Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Food, Inc - Movie Review

I guess I should say Documentary Review, but for my our purposes here, same thing.  Food, Inc is a documentary made by award winning filmmaker, Robert Kenner.  The film won Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Documentary and after watching, I know why.  I'm going to give a very quick overview, but please, go here to learn more - Takepart.com/foodinc 

The documentary wants to answer the basic question - where does our food come from?  It is a pretty disturbing look at the corporations that control the food industry and what is placed on the shelves of grocery stores and on menus of fast food restaurants.  Taking notes from the fast food industry, the production of food is now done at the lowest cost possible, as fast as possible by the cheapest labor available.  .   

Quite a few things disturbed me during the 90 minutes we spent watching and learning.  (This was Stephen's second time watching the documentary, I'm not sure how he could stomach another viewing, one is enough for me.)  First, and the biggest point in the film, there are only 4-5 large corporations that control 80-90% of all meat produced in the country.  These corporations not only control what is put on our mouths but they also have a vice grip on government policy in Washington.  They are so big, their former legal teams and presidents are now in charge of food laws and the organizations who are supposed to protect the American public from contaminated foods.  So where one company may not want the public knowing that their meat comes from cloned animals, their former employee could now be the one making laws that prohibits labels from showing what foods come from cloned animals?  Doesn't the public have the right to know?  

Secondly, not one chicken farmer allowed camera crews or filmmakers into their facilities to see the conditions that the chickens live in during their short lives.  Not one.  They are that bad.  They know that if people saw where their chicken comes from they'd stop eating it.  By the way, Tyson is the largest chicken producer in the country.  Just keep that in mind when you buy chicken at the store, Tyson won't let anyone see where their chicken come from.  

The fields where the cows live before they are slaughtered made me close my eyes, as did the facilities where they are processed.  Now I understand that we need meat, there are cows, pigs, chickens, etc that are raised for their meat, I get that.  I'm okay with that.  But the way that these animals were forced to live and then the way they were killed, I can't stomach it.  How do people look at these thousands of animals and treat them the way they are treated?  How do they put up with the screams of the animals as they are loaded into the slaughter houses where they know they are going to die?  Stephen had to mute the TV and I had to close my eyes during some scenes because I couldn't take it.  It makes me sick that humans are capable of these things.  

Animals are no longer processed at a local farm, even a large farm.  They are processed in plants that look more like a brewery than a food processing plant.  No wonder there are problems with contaminated food, there is little regulation and far too much room for error.  Think about it, almost every chicken product in America comes from one of a handful of companies.  These companies control regulation.  

The corn production in this country is out of control and it's now used in countless products, even diapers.  Corn is also fed to cows to make them fat.  Cows aren't supposed to eat corn, they can't process it like they can grass.  So they build up bacteria in their bodies, bacteria that needs to be cleaned from the meat before humans can consume it - that's where we can run into contaminated meats.  

Food, Inc is one of those films that you have to watch.  You're not going to enjoy it, it's going to scare you s*itless, but that's the point.  They want you to think about what you're putting into your body and how it effects the entire country.  

Did you know it's cheaper to get a double cheese burger at a drive-thru than it is to get a pound of veggies?  No wonder families who are struggling financially aren't eating healthy.  

Stephen and I already make an effort to eat local, organic food as much as possible.  We're going to do so even more from now on.  I know it's going to cost more, but it's all I can do to hope to make a change in the world, I have to "vote" with my money at the grocery store/farmers market.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween 2012: Ariel and Prince Eric

Stephen and I didn't do a couple's costume last year, he was Stephen Colbert and I was a box of popcorn.

My Halloween costume, last year
For Halloween this year we tried to think of something we could do together.  After a few brainstorms we came up with Ariel and Prince Eric from Disney's The Little Mermaid.  Now, I'm not one of those people who uses Halloween as an excuse to dress slutty and put on a trashy outfit (see the box above) so I didn't want to be mermaid Ariel, I wanted to be Ariel with legs.

Ariel with legs and Sebastian 
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Ariel first gets legs and she's on the beach with her friends.  Scuttle makes an outfit for her with some fabric he finds washed ashore.  She thinks she looks gorgeous.  This is her first time meeting, when they're both fully conscious, Prince Eric.  I only had Sebastian with me because he was the only one of her sea friends that joined her at the palace during her 3 days when she tried to get Eric to kiss her.

Stephen as Prince Eric
How handsome is Stephen dressed as Prince Eric!?!  Our costumes this year were super easy.  I got a 2 yard piece of fabric and some curtain rope and wrapped it around my body and secured with safety pins.  It didn't look nice when Scuttle dressed Ariel in the movie, so I wasn't going for nice.  I found Sebastian on Ebay for $8.  The red wig was technically a Jessica Rabbit wig, but any long, red wig would do for Ariel.

Stephen's costume was even easier.  He bought some blue sweatpants (that I can't wait to steal for myself) and some black "boots".  The boots are really covers that fit over his regular shoes to look like they are boots.  Then he wore a white button down shirt and we got a yard of red fleece fabric for his belt.  Done and done.  We had to spray his hair with some black hair spray, but we already had that on hand from last year's Halloween.

Ariel and Price Eric
We went to a pretty huge Halloween party at one of our favorite bars.  I was surprised with how many people recognized me and when they did they told me how much they loved the movie.  I expected ladies to know who I was, but I was surprised at how many men also recognized me as well.  Pretty fun.

Two friends went with us to the party dressed as Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter (doesn't he look awesome!) and Nikki Minaj.

If anyone can pull of Nikki, she can.  We had a great time at the party and I'm sad Halloween is already come and gone.  We'll still get the kids trick-or-treating on Wednesday night, so it's not technically gone, but we won't dress up to hand out candy so it's done for us.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Uncle Shuck's Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze

The change in the weather from steaming hot and sticky Summer to cool, perfect days in the Fall is one of my favorite times of the year.  It's comfortable to drive with the windows down, and sometimes even too chilly.  The leaves are starting to change color around the house and with this change in weather comes three great holidays back to back to back - Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I'm glad they're spread across 3 months because if they all took place in one month I'd flip out.  I absolutely love this time of year.

Where's Stephen?
Strange, I love the Fall so much, yet I've never been to an official Pumpkin Patch and I've never done a corn maze.  For those of you reading in parts of the country that don't grow corn, this doesn't sound too crazy, but for those of us in Atlanta, a 30 min drive in basically every direction will bring you to a corn maze, pumpkin patch or haunted house.  After 9 years in Atlanta, I finally pulled into my first Pumpkin Patch.

A company that I work with quite often was hosting a day at Uncle Shuck's Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze in Dawsonville, GA so we decided it would be a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  We invited some friends of ours and off we went!

One section of the side of the corn maze
I was first shocked by the height of the corn stalks!  I mean, I see them all the time when I'm driving down country roads, but I guess I never got close enough to really take in how tall they are.  Uncle Shuck's also planted a loooong row of sunflowers the length of the edge of the corn field, such a cute touch.  The sunflowers were taller than me!

Quickly I noticed that the 4 of us might be the only ones there without a child, but that was okay.  We were there to feel like kids again, if only for an afternoon.

Our first stop was to check out the corn maze.  Can you believe this thing!!??!!

Source: Uncle Shuck's (The Pumpkin Maze wasn't there when we visited)
The two circles at the bottom of the maze are where you enter.  There are actually three mazes (not including the pumpkin maze) that start from those two circles - the Haunted House, the witch on the broom with all of her swirls below and a small maze between the two.  The mazes didn't connect.  To make sure you went through each of the mazes there were checkpoints for you to find on the map you were given.  Yes, we had a map.  No, that didn't make it easy. We still had to stop a few times to figure out where we were.

Deep within the corn maze

View of the corn maze from the top of the bridge - still didn't help you figure out where you are.
In each of the two big mazes, the witch and the haunted house, there are bridges that take you above the tops of the corn.  They were like home base once we got into the mazes and started walking around.  Based on the distances on the maps we had, if you walked to each checkpoint you walked about three miles.  CRAZY.

Yes, we had a map, yes we had to consult it multiple times
It looks like Uncle Shuck's has been creating corn mazes for 10 years now.  Click here to see all of their mazes dating all the way back to 2002.  The Indian in 2004 looks crazy hard!

Kid size maze... I think it's soy beans
After we walked through the maze for probably an hour, we sat down for some refreshments and to cool off.  There was a hay ride we could take through the farm, but we passed.  It looked a lot more fun for kids and since we didn't have one with us we avoided looking creepy.

Path of the corn maze. You have no way of telling where you are.

Not only was there a hay ride and maze, but kids could also do their own kid size maze, feed some goats and pick pumpkins from the pumpkin patch.  We left empty handed and didn't buy a pumpkin that afternoon, we typically buy them from churches.

We loved our time at Uncle Shuck's!

It was such a fun afternoon outdoors in the amazing Fall weather.

Hot air balloons!
To cap off such an awesome day we say hot air balloons on our drive home!  I'm not sure I've seen a hot air balloon since moving to Atlanta.  They used to fly over our house in Orlando all the time and I didn't realize until I saw them this week how much I missed them.  I may have acted like a 5-year-old in the car yelling, "OOOH!!! Hot Air Balloons!  Two!  No, THREE!" I was quite excited and glad I wasn't driving so I could take this teeny picture of them.

Monday, October 22, 2012

DIY Christmas Wreath with Yarn

I love decorating for the holidays/seasons/months/birthdays/etc and because our front door is the first thing guests will see when they come to our house, I want to make sure it's always decorated in some way.  Right now, for Florida Football we have the Gator Ribbon Wreath that I made a few weeks ago. The Gators are undefeated right now so it's not going anywhere until after the last regular season game.  

Supplies for the yarn Christmas wreath
I have a couple of Christmas decoration projects lined up in my head, so starting in October seems like the best plan for me to get everything done by Thanksgiving weekend, when I decorate for Christmas at our house.  I decided to make a bright, red and green wreath for our front door.  Our gate is white, so the red and green will really stand out which is what I want to happen.

I was aiming for something simple yet classic looking and also something I should help others make for their homes.  I came up with a yarn wrapped wreath with some really pretty, fake poinsettias and red ribbon.

To make my wreath you'll need:

  • Foam circle from a craft store or dollar store.  Mine is a 12" circle
  • Fake poinsettias or any other holiday decor you'd like to display.  We toyed with some holly or even some white flowers but landed on the poinsettias because of their bright red color.
  • Yarn, any color that you want while matching your flower choice.  I went with a deep green.  The yarn aisle at Michael's had about 10 different dark greens to choose from.  
  • Ribbon to hang the wreath.  You could also hang this wreath from a wreath hook, it's up to you.
  • Hot glue gun and scissors.   

Wrap the yarn around the foam circle
The first step in making the wreath is to wrap the yarn around the circle.  For my 12" circle it took about 90 minutes to get it wrapped.  It's a mindless and easy process, so sit down in front of the TV and pop in a movie and start wrapping!  To start the yarn I tied a knot in the yarn and just started wrapping around the foam.  I pulled it tight as I went and made sure that the foam didn't show through.  I used a thin yarn because it was the color I wanted, if you use something thicker it might not take you as long.

Yarn wrapped wreath - it's almost done!
Once it's all wrapped I secured it with hot glue.  I made sure the loose end was glued securely to the rest of the yarn.  It doesn't have to look pretty, it won't be seen once the wreath is complete.  

Add the pretty poinsettia to the wreath
Once the yarn is secure, add on the poinsettia or other floral piece that you have.  I cut the flower from the stem and attached it with a TON of hot glue.   I also used some yarn to tie it to the wreath, and hot glued that down too.  I had to position the leaves where I wanted them and glued them down, too.

Give the glue some time to cool down and harden and then it's time to hang!  I used some red ribbon that we picked up at Michaels for our hanging piece.  

I love how the wreath turned out. You'll notice that I started with two poinsettia flowers but when it came time to add the second one I felt that one was enough.  Now i have another flower to use somewhere else.  I call that a crafting bonus.    

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Run Like Hell 5k: Oakland Cemetery

Saturday was the first 5k running by myself.  I ran the Peachtree in 2011 by myself, but that's a 10k.  I probably should have started the other way around...

The Run Like Hell 5k starts and ends in Oakland Cemetery.  The race route takes you out of the cemetery, into Grant Park and then back to the cemetery for the home stretch.  Stephen and I love the cemetery and it's such an important part of Atlanta history and our neighborhood history, it was an easy choice when I saw that all benefits support the cemetery itself.

When I run with Stephen, we run through our neighborhood, makes sense.  And because I'm familiar with the neighborhood, I knew this route would have a lot of hills.  However, I was NOT prepared for the intensity of the last half of this race.  It was all uphill.  I'm not joking.  There may have been 50 yards here or there that went downhill, but then it would go right back up with more of an incline.

Here is the official route for 2012.  At the bottom of that map you can click "view elevation profile" to see the ups and downs of the course.  It was my slowest 5k time yet.  Now, part of that is because of how sllloooowww the race started.  There wasn't an announcement that the race was starting, people just started running.  While the race started, it was like rush hour traffic if you were more than 10 people back from the starting line.  It took about a minute for me to get from where I was lined up to the actual start point and THEN it was a walk until we were out of the cemetery.  So technically, I could give myself two minutes back - seems fair.  My official time was 38:40 so let's say if I had started at a run, I would have finished at 36:40.  While the start was a mess, the finish line was even worse.  I finished in the middle of the pack, so I'm sure it's when most of the women were finishing and it caused another traffic jam.  All women had to funnel down one teeny, tiny little section of the already small road.  I couldn't even cross the finish line because of the backup of ladies backed up as they were waiting to get a time card.  I'm not even sure why we needed a time card.  After the hardest course I've ever run, having to wait in a tiny line like cattle was pretty lame.  I was rather frustrated by the time I was done and could call Stephen to come meet me.

Now, I've made it sound like I didn't have fun - that's not true.  The best part of the race is that costumes are encouraged.  That's right, costumes.  Of course I dressed up.  The morning of the race it was about 50 degrees, so I wanted to wear pants and I remembered we had some zebra print leggings and that was the beginning of my 80s costume.  I had the zebra pants, a bright pink t-shirt that I cut to hang off my shoulder, pink and black scunchie socks, jelly bracelets, a side ponytail with a big scrunchie, a fishnet glove and pink sunglasses.  It was pretty awesome.  I was proud of myself.  I'll never again wear zebra print leggings.  So not only was I dressed like a crazy person I was running alone.  But I loved it.

Watch the video above if you want to see me run past Stephen.  I look like #1 a Giant and #2 super slow.  Happy Halloween!  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Music App: Songza

Before I get started talking about Songza, let me just say that I still love Pandora.  It's great for road trips and when I'm looking for something pretty specific.  The only problem is if I listen for more than 2 hours at a time sometimes I hear the same thing over and over again.  But it doesn't stop me, I love it.

My super tech savvy husband, Stephen, first told me about Songza.  He told me to download it and he let me discover it's awesomeness on my own.  It's available on Android and Apple products.  According to Stephen, "Songza is to Pandora as Pandora was to Radio."  I think if it catches on it will change the way we listen to streaming music, again.  (Isn't that the beauty of Internet radio - it's always changing and someone is always coming up with something new and better?)

For the past three days I've been listening to Songza at work and I'm loving it.  It's new and therefore there aren't any ads to break up the music... yet.  There are ads on the screen while the music is playing, but I'm looking at my computer, not my phone screen.  Working in advertising, I have a feeling that's changing at some point - let's just hope it's a little bit further down the road.  I've been crazy busy, so sometimes it's just background noise so I can't hear the people around me, sometimes I'm answering emails and I can really pay attention to the music playing in my headphones.

Here is how it works.  The App knows what day it is and the time so it guesses, intelligently, where you are at that moment and what you're doing.  Based on where you are and what it thinks you're doing it will give you options to start down a path to get to a playlist.

The two screen shots above are the first two screens you'll see.  The first screen is where you can pick your general genre of music.  The screen shots are from Stephen (on an Android) and when I opened the App one of the options was different - I also had Working (without lyrics) instead of the Office Crowd Pleasers.  Little bit jealous, but moving on.  Once you pick from those six options, we picked Weekday Dance Party (of course), you're brought to the next screen you see above.  What kind of dance party do I want?  Such great options.  I chose '90s Party Hits.  

Did you think that was going to be the last option?  NO!  You still get more choices so you get to exactly what you're looking for.  Once I selected '90s Party Hits I had three more choices, the first screen shot above.  I went with At a '90s School Dance.  All of the school dances I went to growing up were in the 90s so I wanted to relive some of those moments.  Once that's selected you're taken to the last screen, the black one, where you hit play to begin listening to music.  You can also see a few other playlists that are similar to the one I chose on my path.  Tell me you couldn't listen to all three of those, too!  100 Worst Songs Ever, '90s Workout!  Come on, those are so great!

At my '90s Dance I've heard some Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys, Fresh Prince of Bel Air and UB40 just to name a few.  It's everything I could have wanted.  Part of me wants to go back to see what my options would have been if I chose Epic Walking from the very beginning, but let's be honest, I'm enjoying reliving Prom too much to leave this playlist.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #14: Lasagna

I did it!  14 days of Crock Pot meals!  I'm pretty sure we could have fed about 10 more people over the course of the two weeks, but we haven't had to worry about lunch in a long time.  The last meal was the one I wanted to work the most.  Everyone loves lasagna.  I imagine having kids and they will love "mom's lasagna" and they'll invite their friends to come over for lasagna night.  I'm crazy.  I know.

To be honest, it was my first time making lasagna.  Ever.  I wanted it to work so bad.  I found a recipe on the blog Crockpot365 where the author used her Crock Pot every day of the year.  She's WAY more dedicated to the Crock Pot challenge than I am.  I applaud her.   Lasagna was Day 27 for her.  Click here to check out the original recipe.

Well, the lasagna wasn't horrible, but it was definitely overcooked.  I think I'm partly to blame, and I think the recipe is partly to blame.  The recipe says it needs to cook for 8 hours.  Well, when I came home at lunch after only 4 hours of cooking, on the right level, the noodles were already soft.  I turned it to warm for the rest of the afternoon, but I probably should have turned it off and put it in the fridge to heat up for dinner.  

The flavors were all there, but just a little bit took cooked.  It tasted like how I think the re-heated leftovers would taste.  Not bad, but not as good as it could be.  The spinach and mushrooms were delicious in the mix and the next time I make the dish, I'm definitely keeping them in the layers.

Lasagna in the Crock Pot is definitely a keeper, and maybe this recipe is for a weekend when I can watch the progress, but I'm not giving up.  We didn't take a serving to our friend's  house this evening, I'm not quite sure it's ready to share with friends.  I only make the person who loves me the most try my cooking.

So there you have it.  I finished the challenge.  Stephen can get back in the kitchen and cook again.  We can grill again.  My mornings won't be full of scrambling to chop veggies or layer lasagna noodles.  I will write blog posts on more exciting things than our dinners.

While Stephen and I were cleaning the kitchen over the weekend we found two more Crock Pot cookbooks!  Stephen forgot he even had them.  I'm not sure I'll ever do 14 days in a row again, but I have no problem using the Crock Pot once a week from here on out.  Maybe I'll try to cook everything in one of the books, or I'll try a different ethnicity each week.  What do you think I should try next?  The only way I'm going to try new things is to challenge myself and hold myself responsible to you, my readers.  (All 15 of you.)

Oh, and please take note of the Slow Cooker liner in the picture above.  Why did I wait until the last two meals to get these?  WHY?  I will never cook in the Crock Pot without them.  I'm in love with them. Get them and use them fellow slow cookers.

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #13: Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup

Our refrigerator is starting to fill up with leftovers and I was struggling to find a large storage container yesterday when I was done with this meal.  I love how much food the past two weeks has given us.

Yesterday was Meal #13 of my personal Challenge, Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup.  I found the recipe on the blog Random Thoughts and Thrills.  The blog author, Debbie, posted the soup earlier this year, thank goodness she did!  This soup is one of my favorite meals I've made, maybe top 10 ever.

The first step is to put most of the ingredients in the Crock Pot and then cook it for 5-7 hours.  I used a small food processor to chop up the carrots (I used 4), celery (I used 4 stalks) and onion (I used half an onion) and it made everything go so quick.  Using the processor's blade to chop everything for me got the veggies into tiny diced bits which were great in the soup.  Before you're ready to serve you need to thicken it up with a roux and then add a few other ingredients and then allow it to cook for another 30 minutes.  Nothing complicated, everything delicious.

With the veggies, parmesan cheese and diced tomatoes the soup wasn't smooth, but just slightly chunky.  I'm sure you could use an immersion blender to smooth it all out, but I loved that there was texture to the soup.  We didn't have any bread or croutons with dinner, but I'll be sure to have those next time.

Stephen and a friend we had over for dinner loved the soup and we can't wait to make it again.  Of course the guys suggested adding some cooked, small bacon bits.  But can't that be said for almost anything?

Lunches this week are going to be great with so many great leftovers and I can't wait to fill the kitchen in the office with smells of this soup.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #12: Mac n Cheese

Mac n Cheese is one of my favorite meals.  I can eat it out of the blue box like I did when I was a kid and I'm even happier trying to find the best Mac n Cheese in Atlanta.  There are a lot of restaurants who server amazing Mac n Cheese, but I'm leaning towards Fox Bros. BBQ right now.

When I was doing research for my recipes to try during the Crock Pot Challenge I knew I had to have a Mac n Cheese in the mix.  I found a fantastic recipe on the blog Whisk and A Prayer written in 2010, check it out here.  I love that about blogs and the Internet - something someone wrote two years ago is still relevant and searchable.

Not your typical slow cooker recipe, this one only cooks for a total of three hours.  (I think we cooked ours about 30 min longer than that, we were running errands and just kept it going.)  A three hour slow cooker recipe is perfect for a weekend lunch or dinner.  The ingredients are mixed in the Crock Pot and then basically forgotten about until it's time to eat.

The recipe says to par cook the pasta before adding it to the crock pot.  I skipped this step, because I didn't read it.  While I was worried it would make the pasta too hard, it was actually perfect.  I think if I had cooked them they would have been too soggy.

Mac n Cheese still in the Crock Pot.  Not a creamy cheese and still delicious!
The recipe is absolutely a Keeper and it's an easy dish to bring to a pot luck party or to server to a large group of people.  I think we'll get 4 to 6 servings out of the dish.  If the Mac n Cheese was served as part of a larger pot luck style dinner, it could easily server 10+.

We will add some sauteed onions and probably some bacon next time around to add a little bit of flavor.  I think we'll try at some point with only one egg and we'll bump up the butter, too.  Besides that, the dish was just perfect.

After the Overnight Oats failure in Meal #11, I'm glad I redeemed myself with the Mac n Cheese.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #11: Overnight Oats

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a difference between Steel Cut Oats and Old Fashioned Oats - read about it here.  Knowing that ahead of time would have probably given me a different outcome for my Overnight Oats.  I was using a recipe from Alton Brown, who we trust in this household.  I don't believe he could lead us astray.  So when my oats turned out to be AWFUL, I knew it was my fault.

Take my word for it - follow this recipe and make sure you have steel cut oats.  I  have nothing more to say about the Oats.  Moving on.

Super healthy breakfast of avocado, Greek yogurt and hard boiled eggs
Since I ruined breakfast, Stephen took over and decided to try something I found while scrolling through Pinterest.  From the blog (never)homemaker I found a recipe for an avocado and hard boiled egg wrap.  We didn't want to use mayo in our recipe so we substituted with Greek Yogurt and my sexy, smart husband also added some garlic powder and smoked paprika to the mix.

Feel free to play around with the mix and add what you think will be best.
The recipe made two, large wraps for breakfast.  It's delicious.  While we were eating he was already thinking of ways to make it better - feta cheese.  Feta is the answer.  It would take these wraps to a whole new level.  To make it thicker, cottage cheese could also be substituted for the Greek Yogurt.  Still healthy, a little bit heavier.  I love when Stephen can fix my mistakes.  Glad I married him.

Apparently I'm a child and I can't eat a wrap without spilling the contents all over the place.  I'm glad we took a picture before I took a bite
If you're keeping track - Saturdays aren't working out so well in the Crock Pot Challenge.

Friday, October 12, 2012

War Brides: Book Review

Stephen and I are huge fans of Amazon and we have the Prime membership.  Not only do we get free, 2-day shipping, but we also get to watch TV shows and movies streaming and I get to rent books directly to my Kindle.  WHAT?  Did you just read that - yes you did.  Amazon has a "library".

Before we start talking about the book let's talk about this book renting on Amazon.  This was my first time renting a book and I love it.  You can only rent one book at a time, and only once a month, but it's so much better than going to the library and you get books immediately on your Kindle.  Don't get me wrong, I love the library and I love book stores, but sometimes instant gratification is nice.  My boss, a big reader, has been using Amazon Prime to check out books for a while now and he is a huge supporter.  Check it out.

Okay, why you're really here, let's chat about the book.  War Brides by Helen Bryan begins just before the start of WWII in England.  I've read and watched a lot of movies about WWII and this was a point of view that I've never dove into before.  The book follows five women starting just before the war and how they all come to live in a small, countryside town outside of London.  While at war, each of the 5 ladies becomes a war bride, each under different circumstances.  They don't all like each other but they work together to keep some sense of normalcy during the dark time of the war.  They have to ration food, hunt, make clothes out of old fabric and always be ready to move down to bomb shelters during the raids.  When their families are spread all across the country, they turned to each other for support.

I enjoyed getting to know each of the women and their families.  Not all of them were 100% good people, but they did what they had to do to stay alive and happy.  I wanted the book to go on for much longer than it did.  I felt the end came far to quickly, and that's where I get upset with the book.  It was moving at such a great pace and then all of a sudden it jumps 50 years.  I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the the 1940s ladies.  As a reader we didn't even get to be with them when they heard the war had ended.  I felt like the author was just trying to end the book too quickly.  There is a twist at the end of the book that felt so out of place and like it's only purpose was to tie up some loose ends.  It became so unreal that it ruined it for me.

I recommend the book to people like me who were renting the book for something to read on a short business trip or long weekend.  It definitely made my flights go by faster.  While I probably won't pick up the book again, it has sparked an interest in me and I'm excited to learn more about what WWII did to women in England and throughout the rest of Europe.  I think so much attention is focused on the men who fought in the front lines, and it should be, they are true heroes, but the women they left behind in their cities and villages also had to sacrifice while also seeing and doing things they never thought possible.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #10: French Onion Soup

Not my soup - this picture is from How Sweet It Is
Man, I love French Onion Soup.  I've made it twice, from two different recipes and each time, success.  This time, with the Crock Pot I used a recipe from the blog, How Sweet It Is.  I'm telling you, check out this recipe.

This recipe was better from the last time I made this soup because I didn't have to slave in the kitchen while it cooked. Bonus! Isn't that the point of a Crock Pot?  This morning I had to make sure to start the caramelizing process before I added in the liquid, but I started before I started to get ready for work and added in the beef stock right before we walked out the door.  The recipe is super easy and the house smells amazing.  

This is absolutely a keeper.  We had a friend over for dinner tonight so we won't have as many leftovers as we typically would, but they wouldn't last long anyway.  So I guess we already served it to friends, and he loved it.  MMMM soup.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #9: Greek Chicken

When I was typing the title of this post I actually wrote "Green Failure" first then I realized what I typed.  That should give you an idea how Meal #9 went.

Today was the first time cooking a full chicken in the crock pot.  I was following a recipe from Tone It Up! Blog, click here to see all of their crock pot recipes.  The one I wanted to try was the Greek Chicken recipe, second on their list.

The failure could be 100% my fault. I missed two words in the ingredient list - "skin removed".  When I put the whole chicken in the crock pot the skin was still on the bird.  Here is how our meal looked when we got home.

Not too appetizing, but I still wanted to give it a shot.  It's a whole bird, that's a lot of meat and money to give up without trying it.  Luckily, the skin came right off the meat and the mead fell right off the bone.  We served with Quinoa and sat down for dinner.  Stephen liked it, even said it was a Keeper, but we disagree.  I thought the meat was far too dry.  Also, there wasn't much of a "Greek" flavor to it at all.  Is it called Greek Chicken because there is Greek yogurt in it?  Well, you don't taste it or much of anything else.

I won't be making this meal again.  Stephen made a good point, I didn't like this chicken because all of the chicken he makes is the best I've ever had.  He's probably right.  We have another whole chicken in the freezer, Stephen is going to cook it his way this weekend and I'm sure it will blow mine away.

I'm traveling tomorrow and I won't be home until after 8pm.  We have a ton of Buffalo Chicken left over so instead of me trying to put something together before I run out the door in the morning to catch a plane, we're just going to go with left overs tomorrow night and we'll pick back up the following day.

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #8: Buffalo Chicken

Our Meal #8 night was exactly what I thought our crock pot nights would be.  Dinner was ready an hour after we got home from work so we had time to go for a two-mile run with Goose.  Mabel is feeling under the weather so she got to stay home and relax.  When we got home we sat down for dinner and popped in a movie, Ides of March.  We haven't done that in months.

After dinner was done, I cleaned the kitchen, checked on what I'd need to do for the following morning's meal and then we watched two episodes of Season 6 of Dexter.  Crock pot cooking finally paid off and we got to relax and run after work.  

Yesterday while at work our crock pot was cooking Buffalo Chicken from the Chef in Training blog.  The recipe was super simple and was just three ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning.  For dinner we toasted some bread and sprinkled some shredded cheddar cheese on top of the chicken and there you go - dinner!   We have a ton of chicken left over, so I see a few sandwiches in our future.  

The Buffalo Chicken was great, but I wish we had had some bleu cheese on hand.  Somehow that was left off the grocery list.  It's a healthy meal that we'll definitely make again, it's a Keeper.  The chicken was a little too juicy for us, but there are ways we'll try to reduce some of the liquid next time.  It would be a great way to server sandwiches at a house party.  I didn't take any pictures, I was too busy relaxing but if you go to the recipe's site, that's exactly how ours looked.   

We're nearing the end of the two weeks and everything has run smoothly.  We've come across some recipes that we can't wait to have again and a few that we'd like to throw away and others we need to tweak before we share with dinner guests.  I have a business trip tomorrow and I won't be home until after Stephen gets home from work.  It will be nice to start dinner in the morning and know that he's going to have food when he's home from work.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #7: Minestrone Soup

It won't last, but it's finally cool here in Atlanta.  The high temperature today wasn't even above 70 degrees.  That's a day after we were in the 80s.  Tomorrow will be a little chilly and then it will slowly warm up again.  But I think it's safe to say that we won't have any more 90 degree days.

Look at all of that veggie goodness!
With the cool weather, I'm so glad I have the Crock Pot Challenge to give us all these warm, tasty soups.  Tonight was Meal #7, Minestrone Soup from Skinny Taste. I had no idea we'd have a chilly night when I put together my 14-day menu, but I'm so glad we have a warm soup for Sunday Night Football watching.

Click on the link above for the full menu.  The only thing I didn't include was the Parmesan Rind because I forgot to add that to my grocery list and I don't keep one on hand.  I also used elbow pasta instead of small shells because, you guessed it, we had that in our pantry.  We were home all day and have been smelling the cooking soup for the past few hours.  My stomach hasn't stopped growling, even after a PB& J for lunch.

I'm glad I planned this soup for a day when we're home so I was here 40 minutes before we wanted to eat so I could add the spinach and zucchini.  (I didn't chop the spinach before I put it in the crock pot - oh well!)  The original blog post states that this soup can also be cooked on the stove top for 45 minutes before adding in the spinach and the zucchini.  If I chose to make this soup on a weekend, I'll probably do it that way instead of torturing us with the yummy smells all day.

As soon as Stephen took his first bite he said, "This is really good, it'd definitely a Keeper."  So there you have it, it's a keeper.  The recipe yields 6 hearty servings so we're each going to take some for lunch tomorrow and we'll freeze the rest.  It will be such a good, quick meal for another chilly day.

Minestrone soup typically doesn't have any meat in it, but I think one time we'll try some turkey meatballs in the soup, too.  We'll get even more servings out of it and it will be even more filling.  I love this soup!

Because more is going on in our lives than the Crock Pot Challenge, I wanted to share the biggest change I've made in my life since meeting Stephen.  I chopped off all my hair!  I haven't had short hair since 2006 and since then I've just let it grow.  Six years of growing it out and trims at the salon every now and then.  I loved having long hair, but I was pretty much over it.  It took so long to dry in the morning, it would get caught in my armpit when I was sleeping, Stephen would lay on it in bed and the ends were getting a little messy.  I had my appointment to color my hair already set so I added a cut to the afternoon.

 At the wedding of two, dear friends last month.
In the car right after my hair cut and color change!

I'm in love with the new cut!  I cut about 8 inches off - CRAZY!  I also darkened my hair a little bit with some auburn low-lights.  It's the Fall, I'm ready with shorter, darker hair!  In the picture above I had JUST walked out of the salon, so it will never look like that again, but this morning after I dried it it looked a little fuller, which is what I wanted.  The guy who cut my hair used a straight iron on it and I probably won't do that except for special occasions.

Walking by mirrors I still catch my self doing a double-take and I'm so used to playing with my hair and it's not there anymore!  I haven't gone for a run with short hair yet, or ever for that matter, I wasn't a runner back in 2006, so it will be interesting to see how I do with a mini, low pony tail.

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #6: Egg & Broccoli Casserole

We're almost to the halfway point of the challenge.  My sixth meal was a breakfast meal for a chilly Sunday morning in Atlanta.  It should have been an easy set up - dump everything in the crock pot, cook for an hour, stir, cook for a few hours more.  Done.

Well, I dropped a glass bowl (well, it kinda launched at the puppy) and it shattered all over the tile and hardwood floors.  Mess #1.  Then I had to melt some butter, so I turned to the microwave.  I left it in for about one second too long and it exploded all over the inside of the microwave.  Have you ever had butter dripping from the top of the microwave?  The glass turntable coated in a layer of butter?  Mess #2.  Then, when I thought I was all good to go, I set the crock pot to LOW for the first hour instead of HIGH.  Awesome.

Well, while breakfast cooked I was able to vacuum the house to pick up all the glass, Stephen cleaned the microwave and all of the dog blankets are getting washed because they were in the shatter zone of the bowl I broke.

It was 10am and we still hadn't eaten, so we were entering the Brunch arena vs. the Breakfast arena.  Oh well.  We finally at at 10:30am.  It was delicious.

With only 2 of us eating together this morning, I cut the recipe in half.  To the crock pot I added 12 oz of cottage cheese, half a package of frozen broccoli (defrosted and drained - don't break the glass), one cup of shredded cheddar cheese, 3 beaten eggs, 1/4 cup of flour, 1/8 cup melted butter, small amount of onion and 1/4 tsp of salt.

The end product was a little bit fluffier than I thought it would be, but that's probably because of the backwards way we cooked.  While the meal was headed towards the trashcan early on, it turned out to be a Keeper on the Stephen Scale.  It's a wonderful egg dish for brunch.  It would be great for mornings with company, or Christmas morning.

I don't have any pictures, add that to the things I failed to do with Meal #6.  I'm going back in the bedroom to start the day over.  Reset!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

iPhone Upgrade!

It's not what you think, I didn't upgrade to the brand new iPhone 5 - I went from my 3GS to the 4S.  I was up for an upgrade for about 6 months, but I knew that Apple would be introducing a new phone soon so I waited.

When the iPhone 5 was revealed I wasn't overly impressed.  I didn't want to have change out all of the chargers in my house and car and adding an extra row of apps in the screen wasn't super necessary.  The larger size of the phone didn't impress me either.  I want smaller phones, not larger.  My decision was easy when I saw that a new, 16G iPhone 4S was now only $99.  

Once the phone was ordered I wanted to design my own case.  I found a website, Coveroo, where you can pick you own case, your own design or upload your own design and even personalize the case.  I chose the above case and added my monogram.  When it arrived at home I fell madly in love.  

But our love story wouldn't last forever.  That first night I took a picture of Goose being cute, as usual, and I noticed that something was wrong with the camera.  Our house looked like it was filled with fog.  I didn't know if it was the camera or the new case so I took off the case and tried the picture again - perfect.  I had to admit, the case was causing my flash to reflect off the case and wash out the picture.  I've contacted Coveroo and they will be refunding me the money as soon as I send back the case.  I'm on a search for a new case now.  Sadly, I don't think I'll find one that I love as much as my polka dot Florida Gator case.   

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #5: Applesauce

We knew we weren't going to eat dinner at home Friday night because we had tickets to the Braves Wild Card game, I wanted to make a snack in the crock pot.  I'm a huge fan of Applesauce and when I saw the recipe in my slow cooker I had to give it a try.

Draining the liquid from the Applesauce
To make the applesauce I peeled and cored 8 organic apples and then chopped them up and dropped them into the slow cooker.  I added half a cup of water, half a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of cinnamon. That's it!!

MMMM - yummy
It was one of the easiest recipes so far, but the set up took some time.  Peeling the apples took the longest amount of time, but really, it was about 10 minutes.  Once the 8 hour cook time was over, the apples were the consistency in the pictures above.  There was quite a bit of liquid in the crock pot so we had to scoop out the applesauce and strain it.  We kept the liquid, it's delicious, like homemade apple cider.

Our homemade applesauce!
I was a little disappointed in the small amount of applesauce that 8 apples yielded, but it was perfect for two people. I didn't measure how much applesauce we had (I already ate it) but I think it's safe to say we had about two cups.  To make the applesauce a little smoother we used our new immersion blender for the first time and blended up the applesauce a bit.  It was smoother than what you get out of the jar and 100x better.

We are so excited we learned to make our own applesauce.  It is going to be a great addition to our Thanksgiving table this year and one day we'll have little kids running around the house.  Having homemade applesauce will be so much better than buying off the grocery store shelf - we'll know exactly what goes into our food.

On the Stephen Scale, the applesauce recipe is absolutely a Keeper and we'll be sharing with friends and family at Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #4: Stuffed Green Peppers

It was bound to happen.  Today was the day.  We found a bad recipe.  The house smelled delicious when we walked in the house from work, we took the dogs outside to potty, topped the peppers with cheese and dug into our dinner.
Mixing the stuffing before filling the peppers

On a scale of 1-10 Stephen gave these a 7, I think that's generous.  I give them a 5.  I could do without the entire green pepper.  You can't give something more than 50% when the main part of the dish is gross.

Stuffed and ready to go
The recipe called for 9-11 hours in the crock pot on low which is perfect for our long days at the office.  I think this was about 2 hours too long.  The green peppers were totally soggy and flavorless.  We ended up eating the stuffing and not the peppers.

The recipe called for a cup of cooked rice, 2 lbs of ground beef (I used 1.5 lbs) two whipped eggs, half a cup each of milk and ketchup.  I think it would be better with uncooked quinoa.  Maybe we'll try that next time we attempt a similar recipe.

Pepper #1 out of the crock pot - success
The peppers that ended up touching the sides of the slow cooker were burnt and tasteless.  The rice was far too over cooked and the meat left a giant pool of grease at the bottom of the crock pot. 

Not all of the peppers could be removed in one piece... yum?
Needless to say, this recipe didn't make the Keeper list and it's not a recipe we'd ever feed to our friends.  I'm not even going to tell you the full recipe, it's not worth it.  

In better news, we have M&Ms that we can snack on for the rest of the night.  You win some, you lose some.  Does anyone out there have a Stuffed Green Pepper recipe that works in the crock pot?  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Crock Pot Challenge Meal #3: Sugared Pecans & Walnuts

Day #3 of my personal Crock Pot Challenge was a little bit different from the first two nights.  The "meal" I cooked wasn't started in the morning to cook all day.  It also wasn't a dinner, it's a snack.  I thought it was important to try a variety of recipes in the crock pot, so night #3 I went with Sugared Pecans & Walnuts.

The start of the cooking process - nuts in the crock pot with melted butter
I originally found the recipe on Pinterest and it linked me to the recipe on Food.com by user Gingerbear, added in 2003.  There are only two reviews of the recipe, one was positive, so that gave me a little bit of confidence.  Based on the smell that floated through the house halfway through the slow cooking process, they were going to turn out great.

Powdered Sugar added to the crock pot
You'll notice that the recipe calls for either Pecans or Walnuts.  Since I had some walnuts on hand, I doubled the recipe and used both the Pecans and Walnuts.  (Pecans were part of my grocery list for the challenge.) Yes, I have 2 pounds of sugared nuts.  Sometimes I act like a 10-year-old boy, and that sentence makes me laugh.  Read it again, doesn't it make you laugh?

They're done!  The spices have been added and stirred to coat the nuts
The whole process from start to finish is about 3 hours.  I started after our evening run and it was done before we went to bed.  While the pecans and walnuts were cooking it gave me time to prepare for the Stuffed Green Peppers that I'll be slow cooking tomorrow.

MMMM - so delicious.  I wish you could scratch and sniff the screen so you can smell what I'm smelling
On our very official Stephen Scale, these Pecans & Walnuts are absolutely Keepers and will be shared immediately with friends and co-workers.  These would be fantastic as a hostess gift or as a snack for Thanksgiving and Christmas house guests.  We'll definitely be making these again. And again.  And again.

I had to share this picture with you.  While I'm chopping veggies in the kitchen, it doesn't matter what veggies, and to be honest, I could just make a chopping noise in the kitchen, the dogs come running and wait for me to drop something.  They don't eat human food.  The closest they have come is a bit of carrot and they've never had that IN the kitchen.  I have no idea what Goose thinks I'm doing on the counter, but he's beyond excited to see if something drops.  At this point I was taking the caps off the green peppers and removing the ribs and seeds.  Silly puppies.  This is how they travel around the house, attached at the hip.

Goose and Mabel (in red) watching me chop green peppers.  Can you tell how fast their tails are wagging from this picture?
Goose is officially 8 months old now!  He is such a good boy.  It's cute to see how tired and cuddly he gets after 9pm when he wants to go to bed.  10pm Goose is a different dog than 6pm Goose.