NaBloPoMo - done and done!

Well, well, well...a whole month of daily blogging and all I can say at the end is..."Whew!"

There were a couple times there where I probably lost you. Times when I was desperate for something to post at 10-minutes-til-midnight. Times when I was rethinking mid-paragraph that what I had put in my content calendar for that day might not have been the most interesting writing prompt. Times when I scrapped the content calendar altogether.

But thanks for sticking with me. I so appreciate every comment, and every time someone "confesses" that they read my blog. Hopefully you've found a new recipe to try, added a book to your reading list or at least been mildly entertained.


Holiday List-Making

What is it about the holidays that just makes me want to make lists?

Am I the only person out there who feels like she can't properly start the season until things are jotted down on a lined 5x8-inch legal pad?

And I just realized I'm going to use this blog post to list everything I need to make a list for, so I don't forget a list and so I can organize my initial thoughts. Kind of like an outline for my thesis, which is comprised of many lists. Have I lost anybody? It's ok. It might be a cold medicine-induced frenzy, it's difficult to say around here.

1) Christmas card recipients
2) Gifts for family members
3) Decorating
4) An advent scripture reading schedule
5) Things I want to bake
6) Days when I'm going to work out
7) Packing for Chicago
8) Packing for Houston
9) Things I need to be ready for my guests' arrival in Cincy (cleaning, bedding, guest amenities, etc.)
10) NYE planning

Ten lists. Pretty good, right? Pretty solid start? I feel like maybe that's a lot.

At any rate, I'm going to turn on some Star Trek on Netflix, make myself some hot tea and start in on list number one!


Sopa de Ajo

I brought a little souvenir from Texas along with me - a cold. Awesome.

All I could think about at work today was curling up in bed, drinking hot tea and nourishing soup.

Lucky for me, I stumbled across this pin on Pinterest and it was a recipe for Sopa de Ajo (Garlic Soup), perfect for treating a cold.

You see, garlic has these natural healing properties that are supposed to help cure what ails you. Now, so far, my homeopathic garlic remedies are limited to sticking a clove of it in my ear when I had an ear infection earlier this year. It didn't work a bit. But I figured I'd give garlic another try. Just as long as the remedy didn't involve me sticking something into an orifice. Luckily, this is just soup.

It's not heavy, it's simple to make and doesn't take long, and it tastes really good - exactly the kind of flavor you want when you're feeling under the weather.

Sopa de Ajo is a Spanish peasant soup, so that's fun to imagine while you're cooking this up...it's something that people have been making for years and years from the most basic ingredients.

You need eggs, garlic, a crusty loaf of bread, unsalted beef broth or stock, pepper, saffron, kosher salt, smoked paprika, olive oil and white vinegar.

Begin by preheating the oven to 400 and by slicing eight slices of the bread a 1/2 inch thick.

Then very thinly slice five large-ish cloves of garlic.

Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil in a heavy sauce pan over low heat and when shimmering, layer the bread slices on top of the oil and flip after two minutes, cooking two minutes more on the other side.

When the bread is done, place it on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for 5-7 minutes.

While the bread's in the oven, add a little more oil to the sauce pan and then add the garlic slices, 2 tsp of smoked paprika and a pinch of saffron.

What is saffron? It's a popular spice in Spanish dishes that's fairly expensive, as spices go. But - you aren't going to use it all the time and it adds just the right flavor, so it's not a bad thing to invest in.

Cook, stirring around, until the garlic is tender.

Add in four cups of the beef broth.

By now, it's time to take the bread out of the oven.

Let the soup come to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes.

While it's simmering, poach your egg! Use the microwave to boil 3/4 cups of water. Add 1 tsp of white vinegar to the water and then carefully crack an egg into the cup. Cover with plastic wrap and cook in the microwave for 30 seconds. Then, very, very carefully remove your poached egg from the water. Tadaa!

Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.

And add four of the bread slices to the pot and simmer for one more minute.

Soup's done! 

Place the egg in a bowl and ladle the soup around it, garnishing with the remaining bread slices. Break the egg in the soup - the yolk creates a silky, rich broth. So yummy.

The soup will serve four - poach the eggs and toast more bread as you need it. 

This was exactly what I needed tonight - hearty without being too heavy, nourishing, warm and tasty!


Turkey in Texas

My Thanksgiving was just grand. Full of food and family and football - all my favorite things! I'll take you on a little retrospective.

On our way out of the airport parking lot - three in the backseat!

Shorts, sun, Martha, palm trees...ahhh....

The spread: mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, butternut squash
puree, cranberry sauce, orange jello, green bean casserole,
stuffing, deviled eggs, relishes, rolls, and...turkey.

Ready to eat!

An after-dinner fire (and a proud dad).

Also enjoying the fire.

Redskins win!

Some time for myself at B&N. 

John can't believe I'm wearing Michigan colors.

And neither can I! Go Bucks!

New house!


Home again, home again.

I'm back home now, and possibly with a little cold. We shall see. I walked in the door at 2 p.m. and by 2:30 I was passed out in bed for two hours.

I'm about to get back in now, but wanted to check in, keep up the blogging streak, etc.

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving, ate themselves silly and has more willpower than I do to eat salads all week to make up for it.

I am going to buy three heads of lettuce tomorrow after work, I swear.


The Goodreads Challenge Update

This last February, I was all about setting goals. And I talked a lot about how I liked to set attainable goals...it's ok if you don't remember. Well, I have some sad news to report:

It looks like I'm not going to reach my goal of reading 20 books this year. Last week, when we were six weeks away from the end of the year, I realized that I'd have to read a book a week to be able to meet this goal. For some, this is no prob. But for me...well, despite my deep love for reading, I just can't set aside that kind of time to read six legit books in six weeks. 

More than likely, I'll end up with 14 books read this year. Which is about the average number I've read for the past three years. I'm trying to comfort myself that at least I didn't read fewer, but still. I was really, really hoping to beef up my credibility as a reader by hitting 20. Twenty seemed so attainable - some of my Goodreads friends have a goal to read 100, for crying out loud!

But in true Robin fashion, when I made the sad discovery that my chances of reaching my goal were slim at best, I gave up all together. And started an 870 page book.

Anna Karenina. I. am. in. love. It's so good. 

And I may actually be finished by NYE, so I suppose, if I had found six 145-page books to read, I probably could have made it to 20. But there's no stopping me now. I'm hooked on Anna and Vronsky and Levin and Kitty.

So at least I found an enjoyable way to pass the time while I cope with the pain of defeat, right?


Time Well Spent

I know there's been little of substance up here, but I'm busy doing things like this:

Plus eating way, way too much food, shopping, watching football, playing Clue and Trivial Pursuit, sitting by the fire, reading, drinking coffee, hugging. :)




For too much. God has been so good to me.

1) I'm thankful for how he's blessed me with a job that I not only love, but that gets me excited; for a work environment that encourages ideas and contribution; for a boss who is understanding, realistic and supportive; for coworkers who I sometimes have too much fun with.

2) I'm thankful for the blessings he's shown to my family - for my parent's new house, for Nick enjoying school and discovering things he loves and making friends, for John's job, for everyone's employment really, for our health and for all of us making it through a very long separation.

3) I'm thankful for the friendships He's placed in my life, so specifically, so provisionally. 

4) I'm thankful for every Sunday lunch, every dinner, every night-out, every movie, concert and laugh that we have together. 

5) And I'm thankful for the times we've cried together, for how we've lifted each other up with words, hugs, prayers.

6) I'm thankful for the hard lessons I've learned this year. The ones I'm still learning. The ones about boys and money and going to the dentist regularly.

7) I'm thankful to have seen and done new things in places I never thought I'd go with people I love to be with.

8) I'm thankful for my church, for the leadership who cares so much for us and for the city of Cincinnati, and for the small part I get to play in His redemption story.

9) I'm thankful for what's in store, the good and perfect plan for my life that He's working out, and that my call is to live in faith and hope.

10) I'm thankful for my savior, who I need desperately every day, and who gives me the unfailing reason for my hope.



Back together again!

Leaving the airport!


To Brine, or Not to Brine?

Growing up, we never brined our Thanksgiving turkey. And it has always tasted fantastic. But last year, my brother John and I were celebrating Thanksgiving on our own in Cincinnati, and since I was in charge of the meal (and it was so fun!), I thought I'd try it out. After all, The Pioneer Woman had such a lovely recipe for it.

The turkey ended up tasting really, really good. Different from what I was used to, but a good different. So if you're a non-briner, why not spice things up from year to year, right? If you're up for it, start the process Wednesday so your bird is nice and brined by Thursday.

What you'll need is some bay leaves, garlic, kosher salt, whole black peppercorns, hard apple cider (regular works, too!), fresh rosemary, brown sugar and oranges. This was for a 9 lb. bird.

Cut off the top and bottom of each orange and then slice the peel off in sections. Then grab your biggest pot and add 1 1/2 cups of apple cider, one gallon of cold water, 2 Tbs of rosemary leaves, four cloves of garlic, 3/4 cups of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 1/2 Tbs of peppercorns, 3 bay leaves and the orange peels.

Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve and then bring to a boil and remove from the heat. While it's cooling, make sure your turkey fits in your roasting pan.

When the brine is all cooled off, pour it into a brining bag, add the turkey and refrigerate for 16-24 hours.

If your turkey's not all the way submerged in the brine, flip it half-way through its time in the fridge.

When it's time to roast, take the turkey out and submerge it in a clean sink of fresh, cold water for at least 15 minutes. The turkey's got lots and lots of excess salt on it that needs to be rinsed off. When it's been sufficiently brined, submerged and rinsed, place it in the roasting pan and roast it according to the directions on the turkey's packaging.



46 Hours

In 46 hours, my family and I will be reunited - all five of us together - for the first time since Christmas 2011. I am so excited, I could just do a little dance! My head has been anywhere but on the task at hand, which was unfortunate during work, but luckily now my only responsibilities are to get ready for bed. So I'll do just that, read a little more Anna Karenina, and sleep until it's only 38 hours :)


The Sunday Review

So, I have a confession - I don't do a lot of "Christian" book reading. Like, I don't read those books that you find in Family Christian Bookstore or in the religious section of Barnes & Noble. Because...I don't really like them. But sometimes I hear a review from someone or get a feeling like there might be one out there that I could really like, that would be different from all the other ones out there, that would change my life or whatever these books are supposed to do. I've read three very different kinds of "Christian" books within the last couple months, and pleasantly, I've found that it's true.

Crazy Love
This book came highly recommended, and I was excited to read it. For the most part, I felt like there were some good talking points, especially in the beginning of the book, that made me want to really stop and think. But then...the dreaded curse of the Christian book set in and things got repetitive and I was just ready for the book to be over. I know Francis Chan is an excellent speaker, and I feel that if I had heard him say the things he wrote about in the book, I'd be left with a different emotional response. But since I read them, I was mostly left feeling like this was stuff I had heard in other books and from other pastors. All that aside, I'm glad I read it and was reminded of some very important things regarding my faith, things I can't just let slide. So...three stars for Crazy Love.

Paul: 90 Days on His Journey of Faith
This 90-day study by Beth Moore is the second thing of hers I did. This one didn't come with videos and extensive homework, which is good for me. Her speaking style takes me a while to get into, and I am easily discouraged when there is a lot of homework so I end up just giving up. Each day of this study seemed to have just the right amount of reading, reflection and question/answer space. Some days weren't as good as others, but for the most part, I felt like I could manage to complete the daily portion and felt God speaking into my life as I learned more about Paul's journey of faith. Which is encouraging :). Four stars - I liked this one and would be interested in doing another of her 90-day book study things like this.

The Jesus Storybook Bible
I cannot say enough about this book. Though written for children as a way to make the Bible more accessible to little minds, it has changed my adult heart. The Bible stories are laid out simply and intimately. These aren't just things happening to people who lived very long ago, these are things that took place because God loves us. You. Me. Every story in the Old Testament portion points to Jesus - the reason we even have these stories in the first place. I've thought of time-worn, felt-board favorites in fresh ways, I've had to lay the book aside and just open my heart, I've been brought to tears. This book is good for children, but is perfect for adults who need to be reminded that it's childlike faith that will bring us close to Jesus. Five stars, absolutely.


November Birchbox, wooo!

I just love it when I come home from work and my Birchbox is tucked so nicely into my mailbox. It's a great punctuation to the end of the day - exploring new beauty products, and hoping for something full size.

This month, I scored!

I got a full-size ModelCo Fibre Lashextend Lengthening Mascara!

The mascara has these tiny fibers that adhere to my lashes to make them fuller and longer. Can you see them?

And it has this cute little mirror embedded on the side. It's nice to have another tube of mascara, but I don't think this one does a better job than my Sephora stand-by, despite the fibers. I'm sure I'll use it up, though!

I also received a small bottle of etoile New York nail polish in Reservoir. Apparently, this stuff is infused with real diamond dust which is supposed to make it really sparkle.

Unfortunately, I do not get the hype. It's not super sparkly, and I probably got the worst color out of the bunch. At $18 a full-size bottle, this is way, way overpriced for what it really is.

On a happier note, there's this tiny sample of Jouer's signature scent in a rollerball! So cute. The fragrance is a blend of gardenia, jasmine and honeysuckle and is very light and feminine.

This packet of Lulu Organics Lavender + Clary Sage Hair Powder is interesting. I've used dry shampoo before between washings, but never hair powder (unless you count baby powder in college). Anyway, at first, this smells pretty good and keeps my hair from looking too greasy. But at the end of the day, my hair smells kind of funky and feels a little cakey. I would recommend using this on washing day, if the washing needs to happen after work. 

Birchbox sent me a cranberry SOYJOY bar. So...ok.

And this little gift pouch that I'm supposed to put something in and give it to a friend. It seems like a little bit of a stretch for a "Lifestyle Extra." But whatevs.

All in all, I'm happy with this month's box - whenever there's a full-size product in there, I feel like I've gotten my money's worth. In this case, the $24 mascara more than made up for the $10 price of the whole box. Wooo! 


Halfway Mark

Made it halfway through NaBloPoMo posting every day! Plenty more to come, but first I must eat this! :)


The Time I Almost Burnt Down My Friend's House

Let me tell you about this one time, in sixth grade. You see, I was in OM (Odyssey of the Mind...anyone?), and my group was working after school on our project. I think they were called "problems"...anyway the one we chose had something to do with a performance, ancient Egypt and...fringe for some reason.

Part of the deal with OM is that the group of seven students has to do everything themselves - set design, costumes, props, writing, everything. So one early spring day, we were busy working away at Ryan's house. Ryan, who rode my bus and lived down the street, and who was really smart but always seemed to be getting into trouble at school. Not bad trouble - sixth grade trouble. Anyway, I suppose I had a crush on him and his bad-boy/smartypants ways.

Ryan's mom was supervising us, but since we were 12 and couldn't use any adult help, she was mostly hanging out in the kitchen getting supper around and helping Ryan's younger sister with homework, popping her head into the living room to see if we needed anything every now and then.

So. At this particular group meeting, we were pretty far along on our problem and were working on fleshing out the details, specifically, the props we would use during our performance. There was probably a budget we had to follow when it came to purchasing things, so we were trying to do the best we could with what we had.

Our performance, taking place in ancient Egypt, required a piece of papyrus with hieroglyphs on it. So, I had the idea of taking paper grocery sack, getting it wet, crumpling it up and then drying it. Exactly like papyrus, right? Well, sure, the whole crumpling and wetting process went just as I thought, but we had deadlines and needed to get all our props done that night (I think part of the official process involved setting a time-frame and various deadlines up before we began...any OMers out there remember?).

I couldn't very well write hieroglyphics on a wet grocery bag, and the thought occurred to me that I could dry that papyrus out fast by setting it under a lamp. The heat should take care if it in no time.

It turns out, there weren't any traditional lamps in the living room, just an overhead light. But the dining room had one of those tall halogen lamps with the dimmer dial on it. You remember these? They got super bright and hot if you had them up all the way.

So hot, in fact, that if you were to place a wet grocery sack on top of one, eventually it would catch fire.


So we're working away after I thought of my brilliant idea and suddenly Ryan's mom comes into the living room, saying she smells something burning. She runs back into the kitchen - nothing there. We're all scrambling around the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, looking for whatever it could be - we smell it, too.  Then the smoke detector starts going off. We see smoke in the dining room, but no one can tell where it's coming from.

Suddenly, a flame shoots up from the top of the halogen torch and Ryan's mom screams. No one could see the smoking paper until then because it was so high up. Carefully with kitchen tongs, Ryan's mom removes the flaming paper into an empty metal bowl and pours water on it, a perfect circle burned into its center.

At this point, everyone was standing around, staring. And I could feel halogen-hot flames crawling up my face in embarrassment when asked "Who put that there?" by the mother of my crush. I fessed up and apologized of course, just ready to get the heck out of that house and never show my face again.

But in an interesting twist, we were able to incorporate that charred piece of paper bag into the performance - and I was forever (at least through the rest of the sixth grade, so, forever) reminded of that time I almost burnt down my friend's house.


Butternut Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Crisped Sage

I threw this together for my church's November women's gathering, and, um, it was really good. It's all of fall in a pizza pie. 

Now! Let's talk ingredients. 

Ricotta, (goat cheese crumbles that I didn't use), dried thyme, a very small butternut squash, red onion, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pizza dough, olive oil, canola oil and fresh sage.

So after I preheated the oven to 400, I sliced the ends off the butternut squash and then cut it right above the bulb. 

The long, skinny part I sliced as uniformly as possible. This would have been super easy if I had a mandoline slicer - but alas. I had to do my best with a sharp knife. My best is not very uniform.

I tossed the slices with extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt and spread them evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and threw them in the oven for 18 minutes.

Then I sliced up a little less than half a red onion,

heated up some olive oil in a skillet and threw the onions in, along with some kosher salt when it started to shimmer.

I stirred, stirred, stirred until the onions caramelized - which means they got limp and caramel in color.

When the onions were done I put them aside in a bowl. Then I minced up two cloves of garlic and put them into a quarter cup of olive oil.

When the squash medallions were done - slightly browned and cooked through (although my temperamental oven cooks unevenly, so some of mine burnt) - I put them on a separate plate and set them aside with the onions.)

I stretched out the dough on a pizza stone and spread the olive oil and garlic mixture over the dough.

Then spooned some ricotta on top of that and spread it out.

I sprinkled the cheese with the thyme, and then came the butternut squash, the onions, the parm.

I baked the pizza for 10-12 minutes, and meanwhile I "crisped" the sage.

Which means I filled a small saute pan with a layer of canola oil and heated it up until it was super hot. Then I   dropped in the sage leaves and fried them for, like, five seconds.

I drained the leaves on paper towels.

And when the pizza was done I added them to the top!

Lookie there! How festive and fall! The crisped sage is pretty tasty, it adds mellow sagey flavor that's really perfect with everything else. This would be perfect for a pizza night with friends or family on a weekend night in. Give it a try!