Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanks-giving about Thanksgiving!

I’ve gotten behind on my thankfulness shout-outs, but I’m a fan of ketchup (I even put it on my sous vide steaks – shh… don’t tell anyone!), so here goes:

Thanksgiving thanks: I am thankful that Mr. Awesome and I get to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with our parents. My mom usually pulls out the china decorated with turkeys, and she and her Mr. Wonderful host me, Mr. Awesome and Mr. Awesome’s parents for dinner. This year, after suffering the great dishwasher flood of 2012, her kitchen was unavailable, so the whole gang went to Houlihan’s in Overland Park for Thanksgiving dinner. It was terrific! Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, veggies, bread, pie – the works! Plus, no dishes to clean. Mom’s planning on hosting dinner on Christmas day so we can see her new kitchen floor.

Related: The only other time I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant was when I was a kid . It was mom’s turn to host dinner for the whole family, and she decided that year to take everyone to… Houlihan’s! I recall having a great meal that time, too. Alas, the Plaza location is no more.

Friday thanks: I am thankful for the inspiration provided by Pinterest, especially when I actually take actions based on that inspiration.

Saturday thanks: Every weekend, Mr. Awesome makes us his famous “weekend breakfast” of scrambled cheesy “eggs” with salsa and sour cream, toasted English muffins with jam, and orange juice (water for me).

I am thankful that he willingly does this, and that he can make fake eggs taste like heaven on a plate. I look forward all week to our weekend breakfast together.

Sunday thanks: I’m thankful for the paved trails at Happy Rock Park. Two or three miles fly by when we can enjoy the trees, the stream, the birds, the squirrels and all the rest.

Monday thanks: I lead my first large training session today, for about 20 people. Geek speak for a minute: we’re implementing a new incident management system at work and I’m the lead for documentation and training. The project has had its ups and downs, but overall I’ve learned much and really enjoy the opportunity to take the lead on the training. For this, I am thankful. I am also thankful that my first group acted interested and were very supportive. I work with great people! Two sessions down as of today (Wednesday), five more to go…

Tuesday thanks: I’m thankful that I am doing better in my French class than I thought I would be at this point. My final is next week. Merde! I’ll be really, really thankful when that’s done.

Wednesday thanks: I am thankful for amazing bonus parents. When I was 9, my dad married Susan. Even though that didn’t last forever, my admiration and love for her will. She introduced me to the virtues of small-town life and country traditions – Santa on a fire truck, making a wooden dollhouse, stringing cranberries and popcorn for a Christmas tree, Frontier Days talent shows, porch cats, hound dogs, all of that. As I became an adult, she has been one of those strong, inspirational, charge-headlong-into-your-dreams kind of people, filled with courage and enthusiasm for the next great adventure. Oh, and she’s the mother of my sister Jamie, who, as I have said previously, is a pretty awesome individual herself.

Steve is everything I would have picked for my mom and more. Mr. Awesome loves him because of that one time he let us ride a Segway around their driveway. I love him because he loves my mom and she loves him. Oh, and he’s generous of heart, spirit, time, laughter and love. What more could you ask for? How about a pretty kick-ass bonus sister in his daughter, Danielle. She’s gonna be famous someday, in a good way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five days of thankfulness!

Friday thanks: I am thankful that my co-worker and friend Cass Nedblake taught me to knit almost two years ago. I love it, and I'm so excited to knit cute baby stuff for her.

Unfortunately for everyone else (or not?), I'm a selfish knitter. I adore hats and cowls and mitts and scarves, and am constantly finding new patterns that I  want to make for myself. I'm currently obsessed with the Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret pattern - it's a perfect way to use up extra yarn. I've knitted two - one in purples/reds and one in blues/teal, and am currently making a third in grey.

Saturday thanks: I am thankful that Mr. Awesome is such a great sous chef. I love that we cook together, and make such great meals almost every day. Tonight, we had salmon with cucumber salsa over cilantro-lime rice. he did all the chopping. It was delicious!

Seared Salmon with Cilantro-Cucumber Salsa
Servings: 4

1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 c. cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small red onion, diced
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and diced
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 salmon fillets

In a bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, cilantro and Serrano pepper. Toss gently to mix. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, 1 teaspoon of canola oil, the agave, red pepper flakes and salt. Pour the lime juice mixture over the cucumber mixture and toss gently to coat evenly. Set aside.

Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat in a large, nonstick pan. Add the fish and cook, turning once, until opaque throughout, about 4 minutes per side.

Transfer the salmon fillets to plates and top each with salsa. Garnish with more cilantro and lime.

Serve with white rice - mix in some cilantro, lime juice and salt for extra-tasty rice!

Sunday thanks: I'm thankful for my sister, Jamie. She is so joyful and generous and kind - she is the sort of person you want around you when you're happy or sad, or neither or both at once. Though there's a 10-year age difference between us, we're remarkably similar people. I can't say I love her more than she knows, because she knows.

Monday thanks: I'm thankful for space heaters. My office is cold regardless of season, and if not for my space heater, I'd be bundled up like an Eskimo all year long. Hurray, space heaters!

Tuesday thanks: I'm thankful for Spotify. I can listen to just about anything at any time. Yesterday, it was the entire Avett Brothers collection. Today, it's the Broadway cast recording of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Tomorrow, who knows!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When was the last time someone was thankful for D'Nealian?

Tuesday thanks: Tuesday, as I do on many days, I went for a walk at the park across the street from my building. While my building may be slowly sinking into oblivion (for real - our chairs have to be bungied to things to keep them from rolling around on the slanted floor), the beauty of the Discovery Center and Kauffman Legacy Park just steps away offers welcome respite. Frogs and turtles in the spring and summer, rabbits and squirrels in the fall and winter. I give thanks for the beauty that is nature, and that it's so close at hand on a daily basis.

P.S. How spectacular has this autumn been? Mother Nature completely nailed it this year. Good show!

Wednesday thanks: It was so hard to get out of bed on Wednesday. I give thanks for heated mattress covers, memory foam mattress toppers, Tempurpedic pillows and luxuriously soft sheets (held on by an object of previous thanks).

Thursday thanks: Today, I am thankful for the quality public school education I received courtesy of the North Kansas City School District, followed by a first-rate college education at UMKC. That I can and very much enjoy reading, can and like to write (in D'Nealian, no less!), that I can think critically, study effectively, organize my ideas and generally entertain a thought without having to accept it are in large part attributable to my education at these institutions. And to my mom. And oatmeal.

And just for fun - here's the manuscript for D'Nealian. Though I now write in a freakish amalgamation of D'Nealian, printed letters and something that resembles Arabic, I still like to write this out as a doodle during especially boring work meetings.

I think it's rather beautiful, and reminds me of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Sheri Coffman. While she's currently the director of the award-winning Theater department at Winnetonka High School, I was a first-grader in the first class she led as a new teacher.

She brought a Tessie Talk ventriloquism doll to class and sang "You Are My Sunshine." I loved it so much I demanded a Tessie Talk for Christmas and spent the next year learning that I wasn't cut out for ventriloquism.

Her and her husband introduced us to melodrama via a production in the school cafeteria, and she gave me my first acting gig as the narrator angel in The Littlest Angel.

Mrs. Coffman didn't mind when, as the boys all chose to be Indians and the girls chose to be Pilgrims in a Thanksgiving hat-making activity, I decided to be an Indian because I wanted to make a headdress out of construction paper feathers and call myself "Little Bear" rather than make a dumb hat with a buckle on it and call myself  "Charity."

Shirt Tales stickers, pinatas, Christmas pageants - I loved first grade and I loved Mrs. Coffman. So I suppose I'm thankful for her influence, too.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A weekend of thanks.

Saturday thanks: I'm thankful for excellent restaurants that are cropping up all over Kansas City. Especially those that serve contemporary American and farm-to-table. Frank and I wanted to go out for a good dinner on Saturday night, and it's a joy to have so many choices: Room 39, the Reiger, Bluestem, Julian... and many others. We decided on Justus Drugstore in Smithville, MO. We'd last been two years ago, and it was up until then the best meal we'd ever had. Our return trip over the weekend was just as excellent, and I see us returning much more frequently.

I'm also thankful that I was never allowed to have a picky palate when growing up. My stepfather, Howard, would order spinach salad and escargots from Houlihan's almost every Sunday when I was a kid. When I was eight, he tricked me into eating an escargot, and I loved it. It was revolutionary, and I never forgot the lesson that good things can come in odd packages.

Sunday thanks: I'm thankful for those clip things that hold my sheets on my mattress. Sheet slippage is the scourge that has been vanquished from our home!

Today's thanks: I'm thankful for cute pictures of animals on the Internet. Whenever I need an "aww" moment, I am never disappointed Some examples:

If the Internet is never used for anything other than as a cute animal search engine ever again, it would still be the miracle tool of our age.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sagan all my love for you.

Today is Carl Sagan's birthday. He would be 78 years old. With Carl in mind, today I am thankful that, billions and billions of years ago, some cosmic dust started on a path that has led to everything we are and know and do today.

Carl once said, "We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself." How beautiful and profound. Our very existence is so incredible and yet, here we are, the living, breathing personification of a vast and mysterious universe.

It's the vastness of space and time that Carl spoke of in the most eloquent of terms. How does one deal with the knowledge that we're but a small and insignificant collection of beings on a little, inconsequential rock?

This - the ability to think scientifically and logically and reasonably, and at the same time have such emotion and humility with his words - is what makes Carl Sagan such an important figure in the history of humankind.

Carl was an avid proponent for lifelong learning, for skepticism, for keeping an open mind, but, as he said, "not so open your brains fall out." He understood and tried to explain that great truths will be uncomfortable to accept, but that doesn't make them any less true.
“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counter-intuitive  It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true."

Such a way with words, that Carl Sagan.

Netflix has the entirety of Carl Sagan's television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, available for streaming. It's a little cheesy in parts, but the science and historical information are just fascinating.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Heart (cardio) and soul (food).

Yesterday evening we went to the gym for some cardio. Fifty minutes on a Precor AMT machine can get pretty boring. Therefore, I am thankful that I can stream Netflix on my phone at the gym. Dr. Who makes cardio so much better.

I just started watching Dr. Who about a month ago. I started with the new episodes starring Christopher Eccleston and am up to the second David Tennant season. He's dreamy, by the way. The episodes are funny, dramatic, exciting and emotional. Cardio time flies by thanks to Netflix streaming.

Today, I'm thankful for the place I work and the people I work with. I'm lucky to work at a university, a place that's constantly reinvigorated with new energy every semester, a place that values critical thought and offers unlimited opportunities to learn new things and meet new people. I love giving of my efforts and talents to a place that contributes so positively to the world through education, research and community involvement.

I am also lucky to work with and around people that I genuinely like - people that make me laugh, make me think, challenge me to be better every day.

I love helping people work through their problems, in any way I can, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to do so every day via my job. As technology changes, I get to adapt, and help others adapt, too. It's fun, it's challenging and it makes me enjoy my job even more.

And I'm incredibly lucky to get to work with my husband - how many people have someone at their job that they can trust 100% and know is looking out for their best interests? It's comforting to have this. Plus, carpooling is great, and seeing each other for lunch every day is even better. :)

There are many places and jobs that pay more money, but few give so much back as a university. This place is filled with people - including me - who love what they do and love the environment they're doing it in. They love the satisfaction of watching people achieve academic successes, big and small. They love seeing the benefits our university provides to the community and to our city, and they love the people they work with, for and around.

I am thankful for my job - where I work, the people I work with, and I what I get to do every day.

If I could only figure out a way to incorporate cooking into technical support, I'd be on Cloud 9!

Speaking of cooking...

This recipe has nothing to do with any of the above, but it's one of the best things I've ever eaten. I made it on Sunday and had leftovers yesterday, and will have more leftovers on Friday. I wanted to share it with you right away: braised short rib ragu. We've been serving it over gnocchi, but I'll have it with polenta later this week.
Braised Short Rib Ragu
Inspired by Closet Cooking
Servings: 6 or so

1 oz dried mushrooms (oyster or porcini)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. short ribs, 2-3 inches long
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 c. celery, diced
1 c. carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. anchovy paste
1 c. red wine
1 c. tomato puree
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbps. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
3 c. beef stock
1 bunch parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Soak the mushrooms in 1/2 cup hot water.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the short ribs until brown on all sides and remove to a plate. You may need to do this in batches.

Reduce to medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots and saute until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and saute until fragrant, about a minute.

Add the red wine and deglaze the pan.

Add the seared ribs, the mushrooms and their liquid, tomato puree, tomato paste, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and enough beef stock to cover the ribs.

Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to the oven to cook until the meat is falling off the bones, about 3 hours.

Remove the beef from the pan, set aside to cool. Discard the bay leaves.

Using a stick blender, puree the sauce until no large chunks of anything remain. Stir in the chopped parsley.

Pull the beef from the bones, shred it, return it to the sauce and simmer to thicken if desired.

Serve over gnocchi or polenta.

The braise takes a bit of time to get going, but once it’s in the oven, it’s pretty hands-off. Incredibly savory and satisfying – comfort food at its best. Freezes really well, too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Right to choose.

Today, like so many others in the United States, I am thankful that I have the right to vote for government representation, and that l don't have to worry about getting maimed or worse for voting for the "wrong" person.

I am thankful, but I am also disillusioned by much of what counts as politics. It's all red and blue, us and them, you and me. I know I should be thankful for our differences, as that's what makes us as humans so interesting. But really, those differences, sometimes, just make me sad or angry or frustrated or all three at once.

I struggle with this - the concept of respecting the beliefs and opinions of others. The truth of the matter is that there are some things that vast swaths of Americans believe and think that I don't respect at all.

I don't like football. But I understand why others do and I respect that.

I don't care for baby corn, but I see the value and I respect the choice of those that could eat it with every meal.

Football and baby corn, I get. Those are easy. Those don't affect me or my friends or my family in any meaningful way. But I don't respect the choice by many people to deny the right to marry or adopt children by loving couples who happen to be of the same sex. I don't respect the decisions of those who refuse to discuss anything other than abstinence with their teenagers, then try to prevent them from getting access to birth control of any kind. I don't respect people that claim to be pro-life, so long as that life has yet to be born, at which point the life must pull itself up by his or her bootstraps (where newborns get boots is of no concern to them).

I want to value our differences, respect the opinions of others, just get along, but when so much light is shown on our differences during these political seasons, I get tired. I tune out. I want to crawl into a burrow and not emerge until November 7th.

Keeping an open mind is hard, and something that I continue to work on every day. But it just gets so frustrating to know in my soul that my belief on something is right, and so many people think it's wrong - I just don't know where to go with that, you know?

Anyway, today is about exercising our freedom of choice. Even if your choice is different from mine, please vote. I really, sincerely mean it. As it says in my favorite song from my favorite musical:
I chose, and my world was shaken- so what?
The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not
You have to move on...

- "Move On" from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George
Regardless of how the election plays out, we will move on. I'm thankful for that, as well.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thankfulness from the weekend and today.

While I didn't post anything here over the weekend, I still kept track of what I am thankful for.

On Saturday, I was thankful for the extra hour of sleep I get from the Daylight Savings time switch. I really, really like sleep.

That said, I'm not thankful for what the time change does to my evenings - since there's less daylight after work, I can't go for a walk in the park because it's too dark. Park walks are, for the time being, reserved for days off and weekends. All other fitness walking will be done at the gym. Thankfully, it has an indoor track.

On Sunday, I expressed my thanks for Mr. Awesome.

Mr. Awesome is everything I am not, and I'm everything he's not and together we're something complete. I am thankful that we met when we were 15 years old and get to spend our whole lives together. I'm thankful he doesn't mind rescuing me from the occasional spider, and that, rather than smash that spider, he catches it and takes it outside.

Today, I'm thankful for my mom.

I read recently that happiness is 50% genetic, 10% environmental (your workplace, your living conditions) and 40% personal choice. I'm a (mostly) positive and happy person, and I can attribute 50% of that to my mom, as she's (mostly) positive and happy, too.

She's been and continues to be the example by which I model my own life. Her considerate nature, thoughtfulness, strength, and genuinely great capacity for love are evident in everything she is and does. I have friends who have some pretty difficult mothers, and I am forever thankful that my mom is just plain wonderful.

This isn't just lip service - I don't know of anyone who knows her that hasn't experienced the goodness that is her firsthand. Kindness, humor, compassion, love - these are the words that make up my mom.

Mom, I love you. I am so very thankful you're my mom.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Here. Now.

Yesterday I was thankful for instant oatmeal. I ate some this morning, and it was delicious, and I was thankful for it all over again.

Today, I am thankful for modern domestic conveniences.

How wonderful to have had the providence to be born in a place and age that gives me access to clean water, complete with indoor plumbing? What a stroke of cosmic luck to be alive in the age of electricity, and all that comes with it - light that extends the day long into the night, a climate controlled house, refrigeration, ovens, washers, dryers, all of it the stuff of daily necessity, and all of it stuff I regularly take for granted.

When in recorded time have we been so fortunate in our ready access to knowledge – so much of it a point-and-click away – and comfort and information? True, the weight of it can become overwhelming at times, but that’s when we adapt and learn our personal limitations and allowances.

My alarm clock, set by syncing with a signal out of the air, wakes me, I shower, I get dressed in a lighted house long before sunrise, I drive to work, and listen to one of a hundred different radio stations. My pedometer talks to my computer talks to my phone talks to my car. My day is filled with inventions and concepts people 100 years ago couldn't imagine possible. Is all of it necessary? No. But we're alive, and it's here, and I'm thrilled by it all.

I am thankful for the technology of now.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A month of Thanksgiving.

Happy November, everyone! November signals the start of the holiday season and I LOVE the holidays. Warm sweaters, the smell of burning firewood and cookies, hot chocolate, snowflakes, pumpkins, pine trees, candles, joy, excitement, love, happiness - all of these and more make up the holiday season in abundance!

This month, I'm going to try to post about things I'm thankful for, and if I'm really good, I'll post lots and lots, because I am thankful for lots and lots.

Today, I'm thankful for instant oatmeal.

Every morning at work, I eat instant oatmeal out of a mug at my desk and drink coffee and catch up on whatever needs catching up on from the night before.

Oatmeal reminds me of bundling up on chilly days, of my mom making breakfast on snowy mornings, of warmth and comfort and home. Thank you, oatmeal. Thank you for coming in an instant variety. Thank you for being so inexpensive and delicious.

My favorite oatmeal right now is Better Oats Oat Fit. It comes in Maple and Brown Sugar or Cinnamon Roll flavors, and I use a pouch of each to keep things interesting. So good, and two pouches is 200 calories - how great is that?! I find it at Target, and sometimes Costco, and recommend it highly to oatmeal lovers everywhere.

A couple of weeks ago, I made pumpkin butter for the first time. Aside from cutting the pumpkins in half for roasting (protip: find a friend with a band saw), it was really, really easy. A tablespoon or so of pumpkin butter stirred in my oatmeal took it to another level. Seriously good eats, folks.
Pumpkin Butter
Adapted from Oh, She Glows

4 c. fresh pumpkin puree (made from ~3.8 pounds roasted sugar pumpkin - I followed this tutorial)
1/3 c. sweet apple cider or apple juice, more if needed
1 c. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Put pumpkin puree in a blender. Add juice and blend until smooth, stopping to push down the pumpkin when necessary. It may take a bit to get it going.

Add the brown sugar, agave, cinnamon and nutmeg. Process again until super smooth and no clumps remain.

Spoon mixture into a medium-sized pot. Cover with lid and prop lid ajar with a wooden spoon. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a low boil. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until it’s as thick as you want it. Stir frequently and be careful - this stuff will spatter like crazy! Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and lemon juice.

Cool completely and then store in a sealed container in the fridge. Should keep for 2-4 weeks.

Aside from oatmeal, you can put this pumpkin butter on just about anything - breads, fruit, ice cream, or just eat it outright. With lots of fiber and nutrients from the pumpkin, it's not nearly as decadent as it tastes.

What are you thankful for right now?