Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's for Dinner - Stuffed Pork Chops

I cheated on the use-it-up challenge. I bought pork chops at Costco because I had a coupon, they looked delicious, and it was an incredible price. I also cheated last week when I bought Goldfish crackers, but let's ignore that.

These were the biggest, thickest pork chops I've ever seen. An inch and a half thick! the package was 6.75 pounds, and there were 11 pieces in it, so if you do the pork chop math, it comes out to over half a pound per delicious chop. Are you drooling yet?

I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. Stuff them! The pork chops I get at the grocery store aren't usually fat enough to stuff, so I was really excited about the wonderful opportunity in my fridge. Thank you, Costco, for making a recipe dream come true.

This recipe isn't really a recipe, because I threw it together and didn't take notes, but you can do the same thing and get a great result, I promise! This is the best kind of recipe, because you don't really need to measure or pay attention.

I cut a pocket in two pork chops and sprinkled the inside and outside with some salt and pepper. I made about a cup of Stovetop stuffing, but with less water than the instructions say, because I figured the pork chop juice would add a lot of squishiness and I didn't want watery stuffing. I crammed as much as I could fit into those pork chops and tried to pinch them closed so it wouldn't fall out. I heated some butter in a pan, rubbed the pork chops with a little ground sage, and dropped them in to brown well on both sides.

I moved the chops to a baking dish and put in a splash of chicken broth to help prevent them from drying out, and I cooked them at 350F for about 30 minutes, until my meat thermometer told me it was safe. Depending how fat your chops are and how long you browned them, your cook time can vary a lot. Use a thermometer, check after 20 minutes, and keep going from there.

When they were done, I put the original pan back on the stove with more butter and whisked in some flour over medium heat. I added chicken broth and simmered and whisked until it looked right to me, then I added some sauteed mushrooms and onions that I pulled out of the freezer (I thawed them first in the microwave).

I am glad that I have nine giant pork chops left, because that means I get to do this again.

Thing-A-Day 2012

Just one more sleep until February gets here (barring a nap, of course), which means it's time to register for Thing-A-Day 2012! It's a fun way to push yourself into creativity mode by creating one thing every day for the month of February. Anything counts: crafts, recipes, painting, poetry, photography, even some good doodles on a Post-it note. All you have to do is spend a few minutes each day creating something new, and share it with the other participants (or not, but seeing everyone's creations is so much fun). The goal is to create a little time for yourself every day where you can be creative and use your imagination and make something interesting.

I'm going to try very hard to do as many days as possible, but I'm going to be forgiving of myself if I get too busy. The idea is for the creations to be little things, not days-long artistic endeavors, but I don't want to spend a bunch of money at Michael's so I can make crafty crap just for the sake of making crafty crap, and then have to find a place for it or throw it out. This challenge isn't supposed to be stressful, so if it becomes a burden, I will let it go.

I will share my Things on my blog, so stay tuned...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Flowers in January

I found a crocus in my yard today. A beautiful, sunny, yellow crocus, poking up out of the grass by the mailbox.

I'm very happy to see it, and it makes me smile, but for crying out loud, it's January 29th! Apparently crocus bulbs are triggered to flower when they encounter a warm spell after a long enough cold dormant period, so the strange weather we've had all winter confused this little guy into waking up early.

My tulips and daffodils are sprouting up too, and I hope they don't get killed off by the frosts that are coming, because there's a way to go before spring actually gets here, and I'd like to have some flowers in March and April!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Project update: living and dining room

Finally, I get to report back about the walls in the living and dining rooms, from which we tore wallpaper many, many months ago. To refresh your memory, here's my original post about removing the wallpaper. The date? April 2011. Almost a year ago. I blame other projects getting in the way, not enough weekends in a year, and a bad case of procrastination. I love how at the end of that post, I say I'll have an update in a couple of weeks. Optimistic!

Here's the "before" picture again, but be careful - looking at it may cause side effects such as nausea and cross-eyes.

Baby blue with Barbie pink, and a dingy grey trim. Not exactly visually appealing, to say the least. The pink part was originally covered in a silvery blue wallpaper:

I guess it was less offensive with the wallpaper hiding the pink stuff, but we're not really the wallpaper type, and it was old, dirty, and full of nicks and tears.

It took us a while to find the right colors for these rooms. The main consideration was for them not to be blue. Or pink. And especially not both (so purple was right out). For a while I toyed with the idea of using white beadboard for the bottom half of the room, but it would have been a lot of work to cut it for all the outlets and baseboard heaters, so we stuck with paint. Here's how it looks now:

Don't worry, Donald approves. He just hates having his picture taken.

We chose to do the trim in bright white, both because it looks nice, and because it's going to be easier to deal with the trim in the house if we do everything in white. With baseboard heaters and crown molding in most rooms, and a chair rail, bay window, and built-in shelves in the living room and dining room, we have a lot of trim, so this way we always just need to buy plain white paint to touch up damaged areas, instead of figuring out which almost-white color we used for which room.

The top half is called "Churchill Hotel Ecru", and in reality it's not quite as pinkish as the Donald photo makes it out to be. The picture of the built-in shelves is more accurate. The bottom half is "Churchill Hotel Maple", and the fact that they're both from the same historic building reassures me that they go well together. They're both from Valspar's National Trust for Historic Preservation collection. Yes, we like neutrals, and most of the house is painted in calm neutral colors, but I'm ok with that. As much as I admire the bright colors on home decorating shows, I don't think I'd be happy with them in my own home for very long. Nice to look at, but not to live in, at least for me.

Within a month or two, after we paint the family room downstairs, we'll also be checking "new floors" off our to-do list, and I'm excited to see how different and wonderful this place will look once we replace the nasty old stained carpets with fluffy new ones (and some hardwood)!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's for Dinner - Broccoli Cheddar Quiche

Often, when accosted by a head of floppy broccoli, I sentence the limp vegetable to a soupy demise, with delicious results. Broccoli cheddar soup is a wonderful way to use up less-than-stellar broccoli, or an excess of broccoli stems (for those of you who, like me, prefer to eat only the florets), but it's nice to have other options. Enter the alternative user-upper of vegetables in their decline: quiche.

It's an omelet in a pie - what's not to love? You barely even need a recipe for a quiche! Just eggs, some cream (or milk), a frozen pie crust, and whatever you want to throw in. My basic recipe for a quiche is as easy as:

6 eggs
3/4 cup light cream, or milk (skim milk makes it watery, I'd stick to 2% or more)
1/2 cup or so of grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, monterey jack, whatever you've got)
1 cup or so of veggies
1/2 cup of ham or browned and crumbled sausage (optional), or a handful of bacon bits
One refrigerated or frozen pie crust, pre-baked

Bake the crust according to directions for a one-crust pie - mine needed 10 minutes at 425F. If you don't have pie weights to keep the crust down, poking some holes in the bottom with a fork works pretty well to prevent the crust from bubbling up while it bakes.

Cut the veggies pretty small and pre-cook them either by sauteeing (good for mushrooms, onions, spinach, and peppers) or by steaming (best for broccoli). Whisk the eggs and cream together, then add in the other ingredients until you have a thick eggy soup, then pour it into your pre-baked pie shell. Easy as that. If you want to get fancy, you can keep some of the prettiest mushroom slices and arrange them in a pattern across the top, or use thin tomato slices. I never add any seasoning other than salt and pepper, because I like to taste just the egg and veggies. Note: if you're using a salty meat in your quiche, don't add salt!

Cooking time is a little fuzzy, because it will be different depending on how deep the pie plate is, and what kind of cream or milk you used (in my experience, thinner dairy makes a slightly longer cooking time). I usually start checking it at 25 minutes, and then poking it every 5 minutes thereafter until the middle part is set nicely. Nobody likes a runny quiche. Just poke a thin knife into the center of the pie and see if it feels closer to soup or quiche. when you hit quiche, it`s ready.
For the quiche I made, I used about a cup of steamed broccoli, chopped small, along with half an onion and half a package of white mushrooms, cooked in a pat of butter. I added some sharp cheddar cheese, and since I didn't have any ham or bacon handy, I kept it meatless. Quiche is always an easy, cheap meal. Also, it's not too far removed from the eternal favorite fun meal: breakfast-for-dinner.

Edited Feb 3 2013 to add cooking time. Thanks to Tasha for spotting that I missed it the first time around.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mojo Update Part 3

The amitryptiline may have eventually helped Mojo to be less anxious and stop peeing outside of the litter box, but trying to get those pills into him was a very trying experience for everyone, especially him. No matter how quiet I was about it, if he heard the rattle of the pills, he would bolt and hide under furniture, and we'd have to drag him out, pin him in our arms, and wedge half a bitter pill into his mouth. And then, at least half the time, I'd chase the cat-spit-soaked pink pill across the floor for a second try. A counterproductive way to administer an anti-anxiety medication, wouldn't you say?

I called the vet back after a few weeks of this, hoping for another way. Someone at work mentioned using antianxiety meds in a topical gel for his cat - just rub it onto the ears instead of trying to make him swallow it - and I asked the vet whether we could try it. He told me the medication didn't come in a topical form, so if the pills weren't working well, there wasn't much else he could offer us. When I pressed again for an alternative treatment, he suggested that rehoming Mojo might help him calm down, and some of his clients decide they can't deal with the soiled carpet problem and have their pets put down for incontinence.

Needless to say, I was shocked. I understand that not everyone sees pets as members of the family, but to end a little furry life because of some spots on the carpet? And that a vet, of all people, would suggest it as a solution, instead of looking for more ways to help?

Mojo saw a new vet a week ago, and the first thing she asked, after hearing his symptoms and his age, was "didn't your other vet run a thyroid test?" Thyroid problems are common in older cats, and a lot of Mojo's symptoms could fit hyperthyroidism. And, no, the old vet didn't run that test. All he did was a metabolic panel, looking for kidney and liver problems, and diabetes. No blood count, no thyroid panel, and no urinalysis (that last part pissed me off, because if you're telling me my cat has a UTI, and the antibiotics don't help, maybe you should check to confirm the UTI).

She drew the lab work and finished her examination, discovering some bad abscesses in Mojo's mouth. She was surprised to hear he'd had his teeth cleaned in October, because his mouth looked so bad. It just broke my heart to see how bad his gums looked - he must have been in so much pain. I came home with a strong antibiotic (Flagyl), and instructions to bring him back in a couple of weeks for a checkup (and bring a urine sample). But she called two days later to tell me his thyroid levels are elevated - little Mojo has hyperthyroidism.

We're going to start with medication, to see if it will help. The peeing, the licking, and the increased appetite can all be signs of hyperthyroidism, so hopefully once we fix that, he'll be back to his old self. If we get the thyroid hormones under control and he's still having issues, the vet recommended a topical antianxiety medication, which, despite what the first vet said, very much exists.

I wish I'd ditched the old vet sooner. I feel like maybe we could have saved him a few months of discomfort.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kitchen tip!

With the use-it-up challenge in full swing among my internet friends, some interesting and creative meals are coming together, and some people are sharing very useful tips to help keep stuff from going bad.

One I used this weekend: I had half a package of mushrooms languishing in my fridge and my meal plan for the weekend consisted of going out to restaurants. Normally, I'd write them off as a loss and get over it, but thanks to some people who are smarter than me, I had another option.

If you have mushrooms that are going to go bad before you can use them, cut them up and saute them in some butter or oil, and then freeze them. They'll be great in a sauce some other time! I added some onion to the mix because I had some of that around too, and one night in the next week or so I will thaw them and add them to a pan gravy to go over some chicken.

Rescuing mushrooms from a sad fate in the trash can - awesome!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Use-it-up Challenge 2 - Modding the Shake & Bake

I make faux-shake-and-bake-type chicken often, varying the seasoning and/or sauce I coat the chicken with before breading it with plain breadcrumbs. It's just so easy, and we both like the result, so it's in the regular meal rotation. I use plain breadcrumbs because real, packaged Shake & Bake or its store-brand equivalents are much too salty for me, which is unfortunate because I have a packet of that left in my pantry from way back when I was unaware of this fact. The box I bought came with two seasoning packets and after using the first one I stuffed the second one far into the pantry, because I wasn't ever going to do that to my tastebuds and blood pressure again.

But, in the spirit of using it up, and not throwing it out, I took a huge risk and used it to coat some chicken tonight. Why, you cry, would I do that after I just said how much it sucked? Well, I cut it with regular breadcrumbs to try and mitigate the salt factor. Because the packaged stuff was seasoned ("Parmesan crusted"), I skipped my usual dip of the chicken in salad dressing and used a beaten egg to moisten the chicken pieces instead.

To go with it, I added some Stovetop stuffing. I bought a can of the stuff a while ago, instead of a box, because a whole box is always too much and we always throw some out. The idea of making only what I needed appealed to me. I keep forgetting it's there, though. It's always very salty too, so despite my desire to bump up the stuffing flavor with the chicken broth in the fridge, I used plain water to make it.

Toss in some roasted sweet potatoes seasoned with the powder at the bottom of a jar of Mrs Dash, and you've got dinner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Use-it-up Challenge

Why not use the start of the new year as an excuse to clear out older stock from my freezer and pantry? There are so many things in there I've forgotten I even had, and I don't want to discover them too late and have to throw them out because they're expired. I've decided to challenge myself to use up food I already have before going grocery shopping again, even if it means we'll have some interesting meals. I'm particularly curious what's in the unlabeled plastic containers in my freezer - many are spaghetti sauce, but some of them are a complete mystery, because I'm not good about labeling my leftovers. I'll still buy fresh fruit and veggies if I need to, and definitely milk, but I'm going to see if I can get through the rest of January without buying any meat or anything in a can or box.

Yesterday I made a package of cheddar and broccoli Knorr Pasta Sides, and steamed some frozen broccoli to add in. There was a lot more frozen broccoli left in that package than I remembered, so there's still some in the freezer for another night. With the pasta, I had more maple cinnamon glazed carrots, using up the last of the old bag of sprouting carrots. That all went with a honey ham steak, and it wasn't half bad. I can't believe I'm just now discovering how easy and tasty a ham steak is for a quick dinner!

Tonight I got rid of an almost-empty bottle of honey teriyaki marinade by putting it over a couple of chicken breasts (long-time freezer inhabitants) in the oven. I also had a collection of veggies nearing the end of their usable lifespan, so I stir-fried a green pepper, some mushrooms, and a quarter of an onion, so they could go with the chicken over some rice. And the rice was the last 2/3 of a cup left from a big bag. It's been sitting there forever because I bought new rice since then, and since I always make a cup at a time, the 2/3 cup wasn't enough, and of course the new rice didn't have the same cooking instructions as the old one!

So far, so good. I'm clearing out some room in the pantry for new supplies. It's been crowded in there for a while, and I keep buying more and wedging it in, but it'll be nice to have a little breathing room. I don't want to empty us out completely, of course, but we have some soup that's been in there for at least a year, 6 cans of corn, some old cans of pumpkin, a couple of one-quarter-full boxes of pasta... this overhaul is long overdue!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

31 in 31

After much thought and scribbling and crossing out, I have made up my list of things to do over the next year. Like last year, I'm posting it to make it public among my friends, so I can be held accountable. I will try my best to post about each achievement as I cross it off the list, and I'll do an update here and there about my progress.

  1. Bake Pioneer Woman's famous cinnamon rolls.
  2. Bake a cake completely from scratch. (Note to self: ask Sarah for pointers!)
  3. Update my phone and address book, transfer to memory of home phone and cell phone. I'm tired of having to search my Gmail archives to find someone's most recent address or phone number.
  4. Get us off mailing lists and reduce junk mail.
  5. Try a CSA again. Research it better, get recommendations.
  6. Grow food - more than tomatoes and herbs. Maybe peppers?
  7. Read 50 books.
  8. Blog regularly.
  9. Take my vitamins.
  10. Email (and call) my friends more.
  11. Put together an emergency kit for the car.
  12. Take a class. Any class.
  13. Lose some weight.
  14. Work on embroidery to figure out if I like it.
  15. Stay hydrated.
  16. Wear moisturizer.
  17. Participate in Thing-a-Day. It'll be incomplete because of the February cruise, but that's ok.
  18. See the stars from the cruise ship.
  19. Organize all my printed and photocopied recipes.
  20. Make cookies that aren't for Christmas.
  21. Impress them at my new job and get a good review and/or raise.
  22. Paint living and dining rooms.
  23. Read Darwin's Origin of Species.
  24. Make a birthday list so I stop relying on Facebook to tell me.
  25. Set up a safe deposit box for our important papers.
  26. Try curling. Yes, the sport. Yes, it IS a sport.
  27. Get my sewing machine out of the box, plug it in, and stitch something. Anything.
  28. See the National Christmas Tree in DC. I've wanted to since I got here and haven't managed yet.
  29. Make bagels from scratch.

The last two aren't for sharing, because it's not stuff I'll be posting about. Hope nobody minds!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Christmas Decorations - A Little Late

I didn't have access to my own computer for a while, so I couldn't post any pictures, which means that I completely forgot to write a post about my Christmas decorations this year. I hope it's not too late to share them with you.

I decided I wanted some giant ornaments for the outside decorations this year, even though we don't have a convenient tree to put them in. I planned to hang them from the porch, along with some green garland and lights. Home Depot had a pretty sad selection by the time I got there to buy some - the glitter was missing from many of them, and some were dented. They weren't individually packaged, just all jumbled in a big cardboard box. Luckily Costco came through for me - I found a set of 6 big ornaments for about $20, and they're pretty!

I spaced them out evenly and hung them from little white cup-hooks, which will stay there for future years' decorations. Dave was kind enough to climb up with a drill and help me get those installed. I strung simple white lights along the hooks, and skipped the fake spruce garland because I was missing about 2 feet of length and I didn't feel like going out to buy more. The hydrangea bush on the right also got some white lights draped in it. None of my nighttime pictures turned out at all, so you'll have to use some imagination.

I made this wreath last year, so it went back up on the center post, since the front door has a big window in it and doesn't lend itself well to Christmas decorations. Look at the giant ornaments! Aren't they great?

Oh, and our friend Solar Duck got dressed up for Christmas too. So dapper and festive!

That's it for the outdoor decorations. I have grand hopes for the future, with more lights strung across the front of the house, and maybe "candles" for the windows, but we'll see how much work (and money) we're actually willing to put into decorating.

We got our tree up and decorated right after Thanksgiving. I bought an awesome Yoda tree topper this year, so we could stop arguing over whether an angel or a star should top the tree, but his LED lightsaber was broken, so I had to return him. I'm a little bummed about that, because I was looking forward to our new nerdy tradition. So this year, the angel won out, and while she looks headless in this picture, I assure you she isn't. The bright colored lights are bubble lights(!!!), which I bought last year and didn't use. They're a throwback to my childhood and while they're much bigger than the ones I'm used to, they still make mesmerizing bubbles. I'm not sure if it looks tacky to have them on there when the tree is already pre-lit with white LEDs, but I really wanted them this year, so we did it anyway. Go, tacky!

The cats , especially Horton, spent a lot of time under the tree impersonating presents! We didn't hang out much in that room, though, because our TV and usable fireplace are downstairs. We put up a small tree where we always spend our evenings, and we put our stockings up by the fire.

Mom gave me her wintery teddy bear collection, and I sat them along the mantel for some added cuteness.

I enjoyed having all this stuff up for a month - it helped make things feel more Christmassy even without the snow outside. I took it all down today, taking advantage of the almost-70-degree weather. In Montreal, we leave that crap up outside until April because it's too cold to contemplate wrestling with it wearing huge mittens!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Final Report on 30 in 30

I wasn't going to bother going over last year's list, but I had a couple of requests to go ahead and do it, and I decided it would be good for me to face my achievements and shortcomings, and learn from the experience. So I'll go through the list, and see where I went right and wrong, and maybe this exercise will help me set up a more realistic and useful list for next year.

What I achieved:

1. Make homemade pasta from scratch.
I used my pasta attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer and got some great pasta out of the adventure. My lasagna, fettuccine to go with chicken parmesan, and homemade ravioli were all a result of my pasta experiments, and I plan on doing more in the next year, because they were great.

2. Bake homemade bread from scratch. The real stuff. With yeast!
I made the no-knead bread recipe recently and suddenly I believe that bread baking is within the realm of my abilities. I will be tackling (and eating) more bread!

3. Start my retirement savings.
Done. Of course, I then left that job, so I have to start over with the new job, but I got off my butt and started contributing to a 403(b) for my future.

4. Plant a tree in the yard.
I planted a lilac tree in the front yard, and I love it. It’s tiny but it did flower this year.

5. Blog at least once a week - and blog about everything I accomplish off the list!
I may have missed a week here and there, but I posted multiple times other weeks (sometimes a few posts in one day), so I will count this as done.

6. Get a filing system set up so I stop having to hunt for all my important paperwork.
Honestly? This one was more Dave’s doing than mine, because he got us a filing cabinet and got to work on sorting everything. I participated, though, and the piles are definitely receding. The next trick will be to prevent the piles from ever forming in the first place.

7. Speak up for myself at my annual review at work and tell them I'm awesome.
I did. And it didn’t get me very far, unfortunately. So I found a new job and I’m much happier. Call this one double accomplished.

8. Read 50 books, or about one a week, this year.
I think I hit 50 sometime in October. I haven’t been blogging about them, because blogging book reviews was boring for me a lot of the time, and I didn’t see the point of posting for the sake of posting. When a book really spoke to me, I told you all about it, and I think that’s how my book posts will be from now on.

9. Participate in Thing-a-day in February.
While I didn’t complete the commitment to Thing-A-Day, I did fairly well, and discovered my crafty side. I enjoyed it, which is what counts.

10. Go on a wonderful anniversary trip with my husband.
California was awesome, and we’ve got bottles of wine labeled and stored to open on our 10th anniversary.

11. Celebrate getting my green card with a party or fancy night out.
We went to Fleming’s in Baltimore and had a fun night together.

What I kinda almost accomplished:

12. Learn to hem pants and sew on buttons.
I did hem some pants this year, but the hems didn't stay sewn for very long. I obviously need more practice. I didn't have any buttons that needed repair, or I probably would have tackled the second part of this one. No excuses, though, I had thread and buttons and scrap fabric - I could have done it.

13. Paint the red room yellow.
We got one coat done. It’s not a red room anymore, so it’s an improvement, but it still needs a second coat and some trim.

14. Find a GYN and stop stalling about it!
I didn’t bother with this one because my primary care doc is good enough for now with regards to the annual girl-parts checkups. I’m putting this in the “kinda” category because I did go for a checkup.

15. Go through all our STUFF and have a yard sale to get rid of what we don't need (or give it to charity). I want to keep what we need, and what matters.
I have some boxes and bags full of “yard sale” junk, but we haven’t had a yard sale. I think we need to decide whether we’re going to bother with a sale or just give it all away. At least now the stuff is mostly localized in one room, in boxes.

16. Drink 8 cups of water EVERY DAY.
I did a lot better with this at the beginning of the year, and slacked off a lot more in the fall.

17. Wear my face moisturizer with SPF so I don't get wrinkly.
I managed to remember to use my moisturizer 3 or 4 days per week. Not great, but not nothing.

18. Cook things from the family cookbook Mom gave me.
I only made a couple of recipes from the actual cookbook, but I’ve made several of my Mom and Grandmaman’s recipes this year.

19. Write. More than just blogs. Start a writing notebook, fill it up, get another.
I haven’t written anywhere other than my blog, but I feel like I’ve gotten more personal and shared more and drifted a little further from my recipes and projects to talk about life, and I’m happy with that.

Complete misses:

20. Figure out how to French braid my hair.
Never got around to it. Not sure why it’s on the list. I think I was just bored with ponytails and too scared to chop all my hair off, so I challenged myself to try something different.

21. Drive on 95.
I’m a wimp. I need to get over the nerves.

22. Get my body into good enough shape to start growing a baby in it. This includes the loss of 20 pounds, but is mostly about feeling healthier.
HA! Next year’s version of this goal will have to say “25 pounds”. Dammit.

23. Take a yoga class.
I did look for one, but working the evening shift made it harder to find something convenient, since most classes are afternoons and evenings. Morning classes worried me because I'd always be stressing over the time and wondering if I'd be late to work.

24. Learn how to identify different trees by their leaves/needles/bark/whatever. I used to know this and forgot everything, so I'm going to read up on it and put it back in my head.
I still want to do this, if only for trivia reasons, but I didn’t make any progress this year.

25. Learn to change a tire.
I had a tire changed when it unraveled, but I had a garage do it. Why do I need to do this, anyway, when AAA exists?

26. See the night sky from somewhere dark enough that I can see the stripe of the Milky Way.
The B&B in Sonoma was in a great spot for it, but it was cloudy.

27. Find out how to get tuition reimbursement from work, and then apply for an online class.
I couldn’t find a class I wanted to take. I got too tied up in what certificate or degree I wanted to work towards that I couldn't just take "a class". Especially since the hospital would only pay for it if it related to my job, and I wasn't sure what would count.

28. Do one of the FlyLady challenges weekly.
I moved her emails to my spam folder. I love her stuff in theory but I’m lazy.

29. Try to relax and be less critical of myself (and others).
An ongoing project that I’m not sure I’ll ever manage completely. The new job is helping with my overall stress level, but I'm still hard on myself.

30. Visit the Museum of American History and see every part of it (and read as much as I can handle of the info posted beside everything). I've been but the visit was so hurried and I need to go back.
I haven’t made it back to DC in forever. There have been too many other things that needed doing on my days off.

So there you have it. Not quite as bad as I thought, actually, which is encouraging. I'm working on my list for next year and I will share it with you once I have it all figured out.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


Crêpes were always a Christmas morning tradition with my family, either at home or at Grandmaman's house. We woke up too late this Christmas to bother with breakfast, since we were off for a huge feast at my in-laws in the afternoon, so I shifted crêpe day to New Year's Day instead. A great start to the year, I think!


4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp soft butter

(Makes approximately 8 large crepes)

Beat the eggs with the soft butter, sugar, and salt, until they're frothy. Add milk and keep beating. Using a whisk is usually best. Add the flour and beat out the lumps, but it's ok if you've got small lumps, it won't matter. Keep the batter cold. This is very important. I usually leave an ice cube or two in the bowl of batter, especially if it's going to sit a few minutes before it goes into the pan.

Heat your pan with butter and a little oil (canola, vegetable, whatever you have handy) and wait till it's hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle. Drop a ladle full of batter into the center of the pan and tip and swirl the pan to coat the whole surface. When the edges of the crêpe curl and brown, shake the pan. If the crêpe moves freely, it's ready to flip. Shake it so it's hanging out of the pan a little on one edge, then slide a spatula under it to help you flip it. If you have mad kitchen skills and think you can flip it with a flick of your wrist, feel free, but I can never make that work.

This is what it should look like when you flip it:

Once flipped, cook the other side for 30 seconds to one minute, then transfer (slide) to a plate.

These are savory crêpes, not sweet dessert ones. Normally I cover them with a thin sprinkling of brown sugar, then roll them up and drizzle maple syrup over them, and they really don't need to be any further improved. You could also put ham and cheese or any other savory fillings in them - after flipping the crêpe, lay some cheese and whatever else you want on one half of the crepe and then flip the other half over it. Instant filled crêpe.

While you do not need a fancy crêpe pan to make crepes, I do recommend getting one if you're going to make crêpes with any regularity. Flipping them is much simpler with a special pan because of the low edges, and I find the heat is very even, at least in the one I have. Look for one that's about 10 inches across and has a very shallow lip. You don't need a "crêpe spreader" tool, just tipping the pan is plenty to get the batter spread out. If you're using a normal frying pan, you will be fine, but it may be trickier to get a spatula underneath the crêpe to flip it.

2011 Review

Looking back on the past year is more important, I think, than setting up resolutions and dreams for the next one. Seeing what was accomplished, what was endured, what was celebrated, can shape how the next year will be approached.

Last year, I followed my friend Tasha's lead and made a list of 30 things to do in my 30th year. I did it for the new year instead of my birthday because I got a little behind, but the idea was the same: set some goals and dreams for my next year and see what I could do about them. And, honestly, it didn't go as well as I'd hoped. If I'm using that list as my yardstick to measure 2011 against, the year comes up pretty short. Luckily, though, a lot happened outside of that list that added up to a pretty good year.

First, my 30 in 30 list. If I'm being generous, I accomplished a little over half of the items on my list. But this does not count as failure. As I look back at the list and see what I achieved, I see that the ones that were harder for me were the ones that involved a "every day" or "once a week" component. Apparently, I have problems with doing anything consistently. I'll need to work on that, and I'll probably tweak my 31-in-31 list to loosen the rules and make it easier on me, within reason.

So much happened this year that the list really isn't an accurate picture of my growth and accomplishments.

I made a huge and difficult decision to leave the job I had a long standing love-hate relationship with, and putting that toxicity behind me has turned out to be a wonderful choice. I don't lie in bed in the morning, wishing I could call out sick because I don't want to face the negativity, and I don't leave work shaking with frustration over things that shouldn't matter. This one thing was probably the biggest achievement for me in 2011 - realizing that I needed to try something else. And I like the new job and the new coworkers, and while I miss some of the great folks from the hospital, I know this was the right call.

Last year also brought me an absolutely adorable nephew, making me Auntie Jen for real (get it? Yeah, I'm lame). I love him and I'm so happy for my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who are fantastic parents. I'll be asking them for a lot of advice, when it's our turn!

We got through a hurricane and some damage to our home, and we got started on our big plans to upgrade this place by getting new floors, new paint, and a bunch of other things. Most of the work will be done in 2012, but we made the decisions and found the contractors last year, and that's a huge part of the work.

My good friend was diagnosed with a terrifying brain tumor, and she stayed here with us for a while so she could see specialists at Johns Hopkins. I'm glad I was able to be there for her, even a little. She's still fighting hard and still blogging her story, and being a hell of an inspiration.

In the spring, my husband and I explored California's wine country on a fabulous anniversary trip, tasting wines, wandering San Francisco, and hugging huge coastal redwoods in Muir woods. What a wonderful trip that was! Traveling with my husband is so much fun and I wish we had more vacation time to use so we could see the rest of the world! In September, I brought him on a quick trip to my country's capital city, Ottawa, to see the sights and visit my good friend Michelle in her new apartment there. Even the little trips are fun - Tim Hortons and a road trip with my little bro and his girlfriend made Ottawa that much more awesome.

We saw a concert, we hung out on a boat, we spent a lot of quality time with friends and ate a lot of good food.

Welcome, 2012. What are you bringing us?