Monday, September 6, 2010

As of Late

Not much note-worthy going on here lately, as usual.  I can't believe August is already over - it flew by, and the poor blog has certainly suffered from my lack of attention and time to devote to it.  Such is life, I guess... only a few note-worthy events worth writing about... at least, note-worthy in comparison to the daily routine.

The (very old) elevator at work has been acting up for a while now - being jumpy, opening the doors with a little gap left to the floor, things like that.  They actually had to shut it down a few weeks ago to work on it.  Lately it started acting up again though, and it got more serious.  We got a few reports of people getting stuck on it, so we'd all wait a day or two, then gradually start back into the old routine of taking it.  One morning a few weeks ago, I was the first one on, and the doors started shutting.  I hit the button to hold them open for others, but it didn't work - one guy tried to stick his hand in front of the door too, but that didn't work either.  I was quickly shut in by myself, and I just figured the door buttons weren't working.  But sure enough, the elevator just sat there with no response to my floor request, door open request, nothing.  I'm sure it felt like longer than it was, but it had to have been at least 15-20 seconds that I was standing there and evaluating my options - call my office, press the call button on the elevator, etc... Thankfully, as if it decided it had sat there long enough, it eventually started moving and made its way up to my floor.  Six floors has never felt like it took so long... and I sure was glad to see those doors open when it got to #6.  I told myself then and there that I'd take the stairs on purpose from now on.  I also emailed the rest of my branch to let them know, since we'd already been getting a few alerts from people in weeks past who had encountered issues with it as well.  I've since been taking the stairs up and down every day, and let me tell you, six floors is a lot to start out with.  It has gotten easier over the course of a week or more doing it consistently, so here's hoping it continues to get easier.
Oh, and the elevator has had an "Out of Order" sign on it since then as well.

On the home front (well, near home), they've been putting up new housing developments around here like it's going out of style.  There is one close by on my way home that has gone from woods to dirt to tractor playground to suburbia, all within less time than the past year alone, and I've been documenting the craziness as I pass by...

There is also a new development going in very close down the street, near a large intersection (don't ask how silly the driveway location is).  New townhomes keep popping up in no time, and people are already moving in as well...
Along with this have been improvements to the road and intersection near the driveway... a la a new turn lane... well as resurfacing an entire section of the road right in front of our complex, which meant milling out the existing surface.  I go that way to work every day, so for a week or two, I had to ride through the milled out section and its deep joints - aka BUMPS.  Wanna know the joy of these bumps?  The tractor trailer traffic that uses this road got to ride over them too.  This translated into noises, even in the middle of the night, that actually sounded like thunder at times.  J even said it sounded one night like someone was breaking in a door - which tells me it's a lot louder than most of the car door noise and thug music we tend to get used to hearing around here.  Anyway, last week the road was finally resurfaced, and the joint was filled in.  Not only was my daily ride smoother, but we finally weren't wondering if it was storming outside or trying to tune out all the truck traffic.  Not exciting for most people, but believe me, we were glad to see that fixed.

Oh, one more fun part of this project?  The new lane striping was started last week too, and J and I rode on it shortly after the crew had finished their initial work.  The lane this picture is taken from is the only through lane from behind it - as in, all traffic is coming into this lane...
Anyone want to venture a guess as to what went wrong here, or what you're supposed to do?  Haha, it still looks like this, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I also got my husband to watch The Devil Wears Prada, and he actually enjoyed it.  J and I don't usually watch a lot of movies, but every now and then, we'll DVR one and finally get around to watching it together a month or two later.  I'd recorded this one for me a while back (or us if he wanted to join, and he likes Anne Hathaway) and we finally made it around to watching it about a month ago.  This channel had been messing up sporadically, and wouldn't you know that 2/3 of the way through the movie, our recording stopped.  J was actually enjoying it too, so we both were pretty bummed.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and I found it on TV again.  We got to watch the entire thing from start to finish this time, and J liked it too.  Fun stuff.  Next up, I'll put in some James Bond time with him to even things out a bit.

J and I got to have a nice date night last weekend too.  We don't spend a lot of time out and about, so it's always a fun change when we do.  It actually turned out to be very relaxing and a nice time together.  We went to Olive Garden, and the waiter really took "glass of wine" literally, almost overflowing J's glass.  He even gave us the leftover half glass from the bottle.
And my Tour of Italy served me for more than two meals in total...

I've also joined Flickr, a photo-sharing website.  I take so many photos, but I never seem to follow through with the sharing aspect of it, which kind of defeats the purpose, unless I want to be the only one ever seeing them.  Facebook has photos, but the quality degradation is terrible due to compressing down such large files - Flickr is also public, and it also allows me to easily link more photos into this blog as well (vs. just a bunch of phone pics that I typically use now).  So once I start making use of that, hopefully photo sharing will become a bit easier for me to follow through with.

We just finished up a Labor Day weekend at the beach and home, so more on that later (hopefully sooner than later, actually).  Maybe a good way to start out on a good foot with some picture-sharing...

Oh, and before we left for the beach this weekend, I'd secured a huuuuuuge centipede (the normal-looking kind this time) via the tried-and-true cover-with-a-cup method for J, but we both forgot to get it before we left.  Came back yesterday, and we finally remembered to get it today... and it wasn't there.  Darn thing somehow got out... guess those hundred or so legs are stronger than I figured.  So now I feel the need to go pull up everything in there until I find it... we'll see.  But there is a WANTED bug somewhere in my house right now, and his visiting days are numbered...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why Hello There

Not much interesting (or even uninteresting) has been happening around here lately.  Mainly just work... nothing new about that...

I've had multiple night meetings at work, including two in a row this week.  J has been really busy with work too.  So we're both knee-deep in all that, and finally getting home in the afternoon/evening (or even night for me sometimes) is definitely the welcoming part of our day.

J and I met up for supper and family time this past Saturday with Mom, Dad, and my brother, Jacob.  We all enjoyed some steakhouse and a bit of family hanging-out.  It's always nice to see family.

We didn't get into all the tax-free shopping with the rest of the world, but we did take advantage of a mail coupon for a new pair of tennis shoes for yours truly - much needed, I might add.  My feet are already thanking me after only a few days.

J and I ran our errands a little later than usual this weekend, so we enjoyed one of our go-to meals right now - Greek Fiesta...

On our way to one of our errands, we also passed under one of those rare moments at the airport when you time the ride perfectly and end up directly under one of the planes coming in to land.  For once, it wasn't me driving under it on my way to or from work - I was actually in the passenger seat for a change, so I snapped a pic with the phone... this never ceases to amaze me when you hear that huge plane going right over your head...

And while we're in picture mode, here are a few lovely (well, it was lovely in person...) pictures I grabbed on my way back from night meetings at work.  It seems like every time I'm coming back from one, I see the perfect photo opportunity for an awesome sunset... yet all I have is this camera phone, which unfortunately doesn't do so well at dusk or low light.  But you can see the slight idea of the beautiful light...

Day 1 had beautiful orange, pink, and purple tones throughout the sky

with straight line breaks in the clouds and tones... gorgeous

Day 2 ended a little earlier, so I got to catch some bright sun rays

followed by a big, beautiful, orange ball of fire as I got closer to home

Setting sun over the airport pond...

Well, thank goodness tomorrow is Friday.  Looking forward to some rest and downtime!  I sure do have enough (real, not phone) photos to last me through blog posts for months, but I can never seem to find the time to sit down and prepare them after work and everything else that needs doing.  Maybe that should add to the forever-long to-do list...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Recipe: Turkey Quesadillas

We've been looking for new recipes for lunches with low GI and low carbs, and J found a quesadilla recipe we started with.  We tweaked a few things based on what we wanted in them, as well as ingredients we found in stores.  We experimented this morning with them, made some changes to the recipe, and J and I both gave them our seal of approval when we had them for lunch - they were very tasty.  They were also very handy - a great size to fit in the hand, and not too big or small.  One makes a great snack, and two would be a great meal.

The half cans below reference the fact that we're making a second batch early in the week to last us through the rest of the work week - we'll use another pound of meat and the rest of the can contents then.  So you could use just one can of the same kind of beans.  We also used a rectangle tortilla in halves, actually called Lavash bread, that we found - flax, oats, and whole wheat - very healthy.  We're essentially making little pockets that are closed all around, instead of making the typical round quesadilla that is sliced like a pizza.  These are a lot easier for transport to work than having something that's sliced open on the sides.

Turkey Quesadillas

Small tortillas of your choice
1 lb ground turkey breast
2 cloves garlic (we used garlic powder)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 small can enchilada sauce
1/2 can dark red kidney beans
1/2 can black beans
Shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 300.
2. Combine turkey with spices, and cook in skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink.  Try to break up into as small pieces as possible.
3. Rinse beans in colander and add to pan.  Add enchilada sauce, and mix all ingredients until coated with sauce.
4. Add mixture by spoonful onto a tortilla until majority of area is covered, leaving edges free.  Do not pile high, as the top tortilla will need to easily reach the bottom one.
5. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
6. Using a basting brush, lightly coat the edges of the bottom tortilla with water.  Add the top tortilla, and sqeeze the edges together so they stick and enclose the ingredients.  Lightly coat the edges of the top tortilla with water.
7. Bake for 15 minutes.

Servings will depend on how many you make and how much you put into each one.  Out of the pound of meat and full can of total beans we had in there, we got 12 quesadillas total.

The original recipe offered all kinds of suggestions for toppings - salsa, avacado, etc.  I think sour cream would do nicely as well.  But honestly, these things are really good on their own - the bread is very tasty too, much better than a regular flour tortilla in my opinion.  And with the combination of the beans, cheese, and sauce, you don't even taste the turkey, which is usually the most bland part.

One tip I have is to only use the water right before you're going to seal them up and put them in the oven.  I had to do multiple rounds of them since only 4 would fit at a time, and I quickly learned that the water is definitely the secret to getting the edges to stick together.  So just wait to seal them until you're ready to get the next batch in, then spread the water on the edges and stick the top layer on.

We used our pizza stone to bake them on, since it gives a nice crisp to food without the scalding that comes from a metal pan - they actually turned out nice and firm, much more so than I expected, so they're easy to handle and pick up to eat.  We also cooled them on a cooling rack as they came out of the oven.  The only thing to watch out for is sometimes the sauce may leak out of the bottom slightly, so just flip over when you take them out of the oven.

Ready to go into the oven...

After coming out of the oven, nice and crispy brown on the sides...

Hot and steamy!

Yum yum!

We ate 4 today, so the remaining 8 are ready to take for lunches...

They certainly were awesome straight out of the oven.  But the only unseen factor is how it will be when we take them for lunches at work.  Microwave is typically the only option, but I think they'd still be great if we had access to a toaster oven.  We shall see.

Next up:  Greek food.  We've been enjoying Greek Fiesta more and more, and I'm on my way to learning how to recreate our favorite meals they have here at home.  Got some items at the store yesterday, so we'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Day That Started Last Night

(aka "The Night Post That Almost Was")

Today was quite a day.  It actually started during the night last night with me waking up nauseous and sicky feeling.  I haven't had that feeling in a long, long time, but I used to get it in college - basically indigestion that makes me feel awful unless I'm sitting up.  No clue what made it happen randomly last night, but I do know it's the one time I've actually wished it was just time to go ahead and get up for work - no such luck.  I tried to lay halfway propped up on my back pillow for a while because I was so darn tired, but all that got me was a sore neck and some light rest.  I was thiiiiis close to just getting up and coming downstairs, which inevitably would have led me to do exactly what I'm doing right now, because everybody knows there's nothing on TV at 2 or 3 am.  But somehow I was able to fall back asleep, because next thing I know, I was being woken up and told it was time to get up for work.  Hooray...

It's funny, because today was a big meeting at work, and I had some mapping to finish up this morning before lunch and leaving for the meeting this afternoon.  So I had actually done really well last night with getting things done early here at home, pulling everything together for today, getting showered, and winding down before turning the light out at a decent time so I could get some good rest and be ready to go today.  Haha, shows what I know.

Due to that extremely weird schedule, I had some really foggy moments at work, as well as some really on-the-ball moments.  Meeting went well, but a lot of the day was spent in the rain, trying to keep maps and meeting materials dry.  Not complaining though, because we desperately need the rain, and it certainly helped cool things down a bit around here.  But the rain definitely doesn't help with my drowsiness!

I even left work for home before rush hour, since I'd gotten to work early this morning.  But this immediately began the most tense part of my day by far.  The traffic on the ramp to my main thoroughfare to get home was at a stand-still.  After trudging along and cresting the hill, I could see something a ways away that was completely across the road, blocking both outbound lanes.  As I got closer, we all had to merge into one lane to turn off into a neighborhood... at 5:00pm... in Raleigh... downtown.  As I turned, I got a good glimpse of the problem:

Maybe got stuck pulling out?  Trying to straddle the median and see what his truck can do?  I have no idea.  I do know that I sure hope he wasn't taking that SUV back to its owners.

Those neighborhoods are all somehow connected over to another major road... that just happens to be shut down in various areas right now for repair.  Of course.  And I don't even know my way through these little neighborhoods anyway, but I just went the opposite way of all the stupid traffic.  I followed what my direction sense was telling me, and at least made it back to downtown, not even a mile from my work.  Great... just wasted 30 minutes.  But I found another way out to try, which turned out to be not so bad.  I even got to ride through the new Hillsborough St. project, which was neat to see...

Pretty new medians...

I eventually made my way back to my main thoroughfare to get home, which I had to do because this whole time, I was in the staff car.  Gotta love that I not only had to detour all around Raleigh for the heck of it, but I couldn't even be in the comfort of my own vehicle to do it.  Oh well.  If another person has to drive the staff car before I have it again next week, I hope I can plead my case to them as to why I didn't refill the gas tank.

To top it all off, on the way home, this was the weather (which also reflects the general feeling I had by this time)...

Dreary and worn down...

Regardless of the good and bad, overall, today feels like it was one of the busiest I've had in a while.  Which is odd, because time-wise, it really wasn't.  But it's funny what the contents of your day can do to how you feel about it.  Yet another reason I'm not a fan of Raleigh.

Well, at least it ended pretty nicely.  I have a kind husband who was waiting at home for me and willing to head out for a nice, relaxing dinner out at the steak house for a change.  Now I'm home, a good hot shower helped wash off the day, I'm in my comfy clothes, squishy socks have replaced the day's nice shoes, and it's time to get some rest and try to replace last night's weirdness.

Tomorrow is another day!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

For my Fellow Engineers

(and all you nerds too...)

Just a little something to enhance the fondness for our self-proclaimed nerdiness...

A coworker sent this last week, and I got a good laugh.  It displays not only our thought processes, but also the way we hunt to make an answer work, instead of just searching for the only correct answer.

(Due to the fact that I don't typically worry "for" things, I'm thinking this was made by someone with a little bit of lingering language barrier... and I'm assuming the medical student said "However."  Regardless, funny...)

There's your knee-slapper for the day...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Letter to the Centipedes

To any monster centipedes still hiding out in my home, or those outside thinking about coming in:

I've just about had enough of you for one season (or a lifetime).  I was quite taken by surprise the first time a freakishly fuzzy thing scooted out from beside the bottom stair when I was putting on my shoes a month ago, and I had to trap you with a cup.

I had never seen your kind before, so I had to google you.  Google said you liked warm and humid places, so I figured you were just lost.  We have nothing in here for you, and it's most definitely hotter and more humid outside than it is in our house.

Then your buddy decided to scare me by making his presence known under my vacuum another morning.  He really pushed my buttons though when I came back with a killing tool and was gone, and I had to leave him in my house all day.  We made amends though when he showed his face that afternoon and was taken captive.  J would have let him live in the great outdoors, but he had a homing beacon on our house, so he met his end.

One of your little ones really pushed the limit when they were found playing inside my lunchbox... even worse, inside my cup inside my lunchbox.  NOT COOL.

A few nights ago, one of your elders who apparently has been around a long time decided it was safe to come out in the wall on the stairwell.  Guess he thought we were upstairs for good, but little did he know, I had to go back downstairs.  J was in no mood for bug-saving games, so a huge wad of tissue was called in for duty.  Sorry if this guy was important or something.

But you guys have now gone too far.  This morning was the last straw - coming into my bedroom?  No sir, I'm not going to take it.  The thought of you guys near my bed and in my clothes... not gonna fly.  J found one of your young'uns in the kitchen again too, so I'm thinking you guys have gotten a little too bold with what you think is OK around here.

It's a good thing I don't have pets or babies around yet.  Because the bug spray is coming out this weekend in full force.  There will be no entry surface to cross without walking through our poison.  I'm sorry, I know you're all God's creatures too, but you've overstepped the boundaries here.

I hope you've enjoyed it while you can, because next week will be like walking on hot coals for you... well, hot coals coated with poison.  And one day, when our home isn't rented, I promise you my windows and doors will be sealed so well that you won't even have an option.

In closing, I think it's time to terrorize someone else now. Move on please, because even though I really can't stand your creepy-crawliness slinking across my floor and walls, I still don't really care to pick up your poisoned bodies either.

Please pass this along to all your friends.

Sincerely (and not kidding),

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Home Grown Food

I think there's nothing better than homegrown and home-prepared food.  It's natural, good for you (usually, ha - depending on the method of preparation), and you know exactly what's been put into it.  Nothing processed about it, and the flavors are just amazing and fresh.

I got to see my maternal grandparents last weekend, and my grandpa in his 80s still keeps a big garden every year.  We've grown up with his incredibly tasty green beans, lovingly called GGBs (Grandpa's Green Beans).  Silver queen corn is my absolute favorite, which we get every summer there.  And at some point in the last few years of my life of not liking raw tomatoes, my tastes have changed and I can now be guaranteed as much tomato as I can possibly handle at their house, as well as a bagfull to come home with me for continued enjoyment.  We got to enjoy a seemingly unending supply of all 3 of those things last weekend at their house, along with some tasty roast and my personal favorite... fried okra.  I don't think I could ever, ever get tired of fried okra.  However, I could do without the itchiness that comes with raw okra... but that's another fun story.

So I came home with the aforementioned supply of extra homegrown garden food.  I haven't had a chance all week to enjoy any of it - it's just been sitting on my counter.  Two squash, 3 ears of corn, and a big back of tomatoes have been waiting and beckoning me.  So last night, I got in the kitchen and set to making myself a yummy meal of fresh-from-the-garden food.  The first thing I started was a plate of fried squash.  I grew up eating that at the grandparents' house probably every time we were there, and I haven't had it in years and years.  I couldn't even remember the taste of it, but I could remember how much yummy goodness was involved.  I used safflower oil, which we use around here instead of vegetable oil, and a little cornmeal, salt, and pepper.  I think I probably ate 10 or 15 pieces just during the cooking process between frying rounds.  And I think I melted with the first bite - so good.

Next was cooking an ear of corn, and last was making a tomato sandwich.  Now I am seriously not a fan of mayonnaise - but I don't think I've always had this strong of a dislike for it.  Somewhere along the line, the consistency, smell, and taste began to make me queasy.  To this day I shudder when I have to cook with it.  And I still did when I got it out last night.  However, you absolutely can't have a true tomato sandwich without it.  So I did put a thin layer on the bread (as I still shuddered at the nasty glopp-i-ness of it).  I can't even taste it, but it really does make the sandwich, along with a little pepper of course!  When I finished getting everything ready, I showed it all to J, who wasn't in the mood for any of that food that night, but actually said it looked reeeeally good.

So here is evidence of the incredible yummy goodness of a home-grown and home-prepared meal.  I may or may not have eaten an entire squash and an entire tomato all by myself.  That's ok, right?  Right??

Also, more evidence of the goodness of homegrown food:  the peach.  You can buy canned peaches all day long, but nothing will ever, ever, ever compare to the incredible taste of a fresh peach right off the tree.  We had 3 right off the farm, and I ate them 3 different ways.  Observe...

Whole, of course

Freshly sliced for an easy snack at work
(Anyone else see mandarin oranges here?)

My personal favorite, freshly sliced in a bowl of plain cheerios - I know Dad favors this too, because he's the one that used to make it for me!

I didn't try it with the skin on, because for some reason that's not very appetizing to me.  And coincidentally, smoothies have been on my mind this afternoon.  I suppose I could have made myself a nice peach smoothie too, but it didn't occur to me then.  Guess I just need to find me some more fresh peaches!

So here's to homegrown food.  We had a small garden in our backyard growing up too, and I always thought that was a really special thing.  Hopefully, one day I can be one of the people cooking from my own garden and handing out extra vegetables and fruit to folks.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Anybody else?

Anybody else despise the idiots in traffic that fly all the way to the front of a lane closure and bully their way in front of you with such speed and rudeness that you're force to slam on brakes as they weasel in line uninvited, lest you slam into them with no choice?

Yeah, me too.

Anybody else want to shake some common sense into the dummies that stop and sit in the middle of a free flow turn lane, looking back to their left to find an opening to merge into, instead of looking forward and seeing that there is an entire open lane in front of them?

I sure do.

Anybody else want to go put up a few more better-placed, bigger signs at said turn lane so that said dummies will have a better chance of seeing the already-marked free flow characteristic that awaits them ahead, giving the rest of us behind them that have a little common sense a chance to save on our brakes and gas?

I think I'll go get me some cardboard today and do that.

Happy Thursday!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Recipe: S&J Spaghetti

We used to eat spaghetti pretty often because we both love it so much.  But recently we've really been working hard on eating well and portion control, and spaghetti always tends to turn into quite a hefty meal.  So it's been quite a while since we had some, and in our weekly grocery shopping yesterday we decided to make some this weekend.

I cooked it all up last night, and it was the first time we'd had it in a long time... and I swear I think it was the best version yet.  The sauce was so tantalizing even while just stirring it on the stove... yummm.  Jason happened to eat the first bite, and his eyes opened wide while his spaghetti-filled mouth muttered "mmm-MMM!!"  I think I had the exact same reaction as soon as I had my first bite.  Maybe we just haven't had it in so long that we just forgot how good it was, or maybe this really was the best batch yet.

The back-story here is that when we first met, we knew we were both fans of spaghetti.  We learned the specifics of how each other likes their spaghetti... such as the fact that J likes a lot of extra sauce, and he hates watery sauce oozing liquid onto his plate under his noodles.  He will choose homemade sauce every time over storebought sauce in a jar, and he will always prefer meat (preferably ground beef) in his sauce over just marinara.  He doesn't like other types of pasta besides spaghetti, and he likes parmesan cheese on top of his sauce.  I think he's also incapable of having spaghetti without some type of bread... gotta have that bread to sop up the extra sauce (hence the purpose of the extra sauce).  I, on the other hand, prefer the perfect ratio of sauce to noodles - I can easily do without bread most of the time, and I don't like to have a lot of sauce left over with no noodles to use it up with.  Even though I wouldn't choose it purposely, watery sauce doesn't bother me so much - but I definitely don't want sauce that's so thick it lacks moisture and is hard to get down.  I don't mind switching up pastas, and I actually love a little cheddar cheese melted up under my sauce.  I don't mind meat, but sometimes a nice smooth marinara with chunky tomatoes is sooo good too.

So every time we made spaghetti for a while, we experimented with what we liked.  And this "spaghetti experiment" has been going on for quite some time.  We had some meatless sauces, some with beef (even different types of beef) and some with ground turkey, various types of pasta, various brands of pasta, different sauce brands, different ingredients, different spices, different ratio mixtures, sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes with spinach or zucchini blended in, sometimes with beans.  Sometimes a salad on the side, sometimes Texas Toast, sometimes loaf bread with butter and garlic.

A few things always remained constant from the beginning of our experiments.  We avoid "white" food whenever possible because we try to stick to low GI foods.  So we always go with either a brand we like that has lots of fiber and low net carbs, or a whole wheat brand, which was an experiment in itself to find one that actually had some good flavor to it.  And with the exception of one of the very first times, we have always made the sauce mix ourselves - no jars of ready-made sauces.  At one point I was using a canned sauce as one of my ingredients that was flavored with various spices, but I've since moved on to regular sauce and adding the spices myself.  And I think we've come up with what seems to be the perfect spice mix.

Last night's version was a mix of both types of pastas since I had a box of each available.  But we're on our way to using all whole wheat, because I'm really making an effort to eliminate preservatives from our intake.  And these other pastas that still taste like white pasta but have low net carbs still have some preservatives in them.  But really, even the whole wheat pasta we like has some additives in it.  So until the day that I get the ultimate mixer and learn to make my own pasta... this will have to do.

I can also say with utmost certainty that the meat makes a huge difference.  Whether you want to use ground chicken, turkey, or beef, the quality needs to be good.  We were buying a lot of very high quality ground meat for a while at the grocery store, which was also the lowest fat content possible, and it was putting a big dent in the grocery budget.  So we found one day that our buy-in-bulk warehouse carried 93% beef, which was great compared to the only previous choice of 80/20.  I have a vacuum sealer, so for a few months we bought the 93% 4lb container and divided it up into 1lb sections for sealing and freezing.  The freezing and cooking never adversely affected it, but we both definitely noticed a quality difference in our sauce due to the meat itself - much more grit found in our bites, and the meat was a lot greasier and watery when cooking.  So we've since gone back to purchasing the best beef I've ever tasted - the cows are fed a purely natural diet, and I wholly believe that has a huge part to do with how good the meat is.  This meat even smells better when cooking.  When we were experimenting with other meats, we made sure we used quality ground turkey breast or ground chicken breast as well.

The final version has kidney beans in it, as a result of us trying to work in more fiber and make the meal a little more filling when we were taking it as lunches to work a while back.  Sometimes I like to add in a can of tomatoes, and I don't think J prefers this, but sometimes even some spinach leaves thrown in towards the end are really good.  The beans/tomatoes definitely add more bulk to the meal, and the 4 servings it makes are already pretty large in my opinion.  But they're filling without making you feel overly full, which is what's great about fiber and low GI meals.

So, in light of the "spaghetti experiments" we worked on together and pretty much years put into perfecting it, I've dubbed this recipe...

"S&J Spaghetti"

Makes 4 hefty servings.
(Updated to actually add the numbers I had published without and had to go look for...)

4 servings (224g/8oz) dry spaghetti (we've been liking Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Blend)
Sea salt
EV Olive Oil
1 lb ground beef
1 15oz can Hunt's regular tomato sauce
1 6oz can Hunt's regular tomato paste
1 16oz can Bush's dark red kidney beans
Garlic powder
Paremsan cheese


Put water on the stove to boil for pasta.  Also put a large pan on medium-high heat.

When water is boiling, add a little sea salt, then break spaghetti in half and add to the pot.  Add a few drops of EVOO to water and give everything a stir.  Turn heat down a bit and let pasta cook, stirring occasionally.

When pan is hot, add the beef.  Cook beef fully, and make sure that it is broken up enough that there are no large chunks remaining.

Add the can of tomato paste to the pan, then add the can of tomato sauce.  Use a little water to get the extra sauce out of the can and add to pan.  Use a large spoon to break up the tomato paste and mix everything together.  It will take a few minutes of the heat and stirring to disperse the paste.

When the paste, sauce, and beef are smoothly mixed, turn down the heat to about medium.  For the spices, you'll have to learn how much you prefer, but ours is not overly strong or spicy by any means.  I sprinkle the garlic powder into the sauce, probably using a good 1/4 tsp, if not more.  Then I add the oregano and basil, probably using at least a good full tsp of each.  Stir in the spices.  (Add in tomatoes or spinach leaves here if used.)

Rinse the kidney beans in a colander under cool water until bubbles no longer appear on the beans.  Drain well, add to the sauce, and mix everything together.  Keep it on the heat for another minute or two, then remove from heat.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and separate into 4 servings.  Then add the sauce to the pasta servings until all of the sauce is used.  Top servings with parmesan cheese.

Serve with preferred sides... salad, bread, etc.

We like to treat ourselves to New York brand texas toast every now and then - sooo good, and suits the spaghetti perfectly.  (Not exactly non-white and non-preservative, but hey - it's a treat.)  This recipe does have what most people would probably consider "extra" sauce, but the noodle serving is actually a great portion size.  And the sauce really isn't that much once you mix it on your plate - the beans take up a lot of the room that you'll see.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

More Bug Torment

Ok people, this is getting ridiculous.  No joke, the evening of my last crazy post about all the bugs, I had the pleasure of almost having a conniption fit at the finding of this...

...on. my. TOILET. SEAT.  I lift up the lid and get the surprise of the month.  I think I probably jumped back a few feet while simultaneously gasping... I think my mind was reeling at the ickiness I would have experienced if I hadn't looked first...  Anyway, I'm in my pajamas, getting ready to go to bed, J is already asleep, and I have to take care of this thing myself.  The thing didn't move at all, but the moment I tried to push it into the toilet, the thing half jumped/half floated through the air and landed on the floor - it all happened so fast that I'm not sure if it flew or what.  So as I try to work up the courage to do the deed, I keeping hering these small shrieks and gagging sounds, before I realize they're involuntarily coming from me.  It's pitiful, really.  I just get these tight feelings in my chest and gut that I can't get rid of, even now just writing and thinking about it.  In the end, it took a huge wad of TP, a quick flush of the toilet, some clorox wipes, and some fun TV to help me get over the event.

I think all this craziness and bug surprises have made me a little jumpy.  Today a bulb blew in my bathroom when I turned on the lights, and I think I gasped and jumped about 2 feet.  I really need to chill, haha.

And just for reference, I cleaned out my phone and found a picture I'd taken of the lovely surprise in my cup inside my lunch box last week...

So much fun...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Creepy Crawlies Are After Me

So, long time no blog... but I had a realization that I figured was blog-worthy.

Tuesday morning as I was eating breakfast, I saw movement in the kitchen out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see a lighting-fast-crawling-freak-of-nature-thing scooting across my kitchen floor and onto the carpet. By the time I got up to grab a trapping method (benefit of having husband around - I do the trapping, then call him in for the kill), the thing had disappeared. I searched all over the place for the thing but never found it.  Unfortunately, I ended up having to leave for work knowing I had a huge creepy-crawly pet somewhere in my home.  Makes me shudder just thinking about it - I promise you the thing was at least 2 inches long.

When I got home that day, I started straightening up a few things.  Low and behold, this thing came crawling directly across my path in the hallway (must not be very smart, if you ask me).  I hurried to the kitchen to get my trusty plastic cup that has been my go-to trap for monsters on the carpet.  Thankfully, he didn't scoot as fast as that morning for some reason, so I was able to catch him up under the cup.  The plan from there is typically to let the cup sit there till J gets home, who then gets the honor of doing the bug duty. With tiny creatures, he usually just grabs a paper towel or tissue and does the deed.  But with big monsters, a lot of times he'll do the slide-cardboard-under-the-cup deal and take the thing back outside somewhere.  That ended up being his method of choice yesterday as well when I showed him the waiting cup.

Now, you're probably thinking I've got some sort of bug phobia.  And I'd probably agree with you.  I don't know at what point that changed, but years ago I used to have no fear when it came to squashing things that were unwelcome in my home.  Now I can't even squish one - I almost get sick if I do and hear the noises of bug death.  BLEGH... gives me the goosebumps.  Maybe the change came when I was off at college by myself and was BOMBARDED by bugs.  I swear to you, my apartment senior year was a direct line to some sort of colony.  Literally for a few months, my bathroom and kitchen always surprised me with a bug of many different varieties... on the ceiling above my head while I'm at the sink, on the wall while I'm in the shower, shooting across the floor at me.  I ended up with bug traps up under my bathroom cabinet, spraying poison all over the place, and I even had to set off those stupid bug bombs (which ended up setting of the smoke alarms, which I had to leave on because you can't go back in for hours with the exploding bombs... I just couldn't win).  And even after all that, I still had bug issues.  The apartment office was no help either.  So I checked everything - every last corner in the house for holes and cracks, places in the doors and windows where they might squeeze through...  My last resort was to duct-tape up the overflow hole in my bathroom sink, and for some strange reason, my bug issues were mostly resolved after that.  Go figure.  So unless they finally ate the poison from the traps and carried it back to their immense colony somewhere, they were entering through my sink??

Fast forward to now, in my current apartment, and I still have bug issues.  It's actually a townhome, so I'm on the ground and have a door directly leading to a sidewalk surrounded by landscaped areas with mulch and bushes - perfect hiding ground for the crawlies that want to sneak in my front door and windows.  And I promise you that multiple times a week I'm calling J into the room I'm in to kill a bug that I see.  The typical breed is spiders - a lot of them fairly small, but we've had some monster spiders that require me running and getting out the cup trap.  We also get the little rolly pollies in the back room, which obviously are coming in via the stupid sliding doors, but I don't mind them so much.  But I just can't imagine where these monster things come from.

I started to think about it a while back, and I wondered how many cracks and holes are probably in this place in areas that I can't check - back behind/in kitchen cabinets, behind the frig, behind the washer and dryer... I mean it's not like they swoop in the front door unseen for the 2 seconds that we have it open every day.  Yet I constantly find them trying to make a run for it across my living room floor, across my kitchen, down my walls, and even defying gravity and scaling my ceiling.  The worst was when I had a spider DROP DOWN onto me from the ceiling like a ninja, web and all, while I'm sitting peacefully on my couch watching TV.  Talk about a freak-out moment - who the heck could be prepared for that??  Then of course the couch is dark and patterned, and the spider elusively got away and wasn't found that night.  GAH.

Earlier in the spring, I began to do some investigating in our kitchen.  Ever since I've lived here, the corner cabinet in the kitchen has had some black and white spots on the floor under it.  I'd clean it, and a few weeks later, the spots are back.  After checking it out, I realized that the cabinets had an open area up under the front that creates a perfect haven for these creatures.  I'd swear to J that something is living up under there and leaving its nasty deposits on our floor for us.  And with every kitchen spider I killed, I figured I might have finally gotten the culprit.  But no, the spots kept reappearing.  So finally one day, I got out the most trusted common tool in the world - duct tape.  And I taped up the underside of the front of the cabinet - completely sealed it.  No more spots in the corner... but they began appearing under other parts of the cabinet.  So one day, it occurred to me to use a mirror instead of craning my head upside down against the kitchen floor.  I examined the entire length of the cabinets... and in one right in the middle lived one of the creepiest spiders I've ever seen.  And right beside it... an egg sack.  So we'd finally found the culprit, but getting rid of it was another thing - apparently everything with more than 4 legs that barges into our house has lightning-fast speed capabilities.  But J got it... and I took a picture.  I haven't yet done the research to identify what it was, but it sure was ugly.  And after going back and looking at these pictures again, I don't think I'm going to do the research.  This particular spider memory will just fade into oblivion... because rest assured, all of the cabinets in my kitchen and 2 bathrooms now have completely duct-tape-sealed areas up under the front.

"Hey guys... mind if I shack up under your cabinets and excrete on your kitchen floor? No? Ok then, see ya around the house..."

(yes it's in an old snack bag from my lunchbox - I wasn't about to examine this thing up close without some sort of physical barrier giving me superiority...)

J pokes fun sometimes and says I have bug radar, but it's probably true.  I think growing up my mom was always spotting bugs and just things in general that were out of place on the floor, walls, etc., and that very well may be where I inherited the radar from.  It's not like I'm constantly on the lookout specifically for bugs, but I do have an eye for detail.  I can't help it if I'm looking around while making dinner and I see an odd black spot on the floor or wall - wouldn't that ring a bell for you that all is not right in the home, that something is there that shouldn't be?  Well, I think so... so I check it out.  And 98% of the time I've just spotted a bug.  The other 2% is random stray dryer lint in the hallway, a string from somebody's pants or socks, or outside paraphernalia such as leaves or mulch.

You know, I think I have more than bug radar.  I think it's a bug homing beacon or something that I have no control over.  Because how many bugs has J spotted since we've met?  Um, I can't even remember any.  I'm always the one stumbling upon them at home, or having them drop on me on the couch or in the car (yes, in the car too... yet another freak-out moment).  Then yesterday, when J took this massive creepy crawly thing with a hundred legs outside and THREW it into the parking lot, the thing continually seemed to turn around and start crawling back towards our place.  No matter what J did with sticks or shoes to shoo it the other way (conveniently into the path of cars through the lot), the thing would eventually turn back around, like it had a signal set on our place.  Needless to say, I came back inside before the inevitable happened.  When J came back in, I was informed that he didn't get bug guts on his new tennis shoes, but I didn't need to worry about this particular crawly coming back in here anymore.

So fast forward to yesterday morning.  I come downstairs to get my bags together, and head to the shoe rack that sits at the base of the stairs.  I grab my shoes, sit on the 2nd stair to put them on, and what do I see out of the corner of my eye?  No joke, another of these creepy crawlies like the previous day shoots away from the stairway into the living room.  There's no telling how close I came to this thing actually touching me at the stairs and creating a major freak-out moment again.  But thankfully, I was able to book it with one sock on, grab a cup, and trap the sucker in front of the door.  No clue why, but my curiosity got the best of me and I raised the cup for a hot second to get a better look at the type of thing that's apparently trying to torment me.  I should have known better from the lightning-fast one the day before, but it shot out from under the cup.  I tried trapping it again, and in doing so laid the cup down halfway across the monster, hearing a nasty buggy-cracking noise, I get the shudders and gag, and thankfully trap the thing again in its entirety.  With all of this happening before 7am, I can assure you that I was ready and willing to get out of the house of creepy crawlies.  I think J ended up taking this out outside again but not even giving it the benefit of the doubt as he did yesterday, since he was headed to work too and had on the infamous steel toe boots.  Ick.  I informed him that he was not to walk around the house in those boots now.

I was also reminded that this same type of creature (although dead) had surprised me last Monday morning at home from inside my LUNCH BOX.  Although there was no food in it, I guess he was curious, and ended up meeting his fate at some point over the weekend at the bottom of my plastic water cup (which was directly put in the dishwasher after discovery).  So, in an effort to become more familiar with these unwelcome guests, I've done a little research of my own.  The immediate words that come to mind are centipedes and millipedes.  These crawlies are definitely somehow related, and I think I've found the one that's been trying to drive me crazy these past few days.  I was so grossed out that I wasn't even about to take a picture of it myself at home.  And I can't even stand to look at the photo on this internet article, so it's definitely not earning a photo spot on my blog.  But you can see it here - it may not be the exact thing, but it's close enough.  Talk about gross...

Anyway, the plan this weekend is to do another round of the bugspray around the doors and windows (even though we did it about a month ago and it's supposed to last 12 months).  And I know you could be wondering about the cleanliness of my home, but I promise you I keep this place straight and clean.  So I just don't understand the torment.  But I will deal, as I always have, and rise above.  Yes, I will rise above the bugs.

...but I still wish they could be like these bugs instead... at least they'd be nice and talk to me.

Heck, maybe they are, and I just have the evil ones invading my home...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Traffic Rant, Part II

I left at the worst usual time today from work, and encountered the same traffic that made me have the same reaction as in the last post.

I even changed lanes on I-40 today into one in which a crazy little white car, though a ways back, was obviously flying past most other cars.  (But by now I've realized that everybody making this commute has to be out for themselves while on this road, so I've just joined in the attitude in order to keep myself sane on the drive.)  After passing some slower cars, I switched lanes back again to the original one I was in.  By now, the little white car has been tailgating me for a while.  No biggie, now that I'm where I need to be for my exit, they can do whatever the heck they want to.  Little white car proceeds to drive up beside me, and I look to see what crazy-little-white-car-driver looks like.  I can't see though, because she is leaning all up on her steering wheel and checking her other blind spot as she simultaneously swerves into another lane away from me.  But, in her hasty passing, I got a glimpse of something that made me do a double-take.  Her toddler daughter, in the back seat, was as close to the window as could be, staring straight out at me, giving me the evil eye while shaking her head and making all her colorful hair clips in her braids flip around, and wagging her finger at me like she was telling me off reprimanding me.  Must have been something she learned from her crazy-driving-don't-get-in-my-way-or-me-and-my-toddler-will-tell-you-off-because-we-deserve-the-entire-road-to-ourselves lovely mother.  I was glad to see the kid sticking up for her mom, who was too busy to glare at me herself because she had to work on playing the vroom/switch-a-roo/tap game around other people's bumpers.

Thank goodness I was exiting.

And if that wasn't fun enough, once off the interstate, I got to enjoy some guy's R&B nothing but bass music who was sitting behind me at the light, which was loud enough to drown out even my own tunes.  Honestly, I don't know how folks like that deal with it - it hurts my ears, and I'm not 3 feet from the sound source.  I mean, I have my times of my own loud music, but I make a point not to bother others with it, and bass is a completely different story altogether.  Guess that's where the difference of common decency and respect come in with this world.  Oh well.

Man, I just love Raleigh...

...It keeps my cynicism and sarcasm in check, and I'm now a healthy user of cross-outs and always proof my writing, just to make sure you guys don't get an overdose of cynical Sarah.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vroom, tap, switch-a-roo, tap...

Loosely translated, that was the plan of virtually every single car on my way home from work.  It's really making me consider getting up at some crazy early hour just to drive into work and home in the afternoon at times that no one else is on the road.

Today it was pretty much like everybody (except me) had organized a zig-zag game of lane switching, and just for fun, the rules required that you do it within 4 feet of somebody's bumper.  And 2 feet gives you extra points.  And turn signals are OPTIONAL, just to make things more interesting.  And the more you tap your brakes, the better.

And that wasn't even rush hour.

It really does get to you after a while.  Time to seriously consider changing hours.

These are a few photos I've taken on my way home from work sometimes when the amount of traffic amazes even me.  Pay special attention to the other side, which is even worse.  Honestly, I don't know how the people in it stand to sit there like that every day.  Never fails to be consistently backed up every afternoon (with the exception of when a wreck completely blocks all lanes).  But in the year-plus that I've been making this drive, I've noticed even my side has consistently gotten more congested.  To the crazy point that it was at today.

(when the opposite direction was completely blocked by a wreck ahead, and the only traffic was entering from the entrance ramp)

...Now I'm at home unwinding.  Need it.

(Disclaimer:  These pictures are taken while driving, but all I do is hold the phone up and snap the camera button.  No watching involved.  Eyes remained on the road.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's my Birthday!

Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to Sarah,
Happy Birthday to me!

Even though, after having an annoying head cold for a few days, this is pretty much how I feel...

So conflicted...  I just want to rest, yet it's my birthday, so I wish I felt like this...

(If you ever want some funny entertainment with animals, go here or here - definitely good for a laugh, especially from the animals' perspectives.)

Here are a few photos from last year's birthday...

The tasty cake made by my mommy (that inflicted sugar shock, haha!)

Dad steals the candles, as always :-)

Strawberries everywhere...

So, here's to another year... and the past 25!