Sunday, March 29, 2015

Super Easy Veggie and Cheesy Quiche

This weekend was super chaotic. The State Forensics tournament was being held at our school on Saturday and since I am the assistant coach (no idea how that happened), I spent all Saturday running around like a crazy person at school, which meant today was reserved for grading and lesson planning. When it came time to make dinner tonight, I really had no energy, but I did not want order in. Since the husband is at work, I could make whatever I wanted, so I settled on breakfast for dinner. 

One of my favorite things to make for breakfast is this quiche because you can use whatever you want in it. I tend to just throw in whatever vegetables I have on hand, so there is really no shopping involved and it always ends up delicious! The ingredients listed below are what I used tonight.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup of diced onion
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 oz. feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • salt and pepper to taste
Everything except the eggs and milk
Directions:
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Quickly rinse the mushrooms and chop them up. Put the mushrooms in a skillet coated with non-stick spray, add the minced garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium-high and saute the mushrooms until they release their moisture and no water remains in the bottom of the skillet (5-7 minutes).
  • Spray a pie dish with non-stick spray and layer the spinach in the bottom of the dish. Next add the mushrooms (with minced garlic), the onions, and the bell peppers. Top with crumbled feta.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until fairly smooth. Add the milk, Parmesan, and another sprinkle of pepper. Whisk to combine. (This can be done while the mushrooms are cooking.) Pour the mixture over the veggies and feta.

  • Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella cheese over the top of the egg mixture.
  • Place the quiche into the preheated over and bake until its golden brown on top and the center is solid. As all ovens are different, this will probably take between 45 minutes and an hour (for me, it took 55 minutes).
  • Slice, serve, and enjoy!!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: The Magician's Lie

I am not going to lie, I have been in a bit of a book slump recently. It seems that almost every book I start, I get only a chapter or two in before I put it down. I just have not been able to get into a book recently. I bought The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister a month or two ago and I am pretty sure I read the first two chapters five times. I just kept starting it, not being able to get into it, putting it on my nightstand, reading other things, then coming back to it. I was not sure what was going on because based on everything I had read about The Magician's Lie, it seemed like the kind of book I would really enjoy. 

This past Friday, I brought the novel to school to read during SSR (on Fridays, every one of my classes, and I see three each day, starts class by doing Sustained, Silent Reading for the first 15-20 minutes), thinking that by having 45-60 minutes of reading would get me to focus on the novel and not worry about anything else, and I would finally be able to read more than just the first two chapters. That thought process worked; I was finally able to get in to the novel and I could not really figure out what had stopped me before.


image courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Magician's Lie is a unique historical novel, one that ties a woman's determination to be free, independent, and strong with some dark undertones. In Macallister's debut novel, Arden (born Ada) is the country's most famous female illusionist who is arrested for her husband's murder. She has one night to convince Virgil Holt, a small-town police officer, of her innocence.

Arden spends the evening telling her story, starting with her childhood. Her mother, a musician born into a wealthy family, has Arden out of wedlock and then elopes with another man, landing them on a remote, struggling farm. Although Arden finds joy in learning ballet, she is systematically stalked and terrified by Ray, her stepfather's psychopathic nephew. Ray is obsessed with the idea that he can injure people and then heal them. While he begins with torturing animals and cutting himself, it is clear his real goal is Arden. Ray goes out of his way to stop Arden from achieving her goals of entering the world of professional ballet and leaving the farm, including breaking her leg so she cannot dance. 

While Arden tells Holt she is not an escape artist, she spends most of her life escaping. After her mother refuses to believe her account of Ray;s abuse, Arden escapes to the Biltmore. There, she finds a job as one of the mansions numerous servants. She falls in love with a handsome young gardener named Clyde, who has ambitions to escape the Biltmore and become a landscape artist in New York. At first Arden trusts Clyde completely, but then she realizes she trusted him too much, so she flees from him.

Throughout the novel, she is running from Ray, sometimes physically and always emotionally. As a professional illusionist, first under the tutelage of another female illusionist and then with her own show, she is always on the road...always escaping from one town to the next. As she tells her story, though, she is also trying to escape from Holt, whether on her own by convincing him of her innocence, or with assistance from another unknown source.

The entire time I was reading The Magician's Lie, I kept waiting to find out what the lie was. That word is part of the title, so it had to be important. What was it that Arden was lying about? That question lingers in the back of the reader's mind throughout the entire novel.

Once I was able to actually focus on what I was reading, I was completely caught up in Arden's journey. The story arc was well-structured and I really liked how everything came together in the end. On occasion, it felt like the story dragged a bit because there were just so many details, but that being said, I think the attention to detail is what created such a rich and vivid story. I give the novel an 8.5 out of 10 and I cannot wait for Macallister to write a second novel.

P.S. Let me know if you have any suggestions for what I read next. My "to read" pile has significantly dwindled and I need ideas as to what I should get lost in next. :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

New Bedroom Furniture!

The husband and I have been talking about possibly buying bedroom furniture for awhile, but with other things on our to-do list, it was only talk. However, recently, we were finding that having just a bed frame was not very helpful in keeping the blankets on the bed through the night. Every night, the blankets would start where they were supposed to, but by morning, they were on the floor, having fallen off the foot of the bed. We knew we needed a bed with a foot board, but we were not 100% sure what we specifically wanted.

Two weekends ago, we popped into a few furniture stores to just look around and get a feel for what we liked in terms of color, style, etc. Thankfully, David and I are pretty similar in terms of likes and dislikes when it comes to home things (it made building a house so much easier than what it could have been!), so it did not take long for us to find a bedroom set we both liked. Dark cherry wood, modified sleigh bed, drawers with dovetail slide-y things so they are quiet, lots of storage. However, we were not sure we wanted to commit yet. Plus, we kind of wanted to wait until Haynes was running one of their big sales.


Fast forward one week and while we were out running errands, we heard a commercial for that one weekend, Haynes would be having their lowest prices of the year. We still were not planning on buying, but we figured there would be no harm in looking at the price. Well, not only was the furniture less expensive than the week prior, but for the weekend, Haynes was running a deal for 24 months of interest-free financing. It was fate. We bought the furniture and it was delivered the next day.



Who can spot the kitty?

We have only had the furniture for 24 hours, but we love it. Yes, the bed is much higher than we were anticipating (we probably need a low-profile box spring instead of the standard height) and I sort of feel like I need a step stool to get in and out of it, but that definitely is not a deal breaker. 






Little kitten investigating the new furniture

Since we currently have a lot of grey and white in the room, I would like to add pops of color with accent pieces and throw pillows/blankets to bring out the blues, greens, and pinks in the print by The First Snow we have hanging by the bathroom door and the canvas our wedding photographer, Tori Watson, gave us. Our bedroom is not nearly close to being finished, but with "grown up" furniture, it is starting to get there. Here is what we have left to complete before out bedroom is "done":

  • Paint the walls (currently leaning towards a light to medium blue with grey undertones)
  • Acquire a chair and lamp to create a reading corner
  • Add some pretty throw pillows to the bed
  • Maybe add a bench to the foot of the bed (still not sure about that though)
  • Hang something over the bed (either a piece of art or a mirror)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Book Review: Leaving Time

Jodi Picoult is one of the few authors who I preorder books for. Whenever I see that she has announced the release date for an upcoming book, I immediately add it to my phone's calendar and sometime before it is released, I will preorder it to make sure the book is on my doorstep on the day of release. 

I have been completely hooked on Picoult's writing ever since I read Nineteen Minutes during my freshman year of college. As someone who was going into the field of education, the whole premise of the novel shook me, but, oddly, in a good way; in a way that made me want to continually read every book that is released by Picoult, including her Wonder Woman comic book. Her novels make you think about things in a way you never have before, and that is something every writer should strive to do.


image courtesy of Amazon.com

Leaving Time was released this past fall and I devoured it. Like many of Picoult's other novels, and what is becoming increasingly popular in today's fiction, each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character and part of it is told in past tense in order to fill in the necessary back story. It does not take very long for the reader to care about the characters.

The main protagonist is an intelligent, funny teenage girl named Jenna who is the perfect mix of curious and stubborn without being annoying or precocious; she immediately endears herself to the reader. Jenna is being raised by her grandmother and is trying to figure out the puzzle of why her mother, Alice, disappeared from the New England Elephant Sanctuary. 

This plot line ties in beautifully with another that is heavily centered on elephants--how they grieve and how scientists try to reckon what can be observed logically and what can be discovered by observing emotion. It ties in so well to the human drama, that the elephants are not unnecessary background, but are just as vital in their personalities as the human characters are. Family dynamics and their impact, whether in terms of elephant families or people families, are the heart of the novel.

Towards the middle of the novel, it starts to descend into psychics and one of the main characters is a disgraced psychic, but even with bringing that additional element into a novel with so many other things going on (missing mother, endangered species, a skeptical ex-police officer, scientists), the novel somehow works. Picoult's deft writing brings all the elements together in a way that not only makes sense, but feels right. Not many writers can do that.

Leaving Time is an engaging read, one where you will be shocked at the ending and feel the need to sniffle into some tissues at the same time. You may even want to search out elephant sanctuaries like I did. I give Picoult's novel a 9 out of 10

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Recipe: Guinness Beef Stew

In April 2012, my best friend Rosie and I went to Ireland during our spring break, where we drank a lot of Guinness, sampled some whiskey, took a million pictures with literature-related statues and monuments, and saw the sights. We also ate some amazing food. We did not want to be those silly American tourists who ordered a cheeseburger while out at dinner, so we made sure to eat traditional Irish fare. My favorite meal was from our first night in Dublin, at a tiny pub down the block from our hotel...Guinness Beef Stew.


Rosie and I in Dublin on our first day in Ireland
Posing with Oscar Wilde. We passed the statue every day going to and from our hotel while in Dublin and finally, on our last morning in Dublin, there was no one around us in the park and we were able to climb up and take some pictures with him...and on him...

Since returning, I have ordered Guinness Beef Stew, or Irish Stew, at different Irish restaurants, but it has just never been the same. However, I have finally found a recipe that, while not exact, tastes pretty darn close. One of the best parts about making this dish? Unlike most stew recipes, you do not have to brown the meat before making the sauce and letting it simmer for hours. Instead of browning the meat, it is stirred into the sauce and then the whole pot is transferred into the oven and cooked, uncovered. By using this method, the uncovered meat browns and caramelizes, and the sauce thickens up perfectly. I will be honest and say at when I stirred the stew about halfway into the cooking, I thought the sauce seemed a little thin, but I was completely amazed at how perfectly rich and thick is was once it was ready to serve.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (3.5-4 pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast, pulled apart at the seams, trimmed, and cut into 1.5 inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (12 ounce) bottle Guinness Draught, divided
  • 4.5 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Directions:
  • Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 325 degrees.
  • Season the beef with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned (8-10 minutes).
  • Add the tomato paste and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes. 
  • Stir in the flour and cook for an additional minute.
  • Whisk in the chicken stock, 3/4 cup of Guinness, brown sugar, and thyme, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.
  • Stir in the seasoned beef and return to a simmer.
  • Transfer the pot to the over and cook, uncovered, for 90 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.
  • Stir in the carrots and continue cooking until the beef and vegetables are tender, about 60 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.
  • Remove the pot from the oven and stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of Guinness and the parsley. 
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve with a dollop of mashed potatoes on top and with crusty bread.


Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours

I chose to serve my stew with the mashed potatoes on top, but if you wanted to cook the potatoes in the stew, that would work too. You would just need to add 1.5 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1 inch pieces, into the pot at the same time you add the carrots.

While it is not exactly like what I had in Dublin, it is pretty darn close and super yummy. What do you think?


Guinness Beef Stew from pub in Dublin
Guinness Beef Stew I made today

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Playing Hostess and a Yummy Recipe

This past weekend, my husband's parents, sister, and brother-in-law came to visit to help us celebrate his 28th birthday. After a seriously amazing brunch at the Jefferson Hotel with lots of champagne (if you have never experienced the Champagne Brunch at the Jefferson, you are missing out and need to go...immediately!) and a little tour of downtown Richmond, everyone headed back to our house where I got to play hostess. 


David and I at the Jefferson after stuffing our faces at brunch

Up until this point, we had only had friends stay with us and even then, it was only for one night and while we have also had friends and family over for dinner quite a few times, this was the first time we felt like we truly had "company." 

Since my in-laws were staying for two days, and I had taken Monday off of work to see everyone, I was in charge of two dinners and one breakfast. Could I have ordered pizza for one of the nights to make things easy? Yes. I did not want to though. Since getting married and moving into our house, I have really embraced the whole "Susie Homemaker" thing. I enjoy cooking for others and playing hostess, so having a full house was not only a time for me to take care of others, but also kind of show off a little bit in the kitchen. :)

The most enjoyed meal by far was Monday's breakfast, which was a delicious French Toast Bake with fresh berries, bacon, and sausage patties. It was polished off in minutes and I was not even able to take a picture of how good it looked. However, I did want to share the recipe....

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 loaf of good bread (I use either challah or brioche) cut into one inch slices
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream OR half and half
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon groupnd cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup pecans (optional)

Directions:

  • Spray the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish with cooking spray.
  • Coat the bottom of the dish with half of the melted butter--save the other half for drizzling on top later.
  • Sprinkle the brown sugar (and optional pecans) over the melted butter.
  • Arrange the sliced bread in the dish in layers. Most likely, it will end up being two to three layers high.
  • In a large bowl, slightly beat the eggs and add milf, cream, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
  • Once everything is combined, pour it over the layered bread.
  • Drizzle remaining butter over top.
  • Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
  • In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • While the oven is preheating, take the casserole out of the refrigerator and place it on the counter.
  • Remove the foil and bake for 45-50 minutes until the bread is puffed and golden on top.
  • Serve with maple syrup.
Enjoy!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Happy Birthday, David!!!


The happiest of birthdays to my dear, sweet, loving husband. David is the best person I know. I first thought that when we met three and a half years ago and that thought has not changed at all. I am so very proud of everything David has accomplished. I know I am incredibly lucky. This man helps me every single day without me asking and does an amazing job taking care of both me and our kitty baby. I married my best friend and my biggest support. On top of it all, he makes me laugh until my stomach hurts. He is kind and intelligent. Oh, and a total hottie. ;)



I seriously cannot believe this is the first married birthday we get to celebrate together and I am looking forward to so many more.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

A few weeks ago, I came across the synopsis for The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins in some magazine I was flipping through. It was a premise that I really could not say no to, so I immediately bought it from Amazon, especially since so many people were making comparisons between it and Gone Girl. However, now that I have read the novel, I am not sure those comparisons are warranted. 


Image courtesy of Amazon.com
Rachel Watson is a divorced woman who is a somewhat functioning alcoholic whose life has essentially fallen apart because of her need for the bottle. Her husband had an affair that resulted in a pregnancy. He divorces Rachel, marries his mistress, and now the two (with their baby) live in the house that used to belong to Rachel.

From the window on her train, Rachel watches the world, including a couple who are frequently out on their balcony as her train passes by each day. She creates a make believe, almost fairy tale-like story for the couple, imagining their lives in a way hers never was. Then, the woman, Megan, goes missing and Rachel's missing memories from the night she disappeared might be the key to the puzzle. Unfortunately for Megan, as well as for Megan's doting husband, the reason Rachel cannot remember the events of that fateful night was because of one of her alcohol-induced blackouts.

I found The Girl on the Train to be too full of paranoia on Rachel's part and I was completely unable to feel any sympathy for her. Rachel is an alcoholic who is obsessed with her ex-husband and what her life used to be. She is compromised by her own weaknesses and forever caught in self-pity and lack of character. She only focuses on herself, going so far as to insert herself into the police investigation of Megan's disappearance and lying to the missing woman's husband in order to make herself feel more important. It is actually pretty pathetic.

The redeeming factor for the novel is the skillful writing of Paula Hawkins. Honestly, if she did not write so well, I would have stopped reading after the first 20 pages or so. Very few authors can move between three narrators as effectively as she did. There is Anna, the ridiculously happy new wife of Rachel's ex-husband; Megan, who does not see to quite fit into her world of pilates, coffees, and perfect wife-dom; and Rachel. While I wanted to punch Rachel in the face whenever it was her "turn" to serve as narrator, I felt like Hawkins did an excellent job capturing the personalities of Anna and Megan and making each narrator distinct.

With an unreliable narrator (Rachel, ugh) and a vanished wife, I understand the comparisons to Gone Girl; I just do not agree with them. That being said, I give the novel a 6 out of 10 for its unique structure and eloquent writing.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cork Board Makeover

Ever since we moved into our house, and especially since the school year started in September, my husband has been suggesting that I get a desk and create an office space of my own in one of the guest rooms. Without a desk to work at, I inevitably end up grading or lesson planning at the coffee table in the family room, at the dining room table, at the kitchen table, or at the counter...pretty much wherever there is an empty flat surface to work at. Well, I finally bit the bullet and bought a desk. It is not supposed to arrive until later in the week, so in the mean time, I figured I would makeover an old cork board.

Rather than buying a new cork board, I went over to my parents' house and got the old one out of my old bedroom. It was pretty faded and icky looking, but with it being 12+ years old, I expected no less.


After bringing the cork board back to the house, I assembled all of my materials and got to work.


one yard of fabric, adhesive spray, glue gun, 300 thumbtacks


I started by ironing the fabric because no one likes creases in their fabric-covered cork board.




Then, I sprayed the cork board with adhesive spray before laying the fabric on top. I smoothed out the fabric with my hands to make sure there were no bubbles or awkward layering. Notice that I left 3-4 inches of excess fabric around the edges of the cork board.





Next, I started to push in the thumbtacks.




My thumbtacks were not perfectly straight. In fact, some overlapped. However, it does not bother me too much. If I had really wanted to take the extra step, I could have used a straightedge to make sure everything was lined up. After all 275 thumbtacks were in place and my fingers felt like they were going to fall off, I hot glued the excess material onto the backside of the cork board. I then used the remaining 25 thumbtacks as additional support on the back.

All the while, my kitty assistant was keeping a close eye on things.



And that is it! The whole thing cost me roughly $15 for the fabric and thumbtacks, as I already had the glue gun and the adhesive spray.


Once the cork board is hung on the wall, I will add other things to it, but for now, I just pinned a pink bow (I LOVE pink) and and the charm from my wedding bouquet, which was a one sided locket with a picture of my kitten in it.