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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Grab Someone's Hand.

I had a post all written about the horror of what happened, and for all too many is still happening, in Oklahoma. I had dovetailed it into an experience we had last night regarding Alex's nightmare. But I didn't like it, because I didn't like comparing, no matter how unintentional or innocently, something so simple like a child's nightmare to the ongoing tragedies in that state.

And maybe I'm just a big sap but I'm teary-eyed writing even that paragraph, because by God does my heart go out to them all. From the children being pulled from the rubble to the parents frantically searching for them, to loved ones torn apart... But then in the face of tragedy there are always moments to cherish, like all the people who came to others' aid; pulling men and women from wreckage; teachers using their own bodies to protect those of their students from the crashing school walls all around them; other teachers carrying their students to safety, ignoring their own injuries;  two bloodied and injured horses literally comforting one another after the storm passed; the young nurse who stopped to comfort a torn up, dying dog in its last few moments on earth. It was those photos that touched me most, that brought the tears to my eyes. The helping. The nurturing. The extension of oneself on behalf of another.

There are always heroes that crop up in extraordinary circumstances. There are always those who will stop in the middle of the mayhem to put themselves aside and put another person ahead in terms of priority. But that's not the only time to extend ourselves to others. Every day there are opportunities for all of us to reach out, grab someone's hand, and help them, whether it's with their groceries on a rainy day or helping a three year old find the rabbit pens at the fair. It is a beautiful thing to do. It is a beautiful thing to give, and to receive. And we should try and make it happen every day.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: Glass Dharma Straws

I'm in love! I'm in love! Just look how pretty!

ISN'T THAT JUST PRECIOUS? Oh man. Well, I ordered these bad boys, plus some stainless steel straws for Miss Thing, from Amazon the other day and I'm happy to report that they just came in yesterday afternoon. I immediately tore into the glass ones, found a mason jar, plunked a straw into it and turned maniacally to Todd and just started sort of shrieking about how adorable it was. I am serious. I did that. For the aesthetics of a glass straw in a glass jar. That combination is basically the cat macro of drinking accessories.

Now, I didn't set out to buy these all for the charm and elegance. I actually bought these because Alexandra and I are both huge straw users. She enjoys the convenience ("I don't know who you think you are, suggesting that I tip my head back to drink this"), and I enjoy not having my teeth throb in pain whenever something cold touches them. I probably look like I'm watching a horror movie when I'm eating ice cream.

So, between the two of us, we'd rip through five or so straws a day and that just started to seem extremely wasteful. Also when the dishwasher is full of clean dishes that you have to remove, and there are sixteen used cups and glasses, each with their own straw, sitting on the counter waiting for you, that shit gets irritating to look at.

So on the review! I bought four 9.5mm straws, and the set came with a cleaning brush (I hope to God that brush fits in my stainless steel set). And... I love them. I thought it might feel weird, using a glass straw, since obviously the glass makes them significantly wider than a traditional throw away plastic straw. But it wasn't weird at all! I loved it, and I am sure it's all in my head, but I swear the beverage tasted better. Cleaner? If that makes sense. I'm sure it was my imagination but at the same time, you feel better wearing clothes that are well made aside from all the shirts you compulsively buy at Target despite a slightly imperfect fit. Oh wait, is that just me?

And I'm sure you're all wondering how Alex enjoyed them. Everyone knows toddlers are notoriously difficult when it comes to New Experiences. For example she gave me such a Fuck You look when I shoveled a spoonful of mild green chile tamale in her mouth last night. Like, what is this shit. Where the fuck is my Trader Joe's organic mac and cheese with white Vermont cheddar. So I was expecting her to be all WTF over these straws.

Nope. Miss Thing loved it and pounded my entire glass of water. "She was just dehydrated Jil. It's clear you don't care for her, I mean you don't even brush her hair or wash her face." I assure you all, she was well hydrated. She was just really into that straw, man.

So, what grade do you give to a product that is classy as hell, charming to boot, good for the environment and if you believe the hype against plastic, good for our bodies as well?

A really fucking good one, that's what! I mean, look at how PRETTY it is.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Girl.

She's a unique dresser.

A ray of sunshine.



A shameless, unabashed ham.

Up for anything.

An animal lover.


Laid back even in the most interesting of circumstances.


My cuddle bug. My angel. My heart.

My girl.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: Earth Pan with Sandflow Cookware

I'm going to be up front, right from the beginning, and explain that I didn't fully realize the sort of TLC that nonstick cookware requires. Low heat, NO cooking spray (it interferes with the pan's inherent nonstick capabilities), etc. Well, I guess those are the main ones. I had no idea you shouldn't use oil, butter or cooking sprays to guarantee a non-stick situation.

But I learned quickly when I bought this cookware set. What you see above is what I have, and they came with a little laundry list of what to and not to do while cooking with them. There were even specific instructions for when you want butter or oil to flavor your food. I should have known then that I'd be disappointed in the long run. If it's not going to screw you or clean your house for you, then it doesn't need to be so demanding, you know what I mean?

No, I don't have sex with my cookware.

Anyways, the major pitfall of this shitty cookware is that the BOTTOMS of the pans and skillets are also covered in this ~omg sandflow nonstick technology~ so you know what that means? Yeah, you got it: the bottoms are all scuffed andscraped clean of the sandflow in some places or, in the case of my large skillet, almost everywhere.

I don't use the green side of the sponge on these bad boys. I'm gentle and careful. But still, on the rim of my smallest skillet, the sandflow crap has already chipped off and peeled off and I'm so fed up I can't even stand it. I've not even had these things a year.

The nonstick surfacing has also bubbled up on the bottoms and sides of the skillets, and I'd like to think that is through no fault of my own. Once a fan of a nice sear brought to you by medium high heat, I now cook shit on medium at the max. I'm glad I kept my extra large T-Fal for my stir frys, let me just tell you.

Another major disappointment is that if you follow the instructions, the shit is still not fully non-stick. No butter, no cooking spray, low heat... And eggs still stick. It did a perfect nonstick egg ONE TIME. The second time the stuff was cemented on, and I tried their other trick of just boiling vinegar but nope, that shit required soaking and major yellow-side-of-the-sponge scrubbing.

The only good thing that's come of my experience with Earth Pan Cookware is that I'm giving up on this nonstick horseshit. I'm going to slowly replace them with either stainless steel over the next year, or Le Creuset skillets over the span of my lifetime. I'm going to keep my T-Fal for stir frys (has THAT nonstick stuff chipped? NOPE), and I'm going to get a little egg skillet for when I make my eggs. And I'm going to figure out a fun, Office Space-style way to destroy these goddamn things.

Grade: F

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Might Regret This.

Alexandra is currently having a tea party for two by the dining room table. I say dining room table as if I had another table in this house. Perhaps the breakfast nook or somewhere out on the veranda.

Let me just stop and mention how hard we've been pushing her so hard lately. There's been a lot of naps that have been skipped. There's been her swim classes, trips to the fair, shooting trips, birthday parties, luncheons and dinners and late bedtimes. So this morning I was like, you know what? Just cause Thursday is our fun day, doesn't mean I have to drag her cute little butt all over town. We're staying IN.

And I think this tea party is proof positive that my call was a good one. I got her all set up with Ariel; a pitcher, a sugar bowl, two cups, two saucers, two spoons. Alexandra had already solved the dress code issue by putting on her Rapunzel dress. Ariel is kind of slutty, wearing a shell bikini to high tea, but I hear those mermaids are a little loose.

Here's what I may or may not regret: Alex is so good and laid back, having her tea parties with water and no cookies or crumpets or anything so I was like, you know what? I'm putting sugar in that sugar bowl.

As you can see, Alex is whacking back the sugar water like nobody's business. There is a hummingbird joke here somewhere, I just know it. 

Oops, my bad, I forgot Zebra was there. But only to observe, apparently. She is an anthropologist.

Ah, here is what I was worried about. In the time it took me to take and upload my photos, she had abandoned all pretenses of drinking sweetened tea and was like, "Fuck this, I am going for gold."

Thanks mom, this is delicious!

As I suspected, she cleaned out the sugar bowl completely. When I told her it was all done and she was definitely NOT getting a sugar refill she threw her head back and wailed in agony.

Now we'll see how long it takes before she's flying around the house two feet off the ground.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Coconut Curry Salmon with Cilantro-Scallion Peas

No photos, sorry, but I made this last night and it took probably 20 minutes, start to finish. Couple that with the delicious, mild flavors that were just exotic enough to spice up a weekend but not so exotic that you feel like you need your malaria shot beforehand.

By the way even if you choose to eat 8oz portions as we do, and up the serving of peas to 1 cup a person, this recipe is still less than 600 calories.

Coconut Curry Salmon with Cilantro-Scallion Peas
serves 2

2 salmon fillets, boneless, skinless (we prefer the 8oz portions you can find at Trader Joe's. Don't waste my time with this four ounce horseshit)
2-3 tbsp curry
1 tbsp coconut oil + 1/2 tsp, set aside
2 cups peas
1 large scallion, finely sliced
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
A sprinkle of garlic powder
salt to taste

Shake the curry onto both sides of your salmon, and use a rubber basting brush to evenly distribute. In a nonstick skillet, heat the tbsp of coconut oil over medium high heat.

Now, my salmon fillet was significantly wider and thinner so I started Todd's first and didn't add mine until his was already flipped over. Cooking times obviously vary, but it is far better to take the salmon off too soon rather than too late. What I focused on was getting a nice, goldenly sort of color on the salmon. The curry acted sort of like a flour coating, getting slightly, ever so slightly crisped. So delicious.

While that's happening, using a microwave safe container (we have a Pampered Chef thing for this), cook your peas in a moderate amount of water in the microwave for about 4:30 minutes. When they're done, take your 1/2 tsp of oil and stir it into the peas, doing the same afterwards with the scallions, cilantro and garlic powder. Salt it to taste and if you're so inclined (we were), squeeze a wee bit of Sriracha on the salmon.

The fish was flavored with curry but had no spice at all, so this is a dish for everyone (hi, Amber!), I promise.

Plus, come on, dinner in 20 minutes or less? Fresh salmon? Hell yeah.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Chicken and Mushrooms with Artichoke Hearts and Green Beans

Many moons ago, I found a recipe for chicken and mushrooms in white wine, and it's one of those dinners that frequently pops up on my weekly menu. It's simple, it's quick and it's delicious. The other day I wanted to add a little more to it to make it filling, without having to rely on a starch. We've been trying to keep dinners lighter, with just protein and vegetables and it is especially suitable on these warmer spring days.

So, long story short, it was obviously a hit adding the extras, because here I am, sharing it with you!

Chicken and Mushrooms with Artichoke Hearts and Green Beans
Serves 2

4-6 chicken tenderloins, depending on their size and your appetite (I am pefect with two, Todd is with three)
2 tbsp flour in a Ziploc bag
salt and pepper to taste
4 tsp butter, divided
4 tsp olive oil, divided
8oz mushrooms
8 oz green beans, parboiled 5-6 minutes and chilled
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or roughly chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 14 oz can quartered artichoke hearts
2-3 tbsp shredded parmesan (optional)

Heat oven to 200. Toss each chicken tender in the Ziploc bag. If you feel real raw about wasting a Ziploc for such a brief and fleeting purpose, toss them in a bowl, but I think shaking the chicken in the bag ensures a nice even coating and doesn't require as much flour.

Place a heavy or stainless steel skillet over medium to medium high heat, and add butter and oil. Nonstick doesn't really work here, because you want some of that flour to come off on the pan, to help thicken the broth and wine you'll be adding later.

Add your chicken, salt and pepper them, and cook until golden and slightly crisped in places. Mmmmm. Remove from heat and keep warm in oven.

Add the rest of the butter and oil. Now let me stop you here, like Kanye West. Imma let you finish, but I just wanted to say that I personally don't measure out my oil and butter, I eyeball how slicked over the pan is. But the recipe was originally intended to be healthy, so by all means, whip out the measuring spoons.

Add your mushrooms and once they're starting to sweat, add your green beans. Cook for a few minutes to let the beans heat through, and then add your wine, broth and parsley. By the way? I made this last night but didn't have wine so I just used more chicken broth, and there was definitely a lack of flavor. If you don't have any wine, try anything for an added kick. White wine vinegar might even do the trick, just add small increments at a time so you don't overpower it.

Once the sauce has reduced significantly, add your artichoke hearts and heat through. Plate up the veggies and sauce, top with warmed chicken and sprinkle with parmesan if you so desire.

Voila! Even including the parboiling time, this is such a quick and snappy meal that has a sort of understated, leisurely sort of elegance about it. Can you believe I just wrote that about food?

Friday, May 3, 2013

How to plan the hell out of the week's menus.

So look, okay, I do some things amazingly well and some things I just don't even do. I sit there with a martini in my hand like the mom from Arrested Development (she's the mom, right?) and laugh and go okay, no, that is what calculators and Google are for okay?

Oh wow, I totally forgot tonight is martini night. Drool.

But one thing I really enjoy doing, and it's something that I think I do very well, is my weekly menu planning and the subsequent grocery shopping. And feminists everywhere just hung their heads in collective shame that the triathlon-completing, BA-wielding, poetry-published/would-be novelist just said that she really enjoys grocery shopping and planning menus.

IT'S MY CHOICE! I CHOOSE MY CHOICE!! (name that TV show!)

I keep a notebook in my purse for to-do lists, the occasional stroke of literary genius, work out plans, calorie counting, movies we need to Netflix, songs I need to download on iTunes and lastly, but most importantly, my menus for the following week. Let's just say that if I don't have this notebook with me at all times I literally start to feel anxious.

So, every Friday I sit down and open my notebook. I think about what we've had recently that was good and needs to be repeated and then I either hit up Pinterest or, if I'm home, my tried and true box of recipes for inspiration.

Everyone does that, Jil, you say. Stop patting yourself on the back like you're the Einstein of groceries.

But wait, that's not all!

Because before that I will, and cue laughter from my 3.75 readers, actually go online and check the weather report for next week.


No, I am serious! Why would I want to slave for over an hour making coq au vin, though I haven't had it in AGES and it's so delicious, when it's going to be 95 degrees that day, and by "that day" I mean, the high occurs about two hours before I start cooking? My kitchen is on the western half of the house, people, in the desert. WHO DESIGNED THIS HELL HOLE KITCHEN.

Anyways. I check the weather. If there's going to be a dip in temperature, hello crockpot! Hello dutch oven! Bitches be making soups and stews up in this hell hole kitchen! If it's going to be hotter than, um, hell I guess, I start thinking back to more summery, colorful dishes that are crisp-flavored and not stick-to-your-ribs rich. Who wants to feel greasy when it's close to 100 outside?

So, yeah. I pull up the weather app, check it out, and then get to work. Once my menus are done, this is the end result:

Can you tell that I actually used to really love taking notes in my college courses? Can you also tell that I am left handed? Hey there, smudgy!

Here's some other factors that come into my planning:

1. My oven sucks so I have to do either one dish meals in the oven or a skillet, or one goes on top, the other below. I don't have convection. :(
2. Longer lasting veggies (hi broccoli) are held off til at least Wednesday. Ones that go bad quicker (hey green bean) must be eaten by Wednesday.
3. At least one dinner with seafood, usually salmon, and at least one dinner with beef. Sometimes I sub out beef with pork.
4. I often buy a pound each of two different veggie types, to simplify the grocery list, and resort to using Trader Joe's frozen vegetables for one meal. It makes it easier.
5. Make Thursday night's meal a bit heartier because Todd teaches a two hour kung fu/tech class that wipes him out.

It sounds weird, and OCD, but I find it to be fun, like putting together a puzzle. Speaking of puzzles, the next part I enjoy is writing out the grocery lists.

I go to two stores, Trader Joe's and Fry's, on a weekly basis. I gather my recipes or pull items from memory for what I'll need to buy and what I already have at home. Then, my favorite part is writing down my list according to the section of the store in which I will find it. So, I start in cheese and produce at Trader Joe's, move on to dairy, etc etc. At Fry's I start at dairy, then frozen, then meat, etc until I end up at produce. And that's how my lists flow.

More fun south paw facts: I write on the backs of the pages in my notebooks to avoid the spiral. Even though I go to Trader Joe's before Fry's, I write the TJ list first, on the right side, to avoid smudging the Fry's list, even though I already smudge it as I write it (you can see the smudges get progressively worse until I wipe my hand on my jeans in disgust). MY LEFTY LIFE IS SO HARD.

I've found that if I don't write my lists according to where they are in the store, I will always, ALWAYS forget something, so if I have written my whole list, but realize I forgot coffee, I'll more than likely re-write the whole damn thing because, and believe me I've tried, no amount of arrows, asterisks or underscoring will make me look at the bottom of the page when I'm in aisle 10 and still in the middle of my list.

So, it all sounds extremely psychotic, maybe, but I've found that doing it this tight-shipped helps me in a couple of areas:

We rarely throw out food, unless I bought some random exotic ingredient for a single dish and it languishes in the back of the fridge for weeks. On Friday, or even worse, Saturday mornings, our fridge is a barren landscape of condiments, Brita water pitcher, half a bunch of parsley and some leftover caffeine free sodas. It gets devoured.

If I'm feeling wishy-washy or tired or lazy, too bad so sad. The biggest cheat I can do, without wasting a meal's worth of ingredients, is to switch it out with an easier night's cooking load. The food's there, and it has to be used up, so get crackin', smudgy!

Um, so yeah. This is how involved I get when it comes to my food. Hey, I love cooking, and I love cooking for folks I love, so this is an important ritual in my week. Plus it's nice to know what I have to look forward to, food-wise. What?! I do NOT use food as a reward. Wait, what? We're having steak and chicken kabobs tomorrow? On the grill? WATCH ME WAG MY TAIL.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Discipline is Difficult.

That's a direct quote from Gwyneth Paltrow in the interview she gave People magazine. She was describing how hard it is to work out two hours a day, Monday through Friday. I was like, damn.

So, here's the thing about Gwyneth Paltrow: she can be such an annoying pain in the ass. Not for working out, or for being famous or privileged but sometimes in interviews and in her blog, she just comes across as an insufferable snob. Like promoting a t-shirt that costs over $1,000. Yes, you read that right. No, I'm not drinking and accidentally added two extra zeros. That's the kind of horseshit that GP pulls. She also makes a cookbook with recipes that absolutely contain no sugar, alcohol, gluten, dairy, or food. And like, come on. You are friend with Mario Batali. Fuck off, right?

Anyways, this article though, finally gave me a bit of appreciation for her or at least that tough discipline of hers. I used to have that, people! I paid off all my debt once upon a time. I started and finished a story (but never edited it, hurr). I went back to college after flunking out and fucking nailed it. I got in shape, I learned how to run, I ran some races, I did a weekend's worth of child labor with only 9 hours' worth of drugs. I was disciplined, baby!

But lately, that's sort of slipped. I love spending my money, I love eating and drinking, I love sitting around on the sofa playing games on my phone instead of working on my story. I love making excuses and saying, well, I don't feel like sacrificing anymore.

But, if I don't sacrifice the game-playing and couch-lounging, I sacrifice a shot at publishing something I've been working on for six years. Yep. Six years. People write books in as many months. And if I don't sacrifice the time to work out, or those five heaps of Alex's mac and cheese, then I sacrifice all those gorgeous clothes in my closet that are getting tighter. If I don't sacrifice one thing, I'm going to sacrifice the other.

You know, another reason that article clung to me, was that a few days later after reading it, Todd and I were talking and he mentioned how impressed he was when we were dating that I had paid off my debt, all by myself. He had been impressed, proud, inspired. And I was just like, aww, thanks hon, that's cool. And then I was like, damn, I suck nowadays.

So, I decided to stop all this shit. The diet, the working out, back on track. Cut back on excess. Increase healthy choices. Get off the fucking couch, put down the iPhone, and pick up your story. Fix it. Finish it. Get an agent. Put your skinny jeans back on. Spend quality time with Alex. Refill the goddamn hummingbird feeder.

Discipline is difficult. But it feels so good. That's how I've felt all week. I've focused on work while at work (what?!), I've focused on me while working out, and I've focused on family while at home. I've been writing more this week than the past three months. There is a svelte little ruby-throated hummingbird guzzling nectar out in the back yard. I'm going to enjoy diet coke with lime tonight while Todd has his beer. Saturday I'm going to do another two mile walk with Patton, just the dog and me, together, focusing on each other. Tonight before bed, instead of Scramble with Friends, I'll be going over my story.

But I still did buy another bottle of completely unnecessary nail polish today at Target.

Hey, discipline is difficult, okay?