Wednesday, January 30, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

Late last week our monthly bacon delivery arrived, and Tuesday turned out to be a good night to cook. I think this is my first bacon weeknight dinner since I began my 730 project in October, although we've been receiving monthly bacon since K's birthday in April. We were celebrating a big birthday for him (the same I'll celebrate at the end of my 730 days), and knowing his love of bacon, I thought this might be the perfect gift: Bacon of the Month from Grateful Palate.

Sure, our entire house smells like meat all night after I cook the bacon, but it's a small price to pay for that crispy goodness. And the Grateful Palate was an excellent resource for stocking stuffers for both K & my bacon-loving brother. We are now the proud owners of bacon soap (not bacon-scented, just bacon-shaped), a bacon Christmas tree ornament, and bacon air freshener. I'm eyeing the BLT candles for another gift-giving occasion. Of course, then I might have to smell them in our house, which I'm not 100% sure I can handle. Last night's bacon frying caused so much smoke that we had to throw open the kitchen window and back door. My hair smelled like smoke when I got in the shower. K was in heaven, I'm sure.

We receive a pound of bacon each month, and after the first month's delivery we learned that we really shouldn't eat it all in one sitting. Now, I typically cook half a pound at a time, cutting the slices in half so I can fit more at one time into my big skillet. This month's bacon (Hickory Smoked) was delicious in BLTs for dinner. They were so good that I might just make the same thing with the other half in a few days.
Update: Sure enough, K requested another BLT night a couple of nights later! Easy enough.

#31 Reading

I haven't sat down with a book in a while, sticking mostly to magazines and working my way slowly through a book of short stories. But, I did just finish February's book club selection, Children of God Go Bowling, by Shannon Olson. Apparently this is a sequel to another book, but I haven't read the other one and didn't feel like I had missed anything in a previous story.

This book is a good example of one of the things I like about my book club: we usually choose books that I wouldn't immediately select on my own. I almost never read chick lit. I thought the story might end differently than it did, and I am glad the ending wasn't what I expected. It was a quick read. The main character irritated me a little bit, but I thought her personality and actions rang true. It takes place in MN, which made me think of a good friend who lives there (and whose wedding I was in this past summer), and was a good reminder that I want to be in touch with her more often.

Here's the (long) review from Publisher's Weekly:

Chick lit? More like curmudgeon lit-and it couldn't be funnier in this wry, quirky sequel to Welcome to My Planet (Where English Is Sometimes Spoken). Thirty-something Shannon Olson, who shares her name with the author, is napping her way through life in her native Minneapolis, kvetching with her equally stymied friends and dabbling in group therapy. She envies her married-and-settled siblings and longs to break away from her parents-but how to develop her own identity when she's still doing laundry at her folks' and sharing every detail of her life with her mother, the indomitable Flo? Her romantic prospects look bleak, too: "I had been living in the dating world's version of the Old Country Buffet.... The tepid, lamp-warmed, greasy, convenient, heartburn-inducing singles buffet." With so few possibilities, her dearest friend from college, Adam, starts to look less like her favorite couch potato companion and more like the love of her life-or is it only boredom drawing her to him? This is no paint-by-numbers tale of woe; while Shannon herself shies from action, the plot is one twist after another, and the humor (especially the group therapy scenes) is hilarious. Eschewing much of the chirpiness and lagging introspection of many of its sisters, Olson's novel explores deeper questions of why many young adults find themselves acting like adolescents into their 30s and offers an insightful examination of friendship and family. Strong, ironic and characteristically cranky prose keeps the pages turning, and Shannon's commentary on being a round peg in a square world-guiltily Catholic in a world of cheery Lutherans, grumpy and single in a city clogged with strollers and Midwestern cheer-rings true.

Friday, January 25, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

I did it! I made dinner twice in one week again! I actually feel proud. :o)

I've never made pork chops, but K said these were the best pork chops he's ever had. And they were really easy, too. My pan was only big enough for two chops at once, so I had to do two seperate batches. The second batch turned out a little extra crispy, I think because there was a little hot oil left over in the pan when I added more oil. Now I just need to figure out how to fix that. I think my solution might just be to only cook two chops and save the other two in the package to freeze for another dinner. I don't really like leftovers, anyway. Also, I didn't use lemons. Honestly, K was lucky there was even a side-dish. I "made" my usual steamed veggies in the microwave--the kind I always buy frozen in 2-serving bags.

Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

2 large eggs
1 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
3/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan
4 (1/2 to 3/4-inch thick) center-cut pork loin chops (each about 10 to 12 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
Lemon wedges, for serving

Whisk the eggs in a pie plate to blend. Place the bread crumbs in another plate. Place the cheese in a third plate. Sprinkle the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Coat the chops completely with the cheese, patting to adhere. Dip the chops into the eggs, then coat completely with the bread crumbs, patting to adhere. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Add pork chops, in batches if necessary, and cook until golden brown and the center reaches 150 degrees, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to plates and serve with lemon wedges.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

#30: Submit a photo to Cute Overload

Near the first of the year, I saw that one of my favorite websites--Cute Overload--was accepting submissions for a 2009 calendar. When I saw today that this is the last week to submit photos, I knew I had to take a chance. I submitted 5 photos of my very cute kitty for calendar consideration. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

Even though I was off work yesterday, I am counting last night's dinner as a weeknight dinner. Mainly because I was too lazy to actually get to the grocery store until 5pm and didn't start prep/cooking until about 6:15, which is about the time I would normally start dinner.

I made another recipe from a nestie recipe rave: French Onion Chicken. Unfortunately, I didn't do the recipe justice. I shredded the tips of my fingers a little bit when I was shredding the cheese. (And I noticed when I saw that the block of cheese in my hand looked a little pink, eww!) I accidentally put the sherry in with the onions at the beginning of the carmelization process, instead of later with the other liquids. I didn't brown my chicken enough in the pan and it took forever to cook in the oven. And I doubled the sauce (K loves sauce), but even though I let it cook down until it was reduced by half, it still didn't thicken. Also, I made boil in a bag brown rice instead of using french bread, since we had rice in the pantry and not french bread. After that comedy of errors, my rendition of the recipe just turned out "eh." K said he liked it, and the sauce was delicious (the rice soaked it up really well), but as I was washing up he suggested adding a can of French Onion Soup mix to the sauce next time to make it more french onion-y and thicker. For someone who never cooks dinner, he certainly is free with the tips. ha! I know, I know, he's trying to be helpful and supportive of my culinary efforts, and would like to eat dinner before 7:45pm. So would I!

I bought pork chops at the store with the idea of making parmesan pork chops later this week. Could it be two weeks in a row of cooking twice during the week?! Look out Martha Stewart, here I come.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

#7: Buy Cloth Grocery Sacks

My Envirosax order arrived on Friday. I had these on my Christmas list, but didn't receive them--so I ordered them for myself.

I decided to go with the black & white bags in case K ever does any shopping. Although. . .usually he only runs by the grocery store to buy beer. Sometimes he stocks up on snacks--in fact, the last time he went to the store, the cashier asked him if he was having a party. Nope, just shopping for himself! Darn him and his super-fast metabolism.

I'm looking forward to using my bags tomorrow at the store. I have a feeling I'll be shaking up my grocery store a little bit, though. I've never seen anyone there using their own bag.

I've also been working on transferring my CDs to MP3s this weekend. I've already got about 1G moved into Itunes--about half of that is already loaded into my new nano. Luckily, I don't have nearly as many CDs as K. His collection fills an entire cabinet, and mine only takes up 2 shelves. Today I got through "Patsy Cline: 12 Greatest Hits." It may seem like I haven't gotten very far, but I didn't realize I had so many 'B' cds! I guess 4 Beastie Boy cds can slow a person down. Including the random ones I added before starting in on the alphabetical list, I've got nearly 30 done. I think I'm about a third of the way there, best guess.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

A couple of nights ago I made dinner for the second time this week--whoo!

I got this recipe from my local board on the nest; someone asked for recipes raves, and one of the gals recommended this recipe from the Williams-Sonoma "Weeknight" Cookbook. It sounded easy & tasty, plus I had many of the ingredients already. Or so I thought! Turns out when I added ground beef to my grocery list, I should've also added beef broth, red wine vinegar, and a yellow onion. Apparently, our pantry stock is down to just chick stock & three other kinds of vinegar. (All that vinegar on-hand sounds a little ridiculous to me, actually.) I didn't realize I'd used the last of the onion until I got started, so I substituted onion salt, and didn't add any other salt.
I also left out the raisins, since I knew K would object. I cut down on the chili powder because I'm a wuss and I thought it would be too spicy. Turns out, I was wrong, and I'll add the full amount next time. The contrast of spicy to sweet wasn't quite right in my version.
And, finally, I told K that I was making weird chili. He isn't always on board with new recipes, so I just didn't use the real name of the dish. Silly, I know, but I can just imagine him reluctantly poking at it and asking "What's 'picadillo' again??" This way, dinner got an 'A' from both of us!
Cuban Beef Picadillo (or Weird Chili)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef chuck (I used closer to a pound)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbs. chili powder
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes with juices
1 3/4 cups beef stock
2/3 cup raisins or currants
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Steamed brown rice for serving (I used boil-in-a-bag)
In a large, deep fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring to break up any clumps, until the meat begins to brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Spoon off and discard the excess fat.
Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cinnamon and allspice and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, stock, raisins, tomato paste and vinegar. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until thickened to a stewlike consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the steamed rice among 4 shallow bowls, ladle the picadillo on top and serve. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Weeknight, by Melanie Barnard (Oxmoor House, 2006).

Monday, January 14, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

It's been a while, so I made Cranberry Chicken again. K had gone to the gym, so he was too hungry to wait for it to finish cooking and he made himself a sandwich. Apparently he's planning to enjoy leftovers for tomorrow's dinner.

This week, I'm planning to attempt cooking two different nights. I have three recipes that look really quick and easy, so I think I'll make one more this week and possibly try for two next week, depending on our schedule.

In other news, I think I need to re-order my list. I want to keep the numbers as they are, since I've already started, but I want to put the list in a better order so I can keep up with the items a little better.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Status Report

I never did a first of the year status report, so I thought I'd sneak one in before I'm too much further into January. My start date was 10.19.07, and I think I'm doing pretty well so far. There are many items that are a constant process, but I feel like I'm gaining ground in many areas.

-- So far, I've been able to spend quality time with the nephews at least once a month, and recorded tidbits from our time together here for future reference.

--I've ordered cloth grocery sacks. I thought I might receive some for Christmas, since they were at the top of my list, but since I didn't, I'm buying them for myself.

--I would say I'm doing pretty good at cooking dinner once a week. While I'm still much more likely to cook on the weekends, and I did miss a few weeks around the holidays, cooking during the week is starting to feel like less of a chore and more of a treat. It's good to know exactly what's for dinner, rather than wonder what I can scrounge up for dinner.

--We're just starting the process of working on the house "to do" list in hopes of having it ready to put on the market this spring. I've already been searching the internet a little bit for a home we might love, and am trying not to fall for any prematurely. Especially since building a new home in the dream neighborhood didn't work out!

--I don't have red shoes yet, but I have been working on breaking out of the normal black/brown accessories. I now have red gloves (a Christmas gift from K) and a red winter coat (bought on 60% off sale at Macy's last Sunday).

--I'm testing out new types of panties, and bought a couple of new bras at the Victoria Secret's Semi-Annual sale this past weekend. I even measured myself using an online guide to make sure I was looking in the right bra size. (I was, yay me!)

--I just got a great book on Photoshop Elements, though I have only skimmed it so far.

--I'm looking for photos to submit to Cute Overload for the website AND their 2009 calendar.

--I'm proud of being able to keep up with posting fairly soon after accomplishing an item.

--Kindness for strangers, thanking/complimenting someone and accepting compliments gracefully are progressing. Those might be a little too vague to measure improvement, but I feel like just having them on the lists reminds me to do them.

--K's Christmas gifts are going to be very helpful in using my new printer more often (he got some computer gadget that he's hooked up to allow me to print from my laptop anywhere in the house) and backing up/storing date (an external HD that will hopefully also allow us to share photos easier).

--I'm doing well with my plan to drink 1 L of water daily. I did initially choose the amount based on the size of the water bottle I take to the office every day, but I'm definitely drinking more water on the weekends that I was before I started the list.

Right now, the daily vitamin for 30 days straight objective is annoying me. I'll go several days in a row, then forget a day and have to re-start my countdown. I need to make this a priority, especially since I'm taking pre-natal vitamins in hopes of conceiving and having a healthy baby in 2008. But other than that nagging "to do," I feel like I'm in a good place on my list--with 20 months and 12 days to go until I reach my end date and a big birthday.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

#31: Reading

I did a lot of reading over the holidays! I finished this book just a couple of days ago--and I really enjoyed it. "Interred with Their Bones" by Jennifer Lee Carrell is fast-paced, intriguing, and hard to put down. I can see a comparison to the Da Vinci Code since a lot of the book deals with clues that are history-based, but this book has a follow up at the end that reveals all the facts used in creating the story, which was fascinating to me. I knew a lot of the controversy surrounding Shakespeare's identity, but I thought this was a clever was of showing different sides of the debate--with action, adventure & romance thrown in.
From Publishers Weekly:

Plot twists worthy of The Da Vinci Code dominate this agile first novel from Carrell (The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox), a thriller involving a lost Shakespeare play, The History of Cardenio. On a June day in 2004, at London's rebuilt Globe theater, Rosalind Howard, flamboyantly eccentric Harvard Professor of Shakespeare, gives her friend Katharine Stanley, who's directing a production of Hamlet at the Globe, a small gold-wrapped box. That evening, a fire damages the Globe, where Roz is found murdered in the same manner as Hamlet's father. Roz's mysterious gift, which contains a Victorian mourning brooch decorated with flowers associated with Ophelia, propels Kate on a wild and wide-ranging quest that takes her to Utah; Arizona; Washington, D.C.; and back to London. Every step of the way, as the bodies pile up, Kate narrowly escapes becoming the next murder victim. From Shakespeare conferences to desert mines, from the present to the past, this spirited and action-packed novel delivers constant excitement.

Friday, January 4, 2008

#4: January Nephew Time

Four or five years ago, our family decided to start an annual tradition and meet for brunch on New Year's day. We met at mom's house, and caravaned to our designated meeting location--the Omlettry on Burnet Road. Naturally, it was packed. My dad got impatient and decided we shouldn't wait the estimated 30 minutes, but instead go elsewhere. We headed for what's now the Austin Diner (formerly Laura's Bluebonnet Kitchen); they were closed. Next stop, Kerby Lane. As if they wouldn't be packed! I suppose we thought that by now, Dad would relent to waiting, since we arrived at Kerby 30 minutes after originally starting out at the Omlettry and were very hungry. Surprise, surprise, the wait was 45 minutes long. We took a vote and headed to good ol' IHOP. It wasn't very crowded, and we were seated quickly. As soon as we ordered, we found out why there wasn't a wait--our waitress told us she was only one of two waitstaff that morning. Apparently, 5 other waitpeople had either called in "sick" or simply not shown up. We (foolishly) assumed that we would still be eating soon. We were so wrong! The two waitresses ended up with a huge line of food waiting to be delivered, and we practically jumped back to the kitchen to look for our own order. (Our experiences that day led us to coin a favorite family phrase: The system has broken down.) We did finally eat, but decided to move the New Year's Day brunch to mom's house for the next year. We've been meeting there ever since, and not once has the system broken down.

This year, we pulled up right as Brother & family did. N1 raced from the car up to the front door, and looked so cute with his bedhead flapping in the breeze. He looks just like my brother at that age, complete with the back of his hair contstantly standing straight up! When the rest of us got to the door, I asked him if he wanted to peep in the mail slot and holler for his grandma--which is usually a favorite activity of his. He replied with a dismissive "no." It seems the boys took a nap in the car on the way, and were both still a little groggy/grouchy from just waking up. I certainly know that feeling.

N1 asked my mom if he could help cook something, so she pulled up a chair to the counter for him to help her with the eggs. I lent a hand in the kitchen, supervising the pancakes, and also kindof keeping an eye on N1. I happen to know he's a frequent nose picker, and I wanted to decide for myself whether I'd be eating any eggs that morning based on his performance. He helped crack and stir the eggs, and even started to drip some egg into the pan before it was time, he was so excited to help. SIL came into the kitchen just in time to cover his mouth as he sneezed several times over the bowl of eggs. Yum.

N2 sat next to me at brunch, and his favorite activity was trying to touch me with a syrup-y hand. Note to self: wear more kid-friendly tops for nephew time. I've already learned that he'll try to yank off any necklace I'm wearing, so I plan accordingly there. After he ate, he wanted me to hold him and dip him backwards. That's one of his current favorite things--he pitches himself back like in a backbend, and I raise him up and act surprised to see him. These acrobatics drive my mom nuts, she's convinced he's going to crack his head on the table or that I'm going to drop him. Since I am also a little afraid he's going to fling himself right out of my arms, I hold on extra tight.

We left early because K was feeling sick (upper respitory infection + lower back pain), so we didn't get too many kiddy antics this visit. Still, it was good to spend time with them so often over the past couple of weeks.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

Stuffed shells again last night! K loves these, and he likes to remind me that while he enjoys a constant stream of new recipes, he would also like to have repeat favorites now and then. Like last time, I baked half the recipe and froze the other half for another time. And since I'm really behind in my weeknight cooking due to the craziness of the holiday season, I am going to totally count that frozen shell dinner as a meal when I do end up cooking it!

He also likes to remind me about the recipe book his mother made and gave me when we got married. I haven't cooked a single thing in the book over the past 3 years. In my defense, a lot of the recipes in the book are things we just aren't interested in eating. And a lot of the recipes K remembers from his childhood or special holiday dinners were left out of the cookbook. ("Accidentally" I'm sure.) K brought up a little bit of my lack of cooking from those recipes at Christmas. . .to his mom. Luckily, I thought quick and said "I know I can't compete with the best, so I haven't tried!" Phew, a rare moment of a snappy comeback--hooray for me! I think the recipe he is most looking forward to includes an ingredient called "kitchen bouquet" which, quite frankly, scares me. I thought it was something MIL made up until K found it in the grocery store for me. It appears to be something that makes meat browner? (Which. . .why??)Yikes. But, in the spirit of trying new things, I am going to attempt some family recipes and report back.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

#4: Nephew Time

We celebrated Christmas with my family (my parents & my brother with his family) during dinner on 12/23 and dinner on 12/25. The nephews were both a lot of fun. Nephew1 (31 months old) has been talking about Santa for months, although I don't think he really understood exactly what would happen. My SIL told us that she prepped him for his visit with Santa at the mall, telling him what it would be like, and how he should tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas. Apparently, he took her advise to heart, because he started whispering "Superman Truck" as soon as he approached Santa. By the time they got him on Santa's lap, he was chanting "Superman Truck." haha! Even funnier, Brother & SIL had no idea where he had seen/come up with this toy. Brother said he even googled it and couldn't find anything. Luckily, they happened to be at WalMart a few days before Christmas, and were looking at some items on low shelves. Sure enough, right at almost-three-year-old-eye-level, there was a Superman Truck.

N1 has also apparently been coached on what to say when he opens presents. I gave both boys pajamas (matching, so adorable, even though their mom already had matching pjs for them) and a savings bond. N1 opened the box, and said "Wow!" and started pulling out the pjs. Then he turned to his mom and said "what is it?" So much for that wow, eh? I had to laugh--his mom has a video of herself as a child opening up a box of chocolate covered cherries, and her face just falls in disappointment. But she sees the camera on her, so she says "Wow, thank you!" in a totally fake way. (The funniest part of that story is that she'd shown the video to my parents & Brother a few weeks before her first Christmas in our family & my mom forgot all about it. Then she put chocolate covered cherries in SIL's stocking. SIL thought it was a joke, until my mom remembered and started apologizing. Ahh, good times.) Anyway, N1 was genuinely excited when he opened a gift from his Pappa (my dad)--a Hummer truck. He started shrieking "A Hummer! A Hummer!" That kid sure loves trucks.

Nephew2 (almost 10 months) is starting to show more signs of having a personality just like Brother's. He's so cheerful and easygoing--plus, he seems to like me more than N1, so obviously he's my favorite. heh. I had fun holding him and playing with him. K started to play peek-a-boo with him around my shoulders, and N2 became fascinated with K's mouth. Right now, K has a little triangle of hair just below his lower lip, and N2 could not take his eyes off him. K would move his mouth around in silly ways, and N2 would try to mimic his mouth movements. It was so stinkin' cute! Later, N2 crawled over to the big portable CD player where K's EP of Christmas music was playing, and started banging on the speakers--the kid loves to drum. K hurried over to stop him, and ended up picking him up. He joked "so how do you work this thing?" because he is not really a baby holder, he's more of a baby game player while someone else holds. N2 instantly became re-interested in his mouth, so he held him a minute. ADORABLE. If I didn't know I'd already ovulated for the month, I probably would have right then.

We also had a chance to visit with our 3 out of town nephews in K's home town on Christmas Eve for dinner & Christmas Day for lunch. K's godson, J, is 12 and really really into music. He plays several musical instruments--guitar, bass, and a couple of reed instruments (saxaphone, baritone, etc.). K gave him one of his old acoustic guitars for Christmas and J was thrilled. He immediately abandonded all of his other gifts and started playing around with the guitar. His mom said something to him about how it was a nice gift, and I heard him say "I know, Uncle K always gives me the best gifts; I could never give him anything this good." Ahh, but knowing that is gift enough to Uncle K, kiddo. J is very shy, but really listened when K gave him some tips (he even went to the kitchen immediately & cut his nails when K suggested he keep his nails shorter for better guitar playing). J's dad (K's brother) is not an ideal role model, so I hope that J follows K's example. It would be great if they were able to interact more often.

The other two kids are A (just turned 18) and C (who is 11). They also seem to be great kids, despite going through some tough circumstances growing up. A is polite, friendly, and helpful (though I did notice he was texting on his phone pretty much the entire evening, including during meals) and never seemed to go through that surly stage I expect from teenagers. He's hoping for a baseball scholarship to college next year, and despite a bad shoulder injury last summer, he's been performing well at pitcher and (I think) first base. It would be great if he went to UT, but I'm not sure if that's going to work out. He'd definitely be a star at a smaller school; UT has a pretty big talent pool.

His little half-brother C is a character. He's always working an angle to get something he wants, or he's trading sassy comments with someone--usually his grandpa (FIL). He totally cracks me up, although half the time I don't want him to know he's making me laugh because it only eggs him on. He is also a baseball star, although I'm not sure of the position(s) he plays. His dad is a total scoundrel asshole, and I'm glad C's been able to avoid sharing any of those traits with him.

I have to admit that spending time with the local nephews has been and is going to be fairly easy. In October (when I started this list), we saw them for my/my dad's birthday celebrations. Thanksgiving was in November, Christmas in December, and our family New Year brunch on 1/1. Next month, we'll celebrate my mom's/Brother's birthday. March will bring N2's first birthday, and April is K's birthday. May will be N1's third birthday. But, I still like to keep track of our time with them each visit, if only for a record later of what they were like at that age. I met these kids on the day they were born, and I am loving seeing them grow up.