28 March 2012

Lovin' Me Some Spotify

So remember when I said how one of my current favorite things was Spotify? No?! It's like you readers have lives or something.  Well I said it. And I lied.

I FREAKING LOVE Spotify.  I want to kiss (not really) the person who came up with the idea to put tons of music in a database, let you listen to it for free with minor commercial interruptions, sync it with Facebook so you can see/share what your friends are listening to, and upload playlists from iTunes. Genius.  Although it frustrates me that I can't listen to certain tracks because they're not playable in the US-- lame!-- those are few and far between so my frustration is minimal.  And although Pandora is great at forcing you to listen to artists you've never heard before, on Spotify you're not limited to how many songs you skip, not to mention I can CHOOSE the songs I want to hear.

I listen to it so much that I look for my favorite songs on my iPod thinking I own them. Then I remember they're on Spotify and get sad. Then I come home, turn on Spotify, and I'm happy again (it doesn't take much for me).  I am seriously considering Spotify Premium for $10/ month. Anyone out there using it?  There are plenty of other services I can get for $10/mo (like makeup and beauty samples or subscriptions to magazines), but I can't express in words my love of music, as well as my desire for song choices-- I need options people!

Now that I've finished GUSHING, here's who I'm listening to at the moment:

Lana Del Rey
Before you go ranting on about her performance on SNL-- I've seen it. And it wasn't good.  She looked unbelievably nervous, especially the second time when she knew the first performance had gone horribly wrong. I'd also like to remind cynics that-- surprise!-- she's human, not to mention young with plenty to learn.  Yet, I don't think her music (falling under the category of "Sadcore") is for everyone. But I'm crazy about the lyrics.  Lines like "You fit me better than my fav-or-ite sweater," "You're so fresh to death and sick as cancer," and "He loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart" are gritty, sexy, and weirdly romantic.  I don't know if she writes her songs, if it's a collaboration, or if it's someone else entirely, but they speak of wild youth, the SoCal life, and dealing with the troubles of reality.  The songs are far more interesting than anything from mainstream Pop (and I like that music too) and reminds me of lost youth like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Winehouse, Cobain... those beautiful people who drowned in their own inner conflict.

Songs On Repeat: "Off to the Races," "Born to Die," and "Blue Jeans"

Hugo is cool. British cool.  He has a sexy voice, sexy look, and can pull off a fedora like it's nobody's business. Not to mention his music is great-- he's got skills with lyrics and a guitar.  You may have heard his remake of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" during the credits of the "Fright Night" remake (a film you MUST see).  Yet it's the rock and roll gospel of "Old Tyme Religion" that has me coming back for more.

Songs on Repeat: "99 Problems" and "Old Tyme Religion"

Not gonna lie: I love the British music scene. And I don't even do it on purpose! I just happen to like songs and artists and BOOM! They're British. Duffy's 2009 album "Rockferry" is (and will always be) all kinds of fun-- it's a little rock & roll with a twist of jazz.  Have a listen!

Songs on Repeat: "Mercy" and "Syrup and Honey"

William Fitzsimmons

I tried posting a picture but something has gone wrong with my Blogger photo uploader since the update.  It's extremely aggravating. TECH SUPPORT!  Anyway, Fitzsimmons definitely falls under the category of singer/songwriter with a beat (I added that last part), yet his songs go much deeper and are more beautiful than simple tales of love lost/love found. The guy has a Master's in Counseling, worked for years with the severely mentally ill, and is basically a psychotherapist (all of this info courtesy of his website... so let's hope he isn't a liar). Talk about depth: he's a man who has a different perspective on life with plenty to say about the human condition. There isn't a bad song on his album "Gold in the Shadow."

Songs on Repeat: "Bird of Winter Prey," "The Tide Pulls From the Moon," and "Psychasthenia"

What have you been listening to lately?

14 March 2012

Jane Austen Fan Fiction: A Blogger Confession

Although I used the word "confessions," I don't actually feel guilty about reading books written as sequels or adaptations to novels written by one of the greatest female authors in literature.  That being said, these books are not up to literary scratch and certainly not intellectual novels for discussion at artsy fartsy cocktail parties.  JAFF is simple, usually predictable, hardly original, and thoroughly entertaining.  Typical reading time for an avid book reader would be 2, maybe 3 days if you're busy, and you won't be discussing themes and symbolism at your next book club gathering.

But JAFF sure is entertaining.  If you love the romantic plots of Persuasion, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice-- the 3 main novels used as JAFF foundations, P&P being the headliner-- and want to either relive the story or find out what happens next, these are the books for you.  As I said, Pride and Prejudice is the most popular adaptation, mainly because of Literature's sexiest leading man: Fitzwilliam Darcy.  And there are TONS of novels about Darcy and the women who fantasize about him... those aren't always the greatest.

Then there's the JAFF that is all about the man's perspective: diaries of Mr. Knightley/ Mr. Darcy/ Captain Wentworth, letters from these men, or retellings of Austen's stories through their eyes.  I've read a few of those books and they're pretty good.

My favorite are the sequels, the continuations of the romances and the various perspectives from authors (many of whom are Austen scholars) on where the story of Elizabeth and Darcy would lead.  Though I enjoy a modern love story on film, I'm a sucker for period romance in books.  I think it has something to do with the sexual tension created by not being able to touch the opposite sex unless dancing, not kissing until you're engaged and even then it's something to be done away from prying eyes.  There was mystery and risk in loving during the 19th century.  Like I said, these aren't the next "Great American" or "Great British" novels, but they're wonderfully entertaining and sweet.

However, you do get Romance/Erotic books masquerading as JAFF, and I've read one of those... actually that was my introduction to the genre.  I found this interesting book titled Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife at Borders and got really excited that people actually continued writing past the wedding of the Darcys.  For the most part, I enjoyed it... but what did I know?  I was 19, had never read erotic or romantic fiction,  and this was a story detailing my favorite characters from P&P plus it went into great detail when continuing the story lines of everyone, from Colonel Fitzwilliam to Mr. Wickham.  And Elizabeth Berdoll (the author) even incorporated a war, as well as servants, which is something Austen doesn't do in her novels.  But there was one major issue: the SEX.  Holy crap I'd never read anything so racy-- I liked it at first.  Thought it was controversial and interesting, but looking back on it, sex sullies the characters and name of Jane Austen.  I sound like such a prude.

Don't misunderstand, the idea of sex in the 19th century is interesting because in the upper class (and the other classes too) the act happened behind closed doors and was NEVER talked about. I like when it's subtly addressed in JAFF, but to have it thrown in my face (for example, there's a scene where Mr. Darcy is performing oral sex on his new wife while riding in the carriage to Pemberly) is rather shocking and inappropriate given the overall tone of Austen's novels.  And this isn't the only book of its kind either.  Actually, I think I'm one of a few that doesn't enjoy the sex scenes in JAFF; so many women have Colin-Firth-as-Darcy sexual fantasies and these are outlets for them.  Sex happens A LOT in the modern JAFF adaptations.  If that's your thing, coolpants, it's just not mine.  Funny story: I was so excited about Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife that I stupidly recommended it to my Austenite cousin (who happens to have a Bachelor's in English Lit) as her introduction to JAFF... yeah... needless to say she was polite about her critique but the sex didn't go over well.  And I don't think she's read any more JAFF since-- oops!  The lesson?  When recommending ANYTHING, Know.Your.Audience.

Which brings me to my Top 10 Jane Austen Fan Fiction Reads!  Here's a list of the novels I personally love and recommend if you too love the works of J.A.

1. A Match for Mary Bennett by Eucharista Ward
I have talked about/ recommended this book before and I will always stand by it.  It's romantic in the Jane Austen sense, I LOVE reading a story from Mary's perspective and watching her change yet maintain her principles, and the language is similar to Austen's which gives the book an authentic feel.  I've read it 3 times and plan on picking it up again... like tonight.

2. Sanditon by Jane Austen and "Another Lady"
This is the final, incomplete seventh novel, finished by an anonymous woman who very clearly knows her Jane Austen.  It's a lovely story with another classic heroine, and I have a feeling Jane Austen herself would approve.

3. Mr. Darcy's Daughters series by Elizabeth Aston
This is a 6 book series chronicling the "exploits and adventures" of the Darcys' five grown daughters (their 2 sons are young and away at school during the series-- don't worry, the Darcy name will carry on!).  Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam are hardly in the books which I kind of love.  The daughters are wonderfully entertaining and the books are full of interesting recurring side characters, not to mention there's always a romantic escapade. I also read Aston's modern JAFF book Writing Jane Austen-- about a writer who has to finish a newly discovered Austen manuscript and has never read one of her books (gasp!)-- and thoroughly enjoyed that book as well. 

4. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Gentleman trilogy by Pamela Aiden
The books are An Assembly Such As This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain.  The trilogy is a detailed retelling of P&P through the eyes of Darcy-- he basically tells the story.  I loved reading the romance through a man's perspective.

5. Pemberly Manor by Kathryn L. Nelson
A sequel to P&P that takes place right after the weddings of Jane and Elizabeth, how they cope with married life, life with Caroline, finding men for their younger sisters, and the pressures of producing an heir.  It's certainly more dramatic and there were a few subplots I wasn't crazy about, but I loved the writing, tone, and one of my favorite quotations comes from this book:
"As much as I regret that you have chosen a path of unhappiness for yourself, I choose to be happy, and you have no power to change that."

6. Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange
Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel so how could I not love reading Wentworth's diary about his love for Anne?!

7. The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview
Caroline Bingley is the heroine in this novel... wait, what?  It's true, this book is all about Miss Bingley finally finding love, and I have to say, I'm a sucker for character redemption.  Definitely worth a read... and RE-read since I just finished her two books again!

8. The Darcy Cousins (sequel to #7) by Monica Fairview
The story continues...

9. Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton
This is an especially interesting JAFF book because it intertwines many of the main characters from all 6 of Austen's novels; after all, many of them run in the same social circles.  There's matchmaking, romance, unrequited love, and a couple villains to keep you entertained.  The best part? It was written in 1913!! We Austenites have been around for AGES!

10. Emma & Knightley by Rachel Billington
The story takes place one year after Emma and Knightley are married and the matchmaking exploits that happen.

I find it interesting that there's not a lot of JAFF written for Sense and Sensibility, another favorite of mine.  Also, I haven't found anything for Northanger Abbey (not a surprise), but I did find something for Mansfield Park.  It's a murder mystery in which Fanny Price becomes a horrible bitch "lady of the manor" and is thus found murdered on the grounds... crazy!  Haven't read it yet but it's for the immediate future-- I'll let you know what I think.

So that's my confession: I love Jane Austen Fan Fiction.  If you look hard enough, read reviews, and take the time to skim the books in the bookstore, you can find some wonderful homages to the great Jane Austen. Happy reading!

09 March 2012

Mexican Stuffed Shells

I may not be able to invent dishes from nothing, but occasionally, once I've finished with a recipe it's far better improved than when I began.  Such is the Case of the Mexican Stuffed Shells (sounds like a delectable mystery novel), a Pinterest recipe found here.

It all began when my green onions went bad... the day after I did my shopping.  I should clarify that going to the grocery store-- or anywhere for that matter-- is no easy feet given the location of our apartment, the ridiculous LA traffic, and the even more ridiculous LA parking. I could've walked to the local market but I never have cash, they only allow charges to be $5 or higher, and I didn't feel like buying random stuff just to bring up the total.  Moreover... I'm lazy.

Okay so, my green onions went bad and I apparently needed them for the recipe, so I decided to substitute a real onion and saute it when I browned the meat.  As I reread the recipe I then realized the major lack of flavor my shells were sure to have.  They were just basically taco flavored meat in pasta-- BORING. Thus my stuffed shell recipe was born.  And double bonus: I also came up with a great snack as well so you're getting 2 for 1 blogs today!  How lucky are you?

Start with your seasoning-- the most important part!
Yup, that's homemade taco seasoning. Super easy, made with all common spices, and much lower in sodium than that store bought crap.  Plus look how much of the individual spices I still have leftover... and do you see how much it made?!  This will be my go-to from now on.

While the shells boil, mix up the yummy filling...
Mmmmmmm creamy goodness... You could also try using sour cream if you're not a fan of cream cheese, you just don't need to simmer the meat longer. It'll change the flavor a bit, but come on... it's not going to be bad.

You could pretty much stop at the gooey melted cheese part and say "screw you!" to the garnish.

Mexican Stuffed Shells-- Jamie style!

1 to 1.25# ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp homemade taco seasoning
1 cup water
4oz Lite Cream Cheese
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Everything else:

18-20 jumbo pasta shells
1 cup salsa
1 - 8oz bottle Taco Sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese

1/2 to 1 cup cilantro, chopped or torn 
Chopped green onions
Chopped black olives
Chopped fresh tomatoes

1.  Cook pasta shells according to the package's PRE-BAKE directions. (In other words, you want the shells to be al dente.  Salt the water to prevent them from sticking and be sure to separate each noodle when they're done.)
2.  In a large skillet, brown onion, garlic, and meat. When cooked through, add taco seasoning and 1 cup water, simmer for 10 minutes (or until most of the liquid has cooked down).  Then add the cream cheese in small chunks, cover and simmer, stirring regularly until meat is blended with cream cheese.  Remove from heat.  Stir in cilantro.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread salsa on bottom of 9x13 baking dish (you probably won't need the full cup so feel free to save the rest for garnish). Stuff shells generously without overfilling, lay evenly in dish with the open side up, and cover shells with taco sauce.  Cover dish with foil and bake 30 minutes.
4. Remove foil, add shredded cheese, then bake uncovered for 10 -15 minutes more.  Top with condiments you like-- I obviously chose cilantro.  Serve with sour cream, salsa, and/or guacamole.

Seriously delicious dish.

**Next time I think I'll toss some chopped jalapeno in with the onion for added heat and flavor. Not to mention I'm concocting a recipe for Mexican Stuffed Shells with Chicken. Stay tuned...

And also....

Mexican Stuffed Cups-- an impromptu appetizer

So I had some leftover filling, didn't feel like boiling up 2 more noodles, and was getting hungry just smelling everything, so I decided to make up a snack.  Here's the before:

And now for the After:
These are also absolutely delicious and a great, easy snack for after school, weekends, drunk nights, a casual party... ANYTHING!

Mexican Stuffed Shell filling (see above)
Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
Tostitos Scoops

Fill each scoop with filling, spread evenly on baking pan, top with cheese.  Bake for 5-7 minutes at 350 degrees, or until cheese is melted.  Top with a dollop of guacamole (optional... and not pictured) and serve with salsa.

You could also use this meat filling for nachos as well.

I need a clever name for these-- any ideas?  I must say I'm loving trying out recipes and reinventing them. Do you have any recipes you are afraid to try because you're not sure if they're good?  I will make and review them for you. I wish I could do a piece where you come over and we cook the recipe together and have a photo shoot BUUUUUUT none of my readers live nearby. Sad panda.

08 March 2012

Current Favorites: March 2012

Happy March! The month of St. Patty's Day and the Vernal Equinox!  Let's get this party started!

Kicking my faves list off with this awesome product called the "Color Bug." It's temporary, the colors are bright on blond hair, and this could be the answer to pink streaks in my hair!

Also loving my homemade chocolate chip pecan cookies-- they're my husband's favorite.  It's a tweaked recipe from my mom's chocolate chip cookies and I just recently added cinnamon into the mix! Yum!  
And of course, it was Chicago's 175th birthday a few days ago... love that favorite city :)
For the past 2 and a half weeks I've been OBSESSED with "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning," a brand new fantasy RPG based on the writings of R.A. Salvatore.  It's a complete blast!
Are these screen shots not sweet?!

Another favorite thing is planning our weekly menu around recipes I find on Pinterest.  I haven't made any of the ones below YET, but they're on my list...
(Recipes clockwise from top left: Apple Nachos, Greek Pasta Salad, Pesto Chicken stuffed shells, and Bailey's Irish Cream cookies)

Taking a complete 180 from the cooking angle is motivation and optimism for the new "Me" to come.

Date Night <3

And finally... HUMOR.


07 March 2012

Slow cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

I'm not gonna lie: I have the coolest friends EVER!  If you don't know me or are not one of my friends... be jealous... and then let's become friends!!!  I have a few that are amazing career women, beautiful moms, fashionistas, artists, writers, photographers... everyone is unbelievably talented and God has blessed me with them.

Which brings me to my lovely friend Elizabeth over at Simply E3 Design. She and I first met our freshman year of college in Chicago.  It was a tumultuous year for me personally (a lot of esoteric soul searching) and for us as roommates with 2 other women.  Elizabeth and I clicked because we're both organized, motivated, mature, and appreciate apartment cleanliness.  This was not the case with the other 2 girls; throw in other girl drama and you get a typical first year of college roommate experience.  Elizabeth transferred back to Iowa after that year but thankfully, through the power of social networking, we've remained friends.

As a person, Elizabeth is lovely, classy (think Breakfast at Tiffany's meets Modern Eco Chic), and has an amazing eye for art and photography.  She can also cook, is raising one handsome son over in Germany, and is currently building her and her husband's dream house in Texas-- read all about the process on her blog.  She's a seasoned traveler, lived in Hawaii for 2 years... basically she's one of those disgustingly talented, intelligent people you just have to love.

E. has an avid interest in Indian food so she recently posted her recommended recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala here.  Yes, that's HER photograph, by the way.  I've always had an avid fear of Indian food mainly because I wouldn't know what to order besides Naan (which I could and would eat every day if human bodies didn't need nutrients and sustenance and what not), and even though we have an Indian grocer (that smells funny) with a restaurant across the street, I'm less than brave when it comes to this food genre.  Thus, I had to try an E. recommended recipe to kick off my adventure into Indian cuisine.

Here's the result:
It was DELICIOUS!!!  I can't wait to eat the leftovers after the rice absorbs the sauce and the flavors have time to marinate.  Seriously... I'm debating about getting a bowl right.this.minute.  I'm not going to post the recipe-- you can go to E3 Design for that-- but my cooking process wasn't exactly the same so I'll go into those details.

Hodge Podge notes... The cucumber relish is a great compliment, easy, but next time I want to toss in some avocado and use lime juice instead of lemon.  Refreshing.

Also, I'd garnish the Chicken with cilantro for an added flavor boost.

So.... I accidentally bought 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs last week for no reason and knew they'd be great for this.  HOWEVER, you need to cut the chicken into pieces ahead of time and I don't own the knives for that kind of work with raw meat.  Thus, I parboiled the chicken for 20 minutes then added the spices & yogurt.  

Instead of browning the chicken in quarters, I tossed the whole bunch in my 12 inch skillet to save time. And I only used 2 Tbsp of butter... 4 seemed like too much.

I used rock sugar (made from beets) instead of raw sugar because that's what I had on hand. As a result, I only added 2 heaping teaspoons because it's much sweeter than normal sugar.  It worked well.  

I used organic brown rice (NOT INSTANT) for the mixture.  It's extremely filling.

Finally, the biggest change was my replacement of the heavy cream with Lite Coconut Milk (Taste of Thai brand).  This....... was not intended.  I  SOMEONE forgot to put heavy cream on the list so it never made it to the checkout line. Fortunately I had a can of coconut milk for no reason.  My skim milk wasn't an option, and I was concerned subbing yogurt would hurt the flavor.  Anyway... coconut milk... BEST IDEA EVER.  I'm sure I lost out on some of the creaminess (which might be remedied if I use Greek yogurt with the chicken, though I did add extra cornstarch to the milk), but the dish wasn't acidic, too spicy, or funky tasting. Plus there's less fat and dairy, so this will be my key ingredient from now on.  Not to mention the leftover heavy cream would've gone bad whereas I used the entire 14.5oz can of coconut milk.

Overall, I recommend splurging on the boneless/skinless chicken thighs if you can find them, but I think next time I'll use chicken breasts so the sauce is chunkier.

06 March 2012

Revenge of the Nerds

Anyone else notice the growing trend of "uncool" becoming "cool" throughout the masses? Suddenly, waiting in line for the midnight release of Harry Potter (or Twilight if you're into that kind of thing) is not only something you admit to your friends, but also something you do with them... and in costume (also referred to as "cosplay" on the anime/ComicCon circuit).  Video games are no longer solitarily played in your parents' basement with a six pack of Mountain Dew & bag of Cheetos, they're done upstairs... in the living room... with OTHER PEOPLE! Spending time socializing on the computer isn't sad-- it's how you plan your Saturday nights-- and glasses are a fashion statement, not a fashion misstep.

However, the biggest change-- pun intended-- I've noticed (because it affects me directly) is the acceptance of curves, the realization that many women are above a size 4/6, beautiful, proud, and ATTRACTIVE. The 90's were all about that flat-as-a-board, straight, gangly, skinny and almost boyish female. Then the hourglass figured, busty Victoria's Secret models moved women forward into the beginning of the 21st century. And now... curves are rockin' the socks off the fashion industry, Hollywood, and the rest of us.  To clarify, I'm referring to voluptuous, not fat. I consider myself a fat Curvy Girl and am failing striving to become a thin Curvy Girl. But I'll never be a size 6 (like... I'd be near death and such if I reached that point), I'll always have thunder thighs (or "sexy dancer thighs" as my husband likes to call them), and will in general be a wider version of thin-- which is not only fine but AWESOME. I love that I'm built this way, that I'm full, with hips, a waist, and a bust... I think it makes me look softer actually. Touchable, even.  A man has something to hold on to and won't feel every bone in my body (gross).

Yet, with all this acceptance of the ammunition formerly carried around by bullies for us "nerds," we get the Posers.  The cool kids who had to have the latest clothing, the latest music, the latest everything are suddenly just as nerdy as the rest of us. Bullshit. For instance, an incredibly outgoing woman-- former prom queen-- now thinks she's an introvert. "Well her behavior could all be an act" you might say.  Is it an act that in every new place she lives she MUST find not only a church family but join as many Bible groups as possible?  Is it an act when she also joins other extracurricular activities in addition to work and church? Is it an act that she regularly socializes with coworkers outside of work? Is it an act that she's busy every weekend with social events? Is it an act that she travels regularly around the country to visit friends?  No. If you really want time to yourself, you WILL have it. That's the difference.  As an introvert made to feel "antisocial" and weird by extroverts because I like solitude as much as I enjoy the company of people, I'm insulted that an individual who needs the company of people as much as she needs air is suddenly an introvert because time spent alone reading, gaming, watching Netflix, traversing Facebook is now acceptable.

Yesterday I was on Yahoo! looking at the latest news and they had a tagline referring to Taylor Swift's "curves" in a bikini. So being me... I clicked on it.  SUCKER!  Taylor Swift's body resembles the surfboards found on the beaches of California-- being able to identify your waist and hips does NOT mean you're curvy.  The term "curvy" implies so much more: plus size, full figured, busty, larger than size 6, Marilyn Monroe, socially ostracized growing up, struggles with weight, struggles with self esteem, realizing confidence, individualism, "Real Woman Beauty."  And now the "skinny bitches" (and no, I don't think skinny women are actually bitches) are trying to take that away from us?! No. I won't stand for that crap.  It's taken me years to finally love my curves in spite of the ridicule and dateless dances... oh wait, I was an introvert so I didn't even GO (but I would've if I'd had a date), and some chick without a clue as to the pain, suffering, fighting you do when you're not the norm will never get the privilege of calling herself "curvy." I won't allow it. Okay, I can't back that up but am I alone here?  Am I the only one who finds it insulting to lose what makes me nerdy/curvy/introverted to the cool kids because they want to be part of the group?

Just be who you are.  If you're not into Harry Potter that's a-ok (though let's be honest, the Wizarding World lost its Nerd Status when it reached 450 million copies sold), if you love sports that's fantastic-- teach me! And if you love fashion and hate reading books, I will still be your friend.  Personally I have no desire to be "cool" (whatever that means other than the stereotyped high school jock or college sorority/frat peeps who spend every weekend trashed/throwing up in a parking lot), I am who I am, I like what I like, doesn't matter if it's trendy or geek-a-licious.

Frito Casserole

You know how memories throughout your life all revolve around food? Or is that just me... Anyway, all most of my childhood reminiscing triggers food I loved as a kid.  Not just Eggo cinnamon toast waffles, frozen TV dinners with that cartoon penguin, and sausages wrapped in pancakes from Market Day, I'm talking Home.Cooked.Meals. Hence why I'd like to be a halfway decent cook by the time my children arrive... by stork... as fully developed 3 year olds.... isn't that how it works?!

As a stay-at-home mom raising three kids close in age, teaching private piano, accompanying church and choirs, and doing bills and the displays for the family bakery, when it came to dinner my mom relied heavily on the middle class favorite: CASSEROLES. Doesn't it have an ominous ring to it? Now with countless fad diets, vegan/vegetarianism, the Food Network & Cooking Channel, tons of food magazines, Pinterest... the idea of a casserole is old fashioned, uncool, stereotyped as (dun dun dun!) unhealthy.  Now that the Crockpot is en vogue, I want to bring back the Casserole Love.

The fact remains that I still love many of my mom's casseroles (Note: I did not say ALL) and enjoy the simplicity and smell of dinner baking in the oven. If you hadn't guessed-- which I know you did cause you're a mad genius-- my absolute favorite is Frito Casserole. Since my little brother John HATED beans as a kid, FC became a treat as my mom tried desperately to please her family of five (3 of whom were picky children who disliked various foods) with one singular supper. We'd have it occasionally, John washing down every bite with the required glass of milk for our meal and a pained expression on his face, and those were the nights I was happy to eat home rather than McDonald's or (getting fancy on you now) Applebee's.

Can you blame me?

Seriously, who doesn't love meat, cheese, and Fritos?! (rhetorical question alert) Honestly, there aren't too many beans and they're easy to pick out, so if you have a child that has an aversion to those gas wielding beauties, this is still a manageable meal.  Otherwise try leaving them out or substituting them for something else and let me know what you do-- I love when people mess with my recipes :)

Mmmmmmmmmm NOM NOM NOM!

The best part about this recipe is it's a version of my mom's but even she changed it from the original: she added the cheese. My taste buds thank you, Mother.

1 to 1.25# ground turkey (or beef)
1 onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 - 16oz can tomato sauce
5.5oz tomato juice (Campbell's makes little cans)
1 medium sized bag Lightly Salted Fritos (or regular)
1 can chili beans, with liquid (I used organic, but Brooks is a recommended brand)
1/2 to 1 tsp oregano
Dash of crushed red pepper (optional)
1-3 Tbsp chili powder-- to taste
8oz Shredded 2% cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown meat, onion, garlic (add salt & pepper to taste). Drain. Stir in tomato sauce, juice, oregano, red pepper, chili powder. In 2 qt casserole dish, layer beans, meat, cheese, and chips twice in that order. Cover and bake for 45 minutes-- uncover for the last 10 minutes.

Hodge Podge notes...  If you're like me and don't have a 2qt dish, any deeper and less wide dish will work. I used my Dutch oven, but you can buy aluminum dishes at the grocery store for one time use. Just cover with foil :)

Next time I want to add some chopped jalapeno (add with onion) as well as my favorite herb... CILANTRO (add with oregano)!!  Feel free to try.

Finally, serve guacamole and chips-- or some kind of avocado salad as a side-- it's a great balance of flavor.

05 March 2012

Hair's the Problem: A Beauty Post

Though I've been trying to expand my makeup horizons, try new looks, and blog about them, I hit a snag 10 days ago when my right eye started feeling a bit... sore and irritated. The next day I woke up, noticed the lid swelling, and knew I had another damn stye.  I used to get these stupid eyelid infections (think eye pimple due to oil build up in the lash pore) as a kid and remember holding searingly hot cloths to the infected lid-- once I had two, one on the bottom and the other on the top lid. Special.

So this is what I looked like for a few days:
I promise no one punched me and I wasn't stung by a bee. Ah the pleasures of having ridiculously oily skin (my dad had the same problem in high school).  I never got it to burst while I was awake, but it took a few days of waking up to a crusted shut eye to see the thing dissipate.  Don't you just love medical stories?!

As a result I've gone makeup less until the redness went away. Which was this past Saturday.  Fortunately this was just in time for Date Night so I got all sexified with a darker golden look.

My Pinspiration:

And here's my attempt:
 Not gonna lie, I made such a mess with the Black and Dark Gray (I tried them both out) that I had to remove all the makeup surrounding my eyes because I looked dirty.  Note to self: when using dark shadow, do the eyes FIRST. In addition, I think I'm reaching a point where I want to try out fake lashes. Nothing too large but just enough to accent when I go out. With the right lashes I think I'd do "doe-eyed" pretty well.

And like I mentioned here, I did chop off my locks for a short, sassy do that I can manage and won't make me look like a man (I've been called "sir" before... painful).



What do you think? As you can see, I didn't go red-- the stylist talked me out of it! Apparently red fades the fastest, is a ton of maintenance (and $$$), and is a big commitment... like YEARS.  And if I wanted to revert back to blond, I'd need to bleach my fine hair, damaging it big time in the process. Sigh... I think I'd make a great red head too.  Ah well, all the women at the salon love my natural color (in better lighting I promise) and said so many women want my shade.  

All this appearance altering brought me to a startling realization: I'm a short hair gal.  Long hair is beautiful on women who have plenty of it and know how to style it, but shortly after my hair passes my shoulders it becomes scraggly and has no body. I know in the above photos it doesn't look that way but that's only because I'd just finished doing my hair when I took the pictures. Ten minutes later and my hair would be lifeless. Bummer.  Perhaps some day for a special occasion I'll splurge for extensions.

I've always been a proponent for long hair as women age since it takes years off; however, short hair will be my look from now on. My hair looks fuller, healthier, and I can maintain it better.  Plus it's damn cute when done right.  What kind of rules do you have about hair?

04 March 2012

German-Style Sausage Skillet

Are you hungry yet??

I originally found this Better Homes and Gardens recipe here as a fast, low-cal, during-the-week menu option and it just looked and sounded soooooooo delicious.  And that assessment isn't far from the truth (okay, it is the truth).

Because I'm 95% German/Austrian, this skillet called out to my meat, potato, and sauerkraut loving roots. Plus I never make German food... like ever.  It's always seemed (gasp!) bland-- my great grandmothers are rolling over in their graves at those words. Blandness is not an issue here. If you aren't sold on the mouthwatering photo or my testament, just know that it's a 35 minute, family-sized entree that's a little sweet, a little sour, and a lot savory.

Here's the recipe--

  • 1/2 cup sliced onion (1 medium)
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup apple cider or apple juice
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
  • 1 20-ounce package refrigerated red potato wedges
  • 1 pound cooked smoked turkey sausage, cut into bite-size slices
  • 1 14-ounce can Bavarian-style sauerkraut*
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)

In a 12-inch skillet cook and stir onion in hot oil over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes or until tender. Sprinkle with flour. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Stir in apple cider, broth, and mustard. Add potato wedges, sausage pieces, and sauerkraut. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until thickened and bubbly and potatoes are tender. If desired, stir cranberries into the sausage mixture. Spoon sausage mixture into dishes; serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

*Note: If Bavarian-style sauerkraut is unavailable, substitute one 14.5-ounce can sauerkraut plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds.

Hodge Podge notes...I used organic apple juice that I seasoned with the William-Sonoma cinnamon spice blend to resemble cider.

I also followed the directions and made my own Bavarian style sauerkraut-- highly recommend. Don't just used plain kraut as it lacks the flavor necessary in this dish.

Instead of turkey sausage, I accidentally bought actual precooked bratwurst (thought I was buying turkey brats-- I do this kind of thing ALL the time), which was delish and definitely an option if you have leftover brats from a cookout... or you just love the real thing.  

I didn't spend the $5 for precut potato wedges, just use 3-5 scrubbed red potatoes and save your pennies.

And finally-- If you have them at home, add the dried cranberries!  I always keep a bag around because I love them on salads & oatmeal, they offer a great balance of sweet to the skillet. Also, don't add them at the end, put them in when you add the sausage and let simmer. They get juicy. You won't regret it.

03 March 2012

Eleven Things

So my awesome friend Lori tagged me in a blog post over at her amazing blog A Little Slice Of Special. Check it out when you're done reading mine :)

There are five rules
1. Post these rules:
2. Post a photo of yourself and 11 random things.

3. Answer the questions set for you in the original post.
4. Create 11 new questions and tag people to answer them.
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you've tagged them.

First, I would like to clarify that I'm terrible at taking self-photos because my camera is a smart phone without a camera that switches.... so I have to stand in bad light in front of a mirror.  Failsies. This was me messin' with an up-do for my long hair........... which will be gone in 12 hours as well as (gasp!) RED!!!  It was my hubby's idea-- I love that man :)

11 Random Things you may or may not know about me...
1. I was frightened into never dying my hair-- my mom made it very clear I was never allowed to while living under her roof and also made it seem like once I dyed my hair I'd never have my blond color again. Very dramatic.  I did highlight it during summer 2010 but didn't love it enough to keep it. And I always wanted pink streaks!

2. My mom gave me a severed deer leg from knee to hoof as a toy (no, we weren't poor or trailer trash).  My grandpa had found it in the woods, petrified, and my then 12 year old mom wanted to keep it and apparently turn it into a family heirloom.  You could see the bone, the fur had maintained its color... writing this makes it sound so fucked up, not gonna lie.  She still has it too.... for the grandkids.

3. Had a nose ring from 18 to 21. Loved it.

4.  As a kid, I had a reputation of messing up my weekly Blockbuster VHS rental.  I ended up renting "The Last Unicorn" and "Bingo" both of which got shut off by my mom because of the language.  They said words like "damn" "hell" and "shit." My little brother gave me both the DVD's as recent Christmas presents so I could finally finish the movies!  I also accidentally rented the NC17 "Pocahontas" (yes, it exists) because someone had switched the tapes. Wonder if my brother'll find that one.

5.  I'm secretly a jazzy pop singer waiting to happen. (I kind of want to be a backup singer and a voice actor... seriously)

6. My husband is my first real boyfriend, the only guy I've ever slept with (TMI?), and second guy I ever dated or kissed.  And we became a couple during dinner on our first date.  That's how I roll.

7. Kind of tried meeting up with a few guys from MySpace. And actually met up with 3. One was an asshole and a memory I'd like to forget, the second was conceded but amusing, and the third will be a lifelong friend. Love my friend Patrick. (My brother did worry about me that summer though)

8. I owned albums of Britney Spears, NSync, Backstreet Boys, Melissa Ethridge, Paula Abdul, Creed, Ace of Base, Spice Girls, and Nickelback. Yeah.......................... but I still love Ace of Base and Spice Girls!

9. Never broken a bone. Knock on wood.

10.  When I had my tonsils removed, the doctor told me only 1% of all patients have complications. Yup, I'm that kind of person. So when I was 8 I had them removed, told the nurse afterwards that I kept having to swallow something, but they sent me home anyway.  A few hours later I was throwing up blood at home and when the ER wouldn't see me immediately I threw up more blood in their garbage can. That got their attention.  The doctor tried re-doing the stitches while I was awake and I had to hold a stick in my throat. Fun.  Needless to stay I was put back into surgery and stayed overnight.

11.  I love the anime show "Fairy Tail" so much that my husband and I want to seriously get their emblem tattooed on our bodies. But I want to do a special individual design for each of us because guess what... I draw and need to embrace that fact.

Here's what Lori wanted to know--

1.  What's your favorite color-and why?

Light Pink (any pink really) because it's feminine and sweet. Also it looks cool in hair.

2.  What's your favorite song of all time?

This is a terrible question because I CAN'T PICK FAVORITES!!!!  I'm unbelievably indecisive. I've changed my tastes in music many times since I was kid (mostly because as I got older I was allowed to listen to more "adult" stuff... stupid parental warnings).  Here's what I will love for the rest of my life: "All I want is You" by U2, "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "In the Bleak Midwinter" performed by Julie Andrews, "Edelweiss" from Sound of Music, "Rainbow Connection" by Kermit the Frog, "Closer" by NIN, and "Creep" by Radiohead.  

3.  Favorite guilty pleasure?

Food/Drink wise: Diet coke with Lime-- I have one every day.  Otherwise... I don't feel guilty about any of the weird stuff I watch/listen to/ read-- own it baby!

4.  What was the name of your first pet, how old were you when you got them and what were they?

My first pet was/is Niko, a Russian Blue cat. I was 23 when my husband and I adopted him from the Anti-Cruelty Society. Love my little baby boy.

5.  Who was your best friend in 5th grade, are you still friends with them?

Not gonna lie, I was kind of a "best friend whore"-- I went through them like water.  I reached a point in my life now where I don't really believe in best friends... it seems unfair to your other good friends, and who wants to rank the important people in their life? Anyway, I think it was a toss up between Vicki Philips/Beth Franco/Katie Overum.  I have no idea what happened to Beth, Vicki and I are "friends" on FB, and Katie & I spoke once about 6 years ago randomly.

6.  Of the places you've lived where was your favorite?Chicago, baby!  One of the greatest, most beautiful cities in the world. I promise. Though I haven't quite started a full life in LA yet so I'm withholding judgment.

7.  What has been the best place you've traveled?
Haven't been to too many places, in fact I spent my childhood going to Disneyworld every other year. Note: that was NOT a complaint.  Besides WDW (it really is one of the happiest places on earth), Washington D.C. It's beautiful, clean, interesting-- I didn't get enough time there when we stayed a few days on our family tour of the eastern U.S. but I haven't forgotten how beautiful that place is....

8.  Name one item on your bucket list.

Go to the airport with a carry-on, pick a place, and go... FIRST CLASS.

9.  What's your favorite blog?
Um... I love all the blogs I read. They're all so different! Little Slice o' Special is all about fashion/health/beauty, CupcakesOMG is f'in HILARIOUS, Is It Naptime Yet is sweet and fun/great parenting observations, Reading List has interesting book reviews, Simply E3 is insightful and pretty... Yeah, I'm not picking a favorite. And you can't make me!

10.  What's your favorite scary movie?

Ugh, I hate current scary movies.  Blood & gore do not appeal-- I'm old school.  Top 3 in no particular order: "Night of the Hunter," "Wait Until Dark," and "Strangers on a Train" If you don't know these films, look them up then watch them. 

11.  Bigfoot, Nessie, etc...real or not real?

Government conspiracy.

Now youz better answer my questions!!!

1. What celebrity are you DYING to meet and why?
2. What was the best concert you ever went to?
3. What was the first big "adult" purchase you ever made and how did it feel?
4. Dream vacation... GO!
5. First real crush and did you do anything about it?
6. What's your favorite film? Worst film ever made?
7. Most embarrassing moment?
8. What era would you live in and why?
9. Got any weird cravings/ food combos you absolutely love?
10. Would you ever get plastic surgery? If no, why not? If yes, what?
11. Top 3 books and why?

I'm Tagging...
Lori at Little Slice of Special
Michael at Two Shots of Euphoria
Kristin at The Never Ending Reading List
Liz at Is It Naptime Yet
Elizabeth at Simply E3 Design
Melissa at CupcakesOMG!