Monday, February 21, 2011

More Thoughts on Food . . .

Because I think about it just about all the time.

I realize that many of my faithful, devoted readers are fabulous cooks. I learn things from you all the time. But there may be a few of you who, like myself, grew up in a culinarily-challenged home and didn't learn absolutely anything of value from your parents regarding food preparation. (Sorry Mom, but it's true. Green bean-hamburger casserole garnished with tater tots is not the final word in taste or nutrition.)

So I thought I'd share a few things I've learned in recent months that have led to tastier and healthier meals at my house. You may already know all these things, but as I've had to teach myself, the following revelations are new(ish) to me:

1. Chicken thighs are more flavorful than chicken breasts. I always thought that a skinless, boneless chicken breast was the tastiest cut of chicken. I was wrong. Thighs have generally undergone less processing--as in, less enhanced with "chicken flavored solution" and that sort of thing, and they tend to be juicier and more tender.

2. Buying your shrimp raw and cooking it yourself tastes immeasurably better than buying the precooked variety (and cheaper). Some people don't like to divine their own shrimp, they get creeped out by all the little legs that make shrimp look like real living creatures. But it really isn't that hard or time time consuming, and the boost in flavor is incredible.

3. Pureeing vegetables makes a lovely, creamy soup without the cream. This winter I've made smooth parsnip soup, butternut squash soup, sweet potato soup and mushroom soup all from purees and they've been fab. Homemade soup is tastier and easier to make than I ever thought: I usually just make up the recipe and I never include the poultry carcasses or huge chunks of canned tomatoes my mother felt were a necessity in all her homemade soups. No wonder we dreaded Mom's homemade soup growing up; there was always a very good chance of getting a bone in your soup.

4. Spinach smoothies make a great breakfast. May sound odd, but go with me on this one--fresh, raw spinach actually has a pretty mild flavor. Stuff your blender with spinach and add a bit of whatever fruit you have on hand, I particularly like fresh pineapple or kiwi slices, then add a shot of apple juice or water to moisten it and blend till smooth. The resulting smoothie is vibrant green (unless you added blueberries, in which case it will be muddy brown) but will taste like the fruit you added. This is
so good for you, you can get in a couple servings of green leafy veggies first thing in the morning instead of sugary cereal, syrupy fruit juices or empty carbs.

5. The Greeks made many notable contributions in the fields of art, language, philosophy, math, politics, rhetoric, architecture, etc. But I'm rather a fan of Greek style yogurt. I eat it for breakfast with my spinach smoothie. It is high in calcium and bacteria that are very good for your digestive system, but contains virtually no sugar or artificial sweeteners like grocery store yogurts. My two year old loves it. She usually ends up stealing mine at breakfast, so I have to eat it fast if I want more than a spoonful or two.

Greek, or Plain yogurt is great in cooking and serves as a substitute for higher fat foods like sour cream, mayonnaise, vegetable dips, ice cream and many other things.

A dollop of yogurt is a great garnish on soup. Paired with fresh fruit or drizzled with honey it makes a great dessert. I am always finding new uses for it, in fact I'm seriously considering investing in a yogurt maker so I can brew up my own homemade yogurt at home.

Feel free to share wisdom and insights you've gained in the kitchen; I feel like a true novice on my journey to culinary competence.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Funny Valentine

My little lady turned two. Two whole ones.

There's so much I could say about her; she's pretty much been a dream baby. She has yet to throw a real tantrum, she never took a binki--so no breaking her of the habit, and her day-to-day destructiveness is reasonably minimal.

My girl has a heart melting smile and enchanting blue eyes that are enhanced by her signature pink Fisher Price spectacles. She sings and dances all day, and I can usually hear her singing in her room long after I've put her to bed at night.

Her favorite songs right now are: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, You are my Sunshine, Rock-a-Bye Baby, ABC's, Book of Mormon Stories and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. She loves Sesame Street and could watch Charlie and Lola on Youtube all day.

Pete and I dote on this little girl. She is my Sunshine, my LoveBug, my Dollface and My Funny Valentine.

Happy Birthday Baby Girl.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Craftiness = Stalling

I know I should be working on my book. My dashing young husband printed out the whole beast for me two days ago (there are 100 pages, not including notes) so I can read through it and see where I need to fill holes and re-work story lines. But I have yet to pick it up.

The stack of papers is just too intimidating at this point. Besides, what if I read it and realize that now that's it's actually printed on paper instead of floating inside my USB it's rubbishy rubbish? I don't think I could get over that easily.

And besides again, I've been busy. Being crafty.

No, you are correct, I am not normally a particularly crafty person. In fact the advent calendar I threw myself into making before Christmas was sadly abandoned after I tired of wrestling with technical difficulties involving my relic of a sewing machine. But I will finish it someday--it looked so cute on the online tutorial!

Yet, despite my general uncraftiness I tend to get the bug every now and again around holidays. It probably has something to do with that darn Martha Stewart and her inexhaustible supply of "easy and simple" holiday crafts that are usually not nearly as simple as she makes them look, and I can almost always find a way to spoil.

But this time Martha was right. I
can make homemade soap in the shape of cute little hearts for Valentine's Day. See:

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I tried two different molding techniques and the first ones turned out too think and the second ones too thin, but at least now I know what I'm doing.

And making soap together provided great bonding time with my little lady--which cannot be said for the time I spend writing. After we set the soap aside to cool, Amelia and I sat on the kitchen floor, shared a bowl of popcorn and listened to a fabulous Ella Fitzgerald CD. It was a picture perfect morning.

And I actually
finished something crafty. Hoorah, hoorah for me. I'll read my book tomorrow, I'll probably be in the mood then, right?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Love for Dan

Friday was the Benefit Concert/Silent Auction for my cousin Dan Sloan, who recently had to have a large brain tumor removed. At the last minute--Wednesday afternoon to be exact--I decided that Pete should make one of his fancy cakes for the auction,and because he is Peter and quite possibly the most wonderful man in the modern world, he agreed to take on the project. That's the kind of guy he is.

We decided on a topsy turvy Valentine's Day cake, mainly because we had never done one before and wanted to try the technique. We should have planned more time for our learning curve; two days really wasn't enough. This was the most frustrating cake we've ever made; we had to re-do nearly every single step at least once. We had a couple very late nights working and reworking this cake. But in the end it was all worth it; we couldn't have asked for a better result.

Here are the pics:

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Oh, and the cake did pretty well at the auction. We started the bidding at a very generous $75, and it ended up going for $300. Not too shabby. We were ecstatic to be able to bring in that much money for such a good cause.

The concert was great too; my cousin Joel Aldrich performed as well as a second cousin Rachael Cutler, as the lead singer for the band No Limits. (Incidentally, Rachael went to elementary school with Pete and had a monster crush on him for years. I haven't seen her for a very long time, so when Pete and I showed up together she was shocked to learn we were married. Ha! I win, I win!)

Anyway, the concert headliner was Jason Hewlett. I had never heard of him before so I didn't know what we were in for, but he put on a great show, better than I expected. He performed several celebrity musician impersonations, ranging from Elton John to Michael Jackson, and Bon Jovi to Jonny Cash. Hi-larious really. And my little girl L-O-V-E-D it. I think becoming a concert groupie is in her future. She danced the night away and never got tired even though we kept her out waaay past her bedtime.

I took this during the only ten seconds of the night she held still the whole night.

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So, thanks, to my cousin Cassi for organizing the whole night, to Pete for being willing to work so hard on the cake, to the strangers who paid so much money for the cake, and to my Auntie Iris (Dan's Mom) for taking me shopping for new school shoes and clothes when I was ten. Lots of love to you all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

First Chapters

I love to write first chapters. Often when I get a new idea for a book, or even just a character for a book, I write a first chapter. Then I can either put it away for a while and continue on whatever book I'm working on, or I can launch into a new project.

Or I just keep writing first chapters, which, honestly, is about 75 million times easier than seeing a project through to finish, which is probably the real reason I do it. I don't know how many first chapters I have waiting patiently in line for their turn to be the star of my attention.

I wrote a first chapter the other day that I particularly enjoy; the idea for the character came upon me as I was out for a run pushing my little girl in the jogging stroller, and trying not to freeze to death. The thing is, I'm afraid the voice is too similar to that in a series I've been reading on and off for a few years. I guess that's what first drafts are for--I like the idea/character too much to abandon her simply because she has a lookalike British cousin already taking up real estate on bookstore shelves.

Although I promise, promise that I am dutifully working away on my Bakery Romance I thought I'd include a tantalizing excerpt from my latest first chapter. Here you are, enjoy:

Welcome all my dear, dear, loyal fans to the first exciting edition of my memoir!

I’m guessing that you’re all wondering how I, at such a young and tender age, came to have the great foresight and wisdom that I should begin recording my memoirs for your own personal benefit? I will tell you; according to The Bombshell Manual of Style, an amazingly informative and insightful resource, all the great bombshells wrote memoirs. It is simply a fact of nature, and who am I to argue with nature? And who are you to argue with me? But let us not fight. I forgive you, and we will move forward.

First things first I suppose; I was born Meredith Louise Evans, though I realized early on that Meredith was not an appropriate name for someone like me, and Louise was even worse. I have tried on various names over the years in my search for the right name for myself, and let me tell you it can be ridiculously difficult to get people to call you Davinia or Desiree, even though these names are much more fitting of a person with my sparkling personality and natural charisma. Currently most people call me Meri and that will have to do until I get an agent; then he can spend all his time getting people to call me the right name. Whatever that may be.

Bombshells can come from a variety of family backgrounds, the Manual says, ranging from privileged and refined to undesirable and even traumatic. Marilyn’s mother was clinically insane so she was raised in a series of foster homes until she got married at fifteen just to escape being traded around like a re-gifted Christmas sweater. This gives me hope that I can aspire beyond the mundane and dreary life that my parents have created for me. My father is one of those baldish, intellectually-type people who sit in offices at universities and give fatally boring lectures on famous sewer systems—which makes me wonder how a sewer gets famous anyway?

My Mom doesn’t really do anything as far as I can tell; I mean she drives my little brothers around to karate and soccer and violin lessons and stuff, and she volunteers sometimes at their school, and she seems to be forever folding laundry, making dinner and doing dishes, but other than that she doesn’t do anything and she’s always complaining about how busy she is and how she has no time for herself. The woman appears to suffer from lack of vision and direction in my opinion, and she could seriously use a makeover.

My brothers are of the common, pesky variety, always employing their limited powers of reasoning to come with new ways to torture me and make my life miserable. Alex is nine and Gavin is ten, but everyone always thinks they’re twins. People stop my mom and say “Your boys are so darling, are they twins?” and mom smiles this sloppy smile and says,

“Why, no. They’re actually a year apart, but Alex is just getting so tall he looks older, doesn’t he?” Smile, smile, pat, pat, barf, barf.

One good thing about my family though is that I’m the only girl. This means that I get my own bedroom and bathroom with absolutely no competition. My BFF Callie has two older sisters and she never gets any bathroom time and has to wear their hand-me-downs all the time. I feel really bad for her, but such is life.

Hope you enjoyed the preview. At the rate I'm going I won't get around to finishing this book for ten + years, but, as all good things, I intend for it to be worth waiting for.