Sunday, July 23, 2006

Am I insane or just a glutton for punishment?

In lieu of taking my inlaws out to eat after McKenna's baptism at the end of the month, I'm seriously entertaining (get it?) the idea of throwing a massive party after her baptism instead. We're talking foodies and libations for over 50 people. (Have I mentioned how many inlaws I have?)

Yup, I'm insane. It's official.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I feel so Emeril!

We went out shopping today and bought a bunch of kitchen gadgets and stuff...and now I feel SO cool! This is what we got:

-a Crock Pot (can you believe I didn't have one?)
-a herb keeper for the fridge (it's holding the parsley right now)
-a microplane for grating (which is the coolest thing that I bought today by FAR)
-a pair of tongs
-a Brown Sugar Saver

-a meat pounder
-a grill pan (which is going back since it can't be used on glass cooktops)
-a six-quart mixing bowl
-a no-slip cutting board
-a slow cooker cookbook that was on sale at Kroger

Very cool. I feel so gadgety right now...just like Emeril Lagasse, who has every possible kitchen gadget imaginable!

However, I have come to the conclusion that I am THE slowest prepper in the world. I made almost green curry chicken tonight with coconut jasmine rice. It took me over an HOUR to cut all the vegetables, herbs and chicken and get them ready for cooking and then close to an hour to cook everything. *sigh* P thinks that it's the fact that I am terrified I'm going to cut my fingers off with the knives. Yeah, that COULD be it. "A great meal is only thirty minutes away." YE-AH. I don't think so! Only if you are able to operate a Santoku knife with your eyes closed. If I tried to cut my veggies while my chicken browned or my olive oil preheated, I'd burn the house down.

Anyone that has seen me bake can attest to the fact that I can throw together a cheesecake at the speed of light, but try to get me to make a simple Asian stirfry and I panic. Someone please assure me that I'll get better and faster at prep as I go along!

But at least I ate everything. My dish had onions, scallions, green peppers, jalapenos, broccoli, cilantro, parsley, garlic and ginger in it and I ate it ALL, no picking around nothing. THAT, my friends, is a major accomplishment.

Rest in peace, Sir Cilantro

Yes, my cilantro plant did not make it, sadly. We're trying to revive him by placing his roots in water, but I think he's toast. He was looking pretty poorly the other day and we thought that maybe he wasn't getting enough sun, so we stuck him outside for a few hours. Apparently the Texas heat wave was too much for him, and he bit the dust.

Oh, well. What can you do? I thought about taking him back to Wal-Mart, but P said they'd probably blame me for overwatering or something. Yeah. All my OTHER plants are doing awesome! So far, we haven't really cooked with any of them yet except for my chive plant, not that I haven't wanted to...I made egg salad the other night and cut up 2 tbsp of fresh chives for it. It really was delicious...gave the salad a nice oniony flavor without being overpowering, and now my chive plant (since his haircut) looks MUCH better and much healthier! I just don't have enough of the herbs yet for my recipes. Like parsley...I bought some for 60 cents at Target the other night because a handful of parsley would have killed my parsley plant for sure. And tonight, I'm buying fresh cilantro because...well, you know why. Poor little guy.

So far, at the end of the second week, cooking has been a success, although we're going to have to keep an eye on our grocery bills. It doesn't seem like we're spending much on the things by themselves that we need for dinner, but when you throw in a can of formula, kitty litter, cat food, avocadoes to mash up for McKenna, or makeup that I felt the need to replace after watching Tyra Banks' show the other night on the dangers of keeping makeup over six months, it's not quite the cheap trip that I envisioned. It's like I won't buy things if I have to make a specific trip, but hey, while I'm at Target, let me pick up this and this and this. I think it's going to be evenly tempered by the fact that we're not eating out very much at all anymore, but only time will tell.

This past week we made the following:

Monday: prosciutto, garlic and herb cheese-stuffed chicken and wild rice (that was P's and it was AWESOME!)
Tuesday: egg salad sandwiches and chips
Wednesday: London Broil, buttered potatoes and caramelized zucchini and mushrooms
Thursday: we just did our own thing...I made eggs and hash browns and I think P had a sandwich
Friday: homestyle turkey and stuffing casserole with a side of watermelon

I had a request for the cheeseburger and fries casserole that P made last week, so here's the link: Cheeseburger and Fries Casserole. Be warned's not low-fat by any means!

The things I'm learning though about cooking, and I know it's going to come with time, are hard-learned. Things such as doing all prep before I start cooking. I don't know how many meals I'm going to get close to throwing out because I wasn't prepared before I learn this lesson. Last night with the casserole, I didn't see the part that said that the veggies had to be cooked before baking, and that was a slight panic. And I'm having to learn how to operate a Santoku knife, which is not nearly as easy as the cooking shows make it look. I am using a garbage bowl though, and that's helping a lot by cutting down seconds that I spend walking back and forth across my kitchen to the garbage can. The London Broil night, I just couldn't get that parsley chopped fast enough!

Not much really is going on at the moment. Work is keeping me very busy, and I was in the field every day last week cleaning up messes from other adjusters that just transferred to other departments. Blah. But it's all over now and I think I'll be in the office all week next week. We'll see how THAT goes. And my application is in to start the management training, so hopefully that'll get going in a few weeks.

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The green mine on my windowsill

Yup, it's another cooking post. *grin*

Most of the new cookbooks that we have bought lately are from Racheal Ray. So far, we have Cooking 'Round the Clock: Racheal Ray's 30-Minute Meals, 30-Minute Meals for Kids, 30-Minute Get Real Meals, and yesterday I used one of my Bed Bath and Beyond coupons to buy 365: No Repeats-A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners. (Just FYI, did you know that you can use as many of those 20% off one item coupons during one visit that you want??????) I have been reading through these cookbooks, and so far, she's two for two...I have made spicy chicken tacos and linguini with red clam sauce, both of which were excellent, and normally I don't like chicken tacos OR clams. But they were both awesome. Now, the 30-minute thing, well, I guess I'm still working on being an organized cook, because the spicy tacos took me almost an hour and the clam pasta about 35 minutes, but that's all right, they were both delicious. If you're looking for some cool cookbooks with some yummy recipes that don't take a lot of time on the gourmet side, I strongly recommend these books...they are awesome!

But, the one thing that I've noticed in virtually all of these recipes is that they call for fresh herbs...fresh parsley, fresh cilantro, fresh thyme, fresh you see where this is going? Ha ha ha ha...

At the end of the weekend, I now have a green mine growing in my kitchen. I now have pots of basil, parsley, chives, cilantro, spearmint, sage, rosemary, and oregano. I really really want lavender and thyme as well, but I couldn't find any live plants this late in the summer for both, and no seeds anywhere either, so I think what I'm probably going to do is see how this goes for now and then next spring, I'll order those off the internet if I can't find them in town. Marjoram would be cool too, and peppermint too if I have the room. I think if I want any more herbs other than what I have already, I'm going to have to get a rack for the kitchen or move them outside. We'll see. I'm trying hard into talking P into letting me till a small garden outside, but so far I'm not being too successful...we had a garden about five years ago and it was great...until we got a small yellow Labrador puppy who systematically destroyed it starting with the banana pepper plants. Oh, Katie's lucky I love her so. And Simon marks everything, so we're not too jazzed about putting plants out there that we plan on eating for him to possibly piss on.

Oh, I so don't have time for another hobby, but I just keep piling them on. Cooking, gardening, scrapbooking, stitching...sheesh, just WHEN did I become so domestic? Oh, yeah, when I had a child! Well, I can't blame it all on her...I've always loved cooking and stitching. But gardening is SO fun...I had a great time today and yesterday scouting out the plants around town. And surprisingly, Wal-Mart had a lot of them...I bought all of my plants and clay pots there except for the rosemary and oregano which I found at Home Depot.

So here's my question (since I'm betting I have some container gardeners out there that read my blog) long do I have to wait to start snipping the herbs?? My chives, rosemary and oregano are already pretty long, so I think I'm safe to start snipping those, but what about the rest?

All right, that's all for now. I hope everyone had a great weekend. I sure Dutch oven arrived, we bought a new Emeril skillet (a 4-quart one), and some fun kitchen gadgets...and now I have a garden inside! What more could I ask for?

And just FYI...McKenna is having surgery tomorrow to have tubes inserted in her ears. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, because truthfully this is the BEST thing that we could do for her. Poor baby is just not getting any better and I know these ear infections are just making her miserable. So we are scheduled for surgery at 11 am, and hopefully we'll be home sometime in the early afternoon. Keep your fingers crossed for us! I think after it's over she's going to be hearing and feeling a LOT better.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My daughter can now hug me back!

The only thing better than hugging McKenna is to hug her and have her hug BACK! I love it! I'll try to get P to take a picture of us hugging so I can post it. It's just TOO cute!

Thanks for all the feedback on the cooking at home plan. So far, it's going GREAT. This is what we've made this week:

Sunday: chicken with wine-herb sauce and baked potatoes
Monday: oven-barbequed shrimp and saffron rice
Tuesday: cheeseburger and fries casserole
Wednesday: Finnish pancakes and fruit salad
Thursday: spicy chicken tacos

Tomorrow, we have unanimously decided, is Leftovers Night. Which works out perfectly because we both want a night off from cooking, the fridge is full with little labeled containers, and I have plans to go crop with a pal! So it's all good. Apparently shopping the European way is the way to go for us!

Happy weekend to everyone! I'll post more when I'm not dead tired.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Has it ever occurred to you that you might be a tad obsessive?"

Me? Nah! Not in a million years!

Back when my mom and I were actually speaking, she said that one of the things that drove her crazy about me was that when I discover something new that I really really like, I jump into it with both feet and arms and full heart and soul. In other words, I really obsess about it. Well, I like to think that's one of my more endearing qualities, but whatever.

Example...when I discovered that I liked cats in college, I got one and then two more when I moved to Texas. As soon as we got a house, we got two Labradors. When I started stitching, I wanted to do nothing but. When I discovered Body For Life, I went nuts with it and started training for body building. I decided to remodel my kitchen and it took over the entire house. When I learned to scrapbook, I managed to complete four books within the first year. My work is perfect. I'm the top performer in my office. I absolutely adore my daughter and can't wait to cook her the next new food, teach her sign language, or buy her a ton more clothes that she doesn't need. (Yeah, I bought her more crap on Saturday. I'm hopeless.)

Annoying? Maybe. Endearing? Well, maybe to me. Productive? YES!

So what I'm getting at here is that I seem to go in waves with my obsession of the flavor of the week, if you will. And currently the "flavor" is cooking. It's not a new hobby though...I've always loved cooking!

I've had this discussion a lot over the last week or so with various friends. I'm sick to death of eating out. And we eat out a LOT. It's not even the spending of the money that bugs me...although yes, that bugs me's the fact that it just gets old! I eat something running out the door in the morning. I have been eating lunch out a lot lately with people, mostly work lunches. And dinners? Well, we're too tired to go major grocery shopping on Sundays, which is the only time that we can both go together, and I can't do it after work alone since I usually have McKenna with me and I can't push her stroller and a grocery cart at the same time.

I have gotten to this point many times over the last ten or so years since I've been with P. Every time is the same...we get sick of it, we decided to plan our meals, we shop for the week on Sunday, we cook every night, and invariably either in the middle of the week we give up and let our food go bad OR by the next weekend we throw in the towel and start all over again with the eating out routine. And so it goes.

This time, I'm going to do it differently! I've given it a LOT of thought. There is no reason why I shouldn't be enjoying my beautiful newly redone kitchen, and I really DO enjoy it...I even enjoy cleaning up since there's now a place for everything in it. And how is eating out all the time going to set a good example for my kids? I have very fond memories of my mom and dad cooked dinner for us every night. Every night we had a home-cooked meal, whether it be barbecued chicken, steak, burgers, whatever. I don't remember specifics, but I do remember that we ate a lot of meals together as a family. I remember that fondly. I want my kids to have fond memories of the same when they get older. McKenna's already watching me eat like a hawk. Do I really want her first meals with us as a family when we're all eating the same thing to be pizza?

Two of my nieces are THE pickiest eaters on the planet. I'm not kidding. When we have family dinners at my father-in-law's house, my brother-in-law actually has to LEAVE the house to go get them French fries at Dairy Queen so they will have something to eat. God help me if I ever have a child who is that picky. I mean, this is the whole reason why I am making all of McKenna's baby food, for Pete's sake...I want her to get used to different flavors, textures, temperatures, spices, etcetera. I want to take her out to dinner or have her go over to friends' houses and hear what a great eater she is, how she will eat anything put in front of her, etcetera. I am already basking in that glow at school...all of her teachers think that she is the BEST baby...not fussy, eats her food, drinks her bottles, smiles a lot. I want that to continue!

Okay, anyway, so getting back to the plan. We have approximately four months to practice for when McKenna should be eating what we are eating at the table and get it together, because I'm NOT going to have her be like my nieces. I have bought three baby/toddler cookbooks over the past few weeks, and have ordered a couple of Gooseberry Patch cookbooks as well. My husband has ordered some Rachel Ray cookbooks for quick cooked meals for families on the go, which we clearly are. I already have a plethora of great cookbooks i my kitchen, such as Beef for All Seasons, 365 Ways to Cook Chicken, Simply Shrimp, etcetera, not to mention that my aunt is a famous dietician and I have a copy of just about every one of her books as well. I even have an Emeril cookbook and one by Chef Paul Prudhomme. My old standby is the Better Homes and Gardens red plaid cover cookbook (which has been my cooking Bible for I don't even know how long) and one of the COOLEST books that I have is my Heritage cookbook that my father-in-law gave me which is ethnic recipes from all walks of life, including Native American, Mexican, Colonial, Pennsylvania Dutch, Southern, Creole, and I'm sure a lot of other varieties that I haven't even discovered yet. It's not like I don't love cooking, because I DO! There's nothing more fun than getting going with a new recipe and smelling the smells as the recipe develops, playing with new spices or vegetables or sauces, and using your kitchen tools and dishes and gadgets in ways that you never even dreamed. The house starts to smell good (garlic is the BEST air freshener!) and then at the end, you have a great finished product to try that you've never tried before. It's very fulfilling! Oh, yeah, and speaking of kitchen gadgets, I never imagined that I needed a Dutch oven as much as I do now! I have one from Emerilware now on the way.

The problem is twofold...I don't feel like I have the time and I don't ever have the right ingredients on hand. The time issue...well, I'm not sure how I'm going to rectify that other than to just try my best to use my microwave as much as possible, don't pick two things to make that both require the same method of cooking at the same time, and try to keep my kitchen as clean as possible so I'm not spending the first thirty minutes after I walk into the kitchen cleaning up so I have counterspace to work. Oh, yeah, and NOT pick recipes that require two hours of prep...that would be a good thing. *wink*

As for the ingredient issue, well, clearly shopping for the week does not work for P and I. It just doesn't. So we're going to live like Europeans. I never really understood what that meant until my little IKEA experience last weekend. IKEA has this model apartment...basically it's a home in 237 square feet. It's nuts. It's smaller than my office, but yet, it's got a kitchen, bathroom, loft area and a desk. I never really GOT why Europeans shop every day on their way home, and then I got it after seeing that little's because they don't have any room in their houses for anything else! They can only buy what they are going to eat right then and there! And while we don't have the storage problem, we do have an issue with food going bad and not eating it, so from now on, every day or two we're just going to stop at the store and pick up the food that we need to make our dinner. We're going to take turns, and surely five trips of $25 each a week will be much much better than a mongo trip of $250 on Sunday where half the food goes bad. It has to be! And don't even get me started on lunches.

So here's our plan for how to stop the eating out madness:

1) Decide our dinner the night before and not DAYS before.
2) Shop for items needed on the day of preparation, such as fresh meats and fresh produce.
3) Keep certain staple foods at home for those nights where we don't feel like cooking and would normally order pizza...these staple foods will be spaghetti, eggs/toast, and sandwiches/soup.
4) Eat our leftovers for lunches and STOP EATING OUT!
5) Keep kitchen and refrigerator clean.
6) Date all leftovers and toss the ones that have stayed too long so they don't turn into science projects.
7) Try to rotate meats so we don't feel like we're having chicken every night.
8) Only make one complicated item per night...not a gourmet main entree AND gourmet sides AND bread...AND...AND...AND...before you know it, it's a ten-course meal!
9) Make eating out a special event again instead of the every-day event that it's become.
10) Stick with the plan!

So, we'll see how this goes. We both have a very bad habit to break, as we adore eating out...not just the convenience of it, but just the fact that it's ready food with no preparation involved and it tastes good. Whatever did people do without drive-thru, I wonder? Oh, yeah, I forgot...they actually COOKED.

If anyone's got any brilliant suggestions for how they do it, please share...I'd love to hear them. I don't know why P and I have been unable to get this eating at home thing together, so if you're shaking your head in disgust as you read my blog about how pathetic we are about cooking at home, you have a right to...we are disgusted with ourselves too.

But, so far, we've made this little plan work for three out of four days (we fell victim to Wendy's Friday night) and have made beef stew, spaghetti with meat sauce and chicken with wine-herb sauce. Tomorrow, I'm doing oven-barbequed shrimp, provided that our grocery store has some decent shrimp.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A wooby?

Have you ever seen that movie Mr. Mom? Where the dad has to bribe the kid to let him have his security blanket for an afternoon just to see if he can survive without it?

We have noticed that McKenna is now clutching her blankies for dear life when she sleeps...just like a security blanket. Hey, I'm not knocking it...I had a ratty old stuffed rabbit called Peter when I was a kid. There are stories and lore circulating our family about Peter, such as the time that I left Peter at the grocery store and my mom had to go back and retrieve him. His ears fell off and were sewn back on a few times, and he was so patched and nasty by the time I outgrew him and moved on to just sucking my thumb alone, much to the joy and delight of my future orthodontist. My mom even kept him and threatened for years to show him to my future husband...and she made good on that promise as P will attest!

Tonight we put her down to start falling asleep and she started fussing. As soon as we gave her a blanket, she was happy.

I have had this little pale green blanket hanging on her crib for months. It is kind of a combination of satin and flannel with a moon on it. I remember when I was given it at my shower, I was like, "What IS this?" It's so small...maybe about a square foot total in size. I gave it to her tonight for the first time.

I think I'm going to have start thinking now about what I'm going to bribe her with in five years to let the Wooby go.

For the amusement of all my blog readers everywhere, fess up. Who else has had a Wooby or a special stuffed animal or doll?

Monday, July 03, 2006

My "National Treasure", thanks to the beauty of bins

Everyone that's been reading my blog for any significant amount of time remembers my severe nesting period that I went through last summer when I hit my second trimester. And when I say severe, I mean it. I decluttered, organized and painted every room in my house except one: the garage.

When I went through each room, I basically collected all photographs I came across in drawers, boxes, etcetera and put them in one big box in my office, and then when I discovered the evil of scrapbooking last fall, I organized the pictures and well, now, here we are.

My garage, on the other hand, has NEVER EVER been organized. We almost got there last summer when we had a garage sale, but then surprise! We accumulated even more stuff and never got rid of the stuff that we sold, plus all of my husband's tools seem to have found a permanent spot on the floor and on the table after the remodeling.

So today was a rare event. We BOTH had the day off from work for the holiday, yet McKenna's school was still open! So we took her over around noon, went to Wal-Mart to arm ourselves accordingly with storage bins and cleaning supplies, came back and got to work. Within a few hours, we had everything out and sorted into piles...trash, things to give away, things to organize, and then binned up various items. I learned last summer that the key to organization is bins...again, anyone who's been reading for a while remembers. You gotta have 'em, and you gotta have 'em on hand when you're organizing. I think my husband realized that I was right today when we used almost every bin that we bought at Wal-Mart. We now have bins stacked neatly in the garage containing baby stuff (swing, bouncer, bathtub, sniff sniff), sporting goods, hunting gear, TWO bins for Christmas decorations, painting supplies, lawn and garden, and...hence the point of my swimming ribbons, medals, and trophies from high school.

Ever since I moved here from North Carolina, I have had my trophies and ribbons and medals in the same boxes that they were in at my parents' house. I never took them out. I just kept moving them from apartment to apartment to apartment to apartment, and then when we bought our house, they went into the garage and stayed there until today when my husband said, "PLEASE do something with these boxes!"

Little did I know what treasure was in there. I opened the box containing my ribbons, and underneath all the ribbons, like a present on Christmas morning, was roughly 150 photographs from my childhood. Photographs that I thought were either lost forever or safe and secure in my mom's house, never for me to see again. (In case you're just joining our program already in progress, Mom and I do not speak, do not get along, she has no interest in getting to know her granddaughter, and she has already told me point-blank that she will not let me have access to her photographs to make copies nor will she make copies for me.)

Tears actually came to my eyes. I really thought these were photographs that I was never going to see again. I didn't have time to go through all of them right then and there, but the one photograph that I've been looking for more than any other, the one photograph that I begged my mom to let me have, was a photograph of my dad and I at a father-daughter dance when I was about twelve wearing a poodle skirt that my mom helped me make. And it was there. Along with countless photographs from school trips, ski trips, Girl Scout camp trips, my Sweet Sixteen birthday party, childhood photographs of my sister and I, swim meets, and many many more that I can't wait to discover.

That, my friends, was the highlight of my weekend. That is my treasure find, my "National Treasure" so to speak, since coincidentally this occurred over Fourth of July weekend. And I never would have thought to look there ever if my husband hadn't made me open the box to put them into a bin.

And MAN, oh, man, you should see our garage. So clean! You can actually walk through it now.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The IKEA experience

McKenna's Christmas lights that we had in her room for a nightlight broke this weekend, so last night we started cruising the net for a replacement light source. Personally, I wanted a lava lamp, but DH held firm (he hates lava lamps) and we found a planet lamp at IKEA online. Which you can get at the store. *sigh*

I have been kind of holding off on going to check out IKEA for a long time ever since they built one here because I am a serious shopaholic and a sucker for great deals. And I've heard from ALL my friends that have gone that it is so just want to buy everything.

We pulled into the parking lot, and it's almost like I could hear voices saying, "run away! run away!" kind of like the krill do in Finding Nemo when the whale is about to swallow Marlin and Dory.

But, like a tractor beam, it pulled us in. DH even said on the way there, "You know there's no way we're walking out of there with just the lamp, right?"

Fortunately, God was smiling on us that day, and by the time we finished with the Marketplace downstairs (all the kitchen and housewares and lighting) and made our way upstairs to the Showroom, it was ten minutes to closing and we had just enough time to grab the planet lamp and skedaddle, spending less than $100 altogether. We bought things like a small lamp, cushions for our chair, the planet lamp which was the reason for going in the first place, a portable folding chair which will be perfect for our Fourth of July outing on Tuesday, and some other miscellaneous things.

But I've had a taste now...and I'm sure that we'll be going back again. And they have a 99 cent breakfast to start the day off with. Can't beat that!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's finally raining in Dallas!

It's like you can hear the neighborhood breathing a sigh of relief. I don't care that this means we're going to get a million zillion claims over the weekend from homeowners whining that their roofs are leaking! We need rain SO BAD!

I just want it to storm and storm and storm!

*saunters off whistling Garth Brooks' "The Thunder Rolls"*