Thursday, November 29, 2007

#4 November Nephew Time

It's already been a week since I've seen them (on Thanksgiving), but I wanted to post about this month's nephew time because I had such a good time with them that I had to remember the funny little things they did.

When K & I arrived at my mom's on Thanksgiving evening, Nephew 1 (30 months) greeted us at the door by saying Hi! and our names. I'm sure his mom and dad coached him on it, but it was just adorable. He immediately pointed to his little brother and said "That's (Nephew 2)!" I replied "I know!" and said "Happy Thanksgiving." He looked at the things we were carrying and asked about them. I told I had a pecan pie in one hand and cranberry stuff in the other. He looked at me for a minute--because I'm pretty sure he didn't know what either of those was--and finally said "yum!" haha!

Later, as we were all sitting down, he started playing by ducking under the table and peeking out at me. I would say "where's (Nephew 1)?" and he would pop out, while I acted surprised to see him. K wanted to get in on the game, and started saying "what's that under the table? it is a little bug?" N1 suddenly scrambled out from under the table and ran into the kitchen. Turns out at his house, there have been several crickets under the table lately, and they freaked him out. So my brother (his dad), pretended to catch a "cricket" and throw it outside. K felt bad because he was just trying to play, but the rest of us were laughing. He redeemed himself by asking silly questions about the "cricket" like "what color was it? was it purple? was it spotted?" etc. Funny!

N2 (8 months) was his usual jovial self. I got to feed him some fruity baby food, which he very much enjoyed. He only protested when I was too slow spooning it into his mouth. That kid loves the fruit. SIL says it's the sweetness, which makes sense--he wasn't at all interested in his turkey baby food. Although, it smelled like cat food, so I can't really blame him. I was even afraid to try it. I gave him a bottle a little later, and he kept touching and staring at my fingernails, which were painted red. His mom never paints her nails, so I am sure he was very interested in the color & texture. Just like his big brother when he was a baby.
The cranberry stuff I took to Thanksgiving dinner has become one of my usual contributions to the meal over the last couple of years. I got the recipe from Food & Wine (below), but I substitute a lime for the lemon and zest it before chopping it and adding it to the food processor. Lime rind always seems extra bitter to me.
Cranberry Relish

1 medium unpeeled orange – scrubbed, halved, seeded & cut into 2-inch chunks
1 medium Granny Smith apple – peeled, cored & cut into 2-inch chunks
¼ medium unpeeled lemon – scrubbed, seeded & cut into 2-inch chunks
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (1/2 pound)
½ cup sugar
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces)

In a food processor, combine the orange, apple and lemon and pulse until finely chopped. Add the cranberries and pulse until the berries are coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar and walnuts.

The relish can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

New Experiences

In the spirit of The List, I am trying to generally be more open to new experiences. In my regular life, I crave stability, normality, and routine. Although my job gives me plenty of opportunity to never experience the same day twice in a row, I still shrink from a lot of change in my personal life. But, I'm trying new things on my list of 73, so why not jump on other new experiences?

Last Wednesday, K's good friend R and his new girlfriend E came over for dinner. E was visiting Austin for the first time from London, so R decided part of her visit should include a trip to a country bar. Never mind that none of us regularly (or ever) hang out in country bars, it would be one more opportunity for her to take some fun "Texas-y" pictures. R decided the place to go should be the huge six bars-in-one Graham Central Station, in Pflugerville. He'd been there a couple of times for happy hour to one of the non-country themed bars, so he had some idea of what the place is like. K & I had never been there, but K got in the spirit by wearing his boots & cowboy hat, and I wore my new brown boots.

We realized upon arrival that visiting GCS the night before Thanksgiving was not the best idea--the parking lot was packed. We saw a girl walking to her car, so we pulled into her row and waited for her to leave. She had other plans. She got in her car, started it, and appeared to make a phone call. (Maybe she was just checking her messages.) Then, she either changed her shirt or put on a coat (it was difficult to tell which, since we were several feet away, in our own car). By now, about 5 minutes had passed. K flicked his lights, in case she somehow couldn't see us waiting for her. I don't know if that irritated her, or she just still didn't notice, because she got out a camera and began taking photos of herself. By my count of the flashes, she took six photos of herself. Six photos of herself sitting in her car. Finally, after a ten minute wait, she pulled out and left us her space.

There were two long lines to get into the main entrance, but we luckily picked a short one. Once inside, we headed for the country bar, which had a huge dance floor. E was not impressed by the huge crowd (nor was I) or by the loud volume (which made it difficult to hear each other), but we found a space along the railing of the dance floor to watch. I love to watch people dance. Whether they really know how to dance, or are just flailing along, (and honestly, if they have some crazy moves, all the better) watching people dance never fails to cheer me up. R & E took a couple of turns around the dance floor, and dragged us out there when a fast song came on. K almost never dances, so we enjoyed being silly.

From there, we moved to a smaller room that was playing 80s music, but even though we found a table, we didn't stay long. E kept saying the place made her feel old, and I could definitely empathize. A large marjority of the people there were in the 18 - 21 age range (we could tell by the X on their hands) and seemed to be there to pick up people and/or get hammered. Neither were on our agenda for the evening, so we left. I don't think any of us are eager to go back to GSC, but at least now we know exactly what we're missing!

Next on the new experience list was holiday shopping. The only time I've been shopping on Black Friday was a couple of years ago when K & I went to his home town for Thanksgiving, and I went shopping with him mom, two sisters & SIL at 8am to the local mall. They live in a smaller town, really a small town in a triangle of small towns, so the mall wasn't as crazy as I would expect an Austin mall would be. But last week I got an email about the Thanksgiving Midnight Madness sales at the Round Rock Outlet, and I thought it might be fun to check out. We're night owls anyway, so it was likely we'd still be awake after having Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and the outlet is only about 10 minutes or so from our house. I checked the list of sales before we headed out, and determined a few places to shop. I suppose it might have been a good time to shop for people on my Christmas list, but I couldn't think of anything I wanted to buy that would be at the outlet. Well, I couldn't think of anything I wanted to buy for anyone else at the outlet. ha! But I thought it would be a good time to score a few deals for myself, and K always appreciates a bargain.

We arrived a couple of minutes after midnight, and drove to the back of the shopping center to park. It was filling up quickly, but there were still a good number of spaces open in the far back. Once we started walking around, we quickly realized that it was going to be very very busy, and that many of the people shopping were pretty serious about their goals for the evening. I was surprised to see a line snaking out of the Coach outlet--at 10 minutes after opening--with at least 25 or 30 people waiting to enter the completely full store. I guess the store was at the limit of their fire code shopper allowance? I have no idea what people were looking for because Coach wasn't on the list as one of the shops doing a special sale. As far as I know, they were just selling items at their usual (outlet) prices. K left me in Nine West, where I scored a cute pair of brown dress shoes for $35. (I'm trying to incorporate brown into my wardrobe more, and only had open-toed brown summer shoes & brown boots.) We met and walked over to Ann Taylor, where he dropped me off to head to Nike Town. It was busy, but I knew what I was looking for ($40 100% cashmere sweater), so I found it quickly, looked around a bit, and then waited in line for 20 minutes to pay. K found a couple of things at Nike, but was so discouraged at the huge line that he decided the sale price wasn't worth the wait. On the way out, we walked around a little bit more and saw a line almost as long as the Coach line at Starbucks, and saw several people walking around with small children or babies in strollers. I was most surprised at that--just from knowing how my nephews do when they're out of their usual sleep pattern, I couldn't believe people would be dragging kids around at midnight or 1am just for stuff like half-priced sweaters! We were home just after 1am, and I think K is at least satisfied that he never needs to Black Friday shop again. I might go again if there's a midnight opportunity, and if I can get my act together enough to actually shop from my Christmas List instead of just for myself. I kind of got swept up in the sale excitement!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

#47 Car Maintenance

Car maintenance is on my list because I am horrible at finding time to get my car inspected and take it in for regular maintenance. I keep the registration up to date easily, since that's done by mail, but I'm still pretty lazy about actually replacing the sticker on the car. I am a little ashamed to admit that the sticker for my inspection expired in March. March 2005! I can remember taking my car to get inspected three times since then, but one time I left because the line was too long (and I was on my lunch hour at work), once the people told me it was too wet outside to properly check my brakes, and the last time I'd had my car in for maintenance, they forgot to do the inspection. I've paid one ticket on the expired inspection, and I know I'm lucky not to have more.

I also knew I was overdue for regular maintenance. On the recommended Honda schedule, I had missed my 70,000 check-up, and am now approaching my 100,000 check-up at 96,000 miles. So I took advantage of a quiet week at work and took my car in on Tuesday. I was a little irritated with the process; I went online to make an appointment through the dealer's website, but the form said my appointment wasn't confirmed until I heard back from them. I hadn't heard by Monday afternoon, so I called them. The person I spoke with told me no appointment was necessary, that they worked on a first-come, first-served basis. Yet when I pulled in on Tuesday morning, there was a seperate line designated for "Appointment Only." Argh! I'd hoped to pick my car back up at lunch, but they told me it wouldn't be ready until the afternoon. I called at 3:30, since I hadn't heard from them. Nope, not ready yet. I finally got a call at 4:45 telling me they were working on my car and it would be finished in 30 minutes. So I rushed out of the office at 5 to make my way North, knowing they close at 6. I made it with 10 minutes to spare.

While I was there, my service manager told me they recommend a timing belt change at 105,000 miles. He thought I might reach that by summer, and wanted to warn me that it usually costs $750. Yikes! Now I'm wondering if I'll actually get it done. I'm hoping to sell my car & buy a new one next fall, and I'm not sure if it makes sense to shell out so much money on a car I'd be getting rid of. I wonder if it would affect the resale value at all? Not that I'm expecting much, on a car that's 7 years old!

#31 Reading: The Thirteenth Tale

This weekend has given me a good chance to do some reading, and I finished The Thirteenth Tale.
I liked it--I usually read mysteries, and this one had several twists throughout. I didn't like some aspects of the story that were implied, but luckily that part of the story wasn't fully discussed.
From Publisher's Weekly:

Margaret Lea, a young bookseller and amateur biographer, is chosen by recluse writer Vida Winter as the recipient of the secret of her tragic past. She reveals, layer by layer, the mesmerizing tale of the Angelfield family that includes murder, insanity, feral twins, a ghost and a fire. Margaret's own past in some ways parallels Miss Winter's, leading them both through the blaze of memory into the truth.

Friday, November 23, 2007

#9: Weeknight Dinner: Fajita Night

Sunday when we met K's friend R and his new girlfriend E for drinks, I invited them for dinner on Wednesday night. I almost immediately regretted my impulsive invitation; when was I going to have time to really clean house & make dinner for 4 the day/night before Thanksgiving? They weren't sure of their plans, since they'd already decided to take a short day trip to Fredericksburg. But R called on Tuesday to accept, and a plan was in place. Luckily my office closed at noon on Wednesday!

I gave K 3 suggestions for dinner, which he allegedly talked over w/ R. They ended up choosing fajitas, which weren't even on the list! Not sure how that happened--I guess it was a combination of my make your own tacos bar and chicken enchiladas choices. The last time we had fajitas at home, K cooked them on the grill. Well, now was not the time to take on that part of my 73 in 730 list (learn how to use the grill and actually make dinner using it), so I got the pre-seasoned chicken fajita meat from HEB & cooked it on the stove. It was good, but fairly fatty. I didn't think to trim off the fat before I cooked it, and regretted that when we were eating leftovers for lunch the next day. Rubbery! I also made corn, black beans, queso and guacamole, and bought pico de gallo and salsa. E (who is visiting from London) had never had fajitas before, and loved them, especially the guacamole. Apparently, avacados aren't very common in England. She said she thought guacamole was mashed up peas!

For dessert, I made a cake from Smitten Kitchen--Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake. I halved the recipe, since there were only 4 of us, and cooked it in my 8x8 pan. It was delicious. I love cinnamon, and the cake tasted deceptively light from the folded-in egg whites. Yum!

This had been a busy week of working on my list, so I will have several updates when I have a chance. I've spent time with the nephews, gotten my car serviced, and K & I crossed something big off our house "to do" list. I'll also report on our midnight shopping at the RR Outlet, which only barely corresponds to the list, but was a new experience to record.

Monday, November 19, 2007

#9 Weekday Dinner: Stuffed Shells

True confession: last week I didn't cook dinner.

I was planning to cook our Bacon of the Month delivery, a la breakfast for dinner, but it didn't arrive until Friday. K got the package when he was home for lunch, so I told him I'd make it for dinner. Well, that afternoon he called me to let me know that a former co-worker of his was performing a birthday gig from 7 - 9. He wanted to just grab something quick for dinner and then see his friend's show. So, breakfast for dinner waited until Saturday, and I missed my first weekly homemade weeknight dinner. I'm planning to make it up with two weeknight dinners soon.

Apparently, I'm still a day behind, because I planned to make Giada's Turkey & Artichoke Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce on Sunday night. But a Sunday afternoon meet-up with friends kept us out until practically dinner time, so after we ate, I prepped this dish to cook tonight. I actually split the dish into two, and froze half of it for another time. (Think I can still count that as cooking one night? ha!) K declared this the best entree I've ever made. Wow!

Turkey and Artichoke Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells (recommended: Barilla)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 (8 to 10-ounce) package frozen artichokes, thawed and coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
5 cups Arrabbiata Sauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (about 5 ounces)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and partially cook until tender but still very firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain pasta.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are soft and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the ground turkey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is slightly golden and cooked through. Add the artichoke hearts and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl combine the cooled turkey mixture with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, and the remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

To stuff the shells, cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 cup of Arrabbiata sauce. Take a shell in the palm of your hand and stuff it with a large spoonful of turkey mixture, about 2 tablespoons. Place the stuffed shell in the baking dish. Continue filling the shells until the baking dish is full, about 24 shells. Drizzle the remaining Arrabbiata Sauce over the shells, top with the grated mozzarella. If freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 1 day and up to 1 month.

To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until the shells are warmed through and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 60 minutes (20 minutes if shells are unfrozen.)

Arrabbiata Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups jarred or fresh marinara sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until tender, about 1 minute. Add the marinara sauce and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let cool until ready to use.

Yield: approximately 6 cups

Saturday, November 17, 2007

#46 Clean out Purse

I have pack rat tendencies in many areas of my life, but they are particularly evident in my purse. I tend to cram all sorts of things in there, and not clean it out very often. I'm trying to get into a habit of cleaning it out regularly, instead of waiting until it starts getting really heavy.

This last cleaning is the first time I've cleaned out my purse since starting the 73 in 730 project. I think the last time I cleaned out it was prior to our trip to NYC in mid-August. At least, that's what I'm assuming based on the items I took out, which included:

-- Two NY Subway Maps

-- Ticket stubs to Putnam County Spelling Bee

-- Receipt for the guitar K bought at Rivington

-- Map & entry pin from the Met

I also cleaned out 14 recipes (and left 3 in for the next time I get to the grocery store), an invitation for a baby shower long past, a print out of my list of 73, and a bunch of receipts. My purse feels so much lighter now!

Monday, November 12, 2007

#31 Reading

I picked this book up to read on our August trip to New York, and never ended up getting to it, so I tried it again last week. It's not a book I would normally choose for myself--I usually lean towards mysteries rather than bestsellers. (I particularly avoid bestsellers with the word "romantic" in the description.) But, it had good reviews, and I ended up liking it quite a bit. The main character is a 93-year-old man who is thinking back seventy years to the time he joined the circus as a vet during the Depression. His stories about circus life and the time period really held my interest, even though some of the descriptions of his romantic interludes were pretty cheesy. The book has an interview with the author & book club discussion questions at the end, but I can't see myself recommending it to my book club because I don't think the story lends itself to a lot of discussion. Still, I enjoy a well-told story.
Here's the book description from Publisher's Weekly:
The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures. He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers—a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for. Despite her often clich├ęd prose and the predictability of the story's ending, Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book.

Weekend Dinner

I'm not counting last night's dinner towards my goal, since I'm working towards cooking dinner during the week consistently. But I did make dinner last night, and wanted to record it in case I make it again.

I found a recipe in Real Simple (November Issue) for Cheese Ravioli with Toasted Walnuts. According to the magazine, the total time/hands-on time was only 20 minutes, so I thought I'd give it a test run in case it could become a quick weeknight favorite. Here's the original recipe from the magazine:

Cheese Ravioli with Toasted Walnuts
1 14- to 16-ounce package cheese ravioli (frozen or fresh)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup (2 ounces) walnuts, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Kosher Salt & Pepper
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Cook the ravioli according to package directions. Drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the cooking water.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts & garlic. Cook, stirring, until the nuts are lightly toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, parsley & the reserved cooking water.

Add the ravioli and toss to coat.

Divide among individual plates and sprinkle with the parmesan.

I found fresh beef & parmesan ravioli at the store, so I decided to use that, instead. And I like basil better than parsley, so I used fresh basil, and added it at the end (during the toss to coat portion of the directions). Since the ravioli had parmesan in it, I decided to go with mozzarella for the cheese. I wasn't very impressed by how it turned out. K really liked it, but I thought there was too much olive oil, which made it seem greasy. The store-bought ravioli didn't have a very strong parmesan flavor, and mozzarella doesn't have a very strong flavor, so I mainly tasted basil. I do love basil, but overall the dish was just ehh.

Friday, November 9, 2007

#9: Weeknight Dinner

Last night I made an old favorite for dinner that I adapted from the cookbook Mad At Martha. Despite my lack of time for weeknight cooking--and general laziness--I do love cookbooks. Mad At Martha was a Christmas gift from a friend who met the authors at a book signing.

K has been talking about sweet treats this week, so I decided last night would also be a good time to try out the "Balls of Goodness" I'd been drooling over on another nestie's food blog. Mmm, they were as tasty as they look on MrsFroggiana's Blog! Mine weren't as pretty as hers, and I was rushing to get dinner on the table after starting late, so no photos of cranberry chicken or oreo truffles here. K liked them so much that he managed to gulp several down, even after proclaiming he was stuffed from dinner. And I happen to know he ate at least two of them for breakfast this morning!

Cranberry Chicken
1 lb of chicken breasts
1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup italian bread crumbs
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the microwave while you pound the chicken flat. (I set each chicken breast on a piece of foil, covered it with saran wrap, and pounded away.) Mix butter & vinegar, soak each chicken breast in mixture before dragging it through bread crumbs. Scoop a mound of cranberry sauce into the center of each chicken, then roll the chicken up and secure with a toothpick. Place each roll in a cooking-spray coated baking dish. Drizzle leftover butter/vinegar mixture & cran juice from can over chicken rolls. Cook 45 minutes.

Note: The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of butter and no balsamic vinegar. 1/2 cup of butter doesn't sound like a lot, but I balked at using an entire stick. I remembered seeing a dessert recipe for berries that called for balsamic vinegar, so I thought that would be a good way to bring out the tartness of the cranberries in this recipe. Since I haven't made the dish using the original recipe, I can't say whether it's very different, but we certainly think this is delicious.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

#4 Nephew Time

One of my nephews is a very good sport.

My dad's birthday is 3 days after mine, so we usually have a combined celebration with the family. This year, it was lunch a week after our birthdays--he spent his birthday sick in bed with a cough & sore throat. My family kept asking what I wanted for my birthday, but there isn't any stuff I really wanted. I just wanted to spend time with everyone, enjoying ourselves. And what better way to enjoy ourselves than with fake moustaches?
I bought the moustaches a couple of months ago, thinking K would get a laugh out of them. (And needing a few bucks to add to my order to get me past the free shipping threshold.) He thought they were more creepy than funny. Understandable, especially when I was wearing one. But the idea of my family in moustaches? Hilarious!
Mom & Dad were ready to sign up as soon as I told them. Well. . .my mom shares my sense of humor, and my dad goes along with things. But I knew nephew #1 (N1) would be a tough sell--he's two (30 months, actually) and he's in a phase of hating costumes and masks and, really, wearing anything that doesn't specifically belong to him. My mom had bought one of those glasses/fake moustache/bushy eyebrows combo things, and he told her to take it off because it wasn't funny. I thought I'd be able to convince him to wear just a moustache, but no such luck. My brother and SIL both tried to win him over (wearing their moustaches), but he would have nothing to do with the moustache.
His little brother, however, was an easier mark. Nephew #2 (N2--nine months old) is such a happy, easy-going little fella, that I thought he would be a good moustache candidate. . .as long as he didn't try to eat it! He was hilarious as soon as S put it on him. He kept wanting to pet the moustache with one finger, which led to some very funny photos. Of course, all of the pictures of Family Moustache Day are funny--it cracks me up to see the different expressions we all made while wearing the moustaches, and how similar our expressions were. I wonder how we'll spice up our family birthday celebration next year?

Monday, November 5, 2007

#21 Pantry: Done!

My official start date for my 73 in 730 was my birthday, October 19th. Part of my birthday fun that weekend was cleaning out the pantry with K. Yep, we were truly partying like rock stars that day.

I wish I had thought to take before pictures, but instead I can just remember the back half of the closet full of paper bags & boxes, the shelves overflowing with outdated cans, pasta and assorted non-necessities. We had to throw out pasta that K had moved in from his duplex three years ago. He'd also been hanging on to a bag of hot chocolate packets since his apartment--the place he lived when I met him practically ten years ago. Bleah! I don't think I've ever even had hot chocolate since we've met. . .and yet, he wanted to keep some of the hot chocolate. If he hasn't had any in the next six months, we agreed that I could throw it out. Like he'd even notice!

We bought some bins from the Container Store to help collect similar items--K insisted on open, clear bins. I think we ended up with seven or eight bins, total. I've been so spoiled with this enormous pantry, I just hope we can find another big walk-in when we move.

#31 Reading

This weekend I finished reading The World To Come, which was one of my book club selections. Actually, it was a selection that I suggested, thinking it would be a fun detective story with some art history. I was so wrong!

Here's the description from amazon:

Following in the footsteps of her breakout debut In the Image, Dara Horn's second novel, The World to Come, is an intoxicating combination of mystery, spirituality, redemption, piety, and passion. Using a real-life art heist as her starting point, Horn traces the life and times of several characters, including Russian-born artist Marc Chagall, the New Jersey-based Ziskind family, and the "already-weres" and "not-yets" who roam an eternal world that exists outside the boundaries of life on earth.
At the center of the story is Benjamin Ziskind, a former child prodigy who now spends his days writing questions for a television trivia show. After Ben's twin sister Sara forces him to attend a singles cocktail party at a Jewish museum, Ben spots Over Vitebsk, a Chagall sketch that once hung in the twins' childhood home. Convinced the painting was wrongfully taken from his family, Ben steals the work of art and enlists his twin to create a forgery to replace the stolen Chagall. What follows is a series of interwoven stories that trace the life and times of the famous painting, and the fate of those who come into contact with it.
From a Jewish orphanage in 1920s Soviet Russia to a junior high school in Newark, New Jersey, with a stop in the jungles of Da Nang, Vietnam, Horn takes readers on an amazing journey through the sacred and the profane elements of the human condition. It is this expertly rendered juxtaposition of the spiritual with the secular that makes The World to Come so profound, and so compelling to readers. As we learn near the end of the beautiful tale, "The real world to come is down below--the world, in the future, as you create it." --Gisele Toueg

The second chapter of the book is told from the perspective of a boy who has been orphaned during the Russian Pogroms of 1919, and I nearly had to put the book down and stop reading during that chapter. The descriptions of this child's experiences when he loses his parents and lives in an orphanage are terrifying. I am glad I stuck it out through the book, though, because I learned about a time in history I had no idea had ever happened. I didn't like the ending, but I did like several of the chapters towards the end of the book.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

#9: Chili Dinner

I'd bought two pounds of lean ground beef over the weekend to make chili this week. Of course the day that ended up working best was yesterday--Halloween and 80+ degrees during the day. But I was able to get home early, and immediately got to work on dinner. My chili recipe is so incredibly easy--but delicious. Plus, it only took me about 20 minutes, and that was including answering the door a few times for trick or treaters.

I usually keep packets of McCormick's chili seasoning in our spice cabinet. It used to come in mild & hot flavors, but on Sunday I was only able to find original & hot, so I bought original. I bought about two pounds of ground beef, thinking that I would freeze the leftovers after today for an even easier dinner some other night. I cooked the meat, added the spices & about 1/2 cup of water (per pound) and let the water cook off. Then, the secret ingredient--salsa! The spice packet suggested adding a can of crushed tomatoes, but K usually has some salsa around for snacking, and I think that gives even more flavor. If we don't have any salsa, I use a can of Rotel. We don't like beans in our chili, so after everything is stirred up and simmered for 10 or so minutes, it's good to go. K put his on a soft roll like a sloppy joe, but I ate mine from a bowl with shredded cheddar.

On the side: I had a package of frozen veggies that I steamed. I've got to take baby steps on the side dishes--usually the most I can ever get together is a salad, or a veggie from a can. We're trying to eat more vegetables, so I bought a few packages of mixed frozed veggies that can be steamed in their own bag. I like to sprinkle them with mixed spices, depending on what else we're eating.