30 March 2013

Soapbox Saturday and a Package From My Parents

I stepped onto my soapbox Wednesday when I addressed my arguments supporting Same-Sex Marriage, so I think that's enough controversy for one week.

That and I'm not feeling well. I haven't been sick since February of 2012 and I'd like to keep it that way! While I know blogging isn't exactly strenuous, migraines don't help the process so it's time to rest.

This week a package arrived from my parents filled with souvenirs from their recent week long excursion to Honolulu. My mom and dad are the most supportive, excellent parents in the Universe so I was thrilled they got to fly FIRST CLASS-- fancy!!!-- to Hawaii and spend a week by the beach in the warmth (they live in the Midwest). Even being on a much deserved vacation, they shopped for their kids (that's me!).  Check it out:

This guy makes me want to drink beer!!

The cookies are tasty!

That's one of the four pineapple knives that got my mom stopped by airport security because she forgot to pack them in the suitcase. Lesson learned.

Plus we got Easter cookies from the family bakery! Oh they tasted like Heaven....


27 March 2013

Marriage Equality

If you've been on Facebook in the last 36 hours, you may have noticed this (or similar versions of it) ALL OVER your Newsfeed:

Bright, is it not? So so bright....

Anyway, my profile is also sporting this little beauty in support of Marriage Equality and my friends whose rights are discriminated against.

Heeeeeeere's the thing: I don't like using FB or my blog for political or religious agendas mainly because I like to keep that shit private, but I've been passionately against the anti-gay attitude since high school and wanted to put in my two cents because it's my blog and I can.

Obviously, if you do not share my beliefs you'll probably be offended or pissed or argumentative or may never read my blog again, but that's your decision.


Honestly, I cannot fathom why Same-Sex Marriage is even an issue. With Global Warming, our natural resources running low, the war in the Middle East, North Korea testing nukes, the struggling economy, and many other major crises around the world, arguing Marriage Equality is probably the biggest waste of time and brain power.


Because the argument is religious and our country was founded with the express intent that no one religion dictates law. I'm sure the Founding Fathers didn't take into account Atheism, Wiccan, Agnostics, Muslims, Jews, Scientology etc etc, but it seemed they had the foresight to prepare for more immigrants with varying religions becoming citizens. So while protestors are spouting Leviticus and Sodom and Gomorrah, the bottom line is homosexuals should be afforded the right to marry in the eyes of the STATE.

And yes, their rights are being discriminated against because there are privileges granted to married couples-- like, oh, I don't know.... ALL OF THESE:

  • Right to benefits while married:
    • employment assistance and transitional services for spouses of members being separated from military service; continued commissary privileges
    • per diem payment to spouse for federal civil service employees when relocating
    • Indian Health Service care for spouses of Native Americans (in some circumstances)
    • sponsor husband/wife for immigration benefits
  • Larger benefits under some programs if married, including:
  • Joint and family-related rights:
    • joint filing of bankruptcy permitted
    • joint parenting rights, such as access to children's school records
    • family visitation rights for the spouse and non-biological children, such as to visit a spouse in a hospital or prison
    • next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions or filing wrongful death claims
    • custodial rights to children, shared property, child support, and alimony after divorce
    • domestic violence intervention
    • access to "family only" services, such as reduced rate memberships to clubs & organizations or residency in certain neighborhoods
  • Preferential hiring for spouses of veterans in government jobs
  • Tax-free transfer of property between spouses (including on death) and exemption from "due-on-sale" clauses.
  • Special consideration to spouses of citizens and resident aliens
  • Threats against spouses of various federal employees is a federal crime
  • Right to continue living on land purchased from spouse by National Park Service when easement granted to spouse
  • Court notice of probate proceedings
  • Domestic violence protection orders
  • Existing homestead lease continuation of rights
  • Regulation of condominium sales to owner-occupants exemption
  • Funeral and bereavement leave
  • Joint adoption and foster care
  • Joint tax filing
  • Insurance licenses, coverage, eligibility, and benefits organization of mutual benefits society
  • Legal status with stepchildren
  • Making spousal medical decisions
  • Spousal non-resident tuition deferential waiver
  • Permission to make funeral arrangements for a deceased spouse, including burial or cremation
  • Right of survivorship of custodial trust
  • Right to change surname upon marriage
  • Right to enter into prenuptial agreement
  • Right to inheritance of property
  • Spousal privilege in court cases (the marital confidences privilege and the spousal testimonial privilege)
  • For those divorced or widowed, the right to many of ex- or late spouse's benefits, including:
    • Social Security pension
    • veteran's pensions, indemnity compensation for service-connected deaths, medical care, and nursing home care, right to burial in veterans' cemeteries, educational assistance, and housing
    • survivor benefits for federal employees
    • survivor benefits for spouses of longshoremen, harbor workers, railroad workers
    • additional benefits to spouses of coal miners who die of black lung disease
    • $100,000 to spouse of any public safety officer killed in the line of duty
    • continuation of employer-sponsored health benefits
    • renewal and termination rights to spouse's copyrights on death of spouse
    • continued water rights of spouse in some circumstances
    • payment of wages and workers compensation benefits after worker death
    • making, revoking, and objecting to post-mortem anatomical gifts

And no, Civil Unions are not given all of these rights.

Please understand that even if Same-Sex Marriage was nationally legalized, churches still get to decide whether or not they will allow it. In fact, there are already several that do. It amazes me how that anti-marriage equality movement will use Separation of Church and State for their argument when it actually protects both sides of the issue.

I want to tackle a few of the arguments against Marriage Equality because that sounds like fun.

Homosexuality is against Nature.

Ummmm.... no it's not. Monogamy among animals (and like it or not humans are animals too) is more rare than homosexual behavior. In fact, Polygamy is Nature's preferred sexual behavior to preserve balance, and there are plenty of species that participate in homosexual sex, another argument against CHOICE. Look at me using my knowledge from the Animal Behavior and Philosophy classes I took. See Mom & Dad, my college education did come in handy!

Let's try a rephrase: "Homosexuality is against MY nature." And it's also against mine as I'm a hetero female, but that doesn't make it wrong. I dislike country music but that doesn't mean I should ban it from the radio and have all country musicians executed.

Homosexuality is a choice.

That's cute. When people say this, I wonder if they've ever asked a gay person how they came about deciding on the sexual preference that is railed against in much of society, could get them beaten up or killed, would cause their family and some friends to disown them, and lose certain rights. What a choice!!! Sign me up!

Homosexuality is NOT a choice. And it is. Just like Heterosexuality is both. Okay, before I piss people off, let me explain. You can choose to have a homo/heterosexual relationship any time you want, that's the beauty of free will. So, while I am sexually attracted to men, I could choose to be with a woman.... but it goes against my nature (OMG did you see how I tied that in with the previous section?!).

In reality, true sexual orientation is not a choice. You know from a young age whether you're attracted to boys or girls. Children react on instinct, so if a 5 year old boy decides he likes boys, that is part of his natural makeup, not a conscious decision. Which brings me to the religious side of things.

"But Jamie, aren't you a Christian? Isn't homosexuality a sin according to the Bible?" you ask.

Oh man, this is such a loaded question, but if I'm going to sum up my response: Yes I am a Christian, no I don't believe Homosexuality is a sin, and God and I are cool with that. In fact, I believe the verses used to proclaim it a sin have been grossly misinterpreted and taken out of context.  And while you might think "That's cute but your opinion doesn't matter against the Word of God" I would add that my thinking is that of far more intelligent and knowledgeable Theologians who, like, have PhDs and stuff and also believe in God and Jesus.

You see, I've never understood the anti-gay sentiment. I went to church and learned the lesson of love from Jesus and that we're all God's creatures, created by Him in His image. So you can imagine my confusion when I tried to comprehend individuals who knew they were gay since preschool against individuals protesting them in the name of God and telling them to change their sinful ways. Didn't God make gay people? Why would God make someone gay against their will then leave them to deal with people who protest their nature? God and I talked it over and I've felt at peace ever since.

A great reference that really dives into the subject is the documentary For The Bible Tells Me So. If you refuse to watch the film because you think it's a spun opinion piece, then by all means go to the website and use their resources as a guide instead. Write to the professors and ministers that speak in the film and most of all, read essays and articles, pray and use God's guidance to make up your own mind.

Quick thing about everyone's favorite story of Sodom and Gomorrah: look at the context of the story. It's not a society overrun by crazy gay people trying to make everyone gay. This was a city that sought pleasure in any way possible-- debauchery, beastiality, sex with anyone, anytime, anywhere, anyway they wanted. Sex wasn't about love, it was Lust. The men were trying to rape the angels that came to warn against this behavior; it's about using sex to humiliate and violate people, as well as denying hospitality to travelers in the desert as that was also a big no no.

Same-Sex Marriage is a step away from Beastiality.

I'm not even going to acknowledge this as a valid argument because it's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, and lacks any and all common sense.

Marriage is between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation.

Such a romantic sentiment. "Will you marry me and be my baby maker?" Okay fine, but did you take this approach toward your marriage or were you all about love, sharing life with a partner, choosing a soulmate, and spending the rest of your life with your best friend? I find this argument hypocritical because this isn't the heterosexual view of marriage either.

Sure, it's Biblical, but again, let's look at the context. That was before there were almost 7 billion people populating the Earth and many children without homes. Yes, scientifically speaking if every person on the planet decided to "lay with" their same gender, it would wipe out the human population... which is why it's a darn good thing there are both straight and gay people! Population control at its finest!

Marriage Equality ruins the Institution of Marriage.

Because straight people have done a great job keeping its sanctity. Half of all HETERO marriages end in divorce. Did you know that the legal institution of marriage didn't start with the Bible? Marriage was originally a vow made between a man, woman, and God. They'd make it and start living together. Unfortunately, some men would leave their wife and kids for another woman, and when the previous wife would protest, there was no proof he was responsible for her and the children.  So, society had to take charge and bring in legal contracts (and witnesses) to ensure the validity of these arguments. Ancient Civilizations class pays off!

Let's also consider the changes marriage has gone through over the centuries. Men could have multiple wives, women were traded to husbands for animals and crops and gold, a wife could be killed or divorced for not producing a male heir, wives couldn't ask for divorces, women needed parental consent, etc etc. So when some refers to the "Institution of Marriage" I want to know which one.

And to that I ask: Where the hell are all you anti same-sex marriage people when Atheists get married? Or Scientologists? Or Agnostics? If you're going to argue that marriage is a Christian practice between a man and a woman, then it needs to be made illegal for anyone not showing valid proof of a belief in Jesus. Show me your WWJD bracelet now!!!

Actually, legalized same-sex marriage may instill a greater appreciation for the Institution since it was previously denied, passing this on to the children of these couples, creating more respect for the act of marriage, as well as a greater willingness to work at marital relationships. Win-win!

Gay couples will make their children gay (and maybe mine too!).

Sorry, I didn't realize Homosexuality was a virus. My mistake.

"What am I going to tell my kids?"

Nothing? Why does it require explanation? If they ask, "Mommy, why does Billy have two daddies?" I guess "Because I said so!" wouldn't totally suffice. Obviously you're going to tell your kids what you feel is right. Your kids will look to your marriage as their main example, so use that as a guide, I guess.

I grew up in a Christian home but the question of sexual orientation never came up. My parents let me make up my own mind about my sexual preference and opinion of homosexuality (which I would've done anyway since I was that kind of a child), and I'm happily married. My older brother is happily married. I want everyone to share in the happiness I find in marriage. It's comforting to have one partner for the rest of my life that will share in the difficulties, challenges, and good times. There's also an amazing sense of peace knowing there is someone in this world who knows me better than anyone else.


Look, I'm not trying to change anyone's mind. These are my arguments and this is why I believe in Marriage Equality. I'm sure I could've added more sources and offered stronger educated arguments, but this is a blog, for crying out loud, and my knuckle hurts!

It's the ugliness of the argument I dislike the most. Insults and anger solve nothing.

Bigot is defined as a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred or intolerance.

Not everyone opposed to Same-Sex Marriage deserves this adjective because not all disagree using hate or intolerance, though it may feel that way to those on the other side of the line. Many people believe they are standing by God's Word, remaining true to their Christian faith and preaching morality. To them, it's a noble cause.

I understand, have researched the argument, but respectfully disagree with the cause on both Christian and human grounds. Not allowing Same-Sex couples to marry does tread on rights given to citizens of the United States, and yes that goes against the 14th Amendment of the Constitution:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

To me, it seems so simple. So I will continue to practice love and tolerance, no matter how many people disagree or hate me for it. Feel free to post a respectful opinion on either side of the issue. I'm happy to talk about it.

25 March 2013

God of War: Ascension

I love video games. You could say I'm a "Girl that plays Video Games"

While I am a blond with a substantial bosom, my husband can attest that my trucker's mouth and unjustified gaming anger gaming passion puts me in the category on the right. Fine by me!

While video games can be used to teach pilots to fly, teens to drive, and children the ABC's, I prefer to use them as anger management.

Enter God of War: Ascension.

The sixth game in the legendary God of War series by Santa Monica Studios, Ascension is actually a prequel to Kratos's quest to bring down Ares at the start of God of War 1.

Are you with me?  Hmm.... perhaps I should quickly summarize GOW before reviewing the game since some of you may have no idea what I'm talking about... and may not care. 

Okay, so the GOW series follows Kratos, a Spartan general who swore a blood oath to Ares in the midst of a losing battle and thus becomes Ares's Champion. So why is he pale with a red stripe? Well, to complete the oath, Ares tricked Kratos into murdering his wife and daughter thinking they were from the enemy country, and a crazy old woman (okay... an oracle) magically set their ashes into Kratos's skin. The red stripe is the mark of Sparta. 

And that's how Kratos becomes the "Ghost of Sparta." Cool nickname, no?

Obviously pissed, Kratos breaks away from Ares, spends 10 years questing for Athena, and at the beginning of the first game Kratos agrees to kill Ares who is attacking Athens and trying to bring down the gods. It's a Greek tragedy starring a bad ass main character with unquenchable anger who mercilessly hacks and slashes his way through baddies (and innocent people..... what? they give you health!) while climbing treacherous terrain and solving puzzles (he's not just brawn, ladies!). 

However, Ascension takes place right after the murder, when Kratos defies Ares for being a dick (seriously, that was a dick thing to do) and as a result, he's pursued and captured by the Furies-- immortal beings formed from the blood of the creatures that existed BEFORE the Titans, tasked with upholding honor, and hunting those that break oaths made to the gods.

GOW is known for epic boss battles, incredible terrain, and an overall massive scope within the world, and Ascension is no exception. The game opens with Kratos chained up, approached by a monologuing, insect-like Fury Sister (no, I don't remember her name) and breaks free, pursuing this crazy creature-lady through the Fury Prison...... which happens to built in, on, and around a giant multi-armed monster!! In fact, the arms move in the background, come to life and fight you, and you have to battle its nasty face-- E.P.I.C.

From there, the story flips between the present in the prison and the three weeks prior when Kratos first discovers he's being pursued. The entire goal of the Furies is not to torture and kill Kratos like they do other prisoners, but to drive him mad and make him rejoin Ares because that's what Ares wants (there's another reason but I'm not telling!).  While the story kept me going and had a good amount of twists and turns, as well as a couple very minor characters, it created some inconsistencies with the already existing GOW mythology.

I loved the addition of Orkos, a character assisting Kratos, because you hardly get to know or sympathize with any characters in the other games. Furthermore, Kratos was a bit more human and slightly merciful than in the other games. And while some critics bitched whined about that, it makes sense in his character arc that Kratos hasn't reached the cold, angry warrior state he has after ten years haunted by the guilt of killing his family. So there.

Gameplay and pacing remains consistent with the series, exceptions being the climbing-- you only need to move the joystick, no more pushing "X"-- and receiving no additional weapons. Instead, the Blades of Chaos absorb powers from four different gods and once they're leveled up entirely will give Kratos a special magic ability. This is probably the most dumbed down version of GOW's gameplay, but for beginners it'll be nice and straightforward. Plus I liked each separate power and the special combos that came with a specific god (Hades was my favorite).

There was quite of bit of climbing, lots of puzzles, but they broke up the action nicely since the boss battles are insane! Speaking of insane, the graphics are gorgeous, making the gore more detailed and bloodier than ever. Yes, I'm aware I hate horror movies with a lot of violence, but for some reason GOW doesn't bother me.... and it should considering that when you gut monsters or crack skulls you see EVERYTHING *shudder*  God of War is not for the kids, parents!

The single-player campaign lives up to the God of War legacy and will satisfy your craving for mythological violence and combat. One note: there is NO SEX MINI-GAME. (For those of you new to the series, all five of the previous games contain an optional sex mini-game... usually in a brothel... that earns you a ton of red orbs for leveling up your weapons.) The lack of this traditional element didn't bother me since Kratos uses sex to fill the void of his guilt and none of that has set in yet.

The game also has [the stupidest] New Game Plus, so you can replay the story campaign on the same difficulty with which you beat the game but this time using everything you earned. HOWEVER, you can't earn trophies in NG+ nor can you transfer your leveled up Kratos to a higher difficulty. Which, in my opinion, is super dumb. Rather than find a game "enjoyably challenging" on an impossibly hard difficulty setting, like certain gamers, I find it frustrating to the point of wanting to chuck my controller at the television (so much for anger management, amiright?). And that's just not fun.  If a game makes me consistently angry, I stop playing.

I'm not a fan of online gaming, but my husband tried out the new GOW Multiplayer mode and had a great time with it. It's a change of pace from shooting people in Call of Duty and has unique leveling up elements with armor and weapons. However, it takes a really long time to build powerful weapons and armor, making your character vulnerable against more powerful players. Also, there are major server issues that caused Michael to lose the points he earned even after beating a level-- not cool. And while he did enjoy himself, the multiplayer wasn't fun enough to keep him coming back.

Overall, God of War fans will find the sixth installment in the series a worthwhile purchase, though I'm not sure how many will stick with the multiplayer after an extended amount of time. Well done, Santa Monica Studios!!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 slashes

24 March 2013

Quick Fire Review: Downton Abbey Season 3, Rise of the Guardians, Archer, Monster High

While I've been watching way more random crap than what I've posted on here, I thought I'd send out another Quick Fire Review to give you a few more things to check out (or not to check out as the case may be) in your free time. You're welcome.

Monster High

What the heck is it: A charming web series and collection of TV specials and films based on toys. Sounds like a terrible idea, I know, but I've watched two specials and the movie and loved them all! Seriously, the dialogue is clever, the stories are interesting, and it's funny! Plus, being a Lady Nerd, I love the fashions! (I want to be one of these characters for Halloween.... if I dressed up that is)
Who'll like it: Kids around the age of 8 (especially girls), monster fans, lovers of clever animated kids shows, people with good taste.
Where can I find it: I rented the films from Amazon, but you can find the first (New Ghoul At School), as well as the web series, on the Monster High website. I am so freaking excited to watch the episodes and see the new movie Scaris: City of Frights! NERD ALERT!!!

Rise of the Guardians

Based on The Guardians of Childhood young adult book series by William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians introduces everyone's favorite holiday and lore characters-- namely Santa, the Sandman, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy-- as guardians protecting the dreams and hopes of children around the world. This particular installment is the story of how Jack Frost became a guardian and faces off against The Bogeyman.
While the themes of belief and hope are alive and well, the character interpretations are interesting, and the animation really nice, the film lacks the wit and charm attributed to Disney, Pixar, and even Dreamworks's own How To Train Your Dragon. The humor is base, at best, and a few of the celebrity voice actors *cough* Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine (who never stops whispering!!), and Isla Fisher *cough* leave something to be desired. Honestly, I think the film would've gone up a few notches had they hired actual voice actors to play those roles. That being said, Alec Baldwin as Santa is FANTASTIC. He can keep voice-acting all he wants.

Feel free to get things done while you let Rise of the Guardians occupy your kids' attention.

Downton Abbey

Thanks to Masterpiece's website, I was able to catch up with season 3 of Downton Abbey because they post episodes for FREE while a series airs on PBS. How awesome is that?!
Have you seen the period drama about the changing Upstairs/Downstairs dynamic in early 1900's England? It's wonderfully cast, written, and shot, with rich sets and costumes. Season 3 takes you on a whirlwind of drama that will leave you shedding tears only to start laughing again when Dame Maggie Smith enters the room. 

She alone is a reason to watch Downton Abbey. The season finale was shocking, therefore ensuring I will be tuning in for season 4.


Season 3 of the wildly inappropriate, politically incorrect animated spy series Archer has arrived on Netflix! What can I say about Archer........ it's hilarious, ridiculous, and certainly NOT for children. Watch it, you won't regret it.... unless you're easily offended.

21 March 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (if you have no expectations...)

As I'm writing this review two days after the DVD release of The Hobbit, it's a safe bet I already didn't believe the film worth theater prices (is anything these days?) plus gas and parking.

Let me first say..... I do not regret paying $3.99 for a streamed Standard Definition version of The Hobbit courtesy of Amazon. My love of the Lord of the Rings trilogy cemented my intent to see the its (sort of) prequel. In fact, I was pretty excited because I love the world and mythology of Middle Earth.

Therefore, it pains me to say that The Hobbit was far from exciting, interesting, or entertaining. It was a giant disappointment.

Sure, this CGI sponsored adventure looked beautiful, WETA did an incredible job with makeup & costumes, and it's nice that Peter Jackson still used sets and locations rather than only green screen. Major props to the crew.... get it? Wah wah wah!

And who can argue with Ian McKellen's reprisal of Gandalf, the stellar cast of dwarves, and the super sexy Richard Armitage as Thorin the Dwarf King? That's right: no one. All the actors did a fantastic job.

Yet the fact remains that The Hobbit is tedious. It's nearly three hours long and covers only the first third of the book in obnoxious detail. A two-part saga would've been acceptable and well-paced, or perhaps three films maxing out at 90 minutes each, but at the rate of 3 films at 3 hours a piece you might as well get the audio book and listen to it on your commute to and from work (at least you can get sh*t done that way).

Sure, there are a few good action sequences-- mainly the last 20 minutes-- but for example, the battle between the rock giants was random and happened quite coincidentally. Perhaps that's not how it happens in the book, but I'm talking about the film so stay with me!

Since movies and stories are my LIFE (dramatic!), I'm going to have my SUPER NERD moment: One big timeline inconsistency is casting Martin Freeman-- who is fantastic-- as Bilbo. Bilbo looks to be in his late thirties, early forties courtesy of Freeman actually being 40 at the time of filming and having boyish good looks. If my math is correct-- and it is because I used a calculator-- Bilbo would've been 51 at the time of the quest because it was 60 years prior to his 111th birthday. I know I know, who cares but I'm a detail person and these kinds of things get under my skin!

Plus, Gollum was given "unnatural long life" because the One Ring was in his possession, the same happened to Bilbo. So how was Gollum able to live another 60 years into the Lord of the Rings saga when Bilbo aged dramatically within weeks of giving up the ring? HOW?!

There may also be an inconsistency with Bilbo beginning his book on the actual day of his party (basically the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring) because I thought he was well into writing it when he left Frodo that night.  However, while I am a detail person, I don't feel like pulling out the dvd and piecing everything together because my cat is curled up sleeping next to me and it would be mean to wake him.

Overall, if you're a LOTR/Medieval fantasy fan, see The Hobbit. Despite the slow pace, you'll find moments to enjoy. I'm not sure it's worth a DVD purchase, but a rental is fine. I am hoping (against all odds) the other two will be more engaging so I can justify purchasing the trilogy when it's finally on blu-ray. My LOTR collection won't feel complete without it!

Obviously, if you're anything but a fan of the series, save yourself the three hours. You'll thank me.

14 March 2013

Cheesy Veggie "Pasta" Bake

I'm going to be straight with you: this is a casserole.

However, the term "casserole" has an archaic, dated, I-refuse-to-turn-into-my-mother feel to it, so Foodies have started calling them "bakes." 

Please note: they're the same thing.

I'm hoping that in a few years, casseroles will make like the Crockpot and become "retro" so we can all be straightforward again.

Anyway, while wasting time researching recipes on Pinterest, I came across this gluten-free Cheesy Veggie "Pasta" Bake by Jenny Sugar and knew it was destiny.

Can you tell I use my stoneware dish a TON?!

Casserole-Bakes have gotten a bad rep because they're usually full of starchy pasta swimming in a sea of sodium rich, preservative laden condensed soup. Another reason why I heart this delightful dish made from simple ingredients and substitutes spaghetti squash for spaghetti.

Take heed, it's work chopping/dicing/shredding everything, but the result is worth the time. If you have a hand chopper like this one I use from Pampered Chef or are a whiz with a food processor-- I own one but I'm afraid of it-- the Cheesy Veggie Bake is a good time to utilize such tools.

From the fridge-- it tastes even better leftover!

In typical "Chef Jamie Style," I wrote "tomato" on my shopping list, even said the word "tomato" out loud in the produce section of the grocery store, yet somehow never actually bought a tomato.

Not to worry, I just added a can of petite diced tomatoes and halved the tomato sauce to balance out the liquid. In addition, I had a third of a large mozzarella block leftover from another recipe, so I diced that sucker up and mixed the small chunks in with the veggies, only using half the bag of shredded mozzarella.

The lack of spices in the ingredients list made me nervous, so I sprinkled a bunch of oregano and basil over the veggies.

Best.Idea.Ever.  24 hours later my apartment still smelled like an Italian restaurant.  

Speaking of veggies, I doubled the zucchini and chopped the carrots because I absolutely can't stand shredding them. It all worked out fine. Short on time, I totally tried cooking the spaghetti squash in the microwave even though I scoffed at Jenny Sugar's claim that it would actually cook in 8-12 minutes. It really did cook! Seriously, I will be making way more spaghetti squash now that I know I can just microwave that sucker.

It's incredible and a great way to get kids to eat their veggies. It makes a great meal or side dish; next time I'm throwing in a pound of ground turkey/beef/pork (whatever's on sale) and an onion to really make this a main dish.

All in all-- you should make this. Normally the word "should" is considered bossy, but I'm bossing you around and commanding you to try this.

*Please note, the recipe below reflects my alterations, but you can find the original via the link at the top of the blog post.

Gluten-Free Cheesy Veggie "Pasta" Bake


1 whole spaghetti squash
2 tbsp olive oil
2 zucchini, diced
1 carrot, chopped 
1 red pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano (to taste)
1 1/2 tsp dried basil (to taste)
12oz can petite diced tomatoes, drained 
8oz can tomato sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
12oz bag shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Pierce spaghetti squash all over with a sharp knife, place in a microwave safe dish, and cook for 8-12 minutes until soft. If you don't have a microwave, you can bake the pierced squash for 45-60 minutes at 375 degrees. 

When cooked, slice squash in half length-wise, scoop out seeds, and use a fork to flake off the flesh from the peel so it resembles spaghetti. It should come off easily. Place flesh in ungreased 9x13 baking dish.

While the squash cooks, heat olive oil, carrots, zucchini, garlic, and red pepper in a skillet over medium heat. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes, then add vegetables to the squash. Toss in the tomatoes, sauce, spices, and half the cheese and mix well. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Let stand for 5 once finished baking. Enjoy!

Substitutions and Add-ons

To make this a heartier main dish, add a pound of ground meat of your choice and toss in a 1 medium yellow onion for flavor. If you decide to do this, here are the instructions: 
  • Brown the meat, onion, and garlic together in a large skillet. Drain fat. Add the tomato sauce and spices to the meat mixture and simmer for 3 minutes. Place in 9x13 dish. Wipe the skillet clean and reuse for the rest of the veggies.
If you want added protein but don't want to use meat, add 2 cups of cooked quinoa.

For a creamier, cheesier casserole, mix in 1/2 to 1 cup ricotta cheese instead of the mozzarella. I'd increase the spices too if you do this.

Substitute yellow or Mexican squash for the zucchini.

Substitute 1 tomato, diced for the can of diced tomatoes. If you do this, you'll need 16oz of tomato sauce.

To make this even easier, skip the onion, garlic, tomato sauce, and spices and substitute with 16oz of your favorite marinara sauce.

You can use any color pepper you want.

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11 March 2013

Minestrone Soup

Even though the weather is warming up in SoCal-- 80's all week, what happened to Spring?!-- most of the country is slowly defrosting from ridiculous amounts of snow.

So why not heat things up with a Paleo friendly Minestrone Soup? 

That's a rhetorical question.

It's jammed packed with veggies and a pound of super lean ground beef. Vegetarians, feel free to add quinoa or tempeh or soy something or other instead. 

I adapted this from my mom's recipe which includes bacon and pasta, but Michael's system doesn't handle greasy food well and I hate  dislike cooking bacon (I'm a wuss when it comes to grease splatter). And I left out the beans because they don't agree with my system, yet strangely I do just fine with Peeps and Cadbury Creme Eggs (omg I love Easter candy!). To add a little starch, I substituted chopped carrots instead.

Soup is so great because you can just throw sh*t in a pot and it'll turn out pretty good.


Minestrone Soup

1# ground beef
2 large onions (or 4 medium), diced
2 cups celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
16-20oz. fresh spinach
3-4 carrots, chopped
8 cups water
12oz. can tomato paste
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp thyme leaves
2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
4 large zucchini, diced (I used Mexican squash)

In large soup pot, brown ground beef with onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Drain any fat. Add water, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, salt, and oregano. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add spinach and zucchini. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. 

Serve with grated parmesan.


If you love bacon-- and most men people do-- add 4oz diced bacon. Fry the bacon first then add in the beef & veggies.

If you love carbs-- and most people do-- add 1 cup elbow macaroni, cooked al dente when the soup is finished.

Substitute 15oz kidney beans for the carrots (or add them in as well), add when you add the spinach & zucchini.

Substitute 8 cups beef broth instead of water for a heartier flavor.

Even though I used sirloin ground beef for a lean soup, if you don't like red meat, substitute 1# ground pork or turkey.

07 March 2013

Another Long Weekend

Once again, I find myself avoiding the blog-o-sphere because of a sick cat. 

Remember a few weeks ago when Cooper was in the hospital because of a blocked urethra? Well this past Saturday we got to experience the fun all over again with Niko.

Only this time it was worse.

My darling boy Niko - Wisconsin, 2011

Despite the changes toward a healthier diet with more water incorporated into his food, Niko developed a urine crystal blockage overnight last Friday. He threw up late Friday and Saturday morning, but that happens since he's a ridiculously fast eater. Maternal Instincts on high alert, I decided to monitor his behavior and by 2pm we were on our way to the Eagle Rock 24 hour Emergency Clinic since our vet across the street was closed.

In the course of the 20 minutes it took us to get there, Niko had gone from partially to fully blocked. As you know from my other post, that is DANGEROUS. We learned later on that a clogged urethra can also cause a fatal arrhythmia. So, Niko went through the same treatment as Cooper, everything looked normal, and we brought him home Sunday night.

We watched him, gave him some soaked dry food as we were waiting for Chicken wet food we ordered, and let him explore the apartment. He was happy to be home. Temporarily.

Niko recovering.

As I prepared the cat food Monday morning, I noticed Niko squatting.

Let me illustrate how smart my gray boy is: when he has a urine crystal problem (this happened 2 years ago as well), Niko either tries to pee in my tub-- I frequent the bathroom a lot with my "old lady" bladder-- or comes near us and squats to pee. Because he NEVER pees outside the litter box, that's how we know something is wrong.

I told Michael we needed to get to our vet ASAP: normally a little urine comes out when he squats, but nothing was coming out.  Niko even looked at me and let out a sad cry-- a full bladder is hard and painful.

The plan was the same: flush the bladder, catheterize Niko, and observe to make sure everything is gone. However, not one of the five doctors at the clinic could get the catheter in. Fortunately they drained the bladder so Niko wasn't in any immediate danger, but without using a catheter the only other option was an expensive surgery to remove his penis and give him a hole to pee out of (yes.... a sex change to put it bluntly).

Because of our previous expenses with Cooper and the long weekend at the ER, this was not an expense we could consider, though I was not above begging friends and family for money. Not to mention after I researched the surgery further, there are other complications, some cats do well, others don't, behaviors may change, the cat could block again, and it opens the feline up to bacterial infections.

So by Monday at 3:30pm, Michael and I had resolved to put Niko to sleep.

One of two IV spots on Niko's front legs.

It was by no means an easy decision, as evidenced by my swollen red eyes, heaving sobs over the bathroom sink, and the sick feeling in my stomach. Michael and I took turns crying, shaking... I spent a portion of my day angry as hell at Veterinarians and their conflicting information, the shelter that told us never to give Niko wet food, the pet food companies that put all this sh*t in their products, the City of Los Angeles for its hard water that causes mineral build up in cats (they should only drink diluted), and myself for not knowing any of this until it was too late.


At the Los Feliz Small Animal Hospital, retired veterinarian Dr. Hall volunteers Mondays because he loves animals that much. He continues to read the medical journals and research pet food diets.

Dr. Hall was Niko's doctor on Monday, has a few cats of his own, and knew what we were going through.... so he decided to try an experimental, low cost, non-surgical attempt at saving Niko. With a mixture of removing urine in the bladder with a syringe, giving Niko anti-inflammatories, and having him on IV fluids, the hope was to get the catheter Tuesday so he could come home Wednesday.


Cooper missed his brother.

Niko is back home with us, thinner, exhausted, and rather unhappy about the whole ordeal (not that I blame him).  He was the star of the clinic since they'd never tried this method before and the chances of his recovery were incredibly slim.

The key now is for Niko to eat a special wet food diet, get lots of diluted water, and avoid dry food and fish. Unfortunately, Niko is also the pickiest-- and when I say that I am NOT exaggerating-- and most stubborn cat on the planet. He's still holding out for his favorite tuna, and after trying the canned Weruva Chicken, Weruva Nine Livers, Fancy Feast Beef and Tuna, and Royal Canine Urinary Tract C/D, all he wants is the dry prescription food.


He won't even eat the dry food if I put water on it. If he doesn't eat soon we'll be back at the hospital for temporary fluids to go under his skin until we can get him to eat.

So, while I'm thrilled Niko is home, I'm still on edge about his lack of hunger and thirst. My absence on here may continue while this goes on and I search for a job-- at this point ANY job-- in Los Angeles. Please send good vibes my way.

I also want to add a special thanks to my parents who cried along with us and felt the worry and sadness of losing such a special cat. They continue to amaze me with their endless support so I'm beyond thrilled they get to fly first class to a week long getaway in Hawaii!


You may be wondering-- with all the stress, emotional strain, and expense-- if I regret adopting cats.

Never. Even if things were to go south again, I wouldn't trade the last 4 and a half years spent with the oddest little gray cat I've ever met. Niko may not be a lap cat, but he shows affection through nudges and sleeping on our feet. He talks to us, leads us to what he wants-- food, a clean litter box, a toy-- loves exploring new territories, and creepily stares at me in bed until I give him breakfast.

No matter how many times Michael and I have to force his mouth open to give him medication or how miserable he is when the vet examines him, Niko never bites, nips, or scratches. 

Niko is a gentle soul.