Saturday, March 31, 2012

Twelve for 12: March Progress Report

I haven't posted an update about my List of Things To Do for a couple of months, but since many of those "to do" items are time consuming, there wasn't a great deal to add since January's update.
But in the last two months, I have managed to cross off a few more of those items and add to others that are ongoing.

#7 - Start and finish at least 2 knitting projects (although in a post to be named later, I may carry one "state" from 2011 over)
Last update I had bought yarn.  Happily, I've finished that blanket and given it to the little lady who will hopefully enjoy snuggling herself in it.
The only wrench here is that while I have also begun project #2 (which is NOT the project that I'm carrying over from 2011), I have mentally prepared myself for two more babies... er, projects to bestow on some expecting friends.  Thankfully, they have had the decency to space out their pregnancies and are due later in the fall.

Pink and cream hearts for a sweet little girl
#8 - Take HRH to one, new, exciting Thing each month
Even though January had both ZooLights and Beauty and the Beast in 3D, I've been working hard to add variety to our routines.
In February, we took her to a pottery painting shop in Gilbert, where she painted a fish (that has yet to be picked up... ahem).  Fortunately, she didn't see the Belle figurine that she could have painted, had I been willing to shell out the big bucks.
This month the princess had to wait until the end of the month for anything new (we did go to the zoo during Spring Break, though), but it was worth it.  Since I have a child who has seemingly endless energy, I decided it was Time to Get This Kid Into A Sport.  Now, The Husband really wants her to play soccer, and I agree that a team sport is important for her to experience, especially as an only child.  But I also want it to be her choice.  Enter our local parks and rec - we found a four-week class for kids HRH's age that introduces them to 9 different sports.
The first class presented soccer and golf, and already HRH said she enjoyed both.  The Husband, I am sure, will actively be working on drills in the backyard with the bazillion (half dozen) soccer balls we already have, but I'll bet that she'd be happy hitting the "links" over in the pocket park down the street.

#10 - Read a book that is not intended for the 3-year-old crowd
Last month, Mads sent me The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.  I had heard good things about the book, including Megan's comment that I will "ugly cry" (no, really - that's an endorsement).
I haven't opened it yet.
As much as I want to, knowing that reading it will elicit that "ugly cry," I want to make sure that I can devote a solid block of time to sit, alone, tissues in my lap, sobbing and snotting all over the book.  So that's on my list for my vacation time this summer.
However, I did finish Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung, earlier this month, so I am already able to cross this item off my list.
Of course, one book is just not going to be Enough.  Two probably won't be, either.

I still have quite a few that need starting, but progress is progress, and I still have nine months left in the year.
Baby steps.

  1. Run a half marathon (considering I already signed up, I felt that it was best to put this as Thing #1)
  2. Begin painting the house (interior)
  3. Continue collecting my china pattern
  4. Participate in at least one new run/race event
  5. Declutter the master bedroom (or at least start)
  6. Begin my masters
  7. Start and finish at least 2 knitting projects (although in a post to be named later, I may carry one "start" from 2011 over)
  8. Take HRH to one, new, exciting Thing each month
  9. Obtain a post-race massage (this is not indulgent; studies show they help runners recover)
  10. Read a book that is not intended for the 3-year-old crowd
  11. Donate blood 4 times
  12. Spend more high-quality less-TV time with The Husband

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Birthday Haiku

Today is my birthday, and I was fortunate enough to take the day off, sleep in, receive an iPad (woo hoo!), take HRH to her first session of a 4-week class introducing her to various sports, be taken out to breakfast, knit on the couch while watching Ghost Hunters AND Ghost Adventures, be made cupcakes, be taken out to dinner (pizza - tomorrow is the traditional Birthday Date Night that the Husband and I have done since we met), and knit some more.

But perhaps the most exciting revelation: today is MC Hammer's 50th birthday.

I wish I had some parachute pants.

But since I don't, I thought I'd post a haiku I wrote for one of my classes some years back.  Somehow, over the course of a unit, the kids thought it would be fun to challenge me to write either a haiku or limerick about topics of their choosing.
Somewhere, between Ron Burgundy and New Kids on the Block, Hammer was thrown down.

Callanta's Favorite
No, you CAN'T touch this,
'cause I'm too legit to quit.
Stop.  It's hammer time.

Call the Library of Congress; you've got your next laureate right here.

Happy birthday, Hammer.  Wish you were still totally legit.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Weekend Update and Monday Meal Planning

When you are the parent of an extremely energetic and picky three-year-old, the words date night rarely cross your lips.  It's true that I love HRH with all my heart, but it's hard to want to go out for a family dinner knowing that our restaurant selection may have nothing on its menu that fits her discriminating palate AND that you might have to somehow MacGyver up a system by which to keep her chained to the table without having CPS being called by the other restaurant guests.
So this Saturday was almost magical, as my mother-in-law texted me earlier in the week asking if she could please have HRH overnight with her, since she hadn't been able to see her for the past few weeks.
Um, yes.  Yes you can.  We'll be right over.
Tuck and roll, kid.  Momma and Daddy have a date.
And then we realized that we didn't know where to go for dinner.  The free time afforded to us was so foreign that we had come into it completely ill-prepared.
Fortunately, the ladies at Phoenix Bites and Local Lily were quick to answer my Twitter plea to help these two wayward parents find something that's fun and inexpensive and delish.  After some brief discussions, we decided to try out Taryn's suggestion of bld here in Chandler.
It was The Right Decision.
Since it's been gorgeous out at night, we opted to sit on the patio, which was perfectly comfortable (I brought a sweater, as per my Pacific Northwest roots, but I never needed it) and cozy.  The beer and wine menu was full of several familiar names, but before I had my Kilt Lifter, I had to try the Mama's Lil Yella Pils from Oskar Blues in Colorado.  One, I love the homage to the Rolling Stones.  Second, and this might be obvious to you by now, it was the best beer pun I've ever seen.
And have I ever mentioned I love fried pickles?  Because I do.

The tempura was out of sight, as was the Sriracha aioli.
I do have to say, though, that while I love pickle spears for your workaday,
fried pickles should always be in chip form.

Dinner was also good, although I was more in love with the polenta and gnocchi than the pork chop that I got, and The Husband thought that his chicken and bacon-laced waffles was great but wished he had gotten something more "dinnery" (his words).
I then made it to exactly 10:17 before I headed upstairs to bed while The Husband watched some awful movie on OnDemand.  I let Ghost Adventures lull me to sleep.
I'm definitely down to put bld onto our rotation of Places to Eat.  And I'm not sure the dinner menu will work for her, but I know HRH will be more than happy to go there for breakfast someday.  Total winner, Taryn!
Oh, and yesterday?  We met my mother-in-law and HRH at Pei Wei, and while we had just eaten a late breakfast, my mother-in-law ordered the Kung Pao shrimp.  It looked pretty tasty.  And then HRH started eating the brown rice.
Like shoveling it into her mouth eating it.
So dinner, then, was Kung Pao Shrimp a'la Allison, thanks to this "copycat" recipe.  I'm not sure it's copying the Pei Wei version, but it was fun to bring down the wok for an evening.
What I really found interesting in this recipe - which was a little warm without the umame flavor that I was looking for, so I'll have to up the soy next time - was that the shrimp were tossed in corn starch and the egg white before hand - it made a kind of breading that the sauce stuck to quite nicely.
The best thing about the homemade version was not just that I knew everything that went into it (including the local green garlic, green onions, carrots, and sugar snap peas) but that those fresh veggies made the plate look soooooooo pretty:

I omitted the peppers (didn't have any) and added
tofu and used shrimp instead of chicken,
but otherwise followed the recipe pretty closely.
HRH got her own little plate with brown rice, two pieces of tofu, carrots, and one sugar snap pea.  She inhaled the rice (Zooey dutifully caught every grain that fell on the floor) and carrots but only took a small bite of the pea.  As for the tofu, "I'll eat the tofu later.  When I'm older."  Oh, well.  She got plenty of fiber and other good things from the rice and carrots.  And the handfuls of roasted unsalted peanuts that she ate while helping me make a few dressings and whatnot for the week.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Last month, I read about the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung.  I was immediately interested, and since I had Spring Break coming up, I knew I'd have a little time to read (part of my Twelve for 12 Plan), I called my favorite local bookstore to order it.
Sure, I could have gone to Barnes and Noble, two of which are closer than Changing Hands, but I have made the decision to make the local bookstore my first option; only if they are unable to obtain a copy of a book will I seek out the "big boys," although I can't lie - I'll probably go out of my way to order from Powell's Books in Portland, the largest independently owned (and local... to Portland) bookstore in the country.
Anyway, it only took about a week for my book to come in, and I was all a-twitter to read it.
Even with Spring Break, it took me about a month to finish it - some nights I was just too tired to read, and I also had to finish a baby blanket on a deadline, so I sacrificed some good reading time for that, too.

Friday night, I finally turned the last page.

This where I have to go off on a (completely unsurprising) tangent and say that I miss being in a book club; I loved being able to meet up with other people once a month to discuss our "assignment."  Can you tell I was the quintessential student?  Even when it was book I didn't completely fancy, it was good to digest it with others, which helps my perspective and understanding (that's one reason I love having class discussions of aspects of books that last the entire class period - the students benefit from hearing the viewpoints of others).
That being said, I take to reading a book in a particular manner.  I take notes in a manner that are basically a simplified version of the Cornell Notes method.

Quotes on the left, my comments on the right
Yes, ladies, and gentlemen, this is what I do in my spare time.  I'm tons of fun at parties, too.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Great Brisket Freakout of 2012: Aftermath

In the wake of St. Patrick's Day, I realized that once again I never actually took any photos of dinner.  It was probably because I was crazily running around, trying to iron the tablecloths (plural, because we needed two tables and still didn't have enough seats) and napkins (yes, I iron napkins - it takes attention away from the walls that only have paint samples on them), make a double batch of brown soda bread, let HRH help me bake half-and-half brownies, and get some adult conversation in while we had friends over, all while Zooey, who was banished to the backyard for both allergy and food-stealing reasons, kept trying to implore me to let her in.  I also had a half-and-half (stout and ale) myself, so I was desperately trying to enjoy that, too.
My parents used to hold rather large dinner parties, and I recall me always being in the way when they were cleaning.  I hated it then, but I totally get it now.  There is always way too much to do and not enough time to do it, even though your real friends really don't care if you vacuumed under the couch or dusted the baseboards (for the record, we did vacuum under the couch, but the baseboards were left to fend for themselves).  Poor HRH was pretty pissed by the end of the evening, even though there were other kids over to play with her.  At one point I let her help me make brownies, as I could tell that all she wanted was to spend some time with her Momma, and she is truly a great kitchen assistant, especially where baked sweet treats are concerned.  Other than that, I used the time-honored parenting tradition of keeping her pumped full of sugar to keep her mood elevated until she just crashed out, with chocolate all over her face, in my bed, snuggled up next to me.  No regrets, people.
Despite the insanity of the day, it was a great time.  We had a house full of good friends to help us enjoy (and take home) a large portion of The World's Largest Brisket Purchase - the "goodie bags" of pastrami instead of dollar store junk went over EXTREMELY well, and I'm starting to worry that this will become The Husband's New Thing To Do At Events - "Here - take home a baggie of turkey giblets for the kids!"  The Husband ran to the store and got way too many things right before people came over, so he made bite-sized Reubens (sans Thousand Island dressing....ewwww) as an appetizer, while I whipped up a batch of green hummus (regular hummus with some kale in it) and put out some pita.  That was gone in about three minutes.
Our friends brought over cheesecake (curse you, friends, for leaving said cheesecake here for me to deal with, alone, during the week) and a loaf of soda bread from a different recipe than I used, and of course everyone brought beer, so we were well stocked for the evening.

Last year, when we had family friends over, I pulled out my china.  And then spent half of the next day washing it.  This year, The Husband suggested that we use the "fine Chinette."  So we did.  I have mixed feelings about creating all that trash, but I probably used more water last year than is appropriate to admit when you live in the desert and water is a touchy subject in the legislature.  So really the only cleanup was the washing of the various pots and pans that we used to make everything else.  So... everything in our kitchen EXCEPT flatware was washed.  But at least it didn't take half a day.

So... what did I make?

  • 675,839,296,693,103,672 pounds (not really, but it sure felt like it) of corned beef and pastrami.  The Husband smoked the pastrami the day before, and the corned beef portion was slow cooked all day in a bath of Guinness, Smithwick's, and lamb stock.  I also smeared the top of the briskets with a mustard and brown sugar mixture that I had read made for a good flavor, but honestly, I don't think that it added much to it.  But the color was a little freaky when we first took it out of the roaster, so there is that.
I took this over The Husband's shoulder
as he sliced the pastrami.  I got a few
tastes after I promised to go away.
Brown bread in the back, corned beef (on the left),
pastrami (on the right), and Guinness mustard -
I apologize for having eaten all the cabbage and potatoes.
A close-up of the pastrami - see the pretty pepper rub?
  • Brown soda bread - I forget how awesome this recipe is, and since it's a soda bread recipe (which means no yeast to fuss with), it's super easy to make.  I finally got my mitts on powdered buttermilk, so I can most certainly whip up a loaf when we run out (we're eating our way through the last loaf this week).  I used a Cooking Light recipe, and our friends brought over one that had used an Epicurious recipe, and they were both insanely good.  I may have filled up on bread.
  • Guinness mustard - take any mustard recipe and use Guinness as a substitute for part (or most... or all) of the liquid.  Trust me.  It's worth it.  We're already almost done with the entire pint that I made.
  • Cabbage - I followed Michael Ruhlman's advice and quartered the cabbages, browned them in butter, and then finished cooking them in the corned beef liquid.  It was totally worth dirtying those three extra pans (they were big cabbages) for the flavor.  I did keep one aside for our friend who has been vegetarian for a little over a year now, cooking it in a covered pan with water instead of in the lamb stock-beer liquid.
  • Potatoes - taking another Ruhlman suggestion, I poached the potatoes before slicing them and tossing them with butter and parsley.  Yum.  I like to use the red potatoes for this - they are a much softer texture, and their small size makes them easy to slice.  I wish we hadn't run out of these, but everyone likes potatoes, so we did.  That's OK - radishes and turnips make for a good corned beef hash, too.
  • For dessert we had the cheesecakes and the half-and-half brownies, which HRH helped me make.  The recipe, also from Cooking Light (the recipe calls them black and tan brownies, but I think we should move past that), calls for pecans in the bottom portion, but since I don't like nuts in pastries, I omitted them.  I just didn't tell The Husband, as he prefers baked goods that have so many nuts, fruits, and/or chocolate chips that the structural integrity is put into serious question.  
Mmmmm.... get in mah belly!
The Guinness flavor made the chocolate layer not too chocolatey...
Yeah, like there is such a thing as "too chocolatey."
And now that I've had 25 pounds of brisket to ruminate upon (which fortunately meant that while I didn't take pictures at dinner, I had plenty of leftovers to snap), I do think that I can say with certainty that I do prefer pastrami to corned beef.  The smokiness and the flavor of the black pepper rub added to the flavor of the brine makes for a great sandwich.  The Husband and his mom have repeatedly said that it was "really salty," but I love salty food (she wrote as she sucked down 16 ounces of water), so maybe that's why I loved it so much.
I think, however, after the drama that I created for myself over the excessive brisket purchase, next year I want to go down a different St. Patrick's Day path and go for a menu that is, you know, actually Irish.  Corned beef and cabbage is not actually Irish, and from what I have read, no one really knows how it became associated (in America, at least) with Ireland.  So while The Husband loves corned beef and cabbage, I am going to lobby for something more traditional and, you know, actually Irish.
But you can be assured that whatever we have, we'll have goodie bags.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Monday Meal Planning - Spring Has Sprung!

OK, so today's Tuesday.  I know that.  Let's just say yesterday was busy; it was the first day of a new term, and I had to finish a baby blanket so that it was ready for today.
Anyway, after the craze of the Weekend of Meat (post coming soon once I recover), this week is filled with meatless meals that will hopefully not take too long to make.

  • Monday - grilled cheese and chickpea-wheat berry soup that I adapted from Herbivoracious.  While last week was in the 80s, Sunday and Monday were rainy and chilly.  It was warmer in Chicago than here in the Phoenix metro area, so a toasty grilled cheese with Guinness mustard, arugula, and tomato (The Husband's also had pastrami) with a nice warm soup was just the thing to make me feel a little cozier.
  • Tuesday - hummus with quinoa tabbouleh and pita - not really exciting at all, but I'll be adding the mizuna we got in our CSA share this week to the hummus to add some more green goodness and filling fiber to the meal.  Plus, we could both eat hummus with a spoon, so I know we'll eat "well" this evening.
  • Wednesday - radish and pea salad with pasta - I found a few recipes online, but I realized AFTER I went to the store that we don't have enough peas or any edamame, so I'll have to figure out what I want to do here.  We have plenty of lettuce, but I had something a little different in mind.  And as for pasta, I came across a Dr. Weil pasta puttanesca recipe that I am in love with, and it's easy to throw together - we usually have everything that we need for it.  Holden also likes the fact that he gets the leftover tuna.
  • Thursday - Peas and Thank You Hugh Jass salad with sandwiches - we still have plenty of pastrami and corned beef as well as brown soda bread (although the potatoes and cabbage were devoured on Saturday), so we'll need to get through that somehow.  I think I can manage some by Thursday.  Oh, and by the way, I forgot how easy AND delicious brown soda bread is to make, so it may be making several appearances in the Philistine house.
  • Friday - TBD - honestly, since it's the first week of that new term, I may just want popcorn for dinner.  Or a pastrami sandwich.

Anything exciting on your menu this week?  What's your favorite "cozy" food for when the weather turns chilly?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stumbling Block

Tomorrow is the Big Day of Meat in the Philistine house.  The Husband has been smoking one of the briskets all day today, so we'll have pastrami by morning (it's taking its own sweet time to come to temperature).  The other brisket is still snoozing in the crisper, waiting for its low, slow bath in the roaster tomorrow morning.
As we come closer to tomorrow's dinner, I find myself struggling with the meal.  In my efforts to eat less meat, this is certainly a complete 180 from my normal objectives.  Yes, it will taste good.  Yes, we will have a good time with the friends who come over to share the meal with us.
But the more I work to have a healthy lifestyle, one that works to prevent colon cancer, (and other cancers, too) gives energy, and keeps our hearts healthy, I'm also looking at how my diet affects the planet and how it affects animals.
I can look at my consumption of animal-based food products from a variety of perspectives: the amount of water it takes to feed a herd, how much corn is raised to feed just cattle (which shouldn't be eating corn in the first place), the reprehensible conditions at slaughterhouses, the way chickens are kept inside cages (their beaks and claws having been removed), how pesticides and antibiotics are being pumped into animals and onto crops to make them bigger and more marketable... it makes me shudder.
What is getting harder and harder for me to ignore is the welfare of the animals I am consuming.  How do I know if the beef that I purchased was allowed to roam free in acres of grasslands or shunted into holding pens?  How do I know that the cage-free eggs in my fridge means that the hens were allowed to see the sky and breathe in fresh air instead of just being piled on top of one another in a filthy barn-like structure?  How do I know that the milk I'm giving my daughter came from a cow who was allowed to also nurse its calf instead of having it shipped off to a veal pen?

The truth is that right now, I don't.
I don't know, and that bothers me.

I have done a lot of research when it comes to the vegetables we consume.  I could easily go to the farm where all our veggies are planted and harvested, and I can taste the freshness.
I love it.
It's not see easy with meat and dairy.
Yes, we have local dairies, local cattle ranches, even a local pig farm, and we've gotten products from all of them.
But some of them are not the most convenient to obtain products, and none of them are the cheapest option.  And to be honest, some of them, which I'm not going to name as I don't think that's right or fair to these local organizations, don't raise their animals in a manner with which I'm 100% comfortable.
In an ideal world, I'd be able to have a few chickens in the backyard for natural pest control (they like scorpions, making them my new favorite animal) and egg supply.  My big concern here is neither our city ordinances for our housing zone nor the cranky old neighbor two doors down but rather Zooey.  I imagine a Of Mice and Men Lenny- mouse type incident should we bring home a couple of chicks, which would be devastating to both HRH and myself.  But I'd still like to move more toward that.
In an ideal world, I'd find a dairy that doesn't ship out its calves just to make the milk.  I know from personal experience that one can produce milk even if the wee one for which it was intended isn't there (I've even read articles about women whose babies just wouldn't take to the breast, so they pumped rather than use formula - side note: these women are amazing).  Of course, I understand, too, that human milk is made for human babies; cow milk is made for baby cows.  But I know, realistically, that dairy will be the hardest for me to give up, so were I to be able to find a dairy like I described, I'd be more comfortable using dairy in smaller portions.
In an ideal world, I'd only eat meat on very few occasions, eating that which was raised in that pastoral manner I envision whenever I think of ranching or farming.  The animals would need to have been fed a diet that is amenable to their digestive system (that means grass-fed and finished beef), and the slaughter needs to be as humane as possible.  I know that true vegans believe that any slaughter isn't humane, and I understand that, but I'm trying to use some sort of scale for myself.
We have a friend who went vegan last year, and we talked about his process back in December.  He told me that when he first began, it was a bit easier to cheat, since he was doing it solely for health reasons.  However, he soon started making his decisions from an ethical basis, which made it impossible for him to cheat.  Makes sense - I have a former boss who doesn't eat turkey because it still looks like it did when it was alive, and other people I know won't eat fish because sometimes it can be purchased "with a face."
I know that in order to obtain higher quality products, I'm going to need to spend a little more money.  But we also have a budget that we need to stick to, and that's tougher to reconcile when it's more than a few cents a pound like it might be for organic potatoes over conventional (for the record, potatoes are on the "dirty dozen" list - a list of 12 produce items that "should" be organic purchases so to avoid higher pesticide residues).  It's a conversation that we are continuing to have so that we can make proper, healthy, informed decisions as a family that work for our diet and pocketbook.
Because I'm kind of short on cash right now; I just spent $100 on brisket.

So... what's my plan for my own dinner plate tomorrow?
I don't know.  I went through enough emotional turmoil this week to feel justified, in a way, to have a piece of meat on the plate, and I'm not sure that cabbage and potatoes with brown bread will satiate me after what I plan to have been a 10K morning.
But will I feel good about eating it?
Will I feel good or satisfied afterward?
And, for goodness sake, what am I going to do with that leftover brisket?

What are your feelings with consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs?  What holds greater weight - the price, local availability, or the entire process of raising the animals?  Do you ever struggle with your food choices?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Meal Planning (Week 8)

Since weeks 6 and 7 were a total bust, I wanted to hop back on the wagon this week while I'm on Spring Break.  In discussions with The Husband, we both agreed that not planning the entire week out was probably a good idea, especially since he has plans with some fraternity brothers on Thursday.  I'm assuming that the plans will involve something like this.
Anyway, all toga party and goat sacrifice jokes aside, I'm trying to achieve two goals with this week's menu:

  1. Remember that keeping it simple is perfectly fine and delicious.
  2. Remember that the plan is fluid and subject to change.

And speaking of change, I know that I'll already have to modify Tuesday night's plan, as we ate all the primavera-appropriate veggies yesterday in the stir fry I made, so... oops.  This does detail the whole week, but I'm pretty sure that this week I can swing a pasta dish even if The Husband gets called into a late running meeting.

  • Monday - vegan Swiss chard and collard green pie- I've never used the stems before, so it will be an interesting addition, and I'm looking forward to that much less "waste" (compost).  My thought for having this Monday, too, was that in the case of leftovers, I have a few lunches or even an addition to a salad at dinner later this week.
  • Tuesday - pasta primavera - like I said, I already have to modify this plan, so I'm thinking of taking the spinach that we got with our CSA and pureeing some it with the tomato sauce and then adding the rest in, wilted.  The puree might sneak in a few more veggies into HRH's belly, too, since she is suspicious of all things leafy but loves spaghetti with tomato sauce (I also got her whole wheat angel hair - just because I'm a sneaky bizzle).
  • Wednesday - fish tacos - this plan is really for the night that The Husband works late without planning it, which I know will happen.  So I'll use up the leftover lettuce sauce (my new favorite condiment - I use tofu in place of the egg in the recipe) instead of a traditional white sauce, and I need to use up the rest of the head of cabbage that I've been working through this last week.
  • Thursday - Peas and Thank You's Hugh Jass Salad - with of course her lime-tahini dressing, because I am nothing if not predictable.
  • Friday - TBD - The Husband will be smoking the pastrami all day, so he may not really want to do anything.  Thankfully, there are plenty of pizza places nearby, just in case.
  • Saturday - The Day of Reckoning - homemade corned beef and cabbage, homemade Guinness mustard, brown soda bread, black and tan brownies, and perhaps some ice cream.  Because we will need dessert.  Oh, and beer.  I'm a sucker for a black and tan.  Just ask Zooey.

Of course, the black and tan coonhound is a more
positive use of the term than the black and tans of Irish history.
What are you eating this week?  Any big plans for St. Patrick's Day?  I hope no one is going to be drinking green beer or - even worse - Protestant whiskey (that's a reference from The Wire).  Anyone doing a St. Patty's Day dash?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Butcher Shop...

...actually, truth be told, it was on the way home from the butcher shop.

It's that time of year again that I start working on the St. Patrick's Day menu.  This year I'll take pictures.  Promise.
As the discussion of brisket started (I think The Husband was super excited that this meant I'd be eating meat, if only for an evening), it was suggested that I obtain two briskets instead of one.
"Get two.  I'll make a pastrami out of one, and we'll do corned beef with the other."
A chance for The Husband to use the smoker made way him more interested in the discussion than in past years, when it was basically, "OK, sure, whatever.  What time are we eating?"
So, the dutiful wife that I am, I called around to the local grocery stores and butcher shops (as much as there are) here in the East Valley.
Boy, was I in luck - Midwestern Meats, a local butcher shop up in Mesa, was offering untrimmed brisket for $3.99/pound - a total steal considering the next best price was $6.99/pound.
So, before picking HRH up from school the other day, I stopped working a touch early and drove to get myself a few briskets.
This was my first field trip to Midwestern Meats, and they were busy!  Wow!  I didn't expect the butcher shop portion (there is also a restaurant and bakery) to be that packed, so I was a little thrown.  Also distracting were the different freezer and refrigerator cases, where I nabbed a few beef bones and bag of frozen food for Zooey as the young man went to the back to get my order: two briskets (I told you I was a dutiful wife - I listened to The Husband and did just what he told me to do).
Since it had been a year since my last brisket purchase, I didn't really think too much of the size of the briskets that landed on the counter in front of me with the proverbial thud.  Further distracted by the sausage "arena," it was at this juncture that I accidentally paid with the credit card rather than the debit, but that very shortly became the least of my worries.
On the way home, it suddenly dawned on me that I had just spent $100 on two briskets, and last year I most certainly did NOT spend $50 on one.  So, taking my life in my hands, I dug out the receipt from my bag and managed to find and open the calculator app on my iPhone.  Hmm... $100... $3.99/pound... Oh. My. BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPING Word!  That's 25 pounds of meat that was sitting in the back of my car in the cooler I had rather intelligently brought!  OMGOMGOMG!!!

Even simple math is hard when you are driving 75 mph and trying not to freak out over meat, OK?  I could normally have calculated that in my head were I not panicking that I'd have to invite the entire Russian Army over in order to make a dent in my purchase of basically what - in my head - had just become an entire side of a cow.  But basically, I was panicking, getting a case of The Meat Sweats before I even had a chance to prepare - much less eat - same meat.

When HRH and I got home, the brisket had to hang out in the cooler before I was able to get the brine made.  For the past three years, I have used Alton Brown's corned beef brine recipe (it's awesome, as is everything AB does).  This year was no different.
Except that it was.
I had to quadruple the recipe in order to get all the brisket submerged.  Because nothing says "You just bought a s*** ton of meat" like quadrupling a brine recipe.
I had to make the brine in two batches because I didn't make enough the first time (I only tripled it).
By this point, I had only had the guts to text The Husband, who was in a late meeting that evening, with "I have never seen brisket this big."  I got nauseated thinking about how I was going to tell him how much meat "brisket this big" actually was.
Spoiler: I tried to let him figure it out himself, but today, 5 days in, he said, "There's just one brisket in there, right?"  To which I had to respond, "There are two in there."  To his credit, he didn't flinch.  But I'm pretty sure he is calculating how much meat we have now.  I'm expecting a discussion about that later.  At which time I shall direct him to this post.

Back to the brine.
Because the briskets are so large, we didn't have room in the fridge, and our second fridge is currently out of commission, a fuse having blown in the garage that has not been restored.  So I made sure the cooler was very clean and poured the cooled brine in before returning the briskets to their salty bath.  Then I piled ice on top of it.
The Husband is now freaking out (which doesn't help me in my whole "OMG I JUST GOT A TON OF MEAT" freakout that I've been in since Wednesday) that we are going to kill everyone because we can't as easily control the temperature of the cooler as we can in a refrigerator situation, so today we are discussing how to manipulate the contents of the refrigerator in order to squeeze them in there.  We'll have to cut them in half, but considering their Brobdingnagian stature, we'll need to cut them in half in order to manage them while serving, so that's not a huge deal - just a matter of when.
The top two ideas are to buy two disposable oven roasters and have the brisket swim in those on the bottom shelf OR empty the crisper and store the brisket, ensconced in zip-top bags, there.
So, basically, if you stop hearing from me after March 17, I have either exploded from eating too much meat, or I have, in fact, killed us all, in a glamorous, made for an after school special, Sister Julia (child of God) style.
But if that's the case, don't plan on pictures.

Update #1 - 2:40 PM - I elected to make a new brine and use zip top bags for the now 4 briskets to hang out in the veggie crispers.  Both of them.  Because each crisper only held two meat-and-brine-filled zip top bags.  There was no commentary from The Husband when I lifted each behemoth out of the cooler, but I think the shock of the amount of meat we currently own is starting to set in.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


This is the second week I haven't had a meal plan.
Last week I went to Payson Monday night and didn't come back until Wednesday, so I had an excuse.
This week - I got nothin'.  I just flat didn't come up with one.
So the rest of the week is going to be fraught with me swearing up a storm as I try to put a week and a half worth of veggies into only a few days of meals.
While I'm thinking of doing slow cooker mashed root veggies one night, I'm pretty sure that we're going to have a lot of salads.

What do you like to do when you are all out of ideas and/or time?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ask My Why I'm Blue

If you read this blog with any regularity, you probably know my devotion to the fight against colon cancer, the insidious malignancy that took my father from me in 1999.  In the past two years, I have raised approximately $2000 in this crusade, and I would not have been able to do it without the help of my close friends and family.  It is my hope that treatments and preventive measures will continue to improve as we search for a cure for all cancers.  Colon cancer is extremely treatable - and even preventable - when proper precautions, such as proper diet and exercise as well as regular screenings, are taken.
I had hoped that during this National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, I might feel that there needs to be less awareness and more action.  But the other day, I caught an episode of The Dr. Oz Show, and a woman who was participating in the show told America's favorite cardiac surgeon that she didn't worry about colon cancer because it was a man's disease.
I honest to goodness started crying at her words.  I'm not sure if it was disbelief or what, but my heart ached that this woman probably represents more Americans than I would like to think.
For the record, anyone who has a colon can get colon cancer; it isn't gender biased.

Another misconception about colon cancer is that it's an "old person" cancer.  Regular screenings aren't recommended until a person hits 50 (unless in the case of family history, like I have), which may help propagate that notion.
But just like it doesn't discriminate on the basis of gender, cancer doesn't really care how old a person is. I've already talked about Dylan Reboer, the high school football player who passed away just hours before his team took to the field in the state championship game.  Cases like Dylan's are certainly rare, but more and more I am reading stories about people in their 30s and 40s being diagnosed as well.
One of those diagnosed in his 30s is my second cousin, Greg.  In 2002, he was diagnosed with hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), a cancer that is derived from a genetic mutation.  His mom, Vicki, is my dad's first cousin.  She battles non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.  This week, she sent me a package that not only contained some wonderful family pictures but also some important family health information:

  • My paternal grandmother had both breast and ovarian cancer (I already knew this; the information I was sent verified it)
  • Her sister, Vicki's mom - my great-aunt, died of a bone cancer that spread to her brain.
  • Their mother, my great-grandmother, had stomach cancer that cut her life short at age 68.
  • Her husband, my great-grandfather, had gallbladder cancer in his 80's.

Clearly, we're pretty sure from which part of the family our cancer history comes.
The most vital information that Vicki sent me, however, is the fact that Greg had the HNPCC (which is also known as Lynch Syndrome).  This type of colon cancer is derived from a genetic mutation for which there is a test, and hopefully I can now have insurance cover that test for me.  I actually tried to get it last year, but my insurance at the time denied the claim, stating that I needed to show that another relative already had the gene.  Hard to do when the two people who might have qualified me - my father and my grandmother - had both passed away.  While a second cousin once removed having a positive test result is something of a longshot, I am hoping that my new insurance company is more willing to cover the test so that I can be even more proactive about preventing cancer in the first place.
It's important to note that if a person does test positive for the genetic mutation behind HNPCC, he or she isn't guaranteed to get cancer.  But there is an increased risk, especially for colon cancer (the risk is actually up to 80% greater than people without the risk by the time a person hits age 70).
I am so grateful to have received this information.  It helps put more pieces of the family medical history puzzle into place, and I can go forward with more preventive actions because of my knowledge.  Today, March 2, 2012, is National Dress in Blue Day.  It is part of this month's campaign to raise awareness about colon cancer and how preventable and treatable it can be.  It is my hope that everyone and anyone who reads this post will take some time to collect his or her own family medical history and to start looking into routine screening in order to prevent becoming another colon cancer statistic.

In the spirit of colon cancer awareness, which is signified by the blue ribbon, I wanted to embed this video.  My dad was a huge fan of Patsy Cline, and the song "Blue" was originally written for her before her own untimely passing.  When my dad heard LeAnn Rimes sing it, he was enthralled.