Tuesday, December 30, 2008

oh yes, i even made myself one

they have all been given out! well, most of them. the ones that haven't don't read this anyways. (at least, i don't think they do, and if they do - hi dad! hi ellen! hi harry! stop reading unless you want your gift spoiled!) so i can finally post pictures of the christmas gifts i made this year. keep in mind that i am nowhere near as talented and creative as some others out there, namely jaimey, whose creativity and cleverness and resourcefulness i envy, possibly even more than i envy my sister's sense of humor and closet and shoe collection. or at least as much.

at some point this year my mother picked up the perfect mix and sent it to me, which at the time i thought was a little random, but then the november issue of cooking light had this mix recipe in it, and it just looked so pretty that i thought i can do that! which is usually how my crafty obsessions endeavors start anyway. i also hoped people would appreciate that in a recession we were giving them one less thing to pay for: a dinner on us, and hopefully a fun evening of cooking together. they were cost-effective for us (especially since i had to do 15+ gift bags, between my family, brian's family, work, friends, and our two lovely neighbors) which is also nice when money is tight like it is now. on the other hand, they were a bit labor-intensive with all that measuring, mixing, swearing when i realize i am out of something i thought i had, running to the grocery store more than once, bagging, ribbon-tying, and labeling. and of course, the recipes for each mix were included. so i guess it all evens out, what i didn't spend in money i more than made up for in time and energy and love, cue sappy music.

cozy caribbean dinner: black bean soup, corn bread, and red stripe beer. in many of the dinners the spices were bagged separately from the rest of the mix.

southwestern chili dinner: chili, corn bread, and a festive striped dishtowel

new england dinner: boston baked beans, heirloom brown bread, and molasses

winter night dinner: split pea soup, honey whole wheat bread, honey and jam, apple cider, and mulling spice

single guy's baking: whole wheat beer bread, beer, and jam

warm drinks: mocha coffee, cappuccino, spiced tea, minted citrus tea, spiced cranberry cider, and a mug

another winter night dinner: bean soup, honey whole wheat bread, honey, and jam

i don't know what happened to the pictures of the other two i took, the cajun dinner (red beans & rice, french baguettes, and louisiana hot sauce) and the italian dinner (mushroom risotto & chianti). they seem to have disappeared which is not surprising given my [nonexistant] technological prowess. that is also unfortunate because i gave them away also. the one i saved for myself was the bean soup, which sounded so darn good to me, and now brian knows why we have little bits of 86 different kinds of beans leftover in our pantry.

Monday, December 29, 2008

a very merry christmas

how was your christmas?

mine was wonderful - my family was all here. not for long enough, of course. i would have everyone in my family and brian's family live within a mile of our house if i could, so i could see them all the time. (would i hate that after a while? it sounds so nice at the moment.) my mom drove up with my grandparents and picked up my sister in san francisco on the 23rd, and left on 26th. it was really only two days, because they got here the evening of the 23rd and left the morning of the 26th. not even the requisite three days (fish and family). mil was with us for four days so that was nice even if my other family had to leave so soon.

that was the best part about christmas. the second best part was finding out we are having a little girl. the third best was the goodies. grandma brought her famous pumpkin bread which is gone now of course. mom made a tea ring (gone) and cranberry scones, also gone. and of course we had scores of christmas cookies.

last but not least were the gifts, though that is my least favorite part about christmas i think. personally i vastly prefer thanksgiving to christmas on the holiday scale, because the shopping stress is removed. thanksgiving to me is just about the perfect holiday: good food shared with beloved friends and family. i get very stressed and anxious trying to come up with that "perfect gift" for everyone and i always seem to fall short and i hate it. i try to make up for it with good meals and try to create an environment where everyone is happy. maybe that is why i get so stressed, because i spend a lot of energy trying to please everyone.

as far as gifts go, my friends and family were more than generous this year and i think i really fell short in return. my sister gave me a beautiful handbag and some gorgeous earrings and mil gave me some really cute maternity sweaters, so now i am a chic pregnant girl instead of just a fat one. my mother made me a cute apron set and also gave me a knife sharpener which i have to highly recommend, it is so easy to use and works so well. and my husband... well, he always spoils me more than he should and more than we can afford, but i love him anyways, and he is the one whose christmas i wish i could have made more perfect. i love you, sweetie, and i'm glad i get to spend every christmas with you.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

merry christmas!

2008 threw us some curves:
changed our jobs, moved to the 'burbs,
landed in "--- -----," bought our first home.
whaddya know, we won't be alone –
the roster's expanding with baby on the way.
our littlest giant will be arriving in may!

Monday, December 22, 2008

the best time i've had for someone else's birthday

thank you for all the well wishes - our trip to capitola was so nice. short, but it was really nice to get a change of scenery and away from the "pressure" of our regular life, even if that pressure is just the kitchen floor waiting to be mopped.

it took us about 2½ hours to get there from our house - 144 miles. we didn't hit any traffic and it was a nice clear drive. that drive over the santa cruz mountains on highway 17 is so pretty too. i think the only thing that would have made the drive better would have been if i didn't keep missing the turns. we had to take eight different freeways to get there and i missed one or two. fortunately brian napped for most of the ride so i didn't have to hear about my lame-brain navigation.

we stayed overnight at the capitola inn, which is up on a little hill. i think it overlooks the ocean, but our room was in the back with a view of the trees. it didn't matter much to us because we were not in the room for very long. because it was mil's birthday, we went to dinner at shadowbrook, a beautiful restaurant built into a hillside. there is a hillevator to take you up and down the hill from the parking lot to the restaurant below, which of course i loved. i'm easily pleased like that. i had creamy artichoke soup for an appetizer (the recipe is on the website!) while everyone else had calamari (i don't eat seafood) and then i had grilled mushrooms for dinner. it was quite a filling dish and one of the most delicious things i think i have ever had.

the next day we had breakfast at a diner down on the beach. this was my view out the window as i ate my eggs:

of course, we couldn't leave without some pictures to remember us by. if only ron and brian could get their camera-phones to work.

then we walked around "downtown" capitola which was pretty cute and quaint. there was a candy store that sold jelly bellies by the pound. i love jelly bellies, especially the peach and pear flavors. there was a new pomegranate flavor also that i had never seen, which was so delicious. i highly recommend it on its own or with peach.

we did some window shopping and then it started sprinkling. we weren't really that interested in braving the rain, so we decided to go get some coffees. we went back to shadowbrook to sit by the fire. by the time we got there the sprinkles had let up but it was still chilly. brian and i still wanted to see it in the daytime though, so we walked down the hill instead of taking the hillevator. it is kind of a steep walk which we knew, because we had walked up the night before after dinner. they have a beautiful herb garden, which would be heaven to me. i would love to have an herb garden like that, but i don't have that kind of backyard space.

after enjoying our coffee we made our way to our respective homes. i think i missed every turnoff that i was supposed to take and we had to turn around and go back a couple times. fortunately we were feeling relaxed and generous from our weekend so it just ended up being an adventure and not a frustration. i guess that is pregnant brain for you, not noticing where you are going until you are passing your exit.

all in all, that was the best birthday of mil's that i have ever had, and i hope she has a lot more.

Friday, December 19, 2008


this has been the week from h3ll. why oh why are there weeks like that? why me? why us? we have been slogging on through the messes and all i can think is thank heaven i get to sleep in tomorrow.

monday night the bank deposited my paycheck into the wrong account. we did not discover it until tuesday when i checked online and found my account $330 overdrawn.

wednesday evening we came home from work to find water all over the kitchen floor, apparently from the dishwasher having been run earlier in the day.

brian has had a h3llish week at work, even more stress than usual.

last night, at 10pm, a server/processor banged (not knocked - banged) on our front door to serve us a summons for a bad debt. only, they didn't want to serve us but rather the previous owners, who have not lived in our house since at least early march. these debt collectors have harassed us before and apparently do not understand that these people don't live here anymore. they also don't like to do their homework, as we have advised them numerous times that if they check the county records they will see that the house was sold to us and we have an owner-occupied property tax exemption because we're not renting our house to the previous owners. the repo man has showed up a couple of times to repossess their car, even though we continue to tell them that the people they are looking for are not here and we don't know who they are or where they might be. (obviously, these people were not good at paying their bills, since their house was foreclosed on.) last night the processor actually left the summons on our doorstep because he was apparently "required" to leave it at the house. i want to mail it back to the collection agency it came from but i don't want to pay for it. how do you send something c.o.d.? and why does my husband have to deal with this at 10pm??

(because he is my wonderful hero and tries to protect me, and doesn't want me dealing with strangers at our house at night - not that i blame him!)

i am so thankful that we will be here this weekend. we are spending the weekend away with mil for her birthday, and i think after this week we could really use a change of scenery.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

today i am thankful

1. that in some small way, i can (usually) make my husband's day better. tuesday was a stressful crap day for him at work, and he was cranky and irritated when he came home, but i had fresh crab for dinner and that made his evening. yesterday was another stressful day, and i was able to give him a little massage and make him a yummy dinner, and i think he was able to relax. i'm certainly far from the perfect wife, and it's not all sunshine and roses, but i'd like to think that coming home at night is not as stressful for him as leaving in the morning is.

2. for answered prayers, even when my faith is weak.

3. for my family, who are coming to our home for christmas this year. (our first christmas in the new house!) i am especially thankful in that by my age, who hasn't lost someone? my grandparents are 83 and 90 and still going strong, which is just amazing to me. i have not lost anyone. it is amazing and a blessing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

a bit out of practice, apparently.

the other thing i did this weekend while kerry was here was make a batch of soap. i also made another last night, and if not for the fact that i ran out of olive and coconut oils, i would make a third tomorrow night. my mother requested soap for christmas because she bought some that gave her a horrible rash and mine do not. nice.

kerry also got a brief lesson on soapmaking. here it is: soap is made through a chemical reaction called saponification, in which weak fatty acids are turned to soap in the presence of a strong base. oil (olive, coconut, canola, corn, shea butter, whatever) is made of weak fatty acids. lye (NaOH) is that strong base. just like fight club. which, by the way, has that fabulous line: "we were selling rich women their own fat a$$es back to them." what a great movie.

soap is uber-easy to make. i use the cold-process method: melt all your oils together, mix the NaOH with water, let it all cool to about the same temperature (about 115º), and mix the two together. stir stir stir (i use a stick blender) until it becomes about the consistency of cream soup. this point is called trace, and when soap traces then it is time to add all the special things. herbs, essential oils, colorants, etc. then you pour it into a mold - you can use anything. i use a wooden slab mold with a silicone liner from upland which i absolutely love (it prescores the bars for easy cutting) but in the past i have used pringles cans, tupperwares, shoeboxes, muffin tins, you name it.

when soap goes in the mold it is only about 60-70% saponified, which means there is some unreacted oil and unreacted NaOH floating around. the mold needs to be insulated, because the saponification process is an exothermic reaction (meaning it gives off heat - remember high school chemistry?) and that heat needs to be conserved to continue the reaction so the soap is fully saponified. so you wrap the mold with towels and put it in a warm (or not cold) place. my wooden mold is actually a great insulator so i don't have to insulate; i just pop the mold in the oven (off) after i've warmed it a little. let it sit for about 2 days and then pop it out of the mold, cut into bars, and let it cure for 4-6 weeks to allow the water weight to dry from the bars. curing is not 100% necessary but it helps give the bar a nicer feel and it doesn't dissolve as fast in the shower.

the tricky part comes when working with the additives, usually. herbs and things like oatmeal are not too much of a problem because they don't react with anything. they just kind of hang out and look pretty and act all nice and exfoliating in the shower. nor are colorants much of a problem; you either mix them in thoroughly for even color or not so much for a swirly look. the thing to watch out most for is the things that will react: milk, honey, and especially essential and fragrance oils. milk and honey will increase the temperature of the reaction; milk also discolors tan to brown, depending on the quantity and when it's added.

most eo's and fo's are relatively stable, but some are not so much. some you have to be very careful with because they have a low flash point. (not so much of a problem in cold-process soap, since the temperatures are lower; in other methods it can be.) others - namely the musk i used in conjunction with other scents last night - can have a tendency to accelerate trace, which means your soap gets very gloppy very quickly and is hard to work with.

and here is the crux of this very long, very involved post: i completely forgot last night to check if any of my scents acted funny. usually i know how they will behave, but this one i don't use very often and completely forgot about. my soap got so gloppy so quickly that i could barely get it out of the pot and into the mold. and then i checked bramble berry's website and read this: "this fragrance accelerates trace in a dramatic fashion. do not water discount with this fragrance and be prepared to work quickly with the fragrance."


i'll post photos soon, because the one i did on sunday turned out really pretty, and i really like it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

still trying to build a decent wardrobe.

before my sister came over saturday night, i did some crazy sewing. mostly because last weekend i worked on christmas gifts instead of sewing, and i desperately needed to make some staples for that new pregnant wardrobe. i still have a plain white blouse to make (same as this pattern). it is currently on the floor in the process of being laid out, and won't actually be completely finished until january when i go visit my mother, because i want to use her fancy machine stitches to do some pretty topstitching around the collar and cuffs.

i was able to whip out two garments, which i think is a record night for me. i am loving making maternity clothes because they are so easy. all total i think i only spent about 4 hours sewing. i made these pants, burda # 8377, which is where i found the tummy panel for this skirt:

the legs are actually the same length, i don't know why they look so uneven in the picture. all i had to buy was the ribbing for the panel, because the olive herringbone wool was part of the box my mother sent up earlier this fall. this also has an adjustable elastic waistband (more detail on that below) and my sister brought me the buttonhole elastic, which apparently is not a staple in our town. she picked it up at britex fabrics on union square. as far as fabric stores go, britex to me is pretty much heaven without the dying part.

i also made this top, burda # 8377, from some old ivory microfiber that i had sitting around. i still have like 3 more yards of it, and it's something i picked up when i worked at the fabric store in high school, which tells you how long i've been hanging on to it. i wonder what in the world i ever thought i needed so much microfiber for.

i tweaked the top a little bit but that is typical for me. i rarely make anything exactly the way the pattern calls for. this pattern was for a dress or a top, the dress basically just a longer version of the top. the dress has that cute under-bust tie, but the top did not. the top had a tie around the neck though. i thought the top was somewhat unflattering with no definition at the bust, so i incorporated that under-bust tie. the problem ended up being, the neckline was so insanely huge! on the dress version (because there is no neckline tie), the neck is just left plain and open, but if i did that it would fall off my shoulders, so i put some elastic in the neckline. it looks a little bohemian and peasant-y, but i think it will be insanely comfy. also, the top was only about 8" shorter than the dress and was about 4" too long on me, and i'm long-waisted. i don't know what those designers were thinking on this one. an uber-long top and a too-short dress? for maternity wear? give me a break.

i was able to finish off the tummy panel on that skirt with the buttonhole elastic my sister brought. i sewed a casing across the top and left the seam open to feed the elastic in, but i also finished the edges so the elastic can come out. i used regular ¾" non-roll elastic for most of the waist and then attached about 6-8" of buttonhole elastic to the end. the regular elastic is tacked inside so it won't move, and the buttonhole elastic peeks out of the casing where i left the seam open. then i sewed a button to hold the elastic. now i can adjust the waistband to be looser as my belly grows. this is a neat feature i discovered hidden inside my old navy khakis that i am newly in love with.

elastic let all the way out

elastic cinched up a bit, for a smaller tummy

Monday, December 15, 2008

introducing vinegar

this weekend when my sister came to visit she also brought her laundry to wash in our washer instead of paying to take it to the laundromat. brian grumbled a little when i first told him this would happen, but i reminded him of all the times his mother had let us bring laundry over, and all the times we had been sure to do laundry before leaving my mom's house, so we wouldn't have to pay for it at the laundromat. i figured letting my sister do laundry at our house was like good karma. good laundry karma.

i also introduced her to vinegar in her wash. to be fair, i only discovered this trick about two months ago but i am already in love with it. conveniently, i found out about it approximately six days after i bought the costco-sized pack of dryer sheets. so if anyone needs or wants dryer sheets i will gladly pass them on to you. otherwise i have dryer sheets to last the rest of my life and then some. vinegar cuts the detergent residue from your clothes and leaves them very fresh-smelling (but not vinegar-smelling). distilled white vinegar is the only kind you should use, which is nice because it is also the cheapest kind. i got two gallons at costco last week for $3.57. you just do your wash like usual and the vinegar goes in the fabric softener dispenser in the washing machine. if you don't have a dispenser, i have read that a downy ball works great also. it only takes about ¼ - ½ cup; i just pour it in to the line in the dispenser.

that little conversation with my sister got me to thinking about how i do my laundry and care for my clothes. (also a conversation with her boyfriend in which we educated him on the properties of lint.) i would like to think i do a pretty good job on my clothes, since they look nice and wear well for a long time. many of my clothes i have had for years but they don't look it. a girl i used to work with would often comment on what a cute new sweater i was wearing, when in fact the sweater was years old and i just hadn't worn it lately. so, here is how i do laundry:

1. i very rarely hand-wash anything. sacrilege, my sister says! (she hand-washes a lot of her stuff, even her cashmere.) i have nothing against hand-washing, in fact i admire people who make that effort. i just am not one of those people. 99% of my stuff is washable in the washing machine.

2. i very rarely dry clean my clothes either. dry cleaning is not environmentally friendly and i don't like bringing those chemicals into my car and my home. (the rare occasions i have to go to the cleaners, i always air my clothes for 24-48 hours afterwards.) again, 99% of my stuff is washable so it is usually not an issue. when i do have to dry clean my clothes, i usually use dryel. it's cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and more people-friendly. i will usually "clean" clothes with dryel 3-4 times and then they go to the dry cleaners.

3. on the subject of dry cleaning: almost every fabric can be washed - 99% of the clothes you buy that say "dry clean only" don't desperately need to be dry cleaned. granted, some things are insanely easier to clean that way (brian's suits all go to the cleaners). wool can be washed and dried - just carefully, because it shrinks. silk can also be washed, gently; silk charmeuse (the lightweight shiny silk) needs a little extra care so it doesn't get "scuffed." most synthetic fabrics can be washed and often just need a gentle cycle. imho that "dry clean only" label is there to cover the manufacturer in case you royally screw up and destroy your clothes.

4. sort, sort, sort! pretty much everyone knows to sort by color, but less people realize that clothes also need to be sorted by fabric weight. you don't want your jeans bashing up your lightweight tees. we do five loads each week at my house: whites, lightweight darks, heavy darks (jeans, sweats, khakis, etc), light delicates, and dark delicates.

5. as far as delicates go, i throw a lot of stuff in there that my mother and sister don't worry about. all my underwear, even the cotton ones, go in delicates. so do all my socks and brian's dress socks. sweaters, of course. even brian's nylon track shorts go in delicates. the general rule in our house about clothes (excluding undergarments) is that if it is 100% synthetic, it goes in delicates; if it has cotton, it goes in whites or darks.

6. i also don't use a mesh bag for my delicates. some people would faint at this i think but it works fine for me. i hook my bras together at the back strap instead of leaving them unhooked, and they stay like that when washed, so they don't get tangled into an awful knot and the hooks don't catch into anything.

7. smaller loads are better - don't overfill your washer. about 2/3 full is a good rule of thumb for both front- and top-loading washers. your clothes need space to move around in the water in order to get clean. also, if they have space to move around, they aren't forced to be rubbed up against each other for the whole cycle, which breaks down the fibers. fabric fibers are weakest when wet.

8. cooler water is also better. i wash "regular" clothes in warm water and delicates in cold, and my washer (the whirlpool duet sport) does only cold water washes. the only things i wash in hot water are towels and sheets. cooler water is gentler on your clothes.

9. my washer also allows me to choose the spin speed. regular loads get a high spin speed, because cotton is very absorbent and so i feel like that high spin speed is necessary to get the water out. delicates get a medium or low spin speed, because i feel like the synthetics don't hold as much water, and it's gentler on the clothes.

10. i generally line-dry my delicates. most of them are synthetics which dry pretty quickly. i hung a couple lines in our laundry room so i can line-dry even in the winter. i would line dry a lot more of our laundry but brian complains about the "crinkly" stiff feeling in his shirts, and i don't have that much line space anyways.

11. like washing, drying on a slightly lower heat setting is better, i think, even if you have to run the dryer for longer. the only things i do on higher heat are towels and sheets, because those would take forever otherwise. remember, that lint that you clean out of the trap is pieces of your clothes. the goal is to minimize your clothes from falling apart.

12. also, i don't use dryer sheets anymore because of the vinegar. if i have to tumble dry my delicates i will throw in a half a dryer sheet to prevent static cling, and sometimes i will put a half a sheet in with the whites (where most of brian's poly/cotton work shirts get washed, and they can get a little static-y). vinegar is cheaper than dryer sheets and better for our skin and the environment in the long run anyways.

yeah, that was long. sorry. i tend to ramble. how do you do keep your clothes nice?

Thursday, December 11, 2008


this week i am thankful for:

1. my husband. i know you ladies think you have the best man out there, and you girls have pretty awesome men, but mine is the best. at least, he is the best for me. (God certainly knew what He was doing when he gave me brian!) he is kind and funny and generous and takes good care of us, and he will be an awesome dad to our kids. yes, he drives me up a wall some days, but i wouldn't trade him for the universe. besides, i think i drive him crazier than he does me.

2. my job. it has been really quiet lately at work which can be a bit nerve-wracking. we're trying to drum up business but the combination of the holidays and the economy has everyone holding on tight to their cash, even when it is in their best interest. a lot of my policyholders have lost their jobs and are having a hard time paying their bills, which cuts into our bottom line as well, so i am thankful that i still have my job.

3. my sister, who is coming over this weekend with her boyfriend to make christmas cookies. we were not what you would call close when we were kids and i never believed the people who told me we would be good friends when we were older, just you wait. i am so glad we are because she was always a neat kid (even if i didn't want to be in the same room as her) and she has grown into such a neat woman. my sister is beautiful and fun and clever and smart and generous and i know it is going to be nutty fun times in my kitchen this weekend. you wish you could be there? you are welcome to join us.

Monday, December 8, 2008

random things that are making me happy lately

- a warm cup of tea and my new pink cardigan.

- my cat, who randomly woke up hissing and spitting on saturday evening while we were watching a movie. i was sitting 5 feet away from him, so brian could not accuse me of tormenting the cat. must have been a nightmare, i guess. it was just so cute and funny, and then he blinked and looked around at us like he was a bit embarassed to realize he was safe at home in front of the fireplace instead of out defending his territory against marauders or something.

- who also feels the need to keep me company on the bathroom counter while i put on my makeup and do my hair in the morning, who inspects my makeup brushes and tolerates hairspray but runs away at the sound of the hairdryer.

- the blue icicle lights we put on the front of our house.

- the cherry betty boop chapstick that bonnie gave me last year for valentine's day that is mysteriously tinted the perfect shade of pink. though i have to be careful not to just smear it on like regular chapstick, which is what i did this morning not knowing any better, and ended up with a ring around my mouth as if i was 3 years old and didn't know how to eat a popsicle.

- my husband, who discovered four inches of standing water in the front gutter, and i said SEE NOW this is why i have been getting after you to clean out the gutters, you ought to listen to me more often.

- my christmas gifts, which i (mostly) finished yesterday, and i would post pictures except that certain recipients also read this. i'll post photos after christmas. suffice to say that i would like to get one from me. i think this will rank right up with the year i made the jam.

- cozy flannel sheets, which are going on my bed tonight.

- fuzzy new sweatpants fresh and warm from the dryer.

- split pea soup, and picking fresh rosemary from my front yard whenever i want some. and why can't i find any split pea soup recipes that call for rosemary? i always put it in my soup, i think the earthiness of the peas and ham goes quite nicely with rosemary.

- twinkly lights on my christmas tree, even though there is one strand that i can't seem to prevent from going spastic. all i want is for that strand to twinkle, and it keeps going all schizo on me no matter how i play with the controller. strange.

- that there are only 6 more days (5 not counting today) until cookie-making weekend with my sister starts!

Friday, December 5, 2008

marriage and tamale pie

yesterday was kind of a bad day and being thankful was unfortunately not the first thing on my mind. so belatedly, i am thankful for:

1. my husband, who is - without a doubt - the absolute most patient, loving, accepting man on the planet. possibly that ever existed. when i doubt myself or us, he is there with the strength to support us both. when i think our marriage is falling apart, he is there to give me a hug and remind me that he loves me and is here for the long haul. he is my rock, my safe place, my comfort, the quiet place i can rest. i don't give him enough credit for the amazing man he is and continues to be. honey, i love you and appreciate you more than you could ever know.

2. baby spot, whom God is using to make my marriage stronger, even and especially when i think the world is falling apart around me.

3. comfort food. when i am upset (and often when i'm not) i gravitate to the kinds of things my mom made when i was a kid, things like meatloaf and stew and soup. i don't actually remember her making tamale pie ever for dinner but she must have, because i remember her teaching me how to make it. it's yummy and relatively little work, and (at least at my house) made of things i generally have on hand:

tamale pie

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small can black olives
1 (14 oz.) can corn niblets
2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
2-3 T. chili powder
8 oz. (2 c.) cheddar or mexican blend shredded cheese

2 c. water
1 T. butter
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. cornmeal

preheat oven to 350'.

brown ground beef in a large skillet. add onion and sauté; add green pepper and sauté. stir in olives, corn, tomato paste, and chili powder until well blended. cover and simmer 10 minutes. pour into a large casserole dish and stir in cheese.

bring water and butter to a boil in a small saucepot. stir in salt and cornmeal, reduce heat, and cook until water is gone and mixture is about the consistency of paste. spread over meat mixture in casserole dish. bake in oven for about 45 minutes or until cornmeal mixture is golden brown.

note: i also dump in a can of cut green beans. what's that, you say? green beans don't go in tamales? well, whatever, i think they're good. also, i sometimes substitute an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce for one of the cans of tomato paste. the meat mixture will not stick together as firmly and it will be a little bubblier when you take it out of the oven, though.

Monday, December 1, 2008

christmas cheer

we decorated the house this weekend but we still have to put up the lights outside. this will be a new experience for us as brian never did it as a kid and my dad always did it when i was a kid. nor have we ever had a home together where we could put up outside lights.

i really like these candy canes in our front yard. they were a housewarming gift from a coworker and i think they are very fun and cute.

this candelabra centerpiece was also a housewarming gift. it looks warm and cozy when the candles are lit.

i usually dread dragging out all the christmas decorations and i resist until after thanksgiving. if brian had his way, we would have had decorations up three weeks ago, which to me is just wrong. i always forget how much i enjoy decorating until i actually start opening the christmas boxes and finding the things that i love. it's like christmas early.

we have a fake tree which i detest on the grounds of traditionalism (real trees are how it should always be) but love because i am a cheapskate and it means we don't have to spend money on a tree every year. every year we vow to throw it out or goodwill the fake tree, and every year we put it back in the box because we can't bear to part with a perfectly good tree and spend more money next year. this year we threw away the cardboard box that it gets stored in, because it was falling apart. maybe that means we will get a new tree (or a real one) next year. we said it was because the box was dying so we would pack it into plastic bins like the rest of the christmas stuff.

i really hate putting lights on the tree. i try my best every year to wind them properly so they don't get tangled and every year they do, which inevitably leads to fights and headaches and general aggravation. along with getting rid of the current fake tree, every year i swear that if we have to have a fake tree, next year we are getting a pre-lit one. brian thinks stringing lights is half the fun but he always ends up pissed off too, so i'm not sure how much fun it really is to him.

we usually end up getting new garland each year because that stuff is so cheap and just falls apart at the end of the season. i could happily do without garland at all and brian would love to have so much garland that no tree shows through. i don't know where he thinks he would hang the ornaments then.

this year our tree might have a bit of an identity crisis because brian bought blue garland and we had some white and silver leftover from last year. is it hannukah or christmas? i think it is not sure. good thing it is a fake tree with no feelings. i really like my light-up star for the top. i just wish it was blinky and twinkly, but at least it lights up, which makes me happy.

the best part about unpacking the mountains of christmas crap and rediscovering the decorations i love is unpacking and rediscovering the ornaments. my favorite one is front and center, just below the star, where she always goes. that little stuffed angel is from my parents when i was 5 and i have always loved her the best of anything. some of the most special ones don't go on the tree anymore, like the dough ornaments my mother made when i was 4 or 5 that are now starting to disintegrate. otherwise it's fun to find them again. here is the one kerry gave us for christmas the first year we were married, from kazakhstan. here is the one we got on our honeymoon. here is the one we picked up last year in ireland, and the stuffed napoleon brian was so thrilled to find when we went to paris last year. the clay hearts i made when i was little and the gold family ornaments from brian's childhood, including grandpa's (who died in 1997). also every year bonnie gets brian that year's collector ornament from the giants and the 49ers so we have a lot of sports-themed ornaments. every year i threaten to get brian a 3-foot tree and orange halloween lights, so we can have a tree specifically dedicated to the giants. he complains but i think he secretly likes the idea and i think it would look pretty neat.

we also went to the christmas parade in old town on saturday night. it was colder than i expected and i wished i had brought a scarf. we were looking for the neighbor girls who were marching in the parade but couldn't find them which was disappointing.

there were a lot of classic cars all lit up and we really liked that. brian and i really love classic cars. three of the local high schools also had their marching bands and color guards in the parade, and there were a lot of girl and boy scout troops. when i was in elementary school my girl scout troop marched in the escondido christmas parade a couple times, but i remember it being in the daytime and hot and i didn't like carrying the banner. maybe i am remembering the wrong parade. anyway, this parade was fun and hometown-y and i rather hope it gets to be a tradition.