Sunday, November 03, 2013

This One is for Slow Cooking Stephanie

I have been sad for the past couple weeks because my scrapbooking friend Mary passed away.  She had a very challenging last 11 months after discovering she had kidney cancer that had metastasized to her brain.  I can't write about Mary right now though.  I was just at her funeral yesterday and it is still too fresh.  Maybe some other time.

Eating: Today's post was inspired by my good friend Stephanie who has recently acquired a crock pot, aka slow cooker.  I volunteered to send her some recipes and then for the past few weeks have neglected to send them.  So, being lazy resourceful, I figured I would dedicate a blog post to my favorite crock pot recipes and send Steph a link.  I know there are lots of blogs entirely devoted to crock pot recipes.  You can read those if you like.  This is not one of them.

Chicken Stew
I blogged this one before, but it is so yummy, I will post it again. I received this recipe in a flyer for a grocery delivery service.

1 to 1.5# chicken breast, cut into 1-2" pieces
1 t olive oil
28 oz Pot Roast Mix (or 1 large onion, 5 medium potatoes, 2 carrots and 2 stalks celery, all chopped into large chunks)
1 t poultry seasoning
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1 1/2 C heavy whipping cream
2/3 C flour
1/2 C frozen peas
1/4 C parsley, chopped

Saute chicken pieces in olive oil for 3-4 minutes until chicken browns just on the outside. Place chicken in bottom of crockpot. Add vegetables (except peas), poultry seasoning, salt and chicken broth. Combine flour and whipping cream and whisk together. Add to crockpot. Stir all ingredients together to combine. Cover and cook on Low for 8-10 hours or on High for 5 hours. 5 minutes before serving, stir in peas and fresh parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread or biscuits and a salad.

Hamburger Soup
This one was also posted in one of my soup posts awhile back.  Since it is so easy, though, I feel I need to post again.  I like recipes that use the "dump into the crock pot" method, without having to brown stuff.  Only a paragraph long, how can you not love this one?  This recipe came from Kate whose children I babysat back in about 1995.

Crumble 1 lb ground beef into slow-cooker. Add 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp basil, 1/4 tsp seasoned salt, and 1 envelope onion soup mix. Stir in 3 C boiling water, 8 oz can tomato sauce, 1 Tbls soy sauce. Add 1 C sliced celery and 1 C thinly sliced carrots. Cover an cook on low 6-8 hours. Turn on high - add 1 C macaroni (cooked) and 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese. Cover and cook 10-15 minutes.

Crock Pot Chicken
As you may know, we have been getting a chicken share (like a share of a CSA but it is whole chickens) from a local chicken guy (we call him Dave the Chicken Man) the past couple of years.  Until that time, I had never cooked a whole chicken before.  We have tried a few roast chicken recipes.  This one is the easiest I have found.  The chicken comes out so tender it literally falls off the bone (please note, this is the correct sense of the term "literally" whereby I mean that if you pick the chicken up by, say, the end of the drumstick/leg bone, the meat will separate itself from the bone and you will be left holding a completely nude bone).  You could adjust the seasonings to your own preferences and tastes but we really liked the strong smoked paprika flavor of this.  We used Penzey's Smoked Spanish Paprika, of course.  The recipe came from a website called "100 days of real food".  I can't tell if the author of that website created the recipe or just posted it. 

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne (red) pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 onion
1 chicken (3-4 pounds)

Roughly chop 1 onion and place in crockpot.  Mix together seasonings and rub over the chicken, including under the skin (it really helps get the flavor into the meat when it is rubbed under the skin). Cook on High for 4-5 hours.  We make gravy from the drippings in pan and serve with mashed potatoes and a veggie on the side.

BBQ Pulled Pork
This one is so easy, I hesitate to even add it.  But I love pulled pork and I know Steph is a fan also.  Making it in the slow cooker, you lose the nice bark that you would get cooking it the traditional way, but it is so much easier.  This recipe is based on one seen on "Closet Cooking".

Place a pork butt (about 3#) in the crockpot.  Add 1/2 C of your favorite BBQ sauce.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Remove pork and let it cool slightly.  Skim fat off the juices.  Simmer juices to reduce and add as much of the juice as you like to another 1/2 C BBQ sauce.  Pull (aka shred) the pork using 2 forks.  Mix with the BBQ sauce/juice mixture.  Serve on buns with some creamy cole slaw.

I have read that you can use the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer to pull/shred pork and chicken but have not tried it.  E is really good at shredding, so he usually does it, using the 2-fork method.

And there you have 4 crock pot recipes to try.  Bon Apetit, Stephanie!

Until we eat again,

Monday, October 07, 2013

It's Been a Long Time

So when one has been too busy with other things to post on her blog for, oh, about 4 months, she has a couple ways of proceeding.  Never post again and abandon the blog.  Start back and try to catch up with all that has happened in the time lapse.  Or apologize to the 15 people who read the blog regularly in the past, and go forward, leaving the readers to wonder what happened in the lapse. 

Having learned in college that once I fall behind (such as with reading for my religion class freshman year or philosophy class senior year), it is nearly impossible to catch up after a period of time.  There simply are not enough hours in the day or days in the week.  I apologize, but other than if the topics fit into what I plan on blogging about, you will likely not read about the books I have read, recipes I have tried, or other events of the last 4 months.  Sorry.  Just can't do it, so the second option above is out.

For people who hate this blog (there probably are some, though I would think that if someone hates it, they wouldn't continue to read it.  If they do, then it is their own stupid fault.), I enjoy blogging too much to abandon it.  Option one, out.

So, dear readers, my apologies for a long absence.  My only excuse has been excessive amounts of work, though there were plenty of other distractions as well, some enjoyable, some tolerable and some that just needed to be completed.  I am back now, so let me get started already!

Eating: The fall CSA is upon us.  The tomatoes have wrapped up.  The cabbage and winter squash are abundant.  The root vegetables are coming in.  Continuing a theme I started last year in When Life Gives You Kale, Make Kale Chips and then in Part 2 of that post, here are some additional recipes.

When Life Gives You Tomatoes...

Make Tomato Pasta Sauce.  My grandma called just to give me recipes to use up the 10+ pounds of tomatoes that I picked after we got home from vacation.  This was one of them.  I only made 1/3 of the recipe because I had already used a bunch of the tomatoes for Roasted Tomato Soup (already blogged on the first "when life gives you..." post), Chicken Pasta Fresca (posted here) which really has a different name that I can never remember, as well as Salsa (recipe to follow shortly).  I also froze some of the cherry tomatoes like I do with strawberries (wash them, freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then pack into freezer bags).  And I ate a bunch while picking them and as a snack (or 4 snacks). 

Anyway, here is Granny's Tomato Sauce recipe:
4 medium onions, chopped
3 small garlic gloves
3 Tbls oil
4 1/4 pounds tomatoes
4 six-ounce cans tomato paste
1 pound mushrooms, sliced (I did not add the 'shrooms)
1 C. chopped parsley
3 Tbls sugar
3 Tbls salt
4 tsp oregano leaves
2 bay leaves

In a large kettle over medium-high heat, heat oil and cook onions and garlic until limp.  Discard garlic (I left mine in but had crushed it and couldn't really find it to get it out).  Add remaining ingredients.  Simmer covered on low for 2 hours.  Refrigerate until chilled and freeze.  (Mine is in freezer bags in 1 cup serving sizes - 1/2 C for each of us - and I used the immersion blender to smooth it out.  Someone at my house doesn't like chunks in his sauce.)  Yummy and not full of preservatives and junk.

Reading: I have read about 15 books since I last blogged, so will only comment here on the most recent couple.  As you may know, I have been reading some of the Newbery Medal winners this year, starting with the one that won the medal the year I was born. I figured I would have enough to read if I just stuck to my lifetime for now.  The most recent NBM book I finished was Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, the winner in 1981. Ms. Paterson also wrote the 1978 winner Bridge to Terabithia.  I loved both of these books, enough that I plan to seek out more by the author. 

Jacob Have I Loved is the story of Sara Louise (aka "Wheeze" to her sister, and "Louise" to most everyone else) who lives in the shadow of her talented, beautiful, delicate twin Caroline.  They live with their family on a small island in Chesapeake Bay in the 1940's, where all struggle to make a living by crabbing.  Her cranky grandmother (who has dementia, per my diagnosis) lives with Louise and her family, and taunts Louise with a quote from the Bible: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." which references another set of twins long ago engaged in a bit of sibling rivalry.  I learned a lot about crabbing, the Bible and sibling relationships.  Easy read and very good.

Bridge to Terabithia I read a couple months ago, and had actually listened to it in my car about 7 years ago (when I used to commute and listen to audio books to try to quell the road rage).  It is a story of Jesse, an artistic boy who is all alone even in a group or in his big family, and Leslie, a newcomer who is smart and tomboy.  Like Jesse, she also doesn't quite fit in.  Together they create an imaginary land where they rule as king and queen.  I don't want to spoil the book so will stop there, but overall an amazing story of the type of friendship that transforms a person's life.  This book was made into a movie a few years back (I have not seen it), and it is a book that gets challenged and banned frequently, so I believe it is better known than Jacob.  Both are worth checking out.

Book club just discussed The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander.  This is the author's 3rd book of historical fiction about the Russian Revolution, the first being The Kitchen Boy.  I thought Kitchen Boy was the stronger of the 2 I have read (the middle one is Rasputin's Daughter and is on my shelf to read next) but liked this one as well.  In all 3, he has taken peripheral characters to tell the story of the Revolution from their viewpoints.  In Kitchen Boy, we are with Tsar Nicholas and his family during their last days, through the eyes of a servant.  In Bride, we learn the two sides of the Revolution - one through Pavel, a peasant-turned-assassin working for the revolutionists, and one through Ella, a Romanov duchess and the sister of Tsarina Alexandra.  The story is told in alternating voices between the two.  I found this a perfect way to tell both sides, how it displayed the mistakes made on the part of the royals as well as the way the Communists used propaganda and stirred up mob mentality to get the peasants to revolt and carry out assassinations.  The story of Ella herself was quite interesting (after her husband is assassinated, she starts a convent and provides nursing to the poor, soldiers, and whoever else needs it). Since the author had access to her letters and diaries, and since she was a real person, her story was the stronger of the two.  Pavel's story is more of a vehicle to tell the revolutionists' point of view and his character is more flat and stereotypical, though definitely serves it purpose.

Weeding: The veggie garden got cleaned out yesterday.  The asters are blooming their purple heads off and the mums are in full bloom as well.  Some of the plants (notably the Husker Red Penstemon) have beautiful fall color in their leaves.  The Husker Red is a deep burgundy color all summer, then turns brilliant red in autumn.  So lovely. 

Thank you for coming back to read my blog.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I missed blogging and will try to post more frequently in the coming weeks.

Until we eat again,

Sunday, June 09, 2013

A Fiesta of Recipes

Eating: We have been eating this year, I promise.  I just have not been a prolific blogger.  The predictions for 2013 included trying a new recipe each month.  So far, I have averaged a recipe a month.  In May, there were 2 new recipes.

I have pinned many recipes on Pintrest, mostly when I was PWH (pinning while hungry), but have been poor at trying many of the things I have pinned.  A couple weeks ago, I tried one recipe that I had pinned several months ago: Homemade Enchilada Sauce.  This is one of those things that may fall into the category of "why would you even to bother to make that from scratch?" but it was delicious, I know exactly what was in it and it didn't really take all that long.  The recipe was pinned from a blog called "Gimme Some Oven".  Always love a good pun... 

The color and heat of the enchilada sauce is going to depend on the type of chili powder you use.  I would recommend using half the amount of chili powder and adding more to your taste.  You can always add more, but can never take back what you have already added.  Ours was more brown colored, which was fine with me.  We use Penzey's Chili Powder (regular, not hot.  We are Minnesotans.). I love Penzey's and we are lucky to have a store not too far so we can go in and smell the spices before we buy, but you can order them online or from their catalog too.  I didn't mean to do an advertisement for Penzey's here.  I just really like their spices - they are fresh and there is a huge variety.  We actually made a bigger batch of sauce because our enchilada recipe (taken from the can of Old El Paso enchilada sauce.  No comments on using homemade sauce to make a recipe from the side of a can.  I get that it is weird.)

Homemade Enchilada Sauce
2 T. vegetable or canola oil
2 T. flour
4 T. chili powder (more or less to taste, as I noted above)
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. cumin
1/4 t. oregano
2 C. chicken broth

Heat oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan (no need to consult a medium before doing this...).  Add flour and stir 1 minute (you may recall this is called a "roux").  Stir in the spices.  Gradually stir in broth, whisking continually to remove lumps.  Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until thick.  Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.  Or use immediately to make your enchiladas.
As a bonus, here is the enchilada recipe we use.

Easy Beef Enchiladas
(from Old El Paso Enchilada Sauce can)
1 lb. ground beef
2 10 oz cans enchilada Sauce (or 20 oz of yummy homemade enchilada sauce)
6 oz (1 1/2 C) shredded cheese (we actually only used 1/2 C of cheese - we find the cheese inside the enchiladas to be more than we need or want)
12 count package of flour tortillas for soft tacos (I think they are the 8" size)

Heat oven to 375.  Brown ground beef until thoroughly cooked; drain.  Stir in 3/4 C enchilada sauce and 1 C cheese (this is the cheese we skip).  Spoon enchilada filling onto tortillas; roll up and place seam-side down in lightly greased 13x9x2" baking dish.  Pour remaining enchilada sauce over top; sprinkle with 1/2 C cheese.  Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.
We must be on a Mexican food kick.  The other recipe we tried was potato and chorizo tacos.  This is a recipe I first saw in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about a year ago (or more).  It went into the menu database and about once every 3 months, E would say, "What is this recipe?" and I would explain where I got it and that we had not made it because I couldn't find chorizo.  We would discuss that it sounded really good and that we would look for chorizo.  And then 3 months later, the same conversation would occur. 

So finally, in a part of the grocery store I don't usually look at, I found chorizo!  And now we have taste-tested the recipe and are adding it to the regular rotation.  Easy and tasty.  I am not sure what size tortillas they are recommending but it must be super-small ones because it says the recipe makes 12 tacos.  We used 10" tortillas, and doubled the recipe and had 8 tacos.  Unless you are using the really little tortillas, expect 4 tacos.  Chorizo is a cured sausage.  Ours was not in casings and just looked like seasoned ground pork.  Which I guess is what it is.  We did not add the onion but since we like peppers, we chopped and cooked those up in place of the onion.  We did not have green salsa (aka salsa verde) so used regular red stuff.  E snipped some fresh cilantro from the front step.  We skipped the lime, but only because we didn't have any. 

Potato and Chorizo Taco
(from "Tacos" by Scott Wilson (Sasquatch Books), as printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune)
1/2 lb. medium russet or white potatoes, quartered (I used Yukon gold)
1 T. olive oil
1/4 medium white onion, cut in 1/4" wedges (optional) - I did not add this
1/4 lb. Mexican chorizo in bite-size pieces, removed from casing
Corn or flour tortillas
Green salsa, chopped onion and cilantro, lime wedges, for toppings

Put potatoes in a medium-size pot and cover them with water.  Bring the water almost to a boil, then lower it to a simmer, cooking potatoes until barely tender, between 10-15 minutes.  Be sure not to overcook them.  Drain potatoes and put them on a plate to cool, then cut them into 1/2" cubes.  Meanwhile, heat a medium-size pan over medium fire and add the olive oil.  Tilt the pan to coat the bottom and add the onion, cooking until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the chorizo and saute, stirring occasionally, for 7-10 minutes more, until cooked through.  Add the potatoes and stir in gently.  Cook until the potatoes are warmed through, about 5 more minutes.
Serve on warm tortillas, topped with salsa, chopped onion and cilantro, with lime wedges on the side.

There you have it.  2 new-to-me recipes, both well-received in our house.

Bon appetit (or however you say "good eating" in Spanish)!

Until we eat again,

P.S., Last summer we had began a tradition of Thursday Pizzas and tried out a number of different flavors/toppings.  We are working on a chorizo and potato pizza for this year.  If you are curious about past pizza posts and recipes, just type "pizza" into the search at the upper left-hand corner and all the blog posts in which I mention pizza will come up.  There are a quite a few...  It is the perfect food, in my opinion.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Clean Sweep for a Fresh Start

snow on 4/16/13
Here in the Upper Midwest this year, spring is slow to arrive.  There have been several mis-starts, where it warms up and bulbs in the garden start to push their spikes up to the surface and then it snows 12 inches. It has done it more than once.  Even E, who loves the snow and the cold said, "Enough already!" when it snowed on his birthday in late April. Truly it has been trying for even our hearty Minnesota winter-loving spirits.  But spring is here now.  How do I know?  Is it the first dwarf iris flowering?  The forsythia in its full yellow glory?  The buds on the silver maple?  The wasp hovering above the front steps or the robins hopping about the yard and warbling for their new companions?  It is all those things, but mostly I know it is spring because I saw the street sweepers.

Street sweeper similar to the ones on my street

I get really excited when I see the street sweepers.  Bounce-up-and-down-on-my-toes excited.  Clap-my-hands-and-squeal excited.  It is weird, I know, but the sweepers are such a strong symbol of the new starts, fresh clean slate of spring.  They leave the streets free of the salt and sand of winter, cleaning away the stray dead leaves and other weird stuff that finds its way to the curbs and gutters.  And they kind of remind me of Zambonis, which I also really really like. 

Spring is a time of new beginnings, of fresh starts, of clean slates.  We do spring cleaning of our house, literally and symbolically cleaning out the dust and cobwebs, the stuffy air and the overall grunge of winter.  In celebration of Earth Day, in a tradition taught by my mom (who was green before green was cool), I spent an hour or so picking up trash around my yard and in the city-owned open space next to our house.  Some of the trash, I know, blows out of trash or recycling cans, but a lot of it, I am sorry to say, gets tossed out of cars.  I have been picking up trash in my neighborhood every spring for years now and there is a pattern.  People who smoke Marlboros tend to throw more cigarette packages out.  People who eat at McDonald's and get the huge sodas throw their cups out the window.  And people who drink cheap booze throw out their bottles and cans.  But I digress.  What I am saying is I clean up the junk that the melting snow has revealed.  I filled an entire kitchen garbage bag with trash from a space the size of 2 city lots, plus a grocery bag full of recycling (except for the bottle that had what looked like chewing tobacco juice - I tossed that in the trash because it made me gag.).  Then it is time to start on the garden - trimming some of the shrubs, cutting back the ornamental grass and some of the plants which I had left last fall, and picking up various sticks (and one large limb from our poor ash tree) that had fallen over the long long long winter. 

Not only am I doing physical clean up of the house, yard and neighborhood, but I also start to do a mental clean up in the spring.  I think seeing all the new beginnings and growth outside stirs up a desire in us to grow and bloom ourselves.  The electric green of the grass sprouting, so intense it nearly makes me look away, reminds me that no matter what happened last summer (grass died because I didn't water it, tomatoes rotted on the vine because I just couldn't pick one more tomato), or last fall (never did get those bulbs purchased, let alone planted), I have another chance this year.  Spring is more about new beginnings than the manufactured "new year" when we flip the calendar to January 1st.  I make plans for the garden, work on improvements to the house, think about what I need to change in other aspects of my life.

This long drawn-out winter, combined with the stress of changes and the unknown at work, as well as the stress of "you will work until the work is done" pressure, has got me in a bit of a funk.  That is part of the reason I have not blogged in nearly a month.  I am stuck in a rut cooking-wise, though full of good ideas (darn Pintrest!).  I have been reading my book club selections and an occasional Newbery winner, but not much more and not very quickly.  I am leaving the travel plans to E (and he is doing a great job with the research and planning there, I must say) and unfortunately, not taking the time for creativity.  Recently, when doing some of my spring cleaning, I found this quote.  A friend gave me the quote several years ago because she said it reminded her of me.  I hand wrote it on a cheerful little piece of pink flowered paper and laminated it.  For a long time it lived in my planner where I could see it every day.  I need to put it back there, to remind myself. 

Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.  Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.  -- Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Go, now, and sweep off your front step, sit in the sun with your favorite cold beverage, and read a book.  It is a new day, a new season, a time of new life.  Live it as best you can.  And if it doesn't go how you wish, start again tomorrow with new hope.

Until we sweep again,

P.S., Another post to think about re-reading: Comfort Foods

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Idiot Girls, Medical Ethics, and Death the Narrator

Reading: I really don't mean to save these up for super-long posts, but apparently I am reading faster than I am blogging.  My second book report of 2013 includes a funny easy read, and 2 excellent book club selections.  My Newbery winners have taken a backseat recently as I frantically read to complete this month's book club book by the time we discuss it tonight. 

My sister has for years told me about Laurie Notaro and how much she enjoys her funny books.  I put The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club on my list a while ago.  As often happens with my book list (as well as my to-do list, shopping list and other lists), things not on the list get completed because they push themselves to the top (from book club, from sitting on my shelf for too long, for needing to get returned to the person who loaned them before the person forgets she gave the book to me) and this one was not a priority.  As winter and gray skies dragged on through February, though, I needed a break from heavy and serious so I picked up Idiot Girls' at the library.  Completely enjoyable, laugh-out-loud reading that I didn't have to think a lot about.  I can see why Mellie loves these books.  Ms. Notaro is not afraid to tell you about her underwear and job failures or decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.  No matter who you are, or how much of a Polly Prissypants you may be, you will recognize yourself or someone you know in at least one of these tales.  You, too, may be an Idiot Girl - too cool to be in the Smart group.

While on the cruise, I read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  This is one of my new favorite books and Ms. Patchett has now been placed firmly on my list of favorite authors.  Way back when I first started this blog (and was writing mainly for my mom), my book club read Bel Canto which I really liked.  You can read that somewhat cringe-inducing blog post here, if you must.  Then in 2011 I believe (not that long ago but apparently not last year when I kept track of every single book I read), my mom loaned me Run which was very different from Bel Canto but no less beautifully written or thought-provoking. 

State of Wonder is summarized on the Hennepin County library site as this: "A researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh journeys into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years -- a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past."  In reality, this is a story of so much more.  Ann Patchett knows how to tell a story.  This one is part jungle-adventure, part medical-mystery (is that a genre?), with plenty of self-examination and interesting back-story of the main character.  And yet it is more than just a story.  Questions of medical ethics (How should new pharmaceuticals be tested and what do we do with the consequences of the tests? How far should we go to "assist" women with fertility challenges?  If we can develop medications which can eliminate deadly diseases in third world countries and impoverished areas, are we obligated to do so, even if there is no money to be made?) as well as questions about how much outsiders should intervene in the lives of "primitive" cultures in which they are living all demand to be asked, if not answered.  I loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and some of the thoughts provoked by that novel came up in State of Wonder, too.  I missed the book club discussion of this book because I was in Miami getting ready to cruise to the Bahamas but heard that it was one of the best book club discussions ever.  And that is saying something for a book club that has been meeting since 1997.  If you have read this book, I would love to discuss it with you.

This morning I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It took quite a while to get it from the library and when I finally picked it up less than 2 weeks ago, the 550 pages seemed overwhelming.  Fortunately, it is a teen novel and a compelling read, so I was able to finish in time (it did mean abandoning some of my chores yesterday so I could get 70 pages read).  The narrator is Death himself and the action takes place in Nazi Germany during WWII.  Sounds kind of gloomy, doesn't it?  And yet it isn't all gloom and doom.  The story is of Liesl, a young girl who steals books (once at the graveyard where her brother is being buried, once from a Nazi book-burning, and then later from the mayor's house) and writes stories as she struggles to make sense of the world around her.  Stories sustain Liesl, her family, neighbors and the Jew hiding in her basement.  Scenes in which the city is bombed and in which Jews are marched through town on their way to Dachau were vividly told, bringing the historical setting to life, sometimes painfully.  The author has a beautiful, poetic writing style which evokes a wide range of emotions, and enforces one of the books messages - the power of words. 

Until we read again,

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Upside Down and Fried

Eating: One of predictions for 2013 involved trying a new recipe each month.  February flew by with a plan, but the new recipe did not happen.  In March, I made 2 new things and am just now telling you about them in April.  I am feeling a bit over-extended lately, a little turned upside-down and fried.  Just like my 2 recipes.

The plan for February was to try the Five-Ingredient Pineapple Upside-Down Cake recipe from my Weight Watchers Weekly dated January 27-February 2.  This is the little 12 page magazine-y thing they hand out when I weigh in and go to the meetings.  Then while waiting for the meeting to start, I page through and check out the tips, ideas and recipes.  I should tell you that the meeting I have been going to is at 5pm and the WW center is next door to Dominoes Pizza so I do spend a fair amount of the meeting thinking about food.  I actually think about food a lot of the day, whether or not I am going to Weight Watchers.  Here is the recipe and my photos of the process.  It was simple and tasty.  The recipe as written says serves 10 and is 4 PointsPlus per serving.  Because it is easier to cut into 8 than it is in 10, we made it 8 servings for 5 PointsPlus per serving.  You could make it 4 servings for 10 points each or eat it all and count 40 points.  Whatever you do is between you and your tracker. 

The recipe said to use a "round 9" flameproof aluminum pan" which I thought was too many adjectives to describe a pan.  And I didn't know if mine was flameproof so I used my oven-safe frying pan that happens to be about 9" across, round and flameproof.  It worked splendidly. E and I agreed this cake would be best served slightly warm. 

Five-Ingredient Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

the five ingredients
1/4 C. unsalted butter, divided
1/4 C. packed light brown sugar
3/4 lb. canned pineapple rings in juice, 1/4 C. juice reserved
1 large egg
1/4 lb. vanilla cake mix, about 1 scant cup (FYI, a cake mix is about a pound which means from one box, you can make this 4 times.  For a total of 160 points, which is more than I care to eat in a day.)

Preheat oven to 375. 

Melt 2 T. butter in round 9" flameproof aluminum pan (or similar) over medium-low heat (make sure to cover entire pan bottom); sprinkle sugar over top.  Carefully place pineapple rings in a single layer in bottom of pan (use 7 rings).  Increase heat to medium-high and cook until pineapple caramelizes (isn't that just a yummy word??), flipping once, about 2 minutes per side; remove pan from heat.

mmmmm... caramelizing
Melt remaining 2 T. butter on stovetop or in microwave.  In medium-size bowl (or whatever you melted the butter in), beat egg with the melted butter.  Add cake mix and reserved pineapple juice; combine well. 

pour the batter and then bake
Pour batter over pineapple; bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.  Allow cake to cool for about 15-20 minutes; when still warm, loosen sides with a knife (f needed - my pan was non-stick so I didn't) and invert cake onto a serving plate.  Slice and serve. 

The finished cake - Delicious!

The second "recipe" we made in March was my first-ever attempt at fried rice.  One day we had Honey-Hoisin Pork Tenderloin and brown rice.  The next day, the leftovers were combined with a little soy sauce, some ginger, and a whole pile of veggies (we used pea pods, julienned carrots, and water chestnuts) but no eggs (someone doesn't like eggs and I can live without them in my fried rice also).  It was very good and quite filling.  I don't really have a recipe other than chop it all up and cook in the wok until it looks hot and done.  I had a picture of it to show you, but cannot locate the device with which I took the picture.  Dang. It looked really good.  When I find it, I will post.

Until we eat again,

P.S., I am not doing the A-Z Challenge this year due to aforementioned feelings of over-extended, frazzled and fried.  I invite you to check out the challenge and browse a few of the blogs who are participating. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bahamian Balm

E and me, in our cabin on board Sky
a bit windy in Nassau but nice shot of the ship
We recently went on a cruise.  No, we did not get norovirus, there was no fire/loss of power/back up of sewage, and we did not hit any rocks/icebergs.  Neither of us got dehydrated, ill, or injured (which is saying something for us) and there was only minimal sunburn.

porthole was larger than I expected
The decision to cruise was somewhat spontaneous, though we have talked about it for 15 years.  We had been planning on returning to Los Cabos, Mexico, and already had the time off from work.  Then E said, "How about a cruise?"  He planned the whole thing.  A day and a half in Miami Beach so we had an unrushed time to unwind before embarkation.  A 4 day cruise, so if we hated it, we weren't stuck on a boat for too long.  A cruise line that allows us to be laid-back and un-fussy - no assigned dinner times, no formal wear.   It was our first cruise and it was a delight.

A couple days before our trip, I was at the dermatologist, getting a check-up on my psoriasis.  The doctor was telling me more about the condition, which had been flaring up for me quite a bit this winter.  It is an auto-immune condition and, while they don't know what causes it, there are a number of theories about things that cause flares.  She told me to try to cut back on my stress and to get some more vitamin D.  Hmmmm... sounds like a cruise to a sunny location is exactly what the doctor ordered.  After the requisite precautions about sun protection (she is a dermatologist, after all), she told me to enjoy myself and relax.

see you in a few days, Miami!

tender to Great Stirrup Cay
Great Stirrup Cay - NCL's private island with protected cove
Another view of Great Stirrup Cay - LOVED this place
Queen's staircase in Nassau (64 or 65 stairs depending on if you counted the half step at bottom)

Shuffleboard - my kind of sport
So I did. Each day of our cruise around the Bahamas, we would look at the list of activities and events we could participate in, the schedules for when each of the dining options were available and "plan" our day. Day 1 planning involved showing up for the mandatory "muster" drill to learn about the lifeboats and other safety information, and then strategically placing ourselves Fore (that's the front of the boat, for you land lubbers) on the top deck for embarkation from Miami. Planning on Day 2 was getting up early enough to have breakfast and take the first tender (little commuter boat) to the private island so we had our pick of beach chairs for the day. We brought our snorkel gear so we could paddle around a bit. We then "planned" so we had time for dinner before the show we wanted to see. Day 3 the only thing we planned was our reservation at the steakhouse on-board. There was some sight-seeing and shopping on Nassau but that was unscripted. Day 4 we ended up planning more because we realized it was our last day on the ship. We "scheduled" time for shuffleboard, reading in the quiet area of the sundeck, and attending the towel folding demonstration (I still think making an elephant, monkey or bulldog out of a towel involves mostly magic) and the crew talent and variety shows in the evening. Our biggest decisions every day were where and when to eat. We would think about where to eat lunch and dinner while we were at breakfast, where to eat breakfast the next morning while we were at dinner.
elephant towel was my favorite
bulldog towel also cute
It was very, very relaxing (even though there were more college spring-breakers than I cared for). The psoriasis on my legs and elbows is cleared. I only have a little bit of pink sunburn (and that was from walking in Miami Beach wearing a V-neck t-shirt, and not thinking that I was getting any significant sun). We ate well, slept well (the little bit of rocking of the ship was calming to me), heard a lot of great music, and enjoyed each other's company. The crew of the Norwegian Sky treated us well and we will be back.

Balm of the Bahamas - just what the doctor ordered.

Until we unwind again,
Our new place being built on Paradise Island - wanna visit?

Saturday, March 09, 2013

My First Book Report of 2013

Reading: Why, yes, I have been reading this year.  No, I have not told you about anything I have read yet.  Here is my first book report this year.

When someone asks me what my favorite book is, or what the best book that we have read in book club, I instantly answer, "Life of Pi, by Yann Martel".  I have done this ever since we read it 8 years ago, or whenever it was.  Funny thing, though.  I had not re-read this book, not even re-opened it, until this year.  I am not sure what took me so long.  I even started to wonder if it really was as great as I told myself and everyone else.  I started to feel guilty that I was recommending this book to dozens of people and maybe it was really crap.  So I re-read it and fell in love all over again.  There is so much in this book, and not just because it is rather thick.  There is an action-adventure/survival story.  There is a terrific wealth of discussion on animal nature and the best-written defense of zoos that I have ever heard.  There is a hearty embrace of religions of all types.  There is a likable hero, tragedy and loss, a realistically told struggle to survive, and a bit of a fable and fairy tale.  One friend to whom I had recommended the book sometime last fall was reading it recently and had only read about a quarter of it but already wanted to buy her own copy (she is borrowing the book from another friend of ours) so that she could highlight and underline.  As I discussed the book with her, I was tempted to go back and read it yet again.  She is seeing another whole layer to it that I did not - that all the author's observations on animal nature could be read as a commentary on human nature, a reminder that we, too, are animals, though we tend to put ourselves on a higher plain.  I may never be done reading this book.  And I recommend it to you as well. If you read it, or have already read it, I would love to discuss with you anytime.  I realize I have not given an actual plot summary.  This is from the back of the book: "Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper, has a fervent love of stories and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam.  When Pi is sixteen, his family and their zoo animals emigrate from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship.  Alas, the ship sinks - and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.  Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi.  Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land?  Can Pi's fear, knowledge and cunning keep him alive until they do?"

February book club we discussed Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer.  You may have seen the movie.  I had not, so I read the book.  I am glad I did.  This was another journey and adventure story, non-fiction this time.  At the outbreak of World War II, the author (an Austrian) is in a British internment camp in India.  He escapes and the book details his trek across the Himalayas to Tibet, where he spends - you guessed it - seven years.  Obviously he survives the ordeal in the remote parts of the mountains (he wrote the book, right?), though he and his fellow escapee find danger, hunger and hindrances of all kinds around every corner.  They have no real map and are some of the first foreigners to the little secluded land of Tibet.  I enjoyed the journey, though found it a bit too detailed at times and was anxious for them to finally get to Tibet.  I loved learning about Tibet, the Dalai Lama (and trying to remember what I had learned about the Dalai Lama in college) as well as the people and traditions.  The book ended as the Chinese invaded, so I would like to continue learning more about what it has been like in Tibet since that time. 

The next 3 books I read went pretty quickly.  If you recall, one of my "predictions" for 2013 was that I would be reading some of the Newbery Medal winners.  I decided to start with 1971, the year I was born, and read the winners from within my lifetime. 
1971 - Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars - I read this in just over a day.  Simple story of Sarah, a 14-year-old girl (I think that is how old she was), with the usual complaints of a 14-year-old.  Then one day her mentally-challenged non-verbal younger brother, Charlie, (the book uses the term "mentally retarded" - it was the term we used then) is missing.  As Sarah searches for Charlie, joined by her sworn enemy Joe, she learns something about herself, her family and what is really important.  Apparently this book was also made into an ABC Afterschool Special called "Sarah's Summer of the Swans."  I don't remember watching this particular special, but there are others I recall well.  Also, I remember reading another book by this same author when I was in sixth grade.  It was called Pinballs or The Pinballs and was about a group of kids who all had special needs of some sort.  I don't remember much more about that book but found it interesting that when I saw the author's name, I thought, "Oh.  I think that is who wrote Pinballs."  And sixth grade was a long time ago...
1972 - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien - this one took me a bit longer to read.  I wasn't sure I was going to like it, considering it was about a "widowed" mouse, her children and a group of very special rats.  I ended up loving it and by the end was cheering for the mice and rats, wishing for their survival.  And that is very weird for me.  If there are 2 things I cannot stand, it is rats and mice.  Give me snakes, bugs, spiders, lizards, or anything else (except bats which are really just flying mice), but keep mice and rats (and their cousins gerbils and hamsters) away from me.  I watch a certain scene from one of the Indiana Jones movies with my hands over my ears and my eyes closed tight until I am told by someone trustworthy that the scene is over.  Anyway, the book is about this mouse family and a group of super-intelligent rats who help her when her youngest son is ill and her home is in danger of being destroyed by a plow.  You will need to read the story to find out how the rats got so smart and why they help a lowly field mouse. 
1973 - Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George - I finished this one up right before leaving on vacation.  It is the story of a thirteen-year-old Eskimo girl in Alaska. She has run away from her husband in Barrow, Alaska (at the very tippy top of Alaska) and is heading for San Francisco where her penpal lives.  She has to use what she has learned about the "old ways" of her people and about the unforgiving landscape of the tundra in order to survive.  She is adopted by a pack of wolves, but autumn is coming so she must continue on.  Very interesting story for many reasons.  The conflicts of "wild" vs. "civilization", the old ways vs. the ways of the whites, and of nature vs. Man (or in this case, girl).  The natural history lessons of the dynamics of a wolf pack and of life on the tundra.  The social commentary about how the native peoples were "civilized" by sending them to school.  Another good book and excellent survival story.

Well, E just saw this post and commented "Holy words, Batman!" so I guess that is enough for this blog post.  Stay tuned for another book report and a recap of our cruise to the Bahamas.  Ahh.... sunshine!

Until we read again,

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Great English Muffin Experiment

Cooking: It all started with a courtesy copy of the paper and a hair-brained idea. 

We subscribe to the Saturday and Sunday Star Tribune.  I love to read the paper.  One of my favorite times of the week is Sunday morning, usually before E is up.  With my Sunday paper and a fresh cup of coffee, I curl up under a hand-knit afghan, tune the radio to 89.3 The Current to listen to one of my favorite DJs (Bill DeVille) and music programs (United States of Americana), and read the paper.  I have no order particular order to reading it.  Sometimes I start with the funnies, the ads or something similarly light.  Other times, I read the headlines and other "real" news first.  It all depends on my mood and what catches my eye.  I don't get the weekday paper anymore because I can't keep up with reading it and found myself recycling it un-read.  If I could get the Thursday along with the Saturday and Sunday, I would.  That is the day the Food section is included, and as you may guess, I love reading the food section.  But they won't let you get Thurs/Sat/Sun by subscription.  Believe me.  I have asked.  However, on select holiday weekends throughout the year, we get a courtesy copy of the Thursday paper.  It just so happened that Martin Luther King Day was one of those weekends and, due to the popularity of Downton Abbey and all things British lately, they did a feature story and recipe on English muffins. I thought, "We like English muffins.  I could totally make those."

There you go.  The long version of the first sentence - the courtesy copy of the paper and the hair-brained idea.

I decided the English muffin recipe was going to be my new recipe for January and that I would photograph along the way to blog about it.  The ingredients are all things a person usually has at home.  The directions are very straightforward and there are pictures with the article of some of the key steps.  One problem - the dough needs to sit for 12 hours or overnight.  This took some remembering on my part.  After more than a couple declarations of "I'm going to make those muffins tomorrow." I finally did it, Sunday February 3rd, the morning after book club potluck at my house (I add this to explain the wine bottle and corkscrew that appear in some of the pictures.  I am many things, but a Sunday morning drinker I am not).  Here is the recipe, courtesy January 17, 2013, Taste section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, (bolding and comments in parentheses are mine) and my story.

Dough, after 12 hrs
English Muffins - makes 6
1 C milk
1 T butter
1 T honey
2 t instant (or rapid rise) yeast, or 1 packet
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
2 T cornmeal
1 T all-purpose flour

In a small saucepan, heat the milk until just warm.  Turn off heat and stir in butter and honey until melted.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together yeast, flour and salt.  Stir in milk mixture until combined, then stir vigorously for a minute, about 200 strokes. (This will make your arm feel as if it is about to fall off. The instructions say you can rest after 100.  I may have rested multiple times and kind of lost count of how many strokes.  I may try the dough hook on the stand mixer for this part next time.)  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free place overnight, or for 12 hours. 
In the morning or after 12 hours, mix the cornmeal and remaining flour in a small bowl.

scooping out the portions
Mark the surface of the dough into 6 pieces, like a pie.  This is your guide for proportions. (I apparently didn't do this very well.  See uneven sizes later on...)
Heat a heavy pancake griddle or cast-iron pan over medium heat until drops of water sizzle.  An infrared laser thermometer should read between 350 and 375 degrees.  You'll be turning down the heat to low once the muffins go on the griddle, but you want an initial burst of heat.  An electric skillet takes away much of the guesswork.  Heat it to 350 degrees. (I used my lefse griddle - does that make these Norwegian muffins?)
coating it in cornmeal
Dip a serving spoon in water and scoop out one-sixth of the dough, deflating it as little as possible, and place it in the cornmeal mixture.  Gently flip it over.  Once coated, the dough can be picked up and patted into a rounder shape, if necessary (of course it is necessary). Place it on the griddle and repeat the process until all six muffins are shaped.  Reduce heat to low.

checking the progress
With a spatula, occasionally check under the muffins to see how quickly they're browning.  It should take a full 10 minutes to reach a deep golden color.  If they're browning too fast, reduce the heat.  If they remain pale, boost the heat to medium.  After 10 minutes, gently turn them over to cook the other side. (This part took a bit of fiddling with the temperature of the griddle and a lot of checking on the progress.)
muffins on the lefse griddle
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and move a rack to the center position.
After 10 more minutes, the muffins should be a golden brown on both sides.  Place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to bake for another 10 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

bake at 350 for 10 mins
Nutrition info per serving: 220 Calories, 41g Carbohydrates, 7 g Protein, 3g Fat, 2g Sat fat, 7mg Cholesterol, 235mg Sodium, 59mg Calcium, 2g Fiber.
Diabetic exchange per serving: 2 bread/starch, 1 other carb, 1/2 fat
(Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 6)

split it with a fork and toast
After they cooled, we used a fork to split them and toasted to our preference of brownness.  A couple were topped with peanut butter and others were eaten for lunch with a couple slices of deli turkey and a slice of provolone (warmed under the broiler for a melty open-faced sandwich).  Both ways were excellent.  I would make these again.  With a little forethought and planning.

Until we eat again,

Me, enjoying an English muffin.  Please ignore the Sunday morning hair and jammies

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Nifty Knitty Gifts

Me with a fuzzy hat.  And E with a fuzzy face.
scarf for a penguin who joined a choir of nuns

To keep my cellphone warm?
Creating: As you may know, I am a nutty knitter.  I like to knit not only traditional items such as blankets, sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens, and socks, but I also love to make kind of quirky things, too.  Sometimes I have a pattern but often I do not.  Sometimes I give these as gifts to people I think will appreciate them.  One such project was a cell phone cozy that looks like a cat.  I made one for my sister (a fellow fan of orange cats) and then had to make one for myself too.  Unfortunately, I now have a smart phone and it is too big for the cozy.  Guess I will need to make a new one!

Are we the only people to top the Christmas tree with a hat?
I also like hats and have given many family members these over the years.  Some of my favorites are the cat hat (again for my sister), Vikings hat for E, and various hats inspired by Scandinavian patterns.  I even made a hat for our Christmas tree.  It didn't start out as a hat for a tree but that is another story...

I've gifted knitted baby hats for countless infants, fuzzy blankies for a couple, and a hooded sweater for a dear friend when she turned one.  I am inconsistent with acknowledging births with knitted gifts and know there are friend who are still "due" a knitty gift.  I am working on it!

Wrister for my sister

Recent knitty gifts for Christmas included fingerless gloves/wristers/wristlets for Mellie who is always cold lately and has been pulling her sleeves down over her wrists.  The yarn is a super soft bulky.  It looks a bit blue in the photo but is actually a purple named "grape".  We found the thumb hole a bit large on the first one so I made it smaller on the second one.

Stitch detail on infinity scarf - seed stitch
One way to wear the scarf
I also made my version of an infinity or circle scarf for an adorable twelve-year-old I know.  I am in the model in the photos, though.  I love the versatility of these scarves and this yarn is super soft (also bulky weight).  My sister-in-law saw the photos of this and immediately placed an order for one of her own.
infinity scarf, unwrapped

Until we knit again,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Predictions for 2013

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you may know that I make new year's predictions rather than resolutions.  If you did not know that or forgot, and want to know why, you can read about it here.  If you already know why, read on for this year's predictions.

Predictions for 2013:
Reading: I will read at least 2 books each month to include book club selections and a bunch of Newbery medal and honor books.

Eating: I will try at least one new recipe a month and blog about the recipe, good or bad.  Sources for trial recipes include back issues of magazines, Weight Watchers, Pintrest, and my recipe box.

Creating: I will knit a sweater.

I will learn to play the bass (holdover prediction from last year.  This time I mean it and am trimming my nails right away to show my commitment!)

I will scrapbook more, including family and friends in my scrapbooking time. 

I will write more often.  This will include at least 2 blog entries a month and perhaps one month-long daily challenge (A-Z or one of my own creation).  I will also do creative free-writing exercises at least once a week. 

Weeding: I will plan, plant, nurture and grow 2 vegetable raised beds again, and try new things to trouble-shoot the peppers.

I will get the "stump garden" hard scape in and at least move the plants that are there, if not get most/all the plants in place.

Travel : I will visit at least 2 national parks. 

I will spend several summer and fall nights in the camper.

Oh, and one more prediction:  I will look back at these predictions in 6 months and see how I am doing with them!

What are your predictions or resolutions this year?  How are they going so far?

Until we eat, read, create or weed again,

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A New Year, A New Post

Everywhere I look lately, I see "A New Year, A New You!" Am I new?  I feel like I am a little late to the party.  All the "new year" stuff and reflection on the old year seems to happen while I am too busy to reflect.  And hopefully you have not missed me terribly in my nearly 2 month absence.  The end of the year is a busy time at work and in life.  Moving on now... What is new with me? 

I am back at Weight Watchers.  Just a couple pounds to go and I am a back at goal weight and can reclaim my Lifetime member status and go back to swigging vast bottles of wine, eating cheesecake with every meal and sprinkling bacon generously on every entree.  Or not.  I am not a spokesperson for WW (I will leave that to Jennifer What's-her-name and Jessica Who's-she-again). It is just something that works for me. It makes sense in my brain.  I only tell you this to give you fair warning that there may be a bit more focus on weight-friendly meals and snacks in the upcoming weeks.  And since I now understand the new PointsPlus program and have access to the tools again, I can offer my calculation of PointsPlus values, for those of you who care.

I am back at a company I last worked for in December 1999, a company I did not expect myself to work for again.  The division I work in was purchased by this company, so I was part of a large (6000 person) package deal.  The job is the same and so far, so is everything else, except my e-mail address and the name of the company signing my paycheck.  It will be an interesting few months (or years) as the transition continues.  That's all I am saying about that.

We have a beautiful almost-complete new bathroom at our house.  A few smaller projects to finish up in there, but is 90% functional and I love how it turned out. Earlier today I was happily (!) scrubbing the new toilet and new tub.  When was the last time I happily scrubbed anything?  I think my favorite part about the room is the radiant heat in the floor.  Or maybe the tile.  Or the lights.  The tub?  The dual flush toilet?  The gleaming new vanity and sink? Oh, never mind.  I love it all.

I am participating in the Buttoned Up Boot camp which is a 30 day program to help "kick chaos to the curb".  Day 12 and so far, so good.  Today, I took 3 large boxes and 4 full grocery bags full of donations to the library and Goodwill.  One of the things was a Sing and Snore Ernie (not sure why I had a Sing and Snore Ernie, but anyway...).  When Ernie sits up, he proclaims, "I feel great!"  When he lies down and you squeeze his hand, that is when he does the singing and snoring.  He really is quite cute.  (Do I need to go back to Goodwill and buy him back??) So I was driving down the road, with Ernie in a grocery bag in the passenger seat, and every time I stopped, started or otherwise made the truck jostle, Ernie said, "I feel great!"  The first few times, I chuckled and said, "That's great, Ernie!"  By about the 10th time, I was getting a little annoyed and stopped responding.  By about the 20th time, I was grumbling, "Who asked you, Ernie?"  When I got to Goodwill, I warned the kid working there that Ernie was in one of the bags and kept talking.  Fortunately, he seemed to know what I meant and just laughed and thanked me for the warning.

The one other new thing is that I have quit one of my book clubs.  There were lots of reasons for this so it was something that needed to be done.  And now it has been and I don't know that anyone is sad about it.  It was the Friday night dinner book club (formerly Saturday morning breakfast club), in case you are keeping score at home.  We are starting year 17 of the Sunday night book club, I believe (is that right?  If we started in 1997... yes, I think that is right).  We are reading Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer.  And then I am watching the movie, because Brad Pitt is in it and I think he is scrumptious.

Now on to the 2012 predictions in review.  If you recall, last January I made predictions for the then-new year.  You can read the whole post here if you don't remember why I make predictions.  How did I do?  Results are after each prediction below, posted in bold.
  • I will read at least 3 books each month, a combination of challenging/thought-provoking books, comforting re-reads of old favorites, and as-of-yet undiscovered new favorites. I read 44 books total, most of which I blogged about and which were a good mix of the different types. 
  • I will make at least one new recipe each month to expand my menu options, enhance my culinary skills, and explore new techniques and cuisines.  I did pretty well with this, though I will admit I forgot to keep track of the new recipes.  There is still room for growth on the enhancement of culinary skills and the exploration of new techniques and cuisines, but I did much better with the veggies in the CSA this year and tried a number of new things related to that.
  • I will make Christmas gifts. (This will involve gifts for at least 10 people and since what I am thinking of doing involves 2 for each one, I best get started on this prediction soon! Also included in this prediction is "I will spend more time knitting.") If this had been a resolution instead of a prediction, I would have received a "fail".  I only made a couple of gifts for Christmas and it was not at all what I had been thinking of.  I did, however, spend some time knitting and will post some of those things in later blog entry.
  • I will learn to play the bass.  I started out okay on this one, but then lost it somewhere along the way.  Will need to pick it back up again.
  • I will spend more time scrap booking. (The March retreat weekend is already planned. I predict at least 4 other dedicated days of scrapping throughout the year will occur, with family and with friends, at my house and at Archivers or other locations.)  Well, maybe 2 other days besides the retreat - once with my mom and sister and once working with E on a calendar for him.  At least I think that was in 2012...
  • I will write more often, to include this blog, my journal and free-writing exercises. I predicted the blog part, but other writing, not so much.  Maybe in 2013...
  • I will plan, plant, nurture and grow 2 raised vegetable beds.  With the help of E, this was a success.  Well, the peppers not so much, and there was the trouble with the corn, but everything else did well.
  • I will participate in at least one plant swap.  The May city swap.  I didn't plan a fall swap.
  • I will plan the "stump garden". The stump garden has been all drawn out.  Maybe I didn't do it myself, but I contributed my ideas and helped with the beginnings of the planting. 
  • I will start and continue my garden journal.  Errrr... Where is that thing, again?
  • I will visit at least one city I have never been to before. This was a cheater prediction because I had already been to one city (Phoenix) that I had never been by the time I made the prediction, but we did also have our trip to Colorado which involved many places I had never been. 
  • I will spend at least one night in the Hermitage cabin at Amnicon.  Nope, didn't happen.  Maybe this year.  I do so love those little cabins.
That is probably enough for you to read for today.  Look for 2013 predictions soon.  I also plan to blog my top reads of 2012 and post pictures of some of my favorite knitty and crafty gifts given.

Until we eat again,
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