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.

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


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. 


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 ...