Thursday, September 30, 2021

Twenty-four for 50 - Thoughts on memoirs and on how pasta can be considered salad

It had been smoky in MT all week - the one day it was not we went back to Lake Como for my photo shoot.

Whew. I made it through September. Between some family members with health issues, a memorial service for Grandma and the accompanying travel (both a physical trip to western MT and back, and a trip down memory lane complete with laughs and tears) and family time, training/on-boarding 2 new hires, the joys of quarter-end even though I am not in production anymore, a shake up at work that will funnel more responsibility my way - I am TIRED, y'all!

"But what else did you do, Hallie?" I finished a few more books, blogged a couple times (including this one), walked some (including a hike in the mountains which made my heart happy), a few more delicious recipes tried. I may be behind in just about everything but I am still moving forward, which is all I can ask for some days.

Book 24 - The Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr was a book club selection. It is not your typical discussion book but did give us a chance to talk about memoirs in general, our likes and dislikes, why people write memoirs, what makes a good memoir. I happen to like memoirs and have often thought about writing one (though I don't think I want to actually publish it ever), and I enjoyed the book. I have read at least 2 of Karr's memoirs, and liked her insight and instruction. It read a bit like a college course syllabus or class lecture notes, which appears to be what it is based on (she teaches courses on memoir writing), but made me want to seek out some of the other books she discusses, and, yes, try my hand at my own memoir. I'll let you each pick out your own pseudonym if I do publish - haha!

Recipe 24 - BBQ Chicken Pasta Salad

I love that cooled pasta is considered a salad. That means it's healthy, right? Just like a giant taco salad served in that delicious fried shell.

This is one of the few recipes that I forgot to take a photo of. Imagine, if you will, a pasta salad  with chunks of chicken, crispy bacon, fresh corn and a creamy BBQ dressing - that image may be kind of what it looked like. The recipe I used was from Closet Cooking, though I apparently thought I was making a different recipe and had some purchased some ingredients that are not in this recipe and did not purchase others that were. I plan to try THAT recipe another time. Here's a link to the original  and then see below for how I ended up making it (my notes in parentheses). We liked it and would make it again - it was quick and easy. How many times have I said that about a recipe? A lot. It reminds me of an old joke - If it's true that you are what you eat then I must be fast, easy, or cheap. Man, I crack myself up.

1 pound pasta (Any shape will do but I like one that will hold a little bit of dressing in it, like farfalle or rotini. I believe I used whole wheat pasta. You can also use gluten-free pasta if that is your thing.)
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 ounces bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces (optional but why in the world would you not include bacon?? You can also just crumble it after cooking crisp, instead of cutting into pieces.)
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used about 1.5 cups of rotisserie chicken cut into chunks)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup red bell pepper (I did not add this for 2 reasons - I did not have any and I cannot eat red pepper)
1 cup corn (fresh off the cob is best but frozen or canned/drained will do in a pinch)
1 cup black beans (Did not add for 2 reasons - I didn't have any and someone won't eat beans)
1/2 cup red onion, diced (not added, see black beans for reasons)
1/3 cup BBQ sauce (next time, I think I would bump this up to 1/2 C. It may have been the pasta I used but it seemed a little dry to me)
1/3 cup mayonnaise (same as BBQ sauce)
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional - I used because we like cilantro and it blended well with the other flavors. Feel free to leave it out if you are one of those who doesn't like it.)
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced (not added, see black beans)

Cook the pasta as directed on the package. Drain then mix with olive oil and let cool, mixing every 5 minutes. The oil and mixing helps prevent it from sticking together while it cools.
Cook the bacon until crispy and set aside on paper towels to drain. (if you did not chop before cooking, wait until it is cool and then crumble)
Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste, and grill (or pan fry), over medium-high heat until cooked through, about 3-5 minutes per side, before setting aside to cool, and slicing into bite sized pieces. (Chop your pre-cooked purchased rotisserie chicken if you are slightly lazy, like me. I think this would be more delicious with grilled chicken though.)
Assemble salad with the pasta, bacon, chicken, bell pepper, corn, beans, and onion. (or whatever ingredients you actually have - see also options below)
Mix the BBQ sauce and mayo to make the dressing.
Toss the salad and dressing along with the cilantro and green onions and enjoy!

(I didn't do any of the following options but think the avocado would be delicious. Or the ranch. Or the cheese. And who doesn't love crunchy corn chips - just add at time of serving if you don't want them to get a little soggy.)

Option: Season the chicken with your favorite chicken seasoning instead of the salt and pepper. (I think Justice or Southwest seasoning from Penzey's would be delightful.)
Tip: Cook the chicken and bacon the day before.
Option: Add diced avocado!
Option: Add diced tomatoes!
Option: Add 1 packet ranch seasoning to the dressing! (Or add: 1/2 teaspoon parsley, 1/2 teaspoon chives, 1/2 teaspoon dill, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder)
Option: Add shredded cheddar cheese!
Option: Top with crunchy corn chips!

Fifty for 50 Tally

Books completed – 32 (7 more in progress)

Recipes tried – 31

Blog posts published– 24

Miles walked in September - 34.2

    Miles walked year-to-date – 430.78

Scrap book pages completed –27

Hats donated – 20

Hours volunteered – 25

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Twenty-three for 50 - Delicious Dessert and Dark Secrets

More of a starter than a finisher lately, I thought I would use a little of my free time to update you a bit in my journey through this year of being 50. I volunteered this year to be an exam-question writer for ALU (Academy of Life Underwriters). ALU has 4 underwriting-related exams and they are considered very challenging. This is something that I have thought about doing for about ten years, since I first realized that people like me wrote the exams. After attending a conference in April (virtually of course), and hearing the association president talk about getting involved and the many ways to do that, I tracked down contact information for the ALU president and asked about how to volunteer. They had 2 open positions - one for marketing (ah, no.) and one for exam writing for 301, the final and hardest of the exams. Sign me up! I wrote a total of 26 questions, all multiple choice, for 3 chapters of the textbook and some of "general knowledge". There are 3 different styles of questions - straight, except ("all of these EXCEPT"), and multiple option (A only, B&C, A&B, etc.). It was time-consuming, difficult, and a lot of work in a short period of time, but also very rewarding and interesting. I feel like I know and understand the material in chapters I worked on better than ever. Reviewing my partner's questions helped me learn more about what makes good questions (and also reminded me that I have the nit-picky proofreading skills necessary for this task).  

True to my first sentence, I started but didn't finish the blog post on 8/30. Back now to finish it up. I believe my ALU work is technically volunteer time, since I did not receive any pay for it and most was done on my own time. Conservatively, between reading, writing questions, reviewing questions and revising, I will say 25 hours spent. I have 2 day-long virtual meetings coming up this week and then some time to complete final revisions on my questions by early October. Then I will be done until next summer.

Recipe 23 - Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Way back on the 4th of July, I tried this recipe to share with friends. My mother-in-law had made it for dinner the week before and I had right away asked for the recipe. It was easy (could be easier if you use a premade graham cracker or chocolate pie crust but this crunchy crust is so good, you'll want to try it at least once), and if you like PB and chocolate like I do, you'll love it. The filling recipe is from and sounds like one that comes on the label of Cool Whip or Hershey's syrup. The crust recipe comes from E's cousin. Combined they are a delicious summer dessert. Unlike other frozen desserts, this one isn't impossible to cut straight out of the freezer.

Butter Crunch Crust

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the following ingredients together with your hands:
1/2 C. butter
1/4 C. packed brown sugar
1 C. sifted flour (unsifted if you are me and don't have a sifter)
1/2 C. chopped pecans, walnuts or coconut (we used pecans)

Spread mixture in a cake pan (it didn't say what size - I used a Pyrex 8"x12" and that worked fine). Bake about 15 minutes. Stir it up (to break up chunks) and press 2 C. hot crumbs into bottom and sides of 9" pie pan. Cool. Save the remaining crumbs for topping. Can also use for topping for ice cream, pudding, parfaits, etc. Store in refrigerator.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie filling

Mix together:
3/4 C. peanut butter
1/2 C. Hershey's chocolate syrup
12 oz. Cool Whip (Lite works just fine)

Spoon into prepared crust. Sprinkle crumbs over top (or grated Hershey bar). Freeze until ready to serve.

Book 23 - The Husband's Secret

My selection for August book club was one that my mom loaned me after seeing it on my Goodreads list. I can't remember when I put it on my list or how I had originally heard about it. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty looks like chick-lit. Chick-lit is not my favorite (both the term and the marketing behind it, plus most of the books marketed this way), but I thought it would be a light read for summer time. I was pleasantly surprised and really liked this book, plus we had great discussion at book club where others were also pleasantly surprised. The blurb on the back has you "imagine your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret - something with the potential to destroy not only the life you have built together, but the lives of others as well. And then imagine that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive..." Fairly intriguing, right? I never guessed correctly any of the twists or turns. The plot was not at all what I expected and kept me reading. A couple of notes for potential readers: the author is Australian and the book takes place in Australia. This means that some cultural references and places will likely be unfamiliar. It also means that Easter happens in the autumn. It occasionally confused my American brain a little bit but not too much. The other thing to note is that there are a lot of different characters and storylines taking place at the same time, plus some flashbacks. Pay attention - characters will change from one chapter to the next.

Overall a very good read, not your typical chick-lit, and made me think really hard about secrets between couples and between family members.

Fifty for 50 Tally

Books completed – 31 (8 more in progress)

Recipes tried – 28

Blog posts published– 23

Miles walked in August - 62.3

Miles walked so far in September - 14.7 

    Miles walked year-to-date –411.28

Scrap book pages completed –27

Hats donated – 20

Hours volunteered – 25

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