Friday, May 29, 2009

My husband rocks Friday

Wow, hard to believe it's Friday again already - and not, at the same time. It's been a kind of long week over here in no-Husband land. I think I've got at least one more Friday before he's back in town, and wow, we're really starting to miss him over here. Sure, sometimes it's nice to get to be alone after putting Baby to bed - you know, have some calm, quiet time - but night after night, it gets kind of old. Not to mention that when there's no one else around to help me with Baby (and he's awfully demanding right now), it kind of takes a lot out of me. It takes some serious energy to not just go to bed when he goes to bed.

Anyway, it's hard to have good MHR stories when Husband's away. So that forces me to rely on what few memory cells I have left, with my mommy brain, and recall some incident where he rocked. The one that stands out to me this morning is that this man changes the cat litter. Always.
I think it kind of started with my pregnancy - when women aren't supposed to be near cat litter for fear of some kind of gross cat-related disease. I seem to recall taking turns (sort of) with the cat litter. But then, I got pregnant, and Husband was on kitty litter duty. And it's not like we have the kind of cats who can have their litter changed every other day - no, we have prissy cats. They need daily litter changes. Fun stuff. To this day, Husband changes the cat litter every morning when he's home. No complaints, he just does it. Then, when Husband goes out of town, I have to deal with it, and I get grumpy about it, because I have somehow turned into my mother. My mother has always said to me "Rather have a kid" when I complain about my neurotic animals. Well, I've finally joined her, at least when it comes to the cats. I love our cats, don't get me wrong, but definitely in a different, more mellow way now that I have a child. Maybe it's because Baby doesn't puke all over the house like the cats do. Those cats could make having hairballs and vomiting Olympic sport - it's awful. Husband generally cleans up all of those messes when he's home too. How awesome is that?

I never thought little things like that would impress me, but they do - especially since I can't seem to perform any of those tasks without at least some complaining. Shocking, I know. I'm counting down the days before I can relinquish these lovely duties back to Husband for a while.

Hey, you cat mommies - do you have an electric litter box? You know, the kind that cleans up after your cat for you? Does it work well? Would you recommend them? We've thought about them several times, but not knowing anyone who has one, we're not sure they're worth the hefty price tag, so tell me what you think!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's on my nightstand: May

Last month, I started participating in the What's on Your Nightstand meme over at 5 Minutes for Books. Last month was a somewhat unproductive reading month - after I finished off "Pretty in Plaid" last week, I had a really hard time picking out a new book to read (in part because I loved the book so much that nothing else was as captivating or funny as it was).

Here's what's on my nightstand for the next month:
1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
2. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
3. Sunday Money by Jeff Macgregor (Husband is nowhere near finishing this one, so I haven't even started yet)
4. Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center
5. It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong
6. The Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee

Here's what left my nightstand this month:
1. The Middle Place by Kate Corrigan
2. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
3. Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster
4. Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten
5. Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

I'm sure some of you are wondering why "New Moon" is still on my nightstand after it being there last month, but for whatever reason I just haven't been in the right mood for it yet. I fully plan to pick it up after I finish off the Marian Keyes book I'm reading now. I adore Marian Keyes. She's hilarious.

So tell me what's on your nightstand...are you reading a mystery? A biography? A romance? I'd love to hear all about it! Some of the best books I've ever read were recommended by other people.

Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster

I finished off Jen Lancaster's newest book last week - "Pretty in Plaid." I happened upon her first book, Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass,Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office,
one day at Barnes and Noble a few years ago, and have eaten up each of her other three books now as soon as they arrived in the bookstore. I love her totally sardonic style and she has some pretty wild, entertaining stories to tell about her life. If you want to see a taste of her writing, she keeps a pretty hilarious blog, Jennsylvania.

Before you can read Pretty in Plaid, you ought to know a little bit about Jen. In her first three books (and these really aren't spoilers, more like basic plotlines), she loses her high-paying corporate job, shares the truth about living in the big city (and having awful neighbors), and then goes on a quest to lose some weight. Jen Lancaster is one of the few authors that can have me laughing out loud repeatedly throughout a book. This, in itself, is a bit of a double-edged sword - the laughter is super fun, but then when Husband hears me laugh, he wants to know why, and then I have to try to explain it to him, so on and so forth.

Pretty in Plaid is the story of the old Jen, as a child, then a tween and teen, and finally as a college student and young adult. Let me tell you, she was just as rambunctious and hilarious back then. She was an overachieving Girl Scout (just as I had dreamed of being, but my mother never let me), an eager-to-learn fashion victim teenager. Her stories are not only hilarious, but relatable and fun. It may not be as good as her first three books, but it was still a very enjoyable read, and I tore through it very quickly because I couldn't put it down. I'd definitely recommend it, and I'd also recommend her other three books. Happy reading!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sheet Pan Pizza

I consider myself a bit of a pizza connoisseur. I'm a huge fan of pan pizza, it's my personal favorite, but I'm not fanatical about. I am fanatical about pizza, though. When I first made my very own pizza from scratch late last year, it was what really kicked me into high gear in terms of learning to cook better. I was like, "Wow, this pizza kicks Pizza Hut's ass." And I grew up on Pizza Hut. I took a business trip to Chicago while I was seven or eight months pregnant with Baby, and he sure loved the pan pizza at Gino's, as did Mommy. When I realized I could cook as well, if not better, than some of my favorite restaurants, I began reading cookbooks, scouring the Internet, you name it, in search of the best recipes. I've been really successful with a lot of them, as you all have seen. This particular recipe I'm going to file as a "dud." It was really not the best pizza. Not by a longshot. If you want the best pizza recipe, click here. Skip reading this one. But, for those of you, who like me, are learning more about cooking, feel free to read on.

I found this recipe on Cook's Country, which I really like a lot. Normally, I really enjoy their recipes, although I definitely reject some upon first glance if I don't care for the ingredients. This pizza seemed innocuous, just a larger version of my usual pizza with two major ingredient differences - more yeast in this pizza and it uses water instead of milk. I think what I really didn't care for about this pizza was the use of parmesan cheese on the pizza in addition to the mozzarella. I'm a mozzarella girl. That, and the parmesan goes on before the pizza sauce, which I found then didn't spread very well at all. So, if I ever bake this pizza again (and I might, if I have to feed a crowd), I would skip the parmesan. Oh well, at least I got to send my mother home with beaucoup leftovers, so I know she'll eat well for the next few days. She really liked it, by the way. She's a big parmesan fan - so I guess if you're a parmesan fan, copy this recipe down and give it a shot. In case you're interested in giving it a go, here is the recipe.

Sheet Pan Pizza
adapted from Cook's Country
Printer-friendly recipe

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, heated to 110 degrees
1 tablespoon sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 envelopes instant or rapid-rise yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 200 degrees. When oven reaches 200 degrees, turn off oven. Grease a large bowl. Evenly coat 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with 1/4 cup oil.
2. Combine (warmed) water, sugar, and remaining oil in measuring cup. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook, mix flour, yeast and salt on low speed until combined. Increase speed to medium-low and slowly add the water mixture, until dough is uniform in texture, about 3 minutes. Transfer dough to prepared bowl, cover with plastic and place in warm oven. Let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
3. On lightly floured work surface, use rolling pin to roll rough into large rectangle. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet and stretch dough to cover pan, pressing dough into corners. Brush dough with a little bit of olive oil, and cover with plastic wrap again. Set in warm spot (not oven) until slightly risen, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove plastic wrap and, using fingers, make indentions all over dough. Springkle dough with 1 cup Parmesan and bake until cheese begins to melt, 7-10 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and spoon sauce over pizza, leaving a 1-inch border. Bake until sauce is deep red and steaming, 7-10 minutes.
5. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese and remaining Parmesan evenly over sauce and bake until cheese is golden brown, about 12 minutes. Remove pizza from oven and let rest 5 minutes. Serve.

I will say this: it sure is pretty...

Menu Plan Monday for May 25th

Wow, another week gone already. Time seems to be flying by me so very fast lately, and Baby seems to be more and more of a little boy every day. Yesterday, he learned to do a new thing - dance. Or "dancey-dance" as we called it. He bops his head and does little squats when you ask him to "dancey-dance." It's just the cutest darn thing ever. We went to the park Sunday, and he was so independent - he wanted to do everything himself.

Monday - Eggs and bacon
Tuesday - Spaghetti
Wednesday - Meatloaf and onion potatoes
Thursday - Beef teriyaki
Friday - Burgers
Saturday - Pork Lo Mein (a new recipe, stay tuned!)
Sunday - Homemade pizza

Husband's still out of town this week, so the dinners are again kind of boring, but hopefully they won't be very messy. I hate dishes. I truly, truly despise them. Not only that, but I think I don't know how to wash them right. Things never seem to be really clean when I wash them. I've only got one new recipe this week, but it's one I'm excited about - Pork Lo Mein. I love Chinese food so much. The thing I don't like about Chinese food is that sometimes it seems really oily and it also isn't always deliverable, and when Husband's out of town, I can't always go fetch some yummy dinner. Hopefully this will be a super yummy recipe, I just love lo mein! I'll be sharing the recipe after I make it.

Don't forget you can visit Org Junkie to find hundreds of other menu plans on other blogs, and even post your own!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Virtual Girls' Night Out: The Memorial Day Edition

So it's Friday, and the official eve of Memorial Day weekend, so it's time for a special Memorial Day themed Virtual Girls' Night Out! Ann's hosting, as usual, and she's featuring a great recipe for Carolina Iced Tea (a southern version of a Long Island Iced Tea), so make sure to visit!

This week's question is about your Memorial Day plans. Admittedly, I don't generally have a very exciting Memorial Day weekend, outside of spending time with my family. That's what I'll be doing again this year, but unfortunately, Husband is away in D.C. and can't come home for the holiday. On the bright side, I invited my mother to come visit, which will hopefully be fun and not stressful. She's already insisted I take the night off from cooking tomorrow and she wants to treat me to Maggiano's (no worries for those of you who follow my menu plan, I'll still post my glazed pork chops recipe!). I'm not complaining, though I do kind of like showing off my cooking skills when she visits. So, I've got some dinner plans this holiday weekend, and I'm planning to try out some new workout DVDs I picked up at MovieStop this week. I love that place, it's so awesome to go in with a few DVDs to trade and walk out with some new ones for next to nothing (or better yet, nothing!!) What an exciting weekend, right?

Oh, and I'm cooking up the rest of my crab cakes tonight, so we'll see if refrigerating the uncooked cakes overnight makes any difference in my recipe, since last night's were only refrigerated for an hour. Now the crab cakes are indeed exciting.

So what are you doing this holiday weekend? Are you traveling? Cooking out? Making pulled pork (a.k.a. my personal favorite BBQ dish)? If you're making pulled pork, you have to share the recipe!!! Make sure to go visit Ann and celebrate the whole blog hopping holiday extravaganza!

P.S. - Ann's having a super giveaway for all of you popcorn lovers out there, so make sure to visit!

My infamous crab cake recipe

Part of Husband's family hails from Maryland, and as a result, Husband considers himself a crab connoisseur. I've never had boiled crab, but crab cakes are high on my list of favorite foods. Every year for his birthday, I order the mail-order crab cakes from various Maryland eateries, and they cost an arm and a leg. A few months ago, I decided I would try my hand at making my own crab cakes. I'm darn glad I did! Mine are way better!! I promise! They're super easy to make and take very little time, though buying decent crab can be expensive. I usually wait until it goes on sale at Publix to make them. I buy the Phillips' refrigerated pasteurized crabmeat, not the canned stuff you find where the canned tuna is. I think that makes a big difference in the flavor and quality of the crab cakes.

Type A Mommy's Infamous Crab Cakes
Printer-friendly recipe

16 oz fresh, pasteurized crab meat
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay
6 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs (I make mine from the Pepperidge Farm hearty white bread - pulse a few slices in your food processor, they're awesome!), separated
1 lightly beaten egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. In a small bowl, gently combine crab, mayo, Old Bay, and 4 T breadcrumbs. Be as gentle as possible.
2. In a separate bowl, lightly beat an egg, then fold egg into crab mixture very gently. If the mixture does not hold together well, add the other 2 T of breadcrumbs. Form small crab cakes with your hands and place on a plate. You should be able to make 6-8 cakes, depending on how big you make them. Cover plate and refrigerate for at least one hour, or for as many as 24 hours.
3. After refrigerating the cakes, heat up a 12-inch skillet to medium-high and add oil. Heat until oil is shimmering. Add cakes to pan, leaving space around each one (otherwise they can stick together!), and cook on each side for 4-5 minutes or until desired they reach the desired level of browning. Place cakes on a paper towel for a moment after they are fully cooked and serve immediately. Yum!

My husband rocks Friday!

How did it get to be Friday again already? I really didn't feel like the week was flying by until today. Husband has been gone since Monday, and while I do miss him dearly, I also have sort of enjoyed the time alone to read and watch movies/shows he doesn't particularly care for. Last night I even turned on my old PlayStation 2 for the first time in years to play one of my favorite old school games, Ratchet and Clank. Think Super Mario for the new generation (though Super Mario is still superior, in my book).

It was kind of tough today to come up with a reason that my husband rocks, with him being away, so I figured that whatever I missed most about him would be a good thing to start with. That would easily be his dishwashing abilities. He used to be a big-time, major cleaner when we were first dating. His apartment was always spotless, despite the fact that he had a cat who tended to yank her own hair out in chunks. He would dust regularly, vacuum regularly and wash all his dishes. When we moved in together, most of the cleaning fell to me, but he kept washing the dishes. Which is a good thing, considering how messy I am in the kitchen.

You know the old saying about how girls marry their fathers? Well, my dad was the dishwasher when I was growing up too. Mom would make a holy terror of a mess in the kitchen and Dad would clean it up happily, no grumbling, although a few snide comments might make it out every Thanksgiving (the mess to end all messes). My husband is the same way - he will occasionally make remarks about the messes I make, but he still cleans them up. So right now, I'm missing that.
Sure, I have a dishwasher, but most of my pots and pans are not dishwasher-friendly (boo!). I am not the world's best handwasher, I tend to not scrub hard enough or something, because the stuff I wash never seems as clean as the stuff Husband washes. As a result, I'm using a lot of paper towels - cuts down on the dishes. Well, it does a little, I guess. There's no such thing as a paper mixing bowl yet (or is there??), so I've still got prep dishes to wash. In fact, the dishes are starting to pile up, so I better tend to them today. Argh. I hate washing dishes. Always have. Husband, I miss you! (And trust me, I miss you for other, way better reasons too, but this is the first one that popped in my head!)

Borders coupon!!

You all know how much I love to read, so imagine my excitement to see a 40% off one book coupon come into my inbox this morning!!! And, I was so excited about it that I wanted to share it with you guys, in case Borders merely sent it to me and me alone, because I'm such a good customer (highly unlikely, of course). Make sure to take note - it's only good today and tomorrow, so hurry up and go to Borders and get yourself a nice book to curl up with. And stay tuned, because tomorrow I'll be posting my review of my latest read, Jen Lancaster's "Pretty in Plaid."

Here's the link: Super Borders Coupon for Friday and Saturday ONLY

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Guest Post: Professional Mommy Blogging

Today I'm pleased to feature a guest post from my friend Margo, over at Writer Mom at Home. I've also written a guest post over at her blog, so I hope you'll swing by and check it out! Without any further adieu, here's Margo with some awesome blog advice!

I am a professional writer. I create website content for companies, and I have done some professional blogging for different websites. Part of my job is to understand how to write content that search engines, such as Google, can find and index for their search results. I am also a mommy blogger, and using the skills I have learned through my work has improved my blog. And, as many blog readers have blogs themselves, I thought that I would share some of these tips with you.

Having a blog that people can find through search engines is one of the best ways to build up your number of readers. Unless you have a protected blog, meaning that you don't want search engines to send you traffic, a little search engine optimization (SEO) is a good thing. And it's really easy to do. These simple tips can get you started.

The biggest secret to SEO is the use of keywords, and chances are, you're already doing this. If you head over to Google, and you want to find a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, your keyword, or phrase, is "chocolate chip cookie recipe" or "recipe for chocolate chip cookies". Keywords are what search engines use to figure out how to list your blog posts.

It is a really great idea to have a few keywords that you are using overall in your blog. For Type A Mommy, Elizabeth can use "Type A Mommy," "Stay-at-home mom," "best family recipes," or anything else that she feels really represents what her blog is about. Use these keywords often, in posts, pages, and other bits of writing around your blog. Use this same concept for your posts. Pick 2-4 keywords, and use them each 5+ times. Use them once or twice in your first paragraph, and then spread out through the rest of your post.

The reason that you are trying to use these keywords more often is because search engines look for repeated words when they are indexing your pages. So if you have "chocolate chip cookies" five or six times in your post, Google will realize that the post is about cookies, and not about something else. So, when someone else searches for chocolate chip cookies, your page will be listed, although probably towards the back of the list of sites. Unfortunately for many bloggers, the top search engine results go to the most popular pages. But there are ways to improve your chances there, too.

The first way, you are already doing as a blogger. Update often, using keywords in your posts. Search engines don't usually put old, outdated websites in their top search results. Also, keep blogging. Sites that are established will get a better ranking than brand new blogs. The truth is, thousands of new blogs are started every day. Most of them won't last more than a few months, and even fewer will still be regularly blogged on a year from now. If you keep blogging, you'll beat out a lot of other websites for better rank.

Use your tags and categories wisely. Search engines put a bigger emphasis on the words and phrases you use for these, which makes them a great way to use your keywords. If, like Elizabeth, you post a lot of recipes, a Recipe category is a good idea. Or you could even bring it up a notch, and use "easy recipes for busy moms" or "healthy recipes." If your blogging platform (Wordpress, Blogger, ect) allows you to use parent categories, you could have Recipes as a parent category, and then the more specific categories under it. Try to keep the tags you use on your blog to a reasonable number. I've visited blogs with over 50 tags. WAY too many. Settle for 10-15, and use them often. A post can have more than one tag, but it should only have one category.

Share the link love. If you are writing a post about child discipline techniques, for example, link to a couple websites for further explanation and examples. And when you post comments on other blogs, be sure to leave the URL for your own site, if it is asked for. If search engines see that your site has other blogs linked to it, they will boost your rankings. It improves your blog's credibility. This isn't always a sure thing, for various reasons, and it can be over done, but a link or two per post, to quality websites, is a good goal.

There are dozens of other ways to improve your search engine rankings, and a dozen reasons why it is a good idea. Especially if you run advertisements or affiliate programs on your blog. If more people visit your blog, your chances of someone clicking on an advertisement improves. More visitors also means more readers. Mommy bloggers are the new big thing, even if they aren't particularly new. Mommy bloggers are turning their large followings into book deals, speaking engagements, and more. It pays to build your number of readers, and search engine optimization can be a great way to do it.

When I first started blogging, I didn't know any of this. It took a few months of working as a writer, and being required to use keywords for my assignments, before I really got the hang of it. Give yourself some time to play around with these ideas. They definitely won't hurt your blog, and you might see a substantial increase in traffic to your blog if they are used consistently for a few months.

Anything I can clarify? Anything else you would like to know about using SEO in your blog? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and I'll answer any questions you might have!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I've been tagged! Two truths and a lie...

I'm kind of a dork, I enjoy reading memes, I do. Especially the getting-to-know-you ones. I just got tagged by my friends over at Underdogs Unite to do a short one that sounds pretty straightforward - two truths and a lie about me. I will post the answer as to what the lie is tomorrow night as the new American Idol is crowned (though I won't post who it is, in case anyone's on the left coast). So here goes...

1. I didn't have my first pet until I was a grown adult. My brother was allergic to all pets with hair, so pets were positively verboten in our house. Funny thing was that he didn't even live with us, because he was so much older than me.

2. I was in show choir in high school. It might not have won me any popularity contests but it sure was fun.

3. I chose the college that I went to based on a boy. I ended up leaving college with a totally different boy, though. Didn't quite see that one coming!

So what do you think is the lie? Post your guesses, and I'll update the post tomorrow around 9 o'clock, EST. I can't wait to see what you guys think!

Oh - and I'm going to tag Modern Mom over at How to Survive Life in the Suburbs! Tag, you're it!

***UPDATE*** So....the lie was....#2!!!! I auditioned for show choir when I was in high school, but I shockingly didn't make it into show choir, despite how hard I tried and how much I wanted it. I think it had more to do with my dancing abilities than my singing abilities. #1 is absolutely true, and the ironic thing is that my brother now has a furry family of his own including his pug Lolly and four cats. Number 3 is also super-true - I picked out my college based on the guy I was with at the time, who I was certain I was going to marry, and on Day One of school, I met my future husband. But more on that story later. TTFN!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Training with Mickey, Rocky's trainer

Have you ever seen "Rocky"? You know, the movie with Sylvester Stallone, the boxing one? Wait, let me back up a bit...

I went to the YMCA today for the Fun for Ones class for Baby, though with the ridiculous rain today, we were late. We probably missed about half of the class, but Baby didn't seem to mind at all. In fact, he actually played a little this time. He's finally starting to be less shy, which is a relief. I brought him over to the nursery afterward to get in a good workout with one of the moms I've met in my mommy group. We went out separate ways for a good cardio workout, and met up in the weights area.

I haven't done weights in years - probably since high school when I had to do weights in Personal Fitness class - so she was showing me the ropes. We worked on three or four different machines, commenting about all the men who were lifting five times the weight that we were. One of them happened to be older, but looked ridiculously fit. My mommy friend made a comment to him about how much he was lifting, and he wound up kind of taking over our workout, but in funny kind of way.
He walked us through the different weight machines we had yet to use, telling us how much to lift, how to breathe, how many reps to do...he reminded me of Rocky's trainer, Mickey, except without the screaming. It was kind of fun, trying out the different machines and learning how to do them. Well, it was fun, until we wound up on the Knee Raise...

This contraption is clearly some form of medieval torture. You use your upper body and abdominals (mine are thoroughly nonexistent) to lift up your legs and knees. Oh my goodness. This is an evil machine. My mommy friend was able to do like seven lifts - I did one. And nearly died trying. Yikes. Other than that evil contraption, it was a really good workout, so I'm glad I went out, even if it was raining cats and dogs outside. I have a feeling I'll be paying for the upper body workout when Baby wakes up from his nap and I have to pick him up out of his crib. All practically thirty pounds of him.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Menu Plan Monday for May 18th

Wow, it's Monday again. The weekend, as usual, went by WAY too fast. This week's menu was pretty easy to plan, since Husband is headed out of town (again) for a lengthy business trip. Hopefully, with the exception of the weekend, I won't make too much of a mess, because he is always my handy-dandy dishwasher. When he's not around, I tend to begrudge doing the dishes. Sounds like my dear mother is coming to stay with me for the long Memorial Day weekend, so hopefully she'll be impressed with my culinary panache and skills.

I'll be posting three new recipes this week, woo hoo! I love my crab cake recipe. It's so easy and darn are they good. The glazed pork chops are also very tasty, and relatively simple. The sheet pan pizza looks easy, but it's a new recipe, so we'll see how it turns out. Stay tuned!

Monday - Pancakes
Tuesday - Penne pasta and garlic bread
Wednesday - Chicken cutlets
Thursday - Fish fillets
Friday - Crab cakes
Saturday - Glazed pork chops (not new, but I'll be posting the recipe all the same!)
Sunday - Sheet pan pizza (a new recipe!)

Don't forget to visit Org Junkie for possibly the world's largest collection of meal plans for the week. Certainly if my menu for the week isn't inspiring, you can find one there that is!

2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge

I just happened upon a really cool challenge, hosted over at J. Kaye's Book Blog. It's all about supporting your local library, and I'm all about that. I love books, and I love owning books - but the library is good for my wallet, with the way I read. Going to Borders and Barnes and Noble is like putting any other normal female in a DSW - I get into trouble. I tend to buy way too many books, so I'm trying really hard this year to only buy the books that I know I'm going to love and re-read. All the other stuff I'm not so sure about, I'm trying to get through the library. Not to mention that I seem to be raising another book addict - Baby is a total book-a-holic. He loves going to the library and going through all the board books. Obviously, this challenge is right up my alley.

The best part? The challenge is totally customizable. You can pick one of three challenges:
** The first is to read 12 books from your local library in 2009.
** The second is to read 25 books from your local library in 2009.
** The third is to read 50 books from your local library in 2009.

I'm challenging myself to read 50 books from my library this year. I think I can do it, especially because I love reading cookbooks from the library and they're easy to plow through in a night.

You can decide that's best for you, and you can join anytime, as long as you only count books that you read in 2009.

J. Kaye's Book Blog has a Mr. Linky you can sign, if you're interested in joining the challenge. I plan to update this post as I polish off books from the library.

Here's what I've read from my local library in 2009:
1. "The Middle Place" by Kate Corrigan
2. "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" by Ina Garten
3. "The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics" by Ina Garten
4. "Baking: From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan
5. "The Barefoot Contessa at Home" by Ina Garten
6. "The Cook's Country Cookbook" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
7. "The New Best Recipe" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
8. "The New Best Light Recipe" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
9. "The Best Make-Ahead Recipes" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
10. "The Best 30 Minute Recipe" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
11. "The Best International Recipe" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
12. "The Best Chicken Recipe" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
13. "Restaurant Favorites at Home" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
14. "The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook" by Christopher Kimball
15. "Plum Spooky" by Janet Evanovich
16. "The Cook's Bible" by Christopher Kimball
17. "The Dessert Bible" by Christopher Kimball
18. "The Kitchen Detective" by Christopher Kimball
19. coming soon...

Beef Teriyaki

Mmm, good dinner tonight. I know, beef teriyaki wasn't on the menu for tonight, it was supposed to be earlier this week, but it's been a hairy week, dinner-wise, so things got made totally out of order. No big deal, though really. This beef teriyaki recipe is so good that my 15-month-old even enjoys it, and he's a little picky (wonder where that comes from). He wound up covered in rice by the end of dinner, but he enjoyed himself immensely.

This recipe is really quite simple, once you have the ingredients on hand. I generally keep a good amount of sirloin (my personal favorite choice of steak cut for this dish) on hand in the freezer - if I can get a good deal on it, I'll buy a ton and wrap it in Press `n Seal Freezer and bag it up. One of the key ingredients in this recipe is a bit exotic, and may not be something you have around the house: mirin. You should be able to find it in the Asian or International Foods aisle at your grocery store. It's kind of like a sweet version of sake. Some cookbooks I've read say you can substitute dry sherry for mirin, and personally, I think that it tastes totally different than mirin. Go get the mirin. Really. Oh - and you can use fresh grated ginger, if you're into that, I just use the jarred version because I'm lazy.

Type A Mommy's Beef Teriyaki

Printer-friendly recipe

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds steak, sliced thin in bite-size pieces (I use top sirloin mostly)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Slice up your steak. Try to make the pieces the same size, where possible.
2. Heat up your vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet, over medium-high heat until smoking.
3. Put your soy sauce, sugar, mirin, cornstarch, ginger and garlic cloves together in a small bowl and stir. Set aside for now.
3. Cook steak in batches. Do NOT crowd the pan - it will result in rubbery steak. Cook each batch for about 2 minutes per side. Set aside cooked steak in a bowl, and start your next batch. I usually wind up doing about 4 batches, all in all.
4. Once you've cooked all your steak, turn the heat down to medium and stir up your teriyaki sauce, then add to skillet. Stir sauce around skillet, making sure to scrape up any browned bits left in your skillet.
5. Simmer sauce over medium heat until thickened, dark and syrupy. This should take as little as 5 minutes, or as many as 10. Once thickened, add meat and any accumulated juices back to pan and stir well. I usually let the meat simmer in the sauce for one minute or two while I finish preparing my rice to go with. Serve immediately.NOTE: Feel free to add any stir-fry friendly vegetables you would like to this dish. Onions and broccoli go especially well with this.

I actually won something!

Can you believe it? I never win anything, but I recently won a contest hosted on Diary of a WAHM. I won a custom-designed MiniMe to use for Twitter and such! Pretty cool, right? April custom-designed the whole thing, and did an awesome job. What a neat thing to win!

I'm sure you're dying to see what my MiniMe looks like, right? Here goes! Isn't it cute?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Easy Barbecue Chicken Fajitas

Tonight's dinner was shockingly easy - I kind of made it up as I went, but it turned out quite well. It took no more than 25 minutes from start to finish, which was nice. I'm a big fan of fajitas, but I've yet to find a fajita recipe that I felt was authentic and tasty. This one is a twist on a fajita - rather than marinating the chicken, you coat it in barbecue sauce for a unique flavor.

Easy Barbecue Chicken Fajitas
Printer friendly recipe

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
1 cup barbecue sauce
2 yellow onions, sliced
Any fajita accoutrements you would like: guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, etc.
2 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Heat up a 12" inch skillet to medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil and heat until almost smoking.

2. Add chicken and cook for 8-10 minutes on the first side.

3. Flip chicken, add onions on one side of pan and stir onions as needed. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until internal temperature reads 165 degrees. Remove onions and add barbecue sauce, drizzling over chicken and turning chicken to coat well. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let chicken soak up barbecue sauce for 2 minutes.

4. Remove chicken from skillet and slice into thin strips. Serve immediately.

See, I told you it was easy! And yummy, too. Enjoy!

My girls night out last night

Oh my goodness, I had such a good time last night that my throat is a little hoarse this morning. Seriously! It was such a great time.

There were a few girls that couldn't make it, but there were easily still 15 of us altogether. The bar we went to actually had to put a table on top of a pool table to accommodate us (despite our event's organizer's attempts to make a reservation in advance to avoid such an inconvenience).

There were even prizes (I won a neat bath fizzie from Lush that smells divine and some lotion) for answering harmless trivia questions - mine was "What's your favorite thing to do in the summer?" And, well, given the fact that I am consistently 10 degrees warmer than everyone else, my answer was to stay where there's air conditioning. Pathetic, but true.

I got a chance to really chat with a few ladies that I've met a few times, and I really enjoyed it. I'm such a dork, but I like feeling like I'm making friends! I even managed to have a beer. Wow. I can't even remember the last time that happened. I need to get out more.

When I looked at my watch, though, and saw that it was after 10 o'clock, I couldn't believe it. Had I stayed home, I would have been passing out on the couch easily by about 9 o'clock. But here I was, out with the girls, having a good time, and still wide awake at 10. The funny thing was that I felt like I was out "late." This, coming from a girl who in her wilder days would stay out all hours, sleep for two hours, and then manage to go to work or go to class and actually function (nowadays? I'd be a total zombie).

So I know I tend to keep things a little bit anonymous, just because I don't want Baby to somehow read this in 13 years and be all embarrassed about his dear old mom, but I do want to toot the horn of my moms' group where I've met all these great ladies and who managed to get me out of the house last night: Mothers and More. If you don't know if there's a chapter near you, check. It's a really awesome organization. I'm so glad I found them, I feel like I've made some real friends there, and I know Baby has, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Virtual Girls' Night Out: The Sweet Edition

Oh, happy day, it's Friday, yay!! Thank goodness. It's been a rough week, between the teething and Husband working late and me feeling a little under the weather...yikes. But it's Friday, the best day of all days, and not only do I have VGNO tonight, but I have an actual Girls' Night Out to go to!!! I'm so excited! I can't remember the last time I went out with a bunch of girlfriends, so I'm looking forward to it. Stay tuned, hopefully there will be some fun stories.

Anyway, on to VGNO - this week, we're celebrating sweet things...and here's a party game to get us started!

Sweet As Candy

If you were to have a candy bar named after you what would it be called? Just for fun follow the guide below to create your candy bar name. Ex. If your first name starts with an 'A' and your last name starts with an 'H' your candy bar would be called "Sweet Confection". Try it out.

Your First Name
A - C = Sweet
D - F = Honey
G - I = Lucious
J - L = Sugar
M - O = Precious
P - R = Savory
S - U = Delightful
V - Z = Heavenly

Your Last Name
A - C = BonBon
D - F = Tart
G - I = Confection
J - L = Chunk
M - O = Honey
P - R = Blossom
S - U = Bits
V - Z = Buns

Let us know what your candy bar name is. I'm a "honey tart!" Sounds a little odd!

Now, since we're talking sweets, here are my top three dessert recipes (btw, it was very hard to choose just three):
1. Super-Duper Chocolate Chip Cookies
2. Husband Cake
3. Texas Sheet Cake

So how are you celebrating Virtual Girls' Night Out? Make sure to go sign the Mr. Linky at Ann's, and have a fantastic time blog hopping!

Another award? No way!

Wow, this is a special bloggy week for me, really! Not only did I receive my very first blog award...but now I've received my second!
How cool is that???? This one is the Lemonade Award, and I've seen it making the rounds on some of my favorite blogs over the last few months. I'm so honored to receive it! I'll be adding it to my sidebar later today. This particular award comes to me from Kristin at Bon Bon Rose, a super-fun, fashion blog that finds some awesome deals, so make sure to swing by and visit.

Here are the rules of the Lemonade Award:

1.Put the logo on your blog or post
Nominate at least 10 blogs that show an attitude of gratitude
3. Link to your nominees within your post
4. Comment on their blogs to let them know they've received this award
5. Share the love and link to this post and the person who nominated you for the award

Tell us how you've come to have an attitude of gratitude

Here are my nominees for the Lemonade Award, again in no particular order:
Eighty MPH Mom * Mission Motherhood * Stacy's Random Thoughts * Frugal Fit and Fabulous * I Heart Bowheads * Java Cupcake * Together We Save * Lulaville * The Big Piece of Cake * Wannabe Supermom

As for my own attitude of gratitude, after my last post (filled with whining), it's hard for me to say that I truly have an attitude of gratitude. I suppose, however, when I'm not whining, I'm pretty darn thankful that I have the life that I do - that I can afford to stay at home with my kiddo and watch him grow every day, that I have the husband and kiddo that I do...they make just about everything worthwhile. And I'm thankful for chocolate, in all of its varieties - I've even come to appreciate white chocolate, whom I've always thought of as the bastard step-child of chocolate.

So, thank you again to Kristin over at BonBon Rose, it's such an honor to be thought of! :)

My Husband Rocks Friday: The I'm-a-Brat Edition

To be honest, I'm not as psyched today about posting about how much my husband rocks. While he does in fact rock, this week I'm not his biggest fan. His work has kind of taken him over this week, and every time he's home, it's like he's a book on loan from the library. Like he's not entirely mine. He's been working late most nights, and then staying up late after I go to bed to work some more from home. Seriously. I hate this. I totally understand that it's necessary, it's part of his line of work, but at the same time, it infuriates me and frustrates me to no end. Intellectually, I know that he's ultimately doing all of this for his family, to provide for us. But that doesn't stop me from being petty and selfish and wanting him to come home at the same time every night and all that.

I think the thing that really gets me is that I don't feel like he feels conflicted about the working late - like that he doesn't mind that it takes him away from his family. I know those feelings aren't productive, but they would at least tell me that his family is still important to him. We hashed all this out this week (again), and I told him that, and he told me that of course we're important to him. That he'd much rather be home with us than at work. But that he feels like those feelings don't do him any good, so he doesn't give them a voice. I told him that it'd be nice to hear it every now and again.

So, I guess the reason my husband rocks this week is because he puts up with my selfish demands on his time, and my dramatic sighs and eye rolling when he tells me he has to work late. He rocks because he doesn't get upset that I'm upset with something that he can't really change - he understands my frustration and does sweet things like pour me a glass of soda while I put Baby to bed so I can sit and relax when I'm done. I really don't deserve him.

So tell me, does your husband rock? Don't forget, you can join in on the My Husband Rocks Friday fun over at The Great Adventure.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Our first trip to the Aquarium

We had our first trip over to the local Aquarium today. I had high hopes, given Baby's penchant for animals - but apparently sea animals are different. Perhaps if the Aquarium hadn't been so darn busy with some school field trips. It was awfully loud, and it was hard to get to many of the tanks because they were swarmed with kiddos.

On the bright side, we wound up outside at the Explore-a-Shore outdoor area - complete with splash park, huge shaded sand box, and outdoor restaurant. We wound up at the sand box, where Baby had an awesome time. He even started to grasp the concept of putting a shovel into the sand, pulling it out and having sand on the shovel. Smart boy. He even managed to connect the sand in the shovel to a bucket a few times. He loved watching the other kids, who were mostly bigger than he was, especially when they were running around. The best part about the sand box was that it was fully shaded, so it was totally comfortable, even though it was bordering on 90 outside. They had fans with misters throughout the outdoor play area, which was nice for us moms...except for those of us who didn't notice the fans with misters and parked our strollers directly under them (yes, me!). Whoops. Oh well, Baby didn't seem to mind.

Maybe if it had been quieter and less busy, Baby would have had more of an opportunity to check out the animals, but all the same, he loved watching the bigger kids. He's such an observer. He's a total people-watcher, everywhere we go. I think he still had a great time - no, I'm sure he did. I'm such a dork, I still marvel at the things that he enjoys and the new experiences he has. It just makes me see things in new ways, too, which I think is kind of cool.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My first blog award!!!

It is a very special day today, folks. I received my very first blog award! How exciting!

I, of course, have to thank Mrs. C of Next to Heaven, for bestowing this awesome honor upon me. I fully accept the award and will proudly post it on my blog's sidebar! The best part of this award is that you get to pass it on. Pay it forward, if you will. So much of blogging is about networking and sharing, so I think this is really cool.

The Rules:
1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.
2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Here are my award winners, in no particular order, and hopefully you'll find some new blogs to follow from my list:
Money Savings Methods * I Like It Frantic * Ann Again...and Again... * I've Changed My Name to Mommy * The Great Adventure * Momedy * Writer Mom at Home * How to Survive Life in the Suburbs * My Baking Adventures * A Psych Mommy * A Book a Day * JAM's Own Reality * Eat at Home * Tales from a Shopaholic Mommy * The Life and Times of a Bad Mommy

So, thank you again to Mrs. C at Next to Heaven for my very first blog award!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Teething troubles

Yikes, it looks like Baby's got another molar coming in, if not two. He's got the bottom two molars in already, and he didn't seem too bothered by them. The new one(s) that's coming in though had his nose running and his eyes watering, and his fingers constantly jammed in his mouth yesterday. Not only that, but he was downright pissy yesterday.

Every little thing that went wrong, whether it was a toy that took more than a millisecond to do what Baby wanted it to do or if he would get into things he's not supposed to (i.e. touching the TV), he would have an all-out "I'm dying" crying fit. It was awful. I felt horrible, because I was really letting all the crying get to me. I felt kind of helpless. Like no matter what I did, he was going to cry his head off. I don't think I've felt that frutsrated and helpless since Baby was a newborn, and would cry constantly for no known reason.

It didn't help matters much that he barely napped at all yesterday, I'm presuming because he was so worked up and uncomfortable. He had a rough time falling asleep last night, but I didn't hear him cry throughout the night at all, so I think he did okay. I hope so. Regardless, I think I'm taking him to the pediatrician this morning. He was just so totally not himself yesterday. It worried me a bit.

We went to his Fun for Ones class at the YMCA, to get out of the house and because I thought maybe that would cheer him up (boy was I incredibly wrong). He just stood around the gym watching the other kids play. He didn't even want to play with the bubbles at the end of class. I'm almost certain all that's going on is his teeth, but I think I would like the assurance the pediatrician can give me that he's perfectly fine and will recover from this teething incident shortly. Who knows, maybe I'll get Baby out of his crib this morning, and he'll be back to normal. I'm so canceling the pediatrician appointment, if that's the case. I'm pretty sure that I'm not that lucky. Stay tuned!

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

I just finished reading "The Middle Place" by Kelly Corrigan. I picked it up from the library, after seeing it featured in just about every email I get from Borders and Barnes and Noble. I figured it had to be good if they were all talking about it.

Honestly, I had a hard time getting into it at first. In part, because of the subject matter. Young mother of two young children gets cancer. Just the thought of that puts total fear down my spine. It's not often that the subject matter of a book will scare me away, but this had an affect on me I wouldn't have predicted. After I was able to get over that hump, I was able to enjoy the writing, which is simple yet enjoyable. The last two days, I sprinted through the book to polish it off, wanting to know what would happen.

Ms. Corrigan seamlessly weaves between her current life and her childhood, telling stories of her larger than life father and Irish family, and later of her early married life and early days as a mother. I really enjoyed the backstory, and I really enjoyed how her emotions leapt off the page.

This was definitely a good read, I would recommend it. I don't think it's the kind of book I would read again, so it was a good library book in that respect, but it was still a book I'm glad to have read.

The next book I'm reading will be either "New Moon" by Stefanie Meyer (the second "Twilight" book) or "The Friday Night Knitting Club" by Kate Jacobs, which has sat on my nightstand for quite a long time.

So what are you reading? Tell me about it in your comments!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Menu Plan for Monday May 11th

Yikes, how did Monday sneak up on me again? Time for some menu planning!

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and a wonderful Mother's Day, I know I did. Husband was so sweet with the presents he got me (books!), and even made his very own homemade gift bag for one of the presents that he felt he couldn't wrap (a cookie scoop). Check it out! He's so crafty!It had a totally flat bottom and everything! It sure explains why he disappeared for an hour Saturday night while I cleaned the top of my fridge. He's such a perfectionist when it comes to wrapping presents.

It's not a super-exciting menu week, we've got a lot of our family schedule for the week, so it will be a busy one, so the menu is a little simple this week. But it will be yummy simple, that's the important part. I will be posting three recipes this week: Beef teriyaki, Barbecue chicken fajitas, and homemade shrimp scampi, so make sure to come back to visit me later in the week to check out the recipes.

Monday - Waffles
Tuesday - Spaghetti
Wednesday - Awesome chicken cutlets
Thursday - Beef teriyaki (not a new recipe, but I'll be posting the recipe anyway!)
Friday - Barbecue chicken fajitas (a new recipe)
Saturday - Homemade shrimp scampi (a new recipe)
Sunday - Steak and baked potatoes

What's on your menu this week? Make sure to share it with Org Junkie, who hosts hundreds upon hundreds of bloggers' meal plans every week.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

I got the sweetest card in the mail this week for Mother's Day from my mother - and on the inside, she wrote that she was proud of me. It made me melt a little inside, and I almost felt that I might cry.

My mother and I haven't always had the easiest relationship. In fact, during my teenage and college years, it was really downright bad. Not because she was a bad mother or because I was a bad daughter, I'd just been such a good kid for so long, I needed to be bad and rebellious for a bit to get it out of my system. Since it had been stifled for so long, my rebellion was kind of severe. I snuck out of the house. I drank. I partied. I dated a guy 9 years older than me behind my parents' back for almost two years before I finally confessed about the relationship.

I smoked behind my parents' backs, until they caught me smoking at my college graduation. You can see it in their faces in the pictures from that day, how disappointed they were, my mother especially. It was kind of hypocritical, given that both my parents were smokers, but in a way, I understood that they wanted more for me. They always had such high expectations for me.

When my father died five years ago, I had to learn to get along with my mother. She was all I had left. My father was always the go-between, the mediator. Now that I'm adult enough to admit this, I was always (and still am) too much like my mother, and often that led to friction between us, and Dad always tried to buffer us from each other. Without him around, we butted heads a lot, but ultimately we forged a new relationship, an adult relationship. When I got married, I didn't feel as annoyed by my mother as I remember feeling as a teenager. I appreciated (most of the time) her input, her advice. Now, as a mother, I actively seek her input and her advice, even if I sometimes do the exact opposite. And her approval of me as a mother means the world to me. While I didn't always appreciate her at the time, I know she was a very good mother to me, and she taught me so very much. I was lucky to have her as my mom, and now that I'm mature enough to realize it, I try to tell her that as often as I can.

So, make sure your moms know how much you appreciate them this Mother's Day. This is the one day a year to make sure to thank her for whatever she's done to make you who you are today (though we should all do that probably much more often than we do). Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Virtual Girls Night Out: The Mother's Day Edition

Thank goodness it's Friday - I'm so ready for the weekend. It's been an interesting week, but given that Mother's Day is this weekend I'm not exactly feeling like the best mother in the world. Baby is toddling around today with a huge shiner - he fell, face-first, into the caboose of his ride-on train yesterday, and injured himself quite badly. He's okay today, outside of the shiner, thank goodness, but when I went out to Walgreens just now for a few odds and ends, I felt like everyone was staring at me (and Baby's face) and thinking what an awful mother I must be. Lovely. Oh well.

So, since it's Friday, that means it's time for another Virtual Girls' Night Out with Ann. She's picked an awesome song - Des'ree's "You Gotta Be" from the 90's. Do you remember that song? Go visit her to see the music video to jog your memory.

This week, in honor of Ann's new quest for personal fitness (and fear of the gym), she asks:
Have you ever had one of those visions of walking into a room and everyone is staring at you and you realize you tucked your skirt into your underwear? OK now, have you ever actually DONE something like that? Or anything along those lines?

I've definitely had visions of full-on personal embarrassment. Most were work-related, and involved either meetings with higher-ups that scared the crap out of me, or the first few times that I taught software classes at work and had to stand up in front of a group of people and seem confident and informed. The best part was when I pitched that the company needed to buy a new, $20K plus custom-built board room table, and I had to convince the COO and CEO of that fact. Yikes. As for actual personal embarrassment scenarios, I honestly can't think of any. Which probably means there's a really good story in my head somewhere, it's just buried under my millions of pieces of trivial knowledge, like song lyrics to cheesy 80's one-hit-wonders.

What about you? Any good stories of total embarrassment? You know you have one...share please! :) Oh - and make sure to join in on the blog-hopping VGNO fun over at Ann's!

P.S. - Don't forget about my comments contest - the wonderful visitor who comments the most on my blog this month will be featured in an interview with yours truly here on Type A Mommy at the beginning of June.

My husband rocks!

Have you ever heard of My Husband Rocks Fridays (also known as MHR Fridays)? I happened to come across it last weekend, hosted over at The Great Adventure, and wrote it on my calendar to make sure I celebrated it this week, because my husband does indeed rock. Note to husband: I am not doing this just because I know you're finally reading my blog again.

So let's see - why does my husband rock this week? The most immediate example that comes to mind is that my husband sat through (as he does religiously now) two whole episodes of "America's Next Top Model" last night. Not only that, but he enjoys it. He hollers out "Tyra Mail" in a geeky voice when the girls get a note from Tyra.
He's always rooting for the underdog girls (or in this season, the one girl who had a tie to NASCAR, Kortnie, who is apparently an ex of Dale Earnhardt Jr.). It's just so sweet. Not only that, but he thanks me for making dinner. For doing my job as a wife. And even when it's something as no-frills as pancakes, he always makes a big deal about it like it's some kind of five-course gourmet meal. He makes me feel good. Can't beat that!

To read more stories of rockin' husbands, visit the My Husband Rocks blogroll, and don't forget to join in!

Glazed pork chops

Since I know not everyone is a huge menu-plan-in-advance-er, I thought I'd go ahead and post my dinner recipe for tonight, in case anyone wants to join in with me on this recipe. It's very easy to make and it's one of my family's favorites. In fact, I've even made it for my in-laws, so I deem the recipe worthy of impressing company, too. It feels like a fancy restaurant dish, but in reality, it's very simple. So if you like pork chops and you like apple (which I think most people do), you're going to like this recipe.

Glazed Pork Chops
adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Heavy-Duty Revised Edition
Printer-friendly recipe

4 boneless center-cut pork chops, 1/2 inch to 3/4 inches thick (this is important!!)
Table salt and ground pepper, as desired
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup apple cider or apple juice (cider tastes more flavorful)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1. Combine cider vinegar, brown sugar, apple cider/juice, Dijon mustard, and soy sauce in a medium bowl; mix thoroughly and set aside. Trim chops as needed to excess fat and slash through fat and silver skin with a sharp knife, making 2 cuts about 2 inches apart in each chop (do not cut into meat of chop!). Pat chops dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper as desired.
2. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Add pork to skillet and cook until well browned, 4-6 minutes. Turn chops and cook 1 minute longer, transfer chops to plate and pour off any oil in skillet. Check internal temp or thinner chops. (If they are already at the 140-degree mark, remove them from the skillet and allow them to rest, tented with foil for 5 minutes, then add the platter juices and glaze ingredients to the skillet and proceed with step 3.) Return chops to skillet, browned side up, and add glaze mixture; cook over medium heat until center of chops registers 140 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 5-8 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, transfer chops to clean platter, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes.

Glaze is almost done - see the trail the spatula leaves...

3. When chops have rested, add any accumulated juices to skillet and set over medium heat. Simmer, whisking constantly, until glaze is thick and the color of dark caramel. Depending on your skillet, this may take a few minutes - anywhere from 2-8 minutes. A heatproof spatula should leave a wide trail through dragged through the glaze when it's done. Return chops to skillet, turn to coat both sides with glaze. Serve immediately.
NOTE: We like to put the extra glaze both on top of the chops and on top of some fresh mashed potatoes. Mmm, mmm, good, I promise!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My first day at the Y

Well, I wasn't going to share this story, because I felt it was kind of inconsequential, but I saw over at Ann's blog today that she shared about her first day at the gym this week, so I thought I'd join in. I mean, surely Ann and I aren't the only people on the planet who have a fear of going to the gym. There must be other people who fear that they will find only perky, bouncy, skinny people at the gym who are barely glistening in their barely-there gym clothes, while I'm decked out in sweatpant-capris and an dingy old t-shirt (and of course my trusty sports bra), and dripping before I even get on a machine.
The important thing is that I made it through my first workout. The details are that it was short and sweet - in part, because I'm ridiculously out of shape, and also because it was Baby's first time being away from me since birth. Well, while he was awake, that is. Baby went to the nursery at the Y, while I did my short little exercise bit, and from what I hear, after a good five minutes or so of screaming about my absence, he gave it up and played happily. Phew.

So, anyway, I spent my fifteen minutes split between a scary elliptical that was set on some kind of super hardcore incline and some serious power walking/borderline running (eek! I never run, except after Baby!) on the treadmill. I felt kind of good after the workout, despite the sweat dripping off me. I was going to go back to the gym tomorrow, but our playgroup is meeting tomorrow, so perhaps I'll try to go over on Saturday. My goal is to go at least three times a week. Stay tuned to hear about the trials and tribulations of my attempts to get fit - I totally need to do it, not just for me, but for Baby. I want him to be healthy and I want him to see me as healthy. Wish me luck!!

Pudding cookies

Growing up, my mother was a cookbook collector. I think that's where I get my love of cookbooks from. Oftentimes when she visits me, after Baby goes to sleep, she will pick up one of my cookbooks and curl up on the couch, contentedly reading various preparations for various meals and concoctions. She still owns way more cookbooks than I do, though she hasn't bought one in easily ten or fifteen years. A lot of her cookbooks are those older coil-bound kind from churches and such. One in particular that I remember is her Welcome Wagon cookbook with the blue coil. It had lots of dessert recipes, and that's where the recipe I have for pudding cookies come from (and my peanut butter cookie recipe hails from there as well).

Pudding cookies are interesting - they are a chocolate chip cookie that you add something else to - butterscotch chips, a candy bar chopped up, baking M&M's, whatever you like. This time, I used chopped up Heath bar, one of my favorite toffee candy bars. Another good mix-in would be the new Reese's baking bits, though I haven't tried them out yet. The key ingredient in pudding cookies guessed it, instant pudding. Vanilla instant pudding. They're quite easy to put together, with one exception - since they call for so much flour, you will definitely be needing either a stand mixer or a mixer to put it all together. Here's the recipe! Oh - and it makes a ton, so make sure you're hungry!

Pudding Cookies
Printer-friendly recipe

4 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 and 1/2 cup butter, softened
1 and 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 3.4 oz packages instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs, at room temperature
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)
2 cups mix-ins (nuts, candy bars, peanut butter chips, etc.)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Beat in pudding mix until well blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Once the mixture is smooth, slowly add the flour mixture. Be patient, this will take some time and some work.
3. Stir in chips and other mix-ins with wooden spoon. Make sure to blend well.
4. Scoop dough in 1" balls onto parchment paper covered cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. These taste awesome when they're warm.

Oh, and by the way, super big chocolate chips like chunks or jumbo chips taste really good in this recipe. Enjoy!

Must be PMS...

I think I'm a little down today. I've noticed that I've been more negative than usual, and that it's only 9:53 and I've already come close to tears because there are women parading around my neighborhood "preaching" (I tried to tell them this is a no solicitation neighborhood, and they told me they weren't selling anything, which is true, but they apparently need to look up the definition of solicitation because it's not limited to selling). I appreciate that people have and enjoy faith. I totally do. In some ways, I'm envious of that. At the same time, when I'm already not having a good morning, I'm really not in the mood to listen to you ask me about my faith. Really.

I don't really have an excuse for this crabby mood I'm in, except that perhaps I'm PMS'ing. Baby has been crabby today, too, because he woke up some time before 5:45, and I think was just really tired this morning. Not too sure why he was up so darn early, but hopefully it was a fluke. I like to get up early, so I can have some time alone before everyone else wakes up...but I only like to get up early to be alone. Not to play with Baby.

I decided that I wanted to treat myself to something fun today, in part because I'm in a crabby mood, and in part because I've felt like the last several weeks have included very few fun things for Mom, and with this weekend being Mother's Day, I wanted to do something nice for Mother's Day with Baby. Only problem is I can't actually think of anything. Sure, I could go to the mall, but how would that be fun? I go there every other week to visit the play area with Baby. Plus, it's not like money grows on trees to shop with (oh boy I wish it did). Then there's lunch, I could go out to lunch with Baby, that might be nice. But where would we go? Where would he behave? Where would we not get stared at when he has a fit? Some place probably that isn't too high on my "let's go there for lunch" list. So, the mall's out. Lunch is out. What else is there? Sure, I could go to a bookstore. But I have so many books I haven't read.

Are you sensing a pattern here? Every time I think of something, I talk myself out of it. Is this one of those things that inherently changed in me when Baby came out? There are so many, is this just another? That I just can't possibly let myself have some fun? I mean, sure I had fun with Baby at the spray park on Tuesday. And yesterday in his first movement class at the YMCA. But grown-up fun? Seems hard to come by because I won't let myself have it. Sounds like something I need to work on.

Off to go get a morning snack ready for Baby and to gather my coupons for grocery shopping. There's some real fun for you (dripping with sarcasm here!).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Indoor Barbecue Chicken

Last night's dinner went quite well and was surprisingly fast and easy - yay! I always love when that happens. I made the Indoor Barbecue Chicken recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Heavy-Duty Revised Edition. It's an awesome cookbook to begin with, and so far there's not been a single recipe I've made from it that I didn't like. I highly recommend it. Unfortunately for you guys, though, I forgot to take a picture of how the chicken turned out. Oh well. A word to the wise, also: make sure to use a nonstick skillet. Here's the recipe all the same.

Indoor Barbecue Chicken
adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Heavy-Duty Revised Edition
Printer-friendly recipe

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons light molasses
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Pound the thicker ends of the chicken as needed. Pat dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
3. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the skillet and return to medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, maple syrup, chili powder, and cayenne pepper, scraping up any browned bits.
4. Turn the heat to low. Return the chicken to the skillet, with any accumulated chicken juice, and coat with the sauce. Cover and simmer until the chicken in fully cooked and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Swim diapers suck

Today was our first trip to the local spray park for "spray-ground" - well, not entirely local, it's in the next city over, but it wasn't too bad of a drive. Baby had an awesome time there, but dear old me here got quite a bit flustered before we even managed to make it to the car. Only I can master such an amazing feat.

When Baby woke up from his morning nap, I dressed him in his swim attire, so that we could hit the road right after we were done with his quick snack. He had on his swim diaper, swim trunks, and his rashguard shirt, and I parked him in his high chair for his snack of a little yogurt smoothie and some yogurt nibbles. He did great with his snack and seemed perfectly content when he signed "all done" to me repeatedly. So, I cleaned up and then unbuckled him. When I scooped him out of his high chair, I realized that the back of him was sopping wet. He was soaked.

Best I can tell, he must have peed, and the swim diaper didn't actually absorb any of it, so it must have gushed right up his back. The back of his swim trunks were soaked through, and at least half of the back of his rashguard was dripping. Lovely. So, I had to rush him back into his room, attempt to track down another pair of swim trunks and a rashguard that fit (I didn't do so hot there) and change him. Then I rush him out to the car, to get ready to leave, only to remember that I forgot his swim shoes.

So we rush back inside and get his swim shoes, and then high tail it back to the car. Baby was positively mismatched with his lime green rashguard and kelly green swim trunks, but he did have a great time at the spray park. At first, he was a little bewildered by the water, water everywhere, but ultimately, he had a great time picking up all of the buckets and and filling them up.

Phew. Now I need a nap, too. The heat out there was killer.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I just finished reading one of the most haunting books I think I've ever read. It's called "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova, and it's the portrait of a 50-year old woman, a distinguished professor of linguistics at Harvard University, who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.

It's a compelling, gut-wrenching tale of her spiral into disease. I couldn't put it down. It was an incredible read, and it's the kind of thing that should be required reading. Admittedly, I didn't know much about Alzheimer's Disease, and I certainly wasn't familiar with the early-onset variety before reading this, so it was very educational in that respect. The story is told through the viewpoint of Alice, and you experience her rapid descent into dementia. The story is disturbing in that way, to see how quickly she goes from teaching complicated lectures to asking the same questions repeatedly because she keeps forgetting she'd asked the question already. My grandmother on my mother's side had Alzheimer's, and from what my mother says, when she first met me as a baby, she thought I was my mother. The idea of not recognizing the people I love or the fact that I love them is positively frightening, but it's a reality for far too many people. That's why I think it's important for this novel to be read. The story shows you the total devastation that Alzheimer causes, not only for the patient but also for the patient's family. Oh, just thinking about it now, it just makes me want to weep.

This was a difficult read, in that it definitely taxed my emotions, but it was a very good read, and I will be recommending this book to many, many people. In fact, I think I'll nominate it for my book club!

Note: I've read that a portion of the sales of this book go to the Alzheimer's Association, which I think is awesome.
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