Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Day 145

Yes, it's one week later. But, see, I've been celebrating Thanksgiving for that long (meaning, I've been eating turkey, stuffing and potatoes for the past week). My first time as Thanksgiving hostess was a success. Whew!

A quick round-up of all the things for which I am thankful:

* Mom graciously passing on her china and crystal, which she spent forever wrapping piece by piece for the big shipment up the eastern seaboard.

* Mom setting the table and making it a lovely canvas for the festive meal.

* Sister for halving about 300 brussels sprouts.

* G'ma (that's grandma in my family) helping Hubby get the turkey ready for the oven.

* Hubby for doing a stellar job his first time carving the bird.

* My mother-in-law for bringing some delicious appetizers for the day. It's not Thanksgiving unless you completely gorge yourself.

* All my guests for not freaking out when smoke started to billow from the oven. Don't worry - it wasn't the turkey, but rather a grease pile on the bottom I'd neglected to clean up from Thanksgiving Eve's pizza night.

Since it was my first go at this, there are definitely some lessons learned. Sister and Brother-in-law always have a starter course (soup or salad) because they like to extend the meal. I think it's a good idea because by the time I sat down to eat, I felt like the meal was already over. Place-cards. Sounds silly, but it would save a lot of discussion when it comes time to eat and everyone is asking where to sit.

All in all, I was pleased with the day, and hope my guests were, too. Now, on to Christmas!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Big Game Food: Homemade Lasagna

Day 124

Sundays in the fall mean cool, crisp and gorgeous weather; a day free of commitments, all to yourself; and husbands everywhere on the couch, first updating their fantasy picks on the laptop, then screaming at the TV all day. You know what I'm talking about. But Sundays don't have to be just for the boys. I find them an excellent excuse to make hearty, comfort food under the premise of "Oh, just a little something I thought you'd enjoy for the big game, honey!"

One of my favorite go-tos? Lasagna. Now, I don't know anyone that follows a recipe when they make lasagna. However, I tend to have a little consistency in mine, because that's what makes it "My Lasagna." And I happen to get a little swelling of pride churn up when Hubby asks for some of "My Famous Lasagna."

For example, I always use ground beef as my base. I mean, if I'm going to go for it with cheese and the rest of the yumminess, I'm going to throw some beef in there. But, you can really choose based on what you're feeling that day - ground beef, turkey, or pork sausage, or even vegetables like eggplant and zucchini. Isn't that what makes preparing it so fun? I find that properly flavoring the base is what makes or breaks the lasagna. You have to slow cook it with fresh vegetables and herbs, like garlic, onions and oregano. Only after the flavor is cooked into the meat can you add the tomato or vegetable sauce of your choice. Otherwise you end up with a sad version of goulash (or as you East Coasters call it, American chop suey) and all you're missing is the elbow macaroni.

When it comes to the cheese, I never leave out cottage cheese. When I was younger, it was because I wasn't a fan of ricotta, but now it's because I like the creaminess it adds to the dish. Two layers of cottage cheese are all you need, but feel free to add more. Sometimes I even use a low fat or fat free version, and the flavor is still spot on. The other cheeses vary each time I make it. Sometimes I use more parmesan than mozzarella; sometimes more mozz than parm. But what never changes is that the Parmigiano Reggiano needs to be fresh grated, and I always top my dish with some fresh grated Pecorino Romano for an extra bite.

Speaking of toppings, I find that a little garnish goes a long way. Slice up some Roma tomatoes, sprinkle on some fresh herbs or chopped garlic, whatever you feel like. It will go a long way in taking your dish from just another casserole to "My Famous Lasagna."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kid Lunch! English Muffin Pizza

Day 121

I'm not cooking for any kiddos, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy a simple lunch that brings me back to the old days. In full disclosure, I got this term (Kid Lunch!) from a friend, who used to frequently show up to work with her peanut butter sandwich in a baggie and some chips on the side, maybe even a few carrot sticks to complete the meal. All she was missing was a note from her mom wishing her luck on the new business pitch.

Lately, I've been so focused on stocking the pantry for my first go at hosting Thanksgiving, I've been neglecting to pick up lunch items at the store. That, and I've never been a huge deli meat sandwich kind of gal. So, I've been making do with what's in the fridge.

If you have English muffins (or bagels), sauce (optional, or you can sub in chopped tomatoes) and cheese, you are on your way to a simple, easy treat. I happened to have some turkey pepperoni leftover from homemade pizza night, but you can really use anything to top your muffins - chicken, onions, tomatoes, garlic - just start digging through the crisper drawer and veggie bowl. Top it off by sprinkling on some spices like oregano, thyme and crushed rep pepper flakes, and you've taken Kid Lunch to a grown-up place!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Meatless Monday: Classic Tortilla Soup

Day 92

One of the things I love most about fall is that the cooler temps mean it's time to bring back soup! We have a few standbys we love, which I'll share with you another time, but it's always nice to try something new. Last week, I made a Classic Tortilla Soup recipe from Marcela Valladolid, host of Food Network's "Mexican Made Easy."

Okay, okay... if you really want to be a stickler then technically this recipe calls for six cups of chicken broth so it's not 100% meat-free, but you could just as easily use vegetable broth if you prefer that option. I had some chicken broth in the pantry so that's the direction I went.

Almost immediately upon placing the veggies in the skillet for roasting and blackening, the house smelled unbelievably warm and delicious. They took a little longer than the recipe stated, but I'm guessing that's because I have an electric cook-top (I know, BOO!) and the burner size doesn't exactly match up with the size of my skillet so I'm constantly pushing all the veggies to the center for their time on the heat. But they eventually came along and were ready for the blender.

I made one crucial mistake in blending the ingredients together - I completely forgot to add the two corn tortillas into the mix. I did go back later and ladle some of the soup from the pan back into the blender with the tortillas, and then back into the soup, but I'm afraid I was a little rushed and anxious so I didn't get them broken down and pureed as much as I'd have liked to thicken up the soup.

The toppings were my favorite part. Who doesn't love fresh avocado, queso fresco and homemade fried tortilla strips. I mean, really. The only suggested ingredient we didn't use were the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I had some in the pantry, but wanted to keep the dish a little milder and more refreshing with more avocado and sour cream.

This would be a great party dish. You could set up a little soup station/bar with the crock of soup followed by the toppings in individual bowls, allowing each guest to build their own bowl of deliciousness. If you try it, let me know what you think!

My Grade: B+ (only because of the corn tortillas/blender fiasco; the flavor was still amazing)
Hubby's Grade: A

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's Official: Fall is Here!

Day 86

Whether we want to admit it or not, ready or not, fall is here! And with it comes a big list of to-dos in our house, many of which we checked off this past weekend.

Raking leaves? Check.
Visit to the apple orchard for cider and pumpkins? Check.
Flu shot? Check.
Turn on the heat? Check.
Switching out spring/summer wardrobe for fall/winter clothing? Ccccchhhhheeeeccckkkk.

Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel when it comes to this task. If I'm being honest, it's something I usually spread out over a few days. Pull the spring/summer clothes out of the closet and drawers and go through which items to keep and which to donate one day; start loading in the fall/winter items the next; and the next; and the next. But this year I was a woman on a mission. It took me almost four hours, but I'm okay with that because it felt so good to get it done! No lingering to-do list for me, thank you very much.

Now I can focus on something else, specifically preparing a homemade apple sauce with the bag of Empires we picked up at the orchard. I'm hoping Mom or Sister might have Great Grandma's famous recipe tucked away somewhere. That's one of the best ways I can think of to stay warm this season. Comfort food always wins!

If you have any apple sauce recipes you love, please share!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meatless Monday - That's Shallota Flavor Spaghetti

Day 78

If you had to pick one thing Rachael Ray is known for, it could be her clever little nicknames for things (EVOO, YUM-O, Delish! etc.) around the kitchen. I've long been a fan of her Food Network show, but until recently haven't ever really considered making anything... Until I saw her make "That's Shalotta Flavor Spaghetti," a dish she said tasted like warm focaccia-in-a-bowl.

I'm a fan of pretty much any kind of fresh bread, but there's not much that beats focaccia, with its caramelized onions and bursts of fresh herb flavors combining to create a little slice of heaven. If you want to enjoy those flavors as a meal, might I suggest this dish.

What I like about Rachael's recipes is that, on top of being super easy to make, they typically call for common ingredients easily found in most grocery stores. She also does a great job of recommending different uses for fresh herbs. I haven't used parsley in a meal for a while, and was reminded of just how much flavor it packs into each bite. If I had to make any changes next time, I would spend more time caramelizing the shallots to get a warmer, more hearty flavor from them to better balance the fresh parsley.

In terms of prep, the only difficulty I had was making it through slicing all ten shallots without breaking out into full sobs. Admittedly, I had to stop a few times to let my eyes breathe, and when I was done I had no idea what Hubby meant when he asked what the heck happened to my face. Here's a little tip from me to you: You may want to wear waterproof mascara when prepping this meal.

My Grade: A-
Hubby's Grade: A-

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Real Housewife's GTL

Day 67

If you're as obsessed with reality television as I am, you probably get the references for today's post.

Oddly enough, I'm a relative newcomer to the "Real Housewives" phenomenon. The New Jersey ladies were my first foray into the series, and since then I've become hooked on the women of Franklin Lakes, DC and New York (the latter via iTunes to prep for the upcoming season four), including "Bethenny Getting Married?". Give me a show about newlyweds or babies - bringing them home or making them ("Giuliana & Bill," anyone?) - and I'm in. Oh, and I can't wait for the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" to enter the picture next month.

When it comes to "Jersey Shore," I decided a couple years ago that it was time for me to grow up and move beyond MTV. You know, to more refined programming (like the Real Housewives... ahem). I was, however, sucked in by the crew for one season, just long enough to understand their GTL lifestyle. Now that I'm home full-time, I've adopted a bit of a GTL lifestyle myself, although my daily activities are slightly different.

G is for Groceries
When I was working full-time, I would go to the store - I'm not kidding - maybe once a month, if that. I would buy massive amounts of food to get us back on track to a healthier diet. Chicken, lettuce, fruits, organic snacks... And it would all go to waste. By the time I walked in the door at night the last thing I wanted to do was cook. Luckily, Hubby stepped in and took over dinner most nights, whether it was prepared items from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, takeout, delivery or a concoction of his own (thankfully, he's a great cook).
Now? I can't get enough of the grocery store! I go at least every other day, sometimes more, depending on how fully I've thought out our menus for the week.

T is for Tidying Up
One of the first things I did when I stopped working full-time was to go through all the piles of mail, magazines, laundry, etc., that had accumulated over the past year. Don't get me wrong, it's not like our house looked like an episode of "Hoarders" (wow, it sounds like I watch a lot of reality TV, doesn't it? ... eeks), but I prefer having everything put away in its place. Going through mail, wiping down kitchen counters, and sweeping up neglected pieces of dog food every day might sound like a nightmare to some, but I love it.

Note: T could also be for treadmill, but since I technically use an elliptical or even more specifically a cross trainer elliptical, I went with tidying up. Sounds more housewife-y anyway, right? Plus, using my workouts as the T in GTL would mean I would share two daily activities with the "Jersey Shore" cast because of our shared daily activity of...

L is for Laundry
Not much I can say about this one, other than I do it more than before. Now I do a load or two every couple days instead of spending all day Saturday or Sunday catching up. The only problem is I'm not getting to half of my closet because I keep wearing the same things over and over. Time to go through and start a pile for donations!

At least the pile won't accumulate for long. You know, because of my T.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meatless Monday - Zucchini Fettuccine

Day 64

Doesn't this look yummy? What if I told you Hubby called this, "the weirdest dinner I've ever had," would you still want to try it? I have to admit that I, too, was pulled in by a delicious-looking pile of pasta on the pages of Food Network magazine.

As you know, I've been in a little bit of a Cooking Light and pasta rut on Meatless Mondays, so I was anxious to try something completely different. I'm a new reader of Food Network magazine so figured it was a natural fit for my next subscription. I am obsessed with the network; I watch all the shows and immediately download and print off recipes I can't wait to try, so why not give its sister publication a go?

I pulled a handful of recipes from the September issue and could not wait to try this zucchini dish, which I thought would be the perfect way to feel like I was eating pasta without all the guilt. I mean, it's zucchini cut into strips and salted to bend and look like pasta. How fun!

I was excited to break out the mandoline for the first time, but after a few attempts and near-miss finger amputations, I decided to go with the vegetable peeler instead. I was already not a fan of this dish. Too much work and too much mess! Although, thankfully, that mess did not include a fingertip since I decided to use the peeler rather than the mandoline. I lost my motivation and commitment to giving this a real college try. I don't even know how I made the sauce, but I know I didn't do much more than stir all the remaining ingredients together. Funny enough, the sauce was the best part of the dish. You can't beat the flavors of fresh basil and garlic, and the jalapeƱo gave it a nice, subtle kick.

I was probably most disappointed because I have an, admittedly, weird thing where I don't like cold dinners. I need something hot and hearty to feel satisfied at the end of the day. This was just a pile of cold noodles that weren't fooling anyone. Foodles, more like it. Hubby was trying to be positive, bless his heart, while I was completely over the meal before it began. He suggested making this as a side dish or salad, which in hindsight, makes more sense than serving it as a main course. Oh, well. Frankly, this may be the first recipe that doesn't make it back into my binder.

My Grade: C+
Hubby's Grade: B/B-

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Earl Changed Up Labor Day 2010

Day 58

Normally, I get really sad about Labor Day because it means the end of summer, the end of boating, the end of beach days... But we've had such an amazing summer this year that not only can I not even imagine spending one more day out in the sun, I am actually looking forward to the cooler temperatures and everything else fall has to offer - college football, apple orchards, pumpkins and pretty leaves.

I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but if you live on the east coast, chances are all you heard about last week was how tropical storm-turned-hurricane Earl was on his way up the coast and preparing to rear his ugly head just in time for the long Labor Day weekend. We decided to scrap our plans to head down to the beach on Thursday night, and reevaluate Saturday morning after the storm had passed.

Well, Earl came and went, but we decided to stay put for Fall Cleaning 2010 - a Labor of Love. Not everyone's dream holiday weekend, I'm sure, but getting organized makes me happy.

First stop - the guest room that still holds unpacked boxes from the move one year and three months ago. We found some random clothing and shoes that, honestly, should have probably been immediately donated since they hadn't been missed in all this time. But we sifted through and decided what to keep and what to donate. Hubby had an entire box of t-shirts and baseball hats.

Next stop - Hubby's bureau and closet. In order to make room for the rediscovered t-shirts we had to go through drawers and decide which to keep and which to donate. We even put some in reserves to replenish as others grow too old and raggedy for wear.

Next up - Bed Bath & Beyond (for the first of three times over the weekend) for an over-the-door hat rack for the hats and a few other necessities to help facilitate our Fall Cleaning weekend. I am so ridiculously jealous of how gorgeously organized and pristine Hubby's closet is right now. Sometimes when I walk by I turn on the light and just look at it. Mine, on the other hand, did not get touched this weekend.

I was too busy swapping out plastic hangers for cedar coat hangers in the coat closet; raising the guest beds off the floor with bed risers (to prevent the bed-skirts from dragging on the floor); organizing travel-sized toiletries by category (have I ever told you how I'm obsessed with organizing?); hanging my dresses in new dress bags; and weeding through/organizing all my fun accent and costume jewelry that I never wear because it's in a big pile in the closet.

All of this takes much longer than one would think, but the payoff is so worth it. It's such a great feeling when everything has a place and if it doesn't, someone else might need it more than we do. I'm sure I'm going to envy everyone's end-of-summer tans - this weekend turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous one - but I couldn't have planned a better weekend at home. Thanks, Earl.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Meatless Monday- Black Bean Burgers with Mango Salsa

Day 50

After a few weeks making, albeit delicious pasta dishes, I was on a quest to make something for Meatless Monday that didn't involve pasta. Don't get me wrong. I love pasta, but once I start eating it I can't stop. It's true what they say - carbs make people happy!

I also love veggie burgers, but I very much dislike mushrooms, which is the main ingredient in most you'll find in the store or at a restaurant. The dish includes several of my favorite ingredients - black beans, avocado, mango - so I was really excited about giving it a try.

These burgers were a big hit in our house - yay, me!! I was a little nervous about getting the ingredients to bind together into a cohesive patty, but it was so easy. I was also able to make up the mango salsa earlier in the day to cut down on prep time in the evening. If you like anything with a southwest flair, you have to give these a try. So delicious!

Oh, and did I mention I found this in Cooking Light? That's three in a row for those of you counting. I'm wondering if I should just call them Cooking Light Mondays at this point. What can I say? They make it so easy for an amateur like me to feel like a rock star in the kitchen. Plus, I've subscribed to the publication for a little over a year and just now started putting it to use. Sooner or later, I suppose I'll run out of back issues and will have to look elsewhere for recipe ideas. Until then, thank you, Cooking Light!

My Grade: A
Hubby's Grade: A

Friday, August 27, 2010

Murphy's Law Strikes at Home

Day 47

As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." This week I've come up with a saying of my own: "If it's broke and you start to fix it, chances are there is more where that came from." It doesn't have the same ring to it, but this is my life right now.

A few weeks ago, we had friends in from New York for our fourth annual standing vacation scheduled for the first weekend of August. The weekend has grown into a three, four or even five day holiday which starts at our house for one night before heading to the beach for the rest of the weekend. Hubby and I typically shower in the guest room because it's more modern. I feel like Dorothy Zbornak or Rose Nylund (Golden Girls, anyone?) in the 80s master bath. To be better hosts, we decided to clear out and give our guests the guest bathroom and, after showering in the master shower for the first time since last Christmas (the last time we really had overnight guests), noticed a leak above our kitchen table from the master bath. No worries, we'd just go back to using the guest bath. We want to gut the master anyway, eventually, but certainly can live without it for awhile.

Cut to Wednesday morning, as in two days ago. Hubby is heading out the door for work and notices a leak on the kitchen ceiling coming from the guest bath. Ay Dios mio. Of course this doesn't happen on any Wednesday; this happens the day I'm supposed to host book club, which I was so looking forward to.

Murphy 1 | Me 0

We called a friend who is also a contractor to come take a look. But of course, everyone is busy due to the four-day rainstorm our area was closing out.

Murphy 2 | Me 0

He could make it Thursday afternoon so things could've been worse. But he wasn't able to fix it then and there. He needed more tools and supplies. He would come back Friday morning. But not any Friday morning; he was going to come back and work when I had scheduled for some friends and their little bambinos to come see the house (for the first time) and hit the beach.

Murphy 3 | Me 0

Cut to this morning when he comes to make a couple quick fixes on the pipes. Not so fast. After showering this morning, we noticed some additional leaks which have now turned this project from a minor fix to a more lengthy and in-depth project that will involve fixing the water pipe, patching in holes and repainting the wall/ceiling. Oh yeah - on top of holes in the kitchen ceiling, there is now a hole outside the guest room upstairs.

Murphy 4 | Me 0

But not just any guest room - This is the guest room Mom is going to be staying in this weekend for her first visit since Christmas.

Murphy 5 | Me 0

Clearly, Murph is the runaway victor in this battle, but I'm hoping that after everything gets fixed I don't have to invite him back for a very long time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Meatless Monday - Penne with Pistachio Pesto and White Beans

Day 43

Dusting off the keyboard after an almost week-long getaway/mini vacation to soak up the last few days of summer sun. Good timing, too, since it's been raining for 24 hours with no end in sight. Days like this are trouble for a stay-at-home-wife like me. I could conceivably stay inside in my PJs all day, catching up on trashy reality shows on the DVR (Rachel Zoe Project and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, anyone?). Instead of getting sucked into hermit mode, I'm speaking to you from Starbucks today. I haven't "worked" from here in ages. Makes me feel like a college student all over again. Sigh...

Before we took off last week, we squeezed in another Meatless Monday, again featuring a recipe from Cooking Light: Penne with Pistachio Pesto and White Beans. It's similar to the orecchiette dish we fell in love with, but different enough with the white beans for added protein. It also called for Pecorino Romano, one of my favorite cheeses!

We both really liked the meal, Hubby more so than I. I didn't dislike it, but there are a few tweaks I'd make next time around. While I enjoyed switching out the traditional pine nut pesto for one made with pistachios (one of my favorite nuts), it was a little too garlicky and lacked moisture, which made the meal feel a little dry. In my opinion, the excessive garlic made it a little hard to find other flavors in the dish, and I was left wanting a little more depth.

That said, the recipe escaped the recycling bin and made in back into my binder so I'll give it another go with some minor adjustments.

My Grade: B+
Hubby's Grade: A-

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ready, Set, Guests!

Day 32

After the mattress delivery debacles, I'm so thrilled to finally share with you our second completed guest bedroom. Just in time, too - I'm expecting a houseful of guests this weekend and now everyone has a bed!

I am so in love with the room. It's exactly what I envisioned when I set out decorating it. I wanted something whimsical and vintage-inspired, but also something you would find in a classic New England farmhouse with a beachy twist (which seems to be the overall direction the house is headed). I'm not saying I belong on HGTV's Next Design Star, but I'm pretty proud with the way the house is coming along.

Hubby and I decided long ago to go with two twin beds since our first guest room has a queen. This way we can sleep more people. And, when we have kids we'll already have the twins for their big kid rooms. Gotta think ahead so we're not buying furniture that won't have any long-term use. I have to be honest, though. Guest room #1 was really the one that would have fit the twin beds. It has a solid back wall built for them. But I have to admit I rather like the way the twins are on opposite walls. This way, people aren't sleeping face-to-face with someone else in the room. It's even growing on Hubby, who was very adamant about them being on the same wall.

There are a couple things I'd still like to get. A mirror, for one, because I believe no room is complete without one. But for now, the room is ready to go and anxiously awaiting its first visitors this weekend!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Meatless Monday - Orecchiette with Roasted Peppers, Arugula and Tomatoes

Day 29

Our second Meatless Monday dish might be one of my favorites that I've cooked any day thus far! (Before I forget - a big shout out to Cooking Light magazine, who makes it so easy for me to find vegetarian options with its front-of-book recipe index. Thank you!!)

Last week I made Cooking Light's Orecchiette with Roasted Peppers, Arugula and Tomatoes. Now, I think I've told you all that I prefer long ribbon-shaped pastas, but this small ear-shaped pasta really did a great job of holding in the light, refreshing sauce for the dish - just as the recipe promised! And what a tasty sauce it was. It was a very full, layered flavor with the Herbes de Provence and arugula, but a little white wine vinegar for balance kept it seasonally light and refreshing. Truly delicious!

This was the first time I've roasted my own peppers and I was shocked at how simple it was to achieve that flavor in the broiler. My only mistake was that I purchased one red and one orange bell pepper and the recipe called for one orange and one yellow pepper. The yellow would have added a nice pop of color to the already pretty dish, but the flavor was still spot on. Next time!

Yes - I will be making this again and again and again...

My Grade: A
Hubby's Grade: A

Monday, August 2, 2010

Meatless Monday - Fusilli with Eggplant and Basil Pesto

Day 22

I don't know about you, but I feel like all I do every weekend is eat my way through Friday, Saturday and Sunday - especially in the summer. Because of this weekend gorging, Hubby and I have adopted the Meatless Monday diet here at home. A little meat detox, if you will, for at least one day of the week.

Since I've been home I've become even more obsessed with the Food Network. Most of the shows really do make me feel empowered to cook wonderfully tasty food here at home. And I've been exposed to plenty of great recipes that are nutritious and filling enough to stand on their own, sans meat. For example, I'm totally obsessed with eggplant these days. And when am I not obsessed with pasta? Last week's Meatless Monday recipe combines both of these and another personal favorite - pesto.

Giada De Laurentiis's recipe for Trenette with Eggplant and Pesto seemed like a great way to kick off Meatless Mondays. I wasn't able to find trenette pasta at the store, but I was happy to settle with fusilli, a favorite of ours. The spiral shape would be perfect to hold in all the pesto flavor, and it was a great medium length, making it easy to eat with little fuss.

Overall, the recipe was very simple to execute. The pesto recipe was super easy to make - I will definitely use it in other applications and recipes. The eggplant came out perfectly, although I will maybe peel it next time. Personally, I prefer it without the skin. And the Parmesan added just the right amount of salt to the dish. This is the first time I've ever said "Buon appetito!" and not felt like a total sham.

My Grade: A- (only because I have chosen a way to improve the eggplant next time)
Hubby's Grade: A

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hey Good Lookin' - Whatcha Got Slow Cookin'?

Day 15

One of the first things we registered for when we got married was a slow cooker. But even though everyone told me how awesome they were for prepping healthy, well-balanced meals in the morning before work, I have to be honest. I used it maybe once while I was working.

The one time I did try it, the recipe I chose required me to sear the meat first and spend almost 30 minutes chopping veggies and herbs to add to the pot. Talk about SLOW cooking! Plus, I get a little bugged out having something plugged in and running at such a high heat while no one is home. A little OCD, I admit, but hey - I'm okay with that.

Since I've started on my quest for domesticity, I've tried to use the slow cooker at least once a week. Now when I choose recipes, I pay attention to the prep time. The dishes have all had varying prep times, but I plan according to what else I have going on that day. We've had beer-soaked carnitas, tender short ribs and, today I'm trying a southwest chicken and black beans dish.

I must say I'm enjoying this appliance more and more! Not only are the meals full of flavor, but there are always leftovers, which means I have a night off from cooking! Both recipes thus far have earned an A grade from Hubby so I think he likes it, too. Hopefully tonight's will be a keeper, too!

Monday, July 26, 2010

What's the Opposite of Buyer's Remorse?

Day 15

Long ago (2002) and far away (Manhattan), there was a young woman who desperately needed to spruce up her wardrobe. She set out for a day of shopping and scored some really great pieces that would add a much-needed fresh look to her closet.

There was one $35 coral skirt that she really, really wanted, but she'd already spent too much that day so she held back, despite the fact that not having the skirt in her bags interrupted her thoughts all the way home. No big deal, she thought. If this continues and I'm meant to have it, I'll go back in a few days and it will still be there.

And did it ever continue! For the next couple days, as she got dressed for work, the only thing she wanted to wear was that coral skirt. So she headed back to the store, but after searching and searching, came up empty-handed. Defeated, she went home and looked at her pitiful closet, knowing the only thing that would make it better was something she would never have.

Fast forward to this past weekend when the (slightly older) young woman was perusing the local boutiques during a weekend away. When she walked into one store, her eyes were immediately drawn to an adorable dress made of the softest cotton in the most beautiful color of silver gray with a white and sand stripe across one shoulder. Only $42? She had to try it on! After wavering back and forth for a few minutes (which, I'm sure felt like about an hour to her husband), she decided it might be a little short and it was certainly something she could live without.

Not three hours later, as she was packing up to head home, she realized there was one thing missing from her bag - the dress! She convinced her husband to drive her back to the boutique. After a quick walk around the store, she asked the sales girl about the dress. When the girl-behind-the-counter's eyes nearly bugged out of her head, I - ah-em... I mean, she - knew this wasn't going to have a happy ending. Someone had bought the dress just two minutes before our fair maiden had gone back for it!

The moral of the story: If you see something and you like it, confirm the store's return policy. While you can't always go back to buy a must-have skirt or dress should you change your mind, chances are you can take it back if you decide you don't need it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The -RESS of the Story

Day 10

You may remember that a week ago, I posted "MATT- Where's the RESS?" about a botched furniture delivery. Yippee skippee, the remaining bed frame has arrived! Of course, it was not without a couple "sigh, are you kidding me?" moments.

Pleasant enough Delivery Man comes inside toting one small bed frame, carries it upstairs, and hands me a piece of paper to sign. Um, no. You're not leaving me with two mattress sets and bed frames in a box. Hello... that's what the delivery and set-up fee is for! Delivery Man plays along and starts setting up the beds.

"Wow, you're all alone today?" I asked.

"No," he mumbled... At least I think that's what he said.

"Oh, so there are other guys in the truck. Do you need them to come help you?" I asked. I was feeling a little bad for him.

Crickets. Delivery Man is in no mood to talk. I help him by piling up all the trash so I can ask him to take it with him on his way out. He was not very pleased with this either. Oh well. I gave him a nice tip I hope he doesn't share with the lazy men in the truck.

Reminds me a story Sister once told me after she and Brother-in-Law moved into their new home. It's a row house from the 1800s so it's very narrow, which means they had to do a lot of measuring to make sure modern appliances and furniture would make it up the stairwells. Anyway, Sister had a lot of difficulty with the delivery process and when her Delivery Guy finally arrived, he didn't seem too eager to carry up the new refrigerator.

Delivery Guy: "Doesn't look like it'll fit."

Sister: "It will, I promise. We measured and triple-checked to make sure."

Delivery Guy: "Lady, I'm not going to break my back carrying up this refrigerator."

Maybe it's just me, but when you're refrigerator delivery person, isn't that part of your job?

That, my friends, is the -RESS of the story. (Paul Harvey would be so proud.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

(Not) Just Another Summer Sunday

Day 8

There's just something about summer in New England. It's a feeling you can't get anywhere else in the country - and I grew up in the midwest and went to college on the west coast so I can say that from experience. Now, I'm not saying one is better than the other... I've just really come to love my new home.

Something else that's like no other is catching up with girlfriends while soaking up the sun. And that's just what I did yesterday, spending a few hours at the beach, mostly spent reading celebrity gossip magazines and encouraging each other to dunk into the freezing cold Atlantic (nothing beats salt water-infused beach hair!). Afterwards, we were off to grab a sandwich at the deli in the town center and then to the local ice cream stand for a twist cone - sprinkles optional (Yes, I say sprinkles. I told you, I'm from the midwest!).

Seriously, this is summer in New England!

If I could file just one complaint with anyone listening, can I ask what the heck is up with the flies at the beach? Greenheads, they're called here. I got several bites and they just seem to worsen by the hour. Man, do they itch! And one of my ankles is literally swollen from the ever-growing bite.

Still, I'll keep paying that price if it means girlfriends and twist cones on a steamy Sunday at the beach.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

MATT - Where's the RESS?

Day 3

We have been in the house almost fourteen months now and we're not to the finishing touches part quite yet. We're still furnishing rooms! Two guest rooms and the dining room remain, then we can start filling out those that already have the basics. But we have to get at least one more guest room and the dining room done by this November as I've bravely announced we'll be hosting our first Thanksgiving!

Hubby wanted to get the dining room done first, but I found bedding for the guest room and, ladies, you know what happens when you find bedding you just can't live without. Mattresses become priority number one!

After a long Friday making the rounds at BJs, The Home Depot and more, I couldn't drag Hubby out of the house for any more shopping, but I found a local retailer that sells mattress sets and frames online. I placed the order for two twin sets and not ten minutes later got a call to confirm the purchase and schedule delivery. Wow, could it be too good to be true? Of course!

I was expecting to head off on a long weekend (mini vacation starts today - YAY!) with two beds set up all cute and awaiting their gorgeous bedding. Nope. Just look at what I'm left with! Not only did they bring one frame instead of two, they didn't even bother to set up the one bed for which they did have all the parts. (Sorry the picture is so dark. It's a rainy and dreary day... just in time for vacation - BOO!) To top it off, I tracked the bedding order online and it's not scheduled to ship until July 30.

So I'll wait... patiently... and try to find the positive. I do look forward to each thing arriving and the room coming together piece by piece. Can't wait to share it with you when it's done! Well, the beds will be done, but I'll still need some sort of bureau. Let the search begin!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Challenge: Orchid

Day 2

Bless their hearts, my coworkers gave me a stunning orchid on my last day. Here's the thing. I have pretty much the opposite of a green thumb. Aside from some rogue weeds in the yard, the only vegetation I've ever managed to keep alive is a peace lily and, from what I hear, they're about as easy as you can get. (Also, I'm not too proud to admit that Hubby really drives watering that bad boy.)

Orchid is now about a week old and, as you can see, still looking lovely. My challenge is to keep it this way. Thank goodness for the internet. First stop: Google. Attention: Said plant does not have its own dot com. You've been forewarned as to what happens when you think you can skip the search and just type in the flower + dot com.

Anyway, I've found a lot of great tips and am looking forward to seeing this through. It will be one of my long-term projects that I look forward to updating you on along the way. Please feel free to share any tips with me!

Here's one for you. When I set out on Challenge: Orchid, I couldn't help but think of the old rhyme "Mary, Mary."

Mary, Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

I looked up the rhyme to make sure I had the words right and I couldn't believe all the conversation around its origins. Many believe it's about Bloody Mary, the daughter of King Henry VIII, and there are some very dark undertones. I prefer to think of it as a song for little children, and Bloody Mary as a drink.