Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cashew Chicken (only without the cashews)

I got home from work late tonight. I'd been at a Virginia Women Attorneys' Association meeting (and it was a total hoot. Imagine 10-15 powerful type-A women in a small conference room, with drinks and snacks provided, noshing and discussing the various and sundry details of the Association, and from time-to-time, someone shouting out, "Ladies there is a motion on the floor can we vote please!" It was hilariously awesome. I think I might even join a committee.)

So after getting home late, I wasn't feeling much like standing over the stove for an hour. Steven offered to take us out to eat, but there are groceries in our fridge that are just languishing so I figured I should probably make something.

Begrudgingly, I decided on a recipe from an old Everyday Food magazine: Cashew Chicken. One problem -- no cashews. I decided to do without.

The result? AMAZING DELICIOUSNESS OH WHY WOULD WE EVER GO BUY SOGGY FRIES WHEN I CAN ACTUALLY MAKE THIS WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS AND A STOVE.

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Seriously, sometimes I forget that home cooked meals don't really take that long and they are a thousand billion zillion size-of-the-federal-deficit times better than take-out.

Here's the recipe, with my variations:

Cashew Chicken: (from Everyday Food magazine, September 2009)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons dry sherry (or leave out)
2 tsp. minced, peeled, fresh ginger*
3 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
coarse salt
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2/3 cup unsalted cashews, toasted (Didn't have any. They would have been delicious though.)
2 green onions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced

Directions:
In a medium bowl, toss chicken with sherry, ginger, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch; season with salt. (Or don't put in any salt. It still tasted great without extra salt.) Refrigerate 30 minutes. (Or however long it takes you to get the rest of the ingredients together.) In another bowl, combine broth, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Set sauce aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook until golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to a covered plate. Add 1 teaspoon oil to skillet and cook remaining chicken (reduce heat if chicken is over-browning). Transfer to plate.

To same skillet, add 1 teaspoon oil, garlic, cashews, and green onion whites. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic begins to soften, about 30 seconds. Whisk sauce and add to skillet along with chicken. Cook until sauce thickens, about 30 seconds. Top with green onion greens and serve with white rice. We had ours with a package of Steamfresh snap peas.**

Serves 4 kind-of-hungry people, or two very-hungry people (like us).

* I have discovered the most random yet marvelous thing: Frozen, individually packaged Crushed Ginger from a company called Dorot. No more trying to peel ginger, no more being annoyed because one recipe needs fresh ginger and I have to go buy a whole ginger root just for one recipe. Apparently they have all sorts of frozen spices and things. I might get a chopped basil tray, too. You could do this with basil grown in a garden -- you'd just have to figure out a good way to freeze single-teaspoon servings....

** A brief word about Steamfresh steamed veggies. They pretty much rule. I rarely buy other veggies, because in 4 minutes, you can have perfectly steamed whatever veggie you want with these little bags. The perfect sides to an otherwise meat-and-starch meal. I keep these and green peas in the freezer at all times, for just such an domestic emergency.

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lasagna Garden: 2010

I learned a lot last year in my first lasagna garden. I made the garden too deep, which meant that I couldn't reach the back of the garden without stepping in the front. I also learned plenty about the particular likes and dislikes of the local rabbit community. (They love lettuce and carrots. They don't really like tomatoes.)

So this year, Steven built me a garden box that will better fit my reach. I started the layering this weekend:

First, a layer of wet newspaper to kill off all the weeds.

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(As a former wanna-be journalist, I always feel a pinge of guilt for using newspapers like this. But then I get over it.)

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In case you are curious, this is the equivalent of about 5 full newspapers. I filled the orange Home Depot bucket up with water, dunked the pages, and laid them in the box. (Also, Steven bought me a new wheelbarrow! Yay!)

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Next layer: Compost! We'd begun a compost pile last year, mostly leaves and grass clippings, and just let it sit there all year. The bottom of the pile has turned into really beautiful rich dirt, but it took a good bit of shoveling to get down to that layer.

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So, yeah, there are some less-broken-down bits in there, too.

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Layer, The Third: I dumped out our old tomato containers and re-used the dirt, and also dug up some dirt from our previous garden's location. I'm hoping this dirt won't be too tired and over-used for a second garden...

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I think it still needs a good top layer of gardening soil from Home Depot. Maybe next weekend.

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I still haven't planted anything inside yet, nor have I set up our (slightly shady-looking) grow light contraption yet. I think I'm going to direct-sow pretty much everything this year.... I might start some tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe and watermelon, but the rest of the plants are just going straight into the dirt outside this year. (Hopefully in a more organized fashion than last year. Maybe I'll get some of those "garden label" sticks...)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Big Day

My younger brother Matt (the middle of three younger brothers) got married this weekend. Here he is with his groomsmen at the rehearsal dinner. (He's the blonde guy on the left.)

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We took off work on Friday and drove down to Blythewood, South Carolina for the rehearsal on Friday evening. And we rehearsed. And rehearsed. The dear wedding planner, bless her heart, I think she assumed this was the first wedding that any of us had ever been to, so she thought she would instruct us on the fine art of "how to walk down an aisle" and "how to sit in a pew."

We all got a good chuckle out of how seriously she took her wedding director responsibilities. (As you can see from the picture below, everyone else is obediently paying attention. Everyone but me, apparently.) :)

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I especially liked the picture below of Matt. It looks like he's quietly pondering his destiny.

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On the actual day of the wedding, I didn't get any pictures of the ceremony. I guess we thought it might be a bit tacky if I brought my camera with me on stage and took pictures whilst performing my duties as a bridesmaid. Hopefully Matt and Kristen's photographer will post pics soon, and I'll direct you there with a link when she does.

I did manage to get some reception pictures. Somebody loves her Pops, I think.

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Their cake was (a) HUGE and (b) gorgeous.

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Oh, and (c) tasty!

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It was so fun to watch my brother experience all of the emotions that go on during your wedding day. I saw him surf the entire wave of feeling -- from being antsy and nervous before hand, to being awed at Kristen as she walked down the aisle, to being blissfully happy and relieved at the reception (as shown in the pic below!)

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Yeah! We got hitched! I wonder what Chris Small is doing to my car right now! Hey!

Matt and Kristen had also prepared a very sweet movie of themselves with pictures from childhood and pictures of their engagements (both of them!). It was very cute to watch Riley and Dad as they watched the movie on the big screen.

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Somehow, we went through the whole weekend and never managed to get a picture of Steven and I in our wedding regalia. Oops! Here's me and my lovely parents though!

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The table settings were nicely done. Kristen's bouquet landed on our table at some point, and it made for a nice photo op.

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We also had the chance to meet Kristen's parents this weekend. Her dad is the pastor of the church where the wedding took place.

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The first dance was to a John Mayer song. Steven leans over to me during the dance and says, "Is this John Mayer? I kinda like it..." And he's been joking on me for so long about liking John Mayer! Hah! Vindicated! (Thanks for the good song choice, Matt and Kristen!)

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Here's a good example of what the bridesmaids dresses were like. Very pretty tea-length shimmery silk, in a teal color. We each carried a single white rose.

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The guys also had white rose corsages. Chris is trying to kill me with his mind in this picture, I think.

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A very cute moment occurred when Riley was in the bridesmaids getting-ready room, and Mandy put the flower girl dress on her. Riley walked up to the mirror and grinned, then twirled from side to side, taking it in. You could just see her thinking, "Pretty dress!!"

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Kristen's wedding dress was beautiful. It had really gorgeous beading detail and a side-bustle. It fit her perfectly.

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The music in the wedding was the part that made me tear up. Getting to see my sweet family singing and playing instruments.... there's just nothing better. Dad and Jodi sang a song called "The Prayer," which was beautiful.

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Jon sang a song called "Let Love In" and Steven told me about 10 different times on the way home: "Wow, Jon did such a good job on that song." "You know, I really liked Jon's song." "You know, he did really well on that."

I agree. It was great and I nearly lost it and started to get weepy during the music. But I held it together.

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And now, Matt and Kristen are off to honeymoon in Gatlinburg, TN.

Come to think of it, I know of another set of lovebirds who honeymooned in Gatlinburg only a few short years ago....

Hmm, who could they be?

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:)

Love you family -- it was wonderful to see you all! Somebody send me the link to the wedding pics when they get posted! (And somebody also send me Matt and Kristen's new address in TN!)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Quick Weeknight Meal Idea: Red Beans and Rice with Chicken Sausage

Just popping in to post a quick weeknight meal idea we've enjoyed around these parts lately.

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The actual contents of this meal could differ, depending on what you like/don't like. The cajun style sausage is a bit too spicy for us, so I usually buy a box of Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice and a package of Sun Dried Tomato chicken sausage (or some variation of savory chicken/turkey sausage).

There isn't really a recipe - this is just one of those throw-together meals. Slice up the sausage into bite-sized rounds and stir fry them with a bit of olive oil. If you wanted to up the veggie content, you could also throw in some chopped green, red, and yellow bell peppers at this point, and saute them with the sausage.

Once the sausage is browned and the veggies are soft, take the sausage and veggies out of the pan and cook the red-beans-and-rice as the package instructs. Throw the sausage and veggies back in at the end, and stir it all together.

Voila! Dinner is served in about 20-25 minutes. This is becoming a regular on the weekly meal schedule at our house, because its (a) quick, and (b) doesn't involve ground beef. (I tire of ground beef easily.)

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And now for a smattering of randomness:

(1) My brother Matt is getting married this weekend, so we went out today and got ourselves some fancy new haircuts (and color, in my case) for the occasion. We're excited Matt!

(2) The latest book in the Huff Family Book Club has arrived in the mail: Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I'm on Chapter 3. As my brother Chris so aptly stated, there is just nothing better than a good story about some anthropomorphic rabbits.

(3) Ever since I was 15 or so, one of my favorite books has been Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. With the libertarian movement on the rise, this book has gotten a lot of air time lately. We've moved so many times in the past five years that I can't find my dog-eared copy, and I've really been wanting to read it again. When John Stossel did a whole show on the book (and which current-day individuals would be cast as which characters from the novel), I knew I had to have it in my hands soon. It is now winging its way to us via Amazon. I'll let you know if Dagny Taggart is still as fiesty and fantastic as I remember her to be.

Have a lovely week, everyone!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pondering Some Resolutions (Or, Skip All the Mushy Nonsense And Let's See The Cars Already)

Steven wants desperately for me to post a blog about the cars already. Every time I type something, he goes, "Hey, are you posting about the cars now?"

But I'm sitting over here daydreaming about my New Year's Resolutions instead. 2010 kinda sneaked up on me this year. I didn't have my usual pre-made list of resolutions (For example, here's my list from 2008:)

coffee and resolutions closeup

And this is what my resolutions looked like in January 2009:

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Instead, I'm slowly gathering my resolutions as they occur to me. The first one I thought of was that I want to run a 10K this year. The last time I ran a 10K, I was 15 years old. I think its high time to run another one before I hit thirty.

I had a second resolution occur to me this morning. I want to eat breakfast. Every day. And not just slurping down a glass of OJ and a multivitamin. I want to eat things like steel cut oats with bananas and honey. Eggs over medium with toast and jam. I want to finish an entire cup of coffee before I leave the house in the morning. I want to be able to linger over breakfast, to start my day slowly and purposefully.

(Which probably means I have to start waking up earlier. Ah, the harsh and realistic side of a resolution. Boo.)

That's all the resolutions I've got for now. Breakfast and a 10K. I imagine a few more will occur to me as the cold January days progress. I don't want to resolve to do anything outrageous this year. Just a few simple things. Like blueberry pancakes, perhaps.

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You're still here? You must be waiting for car pictures. Alright, I won't disappoint you. A week before Christmas, the 350Z finally died on us. It had nearly 100,000 miles on it, and Steven adored that car. Seriously. He might have liked it more than me, judging by the fact that he made me get out of the car before he would park it in the garage, for fear I'd hit one of the doors against a garage wall. :) Nevermind that your wife is standing in the cold...

We had it towed to the local Nissan dealership, and then we walked into the dealership "just to look around a bit," and ... well ... one thing led to another, and...

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Steven is now the proud owner of a 2010 Nissan XTerra.

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I am thrilled. I loved the Z, but it was not the right car for Northern Virginia winters. It was luxurious, but it was getting a bit cranky in its old age. (I promised Steven he can buy himself another Z someday.)

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And now we have a certified 4-wheel-drive vehicle. No longer will we fear the snow. (No longer will we be able to call in "stuck" to work anymore, either, unfortunately.)

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The car payment on the XTerra was a bit higher than the Z, so to compensate, we traded in my Mazda 3 for a cheaper (albeit newer!) version. I give you, my little Nissan Sentra.

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It is the color of fresh coffee with a tiny dollop of creamer swirled in. And it has a place to plug in my iPod. I love it very much.

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So, Happy 2010 everybody. I hereby resolve to get up a bit earlier, start running again, and eat breakfast. And then drive my zippy little coffee car to work every day and thank God that I have a work to drive to. We are healthy, we are fed, we have shelter and transportation. We are very, very blessed.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ringing In the New Year with the Huffs!

Look who came to visit! Miss Riley Grace Huff herself!

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The whole Huff family traversed to DC to spend the New Year's week with us, and we loved having them. It was a delightful trip with plenty of snacking and relaxing. We also went and saw Avatar, which was our one trip out of the house. The movie was good -- we saw it in 3D, which was especially cool. We'd planned to go to the zoo one day, but being that it was so very cold, we just stayed bundled up in the house instead. I love having people in my house to feed and host! It is my very favorite thing in the world, and you are all welcome here anytime!

Also, Riley loves all of her Aunts and Uncles. She tackled Chris with a running leap of a hug, as you can see.

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Riley is a very good helper. When we opened presents, she helped us open each gift. Steven is opening the gift Mom and Dad got for us -- a backyard fire pit! It will be very fun to use this summer. I am already planning a marshmallow roast. :)

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Dad helped me tune my cello and taught me the beginning of a new piece.

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And Riley helped us find the sheet music to print out and practice!

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There was plenty of reading and computer browsing. This is how my family does down time.

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But most importantly for a family from Georgia, there was snow. More than I imagine they'd seen in a while. :)

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It was very fun to watch Riley experience the snow, although I'm not sure she enjoyed the "coldness" aspect.

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And she was too cute in her pink jacket to resist taking a photo shoot with everyone. Here's her mom and dad, my brother Jon and his wife Mandy:

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And Nana and Pop (my parents):

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And her Aunt Heather and Uncle Steven! It feels so weird to be "Aunt Heather" but I am starting to really enjoy the gig. :) Also, I was honored to hear from her dad (my brother Jon) that me and Riley sort of resemble each other. (This is quite a nice compliment since she is overwhelmingly adorable.)

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There was much snow throwing.

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And there was even more video game-playing. Here we are knocking out some Guitar Hero tunes, and while I didn't manage to get a picture of this, Steven can verify that the family banded together and conquered all eight levels of the original Mario Brothers Nintendo game.

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They split up the levels: Matt took Level 8-1, Steven did Level 8-2 with "the jump," and then Jon took Level 8-3 through the castle, just to the part with the Hammer Turtle People, at which point the game was paused, and Steven took the controls to "dance" with the hammer turtle and sneak past Bowser to win the game. Chris also deserves mention for his googling-and-guidance of the route through all of those green warp pipes in the final level. They stayed up till near midnight to get it done, and somebody snapped a cell phone picture of their triumphant victory. Let's see if I can find it for you...

Ah yes, here we are:



Winners, all around.

On their last day, the family decided to take a walk to the neighborhood playground.

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Unfortunately, it was barely 20 degrees out that day, so we didn't last very long in the frigid air.

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I went back to the house and grabbed every woollen item I could find, to garb my sweet Southern family for the coldness.

Ah, much better.

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And upon return to the house, there was more snow-throwing. :)

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I didn't manage to take any pictures of all the meals, but the dining room table got plenty of good use, and I think my roast-turkey-timing skills are getting a bit better. The key? Start early. :)

We made resolutions around the dinner table and then rang in the new year watching Dick Clark and drinking bubbly fruit juice. My resolution? Run a 10K. I could probably make a list of resolutions a mile long (and I might in a few days, you never know), but for now, that's my immediate next goal.

Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for visiting Mom, Dad, Jon, Mandy, Riley, Matt and Chris! We loved getting to see you and spend time with you all!