Friday, October 30, 2015

time to write a book!

In case you didn't know, November is National Novel Writing Month.  And there's a website for it:  The idea is to write a novel, at least 50,000 words, during the month of November. I've signed up and on Sunday I will start my book.

I've always wanted to write a book ever since I can remember.  Maybe because I love to read.  I always enjoyed creative writing classes in high school and college.  I got some great feedback on the short stories I wrote; I still have them stored away somewhere.

Originally I was going to write about my family.  My mom used to always say that she would love to have a book written about our family.  I don't think we're much different than any other family,--I'd argue that we're less drama-filled that most families-- but maybe she was thinking more of a family history for generations to come.  But then I realized I'd have to put a lot of effort into research and interviews before I could even start writing, and I just don't have the time for that right now; work is really busy and that takes up most of my mental bandwidth.

I've decided I'm going to write about my weight struggles.  It shouldn't be difficult, since it's all about me.  Literally.  The only issues I might have are keeping up with the daily writing and doing it consistently, and organizing it.  I tend to just write whatever I want when the mood strikes me; I'm not much for organizing my thoughts ahead of time.  I'm thinking I might write down a rough outline this weekend, so at least I have a bit of structure to it.

Wish me luck!  Who knows?  Maybe I'll have a best seller on my hands. ;)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

expanding my horizons: spaghetti squash

I recently tried spaghetti squash for the first time.  I had stopped at Whole Foods for a certain item and decided to grab something from the salad bar.  I saw a cold salad made with spaghetti squash, feta cheese, tomatoes, basil, and peppers.  My mother and my sister always said how good it is, so I figured I'd see what the hype is about.  It was really good and I liked that the squash was a bit crunchy.
I then decided I should try making it myself.  It would be a good way to get more vegetables and have something different for a change.  I bought one squash at the grocery store last week; I figured I wouldn't waste too much money if I didn't like it. I wanted to duplicate the Whole Foods salad, but I also wanted to try it hot; I'd heard it can be served similar to spaghetti.  I decided I'd use half of it for the salad and half for serving hot.
I cooked it the other night and it was so easy to cook!  All I did was put it in a baking pan and cook it uncovered at 375 for about an hour. When finished, I let it cool a bit.  I then cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and then raked the insides with a fork.  What I got was something that looks like spaghetti, but thinner. Very easy. I put some in a container and stuck it in the fridge.  I'll make the salad either tonight or tomorrow night.
I took the hot portion and mixed in butter, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and parmesan cheese.  It was very easy.  It tasted good, but I'm not sure I'd eat it hot again. If I did it would need to be mixed with some stronger seasonings or maybe some meat and veggies. It's a very mild squash, so it needs a bit of dressing up.
So, anyone have any suggestions for dressing this up a bit?  Or do you have a favorite sold spaghetti squash salad you like?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

beef and tortellini

The other night for dinner I made a recipe from Taste of Home magazine:  Beefy Tortellini Skillet.

I subscribed to Taste of Home last year.  I probably won't renew it, though, because I find that it doesn't have a lot of recipes that appeal to me.  Most are simple, which is good, but I find them to be just OK most of the time.  Nothing spectacular.  If I want a recipe, I can Google it for free.

So, here's the finished dish.  It's just ground beef, Montreal steak seasoning, water, beef bouillon granules, frozen tortellini, and Italian cheese blend.  I made it exactly as instructed and didn't substitute any ingredients. 

It was quick and easy. I figured it might be lacking, since it doesn't have a sauce; I was right.  It wasn't terrible by any means, just kind of boring and I missed having some sort of sauce.  I thinking you could probably add more water and beef bouillon and then just thicken it a bit.

Obviously, this dish isn't really meant for a gastric bypass post-op.  I made it for Bob, but I tried some of it.  Just some of the beef and cheese, and a couple tortellini.

I probably wouldn't make this again, unless I can figure out a way to make a bit of a sauce.

Monday, October 19, 2015

kitty issues

I don't know what's going on, but I seem to be having bad luck with cats this past year.  Lou had to have part of his tail amputated, Riley died unexpectedly from possible hemophilia, Prince disappeared, and George had to be put down due to old age.  Now, Leo has to go in and have all his teeth out.

Last month I noticed some brownish marks on his fur around his mouth.  I figured it was from his eyes; he's a Persian and his eyes weep.  But then he started making gnawing motions with the right side of his mouth.  We brought him to the vet and they talked about surgery, biopsy, a possible cancerous tumor, blood work, etc., to the tune of $1,000.00+.  They gave him an antibiotic injection to start, just in case it was only an infection.  He was OK for a couple weeks, but then a few days ago started the gnawing again and was drooling. So, back to the vet he went.  Although this time we went to cat-only vet we found nearby.  There were two reasons for that:  we've been wanting to try a cat-only vet, and we wanted a second opinion. And, really, a third reason: cost.

Leo had his appointment Friday and it turns out he has severe gingivitis, a possible secondary infection, and what may be a benign tumor caused by the gingivitis.  I wish the other vet had told us this.  My husband said they didn't mention gingivitis or teeth extraction.  I was freaking out about cancer, thinking it's the end for Leo.  It's still going to cost $1,000.00+, but at least I know the chance of cancer is pretty low.

I had all the blood work done while he was there; that turned out mostly normal.  He has a really high while blood cell count, but that's very likely due to the secondary infection he's got going on.  The doctor gave him another antibiotic injection and he seems comfortable at the moment.  He'll be going in for surgery probably next week.

Lesson learned here?  Make sure you bring your cats in for dental checkups, not just their annual vaccinations.  As they get older, they develop gingivitis and other problems, just like us humans.  I feel terrible that I didn't catch this much earlier, and now the poor guy has to have all his teeth out.

Here's some cuteness for you to enjoy.

Leo as a kitten.  This is the day I brought him home from the pet store in 2004. 
He's one of the only cats I ever bought at pet store; all the others are rescues.

Leo doing what he does best:  relaxing and looking cute.

Leo at the vet Friday.  Each examining room  has a cat tree. 
As you can tell, he had to try it out.  Looks like he approves.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

quest protein bar: pumpkin pie

I went to the store over the weekend and decided to get some protein bars.  I don't buy a lot of protein bars, mainly because I tend to eat them like candy bars; they don't stick around my house very long. 

I like Quest best.  They taste great and they're not as high in calories as some of the other protein bars.  Plus, they have whey protein isolate, which is what I need.  And there's no added sugar. 

I noticed that the store I was in had the new chocolate mint bars and the pumpkin pie bars.  I was excited to try something new so I grabbed two of the chocolate mint and one pumpkin; I'm not a huge pumpkin fanatic and didn't want to waste money. 

I brought the pumpkin one to work today and ate it for breakfast.  I was excited, because it felt heavier than other flavors (extra food!), but I was disappointed to see it's the same weight:  2.12 ounces.  I unwrapped it.  First of all, the thing was practically florescent orange, which didn't bode well.  (The picture doesn't accurately convey the neon-ness of it.) There were graham cracker pieces under the coating, so it was very bumpy looking. 

And the taste?  Meh.  It was OK, but nothing special.  I didn't taste pumpkin.  It tasted more like a yogurt-covered protein bar.  Kind of nondescript, I guess. I wouldn't buy this again, although if someone gave me one and I was hungry, I'd eat it.  It wasn't terrible, just not what I expected.  Especially since Quest bars generally taste exactly like whatever flavor they're supposed to taste like.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

spicy chili-rubbed pork

I tried a couple new recipes last weekend, one of which is Chili Rubbed Pulled Pork from I had all the ingredients, plus a pork roast to use, and it felt like a crock pot kind of day, so I decided to make it.

Wouldn't you know, I didn't have one ingredient:  chili powder.  I have just about every other herb and spice under the sun, but no chili powder.  I didn't really feeling like running to the store for just one item, so I Googled and found a recipe for chili powder.  I had no idea that chili powder is actually a combination of six different herbs and spices.  I always thought it was chili peppers ground into powder. I had all the necessary ingredients to make my own, so I did. 

It was such as easy recipe.  Just cut up a pork roast, dump all the spices in a bowl, toss to coat, and then put in the crock pot for four to five hours.  What you get is a spicy roast that pulls apart very easily.  It can be used on sandwiches, in burritos, over rice, or anything else you might was to use it for.

This was very spicy. I'm not adverse to spice, but I find these days it can give me acid reflux at night sometimes.  If I made it again I would likely just use a pinch of the cayenne pepper.  Also, it didn't have as much pork flavor as I would have liked.  I didn't have a pork butt, so I used the sirloin pork roast.  That probably made a big difference in the richness.

I'd make this again making the changes I mentioned above.  It was so easy and perfect for those days when you just don't want to deal with cooking a whole meal, or if you just want to have pork in the fridge for use with other recipes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

homemade cinnamon applesauce

This past weekend I harvested more apples from my apple trees.  There aren't many more I can harvest using a ladder and apple picking pole, so I only got about 30; some were gorgeous and others were not so gorgeous.  I gave a whole bunch to my coworker so she could make apple pie; she's a great baker.  I kept the uglier ones for myself.  Even though my coworker would have to peel them for the pies, I just didn't feel right giving her spotty-looking apples.

I then got to looking online for any recipe that would use a whole bunch of apples, since I have so many of them.  I didn't want to make a recipe that only calls for two or three apples, so I figured my best bet would be apple butter or applesauce.  Applesauce seemed easier, so that's what I went with.  I found a recipe on The Pioneer Woman website.  (For anyone that doesn't know who The Pioneer Woman is, her name is Ree Drummond and she has a show on the Food Network.  I like her recipes and she's very funny.)  I wanted to make it my own, though.  Bob likes cinnamon with his apples, so I decided to mix it with another recipe I found for cinnamon applesauce and see what happens.  I also wanted to reduce the sugar so I would be able to eat a small amount of it without feeling nauseous.

I peeled, cored, and chopped six pounds of apples, which amount to about 3.5 pounds of usable apple.  I threw them in the pot with some water, the juice of a lemon, some brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, and cooked it for about 20 minutes.  My stove uses propane, which runs hotter than electric or natural gas, so my cooking time was faster than what the recipe stated.  And you can adjust the cooking time if you'd rather have crispier chunks of apples, or want apples that completely break down and dissolve. 

The results were delicious!  The applesauce was a mix of smooth and chunky, had a warm brown coloring, and tasted like cinnamon and nutmeg.  It wasn't too sweet, either.

I was only able to eat about 1/4 cup before feeling a little nauseous; even with reducing the sugar, it still packs about 32 grams of sugar per 1/2 cup.  I decided to freeze it in two batches:  one for a friend and one to pull out when we want it.

Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce
Makes about 12 1/2 cup servings

6 pounds apples, peeled, cored, a cut into chunks (I used McIntosh)
1 cup water (you can use apple juice or cider if you want)
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon, more or less to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg


Combine all ingredients in a large pot and cook over medium heat for about 25 minutes, or until desired level of doneness.  Once the apples start really breaking down, it's your call as to what you consider "done."

I didn't think I'd fit them all in there...

...but they cook down a lot.  This looks about right to me!

Yum!  Ready to eat!

Here's the recipe from The Pioneer Woman website:  Homemade Applesauce

Friday, October 2, 2015

business, with a little vacay mixed in

Last week I went on my first business trip, which was a full week in Huntington Beach, CA.  (Well, I've been on one other, but it was in the next state and it was only one night, so I don't really count that.)  I attended a user conference for software we use at the bank.  The conference was Tuesday through Thursday, but we stayed until Saturday so we could have some down time.

We flew to LAX last Monday.  Our flight took off from JFK in New York at 9:00 am Eastern time and arrived at LAX in California at noon.  Due to the early flight, living further from JFK, having to pick up my niece and sister, the inevitable NY traffic, and the long security lines, I had to get up at 2:45 am so I could get to my sister's house by 4:30 am and leave there by 5 am.  It worked out perfectly--we had only a half hour to wait around before boarding the flight.  It was six hours of flying time, but with the three-hour time difference it looked like three hours.  It was a smooth flight with almost no turbulence, which is good because turbulence makes me really nervous; I'm always conscious of the fact that I'm 37,000 feet up with no control over anything.  We checked into the hotel, the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa (!), around 1:30 pm.  We promptly dropped all our bags on the floor and relaxed for a bit. We then took the hotel shuttle to the pier, had dinner, and then walked Main Street, which is kind of the main drag in HB with surf shops, restaurants, and other small stores.  We got back around 7:00 pm, just in time for the sunset, and were pretty much all in bed by 9 pm; we were exhausted!

Front of the hotel.

At the pier.  It was an overcast day.

Sunset in front of the hotel, Huntington Beach.

Tuesday and Wednesday were extremely busy for me, as the conference ran from about 8:45 am until about 5:30 pm each day with very little time for anything more than a very fast bathroom break and a quick lunch. Afterwards we drove to Long Beach.  Lots of oil rigs out in that direction.  The ones close to shore are hidden behind a man-made island.

Long Beach, close to sunset.  There's a oil rig behind that "island." Yes, the island is fake.

Long Beach sunset.

Thursday was better, as the conference ended at noon.  When I got out of the conference, we took a cruise to Laguna Beach in a 2015 red Camero convertible (we rented it for two days), then back to Newport Beach for a whale watching cruise.  We didn't see any whales, but we saw lots of dolphins and sea lions, which is a novelty for someone from CT.  The cruise was 2.5 hours and it only cost us each $11.00 (I got a Travel Zoo deal!).  I felt it was the best $11.00 I spent all week; it was very relaxing. The only gripe I have is that the snack bar was basically all candy, plus a popcorn machine. I was starving so I had to settle for popcorn and a lot of bottled water.  We then stopped at Peninsula Park for the sunset.

Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach.  Gorgeous!


Dolphins! Cruise from Newport Beach.

Isn't this beautiful and so relaxing?

The sea lions are so lazy!

On the pier at Peninsula Park.

Sunset at Peninsula Park.

Friday we took a Hollywood tour to see the stars homes and Rodeo Drive.  It was very interesting to see how close together the stars' homes are to other houses.  One would expect them to have a ton of property with rolling hills, but in reality it reminds me of some of the suburbs around here where the houses are really close together, or close to the street, and without much property.  It's all house, pretty much.  But what gorgeous houses they are!  And the amount of money out there is just obscene!  I was hoping some stars would be spotted, but we didn't see anyone. I enjoyed it anyway, though.

View of the famous Hollywood sign from Mulholland Drive.  Did you know this sign was originally an outdoor ad campaign for a housing development?  Check it out here.

Kat Von D's house.

Whiskey a Go Go.

Richard Gere's house.  I wonder if he's home?

Remember this from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air?

Rodeo Drive.

Rodeo Drive.

Saturday was spent packing up and flying home.  Another smooth flight.  We took off at 1:15 pm from LAX and got into JFK around 9:45 pm.  (Welcome back to East coast time!) I got in around 2 am I believe and it was straight to bed after greeting my husband and the kitties, most of which were happy to see me; a few cats took off, but came around the next day.

So, this week I'm struggling to readjust to Eastern time, and it's rough.  I've been late for work everyday this week. And I feel like I need a vacation from the vacation!