Monday, August 31, 2015

Eggplantapalooza! Is that a Word?

In my world, there are several ingredients that make up a great day - hanging out with family and time to create in my kitchen are two things that top my list. This Sunday was one of those days :) 

Sunday morning, I decided to run a few errands and was happy that my sister was available to go with me at the last minute. Getting things accomplished and hanging out with the best sister - Win/Win :)

First up, I had 4 boxes of leftover flooring to return. I was running out of time for their 90 day return policy. I couldn't find the receipt, but then I read online that they have kiosk at the store where you can enter your account number and print a new receipt. Genius idea and it worked perfectly. (It was nice, as a customer, to benefit from all the data a store collects for their own use.)

Since we were near the fabric stores (and I had that return money burning a hole in my pocket) we stopped in to check out flannel for baby blankets. I hope my niece is ready for the influx of baby blankets I will be making for the grand-niece. There are SO many cute flannels and you can never have too many blankets, right?  Sorry, I can't share a fabric preview. I never know when my niece might peek in on my blog.

Last stop was Fresh Thyme grocery store. It is a bit like a Trader Joe's. It is always fun to go to a new store and check out the different products. Our ladies group had quite a discussion on jerky this week. So when I saw this one I immediately thought of them...but did not buy it.
I loved their little bags of produce. These Brussels sprouts were gigantic. Check them out in comparison to the potatoes below.
This caught my eye.  Yet another way I could try to like eggplant :)  I didn't buy it though. I figured I was already in over my head on the eggplant front (read on for details).
There were a couple of stations set up to grind your own fresh nut butters. My sister gave the honey roasted peanuts a try - tasty!
I am not even sure there is anything I can say about this. This would be my husband's absolute candy nightmare. Chocolate and gummy candies are on his "yuck list" individually  - I can't even begin to imagine how quickly the combination would send him over the edge.
When we got home I put my feet up for a few. We watched a couple episodes of the FX series Fargo. That is one weird show. I am pretty sure that if we were trying to watch it week to week I would have checked out by now. But we had rented the DVD and we are halfway through season one. Millie helped keep me entertained with a good look at her chompers. She is obsessed with lying in crazy poses lately.

The rest of Sunday afternoon was dedicated to eggplants. On an impulse, I bought two eggplant plants this spring for my garden - one purple and one white. Both plants have produced well. Here's the problem - I don't like eggplant. That is to say, in my earlier experiences with eggplant I was not a fan. To be fair, that was years ago and my understanding is that tastes change. So with my army of eggplants lined up, I set myself about finding out if I currently like eggplants.

About a week ago I put out a request for eggplant recommendations on Facebook. I got a great response and enjoyed reading all the recipes. Truth is, the opinions were quite varied.

"Eggplant parmesan and baba ganoush are my favorites at the moment . . . ESPECIALLY baba ganoush. Mmmmm . . . intend to make a big batch this weekend." Several people recommended baba ganoush or similar spicy eggplant dips.

"Step 1. Take eggplant and toss in trash. Step 2. Get real food. Step 3. Enjoy." This suggestion made me laugh out loud.

"But moussaka is really good. Time consuming... but worth it." I actually made moussaka back in high school and the eggplant was the part I didn't like about it. Funny story - when my sister was tasting the eggplant creations yesterday, she brought up the "gross moussaka Mom made" when she was a kid. Hey! That was me who made that moussaka!!

"I make ratatouille with mine. I'll find the recipe I use. Super easy and my anti-meatless meal husband loves it!"  Ratatouille is another recipe that intrigued me.

"Throw them in the trash." And another vote for throwing them in the trash...hmm do I dare go on with my experiment?

Ultimately, I decided on two recipes. Sorry to those who voted "trash" I nurtured those babies all summer I was definitely going to try to do something yummy with them. 

Recipe One - Baba Ganoush
recipe from Inspired Taste

Since baba ganoush or spicy eggplant dips were the most recommended dish, it seemed the best place to start. This recipe was the tried and true recommendation of one my college friends (see comment above). 

Eggplants pricked with a fork and ready for roasting. I wasn't sure if there were significant flavor differences between the two varieties so I decided to use on of each color in each of my recipes. In retrospect, I wish I had saved a little for a taste test of the two varieties.
Roasted eggplant is not an attractive sight.

After roasting the eggplant is removed from the skin and mashed up with a fork. Then I combined it with the rest of the ingredients - tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, cumin, garlic and after it cools, chopped parsley. Essentially this dip is very much like hummus with a slightly different flavor from the eggplant.

Recipe 2 - Sicilian Caponata
recipe from Eating Well

I was intrigued by ratatouille, but was afraid it would be a little too veggie stew for me. In general, I am not a fan of veggie soups. I found this caponata recipe and it seemed like it had some of the same flavors of the ratatouille but with a little extra that might take it away from veggie stew. Okay, maybe it was because I knew I would be spreading it on bread :) 
I had heard that eggplant seeds can be bitter. I wasn't quite sure how to get the seeds out so I left most of them in. I didn't noticed any bitterness.
I was pleasantly surprised by the aroma of the sauteeing eggplant.

With all that I had going on in the kitchen I used a Rachael Ray tip - the garbage bowl. One bowl on the counter to toss all your scraps and trash in while you work. It is much more convenient and cleaner then constantly carrying stuff to the trash can.  Any old bowl will do, but in a moment of weakness I bought the official Rachael Ray garbage bowl. To be honest a big part of the reason I like my garbage bowl is that it reminds me of fun times with my nephew. When he was little we would cook together and he loved Rachael Ray. I will never forget him referring to her as "the one with the smooth hair" :)  He is sixteen now and we don't have as much opportunity to hang out, but those memories will last a lifetime and some day I will buy him a garbage bowl of his own :) 
When I finished cooking I realized I had basically made two dips for dinner. Not such a bad thing. I wasn't actually planning on eating this for dinner, but I couldn't resist. This is not my husband's idea of dinner, so instead he had his most favorite food. No, not pizza - gasp! Chicken with cream cheese, jalapeno, cilantro filling - wrapped in bacon and grilled. They are a colossal pain to make, but he loves them so much he helps me assemble them.

Back to the eggplant. I actually enjoyed both of the dishes. The caponata could have used a little more pop. I didn't have capers and I think that might have made the difference. Or maybe the addition of something a little spicy - red pepper flakes? I almost didn't include the celery because I generally don't like cooked celery (my issue with many veggie soups). It actually was fine in this recipe. The baba ganoush was probably my favorite of the two. Of the two recipes, it had the most eggplant flavor (from the roasting I would imagine). It is quite similar to hummus (which I am a fan of) with the eggplant replacing the chick peas (garbanzo beans).

The bottom line is I am counting Operation Make Me Like Eggplant a success. Then again, perhaps anything is delicious if transported to your mouth on yummy naan and sourdough breads. I am not sure how often I would make either of these recipes, since I am always looking to try new things. At least now I know eggplant can be a part of my culinary repertoire. And yes, a plant or two will be in my garden again next year :)

Next up in my effort to like foods I previously hated....lentils. The other day when I was home after my surgery I caught an episode of  Barefoot Contessa "A Tale of Two Soups" on which Ina Garten made a Lentil and Sausage Soup that really looked good, even though I despise (or used to despise lentils). She also made a seafood stew I would love to make, but my husband would surely move out and I would have no money left to support myself after spending it all on the seafood needed for that recipe :(

Is there a food that you have disliked and would be willing to experiment to see if you could like it now?

One more thing - my workout plans for this week. I am hoping scheduling and sharing them will keep me on the right path.  Tuesday - morning walk / Thursday - morning walk / Saturday (or Sunday) - swim at gym. I am also looking at class schedules at the gym for a yoga or dance class. 


Linking up Pinch of Joy for Busy Monday

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Way Out of the Comfort Zone

Sometimes I just want to be left in my comfort zone - you know, stay in my box. That is exactly how I felt this morning when I woke up. My mouth hurt and my body was begging to lounge in bed. The last thing I wanted to do is go to the Pilates Barre class that I had signed up for with a friend. New places, new people make me super self conscious. But the money was paid and the friend was waiting.

I really had no idea what to expect from this class. Sure I have heard of Pilates and have even thought I wanted to try it, but honestly I have no idea what it really entails. This particular class was a Pilates Barre class. According to the course description this is what I signed up for:

The Pilates Barre signature workout class that combines ballet, weights, and Pilates for a low-impact, fat-burning workout. Plan to do some free-standing lifting using light weights, some mat work, and plenty of barre work. The class also incorporates stretching segments after each strengthening series, so you'll also lengthen your body and increase flexibility while you tone.

Maybe the description means more to some people, but I was still pretty clueless. My heart was pounding as I pulled into the parking lot to meet up with my friend.
We walked into the studio at about 8:45 a.m. The way it was set up there was a small counter on one side of the room and then the rest of the room was filled with medieval torture devices. Okay, that is probably inaccurate, but it sure looked that way to me. We got signed in, took a tour of the studio and met the instructor.

Here are where some of my mixed feelings come in. The instructor was nice enough, but I did not get the impression she was happy to see newbies. She took one look at us and said we could "modify," but then when we got in the classroom she made it pretty clear that the other people were there for a "challenge" and to just do what we could. I totally understand and don't want to take away from other people's experience. However, I think it may have been best if when my friend emailed about the class specifically asking if it would be appropriate for beginners, that they said "no" it wasn't for beginners.

As the rest of the students filed in I felt more and more like a big clumsy lump. They were all slim and strong looking and wearing their cute workout outfits. I was in workout capris and a giant t-shirt because my cuter workout clothes don't currently fit. I know everyone says no one is looking at you cause they are worried about themselves. But since I am looking at everyone else, I have to wonder if that is entirely accurate.

The instructor suggested we work in the back corner of the room. My friend had to work behind that post you see in the picture. To be honest, I was probably more comfortable in the back, but the way she said it I felt "stashed" in the back corner.

Our class started at 9 a.m. and I kid you not by 9:15 a.m. I was ready to bolt!  There was near constant clock watching :)

I found most of the exercises to be a little awkward. I just couldn't get my body in quite the right positions. I am one of the least flexible people I know. I am just going to say this...when you have excess "meat" on your bones there are just some moves you can't do. I can't sit all the way back on my heels because my butt, thighs, calves do not fold into nothingness allowing my butt to rest on my heels. I am not good at getting up and down off the floor. At times, I felt ashamed as I heaved my hiney off the floor. Again, I found myself taking notice of those strong slim ladies who moved effortlessly from position to position - clearly not for the first time. Okay, okay, I know I am looking at them again. The main reason I was looking at them was because I was trying to figure out if what I was doing was remotely.

I think the instructor did a decent job of coaching us through some of the exercises. It was definitely helpful to have some adjust your positions. Honestly, I felt like I was doing pretty good. Then she would come by and tell me to put my shoulders back (or something like that) and it would totally change the way my body felt and what was getting worked.

I think the easiest exercises were for the arms. They were not as awkward and more like exercises I was used to doing in other settings.

It felt like we spend the majority of our time on thighs and glutes (for obvious reasons).  I was not a fan of trying to hold this ball between my thighs while I worked out. There were a couple of times I put it aside cause it was just too much for me to finagle. There were plenty of ballet moves thrown in - plie, releve, etc. The squats in a plie position were not the most fun and my poor knees were showing off a significant case of crepitus. Crepitus is my new favorite word - it is the crackling in your knees. I really don't know if it is good to work through crepitus, so I stopped to be safe.

One of the exercises involved putting both legs through the bands above and placing the band just above our knees. I honestly don't know what we did next. All I could think was that a tourniquet had been applied to my legs. By the time we finished that exercises there was some numbness. Why didn't I take it off sooner? Because I didn't want to call attention to my chubby legged shame.

On the upside, my chubby legs did get my feet up on the barre to do some stretches. I think I liked the stretching parts a little better than the strengthening parts of the workout.

I thought of my awesome ladies group when we were doing barre push ups. Some of us admit to a complete lack of upper body strength. The barre push ups were tough but doable and I think with enough of those someday I might actually be able to complete a "real" push up. Anyone up for resurrecting our push up / plank challenge?

All in all, I definitely worked up a sweat. I am not sure why, but that surprised me. Did I think if I wasn't doing cardio I wouldn't sweat? There were times when I spent an extra moment on the mat trying to catch my breath.

Mercifully, 10 a.m. finally arrived and the class was over. It was a bit awkward when we were leaving. I thought they might try to encourage us to come back...not so much. Well, they did mention an equipment class and suggested we do a duet. I googled Pilates duets - no thank you. Truth is, the the classes are more expensive than I want to spend right now...especially if I keep our gym membership.

Back in the car I was mostly grateful it was over, but was a little proud of myself for giving it my best.
Would I go again? Oddly, I think it is something I could eventually enjoy. There were several times during the class I thought to myself I "where can I install a barre at home?" However, in my current shape I kinda hated it, but if I were in better shape I think I would kinda like it. It is definitely the sort of thing that need to work up to.

What I can do in the meantime is get my butt to classes that are free with our current gym membership. I learned that I am definitely the type of person who needs to be in a class where I will be pushed and I won't quit before it is over. I know from experience when I am doing workouts at home by myself there is a good chance I will totally bail before it is over and not push myself as hard as I should.

One question remains...will I be able to get out of bed in the morning?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Toaster Died - I Will Be Fine

A few weeks ago my toaster croaked. There was smoke and there were sparks - scared the bejeebies out of me! Since then I have been debating on whether or not I will replace it. I have a tiny kitchen and space is definitely at a premium. This is an old picture from when I first bought my house.

Actually the picture below this is from when I first bought the house. The picture above is after hours (and hours) of work by my sister and her friend.  What a difference paint makes!

Space is not the only issue. There is perhaps a more significant reason I am considering not replacing the toaster. Simple fact - I love toast. If I had to pick one food that sends me over the edge. it is toast. Once I start eating it I want to eat more and more. A toaster makes feeding my toast obsession a little too convenient.

Making toast in the oven can be done, but it is NOT super convenient...and that may be a good thing for me.

I am by no means suggesting that it is a complete ordeal to make toast in the oven, However, I admit by the time, I have waited for the oven to heat up and kept a vigilant eye on my toast to prevent burning, my general laziness and impatience have kicked in. I am much less likely to make batch and after batch.

For my own dietary security, I think I will try to forego the toaster for now. And I will be fine.

Speaking of being fine, I had my oral surgery on Tuesday. I am such a baby when it comes to doctors, procedures, etc. The growth/sore was completely removed. I wasn't really sweating this aspect, but I was happy to hear that the growth was not "suspicious." It was sent off to a lab in Michigan and we will know for sure in two weeks. In the meantime, the doctor left a gaping hole on the inside of my cheek. Although, he "lasered" it to control the bleeding it bled most of the day. Gauze is gross.

I used the frozen pea method to ice my mouth.

I planned one day off after the surgery. I went back to work this morning, but only lasted 2 hours. It is amazing what a "small" trauma and some pain meds can do to your overall energy. Hoping tomorrow will be more successful (and productive). Seeing the heap of work on my desk this morning scared me a little.

National Dog Day was spent laying in bed with this goofy little hound. 

It may have been the best day of her life :)  The big hound was celebrating at the farm. My mother-in-law took her to allow me at little more peace and quiet. Win-Win :)

This weekend my friend talked me into taking a Pilates Barre class with her. Not really sure what to expect but I will give it a whirl. What do you have planned for this weekend?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Productive and Relaxing Weekend

I swore a vow to take a walk Friday night no matter what. When I got home from work I did some quick calculations and figured I could walk and get dinner made before my husband came home from work...if I hurried. I quickly changed into my walking shoes, grabbed some dogs and headed out the door.

It had been awhile since I took the dogs for a walk. They were super excited and maybe a little annoyed that I wanted a pre-walk photo. Millie is so much better at sit/stay than Zommie.
 And off we go. Zommie started out strong.
 Then she began to lag behind.
 So I carried her for a little bit.
 So hard to take pictures carrying a dog and walking another.

 This perspective of gigantasaurus Zommie looking down on mini Millie makes me laugh.
We ended up walking just a little over a mile. It was at a dachshund's pace, but we were all happy to be out there doing our thing. Except for the part when Zommie decided to stop for a potty break in front of the only house with people outside. And to make it even better it was a big mess of funky corn that she had stolen from the trash that morning...I was not amused.

My husband had to work on Saturday so I decided to make myself a lunch I knew he would hate - on several levels. I chose One Pan Broccoli-Bacon Mac 'n Cheese as recommended by Mary at Runs to Get Waisted (read her recipe review here). My husband only likes the orange powdered from a box version of mac 'n cheese and he definitely would never allow squash to be added.

Yes, the secret ingredient of this recipe is butternut squash, which I love. The recipe called for a frozen puree, but I couldn't find it in the store. Cooking and pureeing the squash was an extra step, but it could easily be done the night before to streamline after work dinner prep.
Speaking of preparation, I would highly recommend checking all your ingredients before you start cooking. I ended up having to run out in the middle of a torrential downpour to get the milk. By the time I took this picture I had already cooked and sampled the bacon - I had to hide it from myself while I worked on the other components..
 The sauce is made up of chicken broth, milk and the pureed butternut squash.
Surprisingly, my least favorite part of the dish was the broccoli. I don't think I cared for it in combination with the butternut squash. I don't make pasta very often and I was concerned that it the pasta would not cook enough as it was added uncooked to the sauce. However, it turned out perfectly.
I had to run a quick errand as soon as the cooking was finished, so I actually ended up eating it at room temperature. I liked how the squash clung to the noodles. I am looking forward to eating the leftovers this week for lunches.

My niece (who is soon to be an aunt) and I made cupcakes my oldest niece's "gender reveal" party this afternoon. She did a great job on the little bee decorations. What will it "bee"?
While we wait for the party my husband and I are sharing a big bowl of homemade pico de gallo and watching a little pre-season football. Well, at least we were until my husband got sidetracked by Captain America and I by my blog.

I love weekends when I have time to be creative in the kitchen. Speaking of creativity my "studio" is almost back together after the trim was finished. I am excited to get serious about sewing blocks for quilts. I hope you all had a productive, yet relaxing weekend.

Friday, August 21, 2015

5 on Friday - Millie Edition

I am running out of excuses. Trim is almost finished and our schedule is getting back to normal with the start of school. This weekend I will be menu planning and prepping. Taking inspiration from some other blogs I read I am going to schedule my workouts for the week and treat them like appointments.

Since I don't have much to report I am turning over the 5 on Friday to Millie. For a long time this window in our bedroom had been blocked. She is loving the new vantage point to keep an eye on her domain. She lives a simple life.


Sometimes she is a little more intense.

She has spotted a bunny. (You can see it in the lower part of the window to the left of the string.) 

And because Millie can't count she is sharing a 6th picture. I am not sure why we ever let her on our bed. Of course, her princess self needs to use all the pillows. 

We are super excited to be enjoying some cooler weather this week/  Hopefully, it lasts through the weekend. What are you weekend plans?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Back to School

Back to school time is here, which means the big yellow buses are again rolling down our streets. In the last few years that my husband has been a school bus driver my eyes have definitely been opened. I see the buses everywhere and I can't help but think about the important job these drivers are doing. We entrust them with 50-60 kids lives at a time. One person to drive the bus and supervise all those children. Just think about how consuming it can be to supervise a couple of children in the back seat of a mini-van while you are driving.  Now multiply the number of children by 25 and increase the size of the vehicle by...huge. Seriously, there is NO way I could do it!

One thing that continues to amaze me is other drivers' disregard of school buses. My husband is constantly telling me about people who drive past him while he is picking up children - red lights flashing and stop arm out. One such incident really scared him. He had children crossing the street in front of him and a woman coming from the other direction was looking down at her lap (presumably texting) and showed no sign of stopping. My husband leaned on his horn and she looked up, smiled and waved - completely oblivious. Thankfully, the children scurried out of the street and no one was injured. A parent at the bus stop got her license plate number. After his route my husband called the incident into the local police. When bus drivers turn in these incidents the police will go to the person's house and they can be ticketed.

Please if you see a school bus (and they are hard to miss in my opinion) assume it may be stopping any moment and someone's babies may be in the street. Easily avoided tragedy.

Okay, off my soapbox for a minute to a fun side of bus driving. Every year my husband assigns seats to the students and puts name tags up above the seats. This year he decided he wanted Star Wars name tags. We found some pictures online, then printed and laminated them. 

He cut all 75 of those helmets out himself, attached magnets and hung them in the bus. How cool is that?  He will add the names in a few days when he has a chance to see how the seating arrangement is working.

In other exciting news - trim is happening!!!!!!!!!!!!! Last weekend my husband painted 17 pieces of 12 foot trim. It made quite an obstacle for our DIRECTV serviceman who was there to upgrade our service. Incidentally, he was probably the nicest service tech I have ever let in my house. And in related news, my husband has NFL Sunday Ticket this season - for FREE! 
Back to trim. My father-in-law is an amazing finish carpenter. He brought over this contraption he built to cut trim (not just for our job). The 12 foot piece of trim is laid out on the top so it is completely supported for more accurate cutting. In the middle is where he mounts his saw.
Hallway - even trimmed nicely around the cold air return.
My craft room is almost finished. Another contraption built by my FIL to hold his tools for easy access.
I am not sure how much longer the trim project will take, but I am excited that the end of our flooring project is in sight..

A few odds and ends...

The renovation of the house on our block is coming along. It looks like a completely new house!
I did a little shopping with a friend. Apparently fringe is the trend. No I didn't buy this bag - I couldn't decide if it was a purse or a puppy :)
I have been eating plenty of yummy BLTs. Tastes like summer.

In other exciting news, a cool front has moved in and temps are supposed to be around 80 degrees today. There will be walking...I promise!