Monday, October 21, 2013

Blue Jeans, Tea, and Vinegar

I made a rare trip to the mall a few weeks ago to return a pair of jeans that I had allowed a store to ship to my home - knowing that there was a better than average chance that I would have to return them. Will I never learn?

My son agreed to go with me, and he patiently waited while I stubbornly continued my pursuit of the perfect pair of jeans - or at least a pair that fit nicely. Several stores and several hot, cramped dressing rooms later, and I was completely frustrated and no nearer to my goal.

So I did what I always do in these situations... I headed for the specialty stores where one size really does fit all and all the styles displayed on the shelf are available for immediate purchase.

One of my favorite stores is Oil and Vinegar. They have an amazing selection of, you guessed it, oils and vinegars, along with spices and specialty items. The fun thing about this store is that you can taste things before you buy them. That's also kind of scary, because everything is so amazingly good! We selected two vinegars - a pear balsamic and a white truffle balsamic - and managed to get out of the store for less than $50... just. As we left with our treasured bottles, I was already trying to think up some creative recipe ideas.

Our next stop was Teavana, where everything is about tea. They have samples, too, which is good and (remember) dangerous. We chose four different teas that could be blended together to make some truly delicious hot and cold teas, and a fancy new iced tea pitcher. I won't even mention how much we spent there, it was so ridiculous. But we left the mall, quite satisfied with our purchases, and the jeans debacle (mostly) forgotten. When we got home, we made mixed berry iced tea in our new pitcher, and it was delicious. The pitcher turned out to be a really good purchase because it encourages me to make tea more often, which cuts down on our consumption of sodas. Totally worth the cost.

So, what to do with the vinegars? I thought about it for several weeks and last night I finally used the white truffle balsamic to make a sauce - more of a reduction, if you want to get technical. Anyway, it was delicious. I've tried to recreate the steps below. Please be aware that the measurements are approximate... because that's just the way I roll.

Chicken Breasts with White Truffle Mushroom Sauce

4 chicken breasts
Emeril's Essence (or preferred seasoning blend)
1 - 2 Tbs olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced
6 - 8 large button mushroom, sliced
1-1/2 Tbs white truffle balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp dried basil
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
Parmesan cheese

Season both sides of chicken breasts with Emeril's Essence. Cook under the broiler (low setting) until browned and cooked through, turn midway through cooking. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the breasts - ours took about 15 minutes per side.

Sauce: Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, then add garlic. Saute until lightly browned. Add mushrooms, vinegar, pepper and basil. Saute for 1 or 2 minutes. Add chicken stock. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Cut chicken breasts into slices, spoon sauce over chicken, and top with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve with your favorite green vegetable - we chose steamed asparagus.

My guys really liked this meal and deemed it "5 star restaurant quality", which made me feel great and totally justifies all those hours I spend watching the Food Network.

Now if I could only be as successful with a pair of jeans...

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Have I mentioned that I like to cook?  Yes, I'm sure I have... once or twice.  One of the best, and maybe worst, things about cooking is leftovers.  With a son just barely out of his teenage years, we don't always have leftovers.  But when we do, the question is... what to do with them?  When I took my lunch to work, I would package them up and enjoy them the next day. But lately, I find myself throwing them out more and more often.

It is my personal challenge to find creative ways to use up those leftover bits of meat and vegetables.  Sometimes it's simple.  Today's sausage patties and biscuits will become grab-n-go breakfast sandwiches for tomorrow. I've already put them together, so I can just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds and they'll be ready. Adding a slice of cheese makes them even more tasty.

Tonight, my challenge was leftover pork loin in a garlic-onion-pepper glaze and the need for something quick and easy. There wasn't enough pork for three servings, but there was just enough to make stir-fry. I shredded the pork, mixed it with frozen stir-fry veggies and 1/2 cup of stir-fry sauce, and let it simmer, while I baked egg rolls (frozen).  If I'd had more time, I probably would have cooked some rice.  The family enjoyed it, and I'm pretty sure that someone will eat those leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  

I could have easily opted for an Italian style meal, by adding crushed tomatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic, and serving it over pasta.  Or we could have gone Mexican with black beans, onions, and jalapenos in tortillas.  The options are only limited by your imagination, and your pantry.

I actually enjoy creating new meals using leftovers, and my family doesn't seem to mind my little "experiments".  The only problem is trying to recreate them when they say, "Can you make that again?"

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Growing Up

Twenty years ago today, I was lying in a hospital bed, too excited to sleep, because I knew that my little boy would be arriving in the morning.

Tonight, I am sitting in my comfy chair, anticipating the end of his teenage years.

Tomorrow, my baby boy will turn 20.

I know! It's hard to believe that my baby is all grown up.

I'm remembering all the good times that we've shared... camping, hiking, canoeing, trips to the zoo, waterparks and so much more.  We've had some amazing experiences together.  And through it all, I've watched a charming little boy grow into an amazing young man, and I am one very proud mom.

Don't think that this birthday marks the end of our fun times.  Far from it!  I anticipate making more memories with my young man.  Especially now that he can drive me around... and be my designated driver when the need arises.  This mother and son team is still going strong.  Though, I may have to start introducing him as my little brother.

Happy birthday, James.  I love you.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Not Your Momma's Video Game... Or Is It?

The world of video games have changed since I was a kid. I used to meet my friends at the video arcade to play pinball, Asteroids, Defender - all the classics. We would spend hours trying to beat each other's high scores.  Sometimes we would opt for a game of pool or foosball.  Things have changed. Now everyone has their own computer or game console (or both), and they can spend hours enjoying their favorite games - either alone or with a group of virtual players that they might not ever meet in person.

I'm not a fan of the shooter games my son enjoys. I can't seem to get the hang of moving, choosing weapons, and firing, and I get killed a lot.  I've tried the games available on Facebook, and they're fun at first, but soon get tedious. I lost interest, and my crops and animals all died from neglect. 

Not long ago, my son and his friends invited me to try a new game with them. Ingress is a GPS based game from Google that you play using your phone. (Sorry iPhone users, but this one is for Android.) I won't bore you with the back story of the game - you can get that from the website if you're interested. I will tell you that I'm really enjoying this game. You can't play the game sitting in your home, you have to go to various locations around your neighborhood, and to be effective, you need to team up with other players. Yes, actually play the game with other people - in person. 

James and I usually get out and play for a couple of hours each weekend. We've discovered more of our hometown by getting out of the car and walking around while we play (bonus - exercise!), and we've met a lot of really nice people.  I've also played occasionally during my lunch hour - so much better than eating a quick sandwich at my desk. 

The goal of the game to is gain control of all the portals (specific locations) for your team (Enlightened or Resistance - guess which one I'm on).  Players attack portals owned by the opposition using "bursters" to neutralize them, then place your own "resonators" to establish control of the portal.  Once you control portals, they can be linked using "portal keys" to create "fields".  Items  (bursters, resonators, portal keys, etc.) are collected by "hacking" portals.  All of this activity earns you Access Points (or AP).  Your AP count indicates your level, and higher levels can use higher level items. Good game play requires planning and strategy.  There's an Agent Field Guide devoted to explaining all this and more, for those who are interested. 

I'm not sure how long we'll continue playing this game. I'm sure that eventually, like with any other game, we'll get bored and move on to something else. But for now, I'm really enjoying it.  If you want to give it a try, let me know. I have a few spare invites for new recruits who want to join my team.  If you already play, look for me online. My blog readers should have no trouble finding me.  :)