Monday, September 29, 2014

Hodge podge

Random thoughts from the past week or so because honestly my post this morning was lacking and I want to make it up to you!

"My desk looked like a coffee cup graveyard" I declared right out loud at the office last week.  My declaration made me (and my intern) laugh right out loud. But it was totally true...

Not unlike this photo of someone else's coffee cup graveyard, it was difficult at the time to determine where one coffee cup stopped and another one began. Or where my desk started for that matter. That was hard to tell too. There may (or may not) have been some mold involved and there were definitely multiple coffee shops involved in this incident (Magnum Coffee, Village Baker, multiple gas stations and a half drank cup of free coffee from Orchard Market to name just a few).  Really no establishment that has coffee available within an eight mile radius of my workplace was unrepresented in this matter.  But I take full responsibility for this mess, the coffee shops are completely innocent.
My vision of a coffee cup graveyard!

So after a brief giggle fest, I took swift and sure-footed action against the enemy...the dreaded cafe au lait!  I spent significant time trying to tidy up.  I emphasize the word "trying".  It still looks like Arlington National Cemetery (for coffee) in my office, but it is actually slightly better than a week ago!  The problem is that I drink coffee every single day that I go to work so the situation tends to perpetuate itself.  It is beyond infuriating.

Also I watched Curious George the other day which I realize seems completely unrelated, however, I assure you it is not.   The opening line from the narrator that fateful morning was "The exact opposite of all that is neat (and I would add organized)" to describe George.  He really is a monkey after my own heart!  Try as I might, I just can't seem to master the art of organization. Sigh.  Ironically, my job is to help my boss stay organized which amazingly seems to be going well!?

George, the exact opposite of all that is neat!

The only thing worse than having frozen pizza for dinner is having leftover frozen pizza for dinner and that is just what we did tonight!  I guess some people would beat themselves up over such an atrocity, but I am taking it in stride.  I refuse to let it beat me down!  I mean, at least my family didn't go hungry.  At least we had leftover frozen pizza to eat!

Oh and I have a mystery photo.  I do wish it was an intentional mystery photo and that I held the answer key for it.  However, it is not so.  I have made a habit of photographing foods that I create so that I can write about them later.  This habit has generally worked out very well for me.  However, I have run into two recent problems.

I have no idea what this one is!? I have discerned that it is likely ice cream (given our ice cream eating habits it is the most likely explanation) possibly with some other additives, but I have no recollection of this photo nor any notes to accompany it.  I am left without a complete story to share with you on this one and I am sorry.

Secondly, my children are thieves and quite frankly I am sick of their stealing ways.  I made a beautiful catalog of photos this past week.  I even cooked a couple of real bonafide meals and there was a birthday bagel sandwich involved that my husband made for me too.  He doesn't cook often people so that was kind of a big deal.  These impressive pictures were successfully stored on a photo card safely inside our camera yesterday and now when I have time to write it is gone.  GONE!  And this was not an isolated incident either.  It is like my very own Bermuda Triangle around here these days. My gum often goes missing from my purse and my spare change from various locations does as well.  Meanwhile, dirty laundry continues to show up inexplicably.  It is all very mysterious.  Can't a lady catch a break around here?! Unfortunately, I am absolutely convinced that despite my best attempts at teaching my children that stealing is wrong, they steal on.  Especially my four year old.  I hope she doesn't end up in jail for this like Brenda the Blenda did.  I hope she can learn from that second handed.

When interrogated about the memory card, shockingly no one has any idea where it is. They all claim ignorance.  So for now that's it!  Make up your own darn story about the mystery picture.  Oh and if they are good stories be sure to share them with me because I could use a good laugh as I am still upset about this situation with my bandit children!

Vern Out

Relax already

Relax is really some of the best advice I can give (or get).  It is just good advice for most everyone, in most any circumstance!  Seriously just RELAX!!!

This is my new FAVORITE wine!  Great flavor, great price and a great message!

Relax. I tell my husband when he overreacts to the kids and their endless ability to dirty, destroy or otherwise messy things up.  RELAX.  I say when he blows up about something silly like cat scratches on the screen door... or spilled milk (again) at the dinner table.  Just Relax Already!

 Like head out to our nice hammock and relax with our beautiful kids!

Relaxing is good for the mind, body and soul!

Put your feet up and RELAX!!!!

Life is short.  It could end at any moment.  Make sure you take some time to relax, slow down and just enjoy the many gifts that you have! Relax.

That is all.  I shall come down off my soap box now!

PS My pantry is filling back up

PPS ...but that is primarily because my mother won't stop sending me bags of groceries home with us when we visit, not because I have been shopping

PPS at least not much shopping, but relax it is no big deal.

Vern Out

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Introducing Brenda!

We don't have the best track record with blenders.  Seriously; We are on our third blender in 10 years and our current one, Brenda the Blenda, is not doing so well either. I think she has AMS (Abominable Motor Syndrome); she has all the classic symptoms: She gives off smoke after extended use. Brenda often chokes under pressure.  And she tends to become easily fatigued despite regular breaks (you know to avoid setting off the smoke detector).  In all likelihood, we will be on number four before year's end!  Four blenders in ten years! YIKES!

                         Brenda's mug shot.

       Arrest Report:  

       Name:           Blenda, Brenda A.
       Arrest Date:   February 13, 2014
       Charge:           shoplifting and retail fraud
       Arraignment:   February 14, 2014

For your information, Brenda has one hell of a shoe fetish and she just wanted some red hot, sexy stilettos for Valentine's Day to go with her new little black dress because she had a hot date with her fiance. Is that too much to ask? For a nice pair of stilettos?  She really is a good girl, but yes we do technically have a felon for a blender. Sigh.

Anyhow, the summer season is hard on Brenda and we recognize this.  It is hard on her because we LOVE ice cream so very much and our most favorite way to eat ice cream is in the form of a good old-fashioned home-made malt!  You really can't go wrong with a malt.  They are so creamy and the flavor possibilities are endless.  Plus they kind of count as a drink or a meal so a malt is versatile as well.  Due to our malt habit, Brenda has been worked like a young child in a Chinese sweat shop for the past three months and she is just plum worn out.  Maybe we should just send her to the "farm".

This past Tuesday I had an incredible moment with my girls that I just have to share.  The day had been rough so I was tired and feeling the effects of it.  However, when Jeff showed up from work early and in time to take AJ to soccer the day turned around quickly.  The guys headed out on a guy date night leaving us girls to our own demise.  I decided to make it a "girl's just want to have fun night" and we had a blast (Yes I realize using the term "blast" in this context definitely dates me, but I just couldn't help myself). Oh, and we accomplished so much too!  We got homework done, unpacked lunch pails, made a scrumptious quinoa salad, went out to ice cream, took bubble baths and got some spa treatments while we were at it! It was one of those rare moments as a parent when all was going right and everyone was getting along.  I will cherish those memories from our fun night for a lifetime.

And the Quinoa recipe was one of the simplest recipes ever and the salad it created was so incredibly delicious!  If you want to recreate it, start by cooking a cup of quinoa and letting it cool.  Add 4 ounces of your favorite feta (I used feta with tomato and basil).  Add a cup of craisins and a four ounce package of slivered almonds and then for the grand finale sprinkle just a half a cup of thinly sliced red onion to it and drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil over it. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy it. This so GOOD!
 Make sure you get pre-rinsed quinoa or that you rinse it well so that it isn't bitter.  There is not much worse than bitter quinoa except for burned beyond recognition quinoa.  Trust me I have extensive experience cooking quinoa (mostly incorrectly, but I think I have finally mastered the art of cooking quinoa) and I have experienced both bitter and char-burned quinoa and they both suck a** and taste kind of like dog crap! So the moral to this story is cook your quinoa with tender loving care.  It is totally worth it!

 Our beautiful girls and our beautiful (and tasty) Feta Craisen and Almond Quinoa Salad!

PS My son is the only other family member who would actually eat the salad because it "looks funny" so now AJ and I have lots of healthy and yummy salad to eat this week!  

Vern Out

Monday, September 15, 2014

Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul

I belong to a book club; not a famous one, or a big fancy, high falutin' one, but a book club nonetheless. We began meeting the year that I lived without television the year of no TV for more details on that little social experiment. Back then, my friend, Lori, suggested "Hey, Vern why don't we start a book club since you are not watching television anymore and I have always wanted to do a book club?"  

I'll be honest; I was skeptical about the whole thing and not too excited about a book club at all.  I kept thinking, "how much fun can people really have at a book club?"  I feared it might be lame and the last thing my reputation needed was for me to be labeled LAME!  I was already known for being weird and abnormal.  Without television, I did have a lot more free time though and I recalled fondly a time when I did enjoy reading; however, that time seemed so terribly long ago.  An entire lifetime ago since my book reading days. I hadn't read adult books for fun in years so maybe I wasn't able to perform at that level?!  In short, I was a terribly conflicted person, but I did think that maybe this book club could be COOL and not LAME... 

And what I have since learned is that a book club is so much more than a book club.  It's so much more than I ever imagined.  It is an incredible support network of inspiring women. Book club has spanned nearly four years, the births of several babies (yes we are very fertile in our book club), countless life changing events, life's joys, life's sorrows and the drinking of several bottles of wine.  Salud! It has been an incredible ride! I truly don't know what I would do without this group of amazing ladies.  They are AWESOME!    

So this post is dedicated to my book club divas; you know who you are and I love you each dearly!  
D.B.C. forever baby!

Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul
This month it was my turn to host book club so I decided to make us Home-made Chicken Noodle Soup for our souls!  I could be wrong, but I think we all really needed it!

It started with a few good eggs (from our chicken coop)
I added three cups of flour because Ree Drummond makes her homemade noodles with this ratio of one egg to one cup of flour and she swears by it!  Here's her actual recipe Ree's Noodles I also added my mom's secret ingredient which I could share with you, but then I would have to kill you so I better not because I like you and I don't want you to die!  And I really don't want to go to jail where I would likely be gang raped (or worse) so I will keep that little secret to myself for the safety of all involved...

You have to knead the flour and eggs for a very long time and then flatten them for a very much longer time for drying purposes. This process is not so fun for those who, like me, lack patience,but I managed...

(and so I am confident you can too!)

Then I made a bunch (It filled my big old pot up about 3/4 full) of chicken broth from leftover packets of  Ramen noodle chicken flavor pouches I had saved the past few months **to reduce sodium intake, I only add half a packet when I make ramen so I save the other half for just such occasions and it works like a charm) This little stunt was pulled in order to maintain my resourceful nature despite my recent inability to leave a store without a bunch of random foods most of which are not healthy, nor are they fruits, vegetables, milk or bread.
I have frequently visited the Mellema Farm Market next door (reached old school style at (616) 837-5839) and I bought the onion and potatoes from there and threw them along with some carrots and celery into the pot with the broth and let them simmer for a good long while!

This stuff really is good for your soul...simmering to perfection!
I decided to get wild and crazy and threw a bunch of leftover green beans into the soup near the end when I was adding the noodles.  I did this for a couple of reasons. First, for nutritional value and secondly because the green really does add a little something to the look of this soup!

The noodles had to cook much longer than I ever imagined which gave us book club ladies plenty of time to catch up before dinner which was fantastic because we had not seen each other since May!  Thanks to my always generous book club gals, we also had home-made bread and a salad to help wet our palate while we waited.

And we topped it all off with a hand-me-down Pound Cake with Nutella on top! (really my friend passed this along to me because she had a bunch of leftovers from her birthday party!)

All in all another highly successful book club although we didn't actually talk about our books for the minimum 10 minutes time requirement and for the first time ever we didn't drink any wine so I hope the book club police don't hunt us down!

Vern Out

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

40 years young

This past weekend, I took one of my best friends out to celebrate her 40th birthday at Amore Trattoria Italiana in Grand Rapids.  And let me tell you, it was amazing, mouthwatering, delicious, incredible, tantalizing, out-of-this-world! I could go on and on.  In my mind, we were transplanted right to the heart of Italy for a couple precious hours even though in reality we were just moments away from the crazy, hectic, car congested, armpit-like, reality of the infamous "Alpine Avenue" area...

B&B Pizza from Amore Trattoria Italiana! 
Salud and Happy Birthday, Tracy!

Even as leftovers this B &B pizza was AMAZING!  And I don't usually order pizza if I go  out.  The combination of Brie, lamb bacon, caramelized onions and apples combine for a unique and mind blowing experience and all for just $13.  I realize I am starting to sound like a used car salesman, or possibly an infomercial voice over, but it really was a delightful meal so I just can't help myself!  And it also fed me lunch today so I got a break from the normal pantry menu of late!  Man, I savored every morsel of this leftovers meal!  I never knew that lamb bacon existed prior to this dining experience and let's just say, the pigs out there have some serious competition!

So the very next day after my delightful meal during my day dreamy trip to Italy, I went on a trip of another variety; I went to hell (Or at least to the closest comparison to hell that I have experienced thus far in my life). You see, I took all three kids to the Dollar Store and then on to Sam's Club.  Two and a half hours later, we arrived home completely spent and everyone on the verge of a complete Armageddon like situation.  I truly thought the world was ending!  We were all exhausted with a capital "exhaust". 

Not only was the experience absolutely life sucking and torturous, but I spent over $220 and broke the self-imposed shopping rules enough times to make me question the validity of the challenge altogether.  But if I give up on the challenge, then how do I frame my blog?  This is a question that seems impossible to answer so I shall continue on as if all is well even though all was definitely not well in that 2 hour shopping moment and the aftermath the ensued.  All was extremely, very, completely, excruciatingly, awkwardly not well.  But we survived as my mom always told me "what doesn't kill you make you stronger!"  So we are all very strong after this experience that nearly killed us...and more importantly the goose jerky is done and it's delicious and it doesn't have to be stored in the freezer!  Chester gets the night off!  If your husband is also an avid hunter and you need to use up a bunch of goose so that it doesn't take up space in your freezer, try this recipe for spicy-goose-jerky.  Wow, I guess I get a little break from the hunting season because after this weekend until October first there is nothing that is legal for my husband to shoot! 

Vern Out

Monday, September 8, 2014

Honesty is the best policy

I have to clear my conscience because I don't think I had everything quite accurate in my last post.  My husband had been planning to hunt on Labor Day for months because there is some early goose season or something going on this year so it shouldn't have been a surprise to me when he up and left that fateful day. It was his plan. Honestly, if our roles had been reversed and I was supposed to go run a race and Jeff was having an emotional moment (oh that's right he doesn't actually feel any emotions) but in the unlikely event that he did decide to feel emotional, I still would have left for a scheduled race.  So we are even. At least he decided to stay home for the first day of school (probably because he questioned my ability to keep it together and get everyone safely to school on time, but I will take what help I can get these days).  Check us out!

I always save my best boots for the first day of school!

Oh and the other fairly unhelpful thing is that I am not always the best communicator when things are bothering me; I tend to let things build up.  So it is entirely possible (likely even) that I tried to hide my emotional struggles until they exploded in an ugly blubbering expression of frustration, sadness, happiness and a thousand other emotions the day after he went goose hunting.  So if I made it sound otherwise I am sorry, but I still feel that a chest freezer, even if he does have a nice name like Chester, does not a better half make.  However, Chester and I do get along pretty darn well so things could definitely be worse...

Vern Out

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Career change

After a somewhat random work meeting discussion last week, I am considering a new career path.  Now admittedly this was a total squirrel moment, in that this entire career related discussion had absolutely nothing to do with the work we were completing, but nonetheless, I feel this career deserves more consideration and exploration.  I've decided that I'm going to become the next great Food Stylist (maybe)!

And what pray tell is a Food Stylist?  Food Stylists are people who get paid large amounts of money (like a lot more than I have ever made) to travel all over the world to prepare food and style it artistically for use in commercials and other advertising materials.  I am thinking, that I will be an amazing Food Stylist.  I love to travel, cook and make food items look prettier than they actually taste!

 Look at our Goose Jerky marinating today...Isn't it "stylish"?! 

Now something has gone and happened...and that is that hunting season has arrived!  It snuck up on me this year too likely because I have been preoccupied having an emotional breakdown.  This recent emotional distress is the result of my "baby" starting kindergarten last week! I was never emotional about such matters in the past, but this time it got to me and totally knocked me off my "A" game. And then the next thing you know my husband is heading out the door to go goose hunting and I am all "WTF?!" Oh and I might have been crying in the closet, eating chocolate in large quantities and feeling generally unhappy. SIGH.  Don't worry, I am mostly recovered now although I really don't know where the time has gone. How is my youngest in kindergarten already?!

My last post touched on hunting briefly, but what I didn't delve into at that time was the reality of what this means for me and more importantly for Chester.  It means that Chester and I will both be working over time a lot for the next three months.  We will both be covering responsibilities that should be shared between two people equally within a marriage.  EQUALLY PEOPLE and not between a household appliance and a woman either, but between a husband and wife!  But for the next three months it will not be so and more importantly lots of random dead animals will be proudly dragged to our domicile for cleaning, preservation and storage.  It means that if I am not careful, Chester will be getting a large increase in his inventory this upcoming season and my goal to empty him, will not be reached.  At least I took my Aunt Melinda's advice and never learned to clean any animals.  Not even one measly fish or bird. This was the best wedding day advice I received for sure!

Note to self: I must find a way to undermine my husband's hunting tactics this year without it being obvious that I am doing so and I need to learn what kind of credentials are necessary to become a food stylist...

Vern Out

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Canning season

Autumn is fast approaching and while it makes those who love the heat and sun of summer terribly sad, it makes many, like myself, terribly happy!  I love autumn!!!  It has always been my favorite season.  Like forever!  I love the cool crisp air of fall! And the rich savory colors, tastes and smells of autumn can't be beat. Best of all, as a child I loved that my birthday was the first full day of autumn!   I am not nearly as enthusiastic about my birthday nowadays, but I still love FALL!

The only possible drawback to the autumn season that I can think of is that I went and married an avid hunter.  What was I thinking?  Seriously? I wish I'd been warned about the reality of marrying a hunter.  His hunting habit really screws up our schedule during my favorite time of the year. It is really annoying, but I try to remember that hunting is my husband's equivalent to running (you know in that he LOVES it... possibly more than he LOVES me)  so I am mostly a patient, kind and understanding wife regarding his hunting hobby. I am all of these things, as long as I get to run at least 3 times a week during hunting season.  If I drop below that critical level, then I become a real B*tch.  Therefore, I rely heavily on the goodness of friends and family  (watching our children while I run) during hunting season in order to accomplish this minimum running frequency that maintains my mental health and arguably the well being of our entire family. Thanks to everyone who is about to help get us through this upcoming hunting season.  We appreciate it so much!

So the other really cool thing about autumn is that it is harvest season!  And while I definitely do not have a green thumb, I am really good at picking the stuff that everyone else grows.  You see, any plant that I care for dies within roughly two days so I call that a black thumb, not a green one.  This is my reality.

 I help harvest all of the produce from my parents' garden as well as my in-laws' garden. We no longer have our own garden since we essentially live in my in-laws' front yard and we can walk to their garden in less than thirty seconds and there is plenty of produce for all of us! That is one of the most amazing things about gardens they produce so MUCH food.  I realize the part about living so close to my in-laws probably made many people cringe.  I understand that merely imagining living that close to in-laws, can be a scary thing, but I don't mind it.  I get it that most women would hate, living so nearby their mother-in-law, and I probably would too if I had a different mother-in-law. But as it stands, I love it.  It is nothing like "Everyone Loves Raymond" because my mother-in-law is nothing like his mom was. She is cool, trendy and a wonderful Grandma to our kids. Oh and as a total bonus, it helps that I can raid her closet whenever I am in need of normal (non running or yoga pants) clothes and she has a wardrobe at least ten times the size of mine and doesn't mind loaning her stuff out! It is basically like living next to a Younkers store that let's you borrow clothes for the day!

Now my own mother is the most exceptional Canner that I know. Possibly in the entire world or even universe!  She really is that good! It is incredible to watch her can!  I tried my hand at canning during our first year of marriage. After spending the better part of my childhood observing and assisting my mom with the dying art form, that is home canning, I figured it would be simple.  Boy was I wrong. That summer I canned and crap ton of green beans and pickles and none of it was edible. None!  And we all accept that my standards for food consumption are pretty low.  It was really that bad.  The chickens wouldn't even eat that shit!  And I have not canned independently since.  I am only allowed to do supervised canning on my scheduled days (Court ordered!).  Trust me; It is best for everyone involved that way.  I can properly prepare the foods for the canning process.  I can even neatly stuff the food into the jars and make them look pretty.  I just can't finish the job if you want to be able to actually eat the food at some point in the future without risking life or limb!

Now my two sisters are close second and third places in the canning department, they are both really, really good at it!  All the women in my family (other than myself) are amazing canners. Me, I couldn't can a jar of edible pickles to save my life!  I guess I just couldn't handle the "pressure".

Home canned applesauce.  Does it really get any more autumn than that?

So here's the thing.  I was really disappointed in myself when my first canning season was a complete and utter failure. It didn't make sense and I considered trying again, but the truth is I just didn't enjoy the process that much when I was involved in it alone.  After one season of failed canning, I gave up!  Some people would probably be critical of me for giving up so quickly.  I know my husband would be, but I am at peace with my canning reality.  My kids are still learning this legacy from their aunts and grandma.  Me, I am just excited to spend some quality time with my family this harvest season helping to can up the bounty of our labor. And while I won't be allowed to operate any of the highly sophisticated canning equipment, I can clean a tomato faster than most people and that is good enough for me!

You see, somethings in life aren't meant to be and independent canning is apparently one of them for me!  At least I am a really good helper and I am a really, really good taste tester. Best of all, I will eat and serve to my family anything (even the stuff that isn't quite right) and that, my friends, is priceless.  

Happy Fall Ya'll

Vern Out

Monday, September 1, 2014

Shortest post ever

Just when I started making progress (yes I made it to round 4 this year) in the world of Bocce Ball, they went and decided that 25 years was long enough and this year would be the final Bocce Ball tournament.  So I made it to the fourth round of the final bocce ball tournament and will never get to experience the thrill of victory.  The agony of defeat was pretty um agonizing too.  We lost 15 to 13 in a very close back and forth game that lasted over a half an hour.  I know that's a tough loss, but I am handling it pretty well. I have an appointment schedule with my shrink tomorrow!

There is a small amount of the pasta salad left that I shall be consuming later today (so that I don't end up feeding it to the chickens in a couple weeks because I forgot about it) for lunch. As for the leftover waffles (photo below) that I made yesterday, they served as a marvelous breakfast today which makes me happy because they won't be taking up space inside Wally, aka the freezer.  Plus, added bonus, there are 4 waffles remaining for the first day of school so I will be "that mom"; the cool home-made waffle feeding mom on the first day of school and I won't even have all the mess that comes along with that title either! So very cool!  This fact alone takes a lot of pressure off the first day of school for me.  I am blessed.

If you want to try your hand at making these click here applesauce-sausage-waffles!  It is definitely more involved than my traditional Bisquick waffles, but they are so much YUMMIER that it is worth the extra labor!

 Applesauce Sausage Waffles...Seriously good stuff!

They won't even be in the freezer long enough to get labeled!

Happy Labor Day!

PS I thought it would be the shortest post ever, but I may have failed. However, that is because I believe in keeping my people informed and I kept thinking of important stuff to share!

Vern Out