Thursday, April 21, 2011

El Sinaloense

Last night I was braver than I've ever been in the kitchen as I attempted to recreate my newest favorite dish served at La Carreta (our newest favorite Mexican restaurant where we'll be moving). This was brave because I tend to be "recipe-oriented" as my husband described it (when he came into the kitchen and was surprised to see that I had none).

The dish is called El Sinaloense, and while I have no idea what the name means my taste buds are well acquainted with the savory Mexican goodness of this platter. It consists of chicken and chorizo (Mexican sausage) with that delicious white melt-y cheese, re-fried beans, Mexican rice, and tortillas on the side. Here I am the first time we ate at La Carreta and I ordered El Sinaloense. Yes, I'll take credit for picking a winner on the very first try, thank you.

After two years of cooking dinners, experimenting with new recipes, and forcing myself to work with raw meat and chicken in an effort to be a good wife and and make my husband's stomach happy I decided to spread my culinary wings. And now I'm glad I went for is my husband's stomach. :)

I started by cooking two portions of chorizo, taking the time to crumble it well.

When it was done, I removed it from the pan and added my chicken (seasoned with adobo and oregano and cut into very small pieces).

Once the chicken was cooked I turned the heat down and added the chorizo back into the mix.

Meanwhile, I cooked some yellow rice. After perusing all the varieties of rice in the grocery store, this seasoned yellow rice from Mahatma was my best guess. It wasn't exactly the same as the restaurant's, but it was very flavorful and yummy.

Finally, I heated up some fat-free re-fried beans (no lard in the fat-free kind). Sadly, I was unable to find the real melting white Mexican cheese so I used Pepper Jack instead. It didn't melt well at all but was still quite tasty.

All in all, I'd say it was about a 90% match to the original. And when Adam turned to me mid-meal, clapped his hands, and said "Bravo, my dear!" I knew I'd come pretty darn close.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Springtime and Sparrows

(Image borrowed from here.)

While thinking about several new things that will soon be taking place I realized that these new beginnings come at a most appropriate season of the year. Spring will bring a handful of significant changes that most do not. And not just changes - beginnings.

First on the menu is a big move. Okay, not really that big. Only about an hour and a half from where we are now. But in all reality, any move is a big move - securing a new place, packing up all the crap accumulated since the last purging, renting a moving truck, unloading, unpacking, new town, new church (our only regret in leaving), new people, new routes... This move looms ever closer - and nothing I do seems to slow its approach. On Monday, I took a peek at the calendar (which I've realized I've been avoiding in perhaps an unconscious act of denial) and shuddered to see that only two rows of numbered white squares are left between us and this daunting event. In spite of my resolve to not stress out, I have to admit that the old familiar troublemakers, Helplessness and Despair, ran their clammy fingers up and down my spine, threatening and intimidating.

My other half is constantly reminding me that it's not as bad as it seems. Good progress is being made and I've managed to keep stress at bay. And the excitement of moving to a bigger city and a place with two bathrooms overshadows any packing blues. This move marks just one of many new beginnings with countless new options and experiences.

Yes, rent will be more than what we pay now; yes, the square footage is smaller; yes, we'll have to put half of our things in storage; yes, we'll now have to pay for that storage...BUT moving brings with it another privilege - a puppy! Yes, we will be adding to our family. We've searched the internet far and wide for just the right one: a male long haired miniature dachshund. I think we've finally found one. Time will tell.

Finally, we'll be getting a new vehicle. Remember those sad, sad pictures of Adam's mangled car? Well, the insurance has determined to give us about $1,000 more than it was worth to begin with. WOW. We are floored by God's graciousness! It's like He made sure we got what we needed, then said, "And here's a little extra for you to buy yourself something nice." There's even more value in this story when you realize that we were in need of a vehicle with all wheel drive, especially now that Adam will be working at the hospital. Neither of our little cars would have been safe transportation in all the snow and ice. Ta-da! What a happy ending - or rather beginning.

It occurs to me that this period in life is unique among others. I know that Adam doesn't appreciate the heavy decisions that rest on his shoulders regarding specialties and residencies, but we will never again be able to dream so big or ambitiously as now. A universe of possibilities floats before us, and virtually every one is as attainable as the next.

I don't pretend to know what exactly God has in store for us but finding out is half the fun...the other half is just plain scary. I feel the panic creeping in, the shortness of breath, the loss of control...but hang on:

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matt. 10:29-31).

 (Imaged borrowed from here.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sharing the Love - Pretzel-Crusted Chicken Tenders

I typically try my hand at at least one new recipe per week. Here's a snap shot of last week's new recipe success:

Behold, Double Pretzel-Crusted Chicken Strips! Major, major success with the hubby. The recipe is from the famed Rachael Ray. Her recipe is actually for peanut and pretzel-crusted chicken, but we wanted to see if we liked the original first so I omitted the peanuts. And, because I'm too latin to leave things plain, I also took the liberty of adding a couple of extra spices, including some oregano and Adobo seasoning. Finally, instead of pan-frying the chicken in EVOO, I used Smart Balance oil - a healthy blend of canola, vegetable, and soy oils. I served these up alongside my oven-baked wedges, a healthy alternative to french fries, and Ken's Honey Mustard Dressing - which my husband believes was created by the angels in Heaven specifically to be served with chicken tenders.

This week, my mind has turned towards Easter dinner. Unfortunately, Adam's test schedule and the chaos of moving at the end of the month won't allow us to drive home to spend the holiday with our parents, so we'll be missing out on the delectable full-blown spread of the traditional Easter Sunday dinner. Very sad to be spending one of the three major family-oriented holidays of the year by ourselves, but alas... Why can't we bring the things and people we love with us wherever we go for the rest of our lives?

It's up to me now to devise a compact 2-person Easter dinner reminiscent of home and family. So far I'm thinking ham, oven roasted potatoes, green bean casserole (gotta have the green bean casserole!), and - because I had an abrupt craving for deviled eggs earlier this week, which I've strangely never been particularly fond of - bacon cheddar deviled eggs. Maybe mashed cauliflower faux-tatoes, too...if the trial run goes well next week.

And such will be my valiant effort to memorialize Easter this year. ... Actually, since we've already taken the dining room table apart and started piling boxes up in there, our Easter feast will be eaten on the couch in the living room - also cluttered with bags, packaging materials, and picture frames leaning against the walls instead of hanging on them. We'll probably flip hopelessly through every channel we have trying to find something even remotely interesting to watch and end up watching old re-runs of something. How sad is that? Hmm...on second thought, maybe we should just go out, even if it means driving 45 minutes away from this tiny town to find a good restaurant. We'll see. Even so, I still want my deviled eggs...and, no, I'm not pregnant!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

And You Thought Monday Mornings Were Bad

This past Tuesday morning a nincompoop motorist reduced the total of our vehicles from 2 to 1 in a single fell swoop. Poor reflexes caused him to swerve (instead of brake) directly into Adam's car when a stray animal wandered into the road. (I suspect this is because he was cruising along at much faster speeds than the posted limit of 25.) I am glad the dog survived but sad that our car did not...

It's a wonder this hasn't happened already. With only enough room in the driveway for one car, Adam has always had to park on the street. Which we hate. The real kicker is that we're moving in about 3 weeks to a place where each vehicle would have had its own cozy parking space.

Adam had just turned the engine on and gone back in the house to put his laptop in his briefcase when he heard it. When he went outside he found bits and pieces of the bumper and fender scattered all over the road - the other driver was nowhere to be seen. My husband has quite the temper when rightfully wronged, and I'm glad I wasn't there to see or hear him when he had the worst Tuesday morning of his life. Fortunately, the car killer came back, the cops showed, and insurance information was exchanged.

Adam called with the unlucky news 15 minutes after I got to work. He still needed a ride to school because he had a day full of required classes. I had to find someone to keep an eye on the twins for a few minutes while I drove home to pick him up. As I neared our house, I could see the familiar blue blob of Adam's car in the distance. I noticed it looked a little wider than usual and started to feel a little sick at the realization that our car was no more.

We have had the worse luck with our cars. My car's battery randomly dies if it isn't driven everyday and also on days of extreme weather. Over the last few months it's been leaking coolant which causes it to overheat. The mysterious source of this leak continues to evade us. Even so, we adapted, purchasing containers of antifreeze to fill up before lengthy drives and keeping backup containers of water in the car just in case.

The leak became so bad during our last trip home to visit our parents that it wasn't safe to drive back. We had to trade cars with my parents. And now its the only vehicle we have left. Don't worry, mom and dad, we're being extra careful!

Now all that remains is to fight the car killer's insurance company until we are rightfully compensated. And, believe me, we are rip rarin' and ready to fight. I keep thinking about all the cases like this I've watched on Judge Judy (love her!). I know she would rule in our case, and likely give the defendant a humbling lecture on his stupidity. I'm ready, Judge Judy! I have my pictures and the police report, which clearly names the defendant as responsible.

But that's life...about which James said to consider "pure joy" since "the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2-3). I don't know that I'd go quite so far as to consider the annihilation of our car pure joy (I know Adam doesn't), but I get it. I have faith that something good will come of it. I've already thought of one: now we'll only have to drive the moving truck and one car to our new place in Tennessee, which means we'll save on the 14 gallons of gas we would have otherwise had to purchase! And with gas prices as ludicrous as they've been, that's actually a pretty expensive blessing!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Scrambled Lines of Communication

Today I spent 40 minutes on the phone with AT&T's "customer service," being bounced around from department to department. Six, to be exact. I have the phone numbers they gave me to prove it. Why aren't all these department numbers listed online so we can just look them up and cut out the automated voice middle man?? Just trying to reset my account username and password so I can pay my Internet bill here!

I am told to press 1 for English. I am told about new payment options. I am told about changes to this and that AT&T services. Then I am told to enter my phone number. I am told to enter my zip code. Each time the Voice slowly repeats the numbers to be sure that was what I entered. Hurry up. Finally: "Press 1 for AT&T technical issues, press 2 for website access issues." Ummm, well, let's see it could be either one. I press 2. Wait...I think that was wrong. Oh no! I didn't mean it! I take it back. But no one is listening. The Voice has no ears. It starts rattling on about something irrelevant to my problem. I have to start ALL OVER AGAIN...

"Please enter the number associated with your account." ...I pause. Is this my number, or Adam's? Because the account is in his name. Or is it the random number some lady gave me 15 minutes ago before transferring me to another department that turned out to be a dead end. I close my eyes and enter one. "You entered (number I guessed). Is this correct?" Umm, I don't know. This has nothing to do with my problem. Uh, I'll try another one.

After another failed attempt the automated Voice says, "Hmm, let me try some thing else." Yes, please do, this isn't working. The Voice tells me to "Choose one of the following options." Uh-oh. I've heard that line before. Will I pick the wrong one and have to start over? Please list my option, please list my option! After fooling around with option selections, the Voice finally says it will connect me with a representative. Yes! All I ever wanted - a live person! I just want to talk to a voice with a pulse.

Hold. The same few bars of lame music loop around an inestimable number of times while I wait. I guess this is better than the Voice because it means I am closer to human contact. Meanwhile, I'm still trying and failing to access my account online. But, then, behold! A new option graces my screen: Chat with a Representative! A new lead. It's worth a shot while I wait. A little chat window appears. I'm told to enter some information and wait. Now I'm waiting while I wait.

The music on my phone has stopped and a new automated voice is instructing me on the "convenient, new way" to pay my bill online. Ha! It's convenient alright - about as convenient as triple bypass surgery. The new voice continues its instructions.

Meanwhile, there is actually a representative instant messaging me about my account! Can it be? I tell her my problem and within minutes she messages that my password has been reset. Go ahead and log in to make sure it works. My spirit stirs, hope surges. Will it work?

Suddenly the automated voice in the phone stops and there's a pause. I hold my breath. A voice with a pulse comes on. But I don't need him anymore. I tell him so and, as I hang up, I hope that I'm right.

The chat representative tells me to use our wireless number as username. Wait, that doesn't sound right. Oh no... When I log in, it takes me to my wireless account instead of my Internet one. NOOOO! I try to clarify with the Chat Representative. Unfortunately, she can't help me like that. She's just like all the rest.

Dejectedly, and after a cry of desperation and anger, I pick up my phone and start all over again, from the beginning, with the first familiar automated voice. Hello, old friend. After more options, more hold music, and another transfer I reach the right department. The Final Voice with a pulse answers with, "How can I make you a happy AT&T customer today?" Oh, buddy. I can tell you exactly how you could make me a happy customer. Less than 3 minutes later I finally have a new username and password. I feel like I could kiss him, or at least bake him cookies. I would like to send him a thank you card, or a fruit basket, or a bottle of wine.

Really. With all the shiny smartphones and blackberries, iPads, iPhones, email, texting, real time face-to-face chat, Skype, IM, and social networks, our lines of communication leave something to be desired. A lot actually. Quite a lot, a lot.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


WARNING: As you may be able to tell from the title, this post may contain too much information. If you are squeamish, a self-proclaimed prude or overly modest you may want to skip over this post. But this blog's mantra is honesty. And the fact is, I'm a married woman now and there are certain issues and quandaries that have yet to be discussed with fellow married women.

It's my day off. On mornings when I don't babysit I usually indulge in an extra hour of sleep, an omelet breakfast, large mug of coffee, and TV time (typically recorded episodes of the Rachael Ray Show). As I finished, my husband returned home from a quick appointment on campus. Well, it seems that my healthy smoothie breakfasts, salad lunches, and daily hour of treadmill/aerobics time have paid off. Even the fact that I was still in my pajamas and over-sized sweatshirt did not deter my hubby's testosterone.

The real issue of this post is my unpreparedness here. Spring has just sprung and the days here are still chilly. I confess: I am one of those - as are so many other women - who do not shave my legs as regularly during the Winter as during the warmer months - because it's just too easy to get lazy. There, I said it. And I know I am not alone.

So, of course, I felt slightly guilty after our *ahem* rendezvous in lé bedroom.  I later channeled my inner "Venus" in the shower for a smooth shave. Of course, what good does it do then? Somehow, in some silly inexplicable way, it reduces my guilt. Better late than never...maybe?

How often does this happen to you, ladies? You might be as far from sexy as possible with a little stubble on the legs and all, yet your man is after you like you're the Greek goddess of love. Raise your hand if you've ever been the victim of Winter stubble guilt...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Free Is Good

There is almost nothing as sweet as the triumph of getting something for free. I use all the coupons and discounts that I can, and if I ever get the chance at something free, I snap it right up. I've acquired a collection of smallish items from plastic cups and lunch boxes to free yogurt and magazine subscriptions (thank you, Stonyfield!). I've gotten free movie tickets and free groceries from Kroger, and with the way my Kroger points add up from purchases and prescriptions, I've earned a good deal of free gas by now. (May it be that I always have a Kroger wherever I live!) The constraints of a tight budget will make you creative and keep you afloat.

Last night Adam and I enjoyed two free movies thanks to Redbox - the poor man's entertainment connection. Every month like clockwork, we each receive a promo code texted to our cells which is good for one free movie rental. Occasionally, I'll get a bonus code during the month - usually around holidays. There are literally no strings attached - the only consequence being that we are now addicted to Redbox.