and the leaves sprouted again. (I apologize I do not have the original pin, though I'm sure if you searched you could find it a thousand times.)

     I remembered that tidbit the last time I made salads and lopped off all the leaves in one slice. The stump went into a glass with a tiny amount of water, and in just 3 days I got this:
     Do you see those tiny little sprouts of leaves? Aren't they adorable? I'mma gonna eeeeaat them someday.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whey Bread

Now that you've made ricotta style cheese from scratch, you probably have a bowl full of drained whey just taking up space in your refrigerator. Well don't fret dear reader, I've got just the thing for you to do with it!

As much as I'd like to take the credit for this genius idea, I cannot. I asked my dear friend Google what to do with all this whey that drained from my cheese, as there certainly had to be something to do with it other than just dump it down the drain (I usually water my plants with "waste"water, but since this has vinegar in it I didn't want to chance it). Clever Google introduced me to Terri's Table, who uses her whey to make bread! You can find her recipe here. Why Terri, I do believe I will try to make bread with my whey!

What you'll need:
3 cups warm whey or water*
1 tablespoon yeast (1 packet)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
7(ish) cups all-purpose flour

*I had kept my whey in the frig until I could figure out what to do with it, then warmed it in the microwave in 30 second increments until reached ~110 degrees. I had two cups of whey, so I added 1 cup water at about the same temperature.

I've tried to make bread before, which you can read about here and here, and while the essential process of all bread recipes is the same and super simple, the technique is what takes time to master. I think the key to making good bread is getting to know the texture of the dough - when its too sticky, too dry or up to Baby Bear's standards (Just Right!). The most essential ingredient is time. The last batch of bread I made was dense and rock hard because I got so excited to bake it that I forgot to let it rise a second time before I stuffed it in the oven. It would have made a great crouton for a giant's salad.

Terri says to dump everything but the flour into your bowl until the yeast gets foamy, which I did in my KitchenAid stand mixer. I then dumped in about 3 cups of flour and mixed on low speed with the paddle attachment. When it got to about pancake-batter-consistency, I switched to the dough hook, and, again on slow speed, mixed in the rest of the flour 1/4 cup at a time. I caught myself just staring into the mixer at one point, simply fascinated with the way the dough pulsed and moved around in the bowl as the dough hook spun it around. It was like watching the blob, or some other wild living thing breathe. I know, its silly to relate bread dough to mid-century B-flick horror creatures, but, alas, this is the way my mind works.

After the dough thickened a bit, I turned the speed up to about a 2, which is still pretty low, and added flour a bit at a time until it all balled up around the dough hook and was pretty tacky. I pulled the dough out of the mixer and dumped it onto my floured marble kneading board. I kneaded it, adding sprinkles of flour each time it got a little tacky or stuck to the board, until my triceps started to hurt (which I will not admit was only about four minutes). I rolled it into a nice ball, and then transferred it to a large glass bowl lightly sprayed with oil (I used canola oil spray), covered with a dishtowel and let rise for a little longer than an hour.

After it had risen, I dumped it once again on the floured kneading board and repeated the kneading process, sprinkling a little more flour only when it stuck to the board, for another few minutes. I used a dough scraper to cut it in half (only because I just bought one and needed to find a reason to use it, but a large knife would be equally fine), and rolled each half into oblong rolls. I sprayed two glass loaf dishes and tucked each half of the dough into its own bed dish. I sprayed one side of parchment paper large enough to cover both dishes and covered those babies up.

An hour later, they were were ready for baking. (And I realized that there are a few things in this life that I am completely incapable of: drawing a straight line, rolling my R's and cutting things in equal halves.) The loaf on the right is quite a bit larger than the one on the left, although not completely noticeable in the above photo.

I used a trick I have read about in recipes for making French bread (even though I've never actually made French bread). I put one rack on the very bottom of the oven and placed a baking dish half-full (half-empty?) of water and placed the other rack in the center of the oven with the two bread pans. The idea is that the water will create steam as it heats and will help the bread get that wonderful brown, crispy crust that you find on artisan breads. 

What you get, or what I get anyway, is one loaf twice as tall as the other because, ya know, I apparently cannot cut things in half.

This is the lightest, fluffiest, softest bread I have ever eaten - let alone anything I have ever made myself! I was so excited that I immediately sent a photo via text message to my sister proclaiming how my bread would put Sarah Lee to shame... and then I realized I was rubbing salt in her recent gluten-free wound... D'oh! Memory is also not one of my strong points, I guess. But bread - now I can do bread!!

I see absolutely nothing wrong with the disproportionate amount of carbs on that plate. Nothing at all. 

Since this recipe made so much, I froze one loaf. It freezes perfectly and keeps well in the refrigerator, too.  In the future, I think I may either halve the recipe from the onset or cut the original recipe into thirds so that I end up with three smaller loaves. I am positive that I will be making ricotta much more often - just so that I can make this whey bread :)  Enjoy!

*Don't forget: you can reuse the parchment paper over and over until its ready for the recycle bin!

*I apologize for the off-color photos. Husband had camera #1 at sea, camera #2 is broken and I am left with my fancy 2 megapixel dumb-phone and (which is amazing for all of us uber disappointed Picnik fans).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ricotta: fail?

     I may not be a great housewife. I sleep in almost every day. I made myself a chore list, but I don’t stick to it. I get lazy about dishes. I don’t put away my laundry most times. But I like to think that being obsessed with grocery shopping and cooking make up for all that. (Which could also be why my husband has gained ten pounds since he came home six weeks ago.)

     I don’t think of myself as a food hoarder. My refrigerator is stocked with more beverages than food, and my pantry is only superficially faced one or two jars deep (thanks, grocery store job training, for facing all of my cans and jars label-forward and sorted by genre).

     A recipe hoarder, on the other hand.. Yes, definitely. Since I’ve been introduced to Pinterest, I have been collecting recipes like a … well, something that collects stuff. Pack rat maybe. A virtual pack rat. I have even branched out into multiple Boards to accommodate Sweets, Breakfasts and other recipe types.

     I seek out ways to make stuff the old, difficult way that takes hours upon hours instead of zapping frozen stuff in a microwave. Truth be told, most “old, difficult” ways are rather simple and when they produce quality food who cares how long it takes? I really *enjoy* cooking, and I especially love cooking “from scratch”.

     Needless to say that I was quite giddy when I saw Karen’s recipe for homemade ricotta cheese, and had to give it a try. I did a quick search for “homemade ricotta recipe” and found a dozen others similar to hers (most varying only in whether or not they used lemon juice or vinegar), so I went for it.
     I don’t drink regular milk (its rice or almond milk around our house), so I had to go out and buy milk for this occasion. Since I’ve not done this before, and was bound to fail, I just bought the store-brand 2% milk from our local Sprouts market. I usually opt for organic, especially where dairy is concerned, but figured I ought to be wallet conscious until I get the hang of this. And that, my dear friends, was the best decision ever.  Because, and this is the big disclaimer here, I'm still learning. Get it? I'M A NEWB. Learn from my mistakes!

    So as the recipe goes, simple as can be, you just plop four ingredients (4 cups milk, 1 cup heavy cream, 2 Tblsp lemon juice or vinegar, salt)  into a pot, heat, strain and eat! Um, nope.  Not in this kitchen! I heated the milk/cream/lemon/salt until little bubbles started to form and set it aside for quite a bit longer than recommended. When I started to scoop out the curds, there were few. In fact, I got only two almost-spoonfuls. 

     I thought perhaps I heated the milk too fast and so it didn’t have the opportunity to separate like it should. I decided to reheat the milk on lower heat this time. As soon as I put it back on the burner, my husband came in from the garage asking for a water refill and a spray bottle of vinegar for weed killing (being ever-so-conscious of not dragging his dirty boots into the kitchen because I just mopped the floor yesterday), and when I stepped out to hand it to him he called me out to see what he had done. Because I have the memory of a goldfish, I temporarily forgot all about my pot o’milk on the stove and wandered out into the driveway with him for a five minute chat. It wasn’t until I stepped back in from the garage that I saw my pot boiling over.  ..sigh..

      I dumped it in the sink and started over. Batch #2 was put into a large stock pot where I figured perhaps the shallow layer of milk may help it heat more evenly. But again, the only thing that separated was the skin that had formed over the milk. Dear google, please help!

     I sought out answers as to why my curds were not separating. I found a recipe different from all the others I had found in previous searches as well as a message board discussing various ways to make ricotta. Or, ricotta style cheese, as many of these same ricotta enthusiasts recognized that this method of making cheese is not "true" ricotta, but rather more similar to an Indian paneer. Regardless of what you call it, it is a divine soft cheese that surely inspired some of Botticelli's best.

    Some of these enthusiasts use whole milk, some use only cream, some use only whey from post-mozzarella production and some use citric acid rather than vinegar or lemon juice. Regardless of what they use, it seems the idea is to heat the milk first and THEN add the acid (ie vinegar or lemon juice or citric acid) to make it curdle. Then and only then can you separate the curds (Duh.. curdle = curds). This particular recipe suggested heating the milk over low heat for a couple of hours, stirring often. So that’s the route I chose to reheat the pot full of milk, cream, and lemon juice.

     I do not fault Karen's recipe for quick thirty minute ricotta. In fact, I am jealous that she is able to do it that way. Would my effort had been different if I tried whole milk or cream-top milk? I wonder if she gets better quality milk and cream, being from a town in Canada? I don't trust big-city-dairy even if they have a "California Cows are Happy!" campaign. I especially don't trust big-city-dairy because  they have a  "California Cows are Happy!" campaign.

     I heated the milk, cream and lemon juice (already mixed in the milk/cream from the previous attempt) slowly over low heat. When it did start to form a skin, I gently and very slowly scraped my silicone spatula across the bottom of the pan in a Z pattern (or an N, if you’re picky. Or a zigzag. Or a chevron. Or a Charlie Brown. Whatever creams your cheese.) to mix in the skin and keep from burning on the bottom. It took a while to get to the recommended 180/195/205 degrees (depending on which source you trust), but even at about 157 degrees I could already tell the difference – it was thicker than after simmering in previous attempts. I was feeling confident!

     At about 165 degrees, it started to look a little chunky, I assumed because it already has the lemon juice in it from the previous attempt. At 170 degrees it was quite a bit thicker. With another water refill and yard talk request, I was smart enough to set a 2 minute timer (AND take it with me) so that I could politely walk away from weed-pulling plans and go back inside to Charlie Brown the milk.

     At 175 degrees it started to get super chunky in the middle and at the long awaited 180 degrees it was like soupy porridge. Well, I’ve never made porridge so I don’t really know if that’s true. But I took it off of the heat anyway, gently chevronned in about ¼ teaspoon of vinegar (just in case) and let it sit for 20+ minutes.

     It looked worlds different than the first time, which in retrospect probably yielded only the skin (so I tossed it out). I started to scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon, found it to be too small (the curds were slopping over the sides) and switched to my large plastic slotted cooking spoon, which turned out to be too large (small curds were slipping through the slots) and finally settled on dumping the whole damn lot into the strainer. After a few minutes I found that the whey had drained and met up with the bottom of the strainer, thus no longer straining but rather steeping like soupy porridge tea, and had to come up with a plan G. I had to switch to another bowl that was taller and not as wide so that the strainer didn’t reach the bottom yet could easily rest on the rims.

     After ten more minutes or so of draining, I picked up the four corners of the cheesecloth (as had been recommended in some other recipes), cinched it off with a bag clip and hung it from a cabinet to drain. I,uh, don’t recommend this method because I was afraid the whole time that the door would pop open and the glasses I had put on top of the cheesecloth to weigh it down would come flying out and break in my cheese. Other folks recommended tying onto the faucet to drain in the sink (but I would only do this if you keep a bowl beneath it to catch the whey that drains from the cheese!). Thirty minutes later - voila! Cheese!

    In retrospect I should have let it drain longer than 30 minutes, but we were starving and jumped the gun to make dinner. When I opened the cheesecloth, I found the most wonderful soft cheese and it was perfect stuffed in chicken breast with spinach and garlic :)

Do not - I repeat: DO NOT throw out the whey that drains from your cheese! It can be used, and I'll tell you how in another post... dun-dun-dunnn! Until then, keep it refrigerated (or frozen) until you can use it!

I hope your first try is more fruitful than mine. Enjoy!

Update: I've made this a second time, heating the milk and cream alone before adding the lemon juice and it yielded the same problems. I had to reheat the milk/cream/lemon juice and add a smidge of vinegar. Perhaps my lemons are too old and don't have enough zing, or I used too little juice or heated too quickly or too slowly or... who knows. Fact is, I had to reheat slowly until it chunked in the pot and then let it drain a couple of hours. It still turned out dee-lish. If you have any tips or tricks I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My life with infertility

Funny old men joke about a women's "biological clock ticking" but really its no laughing matter. There truly is an underlying yearning, more than just wanting something cute to dress up and call my own. I have a cat for that.

Suddenly, perhaps when I was told I possibly could not, I felt within myself and deep seeded desire to have children. I'd always wanted children, but this is different. Hindu philosophy teaches that all the world was created from desire. This may be deeper than desire. If I could turn myself inside out, metaphysically, this feeling would be the atom of all my energy.

I try not to think about it. It makes me far too emotional. But not thinking about it is not helping me. To not think about it is to not do anything about it, to not learn anything about it.

When I do work myself up to research infertility and its options online, I hang in there for only about 20-30 minutes before I break down. One page leads to another leads to another leads to yet another, and before I know I'm hopeless.

I begin to think that it's not fair. It's not fair, all those accidental pregnancies. All those kids born to those who neglect and otherwise abuse them. All those kids living in squalor and sinking beneath the weight of poverty and Welfare. And then I begin to feel angry and judgemental.

But I have to stop myself. Acknowledge what I'm feeling. Remind myself that what I'm feeling is not fair. It's not fair to compare myself to millions of other women with different biology, different circumstances and different goals in life. Remind myself that it is not my place to judge. Those women are not all junkies, nor abusers, nor unworthy of having a family.

We all know what it is feel love. To feel hope. And to feel the absence of them both.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hallelujah! We finally painted something!!

We bought our first home in September last year and have done nothing with it. In our defense, however, my husband went to sea four days after we moved in and was gone for five weeks, then was home for a month, then deployed for six months. So really, *he* has only lived here about two months. So I believe that means we're right on schedule!

We have big plans for each and every room in the house, but because we haven't settled his next set of orders we've been a little hesitant to do anything permanent until we know whether or not we'll actually be living here next year. [insert a very large sigh here] However, when frustrations got high we buckled and decided to tackle the room that seemed to be easiest to pass off to a future renter with a bold color: the dining room.

Its a small room, about 8'x10' and, with only one full wall, we figured it would be an inexpensive start. Admittedly, we picked the paint on a whim while standing, frustrated and feeling down, in the middle of Lowe's with the new lighting fixture we had picked out for the same room. (I went six months without a light in the dining room while he was on deployment, so it was high time we fixed it!) 

We found a photo that we liked in one of the Valspar color sample brochures on their paint color display wall and purchased a sample of the orangey color Tropical Nut. Even though orange is my favorite color, I hadn't really pictured it in that room as anything more than an accent, so we got a sample of a dark brick red color and a white color for the ceiling. We painted a couple of small squares next to the large poster we have hanging on the one full wall (which has been my color inspiration for the dining room). After just a couple of days, we decided the red was too dark for the small room and found we had grown really fond of the orange color. A surprisingly easy decision. 

We planned to paint the following weekend and figured we could get it done with one coat, one gallon, in one day. Heh heh. Uh-huh.

Hubbs got home from work early on Friday, rushed out to get the paint and supplies, moved everything out of the dining room and began taping off the walls.  This was a little bit of a chore considering that there is only one full wall. The other three have the large doorway into the kitchen, the doorway into the living room, and a window a work around.

We had a really good time painting together, and did get the first coat done in just a few hours. He rolled the walls while I cut around the ceiling and edges. 

Since this was my first time painting, I didn't really know what I was doing. I was quite proud of myself for going around the corners with nice little narrow lines... then hubbs informed me that I needed to widen them so he could meet them with the roller (which you can see in the upper right above). Whoops.

About half way through the day, we realized that the paint he we bought did not have the primer already in it - and sure enough we could still see the small patch of red test paint we had put on the wall. We had to suck it up and do a second coat. The problem with that, however, was that he had duty the following day (Sunday - Father's Day) and we had invited his parents and Chela to come for a belated Father's Day bbq on Monday. So I got to do the second coat all by me onsies...
I did, and it was no big deal. Fun, actually. I broke out some old CDs that I hadn't listened to in ages and went on about my day annoying the neighbors with my off-key singing.

I broke down and went to the orange box to buy a paint roller-on-a-stick, though, because the hand held one we used the previous day had broken. It killed my wrist and I spent the rest of the day with my brace on.

While the roller-on-a-stick was extremely helpful and much easier on my wrist than the hand-held, I was sincerely frustrated at its crap quality. There were only two to choose from: a long yellow one with a squishy handle or this black one that was adjustable. I opted for the adjustable one because, well, it was adjustable and that seemed like a key feature to me. You simply turn the black handle to allow the silver rod to extend, and turn it back to tighten it into place. Problem is, that depending on how you put pressure on the roller the damn thing loosens up again while you are using it. I just couldn't seem to tighten it enough to keep it from slamming short on me.

I finished the frustrating yet enjoyable day with a Dr. Pepper spiked with whipped cream vodka and a Skype with my family in Phoenix. After just a couple of hours, I was able to move the furniture back into place and rescue the living room from chaos. The cats were not happy with the temporary reshuffling of their food, and Azreal slept on the dining room's curtains in protest. We've since got the large framed poster back up on the wall (not pictured above) and have a new project in the works (hint: it will replace the wine rack and the green cart pictured in the lower right photo above and will be super awesome!). We'll tell you all about it when it's done!

We still have crown molding to put up and eventually want to replace the table with a round one (to open up the space a little more), but that all depends on the orders we pin down for our next enlistment period. So much up in the air, but for now this is the one room in the house that really feels "homey". We're actually eating at the table more often these days and I'm not complaining one bit :)

xo, ~h

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pinterest Noms Challenge: Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

Since I've joined Pinterest, I've been simply obsessed with recipes. That's right: Noms. Crockpot recipes. Cookie recipes. Muffin recipes. Cookie recipes. Cake recipes. Drink recipes. Casserole recipes. Cookie recipes. Cookie recipes, and more cookie recipes. I figure, its about time I start actually making them! So, here it is - my first official Pinterest Noms Challenge.

I admit, I tried this recipe a couple of weeks ago and am just now getting around to posting this. You can see that my priorities have been in eating cookies and pinning more recipes rather than sharing my joys with the rest of you. My apologies.

Strawberries were fresh in season and on the cheap, so I picked this divine little recipe to do up some strawberry shortcake cookies as found here, via Pinterest. 

Chop up the berries and toss them with the lemon juice and sugar. Easy peasy.

Things got a little complicated along the way, but I learned a few things as I went!

First: Get the right tools. Cutting butter into a dry mix was a first for me and I must admit that trying to do it with two butter knives is a lot more difficult to a newb' than people might admit. Cutting up the butter into chunks is helpful, but using a pastry cutter is really the easiest way to cut it into the dry mix (in my opinion). 

Second: Dont panic and add water - the strawberries will add all the moisture you'll need! When I mixed the ingredients together, it seemed so dry, I thought there'd be no way in H-e-double-hocky sticks that this would ever make a cookie. So I added a little water until the batter seemed cookie-ish. When I mixed in the strawberries, however, I realized that moisture from the berries was all I would have needed... d'oh. But it wasn't so moist that it all fell apart, so it worked out ok in the end.

Third: flick some flour onto the stove. That's not really something I learned. I was already good at it. It makes cleaning up so much more interesting. ..sigh..

Fourth: I do not recommend using a silicon baking mat for these cookies as I found that places where the strawberries ended up on the bottom burned to the mat so badly that I couldn't clean them off.

But when its all done, the cookies are divine. Soft, fluffy and seriously taste like strawberry shortcake. I'll be digging around Kelsey's blog a little more to see what other goodies she's cooked up! I recommend keeping them refrigerated...if they last more than one day ;)

 And, I admit I will be a little less hesitant to try new recipes found on Pinterest from now on!

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's not funny.

I'm going to take a moment to step away from my typical quips about "what I learned today" and DIY crafties (admittedly for an assignment at school, but that should not fool you into thinking this is anything less than important) to stand on my social commentary soapbox and shout. 

I recently read an article about Wodka Vodka's advertising campaign that repeatedly, and seems to solely rely on, the use of stereotypical offensive icons and statements to sell their vodka. The most recent one is this: a billboard that reads "Escort Quality Hooker Pricing" First, why would any company want to compare their products to prostitution? Second, why are they going so far as to as distinguish types of prostitution to strengthen their comparison?

Let us think for a moment about what this implies:

Wodka's Vodka = Escorts = expensive, therefore high quality. Makes you think of lavish hotels and black lace and wealthy business men or politicians. 

Other vodkas = Hookers = faux leather miniskirts, rainbow colored novelty condoms and perhaps even meth or needle shoving junkies. Cheap. Worthless. Diseased. Gross.

What about all of the thousands of women worldwide that are forced into prostitution in the sex slave trade industry? Girls forced into prostitution at age 12? The abuse, the violence, the endless cycle they are forced into? Women without any other hope to support their families. I know, everyone has a choice. 

Sure, maybe in this country. In the grand USA we have a choice. We have Welfare and unemployment. Women don't have to participate in prostitution. I get that. But there is something to be said for desperation. And even something bigger to be said about how our ideas about masculinity and femininity and sex perpetuate the want and the avenue for prostitution. Not to mention the tug-o-war between the need for and abhoration of the prostitutes themselves.

I recently read "It Takes More Than Two: The Prostitute, The Soldier, The State, and The Entrepeneur" by Cynthia Enlee, were she discusses the relationship between military forces (yes, including ours), the local government (ours as well as other countries'), and men and women of the sex industry dating back (at least) to the 1930s. "Recreational" activities were quite important to soldiers stationed overseas, enough so that governments worked out deals, "programs" if you will, about how to supply women and mandate health check-ups in an effort to control disease. How Philippino women are wrangled into "entertainment" bars, Latina women were forced into similar locations in Belize, women taken from their families and sent to other countries to "perform" for military and local men - in Japan and China and elsewhere. It was (perhaps still is?) a sneaky, blacked-out-of-history prostitution ring. It was eye opening, and made me want to shut them immediately. I've never been so disgusted. This article was written twenty years ago, shortly after two military bases were closed in the Philippines and women of the area were farmed out to other countries, and I cannot stop wondering what the reality of this situation is now? Has it changed in twenty years? 

So I ask again, Why would anyone want to compare their products to prostitution?

“But it’s just a joke,” you say.

“Sure,” I say. “But is it really?”

I enjoy laughing as much as anybody else and I appreciate the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves. But the question I have to ask is where do we draw the line between laughing at ourselves as a way to keep ourselves humble and using ”jokes” to perpetuate stereotypical thinking? Once a word escapes your lips it can never be withdrawn. Words are endless, floating on like whispering breezes, circling and cycling in your mind. Where do those words go when the laughter stops? 

They stay somewhere in the back of your mind. Always present. Anchored. 

If we hold onto these stereotypes, how can we ever get passed them? Can you truly look at someone and not think of a hundred jokes you've heard about their "type"? Jokes come from somewhere, from someone who, with or without realizing it, believes in them. To me, that is not funny.

Words can be as light and uplifting as air, but they can also act as anchors, weighing us down and holding us in place. If we speak nothing but anchors, how can we change? How can we manifest the world we all want to live in, a world without prejudice and oppression?  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Today I learned...

Not to leave gardening gloves outside with the dog.
RIP $10 gloves that I used half a dozen times...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

today i learned...

today i learned: that i shouldnt wear jeans with metal snaps or buttons on the back pockets to school. they do not go well with hard plastic chairs

Sunday, February 12, 2012

That good-for-your-soul kind of day...

I was up late last night studying for an exam. I set two alarms this morning to make sure I got up on time. I actually woke up early, and was able to celebrate that glorious I-still-have-an-hour-to-sleep feeling. When my alarm went off, I enjoyed the beautimous white light beaming through my new bedroom curtains. Got dressed with a quickness, let the dog out, and ran off to 711 to fuel my morning.

At first, I was going to thank 711 for saving my rushed morning with blueberry coffee and glazed donuts and loading me with a freebie chocolate bar. On further inspection, however, I realized I was totally hustled by the lady who runs that place. As soon as I set my coffee and donuts on the counter, she plucked a chocolate bar out of a box on the counter, and said "it goes with the coffee today" as she scanned it, then took $1 off. I figured, free chocolate? Heck yeah! But when I checked my receipt I realized the chocolate bar was $1.29, and, you guessed it - with $1 off that means I paid $0.29 that I didn't intend to on a chocolate bar I didn't (really) want. Smooth, 711 lady, smooth. I wonder how many people she did that to today? And how many of them didn't notice the difference? But, you can see how much I'm upset about it - I still have the chocolate bar. And I ate part of it, too.

Anyhow, I got to class with plenty of time to review my notes and I think I did really well on my exam, including the extra credit essay question. I got home about 12:30 and decided it was finally time to plant the peach tree I bought a couple of weeks ago. I put on my big lime green rubber boots and went to it. Which is the real point of this story: I spent all afternoon in the back yard getting my hands dirty and I loved every moment of it. I got to dig up plants, re-pot said plants, plant seeds, plant a tree, hang a planter, fill a planter,  save a spider (by accident), kill a spider (not by accident), mow the lawn, pick oranges, and smell the upcoming orange blossoms.
The little bugger that started this whole afternoon a la nature was Gusty, the ultra dwarf peach tree I bought from the big orange box two weeks ago. So I named my tree. So what.

So... the bottom of tree is wrapped up in a bag full of "stuff" and has been sitting on my back porch, not watered and not visited (except by the green spider I found on it today, the one I saved, by accident), for two weeks. I was getting a little worried that it wouldn't last much longer, but upon tearing it open and digging it out I found it was healthy as can be. An independent little bugger.

 The directions on the bag are meant for planting in the ground, even though this small tree is well suited to growing in a large pot, which is great cuz mama ain't diggin a hole in her backyard. So first and foremost I cut the bag open and dumped out the "packing material" that keeps the roots moist.
Its essentially pine chips, and really just made me miss my dearly departed hamster Harvey. Hamster Houdini Harvey, aka Dog TV. No kidding. The dog was obsessed with him and terrified of him at the same time. No matter where we put Harvey's cage, the dog would sit in front of it and stare, stare, stare, and shake like a Chihuahua, which she is not. Even when he was burried under his bedding asleep, not visible in any way, she would just stare at his empty cage waiting for him to move. Thus, we called it Dog TV. Her obsession did turn out to be a great skill, as each time Harvey escaped from his cage we sent the dog to find him. She was a super hamster sniffer. She sniffed him out in closets, behind furniture, inside the couch... but, I digress.
Back to Gusty. The instructions said to let the roots soak in a bucket of water while you dig your hole. Or in our case, pour soil into the pot. It had recently rained, and an empty pot was still full of rainwater, so I dunked ole Gusty in there for about 20 minutes or so while I filled the pot with soil.

A few weeks ago, I found a great deal on Miracle Grow Organic Choice potting soil - the giant bags were only $8! I bought as many as I could fit in the shopping cart and used only one for all of my gardening projects today. What a steal.

First, pour a few inches of soil into the bottom of the pot and pack in gently. Position the tree's root bunch in the center and make sure that the trunk of the tree is straight and centered as you pour soil in to fill in the pot, leaving a couple of inches at the top.

When the pot is full and the tree is firmly in place, you're supposed to prune all of the branches that come off of the center trunk to about six inches.

The thought of hacking away at my brand new tree terrified me. But I did it anyway. I mostly did it anyway. I left the branches about 8 inches, and then watered away. The pot is on my back patio in a place where it gets almost full sun. Its on the north side of the garage, so it's shaded really only in the morning. Fingers crossed that Gusty likes it here. Perhaps in a couple of years we can make a pie :)

This spot is actually only temporary. Once hubbs comes home and we can tear up our back yard, take out the awful cat-tails and bushy things that are back there and put in our raised beds, Gusty will get a permanent home somewhere near the orange tree.

It was a good afternoon, and now I get to eat pizza and watch a whole night of Criminal Minds. What a life, eh?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today I learned...

to always wear glasses when cooking.

mistaking ginger for garlic may or may not be a pleasant surprise.

yes, i got all gusto about cooking again (in theory), only to spend my grocery budget for two weeks in less than an hour. but that's what i get for going shopping without having eaten lunch.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

is this what its come down to?

because of recent health concerns, namely feeling like i've been hit by a bus after each meal no matter how big or small, has caused me to try a new approach: eat small meals every three hours. (this was a recommendation in a book i'm reading about PCOS and insulin resistance). and in order to eat every three hours without blowing up like Violet Beauregard, i've been trying to eat 200-300 calorie meals. or less.

for the first week or so it worked out great. i was eating sandwiches a lot - well, actually, quarters of sandwiches a lot. i was feeling much better. i didnt feel as tired during the day. i wasnt feeling energetic, but not as tired as i had been before. i didnt have that "i need to sleep NOW" feeling after i ate.

but then it became a chore. i mean, eating every three hours? i'm glad i dont have a job because i wouldn't be able to maintain this schedule. even without working i find it hard to keep it up. i have no idea how to cook that small. i've had to cook regular meals (and by that i mean i've cooked twice in the last couple of weeks) and break the food up into tiny portions and refrigerate the rest. making a sandwich became making a half-sandwich and then cutting it in half to eat only a quarter-sandwich at a time, a few hours apart. i have been measuring and bagging snacks, sticking to the serving size on the labels very strictly.

do you know how long a bag of, well, anything, will last if you stick the serving size? a while. do you know how many times you eat spaghetti when you eat only 2oz at a time? i try not to be wasteful, and eat the whole package of whatever i open before it goes bad and i have to toss it out. a package of lunch meat lasted six days.

you might be thinking - that's awesome! but i say, i'm so sick of food. i'm so tired of eating the same things five times a day for five days straight. i'm soooo tired of being in the kitchen.  my hummus went bad half way through it and i had to toss it out today. me - toss out hummus? there's something wrong here.

i was really digging on cooking, baking, trying new recipes. i've been trying to talk myself into baking cupcakes since my birthday three weeks ago. i know that one package of cupcakes will last me a month.  would i get sick of eating cupcakes?! i dont want to test that theory.

while strolling through target last weekend, i noticed that they had lean cuisine on sale. i'm not a fan of frozen meals like that - i think they're awful. i hated them when i worked in the office and needed to bring my lunch every day. i hate them when i dont need to bring my lunch. but i noticed they have a new spa collection with some flavors that perked me up: butternut squash ravioli and cranberry apple chicken, both pictured with heaps of veggies in them and both under 300 calories each. the deciding factor, i admit, was that their sale included a free skinny cow ice cream when you bought 6 dinners. ok, i give. i'll give 'em a try.

Lean Cuisine Spa Collection™: Butternut Squash Ravioli
photo from

i bought two butternut squash raviolis, two cran-apple chicken, and two thai chicken noodle somthings. and ice cream cones.

the cranberry apple chicken had great flavor. rissotto. veggies. (green beans, mostly). not much chicken, but that's okay because i dont like the processed chicken chunks anyway. off to a decent start.

the thai peanut chicken noodles. good. i didnt eat the chicken. not spicy or peanutty like thai peanut sauce should be. i give it a 'meh' rating.

then i had the second cranberry apple chicken, and the chicken chunks in this package were mostly fat. i spit it out.

a few days have gone by (i've been totally turned off by the last package i ate) and i just gave in to the butternut squash ravioli. in a white sauce that has zero flavor. five raviolis and a pound of carrots and peas. the ravioli do not taste like butternut squash at all. the filling, in fact, is barely yellow colored, which means its mostly ricotta cheese. i ate less than half of it, and i'm staring at the rest.

is this what its come down to? have i become so lackluster about food that i'm settling for frozen dinners? flavorless ones, at that? i have to get out of this funk. i need to find passion for cooking again.

i stared at a new recipe for nutella cinnamon rolls from, and i got myself excited about them. i got all jazzed about making them and went so far as to write down step-by-step instructions to take to the kitchen. i pulled out my kitchenaid stand mixer, and then made a burrito and took a nap. what an epic fail.

i have half a dozen of her recipes pulled up on my computer right this very minute and by golly i'm going to make at least one of them. tomorrow.  sigh.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Today I learned:

that i like spray paint.

its a great way to color your knees...

and awesome planters. like the ones my sister and her husband made for me for Christmas out of PVC, from a tutorial that can be found here.

and cheapy planters that came in a grow-your-own strawberry kit from Target last year (yes, i'm finally getting around to planting them.)

and concrete, apparently, because i didn't think about the slits in my cardboard.

i tried the rust-o-leum spray paint that is designed for plastic, outdoors, and the home depot guy said was sure to not flake off when wet. we'll see about that.

they should be dry tomorrow, so if i can figure out how to use our ladder, i'll install them and transplant my rosemary and oregano into them. (now before you go getting all high and mighty about the ladder thing, let me just tell you that its not your average triangular, open and climb sort of ladder. its fancy. and complicated. trust me.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


was something in the air this morning that was familiar and yet made me uneasy. the feeling's still there.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Waffle Woes

Its an "Oh woe is me" sort of week in the kitchen. That's what I get for branching out, I suppose. Or, just another "learning" day here in the house of little ol' me.

I found a tempting recipe on Two Peas and Their Pod for Honey Yogurt Waffles. They sounded divine. So I decided to try them, seeing as how Santa brought me a new Belgian waffle maker for Christmas. I've been thinking about these waffles since I found the recipe last night. I was planning to make them in my sleep. Planning in my sleep, though, not making waffles in my sleep.

Usually, I can barely make it to through the morning routine of I-potty-then-dog-potty-then-coffee before I'm ready to hit the couch again for a while of zombie-ing until I wake up. This morning was different. I got out of bed with a purpose.

We all know that your first waffle is like your first boyfriend  pancake - a mistake. It was uber limp and greasy. I gave 1/4 of it to Grainne. She sniffed at in her bowl for a few minutes. As soon as she began to nibble on the corner of it, she realized I was watching her and tucked her tail and looked over her shoulder at me. I told her it was "OK" (which she understands is "ok to eat"), and she turned and gobbled it up in one hunk. So, not poison. Although I'd never truly test poison theories on my dog, I have found things she oddly refuses to eat. And that's a clue for me too.

Waffle #2: I cranked up the heat looking for that steam. Still not much of it. So I convinced myself I was smarter than the instructions that came with the waffle maker and decided that the real key to when they are done has nothing to do with steam, but rather when they stop sizzling. Right. Next!
Burned. Holey. And yet limp. Only crispy on the inside burned parts.

Waffle #3 was to be the charm. I put the heat back down on ".." (which I suppose in my waffle maker's Medium in polka-dot speak). Nicely colored, golden but not burned yet still limp. Where are the crispy waffles I've been craving? I'm starting to understand why they cost as much as a cheeseburger in a restaurant.

Waffle #4: This time I used only three scoops of batter into the center of the waffle maker. No overflow. And I put the heat down to the middle of ".." and ".". It's been almost an hour in the kitchen now. This includes opening, cleaning and seasoning the waffle maker for the first time, dividing ingredients and photographing everything that has transpired so far today. Its almost 1pm (Yes, I slept in) and I havn't eaten a thing. So what I'm trying to tell you is that as soon you get a new kitchen appliance, you should take it home, wash it and season it (or otherwise set it up for use) even if you don't intend to use it, because waiting until you wake up starving on a Saturday morning is not the time to do it. In addition, if you are going to try a new recipe (and especially if you are trying a new recipe AND a new appliance at the same time) you should eat breakfast before you begin to cook your breakfast.

So I call my mother, aka Santa, to ask if this is the same waffle maker she has at home. Does it work for her? No, its not the same as hers. Her advice? "It's not like cooking pancakes where it just takes a couple minutes on each side. Cooking waffles is kind of like baking a cake - it takes a while." Well, Santa, I don't want to bake a cake. I want to eat a waffle. A crispy one. If you wanted me to bake a wafflecake, you should have sent me a cake pan with bumps in it. I find your gift deceptive.

Waffle number four has been in the waffle maker for fifteen minutes somewhere between ".." and "." and I'm going to add some !@#$@#!$! to it in a minute. I turned up the heat a little bit, back to "..". After thirty minutes, it came worse than its predecessors. I still have more batter.

I do not blame the recipe (They smell dee-lish, which is making this process so much harder). In reality, I do not blame the waffle maker. Of course, I don't blame myself either. Circumstance? That doesn't really fit here. Nor does coincidence. I'm looking for another scapegoat.

Waffle number five is in now. I've decided to put number three in the toaster to heat it up and see if that crisps it a bit too. I have to eat or I'm going to gnaw off my arm. Since they are too big for the toaster, I'm actually cutting in half and trying it that way. Now, my toaster is also a toaster oven (basically just a toaster oven with one long trap door on top and an arm that holds bread upright, side by side) and is perfectly long enough to accommodate the diameter of the waffle. Limp waffles, however, get stuck in your toaster no matter how its organized. Just sayin'.

The toaster browned it perfectly, but it was still soft. I don't care anymore. I'm eating it. With butter and honey on top. It's f*ing beautiful. It really does have the best flavor of any waffle I've ever had. And I'm thinking that the soft consistency of it would make great "bread" for an egg and bacon sandwich. Or a good bread pudding. Oh the opportunities.

Number five came out a little better. Perhaps this waffle maker needed a few rounds to "warm up" so to speak. Number six is in now, and I think it may cook best if I just put in there and fa-ged-a-boud-et. I may just unplug it and let it sit there for a while. It will be a nice surprise come dinner time.

I know I promised pictures. But I deleted them all. I don't when, or why, but they are gone. You'll just have to imagine. Like reading a book. Its probably funnier that way anyway. Especially if you are my mom. She thinks everything is hilarious. That's why she gives people wafflecake bakers when you really wanted something else.

Total prep/cook/complain time: 2 hours.
Recipe makes 6 Belgian waffles. Sort of. But it tastes incredible.

Update: I have made this my go-to waffle recipe because they are hands-down THE BEST waffles I have ever had. They are, however, soft waffles by nature of their ingredients. So if you are expecting crunchy crispy waffles like you get in restaurants, look elsewhere. I promise you will not regret trying these. And really, once you try them you will find crunchy waffles simply offensive.