Friday, January 30, 2015

Cookbook Challenge: You're Not Hardcore Unless You Live Hardcore

Matt has commented on multiple occasions so far this month that I'm like, REALLY into completing this challenge. In December I calculated that, if I want to finish cooking through the Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook in 2015, I have to make two recipes every week. And I guess I'm being pretty hardcore about it, if Matt's noticed and said something.

Just let this be an inspiration to you, I guess. If you have something you want to accomplish, turn it into bite-sized (ha, pun intended) chunks and then go bananas trying to complete those chunks.

Marinated Olives and Feta Cheese
I made this to take to a book club potluck. The marinade (made of olive oil and lemon zest and fresh parsley and garlic and various other things) made the olives super pungent. Like, strong-tasting to the point where you could only eat a few before you have to stop, you know? The bread on the tray disappeared, as did a good amount of the feta, but I had an awful lot of olives left when I got home. I probably should have halved the recipe, since Matt doesn't like olives.

This is the unfancy version of that salad I made last time.

If I had known making croutons was this easy, I would have started doing it a long time ago! (Maybe. Well, sometimes. Convenience is still a factor.) These croutons were buttery and garlicky, and the "salad course" upstaged the rest of dinner. I don't know why I have such a weird attitude toward salads; I quite enjoy them when I'm eating them, but if I'm not in the process of consuming one that second, I'm like, "Sigh, salad is so boring, and doesn't count as a meal because it doesn't fill you up, and excuse excuse." Croutons are basically the reason for eating salad, in my book.

Spiced Carrot Cake with Fluffy Cream Cheese Icing
We'll just call this one "deconstructed." Both cake rounds broke on their way out of the pans, but Matt determined that they were still delicious, so we slopped icing unattractively on the top and ate it anyway. We snacked on it like that for a few days, but it kept messing up Matt's blood sugar, and I felt guilty every time I ate any because THREE AND A HALF CUPS OF POWDERED SUGAR IN THE FROSTING AND TWO AND THREE-FOURTHS CUPS OF GRANULATED SUGAR IN THE CAKE. I'm sorry, body! I ended up throwing about half the cake away, just because we couldn't keep doing this to ourselves.

Hazelnut Hot Chocolate
It's like drinking Nutella! If you're into that kind of thing. Which, I am. I mean, you literally heat up some milk and whip some Nutella into it, and you've got hot chocolate. (The recipe is a little fancier than that, but that's the gist.) It was good, but I think the last time I bought hot chocolate packets I accidentally bought the sugar-free kind, and I must have gotten used to those, because I almost thought the hazelnut version was a tiny bit too sweet. But, you know exactly what you're getting if you make this. Bonus, it doesn't use up a whole container of Nutella, and then you can eat the leftovers out of the tub with a spoon.

Vodka-Spiked Lemonade with Red Rocks
The fruit-punch ice cubes are what make this drink amazing. Otherwise, it's just lemonade. But add fruit punch and let it melt super slow, and it's really delicious. Matt's not even the vodka-drinking type, but we both had two glasses of this lemonade. I'll have to remember to make it again in the summer; this is such a pool-side drink. (Also, I totally cut lemon-slice garnishes, and then forgot about them until we were already almost done with serving #1.)

(I made the cheddar-dill variation recipe. Because that's more fun than plain biscuits.)

Quick and Easy Drop Biscuits
Once upon a time, Matt and I went to Red Lobster. He ate about 70 cheesy biscuits, requested more, and then we took them home in a to-go box. Matt put them in the fridge and then forgot about them. Being the good wife that I am, I helped him out by scarfing down all of them. When he found out, he was kind of mad. He said I STOLE his cheesy biscuits. All that to say, these biscuits tasted a lot like Red Lobster's biscuits. When I mentioned that, Matt said he was still upset about the cheesy biscuits. And that I wasn't allowed to have any of the leftovers, because this time, they were all his.

Completed: 62 of 147 recipes

Do you like olives? What's your favorite kind of cake? And have you ever STOLEN any of your significant other's leftovers? ;)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

No More Produce Bags!

A few years ago, I started taking reusable bags to the grocery store. I figured reducing the amount of plastic bags I used could only be a good thing.

But I was still bothered, because even though I was no longer using plastic to haul my load home, I was still bringing home several plastic bags a week in the form of produce bags. Those things are sneaky, and made me feel guilty.

I slowly started phasing them out. I stopped putting things like onions and avocadoes in plastic, figuring that the outer layer always gets removed before prepping and eating them. Then I stopped putting fruit in produce bags, letting the apples and lemons roll around my cart footloose and fancy free.

A few weeks ago, I stopped putting lettuce and cilantro in plastic bags. And things got messy. If I'm paying for a head of lettuce, I don't want the leaves to start falling off on the checkout conveyor belt. Plus, I have a thing about other people touching my food. (I once told a cashier at HEB to do something about her hands after she sneezed on them and then grabbed my loaf of bread to scan. Eeeugh.)

But I've finally found a solution to keep other people's hands off my food (for the most part) and avoid using plastic bags. I made my own mesh produce bags.

I made a few larger ones for things like lettuce and lunch fruit, and some smaller bags for things like cilantro or shallots. It was pretty easy. I just got some mesh from JoAnn's in my favorite colors (NOT tulle mesh, but a heavier kind), and I sewed some quick straight lines around the top edging and sides.

I haven't tried washing them yet, but they should hold up under the gentle cycle. I'm not sure if the dryer will shrink them, so they'll probably just air dry.

And of course, if you like the idea of avoiding plastic produce bags but don't want to deal with sewing, you can purchase pre-made produce bags here.

What craft projects have you been working on lately? Have you taken any steps recently to reduce your share of trash?

Monday, January 26, 2015

One of These Days I'll Be a Badass

After we got finished trying on bridesmaid dresses for my sister's wedding, I was looking at the photos my mom had taken of us, and made a decision.

I have never done any type of strength training. I have some hand weights, but the only ones I've ever used have been the little three-pound weights, and I find those to be a little heavy when I work out with them. I have no upper-body strength. I wasn't that thrilled with how my arms were looking in the photos, and figured that 27 is as good a time as any to figure out how to get muscles. So after we got back home from Christmas, I started doing the 100 pushups program.

In case you haven't heard of it before, it's a three-day-a-week, six-week program where you build up your arm strength, starting with just a few pushups and then adding more day by day.

Now, the website tells you to take a pre-test to determine whether you should start on level 1, 2 or 3. I skipped that because I knew I could only legitimately do one or two pushups before wilting like a delicate flower. I started with level 1, and the website says that on this level, you're supposed to be able to do 50 pushups in a row after six weeks.


I've been working for three weeks now. I repeated Week 1 twice, and I'm about to start Week 2 for a second time. Week 2 Day 3 said to do repetitions of 5, 7, 5, 5, and then a minimum of 8 pushups, and then Week 3 Day 1 tells you to start your first rep with 10 pushups! And I am faint of heart and can't fathom starting out with that many and then doing more sets after that.

On my best day yet, I managed 11 pushups in a row, and then I growled and did muscle poses all over the living room while my husband laughed at me and called me cute. But I am not deluding myself into thinking I could do 11 pushups in a row every day, not just yet. These noodles I call arms are still struggling, and my shoulder muscles that are by my chest are sore every day, and I don't want to hurt myself.

But I am going to have awesome-looking arms at my sister's wedding. And if I ever manage to get to 50 pushups, I will post a video to prove it. Because if I were you — heck, if I were me! — I wouldn't believe it.

Tell me what you're doing to work out! Are you still sticking to any New Year's resolutions? Do you like strength training?

Monday, January 19, 2015

How Many Book Clubs Am I In?!

On the way to Starbucks on Saturday night, I made a sweeping declaration:

"From now on, I am going to limit myself to only reading two books at a time! No more of this three-or-four-books-simultaneously thing. I am overwhelmed!"*

And Matt said yeah right. He pointed out that one of my "only two" book slots is currently being taken up by my slowly attempting to read "Harry Potter" in Spanish. He said he believed me for right this second, but that the second I realized that I had two book club books to read in a week's time, I'd freak out and start reading both at the same time regardless of how many other books I had going.

Not book club picks. Just for fun. :)

And then came the question: "Just how many book clubs ARE you in?!"

Um. A lot.

See, when I found out we were moving, I joined several different book clubs on Meetup. I made a lot of good friends in my book club in Texas, and I figured it was a good way to meet like-minded people. Of the three I signed up for, two of them ended up being a good fit. And then I'm also in … two online-only book clubs. And I occasionally participate in a podcast-based book discussion group. I know it's a problem, but I just love getting book recommendations and reading new things and talking about them!

(Once upon a time in middle school, I actually believed it was possible to read every book in the world and I wanted to do that. I now realize that's ridiculous and impossible, but a little part of me still harbors that irrational fantasy.)

So yeah. I'm a little overwhelmed. I had to create a Stickies note on my computer desktop so I can keep track of what book is coming up next among all these groups. But I'm starting to feel less guilt about putting books down when I'm not enjoying them, because there are just too many other things to read.

Are you in a book club? What is your favorite thing about it? How many is too many, in your opinion? What things did you believe were possible when you were a kid?

*I later clarified that audiobooks do not count in my tally. Because I listen to them in the car on the way to and from work**, and that doesn't overwhelm me at all.
**Oh, right, I got a job! One that's actually kind of in my field! I had someone tell me there were no marketing jobs in this area and that I may as well go back to school and get another degree, so suck on that, snotty girl in the third book club that I didn't end up sticking with!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Life List: That Time We Almost Got Trapped in West Virginia

"Great story," Matt said as we ran up the ramp of the parking garage.

"What?!" I said. I didn't want the police officer to think that we had lied to him. I had told the truth! I couldn't believe what Matt was saying.

"This is going to be a great story," Matt clarified. Just moments earlier, we had suddenly, frantically, found ourselves staring at the prospect of being without a vehicle in the middle of West Virginia for two days.

But let's back up.

Matt planned this trip for me as my Christmas gift. We were going to drive up to West Virginia, so I could cross another state off my Life List. He researched things to do, places we should eat, things we should try. He booked a hotel. It was really sweet of him, and he did a good job.

We drove into Charleston, WV and, after a quick lunch, headed to the state capitol building. It's really quite beautiful; gold-leaf dome, marble interiors.

When you first walk in. I couldn't get a good shot of the chandelier, which was made of thousands of crystals.

Hall of governor portraits.

And this random stuffed bear. I had to get a picture with it, of course.