Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Left Neglected

So I like to read... a lot. I think I read over a hundred books last year. Obviously with a new baby, I have read much less, but I recently joined a book club. The first selection for the book club was Left Neglected by Lisa Genova.

Left Neglected is a book about a super busy mother of three with little time to spare. She juggles motherhood with a busy career and a marriage. She is constantly on the go and her interactions with her family are rushed.  Then, the unthinkable happens. She is in a car accident that leaves her with brain damage. She is unable to do anything with her left side. She isn't paralyzed, but her brain does not recognize that she even has a left side. She is forced to learn to live a new way of life, as well as retrain herself on all things left. What she is left with is a new perspective on family and work. Her broken relationship with her mother is mended. She is able to relate better to her oldest son, who was diagnosed with ADHD. She is forced to make a career change, but in doing so she is doing something that makes a difference.

Overall, the book was a quick read. However, after discussing it within the group, I have to agree with their statements. The book has an overused plot, and key points that should have been elaborated were rushed.  Parts that needed only a sentence or two were drawn out. Aside from her mending her familial relationships, my favorite part of the book was one that left me giggling. She was describing how she was attempting to put makeup on as part of her therapy. The right side of her face looked flawless, but the left was not so much. In order to understand, imagine doing your makeup on the right side with your eyes open. Then imagine doing your makeup on the left side with your eyes closed. Or, if you are bored, you can actually do it.  This relates to anything she tried to do with the left side, but this was the most visual example.

If you would like a quick read, I would recommend it. But it won't really leave you wanting more or feeling like you just read the greatest book of all time.

If you have read this book, what did you think? What books are your favorites? 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dont Be Scared, Mommy!

Yikes. My boys are 9 years part. You forget a lot in 9 years. When I was pregnant with squirdle, I never worried about anything. I would think, "Oh one more Dr Pepper won't hurt me." "I'm gaining enough weight." This swelling is normal." Umm... No. The Dr Pepper was not okay. The swelling was not normal, but I was gaining enough weight. I had Oceania. My sweet baby was born at 35 weeks and he was so small. But he thrived and grew and was perfect. (To me he still is) The delivery was scary and I had no comfort from any medical staff. Boy was I worried then!

 While pregnant with Boogie, I worried about everything. And I mean everything. I even worried about eating enough broccoli. And then I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Yeah, I know. Shocked me too. But my doctor this time was amazing and my delivery was cake. The medical staff went above and beyond kindness. They were awesome.

 As I lay here tonight watching Boogie sleep, I worry again. Am I doing everything that needs to be done for him? Did I give him his vitamins today? Did he get my dry skin? Did squirdle have a good day in school? (he is with his dad) Do we have enough money to buy everything the boys need?

 Money is a constant worry. I am not employed and that hurts us. We live with my in laws, and while it's great and so helpful, it is not our ideal situation. I have applied for numerous jobs the past few weeks I check my phone obsessively to see if any of them have called. 

Honestly, I worry about working. What will I miss if I am not at home? What if I am needed? What if he rolls over or crawls or talks? What if we are both at work at the same time? So many thoughts keep me up at night. I know I am not the only one with these worries. I know I am not the only one scared of missing out.

 I worked when squirdle was a baby. Heck I have worked his whole life. I also went to college when he was 6. We made it. We survived. I think I can survive working through boogie's life, too. But do I want to? I m working on plans to be my own boss, and by working another job it will get me there sooner. I just hope I don't miss out on too much of the important stuff.

 I'm scared to be forgotten by my boys. I know that is irrational and stupid. But it's true. But then I look at either of them and they smile at me or hold me and I know it just won't happen. Their hugs tell me, "don't be scared, Mommy."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo

Ahh, gumbo.  You make me smile.

I am very proudly half Cajun.  And that half of me loves some Cajun food.  Oh, who am I kidding.  All 100% of me loves Cajun food.  Or Creole food.  Or anything cooked in Louisiana.  So much so, that we Honeymooned in New Orleans.  I ate gumbo 3 times that week.

My husband has been begging me since we met to make him gumbo.  I'm Cajun. I'm supposed to just automatically know how to make it.  It's in my blood, right? Hahahahahaha!  He's so funny. Last night, during Go Go Gadget Free Sunday, I made gumbo for the very first time in my life.  And since it was Go Go Gadget Free Sunday, I couldn't google anything or look it up on Pinterest.  (Dang it!)  I went to my second best resource: My recipe cards from culinary school and my cookbooks.  After looking at them, I decided to combine two recipes into one that worked for me.

The first step to any good gumbo is Happy Hour.  Seriously... since it takes a while to cook, no sense in being hungry!  My husband and I decided to have Sushi and Sake for our happy hour.  It was delicious.  But if sushi isn't your thing, maybe some chips and queso with a margarita will work.  I'm avoiding the hard stuff for Boogie's sake.

Gumbo really isn't that hard to make.  It is time consuming, though, so fair warning.  The trickiest part of gumbo is the roux.  Roux is a mixture of fat and flour that is used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups.  Roux usually has 3 stages, but gumbo takes it to that 9th stage, better known as Almost Black.  You guys might remember the peanut butter stage from the slow cooker roasted chicken gravy.  There I was standing in the kitchen just whisking and whisking and whisking.  Finally, it reached that color... almost black.

Gumbo, along with most other Cajun/Creole cooking, consists of something called The Holy Trinity.  Yes, it is based on The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.  New Orleans is a predominantly Catholic city. The Trinity is a mixture of onions, celery, and green bell pepper.  You can tell I'm Cajun because I want to replace carrots with green bell pepper in most things.  It just tastes better.  So in our gumbo, I put some extra Trinity.  Hey, Jake is Catholic, so it works out.

While we are on the subject, 'gumbo' is the African word for Okra.  That is why most gumbos contain it.  Okra has some magical thickening ability, so combined with the roux, you get a rich, delicious, nothing else like it, yummo bowl of awesomeness.  Another secret to gumbo is the file, pronounced fee-lay.  File is made from dried and ground sassafrass leaves.

Speaking of file, the first time my stepdad met my grandparents, my Papa was making his own file, so he had tons of sassafrass drying in his barn.  My stepdad asked my mom if it was pot!  Hahaha!

Now that I've bored you all with my rambling...

Dice up a package of chicken breasts or thighs. (I prefer thighs, but I used what we had)
Put the diced up meat in a Ziploc bag and add:
1/2 teaspoon of each of these seasonings: salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and cayenne.
Seal the bag and squish it all around to distribute the spices.
Open the bag, add 1/2 cup of flour and do the squishing again (after you seal the bag)

Heat 3 Tablespoons of canola oil in a dutch oven on medium heat.  Add the chicken and brown on all sides.  While the chicken is cooking, dice up 1 medium onion, 6 stalks of celery and 1 and a half bell peppers.  Also slice up some okra. (I did half a container)

Once the chicken is well browned, remove from the pot and add 1/2 cup canola oil.  Yes, there are brown bits... leave them!  They are flavor.  When the oil is heated, whisk in 1/2 cup flour and just keep whisking.  If you get bored, create whisking songs in your head.  You seriously want to whisk until the roux is almost black.  Once it reaches that point, remove from heat and add in that trinity.  Whisk it all together, and then add 8 cups of chicken stock or water. Continue whisking until it starts to boil.

Add in the chicken and okra, and reduce to a simmer.  Cover.

Slice up some smoked sausage and 2 fat garlic cloves.  Set aside for use in a little while.

Thaw, peel, and devein some shrimps. If you are a slacker, you can buy the shrimps that are already deveined :) (Ahem, that would be me)

Prepare the rice.  Measure out some rice.  I did one cup of rice.  Place in a draining utensil like this one and rinse.  Rinse it until the water is clear.  Then let it drain.  You can even blot with paper towels if you choose.  Place the rice in a pot and cover with twice as much water (2 cups if you prepare it just like mine).  Turn the heat onto medium high and add a little salt.  Let it boil until there are these little bubbles on the surface of the rice that create craters.  Turn off the heat and put a lid on.  It will steam the rest of the way.

Now that the rice is done, you can finish the gumbo.  Go ahead and add in that sausage and garlic.  Let cook about 5 minutes and then adjust the seasonings.  You can add Tabasco to spice it up if you like.  Add the shrimp.  Let cook 5 minutes more and then add 1 tablespoon of file.  Remove from heat immediately.  File will get stringy if you boil it (YUCK!)

Now, it is time to eat!  Put some rice in the bottom of a bowl. You don't need a whole lot, maybe 1/2 cup.  Ladle the gumbo on top and around it, sit, and enjoy!

Have you made gumbo before?  How did it turn out?

The Epicness of Cupcakes

Last year, I started making cupcakes on the side to earn some extra money to pay for wedding expenses.  As it turns out, I am REALLY good at making them.  The cupcakes were a hit at not only my old job, but my husband's place of work as well.  I expanded the business to include shipping to other locales, and working special events.  I recently donated 4 dozen to the Elm Street Nightmares Roller Derby Team Bakesale (Go, Denton!) I am making cupcakes for my first ever wedding.  I'm a little nervous, but also super excited because of the earning potential there could be because of wedding guests.

While I had to scale back so I could take care of Boogie, I decided to still bake cupcakes for special events.  These can include anything from birthdays to weddings, family reunions, tailgate parties, holiday parties, graduations, etc.

Don't worry... I'm not trying to drum up business with this post.  I just remembered I forgot to mention what I do when I'm not in Facebook land.  However, if you DO want to check out what I have done, I have a facebook page for my lovely treats.

There are pictures there from my enormous Valentine's Day Bake-A-Thon where I baked 15 dozen cupcakes in one kitchen.  There are pictures of my sometimes baking assistant.  There are pictures of some of the cupcakes we have made, and there are pictures of the cupcakes we made for the Nightmares. (Those are my fave).

If you do check it out, let me know what you think!  And if you like what you see, maybe pass my name along to someone you know who is in need of some tasty treats!

These were some lovely birthday treats

These were another special order.  Aren't those flowers adorable?

Baking baking baking... 

Snicker's Cupcake.  One of my favorites... so yummy

Oh man... these were fun.  Some of these are alcoholic!

Cupcakes made for the Elm Street Nightmares

S'Mores Cupcake

Some of the Fall Cupcakes

Easter Cupcakes.  I love how bright the Peeps ones are :)

Irish Car Bomb, one of the Biggest Sellers

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Go Go Gadget (free) Sunday!

As I sit here typing this post on my Kindle Fire and text  my husband and mom on my cell phone (hey, my mom is cool like that) I am reminded how blessed we are. My husband has his Xbox and his guitars and his iPhone. I have my Kindle Fire. My mom has umpteen million gadgets. Yet are we really actually connected to one another?

My mom lives about 4 hours away from me so we Skype on occasion. But the last time we were in the same room together engaging was 3 months ago. Granted it is because of the distance, but what about my husband and I? He works crazy hours so our daily conversations are rarely anything of importance. It's more "How was your day?" And "Man I am so tired." When we are home together, I have a tendency to get lost in my Kindle. What? It does everything! My husband will shoot strangers on Call of Duty or strum a few songs on his guitar. Our idea of spending time together is watching the episode of Sons of Anarchy we missed.

It was this realization that we aren't connected anymore that made me say enough is enough. Honestly, Facebook and pinterest can wait until Monday. Obsessing over my 5 blog readers (thanks you 5) can also wait until Monday. I remember when we would spend hours just laying together. Life got in the way of us. Well I am taking Us back. No phones, no kindled, no iPhones, no Xbox, and no guitars. Just the family, spending time together. Maybe we can go on a picnic. Maybe we can all take a nap together. Maybe we can build rockets out of cardboard boxes and fly to the moon. Whatever we do, no gadgets will be involved. Not even wiki how for the rocket building. And if we don't get around to watching that episode of Sons, that's okay, too.

Bring it on gadget free Sunday. I'm ready for you. What are some things you do to reconnect with your family?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

We have some fancy newfangled oven with a touch button operating system. Something happened to the control panel and it is no longer working. So... we have no oven. That really sucks when you want some good old fashioned roasted chicken. So I pulled up the trusty pinterest to see what i could find... I looked at a few different recipes and then created my own. It is moist, delicious, and with the leftovers you can make so many different things... wraps, chicken salad, tacos, nachos, pot pie, and on and on.
I would like to give some love to these blogs for my recipe inspiration:

So I think it only fair to explain to you my ingredients and method. Since we try to eat healthier, I use an organic free range chicken. I then remove the bag of innards and cut off the neck. Remove the skin and pat the chicken dry. Why??? Washing it removes flavor and spreads salmonella in little water molecules all over the place. Yes, trying to wash off the germs creates a biohazard in your kitchen. Gross. I remove the skin because it doesn't crisp up in the slow cooker and currently I have no broiler to crisp it under.

Roll up some foil balls and place in bottom of crock pot. Why? To cook the chicken evenly on all sides and keep it from being soggy.  The seasonings are simple... sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, thyme, paprika, and fajita seasoning. Season liberally with all inside and out of bird. Place bird in cooker, then head to the sink. Soap up your hands before you turn on the water... prevents the spread of bacteria!!! Wash wash wash. Now you can put the lid on and turn on the cooker. I personally cook it on high for 4-5 hours. You can cook it on low if you have to go to work or have a million other things to do.

Some people say add water to the cooker. I do not. I baste the chicken whenever I remember with the juices that start collecting in the bottom. More flavor! Flavor is good! Plus after the chicken is done you can make this amazing gravy to put on mashed potatoes, and gravy is a good thing.

Cook the chicken until the internal temperature is 165F. Nobody likes raw chicken!

Really, you dont need much to get lots of flavor :)

Foil balls!  These are fun.  Throw them at your husband after the chicken cooks ;) 

 Don't dance the chicken around in the sink like I did... just season up the inside!

 And the outside... place on the foil balls.  Our paprika doesn't have a sprinkle setting... just a dump one.

Baste the chicken with the yummy juices.  I obviously need a new brush. 

 Mmm... drippings.  THAT is so going to be gravy soon!

Ding!  Chicken is done!  Now what???

 The secret to mashed potatoes... garlic.  No, seriously.  Plus, it fights off vampires and mosquitoes.

 My handsome kitchen helper, Boogie.  He was telling me how much he likes gravy.

 We buy organic potatoes... they are part of the 'dirty dozen.' No thank you, pesticides!

 Throw that minced garlic in with the potatoes, cover with COLD water and boil until taters are fork tender.

 These fine ingredients, plus the drippings from your chicken make fabulous gravy.  I almost drank ours...

 Melt about 2 Tablespoons of butter

 Whisk in 2 Tablespoons of flour and keep whisking until it is the color of peanut butter (medium heat, folks... it's not a race!)

 Whisk in the juice drippings and about 1-2 cups of the chicken broth (stock is better).  Cook until it boils one minute or reduces down and thickens to gravy like stuff.

To mash the taters, drain off the water, add about 3 Tablespoons of butter, and 1/4-1/2 cup of whole milk.  Mash with a tater masher, and season with salt and pepper.  I guess I can share these...