Monday, August 31, 2009

Pillowcase Embroidery

This weekend I spent a lot of time working on an embroidery project. (And I'm still not finished!) Though I know how to do needlepoint, I'm having to teach myself embroidery using a kit I bought from the craft store and just making things up.

It's a beautiful way to decorate linens and certainly more frugal than buying already embroidered linens from the store. Plus, it's a fairly inexpensive hobby.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Easy Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore

I’ve made chicken cacciatore before, but Thursday night I took a lot of short cuts and it was still a hit. If authenticity isn't top priority for you but taste, speed and frugality are, keep reading.

Easy Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore

3 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 bell peppers
1 ½ onions
2 cans diced tomatoes (14 ½ oz. each)
¾ cup white wine
1 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 Tbs. dried Italian seasoning
1 tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1 can tomato paste (optional)

Slice chicken breasts, bell peppers, and onions. Dump into Crockpot with all other ingredients except tomato paste, but including the juice from the diced tomatoes. Cover and cook on high for four hours.

Because the sauce tends to be too thin for my taste, after it has cooked, I spoon out a couple of ladlefuls of the liquid into a bowl and mix it with a can of tomato paste, then pour in back into the Crockpot and mix it all together. Serve over spaghetti or any long noodle. My husband garnishes with parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes; I don’t think it needs it. Serves 6-8.

This was a pantry/fridge cleanout meal for me, that’s why I used 1 ½ onions and 3 chicken breasts. I already had half an onion in the fridge. If you don’t, I would just use two whole onions. One of my chicken breasts was pretty small. I think you could get away with two whole (not split) chicken breasts if they’re larger in size or you’re trying to save a little money. I also think you could also use three or four chicken breasts if you’re trying to stretch the meal to feed more people or if you’re feeding meat-lovers.

What’s nice about this recipe, besides its adaptability, see above, is that the hands-on time is really very minimal. I think it was less than 10 minutes of prep time for me since I didn’t bother browning the chicken ahead of time. It’s also very healthy. I used “No Salt Added” diced tomatoes and didn’t add any salt, so it’s very low sodium, but still full of flavor. It’s low in fat and full of veggies too. (Though I still serve it with a veggie side.)

Linked to Fat-Free Fridays at Domestic Godliness.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Happy Hour at Home: Quesadilla

Happy hour isn’t always about the drinks; the appetizers are a big part of the fun. You want tasty little finger foods that aren’t going to get in the way of conversation, but you also want something rather hearty since you are drinking and I find that people often use the happy hour appetizers as their evening meal.

I love Mexican food and quesadillas are one of my go-to dishes. They are so quick and easy, have nearly infinite variations, and everyone I know gobbles them up.

Basic Quesadilla

10-inch flour tortilla (usually called Burrito-size)
2/3 cup cheese (I usually you shredded Mexican blend, or half cheddar and half Jack)

Into a pan over medium heat, put your tortilla. Sprinkle cheese over half, then fold the other half of the tortilla over the cheese. Heat for about 2 minutes or until cheese begins to melt and bottom is golden brown. Flip and cook until second side is golden. Cut into fourths.

Serve on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce with sour cream, salsa, and guacamole on the side.

Some filling combinations I like include:
Corn and pinto bean
Shrimp and green onion (Be sure to cut your shrimp in half lengthwise to make it thinner.)
Chicken and green onion
Turkey and salsa
Spinach and mushroom

To help keep your fillings from falling out, slice things thinly. It also helps if you sprinkle half your cheese, then distribute your toppings and cover them with the remaining cheese before folding the quesadilla over.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Black in Action

+ = ?

All my life I’ve been a blonde…until yesterday. Now I have black hair. Ever since seeing the movie Walk the Line, almost four years ago, I have thought about becoming a brunette because I thought it looked so good on Reese Witherspoon. It really made her eyes stand out.

I’m not saying I look like Reese Witherspoon, but because I also had blonde hair, blue eyes and pale skin, I thought I could pull it off. Little did I know that “dark ash brown” on the box of hair color really meant black. While it doesn’t look terrible, it certainly isn’t the look I was going for.

I can’t recolor my hair for another two weeks. Then I’m going to start the process of lightening it back up. I’m afraid of people’s reaction to it in the meantime. So far, only Chuk has seen it. He just keeps staring at me. He says he's "Getting used to it."

So if you're a natural blonde and are thinking about going darker, go lighter than you think, because it's easier to go darker than to go lighter if you don't get the shade you want.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: Locked Doors Edition

What’s the deal with people yanking, pulling, and then tugging on doors that won’t open? It’s pretty apparent to me that they’re locked. Just give it up.

I can’t tell you how unnerving it is to be on the other side of a restroom stall that someone is just refusing to accept is occupied. I mean, I know I locked it, but those stalls aren’t Fort Knox. If you jerk the door hard enough, it’s going to open. Ladies, one gentle push or pull should be enough to establish the stall is occupied. If you really think someone is pulling one over on you, knock on the door. I’ll be more than happy to tell you it’ll be “Just a minute”. This shouldn’t be so confusing; I figured it out when I was 5. Either head to another stall or start a line.

I’ve also observed this phenomenon at stores that were closed. The other night Chuk and I made a late ice cream run because I needed a milkshake. (Personal turmoil makes me crave junk food.) The grocery store closest to our house closes at 10:00pm. We got in there with about 5 minutes to spare. By the time we were back in our car (carton of ice cream in hand) it was after ten o’clock. We sat in that car with melting ice cream watching some guy first park illegally in the fire lane (with his emergency flashers on, as if that makes it ok) get out and stand in front of the grocery store’s door waiting for it to open automatically. When it didn’t, he started violently pushing on the glass door. Still, it wouldn’t budge. So he walked over to the side and was looking through the windows to see if anybody was inside. They were, so naturally he began to bang on the windows and wave at the clerks who were presumably trying to close out their registers.

It was pretty funny, but it also pissed me off. First of all, the hours of operation are posted all over the doors and windows; figure out it’s closed Guy. Second, the world doesn’t revolve around you. Why should some hard-working person who has been on her feet all day have to stay after closing because you couldn’t get there two minutes earlier? We rushed to the store looking like homeless people to be there before it closed and he could have too. Third, across the parking lot is a 24-hour CVS. Any “emergency” items he needed would have been there. All the shoving and banging just wasn’t necessary.

Moral of the story: Get a clue people. Doors lock, even on you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


My grandma died last week. Part of me is really sad, but the other part of me is happy because I know she was ready to go. Other than my grandpa, I spent more time than anyone with her during the last six weeks of her life and I know she was suffering. She got to say goodbye to all seven of her children and she died peacefully. No one could have asked for anything more.

Chuk and I drove to Louisiana for her funeral. On the way back I insisted we go to Graceland even though it would add 2 more hours to our already 19 hour (without stops) trip. I can't really explain it (I'm not even an Elvis fan) other than to say I blame Paul Simon.

I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow
In Graceland, in Graceland
I'm going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There's some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now
Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

I have lost love and my heart is blown apart, but I know my grandma has been received in Graceland.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy Hour at Home: Bellini

Mmm...Bellinis. If you haven't had this before, you're in for a treat. It's another light, refreshing summer drink that is super easy to make.

Fill a champagne flute up 1/3 of the way with prosecco. (Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine. It tends to be a bit sweeter than champagne and less expensive too. You can buy it at the same places you would buy champagne...for me, the grocery store. However, champagne is a perfectly acceptable substitute too.) Fill the glass the rest of the way with peach nectar. That's it! Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: Fashion Police Edition

My sweet husband, is not what you'd call metrosexual. In fact, at times he makes some pretty poor fashion choices. So imagine my surprise when I got the following email from him on Thursday:

BTW, wanted to tell you about the fashion faux pas I saw on metro this AM - picture this:

starched, pressed khaki pants
powder blue polo
MATCHING powder blue socks
penny loafers

Very preppy sounding, right? Throw in a camo baseball hat and the picture is complete. "One of these things is not like the others..."


You know it had to be pretty bad for Chuk to notice it.

It reminds me of the time I was riding metro and saw a guy in a shirt, tie, and a very expensive looking navy blue pinstriped suit with the blazer buttoned up. Over it, he had a Member's Only jacket zipped up half way with the bottom of the suit coat sticking out the bottom of the M.O.'s jacket. It wasn't even that cold of a day! Do these guys not have mirrors?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Warm Delights Fake-Out

It's no secret that I have a major sweet tooth, so making a whole cake for our small household can be a dangerous thing because I'm likely to eat way too much of it. Luckily, I've found an alternative that is cheaper, easier, and just as tasty.
All I do is mix four tablespoons of cake mix with two tablespoons of water in a bowl and then microwave for 45 seconds. I typically add other things to it, but it isn't necessary. My favorite variation is to drop a handful of chocolate chips and dot peanut butter on top of the batter before I microwave it. Or I'll make a basic recipe and then spoon some canned frosting on top of the cake while it's still warm. Really, your only limit is your imagination.
My local grocery store is selling Betty Crocker's Warm Delights for $2.59 this week. I can make the same thing for about $0.10. That's what I call a good deal.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Grandma's Famous Pork Adobo

As I'm missing my grandmother today, I thought I'd share with you her recipe for pork adobo, a braised meat dish from the Philippines. It's the food I always requested she make when I'd come for a visit and a favorite of nearly everyone in our family.

Ann's Pork Adobo

4-6 lb. Boston butt roast
2 Tbs. cooking oil
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1/2 cup (approx.) apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup (approx.) soy sauce (La Choy is preferred)
4-5 Tbs. sugar

Cube pork into kabob-sized pieces leaving fat on the meat. Set aside.
In a large, wide pot, on medium high heat, saute garlic in oil until soft; add half of soy sauce.
Drop in cubed pork to brown, stirring occasionally.
When browned, add vinegar, salt & sugar.
Boil vigorously until most of the vinegar has evaporated, turn down the heat to low and add the rest of the ingredients.
Cook covered on the lowest heat for an hour and a half.
Serve over rice.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Hour at Home: Sandi Raspberry

Chuk and I love to hang out with our friends, but as we continue to try to adjust to life on a single income, we don't have a lot of money to go out. We deal with this by hosting get-togethers frequently. (I hate the word "entertaining". It's not like I'm juggling for these people.)

For less than it would cost the two of us to have a couple of drinks each at a bar, even at the cheapest of happy hours, we can treat all of our friends to drinks and appetizers in our home. Plus, then we can pick the music and not get beer spilled on us by some college kid with a fake ID, which are always pluses too.

Each Friday, I'll be featuring a drink or appetizer recipe so you too can have Happy Hour at Home (H³).

Sandi Raspberry

6-8 oz. Fresca grapefruit soda (chilled)
1 oz. Raspberry vodka (chilled)

Stir together and pour into a martini glass. If you're not feeling fancy (i.e. drinking alone) you could always open a can of Fresca, take a sip, then pour some raspberry vodka into the can to top it off. (I'm classy like that.)

This is a delicious, refreshing cocktail that is perfect for summer. It has a more complex flavor than it would seem given the fact that it only has two ingredients. It's easy to make a whole pitcher of it (using a 2 liter bottle of soda) and keep in the fridge to refill drinks as the evening progresses.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cure for the Lazy Housewife

Cleaning house is not one of my favorite things to do. Grocery shopping, meal planning and prep, organizing, decorating, these are all things I can get behind, but cleaning...really? It's just not for me. Yet I must do some of it because I don't like living in squalor and I don't want Peter Walsh to show up at my door with an Oprah film crew.

I survive the drudgery of cleaning mainly by breaking it into small time increments and setting manageable goals. For example, I can unload the bottom half of the dishwasher while my lunch is microwaving. Or I run around and see how much I can put away during the commercial break of a show. I can do anything for three minutes, even if it is housework.

Now, if I've got a lot to do, I break out the big guns. The Beastie Boys' album Hello Nasty has been my cleaning salvation since I was an undergrad trying to get my dorm room cleaned. I can't explain it other than to tell you it's magic. If I put that CD on, my whole apartment is clean by the time it finishes. Try it. I'm telling you, it will change your life.

Finding the motivation to clean works for me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: Eyelash Edition

I got my Master's Degree in International Development. I feel passionately that erradicating the world of its deadliest communicable diseases should be a priority for scientists everywhere. So when I saw this:

you can imagine how disappointed I was. Doctors and scientists are wasting their time on growing the eyelashes of vain women instead of developing vaccines and medications that could save lives. Are you freaking kidding me?!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Signature Cake

I used to make the following cake all the time so it became my signature even though I stole the recipe. I got it from my mom who got it from her cousin who got it from a friend. It's so darn easy to make and so tasty that I won't blame you if you steal the recipe and make it your signature cake too.

Meghan Cake

1 package of yellow cake mix
1 large package of vanilla instant pudding
3 eggs
1/2 cup of water
1 cup sour cream
1/2 vegetable oil
1 package chocolate chips

Mix all above ingredients well, ignoring directions on cake and pudding packages. Batter will be thick. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon. Grease two loaf pans or one bundt pan well. Alternate pouring cake batter and cinnamon mixture into pan(s), finishing with cinnamon mixture. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Living Without Regret

When asked the hypothetical question, If you could, would you want to know when you are going to die, the answer I've most often heard given, and indeed my own answer, is no. But I'm beginning to learn the merits to "yes".

My grandmother is dying. She has dementia and her condition is rapidly worsening. It is not a happy situation, but it is one I am learning to be grateful for. Knowing that someone you love is dying, creates opportunities most of us don't otherwise take advantage of.

I have had the privilege, along with several of my family members, to take care of her. It is not a burden, not even a responsibility. It is a privilege because it has given me the opportunity show her how much I love her. Many of us say that we love each other, but in the business of everyday life few of us slow down enough to take the time to demonstrate it. My grandmother's declining health gives me the opportunity to put the needs of another before my own. Every time I give her a shower or help her with the toilet or give her a spoonful of food I am able to show her in a way infinitely more powerful than mere words just how much I love her. It is a gift for which I will never stop being grateful.

It is the opportunity to say goodbye on my own terms. I think a major part of death we fear, and that is less talked about than the fear of the unknown, is the fear of regret. This is something I know about. My father died nearly two years ago quite unexpectedly. The last time I saw him, things between us were awkward. Not bad, but not the way I would have chosen it to be had I known it was going to be the last time I was ever going to see him. I don't have that regret with my grandma.

Every time I see her I know it might be the last time. I have the chance to take this immense love and shine it down on her sick body. It's the opportunity of a lifetime (literally) and I'm going to take advantage of every single second I have with her to do it.