Our Seventh Anniversary: The Recap

A week ago, Josh and I celebrated our seventh anniversary.  That’s the copper anniversary, by the way.  Josh and I try to theme our gifts by the traditions for each anniversary.  Copper is a difficult one.  Finally, I asked my techie hubs in desperation, “Isn’t copper in all electronics?”

His response:  “Uh…yeah.”

Score!

(By the way:  the eighth is worse…bronze)

In keeping with tradition, we decided to stay (with Muffin) at the site of our honeymoon (and where we have stayed several of our anniversaries…or just after…):  Dallas.  More specifically, the Westin Galleria Dallas, using points+cash (but that’s a story for Cent Saving Saturday).

The efficacy of our anniversary coinciding with the whirl of the holiday season is great for many reasons.  We can go shopping for Christmas gifts.  Certain locations are already sporting Christmas decorations (which makes Muffin…and his mama…and his dad…very excited and hopeful for the wintry months ahead).  We can go shopping for ingredients used to make Christmas goodies and gifts.  We can get out of town and take a deep breath before plunging back headlong into the holiday season chaos.

We also strive to make this a very Muffin-friendly trip.

We started out getting donuts at the local donut shop as we left the house just after 5 a.m. last Saturday.  Yes.  Five a.m.  By my choice.  Muffin may have been still asleep.

Then, we stopped at a great truck stop between Gladewater and Tyler, Texas.  They have “Canadian candy bars,” or rather exports of some of Josh’s favorite candy bars that he likes to stock up on when we pass through.  They have all sorts of sodas and beverages that are difficult to find anywhere else.  One that I tried there on this trip was on my “soda bucket list”…the holy grail of difficult-to-find sodas:  Moxie.  To put it as politely and succinctly as possible, I can now cross it off of my bucket list.  (as in…thankfully I never have to taste it again…It wasn’t kale jerky bad…just not something I would willingly reach for unless dying of thirst)

After that, just down the road in Lindale, we stopped at Collin Street Bakery.  Previously, they gave out free cookies to children.  Muffin had to pay for his this time.  Note:  these are the people who make the fabled Collin Street Bakery Deluxe Fruitcake (with the deluxe price of $27 dollars…32 if you want it sliced).  I’m going to attempt to make my own fruitcake.

Our first major stop in Dallas (other than the stop-go on I-635 for construction) was actually in Frisco…at IKEA.  This was a special trip to IKEA because it was the first time Muffin could go in the play place there called Smaland (because last time he was still in diapers).  Dropping him off did not bode well because this was the first time I had left him alone with someone who was not family (or not known to family).  There were tears…not Muffin tears…but Mama tears.

No, my independent son soon forgot that anything existed outside of Smaland…such as his mama or dad.

He was a bit disappointed when his hour was up…until I told him that there were more surprises in store.

We then went to lunch at Rainforest Cafe…which is kind of pricey.  The one saving grace, though, was that it had buy one, get one free coupons for Legoland Discovery Center…the next location on the trip.

Muffin really liked Legoland Discovery Center.  Last year, when we came to Dallas on the great anniversary trip (one week late), we went to the “store” part of Legoland…but we didn’t go to the Discovery Center part.  The line was way…too…long…at that point.

Then came the hotel.  Muffin loves staying in hotels.  When I first told him a week before that we were staying in a hotel, we had to count down from that day on the number of sleeps until we would be staying in a hotel.  Seriously.

There are many reasons I love this hotel.  The people who work their are fabulous…as in…call you to let you know that your debit card fell out of your pocket fabulous (and don’t tell your husband that you accidentally left his anniversary card for the next day at the table, as well).  Yes.  I did that.  Both of those actually.

And how can you not love a place that has a decorate your own cupcake bar at check-in on Fridays and Saturdays?

And we all love the beds.  Seriously.  Love.

And the window seat that, until shortly before our honeymoon seven years ago, would have been a locked balcony.

And…keep in mind that this hotel opens out into a mall.  Note:  If you did not realize when you booked your room that the Westin Galleria Dallas was attached to the Galleria Dallas and have issues with it…you might not want to be in front of me in line at the check-in desk.  Because a year later I will still be spreading that story.

But…if you are staying at the hotel (or visiting the mall) during the latter half of November or during December…you will be witness to this sight:

I think, for Muffin, the best part of staying at this particular hotel is that he gets to go to the play area on the third floor before the mall opens (when it isn’t crazy busy with kids):

In that same spot, fourteen hours earlier, you couldn’t walk without running over someone or being run over.

Sunday, after shopping at Central Market for our anniversary dinner (at home) of a cheese board as well as a few other items for making Christmas goodies and gifts, we ate lunch at La Mad before heading home.  This was Muffin’s first La Mad experience…and I was frankly worried.  Here is the shot with the food still on his plate.

And then the food disappeared.  I asked Josh what was in Muffin’s fruit cup because, when I looked up the next time, it was empty.  Josh said…”grapes.”

“Just grapes?”

“Well…there was other fruit.”

“What kind of fruit?
To which Josh replied…”Well…I couldn’t really tell.  It was gone too fast.”

The sandwich also went the way of the dodo bird…in this case in Muffin’s stomach.  Note:  Josh’s and my lunch consisted of tomato basil soup (a bowl for him and a cup for me) and the complimentary bread.

The trip was a great family vacation/bonding/anniversary trip experience.  One that we will doubtless do again.

Cent Saving Saturday: Find a Source for Free/Cheap Produce

Cent Saving Saturday

I may be biased, but I believe there are some things (particularly produce-wise) that Louisiana does best.  Strawberries.  Sweet Potatoes.  Rice.  Honey.  Tomatoes.  Peaches.  Greens.  And pecans.

The northern half of the state (especially the northwest of the state…yeah…there is a part of Louisiana that is not in New Orleans) is home to several pecan groves.  In our city, there were several pecan trees…and still are.  In one of the city parks, you can pick up pecans for free (the park caretakers really appreciate it because then they don’t have to clean them up).

I will be perfectly honest.  Last year’s pecan season locally wasn’t great.  It was late, after Thanksgiving, really, before they came in.  And the squirrels squirreled away most of those.

This year (for some reason, every other year is a good year), I was ready for it.  I managed to scoop up (for my mom, my sister, and me) just over 18 pounds in shell.  And, to me, they were great pecans…not bitter…full to the shell…and mostly without a blemish.

Cost (other than the gas to drive there and back):  free.

Cost of the 9+ pounds that would come out of the shells (retail):  probably in excess of $50.

And…we use pecans in our family.  Luckily, we are nut-allergy-free.  I make pecan pie, we use them in Nanaimo bars, and they are used in any other number of dishes…including pralines.

On a lighter note:  I felt like I was in a nonstop Easter egg hunt (with tiny eggs) while I foraged for pecans.

Here’s some of the bounty:

Pecan harvesting has become one of our holiday traditions.  Muffin sort of gets into it…but I did mention that the pecan trees are at a park, right?  So…Muffin looks for about 10 minutes and then plays at the park under the watchful eye of Granny or his dad while Mama runs around in search of pecans.

My dad is in charge of cracking the pecans.  My mom, my sister, and me usually “pick out” the pecans while we are at my sister’s over Thanksgiving.  To me, this is one of the best memory making times of the holiday for “us girls.”  We tend to laugh and joke and plan out the post-Thanksgiving shopping (also a mother-daughters bonding excursion).

What do you find locally for free or cheap?

Note:  I am not including this week’s sales (or next week’s).  I’m not too impressed by the offerings of Kroger or Albertson’s this week (and most of the deals last next week, as well).

Funny Muffin Friday: It’s Christmas Time…Well…Not Quite

Funny Muffin Friday

I felt very much in the Christmas spirit last night.  I had recently moved my previous Android purchases (including those I had “purchased” for free, like the movie Elf) to my tablet.  Josh was working late last night (on call), and I wanted to do something special for Muffin and me.  Note:  as I write this, I have realized a few embarrassing truths about my son and myself:

1)  I am an abject failure at selfies.

2)  Muffin is great at selfies.  At 4, he understands the concept in a way I could never hope to do.

3)  See #s 1 and 2 for a laughable Venn Diagram comparison.

We decided to watch Elf.  I took a selfie (groupie?) with Muffin at the beginning of our Elf viewing.  He does like the movie (as do I).  However, we were up against the no-nap-Muffin wall.  He fell asleep before the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” scene.

Yes.  Trust me.  Focus on the right side of the shot…the cute “selfie perfect” shot.  By the way, I’m not sure as to the etiquette and vocabulary of selfies.  If there is more than one person in the shot, is it still a “selfie”?  To me, selfie implies one person.

On the way home from my mom’s this afternoon, Muffin again wanted to watch Elf (or, rather, finish watching it).  He fell asleep in the car attempting to watch it again.

What is your favorite Christmas movie?

Thoughtful Thursday: On the Holidays

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We are in the midst of the holiday season. Whether you believe it or not, for many people who celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, the holiday season begins in mid October. I see all of this hater angst about the holiday season on Facebook on Pinterest and all over social media and television media. I don’t understand it. There people who are fighting mad that people have already put up Christmas decorations. I would think the absence of holiday spirit would be worse  then a surplus of it. And yet the reverse seems true. Yes, I am one of those individual who already has Christmas music blaring on the car radio. I have my copy of Elf all ready to play on my mobile device. Muffin has already nagged Josh several times as to when he will put up the Christmas decorations. I have already begun planning the Christmas baking list to do for the season.

I’ve always considered the holiday season to be a reflection on what is best about humanity. Yes I have made sure to watch some of my favorite Christmas movies made by Hallmark and look forward to any new ones that shall be created and shown the season.

That is why it is so disconcerting when people vilify the holiday season. I realize it is stressful season, but the joy of the season brings to others… Family, friends, and virtual strangers that you meet… Far outweighs  the angst the season can cause. 

So if you are a person who could be likened to Ebenezer Scrooge, I ask you this: give the holiday season, it’s joyous participants, its bright lights, and the hope of a better, brighter tomorrow infuse your spirit and your soul with warmth and purpose.  I say to you Merry Christmas!

We Plan Wednesday: A New Blog Series for December

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Yes…I have been MIA.   I have been doing very many things…with my family…with work…and with planning for the blog.   I have something new to work toward:  25 days of holiday recipes…appropriate for Christmas…Thanksgiving…New Year’s Eve…and New Year’s Day.  Some are brand new to the blog…and some are re-fashioned favorites of recipes I’ve already posted.  I hope you’ll be impressed with my best. 

Here are few recipes that you will be seeing:

Sea salt caramel truffles
Sparkling apple cider
cornbread dressing vs white bread dressing
My take on Yams Richard
Chicken and steak fajitas
Guacamole
Pico de gallo
Spanish rice
Nanaimo bars
Pecan pie
cranberry relish
chocolate dipped licorice
Frogs
Olive bread
BBQ little sausages
Red velvet cake the right way
How to make greens from frozen
And many other surprises

If you’re going through Christmas withdrawal, be sure to visit my 12 days of Christmas in July
entries and round up. If you are one of those people who feels that Christmas is beginning to early each year, I apologize but respectfully disagree. I think the world could do with more Christmas spirit all year… The sharing, the caring, the generosity toward others, and tolerance and patience for other’s shortcomings.

I wish you in advance Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy new year, and a great year next year.

Here are a few of the recipes I plan to feature:

Sunday Suppers: The Asian Miracle!!!

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This one photo represents years of desire and, conversely, gnashing of teeth, tears, and copious screams of frustration.

At long last, I have produced (with Josh’s help as fry cook) edible orange chicken.  Let me repeat that:  edible.  Orange.  Chicken.  The impossible has now become possible.

My sister has (for the past two days) been including on her Facebook page things to be thankful for (we are in November now, after all).  Saturday I wrote in the comments that I was thankful for walking shoes, water, wonderful coworkers, and (with my sister’s prompting) no leg cramps.  I completed my first mile plus 5K that day for the Komen Race for the Cure (walking, not running).  This pulled me wayyyyyyyyy out of my comfort zone because I don’t exercise.  Ever.  I have never felt that exercise endorphin rush.  Ever.  It’s not that I’m lazy.  I’m just clumsy.  I can literally trip over my own two feet.  I’m more prone to trip over my feet with my laces tied, if that gives you any indication of my clumsiness.  I do have to say, though, that the sense of fulfillment really clicked yesterday morning.  Others veered off right at the end to head to their cars, but I refused to veer off course until I crossed the finish line (at one hour, three minutes, and change for the 5K).

Of course, today the pain set in.  I have been taking lots of warm baths in the past 24 hours hoping to offset what I know will hit tomorrow.

Today, of course, I wrote that I was thankful for my family, especially Josh and Muffin.

It was truly a family effort today to pull together the feat of tonight’s menu.

When I told Josh earlier today what was on the menu, he winced.  Orange chicken, as I may have mentioned before, has always been a yummy dish in our household.  It’s my Chinese restaurant standard.  Which makes it all the worse when I cannot seem to reproduce it in an edible fashion in our own home.  I have attempted several varieties (including several failed slow cooker versions) and been moved to tears (NOT of happiness) several times.  Each time I have been sure, positive, motivated to prove that this recipe would work.  And faced disappointment time and time again.

But tonight’s attempt has set in motion my thankful item for day 3 (tomorrow):  I am thankful (and indebted) to Ree Drummond (a.k.a. The Pioneer Woman) for this recipe that she featured on her television show and later her blog.  It is because of her recipe that I cried tonight (tears of joy for the first time) over the orange chicken on my plate.  It is because of her that my mouth feels aromatically rank of garlic…green onion…ginger…and orange rind.  In a great way.

I also managed to produce another recipe that has eluded me in the past (but is one of Josh’s favorites at the Chinese restaurants):  Crab Rangoon.  I used another website’s recipe (that I like to call D Squared or D-word Delicious, for obvious reasons).  I did substitute Krab-with-a-K for the drained canned crab mentioned in her recipe (5 “legs” worth).

Here’s what Josh, Muffin, and I did for both.  I should note that the crab rangoon was Muffin Approved, but the orange chicken was not.  Sadly, for him, the orange chicken was (finally…FINALLY…) Mama and Dada approved.  As in…we will be making this again.

Orange Chicken

from Pioneer Woman’s website

I did make a few alterations, etc., so I am going to note where I veered.

Chicken:

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (trimmed of as much excess skin as possible), cut into small pieces (Think a 2×3 Lego brick)

4 egg whites, whipped until frothy

2 tablespoons of cornstarch

Note:  Pioneer Woman says to mix the cornstarch with the egg whites and then whip until frothy.  I found it useful to whip the egg whites a bit with the whisk and then add in the cornstarch.  Whichever way you do it, make sure your mixture is frothy and lump free when you add the chicken.  Add the chicken and then let it sit 5-10 minutes while you cook the sauce.

Sauce:

1/2 cup orange juice (Okay, this has ALWAYS been one of the key problems with the other recipes.  DO NOT be tempted to use frozen thawed concentrate or bottled orange juice.  Serious heartache will result…and a side of heartburn from the overly sour and bitter juice)  Josh and Muffin squeezed two small navel oranges and had almost 1/2 cup.  We went with it.

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar (I used light brown…packed…plus a bit more.  I think I might make it 2 tablespoons next time)

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (Note:  I actually measured the brown sugar first, then the soy sauce, and then the rice wine vinegar.  This was to keep from having to dry the spoon before measuring the brown sugar.)

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

(I actually missed seeing the salt, so I omitted that)

1/4 teaspoon or more of crushed red pepper flake

1 clove garlic (I actually used two), minced

2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger (Um…I may have used more than the 2 teaspoons…and that was Josh’s one complaint…that there was too much ginger)

one orange, zest of, pulled off with a vegetable peeler in long strips, any excess pith removed from the strips (Her recipe calls for the microplane…and that’s my usual route…but then I also tried to change everything from my usual attempts)

1/4 cup water

2 green onions, sliced (white and green parts…trim the tops of the green parts, however)

While the chicken is hanging out in its frothy bath, mix together all of the sauce ingredients except for the green onion, water, and cornstarch.  In a sauce pan (what I used) or a nonstick skillet (what Pioneer Woman used), whisk together the ingredients.  Place the cooking vessel over medium heat until it bubbles and thickens.  Then, make a slurry with the cornstarch and the water.  I misread it (her recipe called for 1 teaspoon to 1/4 water), but it worked fine with one tablespoon.  I was overzealous in my desire for a thick sauce (because my past attempts had been watery and disgusting).

Once the sauce is done, it’s time to get your fry on…or, in this case, for Josh to get his fry on.  I used my enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, but any heavy frying pot should work.  I attempted to use the fry thermometer, but it didn’t seem to be working correctly (and it got in the way).  You need to heat the oil (2 cups vegetable, canola, or peanut oil) to 350 degrees.  Note:  You may want to spray the Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray first.  I don’t know if it will make a difference, but the batter tends to make the chicken stick to the bottom and sides of the pot.  This is a two-person operation.  You need one person to plop the pieces in the oil and one to stir them around.  (I was the “plopper” and Josh was the “stirrer.”)

You only want to plop 5-7 pieces in at a time…one at a time…so they don’t stick together.  Here’s where I may veer further away from Pioneer Woman’s technique next time.  She recommends a two-stage frying process…2-3 minutes in the first time plus another minute later on.  I think next time I will just leave them in until done.  Josh painstakingly completed the two-stage process, however.

After cooking them the second time, drain them into the pan/skillet with the sauce, tossing them in the sauce.  There is not a lot of extra sauce, just enough to coat the chicken.  Stir in green onion.  We served it over rice…

…with Crab Rangoons (or Rangoonies, as I called them)

Josh again manned the oil, so it was imperative that I managed to finish a few batches (filled, folded, and sealed) before he finished with the chicken.  For that, I required the assistance of Muffin.

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He was my scoop-maker for the filling.

Crab Rangoon

Adapted from D-Word Delicious

First, I made the filling:

4 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature

5 ounces faux crab (Krab) diced finely (I used the “legs”…five of them)

2 green onions, sliced thinly (both green and white parts)

2 small cloves garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon sesame oil (because I didn’t have much left and still needed 1/4 teaspoon for the orange chicken…the original recipe called for 1 1/2 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (just to be cheeky)

wonton wrappers (The original recipe calls for 24…I know I didn’t use that many)

2 cups veg oil (see above)

Combine all ingredients (except last two) in a bowl.  The hardest part will be making the cream cheese combine with the rest.  I used a fork kind of like a pastry blender to achieve the desired effect.  It will look something like this:

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Well…with a lot more in the bowl.

At this point, I enlisted child labor.  Muffin was responsible for scooping out rounded teaspoons of the mixture so that I could place them on the wrappers.  I had the wrappers, diamond shaped in front of me.  I placed the scoop of filling just below the halfway point on the wrapper (just below the two points).  Then, I moistened the two lower edges of the wrapper with water and sealed them, being careful to press out any air bubbles.

Josh used the already heated oil to cook the Rangoon, five at a time.  They cooked fast!  (about 30 seconds per side)  We served them with plum sauce, although any dipping sauce will do.

Josh and Muffin dipped theirs…I drizzled mine on (as you can see in the picture above).

Here was our bounteous bounty of Crab Rangoon:

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As I mentioned before, the Crab Rangoon was Muffin Approved (probably because he helped make it), but he really didn’t like the chicken.

Muffin Approved

What was your Sunday Supper this week?

We Plan Wednesday: The Work Lunch Conundrum

We Plan Wednesday

This doesn’t deal with Muffin’s lunches for next year when he enters kindergarten.  My Pinterest board School Lunch Recipes is full of ideas to make his lunches appetizing.

I’m talking that mad scramble to find something to heat up in the microwave at work but that must be packed at 5 or 5:30 in the morning.  I’ve learned that it’s best not to bring metal cutlery or non-disposable plates.  My tendency is to forget to bring them home until the point after which they become a science experiment or a bio-hazard.

After we finished our suppers of leftovers from Canadian Thanksgiving, we still had a lot left.  Yay!  After being heartily sick of Chef Boyardee and other super processed items, I decided to make my own Canadian Thanksgiving leftover TV dinners.

With various mixups and matchups, I had over ten meals ready to go in the freezer.

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Josh foil wrapped each of them, so they were ready to go to the freezer…and then in my lunch bag.

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Other than the usual uneven heating of the potatoes in the microwave (ice chips in the potatoes when everything else is piping hot), they have been delish…and lunch-envy-worthy.

What is lunch-envy-worthy?  Do you remember when, as a child, the great lunch comparison would occur at lunchtime?  The-I-Have-a-Lunchable! conversations.  I was in third or fourth grade when Lunchables first came out, and I rarely was allowed to bring one to school.  Bringing a Lunchable in your lunch was a huge status symbol.  It’s sad…or maybe just human nature…but that same great lunch comparison happens when you bring your work lunches.  (Plus, after my previous lunches composed of processed snack cakes and other processed items that unfortunately now turn my stomach…I’m trying to convince her that, yes, I do eat healthy food sometimes.  We can debate the healthfulness of some of the items on that plate later.)

And yes…sometimes at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, a sandwich is beyond me.  For those mornings, it’s great to be able to get everything ready in advance so that it is grab ‘n go.

Sometimes I try to do purposed leftovers, but I usually don’t prepackage them for lunches and freeze them.  I really liked the ease of this, so I may do this with the jambalaya leftovers later this week.  Anything too liquidy does not do well with the paper plates.  Think limp, scary nightmare.

As far as snacks and sides, I usually do pre-portioned items from Sam’s or fruit.  The beauty of the Thanksgiving leftovers is that there is already a set of sides, so literally I just add in a plastic fork, a drink, and sometimes a dessert.

Note:  if you buy items from Sam’s, it is best to pre-portion them after getting home from Sam’s so that people don’t just start munching at random and then everything is gone.  I’ve even gone so far as to separate portions meant for lunches from those meant for snacking.  Let’s just say that really scary things can happen if you don’t portion the 55 ounce bags of tiny candy bars in our house.  Or the big plastic jar of jelly beans.  Just sayin’.

Bad, horrible things.

And, yes, I’m one of those people that meticulously counts out an exact serving portion of jelly beans.  On a previous diet (yes, I’ve done those, with about the same amount of success as roughly 80% of the population) I portioned out my 100 calorie snack packs meticulously and slightly obsessively (and most definitely compulsively).

What do you pack in your work lunches?