23 February 2011

Baking for dummies.

Today's post is brought to you by the letter E. For Eminem, of course. I cannot stop listening to this: Eminem + Village People = Sheer Genius. Thanks to Matt for sending this along!

So the big news is that I made cookies yesterday that were neither burnt nor hard. I don't usually mind my hard cookies - I love a good crunch. But it would be nice to know I could properly cook cookies should the need arise. I went for simple and just followed the recipe on the back of the Toll House chocolate chips bag. Ok, I didn't totally follow it. I couldn't bring myself to use all that butter and I subbed half of it out for applesauce.

Someone, please tell me: Are cookies supposed to still be smooshy when you take them out? It drives me crazy that cookie recipes give a cooking time range (which is it? 9 or 11 minutes?!) then don't say what to look for other than "golden brown." My cookies were golden brown but also smooshy, so I took them out. Maybe I'm an idiot, but no one ever taught me to cook. Anyway, they were super thin (perhaps due to the butter/applesauce sub) but hardened up a bit and in the end were super chewy and crumbly and delicious.

I finally went to the grocery store yesterday (procrastinated Sunday due to rain, Monday due to snow) so today I had the fixins to make tzatziki, which I've been craving for ages. I think I've mentioned a few times that the two things I really miss are gyros and reubens, but when it comes down to it, it's the accoutrement that I miss, not the meat. So I woke up this morning and put together this tzatziki, using fat free Greek yogurt. I didn't think I needed an entire 16 oz so I only used 8 oz of yogurt, but I used the full amounts of everything else (except garlic, duh!). I planned to make veggie gyros for lunch, but Brad wasn't able to come home so I pushed it to dinner.

After some debate, Brad and I decided I should cook the peppers and warm up the pitas for half hot, half cold gyros. I sauteed green peppers for Brad, red for me, and threw in a few handfuls of black olives at the end. Into the pitas went feta, cucumbers, and romaine. The hot peppers and olives. Slather oodles of tzatziki, grab a heaping spoonful of rice with lemon and butter, and you've got a super yummy and filling fakie Greek dinner.

I could not, however, convince Brad to do Ouzo shots with me. Wuss.

Unrelatedly, I keep forgetting to show you the most hilarious thing I antiqued while Lisa was here a few weeks ago.

Oh will you??

Luckily it was only $4 because that was going home w/ me no matter what the cost. And... it totally works!

Thanks for holding my tea bag.

22 February 2011

Today's secret ingredient is...

I think it goes without saying that I have the most amazing people in my life. I feel like I got a great big bloggy hug (as well as a very nice talking to from the mister), and I'm mind-hugging you all in return. I never doubted your support for a minute; just doubted myself a little. Still unsure about that whole me thing (who isn't, right?), but for now, I'm trying to settle into the fact that I can be an ok cook, a moderately (un?)motivated housewife, and that's fine. Perhaps for now I should focus on my unwavering ability to stay up late like a champ and sleep in like nobody's business. :)

And Liz, that I've turned you on to the amazing world of tuna noddle casserole? That is the best compliment a girl could get. Love it, and love that you are loving it. The world of tuna noodle... the options are just endless. I could eat tuna noodle every day. And I do sometimes. Last time I made it I ate it three days in a row.

Anyway, back to that secret ingredient business... On Saturday, a fellow book club co-hort and I were lucky enough to be guest judges for the library's first Teen Iron Chef competition, and I have to say, this is one of the coolest things I've done in a long time. It was just like the show - same rules, same judging categories. And the secret ingredient was SUGAR COOKIES.

My fellow judge, I think Rowan made a few little teen hearts melt that day...

The girls hard at work.

While the contestants didn't bake the cookies, they created some pretty interesting entries with a multitude of ingredients... marshmallows, bananas, chocolate syrup, baby food, licorice, lemons, chocolate syrup, nuts, frosting, did I mention chocolate syrup? Maybe I happened to mention that I loved cherries and maybe one of the girls immediately went and grabbed the can of cherries and maybe I gave her an extra point because I'm a sucker for kissing up.

I've been second guessing my scores since Saturday. The girls were so sweet and tried so hard (and who doesn't love high school kids that care about food and watch cooking shows and have the balls to squirt lemon and lime on top of a licorice-covered cookie) and I took my duty very seriously. The cookie above was my favorite cookie of them all - chocolate frosting, peanut butter, pretzels, and small chunks of chocolate mint. It was delicious. But her other cookie, I kind of hated. And they looked a little messy (presentation presentation!). I wish I had that cookie in front of me right now. I hated that she came in second to last. Hated that anyone had to lose, actually. But I'm also all about winning, so I'm glad for the girls that did get to win.

Hats off for total concentration.

Did I mention chocolate syrup?

The coolest kids in St. Joe.

Props to the two awesomest librarians I know for spearheading something so fun and great for the local kiddos.

Handing out the prizes. Cookies, AND prizes!

Postscript to this little sugar cookie event.... It made me SO SICK. And I hardly even ate many cookies, just nibbles. But between the chocolate syrup, the marshmallows (which I shouldn't even be admitting to eating - pig hooves and all), the frosting, let's just say I felt a little like this:

Then a little like this:

I was definitely down for the count for the night. (Which was ok... got a ton of knitting done!) And it was totally worth it.

PS. This is what the beach looked like two weeks ago:

PSS. This is what the beach looked like last week:

And..... Now it's snowing again.

I love witnessing all these crazy changes. I hope it continues to amaze and inspire me year after year.

18 February 2011

Pickle pontifications.

So I've been pontificating for a while now. About stuff. This space. This past week, I'd actually been planning to call it quits, but after some encouragement (thanks Matt and Birgit), I'm rethinking things. Here's where my head's been...

I started writing this three and half years ago to document my cooking - what I was learning, what I was creating, what I was experimenting with. My discoveries with organic food and farmer's markets and local ingredients. I really wanted to share my excitement and hopefully excite some folks about what I was learning/doing. As time went by, it evolved to my desire to be world's best sort-of homemaker. Cleaning, decorating, taking care of my little family.

But here's the thing(s):

I love food. I like to eat. I like to read about food. I like to have dinner parties. I like to watch cooking shows. I like to go to restaurants. I adore kitchen items and I collect antique bakeware. But do I LOVE to cook? No, I don't think I really do. I like to experiment and giggle when something sciency happens in the kitchen. I go through spurts where I want to bake every day. But do I cook every day? Not even close. Do I want to cook every day? Absolutely not. I like simple recipes, I take shortcuts, and I make a LOT of pasta dishes (where I am most creative, I think).

I'm a neat freak at heart. I hate germs, I hate messes, and the dog hair tumbleweeds floating around my house are bound to give me an aneurysm one of these days. I don't think I'm alone in my hatred of cleaning, but I really hate it. Hate hate hate it. I'm home all day, every day, and you'd think it would just work itself into my regular schedule. There are things I have to do every day, like vacuum, but bathrooms? Laundry (or rather, putting away clean laundry)? These tasks pile up and up and up until I can't take it anymore and go on a cleaning rampage. I am, however, proud of our new house. Proud of all the work we've done on it. And proud of myself for making a lot of the decorating choices I really love. But there's always more to be done, and I find myself constantly dreading it rather than eager to get to work.

So I've been feeling like a fraud for a while. Who am I to act like some sort of domestic expert? Does anyone even care? And it's been stressing me out. To the point, and this is weird, that I think it's actually been stunting my desire to do much of anything. Why cook if I can't be the best? What will people say if they know how terrible something turned out? And, honestly, why write if I don't have 100s of followers and oodles of comments every day (call it blog envy, I suppose)? I know, dumb, right? So that's why I thought I would stop doing this.

But I really like to write. Maybe that means I really just like to listen to myself talk, maybe not (I hope not!). And I really hate to quit something that I've worked pretty hard on for nearly four years. So I think I will just make this my space. My anything space. About food, about my pups, my family, my house, my life as I continue to adjust to my new surroundings.

If you read this, you may have thought that's what this was all along. And in actuality, you're mostly right. But in my head, it was trying to be something else. You might not notice anything different, but I think my brain will be a little freer. Unconstrained to any self-defined boundaries. Just me being me. And if you're still reading this, after all these years, I suppose that's why you've stuck around. You must like me at least a little bit, right? :)

11 February 2011

Afternoon delight.

Today is my dear hubby's birthday. The big three three. How crazy to think that I was there when he celebrated the big two two, too. Time sure does fly, especially when you have someone so awesome to spend it with. * swoon *

As I've mentioned, one of my favorite things about living here is that Brad works two minutes away. Meaning he comes home for lunch most every day. Including today. Birthday lunch (EVOL burrito with fancy chips and guacamole, yum!)! I didn't let him dip into his DQ ice cream cake yet, but I did let him open his presents (ok, pressured him... I love presents!).

There's lots more birthday fun in store, but for now, back to work for Brad. In the meantime, I got started on some birthday cupcakes for Lisa, who will be arriving later this evening to celebrate her birthday, which is tomorrow. The ice cream cake is chocolate, so I went with lemon (although I will be topping them with chocolate frosting when they cool enough). Plus, I always love an excuse to use my juicer.

A full report on those soon, but I did sneak half of one and I'm not super impressed... I've yet to have great success with cake/cupcakes from scratch -- I need to just get over it and go back to box mixes! In the meantime, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my hubby, and HAPPY PRE-BDAY to my Lisa!

10 February 2011

So cheesy.

Tonight when I was reheating last night's tuna nuna, I reached for my cheese grater, and it was dirty. Again. Nothing earth shattering, but I took a moment to note that my cheese graters are probably the number one most used item in my kitchen.

Both get equal play, with mini grater perhaps taking a small lead for it's usefulness when grating Parmesan. On my wish list is a fancy grater with box/measuring insert, as I so often grate cheddar for mac and cheese.

I believe KitchenAid makes one... Hint hint, hubby. You out there... Tell me, what's your most valuable kitchen item??

09 February 2011

Right on target.

A few fun Target alerts for the bargain-minded. I've had "silicon whisk" on my mental to-get list for ages now (I remember this every time I use my beautiful Calphalon pots), and today I finally wrote it down on my actual shopping list. I searched up and down the kitchen aisles to no avail. No silicon whisk. I wandered across the way to the other house aisles, and there on a Valentine's day end cap was the most perfect silicon whisk.

How cute is that? I need to make scrambled eggs, stat. And it was only like $4.

That reminds me...

Still LOVING my yellow kitchen that feels oodles bigger.

Back to Target, I found these great window panels...

 Far away...

Up close.

I'm really enjoying all the new products Target is launching with these great simple prints (e.g, the candles I got a few weeks ago). They have rugs, pillows, shower curtains. Today was the first time I saw these panels, though, and I grabbed FIVE immediately. Three for one of the guest rooms, two for our upstairs sitting room. Love them. Love love.

To celebrate my great finds, I whipped up a classy tuna nuna. In my new Pyrex, so extra classy. Orecchiette noodles, olive oil, pepper, artichokes, capers, two cans of tuna; sprinkled with sharp cheddar and Parmesan and into the oven to get all melty and oozy. I could eat an entire casserole of this. I didn't. But close.

In other news, this week we had a beady-eyed, long-tailed visitor. That dang sneaky possum I saw peeking out from underneath our shed earlier this winter. I'd hoped he was long gone, but one night this week he far overstayed his visit in the backyard. For a while, the dogs couldn't flush him from his cozy little throne in the snow. Eventually, though, he retreated up a tree and we let the dogs out to check him out.

Much more looking forward to our visitors for this weekend... Lisa and Digby! Hooray!

And finally... I got a new car! Hoooray! I have finally entered the 21st century -- power locks, power windows, Sync system... It feels like Christmas.

Who wants to come take a ride?

06 February 2011

Around the way girl.

I know I haven't lived here very long, but after a certain point, I accepted that I wasn't going to meet anyone in St. Joe. I just didn't see any way for me to even encounter new people. Brad wasn't bringing anyone home for me to befriend (the nerve!) and it's not like the downtown scene is a hot bed of activity. Then one day in November, I stumbled upon something very intriguing... A posting on our library's website about a book club. A book club for people in their 20s and 30s. And they had a meeting the following week. So I went, and, not to be dramatic, Not Your Mother's Book Club changed my life in St. Joe.

I haven't enjoyed any of the book selections yet, and I've actually only finished one of them. But every other Monday, I know I've got something to do, at some place (at least relatively) fun, with a handful of pretty awesome people. And, as luck would have it, four of us live within steps of each other. I can't get over how cool that is.

This week while Brad was away, I spent a ton of time with these ladies, making my solo week at home not so empty. Friday I hosted them here for my first official dinner party (or any party) in the new house. On tap, Rachael Ray's pimento mac and cheese, which is always a crowd pleaser. And drinks. Too many drinks... Anyway, world, meet the ladies of downtown St. Joe!

On the left, we have Emily, aka 29er chick, aka Awesome Badass, aka our wine pusherman. In the middle we have Hillary, who lives across the street and is totally stalking me (jk Hillary hehe), and on the right, newest of the new, Ceile (kay-lee) from Chicago. These ladies make me laugh and make me feel at home in a town that is still so new to me.

So how do I repay them? I make them drink absinthe.

Bottom's up, ladies. Cheers to new friends!

03 February 2011

Mellow yellow.

I am hopefully picking up my new car tomorrow. This meant that today, I had to spring my car from the snow-buried garage. If the snow itself wasn't bad enough, the plow that clears our alley piled a lovely ice boulder barrier at the base of my garage. Thanks, plow man. I gave him a good scowl when he did it yesterday.

Well, snow, you cannot best me! I am the queen of the alley!

Let me just take a moment here to say that this coat and these boots are thus far the best investments I have ever made. And yes, my pj pants are tres sexy.

After wrenching my old-lady hip, I decided to take the dogs for walks (two dogs, two walks) so they would be sleepy and leave me alone for my next project for the day. I forgot my camera for Heidi's walk, but I remembered it for George's. I am permanently a) thrilled that the city has a mini plow for our sidewalks and b) giggly over walking through the snow tunnels.

Snow tunnels make Georgie giggle, too.

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit how pooped I was at this point. But it was only 1 pm, and I was on a mission! I WOULD have a yellow kitchen by the end of the week. 

Sunwashed. Not sunwash. That's a totally different color, duh.

I stupidly thought this would be a quick project. I got primer in the paint, but I forgot that sometimes you still need two coats, even with primer. There are also a lot of nooks. And crannies. And obstacles (I'm looking at you, fridge!). Five hours later, I had a yellow kitchen. And then I kept going. Now I have a yellow mudroom, too. 

Heidi and I got a little paint on us, too.

"I'm sorry I sat on the wall. Really!"

Did I mention that I'm totally pooped? Time for poochie snuggles. After pictures to come soon...

02 February 2011

Digging out.

Greetings from Blizzard Twenty Eleven. Snowpocalypse. Snotorious B.I.G. (I seriously can't get enough of this joke.)

It was predicted to get 18 inches here. According to the South Bend news (or Chicago? We can't get any local news here), Benton Harbor got 12.5 inches, which I assume means we did as well. So not really that much, but we already had several inches, and the wind was blowing like crazy, so I've got drifts in the backyard that are pushing 3 ft tall. Seems like reason enough to me to officially take a snow day.

Did I mention that Brad is in Florida?

Come home and play in the snow with us!