Saturday, May 31, 2008

We're getting close!

It's supposed to be 89 degrees here today. Weather like this makes me REALLY wish our pool was ready, but at least we are finally making progress again.

It's been a frustrating few weeks on the pool front, as our flagstone decking contractor has worked only three days out of the last three work weeks. We've had good rain in the meantime, but blessedly nothing that would have interfered with our work schedule (should the contractor have chosen to work!) You've probably seen the pics from last week, where they showed up (finally) to do two days' beautiful work. However, inexplicably, they did not show up Tuesday-Thursday of this week. We decided that if he did not show up Friday, he was fired. Once he heard that, the alleged problems he was having miraculously cleared up, and they showed up yesterday to do a good bit of work. I'm relieved that we're back on track, and the guy says he understands now that we expect him to work straight through until he's done.

If all goes well, the stonework (and brick columns for the fence) should be complete by mid-next-week. The trees we're going to plant along the ravine side (for a little more privacy) will hopefully go in next Thurs-Friday. Then the following week should see the completion of the fence. Once that happens, they can put in the pebbletec interior and we can FILL this pool! WAHOO!

So we're back on track for a tentative completion by mid-June. Please keep us in your prayers! In the meantime, here are a few pics of the latest progress:

This is the under-deck space, which now has that "ceiling" to keep things dry:

And they've now grouted and completed the first area they did:

Oh - and one of my favorite parts! They finally cleaned out the nasty garbage and yucky accumulated water from the pool:

Here's Miss Tucky, checking it all out. We didn't keep her out very long, becuase snuffling up concrete dust probably isn't very good for Beagles :-)

And lastly, while it's fun to see all the progress on the pool, I often find myself really missing the lush greenery we use to see in all directions in our backyard. So a quick trip over to the waterfall, to admire the water lilies and just plain see something green for a change, lifted my spirits immensely!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Foodie Friday - Recipe of the Week

So, as I mentioned earlier, I did not get to debut my new knife in the kitchen this evening. But we did make a very satisfying "make your own takeout" (nod to Rachael Ray!) kind of meal from the second round of freezer meals. The Dinner Diva did not disappoint - with a couple of minor modifications, this one was fabulous as usual. As I am wont to do, I tweaked it a little as I went along, and here are the results. Hubby liked it very much, and we both pronounced this one a winner. Perfect for a Friday night movie!

[For our dinner and a movie night, we watched License to Wed, which was absolutely hilarious. I mean, it was fall out of your chair and hurt yourself laughing, funny. I highly recommend the movie as well, except that I laughed so hard I almost choked on my lovely dinner!...]

But enough about movies. On to the actual food part of Foodie Friday!

Pepper Steak
Serves 2 with leftovers (or 4, if you eat more civilized portions than we did!)

One package (about 1 pound) lean skirt steak, thinly sliced against the grain
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, any color combination, trimmed & thinly sliced
Olive oil as needed
2 teaspoons (may need a bit more) cornstarch
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp soy sauce (no MSG)
1/2 cup chicken or beef broth (no MSG)
2 Tbsp sherry (use only the kind you would drink; NOT "cooking" sherry, which is an abomination that should be outlawed entirely)
1 Tbsp Teriyaki Glaze (I use Kikkoman, from the soy sauce aisle)

If making the meal to freeze for later preparation, combine the first 4 ingredients in a large freezer bag. Toss with about 1 tablespoon olive oil, squeeze out air and double bag. Freeze flat, in a single layer, so it will thaw evenly. (To use, thaw overnight in fridge).

If making the meal all at once, heat 2-3 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet or wok pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown quickly on all sides; remove from pan and keep warm. Add additional olive oil if needed, turn heat to medium and saute onions, garlic and peppers (be careful not to burn the garlic, or it will become bitter). Once all vegetables are tender, add the broth, reduce heat and cover to simmer about 10 minutes.

While you wait, make instant white rice for your ridiculously picky dear husband, and/or (if you've been reading my prior posts) take advantage of the yummy brown rice hanging out in individual servings in your freezer, just waiting for a night like this where you don't feel much like cooking. Defrost it gently in the microwave and stir in some butter, salt and pepper. And don't be like me...try not to scarf down all your soooo yummy rice while you wait for the meat to cook!

Once the meat is cooked through, combine the cornstarch, water and soy sauce. Add to pan and stir to combine; simmer gently (uncovered) until desired thickness is achieved. You may have to add a bit more cornstarch (mix first with a little water) to get where you want to be. I prefer sort of a syrupy glaze, similar to what you'd find on a restaurant pepper steak entree.

Now, the best part. I tried the suggested recipe up to this point, but felt it was missing some personality. So I added the sherry and, after one more taste test, added a little teriyaki glaze. And just like that, the flavors came together into something very different from three minutes before those additions!

The only remaining additions I think I would include next time are sliced portabella mushrooms (I love mushrooms) and perhaps a few sesame seeds. But all in all, we really enjoyed the flavors of this dish (with tweaks). Even hubby commented that the sauce was yummy and "buttery." And I didn't even have to add butter!! Now that just makes me smile!

If you're feeling guilty over the red meat in this dish, serve with a big healthy salad and some nice raw garden veggies first. That should take the edge off your guilt! LOL!

And there you have it! A reasonably healthy, husband-approved, just-as-fast-as-takeout dinner without the (sometimes) mystery ingredients and MSG. Hope you enjoy!

Love, Dahrlin

Foodie Friday: A Kitchen Hardware Upgrade

Okay, I know this is a scary looking picture! (or beautiful, depending on your viewpoint.) Never fear! This instrument shall only be used for good, never for evil :-) It is expected to assist in the production of many Pioneer Woman-worthy yummy recipes, just as soon as it's been inaugurated for use in my kitchen.

So this is my new Santoku knife.

I've been wanting one of these babies ever since I started watching Food Network several years ago. Watching Rachael Ray, Giada, and all my other favorites use these awesome-looking knives that are both super sharp and to which, amazingly, things like disobedient vegetables which must be subdued sliced pieces of onion, garlic, tomato and mushroom don't adhere, only to go rolling and bouncing off the cutting board upon the next slice or dice of the knife. I know my kitchen knife skills aren't perfect, but I also know I'm not the only person to have that problem, because they created these nifty little scallops down the side of the blade, specifically to combat the sticking issue.

Now, I need all of you reading this to do something, and this is very important: PRAY FOR ME. Right about now, you think I'm kidding. HA! Shows how much you know (okay, now I really am kidding - most of you know me very well!) Specifically, pray that I don't cut myself with this spectacularly efficient knife. Every review I've read says it carries the sharpest factory-cut blade around. That's great for use on food, but dangerous for klutzy people like me. People who, say, missed attending their law school graduation because of a nasty disagreement with a cheap kitchen knife, which I those people will never buy again, now that they know the dangers of a flimsy, flexible blade. But I digress... remember that scene in The Bodyguard, where Kevin Costner tosses Whitney Houston's scarf up into the air, and the sword blade cuts it cleanly through using only the pressure of gravity? Yeah? Well, that was really cool, but I don't want it happening to any of my body parts!

So, using lessons well-learned I've heard tell about, I will be exceedingly careful with this new beastie in my kitchen. I will be, as one like-minded reviewer recommended, using it with all the precision I can muster, and washing and returning it to storage immediately after use. I will use all my spare energy admiring its expectedly superior cutting prowess, which is the stuff of legend.

However, all that said, it's a gorgeously crafted kitchen knife, made by one of the finest cutlery manufacturers in the world. I am very pleased to own it (and will remain so, as long as I don't hurt myself!) and can't wait to try it.

Unfortunately, its maiden outing to the cutting board will be delayed by at least a day, while I get some sleep. I didn't rest well last night, and my reflexes are in no condition to test it out this evening. (This is me, trying to learn from my those mistakes I've heard about!)

Check back soon for the official new hardware review! I'll post it along with some photos for your enjoyment, just as soon as I get some rest and can think straight again!

Happy Foodie Friday!

Love, Dahrlin

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

A Study in Contrasts -

Down came the flood...

But God brought a rainbow (okay, and some milkbones) after the rain!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So cool!

Okay, by now most of my regular readers have probably figured out that food is pretty much my obsession favorite subject. I like to learn about it, shop for it, prepare it, and I love to eat it! I keep trying to write to you about other projects and interests, but I keep getting sidetracked back into food... I'm really going to have to work on that. Tomorrow, maybe?

Like most food and cooking lovers, I am constantly accumulating piles of "recipes I really mean to try today, tomorrow, or 'sometime soon enough to leave them lying around where they are handy'". These accumulated piles look awful, make me feel (slightly) guilty, would not make Flylady proud and drive hubby crazy, and actually drive me crazy after a while (only because I can't find the one I'm looking for after a while; not because I am averse to the Pile Filing System in general, which has served me beautifully since I was old enough to make piles of Little Golden Books that I wanted to read "later").

~[Note to my dear husband, just in case you are reading this: the foregoing statement, about not being able to find the particular recipe I'm looking for, should NOT be construed as any kind of admission or statement to the effect that the Pile Filing System, in use for many years in our home for all sorts of organizational projects, is anything less than spectacularly successful, efficient and perfectly useful.]~

Ahem... as I was saying...this evening I went looking for a new, nifty, something-I-haven't-thought-of-before-method of organizing these piles of must-try recipes that are taking over my house from every corner need to be stored slightly more neatly. And I found something so stupendously cool I almost fell out of my chair. Check THIS out!

It's called Tastebook, and using this site, not only can you upload and search/use/browse thousands of recipes from sites like Epicurious, you can also create your very own book like this from your very own recipes! Now tell me that's not cool!

Needless to say, because I am great at beginning things with tremendous enthusiasm (see Item 35), I've been sitting here for about an hour uploading my own favorites, which I would love to have in one place and bound in such a beautiful, artistic and supa-fab (nod to Fussy) way. I interrupted my recipe transfer project only because I felt the need to get the word out about this site. SOOOOO cool! Run, run, run, with your spautlas and cookie sheets in hand, and check this out! (and no, I do not have a vested interest or get anything for referring you...sadly). You'll be glad you did!

Now, back to my recipes...

Love, Dahrlin

Monday, May 26, 2008

My new favorite foodie site

Okay, so I know it's not Foodie Friday. And we're a bit late to be celebrating Cinco de Mayo... But we made something yummy yesterday that I wanted to share with you. And let me just say, Pioneer Woman ROCKS! I love her beautiful recipe presentations.

On a hunch that hubby might love these Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Thingies, since he loves all things spicy, I made them. And the recipe author is right: major, major yum!

I will admit, I cannot eat a lot of super hot stuff. I like jalapenos, but not usually a whole mouthful of slightly-cooked pepper at one time. The peppers we got were so hot I could literally smell the "pepper" compound as soon as I opened the bag, so I knew I was probably in trouble. I have to make hubby cut these things up because the pepper stuff irritates my respiratory tract.

But the kitchen smells divine while they cook. And the first few bites I had that were not too hot were wonderful. Hubby pronounced them a huge hit. He kept emphasizing the author's note that "we can make these ahead and freeze them, you know..." With only three ingredients and prep that is literally kid-friendly (except for close supervision on hand washing and that kind of thing), I told him he's welcome to make a batch up anytime he wants! ;-)

But seriously, if you're having a party or just have a hubby like mine who adores spicy food, these will definitely be a hit. Three ingredients; half an hour to make. Can't beat 'em - Try 'em!

Love, Dahrlin'

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Playing Catchup

While on my "mini break" I've been out of touch a few days, at least from blogland, so this will be a post covering several topics :-)

First, on Friday we had a wonderful visit with our friends Robin and Jack from Florida, and Steph and Doug (and pupper Reilly). We really appreciate each of them taking time out of their schedule this weekend to come visit!

We got another half inch of rain Friday evening (yay!) but everyone had to drive in it (boo...) which made getting here a bit of an adventure for all concerned. But everyone arrived safely and we had a great time visiting! The boys played pool and enjoyed the man-cave downstairs, while we ladies were able to chat and play with Reilly and put the finishing touches on dinner.

After the rain departed, we were able to hang out on the deck for a little while and enjoy the misty but still refreshing weather. Hubby grilled some burgers and chicken for us and Reilly and Tucker supervised deck cleanup, making sure that no stray crumb from the grill went unappreciated. :-)

We had a great night and only wish everyone could have stayed longer!

Next, I am pleased to report that I've got another 8 dinner kits in the freezer for this month. I worked on those for most of yesterday, and the winners so far are Pepper Steak, Caribbean Turkey, Parmesan Crusted Chicken, Flank Steak with Red Wine Sauce, Chicken "Pollo Loco" Fajitas, Chicken Cacciatore, Apricot BBQ Chicken, and Tex-Mex Pork Wraps (we went ahead and made these in the crockpot yesterday, and served with fresh corn on the cob and garden salad - quite yummy). I have a few more meals I need to finish up today, but that will complete this second batch.

On my trip to the store Friday, I was pleased to find the first nice-looking strawberries of the summer. I brought some home and had a serious desire for my version of strawberry shortcake last night (berries tossed with a tiny spoonful of brown sugar, served over pound cake cubes and topped with either vanilla ice cream or cool whip). I had no pound cake handy though, so decided to try a pound cake "cupcake" recipe, which I hoped would simultaneously bake faster and be just the right size for an individual serving. I'm happy to report success on both counts, and I very much enjoyed my favorite "quick and easy" fruit dessert. To top off our day, we received a previously-unseen Midsomer Murders episode on Netflix, so watched that last night. All in all, quite a fun day!

This morning, I slept in for the first time so far this week (I know, I know). That felt wonderful and I'm enjoying a nice homemade Zone breakfast now (okay, so it's lunchtime, but we'll call it brunch). I'm loving this vacation!

Meanwhile, the pool project continues to progress (slowly). I think it's the warmer weather that's making me impatient, but at least they're moving forward. Friday, they made some further inroads around the pool, and here are the results (try to ignore the nasty, indescribably-colored yucky water in the pool). I think they would have worked longer, except for the downpour that began around 5. Hopefully they'll pick back up Tuesday and finish up the decking this week, so I don't have to send out any flying monkeys!

Today hubby and I have a few "around the house" type projects on the schedule, and I'm hoping to finish up another Lizard Ridge Block later this afternoon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Follow the Yellow Brick Road!

Well, okay, it's not yellow (thank the Lord) and it's not really brick... but today was the first progress on the pool project in about two weeks, and I'm so happy I feel like skipping down that golden path to celebrate like Dorothy and Toto!

The beginnings of the flagstone decking were placed today, but they started with the path around the house to the side door downstairs. Not sure why they chose to start there, but at least they're moving in the right direction! The flagstone guys have been holding up everyone who has to come in after them, like the landscaper, the fencers and the people who install the very best part: the pebbletec interior that goes in right before we can fill it! So needless to say, they got here just in time. After waiting (toe tapping impatiently) for almost 2 weeks, I was about to send some flying monkeys after these guys!

I'm very happy with the stone color combination so far. There are several types of Tennessee flagstone to choose from, and we wanted to avoid the more extreme oranges and concrete grays. We're going for more of a brown and tan color grouping, which will hopefully blend with the surroundings better (yes, eventually there will be something surrounding that path besides concrete dust and red clay, LOL!) It's a little hard to tell from the pics, but I think it will look very nice once it's done.

Here are a couple photos for comparison. I was trying to avoid the pool equipment in the photos, but I don't think there's any way to do so (note the lovely post they 'created', smack outside the guest room window, for the fuse about a room with a view!) But at least you can get an idea.

Thanks for following along with us! It's fun to share the pics as everything comes together. Hugs and happy almost-Friday!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Vacation, all I ever wanted...

Okay, so it's a mini-vacation. Believe me, right now five straight days off work sounds like forever. I know it will fly by, but for now I am SO excited and just so happy to be home (and ~~woohoo!~~not going to work tomorrow) that I am bouncing off the walls, scaring the dog can barely sit still. Which is a good thing, because I'm going to need all this excess energy to accomplish the 5,673 projects I have set for myself during this brief interval off work. All the women I know reading this will understand exactly what I mean.

Why is it, do you think, that we ladies cannot allow ourselves to just sit around and relax when we have a few moments or, that most rare gem, a few days off from our normal duties? Why must we immediately pile this on top of that on top of the other, and on and on it goes? We seem to feel compelled to fill every spare second with an accomplished task of some sort. If you're anything like me, I make list after list after list of things I really mean to accomplish, usually until I reach a point where I feel so overwhelmed that I end up fleeing outside my office with a nice drink book! I try to organize/declutter/catch up/do or redo just about everything in my life, or at least I have grand plans to. Why can't we hardworking-very-deserving-Flylady-following-loving-mommies-extraordinary-wives-patient-pet-parents-and Fussy-approved-frump-fighters cut ourselves some slack on our day off??? (Seriously, I'm asking this honestly!)

Ah well. For now, do me a favor. Have a glass of your favorite beverage in honor of Wednesday. THIS Wednesday, the Beginning of My Mini Vacation. And just take a few moments out of your day to sit down, put your feet up and enjoy it, without trying to multitask while you do. I'm having prosecco (Italian sparkling wine, like champagne) which never fails to put me in a happy mood.

While I enjoy that, I'm going to make that list I was talking about...

Love, Dahrlin'

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Your Prayer Requests?

"Pray without ceasing."
1 Thessalonians 5:17

For my Soulful Sunday post, on a more serious note this morning, I was reading through a study guide for a book I'm currently reading, and was struck by something. I have often asked others to pray for various needs my family, friends or I may have, and I thank each of you who have been so faithful to respond to those requests. I have at least one friend whom I know keeps up with some of my prayer requests on a daily basis, and I am so thankful for that faithfulness.

However, I have not been as faithful about asking for your prayer requests in return. So I would like to do that today. If there is anything I can pray for any of you, please email me and let me know. The request stands, anytime. Please don't think this request is limited to friends or family who consider themselves Christian. And it doesn't matter if I know you personally or know you well. Of course you don't have to post them publicly in the comments section, and I promise I will not post anything related to your requests online. Send them anonymously if you like. But if there is anything in particular you would like to request prayer for, I definitely want to help. Please email me or respond in the comments and I will promise publicly that I will be diligent in praying for your requests. The important thing is just to ask. I believe God hears every prayer and answers them as He knows is best, so of course I cannot offer you any guarantees on the answers. But I can promise to pray alongside, or for you, as your friend.

On a related subject, one of my favorite pastors posted a sermon on his site relating to praying for others to trust in Christ. One thing that really got my attention was his statement that all Christians have come to Christ because someone, somewhere, prayed for us. Often many "someones." Whether it was a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, a pastor, a coworker, a missionary, a combination of these or even a complete stranger, someone, somewhere was praying to God that I and every other Christian would be saved, before we ever were. Maybe for many years. How humbling to think that God moves others to pray for us before we even know we need (or want) those prayers. And that He may use us to pray for others before they, likewise, realize they even have a need.

Anyway, I hope that if there's anything I can pray or do for you, you'll let me know. Hugs to each of you today!

Take me out to the ballgame!

We had a really fun evening yesterday with our friends Steph and Doug. We met up for a late-afternoon snack at Brio (yummy Italian food) and then they graciously took us to the Braves vs. A's game. It was a perfect night for a trip to the ballpark. The weather was just right for jeans to be comfy - and I think everyone felt that way, because no one really left early even though the Braves remained down I think 1-5 until the bottom of the 9th. It was just such a nice night! The Braves did rebound with two or three runs in the 9th to bring it to 4-5, but could not pull out the win. Oh well. We enjoyed our seats (and awesome front door parking) at the 755 club level, and had a tremendous array of junk food to choose from (never fear, we did not let this advantage go to waste!) The boys were not interested in starring in our blog photos, but here are a couple of shots, including one of the not-camera-shy!

Thanks to our friends for a great night out!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Foodie Friday!

Another workweek has passed, bringing me (in blog-time, anyway) back around to my favorite subject.

For today I will share one favorite recipe with you, and it is a great candidate for weeknights and for the freeze-before-cooking rotation. I tried freezing it during Freeze Fest 1 and it worked great! My husband has even made this one all by himself, and declares it great guy food. My favorite part is it's just so comforting. If you have ever had goulash or if you have a favorite "hamburger mac and cheese" recipe, this is similar. But it is my favorite preparation for that type of dish. Super yummy, and super easy!

Hamburger Mac and Cheese Toss
(from Cooking Light, August 2004)
(Serves 4)

1 - 1.5 cups elbow macaroni
1 pound ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato sauce (or paste)
1.5 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes with green pepper and onions (undrained)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Olive oil for sauteeing

To make this truly one-pot, cook the macaroni first in a large dutch oven. Drain and set aside. In same pan, brown beef in a bit of olive oil; remove and drain beef. Add onion and garlic to pan with a bit more oil, saute until golden. Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, paprika, oregano and tomatoes; cook until slightly thickened. Turn off heat, stir in pasta, beef and cheese, let cheese melt and serve!

(Leftovers are even better the next day; reheat with a bit of water)

I also completed a food-related project today that puts a smile on my face. For a while now, my cookbook nook (blessedly placed in my kitchen by the builder) has been pretty much a mess. I tend to drag lots of cookbooks with me wherever I go, using an endless assortment of shredded pieces of sticky notes to mark recipes that I will forget entirely as soon as I pick up the next book or magazine really mean to try soon. When hubby starts yelling I become frustrated with the piles of cookbooks lying around the house, I tend to shove them willy-nilly back onto the shelves, creating a disorganized mess that's clearly visible from all angles of our kitchen and den. So, inspired by the decluttering exploits of my dear friend, but not feeling wholeheartedly up to a real round of decluttering today, I decided to take on the smaller project of the bookshelves. I forgot to take a before picture (probably better that way), but here are the results. Wahoo!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Had you for a second, didn't I??

Oh YEAH. I WISH! This is my friend Jack's pool. Ours will look something like this, but it's not quite this far along. He graciously let us take this pic when we were out comparing pebbletec color options this weekend. HOPE, that one day ours will look like this, is keeping me going at this point!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Soulful Sunday

"The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. Psalm 18:2"

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

This morning I am feeling very tired but very thankful. I don't sleep at all very well during thunderstorms (the kind with repeated lightning and crashing thunder) and a very bad line of storms came through our area at 4 am. We got an inch plus of much-needed, soaking rain, which was great, but it came along with a lot of severe weather. We've had a roof leak in my office that no one can seem to fix properly, so every time we get a hard rain we feel compelled to come down and check it (especially since one of those "floor" electrical sockets is right underneath the window :-). I got up about 5 to check on that, and I also checked the weather. The tornado warning map was literally a mess of overlapping red rectangles, at least five different warning zones, covering more or less the entire southeast. The storm system stretched all the way from the coast back into Arkansas, Missouri etc. at that point.

I don't know if it's just me, but it seems we've had a very bad spring for tornado outbreaks this year. It just seems every time it rains here (or in the midwest) lately, it's a severe weather system with actual tornadoes coming through - warnings, not just watches. Many people are probably aware that we even had a historic tornado come through downtown Atlanta recently. I believe it was the first one ever for downtown.

So today, I am even more thankful than usual. Thankful that the Lord protected us and our home through this stormy night, and prevented damage in our area on the scale of that out west. Thankful that we got some much-needed rain, and thankful (LOL) that it occurred on a day that won't interfere with the pool progress :-) Thankful that, unlike many in our area, we still have power, and the sun is now shining on our beautiful green landscape.

Some other things (people!) I'm thankful for today include my mother, my grandmother, my mother-in-law, my "other Mother" Diana, and each of you reading this. Hope you each have a great Mother's Day!

And as always, I am eternally grateful to my Lord and Savior Jesus, for all that He has done and continues to do for me.

Everyone enjoy your Sunday!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Concrete Jungle Redux

Well, I continue to be amazed at what a difference a day can make. After almost two weeks of little progress, I came home today to this:

Here's a view around the other side, going up to the spa and then on up the hill. Eventually, everywhere you see concrete (except in the pool itself, of course) will be flagstone:

While this progress is delightful, they also added one other enormous scary alien concrete blob small structure to our yard. Apparently, once the concrete truck finishes with a project, they have to empty it before the concrete sets up. And they can't very well put it into the sewer or leave it on the street, so they left us this lovely addition {ummm... yeah, we'll just sod over that...}

Normally, I'd be freaked out. But I'm getting so accustomed to the moonscape out back, it almost fits...

Stay tuned!!

It's (finally) Foodie Friday!

So I’m gearing up for another freezer meal marathon! The first batch was an overwhelming success and I can’t shut up about this even though I know you’re tired of hearing it highly recommend this method. Here are my choices for Round 2. Most come from the Dinner Diva’s Mega Menu Mailer #2, except as otherwise noted. For this round I will also be making Giada’s marinara and her Chicken Cacciatore (both mentioned in an earlier post). Those both freeze delightfully after they are cooked, and in fact seem to improve as they age. The cacciatore is great for healthy lunches, and I need all of those that I can get! So without further ado, here’s the menu for the next month or so. We’ll fill in with a few dinners out, some leftovers and what I cook over the weekends, that sort of thing:

Pepper Steak
Polynesian Flank Steak
Jamaican BBQ Chicken
Fajitas Pollo Loco
Apricot BBQ Chicken
Salmon Patties (mine)
Pork Tenderloin in Plum Sauce (Cooking Light fave)
Tex-Mex Pork Wraps
Caribbean Turkey (and/or Steak)
Stir-fry Turkey & Veggies
Parmesan Crusted Chicken (Rachael Ray)
Lemon Chicken Scallopine (hubby’s new favorite)
Chicken Broccoli Braid (Pampered Chef)

I’m hoping to maximize our use of seasonal veggies for sides, and fruits for dessert. I’m going to get the hang of this five-a-day thing and stop eating junk food (and this time I mean it!) I'm also going to work my now-beloved baby lima beans and brown rice into some of these side dishes.

The hardest part of doing these meals is going back and making your own master grocery list (since I don’t make all 20 of the menu mailer recipes at the same time). This is tons of fun as it satisfies my need to create lists, but bad in a way because I can waste spend a lot of time endlessly re-doing and trying to perfect making lists of all kinds. Wish me luck! If I can remember, I will try to take some pics to share and post reviews as we go along!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Okay, not quite wordless, but few words that I could add would improve on this photo of one of our favorite little friends and our dog. All together now - "Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!"

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Foodie Friday!

Okay, so it's not really Friday yet, but it's close enough and I may not have a chance to post tomorrow :-) It's been a busy week for us, but not a lot has happened with the pool so there aren't really any new photos of that project to share. Hopefully very soon!

Anyway, on to my favorite subject - FOOD! What do brown rice, baby lima beans and my freezer have in common? [Waits while y'all scratch your heads, wondering sadly if I am losing my mind!] These are my new favorite things in the kitchen. I've recently discovered two new foods I would have starved before eating never really knew I liked, and as I know I've mentioned before (so much so that I'm pretty sure it's becoming annoying), I am loving this whole freezer meals thing.

So first, the foods themselves. I love risotto (it's that creamy, buttery and cheesy thing), but have never really had a love affair with regular rice. Hubby however only eats regular rice... Lately of course, we're all hearing so much about how good for you brown rice is, and how we should all eat more whole grains and yadda yadda ya. I first tried Success Boil in Bag Brown Rice, and discovered that it is only a mild improvement in flavor over the regular white rice. But on a recent pilgrimage to introduce my friend to Whole Foods, I discovered both long grain and short grain brown rice in their bulk bins. Since it only cost a few cents to try some, I got both. Since I love short grain rice (risotto), I started my kitchen trials with the short grain brown rice, and MAN is it yummy. It doesn't taste like rice (or whole grains) to me at all. If I close my eyes it could easily be risotto. It has that same creamy consistency, and if you add just a little butter (I did say little, don't panic!) and some salt and pepper, it is sooooo good. Okay, so it's even better if you add more butter, but y'all won't tell, right? I've been making about 4 cups at a time and freezing them in serving portions. Makes rounding out meals on weeknights that much easier!

My new rock-star-masquerading-as-a-wallflower food is baby lima beans. Who KNEW how good these are? If my mother had called them by their alternative name all those years when I was growing up, I might have tried them! Butter beans, as they are also known here in the South, live up to their billing. I have to give Giada credit once again for causing me to try these in earnest, because I really would not have picked them up otherwise. But in this yummy, superfast recipe, she features them with whitefish, and it's become one of my very favorite weeknight dinners. I make it a lot and I think that if you like the method, there are a number of variations you could try. I'm thinking you could do white beans and tomatoes (or marinara) with herbs for an Italian flavor, or salsa, black beans and cilantro for a Mexican flair. Such a versatile recipe. When I make it, I add a splash of chicken broth to the wine, some chopped shallots or onion, and (shhhhhh!!!) a small pat of butter on each piece of fish. I also drizzle both sides of the fish with olive oil. This dish cooks in a flash and I have even cooked the fish directly from frozen (texture suffers, but certainly edible in a pinch!). On the limas, the frozen ones work perfectly and couldn't be more convenient, but if you cook them alone, don't overcook. For the fish packets, I usually run the beans under some water just to start them thawing before baking. Hope you enjoy! I'm looking to branch out on my baby lima adventures, so let me know if you have any favorite recipes of your own!!

Lastly, this week we finished up almost all of the remaining first batch of freezer meals. I can't say enough about this method for all us busy women/stressed mommies/tired dogmommies/frazzled wives (wow, I fit into three of those four categories - scary!). Home cooked meals ready in a flash, and no frantic last minute screaming at husband to get up and help chopping (and, if you're like me, cutting yourself...) I never knew how many recipes could be adapted to this method. Mostly, I love knowing they are there, so when I get home at 7 and have no idea what we could eat, we're not stranded with take out or [shudders] Easy Mac (which hubby really thinks constitutes *dinner...*) I have chosen my next round of new recipes to try/favorites of ours that I want to try freezing and I will share the menu once it's finalized, in case anyone would like to try a particular recipe or more. But I highly recommend trying the whole freezer method, if you're rushed at dinnertime like we are.

Oh - and a happy bonus for the week - I discovered one last portion of this wonderful recipe (do you even have to ask who authored it? :-) lurking, sad and lonely, in my freezer. It was made in December. And to my great amazement, it was more delicious this week than it was fresh... I guess flavors really do continue to blend even when food is frozen - I was so happy to discover a recipe that works with my tendency to forget what's in my freezer!! The only change I made to that recipe was to use boneless, skinless chicken parts. Don't leave out the capers - they make the dish, and once it's reheated their flavor mellows a bit into the background. Sadly for me, hubby ate the remainder of this great find, but I'll definitely be making more soon!!!

Hope you enjoy the recipes! Happy weekend - and have fun in the kitchen!
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