Monthly Archives: May 2013

Portland or bust

Hey.

Things are insane in my life right now.

Work is busy.

We’re getting ready for our largest event of the year at Walton Arts Center (our annual Art of Wine Festival).

I’m heading off to my second year of Venue Management School on Friday (with a short stop on the way for a Dave Matthews Band concert, my second of this tour, with a friends from said Venue Management School).

I’m also packing.

No, not for a trip.

For a move.

And no, not for a move across town.

For a move to Portland, OR.  Yeah, the Sweet Boy and I are stoked and I don’t have much time to tell you the exciting details, but I have a new job as Director of Event Services at the Oregon Convention Center and wow.

Wow is really all I’ve been able to say about this for the past couple of weeks.  Actually, I think I posted a picture on instagram the day I was offered the position that said “OMG”.  So I suppose “OMG” sums it up as well.  I’ve been looking for a job at a new venue for some time and this one could not be more perfect.

Disclaimer: I’ve been at Walton Arts Center for 9 years.  I love it here, but it was time for a new scene.  I rent houses so I can move every few years.  Sometimes you need to do that with your job, too. 

The Sweet Boy and I are busy packing up our lives, selling things on Craigslist and doing paperwork for our new town home in NE Portland.

Let the adventure begin!

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New topics are good topics

Hi… my name is Erin.

I’m a menu planner.

Whew, glad I got that off my chest.  When someone says they menu plan, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  Be honest.  Is it that I must have 5 kids at home and I’m one of those crazy people with a HUGE deep freeze full of a month’s worth of groceries including gallons of milk?

It’s okay if that is what first came to mind.

No really, it’s fine!  If I were to be honest, it’s the first thing that comes to my mind too.  However, it really couldn’t be further from the truth.  I don’t have 5 kids.  In fact, I don’t even have 1.  It’s just me and the sweet boy… well, and the Schmoo cat, but she doesn’t count.

So why do I plan?  Is it to save money?  No.  Is it to save time?  No.  Then why?

Simply put, it’s because I was tired of eating out.  The sweet boy and I both work in the entertainment industry (performing arts, people, get your mind out of the gutter) and that is a taxing profession.  We work long hours, hard hours, exhausting hours.  If I don’t have a dinner plan when I get home, I’m most likely going to order Chinese, pizza or make a run through the dreaded Taco-Bell (uh, gross).  Sure, that might not sound too bad, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret…

those places and that food makes you FAT.

There, I said it.  They make you fat.

When I cook at home, I lose weight.  Huh, amazing!  What an easy diet.  I’d like to call it the “don’t go out to eat and instantly lose pounds” diet.  I wouldn’t call it that if it weren’t the truth.

Also, I have about eleventy-billion cook books so I might as well use them on a regular basis.

I thought I’d share with all of you my process.  I start off with a quick inventory of my pantry, fridge and freezer.  I like to try and use a lot of what I have stored away.  I used to think I had to stock pile my food supply but then I realized it’s much more freeing to not have a year’s worth of ground beef stashed in the freezer.

I’m not a doomsday prepper, I shouldn’t hoard food like one.

After getting a good idea of what’s on hand, I start my menu.  I start with the thaw and go food (like leftover spaghetti sauce, frozen Swiss steak or leftover beans and ham).  Those are easy and I slot those into nights when I know I’ll either be exhausted when I get home or I’ll be home late.  Then I try to find recipes or meal options that can use up the other stuff on hand.  I have a TON of pumpkin in my pantry so I’ve (unsuccessfully, mind you)  tried to use it for some savory options.  Maybe a soup?  Perhaps some black bean and pumpkin burritos?  I also seem to have more pasta or polenta than any one person needs, so dishes using those supplies up get added quite often.  The same goes for any frozen meat.  If I have smoked sausage, I’ll probably do some black beans and rice.  If there is a ham bone in the freezer, I’ll do some bean soup.  The goal is to buy as little as possible at the grocery store.

And before you ask, no, I never seem to completely empty the pantry of freezer.  It’s like an episode of the Twilight Zone.  It never seems to run dry.  There are always leftovers to put in the freezer and I always seem to find something on sale to stick in the pantry.  I’m good, but I’m not that good.

I typically plan for 2 weeks at a time.  Pay day to pay day.  I also slot in dinners to go out or hang with friends.  This past pay period was a bit strange as I did some traveling which always throws planning for a loop… as in, I didn’t do it for the past week.  I made up for it over the weekend, though, and plotted out the rest of the pay period.

It went something like this:

Saturday – Steak and Chicken fajita nachos with homemade salsa (had to have a reason to use my fresh salsa).  To be fair, this dish really didn’t use a single thing I had on hand except cheese.  So it didn’t fit my plan but it sounded good.  And it was good.

Sunday – Grilled chicken legs with corn on the cob, baked beans and swiss chard from my sister’s CSA bag that she let me have.  I’m using up some BBQ sauce and the chard with this.  I bought a HUGE thing of chicken legs so we’ll have some in the freezer for later.  Never buy a small thing of chicken legs.  That’s a waste of money.  The large is always a better deal.

Monday – Beans and ham and corn bread.  What kind of beans you ask?  Not sure, but one of my Rancho Gordo beans.  We’re fancy like that.  All I had to get for this was corn bread mix (Jiffy, ’cause it’s a good company and you should support good companies).

Tuesday – Pasta with leftover spaghetti sauce and a salad using CSA lettuce.  I did buy some garlic toast to go with this because that’s a must in our house.  I don’t have spaghetti in the pantry, so I’ll use ziti or something on hand.  Pasta is pasta, after all.

Wednesday – Black beans and rice with smoked sausage with a salad using CSA lettuce.  These beans are SO different than the beans from Monday that I don’t feel bad for robbing my taste buds of variety.  Actually, these beans are from a box.  I don’t feel bad about that either, not one bit.

Thursday – Pay day, I’ll figure something out then 🙂

See, menu planning is a breeze.  Sometimes I pull from recipes, sometimes it’s in my brain and I don’t need recipes.  Easy, peasy and a pound reducer.

Do you menu plan?  If so, how successful are you at it?  Most of the time I follow my plans but every now and then the pizza delivery guy shows up and that’s okay too.

Did you actually read my shopping list in the picture above and you’re thinking I’m a crazy liar right now because none of the dishes on my menu use roasted red peppers?  The updated version of that list had a strike through over those delicious peppers.  I’ll make the roasted red pepper sauce next time.  Carry on.

Gearing up for warmer weather

A truly amazing thing has happened, it appears that the warm weather is finally here to stay for the season.  This is not something I would have ever imagined my self saying, let alone being excited about it.

I like cooler weather.

I’ll tolerate the heat because some of my favorite places are where it’s hot.

But that doesn’t mean I’m a fan.

However, this spring has thrown me for a loop.  We had a few warm weeks so on Easter weekend, I headed to the local nursery, stocked up on herbs and flowers, and spent an afternoon planting them.  I’ve since pulled the weak ones in when it got cold.

In and out.  Cover and uncover.  Indoors and outdoors.

You see, we’ve had a rather cool spring.  Remember that May 4 snow I mentioned a few posts back?  Yeah, not typical.

It’s been redonk and I almost gave up letting the basil and aloe vera fend for themselves.  I’m cruel like that.  Thankfully, the forecast doesn’t throw me for any loops over the next 10 days so I’m confident the plants are on the back porch for good.  Well, at least until autumn settles in.

Warmer weather also means the cover comes off the grill for the first time.  Porch sitting with a cool brew (typically a variety of Shiner, I was born in Texas, after all) while the sweet boy grills is absolutely one of my favorite parts of this season.  Well, that and a nice dish of salsa and tortilla chips to go with that cool brew.

Like hot weather, I’ll tolerate store bought salsa, but just tolerate it.  I prefer homemade.  I’m not really picky when it comes to homemade.  I can go for the kind made out of fresh tomatoes, I’m down with a variety made from canned tomatoes (that’s actually my favorite) and I’m even good with a bowl full of pico de gallo in a pinch.  If it’s red and spicy, I’m good.

I found a recipe online yesterday and thought I’d give it a go.  It’s a Pioneer Woman recipe and I have yet to not like one of her recipes.  It used Rotel and sounded pretty easy.  Easy is good.  Easy is a quick way to get homemade salsa in your face.  I could go for easy.

So easy it was.

Well, wait a minute, not THAT easy.  I’ve been working on cleaning out my pantry since the Holidays so cans of tomatoes and Rotel weren’t within reach.  Thankfully, a trip to the store was in order for other goodies, so I just added the ingredients to my list.

Just a warning, if you make this recipe, it will make a TON so make sure you need a TON.  Otherwise, cut this bad boy in half.

I’m warning you.

I will say this is a good salsa recipe but not my favorite.  Not even in my top 4 favorites, but I’d make it again if I wanted something quick.  The sweet boy’s response was that it tasted like Rotel.  My response was along the lines of “Well, yeah, of course it does.  It’s made from Rotel”.  Also, beggars can’t be choosers and yesterday, I was DYING for some fresh salsa.

Craving satisfied.   You can find the recipe here.

Now, where’s that cold brew and my back porch?  I have a bag of tortilla chips just dying to be munched on.

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A grand return

Oh hey!  I’m back.

Did you miss me?  I like it when people miss me… makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

This week was indeed the whirlwind I thought it might be, but it’s come to an end and my piles of work are only a few feet taller than when I last posted.  That’s what laptops and cups of coffee on the weekends are for, right?

No?

Weekends aren’t for paperwork you say?

Hmmmm.  I’ve been fooled.

I’ll get some play time in, I always do.  I might even go partake in a new taco stand in town.  I hear they make fresh tortillas.  The sweet boy wasn’t NEARLY as excited about that as I was.  His comment was something about not being from Texas.  Yeah yeah.  I know what I’m eating all weekend, let’s just put it that way.

I wish I could tell you a bit about my week but I need some time to download it all.  Let’s just say it involved lots of learning, beautiful scenery and a fast car.  Sounds exciting… no?

For now, just enjoy the lovely poppies at the top of this post.  I’m in love and I’m sure they loved me back for the brief moment I took them in.

Life is crazy… stay tuned

I’ve been doing an amazing job at keeping my blog up, if I do say so myself…

and I do.

However, this week I’ve officially crossed over from crazy town to lucky if I find time to sleep town.  I’m not even going to pretend that I’ll find time to blog.  However, now that I’ve said that, I’m sure I’ll have ALL the time in the world to blog.

That’s how things work in my world.

This past week has seen the kick off of the 4th annual Artosphere Festival.  Walton Arts Center (where I work, in case you’ve missed it) was supposed to be all over the place over the course of the past few days.  However, Mother Nature confused May with February and a freak snow and late winter messed up our plans.  Instead of using the months of planning that went into this past weekend, we scrambled on Friday to move to plan B… or was it C?  All events happened indoors this weekend and I’m beat!

It was busy.

Crazy in fact.

Wait, did I say snow?  YES, it snowed.  Snow in May, during outdoor events, is not ideal.  At least not from the point of view of an event manager.  Snow makes people (me included) want to stay home.  However, staying home is not what this festival is about.

But, no sleep for the weary!  I’m off to embark on another busy week, different busy, but busy.  If I find time to check in, I will, if you don’t hear from me, I’ll be back.

Oh hey, even though I won’t be blogging for a few, doesn’t mean I won’t be checking in.  Let me know what makes your world crazy in May?  It seems to be a common theme out there.

PS – and now for your moment of zen.  Part of last week’s crazy involved getting to hold a wallaby… in a bag.  That was probably my most favorite thing ever.

More on making the space around me space that I love

Hey there, while all opinions are my own, I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias®  and FRAM #cbias #SocialFabric

I introduced to all of you recently that I’m on a quest to make the space around me space that I love.  I’ve also talked a bit about this on Facebook.  A lot of work is going into this life improvement (for lack of a better word).  I’ve hung pictures at home, cleaned up corners, donated junk I didn’t need, involved myself in more community events, cleaned off my desk at work… you get the idea, right?

My next stop was some place I spend a lot of time… TOO much time, in fact. My car. I think we’re all guilty of spending too much time in our cars.  We go to and from work.  To and from the store.  Back to work.  Back to the store.  To the park.  To an exciting vacation destination.  Back to work.  It’s a lot of time, shouldn’t we love that space too?

I keep my car fairly clean (on the inside, the outside is another story).  I don’t leave trash in the backseat.  I hate empty soda containers laying around.  Don’t even think about putting your gum wrapper in the map holder on the side of my door.  Those are map holders, not trash holders.  It’s pretty easy to love that space.  It’s a place I can listen to whatever music I want.  I have time to reflect there.  The temperature of my car isn’t up someone else. It’s just a nice space.

And it’s all mine.

It recently came to my attention that there is a cabin air filter in my car.  This guy controls the quality of the air I breathe while doing all of those things I listed above.  I had no idea this existed.  Don’t get me wrong, I knew about that air filter in the engine that oil change stores charge WAY too much to replace, but I didn’t know about this one.  Unless they are the same thing, in which case, I feel pretty silly typing this.  Can someone clear it up for me?  Please?  Pretty please with a cherry on top?  And don’t make me feel silly while doing so?  ‘Kay, thanks.

After a quick search for cabin air filters, specifically ones I could get locally, I found the FRAM FreshBreeze cabin air filter.  It absorbs odors with Arm and Hammer Baking Soda and I do love almost every product that uses Arm and Hammer (it does wonders on a litter box and my fridge, surely it could help my car).

Wait, I’m not going to turn into the kind of person who buys things to help their car.  However, I am the kind of person who buys things to help me.  I’m selfish like that.

Since moving to Arkansas 9 years ago, I’ve suffered from allergies every spring.  Pollen is a vicious, nasty little thing.  Is it really possible that keeping my cabin air filter fresh and clean by simply replacing it will help reduce my allergies?  According to studies, yes.  Now, I can’t say from personal experience that this will, but it’s worth a shot, right?

Also, I can’t count how many times in a month I bring pizza home for dinner (THE SHAME, I know).  Every time I bring it home, my car smells like pepperoni, mushrooms, cheese and grease for at least 3 days. That’s gross. Really gross. Pizza never smells as good on the 3rd day as it did on the 1st day. Don’t believe me?  Put a slice in your backseat and let it sit there for a while and get back to me.

Now, back to these FRAM FreshBreeze filters, their website has a lot of good information and FAQs.  It even has a place to check to make sure they make it for my car.  Nothing is more annoying than hunting down a product and not being able to find it.

What I wish they had was a store locator because that was a bit of an annoyance.  I’ll save that for another post.  Okay, just a hint, apparently Walmart automotive employees would rather tell you none of their stores have a product if it means they won’t have to call a store down the highway to check on availability for you.  I went to 3 different employees until I found someone who would help.  2 told me all stores carry the same product so if they don’t have it, no one does.  The 3rd finally called a store 10 minutes away and low and behold, they had it.

Thanks 3rd employee.  Walmart should promote you to manager so you can train everyone else how to provide decent customer service.

Now, back to the filters.  Once at the store that carried the product, I found a handy-dandy computer that walked me through finding just the right product for my car.  Don’t worry, if computers freak you out, they have a book as well.  Both were very easy to navigate.

Oh, lookie there, my filter!  I like the green, too.  It’s fresh, eye catching, and makes me look like I know what I’m doing because I can change my own cabin air filter.

First the filter, next… the world!

Okay, so the green doesn’t actually do that, but I do like the color of the packaging.

Off I went, after payment, of course, to install my filter.  Thanks to some easy instructional videos on their website, installation would be a breeze.  Actually, I’ve replaced the fan in the AC of my last car on my own, so really anything other than that is a breeze these days. I also have replaced the screen on my laptop with instructions I found on YouTube. And yes, I’m proud of myself.

The cabin air filter is housed right behind my glove compartment so this project was super quick and super easy.  Like, 1-2-3 easy.

Eeeeew, just look at my old filter.  Actually, don’t.  Pretend you  never saw how gross and nasty that was.  Erase it from your memory, Men in Black style.

Tah-dah!  New filter in, easy instructions, clean air, loving the space I’m in one simple improvement at a time.  I’m looking forward to breathing in cleaner air and possibly even preventing odors that come with a well used car (refer to that pizza issue I discussed above).  For the record, I picked up a super garlicky pizza last night and this morning, I couldn’t even smell a trace of it.  So far, so good.

If you’re really feeling your oats and want to take on 2 DIY car projects, go ahead and buy a FRAM oil filter while you’re at it and get a rebate.  Details here.

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Bowls full of happy pt. 2 – My take on Alton Brown’s Curry Chicken Pot Pie

 

 

 

While the recipe revamp and opinions below are my own, I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias® and Tyson. #cbias #SocialFabric #MealsTogether

Earlier this week I started a series of posts about bowls full of happy. Many of our favorite dinners around my house can be consumed from a bowl. Actually, I could eat a Ruth’s Chris filet mignon from a bowl if I had to, so really, anything could be consumed from a bowl.

Today I’d like to talk about the ever so humble pot pie. I don’t remember pot pie as being a staple while growing up. At least, not in the sense that my mom’s Swiss steak or spaghetti was. I do think my dad would buy those little $.99 pot pies at the store. You know the ones that burn your poor tongue into oblivion if you don’t let it cool for at least 2 hours? Yeah, those guys. They are okay, but they aren’t outstanding and they certainly don’t make my bowl happy, at the very least, they don’t make me happy.

Sometime during my first year out of college, I saw an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown was improving upon the church pot luck buffet. One of dishes of choice was a chicken pot pie. His pot pie included curry. I LOVE curry. It also didn’t involve a pie crust but instead puff pastry. I LOVE puff pastry. I knew this dish was about to be my new crush.

Indeed, it was.

It was the kind of crush that I loved from afar and when I finally got the chance to go on a date, one thing annoyed me.

That dang puff pastry.

It didn’t turn out like his… twice. I gave up after two attempts and brought in the ever so trusty pie crust. I also don’t stay very consistent on the type of chicken I put in (I’ve even made this with leftover Thanksgiving turkey). Sometimes I use chicken tenders leftover from another meal, or I boil some, or I bake some, or I have leftover fried chicken from a late night, “I was weak” run to Popeyes or KFC. This time I thought I would try out using frozen chicken nuggets.

Tyson Foods has a new product out called Tyson Crispy Bites. These guys are geared towards adults, but honestly, I don’t know why. My kid self would have LOVED a plate of these. They are quite delicious albeit a bit sweeter than a standard nugget, but not like honey sweet (i.e. – they still work in savory applications). I found a big bag of these at my local Sam’s Club and thought I’d try them out. I actually use leftover fried chicken in a few applications so having nuggets in my freezer on standby wouldn’t be a bad thing. Need a quick dinner? Bam. Tyson Crispy Bites and a salad. Need a semi-homemade dinner? Bam. Chicken pot pie! Really, these are going to be a versatile addition to my freezer full of “I work late and need a quick dinner” food.

WAIT, I know what you’re doing right now. You’re judging me for buying a chicken nugget from the freezer section. Hold on a minute, let me ‘splain. Tyson has completely revamped these nuggets to appeal to us adults (or those of us trying to pass as adults). They have less breading than their regular nuggets (yay, I hate when a nugget has more breading than protein). They are 100% all natural (which is good, especially if you’ve read that nasty rumor about a certain fast food joint’s nuggets melting… yes, melting – see, 100% natural sounds pretty amazing right now). They also aren’t pressed chicken in the shape of a nugget, this is the real deal. So, stop giving me that look. I know you have one of those $1.50 frozen pizzas sitting in your freezer.

Don’t deny it. If you do, I’ll say you’re fibbing.

Here’s the process. Prepare your taste buds, this one is outstanding!

Adapted from original recipe found here. Even though I use pie crust instead of the puff pastry, all other measurements and items stay the same… except the oil, you’ll see that below. My recommendation is to print off the original recipe and then follow my directions along side of it. Make sense? Good, let’s get started.

First of all, cook the Tyson Crispy Bites per the instructions on the package. If you don’t and your pot pie is terrible, I’m not to blame. I know a lot of people out there don’t follow directions, so I wanted to make that clear! Once cooked and cooled, dice it up into bite sized pieces. Maybe eat one or two nuggets in case you’re like me and cooked too many. Life is hard, chicken nuggets make a good appetizer.

Also, if you’re going to make your own pie dough, you might want to do that now. Make enough for two bits of pastry, one on bottom and one on top. I make my life easy and get a refrigerated dough. It’s easier and tastes pretty darned delicious. No need to reinvent the wheel when I’m trying to make this recipe nice and easy.

Next, I toss the frozen veggies with whatever oil I have. The recipe calls for canola oil but I stock vegetable oil and those two are so similar that I don’t notice a difference. Don’t use olive oil. You might think you’re being fancy, but this is pot pie, not coq au vin. After tossing the veggies with the oil, I spread them out on a pan (that is a well used pan in the picture, it’s proof that I cook a LOT, that kind of proof is a good thing) and stick them in the oven to do their browning.

Next I saute up my onions and celery per the instructions in the recipe and I heat up the broth and milk, also per the recipe. Is it starting to smell good in your house? It’s about to get even better. My favorite step is the curry step. YUM YUM YUM! I love this smell. LOVE it. Sometimes I sneak curry into oven fries or fried potatoes. I don’t sneak it into pancakes or anything like that (although, that sounds interesting… maybe for another post).

Here’s where I keep following the recipe to a T. Again, follow along at the link above. No need to double up on the details here.

Are you at the step where Alton pours the mixture into the baking dish? Then STOP. This is where I stray the most. Get out a pie plate (I like my standard Pyrex one and have found it works the best, but use whichever pie plate works best for you). Line the plate with one piece of your pie crust. Fill the crust with all the good stuff that makes up the filling. Use all of it, make sure it mounds in the plate, the pie is better that way. Then cover it with your other crust. You can pinch the edges or use a fork to make it pretty. Or you can just press it together. In the end, it tastes the same. Also, vent the crust. I do this by slicing 5 small vents in a star pattern on top of my pie. Do it how you like. It’s not rocket science.

Well, maybe not rocket science but don’t go all Edward Scissorhands on your pie. While Johnny Depp is totally adorbs in that movie, we all saw what happened to the waterbed, did we not? Lesson learned.

Cook it based on the temperature on the pie crust box but the time listed on the recipe (I’ll give you a hint, it’s 425 degrees for 25 minutes).

After it has baked, let it cool for about 10 minutes to set.

Put that pie in a bowl and LOVE it. It’s good. We eat it a lot. We also love it as leftovers. It’s just that good (which is saying something because we are terrible at reheating food).

Here’s a tip, it’s really good with extra sharp white cheddar cheese.

And iced tea.

Just look at it… mmmm…

Now that you have tried it, don’t you feel better knowing you can make a delicious and unique pot pie with something straight out of your freezer? No having to butcher a chicken from the back yard, I don’t even think I’d have the stomach for that. Just head up to your local Sam’s Club, head to the freezer section (the chicken freezer section, not the meat freezer section, apparently, in Sam’s world, chicken is different than meat… or maybe that’s just unique to my Sam’s Club) and snatch up a bag of these nuggets. They might cost a few dollars more than their regular nuggets but trust me, it’s worth it. These guys are good.

What’s your favorite recipe that uses something a little “non-traditional”? Do you have a favorite recipe that uses cake mix and diet soda? Favorite recipe for the use of wonton wrappers? I’d love to hear how you take something made for one purpose and turn it into something completely different. Please share in the comment section.

If you’re void of ideas, Tyson has some great ones on their Facebook page here.

 

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