Saturday, December 31, 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I managed to make it through a third book before the end of the year. This is what happens when you take a week off from work, ample reading time. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling follows Harry, Ron and Hermione as they study through their third year at Hogwart's. A new year means a new villain, of course. This time, the dastardly Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban prison and most people think he's after Harry. Black is likely in Voldemort's back pocket and a madman making him even scarier. Will Black catch Harry? Will another Defense of Dark Arts professor be better than the last? And what's gotten into Hermione? Read and see for yourself.....

These are really getting good now! Rowling does a fantastic job at weaving in secondary plotlines and keeping the reader guessing. I can't wait to move onto the next one, although I have a non-HP book coming up before continuing with this series. I am also really excited to start watching the corresponding movies, of which I have seen none. Luckily, at any given time, I can find just about every one somewhere on TV for me to DVR. Yea hooray!

Rating: * * * *

P.S. Have a safe and Happy New Year's Eve!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Toasty Neck

I couldn't show this before Christmas so as not to ruin a gift but I made these useful neck warmers. I selected flannel for its coziness but I'm sure any cotton would also do. Tracing my own storebought warmer, I created a pattern and cut out 4 pieces. Four pieces because I made two of them. With right sides together, I stitched around the edges leaving an opening for turning. Once right-side out, I poured in 32 oz. of rice. I read somewhere you could add scented oil to the rice but I didn't want to do that because some people can be picky about scents. Then, I top-stitched the opening closed and voila! Throw in the microwave for a couple minutes and you'll be heated through and through. Perfect for neck pain or winter Ohio nights!

I also made some navy table clothes but they are so unexciting I didn't bother taking a picture. Plain navy fabric and all I did was hem them. Not too special on that front but I think they were enjoyed.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second book by J. K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series. Harry and friends are no longer first years at Hogwarts. But, this year brings a new villain afoot. It is said, only a true descendant of Salazar Slytherin can open the Chamber of Secrets. Bad things are happening around the school and Harry, and others, fear he may be the cause. Is Harry a true Slytherin? I'm certainly not going to give it away!

I liked this one; it was a page turner. Multiple people told me the series gets better and better as it goes along and they were right. I'm already halfway through the third book while typing up this post. I don't think I'll be finishing my goal of reading the whole series in a week. This Christmas break has proven very busy indeed.....hence the lack of posts. Don't worry, I'll be back with more frequency in the new year.

Rating: * * * *

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Recipe Re-blog #52 and MERRY CHRISTMAS

Although it's been said many time, many ways, "Merry Christmas to you!"

I hope you're all having the very merriest of Christmases and that Santa brings you everything you could ever hope for this year.

Can't let the last Sunday go by without posting a recipe though, right?
Should I know better than to try recreating the cover recipe of Bon Appetit magazine? You'd think I would.

Peppermint Meringues: I've never made meringue before but I thought these looked super cute and thought I'd give it a shot. Well, their taste was great. Very light and refreshing. A nice, crispy holiday treat. Their appearance however was.........

If you click on the link, you'll see why I was more than slightly disappointed by their outcome. I guess I need more practice. And maybe an actual pastry bag with the proper tip. My mom tried one and then asked me to make sure they weren't dog treats. She did say they had a good flavor but they were in a different container than my other cookies. Anyway, give it a shot. Maybe your piping skills are better than mine!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carb City

Can we get real here people?

I am going to tell you something about carbohydrates that I've recently discovered. It's not something I want to admit to myself. It's actually going to very difficult for me to type but here goes. All those experts who said you should cut back on white flour and sugar and carbs....were right. A few months back, after hearing for the zillionth time that cutting out bread and pasta made a huge difference in some celebrity of another's life physically, I started to ponder. Is this really true?

I mean guys. I love bread. I love it so much I could subsist solely on grain and be a happy camper. All summer long I baked my own fresh bread, which is the best smell in the world, by the way. And multiple times a week, I tore off piece after piece to dip in olive oil and savor. I'm not sure what changed all that but I stopped baking so much bread and convinced John that we should be eating fewer potatoes and less pasta and upping the veggies on our plates. I knew this would help my calorie counting and hopefully, make me a healthier eater. Instead of hummus on crackers, we switched to celery. Instead of a whole baked potato, I had just half. And guess what, it was totally fine. I didn't starve and I haven't died.

I haven't given up bread and pasta and the like completely but I also wasn't so sure it was paying dividends until recently. For about 4 days in a row, I had major carbs and minimal fruit and veg. This was an unavoidable mistake. Well, not truly unavoidable but we were hosting guests and the meals eaten just weren't the healthiest options available. I also missed all my workouts for those days. Oh, and ate a whole bunch of cookies. Honest, I ate potatoes for something like 6 meals in a row. During that time, I could feel the lethargy creeping in. I felt downright sluggish. Even though I slept an adequate amount of hours, I was still sleepy the whole day. My normally chipper attitude was waning. The carbs were bringing me down!

By Sunday, I decided it was time to turn it around. No carb coma can't be cured by 6 miles in 53:15 (a personal best!) So, while the scale isn't really moving, I am definitely noticing a big difference in muscle tone and definition. Kind of like how the Victoria's Secret models drank only special protein shakes for 9 days before the big fashion show so their muscles would really stand out. Well, maybe not exactly like that. I'll get off my carb-y sopa box now but I wanted to let you know, if you feel like you've plateaued, and even though you think you might be eating all the right things, all calories are not created equally. This realization just days before a sure to be gluttonous Christmas.....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Steve Jobs

Smartly, I put myself on the hold list for this Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson even before the book was released. I only had to wait through 5 people who had a faster trigger finger than I.

Unless you've been living under a rock for a number of years, you know who Steve Jobs is. Chances are good that you own or have at least encountered one Apple product, and probably more than that. You've likely seen Toy Story or another Pixar movie. Yeah, he was behind that too. Jobs may have dropped out of college but he was so smart it's sickening. He had a work ethic that wouldn't quit and a drive that was unmatchable. You probably know all of this already too. What I didn't know before reading this biography was just how intensely he lived his life. Jobs would become so focused on certain aspects of his products and business that nothing else really mattered and those who stood in the way inevitably became collateral damage. But, that's how you build a technological empire. Even through his battle with cancer, which he lost this year, he was still present in all Apple had to offer.

I'm not going to re-hash his whole life story here. What I'll tell you is that this was in incredibly interesting, albeit long, read. I found his rise, fall, and rise fascinating. While some of this 500+ page biography is a little slow, as a whole it's definitely worth reading whether or not you think you're interested in the Silicon Valley and its beginning or how Apple became the juggernaut it is today. Give this one a shot. People will think you're both smart and hip if they see you reading it!

Rating: * * * *

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gifts from John

John and I celebrated Christmas together a week early. We don't think it makes much sense to haul our presents up north just to bring them back down again. He got a new suit and a book from me. He likes it because it has pinstripes and makes him feel gangsta. The suit, not the book. He got me, with a little elf help, the earrings I was coveting in both gold and silver! And also, this beauty......

This is Josie. Isn't she pretty? She is a buttery celadon yellow, over the shoulder bag about 12" x 11". This means, he remembered every time we went purse shopping over the past year and I lamented about not being able to find a yellow bag. She also has the quirkiest black and white polka dot lining. That Kate Spade, she knows what's up.

The only question now is, can I start carrying her now? If the color were decidedly more lemon, I would have had to wait until spring. However, this is a muted yellow. Do I buck tradition and bring her out on the town? Or slide her in her dust cover until the ground thaws again? Decisions, decisions.

Opinions welcomed!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Biltmore Christmas White

If you're looking for an affordable, holiday themed wine to put on your dinner table or take to a party, look no further. Christmas at the Biltmore is a semi-sweet white blend from the vineyards of the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, NC. It retails for somewhere around $12.00. Light in  flavor, crisp in finish.

Isn't that a festive label? Biltmore holds a contest each year for a new label design on their Christmas offering. I served this when my parents were in from Florida. I just may have to pick up another bottle to take north for our other parties.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Recipe Re-blog #51

OK, home stretch, folks. I can totally do this.

BBQ Chicken Pasta Skillet: Yes, this is a strangely title recipe. Now, to some this may not sound appetizing, at all. To those of us Chez G, it sounded amazing. I only knew we'd both be interested because I tried a similar recipe earlier this year using pulled pork as part of a cold pasta salad and it was to die. This recipe also only has 336 calories per serving, a winner any day in my book. I really liked this one. Give the sauce time to thicken. I also forgot to add the shredded cheese until a couple bites in. I liked it after I added it but I didn't miss it beforehand. Also, one pot cooking! Try this, s'il vous plait!
Guess what? One week until Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sewing Sorry

I had fully intended to post a sewing project today. When I planned out my December posts, the 14th said "sewing something." Well, guess what. I have nothing for you. Frankly, at this moment, I'm really sick of sewing. This was the first year I've made this many presents to give to people. Don't get me wrong. I really like gifting my handiwork to those lucky recipients. I hope they like it too. But, when you make 10 clutches, 4 pairs of slippers (because you made the first 2 too small), and many other items I can't show you yet because they haven't been opened, you get burnt out. I'm just lucky I started so early. Otherwise I never would have finished in time. My back is killing me from bending over my machine. The 2 1/2 hours I spent wrapping presents last Friday night didn't help either.

So, please forgive me. I'll be sewing again after the holidays. Until then, you'll just have to read my random ramblings.

Oh yeah, I also didn't finish the large book I intended for tomorrow's post so there's a good chance you're on your own for Thursday. I'm just disappointing you all over the place today, aren't I? Call me a victim of a hectic holiday season.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pass the Kleenex

Guys, I am really not a crier. I have never been one of those people who cry at things they see on TV or books they read or anything like that. Well, I don't know what happened to me but lately this couldn't be further from the truth. Here is a list of things that made me mist up this week:

-the video of those dogs getting released from captivity after being medically tested for years and never having set foot outside

-a story on the Today Show when a father comes home from Iraq and the kids are surprised at school by his return

-likewise, a story on the radio about a woman's son who is still in Afghanistan and will miss Christmas again

-a special on the Ironman Triathlon when each person, old and young, fast or painfully slow, crossed the finish line, especially the 70 year old man who could barely stand up straight and kept falling down but made the 17 hour cut off mark with minutes to spare

-a Christmas card that was really nice

-reading race reports from other runners who crossed the finish line in various races

See what I mean? This really has got to stop. It's embarrassing. Sniffling and wiping snot on my sleeve while watching TV is not okay. What is wrong with me and how do I make it go away?

Additionally, the other night I dreamt that John and I were getting married again and Jay-Z was there. This didn't make me cry but, when I woke up I was slightly sad that I'm not actually friends with Jay-Z.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I love gooooooold

Recently, I purchased two new holiday nail polishes because I am a sucker. Luckily, I truly didn't have anything similar to either of the colors when I got home. Typically, I buy bottles and think, "Oh I don't have anything like this in my collection!" And I'm usually completely wrong. Isn't that weird?

This is called High Roller from Ulta ($6). Ulta has totally revamped their polish line with a sleeker look and I swear, a new formula. This stuff had great coverage. I think I could have gotten away with only one coat.The gold really says holiday and I do feel like a high roller up in here. I showed John my nails and immediately had to make it rain. High roller, comin' through!

P.S. Buy it when they're having a BOGO sale, which is pretty much all the time. What? Even high rollers love a bargain.

P.P.S. High rollers also eat at Fleming's but make sure they're using gift cards and getting their promised dining credits for reserving online.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Recipe Re-blog #50

Is it any surprise that this week's new recipe is also from Rachael Ray? Probably not. Once again, it comes from 365: No Repeats. I have made many recipes from this cookbook. If you don't have a Rachael Ray cookbook and are interested in one, I'd start here. Lots to choose from!
Asian-style Cashew Chicken: I love a good stir-fry. They're quick, easy and often chock full of veggies! We even doubled up on the snow peas here. Well worth it. This recipe had a lot of ingredients but it was very simple. So simple that my sous chef put on the head chef hat and I helped out when I could. I was doing something else at the same time, I forget what. Anyway, this was a great cashew chicken recipe. Give it a shot and pump up the veggies!

p.s. This recipe is a revamped version of the one before it in the book, Park City Cashew Chicken -- click back a few pages to get the master recipe through that link
p.p.s. I numbered wrong. I didn't skip #49. Promise!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Slippers for Ben

A couple months ago, my sister said my nephew Ben could use some slippers (B - stop reading if you don't want to see these, also don't show Ben!) You know, for those cold Texas nights. I followed this Made by Rae Tutorial only I skipped the dragon parts. Too much more effort. Let me tell you something about sewing little fleece slippers. I wished I had a mini sewing machine for smaller sewing spots. But, they turned out okay in the end. I hope they keep Ben's toes toasty warm. I really wanted a bright colored fleece but everything I came across had a large pattern that wouldn't have worked.

The gray fabric on the left is sherpa lined suede. Soft on the inside, non-skid suede on the outside. Then, black fleece for the interior, and a black and red (though it looks like white too) plaid for the exterior.

Slippers are tough to photograph without a child to put them on.

Perhaps this model will do? Sadie loves her Christmas bandanna but wasn't too pleased to add
Slipper Model to her doggie resume.

Anyway, I hope Ben and the other little boy I made a second pair for enjoy them a lot!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Weird Beer

Chocolate Cherry Beer: Dark wheat, O'Fallon

I only have one beer to share today. I've tasted others recently but this one deserves its own post. My apologies for the photo. I was so excited after tasting it I simply could not get a clear shot. This, my friends, is the Cherry Chocolate Beer from O'Fallon Brewery. While everyone else is offering up their Christmas and holiday spirits, O'Fallon is marching to the beat of their own beer vat. It's a dark wheat in variety and yes, it tastes like cherry chocolate. Think liquid cherry cordial.! Is this good. Sweet, yes. Chocolate-y, yes. Cherry-y, oh yes. No, it doesn't really taste like beer but really. Did you buy something called Cherry Chocolate beer because you were craving a brew? No, you did not. Check it out if you can find it. Try your local Kroger. That's where we got ours. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Am I the last person in the world to read Harry Potter? I mean really. I have avoided it until now because I truly had no interest in it. Millions and millions of people could certainly be wrong about this popular series, I'm sure. Call me crazy, or a lack of to-be-read books, but I picked up the first in the series at the library and tucked in. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first in the series by J. K. Rowling.

Here is the very briefest of synopses for you. Upon turning 11 years old, orphaned Harry Potter learns he is a wizard and is enrolled in Hogwart's, a wizarding school. For the next 6 years, he will learn potions and spells and what it takes to be a part of this life he previously knew nothing about. He quickly hears of evil wizard Voldemort and finds himself involved, along with his wizarding friends, in a race against time to rescue the Sorcerer's Stone from falling into the wrong hands.

Verdict: I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I can see why the world is enraptured by J.K. Rowling's creation. A friend of mine advised that the books get better as the series progresses. I'm looking forward to continuing on with them and hoping, perhaps, to finish all 7 (or 8? I can't remember) by the end of the year. A tall order since I have the Steve Jobs bio to pick up as well. But, I love a good reading challenge and have a lot of time off around the holidays.

Rating: * * * *

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fitness Check In

This is a smidge belated but I wanted to report, I survived Thanksgiving and am now fully back on track with eating and working out. I accomplished two goals over that holiday: 1) No seconds at the Thanksgiving table and dessert at only 1 of the 2 dinners I went to, 2) Don't drink too much. John and I both policed ourselves really well in both regards. That's hard to do when we are back in our hometown for a long weekend. His parents are bad food influences.

Oh, and the most amazing feat, we both got up and ran outside on Thanksgiving! I was super proud of us for that. Even though John wouldn't register to run a turkey trot, we waged our own trot around the streets of A-Town. It  sunny but chilly (in the 40's) and I do not like running outside, especially not in those temps. I didn't have any mittens so my hands were cold but I thought I fared pretty well. My time wasn't so hot but I was just going for stamina, and surviving. I only walked one hill, and it was a beast. The sad part about this was that I missed the Newsies performance during the parade. I love Newsies! I need to get to NYC and see it on Broadway. Then on Black Friday, I walked at the malls for a good 5-6 hours and then came home and went on an hour walk with Sadie, her dog friend Dexter and my good friend of 20 years. It was awesome! Though I was exhausted, having gotten up at 5:30 to shop.

So, now that we're a week post-Thanksgiving, I'm allowed to weigh myself again. A month or so ago, I promised myself I would cut back on carbs and incorporate more fruits and veggies instead. I'm happy to say that too is going swimmingly. I'm also loving my new Zumba toning class on Mondays. I traded a normal zumba day for treadmill speed work. If you don't have a plan of attack with eating and fitness heading into the holidays, you're sunk. Fortunately, I have plans for both and so I am swimming!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Recipe Re-blog #48

We are in the home stretch, my friends. Only 1 month of new recipes to go.

Ginger Chicken Noodle Bowl: This recipe comes from the enigmatic Rachael Ray and can be found in her cookbook, 365 Recipes: No Repeats. I was craving Asian and while I really wanted Sweet & Sour Chicken, preferably of the fried variety, I was trying to healthify dinner a bit. This recipe has lots of ingredients and I didn't skimp on any of them! That never happens. Did you people know that you don't have to buy that entire chunk of fresh ginger in the grocery store? You can break off a piece to your liking and purchase just that instead. My ginger only cost me 12 cents and was so much more vibrant that ground ginger. I'm never turning back again! I couldn't find a legit link on her site but the link above is to a reprint of the recipe. I really liked this one! It was delicious and healthy. A suped up chicken noodle soup, much thicker and flavorful. Plus, garlic and ginger have naturally healthy qualities. Winner winner chicken noodle bowl dinner!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

To E-read, or Not to E-read....

As you are likely aware, I love to read. If you didn't know that, then you haven't been paying very close attention to my blog. I love books. I love my library. I love book stores. But, my friends, I am at a literary crossroads. Do I want an e-reader? Since the advent of the Kindle, Nook, etc., I have been staunchly against them. Never do I want to see my bookstores and libraries suffer any further due to technology as they certainly already have. But, the other day on my library's website I discovered that I can download books for free to a Kindle. So really, I'm still supporting the library's circulation and getting my read on. Right?

Then, there's this other little matter. I am constantly waiting on the Hold list for books. Some of these lists take me months to move to the numero uno spot and it's very frustrating. I read relatively quickly and yet the books that I'm waiting for never seem to be ready for me. My fellow library patrons must be slow-poke readers. If I could download all the new releases in addition to the classics and other older books, I could read even faster! But, I do so love to hold a book in my hands and crack open its spine for the first time. If I could get over wanting to hold the book, this is a vote for yes, yes?

Here's another little peccadillo. I heard the other day that smart phones and other gadgets can impede sleep because they slow down the release of melatonin into your body. If you are using these devices near bedtime, your brain does not have enough time to properly relax before bed. I already have trouble sleeping and reading can often calm my busy thoughts. Do I really want to calm down while staring at a screen? And would this really be as cute behind the glow of a screen?

You can surely see my dilemma. Do you have an e-reader? PLEASE WEIGH IN!