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Friday, February 4, 2011

Chicken Nachos

Chicken Fest continues with Chicken Nachos...perhaps in honor of Superbowl Sunday and all the game day party spreads out there. (It is this weekend...right?)

Leftover chicken and some other basics inspire nacho night
Typically, nachos are a cinch for me to pull together because I tend to have the basics on hand. (At least this used to be typical. Now that we're on the Husband's money diet, I'm planning meals in advance like a school cafeteria, buying only what I need week to week, which means my pantry is no longer as well stocked as it used to be!)

Nachos are a great way to use some leftover ingredients, like the chicken (roasting of which was outlined in a previous post), some shredded cheese, and a can of black beans. If I am planning ahead for a nacho night, I will also pick up a can of refried beans, some Roma tomatoes (which aren't as seedy as other tomatoes), and an avocado or two. (Price permitting, of course. At this point in the winter one avocado costs almost $2, which is a little too steep for me!) 

A quick note on avocados: the Husband got me hooked on them back in our vegetarian days....I don't think  I ever ate them growing up. He and I love, love, love them (!!!) on sandwiches and mashed or diced on nachos, tacos, quesadillas, etc. (Yum!) Meanwhile, the Bear could take or leave this strange green fruit. When she was just starting solid foods, I discovered the magical joy of mashed avocados mixed with pear baby food. Yes, I tasted it (I tasted all the baby food...Had to), and it was super delicious...the Bear just spit it out and refused to take any additional bites. (Oh well, more for Mommy!) 

Speaking of our vegetarian days, nachos are perfect for mixed crowds because diners can choose whether or not to add the meat.  This is why I often include both refried beans and black fill out the meal a little for the vegetarians at the table (although I'm sure the meat eaters benefit as well!).

Before I go on, I should probably list what I consider the bare bones ingredients for chicken nachos:
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Cooked Chicken, shredded or diced (shake a little cumin on it if you'd like)
  • Beans (refried and/or just plain beans. We prefer black beans)
  • Shredded Cheese (like cheddar, monterey jack, or a blend)
  • Tomato (in the form of diced tomatoes, salsa, taco sauce, some, or all of thee above! Salsa verde is also a very viable option.)
Some other fun ingredients that we like to include on nacho night:
  • Minced Onions 
  • Avocados
  • Red Bell Peppers (I prefer it diced and either sauteed or roasted, but raw will work as long as it is a finer chop)
  • Black Olives (I add these, but the Husband does not! My love of black olives stems from my dairy free days nursing a Baby Bear who presumably suffered from a dairy allergy that she has since outgrown. Olives were one ingredient that compensated, somewhat, for the lack of cheese in a Mexican dish. The flavor must have passed through the milk, because today, unlike her father, the Bear loves olives!)
A few other ingredient options, that we rarely include, but are still worth a mention:
  • Zucchini (diced, and either sauteed or roasted) 
  • Corn (frozen corn heated in the microwave)
  • Sour Cream (delicious, but rarely makes it into my shopping cart these days in an effort to cut calories and save money)

Frontera Roasted Tomato Taco Sauce, 8-Ounce (Pack of 6)Finally, let's talk taco sauce, which is not pictured above but should be because it is my absolute favorite ingredient on nacho night. For years I relied on salsa alone, but then I was eating tacos at a friend's house when I rediscovered mild Ortega and fell in love. Interestingly, Ortega has some chemical ingredient in it that forced me to bar it from our pantry. (I cannot remember exactly what it is, as I do not have a bottle handy to consult, but I will find out and get back to you).  I have scoured the Internet for a DIY taco sauce recipe with no luck. About a year ago I discovered Frontera's Roasted Tomato Taco Sauce at my local Whole Foods, which has such a tangy, rich flavor...I can see now that Ortega was just puppy love...but Frontera is the real thing.

The beauty of nacho night is that it is so easy to have everything chopped and ready hours in advance. (You could even do this the night before). Before dinner, I get everything out, nuke the chicken and beans, and then let diners assemble their own plate of nachos. It is also fun to put the chips, chicken, beans, and cheese on an ovenproof plate (think Fiestaware) and broil until the cheese is melted. This step is not necessary, but gives the tortilla chips a roasted corn taste that I love.

Our plates are probably never as fancy as the picture below, but I wanted it fancy for you!


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"We Have to Go Together"

As you know, in my last post, I whined a lot and somehow managed to take out my winter blahs on the two Senators from Kentucky. At the time, I anticipated Mitch McConnell's appearance on Meet the Press would be a sharply critical, obstructionist attack on everything President Obama laid out in his January 25th State of the Union address...

However, Egypt changed everything. I can only assume McConnell's booking was cut short so that David Gregory could talk with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton about the continued unrest in Egypt -- and rightly so.

Still, McConnell made an appearance* and even moved on from talk of Egypt to domestic issues. True, he did not once utter the words "Kentucky" or "Kentuckians," but he did make one compelling statement that I can't seem to forget: "We have to go together."

He said this not once, but twice: "We have to go together."

McConnell was responding to the question of entitlement reform, which folks all across the political spectrum agree is an essential component of cutting back on the U.S. budget deficit.  (According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid comprised more than 40% of the Federal Budget in 2010. The Department of Defense adds another 20%. These programs are often seen as untouchable, but it is becoming more and more clear that we will not be able to bring down the deficit if 60% of the Budget is untouchable and, therefore, cannot be cut.**)

Republicans promised to cut spending in the 2010 Midterms. The problem is, now that a majority of them have been seated in the House, they are much more cautious about tightening the federal government's belt.  You see, spending cuts are not so popular with constituents who don't want their benefits slashed, making such legislation a risky move for representatives who want to get re-elected in 2012.

And it's not just Republicans; the hesitancy to enact unpopular, but necessary reform exists for Democrats as well. No one wants to be attacked as the politician who stole from senior citizens...especially in a 30-second TV spot during the next election cycle. 

And yet, the fact remains: We cannot afford to continue down this path. 

On Sunday David Gregory alluded to the political maneuvering that ensues. Who will present their plan for entitlement reform first: Republicans or Democrats? In typical Washington style, it is projected that whichever side goes first will have the disadvantage of being cast by the other side as the party who robbed the American people of benefits -- even though both parties believe that benefits must be cut to sustain programs like Social Security. The hypocrisy and double-dealing turns my stomach!

The solution to this strategic dilemma? As McConnell wisely asserted: "We have to go together."

Only time will tell if my Senator (or anyone else in Washington) will stick to all the good faith that's been percolating about Capitol Hill in the wake of the Tucson Massacre...but here's one Kentuckian, one hopeful citizen who would like to see Congress and the White House "go together" on entitlement reform and many of the other big issues we face.

So, enough of the political maneuvering, Congress. Enough strategic power plays. We did not elect you to acquire power for yourselves or your party. We elected you to solve problems. So do it! Go together. Get in a room, figure it out, and then tell us all about your plan -- your bipartisan plan to make Social Security sustainable for another generation. that too much to ask?

Jaelithe, the Librarian @ Home, (who has become a little more politicky than she ever intended to be)

*Click here to read a transcript of the January 30, 2011 broadcast of Meet the Press

**What's a Librarian to do? After about 30 minutes of plowing through the 2010 Federal Budget, I gave up on my quest for a primary source of this data and succumbed to the CBPP's data. The CBPP describes itself as "producing materials that are balanced (and) authoritative" and even have a shout out from Ezra Klein on their webpage. So...I am using this source and moving on. If I were your friendly neighborhood reference librarian, being paid by the hour and benefiting from ridiculously low premiums on health insurance, then believe me, I wouldn't give up so easily! However, this SAHM has potatoes to peel and laundry to fold...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lost in Space

Last week I had a long conversation with an old friend, during which I confessed that I've been a little out of touch these days.

"I'm not sure where I've been, lately.  Just lost. Mentally lost in space."

I've been bored. Restless. Snowed in. Tired. And did I mention...bored?

"You've just been so...itchy," the Husband said a couple weeks ago. Which is quite an interesting word choice because we celebrated our seven-year anniversary last August. Could this be the Seven-Year Itch? I'm pretty certain my restlessness doesn't have anything to do with my marriage.

Before I track down a DVD of the Marilyn Monroe film for research...maybe I should revisit Betty Friedan's classic, The Feminine Mystic, in which she discusses the "problem without a name," a sense of dissatisfaction experienced by American housewives in the 1960s.

Is my current state at all similar to that of housewives 50 years ago? Educated women spending their days at home with dirty dishes, dirty diapers, and dirty laundry? Isn't it different for us now, after the Second Feminist Wave, now that Dads are more involved, now that we have the Internet, Facebook, and cable TV?

Anytime I mention my boredom to another at-home mom, I am invited to another play-date. And while I'm so grateful for their generosity, for their offering of time and company (really I am), I think the last thing I need is another play-date.

But what do I need? That is what I don't know.

So what do you think? Is this just the winter blues? Is it time for me to go back to work? Or, is it time for another baby?  Maybe I should just blog more, and whine less.

Truth be told, I am bummed about a few things: Keith Olbermann's split from MSNBC last week was a bit disconcerting, especially considering the fact that I was not tuned in last Friday night and didn't even get a chance to witness the live goodbye. I have been a Countdown viewer for nearly three years, and now, with little warning, it airs no more.

While I'm on the topic of politics, I've got to admit I continue to be bummed that during this time when our nation faces such huge problems, when so much is at stake...I live in a state where both Senators seem more interested in the agenda of their political parties (GOP and TEA) than the welfare of Kentuckians. Seriously, I never hear either of them say anything to the national media about what they intend to do for Kentucky. It's all "Tea Party" this and "ruin Obama" that. McConnell is scheduled for Meet the Press this Sunday, and I intend to tune in and see if he has anything -- anything at all -- to say about Kentucky, or if it'll be more of his grumpy talk about ensuring that Obama doesn't get a second term.

Like any good wife, I can also "blame" the Husband for bumming me out. I've got two beefs with him right now. First, a few weeks before Christmas, anticipating the flood of new toys, the Husband turned our dining room into a playroom. It is magic, pure magic, to have the Bear gated in there, flipping through her books while I'm working nearby. But it is also devastating (just a little), because my dining room is now a friggin' playroom!!! It's as if we have admitted defeat. We have surrendered, and the toys won...the kid stuff won!

My second beef with the Husband is that he put us on a money diet. It is just what we need after the gluttony of the holidays; it is just what we need to pay for college (ours first, then the Bear's) and reach some other financial goals. Generally speaking, I enjoy a little belt-tightening and penny-pinching, and I am well aware that people all around me are struggling financially in ways that we have never struggled. But when your personal allowance is slashed by tend to feel a bit devastated (just a little). And so, if teasing the Husband, (say, calling him the Rand Paul of the household) helps ease that devastation....Well, it does.

All in all, I love my life. I love, love, love the Husband and I love, love, love the Bear. My gut just keeps filling up with a mix of euphoria and dread, with this sense that there is so much to do and say...and yet, I'm not acting on it because I'm not sure what it is I am supposed to do or say...

Any ideas?


Friday, January 21, 2011

Chicken Fest

If you recall, back in November, I roasted a chicken. Remember? I roasted a whole chicken, left my iPad at Whole Foods, and gave the Husband (and myself) reason to believe that we might need to start shopping around for a more responsible household CEO. (Good luck finding one who'll work for free!)

Back in my library days I had a colleague who loved the Barefoot Contessa. He told me on more than one occasion that her roasted chicken recipe is pure perfection. You can find the recipe here.

It was by chance that I finally tried the recipe. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had planned to buy a roast chicken for $6.99, the Monday special at my local Whole Foods. However, I arrived too early; the chickens were still in the oven.  Feeling oh so resourceful, I pulled up the Barefoot Contessa recipe on my iPad (which I don't usually have with me at the supermarket because I'm afraid I'll lose it. Hmmmm...certainly a realistic fear!). I purchased the ingredients and a disposable roasting pan, and went on my merry way, so excited about the fortuitous birth of Chicken Fest 2010 that I parked my shopping cart in the return corral and all but skipped back to my car, oblivious to the fact that I had abandoned the family iPad.

Several hours later, abashed and annoyed, yet grateful to have the iPad back in my possession, I assembled all the ingredients and followed the recipe to a tee.

Before going any further, I have to say, I was a vegetarian for about three years back in my 20s. (Who wasn't?)  And seriously, although I realize that I made the choice to go back, I was not very happy when meat made its way back into my life and then back into my diet. For the most part I really don't enjoy eating meat all that much. I'm not sure why.  And what I really, really don't enjoy is handling raw meat, especially raw meat that resembles the animal it once was. (Ground beef is one thing, but a whole chicken? With skin and bones, and a sack full of giblets inside...Yikes!)

Nevertheless, I have decided that if I am a meat eater (I am) and if I am serving this to my family as food (again, I am) then I must be willing to see it and touch it with my hands and know that a life was given for our sustenance, you know? (Okay, I realize I might have just lost some of you, but for whatever reason, saying that was important to me...I would love to hear from others about post-vegetarianism guilt!)

Moving on...let me get back to that day in November: I rolled up my sleeves, rinsed that chicken, patted it dry, and then stuffed its cavity as if I were Ina Garten herself, making dinner for Jeffrey and a handful of other sophisticated friends:

My finished product was a little beauty:

When I prepared this meal, we were swimming in a surplus of squash and root vegetables. That night dinner consisted of roasted chicken, whole wheat couscous, some steamed greens, and (much to the Husband's distaste) roasted radishes and turnips:

Losing the iPad was dumb, but roasting a chicken (once I was done touching the raw parts!) felt smart, especially because I was able to use the leftovers in three other recipes.

Chicken Nachos, White Chicken Chili, and Chicken Stock to follow...


Friday, December 31, 2010

More X, Less Y: My Hopes for 2011

Hello again, readers. I hope you enjoyed the Holidays and find yourself ready for a fresh start!

As the clock ticks 2010 into history, I have been reflecting on the past and anticipating the clean slate of January 1.

For my family, 2010 was filled with several little milestones: I started this blog and started getting together every month or so with a group of Moms in my neighborhood, both of which have been really fulfilling. We took our first family vacation. The Bear started walking and talking. The Bear started preschool. The Husband finally got a surround sound system. (Two long years after we finished our basement!) The Doodles continued her pursuits of brief, maniacal bark-fests in the backyard followed by long, seemingly endless naps.

2010 also brought two precious little babies into our lives, and I would be remiss to neglect mentioning both. In March, the daughter of my best friend from childhood was born. We have not met her yet (as she lives states away) but hope that 2011 will give us the opportunity to hold her in our arms and hear her precious laugh.

In September we welcomed our nephew and godson. He is the sweetest little baby, and my sister-in-law makes life with a toddler and a newborn look so effortless that the Husband and I just might reconsider all our "one and done" talk.

This week I have been thinking a lot about the upcoming year and how I might reinvent myself in 2011. I do this every year and find it a productive exercise -- even if few of my resolutions ever stick past Valentine's Day! I love a lot about my life, but I also enjoy the hope of new possibilities.

This week I kept thinking of the phrase "More Joy, Less Shame" which is the title of an Ani DiFranco EP that features several remixes of her song "Joyful Girl." I really like how this phrase states an intention in a way that is specific, but not so specific and far-reaching that accomplishing it seems impossible.

And I resolve to improve myself in the new year, I find myself thinking of resolutions that mirror DiFranco's phrasing. Here they are:

More giving, less taking

More fruits and vegetables, less empty carbs

More exercise, less excuses not to exercise

More weekends attending church, less excuses to stay home

More praying, less worrying

More gratefulness, less wanting what I don't have

More moments in the moment with my family, less moments captivated by something stupid on the television

More reading, less wishing I had more time to read

More calls and emails to friends, less "Oh my gosh, I have been meaning to call you, but I have been so busy!"

More action, less talk

Please share your hopes for 2011. What do you want more of? What do you want less of?

Happy new year!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November in Review, Part I: SICKNESS, CHICKEN, AND PIE

Rabbit, rabbit! Today is December 1!

Wait, wasn't it just November 1?

Seriously, um...what??? For me much of the last 30 days has been a manic blur...All apologies to my followers who've missed reading my posts.  (Yes, to the one or two of you who noticed my silence, I'm so sorry! And by the way, it was so nice of you to notice!)

Obviously, I overdramatize, but in all seriousness, this budding blogger is supposed to be posting at least once a week (preferably twice). That is my commitment to myself...something that is necessary to build my audience. But in November...I blew it!

For the most part, November 2010 was a month filled with sickness (of the common cold variety) and my own crazy pursuits (which did not include blogging).

Yes, blogging regularly became a distant goal in the face of a sick Bear, who got me sick, and then the Husband...and then me again! Last week, during Cold #2  I slept three nights on the pull-out couch in the basement just so the Husband could sleep peacefully while I tossed and turned amidst hacking  coughs and repeated nose-blowing misery. Thankfully, the Doodles was there, a warm ball of snoring fur, who was so pleased to have a napping companion that she did not seem to mind all the common cold commotion.

I think -- and I say this ever fearful of the possibility that I could jinx us all -- but I think we are all better now. And hopefully, we will stay healthy into the new year.

Common cold be damned, because, as I reflect on November, I realize that I did a lot -- despite the cold.  The Husband and I celebrated our "anniversary" (more on that later) and then the Husband's "double three" birthday. Also, in between Cold #1 and Cold #2 this home cook threw her own little "Chicken Fest" which entailed roasting a whole chicken, preparing homemade chicken stock, and using leftover chicken to make other meals. (And yes, I intend to post on Chicken Fest in the near future!)

I suppose I cannot mention Chicken Fest without also telling this funny (albeit embarrassing) story: Chicken Fest really only happened because I was at Whole Foods early one Monday hoping to pick up a roaster chicken ($5.99 special on Mondays). Little did I know, the chickens don't come out of the oven until 10:30. Who knew? Not wanting to wait, I decided to roast a chicken myself. Fortuitously, I had the iPad with me so I looked up the Barefoot Contessa's roasted chicken recipe, picked up the ingredients and got to work. Little did I know, by the time Whole Food's chickens were out of the oven, I was back at the store, telling the customer service desk: "Yes, I'm the idiot who left her iPad in a shopping cart in the parking lot..."

And then there was "Pie Fest"! I made an apple pie for the Husband's birthday (one of his favorites) and the week of Thanksgiving I made three pumpkin pies, one squash pie, and one sorghum pecan pie. That's six pies for those of you keeping track at home. And I have one more crust in the freezer! Pie Fest started sometime after Cold #1 but continued into Cold #2. Consequently, Pie Fest involved a lot of OCD-style hand washing. I also baked with a drywall mask over my mouth and nose (until the Vick's Vapor Rub I'd applied on my upper lip started burning my eyes). On Thanksgiving Day I told the fam that although I'd practiced the best ever kitchen hygiene, they wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit if they opted to pass on the pies. (After all, that would just leave more pie for me!)

I suppose it's a good thing I started a fitness program just a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I'm not sure exactly what motivated me to do so -- the friend who suspected (incorrectly) that I was pregnant, or perhaps my own sense that I'd be eating a lot of pie in the near future. I was standing in line at the supermarket when I saw one of those Prevention booklets with this headline: "Walk Off 10 Pounds in Four Weeks." On impulse I bought it, knowing that I would have to stick to it for at least a month (or else face ridicule from the Husband for blowing $4 on an impulse buy that was later tossed into the recycle bin).

Right now I'm in week three of the plan. Truth be told, Cold #1 and Cold #2, combined with the flurry of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday have prevented me from sticking to the plan as faithfully as I'd hoped. I'm not even sure I've lost a single pound, but at this point I don't really care because I've had so much more energy during these last three weeks that I actually look forward to my nightly date with the treadmill. Also, on Black Friday I bought a pair of Ann Taylor Loft cords in a size I hadn't purchased since before becoming pregnant with the Bear. So...considering the volume of pie crust I've consumed in the last week (both raw and cooked), even though the number on the scale hasn't changed all that much, this walking program is looking like a success...

Geez, it sure is getting late! And I haven't even gotten into all my crazy pursuits. I will definitely have to get to all that later.

To be continued,


Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like...Planning!

Rabbit, rabbit! Today is November 1. This morning I dropped The Bear off at nursery school and headed over to Target to check out the Halloween clearance and pick up a few necessary items (i.e. dishwasher detergent -- Target has the best price on my brand -- and a storage bin for all those adorable 12 to 18-month summer clothes that are on their way to my in-laws' attic. Thanks again for the storage space, dear parents of The Husband!)

As usual, The Doodles hates her costume.
Although I struggled with my desire for an outdoor light-up pumpkin, ultimately, I was able to resist all of Target's half-price Halloween decor -- even the dog costumes. (But wouldn't The Doodles just love to be a banana split next year...? No, she wouldn't. No, no, no!)

I'm not sure which it was: the Halloween clearance or the small army of Target employees unpacking holiday ornaments, but I started thinking about everything I need to do to prepare for the upcoming Holiday blitz, which is when I decided to share my checklist with you. After all, to plan to plan is to plan to succeed, right? Here's my first draft:

Scheduling: talk to family about dates and finalize. Get it all on the calendar! (This includes Thanksgiving, decorating the tree, and any group shopping days). Invite family to any special events now, so that they can plan, too. (For us, this includes Thanksgiving Mass and The Bear's Preschool Christmas program).

Gifting: Plan gift budget, start asking/brainstorming for gift ideas. Look for sales/coupons and begin shopping! (Later: start wrapping! Some people wrap as they go, but I prefer to pop White Christmas in the DVD player and have a wrapping marathon a little later in the season).

Housework: Clear the clutter and banish any dust bunnies...Now! Clean out closets, drawers, cabinets, etc. (This will help you keep a clear head and make space for gifts, guests, etc.) Also, do you need/want to purchase any decor for your home? If so, add items to your shopping list (seeking spousal approval first, if needed...ha, ha!) and then promise to stick to your list. (This last bit keeps me from losing my mind at Target and buying a bunch of junk I don't need!)

Clothes: Determine what you (and your spouse and children) will wear to all these holiday events/gatherings. Borrow and/or shop for what you don't already have. Make sure clothing is clean and pressed. Don't forget accessories.

Greetings: Update address book. Print mailing labels. Plan Christmas card. (For us this involves picking a setting, having The Husband take a picture of The Bear, and then having me design and order the card online at Order stamps online.

Food:  Consult schedule to determine what you need to bring where and when. Look online and through holiday recipe books to determine what you will bring where and when. Make shopping lists (divided into pantry and perishable ingredients). Be on the lookout for sales/coupons so that you might save money on your ingredients. Around December 1, purchase the pantry ingredients and store. (Also, if possible mix together any dry ingredients in advance. You can label them and store in pyrex bowls). In the meantime, since you will be busy, stock the freezer with easy weeknight meals and, while you're at it, go ahead and make some pie crusts to freeze. (I hope to elaborate on this later!)

Geez, typing this out made me tired! That's all I've got so far, but I intend to add anything else I find myself contemplating (or diving into without contemplating!).

Please comment and share what you are doing to get ready for the holidays!


P.S. I am going to store my plan in a word processing document, so that I can easily revise it over the next several weeks. And then, next November 1, I will be able to pull it out without reinventing the wheel!