Monday, September 29, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of September 29

Right now I'm typing this with my awesome little iPad bluetooth keyboard while being entertained by Sonny D pretending to make me food and drive his car around town.  So since I'm not at a computer, my formatting options are pretty limited, so forgive the barebones look.  I haven't been doing a whole lot since my last day of work on Tuesday, mainly chores around the house and setting up a weight lifting workout in my fitness app on my iPhone.  This morning was my first real workout and I'm glad I did a reconnaissance mission last week to know what equipment was available.  There aren't any barbells at my gym so I'm focusing on using dumbbells instead.  It's probably safer that way.

At the gym, getting ripped!

Monday - We ended up having frozen pancakes and waffles and leftover salmon from last night.  And shared a tiny can of low-sodium V8 vegetable juice.  Sonny D said he liked it and wanted a can in his lunch.  I really doubt he would actually drink it since he only took about two sips.

Tuesday - I'm meeting my friend Natalie for lunch at Edo Japanese.  For dinner we're having whole wheat gnocchi with pasta sauce and tuna mixed in.  Afterwards I'm going to Zumba class.

Wednesday - Husband Jeff and I arre going out for dinner at Rare Steakhouse with his cousin Amy and her husband Doug.  Sonny D loves hanging out with Doug, he's great with children.  

Thursday - Sonny D's preschool is going to the pumpkin patch and I signed up to chaperone.  It'll be an adventure to hang out with about 25-30 preschoolers.  For dinner we'll have eye of round with mashed potatoes

Friday - Husband Jeff and I are going to the preschool parents' night out event at the Craftsman Table & Tap.  I'm not sure if we'll go to the restaurant early and eat dinner there or eat something random at home and then go out.  We've got several meals out already, so hopefully I can convince Jeff to have something at home.  

Saturday - We're heading out for one of our Breakfast Club meetings, this time at the Koffee Kup in Stoughton.  We're also talking about heading to Apple Fest near our house.  In the afternoon we're going to Chuseok, a Korean harvest festival event put on by our Korean adoption group.

Sunday - My customary Sunday morning routine of shopping at the Northside farmers' market.  Last week I forgot to plan ahead with getting cash and ended up raiding the change jar to have enough money to buy things.  In the afternoon I'm taking my Japanese friend Chie to the Vietnamese/Asian market near her house.  She didn't know about the market so I'm glad to introduce her to a possible resource closer than the further away Japanese market she usually goes to. 

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

A New Chapter Starts...

A little over two weeks ago I quit my job as a web designer and now I'm heading into a new chapter of my life.  I will be working as a taste tester (the official title is "sensory panelist") for a huge well-known food production corporation near our house. Right now I haven't heard a start date but it should be any day now. When we do start, I'm going to have approximately three months of training and then a year of tasting product coming off the production line.  Unfortunately I will be working only two to three half days per week and it doesn't pay the big bucks, so once the schedule is figured out I'm going to see about finding a second part-time job to fill in more of my time since I think I will go nuts being at home all the time. I actually like working.  

It was hard walking away from a good paying salary job for a hourly position, I haven't had that since I was in college. But I'm totally in love with the idea of working in the food industry, food is my passion. And I'm really interested in what they'll teach us about tasting. It'll probably be a lot of getting in tune with your palate and being aware of what you're tasting. 

I found the job on a Craigslist posting and I was determined to get it, so I kept contacting the people involved until they contacted me back or told me the job was already filled.  I had a three-hour taste evaluation in a group of about 30 people. The first half was easy with basic taste checks, but the second half was really difficult. Here's an example of what we did -- taste four samples of ham and put them into matching pairs... but they all tasted like ham, seemed like no differences at all!  We went through three or four sets of ham samples and then the last group was saltine crackers. I must have done pretty good though since they asked me to join them. 

People have asked me if I'll spend more time with Sonny D but he'll stay at preschool like usual. I will pick him up earlier on my off days and do fun things like visit the children's museum, hit the big downtown library, make treats together, etc.  I also signed up for a year membership at the workout room at the community center and I'm planning to do weight lifting for strength training. It's something I haven't done before but I'd like to try it out.  

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

More Infused Liquor: Chocolate-Mint Vodka & Jalapeno Tequila

On Sunday I had some free time in the afternoon while Sonny D and Husband Jeff went to the park to play with our neighbors, so I decided to make some recipes I've had on my list for a while, chocolate-mint vodka and jalapeño tequila. This will go along with the spearmint vodka and cherry bounce I made earlier this year.  We're going to break them out at Thanksgiving with our friends, that's probably going to be a drunkfest.  :)

Chocolate-Mint Vodka

I finally went out to our garden to pick the chocolate mint for this recipe.  It's a hearty plant, still going strong despite growing without maintenance.

I picked all of the leaves off a few stems and ripped them a couple times to help release the oils, then put them in the jar.  I had no idea how much mint to use, so I just did it until I ran out of leaves and then covered it with vodka.  I used up the last of a bottle of vodka we had in our pantry and cracked open a new one I had purposely bought to make this recipe.  I wanted to use all of the vodka up so we didn't have any leftovers, but I ended up with a tiny bit that wouldn't fit in the jar.  Maybe I'll infuse it with another flavor.
Don't you love the classy homemade masking tape label!?

This will sit in our fridge to infuse for a week and then I'll strain off the mint.  I'm still not sure how we'll use this or the spearmint vodka I made, but I'm sure we'll figure something out.  Mint, lime, and rum go together to make a mojito, so maybe we'll make a variation on that with something like pineapple juice or coconut.  Or spiked hot chocolate.  Drizzled over vanilla or chocolate ice cream would be good too.  Mixed into hot tea.  Martinis. 

Jalapeño Tequila

I did a bunch of research to learn about tequila to come up with a list of possible brands/types to buy.  I ended up buying El Jimador tequila because it was highly ranked, available at the store I was in, and it's the type our friends Jim & Isabelle drink.  I tasted it straight before I added the jalapeno slices and found out that good tequila is nice!  There's a great smoky quality and it was actually enjoyable, not something you'd need to learn to appreciate like whisky.

I sliced up three jalapeños from our garden and put them in the jar and dumped the tequila on top.  It will infuse for about three-four days and then I will strain out the jalapeños.  I wonder if there's something I can do with those now-boozy jalapeños? 
El Jimador, gettin' spicy. 

I saved the bottle for this one so I can use a funnel and fill it back up.  I figured it will be easier to pour out of a bottle than a canning jar. 

This one seems like it will be easy to use, either straight shots of tequila or made into some sort of margarita.  Yum!  

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of September 22

Last Week

On Tuesday Sonny D and I went to the dentist.  This was his second time and he did great!  He watched videos on my iPhone until it was his turn and then he got right in the chair and opened his mouth as asked.  He even called out the hygienist for not pulling down her box of rewards (it sits way on top of a high cabinet).  I can't believe he even remembered that it was up there.  And he loves his light-up toothbrush and lip balm they gave him.  

On Thursday evening Sonny D and I attend his preschool pizza social, the entertainment was a guy who played kid music and turned on bubble machines.  The kids all loved it.... except for Sonny D.  He sat on my lap and watched the whole time.  Husband Jeff was away for a trip and was envious of our Little Caesar's pizza since we had been talking about it recently.

On Friday for Me & D night we headed to the mall to meet up with friends at the play area.  At first Sonny D was a bit hesitant, but later he loosened up and ran around with Alex.  It'll be fun to get the boys together more often.  We mentioned possibly going to the open swim at the nearby elementary school, that would be fun. 

My friend Heather and her mom stopped by on Sunday and we went to the farmers' market together.  I had a lot of produce from the previous Sunday that I hadn't used up (and even a few things from two weeks prior!) so I didn't buy a whole lot.  I was surprised to still see rhubarb around at the market (and it was good looking too!), to me that's a late-spring thing and it's now fall.  I felt bad, I had talked up the juice/smoothie/spring roll cart to Heather but it ended up that it wasn't there that day.  Darn!

I took time on Sunday afternoon to make and can salsa verde using the tomatillos I bought two weeks ago at the farmers' market.  I had a tiny bit of salsa that didn't fit in a jar so we had some for dinner last night, it was great!  I used jalapenos from our garden instead of the Anaheim chiles called for in the recipe and it was nice and spicy. 
Salsa verde in the making. 
For Sunday dinner I had Husband Jeff grill up okra since I had heard that would prevent it from being really slimy. It was quite good! The seeds were a bit off-putting and I kept getting grossed out by seeing the large white seeds, but they were actually soft and didn't feel weird when eating it.
Grilled okra is A-OK with me! 

This Week

  • Monday - Our neighbors ordered Asian food for delivery yesterday and Husband Jeff thought that was a great idea, so we're having Chinese takeout.  Then after dinner I'm heading out to a board meeting for our Korean adoption group (I'm the Supplies & Events Coordinator).  We're planning Chuseok,  a fall harvest festival.  For us that means lots of Korean food and games.
  • Tuesday - I want to make curry cauliflower soup and add in some chickpeas, along with sesame green beans.  Then I've got Zumba after dinner.
  • Wednesday -I think I'm finally going to make stuffed buns - filled with white bean mash, bacon, spinach, and cheese
  • Thursday - We've got a partial package of hot dogs in the freezer that I have the urge to use up, so we'll have those with miso-butter roasted delicata squash.  I'm sure that won't satisfy Sonny D, so I'll pull out the random other things we've got like hummus, crackers, pretzels, veggies, etc.
  • Friday - The end of the week here is a little uncertain.  I wrote down some food ideas but they're all cold-weather items like soup, but the weather is supposed to be pretty nice.  So I feel almost guilty for making what I want rather than seasonally-appropriate dishes.  So today I picked out chicken rice soup, which Sonny D will hopefully be pleased about since he loves rice.  It's a thick soup, pretty much jook/congee, a savory rice porridge. 
  • Saturday - I've got my Core Fusion class in the morning and then we're meeting friends for lunch but still haven't nailed down a location.  In the late afternoon I was thinking we'd attend the Duck Soup Cinema program downtown.  They show silent movies with an organ accompanying them.  There is also some other entertainment that goes along with it, like one year they had a juggler and a couple a capella groups.  I was figuring we'd have dinner at a nearby restaurant afterwards. 
  • Sunday - Like always, I'll make my way to the Northside farmers' market in the morning.  I'd love to head up to Lapacek's apple orchard in the afternoon to see what apples they've got available.  I'm planning that we'll go to the apple orchard maybe three times this fall, this Sunday, then another trip in mid-October to Oakwood Fruit Farm for pumpkins and super-delicious caramel apples, and then back to Lapacek's at the end of the season.  Last year we went through a lot of apples so that's why I think we should make three trips this year.  For dinner I was thinking super-classic eye of round steaks with mashed potatoes

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of September 15

Last Week

On Thursday we had our old regular tank water heater removed (it had started a leak) and replaced with a tankless water heater.  I don't really notice much of any difference with the water, but the low hum when it kicks in keeps tricking me into thinking I'm getting a call and my cell phone is vibrating.

One night during the week I roasted delicata squash with miso paste and butter, it was great.  I highly recommend it.  I hadn't had delicata squash before, but it's a sweeter squash, pretty similar to acorn squash, but without the stringiness.  I've had a hard time finding delicata squash, but I will buy it as often as I can and make this recipe.
miso-butter roasted delicata squash
I needed to make a treat for work so on Thursday night I baked up a pan of brownies from a mix and looking up recipes to use up the bananas I've got in the freezer and the huge jar of peanut butter that Husband Jeff doesn't like.  I ended up making these Dole banana peanut butter cookies and they were great.  They were great as-is (well, with the addition of a teaspoon of vanilla and a handful of chocolate chunks) but next time I would double the bananas and increase the peanut butter to 1/2 cup.
Peanut butter-banana cookie dough.
I took off Friday and headed to the big Half-Pint kids' resale event and bought $92 worth of clothes for Sonny D.  I had a hard time shopping because I had to finally buy clothes for him (we've always gotten hand-me-downs) and I had no idea how much to buy.  I ended up panicking after my volunteer shift and went out and bought a second small load of clothes. 

On Saturday evening we went to Husband Jeff's company's summer gathering.  One of the other employees invites everyone to his house and feeds us and we all hang out chatting.  There was a bonfire in the back yard, but it was too cold outside and I was too busy chatting to go out there.  We got home after Sonny D's bedtime so he didn't get enough sleep that night and then didn't take a nap the next day, so he had a total meltdown on Sunday afternoon at our friend's house.

On Sunday morning Sonny D and I took the wagon up to the farmers' market and hauled back a large load of produce.  We bought (L to R and top to bottom) - green beans, onion, celeriac, tomato, eggs, Roman beans, okra, bell peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, raspberries, delicata squash, eggplant, Gala apples, and kettle corn (most of it's already gone in this picture).  I rarely plan ahead what I'm going to buy, I just pick out whatever sounds good and can easily be incorporated into our weekly menu.  The celeriac and okra were total impulse purchases, I've never had them before and wanted to try them out.  I think I'm going to use the celeriac in my mom's chicken rice soup recipe and I'd like to grill the okra since I've heard that prevents it from getting slimy.
Our score at the Northside farmers' market.

This Week

  • Monday - creamy butternut squash mac & cheese (totally winging this, might not work out) along with Roma beans and sweet corn from the farmers' market.
  • Tuesday - Sonny D and I are taking the morning off and heading to the dentist.  His first visit went fine, so I'm hoping this one will too. For dinner we're having eggplant parmesan with pasta and sesame green beans.   In the evening I've got my awesome Zumba class.
  • Wednesday - I want to make shakshuka (eggs cooked in tomato sauce) along with grilled okra and miso-roasted delicata squash. 
  • Thursday - Sonny D's preschool is having a pizza social but I'm worried because it's going to be outdoors but there's no rain date.  The weather looks fine right now.  If the event is cancelled, we'll probably get pizza somewhere and bring it home.  
  • Friday - baked fish with rice.  For Me & D night, I think we'll go to the open swim at the warm-water pool.  
  • Saturday - Our friend John wants to go the Food for Thought festival and it was already on my list, so we'll probably head downtown for that.  Then for dinner we have plans to meet another family at Roman Candle Pizzeria mainly because they have a kid play space. 
  • Sunday - I think we're going to the farmers' market with my friend Heather and her mom.  For dinner I want to make cheeseburger casserole with grilled new potatoes. 
And somewhere in here I want to make more of those peanut butter banana cookies.  Yum!

Wanna Chat?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My New Warby Parker Glasses Arrived!

My new Warby Parker glasses arrived in the mail on Monday (Sept 8) even though the original delivery estimate was supposed to be a week and a half later than that (Sept 18).  Yay for under-promising and over-delivering!

I was impressed by the care in sending them.  The outer packaging was the shipping box, then there was a dark grey Warby Parker box inside that.  The glasses were nestled in a really nice light grey hard-sided case with a bright turquoise fuzzy interior.  Cute, the color makes me smile.  A really nice case is a great touch, much better than the not-so-protective soft cases I got with my last two pairs of Sears glasses.

When I showed the package to Husband Jeff, he agreed that the hard case was really good quality and that little things like that really matter in a person's satisfaction.  And he was really impressed with the thinness of the high-index lenses and that it only cost me $30 extra for them.  I think I've got him set on Warby Parker glasses for his next set since mine were such a great price and so nice. And I KNOW I convinced my brother-in-law to get new glasses.  He played around with the home try-on samples at his birthday party and really liked them and I sent him home with the name of the frames he liked best.  This week he sent a picture of himself wearing his new Warby Parkers and mentioned that he likes them so much that he's thinking about getting two more pairs.
My new Warby Parker Baxter glasses have arrived!
I was going to wear my new glasses to dinner the first night, but the prescription is a touch stronger than my last glasses (since the old ones are four years old!) so I needed a little more time to adjust to them. When I finally got to wear my new glasses at bedtime I totally fell in love with them. They're awesome. My previous glasses were small and I love the bigger field of vision these give me. Plus they are solid, not flimsy like you might expect with something so cheap. 

The only tiny drawback is I need to go somewhere to get them fitted since I've got a tiny little head and they need to be tweaked to fit me better. But I can still wear them right now without any issues. 
Modeling my new glasses.
I highly recommend Warby Parker for glasses! I had such a great experience with the whole process -- the two boxes of home try-on frames they sent, loved the attentive emails they sent, love the price, love the quality, etc. 

Wanna Chat?

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coffee-Cinnamon Cookie Fail!

Here is a story of a recipe fail.  I'm not going to point you to the recipe because I don't know if the recipe wasn't well tested or my crazy substitutions were what caused the cookies to be so bad.  But I felt like sharing, so here you go.

Making Dough

On Monday when I was home for lunch I threw together batter for coffee-cinnamon cookies.   I made it ahead of time because it said the batter was runny and need to chill for a couple hours to stay together.  Sounded good.

I didn't have the maple syrup needed so I substituted with honey.  And I didn't have enough honey left in the open jar and I didn't feel like opening the new jar of honey I had just bought at the farmers' market.  I figured the amount of honey would would be ok since I prefer not-too-sweet cookies.  I thought about tasting the batter to see if it was sweet enough, but I was grossed out by the raw egg so I skipped it. The batter was really dry, completely opposite of the way the recipe was described.  I thought it might hydrate a bit as it sat.

Baking It Up

When it came time to make the cookies, we had to search all over the living room to find the cookie scoop.  It's one of Sonny D's favorite things to play with right now.  We found it inside a big metal cookie tin.  The dough was really stiff so we flattened the balls and hoped they would spread in the oven.
Scooping out cookie dough.
The cookies didn't puff up at all in the oven.  I think it needed more baking powder and maybe something acidic to react with, like maybe yogurt.  Plus more liquid in general. 
Baked cookies. 
We each had a cookie after they cooled a bit.  They were bland and boring, certainly not sweet. And no coffee flavor at all, so after Sonny D went to bed I whipped up a coffee drizzle glaze in order to give them some sweetness and the coffee flavor I was looking for. 
As they cooled overnight, the cookies seemed to get more dense and rock-like.  By this morning, they weren't very good at all, but I threw one in Sonny D's lunch bag and packed two for my morning snack.  I ate those two cookies, more out of boredom than because they were good.  And I somehow ate three of these not-very-good cookies at lunch today with a mug of tea; they're sitting like rocks in my belly.

Moral Of The Story

My advice is that you should ensure you have all of the ingredients before you start making a recipe.  Or at least read through the recipe and come up with a plan for substitutions.  Or maybe test it to see if it's actually going to be decent! 

Any Recommendations?

These coffee cookies were an absolute dud.  Does anybody have a tried-and-true espresso/coffee cookie recipe?  A family favorite?  I'd prefer something that is solely coffee-flavored, no chocolate. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!