2/6/17 White Bean and Kielbasa Stew

This White Bean and Kielbasa Stew was yet another recipe I came across on Facebook that was intriguing.  Beans are filling and full of fiber, the stew has spinach with a tomato base, and I love kielbasa.  And all in a slow cooker!!  It seemed perfect.

I followed the recipe as instructed, which was basically just open/cut everything and dump it in the slow cooker.  The exception was the 6 cloves of garlic…I only put in one…nobody needs that much garlic! I also dumped in frozen precut spinach rather than the fresh stuff.  SO much easier than the real stuff.  I also added some bella mushrooms since I had them in the house and needed to use them up.

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I’ve made this on subsequent cooking days using canned beans rather than dry ones and cutting down on the broth per the comments.  It’s come out just fine both times with no noticeable difference, though I like the idea of using canned beans better.  Cook’s Country tested beans and says that nowadays canned beans are more reliable in terms of cooking and tastier overall.

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This is the pic once the slow cooker was done but before the spinach was added.  Look at those tasty pieces of meat.  Look at those beautiful beans.  Look at those tasty mushrooms.  Chock full of umami and deliciousness.

After the spinach was added…

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Now it looks like a HEALTHY stew chock full of umami.  Yummm.

This recipe made TONS of food.  It’s pretty filling and a serving size, at least for me, is very small.  I have a hard time getting through even 3/4 of a pint.  I parceled them out into pint and quart jars and it filled at least a dozen!  I ate it for a very long time.

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2/5/17 Cottage Pie and the Patriots

I promised last post I wouldn’t talk about the Patriots too much, but I make no promises on this post.

I grew up in northwestern Connecticut, where everyone is a Yankees fan and a Giants fan.  Unless you’re a Red Sox fan and a Patriots fan.  And it seems certain that neither the two shall meet – you are either Boston leaning or New York leaning!

Though I’m uninterested in baseball, my dad is a big football fan.  I grew up watching Phil Simms and Bill Parcells dominate the league.  For some reason I clearly remember the highly suspenseful Giants win of Superbowl XXV.  Lawrence Taylor couldn’t be stopped!  Parcells leaving the Giants and moving to the Patriots coincided with my leaving for college in Massachusetts.  A football fan is NOT allowed to be a Giants fan in Massachusetts.  When Parcells made the jump, so did I.  I’ve been a staunch Patriots fan ever since.  My dad is a more recent conversion; for a decade it was fun teasing him about how terrible the Giants are and how great the Patriots are. Let me tell you, that Superbowl when the Pats lost against the Giants at the last minute, wow that was painful.  I couldn’t even talk about it.

While I didn’t understand how football worked until I was taught how to play the game in high school, the dynamics are fascinating.  It’s war in miniature.  It’s Capture the Flag times a million.  Its a mix of brains and brawn and talent and luck.  So many detractors of football call it a brutish game that is only about brawn and running.  It’s actually war.  The reason Parcells and Belichick have been so massively successful is that they are excellent strategists and strict generals.  They don’t put up with bullshit from their troops, they give orders and expect them to be obeyed with 110% effort, and they prize intelligence and adaptability on the battlefield.  They’ve had dramatics and allegations and they do what they need to do to get the win.  Is it to be admired?  Absolutely.  Is it something I envy?  Sort of.  Do I think I would fit into that world?  Nope.  But I certainly enjoy watching these brilliant and capable men do the work that they’ve devoted their lives to.

I don’t enjoy when these brilliant and capable men do not perform as expected, have a series of bad turns, make stupid mistakes, and generally do incredibly poorly for a majority of the game!  It was incredibly frustrating and I was on the verge of turning it off after halftime, but decided to keep watching after the bestie left because I wanted to see it through.  I’m a devoted enough Patriots fan that I only buy cable every year for Sept – Feb to watch the Pats games.  I wasn’t going to turn off the Superbowl halfway through.  I still had a sliver of faith.

And boy did they reward me.  Brady and his boys came through in every aspect of the game.  It was an amazing experience.  I’ve never screamed so loudly in my life.  If every other person in New England hadn’t also been watching the game they probably would have called the cops.  It was very literally jaw-dropping.

I went to bed extremely late, exhausted, and floating on air.  The next day the talk of work was the game, even though most of the people I work with don’t watch football.  Something special happened at this Superbowl.  It mattered.

Congratulations guys.  You deserve every second of celebration.

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2/4/17 Cheeseburger Egg Rolls

Oh man…

I decided to do something special for Superbowl Sunday and whip up a bunch of finger foods that I would never typically eat.  Among them were these Cheeseburger Egg Rolls.  And as incredibly depressed, soul-crushing, and dispiriting the first three quarters of the game were, and as amazingly inspiring, unbelievable, and jaw-dropping the last quarter of the game was…

I remember these egg rolls more clearly than the football.

And I’m a HUGE Patriots fan.

That’s how amazingly scrumptious these egg rolls are.

Yes, they are incredibly fattening.  And, like most egg rolls, they are easily over or under done, and not that great after they’ve gotten cold, which happens very quickly.

However, if you get them in that sweet spot, where the wrapper is golden brown and crispy, the inside is hot, the cheese is melted, the condiments are sharp and tangy, the meat gives you that umami fullness…simply amazing.  If I ever want to fall hard off my diet wagon, I’d go straight for these.

This was an Allrecipes.com dish that came up on the emails they send you for what you absolutely MUST cook for Superbowl Sunday.  I didn’t know that simply clicking the link would start such a star-crossed love affair!

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The directions look far more long/complicated than they actually are!  Cook some ground beef…put in egg roll wrapper with cheese and whatever condiments you like on your cheeseburger…roll up wrapper and seal with water…fry!  They came out golden brown and warm through, with the cheese melted and the ketchup and mustard warm and creamy.  And went so fast I have noooooo pictures!  Will absolutely, positively make again.  I want them right now, actually!

2/3/17 Creamy Orange-Ginger Body Scrub

When I saw this recipe for Creamy Orange-Ginger Body Scrub in a recent email from Cooking Light, it was an instant Save to the hard drive moment.  I love ginger – that smell that hits your nose and instantly wakes up all your senses – and it pairs excellently with citrus.  Having it in the shower as a scrub in the morning?  Yes please!  In addition to which I thought it would make excellent gifts for some ladies (or gentlemen, I guess…I don’t discriminate) for Christmas.

The recipe is pretty simple, and here’s a screenshot of what you do since Cooking Light decided not to include a link to a printable recipe.  PS: why is Cooking Light publishing body scrub recipes?!?!

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So…simple, few ingredients, fast to make in a stand mixer.  Three things I love.

One roadblock was finding small jars to put them in.  Even pint mason jars were too large, and I had to scour stores for a while to find half-pint mason jars to use.  Luckily I found a six pack at Wally World before the weekend cookathon, so I was good to go.

It mixed up exactly like the video in the link shows…with one exception.  I hadn’t watched the video in a while when I made the scrub, and the directions aren’t clear as to whether you melt the coconut oil or not when mixing.  I figured that you should probably melt it, as it would help the sugar go into solution and create a more homogenous mixture before hardening.  So…melted the oil, mixed up everything, poured into the mason jars, and stuck them in the fridge.

Here’s why that was the wrong decision!

Don’t get me wrong, the scrub is excellent.  Feels nice, obviously exfoliates when you rub the sugary part into your skin, and believe it or not the dog thinks it’s super tasty (no, I didn’t taste it…but you could eat it, I suppose.  Not too much or your pipes would get overly lubed!).  But because I melted the oil, it separated from the OJ, and by the time the whole thing had cooled down it was the equivalent of a body scrub layer cake.  You couldn’t use it without melting the entire jar back down again.  Not very practical for use in the shower.

Speaking of not practical, whoever heard of storing their body scrub in the fridge?!  “Hey hon, I gotta jump in the shower…let me just run to the fridge first…”  I understand why the recommend that, but still…weird.

I ended up still giving it away, but recommended that the giftees either heated the jars, mixed and allowed them to cool slightly before use (doubt anyone would bother to do that, including me) or do what I did, which was to melt the contents of the jar in the microwave and then pour it into a running bath.  Gave a great smelling bath that hydrated my skin.

Of course I do want to try it again the RIGHT WAY next time.  It’s just like me to manage to screw up a 4-ingredient, 3 step process that actually had an instructional video with it.  I would recommend this one to try, I think if you actually followed the directions it would turn out great!

2/2/17 Peppermint Patties

Oh man, peppermint patties.

My mom has always has a thing for Junior Mints.  When I was in my early teens and heading to downtown Torrington CT on my bike was a Great Adventure for the afternoon, I’d inevitably stop for a soda and candy and pick my mom up a box of Junior Mints on the ride back.  Inevitably after a half hour in 90 degree August heat they’d end up as a mass of overheated, glued-together rounds of chocolate and mint…but what’s wrong with that?  They always disappeared promptly.

Strangely enough I’m not such a fan of mint candy.  Oh, I’ll eat an Andes if it’s offered to me, take in a York if it’s handy, have an Altoid after Indian food, but I don’t seek out mint as a flavoring.  If I do eat a minty candy, one is enough.

However given Mom’s history and love affair with Junior Mints, when I ran across this fantastic recipe for Homemade Peppermint Patties on Facebook there was no way I could resist.The one minute video makes it look super easy, and surprisingly enough…it was.  Particularly if you have a stand mixer.

Peppermint Patties recipe

I actually had all of the ingredients with the exception of the peppermint extract in the house when I set out to make these guys.  I’d been warned not to skimp and buy the cheap extract (and didn’t listen), went out and bought the cheap stuff, and wish I hadn’t.  Word of advice that you will probably not listen to: DON’T BUY THE CHEAP EXTRACT!  At least for this project, the mint flavoring is an essential component…you don’t want cheap, fake tasting mint flavor.  Which is what I got.

The “dough” filling came together exactly as shown in the video on the website and was easy to roll out and chill.  Since I was making this as part of a Christmas present, the front porch operated as an excellent chill chest.  Once it was set a bit more, I brought it back in the house and cut out the rounds.  Probably the toughest part of this recipe was trying to find a cutter that was the right size…I couldn’t find a 2-inch round cutter (everything was either much bigger or much smaller) and I was aiming for a York-sized peppermint pattie.  The bestie ended up bringing over a piece of a tea infusino set which I ended up using as a cutter; it worked great!

We used the Wilson chocolate candy melts to coat the filling – they aren’t the best tasting, but they’re wonderful for melting and coating candy – and I decided to forego the crushed candy cane topping.  That just seemed excessive.  My reusable silicon mats certainly came in handy on this project, as did multiple forks to aid in dipping and allowing excess chocolate to drip off.  Once the filling started getting warm, it became more unforgiving, and next time I’d probably do it in batches rather than bring the filling in from the cold all at once.

The one big criticism I had of this recipe probably stems from my ignoring good advice and adding the cheap peppermint extract.  I thought the filling had an overly toothpaste quality to it.  Every time I ate one I felt like I was brushing my teeth.  However I was the only one with this complaint.  The recipe made a huge number of patties – easily 30, possibly more if you rolled the dough thinner than recommended and used a smaller cutter than 2″ – and filled up a gallon-sized bag plus extra.  Mom was thrilled and everyone in the family ate the mints freely.  I was the only one displeased!

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Sadly I didn’t remember to take photos of this particular culinary adventure, and yes, I’m upset at myself for that.  You’ll have to be satisfied with The Gunny Sack’s photo.  On that particular night the bestie and I were in production mode for a variety of foodstuffs in preparation for Christmas.  When I get on a roll in cooking, I don’t think about anything else but the next step to tackle.  I promise, though, they looked like round chocolate coated minty goodness.  Pretty much exactly what you’d expect to see coming out of a York wrapper.  I would definitely try it again with non-fake extract!  Would make great gifts for coworkers (wrapped more nicely than in a ziploc bag).

2/1/17 Crochet Cocoon Shrug

I don’t make clothing very often when I crochet, mostly because it comes out too big, too small, too full of holes, or just generally ugly (in my opinion).  It also, in my pre-weight loss days, was too warm for me.  Oh, I make the usual crocheter’s regalia of hats and scarves, but that’s outerwear.  I’m talking about a sweater.  I’ve never crocheted a sweater.  And I don’t intend to, except perhaps as punishment for myself (making it) and someone that I really dislike (as the recipient of said sweater).

I’ve made attempts at various cardigans that inevitably end up being thrown out or given away (to then be thrown out).  But I was inspired by a coworker who is usually a knitter but has forayed into the world of crocheted clothing recently and asked me for help.  She’s using a beautiful, thick soft self-striping yarn called Scarfie (one skein makes a scarf, strangely enough) and she wanted to make a cocoon shrug out of it.  Well of course once I saw her pattern, I had to make a shrug of my own.

I did a variety of research to try to find a pattern that worked up fast and easy but still produced a shrug that I would actually wear.  I settled on this Granny Cocoon Shrug on Ravelry but simplified it to just making hdcs across.  I bought my own set of Scarfie yarn on sale at Joanns (hooray!).  I chose the forest [green]/black for me in the hopes it would bring out my eye color and match with what I typically wear, which is very natural colors.  The pattern is basically make a square (rectangle) of hdcs across until you get sick of crocheting or your square is long enough; fold corners until they meet each other; sew or crochet from corners to 3/4 of the way up the side of each, leaving a space for an armhole.  I finished the edges very simply by doing hdcs all the way around each opening.  The only thing I added was two braided lengths of yarn, one on each side, so I could tie the shrug closed over my front.

This project used a little over two skeins of yarn and came out (I’m surprised to say) very well.  As soon as I finished it I wore it to work over a tank top and jeans and it kept me toasty, but not too toasty, all day.  It was soft and comfy and dind’t get in my way.  I’d say the only complaint I have about it is the natural drape of the cocoon shrug design itself, which inevitably causes bunching of fabric at your neck.  It’s a small complaint though; the shrug is super comfortable and I did it over two days – pretty fast.  Maybe this will be my first step to the road to sweater-ville?!

Will add a pic once I take one!

1/31/2017 Rugged Maniac Sept 2015 & 2016

The Rugged Maniac does not pitch itself as an unusual OCR…but it is.  It doesn’t pitch itself as a tough course…but it is.  It pitches itself as a fun, diverse OCR with an excellent after party…and it’s definitely that.  It’s name implies that it’s for crazy, hardcore OCR people who strive for the toughest challenges…it’s not really.

The Rugged Maniac (for those of you questioning it, the pronunciation is rug-ged, two syllables) has it’s birthplace in the lovely little town of Southwick, MA at the Motocross course there and has spawned into events across the country.  It has a corporate backer (Men’s Health) but seems to have a quieter reputation than the Spartan races but most definitely has a faithful following.

I stumbled across the RM in 2015 while looking for OCRs in the New England area.  I came across it late in the game, so the ticket prices were rather high, but one of the perks of the RM is that you can volunteer in the morning of a race and run for free that afternoon (or run in the morning and get reimbursed when you volunteer in the afternoon).  Myself, bestie C, and her daugher J all signed up to volunteer in the morning and then run for free in the afternoon.  It seemed the easiest way to run a rather expensive OCR for free and still have a great day.  Plus, bonus points for happening over my birthday weekend.  We wanted to make a trip out of it.

We headed down 495 South the day before the race with the mood high.  We managed to hit my old stomping grounds of Milford, MA around dinner time – I lived and worked in the Blackstone Valley area for nearly ten years – and stopped at one of my very favorite restaurants, The Alamo.  I was introduced to The Alamo when I started working as an EMT for (now defunct) Pathways Ambulance, who had a base up the street from the restaurant.  Do you remember the cute youngest kid from Malcolm in the Middle, the brainy one with the big ears?  His parents run the Alamo, and the entrance – back when I first frequented the place – used to be carpeted with pictures of the kid with various stars in various famous places.  Since he’s grown up, I think he told them to take the pics down, so now it just looks like a Mexican restaurant.  But his father seriously looks just like him.

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The Alamo has excellent fresh food, great drinks, huge portions, and very reasonably priced.  They also have (usually terrible) karaoke and other special nights at the bar upstairs.  You’ll be hard pressed to get into the place on a summertime Friday night.  We managed to hit it right on a crisp fall night, however, and had a great meal with no waiting before hitting the road towards southeastern MA.

We ended up staying at a pretty bootleg motel off the interstate that C had booked for us (same story in 2016, come to think of it…guess I shouldn’t leave accomodation planning to her anymore) and woke up early the next morning to get to the race by the volunteer’s allotted time.

Note for future OCR volunteers: early morning in late September in New England can get pretty frikkin cold.  I was thoroughly grateful for my multiple layers while we were volunteering and equally happy to strip them off while we ran.

Waiting for the first race to start in my fancy well-used OCR shoes.

Volunteering was…well, kind of useless.  It was obvious that they didn’t really need us and had nowhere to really put us, and so stuck us on the first water obstacle and told us to watch and help anyone who might get stuck or hurt.  They also handed us a hose and told us to fill up the water obstacle while we waited for the race to start.

Mind you, this is at a dirt motocross track.  The ground is entirely made of sand.  We could have drained all the local reservoirs and still not had the Shoe Catcher (the name of hte obstacle) more full than perhaps knee height at its deepest.  And once the race started, we were completely superfluous.  We kept ourselves busy by cheering on the racers and directing those that looped around the course near our obstacle.  By the end of the morning my voice was gone, but overall it was a fun time.

Our obstacle, pre-race.

Once our volunteer shift was done, we just sort of…wandered off and checked in with the volunteer coordinator to let them know we were done.  We pretty much got a nod and a check off on a list.  We promptly went to dump our spare clothes and got race ready!

One of the reasons that the Rugged Maniac is so awesome is because it has many obstacles, many of which I’ve never encountered at any of the other local races.  The Shoe Catcher is one.  The Accelerator, an enormous waterslide you go down so fast that you skip on the surface of the landing pool several times before sinking, is another.

Post Particle Accelerator and barbed wire crawl, 2015.  Did I say you got dirty?

They have long barbed wire slogs through mud, rolling walls to go over, and lots of rope nets and other climbing obstacles.  They also have the only Warped Wall that I’ve ever encountered outside of American Ninja Warrior.  I’ve made it up there two years in a row now thanks to the help of multiple burly men who offered helping arms.  I’m not complaining!

Warped Wall to the right, then you climb over a cargo net, which is draped over the entrance tunnel to the festival area.  The start/finish line is only a couple hundred feet from this picture.

For those of you who enjoy a great after party, RM has DJ, music, food, vendors, lots of beer (including a free one for finishing!), contests, and great swag.  We never stay long at the after party – usually one or more of us (read: me) is tired and filthy and just wants to get cleaned up.  Except for 2015, when C stuck her car key in her sports bra instead of trusting the bag check and managed to lose it while going down the Accelerator.  I sat down and enjoyed a nice hard cider while the very nice policemen opened up her car for her.  Fortunately J kept the spare.  She did not repeat that mistake in 2016!!

You get filthy.  It was fun.

After cleaning up at the hotel, I asked the girls on a whim if they’d like to go to the Big E, which always runs through the weekend of my birthday but closes up soon afterwards.  It was always a special trip every year to go to the Big E, and I absolutely love the annual trip to wander through the crowds, eat deliciously bad for you fried foods, see the animals, and spend money on silly stuff.  My MA besties and I used to deliberately plan a mid-week trip to go (necessitating a day off from teaching, not a hardship for me, cough-cough) when the crowds were less and the parking cheap.  After moving to NH it became the matter of a 4 hour drive rather than a 1.5 hour one, and I didn’t go for a few years.  After hearing my enthusiastic spiel on the World’s Largest Fair, the girls agreed to make the short trip to Springfield and have their first Big E experience.

It did not disappoint.  It was dark and cold again by the time we got there, and there were an equal number of people streaming in and out of the fair.  We walked a couple blocks from parking to the nearest entrance and managed to arrive at the fair near my very favorite part – the State buildings!  We wound in and out of each building, grabbing pamphlets and snacks (kettle corn – the best) and seeing the sites, and also grabbed a not-t0-be-missed Big E eclair and cream puff, consumed while wandering through the exhibits.  It was the first time I’ve ever stayed at the Big E until the buildings started to shut down.  It was a wonderful time.

Barbed wire crawl 2016.  Nice boob shot.  Also, I learned to wear sleeves when I knew I was going to be crawling a long distance!

2016’s trip to RM was very similar to 2015 except we decided not to volunteer, we just bought tickets to an afternoon run and drove down there the morning of to save a night at a hotel.  We ran the race and cleaned up, and enjoyed a night of R&R (shopping and eating fattening food).  The next morning we arrived at the Big E just as the gates were opening and had a great time wandering through the barns before the crowds descended.  We took up a majority of the day just soaking in the sights before heading home.

I look very much forward to repeating the experience in 2017.  Rugged Maniac remains high on my list of best OCRs that you can run in the New England area.