Saturday, January 30, 2010

'On My Mind

There are places to which, it feels like, we are inextricably linked. Or in some cases... quite extricably linked. (and I'm using that word whether spell-check and dictionaries around the world like it or not) For a few reasons, this is one of those places for me.

(yes, these pictures were taken at Thanksgiving, hence the fall decorations... and I give you every permission to be upset with me for holding out on you)

The most obvious is because I spent the majority of my formative (although there remains to be a lot of forming yet to be done) years in this house. My brother and I were fortunate to grew up here, in a loving home, amidst beauty that went all but unrecognized; and to that, my mom will say that the reason for it is because it was and is continually evolving.

But regardless how and when it got the way it is, you undoubtedly now see reason number two for why I feel so connected to this place. It's beautiful and well-thought out and balanced... in my opinion (and if I've learned anything, it's that style and home decorating is very personal) almost well... perfect. I pretty much love everything about the house... and as if it needs saying, the way my parents have put it all together (but then, mom, you already knew this).

Speaking of learning anything... I should warn you before you proceed any further that while I read a lot of DIY and decorating articles and blogs and occasionally masquerade as someone who has developed her own sense of style in our house, I know zero of the technical terms associated with this field so you're about to read a lot of "my favorites" and "beautifuls" and... you get the idea.

Even with our own house, I've tried to emulate not necessarily my mom's style per se, but how she went about, through the years, building upon their initial foundation. It seems that she puts just the slightest bit of extra thought and care into each room (or place setting or centerpiece or...) that somehow makes it work. And as is evident, she loves to mix and match unique pieces that she loves, no matter what the trends and gurus would say. *that water glass was my grandmother's crystal... apparently, she had the knack of picking out gorgeous things too so maybe one day we'll find out that it runs in the family?!)

It bears mentioning that Chris is generally less-than-pleased that I continue to refer to this lovely house as "home" (and I admit, I should really get over it... it's been quite a few years since I laid my head down in a room that was still called "mine" in this gorgeous home), but when something looks (and truthfully, it feels as amazing as it looks) this good, tell me I'm not the only one who wouldn't be holding on for dear life!!

One day I will show you our house, more than just one of our sorry guest rooms, and you'll see how far we have to go - and why my mom is consulted on almost a daily basis with cries for help.

So now you know... a little bit about the place I love to claim as "home" and also, that not only is my mom my baking and cooking mentor and go-to expert, she is also my design consultant and home-decorating-everything extraordinaire. Oh, and fellow dachshund-adorer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So Much More

This was an accident, literally. Not like "oops, I made these and didn't have anyone to share them with so down down in the belly they went" (credit to Charlie there). More like... I picked up this recipe, anticipating a completely different cookie at the outcome, one that we'd tasted and loved, no-less... only to find out that this actually isn't that recipe at all (don't ask me how that happened - I'm still sleuthing it out myself) but instead, one of the best mistakes I've ever had the pleasure of happening upon.

And it should be known, I never once looked back. Sure, the (minor but obligatory- in my opinion) addition of espresso powder (or, er... grinded instant espresso in this budget-kitchen) had me suspicious early-on, but I've read my fair share of recipes where there is a secret and powerful ingredient that is the key to the intense, if surprising, flavor, so I wasn't about to let that derail me. Not to mention, do you know how rich the addition of anything-coffee makes chocolate?

And then the shortbread-like base - speckled with slivers of bittersweet chocolate? Topped with a layer of melty chocolate chips (not that I have any issues there) and a shower of crushed Heath bars? Sure, that'd give it some bite, but the cookie I was trying to re-create had a veritable crunch.

Oh, but that bite. I'll be the first to admit that this wasn't the cookie I set out to make... and I'll bring you that recipe another day if I have the good fortune of tracking it down... but this one, these Caramel Crunch Bars (thanks, originally, to Dorie Greenspan), are worth remembering all on their very own.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No Can of Beans

I really wrestled over this one. (and yes, this is a post about those good ole' beans you see there) But that's just the thing... this is anything but your traditional pot o' beans - even though all signs seem to point to a... uh... pot full of beans.

It was really my fault, though. I proudly announced to Chris that I was going to be testing out a new slow-cooker baked bean recipe. And as it happens, in this house, once you make such a pronouncement as "baked beans", you are expected to deliver.

So along I went gathering the incredibly inexpensive ingredients (including my continued obsession, dried beans, this time of the pinto variety) and suddenly I realized that what I had so confidently claimed were going to be baked beans... were surely going to be beans that were baked, but not of the type a certain person in our house was expecting.

Alas, I was convinced these beans were going to be good... different from that ubiquitous can of Bush's baked beans but possibly even more flavorful, just not in the same syrupy sweet way that our dear friend Bush's sometimes is. (and I mean absolutely no harm by that, I love a doctored up can of beans as much as the next)

And thus... after an overnight soak and a day's worth of slow cooking (all the while I barely lifted a finger)... the diced chilies adding their subtle heat, the gently sauteed onions and garlic imparting their savory flavors, and the beer adding just a bit of tang and earthiness... the verdict?

These were no can of sticky-sweet beans that you'd find on any grocery-store shelf. In fact, in both consistency and flavor, they most closely resemble the bean soup that many of our favorite Mexican restaurants serve. But as long as your expectation isn't the beans of "franks and beans", you'll be pleasantly surprised with these, the savory cousin to your favorite baked beans.

Drunken Beans (from The $7 a Meal Slow Cooker Cookbook)
serves 8

1 lb dried pinto beans
3 strips bacon
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. bottle of beer
6 c water
4 oz. can diced green chiles
2 c chunky salsa
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 c chopped cilantro (optional)

Sort through beans and rinse thoroughly. Cover with water and let soak overnight.

When ready to cook, fry bacon in a skillet until crisp; drain on paper towel, crumble, and refrigerate. Cook onions and garlic in bacon drippings until crisp-tender. Drain beans and add to your slow cooker along with the onion mixture, beer, and water. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours until beans are tender.

Stir beans and add crumbled bacon, chiles, salsa, salt and pepper. Cover and cook 1-2 hours longer until beans are very tender.

What? You haven't tried cooking dried beans in your slow cooker? What are you waiting for? Just don't add any ingredients high in salt or acid until your beans have softened.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting to Know You

Not that one's asked or anything... but I got to thinking that (approximately 1.009 of) you might be wondering just who the (utterly cluttered, over-thinking, anal) brains behind the madness are around here. And on the off-chance that you weren't sitting around contemplating that, I'll do my best to keep these 10 things that you absolutely positively could have lived a long and healthy life without knowing about me (AKA a semi-personal list of things I'm actually willing to post on the interwebs) kinda light... so if nothing else, you, at the very least, get to walk away knowing that there sure are some strange people out there.

We'll start with a gimme... my favorite little people (and most oft-photographed) in the whole wide world are this crazy bunch, Charlie and Caroline (along with their latest in eyewear fashion).

Number dos... when I tell people I was a cheerleader in high school, they aren't all that surprised. Not sure how I feel about that but I thought you should know.

Trois... my handwriting is 100% (shoot, even 200%) "learned" and I owe it all to Dr. Dewasthali (college professor extraordinaire whose Quant I and II courses kicked my butt). The story's not worth your time but suffice it to say I'm masquerading around in someone else's handwriting.

It takes me, on average, 18 minutes to dry my hair - sometimes more, rarely less (so... I realized that's not really an average). Do you have any clue how many hours of my life have been spent drying this (so-not-worth-it) hair?

My first-thing-in-the-morning routine consists of spending a couple of minutes going here hoping and praying that Deb's posted a new recipe for me to gawk at just before I check over here to see what's happening on the ranch (and if it's wisdom about photography or cooking, so be it), and then a last turn headed straight here to drool over whatever latest (perfectly-done) home improvement project they've tackled.

Oops! I lost count somewhere along the way back there and only got to five. And I gotta tell you... I'm already tired so I can only imagine I lost you long ago. If I can dream up another couple less-than-interesting nuggets about myself, I'll be back (someday) with a Part II... otherwise, you now know that I'm (very likely) only five-facts-worthy.

UPDATE: I should have known that some of you know me better than I know myself. Christy so generously provided these additional 5 facts so I got to thinking that it might be fun to see what else you kids can come up with. Just imagine (or maybe, don't) the possibilities.

6. [I] can fall asleep ANYWHERE - standing up, leaning against a cinder-block-raised dorm bed studying, after approximately 3 seconds on a plane, etc.
7. [I] am utterly devoted to [my] friends and family and will do anything for them. thanks, CP
8. [I] am half-Chinese, half-Scottish - [an] interesting mix and people often can't tell [I am] either.
9. While [I was] a cheerleader - [I am] also very athletically talented
*remember, someone else wrote this in other sports - tennis and softball to name a few... maybe a little *lot less talented at basketball, but [I'm] always up for a game!
10. When [I] laugh - which is often - [I] often cry... think it may be a genetic issue with [my] tear ducts!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


You just can't take it, can you? Admit it - ever since I said I was taking up some not-so-regimented healthy-eating habits, you've been dumbstruck (no, I'm not calling you dumb) sitting there waiting, wondering... would she make it, or would those goals be a distant memory mere minutes from setting them?

And then you see this... an innocent-looking piece of cake and the answer becomes quite clear. Or so you think (it's all mysteries around here, people).

And lest I interrupt you as you furiously scroll down in a panic (my writing is just that riveting, I know... and since there's nothing better going on in the world these days) - let me say this: oh ye of little faith! C'mon now people - give me a chance.

There, that's better.

Now, since you've so generously given me the benefit of the doubt, I will indulge your curiosity without taking up much more of your time (or rather, just a few quick seconds to say that I really like living in this fantasy world where folks actually care about and/or follow along with my ramblings).

About the cake, though... it's Cooking Light's Cranberry Upside Down Cake and never has healthy baking and eating been so good (heck, if I hadn't baked it myself, I never would have believed it was a light recipe!).

So there you have it... how to eat well while eating... well. If I'd known healthy eating tasted this good - my goodness, I'd have started long ago. And just for you, a few fewer of my very own words (win-win for you guys, right?)! *momentary pause so I can get this repeating words thing out of my system Let's be honest, though, the lack of words here is really because today is a designated dessert day so the longer I sit here, the less time I have to stuff my face with sweets! (this healthy eating thing is really working!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

On the Right Foot

As scary and inconceivable what I'm about to proclaim is, you must believe it because the fact of the matter is that it is indeed possible to be more of a 'black-and-white' person than I am today (which is a feat in and of itself)... just ask the Kara of years-past.

And well... with that proclamation under my belt, and here we are in the midst of the season of resolutions, you'd naturally think I was either going full-steam ahead with a very solid and thought-out itemized and bulletized list or heading in the direction of what seems to be a bit of a trend these days and blowing off the idea of resolutions altogether.

If you're even remotely still with me (yawn - hey, at least scroll to the bottom of my rambling for the recipe so you don't miss the good stuff), I'm about to blow your mind (this is big stuff, folks, really... important, mind-boggling stuff) because I'm here for one purpose today and that's to tell you about my Anti-all-or-nothing, just-the-basics plan, for 2010 for this here, Kara.

It goes something like this... one of my fun blog friends came up with the wonderful idea to gather interested people in her online community and rally together to just get healthy in 2010. There were no prescriptive instructions (which of course freaked this by the rules... there are rules, right? girl out!) except that we'd all commit to trying it for the first 10 weeks (and I suspect a lot of it will be habit by the end of that time period) - so off we went about setting our own goals and figuring out how to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

And wouldn't you know? I think I kinda like this. I started with an initial (albeit draft) list of goals and tweaked them even in these first two weeks already - and it didn't bother me one bit! But in the name of being held accountable (or at least being shamed into trying really hard) - I wanted to let you in on what I'm attempting to follow and changes I'm trying to make, both little and big (okay, mostly little). Your job here is to let me know other ways you go about your daily life making healthy decisions and share them here with the rest of us!

  • get to sleep at 10pm (or earlier) one night a week (status: ah-hem, as they say... first is the worst)
  • cut out alcohol consumption completely Sunday through Thursday evenings (status: so far so good!)
  • only conscious eating, i.e. no snacking while reading the mail, etc. (status: pretty good)
  • drink more water (status: this isn't really that fair because I already drink a fair amount but I'd like to drink more)
  • go dessert-less 1-2 nights a week (status: good, but I need to be careful not to eat the dessert I know I won't have that night during the middle of the day)
  • expand my repertoire of healthy recipes by cooking at least 3 new healthful recipes a month (status: great, thanks to Cooking Light!)
And less specifically food-related but still healthy (in my mind at least):
  • write two cards to friends and family a month, for any (or no!) reason at all (status: Christmas cards and subsequent thank you notes have consumed my life for the past month but I'm ready to get started!)
  • stress myself out (especially over little things) less (status: as you might think, if you know me at all, figuring out how to stress myself out less is kind of stressing me out more... so still much work on this to be done)
A week and a half in and this challenge has proved to be just that, a challenge. Some of my goals, as miniscule as they seem, are quite lofty for me - but I've decided that they are all worth pursuing, even if I fall short in the end.

One of the easiest and most fun parts of this has been finding new healthy recipes for us to try out. This Turkish Carrots and Lentils caught my eye since I am full on obsessed with cooking with dried beans these days. Between this and the Black Bean Salsa Chili (that we made with slow-cooked dried black beans), we've been happy eating healthy and hearty meals (with left-overs to boot... the best of both worlds - good-for-you and easy on the wallet!).

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The "Next Year" List

If you're anything like me, you're sitting here detoxing from the past couple of weeks of Christmas and already evaluating what you can/should/would/want to do differently or heck, better next year. (by the way, if you're into resolutions, I came across these healthy ideas the other day and thought they'd be a good start)

And although I am probably the most anal person around (make that definitely), sitting here contemplating already making a list of those things takes even me to a whole new level (we won't mention how bothered I am that I've put an undoubtedly Christmas picture on this so not Christmas-type post). But, at the same time, I figured there got to be at least one other person somewhere on the face of this planet (not that they are one of the 9 people who read these here ramblings) who's somewhat like me and therefore, might actually get something out of what I've got to say today... on this, the 2nd day of the brand new year (and yes folks, that's quite a few days past Christmas, yet here I go).

So what's this all about? In a word (make that two): the cookie exchange. Sure she's been around for ages... I've even been going to one that's held annually for the past 7 or so years, so this is nothing new, even for me. But I don't feel like she gets fair play around these parts and she certainly deserves better... after all, what could be better than getting to throw a fun party (I've even seen it done with boys invited!) but with minimal work for the hostess (unless you're Amber and you assemble cute recipe booklets for everyone handed out with custom Christmas CDs) while still getting to make sure your guests get something out of coming (uh... cookies, duh!). Couldn't be better in my opinion... and for that, having one of these is going on the "next year" list.

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