About Me

My photo
I have two kids - a girl and a boy - and live in north-central Minnesota, land of snow and ice. Well, for 9 months of the year, that is. I work full-time for a local government, and on my "free time" I enjoy cooking, baking, hanging out with my kiddos, and RELAXING.

Monday, November 29, 2010

putting it into perspective

It's amazing how quickly I can distract myself from what's really important.

How often I take things for granted.

I knew I was going to gain weight over Thanksgiving. How could I not? What I wasn't prepared for was how tight my pants would feel after only two meals of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Immediately I started beating myself up: "How could I gain that much weight in only one day? I'm such a pig. I'm so fat. Don't I have any self-control?"

(The answer, by the way, is no.)

And then I remembered a story I heard not to long ago, about a family with more health problems than you would believe. Cancer, MS, cancer again, brain tumors. You name it, it happened to them.

How can I be so worried, so upset, so caught up in gaining a couple pounds, when there are people out there with real problems?

My weight has always been an issue with me, and I've always been very sensitive about it. But I know I place too much importance on what the scale says. When will I learn to be thankful for what I do have instead of focusing on what I don't?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

the best of black friday

I've never been shopping on Black Friday before, so I was a little skeptical when Darren's family wanted to go. Especially since it involved getting up at 2:30 in the morning.

It stays dark out for a loooooong time when you get up at 2:30 in the morning.

In any case, I got a couple things that made it all worthwhile.

I got a crockpot for $15 at Walmart, and also a 40-ish piece set of Rubbermaid Tupperware containers for $9. (I know that Rubbermaid is not the same as Tupperware, but how else would you describe it? I call all containers designed for food Tupperware...)

At Target I got some scarves for $5 and hats and mittens for $2 for a set. I also got a Black & Decker toaster oven for $20, which I'm WAY excited about.

Darren got a gun, so he was happy too.

Consensus: We will probably be going again next year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I Love...

...Army wives.

No, not the TV show. I mean real-life Army wives.

I first met these lovely ladies in June of 2007, and it's strange to me now that there was ever a time I didn't know them. They understand me like no one else in the entire world.

We took this picture October 15, 2007, the day our men came home from Iraq. Darren and I weren't married yet - we weren't even engaged - so it was through Courtney and Krista that I first learned what it meant to be an Army wife.

And no one could have ever had two more excellent role models. Not too long ago I thought I was going to have to live through another deployment, only this time as a wife instead of just a girlfriend. And I knew no one would understand my fears and frustrations better than these two women.

Fortunately, Darren decided not to volunteer.

Last month, on October 16, 2010 (almost three years to the day the guys came home) we took this picture. When I first saw it I couldn't believe how much it reminded me of the picture we took the day of the Welcome Home Ceremony.

But yet so different. Darren and I are now married. Krista's little girl (who was being held by Courtney in the above picture) is now an adorable three year old. Courtney is holding her own baby girl, her second child.

Over the past three years I have come to love these women like sisters. I know I can talk to them about anything, and do. We have such a special bond, and no one understands my periodic frustrations with Army life like these two.

Courtney and Krista, thanks for always being there. I love you both more than I can express.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

mini lava cakes

I got this recipe from my favorite blog, The Pioneer Woman. These mini lava cakes are super easy, so delicious, and fairly impressive. Unless your guests see you making them and realize how easy they actually are.
I halved the recipe since it was just me last night, so I have one mini lava cake in the fridge. I'm curious to see how it turns out. What I'm telling you is the half recipe, for two people. Or one person.
Start with two custard cups. Spray them generously with Pam. Seriously cannot be generous enough with the Pam here, people. We want these babies to just fall right out when they're done baking. You can get custard cups at Target. Mine are Anchor brand, but I'm sure Pyrex makes them too. And they come with lids. How handy! Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. You'll need 2 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate and half a stick of butter. Yes, that means each mini lava cake has one-quarter of a stick of butter. Did I mention how yummy they are?? Note: That chocolate bar is 4 oz, so I broke it in half. You can also buy 1-oz baking chocolate squares. I do have some...not sure why I didn't use those instead. Microwave the chocolate and butter on high for about one minute, until butter is melted. Whisk until chocolate is also melted and the whole thing is just a smooth chocolate-buttery cream.

Stir in 1/2 cup powdered sugar until well blended.
Put in one egg...

...and one egg white. Note: When I was re-typing the recipe at the bottom I realized I should have put in one egg YOLK, not white. So pretend I did. But on a side note, it turned out okay, so if you want to cut some of the cholesterol and fat, give it a go. Notice my awesome Pampered Chef egg separator. Probably the most practical of all PC inventions. I love it. See how the white just oozes through and the yolk is left? Makes separating eggs so easy. I seriously don't even know how to do it any other way. My MIL has this fancy trick where she just pours the yolk back and forth in the egg shells until somehow it's magically separated. I think I should maybe try it someday, but I don't have any high hopes for success.
Whisk in the egg and the white. Add 3 tbs flour. Stir. Divide the batter between the two custard cups on a baking sheet.
I also love this little baking sheet. I got it from (where else?) Pampered Chef. Perfect for baking chicken nuggets or french fries or tator tots. Or mini lava cakes.
Bake 13-14 minutes until sides are firm and center is soft. This is VERY IMPORTANT: you do not want to under bake. Or over bake. If you under bake, the cakes will fall apart and your molten chocolate will go everywhere (I speak from experience). If you over bake, well, you won't have any molten chocolate. The hardest part about this recipe is flipping the cakes out without breaking them. Here's what works for me: Hold the bottom of the custard cup in your palm (with an oven mitt, of course!) and a plate in the other hand. Set the plate face down on top of the custard cup. In one motion, flip the entire thing so the custard cup is now inverted on top of the plate. If you used enough Pam, the cake should just slide right out. Try not to let the custard cup actually touch the plate, because it's very difficult to get it off. Or maybe that's just me. But I've had issues. If it does get stuck to the plate, trapping your lovely lava cake, use a sharp knife to pry up the edges and try and grab it. Maybe I just need better oven mitts with grippers or something, because this part is super difficult for me...
You will definitely want to serve this with either ice cream or homemade whipped cream, because it's so rich and chocolaty it needs something to balance it out.

Mmmm...now that's what I'm talking about. Here's the recipe written out: 2 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate 1/4 cups butter (half a stick) 1/2 cup powdered sugar 1 whole egg 1 egg YOLK 3 tbs flour Preheat oven to 425 Spray 2 custard cups with Pam and place on cookie sheet. Microwave chocolate and butter in large bowl on high for about 1 minute, until butter is melted. Whisk until chocolate is also melted. Stir in sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and yolks. Stir in flour. Divide between cups. Bake 13-14 minutes until sides are firm and center is soft. Let stand 1 minute. Invert onto plate. Serve with cream or ice cream.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

new and improved

I think you'll be very impressed to know what I've eaten so far this weekend since Darren has been gone.

It's a far, far cry from my usual popcorn, M&Ms, and ice cream cake.

Yesterday I had a bagel for breakfast and Chinese for lunch. And, okay, I did have ice cream for supper, but it's only because I didn't get home until 8:30 and didn't want to scrounge around for food.

Today I had coffee and my multivitamin for breakfast (not so good there), but for lunch I had a can of beef stew and half a piece of cornbread. (Only half because I realized it was molding.) And now I'm heating up a lean pocket for dinner.

Okay, I know that a lean pocket doesn't really count as a meal, and Chinese is questionable, but at least I'm eating real food! I've been trying really hard lately to eat better.

And yes, for me, Chinese and lean pockets are "better." It's all about your perspective.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I should have known better

Last night Darren and I went to Red Lobster on date night.

I got the maple-glazed chicken, which is what I've ordered every time I've ever been to Red Lobster, except the very first time when I for some strange reason ordered soup.

But since then, maple-glazed chicken all the way.

Darren got the maple-glazed salmon and shrimp. We must have been in a maple mood...

Everything was going along just swimmingly until Darren says, "You want to try my shrimp?" I, stupidly, said yes. And remember, I already knew I was allergic to shrimp.

I had one bite. One bite. Not even a whole shrimp, just a single, solitary bite. Within five minutes my throat was swelling and scratchy. You know how sometimes the inside of your throat itches? Yeah, I hate that feeling.

Well, no big deal, I thought. This has happened before and it just goes away. Give it 2o minutes. (I like to play fast and loose with my health like that, apparently...)

So we left the restaurant and went to the mall to do some shopping. Ten minutes after we got to the mall I started feeling sick.

I don't know if it was the shrimp, or what, but something not good was definitely going on. I told Darren we needed to leave. I thought I was going to DIE on the way home. My stomach was cramping so bad, but in a really weird area, and I thought I was going to throw up. Then my legs started getting all loosey-goosey like when you have a drink and you can actually feel your body relaxing. It was like that only times ten. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get out of the car.

So we make it home and I'm trying not to throw up, and I go upstairs and put on my sweatpants and stretch out on the couch with my puke bucket. Darren kept making me drink water, saying "dilution for the pollution" or something like that, and the whole time I thought I was going to eternity at any second.

Fortunately, by the time that special about Prince William and Kate Middleton ended, I was feeling better. Unfortunately, I think I'll never eat shrimp again.

And even the maple-glazed chicken is questionable.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I Love...

...my husband.

I love my husband, even when he drives me crazy.

Like a month ago, when he said he was thinking about volunteering for a deployment to Kuwait.

Out of nowhere. Except, really, if you know my husband, potentially going overseas for a year isn't really out of nowhere; it's always on the back burner.

He's just like that. Eventually he decided not to go, but in the meantime, I had some stressful moments, especially because I was sworn to secrecy about the whole thing.

Except I told my awesome friend Courtney, because she's the only other person in the whole world who could possibly understand my dilemma.

Anyway, I'm one of those people who works an idea around and around and around and around eighteen hundred times. I need to look at every angle, consider every possibility. Here's what I wrote in my journal:

Also in recent news: potential deployment to Kuwait.

Is that how you spell Kuwait? I believe so.

On Friday Darren told me he was considering volunteering for the deployment to Kuwait leaving June 2011.

I'm torn up about it.

Pros: Money. I love my job. And working there longer means we can save even more money. I'd rather he do it now that later. It is only Kuwait. Risks are less than, say, Afghanistan.

Cons: Darren gone. For a year. That's a while. Potentially giving birth/raising a baby by self for a while. Doing everything BY MYSELF. Now, I feel I'm pretty independent, and hopefully wouldn't end up with a boatload of only horror stories, but even I know I will probably have a mental breakdown. Or seventeen.

Essentially, I can sum up the key factors into one statement: money vs. mental sanity.

True story. Notice I don't mention the possibility of Darren getting killed. Two reason: (1) It's not an option. (2) He's more likely to die in a car accident while not wearing his seat belt and texting.

Statistically speaking.

I guess there's a third reason, too: it's Kuwait. Darren called the mission lame and said he wants to go to Afghanistan. I said, "But if you knew you were leaving behind a child it would probably be different." He didn't say anything.

That's a bad sign.

I should have know he would end up deciding to stay here, since this whole scenario has already gone down one other time this year. In any case, even though he puts me through all kinds of mentally stressful problems, I still love him.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

OSA's Audit Division Award-Winning White Chicken Chili

Every year the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) raises money for charities around the state of Minnesota. We do this by way of an annual chili cook-off. Each division of OSA comes up with a theme, creates decorations, and prepares food (on our own time, of course!).

This year Audit had a western theme (which we didn't win a prize for) and this fabulous white chicken chili (which we did). Audit's white chicken chili has taken home the golden ladle two years running.

It's quite an honor.

Not really; it's all just office fun, but for a good cause. We had record donations this year for charities all over the state.

I wrangled (get it?) this recipe out of my co-worker. It's kind of a crazy recipe, created by two people who no longer work at OSA. It's more like two half recipes thrown into one, but with chili you just randomly throw things in anyway, so it all turns out okay in the end.

Here's how I made it:

Start with five medium white onions.

Yes, five. It makes a fairly big pot of chili, approximately four quarts.

I used my Pampered Chef food chopper for this project, since there were so many onions.

I was still crying, though. The one thing I don't like about my food chopper is it has a hard time getting through the outermost part of the onion. Anyone know how to fix this? I feel like I'm hitting it down pretty hard...

Anyway, you'll need chicken. The recipe called for two chicken breasts, but I put in three.

Because I'm like that.

Cube 'er up and cook 'er up.

While your chicken is cooking away, pop open four cans of Great Northern Beans. Do not drain them.

I repeat: DO NOT drain them. I know; it's unusual.

Pour the beans in a very large pot. One capable of holding four quarts. And, just as an FYI, I don't have any storage containers big enough to hold four quarts of soup; I use ice cream buckets. And that's why I know this makes approximately four quarts.

Add four cups of chicken broth. I put in three cans. Close enough.

You'll need six cloves of garlic.

Now, I don't know the technicalities about garlic, but I don't think those little bitty pieces count as a whole clove.

So I put in more. And then some. I love garlic.

Another Pampered Chef plug: I LOVE my garlic press.

Love it, love it, love it. You just put the garlic in...

...and squeeze it out. No chopping!

By the way, you have NO idea how difficult it was to press that with my left hand. In fact, it was so hard, I pressed it with my right hand and then held it with my left to take the picture.

I can be deceiving like that.

Remember those five onions you cried your mascara off chopping? Time to add them.

Bring the bean/garlic/onion/chicken broth mixture to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer.

Add 4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp white pepper, and 1 tsp oregano.

When I opened my white pepper, it wasn't factory-sealed for freshness. I used it anyway. But, if I die tomorrow, someone should check to make sure the white pepper wasn't poisoned.

Just kidding. But it seriously wasn't sealed. And I really did use it. I was just kidding about the poison.

Also add 4 oz diced green chiles.

Totally didn't know this existed until this recipe. I found this (after much wandering) in the taco section.

Add your cooked chicken.

And 16 oz cream cheese.

The best way to add cream cheese is to cube it up first. This will help it melt faster.

It still will look a little sketchy for a while. Simmer until cream cheese is melted, and then about 20 minutes longer. Stir often so it won't stick.

Mmmmm...white chicken chili. I was a little skeptical before I tried it, but it's SOOOO good.

Give 'er a try!

Here's the whole recipe, written out:

4 15oz cans Great Northern beans (do not drain)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
5 medium white onions, chopped
3 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 tsp oregano
4 oz green chiles
16 oz cream cheese

Combine beans, garlic, chicken broth, and onions in large pot. Bring to boil; reduce heat to simmer. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer until cream cheese is melted, then another 20 minutes. Stir often. Freezes well.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

the first snowfall

I love the first snowfall of the season.

It's probably on the list of my top five favorite times of the year.

I love the way snow collects on the trees.

And the mix of white snow and dark evergreen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

how the sock elves ALMOST got the best of me

My sister gave me these socks two years ago for Christmas. They were nice and warm wool socks from American Eagle. I loved them.

I wore them once and put them in the laundry. This was before I got married, and I was living at home.

Only one sock came back to me. The sock elves had taken my other one.

I figured it would turn up eventually; I mean, socks don't really get lost in the washer.

It never came.

And it never came.

A couple months went by. Then a couple more. And still, I hung on to hope and my one remaining sock. Every time the subject came up I said that the sock was somewhere and I would find it.

I kept that up for almost two years.

Yes, I held on to a single lonely sock for two years.

Then, last week, my mom texted me, "I found your sock!" It was behind the washer, possibly dragged there by a cat or accidentally flipped off the lid of the washer. In any case, my socks are together again.

It was a happy day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day!

Happy Veteran's Day to all our amazing, courageous, and self-sacrificing veterans!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For Courtney

To understand this, you'll need to read my friend Courtney's blog post here.

And then, you'll need to go here.

After much search and deliberation, I found it, The Phrase Finder.

My favorite: "Get your dander up"

Monday, November 8, 2010

expiration dates

I was making myself a sandwich for work tomorrow and noticed the expiration date on my Lite Miracle Whip: July 3rd.


I'm not a huge believer in expiration dates; I think they're just a ploy by food industries to get you to throw away more food and, thus, buy more food.

Not really, but it could be.

Mostly I just think it's the company's way of covering their behind of someone actually does get sick from old food. Although who even worries about food expiration when you have to watch your tomatoes, spinach, peanut butter, eggs, and Lord knows what else for all forms of crazy diseases?

It's not high on my priority list.

I cut mold off my cheese and eat the non-moldy pieces of bread before I throw the rest out. I drink milk for a good ten days past the date, and eat yogurt up to...well, the oldest is three months, but I would definitely eat older if it still tasted okay.

Also, that turkey you get from the deli? The stuff they tell you should be eaten within two days??

You don't even want to know how long I will eat that. Let's just say, you can wipe the slime off of turkey and it looks like new.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

God is still God

Do you have a life motto?

I've heard of some people who do. Or who have a life verse.

But the thing about a life verse is that it can be hard to find one without taking it out of context.

Yes, I have a minor in Bible, why do you ask?

I came across a saying the other day. In a work of fiction, no less. One character was telling another character not to worry about the outcome of a situation, and that "God is still God."

I took it to heart. Literally, I reminded myself of that very fact multiple times a day. For several days. And it's starting to stick.

It's hard for me to "let go and let God" as I've said before. I'm too independent by half, and while I tend to find pride in that, it's most certainly something that's holding me back in my relationship with God.

Don't get me wrong, I love that I know how to change my own oil and all, but there's a point when independence becomes a hindrance.

Ironic, no?

I want to have control over situations and tend to worry unnecessarily. And incessantly. So when I hear the phrase "God is still God" it reminds me that through everything, good or bad, right or wrong, God does not change.

He does not change.

Even when I stress out, even when I'm sad, even when I'm happy, even when I try to plan the future, even when I feel my world is falling apart, God is still God.

He's still there. Same as yesterday. Same as tomorrow.

It's an awesome thing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

back to the grind

I went to the gym today.

I went yesterday too. It was painful.

I haven't been to the gym since...April? March? Somewhere around there. And I probably only worked out at home about twelve times since then.

It hasn't been pretty.

I came to the realization on Saturday, while helping my brother de-shingle his roof, that it was time to do something.

It's bad when you get tired picking up and hauling shingles. They don't weigh THAT much.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why I Love...


I'm pretty sure I've written a post (or two...or three...or twenty-seven) before about how much I love Target, but it bears repeating. I got a FANTASTIC coupon mailer from Target about a week ago, with coupons like "$1 off any frozen item purchase, any brand" and "$1 off any purchase of fresh fruit." It's not very often you can find coupons for "any brand" so I was pretty excited. Here are some of the great deals I got last week:

Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner, sale price $1.99 each
-Bought two and used $1/2 printable coupon
Final price: $1.49 each

Creamette pasta, $0.82
-Used $0.50 off any pasta item Target coupon
Final price: $0.32

Sara Lea multigrain bread, $2.69
-Used $1 off any purchase of bread Target coupon
Final price: $1.69

Bananas, $0.49/lb
-Bought 2.53 lbs (for $1.24) and used $1 off a fresh fruit purchase Target coupon
Final price: $0.24

Market Pantry Eggs, $1.19
-Used $0.50 off any purchase of eggs Target coupon
Final price: $0.69

Kraft Natural Chunk Cheese 8 oz, $2.00
-Used $0.25 manufacturer's coupon
-Used $0.75 off any purchase of cheese Target coupon
Final price: $1.00
(I never pay more than $1 per 8 oz of cheese, except in a cheese emergency. It happens.)

Digiorno Pizza, sale price $4.50
-Bought two and got one free single serving Digiorno, per Target ad, valued at $2.99
-Used $1 off any frozen item Target coupon
Final price: $8 for two regular and one single-serving pizza

I told you about Target's awesome 5% off policy here and I put it to good use last week. I wasn't sure if I needed to tell the checkout guy but when I swiped my Target card I saw the computer automatically calculate 5% and take it off the total. Which, in this case, was $4.68.

The bottom of my receipt says "YOU SAVED $26.89". Awesome day.