Saturday, January 9, 2016

New Years Updates, Part II

On Thursday, I happily shared my list of novels that helped me accomplish my first resolution of 2015.  I then went on to brag that I am counting both of my resolutions as successes, although technically number 2 had the asterisk by it.  I'm now here to explain that asterisk.

Not the asterisk, rather plum poppy seed muffins
My second goal was to cook one new recipe a week.  I was trying to grow and I love to cook and it was the natural choice.  And for 26 weeks (half a year people) I kept that resolution.  But then life got in the way and one new recipe a week wasn't always going to work out.  How then, you may ask, did I count this technically failed resolution as a win?  There were so many weeks that I not only cooked one new recipe, but sometimes two or three or, in one epic baking weekend, five!  Yes, I missed 4 weeks (although, there were somewhat legit excuses each time like weddings and going to Chile...), but by my count, in 2015 I made 90 new recipes.  And to me, that is an epic success.

Ben's 27th birthday cake - new recipe number 7 - brown butter hazelnut cake
As with my list of novels, I so loved writing down what recipes I tried each week in my handy-dandy purse sized date book (seriously, love that thing).  I had even more fun compiling the list at the end of the year.  And what do you know?  There were some lessons learned as well. 

Lessons such as, I only cooked one recipe from my Bon Appetit magazines.  So, between that and being eternally annoyed by their pretentiousness, the subscription is officially canceled!  Conversely, I love me some Smitten Kitchen.  And Martha Stewart.  And while not every dish that I made out of Cooking Light was a knock out, they're consistently good and only one was truly terrible.  This was unexpected, but a good surprise.  Finally, I am dependent on a few go-to cookbooks.  Which is great, but when you have a larger than average cookbook collection, you should dig into deeper.  Which leads me into New Year's Resolution #2 of 2016:

Cook 100 new recipes.  At least one recipe from each cookbook I own.

I'm forgoing the one new recipe a week clause (but will internally keep to it, since otherwise there is no way I'll make it to 100.  I'll just feel no guilt if I miss a week or four and give myself a break from ridiculous self imposed stress).  And I'm adding the cookbook one.  With the thought that if I don't cook from a cookbook in 2016, it may need to go.  (I say may because I love looking at my pretty collection.  This would be heart-wrenching.  But hopefully also butt-motivating.  I'm looking at you Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook). 

Old picture of cookbook collection.  It now fills out one side completely and has started it's way across the back.  Don't judge me.
There you have it!  Basically the same two resolutions as last year, but I liked them and I'm going with it.  Plus, I tweaked both, so technically they are harder.  See, I am growing!  Lastly, if you are interested, here is the list of everything new that I made this year in the kitchen, with links to some of the very best.  Everyone else, you may skip the rest of the post.

Technically not a new recipe this year, rather an oldie, but a goodie

A Year of Recipes

☼ - Loved, but haven't found the excuse to make again yet.  But we will, oh yes we will
♥ - Loved and was made more than once this year!  (in some cases, too many times to admit (I'm looking at your butterscotch pudding)
ATK: America's Test Kitchen
BA: Bon Appetit
CI: Cook's Illustrated
CL: Cooking Light
MS: Martha Stewart (book or blog)
NYT: Essential NY Times Cookbook
RSB: Raw Spice Bar
SK: Smitten Kitchen (book or blog)

Week 1 Corn Bread in Cast Iron Skillet
Week 2 Butterscotch Pudding (SK) ♥
Jerk Chicken Chili (One Dish) ♥
Week 3 One Skillet Lemon Chicken (CL)
Week 4 Blondies (CI)  ♥
Mushroom Marsala Bake (SK)  ♥
Brown Butter Hazelnut Cake - Ben's 27th bday cake (SK) ☼
Week 5 Curry Chicken en Papillote
Baker's One Bowl Brownies
Week 6 Beef and Squash Chili (BA)
Tacos al Carbon (Homesick Texan)  ♥
Week 7 Sweet and Sour Brisket (SK) ☼
Week 8 Chicken Waterzooi Soup (F52)  ♥
Chicken Stuffed with Sausage (CL) ☼
Week 9 Rhubarb Curd Shortbread (F52)
Week 10 Roasted Chicken with acorn squash, musrooms and onions (MS)
Mom's Lasagna  ♥
Week 11 Corned Beef and Cabbage
Week 12 Ginger Snap Peas (MS)  ♥
Week 13 Little Lamb Patties (CL) ☼
And apparently something from America's Test Kitchen… but I wrote the name of the recipe as Test Kitchen, so we may never know what I cooked
Week 14 Slow Cooker Chicken Mole (CL)
Potatoes au Gratin (F52)
Robin's Eggs Cookies
Week 15 Slow Cooker French Onion (CL)
Blueberries and Cream Cookies (Milk Bar)
Week 16 Brownie Roll Out Cookies (SK) ♥
Zuppa Toscana
Week 17 Slow Cooker Guiness Pulled Pork
Asain Quinoa Slaw
Week 18 Prok Bahn Mi (CL)
Butterscotch Pecan Ice Cream (D. Leowitz) ☼
Week 19 Rigatoni with Goat Cheese (MS)
Week 20 Strawberry Sorbet (SK)
Week 21 Orange Curry Pork Chops and Chai Rice (CL)
Blean Bean Burgers
Week 22 Yeasted Waffles (CI) ♥
Apricot Ginger Bread (Tipsy) ♥
Week 23 Chai Spiced Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
Week 24 Grilled Pizza Dough (MS) ♥
Week 25 Pineapple Chicken Kabobs
Week 26 Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Peaches and Blueberries (SK) ☼
Week 27
Week 28 Greek Chickpea Salad
Week 29 Grilled Bean and Cheese Stuffed Poblanos (CL)
Week 30 Plum and Poppy Seed Muffins (SK) ♥
Coffee Cake Muffins (Bittman) ☼
Week 31
Week 32 Berliner Meatballs ☼
Week 33
Week 34 Chilean Cooking Class!
Week 35 Chicken with tomatoes and mushrooms (MS)
Chicken Fajitas (SK)
Chocolate Biscotti
Week 36
Week 37 Butterscotch Cashew Bars (NYT) ☼
Week 38 Broccoli Salad (SK) ☼
Sausage Stuffed Zucchini (MS) ☼
Chicken Biryani (One Dish) ☼
Week 39 Summer Squash Noodle Bake (SK)
Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies (SK) ☼
Lahmacun/"Lamb Pizza" (RSB)
Za'atar Roasted Cauliflower (RSB)
Week 40 Apricot Pork Chop (MS) ♥
Hot Fudge Pudding (Tipsy)
Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup (CL)
Week 41 Tomato, Butter and Onion Sauce ☼
Italian Meatballs ☼
Carmelized Onion Grilled Cheese (SK) ♥
Cornbread (Tipsy) ♥
Pumpkin Muffins (Flour)
Week 42 Soy Braised Chicken with Star Anise and Orange
Switchel (F52) ♥
Week 43 Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl (SK)
Malaysian Laska (RSB)
Week 44 Broccoli, Bacon, Squash and Cheese (CL) ☼
Creamy Curried Sweet Potato Soup (NYT) ☼
Week 45 Granola (ATK) ♥
Lasagna (CI) ☼
Week 46 S'Mores Bars (Tipsy)
Broccoli Cheddar Soup (SK)
Rioja Beef (One Dish) ☼
Week 47 Beer Braised Chicken and Mushrooms (CL)
Herb de Provence Popcorn
Week 48 Cranberry Pie with oat and pecan crumble (SK) ☼
Wild Rice (Epi) ☼
Week 49 Chocolate-Caramel Quinoa Bark (CL) ♥
Pecan Fingers ☼
Week 50 Key Wat (RSB) ☼
Chicken, Apple and Butternut Stew (CL)
Week 51 Turkey Skillet Pie (MS)
Cranberry Upside Down Cake (MS)
Penuche Fudge (MS)
Week 52 Basic Sugar Cookies (MS)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Years Updates, Part I

Happy New Years Everyone!  I hope that 2015 went out with a bang, and if you are lucky, a few rounds of Loteria!

Introduced to me this past NYE's as Mexican Bingo.  The cards are wonderfully colorful & politically incorrect.  
Last year, I committed to two New Year's resolutions and actually spent the whole year not only actually remembering what they were, but actively working towards completing them.  This alone was a huge success for me, as typically they are forgotten by mid-February.  However, in even more exciting news, I actually achieved both resolutions!  (Ok, ok, one has an asterisks by it, but we'll get to that).

I'm taking to the internet to brag about my accomplishments because 1.) no one really reads this so it's cool to do some self bragging and 2.)  I loved documenting what I had done in the small date book I keep in my purse, so I also wanted to document it someplace a little more permanent (i.e - cyberspace!)

So, here we are at part I of accomplished New Year's Resolutions - Read 20 Novels by the End of the Year.  Smashed by reading the 37 books, as noted below!  What I learned is this:  for some of these books, I remember what I was doing while reading (or listening to the book on tape), which I think is cool.  Obviously, I'm into fiction more than non-fiction, but I also read several memoirs this year.  Who would have thought?  My favorite book was a zombie novel (not expected), but there was a tie for my second favorite book, one about engineering on Mars and the other about food (expected).  I didn't reread any books this year, although I typically do.  It was odd, since I actively stopped myself from reading favorites (and rereading Mockingjay before the movie came out in November!)  I missed it a little bit, but think I read a lot of books I otherwise would not have, so there must be a good balance somewhere in there.  The majority of these were audiobooks and, accordingly, Overdrive is my favorite app.  And finally, this list does not include the few books that I started and just could not make myself finish, and I hate not finished a book once I've started.

Here we are, the 37 novels I read in 2015:

The Cuckoo's Calling - J.K Rowling's new series under a pen name.  Finishing the 3rd installment now.  Addictive and dark.
The Silkworm
Hundred Foot Journey - Good book, but it's possible that I like the movie more... what?
All the Light We Cannot See - People loved this book.  I forced myself to finish reading it.  Did not love.
Inferno - Oh, Dan Brown.  I'll always love you
The Girl with All the Gifts - loved, loved, loved (as documented here)
The Martian - loved, loved, loved.  Also Matt Damon in the movie?  Love, love, love!
A Dance with Dragons - hehe, had to look this one up... then realized, obviously it's GoT
Bad Feminist - Am a good feminist, since I didn't really get into this novel either?  And, memoir.
The Knife of Never Letting Go - Dystopian YA novel series, good, addicting in the way of YA novels.
The Ask and The Answer
Monsters of Men
Yes, Please - memoir
Consider the Fork
The Gods of Guilt - audiobook necessary for drive to Pittsburgh
My Berlin Kitchen - memoir
We the Animals - memoir
Julia Child Rules
The Devil Wears Prada - Happy I read this, better than the movie
I Remember Nothing - memoir
I Feel Bad About My Neck - memoir
Making Toast - memoir
The Girl on the Train
Garlic and Sapphires - memoir
Still Alice - good book, need to see the movie
Eat, Pray, Love - ok book, maybe one day I'll see the movie?  Also, memoir
One More Thing - by B.J. Novak, funny short stories. You'll like this one
Catherine the Great - see, I do read biographies!
Kitchens of the Great Midwest - Obviously, I loved this book.  It's only a matter of time before it's a movie, I am sure.  Dear Hollywood gods, can you cast J.Law?
Nightingale - I love historical fiction.  This is great historical fiction
Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Great book, remember to read it as a satire though.  Need to read the author's other novel.
Furiously Happy - FUNNY FUNNY FUNNY.  Like, I laughed out loud on the plane funny.  But also insightful.  Read.  Memoir.
We Were Liars
The Rosie Project
The Art of Racing in the Rain - I figured there was no way I was making it through this one with bawling.  But I did.  It's ok.

New Year's Resolution #1 of 2016?  Read 30 novels this year.  Still less than I read in 2015, but this way, I can reread Harry Potter without guilt. :)

Stay tuned for part II.

Monday, December 7, 2015

I Had a Scary Thought

Friday evening, we busted out the newly purchased fake Christmas tree (relinquishing my elitist fake trees are not Christmas trees stance... but thoughts for a different blog post...) and decorated it with all my childhood ornaments, plus a few recent additions.

Ben doesn't have childhood ornaments... this is the only ornament of many that has his name on it.
Even Bernoulli makes an appearance on two ornaments...
The remainder of the tree is basically the "Elizabeth Tree"
Saturday morning, I got up before Ben and relocated to the couch to let him catch up on sleep without my constant wiggling.  I made a hot cup of tea and brought it to the couch.  I turned the lights on the tree and cuddled up under a warm, woven blanket.  And then I thought (here comes the scary part...) "This would be so beautiful and peaceful with a blanket of snow on the ground".

I don't even know who I am anymore.  I'm an Arizona girl unhappily transplanted in Illinois and I'm complaining about sunny, mid-40 degree days during December?  What is this witchery?  And, more importantly, will it be a white Christmas?  I do not know anymore, but I do know that the Midwest has ruined me for all future Christmases...

Here's to dreaming of a white (yet sunny and 70 degree...?) Christmas!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Confession: I Am a Blog Stalker

I blog stalk an old friend from high school.
One of these lovely ladies...
PS - This was my last night in AZ before college, there were lots of hugs
Although, really, can you call it stalking when all you do is read their blog?  Isn't that the whole point of the blog, to share your life with the internet?  It feels like stalking though, since I know her, I knew her 8th grade hopes and fears, her high school crushes.  It feels like stalking  cause I peek in, read my fill and then leave again without a trace.  No comment, no thumbs up.  In and out, like I was never there, wanting just to see her life now.  See, I can make it sound creepy enough.

Anyways, back to the subject, I thoroughly enjoy blog stalking her.  I'm sure there are several contributing factors as to why I take such joy in it (again, doing my part to sound the creeper here), but there is one main reason.  I like to wonder if, had we had made it through those hard years, between the distance and different experiences that going to colleges a country apart bring, would we be good friends now?

I go back and forth on this, but the fact that I have actually spent so much time thinking about it (and breaking my blogging hiatus to write about it!) goes to show that I am disappointed.  Disappointed that this friendship didn't last, disappointed to not know if grown-up her and grown-up me could have been grown-up friends, disappointed in myself for my part in letting the friendship fade.  There was no real juicy blow up, just high school girls that turned into college girls, phone calls that were not returned, time-zone differences and misunderstood ideas of what constituted a relationship.  But had we pushed through like we did in our other relationships (we both still maintain good friends from high school (a fact I know from the stalking...), just no longer mutual good friends from high school), I like to imagine we would be even stronger now.  I don't know if that would be true though.

I could reach out, see if her cell phone number is still the same.  I could poke her on Facebook, as we are still Facebook friends.  I could actually leave a comment on her blog one of these days, instead of just doing the stalker bit.  But I don't know if I will.  There's the fear of rejection, the fear that maybe she wouldn't welcome the foray from her past, the fear that the friendship faded for a reason.


On the odd chance that she also blog stalks me back (I definitely give much less content to stalk), this is my open ended olive branch offering, complete with a bowl of cookie dough and 2 spoons, just the way high school her and high school me would have wanted it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

P.S. My Sugar-Free Life

I cannot wait to eat this...
I won’t lie, part of the no-added sugar declaration was the intention that it would make me blog once or twice about the experience, and forcing myself to write is a good thing.  But, I don’t really have much to say about it.  Today is Wednesday, and I have two more days or avoiding the sweet stuff and it’s been, dare I say it, not terrible?

Yes, I miss it.  And it hasn't been incredibly helpful that Ben hasn't been shy about consuming sugar in front of me.  When he deemed the oatmeal I made not sweet enough on Monday morning (I used an apple sauted in butter, and topped it with chopped, dried apricots), he topped it off with some maple syrup.  As we were lounging after dinner on the couch last night, he grabbed a handful of dark chocolate covered almonds to satisfy his sweet tooth.  Obviously, I wanted some, but I made do without.  And again, it was not terrible.

I will be the first to admit that I have not been super fastidious about avoiding sugar.  When it's under my control, I have not touched a thing with added sugar.  But, I have kept the cream in my coffee and the butter on my bread (the bread was homemade and was sugar-free).  And when I ate the Cuban sandwich I got from the cafeteria at work yesterday, the relish most definitely had extra, non-natural sweetness.  But I figured when the sweet in your life comes in the form of relish, there are definitely worse things.

Am I excited for the chocolate I will be awarding myself with on Friday night?  Absolutely.  Are those peanut butter covered pretzels staring me down every time I open the cupboard?  Hell yes.  But I have also discovered something: apparently I have will power.  Who would have guessed it?  On a somewhat more serious note, I have learned that I use sugary snacks as rewards, and maybe that isn't the best system.  Finish washing the dishes?  Eat some chocolate.  Took the dog for a walk?  Slather toast with some yummy jelly.  Didn't verbally assault that annoying coworker?  You've earned some Twizzlers!

In summary, (although not quite summary because I still have two more days) it hasn't been much of a challenge, but I do think I accomplished my goal of resetting my system to not crave the sweet stuff at every possible moment.  And I recognized that I do not need to celebrate every good deed with a sweet treat, nor end every night with dessert.  So, that's something.  Granted, as a pat on the back for completing this week without sugar, I will congratulate myself on Saturday by buying a brownie batter donut and then eat it slowly, happily, and guilt free.  I may still need some time to internalize what I've learned... but that's some other week.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Girl with All the Gifts

I had two New Year's Resolutions this year, and despite recent musings about resetting and body weight, they didn't have much to do with restriction or loss.  Instead, I was focused on increasing this year.  In one way, by forcing myself to try new things (Resolution #1: Try 1 new recipe a week).  And secondly, by doing my best to avoid atrophy (Resolution #2: Read 20 novels by the end of the year).  Neither of these are particularly hard, but that wasn't my aim.  Rather, what they are, in their simplicity, is a reminder to try new things, to be adventurous and to learn.  And all of this is just to say, I just finished reading a really good book.  Or rather, listened to one (I love a good book on tape).  And you totally should too.

The Girl with All the Gifts
The Girl with All the Gifts is a post-apocalyptic novel (I mean, what isn't, nowadays?) set in England a few decades after zombies (again, are we really surprised?) are the downfall for the majority of human civilization.  The survives try to find the cure.  You think it's your run of the mill zombie apocalypse story, but it isn't.

When Ben and I were honeymooning in Hawaii, we headed out one morning and drove to the other side of the island to see the Volcano National Park.  With a few hours of driving ahead of us, we compromised on World War Z as the book on tape we would listen to (Ben likes historical non-fiction, I like fiction with a good story.  A zombie book told in the style of a documentary seemed like a good compromise).  We stayed past dark at the volcano (to see it emit beautiful red light at night) and drove home afterwards.  Here's the thing about the interstate of Hawaii: there are many, many long stretches with NO LIGHTS.  And no population.  So, besides the light from a million beautiful stars, it is PITCH BLACK.  We were usually the only car on the road.  And with World War Z playing on the car stereo, with it's haunting "dboom dboom" between each chapter and haunting depictions of zombie attacks, we were past the point of logically scared.  Every creak or unexpected bump in the road gave us both pounding hearts and nervous jitters.  We were scared more than we would ever admit to each other.  We had to turn off the book, and even then were on edge.  World War Z is a scary zombie book.  I won't even see the movie now.

The Girl with All the Gifts is not that kind of zombie novel.

Your normal zombie assumptions apply: they want to eat humans, you become a zombie if you are bitten by one, etc.  What ends up being different is that there are 2 classes of zombies: (1) Your typical, brainless, non-human brain muncher and (2) the a-typical zombie: they can think and speak, feel happy and feel fear, but even just a whiff of human pheromones will send them spiraling into a type (1) zombie feeding rage.

And... and... that's all I can really tell you without ruining the book.  Which I really don't want to do, because it is such a good book.   I downloaded it on Thursday.  I finished it today.  It accompanied me pretty much non-stop during Saturday and Sunday (it's a long book...)  I was hooked.  And one of the reasons I was is that the book is a true work of science fiction.  In other words, there is real science in the book (what makes the zombies isn't a passable virus.  It's a fungus.  A real fungus, that exists today.  In ants: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  And it mutates to infect humans.  And that seems almost real, which I suppose is a whole different kind of scary).  But you don't need a degree in organic biochemistry to understand when they speak about the science.  You understand how things happened, and it makes sense.  Although it does uses phrases like "Brownian cascades", which makes my little chemical engineering heart smile with happiness.  But that is the extent of nerdiness, and you will still understand everything, even if you don't understand Brownian motion.

Plus, the post-apocalyptic world the author has imagined seems genuine.  Events make sense and you have an intuit understanding that it is likely what the world would be like, should 98% of the world's population become zombies (unlike, say, the strangely safe and navigable world of Station Eleven, which managed to have a traveling Shakespeare company just a few years after their world fell apart).  There aren't very many stretches.  People have motives and emotions, they love and fear, and you understand why the whole time.

And then, many hours later, the ending comes.  And it smacks you that there was no other way for the book to end.  It had been leading up to that moment the entire time, even if you didn't realize it until the very last chapter.  And you don't know whether to cheer, or be sad, or just nod in understanding and... and... I've probably said to much already, so I will stop.  In summary: read The Girl with All the Gifts.  And then please, please come back here and tell me how you feel.  Because I'll probably still be unsure.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Week Without Sugar

I was a bit of a glut over the Christmas holiday.  Truth be told, glut is probably an understatement.  I was the cookie monster reincarnated.  I was the person who had thirds on dessert.  I toured a chocolate factory and sampled almost every single one of their chocolates (including their fig, fennel and almond bar, which was fantastic).

I am not super-uber-overly conscience healthy, but I do try to keep all good things in moderation.  But then the holidays rolled around and I figured: hey, it's Christmas!  Take a break, eat the cookies!  Which, fits into the whole moderation scheme if you only let loose a day or two.  It absolutely does not fit if let loose your whole entire 17 day vacation.  Which is, more or less, what I did.  And I have been paying for it ever since.  Clothes are a little tighter, my face just a little pudgier, and I am incessantly reaching for snacks, especially of the sweet persuasion.  Weight-wise, pre-eat all the goodies in sight mode, I was at my healthy, could lose a few pounds, but in general I am happy with the number on the scale weight.  However, that weight has now creeped up a few pounds and I am flirting with the scary "DO NOT CROSS" weight line and I'm not happy about it (curiously, the range of weight between "content with my weight" and "holy moly, get off the scale now and eat nothing but broth for the next month" is about 6 pounds.  Not a ton of wiggle room there).

Anyways, all of this is to say that I need to pull back and reset my system, and get myself back to that generally healthy attitude I was before the ugly gluttony monster took over my life.  In other words - I need to get the voice in my head that has me constantly reaching for the peanut butter covered pretzels to shut the hell up.

Or, you know, I could simply stop BUYING the pretzels...
I talked with Ben.  I told him that I needed to stop making butterscotch pudding and brown buttered hazelnut cakes draped in dark chocolate ganache.  I said I wanted to try one week with no added sugar.  No maple syrup on my oatmeal in the morning, no cookies sneaked from the office communal table for dessert after lunch, no handful of dark chocolate covered almonds with my evening glass of tea (or, you know, red wine...).  Resetting my sugar intake for a whole week.  7 days, zero sugar (ending conveniently before Valentine's Day, of course).  He seemed to inherently understand that the upcoming week was likely going to be murderous for him, but he decided to support me nevertheless.  Good guy, that husband of mine.

This little experiment may kill me, or just as likely, kill my husband
 We set up a few ground rules for me, to help me keep my sanity.  It would be a no added sugar week, meaning that the Kashi bar I eat for a snack nearly every day was a no go, as well as most bread, and jam and all chocolate.  I would be allowed to compensate with "naturally occurring" sugar, aka fruit.  I personally decided, much to my own dismay, that maple syrup and honey would not fall into the naturally occurring sugar category.  Anything sweet would be entering my gullet only through grown plant matter.

And so the week without sugar starts.  On a Friday, cause that makes a whole bunch of sense.  Or at least it will make more sense when it ends on the Friday before Valentine's day - leaving my February 14th open for guilt-free (and hopefully, very moderate) consumption of chocolate goodies.

In other, somewhat related news, apparently these ads actually existed at one point in human history:

Apparently, sugar aids in your willpower.  It's science.