Day 333: Ribbolita & Samosas: An Okay Combination

Well, NaBloPoMo was a bust. It didn’t really help that we were on vacation for a week. Turns out week of driving 1600 miles round-trip with three kids and your mother-in-law is less a vacation and more an exercise in patience and planning. (It was actually great to have my MIL along for the ride. I’m not sure Mike and I could have handled all three kids on the road as easily without her help. Thanks, Judy!)

We were very thankful for this during our road trip.

We were very thankful for this during our road trip.

Anyway, I suppose I should post one or two things on this last night of November to try and make a showing.

I made another new recipe the other day – Ina Garten’s ribbolita. This rich tomato-based soup has pancetta, parmesan, white beans, and kale and is thickened with sourdough bread. I read the recipe dozens of times and kept getting hungrier and hungrier – it sounded so good!

Alas, despite a 5-star rating on the Food Network website, I found the soup just okay. Instead of all those yummy flavors I just mentioned, it really just tasted like tomatoes. If I make it again, I’d probably use beef stock instead of chicken stock, and probably add some braised beef as well. Although I suppose then it would be beef stew, not ribbolita. Hm. At least it looked yummy!

Mmmm... Shaved parm...

Mmmm… Shaved parm…

Along with the soup, I enjoyed some leftover samosas that I had made the night before. Also pretty good, although I think they would have been better with a less-flaky dough. (The recipe calls for puff pastry. Maybe pie dough would be better?)

You can’t tell here, but the samosas are quite large (each uses a quarter sheet of puff pastry), and filled with potatoes, chicken, peas, and spices. Tasty!

Samosas

Samosas

 

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Day 310: Reading List, Interrupted

Jon Snow, my fantasy novel boyfriend. After I started reading the books, I had to watch the whole first season of the HBO series on DVD. Cable would have you believe there’s a whole lot more nekkid going on in the books than there actually is. Even so, I can’t wait for the next season!

Over the summer I started reading the Game of Thrones series, and I’m thoroughly enamored. I didn’t think I would be – I expected the medieval/high-fantasy novels to be too complicated, what with 300-some characters over the course of the series. In some ways, it is complicated. The relationships between the dozens of royal and lordly houses are hard to keep track of. At the same time, the novels are written in a way that guides the reader through the world and the families very easily – for instance, each chapter is titled with the name of a character who serves as the central actor for that section of the story. A smart plot-guiding device by Martin.

Since I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the series, I decided to borrow Game of Thrones from the library first, via Kindle’s digital lending, which I love. I got my Kindle for Christmas last year and I haven’t bought a single book for it – I’ve been reading everything through digital library loans.

Or at least I was until I accidentally went back to the Kindle home page yesterday. See, just like regular library loans, digital lending has time constraints – about 14 to 21 days, after which your loan ends and you have to re-borrow the book. Unless you exploit a loophole in the system by not closing the book you’re reading. Two to three weeks is plenty of time for most people to read a novel, but when you’re corralling three kids and only get time to read while you’re feeding the baby in the middle of the night, you need a few extra days.

Sad face!

I don’t know if this works on other Kindle models (I have a Fire), but here’s the sneaky deal: if you leave your Kindle on and don’t close the book you’re reading (i.e., when you reactivate the screen, the book is still open to the page where you left off), the loan will continue indefinitely. But, if you close the book, power down the Kindle, or the battery dies, you’re out of luck.

Which is what happened to me on Sunday, about 62% through book 4 – A Feast for Crows. Bummer! I’m back on the reserve list at the library so I can re-download it and finish it up, hopefully right in time to download book 5 so I can read it on Thanksgiving vacation. Hooray!

Meanwhile, I’m doing well on my goal of reading a book a month. I’ve updated the reading list and have many more in the queue. Looking into how to add my Goodreads list as a link on the blog.

Chipmunk Turns Two!

I spaced out on posting to the blog last night because I was working on this:

Since the Chipmunk’s birthday is just 10 days after Monkey’s, I kind of slack a bit in party planning for her. It just comes up so quickly! Thankfully she’s too young to realize what’s going on, though I expect that will change next year. She may or may not care about the cake, and she may or may not eat it, but I feel better for putting a little effort into it!

Day 207: Call for Back-up

This is my work computer.

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I don’t worry about it because everything’s backed up to cloud servers and sky servers and moon servers for all I know.

Meanwhile, our home computer used to have a lot of files hanging out on the desktop, but now it looks like this:

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Everyone’s favorite Blue Screen of Death started visiting us randomly over the summer, so we finally invested in a good-size external hard drive and backed up our music, movies, and other important files. Worked like a charm!

After everything was safely filed away, we restored the computer to its original settings from the recovery partition (hence, the factory-settings desktop) and the BSOD stopped coming around. For a while at least. It popped up again this week for the first time in many months. Oh well. The computer might be on its last legs, but at least the data is safe. Goal #51 done!

Day 263: The Big One

I almost goofed on a simple task today: writing this silly little post.

See, for the last several months, this blog has been collecting dust. It’s not for lack of accomplishing tasks – I have several books, recipes, and other things to catch you all up on. Rather, this time my laziness stems from the fact that I was busy checking one very big item off my list. More on that in a sec.

First, I should note that one of the tasks on my list is to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Weiting Month, which takes place each November. I’m a bit late this year (and have some other things on my plate), so instead I’m following the lead of Erin from Erin Cooks(we met her here) and getting myself back in gear with NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. Every day this month I’ll add a little something here to make up for all the weeks and months I’ve missed. Because I was busy making this:

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Welcome to the world, little Ladybug.

Goal #1, complete. (Actually, it’s #22, but that doesn’t sound as awesome.)

Day 157: Grocery Goals

This morning’s trip to the grocery store will mark the second day in a row of actually remembering to bring reusable bags to the store. Yes, I’m celebrating two days of remembering because this is one responsibility I forget about 100% of the time. Two days in a row is momentum enough for me! Onto completing goal #98!

20120606-072528.jpgMeanwhile, I’ve also started a month-long free trial of The Grocery Game. No, I don’t have a stockpile of canned goods, toilet paper, and toothbrushes in my basement, and I don’t belong on the show Extreme Couponing (though I do need to work on goal #63, and I’m secretly jealous of the shoppers on that show). I do try hard to save my family a few bucks here and there, and I love matching a coupon with a sale to get free or almost-free stuff. The Grocery Game is a paid subscription service, so I’m trying out the free trial to see how much I can save. If the savings easily cover the bi-monthly subscription cost, I’ll keep going. So far, I’m averaging about 30-40% savings per shopping trip, and I’m shooting for close to 50% this morning. Wish me luck!

So, that’s what’s going on in this house this morning. What are your grocery tips and tricks? How do you remember (consistently) to bring reusable bags to the store, and what are your favorite ways to save money on groceries? I’d love to hear your helpful hints!

Day 153: Frozen Coconut Limeade

There are so many great recipes to be found on Pinterest, and this one is great for a refresher on a warm summer day. (Follow me!)

I expected this “Frozen Coconut Limeade” to be a bit sweeter than it turned out. More like a coconut slushy with a touch of lime, but it was really lime-with-coconut. The non-alcoholic version I made calls for “cream of coconut,” which I couldn’t find in the store, so I used coconut milk. Perhaps cream of coconut is sweeter? Next time, I’ll use less lime and add a little vanilla to punch up the sweetness. Also, I doubled the recipe and the remainder is chilling out in the freezer. Not sure if it’ll stay slushy or scoop like ice cream – it’s a surprise!

Day 148: Pink Lemonade Cake

Can you imagine what lemonade smells like? Bake this cake and drink it in!

 

 

This recipe (see below) came from a recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens. I rarely make cakes from scratch, so it took longer than I anticipated, but it was fun! A couple of things I would do differently next time: Add more lemon extract and/or use regular lemonade concentrate (the Monkey chose pink lemonade concentrate.) The lemon scent was definitely there, but I didn’t get as strong a lemonade flavor in the finished cake as I hoped for. I would also make a meringue frosting instead of using butter cream.

 

Pink Lemonade Cake
Ingredients

1 C butter
4 eggs
3 1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 C sugar
Red food coloring
1 1/3 C milk
1/4 C frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 tsp Pure lemon extract
1 recipe Lemonade Butter Frosting (follows)
Directions
1. Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease two 9×2-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment; grease paper. Flour pans, tapping to remove excess; set aside. In medium bowl stir together 3-1/3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350. In an extra-large mixing bowl, beat butter with mixer on medium to high for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a tie, beating on medium until well combined. Scrape sides of bowl; beat 2 minutes more. Add 1/8 tsp red food coloring; beat to combine. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
3. In a bowl, stir together milk, lemonade concentrate, and extract (mixture will look curdled). Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture to butter mixture beating on low after each addition just until combined. Remove half (4 cups) the batter; spread in one pan. In remaining batter, stir 1/4 tsp. red food coloring. Spread in second pan.
4. Bake about 35 minutes, until tops spring back when lightly touched. Meanwhile, prepare Lemonade Butter Frosting.
5. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove layers from pans; peel off waxed paper. Cool completely on wire racks. Trim off domed tops of layers so cake will stand flat. Cut each layer horizontally in half, making four layers. Brush crumbs from layers.
6. Place on dark pink layer, cut-side down, on a plate. Spread 1 cup frosting just to edges. Top with light pink layer, followed by second dark pink layer, spreading frosting on each just to edges. Stack final light pink layer, cut-side down. Spread frosting on top and sides as desired.
From the Test Kitchen
Tip: Evenly color layers – To incorporate food coloring evenly in batter, add the first portion of food coloring to butter and sugar mixture before adding eggs.
Tip: How To Split Layers – To split layers, stack small wooden blocks the width of the layer desired next to the layer. With a gentle sawing motion, slice around the cake to the center. Brush off crumbs.
Tip: Balsa wood blocks are sold at crafts stores.
Tip: Lemon Garnish – Thinly slice lemons and remove seeds. Coat with sugar then arrange on cake just before serving.
Lemonade Buttercream Frosting
Yield: 4-1/2 cups
Ingredients
3 C (6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 16-ounce jars marshmallow creme*
1/4 C frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 C powdered sugar
2 tsp. pure lemon extract
Directions
1. In a very large mixing bowl beat softened butter with mixer on medium for 30 seconds, until light and fluffy. Add marshmallow creme and lemonade concentrate. Beat until smooth, scraping sides of bowl. Add powdered sugar and extract; beat until light and fluffy. (If frosting is stiff, soften in microwave no more than 10 seconds, then beat until smooth.)
2. Frost Pink Lemonade Cake. To store frosting, cover and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before frosting cake. Makes 6 cups.
From the Test Kitchen
Tip: Room-temperature butter ensures that the frosting will be creamy and spreadable.
Tip: *If only 13-oz. jars are available, add 6 oz. (1-1/2 cup) marshmallow creme.

Day 121: Reading List: The Help

Completed 4/30/2012, posted 5/31/2012. Here’s why.

What’s left to be said about The Help that one reader or another hasn’t already covered? Yes, I really enjoyed it. No, I haven’t seen the movie, though I’m sure I will. That’s actually what I’m most curious about – how the storyline and the characters will be portrayed because, as we all know, film adaptations are almost never completely true to their books.

I figure I was probably the last person on Earth that hadn’t read The Help, so I’m sure I wouldn’t give anything away by talking about the ending. Nevertheless, I’ll avoid any spoilers and simply say I was a bit disappointed by the ending. Stockett spent so much of the story earning our dislike – hatred? – for Hilly that I was hoping for her complete undoing with every page turn. Meanwhile, Aibileen’s love for the children she cared for made me cry, and the finality of their relationship was heartbreaking.

The best part of these disappointments is the truth in them. All I know of segregation and the post-segregation era comes from books and documentaries – I count myself lucky to have no first-hand knowledge of that period in our nation’s history. But Stockett does, and with her honest retelling, a truly triumphant, happy ending just couldn’t be in the cards. So many novels have a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end; their stories resolve. The Help is merely designed as a snapshot in time, and a touching one at that.

Unspeakable Laziness Reigns Supreme

Hocus, pocus...crocus!

Hi friends,

Just a quick note right now. I haven’t posted a single thing since January, but in all honesty I did accomplish at least half-a-dozen items on The List during February and March. Since one of them was the first trimester of #22, I was just too overwhelmed with exhaustion to actually write up any of the posts for said accomplishments. While spring was springing, I was snoozing. (I wish there was something like “take awesome naps” on the list, because I’d be all over that.)

But gumption is making a comeback! Over the next few days I’ll be posting items about what I cooked, read, and otherwise took care of for the last two months. Full disclosure: I’m going to back-date those posts so they show up on the calendar in the order in which they occurred, but I’ll make a note in the text of the day I really posted it. Hope nobody minds! (Not that you would, because there are only about four of you reading this anyway. Thanks, you four!)

So, off I go to post about something yummy. Cheers!

Lauren