Friday, August 8, 2014

Another summer bites the dust

Summer break has flown by, and almost every good intention I had for this free time has blown away with the Kansas winds.  For the first time in my life, however, I can honestly say that I love summer.

It's been 30 seconds since I typed that, and I was not struck down by the gods for telling a lie.  Because this time, it was the truth.  To be fair, I still hate hot weather, and humidity can go eat fat-free cream cheese (a punishment that is borderline torture), but I've really liked sleeping in, having lazy days outside, vacationing a little, eating great tomatoes, even driving Katie to day camp for a couple of weeks.  The relatively mild weather has helped--remember our first couple of summers had loads of 100+ degree days--as well as a fully functioning air conditioner, the first summer in KC we've actually enjoyed that.  And we joined the city pool!  If that isn't a reason for me to get a mental health check, I don't know what is.

Don't worry, though. I'm still me.  While I've been working out more consistently over the past 9 months than I ever have in addition to all these traditional, borderline boring, summer activities, I haven't been replaced by Stepford Starr.  I'm still loud, presumptuous, tacky, annoying, and know-it-all.  You can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Anyway, forget words, more pictures, right?

Field trips galore, including to the City Market, where we ate the smallest, most expensive lunch I've ever purchased, at Bloom Bakery. Still delicious, but I think that bottle of water must've cost $5.

We abandoned our beautiful kitchen table for the summer since the AC, while glorious throughout most of the house, can't keep up if I'm cooking.  So, SURPRISE! We've used the dining room.  It's felt vaguely old-fashioned and quite comforting to eat family style with a well-set table and flowers as a centerpiece.  Side note: those purple balls are Black Velvet Apriums (apricots + plums), and they are spectacularly delicious.

This year's been my laziest vegetable gardening season on record, but we've still managed to get dozens and dozens of these lovely Indigo Rose large cherry tomatoes.  The squirrels seem confused by them, which is a blessing since they've been particularly aggressive about eating my food.

When we were at the beach, I allowed one photo to be taken of me, and I also enjoyed myself immensely. Just so you know, if I could find a full-body beach cover that wasn't too hot or hideous, I'd go for it.  Me + Sun = Bloated Lobster.

Anyway, school starts next week for Katie, and since I fooled the PTA into asking me onto the executive board, I've been busier than usual.  Oh, and as a quick update on Katie's "so scary we only have cubbies not lockers" school , it's been a great fit for us so far since the school's mixed bag reputation seems to be predicated on rumors and little else.  The PTA is full of down-to-earth go-getters who love books and fun, the teachers have been wonderful, and Katie has blossomed into a much more confident little girl (yes, she is still little and will be forever, okay?).  And being 2 blocks away has been awesome.  So if you've ended up on this site because you were searching for feedback on Roesland Elementary, please consider this a 5 star review.

So there's our summer for you.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Update on The Year of Why Not!?

It's been a busy few months for me. Many of you would laugh at what I consider "busy", but still, I've had a lot less time to myself to update my thousands of fans.

Back in January, I declared 2014 to be the Year of  Why Not!?  And un-true to form, I've actually followed through.

First off, Ryan and I joined a church.  I KNOW.  That's no big deal for some of my friends, but others are probably wondering why. I'm going to completely bypass that question and ask instead, "Why is an upside-down pie called a tart?"  Or maybe I mean, "WHY NOT!?".  We were looking for some community as a couple. I already have my Bitches That Read clubs (three, in fact--man I love reading), and Ryan has work buddies and a whole Google+ life I know very little about, but we have nothing specifically for the two of us beyond a rare dinner date.

Ready for church, and looking way too grown up.
It just so happened that a friend posted a sermon podcast from her church around January, and I clicked on the link out of curiosity.  Here was a church in the middle of the city that welcomes everyone.  And I actually mean everyone.  Service to others is at the heart of the church's mission, and we're loving the motley congregation.  We're already teaching Sunday School once a month for the kids and have enjoyed several events, including a fun Easter Egg hunt.  I will say the rock band isn't exactly my cup of tea--I much prefer a stodgy ol' organ and choir full of blue hairs--but I'm giving it a chance and trying to learn music without actual sheet music in front of me.

Grass, be gone.
What else have we been up to?  Tearing up the front yard.  After several years of drought, I decided fussy grass was for fussy people.  So we smothered most of the yard and have been planting seeds and more mature plants.  Some of the seeds washed away in a rain storm, ironically, and some failed to germinate, but we're getting there.  I will have my contained chaos garden eventually, maybe a couple years down the road as everything grows in.  For now, though, I'm enjoying these beautiful hydrangeas that love all the shade this house has to give.

I've also decided to let most of the weeds bloom this year.  Of course, if they're choking plants, forget about it, but if it comes up and wants to flower, so be it.  I read the dandelions are good for bees, and some of the un-identified thingies around here are kind of pretty.

I think I planted those pink plants, but not the rest!
A third WHY NOT!?  A second car.  We've been a one car family off and on the past few years, but it was getting trickier having a social life with only one vehicle that could carry everyone.  So we scoured Craigslist for either an extended cab truck or a diesel car, honing in on 80s Mercedes.  Et Voila!  We found this beautiful SD that's comfortable even with three rather large car seats spanning the back seat.  It's got that comforting roar that goes along with a diesel engine, the kids love it, and even better, since it was not expensive at all, it's paid for (car notes make me itch in bad places).  

I'll have more updates on our yard soon. Still need to mulch some more and figure out what to do with a couple of empty spots.  Thankfully the neighbors have been patient and haven't egged our house yet due to the work-in-progress.  And thankfully Ryan has been a great sport and done most of the back breaking work. I'm a lucky gal!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Snobby food made easy

It's been awhile.  I've had a few new things on my plate since January, so I've spent more time consuming than producing on the internet.  If you're a fan, I'm sorry.  If not, well, then, I'm sorry I'm back

Anyway, I found a NYTimes recipe for beet casserole recently, and vowed to make it come hell or high water.  The major downsides are that there were lots of steps, beets are kind of messy, and I wanted a shortcut or two.  The problem with shortcuts, though, is that folks tend to think adding a can of MSG-laden soup is the way to go, and food snobs cannot tolerate that at all. In fact, there is no way any food snob has ever enjoyed a Veg-All and canned soup casserole with her food-snobbing mother for Thanksgiving. Yup, no way in hell that happened last year.

Moving on. I made different substitutions and solemnly swear there is no soup to be found here.

Thank you, Costco, for having organic, precooked beets ready to go.  They're cute, albeit still a bit messy, and if you look at the package after a drink or two, you might laugh like a 13 year old at all the red balls in the fridge.

The recipe also calls for beet greens, but I decided on this bag of other greens, including kale, chard, and spinach.  I'm actually not a huge kale fan, but baby kale is not unpleasantly chewy like elderly kale can be.

The final change I made could be considered sacrilege.  The original recipe calls for a hazelnut oat topping that seemed fussy, although I'm sure it's fantastic.  So I pulled out an old favorite for casserole topping: Ritz crackers.  

I know!  It's just wrong for food snobs to eat such things.  I should've at least gone to Trader Joe's for the "healthier" version, but that's 20 minutes away, while I could get the Ritz goodness at the Price Chopper mere blocks away.  And I made the crackers a better choice for our hearts by adding a super food: melted butter (grass-fed!!!). 

Wait, another change: I also didn't use "cloth bound" cheddar, opting for this Cheddar Colby mix that I had 10 pounds of.

Ahem.  I swear it's still an adequate copycat of the original. How could it not be!  There are at least three superfoods in there (beets, kale, and butter) as well as CHEESE.  You'll be superman after eating it.

Other notes: If I were to make this again tomorrow, I'd make this ONE thin layer.  But that's because I love crunchy food.  I put chips on almost all my sandwiches and love toppings more than the next guy.  I managed to fit 2 layers in my gratin dish and any more than that would've made the bottom too far away from the crackers on top.  The original recipe claims to make 3-4 layers.

Before I finally get to the recipe, let me tell you that it's not labor free. You will be making a béchamel sauce, which sounds fancier than it is.  I recommend you have all the ingredients for that ready.  And call it all "mise en place" because that solidifies your food snob status.

Puttin' on the Ritz Casserole 
(adapted from the NYTimes recipe linked above)
1 lb cooked beets, sliced 
1.25 lb of greens (that's most of the bag I pictured)
5 T butter plus more for buttery crackers
2/3 c flour
2 c milk
2 c Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 T ground mustard (or more to taste)
A few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce if you wish
One sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed

1. In a large pot, boil a lot of water.  Cook the greens in the water for 2 minutes. I had to do it in two batches.  Drop the greens into a colander that's sitting in an ice water bath. I do that in the sink.  Drain this very well once cooled, and consider squeezing the water out of the greens.  It'll keep the casserole from being runny.

2. (Béchamel Sauce) Melt 5 T of butter in a large pan.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Watch the color--it shouldn't brown.  Carefully whisk in the milk.  It'll thicken pretty quickly.  At this point, turn off the heat, stir in the cheese until combined and then add the mustard, the Worcestershire, and the hot sauce.  Add salt and pepper if necessary.  If the sauce seems too thick, you can add a bit more milk until it's runnier.

3. Melt some more butter in the microwave (your choice on how much. My mother might have used 1 or 2 sticks on her casserole last year, and we didn't complain. I used half a stick).  Add in the crushed crackers and stir.

4. Assemble the casserole.  Pour some béchamel into the bottom of your casserole.  Place a layer of beets and then a layer of greens.  Season this with salt and pepper.  Repeat layers until you run out. Top with buttered crackers. Bake for 45 minutes at 350.  If you feel that's too long for the crackers, cover the casserole with foil for the first 20 minutes or so and then take it off for the remaining time.

When you take this to your next potluck, if anyone asks whether it has cream of mushroom soup in it...just consider your audience. If it's Aunt Hilda who pours the stuff on her morning cereal, say YES.  If it's your hipster friend in the skinny jeans and cruelty-free sunglasses, look back in horror and say BECHAMEL YOU FOOL! And those crackers? Home-crushed of course.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Our New Master Bedroom

A few months ago, we switched bedrooms with the girls.  We didn't need 500+ square feet, and I was tired of toys being everywhere in the house, so they've been enjoying loads of space upstairs while we have the tiny bedroom.   I wanted our new bedroom to be calm and dark, helpful in inducing sleep, something that we needs loads of.

Without further ado, here it is:

You see, the bed isn't on the floor anymore!  We bought a short mattress platform since we have relatively low ceilings in this house.

I found these matching bedside dressers at the vintage markets in West Bottoms.  They're kitschy but not overly so.  And Ryan likes the nod to cars.  Since we have a tiny closet in this room, the dressers provide a little extra space for clothing.

We finally have a place for the huge mirror I bought four years ago.  The dresser my Mother-in-law gave us a few years ago looks great in that space.

Hasn't this room come a long way?

What's next?  I'd like larger, more interesting lamps on the bedside dressers, and maybe something on the wall on both sides.  And we need window coverings that aren't roller shades (which I removed for this photograph).  But this room is close enough to finished that I don't feel much urgency.

I'm loving the dark color, which is Glidden Duo in Martha Stewart's "Anvil" found at Home Depot.  It's a dark grey blue, and it helps keep us asleep in the morning.  Sometimes, that ain't good, but I'm not complaining. Upstairs we were awakened by the sun at 545 in the summers, so our love cave is such a nice departure from that.

This is my favorite room in the house.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2014: Why Not!?

Shall there be resolutions for this new year?  Of course!  And they shall be meaningful, specific, and totally unattainable (in most cases).  At the end of the year, I'll hope no one remembers my lofty goals, that no one notices my pants are *tighter* rather than looser, that my eyebrows are still blond and invisible and therefore alien-like.

Thinking of really good resolutions.  
So here goes.  What I've turned my third eye toward for 2014:

1)  I've always been good at asking WHY NOT.  I've moved all over the country, going where the wind blew me, forever hurting my earning power but helping me become the very round person I am today. I mean, well-rounded.  I'm turning it up a notch, though, this year because asking WHY NOT is harder when you have a husband and three children.  Some people forget what that phrase even means after they have kids and turn from the life of the party into the plainest vanilla in the room.  I won't be that gal!

Thankfully, I've already started on this goal. I took a class, for credit, at our excellent local community college just for fun.  We painted our family mottos on the living room wall.  I bought really big weird glasses that are purple in the sunshine.  I slurped down raw oysters for the first time, one of the few foods I had been afraid of.  I started using butter on everything.  Maybe that last one doesn't count.  But I shall stop asking WHY and starting declaring WHY NOT!  I will say YES more.  I will care even less if someone thinks what I'm doing is weird. In fact, the weirder, the awesomer!

2) Speaking of awesome, I'm going to start a motorcycle club.  Ryan and I have been watching Sons of Anarchy, and I realized, in the fashion of WHY NOT, I needed to head up a group of motorcycle gangsters. What will my group of badasses look like? I do know there will be leather.  Oh yes, leather. I'm thinking chaps, low-cut t-shirts, tattoos everywhere.  Some brawls in the backyard, a few prospects to torment (wax my floors, pond scum!), and wild raucous parties that end in a happy naked pile.  I will tell you what there won't be: motorcycles. I hate the things. But I feel I can't be a gangster without calling my club a motorcycle gang.  Maybe I'll put a few photos of motorcycles up on the wall of our "chapel", which will be in the kids' playhouse out back.

The name?  Bitches that Read.  I really wanted it to be Bitches That Read, Write, and Cook in a Generally Awesome Way, but that doesn't roll off the tongue too well.  I'm not sure when or if we'll ever meet, but know that I'm an official BTR badass and that you had better pay me the respect I (think I) deserve.   In fact, if you ever see me, you'd better run up and bump my belly with yours. I've always wanted to greet people that way, and now that I have a motorcycle club, I can do it!

If you wanna join, send me 500 words on whether I should ever tell my kids that rather than prepare for an essay exam on Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse in high school, I watched a Green Acres marathon, showed up to class without having read one word of it (and no Cliffsnotes either), read half of it during the exam, and managed to eek out a B.  I mean, that's pretty much the most badass thing I've ever done, and I gotta show my kids I'm more than just a really hot mom. I'm a GANGSTER, dammit!

3) I'm going to practice the art of brevity.

I'm out, y'all.  I gotta go shine my van and oil the stand mixer.  Happy New Year!

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