Friday, November 27, 2009

my face is failing

Success = Thanksgiving. Hands down, the best Thanksgiving we've ever hosted. I got so much of the cooking done ahead of time, had a killer game plan in place for today, and never got frazzled or stressed in the kitchen. We had the house sparkling clean by 11 am (that's mostly credit to the Boo, he worked his butt off the last two days) and the cooking schedule was so well organized I even had time to watch an episode of 30 Rock in the middle of the afternoon. Complete master of my menu domain.

Fail = sudden onset of cold/sinus/mystery illness symptoms. As in, spent the entire meal blowing my nose every two minutes and sniffling. Where did this come from? I've been feeling a tad feeble the last four or five days, just some sore throat and tiredness, but this new development came up fast and hard, precisely as our guests started arriving. My face appears to be disassembling to a liquid state.

My point here is that I've got pics and menu details to share of today's big feast, but right now, Sudafed and I are going to bed. Goodnight, sweethearts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

listmaking falls firmly in the first category

Things I Do Well:

1. Baking/Cooking in general (I follow a recipe well, so that's something)
2. Menu Planning
3. Makeup application
4. Give directions
5. Tetris/pack a suitcase/load a dishwasher/rearrange a refrigerator (all uses the same skill set)
6. Keep score at baseball games and stats for roller derby
7. Spot a cat in any landscape (highly honed kitty radar)
8. Quickbooks
9. Hosting
10. Supervising

Things I Do Poorly:

1. Wait tables.
2. Batting, fielding, catching, throwing, sprinting, shooting, or any other sportsy action.
3. Make rice. This is my major failure area in the kitchen. It shouldn't be this hard.
4. Drink alcohol
5. Fix hair
6. Throw things away/part with things
7. Get over sadness (although I can get over anger admirably fast)
8. Resist Mischa when she wants to sleep on the bed with us
9. Sudoku
10. Coming up with Halloween costumes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Well, I spent a quiet night at home mentally composing a post for tonight, a list of Things I Do Well vs Things I Am Terrible At. But this is preempted by my unbridled affection for the Muppets:

(yanked from my darling girl Kelley)

Sam the Eagle! Animal! Bunsen Honeydew! You have to hang all the way til 3:58 to see my girl Miss Piggy, but totally worth it. And truly, is there a character, both real or fiction, in all history, with whom I relate more directly than the Swedish Chef? No. There is simply no way.

P.S. When we were in Seattle I made great pains to see the Jim Henson exhibit at Experience Music Project. I rerouted an entire day's plans, and went by myself while everyone else went to a pub. Casey said, "I think you have a different relationship with the Muppets than the rest of us." So be it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

excited about...

...being married in six months. All the time, I have to prevent myself from calling Austin my husband. We recently renewed our Frist membership, and they mailed the cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Austin Gray. I hung the label on the fridge. I'm gonna be a Mrs. Hooray!

...Thanksgiving. It's technically my favorite holiday. Even if we never observe it on the traditional Thursday. For the last three or four years, we've had everyone over on the Friday instead, so everyone can spend the holiday with their family and still come over for vast feasting. I don't break from the norm too much: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, you know the drill. Some new things I'm trying this year: thyme-roasted apples and onions, cranberry-vanilla bean sorbet, Maple Apple Pandowdy.

...tuna casserole on Wednesday night. Because these things make me happy. That's gotta be the best pre-feasting series of leftovers possible. new Adidas slides. I've had an ancient pair for at least five years that I wear every day. All the nubs have worn off. This is one of the least glamorous truths about me. Off Broadway has that lovely program where every purchase you make, you get 10% of that purchase towards a future visit. I still had a big receipt left from my failure of self-control back in January, plus a tiny one that I found when I was cleaning out the office, so I am the proud owner of a new pair of pink and black Adissages for $5.38. New shoes. Five dollars. New shoes.

...four and a half day weekend. Can't come soon enough.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Partial Self-Portrait Vol. 2

Tonight, while merrily disassembling broiled crab legs with herb butter at our kitchen counter, Austin sprayed me with a particularly enthusiastic wrenching of his crustacean. Considering the possibility for payback, I said:

"Have we ever had a food fight?"

Austin, without missing a beat, responds, "Nope, but I don't think people really do that anyway. Only in Smirnoff Ice commercials."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Hero's Journey. of Pizza.

Forgot to post last night. Damn.

I've spent the last several weeks fixating on a very specific vision. Of pizza. We have great pizza right here in our neighborhood (Castrillo's, who we're having provide the chow for our rehearsal dinner) but we always get takeout. My Pizza Vision does not involve takeout. My Pizza Vision is of sitting in a pizzeria and having a hot pie placed in front of me on a metal pan. When I remove the first slice from the pan, the cheese strings out for at least two feet and I have to pile the gooey cheese strings onto my slice on my plate. Also in this vision: pitchers of Dr. Pepper with pebble ice.

I realize now that this vision is a California memory. This is the food we ate at Godfather's with the Jansens after church or before a movie. Or there was a place Elisa used to take us, somewhere on the way to Hidden Beach, where we made a video of the pizza because it was gooey to the point of being (compellingly) disgusting. I'm not fiending for authentic neapolitan cuisine here. I want the cheesy, floppy, Americanized version of the food I grew up eating.

So I took my quest to the masses, and posted a Facebook query:

I'll tell you, folks really respond when you talk about food on Facebook. Any time I'm feeling neglected (oh, as if I ever feel neglected...) I can just say something about whatever I'm cooking up for dinner that night and be assured of some attention. 35 people had opinions about pizza. Some folks could only mention out-of-town pizza joints, which is completely not helpful. Many people mentioned Mafiaoza's, where I've had enough negative experiences as to not be willing to give another try. There were several shoutouts to House of Pizza, which is definitely *great* pizza but not what I'm looking for here. A few folks offered up City House, including one (self-admitted food snob) who blithely dismissed all the other suggestions as inedible.

This is where Austin decided to get involved. First he requested my permission to simply respond with some profanity towards City House, which I denied. We've only been there once, and it was quite disappointing, but certainly not enough of an experience to pass permanent judgment, and we've had so many folks whose opinions we trust recommend it. After having his initial request refused, Austin turned to poorly veiled sarcasm instead:

I'll let you wipe the tears of mirth from your eyes while we ponder, together, what a great writer that man is. He made that all up! I don't even know where he gathered words like "Puglia" and "salame" and concepts like a stone oven that gets dismantled every day. Seriously.

A few people bit after that (poor James sent Austin a direct message begging for directions to Luca Montolivo's hovel), but I'd already moved on to a strong possibility for my pizza fulfillment: Pie in the Sky, a relatively new spot in Midtown. There are a few locations in the Nashville area and I've heard mixed reports on the other ones, but this one so far had some solid recommendations, plus the added bonus of 2-for-1 draft beers all the time. Friday night rolled around and we were in.

Success! Emily and I split a medium thin-crust pie with mushrooms, pepperoni and extra cheese, and the first piece pulled off that pizza with gorgeous, sticky strings of goo, exactly what I was hoping for. This was delicious food that satisfied a specific craving, and I don't feel bad for a bit that it wasn't authentic Italian cuisine. I didn't get my pitcher of Dr. Pepper (truth is, I can't drink Dr. Pepper anymore, other than very early in a day when I know I have to stay up very late... heartbreaking. Dr. Pepper and I used to be so close.) but it was on the menu, so that definitely counts. This one's going on the short list.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

one sneak, then

Okay, so you like the wedding talk? Thanks for letting me know. I'll let Austin edit me if I start putting too much out there.

For now, here's a sneak into one of the big decisions at which we've recently arrived. Not sure if you know, but the state of Tennessee does not recognize ministers who were ordained online to officiate a marriage. In 1997, they ratified the rules on this matter to state that any minister/priest/preacher must have a congregation (specifically, "care of souls") in order to qualify. Sure, we could use an elected official instead (that's what both my sisters did, and that worked out great), and we even met with our city councilman about performing the ceremony, but it never really sat right with me to be standing up there in front of a near-stranger (I could say "sat right with us" but that would probably not be accurate. It should come as no surprise that I'm the one overthinking this matter).

So we weighed our options. Near stranger = legal marriage, not very comfortable. Get a friend to perform the ceremony = cozy ceremony, not legally married. Yikes. The part about being legally married *does* matter. It does. I'm sure every one of us knows couples who aren't technically married but might as well be (or maybe who don't know any different!) but, if the whole point is for us to be lawfully wed by the end of all this planning and excitement, well, there it is. Luckily, I'm a Jansen, and when presented with an A/B equation like this one, I always pick C. I come up with a workaround. Workaround we have.

So we're going to have someone close to us perform the ceremony, have a great big party surrounded by all our loved ones, spend the next day (Sunday) with all our visiting guests, and then, on Monday morning, before we leave for our honeymoon, we're going to head to the courthouse and get hitched. Just the two of us. Say the words and sign the papers. By the power vested in the county clerk by the State of Tennessee.

Sure, it's nontraditional. As I've mentioned before, that's not really something we're going to worry about. My only worry originally was that maybe it would make our public ceremony, the one in front of all the folks, seem less significant. But that's just not possible. That will be a giant moment, the one we've been leading up to for more than six years by then. I'll be in the dress, he'll be in the suit, our moms will be crying on the front row. And then Monday morning will be just for us. A private, formal ceremony to bring closure and gravity, to solemnize the hoopla surrounding the wedding.

And because I'm sure you're wondering, that person close to us who will perform the family ceremony is my Uncle Bill. He's my mom's oldest brother, a true gentleman and also a bona fide pirate. He has offered to wear an eye patch for the wedding; I told him we'd see...

Thus we have arrived at a solution that feels absolutely right.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

how much?

The thing with writing about the wedding planning is that I wonder how much of these details I should share. Isn't some of it supposed to be a surprise for our guests? Or, like with the dress talk, a surprise for Austin? What about the people who are reading who aren't coming to the wedding? Is it too private? Should I keep our plans to myself, at least until after the wedding? Or is this just what's going on in our lives right now, and it's just going to be what I talk about?

Also, thanks for so many of you for commenting lately. I read so many blogs that get 20-30 comments per post, and I'm green with envy. I'm trying to be better about commenting on other blogs that I read, even when Reader makes me horribly lazy about it (or when tumblr doesn't let you comment at all, Trey...). Surely blog comments are the cheapest currency that still feels gratifyingly indulgent when you get one. Hint, hint.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

my case for normalcy

Normal women my age develop the scientific circumstance known as "baby fever."

I, obviously, have kitten fever instead.

funny pictures of cats with captions

I would like to politely request that each one of those little kiddos comes and sleeps on my pillow tonight. Siiiiigh.

Monday, November 16, 2009

foods I crave

1. sushi
2. Indian (especially my newly discovered true love, vegetable korma)
3. artichokes
4. avocado
5. crab legs
6. popcorn
7. macaroni and cheese
8. chocolate chip cookies
9. the Gold Rush patty melt
10. poppyseed chicken
11. tuna casserole
12. hush puppies from Bill's Catfish
13. Sicilian pasta
14. pretzels
15. peanut butter

So basically, I crave comfort foods. Is that a redundancy? Are all comfort foods something you crave? It seems so obvious.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

just call me Ina (does that make Austin Jeffrey?)

We invented two more recipes tonight. One was rather eh but we think we know why. The other was delicious. The "eh" entry was a glaze for pork chops; in retrospect, it should be a marinade instead. We used butterflied boneless loin chops and even tenderized them in advance, but the meat was still pretty flavorless on the inside.

Peach Glaze for Pork that Should Be a Marinade

1/4 cup peach preserves
1 Tablespoon chili paste (the asian kind with crushed red pepper flakes in it)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce

We mixed this up and then heated it, and poured it over both sides of the pork. We recommend marinating for at least three hours before pan-searing the chops (we used two butterflied chops, which is the equivalent of four loin chops). Cook in a hot nonstick or cast iron skillet until the glaze starts to caramelize and the chops aren't pink in the center.

Delicious side dish:

Mashed Turnips with Thyme

2 lbs turnips
1/2 stick (4 T.) butter
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 cup sour cream

Trim and peel the turnips, then chop them into big chunks (about six pieces per turnip). Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the turnips; boil until tender, probably about 15 mins. While the turnips cook, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and then saute the thyme in the melted butter until fragrant and the butter just barely starts to darken. When the turnips are tender, drain and mash by hand with a potato masher (ours is metal and wavy and works great, but it will scratch nonstick). Stir in the thyme butter and the sour cream and season well with salt and pepper.

We served the pork and the mashed turnips with Broccoli Blasted, which is a revelation of this oft-maligned vegetable. I seriously can't recommend it enough; we tried it at the Black Bottle in Seattle and literally inhaled a gigantic platter of it. The Epicurious recipe says it feeds four-to-six but that is very unlikely. We used more like 2 lbs of broccoli crowns and only had a bit left, just the two of us. Yum.

It's bedtime for Bonzo (why do I say that? Mom, what does that mean?). We went to the Titans game today (watched from an Executive Suite, if you can believe it) and did a lot of walking to avoid paying for parking or being stuck in traffic. We walked up to the Frist Center after the game and saw the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit, which was lovely. Sometimes I miss her the way I miss Julia Child. And my grandmothers. That's weird, right? It's unseasonably warm in Nashville; honestly, it's been the most gorgeous fall that you could even imagine. But that means I spent most of this day uncomfortably sweaty, and hoofing it up Broadway in mid-afternoon definitely counts as cardio. The moral of this story: I'm beat, and for once it's for a legitimate reason.

P.S. We think that Cialis commercial with the old people sitting in side-by-side bathtubs in the woods or on top of a cliff is ridiculous. Bathtubs are heavy! Who hauls a bathtub (let alone TWO) out into the woods or up on a cliff just to sit naked in it next to their (presumed) wife of 40 years? And there is no running water up there, so did they haul the water in buckets too? Heat it over a fire? I doubt it. I bet those old folks are just sitting naked in empty bathtubs and feeling smug about what a great photo opportunity it all is.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Austin suggests I write about the first time I ever ate Ben & Jerry's Pistachio Pistachio ice cream. That was tonight. Very historic date in the life history of a girl who loves ice cream so dearly. Loves it so much that I took a picture of the astonishingly well-stocked ice cream accoutrement section at Publix and texted it to Agnes tonight. Strawberry marshmallow creme! Cupcake flavored Magic Shell! At least nine different types of ice cream cones! What is this wonderful world we're living in?

I should blog about the soul-regenerating love fest of Guilty Pleasures last night. Or about my new haircut. Or about Kansas, a post I've been working on for a month now. I could talk about some of the new tricks our pets have picked up (Mischa twirls for food!).

Instead I'm going to go watch more Firefly and turn in early on this Saturday night. I'll leave you with an awfully sweet photo of my future husband and one of the things I love the most about him...It's not exactly the best picture of Digby, who is getting so fat, but how about our littlest kid over there with her big ears? This just warms my heart.

Friday, November 13, 2009

which is thirty-two, for the record

Ways in which I act younger than my actual age:

1. I ate three Pixy Stix (only orange and purple, thanks) and two mini-boxes of Nerds before I came home from work tonight.

2. I hate to take showers.

3. I stomp my foot when I'm frustrated and I squeal when I'm excited.

Ways in which I act older than my actual age:

1. I heard the new Britney Spears song this morning ("3") and said, out loud, in the car, by myself, "This is DIRTY! This is a dirty song!" like some kind of prim marmish person.

2. I am getting more and more forgetful. Like, solid information slipping from my brain. Today I asked Casey if one of her favorite authors was dead, and she clarified that he not only is indeed dead but I was the one who told her about his passing. Not that long ago. Data retention, it's failing me.

3. I am considering self-medicating with Dr. Pepper to ensure my energy level stays high for the rock show tonight. Because last night we literally climbed in bed at 9:30 pm (and couldn't even finish an episode of Firefly).

What rock show? Oh, just Guilty Pleasures. You know. My favorite 80s cover band in the whole entire world. They might be my favorite band of ANY genre. Talented folks on stage singing songs I've loved since I was a little girl, it simply doesn't get any better. And somehow I've tricked Agnes and Stacey and Kelley into going with me, which is nigh onto a miracle. I'm used to cruising these shows solo; the novelty of braving a crowded bar to see Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride" performed by local funk god Aaron Winters is apparently lost on my nearest and dearest. But not tonight, I'm rolling out with the best ladies (and having sushi beforehand, because this night needs to be better, don't you think?) and I'd better go apply some fierce eyeliner in preparation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Things we're not going to do at our Wedding

(in no particular order)

1. Throw a bouquet

2. Throw a garter

3. Wear a garter, for that matter

4. Have a big cake

5. Cut the cake

6. A first dance all by ourselves (or with our parents)

7. A big entrance into the reception (No "Join me in welcoming, for the first time, Delaney and Austin Gray!")

8. Have a DJ

9. Have a band

10. Stay in separate places the night before

11. A traditional registry (we're only registering for our honeymoon)

12. Leave the reception before everyone else

13. Have a ringbearer or flower girl

14. Wait to see each other before I come down the aisle

15. Have photographs taken of our left hands stacked on top of each other

16. Make anyone wait in line for anything (if we can help it at all)

17. Feel rushed in any way

18. Hire a florist

19. Have a full bar

20. Serve butter that is too cold to spread on cornbread

21. The Chicken Dance, the YMCA, the bunny hop, the German Wedding March (much to my dismay) or any other coordinated group dances

22. Wear uncomfortable shoes

23. Listen to anyone telling us what we "have" to do

You wouldn't believe how many people have opinions about some of these things... I've been to so many lovely weddings with some (or all) of these features, and of course they were beautiful events that resulted in a newly wedded couple, which is the whole point. I'm certainly not issuing judgments. We're just tailoring our wedding to our personal tastes and the general vibe that we're trying to share. We'll have a fairly traditional ceremony (in the sense that we stand up at the front with our wedding party on either side of us, and exchange vows and rings and then kiss) and then we just want to have a big delicious dinner party with all our friends and family, which culminates in dancing and dessert. We're going to take a cab home at the end of the night and sleep in our own bed. And we're going to spend the next day with our visiting families, and then get up Monday morning and fly to Ireland (via Boston).

Or at least that's the plan. The catch to long engagements: too much time to change our minds. I've picked a different song to walk down the aisle to at least six times. Maybe if I'd only had three months to plan I could have made some decisions stick the first time around. As it is, we've still got plenty of time to work out the details and to get over the small stuff and to stick to our guns about the important parts (like cold butter. Unacceptable).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


If blogging is mental exercise (that's a stretch...) and 30 minutes on the treadmill at the Y is physical exercise, I think I can only suck it up for one or the other tonight. So I'm going to get in the shower. Maybe this is a new trend in me actually having the discipline to accomplish the things I set out to. Craft fabrication last night, workout tonight, what could lie in wait for tomorrow night? Those Black Bean Cakes that we keep postponing, perhaps.

Also, I had a great idea for a blog post earlier today, and it was likely related to food, and damn if I can remember it now. I need to start writing it down.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

you're never going to believe this...

Tonight is Podcast Night in the Gill/Gray household. If you didn't already know, Austin and two friends have created a weekly podcast of NFL smacktalking, and they record on Tuesday nights (even if you don't care about football, check that link because my amazing fiance designed the website and has written all the blog copy so far. He's talented! That's why I picked him!). This means Tuesdays have become my night to eat leftovers and catch up on Gossip Girl (I mean, who watches that trash? Not me. Obvs). But the stars must have aligned, or all this wedding crafty talk is seeping into my brain, because tonight? I hope my dad is paying attention, because tonight, I made something.

I can't even remember if I mentioned this (probably not, since I skipped blogging for all of October) but I came home from visiting Austin's family in Kansas with a small fortune in vintage jewelery courtesy of his great-grandmother (Granny). I'm talking about a gallon ziploc bag crammed full of filigree bracelets, antique coin pendants and enamel brooches. I've been incorporating them into my wardrobe (and was glad for the influx of authenticity for my Joan Holloway costume) but haven't had anywhere to store these beautiful pieces. My childhood jewelery box has run out of space and charm and trying to artfully drape long chain-link necklaces on my (darling) earring holder was turning into a mess. I started researching necklace organizers, and found this on etsy. I sent Austin the link and said, "I could make this, don't you think?"

I don't know why you're acting so surprised. My job in college was in technical theater. I know my way around a power drill and soldering iron. I may love not camping, but I'm not 100% girlie girl. I just let you think that. So that you'll be all that more impressed when I show you my craft composition.

I started with a random piece of plywood we had laying around (we're homeowners! We have scraps of plywood in our living room! I think it was intended for kindling). I couldn't find the staple gun (or maybe we don't have one), so I used craft glue to attach a piece of green and white fabric from my optimistic fabric stash. Then I drilled a series of pilot holes in the front, and screwed in a multitude of tiny cup hooks. I also learned how to use the Macro setting on my camera, score! I finished by attaching a couple of picture frame hooks to the top for wall-hanging purposes.

Tools I used: scissors, a borrowed drill (thanks, P. Block) and various pilot bits, needle-nosed pliers, a phillips-head screwdriver and a claw hammer. Injuries sustained: zero. Property damaged: none, other than a Gourmet magazine that is now riddled with drill holes and covered in dried glue. I even mounted the whole thing on the wall above my dressing table, and filled it up with shiny baubles.

Productivity on a Tuesday night! Unprecedented. The dogs thought I had lost my mind when I was hustling around gathering tools and materials. I also changed the light bulb in the garage, which is terrifying, trust me. And I might have managed to sneak in one episode of Gossip Girl, because I'm three weeks behind at this point, and that is simply unacceptable.

P. S. On a related note, has anyone heard of a crafty alternate use or adjustment for old-fashioned clip-on earrings to make them wearable? I tried to rock a pair on Halloween and my earlobes have yet to forgive me for the torture. But I have so many, and they're all so sparkly...

P. P. S. My abuse of the parenthetical aside is at an all-time high. Sorry (sort of).

Monday, November 9, 2009

small joys

If I were rich, I'm sure I'd be happy. I've always said I'd make a great rich person; I'm generous to a fault and take great joy in gift-giving and sharing. I would spread my wealth around like Dolly Levi and her manure. I'd probably have nicer clothes, but I also probably wouldn't treat them any better than my current Gap Outlet and TJ Maxx-provided wardrobe. I'd travel more, in short bursts, four days to visit Mom, a long weekend to see Jenny, that trip to Chicago that we keep swearing we'll take.

Otherwise, I don't see how different my life could be. Would I rather live in another house? No. Would I rather have a different car? No. Would I want to stop working? No. Would I spend time with different people? Absolutely not. And I don't think I'd ever voluntarily sign up for the weight that comes along with wealth. Right now I feel like I do what I can for the rest of the world; we've certainly earned our wings in the Stray Animal Adoption heaven, and we send small donations to our favorite charities (particularly Alzheimer's research) when we can. If I were rich, I don't know how I could justify the balance between giving and retaining. It would never be enough.

I'm seriously racking my brain to identify parts of my life I would change if money were no object. Because the only thing that's nagging at me right now is laziness about getting in shape, and that not only doesn't have to do with money but is actually WASTING the $17 a month we spend on a shared Y membership that rarely gets used. I make wishes every time I find an eyelash, and lately I just sit there and stare at the eyelash trying to remember what I need to wish for. And the other morning, I wished I would get into shape before the wedding. Wishes are for magic! Not for things that are perfectly well in my command if I just get off my lazy ass three mornings a week. Honestly. That's embarrassing.

My point here, though, isn't about the way I want to look in our wedding pictures. It's about the joy in my daily life that I never look past. If I won the lottery, would I still be filled with peace after dinner-and-a-movie with my future husband? Maybe. Would I get a rush of pleasure from a day's work done well? Who knows. But am I bursting at the seams with blessings? I am. Coming home to a house that smells like spaghetti in the crock pot, and rushing through my nightly cleansing routine in order to climb into freshly washed sheets... there in my life is joy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

meteorologically wasteful

Why have I spent almost this entire weekend inside? When it's been simply GLORIOUS in the great outdoors? It's a sad reality. And now it's dark and dinnertime and the Mad Men season finale is a scant two hours away. I know I'm going to regret this wastefulness of warmth and sunshine come January.

The good news: major wedding-planning progress this weekend. Austin and I talked through a bunch of details yesterday and made some serious headway. How would I have known that he thinks that tree branches with paper flower blossoms look "dead?" I'm so glad I asked before we started the next six months of crafting frenzy. We came up with solutions to problems I didn't think were ever going to sit right with me (particularly the issue of who is going to perform our wedding ceremony). Then I took all our good ideas and had a couple helpful ladies over for brunch this morning to come up with a game plan. This was a rousing success and I honestly think maybe these girls are more excited about our wedding than we are. That's impossible, obviously, but we have such a good team of crafty people and bossy people and so many more out there just waiting for assignments!

I keep saying when talking about this wedding, we have more time than we do money, but really what I mean is that we have more *volunteers* than we could even hope for. And I'm not just talking about our friends who live here in town; when the Jansens get off the airplanes they're going to be ready to get to work! I can't WAIT!

And because I'm sure you were wondering, here's the brunch menu:

Blueberry Corn Muffins
Potato and Egg Tortilla
Wheeler Biscuits
Fruit Salad
Mimosas with Lemonade instead of Orange Juice (is this called something else?)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dinner Success

Tonight we finally made the meal I'd scheduled for Thursday, which got bumped to consume all the leftovers that were floating around after Book Club. I snagged some good-looking tilapia for like $4 at Publix, and we dredged it in homemade blackening seasoning (the recipe from The Palm, yum) and seared in olive oil just until cooked through.

For a side dish we made Creamy Rice with Lemon, Herbs and Parmesan, which is like cheater's risotto. It made a ton; I'm hoping to make some arancine with the leftovers, maybe tomorrow.

The other side was Paula Deen's Broccoli Casserole. A few weeks ago Austin announced that he wanted "a casserole that combines broccoli and cheese and Ritz crackers." So I turned to my girl Paula, because I trust her with all things casserole-related. This came out *awesome.* It's got a few eggs in it, plus a can of cream of mushroom soup (of course), so it bakes up almost like a quiche. And it's only got two tablespoons of butter, so stop with your assumptions on anything with Paula's name on it. I love her.

We watched the new series "V" while we ate, the pilot episode, and it was pretty entertaining. It's got some comfortingly familiar faces (Inara and Wash from Firefly!) and had the same vibe as Battlestar Galactica, with a lot less outer space. I think we'll stick with this one for the time being and see how it goes.

I'm going to clean the kitchen and then head to the Mercy Lounge, to see the Mary Nails and the 90s cover band My So-Called Band (how great is that?!). I didn't get much done today, none of the housecleaning that needs to be accomplished before my Bridal Brigade shows up here for brunch tomorrow morning. But I know they're going to be here to talk about paper flowers and seersucker flag banners and not to judge the amount of pet hair underneath our bed. I'll keep telling myself that, anyway.

P. S. I tried to find that blackening seasoning recipe so I could link to it online and was stumped, so I'll share it here:

Jeffrey's Blackening Spice

From the Palm Restaurant Cookbook

Makes about 1/4 cup

1/4 cup Spanish or California paprika
1 Tablespoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper, preferably fresh ground
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon dried thyme

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Transfer to a glass jar with a lid, and seal tightly. Store at room temperature for up to 3 months.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shameless Unsolicited Promotion

A few things I'm wild about right now:

Maybelline ColorSensational Lipstick in Very Cherry

I have been telling everyone all week that this is a L'oreal product, which is probably because I refuse to believe that I could truly love anything by Maybelline. The vast majority of my makeup collection is that familiar matte black M.A.C. packaging (thanks, Shan) and I think I'm pretty spoiled with my taste in cosmetics. I picked this up at Walgreens for like $5, just because I needed a brighter, less sticky red than Racer Red lipglass to be Joan Holloway for Halloween. I wore it ALL night with only a few reapplications, and it never got bleedy around the edges or clumpy. It feels like elastic on my lips, but only in a very comfortable, non-plastic way. And it smells very vaguely of chocolate. I'm going to try some other shades, too (and I loved the way the store display was organized by color family).

Dove Cream Oil

This is a pretty recent discovery, as I only used it this morning for the first time, straight out of the shower. If it doesn't hold up after a full day or two, I'll report back. But right now I just keep pathologically running my hands up and down the underside of my arm because it is So. Soft. I love the way this felt going on, the fact that I wasn't greasy or sticky after less than a minute, and the smell is divine.

Kettle Chips Lightly Salted

I had a dentist tell me once that potato chips are just as bad for teeth as sugary sweets. Which would explain why I'm morbidly convinced that I have at least three new cavities since my last dentist visit (and that was only four months ago). I'm eating these things almost every day. I portion out a small pile into a ziploc baggie every morning when I'm packing my breakfast and I barely make it to 11 am before I've dug in. They only offer the mega-sized bags of the krinkle cut chips, which I don't like nearly as much as these suckers. Craveworthy!

Parks and Recreation on NBC

This one started with a short season last year, and it was hit or miss. Sometimes Amy Poehler makes me want to crawl under the couch. But this year, it's better than the Office (which is really having a good season) and 30 Rock (which is not) combined. The key here is that they've brought the peripheral characters forward more, and they are hilarious. Ron Swanson is totally my hero, and Austin just laughs every time Andy the loser ex-boyfriend is on the screen. This show is hitting it out of the park this year; set your DVR accordingly.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Twenty-Four Hour Seven (to Ten) Layer Overnight Salad

This recipe is cobbled together from multiple sources. My Aunt Paula makes this salad for Thanksgiving and other family events. I started trying to track down the perfect version of this recipe and started with what I consider the classic source: my collection of plastic spiral-bound church bazaar and Junior League cookbooks. I tallied up all the different recommended ingredients and amounts from dozens of nice old church ladies who brought this creamy, crunchy wonder to decades of Sunday suppers. Then I basically averaged out the required ingredients, adjusting for personal taste (not so much onion) and came up with the Master Recipe. This is science, folks.

Seven-Layer Salad (but don't try to count the layers or it won't make any sense)

1 bag of chopped romaine lettuce
1 bunch of celery (is that a bunch? What is the word I want here?), chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 of a medium red onion, minced
1 10 oz. box of frozen peas, thawed
1 cup of mayonnaise (approx.)
2 teaspoons of sugar
4 oz (1 cup) of shredded cheddar cheese
(1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled, optional)

In order, layer the first 6 ingredients in a salad bowl (I like to use a glass bowl because it looks pretty from the side). Using a rubber spatula, spread the mayonnaise evenly across the top layer, making sure to completely cover the salad and to seal the mayonnaise to the edges of the bowl. Sprinkle sugar evenly over mayonnaise, and then layer with cheese and bacon (if using). Cover salad with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator at least overnight. Immediately before serving, toss salad together to evenly coat vegetables with dressing.

It's probably one of those dishes that you don't really want to know how to make. You just want to enjoy it in blissful ignorance. I have no problem with that. Just let me know when I should be there and I'll be at your house with a pretty layered salad for Sunday dinner.

of course...

...I wasn't going to remember to post after the Total Feast Extravaganza of Book Club. Darn. But I can try to make up for it with some food porn...

Seeing as it's that time of year, we did a Thanksgiving preview for book club. We read (or were supposed to read) The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent, but we had a shockingly low retention rate on actually reading the book this time. Oh well. Sometimes that's just not really the point. Because the food, oh friends, the food.

I dry-brined and roasted a turkey breast, which was a little bit out on a limb for me. I'm a champ with the full bird but I wasn't sure how to make the proper adjustments to this smaller fella. I did a full kosher salt and cracked pepper crust and left it in a big bag in the fridge overnight, and in retrospect this was probably too long for all that salt. The skin after I roasted it was very salty, not that I've ever had a problem with "very salty" before. I doubt anyone else noticed because this thing was picked bare by the end of the night, and that's saying a lot for a group of 10 girls, several of whom don't eat meat.

I also made my famous macaroni and cheese, which was voted a necessity. Pretty dang good this time, I must say. Evaporated milk is my secret ingredient; makes everything that much cheesier and gooier.

And I made Overnight Salad (or 24 Hour Salad, or Layered Salad, or any other name that applies to this nationwide potluck staple). I think I'll post the recipe when I get home tonight so I at least have five posts for the month, even after I missed last night. That will probably be my sole accomplishment tonight; Austin and I are both totally exhausted and have that terrible feeling that we're getting sick. We're going to mainline vitamin C and get at least 10 hours of sleep tonight in hopes of warding off the inevitable.

Here's the yums:

Clockwise from top left: Kim's garlic mashed potatoes (in the white casserole), several sticks of soft butter (for the rolls, obv), Trader Joe's stuffing (more on this later), my mac & cheese, Kat's empty wine glass and Stephanie's Corn Pudding. In the middle: Megan's roasted brussels sprouts.

From the top: Sarah's butternut squash risotto in the blue dutch oven, my layered salad, and in the middle there is Kat's Green Bean casserole. Across the bottom, from left to right, Casey brought THREE different kinds of stuffing. Because she's crazy. On the left is from Trader Joes, in the center is Stove Top (these were nearly interchangeable) and on the right is Apple, Sage and Leek stuffing, which was simply awesome.

Here's those rolls, delicious snowflake rolls from Whole Foods, yum. And Kat's cranberry salad, her mom's recipe. And then that turkey breast of mine, nicely framed by Julia, my Sexy Stand Mixer. Not pictured: Lauren's sweet potato and yukon gold gratin, YUM. And I didn't even manage to photograph the desserts: Kat's pumpkin cheesecake with bourbon whipped cream (I'm going to let you think about that one for a minute) and pear pie with gruyere crust, courtesy of our dearest Badness.

We're going to start auctioning off Book Club memberships to deserving foodies worldwide. Starting bid: $10,000. Come on, folks, can you put a price on glory?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

shop talk

Should be: cleaning house and brining turkey breast.

Am: updating wedding budget and guest list.

It is NOVEMBER, friends. That's six months away from May, which is the month in which we're going to be married. When we'll have 200-ish of our nearest and dearest here to celebrate with us. Martha Stewart Weddings provides many helpful hints (okay, they're pretty strident) about what we should have accomplished by now in the planning process, but I'm feeling pretty good about it all.

If you were wondering, I've managed to restrain myself from marching back into B. Hughes and stealing the beloved Vera gown. That's just not meant to be. But I am going to go buy that veil that I love, and that's a start. I'm meeting an amazing dress designer on Thursday to see sketches of the dream dress that I brought to her, and to get a price quote, which is hands-down the most nerve wracking aspect of this entire wedding process so far. I *really* want to work with this girl, and if she's too expensive (why wouldn't she be? She's remarkable!) it's going to break my heart. And put me back to square one in regards to The Dress, which is the only thing that I don't have all planned out and lined up. Caterer? Check. Decorations? I have heaps of ideas that are entirely do-it-ourselves. Honeymoon? Ireland, did I tell you?! Now if I can just figure out what I'm going to wear down the aisle (and how I'm going to afford it), I'll sleep easy until the new year.

Sunday morning I'm having a handful of my Most Helpful ladies over for brunch to start talking about things like paper flowers and mason jars. I feel excited every time I think about this wedding, which is all the time. Truthfully, if I talked about wedding thoughts as often as I think them, I would probably have alienated everyone I love and lost Austin forever. I swear, I'm not losing sight of the whole point here: he'll be my husband, which is a greater honor than I could ever hope for. And the party is going to be a night we'll always remember, nothing more or less.

P.S. I can NOT get into a writing groove yet. Is this the most boring post ever? Where are my words?

Monday, November 2, 2009

tonight I...

a. made dinner and had the kitchen mostly clean in under an hour (Taco Salad from the 30 Minute Cookbook, god bless it)

b. had my first two At Bats of my entire life. Somewhere my father weeps with pride, despite my lifetime 0.00 batting average.

c. had a fierce argument with an impassioned gay man regarding my anti-animal movie stance.

d. didn't even peek at the inbox to inspect the coming hellstorm that is the day after Billing Run. I know what's coming. I'm ready.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Feast or famine

Once again, I'm undertaking the self-torture that is NaBloPoMo. That's right. I neglect the bloggings for almost three months and then decide to blog daily for the next thirty. The last time I did this, I complained the whole time about how November is such a busy month and who has time to find interesting things to write about every day? The answer: not me. But here we go, anyway.

And just to prove my point, that's all I've got for tonight. My future husband is unapologetically snoring away next to me, after a long day of football drinking. He didn't even finish the big dinner I pulled together (baked linguine, honey-roasted carrots, asparagus with parmesan butter and garlic bread) or the episode of Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth (Reichl). I blame Jon Burr and his nefarious influences for sending Austin home in such a state.

I'm uploading Halloween pics and videos as we speak. Expect to see some extended video of Ali the Dancing PeeWee shaking what her momma gave her. And John "Tape Monster" Baldwin, in a costume that was probably more conceptually successful than in actuality. I don't envy him the cleanup.

Hot damn, y'all. It's November!