Monday, December 19, 2011

Pignoli Cookies



Leave it to me to be inspired to make a particular Christmas cookie based on the petty drama of reality TV. To be more specific, the monstrosity known as The Real Housewives of New Jersey. If you've never watched it, I'm not sure I'd recommend jumping in at this point. What was once a very entertaining and amusing hour of fun has now gone down the usual path of most reality TV shows, into a darker territory--no longer amusing, but sad. Very, very sad.

This past season there was an incident involving the loud-mouthed and very sparkly Teresa Guidice, her coattail-riding sister-in-law Melissa, and some cookies. The incident might as well be known as Cookiegate. Apparently when Melissa dared to show up at Teresa's house on Christmas with...SPRINKLE COOKIES (The horror! How dare she!), when Melissa should have known that Teresa only likes Pignoli cookies, Teresa so eloquently informed her that her cookies were going in the garbage. She's a sweet-talker, that Teresa. So the following Christmas, Melissa made absolutely sure to bring Teresa the "right" cookies. Pignoli cookies. That's some sisterly love right there!

So that got me thinking this past fall about pignoli cookies. I had never tried one before, seeing as how Florida tends to lack the delicious gems known as Italian bakeries (although that might be a safer bet for someone like me!), and it had me curious what the big deal about pignoli cookies was. After all, if someone as classy as Teresa Guidice loves them (that would be sarcasm, folks), well then, they must be the most elegant cookies of all time! I had to try them!




She brought me sprinkle cookies! I HATE sprinkle cookies!!!







This seemed like the perfect time to try a new cookie anyway because my cookie and fudge making was in full swing this past weekend. The only draw back to trying pignoli cookies was that the ingredients were pretty expensive. It required two cans of almond paste and a full cup of pine nuts, both of which cost a lot, so I was taking a chance on these...

First, I had to pulse the almond paste in a food processor until it was ground. Then I added a cup and a half of confectioners sugar and a bit of salt and continued pulsing until it was finely ground like a powder. I then transfered that mixture to the bowl of my electric mixer where I added two egg whites and a little honey. I mixed it on medium-high with the paddle attachment for about five minutes. The batter was smooth and very thick. I'm glad I had the sense to dampen my hands because I could tell this was going to be a messy job. The recipe asked me to form the drop cookies and to then press the pine nuts onto them. That seemed a little silly to me. I found it much easier to simply roll and form the cookie in my hands and to then turn it downwards and press it into the bowl of nuts. That made it a much quicker job and kept me from having pine nuts go everywhere. I then baked them at 350 degrees. The recipe said to bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Well, I did that and my cookies were still not cooked all the way through. I put them back in for a few minutes longer and it seemed to do the job. Me thinks I need to get a new oven thermometer...

The result was a very crispy exterior and a very soft, chewy center. If you like the taste of almond cookies, then you would probably appreciate these. The pine nuts are the one ingredient that confused me. I personally find pine nuts only okay-tasting. They're just nothing really special to me. I couldn't particularly pinpoint what they added, or were supposed to add, to these cookies. I think if you left the nuts off all together, this would still be a fine tasting almond flavored cookie.

Would I make these again? Meh...probably...not. I think if almond paste wasn't so annoyingly expensive, I might. But I didn't love these so adoringly that I would have to have these again. I think I'll leave that to Teresa and Melissa to argue over!

But in case you're interested...


Pignoli Cookies

-2 (8-oz) cans almond paste (not marzipan), coarsely crumbled
-1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 large egg whites
-2 tablespoons mild honey
-1 cup pine nuts


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Pulse almond paste in a food processor until broken up into small bits, then add confectioners sugar and salt and continue to pulse until finely ground, about 1 minute.

Beat together almond mixture, egg whites, and honey in electric mixer at medium-high speed until smooth, about 5 minutes (batter will be very thick).

Spoon half of batter into pastry bag if using (keep remaining batter covered with a dampened paper towel) and pipe or spoon 1 1/2-inch rounds about 1 inch apart onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Gently press half of pine nuts into tops of cookies. Alternatively, roll the batter into a ball in your dampended hands and press downwards into the nuts.

Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes total. Slide cookies on parchment onto racks to cool completely, then peel cookies from parchment. Make more cookies with remaining batter and pine nuts on cooled baking sheets.

Yields: About 3 dozen

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, Wherever You Are

So apparently I just blew this man's mind because I knew who Jimmy Durante was.

We have Christmas music playing in our office and a gentleman I was assisting with some paperwork heard a song playing in the background. I guess he decided he was going to educate me and asked me in a 'let me teach you something' tone of voice, "Do you know who this is?"

I love moments like this...

Without any hesitation, I answered back, "Jimmy Durante." Well, this clearly caught him off guard. The look on his face was priceless. He asked me, "How did you know that?" I guess I really disappointed him. He was all ready to school me and I burst his bubble. So I shrugged and said, "I just do. I'm a walking vault of useless information."

Finally he proceeded to tell me that because he assumed I'm in my twenties (bless him), that I would have no idea, and the fact that I did know was amazing to him.

Ha!

So then he asks me, "Well, do you know what he was known for?"

Fool. Nice guy. But a fool.

I replied, "Besides his trademark schnozzola, that he was an actor, he was a singer, and he was a comedian."

And the man says to this, "Oh...I didn't know he was all of those things. I just knew he had a big nose."

Well, looks like one of us DID learn something new today!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

White Chocolate Christmas Fudge



Sometimes I wonder if I'm going to turn into a piece of fudge--I seem to talk about it and eat it so often. But if I did have to turn into fudge, I think this is the form I would choose to take. Smooth, decadent white chocolate with sweet, dried cranberries and crunchy pistachios dancing about to give the chocolate some zing and personality. Not to mention, it's so pretty! The red and green of the berries and nuts, as well as the snowy white color of the chocolate, make this the perfect Christmas treat.

I made a ton of this fudge last year around the holidays, as well as some other darker fudges too, and passed it out to all my neighbors. I'm happy to make it and share it with anyone I know will appreciate it. So make a note, if you don't want to fatten up, you might not want to move to my street!

Enjoy!

White Chocolate Christmas Fudge

-20 oz. white chocolate chips (1.5 packages or about 3 cups)
-1 can sweetened condensed milk
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-8 oz. shelled pistachios
-1 handful dried cranberries*

Coat a 9" square cake pan with cooking spray, set aside. In a saucepan, melt chips with condensed milk over low heat. Stir constantly until smooth. Remove from heat immediately.

Stir in vanilla, pistachios, and cranberries. Spread evenly in cake pan with a spatula. Cool fudge to room temperature or chill.

Yields: 64 (1") pieces

*Note: Pistachios on their own can be a little pricey. If you happen to have a Fresh Market grocery store close by, they carry a perfect blend of cranberries and pistachios that you can buy together in one tub. It's right there in the trail mix section.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Man Your Battle Stations



Hello dear friends. How are we? Besides a little beat, not to mention this crispy weather making me want to roll over and take a big old honkin' two-hour nap, I'd say I'm dandy as candy...

This weekend was full of battles. I battled the cooking of Beef Burgundy for my book club guests Friday night--a long, tedious process that I wasn't expecting. I battled cleaning the house all day Saturday morning and afternoon. That evening I hosted book club where we discussed my pick, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (note the obvious play on words). And finally, yesterday, I battled the remainder of my laundry to be done, and I won. I conquered. Now, whose got the wine? All kidding aside though, it was a great weekend and I got a lot accomplished.

Book club was a smashing success, I'd say. I take it as a good sign when everybody does, in fact, finish the entire book and have a lot to say about it. For those of you that haven't heard of it, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is written by a Yale law professor named Amy Chua, a Chinese-American do-it-all type. It's the story of Amy Chua's life with her husband, a non-Chinese Jew, and their two daughters, Sophia and LuLu. What makes her personal story interesting is that Amy is a "Tiger Mom"--the new name for moms who impose ultra-strict study habits and a 'you do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it, and you don't question me' kind of authority with their kids. Basically, imagine the strictest parent you could possibly imagine--one who doesn't allow their child to go on play dates or spend the night at friends houses...ever, one who chooses an instrument for their child to learn to play (whether they wanted to play it or not) and forces them to practice three, even four hours a day without bathroom breaks...even while on family vacations, or one who tears up their daughters' homemade birthday cards to her and tells them to do them over because they can do a better job than what they gave her. Imagine a parent like that and, voila, you have Amy Chua.

This book came out in early 2011 and was extremely controversial, to say the least. Amy Chua made a lot of people...well, mad. Although she insists her book is a memoir and not a how-to book, her generalizations and stereotyping of how all "Western" parents are over-indulgent and completely willing to accept mediocre grades from their children got underneath a lot of peoples skin. She insists her way--the Chinese way--of parenting is what earns respectful, hard-working kids who know their full potential and go after it.

Chua's two daughters, Sophia and LuLu were very interesting to read about. Sophia, the elder of the two, was dutiful and studious from day one. She did what she was told, academically ran circles around her peers, and became a prodigy piano student, even making it all the way to Carnegie Hall. LuLu, on the other hand, was as defiant as they come. While also smart and musically gifted like her sister, LuLu was the one who gave her mother the most headaches. LuLu was the daughter who would rather stand outside in the freezing Connecticut cold with no jacket than back down to her mother. It is the stories of LuLu standing up to Amy Chua that really made this book worth reading, and thankfully Chua didn't sugarcoat those moments. In the end, Chua finds herself pretty humbled by her daughter, but of course, not too humbled...

This book raises so many crucial topics happening in families today in this country. Are we too soft? Do we not go after our full potential, cushioning our egos and our children's egos with the idea that as long as we did our best, that's all that counts? Are Western parents raising a bunch of coddled, entitled whiners? It's this very idea that seemed to bother people about Chua's book. I've watched some of her interviews online, and she doesn't ever seem to actually come out and say the words, "People are mad about my book because the truth hurts", but something tells me that's what she wants to say. But who knows...

Needless to say, this was an excellent choice for my book club. I consider myself privileged to be included in such a dynamic group of women who all have strong opinions. This book brought out a lot of different reactions, which was fun to dissect and discuss. One person identified with LuLu and thought she was the real hero, while another found her defiance to her mother unacceptable and wanted to knock her teeth out. Another woman read it and says she now feels like a failure as a parent to her two young children (no you're not, Michelle!!)--and even wants her husband to read it so that they can figure out a way to incorporate some of Chua's ideas into their own parenting style. We all agreed and disagreed with different aspects of Chua's philosophy. She certainly raises a lot of good points and makes a lot of sense, while at the same time some of her methods seemed overly extreme and flat-out evil at times. But the great thing about a book like this is that the author is a real person and her story is a real, living thing. Therefor, there is no right or wrong answer to her extreme-parenting style, just different reactions. Different, colorful reactions. I can't recommend this book enough to read with a group. A lengthy, healthy discussion is sure to follow! Now onto the grub...

I have been waiting for a good opportunity to make Beef Burgundy, also known as Beef Bourguignon. Some might say it's merely a fancy name for beef stew, which I suppose to some degree is true. It is beef stew, but it's also much more than that. It's the richest, meatiest, most flavorful beef stew you could possibly taste. Even Julia Child once described the dish as, "certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man." Seriously, are YOU going to argue with Julia? I know I'm not...

Seeing as how I own a bazillion cookbooks, I had to settle on which recipe I was going to use. Certain recipes use more burgundy wine than others, while some omit any kind of beef broth. It's one of those meals that essentially ends up being the same thing in the end, but it can be made with many slight variations. I actually settled on the Beef Burgundy recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook, by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford. This was a cookbook that I received as a shower gift from some of David's fellow teachers. I hadn't heard of it at the time, but it turned out to be a delightful gift and is now one of my go-to books. Everything I have ever cooked from their recipes has turned out amazing and wasn't terribly difficult to prepare. Their recipe for Beef Burgundy seemed easy enough, so that was that.

The hardest part of making this--and it wasn't actually hard, but long and tedious instead--was the prepping of all the ingredients. It's always easier to get everything you need organized and measured and ready to go, and that goes for any recipe you're using, which usually only takes a few dedicated moments to make your life easier. In this case, it took me two entire episodes of Family Guy, plus part of a Simpsons episode (which I was listening to in the background) to get myself set up and ready. Measuring out some broth and wine, sure. Chopping onions? No problem! Cleaning and quartering 16 ounces of mushrooms? Uh...

Let me ask you this, do you have any idea how many mushrooms actually equal 16 entire ounces? That's a pound of mushrooms. Take my word for it, it's A LOT of mushrooms. The worst part about mushrooms in general is that in order to clean them, you can't simply throw them in a calender and rinse them under the sink. Well, you can, but you'll end up with some really rubbery 'shrooms. Instead, you need to wipe them down with a damp cloth. It isn't difficult, but when you're removing stems and wiping and quartering for an entire pound of mushrooms, you may find yourself questioning why you decided on Beef Burgundy when you could have just ordered some Chinese take-out in order to go along with the theme of the book and call it a day like I did.

The truth is, I decided months ago that I would make Beef Burgundy when my turn to host was up next. I knew my month was going to fall in a chilly time period, so the dish would be the perfect, cozy accompaniment. When I decided on my book choice, I did toy with some ideas of instead matching the menu to the book. I actually thought about making some homemade Chinese food (which I never do) and then even thought about expanding it and doing an East Vs. West theme--with homemade Chinese and real Americana fare like meatloaf and mashed potato sliders. Thinking about it now, I could have really had some fun with a menu like that, but I didn't want to get in over my head. Plus, my gut still wanted Beef Burgundy, both literally and figuratively, so that's what I did. And I have no regrets either.



I made the stew Friday night because of the fact that everywhere I read, it says that it's a dish best made at least a day ahead of time so that the flavors can really develop. I have no idea if they were any more developed by Saturday or not, but the result was indeed rich and satisfying, especially when I served it over mashed potatoes. Everybody seemed to enjoy it and indulged in seconds, and even some thirds. In the end, I had enough leftovers for dinner last night with David, which he loved, and even some for tonight...which I am already looking forward to...




Dessert consisted of a super-simple Dark Chocolate Bark with Cranberries and Pistachios (one of my favorite combos that I love to use in white chocolate fudge) that I adapted from a great cooking blog called skinnytaste.com. I love Skinnytaste because the woman who writes the recipes follows Weight Watchers and posts the points! This bark was beyond simple to make and would probably make a great gift to somebody. You just have to remember to tell them to keep it in the refrigerator.

Speaking of delicious gifts, would any of you like my recipe for White Chocolate Fudge with Cranberries and Pistachios? It's not only sinfully yummy but it's a beautiful and easy dessert to hand out to your family, friend, and neighbors around the holidays. I made it last year and it was a huge hit. I'm looking forward to making it again in the upcoming weeks. Perhaps tomorrow I will share it...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Chocolate All the Way...

Andy Williams was right, it is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. I love Christmas time. Love it. The music, the lights, the decorating, the food, the building of memories--such a special time that we wait all year long for (not that you can't do any of those things all year long, but you know what I mean!). Of course, this time of year also comes with its burdens--the crowded stores, the high cost of gifts, the chocolate and the cookies and the cakes and the this and the that showing up right and left, every which way you turn...phew, let me catch my breath.

If you can't tell, food is on my mind these days. This time last year I was already underway to enjoying myself a little too much, and as a result I gained a bit and got myself in a bit of a rut that took a while to get out of. It is hard to lose weight around the holidays. I believe that everybody out there generally knows and understands that, but I promise you, you never quite grasp it as well as when you are actively trying to lose weight. Suddenly, you're hyper-aware of how much eating actually goes on throughout the month. December is literally a giant, four week long temptation. Well, at least it is for me.

If you recall, I work in an attorney's office. We've downsized so much over the last few years that we don't really all-out celebrate things like we used to. Five or six years ago we did ornament-exchanges and a huge potluck Christmas party ever year. Every birthday in the office meant a Chocolate French Silk pie or banana pudding for everyone to enjoy. These days we're all so overworked and underpaid that we're all rather grumbly (although trust me, I'm not as bad as some of the crones around here) and not really in the celebrating mood. Truthfully, that's perfectly fine with me. As a matter of fact, I say GOOD. I don't need pie on my birthday and I do not need Honeybaked ham and macaroni and cheese. Those things aren't so bad by themselves, but when you add it to the chocolates being dropped off by our courier for my coworkers and I to enjoy, or the assortment of freshly baked cookies that our top client's wife baked just for us, or whatever other goody is being forced in our faces, the temptations can become extremely overwhelming.

I am determined this year to get through the month of December more intact than I was last year. I'm not saying I have to lose ten pounds this month--although, boy, would that be nice!--but I hope to make it past Christmas at least feeling a little more in control and able to face the temptations head-on without always giving in. Normally, my will-power, which certain people in my life are always admiring me for, packs its bags and heads for Aspen to go skiing this time of year. He's a sneaky lil' devil, that will-power...

So far, it hasn't been too bad. But then again, it's early still. The silent storm of baked goods is slowly brewing, building stronger and stronger into a buttery, sugary monsoon. I can feel it. I can smell it. The chocolate that runs through these veins knowingly seeks its brothers and sisters. You know them all too well--flour, confectionery sugar, butter. Together, they are as sweet as they are deadly. Like phantoms or shape-shifters, they come in many forms, deceiving us all with their puckering cuteness--cookies, decadent brownies, peppermint bark. They are not to be trusted! I don't know when the storm will hit land at full force, but it's coming. We must be ready for them...

Okay, so maybe I'm giving these sweet little treats way too much power over me. Or am I? I suppose I could look at this delicious time of year as the final exam to the rest of the year's studying. Weight Watchers spends all of its time and energy teaching us how to handle situations just like these. And yet, some of us often throw all that hard work, those tools that we have acquired, right out the window. And all for what--fudge? Rich, moist, pillowy fudge...Whoops, there I go again...

Yet again, though, I must remind myself. I can have the fudge and the cookies, or whatever else there is. I can have anything I'd like--just not as much as I want, whenever I want it. It all has to be reined in to make sense, to be structured. So far I've made it through the first nine days of December unscathed. We'll see how I fare next week...

Coming up on the nearest horizon--book club! It's my turn to host this Saturday night and I can't wait. I have so come to look forward to our monthly get-togethers. Sometimes I laugh the hardest I laugh all month long those nights with my ladies. Hopefully they'll all enjoy what I plan on cooking up for them (I'll get to that later) and hopefully they enjoyed the book I chose! I try my best to purposely choose books that make for great discussion material. I think my choice this time went above and beyond those standards. Hopefully it didn't rub too many of them the wrong way--then again, those reactions often make for the best discussions. I'll report back with all the details after this weekend.

In the meantime, how is your holiday decorating coming along?...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Bird is the Word



Here we are again approaching Christmas! I hate to sound like a cliche, but this year had really flown by. I'm struggling to recall February, March, April, May...Seriously, was I alive those months or in a coma??

I know I'm very late on my Thanksgiving update and it feels almost irrelevant posting about it at this point. But seeing as how poor Thanksgiving gets so neglected and lost in the hustle-and-bustle-shuffle of this time a year, I have to give it its proper due and recognition...

After worrying myself sick--for no other reason than that I seem to thrive on the masochism of self-appointed pressure--I am delighted to report that my first Thanksgiving went off without a hitch! The multiple casseroles, the bread, the turkey, and yes, the gravy were all a smashing success. I now attribute it to the fact that I was so beyond organized that there was no way that I couldn't have pulled it off...I think anyways.

As you know, my biggest concern was the turkey and gravy. That Wednesday evening I laid all of my directions out before me to go over every minute of my schedule for the umpteenth time. My friend Becky convinced me earlier that week to cook my turkey low and slow rather than a shorter time on a higher temperature to ensure tender meat that would fall off the bone--and I'm glad I listened to her because the results were indeed mouth-watering. Becky came over Wednesday evening and guided me as I melted my butter and smeared it all over and underneath the skin of Fatty McFatterson (the name I anointed my 19 lb. turkey). The only thing left at that point was to cover him and shove his fat tukus in the refrigerator overnight.

The sucky part? In order to achieve those great low and slow results and be able to eat by 2:00 in the afternoon, as I wanted to, I was required to get up early in the morning to put Fatty in the oven. Like 4:30am early--insert the Oh Hell No mumbles here. Down the street, Becky was planning to do the same thing, so she made sure to send my phone an emergency text message to wake me up on time in case I overslept. Needless to say, I slept so awful that night--I believe for that subconscious fear of oversleeping like a kid has on the first day of school. I woke up every single hour peering at the alarm clock on the nightstand, convinced it was time to get up and attend to Fatty. Finally, around 4:15am I threw in the towel and just got out of bed (the alarm was set for 4:30).

This whole process was pretty annoying. I hadn't even thought about the fact that my oven takes about twenty minutes to preheat that high. So I preheated to 450 degrees and sat myself down on the kitchen floor. When it was hot and ready, in went Fatty...poor guy. But I still couldn't go back to sleep because he needed to roast on 450 for twenty minutes before turning the oven down to 250 degrees. So in total, I spent a good forty-five minutes sitting on the kitchen floor waiting to go back to sleep. Nella was completely confused because she assumed since I was up, that it MUST be breakfast time. Even so, she made for good company on the floor. She's a good egg, that puppy...

Back in my comfy king-size, sleep eluded me. Something about having the oven on while sleeping didn't sit well with me, even knowing it was on at a low temperature. This was the very reason I nixed my mother-in-law's suggestion of cooking the turkey all night long--I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep. I barely got any rest as it is, and that was getting up at 4:30! However, somewhere around 6:00am I think I managed to drift off before waking up for good around 7:30am.

Fatty was cooking away, and I realized that I couldn't do a whole lot else till later in the afternoon. I had assembled my broccoli casserole and green bean casserole the night before. I still had stuffing, corn casserole and the Snowy Mashed Potatoes to make, but those couldn't be done early in the day--the stuffing takes 5 minutes at the last moment, the corn casserole would have absorbed too much into the cornbread mixture, leaving it soggy and I don't like to peel my potatoes too early and sit in water all day because, in my opinion, they become too mushy. The rest was being brought by my sister Beth, so the day really turned into a waiting game where ironically I didn't have a whole lot to do.




This is what I meant about being beyond organized. I knew to a tee what had to be done, and when, and when it required going into the oven. All four of my casseroles required a half hour at 350 degrees. That simplified a lot and made things very easy when Fatty finally came out of the oven in his properly cooked and lightly-browned glory. While the fatso rested, into the oven went the casseroles. While those baked away, I got to work on the gravy--which I was totally intimidated by. I was convinced there wouldn't be enough juices to fulfill the amount needed, but by George, there was! I taste-tested the gravy--which I am glad I remembered to do because it was bland as can be--and added a healthy dose of salt. Voila! Perfection.

Last came the stuffing and the biscuits. The biscuits was the one and only task I assigned to someone else to handle. Somehow I managed to go through the entire day turning down offers of help from my husband, sister, brother-in-law, and even my nephew (who I think was bored and just wanted something to do). I was just so surprised how under control I was that I really wanted to see if I could pull it off by myself without coming unglued--you know, like I normally do when I take on too many tasks in the kitchen. But with the casseroles on the table, the turkey to still be carved, and me working on the stuffing, I needed one extra set of hands in that moment or else risked getting a little behind and letting the food get cold.



But somehow, some way, everything managed to arrive on the table--still hot and steaming--and tasted delicious. Fatty was super moist and juicy. I was beyond pleased with how it turned out and decided that getting up at 4:30am was completely worth it. It also shattered my fear of roasting turkeys and I am no longer afraid of the challenge. All Fatties be damned! I laugh in your face now!!

One of the nicest surprises of the meal was the corn casserole. Originally, I'd planned to just have plain corn. But with Becky's convincing--yet again--I turned it into corn casserole. She had a super simple recipe, so I figured why not? It was beyond fattening, but good God almighty, it was insanely delicious! It came second place only to the mashed potatoes. Hehe...


Let's have a moment of silence for the Snowy Mashed Potatoes. I think they should be on the cover of Life Magazine, personally....


Together, I enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving day with my husband, my sister and her family, and my dad who ended up being a last-minute guest, which pleased me to no end. After dinner we digested and watched The Nun's Story (a great old Audrey Hepburn movie that was on TV that day). Later we enjoyed my sister's homemade apple and pumpkin pies (delicious, Beth!) with her homemade whipped cream. Our bellies were beyond satisfied with the day's results.

I have family, friends, a home, a job, and food on my table. For that, I am truly thankful.


Oh, and in case anyone is interested...
















Easy Corn Casserole

-1 can creamed corn
-1 can sweet corn
-1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
-1 cup sour cream
-1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix everything but the butter together and spread evenly in a 9x13 baking pan. Dot the top of the mixture with pats of the butter (you can use less of a stick if you can feel your arteries clogging as you slice the butter--it's up to you, though!).

Bake for 30 minutes till bubbling and enjoy!


Now was that easy or what? Fattening and possibly lethal, yes, but easy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just Wondering...

Dear Readers,

Is anybody actually reading this blog??? Just thought I'd ask.


Perplexed,

Katie

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eatin'-N-Cheatin'

In less than 48 hours, it will be Thanksgiving Day. My first Thanksgiving...hosting, that is. This is the first year where things sort of fell into place where we weren't obligated to be somewhere specific for the holiday, so David and I jumped at the opportunity to finally spend a major holiday in our own house. We've been in our home for almost three years and we're always somewhere else. Not that I'm complaining, but it will certainly be a nice and relaxing change to not have to be on the road. Not to mention, I'm finally getting to bust out the humongous and beautiful stainless steel roasting pan, that was a wedding gift over three years ago, and put it to work. I know that Nella will be the happiest of all in this scenario. She gets to stay put in her own warm and cozy home rather than being boarded at the vet's--or "the clink" as I call it--which always breaks my heart when she has to go there. So we all win this year. Hurray!

So far, I have all of my groceries accounted for and a 19 pound turkey literally thawing out in my refrigerator at this very second. I don't have much of a game plan other than to be up and at 'em early to get Mr. Bird in the oven. I won't lie, I'm very, very nervous. I'm scared about having one of those Griswold moments where the turkey comes out looking beautiful but is actually a dried out, icky mess inside. That and the gravy. I'm not a gravy-maker in general--I'm more of a simple pan-sauce kind of gal (despite how many years I've lived in the south I still do not cook like a southerner), but I'm still up for the challenge. I'd like to attempt to make the gravy out of the pan drippings, but I have a plan B in case it ends up terrible. I have a very simple giblet gravy recipe that's pretty fool-proof on standby, so if all else fails, we can have that. In the end, though, I may end up making both gravies anyway, just to have a little variety on the table. I could cheat and use store-bought gravy, but personally I do not care for them. The real thing is so much better. But that doesn't mean I'm not cheating in other areas...

The rest of my menu is not very complicated at all. In fact, as I sat down and reviewed the menu this past weekend I realized that the majority of the dishes don't need to be prepared till much closer to meal time. I could make a few things ahead of time and keep them warm, but I'm not always wild about doing things that way; some things just taste better hot, right out of the oven. The most tedious thing to prepare, other than the turkey and gravy, will be the Snowy Mashed Potatoes, and that's only because of all the steps it requires--peeling, boiling, mashing, etc. other than that, it's all shaping up to be pretty darn simple.

One thing that David and I have in common in a huge way is that we're both very attached to the way things were done in our childhoods, particularly with food. It's not that we're afraid of change or of trying new things, but we both agree that some things are perfect just as they are and don't require fooling or fiddling with. I call it being traditional, although I'm sure some would instead call it being stubborn. In David's case, he's just very sentimental, plain and simple. So am I, but in my case, I'll admit, one of the biggest reasons I tend to cling to some of those traditions is simply because they make my mother feel close to me. Even after sixteen years of her being gone, I'll never stop feeling a little cheated at this time of year, robbed of her presence at a time when families are supposed to come together the most. Food is one of those small ways to keep her nearby, whether it's through mashed potatoes or store-bought stuffing.

Ahh, the stuffing. I know there are tons of great stuffing recipes out there. I've sampled some of them myself in the past and I whole-heartedly agree that homemade stuffings can be quite delicious and unique. However, my preoccupation this year lies with the bird. The perfect stuffing is not high on the agenda. So what are we doing? I'm pulling the traditional card here and we're having Stovetop Stuffing. I ate it growing up, David ate it growing up, so we're fine with that. Same thing with the cranberry sauce. Homemade cranberry sauce, with all its sweet variations, are very tasty indeed...but what is that I'm reaching for in my pocket? Oh yes, it's the traditional card. Cranberry sauce, with its lined stamp of sincerity--from the tin can it plops out of anyway--promises me perfectly round slices to place upon the table, as well as less of a headache to prepare. Canned cranberry sauce, you complete me...

As for the rest of the menu, pretty easy-peasy. Corn, peas, buttered biscuits, maybe some kind of sweet potato dish (that will be a last minute decision), and David's only two requirements--green bean casserole (which funny enough, I had never even heard of until college) and his Aunt Kathy's broccoli casserole recipe. When I was engaged and had my bridal shower, my party hostesses sent a blank recipe card inside every invitation asking the receiver to bring a recipe with their gift. I ended up with three different broccoli casserole recipes, which I found so funny for some reason. It turns out though, that David's Aunt Kathy's recipe is almost identical to my Aunt Roe's (my mom's sister). The only slight difference was in the amount of mayonnaise each used. So it turns out I'll be making what is essentially both aunts' recipes this year, which kind of tickles me and makes me feel like I'm passing on all sorts of family traditions.

So I'm cutting major corners (a much nicer way of saying I'm cheating) with the stuffing, cranberry sauce, and the biscuits (Pillsbury, baby!), and I am perfectly fine with that. As years go by I'm sure I'll give a little and add a larger variety of everything, but for right now, my very first Thanksgiving, this works. I can hover and hone my anxiety to one area--le turkey--all in the comfort of my favorite velour pants and my bare feet--my favorite way to be.

And of course my sister Beth and her family will be there and I'm sure she'll be willing to lend me a hand if I need it. I've already given David permission to watch all the football he wants, as long as he stays out of the kitchen and out of my way. I consider myself a decent cook when the food is done, but I tend to stress myself out in the kitchen during the process of getting there. The less people I have in my immediate presence, usually the better I function. It should be quite the hilarious show come Thursday morning...

As for my Weight Watchers Thanksgiving plan, I don't have much of one other than to enjoy myself. I'm not going to pig out--it doesn't take as much to fill me up as it used to anyway--but I'm also not going to deprive myself of anything either. If I want a slice of apple pie, I'm gonna have one! I don't need two slices, but one should suffice. Thursday is my normal weigh-in day, which leaves Friday as my start of the week. This will be no different. I'll enjoy myself, as I should, on Thursday, and whatever happens, happens. Friday is a new day, a new week, and a clean slate. There will be no guilty regrets that morning, that I can promise you.

What are all of you cooking up for Thanksgiving this year?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Two Sparkly Thumbs Up



What a glorious weekend! I took Friday off from work and I feel like I have been on an extended vacation. I take that as the official sign of a weekend well done. Do any of you happen to know what special event fell on Friday, November 18th? Yes, it was my sister Beth's birthday, which is indeed special, but not exactly what I was referring to. Mickey Mouse's birthday? Why, yes it was! But still, no.

Friday, November 18th marked the release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 in theaters! (Insert the trumpets and horns here). After attempting to wait very, very patiently--an act in futility for me when it comes to these things--for the last year and a half, the moment finally arrived. We finally got to see Bella and Edward, or as I refer to him--my dear Eddie Spaghetti--tie the knot. Oh yeah, and there was also that rather tame, but still steamy, honeymoon to follow. The movie did not disappoint in the least, and that's not even coming from a biased standpoint.

If you've never read the series or seen any of the other movies, or if you're one of those ignorami who have declared this series terrible without even reading/watching them for yourself to even make that determination--seriously, at least read it before you claim you know it to be crap!--this post may not be of much interest to you and you might want to avert your eyes now (see, a healthy disclaimer). But if you don't mind listening to the mind-rattling of a fan, truly obsessed and smitten, by all means, pull up a chair and come hunker down with me...

Going to see these movies has become a nice little tradition for myself. It's much easier to take the day off from work and go see it first thing in the morning (I went to the midnight opening of New Moon when it premiered and I swore NEVER AGAIN) rather than attempting to see it on a Friday night when you have to battle the squealing teenagers, who in this case are all locked up in school--ahh, the perks of being a grown-up...I arrived early, knowing that even first thing in the morning there was going to be a crowd, which there was. Standing in line, I chatted with several people, all of us sharing our own little jokes and anecdotes about the books and movies. One woman got a real kick out of me telling her that any time I give my husband a hard time about anything, he apologizes for not being "sparkly" enough for me. Hee hee. He's such a good sport...

I wasn't sure what I was in store for with this movie. I knew the plot like the back of my hand, but for the first time I wanted to be a little surprised with the actual film. In the past with the first three, I had already seen so many trailers and online clips that by the time the movies arrived I felt like I'd already seen the entire thing. So for once, with the exception of the trailer, I avoided clips and photos like the plague. And it paid off, because the movie indeed felt like a fresh, new experience.


The movie began with the wedding, which felt sort of funny because in most movies, weddings are usually towards the end. This was a perfect example of how occasionally the movies have a huge advantage over the books. I personally find it very rare for a movie to exceed the written word (and that applies to any book made into a movie). Books have a way of making everything possible without being too silly because you don't have an actual visual. However, in the case of Bella and Edward's wedding, the movie blew the book out of the water. Rather than the tasteful, indoor ceremony that the book described, the Cullen's backyard was instead transformed into an ethereal, magical fairytale. Tree timbers were fashioned into organic seating for the guests. White flowers cascaded down over the audience like snowflakes. Visually, especially lit up on the bright silver screen, it was breathtaking to say the least. If I ever decide to renew my vows, I'm so having THAT wedding...Oh, and did anybody besides myself spot the cameo of Stephenie Meyer as one of the wedding guests?...The highlights of the wedding--1.) Bella's gown. Um, bea-u-ti-ful. But then again, Carolina Herrera designed it, and that woman does not design ugly dresses period. 2.) The wedding toasts! So unintentionally, yet intentionally hilarious. Emmett and Charlie never fail to deliver the great one-liners. And 3.) Bella and Edward saying "I do" to one another. The ceremony was filmed in such a way that it didn't drag but didn't leave anything out either. Also, adding the Flightless Bird, American Mouth song by Iron & Wine--otherwise known now as the Twilight prom song--was a lovely touch that brought a real feeling of closure to the rocky, and often agonizing, road it took for Bella and Edward to reach that moment.

The honeymoon. Hubba, hubba. It didn't go too far, though. As a matter of fact, I heard somewhere that the honeymoon scene actually had to be re filmed in order to bring it down to a passable PG-13 rating.
I guess I haven't a clue as to what constitutes an R rating because in my opinion, it was still racy enough that I probably wouldn't have felt too comfortable taking a 13 year old to see it. But then again, I'm 33 years old and what might seem a bit much for a young teenager to me may be completely different for an actual teenager these days. These are some scarier times we're living in after all...But overall the entire honeymoon sequence was done very well and at times had the feel of a romantic comedy. Kristen Stewart bouncing up and down while brushing her teeth, combing her hair, and shaving her legs in her nervous state was pretty comical, as was Edward breaking the headboard of the bed with his super-strength during their...er...moment. I was rather proud of both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson as they both seemed to have let go of some of the stiffness they both carried in the earlier films (perhaps their real-life romance had something to do with it). But they both seemed more at ease with one another and much more believable as a couple. Edward alone did so much smiling during the first half of the movie that it almost felt like an alternate universe, as any fan knows Edward spends more time brooding and worrying himself to death than any other emotion, so it was a nice change to see him so happy.



Too bad that happiness was pretty short-lived. Next came the pregnancy. Wow. The make-up artists and CGI people did one heck of a job here of creating the illusion of the baby literally sucking the life out of Bella from the inside. They turned Bella into what, to me, looked like a bonafide crackhead (for lack of a better term)--sunken cheeks, dark circles under her eyes, all skin and bones. It was almost frightening looking at her.
The actual birth scene was a whole other level of intense. That particular scene had such huge potential to be amazing, even on a slight morbid level, or a complete disaster. For anyone whose read the book knows that the birth scene was all kinds of gruesome--spine-cracking, bloody, skin-tearing gruesome. The movie pulled it off fantastically. It was bloody, it was cringe-inducing, but not so off the charts that it became cheesy (not that there was a total lack of Velveeta in this movie, but I'll get to that in a minute). It was a roller coaster--it started as a bit scary, morphing into a little gross, then into a brief, fleeting moment of happiness, then back to a little scary, and finally into what felt, to me, very sad. Edward really tugged at my heartstrings in his moment of trying to resuscitate Bella. As odd of a moment as it was, that may have been the best scene that Robert Pattinson has filmed in this entire franchise. He was so desperate, so scared, so unglued in that moment. As an actor, he was completely believable in that scene, and as a fan who has really enjoyed witnessing his craft improve with every film, it was a real moment of pride for me, bites and all.

As for some cheesiness, it was there of course. Particularly, with the wolves. Remember when I said some moments in books don't always translate very well to movies? This was no exception. In the books, the wolves all hear each others' thoughts when they are in wolf-form. In a book it reads as simple dialogue, so it's no big thing, but in a movie it came off laughable (kind of the same way that Bella's visions of Edward came off as silly in New Moon did). As in, many people were actually giggling out loud. As Jacob is being circled by his fellow pack, the audience is hearing these lines like, "It's a monstrosity!", "An abomination!", and "It's unnatural!" being shouted from all directions, and for whatever reason it just came off as strange and silly and out of place with the rest of the film. But, I guess it had to be done somehow. Other than that, all around this was a great movie--funny, romantic, action-packed, and a little gory. Not all movies can pack that range of emotions in one and pull it off. Even my husband David said this one was much more suspenseful than the rest. We both agreed that it's the best film (so far) of the series.

Of course, it's fluffy, it's cheesy--come on now, we're talking vampires and werewolves here, not War and Peace--but that's what's so good about the entire Twilight saga. I'd compare it to a soap opera--they're silly, over the top, melodramatic--but that's part of its charm. If the anti-Twilighters in general would not take the whole thing so seriously and just accept it for what it is, they might actually enjoy it. You'd be amazed if you knew how many people I had to battle to convince to even read the first book alone. I heard so often, "I'm not interested" or "Vampires aren't my thing" from my friends. And then when they finally did give it a whirl, they found themselves stunned that they loved it. It's not for everyone, but despite whatever preconceived notions you might have about these type of stories, you'll never actually know for sure until you pick it up and read it for yourself. You might be surprised.

So my official review in a nutshell? Two sparkly thumbs up! Can't wait for part 2!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Snowy Mashed Potatoes

Looking for a stellar mashed potato recipe to put on your Thanksgiving table this year? Potatoes that will have your family mmm'ing and ahhh'ing after each bite? I've got the one. THE one. THE ONE AND ONLY.

It's pretty hard to screw up mashed potatoes. You boil them, you mash them. Hmmm...I suppose you could add too much salt. Or have lumps. Or be soupy rather than thick and creamy...I take it back! Mashed potatoes CAN easily be screwed up. But if you follow this recipe, trust me when I tell you, there will be no screw-ups this year. I'm giving the 100% Dianne Guarantee on this one.

Dianne was my mom. There were a million and one things that made my mom the exceptionally magnificent person that she was and still is in spirit--beautiful, brainy, a witty wise ass, unbelievable cook--the list could go on and on. One day I'll write a post about her where I can give her the ample devotion she deserves. But today, I'm going to focus on one area. Her unbelievable cooking. Specifically, her unbelievable mashed potatoes.

When I was growing up, we did not eat these snowy mashed potatoes all the time. These in particular were reserved for the special occasions--usually Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter--probably due to their richness and fat content. Be warned, these are not sissy mashed potatoes and not for the faint of waist. But they're one of the top foods I remember from my childhood and always invoke huge smiles from my dad and sisters when they reappear on the table today. I've made these occasionally for friends and the general response is usually, "Oh my God..."

My mom cooked a wide variety of foods, but there were a few "signature" dishes of hers--this being one of them. And now, in honor of what would have been her 65th birthday (which was yesterday), I am sharing this signature dish with all of you. I hope at least one of you will try these this month for your Thanksgiving dinner. You can thank me afterwards...

Oh, and in case you're wondering why they are called "snowy", the truth is, I have no idea. They just are!















Snowy Mashed Potatoes

-4 lbs. white potatoes (about 12 medium potatoes)
-(1) 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
-1 cup sour cream
-2 tsp. salt
-1/8 tsp. pepper
-1 garlic clove smashed
-1/4 cup chopped chives
-1/2 tsp. paprika
-1 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water 15-20 minutes or until tender, drain. Mash with beater.

Mix in everything but butter, paprika, & chives. Mix on high speed (with a hand mixer) till smooth and light. Stir in chives.

Spoon into lightly greased baking dish*. Sprinkle with paprika and place butter on top of potatoes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

*You can use any size baking dish you'd like (I've seen people use 9x13 pans) but preferably, a round dish works best because the butter runs down the potatoes.

Enjoy!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Belated Halloween!



Okay, so I'm a tad overdue with this post. Hopefully something Halloween related will even be semi-interesting at this point. Personally for me, it's not. And truth be told, I am so HAPPY that Halloween is over!! Between all of my neighbors, and my own husband, who spent the entire month trying to out-do one another with crazy yard props (David actually built a coffin and a crypt, complete with PVC pipe running through them attached to a fog machine), the yuckiness of another birthday (mine), and Halloween candy...yeah, so glad it's done.







But the weekend was still a fun one. My pumpkin carving party, which took place on October 29th, was a hit with my neighbors. The weather was very cool and fall-like, so it was nice to gather outdoors and do something together. Well, kind of outdoors. We set tables up inside our garage. I was a little worried about pumpkin guts ending up all over the driveway...


As you can see, there are no small children in these pictures. Trust me, they were there, for all of about 15 minutes before they all decided that carving was too much work and it was best left to the adults to handle. Instead, they played together out in the yard. Oh well. The adults enjoyed it nonetheless.




I cannot believe that somehow we managed to finish this day without a photo of everyone's pumpkins lined up. I never claimed to be organized--on the contrary, I am the most UNorganized person there is, and this basically proves it! My plan was to have everybody vote on their favorite pumpkin. The winner, which turned out to be my nephew Russell for his awesome graveyard pumpkin, won the coveted Pez-dispenser door prize.

Afterwards, everyone was treated to some homemade cupcakes, brownies, and fudge. The brownies, while delicious, turned out hideous looking due to my lack of artistry. The top was covered in a snowy white layer of marshmallow fluff, and was then supposed to have spiderwebs piped on in chocolate. As I was attempting this, I realized I hadn't a clue what I was doing and my webs ended up looking more like a Jackson Pollack painting. They were still yummy though! The fudge was DIVINE and had a top layer of white chocolate with orange extract and orange food coloring added. It was quite beautiful to look at it, and once again, I managed to not get a photo of it. (Sigh) I suck.




The cupcakes were pretty straight forward and simple. Cupcakes + frosting + food coloring + black piping + toothpicks = Halloween cupcakes. I had a little trouble on some of them. The black piping didn't always want to cooperate, so some ended up with thicker lines than others. Also, when running the toothpick through them to create the web effect, they didn't have that soft, elastic texture I was looking for to cut through them like butter. The toothpick would cut through and basically slice it rather than pull it and meld it into the orange frosting. So in the end, some turned out very well and some others, err...not so well. I haven't taken a cake class in almost a year, and my rustiness rang through loud and clear. But again, they still tasted good!

Later that evening, we, along with my some of our neighbors who attended the pumpkin carving, all bundled up and went to the Spooktacular event at the Jacksonville Zoo. It was cold outside! Really it's an event for the kids--they hand out candy and kids wear their costumes--but it's nice to have an opportunity to go somewhere and walk around when it's chilly outside. In Florida, winter comes and goes so quickly that we have to take advantage of these things. It was really crowded at Spooktacular--I mean really, really crowded--but it was still fun. My neighbor's daughter Teagan stayed permanently attached to my side the entire time, so I made sure she got a clear shot every time we spotted a candy station. I always try to do my part for the little people...




This is me and David at Spooktacular. He has a beard this fall!



I'll leave you with David's very scary looking "It" Pennywise the clown pumpkin that we put in the yard Halloween night. David is a fan of shaving pumpkins rather than carving. Creeeepy....

Friday, October 28, 2011

'Ain't No Thing But a Chicken Wing

Just keeping you all updated on my progress. I was a little mum about it last week because I didn't do so well and I was feeling bad about it. Last Thursday at my weigh-in I had a gain of 1.2 pounds. Well, it happens. My choices didn't help the matter. We had some people over to watch football the previous Sunday and somebody brought an assortment of chicken wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, otherwise known as the "Casa de Diablo" to me...

I am always very quick to pipe up and advocate for Weight Watchers when I hear people say things like, "Can you have that?" or "Is that your diet food?" Yes, if it's food, of any kind, I CAN have it. I can have anything. No, it's not diet food. It's the same food everybody else eats. I'm just eating it with a different idea in mind than most others. What I'm trying to say is, I don't have to deny myself anything. However, there is one food that I truly have to try my best to avoid, and that would be fried chicken wings. Can I have wings? Sure. Should I have wings? Probably not. They're so little, so inoffensive, so spicy and succulent...and boy, do they wreak havoc when you add up how many Weight Watchers points they are. Even if you bake them in the oven?, you might ask. No, if they're baked or have the skin removed, they're much more forgiving. But come on, where's the fun in that? Some things are meant to be enjoyed to the fullest, and wings is one of them.

I was never a wing person growing up, ever. It was actually a college friend of mine, Debbie, who had a wing obsession, who originally turned me onto them. There's something about that heat from the buffalo sauce, the way it opens up all your nasal passages as you tear the juicy chicken away from the bone with your teeth. It's almost animalistic. So don't be shocked if you ever see me with a chicken wing in my hand...I might just end up beating on my chest like a gorilla and going monkey-postal on somebody.

These days, though, I am pretty good about resisting them. Usually if they're around, I can handle sampling just one, savor it, write it down to record it in my food journal, and move on. But that day, when those wings showed up in my house, I lost all grip on my senses. There were mild wings, hot wings, and terriyaki boneless wings. I steered clear of the mild and hot, but for some reason I decided that the terriyaki was worth trying. I allowed myself one and ate it. Mmmm, salty goodness....Okay, maybe just one more. Mmmm...okay, one more. You see where this is going. It lead to more than my fair share of breaded, fried chicken, which then lead to thoughts of 'well, I've already screwed up today, so I guess my week is ruined'. Right there. That was the moment I screwed up. It wasn't the wings. It was my attitude after I ate the wings.

One thing I have learned from Weight Watchers is that there will always come a time when I will have a bad day and make poor choices. It just happens. But the key to those bad days is what happens after it's over and the choices that I make then. Last week was a perfect example of what not to do when a bad day happens. I let that day of wings completely ruin the rest of my week. It beat me. If last week was a boxing match, then I was Apollo and the week was that blonde Russian guy who killed him in the ring. I let it win. I mean, I didn't spend the remainder of the week eating bon-bon's and potato chips, but I was very careless and used that day as a means of justifying myself. Halloween candy in the office? Sure, a few won't hurt me. Second helpings of dinner, why not? I already screwed my week anyway. I should have just called it a bad day, and started over the following morning fresh. But that message didn't hit home with me till I got on the scale and gained 1.2 pounds. It wasn't my first gain in the last year. They happen here and there, but rarely. It was enough to wake me up, though.

Suffice to say, I did much better this past week. I told myself I was "grounded". All the little hard-to-resist things were going to be resistible this week. I still ate, I still savored, but I stayed much sharper on my game. I made sure I drank more water than usual to help flush out all that excess salt. I upped my exercise this week with more yoga and power walking. I resisted the office Halloween candy and haven't had one single bite of it. Why would I need to eat it? I had some last week and I know what it tastes like. It isn't going to taste any better today than it did before.

I moved on and it paid off. I weighed in last night and lost 3.6 pounds. So not only did I lose the 1.2 I gained, but I lost a little more. That is the reward for staying focused and not letting the bad days beat me. It also pushed me out of the 60's and into the 70's. My weight loss total as of last night is 71.8. That's pretty darn amazing if I do say so myself. So bye-bye 60's. Buh...bye.

Will I never have chicken wings ever again? Uh...no. I love them far too much to ever give them up completely. I just have to learn a higher level of self-control when it comes to them, though. If they were lower in points, this would be a whole different story. But they're so high per wing, that added up only a small plate of them would knock out the entire daily points I'm allowed. Yes, I have extra weekly points I'm allowed to dip into, and yes, I receive extra points the more I exercise (although I try not to use those points), but I still try to avoid them. Wings might be my ultimate trigger food. Occasionally I can stop at just one, but it's clear that other days I can't. Somewhere in there I have to find a rhyme or reason. I might just have to break down and learn to like them baked in the oven.

In the end, this just proves that no matter how much time passes and no matter how many meetings I attend, I am not perfect and I probably never will be. I will always have bad days time and time again, and I will always have to find a way to pick myself up and deal with it. I still have a lot to learn.

Now onto my next challenge. Halloween weekend....

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Take Me To China


China. I love me some china...

I could actually look at and discuss china patterns all day long if it permitted. China sadly seems to be becoming a lost want these days, whether with new brides or anyone in the market for some beautiful dinnerware. Even on the special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or just a nice dinner party, I'm beginning to see less and less of "the good stuff" on peoples' tables. In these times, people, particularly couples, aren't interested in fragile dishes that not only cost a lot of money but require special care and extra space in their cabinets. Instead, people seem to be buying one set of quality dishes that can serve as both casual and be dressed up to something fancier. Solid white dinnerware has definitely become a huge trend since it's so versatile and makes all food look especially colorful and appetizing. Heck, my own everyday dinnerware is solid white. But me? If I had my choice, I'd have a different set of china to bust out for every month of the year!

When I was engaged and registering for gifts, china was the one thing I actually didn't need. You see, when my mother passed away sixteen years ago, my father made my sisters and I decide very early on who would "get" what of my mom's most valuable things. For whatever reason, my dad wanted this decided early on. One of those things was my parents' full set of Lenox china. Even as a teenager, I was incredibly old fashioned and loved the idea of having those dishes on my table one day. None of my sisters were interested in the china, so I was the one to get it. So when it came time for me to get married, china wasn't necessary because we already had the whole set waiting for us.




Sometimes I regret that. Not that I need another set of china, but occasionally I do regret not picking out a new pattern together with my own husband. But make no mistake, I love my parents' china. It's made by Lenox, who I think makes some of the prettiest and most classic china out there, and the pattern is called Moonspun. It's been discontinued for quite a while now and can no longer be found in stores, and of course it's the china that I grew up eating off of at the dining room table, so it's extra special to me to have it in my possession. Even more, not only do I have the china, but I have my parents dining room table and china cabinet in my house, where I get to look at the china on display every single day, so to me it's a true treasure. But of course...

...I still have my fantasy patterns. Patterns that I dream of pulling out whenever the occasion could call for it. For example...



















Bernardau's "Constance"Otherwise known as "The Charlotte York" china. I remember seeing this for the first time when watching Sex and the City and being mesmerized by the green leaves. So beautiful and so very, very expensive...
















Lenox Holiday Tartan Most people go for the Lenox Holly pattern, which I also love, but there is something about this Tartan pattern that just grabs me. Around the holidays, I have a thing for plaid, I think because I associate plaid with warm, snuggly blankets in front of a roaring fire. There's just something very cozy about it. Or maybe attending Catholic school my whole life had something to do with it. Who knows!
























Spode's "Blue Italian" Oh my, I love love love this china. I'm certain many people would turn their noses up at this old fasioned look--it's been around since 1816--but to me it's absolutely classic and beautiful. Perhaps one day...



























Wedgewood's "Renaissance Gold"I adore the blue pattern. It makes me think of the Meditteranean. It's almost like a modern twist on the colors of the Spode pattern above. Simply gorgeous!


I could go on and on. Seriously, why aren't people interested in aquiring china for themselves anymore? There could be nothing very interesting or special about passing down my clean white dinner plates from Bed Bath & Beyond to children or grandchildren. But fine bone china rimmed in platinum, delicate and intricate, that's something else.

What china pattern do you have? And if you don't have any, which are your dream patterns? I'm very interested, so tell me!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alley-Oop!

This is me in early 2005 a few months into dating David...



















This is me in May of 2009 on my first wedding anniversary...

























This is me today at work...























I've almost come full circle.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Chili

Err...remember that delicious chili I was supposed to take a more professional photo of before I finished it off so that it wouldn't be left being represented by a bad cell phone photo? Um, yeah, I forgot to do that. Ha.

I guess I got so wrapped up in the exquisite flavor and the warm, satisfying sensation of the chili comfortably resting in my belly that it slipped my mind. Oops!

So without any further delay, please enjoy this recipe for Sweet Potato Chili. It's got just the right balance of richness and spice, and the sweet potato lends a satisfying extra layer of autumn goodness. If you don't have a slow-cooker, this can absolutely be done on the stove top in any large stockpot you've got, cooked on low for around three hours--just be sure to brown the meat first! Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Chili
Makes: 12 cups, 6 servings
Serving Size: 2 cups
*WW Points Plus Points Per Serving: 7 points (4 points for 1 cup)


-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
-14 ounce can diced tomatoes
-2 tbsp chili powder
-1 tbsp ground cumin
-2 tsp smoked paprika
-1 tbsp brown sugar
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces
-1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-15 ounce can kidney beans
-15 ounce can black beans
-1 lb lean ground beef, with 7% fat

Combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker (no browning the meat beforehand) and stir to combine. Cook on low for 10 hours. DONE.






Feel free to mock!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Done With Hiding

Yup. Done. Donesky. Dunzo.

I debated quite a while on whether or not I would post any of the gruesome "before" pictures of myself on this blog, ever. As proud as I could be of losing weight, having to admit to anybody in full on display, let alone to myself, that I allowed myself to balloon up into some swollen caricature of my old and actual person, beyond simply "chubby" or "full figured", was something I haven't been very willing to do.

For example, my Facebook page has been a very edited version of my life the last few years. I've been on some good trips in the last few years--The Keys, The Bahamas, Savannah, Georgia, New York City--but you'd never know it by looking at my profile. I was heavy at my wedding and posted a few of those pictures, but after that is when it got continually worse and worse. I cherry picked only one or two pictures from there on out. Pictures where everything was mostly not seen with the exception of my face. And even then, there were only one or two. I've basically been keeping myself hidden from everybody.

It's stupid really. It's stupid when I think about who I'm hiding from. Relatives. Old classmates. People who knew me when I was still small and a size 6. When I was buck wild and not scared of my own shadow. People who only know snippets of my life now and know nothing more about me than what I place in their hands.

So basically, posting those pictures of myself yesterday was a huge breakthrough for me. That was me saying, "Who gives a f**k anyway?" Pardon my French. So I figure, since I untied the velvet robe and flashed you all, I might as well flash you some more. There aren't many, which is rather sad. There are blocks of my life that I will never be able to show my future children one day because there is little to no documentation of it. But I suppose it is what it is.




This was one month after my wedding. It was a downward spiral from here. I guess that's what happens when you register for supreme cooking equipment. You tend to cook yourself all sorts of delicious things...



I must say, I'm loving how dark my hair was. Must get hair colored ASAP...











Trying to hide behind Nella...







Hey there, double-chin. What's shakin'?
















More to come....

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Ghost of Summers Past

Shock. Horror. Disbelief. Disgust. More disbelief. Anger. Sadness. Reflection. Relief. Hope.



That was the order of emotions that I experienced when I came across this picture today. This was one of a set of pictures that were missing for a while, but David finally found them in a file. This was taken not all that long ago. It was late June of 2010 in the Florida Keys on a vacation we took with some of our friends. While it was a fun and beautiful vacation filled with fishing, snorkeling, great seafood, card games, and gorgeous sunsets, it was still a miserable experience for me at the same time. Putting it bluntly, I was a blimp...

I was a blimp who spent every moment I was there trying to make sure I was perfectly covered in my God awful mega plus-sized one-piece bathing suit. And that the plus-sized board shorts that I had to specially order online covered that up. And that the extra-large beach towel that stayed practically permanently wrapped around me like I was at a toga party covered all of that up. When we went snorkeling, I made sure I was the last person off the boat into the water for fear of making a fool out of myself kerplopping into the crystal blue ocean.

Oh, and do you see that wedding ring of mine? Do you see the way it appears to be strangling my finger? Well, it was. At this point, I'd been married for a little over two years and that ring hadn't been removed since the day I got my two rings soldered together. It wasn't some romantic notion of mine to not remove it out of devotion to my husband, it was merely the fact that the damn thing would-not-come-off! It was so squeezed onto my sausage of a finger that I had to wrap band aids around it to cover it when we went in the water to avoid reflecting light, which attracts barracudas.

In a nutshell, the little things were just awful. As fun as the trip was, it's never really fun for a fat person. A lot of things aren't. It's just the flat-out truth. When the picture above was taken, we were outside of a restaurant close to the rented beach house that we were all staying at in Marathon. I was reluctant to take it because I normally avoided cameras at all times, but everybody was jumping at the opportunity to get a shot in front of the lovely sunset, so everyone took a turn. When we got home and I saw these pictures, I remember like it was yesterday what I thought. I thought, 'Look at David. Look at how adorable he is. Look at how sweet he is. He doesn't deserve to have this miserable cow for a wife. He deserves someone else. He deserves someone cute and spunky and vivacious'--everything I was not. I was sad for him when I saw these photos. Not for me, but for him. I felt like a total let-down. The word shame doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Of course, when I eventually told him my feelings on these photos, it really upset him. He told me, "Katie, you have always been beautiful to me no matter what you look like and I would not trade you for anything in the world..." By the way, have I mentioned that I have the most awesome, most kickass husband EVER??

But we all know that even the kindest of words don't always repair the damage within. At that point I was so lost and so sad that I didn't know what to believe or do. I was just getting by day to day feeling more awful than I'd ever felt in my life. And trust me, I've had some awful times.

But when I look at these pictures now, I feel a whole different set of feelings than I did at the end of this trip when I saw them for the first time. I mentioned feeling relief. I say relief because I now think, 'Thank God. Thank God I did something and am doing something about it. Thank God I am not that person anymore because that was not me. That is not who I am. And that is not who I want to be.'

The hope I feel is just a continuation of the relief. It's the hope that I can follow through with this journey and reach the finish line I so desperately yearn to cross. That I will learn more than just how to shed some pounds but how to live a long and healthy life where I can feel good about myself and feel the joy that deep down I know I deserve.

It's funny how just a couple of pictures can put so much into perspective.




See what I mean?


Friday, October 14, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite...

...MOVIES!! Why? I don't know, just because. The truth of the matter is, my life is not very exciting. It's currently wrapped up in nothing but diet and exercise, being childless while everyone around me is popping out babies left and right, worrying about how I'm going to afford Christmas presents, trying to finish reading my book club book for this weekend, and trying to figure out why several more than just the regular few gray hairs have been sprouting lately on my head in abundance. Oh yeah, the money worrying. And the being childless. That's probably where they're coming from. Silly me.

Actually, I just haven't had a whole lot to blog about the past week or so. I made a very delicious crock pot sweet potato chili last weekend, but the only picture I managed to snap of it was taken on my cell phone. Even in natural light, it was just a horrible picture not worthy of posting. I've been eating the chili all week and have only a bowlful left. Hopefully I can remember to get out the big guns, a.k.a. David's mamma-jamma camera that I don't really understand how to use, and take a nicer quality photo before I gobble it all up. If and when I do that I'll be sure to post the recipe. It was a keeper.

Anyways, back to le cinema...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a bonafide movie-lover. And when I say bonafide, I mean do not mess with me kind of bonafide. I'm not a genius and I certainly have not seen every movie under the sun, but I have most definitely seen more than my fair share. And perhaps a few others' fair shares.

The passion for movies is truly in my blood. My parents loved movies, as well as my cousins, aunts and uncles. Particularly on my father's side, they are all very serious movie lovers. My sisters and I grew up almost speaking our own kind of language--particularly my oldest sister Lauren and I. To this day, she and I can have an entire conversation quoting lines from movies, which nobody seems to understand but us. We're flibberty-gibbets like that (hmmm...can you name what movie that name came from?). Even cornier, my sisters and I used to actually act out scenes from various films. I recall one summer, I believe in 1988, when we spent countless hours acting out scenes from the movie 'Aliens'. Yes, you read that correctly. Lauren would always play Sigourney Weaver's character "Ripley" while my twin sister Meghan or I got to play the part of the young girl "Newt". If you've never seen the movie, Newt carries around the head of a doll as her only friend. With Lauren as Ripley, she would recite the line word for word asking, "Who is this?" to which Newt replies, "Casey." This is where Meghan and I delighted ourselves in frustrating Lauren, who took acting out these scenes very seriously. Lauren, or rather Ripley, then says, "Hello Casey." In the movie, Newt says nothing to this. It's completely silent. So, to make it interesting for ourselves when we were performing this scene, whichever one of us who was not playing Newt could never resist chirping out loud in a Munchkin-from-Munchkinland kind of voice, "HELLO!" as if it came from Casey the doll head. This would then result in Lauren getting angry and frustrated with us because we'd make her laugh when she was trying to remain in full-on thespian mode. It might not seem oh-so hilarious to anybody else, but to us these were comedic moments, brought together by our combined love of movies, that made marks on our memories. Good times with the "M" sisters indeed.

Movies, movies, movies....

The films that occupy my coveted top 10 list (well, it's coveted in my imagination) are of no real particular order except for the number one. It will probably always be in the number one spot because it's been rooted there for so long. It would take such an epic and loved film to move it, and frankly nobody seems to be making movies that well anymore. And the winners are...

#1 Grease

Seriously, who doesn't love Grease? This is one movie that I can without a doubt recite every single line, word for word, by heart. Am I proud of that? No, not exactly. It clearly illustrates that I've had too much time on my hands my entire life, but it's something I'd still never exchange. The singing, the dancing, the melodrama of teen love, and Rizzo. Ahh, Betty Rizzo. I have a very clear and distinct memory of sitting on our couch in New Jersey watching Grease on TV for the very first time and seeing Rizzo's bright red high heels take a turn into the high school gym for the dance. Even at age four, I knew that was the biggest badass bitch I'd ever seen and I just loved her. I always identified a little with Rizzo. Among her friends, she was still kind of a loner, which I've always viewed myself as. There were also some deep feelings there bubbling beneath her icy surface, which also resonated with me in a strong way. Ramma-lamma-ding-dong....














#2 Moonstruck

If you've never seen Moonstruck, please watch it. You may love it, you may hate it. This was the movie that Cher won an Oscar for, which many people never thought possible. That tells you a little something about it right off the bat. It's a wonderful New York movie involving a woman named Loretta, who is engaged to the sweet but boring Johnny, but is now in love with Johnny's angry and bitter brother Ronnie. Throw some La Boheme in there and you've got one beautiful story. Seriously people, contact Netflix now.

















#3 Clue

A dark stormy night, six suspects, six murder weapons, a lot of rooms, and one brilliant comedic cast. Was it Ms. Scarlett? Colonel Mustard? Professor Plum? You'd have to watch to find out. In my opinion, this movie is pure 100% comedy gold. One of my favorite "situations" in movies is when something chaotic is going on in one place at one time. In this case, it's in a mansion on one night and is filled with hilarity of trying to figure out who did it, where, and with what. Not to mention, the best character of all, the butler Wadsworth, is played by the brilliantly-beyond-brilliant Tim Curry (my favorite actor of all time) and keeps the film moving at lightening speed. Between Tim Curry and oh my God Madeleine Kahn, and oh my God Eileen Brennan, and oh my God Christopher Lloyd....you can see what this movie does to me. I hope to God that nobody ever attempts to remake this classic. Some things are better left alone in their perfect perfection.



















#4 The Big Chill

It astounds me how many people I know that have never seen this, which is kind of a tragedy. Another fantastic film from the 1980's (which I'm now noticing as I glance at my list that 7 out of the 10 movies on my list were made in the 80's) with a wonderful ensemble cast. A group of old college friends gather to attend the funeral of one member of their old "group" who committed suicide. They have all gone in different directions and different careers, but end up spending the weekend together and find that the closeness they once shared is still there. But don't be fooled, this isn't an all sunshine-and-roses comedy. While cleverly written (the dialogue in this movie is fantastic and Jeff Goldblum has some of the best lines in the film) and an astounding soundtrack, there are a few darker moments infiltrated throughout involving drugs, suicide, and extra-marital affairs. But don't be put off. Once you watch it, you'll likely be asking yourself why you've never seen it before.















#5 Some Like It Hot

Old and in black and white, peppered with classic Hollywood movie stars. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are musicians who accidentally witness a mob murder in a Chicago parking garage. Scared for their lives, they go on the run to avoid being "bumped off". Since the murderer knows they are musicians, and they still have to find a way to support themselves while on the run, they decide to disguise themselves as women and join a traveling female band, assuming that the mob boss will only be searching for them across the country in all-male bands. From the moment you see them dressed as women, you get a better sense as to why this movie has often been voted the funniest movie of all time. Lemmon and Curtis, or rather "Josephine and Daphne", make not only pretty unattractive women but can hardly contain themselves around their sexy counterparts, particularly Marilyn Monroe's character "Sugar Cain", whom Tony Curtis falls head over heels for. In the meantime there is an elderly Miami millionaire who just can't seem to keep his hands off of a not-amused Daphne. You can see where this is going...It's silly, it's ridiculous, and it's another reminder of why movies of that era were referred to as "The Golden Age". It just doesn't get better than this.















#6 Working Girl

Another great 80's film! This time involving Tess, played by Melanie Griffith, the over-worked, under-paid, and never-appreciated secretary who is determined to fight her way to bigger and better things in New York City. She lands a new secretarial job working for the mighty and shrewd Katharine Parker, played by Sigourney Weaver. Tess is quietly in awe of Katharine and her business savvy and tries bringing a brilliant business venture idea to her that could mean a big promotion for Tess. After being shut down by Katharine and told that her idea is basically small potatoes, Tess is stunned when she discovers that Katharine has in fact stolen her idea and is running with it. Tess refuses to take it lying down and starts some trickery of her own, determined to get her idea off the ground without Katharine knowing. Even though she's the villain, I adore the character Katharine Parker. I love her huge shoulder pads and ice cold demeanor. What can I say? Sometimes the villains are fun. Oh, and did I forget to mention that a very hot Harrison Ford is in this? Hello...Keep the kids out of the room when you watch this one. There are a few R-rated scenes. But trust me, you will love and enjoy the heck out of this if you ever get a chance to see it.
















#7 Annie

Another musical. Another 80's film. Another Tim Curry movie. With Carol Burnett. And Albert Finney. And heart palpitations....I love this movie so! You all know the story of little redheaded orphan Annie. If you haven't ever seen it, you should be committed. We're talking one of the greatest musicals ever put on screen here! Also, this is kind of a fun fact, but back in the summer of 1996 I went up to New Jersey to visit my relatives and went out for a drive with my cousin Alex. He took me to show me around his college, Monmouth University, which he told me used to be one of the Vanderbilt mansions now converted to a school. Neato. As soon as I laid eyes on it I thought 'there's something very familiar about this place'. As soon as he took me inside and I looked up, I knew exactly where I was. I was in freakin' Daddy Warbucks' mansion!! Yes, the mansion that they used in the movie is actually a college in New Jersey, which I had no idea. It was one of the most unique places I have ever set foot in and such a fun, as well as unexpected, experience for me. Tomorrow, tomorrow...













#8 Superman

It's kind of hard to choose between Superman part one and part two, because I like them both, but the original I enjoy most. This might seem kind of a strange movie to have on my favorites list, but it's a part of my childhood. And it's one of those movies that if I'm flipping through channels and it's on, I will automatically get sucked into it. Action, adventure, comedy (I particularly love the scene where the pimp on the street sees Superman and exclaims, "Say Jim, that's a bad out-fit!), and Christopher Reeve's gorgeous baby blues...need I say more?













#9 When Harry Met Sally

Ahh, another one of my New York movies. I love films that take place in New York where the city becomes almost its own character. Another Meg Ryan movie, You've Got Mail, is sort of the same thing. What I love about this movie is that there's nothing to it but good acting, good writing, and a good story. No blood or guts, no special effects, just good stuff. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, Harry and Sally, meet for the first time as college graduates who carpool together to New York to begin their lives. They don't get along very well as Harry is laid back and a little eccentric where Sally is completely uptight and rigid (which Meg Ryan always plays well). They go their separate ways but meet again five years later. After that chance meeting they meet again years later and suddenly find themselves best friends, which neither expected. And of course they fall in love with each other, which sounds great, but is incredibly complicated for Harry and Sally. I also love the supporting characters in this, Carrie Fisher and the late Bruno Kirby, whose romance begins in the funniest of ways. If you've never seen this, I think I might be ashamed of you. And I mean that.























#10 The Goonies

Oh yeah baby. The Goonies. What self-respecting kid who grew up in the 80's didn't like this movie? This movie is so symbolic of my childhood because my twin sister and I were such adventurers. After seeing this we made our own homemade treasure maps and went on our own quests for One Eyed Willy's jewels. It's just a fun movie all around--a bunch of misfit kids with some serious potty mouths trying to find some "rich stuff" to save their neighborhood all while being chased by the Fratellies, a family of escaped convicts. You just couldn't make this stuff up. What I also love about this movie is that it was one of Josh Brolin's first films, who I love looking at because he reminds me of my husband. He insists they look nothing alike, but I remember my husband at age 18, and trust me, he looked exactly like Brandon Walsh! You better love this movie or walk the plank. Arrr...

Okay, I'll admit, that was lame. I'm tired. Sue me.














So that's it. That's my top ten favorite movies of all time. I love so, so many movies that a top 100 would really be more appropriate for me, but that would make the longest post ever, and this one is already pushing it. So I hope you enjoyed the randomness.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!