Sunday, October 03, 2010

Building a Better Cake

This year my daughter wanted a kitty cat themed birthday party, so I decided that I would make a cat cake.  I feel that I am a pretty good cook, but only a mediocre baker.  Cakes are really not my strong point.  I decided I wanted my cake to look pretty good, so with only week to improve my cake building skills, I started my research.  My favorite bit of info came from a site called 5 min.  There were multiple videos from a master cake decorator.  So Gigi and I watched each video to pick up some important tips.  I also found a pattern for a cake cat made from two 8 inch rounds on the Betty Crocker site.

I decided a test cake using my new found knowledge would give me some practice.  I didn't want to make a cat because it would take some of the bang out the final cake.  I baked two 8 inch round cakes and quickly realized that these cakes were way too thin; they did not meet my vision of a nice thick cake.  That was fine I got to practice shaving off the uneven parts (which made it even thinner) and then put the layers together.  This cake ended up being a butterfly.

I bought two new 8 inch rounds that were much deeper than my other pans and decided to use two boxes of cake mix.  I know, all this trouble and I am making cake from the box!?  Well, I figured I had enough of a challenge on my plate without having to test cake recipes. 

The new rounds worked great although they did give me a bit a muffin top, so the top side needed to be shaved off.  Once I had my nice flat rounds, I used the pattern from Betty Crocker to cut out the tail, ears and head.  So far so good.

The next BIG thing I learned about cake decorating, is to do a crumb coat.  This is a thin layer of icing over the whole cake that seals in the crumbs.  This is the best tip ever.  Another tip I learned from some site, is to use Wilton Meringue Powder in your icing to help it harden just a bit.  I like this addition to the crumb coat icing, which was homemade, because it gave that crumb coat extra toughness.  I did have one small issue during this step.  The tip of one ear broke off.  I put some icing on it and "glued" it back on.

I put the cake in the refrigerator to set.  Once I felt it was firm, I mixed up some more Wilton Meringue Powder in some store bought chocolate frosting, and liberally frosted the whole thing.  This was going way better than I had expected.  I put it in the box and chilled it overnight.

 The next morning, I mixed up some pink icing.  Again store bought, but white.  I added some pink cake icing coloring and Wilton Meringue Powder.  I piped it on, put in some gum drops, added a bit of sugar glitter and I was finished! 

A lot of work went into the cake and I invested in some new tools, but I am glad I spent the time to study up and practice.  Now I no longer fear making a special cake.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Grilled Chicken Over Brown Rice Sauteed with Spinach

Over the past 7 weeks I have written 7 papers, and am working on the 8th.  I am completely burnt-out on writing.  So as much as I've wanted to keep this blog regular, school work has dominated most of my time.  I've put together some creative and healthy meals during this time but haven't had the time or energy to post the details.  Today I needed a break; so I decided to put a quick post together.

Season chicken fillet with salt, pepper, garlic powder and rub with touch of balsamic vinaigrette.  Grill.

Serve over cooked brown rice and fresh spinach sauteed in touch of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Garnish with fresh cucumber slices and and avocado.  Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinaigrette over the cucumber slices.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's 90 Degrees Outside, So It Must Be Time For Soup!

I don't know why, but sometimes in the summer I get on a soup kick.  This year I am crazy about these cool noodles soup dishes that I found in the refrigerated section of my local Asian market.  They come with fresh noodles, a soup base sauce and flakes.  I am actually not a fan of the flakes.  They have things like dried cuttlefish and dried mini shrimp with the shells still on them which have a crunch that I am not into. So I don't use it.

Today's soup is spicy noodles by a Korean company named Pulmuone.  I sauteed a few strips of tofu to add a bit of protein.  Some green onions and mushrooms would also be a good addition.  This is deliciously spicy stuff and goes wonderfully with a nice glass of jasmine iced tea.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Getting Ahead of The Game

Okay, I am supposed to be revising a paper that is due tomorrow for my writing class, as well as researching info for another paper (this one for my humanities class) that is due on Monday.  But whatever, I feel like I am ahead of the game today.

I got up at 6:30am and cleaned the shower, I still need to get the rest of the bathroom clean, but that is the messiest part.  Plus, on the way back from dropping Gigi at camp, I picked up some ingredients for dinner.  This is the best part.  Right now dinner is slowly cooking in my slow cooker.  All I will need to do later when I am dead tired, is make some brown rice to complete the meal. 

If you don't have a slow cooker, a.k.a. a crock pot, or haven't used yours in while (like me), I urge to pull it out of the cabinet.  This is like the 11th day of 90 plus temps in the DC Metro region, cooking your dinner in the slow cooker is a great way to have a nice hot meal without creating excess heat in the kitchen.  It is also a fabulous way to make a healthy meal.  Last night Gigi and I had Lean Cuisine for dinner and my mom guilt was fluttering out of control.  At least I made pudding for dessert.  Tonight we will have slow simmered chicken with veggies over brown rice.

Slow Cooked Deviled Chicken

1/2 onion thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 stalks of celery, cut in 3 inch pieces
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 chicken, cut up
1/8 cup olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
1/4 t dried tarragon
1/4 t sea salt
1/8 t ground black pepper
1 bay leaf

Prepare veggies and layer in the bottom of the crock pot (always put veggies in first).  Arrange chicken pieces on top of veggies.  Mix the remaining ingredients except the bay leaf, and drizzle on top of the chicken.  Tuck the bay leaf in and put on the lid.  Cook on low for about 8-10 hours.  Serve with brown rice.

Got to go work on that paper or I will no longer remain ahead of the game. :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Writing for School, But Not for The Blog

I started the summer semester on June 1st.  Note to self, next summer, only take one class.  I didn't think the schedule was that condensed, but it is condensed enough to take up most of my free time.  Anyway, that means I have not spent as much time here on my blog writing for pleasure.  I have also abandoned my search for new healthy recipes.  Drag, this school thing is all consuming right now.  I am going to have to see if I can squeeze in a few other things.

I went out the other day and took some pictures in the garden.  Most of them turned out well.  All the gardens are doing great and love this super awful hot weather.  The top shot is of one of the Dahlias in the cutting garden.

This is Ms. Gigi modeling the hydrangeas that are trying to take over our front walk.  I had the cut a chunk out of each side so we could get to our front door.

These white echinacea are one of my garden favorites right now.

This is shot of Ms. Gigi and the driveway garden.

And here is shot of the veggie garden.  I took this on Thursday last week and the tomato plants are already about a foot taller!

Well, gotta get back to school work, but it was nice saying hello.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Passiflora Passion!

I've decided to become a collector.  I love passion flowers and I am hoping to collect a new variety each year.  I found a great site called Passiflora Online. I will be using this site quite a bit. There is information on varieties, tips on care, and places to purchase vines and seeds.  I just purchased two more varieties while writing this entry!  OK, so more than one new variety this year, although my guess is that the plants I ordered today may not produce anything this year.
This first picture is of Passiflora Passion Red Lady Margaret and is the second addition to my collection. I purchased it about a week or so ago at Behnkes Nursery.  I am trying to decide if I will re-pot it and keep it on the deck or put it in the ground like my other passion flower vine.

This is the first of my collection and I believe the variety is Passiflora Alatocaerulea.  I grew this on a fence last year and it was spectacular.  I dug it up in the fall and put it in a pot. I kept in a sunny window over the winter and now it is back in the garden in the same spot.  No flowers yet, but lots of buds!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

My Crazy Edibles Garden

This is my crazy edibles garden.  I call it crazy because it is incredibly informal.  I was very eager to get things growing this season and would plant some seeds and buy a few plants every week or so, and as I kept adding things I just put them wherever they would fit. 

We had a few nights with frost warnings and temps in the mid 30's, it seems to have caused issues with some things but others are fine.  Just this morning, I saw that the ambrosia plant I thought I might need to replace, has all of the sudden started growing.

The first things I seeded were lettuces, broccoli and beets.  We have harvested most of the lettuces and they were fantastic.  I will always grow lettuce in my garden for now on.  Although I hear it's hard to grow in the height of the summer, so I will try and seed some more in September for a fall harvest.  The broccoli and beets look good, but I don't really know what to expect of them, this is also a first for me this year.

Mr. Max the Garden Cat waiting for a few snips of catnip 

One of my garden favorites is the tomato.  I have 5 plants this year, each a different variety.  I love the taste of homegrown tomatoes, so I can't wait until these start producing!  I am hoping for an abundance so I can put some away in the freezer for pasta sauce this winter.  I also have a two pepper plants, one bell and one jalapeno.  I put these in before the two frost warning nights and they are still very small.  I am not sure if they suffered damage from the low temperatures or if they aren't in dry enough soil.  The jalapeno plant has one little pepper on it, so maybe it just hasn't been hot enough, long enough for them to really start growing.

Ariel view of the tomatoes

This is a new garden and I need to figure out how it works.  I can tell that the area where I put the herbs, which is very close to the peppers, holds water.  Of course, where I need it dry, it's wet. Some of the herbs may need replacing. I moved a few second year parsley plants from other areas in the yard and they just want to go to seed, no real growth happening.  The basil is also not doing so well.  I need an abundance of both of these herbs for cooking this summer.  I'll put a few new ones in in another section and see how they do.

This is how the garden started earlier this year.  I tilled out an area around the deck.  I had some old edging stones from the garden that used to be where the deck is now, so I used them them to map out the edibles garden area.  The long area on the side of the garden is what I call the cutting garden, I'll talk about that garden on another day.

The beginnings of a new garden plot!

Stones and border in place, ready for planting!

This shot was taken a few weeks ago.

This shot was taken today - lots of growth!

Mr. Max walking in the garden with the broccoli, beets, yellow squash, cucumber, tomatoes and sunflowers.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Back From The Beach

I resurrected this blog with the intent to write most days about something.  Things have been very busy the last week or so.  The good news is that my husband found a new job and starts work next week.  We have vacation plans at the end of the summer to rent a house in North Carolina with some friends of ours, but had no other travel plans.  We decided to take a trip to the beach for a few days before my husband starts his job.

It was a good trip.  We went during the week and left just as Memorial Day weekend crowds were expected to roll in.  We stayed at the Hilton on 32nd street so we could have access to a great kid's pool as well as a nice indoor pool, in case the weather refused to cooperate.  Fortunately the weather was great; we got in plenty of time at the beach and the pools.  Also Paul purchased a bike rack for my car so we could bring our bikes down with us.  I think this was my favorite part.  There are no restrictions for bikes on the boardwalk prior to Memorial Day so we could ride anytime of the day.

Riding was a good way to work off the food.  I found it hard to stick to my usual eating rules.  When I was a kid, and later when Paul I and would take Gigi to the beach, The Captain's Table at  the Santa Maria was a must for breakfast.  They had a dish called Eggs Chesapeake which consisted of an English muffin topped with poached eggs, jumbo lump crab meat and hollandaise sauce.  So yummy!  Well, they closed a few years ago and demolished the whole property.  This year when we arrived we found that they built a new Marriott Courtyard there and that the Captain's Table was back!  And so was my favorite breakfast dish (aside from Huevos Rancheros at Chilly Billy's In St. John USVI).

Other favorite stops included lunch at Fager's Island, the rides at Trumpers and dinner at Mackey's where you can eat on the beach (bayside).

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Hillside Garden

All my gardens have names, mostly because I keep a notebook with plant names, planting dates and other notes on each of them and need to keep them straight.  This is the hillside garden.  It is in my front yard on a slope that borders my neighbor's yard.  It gets really great sun exposure which is good and bad.  Plants that love the sun and some dryness do well there, but some plants find it too harsh.

Over the years this garden has changed quite a bit.  When we moved in it was not a garden but a hillside covered in weeds.  I put a black tarp over it for about year and then seeded it with Zinnias.  It was nice at first, but got of hand and weedy, so much for a year of putting up with that black tarp.  In retrospect, it would have been better just to dig the weeds out and add some new soil.  That's how I have handled each section as it has grown over the years.

For a while I didn't consider it a garden, we just planted grass and forgot about it.  There was the crepe myrtle down at the end, and two holly bushes that we just couldn't get rid of after several attempts so I finally gave up and let them stay.  I put two butterfly bushes in between the crepe myrtle and the hollies and decided a new garden had been started.

Since then I have added quite a few plants including lambs ears, tall phlox, several varieties of peonies, forget-me-nots, russian sage, echinacea, roses, saliva, yarrow, lavender, maiden grass, hibiscus and more..

Right now things are starting to happen and by the end of the summer this garden will be crazy.  I love this time of year, it's great to go out each day and see what new developments have taken place.


Dont Forget The Beef

Many times when people are trying to watch their weight or eat healthy in general, they skip the beef.  I'm not that kind of girl.  Even though I was a strict vegetarian for a few years (nothing with a face, not sure what the appropriate term is), it was the beef that ended it for me.  I love a good steak or a great slice of prime rib.  Although I have to admit that prime rib isn't a good or even a better choice, it's the one that when you choose it, you make sure you don't over indulge and don't choose it very often.  Anyway, I'm not here to talk about prime rib but a very different, much leaner cut of beef, the filet.  This a nice way to get your beef and remain true to a vow to eat healthy.

This dish was another quick and easy creation.  I sprinkled the filets with some salt and pepper and a splash of worcestershire sauce, and then let them sit for an hour at room temperature prior to grilling.  The rice is brown basmati, no special preparation.  The mushrooms and asparagus were sauteed in olivio and olive oil with fresh thyme and pepper.  Once the beef was grilled and let set for 5 minutes, I sliced it and put it together with the veggies and rice.  Easy and good. :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Tortellini Compromise

Last night it was just the girls, me and Gigi.  Being that it was just us, I did not see myself making a creative dinner worthy of blogging about. But when it was all finished I thought I should because it was good, and it was a good example of eating healthy while putting together a kid friendly meal. 

Our plan was to have a simple dinner and watch a movie.  So I started to think about the limited menu of things Gigi likes to eat.  To complicate matters, she came home talking about a loose tooth and that she only wanted to eat soft foods. In comes my old standby, cheese tortellini.  It's easy and Gigi is guaranteed to eat it.  But of course I know this is one of things ruining my waistline.

Well, as it turns out, her desire for tortellini and my weekly shopping ritual would collide to make a perfect salad.  What shopping ritual am I talking about?  Most weeks I log onto to check out the perfect storm deals.  On this site they will match up sale items from your local grocery store with coupons to point out big savings.  Plus, they put all the Sunday coupons in a searchable database.  This makes life easier because you don't have to clip coupons until you are actually going to use them.  Using this site before a shopping trip usually saves me 25 - 35% off my grocery bill.  The thing is you buy when stuff is on sale (and with a coupon), not when you need it.  So it works best for items that can be stored for a while until you need them.  This week there were a few fresh items on sale that I wanted to take advantage of,  shrimp for $7.99/lb, grapes for $.99/lb and red leaf leaf lettuce 2 for the price of 1.  Also while I was cutting out the coupons needed for other items on my list, I saw one for $1 off Wholly Guacamole.  So these are items I decided to buy out of opportunity, there was no master plan.  Btw, my grocery bill was $119, but by using coupon mom I saved $33, so I only paid $86.

I knew it was only going to be the two of us, so I got about 3/4 of shrimp, this is something Gigi usually likes.  I peeled and then marinated the shrimp in the juice of one lime, some olive oil, fresh cilantro and ground pepper.  When I was ready, I sauteed it quickly in a pan.

For Gigi's plate she had a good portion of cheese tortellini with a bit of olivio, milk and Parmesan cheese to make a light alfredo sauce and 5 shrimp.  This was good kids meal.  For me, I put together a salad with the red leaf lettuce, purple cabbage, cucumber, and tomato.  I tossed this with a red wine vinaigrette and used a 100 calorie snack pack of Wholly Guacamole to add a few dollops of guacamole on top, then the warm shrimp and a few warm tortellini.  It was delicious.

Gigi and I enjoyed our meals while watching Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chicken, Potatoes and Salad

Today I am a bit tired.  My workout was a little on the lazy side and mostly it was a low energy, clean off the desk, pay the bills kind of day.  Also, Paul and I went out to lunch where I over indulged, which means I broke one of my rules, but that is how life is.  The biggest thing about breaking a rule is not to let it snowball.  So I got back on track at dinner.

Anyway, lunch was really good.  We went to a place in Rockville called First Watch.  It's a chain, but different than most places around here.  I left feeling very full.

As for creating dinner, I had some baby red potatoes I needed to use, and some chicken tenderloins that were thawed.  As already stated, I was feeling a bit lazy so it all needed to be basic.  I marinated the chicken tenderloins in maple balsamic vinaigrette and grilled them indoors.  The potatoes were cut in half, boiled until tender, and then tossed with salt, pepper, olive oil, Olivio, and fresh dill and parsley from the garden.  The salad was made from fresh lettuces from the garden, purple cabbage, cucumbers, pecans, dried cranberries and feta with a balsamic vinaigrette.  All very simple, but quite tasty.  And of course paired with a lovey Cabernet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Two New Recipes a Week

In an effort to pump up our menu with new, exciting, and healthy choices, I am making a vow to work in two new recipes per week, if not more.  Last week I created a new tofu stir fry, I then made that same stir fry a few days later.  This is a common problem, I try something, I like it, and then I burn it out.  I am going to try and allow time to pass before making it again, so I don't make everyone sick of it.  Not that Gigi ate it anyway.

Not only do I want new ideas that are healthy, I want to incorporate new foods.  We eat healthy dishes most of the time but it's the same old stuff.  It's going to be hard getting the child and the hubby on board.  Paul likes to eat healthy foods, but is not very big on branching out to try new foods.  Gigi doesn't like most foods, but we will keep on pushing.

Today we were in downtown Silver Spring, so I stopped to pick up a few items at Whole Foods.  Wheat berries, canned lentils, a variety of brown rices, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc...  I think tonight we will have the fresh halibut that I purchased with either wheat berry or lentil salad.  And maybe some roasted pineapple...

Halibut Broiled with Olive Oil and Fresh Herbs
This is just new herbs on an old recipe, but the new flavors are refreshing.

Halibut fillet
Fresh Dill, Thyme and Chives from the garden (I cannot tell you how much I love going out and snipping fresh herbs to use in my recipes)
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Rinse halibut and place on broiler pan sprayed with Pam.  Drizzle the fish with olive oil and lemon juice then sprinkle the herbs on top.  Broil as close to heat as possible (I have a an electric oven, ugh).  When fish is done, sprinkle with a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper to finish.

Roasted/Broiled Pineapple
I had some fresh pineapple that needed to be used...This was Gigi's favorite part of the meal.

Toss a few pineapple slices with a little olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette and salt and pepper. Place on a foil lined pan sprayed with Pam. Broil or roast until slightly browned.

Wheat Berry Salad

This is new recipe #1 for the week.  I am using a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa that I modified a bit after reading a post on The Amateur Gourmet.  I liked this a lot, but thought the scallions were a bit much, I would cut way back on those next time.  Instead, I would add some cilantro or basil from the garden.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Practice What You Preach

In the past ten years or so I've been very good at maintaining my weight.  It's not my preferred weight, but not far off.  But in the past year and a half it has crept up a solid 5 lbs.  I know there are many people who are struggling with a lot more than 5 lbs, so forgive me, but really this isn't the last 5 lbs, it's 5lbs over my steady weight which again is not my preferred weight. So lets say a collective 10lbs is what I would like to shed.

I know how to maintain weight, I also know how to lose weight, I guess we all do, we just don't practice what we preach.  We also like to over rationalize our choices, or at least I do.  So I've drawn a line in the sand for myself, because I am not going buy anything the next size up. Nada.

The thing about losing weight is people like to get extreme, but while that may serve a short term goal, it usually ends up in a a lose/lose situation and I'm not talking about weight.  Number one - Move.  Exercise more days of the week than not.  You can get military about this if you want, but I think it's more important to do it, whatever form it takes.  Go to the gym, walk, ride your bike, whatever, just do it.  Also, make sure you are incorporating strength training in there, this gets even more important as you get older and your body starts losing muscle mass. 

Exercise is important, is helps keep us from turning into weaklings who have trouble just getting out of bed in the morning or climbing a flight of stairs.  But in the world of weight loss, eating right is key.  I again apply the theory of tipping the scales in the positive direction without going crazy.  My rule is to make good or at least better choices most of the time.  And when you don't or can't do that, don't over indulge.  I also find that my metabolism responds well to eating frequently.  It's best to try and get something in your system no later than an hour after you wake up, and then try to have something every three hours or so.

What does making the right choices mean?  It means lean protein as much as possible.  Good complex carbs are important, choose whole grain whenever possible and know the difference.  This is why defaulting to cheese tortellini on lazy nights has not benefited my waistline.  I also think less animal products and more tofu and veggies is helpful.  This is probably because of my next guideline, keep your saturated fat intake low. 

Reading food labels makes a huge difference.  I have saved myself many a bad chunk of calories by educating myself and using black and white facts to overrule my rationalization that something like having three Lindt dark chocolate truffles is not that bad. If you are curious, those three truffles contain 12 grams of saturated fat.  One is enough.  The next thing to look out for is sugar.  Try to avoid added sugar whenever possible and beware of the empty calories from alcohol.  Yes, that means I need to drink less wine.

Now that I've said all that, lets go back to the most important rule - making good or better choices most of the time.  This I cannot stress enough, because what I am really talking about is moderation.  Live a little, deprivation will only result in failure.  Have the cake at the birthday party, it's ok.  Just don't eat cake everyday.  If you can get this into to practice you can live this way forever, which probably means you will live longer.

I've finished my preaching, so as the title of this post states, I need to practice it.  I've done well the past few days and am already reaping the benefits.  I love healthy food, it just needs to be tasty.  I get bored easily and I get lazy.  I picked up a new cookbook today to help me out.  It's Tosca Reno's East Clean Cookbook.  Lots of good healthy and tasty recipes.  I'll provide some reviews as I test some of the recipes out.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Simple Tofu Stir Fry

After admitting that I was in a food rut, I vowed to work in some ideas to fill our plates.  As lunch time rolled around yesterday I needed to put something together.  I had just returned from the H mart with lots of good veggies and tofu.  So I decided a quick stir fry was in order.  Not only was this dish tasty, it was also quick and easy.

Ingredients (approximately):
1 T Smart Balance Oil
Half a pack of firm tofu, cut into thumb size pieces
1/4 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 t ginger, grated
1/2 green pepper, sliced
3 red Vietnamese chilies, tops removed
Handful of asparagus, cut into 3/4 pieces
Handful of basil leaves
soy sauce
red pepper powder
sesame oil

All of these measurements are approximate but it's that kind of dish, you can put in whatever you want and to amounts that suit your taste.  Cook the tofu in oil over fairly high heat until at least two sides are golden.  Add the onions, garlic and ginger.  After about a minute add the green pepper, chilies and asparagus.  Stir fry for about a minute or two.  Finish with the basil leaves, soy sauce, a sprinkle of red pepper powder and small drizzle of sesame oil.  I served a few potstickers on the side, but noodles or rice would also be great.  This was so much better than Shake and Bake pork chops.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Morning's Harvest

Sweet success!  This morning I picked my first batch of lettuces from my garden.  Salad will be on the menu tonight!  Too bad the cukes and tomatoes aren't producing yet.

This year's vegetable garden is all new.  I plowed new space and put in a few items I've never grown before.  Last year I tried lettuce but pulled it out before it got going so I could get my tomatoes in the ground.  This year there's more space, although if things go well I may want to expand it.  I can already see that things will get crowded over the summer.

At the far right is the herbs section with some of my favorites for cooking - Basil, Thai Basil, Rosemary, Italian Parsley, Dill, Chives, Oregano, Cilantro and some Nasturtiums.  The rest of the garden contains Broccoli and Beets (a huge experiment, both grown from seed), Tomatoes, Lettuces, Spinach, Cucumbers, Ambrosia Melon, Watermelon, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Green Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers and some sort of beans (Gigi started the seeds in class and brought them home).

The thing I've been reluctant to do, but know I need to, is put up some sort of deer protection.  What a drag, I love to go up and putter at the edge of the garden unhindered.  But I guess so do the deer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Need a New Dish

I am making pork chops for dinner tonight. Those who know how much I like to cook will probably be surprised to hear how I plan to prepare them. Shake and Bake. Yup, I am in a food rut. Big time. I also have boxes and boxes of Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes in my pantry as a sidedish stand by. But no Betty Crocker tonight, the Shake and Bake is bad enough. I'll have to rifle through the refrigerator and see if enough I have enough fresh ingredients for a salad.

I need a new dish and I need to do some new dishing here on my blog. I think it is time to freshen things up a bit. I started school a few months ago and it seems to have monopolized most of my free time and creativity. Now I have a short break before the next semester starts and I would like to spend more time on other creative endeavors such as cooking, gardening, and writing. It's not happening tonight, pork chops are one of the few things I don't do well. I don't know why.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

So recently my daughter asked me "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I skirted the question by answering that I was already grown up. But at 6 years old my daughter is quite smart. As absurd as it is, this is a question that has been on my mind lately.

I guess there are a few things making this the current question in my life. It's been over a year since I stopped working due to a layoff. I had in my mom's words, always been a "career girl". Even after I had Gigi, I continued working full time and climbing the corporate ladder. We managed our house well and I enjoyed "having it all". But in the fall of 2008 that all changed. I figured I would enjoy some time off, after all I had held a full time job for 24 years, a break was not unreasonable. But this is where the limbo set it, because that's what I saw it as, a break. I didn't really want to get involved in anything, such as going to school or a volunteer program because sooner or later I would get back into the full time work groove and would have to bow out.

Now after a little over a year of being home and incorporating some volunteer work at Gigi's school into my schedule, I realize getting back on the HR corporate full time horse is not for me. In fact, I would be happy never to be involved in human resources management ever again. I would say some of that is burn out, being in HR through a year long trickle of layoffs is super awful. But also maybe because I never really sought out HR as my career choice, it just happened that way through opportunities that opened up to me. I guess that's what happens to many folks. I always wonder if Laura Tums (a girl I went to school with) ever became the marine biologist that she set her mind to early in school. Since the memory has stuck with me I guess I envied her drive to purposely create her own destiny.

Anyway I've been floating around the house for over a year now, and when the layoff happened I thought a year off would be nice. And that year has come and gone, working on year two right now. It's been good being home. I get so much more time with Gigi and more importantly she gets so much more time with me. I'm not ready to trade that in, not sure if I'll ever be ready to trade that in.

About a week ago there was a story on the news and there was a high school girl talking about her goals in life and she said something that really struck me (these kids are so smart). Basically she said, if you are not working towards a goal (set of goals) you are just floating through life. That's what I am doing right now and maybe that's OK for the short term, but not for the long term, no way.

So Gigi's question is very timely. If I don't want to go back into HR, what do I want to do? Well right now the answer seems to be one that many moms come to, work in the school system. I've enjoyed my volunteer work and like the atmosphere in the school, I also like the possibility of having a work schedule that is close to my daughter's school schedule. Doing what, I am not sure, but it's a good start in the process and the first step is that I will need get my educational house in order.

I have hesitated on going back to school for many reasons over the years. Not because I don't like it, I do, I love school. But once I got into management and then especially after having a child I felt I was already stretched too thin to continue working towards my degree. Plus I was doing well without it, always had.

Yesterday, I reapplied to school and in the next few days I will decide how much I want to take on in my first semester back. I am looking forward to putting some new goals in place and stepping out of the floating limbo that has become a little too comfortable.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oysters Mexicana

The most important thing about this dish is to use fresh oysters, if you have never shucked fresh oysters don't let it intimidate you, it's not very difficult.
  • 1 1/2 dozen fresh oysters (or enough for 6 per person)
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup salsa
  • 80z Monterey jack cheese, cut into slices
  • Pickled sliced jalapeno peppers
  • Saltine Crackers
Shuck the oysters. My method is to first scrub the outside of the oyster thoroughly with a brush, then wrap the oyster in a small towel with the "hinge" tip sticking out, this will give you leverage. Use an oyster knife (or some other thick, pointed, but dullish knife) and wedge it into the "hinge", I find just to the side works better than right in the center of the "hinge". Once headway is made twist the knife to pop the shell open. It won't open all the way, the oyster is still holding on inside, take your knife and slide it along the inside as close the shell as possible to cut it away from the shell on one side. Leave it attached to the other side. Once you have the oyster on the halfshell, give it a good sniff to make sure it smells fresh, then rinse it if you think any shell particles got inside. If you rinse it, make sure you shake out all the excess water.
Place the oyster in it's half shell on a baking sheet and repeat with all the oysters. Once all the oysters are shucked put a small spoonful of salsa on each oyster then top with a slice or two of cheese and one slice of jalapeno. Usually I make these ahead of time so at this point I cover them in foil and put them in the refrigerator until I am ready to cook them.
Preheat oven to 400. Remove foil and place pan(s) in oven to cook for about 12 minutes until the cheese is melty. Don't over cook, you don't want to cook up the oysters.
Serve immediately with crackers. Take an oyster, slide a fork under to dislodge oyster and set it on top of the cracker and enjoy. These are SO good.