Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m an Adult Now

Well, it’s official, y’all. I think I’ve finally become a real, mature adult.

It’s taken a few decades to get here, but I can honestly say that I truly recognized my maturity on this Valentine’s Day.

Ryan came home from work yesterday, a little freaked out after talking to other females he works with and hearing their expectations for Valentine’s Day. They asked him what he had planned for his wife, and he told them he didn’t have an extravagant plan. (He failed to mention that last weekend he had been trying to line up a sitter so we could sneak away somewhere for a little getaway).

My husband is really amazing that way. Valentine’s Day has never been a real thing for us. When I was younger, inexperienced in life and love, I wished for romantic Valentine’s Day surprises. When I was about 12 or 13, I decided I wanted a Valentine’s Day wedding because I thought it was the most romantic day of the year. When I discussed this plan with my aunt Sharon around that time, she pointed out that when you marry the right person, ANY day is the most romantic day of the year. So that plan fell by the wayside. Still, I sent Ryan telepathic Valentine’s Day messages that I wanted all of the wine and roses and chocolate and jewelry I could get, but never vocalized my desires because I wanted him to know all on his own what I wanted. He’s always delivered a small surprise: always chocolates, sometimes a small piece of jewelry, sometimes flowers, sometimes all of the above. But he’s notorious for surprising me with spontaneous romantic gestures on random days throughout the year. He doesn’t need a calendar or a big-label greeting card company to tell him when to extend a romantic gesture.

This morning I made my trip to shop for valentines for my family while they were at school and work. For Ryan I had decided on candy and frozen pizzas. Sounds weird, I know, but he’s been asking for pizza all week. So I thought if I bought frozen pizza, we could have a romantic pizza snack to ourselves after the boys went to bed. I bought the boys each a little box of candy- more than enough to supplement the sugar highs they all brought home from school- and called it a day on my shopping.

I was in the kitchen making a very non-exciting dinner of oven-fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and homemade mac and cheese when my tall, handsome valentine walked in the door laden with grocery bags, a liquor store bag, and… a premade deli pizza.

I bust out laughing. He was so confused until I pulled his “valentine” out of the freezer. We congratulated ourselves on thinking so much alike, and he handed me the liquor store bag with not one but two bottles of my favorite wine. Then he started to unload the other grocery store bag. When he pulled out three miniature boxes of chocolates identical to the ones I’d purchased for the boys, we both started to laugh.

Friends, that moment- the moment of knowing that celebrating Valentine’s Day in the simplest way, with my four guys who piled on top of me yesterday morning and declared me their “Princess,” my favorite wine, chocolates, and frozen pizzas on the same night Grey’s Anatomy is on, is the only way I care to celebrate Valentine’s Day, ever- that moment was so clarifying.

I became a real adult today.

And it feels damn good.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends.




Baby Steps

I used a pun to title this post.  Just making sure I still know how to use a pun.  Also, just making sure I still know how to blog.

It’s been awhile.  A long while.  When I started this blog, I was a “career woman,” out in the real world, sharing my daily debacles as I stumbled through life working, maintaining our home, and attempting “domestic goddess” status.  I had a lot to share, and a lot of time to share it.

Nowadays, I strive to take a shower.

I don’t want this to become another “Mommy blog,” because, as much as I’m in love with our new son, and as much as I am adoring my new career as a stay-at-home mom (striving to be promoted to domestic engineer), I’m still trying to find the balance of meeting the little guy’s needs, maintaining the kind of home Ryan and I are accustomed to (and, in fact, the kind of home we both need in order to stay sane), and keeping two men and a dog fed (that sounds like a weird movie, doesn’t it?) while also trying to find time to keep doing my “me” things.  That sounds selfish, doesn’t it?  Except that in concept, it’s really not…God, I hope it’s not.  Ryan needs his time with the little one when he gets home from work.  And I do occasionally like to take a break from the kitchen and laundry to read a book, take a bath, do my nails, or write a blog.  And Clohe is the kind of dog who still needs to be the center of attention, so we have been trying to keep up with her therapy visits.  (And this is a lot of parentheses and sentence fragments.  Apparently, my writing skills are slipping).  And if I’m showered, dressed (in jeans, not sweats!), and can apply a bit of make-up and do something with my wildly-out-of-control hair before 6 pm… well, that’s a big bonus.   

And so recently, what with the little man sleeping 8-ish hour stretches at night (hallelujah!), I’ve been taking baby steps back into the kitchen.  This weekend, I made a crock pot chicken cacciatore, these grocery store-style sugar cookies, a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and a batch of homemade salted caramel sauce that I plan to substitute in the cheesecake recipe I’m contributing to Thanksgiving dinner with Ryan’s family. 

Most weeknight meals lately have been chicken; I’ve found that cooking a whole fryer chicken on the weekends when Ryan is home, then portioning it out and leaving it in the fridge makes dinnertime much easier, since the most time-consuming part is already done.  When I can, I’ve made extra of whatever we’re having, and put half a meal into the freezer for later.  Or, if it’s been a really rough day, Ryan just has to entertain the baby while I throw something together quickly.  In fact, last Monday night, Ryan came home to find me sacked out on the loveseat with the baby, nothing started for dinner.  Fortunately, my pre-portioned chicken idea saved the night, and dinner was ready in less than twenty minutes.

So, I’m working on getting the cleaning-with-a-baby-in-the-house routine down.  Cooking and baking are also works in progress.  And so the next item on my list is blogging. 

Baby steps, friends.  Baby steps.

A Cucumber Sandwich to Call Our Own

Cucumber sandwiches.  Remember that post from last summer?  The one which related our search for the perfect home to Ryan’s quest for the perfect cucumber sandwich?  Remember how frustrated I was, how absolutely worn out by the whole real-estate purchasing process?  Guess what, friends?

It’s finally over.

We bought a house.


Two weeks ago today, we signed the final batch of paperwork and bid a tearful goodbye to our amazingly patient real estate agent, and now forever friend, Suzanne.  We have moved.

For the first time ever, all six patterns of my dishes fit neatly into one cabinet in our kitchen.  All five sets of wine glasses have found cabinet space.  My big orange Paula Deen stock pot that used to live in the front hall closet, along with the nesting set of multi-gallon capacity Tupperware containers, is in a cabinet.  The crock pots and serving pieces and cake plate and the plethora of other “stuff” I haven’t been able to use since our wedding, have homes.  And soon, all of my shoes will have their own closet as well.  No more concussions caused by the avalanche of falling high heels!

Can you tell I’m excited?  Can you tell how incredibly relieved I am that the whole saga has finally reached a happy ending?   I’d be lying if I denied the fact that I wholeheartedly believe we’ve earned this.  It’s been a long, sometimes impossible road leading here- to this place we call home now, just miles from our first home.  We’ve shed sweat and tears, literally, to find the perfect home.  And that’s exactly what we’ve found: a home that has everything that we ever wished for in a home- even some of those items we had been willing to compromise on in the past.  The house is the size I was hoping to find, on the size lot we said was our hope.  It has the exact number of bedrooms and bathrooms I wished for, with one of the bedrooms already being set up as an office, which was what we would have planned to do with an extra space.  The basement has additional living space, AND Ryan’s “man cave” (the space where he can set up his RC workshop and not have to charge batteries on the kitchen counters where I’m trying to make dinner), and the main floor is open and spacious, with a ton of natural light.  Not only do we have an eat-in kitchen as I had hoped for, but we also have a dining room.  And guess what?  One of the first things we did when we signed those papers was to paint it plum purple.  I’m still searching for the perfect table to put in the dining room, but in the meantime, it’s the exact color I had pictured.

Coming from our little ranch rental, I sometimes feel almost lost here.  It feels strange for Ryan to not always hear me when I speak to him.  And I also feel terribly naughty painting dark and dramatic colors on our walls, even though I’ve had some of these colors picked out for several years.  When I remind myself that this house is ours, though, that feeling goes away, and I am learning to revel in my long-buried interior designer persona.  I get to call the shots now- with my husband’s help, of course.  Aside from being my personal painter/handyman, I think he’s also enjoying making design decisions with me.  We’ve purchased furniture together (and as we contemplated our options, I made mention of another decision we had made.  At that point, he gasped and said, “Now I see!  Ok, let’s go with this!”).  And he also made decisions on at least half of the paint colors we’ve chosen so far.

For her part, Clohe has adapted very well to her new house.  In the weeks leading up to the move, I had frequent “talks” with her about what was going to happen when we moved to the “new house.”  I would point it out when we drove past, I would tell her that’s where the boxes were going that I was packing and stacking all over the place, and I would explain it to her as she snuggled with me in bed or on the couch.  I explained to our dog how the move was going to affect her.  (After all, we are the kind of people who feel the compulsive need to explain our major life decisions to our golden retriever.)

The day after we signed the papers for the house, I packed up the car with boxes bound for the kitchen, and all of our cleaning supplies, and Clohe.  I packed her beds and all of her toys, and she was moved in first, to help her to get settled.  (After all, we are the kind of people who feel the compulsive need to explain our major life decisions to our golden retriever.)

She seemed to settle in right away.  Within the first day, she had learned her way around, found some good places to lie down, and knew the exact boundaries of our property without us having to show her.  After our first day of working to prepare the house for our move, we walked to my Auntie’s house across the street, and didn’t leash Clohe.  She walked between us the whole way until we reached my aunt’s property line.  At that point, Clohe took off running through the yard and straight to the garage door.

Last week, we took Clohe to our empty little ranch house to load the car with the last of our belongings.  We took her in the house to show her that our things were gone, and after a brief “run through and sniff,” she seemed satisfied that we wouldn’t be leaving her in the big house all by herself.  We went outside to load the car as Clohe made one final run around the property.  We could almost see her saying goodbye.    Finally, when we were ready to leave, I called to her and said, “Clohe, let’s go home,” expecting her to go to the door between the garage and the kitchen.  Instead, she went to the car and stood by the door until we came to get in with her.

I think explaining our major life decisions to our golden retriever has paid off.  And I think she likes our cucumber sandwich too.




Novel Idea

I’m kind of addicted to my Kindle.  It was a second anniversary gift from my amazing husband last year, and from the day it arrived in the mail, I’ve been in love.  So in love, in fact, that I converted my aunts from their “other brand” e-readers.  And also, I taught my mom (who is a self-proclaimed technophobe) how to use hers after my brothers and I bought her one for Christmas last year.  Mom’s addicted too.

My sister has begun composing her Christmas list, and today she informed me that she was placing the Kindle at the top of her list.  Queen of corny and stupid jokes as I am, I intentionally led her into a conversation with a punchline.  Apparently, she’s getting a little old for my childish humor, because here’s how the conversation went:

Peanut: “I made my Christmas list for this year; I really want a Kindle.”

Me: “What will you do with a Kindle?”

Peanut: “Read.”

Me: “Read what?”

Peanut: “Books.”

Me: “Hm.  What a novel idea!  Ha, get it?  Novel?  Like a book?”

Peanut: “Ok, Danielle, I have to go.  Bye.”

Guess she didn’t think I was as funny as I did.  Dear Santa, please bring me a book of grown-up jokes.  Better yet, just bring me a new sense of humor.  Preferably one that’s age appropriate.



What Lies Beneath

When we moved into this house six years ago, the first question I asked the landlords was if we were allowed to paint the walls.  The living room was sort of pinkish-white, the kitchen was trimmed in wallpaper with little pink flowers on it, the bathroom had yet another wallpaper with little pink flowers, and the guest rooms are neon: one is blue, and the other- the closet-sized room that serves as the laundry room as well as Ryan’s RC pit/office is green.

Anyway, they told us that painting would be fine, as long as I went neutral and had approval beforehand.  And since this year seems to have been the year of sprucing-up for this house,  I decided I wanted the kitchen painted before winter.  This past week, my beloved and I struck a deal: if I removed the wallpaper from the one wall and the bulkhead above the cabinets, he would help me to paint.  Deal on.  Except that… I had never removed wallpaper before…


So Sunday, I ran to the store and bought a wallpaper scorer, to rough up the paper so I could tear.  I started to rip the pink flowered stuff down, only to realize that I was only pulling down the printed part of the paper; the backing and glue weren’t budging.  So I scored.  And I scraped with my putty knife.  An hour later, I had made little progress.  So I did what any modern, self-proclaimed handywoman would do: I Googled.  And I found that mixing a solution of equal parts water and fabric softener in a spray bottle made wallpaper fall off on its own…except that I was out of fabric softener.  The next result promised that equal parts water and vinegar would do the trick.  I had vinegar.  And- gasp!- it worked!  The backing came off easily with a few passes of the putty knife.  I was ecstatic- and so proud of myself.

You know how pride is one of the seven deadly sins?  Yeah, the heavens weren’t having it that I was proud.  So I received a curveball: there was another layer of paper underneath.  Under that pink patterned wallpaper (circa 1980) was yet another layer of wallpaper, circa 1962.  With vinegar solution in hand, and cuts on my palms from the putty knives, I managed to get each layer off by mid-day Monday.  Of course, there were still little chunks of glued- down wallpaper backing that were hanging on to the walls for dear life.  To get rid of those little suckers, I mixed some laundry detergent with water and scrubbed.  Most of the glue reluctantly gave up the fight, and the rest peeled off easily with my fingernail or a nudge from my putty knife.  By Monday evening, the walls were prepped to be painted.

Tuesday, while Ryan was at work, I packed up all my little decorative items from the kitchen and draped the appliances and table with sheets to protect them.  When he got home, we painted the ceiling so Wednesday we could paint.  While I was atop the refrigerator brushing to the edges where his roller wouldn’t reach, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: So this is how Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel.  Lying on his back, just like this.

Ryan: Yes, but there’s one difference between you and Michaelangelo.

Me: Yeah, I know, his work is amazing.  And he used colors; I’m painting white.

Ryan: No, he was fast.

Me: But it took him four years!  I’ll be done here in four minutes.  Besides, I can’t get ahead of you.

Ryan: He also painted pictures.  But you’re doing great.  Keep going.

Seriously, never a dull moment here.

I tackled the walls myself on Wednesday.  I had all day to work, and there was absolutely nothing else I could focus on when a) there were PAINT cans in my kitchen, and b) most of my kitchen was in the guest bedroom.  I can’t work in a room that’s not aesthetically pleasing.  It stifles my creativity.  So I painted.  I thought, for my first time painting completely unsupervised ever in my entire life, that I could handle hand-painting the trim, where the walls meet the ceiling.  I was kinda wrong.

Ryan had to fix my screw-up places when he got home.  It took him literally all of about 15 minutes, when I had spent 9 hours painting, so I thought it was a pretty even trade.  And since each color took multiple coats to cover properly, I’m glad I got it done before he got here.  Wanna see the finished product?

Wait for it…


So now, with a more aesthetically pleasing kitchen than we had at this time last week, I’m retiring the paintbrush for awhile.  My shins are bruised from my many climbs between the floor and the counter, my hands ache from clutching the roller, my neck is sore from tilting it to see to paint near the ceiling, and I’m a few pounds lighter than I was at the beginning of the week (I think there’s magic in my stretchy pants.  I lived in them Sunday through Thursday.  When I put on real button-up pants today, they were looser than I remembered them being.  I have magical stretchy pants.)…anyway, despite the fact that I can barely keep my eyes open at 9PM on a Friday, I feel great.

Ready?  One more time:

...and After!









I accomplished something this week.  Maybe I’ll paint the bathroom ceiling next week…




I’ve been waiting so long for this!

See this?

It’s a concert ticket.  And it’s been hanging out idly in our “junk” (we use that term loosely) drawer for nearly two months.

When our beach vacation was cut short, it put us home in time to purchase two last-minute tickets to this concert.  It seemed perfect, as I had been lamenting the inconvenience of the concert date in relation to our traveling since we had learned of dates, so when we got home and ordered the tickets, I couldn’t have been happier.  I really do like to have my way.  So we dressed to go out, grabbed the tickets, and with my purse in hand, we headed out the door.  Before we made it to the car, my phone notified me of an email, which I quickly glanced at, only to realize that it was a comment on my Facebook status announcing that we were going to be attending the concert, letting us know that the lead singer- the amazing Pat Monahan- had vocal laryngitis and would not be performing.

We were crushed; not only had our vacation been ruined, but our contingency plan had, as well!  We were informed that we should be looking for a reschedule date, and I scrubbed off my mascara and got back into my stretchy-shorts and tee-shirt for a night at home.

Two months later, we finally got to do this:

The show was incredible.  Pat was back in tip-top shape and put on an amazing show for his hometown.  (*Note: I may never be able to sing “Save Me, San Francisco” again without emphasizing the “Aw, hell no!” part.)

We sang along to the classics like “Meet Virginia,” “Drops of Jupiter,” “When I Look to the Sky,” and “Get to Me,” and observed one of Ryan’s coworkers proposing to “Marry Me.”  By the time we left, I barely had a voice left.

But seeing this band perform, in person, in their lead singer’s hometown?




Pumpkin Farm- Part I

One of my favorite memories from childhood was our annual trips to the pumpkin farm.  There was a place about 40 minutes from where we lived that Mom would take us to pick our would-be jack-‘o’-lanterns.  Derek and I would ponder for what seemed like forever- usually making it a competition to see who got the bigger one.  There was also a little shop at the farm where Mom always shopped for crafts and gourds and Indian corn; it was her reward to herself after enduring any length of time with my brother and me and our constant bickering.  That’s all she wanted: some cute little craft, a couple of gourds, and a bunch or two of Indian corn.

“Punkin pickin'” is still part of our fall tradition here in the Merrow household.  Every year when the leaves start to change and the weather starts to cool, Ryan starts asking when I’ll be ready to go.  He likes to plan the outing.  And picking a pumpkin is, for both of us, very serious business.  In the six years since we’ve lived here, I think there have only been one or two that we haven’t had pumpkins.  Sometimes they come from WalMart.  Last year they came from the buffalo farm up the road.  I think once we even dragged a few from Punxsy- from my sister’s pumpkin patch that she plants and lovingly tends every single year.  We just haven’t found that special place yet to make our new tradition.

This past weekend was miserable: cold, windy, and rainy.  It was the perfect weekend to stay inside and eat chili and drink cider.  But by yesterday, I needed to get out and DO something.  Anything.  So when he asked the question, “when did you want to go get pumpkins?  I found this new place we should check out,” I had made the decision and jumped in the shower before he finished asking.  We were going, rain or not.

It was cold.  It was raining.  The wind was blowing and the place was deserted despite the rows of cars in the parking lot.  We approached the admission window for some information, while I said a little “thank you” to my aunties for the Uggs they bought me last Christmas; the rest of me may have been freezing, but my feet were toasty, and for that I was thankful.

When the one lonely lady manning the booth slid the window aside to let us in, she began to run down the list of attractions the farm offers: “Oh, we do hay rides and the haunted corn maze…but they don’t recommend that for kids under ten.  And there are slides over there…you know, for the kids…and there’s a petting zoo…for the kids…and… Oh!  The white barn over there has a cafe and craft shop.  There’s a corn box…for the kids… and over here, you can pick your pumpkins.  So…will you be trying any of the attractions today?”

This was sort of a strange question, and I, at least, was a bit thrown off.  After all, we were alone.  No kids in tow, no stroller, no car seat.  We were alone.  Just the two of us.  Finally, after exchanging a look with Ryan, I responded by saying, “It’s so miserable out today, I think we’ll just check out the craft store and buy some pumpkins.”  This statement saved us the admission fee that’s charged for the other attractions.  Armed with wrist bands, we entered the farm and headed for the barn.

The atmosphere there was a fun one; as we entered, Ryan said it reminded him of what he would expect to find at Roloff Farms of Little People, Big World fame.  There was a small cafe in one corner, with picnic tables lining the walls, and a game of corn hole set up in the center aisle.  In the back corner was nestled a small, cozy primitives shop.  We walked through, staying long enough to see everything, and headed back out to tackle the task of tracking down some pumpkins to take home with us.

There were so many pumpkins to choose from, I got confused.  I would point out one that had a good shape, vibrant color, substantial size, and was consistently round, and then promptly lose it.  Ryan would find one that looked perfect from the front, but was completely planar on the opposite side.  If we pondered and walked around for five minutes, we were there for forty-five.  Finally, we settled on two that were similar in size, shape, and color, and headed for the check-out booth.  Ryan carried them while my eyes wandered to the potted Mums and the boxes of gourds and cooking squashes.  We noticed some wagons, provided to help patrons “cart” their finds out of the patch, and I snagged one in order to continue shopping.  Once Ryan had dropped the two large pumpkins onto the wagon, he immediately suggested we pick out a pumpkin for Clohe.  He found her a smaller one that was perfectly round and perfectly orange, and urged me to pick some gourds to take home.  While I pondered over those, he checked out the pie pumpkins.  “Babe,” he called to me, “do you use these?”  I turned to look, and admitted that I never had, but I knew that they were used for all the wonderful recipes canned pumpkin is used for.  “I could bake a pumpkin pie from scratch,” I said, wheels turning.  He picked out three for me to bring home.

With a new project to focus my energies on, I couldn’t sit still when we got home.  I hauled my gourds and pie pumpkins into the kitchen to wash, while Ryan balanced our future jack-‘o’-lanterns to carry to the front porch.  And I set to work…


More to come!



Desserts. Because who needs dinner?

My friend Tas frequently labels my cooking as “gourmet.”  While this may or may not be an accurate description (I’m leaning more toward NOT!), I think her encouragement has subliminally planted itself in the part of my brain that takes over in the kitchen, and has led me to be, if nothing else, a bit more daring.  And a lot more hungry for dessert.

Lately, Ryan and I have become semi-addicted to the Food Network show Chopped.  If you’re not familiar, four contestants are unleashed in a kitchen with a basket full of random mystery items that must be made into a gourmet meal.  There are three courses: appetizer, main course, and dessert.  After each course, the contestant with the least tasty or least cohesive dish gets “chopped” and goes home.  Basket items typically include one type of protein, one fruit or vegetable, and one pre-packaged item (think Ramen noodles in the appetizer round, or boxed mac and cheese in the dessert round).  This show has led me to be somewhat creative with the ingredients I have on hand; it’s good practice for cooking techniques, if nothing else.

Tonight, I focused on dessert.  In fact, dinner was sort of atrocious compared with the desserts I served.  Yes, you read that correctly: dessertS.  Plural.  I made soup and salad and sliced some French bread for dinner, and served multiple desserts.  So sue me.

Fall is really evident around here this week; the leaves are showing their full range of gorgeous color and floating gracefully to the ground, and the temperature- while still decent- is cooler than I’d prefer.  When the weather changes like this, I think soup.  Since we’ve already had a few batches of cheeseburger soup and chili, I changed it up tonight with a big pot of broccoli and cheese soup.  I had made broccoli cheese soup only once before, about six years ago when we first moved in here.  Since Ryan was still anti-vegetables at that time, I basically made it for myself.  And it was awful.  I had no desire to try to make it again; I have a mom and two aunts who make awesome broccoli soup.  (Kidding.  Sort of).  This week, I mentioned broccoli soup, and Ryan sort of latched onto the idea as something he might be interested in trying.  While we were in the grocery store on Monday, he picked up a head of broccoli and asked me if that’s what I needed to make the soup.  We were going to try it again.

This afternoon I dug out the recipe my mom had given me all those years ago and took my time assembling the ingredients.  The process was much easier than I had remembered, and now I’m not sure what I did the last time but my confidence is restored.  Here’s how I did it:

Broccoli and Cheese Soup
4 Tbsp butter
1 onion
2-3 garlic cloves
3 cups chicken broth
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3 cups broccoli florets
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk plus 1- 1/2 Tbsp flour, whisked together
Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic; saute until translucent and soft.  Add chicken broth and potato; cook till potato is tender.  Meanwhile, microwave broccoli for 3-4 minutes until tender; chop into very fine pieces and add to soup.  Add milk and cheese; stir to combine.  

Yes.  It really is THAT simple.  Please don’t ask how I messed it up before.

Apparently, that success fueled my ambition and the pears on the counter grabbed my attention.  Several years ago for Christmas, Ryan’s parents gave me a Tuscan cookbook.  In the cookbook was a recipe for pears with a Marsala wine sauce.  Peanut picked some pears from the orchard for me over the weekend, so I decided to try it.  First, I peeled two pears, but left the stems (as sort of decoration).  I sliced the bottoms off, and used a fillet knife to remove the cores.  Then I placed them in a saucepan with 1/8 cup sugar and two cinnamon sticks, and let them cook over low heat until the mixture boiled.  Once the water reached a low boil, I covered them and let them continue cooking (still over low heat) for about a half hour, until they were tender.  Finally, I removed the pears from the cinnamon-flavored sugar water and let it cook awhile longer, until the sauce was thickened.  Once it was the consistency of a syrup, I stirred in 1/4 cup of Marsala wine.  Y.U.M!

I was on a roll; while I’m not a “band-wagon” type of person, I’m in love with the fact that caramel seems to be THE flavor this fall.  (Truth be told, caramel is one of my all-time favorites.  Our wedding cake three years ago had a caramel filling, and my new favorite cheesecake recipe from last fall was swirled caramel and peanut butter.  NOT on the bandwagon, people.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)  A few weeks ago, Ryan and I tried a new restaurant in town for lunch, and we ordered dessert afterward: a warm fudge-y brownie with a salted  caramel sauce.  Let me just tell you: To.Die.For.  We left with me vowing to replicate the recipe, somehow, some way.  Tonight I just may have accomplished this goal.  With a pan of hot, homemade brownies on the counter, I followed this recipe to almost perfectly replicate the sauce we had at the restaurant.  Fortunately, it made a whole jarful which is now blissfully chilling in my fridge.

I may or may not have to invent a breakfast recipe to utilize it.




Happy Fall!



Getting Out

Sometimes getting out of the house is much more difficult than it should be.  It’s after 6:00 in the evening and I’m not even out of my pajamas yet.  I cannot take a shower because there is a woman on a ladder outside our bathroom window.  In fact, I can’t even use the bathroom, since there’s a woman on a ladder outside the bathroom window.  Who’d have thought I’d ever have to worry about someone peeking into the bathroom window in our house in the country?  And I had somewhere I wanted to be in less than an hour.  So I pour myself a glass of wine, and I blog.  Because, really, do these sorts of things happen to anyone else?  Yeah, didn’t think so.

Besides, you know, this girl’s had her share of fun in the past week.  I’ve actually been out of the house, fully dressed, with hair and makeup done, every day for the past five days.  That’s a new record, friends.  I attended book club; I enjoyed dinner and the symphony with book club friends; I enjoyed a romantic lunch date with my husband before hosting a gathering at my house.

Yesterday I woke up early and spent most of the day puttering around the house while the lady (who is at this very moment dangling from my roof) power-washed my house.  When Ryan got home, we went to my Auntie’s house to fix her laptop, and we ended up staying for dinner.  And this morning, finally motivated, I proceeded to haul out my own ladder to wash the outsides of the windows that were streaked from yesterday’s power-washing.  I needed some way to keep busy while I wait to hear from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law as to whether I’m going to be having a niece or a nephew in February.  The suspense is getting to me here.

Meanwhile, this barefoot klutz stepped in some broken glass last night.  Have you ever injured the bottom of your foot?  While the cut wasn’t that deep, the sucker just wouldn’t stop bleeding because, well, I couldn’t stay off my foot long enough to let it.  Fortunately, it happened late enough that I managed to get the bleeding stopped and then went to bed; by the time I got up this morning, it seemed to have stopped.  Still, it’s making the simple act of walking into quite the challenge.  Well, I should say more of a challenge than it is on any other day.

Finally, I’ve had several requests recently for more frequent posts.  I’m working on it, I really am.  I’m just sort of at a loss for new material here.  My creativity is waning, but I’m trying.  I’d love to hear from you to find out what you like to read about!



Getting Brave

We spent the Labor Day weekend with Ryan’s family.  Since Ryan’s birthday fell on Monday, his parents and his brother and sister-in-law drove up for the weekend.  I love when people come to visit, because it gives me an excuse to try new recipes.  And try new recipes I did!  In fact, this week I’ve gotten pretty brave with inventing some of my own new meals.  For a by-the-rules girl like me, this inventing my own recipes thing is scary.  Really, really scary.  But, baby steps, friends.  Baby steps.

Sunday evening for dinner, I made my first attempt at cooking my all-time favorite dinner: linguine with clam sauce.  That sounds really funny, but in reality, it’s not so much.  See, just because it’s my favorite meal, doesn’t mean it’s my husband’s favorite.  His family, however, is always more than willing to try just about anything I put in front of them.  In fact, I’ve made a sort of game out of never serving them the same recipe twice.  (Sometimes this even includes dessert.)  So when I mentioned to them that my all-time favorite meal is linguine with clam sauce, everyone but Ryan agreed that it sounded like a good idea to try it.  However!  Spoiled brat that I am, I had never actually cooked my own favorite meal before.  Hey, I have a mom and two aunts who have always been eager to prepare it for me; there was no reason to learn to make it for myself, especially since I’m the only person in this house who eats it…right?  Right.  So anyway, with some help from my Sous chef/sister-in-law and Ryan’s mom, we whipped up a batch of pasta with a light sauce, a big salad, and a loaf of garlic bread.  Here’s the recipe (also from my Country Cooking cookbook):

Linguine with Clam Sauce
(*Ed. note: the real step one, omitted by the cookbook but not by the cook- Pour yourself a glass of red wine!  Enjoy while cooking!)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 can (6- 1/2 ounces) minced clams
4 ounces linguine or spaghetti
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
In a skillet, saute garlic in oil over medium heat for one minute.  Stir in parsley; saute 2 minutes.  Drain clams, reserving juice; set clams aside.  Add juice to skillet.  Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until liquid is reduced by half.  (*Ed. note: Remember my favorite saying?  “I like to cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food”?  Here, I added 1/4 cup white sherry cooking wine, and let it reduce as well, until the alcohol cooked out).  Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.  Add clams, salt, and pepper to skillet; heat through.  

The recipe also says to toss the sauce with the pasta; I’m a rebel, and skipped that step as well, opting instead to just serve the sauce over the top.  And I doubled the whole recipe (including the wine) to serve five people, rather than the two these proportions yield.  Oh, and don’t worry: Hubby didn’t go hungry.  I made him some regular, boring ol’ spaghetti sauce to go over his pasta.  He was happy, we were happy, and it worked out all-around.

Since it was Ryan’s (ahem)-tieth birthday, I made sure to cook what he liked on Monday (not what he requested, since he didn’t make his request until the day of his birthday, three days after I had done the grocery shopping for the event).  He likes chicken, so I figured we couldn’t go wrong with the beer-in-the-rear chicken that goes on the grill as a regular ol’ chicken, and comes off a crispy and golden on the outside, moist and fall-off-the-bone on the inside, absolute masterpiece.   Here’s where I began to deviate from my normal recipe rules.

We had visited a local microbrewery on Saturday where Ryan found a pumpkin dark beer that he really loved.  He asked if we could use the new beer as opposed to the lighter cans we had in the fridge at home.  Team player I am, I drained a can of Miller Light into my pilsner glass and therefore down my throat, and poured the pumpkin beer back into the can.  Running with the pumpkin theme, I mixed a dry rub of nutmeg, thyme, seasoned salt, cinnamon, and a dash of sage.  After rubbing olive oil all over the bird, I followed with the dry rub and took it to the grill.  A 4- 1/2 pound bird took about two hours, and I also grilled some savory grilled potatoes for about the last hour.  With some fresh corn on the cob, and some fresh green beans from Momma’s garden, we had a pretty tasty birthday dinner.  Topped off with some homemade-from-scratch vanilla birthday cupcakes (thanks for the 500 Cupcakes cookbook, Tas!) and some trick candles (bwahahaha!), I think this ahem-tieth birthday party was a pretty successful one.

Apparently, my kitchen experimenting over the weekend didn’t scare my husband off completely.  He still trusts me enough in the kitchen that he made a request this morning before he left to have chili for dinner tonight.  Since it’s downright “chilly” here this week, chili sounded like a really good option for dinner.  Of course, since he requested traditional red chili with beef and kidney beans, I couldn’t very well change the game on him without his knowledge.  But here’s the thing: I’ve been wanting to try white bean chicken chili for several years now.  Since I had leftover chicken in the fridge from Monday, I decided to go for it.  Without a recipe, per se.  I Googled a couple of recipes for a basic idea, and ran with that.

To the best of my knowledge, I used about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and put it in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When it got hot, I added 1/2 an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and let them get tender but not caramelized.  Once they got soft, I added two cups of water and a tablespoon of chicken base (you could also use two cups of lower-sodium chicken stock to cut back on the salt) and let it get hot.  Then I added a can of white kidney beans and about a cup and a half of cubed cooked chicken.  To season, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some freshly cracked black pepper, about a teaspoon of cumin, and some oregano.  I think it could have used some fresh cilantro too, but I was out and forgot to pick it up at the store.  It cooked over medium heat for about 45 minutes (though I don’t think it really needed to go quite that long) and I spooned it into my soup mug and topped it with a handful of Mexican-blend cheese, a dallop of sour cream, and a sprinkle of parsley for some color.  I think you could probably serve two people from this recipe, so to make it for more people, just double the proportions.