Monday, December 28, 2009

How I've Missed You

(I know... broken record... I embedded the song on Saturday and here I am quoting it on Monday. Sue me.)

Anyway... I have missed you, blogensteins! I want to make this up to you by allowing you to decide what you hear about from my hiatus.

We'll start simple. With categories.

Option 1: Family Oddities

Wherein Amanda provides some character sketches of involved parties and a story of comical, yet touching, relevance.

Option 2: Food Stuffs

Wherein Amanda drolls on about some bit of cuisine cooked up between November 27th and December 26th.

Option 3: Fashion Forwardness

Wherein Amanda pretends you're interested and hands out advice, criticism, or just plain sass on some aspect of dress, carriage, or accessory (in?)appropriate to the season.

So... there you have it. Three categorical options. Vote for your fave in the poll on the right there (no log in required), and in a few days or so, I'll be back to offer you options within the chosen category.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ooopsy Daisies

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It has been 30 days since my last blogpost.

There are many reasons for this, but let's just be real with each other... you don't care why I failed. You just want to know that I know, and that I'm going to try to do better.

Revision: I will do better. (In the words of the wise green one, "Do or do not. There is no try.")


Ugh. Breaking the silence is so hard and uncomfortable. I'm gonna go ahead and let YouTube do the work for me.

My winter break in videos:

1. Single Ladies Gone Wrong

No introduction, no explanation. It's just that good. Enjoy it over and over.

2. "Dying Day", Brandi Carlile

I love this girl. So much. And she kept me company alllll semester through Pandora. It should be a surprise to no one that this song got stuck in my head as soon as I got on the first plane on December 10th.

3. "Sisters", White Christmas

Ladies and gentlemen, the Hanes sisters!

A friend of my sister's introduced her to this movie and I watched a bit of it with her over Christmas Eve and Day. I have not seen the whole movie through, but I have seen this one "Sisters" act about five times. It's appropriate both for the holiday and the sheer amount of time I've spent with my sister (and other family members) over the past few weeks.

4. "Sisters on the Lawrence Welk Show", SNL

I had no idea this skit sprung from the "Sisters" act on White Christmas. But having seen one, I can't leave you without sharing the other.

Lolve it. If you so much as say "with my by myself" around my dad, he'll lose it. I say this from experience.

Now... if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get to doing... something. Really anything that will get me away from this living room where my dad is enjoying who-knows-what on the Military channel.

But to you who read this post and decided to forgive me my absence... Thank you for being a friend.

Hmm... maybe I should embed some Golden Girls?

Nah, you know how I do.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving: A Look Back

I'm sure this doesn't surprise you, but I love when people - usually news anchors or school administrators - develop instant nostalgia. You know... the way people talk about something that happened yesterday or maybe the day before with such awe and reverence that you start to question yourself and your lack of concern over that same, fairly insignificant event.

An example:

The Gosselins: Where are they now?

(Personally... I'd watch that special. I know it hasn't even been a week since their finale on Monday, but I miss them.)

Anyway, I'm already getting nostalgic about yesterday's Thanksgiving meal. It was... really quite good. I blame the chef.

Literally, my Thanksgiving meal was made by a friend who is a former executive and then restaurant chef.

We had...

The most moist, delicious, roast turkey I've ever had.

Also on the plate: roasted root vegetables, garlicky asparagus, melt-in-your-mouth onion, creamy mashed potatoes, and baked squash. Not pictured: amazing gravy made from reduced drippings, and cranberry pear relish spiked with orange Stoli.


Luckily, my nostalgia will be calmed a bit when I eat my plate of leftovers tonight.

And stay tuned for dessert. You can look forward to a better picture (and an explanation) of this guy...

And his awkwardly portioned friends.

What'd you eat yesterday? Thanksgiving or not... I'm just curious.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stuff Amanda Likes: Savannah

I'll be honest: Smalltown, Georgia gets me down at times. We're small, dry*, conservative, and without our own Target.

Luckily, when things get blah here, I can roadtrip it to Savannah, a place Amanda likes very much. Here are just a few of the things I like about Savannah.

1. Driving under Spanish Moss & Palm Trees at the same time.

It's just so Southern and homey that it makes me want to fall into a bout of fiddle-dee-dees that would make even Blanche take notice. Just on the other side of this median is the Daughters of the American Revolution park. Blanche would have something to say about that too.

2. Paying to park at a meter, under Spanish moss and palm trees, and in front of adorable rowhouses.

Don't really need much more explanation. The kitsch level is just really high. And I like that.

3. The Book Lady

Located at 6 East Liberty Street, the Book Lady bookstore is quite the find. I happened upon it while hunting down a bakery. (I didn't find the bakery, but I found the building... so I'm not giving up.) Anyway... The Book Lady. This bookstore is accessed by a tiny door just below street level. It's stuffed to the gills with all sorts of books, and I do mean all sorts.

Funniest thing about this bookstore? The bathroom. The bathroom (a one-fer) is large but it's also stuffed to the gills with books, just like the rest of the store. There are shelves in there. And tubs. And boxes. And stacks on the floor. A note on the door (propped open by a stool until you move it) reads:

"You are welcome to use the bathroom, but do not remove the books. These books ARE NOT for sale. Thank you, The Book Lady"

Does that remind anyone else of Sienfeld and George's Impressionists?

4. Soho South Cafe

Just past The Book Lady at 12 West Liberty Street, the Soho South Cafe caught my eye with its brightly colored umbrellas and promise of art with my lunch. Once inside, I was not disappointed. The cafe is big and open with high ceilings and many windows. Art is everywhere, but I didn't take in much of it since my book and I were seated at the front window. The staff was super friendly and hospitable (go figure, I know...) and when my waiter forgot my silverware he sweetly exclaimed, "Oh my word! I'm so sorry about that!"

I swooned a little.

And the food? Excellent. I ordered the Waldorf-style Tuna Pita with a lightly dressed house salad. So good. And so fresh. It was so good that I'm officially adding to this list of foods I would eat every day if I was forced to.

5. The Savannah Mall

For this last bit of stuff, you'll have to shift gears with me. One of the great things about Savannah is that as a place, it's a total both/and. Savannah is BOTH the historical, adorable, artsy place that you've seen so far AND the suburban shopping district that is just a few minutes away. Since I can't shop outside of Goodwills in Smalltown, Georgia, my trips to Savannah definitely include a stop to the mall(s).

And on this trip, I found this poster. Sigh. Sadly, the gingerbread trailer park wasn't set up yet. Otherwise you'd better believe I would have brought you a picture.

To wrap up, this list only covers one street and one mall, but it gives you a small taste of some of what I like about Savannah. Rest assured there are many other things. Things like Paula Deen, River Street, to go beers, Five Guys, ghost tours, Lady Chablis, and street musicians.

*Seriously. I have to drive about 15 minutes from my house to the county line in order to purchase hard alcohol. Beer and wine flow freely though.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paula's Mini Burgers in Puff Pastry: All the Good

I don't have a lot to say about these burgers. The take away message is, "Make them now, you won't be sorry."

I watched Paula make a full-size version of these with her sons the other day, and I was very impressed. The burgers are no fuss extra lean ground beef, seasoned with salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. I got 9 mini burgers out of 16 oz. of ground beef.

After the burgers are fully cooked (I browned them in a skillet and then baked them through), just top them with a piece of cheese, wrap them up in thawed frozen puff pastry, and bake them again. Couldn't be easier.

The only thing easier than making them is... well... eating them. Enjoy!

Here's your recipe:
Paula Deen's Mini Burgers in Puff Pastry

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Sister and I Look Nothing Like Each Other

(and other lies I like to tell)

+ I promise I'll unpack my office this weekend.

+ No, really, your cat is different.

+ I'll definitely check my school email over Thanksgiving break.

What are your favorite fibs?

Friday, November 20, 2009

How NOT to Prepare for Guests

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I'm sure many of you are getting ready to welcome friends and family into your homes. I know what you're up against. You're anxious about the timing of dinner, the comfort of your guests, and the random statements that will come flying out of your grandfather's mouth. So, dear reader, let me calm you down a bit. Sit back, relax, and learn from my (not terribly) recent experience.

Here's what not to do mere minutes before guests show up at your door.

The morning of your guests arrival, do not fondly remember the ambitious (but delicious) zombie cupcakes of a few weeks back.

Do not let the zombie remembrance remind you of the giant two layer Chocolate Cake with Turtle filling in your freezer.

Do not let the memory of cupcakes gone by encourage you to pull the two cakes from their frozen safety and thaw them. The day of your guests arrival.

And once the cakes are thawed, you might not want to take a picture of the mammoth cakes just to show your friends later that yes, you could in fact lift a giant two layer Paula Deen cake full of caramel, chocolate, and nuts.

Okay... you might want to take the pic, because even once things really hit the fan, you'll at least have a goofy shot of yourself that might just one day turn into a blog header... or something.

Anyway... back to it.

Oh... it's getting more obvious, isn't it.

Please don't decide that one hour is plenty of time in which to make and pour the chocolate icing over the cake before your guests knock on your door.

And... ugh... this really getting hard to talk about... I think it's still too fresh.

Please, please don't answer the phone when your guests call you from 20 minutes out and say, "20 minutes? That's actually perfect. I'm just pouring an icing on my cake real quick and then I'll head up to the coffee shop. I'll sit outside and wait for you there."

Because you just had to know that the 1/2 inch lip you left around the giant cake on the biggest plate you have was not going to hold that icing. And you should have seen it coming when the icing started pouring over the sides without covering and your (silly) response was to add more to the top.

So, yes, if you've gotten this far and done this much this wrong, then you will just have to suck it up, pick up your guests, and welcome them into your home, now complete with chocolate icing dripping down the counter, drawer pull, cabinet, and well onto the floor.

Even your Kitchen Aid will be embarrassed to be seen like this.

But... even if everything goes as wrong for you as it did for me, it doesn't mean your guests' visit is doomed. We had fun. Didn't we, Kira?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bet you didn't see THIS coming!

You know that day you reach - after you've been sick for a while - when you are so fully fed up with soups, toast, orange juice, tea and all other sick foods? Well, today was that day for me.

It was also the day before the last day of classes before Thanksgiving break.

Feeling quite a bit healthier and totally excited about the week long school vacay coming up, I was primed and ready for an ambitious dinner.

I did some research in the office today and after school, I attempted to duplicate The Friendly Kitchen's Almond-Thyme Crusted Chicken with Maple-Balsamic Glaze, Pecorino Polenta, and Garlicky Kale.

What made me think I could manage a meal put together by a blogger with a $40,000 culinary education? What encouraged me to take on a dinner that requires two pots, two skillets, one pan, and various prep tools?

Honestly? ...Almond meal.

I'm still trying to use it up.

But... as you can see, my dinner was edible! And pretty good, actually.

I should never have been so scared of polenta. Wilted spinach (no kale at Smalltown Walmart... surprise!) is quite terrific. And almond-thyme crusted chicken is subtly flavored and will be great leftover.

But friends, I'll be honest. The drizzle isn't pictured because I forgot about it and instead of reducing it, I burned it. It turned into a balsamic, maple candy. Very black. Very sticky. And then very quickly very solid. Blech.

When it was all said and done, I learned a very big lesson.

No matter how many pots, pans, aprons (yes, two), whisks (again, two), knives, and measuring cups you use to make your dinner, it will still only take you about 15 minutes to eat it.

And then you'll have to do the dishes.

Dear Reader,

Never live alone.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mail Call!

When I got home from my loooong day of teaching with half a voice, I was greeted by a very exciting package on my doorstep. My everpresent landlord actually saw me find and recognize the package as my Zombie Cupcake prizes and called over, "Someone sent you a Christmas present!"

(I think I caught him off guard when I responded in my manly rasp, but it got me inside my house without having to carry on a conversation.)

The package encouraged me to be careful when opening... and careful I was.

Look at all the goodies. :) Let's take a closer look, ya?

My prize package included:

A pouch made by Yoyo of Topstitch.

An awesome Cupcake Rehab inspired painting by Christine Comis.

Pink polka dot cupcake liners from Lyns of Sweet Cuppin Cakes.

And... a handwritten note from Marilla.

There was so much pink in this package, people. And I love it. I've already decided where to hang the painting, what to put in the pouch, and how I'm going to fill those liners.

A big THANK YOU to Marilla for hosting a Cupcake Rehab 2nd Birthday Giveaway. And another THANK YOU to the prize sponsors. You guys are tops.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stuff Amanda Likes: Folk Music

So, I'm sure you've all seen this book

and if you haven't, you should. Christian Lander started compiling Stuff White People like on his blog, and then put it all into one hilarious book. It's definitely worth a read.

Anyway... sometimes I think that you all just might like to know a bit about Stuff Amanda Likes. And... if you don't... then feel free to ignore this post and move on to higher blog ground.

Today's theme is... Folk Music

1. Girlyman, "Somewhere Different Now"

Since my true favorites are indy folk, it's hard to find good videos. Many of them end up coming from concerts, radio spots, or the like; you'll see that in the clips I've posted here. But... Girlyman is good however you can find them. Doris, Ty, and Nate combine harmonies with guitars, mandolins, congas, tamborines, and whatever they can find (seriously... I've seen Ty play a colander) to produce music that makes me weak in the knees.

And as far as Ty (the lead singer on this song) is concerned, it is my life goal to "bust up her hideout."

Fun Fact: Girlyman is based in Atlanta, Georgia, but the only time I've seen them in the flesh was in Portland, Maine.

2. The Wailin' Jennys, "One Voice"

Pandora introduced me to The Wailin' Jennys this semester over a stack of student papers. We hit it off immediately, and it isn't just their name that won me over. These women have gorgeous voices that they wrap around spirituals, hymns, ballads, Irish folk songs, and many of their own original songs. They're hard not to love.

Fun Fact: The Wailin' Jennys are responsible for "Calling All Angels", the song that plays at the end of Pay It Forward and reduces all living, breathing beings to puddles of weepy mess.

3. Nada Surf, "Blizzard of 77"

Now, I can't speak for all of Nada Surf's work. I've been told they were a flash in the pan in 1996 with the enormously annoying song, "Popular." I don't know that song and I don't care to. But "Blizzard of 77" and others I've heard like it have that earnest harmony that demands attention. It probably doesn't help that one of my smalltown friends plays this particular song every time she's in charge of the tunes.

Fun Fact: The last post on Nada Surf's blog was just over one year ago. In it, Matthew Caws expresses his concern over the upcoming presidential election and encourages readers to vote. These dudes are nothing if not current.


That's all for now. Just a few of my current must plays. If you have a minute, do check out Brandi Carlile's "Dreams" (embedding disabled, lives ruined). I'm serenaded by that one each time my phone rings.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Almond Butter: Take Two (this time there's a cupcake)

On Tuesday, I told you about my almond butter fiasco. Well... after that disaster, I found almond butter at Bi-Low. (Who knew?!) I used the almond butter to put together my Cupcake Hero November: Nut Butter entry.

Blackberry Almond Cupcakes

A moist, vanilla almond eggless cake topped with almond nut butter icing and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

But wait... just beneath the surface lurk...

Two different fillings. I was inspired to double fill these cupcakes by a donut I had at a Tim Hortons in Maine. This ridonkulously decadent donut was filled with both jelly and icing. Having enjoyed the experience very much, I decided to cupcake it. And why not cupcake it with a nut butter icing?

For the icing bit, I made up a thick almond butter icing. To complement that icing, I chose a blackberry jam.

As you can see, the result is visually fantastic. And though one taster thought the effect was a bit peanut butter and jelly, she loved the flavor of the almond butter icing.

All other tasters were unavailable for comment, as the cupcake rendered them speechless. There were a lot of "oh man"s and "wow"s and "ungh"s. High praise indeed.

Without further ado, here are the recipes.

Super Moist Vanilla Almond Cake
modified from Love and Olive Oil

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 cup almond milk
1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.

Whisk oil, almond milk, and vanilla bean paste together in another bowl. Then pour into a well in dry ingredients. Stir until mostly smooth and pour 1/4 c of batter into each liner. (Cupcakes will dome up nicely.)

Bake 20-22 minutes or until cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

Almond Butter Icing (for filling)
based loosely on allrecipes' Fluffy Peanut Butter Icing

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup almond butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon almond milk (use more if icing is too thick to use as filling)

Blackberry Jam
adapted from Sandra Lee

Stand in jam/jelly aisle for a good few minutes.

Debate worthiness of different fruit jams as they pair with your vision of an almond butter cupcake.

Pull jam (any jam) from the shelf, examine it at length, replace it on the shelf, and leave the grocery store with a jar of Blackberry Jam.

Almond Butter Icing (for frosting)

adapted from this girl

Take remaining almond butter filling and slowly add almond milk until icing is thin enough to spread easily.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The almond butter that just... wasn't.

Cupcake Hero's November ingredient is Nut Butter.

Hmm... nut butter. Nut. Butter.

I didn't want to do peanut butter, because I just have to assume that any peanut butter combination I come up with will be done (and probably done better) in the round-up by someone else.

Since I <3 almond, I decided that an almond butter would be the best, sneakiest, inventive-iest ingredient on which to base my November Cupcake Hero entry. But... as you might have guessed... this is NOT the post in which I unveil my November Cupcake Hero cupcake.

I think you'll see just what kind of post this is in just a minute.

My quest to procure almond butter started in all the usual places: grocery stores, health food stores, the Saturday farmer's market. I was soundly and swiftly disappointed at each place.

Refusing to give up, I researched the process of creating almond butter. Oh, it's so simple. (They said.) Just blanch, peel, roast, and process. (They said.)

It's just a list of steps. I can handle steps, right?

1. Blanche: Bring pot of water to a boil, remove from heat, add almonds, let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Drain mucky brown water off the almonds and pop the nuts out of their wrinkly skins.

This process made me a little angsty. In a giggly way. So you guys get a video.

(I know you care. I was just in a bad place.)

3. Place nuts in food processor and let her rip. Nuts should (should) become a meal, release oils, become a ball, and finally smooth out to a butter.

Umm... this is as far as I got. Almond meal.

So... almond butter didn't happen for me. But that's okay because now I have over two cups of amazingly fine almond meal. Any recipes I should try?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Brunch (for Two!)

Yes, yes, I know. Sunday brunch is quickly becoming a habit with me.

But, ya know, there are most definitely worse things.

So here's what I had for brunch today and what I recommend you make for brunch at the next available opportunity (Sunday?).

4 strips of bacon, baked for ease and smoke detector testing (mine's fine, by the way). 4 eggs, slow scrambled with milk, a slice-o-Kraft American cheese, salt and pepper. And a holy mess of fried potatoes.

Mmm... let's spend a minute with those potatoes, shall we?!

My grandmother (mom's mom) made the best fried potatoes. They were perfectly browned in just the right amount of oil. Seasoned only with salt, pepper, and onions, the potatoes were simple and comforting and absolutely amazing. Breakfast-for-Dinner at Mammaw's house was a rare treat that we ALL got excited about. Honestly, boys and girls, I don't even remember the other dishes served at those breakfast gatherings. The potatoes were just that good.

So... that's the nostalgia... now here's the joke:

My aunt (mom's sister, Mammaw's daughter) set out to make these fried potatoes this summer. She reached back into the recesses of her mind and did her very best to recreate Mammaw's fried potatoes. What she ended up with was disastrous and she came to me wondering what went wrong. After she talked me through her process, I asked a question: "Hmm... how much oil did you put in the skillet?"

(Ready yourself for the punchline.)

She replied, "Oh... about this much" raising her right thumb and pointer finger to show about an inch and a half. (O_O)

Too much! Too much!

Anyway... since then I've been trying to make those fried potatoes on my own. And, I think I've got it. Today, I spiced them up Creole-style because I didn't have any onions but the basic idea is the same.

Mammaw's (Creole) Fried Potatoes

Vegetable Oil
Potatoes (red-skinned, cubed)
Minced Garlic
Creole Seasoning (Tastes Great on Everything!)

1. Take a turn of the pan with the vegetable oil. (Just a turn, more than that and you'll be deep frying your potatoes. You just want to brown them. Right, Anita?)

2. Add the chopped potatoes to the hot oil, spread them out, sprinkle garlic and Creole seasoning over them, and walk away. Seriously. Let them brown.

3. Flip them a few times as they brown, but give them several minutes between flippings. This the most important part of the deal. Just do it. After flips, season again if you want.

4. Taste test along the way. Stop when they are perfect.

Finally, take all your food stuffs to the table, share them with your house guest (No? That's just me? Well... aren't I just the lucky girl?), and then please go on to seize carpe the diem day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mint Julep Cupcakes, or What Season Are We Having?

Boys and Girls, I have news. It's November. (That's not the news bit.) And Smalltown, Georgia is still enjoying temperatures in the 70s.

I don't get it. I keep getting up in the morning and making tough decisions about which ridiculously patterned sweater to add to my already patterned (sometimes twice) teacher outfit, only to walk out the door and realize I don't need it. A few days I've been glad to have it but then shrugged it off by afternoon again.

So today I asked my chatty 9am class what I should expect. It went something like this...

Student A: "I'm freezing!"
Me: "Really? Tell me, how cold will it get in Georgia?"
Student B: "Oh, it gets pretty cold."
Me: "Now, what do you mean by 'pretty cold'? Because I've been living in Maine for the last two years..."
Student B: "Okay, no, it doesn't get cold. This is about as cold as it will get."
Student A: "No way, it will get a lot cooler! Like in the 40s, probably."


Friends, I can do 40s.

So when I ask what season we are having, I really am asking. Apparently this is fall, but it feels like winter to my students. To a Mainer, this feels pretty dern close to an endless summer.

Since I don't know what season it is and since my Australian friends are having a different season entirely and who knows... they might be confused too... I don't think any of you can sass me for making a seasonally inappropriate cupcake.

Like many before it, this cupcake came to me in a dream. I woke up from an afternoon nap with the startling knowledge that I had all the ingredients to make a bangin' Mint Julep cupcake.

The cake is vanilla mint bourbon with a white chocolate bourbon ganache filling and topped with a mint bourbon marshmallow buttercream.

Overall, the flavor was... bizarre. The cupcake tasted a lot like the drink. Some tasters enjoyed this (one said, "What is this filling? More of that!"), others did not.

I wasn't sold in either direction.

I dropped one off in a colleague's office in the morning and came back from class later to find the following message on my dry erase board:

"How can you stand that much speermint?! It's like eating gum or toothpaste! But I still love you."

Hilarious. There is nothing I love more than an honest review. None of that smile and nod business for me!

As it turns out, the verdict is out on both the season and this Mint Julep Cupcake. To both this cupcake and the season, I say a big "Why you always gotta label things?!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spinach Artichoke Pesto Pasta

Okay, those of you who like your recipes will not enjoy this one. I measured not a thing.

I was inspired by Rachael Ray while I was still in bed this morning, so you might have more luck finding her recipe.

Follow me if you dare! (You can keep up, I promise.)

I started by browning a can of quartered artichoke hearts that I drained the water out of. A little bit of oil helps the process.

In my new food processor (oh, hello!), I pureed probably 2/3 of a bag of baby spinach and a small handful of fresh mint with about a half cup of vegetable stock, a couple of spoonfuls of chopped garlic, a spoonful of roasted almonds, and a handful or so of parmesan cheese. I added salt and pepper to taste. And... let's be honest... I added some more garlic. And cheese.

Once the spinach pesto tasted good, I dumped it in with the browned artichoke hearts and allowed the pesto and artichoke to get to know each other.

Did I mention that I was boiling whole wheat penne at the same time? Well... I was. But I'm sure you weren't surprised.

The last step was to toss the pasta and pesto together. Let me just say that this pesto was fab and really easy to whip together. The artichoke hearts bring a slight bite to the dish and the overall flavor is light and fresh. Paired with Three Rivers, this pasta made my Sunday night.

How did you ring in November? For some reason, I've been asking people about November a lot these days. So... I'll ask you too. How is November treatin' ya?!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 7: So Much Fail

God's perfect number.
The punchline of this week's episode of Accidentally on Purpose.
The number of Gosselins I still find cute.
The day I started cheating on my 30 Day Plan to Separate Church and State.

And, if I had just cheated, I would have been able to apologize, punish myself, and get back on the horse tomorrow. The problem is that I justified checking my personal emails and sending a text or two because it didn't really disrupt my progress.


Anyway, back to it tomorrow. I'll be good. For the challenge, if nothing else.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Halloween Reflection

When the fellow in the middle was commissioned to zip my $9 Goodwill dress of infinite tightness, he gripped the zipper, started pulling up and asked only one question:

"We're going all the way up?"

Yes, dear. Have a bit of faith.

This morning, when one of my students asked how my weekend was, I thought about it and said, "It was nice."

When she asked me if I did anything for Halloween, I said (without thinking), "No... I didn't... How was your dad's haunted house?" She launched into a story about scaring children and I returned to my gradebook.

And... we're back to normal. At least for another 362 days. Sigh.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day One: The Tweets You Missed

Today was Day One of my 30 Day Challenge to Separate Church and State. It was tough, but I was predictably productive even though Thursday is only on a half-ban.

Here's the breakdown:
7:30am - 9am: Grade Rubric Development
9am - 10am: Teaching
10am - 12pm: Reading Questions, chatting with colleagues, etc. (Not tweeting.)

12:01pm: Tweet!!!

Let me tell you, it was hard to stay away from social networks while in the office. By around 11:43 (okay... it was exactly 11:43), my arms were crawling when I wouldn't let them reach for the computer. But I survived! And.. I'm optimistic about continuing the challenge.

So... because I literally thought in tweets today, knowing that I couldn't share them, here are the tweets you missed.

A. Fiercehair:

= slept until 6:28am, leaving no time to contemplate her last tweet of freedom!!!

= overheard this in the faculty bathroom, "I've only ruined one shirt doing that and I didn't have my glasses on... so... ya know..."

= made plans for Rocky Horror while standing in the office kitchen with her hair styled like Prince William. Brilliance.

= cursed her unflattering sweater vest for making her look pudgy, until she found the open expectant mother parking spot at Walmart.

= doesn't know what to do for dinner.

Okay, so that last one is really just about the present. And... because of those Rocky Horror plans, I should get on the business of dinner so I can dig out my fishnets and decide exactly how much eyeliner is too much eyeliner.

But, if you liked what you read here, feel free to follow me on Twitter. I can only promise that future tweets will be as random and as these.

And wish me all the luck... tomorrow is Day Two of my challenge, but it's the first day that I'll be off the networks from 6:30pm - 4:30pm.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My 30 Day Plan to Separate Church & State

Loyal readers may have noticed that my posting history is an interesting one. I started this blog many moons ago without any focus or capitalization, and somehow I've wound up here. With you.

In the beginning I posted on the minutiae of my day and even tried my hand at poetry, but at present I mostly tease you with my successful culinary goodies and ask you to laugh with me about my kitchen disasters. I've moved the minutiae to Twitter, and some of you (bless your hearts) have even decided to follow me there.

Frequency of posting has fluctuated too. In March of 2009, I posted 27 times. That's one more post than the sum total of my posts in the year 2007. In spring 2009, I posted nearly daily, even without a working computer to call my own. I was a woman on a mission.

Then came summer and job applications and angst and an overwhelming apathy towards cupcakes. In August I got a job, moved to Georgia, and signed on for a whole new set of stressors better known as my 109 first year writing students. Cooking and baking has, of late, been my coping mechanism of choice so bring on the baking and blogging, right?!

Well... in theory.

This semester my blogging has been anything but consistent. When I've appeared to be on task and posting several times a week, it's only because I've sat down on a Sunday night, written three posts, and scheduled them for the coming week. I've started to treat blogging like homework. And for a teacher, that's not a good thing.

So, after some reflection, the reason for this behavior has come to me in an Oprah-like Aha! moment.

My work and my life have become one.

If I were not a teacher, I would be deemed a workaholic. However, it seems to be the predominant assumption that teachers are their work.

No one chastises a teacher for working on lesson plans on Saturday. No one scolds a teacher for heading home after a 10 hour day on campus and settling down to read student papers after dinner. Teachers who respond promptly to emails - no matter what time of day or night they are sent - are considered the "good" ones; those who only respond during certain hours are considered particular at best, and negligent more often than not. For some reason, our culture expects teachers to live for the classroom and I, as a new teacher, have done my best to comply with this expectation.

Within the first weeks, I learned that work would take over my life, so I responded by allowing life to seep into my work. If I'm going to be working all hours of the day and night, I figured I might as well allow myself little pleasures throughout the actual workday to break up the monotony. Therein lies the (social networking) rub.

Between 6:30am and 4:30pm, I'm always on. I tweet about the parking gate. I catch up on blogs when office hours are slow. I check Facebook during lunch. (I can't justify it during office hours for fear of being caught by students!) I compulsively check email addresses that will keep me posted on blog comments, Facebook messages, and new Twitter followers because... well... it's just that important.

And when I finally leave the office for the day, I go home to do much of the same. The social networks are all still there, but then again, so is my work. Student papers, lesson plans, grade rubrics, plaintive emails... they're all there.

So what I'm left with is a workday that starts at 6:30am and doesn't really end until I go to sleep. Or, if I'm lucky, until primetime television starts. Things slack off when I go home, for sure, but it's more like that last hour of work in an office setting after the boss leaves but before you clock out for the day: procrastination and general tomfoolery are not as covert, but when projects or deadlines loom, everyone gets serious.

No wonder I live for the weekends. They really are the only times I punch out. That is, until Sunday when I attempt to make up for my "absences".

For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to come up with a 30 day challenge for myself that will give me something to do. I've contemplated adopting a raw food diet, meeting one new person each day, or forcing myself to the gym every day. None of these ideas really grabbed me, but now that I've had this Aha! moment, I know exactly what to do.

Over the next 30 days, I am going to rescue my life from my work. I'm going to separate church and state once and for all. (Well... once... we'll see about the "for all" bit at the end of 30 days.) I'm going to divorce my work life from social networking and frivolity of all sorts. I will then insert more work into work hours and reduce the amount of time spent on work at home in my "off" time.

Here are the rules.

1. NO social networking between 6:30am and 4:30pm, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or between 6:30am and 12pm, Tuesday and Thursday.

Facebook, Twitter, and blogs (mine and others) are verboten in the workplace, even on lunch breaks when the office door gets closed.

2. NO class planning or work email checking on personal computer.

This is going to be a tough rule to follow. But... if all goes according to plan with #1, I should free up office time in which I can plan classes, post assignments, deal with student emails and the like.

3. Paper grading, though probably done at least partially at home, will be rigorously monitored.

When presented with student papers, I will establish a reasonable schedule and hold myself to it. Naturally, social networking is verboten during scheduled grading times.

This is my challenge, should I choose to accept it. I haven't accepted it yet, because, well, I bet you can guess where I am at the moment... and it's not at home.

But you know what? Kick in the rear time. I accept this challenge and it will officially start tomorrow morning at 6:30am. With Day One as Thursday, Oct. 29th, I'll finish Day Thirty on November 27th.

I'll be updating you on my progress, but do feel free to call me out if I waver. You have timestamps. Keep me honest.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Making of a Skullikin

skullikin [skull-ih-ken] (n.)
1. a skull that possesses some notable quality that either renders it adorable, frightening, or in some way laughable. read: all skulls.
2. a skeleton complete with skull.

Halloween is just around the corner, so I think we can officially declare this Halloween week.

I wish I had more time this week in order to make the absolute most of this holiday. It really is my favorite holiday. More than Christmas or even my birthday, Halloween gives me something to look forward to all fall.

And now it's here!

So let's make skullikin cookies for the occasion, no?

I painstakingly sliced sugar cookie dough (that wasn't the painstaking part) and cut away everything that wasn't a skullikin. I was so excited about the look of these cookies.


They baked up like blobs. Not even skullikin blobs.

Back to the drawing board, I scaled the skullikins way down and tried again.

And these were much more manageable. The eyes and nose still filled in, but as soon as they came out of the oven, I poked them in with the round end of a swizzle stick.

Such work for such little reward. But, alas, these skullikins served their purpose on the Zombie Cupcakes and they were prepared dough tasty.

So, boys and girls, I'm curious. What are you going to be for Halloween?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Crunchy French Toast: An Experiment

Since I started teaching full time in August, I've really grown to appreciate the weekend. I've always loved Friday afternoons and all they promise, but it's a totally different ballgame now that I spend 10+ hour days with over one hundred college freshmen.

This Friday started with a cleansing nap and ended with dinner and dancing. Saturday saw brunch, a teacher meeting (I know, right?!), and pumpkin carving. And Sunday... well... this Sunday, like most, is all about Amanda.

So I slept until 11:12am. And I didn't even think about sitting up in bed until I knew exactly what I was making myself for Sunday brunch.

Crunchy French Toast with Peaches

I've wanted to try this french toasting experiment since I bought this Shredded Wheat a week or so ago. I was swayed by the vintage packaging, but... in reality... plain shredded wheat doesn't have a lot of flavor. I settled on a peach topping because I ate one of my peaches yesterday, only to find it wasn't as soft and perfect as I wanted it to be. Cooking the other one down just seemed like the natural response.

For this experiment, I needed...

(Not pictured: sugar, very necessary cup of coffee, Pandora "Folk FTW" station, photo staging/cropping skillz)

All the troops assembled, I...

sliced up the peach...

pulverized the shredded wheat...

cracked two eggs and beat them up about a tablespoon of half and half and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.

Then I stewed the peach in some sugar (didn't measure) and a little bit of water to get things going.

I dipped bread in egg, coated it in shredded wheat, and fried it up in a skillet over medium heat.

While I was super excited about the prospect of a crunchy French toast (which I got), I didn't really think about the fact that adding one flavorless crunch to a fairly bland French toast would yeild a... ya know... somewhat blah French toast that just so happens to crunch a bit.

Enter peaches... The syrupy peaches were the perfect counterpoint to the rock steady toast. I ended up adding syrup to the whole deal (don't judge), but in the future, I'll double the vanilla in the egg mixture and stew more peaches to step up the peach influence.

This shredded wheat technique could also be nice when paired with a stuffed French toast that would bring it's own flavor in a filling.

Overall, I'm pleased with how Sunday is going so far. My legs are happily sore from Friday's dance-a-thon, my stomach is full of brunchy goodness, and my bed has already informed me that she wants me back.