Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Busy Three Days

Lots going on.  Two recipes, one new and one tried and true and loved.  Finished a book.  Took David to the 4-month appointment [lots of tears were had].  And accomplished a minor miracle.  So here goes....

My food experiences first.  We tried a homemade version of a hamburger helper dish.  While cooking 8 ounces of elbow macaroni, I browned a pound of ground turkey (though the recipe called for ground beef). I added 16 ounces of tomato sauce and a packet of onion soup mix.  After that was mixed I added a cup of cheddar cheese.  When the pasta was finished that got added to the pot as well.  Everything got mixed and then put into a casserole dish (ungreased), topped with another cup of cheddar cheese, and baked at 350 for half an hour (half covered, half uncovered).  It was okay.  We liked the texture and we liked some of the taste, but the onion soup stuff was weird.  We're thinking we'll try it again, but add different spices instead of the onion soup mix.  The chunks of onion didn't cook through and were crunchy and the flavor was just off.

Then tonight's dinner.  This is one of John's favorite dinners, and I really have to agree.  It's pretty simple but just a bit time-consuming.  It is also a one-skillet meal, so it's awesome for clean-up.  You slice a pound of kielbasa sausage lengthwise and then slice about half an inch thick.  Brown this in about a tablespoon of olive oil (I would use grapeseed, but I don't have any).  Add a package of au gratin potatoes and the sauce mix along with 2 1/2 cups of water.  Mix it up and cook for 18-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring every 3-4 minutes or so.  If you don't stir then the potatoes get stuck to the bottom of the pan in a giant lump.  Once the potatoes are soft, add a 8-10 ounce package of mostly thawed California medley veggies (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower).  We use a full 16 ounce package because it fills out the dish, Jocelyn will actually eat the veggies (even the broccoli - but not the stems), and they are just really good for you!  Mix it all up and cook for 8-10 more minutes.  Remove from the heat, top with about a cup of cheddar cheese, and recover for about 2 minutes to let the cheese melt.  This dish is really pretty with all the colors of the veggies, potatoes, and even the meat.  We really like this meal.  We got it out of the Fast Fixes with Mixes cookbook, which is a favorite in our house.  Maybe someday I'll get pictures, but the food usually disappears too fast. :)

My book: I read Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus. 
From After her sister Athena's tragic death, it's obvious that grief-stricken Persephone "Phe" Archer no longer belongs in Los Angeles. Hoping to make sense of her sister's sudden demise and the cryptic dreams following it, Phe abandons her bubbly LA life to attend an uptight East Coast preparatory school in Shadow Hills, MA -- a school which her sister mysteriously mentioned in her last diary entry before she died.
 Once there, Phe quickly realizes that something is deeply amiss in her new town. Not only does Shadow Hills' history boast an unexplained epidemic that decimated hundreds of its citizens in the 1700s, but its modern townies also seem eerily psychic, with the bizarre ability to bend metal. Even Zach -- the gorgeous stranger Phe meets and immediately begins to lust after -- seems as if he is hiding something serious. Phe is determined to get to the bottom of it. The longer she stays there, the more she suspects that her sister's untimely death and her own destiny are intricately linked to those who reside in Shadow Hills.

My review: I LOVED the first half of this book.  I don't know if it's the type of books I've been reading lately or what, but I had all of these ideas on what could happen, or where the plot could go, or what twists could be thrown in.  Nope.  It was pretty much what they set it up to be.  It was still good, but it wasn't great.  The writing wasn't spectacular, but it was very accessible.  The plot was good, but predictable.  The characters were fun, but again, slightly undeveloped.  I would give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Mr. David.  He is such a happy baby.  He has officially doubled his weight: 11 lbs, 12 ozs.  He's two feet "tall".  He's pretty much a little guy and the doctor is very happy with everything.  We have tried rice cereal, which he hated, and bananas which he did not hate.  We're planning to revisit the cereal because when we tried it he was very hungry and the spoon did not go as fast as either the bottle or mommy.  The bananas were given at a much calmer time and he seemed to enjoy them.  Maybe we shall combine the two....  He got three shots and mouthful of medicine today, but calmed pretty quickly.  And still ate the bananas.  What a trooper.

And finally, our minor miracle.  John and I paid off our last credit card today after our federal return came in.  I get to call them tomorrow to cancel the card.  SO EXCITED!!!!  At some point I'll share our journey with debt and getting out and hopefully inspire someone to try to do the same.

So it's been a big three days.  I'm looking forward to a relaxing Friday at school and then the weekend already.  We need more three day weekends :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Three Day Weekend!!

I don't think students realize how much their teachers like three day weekends.  There are times I think we look forward to them more than they do.  On the other hand, half the time the kids don't even realize one is coming until the day it starts.

So the rundown: Friday afternoon, for the early release I was able to go through all of Jocelyn's summer clothes from last year and pull out what no longer fits (i.e., everything).  This was separated into what I could consign and what I could resell.  And what I needed to just throw away.  Dinner was a new recipe: chicken and dressing casserole.  Simply put: cut up stewed chicken breasts (4), top with cream of celery and cream of chicken soups mixed together with milk and chicken broth, top with stuffing mix (prepared with melted margerine and more chicken broth).  Bake.  I love the richness of the chicken flavor, but the cream of celery flavor is overpowering and I'm not so much a fan of that flavor.  I would like to retry it with cream of mushroom instead.  Had a stay-in date night with John and we watched a disc of Burn Notice, which is one of our current favorite series.

Saturday: With the very exciting tax refund we are getting, we have enough to replace our very sad dining room arrangements.  We went to a couple different furniture stores and realized that we were very skewed in our idea of what we were going to be able to afford.  We also dropped off our clothes for resale and received a little bit of cash!  Then off to Red Lobster for my father-in-law's birthday dinner.  Oh My Goodness, I love the Cheddar Bay biscuits they have.  BTW, Food Network has a VERY similar recipe in case anyone is interested.  I got the clam strips, stuffed mushrooms, and bacon-wrapped scallops appetizer for my lunch.  YUM!!  I took David to a Wildtree tasting party at my friend Maggie's house and I was able to get the Banana Banana bread which John is very much looking forward to having again.  The remainder of the evening was uneventful and calm and the kids were wonderful.

Sunday: I was able to put away all of David's clothing that have been sitting on his floor for almost a month now.  John is VERY happy with all this new space.  We picked up a couple pizzas for lunch and I spent some time on Craigslist looking for affordable dining room tables. :)  To my utter amazement, I found a beautiful Queen Anne table and 4 chairs that someone was selling for a mere $275.  WOO-HOO!  Then I had to talk John into it :)  Believe it or not, he went for it and we made arrangements to pick it up!  She even dropped her price to $250 - Yay us!  To celebrate we decided to take our accumulated gift cards and try out Bonefish Grill.  And then it started snowing.  We got all of two inches, but it was absolutely beautiful.  Bonefish was really good too - got a glow-in-the-dark drink (my first alcoholic beverage in over a year!), fabulous appetizers, and amazing dessert.  John's entree was the best fish dish I think I've ever tasted and I was disappointed with mine.  The service was slow, but the restaurant was slammed.  Came home and went to bed.

Monday: Spent the morning at home relaxing, watching movies, and playing with the kids.  John went to pick up our new furniture while I went to consign the remainder of Jocelyn's clothes and my maternity clothes.  I got home to John finishing the "new" dining room!  See:
Before (with Miss J):
And After:
We've decided to keep the old chairs for a couple reasons.  Firstly, we wanted more than four chairs, which is what we had to begin with.  Secondly, we have a two-year-old, and our old cushions already have their own stains, unlike the new ones which have never had the plastic removed.  Finally, David's high chair is a space-saver, which means that it sits on a chair that we already have.  We don't want more marks on a new chair.  We're going to try and buy chairs to match the new set maybe once a month or every other month.

So: Busy.  Productive.  Expensive. :)  And I am so excited that it's only a four day work week this week so that I can have another weekend just like it.  Except it will only be two days long.  Next break April 3... God give me patience....

Monday, February 13, 2012

More good eats

First, I guess this title is a little ironic considering that this very iconic show has ended as of this past Friday.  However, I think it's appropriate anyway :)  John and I decided to have an early Valentine's dinner and dessert and the food was enjoyed by all.
We started out with a Cheeseburger Pie (super easy and good enough that a 2 year old enjoyed it) in which I replaced the ground beef for ground turkey.  We then finished with a new dessert.  John took one bite and said "You're forgiven."  I said, "For what?"  "He said "Anything, ever...."  Needless to say we will be making these again.  The name?  Slutty brownies.  Yep.  And by far the easiest dessert I've ever made.  The recipe:

1 tube of refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
1 package of oreos
1 package of brownie mix

Preheat to 350.  Lay parchment paper down in a 9x9 pan.  Press the cookie dough into the pan, and top with enough oreos to cover in a single layer.  Prepare the brownie batter as directed on the box and pour over everything.  Bake 30-35 minutes and then thoroughly enjoy!!

One note: I got a package of brownie mix that could have been used in a 8x8, 9x9, or 9x13 pan.  I had to bake for an extra 15 minutes and they were still really gooey in the middle.  Some people like that, others want everything baked through completely.  I probably could have baked it for another 5 minutes and they would still have been chewy without being burnt.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Good eats and good reads

This will be slightly in reverse order, but I was so proud of my dinner that I just wanted to share.  John and I have been on a MASSIVE budget since Jocelyn was born and one of the ways we "control" costs is by doing a monthly menu and grocery shop accordingly.  Toward the end of last month my Mother-in-law gave us a bag of jumbo shrimp which is usually not in our budget (not enough leftovers!).  So I decided to try one of my favorite shrimp dishes when I go out to eat: Coconut Shrimp.  I found a recipe for Baked Coconut Shrimp and I really didn't do anything to modify it.  While I was feeding David, John took care of the shrimp and then made the dipping sauce is well.  All I had to do was dredge and cover the shrimp with the coconut.  And John loved it!  Now some might ask why I made such a favorite meal on a random Thursday as opposed to a certain auspicious romantic holiday next week.  Honest answer?  I was afraid it would be an epic fail :)  Which is also why I took no pictures.  I will know better for next time. Good eats had by all, and Jocelyn and John enjoyed the dip.  I'm not so much a fan of curry and red pepper - way too spicy for my tastes.

And as to my good reads...
I finished a couple books in the past week and wanted to share.  Bearing in mind that I work in a middle school, the vast majority of the books I have been reading lately - as in the past 4 years - have been YA fiction.  And I have discovered that YA authors quite often are superior to adult fiction authors.  They have a much more fickle audience and must therefore appeal to a wide variety of readers.  The first book I finished this week was "Book of a Thousand Days", a selection for our Battle of the Books team.  I picked this up and read it in only four days.  It read extremely quickly.  It wrapped up with a nice pretty bow at the end and pretty much was one of the most relaxing books I've read in a long time.  Perhaps a more thorough review to come....
The second book I read was "The Possibilities of Sainthood" which I read for my school's young adult book club.  I started this book about three weeks ago when we got our new topic for the month: religion.  I read the first couple chapters and just couldn't get into it.  And then I talked with our school librarian and found out that book club was meeting today (OOPS!!).  So last night after getting home and heating up leftovers and going to choir practice and getting home and putting two kids in bed and catching up on email and sitting for a minute or so, I figured I should probably finish my book.  I have to say, I was a bit disappointed by this book.  It was supposed to be light and humorous, and I suppose it was, but I got so tired of reading the whiny tone of the main character, Antonia.  I think perhaps because I work in a middle school I don't want to read about the romantic drama of a 15-year-old who doesn't seem to have a clue about anything other than her Blessed saints.  The story was cute, but got old fast.
So one good read and one less-good read.  I have a whole stack of books on my bedside table, so I'm sure I'll find something more.  I'll try to do a more complete review of both books at some point but I'm eager to continue work on my stocking.  Pictures to come!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

David's Stocking

After finishing my massive Noah's Ark blanket, I decided to take a (brief) hiatus from cross-stitch and make a stocking for David.  Poor little man had to suffer through his first Christmas without his own personalized stocking.  While it's not as good as the stocking made for Jocelyn by my Aunt Kathy, I thought it turned out alright.  It was my first adventure with embroidery and applique so I am relatively pleased with the final product.  And I have to admit I'm excited to be back to my comfort zone with making a personalized stocking for myself.  But first things first: Here is David's stocking!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Noah's Ark

Well, for never having blogged before, I think two posts in one day is pretty impressive.  Here are some pictures of "the" afghan.  I didn't take pictures of every one of the 26 different people/animals, but I got some of my favorites.  Hopefully the detail comes through because isn't that what makes a good picture?  I really did enjoy working on this despite the amount of time it took.  And I have to admit, I'm pretty proud that Jocelyn can name all of the animals.  Except the lemur.

Day 1...

As I followed more and more friends on their blogs, the more I thought to myself there is no way I would/could/want to ever do that.  I'm too busy....  I don't have anything to say....  Why??....  I am a born and raised Midwesterner, transplanted to Virginia.  I have two children under 3, I teach music, I am happily married, and my life is fairly routine.  I do a (very little) bit of crafting and I enjoy cooking and baking.  What is so interesting about my life that I would feel like sharing with more than just the people I see and/or talk to on a daily basis?

And then it happened.  I finished a cross-stitching project that I've been working on since shortly after my daughter was born.  After two years and eight months, I completed an afghan of Noah's Ark with individual squares for the animals.  I've been sharing the progress of this piece with a few other teachers at work and I was so excited to be able to bring in a finished product.  After receiving a few comments about the blanket, I thought about wanting to share it with more than just my little circle of teachers.

So here goes.  I can't promise to be a regular blogger.  I can't promise that the posts will necessarily be very interesting.  And I can't promise that I will post many pictures because my daughter likes to hide our camera.  But we'll see what happens.  Hopefully more to come about the Noah's Ark blanket and we will go from there.

Umm... to be continued?