Car buying experience 2015 (part 1)

I bought a new car on April 24th. This was almost a month after my 2005 Honda CR-V died completely, which I actually wrote about at the time (in an attempt to uphold my New Year’s Resolution #4). That poor little car went long before its time. But even after it was towed away on April 3rd (I donated it to charity for the tax write off) and I was left with just a rental, I was still reluctant to go car shopping. I just wasn’t excited about it. The thought of having to interact with potentially pushy salespeople, test driving unfamiliar cars, and eventually haggling about prices made me cringe. But then my friend Natalie offered to go with me. That was exactly the motivation (more like a kick in the pants) I needed to get out there and look for a new set of wheels. One Saturday, after driving that horrible rental for a couple of weeks, I drove up to Pasadena and met Natalie to go car shopping. The first place she took me was a Toyota dealer where I looked at both the RAV4 and the Highlander SUVs. Originally I was more interested in the Highlander, thinking it would be comparable in size to my old CR-V, but it was much larger than I expected. I ended up test driving both, but the RAV4 was more appealing. I liked it just fine, despite the lack of enthusiasm from the salesman who was helping us. I didn’t notice, but Natalie said he was dozing off in the backseat during the test drives. He certainly wasn’t wasting much effort trying to make a sale! For that reason I was happy to head to the Honda dealer next. This time we got a very earnest salesman who was keen to show us all of the fantastic features of the new CR-Vs. And they were pretty impressive. I was crazy about the touch screen navigation system, the backup and side view cameras, and all of the displays on the dashboards. And the test drive was a breeze because the latest CR-V handles very similarly to my old one. No surprises there. I loved the CR-V and it didn’t take long for me to decide that I definitely wanted to buy one. That particular dealer didn’t have the model I wanted so I was spared having to make a decision on the spot, but the majority of the work was done, thanks to Natalie. Without her help I probably would have put off car shopping even longer. But after she spent most of her day driving me to car dealers I was most of the way to getting a new mode of transportation. I am so grateful!

To be continued…


I have a colleague/friend that works in another city and travels out here about four times a year. Whenever he’s in town I try to organize dinner somewhere so that my close group of co-workers can get together and socialize a bit. In the past I’ve cooked a meal and served it to everyone either at my apartment or at someone else’s house, which was a blast, but I’ve been way too busy to organize that kind of event lately. I have enough trouble cooking meals for just myself! So this time I just proposed that we go to dinner at a restaurant one night after work. Easy, right? Wrong! Besides the fact that coordinating the schedules of five people is like herding cats, I should have realized that trying to plan anything this time of year is really difficult. Busy schedules are the norm in December. On top of all that, one person in our group had to be at work at 2 AM in the morning, another one was going out of town the next day, and a third person is moving away on Friday. Crazy! After trying to figure something out via instant message yesterday morning and failing miserably, we decided to call the whole thing off. To be honest, it was a bit of a relief, but I was still sad to miss out on an opportunity to hang out with my co-workers. There was a consolation prize, though. Someone suggested grabbing a spot in a conference room and eating lunch together. And it was great! This week has been pretty busy so it was nice to take a half hour to sit down, talk, and laugh together. Not only did we locals get to spend time with a couple of people from out of town, but we also got to socialize a bit with the guy who’s moving on Friday. It was a good time. These days we are all so busy that we usually just work through lunch, so yesterdays mini get together was a special treat. Stuff like that needs to happen more often.

I’m exhausted

I am so tired tonight. I know that sentence indicates that this post is going to be fairly pathetic, but I have to tell it like it is. When I got home from work today I vowed to sit on the couch all evening, watch TV, and accomplish absolutely nothing. That’s the opposite of what I usually try to do, which is avoid the couch and be productive, but today I was in serious need of a little down time. It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been an incredibly busy and stressful week at work so I definitely needed an escape from that. And last night I made dinner for eight people (and two kids) which was a blast, but still a lot of work. Despite my goal of being a total couch potato, I did get up and wash dishes eventually. I needed to clean my blender blade for my smoothie tomorrow morning, but when that was done I started on the other stuff in the sink and ended up spending two hours washing every dirty dish in the house. It’s amazing how many items you use to make a big meal! But it was worth it. The BBQ-themed dinner I fed my friends last night was a big hit. I made chicken, beef, mac and cheese, cole slaw, and roasted carrots. It was all very tasty. I also had some brownies and chocolate chip cookies that I made on Sunday, but I didn’t think they were anywhere near my best work (I’ll write more about that another time) so I asked someone else to bring dessert. The brought apple pie and it was delicious. A good time was had by all. Unfortunately when all was said and done last night I didn’t get to bed until very late. I definitely need to make sleep a higher priority, which is why I’m going to turn off my laptop and go to bed right now. Maybe I’ll have more energy to write something worthwhile tomorrow. No promises!

Ending of 2013

It’s only the fourth day of 2014 and I’m already behind on my webpage posts! Not that I haven’t been still been updating it every day, but I have yet to write anything about New Year’s. Terrible! So let me back up a few days and get at least partially caught up.

New Year’s Eve was mostly devoted to preparing for the party I was invited to that night. The host tasked me with making a dessert and I got requests for both cake and cookies from two of the other partygoers. No problem! After a trip to the grocery store (my sugar stores were dangerously low), I quickly whipped up a batch of olive oil chocolate chip cookies (recipe to come) which my friend Joelle asked for. This was my second batch of chocolate chip cookies made with olive oil and I really like them, but more on that in a future post. When the cookies were done I got started on a chocolate pound cake, using this recipe that I found on Pinterest a while back. It’s incredibly sinful with three sticks of butter (one more than I’m used to in a bundt cake), 8 oz of cream cheese (the key to a dense and moist pound cake), and more sugar than I’d like to admit (twice what I usually use). Based on the slice I had at the party the cake itself was very tasty, but everything fell apart when I tried to frost it. The fudge icing did NOT turn out as advertised. It was more like a glaze – thin and watery – not at all “thick and rich” as the recipe described. I should have just thrown it out, but against my better judgment I poured some of the icing over the cake anyway. It didn’t make the cake any less tasty, but it made a huge mess and didn’t really improve the cake at all. But anyway, on to the party! I had a great time. Since there were so many families in attendance the party started at 6 PM and we celebrated the New Year on East Coast time so the kids could go to bed at a decent hour. And honestly the adults didn’t stay up that much longer! I was home by 10:30 PM and asleep before midnight. Party animal, that’s me. The photo I posted on January 1st is me with my friend Joelle (who finished chemotherapy back in October which should explain her very short hair!) and her daughter Sara at the party. We were coloring at the time, meaning I was removing caps from markers so Sara could use them and then replacing the caps when she was done with each one. Shortly after I took that picture Joelle took the opportunity to escape and talk to adults. I didn’t get much of that since I kept getting dragged back to the playroom by a couple of the kids any time I tried to extricate myself. At one point Joelle said, “Lauren, you’re hired.” I swear my friends invited me to their party so I would babysit! But with kids that cute I didn’t mind at all.

Come back tomorrow for a New Year’s Day recap. Exciting!

December 22nd

It’s super late here on the East Coast, but I wanted to post a sentence or two about my day. It was a busy one, for sure! I spent most of the day cooking – making two batches of chili (meat and veggie) and baking an eggnog cake (I’ll post that recipe on Friday) – and then hanging out with some old friends all evening. It was fantastic. I ate one too many peanut butter bars (one of my family’s favorites, from this recipe I posted back in 2011), but I had a great time catching up with everyone. Now it’s time for me to go to sleep so I can be ready for another packed day of Christmas preparation tomorrow!

So tired!

I’m completely exhausted tonight. Dinner with my co-workers last night was fantastic and a good time was had by all. We ate, we drank (Sprite for me!), and we laughed hysterically. Good times! But all of that fun meant I didn’t get to bed until almost midnight…and then I got up at 6 AM to go to work this morning. Not a good combination. That’s the main reason I re-instated Wordless Wednesday to have an update of some sort on my webpage for the day. Sorry about that, but it probably bought me a half hour of sleep. Even so, I yawned all through the day, but I wouldn’t let myself take a nap when I got home because I was worried about being able to sleep tonight. However that meant I was way too beat to go running. Oh well. I’ll get back to that tomorrow. Going back to last night for a minute, the spaghetti I made for dinner was almost completely gobbled up by the ten adults and one toddler in attendance. It was very successful. As I expected the meat sauce variety was the clear favorite, but I loved the vegetarian marinara version just as much. And that’s saying something considering how many times I’ve made terrible marinara! There was just enough leftover for my lunch today so I got enjoy it twice. I’d like to write more about the get-together, but I’m so tired that I’m about to pass out. I have got to go to bed now. I know my posts have been pathetic this week, and for that I apologize. Not only have I been pretty busy, but I haven’t really been inspired by anything either. Over the weekend when I have some more free time I’ll do my best to write a meaningful webpage update for a change. No promises, but I’ll try!

Foodie Friday – Cafe Rio sweet pork

Last year I discovered that slow cooking meat in soda is absolutely delicious! I used Dr. Pepper the first time (see the recipe here), but this time I tried Coca-Cola. If you’re not familiar with Cafe Rio Mexican Grill, it’s a mostly West Coast based fast food chain that I really like. I love their sweet pork so when I ran across this copycat recipe I knew I had to give it a try. This is one of the dishes I made when I had friends over for dinner last week. Tacos were on the menu and of the three filling choices, this sweet pork turned out to be everyone’s favorite. The sauce was a tad runny, but I was surprised at how tasty it turned out with so few ingredients. And it was even better as leftovers a few days later!

3 lb pork roast (I used a pork shoulder)
Chili powder
Ground cumin
Garlic powder
3 cans (12 oz each) Coca-Cola
1 can (10 oz) enchilada sauce (I used mild)
1/2 c brown sugar

Cut the pork roast in half if necessary to fit it into your Crockpot. I usually do this anyway to get more seasonings on the meat. Liberally sprinkle all sides of the pork with chili powder, ground cumin, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. Place the meat in your Crockpot (preferably with a slow cooker liner to minimize clean up) and pour 2 of the cans of Coca-Cola over the top. I used bottled Mexican Coke with real sugar and I recommend it. Cook the pork on low for about 8 hours or until is shreds easily. Turn off the Crockpot. Remove the meat from the Crockpot and shred with two forks in a large bowl, discarding any large chunks of fat (yuck). Discard the rest of the liquid in the Crockpot (if you used a liner this part is really easy – just throw it out!). Put a clean liner in the Crockpot (carefully – it’s probably still hot) and add the last can of Coca-Cola, the can of enchilada sauce, and the brown sugar and stir to combine. Stir in the shredded pork, put the lid back on the Crockpot, and heat on low until everything is warmed through. Serve on corn tortillas with some shredded cheese and diced onions. That’s my favorite, at least! Enjoy!

Based on Chef in Training’s Cafe Rio Sweet Pork.

Chocolate chip cookies #35

Chocolate chip cookies #35: Based on So Rumbly in My Tumbly’s M&M Sugar Cookie Bars. Baked on 7/22/13.

I had some friends over for dinner on Wednesday night and I made chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I was originally planning to make pound cake, but one of the attendees requested chocolate chip cookies instead and I was more than happy to oblige. She has cancer – how could I say no? At the time none of the cookie recipes I’ve gathered on Pinterest were jumping out at me so I decided to conduct a little experiment. I started with my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (which is very similar to the M&M sugar cookie bars cited above) and made two batches – one with white sugar and one with light brown sugar. I didn’t brown the butter for either batch because I was baking the cookies on a weeknight so I wanted to save a little time. Sometimes I’m a lazy baker. So which batch turned out better? Believe it or not, the white sugar cookies! (That’s the batch on the right in the above photo.) Without the brown sugar these aren’t your typical chocolate chip cookie recipe, but more like sugar cookie bars. But I don’t care what you call them – they were seriously delicious. I was pleasantly surprised and my dinner guests seemed to like them as well. I will definitely be making these again, maybe with some sprinkles or holiday M&Ms later in the year.