Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday Thankfulness

Today, as I sat writing in my journal, I began to make yet another list. Hey, it happens. This time, it was not a to-do list, or a shopping list or even a things-I-may-forget-to-worry-about-so-I-need-to-remember-to-worry list. It was a "things that make me really happy" list. I laughed at myself when I read it over. Right under all the essentials: Nuclear family, Friends that keep me grounded but love me for me, and good health was-- coffee.

I have always loved coffee. In fact, my mother hated coffee 'til she became pregnant with me, and then she couldn't get enough. So, you could say I was caffeinated in-utero (no wonder I worry so much).

I even married a guy named Joe, just so there's no embarrassing moments when I climax while drinking a pumpkin spice grande latte. (It helps that he's my favorite person on the planet, too.)

I've even read about the history of coffee, though it's somewhat hazy: everyone wants to take credit for a beverage this amazing. But, no matter where it came from, it was perfected in Italy. It was in Italy that I bought my first espresso maker (a little stove-top job) and LOTS of espresso (my only souvenirs).

Even though coffee and I go way back, barista's  and I do not. I still remember a snot-nosed Starbucks employee giving me the once-over when I asked for a double espresso. "Um, like, you know eXpresso is really strong, right?" "Yes. Why?" "'Cause you just don't look like you know coffee." When will the world learn you don't have to be a hipster to drink cappuccino's? And, when will we all join hands across America and get the point across:
But enough of bad memories, because I have plenty MORE good memories about coffee: pumpkin spice lattes in the fall, gingerbread lattes in the winter, iced lattes in the summer (noticing a trend?). My go-to everyday coffee, though, is a dark roast- half decaf and half caf (I know, I'm a traitor, but this way I can drink more cups without feeling like I'm floating) with a dollop of soy milk. Basically, the world does not begin until this elixir of life burns my throat awake. Coffee is serious business, and I'm very very thankful for it.

What's your ultimate fav coffee?
What's your everyday go-to coffee?

Grilled Sweet Potato Salad with Feta

My new favorite site for food inspiration is Pinterest.com (along with helping me waste copious amounts of time). When I saw the post from Kalyn's Kitchen for Sweet Potato Salad, I had to try it. I did modify it a bit-- I used my indoor grill (though it would probably be even better outdoors, like Kalyn suggests) and I made the dressing myself. At any rate, this little "side" dish stole the show.


Grilled Sweet Potato Salad with Feta

Ingredients
2 Large-ish sweet potatoes
Olive oil
Grill
1/2 cup crumbled feta
Bottled salad dressing (oil and vinegar type) or, make your own!

Here's what I put in mine:
1/4 cup olive oil
2TB white wine vinegar
fresh basil
oregano
salt and pepper
TB stone ground mustard (I love mustard with sweet potatoes)
1/2 lemon

Method
Wash sweet potatoes and wrap in damp paper towels. Microwave until tender. (5 mins?)
Cut the potatoes into cubes. If using an outdoor grill, it may be best to slice into 1/2" thick "medallions" so they won't slide through the grill and then cube them after grilling.
Brush olive oil on both sides of potatoes and grill 'til they look pretty. :)
Toss in a bowl with remaining ingredients, including dressing.
Enjoy!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

C'mon Get Happy WIAW


It's that time of week again...joining in at the party over at Peas and Crayons. I'm trying to remain positive, though this week is proving to be tougher than I was ready for. I just try to remember there are bigger things in the world to be worried about than my menial burdens.
Plus, I have MANY things to be thankful for! Including (but not limited to) FOOD! Let's take a look at all the amazing food I get to be thankful for--

Eggs, Salsa and Cheese. Transcendent!

Yogurt covered raisins and soy nuts-- which I so cleverly made into snack packs. (And then apparently sat on a raisin long enough to smear it all over my a$$ on the way to get the kids. Love. It.)

Pumpkin spice greek yogurt

7 layer dip. Noms. :)
Mahi, broccoli slaw and grilled sweet potato salad-- amazing!

What do you have to be thankful for?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

credit
And now for Round #3 of Talk Nerdy to Me Tuesday!
Back when I lived in civilization, my husband would take the kids so I could walk over to my friend's house, drink some Kim Crawford (okay, a lot of Kim), eat dessert for dinner (Sweet 16 donuts and cherry pie or whatever struck our fancy) and watch DVR'ed episodes of Chelsea Lately. Since I'm stuck in the sticks for another 8 months, my friend let me borrow this book-- a complete departure from last week's reading. I've read most of Chelsea's books and as always, Chelsea is irreverently hilarious (and sometimes grotesquely honest). I'm a fan of Chelsea. I don't know if it's because she'll say the things point blank that we all wish we had the b@wls to say, or her willingness to bare the most embarrassing points of adolescence, or her admission that vodka comprises over 75% of her body weight-- or perhaps it's all of these things combined that endear her to me. At any rate-- I enjoyed it and would recommend it for anyone who wants a quick, fun read and does not quail at topics like euthanasia of the elderly or masturbation

Who's your favorite female comic?.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Buried Treasure!

There could be anything in there!
Everyone loves getting mail. Well, at least the good kind of mail. You know, like secret packages or cards from friends? The other day, I completely cashed in. A huge box landed on my doorstep (as the UPS man made his hasty retreat from our vicious puppy). I assumed it was yet another part for my husband's Shelby, but the box was addressed to me! Residual birthday present? I opened the box and found recycled seltzer staring at me. I felt like the father in A Christmas Story.
Thankfully, it was something much more useful than a leg lamp. :) Clorox sent me samples of their latest environmentally friendly products!

  • Wipes for the bathroom (easy clean up from messy fingers touching light switches and other kid-related bathroom stuff).
  • Cleanup spray for the kitchen (it made cleaning up after frying some hamburgers REALLY easy and didn't irritate my throat like some cleaners)
  • Clothes detergent for the washroom (even good for sensitive skin-- bonus!) 

Thanks, Greenworks! You made my day!
And, not only did I get a package from Clorox, I did get a residual birthday present from my friend, Elise, with a really funny card (I lol'd . . .alone . . . in my car) and some very "me" necklaces she must have procured from Etsy or some other fun place.
But wait! There's more! Whilst cleaning out a kitchen cabinet, I found a old recipe box my mom painted  and filled with my grandma's recipes!
This is the grandma I've mentioned before-- the kicka$$ baker. Truly, her pastries and confections were to die for. Of course, all these recipes were written by hand (I had to explain to my daughter last night that when I was younger, we did not have the magic of the internet) . . . 
...and so even though I'm SO making my grandma's inexplicably fantastic red velvet cake for Christmas (and going to blog about it, of course) I'll probably keep the cards for good memories. :)



New Stuff + Old Stuff = Happiness Euphoria

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bookish Broad


I have decided, that once a week, I shall be thankful-- in print. There are many times throughout the day I pause to be grateful, but putting it down in words sometimes makes me mull over the idea more thoroughly. And, I figure if I can come up with 52 books to read, I can certainly come up with 52 things to be thankful for. Aha! My first post! Today, I am thankful for . . .

1. Books and the ability to read

. . . since I think Derek Zoolander has proven that there's more to life than being really really ridiculously good looking [pout].

And, for all of you bibliophiles out there with Kindles-- here's a link where you can  borrow books for 14 days for FREEBIES! (It's kind of like the library-- but you don't have to be quiet and you can't smell all the old books.) Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Birthday Belly-ache Edition of WIAW



Joining in the fun over at Peas and Crayons again, though a little late this time. Well, there's no time like the present, I say-- especially if they're birthday presents! So, here's my noms for my birthday weekend. My body was sure to let me know all that food in a 72 hour period was a bad decision, but hey, live and learn, right? 

Guiness Stout Brownies, a new recipe I found and had to try.

Elise's baked spaghetti. This recipe is simple and I've never met anyone who doesn't think it's to die for.

It's not my birthday without store-bought cupcakes with buttercreme frosting. Birthday = Buttercreme.

Just so happens the boxed BluRay set of Star Wars came out on my birthday weekend-- so Scott and my daughter watched it (and she commandeered his light saber app 'til his phone died).

Courtesy of Mom and Scott: Caesar salad, grilled eggplant and filet mignon. Um, noms!

MUCH coffee and pumpkin muffins

Okay, I confess, I ate an entire Ritter Sport in a sitting. Well, I was cooking at the time, but still...
NOTE: this is not my tattoo! (Yet.)
My father-in-law graciously took us all out to Cracker Barrel for lunch as well, where I got the carbohydrate vegetable platter or greens, dumplins, mac n cheese and fried apples. 

Shhhh! Can you hear that? It's my arteries clogging! I promise my WIAW will be much healthier next week. :)



Elise's Baked Spaghetti

Per usual, I was picking my friend's brain as to what to make for a special occasion. We batted ideas around until she said, "Do you want my baked spaghetti recipe?" Not only "Yeah," but, "Hell yeah!" was what I believe I shouted (through IM, of course). It was the perfect recipe. I had guests coming for the weekend, it's easy and simple and I've never encountered anyone who doesn't love this dish. Perfect.

Elise's Baked Southwest Spaghetti

Ingredients
2 lbs of ground meat
1 onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped

2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of milk
1 can of diced tomatoes (for more spice you can use the diced tomatoes with peppers in it)
1- 16 oz. pkg. of Velveeta cheese (I use Mexican mild)- the original recipe called for half regular and half Mexican mild but I just use the whole thing of Mexican mild.

1 large package of cooked spaghetti

Cooking Instructions
Brown ground meat with onion and green pepper.

Heat cream of mushroom soup, milk, diced tomatoes and Velveeta cheese in saucepan, until cheese is melted.

Cook spaghetti noodles until done. Combine ground meat mixture, cheese mixture and noodles in a 13 x 9 pan (I use an aluminum one for easy cleanup) and cook in oven for 20 to 30 minutes at 350. 

Guinness Stout Brownies

Though my Irish ancestors are tumbling in their graves as I type this-- I'm not the biggest fan of Guinness. At least, not as a beverage of choice. But, add it to other flavors and it just seems to round them out perfectly. Pot roast, for example, is super-de-dooper easy and flavorful with a Guinness and onions in the crockpot. So, when I saw these Guinness Stout Brownies I thought they were just the thing to try for my birthday. (Can you tell we draw the birthday thing out in our house-- well, perhaps just me.) Anyway...they were a big hit. Very rich and much like a flourless chocolate cake, which I was hoping for!

Guinness Stout Brownies

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup white chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 bottles Guinness Extra stout beer
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick foil, or regular foil, lightly greased.
 Pour both bottles of beer into a medium saucepan, and simmer on medium heat until it's reduced down to 1 1/4 cups. If you keep a glass measuring cup nearby, you can check the progress when you think you're close. It should take about 15 minutes. Leave the beer on the side to cool.
 In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt until evenly combined.
 Melt butter, bittersweet chocolate and white chips in a double-boiler over very low heat, stirring constantly until melted. Remove from heat. (You can also do this in the microwave, heating it on high and stirring every 30 seconds).
 In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add melted chocolate mixture, beating until combined.
 Beat reserved flour mixture into melted chocolate mixture. Whisk in the reduced beer mixture and the vanilla. The batter will seem a bit thin, but it will be perfect. Pour into the prepared baking pan and drop semisweet chocolate chips evenly on top of batter.
 Bake 25 - 30 minutes on center rack in the oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. 

 Let brownies cool, uncovered, to room temperature. Dust with confectioners' sugar if you feel the need.

Enjoy!

Our own brand of happy



After dinner one night this week, my husband planted face down in the bed with a sigh (he'd had a REALLY long day at school). Craving a conversation (or perhaps just breathing the same air) with another adult, I curled up under his arm. Within seconds, the dog (a boxer) was "spooning" with us. Then my son came and stood next to the bed, smiling, humming and flapping his arms. My husband took his free arm and scooped him up to join us. My daughter walked in, "What about me?!" We quickly rearranged (a feat in a queen-sized bed) and snuggled up with her as well. "I think we need a bigger bed," I said. "Yeah, I'm kind of feeling like Angela's Ashes, here," my husband piped in. "Sigh...well, while we're all here, I have an announcement.....I love you all," I said. 

Just like marriage, one doesn't have a whole lot to go on about parenting except the example of their parents  (which, in a predominantly split-household generation may not be the best) and magazines. I remember being so pissed that parenting wasn't like Parenting magazine. It's not all lovingly wiping snotty noses and little baby caresses and butterflies and rainbows. I would say, "especially in a special-needs household" but I really have nothing to compare it to. I do know that every family has their challenges, though, and autism (amongst other "normal" things) is our family challenge. When my friend suggested I read an article from (you guessed it) Parenting magazine regarding Autism, the part that resonated with me was the accounts from other mothers who had been there, done that.  "Autism is not the end of the world; just the end of one kind of world," Susan Senator. I teared up. My friend had suggested this article saying, "I know you probably know all that stuff but it may help you feel not so alone." Funny, Autism means, "alone." But, as I laid bed with my little nuclear family, I realized Michael and the rest of us are not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Everyone in that little bed felt secure and happy. A huge smile crept across my face. We had done it. For better or for worse, we created our own family brand of happy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Divine and Human

Tolstoy and Chai Tea.
Like I said, I love Russian Lit. I especially love Tolstoy (perhaps because he hated Shakespeare? Muhaha!), so when my good friend, Licia, graced me with Divine and Human about 8 years ago (I can't believe it's been that long), I was very pleased. We both had a laugh that it was Tolstoy and yet so short. So, I figured it was a good source of Russian Lit to cut my teeth on. This is Tolstoy's collection of short stories and essays mostly having to do with philosophy.

Tolstoy, like most great writers, wrote during a tumultuous period in his country's history. Russia's history is much like it's literature-- long and drawn out, with beautiful nuances and harsh realities. The long and short that I gather is that a lot of what looked great on paper didn't play out too well in practice and people like Tolstoy were left wondering about their faith as well as a bushel of other pivotal questions. Many of his ideas put words to my own, surprisingly. I wonder what people think when they see me read. My eyes get huge when I run across a great point (as I search for a pen to underline the good stuff), or I snort in the funny parts. I also cry at really touching parts. (I wept like crazy through Frankenstein.) Yep, I'm THAT person. So, needless to say, I was nodding my head when I read about the man sentenced to die, and after writing a heart-felt letter to his family says,

"I need to live like I was when I wrote this letter. Because we were all sentenced to death, a long time ago, all of us, eternally-- and yet we all live. And we live with joy only when...we love. Yes, when we love. When I wrote this letter, I was in love, and I felt good. And that's how we need to live. And it's possible to live like this, everywhere and always, in prison or free, now and tomorrow, and till the very end."


At my dad's funeral, a seed of this thought was planted: what if life is truly about being a loving individual? It's definitely not about money or status or all that stuff. "You're not what's in your wallet...you're not your khaki's..." as Tyler Durden would say. I think I agree with Tolstoy...I think it's all about love.


I'll share the love if anyone's interested, since pivotal books are meant to be shared. If you'd like it, I'll send it to you. Just let me know in the comments section and I'll draw a name Sunday. :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Talk Like Pirate Day!

You may be unaware of this fact, but tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. (I couldn't let you stay in the dark, for to err is human and to ARR! is pirate.) And, it also happens to be my 31st birthday. I have often waxed poetic as to why it is so fitting for me to be born on the fortuitous day, but what the hell? Why not put it down in print, while I'm sober! Without further ado... 

31 Reasons I was born the be a pirate

  1. I am the reason why the rum is always gone.
  2. As such, I make some pretty kick a$$ rum cake.
  3. I love the sea. Beach or mountains? Beach. Hands down.
  4. Bustier's make everyone's life better.
  5. When the rum is gone, there's always beer.
  6. I love to travel.
  7. I'm cool with sleeping in a hammock.
  8. Buried treasure-- helllooooo!
  9. You get to call people "wench" and "dog" and no one thinks a thing of it.
  10. Rum Runners - best drink in existence. 
  11. My first job ever was at Walt Disney World, where, amongst other rides, I worked at the Pirates of the Caribbean. How can you NOT look hot in orange bell bottoms, a red velvet vest (with Spanish coin buttons, no less) and a poofy shirt? It's impossible.
  12. Probably the only job I could get as many tattoos as I feel like and still be respected...besides Hot Topic.
  13. Parrots find me irresistible (there's never a lull in conversation).
  14. Flip flops.
  15. Any office with a "poop deck" is alright by me.
  16. The Perfect Storm didn't scare me.
  17. Feathery hats, shiny adornments and other pirate bling.
  18. No shoes, no shirt-- no problem!
  19. Pina Colada's.
  20. If you lose a limb or other pivotal body part, simply replace with driftwood or cover over in a decorative manner. (Street cred'.)
  21. I can listen to a continuous loop of Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffet and the Beach Boys for-e-ver.
  22. Johnny Depp has proven that acting like Keith Richards and using tons of eyeliner are the specific job requirements of any well-known privateer--which I'm all for.
  23. One may "pillage booty" and it's totally not a *surprise! butt sex! thing.
  24. They use old skool words, like, "parley" and shiz.
  25. Weaponry. 'Nuff said.
  26. Pirating has a long and glorious tradition dating back to...well, whenever people figured out wood floated. Probably the most secure line of work besides prostitution.
  27. There is no middle management snobbery, "Umm yeeeeaaahhhh I'm gonna need you to go ahead and swab the poop deck on Saturday...that'd be greeeeeat."
  28. Brazen is better than sneaky any day (for all you ninja enthusiasts out there).
  29. Without Irish Pirates (wrap your head around that one!) there'd be no St. Patrick's Day!
  30. Daiquiri's.
  31. Only drawbacks? Not so cool with the whole raping and pillaging thing-- and scurvy's bad news.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

WIAW

Have you checked out the food awesomeness at Peas and Crayons yet? If you're into Forn (food porn? Get it?) like I am, you can catch lots of interesting dishes and garner some killer ideas-- plus meet some fantastic foodies.

Since my new year's goal is to be happy and shirk that whole diet thing, this is the start of What Kati Ate Wednesday Cause It's What Pleased Her. I had a fantastic pre-birthday shopping trip (complete with crave-worthy lunch with my husband) buying clothes that fit and were flattering without being dowdy (why wait 'til I'm a certain weight to look fabulous?). Then, I promptly went home, exercised with my daughter and stuffed all those "skinny clothes" I'd been fretting about into the shopping bags from earlier and revived my old jewelry. I hope everyone is having an outstanding week!


Egg and Spinach Morning Melt. :) (Over beer bread, of course.)

Vegetable sub from Jimmy Johns-- ooooh the awesomeness. Not, apparently, the cleanliness, though. As I munched, lettuce and sprouts cascaded all over my skirt. "How do they make this taste so awesome?!?" I said. But, since my mouth was full, it came out sort of like, "Hosduirfuehferfhosudhsome?" to which my husband responded, "Sugar. They use a ton of sugar in their bread recipe." Oh. Killjoy. ;)





Potato and cheese perogies (Introduced to me by Elise. From the bottom of my heart-- thank you!) Roasted balsamic green beans from Kalyn's Kitchen and mushrooms and roasted brussel sprouts with apples and bacon from Little Pink Monster. The green beans were the show-stealer. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

As promised...


As promised, let the geekery begin with my first ever Talk Nerdy to Me Tuesday post! I am attempting to read 52 books in a year (before my next birthday). What prompted such an idea? This book:
I just happened to be in Borders looking for my good friend, Meagan's, birthday gift and I stumbled upon this. Admittedly it was Tolstoy's name that caught my eye. I love Russian Lit, though I have never finished a Russian text (be for real-- they're LOOONG). So, when I picked this up and it said something about, "The perfect gift from one bookworm to another," I thought-- "Sweet!" I was intrigued, though. "I'll just see how it starts before I mail it off." Well, you know the rest of the story. I finished it instead. The book is a mini memoir  of Sankovitch's life after the untimely death of her sister. (She read a book a day for a year!) I cried and laughed-- that kind of thing. As I read:

"Literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living." ~Cyril Connolly

...I thought of a discussion I had recently with another good friend about going through the grieving process when one has a special needs child: how it's not like you have a sick child who will get better over the weekend, but a child that you'll be dealing with his difficulties for the rest of his life. When I was younger, I escaped out of life through literature, which wasn't exactly healthy. Now, I plan to find similarities with others, change and grow in the year to come.


What books were your favorite as a kid?
Do you think you could read a book a day for a year? (I read WAY too slow!)

Kopy Kat Southwestern Eggrolls


Southwestern Eggrolls are probably my favorite thing at Chili's (besides Blue Moon two-for-one) so, when I saw a healthier version over at Annie's Eats, I thought I'd try 'em. I tried to make avocado ranch to dip them in like Chili's, but somehow, it wasn't quite right. Have a good copy cat recipe for that? Lemme know!



Baked Southwestern Egg Rolls
Ingredients:
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
1 (4 oz.) can diced green chiles, drained
4 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package egg roll wrappers (about 24 total)
Directions:
In a large bowl, combine everything but the egg roll wrappers.  Mix well to blend.  Lay an egg roll wrapper out on a work surface so that one of the corners is pointing toward you and place ¼ cup of the filling in the center.  Fold the tip closest to you up over the filling, roll a bit, then take the points pointing outward and fold them in toward the center.  Continue rolling into an egg roll shape until a small part of the remaining point is still free.  Dip a finger in water or beaten egg and lightly brush on the edges of the free corner.  Finish rolling and press to seal closed.  Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
Preheat the oven to 425˚ F.  Lightly oil a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Place the sealed egg rolls on the baking sheet seam side down and spray the tops of the egg rolls with cooking spray.  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly brown, turning halfway through baking.