Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Food: let them eat cake!

I ate so much cake this weekend... 
First it was birthday cake. Someone I don't know had a party, 
we crashed it and they had delicious cake with strawberry and whipped cream filling. 

Then it was birthday cake again.
My daughter wanted a key lime cake and so I made one up. 
It was truly delicious, if I do say so. 

Last, my sweet friend, at whose request we crashed said party on Friday, brought over wedding cake from someone's wedding (again, Stranger Cake, which I now love very much). 
It was strawberry and wonderful. 

Needless to say, I gained five pounds this weekend and did not indulge in anything else fabulous.
I had loads of salad ( mine and at a restaurant). 
But, it was a holiday and I really loved every bite. 
There was no mindless eating, even of the Stranger Cake. 

So, in the words of Marie Antoinette..."Eat Cake!"
Obviously, I missed my calling as a food photographer!

Here is the recipe for our cake.
It is a very dense, rich cake almost like pound cake, except moist. Enjoy!

Delaney's Key Lime Cake

1  box white cake mix
1 can coconut milk (I used light)
1/2 cup key lime juice
3 eggs
1/4 cup veg. oil (I used olive oil, as I was out of veg.)
zest of one lime

Mix together mix, coconut milk, eggs, oil, and juice. Stir in zest.  Grease and line two 9" round cake pans with waxed paper. Fill and bake until done (approximately 32 minutes). 

Remove from oven and cool five minutes. Invert pans onto waxed paper and leave in pans, upside down until completely cooled (this will make your layers very level and somewhat flatter. Don't worry, it's all good.

1/3 cup butter
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tbl. lime juice
lime zest (I used about half a lime)

Whip butter until fluffy ( I did all of this by hand as my mixer is broken). Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Add vanilla and lime juice. Add remaining sugar, cup by cup mixing thoroughly. Add zest and stir in well.  Frosts two 9" layer cakes.  YUM!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Whatever: Birthdays and why WE own the summer

 My little baby girl turns 12 this weekend. Yes, 12. Not really a baby anymore. Actually closer to  college  than babyhood. She is my little mini-me in that she loves what I love the most. That is reading, cooking and being really silly.  
She looks  a little like me as well. But mostly she looks like herself and that self is just gorgeous. 

She was born on a Saturday morning, the weekend of Memorial day. My husband had just started his Chiropractic practice and was terrified of taking a day off. 
Our girl, in what soon would be a clear example of  a character trait of hers, started her business of labor when he got off work on Friday and was considerate enough to be born on a holiday weekend.
No work missed. That is how she has always rolled.

So, in mini-me style, her birthday kicks off summer and my birthday (I was born on Labor Day) shuts it down. We party all summer, for summer is the time of reading late into the night and cooking fabulous things that are so fresh and amazing.  Basically, it is a party for three glorious months.

So, as I drive my girl here and there all weekend and I suffer the guilt of changing my plans last minute with my little sister, I remember this...

Meat...not like me.
 We own the summer!

Happy Birthday!!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I could do this job...I am an excellent whiner!

The job I would most like to never have is President. That is a lose/lose job. No one is ever 100%  happy with what you are doing. The pressure to not make a wrong move must be almost paralyzing.  No wonder they all age a decade in 4 years. 

Here is my prediction given the last two years of his presidency.

I would love to be a reporter/commentator though. 
It would be so easy. All you have to do is whine a little.

I was listening to the radio today and heard someone say how interesting it was the Obama did not drop everything he was doing in Ireland and fly back to Missouri when that horrible tornado hit. The speaker was criticizing him for not speaking sooner than he did about the devastation. Well, I have a few choice words for that reporter. 

"Get a life."

The President of the United States is in Ireland and England trying to salvage our reputation with the last few countries who have stood with us in our "war on terror", our banking debacle that brought the world to it's knees and who have constantly had our backs in every endeavor we have engaged in since WW II. I lived in England when the USA was bombing Libya the first time and it was a little freaky knowing they were allowing us a place to fuel our planes and take off to bomb a foreign country. They were very generous given that the Lockerbie bombing had just happened and they were becoming even more a target by assisting us.

The President is the head of our country and has loads of people underneath him that do an amazingly good job. They respond to disasters, both natural and man made and report back to him. When he got all the info, he responded in kind that help was here and the United States had them in their prayer and would help all they could. BOOM! Job done. 

I don't really care what your political leanings are. I appreciate that everyone has differing opinions and that we are all free to criticize our leader, including the President when they are not doing the job they are elected for. But, seriously, that is your topic for commentary?
We had an attack on our soil and the sitting President disappeared for almost 12 hours. What was he doing? I am guessing getting briefed by those same people who are still doing their jobs now. Everyday. 

If all you have to say is " He's not responding fast enough", you are not paying attention. How about insurance costs are higher? How about foreign wars are eating up our ability to educate our youth and thereby compete in the global market? How about oil is making us a target of  insane bullies hiding behind religion?

How about get your head out of your @#% and use your three minutes to ask a serious question.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cooking: Stinky foods...warm hearts?


Love, love, love it! 

No wonder my favorite foods are Mexican, Italian,
Indian and Middle Eastern.
Garlic smells like comfort to me. 
That is, when it is cooking and not when I can smell my own breath!  Luckily, my husband shares my love and we are stinky together. 

Last night I made Garlic Shrimp. Super yummy, super easy and of course, super garlic! Truly best when served with bread, so you can soak up the yummy garlic shrimp sauce.
Here is the recipe. 

Garlic Shrimp

serves 4

1 1/2 pounds of shrimp, peeled
5 cloves garlic, minced ( I use jar garlic because life is short)
1/2-1 tsp crushed red pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

 Oven to 500. You will need a baking dish that holds the shrimp snugly in as close to a single layer as possible, but still touching. I used a 4x6 baking dish. Arrange shrimp in pan.  In small skillet, add olive oil, red pepper and garlic. Saute until just beginning to color. Pour over shrimp and stir to coat.  Salt and pepper to taste. Cover with foil and bake until almost completely done, about 10-15 minutes. Or if you are like me and you put them in a 250 oven because you didn't look while you were turhing on the oven, 20 minutes. (Will continue to cook for a minute or two after you pull them out, so don't overcook.) Squeeze lemon over shrimp to serve.   Make sure you pour some of the garlic olive oil sauce over and soak it up with your bread.Yum.

Delicious with Italian or sour dough bread and what else, Strawberry Salad!

(As we were leaving town this weekend, but are not now, my menu is pretty spartan. Salad, grilled chicken,  veggie tacos and last night's dinner are what we are eating. Almost all of it contains garlic! )

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reading: What is coming up!

I am so excited that it finally is warm! 
There is nothing like blowing off something tedious like cleaning windows, cleaning floors, cleaning anything  to sit outside in custom made Adirondack chairs with a cold beverage and a book.

(If you don't have custom made Adirondack chairs, you can sit in any chair, but it will  not be as comfy.) I am privileged enough to have a handyman b.i.l. who in a fit of insanity made me not one, but two said chairs. They are a perfect fit for me.

But I digress, yet again. 
Spring is almost over here in the sunny south and soon it will be insanely hot and only a pool or the ac will be acceptable situations in which to read. So, while it is still just warm, I plan on spending the next week or so ignoring my pitiful house (except for laundry, which never stops here) and spend my time instead reading. 

Here is the list of what I will be reading. 
The Three Weissmans of Westport
Baker Street Letters
Notes From A Small Island
The Sun Also Rises
Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistle Stop Junction (re-read)
To Kill a Mockingbird (re-read)

I love losing myself in a book. There is just something so great about escaping into someone else's life, even if just for an hour, that makes my life so much more fun. I especially love it when I finish a book and the thoughts of it consume me for days afterward. I almost mourn the end of the book. Most of the list above are "fun" books to read sitting in the sun and so I will fly through them like mental candy. That is also a treat, just kind of like wearing flip flops and tank tops, just light and  breezy. 

Think I'll start now!

PS. That is NOT my Adirondack chair.  My sister is  not married to Pablo Picasso!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cooking: Hallelujah it is spring!

There are two places to shop that I really love to visit.

Number one is a hardware store. Yep, hardware. I love to just walk around and look at all the things they sell that I have A. no idea how to use and B. had no idea I needed! You would think I am a master handyman. Nope. Just a wannabe. 

Number two is more in my wheelhouse, so to speak. Farmer's markets.
There are again all kinds of things that I never knew existed and of course, I need a lot of them. Kohlrabi? Yes! Two colored squash? Of course! I love walking around and looking at all the characters, both human and produce. It is amazing to me as an amateur gardener (I am exaggerating here) that people can get all this stuff out of the ground! AMAZING!
Last year's strawberry festival

I just happen to live in a town that has several farmer's markets including a huge one on Sunday that has music, food, crafts, and loads of produce. Also eggs, meat and my all time favorite, goat cheese! 
We go almost every week from opening day, the Sunday after Easter until closing day in December. Local food is so much better tasting and keeps the money in our area. Win/win! Plus they have fresh crack kettle corn that you buy straight out of the kettle!

This week was Strawberry Festival and we bought two large containers. I think they are gallon baskets. We ate about a million of them, I made a fresh strawberry cake, froze three large bags of them, sent them for lunch twice with the baby and of course made strawberry goat cheese salad! YUM! I hope they have more  next week as I am already jonesing for their sweetness.

I am so happy that as the weeks progress, we will have fresh greens, squash, corn, onions,  peaches and eventually tomatoes. Summer is a vegetarians dream season. Spring is the beginning of the end. Strawberries are the sign that the end is near.
Spring is here...the butterflies are back!

Here is the recipe for my strawberry goat cheese salad.
I have eaten three since Sunday!

My Favorite Salad
serves 4 (or me and Steve)

4 cups Fresh greens mix ( I used spring mix, but any will do as long as you have something a little bitter in there) 
1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed and sliced
1 large or two smaller avocados, cut into chunks ( I like one half per person, but I love avocados)
1/4 onion, sliced thinly (again, I love onions. Use at your own preference)
1/8-1/4 cup sliced raw almonds (again, I am a glutton, if I like it, there cannot be enough of it)
1 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Combine greens, strawberries and  onions. Toss to mix. Add almonds, avocados and cheese. Toss lightly so as to not mash avocados. Serve with dressing of choice. I prefer Newman's light balsamic but Italian would be good as well. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Exercising: back to the old grindstone

As you all know, 4-0 lurks just around the corner. I am excited by the fact that I have a "milestone" coming up and of course, this prompts that old "look back at my life". 

As far as my life goes, it has been a pretty good one. While I get mired down sometimes in the monotony of daily life, I do tend to be a glass half full person. There are times when I look back and am sad/mad/regretful, but mostly, I am happy. I am in a good place, both physically and emotionally. I love my family, husband and my location. So, what's  not to love?

Well, love handles, that's what!  I am a bit out of shape.  And that's what not to love. During the past 10 years, winter is when I get fit. I work out regularly, run, hit the gym, etc. About the time spring hits, I lose my momentum and bathing suit season brings on a general malaise.
I get lazy. I turn into a lizard, laying in the sun and soaking up the rays.

Except this past year. I was motivated until about mid January. 
Then my lizardness kicked in. Except it was cold and I wanted to hibernate.
Don't get me wrong, I still hit the gym, but I was mostly going through the motions. I ran occasionally and started walking/training for a half marathon. But really, I was lazy. Part of the reason was I was bored and the other,a recurring pain in my knee when I run longer than 3 miles. Sad. 

Last week, though. I turned the page/corner/leaf. I started P90X seriously.
I have a new goal: pull ups.
I started running: ran four times last week for a total of 12 miles.
I am working my way up to 30 miles a week by June 25th.
Then I start training for the Ragnar relay with some friends. 
Click here for details

This will  not be a lizard summer for me. Unless lizards do pull ups and run lots of training miles


So, here I go. Getting back in shape. Just in time for my 40th birthday. Coincidence? I think not!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reading: take a leap

I know you are not suppossed to brag about your children. Whoever came up with that rule must have had a friend who was mega competitive about her own kids and so the rule maker got fed up. Rather than being rude and saying "Shut the H#$% up about your D@#$ kid!" they made a rule for it. Sounds like a first born....

I personally think we should brag about our kids. Not in the "my kid is better than yours" way some parents fall into, but with great pride in their genuine skills and achievements. I love hearing about kids who work hard or are naturally gifted and whose parents are somewhat amazed at what their offspring has created/achieved/participated in.

But I digress...

My kids are amazing. They really are. Both are happy being dirty and  stinky, playing in the dirt and climbing trees. They are not snobs about other people and for the most part are very kind and often are awkward. They are super sarcastic and have excellent senses of humor and use it inappropriately at times. I love it!

They also are amazing readers. That is a great source of pride for me. I love to read and have been since a very early age. (Most accounts put it at three, but I distinctly remember being able to read at 4). Curiosity can be fed, boredom can be cured and brains will be strengthened by reading a book, all the way through. At their age, my preference was to read laying down with my feet up on something, like the back of the couch, a wall, a tree.

My oldest followed in my footsteps and was reading at 3. Her sister finally was able to allow us to know she could read at 5, but her teachers said she had been reading for some time. She's a little competitive and must master something before she can show that she knows how to do it. Walking made it's debut at 17 months. And I threatened her to get it done then.

My girls read like crazy.I find them sprawled everywhere in my house lately. One is rereading books that she read in 3rd grade and is venturing into that no-man's land of "books my sister read". The other is stealing my books to read. Which is fine, if she were reading Hemingway. But she wants to read my Christopher Moore books which are more like frat humor for intellectuals.

 I have the task of being her censure. And so,  I am looking into more mature books. Without graphic sex or frat humor.  We have had the birds and bees talk, but I am not ready to go into more detail yet. She recently read True Grit and To Kill A Mocking Bird and while both have violence, I felt that it was age appropriate for her. (That is a sentence I never anticipated uttering! Appropriate violence..?)

 Here is a list I have compiled thus far of books that I have read. Any suggestions for additions would be greatly appreciated!

The Da Vinci Code
The Secret Life of Bees
Fried Green Tomatoes
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (not sure about this one)

Help a sister out!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cooking: the food of our family

It is no secret I love to cook. That is a lie. I love to cook fun things. 

Dinner six days a week is really monotonous.  However, I do it  because A: it is cheaper than going out and B: it is healthier than going out.  Most of the time, I have six things we eat and I rotate it. Since the new year though, I have tried to do one new ethnic food a week. Sometimes, I fall short and we have tacos. No one complains. We are really boring!

All of my personal obligations have cleared the calendar. I have nothing to train for, no soccer to drive to, no plays to review ( last one was lacking, but a few of the actors, mine included were fabulous and showed their Bolden training) and most of all, no parties to plan or attend.  Now I can get back to the business of looking for a job and working on my home. Notice I said " home" not "house".  I am working on the house side doing such things as cleaning and painting baseboards and rehanging art, etc.  But, I am also working on the home things. Better planned meals, back to sitting down as a family and watching movies and hanging out in the yard playing cornhole and hopefully putting up a tether ball stand. Fun stuff that make our house a home.

 So, on the meals note...here is our menu for the week and a recipe for super easy, super yummy soup.

Casa Swann 15 days til summer countdown menu

  • Ravioli soup
  • BBQ chicken in the crockpot, strawberry and greens salad, baked sweet potatoes
  • Coconut curried shrimp
  • Fish tacos with slaw
  • Grilled chicken/vegetable pita sandwiches with tzatziki sauce
  • Grilled chicken salad
Recipe of the week (new thing I am starting). This recipe was originally a weight watchers diet recipe that I lost the recipe for and then just made up. It is easy because it takes very little time and the ingredients can be found in your pantry/freezer for something quick and yummy. Also really, really good the next day, but the broth is absorbed so it is more like pasta with spinach. Also, I don't measure, so this is all ballpark...especially the garlic!

Ravioli Soup
1 large or 2 small onions, diced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 package frozen chopped spinach or 1 large container fresh, chopped
1 container of vegetable broth (I think it is 4 cups)
2 packages frozen ravioli or tortellini (you can also use the shelf stable kind, it is delicious) *
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
 2 tbl. dried Italian seasoning (I use Alchemy Mediterranean or Italian)

heat about 1 tbl. olive oil in a pan. Add onion and cook until softened and turning desired shade of doneness.  Add garlic and seasoning and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and broth and  reduce heat to medium/low and cook about 10 minutes or until tomatoes start to break up. Add spinach and cook an additional 10 minutes. Reduce heat and add pasta and cook about 3 minutes or according to package directions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Yum.

*We don't eat much cheese and try to eat really low calorie, so I usually get the vegan ravioli. However, I have made it with cheese and it is great as well. The beauty of this recipe is that it is easy to change up. Chicken broth, beef ravioli, etc. can be substituted for a delicious change. I think black bean ravioli and Mexican seasoning would be good as well!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Whatever: Motherhood or how I became crazy

The M word. Mother.
I  never thought I wanted to be a mother. 
I had other plans, other ideas and other wants for myself.  I wanted to travel the world, live life out of a duffel bag and  have a fancy two seater car.  I wanted a clean house and adult vacations.
Motherhood, at least when it happened, was not one of my plans.

what can I say...I loved that show Hart to Hart!

Motherhood was for those girls who needed something to fill their lives.
I thought you had to be crazy to want to become a mother. 
Little. Did. I. Know.

I had other plans, but I truly believe that God had plans for me that included getting out of my head,
out of my comfort zone and out of my selfishness.
Plans that included loving someone and being willing to sit on the sideline while they shine. Being willing to walk around with poo/spit up/ dirt/ gum on my person and be okay with it because it came out of a little person that came out of me. Plans that involved being driven  more than just a little bit crazy
and still striving to be the best I can be so that I am the best example for someone else's happiness. 

I would like to say I came to it easily. I didn't. I would like to say I am a natural. I am not. 
I turned around when my oldest was 6 months old and was shocked that she was sitting there in her highchair. I started bawling! It hit me, " I am a mother."
 I still find myself at a loss for words when it comes to raising my daughters. Sometimes that is a good thing.

 As it turns out, I love being a mother. 
Not every second of every day, but most of the seconds of every hour. 
My kids are pretty great. They are kind and thoughtful people. They are interesting and they are funny. 
I hope that when they grow up they will say that I was funny, diligent, patient (doubt I'll hear that one), kind,
 a little bit crazy (but in the good way), an excellent cook, a good friend and  most of all that I loved them.

Happy Mother's day to all the great  mothers in the world.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Whatever: May?

May 1st rushed by me in a flurry of laundry, cleaning out defrosted freezers and trying to get back to normal. But yesterday, as I wrote the date on my check, I realized...It's MAY!  How in the world did that happen? 

Seriously? It's May! May is the month of field day and the last day of school. May is the month summer starts and we wear flip flops and bathing suits. I am so not ready for a bathing suit. May is the month my oldest gets older and I decide what my summer drink will be. (Leaning toward vodka tonics, but that is so unoriginal.)

I have lots to do before the kids get out of school in 23 short days. Firm up, clean up, paint, run and lots, lots more. 

 Here is the to do and the done list update for May. 

BIG LIST  2011
#1 Eat less sugar: doing really well with this except for my wine intake.
#2 Cook a new ethnicity once a week :have hit Greece, India, Thailand, Mexico, now looking into Canada. Do they have a cuisine?
#3 Paint the doors and trim in my house: started, but not finished
#4 Read 100 books : heading for a replenishment today.
#5 Find inner peace I must have been drunk when I came up with this one!
#6 Learn 60 Bible verses only 52 to go!
#7 Get a new hairstyle  (check!)
#8 Reduce my carbon foot print : 1 week without electricity helped this one along!
#9 Reduce my spending: check!
#10 love more : post lent I am vowing to not be a basher. It is hard, but I am making progress.
#11 Train for a half marathon DONE!!!!! Doing a super big race next!
#12 learn to swim : still fighting with this one, but as I am going to the Keys in July, will have it done come hell or high water (get it "High Water!"?)
# 13 Embrace my inner craftiness: moving art around is crafty, right? 

 I have learned a few things in the last month.

#1Walked a half marathon with my sisters and sister-in-law last weekend. Can now check that off the bucket list. Will only run them from now on. 
#2 If you look around, there are Bible verses EVERYWHERE. Read at least 5 different ones on the race course last weekend. 
#3 My daughter steals my books. 
#4 Hotels with complimentary happy hour(s) are worth whatever you pay to stay in them.

Happy May!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Oh. my. gosh.

Well, as I am sure YOU have had power for the last 5 days, you must know what happened in my neck of the woods. We had a little storm or 4 and many lost trees, power and more. Hundreds of lives were lost and millions of dollars of property was destroyed. In my city alone, 75,000 were without power. In our town and surrounding area, the death toll was more than 30.

We were very, very  lucky and lost only limbs of trees and power. The power was off from Wednesday morning until Sunday very late and it was like living in a dream where nothing works right and you keep doing the same things over and over.

I was lucky enough to have planned to go out of town and be with my sisters and s.i.l. in a hotel for the weekend, so my husband bore the brunt of the weariness that comes with no power. It jolts you  into the reality that you cannot control everything and that you are putty in the hands of nature's forces. I think if you still don't believe in global warming and the severe weather that comes with climate change, you need to go to Tuscaloosa, Ringgold, or just my neighborhood where 100 year old oaks were ripped from the grown by their roots.

Now that I have some perspective that comes from sleeping in an air conditioned room in my own bed for a good 8 hours, I realize that there are some good things that came out of this. Glass half full, if you will.
They are the following:

#1 My kids learned that laundromats are actually a really nice thing to visit when you need 5 loads of laundry done and you don't have electricity. They were a little leery of "the unknown", but  were very impressed by the efficiency with which we got our laundry done (5 loads wash, dried and folded in an hour and a  half). They also got to see some people that don't look or sound like us, but were just as happy to be doing their laundry in a well lit, nice place.

#2 I will now stock up on food that does not  have to be refrigerated or microwaved when I  know a storm is coming.   Microwave popcorn...not good in a power outage. But fruit, crackers and nutrition bars are excellent. We had lots of those. We do have a gas grill and cooked pizza, scrambled eggs, salmon burgers and boiled water on it. However, we had to eat out a lot. The grocery stores were open after the first day, but really, who wants to go shopping?

#3 Thank goodness we own cast iron pots and pans. They are amazing on the grill! They were worth every penny we spent on them.

#4 We had flashlights.  My husband had bought and horded flashlights for a situation just like this.

#5 The government is not all that bad. As my friend Ken said last night, " You can complain all day about the city government, but when your power is back on  in just a few days and you are safe, you have to think that is amazing."  As far as I know, we had no looting or violence from the power being out.

#6 Nothing is important as your family. We were lucky and did not have much storm damage, but many people did. Families lost mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and more. We did not even lose a cat. (They are not easy to wrangle and were not in the basement with us during tornado number two.)

Overall, we were super lucky. My kids were safe in their schools during the first storm. We were all safe during the remaining ones as well. But the reality is, we cannot control nature. It controls us. We get involved in our daily lives and sort of sleep walk through them. Nature has a way of waking us up and putting things in perspective. Thanks, Nature!