Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012!!

That dead zone between Christmas and New Year's always depresses me; it's after the holidays so when you look at the Christmas decorations all you think is "damn, I have to take those down" but you're too full from all the Christmas junk food (and pending New Year's) to do so.  I do love the holidays, though.  I basically revert back into a 12 year old when the tree goes up the weekend after Thanksgiving.  That's where I've been the past month, by the way.  Baking.  And wrapping.  And decorating.  And when I wasn't doing one of those things I was asleep in a heap.  Or fixing my leaking roof (but that's another story for another time).

So what did I accomplish in 2012?  Let's have a look:

I learned how to budget.  Since my husband and I both used to work (and don't have any kids), we fell into that comfortable (but not necessarily smart) area of "we can pretty much buy anything we want and don't have to worry about debt".  That changed when I made the decision to leave my job in May, which basically halved our income.  We had to adjust, fast.  Part of that was learning how to coupon (thanks largely in part to sites like The Coupon Project, which does most of the hard work for me), but it was also learning how to organize myself and my shopping trips, and keeping track of our spending (it definitely wasn't pretty the first few months!) 

I lost 30 pounds and more importantly, have kept it off (mostly!  I'll be honest; there's some fluctuation there).  Dieters will tell you it's not too hard to lose the weight, the hard part is not finding it again.  That is probably the most honest statement I have ever heard.  Losing the weight happens easily, almost without effort once you really get into your groove.  It's when you stumble out of your groove and find yourself staring down a box of chocolate covered chocolates (okay maybe that's just my fantasy?) that you have to make a decision: swallow hard, clench your fists and walk away... or dive face first into that box of chocolates, sucking them up like a runaway mini hoover then immediately regret it (and regret it even more when you get on the scale the next morning).  PS. I've done both, and while the second plan seems like a good idea at the time, the first is definitely the better option!  Learn from my fail, people.

On a semi-related note, I would just like to say right now that maybe the best feeling in the world is looking at your driver license and discovering that you weigh less than what you told the DMV you weigh.  Victory!

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time and won!  This was a personal goal I've been batting around for years but never took seriously in because I was too , but the truth is I was really just afraid because what if I failed?  Or figured out I wasn't a writer?  Fortunately, Jeff Goins came to my rescue in the form of You Are a Writer: So Start Acting Like One, which basically says sit down, shut up, and start writing (but in a much nicer way, of course).  And you know what?  It's all true.  If you write, even if you write horrible babbly nonsense (read: what I write on almost a daily basis), you are a writer.

I started this blog.  Again, a personal dream of mine has always been to have a blog where I can connect to people (am I nerding out too much for you here?).  This is nice because it folds neatly into some of my other goals (write a book, market, etc). This blog has been an interesting endeavor: if you go far enough back, you'll find the first post where I said I wanted to post every day (that lasted for about a week, by the way).  I've talked about writing, illustrations, budgeting, tried out new recipes, babbled on about our house (and the improvements we've tried to impart upon it), our dogs and almost everything in between.  And you know what?  I love it.  I love writing, even when I have nothing useful to say (okay, that's most of the time).

I think the big lesson this blog has taught me is it's okay to set a goal, and it's okay if you don't make it.  Sometimes that means you have to reassess your goal, because your first goal wasn't exactly... realistic (ahem.  ME!).  I think a much more reasonable goal for me is to say I'm going to post three times a week; the truth is sometimes I don't do anything but clean and write, and how interesting is that to talk about, honestly?  So there need to be off days.  But there should definitely be a schedule.

I survived 12/21/2012!  Here's a badge to prove it:

(I didn't say it was a good badge...)

More importantly, what do I want to do in 2013?

-- I want to reach a realistic balance between my budgeting and healthy eating.  It's a hard balancing act (at least for me); trying to stay under budget while still avoiding things like frozen pizzas and pork rinds.  We've definitely improved 100% since even a year ago, but I still think we have a little way to go - we've toyed around with meatless meals a few times but have never really committed to them much beyond once a week. What if we upped vegetarian meals to twice a week?  I also want to continue to improve with coupons - sites like The Coupon Project will take me 85% of the way, but it's up to me to finish the last 15%.  One of my favorite memories of 2012 was standing outside of Safeway, holding a receipt that said I spent $8.40 and saved... wait for it... $17.85.  Coupon success!

I want to finish a book and have it ready for editing.  This is going to be a hard one for me since I tend to falter halfway through a project then just kind of... taper off... but I've already committed myself to this project by quitting my job.  So now it's time to either write that book or start sending out applications to nearby companies.  Sink or swim time!

I want to get in shape and lose a little more weight.  Those are two separate things in my mind - you can be in shape without having to lose weight.  Right now I'm at what's considered a healthy weight, but I'm in terrible shape (seriously, it's sad).   I'd like to strengthen my core muscles and perhaps start a walking routine (then maybe someday.... in the far future... graduate to running.  That feels like a million years away, though!)  I'd like to lose a few more pounds as well, and I'm on track to do that.  Almost there!

I'm definitely excited to get started on 2013!  What are your goals?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Turkey and Noodles

This is a pretty great way to use up your leftover turkey carcass from Thanksgiving (I wrote this post back near the beginning of December... I swear I didn't keep a turkey carcass for a whole month!).  This is the first time I've made it, and while I found some recipes online that come pretty close to the recipe given to me by my mom, nothing quite duplicated it exactly.  What I think sets it apart are the noodles - I love these noodles.  I love a lot of things (especially when related to food), but these noodles are easily in my top 10.

Turkey and Noodles
leftover turkey carcass (2-3 cups turkey meat)
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour
3 eggs
flour to use for the dough 
more flour mixed with water for thickening, if necessary

You start by taking a large stockpot and breaking down your turkey carcass so it will fit (I hate the sound of bones breaking), then filling the entire thing with water.  Boil it for 2 hours or so (or uh, 4, if you're like me and forget things), then strain all the bones and meat out so you're left with a lovely broth.  Carefully remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones.  If you end up with around 2-3 cups of meat that's just dandy!

What remained of our Thanksgiving turkey on November 28th...

So we have our broth and our turkey, now we need the noodles.  I LOVE THESE NOODLES.  Ahem.  Sorry, my inner 12-year-old escape for a moment.  Anyway!  These are very easy, stupidly easy, actually!  They're flour, salt and eggs.

Make a well in the center for the eggs, then break the yolks and start mixing everything together with your fork.  It's O.K. if the dough is sticky - you can add more flour if you want.  The beauty of this recipe is if you don't like how something looks, add more flour, water or eggs until it looks the way it should, damnit!

For example, I felt my dough was crumbly and needed another egg.  It's all very "do what looks right".

Once you have your dough, break it into quarters and roll one of the quarters out on a well-floured surface.  This is starting to look familiar, right?

Pie dough or noodle dough... any kind of dough!

Roll the dough up like a long cinnamon bun!  Then cut it.

Mmm flour, salt and eggs... wait.

 Then you just unroll the noodles on a floured cookie sheet, and repeat 3 more times with the remaining 3/4s of the dough.  Don't be afraid to use a lot of flour, these noodles get sticky AND the extra flour will help thicken the broth (which you'll probably have to do anyway, with a flour/water mix).

Bring the broth (remember that?) back up to a boil, then drop the noodles in and cook for about 5-8 minutes.  My noodles ended up huge, but that was okay, because DM isn't picky and I like a lot of texture in my noodles. 

Somehow I forgot to take a photo of the final product, but trust me: it was delicious.  We devoured it all quite happily.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

November 2012

Oh I am so sorry, Blogger... I've been neglecting you for the holidays.  Can you forgive me?  Here's a photo of some pretty cranberries I turned into jellied cranberries for Thanksgiving as an apology: 

 This post is looooooooooooooooooong.  Perhaps, even, longer than my long dog (okay... not that long).  But still.  Very long.  You've been warned.  (I mean, in my defense it does span an entire month).

How was your Thanksgiving?  Mine was fun and hectic, filled with visiting family, more food than I knew what to do with and new appliances (so pretty much perfect, in other words!) This was a year of firsts for me, including:

- My first time making dinner completely on my own (my mom has always helped to some degree or another, but this year was completely me!)

- My first year cooking a holiday meal for the in-laws (scary and exciting)

- and of course, new appliances for the home!

Stainless steel makes everything classier!

DM's mom and dad flew up to spend the week with us over Thanksgiving.  We haven't seen them for a while so it was fun to spend so much time with them - DM's dad is a handyman so he re-piped under our sink (which was a mess and had a leaking garbage disposal) and installed our dishwasher (after driving it to the house in a giant truck!) We're all pretty much homebodies (plus DM worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) so it was pretty much movies, food and looking up things on the Internet at home, with random trips to Lowe's, Home Depot and a night out to Red Lobster.

Fun Fact #42: Yams are one of my favorite side dishes.  Maybe because they are bright orange, like traffic cones.

We ended up with a 14 lb butterball turkey, homemade stuffing (sage and hot, the latter at the request of my in laws and which turned out to be really really good), mashed potatoes, yams, gravy, cranberry sauce and rolls that tried to choke my MIL (I did not make the rolls so I blame Franz)

Is it wrong to be proud of a turkey?  Because if it is, I don't want to be right.

Thanksgiving was delicious, and aside from me accidentally setting the yams on fire everything was perfect.

Holiday cooking pro tip: don't walk away from  yams covered in marshmallows in the oven or you will come back to FLAMES LICKING THE TOP OF YOUR STOVE DEAR GOD   

We also sold the Saturn last month (finally!) after finagling with people on Craigslist (seriously... is it just me or is CL just the spawning pit of the weirdest people ever?) It went to a good home where it will hopefully not break in 4 months.  The night we sold the car DM went and stood out in the garage and wept (okay I made that last part up), but I was psyched because I finally got to do this:


Finally!  Finally.  We went out on Black Friday and picked up the steel/particle board shelf for $50 (yes I know, it's insane - in years past I'd be one of the crazy people getting up at 3am to hit the mall but this year DM looked at me with real concern in his eyes and said "honey, if you want to go out I will go with you but I'm worried about you" so we ended up going out around 11am.  We even still scored a nice Costco cookbook!)  This shelf has transformed my life - turns out the box for our artificial tree fits snugly on the  bottom, then we can stack giftwrap, food and whatever else we feel like on top.  Inside, my inner Tetris nerd is squealing.  I love it I love it I love it.

You had to know the first thing I'd make in my new oven was cookies, right?  And you can't go wrong with a classic chocolate chip cookie:

DM will help if he gets to lick the spoon, raw egg be damned

We tried out the standard Nestle chocolate chip cookie recipe, threw the cookies in the oven and like small children, sat by the oven and watched as the convection oven turned the balls of dough into fluffy, mouth-watering cookies that we ate warm with milk.

Turns out, convection is really nice for baking (at least for cookies).  You can't argue with this:

It was as delicious as it looked!!

With my new oven I also got bold and tried my hand at making fries using some of the 10 lbs of potatoes I got at Fred Meyer for .99c (thanks Fred Meyer!):

I'm kind of really lazy, so the idea that I could make fries by throwing them in the oven versus having to sit and watch them roll around in oil was really appealing to me.  I used a garlic herb blend from a site whose link I can't seem to find at the moment (pardon me!), then just cleaned the potatoes, cut them into steak fries and let them marinate in the olive oil and spices and sugar.

If you're like me, you don't know how to plan ahead so you don't have the right size bag... but that's okay, because if you're like me you're also a master of improvisation!

After about 20 minutes, cut a hole in the bottom of the bag and let the excess liquid drain, then spread the potatoes on a foil lined cookie sheet sprayed with Pam.  Bake for 45 minutes or so, turning once halfway through.

You end up with these deliciously garlick-y fries that are really crunchy and crispy, considering they came out of the oven.  These were good.  We made them twice in two days - I made them with lunch the first time as a test batch, then when we wolfed those down I made a second set to use as the base for chili fries.

Spoiler alert: these make your house smell so good strangers that come to your door go "is that your house that smells that good?!" True story.