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.  🙂