Literary criticism

“I’ve been keeping myself occupied in other ways, as well. Like reading. Am I the only person who read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and was like, ‘What’s the deal with all the sandwiches?’ ”
-Excerpt from Mia Thermopolis, Princess of Genovia’s website

If you’re racking your brain trying to figure out who Mia Thermopolis is, don’t fret. She’s a fictional character from the Princess Diaries series of books by Meg Cabot. I just thought this quote from her website was funny and relevant to the topic at hand. I spent a lot of time over the Memorial Day weekend reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because after I finally got past the boring beginning (thanks to Dave B’s reassurance) I could hardly put the book down even to go to sleep. When I got home from work today I parked myself in bed (under the covers because it’s been chilly recently) and finished the last few chapters. It was a great book, but there were indeed a lot of sandwiches in it. Not that it took away from the story in any way, but Mia was absolutely right. And I’ve been thinking about a cheese and pickle sandwich ever since the title character ate one. Weird. But anyway, as soon as I closed the back cover my the first book in the Millennium Trilogy, I immediately started pondering how I was going to get my hands on The Girl Who Played with Fire. After a little research I put the book on hold at the library because it seemed to be the most economical and ecological choice. The downside is that I can’t start reading immediately, like if I downloaded the book on my Kindle, but it looks like the Orange County Public Library has several copies available so I should be able to check one out soon. For now I’m going to have to scour my bookshelf for something I haven’t read yet. I’ll see what I can come up with.

Fourth old recipe

After my first disastrous attempt at making peanut butter bars, one of my favorite childhood treats, I called my mom and asked her to look for the recipe we used to make them at home. And after a fairly long search she found it! She got the recipe from Jane, a family friend who lived in my parents’ neighborhood for most of my childhood. She and her husband have since moved away from Tallahassee, but my brother and I were friends with her two sons while we were growing up. After reading Jane’s peanut butter bar recipe, it turns out that the version I tried in my twenty-seventh new recipe had almost exactly the same ingredients as hers, just in different proportions. Evidently an abundance of graham cracker crumbs is what killed my first batch, but it might have had something to do with the chocolate topping as well. My mom says the key to our favorite peanut butter bars success is the melted Hershey’s chocolate bar on the top. My first attempt used melted milk chocolate chips, but the Hershey’s bar is much, much better. Jane’s original recipe makes enough to fill a cookie sheet, but I halved it and put it in an 8×8″ pan instead because I didn’t need quite so many goodies sitting around waiting for me to devour them. These peanut butter bars are easy to make, don’t require any baking, and are sinfully delicious. Perfect for summer. Go make them right now!

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 c (1 stick) butter
2 c powdered sugar
3/4 c graham cracker crumbs
1/2 jar (18 oz) Jif extra peanut butter
3/4 of a 4.4 oz Hershey’s chocolate bar

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl, melt the butter in the microwave, about 60 seconds in HIGH. Add powdered sugar, graham cracker crumbs, and peanut butter to the bowl and mix everything together (you might have to use your hands). Pat into the bottom of an 8×8″ pan. In a small bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave and spread over the peanut butter mixture using an icing spatula, preferably an offset one. Chill until the chocolate sets before cutting into squares and serving. Enjoy!

Based on Jane’s Peanut Butter Bars (written on an index card in my mother’s possession in Tallahassee).

Sunday movies

To celebrate the middle of our Memorial Day weekend, Dan and I went to the movies today for a double feature. Not an official double feature as dictated by the theater, but one of our own making consisting of two sets of tickets for two different movies allowing us to walk directly from one into the other after the first one was over. Turns out that a 1:30 PM showing of “King Fu Panda 2” flowed perfectly into a 3:15 PM showing of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” in case you were wondering. And we didn’t worry about having to sit in the front row of the theater when we walked in at the last minute because Arclight lets you reserve specific seats when you buy tickets. It’s a little more expensive than other theaters, but I’ve gotten neck strain way too many times (the last time was “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”) to care about the extra cost. It’s absolutely worth it. Last night Dan and I watched our Blu-ray copy of “Kung Fu Panda” to re-familiarize ourselves with the story so that we’d be ready for the sequel. I’m not sure that was really necessary considering the nature of the movies, but we enjoyed both the original yesterday and the big screen sequel today. Very entertaining. Unfortunately I wasn’t as crazy about the latest offering in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Dan liked it, but I got bored about halfway through and lost all interest in the fates of the characters. How is a movie suppose to hold your attention if you don’t care whether the characters live or die? I know there was a reason I liked the first three movies so much, but now that I think of it, it might just have been Orlando Bloom. And I’ll admit that even though the first movie was awesome and the second one was pretty good, the third movie was awful. While “On Stranger Tides” may have out-performed “At World’s End,” I still didn’t think it was any good. Judi Dench’s cameo appearance was fantastic, though. Maybe that made the movie worth the price of admission. And if that didn’t do it, seeing a trailer for “The Muppets” which is scheduled for release in November certainly did. I’m a huge fan of anything Muppet-related so I can’t wait for this movie to come out. Here’s the trailer! Enjoy!

While Dan was gone

Last Sunday I dropped Dan off at the airport on his way to a week of managerial training in St. Louis. Last night he got home and we’ve spent the first part of the Memorial Day weekend together. So what did I do while he was gone?

1) I baked. Anyone who visited my webpage this week saw the recipes for the brownies and pretzel M&M blondies that I made last Sunday, but that’s not the full extent of it. When my friend Melissa, who is in the hospital recovering from surgery on a broken foot and pregnant at the same time, commented on a picture of a brownies I posted on Facebook I knew I had to send some to her and her husband. Unfortunately Sunday’s brownies and blondies weren’t enough to fill an entire box, so on Tuesday I made two more new recipes – blackberry brownies thins and brown butter blondies. I’ll post those recipes next week, but the bottom line is that the brown butter blondies were out of this world. My mouth is watering just thinking about them!
2) I stuffed my co-workers with sweets. I took most of the leftover brownies and blondies I made last week to work with me to keep from eating them all myself. My co-workers liked them so much that they were disappointed on the days I didn’t bring anything in!
3) I slept in. When Dan isn’t here I lose all accountability for getting up early and going to work at my usual time. My normal arrival time is around 7 AM, but last week when I didn’t have anyone reminding me not to ignore my alarm I was getting to work between 8 and 9 AM. It was just so easy to go back to sleep! I kept telling myself that the additional sleep was good for my health, but I think I was really just lazy.
4) I went to the doctor. I’ve been having trouble with my vision lately and I had a follow-up appointment with my optometrist on Friday. Fortunately the condition that she wanted to check up on was discovered to be nothing too worrisome. I’ve been seeing a dark speck in my right eye recently, but after what seemed like hours of having a very bright light shone into my dilated right eye (which is very uncomfortable), it turned out to be just a normal “floater” that’s seemingly not causing any damage. That was a relief. I’ve been concerned about retinal detachment for a month now!
5) I ate out. I usually go out to lunch with a few of my co-workers every couple of weeks, and this Wednesday I talked them in to going to The Mad Greek in Stanton (kind of a far drive for lunch) because I’ve had a gyro craving for weeks. Dan and I have eaten at The Mad Greek in Baker (in the desert, on the way to Las Vegas) and it was delicious so I was expecting nothing less from the establishment in Stanton. I was not disappointed. My gyro was every bit as good as I remembered. I don’t think I’ll be able to convince my co-workers to go back there again, but my gyro craving was satisfied so I was happy.
6) I watched movies. Since the perfect time to watch chick flicks is when Dan is out of town, I got discs 1 and 2 of “Cranford” from Netflix last week. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a wonderful BBC miniseries adapted from three Victorian-era novellas by Elizabeth Gaskell. The stories are centered around a group of unmarried or widowed women who have to fend for themselves in the man’s world that was nineteenth century England. I absolutely loved it. Right now I’m scheming to get “Return to Cranford” from Netflix so that I can watch it as soon as possible. I’m going to have to return “Lethal Weapon 4” that Dan and I watched tonight first, though.
7) I hung out. Going to the Angels game with my co-workers on Thursday was the most interesting thing I did all week. The rest of my free time was spent relaxing at home with my laptop, the TV, and a book (when I wasn’t baking, of course). It was glorious. Speaking of books, has anyone read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson? I know it’s a wildly popular book these days, but I’m on page 156 of my dad’s copy and it’s pretty boring so far. Someone please tell me that it gets better!

Stupid computer

I was in the midst of writing today’s webpage post while waiting for Dan to get home from St. Louis when my computer crashed again. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I never did anything but run a virus scan the last time this happened. I’m afraid something is really wrong with my laptop and I’m ashamed that I’ve been virtually ignoring it. Right now I’m running another virus scan to see if that turns up anything, but I really have to take my computer to Geek Squad get checked out this weekend. Thank goodness for my iPhone or I’d miss updating my webpage today. This phone has saved my bacon more than once so I’m glad Dan talked me into getting it last year. Hopefully my laptop will be functional again so I can write a more substantial post tomorrow. Until then, I hope everyone enjoys the beginning if their Memorial Day weekend!

Thankful Thursday 5/26/11

Here’s what I’m thankful for today…

1) Half days of work. Especially when the four hours I do spend in the office are uber-productive. I went to the Angels game today at 12:35 PM with a bunch of my co-workers so we headed to the stadium at lunchtime, but I felt much less guilty taking the afternoon off because I got so much done before I left.
2) Baseball. I’m not an Angel’s fan, but I love baseball so I really enjoyed spending a gorgeous afternoon at Angel Stadium today. I wasn’t able to get my usual BBQ sandwich for lunch, but I did have a hotdog and sweet potato fries while watching the game. It was a good time with my co-workers.
3) My sun hat. My parents bought me an orange bucket hat with UPF 30 at the Columbia outlet in Tampa in March and today it kept me from getting sunburned. Our seats for the game were in the shade, but I’m so fair-skinned that in years past I’ve gotten burned just walking to and from the stadium. But today I had my hat so I was protected.
4) My commute. While this might seem like an odd thing to be thankful for, I am extremely grateful to drive against traffic, rather than with it, both on my way to work and on my way home. So unless there’s an accident on the freeway I almost never get stuck in traffic. It’s wonderful.
5) A clean house. I scheduled a Merry Maids cleaning today and walking into my house this afternoon was like a dream come true. Since Dan and I work full time (and sometimes more than that), we don’t like spending our free time cleaning. Paying someone else to clean the house is definitely worth it.
6) No obligations. My to do list for today is extremely short for a change so when I got home today I just flopped down on the couch for some serious TV watching and web surfing. No dishes to wash, no clothes to launder, and no trash to take out. And later I plan to spend at least an hour reading before I go to sleep. I feel so free!
7) My husband. He’ll be home from his trip tomorrow night! Hooray!

Third old recipe

Please forgive me for yet another update about food this week! I already have plans for tomorrow’s and Thursday’s posts, but I’m at a loss today. I haven’t been doing anything interesting since Dan went out of town except baking. On Sunday I made the brownies that I wrote about it yesterday’s post and these pretzel M&M blondies. What can I say? I was feeling domestic! I’m calling this an “old” recipe because it’s not too different from the batch of basic blondies that I made for my twentieth new recipe. The major differences are that the brown sugar is light instead of dark, there’s an extra egg, and less vanilla. And then there’s the pretzel M&M’s and sea salt. The combination of salty and sweet is really delicious, and it’s a popular trend in baking these days too. Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about those basic blondies I made a while back, and I think this new recipe is a step in the right direction, despite the obvious differences. The light brown sugar and the extra egg made all the difference. I’d like to figure out an easier way to incorporate pretzels and chocolate into the blondies, though, because the M&M’s tended to fall apart when I tried to cut them. Maybe pretzel pieces and chocolate chips would work better. I’ll try that next time. I took a plate of these blondies to work with me yesterday, but getting my co-workers to try them wasn’t easy. How could anyone turn them down? I don’t know if it was the way they looked or idea of salt in baked goods, but they weren’t nearly as popular as the fudgy brownies on the plate next to them. That just means more blondies for me!

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 c light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 c pretzel M&M’s
Sea salt

DIRECTIONS:
In a medium bowl, melt the butter in the microwave, about 60 seconds on HIGH. Let cool for a few minutes. Beat the brown sugar into the melted butter. Beat in the eggs, vanilla, and salt. On low speed, beat in the flour. Stir in the M&M’s. Pour the batter into a greased 8×8″ pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake at 350 deg F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Based on Bake at 350’s Pretzel M&M Blondies.

Twenty-ninth new recipe

More brownies! After that Fat Witch brownie recipe turned out so badly I was determined to find a better one. I searched through all of my favorite food blogs to find something simple, without any specialty ingredients or techniques. After some scrutiny I decided that this recipe from Baking Biteshad the most potential. The preparation was definitely simple, using just one bowl, not needing an electric mixer, and the only ingredient I didn’t already have in my kitchen was unsweetened chocolate. The water bath to cool the brownies quickly after cooking was new to me, but not nearly as complicated as I thought it would be. I’m very pleased by the results of this recipe. I think my batch needed to cook for a couple of minutes longer than stated in the original recipe, but besides that I’m very pleased with the results. The brownies are really tasty and they definitely have the promised fudgy consistency. I will be making these brownies again soon! Maybe really soon!

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 c flour

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl, melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave, stirring often until smooth. Stir in sugar, vanilla and salt. Add eggs one at a time, followed by flour. Stir until very smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape batter into a greased 8×8″ pan and bake at 400 deg F for 20-22 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a water bath by filling a larger pan (I used a 13×9″ cake pan) with water and ice, about 1 inch deep. When the brownies are done baking take them immediately from the oven and place the pan in the water bath. Add more ice to the water if necessary. Allow to cool completely in the bath before removing the pan and cutting the brownies. Enjoy!

Based on Baking Bites’ Perfect Fudgy Brownies.

Border Grill

Dan and I have been devoted viewers of the television show “Top Chef” since season 5 in 2008 and we’ve watched all of the spinoffs as well – including three seasons of “Top Chef Masters.” Not only is it fun to drool while the best chefs in the country whip up amazing food, but every once in a while we hear about a restaurant in Los Angeles that we want to try. So this weekend we made a trip to Border Grill in Santa Monica, which is owned by not one but two “Top Chef Masters” contestants – Susan Feniger from season 2 and Mary Sue Milliken from season 3. Santa Monica is kind of a pain to get to because the 405 freeway gets so congested at its intersection with the 10, but the delicious dinner we had last night was well worth the trouble. Dan and I decided to stick with appetizers for our entire meal so that we could try more items, and I had to consult with our waitress to make sure that I didn’t order anything too spicy for my wimpy palate. We ended up with six different dishes that gave us a great sampling of the Border Grill cuisine. The lamb tacos were definitely my favorite – I’d be happy to eat those every day. After we were done with our food Dan and I got an even bigger treat – Susan Feniger walked out into the dining room and started greeting patrons! When she came to our table I was too starstruck to think of anything to say except, “Dinner was amazing!” Oh well. I was so happy when we left Border Grill last night. It was a great meal with my wonderful husband and experiences like that never get old.

Our menu
Quinoa Fritters – a “Top Chef Masters” winning dish
Adobo Chicken Quesadilla – slow roasted chicken, sweet adobo sauce, manchego, panela, cotija cheeses, mizuna salad, guacamole
Roasted Lamb Tacos – adobo roasted lamb, poblano chile, manchego cheese
Border Classics – two green corn tamales, two plantain empanadas, two chicken panuchos
Baja Ceviche – lime marinated sustainable seasonal fish, shrimp, cilantro, jalapeño, tomato, crispy handmade corn tortilla, cilantro aioli, avocado
Grilled Pear and Endive Salad – spiced pistachios, cabrales blue cheese, pickled jalapeño, chipotle honey vinaigrette

Some photos of our delicious meal

Quinoa fritters which helped Mary Sue win the Episode 5 elimination challenge. They were outstanding!

Lamb tacos. Oh my goodness, I can’t say enough good things about these.

Pear and endive salad – very strange and Dan said it was really spicy

Border Classics – the tamales were excellent