365 days later

I did it! I successfully posted a webpage update every day of 2011. However I’ll be the first to admit to backdating some of those posts because I published them after midnight. In most cases it wasn’t too long after midnight, but at least once I didn’t post anything at all until halfway through the next day. That was an extenuating circumstance, though, involving getting paged in to work at 9 PM and having to stay until 6 AM. Other than that I’ve been successful and I’m pretty pleased with myself. And believe it or not I’m ready to sign up for another year of this post-a-day challenge because I’m just that crazy. As boring as my life is most of the time, I like how well 2011 was documented due to my frequency of updates. So here’s to 2012 and all of the inevitable ups and downs it brings! I’ll make sure to write about all of them.

2011 in pictures

Disneyland 1/8-1/9/11 (Photo album here)

Big Bear 2/25-2/27/11 (Photo album here)

Harry Potter World 3/25/11 (Photo album here)

Hawaiian party 7/23/11 (Photo album here)

Long Beach marathon 10/9/11 (Photo album here)

Halloween party 10/29/11 (Photo album here)

San Francisco 11/4-11/7/11 (Photo album here)

Hawaii 11/11 (Photo album pending)

Tallahassee 12/8-12/12/11 (Photo album here)

Christmas 12/11 (Photo album here)

Foodie Friday – Fifty-third new recipe

I’m going to honor the last Foodie Friday of 2011 today rather than finishing up my “How I spent my Christmas vacation” posts. I hope everyone’s OK with that. (I suspect my faithful readers are breathing a sigh of relief because they don’t have to read another boring blow-by-blow description of my days off – until tomorrow, that is.) I more than met my New Year’s resolution of trying a new recipe every week in 2011, but I haven’t had a chance to post all of them yet. I’ll get caught up in January.

If you’ve read all of my posts this fall (who hasn’t?) you know I’ve been on a serious soup kick. I’ve even written more than one post dedicated to it! After eating so many delicious soups at restaurants these last few months I decided to try making some homemade versions. The first one I tried was this relatively simple acorn squash soup. It only has a few ingredients, and besides the time spent waiting for the squash to roast, the preparation time is minimal. When I first tried the soup was I very happy with the flavor. Dan, however, was skeptical. He reluctantly tried a bite when I offered it to home…and then went to the kitchen and served himself a large bowl! Dan liked the acorn squash soup so much that he ate almost all of it over a two-day period – including the bowl I set aside for my lunch. I only got one small bowl myself (which is why I don’t have a good picture to share)! Considering how opposed to cooked vegetables he is this recipe is definitely a winner. And it’s healthy too!

1 acorn squash
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
2 c (1 can) chicken broth, or less
Dried rosemary, salt and pepper, to taste

Stab the squash all over with a fork and place on a microwave safe plate. Microwave for 2 minutes and let cool slightly. This makes the next step MUCH easier. Cut off the stem, then cut the squash in half lengthwise (after it’s cooled enough to not burn your fingers) and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash halves on a foil-lined cookie sheet (I’ve tried this cut side up and cut side down and it doesn’t seem to make much difference). Bake the squash at 400 deg F for 40-50 minutes or until a fork goes in easily. Remove the skin from the squash (it should pull right off, but don’t burn your fingers) and purée the flesh in a food processor or blender until smooth, in batches if necessary. In a sauce pan over medium heat, sauté the garlic until fragrant, about 2 minutes (but don’t burn it!). Add the squash purée and just enough broth to reach the desired consistency. The end result should be on the thick side so don’t add too much broth. I made that mistake on my second batch and it was not nearly as good. Season the soup with a generous amount of dried rosemary, salt, and pepper, tasting it as you go. Cook until heated through and serve warm. Enjoy!

Based on Sugarcrafter’s Acorn Squash Soup recipe.

How I spent my Christmas vacation (Part 2)

Part 2 of ???

December 26th
I think this was my laziest day of the holiday break (so far, at least). I stayed in bed until the wee hours of the afternoon reading a book, watching episodes of “The Big Bang Theory,” and uploading Christmas photos. It was very relaxing if not overly productive. I also started sorting the about 2200 pictures we took in Hawaii last month. My ultimate goal is to have my favorites uploaded to Flickr before I go back to work on January 3rd, but seeing as how that’s just four days away I’m definitely running out of time. In the evening Dan and I apprehensively sat down in front of the television to watch the Lakers play the Kings in their second game of the season. We were apprehensive because of their loss to the Bulls on Christmas Day, and it seems our feelings were well founded because the Lakers lost again on Boxing Day. Not fun. Dinner was a semi-odd assortment of apple slices, cheese, toasted bread, passion fruit jam (from Hawaii), and turkey sausage. Trust me, an apple slice topped with white cheddar and a generous dollop of jam (any kind, really) is absolutely delicious.

December 27th
Two days after Christmas I tried to break out of my laziness rut by driving down to Orange County to run some errands. One of my library books was due that day so I dropped it off at the Los Alamitos branch near Boeing and then picked up a few things at the nearby Target and Ralph’s. This reminded me why I don’t do a lot of shopping near work. The huge cars and horrible drivers from the nearby retirement community makes the roads and parking lots a nightmare! When I got home from my errands I figured it was time to get started on my biggest goal of the holidays – decluttering my house. I started in the kitchen which has more than adequate cabinet space, but I’ve been using it extremely inefficiently. How do Dan and I already own so much stuff? We’ve only been living in our house for five and a half years, but we already seem to have a lifetime’s worth of stuff. Emptying out all of the kitchen cabinets allowed me to throw away a lot (like canned goods that we’ve had for years – more on that later) and also to make a large pile of things I don’t use to take to Goodwill. Hopefully someone else will give our neglected George Foreman Grill a good home. Dan and I had dinner reservations that night so I only got through about a third of the cabinets before I had to get ready to go. We’ve been wanting to eat at The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel for a while so we were very excited. The menu is almost entirely tapas (small plates) so you get to try lots of different dishes rather than just one or two. It was fantastic. Dan even declared it to be his new favorite restaurant. I’ll post our full mouthwatering menu another day.

December 28th
Guess what I did yesterday? Finished cleaning out, decluttering, and reorganizing the kitchen! I was on a mission and I’m so happy with how it turned out. I managed to get just about everything off the counters and put away in a cabinet and we even have a few empty shelves besides. It’s so nice to have uncluttered countertops. Now if I could only remember where I put everything! It’s going to be a while before I look in the right drawer for the aluminum foil on my first try. Because we don’t have to worry about work this week Dan and I had a chance to go to a group ballroom dance class at Arthur Murray at 7:30 PM. It was a Rumba Bronze IV/Silver I level class which is exactly where we are right now considering Dan and I graduated from Bronze IV to Silver I not too long ago. We already knew the three patterns that the instructor was teaching (two Bronze IV steps and one Silver I step) but it was nice to work on technique rather than focusing on learning something brand new. There were some students in the class that I thought were much more advanced than we are so it was refreshing to know that Dan and I are actually on their level! After we got back from Arthur Murray I convinced Dan to help me finish off the leftover Christmas lasagna and watch a movie before he became too engrossed in “Batman: Arkham City.” We watched the most recent “Clash of the Titans” DVD from Netflix which wasn’t all that good, but I’m glad we saw it considering the sequel is coming out next year.

To close out this installment of “How I spent my Christmas vacation” I have a photo to share. I mentioned earlier throwing out a bunch of canned goods that we’ve had for years, but what I didn’t say is that we inherited some of those cans from Dan’s grandmother when we moved into our house in 2006. Only one of those cans avoided being thrown out on Tuesday – a can of spotted dick (see photo below). This can has a place of honor on our canned goods shelf because it makes me laugh and I like seeing it when I open the cabinet. The best part is it’s a new recipe and it’s microwaveable!

How I spent my Christmas vacation (Part 1)

I was all set with something to post for “Wordless Wednesday” today but then I remembered my promise to write something meaningful to mark these last few days of 2011. So here goes….

December 23rd
Since I had my laptop with me on Friday I’ve already written a little about my early morning appointment at the Honda dealer two days before Christmas. Luckily it ended well with me only having to wait two hours (and me only having to pay a reasonable amount of money – not like last time) for my car’s minor service to be completed. After that I drove home and picked Dan up to go out to lunch. A new Island’s burger restaurant opened just up the the street from our house on the 20th so we wanted to try it out. Not great, but not bad. During lunch Dan and I decided it was the perfect night for one of our self-imposed double features – first “Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (yes, there are two colons in that movie title – I checked) then “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” We really liked both of the movies, which is a departure from our usual double features, so it was an enjoyable evening. When we got home from the theater Dan and I armed ourselves with all the necessary provisions and went into separate rooms to wrap each other’s Christmas presents. I was going to put it off until Christmas Eve but Dan insisted. I only had three gifts to wrap for him this year, but I made them look as nice as possible. I went to bed that night knowing I was almost completely ready for Christmas.

December 24th
Christmas Eve was pretty uneventful. My biggest accomplishment was going to the grocery store to get lasagna ingredients and then making said lasagna in time dinner. I’ve never made a conventional holiday meal like turkey or ham for Dan and me, but since we’ve been living together I’ve established our own tradition of Christmas lasagna. Not only is it one of the best dishes I make, but it also provides at least two days worth of leftovers! This year’s lasagna turned out really well so I was pleased. While eating dinner Dan and I watched the “G.I. Joe” movie from a couple of years ago on Netflix Instant. During “Mission: Impossible” we saw a trailer for the sequel which looked pretty good so we figured we needed to watch the first one. It was cheesy and predictable, but not too bad. Hopefully the sequel is better. When “G.I. Joe” was over Dan scanned through about a hundred Netflix Instant offerings before we ran across this little holiday gem – “He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special.” How could we not watch that on Christmas Eve? It was utterly ridiculous, but fabulously entertaining. I highly recommend it for anyone who has Netflix Instant. I laughed so much that I had a stomach ache when it was over. It was the prefect way to end Christmas Eve, and I have a feeling He-Man and She-Ra will become part of our Christmas traditions.

December 25th
Dan and I had a very low-key Christmas at our house this year. We slept in (something we definitely won’t be able to do once we have kids) and only went downstairs for the tip off of the Heat vs. Mavericks basketball game. During the game we talked to our families on the phone and opened presents. Dan was way too generous with what he gave to me, especially with our promise to have a minimal Christmas. The only thing I asked for was the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2″ Blu-ray which was the last present I opened. I think the most thoughtful gift was a new 12” nonstick skillet which I definitely needed. My old one was in sad shape and I use it just about every time I cook. Dan thinks of everything! I was really touched. He seemed to like the presents I gave him even though there were relatively few. We had leftover lasagna for lunch while watching the Lakers lose to the Bulls in the opening game of the season. And it was a last-second loss which was really depressing. It’s great to be watching the NBA again, but seeing your team lose is never fun. Dan spent the evening playing the “Batman: Arkham City” video game I gave him. I went to bed that night knowing we’d had a good Christmas this year.

To be continued…

Holiday movies

As I was sitting at work last week dreaming of the holidays I thought I’d have more time than I knew what to do with for writing deep, evocative stuff for my webpage. Well, it turns out that I have had lots of free time during my holiday break, but I’ve had absolutely no motivation to write anything! Actually, I haven’t had been motivated to do anything at all so it’s not like I’ve just been neglecting writing. So until I get my rear in gear and at least write about how I spent Christmas, here’s a list of holiday movies I’ve watched so far to celebrate the season.

Deck the Halls (awful)
Muppet Christmas Carol
The Santa Clause
It’s a Wonderful Life
Christmas with the Kranks (also awful)
Holiday Inn (my all-time favorite)
White Christmas
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Christmas in Connecticut
While You Were Sleeping
The Bishop’s Wife
Little Women
A Diva’s Christmas Carol
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
A Christmas Story

P.S. Since my year of updating my webpage everyday is quickly drawing to a close I promise to have more meaningful content to post these last four days of 2011. I’d better get started right now!

Happy Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day everyone! Dan and I had a great low-key Christmas here in Los Angeles. I’ll write about that more later this week. Today I finally got around to uploading all of the photos we took while decorating our Christmas tree this month. The camera was set up on a tripod and we took more than 200 pictures between 12/8 and 12/24. The choice few I uploaded (about forty) can be found in my Christmas 12/11 Flickr photo album. My next task is to sort through the more than two thousand pictures we took in Hawaii to decide which ones are worth sharing. This could take a while!

(Belated) Foodie Friday – Christmas Eve edition

Happy Christmas Eve everyone! Since I don’t have a photo to go along with this week’s recipe I’m including a great iPhone 4S commercial featuring Santa instead. Looks like he’s going to be busy tonight! I was so focused on getting my annual holiday care packages ready to mail last weekend that I forgot to take a picture of these delicious and incredibly simple glazed mixed nuts that I made. This recipe doesn’t require any butter or oil, making it much healthier than other alternatives, plus you make it in the microwave rather than the oven so its a lot faster and easier. This would be the perfect recipe to make for a Christmas party because It takes almost no time at all, transports easily (if the party isn’t at your house), and is a great finger food. I highly recommend it. I’ll definitely be making this again next year!

1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 c unsalted mixed nuts (I used almonds and pecans)
4 1/2 tsp water

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine the first seven ingredients (spices and nuts). Stir in the water, coating the nuts with the spice mixture as evenly as possible. Microwave uncovered on HIGH for 1 minute then remove and stir. Continue microwaving for 1 minute and stirring until the syrup begins to boil and harden. This should take a total of 4 to 5 minutes of microwaving. Immediately pour the mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray and separate the nuts as much as possible (without burning your fingers!). Cool completely on the cookie sheet and then separate the cooled nuts as needed. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Based on Taste of Home’s Spiced Mixed Nuts recipe.

Not Foodie Friday

I know I was supposed to post a recipe for Foodie Friday today, but I spent a couple of hours at the car dealer this morning so I had plenty of time to put all of the random thoughts in my head into words. So here they are…

***Sometimes it’s easy for me to understand how people think I’m younger than my thirty-two years. This morning I showed up at the Honda dealer for my car’s service appointment wearing a Gator hoodie, carrying a laptop case, and drinking a bottle of chocolate milk. I probably looked like a college student rather than an engineer who’s been working full time for seven years. Back when I was in graduate school I took a trip to Vancouver, BC and had an interesting encounter with a customs agent as I was trying to get back into the United States. She took one look at me and asked, “Where are your parents?” I was twenty-five years old (which she should have known since she was holding my passport) and perfectly capable of traveling by myself, thank you very much! In her defense I was carrying a Harry Potter book, carrying a backpack, and probably dressed like a high schooler, but she could have been a little more tactful. I’m not old enough to appreciate folks thinking I’m ten years younger than my actual age, but hopefully this trend will continue until I am.

***The first day of my holiday vacation and I made a service appointment at the Honda dealer at 8 AM. That was silly. So even though I don’t have to go to work today I still had to get up earlier than I wanted to and I had pretty much the same commute (but with much lighter traffic) because the dealer is in Orange County. Luckily my car only needs minor service (rather than the expected 90k mile service) so I shouldn’t have to spend half the day waiting here in the lobby. And it will be nice to not have to worry about my car again for the duration of the break. Yesterday Dan suggested a trip to Big Bear for a couple of days during the holidays so at least I’ll be confident that my car is in the best shape possible for the drive up to the mountains. I’m already looking forward to dinner at our favorite restaurant there, Madlon’s, and we don’t even have a hotel reservation yet! I’ll work on that today.

***Speaking of food, I can’t seem to buy more than one meal’s worth of groceries at a time so I’ve had to go to the store every day for the last two weeks. The only reason I didn’t go yesterday is because Dan and I went out to dinner after mailing the rest of our Christmas presents at the airport post office. Meal planning has never been one of my strong suits. I’ve already decided I’m going to make a lasagna for Christmas dinner, but I haven’t bought any of the ingredients yet. I don’t even have an onion in the fridge anymore so I’m completely unprepared. So today’s grocery list includes meat, veggies, noodles, cheese, and tomato products for the lasagna, but I have no idea what Dan and I are going to eat today. I am such a slacker!

***There are several movies that I want to see over the holidays – “Sherlock Holmes,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” I think I’ll be able to talk Dan into the first two, but I have a feeling I’ll be going to see the last one by myself. And that’s OK. But before I go to the theater to see anything I need to watch a few Christmas movies while I still have the chance! I’ve got “Christmas in Connecticut” from Netflix at the top of my list right now and I also want to watch my DVDs of “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “The Bishop’s Wife” before Christmas is over. My holiday baking is usually the perfect excuse to watch movies, but I think I’m going to put that on hold for at least a couple of days because I’ve had so many cookies already this holiday season. I’ll just have to come up with some other creative excuse to sit down and watch Christmas movies today and tomorrow!