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Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Wrap-up

I'm a little sad that 2010 will be over in a few more hours. It has been a great year, maybe one of the best years of my life - who knows what the future brings.

The last quarter of 2009 wrapped up with exciting changes for me - a new promotion for the new school year, and a marriage proposal from my boyfriend. So when 2010 kicked off, I was busy planing a wedding, and continuing to explore my new role with new responsibility.

Due to the wedding, and wanting to look amazing, I joined a gym. I was making regular exercise a part of my daily gym for the first time in my life. In the past I'd done a weekly yoga class, but nothing serious. When I joined the gym, since all the classes were free, I spent a good portion of January and February exploring everything the gym had to offer for classes.

May 2010 marked my five year graduation from Bradley University. It was amazing for me to realize I'd spent more years as an alum at that point, than I'd spent as a student. But it is still so near and dear to my heart, and the memories seem like they were only yesterday sometimes.

In May I also traveled to the Gulf Shores for a wedding - it was also the time that the oil was starting to hit the gulf coast. It was really upsetting to see them preparing the beach for the oil.

In July I had one of the biggest moments of my life - I married my husband. It was a lot of planning ahead of time, but in the end, there were only a few hiccups, and nothing to ruin an amazing day.

And then we went on our amazing dream trip honeymoon. Fifteen days in Greece and Turkey.

When I returned, I found out a co-worker had left, and I assumed about 80% of her job (this would continue until Dec).

In August, I also had the honor of being the Matron of Honor for my best friend's wedding.

Me and another bridesmaid

I was busy at work, but also on working on my new life with my husband. While we had lived together before we were married, we hadn't really worked together as a unit before, with a shared budget. A huge change for us was to stop eating out so much, and try to start eating at home. In order for eating at home to be appealing to us, we had to start making real food, instead of those frozen one bag = one meal entrees. Since 2010 began, I've made bread from scratch, several new soups, different meat dishes including pork loin for the first time, stollen, homemade candy, and numerous other meals and baked treats.

Also big for me in 2010, I started this blog. While it has been slow posting at times, it is something I'd wanted to do for years, and never had the courage to try. So it has been a big move for me, and I hope to be setting the foundation for something I can be really proud of in 2011. As I say good-bye to 2010 later tonight, it will surely be a fond farewell. It was a good year to me. Here's hoping it is a happy 2011 for all, happy new year to you and yours!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

FFWD Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

This is my first French Fridays with Dorie post! I'm very excited that December was a flexible schedule, because I actually made these before Christmas, but didn't get it posted for last Friday.
These nuts were wonderful, and would be a great addition to any holiday cookie try, or just nice to have around the house to munch on. I think the recipe could be easily adjusted also, to fit different flavors.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dec 26 shopping recap

Dec. 26 is my favorite shopping day of the year. With so many things priced at 50% off or more, it is just so exciting. I think most people think day after Christmas shopping is about just getting Christmas stuff, but there is so much on sale really. When I was a teenager, my mom and I started going shopping on Dec 26, and since then we've started getting up earlier and earlier. This year, I had a bit of a cold, so we decided to meet at 7:30 am at Target. This was very late for us, but I wanted the extra sleep.

At Target we each picked up these silver tidbit trays, they'll be good year round. For baking I got some santa claus cupcake liners, some red cupcake liners (good for lots of holidays!) and some sparkling sugar. The real find was in the paper products though - we got aluminum foil and ziploc bags that have snowflakes on the box, making them 50% off. This wasn't my best Target year for two reasons 1) we were there late and 2) I think Target has stopped making as many "holiday" items. It used to be that they'd package everything in holiday boxes, and then sell it for 50% off. In the past I was able to purchase things they sell every day - like clear glass drinking glasses that we use year round - but packaged in a Christmas box. Last year I had a big score with Burt's Bees chapstick - I was able to buy a ton of it for 50% off, in fact, I'm still using those chapsticks.

After Target we went to Crate & Barrel, but they were opening later this year than in the past. We weren't going to join the crazies standing outside in the 24 degree weather - there is nothing we wanted bad enough. So we headed across the street to Hallmark. We had about 10 minutes until Hallmark opened. Despite being an avid bargain shopper, I've never been lined up at a door before a store opens before. It was a little nerve-wracking. Luckily, what my mom and I were there for, the recordable story books, weren't what everyone else was there for. While we were there, we were also able to pick up some wrapping paper and tissue paper. I also got an ornament for us. It is precious moments, and it says First Christmas Together, since this is our first married Christmas. Our biggest score happened while we were waiting in line to check out though. I looked up at the top of a display cabinet by the register, and found one of their LED angels. The Hallmark had forgot to bring it down for the clearance, and we were able to buy her for 50% off. It will be my Mom's Christmas gift from me next year (she'll forget about it between now and then) and she is so excited.

Next, we headed back to Crate & Barrel, where I was able to pick up several baking items at great discounts. For example, I got some oversized red and green sprinkles for $1.50 that had previously been marked for $5.95.

Then, we headed to Sur La Table (red dish cloths) Williams-Sonoma (pina colada mix) and a gift store called Meyers where I got my big score of the day, three canvas prints. We normally have bird canvas prints up, but now we can switch these in for the holidays.

Overall, an excellent shopping day. I have so many great things from after Christmas sales over the years. Some of them are Christmas things like our tree, and stocking holders. Others aren't, like some of our towels, and our barware. I love shopping on Dec. 26!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge: Stollen!

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

When I first heard that the Dec 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was going to be stollen my only thought was my Dad. He LOVES stollen. My grandma was always picking it up from the German bakery by her house, but the bakery closed about two years ago, and so my Dad's been left without stollen since then. Then, the holidays picked up, and suddenly it was Dec. 23 and I realized I needed to log into DB and go to the grocery store for the ingredients. I quickly wrote down what I needed, and headed to my local grocery. It was a madhouse. I couldn't find anyone to help me. Yikes! That was decently stressful, and I plan to stock up on my glace earlier in the year if I make this again.

At home, I started on the dough. I got to use my amazing microplane zester again, and then I squeezed the juice from the zested orange into my mixed raisins/dried fruit, since I wasn't using the rum. I do not own a stand mixer, and this made dough prep less than fun. I tried mixing the first ingredients with a hand mixer, but with the yeast included I just got a gummy mess that looked like it was going to eat my hand mixer alive. I peeled all the dough off the hand mixer, and went to work mixing the flour, yeast, and other ingredients by hand. Once everything was combined, I moved from the bowl onto my work surface, and started to try to fold the fruit in. While the DB directions said the raisins and stuff would stick to the fruit, I did not find this to be the case. Everything kept rolling off the dough as I tried to fold it in. I found myself thinking "I hope Dad doesn't like this and ask me to make it again." Awful, I know, but that's how I felt about getting the fruit evenly mixed into the dough, all while trying not to have my dough turn red from the cherries. After I felt like the fruit and dough were evenly combined, I oiled the bowl and put it in the fridge to rest overnight.

The next day I took it out of the fridge to begin the 2 hour rise. But, since it was now Dec 24, the dough had to go with me to my parent's house where I was going to make cookies all day with my mom. And it was freezing outside. And I live in a city, park on the street, and if I try to warm up my car first, and then leave it running while I run in the house to get something, well, there is a good chance the car won't be there anymore. So I had to take my dough, back out into the freezing cold while I warmed my car up. "Don't die dough!" I told it, as I wouldn't have time to start again. When I got to my parents, the dough continued its rise in the dining room, while my mom and I heated up the kitchen baking cookies. When it was time, I rolled out the dough, and noticed how nice the oil on the dough made my rolling pin look. When I felt I was "done" rolling I asked my mom "Does this look like it is 1/4 an inch thick?" she laughed, "No, I think you got about 3/4 an inch to finish rolling out." My wimpy arms went back to work as I reduced the dough to its intended size. Then, I went to work, rolling it into a log. I struggled to get the ends of the log to combine, and the were much smaller than the middle. When I was ready to move it to the pan, I wished I had a pizza sheet. The largest baking sheet I own wasn't wide enough for this ring. But it only got squished on the side where I'd attached the ends, that was the ugly part already anyway. I really enjoyed using kitchen shears to cut into the ring, it was fun to see the layers of dough that I'd rolled up.

After the rise, I moved it to the oven, very nervous about how it would bake. Forty minutes later it was the beautiful mahogany color the recipe promised! I immediately started to coat it with the butter and powdered sugar layers. What a butter hog it turned out to be! It took two sticks of butter to get three coats of butter/powdered sugar completed. In the end, it was worth it though. My Dad was so excited about the stollen, he just raved about the taste. He ended up freezing half of it to enjoy after the holiday season. Looks like I'll be mixing that fruit into the dough again next year!

Here is the info from DB:
Preparation time:
The following times are approximate. I suggest you gather and scale/weigh/measure (mise en place -
http://www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary/entry/?id=3523) all your ingredients before you begin mixing.
 Approximately 1 hour first stage – then rest overnight or up to 3 days
 2 hours to warm up after refrigeration
 15 minutes shaping
 2 hours proofing
 30-45 minutes baking

Equipment required:
 Mixer with dough hook or strong arms and hands
 Mixing bowl
 Bowl to soak raisins
 Small saucepan
 Sheet of plastic or plastic wrap to cover when proofing
 Bench or pastry scraper (very handy for cutting dough and also cleaning work surface)
 Rolling pin
 Dough whisk can be handy but not necessary
 Pastry Brush
 A scale is really important to have when making bread so I strongly advise you to get one. You do not have to
have one though. (would make a good Christmas gift!)
 Sheet Pan or round Pizza pan
 Parchment Paper

Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people

¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) milk
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel (link below to make your own)
1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins
3 tablespoons (45ml) rum
12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

Note: If you don’t want to use alcohol, double the lemon or orange extract or you could use the juice from the zested


Soak the raisins
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under

To make the dough

Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter
is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.

In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour,
sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm
milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes
together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where
you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to
distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky.
Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the
dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when
the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of
the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is
tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with
plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise
slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath

1. Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
4. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.
Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.
Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger
and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.
Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the
Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound
hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings
helps keeps the stollen fresh - especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!
Let cool at least an hour before serving.

When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.
The more rum and the more coatings of butter and sugar you use the longer it will store.
The following is for the recipe as written and uses the 45 mls of rum and two coatings of butter and icing sugar
1. Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months
2. The baked stollen stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature and
3. One month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NO - chicken -VEMBER

Today is our last day in a month without eating chicken for the Hobby household. It has been relatively easy. Yesterday was the only day I've missed chicken, and that was because one of the employee's in my office brought in chicken strips, and they were very fragrant, and smelled of deliciously freshly fried chicken. Breaded chicken strips, the unnatural creation or the processed food world, can be pretty satisfying on a cold and dreary day.

But besides that one time, I haven't really missed the chicken. I didn't miss it when we went out to eat for Mexican food, my veggie burrito was just as delicious as a chicken one would've been. I didn't miss it when my Mother-in-law ordered Chinese food, and different chicken dishes filled the table - the vegetable lo mein was the best lo mein I've ever eaten. And I'm pretty sure she only ordered it because we asked her. I didn't miss it when it was challenging me to cook new meats, like pork loin, that I had always been scared to try to cook in the past.

But most importantly, I want to make clear that I could've missed it, as it was a regular part of our diet. I just found other ways to not miss the chicken. My husband and I have eaten a lot of chicken in the past, for several reasons. A big reason is that I haven't eaten beef for almost 10 years. Also, we live in the Midwest - fresh fish is expensive, and difficult to come by. Early in our relationship we had a terrible experience with a cheap frozen salmon fillet that still haunts my taste buds today. We were eating a lot of shrimp - but after the oil spill in the gulf - I've been more leery of shrimp. So chicken was our default protein. When it comes to food though, I don't think we should really default to anything, and that was a big part of what our no-chicken-vember was all about.

It would be unfair to say "it all started" as if I knew when exactly I started to mindlessly order dishes with chicken in them. I'm sure it was before I stopped eating beef, and only became stronger after that. For my husband, I guess it was when he started to want to share meals with me - and so he would plan on chicken. But the clarifying moment was on Oct. 30, at our favorite up-scale fast food place, Crazy Bowls and Wraps. We were eating our favorite wrap, the Caesar Chicken Wrap. It is simple enough to make at home, and sometimes I do - but the point of fast food is that they had the foresight to cook the rice before you thought about eating lunch. As we sat outside, enjoying unseasonably warm weather, I started picking pieces of chicken out and throwing them back in my bowl. This isn't unusual for me, I've been a "meat picker" my whole life. As a child I ate just the bites of meat that my parents made me eat. As an adult, I always feel that if someone else has made my meal, that it has a higher ratio of meat in it than I would prefer. A friend once asked my husband as they were grilling, "How many chicken breasts will Monica eat?" Mr. Hobby sputtered out a laugh " About half of one breast." We've laughed about that in the years since. Eating two chicken breasts in one sitting? Your meat portion should be the size of your fist, and if I'm eating meat, that's the maximum I'm eating. So there I was, reducing the amount of chicken in my wrap and putting it in my bowl and I said to Mr. Hobby "Do you want my chicken?" When he said "No" I was taken a bit by surprise. When I looked over at his bowl and saw he was also reducing the amount of chicken in his wrap, I was downright shocked. "Chicken just doesn't taste good to me anymore" he said. So we decided, starting Nov. 1, no chicken for a month. If it hadn't been Thanksgiving month, we might've gone for no poultry for the month.

I think we're both happy with our decision, and I'm sure we could continue the challenge if we wanted to, but we're happy with the result. And if I find we're both defaulting to chicken again, well, we might have to make it No chicken January, but that just doesn't have as nice of a ring.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Recap

What a wonderful 5 day weekend! It is going to be hard to go back to work after all the fun and relaxation. Luckily I have a cookie exchange party on Friday to look forward to this week.

I took Wednesday off this year, this is the first year I've taken the day before Thanksgiving off - and I'm very glad I used the vacation day. While it was gloomy here on Wednesday, it gave me an opportunity to get some needed chores done - things that can only be done on weekdays - like a trip to the DMV. Plus, I'd barely slept because of the terrible rain storm. It was a nice way to ease into the weekend, and I spent Wednesday night at an extended Zumba session, pushing myself as hard as I could.

Thursday morning I woke up early from the noise of a storm. After the driest fall I can remember, we were on our third day of nothing but rainstorms. I spent some time on the internet, and then got out of bed and headed into our living room around 8 am. We don't watch TV normally. We have an old TV, and a box for the digital conversion. We turn on the TV about 3 times a year. But the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade warranted 15 minutes of fiddling to get the TV on. Even though the parade didn't start until 9, I enjoyed some of the Today show before the parade.

I have always loved the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The floats, the musical interludes (like the Rockettes!) and Al Roker. As a child I wanted to go to the parade "some year". Now, I have no desire to go to the parade (unless I get some sort of VIP seat). Otherwise, I'm happy to watch it on my TV. While watching the parade I sat at our kitchen table (the nice part about having a combined living room/dining room) and began peeling veggies. My father has always hosted Thanksgiving, so growing up this was always been a part of watching the parade - peeling veggies (or chopping up dry bread for stuffing, or washing cooking items we'll need to use again in the minute). I remember the first year I was living on my own for Thanksgiving - I wasn't even bringing a dish then - so I joyfully watched the parade and did nothing else. Now, as an adult I have to bring a dish so that there is enough for the 25-40 people who show up to eat!

This year I decided to make roasted root vegetables. This dish is healthy, a very fall dish, and manages to disguise vegetables without the use of velveeta cheese or cream of mushroom soup - something that is missing from most of my family's traditional Thanksgiving dishes. I peeled and chopped 6 pounds of sweet potatoes, 4 pounds of parsnips, and picked 2 pounds of grapes off of their little stems. I also chopped a red onion, six garlic cloves, about 3 tablespoons of fresh sage, and threw in the olive oil, salt, and pepper. I then spread it out in a variety of baking dishes, a pampered chef baker, a le creuset baker, and a brownie pan from USA pans. The best roaster was the metal brownie pan, and the worst was the pampered chef baker. I was surprised by these results, but made the mental notes for next year.

After roasting we loaded up the car and headed to my family's Thanksgiving. It was wonderful! We had a smaller crowd this year, only about 25 people, but the food was excellent. My vegetables were tried by almost everyone, and several people sitting near me complimented them without realizing they were mine. Success!

After a few hours of my family, we headed over to my husband's family's Thanksgiving. By this time it had snowed in St. Louis, and everything was pretty in a light dusting of snow. I had no appetite, but they had these amazing roles there with all sorts of grain on them, so I ate two of those!

Then we headed home, and I made my Black Friday plans. I had trouble sleeping that night, but figured I could get a nap in sometime on Friday..

Friday the alarm went off at 6:31 and I was out of the door - to a frosted over car. :( After scraping, I was on my way to World Market. I was able to scoop up two of the color your own playhouses at 50% off. I then met up with my friend Meredith, and we quickly hit Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Kmart for doorbusters. Meredith was the really trooper, having started her shopping at 5am. We spent the bulk of our time shopping at JCPenny, where I picked up a ton of clothes, and then Famous Brand shoes - where I got some awesome boots! (and shoes for Mr. Hobby). Pleased with my shopping successess, I returned home. Later that night I had Chinese Food with my in-laws and sibling-in-laws, and then we went to a Korean Karaoke bar, as a big, out-of-tune family.

Saturday, I woke up to notice that on some of the blogs I follow, they've posted their crostata. I was having so much fun I didn't realize it was Nov. 27! So I made my post, then headed for some more shopping. This time it was Target for some serious coupon shopping. I scored some excellent deals with my coupons! Then, it was time to have our friends over for a mac 'n cheese cook-off, that I will post about soon!

Today, I have to study for my Spanish class. But the good news is that I only have 3 weeks left of the class! Then, I go from my Spanish class that isn't working for me, to the Mr. Hobby school of Spanish.

I'm looking forward to December, and it has been a great Thanksgiving 2010!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November 2010 Daring Bakers Challenge, Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

This was my first daring baker challenge. I first heard about it back in September, and signed up. But because of how their rules work, I wasn't actually given access to the challenges until Nov. 1. Each new baking challenge is posted in their forums on Nov. 1, and then you must post on Nov 27, no sooner, no later. You need to make the recipe from the challenge, but if the challenge host, (a different blogger each month) decides to give you flexibility, then you have options.

Simona provided us with two baking recipes, I followed version 1, a more traditional crostata. The only difference is that I think I may have grated in too much lemon zest. See, I was very excited to be using my new Microplane Zester I registered for it after reading great reviews on several websites. It lives up to its reviews. Previously, I has struggled with zesting, and frequently included pith (the white stuff under the skin) in my zest. This time I passed the zester across the lemon once, and had a complete line of zest. With just a few more zests, I had done the whole lemon, without really realizing what I'd done. This turned out fine though, because I ended up with a lemony crust, to accompany my berry filling.

When I first read this challenge, I'd planned to make a pumpkin filling - because Simona said we could use whatever filling we wanted (woo-hoo!). But Mr. Hobby kept asking me to make him a blackberry pie. One day I finally said "Blackberries are not in season, so I am not going to pay for $10 worth of blackberries to fill a pie." (Frozen blackberries just aren't the same.) Two days later, blackberries were on sale. Sheesh. So I made a blackberry filling. I like to preserve the shape of the berry, and try not to squish them when tossing them in the sugar/flour/salt. The blackberries weren't as full this time of year though, so I had to fill in with a handful of raspberries, to get the amount of filling I desired. Then, I heated the berries for 10 minutes in the oven, to give them a little extra baking time. I don't do this when I make pies, but the crostata had a shorter baking time listed.

After making the crostata, rolling it out, and putting it in a pie pan because I didn't have a tart pan, I scooped my hot filling in. I topped it with crust made in the shape of some train cookie cutters I have. Then baked. It turned out wonderfully! The crust was sort of like eating a lemon sugar cookie, and the blackberries were delicious, as usual.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A commentary on Better Yet - Don't Write that Novel (for NaNoWriMo)

I recently read this article "Better Yet, DON'T Write that Novel" by Laura Miller that I would highly recommend. To give a brief summary, the author suggests that the world really needs more people devoting time to reading, and not to spending the hours to accomplish writing your novel for NaNoWriMo. I enjoyed the commentary. She starts out by describing why the world doesn't need the novels that come out of NaNoWriMo, and then finishes up with some interesting points about the reading habits of the American public.

I received this article in an e-mail from my father-in-law. He is a very well read and insightful man. He sends countless e-mails a week, to various people, and none of them involve the LOL cats. Some he composes himself, on issues of education, or personal matters. (One of his colleagues at the university where he works recently suggested that his e-mails should be archived as part of the university's institutional knowledge.) Many are articles he has read and chooses to pass on to us. I try to at least open every article he sends me, because when he sends an article he often chooses his recipients based on whether he thinks it would interest them. It isn't uncommon to receive four articles e-mailed back-to-back from him, so reading them through to completion is sometimes difficult. This one was one of my favorites though, and I made a point of discussing it with Mr. Hobby, to make sure he read this article as well.

As for whether or not NaNoWriMo is a good use of your time, that's something I'll let you decide for yourself. I'm wanting to talk about today that I strongly agree with the author's point about how important it is to read, and how important reading is to being a good writer.

I admit it, I am not an avid book reader these days. Ask me what I've read recently, and I'm likely to talk about a blog or a newspaper's website. I want this blog to be enjoyable, and I do think having a large number of blogs on diverse topics that I follow and read is ultimately beneficial to my blog. But if we're talking about picking up a novel to read, it is most likely something I've already read (like a Jane Austen novel) or by an author I've read (like Sophia Kinsella) and not a new book. I remember the days in high school and college literature classes, reading something completely new for the first time. After having heard the first few lines of A Tale of Two Cities parodied for most of my life, I remember the weeks of my sophomore year of high school when I read the entire novel for the first times, how all encompassing my moments with the novel were. I never would have picked the book up on my own though. That's why I've had my Mom's copy of The Grapes of Wrath on my book shelf for about five years now. Sure, I want to read the classics, but Pioneer Woman just posted a new recipe.

But I know how important reading is to writing - that's why my college writing minor required have the courses I took to be literature courses. So following in the path of the 10.10.10 blog project, I'm starting my own, albeit, much smaller project. Starting January, I'm going to read eleven new books, by 11.11.11.

While reading a book a month seems like a small number, I know it'll be a challenge, because, frankly, I love the internet. The only way I would be able to read 100 books in 10 months is if I was paid to do so - and could then use that money to pay someone to clean and cook and do the things I wasn't doing because I was reading. But eleven, eleven I'll find a way to manage. I'm not going to count the types of books I have read regularly since graduating from grad school (cook books and travel guidebooks). It will be 11 books, all new to me. I'm going to try to pick a diverse selection of books. I also want to try to stick with books that I already own, can borrow from a friend, or check out from the library. We'll see if I can avoid the allure of Amazon and its accurate recommendations. I'm very excited about my eleven books, and about sharing information and reviews of them with my blog readers!

But until January, I'm going to focus on finishing my Spanish class, and enjoying all the fun cooking, baking, socializing and shopping that comes with the holidays.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I may have found a new distraction! While eating lunch at my desk today at work, I took advantage of my "lunch break" to read the news. I found this article from the New York Times on Google's Fashion site.
It is called Boutiques.com (don't forget the s) and it allows you to pick out fashion you already like, and then it shows you other pieces that are similar. Then, you can tell them what you do and don't like about that article of clothing, and it adjusts. I know I had to mark a lot of the first things I saw as hate the price, but after that they started to show me cute clothes in my price range. While I don't know if I'll ever get to a point where I don't prefer to shop for clothes in a store where they can be tried on first - this is a fun site to play around with and look at clothes from a bunch of retailers at one time.

Some fun looks I found on boutiques.com

Friday, November 12, 2010

Homemade Oreos

I used the King Arthur Flour recipe for faux-reos. But I can call them homemade oreos, because I'm not a company that might get sued. I'd been excited about these since I first saw them in my favorite catalog, the King Arthur Flour catalog. The secret ingredient ti dutch cocoa that is really dark black. I bought some awhile ago, with the intention of making these cookies.

The package from King Arthur.

First you cream together the butter and sugar.

Then add in the cocoa and flour.

As you start to mix, it gets really dark, until you have your finished dough. 

Take balls of dough, and smash them into cookies with the bottom of a drinking glass, and bake.

While baking, make the icing. I found I needed more water in the icing than it calls for, and it was still pretty dry and lumpy. But this is icing nobody sees, so lumps are ok.

After the cookies were done baking, I tried to match even size cookies together, and then I just squished two between a tablespoon or two of the icing.

These are a lot bigger than store bought Oreos!

For the recipe, as well as pictures of making a version that includes espresso and peppermint, check out King Arthur Flour.

A new way of thinking about eating out

Mr. Hobby and I have a few financial weaknesses, one of them being our love of eating out. It is truly wonderful - each person gets what they want, and nobody has to do dishes afterwards. (I realize that someone does have to do the dishes, but since I can't see the dishwashers in the back of the kitchen, I'll pretend nobody does the dishes.) Anyway, last weekend something completely out of the ordinary happened. It was Friday night, and Mr. Hobby and I got home around the same time, after both having worked over an hour late, and we decided that we preferred to stay in rather than go out. So we went to the grocery store, and we picked out fancy pasta, and shrimp, and made a lovely dinner together. We ended up spending the entire weekend without eating out. On Saturday, we went over to friend's house, and they served amazing butternut squash ravioli, and I brought homemade oreos. On Sunday, I was in the kitchen for four hours. But at the end of that time, I had delicious roasted root vegetables with apple glazed pork loin for us to enjoy for dinner, with enough leftovers for us each to have lunch the next day (though Mr. Hobby forgot his on Monday!) I'd also made 2 loaves of pumpkin bread, and I'd prepped a meatloaf. We made the meatloaf on Wednesday, all we had to do was pop it in the oven - no prep.
We realized that on the weekends, we have time to enjoy making meals, so that is when we should make them. Plus, on Sundays I have time to prep food for the week. It is a new way of thinking about food, and fueling our family through our tired and busy times. So tonight, when we once again left work over an hour late, we came home a repeated our new "routine". We had leftover meatloaf (cooked on Wednesday, so still good) and I made a quick pasta using boxed pasta and a sauce recipe from King Arthur Flour. The sauce was called sage butter, and the recipe includes recipe for homemade pasta as well. The sage butter turned out ok. But mainly, I made it because I was looking for a way to use up the fresh sage leftover from making roasted root vegetables, and this was an idea.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Today, I participated in my university's fast-a-thon. They normally hold the event during Ramadan, but that was during August of this year, and the students were not on campus for enough time to organize a successful event. Today's event had 280 people fast from sun up, to sun down. For each person who fasted, local businesses gave money to St. Louis Area Foodbank for each person who participated.

I chose to participate because one of the organizers is a student who I know well. It was a challenge to myself, and I am very happy that I took on this challenge. I also think it is important to be involved in events that cross religious lines. I may not be Muslim, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't spend some time learning more about their faith. At the fast breaking tonight, an Imam spoke a little about the religion, and about some of the common internet myths about the religion. I'm always amazed at the internet's ability to spread false information. One of the myths he talked about is that many people think Muslims worship the sun and/or the moon. This isn't true. The Qur'an says that they should worship the one who made the sun and the moon. His opinion was that this false information came from their practice of following a lunar calendar, and praying by the positions of the sun (sun up, mid day...a total of 5 sun positions). But, as he explained it, this just allows the religion to be accessible to anyone, no need for a clock or a calendar.

When I started this morning, I figured the fast-a-thon would be a one time event. But, I think if I were asked again, I would be open to the possibility of particpating.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Back in the saddle

So, I'm back at it with the cream cheese. This time, I'm working on an appetizer, and it isn't due for awhile. I've tested the recipe twice. Both times we have not had leftovers. It has been a nice confidence booster, after the failure with the chicken. I know my goal was to become a better cook of entrees. But I really do like appetizers, sometimes I'll order one an my entree at a restaurant. So I think after some rotten luck in the entree department the last few weeks, I deserved some confidence boosters. I want to keep this recipe a secret until after I enter the philly contest, but then I'll post everything after that is done. I owe this blog some pictures, they're in my camera, just waiting to be blogged. The weekend is here though, so I'm sure I'll be busy pursuing some hobby...maybe baking, and definitely studying Spanish (I have an exam!).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In Pursuit of Fail?

Do I need to rename my blog to "In Pursuit of Fail"?  I've shared my recent major failure on the cooking front.  Also, I've recently failed my first quiz in the Spanish class I'm taking for fun.  The university pays my tuition since I work there, but if I fail it they make me pay it back.  That would seriously cut into my hobby budget.  Yikes!  I think I'll go watch Destinos, the telenovela that is part of my class assignment to teach us Spanish. Interested in learning Spanish?  Check out Destinos, it is a pretty fun way to learn.  Too bad my whole grade wasn't based on Destinos. Hasta Luego!

Image from Destinos

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Spring Cleaning...in October.

Today was the first cool fall Saturday.  It would've been a perfect day for baking some nice bread or pumpkin treats.  Unfortunately, on Friday night I became determined to do some serious re-organizing, and I knew a lot of my stuff would need to "hit the road" so to speak.  My clothes were the main area attacked.  I got rid of a lot of clothes that just looked too young for me to still be wearing as well as some of my work clothes that looked really worn.  Mr. Hobby helped me, as I tried on different pieces of clothes all day long.  We started with a thumbs up/ thumbs down rating system, but at his suggestion moved to a scale of 5 stars.  Clean-out results: 3 bags & 1 box of stuff for Goodwill, 2 bags for recycling, two bags of trash, 1 bag for the resale shop (or Goodwill if resale doesn't buy it).  The recycling was lots of old travel magazines and King Arthur Flour catalogs.  I cut the articles and recipes I was interested in out to be filed, and then recycled the rest.  This opened up a ton of space in the stand.  I'm not done yet, but after about 8 hours of working on it, it was time for a break.  I know Mr. Hobby and I are at a good point in our life to be letting go of things from our teens and early twenties, but sometimes it is hard to say good-bye to clothes that brought me so many good memories.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Every week for the last several weeks I've been making a new recipe on Wednesday nights for Mr. Hobby and I to enjoy.  They've almost all taken significantly longer than I thought they would take.  Tonight's dinner?  No exception.  I started it at 6, telling Mr. Hobby "It'll be done in 30 minutes!"  Try 1.5 hours.  Fail.  But here is the thing, I don't really know how to cook.  I've always enjoyed baking, and not to toot my own horn, but my stuff turns out pretty good most of the time.  Cooking, you know, making dinner, not really my thing.  But I'm trying, I'm challenging myself to try new things all the time.  
I decided that it would be helpful if I had something to encourage me to try new things in cooking.  I was looking for some sort of blog party, a monthly cooking challenge perhaps.  Everything I found wasn't really striking my fancy.  Then I found the Real Women of Philidelphia website.  Four meal categories, four different categories, 16 weeks of cooking contests, one key ingredient, Philly cream cheese.  It started in July, so the competition has been through several categories already.  However, this week sounded like a good place for me to start.  The goal: an entree, 5 or less ingredients (one being Philly) and done in 30 minutes or less.  No problem I thought to myself, I can do this.  I came up with doing chicken breasts and tiny potatoes in a mexcian style cream cheese baked in the oven.  And because Paula Deen is the celebrity attached to this contest, I thought, why not make it in Paula's dutch oven?  See, I realize that is why people first "learn" to cook, and then "create" their own recipes.  I realize now, that the dutch oven was not the correct vehicle for a "quick" meal.  I was 15 minutes in, and the contents of the pot were still at close to room temperature.  (Of course the pot sat out on my stove top for 1.5 hours after it finally finished, and was still warm when I went to wash it out.)  I started to realize that I should have made it in a casserole dish, but being stubborn I didn't want to dump everything out of the pot and into a casserole dish.  I knew once the dutch oven got going it would make sure the flavor of the sauce made it into the chicken.  But, as far as 30 minutes or less, well that was an epic fail.  Poor Mr. Hobby, he has to live with me while I learn to cook.  Maybe I should start trying new recipes out on the weekend, and then just serving him leftover on Wednesday? ;)
I guess this is a lesson to all parents teaching their children to cook and bake, if your child shows preference for one, don't let them get away with not learning how to do the other.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spanish Class

I'm taking beginning Spanish this semester at the university where I work.  Why?  Well one, it is free to me since I work there.  Free education was one of the reasons I was attracted to a career in  higher ed.  Never stop learning, right?  Another reason is that we love traveling to Spanish speaking countries.  Finally, I think it will come in handy with the changing landscape of the US.  The church we were married in offers mass in Spanish for two of their Sunday services.  I'm very excited to learn how to hable espanol! Anyway, here is a fun video "The first semester of Spanish, Spanish love song."  I think I know most of the vocab they use in the video already. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Liquid Core Electric Skillet (aka a Lifetime of State Fair Memories)

I've spent my entire life going to the Illinois State Fair with my mom's side of the family.  My grandparents were farmers in Illinois, and the State Fair was a highlight of summer for all of us. I must of been about twelve or thirteen when I first plopped my butt down at the cooking demonstration inside the Exhibition building.  The host was chopping, and cooking, and showing off all the goodies they had to sell.  Then they passed around plates with all the goodies they'd just made right before our eyes, in less than 30 minutes.  I feel like my exposure to tasty steamed vegetables was limited at that time, so it might have explained my reaction to the food.  But I was in love, thinking the vegetables were the best I had ever tasted.  Up until that point in my life, I thought I hated cooked carrots because I'd only had them cooked to much.  These were warm, cooked vegetables that still managed to have texture.  Plus, the taste was delicious.  I declared to my family that I wanted the pots.  They were outrageously expensive, so at first they just laughed.  But as the years passed, and I still loved that booth every year at the State Fair, Grandma made me a promise.  She'd get them for me as a wedding present.  I was thrilled, I'd get the pots of my dreams one day.

Fast forward at least 10 years.  I wasn't engaged yet, but Mr. H was at the Fair with the family, and Grandma knew we'd be married soon enough.  After all, he was the only boy I'd ever liked enough to invite to the fair, our special family event!  So Grandma bought me the electric skillet of the KitchenCraft cookware.  They have a whole line of pots and pans, but the liquid core electric skillet is what they use at the show to make the food.  Grandma gave it to me early, as a Christmas present the year I was engaged.  
When I first got it, I was scared to use it - knowing how expensive it was.  Eventually I took it out of the box, and promptly lectured Mr. Hobby.  "Don't touch it with anything that might have even a remote chance of scratching the inside."  I don't know that he'll ever touch it at all!  For my part, I only use silicone coated turners or spatulas when using the pan.  After I got over my nerves when handling the thing, I realized it didn't come with a lot of recipes in the directions.  Thank goodness for google!  A few internet searches later, and I had several unique recipes to try.  Some were my brand, the Americraft/Kitchen Craft skillet.  Some were for another brand, Saladmaster.  I figured they all had to be close enough, and dug into my new recipes.

First up was Mexi-Corn Lasagna.  I have no pictures, but if I didn't love using my electric skillet because it reminded me of Grandma, well, it might have put me off my skillet forever.  The food itself was fine.  But I had a terrifying moment while cooking the food.  I had layered in the ingredients, following the directions.  Except, instead of using 4 small tortillas on each layer, I used one large tortilla.  It was the same diameter of the pan, perfect I thought!  Until I pulled the lid off towards the end of the 15 minute cooking time to find the whole thing had swelled in size, the tortillas filling with air.  I grabbed a fork, terrified the whole thing would explode any second as the top layer oozed over the sides of the skillet.  I started to stab at the meal, hoping to "pop" the tortillas and release the air they had built up inside.  After a few stabs it went down and I was able to eat the dinner.  As I said, it tasted good, but was not a pretty picture.

This post is getting long, so I'll break out the other recipes as I move through them.  Do you have a liquid core electric skillet?  Go ahead and follow me then, because I plan to create and modify more recipes for the skillet as I use it more.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Next blog>>?

Have you used the next blog>> button on blogger? 
I've been obsessed lately.  It started last week, while I was playing around with blogger.  I'm still trying to learn my way around, learn about its buttons and their functions.  I saw the next blog, and couldn't help but click to see what it did.  
"Oh! It takes me to another blog." Is there a specific blog that is always after mine?  We'll just hit the back button, and try it again. 
 "Nope! It is a new blog each time I hit the next blog button."  
So, I figured I would spend some of my time visiting other blogger blogs.  While I will openly admit that my inspiration for starting this blog was to be more like the wonderful pioneerwoman or bakerella.com, and eventually be invited to join blogher, I realize I have a long way to go.  Those sites get thousands of comments per post, and have a massive readership.  They are their own .com at this point!  I realized I couldn't be comparing my blog to theirs, with their sleek functioning.  I had to learn my way around blogging, and I figured the next blog button would help me to visit other amateur blogs to get ideas and inspiration.  I also thought it might help me bring some readership to my own blog.  I could be exposed to blogs that share my interest, but where my comments wouldn't be one of thousands.  
With a mission at mind, I decided that each time I posted, I would visit at least 5 blogs afterwards, using the nextblog link each time.  Last week, I ended up visiting lots of family blogs.  The culmination was a blog I found very touching.  It had just been a woman's normal blog over a year ago, then nine months ago her daughter died without warning of some sort of instant heart problem.  She'd never been sick before, just collapsed at the ice rink and died all of the sudden.  I cried myself through entry after entry.  They were so open, raw, honest, I loved her writing.  I read all the back entries for 9 months, until I got through the entries a week before her daughter died.  But how could I comment?  "Hi, I'm a stranger, and I've just cried through your entries."  I sort of felt there was nothing appropriate I could add by commenting.  I closed out of blogger and let it go.
Cue last night.  Mr. Hobby had gone to get a drink with a friend, leaving me a chance to spend some time at home, nextblogging.  (That's what I've named it.)  As I clicked nextblog after nextblog, I started to realize how it worked.  I'm not sure how they pick the first blog I see after I leave my own blog.  But the blog I see after that is somehow related to that blog.  Say I am on an artists' blog, then each blog I see after that will be artists blogs.  Unless I visit a blog that is, say, art and family.  Then I might end up on a series of family blogs.  So as I was clicking next on one watercolor artist blog after another I realized I should just return to my own blog, and try another series.  I'm sure I've visited a hundred blogs in the last day.  
Since then, I've added three blogs that I am following:
  • A new food blog (not like I need to follow another food blog, but they seem to be my favorites!) Fogg Road Kitchen.  I only sort of found her from the nextblog button.  I was on a different food blog that was talking about her amazing chocolate zucchini cake recipe, and I knew I had to check it out.  I clicked on her blog, and just loved what I saw.
  • The blog of a girl who works for dreamworks, and puts up these sketches I just love: LINDSEY OLIVARES.  My favorite is this picture where two people are carrying a goldfish home on the subway.
  • The third new blog is shabbyblogs. I'm following the blog, but I also added the website to my favorites.  I hope to add some of her free designs to my own blog at some point.  I found her from another blog I had dropped in on, they had a beautiful background, and I noticed the background said shabbyblogs.  I clicked on that link, and found this blog!  
As for commenting to draw interest to my own blog - not a lot of luck there.  I only commented on one blog, this woman had a great idea to use the paper sleeves for CDs to put cookies in as treat bags.  It was a super-cute idea, one I might try myself.  I had to tell her I thought so!  Hopefully I'll get better at commenting on others blogs.  But until then, at least I'm getting an interesting tour around the blogosphere.
Hey! Did you come here using the next blog button?  If so, let me know!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Image courtesy repstl.org

The other night, Mr. H and I went to The Rep's production of You can't take it with you.  When people think of theatre, they think of New York and Chicago.  But St. Louis really has some great theatre houses.  I think maybe people don't think of us as a theatre town, because we don't have a wealth of small theatres for actors to get their start.  Take The Rep for instance.  It is on the campus of Webster University, yet it features primarily professional equity actors.  Some big names sometimes too, the next show will have Kathleen Turner appearing.  I'm very thankful for St. Louis' theatre scene.  I've always enjoyed good live theatre, and visiting The Rep is always a treat.  The theatre is small, so you never have a bad seat.  The sets are consistently the best I've ever seen, though I guess I can't say I'm well traveled theatrically. If I wasn't s
cared of breaking some sort of equity set law, I'd have snapped some shots for you.  But The Rep's sets are really amazing.  I always feel like I'm really there.  The set for You can't take it with you was great, it really felt like an eclectic family's living room. Here is a pic from the show's website. 

Overall, the show was good.  The plot is straightforward, Girl meets boy, son of the owner of the company where she works.  They get engaged, and girl must introduce boy's family to her family.  Only, the girl's family has spent their life in the pursuit of happiness, with little thought to career or income.  Her parents, sister and brother-in-law, and several employees are all supported by Grandpa, a man who retired from business early in life, and makes a yearly income off of "property."  The main point of the show, is that, since you can't take it with you, you should be happy.  The cynic in me can't help but think that lifestyle only works if you have a "grandpa" in your life.  While Mr. Hobby and I agree that you shouldn't kill yourself for your job - that your job isn't your life, your life is what you do outside your job - we still think we have to work, whether we like it or not. 
I was thankful for a night at the theatre though, it was very entertaining. I always love theatre programs, in part because they advertise other shows that will be in the future. I think theatre-going would make an excellent full-time hobby, but I imagine it could get expensive. 
*A funny side note about The Rep and me.  While most of its performers are equity actors, I actually performed on the stage when I was a student in highschool.  Before digital photography, nobody was snapping pictures on their non-existent cell phone (we cool kids had pagers) so there is nothing to post.  But they do a program called WiseWrite, where elementary school students write plays.  Then, volunteers like us high school students stage the play for the students, using the Rep's stage.  A fun little claim to fame, too bad they didn't have facebook back then, that would've made a great status update.  ;)  If you're in the St. Louis area and want more information on WiseWrite (I know they need volunteers) visit: http://www.repstl.org/wisewrite/

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cobb Salad? Chop Salad? Chopped-Cobb Salad?

I enjoy cooking, and the challenge of trying to make restaurant quality food at home.  So the other night I decided that I'd make a lovely salad, like the kind I'd pay $10 for at a restaurant.  

At first I told Mr. Hobby it was going to be a Cobb salad.  Then, I told him it was going to be a chop salad.  I don't think he knew there was a difference.  That worked out in my favor, because this ended up being a sibling of the Cobb and Chop salad.

It all started with the bacon.  Don't you love stories that go that way?  See, we recently purchased a microwave bacon cooker. We're still figuring out the right amount of time per slice of bacon.  The suggested cook time doesn't give us the crispy bacon I crave.  The best part of the bacon cooker is that it raises the bacon up, and has space for the grease to drip down.  This allows me to convince myself bacon isn't bad for you.  That's why I decided to use it in my salad.  Eight strips of it in the salad for two people.

We also had eggs, that have not been recalled in the national recall, yet.  So hard-boiled eggs and bacon should cover it for the protein.  I know Mr. Hobby eats a lot of meat at lunch, so I consider it my job to get his grains and veggies in when he eats with me.  I might have to start working on the dairy too, I don't think eating a lot of cheese will cut it as his bones get older.

Then I chopped up a bunch of veggies.  And I'm embarrassed to say that the salad took me one hour to make.  I think my biggest mistake came with the Romaine Lettuce.  I broke off each leaf from the head, rinsed it, and put it in the salad spinner BEFORE chopping it.  I'm not sure what I was thinking.  I threw in some leftover lettuce that Mr. Hobby had bought the other week.  I'm not sure what kind it was, but the head was formed like romaine, just smaller.  When I got to it, I chopped it, then rinsed and spun it dry.  It took 98% less time.  

I also chopped up green beans from Eckert's Country Store into bite-size portions.  Then I chopped up a beet from our friends E + O's weekly CSA delivery.  Then cucumber and carrot from the grocery store.  I also threw in our favorite cherub tomatoes.  I did not chop these, as that would make the seeds run out, and make the salad soggy.  Some cooking blogs would suggest chopping them, and then cleaning the seeds out.  Let me point out now that cooking and blogging are both just hobbies.  I'm not the clean the seeds out of my tiny tomatoes type. 

After 54 minutes, I was embarrassed, but I had everything arranged in my lovely bowl.  I threw in sunflower seeds (more protein) and some feta and Parmesan cheese (the only dairy in Mr. H's diet).  

Finally, it was time for the fun part. The dressing!  I think fancy salad dressing really says "this salad is an entree."  Homemade dressing can be affordable too.  While some people have an emulsifier, I choose to go the easier, carafe shaking route.  The carafe I used came free with 2 packets of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix.  I consider that a good deal.

I started with my "secret" ingredient.  Pomegranate infused vinegar.  It gives it a subtle fruity taste.

Pour in carafe until you reach the V (vinegar) line.  Then add W to the water line, and powdered dressing mix.  You don't need to have a powdered mix, if you have a handy supply of Italian herbs.  I just find the mix convenient, it takes out the guessing of seasoning.  
Shake it all together!


Then, add your favorite olive oil to the O-line.  I like to add in a little less oil, and a little more water.  Then shake it all together, and you've got a homemade vinaigrette.  

The dressing, along with the presentation, will give a restaurant feel to your salad. 

Until the next hobby, love,
Ms. Hobby!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

No time for hobbies, I was getting married!

So, it turns out that wedding planning in the final months was less a hobby, and more of an all-consuming part of my life. But, it was all worth it in the end as people are still talking about how great a time they had at our wedding!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In pursuit of what?

This whole thing started several months, maybe even a year ago.  My friends were all done with college and graduate school, and with no young kids, found themselves with lots of time on their hands.  What to do?  Drinking seemed to be all anyone could come up with to do in their free time.  The main man in my life, we'll call him Mr. Hobby and his friend Mr. E., were determined to come up with a hobby.  They've been brainstorming.  One day they're going to brew their own beer, the next build a model train display.  But while they're busy brainstorming a hobby to "pick-up" all I can see around me is hobby.  
While my life has laundry, dishes, and other inconveniences, it also has everything else I do with my time.  Some days when I come home from work tired, I put on soup and that's dinner.  But other nights it is a long process with exciting recipes off a blog or ingredients from a farmer's market.  That's a hobby night.  I've put on hobby-tinted glasses, and I see everything I enjoy doing in my free time as hobby.  
So here's to the pursuit of hobby, everything it means to me, and everything Mr. H searches for in the "elusive" hobby.  Maybe a little of our family and friends too.