Wednesday, December 30, 2009

unrelated rambling

I wanted to blog this morning, but didn't have any interesting pictures to add to my post. Rats! Since I've had far too many pictureless posts in a row, I found a couple of things to take pictures of and tell you about. Here you go:

Thing 1:

While Dan was at band practice last night, I reorganized my spice rack! I know this seems like a very lame thing to be excited about, but I was getting to the point where I couldn't really find anything, and resultingly had multiples of certain things. Whew! I've also decided that I love the 1-ounce jars of spices from Penzey's, (I received a bunch from Dan's brother for Christmas,) and I think I'm going to start buying all of my spices there for convenience. Heck, the name of the spice is on the FRONT of the jar, so it can be easily read from the spice rack! Woo!

Thing 2:

I need to hit the store for a few things this morning; here's my list. My parents are coming to town today and staying (in a hotel down the street) until Friday, and I don' think any of us can handle eating out every single meal! Both our tummies and wallets would suffer greatly, so I'm planning on a couple of simple meals while they are here. I'm also having a few friends over on Friday night for potluck and board games -- woo cheap entertainment!

Monday, December 28, 2009

happy camper

I do think the only way I would be happier than I am now is if I was actually camping! (Well, and if it was warm out -- I'm kind of a "fair-weather" camper.)

How much fun have I been having??? Since my holiday break started, I've . . .

~ enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals made by Dan's mom (sometimes with my help)
~ gone hiking and snowshoeing in the woods
~ gone for several walks in the city (as well as one in the small town)
~ spent lots of time with old friends (one I see often, and a couple I only see once or so a year)
~ enjoyed pizza, a burrito, and a breakfast quesadilla "out" to eat
~ had fun caroling at our choir Christmas party
~ gone bowling! (And I ALMOST won! Conveniently, none of us broke 100.)
~ read a LOT (a whole book, plus started a new one)
~ enjoyed shopping for and watching people open special gifts
~ printed out 240 pictures for Dan from our 2009 camping/travel adventures (and stuck them all in an album, too!)

Currently, I'm sipping spiced hot apple cider and waiting to wind down for the night. Wahoo! What kinds of fun have you been up to?

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Anyone else feel like they've been eating too much junk food? My non-stop food fest has been going since Wednesday night, and I fear there's no end in sight any time soon . . . holiday treats, rich foods, going out to eat, parties . . . ack! I already feel icky, and we have several sets of plans involving eating out coming up this week.

I have a feeling a nice, healthy dose of yoga or a walk, oatmeal for breakfast, and a big, green salad will be items on my agenda for tomorrow! (I bought a HUGE bag of salad greens at the co-op today, expecting I'd need them!)

How do you combat the "post-holiday grossness?"

Friday, December 25, 2009

a very Minnesota Christmas

Hello blog folks! I left my camera at home, so I have no pictures to share of our holiday festivities, but I must say, I received the BEST Christmas gift a Minnesotan who loves the outdoors could get!


Am I weird? Dan, his brother Ryan, and I each received a pair from their parents today. Wahoo! We tried them out right away, and it's SO much easier than hiking in boots! (Even though I'm having some technical difficulties with mine -- they are whipping snow up my back and over my shoulders! Must experiment with adjustments further.)

What was your favorite holiday gift this year?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

meals and Merry!

Here's what we've been noshing these past few days . . .

"Jerk Tofu" and "Coconut Rice," with a side of kale, from Vegan with a Vengeance:

"White Bean and Garlic Soup with Greens," from Love Soup:

And "Smoky Grilled Tempeh," from Veganomicon, with roasted sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli, and leftover Coconut Rice:

And last but not least, just in case you haven't enjoyed enough treats yet, here are all of the cookies, arranged together to take to work:

I still haven't found out whether I won the second baking contest!!! We shall see. :)

Dan and I are headed out of town tonight, in an attempt to beat the winter storm headed our way. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate! (And enjoy your time away from work, to those who don't!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

a very nice Sunday

Since we had such a nice day yesterday, I'm compelled to share . . . !

I started my Sunday by hauling myself out of bed and trudging through the snow to church. Sounds miserable, I realize, but it was actually quite worth it -- the handbells had several parts in the service yesterday, so the choir only had to sing one anthem. Woo! And we got to sit with the congregation, instead of being stuck up in the choir loft! Plus, our Advent theme this year is "Welcoming the Wild One," and to celebrate the theme, our senior pastor spiked his hair and temporarily dyed it "Advent blue." Man, that was funny!

After church, I made us some soup for lunch, (photo soon, I promise,) and then we headed out on the town. We made stops at both of our banks, saw the 8th Floor display at Macy's, spent an eternity at the library picking out new books, stopped at Pizza Luce for slices and some coffee for Dan, saw the movie "Precious," and then hit up Target for a few things before coming home. Whew! But we had so much fun!

Even though it's a three-day week for me, I wish I was already on vacation like Dan! I want more fun!!!!!

How was your weekend?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just say "yes" to treats!

(UPDATE: Shout out to Dan's Aunt Mary! Unbeknownst to me, she's been following my blog and Christmas cookie debate since Thanksgiving, and I've added links to my recipes on this post, since she's faced with the challenge of baking for her mother-in-law's 35 closest friends! Go Aunt Mary!)

'Tis the season for dessert after every meal, including breakfast! My selection:

Anise Tea Crescents

These are such a nice surprise -- good anise flavor without being overpowering, and they weren't nearly as fussy to shape as I thought they were going to be. Nice change from the predictable (yet very tasty) Russian Tea Cake/Mexican Wedding Cake.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

I chanced making these again this year, since I wasn't totally pleased with them last year. Important lessons learned this year: DON'T freeze the dough balls before baking, (the cookies dried out too much last year,) DON'T overbake (again, too dry last year,) and I also doubled the amount of pepper (both types) called for in the original recipe. Wahoo! That's what I'm sayin'! Spicy, rich goodness!

German Honey Cookies

I haven't made these in years, and am very glad to return to this recipe. Dan LOVES these -- they have a good honey flavor, without being oppressive. You sort of have to stop and think while you are chewing, to figure out what you are tasting. A nice, soft, chewy, homey, satisfying cookie.


Crowd-pleaser, and dead easy. Recipe from Betty Crocker is as follows: combine 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup butter in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook to "hard crack" stage (300 - 310 degrees Farenheight.) Add 1 cup chopped pecans, then quickly pour into a very well-greased pan. (I own an 8-inch square silicone pan purchased especially for candy-making. Very handy. Saves lots of time in not having to pick bits of greased foil from the bottoms of things.) Top with 1/2 cup chocolate chips, and cover until the chocolate is melted. Spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee, and cool. Remove from pan and cut into small bites. Yum!

Lemon-Rosemary Butter Cookies

A repeat from last year, since I can't get enough of the slightly-sweet, slightly-lemony, slightly-pine-y flavor and dry, almost sandy texture. Very much a "grown-up" cookie, I think!

my grandma's Christmas cookies with buttercream and sprinkles

Smells, looks, and tastes like childhood. I make vanilla-mint buttercream every year, but the traditional vanilla or almond-flavored frostings are also delicious.

Gingerbread Cutout Cookies

I doubled this recipe, and have an army of ginger-vegans! (Except there's an egg white in the decorating icing. Sorry, vegan police.) Tasty, spicy, molasses-y goodness! I love gingerbread people, but until now, had not found a recipe for gingerbread dough that I actually liked eating. (They are always too dry or too sweet, if you ask me.) Soft and chewy but still sturdy, these dudes rock!

Yummy Molasses Crackles

I love molasses spice cookies so much, I just HAD to make these this year, even though the gingerbread people have all the same flavors. Chopping the candied ginger requires a little extra work, but it's SO worth it. A "light" cookie that certainly doesn't taste like it sacrifices a thing! Good job, Eating Well!

Oh yeah . . . and don't forget about the caramels, too!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Can you believe it? I finished ALL of my holiday baking today! I must have hit some sort of pre-holiday baker's time warp, because I made seven different cookies and my toffee in less than 24 hours! (That's including icing and decorating the sugar cookies!)

I've also washed all of those dishes, and took time out to read for a while this afternoon, and to go out for dinner with Dan and his bro!

A "Christmas miracle," if you ask me!

Photos soon -- it's too dark now to get decent shots. More later!

Friday, December 18, 2009

delicious dinners

Monday night:

Spinach Lasagna with Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce, from The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook. I was pleasantly surprised by the filling richness of this dish, being from a "healthy" cookbook and all, plus the portion size was just right! Yum. Next time, I need to work on finding whole-wheat lasagna noodles. (I think my co-op has them in bulk . . . !!)

Tuesday night:

"Brooklyn Pad Thai," round 2, from Vegan with a Vengeance. I've been pulling that cookbook out more and more lately . . . I forget how fantastic many of those recipes are! You'll see more from V-WAV this weekend. :)

Thursday night:

Cannellini Beans with Wilted Greens, again, from The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook. Served this one over a quick, homemade soft polenta. Polenta falls into the same category as couscous, in my book -- quick, simple, tasty foods that I tend to forget about! :)

As you can see, I've really been trying to amp up our veggie and lean protein servings lately, to counteract all of the holiday junk food that we've both been around lately. :) Also, I was so proud of Dan yesterday -- he was tempted to go out and get himself a sandwich or burrito or something after work, but instead he came home and made himself a spinach and cheese omelette! Yay Dan!

In other news, we had a holiday baking contest at work yesterday, and I WON! Woo! 8 extra hours of PTO for me! Wahoo! My sea salt caramels were the winning entry -- everyone kept joking about how they were going to pull their fillings and other assorted dental work out, but it didn't stop anyone from eating one! :)

I'm very excited to tackle my cookie-baking this weekend, and I also have several more delicious meals on our agenda. Until then!

Monday, December 14, 2009

not a lot of cooking

Until I finally managed to get back into my kitchen yesterday, it had felt like I hadn't cooked in a week! (Really, it was more like a few days, but, you know what I mean.) Towards the end of last week, we were subsisting on leftovers and the ever-reliable pasta and burritos:

I swear, you could put guacamole on a rock and I'd consider eating it. :)

Friday, I picked up a few small things during my break so I could officially start my holiday baking and candy-making Friday night:

One down, eight to go!

Saturday morning, I woke bright and early, and decided to get the shopping over and done with for the next two weeks. After visiting THREE different grocery stores, (Asian market, Middle Eastern market, and the co-op,) I was much poorer, but had a carload of food, including all of my holiday baking supplies.

The baking is going to have to wait until next weekend, though, because it was time to make some REAL food!

"Old-Fashioned Cream of Mushroom Soup," from Love Soup, by Anna Thomas:

Yummy! Additionally, I'm not typically much of a broth fan, but I couldn't get enough of this one. Practically licked my bowl clean!

AND, it was time for "Brooklyn Pad Thai" again:

Broccoli has become a requirement with this recipe lately, and that's a good thing!

I'm SO excited to get busy baking this weekend! Watch for the finished products later this week!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

kids say the darndest . . .

We've had a bit of a cold snap in MN this past week, and consequently, our attendance has been low at school. (I assume car problems, not "having" to go out means not going out, etc.)

Today, we had only five kids show up! Low attendance days usually mean our schedule is more "laid-back," and we're able to do all sorts of special stuff with the kids -- more labor-intensive projects, longer play times (since transitions are shorter,) extra songs during group time, etc.

We had a really nice morning! At lunch, one of the kids asks me, "Ms. Catherine, is today a fun day?"

Hello! I hope they have at least a little bit of fun EVERY day! :)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

a great weekend!

I really have had a great weekend! Let's recap . . .

Friday night, my friend Ann met me at work and we walked to the Cheeky Monkey Deli for dinner. YUM YUM YUM! I've walked by this place a bunch of times, and finally ventured in, based on a recommendation from my boss. I had a side salad, pressed brie and roasted mushroom sandwich, some chips, and split a sour cherry mascarpone rice pudding with Ann for dessert. I'm still dreaming about that sandwich . . . this may be my new "go-to" place when I fall through packing a lunch for work! (The harder part will be NOT eating there once a week!) After dinner, we went to Penumbra Theatre and saw "Black Nativity," which was excellent, and helped finally shove me into the Christmas spirit! ;)

I spent Saturday morning sitting around on the couch, clipping recipes out of food magazines and drinking tea:

Yeah, that's a lot of tea. I had, ahem, an impulsive trip to the co-op on Friday afternoon during my break! (Hey . . . they were all on sale!) I made it my mission to try all FOUR flavors of holiday tea, just so I could post a short review here:

Candy Cane Lane: One of my favorites of the bunch. Decaf green tea with peppermint and vanilla flavors. I found this tea benefited greatly from an extra minute of steeping, and a teaspoon of sugar stirred in before enjoying. Brought out the vanilla flavor a little more. Delicious, especially if you love mint tea as I do!

Sugar Plum Spice: My other favorite. Fruity and spicy, sweet without adding any additional sweetner, and delicious! Bright pink in the cup, too. Leave the teabag in a long time, (I usually let my herbal teabags sit in the cup until I've finished drinking,) because the spiciness becomes more present the longer it steeps.

Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride: I have heard wonerful, rave reviews of this tea, but I must confess . . . my socks weren't knocked off. My first cup was sort of blah -- the tea smelled AMAZING, but didn't taste like much. After experimenting a little bit, I found this tea required doubling up on bags in my cup, a LONG steep, (up to 30 minutes,) and a teaspoon of sugar for best flavor. After my initial disappointment, I've been pleased -- imagine sweet sugar-cookie flavor and aroma, with a hint of orange. This would make a fun after-dinner treat on a day you don't want many extra calories!

Gingerbread Spice: I almost didn't buy this tea because I was afraid it would be too . . . spicy. "Spice" tea usually means overpowering, almost bitter cinnamon flavor, in my opinion, and I was a little worried . . . but the sale price made this box jump in my cart, and I'm glad it did! This is a nicely balanced tea, spicy but not overwhelming, and enjoyable even when I forgot and left the tea bag in for fifteen minutes. :)

So . . . if you're a fan of herbal teas and like holiday-inspired flavors, check these out! I think they might still be on sale at Mississippi Market, too! (Maybe even the Wedge? I've seen them on display, but didn't pay attention to the price.)

After my morning of tea and lounging in my jammies, Dan and I decided to head out on foot and "play" -- we went out for lunch, went to the library, hit up a couple of stores, (smoked paprika from Penzey's, a few holiday baking essentials from Kitchen Window, a quick grocery item I forgot on Friday, etc.), got Dan a haircut, a short browse at Cheapo, and then took the bus home. Whew! We were tired!

When we got home, Dan napped on the couch while I made cookies:

Dan complains that I can't ever make "regular" chocolate chip cookies, (i.e., no oats, nuts, dried fruit, etc.,) and unfortunately for him, this batch wasn't "regular." I threw in a bunch of peanuts and a teaspoon of coarse sea salt, which I'm thrilled with! And, well, Dan did confess that he actually liked them. :) (He's not anti-nut, just anti-walnuts and pecans, which I tend to use most often.) I'm going to take some to work tomorrow to share with my boss -- she's had an overwhelming couple of weeks, and deserves a treat!

When Dan got up from his nap, he made his famous tempeh stir-fry for dinner:

Yum! Spicy, salty, and delicious! (And I love all of that broccoli!)

After dinner, we watched part of "The Last King of Scotland" before I practically had a meltdown due to tiredness. :) Early to bed for me!

Today, I went to church, and then made pizza for lunch:

Dan and I had a funny discussion about how much we both love pizza, and never seem to get sick of it. Probably why we have it a couple of times a month! :)

After lunch, we finished the movie, then put up our tree:

Wee Christmas! Now the trick is to keep the cat from tearing the whole thing apart before Christmas actually arrives!

Off to finish the laundry, wrap some presents, and make bean burritos for dinner. Anyone have an amazing refried bean recipe they love? I haven't been happy with the experiments that I've tasted to date . . . I guess I'll just have to search for a recipe!?!?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

loads of food

Sorry for the delay . . . I had three nights in a row of busy-ness this week, which means not a lot of cooking. :) Here are some meals from this past week, in no particular order:

A simple polenta dish, topped with black beans and spinach, and queso fresco:

An old Cooking Light recipe, I believe, and a winner! The only changes I would make would be to double the polenta and triple the topping -- we polished off the entire recipe in one sitting! We ate some of the polenta with the topping for dinner, then each had a bowl of the polenta with maple syrup and milk for dessert. :) Yum!

Curried tofu with roased sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts, and couscous:

Very yummy, and very easy to make ahead. I prepped all of the veggies and marinaded the tofu over the weekend, so all I had to do when I got home from work was throw everything in the oven/skillet!

French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme:

A recipe I got off the PPK originally, (but I think the recipe may have found its way into VCON,) totally easy and totally delicious. This time, I threw all of the ingredients into my Crock Pot and let it cook away while working on other things last Sunday -- best lentil soup to date, in my opinion!

Cranberry-Orange Sour Cream Coffee Cake:

Thought we needed a fun breakfast treat this week, and this has fit the bill. I followed the basic sour cream coffee cake recipe from Betty Crocker, omiting the cinnamon streusel layer and instead adding orange juice (in place of some of the sour cream,) orange zest, and a 2-cup bag of fresh cranberries. Delicious holiday flavors!

And last but not least, Tuscan Poached Eggs with Parmesan:

A VERY easy meal, and when you add sides of greens and homemade Artisan Bread, extremely nutritious, too! We really don't eat eggs all that often, (I don't really care for them,) but this is one recipe that I LOVE!

Not pictured was a batch of Black Bean and Chipotle Soup, from Moosewood. The soup turned out just okay, (I was really disappointed -- I've made this soup in the past and LOVED it!), and photographed horribly. I think this is one bean soup recipe that doesn't translate well to the Crock Pot. (That, or I added too much water, and should stir the OJ in at the end next time!) Oh well! Hasn't stopped us from eating leftovers for lunches this week. :)

What kinds of recipes/foods serve you well during very busy weeks?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

kids say the darndest . . .

From lunch today . . .

One of the kids was pouring himself a glass of milk, and misjudged and overfilled the cup. (Milk spilling everywhere, you get the idea.)

Another child gently slaps himself in the forehead, shakes his head, and says,

"Help me, Lord Jesus!"