Friday, August 30, 2013

What the devil is pancetta . . . ?

I think I've mentioned before that I can cook. Not like Iron Chef, no, but I know my way around a kitchen and can cook for my family. I'm from a family of 5 kids, and my mom always cooked homemade meals for us every day. I had a great upbringing that way, so when I got married and moved out on my own, while I didn't know how to cook EVERYTHING, I knew enough to wing it and make things work without eating out every meal. One of my proudest moments was making a delicious ham sandwich using leftovers of an amazing ham roast I had cooked the previous night without even having to call my mom for instructions (no really, it was a FANTASTIC sandwich).

It's been seven years now since I first got married, and for the past several years I've been living with my husband's family, and for the past two years, I've been cooking for us all five nights a week. So I'm confident in saying that I'm now a capable cook. I've collected tons of recipes over the years, learned a lot of my mom's cooking secrets and tricks, and I'm comfortable with my abilities.

I am not, however, a fancy cook. I wrote a post awhile back about how I nearly went into paroxysms when I found out I could substitute the long shelf life evaporated milk for perishable half and half or heavy cream! It changed my life! I see things in recipes like fresh herbs and not commonly used produce and immediately start figuring out in my head what the measurement of dried herbs would be and what I can substitute for shallots. (Onions, btw. Substitute onions.)

So, when I came upon this delicious-looking recipe on Pinterest for Winter Minestrone Soup (I've been craving soup this pregnancy), you can imagine the internal monologue I had going on as I read through it. Just for kicks and giggles, let's go through it and I'll tell you what I thought. Because this could just be me being all narcissistic, but I thought it was pretty darn funny. My thoughts are in the parentheses.

Winter Minestrone & Garlic Bruschetta
Serves 6 to 8

Good olive oil (I don't know about "good", but that we have.)
4 ounces pancetta, 1/2 -inch-diced (Pancetta . . . what the devil is pancetta?)
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (Dehydrated onions = 3/4 c)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled butternut squash (Ha. I've attacked a squash before. Also blogged about it. That's not likely to happen again.)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves) (Score for the bottle of minced garlic in the fridge!)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (Dried thyme = 1/2 tsp-ish)
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi (How big are those normal size cans? 14 ounces? Eh, I can just do two of those.)
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (page 62) (Chicken base and water, that counts as homemade since I have to dirty a dish.)
1 bay leaf Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (Bay leaf, table salt, and normal ground pepper, check)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (White beans in sauce work, right? I don't really like beans anyway. Maybe we don't need those.)
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti (see note) (So . . . elbow macaroni it is!)
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves (I still have that frozen package of spinach in the back of the freezer, woot!)
1/2 cup good dry white wine (Make extra chicken broth, we don't have wine.)
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto (Pesto is just basil in some kind of oil or liquid, right? Yeah. 1 1/2 tsps of dried basil it is. Wonder if I should add an extra trickle of olive oil or something.)
Garlic Bruschetta (recipe follows) (White bread and butter on the table when dinner is served, check.)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (Freshly opened grated Parmesan in the plastic bottle. Because everyone loves a garnish.)

( . . . we never did figure out what pancetta was . . . *Googles* . . . Oh! Fancy bacon! I like bacon! We have breakfast bacon!)

So . . . yeah. That's pretty much exactly the thought process I had with this. I didn't even read the directions, but I know I'd have some sacrilegious thoughts about those as well. At the end of this recipe, I'd have a Minestrone-similar soup, definitely, but there are no promises that it would in any way be the SAME as this recipe. Would it be edible? Yes. Would it taste good? You bet your britches. Would it look like a passable imitation of the picture? Yep. But Julia Child I am not, folks. I never met a recipe I couldn't simplify, and never met a corner I didn't try to cut. Because that's how I roll. How about you? Do you put fancy chefs and cooks to shame, or is condensed cream of chicken soup your best friend? Do you have desserts or dishes that are constantly requested at parties and functions, or was mastering the can opener the greatest advance to your culinary career to date?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This Hormonal Train I'm Riding

Oh, my darlings. It has happened. I'm pregnant. Now, I'm sure that those sentences came across with a positive vibe with them, a happy tone to the words. Sadly, nothing could be further than the truth. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm way excited to be expecting and that come St. Patrick's Day I'll have a little leprechaun on my hands! We've been trying for another baby for a few years now, so this is very much a happy thing! There is just one problem . . . and that is PREGNANCY. *Dun dun duuuun!*

I was sooo not prepared for the onslaught that has occurred these past two months. Like, whoa. With my first pregnancy, I was one of those women that every other pregnant woman in the world hated: I had a perfect, easy pregnancy. My morning sickness was like 15 minutes of vague nausea every other week or so. That's it. My aches and pains were limited to my pelvic bone disliking it when I first got up in the morning, a charley horse I got one night, and a brief struggle with prenatal vitamins because they are of the devil. (Don't worry, I won the struggle . . . but I still had to take the pills. So maybe that's half a win.) My whole pregnancy was this bubble of happiness, because I got to ENJOY it, unlike a lot of women who pretty much suffer from day one. And lemme tell ya, first time pregnant women have it so easy. Because NOTHING is expected of a first time pregnant lady. "You can't lift that! Do you need a nap? Oh, come sit down, you must be so tired! Are you sure I can't help you with that?" All day, every day, it was awesome. No, I did not take advantage of this in any mean ways, because I was in a pregnant bubble and had no bad symptoms and nothing could hurt me but it was still nice to have zero expectations on me!

Second pregnancy? Psh, the bubble is over. I am so not this woman. Even if I wasn't suffering every bad side effect and symptom IN THE FRIGGING BOOK, second pregnancies are so not the zero-expectation cakewalk the first one is. Number one reason? Because if you are pregnant a second time, know what that means? You've already been pregnant. And you now have a little rugrat running around that sooo does not care that you are going to throw up if you have to sit up and put Barbie's shoes on one more time. And once you have kids, it's like the magic goes away and people assume that psh, so you're pregnant, whatever, you've already got a half-grown kid that can help you. Except, well, five year olds can't exactly haul the 50 pound bag of dog food out to the car, now can they? Nope. They are really good at holding the cart still while you try and shimmy said bag onto the bottom of the cart in an extremely ungainly way, though.

So yeah, second pregnancy, and I presume following pregnancies, just don't have that magical glow that the first one does. It's so unfortunate. Because I could totally use a zero-expectations cakewalk this time around. My first pregnancy, I worked the whole time! Yeah, it was just part time, but still! I could totally have handled full time! This time around, I'm lucky if I manage to get all the laundry through both machines in one day, and I'm even luckier if I get it folded before I need to do it all over again. One day last week I felt really good and not only got it all washed, but folded and put away in one day! I felt like Super Woman! Which is extremely, really sad because that's just a typical Monday for me when I'm not experiencing the joys of being "in the family way".

Maybe it's because my body remembers this pregnant thing, remembers where it's going to end up at the end of this. And it's surrendering early. My lower back is under the impression that I'm already massively pregnant, because every time I do something that aggravates it, it sits up and complains right off the bat. I'm not even going to discuss my boobs, but let's just say they're acting very immature. I've got this tiny little fetus in me that isn't even the size of a lime at this point, but my pelvic muscles are putting up this huge fit like I have a bowling ball strapped down there! But the worst part is the nausea. Holy balls, it is insane. Morning sickness, ha. ALL THE TIME SICKNESS. Morning, noon, night, and every hour in between. I am sick when I eat, I am sick when I don't, I'm sick when I'm full, and I'm sick when I'm hungry. I cannot win! My best friend right now is my bottle of Tums, and I've had more Tums in the last month than I've ever had in my entire life, times ten!

Thankfully, I have one saving grace and that is my amazing control over my gag reflex. I do not throw up unless I give myself permission. Not even kidding. I was once playing in a concert in high school (clarinet), had to throw up since I was sick, and not only did I walk out of the gym entirely, but I walked AROUND to the OTHER SIDE of the commons to throw up in the women's bathroom. I also locked my stall door behind me before I gingerly knelt on the floor and made my offering at the porcelain altar. So, when I say I don't throw up unless I want to, I sincerely mean it. I've only thrown up once while pregnant this time around, and I only did because I figured it would calm my stomach faster. Which it did. So at at least I'm not throwing up all over the place all the time, which I'm very grateful for. I really, really hate throwing up. I'd take almost any ailment over throwing up.

I think the part about this morning sickness that sucks so much, is that there's nothing I can do to get rid of it or settle my stomach except lay down. Not sit down. Not lay back and lounge. But full-on LAY DOWN. And lemme tell ya, there is not exactly a lot of stuff that you can do while laying down, except for sleep and stare at the wall. I got so bored that I figured out a couple contortions that still kept me lying down while I got on my laptop, but when you're laying down for half the day, even having the entire internet at your disposal is not enough. You still get bored. Extremely bored. "I'm gonna go whine on my blog because I've already annoyed everyone on Facebook" bored.

Yeeeeah . . .

Pregnancy. The miracle of life. The misery of enduring it. Now, don't misunderstand, I wouldn't change my mind about having this baby, and there's no way I'd trade him or her for feeling normal again (and we did have a close call). But I am very desperately looking forward to the day when I am able to feel normal again. I'm counting down the days to my second trimester when the morning sickness SHOULD ease up or go away entirely. And if it ends up not happening . . . I will cry. Big, fat, pity party tears.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Books and Reading, A-Z

My friend Caitlin just posted this on her blog, and since I actually ADORE doing these kinds of surveys, guess what I'm making you put up with? Oh yeah, you guessed it . . . And this is long, kids, so brace yourselves.

Author you've read the most books from: I had to count, but Julia Quinn is the winner by a few. She's a romance author, BTW, and my very favorite romance author. She always has those moments in her book that make me laugh out loud, which is a trait I much value in my reading. In case you're interested, second place goes to JR Ward, my guilty pleasure of the reading world.

Best Sequel Ever: And thus starts the Harry Potter devotion. No book or series, in my opinion, has come close to how amazing and consistently awesome those books are. No one else can touch that.

Currently Reading: Speaking of Julia Quinn, I just started reading her again. I'm on her first book, Splendid. I finally finished the Harry Potter series while I was camping a couple weeks ago.

Drink of Choice While Reading: Water is my drink of choice 90% of the time, so that's usually what is on hand.

E-reader or Physical Book: I am a die-hard physical book girl. I don't have a Kindle or Nook, but I do have the Kindle app on my phone and the program on my computer, so it's not like I haven't used e-readers at all. I find them handy, to be sure. But there is a magic to a real book, the feel of the pages and the smell of the paper and the way you can take a moment to close the book and cry or laugh if you need to. Also, it's hard to read ahead on an e-reader. (Oh yeah, I'm THAT person.)

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School: *Takes a moment to consider this* Okay, this is a hard one. First of all, I have many friends who are writers, I myself am a writer, and I am emotionally attached to a whole lot of characters that don't even exist in a published forum. I actually fictionally dated a version of Orlando Bloom for quite a while in junior high and high school, courtesy of a dear writer friend that indulged my Lord of the Rings inspired fantasies (I've mentioned this before, there were vampires and Michael Jackson involved). So, if we are only counting characters that have been published, and we're not limiting this to books I had only read by high school, I would say that the character I would have dated in high school would be . . . one of the Weasley twins from Harry Potter. They were hilarious, unruly, had a family as bonkers as mine, I think I would have done very well with one of them. If we're counting unpublished literature as well, I do have a few characters of my own and a few creations of other friend writers that I would have dated without a second thought.

Glad you Gave This Book a Chance: Julia Quinn pops up again. I had never read a romance novel until my honeymoon (don't worry, the irony is not lost on me), and it had not occurred to me to take anything to entertain myself on said honeymoon. I figured we'd be busy watching movies and lounging around when we weren't, erm, pursuing other activities. Well, by the end of day 2, we were starting to get bored. So I bought a movie magazine that featured a lot of Pirates of the Caribbean material, and a book I picked at random from that aisle of the grocery store. I figured if I picked a pretty safe-looking cover and didn't stumble across anything scandalous during my brief skim through it, I'd be fine (I was leery about romance novels, since I'd never read one). Well, everything checked out, so I unknowingly bought my first romance novel. And I LOVED it! Opened up a whole new genre of books that I absolutely adore! Regency romance (Regency era of England, about 1815 and the years surrounding) is my favorite, and I've written quite a bit in this era as well, but all romance novels have appealed to me thus far. I love the characters, the plots, and I'm such a sucker for romance anyway. Throw me a hero that is professing his love to the heroine using the most flowery or simple words, it doesn't matter which, I love it.

Hidden Gem Book: Greek mythology. Not any specific book, not really, because there are probably dozens if not hundreds of books about Greek mythology, but there is just something about reading those stories, from whatever book I find them in, that I love. Gods and goddesses and heroes, beasts and monsters, tricksters and mortals, this convoluted web of interconnected characters and stories that are so very epic in every kind of way! With no end of tragedy, to be sure, but still, I love them. I love reading these myths, they are my favorite in all of mythology.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life: I don't remember it, but it was probably the moment I really discovered a library. I mean, come on. A voracious reader like me, just a kid, going from the bookshelves at home to a LIBRARY? Shut up! Libraries became frequent visitations for me after that, and still are. I take my daughter to story time at the library I worked at for two years, and she loves it there. We always go home with a huge bag of books, and even some movies, and she always has a favorite. Libraries are such a big thing for me, I discovered some of my greatest reading loves from the library, and I still do. If you don't have a library card, go get one immediately, and use it weekly. I promise it will be worth your while.

Kinds of Books You Won't Read: Stephen King. Don't get me wrong, I think the guy is amazing, and no way he has as many books and movies as he does without being an amazing writer. But horror, thriller, disturbing, all that is just not my thing. Which also cancels out Mary Higgins Clark and other writers in that genre. I'm also not all that fond of mysteries either. I live for fantasy, love, and comedy.

Longest Book You've Read: Probably the fifth Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix. That's 870 pages.

Major Book Hangover Because Of: Yes, this is going to keep cropping up. Harry Potter, definitely. Although, I'll definitely give second place to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward. I finish those books (several hundred pages) as fast as possible, and have to wait a whole YEAR for the next one. Thankfully, I only had to wait for the last few of Potter since I was later to the game on that one. But I do fantasize about JK Rowling doing another Hogwarts series, featuring either the Four Founders, or the Marauders, or the Progeny of the Harry/Ron/Hermione generation.

Number of Book Cases You Own: Actual cases? I have three 6-shelf bookcases with doors, and three 3-shelf open cases. One of them doesn't actually contain books because I moved them to shelves on the wall in my room, but there you go. Six book cases of varying sizes.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan. I don't know why, but I adore this book. I have read it over and over, and it's the book I never get sick of. It's the story of a teenage girl in India dealing with an arranged marriage, being widowed, and starting over her life from nothing, and I love it so much. Probably because it has a happy ending.

Preferred Place to Read: Someplace quiet. I'm a peace and quiet nut, and I can't write or read when there's lots of noise and activity going on. I don't even listen to music when I read and write, I like silence.

Quote That Inspires You: Oh, there are so many. No, really, I'm a quote collector. I have journals, Pinterest boards, and Word documents full of them, and I love them all. But this one pertains to all of life, and it brings reading into it in a special way. "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten." - G.K. Chesterton. This is on my closet door, which is kind of my shrine to, well, happiness and beauty and things that inspire me.

Reading Regret: That I do not have or do not make enough time to read as voraciously as I have before in my life. I have a daughter, and another baby on the way, so being mommy takes up a lot of time, and just being an adult takes up even more. And I have my computer and internet, where I waste far more time than I should, and there's also my own writing. So reading time, just reading, is precious and rare, which I hate. But I will never, never cease this fierce, abiding love for books and reading. I just have to treasure those moments I have for it.

Series You Started and Need To Finish: I have a few, actually. The Tennis Shoes series by Chris Heimerdinger (intensely interesting, historical, exciting, and fascinating look into biblical times mixed with the modern world). the 13th Reality series by James Dashner (it reminded me a little of the feel of Harry Potter and I already know I love this author from reading his Jimmy Fincher series). I know I have more, but I'd have to go peek at the rest of my books to find out which ones I'm still working on.

Three of Your All Time Favorite Books: Uh oh. This is so problematic. Alright, first off, I am going to give my three favorite authors, because I literally CANNOT choose favorites from them. They are JK Rowling, JR Ward, and Julia Quinn. If we are looking outside those three authors, my three favorite books after those (that I am listing off the top of my head to save time) would be Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, Falling Up by Shel Silverstein, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Yes, they are all young adult or children's books. I'm a kid at heart.

Unapologetic Fangirl For: Harry Potter. There, I said it. Potterhead to the end, I will go down with this fandom. Always. I beg you, Ms. Rowling, give us more!

Very Excited For This Release Over All The Others: Since this is the series I've been hooked into most recently and it is the most emotionally wracking, laughter-inducing, tension-cranking series I've ever read (not even exaggerating), the most anticipated book I am looking forward to is JR Ward's new Black Dagger book, The King. It comes out in March. Over half a year away. I go through this every year with her.

Worst Bookish Habit: How long it takes me to finish them. Soooo not kidding. Last year at a camping family reunion, I took the 5th and 6th Harry Potter books with me, both to color the pictures (yes, I do that) and to finish 5 and start on 6. This year at the reunion, just a couple weeks ago, I finally finished 7 and read Tales of Beedle the Bard. I know. I know. Don't even go there. Also, I dog-ear pages if I don't have a bookmark right there. So guilty.

X Marks the Spot: One of my earlier memories of my childhood involves my mom and dad reading to me and my little brother and sister when I was probably no more than five or six years old. We were reading Little House in the Big Woods, the first book of the enormously popular series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have a very clear memory of being together in the bedroom us kids shared, sprawling around while my mom and dad took turns reading chapters to us. That boxed set of books was the first book series I ever owned, as a gift from my mom. I've read them over and over, all of them, all nine books. We were bookworms as kids, and we certainly had plenty of books to choose from. Shelves and shelves of Disney books and Little Golden Books and The Tales of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter and Berenstain Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Little Critter, I could go on and on. Our house always had books, all kinds of books, everything from Baby Mickey board books to little chapter books to the Shannara series by Terry Brooks for my dad and scores of LDS authors for my mom. I grew up on all of them, all kinds and genres and lengths of books, and I still have that widely varied base guiding my reading today. I will be as happy reading picture books as I would reading adult nonfiction, because from a very early age, I was encouraged to read. I was the kid that read James and the Giant Peach during recess at a new school before I had friends, and I was okay with that. It has been a lifelong treasure and gift, that was started from the time when I couldn't even read yet. I will always appreciate that.

Your Latest Book Purchase: Ah, book fairs. At my daughter's school, I went on the sale day of the book fair and got three books. A Clifford the Big Red Dog 6-book collection (for her), a book about the life of Darth Maul from Star Wars (my husband and I), and a book about 100 Most Amazing Animals (mostly for me, but it's COOL!), I think is what the title was. I love books, I love buying them, I love having them. I also loves sales and the clearance section of Barnes and Noble.

Zzz-Snatcher Book (Last Book that Kept You Up Late): It was while we were camping, I was up late separate times reading the three books I read while up there, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Splendid by Julia Quinn.

That was actually a ball to write! I told you I love these surveys! I love thinking about books I've read and loved, revisiting memories that they hold. It's the same feelings I get when I write. And I didn't even touch of most of the books I've read that I adore, and believe me, that list is long and ridiculous. So, anyway, please do this survey if it interests you, I loved it! Also, feel free to comment about anything and everything that comes to mind, I also love comments.