Friday, December 30, 2011

The Best Monsters of 2011

Okay, it's a little self-indulgent, and kind of like when your favorite sit-com cheats you out of a new episode by making one that's a big, cheesy compliation of old episodes, but I couldn't resist putting together a list of my favorite posts from 2011. I'm also including some photos, because you guys seem to like those.

Favorite travel posts: Unplugged; Ten Things I Learned in Haiti

Mural,Dublin, Ireland

Favorite post about spending money: The Grocery Envelope

Favorite post about getting rid of monsters in the closets: Gretchen Rubin and the Ten Minute Tidy Up

Best work-related post: Arguing with Crazy People

Cedar Key, Florida

The post where I patted myself on the back: Accomplishment

Best (only?) exercise-related post: Running like a Penguin

The little prince
Most popular post that I almost didn't publish: Thoughts on Church

Most popular photos: A Very Clutterella Halloween

My favorite post that almost no one read: Doing Things that Make Me Nervous

High Springs, Florida

Best cooking post: My New Favorite Cookbook

My favorite "best of" post on someone else's blog: The Amateur Gourmet- 2011 Highlights

Impromptu pasta dish
So long for this year, KISS (keep it simple stupid), lets make 2012 the best year ever! You know, since the world will be ending in December and all...

Gratuitous cute kid/kitty photo

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


What I don't understand is how, after five days of intense holiday cooking, the inside of my refrigerator still looks like this. The only possible explanation is that some ninjas came by in the middle of the night and added food while we were sleeping.

I have given myself a personal challenge to eat or give away as much of this food as possible before it goes bad.

The problem with leftovers is that you get sick of eating the same things over and over. What I am trying to do is use the ingredients but change the flavors to make them seem like something new. We had a big roast beef for Christmas dinner, with green beans on the side. Tonight I made those ingredients as a beef stir fry with Mollie Katzen's dramatically seared green beans and whole wheat noodles. I bought my parents the tiniest (and saltiest) ham ever to make on Christmas Day while I was at work, but the three of us managed to eat only about half. The rest might go into a big pot of black eyed peas for New Year's Day.

Luckily, I work in a department that's infested with locusts- anything you leave on the break room table is eaten within hours. I took some of the Christmas Eve leftovers to work with me on Christmas Day, so the thigh-enlarging treats are mostly taken care of. A half bag of pretzels and some dill dip are coming to work with me tomorrow.

I'm also making use of my freezer- three servings of beef stew are plenty for one week, but the rest will be great on cold January and February nights. My parents brought me some excellent pecans, and the leftovers will go in there for future baking.

Now I just need a suggestion for what to do with a quart or so of unsweetened soy milk. I don't want to drink it, but maybe there is some sort of household purpose for it?

The cool part of hosting Christmas is that EVERYONE who comes over brings wine. I have 9 bottles on the wine rack and in the fridge, plus some champagne. I also have a bunch of Sam Adams Winter Ale and a few Yeunglings, so Happy New Year to me! I won't need to buy wine for at least two weeks.

We had a really great Christmas here. My mom spoiled the pets as usual (I'm pretty sure this is an indication of what will happen with my future children).

Oscar really loved his new squeaky toys:

The cats got some new toys with feathers on them, which they really loved. But they both seemed to love the wrapping paper best of all. Isabelle helped me wrap:

And Leo stalked my parents' feet under the boxes:

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and please, tell me what to do with the soy milk!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Favorite Free Stuff

Are you a little holiday overstretched this month? I'm okay right now, but on Wednesday I'm making the official "visitors coming to stay, big holiday meals to prepare" grocery trip, that's going to be rough on my bank account.

I'm also getting ready for my Dave Ramsey style year of the gazelle, which will mean trimming my budget down as much as possible so that I can pay off my second mortgage, save a real emergency fund, and pay cash for some much needed home improvements.

With that in mind, I give you a list of my favorite things that don't cost a dime.

The Public Library: I used to buy a lot of books. When I started decluttering the house, I found out that I bought a lot of books that I only read once. Sometimes I traded them back and forth with my parents, but for the most part I bought a book, read it over three or four days, set it on the shelf, and eventually got rid of it. And repeat. Now I get most of my books from the library. It saves me some cash and prevents some of the clutter. I occasionally purchase a book if I really want to read it and the library doesn't have it, but honestly there are enough titles there to keep me entertained for a lifetime or three.

Pandora: Beth gets the credit for introducing me to this service. You create a station based on an artist or genre that you like, and it tailors the music to your preferences. You get a certain number of hours of free music each month (I'm not sure what the number is but I have never exceeded it). What I love is that it helps me discover new artists and lets me explore music from folks I am already familiar with. You have to listen to a few commercials if you don't pay for a subscription, but they aren't excessive. And anyway, maybe the nice Pandora folks are trying to hint that I need some laser hair removal.

Hulu: I gave up my television this year, and is helping me keep up with The Office and Modern Family FOR FREE on my laptop. Like Pandora, you get some extra services if you subscribe, but if you are a big cheapskate like me the basic, free service is plenty.

Running: Okay, technically you have to buy some sneakers, but it's free after that. I told you a little bit about my foray into the world of running Penguin-style back in August. I have kept it up, running about 2-3 times a week since then (mostly). I ran my first 5K in October and my second a few weeks ago. What I love about running is that I don't have to have a membership, I don't have to drive anywhere, and I don't have to follow anyone else's schedule. I did pay something to run the 5Ks, but really you could just go run on your own and never pay a dime. If you need some help getting started, here's a free training plan for beginning runners. And if you need a little motivation, here is a blog post from a chick who just finished her first marathon, and also quit her job to travel around the world. I can't claim accomplishments of this magnitude, but my pants fit better.

Walking the dog: Also a technicality here-the dog itself isn't free.  But the walking of the dog is like free therapy and a free personal trainer all wrapped up in a furry little package. I have said it before, and I will say it again: taking a long walk can cure boredom, writer's block, unsolvable problems, and vitamin D deficiency. And a dog is unlike a treadmill, in that he is too wiggly to hang clothes on and has to be walked or he will poop on your floor. If that isn't motivation, I don't know what is.

Can you guys out there in the peanut gallery recommend any other free services that you love? Because, seriously, this gazelle thing is going to be tough.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try some free things now and then. Your overindulgent holiday wallet will thank you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My New Favorite Cookbook

I'm really enjoying my weekly CSA bag, and I got an early Christmas present that's helping me use all of the delicious vegetables: my aunt bought me a copy of Marc Bittman's Kitchen Express. In my opinion, it is an essential companion to a weekly bag of seasonal produce.

I have already tried (and loved) these recipes:
Arugula and Proscuitto Pasta with Goat Cheese
Salmon and Sweet Potato with Coconut Curry Sauce (I added eggplant)
Quick Lemon Upside-Down Cheesecake (yum!)

And these are some recipes I can't wait to try:
Lemony Red Lentil Soup with Cilantro
Pasta Gratinee with Cabbage
Flatbread Pizza with Figs, Goat Cheese, and Balsamic
Figs in a Blanket
Aztec Hot Chocolate
Quick Cassoulet

I already know and love Marc Bittman from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which is the cookbook I had been using most often until now. Bittman has a penchant for fresh ingredients and simple flavors that I love. He also makes his recipes super flexible, and generally includes a list of variations for each dish. I always picture him standing in my kitchen, kindly saying, "Don't run back to the store because you forgot the shallots, just mince an onion instead!"

I told you about my love of all things Bittman in an earlier post, and included a link to this list of 101 easy recipies. Kitchen Express is written in a similar format. It includes 404 dishes that can be made in 20 minutes or less (for real). It's organized by season, so the vegetables you're likely to get in the fall are usually in the fall section. I live in Florida, so I'm still in "fall," but I will probably get to winter sometime next month.

I have to admit that I haven't been completely successful in using the entire bag before it goes bad. I tossed a bunch of turnips two weeks in a row because they got mushy before I decided what to do with them. I also found that I don't really like radishes, and almost didn't pick any up this week, but the lady at the stand told me to try sauteing them with butter and garlic instead of eating them raw. So I'll let you know how that goes.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and please send me some suggestions for what to do with turnips!
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