Saturday, June 29, 2013

Embroidery Project for the Day (or Two)

I have this pair of hand-me-down cropped jeans that I didn't think I liked, but now I love. Trouble is, they are the fake-ripped-up style, not too bad, but every time I wash them, I'm thinking that any moment they're going to become the ACTUAL ripped-up style. So I started out by taking an old pillowcase and cutting up patches and ironing them onto the wrong side with Stitch Witchery. I made a few reinforcing stitches around the edges, then I decided I should have some fun with it. So I started embroidering:
The middle, solid part is a piece of corded trim, embellished with some iridescent white delica glass beads. Then the embroidery was done in double-stranded white tatting thread (didn't actually have any embroidery floss in white, wasn't going to let that stop me), and the center jewels are iron on gems. Once I got that far, I thought it needed a few extra little bits, so I started looking up embroidery stitches on the web (since I haven't done this since I was a kid). That's where I happened upon this instructional video of Wendy from Knitter's Brewing (socalknitgirl on YouTube):

Her instructions are clear and easy to follow, plus her nails look fabulous! I started watching so that I could add a few little French knots to the design, and I wound up watching the whole thing, and now I want to try doing a bullion rose or two someplace else on the jeans! I'll post pictures of my results!
If you are a knitter, Wendy has a whole channel on YouTube full of vids for knitters! Check them out--they've got to be good!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An American Girl's Interpretation of Venezuelan Pabellon Criollo

When I was a Senior in college at what is now St. Andrews University, I got to go to Venezuela for a month during our January term. It was technically a class in Marine Biology, and I was a Chemistry Major. I'd love to say that I had the absolute time of my life, especially since I saved up all my summer money to go on this trip, but in the end, it was just okay. I had wanted to go so badly because so many of my friends were Biology majors and they had gone in years past and had the time of their lives. They were all friends beforehand, so they had gotten to go as a bunch of friends. My problem was that all of my friends had already gone in years past, so the folks I went with I can barely remember the names of to this day. But I made the best of it, got to enjoy someone else's culture, music, lifestyle, and food.
The food was probably the best part. We stayed in a small town and rented out their houses and went to the local restaurant for all of our meals. We had Cafe con Leche with breakfast (probably instant coffee, but it was damn good, nonetheless), white bread toast (I hate white bread, but this stuff was great), and arepas (little cornmeal fried patties with butter). Lunch would be any old thing, but after going out into the icy cold water all morning, tasted mighty good. Dinners were often chicken (especially tasty thinking it might have been the one that woke us up that morning) with more arepas, fried plantains (starchy banana-like thing), and lots of black beans and white rice. For special occasions, we'd have our black beans and rice with this amazing slow-cooked beef. I still feel like I remember the taste, but have never really come across a recipe that really did it justice.
Someone else's picture: Served like this (with plantains) I'm told is called Pabellon con Barandas, where baranda means "guard rail"; so the plantains are there to keep the rest of the food from falling off the plate!
Then the other day, I was in the nail salon waiting, and I started talking to the woman next to me. As it turns out, she was Venezuelan, so I told her how I had gotten to go there twenty-some years ago and what a lovely country it was (despite my own youthful angst, it was a lovely country). Then I asked her about that beef, as it is considered by many to be the national dish of Venezuela. Never having learned Spanish, I could never remember the name of it, which she reminded me, was Pabellon Criollo (I'd like to say I remembered that name until I sat down here, but, no, I still had to go look it up). She told me it was simply onions, garlic and peppers (mostly sweet peppers, not spicy), then you brown the beef and stew it for a long time and eat it with black beans and rice.
When I got home, I was inspired. I got out my new obsession, the Slow Cooker, and defrosted some stew beef, threw in some Knorr Homestyle Stock, some carrots, garlic, a little squeeze of agave syrup for sweetness, some Bueno Autumn Roast Green Chile, and two cans of black beans (I don't care how easy you try and make it, I hate preparing dried beans.). While the original dish keeps the beans and meat separate, I decided to slow-cook them together so that the beans would sauce up the stew and all the flavors would meld together.  All in all, I think I did a pretty good job of reproducing the flavor I remember. Mine was spicy, though, whereas the original was not; nonetheless, I wanted that pepper taste to it, so I made the concession. I suppose if you wanted to, you could simply substitute mild green chile or even fry up some sweet bell peppers with some onion instead. I have excluded the onion from my recipe as my husband doesn't care for it--I could hardly tell the difference.
Since this is now my second try, I thought I'd record it this time!
What mine looks like so far--it's only been cooking for a couple hours.

Pabellon Criollo

1 lb. (or more) stew beef, cut into cubes
1 pod Knorr Homestyle Stock--Beef
2 cups (or so, if more beef is used) hot/boiling water
3 carrots, cut into bite-sized chunks
3/4 c. Bueno Autumn Roast Green Chile (or peppers of your choice)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 - 15 oz. cans black beans
2 T agave syrup
pepper to taste

Note: While most recipes would have you salt the beef, the Knorr stock is salty enough, so I let it go. Please check the taste before you go adding any salt to it.

Place the beef chunks into the bottom of the Slow Cooker. Dissolve the pod of Knorr stock in 2 cups or so of boiling water (this is less water than is recommended by Knorr, but the Slow Cooker doesn't allow for much evaporation, so I started with less liquid). Add the carrots to the Slow Cooker, then pour the stock over it all, which will allow you to judge if you have enough liquid so far to cover the ingredients. Add all the remaining ingredients. I added the black beans last in order to judge whether I should drain any of the liquid out. Overall, you should have enough liquid to cover everything, but not so much that it's all swimming.
Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. If desired, towards the end of the cooking time, use a slotted spoon to remove the pieces of meat, let them cool a little, then shred them with your fingers. Add the shredded meat back in for at least a half hour or so.
If you get into a crunch for time, or don't get started on it until late morning, cook on low for 4 or 5 hours, then crank it up to high for a couple more hours. The meat might not be as meltingly tender, but that's when I'd recommend the shredding especially, as it breaks it up and allows the meat to soften for the last little bit of cooking time.
Serve it with white or brown rice of your choice.  I suppose if you wanted to make it a little Peruvian, you could serve it with quinoa instead!
Please let me know how it turns out!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Not Just a Word Nerd--A Word Warrior!

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed from reading this blog, but I'm a little wordy. Chalk it up to having a Ph.D.,  being the child and grandchild of journalists, and carrying the spelling and grammatical correctness gene. I may take some liberties here on my blog because A) it's my damn blog, and 2) nobody reads it anyway. I suppose, like every other blogger, I just like to see my own thoughts and ideas spewed out there for all to see and criticize, yet, unlike every other blogger, I realistically understand that nobody cares. Nobody is going to pay me for my opinion, no matter how profound.
Something I do get inexplicably paid to do is edit and proofread other people's writing. I work for a fine online editing company called Scribendi. People from all over the world send in their documents to be edited--everything from poetry to graduate dissertations to just about any other written thing you can think of. I have personally edited self-published books, textbooks, scientific papers, song lyrics, resumes, and much, much more. I've had the privilege of reading some fascinating work and making sure the message got through, as well as the burden of trying to make dreadful things readable. The coolest part, I think, is that I got such a nice gig despite having any sort of degree in writing or English (my Bachelor's is in Chemistry, my Ph.D. is in Biochemistry). I actually demonstrated my skills and got hired based on that--cool, huh?
So, as a confirmed Word Nerd (sorry, Word Warrior) and Ultimate Nitpicker, I salute the fine folks at Scribendi, and repost this adorable video they have created in order to get more work for their existing editors, and perhaps recruit some new editors! Word Warriors Unite!
My only criticism is that there are far too many trees in the "shootout" scene for it to be authentically Wild West-style. Since the company headquarters is in Chatham, Ontario, I understand they had to work with what they had, but next time, you guys are all invited down to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to shoot your shootout!  We've got tumbleweeds and desert and dust--it's so dry and brown here, you won't even have to sepia-tint it later!  It's not THAT long of a it?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fume-Free Cleaning (If You Don't Count Cussing)

I don't know what the water quality is like where you live, but here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have exceedingly HARD water. In fact, I never fully appreciated the very definition of hard water until I moved here. Calcified water deposits get all over everything and never come off. As in never. As in, every couple of years, I simply THROW OUT my steam iron because it gets so clogged with hard water chunks it randomly spews them onto my husband's shirts, and no amount of country wisdom seems to be adequate to clean it.
This being said, today I walked into our family bathroom and decided (mostly since I'm getting over a cold and can't smell the fumes) I would clean the stains from the sink and toilet. To give you an idea of what I started out with, here's my less-than-a-year-old toilet:
New toilet: A whole 'nother DIY adventure I shan't trouble you with.
As well as my old-as-the-house-itself (about 35 years old) marble/something bathroom sink:

 No, really, the stains on the sink just look like a little grubby dirt, but they are, in actual fact, now part of the rock itself:
Oh, and I took these pictures after scrubbing it with steel wool and Comet powder for 20 minutes.
 So because I had already tried traditional cleansers and elbow grease, I thought I'd take a step back and consult that repository of all human knowledge (no, not Wikipedia; the other repository of all human knowledge) Pinterest. Now, for anyone out there reading this who is not a bored homemaker or gay man, Pinterest is a highly addictive social media site where one can go to find clever snapshots with links to recipes, pictures of other people's pets, cat memes, helpful hints, and pretty much anything one can imagine to enable the reader to waste time in the guise of compiling useful information.  Among the multitudes of helpful posts about how to clean everything in the world using common household goods are more than a few variations on the wonders of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and white vinegar. I started out with the simplest suggestion, mixing a paste of baking soda and peroxide and slathered this all over my target areas:
For the toilet, I got all the water out of the bowl first. If you've never had to fix your own toilet, how you do that is to turn off the water behind the tank, flush a couple of times until the tank is mostly empty, then scoop, bail, or sponge out the water in the bowl.  I needed that icky brown ring to be dryish, so the paste wouldn't all just slide down to Goldfish Heaven.  I let it sit (read, went back to look at pictures of dogs on Pinterest) then went back and started scrubbing, first, with a scrubby sponge, then with damn steel wool (the chemist in me saw this part as folly, as steel wool is probably pretty reactive with peroxide and/or bicarbonate), and after about ten more minutes of hard scrubbing, started to see the tiniest little bits of toilet ring coming off.
F**K THIS, I thought to myself, and also out loud, but without the asterisks. Then I figured out what the missing element from all of these helpful hints was. 
But seriously, it worked, so, there's that. 
Once you've got your paste all soaked in and scrubbed up to no avail, get out your reading glasses and an X-Acto knife, and scrape it off by hand. 
The clever bit.
Here's my breathtaking before and after pic; I bet you can hardly believe it's the same potty:
It has been five minutes, so it undoubtedly no longer looks like this.
Now the sink seemed to be another, wholly less satisfying matter. I pasted, I scrubbed, and I X-Acto-scraped, but that nonsense just wasn't coming off of there.  Plus, if you compare before and after (below), you'll notice that the rim around the sink isn't just dark because it's in shadows, but because it is the most stained of any of it. So one last internet tip to go--I doused it all (enough to wet the paste, but not wash it away) in white vinegar. For those of you who have forgotten, here's what I just did (excluding the peroxide, which I figured called it quits a while ago):
CH3COOH + NaHCO3 ===> NaCH3COO + H2CO3
Sodium bicarbonate and acetic acid react to form sodium acetate salt and carbonic acid. Carbonic acid is the weak acid in soda pop, which quickly breaks down into carbon dioxide and water.
H2CO3 ===> CO2 + H2O
Sorry, the chemist in me had to share that part with you. Just pretend like you already knew it.  
So, as much as I'd like to say that this reaction enabled me to simply wipe off the hard water stains with the side of my hand, there was still some more X-Acto knife action, plus a little bit of paint-scraper work after that, but at least it came off. 
Still not good as new, but certainly much better.  Don't know what that stain is in the drain, but it should be the part of the house that survives the nuclear apocalypse (are we still having that?).
 I hope that all three of my blog readers found that helpful, and I certainly feel as if I've gotten it off of my chest, which is, after all, the primary purpose of having a blog.
Not to let you think that my efforts went unnoticed, I was under the constant supervision and unwavering moral support of my entire family.
Not shown: Actual unwavering support.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sexy, Healthy Food Porn!

One way to get skinny...
A few nights ago, my husband and I were supposed to go to a cookout with some friends after he finished golf, so I got sort of gussied up (in a cookout kind of way) and was all ready by the time he told me he'd be done. Well due to some unforeseen circumstances, he wound up being quite a bit later than the time he had said. Since it was too late to head out to our friends' house, we decided to go out to eat.  We picked Zio's Italian Kitchen, and it was a lovely dinner. He had the traditional spaghetti dinner, and I had a nice chicken dish with angel hair pasta. Knowing that this meal was flying in the face of my diet, I ate all the chicken and veggies, and left about a cupful of pasta behind. When I got home, I looked it up, since Zio's is a franchise, and the nutritional info was listed on their website. Even having left a bunch of pasta behind, I still estimated that I had consumed about 900 calories and over 80 grams of fat in that one meal! What a disaster for my diet! (It was still yummy, though.)
So in an effort to know what I'm eating and keeping better track of my nutrition, I've been trying to cook for all of us as much as possible. I've been making big batches of breakfast food and tracking all of the ingredients. I've made massive amounts of French toast, oatmeal (I prefer Coach's Oats) and quinoa hot cereal, and more scrambled, mostly whites, eggs than you can imagine.  Today I made another big batch of breakfast, and this one is fast becoming my favorite.  Breakfast Strata.  Think omelet + toast + whatever you want to throw in there, all in one pan.  Here's the result:
Sorry I forgot to take the picture when it first came out of the oven, but this gives you the idea. My only bit of disappointment was that, despite the nonstick pan AND olive oil spray, it still stuck to the pan like crazy!  But that was only a minor bummer, as this thing turned out utterly delicious.
Keys to the healthy success of this meal include:

  • Nature's Own Double Fiber bread (since the bread soaks up the egg anyway, you can hardly even tell there's bread in it)
  • Half whole eggs, half whites
  • Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • Dash of nutmeg (if you think it sounds weird, just trust me, you'll be hooked for life)
Here's the full-out recipe:
16 eggs, half whole, half whites only
1 cup nonfat milk
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon (or so) dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
a couple generous shakes of nutmeg (so like, 1/4 teaspoon, maybe?)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 slices of wheat bread (I used Nature's Own Double Fiber bread), toasted
7 or 8 slices of turkey bacon, cooked
1 frozen brick of spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 oz reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook up the bacon, blot the grease off in a paper towel, and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, crack your whole eggs, separate your whites, and make sure the dogs appreciate that they are getting the yolks. Add milk and seasonings and beat until well mixed.  In a well greased baking pan (mine is 13" x 9" x 2"), break the toast up into chunks (like 4ths or 6ths) and layer it across the bottom evenly, squishing it down a little as necessary. crumble the bacon slices across the top of the bread. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly across the whole pan. Now make an even layer of spinach across the top of that (or you could mix it in with the egg, I just thought it came out more even this way). Layer on the cheese, making sure to get it evenly distributed across the whole pan.  Cover the pan with foil (so the cheese doesn't get brown too fast) and put it in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, taking the foil off for the last five minutes.  Cooking times may vary, depending on the dimensions of your pan.  Test with a knife in the middle, it can come out a little moist, but not wet.  Serves 6 hungry people.

As you can see from the big chunk I ate right away, I was really hungry. Since I cut up my strata into 6 even pieces, I figured out the nutritional data calling that a serving.
Calories: 394
Protein: 34.8 g
Fat: 20.7 g 
Fiber: 8 g
Total carbs: 21 g


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sucks Being a Skinny Bitch on a Diet

Not THIS skinny bitch...
I get it. Everybody who has ever dieted in their life (so, everybody in THIS country, at least) bitches about their diet. How hard it is. How they're not seeing results as fast as they want. How they just refuse to give up X (coffee, cupcakes, lard). Whatever. I feel your pain, I really do.
But I'll tell you one thing you other dieters have that I don't--sympathy. You see, I only weigh 109 lbs (as of this morning). My goal weight is 102 lbs, mainly because I've got this extra chunk-chunk around my waist, my jeans don't fit comfortably, and 102 lbs is a healthy weight FOR ME, as the entire span of my 20s and 30s has demonstrated.
You can stop looking at me that way. If I say I'm on a diet in public, I get this look like I'm some heroin-soaked has-been fashion model trying to relive her youth. I am not bulimic or anorexic, and I don't believe too many women's magazines. At the age of 44 (nearly 45), I have accepted that I have a tiny bust, a tiny pin-head, a huge nose, a somewhat funny-shaped face, and a husband who thinks I am one of the most beautiful women on the planet.  Quite honestly, it's that last part that is the reason why I'm on a diet. My husband and I are constantly challenging one another, supporting each other's efforts for self-improvement.  However, I'm afraid that while I was busy packing on my whole whopping 7 pounds, he has packed on considerably more. He loses some, then gains it back--it has been quite informative to watch the differences between women and men when it comes to weight loss. My husband can lose up to 5 lbs in a day, then a few days later, he gains that same amount back. Most of the women I've read about (I don't dare talk to them) do the same thing, but over much longer stretches of time. Sure, there's the diuretic loss of that first few pounds of water weight (I got rid of that a while back), but then it's just slow and steady. Except for me, where it's steadily nonexistent.
I have changed my whole life for this new healthy lifestyle, and, to be honest, my lifestyle wasn't that unhealthy to begin with! I exercised and ate a fairly balanced diet, along with the occasional trip to Carl's Jr. (Prime Rib Burger--you can never have too much meat). Now, I exercise a ton more, balancing stretching with aerobics and dance and weight bearing exercise. I eat a ton less. I am trying to get used to the feeling of being slightly hungry most of the time, and never feeling utterly stuffed.
So, with that in mind, I'm posting recipes, exercise, and lifestyle tips that have been helpful to ME, in the hope that they might be helpful to you. While my husband can live off of canned tuna and rice cakes, I'm just like every other woman (and most men) I know--I like variety and flavor, and sometimes I crave stuff that I just have no substitute for. Also, I sit in front of the computer on my ass instead of taking the dogs for a walk or trying out those 15 new exercises I pinned on Pinterest. A little bit at a time, I'm figuring it out, working it out, making the changes, and keeping it that way.
Just so you know, this blog post has been sitting as a draft for several days, during which time, I've finally managed to shave off a couple of pounds!  This morning, before breakfast, I weighed 103.8 lbs! Granted, then I ate breakfast with 2 cups of coffee, so I'm probably back up to about 105, but still, getting there!
My next post will be about some of the exercise regimes I've found--which exercises seem to do anything, and what they do.  It'll probably turn into a series of installments, since there's so many to choose from.  Walking fitness, butt-busters, abdominal workouts, oh, and then there's the exercises to help all the hurting joints I've injured trying all of this out. So stay tuned!
Also, if you  are at all intrigued by the colored pencil drawing of my Doberman Pincher, Mimi, above, you can buy a print of it for your very own in my Etsy Shop. Clicking on the link below the picture will take you right to it!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spontaneous Cannellini Bean Soup with Lemon and Spinach--Healthy Food Porn

La Primavera--in honor of the veggies of Spring! 
Today I started out driving my honey to the airport for a 6 am flight, followed by some oatmeal with quinoa and apples, followed by going back to sleep. When I finally got up, I had a cup of strawberry Greek yogurt and a cup of coffee with 1/4 cup of non-fat dry milk and 1 T sugar-free French vanilla creamer (planning on cutting that source of corn-syrup solids out--more to follow). I took an inventory of the Costco needs and the regular grocery store needs, then decided to take a field trip to Sunflower Market to see about some good veggies and perhaps a substitute for the creamer.

Sunflower market was a big win today, as they had fresh kale!  At a price that I could afford to make soup at!  That made me pretty happy. Bought some fresh lemons, some farro (never tried it), some wheat berries (probably for bread, but we'll see), and some sea salt. I also perused the refrigerated coffee creamer section for some substitute for all the fat and calories in non-dairy creamer without having to resort to black coffee. I decided on So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer in Hazelnut Flavor. I'm trying some in my sugar free hot chocolate right now, and so far, it's not bad. The real test will be tomorrow's coffee. Stay tuned.
Did my usual Costco run for stuff for the boys--they do frozen fish sticks and corn dogs (What the hell, it keeps them alive, and keeps them from complaining about my crazy health food.). Plus, I'll admit, their fish sticks are really good. The oldest keeps making them on the regular (not non-stick) aluminum foil, so if I happen to go out to the kitchen right after he's made some, he has usually left me half a fish stick stuck to the foil.
Next stop was the regular grocery store for canned beans and various beverages. They had canned Cannellini beans, as well as garbanzo beans (organic, storebrand, and on sale!), and Great Northern beans. So the house is all set to toot.
Got home with enough time to try out the Walking Boot Camp regimen I found on Prevention mag's site. Upside: it was pretty strenuous and a good workout. Downside: Could only take one dog, so now the other two are mad at me.  Got home and went to Zumba!
I ate pretty well today, but I also got a lot of exercise, so once I finally got home I was suitable famished. I had been thinking about some Cannellini bean soup that I think I saw on Giada at Home. Since I'm too lazy to look things up, I decided to just make something up.  So here's what I made up:
Someone else's white bean soup, I take terrible photos.

3 (15 oz) cans (drained) cannelllini beans
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
zest and juice of one whole lemon (it was a small lemon, so I added a little more bottled lemon juice to taste)
1 c. Chicken stock
1 c. filtered water

Threw all that in the blender and pureed it a bit. I don't think I completely pureed it, just got it pretty smoothie-like.
Threw that into a soup pot with a bit more water and stock until it looked soup-like and heated it on low. Added a teaspoon or so of dried basil and a pinch (or a few dashes) of ground cayenne pepper. Let it simmer while I took a shower (in case you skipped over the part about the Walking Boot Camp and Zumba class, I was gross.) Took a brick (10 oz.) of spinach out and plunked it in warm water (now that the blender is empty and needs rinsing, I thought I'd use that).
Once I finished my shower, I came out and stirred, tasted, added a bit of salt and cayenne to suit my tastes, then threw in the now-thawed brick of spinach (be sure to squeeze it out first). For some added protein and feeling of fullness, I added a 12.5 oz can of white meat chicken (Kirkland brand from Costco, I believe). If I had used veggie stock instead of chicken stock, I think you could call it vegan up to this point.

Overall, I have to say, it tasted as yummy as that picture above of someone else's soup. The spinach in that amount of beans made it slightly greener, but I'm always happy to have more spinach.  If I put my mind to it tomorrow, I'll figure out what the nutritional content is on that bad boy, because I bet it was pretty stunning.
So, yummy--check. Low fat--check. High protein & fiber--check, check.