Friday, November 23, 2012

Long Time No Blog

Happy Black Friday, all!  (Ha ha - I am sitting at home, about to get dressed to take my doggie to the vet for some shots, nowhere near any Black Friday shopping.)  Anyway, are you a Black Friday shopper?  Tiny Dancer, who is still tiny, but now a sophomore in high school with friends who can drive, headed off to Macy's at midnight with three other girls.  She arrived back at her friend's house at 3:15 am.  (I know this because I asked her to text me when she was home safely.)  I have no idea if they found any deals or not, but I just saw on the morning news that the police had to use pepper spray on people in the mall where she was... yikes!  No thank you.

What is new with all of you?  I continued to do lots of canning at the end of the summer, did some reading, and got ready for school to start.  Since school has started, I haven't done much of anything else.  I am teaching two sections of AP Literature, two sections of an advanced senior writing class, and one section of 11th grade world literature.  The grading of all of the essays is kicking my butt.  I calculated that if I graded 28 essays each day of break (Weds, Thurs, Fri, Sat), with 29 on Sunday, I would be caught up.  NO WAY!  It is Friday morning of break and the essay grading count is at 0.  I think I will try to tackle one set of 28 today.  Maybe.  Later.  Or not.

So, I have been trying to finish things around here.  I just finished a pretty good book.  

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It is a mystery/crime novel, the first in a series, by Norwegian crime writer, Kjell Eriksson.  I thought it was decent.  I am also listening to the first in the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, who is hailed as Norway's best crime novelist.  It seems pretty good so far.

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Apparently, I am not alone in my love of European crime novels since reading the Milleneum trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, etc.)  There is even a book published about it called  The Dragon Tattoo and its Long Tail: The New Wave of European Crime Fiction in America.  

I just started reading a book by a newer author, Harry Dolan.  I LOVED his first book, Bad Things Happen, and his second (also a series crime novel) just came out in paperback, Very Bad Men.  I am so excited to read it.  He is from Ann Arbor, and his books are set in Ann Arbor, so it is fun to read about streets, places, and landmarks I am familiar with.  There was a scene in his first novel that still makes me nervous when we park in the parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor near Main Street!  

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I am almost finished with a project that I am embarrassed to say I started LAST WINTER and was supposed to be a "quick" project.  Haha.  It will be done today and I will post a picture.  So excited to wear it.

I hope you are all enjoying this lovely, wintry, blustery, day after Thanksgiving.  I think I need to go nibble some more leftover creamed spinach.  Yum.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Things to do with basil...

It has been a weird year for growing.  My vegetable garden is completely wacko.  The tomato plants are gargantuan, yet the tomatoes are not ripening very quickly.  The Sweet 100s are awesome, the Juliets are doing well, but the larger tomatoes - the Rutgers, Better Boys, and Cherokee Purples are slow going.  The peppers are doing well, the summer squash is delicious, but no zucchini.  Someone at my yoga class who also has a veggie garden is having the same trouble.  This makes me feel better, as I am feeling a bit like a failure in the veggie growing arena this season.  She also suggested that I throw some bee balm around the garden to pollinate my zucchini. I nodded.  Bee balm, yes.  Later, I thought where do I get that?  Does anyone know?  I will have to ask her next time I see her at class.  When she said it, I was still sort of in the yoga-relaxed zone and it did not occur to me that although I have heard of bee balm before, I have absolutely no idea what form it comes in and where to obtain said product.  Argh!

The basil, on the other hand, is prolific as heck.  It must like this weather we have had. (Africa hot)  I am planning on making and freezing pesto, of course, but I also want to use this basil when it is oh-so-fresh-and-deliciously-basily-good.

Here are two recipes I have tried using fresh basil that are AH-MAH-ZING!

First, a recipe that my mom turned me on to that completely deserves its name:

The Best Steak Marinade in Existence
(yes, that is really the name of the recipe.  and it is.)  I tried another braggishly-titled recipe this summer called The Best Chicken in the World, and it was NOT.  It wasn't even so-so.  I threw the recipe away.  Seriously.  But I promise this one lives up to its name.

First, start with some soy sauce, some olive oil, some lemon juice, some Worcestershire sauce. 

Then add some garlic powder, white pepper, hot pepper sauce, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, and chopped basil.

The recipe calls for dried parsley, dried basil, and dried minced garlic, and I have made it that way.  (Probs not the dried garlic, as I always have fresh, but the dried herbs, yes.)  However, in season, fresh is always best.

Whisk it up and marinate your steak for up to 8 hours.

The Darling Hub has been into charcoal grilling, an endeavor I completely endorse.  This spring we invested in this chimney charcoal starter thing (a small investment - I think it cost less than $20, and it has completely revolutionalized our charcoal grilling).  This contraption is awesome.  The coals are ready so quickly, and it is foolproof.  Charcoal makes grilled food taste so much better!

Here is the link to the orignal recipe from
The Best Steak Marinade in Existence

Next, I tried a chicken salad with basil.  It was quite good, but a little too garlicky.  I did not take any photos... it has been that kind of a summer. Sigh.

A few days ago, I tried another basil recipe.  Winner-winner-chicken-dinner!  It is called Thai Chicken with Basil Stir Fry and it is dee-lish (if you are into Thai food, which we are).

Start by heating water to make some yummy jasmine rice.

Then, stir fry up some onions, ginger, and garlic.  Add some cut up chicken breasts.

This smells super good, btw.  The garlic and ginger.  Swoon.

Then mix up some sauce with coconut milk, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes.  One word of advice:  the recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes.  I would rate this as pretty spicy.  It made my lips burn a little.  It was a tad hot for me, quite hot for Tiny Dancer, and perfect for the Darling Husband.  I think I would notch it back to 1/2 teaspoon for general consumption and 1/4 teaspoon if you want mild.

Pour the sauce over the chicken, etc. in the pan and simmer.  (Yeah, I forgot to take a picture of this part.)

Then, add some sliced shitake mushrooms.

Shitake mushrooms are fun for two reasons.  One, they are fun to slice.  Two, you can yell "Oh Shitake!" while you are cooking with them.

Last, throw in 1 and 1/2 cups of sliced fresh basil.  (The recipe also calls for sliced green onions, but the Darling Hub no like so I left out.  It was still delicious!)

That's alotta basil, and I love it!  Stir it up a bit until the mushrooms and basil are wilted and warm and then serve over rice.

Okay - I have no idea why this picture is coming up sideways on my blog.  I saved it rightwise in my folder.  Weird.  But you get the idea.  It was SOOOOO good!  I can't wait to make it again. 

Here is the link to the recipe, also from 
Thai Chicken with Basil Stir Fry

YUMMA!  (This is the new saying in my family.  It comes from a hilarious YouTube video. If you would like to laugh your head off at something totally G-rated that you can show your kids, check this out.  It will make anyone laugh, from two to seventy-two.  I know, because we have tested it.)

Happy eating and laughing today!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Airstream Dream

I have a dream.  My dream is to someday own an Airstream trailer and to travel around the country for nine months when the Darling Husband and I retire.  I want to start in the fall and head east and south.  I for sure want to stop in Charleston, then a few other spots in the south before heading west.  Perhaps the Grand Canyon and then up to Utah to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in the later fall.  Then I want to stay in the west through ski season, going to all the big spots and skiing all over.  I would like to get up to the Pacific Northwest in the spring, and then head for home by May to enjoy Lake Michigan at her finest.

I just found these pics online today and I am 100% smitten.  Seriously in love.  Here she is: my Airstream Dream!

Isn't she amazing?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dog Tired

Honestly, I don't know what is wrong.  My mojo is seriously off or something.  I feel like nothing is going right. At all. Ever.  I haven't had a minute to blog since April.  May and June (so far) have really kicked my BUTT.  Now, I am trying to update my blog and I can't get a picture to load onto my post.  I have seriously done this hundreds of times but for some reason it won't work right now. 

I have a picture of my dog - sleeping.  Hence the title.  Dog Tired.  Because that is what I am, only she looks prettier than I do right now.  She is white and fluffy.  I, on the other hand, have black circles under my eyes.

I will try to load the picture one more time, and then it is on to something else. 

Okay, finally.  Since you are looking at the picture right now, you can't really imagine the number of times I tried to load it and it didn't work.  And then it did.  And I didn't DO ANYTHING differently.  It just finally worked.  That is the thing that I sometimes hate about computers.  Something behind the scenes must be interfering, because from what I can see everything is EXACTLY THE SAME.  It worked.  Then it didn't work.  And then it worked again.  AHHHHHH...

I don't have anything creative to post today.  I don't think you will get too excited over pictures of me cleaning and polishing my wood floors on my hands and knees.  (They look awesome - I did it after the picture above, so they are beautiful and shiny.  Not smudgy and grimy.)

I did get my garden planted two weeks ago, and the darling husband has added two more sprinklers.  It is looking great.  I will try to get out and get some photos of that later today.  Or maybe I will just take a nap.

Because I am dog tired.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Seriously Bad Blogger

This is the first Saturday morning that I have been home with a bit of time to myself in I don't know how long... wow.  Life is going really, really fast lately.  I can't believe it is already April and we are just two short months away from the end of another school year.  May is the busiest month of the year for me - all three kids play spring sports and I have tons of end of year stuff going on at school.  The two boys are playing lacrosse, the Tiny Dancer is on the JV tennis team and wrapping up her competitive dance season, the Darling Husband is coaching the Youngest Boy's lacrosse team, and I am running around trying to watch everyone do everything while grading MOUNTAINS of essays.  Sigh.  I love it and I hate it.  Last week, I was in Grand Haven watching Oldest Boy play lacrosse on Tuesday night, in North Muskegon watching Tiny Dancer play tennis on Wednesday afternoon/evening, and at our home stadium watching Oldest Boy play lacrosse again on Thursday night.  Darling Husband was with Youngest Boy at his lacrosse games and practices all week, and we never ate dinner together (or really dinner at all, for that matter - on Tuesday night my dinner consisted of Gatorade and Combos.  Seriously.)  I really should be getting in the shower right now because in about an hour I have to leave to drive down to Portage to watch Oldest Boy play lacrosse.  I am feeling like time is going so fast.  He is a junior in high school, we are busy looking at colleges, and pretty soon this will all be over and I will be wondering what happenend.  And so it goes...

I want to share a great recipe with you that I got from my good friend and fellow teacher, Michelle.  The recipe is called "Sassy Tailgate Sandwiches" and they are tasty little morsels that can be made ahead and enjoyed for just about anything.  Because I don't have access to an oven when I tailgate (this must be an SEC recipe - they are really serious about their tailgating in the south), I call them "Make Ahead Sammies."  I think I will make a pan of them this week to have for our dinners on the run.  Much better than Combos for dinner.

Start with Hawaiian rolls.

Cut them in half and place them in a pan.  (The recipe calls for 12, but I made a 1/2 recipe this time.)

Then, top with thinly shaved Black Forest Ham.  (It has to be Black Forest, which is a little sweeter than just any old lunch meat ham.  Have the deli person shave it thinly for you.)

On top of that, place thin slices of Gruyere cheese.  (One of my favs.  I might have eaten a few slices while on this step...)

Spread some Philly brand Chive & Onion cream cheese spread on the tops of the rolls.  The first time I made them I really went heavy on the cream cheese.  As my friend from high school used to say, "Cream cheese is like Meg Ryan.  What's not to like?"  (Okay, I just dated myself as really 1980s, but oh well...)  I think I went a little too heavy.  It kind of overpowered the sandwiches, so this time I backed off a bit.

Marry the tops with the bottoms.

Now, for the kicker.

For the sauce, mix together melted butter, minced onions, and some Worcestershire sauce (yum!) and Parmesan cheese. (I forgot to put this in the picture.)  Pour over the sandwiches in the pan.

Cover the pan with foil and let sit for at least 30 minutes.  You can also make these the night before and let sit in the fridge overnight.  Bake, covered, and then eat!  They also reheat really well in the microwave for those of you who do not have anyone home for dinner at the same time like I do.

Make Ahead Sammies
1 pkg. (12) Hawaiian bread rolls
1 lb. shaved Black Forest ham (you will probably have extrra)
12 slices Gruyere cheese
1 tub (8 ounces) Philadelphia brand Chive & Onion Cream Cheese Spread
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tb. dried minced onion
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cut rolls in half.  Place in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan.  Layer on shaved ham and sliced cheese.  Spread cream cheese on top half of rolls.  Place tops on the bottoms in the pan.  Mix together melted butter, minced onion, Worcestershire, and Parmesan cheese.  Pour over sandwiches in pan.  Cover with foil and let sit for 30 mins or up to overnight in the fridge.  Bake in a 350 degree oven, covered, for about 20 mins or until sandwiches are warmed through.  Eat while warm.

I hope you all have a great week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Please believe me - this is the BEST!

I don't know what made me remember this recipe.  It was the week after Christmas and I was still on break. Maybe that is the explanation... my head was relatively clear and not bad-addled with one million thoughts of students, essays, and lessons.  The Darling Husband loves a little early evening snack/appetizer of Bar Cheese and crackers (usually Triscuits).  We were out of Bar Cheese, and I suddenly remembered this recipe. It is an old recipe of my mom's.  I got the ingredients and whipped it up.  It is so easy and so delicious.  It makes four nice sized tubs of cheese and keeps for a long time in the fridge.  EVERYONE loves this stuff.  We are out, but luckily I picked up the ingredients to make it at the grocery store yesterday.  Good thing, because we are in the middle of a big old snow storm and no one is going anywhere today (including school - the kids and I all have the day off.  Yee-haw!  I seriously needed this.)

It is kind of embarassing to show you the ingredients.  But, I promise it is so good.

Here is what you will need:

Velveeta (don't judge...)


Beer (you only need 5 ounces, so you get to drink the rest!)

Mayonnaise (Duke's, of course!)

And a little Tabasco

Cube the cheese and put it in a saucepan.

Melt the cheese and add all the other ingredients.  Stir until smooth.

Pour into four or five small containers.

Try not to eat it all while it is still warm.  Seriously not kidding.  You can eat it while warm, or you can let it cool and put it in the fridge before eating.  Store in the fridge.  It will get firm like store bought Bar Cheese.  Once you eat this, you will never be able to go back to the store bought variety.

Delicious Cheese Spread

2 lbs. Velveeta (one box)
8 ounces horseradish (one jar)
1 generous cup of mayonnaise (preferably Duke's, which you can order online here!)
10 drops Tabasco
5 ounces beer

Cube cheese.  Melt over med/low heat, stiring while melting.  Stir in horseradish, mayonnaise, Tabasco, and beer.  Stir until smooth.  Pour into containers.

Makes 5 cups.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

F.O.s (Finished Objects)

I have been a bad blogger!  January really kicked my butt.  We went back to school on January 3, and it was the end of the semester and final exams.  Because I teach English, and my courses focus on literature and composition, all of my students had end of unit essays they were working on and turning in, plus all of my final exams have an essay component as well.  That meant over the course of three weekends and two work weeks I had to grade 300 essays, plus teach, plus enter grades and get report cards completed by the end of January.  Whew!  It was all I did and I was plenty sick of it when I got to the end of the month.

I have been taking pictures when I can, and I have few things to show you.  Over Christmas break I started a new project: fingerless mittens.  When I drive I listen to audiobooks on my iPod, and because iPods and iPhones have touch screens you have to take off your mittens or gloves to get them to work.  I got sick of taking off my gloves every time I wanted to play or pause my audiobook, so I decided to knit some fingerless mitts.  I found some gorgeous yarn from one of my favorite yarn brands, Manos del Uruguay, which means Hands of Uruguay in Spanish.  Manos del Uruguay "is a non profit organization which assembles over 400 artisans in cooperatives scattered throughout the countryside of Uruguay.  The aim of the organization is to bring economic and social opportunities to rural women."  I first used Manos yarn on Tiny Dancer's legwarmers and loved the feel and the way it knit.  That yarn was a cotton blend.  For this project I chose a beautiful multi-colored Merino wool.

You can see the first mitten, in progress, perched atop one of my favorite Christmas gifts.  My mom gave me this handmade pottery knitting bowl (I guess that's what you would call it...)  It is so awesome - you put the yarn you are working with in the bowl and then feed it out through the opening.  You set the bowl next to you and then it just smoothly feeds out through the opening as you knit, instead of rolling off the couch.  Plus, it is a nice was to contain a small project and looks fairly decorative sitting on the table next to my couch.

Here are some close up shots of the yarn and the bowl.  I just love the way this looks together.

And here is a picture of one of the finished mittens, my first F.O. of the new year!

The fingerless mittens are my January Finished Object.  Then, in February, in knit a matching hat. 

This hat is called the Sweetie Pie Hat and I got the pattern from my favorite knitting, crocheting & sewing blog, The Purl Bee.  The hat was so easy to knit and I loved making the baby cable.  I liked the pattern so much and I love my new fingerless mittens so much, I am thinking of combining the two and making a pair of fingerless mitts with the baby cable pattern.  Stay tuned!

Here is a pic of one of my other cute knitting-related Christmas gifts from my mom.  It is a tape measure.  Isn't it cute?

Here is my new yarn for my next project.  I am hoping to have another F.O. in February.

This is a yummy angora/wool blend yarn called Lush by Classic Elite Yarns. 

I can't wait to get started.  I have a pretty busy Sunday.  I have to take Tiny Dancer to the mall to go jeans shopping with her competition tap team (They are wearing sparkly corset-style tops and matching jeans for their costumes.) and I have to go in to work to make lesson plans for tomorrow.  Our entire English department is going to an all-day writing conference.  I hope that it is good & we learn some new ideas.  I hate being gone from my students, but it is worth it if I come back with some new teaching ideas.  Perhaps tonight, after a bit of grading, I will be able to get started.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life Gets in the Way

So much for posting the recipes and results of our New Year's Eve dinner the next day!  I really have no excuse - I was up early with the puppy (per usual) and had a pretty good day.  I spent some of my morning grading (what's new?), then we went to our friends' house for a New Year's Day lunch, and then I think we just relaxed at home after that.  Between Christmas day and going back to school I spent 15 hours grading essays and I only got about half of my work done.  I tried not to let that depress me.  But it did.  I picked away at my grading this week, but did not make much of a dent.  Now it is Saturday morning, I have been up since 5:30 am with the puppy (her normal wake up time - ugh.) and I have not yet started the grading.  She, of course, is sleeping again, but I am awake.  I hope I can take a nap later today.  I also need to go to the grocery store, and I just realized we are OUT of toilet paper.  Seriously?  I buy that stuff in bulk.  How did we use it all up?

New Year's Eve was great.  Our friends came over around 7:00.  Kathy brought a delicious homemade smoked whitefish dip (I have to get the recipe!), which is one of my favorites.  When the Darling Husband was the Darling Boyfriend, he lived near a restaurant in Grand Rapids called the Bluewater Grille.  It was one of our favorite spots.  It is a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright style building overlooking a small inland lake.  It has an incredible stone patio with a bar and outdoor fireplaces to sit at in warmer months and a beautiful view of the lake with fireplaces indoors for the colder months.  One of the things we always ordered there was the smoked whitefish dip, and I often crave it because we no longer go there as it is pretty far away from where we live now.  Kathy's dip was every bit as good as the Bluewater Grille's and it scratched my itch for that delicious concoction.  I was looking for a fun drink recipe to try and the Darling Husband found the perfect recipe in a back issue of Redbook magazine.  (Don't ask - I keep them in the bathroom and he is always finding little tips and articles of interest in them...)  They are called Black and Blue Mojitos and they are delicious!  I will try to get a picture to put here with the recipe.

Our New Year's Eve menu consisted of:
Beef Tenderloin Chaucer
Twice Baked Potatoes
Fresh Green Beans
Salad of Romaine with Oranges and Grapefruit

Kathy brought the salad and it was the perfect cold, crisp complement to the rich meat.  The tenderloin was perfect, and is really the ideal recipe to make for guests.  You need to start early the morning of your dinner or you can do it the night before (my preferred method).

Have your butcher cut a 2" thick beef tenderloin steak for each person.

I got the steaks from Meijer, and they were delicious.  While I was there I realized that I do not have four matching champagne flutes, so I grabbed some inexpensive ones there as well.

Then, lay the steaks on a plate and admire their beauty.

Season them with salt & pepper and rub them with fresh garlic.  (This is where Darling Husband and I were playing with my new flash he gave me for Christmas.  We don't have it figured out yet.)

Sorry, not the best picture I have ever taken, but you get the idea.

I have to apologize for the rest of my pictures.  It was dark.  It was getting late.  I was tired.  I had been up since 5:30 am and was ready to go to bed.  I didn't take pictures of every step...

Next, sear the steaks on all sides in a cast iron skillet on very high heat. (Imagine this part.)  It only takes about 10 seconds per side.  I also use tongs and sear the sides quickly.  Place the seared steaks in a baking dish.

 Next, make the sauce.  (Again, you will have to imagine the steps.  I only took a picture of the finished sauce.)

The sauce has red wine, beef broth, chicken broth, Worcestershire (my favorite!), and currant jelly.  It smells SOOOOO good.

Then, saute some mushrooms in your cast iron skillet with a little butter.  Mmmmmm....

Stir the mushrooms into the sauce and cool completely.  You are going to pour the mushroom sauce over the steaks and you don't want the hot sauce to start cooking the steaks.  It took awhile for the sauce to cool.  I got really tired.  I poured the cooled sauce over the steaks in the pan.  I forgot to take a picture.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and slide in the fridge.

A couple of hours before you are ready to eat, take the pan out of the fridge and let the steaks warm up a bit.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Take the foil off the pan and slide it in the oven.  Bake for about 21 - 22 minutes for medium rare, a little longer for medium.  Don't cook too long as the steaks will keep cooking after you take the pan out of the oven.

Serve one steak to each person, topped with some of the mushroom sauce.  Your guests will rave!

You can see one of the steaks on the plate to the right, along with the delicious salad and the twice baked potatoes.  Yum!

What a lovely night!

Happy New Year to all!

Beef Tenderloin Chaucer

(This recipe is for 8.  I cut it in half for our New Year's celebration.)

8 - 2 inch thick beef tenderloin steaks
salt, pepper, and crushed garlic to taste
2 Tbs brandy
4 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
2 Tbs tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper
2 Tbs currant jelly
1/2 - 1 lb. sliced, sauteed mushrooms

Rub steaks on both sides with garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sear on all sides in a hot iron skillet, 10 seconds per side.  Place steaks in a shallow baking dish.  Drizzle steaks with 2 Tbs. brandy.

To make the sauce:
Saute the mushrooms in a little butter in the cast iron skillet you used for the steaks. Set aside. Then, melt 4 Tbs butter in a saucepan and whisk in 3 Tbs flour.  Stir in 2 Tbs tomato paste.  Add red wine, chicken broth, and beef broth, whisking well after each addition.  Whisk over med heat until sauce thickens.  Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste, and currant jelly.  Stir in sauteed mushrooms.  Allow sauce to cool completely.

Pour cooled sauce over steaks in pan and cover with aluminum foil.  Slide into fridge for several hours or overnight.

To cook steaks:
A couple of hours before cooking, remove steaks from refridgerator and bring to room temperature.  Place in 400 degree oven.  Cook approximately 21 - 22 minutes for medium rare, a little longer for medium.  Steaks continue to cook when you remove them from the oven so do not overcook.

Serve with the sauce.