Wednesday, August 27, 2014

8 Books for Your Fall Reading List

As fall approaches, were I live we grow eager for jeans, pumpkin-flavored morsels and football.  Fantasy leagues become the new national language of cocktail parties and Saturdays are filled with the kid's sporting events and the occasional bonfire.

My mom loves to burn the brush this time of year, my brother and Levi are glued to the tvs every Sunday and my father begins winterizing their home.  I begin collecting favorite recipes, teas and configuring my book list for the next few months.  Levi's family is in Tennessee so we make a few trips and the drive is very conducive for catching up on wonderful literary works a little too serious for summer months.

Here is my list of favorite books to read in the Fall!  Please comment below if you have a recommendation!

1. Cider House Rules By: John Irving


 As is always the case, the book is infinitely better than the movie-especially in this case.  This compelling story forces the reader into a time of quiet controversy that questioned a system ultimately failing to protect women.  I still look back on this book with a profound respect for the way this story was delivered-the depths of integrity in so many of the characters leave the reader in awe. 

2. A Moveable Feast By: Ernest Hemingway


Few writers command such a unique cadence to their writing as Ernest Hemingway.  The fluidity of his writing adds to the vivid images painted by Hemingway's experiences in 1920's Paris.  I highly recommend watching Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, as a complement to this book.  They go together like red wine and dark chocolate.

3. Pride and Prejudice By: Jane Austen


If you can make it through the first 100 pages of this book, the rest will follow very quickly.  This book will make you second guess your own first impressions and bring to light the way in which information and perspective can manifest public image.  A timeless classic that will forever be relevant as long as humans walk the earth.

4. Anna Karenina By: Leo Tolstoy


If any book is a test of one's patience, it would be Anna Karenina.  Tolstoy will never be accused of lacking in detail as this novel is a play-by-play of the Russian class system.  The imagery is captivating and the characters gregarious.  The literary version of a marathon, you will look back on the story with contemplation.

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes By: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Add some fun and flair to your fall reading by enjoying the shenanigans and intrigue Holmes and Watson bring to your world.  The writing and content take the reader to a England that leaves the reader begging for a visit to 221B Baker Street.

6. Jane Eyre By: Charolotte Bronte

Every time I think of this book, my heart-strings feel a tug.  The only word I have for this book is: compelling.  Any woman who has yet to read it, will fall in love with Ms Eyre and find new a respect for herself as a woman.

7. The Harry Potter Series By: J. K. Rowling


If there were a literary world I would like to be transported to, it would be the world of Harry Potter.  The vivid writing opens your eyes to a world of magic with an nod toward Victorian elegance one doesn't come across anymore.

8. Mrs. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children By: Ransom Riggs

Ransom Riggs unfolds a world much in the same way J.K. Rowling does.  Transporting the reader to a place of mystery and intrigue.  This new series will draw you in and allow you to move along the journey with the characters.  I promise, you will gasp out loud!

Please share your favorite fall reads in the comments below!  If you have the time, tell us why you loved the book-careful not to reveal anything! :)

Enjoy, 
~Carmen

Friday, August 22, 2014

10 Tips to Throw an Inexpensive and Stylish Party

Levi and I entertain often and since I love to cook and hes a wonderful co-host, our home is always welcome to our friends.  We both are of the mind, we would rather host our friends than go out.

But Levi and I dont live in a large home or make a lot of money, but our parties often have 15-30 attendees, who are coupled or married, own their own homes, have children.  Yet, they keep coming back to our cozy 1 bedroom apartment as a source of entertainment-it becomes rather reminiscent of Holly Golightly.  During the year, I peruse the thrift stores in search of funky platters and glassware or anything I may add to the bar or table at the next event with the same goal in mind: throw an awesome party.


Over the last few years, I have noticed a new trend in party invitations-they include something to the effect of, BYOE, as in, Bring Your Own Everything!  For example, the invitation below:

This image was submitted by a reader of an actual invitation they received.
Invitations such as these are popping up all over the place.  I understand people still want to be hospitable to their friends, but asking them to bring everything is ridiculous.  So I'm going to take this opportunity to offer some help for those who are looking for new and better ways to entertain!

10 Tips to Throw an Inexpensive and Stylish Party

1. Don't ask your guests to fund the fun. BYO_ some items can be ok.  The trick is allowing for people to manage how much they want to invest financially.  BYOB is so commonplace anymore, people don't bat an eye.  In addition, at a BBQ, requesting people to help with a side item or appetizer is a great way to create some diversity to the menu, while allowing them the flexibility of finance. Sometimes that means that 3 people bring Buffalo Chicken Dip, and if that happens-its a good thing everyone likes dip!  

But then there are the few who decide to host a bonfire and request everyone to bring firewood.  Or other who request their guests to bring a side, beer and their own meat.  Sorry, but I might as well stay home.  If you cannot afford the most basic of party essentials-then you're not prepared to host a party.  And this quest is RSVPing 'No.'    

2. Lower your expectations. Too often we dissolution ourselves about how the party is going to unfold.  We decide that everyone who said maybe will end up coming or everyone is going to want to play bags.  You just never know how the party is going to work.  My best advice is: just let it happen, be ready with the game set up and always have a little extra food.  Its easy to be deceived by the RSVPs or the appeal of a game.   

Pro Tip: When it comes to RSVP's: 'yeses are maybes and maybes are nos'. 

3. Spring for the meat.  I know meat is expensive, but seriously-why are you having a party if you're making your guests supply the main course?  Its tacky and just grossly unacceptable to make that request of your guest.  This is the point I RSVP 'no'-I'd rather eat at home.  I frequently host 15-30 people and have never paid more than $30 for meat and always have leftovers.  There are ways to inexpensively handle a main course on a budget: A. Often the local butcher will have a special going where you can buy a variety pack at a deal.  B. Look for sales. C. Shop managers specials the Wednesday prior, when the store is trying to get rid of 'older' cuts. D. Buy in bulk at Costco or Sam's. E. Mix it up by making something bigger with the meat like jambalaya or chili.  

4. The Dollar Store is your best friend.  Are you loving those tiny plastic silver appetizer forks at the party store? Dollar Store sells them in packs of 24.  Need a platter?  They have them in a variety of sizes.  Hosting a dinner and need 2 more wine glasses?  The dollar store has them!  Even if you're not hosting a party anytime soon-its really helpful to do a walk-thru of your local DS so you are prepared for the next event!  
*Pro-Tip: Avoid getting your paper plates and plastic cups at the DS.  The best deal for those are your local super-store in the ziplock bag and saran wrap isle! 

5. Go seasonal.  Typically the party you're hosting is seasonally-related anyway, but keeping a seasonal menu can help save you a lot of money-in the store or otherwise!  I host a BBQ every summer that coordinates with a local beer festival.  It also falls on a great time to harvest the garden at my mom's-so the entire menu is planned around what I've pulled from the garden!  If this is not an option for you, allow yourself to be vague about the menu and give yourself permission to change your mind.  I cant tell you how many times I've done a complete menu change based off what the deals of the week were!

6. Never assign a dollar amount to your festivities!  This is my #1 pet-peeve for party invitations!  I hate it when people tell me how much to spend to come over.  If you want people to bring a side dish, let them choose which one they want to bring.  If they ask, make a few reasonable suggestions.  Sometimes I'll even tell them what other people are bringing, so they can work around that.  If you're asking for them to bring beer, let them choose the brand. 

7. Have a theme.  A theme is a great way to spice up any party!  It doesn't have to be over-thought: football, BBQ, Christmas-are all great themes.  Its something that gives people reason to come and also can create a wonderful variety of food and drink!  People like a little direction-cater to that a bit.

8. Have a few tricks up your sleeve/Backup Plan.  I typically do a few things to prepare for those 'worst case scenarios' which include, but are not limited to: running out of food, running out of toilet paper or everyone bringing the same thing.  Always keep a pack of hot dogs in the freezer and a box of pasta salad in the pantry.  They're inexpensive and can be made up quickly.  I'm friends with my neighbor and I know if we ever run out of toilet paper she will be willing to share in a pinch (although I do always stock up prior).  If I'm asking my guests to bring sides or appetizers, I typically have a few 'plants' in my guest list.  I privately ask the single males to bring tortilla chips-so we don't run out or my other friend to bring her 'signature' dish that is always a crowd-pleaser.  Sometimes people ask me what kind of booze they should bring (more common in the winter months) and I usually ask for them for something semi-specific, like vodka.  Let them pick the brand-remember, never dictate how much people should spend to come to your party.

9. Thats what friends/family are for.  I come from a family of women who love to entertain.  So everyone has stuff they have accumulated over time for a party.  I borrow punch bowls, folding chairs, tablecloths, crockpots, etc.  There is no harm in asking your friends, as long as you remember to invite them too!

10. Grab things throughout the year.  As I am a regular host, I often have the next event not far from thought.  So when I'm out and about in May and see something that would be perfect for my Halloween party-I'll buy it.  Garage sales and thrift stores are wonderful places to stop-in on occasion if you're looking for something specific at a bargain.  Eliminate the 'its not for 6 months' mentality.  If you know you're going to use it-get it!

Did I miss something?  Share your best party tips in the comments section!
Cheers,
~Carmen

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Other Side of the Darkness: I had a co-dependent relationship with a depressive cutter

I've often wondered how much of my personal history to reveal.  We are all created by our layered experiences and how vastly similar or different they are still amazes me when I hear a new story.  As I continue to seek light and daily contentment, I (as do so many others) draw on my experiences to guide or guard me.  In light of the news of the beloved Robin Williams, I feel the air is appropriate to tell this part of my story.

I spent five years in a relationship with someone who struggled with bouts of depression.  For the sake of this article, we'll call him Tom.  Tom and I had been friends for years before we started dating-so I knew him before he built up a tough exterior and shaved his head.  I knew Tom when he would call and talk for hours and really open up about how he felt.  Tom was incredibly sensitive, he was shy and funny and unassuming.  He wasn't very popular with the ladies at first, but he had this light in him that drew me to him and we became close.  I was there for the greater part of his first love and when that love dissolved.  After, Tom was quick to try and pick up with me, but I refused-he still had too much baggage.  While I cared about him deeply, I knew I couldn't play second-fiddle to his ex.

A few years went by and we reconnected again.  Tom had formed a band and they were doing well.  The air around him changed as he had this new lease on life.  We talked for hours everyday before we began dating.  I was 22 and ready to be with someone who I felt my soul had this connection with.

I knew Tom had his dark days.  He was a dark person half the time-and I'm not sure when I discovered the cutting, but I know it was in the first apartment we lived in together.  There were too many exacto-knives in the bathroom and box-cutters all over the place.  He would say he got them from work, and I took that as-he forgot to take them out of his pocket...but that wasnt the case.  Tom was always hoarding sharp objects in the bathroom.

At 22, with zero experience, I didn't take this cutting-thing very seriously.  I couldn't begin to wrap my head around it and saw little evidence on his body that it occurred, at first, so I chalked it up to a phase and ignored it-for the most part.

At 23, we decided to cool the relationship and not live together anymore.  Tom moved in with a bandmate and started looking around for weekday companionship (unannounced to me) as Tom worked 3rd shift.  I would come around on weekends and stay-pretending not to notice certain things that were changing in the house.  The ever-presence of drugs, the unclean environment, the darkness that begun to creep in around Tom's eyes.  The color of his skin even began to change and his mood was a constant state of agitation.  He was barely sleeping because he was trying to keep up with two relationships-the other I found out about a month or two after it began. 

He had found someone who had this darkness in her.  Who took him seriously and understood the place he was coming from.  This person encouraged his darkness and depression and encouraged him to feel it more by loving her and creating an impossible situation (as she was married) so that as he grew in his love for her-the Romeo and Juliet romance would increase the intensity of the situation and Tom would be in a constant state of depression.

Now, I know this wasn't the goal of Tom and his lover, but the situation was incredibly manipulative on both sides.

This is when I remember Tom doing more and more cutting.  Hiding in his bedroom, chain smoking, getting high and not bathing for days at a time.  The band was performing so frequently, the weekends were often 48 hour benders of drugs and booze before everyone had to return to work.  If I was there, Tom would gripe that I was and if I wasn't Tom would call until I answered or showed up.  It didn't take long for he and I to fall into a dangerous co-dependent pattern.  I protected him from the darkness he was so drawn to.  I made him laugh, brought him food, entertained him as a martyr and told him he was a good person.

It didn't take very long for the affair to end.  With the affair ended, Tom and I didn't pick back up right away.  We stayed friendly and actively participated in each others lives, but not as publicly as before.  The affair process had opened up a new facet of Tom's personality to me.  The depression and cutting was now active and real, always waiting right under the surface for an opportunity to emerge.  I knew that now.

Tom moved out of the disgusting flea-infested house and into a new apartment with his responsible and ambitious brother.  Tom started to look healthy again as he slowed the drug use significantly.  We still kept up with each other, maintained a responsible distance until about Christmas.  It had been about 6 months since the move and Tom was looking better, rejuvenated.  He had a new spring to his step and was becoming the person I remembered from years past.  After Christmas, he wanted to get back together.  We went on a few dates before I confessed to him that it wasn't going to work.  We both cried.  I just felt as though there had been too much damage done.

The next morning at 7:30am I got a phone call from Tom.  It was an emergency, he was hysterical and kept saying something about 911 that I couldn't decipher.  I jumped into my car and drove to his apartment, walked into his bedroom to see him sitting on his bed covered in blood.  He had taken a knife and sliced up his left arm on the outside.  He kept telling me, that he 'had gone too far' and 'a T-shirt wont cover this up'.  He was crying and scared.  I ran and grabbed a towel and began to clean him up.  Upon examining him only a few cuts were deep, probably worthy of stitches, but the amount of blood had scared him more than the pain.

Shortly after I had cleaned him up, his parents walked into the room.  Tom had called them after calling me.  They immediately wanted to take him to the hospital and get him admitted to psych, but Tom convinced them not too.  I just kept attending to his arm, cleaning each cut with peroxide and butterflying the larger ones. 

I stayed for 2 days, never leaving Tom's side.  I wouldn't even let him close the door to go to the bathroom.  I made him dinner and we watched his favorite movies.  I held him and I told him I loved him.  We were inseparable after that day.  I moved in shortly after and began to cook him real food.  We went on dates with friends and we were happy.  After the lease was up, Tom and I got our own apartment together.

Within a month, Tom was uncomfortable, irritated.  Box cutters began showing up.  I would notice drops of blood in the bathtub from time-to-time.  I tried to compensate by cooking him huge dinners and making sure his sleep was uninterrupted.  Tom would draw himself inward and stopped going out if he didn't have a show.  I became the PR person of my relationship.  Going to support friends' bands and events for the both of us.  I over-used excuses such as, 'sick' or 'exhausted'.  If I thought Tom had cut the night before, I'd smack his arm to see if he'd wince at the pain.  I had actually become annoyed at his depression and cutting.

Tom had begun looking for an emotional outlet again in another person.  Reaching out to ex-girlfriends and band groupies.  Detailing our personal life and how miserable it was.  We would fight about his past lovers, the cutting, the drugs, anything that could be ammunition, was.  The fight would always escalate into an 'its over' and end in a dusk-filled room with us crying and holding each other promising for change and vowing our love for the other.

This went on for years.  It was my new normal.  One day, after a lengthy fight, I was done.  I told Tom we were over.  Suddenly, he began to nest, buy flowers, buy things for the apartment that he'd often claim he hated, he would write me love songs and poems.  We were in a new place.  I nice place.  He began taking me out on dates again-we even took a weekend together and had an incredible time.

Fast forward only a couple months, it was a Friday night, I had to work and Tom had a show in town.  I went to our favorite bar after to grab a drink with friends.  Tom and his bandmate where there talking to some girls-obviously from the show.  I walked by and smacked him on the butt.  He would get mad if I interrupted, because he was 'working' and 'a girlfriend doesn't encourage potential fans'.  After some time, he and the group left.  I ended my night with my friends and went home and waited.  Well after bar close, I called him.  He gave me a story about his buddy passing out and taking him home.  Then I heard a girl giggling in the background.

Tom came home the next day around one in the afternoon.  He was strung out, hungover and looked like hell.  I told him I knew he cheated and he insisted he hadn't.  This went on for a few days and on Monday I received my confirmation after overhearing a phone call with his buddy from that night.

'She said the whole night had been perfect.'  That's all I needed to hear.  I was done.  The confrontation was brief, he confessed and didn't put up a fight when I told him to leave.

Depression, cutting and people with severe psychological issues are not alone in their cycling and their feelings.  The way depression manifests itself can be a very dangerous and parasitic activity.  I envision it much like a haustoria parasite, tangling itself around its host and drawing on its nutrients and energy.  Thus, untangling yourself from this situation can be a timely process.  It took about 9 months to break up with Tom.  He spiraled through his depression, a near-suicide attempt, excessive drug use, showing up to my work or apartment with roses, coming home to cards and poems, his band writing a few love songs about me, late night calls and text, recruiting friends to rally me to get us back together or spy on me.  There were many times I questioned whether what I was doing was right.  I begged him to come back at times-I promised I could change and be better.

I eventually coped by going to a therapist.  Allowing an objective person assist me in figuring out where true North was-as I was on an emotionally abusive hamster wheel and couldn't see a way out of it.  I felt responsible for Tom and he felt responsible for me.  We had convinced each other our situation was unique and no matter where life took us-the connection we felt for the other would never be broken.  Anything that occurred outside of each other was a farce.  I also felt like I was the only person who was going to take care of him and if I didn't keep tabs on him-he would die.  I had wires crossed in my own head, thinking this was love.  These desperate acts, this emotional turmoil was normal, was proof that love was real!  Love had to be a constant state of stomach-flips and mind-f*cks.

Stepping away from Tom and us agreeing to keep distance (this took time) was not my way of disregarding the severity of his depression.  It was our way of trying to help him.  After all my work and effort, I finally saw that I was enabling his behavior.  We were co-dependent and my presence was dangerous to him.

Tom and I talked a lot.  One day this is how he described to me his outlook on us:
You were my light or my angel-you made me feel like I was doing something right because you were good, and if you're good, then you like good people and if you LOVED me-then maybe I was good too.  You also made a clean home, which is good and you cooked which was good.  So maybe, I could be good too.  And sometimes I wanted to be good, so I would do good things thinking that good feelings and goodness would come with good behavior.  

But then the darkness would come, and it was familiar and I knew I was really bad and the darkness would creep in and it felt safe.  With goodness comes responsibility and with darkness-there isn't any.  I'm free in the darkness to feel everything I want to feel.  But sometimes I want to feel and can't.  I try, I listen to music or watch videos, or write, but the feeling won't come-I don't feel anything, just empty...so then if I can't stand it anymore, I cut.  And this wave of feeling would come over me and I can see the feelings leave my body by way of the blood.  And I know I'm present in this moment because I can actually feel that moment in time.  I can see that moment.  

When the darkness comes in, I am convinced its right, because it feels more honest.  Being good was too much work and I don't fully understand it.  There are people out there who understand the darkness and they are my friends because they understand me.  They accepted me and when I speak they relate.  Not like you, you listen, but you don't understand.  You tried, but the trying wasn't enough.  I have to talk to people that understand the darkness.  

Its been years since I've spoken with Tom.  I hear things every now and again or will see a photo shared on Facebook from time to time.  I have nothing but love and light to send to him and I know in my heart he feels the same about me.

What I understand now, solely based off my experience and not from anything I ever learned as a psych major, is that depression is an alternate universe-something we all may glimpse into from time to time, but there are individuals who take up residence there.  It is a world I have given up trying to understand-because my attempt has only pissed off and pushed away those I've tried to help.  Instead, I become a listening ear-compassionate to everyone, while still protecting myself.
 
I also had to force myself to learn that whatever Tom does, is not my fault.  Its painful and when you are that close to a person-its so easy to take on all the blame and for others to blame you too.  If I cannot say that Tom made me do something-why would I ever project that responsibility onto myself?  Even when Tom tried to blame something on me, he would later confess he was doing it to get a reaction.  Leading me to the other thing I learned the hard way, Tom had an unhealthy relationship with his emotions.  He didn't know how to assign them appropriately to situations, thus using drugs to often force or repress his feelings.

It saddens me to see so many of the opinion that suicide is a selfish act.  How easy it is for those who have never experienced depression to assign it such a condescending adjective.  We need to take ourselves out of their equation-as those who suffer from true depression are overwhelmingly lost in a sea of every emotion and sometimes, in their eyes, the only way to shore is by letting go. 

I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing this story in this way had Tom and I not talked it to death before finally quitting each other.  Allowing us to completely gain perspective from every angle...having every argument about it possible.  While this article may not completely demonstrate it, Tom is a wonderfully talented and funny individual.  He writes beautifully and anyone who gets to know him, knows him as a very special individual.  I've always looked at Tom's heart like the Yin/Yang symbol; for even when it seems so full for darkness, the goodness is there.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Small Batch Canning: Tomatoes



I hate to waste food.  I especially hate to waste food I know I would use!  The spoiled avocado, the moldy potato, the garlic that dried out...all of it drives me crazy.  When I read that American shoppers throw away 40% of their groceries on average, I grab my calculator, do a quick tally and feel guilty.

Canning garden fresh tomatoes, jalapenos, green beans make me feel balanced in life.  I know that's strange, but canning is a summer activity for me, like swimming or lemonade.  Listening to a fresh batch cool on the counter as the lids 'POP'-is truly music to my ears.

Anyone with a stove are able to can.  You do NOT need a pressure cooker.

Canning Tomatoes
*This recipe allows for you to can what you have. You can can as many or as little as you'd like.

-tomatoes diced and placed in a pot
-Canning salt

Equiptment:
-canning jars
-canning lids (always use a new lid)
-canning rings that screw over the lid
-canning funnel (has a wide opening and sits nicely on the jar)

Bring your tomatoes to boil.  Have your jars either sitting in hot water or freshly finished in the dishwasher so they are sterile and hot.  Place your lids in a small sauce pan, cover with water and bring to a simmer.

Take a hot jar (I hold with a pot holder), put the hot tomatoes in the jar-leaving about a half of an inch of space from the top of the jar, top with a teaspoon of canning salt.  Wipe the lip of the jar so it is clean and dry.  Take a pair of tongs and remove a lid from the saucepan, place on jar and screw on ring.  Place on rack to cool, completely.

You will hear the lids 'POP' throughout the day.  That is a good indication the jars are sealing properly.  If a jar did not seal properly, you will know soon enough when the contents smell and/or change color. 

It takes up to 12 hours for batches to cool completely.  Do not try to rush this process.

Store canned items in a dark cool place.  They are good for up to a year.
Note: I use a Sharpie to write the month and year on the lid.

 Enjoy!
~Carmen

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A letter to my sister or 8 Tips for Navigating your 20's

                               


I know its been awhile since my last post and I apologize for this.  I have been making some life changes by really focusing on my yoga practice and spending a lot of time in the garden.  Family has always been very important to me and this time of year, being in a farm-family, there is a lot to do together.  

In June we lost my Aunt to a long battle with MS.  She was my mother's sister and my mother and grandmother have been affected in a way that surprised even them.  We knew her days were numbered the moment she received the diagnosis over 20 years ago, but when you loose a sibling (or anyone for that matter) a part of you dies.  There are memories locked within the relationship that sometimes only surface through the inspiration of the other.  Trying to unlock them, can be impossible without the help of your friend.  

My sister and I are 8 years apart, she the younger (and yet, about a foot taller) proved to be a challenging person to grow up with.  Mom called us the Sun and the Moon because we were polar opposites.  I was the girlie-girl, who was rather loud and full of energy and Chelsea was the uber tomboy, who was quiet and very laid back.  

When I discovered I was getting a little sister, I thought I was getting a cool doll...boy was I wrong!  If I gave her a wand, she'd flip it around and it was suddenly a sword!  Dress-up usually required some sort of bribe and any attempt to 'baby' her was brushed off...there's nothing like a two year-old looking at you as though you are the most lame person on the planet.   

Still, we have grown close and occasionally call each other to verify our own sanity when life has us down.  She has grown to be very computer savvy-which is awesome, since I'm very much not.  And she calls me when she needs to update her wardrobe (as long as I promise to contain myself).  I can easily call her one of my closest friends.  

The following is an email I sent my sister about a year ago.  I read it to my mother recently and through her encouragement, am sharing this with you now. 

Boog, this is for you:

A good representation of me (left) and Chels (right)

 Chels,

I read an article about dating in your 20's and I think it's pretty accurate. At least, it's accurate from my experiences, but still missing a few things...I can't tell you the secret to a great relationship or how to find your soulmate...what I do know, it's trial AND error THEN growth that creates a healthy dating enviorment. What I also know is that my 20's went by so quickly...there were so many lessons I learned-and just when I thought I was done learning the last one.  So here are some of my take aways:

1. Accept that you are forever changing.  As your knowledge-base grows, so does your awareness and perceptions.

2. Give yourself permission to change your mind.
 This is one of the biggest lessons I learned.  I was so adamant in sticking with what I've always said-I didn't take the time to listen to who I was at that time.  You probably won't change your mind on everything, but there may be big items you have a change of heart on...it's ok.  I experienced it too ;)

3. Allow experiences to be lessons and not failures. I still struggle with this one.  I'd like to say it gets easier, but I'm not sure it does.  What I can say, is always handle things honestly and with the best of intention so you don't regret them...that's the only thing that I have found to help.

4. Make your home your own private oasis.
 I know you don't mind being at home, but I didn't always.  What I found was that my home wasn't a very fun place to be.  I kept having to leave for things.  I didn't like the way it made me feel...it's wasn't HOME.  So, I put some work into making my apartment MY home, through decor and adding features to my apartment to make it easier to live in.  I allowed myself to buy movies I craved (walmart $5 bin is great for this). Bought candles for their homey smells.  And I even got favorite recipes from mom and practiced them (meatloaf, biscuits, goulash, etc).  Cooking, is the fastest way to make your apartment feel like home.  I have quite a few of moms recipes on my foodigen blog-or just text me or mom and ask.  Keep in mind, she underestimates how much sugar she puts on things...so if you're doing biscuits or cornbread, double check with me, lol.

...what does your home have to do with dating? Everything. Creating your home nurtures your soul and by nurturing your soul, you're allowing yourself to honestly open up to someone. It's a physical manifestation of who you are...which also, may make you more cautious of who you invite over. :)

5. Trust your gut. Always and in every situation.

6. Remember you're stuck with yourself, so you better be your own best friend.
 All of your friends (family) will suck from time to time.  They will disappoint, hurt you, say something mean or leave you completely.  It doesn't get easier, it doesn't make it right and usually there is little you can do to fix it.  Allow yourself to cry and be hurt or confused.  They may come back to you, and they may not.  Your friends for life, pass the 10-year mark...some get awfully close and still don't make it.  There's not a damn thing you can do to change that.

7. Always pair an disappointment/excuse with an apology AND a solution.  This is effective for work or personal and has saved me from getting in trouble in SO many situations!  People need to know you're factoring in their feelings/needs.  By offering a solution or apology you're showing them you're taking their needs seriously.

8. Don't stop reading books. They have a mystical way of translating into your own life...allow yourself to be impacted by them.  Allow the library to be your best friend.

Misc tips: always keep an extra corkscrew in your glove compartment, a bottle of wine in your home, always have a hostess gift on hand (candle from TJ Maxx or a btl of wine), hide money from yourself and learn to cook one simple meal. Oh, and when in doubt, always shave your legs...you never know when there's going to be a skinny dipping situation-no one ever plans those and they always happen when you have a weeks worth of fur! (You won't regret any skinny dipping situations you experienced...you will in fact, wish there had been more opportunities to do it).

Sorry for the novel, an article I read made me think about you and some conversations we've had over the last few years about relationships and being in your 20's.

Love you,
~Carmen 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Weekend Wino: Casas Del Toqui Carmenere Single Estate & Cilantro Pork Pitas



Its the weekend again!  Time to pick out a special bottle of wine to ring-in your days off and savor the fresh Spring air!  We have once again been working with Wine Chateau to 'uncork life' and taste luxury. 

This week I've had the pleasure of tasting Casas Del Toqui Carmenere Single Estate from Chile!  This Carmenere wine contains soft black & blue berry flavors with chocolate and tobacco notes.

THE WINE: Casas Del Toqui Carmenere Single Estate


Fun Fact: Carmenere grapes are originally grown for a Bordeaux, but have gained popularity on their own in Chile.

Other types of dishes that would work with the Carmenere:You will have good luck pairing this wine
with heavy, dark meat.  I think next time I may try pairing this with duck.

Tip: Since this wine is in the Bordeaux family, it is important to decant the wine to aerate out the harsh tannins of the wine.  This wine, I found was no exception-initially it was very harsh. 

Here is my favorite aerator:

Essential Wine Aerator
  This is easy to use, easy to store and easy to clean!  Plus it works quickly! 

Cilantro Pork Pitas
Serves 4

4 pork chops-marinated in a pineapple juice (overnight) and then rubbed with your choice of seasoning
1/2 yellow onion - thinly sliced
1 tomato - sliced
cilantro
pita bread
sour cream mixed with some of the grill seasoning

Grill off the pork chops to desired temp.  Warm pita bread in the microwave or in a skillet.  Smear sour cream mixture on pita, followed by pork, and toppings.

Serve with grilled brussel sprouts (cut in half and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper) and grilled pineapple slices.

Enjoy!
~C


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cooking with Animal: How to make a Quiche



My girlfriend, The Animal, lives in a faraway land and is a cooking neophyte.  Recently married, she and her husband, Thunder Chicken (TC), are looking to enjoy a few more dinners at home each week.  Upon her ecstatic request, I am teaching her how to cook via blog.  Enjoy!

Dear Animal,

I do not remember when or where I picked up making quiche, but it is another item in my regular rotation of menu items.  I throw a quiche together for a variety of purposes: to impress, because I have leftovers in the fridge, but primarily I make quiche because I'm feeling lazy.

Its SO easy to make and you can vary it however you choose!  I will say, I find a three ingredient quiche to be ideal.  I also use store-bought crust.  All those snooty foodies can scoff-I know how to make crust, but this is easier and totally plays into the 'lazy' aspect of this dinner.

What you will need:
  • A glass (or metal) pie dish
Ready?

Quiche
Serves 2-4

  • 1 9 inch pie crust (you can find them with the cans of crescent rolls in the refrigerated section)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I prefer cheddar or colby jack)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 small onion - chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper - chopped
  • 4oz can of mushrooms - drained
  • Tony Chachere's
Directions:

Take pie plate and spray a light dusting of PAM over the inside.  Next roll crust out over the pie plate.  Think of pie crust like play-dough, if it comes apart a little, you just smoosh it back in place.  Gently press the dough around the inside of the plate so it settles into the right shape (perfection not required!).  Take your shredded cheese and cover the bottom of the shell with cheese.


Tip: The reason was layer the cheese first is because it creates a barrier between the water in the veggies and the pie crust.  Without the cheese there to protect it, your shell will be a gooey mess.

Layer your onion, pepper and mushrooms evenly over the top.


In a bowl, crack open 5 eggs.  Add 1/2 cup milk and a heavy dusting of Tony's (or Charley's).  Whisk together with a whisk or fork until everything is blended.  Pour over veggies.


Bake in oven on the lowest shelf, uncovered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until the top of the quiche doesn't jiggle when moved.

I will serve this with a little salad or just some veggies and dip.

Enjoy!
~C

PS:  Bacon is awesome in this, but I recommend cooking and crumbling the bacon first! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cooking with Animal: How to Slow-Cook a Chicken

My girlfriend, The Animal, lives in a faraway land and is a cooking neophyte.  Recently married, she and her husband, Thunder Chicken (TC), are looking to enjoy a few more dinners at home each week.  Upon her ecstatic request, I am teaching her how to cook via blog.  Enjoy!



Dear Animal,

If you really want to drive the hubby crazy, this is a great technique to try and you're going to laugh at how simple it is (but dont tell TC its easy-we want him to think you slaved a bit). 

Since he works from home, this will drive him nuts All. Day. Long.  You know the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach?...but please keep in mind-their stomachs are also wonderful torture devices for us girls to play with.

First a few words of safety:
  1. Be sure to wash your hands before handling the raw chicken and before handling something after touching the raw chicken.  Salmonella can be easily transferred.  Rule of thumb: when in doubt, wash your hands. 
  2. Be sure to thoroughly wash everything that has come into contact with the raw chicken.
  3. Chicken should be cooked until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is important that the end of the thermometer is not touching a bone.  I will check the temp in a few different places on the chicken to get an accurate read.
Here are a few thermometers I recommend:
So here's your chicken:
  When you go to the store you are looking for a 'whole roaster chicken'.  They are typically cheaper per pound than chicken breasts.  Five pounds is a lot for Levi and I, but this is the smallest they had that day.  I typically go for the 3-4lb size, but if you're planning to eat off of this for a couple days-go for a bigger size!

Next: cut this bad-boy open over the sink!  They add tons of water to these to inflate the size, weight and price.  Some 'free range' or 'local' farms wont add water, but more often than not-you are paying for excess water at some point.  I will take a serrated knife and cut the plastic off over the sink, then move the chicken around to ensure I have drained as much of the water from the orifices as possible.

Important Note: check the chicken's hole.  Water and possibly a bag of extra pieces (neck, liver, gizzards) will be in a little bag inside.  Drain the water and throw away the extra pieces for now (I'll show you how to do fun things with that later).    
Next step: Get out your crock pot.  Loosely crumple up some tin foil and lay it in the bottom of the crock.  We are making a little bed to lay the chicken on-only an inch deep.  This little bed will allow for the juices to drain off the bird so the bird can cook nicely.  If we cook him without the little bed, he will sit in the juice and boil in the juices.  Boiling the chicken causes it to fall apart and doesn't taste as good!
Lets flavor the dude!  Take your serrated knife and make a small cut (about 3 inches) around the edge of each chicken breast, one on each leg and one on each side of the back.  Use your finger to seperate the skin from the meat.  You're going to feel a little Silence of the Lambs doing this, but this is where the seasoning goes.  If you just dump the seasoning over the top, you won't taste the flavor in the meat because the skin is too thick for the seasoning to penetrate. 

How do you want to flavor your chicken?
  •   Lemon/Pepper: take a lemon and cut it into thin slices, pepper each slice and place them between the skin and meat.  Replace skin, salt/pepper skin.
  • Grill seasoning: season under the skin and over the skin using your hands to evenly distribute the seasoning.
  • Orange or with BBQ sauce: take orange marmalade and coat the chicken under and over the skin.
 Finally place chicken breast side up in crock-pot and cover with lid.
  • 4 hour cook time: Set crock pot to High
  • 8 hour cook time: Set crock pot to Low
  • 1 hour cook time: place chicken in baking dish, cover with foil, cook in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45min-1 hour.   
Serve with bread and a bag of steam-able veggies!
Enjoy!
~C
  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Authentic New Orleans Red Beans & Rice



In 2009 a friend and I made a road-trip to New Orleans in my car.  The drive was a quick 12 hours, allowing us to arrive around 7pm on a Sunday.  We decided to stay with my cousin while we were down there-they lived just East of the French Quarter, a quick 10 minute walk from the heart of the city.

French Quarter
Her 5-room shotgun had plenty of room for us all to stay, yet we congregated outside in the courtyard behind the house.  The fence was surrounded by lush plants and in the middle there was a trickling fountain.  The scene was serene and while it was late June, the heat was just a reminder that we were in the South.  Patio tables and chairs made a nice circle for us to catch up, drink from our pony-neck beers we purchased from a neighborhood grocer and smoke cigarettes.  People would stop-by and visit, drink in hand-often a reusable plastic cup, but if you had no drink or no cup-a stack of travelers had a permanent residence on the kitchen counter.

One night, a local musician, JD, came by the house for a drink and a visit.  He played the guitar for a time and told us stories about growing up in NOLA.  With him was a book that was recently published on Post-Katrina musicians and how the music scene had changed since the hurricane.  JD was interviewed and photographed for the book. 

I quickly go used to the NOLA way of life, although I never acclimated to NOLA-time (a two-hour delay)-5 days wasn't enough to take the high-strung from this Northerner.  But still, I loved how small this city felt. 
Drinking rose in the courtyard
How the people here still would 'stop-by' for a visit and a cold refreshment.  How the city is defined by the people and the people's credo is 'Be nice or leave' (I still regret not buying a Dr. Bob sign in the quarter).  I loved walking and taking bikes almost anywhere you needed to go.  Slowing down and enjoying.  When I came home, my friend and I took a serious look at our way of life.  He got a bicycle and I left my corporate job for something walking-distance.  We both wanted to bring NOLA back with us.  We wanted to continue to savor our moments of life.

I will say, I cycle between savoring and disregarding moments.  Food has always been, for me, moments of forced savoring.  The process is as rewarding as the result.  Red Beans and Rice is a great recipe to let you savor each moment.  In NOLA, its the special in almost every restaurant as Mondays were traditionally laundry days.  Red beans, was a fairly cheap dish and made a lot of food-perfect for large families.  It also takes about 4 hours to cook.  Since it requires some babysitting, its easy to get distracted with laundry for awhile and go back to check it.

This recipe was given to me on my trip by a born-and-raised NOLA man.  He made it each week and this was the first time he had ever written it down.

Red Beans & Rice
Serves 8-10

1 lb. Taso (smoked pork)
1 lb. Andouille sausage
1 lb. red kidney beans (dry beans)
2 med yellow onions - chopped
6 toes garlic - minced
3 celery sticks - chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley - chopped
5 bay leaves
1 Tblsp vinegar
Salt, pepper & cayenne

Directions:
Wash beans and put in a mid-sized pot.  Add water 1/3 from top.  Add sausage and Taso.  Turn heat to boil.  Add everything else and let boil 1 hour with top off, stirring ever 20 minutes.

After 1 1/2 hour, you may need to add some water.  Put top on and cook another 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, cook it with the top off until it thickens up (probably another 30min+).

Cook rice on a separate burner.

Serve over rice.

Enjoy!
~C
Drinking a beer in a grocery store-my favorite photo from the trip!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Weekend Wino: Stage's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon & Braised Beef Ribs




Its the weekend again!  Time to pick out a special bottle of wine to ring-in your days off and savor the fresh Spring air!  We have once again been working with Wine Chateau to 'uncork life' and taste luxury. 

This week I've had the pleasure of tasting Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley!  This medium bodied wine has a blend of fruit (berries and plums), mint and cloves-making it easy to drink alone or with food.  Anyone who enjoys a nice red with dinner will not be disappointed by what Stag's Leap has produced!

According to Wine Chateau's website- this wine can be stored for up to ten years!  A great collector's item! 

THE WINE: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Artemis 2011


Wine Advocate gave this wine 91 points!

Fun Fact: The main house at Stag's Leap Vineyard is a large stone manor and was a retreat in the early to mid 20th Century.  It was used by bootleggers, gangsters, gypsies and its thought a few ghosts have made themselves a home there.

Other types of dishes that would work with the Masi: This wine is very easy to drink and could be paired with something as light as fish or as heavy as steak.


Braised Beef Ribs with Red Wine
Serves 4


4 lbs. Beef Ribs
2 cups beef stock
2 cups red wine
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped celery
3 strips bacon
4 Tablespoons butter

Dry Rub:
1/2 cup Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon thyme


Directions:
Trim any excess fat off of ribs.  Mix dry rub together and rub all over ribs.  Let sit.  In the meantime, cut up
bacon into pieces, then add to Dutch oven over med-high heat cooking until all the fat is cooked out.  Remove bacon, set aside for later use.  Add butter and allow to melt.  As soon as the butter is melted, sear the ribs, one at a time in the liquid.  Remove ribs from Dutch oven and set aside.

Add onion and celery to Dutch oven.  Cook until softened.  Add stock, wine and bacon.  Add ribs.  Cover and slow cook in 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for 4 hours. Uncover and turn heat up to 400 degrees for 30 minutes prior to serving.  Meat should be pulling away from the bones.

You will be tempted to add BBQ sauce, but PLEASE try it without!  They are amazing as-is!  Be sure to handle carefully when removing ribs from Dutch oven as they will be tempted to fall apart.  Get a good grip with your favorite pair of tongs and you'll be in great shape!

Serve over buttered grits and carrots.


Enjoy!
~Carmen



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Setting Goals For Your Garden Now Can Save You Over $500!



Central Illinois faced one of the worst winters it has seen in around 30 years.  I was amused by individuals who treated it as though Mother Nature had a personal vendetta out against them. This type of winter is what I remember about being a kid living out in the middle of nowhere.  It was often too dangerous to go anywhere and we were frequently snowed in due to the snow blowing over the flat plains.  Keeping the fire going in the fireplace (our primary source of heat) was paramount and if the electricity went out-it wasn't really that big of a deal.

With this in mind-now that I live in town I don't gamble with mother nature and often go to the store prior to any indication of poor weather.  There are people who make fun of those who feel the need to stock-up on groceries prior to snow-fall, but not I.  Protecting oneself by being a little extra cautious in severe weather-is just a form of preparedness Im willing to take.  This winter the schools called approx 6 snow days due to excessive snow and Arctic temps, we must not be too liberal with our own safety.

At the beginning of February, Levi and I made the decision that I was to leave traditional employment and pursue the lifestyle and occupational goals I have always dreamed of-working for myself, my family and becoming a yoga instructor.  Part of this dream included being more active in the garden my mother and I put together so we are able to put-up enough food to feed our families over the winter months.

Gardening is quite fashionable now as 'buy local' and 'eat organic' consume our conscious as we move our
carts through the isles of the chain store.  But in truth, gardening can be expensive, time consuming and rather frustrating.  The amount of work and maintenance gardens require often turn people away from this practice, and I don't blame them.  The gardens my family grow are large and bountiful, often too much product for us to manage and too much maintenance for my mother and father alone to handle.

But why should I throw or give the food away?  When cans of tomatoes are going for over $1/each and I use at least 2 cans/week-I can justify spending a day or two a year canning tomatoes to last through the following year.

Here are a few ways I save money with gardening:

  • Green bell peppers are going for about $1/each on average.  In one day, I can cut and freeze enough to last me a year.  I suspect I use at least 1 pepper/week. Savings: $52+/year.  
  • I can turn a single flat of strawberries into a years worth of jam-and since I use jam a few times a week, this is very cost effective.  I also give jam as hostess gifts.  One afternoon of work saves me anywhere from $50-100/year. 
  • Zucchini is a fabulous item to freeze and add to fritattas, quiche, stirfrys, or just saute and eat as a side dish.  The last time I was in the store, small zucchini were $2/each!   Freezing zucchini for the winter and making relish probably saves me $100/year if used once a week.
  • Pickled beets are one of my favorite snacks.  Beets themselves are pretty forgiving late in the season, and have a pretty flexible harvest schedule-just as long as the deer don't beet (haha!) you too them!  Typically, one years harvest of beets will last both my parents and I well over a year.  Irregardless of the health benefits of adding beets to your diet-snacking on something homegrown and homemade is saving one from a considerable amount of additives and calories.  I probably go through a jar of beets a week, it takes Mom and I a full day to do beets.  Estimated savings: over $100/year.
  • Green beans and sweet corn are two items that are less forgiving when its time to harvest them.  If you don't pick them right away, they will be quickly consumed by a less patient animal.  Both are fairly easy to can or freeze and make a popular side dish at dinner.  I often toss green beans and corn into soups and casseroles too.  I estimate putting-up these save me about $200/year.


I could keep going on, about tomatoes, jalapenoes, cabbage, berries, but I think you're getting the point.

In yoga, its important before each practice to set an intention.  Often I choose to slow my mind, get the ache out of my lower back or work on balance.  Gardening is not any different.  You need to set your intention and allow this intention to carry through the year.  Gardening, like yoga, is a lifestyle choice.

This year, my intention is to have enough tomatoes, green peppers, strawberry jam, zucchini, pickled beets and green beans to last me through the following year. 

Please share in the comments below your intentions for your garden this year!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Top 5 Tips from a Stay-at-home Mom turned CEO

I apologize it's been a few weeks since my last post.  Occupation changes breed scheduling changes and I'm still getting a handle on my day-to-day.  

Part of the reason I left was to help my family in their various businesses and start my own.  I have found my family to be a wonderful source of information as they have over 150 years of collective business experience.  Half of which comes from two women who we're stay-at-home moms turned CEO's of their own businesses.  These businesses are not Fourtune 500, but they allow for living the dream of having a business and a life.
 
Today, for example, I'm sitting  at the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds as my mother, sets up shop (I'm helping, can't you tell?).  She has owned a gift/jewelry business for almost 20 years and travels about 10-20+ weekends a year to sell her heavily curated accessories.  Her setup is incredibly elaborate-so much so, I worry about her doing it without help.  But she loves to do it while meeting so many people from all over the country.  

I apologize for the photo quality-still getting used to my iPad. But there's my mom fussing over one of the purse displays!

 She's adorable isn't she?

A business developed from a hobby of jewelry making after her last child went off to school is a fairly typical story of the mom that wanted to stay home with her children.  Through her experiences living on a single income she developed the savvy skills (like many moms) required to stay in 'the black' and work frugally.

As I'm sitting here 'helping' today I started asking her about what kind of advice she would give a woman looking to go into business for themselves.  And this is what she had to say:

1. Do something you love.  

Quilt shows and jewelry were never apart of my upbringing, but after mom had a chance meeting with an artist who was willing to show her how to make earrings-beads  and wire began infiltrating the dining room during the days.

'I wasn't hooked right away, but then I started showing people what I was doing and the reaction was overwhelming.  So I started doing research and trying new things until I had enough product to set up a display at a show.'

2. Find mentor(s) in the same field

A mentor will give the advice you can't find or is hard to find.  They will guide you in the right direction and explain things you may not think about such as, which is a trend vs fad in your business and how to recognize them.  This saving you a lot of time and money.  



3. Do your research

'Take baby steps. I started making earring first, it's what I was comfortable with and what I felt good about.  My research was around earrings and eventually as I got my skills in place-the next natural move was necklaces.'

4. 'Don't get too big too fast.' 

Starting out, go with what you can afford.  'My initial investment into my business was $50. It's what I could reasonable gamble at the time and not lose sleep if it didn't work.'

Fifty dollars isn't reasonable for everyone, but having an honest conversation with yourself about what you can invest is always a good idea.  Increasing as you can afford to, without going into the negative is a good sign you're going in the right direction.  Too often we invest expecting to get the money back-that's not always how it works and being but is one of the least advised practices, because those advising it are often the ones wanting your money.  Go with your gut.

5. 'Sometimes you just have to put on your big-girl business pants.'

Running your own business can give some people the illusion you're various things: rolling in money-is often one of them.  Friends and strangers can try to take advantage of your good nature or generosity and your most frequent clients may not be your best clients.  

Establish rules and business practices for your business.  Allow yourself to bend if the situation calls for it, but remember to stand up for yourself in the end or you will go broke being nice. 


Vicky Shaffer owns Crystal Mountain Jewelry and Gifts and can be found on Facebook and at quilt shows all over Central Illinois.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Weekend Wino: Wine-o-rita & Mexican Inspired Rice & Bean Casserole



Happy Friday everyone!  The sun is shining brightly here and the last few warm days allowed for me to wear flip-flops (in 35 degree weather-yes, this is normal in Illinois)!  While I think I'm one of the very few who actually enjoy winter-I've got to admit, I'm starting to get Spring Fever.  My mind keeps wandering to getting back on the motorcycle, cruising down Route 66 and stopping off in the little small towns to visit friends or grilling out. 

Mexican food is one of the many things I like to eat to try to relive and celebrate the heat of the sun and the spice of the food. In the wintertime its especially appreciated as it takes the mind off of the bitter cold and into a more relaxed mental state.  I mean, is there any other type of food instills celebration in the mind more than Mexican? 

While this is the Weekend Wino edition, I was sure to include wine in the menu, but as an ingredient to my new favorite margarita: The Wine-o-rita.  This margarita-inspired cocktail came about with the influence of restaurants putting the little Corona bottles in margaritas and due to the lack of sweet n sour in my apartment.  I will say it was quite delicious-even Levi had a couple with dinner!

The Wine-o-Rita

Salt a glass and fill with ice

Take a tumbler and add:
1 1/2oz tequila (we like Herradura Blanco)
3/4oz triple sec (we like Patron Citronage)
Splash of lime juice
4oz dry white wine
Shake and pour into glass
Top with OJ

For dinner I really wanted the stuffed poblano peppers from Destihl, a local gastropub.  So I thought I would put together a dish that would bring out similar flavors of that incredible dish.  Levi and I were thrilled with the results!  In addition, the dish came out fairly healthy since we restrained ourselves with the cheese.

Mexican Inspired Rice & Bean Casserole
Serves 10

1 16oz bag dried black beans
2 cups dried rice (6 servings)
2 medium onions-chopped
4 small (2 large) cloves of garlic-minced
1 12oz bag frozen green peppers-diced
1 12oz bag frozen corn
1 15oz can diced tomatoes-drained
1 6oz can salsa verde
2 cups shredded colby-jack cheese
4 Tablespoons Tony Cachere's Cerole Seasoning
1 Tablespoon ground cumin

Cook dried beans according to package.  When beans are almost done add onion, garlic, cumin and 3 tablespoons Tony Chachere's.  When beans are done, drain off 1/2 the liquid.

Cook rice according to package.

Take 9x13 and add the beans, rice, green peppers, corn and tomatoes and mix together.  Spread the mixture evenly across the casserole dish.  Heavily sprinkle the last tablespoon of Tony Chachere's over top.  Pour Salsa verde evenly over the casserole.  Top with colby-jack.

Bake, covered at 350 degree F for 45-55 minutes.
Serve with baked tilapia or another protein of your choice.

Enjoy!
~Carmen

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Highly Anticipated Homemade Limoncello Post!


Limoncello, the Italian digestive that is sure to allure you with its sweet, lemony goodness and then knock you on your butt with its strength of alcohol content.  Commonly made in Italian homes, each family perfects their own recipe to share as an after-dinner drink.

Truth be told, I started working on my limoncello a year and a half ago.  In the beginning it was a fun activity for Lisa and I to try out while we did one of our famous 24 hour cook-offs, since dubbed: GNI (girls night in).  It could have been ready sooner, but I wasn't ready to mess with it yet.  I was still perfecting how I wanted it to taste.

In addition, we are in the height of Meyer lemon season (Nov-March)-so now is the best time to buy your lemons and begin this project-as it will be ready just in time for Spring!  And there is nothing better than sipping the ice cold nectar on your front porch swinging on the swing.

Limoncello
Makes approx 2 gallons

1 750ml bottle Vodka (I recommend picking a mid-range vodka)
1 750 btl of Everclear (this helps prevent the Limoncello from freezing)
25 lemons (without the waxy shine is best)

What you need:
-vegetable scrubber
-vegetable peeler
-juicer or any kind (manual or electric)
-large airtight jug
-smaller jug for the lemon juice
-distilled white vinegar

Step 1:  soak lemons in sink of water with 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar added.  Allow to soak for 1 hour.

Step 2: Scrub all lemons with vegetable peeler and dry (the goal is to remove as much wax as possible) and roll around on the counter, pressing down with your hand to soften the juices inside.

Step 3: With the vegetable peeler, carefully peel the yellow peel off of the lemon in large chunks.  Avoid taking the pith (the white part) up with the peel as that will make your limoncello bitter.  All yellow peel
pieces should be put into the large jug.

Step 4 (optional): juice the remaining lemons for lemon curd or freeze for later use.

Step 5: pour contents of vodka and Everclear into large jug with the lemon peels.  Cap (be sure its airtight) and store out of direct sunlight for 3 months-shaking bottle to incorporate the ingredients every day.  You will see the liquid turn yellow and cloudy, thats ok-it will pass soon.

After 3 Months:

This is when your preference comes into play.  If you want a stronger, more bitter limoncello-you will want to make less simple syrup (sugar water).  If you want a sweeter limoncello, I recommend using more simple syrup.

Ingredients:
-boiling water
-Sugar

Materials:
-more airtight and freezer safe containers to store limoncello (wine bottles with screw-tops work great)
-funnel
-large stock pot

Step 1: take equal parts sugar and boiling water, mix together until sugar dissolves (Start with abt 64 oz of simple syrup).  Let the syrup cool completely

Step 2: Once syrup is dissolved, pour lemon mixture into a large stockpot, carefully removing any lemon pieces.

Step 3: Mix 1/2 of the syrup into limoncello.  Mix and take a very small sample (careful, this is pretty potent stuff!).  Keep adding syrup until you get the desired flavor.

Step 4: Once desired flavor is reached, bottle and keep in the freezer! 

I love giving limoncello to friends as a gift or breaking it out at a dinner party as a surprise after-dinner drink! 

Enjoy!
~Carmen

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Foodigen Dabbles: Does Chilling or Freezing Cookie Dough Make a Better Cookie?



Dabbling with different cooking theories is a great way to learn how to cook.  Sometimes we come across these ways by accident and sometimes through practice.  Here at Foodigen, our insatiable need to learn (and have a chewy cookie) is frequently practiced in the kitchen.  Its great to have go-to recipes when your in a jam or hurry, but there is nothing like the new success of finding an amazing recipe or method-making your dish incredible. 

Fresh, refrigerated or frozen?  That was the question or questions brought up in my kitchen a couple weeks ago.  But this conversation was not about fish or veggies, but cookies.  Does chilling or freezing the cookie dough create a better cookie?  Foodigen dabbles with these theories.

To make the playing field easy for you to test at home, I used the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of a 12 oz bag of Nestle Morsels.  Which is also the reason I'm unable to share the exact recipe I used on this post.

The method: Using a commercially acceptable recipe, make one batch of cookies, cut into thirds.  Bake one dozen immediately, chill a dozen for an hour and freeze a dozen overnight.

The oven: gas, preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Result: I found no difference in quality between the different chilling methods.  Each method produced a rather thin cookie, but it was still chewy and delicious-even the next day.

Frozen Not Pictured, but looked identical.
Please let us know if you have had any successful or not-so successful experiences chilling or freezing cookie dough!  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Enjoy!
~Carmen