Monday, October 21, 2013

Blue Jeans, Tea, and Vinegar

I made a rare trip to the mall a few weeks ago to return a pair of jeans that I had allowed a store to ship to my home - knowing that there was a better than average chance that I would have to return them. Will I never learn?

My son agreed to go with me, and he patiently waited while I stubbornly continued my pursuit of the perfect pair of jeans - or at least a pair that fit nicely. Several stores and several hot, cramped dressing rooms later, and I was completely frustrated and no nearer to my goal.

So I did what I always do in these situations... I headed for the specialty stores where one size really does fit all and all the styles displayed on the shelf are available for immediate purchase.

One of my favorite stores is Oil and Vinegar. They have an amazing selection of, you guessed it, oils and vinegars, along with spices and specialty items. The fun thing about this store is that you can taste things before you buy them. That's also kind of scary, because everything is so amazingly good! We selected two vinegars - a pear balsamic and a white truffle balsamic - and managed to get out of the store for less than $50... just. As we left with our treasured bottles, I was already trying to think up some creative recipe ideas.

Our next stop was Teavana, where everything is about tea. They have samples, too, which is good and (remember) dangerous. We chose four different teas that could be blended together to make some truly delicious hot and cold teas, and a fancy new iced tea pitcher. I won't even mention how much we spent there, it was so ridiculous. But we left the mall, quite satisfied with our purchases, and the jeans debacle (mostly) forgotten. When we got home, we made mixed berry iced tea in our new pitcher, and it was delicious. The pitcher turned out to be a really good purchase because it encourages me to make tea more often, which cuts down on our consumption of sodas. Totally worth the cost.

So, what to do with the vinegars? I thought about it for several weeks and last night I finally used the white truffle balsamic to make a sauce - more of a reduction, if you want to get technical. Anyway, it was delicious. I've tried to recreate the steps below. Please be aware that the measurements are approximate... because that's just the way I roll.

Chicken Breasts with White Truffle Mushroom Sauce

4 chicken breasts
Emeril's Essence (or preferred seasoning blend)
1 - 2 Tbs olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced
6 - 8 large button mushroom, sliced
1-1/2 Tbs white truffle balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp dried basil
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
Parmesan cheese

Season both sides of chicken breasts with Emeril's Essence. Cook under the broiler (low setting) until browned and cooked through, turn midway through cooking. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the breasts - ours took about 15 minutes per side.

Sauce: Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, then add garlic. Saute until lightly browned. Add mushrooms, vinegar, pepper and basil. Saute for 1 or 2 minutes. Add chicken stock. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Cut chicken breasts into slices, spoon sauce over chicken, and top with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve with your favorite green vegetable - we chose steamed asparagus.

My guys really liked this meal and deemed it "5 star restaurant quality", which made me feel great and totally justifies all those hours I spend watching the Food Network.

Now if I could only be as successful with a pair of jeans...

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Have I mentioned that I like to cook?  Yes, I'm sure I have... once or twice.  One of the best, and maybe worst, things about cooking is leftovers.  With a son just barely out of his teenage years, we don't always have leftovers.  But when we do, the question is... what to do with them?  When I took my lunch to work, I would package them up and enjoy them the next day. But lately, I find myself throwing them out more and more often.

It is my personal challenge to find creative ways to use up those leftover bits of meat and vegetables.  Sometimes it's simple.  Today's sausage patties and biscuits will become grab-n-go breakfast sandwiches for tomorrow. I've already put them together, so I can just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds and they'll be ready. Adding a slice of cheese makes them even more tasty.

Tonight, my challenge was leftover pork loin in a garlic-onion-pepper glaze and the need for something quick and easy. There wasn't enough pork for three servings, but there was just enough to make stir-fry. I shredded the pork, mixed it with frozen stir-fry veggies and 1/2 cup of stir-fry sauce, and let it simmer, while I baked egg rolls (frozen).  If I'd had more time, I probably would have cooked some rice.  The family enjoyed it, and I'm pretty sure that someone will eat those leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  

I could have easily opted for an Italian style meal, by adding crushed tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic, and serving it over pasta.  Or we could have gone Mexican with black beans, onions, and jalapenos in tortillas.  The options are only limited by your imagination, and your pantry.

I actually enjoy creating new meals using leftovers, and my family doesn't seem to mind my little "experiments".  The only problem is trying to recreate them when they say, "Can you make that again?"

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Growing Up

Twenty years ago today, I was lying in a hospital bed, too excited to sleep, because I knew that my little boy would be arriving in the morning.

Tonight, I am sitting in my comfy chair, anticipating the end of his teenage years.

Tomorrow, my baby boy will turn 20.

I know! It's hard to believe that my baby is all grown up.

I'm remembering all the good times that we've shared... camping, hiking, canoeing, trips to the zoo, waterparks and so much more.  We've had some amazing experiences together.  And through it all, I've watched a charming little boy grow into an amazing young man, and I am one very proud mom.

Don't think that this birthday marks the end of our fun times.  Far from it!  I anticipate making more memories with my young man.  Especially now that he can drive me around... and be my designated driver when the need arises.  This mother and son team is still going strong.  Though, I may have to start introducing him as my little brother.

Happy birthday, James.  I love you.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Not Your Momma's Video Game... Or Is It?

The world of video games have changed since I was a kid. I used to meet my friends at the video arcade to play pinball, Asteroids, Defender - all the classics. We would spend hours trying to beat each other's high scores.  Sometimes we would opt for a game of pool or foosball.  Things have changed. Now everyone has their own computer or game console (or both), and they can spend hours enjoying their favorite games - either alone or with a group of virtual players that they might not ever meet in person.

I'm not a fan of the shooter games my son enjoys. I can't seem to get the hang of moving, choosing weapons, and firing, and I get killed a lot.  I've tried the games available on Facebook, and they're fun at first, but soon get tedious. I lost interest, and my crops and animals all died from neglect. 

Not long ago, my son and his friends invited me to try a new game with them. Ingress is a GPS based game from Google that you play using your phone. (Sorry iPhone users, but this one is for Android.) I won't bore you with the back story of the game - you can get that from the website if you're interested. I will tell you that I'm really enjoying this game. You can't play the game sitting in your home, you have to go to various locations around your neighborhood, and to be effective, you need to team up with other players. Yes, actually play the game with other people - in person. 

James and I usually get out and play for a couple of hours each weekend. We've discovered more of our hometown by getting out of the car and walking around while we play (bonus - exercise!), and we've met a lot of really nice people.  I've also played occasionally during my lunch hour - so much better than eating a quick sandwich at my desk. 

The goal of the game to is gain control of all the portals (specific locations) for your team (Enlightened or Resistance - guess which one I'm on).  Players attack portals owned by the opposition using "bursters" to neutralize them, then place your own "resonators" to establish control of the portal.  Once you control portals, they can be linked using "portal keys" to create "fields".  Items  (bursters, resonators, portal keys, etc.) are collected by "hacking" portals.  All of this activity earns you Access Points (or AP).  Your AP count indicates your level, and higher levels can use higher level items. Good game play requires planning and strategy.  There's an Agent Field Guide devoted to explaining all this and more, for those who are interested. 

I'm not sure how long we'll continue playing this game. I'm sure that eventually, like with any other game, we'll get bored and move on to something else. But for now, I'm really enjoying it.  If you want to give it a try, let me know. I have a few spare invites for new recruits who want to join my team.  If you already play, look for me online. My blog readers should have no trouble finding me.  :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bus Notes

I've been riding a commuter bus to work for about a year and a half now. I enjoy the chance to read or nap while someone else deals with traffic, but it is a fairly long trip and not always the most pleasant way to travel. I've learned a few things about bus etiquette that I've decided to share... in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

The first time you ride the bus, pay attention to the other riders. There may be routines for boarding or exiting. My bus runs from a single park and ride lot to multiple stops downtown, then back to the lot. When we return to lot in the afternoon, riders exit one row at a time starting with the front rows. Everyone politely waits their turn and there is no pushing or crowding. Those who rush to exit before their turn, identify themselves as either a "newbie" or just terribly rude.

Personal space is limited when you share a bus seat with another rider, and feeling like a sardine is no fun for anyone. Briefcases, backpacks and packages take up extra space, and can be safely stowed in overhead storage. A note for tall people: using your elbows and knees as assault weapons is considered bad form.

Climate control seems to be a puzzle that is yet to be solved by the bus drivers of the world. I have found the bus to be chilly most mornings and comfortable to warm in the afternoons. A broken A/C in our Houston summers can make the ride home almost unbearable. My solution is to carry a sweater in my bag for the mornings and wear layers that can be peeled off in the afternoon, and hope for a working A/C.

A bus full of people can be a noisy place. Cell phone calls, conversations, coughing, sneezing and snoring can make it difficult to read or nap. Ear plugs or headphones with soft music can help block out the noise. Vitamins can help protect you from those coughing and sneezing people with colds.

Smells are not as easily blocked as sound. Too much aftershave or cologne can cause severe discomfort for a person with allergies. We can hope that our fellow riders will refrain from overdoing,  and arm ourselves with menthol cough drops and peppermint gum for the times when changing seats isn't an option.

Riding a bus isn't for everyone. Sometimes I think it isn't for me, but then I consider the alternative - driving in Houston traffic - and I realize this is my best option. For now.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Discovering Potbelly... and a Recipe

One of my favorite places to eat lunch is Potbelly.  Potbelly started out as a Chicago antique shop. The owners thought it would be a good idea to serve lunch to their customers, and now there are more than 240 Potbelly Sandwich Shops around the country. Their menu offers a wide variety of sandwiches, soups, sides and salads. And for the sweet tooth - fresh, in-store baked cookies and hand dipped shakes.  Each shop also provides lunchtime entertainment in the form of a local musician - a very nice touch.

My current favorite lunch choice is the Uptown Salad - all natural grilled chicken, grapes, apples, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, red onion, and blue cheese - with balsamic vinaigrette.  Delicious! And because I'm eating a healthy salad, I don't feel at all bad about having one of their oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  These cookies are amazing - and addicting!  My friends tell me the shakes are to-die-for, but I haven't tried one yet.  I'm afraid I'd have to make a choice between the shake or a cookie, and I'm just not ready to go there yet.

But maybe now I am.  After a brief search on Google, I found a recipe that comes very close to those delicious cookies that I love so much. I made a batch this afternoon and I will not say how many cookies I have consumed.  Let's just say it's been a lot.  Anyway, since I love you all and I love these cookies, I want to share the recipe with you.

You're welcome!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup Butter
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
2 teaspoons Vanilla
2 cups Flour
2-1/2 cups Oats (I used quick oats)
1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Salt
2 cups Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, and sugar. One at a time, mix in the eggs. Mix in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir. Slowly add to the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Form the dough into balls. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Am I A Crazy Cat Lady?

A few years ago, I wrote a post about my family's relationship with Stray Cats. Our newest stray at that time blessed us with four additional kittens, and my son's friends who all wanted kittens... well, that didn't happen.  My stepdaughter took one of the kittens, and we kept the rest.  So now our cat count is up to eight.  Yes, I said eight.  But I have officially decreed that eight is enough.  (Bonus points to those of you who remember that TV show.)  And I have stuck by it... the last stray who showed up on our front porch - thanks to our neighbor who thought she had to be one of ours - was dutifully delivered to the local animal shelter. She was a very sweet cat, and she really wanted to be our cat, but I was determined that I would not become the crazy cat lady.

There are very few dull moments when you own eight cats.  Someone is always annoying someone else, clawing up furniture, knocking things off shelves, or barfing up a hairball.  The excitement never ends.  Recently, one of our little guys became very ill with a urinary blockage.  He spent four days shuttling between the vet and the emergency animal clinic, where he received IV fluids and was closely monitored. We learned a lot about cats' urinary health and spent way more money than you would ever expect to spend on one little cat. The good news is that he made it through and is now back to his old self again... mischevious as ever.

Dinner time!
On important lesson that we learned from this experience is that cats should not be fed a diet of only dry cat food... and if they've experienced urinary problems, they shouldn't have dry food at all. Our cats had always been self feeding, and our job was to fill the bowls whenever they got empty. Now, everyone gets canned food, delivered twice a day. The transition wasn't easy, and a few of our guys (including the sick one) turned up their noses at first, but hunger got the best of them and everyone seems to be happy with the new routine.

Now that the cats have decided they like canned food, we go through seven to eight cans a day.  That means my weekly grocery list includes 50+ cans of cat food. Last weekend, the girl bagging my groceries asked if there was a special on cat food. When I responded with, "No, we just have lots of cats," she gave me that look.  The look that says, "Oh, you're one of those crazy cat ladies."