Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thankful Thursday

I woke up in a mood today. Not only that, but I woke up in that mood 40 minutes late. I tried to curl my hair, but the rain made it go blah. Everyone, and I mean everyone, on the road must have failed their driver's test sixteen times before they were finally allowed to drive. It was just that kind of day. I arrived at work frumpy as all get out, opened my calendar to see my tasks of the day and just.... stopped.

Caught my breath. Realized where this was headed. Before I could go any further, I did something I hadn't done in a little while: a thankful thursday list.

I can't say that I immediately started tap dancing and breaking into song like my gal Rachel Berry, but it did serve it's purpose: it stopped the runaway train of a no-reason-bad-mood and put things back into perspective. Not every day is a 4-star day, but every day of this life of mine has things to be thankful for... just as it is. I needed that reminder. In fact, I need it daily.

Here's what lifted me today, in no particular order:

- Library books on CD that make my commute much easier
- My wonderful hubby
- sleeping in on Saturday mornings
- knee high boots with a skirt
- Heather's visit on Monday
- having an office with windows
- hearing Better than Ezra on my drive in to work
- tomato soup with croutons
- my parents, both my real ones and in-lawed ones
- 4 day work weeks, starting in 2 weeks
- that bad moods always pass
- that after 3 months of doing my "real job" (after all that training), I feel like I finally know what I'm doing and that I'm making an impact with the people I talk to each day
- blog friends: making connections with people through their words and their photos, learning about the lives of women I would probably not cross paths with in real life. I heart the internet for many reasons, but this is a major one.
- that when I went to go pick my doggy up at daycare late on Wednesday, he was behind the desk with the woman who told me he had gotten nervous in the room with all dogs and no people so she brought him up there with her. When I left, she reached down and said "Bye Buds! I love you!" And my heart melted to know that my doggy is in a good hands there.
- 7 weeks until I'm going to the beach
- 6 years ago, I had to go change the registration on my car from NC to DC. When I had to pay taxes on it, I called my Dad in tears because it was more than the sum total I had in my checking account. I went to the DMV on Wed to title my formerly leased car in my name, and it was nice to be able to handle that same situation with less stress, more abundance and zero tears. I bet that goes on my Dad's TT list, too.
- Pregnant friends, who are healthy, and anticipating babies that I will get to cuddle starting in June
- warm weather will be here, has to be here, soon. To stay.

Happy. Blessed. Thankful.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


This was a nice weekend. While I love our road trip weekends or visiting guests weekends, sometimes it's nice to have nowhere to be and nothing to do. Especially, especially when it's all of a sudden 73 degrees right smack dab in the middle of February.

On Saturday, I...

took walks. Multiple ones. In the sunshine. It was heaven.

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and did some crafting....



and wrote! Sorry if I broke google reader... I was a blogging fool on Saturday. But it felt so good to catch up. I've been so all-or-nothing when it comes to blogging, but much like my cooking, lately it seems like I've got no time to do little bits here and there, so I end up sitting down and doing it all at once.

According to my GapKids batch tasking rule... I guess that's the way to do it. Although I generally try to blog to keep sort of an online diary, and it's kind of silly to be writing about something that happened 3 weeks ago. But oh well - I guess late is better than never!

Saturday night, we met friends out for dinner - Zac and Jamie, Donna and Matt, Donna's visiting Momma, and Akanksha - at Firebirds. We love Firebirds, but this was a bit of a rough visit for our crew. I tried to call ahead since we were a big group, but the phone just rang and rang and I assumed - well, no call aheads! When we get there, she asked if we had a reservation... I just groaned because I knew that meant: big ol' wait time. We jammed ourselves in around the crowded bar to settle in for the 45-60 minute wait... when much to our surprise, our buzzer went off after 15 mintues! Joy! Until I handed it to the hostess and her face just crumpled... "Oh... I buzzed the wrong buzzer." Tromp tromp tromp, back to the bar we went. After an hour, it was all I could do not to grab a loaf of their yummy soudough bread from a passing by waiter.

Have I mentioned I started back on steroids again yesterday? No, no I haven't. Insert vicious appetite here. Awesome. (More on that another day.)

FINALLY, we were seated after a little more than an hour and our group started putting in their orders. When the waitress got to Zac, he ordered what he had been thinking about all day long. The look on his face when she told him they were out of the ribs was on par to hearing the news someone had stolen his car. He asked if she was playing a joke on him, and the smile on our perky waitress' face started to waver a little bit. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Donna - at 22 weeks pregnants - was just now learning that she too would not be having the ribs. It was a soul crushing moment for 2/8ths of our little group.

Despite the long wait and rib fiasco, Firebirds was delicious as usual and we sat there until we were the last group left and anxious glances were being tossed our way. We relocated to the bar area, where the boys watched basketball and the girls talked about jobs, coupons, stroller research, running, and dogs. We're exciting like that. But oh, how I love my Winston friends.

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Sunday, I...

... watched Buddy roll around in the yard like a wackadoodle, before taking him on another real walk. I'll be the first to admit our walks have suffered this winter, and he's happy as a pig in slop to be doing the full loop in our neighborhood again.

The DeacDoc asks that you excuse his lawn.

... clipped coupons and perused the aisles of Harris Teeter on "Super Doubles Day!" I don't do the coupon thing too much, but thanks to Jamie and Donna telling me about the SouthernSavers website, I do find myself a little more excited to hunt out the good deals. Although I try to make it a rule not to clip a coupon for something I wouldn't buy regularly, sometimes it's hard not to get caught up in the savings excitement. To see the cash register start off at one amount, and then quickly fall as they swipe your coupons - bee bop, bee bop, bee bop - it's probably as close as I'll get to experiencing something like a slot machine win.

My winnings today? All this loot (plus 2 racks of ribs) for $41, with $50.06 in coupons/store savings. In the light of complete transparency, I spent a kabillion dollars at the grocery store last week for my cook-a-thon so I didn't need much this week. There's not much here to make dinner out of - although they did have both wild caught salmon and flounder on sale - so obviously I'd have had to have made a few more purchases under normal circumstances.



But did you catch that? $50 in savings! Sometimes I wish you had to hand them the regular amount of money, and then they could hand you back the savings. Just because it doesn't really feel REAL... just them telling you how much you saved.

... then I made some ribs, because I think we needed a chicken break. The ribs I make - they are my Dad's famous recipe. They slow cook in the oven for nearly 3 hours til they are fall off the bone tedner. (Yes, I am guessing that the spark for those was lit last night at Firebirds.) While they cooked, I cleaned up the kitchen and pulled together all the random photos, phone pics, vids and tweets from this weekend to capture it into this here blog.

And that? That was our weekend! Just the right amount of getting things done, doing nothing, going outside and going out. And with that, I think I’m ready for the next 5 ahead of me.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

5 Onions, 8 Pounds of Chicken and 2 Dishwasher Loads.

Just your typical Sunday afternoon, right?

I’ve known a couple people who do the “cook all your meals on Sunday” thing and I’ve always had a mixture of apprehension and hesitation about it. It seems like a tremendous amount of work (is it really a time saver?) and that it would be difficult to make healthy meals, as I’ve always pictured casseroles and other dense heavy meals sitting in the freezer.

But lo and behold, here I find myself with 4 recipes on the counter, along with 5 onions, 8 pounds of chicken, and just about every pot and pan in my cupboard out, ready to be put to work. I genuinely love cooking, and furthermore, believe that most of the time, home cooked meals are healthier than restaurants meals. (They are, certainly, exceptions to this. Especially in the South.) BUT, as of March, I’m going to be switching to a 4-day work week and the 10 hour days, combined with a 40 minute commute both ways- which means I’ll be getting home pretty late most nights. Add a trip to the gym or an errand after work, and I could already forsee it wasn't going to be realistic to assume I’d be cooking on a regular basis at night. Lest we become on first name basis with the folks at Jersey Mike’s down the street, I decided to tackle the Sunday cook-a-thon – and since I will now have a 3rd day off every week (woohoo!), I figure it could very well be a good time investment.


I gave it a test run this weekend, and while it didn’t go perfectly, it was overall pretty successful. I cooked for 7 hours, used every pot and pan I own, chopped enough onions to give watching Stepmom a run for the cryfest title, and had to run the dishwasher twice. I didn’t quite pick out enough variety in my meals (all chicken, oops) and they weren’t the healthiest things in my repertoire BUT….

When all is said and done, I had 5 meals with 4 servings (10 meals for 2) PLUS I was able to take 3 2 servings meals to my next door neighbors, who just had a baby. So, 16 meals in 7 hours? Not bad.


Kitchen: After…. Oh dear.

It’s going to take me a while to perfect this strategy, but overall I think it’s going to work and I’m pleased with the solution instead of subjecting us to takeout or quick heat meals just because we're busy.

Here’s what I made:




Since it was the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, part of my prep was also making our Valentine’s Day dinner: seared steaks, roasted asparagus with proscuitto, twice baked potatoes and this delicious chocolate espresso cheesecake that was made mostly of cottage cheese. Not kidding. And I’m telling you that now, because my hubby has already eaten it and now he can know. Hi, honey!


All in all, this actually ended up being about 2 week’s worth of food, because we’re starting the 2nd week and we still haven’t finished it all up. I’ve even taken it for a lunch a few times, and it’s been a nice change of pace from my usual winter meal, turkey sandwiches.

The key to being able to do this, I think, is to be okay with eating the same thing a few times during the week. (Or making smaller portions, or freezing 1/2 of each dish.) I have no problem eating the same meal a few days in a row, but I’ve definitely talked to a few people about this strategy who were horrified at the idea of having chicken tetrazzini more than once in a week. *Shrugs*. If you’ve got the time to cook every night, then there's probably no reason to employ this other than to save time. I've never attempted the cook-a-thon until l I was faced with the alternative of not having time to cook and knowing that we would get into the habit of picking up meals or relying on quick and easy, more processed foods. I'd rather have some repeats than rely on those.


Some tips if you attempt this:

  • Plan ahead: Pick your recipes ahead of time, and look for things that have overlapping ingredients. I definitely took this one a bit too far with all chicken recipes, but besides that the ones I picked out also all had green peppers, chicken broth and onion in them. This allowed me to use up ingredients among the recipes.
  • Start with an empty dishwasher: Keep it open and load as you go. This helps keep clutter off the counter and it will make clean up less daunting.
  • Batch task: I learned this skill when I worked at GapKids and it has helped me in so many situations! Group like tasks together. For example, pull out all ingredients first. Measure out dry ingredients. Chop all vegetables at once. Then prep all meat. When you have a break (when something is cooking or simmering) wash dishes as you go.
  • Prep snacks and other meals too. You’ve already got the kitchen dirty. Now is a perfect time to pre-chop veggies or salad mix. I bought a 3 pack of a peppers and only needed the green pepper and half the red pepper for my meals. The yellow and other half of the red ended up in strips to go with hummus for snacks later.
  • Listen to music! Whenever I have a long task to do, like cleaning the house or walking the dog or cooking, my iPod has been my saving grace. A little music, or even a book on tape can distract me enough that the hours fly by and the job gets done. I spent the first hour of my cooking bonanza listening to a church sermon, the middle 3 listening to Pandora radio (“Club Can’t Handle Me Right Now” station – hello, dancing in the kitchen) and the last 3 listening to the book “The Help.” I also like to download (free!) lectures from iTunes University or interesting podcasts. But whatever you do: dont watch TV and cook. I have learned this over and over again. Well, maybe this is just me – but I get so distracted by the show, I end up working slower and it takes me twice as long to do everything.
  • Have an assistant. Even a furry one.


Keep your eyes on the prize. Even though I wasn’t working late this week, it was still so nice to do things after work and know that there was a home cooked meal to be had that night. On Monday and Thursday, I went for a run. On Tuesday, I did my final Christmas return and went to a dance class with Jamie and Anne. On Wednesday, I worked til 8 and on Friday, I crashed with a DVRed How I Met Your Mother and some crafting. Tonight, we’ll probably go out for dinner… because we want to. Not because we have to. And that’s exactly how I’d hope it would be.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

White Bean Chicken Chili

This is another recipe from my Aunt Jennifer’s recipe book.  I really like white chilis, and this one looked like it packed a little heat.  It actually made a ton of soup, too.  We had about 4 servings that I put in the fridge, 3 servings in the freezer and 3 to give to my neighbor.  (I’m approximating a 1 cup serving.)

Here’s the how to.  I don’t have any funny inside jokes about chili yet… so feel free to share yours if you’ve got one.  No “beans, beans, they’re good for your heart” please.

I think you probably could use the pre-cooked shredded chicken for this, but I ended up dicing and cooking the chicken so it would get the flavor of the onions and garlic while it cooked.

The recipe also called for cumin, which I left out because, eww.  That’s how I feel about cumin.  If you like it, add a shake in.  I think it was 1/2 tsp. 

Aunt Jennifer's White Chicken Chili
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 med onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 14 oz can chicken broth
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
1 4.5 oz can green chile peppers
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1 dash cloves
1 dash ground pepper

1. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil. 
2. Add chicken to brown and season.
3. Add all ingredients to a large pot.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Serve w/ sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. 
If you're going to freeze, allow it to cool first.  Pour into glass jars or tupperware and leave room for it to expand.


Diced chicken to cook.  (Sometimes I use scissors to dice.  It’s faster and I’m lazy.)


Chicken, onion and garlic cooking in the back – the pot I cooked it all in front.


Cooling before it goes into the plastic tupperware.

I would serve this with a small side salad, or maybe a nice crusty whole grain roll.  Between the chicken and the beans, it’s got protein and fiber galore so it should be super filling.   Everything seems to settle a bit, so it will need a good stir before serving if you’re reheating.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wish I Was Here

I like my job a lot. But I sure wish this is what my every day office view was:

How could you not be motivated with that sweet face watching?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicken Tetrazzini

I dun no whud she do wit her chicken tetrazzini….

I’m gonna go ahead and apologize, because I have yet another recipe that triggers an immediate inside joke… ‘cept this one is between me and anyone who watched the soup in 2010.  If you’re one of those people, I’m willing to guess you couldn’t help but hear this in your head when you read this title:

I’m not going to link the longer clip (just look up “chicken tetrazzini” on youtube if you’d like), but be warned it’s NSFW.  Or children.  Or your sanity.


So, where were we?  Oh yes, chicken… chicken tetrazzini.  Despite the fact that The Soup has pretty much made this dish a joke in our household, it is DELICIOUS.  And it’s easy to make ahead of time, freezes nicely and travels well.  The recipe came from Wino Emily and she’s made it for us on many occasions.  When I was getting married, I had a kitchen/recipe shower and this was the recipe she gave me. 

It makes a lot – you could do either one big lasagna dish or 2 small 9x9 dishes.  I did 2 small ones, so we could eat one and give one away.  I again used my big serving of pre-cooked shredded chicken for this one.


4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
16 oz sour cream
chopped pimientos, drained and rinsed
small container of fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small box of spaghetti noodles
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1 onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped


1. Cook and shred chicken.
2. Cook noodles according to box's directions.
3. Mix soups, sour cream, and salt and pepper.
4. Saute onion and green peppers.  Add mushrooms. 
5. Add noodles to soup mixture.  Stir/toss (it will be very thick.)  Add sauteed veggies and chicken.  Pimientos are added last so they don't color the sauce.
6. Place in a greased dish.  Top with cheese.
7. Bake uncovered at 350 for 1 hour or freeze uncooked to be baked later.

I actually made a double batch to have some more for our freezer, and it was so big I had to get out my giant salad bowl to mix it in.


Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you don’t have to double it.  We’ve got chicken tetrazzini to spare.  (Luckily, it freezes beautifully!)

I forgot to take a finished product picture, but to be honest – it’s not the prettiest dish.  You’re just going to have to trust me that it's a crowd pleaser and easy to boot.  It’s obviously a pretty calorie dense meal, but a small serving goes a long way.  Pair it with a simple side salad, and you’ve got dinner – for a few nights or for a big group.

Or, to seduce your best friend’s boyfriend.

The next few day’s posts will be featured in one post at the end of the week explaining how I cooked *all* these meals in one day.  Yea, I’m superwoman.  No big deal.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Aunt Jennifer’s Chicken Pot Pie

My Aunt Jennifer is one of the best cooks I know, so when a few years ago when she passed down her old recipe binder to me (I guess she was updating her recipes into a new one), I felt like I inherited a treasure book of secrets.  I always think of Chicken Pot Pie as the quintessential meal that people make to fill up someone’s freezer when they’re going through a rough time and so it was no surprise to me that Jennifer’s recipe was for 2 pies with the directions: “Make one and freeze one to give away.”

Yes ma’am.

This recipe is super easy, but I was really happy with how it tasted.  I put in a few more veggies than it called for, and it made for a very filling meal.

Side bar: I literally cannot eat or make CPP without singing a little diddy to myself of “chicken pot chicken pot chicken pot pie.”  My HS best friend (Hi, Kris!) and I had this as an inside joke, and like most good inside jokes, I had no clue where it originated from.  Enter google.  It took me about 3 minutes to find out it was from an episode of Just Shoot Me, where David Cross pretends to be Slow Donnie in order to get attention. 

It’s at 0:57.  And now, it can be stuck in your head too.  You’re welcome.

Anyways!  Cooking, right?  Yes, cooking.

For most of the recipes I made this week, I had boiled a lot of chicken and then shredded it.  This went into these pies, the tetrazini and the buffalo chicken sandwich. 


Aunt Jennifer's Chicken Pot Pie
14 oz frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, peas & green bean mix)
1/3 C butter
1/3 C flour
1/3 C chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 3/4 c chicken broth
2/3 c milk
3 c cooked shredded chicken (approx 2-3 chicken breasts)
2 pie crusts*

1. Melt butter
2. Add flour onion, salt and pepper.  Stir quickly to dissolve flour lumps.
3. Add broth and milk, stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil for 1 minute.
4. Add chicken and veggies.  Stir for a minute to thicken.
5. Pour mixture into 2 pieshells.
7. Bake at 425 for 40 minutes.  After the first 15 minutes, put tin foil on the edge of the pie crust to keep it from burning.

*I buy the Pillsbury pie crusts that are in the fridge/dairy section.  Take them out of the fridge before you prep to come to room temp.  Directions are on the box.  You will need a pie dish to make this in, and if you're giving one away you can usually find a disposable tin one with a lid in the plastics aisle.  You can also buy the frozen pie crusts already in a tin (buy 2) and 1 box of the Pillsbury dough as the top crusts for each of the pies.

I have also seen CPP recipes where, instead of using a top layer of pie crust, you use the Pillsburgy crescent rolls and lay it out in a lattice shape across the top.  This is intended to cut down on how much pastry dough is used in order to make the recipe a little healthier.  I’ve done this in the past, and it does turn out fine.  So if you wanted to healthify this a little bit, you could do that. 

I decided to make it the traditional way this time though.



Before & After.  The after-after?  An empty pie plate.  Yum!

If you freeze or give-away, include the instructions to reheat in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.  For a truly authentic experience, be sure to add a Well, bless your heart as you deliver it to a friend or neighbor in need.

The next few day’s posts will be featured in one post at the end of the week explaining how I cooked *all* these meals in one day.  Yea, I’m superwoman.  No big deal.

Monday, February 7, 2011

More babies?!

More babies. Yup, more babies.

I can remember the moment last spring when Emily sent us the email with a photo attachment… of a ultrasound. The wino listserve (yes, our emails have a name) blew up with excitement and joy. And here it is, less than a year later and one of my best friends is a mother to a sweet little girl named Claire Louise.

Claire was born on January 13th, and this last weekend she got to meet all her wino aunties. Pam flew down from Boston, Shelby from Chicago. Jess drove down from Charlottesville 2 days before her PhD dissertation, and I drove over from Winston. Jenny opened her condo up to us in Raleigh, and on Saturday we rang the doorbell of Emily’s house to meet our precious niece.

The winos' best friendship was cemented our senior year in college (2003) and we’ve traveled back and forth across the country two or three times a year for vacations together, bachelorette parties and showers, weddings, celebrating graduations, running races together, and of course, our wine country mecca last March. There was no question in our mind that when our first wino niece made her grand entrance, there would be a road trip to meet her.


She is absolute perfection. And her momma? Calm and peaceful like she has been doing this her whole life, instead of just 3 weeks. (And her daddy? Eager and proud to show us every picture and video that she’s starred in since her arrival in this world.) The love in that little living room was something else.


With Auntie Shelbs


With Auntie Pam

It’s a different thing, when your besties start having kids. I’ve already done the mental math to determine that her Wake Forest graduation will be in 2033. Maybe we’ll have a winning football team by then. I’m wondering if we’ll all be the crazy old ladies dancing at her wedding, while she rolls her eyes, embarrassed at her mom’s friends. (Yes, of course we will.) I can’t wait to see her grow up and see what traits of her momma’s she will inherit. If she’s lucky, it’ll be the ones that make her as wonderful a friend as her mom is. Although it wouldn’t hurt if she inherits the ability to make the most amazing lemon poppy seed bread ever. That one would serve her well, too.

Hi, sweet Claire. Welcome to the world, little girl.