Friday, August 30, 2013

Handy Housewife

     I don't know if y'all realize this, but it's hot here in the South.  I know, right!?  Who would've thought!  Seriously, though, even with the breezes we've been enjoying lately, it's hot, which makes running that much more of a chore.  I enjoy running, but I have a problem getting out there.  I come up with excuses, and the heat doesn't help.  What also doesn't help is the fact that my baby girl is no longer the tiny toddler that I could strap into her stroller, knowing that she'd take a nap while I ran.  No; she's a big girl now, and I feel like such a bad mommy for strapping her in the stroller, knowing how bored she gets.  That's why I came up with this awesome Listening Scavenger Hunt to keep her entertained.  I found the idea here, but the original poster's list didn't have pictures, so I made my own.  Monkey was so excited about using her super listener ears to find the things listed that she didn't even put up a fight when I went to buckle her in.  Unfortunately we heard all of the things listed before my warm up finished, but she kept checking things off the list, some more than once.  I think I'll make another one soon with a few more items, but if you want to use this for your little one (even if they're not strapped into a stroller) feel free to click the link above and print it out.

     I've also been feeling a little adventurous in the kitchen, and that's why I decided to make my own bread.  I used this recipe as a guideline, but I tweaked it and made it mine.    I'm rather proud of how it came out, so here it is:

Bacon Jalapeño Cheesy Bread
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups shredded Colby Jack and Monterey cheese + extra to sprinkle on top
11 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
2 1/2 TBS olive oil
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
chopped pickled jalapeño peppers

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a bread pan.  In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add bacon, reserving one slice, and cheese, mix well.  If desired add a handful of pickled jalapeño peppers.  In a separate bowl whisk together eggs, oil and buttermilk.  Combine liquid with dry ingredients, using a wooden spoon to mix.  Pour dough into bread pan.  Sprinkle jalapeños, reserved crumbled bacon, and extra cheese over the top.  Bake 50-55 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes away clean.



     This makes a great breakfast bread.  It's perfect for J to grab a slice, heat it up for 30 seconds and chow down on his way to work.

    My adventures didn't just stop with awesome bread.  Oh no!  This wild child even made her own laundry detergent.  That's right, getting crazy in here.  :-P   My friend was talking about how she makes her own laundry detergent.  My ears perked up when she told me it cost her about $28 for supplies, and that the detergent lasted about seven months.  That's $4 a month, y'all!  I pay about $16 every two weeks for Gain, which is $32 a month!  Then she told me that it is even safe to use on delicates, but it would be powerful enough to get rid of the man funk in my hubby's uniforms.  She was even sweet enough to give me a couple samples of the batch she'd made.   I was sold, so today I headed to Wal-Mart and gathered my supplies to make my first batch.  Here's what you'll need to make your own:

1 (4 lb 12 oz) box of Borax
1 (3 lb 7 oz) box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
1 (3 lb) container of Oxyclean
2 (14.1 oz) bars of Zote OR 3 bars of Fels-Naptha
1 (4 lb) box of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda
55 oz of Purex Crystals (about 2 containers)
A container to put everything into (I used a 5-gallon plastic storage container I got at Walmart for $4)
cheese grater
gloves, if desired

Hand mix all ingredients, except Fels-Naptha or Zote. Grate Fels-Naptha and Zote, add to mix. Use 2-4 tablespoons per load. Or keep the Oxi-Clean scoop, and use about a half scoop for small-regular loads, and a full scoop for large/extra stinking loads. :-)
Here are a few helpful hints from my awesome frined:
-Fels-Naptha can be hard to grate and may cause irritation (so wear gloves); Zote is easier to grate and is easier on your skin
-2 containers of Downy Unstoppables can be substituted for the 2 containers of Purex Crystals

   I was actually excited to do laundry this afternoon.  I know, I need my head examined, but my laundry room smells so good!  My grand total after tax, including the cheese grater, plastic tub, and gloves was $36.60.  Even if I only get 6 months worth out of it, that's $6 a month vs my usual $32 a month.  Yeah, I'm feeling like quite the handy housewife right about now.  I hope y'all find this as useful as I did :-)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ghostly Encounter or Too Much Booze?

     I am currently enjoying a rather quiet day with my little Monkey.  J is currently doing his 4 hour watch, and that leaves just us girls.  I'm enjoying the leisurely silence after a busy few weeks.  J and I got back from our Anniversary trip to NOLA Saturday night, and hit the ground running.  I start school again tomorrow, so we've been trying to get everything done in preparation for that.  Then yesterday I threw together a little lunch to celebrate J's 25th birthday.  (I told him he's getting old.)  It went rather well, I think, and J seemed to be enjoying himself, so what else could I ask for?  Today I worked on cleaning up what little bit of mess there was left from yesterday's gathering, and attempting to avoid eating the remains of J's birthday cake.  That was going well, but then I got super excited when I saw we have Root beer and Vanilla Ice Cream.  Do you know what this means?  Root Beer Floats!!!  Oh, yeah, I'm earning that run tonight.

     Yesterday while talking with a few of my friends I got on the subject of our trip, and I mentioned the Ghost Tour we did, and of course I brought up my ghostly encounter.  Maybe "ghostly encounter" is the wrong wording, let's call it my "possible paranormal encounter".  So let me relate what happened.

     First, let me begin by recommending the Haunted History Tours to anyone who goes to New Orleans!  They're awesome.  It's not the kind where things jump out or scare you, but you hear a lot of interesting history and ghost lore about the city.  That night our guide, Wendy, brought us to several different haunted areas, including a haunted bar and encouraged us to take pictures, pointing out various locations that have captured images of the paranormal in the past, but I wasn't having much luck with my camera.  At the bar, I ordered a VooDoo daiquiri, as recommended by our tour guide.  Now, I don't drink, so a quarter of the drink is all I had to ingest in order to feel slightly buzzed before we headed off the the most haunted building in New Orleans, the LaLaurie Mansion.  I'm going to gloss over the gruesome details, but if you want the full story, check it out here.

    The tour group gathered on the streets outside the old LaLaurie mansion, and we listened carefully to our guide's tale about the place.  Madame LaLaurie was a well-to-do woman in the time of slaves.  She had been married twice before, and both of those husbands had died of "mysterious causes".  She was married again to her third husband, a surgeon who loved anything to do with organs and bodily functions.  Madame LaLaurie was known to give lavish parties, with no expenses spared.  She'd serve the most expensive hors d'oeuvres of the time.  She'd even go so far as to disappear for a while during these parties, and return in a brand new lavish gown, which ruffled a few feathers, but people still attended these gatherings for the free booze and food.

     One night there was a small fire in the kitchen during one of these parties, and the party-goers panicked, but Madame LaLaurie (who had done her disappearing act) returned to her guests in time to calm the fears and suggest they move the party to the streets.  All the guests obeyed, and the band set up in the streets to play as the firemen entered the home to put out the small kitchen fire.  What they found was the cook chained to the stove.  She had started the fire on purpose, and she begged the firemen to ignore her and "save the ones upstairs".  Under the pretense of searching for embers, the firemen raided the rest of the house, looking for these "others".  When they found a barred door hidden in one of the upstairs room, they were ill-prepared for what was inside.   Madame LaLaurie had slaves chained to operating tables and walls, all having undergone some form of experiment that cost most of them their lives.  Evidently, she had been using the noise from these parties to hide the screams, and she had to change into a new dress before returning to her guests to hide the blood on the first gown.  As the firemen began to remove the bodies of the poor slaves who hadn't survived, the people in the streets saw the grutesque bodies and a wave of shock, anger, and fear swept over the crowd.  Once they rallied themselves, they began to talk of attacking the house to bring Madame LaLaurie to justice, but just as they began to organize, the gates swung open, and a carriage flew out onto the street in a mad dash.  Madame LaLaurie escaped, and she was never seen again.

     As the tour guide was relaying this story, I was taking pictures of the building and sipping my daiquiri, but when she began to tell, in exquisite detail, the types of horrors in the room, I began to feel dizzy and light headed.  A wave of nausea hit me, like I was going to be sick.  I remember thinking, "Dear God, don't let me throw up in front of all these people."  I felt the world go black, starting in the corners of my eyes and working it's way to the middle to cover all my vision.  I knew I was walking, but I didn't feel anything until my knee hit the road, and I felt the curb rise up to meet my rump.  I was seated, but I neither heard nor saw any of it.  When the blackness swam away again, J was crouched over me, looking concerned.  He grabbed the drink from my hand, threw it away, and began to fan me.  I felt sick, weak, and dizzy.  I blamed the alcohol, because I never drink.  J put his arm around me and helped me to my feet.  I had to lean on him for the rest of the tour.  That night I barely slept.  The street car rumbled outside our hotel window.  I was miserably hot.  I couldn't get comfortable.  In the middle of the night I heard a woman scream, but I didn't dare open my eyes to look in fear of what I'd see.

    The next morning I felt foolish and tired for letting a ghost story scare me so, and I still said it was the booze that made me feel so faint, but later that afternoon I googled the story to fill in the parts I had missed during my black out.  I was still laughing at my own silliness, until an article made me freeze.  Apparently 100s of people over the years have fainted during the retelling of the horrors in the LaLaurie mansion.  It's the only spot in the tour that is required to be shown, so the guides always gather the groups in the same spot outside where the party guest had stood, and they say that the people who faint are actually reliving the shock, fear, and anger the party goers felt at seeing the atrocities that came out of the house that night.  Imagine how you would feel, if during a party one of your host's servants was wheeled past you on a stretcher, with both her arms and both her legs cut off.  Was that what I had felt the night before?

     So I'll leave it to you to decide.  Did I encounter the residual feeling of shock that had been imprinted on the streets outside the LaLaurie mansion that night so long ago, or was a quarter of a daiquiri really too much for me to take?

    Now, for those of you who still have an appetite after a story like that, what's wrong with you?  Just kidding.  Here you go:

Teriyaki Glazed Chicken from The Best of Country Cooking
 Teriyaki Glazed Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into strips
3 TBS vegetable oil, divided
4 medium carrots, julienned
1 medium onion, julienned
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
Hot cooked rice
Sesame seeds, toasted, optional
Sliced green onions, optional

In a large skillet or wok, stir-fry chicken in 2 TBS oil for 6-8 minutes, or until juices run clear.  Remove chicken and set aside.  In the same skillet, stir-fry carrots in remaining oil for 2 minutes.  Add onion; stir-fry about 2-4 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender.  Combine soy sauce and brown sugar; add to skillet.  Bring to boil.  Return chicken to skillet.  Boil for 5 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened.  Serve over rice.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

J Has a Favorite Child (bet you can't guess who)

     Tomorrow J and I will be heading to NOLA for a few days to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary.  I'm excited to get away for a few days, and I'm excited because this is the first time we've actually been able to celebrate our anniversary.  The few years he has been home for the occasion he's come home the day before, so we were still celebrating his return more so than our anniversary.  This year it'll be about both of us.  From a haunted tour of New Orleans (J's choice) to a Jazz brunch at A Court of Two Sisters (my idea), we'll both be getting a little of what we want.

     In the mean time Monkey will be spending her first weekend away from Mommy and Daddy.  She's going to stay at her Nanny's house where she'll be able to play with her cousin until her heart's content. I'm not going to lie, I'm secretly freaking out.  My sister is more than capable of handling my little ball of spunk (after all I swear Monkey gets much of her spunk from her Nanny), but I'm still a bit nervous simply because she's never been away from home but once.  And that was for one night, and she was five minutes down the street!  I know she'll be okay, but I may cry when we leave tomorrow, and I know I'll never hear the end of it from my husband.

    And last, but not least (as you'll see in a moment) our loving mutt, Roux is going to be staying at my mom's house so she can play with her favorite buddy.  My mom has a very energetic Australian shepherd that my dog loves to put in his place, so I'm not even batting an eye at the thought of dropping her off.  My husband, apparently, isn't so steady in this department.

    Earlier, I asked J to bathe said mutt in preparation for her visit tomorrow.  As he did, I went about cleaning and packing.  When I came upstairs to grab a few clothes, I could hear this one-sided conversation coming from the bathroom, "Now, if you have any problems, you just give me a call, and Mommy and I will come get you, and we'll bring you to our hotel with us.  Okay?  Now, close your eyes.  Close your eyes!"  That's when I opened the door in time to see my husband attempting to rinse the soap off of our dog's face, with her eyes open of course, and I hear J say, "I told you to close your eyes, stubborn mutt," before he turns around, noticing me with a guilty look on his face.

    "Really?"  I said.

    "Excuse you!  We're having a private conversation here!"  He exclaimed, slightly ruffled.

     I couldn't do anything but shut the door and walk away.

     But, really?

    No; I mean it.  Really?

    I expected to see Monkey in the tub, not my albeit lovable, but still not human mutt!

     Don't get me wrong, I love my dog.  I would be heartbroken if anything ever happened to her.  She really is the best dog I've ever had, but I still understand she's a dog.  I know there are people out there who personify their pets to an extreme; I just didn't realize I married one!  My husband makes a complete fool out of himself over that dog sometimes.  It's sweet; it's endearing; it's a little creepy sometimes, but hey, he's mine, so what am I gonna do?   I'm just relieved he's not seriously thinking about bring the dog to New Orleans with us.  At least I hope he isn't O.o

     In honor of my lovable husband (in all his glorious quirkiness), here is one of his favorite dinners, Pork Chops with Herbed Cream Sauce, Pasta Veggie Medley (both from The Best of Country Cooking), and Roasted Okra from my garden.

Pork Chops with Herbed Cream Sauce
4 pork chops (1/2 inch thick)
2 TBS vegetable oil
1 TBS all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp beef bouillon granules
1 TBS minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp dried basil, thyme, or tarragon
2/3 cup milk or half-and-half cream
2 TBS water
1/8 or 1/4 tsp pepper

In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook pork chops in oil until the juices run clear (about 4 minutes per side).  Remove and keep warm; drain the pan.  Add flour, bouillon, parsley, and basil to the skillet.  Gradually stir in milk, water and pepper until smooth.  Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.  Spoon over chops.

Pasta Veggie Medley
1 package (8 oz) medium tube pasta
1 medium onion, chopped
2 TBS vegetable oil
2 small zucchini, julienned
2 medium carrot, julienned
2 TBS Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute onion in oil until tender.  Add zucchini and carrots; stir-fry until carrots are render.  Drain pasta; place in a serving bowl.  Add vegetables and toss gently.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Okra
18 medium sized okra, sliced
1 TBS olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and preheat the oven to 425.  Lay okra out on the baking sheet; drizzle with oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stirring to coat.  Bake 10-15 minutes.

Enjoy :-)

Friday, August 9, 2013

My 2 Cents

This entry is currently being edited.  Please enjoy this recipe until it's finished:

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad with Artichoke Hearts
from Food & Wine's Quick from Scratch Pasta

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound in all)
7 TBS olive oil
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 lb fusilli
1 1/4 cups canned, drained artichoke hearts (or one 14 oz can), rinsed and cut into wedges
3 scallions including green tops, chopped
1/4 cup chopped flat-leafed parsley
1 TBS red wine vinegar
2 TBS grated Parmesan cheese

Coat chicken with 1 TBS of the oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.  Grill or broil until just done, 4-5 minutes and then cut crosswise into 1/4" slices.  

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the fusilli until just done, about 13 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain thoroughly.  In a large bowl, toss the pasta with 1 TBS of the olive oil.

Add the chicken, artichoke hearts, scallions, parsley, the remaining 5 TBS oil, the vinegar, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the Parmesan cheese to the pasta.  Toss well.  Enjoy :-)

A Little Bit of Princess Pampering

     This week I watched my Facebook newsfeed fill up with images of everyone's baby going back to school, and I realized with a sort of sadness that this is the last year I won't be posting "First Day of School" pictures of Monkey.  That's right; next year Monkey will be joining the flocks of tiny people headed off for some learning, and I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it.  So to celebrate my ability to keep her home with me for one more year, we had a Princess Day.  We started the day off with Princess Pancakes, cooked by yours truly of course.

Then Monkey picked out her favorite Princess dress, the one I sewed last year for her Rapunzel costume.  Then I did her makeup, curled her hair, and painted her nails.

Ready to get her hair did

My beautiful little princess.

She requested that I wear a dress too, and she even painted my nails in return.  Next we made princess crowns before settling in for a princess movie.  She picked Brave, which is perfect since it's the only Disney movie with a Mommy/Daughter theme.

She was tired of pictures, so she started making goofy faces at the camera.  This was the best one lol
     It was a really good day.  Then J came home, and he quickly got bored with the role of Prince Charming and grabbed the Nerf gun.  That's when my pretty little princess became my Ninja Nerf gun warrior, and I transformed back into a hard-working peasant.  But it was fun while it lasted.  And what would a Princess Day be without some yummy Princess cookies?

These rich chocolatey cookies will have you feeling like you're getting the royal treatment too.
These were so easy and delicious!

Gooey Rich Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 40 cookies
4 squares Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate
3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks (I chopped up some Baker's Semi-sweet chocolate bars)
1 cup walnuts, if desired

Melt butter and chocolate in microwave in 30 second intervals, for a total of about 2 minutes.  Be careful not to let the chocolate burn.  Stir together once completely melted, then add the sugar, and stir to combine.  Stir in eggs and vanilla.  Add flour, a little at a time.  Add in chocolate chunks and walnuts if desired.  Roll into 1 inch balls, and place on a greased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes,  or until the edges are crisp and the middle is just set.  (It will look a little undercooked, but that'll ensure they stay nice and chewy.) Cool on a cooling rack.  Enjoy!