Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Fruits of Idle Hands - Part One

After a full day yesterday of serving at a local homeless drop-in center and catching up with the housework & laundry we'd fallen behind on, Steve and I decided to lay-low today and just spend some time with each other. For the most part we did (the exception being a way-too-delayed visit to my grandmother), and around 6:00 PM I was hit with a wave of being bored.

I wasn't much feeling like conversation so I didn't call anyone. I wasn't much feeling like emailing or reading (I'd already done both). Facebook just causes further boredom. There's only so much web-surfing one can do before they lose their mind.

So... what did I do?

I opened my refrigerator and pantry. I looked at what I had on-hand. And I got to work creating some tasty treats. The first thing I created was...

Apple-Cranberry Spice Cake

- 2 cups flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 1 rounded tsp cinnamon
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ cup butter (1 stick), melted
- ½ cup almond milk
- 1 apple, diced

- Preheat oven to 350 & grease 8x8 baking dish
- Combine dry ingredients in medium sized bowl (I used a fork)
- Combine wet ingredients in smaller bowl (I used a spoon)
- Add wet ingredients into the dry ingredients bowl, and combine by folding with a spatula
- Pour batter into baking dish and spread evenly across the pan
- Bake for about 40 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean). 

Now... if I'm going to be honest as I was pouring the batter into the baking dish, my fear was that the cake was going to come out rather dense. This was not at all the case - it was rather a light cake considering the consistency of the batter. It was quite tasty and unfortunately for my diet quite addicting.  Steve and I had a hard time stopping ourselves for going back and forth for more starting with the initial taste test to our actual serving time. This ended up becoming our dinner - which was fine because we ate enough of it to be a meal!

I think we might have had too much cake...

Tomorrow I'll share with you the other dish that I created - my version of carrot soup!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Smells Like Curry Spirit

When you're married to a guy who loves to eat all sorts of food, you end up trying different things and figuring out how the heck you can manage to eat similar foods at home. Cookbooks can teach you basics, but what I've learned is that there's nothing quite so fun as taking what you learn in cookbooks and cooking shows and making your own recipes from the things you've taken into your gray matter. I find that more and more I end up using my pots & pans as my canvas and the food in my stores as my paints. What happens when I get to creating?

All sorts of things. Some of them that I end up writing down later - like my latest kitchen creation that I'd like to share with you.

Danielle's Vegetable Curry
(Makes about 8 servings)

- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups red potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 cups red onion, chopped
- 4 whole carrots, peeled & chopped
- 2 cups red bell peppers, chopped
- 2 tsp minced garlic (I cheat and get mine from a jar.)
- 1 cup shitaki mushrooms, chopped
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 cup frozen green beans
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 2 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
- 1/4 cup coconut cream (AKA cream of coconut - I use Goya.)
- 1/4 cup almond or soy milk
- 2 tsp curry powder (I use Spice Islands)
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- Salt & pepper, to taste

- In large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add and saute potatoes for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add onions, carrots, peppers, and garlic. Saute for another 5-7 minutes until potatoes and carrots begin to get fork-tender.
- Add mushrooms and saute for another 2-3 minutes until they begin to brown.
- Add broth and bring to simmer.
- Add frozen peas, corn, and green beans. Allow to simmer for another 2 minutes.
- Add curry powder, cumin, salt & pepper. Stir to incorporate.
- Add coconut cream and almond milk. Allow to simmer for 8-10 minutes.
- Add baby spinach and carefully combine it into the pot to allow it to wilt.
- Remove from heat. Serve with jasmine rice and garlic naan (or eat it alone, which is what we've been doing for lunches this week).

If you like your sauce to be a little bit thinner, you can add 1/2 to 1 cup of water to thin it out. We've been eating it this week for our lunches and it's been an awesome flavorful way to have a mid-day meal. A healthy way too - one serving packs almost 6 grams of fiber and just over 7 grams of protein, and it's a great way to get some extra veggies into your diet. If you fancy a bit more protein, toss in a cup or two of chopped chicken breast or add some chickpeas. I haven't tried them in there yet, but I'm sure either addition would be super tasty!

Having never made a "curry" before, I was excited about how it turned out and I have a feeling that this will be making repeat performances several times going forward. Play with it and make it yours! It's an easy, delicious, healthy meal - if you make it, I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Considering the Cost

Last weekend I was visited by our local Mary Kay representative for an in-home skincare "lesson" (read: sales pitch). I listened and tried out several products and paid attention to what the MK Lady told me about skin care products, took mental notes, and then braced myself as she prepared to tell me the cost of everything.

The facial skin care set: $90. $125 if I wanted the uber-set. The stupendous hand care set that I fell in love with: $34 (comparable with Bath & Body Works Prices). Puffy eye gel that I can put in the fridge and put on my eye-puffs whenever I cry or am overtired or have sneezed too much: $15 (not too bad). My brain: Still stuck on "Wait... $90 for freaking face wash and moisturizer? For serious?"

It was nice... but... $90? Really?

Now, those of you who use MK or Clinique or Lancome or Estee Lauder or other comparable makeup on a regular basis are probably thinking: Yes. Duh. Pay attention, Danielle. It's the price of beauty and delayed wrinkles. But please understand: I buy $5 face wash from Trader Joe's and 2-packs of Olay Complete facial moisturizer at Sam's Club for less than $30. So to ask me to switch from my inexpensive, seems to be working routine to a $90 set of products that 5 hours later made my face itch... I am unconvinced of the value in doing so. That's a $55 difference from my current routine.

I really and truly had to consider the cost before I could determine whether or not to hit the "buy" button.

Sitting in church the next day singing "Amazing Grace", I realized that was not the first time in my life I'd been presented with leaving my old way of doing things for a new one and had to consider the cost of doing so. When my heart first began to open up enough to let Jesus in and let Him change me, I had to consider the cost too.

Following Jesus meant life would change completely. Sacrifices would happen. The people surrounding you change. How you approach your job and simple things like driving changes. How you spend a Thursday night changes. My marriage is affected. I could keep going on and on and on... but a lot of things changed when I began to place my trust in Jesus as the leader of my life.

And while almost 5 years later I can see how all of these changes have been good and have had positive outcomes... I cannot help but take pause and realize that the cost was huge. The initial investment has changed my life and has called me to make further investments in Jesus' calling and God's will for my life. It has challenged me to reach outside of myself further, has made me aware of my brokenness and my need to changes areas of my life, to sacrifice my time and resources so that others may be blessed and know that God loves them as well.

The benefits of my investments so far have been huge. A stronger relationship with my husband. Deeper friendships. Stronger bonds with family members. Tangible answers to prayer. The ability to see where God is working in my life. Things that before I may have treated superficially or overlooked I see with different eyes. I can see His hand in areas I never would have before getting to know Him better.

Are you thinking about where Jesus will fit in your life? I urge you to consider the cost and think over the benefits. Like any good cosmetics saleswoman would say - I can't guarantee that all results will be equal, but I can tell you that anyone who has let Jesus change their heart that I've met has been thrilled with the results. Are you willing to let Him do that for you?

One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, ""Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple.

Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: 'He started something he couldn't finish.'

Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can't, won't he send an emissary and work out a truce?

Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be my disciple.

"Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it's useless, good for nothing.
"Are you listening to this? Really listening?" 
Luke 14":25-35 (The Message)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Top 5 - Favorite Guster Tunes

Maybe it's because I still haven't gotten over the buzz from seeing them live back in September, but I've had Guster songs in the back of my head recently. I'll randomly start singing one when I walk around the house, and get a bit excited when I hear them pop up on my Pandora streaming music at work. If you've not ever heard of Guster - in my humble opinion you're missing out. In fact - for those of you who haven't heard their music before, take the time to watch the below. You'll enjoy it.

Danielle's Top 5 Guster Tunes
(in no particular order)

Demons: This is probably one of the songs I've caught myself singing the most recently. My guess as to why is that it was one of the songs that they performed when I saw them, and it's been stuck in my inner-brain playlist since then. I guess there are worse things, right?

Center of Attention: This song is one of my favorite songs to belt out in the car. A few years ago, I got a cool bonus when we saw the Barenaked Ladies and Adam Gardner came out and joined BNL in singing this song. I believe this was also played in September, but I wouldn't guarantee that. That could be wishful, made-up memories.

Mona Lisa: This is one that never made it to the radio, but it's one of those songs that when I'm down somehow singing it is like venting and I start feeling better. My favorite line from the chorus is "I used to sit and watch the pouring rain..." - for some reason that always hits... something. You know? Maybe not. Either way - awesome song.

Scars & Stitches: And here we have a song that for a while was quoted in my profiles across the intertubes. "I don't mind falling down and scraping up my knees, scars & stitches always fade and only strengthen me." Self-explanatory, and a great attitude to have towards the bumps & bruises life will bring. Pick up, learn, move forward with a positive attitude.

Do You Love Me?: This song is newer, but I think it's super fun. It's bouncy, catchy, and for some reason makes me want summer to be here. Probably because I'll buy it on the iTunes, burn it to a CD, and blast it with the windows open. "I wanna find out what it means... do you looooooove me?" Fun times!

Those are my 5 favorite Guster tunes, though I have to admit there were a few that I had to waffle on... "Amsterdam", "Happier", and "Stay With Me Jesus" were also on the list. Search for those on YouTube if you're interested in hearing more Guster.

If you're a Guster fan - what are your favorites? If you haven't heard Guster before and are a music fan - have I sparked your interest?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sept! Siete! Seven!

As I was reading through the blogs on my Google Reader, I discovered that one of my oldest friends Kristin over at Town and Country Prep tagged me for the "7 Things Blog Award". First of all - THANKS to Kristin for the tag and second of all - if you haven't seen Kristin's blog, take a pop over and check her out. She's a really cool person and so far her posts (her blog is relatively new and she just came down with the flu - poor thing!) have been great!

Now... on to the who point of this post which is 7 things about MOI!

1. I love reading and will read just about anything from any genre. I have a propensity to read multiple books at a time and will often take way too long to get through them as a result. Right now as you can see in my sidebar - I'm reading 5 books. Ridiculous! But they're all good and I'll likely finish all of them.

2. I am acrophobic (acrophobia = fear of heights) but only in so far as thinking that if I am not properly protected from high-up that I will fall and get incredibly hurt. So for example: I can easily go to the tall tourist attractions or fly in a plane without issue. However, I cannot climb scaling walls without panicking and have been known to have a bit of anxiety getting on the Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Tree climbing? Hot air balloon rides? Getting too close to a canyon/mountain edge? Forget about it. Ain't happenin'.

3. I discovered my faith and started to follow Jesus Christ in mid/late 2006. As a result I've discovered what a hot mess I am and have realized that through Him I can work on a lot of what's broken - it's amazing what the power of God's grace can do to a person's life. It's also changed my perspective on the world as a whole, which has been incredibly powerful as well.

4. I have a BA in Psychology that I paid for the bulk of myself through various loans and payment plans. I feel like I value my education more because I did work so hard to pay for school; I know myself and if it had been paid for by primarily other sources, I don't think I would have appreciated the education and experience as much. Also - it made the help I did get all the more meaningful because I couldn't depend on it, so it became a very meaningful gift rather than something I would depend on and potentially take it for granted.

5. Aside from my husband, my best friend is my Mom. I feel incredibly blessed to say that because not many people have the relationship with their mother like I have with mine. One of the best birthday gifts I got last year was an entire weekend with just my mom (she turned 50 and I turned 30 last year). Quality time with her is always a huge blessing!

6. I have always loved cooking shows; I have memories of sitting on my Papa Cochrane's bed next to him as a small child watching "Yan Can Cook", "The Frugal Gourmet" and Julia Child on PBS. He would watch it with his headphones on, but unplug them when I came in so I could watch too. BUT -  my guilty pleasure is almost any "Food Network" competitive type show. Think "Iron Chef", "Cupcake Wars", or "Worst Cooks in America". My favorite - "Chopped". I'm more than a little giddy about "Chopped: All Stars" coming up in March. There. I said it.

7. If being a housewife could pay the bills, I would do it in a heartbeat. I pray that when we have kids that I am able to be a stay-at-home mom. There's something incredibly satisfying to me about being able to provide that for my family. The days that I am able to get everything in order in the house and then cook a good meal for Steve & I are usually the days that I feel the most fulfilled.

So - those are my 7 things about me. I have almost fulfilled my requirements... but NOW I, in turn, have to tag 3 people... so without further adieu:

Mags over at Ms. Maggie Moo Talks 2 U: A friend of mine who writes a few times a week about her life in a fun and engaging style. Definitely check her out - she's got a huge blog following which I think attests to the quality of her blog.

Laura over at GreenThings: My good friend Laura who writes primarily about food and gardening. She's posted some really good looking comfort-food recipes recently, so definitely check her out!

Kimberly over at Kimberblog!: Another good friend of mine who recently moved to China. She's a really neat person who writes about her Chinese experience as well as crafting, vegan/vegetarian cooking, and other cool stuff.

There you have it! 7 things and 3 people tagged - mission accomplished. Thanks to Kristin for tagging me for the 7 Things Blog Award!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Restaurant Review: Epcot's Via Napoli

Each year on our annual Disney trip, we like to try out different restaurants that we haven't tried before. Since it had opened since our last visit and the reviews we'd been reading had been coming out pretty positive, we decided to have dinner at Via Napoli. The restaurant (or "ristorante", as it were) is located in the back of the Italy pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase.

After reading several rave reviews about the service, food, and beverages - I was excited to sit down and try it out. We had spent the day eating "around the world", and we were ending our gustatory adventure with dinner at Via Napoli (which would also check Italy off of our list). We checked in and within 5 minutes were ushered to our table which was situated in a "back patio" area of the restaurant. This area was indoors, but was decorated like a covered outdoor patio complete with cement floors. The environment was really well done, which made getting settled at our table relatively easy.

Not only was this visit at the end of our day, it was also the last day of our vacation which meant we were used to the high quality of Disney food and service throughout the WDW Resort. Having said that - we waited quite a while before anyone came to fill our water glasses and take our drink orders. By the time the waiter came and took our drink orders, we were ready to order our meals as well. Adding to at least my husband's frustration was the fact that they were out of artichokes - which meant that all of the pizzas he had picked out for himself weren't able to be ordered. Thankfully, he does enjoy pepperoni pizza so he just joined in with the one that our friends had ordered. With that - the waiter was off to get our drinks and bring us some bread & oil.

For my drink, I ordered the vodka lemon drop. I wasn't really in the mood for wine, and the refreshing crispness of lemon sounded just about perfect. I was not at all disappointed when the drink was delivered. It was definitely refreshing, was ice cold and not at all watered down. I made sure to nurse this delicious libation throughout dinner because I'm sure it was deceptive in its non-alcoholic tastiness. Our friend Laura ordered a bellini, and the boys split a pitcher of the Italian beer (made specially for the American restaurant - talk about knowing your audience).

Via Napoli Lemon Drop
Bread & oil - tasty, but pretty standard really.

Soon enough after enjoying some bread and booze, the pizza came out. The first thing that struck me was that everything looked delicious... and the size of the pepperoni pizza that came out to our table. I don't remember what the word for it was on the menu (the online ones I could find called it a "half-meter" - the menu did not say that) - but the darned thing was HUGE.

Gigantic Pepperoni Pizza... for three? Maybe times ten...
I had ordered the Pizza Margherita because every review I had read about Via Napoli raved about it. People had said they were expecting one thing but then got this awesome pizza that was surprisingly tastier than they thought it would be. I will say that when it was placed in front of me - it certainly looked like it was going to live up to its reputation. The sauce looked good, the mozzarella was melted perfectly, and the basil was in good proportion to the cheese and looked fresh. I was ready to dig in.

Looks good enough to eat!

I picked up my first piece and was ready for that wonderful thin crust crispiness that I have grown to love on my pizza... and was met with a relatively soggy center crust. The sauce was warm, the cheese was tasty and the perfect consistency, and the basil lent that subtle hint of flavor that brought the flavors all together. But my crust... the beautiful picturesque crust... was a huge let-down. Because I enjoyed the overall taste and the outer crust was cooked perfectly - I did eat the whole individual order that I had requested. However - I was totally let down by the bottom layer of crust and knew, in that moment, that there was a huge difference between me and the people who had written the numerous reviews I had read singing the praises of this pizza.

They clearly did not grow up in New England.

There's something about growing up in a heavily populated Italian-American area of the country that lends itself to great pizza existing in plentiful amounts. This means that to be competitive, pizzerias must perfect their craft and get the crust perfect. Even on a thin crust pizza, the base crust has to be crispy in order to sustain the sauce and cheese and inevitable grease that develops when the cheese & toppings are cooked. Since thin-crust style pizzerias are seemingly on every corner up here and the biggest players are Pizzeria Regina, Sal's, and Papa Gino's - all known for their great crust, near-perfect sauce and all some of my favorite places to get a slice or two - I know what I like in pizza. And a huge requirement for me is a perfectly crisp non-burned crust that can hold up to the goods on top of it.

Via Napoli, unfortunately, fell short in this area.

After we ate, Steve confessed that the folks on the WDW Today podcast - who are mostly from New England or the Northeast - also had the same feedback on the pizza. He just felt bad because I was so excited to try it that he felt badly when he heard it... so he didn't mention it. I'm glad he didn't because if nothing else, reading about this pizza did get me in the door of the restaurant. I did truly like the atmosphere, the menu had tons of selection and yummy-looking food, the drinks were delicious, the toppings were spot-on, and once our waiter came over he was attentive the rest of the time we were there. All of those things in mind - I would absolutely consider eating there again on a future visit to the park.

I would just NOT order the pizza in any "flavor". It's not worth my money to get floppy crust. Not even from Walt Disney World.