Saturday, August 29, 2009

Month in Review

Okay, so it's been more than a month since I posted. One month, six months, whatever. I still stand by the excuse of the dying laptop, but even though it's definitely terminal, it still hasn't died. And since there's no sudden influx of money to buy a new one anywhere on the horizon, I decided I just need to start posting again, with or without pictures. So maybe it'll be boring to everyone but me (pictures are the interesting part, right?) but it's my record of my life, so maybe that's not such a big deal. So on with the review.

1. Joe got laid off. Ugh. He hated his job anyway, so there is that, but still, you know, income. He didn't hate having an income, and come to think of it, neither did I. If only we still had plenty in savings we could think of this as a nice little vacation. As it is, not so much.

2. A week or so after the big layoff, I brought in the mail to find a big, fat envelope from the IRS. Wait, let me rephrase that. A BIG, FAT ENVELOPE FROM THE IRS. Are we being audited? I was immediately hyperventilating. But no, no, we're not being audited, we're just being billed. FOR $2000. Apparently there was a "mistake" on our 2007 tax return (yes, as in 2 years ago) and we got an "extra" $2000 on our refund that we "shouldn't have gotten." I like to use air quotes when I'm annoyed, so just picture the fingers in the air. I said fingerS, what kind of lady do you take me for? Anyway, they want it back. Little do you know, IRS, I have the evidence to prove you're wrong, that you've miscalculated, not me. Ahem. Please?

I've prided myself for years on being an excellent CPA for myself at tax time, and I'm going to be really annoyed if I have to admit otherwise. Two states of residence? Five W-2's? Mortgage interest, moving expenses, itemized deductions, capital losses? No problem. I've got it all figured out and I don't know why anyone thinks they need to go to a, what? a professional? Bah. This stuff is easy.

Joke's on me, huh?

3. A few days after the IRS envelope (which is also a couple weeks after the layoff, keep track will you), the car died. I was babysitting 3 little girls (that makes 5 little girls under the age of 6 in the house, plus me), so Joe wisely decided to splurge a little and go golf 9 holes. Until he tried to start the car, that is, and it just clicked and said "ha ha, Sucker!" What? Your car doesn't laugh at you when it decides not to work? Anyway. Joe took the battery out and went to the auto parts store to have it tested just to make sure that was the problem, and of course it wasn't. The battery was fine. Couldn't be that simple. We felt like we got a bit of a break when we had the car fixed by the end of the day and the mechanic's bill was only $100. Sweet.

So I guess I'll leave it at that. Any more and this will turn into a bad country song. All we're missing is someone getting drunk, or incarcerated, or both.

In better news, Joe and I will have our 5 year wedding anniversary next week. We've been inspired to go to a Jon Schmidt concert to celebrate . . . here, watch this and see if you're inspired too:

(disclaimer: I CANNOT STAND the Taylor Swift song. What do I look like, a 13 year old? No. But that just shows the talent of Jon Schmidt. He actually made me kinda dig that loathsome song. Oh, and Viva la Vida? Yes, please.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Some stories, usually embarrassing ones, need to sit awhile before we have enough distance from the event to own up to whatever it was that we did. I have some embarrassing stories that I wasn't able to tell for years, they were just that bad. It's only been a week and a half for this one, but I'm ready.

So two Saturdays ago, we threw a surprise-60th-birthday party for my mom. I volunteered to do it at our new house, because a. I love our new house, b. it's great for entertaining, and c. I knew that it would be the motivation I needed to get completely unpacked and decorated in a timely fashion. And it worked! We had several weeks of no-fun weekends, filled with unpacking, arranging, cleaning, etc., but the house was all put together after living here for only 4 weeks, and we don't have to worry about all of that anymore (until the next time we move, she says ominously). The house looked great, Costco did a fabulous job on the food (what, do you think I could make the house beautiful and cater for 30 people all with a small person attached to my chest?), and the party went beautifully. Lots of people showed up, including my aunt from Seattle, which was the biggest surprise for my mom.

One particular guest made herself not-so-welcome by about 10 minutes into the party. This one:

Okay, so that's a really old picture of Missy, from way back before we had babies, when we used to (cringe) let Missy sleep with us. I know! Disgusting! I know. That's an embarrassing story in itself, isn't it? But let me just say that before we had actual babies, I was one of those horrible people who thinks that the dog is their baby, and trust me when I say that Missy had thorough baths once a week at this point in her life. Does that make it any less disgusting? Ah, I didn't think so.

Moving on!

So Missy was barking like crazy when the guests started arriving, so I was a mean dog mommy and I took her to the basement and shut her into the one room down there that actually has a door (it's mostly unfinished). About 2 hours later, I remembered that she was down there and that she probably needed to go outside to do her business, and that she'd certainly calmed down enough by then to sit quietly in "her room" (the mud room) again. So I grabbed her leash and headed down the stairs to get her. I was wearing some wide-leg pants and very pointy-toed shoes, and you can see where this is going, can't you? Certainly. The toe of one shoe caught in the other pant leg, and down I went.

Except, when I fell, luckily my brain reacted quickly enough to say "must NOT fall FORWARD, I have babies and I do not want to DIE!" So I threw my body backward. Lucky indeed, since I started falling at the very top of the stairs. Stairs that end in a bare concrete floor. The throwing of the body worked, and I did not fall forward. Did not land on anything important like my head or my neck (yay!). Instead, I kid you not, I BOUNCED the whole way down the stairs (boo). On my tailbone. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Yeah, I think six bounces is just about right--I didn't think to count at the time. And then? Did I lay at the bottom of the stairs and moan until someone came to offer sympathy, like any sensible person would do? I did not. I proceeded to get the d*** dog, walked back up the stairs, forced myself not to limp, and proceeded as if NOTHING unusual had happened. I mean, I was in the middle of hosting a party with lots of people that I either have not seen in a long time or do not know at all (Mom's friends from work, etc). And since the noise of the party had covered up the noise of my body bouncing down the stairs, I certainly wasn't about to make anyone the wiser. Of course I did tell Joe later, but all he could do was laugh at me. I didn't even have any crazy bruises to show for the whole thing, to elicit something other than laughter. Guess that means too much padding on my rear end, huh? Talk about a bummer


Our poor laptop is slowly dying (go toward the light, friend), so it's going to have to be photo-free posts for a while here (boring, I know). Joe put in a zip drive yesterday and the computer wiped it. Ouch. Luckily it just had papers for school (have I told you he's getting an MBA at Westminster?) that he had already turned in, so no big loss. But I'm afraid that if I put in my camera's memory card, it would get wiped too. And that would, indeed, be tragic. So hopefully we'll be getting a new laptop or getting this one fixed sooner than later, and I can go back to add in pictures. In the meantime, I don't want to neglect these recipes--there have been some good ones in the last week!

  1. For my niece's birthday party last Friday, I made that dark chocolate pound cake that was supposed to be for Valentine's Day. It was indeed delicious, but not life-changing. It's from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook (the one from Costco in the big red binder). My impression of their recipes so far is that they are good, solid recipes that won't let you down. But of the 3 that I've tried, none of them have been to-die-for kinds of recipes. That's okay, though. Sometimes good is good enough, and at least they're not disappointing.
  2. Saturday night's dinner was a creamy orzo pasta from Giada DeLaurentis. It was delicious! By far the best recipe of hers that I've tried. It was another pantry-staple recipe, if cream is a staple at your house. I actually made it with a tiny pasta called acini di pepi, because I did my grocery shopping at Walmart last week (cringe--apparently my lack of finances overrides my ethical issues with Walmart), and apparently Walmart is not high-brow enough to stock orzo. Ha. But it was fabulous with the acini, and I'm assuming this would be great with any smallish pasta.
  3. Sunday dinner was Moroccan squash and chickpea stew from Smitten Kitchen, and no surprise, it was fabulous. I don't think I've made a recipe from her site that I didn't like. Oh wait. There were the very sad browned-butter-brown-sugar shortbread cookies. Complete disaster. She actually ended up putting a disclaimer on that recipe because so many people emailed her saying they had tried it and it didn't work. So I don't feel so bad about that--misery loves company, I guess. Anyway. This Moroccan stew is certainly not a disaster, and we really enjoyed it. Try it if you have a winter squash (butternut, banana, etc.) sitting around and you're bored with roasted squash.
  4. Monday morning, I took one look at the very pathetic contents of the fruit bowl and decided it was a good day to bake. Banana bread for the nearly-black bananas, and pear-pecan bread for the sadly neglected pears that were past their prime. Pears don't usually last long in our house, because Mia usually loves them. But I kept leaving these ones for her and she kept saying she didn't want any, until I realized they were no good for eating out of hand anymore. Never heard of pear bread before? Neither had I! But it's just a page after my favorite banana bread recipe in the Joy of Cooking, so I figured I'd try it. Another winner! Joy of cooking also has a pear-almond crumble that I've made before, which we absolutely adore, but I wanted to try out this intriguing bread, and I'm glad I did. If you find yourself with past-their-prime pears and you don't have the Joy of Cooking, email me and I'll send you the recipe.
  5. Monday night we were very virtuous (as we were again tonight) and used the leftovers frrom Saturday night's dinner. I find that if I wait one day between eating the same dish, we're a lot more excited about it than if it's 2 nights in a row. So Monday night was Saturday night's pasta again, and it was even great as a leftover--that's a good recipe in my book.
  6. Tuesday night I tried a mushroom casserole from 101 Cookbooks. It was a very good vegetarian main dish, and very easy because I had made and saved enough brown rice from last Friday's dinner. That's pushing leftover-use-time right to the limit (you should use leftover rice or pasta within 4 days), but it tasted fine. This is really nice if you love mushrooms and brown rice, a combo we happen to adore. In fact, if I make it again I will double the mushrooms, because we all love them. I didn't get many, because Mia ate all of hers and then asked for more, so I gave up half of mine. Punk.
  7. The random combination award for the week goes to the Indian naan bread that I made to go along with the mushroom casserole. Not that they were bad together, just not a very coherent theme. But we absolutely love the recipe I have for onion kulcha naan, Joe has been requesting it for a few weeks, and I finally had no excuse not to make it because I noticed that I had everything I needed for it, and two of the items were about to go bad (cilantro I had from the Moroccan stew, and plain yogurt that's been in the fridge). Not that I mind making it, but it's definitely a time committment that's not the easiest with a nursing baby and the rest of life going on. So we didn't eat dinner until 7:30, but oh well. It was worth the wait.

So that's the homemade wrap-up for the week. It's only Wednesday, but from the looks of my fridge, the rest of the week is going to be, uh, less-than-homemade. Like, one of our favorite cheater meals--Chinese sticky rice with frozen pot stickers from Costco. If you like pot stickers/dumplings, the ones from Costco are seriously awesome. Not to mention easy. Then perhaps a baked-potato-and-salad night, and then on Saturday night maybe we'll get crazy and use one of our 3 Olive Garden gift cards from Christmas.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Have you read. . .

Here is the BBC's list of 100 books you should read (stole it off a British mommy-blogger's site). So an American version would probably be slightly different, but I still think it's fun to look through--both to get ideas about what to read next, and to see how many of them I've already read. Apparently the BBC thinks that the average person will have read only 6 of these, which I find amazing.

How many of these have you read? What were your 2 or 3 favorites?

** means I've read it, * means I started it but never finished it
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen **
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte **
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling **
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee**
6 The Bible* (I've read the whole New Testament, but only parts of the Old)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte **
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens **
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott **
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy **
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier**
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger**
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald**
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens*
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame*
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy*
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens**
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis*
34 Emma - Jane Austen**
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen**
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis **
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden **
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell *
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown**
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery**
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding **
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan **
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons**
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen **
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens *
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley**
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez**
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck**
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy*
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding **
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett **
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce*
76 The Inferno - Dante*
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt**
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens **
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert*
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White **
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad**
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery**
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare**
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo**

My top two favorite books of all time are on this list: Possession (read it!) and Les Miserables (read it if you're really bored and have a year or two to devote to a really long book! ha ha). Also on my top 20 or so would be Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Memoirs of a Geisha, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, and The Time Traveller's Wife.

Two that I would not recommend (apologies here to any Oprah's Book Club fans out there--just about every time I read something from her list, I end up hating it, go figure): Love in the Time of Cholera and Atonement. I can't figure out why there's been so much buzz about these two books in the last few years. I heard so much about them, so I finally got around to reading each of them last year, and I have to admit I just didn't get it. They were both incredibly boring to me, nothing compelling at all. I only finished them because I kept thinking that something more intriguing had to be coming, and I wanted to find out why people love them so. Did you read either of these? Did you love them? If you did, I hope I haven't offended you or made myself look ignorant. I'm genuinely interested in what made them so great to so many people.

What are your favorites?

Put this one in your back pocket

to pull out when you need an incredibly fast, easy, delicious chicken dish, pronto. It's chicken with rosemary sauce from my Best of Cooking Light cook book, but I wasn't able to find it to link to on Cooking Light's website. So I'll type it out here for you, just because I love you (it's that good! I would feel mean if I didn't share this with you!).

Once again, delicious food isn't always pretty:

See? Yuck. Put some green on that plate. Chicken with rosemary sauce, brown rice, and baked winter squash sounded really healthy when I planned it. On the plate? It doesn't look so great. But it sure tasted good!

Chicken with Rosemary Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side (with the big chicken breasts I buy at Costco, this needs more like 5-7 minutes per side, just cut into it to make sure it's no longer pink). Add green onions, wine, and rosemary; cook 30 seconds (stirring, to deglaze the pan with the wine). Stir in broth, cook 2 minutes. Add half-and-half; cook 2 minutes.

Now, some recipe notes because I've made this one at least a dozen times, so I'll share my experience.

  • First, I know there are some of you (wink wink) who don't like to cook with wine. If I remind you that all the alcohol cooks out and you're just getting the flavor, would you consider trying it? No? I didn't think so. But that's okay. I've made this when I was out of white wine, so I just substituted with the equal amount of chicken broth. Still delicious. None of that sublime, subtle fruity wine flavor, but I'll leave it alone now, promise.

  • The reason this is such a go-to dish for me is because everything on the ingredient list is a staple for me. I love rosemary, so I make lots of recipes with it, so I almost always have some in my fridge. And unlike most herbs, it's very hearty and will actually last in your fridge for weeks, seriously. Mine has been in there for 3 weeks now and it's still perfect. Cream is also a staple because, oddly, so many of my Cooking Light recipes call for just a little of it, or a little half-and-half. But I never buy half-and-half, because you can always make cream into half-and-half (just literally half cream, half skim milk, you know that, right?), but you can't make half-and-half into cream. So I buy cream and because it also takes a long time to expire, I can usually use it up before I need to throw it out.
  • Green onions are not a staple for me, so I usually make this with red or yellow (or a shallot if I happen to have one), and I can't tell the difference.
  • When making it this time, I had chicken broth in the cupboard, but I also had about 1 cup of beef broth in the fridge, leftover from another recipe. Since you use so little in this recipe, I felt like it'd be a waste to open a whole new box of broth (I buy the big, quart-size boxes of broth rather than cans), so I decided to get crazy and use beef broth in a chicken dish. Guess what? I really couldn't taste the difference in the finished dish.

So to summarize: making it this time, I substituted red onion for green, beef broth for chicken, and more beef broth for the wine. And it still tasted as delicious as it always does. Obviously it's a pretty indestructable recipe, which is why you should have it in your repertoire!

One final note: if you are going to use wine, be sure to buy actual wine, not cooking wine from the grocery store. I have used that in this recipe, and it makes it WAY too salty. Cooking wine does have the wine flavor, but it also has tons of salt, and it's too much for this. So if you don't have real wine, just use the chicken broth.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dear Friends,

When the night looks like this:
(Does it look cold? Not really? Well trust me. . .brrr.)

You should definitely consider making this for dinner:

Click here.
It's the Pioneer Woman's cauliflower soup and heavens was it good. I think you should try it even if you don't love cauliflower. Because Joe claims to hate cauliflower, but he certainly polished off a big bowl of this. And he didn't even resort to the "I'm just really hungry." He admitted that it was, in fact, delicious. In spite of that dreaded vegetable. Well of course, the sour cream and butter and half and half mean that it doesn't taste so much like cauliflower. More like, um, butterfat. But don't be scared. I made a half recipe, and then I still cut the butter in half again (and used light sour cream, and 1% milk instead of the whole milk that the recipe suggests), and it was still perfectly rich and delicious, but not overpowering or heavy. And the half recipe was enough for two meals for our little family.
So like I said. When it's a cold night and soup sounds good, give this one a try. You won't be disappointed.
*This was last night's homemade dinner. Tonight? Tonight was leftover soup for Mom, and grilled cheese sandwiches for Joe and Mia, before Joe headed out to class.

Monday, February 16, 2009

You might be married, parents, and possibly also boring if. . .

  • Your Saturday night Valentine's dinner is postponed until Monday
  • You forget to even break out the Mormon bubbly (Martinelli's) which was nicely chilled in the refrigerator
  • You're just too busy to get around to making the dessert (dark chocolate pound cake with fresh cream and berries), for which all of the ingredients are still sitting in the cupboard
  • Dinner, which is a perfect homemade mushroom bisque and greens tossed with champagne vinaigrette, blue cheese, and dried cherries, is eaten at the kitchen table with the 3 year old, rather than at the dining room table with candlelight after bedtime.

But the question is, is it worth it?


I'd say so.

Oh, heavens yes.

And Joey? Guess what? I still love you more than anything in the world. Even more than cake. Happy Valentine's Day, love!