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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.