New month, new blog…
A new blog with more frequent postings! (Or so I say now...) Follow my daily postings in November at http://www.meanderingmoments.wordpress.com. Update your bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc. if you don’t want to miss my ramblings.
A new blog with more frequent postings! (Or so I say now...) Follow my daily postings in November at http://www.meanderingmoments.wordpress.com. Update your bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc. if you don’t want to miss my ramblings.
Before jumping into the actual entry, let me just acknowledge that it’s a lame title, and I know it. But the entry was written in about 10 minutes or less, and I’ve been trying to come up with a decent title for longer than that now, so I give up.
I have no problems with meat, poultry, or other animals formerly alive but now dead and destined for dinner. I’ll handle it, cook it, and eat it without any objection. But whole birds? They terrify me. Not the still-alive variety, but the to-be-cooked kind. It’s not the feel of raw poultry, as I’ve clearly stated no objection there. It’s not a salmonella risk fear, because I’m all for eating the cookie dough even if it’s made with eggs. (And I’m very careful with food prep surfaces and proper sanitation when dealing with raw meat/poultry.)
Ultimately, I think my fear of whole birds stems from both a fear of failure and a general aversion to bones in my food. But as with prior commitments to stepping outside my culinary comfort zone, I’m determined to get past my whole-bird hang-ups and start exploring some of the many recipes for roasted chicken and cornish hens. See, I’ve been flagging those recipes in my cookbooks and magazines for at least a year, because they look oh-so-delicious. And what could be cuter than a roasted cornish hen and some vegetables from the garden? That’s bound to impress dinner guests, right? Riiight, once I get past that whole-bird hang-up.
Step one is admitting you have a problem, isn’t it? So there, I’ve admitted it. And actually, I’ve even ventured a small step beyond that, because I had to deal with some bone-in chicken breasts recently. I typically skip straight to the boneless/skinless option, but some free chicken from a friend came with unexpected bones. So I cut the chicken breasts from the bone for dinner that night (greek chicken with roasted potatoes). Then I got uber-resourceful and used the bones and some frozen excess veggies in the freezer to make my own chicken broth. Hey, look at me, being both adventurous and thrifty!
While that gets me past the hurdle of bones in my food, I’ve yet to conquer the presumed increased potential for failure I associate with whole birds. People say it’s easy. I’ve watched mom or dad roast the turkey at Thanksgiving for years. Dad even had me help clean and season the turkey last year after I’d admitted this problem to him. So maybe… just maybe… I’m about to take the plunge and buy myself a chicken. Or maybe some cornish hens. Who wants to come for dinner?
I bought a box of Lucky Charms last week. I generally opt for the much healthier cereals like Kashi, but the General Mills cereals were on sale at Target plus I had a coupon, so I went for the Lucky Charms in addition to some healthier options. See, Lucky Charms and I have an interesting history.
As a child, I was allergic to corn and basically all corn byproducts, including the corn syrup that runs rampant in all varieties of processed food. Ever checked the labels for things like pickles, ketchup, salad dressing, and other such food items? Chances are you’ll find some version of corn syrup on the list. Yes, that’s right, even some pickles contain corn syrup. Thus, there were lots of things I didn’t get to eat as a child, or at least didn’t get to eat much of depending on how much corn syrup the product actually contained.
I don’t remember specifics on all the off-limits food, but those Lucky Charms stand out. Those magically delicious marshmallows? Pretty much pure corn syrup. That didn’t mean we never had Lucky Charms in the house; after all, my two older brothers didn’t share my allergy to corn and corn byproducts. I can remember watching my brothers methodically eat the cereal part first until they were left with a bowl full of marshmallows floating in milk. I, on the other hand, only got to eat the Lucky Charms if someone first picked all the marshmallows out of the bowl (prior to pouring the soy milk) and handed them over to my brothers. I speak from experience when I say that Lucky Charms lose the magic when you lose the marshmallows.
Now, thanks to having outgrown that particular allergy, I don’t have to pick the marshmallows out of my magical Lucky Charms. Nor do I have to share them with anyone. Bowl by bowl, my inner child is making up for lost time and lost marshmallows.
Note: It’s entirely possible my parents will refute this post and say they never subjected me to such torture as watching my brothers enjoy the marshmallows out of my bowl of Lucky Charms. Maybe the whole concept was conjured in my head as a collective representation of childhood allergies that seemed cruel and unfair… or maybe not. My memory of childhood isn’t the greatest at times, but I’m pretty sure it happened.
Two years ago today, I sat in an office and signed my name/initials to a giant stack of papers and bought my first house. It was a milestone day and one that I’m still quite proud of. But on this day, the two-year anniversary of that event, I keep thinking about other house-related items and one particular friend who weaves through the story line.
Somewhere along the way in my house-buying adventure, someone asked if I was going to have my house blessed. I don’t remember who asked, but I remember thinking it was a grand idea. The movers came on a Friday in July to load the truck full of stuff from my apartment and drive it only a few miles down the street to my house. My parents helped unpack some things on Friday night, but Saturday when the priest and two good friends arrived for the blessing of the home, it was still a house full of boxes. In other words, the blessing was an integral part of the beginning of my home ownership adventure.
With the many things going on in my life at that time (closing on a house, being in two weddings, fixing up the house, packing, and moving), I wasn’t exactly on top of asking a priest to do it. So the weekend before moving day when I went to Mass, I was pretty much asking whichever priest was there. That priest was Fr. Jim Krings.
Fr. Krings arrived on the scheduled day, filled a container with water from my kitchen to bless, and then offered a blessing on each room in the house. Although some people likely consider it odd, I thought it was pretty neat. And when my mom started to tear up a little, which only led me to do the same (as is often the case and vice versa), Fr. Krings just said, “Well, that’s cool.”
A few months before buying my house, I had been talked into offering a dessert of the month package to our church’s annual live auction to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Although I told the organizer I wasn’t willing to double (meaning if two people bid against one another to a certain point they would each get the dessert package), that message somehow didn’t get passed to the auctioneer. Two people (Fr. Krings and then almost Deacon Dan Donnelly) went back and forth for my desserts and when the bidding hit $400, they asked the auctioneer if I would double. So when the auctioneer, another of our priests, turned to me in a room full of 100 people and asked if I was willing to double, I couldn’t exactly say no.
With monthly dessert deliveries for a year, the home blessing experience, and regular run-ins at daily and Sunday Mass, Fr. Krings soon become one of my favorite priests. His blessing of my kitchen had incorporated my love for cooking/baking, and thus I often thought about that as I explored new recipes for the dessert of the month, like lemon meringue pie, brandied apricot peach turnovers, and chocolate swirl cheesecake with mixed berries. The month that I made hazelnut cheesecake, Fr. Krings proclaimed it the absolute best dessert he had ever tasted.
So why has embarking on year three of the home ownership adventure filled me with memories of such a friend? Because Monday night I went to a prayer service for Fr. Krings, who is approaching the end of a long and hard-fought battle with cancer. In the few short years since I first met him, I’ve come to know Fr. Krings as an inspiring preacher for all ages but particularly the youth of our parish, a dedicated minister to the sick, and a cheerful spirit who spreads happiness through any room. The prayer service was a testament to the impact he had on many lives, as the crowd far exceeded expectations and filled the church well beyond halfway. When the time comes to say a final goodbye to this friend, I imagine the crowd will be far greater because of the countless lives he has touched. He will be greatly missed, but his memory will live in many different ways. For me, it will live in hazelnut cheesecake, pecan pie, and other desserts baked in a kitchen that he blessed.
UPDATE: Fr. Krings passed away around 2:00 a.m. Saturday, June 27. May he rest in peace.
As much as quilting is a journey to overcoming my perfectionist tendencies, gardening is a journey to overcome impatience. Gardening is a waiting game, but a worthwhile one. The tulips have come and gone, and this week the first of my lilies bloomed. I’m now anxiously waiting for the other 30 or so around the garden to bloom as well. As the waiting game for the flowers comes to an end, the waiting for the vegetables has only just begun.
On Easter weekend, with lots of help from Dad, I built two raised garden beds that are 9.5’ by 4’ each. One now has raspberries and blackberries, and the other has an array of yummy veggies and herbs: tomato, cucumber, eggplant, bell pepper, squash, zucchini, carrots, radishes, okra, basil, sage, oregano, thyme, and parsley. The vegetables and herbs I’ll enjoy throughout the summer, but the raspberries and blackberries won’t be enjoyed until next summer and fall. That requires some serious patience.
But just as the quilting overtakes the perfectionist, the gardening overcomes the impatience. So wait, relatively patiently, I shall until I’m picking fresh veggies and herbs from the garden to cook for dinner.
Every now and then I’ll find myself reading back through old blog entries and thinking about them in a different context from farther away. On a recent trip down memory lane, I realized that my new year reflections the past two years involved some mention of wishing to leave the prior year behind. When I get to 2010, I’m determined I won’t say the same thing yet again.
I’m not crazy enough to think I have complete control over what happens with the rest of the year, but I recognize and embrace that I have control over what I choose to hang on to and what I choose to let go. From a farther distance, I can’t recall why I thought I needed to leave 2007 behind without looking back. It was, after all, a year of significant accomplishments (buying my first house and getting a big promotion at work) and lots of good times with friends (two summer weddings come to mind). While 2008 looms a more recent memory in terms of personal challenges, even those begin to fade as time moves on.
Pieces of this have been swirling in my head for months, and even as I begin to write, I realize my own thoughts on the matter remain fluid and unrefined. Perhaps my critique of yesteryear is steeped in my perfectionist tendencies and high personal standards, or perhaps it’s simply a matter of reflecting too heavily at year-end and reaching for the supposed new start of a fresh year. Regardless, I vow that my next end-of-year reflection will be one of celebrating the good and embracing the lessons, challenging and exhausting or not.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love music and listen to a lot of country music. While I’ve yet to jump on the American Idol bandwagon, I will confess to being a fan of Nashville Star. Last season, the Nashville Star winner was the unlikely candidate - a woman with five kids who started off a little shaky and didn’t fit the cookie cutter star profile. The song she sang after being proclaimed the winner, What If It All Goes Right, fits the thoughts swirling in my head the past few months rather well. It may be four months into the year, but I’m claiming it as my theme song for 2009. Only one radio station here has really added it to the playlist, but it makes me smile every time it’s on. Here’s to believing it can all go right…
I’ve taken to daily walks through my little garden to check the progress of my various green flower stalks reaching up through the brown mulch and stretching to the sunlight. The tulips are up in full force and the first to bloom are even beginning to fade. The daffodils were behind the tulips, and I’m not sure how much they’re even going to bloom this year. And the first signs of lilies are popping in the front and side beds and beneath the bradford pear tree out front. I can’t wait for the lilies, of course. Yet Mother Nature has decided to give us a little reminder of winter after a fleeting taste of spring. I’m taking my chances on not covering everything with plastic tonight, but I will probably cover the front bed tomorrow for extra protection on the rosebushes.
So you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past five weeks? Well, mostly out in the garden enjoying that fleeting taste of spring. So much work to do and so little time. I’ve done a lot of thinking lately, so I have blog entries swirling around my head that I hope to have posted soon.
Magenta is one of those colors that varies depending on who you ask. I could search the web and find some varied CMYK codes for magenta. That might be fun, but then I could also search for RGB codes as well. And they would all disagree about what exact color classifies as magenta. But today, I’m classifying this lovely violet named Avalon as magenta.
It’s maybe bordering on fuchsia rather than magenta, but I’m calling it magenta for the purposes of this post. So there.
I’m back on the colorblogging wagon, at least for a while. You know, almost a year after I first started the colorblogging effort and months after Kristi finished it. But oh well, back on the wagon I am. But today, purple is a more interesting color than magenta.
To be honest, the picture doesn’t do her justice. From leaf tip to leaf tip, she’s more than a foot across, and her blooms range from one to two inches each. She was propagated by my college roommate and good friend Gin five years ago today. So it’s happy birthday to LuLu today as well!
Two weeks ago, I adopted this cute little guy from the Humane Society. Meet Truman.
I had two guinea pigs back in grade school, and I’ve been thinking about getting one for almost a year now. I had checked a couple pet stores more than a month ago, but they didn’t have guinea pigs at the time, and I wasn’t entirely thrilled about getting one from a chain pet store anyway. Then Truman (originally named Spots) showed up at the Humane Society adoption center not far from work.
He eats more than you would imagine something his size could eat, but I think he’s adorable.
It’s that time of year. The time of year when I start to yearn for warmer weather and the first signs of green emerging from the thawing ground and barren trees. I’ve only complicated that yearning by starting to research and plan my first in-ground vegetable garden. I want to grow things!
While I’ve had a patio container garden for five or six years now, the transition to ground that I own - ground that I can dig in - broadens both the possibilities and the inspiration. Yes, I had this ground last spring/summer, but I lacked the time to devote to proper planning and caretaking of a garden. This summer? This summer is different. I long for the day I can wander out to my garden and pick a plump purple eggplant, or mix vine-ripened tomatoes with fresh basil, or toss a salad made with an array of lettuces grown in my very own back yard.
Alas, that time is months away. The weather forecast calls for three to five inches of snow by tomorrow mid-day, and the mere thought makes me want to crawl in bed and hibernate until those first signs of spring appear. As much as I lament the cold and threaten to move to a much warmer location, I honestly don’t think I would enjoy it as much as the good ol’ midwest. The glorious sight of those first twinges of green creeping up from the dry, brown ground seems less magical when you can’t recollect the inches of snow on that same patch of ground only weeks before. So for now, I’ll peacefully coexist with the snowfall and cold while I wait impatiently for spring to arrive with a burst of color and the promise of summer vegetables.
Yesterday a coworker made a comment that she’s surprised there isn’t a line of guys waiting outside my office door to go after my cooking skills. The conversation began with a comparison of my cheesecakes to those from Hank’s Cheesecakes, a comparison in which my cheesecakes won, at least I think. And yes, I realize that statement qualifies as sacrilege to some tried and true St. Louisans. It’s not the first time my cooking skills have been tied to a supposed upper hand in the dating scene and/or my ability to keep a guy around, but when I think about my cooking habits, I frequently characterize them as routine and boring.
It’s more a judgment on my menu selection than on the actual cooking skills, but still, I think routine and boring more than I think fabulous. In other words, I often feel stuck in a rut cooking the same dishes again and again. I have one standard chili recipe (turkey and black bean chili), a typical beef stew, and a handful of turkey/chicken dishes. In the summertime, I got fairly adventurous with trying new things on the grill, although most often when cooking for friends rather than myself. This winter, I challenged myself to venture out to some vegetables never before tried.
Enter the butternut squash. It’s the darling winter vegetable, with three magazines I read (Women’s Health, Cooking Light, and Better Homes & Gardens) all running multiple butternut squash recipes in the past few issues. Butternut squash and blue cheese bake, butternut squash casserole, roasted butternut squash, and butternut squash soup. Squash, squash, and more squash.
So there I am, beginning my adventures in winter vegetables with butternut squash, specifically with a butternut squash soup featured in BH&G. Roasted butternut squash and red onion seasoned with curry and then simmered in chicken broth with some chickpeas and chopped with nutmeg-spiced roasted walnuts. The end result? Delicious. The journey to get there? A good adventure-in-cooking story.
I bought two squash, just to be sure I had enough. I only needed one in the end, of course. I tackle the squash by first splitting it down the middle and scooping out the seeds. Then comes the peeling part. First I try the sideways hand grip vegetable peeler my mom got me. Seems cool in design, not good for peeling the tough skin of butternut squash. Second attempt using a standard-style vegetable peeler from Pampered Chef. Slightly better, but still difficult. So on to the sharp paring knife I go. (No, this isn’t a story than ends with me bleeding all over my kitchen. Stop worrying and keep reading.)
Finally, success in peeling the butternut squash! I knew there was a reason I had avoided those things until now. But, I continue with the chopping into 3/4” pieces and toss the butternut squash and red onion with olive oil and curry powder. In the oven they go to roast. At which point, I wash my hands. And realize that my left thumb and forefinger are somewhat swollen, tingly, and oddly colored. Right. So I wash my hands some more and test the movement of the fingers on my left hand in comparison to those on my right. Definitely a difference.
Thus, I consult my friend the Internet in search of confirmation that my hand isn’t going to fall off or anything. Plus, I’m a little concerned about eating this soup at this point, because what happens if my throat has the same reaction as my fingers? Not cool. Not cool at all. During my search, I find several websites that confirm a common contact dermatitis when peeling butternut squash. I read enough to learn that LOTS of hand washing would probably make the swelling and peeling go away, so lots of hand washing I did. And I read enough to be okay with eating the soup, albeit tentatively. Yep, it was delicious and worth the peeling effort.
But when I tackle another recipe with that second butternut squash, I’m wearing gloves.
Joan tagged me long ago for this 7 Things blog entry, and I’m finally getting around to it. Basically, by being tagged I’m supposed to share 7 random and/or weird facts about myself. I’m supposed to tag 7 people, but most people who read this blog have already been tagged, so I’m skipping that part. (Except for all you blog lurkers who may or may not have blogs of your own.)
So here it goes on 7 random things. Some you’ll know, some you won’t. I’m curious to hear what you already knew and what you didn’t, especially all you lurkers. (Hint, hint, that means leave me a comment! It’s no fun writing to myself.)
1. I refuse to set my alarm on a 0 or 5. I can’t honestly remember when I started this trend, but it was during college at least, if not before. Depending on my schedule, 5:12 and 4:47 a.m. are personal favorites. This applies to the occasional afternoon naps, too.
2. The clothes in my closet are alphabetized by color. This has become less rigid in the past few years with the colors in order, but not necessarily strict style order within each color. It used to be pants, short sleeve casual/dressy, long sleeve dressy, long sleeve casual, and sweatshirts. Now, just getting the colors in order is good enough.
3. My plants have names. This isn’t a new thing to anyone who knows me very well, but it’s pretty random. And the more random part are the actual conversations I still have with my college roommate about the status of the plants - during which we both refer to them by name. Typically she asks about LuLu, the largest african violet I have, that she propagated from a cutting of her violet Laurie on my birthday one year in college.
4. One of my high school nicknames was LooLoo, a fact Gin didn’t know when she named my plant. Only a couple friends called me LooLoo, but it was enough that I found the naming of the plant to be fantastic. My more frequent nickname was and is Turkey.
5. Enter the turkey collection - an array of stuffed plush toys, carved or pieced wooden turkeys, signs and wall hangings, and the latest edition of a Lego turkey. I’m still waiting for a Turkey Creek sign from Oklahoma (although there is one in Missouri, too).
6. I know far too much odd traffic trivia. Like the circumference of a stoplight, the total height of the entire stoplight structure, the standard length and width of the stripes on roads and highways by varied speed limits, etc. I must admit my knowledge has started slipping in the past few years, but being the daughter of a civil engineer who specializes in roads and bridges, you pick up on weird things like that along the way.
7. The number 7 is one of my favorites. Why? Mostly because of my membership in Mystical 7, an honor society at Mizzou that selects only 7 new members each year. It was a challenging experience to come together with six other relatively unknown students and blend as a group in a short period of time to do various service projects and select the next year’s members. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Recent enrollment in my flexible spending account at work got me thinking. It’s no surprise to anyone that Americans as a whole are rather unhealthy. We eat too much and move too little. And yet flexible spending accounts, which allow individuals to allocate pre-tax dollars to fund healthcare needs through the year, don’t allow spending on health club memberships, nutritional counseling weight loss programs, or vitamins/supplements. Does anyone else find that crazy?
Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and well-functioning immune system. Nutritional counseling and weight loss programs can help people shed excess pounds and reduce their risk for heart disease and many other ailments. Vitamins and supplements also can help contribute to overall health.
In short: these are all preventive measures rather than reactive measures that often cost more. So why aren’t they allowable expenses under a flexible spending account? OK, sure, vitamins/supplements aren’t regulated and some people argue they have no true value in overall health. So take them out of the picture if you must. But regular exercise and weight loss do contribute to overall health without a doubt. Can people who exercise still get sick? Sure. Will losing excess weight prevent you from getting heart disease or cancer? No, but it does lower the risk factors involved.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but neither do the thousands upon thousands of medical professionals and scientists who treat patients and do research on such topics. But most of them would agree that getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight reduce risk factors for many things.
If I wanted to allocate a portion of my FSA to paying for my monthly gym membership, why not? Regular workouts make my lungs stronger and reduce the frequency of use for some of my asthma medications. Why can’t I make that call for myself and how I spend the pre-tax money on my health instead of the government regulating it?
*Note: This is not an issue I have researched a great deal in terms of why the restrictions exist. I’m mostly just thinking out loud. I’m sure there are some reasons, one of them likely being people who cheat the system and use it on unapproved or supposedly unsafe practices. If anyone else has other research, reasonings, or opinions, I’m interested in hearing them.
I’ve long been a fan of starting fresh with a new year and a new calendar. Despite various attempts to go digital with my schedule and to-do lists, I always return to the good old fashioned paper variety. I would say pen and paper, but with me, it’s actually pencil and paper. I just can’t bring myself to use pen in my planner. Things change too often - meetings get cancelled or rescheduled, priorities shift, etc. Pencil allows for change; pen does not. Pen is harsh and glaring when forced to strike through an item. Pencil, on the other hand, erases nicely and allows the new plan to be written in place of the former instead of scribbled in tiny script above or below or beside. Last year I found an awesome soft white eraser, rectangular in shape, with Delete printed on the front. My trusty Delete key sits on my desk awaiting the changes that inevitably arise in any given day.
But I digress from the real purpose of this entry. In the past few years, I switched to a new style of planner that offers quarterly calendars so you’re not forced to wait until January to buy the planner. Since I switched mid-year, I have the version that starts in April. Thus, no turning of the page to a crisp new planner to begin a new year. This year, the absence of the sparkly new planner to begin 2009 has bothered me more than in the turn from 2007 to 2008.
Frankly, I’m ready to leave 2008 behind and embrace the possibilities that beckon in 2009. The past year wasn’t horrible by any means, but it wasn’t my favorite of recent years either. It’s perhaps best labeled as a year of turmoil. Ups and downs and uncertainty beyond my control. A year of change that couldn’t come fast enough, and yet a year that past far too quickly and left many things unresolved.
Some friendships blossomed while others faded and my overall health took an attitude of kicking me while I was already down. Much of the year was a cycle of serious fatigue that resulted in cutting back the majority of my prior commitments, which undoubtedly led to some of the fading friendships. Then the fall kicked even harder with a fractured foot and seemingly never-ending series of sinus infections, respiratory infections, and head colds. Could it have been worse? Sure, but I still vote for better than it was.
On the plus side, I did manage to expand my front garden to about four times its original size, thanks to some serious help from my parents and some great friends. Expanding the garden is one of many home improvement projects I had planned in my head when I first bought my house. Now it’s just a waiting game to see the colorful collection of bulbs that will make an appearance in the spring. And, provided I get my overall health to cooperate, I plan to put in a small vegetable garden off the back of the patio when spring arrives. I also got a long-awaited promotion at work, although there’s less definition to my role than ever before, I think.
As for 2009, I’m working on embracing some of the uncertainty, taking things as they come, reconnecting with friends I saw too little of in 2008, and reuniting with my favorite hobbies of cooking, quilting, and reading. I did far too little of those in 2008 as well. Perhaps I shall theme 2009 as a year of renewal. Shiny new calendar or not, I’m ready for 2009 and the possibilities it holds.
Since last New Year’s eve at the Kennedy Center was so much fun, I decided to repeat the experience. The official blurb for the National Symphony Orchestra performance says
“Join conductor Murry Sidlin as he celebrates his fourteenth anniversary leading members of the National Symphony Orchestra in this fun-filled annual Kennedy Center tradition! In the Concert Hall, usher in the New Year with a concert of popular favorites by some of the world’s most celebrated composers, including Rodgers & Hammerstein, Strauss, Dvorák, Rossini, Rimsky-Korsakov, Copland, and more. Guest soloists include NSO Associate Concertmaster Elisabeth Adkins, baritone Thomas Meglioranza, and a special appearance by the Honorable Anthony A. Williams narrating Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait.”
For anyone curious about the complete program list that I won’t remember, you can see all the details here
The crazy part of the repeat New Year’s eve plan? We’re sitting in the exact same seats as last year. Same seats, same date, different dress. (Trust me, wearing the same dress was somewhat tempting just for the fun of a true repeat, but it’s also nice to have an excuse to buy a new dress.) Seriously? The same seats? It’s almost too weird to believe.
More reflections to come on 2008 and the wacky year it’s been. For now, bring on 2009! .