Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5 Years Ago Tonight...

5 Years Ago Tonight..

..I was pregnant with Charlotte, though I wouldn't confirm it for two more weeks.

..I attended my last adults-only New Year's Eve party at a friend's apartment. Though I'm sure there will be more as the years go on.

..I was the same size as today. My two remaining BC (Before Charlotte) jeans still fit nicely (though they've become painting pants as their styles are a lot outdated).

..My hair was several shades lighter, naturally. I'm still natural, though some days I'm tempted...

..I could go for days without either doing laundry or feeling guilty about not doing it.

..Our largest monthly bill, after the mortgage, was my husband's car payment (at less than 1/3 the amount). Today, it's the daycare bill, at about 95% of the amount. And considering the likely cost of private school tuition, that's not going to change.

..The only surgery I had ever had was wisdom teeth removal. Now I have two c-sections "under my belt".

..My most visible scar was a small ding in the middle of my forehead (brick hearth, age 2). Today, besides the c-section mark, I carry 4 on my heart. One for each of Trystan's surgeries.

..I had no blog, had never kept a journal for more than one lone summer abroad. This post is number 397.

..I had never written more than a few pages that weren't required for school assignments or work, and very little of it fiction. Today, I have completed one full-length novel, and am halfway through a second. With a few other, smaller bits here and there.

..My thoughts of one day becoming a published author were saved for late-night insomniac spells. Today, well, they're not much closer to reality. But I admit them in public. Occasionally.

..I had whole weekends of boredom. Now, I have whole vacations of playdates, museum trips, arts and crafts, and tickling sessions.

5 years ago, I got a goodnight kiss. Tonight, I'll have gotten 3.

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday Cookbook Series -- New Year's Edition

I have always found that drinking is best enjoyed at home or at a friends' house. No tipping. No smoking. No loud music or migraine-inducing strobe lights. And, when we're the hosts, no driving! Oh yeah, and for the cost of two bar-drinks, you can buy an entire bottle of liquor (and sometimes mixers as well).

We have enjoyed this book for years. We keep it in the wet bar in our basement (you know, that row of countertops where we store all the accumulated junk to dangerous to leave in toddler reach...). Ok, so for most of the last 5ish years my husband has enjoyed this book--I was too busy gestating and lactating to partake. Tonight, the sky's the limit! (er, well, my liver's the limit...and did I mention that all that pregnancy and breastfeeding pretty much killed what little tolerance I had? One, maybe two drinks for me and I'll be passed out cold....)

Happy New Year's everyone! Drink responsibly. (yes, I had to say it. I'm a parent, darnit!)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Booklist Update--2008 Tally

I have finished two additional books in the past week or so.

In Danger by Alison Kent. This one I started back on Election day, reading one of the two novellas it contains. I read the other recently. I'm new to Alison Kent this year, and I find her writing fascinating. Contemporary romance with a very steamy (read: explicit) edge.

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. Amusingly, I finished this one on Christmas night. I know its not new, and no, I haven't seen the movie. It's not really one of his better books and was rather flat. But the idea was good, and I could see how it could translate to the screen rather well. Maybe next year, I'll dig up the flick!

I haven't been counting them, but there are several other books that I'm adding to my tally for the end of the year. One category is non-fiction. From writer's guides to books about Chivalry and Mesoamerica, I've read (or at least partially read) quite a few. These are hard to count because I don't always read every page of a non-fiction work, just skip around to the pertinent chapters/sections.

I've also begun (and not quite finished) several fiction books. One, Brisinger by Paolini, I've just started and will definitely finish. Several I began and just couldn't bring myself to finish. I won't name names.

General Fiction - 9
Contemporary Romance - 11
Sci Fi/Fantasy - 5
Historical Romance - 8
Women's Lit (Chick Lit) - 3
Nonfiction (read or mostly read) - 6
Partial Fiction (in progress or abandoned) - 5

Fiction (completed) - 36
Fiction (not completed) - 5
Nonfiction - 6

47 books!
Wow. Good thing I'm not including all the kids books. I'm quite positive that would knock the total well over 100. And lest you think my kids are all animal sounds and baby board books, I will point out that I've read parts of at least 5 chapter books (above the early readers, not quite pre-teen "young adult") including several in the Disney Fairy series and several Magic Treehouse books. I'm not sure whether I'm anticipating or dreading the day that Charlotte no longer requires us to read outloud to her before bed every night.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wii've been good

Merry Christmas! So what I'm a little late. Hold on, the 12 days of Christmas start on Christmas day, so I'm perfectly on time. It's Four Calling Birds Day, didntchaknow :)

This year is proof that even without leaving the metro area, Christmas can be exhaustingly busy. I'm off for two solid weeks, and in week one, I've snagged about two hours of sitting time. Cumulative. The rest has been running from store to post office to store, cleaning, cooking, and driving around. And it's not quite done yet.

Tomorrow is Monday, and daycare is open (and we're paying whether the kids show or not). So, tomorrow is messy-and-dangerous-jobs-around-the-house day. I'm painting a bathroom (after yet another run to the post office). Hubby will be having fun with the miter saw and some baseboard moulding that has been hanging out in our bedroom since last summer when we replaced our bathroom floor. Sounds relaxing, no?

Yes, all that sarcasm is (not) concealing a bit (lot) of envy for people who have nothing to do over Christmas break. I've seen two or three blog posts already about folks who are bored. I'll trade you! Really! Just one day? Please?

In case you didn't guess, our big family present was a Wii. No, not the fit. I haven't had enough energy to wait in line at the crack of dawn somewhere to buy the one and only set that each store sells per week. Maybe by my birthday we'll be able to actually order the dumb things. Anywho.

We have an older Xbox, but decided against the 360 because we just weren't thrilled with the selection of games. Charlotte is 4, and terribly interested in all things computerish and gamish, and buying a system that seems to specialize in violence and black just seemed silly. She's too old for us to keep away from a gaming system, and we're too exhausted after the hour-and-a-half struggle to put her to bed every night to wait until sleepytime to play. The Wii seems to have a lot of happy, child-friendly games, and is active enough that we won't feel horribly guilty for allowing her to play. She's already a pro at baseball, bowling, and is working on a Barbie game.

I like the tennis. And I actually beat my husband at boxing. Multiple times. Seriously, this is a major accomplishment, given that the guy has a supernatural ability to see a computer game once and intuitively guess all of the massively complex maneuver combinations within 5 minutes. Up-Down-Back-Left-OtherLeft-Right-axyz. Now why didn't I try that first? Oh yeah, because I'm still trying to figure out which guy on the screen I'm moving!!!

Our biggest problem is that our package came with 3 controllers. And Trystan wants to play too. And no, he will NOT accept a battery-less tv controller as a substitute. He's short, not stupid :)

Anyway, this is long and rambly, and going nowhere. And I think it's been a while since I posted something like this. Fun :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series--Christmas Cookies

This week, in lieu of another printed cookbook, I am sharing my two favorite Christmas cookies (that share a single icing recipe).

The first are called Cookie Monster Cookies. The recipe orginated in a Sesame Street activity book when I was a very very small child. Our family has been making and decorating these every Christmas (and many Easters and other cookie-worthy occasions) for nearly 30 years now. We always mix up several colors of icing and cover these with sprinkles or redhots. Note that the batter is quite heavy and well-suited to a stand mixer (or else, to strong biceps!)

Cookie Monster Cookies
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time until well blended. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter/sugar mixture until fully incorporated.

Chill at least one hour.

Roll dough out 1/4" thick on a floured surface and cut with cookie cutters.

Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.

Cool and decorate.

Icing (also used for Gingerbread Cookies, below)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
(optional) few drops food coloring

Use less milk or more sugar for thicker icing.

The next recipe is a rich, spicy gingerbread cookie recipe. It's not quite as traditional in my family, but Charlotte and I have been making these together for several years now. She especially likes the step where you add the baking soda. It reacts with the molasses to produce bubbles, like a sticky, spicy homemade volcano :)

Gingerbread Cookies
2/3 cup full flavor molasses (not black strap)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 2 tbsp pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 3/4-4 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

In a large (at least 4-5 quart) sauce pan, bring molasses, brown sugar, and spices to a boil.

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (this will puff up, so make sure your pan has extra space!).

Stir in butter 3 pieces at a time until melted. Add egg

Add 3 3/4 cup of flour and salt.

Preheat the oven to 325 and butter cookie sheets.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough, adding enough remaining flour until it is soft (30 sec to 1 minute).

Roll half the dough at a time 1/8-1/4" thick. Keep the other half wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature. Note you may want to wait until the dough cools to almost room temperature before cutting your first batch, or they will be very hard to move to the cookie sheets.

Cut out cookies and bake on buttered sheets 10 to 12 minutes.

Cool on rack and ice with the recipe above (I like to leave the icing white on such a dark colored cookie).

Christmas Cards

How I determine my Christmas Card list:

1) Sort through all of last years' Christmas card envelopes whose return addresses are legible.
2) Hmmm...there are duplicates. Maybe I have a couple of years worth of envelopes in this box.
3) Remove the addresses that didn't have a name. I could send them a card, but I wouldn't know how to address them...
4) Pull out old file box of addresses from wedding invitations. There might be a dozen or so that haven't moved in the past 8 years.
5) Open up three different email accounts, looking for saved messages containing change-of-address notes. Also try Evite.
6) In desperation, try online phonebooks.
7) Plan to hand-deliver a few
8) Ok, so I *know* I've been to some of these people's homes. Oh well. I don't think I have any friends who would feel offended for not receiving a card. Especially the ones who haven't sent us one in the past (or else I would have found their address in step 1).

Also, for anyone who receives a card from us and is wondering about stamp and return-address placement: Charlotte helped.

I did type all of the addresses into a spreadsheet this year. After hand-addressing envelopes. I think I should print it out and stick it into my box, or else I'll lose the file by next year...

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Songs

I love Christmas music. Although it was a little startling when one of the local radio stations turned to Christmas back in October, I admit that I've been listening off and on since then. And I have all of our Christmas CD's loaded into my iPod--somewhere around 15-20 CD's worth of holiday cheer.

Here are a few of my favorites. How about you? What are you listening to this year?

  • Oh Holy Night by Josh Groban (Anyone know where I can buy the MP3 of just this song? iTunes doesn't seem to have it and I already own every other song on the CD its on....)

  • The Chipmunks Christmas Song

  • Blue Christmas by Elvis

  • Carol of the Bells by Manheim Steamroller (I danced a Christmas show to this song in color guard in high school)

  • White Christmas by Bing Crosby

  • Little Saint Nick by the Beach Boys

  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Frank Sinatra

  • Happy Christmas by John Lennon

  • The Nutcracker (all of it!) by Tchaikovsky

  • The Ghosts of Christmas Eve by Trans Siberian Orchestra

Friday, December 19, 2008

I have not updated my reading list in a long time. Mostly because I haven’t finished a book in a long time. Long for me. I took almost a month to finish one book. With a sick kid forcing me to spend hours on the couch this week, pretending to be a cushion for him to sleep on, I’ve managed to finish a second.

Courting Miss Adelaide by Janet Dean. This is a Harlequin Love Inspired romance. Talk about a sub-genre that I normally avoid. I don’t read much (any) “category” romance (i.e. the monthly Harlequins that the grocery store carries). And I don’t read inspirational Christian. I am Christian, yes, but not the bible-thumping “the answer to everything is in the Scriptures” type. Actually, I’m Catholic, which is not considered “Christian” as far as Christian publishing is concerned. Anywho. Not to say that this book was bad. It was very enjoyable, actually. And the inspirational part wasn’t terribly heavy-handed or I might have never finished it. I do admit that the main reason I read it is because it is set in Noblesville, IN in the late 1800’s—which is about 15 minutes away from where I grew up.

Mr. Cavendish, I Presume by Juila Quinn. This is the follow up to The Lost Duke of Wyndham. I’d never read Julia Quinn before The Lost Duke, but I will gladly seek her out again. Warning, that this book does not really stand on its own without The Lost Duke. I’d have been lost, or a little bored, without having read the first book. There are too many references, many shared scenes, and a whole lot of context that you’d miss. I would almost say that the two should have been one single volume. But the shared scenes are re-told in a different viewpoint, and I think the story would be missing something without the multiple views. And, of course, there seems to be a huge push in Romance and in publishing in general to get away from longer novels. Sad, really, as I really miss some of the 600+ page historicals I used to read in high school. But then, no one asked my opinion.

Sometime by the end of the year, I want to make an accounting of both the non-fiction books that I've read (or mostly read), and of a couple of fiction books that I've started and never finished this year. I have a couple of anthologies of novellas that I've only read parts of, and at least one book that I abandoned altogether (yes, it was that annoying...and I have its two follow-up books in pristine condition...Ebay here I come)

In the mean time, here's the running totals (both of the books this time went into my "historical" category).

General Fiction - 8
Contemporary Romance - 10
Sci Fi/Fantasy - 5
Historical Romance - 8
Women's Lit (Chick Lit) - 3
Total 34 books

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Kristi's Own

Instead of my regularly scheduled Cookbook, this week I'm offering up a recipe. I made these cookies for a cookie exchange at work, and am quite happy with how they turned out. The recipe was adapted from an Almond Biscotti recipe (which I also made) in the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Enjoy!

Mocha Biscotti
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, or 2oz by weight) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp Kahlua
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips


  1. Oven to 350. Use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat to line a sheet pan.

  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and instant coffee. Set aside.

  3. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and then the Kahlua.

  4. Slowly mix in flour mixture until well combined. Add chocolate chips.

  5. Split the dough in half. Using floured hands, press each half into a 2x13 inch loaf, and place side by side on the sheet pan, allowing a few inches in between.

  6. Bake 35 minutes or until golden and just beginning to crack on top.

  7. Cool 10 minutes on the pan on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 325.

  8. Transfer the cookie-loaves to a cutting board and slice each on the diagonal into ½ inch wide slices. Lay the slices, cut side up, close together back on the baking pan (you can re-use the parchment)

  9. Bake at 325 about 15 minutes until crisp on both sides. Turn once while baking. Let cool completely.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We were overdue for forced time off...

Back in college, it was common for two roommates to go to the campus health services with the same symptoms, and to receive two different diagnoses.

Over the weekend, we had dinner and playtime with friends. Their son was running a bit of a fever, and Trystan had a slight cough. I'm not super panicky about health issues now (I think Trystan's issues have sort of killed off that instinct in me). He handles colds ok.

Come Sunday afternoon, he woke up from his nap cranky, which is way out of character. Monday morning he was almost warm--not quite running a fever, but if we sent him to daycare, someone would be leaving early to pick him up. He stayed home with my husband, and by afternoon was running a fever. I called the pedi and set an appointment for Tuesday morning.

Driving sucked on Tuesday. Our pediatrician is wonderful, but when we selected her after Char was born, she was 10 minutes away. Two moves later, and its 30 minutes with no traffic. Its worse in sleet. Oh, and my windshield washer fluid is now freezing up when I'm on the highway. Which makes it really hard to see unless I crank the interior temp to 75 and turn the front defrost on high.

Trystan's not a big fan of the doctor's office. I don't blame him. He had a strep test (swab to the throat), ear check, pulse ox reading (small device touching his finger...not the least painful, but he freaked), a breathing treatment (Trystan hates masks), and a RSV test (swab to both sides of the nose).

The verdict: RSV. Respiratory virus that can cause pneumonia. Which accounts for his fever and nasty cough. The treatment: there's not much of one. We got a prescription for oral steroids which can help the lungs, especially as he has asthma (especially when sick). Otherwise, just tylenol/ibuprofin, xopenex as needed, and keep him comfortable. And home. Its contagious through saliva, and dangerous for babies (like at daycare).

He spent the remainder of the afternoon glued to my chest, protesting violently if I put him down to do such selfish things as use the restroom or order pizza by phone. Light diarrhea (that was compounded by his coughing) made his butt raw. That didn't help in the least.

By bedtime last night, he was improving, and willingly laid down in his bed to sleep. He only woke up twice last night. Maybe three times. Better than the every-hour night Monday.

All in all, though, it was a better day than Amanda had. I'm willing to bet that her Little Man's pneumonia was kicked off by RSV (or aggravated by it). I don't know who started this little germ fest, but I'm fairly certain that our sons traded them over the weekend. I'm glad that her son's doing better and getting treated. And I'm happy that I haven't ended up in the ER with Trystan again (I've been there plenty, thank you, and I'm hoping that my frequent flyer points are expiring soon).

Today, it was my husband's turn to stay home again, and it seems that Trystan is improving (I heard a rumor of an actual smile, and perhaps a few minutes of playing!). I'm taking another sick day tomorrow. Hubby's probably taking Friday off. In theory, he can work from home, but not while attached to a toddler (or while aforementioned toddler attempts to pound on the keyboard), so he'll be limited to whatever naptimes Trystan agrees to take, or on asking for babysitting favors.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Faking It

Let’s talk trees. I saw an article in Sunday’s Post-Dispatch that claimed that, despite (or perhaps because of) the current economy, that sales of “real” Christmas trees are up this year over last.

Yes, I put the “real” in quotes on purpose. You see, I’m not a fan of killing trees for decorative purposes. I know that many people disagree (and one of my readers even has ties to a family Christmas tree farm). I don’t wish any harm to family-run businesses, and nor do I wish to ban the practice of cutting trees for those who prefer the organic variety. I just won’t buy one myself.

I just don’t see the appeal. ‘Course, I have reasons to avoid the undead variety. Mainly, I’m allergic to them. That oft-lauded pine fresh scent makes my sinuses clog and my eyes water. Thanks, I prefer my décor hypoallergenic.

Growing up, we almost always had a man-made tree. I fondly remember assembling it every year—matching up branches by colored dots that indicated their row, how my dad had to put on the top section because we were too short. It always looked symmetrical, dropped no needles on the carpet, and was guaranteed to fit in our living room, year after year. No saws, no tying-to-the-roof-of-the-car. So, for me, nostalgia is a manmade tree, that looks pristine from Thanksgiving until Twelfth Night.

One year, we did have a “real” tree. There was much wrangling to make the thing fit (they always look smaller outside). There was much vacuuming. There were frequent reminders to water the tree. And then there were the cats. Our cats loved it. They climbed it. They tipped it over. Multiple times. There was more vacuuming, and ornament reassembly. And lots of sneezing.

The tree we had for like 15 years growing up came with me to St. Louis for a year or two, as my mom bought a bigger-and-better tree (that she’s still using) The stand was broken, and several branches had gone missing, and so I eventually replaced it with a $40 one from Garden Ridge (one with only 3 pieces plus the base—no branch sorting required). That lasted for like 8-10 years until I sprang for a pre-lit one last year (which is just another 3-piece tree with the lights already strung). I still have the Garden Ridge tree, and should we decide to set up two in the house, it would cost us nothing but time (we have more than enough ornaments for 3 full size trees if we really wanted).

So, how about ya’ll? Wood or Metal? Any opinions? Feel free to bash artificial trees. I don’t mind lively debate and good-natured mockery. Especially about such deep, personal, religious beliefs as this.

(I’d stick a poll on my blog, but those darned things always crash the web browsers on the two main computers I use. Completely different computers running different browser versions even. Maybe its just me. Sorry, you must actually comment in order to vote)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An exciting Sunday

A funny thing happens when you actually wash, dry, and fold all of your laundry. You run out of hangers.

Seriously. Well, there are a few of the throw-away kind that come with clothes (the few I haven't managed to break or toss).

And, there are kid-sized hangers left. Mostly because despite my best efforts to toss those crappy store kind (or leave them with the stores), they have established some sort of breeding program in my children's closets.

Oh, and my husband has 47 sweaters. I counted.

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas...

People of St. Louis: You may all rest easy this winter. I have just guaranteed that there will be no snow this year. And possibly next year too.

In fact, I've triply guaranteed it. Both children now own snow pants and boots in sizes that might last even through next winter. And I actually own, for the first time since childhood, a pair of snow boots in my own size bought from the women's section of a shoe store (website).

For years, if I needed to tromp through snow, or (heaven forbid), shovel the driveway, I'd borrowed my husband's boots. They looked silly. They felt silly. Luckly (for shoe-borrowing) he doesn't have large feet--about a 8.5 men's. Which is about 2 sizes bigger than my own 8-8.5 women's. There aren't enough socks in the house to fix that discrepancy properly.

About two years ago, I picked up a pair on a clearance rack that was marked "women's boots", in a size 8. I didn't try them on for some reason. Oops. I'm pretty sure they're a men's size 8, because even with multiple pairs of thick socks, my feet still slosh around in them.

This year, after trudging after the kids through an early snowfall (where Charlotte wore boots that were too small, and Trystan wore tennis shoes with extra socks), and with both children in jeans, I decided enough was enough. Even if St. Louis doesn't get as much snow as Indy did, we still get a couple of good snowfalls a year, and the kids like to play. And my husband is not always home to shovel the driveway.

In case you're wondering, Target had snowpants pretty cheap a couple of weeks ago. Their boots weren't super cheap, but either they'll last an extra year, or we'll be able to pass them along to other kiddos. For me, I found some on Land's End's website. Not that cheap, but my feet don't grow. And I was positive that they were the right size this time!

Now, we sit back and wait to see whether I wasted my money :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kitchen Conversions

1 pound of butter = 2 cups
1 cup = 16 tablespoons
1 pound = 16 ounces
1 pound of butter = 32 tablespoons

Remember how I bought 4 pounds of butter before Thanksgiving? That's how it comes, from Sam's club. 4 pounds at a time. And, they're not divided into individual sticks, but rather 4 individually wrapped bricks of butter. And for about half the cost of Land O Lakes at Schnucks (and the Sam's quality is comparable or better...which is much better than the Schnucks generic brand, that I won't buy any more). I paid about $8.50 for all that.

Well, I didn't really need 4 pounds for Thanksgiving Dinner. More like 5 sticks (just over 1 pound). But, it was cheaper than the grocery store, and butter can last a while, and we're getting into Christmas Cookie Baking season.

The trouble is, without the individual sticks with their nifty markings that make it easy to measure (cut), I have to actually convert tablespoons and cups in my head into ounces. I do have a kitchen scale, so measuring by weight is no big deal.

Except when I convince myself that 1 pound = 16 ounces = 16 tablespoons, and I double the amount of butter in a recipe. No wonder my blueberry scones are so yummy. And so very very very soft and crumbly.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Today’s cookbook is a yearly series, of which I own three. My older sister bought me my first subscription to Cooking Light magazine several years ago as a gift, and I just keep renewing it. The magazine is wonderful, full of articles on fitness and travel, and of course, food. They have lots and lots of recipes using interesting ingredients, complete with the nutritional breakdown. And, as the magazine name implies, all recipes are designed with healthly living in mind. If you think it’s all dry salads and crunchy granola, you’re dead wrong. Cakes, pies, breads, rich meats. They do everything. But, they try to make the ingredient lists sensible, and they offer reasonable portion sizes, and advice on how to choose ingredients.

The Cooking Light yearly cookbooks are a collection of every recipe from every issue of the magazine during the whole year. It typically comes out around late November, about the same time as the December issue of the magazine. Their indexes are great, by recipe or ingredient. They compile a years worth of menu suggestions into one section, which makes planning easy. While they don’t include the articles on exercise techniques or beauty, they do include some of the cooking features.

I have three of these now, 2007, 2008, and 2009 which just arrived a week ago (they’re numbered a year ahead…2009 has recipes from the 2008 magazines). Yes, it’s doubling-up as I also have all of the magazine issues for the year, but the books are a bit more compact than 12 magazines, and made to last. Last night, we had a chicken pot pie out of the 2007 book, and I have the ingredients for a turkey sausage pasta bake to make in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The cost of food

Its no wonder I think I spend so much on groceries. For some reason, that’s something I’ve been fretting over for a while. If I run the numbers at the end of the month, I’m shocked by how much food we ate. We eat enough to purchase another house.

Gone are the days when we ate in restaurants 3-4 times a week. Long gone. But our family does like to eat, and we try to eat yummy food that’s relatively healthy. And, because I’m a cheapskate who’s terrified by the monthly grocery bill, I try to cook a lot from scratch and not rely so much on mixes and kits and pre-prepared foods.

Also, I went grocery shopping last night, and I have a lot of prices fresh in my mind. So just now, I thought I’d do a little exercise in figuring how much I’m spending on food for today. I’m estimating on some things, as I don’t have all of the packages and prices in front of me

Today’s menu:
Oatmeal with brown sugar and cinnamon - 20cents (Note I buy the generic brand oatmeal in the large canisters, not packets. And most of the cost estimated here is the brown sugar)
Cranberry juice – 50cents (100% juice cranberry/pomegranate blend. I’m picky.)
Breakfast Total 70 cents

microwave dinner – $1.25 (these were on sale 8/$10)
grapefruit – $1 (it’s a huge white grapefruit, and I’m going to eat the whole thing)
cookies – 50cents – This is one of my massively estimated numbers. They’re homemade, and my price estimate might actually be high.
Soda – 25cents. It would be higher if bought from the grocery store, but we picked up some at Sams recently
Lunch total $3

Dinner (chili)
1 lb ground beef $3 (another estimate, I buy it on sale and freeze, but this is in the ballpark)
1 28oz can chili beans $1.50
1 28oz can diced tomatoes $1 (I think it might have been cheaper, but close enough)
1 bell pepper $1.50
1 onion 10cents (the bags were $10/10 before Thanksgiving)
Chili powder .25 (another big estimate. I pay by the ounce from Penzeys, and have no idea how much it costs per pot)
Tortilla chips $1.33 (we’ll eat about 1/3 of a bag or so, maybe)
Shredded cheese 50cents (estimating 1 / 4 of a bag at 3/$5)
Water (free)
Dinner total: $9.18. I’m not eating the entire pot myself. My share comes to approximately $2.30

Total for the day = $6

If all 4 of us in the family at the same cost in food, every day of the year, then we would spend:
$6/person/day * 4 people * 7 days in a week * 52 weeks in a year = $8736/year = $728/month.

No wonder I’m freaked about the cost of food. Today’s menu is pretty cheap. No steak, no fancy ingredients. I don’t drink much milk, but the kids do, which would change the cost of today’s meals.

There are a few places I could cut back here: pb&j instead of the tv dinner, a less expensive piece of fruit, make a larger pot of chili using dried beans instead of canned (and use leftovers for future lunches), etc.

There are also easy places to spend more money: boxed cereal instead of oatmeal, add a cup of yogurt (which I frequently do), actually account for the cup of tea and few squares of chocolate I have stashed in my desk :)

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Scenic Route

The projected high temperature today in St. Louis is about five times greater than Indianapolis was when we arrived on Friday. If I ever need a little dose of winter to break up the monotony of fall, it’s only a four hour drive away.

Except when it’s a six hour drive. I’ve probably made the trek from here to the frozen tundra where I grew up sixty times. It’s easy, really, Take I-70 east to Indianapolis. Optimally, to get to the northwest side where I grew up, take a left at the airport, and follow the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (er, 465) to where I-69 begins (it only goes one way from Indy—North). Exit 5 is Fishers.

The trickiest part of the whole trip is to not miss the exit from 70 onto 70 just outside of St. Louis. No, that’s not a typo. Thanks to the spaghetti bowl that is downtown St. Louis, three major highways converge to cross the various bridges by the arch, and once you’re East Side, there’s one small sign and a one-lane exit ramp that allows you to continue west and avoid Chicago. Did I mention that the sign is really easy to miss, especially when you’re distracted by kids or other drivers or just stuck behind a semi? Or reading a book, which is what I was doing. Normally, my husband hates it when I tell him which route to take when he’s driving. But sometimes I’m just as annoying when I fail to pay attention.

About thirty minutes north of the Lou, my husband needed a potty break. He returned bearing a map of Illinois and bad news. We were headed towards the wrong city. We had two options: turn around or re-calculate our route. Either way was likely to add an hour to our original ETA. But what the heck, we were well stocked with sodas, goldfish crackers, and animated DVD’s. We went north.

55 North from St. Louis to Springfield, 72 East from Springfield through Decatur and onto Champagne. 74 continues east from Champagne. And then, instead of sticking to interstates and heading south back to 465, I decided that we could try a state highway. 74 to Indiana 32, all the way east through Lebanon, Westfield, Noblesville, to where it hits 37, just 5 minutes from my Mom’s house.

According to Yahoo Maps, the detour added about an hour and fifteen minutes to the drive. According to our windows, it also added quaint views of old-fashioned small towns and lonely farm houses, decked out in holiday lights. We passed two separate “Santa Shacks” where folks were lined up for photos and free cocoa. Downtown Noblesville is quite picturesque, with the courthouse square and over a century’s worth of archictectural styles in the surrounding residential areas. It’s been a very long time—a decade or more—since I’ve driven around there, and it was fun to see what was still the same, and what was not.

The kids were less impressed by the scenic route than I was. And it will be a long time before I care to watch the Veggie Tales A Snoodle’s Tale again (alas, it was the unlucky DVD that remained in the player at the end of the trip, and we looped it about 4 times over the weekend).

Our route home: 465 to 70 to Lindbergh, with a stop in Effingham for Starbucks. We left the snow back home in Indiana.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thursday Cookbook Series -- Chocolate

I'm not sure that this cookbook needs a lot of explanation. I will, however, post the link. For once, I'm linking Barnes & Noble, not Amazon. I'm a big B&N fan for brick & mortar, but always hit Amazon online. However, I think this is part of a series that I bought at B&N.

In case you're not convinced by the title and photo alone of the delicious utility of this cookbook, let me list a few recipe titles:

Magic Chocolate Mud Pudding
Pears in Chocolate Fudge Blankets
Chocolate Tiramisu Tart
Black Bottom Pie
Mango and Chocolate Creme Brulee
Chocolate Mint-Filled Cupcakes
Double Chocolate Chip Muffins
Chocolate Cinnamon Doughnuts

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Woman vs Machine

The jalapeño chips called to me. Loudly. From three hallways away.

"I go great with peanut butter and jelly," they said. "And I'm way cooler than that banana."

I held out as long as I could. At least five minutes.

Finally, shoulders slumped in shame, I stuffed a dollar bill into my pants pocket and snuck out into the hallway. Empty. I could feed my spicy-salty-greasy craving without an audience.

"Now equipped with Golden Eye," the sign read. "We guarantee that you will receive your product."

The machine slurped my dollar with a whirr. I punched the numbers. 126. And I waited.

Gears turned. Change fell into the coin return slot. The long metal spiral turned, nudging the green bag forward. And it stopped.

My jalapeños hung in midair, trapped by the shelf above.

No problem, I thought. I will just buy two. There will be more peanut butter tomorrow, which will go nicely with more chips. I strode with purpose back to my cubicle, and found another dollar.

Whirr. Slurp. Punch. And I waited.


Now two bags of chips hung, caught on the shelves, and perhaps trapped by the oversized bag of cheesy corn in the next slot over.

I considered my options. I'm too short for an effective vending machine wrestling match. I couldn't even budge the thing. The dispenser drawer was nicely theft-proofed, so there would be no reaching in with an arm. Not that my arms are four foot long anyway.

I could taste defeat, and it didn't taste like jalapeños.

Studying the problem, I perked. The cheesy popcorn. If I played my cards, er, dollars right, I could have two bags of chips and cheesy popcorn.

Back to my desk. More money. I was out of dollars, and had to count dimes from the bottom of my purse. Back to the machine. Clink clank clunk. 128. The popcorn nudged forward. The bag bulged out of its slot.

And held.

I sucked in my breath preparing to scream.

And then, with a faint rustle of plastic, the two bags of chips fell. They landed safely in the bottom bin, and I clutched them to my chest in glee. Chips!

I would have skipped back to my cube. But I didn't. The chips were spicy. And salty. And greasy. And they tasted heavenly with peanut butter.

As for the popcorn, it hangs there still: a silent warning to all who come after me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Every parent has a poop story. Blowouts, bathtubs, dinner table announcements from the potty training set....

My mom will tell you about me, a restaurant high chair, and a very kind waitress with a stomach of iron.

With Charlotte, we have a few fond memories. Like the carpet that I had to scrub when she was just a few days old, and when the stomach flu masquaraded as a UTI.

For Trystan...well, Trystan's first 9 months of life is one big poop story (or lack thereof). Imperforate Anus, colostomy, you look it up.

This weekend, exactly one year after his colostomy closure (and subsequent introduction to pooping in a diaper), we have added a new poop story to the menu. This one involves my mother-in-law's brand-new house (the laundry/powder room), a bent-over bare-bottomed baby, and an ill-timed cough. There was mopping. Clothes were changed. Four adults were involved in the cleanup, with a 4-year old serving as the sports commentator. Luckily, we will not be required to paint the walls. I do hope that they sealed the grout on the tile floors (if not, they might be considering it now...)