Tuesday, November 29, 2011

She's Crafty - And She's Just My Type

This is the one in which I get crafty. Or, if you prefer it a little fancier, craft-ay.

It seems as though all this non-running has taken a toll on not only my physical fitness, but my mental health as well. I can't begin to tell you the number of times I've woken up in the last six weeks from dreams of jogging. I never really noticed it too much, I guess, but apparently exercise is good for more than providing you the opportunity to devour ice cream every night and making your leg muscles a little stronger.

So without the outlet I used to get pounding the pavement, my muscles have been shrinking and I've been spending a lot of time on a little obsession website called Pinterest. (Don't worry, I've still been scarfing ice cream every night, so not all the benefits of exercise have been erased from my life.)

The best way to describe Pinterest, other than totally super awesome, is as this big virtual bulletin board where you can "pin" things you really like - recipes, home decorating ideas, wardrobe inspiration, funny quotes. So many times I've been browsing the Internet and come across a cool art project to make with Anna or a yummy-sounding recipe, only to completely forget about it an hour later. With Pinterest, I can "pin" it to one of my boards, and it's there for me to go back to when I have the time. I'm telling you, it rocks. (Full disclosure: when I showed the site to my sister for the first time, she was like, "Oh. So it's basically a bunch of shit that I will never do." Well, yeah, a little bit. But I also think it will inspire you.)

With all my extra energy, and all these amazing ideas being thrown at me from Pinterest, let's just say that my free time the last month or so has been filled with baking, knitting, glitter glue, spray paint, and many, many trips to Hobby Lobby and Michael's.

First up was this nifty little Thanksgiving banner:

I found it on Pinterest through a site that was offering a bunch of free printables. Check it out here. I actually made this at my sister's house, and we were both totally amazed that we were able to just print the letters on card stock using her normal printer and that they came out looking so cool.

I made playdough for Anna. I baked several different kinds of pumpkin cookies. I knit a scarf.

Yesterday, I spent ten bucks on supplies at Target and made this wreath. It literally took me twenty minutes, although I have to admit I skipped the part about gluing the ornaments together. And then it took me twenty more minutes to hang it because mine turned out kinda thick and the screen door wouldn't close. But regardless, I love it.

And finally, yesterday I hung my latest mantle decoration. This one was organized by my mom, who found the idea and bought all the supplies, but I really can't wait to put it to use. It's an advent calendar made from tiny mittens and clothes pins. The number tags are little price tags you can find at any office supply store - I stitched them on using embroidery floss, and then used glitter glue pens to write the numbers on. The plan is to fill each mitten with a little trinket or toy for Anna to get each day leading up to Christmas. I think it will be a small victory if she doesn't rip the whole thing down once she discovers there might be gummy bears hiding  in the mittens, but my hope is that this becomes a tradition for years to come.

I'm also working on one really big craft project for Anna, but lots more on that to come later.

If you're not on Pinterest, do it. Do it now. And let me know if you need an invitation, because I am more than happy to spread the love. And if you're already there, find me! Share your pins!

And before you start worrying that our entire house is going to be covered in glitter and yarn, I should tell you that I signed up for a spinning class tonight. My knee is starting to feel better, and even the most hardcore of crafters need a break now and then. Besides, wielding a glue gun is hard work - I need all the strength I can get.

Happy Crafting!

What are you doing to get ready for the holidays? Any fun crafts? Delicious recipes?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Her Soul Crawled Out From Its Hiding Place

One of my favorite books is Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie, the main character, goes through a couple of rough marriages and relationships before she finally meets the man she is meant to be with - Tea Cake. Janie starts wearing blue, because for the first time in her life, someone she loves has expressed a preference for what she wears: "Tea Cake love me in blue, so Ah wears it."

I have a point, I promise.

I never was too interested in experimenting in the kitchen. My mind is definitely filled with awesome memories of decorating cookies at the holidays with my mom and sister, and I certainly always enjoyed eating the delicious food my mom put on the table, but I wasn't ever that inspired to whip something up myself.

That all changed when I met Mike.

The old saying about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach? Yeah, you can say that again.

I quickly learned that the surest way to bring a smile to Mike's face was to present him with food. And I don't know about you, but when I discover I have the ability to bring joy to someone I love - well, I'm gonna bring it. It started off simple, usually involving fifteen phone calls to my mom from the aisles in the grocery store to make sure I was buying the right ingredients. And sandwiches. Lots and lots of sandwiches.

One day, I stumbled across the Food Network and happened to catch an episode of Rachael Ray's "Thirty Minute Meals". That, my friends, is what I like to call a game changer. Because I found her website, and then my mom bought me a few of her cookbooks (perhaps to avoid all the annoying phone calls?), and I subscribed to her magazine, and before I knew it Rach had me exploring the worlds of Italian parsley and EVOO and all things Yum-o! Full disclosure here - while I love her cookbooks and her magazine and often look recipes up on her website, I have a really, really hard time watching her on television. I know she has lots of haters, but the girl expanded my cooking horizons by about a million, so I give her props, even if I can't stand the sound of her voice.

And then she published a recipe for a beef and cheddar pie in her magazine, and the angels sang and Mike's stomach did a happy dance and the circle was complete.

This recipe, for what we now call "meat pie", probably gets requested the most when I ask Mike what he would like for dinner - if anything, it's a close second to BLTs (see - back to the sandwiches!). When I first invited our friends the Mansours over for dinner, this was on the menu. And, no joke, Mike said to me, "Wait. I have to share my meat pie with strangers?" And the last time I made this, again no joke, he told me that when he dies he would like to be buried in meat pie.

So now, I would like to share the recipe with you. It's definitely not healthy, although I suppose you could reduce the amount of cheese and use ground turkey or chicken instead of beef. It is delicious, though. If you don't believe me, just ask Mike.

Meat Pie

2 pounds ground beef
2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup dark beer - I've used Newcastle and Bell's Best Brown, anything in your fridge will work
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed but cold
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Once you have all the veggies chopped up (for me, this is the longest/most annoying part), throw them into a big skillet with the meat. Over medium-high heat, break up the meat with a wooden spoon and stir everything up until the meat is no longer pink and some of the liquid has evaporated, probably about 15 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and then add your beer. Let that cook for about 10 minutes.

Throw in the cheese, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Give it a good stir, and then remove from heat and let cool. 

2. On a floured surface, roll out one of the puff pastry sheets so it's about 12 inches round. Place it on a deep-dish pie plate or a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. I use a skillet - I tried the first time to use just a regular pie dish (not deep) and it didn't all fit. I've also used a 9x9 Pyrex, but for me the skillet is the way to go.

Roll the second piece of pastry into an 11-inch round. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the meat mixture into the skillet. 

Lightly brush the edge of the crust with some of the egg wash, then put the second sheet on top. Crimp the edges together, and trim them if you need to.

3. Put the whole pie on a baking sheet. Brush the top with more of the egg wash, and cut an "x" in the middle. You can also get a little fancy here and cut out some shapes with your leftover pastry. Sprinkle it liberally with more salt and pepper. 

Bake for 45 minutes. I usually check it about halfway and throw some foil on top if it's starting to get too dark. Let it rest for about 15 minutes, and you are ready to enjoy!

I try to serve this with a salad, but Mike usually laughs it off as he's asking for seconds. It's also really good heated up as leftovers the next day - if you have any!

Even Anna gives her seal of approval.

Oh yeah - the original recipe can be found here.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy Friday!

What recipes do you make to bring it? Please share!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Language of Love

I'm not sure how it works in other people's houses, but over here at Casa de Arends, we have our own secret language. It's been developing for almost eight years now - funny phrases, inside jokes, cutesie little nicknames - and I imagine that it will continue to morph and grow as time goes on.

Early on in our relationship, Mike and I started to call each other "dear". Probably as a joke, because, really, we don't live in the 1950s, but somehow, somewhere along the way, it stuck. And even though it almost certainly annoys the crap out of anyone we spend time with, we rarely use our real names. Cards? Written out to "Dear". Christmas present tags? "To Dear, Love Dear" In fact, like a little kid being called her full name by her parents when she's in trouble, I know that Mike means business only when he calls me Leslie.

And that's just the start. One time at Lowe's, a guy in the flooring department told us that a certain kind of tile wouldn't be "idea" to use in our bathroom. He repeated himself several times, so we know it wasn't just a slip up, and now that poor sap has no idea that more than five years later we are still making fun of him. As in, "Yes, dear, pizza for dinner would be idea." In college, some girlfriends and I were in a bathroom somewhere (rest stop? Burger King?) and a sign was taped to the hand dryer that simply read, "Hand Dryer Don't Work". And to this day, if something isn't working correctly, I repeat that phrase.

Having Anna around has only added to our private language. We now refer to pillows as "banans", noodles as "doo doos" and say to one another on a regular basis "wuv you!". When she wants you to follow her, she beckons you with a "hum on" (come on), and just last night I found myself saying the same thing to Mike. I know that the experts surely would say that we shouldn't be reinforcing baby talk, but I sort of imagine Anna going off to college and me offering to pack her a bottle of wa wa (water) and some boobabies (blueberries). It's just so darn cute. Editor's Note: I started writing this post more than two months ago. And I feel a little sad re-reading it now, because so many of the "words" she used to say have been replaced with actual pronunciations. "No, no, Anna. It's wa wa, not water." Tears.

I probably couldn't compile a list of all the secret code we use on a day to day basis, but I do know that I love the way it makes me feel when I open an email that starts "Hey Deary" or am told that something I cooked is "ummmbelievable" (that adjective is courtesy of drunken night with our friends Jeb and Ashley) or hear my little girl ask for a kiss by pointing to her cheek and saying "diss here, Mama!". I adore the fact that I know what birthday tires are, that (thanks to my cousins) Mike and I say we are "ready for motion" anytime we are about to head out the door, and that anything involving bathrobes, blankets, or jammies must be categorized as "domfy dozy".

I may have to act as a translator half the day, and we might get strange looks for some of the things we say, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As my friend Amy once said (and we've never let her forget it), it's just ferfect.

Speaking of ferfect...

What about you? Any secret codes? Funny words?