January Cure – Getting Started With My Project List

fiddle leaf fig | © karacooks.com

I decided this year that I was going to do Apartment Therapy’s January Cure – at the same time as I did the January Spending Freeze. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment! At first I wasn’t sure I could do them both at the same time. Then I got to looking around and realized that I have plenty of supplies, paint, and tools and I should be able to work quite a few items around the house (especially the decluttering ones) without spending any extra money. That cinched the deal for me and I jumped right in.

i won’t be “live blogging” my process (obviously, since I created my list a while back, and am only just now posting). I’ll add a section to update each week in my “Things” post to keep myself on track.

spray roses | © karacooks.com

So let’s get started!

The first step of the January Cure is to create a project list. This was a really tough assignment for me because, despite the instructions to the contrary, I started to freak out about the sheer length of my lists and ALL the projects that need to be done. I had to take a bit to sit back and realize that although I’m making a comprehensive list, it not only doesn’t have to be completed this month, it shouldn’t and won’t be.

Once I got the freak-out out of the way, I realized that it was actually kind of comforting and encouraging to have everything in one list so I could see the whole scope of everything I’ve wanted to do with the house over the last few years. Since I was going in that direction, I listed everything from the largest project, to the declutter and cleanup, to the smallest nitty-gritty stuff … as much as I could think of.

Once I’d listed everything, I pared it down by highlighting the 3-5 items per room that I want to accomplish this month. It’s mostly Living Room items, with a sprinkling of items from other rooms. 

spring garden | © kara hudson & karacooks.com

Living Room/Entryway

  • Weatherstripping lose/not sufficient on the front door
  • Declutter landing area/drawer by the front door
  • Paint front window trim/sashes
  • Paint the patched areas under the left window
  • Donate boxes of books by the front door
  • Frame and hang map over bookcase
  • Declutter/clean out/organize cubby under the stairs
  • Find a permanent landing spot for the printer (not on the green dresser)
  • Refinish & fix the green dresser
  • Declutter the shelves/cubbies around the TV
  • Rewire TV and accessories using new power strip
  • Find a new floor lamp for the reading chair
  • Wall mount the TV
  • Clean up front door window / touch up paint
  • Recover the wing chair
  • Make/buy throw pillows for the sofa
  • Finish recovering the footstool
  • Touch up the paint on the fireplace
  • Clean out and organize the cubby behind the fireplace
  • Find a home for the paint/project box
  • Find a good location for the shredder that’s not right next to the sofa
  • Replace thermostat with a programmable one
  • Rehang curtains on heavier / better mounted rods (and patch old holes)
  • Dust the tops of the bookshelves
  • Find credenza to go under the TV
  • Replace doorbell box w/ something low profile
  • Replace entryway light with non-booblight fixture

spring garden | © kara hudson & karacooks.com

Niche/Powder Room

  • Paint doors & touch up trim
  • Clean up badly painted mirror
  • Seal tile floor (powder room)
  • New faucet on pedestal sink (powder room)
  • Get rid of/find location for boards & scrims (hall closet?)

Dining Room

  • Replace shelves in the niche with thicker ones
  • Remove broken vertical blinds and patch/paint mount area
  • Find and hang curtains
  • Paint trim around the sliding glass door
  • Refinish dining table/chairs
  • Do *something* with the rolling paint table
  • Find/hang art for the big wall

Kitchen

  • Clean out fridge and freezer and log contents
  • Clean out pantry and organize (reshelve?)
  • Clean out/organize storage container cabinet
  • Clean out/organize appliance cabinet
  • Change the filter on the fridge water dispenser
  • Do *something* with the kitchen window/windowsill
  • Paint trim over the cabinets
  • Paint window trim/sashes
  • New faucet
  • New sink

reused soup toureen | © 2013 kara hudson and karacooks.com

Stairs / Landing

  • Refinish top railing
  • Paint baseboard up the stairs
  • Rehang “laundry” sign so its centered
  • Paint laundry room door and trim
  • Finish red dresser (fix drawers, liners, hardware)
  • Hang some kind of art

Laundry Room

  • Paint
  • Clean and seal tile floors
  • Flush dryer vents
  • Clean and flush washer
  • Stack washer and dryer
  • Redo shelving
  • Put in tankless water heater

My Room / Bathroom

  • Finish closet (dresser, hanging rack, organization)
  • Replace mirror by door
  • Buy bed and replace mattress/box spring
  • Buy larger dresser for long wall
  • Paint room (blue/gray?)
  • Update chest in niche (base, legs, stain/paint)
  • Paint trim/doors (bright white)
  • Regrout tub (bathroom)
  • Replace fixtures on sink and tub (bathroom)
  • Paint/stain cabinet (bathroom)
  • Replace towel hooks (bathroom)
  • Seal tile floor (bathroom)
  • Add more shelves above toilet

hot cinnamon spice tea from harney sons © karacooks.com

H’s room and bathroom are off limits for now – I try not to infringe on his spaces. And I do actually have a whole other list of things I want to do with the front yard and back yard, but I’m not going to include those here. I might make those another list and another post for another day.

See the complete list of January Cure 2014 items as they are posted plus a link to the full month calendar.

 

Posole

posole | © karacooks.com

I was working on my menu plans for the first of the year, pulling out my list of cold weather recipes – soups, stews, chili, casseroles, and roasts – and I came across my former mother-in-law’s recipe for posole. Anyone who has lived in the Four Corners region of the United States is familiar with posole – a spicy, warm, filling Central American soup/stew made with pork, green chile, spices, and hominy.  It has as many family recipes and variations as Italian tomato sauce does, and of course every family swears theirs is the only right, original recipe!

Me? I can’t swear that my FMIL’s recipe is authentic (although she did grow up in Arizona and New Mexico and raised her family in Colorado), but I can swear that it’s absolutely delicious and worth making.

Here are the basic ingredients (aside from a pork roast of your choice):
posole | © karacooks.com

RoTel is a mix of stewed tomatoes, spices, and either green chile, jalapeno, or habanero, depending on the variety you get. It’s a staple pantry item where I grew up in Texas and I cook with it all the time. For posole, I like to use one can of regular and one can of hot, but feel free to adjust that according to your taste.

Hominy is simply kernels of corn that have been dried, and alkalized (usually by soaking in a mild lye mixture). Dried hominy is ground down to make masa, a traditional Mexican corn flour that is used in all kinds of delicious items.

posole | © karacooks.com

Finally, you can use up to 6 cups of chicken stock if you want a more soup-like posole. I like mine to be chunkier and more stew-like, so I tend to use only 4 cups of stock or broth.

The recipe below is for a single batch of posole, but I like to make at least a double batch to have some for leftovers. It can also be frozen and kept for 6 months if you want to make some dinners in advance.

My friend Shannon also adapted this recipe to her slow cooker, and I’ve added the instructions for that to the recipe!

Posole (Mexican Pork Stew)

posole | © karacooks.com

  • 2 lb pork loin or lean pork roast
  • cooking oil
  • 1 small onion. chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth (up to 6 cups if you want a soupier posole)
  • 1 10oz can Rotel original
  • 1 15oz cans hominy, drained
  • 1 6oz can diced green chile
  • 1 Tbls chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp crushed oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Cut the pork loin/roast into 1″ cubes and brown them in the cooking oil. You may need to brown the meat in 2 or 3 batches. Don’t throw them in the pan all at once or they’ll steam and not get brown and crusty. Make sure there is room between each cube of meat, while browning. (If you’re using a slow cooker, you can skip this step, but it really does make a difference in the flavor and texture of the meat if you brown it first.)

After the pork is browned, return it to a large pot (or your slow cooker). Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the hominy. Simmer over medium heat for 45 mins or until the meat is cooked through and tender. (In the slow cooker, cook on low for 6-8 hours.)

About 30 mins before serving, drain the hominy and add it to the pot or slow cooker, and let it heat through.

Serve garnished with sliced avocado and/or a little chopped cilantro.

Meal Planning Monday – 2014 Week 2

brussels sprouts | © karacooks.com

It’s time to end the indulgence of the holidays and get back to real life. *sigh* I’m still trying to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on the Vitamix. It’s a lot of money to spend on a blender and I don’t know that I would actually use it enough to justify the cost. On the one hand, if I had it, I could start making smoothies for breakfast every morning. On the other hand … would I? I just don’t know!

Oh well – it’s not like I have to buy it tomorrow. I have plenty of time to ponder (and a birthday coming up).

Breakfasts are smoothies with protein. Lunch with Z this week will be Tues & Thurs, so I’m planning meals appropriately for leftovers those days.

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – Shredded pork tacos w/ cabbage slaw
  • Tuesday – Posole from the freezer
  • Wednesday - Chicken braised in milk
  • Thursday – Chicken curry (freezer slowcooker meal)
  • Friday - Spaghetti & meatballs, salad

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

Because of the January spending freeze, I’m not buying a lot of food for freezing, but I am going to make a big triple batch of tomato sauce for freezing this weekend as a way to use up some leftover veggies (carrots and onions, mostly). I’ll also be cleaning out the fridge/freezer and making some lists of what I have to work with.

Things 2014 – Week 1

chimney rock park | © karacooks.com

It’s been an interesting week for the first week of the year.

My long holiday with Z was shortened due to work and family scheduling issues, so my meal plan for the week was impacted. I wound up making a very large prime rib on Friday night instead and skipping the pot roast entirely. I’d already bought the roast, so it’s gone in the freezer and will feature in an upcoming weekly menu.

I made Steamy Kitchen’s Prime Rib for the 4th time (twice in the last 2 weeks – once for Christmas and once for a late NY dinner with Z) and I’m totally sold on the recipe. I’ll be blogging some photos of it at some point, but wanted to say that if you’re intimidated by cooking a really expensive cut of meat, don’t be. Just follow the recipe and it’ll be fantastic.

I kind of blew my January spending freeze coming right out of the box. Because my New Year’s weekend got cut short, I wound up making changes on the fly and spending more money than I intended. I should be back on plan from here on out, though.

I kind of want to do Apartment Therapy’s January Cure, but there’s spending involved in executing some of the steps, so I’m not sure how to reconcile that. I could do the cure in February instead, or I could try to make it work with no spending.

Monday is Epiphany, which means it’s finally time to put away the Christmas decorations and settle into 2014. I’m always sad to take the decorations down, especially when it’s cold and gray outside, but I have to admit that I’m ready to be 100% committed to the new year.

I’ve recently started resubmitting my cooking blog posts to Tastespotting. I had 3 posts accepted last week and I’m making it one of my 101 Things goals to have at least 10 accepted in 2014. My Tastespotting page only has 17 things on it right now, but hopefully that will increase!

Things About Fitness, Health, & Eating

Things That Interested Me

Things That Made Me Laugh

Monday’s meal plan is coming up tomorrow and I’m looking forward to a productive week!

 

January Spending Freeze

Christmas-2007 | © karacooks.com

Over at Life According to Steph, there’s a spending freeze going on and I’m throwing my hat into that ring. I’ve been talking a lot in real life about streamlining my grocery budget because I spent way too much on food (both in groceries and in eating out/ordering in) in 2013. There are also a good number of items on my 2014 Things list that are financial/savings based and I kind of think this would be a good way to get a head start on a few of them.

Plus, I think January is, strategically, a great month for a moratorium on spending. It’s after the splurges of the holidays but before the spring cleaning/planting season so there’s not the need (or want) to spend money on projects like gardening or household projects (also something I spent a lot of money on in 2013).

Yeah, I’m definitely doing this!!

Per Steph’s post, here are the rules to the spending freeze (paraphrased with my personal items added):

  • Spending freeze lasts from January 1 – January 31.
  • No outings that are not budgeted for prior to Jan 1st – no impromptu lunches, dinners, or nights out.
  • No purchases that are not budgeted for prior to Jan 1st – no daily coffee runs, shiny baubles at Target, books, etc.
  • You can add specific exceptions as you see fit that will allow you to stick to the spirit of the freeze – a once a week budgeted coffee or something similar.
  • Write down your rules and exceptions and live by them for the month.
  • Report on the experience on Tuesday, Feb 4th.

My personal budget busters are Kindle books and impulse Amazon spending, so that 2nd rule is going to be the hardest for me – that and sticking to a grocery budget. I also normally allow myself a fixed amount of cash from each paycheck for personal spending that I won’t be giving myself during the course of the freeze. Yow!

So keeping all that in mind … here are my personal rules and exceptions:

  • Stick to a strict budget of $100 a week for groceries.
  • I have a pre-scheduled hair appointment on Jan 17th ($120)
  • My birthday is Jan 28th, and I’ll treat myself to a mani/pedi ($35)
  • I have a massage gift card that I got for Christmas and will need to budget a tip ($20ish)

As far as I can remember that’s what’s on my plan for January. I have some scheduled medical/dental expenses, but those come out of my insurance and HSA account, so I’m not including those in the list of exceptions or the freeze.

Wish me luck … and I’ll update in Feb to see how I did!

 

Meal Planning Monday – 2014 Week 1

prime rib roast | © karacooks.com

Christmas is past and it’s only 2 days until the New Year. I honestly can’t believe 2013 went by so quickly. It seems to go so much faster the older I get! On the other hand, there’s only one more week of holiday food and indulgence and then we can back to normal. I have to say from that perspective, I’m ready. I’m overloaded on rich, heavy food, and sweets.

I’m spending New Year’s Eve through the weekend at Z’s and since we didn’t get to spend Christmas together, we’re going to recreate Christmas dinner for NYE (on a smaller scale, since it’s just the two of us). After that, he’s asked if I’d make a pot roast for the weekend, so it’s going to be a bit of a beef heavy few days. I might sneak some fish in there somewhere just for a break!

I’m wanting to change up my breakfast/lunch schedule, but I’m not sure how yet. I got several gift cards for Christmas and I’m thinking about splurging on a Vitamix. I’m just not sure how often I’ll use it.

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – Slow cooker shredded pork tacos
  • Tuesday (NYE) – Prime rib, potato gratin, salad
  • Wednesday – Pan seared tilapia, Texas caviar (a must on NY Day), greens
  • Thursday – Pot roast w/ all the trimmings, & salad
  • Friday – Leftover pot roast, rice & green chiles

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

We’ll probably go out to dinner on Saturday. Sunday will be brunch out and maybe a movie, but dinner will be something light once I get home on Sunday night. No other big cooking plans, since I won’t be home.

Closing out 101 Things in 2013

Christmas 2013 | © karacooks.com

Last year was the first year I did a 101 Things list instead of a set of resolutions and goals and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t by any stretch of the imagination complete the entire list but I did more than I would have without the list to refer to. More importantly the list made me try some new things and realize what is realistic for me and what isn’t.

For example, I learned that however much I may think it’s a cool idea, I personally absolutely suck at wreath-making. I do. I have no sense of proportion or design for a wreath and I either wind up with something that looks sparse and pathetic, or something that is so over the top, it’s ridiculous. For the amount of money I spent on wreath forms and components, I can buy ready made wreaths and be much happier with the results.

I also learned that:

As much as I love the idea of knitting or crocheting a throw for my sofa, I will never do it. I don’t have the time or the patience to sit and work with my fingers w/out my mind being engaged. I’m not a good enough knitter or crocheter to read and work at the same time and eventually I just give up. Spending money on wool, hooks, needles, and patterns is a complete waste when projects languish in a basket, unfinished.

It’s difficult to take on major refinishing projects when you live in a townhouse without a garage or a basement. Big projects have to be planned carefully for stretches of days that there will be no inclement weather so I can spread out on the back patio. This summer was one of the rainiest we’ve had in 20 years and so I never did get around to refinishing some furniture on my list. I’m hoping this year will be better for outside work!

Over the 10 years I’ve lived here, the trees in the back have grown so tall and so full that I can no longer grow veggies, even in pots. There simply isn’t enough sunlight for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or any of the things I used to grow. I’m sad that my veggie growing days are over (at least while I live here), but spending the money on plants, seeds, and fertilizer is just a huge waste of money and not worth the time and effort.

On the plus side, there were a lot of goals that I completed; reading a non-fiction book each month, cleaning out my storage closet, putting together my coffee & drink station, and getting unused junk out of my house are a few of them. Others were partially done, but I still consider those successful. While removing 100 things from my house or working 100 of my Pinterest pins are pretty lofty goals and I didn’t achieve either of them completely, they motivated me to do more than I otherwise would have.

I’ve decided to do it again in 2014, using what I learned from this year to craft a more “doable” list. So my 2013 list is in the process of being updated and finalized and I’m busy moving some things over to my 2014 list and adding new items. I’m excited to repeat this challenge and make even more progress in 2014!

Books I read in 2013

I thought it would be fun to list out the books I read (that I remember) in 2013. Luckily Amazon’s Kindle management system makes it pretty easy to keep track. I was planning on giving a brief review of every book, but … um … it looks like I read a LOT of books this year. So maybe I’ll just comment on a few and leave the rest for later.

I am a fast and prolific reader and I also like to re-read favorite books and binge read (or re-read) favorite series. I tend to have several books going at the same time, alternating between fiction and non-fiction or a heavier read with a lighter pop-culture read. This year as part of my 101 Things in 2013, I wanted to add more non-fiction to the list, which I did, but the majority of my list is fiction.

In (roughly) date order, here’s what I read in 2013:

  • An Election (short story) by John Scalzi – This was my first purchase of 2013 and my first Scalzi fiction, although I’ve been following his blog for years now.
  • Twisted: The Collected Stories of Jeffery Deaver by Jeffery Deaver
  • Twisted: A Novel (Petra Connor) by Jonathan Kellerman – I’ve been a Kellerman fan for years now for his Alex Delaware series, but looking for the Deaver book, landed me on the Petra Connor book, so I had to get it.
  • Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher – I’m a Dresden fan. There are 14 books in the series so far and I suspect I’ll re-read them all at some point.
  • The Life As We Knew It Series by Susan Beth Pfeffer – There are 3 books in this series and although it’s written for the YA reader, I enjoyed it. I was surprised at how grim the subject matter was, but thought they were very well written.
  • The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes by Stephanie Pierson – An actual hard cover printed book; it was a Christmas present that I was unsure of at first, but wound up loving for the discussions about brisket and how much a part of so many cultures a simple cut of meat can be. Plus, yummy recipes. 
  • Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts – One of my favorite just-for-fun authors and a surprising non-trilogy book from her, about Missoula fire-jumpers.
  • The Witness by Nora Roberts
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling – I bought this because it was $0.99 and I wanted to look up a reference from another book I was reading. I’d forgotten how much I love Kipling.
  • The Search by Nora Roberts – I went on a bit of a NR binge when a chunk of her books went on sale for $2.99 for Kindle.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – A friend and I were talking about favorite children’s books and I had to get this and re-read it.
  • Before the Prairie Books: The Writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder 1911 – 1916: The Small Farm by Laura Ingalls Wilder – The same discussion about children’s books led me to this book of articles that LIW wrote for magazines before she wrote the little house series. There are 3 other books of her magazine writings dating all the way up to 1924 that I’d like to read as well.
  • The Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts – A pretty standard NR trilogy, supernatural stuff, love, friends, and it all comes out right in the end.
  • John Carter: Barsoom Series (7 Novels): A Princess of Mars; Gods of Mars; Warlord of Mars; Thuvia, Maid of Mars; Chessmen of Mars; Master Mind of Mars; Fighting Man of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs – I bought this when John Carter came out at the box office. I will admit that I only read 3 of the 7 books. I can only take so much ERB. I might read the rest of them in 2014. 
  • The Welcoming by Nora Roberts – An old NR book that was originally written for the Silhouette series (which I didn’t know when I bought it). Not great; formulaic and rushed and not up to her current standards.
  • The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston – I started out loving this book about a 400 year old witch, but it seemed to switch gears 3/4 of the way through the book and became something completely different, and I wound up being dissatisfied with it overall. Probably still worth a read, but buy it on sale.
  • Crying for Help: The Shocking True Story of a Damaged Girl with a Dark Past by Casey Watson – The first of my official non-fiction books for my 101 Things list. I hated it. Poorly written in “shock” fashion with contrived cliffhanger endings on every chapter. Bah.
  • Before I Go To Sleep: A Novel by S. J. Watson – I flat out don’t remember this one. I might have to mark it to re-read.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • G.D.M.F.S.O.B. by Nevada Barr – I love Nevada Barr’s “Anna Pigeon” series about a park ranger, so when a bunch of her short stories came available for $0.99, I jumped on them.
  • The Tome of Bill Series by Rick Gualtieri – A 3 book series about modern vampires; silly sometimes a little contrived, but overall fun.
  • Dead Reckoning: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris
  • The Long Walk by Stephen King
  • The Anna Pigeon Series by Nevada Barr – I re-read all of the 17 novels over the course of the year, in chunks. I finished the last one in November.
  • Oh Myyy! (There Goes The Internet) by George Takei – I love George. That’s all there is to it. 
  • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – Another one I bought because of the movie, but I honestly couldn’t get into it. I finished it, but never went on to read the other books in the series.
  • Ilium by Dan Simmons – Z insisted I had to read this and that I’d like it. Eh.
  • Brain over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work, and How I Recovered for Good by Kathryn Hansen – It was ok, but I disagree with a lot of her premises and I didn’t really find the book helpful for someone like me.
  • The End of Normal: A Wife’s Anguish, A Widow’s New Life by Stephanie Madoff Mack – I didn’t know a whole lot about the Madoff thing other than superficial news stuff. This was interesting in a tragic, voyeuristic sort of way.
  • Bad Blood (Kate Shugak Novels) by Dana Stabenow – Another of my favorite series authors. All her novels take place in Alaska and are chock full of Alaskan history and politics.
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • A Bullet For Cinderella John D. MacDonald – JDM is one of the first authors (along with Stephen King) I remember being obsessed with and wanting to read their entire oeuvre. I’ve read all of his Travis McGee novels a dozen times over. These are some of his novellas that went on sale at some point.
  • Final Mission [Illustrated] John D. MacDonald
  • On The Make John D. MacDonald
  • The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason
  • Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live by Marlene Zuk – I probably suffer from some confirmation bias, but I very much like what this book had to say about fad dieting and some of the more intense “ancestral” diets out there.
  • Cisco CCDA Simplified by Daniel Gheorghe – I was thinking about getting certified. I struggled through this. Ugh. Pass.
  • Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi – Awesome cookbook!
  • The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain – Homesick is right. The combination of recipes, pictures, and stories in this book took me right back to childhood and my family.
  • The Travis McGee Series by John D MacDonald – After reading his novellas, I started on a binge reading episode of the entire 21 book TMcGee series. These were my fun fill-in reads over the course of a month or so when I needed a break from other things.
  • A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five by George R.R. Martin – I’m working my way through the series. Can’t wait for the next one. 
  • The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith
  • The Famous Five: Five On A Treasure Island by Enid Blyton – Another result of the “childhood books” discussion. I loved Enid Blyton when I was a kid.
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach – Another favorite author. Written in the same style as her other books.
  • Silken Prey by John Sandford – A re-read of one of the books in the Lucas Davenport series, which led me to: 
  • The Kidd Series by John Sandford – I have a tendency to fix on an authors series, fall in love with the characters, and not want to read any of his other characters until I’m done with the first. I’d put off reading the Kidd series because of that, then finally decided to binge read all 4 books. Now I wish he’d write another!
  • Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman – One of my every day, go-to reference books. I have it in hardback, but I wanted it on my Kindle as well because I use my tablet in the kitchen all the time.
  • The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle by Lou Schuler & Alwyn Cosgrove – I’ve used this book (and others in the series) before, but I re-read it and used a couple of the programs in it to get back into shape this year.
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela – No words. Just read it.
  • Live by Night: A Novel by Dennis Lehane – I’m a HUGE Dennis Lehane fan. This is a companion novel (not necessarily a sequel, but set in a later time frame of the same family) to The Given Day which I read last year. You can read Live by Night as a standalone novel just fine, but it’s richer and deeper if you read The Given Day first. 
  • Dune by Frank Herbert – I read the whole series back in high school, and thought I might re-read it, but it didn’t trip my trigger this time after finishing the first book. Maybe next year.
  • Project Management Fundamentals: A Practical Overview of the PMBOK by George T. Edwards – Ugh. Getting my PMP sometime in 2014. Required, but not fun.
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan – I bought this when the furor about the book and the Fox news interview started and I’m glad I did. It was a well written, very enjoyable book. I have a few others of his saved to buy and read in 2014
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith – I actually bought and read this before the news came out that it was JKR under a pseudonym. I enjoyed it a lot and would happily read more in the same vein or in a series, but it seems that won’t happen now. 
  • I Sing the Body Electric: And Other Stories Ray Bradbury – I got into a discussion with someone on Twitter about Bradbury and that set me off on a little mini-binge of his work. I’ve always loved his short stories the most.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes Ray Bradbury
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce – I have never been able to get through Joyce, so I’m going to admit that I did not finish this. I feel like I should finish at least one of his books someday, though, and I just can’t bring myself to tackle Ulysses
  • Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry by W. B. Yeats – I adore Yeats and dip into this one periodically to revisit the stories. I read most of it again this year. 
  • Pavilion of Women: A Novel of Life in the Women’s Quarters by Pearl S. Buck – I’m kind of embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve read PSB, despite the fact that she was my grandmother’s favorite author. I don’t know why I put it off so long. I enjoyed this book a lot and I’m going to read more of hers in 2014
  • Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury – See above about the Ray Bradbury mini-binge
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • The Man of Wax Trilogy by Robert Swartwood – Eh. The premise of this was interesting and I enjoyed the first book (I think I got it on loan from a friend), so I picked up the 2nd and 3rd books. By the 3rd book my suspension of disbelief was completely gone and I just finished it to get it out of the way.
  • Finding Shakespeare (Kindle Single) by Daniel Fromson 
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – I bought and re-read this one day after a discussion with a friend about Russian authors. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the Russian novels in college. I need to read/re-read more of them.
  • The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front by Peter Hart – I’ve always been particularly fascinated with this era of history so I chose this as one of my non-fiction books for the year. It was good, parts of it were very interesting, but I found it somewhat over-written and repetitive in places.
  • The Oath by Frank Peretti – First of all, let me say that I didn’t know when I read this that FP was considered a Christian author. It popped up as a recommendation based on something else supernatural that I’d bought and I thought I’d try it. It started out well and I was enjoying it, until about 3/4 of the way through when the “Jesus is your only answer” message started beating me over the head. It also provided a quite literal deus ex Machina ending. I liked the story and the writing but won’t read any more because of the over the top proselytizing.
  • What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell – IMO this is one of the most readable and enjoyable of the MGs books.
  • Thankless in Death by J. D. Robb – Nora Roberts writes these futuristic detective procedurals under a pseudonym. I love the series and these two caught me up.
  • Calculated in Death by J. D. Robb
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King – The sequel to The Shining – it was everything you expect a Stephen King book to be. I really enjoyed it.
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill – I’ve been meaning to read JH’s stuff for a long time, but it took a twitter exchange between him and John Scalzi to make me pull the trigger on his two short novels. They were good and reminiscent of his father’s style, but still nicely individual.
  • Ready For Murder by Joe Hill
  • The Colorado Kid by Stephen King – Keeping it all in the family, I re-read this because I started watching Haven this year and I wanted to refresh my memory on the details of the book as compared to the show.
  • The Shining by Stephen King – Doctor Sleep referenced a couple of things in The Shining that I’d forgotten about, so I went back and re-read it. I wish now I’d read it first just so I was properly set up for the sequel!
  • A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows: An Outlander Novella by Diana Gabaldon – This is one of my favorite ongoing series and I dipped into the novellas and short stories this year. I binged on the Lord John ones later in November and December.
  • It by Stephen King – Scarier than I remembered.
  • Returning My Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice by Eugie Foster – I bought the two EF books per a request that John Scalzi posted on his blog and I’m glad I did. The stories are fascinating and beautifully written.
  • Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster
  • Storm Front (A Virgil Flowers Novel) by John Sandford
  • Throttle (Kindle Single) by Stephen King and Joe Hill
  • UR by Stephen King
  • In the Tall Grass (Kindle Single) by Stephen King and Joe Hill
  • Carrie by Stephen King – I bought this after we saw the remake movie. I’d forgotten how different in style it was from his later stuff. 
  • Sycamore Row by John Grisham – I’ve been “off” of John Grisham for a while (not for any particular reason, just not catching my fancy) but this book, going back to the characters from A Time To Kill rekindled my interest in his books (as you can see below).
  • Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup – Another purchase triggered by a movie. I had read this in college, but enjoyed re-reading it.
  • A Time to Kill: A Novel by John Grisham – Another one I should have re-read before reading the sequel!
  • The Confession: A Novel by John Grisham
  • Something for the Pain: Compassion and Burnout in the ER by Paul Austin – One of my non-fiction choices, it was interesting but more “full” life autobiographical than I thought it would be.
  • Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce – I had some issues with this book. I think the premise of it is solid, but it was confusingly written. It almost feels like a bunch of blog posts thrown together w/out editing.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I didn’t think I was going to like this at first; the “from Death” point of view and the bolded asides screamed “pretentious” to me, but I decided to push through and I’m glad I did. I loved this book and now I want to see the movie.
  • Lord John and the Private Matter: A Novel (Lord John Grey) by Diana Gabaldon – See above reference about dipping into DG’s novellas and short stories and then binge-reading the John Grey novels.
  • The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy – I have real issues with Pat Conroy; I think he’s arrogant, conceited, and often overwrites his novels. BUT. I love his stories and I can relate to a lot of his feelings and thoughts about being in and from the South. I can only take one or two of his books at a time though. 
  • Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade: A Novel (Lord John Grey) by Diana Gabaldon
  • A Plague of Zombies: An Outlander Novella (Lord John Grey) by Diana Gabaldon
  • Lord John and the Hand of Devils: A Novel (Lord John Grey) by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Scottish Prisoner: A Novel (Lord John Grey) by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Custom of the Army (Novella): An Outlander Novella by Diana Gabaldon
  • Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon – I had originally started re-reading A Breath of Snow & Ashes earlier in the year in preparation for the release of the newest book in the series, but that book got pushed back until April 2014, so I decided to go back to the start of the 2nd trilogy and read them all up to the latest.
  • Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Firey Cross by Diana Gabaldon
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon – I’m currently reading this (as of Dec 23rd) and almost done.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – I read this every year at Christmas. 

Books that I bought this year but haven’t yet read and probably won’t get to before next year:

  • Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (P.S.) by Anthony Bourdain
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist
  • The Poems and Fragments of Catullus Translated in the Metres of the Original Gaius Valerius Catullus
  • Dark Witch: Book One of The Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy by Nora Roberts
  • Doc: A Memoir by Dwight Gooden
  • The Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever Series by Stephen R. Donaldson

Meal Planning Monday – Week 52

carrot cake cupcakes | © karacooks.com

This is it. The final week of the year. Meal planning might be a lost cause, but I’m going to give it a try.

As always, breakfast is yogurt and fruit, and lunch is leftovers or a sandwich and fruit/veg.

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – A big green salad with some kind of protein
  • Tuesday – Salmon croquettes
  • Wednesday – Prime rib, hasselback potato gratin, and green beans
  • Thursday – Leftovers!
  • Friday – dinner out somewhere (probably Mexican)

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

I will continue my plan to eat from the pantry and the freezer to empty things out and start fresh in 2014. It may make for some odd meals, but that’s ok.

Tuna Noodle Casserole and A Plan

tuna noodle casserole | © karacooks.com

As I’ve been preparing for the  end of the year, I started looking at my budget and realized that my food spending this year has been exorbitant. For all that I haven’t blogged much cooking related content, and I don’t feel that I’ve actually cooked that much … well, between eating out and buying groceries, I’m spending far too much money and throwing away or otherwise wasting too much food.

I realized that my living situation has changed drastically this year but my shopping and cooking style hasn’t changed. I’ve continued to cook as though I were feeding 2 people full time – including one who used to come home for lunch and take care of the leftovers, but now works 20 miles away, so can’t lunch at home. Also, I haven’t had much cooking mojo the last year. For a while I was dealing with health issues that meant there were a whole pile of things I couldn’t eat -and with those limitations, cooking became a chore and not something I enjoyed.

Lately that mojo seems to be returning and I’m ready to change things up for next year. I’m going to be planning better, shopping by the plan, and experimenting more with fun, delicious, healthy recipes (I have over 2000 recipes pinned on Pinterest, so I need to get cracking!). In the meanwhile, I have a cupboard and freezer full of stuff that I need to sort through, use, donate, or otherwise clear out to make room for the fresh start after the holidays.

My plan for the last two weeks of the year (other than Christmas day and my Christmas baking) is to eat the pantry and the freezer. So tonight I cleaned out the pantry, and came away with the ingredients for a from scratch (no canned condensed soup here) tuna noodle casserole.

tuna noodle casserole | © karacooks.com

I started out making the sauce that would replace the traditional can of cream of mushroom (or something) soup. I started by sauteeing a medium onion and some garlic in a little olive oil. Once the onions were soft, I pushed them to one side of the pot, added a little more oil and then some flour to brown. I mixed it all together and then poured in milk and simmered it until it began to thicken, stirring constantly. Keep in mind that this was an experiment so it was a lot of tasting and adjusting and tasting again.

I added in some grated parmesan cheese, some paprika, and a little more garlic and let the mixture simmer, while I boiled noodles,

tuna noodle casserole | © karacooks.com

Once the noodles were cooked al-dente, I mixed noodles, sauce, albacore tuna, frozen peas, and frozen corn together and spread them in a casserole dish.

tuna noodle casserole | © karacooks.com

I topped them with unseasoned breadcrumbs I had leftover from Thanksgiving, and then poured a little butter seasoned with garlic, and a good shake of bouquet garni herbs. Then it was popped into a 400 oven for 20 mins to heat through and crisp up the top.

And you know what? This was pretty darned good! It needs some tweaking and it’s a little more work than opening up a can of condensed soup and throwing in some frozen veg, but I made enough for dinner and leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

tuna noodle casserole | © karacooks.com

It’s hard to photograph brown and cream colored food, but you can see that there are plenty of peas and corn in the mix, and served with some leftover and quickly steamed asparagus (or maybe a green salad), this makes a pretty solid meal.

tuna noodle casserole | © karacooks.com

Next up are salmon croquettes with mustard sauce from more of the cans in the pantry and after that, some digging in the depths of the freezer.

Kara’s From Scratch Tuna Noodle Casserole

tuna noodle casserole | © karacooks.com

  • 2 large cans albacore tuna, drained and chunked
  • 10 oz egg noodles, cooked to just al-dente
  • 1 med yellow onion, diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T olive oil, split
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk (I used whole, but 2% will work fine)
  • 2 t paprika
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 oz frozen peas
  • 10 oz frozen corn
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3-4 T butter, melted and mixed with the seasonings of your choice

In a saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in half the oil until it is limp and translucent. Push the onions to one side of the pot, add the rest of the oil and the flour and stir to brown.

Once the flour is browned, add the milk, the paprika, and any other spices of your choosing. Bring to a simmer and stir until it begins to thicken.

Mix together the cooked noodles, drained tuna, the sauce from the pot, and the frozen vegetables and put in a casserole dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and drizzle with the seasoned butter.

Bake in a 425 oven for 15-20 mins, until the casserole is hot through and the topping is crispy and browned.

Serve with a vegetable side or a crispy green salad.

Week 50 2013 Things

 turkey brining | © karacooks.com

Things that I did this past week

  • Watched a movie marathon of Spanish Zombie films (the REC series) with Z. For real.
  • Made a rolled pork roast that I might or might not blog about (it was messy but good)!
  • Created a coffee/drink station in the niche in my dining room (which I will blog about)!

Things I’ll be doing this coming week

  • Working on my 101 Things list for 2014. At the moment I’ve got 22 Things completed from the 2013 list. I may knock out 2 or 3 more, but that’s about it. 
  • Wrapping lots of presents. My buying is done (unless I see something I can’t resist) but I haven’t wrapped a thing!
  • Relaxing!

Things that made me laugh

Things that are interesting and/or random

Hope everyone is having a great weekend. I promise I’ll be better prepared for “Things” next week.

Prosciutto wrapped asparagus

prosciutto wrapped asparagus | © karacooks.com

Late last week I was trying to think of a simple appetizer for Thanksgiving day that wasn’t some variation of veggies and dip or a cheeseball, and that had some claim to being vaguely healthy. Scrolling through my list of pinned apps, I found this the prosciutto wrapped asparagus recipe that I’d had pinned for ages, and decided that was it.

I ordered 1/4 pound of prosciutto from my grocery store deli and asked them to slice it as thin as they could. What I got was nearly transparent:

prosciutto | © karacooks.com

I rolled each paper-thin slice around a single spear of asparagus. I normally buy the thinnest asparagus I can find, but for this, I bought the thicker spears since I knew they’d need to bake some and I wanted them to still be crisp in the middle.

prosciutto wrapped asparagus | © karacooks.com

I actually made these the night before and kept them in the fridge, then transferred them to a baking sheet about 15 mins before my guests arrived.

prosciutto wrapped asparagus | © karacooks.com

The original recipe calls for frying them in ghee or oil, but not only did I want to avoid frying, I wanted something that was fairly hands off for a Thanksgiving appetizer. So instead of frying, I lined these up on a foil covered baking sheet, drizzled them lightly with olive oil, and baked at 400 for about 18 mins, turning them once. I popped the heat all the way up and ran them under the broiler for the final 2 mins just to crisp up the outsides.

prosciutto wrapped asparagus | © karacooks.com

They were delicious! The prosciutto was salty and rich and the asparagus was slightly crisp still, with browned ends. Even the asparagus haters among us had more than one!

In the future, I might try cutting each slice of prosciutto in half, just to let a little more of the asparagus flavor come through.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

prosciutto wrapped asparagus | © karacooks.com

  • 1/4 lb of prosciutto, sliced as thin as you can get it
  • 13 thick stalks of asparagus (26 stalks if you cut the prosciutto slices in half)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Clean and trim the asparagus stalks, then wrap each stalk with the prosciutto, starting on a diagonal and rolling up until the stalk is mostly covered.

Drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 400 deg oven for 18 mins, turning once. You can increase the heat to broil for a final 2 mins if you want them super crispy.

These can be prepped up to 2 nights before and will keep in the fridge nicely, just bring them out and let them rise to room temp before you cook them, or add 3-4 more mins to the cooking time, if you’re going to cook them straight from the fridge.

This recipe shown on Tastespotting

Meal Planning Monday – Week 49

goat cheese & roasted pepper jelly | © karacooks.com

Thanksgiving is over and I have a few weeks break before I need to start thinking about Christmas cooking. (Although a few treats will be in the making between now and then.) In the meanwhile, I need a week of “regular” eating to offset the Thanksgiving weekend indulgences – albeit some that takes advantage of the leftovers still hanging around.

As usual, breakfast is a smoothie made with RAW meal, almond milk, and sometimes peanut butter. Lunch is leftovers from the night before or some form of sandwich/pickles/apple.

Weekday Dinners

  • Monday – big green salad with diced turkey
  • Tuesday – Cottage pie with mashed potato topping, salad
  • Wednesday – Pasta and meatballs w/ homemade tomato sauce
  • Thursday – Stuffed acorn squash (quinoa and chicken sausage)
  • Friday – dinner out with Z

Saturday & Sunday Dinners / Cooking 

I have no concrete plans for the weekend. I want to get the last of the T’giving leftovers either eaten or frozen and get the chest freezer cleaned, sorted, and organized.

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