Monday, November 26, 2012

There was a time ...

... when I thought that I wouldn't get pregnant.  My body seemed to conspire against me.  And although I found myself saying from time-to-time that it would be OK if I didn't have children, I found myself going through the baby clothes section in Target and finding outfits that I would buy on clearance and hoard away in the event that my ship came in.

A year ago, I was unaware that I was gestating a little bean that is now an ornery, snuggling, teething, drooling, smiley, lovable little hunk of boy named Ian.  He has his daddy's eyes and his mommy's temper.  And both parents enchanted with his "miles and miles of smiles."

And those little outfits weren't bought in vain.

Why yes, this is a Pink Floyd onesie.  Why do you ask?
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a date to kiss those lovable little cheeks ad nauseum.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

I remember ...

Motherhood has taught me a few new tricks.  One of them is how to balance my sleeping two-month-old on my abdomen while I type.  (Full disclosure:  I'm a huge proponent of getting my kid to sleep in places other than on me or his dad.  This is about the time that I'd sneak him into his car seat or to his crib for the 20 minute naps that he's famous for.  But the kid had his two-month vaccinations today.  I want to keep him close by.  And I'm in love with his dear little face.)

Motherhood has also made me unaccountably sappy.  We'll blame this on post-natal hormones compounded with sore nipples and sleeplessness.  Stupid things impact me and make me want to cry.  Letters like this or thisMarines who help people with prosthetics.  High school athletes who show the real meaning of sportsmanshipIdiots in Anoka.

OK - the Anoka thing made me want to hurl.  But I digress.

I'm aware of a lot of the world's shenangians and sappy moments because of Facebook.  When I'm not chuckling over the latest meme posted by George Takei or reposting some liberal cartoon that draws the ire of my conservative friends, it seems like a lot of the items that my friends are posting are usually in support of marriage equality. 

Today's National Coming Out Day and I've come out in support of my friends' right to marry whoever the hell they want to regardless of gender.  That should surprise no one.  Tomorrow is another "day" of sorts - a day that actually got me on my path of outspoken activism.  Tomorrow marks the 14th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death. 

1998.  I would have been a junior at Luther College.  At least one of my dear friends had come out by that time. There was no way to know that over a decade later, I'd meet another man who would come out and that this person would become one of my best friends in the entire planet. 

I live in a world where my secular, liberal self has a hard time with the roadblocks that are in the way of my gay friends.  I think that the Minnesota marriage amendment that is on the upcoming ballot is a shameless piece of political posturing that has been introduced by some idiot who is simply seeking re-election.

My argument is flawed but over the past few months, I had a weird revelation.  For the politicians who so stridently decry the impact that gay marriage will have on "traditional" society, I say that it's pretty easy to be against something that will never impact you as a person.

One of the reasons that I am so outspoken about gay rights is because Matthew Shepard's death was a turning point in my life.  The brutality of his murder made a lot of people wake up - I was one of them.  And not because of the fight for equality.  I woke up and began to speak out because there was a part of me that could substitute Matthew's baby face for any one of my friends who had come out in the small Midwestern college that we called home.  What if someone tried to hurt my friend Dan?  No one would do that - no one would hurt someone just because he was gay.  Right?  Right?

As I wrote on my Facebook wall: "I remember the horror and grief that I felt for this man and his family. And I remember the fear I felt for my friends who had come out. And I promised myself that I would raise my voice in solidarity for my friends and decry the hate and violence that ended this young man's life. I remember."

I raise my voice because I believe that love is love, regardless of whether it's between a heterosexual or a homosexual couple.  I raise my voice to fight against the violence that still occurs today. 

I raise my voice - albeit quietly - because I can imagine that Matthew Shepard's mother once balanced her boy carefully on her abdomen as he napped, so she could go about the work of her day.  I am sure that she loved her son's dear little face. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

End of summer and a book review!

Although we have most of September until fall is officially upon us, a lot of my fellow food bloggers have been lamenting the "end of summer" with seasonal recipes that take advantage of our gardens' last hurrah of produce.

Although I always love to see these recipes and this commentary - this year has me scratching my head.  Where the hell did this year go?  Oh wait - I was pregnant for the majority of this year.  While my contemporaries have been plotting out how to use the last of the tomatoes of summer, I've been trying to decode my newborn ... I mean - my one-month-old son.  Where did the past month go?

Anyway - one of the "projects" on my to-do list that got shuffled to the wayside while waiting for my little bean was a review of J.T. Ellison's "A Deeper Darkness." 

Full confession - Ms. Ellison sent me a copy of her book to review ... oh - a few months ago.  And I finished reading the book and writing the review ... a few months ago.  But I'm just getting to publishing my review now.  Sigh.

J.T. Ellison first came on the literary scene in 2007 with "All the Pretty Girls," a novel that introduced the reading world to Lt. Taylor Jackson, a tough cookie of a homicide detective located in Nashville, Tennessee.  As the narrative into Jackson's world increased, readers have been introduced to recurring characters like John Baldwin, Jackson's love interest, and Jackson's childhood friend Dr. Sam Owens, a medical examiner.

In "A Deeper Darkness" (released this April by Mira books, a Harlequin imprint), Dr. Owens takes center stage, a couple of years after a devastating flood decimates her entire world.  To cope with the loss of her family, Sam has buried herself into her work - building a fragile, yet failing, refuge that is shattered when she gets a phone call from the mother of an old flame.  Eddie Donovan, her first love, has been murdered - will Sam perform a secondary autopsy?

The storyline that follows establishes Ellison's prowess as a storyteller who infuses her stories and characters with a mind boggling amount of realism and research.  The questions the reader encounters are plausible: If Eddie Donovan was killed by a car jacker, what were the circumstances leading up to his murder?  How are subsequent murders investigated by DC Homicide Detective Darren Fletcher related? The case uncovered unwittingly by Sam Owens leads her back to the past - a seemingly cut and dried friendly fire incident in Afghanistan that returned Eddie Donovan to the U.S. a changed man.

A reader does not need to be familiar with the world of Taylor Jackson to pick up "A Deeper Darkness."  That is part of Ellison's genius as a writer - Sam Owens emerges as a fully formed character worthy of her own series of books (which Ellison is working on).  "Darkness" is a tautly told thriller that keeps a reader hooked until the final, heartbreaking chapter that holds the key to Sam's guilt regarding the death of her family members.

Although the bloggers say that summer has ended - I say pshaw ... this is a perfect summer read.  And if you're like me and have a one-month-old (and a cat) vying for your attention, this book will hold until the crisp fall nights fall upon us.  And even better?  Ms. Ellison is currently giving away two copies of "Darkness" at her website.  Visit Ms. Ellison's website for details and good luck!

Monday, August 27, 2012

In the meantime ...

Waiting for a baby is kind of agonizing.  Waiting for a baby that was due on July 27th and didn't show up until August 8th? Downright challenging to one who is not known for her patience. 

However - my beloved little bean was born on August 8, 2012 - weighing in at 7 lbs, 9 oz and stretching 20 1/2 inches.  His name is Ian.  As my husband says, "he's a good guy."  We'll keep him. 

*~*~*~*~*

So ... while I was waiting for Ian - I canned salsa and bourbon cherry jam.  Because it was hot and standing over a boiling water bath while massively pregnant seemed like the thing to do to start labor.  (FYI - didn't work.  Neither did eating eggplant Parmesan.)

*~*~*~*~*

And this is the first recipe that I made post-baby.  I still have a WONDERFUL abundance of tomatoes in my garden and when I'm not blitzing them in my food processor and putting them in 2 c. portions in freezer bags, I'm trying to figure out easy ways to use them up.

*~*~*~*~*

Happy Monday!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I grow babies and tomatoes!

Well ... a baby that I'm impatiently waiting for, but the tomatoes are coming in!  And they are gorgeously abundant!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Putting my money where my mouth is ...

Thirty-five dials.  Five conversations.  Three refusals.  One yes.  One person "moved."

I spent this evening on a phone bank for the Rochester arm of Minnesotans United for All Families, talking to people about the constitutional amendment that's on the ballot in November.  The language of this ballot would be to define marriage in the Minnesota constitution as strictly between one man and one woman.

I have pretty strong opinions about this amendment and am emphatic in my efforts to encourage people to vote "NO" for this amendment.

However, there comes a time when words aren't enough.  I have the wonderful problem of surrounding myself with like-minded people.  And since I work from home, my sphere of influence is limited. 

That's why I found myself on a phone bank tonight.  That's why I found myself reading off of a script and trying to start conversations with people across southeastern Minnesota about marriage and why it's important to me as a straight, married, pregnant lady that my son will grow up in a state that will be the first of 30 states to defeat this amendment. 

For someone who hates talking on the phone - this night was tough.  There was the very sweet lady who is a member of the ELCA and has been torn by the conversations in the church.  She'll vote for the amendment, but recognizes that times will change regardless.  She wished me well on the remainder of my pregnancy.

There was the sarcastic man who talked about how gross and wrong it was for two men or two women to be married.  I thanked him for his time and hung up.

There was one woman who will vote "no" on the marriage amendment, but she really didn't have strong feelings about gay marriage.  (But hey - "no" is AWESOME in this election.)

And then there was the guy who kinda broke my heart.  The conversation started out as the man being 100% for this amendment, 100% against gay marriage.  Gay marriage is a travesty and it goes against God and the Bible.

I was ready to wrap up the call politely and hang up, but I tried another tact that we had discussed in training.

"We're not voting on the Bible," I said.  I explained that I'm secular and that at the end of the day, I cannot debate about morals, God, Bible, whatever. 

"Do you know anyone who is gay?"

"Yes," he said.  "My nephew.  And it breaks my sister's heart.  It breaks the father's heart."  But then he starts telling me about his nephew.  His nephew's partner that's "a great guy."

I told this man about my nephews - I told him about one in particular.  The 16-year-old nephew who was technically my "first" nephew from my brother's first marriage.  And although this boy is taller than me, although he's driving and although he's a star on the basketball court, I still look at him and I can see him as a three-year-old.  And how that drives my nephew absolutely nuts.  But the love that I feel for this kid who is more like a brother to me than anything else. 

My nephew is not gay, but my point was made:  "If someone told me that there was some law that stood between my nephew and his happiness, I can't fathom that," I said. 

Here's how the script ends on these phone conversations ... "now that we've had this conversation, if you had to vote tomorrow, would you vote yes for the marriage amendment or would you vote no."

This man did not know.  It was something he had to think more about. 

*~*~*~*~

There are no clear, decisive victories in phone banks.  I'm not going to call up someone who is morally opposed to gay marriage and expect them to be won over by my dulcet tones and my stunning logic.  It does not work that way.  And as I've struggled with the perception of gay marriage and how it keeps playing out in the political arena, I've made peace with the fact that there are some people that will never see my point of view.  It sucks.  It's frustrating.  I can curse, I can gnash my teeth and rave at my husband (yes, all of these things have happened), but at the end of the day - I have to pick myself up, brush myself off, and move on. 

But there are little victories.  There are people who might change their mind because of something that is said.  The ability to take gay marriage out of the abstract and make it real. 

Sometimes we are the uncles of gay men.  Sometimes there are people that we work with, that we worship with, that we went to school with ...

*~*~*~*~*~

So - considering that I'm 34 weeks pregnant, extremely uncomfortable, and that I truly hate making phone calls - why in the name of hell would I volunteer for this?  And why would I do it again?

Thirty states around the country have had similar marriage amendments go on their ballots.  Thirty states have passed these amendments.  Minnesota has the opportunity to be the first state to defeat the marriage amendment and all signs show that this is going to be a close and emotional election. 

I want to wake up on November 7th and find out that the marriage amendment failed miserably.  But in the event that it does pass (and I give serious thought about emigrating to Canada), I want to know in my heart that I did everything I could to help defeat this amendment. 

Working a phone bank took me way out of my comfort zone.  I found myself getting strength by listening to this older gentleman named Bob make phone calls across the room from me.  There was something about his raspy voice that made me feel like I wasn't alone and encouraged me to keep dialing. 


This evening was a challenge, but it was a privilege. 

So - my Rochester area friends who read my blog.  Working a phone bank?  Yeah - it's a time commitment and yeah, it's kind of terrifying.  But the Rochester group does a GREAT job training you to work the phones.  We spent an hour talking about the marriage amendment, some of the opposing viewpoints that are encountered, the importance of being kind to yourself when it came to tough phone calls ... the importance of having conversations with people regarding this issue.  While I wasn't 100% prepared for my first phone call and while I have yet to hit my stride, I felt reasonably confident as I made my way down the list of calls I needed to make.

Whether it's phone calling, door knocking, donating money, or just having the conversation with friends - I implore people to get involved.  This is going to be a close election.  See my numbers above - the majority of the people I talked to were for the marriage amendment.  A couple people hadn't really heard about it.  Out of 35 dials, I might have changed the mind of one voter - or at least got him on the road to thinking about the issue on a personal level beyond the abstract. 

You can find information about Minnesotans United for All Families here

As I said tonight on Facebook:  "We can move towards inclusion, tolerance, and love one conversation at a time, friends ..." Until this baby shows up, I'll work the phone banks again ... I do believe that I can make a difference.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"What is it you plan ..."

Life is nothing, if not random.

Today, I found myself in awe reading an article that was posted on one of my friends' Facebook pages.  The article mourns the manager of a adult movie theater who was murdered in Ottumwa.  The article killed me the way that good journalism does ... this article made me feel for a man I never met and will never know. 

A little while later, I read an article about a project at Harvard Business School that asks graduating MBA students this question, that is derived from a poem written by Mary Oliver:  "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

And then I found the poem itself. 

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 

What a beautiful question ... one that I'm going to ponder for awhile.

*~*~*~*~*~

My aunt is doing better - my cousin Leah is posting her progress on Facebook and on my aunt's Caring Bridge site.  I am thankful for progress, however small it is ... because my aunt is her own little ray of sunshine.  The world would be a little darker without her in it. 

*~*~*~*~*

Good thoughts and prayers are requested for my friend Laurie's daughter who was in a car accident.  It sounds like Breanna is on the mend, but uff da ... how frightening for my friend ...

Friday, June 1, 2012

A beautiful omen or a harbinger of doom?

I'm going to start this off with a pretty broad statement:  I rarely have bad days.  Yes, I get grumpy; yes, there are times where I string profanities together in a way that would make a sailor blush; yes, there are times that I cry, but overall - my life is pretty charmed and blessed.  I'm that annoying "glass half full" person. 

Today has seemed to prove itself as an exception to my perpetually and annoyingly sunny personality.  I emailed Ryan and told him that I was ready to pack it in, go back to bed and forget that this day ever started.

I have a sick aunt ... not just ill ... the kind of illness that has her struggling in the hospital after brain surgery.  I don't care if it's 2012 and the medical world is full of all sorts of technology and smarts that make them better than they were 30 years ago.  Brain surgery.  It's not like getting your tonsils out. 

And then I got an email from the kid that I mentored this year at Mayo High School.  She didn't pass her grad-required reading test, ergo - she isn't graduating.  DAMMIT - she had the second highest improved GPA in the STRIVE mentoring group we were a part of.  She had damn near perfect attendance in her school.  She's supposed to go to RCTC in the fall and she would be the first in her family to ever attend college.  DOESN'T THIS ALL MEAN SOMETHING IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS???  I am so fracking proud of this kid that I'm damn near apoplectic with rage at the high school and I'm frustrated at the system.  I want to call them and be like, you know - I know fuck-ups.  I know people who have graduated from high school who probably shouldn't.  This kid isn't a pot smoker.  She's not lazy.  She has a hard time reading.  English wasn't her first language and there are days when her diction is better than mine and I was born and raised in this country. 

I'm almost ready to admit that I've been defeated by this day.  (And it isn't even lunchtime yet.  And I still have work to do.  And a 2 PM conference call.) 

I admitted as such to my husband.

Me: "This day is lacking in good things."
Him: "It's Friday, that has to count for something." 
As I was contemplating an email back that would remind him that I have enough work this weekend to choke a horse and chain me to my laptop this weekend, another email came in.
Him: "The cat, baby and I love you."
I was about to remind him that the cat loves no one, the kid has no choice since I'm his lifeline to this planet and that he was obligated to love me through marriage when another email came in.
Him:  "The rose is finally blooming.  That has to count for something."

We have lived in this house for a little under five years.  For the first four years of our residence, we've had this weird little vine on the side of the house that has grown prolifically, looked like a rose (damn thing has thorns ...), but never bloomed.  During the first year, we chalked this up to the fact that Ryan had accidentally thwacked it off with the weed whacker.  (To be honest - that was likely good for it ...)  And then I thought about digging it up this year, but never got around to it. 

And now - nearly five years and the removal of one huge, sun-blocking pine tree later - we have the most surprisingly beautiful miniature rosebush blooming in our yard.  However, I grumpily informed my husband that I wasn't sure if the rosebush was a good omen or a harbinger of doom.  (Hey - I said I'm having a bad day ...)

But as I went outside and snapped a couple pictures of my accidentally beautiful rosebush, I found myself thinking deep thoughts that went beyond my usual pregnant mind state of "damn, my hips hurt" or "do I really have to give up my cheese addiction after the baby gets here?" 

Sometimes things need to change to let something else move forward.   The kid I mentored has dealt with her recent news with grace that astonishes me.

"Don't worry because I'm okay with everything else and sometimes life gives you challenges and this is one of them," she wrote.  


Good Lord, kid ... if you can tell me this in one of the darkest moments of your life - I guess I can suck it up a little bit longer, put on my big girl panties, and deal with this day.  

The rosebush?  It is what it is.  It started blooming because it is now bathed in sunlight.  My kid will either find a way to graduate with the rest of her class or she'll get her adult diploma ... she will make the best of whatever happens because that is who she is.  


As for my aunt? If y'all could keep my Aunt Penny in your thoughts and prayers - she is in need of them.  And she appreciates them - my cousin Leah reads the wonderful comments and prayers that people leave for her on Facebook and when she's been coherent, it has brightened her day.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rustic Semolina Lemon & Rosemary Cake

Cake has been a relatively constant craving in my pregnancy.  Specifically, white wedding cake that has oodles of sugary frosting on it.  The irony behind this craving?  I typically abhor wedding cake - especially the frosting. 

I think that I've written in the past, that I'm typically the type of girl that would prefer a cookie or a piece of pie to a sugary piece of cake.  There are, however, exceptions to this rule - my Grandma Phyllis's Million Dollar Chocolate Cake and my late Grandma Boots's Cranberry Cake with the buttercream sauce.  Now, apparently, being preggo is also an exception to this rule.

However, even when my hormones are not raging and the little occupant in my body isn't demanding a sugary fix, I think this cake will be something I make in the future.  With flavors of lemon and rosemary, and its slightly crunchy texture from the coarse ground cornmeal, this is an interesting alternative to traditional cakes.


The cake is Rustic Semolina Lemon & Rosemary Cake and I found it at Italian Food Forever's blog.   Just a couple of notes / changes that I made adapting this recipe.

1) The recipe calls for 1/4 c. of fresh lemon juice but does not specify when to add it.  I just added it after I had incorporated the eggs and extract into the sugar mix.
2) Recipe calls for 1 Teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (Or 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla & 1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Extracts).  I just used 1 tsp. of vanilla extract.
3) Recipe calls for 1 c. of fat-free Greek yogurt.  I was running out of Greek yogurt (FYI - I used vanilla Greek yogurt in my recipe), so I used a 1/2 c. of yogurt and a 1/2 c. of sour cream. 

If you're thinking about serving this with whipped cream - I would just whip together some barely sweetened heavy cream.  This cake doesn't look like it's going to be sweet, but it is - a perfect foil for the tartness of the berries.

Final verdict?  A good ending to any summer meal that's produced on the grill.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chopped Salad!

OK - I know we've been over this before ... my strange and likely unnatural hatred of salad.  In short ... lettuce does not light my fire and if I have a hankering for a salad, I'm more likely to pick something that has no nutritional value (mmmm ... potato salad) or I'll drive through McDonalds and get their Southwestern Salad.  With a side of fries.  Because I believe in balancing sin and virtue.  (Or I just really like fries ... hard to say, sometimes.)

Ryan and I had our dear friend Stacie over the other night to admire our new fence and to play a rousing game of "did I plant that or is that a weed?"  To reward her awesome identification skills (and because we love her), we had snacks of cheese and crackers, followed by a dinner of Rosemary Ranch Chicken Kabobs , chopped salad, pita bread, and flourless chocolate cake for dessert.

The menu was a nod to what has been going on in the weather around us ... simple, but hearty, food that fills a person up without making them feel like they need a long winter's nap.  (Yes, that even holds true for the decadent cake.  It was one of those dense, moist cakes to be eaten in smaller squares rather than gargantuan pieces.)

And the salad?  It's making me rethink my hatred of lettuce.



Chopped Salad

adapted slightly from EatBetterAmerica

6 cups chopped romaine lettuce (You can use whatever lettuce you have on hand)
1 medium yellow or green bell pepper, coarsely chopped (I had red, orange and yellow peppers on hand, so I just used those)
1 medium unpeeled cucumber, chopped
3 plum (Roma) tomatoes, chopped
2 oz Genoa salami, chopped (1/3 cup)**
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves***
1 oz Parmesan cheese, shaved***


**Alas!  Because I'm preggo, I omitted the salami.  Next time!
*** Forgot.  Because I'm preggo.

Dressing
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

In large bowl, toss all salad ingredients except cheese.

For the dressing, I put all ingredients into my little blender and pulsed until incorporated.  If you do this instead of using a wire whisk, you don't have to finely chop the garlic.  However, you should give it a rough chop - I had chunks of garlic floating in my finished dressing.  (Not that I would call that a tragedy.)  Also - instead of putting this dressing on the salad and tossing, I served it on the side with other dressing choices.

What was beautiful about this salad was its "anything goes" vibe.  Beyond what the dressing called for - I eyeballed, omitted, and substituted ingredients to my heart's content.

To make this into a dinner salad, add about a cup of shredded cooked chicken (I think that some seared steak strips would also be a welcome addition ...).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Weird little gardening meditations

I had a thought the other day when I was digging around in the dirt:  When I garden, I commune with people who are no longer in my life. 

That thought became a weird little meditation and as I played with placing plants strategically around my garden, I let my thoughts drift to my late grandpa Stan and his late sister Deloris. 

As I've said - I'm an enthusiastic, albeit amateur gardener.  As it turns out - I'm also pretty damn sentimental.

I don't remember my grandpa Stan being an enthusiastic gardener, but he always had a handsome and well maintained yard and garden.  It also turns out that he had a sentimental streak:  The fern peonies in his garden had been transplanted from his mother's house.  I now have one of my great-grandma Florence's fern peonies in my own garden.


I think that my grandpa would be amused and maybe a little bemused by the haphazardness of my perennial garden and when my husband asks me "do you know where you're going to put that?" when I acquire a new plant, I can imagine my grandpa smiling and congratulating me for landing such a practical man. 

There's a good chance that my fern peony may never bloom (I've been told that I need to uproot it a bit to uncover a node that will allow it to bloom, but I'm afraid of killing the poor thing), but I'm not going to uproot it again until we move from this house.  I may not be able to grab every brick from my various garden beds, but that plant goes with me.

The next "heritage" plant came from my great-aunt Deloris's garden.


These hens and chicks were pretty tiny when my mom gave them to me a few years ago, but they've easily tripled in size. 

I'm pretty lucky when it comes to the stories that come from my garden.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cutting the cord on cable

This week's latest torture has everything to do with the latest "True Blood" trailer that's been circulating on the Web.  I mean - it's not enough that Alexander Skarsgard is adorably hot, they have my favorite former TV detective Elliot Stabler - erm, I mean, Chris Meloni - playing a vampire as well.  And Denis O'Hare is back.  Shenanigans are going to abound in Bon Temps! 

Last year, I coerced my husband into subscribing to HBO in time for "True Blood: Season 4."  This year we convinced each other that we really didn't need cable anymore. 

And we don't.  But damn ... Chris Meloni! 

*~*~*~*~*~*~

Why did we ditch cable?  The biggest reason was the fact that we've both evolved to a point in our lives where we don't watch a lot of TV.  There were many conversations that went something like this:  "Geez, we have how many channels and yet nothing is on."  I don't really care to keep up with the Kardashians (although, from what I read - I think I really like Khloe ... she seems bad ass.), and although there are certain shows I miss, many of them can be found on places like Hulu or on the network websites themselves. 


One of the things I realize now in retrospect: You would not believe how much crap we get done by not having the added distraction of TV in our house.  Nope - novel isn't finished yet.  Nope, my house still doesn't magically clean itself, but beyond the plethora of baby stuff we've acquired recently - it seems a little cleaner.  The garden is mostly in.  My husband and I play a lot of board games.  We've been reading more books.  I took up knitting. 

The hubs and I are also following one of the most basic tenets of frugality by cancelling our cable subscription:  Go through your monthly expenses and trim what is not necessary. We're now saving $60 a month by ditching our bare bones cable subscription (HBO got cancelled as soon as TB:S4 was over).

Cancelling cable is not for everyone.  In fact, one of my nephews assured me that my own child would grow up to hate me since I wasn't going to have a 24/7 smorgasbord of bad television at his disposal.  But meh - it's a risk I'm willing to take.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gardening!

OK - so before I start writing this post in earnest, I'll make a full disclosure:  I'm not the world's best gardener.  Nor am I the world's most consistent gardener.  And if that isn't enough to frighten you away from reading this post further, I should tell you that one of my favorite games is to take people who are WAAAAAY more knowledgeable about gardening into my back yard where we play a rousing game of "Is that a weed or did I plant that?"

So having said all of that, I'll be blunt:  I love gardening.  I am an overly enthusiastic, TERRIBLY amateur gardener who has enough of a green thumb to be dangerous to the ecosystem.

So in the spirit of broadening this blog, I'm going to post occasional updates regarding my garden experiments and failures.  But the biggest news I have in my gardening world are the inclusion of two new items in my backyard.  A brand, spankin' new fence!  And the raised garden bed that my hubby built for me.  This picture shows both marvelously:

Fence by The Fence Pros, raised garden bed by my hubby
Those of you who are familiar with Casa de Mahannah might recognize that the raised garden bed is now located where we had a gigantic pine tree.  In fact, I can show you a before picture:

Backyard pre-fence and pre-tree removal - Summer 2010

What the before picture doesn't show you are the other items that were removed from our backyard: an old shed that was hastily assembled and rotting, a walnut tree and a lilac tree.  The removal of these items weren't something that we took lightly, but now that all of these things are gone and we've been rewarded with such awesome, useable space - I wonder what took us so long.

So ... I have a palette.  The husband and I have a lot of projects we're hoping to squeeze in before the bean is born.  And right now, I have a lot of optimism that we'll continue what we started five years ago when we first bought this place: Constant and steady improvement.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of gardening blogs / resources that I follow:

University of Minnesota Extension website - I have them bookmarked.  And I visit this site.  Often.  Best part?  It's written by experts and it's free and pretty easy to navigate.

East of Weedin' - my old coworker and friend Emily writes this blog.  It's usually guaranteed to make me chuckle.

Frugally Sustainable recently had this article about creating a gardening binder.  I'm not quite at this point yet, but I've been keeping a Word document that journals what I planted, when I planted and will be used to record my observations ... (i.e. - is it bad that I planted some pea seeds that I bought in 2010?  Oh - and I should have planted these about a month ago?  OK ... good to know.).

Wherever you are located, I hope that the sun is warm, rain is plentiful, and that we all have good gardening this year!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Up on the soap box ...

OK - so I'm up on my soap box again. If you are offended by my outspoken, unabashed acceptance of gay couples to marry - stop reading.  Now. 

(Breathe.)

My heart aches for people in North Carolina.  And not because North Carolina is currently the site of why "it's a great idea to let only straight people get married" (yeah - John Edwards, I'm looking at you ... ), but because of last night's election where North Carolinans voted on an amendment to strengthen the state's gay marriage ban.  Which already existed, mind you ... but let's waste taxpayers' dollars beating a dead horse, why don't we?

Yes - the people spoke.  And yes - here I am ranting and pissed off as hell because the vote didn't go "my" way. 

So why am I writing this?  Because in November, Minnesotans are going to be voting on the same damn issue and I will be DAMNED if I don't expend my energy fighting for a cause that is dear to me and to so many of my friends who are patiently waiting for the human right / rite of marriage.

My initial morning depression over North Carolina was briefly abated with George Takei posted a nugget on his Facebook that had this slogan:  "North Carolina.  Where you can marry your cousin.  But not your gay cousin."

And then I was inspired by some words that my dear friend Meg wrote:  "Denying gays and lesbians the right to marry or even have civil unions does not mean we will cease to be gay, or live together, or make families together, or love one another. We will keep doing that. And we will keep being good neighbors, and paying our taxes, and showing up for work, and for church, and for opportunities to serve those around us. Because we're all people- intrinsically the same. And some day, not too far off, we will all be ashamed at the petty things we chose to focus on when there are so many things in the world that really do threaten our homes and our families and our fellows."

And then I just got pissed off when I saw this blog post from a food blog that I follow.  If you worry that a picture of a happily married gay couple might fracture your precarious straight relationship, I wouldn't click on the link that I posted.  Because the sight of two men in love is just ... what?  Earth shattering? 


For those of you in Minnesota who want to know how to get involved and the issues surrounding the "Vote No" campaign, please visit Minnesotans United for All Families.  They can be found here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Roasted Chicken Orzo

Wait ... you're telling me that ShelleyBakes is a cooking blog?  Really?  I couldn't tell by the past couple of posts that had absolutely NOTHING to do with cooking.  Or food.  Unless the writer confessed her latest obsession for everything that has anything to do with Cool Whip.

Oh ... hey ... welcome back to the cooking portion of my blog. :)

But since I intro'd with that wee rant, I'm going to drift along a thought that I've been having in my head lately ... expanding ShelleyBakes beyond just cooking recipes.  I have a general blog that I haven't updated in two years.  (To be honest, I'm likely going to disband that one ... just haven't gotten around to it yet.)  DebtReduction101 ended last December after a very fun few years of writing.  I still live a quasi-frugal life and learn new things all of the time that could be shared, I've been reading a lot regarding minimalism lately, and as motherhood approaches - I've done a lot of research / implementation of greener alternatives in my daily life.  So ... those are some of my thoughts.  I'm not sure what the future of ShelleyBakes will be.  It might just not be limited to cooking.  (That could be good.  Or it could be confusing ...)

So, for real this time ... back to the cooking portion of ShelleyBakes.  This is the third time I've made this recipe - all of the other times, said recipe never lasted to the point where I was able to take pictures of the finished product.  This recipe is that good.

This time around, I used sliced baby bellas (I'm lazy ...) and I had some leftover asparagus in the fridge that I chopped and put in towards the end of cooking.
I haven't strayed much from this recipe, as posted by Cooking In Stilettos.  I've only made minimal changes in the times that I've made this dish - usually having to do with the chicken.  I like rotisserie chickens - I buy them frequently, but the first time I made this dish, I had some leftover shredded chicken in my freezer.  The second time, I was with some friends and couldn't find a rotisserie chicken, so I bought some pre-chunked grilled chicken.  The third time, I was having a hankering for this recipe, so I bought some chicken thighs (they were on sale at HyVee) and put them in the crock pot so I'd have the meat and the start of the chicken stock for this recipe.

This recipe is a cross between comfort food at its best and a surefire dish that is company-worthy.  And seriously - I've made it three times in over a month.  This isn't just a pregnancy craving.  I think this is love.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'm not a decorator

One of these first days I TOTALLY intend to post a recipe that I've made.  Really.  It's one of my plans (along with getting a first draft of my novel done by the end of April, going through more things in my office to donate / toss / etc.), but my life is different than it was when ShelleyBakes started.  I still love cooking.  But these days, I'd rather have recipes that come from my childhood or I make up things that utilize what's in my pantry.  (And trust me - you probably don't want those "recipes.")

So here's some more commentary in the meantime ...

I'm going to be 34 years old this year.  I'm not someone who shies away from getting older, in fact - I love birthdays.  I love cake.  I love the idea of getting friends together.  I love any excuse to have a party.  If I would have followed what I think my life should have looked like when I was younger - I would have had kids by now.  Probably two, maybe I would have conned the husband into having a third one, but my childbearing years would be over and I would be knee deep into raising my little brood of hellions.

Somewhere a supreme being is giggling at my presumption.

My husband and I got married when we were 30 and we had some issues getting knocked up.  Right around the time I had given up hope of conceiving, I found out that I was pregnant.  (And promptly put up the bottle of Jamison that I had been eying in new appreciation of Irish whiskey.) And here I sit, six months pregnant and wondering where the hell the time has went and am I ever going to get my home office cleaned out and nursery ready?

And that, folks, is today's blog commentary: I am not a decorator.  I'm not even a cleaner ... I'm a reformed hoarder who still has reporter's notebooks from a career that ended over five years ago.  As I look around my office as I write this I spy: a blue rubber ducky, my Willie Nelson bandana that has been framed and waiting to be hung for about six months, the basil my friend Erin gave me - rooting in a pilsner glass, prenatal vitamins, the face cream my mom-in-law gave me a month ago when I visited her, a spent printer cartridge ... but oh, I have a couple baby outfits hanging up in the closet in my office.  The rest of the baby paraphernalia (crib, bassinet, clothes, swing) are hanging out elsewhere in the house and are still at friends' houses, waiting to be picked up.  The office is waiting to be cleaned out and transformed into my son's little kingdom where he will sleep, dream, wake, poop, and drool. 

I'm so not a decorator.

One of my favorite food bloggers recently welcomed a daughter and posted BEAUTIFUL pictures of her "Up"-inspired nursery.  I think this lady is in her 20s and must have more energy than my knocked up, 33-year-old self.  But then I think of my beloved friend Sharona.  She's 30 and managed to beautifully decorate her son's nursery.  (Then again, she's more creative than I am ... and more organized.  Yup, that's it.)

Every once in awhile, I'll tell my friends and I'll tell my baby bump that I'm almost sorry that I didn't get pregnant in my 20s.  If I was younger and not as curmudgeonly as I am today, that kid would have everything down to the stupidest baby item ever conceived by the Babies 'R Us developers.  I would still like places like Target and the mall.  I would have had a heart attack when my husband suggested that we get rid of cable (although I might have been the one who made that suggestion ...).  Baby's nursery would be themed and haphazardly PERFECT (because even in my 20s, I wasn't obsessed with details ...). 

I sometimes worry that people take my distinct lack of interest in the nursery / all things baby purchase-related as code for me not being excited about the wee mister Mahannah.  That's not true.  I'm at a different place in this world where I'm more obsessed with quality over quantity.  I want to do credit to the moms that raised my husband and I.  In my thought process about how to achieve that, wipe warmers didn't really factor into the equation. 

I'm not a decorator.  I feel bad that the crib is not going to match the rocking chair that my folks are loaning to us for the baby's arrival.  But I love that rocking chair.  My parents have had it for years.  And I really liked the crib ... it was nice.  And it was on sale!  (BONUS!) 

So yeah - not a decorator.  Also, not much of a planner.  But I got heart ... I think I have some common sense.  And when it comes to all the neat things I'll teach my son someday - I think he'll forgive my lack of taste when it comes to anything involving interior design. 

At least I hope so.  And look at it this way.  All of the money I'm saving on baby items - I can put that towards his eventual therapy fund ...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Done too soon


I have had two weird brushes with mortality lately – none of them have involved me directly, thankfully (baby kicks in reminder of the lives we are both living right now …) – but this is kind of a mind fuck for me, all the same.

(Sorry – I should have put something in there that said something to the effect of “I’m reminded of how short life is,” but I’m all about honesty here.  I am having a hard time processing everything.  Hence, that delightful phrase “mind fuck.”)

First – a tribute to someone I never met – Jim Mosier from Oxford Falls Mississippi:  The world is a strange place that seems to get smaller with each passing phase of technology.  I never met Jim, I just knew him first from Twitter and then on Facebook.  Most of my foodie friends know Jim because of his carefully crafted Bloody Mary mixes and other items that he developed in his kitchen.  Jim was passionate about small and independent businesses.  He was also handy for a quick and snarky comment on Facebook.  I will miss his wit and spirit.  I guess Jim passed on about a month ago, so this is a belated note of mourning, but Jim will be missed all the same. 
I sit here today and I keep writing and deleting the next narrative.  Because how can you encapsulate in words someone who was larger than life, more original than any character shown on screen or page … how can you write about someone who should not be dead?  Someone whose spirit should have transcended something as unfair as an untimely death?  

My phone rang last night and it was my beloved mom, in tears.  My heart stopped as I wondered if something had happened to my father or another member of my family.  But no – it was news about one of my mother’s dearest friends, taken too soon after a reported ATV accident.  

Sandra Ehrhardt.  I’ve known that woman since I was a child.  I babysat her daughters.  I remember going to the hospital after her youngest, Samantha, was born.  The first time I ever pumped gas?  It was for Sandra … She was my 4-H leader, she taught me how to make homemade caramels.  When I started my job at Schmidt Printing, I found out that one of my co-workers who later became one of my dearest friends was her first cousin.  I know this woman’s mother.  I know her husband.  I attended her eldest daughter’s wedding and I remember how beautiful Sandra looked that day.

This woman was in my life.  Not a constant presence, but if someone mentioned her name in passing, it brought up the instant image of Sandra’s quick grin.

There are a couple songs that are in my head today – one is a quick lyric from Bruce Springsteen’s “Terry’s Song”: “When they made you brother, they broke the mold.”  And then my mind turns to Neil Diamond and his song “Done too Soon.”  Diamond goes through a list of historical figures – Jesus Christ to “E.A. Poe” and then sings: “And each one there/ Has one thing shared: / They have sweated beneath the same sun, / Looked up in wonder at the same moon, / And wept when it was all done / For bein' done too soon …”
I try to be cognizant of my loved ones.  There are people in my heart who are gone that are thought of daily.  Does death make me appreciate my parents more?  I loved them fiercely in the first place.  But I will not lie.  After a restless night that found me on the couch sleeping, waking, and feeling my kid’s intermittent kicks, I crawled into my own bed this morning and marveled at the bristly feel of my husband’s new haircut.  Then I texted my mom to remind her that I loved her.  Then my cousin Trix, who called immediately – I made sure to get a quick “I love you” in before we hung up.  I emailed my friend Cathy to tell her that I loved her and that I was thinking about her family in the loss of her beloved cousin.  I’ll try to call my dad this afternoon.  I need to text my other cousin who is celebrating her birthday today …

Today, in the midst of email requests for work projects, I will let my mind wander.  Although I’m more secular than spiritual these days, I offered up a very heartfelt prayer to Whomever last night to make sure that Sandra’s family felt peace in the midst of all of this turmoil.  I pray for Mark.  I pray for the girls.  I pray for the grandbabies that were such a light in Sandra’s life.  

To be honest:  Today fucking sucks.  And that’s about all I got … but I also have a ton of memories.  If you’re the praying type – say a prayer for Sandra’s family.  I know some of my readers know them as well as I do.  And if you’re not the praying type – have a good thought for them.  If you would have known Sandra, you would have been marveled by her.  She was a force to be contended with.  She was a good mom, a good wife, a wonderful grandma, and a good friend.  The world is a little emptier today without her.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Past, present, and future

Three years ago ...

A little over three months ago ...

Damn ... still four more months or so until we meet you ...
My grandparents always kept a clipping on their refrigerator that said "Cherish yesterday, Dream Tomorrow, Live Today." Seems like a pretty appropriate thing to ponder on one's anniversary.  I cherish so many memories about my wedding day, I dream about what is to come (as the kid kicks me in unison to my thoughts), and I think about what my husband told me last night when I told him to remind me that today was our anniversary** - "No day is more special than the ones we already spend together." 

Ayup - I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

**A) I'm horrible remembering dates, even my own anniversary.  I just suck.  and B) I'm pregnant -  hence I can think of something "important" while standing in the kitchen and forget it five steps later.  Seriously ...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stewed White Beans with Spinach and Bacon

Every once in awhile, you come across a recipe that is totally worth it's overall "pain in the ass" factor.

Friends:  This is that dish. 

After an ass-kicking three weeks of proposal writing and miscellaneous activity, I spent part of last Friday going through a stack of recipes that I had torn out of magazines (ahem, some of them going back to 2006 ... "Shelley, 'Hoarders' called, they were thinking you'd make a good subject for next season ..."), trying to find them on the Internet and then PDF-ing them to my hard drive.  Because, yes, in my world I apparently need about 150 more recipes to try, in addition to the ones I already have bookmarked from my forays into the Interwebs and have I ever told you that I have 50+ cookbooks that are standing sentry in my kitchen?  You might be able to classify this hobby of mine as an addiction, but ... meh.  I can stop whenever I want, right?  Right?


Well, I figure in a few short months, my life will be altered by the arrival of my mini Mahannah.  Painstakingly dicing baby red potatoes for Rachael Ray's Stewed White Beans with Spinach and Bacon will be a fond memory and I should make hay / obscure recipes while the sun shines.  So friends ... seriously.  Make this dish.  The beans become velvety in the short time it takes to simmer them in chicken stock.  The bacon is crunchy and the wilted spinach makes one feel even virtuous in the light of the bacon fat that the potatoes were browned in.


This one is a definite keeper.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Almond, Dried Cherry & Vanilla Granola

Confession that will not surprise anyone who knows me:  I talk to myself.  Frequently.  And now that I'm preggo, I like to think that my kid is sharing in on these conversations, but if that's true - the kid is going to think that Mom is a nutter.


Today I talked myself into making some homemade granola.  Nah - it wasn't too much of a mental battle.

Vanilla bean Greek yogurt with fresh raspberries and homemade granola. Makes me a happy camper.
This recipe comes from the wonderful Dragon who published this last winter.  My only modification on what could rightfully be called perfection is that instead of dried cherries, I use a dried berry medley from Trader Joe's.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The importance of being an ally

OK - this is a cooking blog, but when I did my redesign a year or so ago (good Lord, when did I redesign this??), I did reserve a label for anything that crept outside the cooking realm - like my love for Diana Gabaladon, Gordon Lightfoot, Here Come the Mummies, etc.  Anyway - that's the "Commentary" label.  So here!  Here's some commentary!

I read an article a little while back in Rolling Stone that talked about the a rash of teen suicides in Anoka-Hennepin school district.  The majority of the nine students who killed themselves were bullied for being gay or for the perception that they were gay.

I think I emailed some pretty strong and profane reactions to the article to my husband and then I emailed my dear friend Paul to see what I could do about this.  Basically, my email was that I feel like it is no longer enough to be an ally to the gay rights cause.  Should I volunteer for the local GLBT youth organization in Rochester?  I don't really have time, but I do not want to see this hatred in my community!  Especially since I'm spawning a member of said community in mah belly.  (Oh - sorry blog readers who aren't related to me or are not on Facebook ... Baby Mahannah is due in August.)

Here's part of Paul's reply:

"Honestly, I want to give you the same advice you gave me at one point (which I have replayed over and over and over when I get frustrated or down about being active in this issue) - you, as the person you are, and the position you are in, have incredible power to make a difference, and be an 'ambassador' (your word!) for change," Paul wrote. (FYI - I am rather impressed that I came up with the phrase "ambassador of change."  How ... wordy ... of me.)

A couple weeks later, he sent me this article from the Huffington Post, which talks about the importance and the charge that straight allies have in our support of the gay rights movement.

This was one of my favorite lines from this piece:  "As straight Americans we have two choices: we can choose to sit back and enjoy our rights as we have them, or we can realize that it is actually not freedom at all when our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues do not share these basic rights."

I have no really eloquent way of closing this blog post.  Those who know me well, understand that this is an issue that has really shaped me over the past few years - it shapes the way that I treat my faith, it shapes my political activism, and it will shape the way that I raise my kid.  I am proud to be married to an ally and I'm blessed to have friends who share the same beliefs that I do.

However, all of these actions mean nothing if our country and our nation continue to deny the rights of all of its citizens.  But it's a cause that I will champion until this is just another page in history.  I hope that many of you will join me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Roundup!

Confession:  The Husband and I already celebrated Valentine's Day.  We hate crowds and we love Indian food, so we decided to head to our favorite spot on Sunday and celebrate the holiday, curry-style.  For the big day, I'm either going to make his mama's BBQ Meatballs or spring for a heart-shaped pizza.

That's tomorrow.  I'm not known for planning ahead.

But since I will plan for the rest of you - here are some Valentine's Day ideas from the archives.  I've listed some entrees and dessert, because V-Day doesn't scream salad to me.

The Pioneer Woman's Fancy Macaroni - that's right, bacon on top.  Bacon = love.

Pastitsio - known as Greek lasagna.  Also known as love in a pan!
Stuffed Chicken Breasts - this was a ShelleyBakes original, thought up for a friend of mine who wanted to woo a woman.

This is Giada's Farmer's Pasta - yeah, somehow in my mind I equate pasta to romance.  All I know is that this dish is goood ...

Chocolate Cherry Cake - love doesn't need to be complicated.  This cake is not - it's a cake mix and cherry pie filling.  Absolute decadence with limited amount of steps.
Again - convenience ingredients can lead to decadence ... this chocolate peanut butter cookie pizza is brilliant.
This is a little bit more time consuming, but well worth the effort - Italian Cream Cake.

Confession:  Ina and Jeffrey Garten might be one of my favorite couples on television.  I sometimes tell Ryan that he's my Jeffrey and he just rolls his eyes at me. (True love, I say!)  This is Ina's recipe for Beatty's Chocolate Cake.  And yes, it tastes as good as it looks.
And for those of you who could care less about the holiday and think it's a sham that was thought up by the Hallmark company.  This recipe is for you:
I made these cookies for my co-workers in the estimating department last year.  They were charmed.  And touched.  And they loved it.  I don't know what that says about them.  Or me.
Whether you're snarky or sappy - I wish you a wonderful Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Confections and crafts: Cherry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

It's good to have good friends - especially the kind of friends that you can be creative with and try new things that you would likely be too lazy to accomplish on your own time.

My dear friend Cathy came over this AM and we worked on a craft and I got fancy and served her some coffee cake.  It is one of those things that's ingrained in me from childhood reading books like "Little House on the Prairie" and "Anne of Green Gables."  When you have company over, you put your best foot forward and assure them through food and beverage that they are welcomed and loved.



This coffee cake comes from Taste of Home and has enough pain in the ass factor that it's the kind of cake you wouldn't make for yourself, but would save to impress someone.  Because it is tasty - but the bottom cake layer that you have to press into a pan?  Sticky and messy.  (Hint:  Get your hands damp first - it helps a little bit.)  And at 25 grams of fat per slice, it isn't something you'd should be clamoring for on a daily basis.  (Clamoring is one thing - indulging is the other ...)

As for the craft?  I've dabbled a little bit in Pinterest, but I'm still relying on other bloggers to tell me the groovy things that they are finding on other folks' boards. 

This craft came from Katy at Non-Consumer Advocate and takes Mason jars and re-purposes them into soap containers.  Confession:  I have more Mason jars than I know what to do with and have a special place in my heart for the vintage blue jars that we inherited when my husband's grandma moved out of her home. So it was nice to find an EASY craft that used up some of the materials I had on hand.  And luckily for me, Cathy came to the party with lids her husband Timm had already drilled for us.  So with a little bit of glue work, we made these:

Easy, lovely and re-used items that Cathy and I had laying around the house.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful Saturday morning.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I'm back ... kind of (Cacio e Pepe)

The cooking bug has yet to really return to me, so when I found myself seduced by a recipe this morning - I wasn't too surprised that it reminded me of comfort food from my childhood.  Cacio e Pepe is simply what the title translates to: Pasta with cheese and pepper.  It made me think of being a kid and the times my mom would make the simplest - but tastiest - dish ... boiled elbow macaroni with melted butter, a little bit of milk splashed in and plenty of salt and pepper.

  

I found this recipe at Ezra Pound Cake and tweaked the ingredients to serve one.