1/29/2013

Scenes From the Weekend

This weekend was great!  It was a nice combo of Bret, good food, good weather and gettin' stuff done.  Friday morning was another story...let's just say I can be incredibly stupid at times.  Especially when attempting to multi-task before caffeination occurs.  Fortunately, the rest of the weekend was excellent.  See here...


We chopped and cleared out some major overgrowth in our "tropical garden" area. 


 I'm not sure who is confused; me, or the leaf-less blooming magnolia tree. 
Pretty, non-the-less.


Lunch :)  Real beer brats from Wisconsin.  Thanks Dennis!!!


Fried Bananas with pancakes.  Kath has been eating these a lot and I had
to find out what they were all about.  Overall, I say good and easy to
throw on the griddle next to pancakes!  Will make them again.


Topped with maple syrup and pomegranate seeds.


Pi perchin' 


1/28/2013

Latest Favs

Chocolate Coconut Larabars!
My my, they are tasty.  I first ventured into Larabars in College when I was stuck on campus all day and looking for quick and healthy eating options.  Not going to lie, they are kinda expensive.  That is why they normally are not a staple in my diet.  Well, Amazon had the boxes on sale a few weeks ago.  There were a lot of flavors to choose from, but I had never tried the chocolate ones before.  So, we ordered a box of the Chocolate Coconut and I absolutely love them!  They calm my chocolate craving and are like a candy bar with their date sweetness (kinda like these).  Yum.



Downton Abby
The third season kicked off on PBS this month and has been as good as ever.  I watched the first two seasons for free through Amazon Prime.  They went too fast, and now I have to wait a whole week for each new episode.  Life can be cruel...

source


The Biggest Loser
This is another show I have been catching lately (i.e. Bret has been working long hours and I have extra time to watch.)  This season the show has three kid ambassadors that come to the ranch for short stints, but do most of their work at home with their family.  The teams have been pretty lovie dovie because there has only been one vote off thus far.  It's nice to let the contestants work towards figuring out their issues before they need to start strategizing (or conniving) to win the game.


Heater Blankets
It was really cold and rainy (for Houston) for the 2-3 weeks after Christmas and this thing made me a lot happier most nights.  It turned warm again and is really not necessary anymore.  Let's hope it stays that way.


Game of Thrones
Finally onto the third book of the series.  This last one took a while because I just didn't give myself enough quiet reading time.  That was fixed in the last month (see my next section).  I have held off on the TV show thus far, but will definitely watch it at some point.  For now though, I am happy just reading.

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The Gym
I can read and work out!  Why I ever fell out of sync with going to the gym regularly always surprises me when I get back at it (it's happened more than once).  Anyway, I can go to the gym during lunch and elliptical for 30 minutes and read (Game of Thrones), killing two awesome birds with one stone.  The only problem with this, is that it leaves me with less time to blog during lunch.  D'oh!



Pumpkin helping me put away Christmas decorations. 
He & Pi loved the sparkly icicles.  I wonder how much glitter they ingested this season? 



1/22/2013

Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites




Most people don't associate "healthy" with chocolate cookies.  While these aren't the healthiest replacement for say veggies or an apple, they are a pretty good alternative to real chocolate chip cookies. 

If you have heard of Larabars or date balls, that is essentially what these are.  I have quite the sweet tooth, so it is nice to have some guilt-free, tasty and filling sweets.  Two weekends ago I took my first leap into the date ball process and bought dates!  Whoa, I know...big step ;) That weekend I attempted my first recipe and was a little disappointed with the results.  The were pretty sticky, and almost too sweet for me.  My mini food processor didn't appreciate the dates either and never quite blended the ingredients properly.  I even left out the chocolate chips so as not to "waste" them in sub-par date balls. 

To my surprise though, the balls equilibrated overnight and turned out to be quite the hit in our household!  I think the oats and chia seeds soaked up a bit of the excess moisture and calmed down the sweetness.

With renewed date-ball spirit, I attempted them again this weekend.  This time, instead of processing the dates, I just diced them by hand an used a muddler to smush them all together.  It took a little elbow grease, but it worked, and it saved me the concern of ruining my small (but functioning) food processor.


Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites


Ingredients

1 1/2       Cups Diced Dates
2 Tbsp    Vanilla
1 Cup      Whole Oats
2 Tbsp     Chia Seeds
1/3 Cup   Chocolate Chips

Instructions

  • Remove pits from dates and dice into about 1/4" x 1/4" pieces.
  • Muddle (of food process) the diced dates and vanilla into a paste.
  • Separately, process oats to reduce size.  Complete pulverization is not necessary.
  • Mix chia seeds and processed oats into the date paste. 
  • Stir in chocolate chips.
  • Roll dough into about 1" balls and refrigerate. 
  • Enjoy!  You can eat the chocolate chip cookie dough balls immediately and they should last at least one week, maybe two in the fridge.   I would suggest to let them rest overnight to get the best product.


Diced dates.

Processed Oats.

Mushing it all together.

Actually a mint muddler for mojitos. 
Also works great for mashing potatoes in a pinch.

Finished product.  Bret approved!

And, the kitties sniffing around. 
Pi wanted in the box (anyone surprised?) and
Pumpkin wanted out the door (again, surprised?).


 Have you tried making any recipes with dates? 

1/19/2013

Procrastination

Do you ever get yourself worked-up or anxious about something?  I tend to do it more often than I'd like to admit.  Part of it is procrastination in play, which also occurs more than it should.  Luckily, this is not a debilitating problem (because I always get the job done), just one I need to start to consciously focus on avoiding.

The last few weeks of work have been a little frustrating with time lines that were not particularly well-written.  I had a big chuck of work to do, but it kept changing, and changing, and changing again, just enough to require a another round of work.  This probably doesn't make sense, but suffice to say, if one person made a change to their document it could potentially lead me to change 30+ documents.  This was actually the appropriate situation to procrastinate by not finalizing anything until the end (to avoid as much rework as possible). Unfortunately, that just made me all the more anxious that I may not finish on time!

Anyway, there were a few other paperwork items I may have also been procrastinating on that were also finally completed Wednesday morning.  This included a mid-year review (fun...not!).  My year and performance have been fine and all, but I still get worked up over personal reviews.  There was one goal that I thought I had made zero progress on, and was concerned because I didn't have any ideas for how to achieve it.  Turns out, I had already done a project that covered it without even realizing it.  Score!  That, along with checking a few nagging items off my work list, gave me a big mental boost.  I actually felt lighter and was breathing easier after it all as I made my way to the gym for lunch.  Seriously, why do I do this to myself?!

No matter how much I get myself worked up at the office though, it is nice to know I can always come home to Bret and these two cuties.  Love!




Are you a procrastinator?  And if so, have you found any good ways to avoid it? (Procrastinate procrastination? hehe)


1/16/2013

Flowers

Sometime in December we were doing some major landscaping in the front of our house.  Actually, all year we were working on landscaping, but in December we tackled the pretty flower bushes in front.  I think they are hibiscus, but I never really researched it.

The two bushes had a ton of pretty pink flowers, but they were completely blocking off the front walkway.  To fix the problem (for now) we clear cut them to almost nothing.  Since moving into a home in Houston, I have learned a lot about landscaping.  In this region, nothing seems to die if it is well established.  The backyard bushes we chopped up in the fall are now flowering already!  Odd to say the least, but I am sure I'll get used to it eventually.


Saved a few flowers.

Close up.

Same bouquet, but with more direct natural light.

Close up.

Front gate.  See that stump in the top left corner?  That is what is what was left.

Photo from Sunday.  They prevail!!!  Who is surprised?


1/14/2013

Creamy Apple Carrot Soup

After all of the fun and excess of the holiday season, I have been consciously trying to use up left overs.  Another good resolution (that is not official or anything) is to waste less food.  I can get carried away at the grocery store sometimes...okay, a lot of times.  At the same time, I want to have a good amount of fresh produce on hand to whip up healthy meals as often as we are in the mood.

Two things have helped me use most of the fresh stuff as we buy it.

  1. Green Smoothies.  I usually keep them to greens and fruit, but if there are excess carrots...In they go! 
  2. Creamy Vegetable Soups.  You know how I was raving about the butternut squash soup here, and here.  Well, it's success has inspired me to try other blended veggie soups like...



Creamy Carrot & Apple Soup


These pictures are from my first attempt making Angela's Ginger Carrot Apple Soup.  It was okay.  I'm not the biggest ginger fan yet (working on it!) and the soup had practically no fat in it.  My goal is not to promote supper creamy, unhealthy soups, but if a soup is going to be my dinner, it has to have some umph and staying power.  That leads me to this recipe.  My fridge had a big stash of extra baby carrots and apples that were dying to be souped up.  It's a cross the Ginger Carrot Apple soup and Butternut Squash soup. 


Ingredients:

1 Small Onion Sliced
2-3 Cloves of Garlic Minced
1 Tablespoon of Oil
2 Gala Apples Cubed
4 Cups Carrots Cubed
1 Red Pepper Cubed (or any other veg you want to use up)
2 Cups Chicken Broth
2+ Cups Milk (enough to cover at least half of the top layer of apples and carrots in the pot)
4 oz Cream Cheese
Spices to taste


Instructions:

Heat oil in stock pot and saute onions and garlic until onions begin to become translucent.

Add apples, carrots, pepper, broth and milk to onion mix.  Bring mixture to boil and simmer until carrots are tender.  About 15-20 minutes.

Blend until smooth.  If using a blender I believe you need to let the soup cool slightly.  I usually just plunge my immersion blender in without much cooling though.  

Add cream cheese and spices to taste.  Blend again until all is incorporated.

Enjoy!


Note:  Gala apples have been on sale in Houston, so that's how I ended using those.  I bet others would work well too!  Also, the red pepper was an afterthought as it was also in my fridge, but it worked here.  


Toasting.


All ready for addition!  This is a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup for your reference.

Set it and....forget it!  For 15 minutes.  That is the magic of soup :)

Not particularly exciting, but good.  



In my soup escapades this season I have found that a little cream cheese goes a long way.  I love it.  Another thing I love about soups is the lunches they also provide.  I have a few glass jam and almond butter jars that are great for bringing soup to work for quick work lunches.  I just microwave the whole jar and eat right out of it.  Perfecto!


On a completely different note.  Here are a few old pictures from Thanksgiving.  The bird got a little toasty in the oven and let off a nice amount of smoke at one point.  We set up fans to blow out the smoke and the kitties kept trying to escape!  You can hardly tell, but both window here are cracked open to let air in, but not enough to let cats out.


The first explorer.


He's thinking, "Is this a trick?  Why do you torture us so?"

Stumped.



1/13/2013

Broken Brownies

I found a great black bean brownie recipe a couple months ago, and have made it 6 times!  Chocolate Covered Katie posted it.  It's very simple and doesn't require any sugar.  Sure it takes maple syrup, splenda and chocolate chips, but I think that is still an improvement over a regular box.


Fuzzy ingredients.


Anyways...It's easy and even Bret has come around to it's awesomeness.  I was going to make "real" brownies from a box for him one night this week, but he actually requested the black bean version.  Houston hath frozen over!

So, I whipped up a quick batch.  SIDE NOTE:  Another great thing about Katie's recipe is that it bakes in 15 - 18 minutes.  We enjoyed 1/2 of said batch that night.  I almost brought a piece to work the next day, but stopped short because I know that 1/2 a pan is a great dessert for the two of us.

That evening, I get home and find Bret already home.  I start trying to figure out what to make for dinner and and notice the brownie pan is missing.  I don't think much of it and figure he was just hungry when he got home.  Time goes by that night and I ask him what happened to the brownies (because, of course, I needed chocolate).  He said to me in passing "It broke."  I was like "huh?" to myself, but was not in the mood to think too much about it that night.

Fast forward another day.  I start getting concerned that the brownie pan is actually broken.  It's a Pyrex 9x9 or 8x8 and is my only square pan.  Normally, if Bret finishes a dish he puts it in the dishwasher or leaves in on the counter in plain sight.  No pan in sight.  I again approach Bret about the "broken" brownie.

"Oh!!" Says Bret.  "I hid it."  He goes and pulls out the pan from a bottom kitchen drawer.  He had hid it so that HE could eat it later...but then he forgot.

BUSTED!!!

Lucky for Bret, the brownies were still good and the pan was not broken.  :)  I apologize if this was too long  winded, but it was just funny!  Here I thought I was the only one who was sneaky with chocolate.  I may have met my match!



Other Fun Things This Week



The Bachelor is now on!  I do believe we will see some fun drama this time around :)


source


Martinis!!!  My lovely brother gave us fancy martini glasses for Christmas and we have figured out a few good recipes.  Cosmos are the best!




Date night!  Les Mis.  Very good movie.  Teared up at the end and would recommend it to anyone who likes musicals.  I have not actually seen the musical in person, but I knew most of the story line from watching the 25th anniversary concert.  With that, I learned more depth of the story line from the movie and was able to follow the whole thing very easily.


Stretching out!



1/05/2013

Seawolf Park

A couple weeks ago on our visit to Galveston, we had a nice plan in mind.  First, to stop by a local vineyard for a tour and tasting, then to visit to the Tall Ship Elissa in the port.  Well, let's just say the Internet failed us and neither stop worked out.  We found ourselves in the tiny visitors center/shop at the Elissa Tall Ship chatting up the college student siting behind the desk.  The ship had been in dry dock for repairs and was supposed to be back in November, but, NOPE!  I guess repairs have taken longer than expected.


The empty slot where Tall Ship Elissa normally floats.  Empty!


The only problem with coming to Galveston for a day trip is the huge tease of these cruise ships. 


Luckily, with the help of the nice college student, and smart phones, we found Seawolf Park not too far away.  Seawolf Park is at the tip of Pelican Island, another small island off of Galveston.  It has some good fishing as we saw a number of both casual and serious fishermen, but the main attraction is actually the WWII Submarine USS CAVALLA and Destroyer Escort USS STEWART.   They are both self-guided tours where you explore at your own pace.  At only $7/person, it is a pretty nice deal.  The weather was beautiful the afternoon we visited, not too hot or cool.


USS CAVALLA



Gotta go up to get in.

In we go!

Lots of knobs and levers.

Officers Head...Toilet!

Patriotic wall paper.

What is this?

A fold down sink!

More knobs.

Which way Captain?!



Speaker and mic.

Garbage.

Nice and orderly.
Mess hall. with board games on the tables.  Smart!
And a TV that probably was not on the original.

Coffee...Yes please!


Let's get cookin'





Bunks.  I think boy scouts can have sleepovers here.
Pretty cool, but a little scary too!

I see UW Terrace Chair colored knobs!




Sectioned off compartments.





The light is the torpedo launcher an the green/brown thing to the right is the torpedo!


USS STEWART













Bow.



















Typewriter!



Soup!





Bathroom.




Fishing and Pelicans



Each person out there had about 5 poles just hanging out waiting to catch a fish.

Yes, that is a huge fish in that plastic bag.

Fishermen wadding out.





Pumpkin and Pi would have flipped out!