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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Car repairs. Flooded apartment. Mega Millions.

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My family likes to gamble. I remember my Grandpa buying lotto tickets when I was little. My Mom and I joke about “investing in our retirement plan” when we go to 7-11 to buy a few tickets. So needless to say we’ve been buying tickets for the last several drawings. It’s up to $500 million. Half a BILLION dollars. The kind of money you associate with white collar criminals. I can’t really wrap my head around it – so it’s what $350 million if you take the lump sum? Then maybe $200 million after taxes? Realistically you can’t tell anyone that you won, the likelihood of getting murdered or at least kidnapped would skyrocket! Nevermind the “friends and family” coming out of the woodwork. I was thinking of who I would expect to come creeping back from my past, how would I share the money with my loved ones, with people in need? How would I find someone to manage my money but not screw me over. It sounds incredibly overwhelming, and poisonous. Of course I’m just putting a bad spin on it because it helps me feel better when I don’t win. I’ll be buying tickets for Friday, wish me luck!

A week or so ago Leia was playing in the front seat of my car while I was cleaning it. She discovered the change holder, but didn’t appear to be eating it so I thought I was in the clear. Then I saw her drop a nickle in the tape deck (yes, my 2003 Murano has a tape deck). I did the Mom thing, saying we don’t put money there, showed her where the money goes then redirected her to wiping the dash while I removed the change quietly. I was able to fish the nickle out, no harm done. Then a few days later my radio stops working. Since my car has been a pain in the ass with repairs lately I figured this was just another problem. I was going to ignore it, get a radio to put on the front seat. Then Saturday Leia and I were driving with my Mom back to our apartment and white smoke starts coming out of the radio into the car! We pull over on the side of the freeway and call AAA. We discussed jumping down the dirt hill if a car came at us. About 5 minutes later a highway patrol car comes up and waits with us. AAA arrives with a single cab truck, so Leia and I ride in the patrol car. I told her this will be her only ride in the back of a cop car. My Uncle comes over and pulls the fuse to the radio so it’s safe to drive to my run the next morning. Later I’m searching online for possible causes and come across someone saying their toddler put change in the CD player and it blew a fuse. So the next day I check the tape deck and sure enough – a quarter and a penny went in unnoticed! My repair guy was out of town so he wasn’t able to get to my car until tomorrow. Going this long without a car has been crappy. While I try not to feel like a spoiled brat with first world problems, being stuck walking around our complex, the shopping center, or taking the trolley has been frustrating.


Chillin on the 8 west...

So Monday I meet some girlfriends for a movie date. Obviously my Mom comes over to watch Leia so I take her car. Movie was awesome. I get back home, I’m driving through the parking lot and see my Mom with Leia so I stop, throw the car in park and we switch places. But the car won’t get out of park. The transmission was just rebuilt, but it’s a rickety old 98 dodge neon. We try a handful of things, then call AAA to have it towed to her house. Thankfully it’s a small part and not a whole new transmission, should be back by tomorrow.

This afternoon I was texting my sister and the battery on her car died. Granted, she left the light on (looking for her lotto tickets in the dark after she got home from work). So $90 later she has a new car battery installed by AAA.

We’re definitely earning our memberships. But seriously, could there be any worse car luck going on in this family?! I hate that we are all so broke that we can’t drive more reliable cars, but I remind myself that it won’t always be this way. Especially if we win Mega Millions on Friday, ha.

Monday was a double whammy of bad luck with the apartment upstairs having a flood. Back in August my water heater broke and required a bunch of drywall and carpet to be replaced, and days of lour industrial fans and dehumidifiers in the apartment. Well the same thing just happened to the people above me. The same section of drywall that was replaced in August is being replaced tomorrow. They offered to put us in a hotel, which was nice. But the idea of the cats (and their food and cat box) and Leia and myself with all our stuff in a hotel room for a few days didn’t sound fun – especially with no car! So they’re giving us a rent credit. Since Mike pays the rent for the apartment, I’m hoping we can use the money from the credit to repair the car. Seems like it would even out all the craziness of the past week!




creamy lemon pie with blueberries

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Look at that gorgeous pie! It tastes like Spring with lemons and blueberries, just delicious. It’s more of a custard than cheesecake consistency. Instead of the typical graham cracker crust, I crushed up gingersnaps. I love gingery spicy cookies, it really complimented the other flavors.


2 cups crushed gingersnaps (I bought the Kroger brand box from Ralphs, Leia had a blast smashing them with a rolling pin)

1/2 stick butter, melted

2 Tbs sugar


8 oz cream cheese, room temperature

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice


Frozen blueberries, thawed overnight

Heat oven to 350. Generously spray a pie pan with nonstick spray (I used butter flavored Pam). Combine ingredients for crust and pat firmly into pan. Bake for 12 minutes or until you can smell the cookies and it feels firm to the touch. Let cool for 30 minutes.

Mix filling ingredients with an electric mixer until well combined. Add to baked and cooled pie shell. Put in the refrigerator until it sets, 1-2 hours. I kept the blueberries separate until I was ready to serve to avoid the juice bleeding into the pie and making it mushy. Enjoy!

Will run for chocolate

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Today I ran my first 5k! My friend Becca (who ran the 15k, you go girl) let me know about the Hot Chocolate 5k/15k. Ghirardelli fondue at the finish line and raise money for a good cause? Sold.


I’m not a runner, I would even say I hate running. So a 5k was the perfect distance to be a challenge but not make me miserable. Will the race convert me to a regular runner? Nope. I don’t see a marathon in my future, a 10k perhaps but that would take a lot of commitment and training. I do think I’ll do the mud run in October, but that’s more fun than run.

Staging at 6:15 a.m.

My alarm went off at 5 a.m. Leia slept through it, and was still sleeping when I left her with Grammy. It was the first time I wasn’t there when she woke up which was a little strange. It was still dark when I arrived, the race started at sunrise, 6:45 a.m. Watching all the people stretching, chatting, dancing to party music that was way too loud for so early in the morning – it was great! There were kids running, parents with strollers, a few people with dogs.

Ready to run!

I was nervous I’d be the slowest person there, but ended up finishing in 36 minutes, 3 minutes better than my goal time. I ran the whole way – even up the hills on C Street which made me feel so accomplished.

Sweat and pride

Asian Short Ribs

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I usually buy the big package of boneless short ribs at Costco. At home I divide the package in half or thirds, trim the fat, and put them in the freezer. Short ribs are a fairly new food love of mine. In case you’re new to them too, they’re nothing like what you know as ribs. They’re like mini pot roasts. Short ribs need long, slow cooking to break down connective tissue and become tender, making them perfect for the crock pot. I wanted something outside the typical pot roast flavor and came across Real Simple’s Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs. Most of what I needed was in my kitchen, perfect!

I only defrosted about 2lbs of short ribs so I adjusted the recipe as needed:

  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 Tbs brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs rice vinegar (rice vinegar is very mild, but if you only have white wine vinegar go ahead and use that)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (I doubled the garlic from the full recipe, smashed it with a garlic press)
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (again, doubled the amount from the full recipe, it didn’t turn out too “gingery” at all)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (a great use for those leftover packets from the pizza place)
  • 2 lbs. boneless beef short ribs
  • 1 bag pearl onions, skinned (I skipped the carrots and cabbage)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in broth
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbs. sesame seeds
  • Rice (I like the kind you can microwave in a bag for 90 seconds, because I’m lazy)

– Whisk soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger and red pepper in a bowl. Place ribs in the crock pot and cover with sauce. It’s not a lot of sauce, this is okay. Cook on low for 7-8 hours.

– Halfway through cooking prepare the onions. Boil water and put the onions in for 3-4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water. Now comes the fun part, squeeze each onion at the top and the skin pops right off! I know, I’m easily amused. Toss the skinned pearl onions on top of the beef and continue to cook.

– When the ribs are done, heat your oven to 375 and turn your crockpot to high. Remove the ribs and onions and place them on a foil lined pan and stick them in the oven for 5-7 minutes. This is an extra step, but it makes them a little crunchy on the outside and caramelizes the onion. While the ribs are getting a tan, put the cornstarch in a small bowl and add enough broth to dissolve. Add dissolved cornstach back to crockpot and stir a few times.

– Scoop rice on a plate, top with onions and a few chunks of short rib. Spoon sauce on top. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.

DIY HGTV and other fantasy acronyms

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I don’t see home ownership in my future. My family and friends are in San Diego. Leia’s father is in Orange County. So the option of uprooting to live somewhere less expensive will never be an option. Thankfully, Southern California is a nice place to be stuck, even if I’m stuck paying someone else’s mortgage.

My Dad didn’t own his first home until late in his life. My Mom and Uncle Randy have never owned a home. My Grandparents bought a house in the 50’s – that house still stands with our family in it. Grandpa was a WWII veteran then worked for the city, a stable job that allowed my Grandma to stay home and raise the kids. Aunt Cathy and Uncle Carl worked hard and saved to buy a home in Seattle they still live in today.

So why do I torture myself watching programs on the DIY channel and HGTV? I guess for the same reasons I watch Food Network, or skim through Pintrest for pictures of stylish outfits. Living the fantasy of “someday I’ll do/wear/make that” is nice.

I want a backyard with grass and trees to enjoy day and night.

I want a big open kitchen for Leia and I to cook in, and friends and family to gather.

I started to fall in love with the idea of remodeling my Grandparents home. The house is old, probably has structural issues. It got new carpet and fresh paint in the living areas this year, but the plumbing, the electrical, the bathrooms, the kitchen – all of it is from the 50’s and it shows. When my Grandma passed, my gut reaction was sell the house. It seemed like an empty shell, a burden. My Mom and Uncle Randy live there now, with Trixie and Papa. It’s been a blessing to have a place they can live with financial hardships. Leia and I visit at least once a week for dinner and play time. The more often I go, the more I want to breathe life into the house. To build it up and honor the hard work my Grandparents put into owning a home. Since the house is already paid off, and I plan to be back at work full time when Leia is school age, my income could go a lot farther. So I guess that’s why my brain seems stuck on shows that let me dream about “do it yourself” projects that the left side of my brain shouts “you’re a crazy woman!”

Strawberry Lemon Cookies

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When Leia and I go shopping she helps herself to everything at eye level. Most of the time I’m restocking shelves as she’s filling the cart. On our last trip to the grocery store a box of strawberry cake mix made it’s way home with us. Instead of the usual cupcakes, I decided to make cookies. Add two eggs and a stick of butter to a box of cake mix and viola – cookie dough. I love baking from scratch, but sometimes it’s nice to take shortcuts.

Plain strawberry cookies seemed boring. Cream cheese frosting? Too heavy. White chocolate chips? Meh. Easter sprinkles? Not in my pantry. One look at the big bowl of lemons from Grandma’s house and lemon icing was the obvious choice. Oh, and what about one of those sugary lemon slice candies on top? I love when food is decorated with an object to identify flavor. But I don’t have any candy lemons, so I…

made my own candied lemon slices!

The picture from the Martha Stewart site, my kitchen has terrible lighting and my lemons did not turn out that nice.

Short-cut cookies lead to time consuming toppings. I wasn’t thrilled with these. Maybe they weren’t thin enough? My mandolin couldn’t get them thinner without destroying the center. After 90 minutes simmering in sugar water they were still firm and a little bitter. I imagined a paper thin, slightly crunchy, sugar coated lemon wheel. I’m thinking candied fruit is probably something that requires practice with a deceptively easy recipe. I tried them on top of the cookies – adorable, but not delicious.




Strawberry cake mix + 1 stick butter + two eggs + cookie scoop + 350 degree oven for 13 minutes.


So pretty! They would be perfect for a bridal or baby shower. Wait for the cookies to cool before dipping them in the icing. I used the zest of two lemons because I really love the flavor. I don’t usually measure the ingredients, just put a big scoop of powdered sugar in a bowl and add lemon juice a little at a time until the icing forms. More sugar makes a more opaque icing – or you can double coat the cookie.

Double dipped in icing, no candied lemon. This is the version I will make again. It’s a delicious cookie (I ate three of them already)!

Test Kitchen

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My New Year resolution to post a new recipe every week? It only lasted a few weeks. Oh well, I can stick with posting my kitchen experiments as they happen. Or in this case several all at once.

When I was making cookies today I thought “wow, I’d love to work in a test kitchen.” To be paid to tweak recipes, try variations, how awesome. Where is the part time job with flexible hours at a mom and pop bakery? I think that’s what I need when I go back to work.

I’ve tried a few recipes recently: falafel (two recipes), chicken tortilla soup, crockpot orange chicken, and s’mores cookies. With the exception of the falafel, I’d try all of them again – with some changes.

Leia and I had lunch at the Luna Grill across the street. I left thinking “I could totally make falafel!” So I searched online and decided to try this version on Martha’s site. It was a complete fail. The mix (batter? dough?) was so runny it was mushy goop in the frying pan. The flaws? Juice of a whole lemon is way too much. It needed more than the egg to bind it together. Maybe I need to squeeze the liquid from the mashed chikckpeas with a towel? I ended up throwing out the whole mix. I did enjoy the addition of mint. With 4.5 stars and 700+ reviews I thought Sean’s Falafel would be a winner. It included breadcrumbs, but it was still too loose and mushy. I thought the amount of onion was overpowering as well. Tossed the whole batch.

So now what? I think I’ll just let the Luna Grill make my falafel. Until I meet someone that has a Grandma with an old family recipe to show me the ropes. Or a box of the Casbash mix stuff. Moving on…

My friend Melissa pinned this recipe for chicken tortilla soup. I love that “pinned” is a verb – kudos to Pintrest for making it big time. I have tried a handful of tortilla soup recipes in the past. The problem being there are so many variations it’s hard to replicate your favorite. I like mine with no vegetables, no beans. A thicker broth. Soft tortillas in the soup, crunchy ones on top. A little spicy, but not overwhelming. Claim Jumper and Playa Grill set the gold standard for me. This recipe had a lot to live up to, and for the most part it delivered. I like that it recommends using rotisserie chicken – that is my favorite kitchen shortcut. It was a little heavy on the cumin. I felt like it didn’t get “creamy” enough so I tried running my immersion blender through the finished soup a few times. That was a mistake, it destroyed the chicken and soft pieces of tortilla (duh). I didn’t like the chunks of tomato. I want to try it again soon with the following changes: 1 tsp cumin, blending the canned tomatoes before adding to the soup.

Orange chicken was the first Chinese food I ever tried. I think I was 20 years old, with the palate of and 8 year old. I thought it was disgusting, but like most unhealthy things (ha) it eventually grew on me. I love my crockpot so when I came across this recipe for orange chicken I thought I’d fall in love. The pictures look perfect – sticky, sweet, a little sour, slightly crunchy. Making it myself means I can use all white meat. The only change I made to the recipe was adding orange zest. It was really good, but not quite was I was hoping for. Changes I’d make? I put too much chicken in the pot. I think this made it hard for the sauce to reduce and get sticky. Her blog shows then chicken in a single layer at the bottom or a big pot. My chicken was a few layers deep. I’ll also try frying the pieces a little longer or on higher heat to get a crispier exterior. I think it needs more brown sugar, and maybe rice vinegar instead of balsamic. I want to swap the ketchup too, but I’m not sure for what, I need to look at other recipes for ideas. I suggest cooking it on high vs. low so the chicken doesn’t fall apart.

Her version.

My version (veggies steamed separately).

I bought graham crackers for Leia. On the back of the box was a cookie recipe. They had chocolate chips, and the first thing I thought of was s’mores – I had leftover marshmallows from making rice krispie treats earlier this month. I’ve contemplated testing some other s’more cookie recipes, but this one intrigued me with the use of condensed milk, which was also sitting in my pantry.

Irresistible Graham Cracker Cookies

1 1/2c. honey graham crackers, finely crushed
1/2c. flour
2t. baking powder
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2c. butter or margarine
2c. semisweet chocolate chips
1c. chopped nuts (optional)
1c. flaked coconut (optional)
1t. vanilla
To make graham cracker crumbs:  Place graham cracker squares into a large resealable plastic bag and seal the bag.  Using a rolling pin, crush crackers into finely crushed crumbs to make 1 1/2 cups.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder.  Mix in sweetened condensed milk, butter, and vanilla.  Stir until smooth.  Stir in chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake 12-15 min. or until lightly browned.

I omitted the nuts and coconut and added 1 1/2 c mini marshmallows. The dough seemed too soft so I put it in the freezer for 10 minutes before scooping and baking. It didn’t work, the marshmallows dissolved halfway through cooking turning the cookie into a melted flat crisp sugar mess. Delicious, but not a cookie. So now I was stuck, I had to pick out the marshmallows and try again, adding them later in the cooking process. This also resulted in a loss of overall dough and too many chocolate chips in each cookie (I know, it sounds impossible, but there really can be too much chocolate in a cookie). First attempt was adding marshmallows on top during the last minute of cooking – not bad, but not the slightly melted, lightly browned effect I wanted. The cookies were also spreading too thin still despite the chilled dough. So I added some extra graham cracker crumbs to the remaining (marshmallow free) dough. Then I tried another batch adding the marshmallows a few minutes before the cookies were done.


I definitely want to make the cookies again. I will increase to 2 cups of crushed graham crackers, 2/3 c flour, decrease chocolate chips to 1 1/2 c. And of course add the marshmallows a few minutes before cookies are done (around the 10 minute mark).