Friday, December 23, 2011

Cape Cod Christmas

Hello friends.

Can you believe Christmas is almost upon us? Beau and I will be traveling to his hometown on the Cape to spend the holidays with his whole family. I asked two of his sisters to put in for some mild weather since we all know this gal doesn't do cold very well. Someone listened. For being as far north as we will be, the forecast looks downright warm!

(Image here)

It looks like we won't be seeing any snow, but I did find a few images that suggest that it would be absolutely breathtaking.

(Images here)

(Image here)

Beau and I are looking forward to a season of love, warmth, family, friends and togetherness. Here's wishing you the very same.

Merry Christmas.

How will you be spending Christmas? Is it your favorite time of year too?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cashew Chicken

I have this thing for cookbooks. I really love them, but I rarely actually use them. See, I find hours of enjoyment looking though them, reading them, studying them. When it takes time to make a meal I usually go with what I know. Sometimes on special occasions I find a fun recipe. Usually that recipe is online and not from one of the dozens of cookbooks I own.

A few weeks ago I got a new cookbook in the mail. Food and Wine magazine has this little gem of a cookbook that showed up on my doorstep.

It turns out I'm also a sucker for a good roundup. I couldn't turn down a cookbook that had "the best recipes from the 25 best cookbooks of the year."As per my previously noted cookbook MO, I spent a few evenings looking over all of the recipes and thinking about all of the yummy things I could make.

After those few nights together, I set the book aside and there it sat on our coffee table for weeks. Today I was thinking about Chinese food and was bummed that every Chinese place around here that I've tried has disappointed me. Greatly.

I was mulling over the prospects of another bad Kung Pao Chicken when the cookbook caught my eye. I thought of two of those 25 books: Simply Ming One-Pot Meals and Stir Frying To the Sky's Edge and thought perhaps I could make my own, better Chinese meal.

Enter page 256. Cashew Chicken from Stir Frying To the Sky's Edge. I may never go out for Chinese again. And I might start using the cookbooks I've acquired over the years...

Cashew Chicken adapted only slightly from the cookbook pictured above.

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thigh cubed
3 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons corn starch
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons cooking sherry
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of sugar
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced cllery
1/2 cup cashews (the recipe calls for unsalted, but I couldn't find any. I cut the salt back in the recipe and just used salted cashews)

First, I combined the chicken, garlic, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon corn starch, 1 teaspoon sherry and the salt and sugar in a bowl.

In another bowl I combined the broth, remaining soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sherry and 1/2 teaspoon corn starch.

I set both of these bowls aside.

Next, I heated my wok and added a tablespoon of peanut oil and the ginger. I stir fried that until it was fragrant and pushed it to the sides of the wok. Then, I dumped the chicken concoction in the hot wok and spread it evenly across the bottom. I let it sit there for about a minute to sear and then stir fried for another minute until it was brown but not cooked through.

Last, I added the last of the oil, all of the veggies and the cashews. I stir fired that for a few minutes, stirred my broth mixture and poured that over the chicken and veggies. I was supposed to stir fry that for about a minute and serve, but it was at this point that I realized I hadn't made the rice. (Awesome rice cooker posted about here.)


So, I turned down the heat, started the rice and fumed for about 14 minutes knowing that I ruined dinner. Well, it turns out that this meal doesn't have to be super precise. It was delicious even with an extra 13 minutes simmering at low heat.

I like low maintenance recipes that are hard to ruin. I always manage to do something that has the potential to screw up dinner, so it makes me happy when recipes are Amy-proof.

Needless to say, Number 7 Chinese will not be my I-don't-really-enjoy-it-but-I-want-Chinese go-to restaurant any more. I may not need a restaurant. Actually, I'll need to figure out crab rangoons before I swear off chinese places all together.

Are you a cookbook person? Or do they gather dust like mine?

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I don't think I've seen The Nutcracker since I was a little girl. I probably would have missed it this year if I hadn't got an email from a parent of one of my students. Her daughter Bryanna would be missing school on Thursday and Friday because she had a lead in The Nutcracker.

The first writing assignment I have my seniors do is their college admissions essay. Not only is this the most important essay many of them will write in their senior year, but because of it I also get to know my seniors really well really quickly. Bryanna wrote about dancing. She wrote about training with the Atlanta Ballet and how she was on the path to become a professional dancer. Then the pain started and increased. She could barely walk. She couldn't sit the length of a class. She certainly couldn't dance. In November of last year she had hip surgery. Serious, major hip surgery. Her mom calls her hip "bionic." The doctors told Bryanna she'd never dance again. In her essay she wrote about how she was going to prove them wrong.

(Image from Jackie Rueda via Flicker)

And so she did. I watched her dance this afternoon. Among other parts she played the Lead Angel. It was a stunning scene. It was entirely en pointe. I looked that term up. Dancing en pointe requires strength of legs and feet. It requires great strength, balance and agility. It requires strong hips, among other things.

Bryanna's mom said that for dancers the Christmas season stops being the Christmas season. It is Nutcracker season. When she said it I knew that this time she was so very happy that this Christmas is Nutcracker season Bryanna.

What season is it for you, dear readers?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Salted Caramel Pie

Thanksgiving was special this year. For the first time in a very long time, my stepbrother and his family drove down to my parents' house. Also, a very close family friend and her two sons joined us. We had a total of 13 people. This is the kind of meal preparation that would make some lesser folk cringe, but for my mom cooking for a large crowd is a dream come true.

She would have gladly shouldered the entire burden, but we are genetically bound and I love cooking for a crowd too. I wanted to help. Mom would only allow me to do so much, so I offered to bring a pie and the salad.

Now, this pie offer was for a few reasons: 1) I'm not a fan of traditional Thanksgiving pie flavors, 2) I can probably count on two fingers the pies I've baked in my life, and 3) I had an interestingly yummy looking recipe from my newest Food & Wine magazine.

Salted Caramel Pie

See? Yummy, huh?

For those of you who follow this blog (Two of you!!!! Thank you!!!!) you know that I often forget to photograph my projects.

This would be another instance of that. Fortunately, Food & Wine and The Constant Hunger had a few images I lifted from their websites.

(from Food &Wine)

I'll let your mouth stop watering.

And the cool thing is that it is way easier than it should be.

There are almost no ingredients.

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 5 ounces)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light brown sugar
Two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
Fleur de sel
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

A pie, a crust and the whipped topping in seven ingredients? Perfect for a pie novice like me.

I won't give all of the step by step directions, because you can find them here.

I will tell you that baking condensed milk smells oddly like macaroni and cheese. I had my doubts about how it would all come together. I actually wondered if I was going to have to scrap the whole thing and pick up a pre-made pie on the way north. Fear not, the mac and cheese scent does not affect the taste at all. Not one tiny bit.

It is, in fact, deliciously caramel-y and not cheesy.

(From The Constant Hunger)

There was an abundance of desserts at Thanksgiving dinner, and all of them were delicious. I do have to say, though, that this one was pretty popular.

I'll be making this pie again and again, I'm sure. Aside from taking hours to make the caramel, it was really easy. (But please don't tell anyone how easy it was. I don't want mom to think I got off easy for turkey day.)

So, what was the best part of your Thanksgiving?  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Crew from Fantasy Land

I love it when I get home from a long day at work and the mailbox is stuffed to the brim with magazines and catalogues. Obviously that means the papers that found their way home with me can be pushed to the side and I can enter Fantasy Land. Aaaah. One of my favorite places.

Tonight I opted for the new J. Crew catalogue over InStyle. Here's why:

The combined cost of these items is approximately a gazillion dollars, which is why I generally only do this kind of shopping when I am in Fantasy Land. The mall there is fan-tastic. 

If you had a gazillion dollars how would you spend it?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Guilt and Manipulation

I've mentioned before that my dear friend Cyndi and I share a Kindle account. Sometimes she accuses my tastes in literature of being a bit morbid. Or dark. Or depressing. Whatever.

When I purchased this month's book club book (The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East) I warned her that it might will be one of those sadly poignant books that she doesn't necessarily love to read. (Though I think this one might not be as dark and depressing as others I have recommended to her.)

For the record, this book was not my choice. I hadn't even heard of it. Any morbidity, darkness or depression is purely coincidental. (Geesh, C, that stuff sells.)

A few days later Cyndi had her own book recommendation for me. She even downloaded the sample.

Well, I started reading and had to purchase the book as soon as I finished the teaser that Kindle provides. Elizabeth Beckwith is funny. Funny in a way that I can really relate to. (Read= weird and quirky.)

I'm only about halfway done with it, but so far I recommend it to anyone who has a sense of humor. And since you read this blog I can only assume that you appreciate funny. Or those who think they are funny.

So if you had to choose between a snarky book about how parents can use guilt and manipulation to raise nerdy, neurotic (but innocent and not slutty) kids or a serious and moving text about religious strife in the Middle East, which would you turn to first?

I'll let you know how The Lemon Tree is right after I finish my mindless, light read.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tile Makes Me Smile

It has been a very long time since I've written about the kitchen. Ok, so it has been a long time since I've written anything. Sorry about that. It is much easier to keep this little blog updated when I have all the free time in the world. I'm in the process of convincing beau that I need to quit my job and blog full time. Unfortunately for you, my five readers, beau is not entirely swayed. I'll keep working on it, you keep reading.

Back to the kitchen...

I got home from work the other day and saw this when I approached the kitchen:

What a mess. I wasn't quite sure why my kitchen exploded. Then I noticed that behind that mess was a glorious strip of tile. See it?

I turned to my left and...

Taaa-Daah! Beau had been busy. He was still hard at work, too.

(Isn't he the cutest?)

So, the next night when I got home from work we had a very romantic night of grouting. You know what they say about the couple that grouts together, right? Yep, they go for celebratory sushi after...

After a few days of wiping down tile to get the grout residue off and putting stuff back where it belongs, we have a kitchen that is one giant leap closer to being donezo.

The bullet list of things to do is getting much much shorter.

  • Caulk window and door trim
  • Caulk baseboards
  • Caulk around new tile
  • Extend outlets and replace faceplates
  • Paint accent wall
  • Touch-up paint on other walls
  • Paint trim and baseboards
Had I not been a complete lump this long weekend the kitchen could have been done. But what fun is that? We'd just have to start the next project...

There has been some discussion about putting a bathroom in upstairs. Be still my heart.

Who out there thinks I should be a full time blogger? (Don't be is the time to comment!) 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sushi Art

Yesterday at work I was accosted.

By yearbook reps.

They want my business.

And they trapped me in my classroom until 6:15.

School gets out at 2:00.

Yes, they length of my day was made 3/4 longer by yearbook reps trying to get me to switch companies. (By the way, if you are wondering why I would even allow this to happen it is because the rep showed up at my school unannounced two weeks ago. She had two district supervisors with her. They wouldn't leave until I scheduled a session where they could work with my kids and show me how they will "shower me with personalized attention and service." And, if you know me at all you know I am too nice to people. Oh, and she bought pizza for my girls.)

They did, however, leave me with a super cool cup like they have at Starbucks. You know, the clear one with the lids and the green straws. This one says "Yearbook Fuel" across it.

Sadly, I'm really excited about it. REALLY excited.

Don't tell my yearbook rep that I was almost swayed by a plastic cup. I don't want to leave my present company, but the one that is trying to break us up has way better swag. It's like in those Lifetime movies where the sweet girl is dating her nerdy but kind and adoring neighbor who borrows mom's mini van to take her on dates and then the leather jacket wearing, motorcycle (or Camaro) driving bad boy starts to pursue her. She knows the nerdy neighbor boy is the right match for her, but the other guy is so cool and so she entertains the thought.

Yeah, so that's what yesterday was like. Except the chase lasted four hours and it wasn't nearly as fun as being chased by two guys.

But, that's not the point of this tale. The point is that I was at school so much longer than I intended to be. I had high hopes for a lovely homemade dinner. It didn't happen.

I got home and beau was romancing Siri. That took a while. I love it when he gets a new Apple product.

All of a sudden it was 8:00 and I was famished. Beau was told it was time to go for sushi. (He doesn't mind orders like that; sushi is his favorite.)

More times than not we go to this little place right by the university. The sushi is quite good, it is inexpensive, and the staff has gotten accustomed to seeing us there so they are always friendly.

When it is quiet there the sushi chefs do an amazing job creating edible art.

Last night they gave me my favorite flower. Tulips. Beau doesn't even give me flowers...

Pretty, huh?

Beau's was lovely as well. (But I don't think the chefs liked him as much as me. mine is way more intricate.)

His does, though, have a real flower in the center. See it? It is a little rose bud. Maybe they were crushing on him a bit. Can't blame them. He's a cutie.

I really like it when it is quiet at the Sushi place. It makes me happy.

Do you think sushi chefs practice? Do they sit at home watching Real Housewives and sketch sauce designs? Are they art school dropouts? Are they instructors at art school? Is there a course in sushi sauce art? These are things that I wonder when I get to eat there and it is quiet and the artists are out to impress.

So, how dorky would you feel sipping from a cup that is labeled "yearbook fuel?" Do you think sushi chefs are wasting their artistic talent on plates that are just going to be smudged and then washed? 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend away

Hello friends. It has been far too long since I've posted anything. For that I do apologize. This weekend beau and I are in Florida. We spent two nights at his mom's cozy condo in Delray Beach and then drove over to Bradenton to visit with some Icelandic friends who are in town for a visit. What fun. We are staying at a very cute bed and breakfast called The Londoner. There will be a wedding on the lawn this afternoon. (No mom, not ours...) but I was thinking it might be fun to crash it... Maybe we can just creep on it from the lovely porch. I was going to insert some photos, bit the iPad and Blogger don't communicate as well as I had hoped. So, until I can get back to my computer you're simply stuck with words. Last week beau's dad and his sweet dog Lucy visited, so expect some fun posts about what we did. Needless to say it has been a busy few weeks. Until I can return with photos,have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pretty in Pink

This weekend I walked the Susan G. Komen 5k. I "raced" with 5973 officially timed racers. Among them were hundreds (thousands?) of breast cancer survivors. I was part of a team (Knights for a Cure--woot woot). We had 36 team members. Three of them are cancer survivors and one is currently undergoing treatment. That's 11% of my team for those of you who might be trying to do the math. Does that seem like a lot to you? It does me.

The Oceanfront was awash in pink. I saw things like this:

And lots of these:

I also saw tears. And hope. Strength. And grief.

It was a powerful morning.

The most powerful moment came about a mile into the 5k when we slowed to try to find a friend of my friend Bree. They worked together at Bree's old school. She was in her second (yes, second) battle with breast cancer when Bree found her lump at the frighteningly young age of 32. When they saw each other there were tears. It had been years since she had last done a Komen race. (Back when Bree started doing them it was a "try to wear a pink shirt and join us for a walk" event. These days there are swag bags and Panera even has special bagels!)

The event brings back pretty powerful emotions. Bree made her put on her survivor shirt and walk with us.

I got to finish the walk with her when Bree's adorable twins saw the beach at the half way turn and bolted for the sand (they're two and a half--its OK). We chatted. Mostly about normal, non-cancer related stuff while surrounded by a sea of pink. We finished together. I took her picture at the finish and we ran into another of her friends/team member who is also a survivor. (But obviously not with my camera because I am a terrible blogger...sigh.)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It is a time for everything pink. I love me some pink. But I tend to stay away from it in October. That seems counter-intuitive, I know. Personally I wonder how much of the profits of pink products (helllooooo alliteration!)  is actually going towards cancer research. I'm cynical and think that everyone is trying to make a buck. (Kudos to my high school's football team for wearing pink at homecoming on Friday, though!! That was a first ever for them and I was really happy to see it.)

October is about more than donning pink. It is time to celebrate the successes in the battles won. It is also a time to remember and mourn those who did not survive the battle.

Whatever you do for breast cancer awareness in October (or any of the other 11 months), do it proudly and please, please, do it for a purpose and not just because everyone else is doing it.

How big is Komen in your area? Did you do the Race for the Cure?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Local Honey

I'm a pretty healthy gal. Well, OK, let me clarify. I don't get sick all that often. Saying I'm healthy might imply that I eat well and exercise regularly and, well, that ain't true. So, I don't get sick all that often. In fact, I used to never get sick. Then I moved to Virginia. I discovered allergies for the first time ever. I'm not exactly sure how that works, but now twice a year, like clockwork, I get sick. My throat is sore, my nose drippy and, most exciting of all, I get a raspy deep voice that fades in and out and inexplicably squeaks from time to time.

Apparently everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) develops allergies when they move to Virginia. Lucky me, I moved to Virginia. And, even though I insisted I don't suffer from allergies, I do in Virginia.

(Sketch of someone who looks disturbingly like me from here.)

Whoo hoo. My friend Bree insists that the way to beat allergies is to consume local honey. Today when I stopped to talk to her at work she noticed my deep and sometimes squeaky voice and simply said "local honey" to me.

We've had the discussion before. "Amy, I swear, eat local honey and you won't get sick. Look at me. I have a spoon full every day."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I don't like honey."

"But you like that sinus headache, huh?"

Touche, friend, touche.

(image from Pinterest.)

As I always tell Bree, I don't like honey. I NEVER eat it. Ever. I don't sweeten my tea with it. I don't add it to anything that one adds honey to. Apparently I should, though. Discovery channel says this about local honey.

(Image from here via Pinterest.)

Another friend from work actually has hives at her home. Her husband is a beekeeper. She is the perfect source of local honey.

(Image from here via Pinterest.)

So my dear readers, I come to you for advice. What can I do to fool myself into thinking I like honey? Do you have any sneaky ways to help me consume it without really tasting it? Are you guys dealing with allergies?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

House vs. Home

Beau and I have been shacking up for about ten months. Why then, are there no curtains hung and no photos on the wall? I hadn't ever really thought about it until I went to a co-worker's housewarming on Friday. He'd owned the house since June and lived in it since July. Aside from it being mere blocks from the beach--which gives it its own kind of beauty and ability to invoke jealousy--the impeccable decor made me feel a little behind.

If I was any good at this blogging I would have had my camera at the ready at his house warming so I could be showing you photos of his abode. Alas, you are stuck reading and not seeing the inspiration. Perhaps one day I will ask John if I can share his uber cute home with my readers.

Enough about my failures as a blogger and back to my decorating failures. I do want to defend myself a bit. John is that guy whose classroom is perfectly decorated where mine looks as if a tornado blew through. He is stylish and hopes to decorate in his retirement. I hope to crawl into a dark hole and write in my retirement. My vision of this hole has papers askew and tea mugs scattered about. So, we are two very different people.

That doesn't mean that beau and I can't have curtains on the windows and walls that are thoughtfully decorated. I mean, I have curtains. I have art and photos. And, not to give the wrong impression, some of that art is on the walls and our house is rather cute and charming. It just doesn't live up to its potential.

John's cozy home as inspiration to buckle down and turn our house into less of a house and more of a home.

Here are some inspiration homes from Pinterest and fun blogs:

Inspiration walls from here, an unidentifiable catalogue, here, unknown and here via Pinterest)

(The last three walls are from here because Sherry at Young House Love is the home designer I wish I could be.)

Now, off to hang curtains (because I finally got around to buying and hanging curtain rods) and dig out the boxes of frames, sconces and other decorative elements I've had hidden away for the past ten months. I'll keep you posted on my adventures in making our house more of a home.

Thanks, John. You inspired me to do some of the decorating I've been putting off for quite a while. My classroom is a whole different story; that's been tornado-devastation-zone for the past ten years and probably isn't going to change much in the next ten. 

What makes a house more homey to you?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

50 Years of being CRAZY About Tiffany's

Beau had a birthday this week. I would be remiss (and a bad person) if I put the following birthday wishes before him. So, happy birthday, beau. Stop being out of town when I want to shower you with gifts and affection...

Now, on to our regularly scheduled post-

This year my always-in-the-top-five-list-of-movies (referenced here) turns fifty. Don't worry, she looks great. Besides, age is just a silly number. Breakfast at Tiffany's turns 50 this year. How fun is that? I've already mentioned that I love it. Cyndi even commented about it. Never mind that she said it was a bit dull. She clearly has no idea what she's talking about. It did win two Academy Awards and was nominated for three others.

Perhaps she hasn't heard "Moon River" recently.

Or how about that kiss. Can you believe this kiss? In the rain. Through tears.

Now that's a kiss. The kiss might be 50 years old, but it would make me weak in the knees still today.

(Kiss found here.)

OK, OK, you're right, there are kisses in most movies. I'll give you that. Romantic comedies and kisses go together like peas and carrots. So predictable.

But what about the complete unpredictability of the rest of the movie? Mickey Rooney doing such an appallingly un-politically correct Mr. Yunioshi is shocking and silly (and acknowledged to be in poor taste). Aside from that, there is the party scene, and don't forget my favorite scene that I think would make for a really fun day. Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak spend the day alternating activities that the other had never done. The scene closes with the two stealing masks from a dime store.

(From here.)

Back in the day when Breakfast at Tiffany's was still a spring chicken, The New York Times reviewed it. They said this about it, "completely unbelievable but wholly captivating flight into fancy composed of unequal dollops of comedy, romance, poignancy, funny colloquialisms and Manhattan's swankiest East Side areas captured in the loveliest of colors." The film has become completely iconic. Even if everyone hasn't seen it, they can probably recognize this print when the pass it by when they peruse the aisles of Target. (And we all know that Target knows style.)

They probably even thought about purchasing it because they understand the cultural significance. In fact, the LBD that Audrey is wearing at the start of the film sold at Christie's for almost one million dollars. Yes. One. Million. Dollars.

While that might be out of most normal budgets, this version of the dress can be purchased at Etsy. The accessories will be a bit extra, but I think the total cost will still be slightly less than the Givenchy gown.

(From this Etsy shop.)

Happy birthday, Breakfast at Tiffany's. You look fantastic. You are fantastic.

Like anything fabulous, a book has been published. Who doesn't want a coffee table book with Audrey on the cover?

What is your favorite movie kiss?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New, Secret Book

** This was supposed to post Tuesday morning. So much for scheduling my posts in advance...

There is a book that came out today and I can't tell you about it yet because it is a late birthday present for my dear dear friend Cyndi. She also happens to be one of my loyal followers and only regular commenter, so I can't disclose information until I know her copy is in her hands. (Come on USPS, do your thing.)

I know this seems like a silly post to be writing now (you know, before I can actually say anything of substance about the book...), but I am so excited about it and can't quite contain myself. I'm so excited that I had to get myself a copy, too. (Big shocker there, huh?) I needed to be able to discuss it with Cyndi. My purchse of a copy was for purely intellectual reasons.

Cyndi and I share a Kindle account because we tend to have the exact same taste in books (except for the strange German book she ordered). This book, though, will be a real live book with pages. (Yes, in my mind books are living, breathing entities. Don't judge my choice of phrasing.)  It'll have a hard cover. It needs to be held, it's weight felt and the crack of the spine heard. Some books need to be opened and pages turned. Some books deserve to live on a book shelf and be pulled down from time to time to be revisited. It is kind of like having Facebook friends. Some of them are just there digitally and you interact with them infrequently in that Zuckerman created cyber-land. Some, though, you actually invite over for dinner and share physical space with.

This book has art. And poetry. And it is by my all time favorite writer. And I might have just given away too much information for my dear Cyndi. If I did, I hope she's excited for the mail. If she isn't, I hope she pretends to be.

So, later this week look for a review of sorts on a book. And you will want to buy it. And I will give you a direct link. This friend is one you should all invite to dinner.

Does anyone see the irony in my book label being "Kindleworthy" when I have just gone on about how this is the opposite of being a Kindle text?

(All images via Pinterest)

Who is your favorite author? Do you share my philosophy on books?