Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yummy Steak Soup

2 ribs celery, peeled, chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped
6 baby carrots (or 1 regular), chopped
small handful cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 T canola or olive oil
1 T butter
pinch salt
---Heat oil over medium heat in medium dutch oven or large saucepan until hot, but not smoking.  Add the butter and melt (don't let it brown).  Add celery, shallots  and carrots, and saute about 5 minutes, stirring.  Add tomatoes, garlic and salt, continuing to stir and cook for 5 minutes until tomatoes are soft.  Remove from pan into bowl to cool.

1 T butter
1 leftover filet wrapped in bacon, blackened (about 8 oz.; any type of steak can be substituted), chopped into fairly small pieces (1/2 in.)
---In the same pan,  melt butter and add steak, stirring over med-high heat to brown.  Remove from pan; set aside for now.  Wipe out pan.

1/4 c red wine
1/4 c beef broth (from 32 oz carton)
---Place cooked vegetables in blender, add wine and broth.  Puree until smooth.

2 T canola or olive oil
1/4 c all- purpose flour
remainder of 32 oz carton beef broth
1 T dried oregano (preferably mexican)
1 tsp black pepper
1 T fresh thyme
2 small purple fingerling potato, very small dice (about 1/4-1/2 inches)
2/3 c mini whole wheat shells
squeeze lime juice 
2 tsp. canned diced green chiles
---In wiped pan, heat oil over med-high heat until shimmering.  Add flour and stir with whisk briskly for 5 minutes or so until roux browns.  Add broth, continuing to whisk.  Add oregano, pepper and thyme.  Add pureed vegetables and beef.  Stir well.  Heat to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.  Add potato.  Continue to simmer 10 minutes, then add shells, lime juice and green chiles.  Stir and cook 10-15 minutes.  Adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sunday Supper: Edition 31

We are heading to Knoxville today to see my cousin get married.  We'll also be eating cake.  I think I mentioned that.  So tomorrow will be spent driving home from Knoxville at break-neck speed so Coach can go to the Sunday afternoon Coaches' meeting.

And I will probably eat popcorn and have a Diet Coke.

But Monday?

Monday, we'll be having braised pork and cheese grits and fried okra.  We might have some salted caramel brownies too.  It all depends on my level of industriousness on Sunday afternoon. 

It could go one of two ways.  I could cook and clean with wild abandon or I could watch Sweet Home Alabama while reading my new InStyle.

It's a conundrum.

But, for those of you who are ready for a pretty simple dinner that will blow your family's ears off here you go:

Braised Pork Shoulder
6-8 oz Pancetta, chopped
2-3 Onions, sliced thinly
1 bone in pork shoulder (5-7 pounds)
Kosher salt
Pepper
2 tablespoons Canola oil
5-6 cloves of Garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of Ground fennel seed
1 teaspoon of crushed coriander seed
2 cups Ale
1 cup chicken stock

Okay, so you can cook it one of two ways- you can either cook it in the oven on 300 for 4-5 hours in a dutch oven, or you can cook it on low in your crock pot for at least 8 hours on low.  It's up to you.  Personally, I love the crock pot.

Put the pancetta in a dutch oven over medium-low heat and cook until crispy.  Remove the pancetta and add the onions to the rendered fat.  Caramelize the onions (will take about 25 minutes).  Transfer the onions to a plate as well.

Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper.  Add oil to Dutch oven and sear the meat on all sides.  Add garlic and spices to the pot and cook another minute or so.  Then add ale, chicken stock, pancetta, and onions; bring to a simmer.

Transfer the dutch oven to the oven and cook at 300 for 4 hours or until meat is falling off the bone.  Be sure to baste the meat every hour or so.

If you choose the crock pot method, transfer everything to the crock pot, set that baby on low, and cook it all day long.  Be sure to baste occasionally.

Shred and serve over cheese grits.

Cheese Grits
1 1/2 cups Quaker 5 minute grits
6 1/2 cups boiling water
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 lb. Velveeta cheese
1/2 lb.  Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Garlic Powder (to taste)
Louisiana Hot Sauce (to taste)

Boil the water and add the grits.  Turn the heat down to prevent spattering.  Cook water off the grits.  Then add the eggs, butter and cheese.  Add a few douses of hot sauce and garlic powder to taste.  Sprinkle a bit more garlic powder on top.  Bake at 350 until browned.  (45 minutes-1 hour)

Fried Okra

6 cups oil, for frying
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons House Seasoning, recipe follows
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds fresh okra, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup buttermilk

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven to 350 degrees F. (You may not need to use this much oil; do not fill the pan more than halfway up the sides with oil.)

In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, House Seasoning, and cayenne pepper. Dip okra in buttermilk and then dredge in cornmeal-flour mixture to coat well. Carefully add okra to the hot oil and cook until golden brown. (It may be necessary to fry the okra in batches.) Remove from oil, drain on paper towels, and then serve immediately.

Paula Deen's House Seasoning:

1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
 
Enjoy!  See y'all!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Biggest Loser/Extreme Makeover

My cousin is getting married Saturday.

I love weddings, and not for the sentiment.  I'm not a sappy wedding lover, but I do happen to be quite a cake connoisseur.  It's all about the cake.  Wedding vows are eternal, but a good cake?

 It has a shelf life.

Don't be offended.  We're Protestants.  Unless someone sings"Ave Maria" and "The Lord's Prayer" and someone else reads I Corinthians 13 in its entirety, a Protestant wedding is 15 minutes long.  20 tops.

And then there's cake.  And little sandwiches.

And hope springs eternal.

It also means we have to dress up.  That's apparently going to be a bit of a problem for Coach.  Because this time last year? 

He looked like this:



And now he looks like this:


Except for the doll he's holding like a football.  (It's a long story- the important thing to know is that Coach has never been more stunned to find himself in an American Girl Doll Store.)

Anyway, there's a little less of him now.  Actually about 55 pounds less.  So he mentioned last night that his suit is ginormous on him.  He also mentioned that he conditioned his hair for the first time this century.  (I told him it was looking a little dry on top from all the sun and chlorine).

Our conversation:

Him:  I conditioned my hair.  It feels weird.  Slick.

Me:  Do you mean soft?  Silky?

Him:  I'm a dude.  I mean slick.

Me:  Okay

Him:  You know my suit is going to be huge.

Me:  Don't you have a skinny suit?

Him:  A what? 

Me:  A skinny suit.  A suit from when you were skinnier.

Him:  No.  The last time I was this skinny was...  Well, I've got two words for you:  double breasted.

Me:  Well no. 

NO.

See y'all!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Stop Believin'

Faith: to believe; to put one's weight on; to hope

Faith is the thing that keeps this whole world turning, because everyone believes in something right? God. The Vols. Their mommas. Fried okra. Chocolate. Something.

And some weeks we just have to believe harder than others.

This has been one of those weeks.

Nothing tragic- just a long string of annoyances and idiocy that has driven me to singing "Don't Stop Believing" over and over.

Journey makes me happy.

Or they USED TO.

Until they replaced Steve Perry with a Filipino man named Arnel Pineda, which is almost as bad as having the Gleeks sing it on Glee. (I know Leslie, you're going to think this is blasphemous, but sometimes the Gleeks need to leave well enough alone, or at least leave Journey alone).

Don't believe me? See for yourself.



And if that's not enough, AC (who, if you will remember, is NOT gifted musically) came home with the sheet music for "Don't Stop Believing" as it was performed on Glee. And she proceeded to Ba ba ba ba ba and sing for much longer than I enjoyed.

And if THAT wasn't enough, when she finally started singing she did sing loudly and with great enthusiasm "Just a small-town boy born and raised in the South to destroy"

So wrong.

Funny, but wrong.

Add some vertigo, strep, temperatures in the high 90's, humidity that's off the scale, some teenage idiocy, and long division, and you find yourself in a position to be singing yourself some Journey.

And eating Chinese food.

And putting all your faith in a fortune cookie.

A fortune cookie that reads: "You can count your friends on one hand."

I am as serious as Arnel Pineda. WORST. FORTUNE. COOKIE. EVER.

So here's to tomorrow- don't stop believin'!

See y'all!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

pan fried pork gyoza

1 lb ground pork
1 T sesame oil
2 egg whites
2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 inch ginger, grated (hint: store ginger root in freezer in ziploc bag to use as needed--it grates wonderfully with a microplane this way)
freshly ground pepper
2 T each finely minced scallion, garlic, and basil
optional: 1 T red chile flakes or shichimi powder
--Place all ingredients in a large bowl and incorporate thoroughly

1 package gyoza or wonton wrappers
small bowl water for wetting fingers
--Line a large rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper.  Hold 1 wrapper in one hand.  Using a small spoon (teaspoon), scoop a small portion of the pork mixture into the center of the wrapper.  Wet the edges of the wrapper with water using fingertip.  If using gyoza wrappers (round), fold the wrapper like a taco but don't seal yet.  Make pleats along the edge decoratively, pressing to seal.  This takes a little practice, but makes for an attractive dish.  If using wonton wrappers (square), wet the edges and fold into a triangle.  Place gyoza on waxed paper to rest while completing the other dumplings.  If sidetracked for a long time, cover them with a damp tea towel. (Be sure not to fill the dumplings too full or it will be very hard to get a good seal and the filling may leak out.)

canola and/or sesame oil
water/dry sherry
--Preheat oven to 325F.  Place rack in large rimmed baking sheet.  In large (12") nonstick saute pan heat about 1-2 t oil over med-high heat until shimmering.  Add some of the gyoza, but do not crowd (10-12).  Press down gently to make a flat bottom.  Don't move them around for at least 3 minutes.  The bottoms should start to brown and crisp.  Add 3 T water or combination sherry/water and cover pan with foil to allow gyoza to steam.  Cook approx. 7 minutes to cook thoroughly.  Transfer gyoza to baking sheet and place this in oven to keep warm.  Add a little more oil and continue to cook all the gyoza.  If you want some really crispy fried dumplings, add more oil (be careful of splattering!) and fry both sides.  Add less water to steam to keep them crispy.

1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
1-2 T mirin or dry sherry (to taste)
1 t sugar

--Mix all together in bowl for dipping sauce.  Add sliced green onions, if desired.  Serve with hot rice.

Monday, September 20, 2010

chicken with pancetta and angel hair pasta recipe

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts halves
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
salt and pepper
9 slices pancetta
shredded asaigo cheese and shredded italian blend cheese (or mozzarella)
--Cut chicken into third but not all the way through.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in large saute pan over med-high heat, add butter and melt, but don't let it brown.
Add chicken and cook 5 minutes on one side, turn over and cook 5 minutes more.  Place 2 slices pancetta on each chicken breast.  Place the remaining pancetta in the pan directly to allow to crisp.  Reduce heat after 2 minutes, top each breast with cheese.  Remove chicken from pan, and place in warm oven to keep warm. Chop remaining pancetta and return to pan.
8 oz. dried angel hair pasta
1 T minced garlic
3/4 c chicken broth
1/4 c heavy cream (or milk, or half and half)
2 T fresh chopped rosemary
2 T balsamic vinegar
freshly ground pepper
1 T butter
additional asiago cheese
--Cook pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, according to directions.  Meanwhile, increase heat to saute pan.  Cook pancetta until crispy.  Reduce heat to medium and add minced garlic (do not cook garlic over high heat or it will become bitter).  Saute for 1 minute, add chicken broth, scraping the bottom to incorporate all the cooked bits.  Add the cream and rosemary.  Increase heat to med-high and stir until sauce is bubbling.  Add pepper to taste and the balsamic.  Cook 5 minutes.  Drain pasta, return to pot and add butter, toss.  Add sauce to the pasta and toss.  Remove chicken from the oven, place in saute pan to heat  for a minute or two.  Sprinkle asiago cheese on pasta and stir.  Serve chicken with pasta.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ren Faire, Quotes of the Month, Gardening

We went to the Santa Fe Renaissance Fair this weekend; it was great!  Smaller than the Faire I went to in California 17 years ago, but also nowhere near as crowded, and everyone was very friendly and having a good time.  It was supposed to be the Spanish Renaissance (not the English Renaissance), but other than Queen Isabella, everything was pretty much a mish-mash.  Belly dancers, Spanish storytellers, fire dancers, jesters, caber-tossing, SCA combat demonstrations, Celtic dancing, Baroque gentlemen, cowboys, and pirates all made appearances.  They even had an area with games for kids; they got to shoot some air cannons at the pirate ship, and aim bean bag catapults at the castle.  The Fire Dancer was pretty cool; I mean, what could be cooler than hula hooping while doing the splits except hula hooping while doing the splits and your hula hoop is ON FIRE?!  :-D  We saw Teatro Paraguas doing some storytelling-with-actors-and-guitar; the narrator was especially skilled.  The SCA rapier demonstration was neat, too.

Of course, since I'm a total geek I made everyone in our family dress up.  Probably about 1/2 of the attendees at some sort of costume, so we felt right at home.  Sapphire loved her little dress and hat, thankfully (though she was still mistaken for a boy, twice).  The boys were brave knights escorting us around and protecting us from dragons and brigands at the faire.  I was thinking that the ren faire is way more fun than the State Fair -- if we feel like going to a fair in September next year, I think we will head on up to Santa Fe!  :-)

I know you've been waiting on the edge of your seat for more funny/cute quotables, so here's a ration of them from me, especially for you:
Sapphire: "Ma cute me, pee", which means, "Mom, scoot my chair closer to the table, please".
Onyx: "There's a Star Wars guy I made up named Quadrillion, and he is quadrillion years old and has quadrillion light sabers.  And they are all red, and he's a good guy.  He's like a kid."
Quartz: "In LEGO Star Wars, it's kind of annoying if you don't have any light saber guys and you're fighting droidekas and there's like five of them, or even one of them.  It's hard if you don't have any guys with light sabers."

Gardening Notes:  Successes this year include carrots, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, basil, mint, tomatoes, and spicy peppers.  Unsuccesses include zucchini, corn, beans, radishes, watermelon, and beets.

YASAI BANZAI!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Those Who Throw Stones...

The other day I e-mailed Coach a picture of these shoes and simply said "I want." 

I envisioned wearing them with this




And this


He's always saying I'm hard to shop for and that he never knows what to get me, and then he always tries to revert to his "go to" store for me:  Dick's Sporting Goods- where he tries to buy me outdoor wear.  And then he doesn't because part of his charming OCD  is this- he will have buyer's remorse 100% of the time regardless of what he's purchasing. 

Seriously, I've seen him get just as upset at buying apples as he does over buying cars or houses.

Okay, so back to the story. He'll try to buy me outdoor wear.  But then he refrains.   And then he takes me there to show me what he almost bought me.  And then he asks me if I like it. 

I say no.  (Actually, I try to be a little more tactful- I say "not really") 

And then he gets upset and launches back into his "You're so hard to shop for" diatribe.

HELLO

Have we met?

Anyway, so I figured I'd make it easy on him.  Send him e-mails of things I like so whenever the need arises for him to shop for me- (Christmas) - he'll have ideas.

I'm just trying to be thoughtful, and I'm also trying to avoid getting hiking boots and trail mix.

So, I sent the e-mail and told him I wanted them.

His response? 

"No offense.  I don't like them."

That's a pretty bold statement from someone who has been running around in these the last few days...


See y'all!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Because I Said So

Yesterday I was trying to entertain AC for an hour while also trying to finish some work.  AC interprets my need to finish a task as an invitation to badger me silly about something she just has to have. 

I swear she can smell stress.  She waits patiently, and just as the blood pressure starts to rise, she goes in for the kill.

Her:  "I need a pea coat.  Remember you said I could have a pea coat?   Can we go today and get a pea coat while we're waiting on G?  Morgan has a pea coat.  I think you can get pea coats at Target for about $5."  (She thinks everything is at Target and nothing costs more than $5.)  "I want a pink pea coat.  Or a purple one.  Or do you think I should get a black one?"

Me:  "AC, it's 95 degrees outside.  You're not going to need a pea coat for at least another two months."

Her:  "Well, you're the one that always says 'Better safe than sorry.' and 'Better early than late' and 'Better prepared than unprepared.'"

Me: ...speechless...awestruck

Her:  "Right now I bet you're wishing you didn't say those things to me EVERY. SINGLE. DAY."

And I do say them to her EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  I also say "clean your room...no tv until homework is finished...ketchup is not a food group...butter is also not a food group...no corduroy until it's 60 degrees...yes it's still tacky to show your stomach in public...and on and on and on..."

And don't get me started on G.  If I had a penny for every time I have to tell him to put his clothes up, take his shoes off, and use soap when he showers...well, let's just say I'd be writing this while sitting on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean.

I never thought they were actually listening to me or paying attention to the things I do for them.

Turns out, maybe they were - as evidenced by the pea coat conversation yesterday and this...

"Where I'm From"  by G.

I am from shoes by the front door,
from old bibles and photo albums.
I am from pictures covering the wall,
and magazines on the coffee table.
I am from tall oak trees,
and my dogs who seem to bark at everything.
I am from chocolate chip cookies,
their scent lingering down the halls.

I am from, "Love your neighbor,"
and going to Sunday School.
I am from blackberry picking in July,
getting pricked by thorns and chewed on by mosquitoes.
I am from endless afternoons at the pool,
cold afternoons at the pumpkin patch,
and even colder ones at the Christmas tree farm.
I am from all-nighters at home,                               
and being grumpy the next morning.                          
I am from Christmas dinners with my family,
the people who make me who I am.

It's a poem G wrote in English last year.  I found it when I was looking through his English folder.  Huh.  Who knew they were paying attention all this time?

(Note:  As much as I wish I could tell you we party like rock stars as a family, we do not have "all-nighters"- he has insmonia occasionally, and having inherited my hypochondria, he doesn't let any of us forget it.)

See y'all!

Monday, September 13, 2010

G is 14

Somebody has a birthday today. He was born on Friday the 13th- I never let him forget that.


Sometimes it feels like everyday is Friday the 13th.  Oh, I kid.  Well, actually I don't, sometimes it really does feel that way, especially when his head spins.  My mom told me that when my brother and I turned 12 she swore our bodies were invaded by aliens.  She said we didn't kick said aliens out until we were about 18.

I thought she was crazy.  I remember my teenage years, and from what I remember, I was absolutely delightful.

I'm rethinking it now.  I might be a convert to the alien theory. 

He is certainly not the same child who promised me that he'd go to Vanderbilt and let me pick him up from classes in the afternoon when it was time to go to college.  Now he's all obsessed with being a Marine Biologist and going to Pepperdine.

I'm not too worried- every kid has a Marine Biologist phase.  And I'm pretty certain I had a Pepperdine phase, but I'm also pretty sure it was squelched by my dad, who said, "if you think I'm hocking everything I own so you can go to school on the beach you've got another thing coming."  I also had a California Berkeley phase, of which my mother said "If you think any daughter of mine is going to a school where they live in trees and refuse to shave, you've got another thing coming."

Apparently I had a few things coming.

YOU. HAVE. NO. IDEA.

Actually, they didn't really say that, although I can tell you with 100% certainty that is exactly what they both were thinking. 

What they did say was this: "You know if you go to school in California you can't come home if you're sick."

That was the deal breaker.  I used to be a bit of a hypochondriac.  One good case of strep and I was certain it meant imminent death.  And don't even get me started on what happened if I contracted the throw-ups.  Let's just say it was a state of national emergency.

And so, I happily went 3 hours from home to Glory Land, staying just close enough to convalesce at home if the need arose.

Now, 14 years later, it does seem that I have passed my hypochondria on to G.  He came home yesterday and showed me "a lump" on his head behind his ear.  I told him I would call the doctor today and make an appointment to have it looked at.

He immediately went to the computer and searched WebMD and self-diagnosed a brain tumor.  And then he didn't sleep.

Stinkin' internet.

So, as promised, I called the doctor this afternoon and they had us come right in.  Keep in mind, it is his birthday.  (And NO, there is NO brain tumor)

He was clearly rattled because a) there was an unexpected change in his daily schedule, and b) the doctor said come on in... obviously, another sign of impending doom. 

I was trying to talk to him, you know, ask him about his day, how he did on tests, did they sing happy birthday (which, it turns out, is not at all cool when you're in 8th grade), and on and on.

But he just shook his head and said, "Do you know how mad I'm going to be if they tell me I have a brain tumor on my birthday?"

And I just said, "Dude, I totally understand."

See y'all!

(And yes, he's fine- just a wandering lymph node- totally normal.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Drivin' & Cryin' or Sunday Supper

Well, I'm spent.  Coach and I took the dogs to their favorite park today so they could swim and run with wild abandon. 

As soon as I open the tailgate of the truck Mack gets so excited he literally cannot contain himself.  Every single time we take them, his excitement reaches levels that are not socially appropriate, and he, well, let's just say he puts the moves on Ivy.  And he doesn't quit.

He has no shame.  He continues "giving her the business" all the way to the park.  Which is awesome, since we have to drive in traffic and all.  But what's worse is that when we get close enough to the park he starts to yip and cry and whine.  And yes, all the while he is still giving Ivy the business.  In traffic.  Today it was Sunday church traffic.

Coach and I have tried to get him to stop.  He can't.  So, we just put on our sunglasses, look straight ahead, and pretend we have no idea what's going on in the bed of the truck.

It doesn't speak well to our parenting skills.  My dad is going to recommend Cesar Milan's Dog Whisperer show again.  My parents watch it religiously though they have no pets.  Their philosophy on pets- "The pets that are the easiest to care for are pets you don't own."  So they don't.  Own pets, that is. 

Anyway, enough about that. 

Sunday Supper has sort of slipped to the wayside.  (How's that for alliteration?)  It's because no one has been home for supper on Sunday except for me, and I really don't think I can justify an entire Sunday Supper post to the art of popping a bag of low-fat popcorn perfectly.  But, I did manage to pop a bag tonight with only 3 unpopped kernels. 

So there. 

Sunday Supper during football season consists of a bag of popcorn and a Diet Coke.  There may be an Oreo involved.  Or two.  Or an entire row.  We'll see.

But, tomorrow is G's birthday.  He is 14.  More on that later.  So he's turning 14, and I'm baking a cake.  While I was baking a cake, I figured I might as well make some pumpkin bread, because it is a gorgeous fall day here, and pumpkin bread makes my house smell like fall. 

And as long as I was making cakes and bread, I figured I could share the recipes with you.

So, here you go.

Pumpkin Bread

3 1/2 cups flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons allspice
1 cup apple sauce
1 16-oz. can pumpkin
2/3 cup water
4 eggs

Optional:
1 cup raisins or 1/2 cup of pecans or both if you're crazy that way.  My family takes the purist approach- nothing but pumpkin goodness.

Mix all the ingredients together.  Pour into two greased loaf pans and bake for 1 hour in a 350 degree oven. 


Strawberry Cake

1 box white cake mix
1 (3 oz) box strawberry-flavored gelatin (NOT sugar free)
1 (15 oz) package of frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed
4 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease two 9 inch round cake pans.  Combine cake mix and gelatin.  Add strawberries, eggs, oil, and water.  Beat at medium speed until smooth.  Pour into prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes.  (Until a wooden pick comes out clean)

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1 pint of fresh strawberries chopped and sugared
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 cups powdered sugar

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.  Beat in strawberries and vanilla.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

See y'all!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hiking and Soccer!

We went on a picnic and a little hike in the Sandias for Labor Day weekend.  The weather was cool, and the trail was short and fun.

I love these portraits Wes took of us near this cool pine tree!


Today was the boys' first soccer practice and game!  It was hard to remember to pay attention to the referee, but by the end of their game they had markedly improved in ball-chasing, kicking, and whistle-waiting.  Sapphire even kicked the ball around a little.  I think we all got sunburns!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Do You Want to Play a Game?

Remember the movie War Games?  Where a kid with a Radio Shack computer hacks into the government's infrastructure and starts a nuclear war?  Or Weird Science?  Or Space Camp?

They have absolutely nothing to do with what I'm about to say, but the post title made me think about War Games, which led me on a walk down Amnesia Way getting all nostalgic about bad 80's computer movies. 

So, let's play a game. 

I am going to list the things I purchased at the grocery store this evening before I came home to a gloriously empty house to enjoy a quiet evening. 

You read the list and see if you can tell what kind of week I've had.  (It should be noted that the purpose of the trip was to buy milk and birthday cards for my niece and G.  Pay close attention to what doesn't make the list.)

Ready?

Okay.  (With a head bob and some cheer fingers.)

Seriously.  Ready?

The List:
InTouch Magazine
Us Weekly
Crisco butter flavored shortening sticks
Ghiradelli 60% Cocoa morsels
PF Chang's Frozen Beef & Broccoli
1 box of Frosted Flakes
1 box of Sugar Smacks
and
1 large bag of Kraft caramels

Personally, I think the shortening sticks and the Kraft caramels tell the entire story, but whatever.

See y'all.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Prickly Pear Harvest

Fall is the season where I most feel like I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Most other seasons, it could be any medium-sized city with suburbs on the outside, but in the fall there's Balloon Fiesta, chilies roasting, the State Fair, and . . . prickly pear fruit ripening!

Technically called the "tuna", these fruits have a sour-sweet taste kind of like strawberries or pomegranate.  They are ripe when they start to look a little shiny, are a deep color (red, orange, or purple), and animals start to eat them.  Prickly pears are native plants, require no extra watering, and make great food!  While you can also eat the pads, I'm going to talk about the fruit today.

So, you're looking at those juicy, ripe tuna, wondering how to turn a ball of spines and seeds into something edible?  Here's how!

1: Harvest
Use tongs to twist off the fruits and put them in a bucket or large bowl or something.  They should twist off easily -- if not, they're probably not ripe and will be sour.

2: Remove Spines
The small spines in light-colored clusters are called glochids, and yes, they do hurt and are hard to see!  There's two ways to remove them from the fruit:
A) Scrape off with a knife under running water -- this works well if you're just going to eat a few and need the spines completely removed.  Hold it with tongs in one hand, and scrape the skin with a knife to remove all the glochids.
B) Burn off spines using a gas stove, grill, or lighter -- this works well if you're going to strain out the juice or are processing a lot of them.  The spines don't always burn completely away, but the sharp part at least becomes removed so you don't have to worry about it anymore.  Or, if you do this outside on concrete, you can roll them around on the concrete while you burn off the spines and they will come off the rest of the way.

3: Remove Seeds and Skin
A) If eating plain, cut the tuna in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Then you can slide your spoon between the fruit and the skin (kind of like a kiwi) and eat it!
B) If making jelly, juice, or fruit leather, you can boil the tuna in a little water, mash them, and put them through cheesecloth to make a nice liquid.  Careful; the juice stains!

I like to mix the jelly with plain yogurt for prickly pear yogurt, or pour it warm over pancakes.

That's it!  Maybe not always worth the work, but give it a try if you are curious!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cure for the Seven Year Itch

Coach and I were teaching  7th grade together at my alma mater when we started dating exactly 7 years ago today.  My Catholic friends tell me that we both get to skip over Purgatory and head straight on into Heaven because of our middle school service.  We'll see.

Anyway, every year the 7th grade team took the kids on a little cliff jumping adventure.  The purpose was to get them out of their comfort zone so they would make new friends since they were coming from several different schools.

Genius isn't it?  Nothing encourages camaraderie faster than life-threatening wilderness situations.  So just like we had done many times before, six teachers loaded 100+ 7th graders on buses, and off we went to risk life and limb all in the name of love. 

Of the six teachers that actually made the hike to the cliff, I was the oldest.  I was 32.  Inspires a lot of confidence doesn't it?

And I have to tell you that the conversation the six of us had in the SUV (like we were going to ride on the bus with them!) centered around overprotective parents, and what a wonderful thing we were doing with these kids, and how we didn't want kids to be afraid to get outside and try things, and blah, blah, blah.

It's easy to say when said kids are not your kids. 

In 2003 I decided I was jumping off the cliff if it killed me.  Apparently, I did not have a lot to live for at the time.  It wasn't a good year.

AND, truth be told, we had also had another conversation in the car about people who were high maintenance.  Coach started it.  We weren't dating yet.  YET.

There were two men in the car and four women.  Coach and the other man went on about women who were whiny and girly about things. Let's just say that of the four women in the car that day, I was the least low-maintenance.  I know.  Hard to picture.

So, I hiked across rapidly moving water, over boulders that were 6 feet tall, through a stretch of fauna that I affectionately call the "Venomous Vault" because of the likelihood of reptiles lacking shoulders, and finally up the side of a cliff.

Oh yeah, and the whole time I was guarding those kids lives like it was my job (because it actually was- which absolutely stuns me every time I think about it).  And I was smiling.  I attribute it all to Pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Coach's job every year was to be the first one to jump off the cliff to make sure the water was deep enough.  I've always wondered what would happen if it wasn't.  Thankfully, depth has not ever been an issue, and Coach still walks upright.

So, after climbing a cliff that I have to believe rivals Everest, I walked across some rocks to another cliff  from which I was about to launch myself.  I knew if I stopped I would never jump.  I over think things.  Again, I know.  Hard to believe.

As I approached the edge where Coach and another colleague were standing to monitor the kids, I broke into a very slow jog and ran right off the side.  Both men were speechless. 

If you know Coach, that in itself is quite a feat.

And that's how I landed Coach.  Since then he's made me kayak through the Belizean jungle, ride a bicycle through an alligator infested swamp IN THE DARK, and tube down the river wild with only a Land's End bathing suit between my rear and the craggy rocks.  It didn't end well.  Matter of fact, it ended with 13 stitches and a very bruised ego.  That was exactly a year ago.

This year, we took the kids to the scene of the first water adventure. Did I say it was a lot easier to hike kids in and encourage them to jump off a cliff when they aren't your kids?

It is.

But I did it.  Because after 7 years of riding the crazy river of life with Coach and what would eventually be our funny family, I am more convinced than ever that facing fears and jumping into them are valuable lessons. Those experiences do bring you closer, and I have memories from those years with BA kids at Blue Hole that are priceless (and only two involve stitches).

And if you think I'm exaggerating, take a look below.

AC stood on the very edge of a 30-45 foot cliff (depends on who you ask) and talked to total strangers.  She also scaled rocks and cliffs like a mountain goat, and gave me  real-time trail difficulty updates...in Spanish.


Coach is trying to coax her to jump.  At this point I am still not sure she should jump.  She's the baby.  Babies don't jump.  They stay with you forever.  They weren't created for all the jumping and adventure.  Then I remember what her room looks like on a regular basis. I begin to rethink.


And I think, "It can't be all bad.  She'll probably be fine."  Because I don't want her to leave and wish she had jumped.  And I knew she would.  I've seen it a dozen times before with 7th graders.

Generally it doesn't take much to get her to try something new. 


Specifically, it takes frozen yogurt with brownie bits on top. 


But G, on the other hand, never hesitated.  He jumped...


and jumped...


and jumped.


and here is a gratuitous shot of Coach's muscles.  He'll be embarrassed. 


And if you're wondering if I jumped yesterday.  The answer is no.  The last time I jumped I burst an ear drum.  I think an ear drum and a butt cheek are sacrifice enough.  I took the year off.


So, to all my fellow Blue Hole alums- I thought about you yesterday. 

Johnson and Catherine- I prayed specifically for you two- I hope the healing is quick- I know you're surrounded by all your BA friends- they've kept me updated this week. 

They are the reasons I know we accomplished what was intended at Blue Hole.  You learned to love each other well. 

And finally, to all the parents of Blue Hole alums- thanks for letting us throw your children off a cliff.  We watched them every second!

See y'all!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

There Are No Words

Today we went to G's cross country meet.  It was 95 degrees, humid, and dusty.  It was no place for a fashion statement, and yet...



Take a closer look...


There are no words.

Well, there may be one word...


No.

See y'all!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Quartz's Birthday, Onyx's Pasttimes, and Sapphire's Colorful Language

Quartz turns 6 today!  Happy Birthday, Quartz!  We already had a combined birthday party for him and Onyx, but he is very excited to get to bring a treat to his class.  We're making doughnuts!

He really likes school, and makes his lunch every day.  I feel a little bit guilty about making a kindergartner make his own lunch, but this way he gets what he likes.  I told him a healthy lunch has a protein, starch, and fruit/vegetable, so this way he can choose whatever he wants that fits that criteria.  He usually packs crackers, ham or a boiled egg, a piece of fruit, and a cookie.

Onyx is looking forward to starting preschool in a few weeks, though he also likes having all the Legos to himself.  He and Sapphire build with Duplos together every day -- I love when she tries to play with his creation and he says, "Here Sapphire, I'll build something for you to play with".  His latest interest has been building huge castles, as you can see.  Quartz and I made some red dragons to go with them.

Sapphire is learning so many new words every day!  Her recent, interesting acquisitions include, "Dagoba", "Guybrush", "rock monster", and "pig ride" (for piggyback ride).  You can tell she has two older brothers!