Dinner So Easy My Husband Could Do It

I was going to say “so easy your husband could do it,” but that implies husbands can’t cook which is sexist and also a complete falsehood. However, mine is culinary impaired so I really mean it when I say this dinner is so easy. It’s all about spaghetti squash, man!

  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Grape Tomatoes (like maybe a pint? You know how you and your family feel about tomatoes. Make that many.)
  • Pesto (I use the jarred stuff; you can make this yourself if you feel ambitious but I didn’t, and my husband certainly would not)
  1. Preheat your oven to 400
  2. Slice a large spaghetti squash (what is a large spaghetti squash? Yeah, no clue. Ours was the size of a Tom Brady football [#toosoon?] and it gave us 3 heaping servings. But seriously, I’d say a little smaller than a football. Or a little larger than a Game of Thrones dragon egg [because that reference is so much more helpful].) oh shoot, I didn’t finish this sentence: so, slice that bad boy lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. I threw most of them away but one stuck to my finger so I ate it and it was as delicious as a pumpkin seed so I wish I’d saved them and dried them. Your call.
  3. Put the halves cut-side-up on a baking sheet and rub the flesh with oil (that sounds super gross and somewhat Silence of the Lambs-y so sorry ’bout it). I also sprinkled salt and pepper over them, but that’s optional.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes
  5. You can prep the grape tomatoes by tossing them with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. You’ll pop these in the oven (set to 350) when you take out your squash.
  6. Once the squash is done, let it sit and cool while the tomatoes roast (like 10 minutes). Then use a fork to scrape out the guts into a large bowl. The squash gets all stringy, hence the name. Once you’re all scraped out, discard the skins (sorry, I’m still thinking about Silence of the Lambs I guess). Toss the squash with a couple spoon-scoops of pesto. Kind of like with the tomatoes, you know how you feel about pesto. Use that much.
  7. Top the squash with the roasted tomatoes, then sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top (and more salt & pepper, if you’re obsessed like me).

PS: if you transfer the squash halves to a plate and use the same baking sheet (covered in foil) to roast the tomatoes, it makes clean up easier. Although I just realized you’ll probably get squash guts on the plate, meaning you still have two things to wash regardless. Ah well, what do I know, my husband does the clean up.

A Crisis Averted

Remember when I was pity-partying over my lack of chocolate chip cookie skills? My sister-in-law just shut it down with a life-saving recipe.

Okay, that’s a tad dramatic, but having a good cookie recipe up your sleeve is pretty much crucial for things like making friends, impressing co-workers, or surviving the winter. 

When I told my husband his sister sent me a recipe to try, his eyes widened with excitement and his voice took on a reverent hush: “Nina is a great baker!”

Fall has arrived in our neck of the woods, bringing with it the blustery wind I hate and the blushing leaves I love. With football on TV, it just felt like a cookie day. Armed with the recipe my sister swears by, annotated with her own tips, I took a deep breath and opened my heart to the chance I could make a perfect chocolate chip cookie after all.

I was not disappointed. If you are struggling to find the *perfect* recipe (and if your definition of perfect is golden outside, fluffy, chewy, not-cakey inside), let Smitten Kitchen rock your world.

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This guy is so happy to become my delicious dream-come-true!

The most reassuring bit of advice from Nina: The cookies will still look gooey when you take them out at 11 minutes, but they cook more on the sheet. Also, if — like me — you are in a rental with a standard, inexpensive oven, don’t beat yourself up if they don’t come out perfect every time. It’s the oven’s fault!

Thank you, thank you, to my lovely sister — and to Smitten Kitchen, the source of this great recipe. My husband has already eaten about half the batch.

A Crisis

The other day, all I wanted was a chocolate chip cookie. It was 8:30pm and I was already in my pre-bedtime sweats (the transition between work clothes and PJs), and it was raining, so there was no way I was running to the store for ingredients.

Also, I can’t bake chocolate chip cookies to save my life.

Once upon a time, I used to be pretty awesome at cookies. Specifically chocolate chip cookies. Obviously, the store bought dough was amazing and easy, but making them from scratch was delicious.

I don’t know what recipe I used, because I’ve tried DOZENS recently and none turn out *perfectly*.

Side note: “cookie perfection” to me is fluffy, golden on the edges and the bottom, soft (but not gooey/doughy) in the middle, with nice fat chunks of melted chocolate in each bite.

All my cookies are flat and harden right away. Or they’ll stay overly fat and have a scone-like texture. I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is I’m doing wrong. I’ve looked up tips and tweaked things and followed recipe after recipe promising the perfect cookie and assuring me that if I use more of this or less of that, my cookies won’t flatten out like squished bubble gum on the pavement.

And, horror of horrors, this undeserved curse has extended to store-bought, pre-made cookie dough. I have literally one job with them, and I can’t even pull it off.

My one saving grace is my shortbread cookies are freaking fantastic. My Lavender Earl Grey Cookies were a colossal hit last Thanksgiving, even if my uber-gourmet-attempt at savory Chocolate Thyme Cookies were, um, less so. As my mother-in-law put it: “hm. I’ll just stick with the other one.” Of course, my cousin’s kid ate the crap outta those nasty cookies, so I’ll still pat myself on the back for appealing to the finer palates (okay, so maybe the fact that he usually doesn’t get to eat all that sugar/butter/chocolate helped him ignore the bite of the thyme).

Still, there is a time and place for sophisticated, herbal tea cookies, and the rest of the time belongs to the all-American classic: chocolate chip. As I’ve said, I’m obsessed with Pinterest and have an entire board dedicated to finding the perfect recipe for myself. With the holidays fast approaching, I am sure to share any successes (and all my failures) with you, and in the meantime, feel free to pass along your own tried and true recipes!

Salty Meatballs

It sounds inappropriate, but it’s what I just told the head of security at my office I was going to eat. Which yes, was inappropriate, but I did not mean to say it out loud. I meant to just say lunch. This is why I try not to interact with people.

Following this Pinterest recipe kick, I decided to make Salisbury Steak Meatballs last night. I went to the grocery store without my husband, which (depending on how you look at it) was a huge mistake. I got everything on my list…and then a bunch of snacks (because 2/$3 cracker snack packs was a great deal…and because I was freaking hungry, man!).

I got home and got ready to make this tasty-looking dish, only to remember I didn’t get potatoes to mash for a side. I kind of did that on purpose ’cause I wasn’t really feeling like cooking potatoes, but I still felt all “aw, man” when I realized I’d want some sort of starch. My husband was not feeling great (and has had horrendous experience with ground beef in the past) so he opted for a rice-and-Chick’n nugget-burrito instead. Therefore, I made him cook extra rice. Problem solved.

The meatballs turned out pretty spectacular. Side question: why is meatloaf pretty gross, but tiny meatballs made with condiments and spices are not? My best guess is because tiny food is always awesome (it’s adorable and you can justify eating a TON). Basically, it’s science.

Anyhoo, I turned to making the gravy only to realize I don’t have any cornstarch. I feel like that’s a lie because I really hate cornstarch, therefore I’m super aware that it’s in my cupboard. It’s weird to me that something powdery can create such friction on your fingers when rubbed together, and now I’m giving myself a minor seizure just thinking about how to describe it SO needless to say, I know about cornstarch. It sits with my baking stuff and laughs at me when I need it for cookies or whatever. I get a weird burst of triumph when I throw out a box. I think I would have remembered such an occasion.

Sadly, I couldn’t find it. I suspect my husband went on one of his raids to throw out all the expired food in our home and tossed it, which is rude because he stole my moment and also didn’t let me know I had to buy more of the stupid stuff.

I could have asked the Google for other suggestions to thicken up gravy, but I decided to just add a cup or so of water to the recipe and toss in a heaping handful of egg noodles. Because they make starchy water, right? It kind of worked, too. It was pretty thin gravy, but still a decent sauce so I’m counting it as a win.

Where I went wrong: I told my husband I didn’t need anything in the dishwasher before he ran it. I knew things like measuring cups/spoons were in there, but I was feeling superior about my eye-balling skills (especially after that fantastic soup turned out so well). Word to the wise: DO NOT TRY TO EYEBALL 1/4 TSP OF SALT. Or 1 tbs of Worcestershire Sauce. Especially if you are the type to err on the “little more than necessary” side like me. Because I way overdid it on salt and sauce and it made everything a bit salty. This is coming from a gal who loves salt. Pretty much anything “salted” is better than not. Still, I was chugging water with this dish.

Otherwise, the meatballs were tender and juicy and delicious, and the noodles were a nice (ingenious — if I do say so myself) addition. Again, the recipe I butchered can be found here. I would highly recommend trying it out — just be sure to measure that salt appropriately! 😉

 

P.S.: In case you were concerned about a minor plot point — My husband way overdid it on the rice. I was a sport and ate a bowl of straight up rice (partially to neutralize all the salt) but there was still so. much. left. I now know to be more specific when asking him to cook “extra” rice.

 

WexTexMex Soup

So I know it’s been a little while since I’ve written. Sorry about that; I’ve been busy with work and classes and now that football season is officially here, my fantasy team is pretty all-consuming (but I’m working on being less obsessive about it).

I’ve been trying to get creative in the kitchen and try out new recipes (I have way too many recipe boards on Pinterest). I also have a picky eater with a sensitive stomach in my home, so I have to be careful about what ingredients I use. I keep scrolling through my different pins for pasta dishes and chicken dishes and steak recipes, trying to find something that inspires me each day.

Yesterday was the first sort-of fall rainy day of the season. It was still a warm rain, but the air was just chilly enough to remind me that winter is coming (said in the ominous voice of Ned Stark — RIP). It was gray and overcast and wet, and from the lobby of my building, it looked like a day for comfort food.

It looked like a day for soup.

I began combing through my Soups, Stews, and Chili board on Pinterest, hoping to find something savory that could be prepared in less than an hour that could also be filling enough on its own. I came up with two options to present to my husband: chickpea kale soup (minus the kale because we don’t have any and my goal was not to go to the store), or 8 can taco soup.

My husband was skeptical but opted for the taco soup (original recipe found here). I started digging through the pantry and discovered I did not have 8 cans of appropriate ingredients. What I did have was a healthy imagination and a surprisingly helpful husband, so we made it work.

The recipe for WexTexMex Soup is as follows (this made about 6 servings):

1 can – Petite Diced Tomatoes, drained

1 can – Black Beans, drained and rinsed

1 can – Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed

1 can – Cream of Chicken Soup

1 can – Red Enchilada Sauce

1 can – Water

Several dashes of Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce

1/2 packet of Taco Seasoning

~2 shots of Bourbon Whiskey (this was my husbands idea and I couldn’t be more impressed with it. The whiskey really pulled the flavors together nicely)

Dump all the ingredients in a pot and heat through. Easy as that! We also made rice separately and added it in, but you could easily add another cup of water and a cup of rice to the pot.

You are the Best Thing

This weekend, my husband and I will celebrate our first year of married life. It’s insane to me that a full year has passed since the “I do”s and the big dress.

Recently, someone asked how being a newlywed was going. I surprised myself by responding immediately with “it’s really wonderful.” That’s not to say it’s surprising that being married is wonderful — of course it is; why else would people do it? It’s just also hard sometimes, and annoying sometimes, and honestly, a little bit terrifying. But when faced with the question — asked in a way that was meant to illicit a deep, well-thought-out response — my first associated feeling was warmth and light and safety. My lips lifted. And then the words tumbled out. “Really wonderful.”

Trust me, this wasn’t some platitude to change the subject. It wasn’t naivety or boasting or sugar-coating reality. Sharing a living space with someone is annoying. Especially when one is introverted and has grown used to living alone. Suddenly having another person eating my food and using my bathroom and watching my TV 24/7 was uncomfortable (note: I should say that it is “our” food now, and “our” bathroom, and –if anything– “his” TV). I like coming home from work and writing or watching a good, detailed show on the DVR (like GoT) or reading a book or whatever it is that is silent and solitary and not peppered with questions. I’ve had to get used to there being someone who wants to hear about my day and tell me about his (and eventually ask for the umpteenth time “why does she have dragons?”) — literally every single day.

My husband is neurotic about very particular things. We all have our quirks. I’m seriously blown away he loves me so freaking much considering all of my own little weirdo-things.

We are also different people. This should go without saying, but being different people, we have different thoughts and ideas and different things are important or not important or done differently and this leads to fights.

This year has not been a walk in the park, though we’ve taken many. We’ve experienced loss, and learned how difficult comfort can be to find when he grieves differently than I. There have been eye-rolls and firmly-shut-doors (okay, I might have slammed one or two). There have been tears (in my defense, he knew going into this I’m a mess of emotions) and there has been heavy silence. I’ve learned (read: still learning) that sharing a life can be as windy and rocky as it is smooth.

But I’ve also learned that if I’m not feeling well, my husband knows without my saying which mug to serve my favorite soup in. I know he’ll go to three different stores to track down one ingredient for dinner if I say it’s important (and sometimes, even if I say it’s not). He always cleans up after dinner — he’ll say it’s because I cooked, but even if he makes his specialty rice-and-avocado-burritos, he cleans up.

When a funny movie makes him belly-laugh, he reaches for my knee. It’s a subconscious tick — he just likes to be physically connected to me while we’re doubling over with laughter. Sometimes he holds my hand as he’s falling asleep. He tells me he loves my singing (no matter how loudly, stupidly, or off-key I make it), and insists he’s not lying when I scoff.

He thinks I’m strong, and beautiful, and that I see the world with childlike wonder. He can be utterly selfless, my modern-day hero. He epitomizes one of my favorite lines from my favorite movie about my favorite fictional crush: “That boy would stand on his head if I asked him to!” (okay, so the original quote said “Gilbert Blythe” but I’ve thought it so often of my husband that it’s forever warped in my heart to “that boy”).

So despite the challenges that go along with all of life, despite the discomfort of fitting my life with another human being, when asked to dish about all the anxiety marriage can bring, the word that came to mind was “wonderful.” Really wonderful.

There were points during the past year where I questioned everything. I had panic attacks and really low periods and felt really lonely. There were also times I couldn’t fall asleep because my husband wasn’t home yet, and now I’m used to his arms around me at night. It’s all a beautiful, painful, wonderful journey to weave my life with someone else, the best someone else. It’s a journey we’ll continue on for a lifetime of years.

 

Thoughts on an Election

I don’t intend for this blog to become a political soapbox, but it is an outlet for my more rambling of thoughts, so bear with me once more as I throw yet another opinion into the world of social media.

Let’s face it, we have two of the worst options running for president this year. Hillary’s been in politics long enough to make a bunch of enemies, and long enough to inspire a bunch of support. Trump’s new to politics, which is terrifying for some and refreshing for others. They’re the two least popular candidates ever to run (but don’t tell Trump–or do, he won’t believe you anyway).

For every left-leaning news article that’s anti-Trump, you can find right-leaning ones to support him. He’s a great businessman. He’s had a lot of failed businesses. He’s well-loved by his workers. He’s been sued over non-payment many times. Back and forth, tit for tat, arguments for both sides fall on deaf ears.

I know I’m not going to convince anyone to switch sides; that’s not what I’m here about. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, and for the most part, we all feel strongly that our opinions are correct. I don’t want to write that someone else’s opinion is wrong, I want to write about why I hold the position I do.

For me, it’s not about Trump vs. Hillary, it’s whose platform is more closely aligned with what’s important to me and my vision of a great America. It’s about which candidate is least offensive for me, personally (okay…it’s a little #NeverTrump, but I did try to give him a chance).

For me, as a woman, I take offense to the degrading things he’s had to say about women, and to the idea that all should be forgiven because of his uncomfortably close relationship with one of his daughters (and it disturbs me he thinks they would be dating if she wasn’t his daughter). As someone close to and very respectful of the Jewish community, I take offense to his assurance to remain neutral on Israel, and to his “America First” mentality reminiscent of the anti-Semitic movement of the ’30s and ’40s which demanded we stay out of WWII and allow Nazism and genocide to sweep across Europe. As someone who believes that love and acceptance should be for all people, I take offense to his proposed wall, to his proposed registry of Muslim Americans, and to his proposal to ban anyone from coming to America (a country founded on principles of religious freedom) because of their religion. As a Christian, I take offense to the hatred, the bigotry, the negativity promoted by his campaign, especially when as a Christian, I am called to dwell on whatever is good, and right, and noble, and love my enemies. As a free American, I take offense to the admiration and respect he has blatantly touted for dictators. As a white person, I take offense to his reluctance to disavow support of the KKK, and to his “accidental” or “unintended” encouragement of white supremacist ideals. As a human being, black lives do matter to me. That doesn’t mean blue lives don’t; they do. It simply means black. lives. matter. They matter, and the black community needs to know that. For me, only one of the candidates can express that message clearly.

I wonder just what time we are hoping to get back to in order to consider America great “again”. Was it back when a woman’s place was in the home? Before we had the right to vote? Was it back when things were segregated? Before African Americans had the right to vote? Or maybe further, when blacks were considered property rather than people? Every decade of our history is rife with examples of triumph and tragedy. For every positive, there is at least one negative. The same is true today. It’s why America is great, and why she is hurting. We don’t need to move backwards. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and keep charging forward. We need to acknowledge that America is a beautiful melting pot of all cultures, religions, races and ethnicity, and that is what makes her great.

Only one candidate sees the same America I do: one that is already great, but has the potential to be greater.