Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lost and Found

School registration in our district is this month, a task which I have been working on since before Christmas, and will finish on the last possible day.  I was sidelined by my inability to find Deuce's birth certificate.  I finally found it this morning, promptly forgot my victory, and left the house without it. 

Greatest parent of all time.

Tomorrow's mission is, obviously, Mission: Register Deuce for Pre-K.

Weekend's mission is Mission: Organize Office.  I already took the "before" picture, and it's straight out of Hoarders.  (I jest.  there isn't one animal dropping)

Life's mission is to learn to persevere/work around losing important items, stuff I like, stuff I know I have around here somewhere...  you get the drift.

Even though I could have registered him with his baptism certificate (what this proves from a legal standpoint I do not know), but I don't know where his first year's scrapbook is, so that was out.  So I did nothing for a week or so in between searches.

Also lost in the move is my precious, precious coupon-and-gift-card sorter.  I still can't stand the though that it's around here somewhere (or gone? *fretful look*), and anything else I misplace compounds that feeling.

In the weeks after we moved, we did a great job unpacking a little every day.  Now we're down to more difficult things, but we still need to make progress.  Maybe one item per day minimum gets unpacked or put the garage sale Mt. Everest pile.  Whatever it takes to find my precious coupons!  I mean, sanity!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It only took... 15 years?

I made chili for the first time 15 years ago.  It tasted good, but it wasn't thick.  And since then I've tried a couple of times a year to make really good chili.  My secret ingredient is cocoa.  Apparently chocolate and chilis are awesome together, and I think it really adds something.  Not enough to taste chocolatey, but a little richness.  So taste - good, texture - eh.  Well, somewhere in the ballpark of 50 chilis later, I think I got it.  I substitued a can of tomato paste for one of my cans of tomatoes.  I know, right?  Less liquid?  Makes sense?  Maybe I'm slow on the uptake...

Maybe everyone else under the sun knew this, but I didn't, so here's what I did.  In case it's like they said in school and if I have a question someone else probably does too..

Thick Chocolate Chili

1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
2 bell peppers, diced
1 onion, diced
1 T minced garlic
1 T chili powder
1 T unsweeted cocoa
2 t oregano
1 t cumin
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 cayenne (or to taste)
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 14 oz cans kidney beans

In a large pot, brown the meat and break it up.  Drain the fat from the meat.  Add the peppers, onions and garlic and cook until softened or 5 minutes.  Add the spices and stir, cooking for about 1 minute.  Add the tomato paste and stir to combine.  Allow to cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes and the beans with the liquid in the cans.  Simmer for at least 2 hours before serving.

I haven't tried this in the crockpot yet.  Bob (husband) thinks that nothing thickens properly in the crockpot, but I'm trying it anyway ;)

It's hard to see, but it's kind of heaped instead of soupy.  That's what I've been trying for!  (I used 1 can kidney beans and 1 can pinto beans, that's why there are light colors in there)

Let me know if you try it and what you think!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Briefly, on entertaining quickly

We have a standing Tuesday night dinner with neighbors from our old neighborhood.  We alternate houses each week and the visitors bring dessert.

This tradition started when I was home full time, and I cooked elaborate dinners and decadent desserts.  Good times.  Now, with 4 full time jobs between the two families, we need to be more realistic.  Some weeks, like last week, we pull it together. 

This week, we ordered pizza.

And on top of the pizza?  That's a peanut butter pie.

With all the time I didn't spend planning a meal, shopping and cooking I made this peanut butter pie.  (oddly enough, posted originally by another Megan).  Minor tweaks - piled the whole batch of filling into one crust instead of two, and chopped a couple of peanut butter cups for the top.

We had just as good of a time, and there were a lot less dishes than last week!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some stuff I like

The point behind having this blog is to talk about my goals and my hobbies.  But I don't think I've talked about what those hobbies actually are!

Here's a brainstorm of some things I like to do:
  • I actually like my job (what?  what?!  I know...), so that's 9 hours a day, plus a commute.  I love books, and manage to consume some literature thanks to audio books and this commute.
  • There are some nice guys in my life like my husband and son who I like to do special things with and for, along with taking good care of each other and relaxing.
  • We just moved into (another) house that is awesome but outdated, so there are projects and decorating to do. 
  • And the better the house looks, the more I love entertaining
  • I cook and bake, and this is fairly easy to integrate into real life
  • I love to garden, particularly veggies, fruits and flowers for cutting
  • I want to much to be an amateur photographer.  I'm a not even a novice.  I have a DSLR and Photoshop Elements and I don't really know how to use either one yet.  Bummer.
  • I knit - this is one hobby I can combine with exhausted-couch-sitting at the end of the day, so I do a fair amount of this
  • We have a dog.  I should walk that beast, and maybe teach him manners some day.  I actually like walking him, I think.  I barely remember.
  • I enjoy film, but that's just a joke at this point in my life.  2 hours of uninterrupted time?  Go to a theater?  Ha!  Haha!
  • I scrapbook.  This is in bold because it's my favorite hobby.  I'm always in the mood to scrapbook, but it is just for me, so gets pushed to the bottom of the list.  Always.  Except for...
  • I really enjoy exercise, though you would not know it.  This is very last on the list because given any free time to myself, I will gladly scrapbook rather than exercise!
And finally, I'd like to find some ways to do the things I like efficiently for lack of a better word.  For example, I like cooking, but it's feast or famine around here.  Literally.  I'm either cooking an elaborate meal or foraging for leftovers.  So I want to think of some ways to do things with less stress, less time commitment, in the hopes of making them more enjoyable.

Not that "efficiency" and "enjoyable" are often used in the same sentence, but "less stress" is!

It's bath time, and then...  I should pick something off this list to do!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I love paper

Day 2 of scrapbooking, and I'm back!

After doing literally one blank gift book and one page last night in the space of about 5 hours, I'm rolling at a much better pace today.  The surroundings are definitely helping.

I love that every time I finish a page, half a dozen people around me ooh and ah without being asked.  Any tool - someone has it.  Deciding between two papers/colors/approaches - someone has the answer.  Need inspiration - pages, books, magazines are everywhere.

I don't want to make it sound like I discovered the concept of a retreat.  People have been getting together in groups to participate in common interest since the nudist colonies.  But I have not wanted to go for a couple of reasons.

One is that I am a home body, and miss home deeply minutes after I leave the driveway, sometimes to the point of actual regret that I left.  Issuey, I know. 

Secondly, I'm not the most confident person and it's hard for me to go into a social situation where everyone else is there with friends and I'm alone.  I know about a third of the people there, but some of these ladies are here with childhood friends, neighbors...  I'm the only person here as a single.  I'm sharing a room with two really nice people, and sitting at a table with another group of two.  I got a couple hugs when I came. 

Between having fun socially and being productive, I'm really glad I came. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Total scrapbooking immersion

I am at my first weekend scrapbooking retreat this weekend. I'm blogging from my phone so I can't promise much. What I will say is that if you want to get back into doing something that you once loved, pack all your shit in the car and go somewhere that you're surrounded by people who love the same thing.

I warmed up with a gift book (to be gifted without pictures) and then started my house books I've been planning. I'm just cutting paper and after an hour or ao of that I felt ready for the real thing.

I hade made some kits of photos, papers and embellishments along with layout ideas and I rocked one of those. I started a second one, but got stuck on the title. Titles and journalling are not strong points for me so I wasn't shocked.

I really feel confident that tomorrow is going to be creative and productive. I haven't felt either of those things is a while. I'm ready!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The SATs for grown-ups

One of the goals I'm working toward that I have almost no control over is to get civil service status in my job.  I have very little control over this because, long story short, there is no test for the title I (and several others in my office) hold. 

But so help me, when the state writes and administers an exam for us, I'm going to pass that thing with shining colors!

I've never taken a civil service exam before, so I signed up for a test taking strategies class.  I recall being a good test taker...  the last time I took a test, which was sometime around 10 years ago.  And the last time I took a standardized test with a bubble sheet?  Talk to me about 1998.  It was a very good year.  Regardless...

The class was yesterday and today, and wow do I feel rusty!  I did well on the first practice test (I'm saving the second one for closer to the test, should it ever get announced...)  Spelling, grammar, analogies, reading comprehension...  there's even a section with long division!  Where's my spreadsheet at?  I do not do math without spreadsheets.

It was actually fun.  We did some of those self-evaluations, like multiple intelligences (we're all intelligent in our own special way) and right/left brain (explains why I'm a slow runner).

And I got familiar with the test and learn/refresh some test taking strategies.  Now if only the test would be announced soon so that it would mean something....

If you interested in your brain, check out

Right brain/left brain quiz
Multiple intelligences
Learning styles

Monday, March 7, 2011

Holy Weekend!

Well, that went fast!

For a quick recap, the red velvet cake was a flop.  The cake was too crumbly and not really chocolatey and the frosting was gluey.  Not even writing a post about it.  (is there an "attitude" font?)

Friday night was Meg time - the dudes went to an outdoor show and I ate pizza and wings with some people from work, and even played a hand of dominos!

Saturday was some much needed Deuce & Mommy time.  I've been so busy I started to miss him!

He and I cooked together.  We made a variation of Creamy Farfalle with Cremini, Asparagus, and Walnuts
We didn't use mushrooms, and roasted the asparagus and pine nuts (instead of walnuts) in the oven tossed in garlic, herbs and olive oil.  It was sinful, and not healthy by a long shot, but totally delicious.

Then to top off the carbs tossed in cheese, we also made a Clementine Cake.  I didn't know that by "ground almonds" she meant almond meal (or flour), so the texture wasn't there for me.  I made ganache for the top b/c I was pissed about how the cake came out and thought some melted chocolate would cheer me up.  Didn't work.  That's actually two duds from Smitten Kitchen a row, and all the sudden I'm off the bandwagon.  Not that I wouldn't cook anything she recommends, but I'm done taking her recipes at face value.

Then Sunday I worked, which sucked, and I was across the street from the only Hobby Lobby within 100 miles (maybe more!) and it was closed.  Which sucked.

But then I took a nap with Deuce which was awesome!  

We had dinner with my parents (brought the clementine cake and left them the last 2 pieces, so I won't feel like I need to eat the rest of it before I bake something else haha!).  Did watch the Criminal Minds from last week, which was a total cliffhanger and had my rapt attention so I didn't knit a stitch.  I know, I know, TV, not accomplishy, but it was worth it!

Oh, and I almost forgot - I exercised!  I know!  Who replaced the real Meg with this "doing healthy thing for self" Meg??? I did a video Saturday and shoveled the driveway (an hour of misery) Sunday...  am I on a roll? Two days is not exactly the long road to fitness, but it's a start!

Despite all the action, I've had a lot of energy today - a fun week and weekend coming up!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How not to schedule your day

Follow-up to the red velvet cake is coming - we aren't going to get to eat it until tomorrow afternoon, so I'll be able to discuss it better then.  Cream cheese frosting licked from bowl gets an 'A', though.

So in the meantime, I'm on Mission: Figure Out My Mission.

In broad strokes, it's really simple - I want to have fun.

I also work full time and have a preschooler and a husband, so if I expect to do anything besides work, laundry and sleep, I need to be organized about it.  I tend to sign up for everything I think would be fun, and cram in all my responsibilities and then end up having to cancel what I wanted to do b/c I'm overcommitted.  It's awesome.  So I want to have fun, and make time to do fun things.

For example, tonight after working all day I have a parents meeting at day care 5-6, the dog has a vet appointment at 6:15, dinner, and I have a craft group at 7.  Seems like with two adults we can handle it, right?

Wellllll....I have to leave work early if I want to go to parents' group (Bob's not interested), but if I go to that, he has to take the dog to the vet.  I want to take the dog to the vet b/c our vet does all this unecessary stuff to the dog that I refuse, but Bob won't argue w/ the vet.  I can't get home to get the dog before the meeting, and I can't get home and to the vet in time if I pick him up after the meeting.  It's not that easy to take our son to either of those activities, especially at dinner time.  Deuce would eat a Happy Meal but Bob and I don't like fast food and if we order a pizza someone's going to end up eating it cold.  Oh and we ate up the leftovers last night.  Craft group is at someone's house so I can come late, but one of the reasons it's on Thursday night is b/c I can't go on Wednesday so I feel guilty blowing it off when everyone alternates days of the week for me.

At this point I have been known to fake a stomach bug and cancel everything.

Instead, I'm blowing off the parents meeting (his daycare is awesome, and I participate in the activities, I just obviously can be a leader too).  If I leave work when I would have for the meeting, we can all eat hot food together, I can take the dog to the vet and still make craft night at a reasonable time.  Assuming Bob had nothing he wanted to do this evening.

Not too shabby, but if I had the parents group and craft night on my calendar, I would not have schedule the vet the first Thursday of the month.

I'm thinking the best way to tackle this is (are you ready to groan?  I'll wait), with scheduling and some ground rules.  (cue the groan)

It won't be too bad though really!  Scheduling like "putting commitments on the calendar" and "looking at the calendar" isn't a huge stretch.  And for ground rules, I'm thinking "take at least one evening off each week."    I mean, I'll never get anything done if I'm running all over town every night!

Before I started writing this, I looked at the calendar, and noticed one meeting and 4 activities Friday, but there is nothing on there on Saturday...  Maybe there's something wrong with my computer...  That's the only logical explanation.  I should probably block it off and keep it that way!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

If you bake it, they will... expect more

My girlfriend at work, Lauren, baked me a birthday cake from scratch this year.  It was awesome.  So I baked her a cake for her birthday.  Also, awesome.

In the spirit of sharing, we invited the rest of our work team (7 people total).  This was generous, and kept us from digging in to a whole cake between the two of us, but we set the bar awfully high.

Now we're wondering who gets homemade, from scratch, delicious birthday cakes.  Because I am rotten through and through, and dread the thought baking all these cakes for people I'm not close with (for the most part), some people cakes had to be stricken from the list, by objective decisions, not by how much I like them, to avoid hurt feelings.

The rules for cake disqualification are set as follows:
  • People who don't tell anybody that their birthdays are coming up do not get a cake, because I'm not a damn mindreader
  • People who "don't eat cake" or are "on a diet" do not get cakes because it would not be a good gift for them.  Also because I don't understand these phrases and must conclude they are from another culture that doesn't celebrate things by eating delicious things.  To each their own.

This effectively removed 3 cakes from the to-do list.  Two of us already had our birthdays (mine in December and Lauren's in February), so that is only 2 cakes for the whole year, which will be baked together with Lauren and that will be fun in itself.  No need to panic.

I guess the X factor is that the "I don't mention my birthday" and "I don't eat cake" crowd could change their tune in the name of having cakes baked especially for them.  Cross that bridge when we come to it.

What are these cakes we're baking?

Lauren made me a Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate cake with Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate frosting.  This recipe is tried and true and I highly recommend it.

I made Lauren the Chocolate Stout cake from Smitten Kitchen.  I didn't put ganache on it, because I had to carry it in to work, and it was great with a dusting of powdered sugar.  So great that I made it again the next week for my in-laws.  I also used Saranac Brewing Company Caramel Porter in place of the stout.  I did this both times, so I don't know how it compares to using stout, but it was delicious.

When will people be circling the cubicles looking for more cake?

Ha ha, yeah, James' birthday is Friday.  Like, in two days.

Tonight Lauren and I are attempting the first red velvet cake either of us have ever made.  We're using another Smitten Kitchen recipe (this one), because the chocolate stout cake came out amazing.

Let ya know how it goes!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mission: post on blog from iphone

Mission accomplished.

Random Weeknight Entertaining

Whatcha doin'?  Anything fun?

Yeah, tonight we're having friends over for dinner!

Weeknight entertaining is not for the faint of heart, but a simple menu, some shortcuts, and dividing up the work by grilling the entree and asking the guests to bring dessert makes it totally doable! 

We're having
  • Garlic herb cheese spread on baguette rounds
  • Salad
  • Steak on the grill (hot dogs for the kids, but Deuce will no doubt eat 1/4 of my steak)
  • Lemon Spaghetti
  • Steamed asparagus
  • Booze
  • and our guests are bringing dessert (I'm really pulling for cheesecake from Cheesy Eddie's)
I bought the cheese spread, because it's a weekday so I take shortcuts.  But I have made it at home and it's super easy.

1 pkg Good Seasons Garlic Herb dressing mix
1 C sour cream
1 C mayonaise
2 C shredded cheese

Mix it, spread it on baguette slices, and broil until bubbly.  Or, if it's a weeknight and you bought it pre-made anyhow, mix it up in an oven-safe baking dish until bubbly and serve with crostini or crackers.

Looking forward to a fun night in!

Spring Fever Sets In

I'm out on a small lake in a boat on a summer day and the water's so clear and refreshing looking that I pinch my nose and jump in (woo! so refreshing!).  Now I have options.  Get back in the boat or swim for shore.  It's a nice day for a swim.  Which shore?  North, South, East or West?  Toward the beach at the north shore, the cottage toward the west? 

If I really threw myself out of a boat today a) I would freeze to death because it's March 1 in New York State, and b) I would pick a direction because I know I can't stay in the middle of the lake forever.

Now envision this less picturesque but more real-life example:

I'm on the couch in the evening.  I could work on any number of fun things I want to do, or I could stay on the couch (not a terrible option - we have premium cable).  I've been on the couch.  I know the couch.  I'm comfortable on the couch.  But I'm a little bored on the couch.

So, I'm throwing myself off the couch, into the water, picking a direction and starting to swim.