Friday, January 29, 2010

Oh Please, Krusteaz

The boys wanted pancakes for dinner tonight and, weary at the very thought of preparing one more batch of chicken nuggets, I was happy to oblige. I got out my pancake mix, added water, threw some sliced banana in the batter and got to work.

Then, I started worrying about that chain email that went around about a year ago about the high school girl who made some pancakes and then went to cheerleading practice and died because the mix was expired and the preservatives had turned toxic. For the record, I have no idea if that incident really happened or whether mixes turn toxic when they are past their "best by" date.

Probably an urban legend, and I was fairly certain that I had purchased my box of pancake mix in the past six months anyway . . . but decided to check the date on the box just to be sure.

Guess what? I could not find a stinking date anywhere on the box. No "best by," no "sell by," no "use by" date, nothing that resembled a month or year that I could make sense of.

To be clear, I am still not worried about the safety of my children because I know this mix is not really that old, but I'm starting to get all annoyed, as in, "This is crap. How hard is it to put a date on a box?"

The only thing I could find was this code: KE9180D

Was this mix from 1991? From September 1, 1980. Or, in some bizarro reverse universe, was the mix from January 9 of 08?

While my kids are eating the probably-safe-but-potentially-expired pancakes, I do a quick online check at the company website.

There are instructions for cracking the code:
"The code reads as follows:

· The first number after the two letters represents the year of manufacture.

· The next three numbers represent the number of days into the year
(Using the 365-day calendar).

Using the example below: DF6060D indicates the product was produced on the 60th day (March 1st) in the year 2006."

Um, okay. I admit that I am still confused. This code does not seem self-explanatory to me. Without access to the internet, I'd have no idea how to begin to crack it. Isn't this a box of pancake mix not a GRE logic question?

I will point out that the website also has a feature where you can put your code in, and they will then tell you when your box of pancake mix was manufactured. So, my box was manufactured on 6-29-2009.

Good news, right? I guess it is, assuming you know that pancake mixes (assuming proper storage conditions) are to be used within 24 months of the date of manufacture. But that's common knowledge right? And, pie crust mix . . . you've only got 12 months, but I guess you should already know that. Right?

I don't know what the laws are for labeling convenience products such as baking mix, but it does not seem too much to ask for a consumer to be able to make her children some pancakes without having to go online to make sure that her mix is not expired.

To repeat my earlier question, "How hard is it to put a date on a box?"

That is all. I beseech you not to leave any comments along the lines of "homemade pancakes are so easy--don't mess with the mix." I'm sure that's true, and I'm sure I'll mix up my own pancakes some day, but I don't want to hear that right now.

Anyone else have trouble with expiration dates? And, while we're on the topic, do you play fast and loose with such dates or stick to them strictly?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Welcome to My Chicago Hood, Blogtrotters!

Welcome, Blogtrotters! I'm MEP and honored to be one of the first Blogtrotting tour guides. CaraBee said to keep this post under 500 words so I'm directing you to the tabs above (Who's MEP?, Worth the Trip, and Favorite Things) to learn about me and my blog and to link to some of my best posts.

I'd prefer to spend my words telling you all about my Chicago neighborhood. If you have visited Chicago, you know that there's so much to see and do downtown. Shop the Magnificient Mile, go to Millenium Park, have tea at the Drake, enjoy a drink and view at the top of the Hancock Building, eat some Chicago-style pizza, and definitely take an architecture boat cruise . . . just to name a few.

Downtown Chicago is a wonderful, friendly, easily navigable place, but I think the heart of Chicago is the fact that the city has so many unique neighborhoods.

The general neighborhood that I call home is Lakeview, but within this general area are more specific zones. If I walk a couple of blocks east, I'm heading into Wrigleyville, home of the historic Wrigley Field, party-ready twentysomethings, and bars as far as the eye can see. If I walk a couple of blocks west, I hit the main drag of the Southport Corridor, home of restaurants ranging from sandwich shops to sports bars to higher end ethnic spots, more nail salons than seem necessary (yet all stay in business), coffee shops, more bars, and hundreds of strollers.

I grew up outside of Cincinnati and never really imagined myself as a "big city" dweller. Some unique aspects of city life for me include: being a one-car household (hubby takes El to work), being told that my 15 x 15 backyard is "huge," having to street park regularly when doing errands, and depending upon public parks and playgrounds more than I thought possible. Chicago has three seasons and during summer and fall, I love to walk my boys everywhere -- to the store, the school, the park, playdates, etc. I'm a little less walk-ready in winter, but it is nice knowing that I can always get somewhere interesting without having to get in the car.

This past Friday, a good friend and I bundled up our kids to walk Southport and document the neighborhood for this post. Check it out . . . And we're off . . . cruising a typical neighborhood street in a typical Southport stroller. No idea why Bub brought the broom along.
Dairy Queen is mighty popular in my neighborhood, to the point that when explaining to other Chicagoans where we live, we often start with, "Do you know the Southport Dairy Queen . . . "

There are tons of great bars in Chicago neighborhoods where you can grab a drink and a good meal. This one is kid-friendly and has great taste in football teams.

Our neighborhood hardware store, where the staff is friendly, eager to help, and knowledgeable (and they don't wear orange shirts or hide from customers).

Iconic Music Box Theatre where they screen artsy-independent type movies and host special events like White Christmas and Sound of Music Sing-A-Longs.
Not unique to my neighborhood, but boy do I love CVS. I'm there at least three times a week.
The Wrigley Field experience is one worth having, whether the Cubs are winning or losing. I will warn you that they serve Pepsi products inside (but unless the new owners have changed the rules, you can bring in a Diet Coke from outside). I will also warn you that the majority of the fans there are not there to drink soda pop.
I feel the need to point out that my home McDonalds is right across the street from Wrigley. Some days I go through the drive-thru and think, "Wow, I just bought a breakfast burrito right across from Wrigley Field." NTB.

Chicago is laid out on a convenient grid that it took me years longer to figure out than it should have. What I recommend to you is that you visit Chicago (in the summer or fall when everyone here is so, so happy), get yourself to 3600 North/1400 West by train, bus, or taxi and then explore what's North and South of you. Today's tour didn't cover South of Addison, but the fun and excitement on Southport only continues. One highlight includes the world's best cheese fries (truly glorious) at Southport Lanes.

My Little Bit, one of the four cutest kids cruising Southport last Friday.

Special shout out to Sara, ace photographer and friend and to her kids and mine, absolute troopers during this winter walking tour.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of my Chicago neighborhood. I am so looking forward to all the Blogtrotting to come! Bloggers, please visit Blogtrotting and sign up to show off your little corner of the world. Readers of blogs, please keep visiting Blogtrotting and Not to brag . . .

I'll see you this summer on Southport!

Please leave a comment and share any of your own Chicago memories or questions . . .

(I'm too tired to figure out why all this white space is down here so please scroll down to leave some comments. Thanks.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hot to trot?

I am a curious person. I always love learning more about how other people live, what makes them happy, what makes them tick, etc.

If I take a walk at night, I love--in a non-peeper, non-stalkerish way--when lights are on inside the houses around my neighborhood so I can see the cozy warmth of people living their lives . . . watching television, washing dishes, sitting at a table.

I read novels and memoirs in order to be transported into other times, lives, and places.

I can't tune out the conversations that strangers have around me at restaurants or on cell phones (though, sometimes I wish I could).

I get way more delight out of facebook status updates than a person really should. I'm interested in what people choose to share and like to be able to respond with humor, sympathy, or support when I can.

And, of course, I love the blogosphere. I so enjoy the little glimpses of others' lives that blogs provide and the friendships and connections forged through reading and commenting on blogs. I like seeing the different ways people raise their kids, feed their families, keep themselves sane, let loose, take care of themselves, entertain themselves . . . I like seeing that there are so many different paths to and recipes for good and happy lives.

Lucky for me, my friend CaraBee invited me along for the ride on a new blog endeavor that is right up my alley. I'm going to be her front seat companion (the helpful kind who unwraps snacks, changes the music, never complains about snack/meal/pee stops, and tries to read maps) as she gets BlogTrotting off the ground . . .

What's BlogTrotting? You can click on the widget to read all about it, but basically, it's a site that will introduce you to different bloggers from around the world each day (starting soon). The day's featured bloggers will tell you a little bit about themselves, their blog, and the corner of the world where they live! There will be photos and links to other good posts . . . I can't wait.

Your job is to check it out and enjoy the trip. If you have a blog, please click on the Destinations tab and sign yourself up to be one the featured bloggers. If you know bloggers, encourage them to participate.

Thanks! We'll be featuring bloggers as early as next week! Stay tuned.

*Bloggers, if you want the "Hot to Trot" widget, you can use the image and link it to the site or email me or CaraBee and we'll send you the code.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is there a spa in Radiator Springs?

Today was a long day and for no good reason. Bub had school this morning, we had a fun outing with friends for lunch, Bub had a good-as-gold playmate over this afternoon, but still . . . Little Bit bricked his afternoon nap and the day was just long and was one of those days when I never managed to pick up enough stuff to have a sense of order and calm for even a minute.

Enough whining though. Watch me focus on the positive:

1. Decluttering, though a huge project, is going pretty well. Though I mostly neglect my other blog, Just Use It Or Lose It, I have posted a few times in 2010 if you are interested.

2. Cooking more real meals at home and spending less money at the grocery store are both going quite well, NTB. I have designated Monday as "grocery day" and have risen to the challenge of trying to spend less each week than I did the week before by planning ahead. I am 2 for 2 on successful recipes this week (though we had leftovers and Lean Pockets tonight--today was so long I didn't have any time to cook). I tried Chicken Tamale Casserole (thanks to E. . . for bringing the recipe to my attention) and Turkey Mini Meat Loaves (thanks LAP for inspiring me to track down a muffin tin meat load recipe) from Cooking Light. Hubby and I enjoyed both recipes, and they were very easy! My only recommendation is that if you make the tamale casserole, mix the enchilada sauce in with the chicken instead of puncturing the cornbread crust and pouring it inside. I want to note that both recipes come from, my very favorite online source for recipes. The website is a database with all the recipes published in magazines like Cooking Light, Southern Living, and Real Simple.

3. I am starting to prepare content for the cool tabs you see above. In case you've been wondering "Who's MEP?" and what's "Worth The Trip," rest assured you will soon know. If any NTB readers have any favorite NTB posts, please mention them in the comments as that data will help me finalize my content above.

4. I have been asked by a super cool blogger and friend to participate in a new blog venture. I'm really excited about it. Stay tuned for details . . .

5. Even though today was not my day and not Bub's either for that matter, he did find some stroke of artistic inspiration. Sure, he moved a chair and reached up on a high shelf and got out his paints without my permission to do so, but I have to show off the results. NTB, but I think he captured Lightning McQueen just beautifully. I really do.

How was your day?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hookers, Mormons, Orphans, and Foodies . . . Oh My!

Back in November, I posted my top reads of 2009. Even though readers of this blog may get the impression that all I do is eat and watch television, I actually read quite a bit and wanted to update you with a few titles (not necessarily yearly top reads) that might be of interest.

In no particular order, I offer the following for your consideration . . .

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

McCann's novel offers a glimpse of New York City in the early seventies with stories told from the perspectives of various New Yorkers, whose stories often overlap. All the stories are somehow tied to that of the man (unnamed in the novel) who walked across a wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Readers of this blog know how much I love narratives in which unexpected or seemingly unlikely connections and friendships are forged. I love all the layers of this novel and was especially drawn in by the portraits of a mother-daughter pair of hookers, two mothers who lost sons in Vietnam, and a Irish monk living in the Bronx projects. I have no real sense of the seventies as a decade except for some vague images of bad clothing and brown carpet and the mushroom-detailed cannisters my parents received as wedding presents, and I felt like this novel gave me insight into a moment of history I tend to ignore.

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

I fear I won't do justice to Reichl's first memoir so I won't say much except that I loved this book and love Reichl's writing and the way she is able to write about so much more than food in everything of hers I have read. Her description of her mother's cooking and planning for her older brother's engagement party will remain with me for a long time for being simultaneously funny and tragic . . . unbelievable. Reichl's memoirs are so satisfying. Please read my friend E's review of Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires for a far more thoughtful account of Reichl as a writer. I ordered Reichl's second memoir, Comfort Me With Apples, and cannot wait until it arrives on Wednesday.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

I'm sorry, but how can you not want to open a book with such a title? Love it. I'm more than a little bit fascinated with Mormonism, not fascinated like maybe I want to convert, but definitely interested in one of the world's fastest-growing religions. Baker's memoir is about her negotiating her faith with her single gal life in New York City and a significant weight loss. I loved Baker's account of working the doll nursery at FAO Schwarz and was really intrigued by her account of being Mormon and thus abstinent and non-drinking in NYC. Check it out.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I always enjoy the writing of Nick Hornby. He is a master of characterization and of writing with humor and warmth. I like to imagine that Hornby had a lot of fun writing this novel because the narrative draws in his love for music and his familiarity with a certain type of obsessive, dedicated, passionate, earnest, message-board visiting music fan. If I were in a book club, I would look forward to discussing the ending of this novel with others.

The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir by Liz, Diana, Amanda, and Dan Welch

Can you imagine losing your father and then your mother over the course of just a few years? Can you imagine being the daughter of a famous soap opera star? Can you imagine your entire way of life changing almost overnight? Can you imagine dealing with all of this upheaval during your teenage years? This memoir, told by four siblings, tells the story of the Welch siblings as they deal with the deaths of their parents and strive to take care of one another. Understandably, these siblings remember some moments and events differently, but the end result is a powerful memoir. Plus, when you are finished, you can go to the book's website, and see responses/accounts from other friends and family members mentioned in the memoir.

As ever, I am embarrassed by these mini-reviews that I post here on NTB. I never have/take the time to write about these books and authors with as much thoughtfulness and care as I would like. Ah well, at least I'm reading and trying to encourage others to do the same.

As ever, I'm curious to know . . . what are you reading right now?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Like tOATally satisfying.

One of my 2010 resolutions was to make an effort to eat more breakfast foods that do not pair well with Diet Coke. The trick is to achieve this goal while still eating breakfast foods that are satisfying and stick-with-you-ing. Eggs are satisfying, but I drink pop with eggs. Golden Grahams do not pair well with Diet Coke but leave me feeling hungry eighteen minutes later. I usually end up with more savory breakfast fare like ham/turkey sandwiches or Lean Cuisine pizzas, both of which require Diet Coke (for me).

One breakfast food I return to from time to time is good old oatmeal. When I am on an oatmeal kick, I am on an oatmeal kick. I'll eat it almost every morning for weeks or even months, usually paired with orange juice.

Sometime around 1999-2000, I ate oatmeal for months (coincided with a period of weight loss, NTB) and topped it with sliced strawberries and fat-free white chocolate jello pudding. I think I'm only sharing that fact so I can think about pudding for a couple minutes.

My obsession now is oatmeal topped with brown sugar (love how the sugar looks as it melts) and either raisins or frozen sliced peaches (they defrost as you cook the oatmeal).

I don't do stovetop oatmeal, just quick oats from the tall can (packets are okay too, but the oats seem bigger from the tall can) in the microwave. I used to always make oatmeal with milk but have determined that it still tastes good made with water.

A recent issue of Cooking Light included a spread on oats and a recipe for Overnight Honey-Almond Multigrain Cereal. The recipe suggests that you combine steel cut oats, pearled barley, and water in a large (these oats expand, baby!) bowl overnight. Then, you microwave it in the morning. I've always wanted to explore the world of steel-cut oats but knew I didn't have the time or patience to spend 30 or so minutes on the stovetop every morning. No way. Anyway, I was intrigued by the recipe and sort of gave it a try. By "sort of" I mean that I combined the 1/3 cup of steel-cut oats, 2 tablespoons of multi-grain cereal mix from Trader Joe's (which I already had but was not using and which included barley in it), salt, and the 1 1/4 cups water recommended by Cooking Light and put them in the fridge overnight. I microwaved the oats in the morning, added my own toppers, and enjoyed a very delicious and filling breakfast. I'm sure the Overnight Honey-Almond Multigrain Cereal made exactly according to Cooking Light is divine, but the recipe involves too many ingredients for me for the morning. I don't see myself toasting almonds for my breakfast . . . not that I don't deserve toasted almonds.

Anyway, I'm loving my oatmeal again and wanted to pass on the soaking overnight tip in case other readers are interested in steel-cut oats that are less time intensive.

What are you eating for breakfast? And drinking?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where you lead . . . I will follow.

The blurb at the top of the ad for Life Unexpected (from The CW) reads "Juno meets Gilmore Girls." Oh, do not tease me with such promises, TV Guide Magazine.*

My beloved Entertainment Weekly writes of Lauren Graham, set to star in the upcoming show Parenthood (her first post-Gilmore Girls series): "Lauren walked into this role like she was born to play it." I am guardedly optimistic.

I miss Gilmore Girls. A lot. Here's why . . .

Bub was born in January. Though my baby Bub was cute as anything, my transition into motherhood was not easy. It was cold. I was lonely. I felt incompetent. He lost weight. Nursing did not come naturally. As most babies do, he awoke several times every night and indeed did not sleep through until he was a year. Also, he did not nap during the day without being held, strolled, or driven in a car for many, many months. I rarely showered. I wore elastic waist pants only. I was tired and ugly. I was overweight (45 pounds gained in pregnancy and at least 15 over my fighting weight when I got pregnant). I unwisely decided to get bangs cut. I ate frosted animal crackers like it was my job. An unfinished dissertation hovered above me like a dark, depressing rain cloud.

I loved my baby but not my day-to-day life.

Yes, I got help and encouragement from family, friends, and my hubby. People brought meals, sent emails, visited, and called to check in. All good. I was and am loved. NTB.

But on the days when I was home alone with my little guy, there was another group of people who helped me make through it each day: the citizens of Stars Hollow.

On a whim, I purchased Season One of Gilmore Girls a couple of weeks before Bub was born. Once I determined that he was going to continue to wake up and scream every time I tried to place him (already sleeping) in his pack-and-play, crib, or infant carrier, I just decided that I needed him to be asleep more than I needed to be hands free. I'd gather everything I needed--snack, drink, cell, regular phone, remote controls, book, boppy--and sit down on the couch. I'd nurse Bub. He'd fall asleep. As he slept on the boppy on my lap, I would tee up episodes of Gilmore Girls.

Sure, some days I ruined the moment by opening a granola bar too loudly or not answering the phone quickly enough, but usually, I got through at least an episode (sometimes two or three) before he awoke and I had to figure out what to do next. Gilmore Girls gave me everything I needed during those naps--witty humor, heart, the most unique supporting characters on television, escape into the small-town fantasy world of Stars Hollow, romance, family drama, insight into parent-child relationships, a reminder that love and family are imperfect, and, eventually, Sebastian Bach.

I had never seen the show before that time even though it had been on television for years. Since Bub's birth, I have seen every episode in order but only one time each. It was such a joy to fall in love with a show and then be able to watch every single episode.

When I look back on those first months with Bub, I know it was hard and that I really struggled, but memory has blurred to the extent that I now also think of those months as cozy and comfortable and peaceful. My love of the Gilmore Girls is all wrapped up in the many memories and emotions of that transitional, special time.

My life with two young children is good now. Some days are long, but I know (more or less) what I'm doing, and I have two really happy, healthy, beautiful boys. I make plenty of mistakes, but I make sure they always know how much they are loved. I have a sense of calm and content (most of the time--there are major exceptions) that I could not have imagined as a brand new mom. I love my good, sweet boys. I know they love me.

I also have a daughter on the way with whom I hope to sit on a comfy couch someday and watch every single episode of Gilmore Girls. In anticipation of her arrival, I got out Gilmore Girls Season One, Episode One this morning and watched as I folded the laundry.

I like knowing I have all of it--the show and motherhood--to experience all over again.

What about you? Any memories of early days of motherhood? Any favorite Gilmore Girls moments? Carole King songs? Please share.

*responsible for the blurb--as a point of pride, I am not a TV Guide Magazine subscriber

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tale of Two Closets

I was juggling two projects last week: trying to get the cleaning-decluttering-fixing-up-our-house-for-sale project off the ground and organizing a birthday party for Bub's 4th. Good news for the party was that some of the 2010 decluttering work did make the cleaning for the party part a little bit easier (just to be clear, ours is not a household where we can welcome guests without preparation--having people over always involves some extensive prep work to make the place presentable).

I was too late in my party planning to organize a off-site event at some sort of kiddie place as well as reluctant to spend the funds such an event can require when I thought I could provide Bub with a fun at-home party. My main focus throughout the week leading up to the party (evites issued one week before--told you I was late on this party) was thinking of ways to entertain four year-olds. I assumed that I would need many games and activities to keep all the kids entertained, and I had at least eight of them ready. If you don't count lunch and cake as activities, we got through about 2.5 games/activities. Guess what? If you have toys at your house, little kids just like to play with them. Who knew?

I need to give a shout-out to my mom who helped me with some cleaning and decluttering as well as baked and iced many cupcakes that we then had the party guests decorate with candy. My in-laws and hubby were also a big help the day of the party. Everyone was incredibly understanding about me being testy and on edge the morning of the event.

But I also want to give a little shout-out to two areas of my home, without which Bub's party would not have been possible.

First, the front closet: We have a large closet in our living/family/dining room that would be perfect for hanging guests' coats if it was not more perfect for storing and hiding crap. Before any event we host, I basically take everything that's sitting around without a home, place the stuff in laundry baskets, reusable shopping bags, and other random boxes and stack it precariously inside the closet. Last year, I bought a new door knob for hubby to install on this closet so that I can fill it with crap and then lock it. My kids can't reach the key we keep on the door frame and no guests can mistake the crap closet for the crapper and see all the stuff I'm hiding from them. Brilliant.

Mention of crap leads me to the next closet shout-out: the water closet: I think it is safe to say that the bathroom was the hottest, most visited room at Bub's party. No, there was not an outbreak of intestinal distress nor were there any potty emergencies that I know of. Rather, Bub was leading his friends into the darkened bathroom in small groups in order to show them his turtle. I'm talking about a turtle turtle. Please.

My aunt and uncle got Bub the coolest turtle for his birthday. When turned on in a dark room, the turtle lights up the ceiling with a moon and stars (arranged in actual constellation patterns). You can choose a few different colors of lights.

This turtle is seriously cool, and Bub is loving sleeping under the stars at night. Plus, as I mentioned already, Bub is also loving inviting friends into his bathroom to enjoy the planetarium effect. At one point, I opened the bathroom door to find two girls crouched in tornado drill position on either side of our toilet (floor and commode had been cleaned before party) waiting for Bub to turn on the turtle. The thrills of being four.

The party's over and the decluttering continues. This week's project: figure out what I hid in the closet last week.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

BeFOUR you know it . . .

. . . your firstborn will turn into a big (little) boy right before your eyes. I don't have the energy right now to write the birthday post my Bub deserves so for now I will just share some of my favorite things that he says these days:

"When I went to the movie theodore to see the Squeakquel with my cousins . . . " -- common story starter -- I love that he thinks that he went to a movie theodore to see a movie about a chipmunk named Theodore

"I really need to use some hand santatizer, mom."

"Is this the perfect size for a sticker? Tanks, mom." -- said almost a hundred times a day as he preps scraps of paper to send through the sticker machine Aunt Shell got him for Christmas

"Let's have a family hug!"

"This is the best Christmas EVER!" -- shouted multiple times earlier this evening as he opened birthday presents

"Let's talk about what we're going to do tomorrow, mom." -- when he visits the bathroom for the final time before bed, he likes me to sit in there with him so we can talk about our plans for the next day

"Is dat a good idea, mom?" -- I almost always say "yes"

"Is dat cazy, mom?"

"My belly is hungry for a treat." -- He's mine for sure

"I need lots and lots of hugs, mom." -- said tonight, just before bed.

Keep melting our hearts, Bub. Daddy and I love you so much that it's "cazy."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"These are good chicken balls, honey."

I resolved to make three "real meals" a week for 2010. I am loosely defining "real meals" as meals that are not frozen pizza, Lean Pockets, or sandwiches. With leftovers, hubby traveling, ordering in at least one weekend night, and our convenience food fallbacks, three meals should cover us pretty well and improve the quality of our lives.

I put on my Meppie Homemaker hat and chose three recipes on Sunday and then shopped for the appropriate ingredients on Monday.

Of the two recipes tried so far, my record is 1-1.

We'll start with the loss so get it out of the way. I decided to try the Pioneer Woman's Cauliflower Soup. If you don't know, Ree the Pioneer Woman is a blogging legend. Visit her blog and all of your senses will be enticed. She breaks down her recipes step by step with photographs and is an amazing photographer (who takes pictures of way more than food). I challenge you to read through one of her recipes and not be drooling or licking your monitor by the end.

I am not blaming Ree, but even though I thought I followed the directions, my attempt at Cauliflower Soup did not work out as it should have. The flavor was lovely, really, but my white sauce did not thicken immediately as I was promised it would so the whole thing was more watery than creamy. I threw a little shredded cheese in to attempt to thicken it all up, but I was hesitant to add too much extra cheese to a recipe that already included butter, whole milk, half and half, and sour cream. I'll eat the leftovers, but I am pretty bummed at how it all turned out and am still trying to shake it off.

I imagine you all are thinking what hubby was thinking, which was, "You expected Cauliflower Soup to be really good?!" I did, in fact, expect that.

What will help me get over tonight's less-than-stellar effort is sharing the recipe for the my big fat (but not fattening) success of last night: Buffalo Chicken Meatballs. I found the recipe in the February issue of Woman's Day magazine. I would link to the recipe, but it's not posted yet (a bunch of other recipes are on the magazine's website though). I'm going to post the recipe and hope Woman's Day does not mind (and will mention that I really enjoy the magazine and find many helpful tips and thoughtful pieces in it).

The recipe's creator, Terry Grieco Kenny, came up with the idea in an attempt to capture the buffalo flavor for a Super Bowl snack that does not have as much fat as the skin on regular buffalo chicken wings. Here the recipe with my notes/commentary in italics:

Heat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick foil (I used my silpat). In a bowl, mix 1 lb. ground chicken, 1 cup fresh bread crumbs, 1/3 cup sliced scallions, 1 tsp each smoked paprika and minced garlic (I did actually splurge for a $6.99 jar of smoked paprika because I hear RR touting it all the time), and 1/2 tsp salt. Roll into 32 balls (I only ended up with 24 balls); place on pan. Bake 10 to 12 minutes (I baked 14 because I am paranoid) until browned and cooked through. Remove from oven and drizzle meatballs with hot pepper sauce (I used Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Sauce); toss to coat. (I then placed the meatballs in mini crock pot to keep warm until dinner time). Serve on toothpicks (we used forks) to dip into reduced-fat blue cheese dressing (I used Marie's brand). Be sure to include healthy raw vegetable dippers (I did as instructed and served carrots and celery with the meatballs).

My verdict is that the meatballs were easy as anything to put together and quite delicious. I think I've mentioned on this blog before that a quote like "These are good chicken balls, honey" is on par with "You should open a restaurant that serves these chicken balls." Anytime a meal cracks "fine," I am feeling pretty pleased with the results. The only hard part is the ickiness of mixing and rolling raw ground chicken with your (oft-washed) hands.

The third recipe on the docket for this week is Easy Chicken and Dumplings from January's Southern Living. Follow the link if you're interested, but I doubt I'll bore you with another food post this week.

What are you cooking up these days? I always love to hear what people are eating.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Don't Stop Believin'

I'm back. We've finally started getting a grip on things around the homeplace after our eight-day holiday road trip (which was awesome, by the way).

Low key New Year's around here. Last night, hubby and I ate pot roast, watched the first episode of Weeds Season 5 on his laptop, and ate some ice cream sandwiches from Trader Joe's. I turned in around 10:00 p.m.

Today, we tried to find spots for all the Christmas loot, did some laundry, took down the holiday decorations, and attempted to accomplish a bunch more stuff that is too boring to write about. I think hubby also spent some time fantasizing about a future in which this day will be devoted to eating appetizers, drinking beer, and watching bowl games without pleas to "turn on Tom and Jerry please, Daddy." Maybe someday.

Even though we did not ring in 2010 with much fanfare, I am, as ever, excited about the prospects of a new year and determined to make it a good one. So, without further ado, I share some of my resolutions for 2010:

1. Declutter and organize the house. Both projects are ongoing, but since we are planning to put our house on the market in a couple of months, there's a new sense of urgency. I'm not sure where to begin, but I think my strategy will just be to go one "problem area" at a time. In the spirit of this resolution, my much-neglected second blog, Just Use It or Lose It, will be revived in the coming days. Stay tuned.

2. Prepare better meals for my family and make better food choices for myself. Sure, I started today with McDonald's breakfast, but I had a salad for dinner. Progress already. The specific goal is to prepare three "real meals" a week for the hubby (kids eat separately due to daddy's late arrival in the evening). If I could get the kids to eat some of those "real meals," even better. Maybe I can cut down the number of times I answer hubby with "There are Lean Pockets in the freezer" to two or three times a month. Other sub-goals include: plan ahead, waste less money at the grocery store, use the food staples I already have, get the boys to eat vegetables,* and stop choosing breakfast foods that pair well with Diet Coke.

3. Move more. Six months (ish) pregnant, I am not about to start an ambitious workout program, but I could make an effort to ride the recumbent bike, do some of my low impact workout videos, and turn on the Wii fit every now and again. Shedding the baby weight was much more difficult after Little Bit than it had been post-Bub (proven by the fact that I started this pregnancy with some of my baby weight from the previous) so I need to start doing what I can to make the postpartum months less depressing from a weight/appearance standpoint. Again, I'm not talking about any crazy workout regime, just about making a little extra effort to move.

4. Initiate more plans. I have friends. I like eating. I like seeing movies. I enjoy cooking classes. I would love to go to afternoon tea. I enjoy face-t0-face conversations with other adults. Once Sweet P arrives in April, my ability to get out will be compromised for the next several months. I'm feeling like I need to start taking advantage of my lactation-free state right now and get out a bit more. All it takes is a phone call or email and a reminder to hubby that I'm heading out once he gets home from work.

5. Enjoy my life. I think I do a pretty good job of enjoying right now. Yes, I'm busy like most moms and feel exhausted and sometimes am tempted to play the martyr. But, I refuse to give up the things I enjoy, especially reading novels, watching television, blogging, and checking facebook. My house and life would be cleaner and more orderly if I cut out (or took less time for) these pleasures, but who wants a bitter, cranky mommy and wife around, not to mention a mommy who has no interests or passions?

6. Be more grateful and more positive. I'm not Debby Downer now, but there's always room for improvement.

7. Remove the Valentine's Sticker that has been stuck to a large window in our home since February of 2007. It's time. Potential buyers of our home may not feel the love when they see it.

8. Do at least one load of laundry a day.

That's all (and plenty) for now. You'll notice that these resolutions are not all that different from last year's or the year before that one.** The fact that I keep striving to achieve some of the same goals does not discourage me at all. It sounds silly to say so, but I honestly am filled with hope as each new year begins. And, more than that, I truly believe that one of these days I'll get it all together. I really do. In the meantime, I do the best I can.

What about you? Any resolutions to share? I'd love to hear about them.

*One glimmer of hope on the children's eating front is Little Bit's new interest in eating soup. Before Christmas, he attacked some Green Salsa Chicken Chili I made and today at lunch, he enjoyed some ham and bean soup my mom had made.

**I will remind you that I did finish my dissertation and graduate, which was a huge relief (and accomplishment, NTB).

Welcome to Booksburgh!*

I love it when bloggers share their reading lists somewhere on their sites. As an avid reader, I get a little thrill whenever I come across the title of a book that sounds like something I might enjoy. I am posting my list in case it might help other readers get that "Oh, that sounds worth looking into" thrill. Also, I'm posting it because I tend to draw a blank whenever someone asks for a book recommendation, which is ridiculous because I read enough to be able to make decent recommendations.

Now just because a book is listed doesn't necessarily mean it is recommended. If you want to know more about any of the books I've read this year, just get in touch with me in the comments or by email (mep at nottobrag dot net). If I've already written about a particular book, you can click on the title to link to the post where I discussed it.

I would post about books more often, but my sisters have given me frighteningly honest feedback about how boring my book posts are!

I've read a lot this year in part because I've been doing a lot of cleaning and for me cleaning time is reading time, thanks to downloadable audiobooks and my ipod. If you haven't checked out audiobooks, you should! And yes, I do read "regular books" too.

MEP's 2010 Reading List

Up in the Air by Walter Kirn

At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream by Wade Rouse

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999-2001 by Sue Townsend

Love and Other Secrets by Sarah Challis

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl

Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie

Sense and Sensibility* by Jane Austen

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

The Aqua Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town by Jennifer Niven

The Accidental Wife by Rowan Coleman

Lily White by Susan Isaacs

More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

What Now* by Ann Patchett

Carpool Diem by Nancy Star

Lift by Kelly Corrigan

Nanny Returns: A Novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties: An Entertaining Life (with Recipes) by Julia Reed

Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk by Robyn Okrant

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Handmaid's Tale: A Novel by Margaret Atwood

Whatever Makes You Happy by Lisa Grunwald

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters by Anne Kreamer

New Grub Street by George Gissing

The Twelve Sacred Traditions of Magnificent Mothers-in-Law by Haywood Smith

The Heights by Peter Hedges

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

The Girls by Lori Lansens

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Herb n' Lorna by Eric Kraft

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway

The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House by Meghan Daum

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell

Confections of a Closet Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Thank You for All Things by Sandra Kring

Strings Attached by Nick Nolan

The Case of Jennie Brice by Mary Roberts Rinehart

One Day by David Nicholls

The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel by Brady Udall

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

No Angel by Penny Vincenzi

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer

Dear Money by Martha McPhee

Death by Pad Thai: And Other Unforgettable Meals Ed. by Douglas Bauer

Something Blue by Emily Giffin

Miss Mapp by E.F. Benson

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I'm With Fatty by Edward Ugel

Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by Kim Severson

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim

Traveler by Ron McLarty

The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Room by Emma Donoghue

At Home with the Templetons by Monica McInerney

Mommy Tracked by Whitney Gaskell

Lucia in London by E.F. Benson

Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson

The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames

Scarlet Feather* by Maeve Binchy

Anne of Green Gables* by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Avonlea* by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of the Island* by L.M. Montgomery

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter

Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy

*indicates a book I reread in 2010!

Come to Blogville and Read Awhile

I've been wanting to expand my blogroll for a long time now, and I've finally made the time. Here are the blogs I like to read (in no particular order). One of these days I plan to add descriptions of each blog and blogger so please check back! An * indicates that I have met this blogger in person (and, in some cases, known her for years).


*Again, mucho gratitudo to CaraBee of Land of Bean for making the awesome Blogville highway sign.
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