Friday, February 25, 2011

Brussel Sprouts...

Why do brussel sprouts have such a bad rep? As a kid, cartoons and such always portrayed brussel sprouts and lima beans as the worst, most disgusting thing your mom could possibly force you to eat. Well, I don't often eat lima beans, but they're ok and I've decided that brussel sprouts might be one of the best vegetables ever...if they're prepared the right way.

One of the most fabulous meals I've ever eaten (even including when I visited Paris, where the food was amazing) was at The Tulip here in town. It was a piece of peppercorn encrusted/wine and mushroom sauce drenched filet mignon with brussel sprouts. The brussel sprouts were drool-worthy...buttery...still a little crunch to them...oh, my...

Anyway, I have been cooking brussel sprouts a couple nights a week (I don't make my husband eat them every time because he's not a huge fan). Here is a super-easy, delicious recipe for brussel sprouts.

(serves 1)
8-10 brussel sprouts, cut in half (wimpy leaves removed)
1 or 2 pieces of bacon, crisp and crumbled OR several pieces of good quality, deli ham, chopped and browned OR something fancy like pancetta
butter (so much better than olive oil, which I have used before)
salt, pepper, chicken bouillon, a little water
delightful, creamy goat cheese (optional)

Decide whether you prefer bacon or ham, I actually like the ham a lot because it's quicker and a little less greasy. Last night, I only had bacon so that's what I used. Fry the bacon until crisp, remove from skillet and dispose of most of the bacon grease (all but maybe 1/2 tsp). Now add a dab of butter and the brussel sprouts, you want them to be browned and seared a bit before you add the rest of the ingredients. If you're using ham, add the butter and chopped ham together and brown a bit then just add the brussel sprouts directly (don't need to set aside the ham) and add more butter if needed. After the sprouts are a bit seared (2-3 minutes), add a 1/2 tsp of chicken bouillon (crystals or solid...) and one or two tablespoons of water. (put the bacon crumbles back in) Put a lid over and let them simmer for 3-5 minutes, the liquid should be mostly cooked down. Poke with a fork every so often, you don't want even a semblance of mushiness.

Next, dump them on a plate, season with salt and pepper and dot with goat cheese if you want. It's really good! If this is a meal by itself, add a quick fried egg and voila!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol

Occasionally, I like to read a sensational, action/adventure novel. I enjoyed Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. Plot twists and turns, interesting characters, accurate historical background, fascinating setting. The Lost Symbol is the newest installment of Robert Langdon stories. It's on the New York Times best-seller list and I needed something new to read. Here are the pros and cons:

1) A real page turner.
2) One truly shocking plot twist.

1) A page turner because from Chapter 4 onwards, almost every section and chapter ends a little something like this:

       * "He stopped dead in his tracks. Something was very, very wrong."

       * "He heard an unexpected sound in the distance. [...]
         Someone was screaming."

       * "[...] he realized he was looking at the
         severed right hand of Peter Solomon."

       *"If Langdon had not yet grasped his role here tonight,
          soon he would." (Duh, duh, duh)

       *"To his horror, something was staring back."

       *"Then, like an oncoming truck, it hit her."

This is just a small sampling. The phrases lost their effectiveness because they kept coming back over and over, like too many sweet tarts.

2) The one really great plot twist, the one that made me gasp out loud, was only related peripherally to the central plot. When the main 'question' was finally answered, it had lost its oomph because the peripheral plot twist was so shocking and the answer seemed mundane.

3) Christianity is horribly misrepresented and scripture is misinterpreted and taken out of context over and over throughout the book. The deity of man is proclaimed time and time again. The idea of man achieving enlightenment and making himself a god through meditation, positive thinking, science, intelligence, and education is introduced in so many different ways that it is nauseating. The author even goes so far as to claim that our Founding Fathers believed that attaining Enlightenment would make them gods. He cites the painting on the ceiling of the capitol rotunda. Brown wrote that this is a representation of George Washington becoming a god, 'the Apotheosis of George Washington.'

I need to do some reading to find out what it really means, but I know that our country was founded on the principles of scripture and the idea of bowing to God not making gods of ourselves.

Overall, this book is interesting, but not up to the quality of Dan Brown's earlier books and I was saddened by and tired of hearing about the deity of man by the end.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Rotisserie Chicken

Yum, yummy, yum! If you've never eaten a rotisserie chicken or used one in a recipe, get going! It makes meals so quick and easy and it's great for 1-3 or 4 people, depending on what you're doing with it. Rachael Ray, Pioneer Woman and lots of others call for rotisserie chicken in their recipes. This month's Real Simple has 10 meals using RC and they look really good.

I have lots and lots of meals that call for 'shredded or chopped cooked chicken.'  It's not a hard thing to make and it's a bit cheaper than the rotisserie chicken, but it adds a significant amount of time to your prep work for dinner and makes for more dishes. So...enter rotisserie chicken, stage left. I generally divest the chicken of its skin and pull off/chop all the meat. That leaves you with 3-4 cups of chicken, depending on its size. This is great on salad, in pasta, inside puff pastry/crescent roll with cream cheese, onions and mushrooms, you name it.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day and we decided to stay outside and take a long, long walk so I didn't want to spend a ton of time cooking. I ended up making a simplified version of Pioneer Woman's Asian Noodle Salad. It was sooo good, see below.

Asian Noodle Salad with Chicken
1 package of whole grain thin spaghetti (cook al dente and drain)
1/2 bag of good quality chopped cabbage (cole slaw mix)
3-4 handfuls of baby spinach
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
meat of 1 rotisserie chicken, chopped
(you could add lots of things to this, any veggie that seems Asian...)

3 T. canola oil
2 T. tahini (or you can use some sesame oil)
2 T. peanut butter
4 T. soy sauce
1/4-1/2 c. seasoned rice vinegar
a little white sugar (tsp.)
several dashes of cayenne (I had sriracha so I used some of that too)
* Season to taste at the end, usually I add a few more dashes of soy sauce, vinegar or a bit of oil if it seems too dry.

Whisk together dressing ingredients (be sure pasty ingredients are dissolved), pour over noodles, chicken and veggies, toss together. It's really good hot or cold!

Especially great if you want to do this...instead of stand around in the kitchen...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Lately I have felt that people share a little too much personal info in their facebook status updates. I don't think you should announce to the web (read: potential stalkers) exactly where you are at a specific time, disturbing psychological comments, weird growths that you found on your feet because a piece of glass has been festering in there (I did NOT make that one up), among other things...

Recently, I've been made aware of a whole new realm of frighteningly informative facebook status updates. Childbirth. No, no, no, no No, NO!! Friends, let everyone know your child was born, healthy, boy or girl, what time, how big, all that jazz, but Lord in Heaven, please, spare us the specific details. True fact, here are two that I read just this week:

"It's a boy! [Name, weight, time] Mama did great. All natural, vaginal birth with no epidural."

"It's a girl! [Name, weight, time] A natural birth and right into her Mama's hands."

Ok, congratulations, love those babies...BUT I seriously cannot stop thinking about "right into her Mama's hands." Like, in labor you leaned over and pulled your own baby out? Sorry to drag you readers into this disturbing mental image with me, but just so not right. There's also a certain amount of pride attached to these statements: You are more awesome if you don't use anesthesia? Here's my philosophy.

Sin entered the world, pain entered the world. Childbirth became painful. Over thousands of years God has been constantly redeeming the world from sin...anesthesia is invented and redeems women from the pain of childbirth. Lay hold of the redemption that God offers to His people!!!

Moral of this story. Keep your medical history out of your FB status.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I love Valentine's Day. There is something great about a holiday that encourages everyone to be as gaudy and schmoozy as possible. Go on, wear pink and red together! Put glitter on everything, including your face and the occasional dessert. Send cheesy cards that say things like "You can bet your last 'scent,' I'm your Valentine," with a picture of a skunk holding a heart.

This year, I thought it would be cute to use my baby as a prop for a Valentine photo shoot. You know, something adorable with a silly phrase that goes along. I've always liked these of Julia and Paul Child.

I do think, however, that a baby in a bubble bath would be a little cuter than a middle aged couple in a bubble bath. Here were my best tries at a baby Valentine photo.

My pre-nap try at a picture...bad idea.

It took me a while to realize he was afraid of the tissue paper, the sound was scary.

"Here's my heart, don't break it!"

Then there were the homemade Valentine's. (Don't worry friends, if you haven't recieved them already, they're in the mail.) I left not one ribbon spool unspooled or one glitter shaker unshaken...Gaudy Valentine land, here I come.

"Here are the 'Symbls' of my love." Hahaha...
Have a great Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Taggie and the funniest picture in the world...

I made a toy for Baby P this week. He's completely obsessed with tags on toys-they're more exciting than the toys themselves. He examines them and chews them, you name it. There are actually toys called "tag blankets" or "taggies" catering to this infantile interest in tags. Just a little blanket with pieces of ribbon, etc... sticking out of the edges. So rather than buying one, I raided my fabric and ribbon stash and made one.

Blue and brown fabric on one side...

Fun yellow on the other...

I think he likes it.

There's a good chance he woke up from his nap two seconds before this...

He definately loves it...

Now, are you ready for the funniest picture in the entire world? I cannot look at it without laughing my head off. Baby P was smiling really big then the flash accidentally went off and I think he tried to close his eyes and look away, but resulted in the weirdest face I have ever seen on a baby. For reals...

I'm putting it way down here so you have to scroll down to see it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


After reading Julie and Julia (really good book, by the way), I became obsessed with trying a "gimlet" cocktail. Julie talked about it all through the book-although they often made them with vodka- and she made it sound so refreshing and glamorous. 

It's made with gin and Rose's sweetened lime juice, four parts gin and one part Rose's. This, while quite tasty, could also be used in a pinch to clean an oven or dissolve cement. So I migrated to the "Gin Fizz." Doesn't that sound so 20's prohibition and whimsically delicious?

The Gin Fizz:
1 part gin
2 parts club soda ("The Fizz")
1 dash of Rose's
Mix gently so as not to destroy the fizz and serve over ice in a rocks glass.

Yummy, yum, yum!

File:Bombay-sapphire.jpgGin facts:

1) It's made with wheat or rye so it's a "light-bodied spirit" according to

2) The primary flavor in gin is juniper berries (yes, your parents might have these low growing shrubs planted in their gardens).

3) Gin is also distilled through botanicals such as anise, angelica root, cinnamon, organge zest, coriander, cassia bark and many others. The specific botanicals chosen are the gin maker's prerogative and result in different flavors.  For example, Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin contains almond, lemon zest, liquorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb and grains of paradise. Now, I'm not sure what all these are...but the combination is pleasant and aromatic.

Drink Responsibly

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Flowers...Spies...Spies posing as Flowers...Posies of Spies...

1908 edition
So one of my all-time favorite books is the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. If you haven't read it, shame on you, go run right out and find it. The sad thing is that the Baroness (yes, that is actually the author's title) didn't write much more. There is a sequel to the Pimpernel, but it's not readily available and lacks the 'pzazz' and excitement of it's predecessor.

Several years ago, in my rambles through the fiction section of my favorite bookstore (Joseph Beth), I came across a series by an author named Lauren Willig. She took the concept of the Scarlet Pimpernel and created a new set of books based on the idea of English spies during the French Revolution and beyond. Sir Percy Blakeney (the original Pimpernel) is present in the series, and he hands over his spying dynasty to the next Flowery Hero in Willig's first book The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Here is what I love about these books:

1) Historical facts match real history. There's nothing worse than..."ummm, that historical figure wasn't alive yet during the time in which you've chosen to set your story." Willig has clearly read and researched and is a great writer. Get this, she has a bibliography for each book on her website filled with both primary and secondary sources. The ol' writer of research papers in me loves that!

2) There is a mystery (or several) in every book that isn't immediately 'solvable' to the reader. I can't stand when there is an obvious answer to the riddle for hundreds of pages but the author refuses to admit that the plot lines aren't complicated (or interesting) enough for hundreds of pages. Willig doesn't commit this faux-pas. There is actually a modern storyline (a young woman doing research for a PhD thesis) as well as the plot unfolding in history, it always makes for a page turner. Although each story is about a different main character or characters, there is always some relationship to the stars of one of the other books-siblings, friends, etc... This gives some continuity and context that I enjoy.

3) Romance and Substance. If I read a book that contains not an ounce of real plot or internal struggle or real-life hardship (i.e. Shopaholic), then there's something missing from the reading experience. Willig's books are funny and romantic, but there is also some real issue at the heart of the action. The character development is really good, by the end of a book you understand and sympathize with characters that you detested at the beginning.

4) Beautiful cover art. I know the old adage "don't judge a book by it's cover," but these are lovely on the outside. I will say the newest one looks different and not as attractive, I'm going to see if it's the same artist.

This is the first in the series of seven.
4) They're long enough for real enjoyment. Being a quick reader, I am often disappointed with short books,  large print, etc... these do not disappoint, except for the obvious sigh when the rollicking good story is over.
Anyway, I'm greatly looking forward to these two new books by Lauren Willig that I am admiring in their substantial, hardback, papery goodness (not Kindle format).

Released in January, the cover seems
different but the story looks exciting as ever!

A Christmas book, released in October 2010
(that I wish I had known about in December).