how time passes us by

I woke up this morning with a pit of dread in my stomach.

Never before in my life had January 31st held such foreboding.  But January 31, for those of you not “in the know” (which included me until last year) is the deadline for issuing 1099 forms.  As I run a small company’s business office, it falls on my shoulders to undertake such a task, and if I am being honest, I have been procrastinating like a high school senior working on a thesis.

I mean, I have been panicking about this project.

And instead of just diving in and tackling it (at which point I would have realized it was nothing to get myself all worked up about) I kept staring at the stack of papers and the online QB account with complete and utter fear.

Silly girl.

On the up side of the whole thing, it taught me (once again) that the unknown isn’t really that bad.  It’s just unfamiliar.

But the other thing, is that it feels as though it was just yesterday that the man and I were plane-hopping back from Indianapolis, and now, it’s practically February.  And the man is far, far away on business and won’t be home until  … well, not that long actually, but to me, it feels like forever.

When did time start to slip by like this?  And ~ on that note ~ if time goes by so fast, why doesn’t my savings account balance grow exponentially every time I check it? (A little voice in my head is saying, “A watched pot never boils …” but must I listen to it now?)

I popped the 1099 forms and the missive to the Federal Government (aptly given another number, because clearly, it must be distinguishable from all the other forms that exist) into the mailbox before 5pm and headed over to Parc, Steven Starr’s french bistro on Rittenhouse, to meet up with my boss and our restaurant’s GM and Exec Chef to try out some Pork Milanese.

I took a moment, as I sipped Sancerre and noshed on the truly delish pork, and thought that unknown obstacles were bound to challenge me periodically.  The man being gone, a new puppy, chewed sunglasses (grr Lucy!!), tax forms, new restaurant development, schedule changes, unexpected expenses, a dead truck in the driveway, a baby gate that the dog systematically knocks down every.day. … the list goes on.

But really, it’s not that bad. I have a man who loves me no matter what, one of the cutest pupsters in the whole world, great landlords and neighbors who come to the rescue when needed, a boss and co-workers who make work a lot of fun most of the time, and the best friends and family in the world.  Thank you Ikir, for reminding me.

in the fridge & fatigue-inspired ramblings

I haven’t been a total slacker this week.

The man left for his interminably long business trip on Monday morning at the crack of dawn (bleary-eyed me drove him to the airport at 4.30a, and of course, it was one of the only snowy and gross days we’ve have this winter, which made it even more fun!).

I made spinach and butternut squash lasagna over the weekend to accompany our first venison feast  …. Stop.  Rewind a minute. Let me re-phrase slightly.

I attempted spinach & butternut squash lasagna.  It came out pretty well except for the completely un(der?)cooked squash that has to picked out because it’s rock hard.

So, in reality, it’s more like a spinach and mushroom lasagna.  And I have two helpings today, but there’s still more than half a pan in the fridge.

Plus the venison.

And the fixings for the Venison Cobb Salad that I made for WeHangsDay (it was yummy … tomaters, blue cheese, bacon, hard-boiled egg, guacamole, venison, baby spinach leaves ….mmmm).

And the yogurt I bought (because yogurt is one of the eight foods you should try to eat daily …. another piece of email blast wisdom).

And in the cupboard are the cans of Chickarina Soup (I ab.so.lute.ly love it).

So much food, and I have barely touched it.

Plus, I got ingredients to try to make a Pizza Sandwich in the press (three-cheese bread, pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, pasta sauce from Paul Newman ~ because really, how can you say no to Paul Newman? ~ fresh mozzarella …).  I feel like I need to start eating just because I don’t want all the food to go to waste.

I even have a container of hard-boiled eggs, because when I made them for the salad, I thought, well, I’ve been so hungry lately, it might be nice to have one as a mid-morning snack.

But since the man left, I haven’t really been all that hungry.

Lucy and I have gotten up every day, we’ve had breakfast (read: Lucy has breakfast while I try to make the bed, get dressed, use the bathroom and be ready to go for a walk before she’s done hoovering up her food) and we’ve jogged/walked for at least 30-45 minutes.

Then the day gets hectic.  It’s all about getting home, and getting ready for work, and getting Lucy ready for while I’m at work (Please God, try to inspire me to fill the Kong with Peanut Butter at night before bed, so that it’s ready as a distraction when I slip out the door), and making sure that I’ve read all the emails and forwarded all the reports, and  … gosh, I start to feel tired just thinking about it.

I actually packed a lunch yesterday (pop quiz hotshot ~ what was it?  … oh, just some Venison Cobb Salad that is still in the fridge at work in my new tupperware and won’t be good to eat on Monday) and forgot I was training my new assistant, so didn’t take a break at all because training eats up so much time … all of a sudden it was time to rush home and see what disasters awaited me from Lucy’s time in captivity.

And then that’s the thing … you get to the end of the day, and you’re exhausted, and then when you get home, it’s another 30-45 minutes of cleaning up, and then Lucy’s dinner time.  And then outside to go potty.  And …. then it’s time for my dinner.  And, to be honest, a heftly glass of vino.

Tomorrow my little brother and his lady are visiting, and I’m so looking forward to it.  Hopefully it’s fun for Lucy to meet more people.  And we’re planning a fire-pit, and mom & dad are coming, and hopefully my biff, Minda and her hubby and puppy and beautiful little munchkin Rosa.

The thing is … I mean, what I’m trying to say is … well, I’m tired.  But even though the man is miles away, and I’m doing it all on my own, I’m okay.

So my fridge is full, and my puppy isn’t potty-trained.

It could be worse.  😉

email overload

So, everyday I get a few email blasts from things I signed up for at a time long forgotten, back when I was full of naive hope and bright new dreams.  These email blasts come from Yoga sites, Eat This Not That, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Fitness …. You get the drift.

I signed up for them after reading a list of things that keep people motivated when they are trying to get in shape and establish a workout regime.  One suggestion?  Get healthy fitness and diet reminders daily ~ it will keep your goal fresh in your mind, and keep you motivated.

They worked at first.  I would take notes on post-its as I read the articles, and plan a whole ‘healthy’ notebook that I was going to compile, filled with information I found interesting, helpful, completely b.s. etc.

On the plus side, I still have the post-its.

For a few months, the emails would get highlighted at the beginning of every day, and ‘Marked As Read,’ even though, as I am sure you guessed, they weren’t read.

Recently, however, I feel that some cosmic force is trying to send me a message.

“Five Unusual Signs that Indicate You’re Stressed”

“Top Ten Foods that Beat Stress”

“Yoga for Stress Relief”

…. do you see the pattern?

The thing is, I am actually super stressed.

No, not because we got a dog.

Well … even that’s not entirely true.  It’s a factor, I can’t say it isn’t … it’s a GOOD factor, but it’s January, and I thought that my life would de-stress after the holidays, but as each day slips by, the truth is rearing its ugly head.  My life has gotten MORE stressful.

Yeah.  I know.  You’re jealous.

So, as I struggle to keep the acrobatic juggling act flowing, know that I have a lot of things to blog about … and I’m figuring out how to find the time every day.

Namaste.

a little treat

As I may have mentioned a time or two before, I love mushrooms.

Love them.

When stuffed mushrooms are on a menu, I am compelled, as though by an otherworldly force, to order them.

Sometimes, they are divine.  And sometimes, they are not.

When I first met the man, he said that he had the best recipe ever for Stuffed Mushrooms.  I was skeptical.  But it turns out, he was pretty spot on in his assessment.

Here, for your enjoyment:

Santa’s Stuffed Mushrooms

(Don’t let the name fool you ~ they are an all-year treat!)

What you Need:

2 packages button mushrooms

1 pint sour cream

2 Tbsp butter

1 pkg Onion Dip

1/2 cup soft bread crumbs

1/4 cup parmesan

2 Tbsp Dry Cooking Sherry

What to Do:

1.  Make your bread crumbs by putting 1 and 1/2 pieces of plain, soft bread in a food processor.  Pulse until evenly chopped.

2.  Preheat oven to 350.

3.  Clean mushrooms.  Remove stems and set aside.

4.  Make onion dip by combining onion package and sour cream.  You will only need 3/4 cup for the recipe, so you can also enjoy some veggies or chips and dip. 😉

5.  Coarsely chop mushroom stems.  In a small saucepan, combine chopped stems with butter, and cook until soft.

6.  Combine 3/4 cup onion dip, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, sherry and drained mushroom stems.  Mix well.  Fill mushroom caps with mixture.  Sprinkle with a little more parmesan (if you’re a cheese person, which I am!)

7.  Cook for approximately 20 minutes.

8.  Serve!

 

rainy days

This morning, Miss Lucy stood at the front door, and peered hesitantly outside.  She raised her eyes to her dad, trying to let him know that she wasn’t inclined to step out into the rain.  She didn’t bark.  And she didn’t whine.  Her dad, his heart a big pile of mush when it came to anything having to do with her, closed the door, and ruffled her ears.

I overheard him say, “If you don’t want to go outside, we won’t go outside.”

Grrr.

Doggy Mommy-dom has been quite the learning experience so far.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know work was involved.  I wasn’t naive enough to think she would arrive  house-broken, healthy, completely socialized and obedient (although she’s close!).  I knew that I would be cleaning up poop.  And throw-up.  I accepted that some of my things might get chewed.  I knew I would have to be tough.

I did not think it would take such an emotional toll.

I have learned that being the mommy also means occasionally, being the meanie.  As I coaxed Lucy out the door into the hazy drizzle, her ears flattened, and she stopped, bracing herself with her back legs to prevent me from moving her further into the wetness.  I felt like the worst person in the whole world.  No amount of “C’mon Lucy!  It’s not that bad!  Let’s go potty and then we can go back inside! Hurry up Peanut!  Gotta do it!  C’mon Lucy!” seemed to convince my distrusting pup that the rain was not going to melt her immediately.  She looked around frantically for daddy to save her.  But he had already left for work.  Poor Lucy.

We did manage to get in a walk.  Once she was wet, and away from traffic, she seemed oblivious to the rain.  Go figures.  One second, I’m mommy the meanie, the next second, Lucy is happily trotting away, eyes full of wonder at everything along the roadway, tail wagging enthusiastically.

Within a few minutes, my emotions went from unbelievable guilt and utter frustration verging on tears to an overwhelming love that bubbled up and made me want to laugh.  Motherhood, I am learning, is no joke.

 

ah – ha moments, and hmmm moments

I decided ~ and I’m not sure exactly when ~ that 2012 was going to be my year.

First, and most obviously, my birthday is 12.12, so clearly, 2012 lends itself to the task.

Second, I’ve now spent two full years in the same place, at the same job, with the same man, living the same routine.  To some people that might sound pedantic, but to me, it’s hugely significant.  I’m a creature of habit.  I, along with the man, have created a life, a home.  We have built a family.  Through that, I have gained stability, and confidence.  Slowly, I’ve come to learn that everything doesn’t have to feel as though I’m being tossed around in a stormy sea.

Things I’ve learned in the past few years ~

1.  Friends come in all shapes and sizes.  They do not always have your best interests at heart.  They are not always honest.  They do judge ~ everyone does.  It’s okay to disagree with a friend.  It’s okay to stand your ground.  It’s okay to say, “Hey, y’know what?  You bring nothing positive to my life.  I don’t want to be friends anymore.”  And guess what?  You won’t be lonely without friends for the rest of your life.  Even if you walk away from everyone.  There are people out there who are true friends.  And you’ll find them.  Sometimes, that’s what you have to do.

2.  Family is important.  All families are flawed, all families have drama, and all families fight.  But in the end, blood is thicker than water.

3.  Being at the top can really suck sometimes.  You don’t always have the right answer.  You don’t always say the right thing.  You can’t always be nice.

4.  Life is a balancing act.  It’s about trusting yourself, trusting what is inherently important to you, and holding onto that, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

5.  Life shouldn’t be a competition.  But remembering that is harder than being competitive.  Every once in awhile, it’s a good idea to take a step back and get perspective.

6.  Cooking should be fun.  It should be about making something you want to eat.  It should be about breaking bread with friends and family.  But take-out is important, too.  Sometimes, it’s necessary.

7.  You should try all the things you said you would never do.  Life is too short, and things are too much fun.  So is camping.

8.  Save money.  Every day.  Don’t touch it.

9.  Remember that everyone in your life only knows parts of who you are.  They may pigeon-hole you in a way you find both insulting and uncomfortable.  Try to remember that you probably pigeon-hole them, too.  Even if you don’t mean to.  And they might not mean to, either.

10.  Stand up for yourself.  No one else will.  People don’t automatically give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

11.  Take care of your friendships the same way you take care of your relationship.  Be in touch.  Listen.  Be supportive.  Real friends are few and far between.  Real friends are as precious as your perfect partner.

12.  Live in your choices.  Love unconditionally.  Maybe people don’t love you back as much; maybe people don’t support your choices.  Holding other people accountable for unvoiced expectations is a really bad habit.

13.  Acknowledge your flaws.  Other people will point them out.  As long as you know what they are, it’s a lot easier hearing someone else tell you about them. But don’t allow them to handicap you.

14.  No one makes the rules for your life except for you.  Make them carefully, make them spontaneously, make them with a twinkle in your eye.  Make them so you are happy.

This blog was something I started with a somewhat hazy idea of what it would be.  What is has become is a little bit of that, a little bit of something else, and a lot of my soul, typed in black letters across a white screen.  It’s helped me get to know myself ~ which is a humbling thing.  I think that’s also why 2012 is going to be my year.

That, and John and I expanded our family recently.  We adopted the most precious, beautiful, even-tempered, silly, snuggly brindle boxer in the whole world.

And we called her Lucy.  🙂

in my head

Last summer ~ meaning 2010, which is crazy, because it feels like yesterday ~ the man and I ventured to try listening to ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ on audio book.  It was part of my birthday present to him, because I was stubbornly insisting that he read the final chapter of HP before the film came out.  (He subsequently claimed, mostly in jest, that I “ruined” the last two movies for him … but I think what I really did was introduce him to how utterly wonderful the books are).

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an advertisement in Entertainment Weekly magazine (my favorite periodical that I read cover to cover in one sitting … because I can’t put it down once I’ve opened it!) for something called audible.com.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, Stieg Larssen’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was proving to be utterly elusive to me and said advertisement said that one could get an unabridged audio version of the book with a trial membership.  I figured maybe if I couldn’t get into it by reading it, I could get into it by listening to it.

Obviously, I checked it out.

Only, I couldn’t find a free version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  Instead, I found a free audio version of “The Game of Thrones.”  Which I thought was utterly marvelous.  I imagined the man and I listening intently while driving to work in the bitter, endless cold of January.

And then I got impatient.  And began listening on my iPhone instead.

What a great book!  I mean, seriously, it’s so much easier to follow than “Lord of the Rings.”  And I made several valiant efforts to read the trilogy cover to cover.  Several. I got through “The Fellowship of the Ring,” (over a 12+ month period) and began “The Two Towers,” but when I realized that the stories were not intertwined with each other, but rather told as two separate adventures, my attention waned.  I have yet to finish “The Two Towers” or even crack the binding of “The Return of the King.” And I began reading them in the snowy January of 2002. I know, I know.  So many people think they are amazing books.  I feel as though I let the story down by not plugging on through. But “Harry Potter” they are not.  I did not find, not at any time, that the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was eminently readable.  I just think that certain people were able to get past the pretentious prose and pages of exposition to enjoy the heart of the story, while I could not.

I have enjoyed the audio version of “The Game of Thrones” so much, that I’m going to start at the beginning with the man, so he can listen, too.  Just as all great authors do, George R.R. Martin has created his own world, with his own language, geography, animals and titles (just to name a few things).  There is a mythology that expands with each chapter, and Martin tells the story from multiple points of view.  I’m sure that watching the HBO series has helped me keep characters organized in my head, but reading it is just really fun.

Today is one of the coldest days we’ve had so far this year, and I’m feeling a little under the weather (which is such a drag), so I’m looking forward to a night cuddled under blankets reading.  Happy Reading to everyone out there, as well!

new year’s resolutions and the best mac & cheese ever

Last night, as the man and I sat in the Indianapolis airport and the daylight waned and the snow swirled, I realized that I was not one, but two days into the New Year, and it didn’t really feel any different.

I know that nothing really changes when the calendar flips from one year to the next.  But for most of my life, the new year felt like a clean slate; a chance to start over and really get it right.

Recently, I’ve just felt tired ~ a little overwhelmed and worn out; as though exhaustion has set up residence in my very being.  Sitting and waiting and trying to get home yesterday was a moment of calm in the otherwise hectic existence my life has somehow become.  Maybe it’s just me, but snow storms allow you to just be; in one place, at one time.  Yes, I was mildly worried about getting home, but mostly I was enjoying the peace that the snow provided ~ the quiet that it seemed to imply.

For one small moment, I wasn’t rushing to get anywhere, and there was nothing I could do to change my situation.  It was such a relief.

We spent four days in Indy with one of my close friends, her hubby, and their absolutely precious little man of eighteen months.  It was great to see them, and it also allowed the man to get to know them a little better ~ they’ve been in Indy a little longer than I’ve been with the man, so he’s only met them briefly a few times.  We made, and ate, far too much food.  I mean, far too much food.  It’s completely possible that I gained ten pounds.  Seriously.

We had jalepeno poppers, cheesecake stuffed strawberries, fondu, stuffed mushrooms, jumbo shrimp cocktail, baked brie, filet mignon, brussel sprout hash, and homemade baked mac & cheese.  And that list doesn’t include breakfast!  Luckily, my clothing still fit for the ride back!

I have also been working my way through “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  I’m still getting used to reading on the nook ~ one weird, quirky frustration of mine is that I can’t page back and refresh my memory about something I read earlier without it being somewhat of a pain in the behind.  I know there are controls to do it, but it’s a little harder doing it electronically than physically ~ usually I can remember where on a page something was, or if it was the left or right side ~ that doesn’t really exist on a nook.  However, I will say that I love having different reading options at the touch a finger, so I will get over my obsession with flipping through a book and reading out of sequence.  It’s really only a problem because I have been reading “Dragon Tattoo” in bits and pieces over such a long period of time … I’m sure with something that I read consistently, I won’t feel the urge to flip back and refresh my memory as often.

We made it home safely, albeit after several re-bookings of flights, and we even got in over an hour earlier than we’d originally been scheduled.  In addition to all that, we flew on quite a little plane from DC to Philadelphia, which was a pretty neat experience.  This girl broke down and borrowed some dramamine from the man though ~ the flights were a little bumpy the whole trip, and I was nervous that such a small plane would be too much for my tummy.  Turns out ~ it was the smoothest take-off and landing of the whole trip!  Just goes to show me ~ don’t judge a book by its cover!

I don’t have a lot of resolutions for 2012, but I have a few goals, including saving a certain amount of money over the next twelve months, getting myself into a routine that allows me to de-stress, stay focused and cut out some of this intense fatigue, and run the Broad Street in May (10 miles through Philadelphia).

My resolution? Get up earlier to get ready for work.  Hopefully that will eliminate the stress that begins every morning as we rush to the city to get the man to work on time.

And … for those cold winter nights when all you want is some good, comfort food, here’s my Mama Bear’s Baked Macaroni & Cheese.  You can tell me you’ve had great mac & cheese, but there’s nothing better than this recipe!

What you Need:

1 package thick cut bacon

approx 1 lb sharp cheddar,  coarsely grated

grated Swiss cheese, to taste

Cooper Sharp cheese, to taste (it’s a deli cheese and as I add it during the recipe, I just rip pieces apart, so there’s no grating necessary for this one!)

Milk

1 – 2 medium, yellow onions

Flour

Mustard** (optional)

White Wine (technically optional, but I’d advise against skipping it)

Tomatoes**(optional)

Bread Crumbs

Grated Parmesan Cheese

Hickory Smoked Salt**  (optional)

Large saucepan

Large casserole dish

Prep Work:

1.  Grate your cheese, and mix together.

2.  Coarsely chop your onions ~ as my Mama says, you want the pieces ‘not to big, and not too small.’

3.  I make my own bread crumbs by putting 1 and 1.2 slices of bread in my Mini-Quisinart and chopping it up.  Then I mix in about 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, about a teaspoon of Hickory Smoked Salt and that’s the topping.

4.  If  you’re using tomatoes, slice them on the medium-thickness side.

Now, you’re ready to start!

What to do:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cook macaroni according to box directions, and drain well.

***Some little side-notes ***Pour yourself a nice beverage, because this is a long process, and you have to have a little patience and intuition along the way.  Don’t wear a sweatshirt while making this, because you stand over a hot stove for quite awhile, and it can get uncomfortably warm if you’re overdressed!

1.  Cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces (I’d say about an inch across, give or take).  Using a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until it’s crispy on the edges, and chewy in the middle (or, however you like bacon!).  When it’s cooked to your liking, scoop out the bacon and put on a few layers of paper towel to drain.

2.  Leave at least three tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan ~ if you have an abundance, drain some of it.  (It’s hit or miss for me ~ but I would say I more often than not don’t drain any bacon fat, but my Mama Bear does, so it’s really up to personal choice and intuition).

3.   Add onions to bacon fat, and cook until they clarify.  Lower the heat.

4.  Sprinkle in flour by the tablespoon, making a roux.  The roux should be fairly stiff.  I would say ~ depending on how much bacon fat you leave in the pan, you can estimate using between 3 and 5 tablespoons of flour.  But add one at at time, and mix thoroughly before adding in more.  The texture, when it’s ‘done,’ will remind you a little of that white paste that used to be used in grade school … is that stuff still around?

*** Mum’s Greatest Piece of Cooking Advice: You can always add, but you can never take away ***

5.  Once the roux is good and stiff, begin adding milk bit by bit, to create a sauce.  I probably went through about a pint of milk, but I just had the container sitting stove side, and added a little at a time.  The consistency you’re going for is on the thin side, but with some substance.  It should definitely be liquidy, rather than creamy, if that makes sense.

6.  Once you achieve the desired consistency, take a big dollop of mustard, and mix it right in.  You can, in fact, add two, if mustard is something you love.  OR, you can skip adding mustard at all, because you loathe it, or have a deep aversion.

7.  Now!  It’s cheese time!  Stir in cheese by the handful, making sure it’s melting fully. Use about three or four slices of Cooper Sharp, added bit by bit.  Once you have created a superbly cheesy sauce, add a little white wine (to taste) to thin out the cheese a bit. *** Once you add the pasta, it will thicken the sauce, so you want a really cheesy, but not.too.thick sauce, or it will be hard to mix in the pasta completely.   I would say that  I douse my sauce with a few heavy pours of whatever white wine I have in the fridge.

8.  When you’re satisfied with your cheesy, oniony mix, stir in the bacon pieces.

9.  Then, add in the pasta.  Mix fully.

10.  Transfer the whole shebang into the casserole dish.  Lay slices of tomato across the top, and finish by covering the entire top with your breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture.

11.  Bake in the oven for approximately 20 -25 minutes, or until it’s bubbling.

*** Some advice *** Bake it on top of a cookie tray lined with aluminium foil, so that if it bubbles over, you have an easy clean up.

Try and tell me it’s not the best Mac & Cheese you’ve ever made.  🙂