Monday, February 6, 2017

February Cookbook Club

We had to do an early cookbook club this month because lots of us will be traveling later in the month. It took forever to settle on a date, but we ended up doing it last night, which made it probably my most delicious anti-Super Bowl party ever.

Note: it was only an anti-Super Bowl party for me, because I didn't/don't watch the Super Bowl. Other members of the club did watch it.

We used the cookbook Date Night In, which features seasonal menus to cook together with a date. We didn't really end up cooking with dates, and definitely didn't follow all the seasons designated for the menus, but we did have a ton of delicious food, as always.

Jared made WINGS (because Super Bowl), pickled celery, and wedge salads (kind of. We had to assemble our own and they didn't all end up in wedges). Kelly made a rainbow chip birthday cake (everything from scratch, including the sprinkles).

Travis and Katie (maybe the only ones who actually used this cookbook club as an opportunity for a date) made a leek/bacon/ricotta tart (OMG so delicious), an endive salad, and Nutella ice cream (no ice cream maker required, so I need to get on that).

Hanna made pizza with sausage and ricotta and bittersweet chocolate brownies with peanut butter frosting.

Mary made a salad with Brussels sprouts, feta, leeks, and grapes.

Dinesh and I made sausage patties (which were seriously delicious and I will make them again and again), baked eggs, and croissant French toast.

Until next time, Cookbook Club.

Friday, February 3, 2017

January Cookbook Club

In January I checked out 7 of Ina Garten's cookbooks from the library to make a Barefoot Contessa feast. We ended up using recipes from only 4 of them, which I guess means we'll have to come back to her recipes at some point.

While flipping through, it seemed like the majority of her recipes involved seafood (which we mostly don't like) and/or alcohol (which we don't drink). There was also the added complication of Whole30, which I was following during this month. Luckily, however, we ended up with some delicious food, as always.

Travis and Katie balsamic roasted beef and guacamole salad (which was SO flavorful).

I made kale chips and a mustard chicken salad.

Dinesh made tortilla soup (no tortillas though. #Whole30).

Jared made herb-marinated pork loin which might have been the most delicious meat I have ever eaten in my life. He also made garlic roasted cauliflower.

Mary made orange braised parsnips and carrots (thank you to her for the veggies).

Hanna and Kelly handled the desserts (chocolate caramel and salted caramel), which I didn't try, so I can't comment on them, but they were definitely popular.

I couldn't check out her new book, Cooking for Jeffrey, because it was too popular, but I have heard amazing things, so we'll be back, Ina Garten!!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Chronicles of Narnia

Over the past three months, I have read or listened to all 7 books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I remember reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was young, but I must have never made it around to the others, because I didn't remember anything. However, I highly enjoyed them as an adult and I'm in a much better place to understand the allegory, so I'm not too sad I missed out earlier.

These books are all part of a very strong Christian allegory, and they do a good job of making me think about life on Earth, heaven, my relationship with Christ, and right vs. wrong.

They also helped me see evil in new, powerful ways. Although I have understood the concept of gaslighting abstractly, The Silver Chair gave me the most concrete example I have ever found. And reading The Last Battle made me very uncomfortable when I started to draw connections with the current government.

Two of my favorite quotes, both from The Last Battle, speak to what happens at the end of our lives, which aligns very well with what I was taught and what I have always believed.

A lot of sad, hard things happen at the end, including Susan, one of the original children from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, not returning to Narnia with the rest.

SPOILER ALERT [but can it really be a spoiler for a book that was published 60 years ago?]: At the end of the book, all the good characters from the whole series watch the Narnia they have known and loved die, and then they go into a new land, where everything seems familiar but better.

"The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this."

"For all find what they truly seek."

I love the idea of heaven as an improvement of this world, where we'll be comfortable and happy but know it's an upgrade. I also like thinking that people will end up where they are happiest. Bad things happen, but at the end, it will be alright. I look forward to the feeling of reunion with everyone who has ever left me. The end of this series feels hopeful, even with the heartache that accompanies it.

I know C.S. Lewis is highly revered, especially in the Mormon world, but I have never been able to get into his nonfiction. These books, however, are perfect at bringing the reader into the story in order to speak some real truths. I'm excited to reread them, hopefully someday with my future children (?).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 Resolutions!

Like I said, I am a goal person. I know a lot of people hate on New Year's Resolutions, but I like them and I'll never stop making them. Making goals for myself is how I show that I think my life matters.

I read Better than Before this year and learned some interesting things about myself and the way I set goals and create habits. I am an Upholder, meaning I am a rule-follower and I follow expectations, whether they are set for me or I set them for myself. However, I am also somewhat of an Obliger. I will always do things for other people, and having a person to keep me accountable is just what I need when my Upholder tendencies start falling away. I am also an Abstainer, not a Moderator, which means it's easier for me to give up things completely than indulge in them in moderation. I don't have a moderation setting. I am an all or nothing person.

I made some goals for this year taking into account these distinctions about myself, and I'm excited about all of them! I read some good advice that you shouldn't make goals/resolutions that you're not excited about, and I think that's a good point. Forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do is the worst. So, either find a way to be excited about it or cut it out!

Here are my 11 resolutions for the year!

1. Read 100 books. I didn't set a number last year until late in the game and I could have been working smarter the whole time to accomplish it. This year I will.
2. Start a savings account. My financial situation is kind of embarrassing, mostly because I have a checking account in Utah and a Banana Republic credit card and that's it. But I have a savings goal in mind and I'm gonna figure it out!
3. Figure out MY Food Freedom. I have done a million different food plans and I keep doing them because I like to try things so I can know what works for my body but eventually I want to just figure it out. And this year I have a different food plan for each month and I'm gonna journal the hell out of it so I can actually see how I feel and what's gonna work long-term. I'm starting with #JanuaryWhole30 (my third round)!
4. Personal training. I signed up with my gym and committed through June, and if it's great I'll continue. I can usually get myself to go to the gym, but the Obliger part of my personality needs someone to tell me what to do there. I'm looking forward to getting stronger and healthier.
5. Keep track of the good things that happen to me. I always see ideas like "put a slip of paper in a jar when something good happens and read them on New Year's Eve" and I want to do them but I never have. I've had a half-assed planner system ever since my mission (and maybe even before) where I recorded some things, but it was sporadic. I want to commit to remembering the good parts of my life. I have a fairly good memory and can often recall things that others can't, and I want this to be a way to maximize that.
6. Figure out my beauty routine. I'm not someone who tries really hard to be pretty, which most of the time works for me. But sometimes I want to be pretty, and I need to do the steps regularly that will allow that (wash my face, have the right hair products, grow my eyelashes, etc.). I started getting a monthly Birchbox last year and it's so fun but there are definitely a few areas that I haven't even tapped into, and I want to start.
7. Finish 15 post-masters-degree credits. My school district pay scale increases for every 15 credits after a masters degree, and I've been working on those credits for a while so it's time to actually finish and get paid for them. I'm working on a class right now and then I'll need one more 3-credit class.
8. Watch all 48 animated Disney movies with Dinesh. I've seen most of them already, but a lot I haven't seen since I was a kid, and he hasn't seen almost any of them! We've been watching together and it's so fun (except some of the early ones are so bad).
9. Commit to the life-changing magic of tidying up. I've done a lot but I haven't completely committed to the process and so there's always more to do. I want to get to a good clutter-free place this year.
10. Engage with the Savior daily. This hasn't been my strength lately but I want it to be. It doesn't have to be as complicated as it seems, so I'm starting small and feeling good.
11. Be okay with being alone. Whoaaaaa I know, so much vulnerability. I'm definitely an extrovert, but I also think sometimes I use that as an excuse for desperately craving validation and not wanting to face myself. So I'm working on strategies for being comfortable spending an evening or a day or a weekend (okay, that will probably never happen) by myself.

I'll be tracking these things to measure my progress and also to constantly remind myself that these are things I want to work on. Looking forward to continuing my growth this year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016's Resolutions

I am a goal person. I love making goals and I love the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing them. I have done some pretty awesome stuff just by making it a goal (the best one ever was to run a marathon!!!!). However, that does not mean I am immune to the typical New Year's resolutions problems. I set some goals for 2016 that I didn't quite accomplish, and I'm here to report on them.

Resolution #1: Eat more vegetables than treats.
What I didn't do: Track it well enough to actually have a number on that for the whole year. I started off strong, and had periods throughout the year of tracking my food where I was more mindful and it worked, but then a lot of the year I just threw that out the window and probably ate more treats than vegetables, whoops.
What I did do: Eat so many vegetables! I signed up for a weekly CSA box this summer (June through October) and it was SO good at getting me to eat fresh, organic, local, bright, delicious produce. I am definitely going to sign up again this summer. I also got really into cookbooks, including a lot of vegetable-centered ones, so I'm looking forward to diving in.

Resolution #2: Track my spending habits and make a budget.
What I didn't do: That. At all. I signed up for Mint but could never actually get it to work so I didn't even get to the tracking part of this goal. And I didn't even take a stab at a budget. Again, whoops.
What I did: Make enough money that I always have a lot left over in my checking account every month. I pay off my credit card bill with plenty to spare and I don't have to worry about surprise costs. Next step: a savings account (LOL).

Resolution #3: Monthly book club with my dad.
What I didn't do: Do this for 12 months. There were about 4 months when we read the same book and 3 times that we got together to talk about it. My dad stopped listening to audiobooks as much as he used to so that kind of shut down the plan, and he didn't really love my suggestions either.
What I did: Read about 100 books! Including a bunch of them over the summer. I have really put reading on the back burner for the last few years but this year I kicked it into gear and read a lot of books, including a bunch of rereads that were wonderful and a bunch of new books that changed my life! I didn't really start reading fervently until mid-February so I know I can do better.

Resolution #4: Have a weekly step average of 10,000/day.
What I didn't do: Surpass a step average of 7,000! Again, a big whoops. I started and then gave up habits that I intended to help meet this goal a million times this year, but the truth is that I hardly get any steps during the day at school because my school is tiny and I never leave my classroom and then after school I do everything but walk around.
What I did do: Exercise a lot! I had a really great active summer, including a million kayaking days and hikes and a trail Ragnar (which was OMG SO HARD) and then in the fall I got into a really good groove of going to the gym three times a week. And I committed to personal training through the month of June. I'm gonna figure this exercise thing out.

I have a lot of goals for 2017 and I have been really excited about them! I'm not on team 2016-was-the-worst-year-ever (except for the election UGH) but I am on team hopeful-for-2017 because I've never been not hopeful for a new year before and honestly, I don't have anything to complain about in my life. Is 10 resolutions too many? We'll see.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December Cookbook Club

For December we did the Smitten Kitchen cookbook/blog and as always it was an absolutely delicious evening.

Jared made a potato frittata with SO MUCH DELICIOUS FETA in it.

Kelly made a salad with shaved Brussels sprouts and pomegranate seeds (we found an excellent method for getting the seeds out if you're interested) and pickled onion AND she made cranberry scones.

Hanna made brown butter and sea salt rice krispy treats and POPCORN COOKIES that were transformative. They're like chocolate chip cookies but instead of chocolate you mix in buttered popcorn. Yes.

Dinesh made baked potato crisps topped with bacon and cheese and chives and sour cream and that's the way I want to eat potatoes from now on.

Travis made sweet peas and shells with alfredo sauce and apple cider caramels that tasted like fall and we need them again.

I made a butternut squash and caramelized onion galette that was tasty but it was all in the crust. That crust was a game-changer. I think I'm realizing that I don't love butternut squash so I would try the same thing again with other veggies. I also made this gooey cinnamon squares that SOUND like they're rice krispy treats made with cinnamon toast crunch but actually they're like snickerdoodle bars kind of. I think I overbaked them which is a huge sin in my book and they're actually the only thing that didn't get entirely eaten.

Smitten Kitchen is the bomb and I love that we do this every month and I'm finally realizing that if I cooked delicious food more often then I could be as happy as cookbook club night on the reg. I'll try it out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Troughsgiving/November Cookbook Club

For November Cookbook Club we did our third annual Troughsgiving. This time we held it at my parents' house in Hull rather than in our Cambridge apartment, on a Saturday, and a few of us stayed the night on Friday, which helped with space and cooking time. It was epic, and instead of going around the table and saying what we were grateful for about our lives, we said what foods on the table we were grateful for. I think everything got named.

Dinesh made the turkey/gravy! Again! [And he actually ended up cooking the turkey with my family on Thanksgiving Day as well.]

Kelly made roasted vegetables (that took 500 years to roast. What is it about Kelly's dishes that they always take way longer than anticipated?) and pumpkin bread.

Jared made "Stuffing with Apples and Gouda" that was more like a deconstructed grilled cheese in a delicious way. He also made cranberry salsa.

Hanna made banana cream pie and cherry Jello (that's for some reason part of the meal instead of dessert).

Travis made pumpkin bread, salad, and Chrissy Teigen's cauliflower mash.

Mary made so many mashed potatoes.

I made pumpkin/sweet potato/coconut pie and my mom's insanely delicious and buttery sweet potato casserole that basically has cookies on top.

Brent brought rolls. He bought them from the store instead of making them. It is important to note this.

Kristin showed up 2 hours late with broccoli/hazelnuts that was probably delicious but it was hard to know because we were so full. Though the broccoli in my leftovers was memorable and great.

I had found a bunch of Thanksgiving cookbooks but none of them were good enough to use, so we had/found our own recipes and it was the best. Long live Troughsgiving*!!!

*Troughsgiving is like Friendsgiving** but with a trough***
**Which is like Thanksgiving but with your friends
***The trough is a very special thing which might require an additional blog post. Let me know if you have questions.

Monday, December 19, 2016

16 Years Late to Gilmore Girls, or: Why I Stopped Reading Books in November

On October 28, my longtime friend Katharine, who I had just invited to spend Thanksgiving with my family, asked me if we were bingeing the Gilmore Girls revival on Black Friday. Because my parents had made some pretty strict rules about TV-watching while I was in middle school, I missed the boat on a lot of shows that most people have seen, and Gilmore Girls was one of them. I knew everyone was excited about the revival, and several of my friends told me they thought I would like the show, so I told Katharine that I had never seen it, but maybe I would watch it before Thanksgiving. She said, "it's 7 seasons though!" and I said "CHALLENGE ACCEPTED."

I had watched the first episode a year or so earlier and didn't love it, but I committed to at least giving it an honest chance. During the whole first season I still wasn't sold, but when my roommates Kelly and Jared told me the second season was the best, I continued on. At some point I stopped noticing whether or not I actually enjoyed watching the show and just fully dove into the task of finishing it by Thanksgiving.

Each season of the 7 has 22 episodes, and at 45 minutes each, that adds up to 6,930 minutes of television, or 115 hours. I had about one month to complete them, which means 4 hours of Gilmore Girls each day. That was a huge feat for me, since I normally am not a huge TV watcher. I teach all day, I have a regular workout schedule, I like to cook, and read, and I teach Sunday School for church, and I really like to hang out with my friends a lot, plus my boyfriend. After taking a sick day in that first week and watching ALL DAY without any real progress, I realized just how much 115 hours of TV is.

But I never give up on challenges. So I dug deep. I not only watched while I was doing cardio at the gym, but also while I was walking there and back. If I had to wait for appts or in long lines, I'd turn it on. During my prep periods at school, if I was doing a mindless task like entering grades, I'd have an episode on (and I'd always watch at lunch). I fell asleep to an episode a lot of nights, and if I woke up earlier than I had to, I'd watch in the morning. One night Dinesh and I sat next to each other with headphones in, him watching Before the Flood while I watched Gilmore. Eventually, I convinced him to watch it with me, and GG replaced everything we used to watch (How I Met Your Mother, Chopped, movies, etc.). Sundays after church were almost entirely devoted to episode after episode after episode with Kelly. I kicked myself when an entire day would go by without watching, since I knew it would cost a lot in makeup time.

I also completely gave up reading during this time, except for audiobooks while I was driving. On several occasions I wanted to pick up a book, but that November 25 deadline was looming, so I pressed on, promising myself I would read again when I was done.

Thanksgiving came, and I still had about half of the last season to watch. While prepping pies on Wednesday night, Gilmore was playing on the TV at my parents' house (thank goodness for their open floor plan). Thanksgiving Day was the same--cook, watch, repeat. Friday, November 25 dawned, and we finished up season 7 while celebrating my dad's birthday and avoiding social media references to the revival. At last on Friday night, after this arduous process,  I reached the last episode of season 7 and was so, so content with how it ended.

But unlike fans of Gilmore Girls around the world, I did not have to wait 9 years to find out what was happening to the girls. We started right in on the revival, watching Winter on Friday night and Spring, Summer, and Fall on Saturday.

What did I think of the show, you ask? (Revival spoilers below, but seriously, if you haven't watched it yet, you're not that big of a fan so it can't really matter anyway.)

  • I was strongly Team Logan through the first 7 seasons. Yes, he was an entitled playboy, but he cared about Rory so much (and it was obvious he still did in the revival too). I'm fine with her ending up with Jess eventually, but Logan will always be my fave.
  • Sookie is everything. I loved her and Lorelai's relationship and it was devastating that she was only in the revival for a brief moment. The show needs her.
  • Worst character in the whole show is Taylor. I HATE that man.
  • Rory kept disappointing me over and over again through everything, and I guess that's true to life. Everyone you ever love will disappoint you at some point. Just a fact.
  • Emily's revival story was SO SATISFYING. She was the worst so many times throughout the series and I loved seeing her chill out a little bit.
  • Hated the musical (duh) and hated Lorelai's Wild story. Running away is definitely something she would do, but copying someone else's experience does not seem realistic for her.
  • Kirk was soooooo heart-eyes-emoji in the revival. Thank goodness they didn't show his bare chest because I would not have been able to stomach that again.
  • I'm not sad at all about the ending. I actually think the last four words thing was a great way to end it. Maybe it's a little depressing to realize that escaping the cycle of our family is not always realistic, but I also think Rory has the opportunity to do things very differently than how Lorelai did and I'm hopeful for everyone.

My life felt a little empty after finishing it all, but I am relieved to be spending time on other things these days. Dinesh and I have been watching all the Disney movies, and I have been working my way through the Anne of Green Gables and Chronicles of Narnia series. Plus, I can go full days without TV of any kind and it's totally okay. Looking forward to a lot more of that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cookbook Club Round Two

For October's cookbook club we did It's All Easy by Gwyneth Paltrow. I wasn't as wowed by all the recipes initially as I was with Cravings, but luckily everything turned out super delicious anyway. There were some weird ingredients we had to buy, but now we have them so we can make everything again!

Here's the rundown:

Travis made Moroccan chicken salad wraps. They tasted like Morocco in a good way.

Dinesh made zucchini and leek soup. It was really simple but surprisingly flavorful (okay, and too spicy for some of our friends).

Kelly made carbonara which was seriously stressful mostly because the water for the pasta wouldn't boil for 40 minutes. Once it did finally boil it was so delicious.

Mary made chicken chow mein, which was a real winner. If it was actually less than 30 minutes, that would be a great alternative to take out (which I never really do anyway).

Hanna made taquitos which were so cute and fun! And there was a really delicious salsa that went along with them.

Jared made fattoush salad, falafel, and cilantro hummus, which were all SO GOOD, especially together. Also, he now has a food processor which is a miracle for all of us.

I made cauliflower mac and cheese which called for three kinds of cheese (cheddar, gruyere, and parmesan) and also fooled everyone into thinking there were no veggies. I also made this roasted beet and blue cheese salad (I love blue cheese for these things!) that I was nervous about because it called for radicchio and endives and hazelnut oil and specifically 9-minute eggs, but it turned out well.

We also had dessert this time, which was nice but almost too much because we were sooooo full. Travis made his famous pumpkin bread, Kelly made s'mores bars, and Hanna actually made a dessert from the book (coconut key lime tarts). Hanna's was gluten-free and vegan and paleo and it was good for being gluten-free and vegan and paleo.

Jared's parents came and I think they were impressed with the quality of the food and also that this is something we regularly do. Here's to impressing parents and eating a full, complete dinner at least once a month!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Books 40-42

40. Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin. I loved The Happiness Project so I was excited about the prospect of another life-changing book. I loved the first because I have always liked setting goals and it gives me a huge sense of accomplishment to achieve them. This book focused on habits, and those definitely aren't something I have been patting myself on the back for. I did get some good information, and a lot of the things she wrote changed the way I think about habits. I liked the book and found it useful.

But overall, I mostly realized that establishing habits is really hard and I am not going to be successful at it. It just takes too much work to make something happen every single day and that's not what I'm focusing on right now. Since reading this book, I've kind of felt bad when I don't do something that I normally do (get up 30 mins earlier than I have to so I can go for a walk, go to the gym right after school, say no to treats, etc.), but it hasn't made me keep doing them more often. Or maybe it has. I think it's worth reading, but I'm not at a place where I want to be a slave to my habits yet.

41. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. OMG. I hated this book with the burning fire of a thousand suns. I read it in 9th grade for summer reading and I remember enjoying it, I guess. It's my mom's favorite book, plus about a million other people. People like this book. Especially women. But I despised it. Mostly because every man is an abomination. It's like reading a book full of Donald Trump characters. Yuck. Also, I just couldn't handle the sexism/racism/classism that I know was normal back then. This is a big part of why I don't like to read less contemporary books. Our world has changed for the better and I'm glad I live now. I get too angry reading about people being marginalized and it being okay because it's the past. Ugh.

Here are the things that I'd like to say to Jane: 1. It's not cool that Mr. Rochester uses his power over you as his employer to manipulate you romantically. 2. It's not cool that you act like teaching "impoverished" farm girls is such a worse gig than teaching at that uppity boarding school. 3. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE SIMPLY FROM LIVING IN INDIA. People live there. That doesn't cause them to die.

I also have a lot of things to say to Mr. Rochester and St. John but mostly it's language that I don't really use and definitely shouldn't be published on my blog.

TL;DR: If you like this book okay but I really don't get you.

42. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon. I have been meaning to read this book since 2009. Proof of that is the receipt I found inside the book from Smith's in Provo. Apparently on August 18, 2009 at 11:18 pm I purchased a bag of potatoes and an onion.

I'm glad that I finally got around to it because this is one of my favorite books from this year. It took me forever to read it (I started in August and finished today, yikes), mostly because of the vocabulary. I wasn't aware there are so many words in the English language that I didn't know! Motivation to up my vocabulary. It's also pretty dense. I couldn't just cruise through it like I have a lot of these books.

But, I think the time I spent with this book contributed to how much I loved it. I realized as I was nearing the end that I was going to miss spending time with [reading about] these characters. They were believable, they were heartbreaking, they taught me things I didn't know about the world. That's what I want out of books, honestly.

Currently listening to Henderson the Rain King and reading Lust for Life. Making progress.