Did you know that people from Maine are actually called "Mainiacs"? Further, did you know that the word for state nicknames is called a "demonym"? Me either, until last week when we visited Portland, Maine, for the first time (and if you don't believe me, check it out here).
Seriously, we must be maniacs (or Mainiacs) to go somewhere that's easily 20 degrees in November, but it was actually a super trip. Everyone we met was SO friendly and welcoming and eager to tell us the best places to eat and things to do. We took a three-hour ride on the mail ferry to the islands in Casco Bay. Seafood, of course, was plentiful, especially lobster and clams. We had some seriously amazing seafood dinners. And the coffee was phenomenal. Of course, given their winter temperatures, I didn't really expect much less, but it was nice regardless. And we visited the LL Bean flagship "store" in Freeport (which is actually 5 stores on a huge "campus"), and B purchased a pair of boots and a 3-in-one winter coat. And we visited three different breweries: Shipyard, Allagash, and Rising Tide.
Portland passes my official travel "test" - I could definitely live there. It's not a particularly high-radar travel destination, especially for those of us in the south, but if you ever get the chance to visit Portland I HIGHLY suggest you go for it. Take a look at the pictures below - you know you wanna go to Portland. And I know I want to go back!
If your Christmas already seems to be spiraling out of control into a materialistic black hole, take a quiet afternoon to sit down with "The 13th Gift" to bring it back to the true meaning of the season.
Author Joanne Huist Smith's husband died in October, and when December rolled around she wasn't much feeling like celebrating (can you blame her?). She and her three kids were keeping it together, but only just. And then, 12 days before Christmas, a poinsettia appears on their front porch with a note signed, "From your true friends." The next day another gift shows up, and on and on. These small presents (a bag of Christmas bows, three rolls of wrapping paper) don't seem like much, but they are enough to get this family back on the right track, creating new memories and a "new normal."
This was a sweet, inspiring book. My only complaint about this book is that it was too short - I felt like it could have easily had more meat to it. It's a very straightforward, easy read that most people could finish off in an afternoon (preferably curled up by a fire with a cup of hot tea). Anyone who has ever lost a family member, especially near the holidays, will understand this family's grief, and the anonymous gift givers make you believe in the goodness of humanity.
The Verdict: I give this book 4 stars out of 5. I think it could have used a little more meat, a little more detail, but its simplicity doesn't detract from the overall book.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
My biggest hurdle about going to the gym is not the "gym" part. It's the "going to" part.
When B isn't traveling for work and I haven't injured my back at the trampoline park and things aren't a hot chaotic mess (which, let's face it, isn't often these days), we try to make it to the gym at least once a week, preferably twice. We meet at the gym after work, work out for about an hour, and then go home. And then we have to walk the dog, who is invariably hyper and needy. And then we have to shower. And then we have to cook dinner, eat dinner, and clean up. By that point, the only thing stopping me from passing out in the floor is the fact that the dog would just run all over me.
Like I said, I don't dislike the gym. I just hate it eating up our entire evening.
Enter the Crock Pot.
I come home at lunch and let Luna out, I throw something in the Crock Pot, and then the minute we walk in the door from the gym, dinner is ready. Bonus points if it's cold outside and we have a hot soup ready - like this vegetable beef delight.
We really like vegetables, so we threw in a little bit of everything we had. If you're missing an ingredient or two, though, I wouldn't necessarily worry too much. You definitely need the beef and tomatoes, but I feel like other than that you can customize to your little heart's (or your pantry's) desire.
We both LOVED this. It's flavorful and hearty, and makes a TON. Seriously - make sure your Crock Pot is big enough before you start throwing things in. Ours is a 6-quart, and it was STUFFED to the gills. The leftovers would be great with grilled cheese. Or, for that matter, the original meal would be great with grilled cheese. Everything is great with grilled cheese, but that's not the point.
If you're looking for an easy, healthy, veggie-full weeknight Crock Pot meal, look no further.
I'll see YOU at the gym.
Vegetable Beef Soup
2 pounds stew beef cut into chunks (if not already cut at the store)
1 can green beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3 carrots, chopped
4 celery ribs, sliced
3 potatoes, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1/2 bag frozen okra (NOT breaded)
4 cups water
4 beef bouillion cubes
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Dump in Crock Pot. Come home from gym to delicious, ready-to-eat dinner.
Pass out at 8:45.
A year ago or so - it's been so long neither B nor I can remember exactly when - we bought a HUGE package of pork chops at Costco. Not only was it a Costco-size package of pork chops, they were incredibly thick. So we sliced them in half to make them a little thinner. And that meant we have had pork chops in our freezer for at least a year. We think. It could be longer. I'm pretty sure at least half of them were moved from B's apartment to my condo after we got married.
I have been on a several-month boycott of pork chops because I just got so SICK of them. But on Sunday night, we were at the end. There were only FOUR chops left: two for Sunday night dinner, two for Monday's lunch. We could do it. We could get over the hump.
In a sweet marital gesture (or perhaps just persuasion to get me to EAT the @#$% things), B said he would cook them. He would make his grandmother's pork chop recipe. I agreed (and made the Bloody Mary green bean salad). It's a pretty easy recipe with only a handful of ingredients that even the pickiest kid couldn't find anything to argue about. Brown, bake, and eat - that was our motto.
This was the first time I'd had this pork chop recipe, and it was really good. B said he put too much water in the pan, and that it would be a little more flavorful otherwise. I thought it was good regardless. Whenever I get over my aversion to pork chops, I'll totally make them again.
Bottom line? I highly recommend this recipe. I DO NOT highly recommend Costco pork chops for a family of two. Do with that what you will.
Grandma Stevenson's Pork Chops
1 onion, sliced into rings (I did about 1/2 inch thick)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil (we used olive oil)
Mix flour, salt and pepper. Coat both sides of each pork chop and brown in an ovenproof skillet with oil.
(if you don't have an ovenproof skillet, transfer browned chops to an ovenproof baking dish)
Squeeze a generous blob of ketchup on each pork chop, topped by a blob of brown sugar.
Top chops with the sliced onion rings.
Pour about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the pan.
Cook in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes (longer if you have really thick pork chops).
If done correctly, these are super-tender.
I don't know about you, but my attempts at learning a language have been...erratic, at best.
I began with Spanish in 10th grade against my will. I wanted to take French, but my tiny, rural North Carolina high school only offered Spanish. And since you needed at least two years of a language to graduate and get into college, that was that.
When I got to Chapel Hill, I wanted, again, to take French. Or Italian. But by some bizarre miracle during my placement exam, I placed into Spanish 3. At Carolina, you have to take up to Level 3 of your chosen language. I could take Spanish 3. Or I could take French (or Italian) 1, 2, AND 3...taking up 3 of my elective classes versus one. Once again, I went with Spanish, and that was that, although since half the men's swim team was in my Spanish 3 class, it wasn't all bad...
And then I studied abroad in Italy. I took an Italian class there and promptly confused the heck out of myself. But I became obsessed with Italy and all things Italian, and I tried to learn Italian.
Years after my Italian excursion/obsession, I met this guy. He had to travel to France for work. And even though we'd only been dating 5 months, he took me with him. Thus began my love affair with France (and him). But this went one step further. He wanted/needed to learn some French for work, so he bought the Rosetta Stone disk and gave me a copy. And I actually learned a fair amount before I fell off the wagon.
At this point, the three languages are basically a big mishmash in my head. I call it "Fraspangitalenglish." In France, three years ago, I kept trying to speak an incoherent blend of Spanish and Italian - I knew I needed to speak a foreign language, but those were the only ones I "knew" (and I use the term "knew" VERY loosely). When the aforementioned guy and I went to Costa Rica in May on our honeymoon, I kept trying to speak French. My brain is basically one big tangle of Romance languages, and the only thing I can consistently say in any of them is "May I have a glass of red wine, please?"
Clearly, I need help. Enter Fluent Forever.
I don't know what I expected from this book, but this wasn't it. It's more of the "teach a man to fish" school - he doesn't teach you a language, he merely gives you the tools to teach yourself. The book is chock-full of memory devices and suggestions, flash card ideas, and how to use grammar books, dictionaries, and other standard resources to their full potential.
I really liked the idea of using Google Images to help you learn words and "spot the difference" and the nuances of different words. His use of an SRS - a Spaced Repetition System - was interesting. I had never heard of this concept, but I can definitely see how it would be useful.
I also really like how he suggested using a frequency dictionary - learn the 1,000 or so most frequently used words in a language, and then learn whatever other topics YOU want to learn (business words, academic words, artistic...whatever). In French, I'd be super happy if I could speak fluently at restaurants and cafes and get around in everyday life. If I can learn how to say, "How much does that Longchamp purse cost?", I'll be just fine. I don't need to know about, say, cats. Every foreign language loves to tell you about cats and dogs right in the beginning, but let me tell you, the only phrase I'll need to know about cats is, "Get that @#$%ing cat out of here!"
His writing is almost...scientific at times, and there were parts I wasn't ENTIRELY sure I understood. But as I was merely reading it for a review (right now), I wasn't too concerned. This isn't a "read it once and shelve it" kind of book. It will be as much of a resource as your grammar books.
It's also hard to rate this book because while his writing and suggestions were good, until you REALLY devote time to studying a language and actually USING his methods, it's impossible to tell how good his advice actually is (or isn't). While his methods are supposed to make language learning easier, there would still be a lot of time and energy that you would need to dedicate to this effort. I don't have the time and/or energy right now to really jump into this fully. However, I'll definitely keep this book around in the event we get to visit France again - or I suddenly find a plethora of free time.
The verdict: A great book with great suggestions for anyone who is serious about learning a foreign language. I give it four stars. Want to check it out for yourself? Click on the picture below to check out some pages of the book.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Oh, Southern Living, you've done it again. You have presented me with a side dish I couldn't resist: Bloody Mary Green Bean Salad.
And believe it or not, the "Bloody Mary" part wasn't what drew me in. It was the fact that one of the ingredients was pickled okra. This southern-girl thing is in my gene pool pretty deep. I LOVE me some okra, in all forms and fashions. Fried okra by my mama is my favorite (hers is the BEST), but pickled okra is a close runner-up.
And so that's how I decided on our side dish for tonight. This recipe was found in the Thanksgiving Cookbook issue, and I can see how this would be AMAZING at Thanksgiving. I've already told you about my need for something acidic and tart to cut through the bland and creamy dressing, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese at most Thanksgiving Day tables. This salad would be an excellent addition for that very reason.
B really loved this - he said it was exactly what he needed tonight, something fresh and bright and crisp. The Bloody Mary mix gave the homemade dressing a fantastic zing, and the pickled okra just made me happy. We also realized that we could easily mix up this dressing for a regular, lettuce-based salad on one of our Tuesday Night Salad Nights. The vinaigrette really is fantastic.
All in all, Team Stevenson (minus Luna) highly recommends this recipe. Serve it at your Thanksgiving table and watch your guests' eyes pop. Trust us.
SL Bloody Mary Green Bean Salad
1 lb haricots verts
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
12 pickled okra pods, sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
4 ribs celery, sliced
1/4 cup fresh celery leaves
1/3 cup Bloody Mary mix (we added a little more for flavor)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Cook green beans in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, or until tender-crisp.
Drain, rinse, and submerge in ice water. Drain again and pat dry.
Place beans, okra, and onion in a large bowl.
Place tomatoes, celery and celery leaves in a separate bowl.
To make the dressing, whisk together Bloody Mary mix, next 5 ingredients, and 3 tablespoons of horseradish in a medium bowl.
Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended.
Toss the bean mixture with 1/4 cup of the dressing.
Add 1/2 teaspoon (we really just added about 1/4 teaspoon, or less) horseradish into 1/4 cup dressing, and mix with the tomato mixture.
Scoop tomato mixture over bean mixture.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Some days you just gotta be fancy. Boring old baked chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans won't do it - no matter how much fun seasonings or garlic you use.
So when my coworker told me about this recipe for portabello mushrooms topped with spinach and crab, I was pretty excited. It's a quick, easy weeknight dinner that would impress guests if we actually had any.
There were only a few tweaks we would make, too. The original called for 2 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning but it was waaaaay too much. I would dial that back down to maybe two teaspoons - if that. Also, we think it could use more than a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. And maybe we'll add some minced garlic the next time, because seriously, we love the stuff. No vampires around here!
I highly recommend you give it a try - put your fancy pants on and enjoy!
Amanda's Crab-Stuffed Portabella Mushroom Rockefeller
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce