Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lighten Up

I'm still feeling that just-after-Christmas glow when I think I can accomplish anything. Our artificial tree and wreath arrived today and I just want to set them up. You know. Make sure they work and all the pieces are there and the pre-strung lights are working. But then I also want to hang ornaments.

Actually, we really should set up the tree to make sure it works and since Scoob is forced to take this week off from work I'm more than a little surprised he hasn't been all over it since it's usually his suggestion. Well, I have a half-day tomorrow, so maybe then.

I love Christmas lights. It really is a shame we don't do other things with them. When mom lived in San Jose one side of the pack patio had lattice as a wall and we threaded clear Christmas lights through it. It was so nice to sit out back on a hot summer night with the lights on.

Speaking of light, that's one of the things I'm adjusting to in the house. We almost always kept the blinds closed in our CA condo for privacy more than anything else. But we don't do that here. There's not a single window treatment to be found and I keep having to stop myself from walking around in my birthday suit. It was never an issue in CA with the blinds always closed. It's not exactly an issue here either—our nearest neighbor is about ¼ mile away. And if they catch an eyeful, well I guess they shouldn't have been looking that hard.

But I love the light and the way the light plays in this house. We haven't been here long enough for me to know a summer light from a winter light, or to have the angle of the light signify the time of year or remind me of anything, but I am fascinated by the light.

The front of our house faces southwest, so we get some great afternoon light on the glass door and casting patterns on the walls.

The chandelier in the entryway mesmerizes me all the time. On or off, it doesn't matter.

And then there's this in the kitchen. (Scoob picked out all those decor-atory things.) The kitchen window faces southeast, so it doesn't put on as flashy as show.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And There was Peace

I've cleaned up from all the goodie making and the Christmas dinner cooking and even made it to the post office today to ship out goodies. It always amazes me how peaceful I feel AFTER Christmas leaves. I was thinking about this today when I read a similar post over on saltycrunchybitterfresh, and since Badger says it way better than I could, I'll let her articulate what I'm feeling. But just like her, the stress usually starts in October and miraculously is gone on December 26.

Scoob and I even went out shopping the day after Christmas to score some decorations for next year, which I'm quite certain won't get put up anyhow because I'll be stressing over getting it all done. But we scored an artificial tree and wreath, both very realistic looking, and lots of ornaments, bows, and wrapping supplies.

(Poor Scoob, his gifts from me were wrapped in wedding paper because I didn't have any Christmas paper. Call it a subtle hint from Santa. Hey, it could've been baby shower paper!)

Anyhoodle, I just wanted to pop on and let you know we're still kickin'. I've got pictures and recipes to share, but the camera is clear on the other side of the house and (woe is me) it's well past time for me to start dinner and I don't want to sit and wait for the pictures to download. I'll move the camera into my office and start the download in the morning and hopefully we'll have pictures tomorrow.

Or the next day.

Or sometime.

Okay, okay. Here are some pictures from November when the trees around here were just gorgeous. I look outside now at all the grey, spindly bare branches and remind myself that this is what they look like in fall.

Clearly, traffic is a major problem here.

On Chicken Bridge Road.
I just like to say it.
Chicken Bridge. Heh.

Scoob was very patient as I kept randomly pulling over for pictures.

This one's just around the corner from the house
and made me smile every time we needed to go somewhere.

This one's even closer.
It took me a minute to recognize this as the view from my own driveway.

In news, news, my next doctor appointment is scheduled for Jan. 4 for blood- and paperwork and surgery is scheduled for Jan. 19. Mom should be flying out a couple days ahead so I'll at least get a couple days with her while I'm still able to do things and I can help her get familiar with the area.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What's for Dessert? Indian Pudding

We had our hugely-anticipated progressive holiday dinner last weekend. I say hugely-anticipated because so many people in the supper club that we're now part of were just soooooo excited about it. And the more they talked it up, the more it seemed like it was going to be a big fancy production and, of course, the more I became filled with dread.

Anyhow, we managed to get off the hook for hosting one of the stops for dinner, mostly because we don't have enough plates to entertain 12 people and forget about finding a seat for all of them. But, I did volunteer to piggy back with one of the host homes.

I figured dessert would be easiest to help out with and transport. And since I was picking an easy option, I decided to challenge myself and try something new. The weekend before I did a test run with a couple recipes just to make sure they were fit to serve.

I made a pumpkin rice pudding, which sounded yummy in theory, but not so good in reality. I thought it was way to sweet, but Scoob liked it and gobbled up pretty much the entire pot over the course of the week.

I also tried this Indian Pudding, which I adore. Think pumpkin pie without the crust. And without the pumpkin, for that matter. But it has that consistency and flavor.

It's not very pretty, so no pictures. I was thinking if I baked it in little ramekins it might look a little more table worthy, but I'd need to figure out how to adjust the cooking times.

Indian Pudding

Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 3 hours 30 minutes

    4 cups whole milk
    ⅔ cup finely ground cornmeal
    ½ cup molasses
    4 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
    ¼ cup light or dark brown sugar
    ½ tsp kosher salt
    1 tsp ground ginger
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    ¼ tsp ground nutmeg, plus more for garnishing
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream, whipped to firm peaks

  1. Heat oven to 350° F

  2. In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring 3 cups of the milk to a boil. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining milk and the cornmeal. Whisking constantly, slowly add the mixture to the boiling milk. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the molasses, butter, brown sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.

  3. Transfer to a buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Set the casserole in a roasting pan, pull the oven rack out halfway, and place the pan on it. Carefully add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the casserole. Cover both pans with a single large sheet of foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove foil. Bake until the pudding is almost set but still wobbly,1 1/2 hours more. Transfer casserole to a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Spoon onto plates. Serve with the whipped cream and sprinkle with nutmeg.

I missed the extra butter in the pan the first time around but didn't have any problems with it sticking, so I think you could skip it. I also skipped the heavy cream; with the 4 cups of milk (and the 6 cups in the rice pudding) I figured I was pushing the lactose-sensitive envelope.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Can it really be possible that next month's issue of glossy advice on the "best way to prepare for the best [next holiday] ever" and new recipes is here before I've even fully strategized how best to tackle this holiday?


Oh, it's not that I don't have strategies. 'Cause I do. Uh-huh. About 3 of them. All half-started. Until I get distracted by the next shiny one.

Oh look. A deer.

Know the feeling?

And then there's the health stuff.

Oh hey, I've been cooking a version of that recipe for years. Okay. Now I feel marginally better about myself.

And even though I know we live here and this is home, the house doesn't feel like a home yet, you know?

"This is set up here for now." "Oh we'll use this for that until we get one." After that it's just a matter of time before "what do you mean using the box of Christmas lights as a footstool isn't doing something with them?"

Not that THAT'S what's happening here.

You know. Just an example.

But yeah. According to Real Simple magazine, it is already that time of year again.

I think cards may be getting out late this year.

Oh look. A deer.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Enclosed Spaces

So I've really been enjoying the steam shower I had put in. I've used it nearly every night, except when I was sick last week.

Usually I start the steam unit at the same time I start the water to warm up for the shower and by the time I'm about 2/3 done with my shower the unit starts putting out steam. I'll finish my shower and then enjoy the steam (does wonders for those lawn mowing' muscles!).

Now, in order for a steam shower to work the entire shower stall must be fully enclosed and nearly air tight, otherwise the steam and heated air escapes.

With me so far?

So guess what happens when you have gas. E-gads!

I don't know what I ate to give me such mad, mad, curl-your-hair, peel-the-paint gas. But trapping it and cooking it to 100° is NOT a good idea.

In my haste to get out of there I barely even yelped when a spider dropped out of the towel I'd grabbed for my hair. Though it did give me some satisfaction to shut said spider in the shower with the stink.


Bet you weren't expecting that, were ya' Mr. Spider! Take that!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What's for Dinner? Chicken, Broccoli & Wild Rice, Crockpot Style

On one of our first grocery shopping adventures after moving here, we picked up a James Foods (a local company) Chicken Broccoli & Wild Rice frozen casserole at our local Teeter Totter (that's what we've been calling the Harris Teeter grocery store). It was really good and not too salty, which seems to be increasingly difficult to find in pre-made convenience foods.

When I went back to Teeter Totter I was kinda shocked to see the price was regularly $7.39 ($1.85/serving), but they were on sale at $4.97 ($1.25/serving), so I went ahead and got a couple for those nights when we have no plan for dinner.

The last time we made it I really read the ingredients list and thought it could adapt it and make something similar in the crockpot, so I set out to find all the pieces to the puzzle. After stops at 3 grocery stores and we still hadn't found plain wild rice, I ended up going with a pre-packaged mix for the rice and wild rice.

On the one hand, that made it easier because I didn't need to mess with rice-to-wild rice porportions, but it also meant I couldn't control the sodium in the dish if I used the included spice packet.

Next to Scoob's kalua pig, this has been the best crockpot recipe I've ever tried—and I made it up myself!

I forgot to take a picture of it, and besides,
I've yet to see a crockpot dish actually look appetizing.
(And the frozen version doesn't really look like this either.)

Chicken, Broccoli & Wild Rice

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 6 hours

    1 pkg Uncle Ben's long-grain and wild rice mix (or your favorite brand)
    1 Tbsp extra virgin oilive oil
    1 can low-sodium condensed cream of mushroom soup
    ¼ cup light mayonnaise
    2 frozen chicken breasts
    2 carrots, roughly chopped
    2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
    1½ cups mushrooms, quartered
    1 banded-bunch of broccoli, cut the crowns into florets, peel and roughly chop the stems

  1. Add the olive oil, mushroom soup, and mayonnaise to the crockpot along with however much water the Uncle Ben's package directions call for, add the Uncle Ben's seasonings packet and whisk together, then add the rices.

  2. Place the chicken in the mixture, followed by the veggies. Smoosh things down in the crock so that the liquid covers everything. Cover and set on high for 6 hours.

  3. Before serving, fish out and shred the chicken breasts then mix the shredded meat back into the crockpot.

I love that I can just toss in the chicken still frozen because that seems to be my weak spot when it comes to cooking at home—I think far enough ahead to make sure I have things on hand for dinners, but forget to take things out of the freezer to thaw so they're ready to be cooked when dinner time rolls around.

When I make it again (and I will!), I'll cut back a bit on the water and probably swap half of it out for broth. (Of course, wouldn't you know it, I broke my crockpot with this one. The dial snapped right off after I set it to high.)

Although my total cost for making this was about $8.75, it also made enough for about 8 servings whereas the pre-made frozen one only had 4 servings. So even when it's on sale, the homemade version comes out ahead at $1.10/serving. I also know I had way more veggies in mine, so score on the nutritional front, too!

I'll continue to hunt for plain wild rice; if I can start with raw rices instead of Uncles Ben's or the like, I can cut the cost of the recipe further. I used to get it at Trader Joe's in CA, so the next time we're near a TJ's I'll make sure to look for it. Otherwise, my best bet is Amazon, but I hate the idea of getting groceries that way and would rather our money support the local economy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

East Bound

… and down, loaded up and truckin',
we're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to and a short time to get there.
I'm east bound, just watch ol' Bandit run.

For those unfamiliar with one of the finer movies to come of of the 1970s, that would be the theme song from Smokey and the Bandit (1977).

I've always had something of a soft spot for this movie. I dunno if it's because my dad was a truck driver, or because my dad and Burt Reynolds looked a lot alike in their younger years, or if it was this catchy little ditty by Jerry Reed. Whatever, but this song kept running through my head on the drive out here.

Oh who am I trying to kid—I was belting that baby out as loud as I could.

And when I stop to take a closer listen to the lyrics, I think I may have a better understanding of where my driving habits come from—"keep your foot hard on the pedal," "nevermind them brakes," "put that hammer down and give it hell."


Anywhoodle, I thought I'd finally put up some of the photos I took on the drive east.


The obligatory trucker's ball cap, and yes, I wore it.
Granted it's technically a geek's ball cap since it's from
the company that made Scoob's computer, Falcon Northwest.


Sunset on the Navajo Nation.

More Navajo sunset.

After almost 14 hours of driving, Albuquerque's urban sprawl looked so sweet.


I'll give you 3 guesses where we're at.

2 guesses left.

1 more.

Okay, I know it's a tough one.
We're at The Big Texan in Amarillo.

A Scooby snack. A Deee-licious Scooby snack.




Arriving in Memphis.

Crossing the mighty Mississippi.

Not a one of us liked the hotel room in Memphis.

Arrived in TN at night, and snuck out under cover of darkness.


Waiting with the truck and the cats while Scoob gets our
coffee on our first morning in NC. Only 2 hours to go!

Unfortunately we passed some of the most interesting things during the night time. I'd love to make the drive again without the cats, and without such a tight time table.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Knotty, Knotty

Woo hoo! The floors in the house are finally finished!

It's been about 6 hours since they finished, so theoretically the polyurethane is dry but I plan to wait until tomorrow to actually walk on them. The cats may be tempted to put it to the test sooner but the fumes are still a bit overpowering.

Added bonus? The surly attitude from the sub-contractor has all but disappeared and I think we even bonded over tales of horse riding and calf castrating. Scoob was rather enamored when the sub mentioned his wife does all the dishes around the house and now Scoob is entertaining a more traditionally Southern division of household labor.

Well, he was until I pointed out that the sub's wife probably doesn't have a full-time job (seasonal CPA) and then listed all the "man" jobs he'd have to add to his chore list. He was joking anyhow. Or so he said.

Anyhow, I think we may have turned an initially bad first encounter into a fledgling friendship. So, Yea!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What's for Dinner? Roasted Beets

So after my amazing recovery from the brink of death, I found a whole refrigerator filled with veggies that needed to be used up. I had a plan when I bought the veggies, but do you think the Phlegm Faery cared? Nope. Not one bit.

Scoob had to throw out the arugula I bought to go with these roasted beets, but I picked up some spinach while we were in Apex on Sunday. And I had to sort through a couple bunches of kale I'd bought because some of the leaves in the center of the bunches were starting to turn. But other than that, there weren't many casualties.

Oven roasted beets with goat cheese (and assorted other veggies).

Oven Roasted Beets with Balsamic and Goat Cheese

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

    6 beets
    3 cloves of garlic, whole and peeled
    3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
    ground rosemary, about ½ tsp
    ground thyme, about ½ tsp
    salt and pepper to taste
    1 cup water
    goat cheese
    balsamic vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Clean the dirt from the beets and trim the ends. The skin will slide off after they've roasted, so there's no need to peel them.

  2. Place the beets in a baking dish along with the whole cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Make sure the beets get coated with the oil and spices.

  3. Add 1 cup of water to the baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until beets are tender with a fork.

  4. Let the beets cool a bit so you can handle them. Gently squeeze the beet to break the skin and peel it off, then slice.

  5. Put the spinach on a plate, add the sliced beets, a couple tablespoons of goat cheese, and drizzle with balsamic. Any leftover liquid in the baking dish can also be cooled and drizzled over the plate.

I've eaten versions of this several times and loved it, but this was the first time I tried to make it myself. Since I had so many other veggies to use up I also roughly chopped a couple carrots and a turnip (or maybe it was a rutabaga, I dunno) I'd had in the fridge along with the beets. I don't recommend the turnip, though; it was very bitter.

I also had some yellow squash to use up, so after about 30 minutes I added that to the dish, and that was good. I also made kale chips with the rest of the kale. One of my favorites! It's healthy and it satisfies my cravings for crunchy/salty.