Double feature

Dan and I don’t go to the movies that many times each year, so when we do make it to the theater it usually turns into a double feature. In March we saw Avatar and Alice in Wonderland on the same day, with a fabulous dinner at Lucques in between. As soon as Avatar was over Dan and I turned to each other and he said, “How did that not win Best Picture?” I was thinking the exact same thing. It wasn’t the best movie I’d ever seen, but I thought it was pretty amazing. Unfortunately Alice in Wonderland suffered because we had just seen Avatar a few hours earlier, but it was still a good time. I wonder if we would have liked Alice in Wonderland better if it hadn’t been competing with the biggest movie of the year. But I digress. Then last month I went to see Eclipse with Melissa one Saturday morning, and then saw Despicable Me with Dan that same afternoon. Double features are always a good use of time. So last weekend when Dan and I contemplated going to the movies we were pretty sure it was going to be another double feature day. The movies we wanted to see were playing at our favorite local theater at the perfect times, so we headed over there for an early dinner before the shows at The Lazy Dog Cafe, which is in the same shopping center. I was looking forward to eating there because it had such good reviews on Yelp, but our experience didn’t bolster their reputation. Other than the location, The Lazy Dog Cafe was a total disappointment. Our appetizer of Parmesan zucchini sticks was watery and bland so we only ate about a third of it, and my Lazy Dog burger wasn’t great as a main course either. It was extremely messy with its pepper relish that made it fell apart while I was eating it. I left half of the burger on the plate. Dan said his chicken sandwich was good, but I don’t think that was enough to warrant a repeat visit to the Lazy Dog Cafe. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and not just because our first movie was starting in fifteen minutes. As Dan was taking care of the check, I stood in line to buy our tickets to see Dinner of Schmucks. I love the convenience of the automatic ticket dispensers that AMC has outside most of their theaters, but for whatever reason they never seem to be working on the weekends. Not really that convenient, actually. So I had to stand in a very long line to buy our first set of movie tickets from the window instead. Fortunately the theater for Dinner with Schmucks wasn’t too crowded so we got decent seats, even just a few minutes before the movie started. While I won’t go so far as to say that I liked Dinner for Schmucks, but I can appreciate how many different types of humor the writers were able to fit into it. Being a fairly typical female, there’s only so much bathroom humor I can take before I’m totally grossed out, but Dinner for Schmucks seemed to have jokes for everyone in the audience. I must admit that I only went to see it because Dan wanted to, but I’ll also admit that I liked it better than I expected to. After our first movie was over I was dreading standing in that long line again to buy another set of tickets, but I discovered that we could just buy them from the customer service desk instead. Perfect! In no time at all we had our tickets to see Inception, and we even got to buy snacks and wander around the theater to look at the coming attractions posters before the movie started. Besides the teaser poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 and 2), there was a huge display for Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is my favorite book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I’m really looking forward to seeing that movie when it comes out, even if I’m a bit wary of it being in 3D. But back to our current movie going adventure. I had heard a lot about Inception from my coworkers, and from what they told me I was expecting a storyline so confusing that I couldn’t follow what was going on at all. Fortunately it turned out to be much more understandable and much more enjoyable that I thought it would be. In fact, I liked it a lot. I always applaud originality in movies, and Inception was definitely something different. So after seeing both Dinner for Schmucks and Inception, Dan and I left the movie theater that night after a great double feature day. Because we work so much during the week, spending quality time with my husband is always a top priority on the weekends. And even though it doesn’t seem like going to the movies would qualify as “quality time,” we always have a good time when we go together, and that’s what really matters.

Favorite Recipes #3 – World’s Best Lasagna

Until I can get my act together and write a decent post, I offer my outrageously delicious (if I do say so myself) lasagna recipe as a placeholder. I originally published this on my Livejournal back in 2008, but it’s definitely good enough to deserve a re-post. Enjoy!

If my name is ever tied to a particular recipe, I hope it’s this one. I don’t have the nerve to call it “Lauren’s Lasagna” or “Mrs. Feller’s Lasagna” just yet, though. Maybe one day. Soon after Dan and I moved into our house I was ecstatic to find a lasagna recipe without ricotta cheese. I really don’t like that stuff. The recipe was great as printed, but I’ve made a few critical improvements and now it’s amazing.

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb ground sausage
1 cup diced green pepper (about 1 medium pepper)
1 cup diced sweet onion (about 1/2 large onion)
3 cans tomato paste (6 oz each)
2 cans tomato sauce (8 oz each)
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
4 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 Tbsp cider vinegar
12 no boil lasagna noodles (or equivalent for 4 layers)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz sliced provolone cheese (12 slices)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:
In a large saucepan, cook beef and sausage until meat is no longer pink. Add green pepper and onion when the meat is about halfway done. Remove from heat and stir in tomato paste, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, brown sugar, oregano, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and cider vinegar.

In a large casserole dish (13x9x2 inches or larger), spread 1/4 of the meat sauce, layer with 4 lasagna noodles, and cover with another 1/4 of the sauce. Finish off the layers as follows: mozzarella cheese, 4 noodles, 1/4 of the meat sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, 4 noodles, last 1/4 of the meat sauce, and Provolone cheese (slices layered to cover everything). Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on the top. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degF for 45 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

To save time, the lasagna can be assembled a day early and refrigerated uncooked overnight. Just follow directions to prepare lasagna, cover with aluminum foil, and place in refrigerator until ready to bake.

Based on Taste of Home’s Cheesy Lasagna.

Edited on 12/28/12 to add a can of diced tomatoes. There’s no such thing as too much sauce in lasagna!

Not a joke

Long day. Tomorrow is going to be even longer. Need sleep.
5:04 PM Aug 17th via web

Just picked up some doughnuts for work. Let’s see how long I can resist before I eat one myself.
5:45 AM Aug 18th via Twitter for iPhone

Time for bed. One more crazy day before I can relax.
9:33 PM Aug 18th via Twitter for iPhone

At work early again. Box of doughnuts in the backseat of my car. I’m not going to fight the craving today!
5:44 AM Aug 19th via Twitter for iPhone

Crazy day done! Tomorrow I am sleeping in until at least 7 AM!
6:07 PM Aug 19th via web

This is a great Friday. No work this weekend!
6:24 PM Aug 20th via Twitter for iPhone

I didn’t mean for my last post to be a joke, but based on the fact that it’s been nine days and I haven’t written another word, it’s starting to seem like one. I should have known that as soon as I posted something about intending to write more that life would find a way of preventing me from following through with it. I also should have remembered that work was eating me alive at the time I wrote that post. The previous week had been crazy (~60 hours at work), and with an important event that I was in charge of coming up, the next week promised to just as bad. So I have no explanation for why I was so optimistic about increasing the frequency of my posts at that particular time. Now that things have slowed down a bit at work I can look back and realize that it was an impossibility. I’ve even included a few excerpts from my Twitter feed to prove it. It didn’t matter that I had several topics that I wanted to write about (some left over from the previous week and some new) because I had neither the time nor the energy to sit down and type anything more than a quick Twitter update at any point during the day. I was really drained by the time Friday rolled around, which was the first day the first day in two weeks that I hadn’t gotten to work before the crack of dawn. As far as the weekend goes, I have no excuse for not posting then. Laziness maybe? I need a completely relaxing day (or days) every once in a while to make me feel like a human being, and I took advantage of the work-free weekend to recharge my batteries. But now that my work schedule has evened out a little I have every intention of resuming my regular posting schedule. So stay tuned!

Reading and writing

After watching “The Last Station,” which depicts the last few days in the life of Leo Tolstoy, I’ve decided that there isn’t nearly enough time for reading and writing in the world today. At least not for me. I going to try and change that.

Food blogging – Meatball subs

I’ve been wanting to start food blogging for a while now, not because I think I’m a great cook, but because I really enjoy putting a good meal together. I guess the fact that I currently have over 400 recipes bookmarked on Delicious might be evidence to that fact, but the bad news is that I rarely ever try any of them! I read several food blogs regularly, both for meal ideas and for motivation to do more cooking of my own, and I’m always jealous of the delicious and beautiful cuisine these bloggers put together. And then my friend Jamie posted about a fantastic meal she made on her website, and that’s when I decided to start adding my own contributions to the world of food blogging. And I figured what better way to start this endeavor than with a simple but tasty meal that anyone can make? So without further ado, here is the process I went through to make homemade meatball subs (the weeknight version that calls for frozen meatballs). Just so you know, the decision to use this “recipe” for my first food blog post had nothing at all to do with the fact that I had already planned to make these subs for dinner the next night. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. But anyway, back to the food.

The obvious first step is to get some frozen meatballs, a jar of marinara sauce, French rolls, slices of mozzarella cheese, and shredded Parmesan cheese at the grocery store. The photo below is of our favorite frozen meatballs from Ralph’s. As a wife who works full time and doesn’t spend nearly enough time preparing food for my husband, I usually just nuke a few of these in the microwave and serve them with some Buitoni pasta for dinner on a weekday. But when I failed to find anything more suitable in the frozen meatball section of our local grocery store’s freezer I figured they would work for meatball subs too.

Following the directions on the back of the bag, I sautéed as many meatballs as I could easily fit in my large skillet in the cheapest jar of marinara sauce I could find that wasn’t Ragu or Prego. I think it was Barilla because it was on sale, and because it had garlic which Dan and I are big fans of. I let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for 30 minutes until I decided they were done – and much more tender than I thought frozen meatballs could ever be!

Unfortunately I was in a hurry to get dinner on the table the night I first made these subs for Dan and me, so I neglected to photograph of the rest of the process. I felt pretty stupid for that, but there were plenty of extra meatballs for leftovers later that week. So the rest of the picture in this post were taken a different night when Dan was out of town and I was preparing a meatball sub for just myself. Here’s the simplest step of the preparation – putting a French roll on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (I’m not a fan of difficult clean up).

To give the subs as much flavor as possible, I brushed both sides of the roll with melted butter and then sprinkled them with a generous amount of garlic powder. As far as I’m concerned there’s no much thing as to much garlic in a meal.

After a few minutes under the broiler on the low setting, these rolls turned into something akin to garlic bread. That was my original intention so I’m glad it worked out. My ideas sometimes go horribly, horribly wrong, but the rolls were crisp and flavorful – perfect for meatball subs.

I then topped both sides of the crispy French rolls with mozzarella and popped them under the broiler (again on low) for another few minutes to let the cheese melt. When the cheese started to bubble and the exposed edges of the rolls started to get dark I knew it was time to take them out.

I tried to pack as many meatballs onto the French roll as possible, but I had to stop at five. This didn’t keep me from eating a couple of meatballs directly from the skillet. They were just so tasty and tender, I couldn’t help myself! After putting the meatballs on the roll I sprinkled them with some shredded Parmesan cheese for good measure.

The last step in this incredibly simple meal preparation is to put the two halves of the French roll together to complete the assembly of the meatball sub. Then enjoy! With as little effort as I put into them, I was surprised at how well these subs turned out. The meatballs were wonderful, the garlicky bread was yummy, and they didn’t fall apart when we ate them. I was very pleased and I will definitely be making these again in the future.

Shopping

“Fall and winter clothes are more practical in LA because it doesn’t get that warm here (in my opinion), even in the summer. In fact, when Dan and I went to Florida last July I had to buy shorts for the trip because I hadn’t owned any since I was in college. But corduroy pants are something I can wear practically year-round so I bought three pairs.”
8/3/09 webpage post

I was lured to Old Navy on Sunday by the promise of corduroy pants, which I was excited to see online, but when I got to the mall there were no corduroys to be found. Very disappointing. On Saturday I was reading through my webpage posts from last August and I noticed that I bought my favorite corduroy pants at Old Navy just about one year ago. Unfortunately those pants are barely wearable anymore since I’ve lost weight. It’s a shame really because I have three pairs of them that I wear at least once a week (with long shirts so no one notices how baggy they are in the waist), but they really are just too big. Earlier this year I resorted to putting the pants in the dryer (which is something I never do with pants that fit correctly) to try and shrink them and keep them from falling off. This was only marginally successful, but it did make them a little smaller, and therefore somewhat wearable. But after seeing corduroy pants on the Old Navy website this weekend I was looking forward to the opportunity to buy some new pairs that actually fit! So of course I was disappointed when the store didn’t have any on Sunday, but I was told to come back next week because they will probably be in stock by then. So maybe I won’t have to wait much longer to have some pants to wear to work that fit properly. I’m really looking forward to that.

I did have some shopping success on Sunday, not just at Old Navy where I bought a pair of jeans and a couple of t-shirts, but at Naturalizer where I got two pairs of shoes for work. I have a notoriously hard time finding shoes that fit my feet, which is one of the reasons that I love Naturalizers. Not only are they comfortable, but they come in narrow widths which is a rarity in the world of American shoes. I have really narrow feet which makes finding shoes that I can wear without them falling off really difficult. So I was very excited to find not one, but two pairs of black flats (my favorite color and style of shoe for work) at Naturalizer on Sunday. They weren’t cheap, but after having only limited luck in the shoe department over the last couple of years (my old pair of black flats are so old that they squeak when I walk and I’ve used a Sharpie to fill in all of the scuff marks), I gladly paid the price for the two pairs of shoes and took them home. But what did I find sitting on the counter in plain sight when I got home? A 20% off coupon that would have saved me a lot of money. That’s what I call a total coupon fail. And if I didn’t feel like enough of an idiot after that, what do you think I found in the newspaper when I was clipping coupons later that day? An Old Navy coupon. Double coupon fail! I’m probably not as frugal as I should be, but knowing that I paid more than I had to for all of my purchases on Sunday is very annoying. The good news is that the coupons don’t expire until the end of the month so I can use them on future shopping trips, assuming I can find anything else that I want to buy. Believe it or not, that’s a tall order when I go shopping.

Third anniversary (part 2)

Hotel del Coronado at night

To further commemorate our third anniversary Dan and I decided to drive down to San Diego for the weekend and stay at the Hotel del Coronado where we got married. Because the hotel was completely booked on that Saturday night (probably due to the fact several weddings were taking place there that day), we opted to just to spend just Friday night at the hotel and make the best of the time we had there. Simply arriving and checking in at the Hotel del Coronado makes you feel special – until you have to wait in line to get your room keys. I suspect rich patrons in the early years of the hotel didn’t have to wait very long, and then they probably had a staff member to show them to their rooms. Maybe rich patrons these days don’t have to wait either, but not being one myself by any stretch of the imagination I really wouldn’t know. What I do know is that the longer you spend in the lobby of the Hotel del Coronado, the more time you have to appreciate the beauty of the nineteenth century building. It’s pretty spectacular. The ornate woodwork, the crystal chandelier, and the antique elevator make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready when Dan and I arrived that Friday, so we spent a couple of hours walking around Coronado Island to pass the time. First we had lunch at the hotel’s Sheerwater Restaurant. It has tasty food, paired with a fantastic view of the Windsor Lawn (an ideal wedding spot in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter) and Coronado Beach. Despite being tempted by the menu, we had a light lunch because we were looking forward to our dinner reservation that evening and we didn’t want to ruin our appetites. After lunch Dan and I visited the beach where a lot of our wedding portraits had been taken three years earlier. We weren’t able to pay a visit to the Garden Walk where our wedding ceremony took place because it was roped off for someone else’s wedding rehearsal. It made me happy to know that another couple would be making lifelong memories there at their wedding the next day. The Garden Walk will certainly always be a special place for me. Dan and I had been walking the streets of Coronado Island for an hour or so when he got the call that our hotel room was ready. We booked a suite in the main building with a balcony overlooking the central hotel courtyard and it was just amazing. Dan and I just marveled at how beautiful it was. I sat outside reading a book, enjoying the ocean breeze, and just unwinding until the sun scared away all of the shade. Not wanting to put on sunscreen to read a book, I retreated into our suite. Dan was taking a nap and he looked more peaceful than I’d seen him in a long time. It was very sweet. For some reason our room was freezing, much colder than it was outside, so to be comfortable in there I not only had to get under the covers, but also snuggle up to Dan to stay warm! It was very romantic, though. Eventually we had to get ready to go to dinner, but we didn’t have to go too far because we were dining at 1500 Ocean at the Hotel del Coronado. We had our rehearsal dinner at 1500 Ocean the night before our wedding and loved it, but we had a limited menu for our twenty plus party that night. So going back there for our third anniversary gave us the opportunity to take full advantage of the entire menu. We had a great anniversary dinner there and we were really full when we left. It didn’t prevent us from visiting the ENO Wine Room, the new wine, cheese, and chocolate bar at the Hotel del Coronado, though. We only sampled two cheeses and two chocolates because we didn’t have that much room left after dinner, but it was still a nice experience. Dan and I went to bed stuffed, exhausted, and happy that night. Too bad the fire alarm woke us up at 4 AM. I’ve ignored my share of fire alarms in hotels, but this one went on long enough that we thought it might actually be legitimate. So Dan and I got dressed, grabbed our valuables and left our room in an attempt to evacuate the hotel. But no sooner had we turned the first corner on the way to the stairs than a hotel-wide announcement informed us that there was no fire and we could go back to bed. We groggily obeyed, but the fire alarm went off two more times before it was finally silenced for the night. This proves that even high end hotels have issues with their fire alarms, not just the cheap places (like Embassy Suites and Springhill Suites, where this has happened to me before). The next morning Dan and I slept in as long as possible before we had to get up and reluctantly check out of our room. We had breakfast at the Sheerwater buffet, bought a couple of souvenirs at the hotel gift shop (another Hotel del Coronado Christmas ornament for our collection and a print of the hotel’s Garden Walk), and then drove back to Los Angeles to spend the rest of our anniversary weekend at home. It was a short trip, but a romantic pilgrimage back to the place where we got married three years ago. The last time Dan and I were there together was for the wedding, and at that point I was too stressed out to recognize how privileged we were to be in such an amazing place. It’s easy to see why the Hotel del Coronado is so famous and recognizable, and it will always have a special place in my heart.

Broken record

I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but in order to explain my lack of substantial posts I feel I have to say all of this again, so here it goes. I’ve been thinking about several different posts that I would like to write (including the infamous third anniversary post part two), but I’ve had way too much going on lately to be able to start, much less finish any of them. The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I’m so busy at work that the days fly by. That’s usually a good thing, but it feels like there’s never enough time to get everything done. My area of expertise has gotten a lot of attention recently and I’ve been trying to make as much progress as possible each day. Unfortunately it seems like everything possible is working against me. This past week has been better so I’m starting to feel more on top of things, but I still have to go in to work tomorrow to try and make more of a dent in the mountain of work that’s ahead of me. So tonight, instead of staying up late attempting to compose a coherent webpage post, I’m going to go to bed and get as much sleep as possible so I can get started early tomorrow. I promise to have a new post ready for public consumption by Sunday night. Until then, have a good weekend everyone!