Friday, 23 November 2012

Black Friday is now a foodie event!

I've been having a blast playing around on G+ lately...and getting to know some of the G+ people  and local power-users. From brunches to pumpkin carving, Google keeps us busy with all kinds of fun activities.

But tonight's event was hands down the best!  I got to participate in an After-Thanksgiving Cook-Off with two other food bloggers in a live Goggle Plus hangout. The event was hosted by Austin foodie Mary Helen Leonard from Mary Makes Dinner.  The challenge was to go beyond the standard Turkey-Day leftover fare (sandwiches, turkey tetrazinni and such) and create a delicious meal using common leftover food.

I had a great time coming up with my recipes (they came to me at about 2 a.m.!  A plus to insomnia!

Since we're vegetarian, there's no turkey to play with.  And the Tofurky is always gone by the end of the meal.  So I came up with a way to use the veggies and stuffing that I always over-make.

The soup was made up of chopped veggies from the vegetable tray (peppers, celery, carrots), extra onions from when I was cooking the stuffing, leftover corn, leftover mashed potatoes and extra cherry tomatoes from the salad.  Adding some Southwestern spices into the mix (cumin, garlic, onion powder, chili powder, cilantro) gave it just the right amount of flavor.  Then I finished it off with some cream for the perfect after-Black-Friday-shopping comfort.

The soufflĂ©s were a way to use up some of that stuffing and the sweet potato casserole.  I blended the sweet with some heat, by adding Cayenne, chili powder, hot paprika, and fresh black pepper, then whipped it up with a couple of eggs and some egg whites.  The stuffing went into muffin cups, and the soufflĂ© cooked on top.  The result was just what I hoped...crunchy, savoury crusts filled with smooth, slightly spicy puffs.

It was crazy getting ready for it, but once the event started, my natural "hamminess" kicked in, and I had fun! My daughter was camera operator...and part time food thief as she snatched the leftover mash potatoes, and grabbed the final bowl of soup right after food taster Natalie put down her spoon!  My other kids were watching remotely, so it became a family event (right down to my other daughter's G+ comments of "Mommy!  Mommy!  Mom!!"

If you want to see the video (I haven't even seen it yet!) check it out on Google+  Then please vote for your favorite chef.  Of course, I'm hoping it's me, but we can still be friends even if don't (or not! LOL!)

Here's the voting link on Mary's blog...G+'s are great and much appreciated, but that's not the voting that counts for this!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Time for the family pictures...oh, and don't forget the holiday letters!

I have always wanted to have one of THOSE family holiday pictures.  You know, the kind where a smiling family is posed in a charmingly vintage setting, every hair in place and of course all in perfectly matched outfits.

Just one.  Just once.

So when I saw Design Mom's Tips for [Perfect!] Family Photos, I was once again hooked. Yes, I did insert that "perfect" but when you see her adorable shots, you'll understand why. Not only was the vintage European car a perfect prop, the stone building was a dream-come-true backdrop.  Even the sky cooperated, offering a lovely silver palate to highlight the bright red packages.

And miracle of miracles, the kids looked like they all played along.

As if.

As if I could ever pull that off. Oh, it's not that I didn't try. But between the whines when I said we would all be wearing matching demin shirts, to the photo-phobic child of the year (they seemed to trade this role from year to year), the picture of my dreams never happened. Hair was pulled, things were spilled (didn't I say no chocolate milk until AFTER the shoot???)...and again I settled for almost any shot with the three kids in it and no one's eyes closed.

But let it never be said that I am a quitter, because I am planning to try again this year.  No, there won't be any adorable vintage cars involved. And I'm thinking more geeky t-shirts instead of matching denim.  But seeing other people's perfect shot has renewed my determination to try again.

So kids, be forewarned. Mom is bringing out the family photo shoot plan again this year.

And then we'll start on the holiday newsletter.......Mwa haha,

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Stocking Your Thanksgiving Pantry

crowded thanksgiving grocery store
You DON'T want to be here on Thanksgiving Day! 
It's only a week until Thanksgiving!  I LOVE Thanksgiving! It's a holiday all about family, but there are no presents to buy and no religious observances to work in.  It's just about food and friends and having a great meal with people I love.

But what I don't love is heading to a grocery store on Thanksgiving Day to get those forgotten ingredients!  The lines are super-long, the parking lots are packed (who ever knew there was a parking space that far from the store's door?) and I always feel guilty for keeping the clerks away from their families on a holiday.

So when I saw the HEB's (the local grocery store here in Austin) guide to stocking your Thanksgiving pantry, I thought it would be a great thing to share. Everyone remembers the main course and the major ingredients for the side dishes, but it's the little things that always seem to be missing from the pantry on the big day.

I tried to find HEB's list on their website, but couldn't find it, so here's their list, plus a few ideas of my own. (There's a link to download the whole list at the end of this post, so no frantic copying and pasting needed!)

HEB's List

  • Sugar: brown, white, powdered, and extra fine sugar
  • Flour: all-purpose, cake, and seasoned frying flour (that last one is new to me!)
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Spices: cinnamon, allspice, pumpkin pie spice mix, ginger

It's a great start, and it got me thinking, so here's my own list, too. If you stock up on these extras and staples before next week, you'll be able to enjoy your holiday without those panicked trips to your local store.

Lindsay's List

  • Natural sweeteners (honey, agave, Stevia)
  • Flour and baking mixes: whole wheat, gluten-free, multigrain
  • Canned and frozen veggies (a great fill-in if you need more of something!): green beans, sweet potatoes, corn, peas
  • Ready-to-use broth (buying the kinds in cartons lets you use a little or a lot and not waste the rest of a can)
  • Spices: sage, poultry seasoning, pepper corns (and a grinder), salt
  • Canned fruit pie filling
  • Canned olives
  • Cheese (grated, cheddar, and according to my friends, the stuff in cans is a must-have too!)
  • Crackers
  • Heat-and-eat or ready-to-bake rolls
  • Stuffing mix
  • Butter, salted and unsalted
  • Instant mashed potatoes (better than running out!)
  • Gravy mix (vegetarian, chicken and turkey)
  • Canned milk
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Corn starch
  • Beverages (whatever you're serving, from tea to cider to soda)
  • Cake mix
  • Instant pudding
  • Cooking spray
  • Foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Plastic food containers for people to take home leftovers
  • Paper towels
  • Paper napkins
And then two or three days before Thanksgiving, stock up on some extra:
  • Ice
  • Celery
  • Onions
Can you image?  A Thanksgiving without a last-minute store run?  What a concept! 

Of course, if you really need that chance to escape the chaos for a little bit, there's probably at least a one or two things I left off the list, right?  Frozen pizza, anyone? 

Download your own printable Thanksgiving grocery shopping checklist here.  And while you're shopping, do try to add at least a few things for your local food bank or homeless shelter.  It's been a tough year for many, and they could use your help in having a reason to be thankful.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It's started already!

Cartoon thanks to Restoring Truthiness

Quick!  Somebody check the calendar!  Mine says it's November 14th.  Is it right?

OK, so WHY are there not one, but TWO channels of 24/7 Christmas music on the radio already?  Didn't that used to start the day after Thanksgiving?  So why the bump up?

Are the people at XM Radio concerned that we might have forgotten the lyrics to the Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire song, so we need more practice before the holiday actually hits?  If that's the case, I can assure them that the words to that and every other standard Christmas song are permanently burned into the brains of every American, regardless of their personal religion. We do NOT need to practice!

Or maybe they think that hearing endless versions of Rockin Around the Christmas Tree* will make us turn our cars around and head to the mall for a zombie-like shopping spree. Sorry, retailers. I think as a country we're wising up a bit, and realizing that no one really wants those "gift sets" stacked up at the entrance to every department store. And the "Made in China" clothing is wearing thin, too (literally, in this case! Is it even possible to find shirts that don't show your skin and bra through them anymore?)

No matter why they're on so early, you may be wondering how I know about these two stations of aural torture. XM has hundreds of stations, right? True.  But I am blessed with a daughter who actually likes Christmas music.

She apparently even liked it before she was born, because she chose to make her entrance on the planet on December 25th. I thought that she might have picked that day because the roads were empty...a handy thought when said roads were also snow-covered. But now I'm convinced she picked that snowy December evening so she could listen to the last of the barrage of Christmas music.

Why else would she have gotten that glow in her eyes when she heard the mention of the new stations as we were driving to school the other day?  And why, this morning, was I subjected to a sampling of all that is to come for the next month and half?

I did try to nip it in the bud. I suggested that we print out a list of the standard Christmas songs, and keep it with us in the car.  Everytime we hear one, no matter which version, we check it off. Once the list is done (which I figure will only take a few days), we shut off the Xmas sounds until next year. As Elvis came on, moaning (er, um singing) Blue Christmas, she laughed.  "Funny, Mom."

Sigh.  It's going to be a long, long time until December 25th.
*The version of Rockin Around the Christmas Tree we were "treated to" this morning was sung by Wayne Newton. Neither my daughter nor her BFF had every heard of him, and neither believed it was a guy.  I officially felt old!

Monday, 12 November 2012

When being lonely feels normal, is it time to worry?

A quick browse of my e-mails and blog follows today included a couple of articles that caught my eye.  The first was one on the impact of social isolation on the human brain.  According to researchers, spending too much time without social interaction actually changes brains.  And that change makes it harder for people to even want to meet new people and become less isolated. Which increases isolation and adds to the brain changes. So the problem deepens over time.

As an at-home mom and freelance writer who moved to a new city last year, I can tell you it's true without even looking at the test data.  After over a year spending most days alone, it's become hard to even imagine having friends around.  And just the other day, I announced to my family that I had given up on the idea entirely.  And what's more, I was just fine with that.

"It's just the way it is," I said. "My friends are online and in Florida, not here in Austin. But that's okay. I am fine with not trying to make friends here anymore."

After reading about the research, the scariest part of my statement is that I absolutely meant it.  My daughter is at school all day.  My husband heads to the gym after work, and is seldom home before 7 pm...sometimes later. I spend most days here at home writing and taking care of our home (cooking, laundry, etc.) That has become my normal.

Once in a while, I'll attend an event...a book group or a SEO meeting.  I go to yoga at the gym several times a week, but no one talks to each other there.  And we go to services and Torah (Bible) classes every week. As a family, we often go out to dinner, or take a walk at the Domain or downtown.  But that's about it for me. No actual non-family social time with friends.

But I had no plans to try and change that. The effort it takes to get out and meet people one-on-one and try to make connections seemed like far too much work to be worth it. In fact, I've recently contemplated dumping the mystery book group.  And the number of SEO meetings I actually make it to have been dropping quickly.  I even noticed that the connections I used to maintain online are slipping away.  I just didn't question why.

But now I know why it was so comfortable to decide to give up on the whole friends thing. My brain is morphing. My days, weeks and months alone have changed how I think...and who I am.  That aversion to social invitations?  My feelings of discomfort at networking events?  My loss of interest in chatting with friends online?  It's not just my natural introversion.  It's the impact of the isolation re-wiring my thinking.

The researchers did find that the changes were completely reversible when social interactions increased.  What they didn't answer was how that happens.  If, as they found, new social connections become unappealing, how do you cross that barrier to build them?

And how do you get past just not caring if you do?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Why I can't watch the election results until it's over

I know the network and news stations are pushing election predictions and polls right now.  Radio is probably doing pretty much the same.

That's why I have the Food Network on my TV while I work. No matter who you're cheering for in this presidential election, this race is too close to call. And the results matter too much for the country as a whole, and each person who lives here.

At this point, there is nothing I can do. I have voted. I have shared my views and the data on social media and among friends and family. I have watched debates, and declared winners and losers (and I have to admit, had fun mocking mistakes made by the candidate I did not support!)

But now the tension is too high. The stakes are too high. A jump here, a dip there and suddenly I would be elated or upset.

So with my civic duty done (as much as it can be as long as the electoral college remains in place), I will work and write my articles and get ready for tomorrow mornings's interview on YNN*.  And I will look up occasionally and watch someone show me a new way to cook carrots or make a pie crust.

Tonight is soon enough for me to be happy or upset.

What about you?  Are you watching or listening or checking online for polls and results?  Or are you waiting until it's all said and done? 

*Tomorrow, I am being interviewed on YNN Austin, and will be demonstrating how to make a 72-hour emergency kit for kids. Check the website after 9:30 CST to find the video!

Monday, 5 November 2012

This is a test...can I actually be organized?

family command center via Pottery Barn
Photo via Pottery Barn
Right now, my front hall is decorated with a half dozen neatly tacked up pieces of newspaper.  I read somewhere that this was a great way to figure out how to arrange pictures or art on a wall before you actually grab the hammer and nails.

After a few false starts, the arrangement works.

In a few minutes, the newspaper is going to be replaced. with memo boards, a dry-erase calendar, chore charts, a bulletin board and framed name art to show who's board is who's. The whole thing will be topped with a quote designed to help us start the day right.

Once it's all up, the real test begins. Starting tomorrow, I will have a command center with all the tools that are supposed to make family scheduling easy, homework tracking efficient, and school mornings free from panic, tears, rushing and last-minute "oh I forgot..."

So what if it doesn't work? What if all of these tools and boards and quotes don't change anything?

If I can't get myself and my family organized with all the right stuff, does that mean I have to give up on EVER getting it right?  I am about to find out.

Yoda says there is no try, only do. So starting tomorrow, it's not about trying to get us on track. It is about doing...or not doing. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

What if you had to leave your house with 5 minutes notice?

Photo via Emergency Essentials
When my two older kids were in preschool, the school said I had to make earthquake kits for each of them.  Each had a backpack to fill with the basics they would need for 3 days...72 hours. I was literally terrified at the idea of my little ones having to survive for a few days...or even a few hours...on what I packed!!! So I did my homework, and learned what to include to make sure they would be warm, and comforted and well fed if those kits ever needed to be opened.

The earthquake kits, thankfully, were finally opened for a last day of preschool party, instead of a crisis.

But since then, I've usually kept a 72 hour kit in our house and in the car.  I even wrote and sold a guide to basic emergency preparedness, filled with the things ordinary people need to know to stay safe and healthy when the unexpected happens. (In fact, I'm in the process of revising that now.)

Sometimes my 72 hour kits are complete and up-to-date, and other times they're sadly in need of attention.  But after watching the events of Hurricane Sandy on TV, I've decided that being lax just isn't an option.

During the past week, lots of us had friends, family members or colleagues who had to leave their homes with only a few hours...or even a few minutes notice. Hurricane Sandy turned into a Frankenstorm that had weather experts scratching their heads in disbelief as people fled their homes. .

But it doesn't take a monster hurricane wrapped in Nor'easter to cause an evacuation. It could be a fire in the area...a big problem here in Texas.  Or a tornado.  A blizzard, a flash flood or even a toxic spill.  Could you do it?  Do you have everything you would need for two or three days in a shelter?  Or in your car?

When you're not facing a crisis, it's easy to put together a kit. But when the order comes to leave, it's too late to start.

In case you're one of the vast majority who don't have your kits made and ready to go in a moment's notice, here's a link to my very own 72 hour kit checklist.  Your family's needs might be different, but it's a good place to start gathering what you need to get started on your path to preparedness.

Kids 72 hour kits
Go to the 72 hour kit checklist

Thursday, 1 November 2012

So how was your Halloween?

Halloween table decorations

Halloween, my absolutely favorite holiday, has come and gone again for another year.

There was so much going on this year with family that I didn't get around to doing nearly as much of an event as I'd planned, but I did manage to create a pretty cool Trick or Treat table at the last minute.

I especially liked the tree (a Hobby Lobby special for only $7!) and the kind of post-apocalyptic metal spiders I've had for years and years. The picture in the top photo is a Dollar Tree find from last you move, the image changes from the sweet old lady you see to a grinning skeleton face.

It was fun sitting outside with my DH, handing out candy to the little ones who came by.  But the best part was when the golf carts arrived!

You see, we live in a development that includes a golf course and club. So, as we learned from one of the neighbor moms last night. the kids traditionally all gather at the club, load up on golf carts and head out to Trick or Treat!  The parents drive, of course!

They stop on every block, unload a swarm of kids, everyone goes to the houses and then re-boards for the next block!  I love it!

I was also thrilled to see that Trick or Treating here started AFTER DARK!  Even for the little ones!  No 5:30 doorbells, or everything over by 8!

My daughter chose an easy costume this year...she wanted to be an 80's rocker, so all I had to do was open my storage bin of clothes I saved from then, add a pair of very 80's rock-star leopard skin boots I found on clearance at Target, and she was set!  Oh, and one more thing...I bought a ton of hair spray and gel to give her that 80's hair!  A blast from the past! I can't believe we did that much work every morning just to have our hair right!

My husband took lots of pictures last night, so I may upload more later, but I really wanted to get this post up this morning...lots to do today (y'know, like work!)

Maybe next year, I'll do the haunted house in the garage, or set my dinner table with great Halloween table settings like Susan showcased on Between Naps on the Porch.  But I'm learning to be happier with what I do these days. So full on Halloween next year...this year the table and kids and golf carts were just enough.