Last Minute New Year’s Eve Appetizer—Or What to Do When Laundry Threats Become Priority

After the rush of the holidays, I want nothing more than to hibernate in my house and be a bum. Seriously, I have laundry piling up that is threatening to overtake my office and spread to the kitchen. While I will have to break down and clean today, the severity of my post-Christmas laziness means that New Years Eve snuck up on me. We don’t usually do anything big, but we still like to have some food, drinks and hang with friends when we can. Don’t even get me started on my husband’s secret affection for fireworks…

Laziness+laundry mountain+entertaining=a problem.

I at least solved part of this conundrum yesterday. As I was shopping at the Wally-world, I saw these in the produce section by the sunflower seeds and shallots:

I remembered something I saw on Food Network the other night, and decided to experiment based solely on my hazy memory of late-night TV. I also grabbed a nice loaf of multigrain artisan bread from the bakery, and a log of goat cheese from the deli.

I got home, sliced the bread and spread the goat cheese on the slices. I then halved the dried figs (simply because their size scared me a little), plopped them on top of the cheese (2 halves per slice), then drizzled the whole mess with a little of our local Hummer & Sons honey. It looked a little something like this:

Creepy, I know. I served it up to my husband who looked at me like I lost my dang mind, and probably thought I should be banned from watching Food Network after 10:00 PM. Of course, I did the pouty-face, he gave the long-suffering sigh, but finally tried it…while making the most dramatic face possible.

To both our surprise, my goat cheese-fig-honey experiment was dang tasty. We both had seconds, and would have had thirds had dinner not been ready. Luckily for me, I still have plenty left to make more tonight, and this experiment required no cooking, or dirty dishes, other than a cutting board and a couple of knives.

So, if you need a no-fuss appetizer that looks like you actually know what you are doing, hit the Wally-world and use the time you’ll save to plan cocktails instead.

After all, we need to have priorities….

Resolution is Not a Four Letter Word…I Think.

Most people I know feel one of two ways about New Year’s Resolutions: they either love the concept and make them yearly, or they think resolutions are a waste of time because they set people up for failure. After the past couple of years, I can definitely say that I’m all for a resolution or two, but with a few caveats.

I think people often make resolutions that are either too vague (lose some weight…eventually), or too drastic (I’ll hit the gym 5 days a week and eat tofu) to ever be successful. Every year, I periodically fell into one of those two categories. I had some vague notion, but no genuine plan in place, or I went extremist with my resolution and set myself up for failure by implementing drastic and impossible-to-maintain lifestyle changes. Like I was ever going to eat dry chicken and brown rice three times a week…but anyway….

All that changed in 2009. That’s the year I decided to get less fat, and I actually devised a general, but not drastic plan to start on that goal. You can read about it here, and here , and here. Since that time, I’ve maintained the 55 pound weight loss…something even I didn’t think was possible. Don’t get me wrong, I can still put away some fajitas and margaritas like it’s going out of style, but my love of my skinny jeans reminds me that I have to make healthy choices sometimes too…For example, I have to counteract the gallon of crabmeat au gratin I scarfed down last night by enjoying a nice protein bar for lunch today.

Last year, I was determined that we would sell our house and move closer to work and the boys’ school. My 45 minute commute each way was driving me bonkers, and it was past time to leave our post-college starter home. Unlike years prior when my husband and I talked vaguely about this possibility, I devised a list and time-line to complete all the outstanding home improvement repairs and cosmetic sprucing. He probably wanted to strangle me by the end of January, but sure enough, we got it all done, put the house on the market and moved by April.

So, the moral of this story? I’ve had two successful years worth of New Year’s resolutions. Sure, they came after a decade of failures, but better late than never, I suppose. This year, my resolution is financial in nature. I have a definitive strategy for us to live a bit more frugally, save more, and create a financial cushion that will help down the road if we have any life/career changes or unexpected surprises. It’s a simple goal, but at the same time, it will be a challenge as well. My tendency to drag everyone out to eat after a bad day at work, rather than cook, is definitely a habit I need to break. And it sure wouldn’t hurt me to clip a coupon or two. Saving money, rather than buying that new digital SLR I want is certainly no fun, but that’s the reality of being a responsible, mature adult with long-term goals.

Did I mention maturity is overrated sometimes?

Husband-Friendly Soup…I Promise

My husband has some pretty definitive ideas about what makes a meal. I often say he eats like a hobbit…lunch, elevensies, dinner, second-dinner and so on.

Well, not really, but when he does eat a meal, he wants a full, substantial meal, or he will be rummaging in the kitchen shortly thereafter. I don’t know why that annoys me, but it sure does…blame the OCD, I guess.

As a working girl, a mom and a sane person, I sometimes just don’t have it in me to dirty up every dang dish in my kitchen on a weeknight meal. That’s when my fall-back one-pot meals come in handy. This recipe is just one of those…it’s technically soup and a one-pot meal, but trust me, it’s hearty enough that even my hobbit considers it a full-on meal, and not just an appetizer to his later pantry-scavenging.

Chicken Fajita Chowder


  • 3 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1 envelope fajita seasoning, divided
  • 3 or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 4 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15-1/4 oz. can Fiesta Corn
  • 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14-1/2 oz. can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 4-1/2 oz. can chopped green chiles
  • 3 c. chicken broth
  • 1 c. instant brown rice, uncooked
  • 10-3/4 oz. nacho cheese soup
Garnish: sour cream, shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, green onions
1) Combine flour and 2 tablespoons of the fajita seasoning in a large zip-loc bag:
2) Add cubed chicken, seal bag and shake to coat:
3) Heat oil in a large pot over med-high heat. Add chicken and cook about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the outside of the chicken turns golden brown. At this point, you will have all kinds of good browned bits of chicken and seasoning sticking to the bottom of your pan. Don't panic! We'll fix that in a second:
4) Toss in the onion and garlic, and sauté 4 to 5 minutes, or until onions appear to soften:
5) Add the chicken broth to the pot. Turn the heat up to high if necessary, and start scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon or spatula to loosen all those yummy browned bits. If you are fancy-schmancy, we'll call this deglazing. Once you've scraped as best you can, turn the heat back down to med-high, and it should look like this:
6) Add the remaining fajita seasoning, fiesta corn, black beans, green chiles, stewed tomatoes and brown rice. I try to cut the stewed tomatoes with the kitchen shears before adding them to the pot, because too-large tomato pieces would scare the heathens away:
7) Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to med-low, cover and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, get your toppings set up. My husband is morally opposed to green onions, so we only had some shredded pepper jack, crushed tortilla chips and sour cream:
8) Once the soup is done, it will look like this:
9) Dish it up,  top chowder as desired:
And bask in the fact that your kitchen has not been demolished in a dirty-pan siege. Besides, the troops are much more inclined to do the dishes when there are less dishes to do.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

It’s Machiavelli…Mom-style!

Christmas, the Flu and the Gifts that Keep on Giving

Obviously, I have been MIA.

As you know, my kids managed to catch the flu about 5 seconds after Christmas break started. Between managing heathens that yo-yoed from feeling bad, to feeling good enough to try and strangle one another, I already had my hands full. Add a gauntlet of baking, cooking and family gatherings, and I probably bit off more than I could chew…proverbially speaking. Despite these challenges, we still managed to have a wonderful holiday overall. Even if the flu pestered us through a sleepless night…or five.

In the meantime, I baked lots of goodies, like the heathens’ favorite chocolate-brownie cookies:

Gingerbread men:

The new cookies my youngest saw in a magazine, and demanded we try:

Just to be honest, I definitely had some mishaps along the way:

The baking paid off, because we had a beautiful array of desserts:

Yep, my skinny jeans are whimpering…

As I hoped, the table was gorgeous:

The heathens managed to muster up some excitement, despite the fact that their flu seriously dampened their spirits:


After all, they got about 200 more Nerf darts…dang it. As for other gifts, we all got some pretty amazing things. I got my husband a ping-pong table, which he has wanted for ages…the dork. But who am I to judge? However, I also got him the coolest dang coffee maker on the planet:

Which has really turned out to be a gift for me too. My Starbucks snobbery just took a hit, because I made myself a cup of hazelnut coffee with this bad boy and fell in love. If you like coffee, I highly encourage you to invest in one of these. My husband was skeptical at first, but was converted into a believer with the first cup. One of MY favorite gifts is this:

Its’ a iPhone dock for the kitchen. When I come in from work, I can hook my iPhone into this to charge, play my music while I cook, and it can run multiple kitchen timers. Also, the remote sticks to the base via magnet, so I can’t lose it in the cooking mayhem. I also got all kinds of wonderful things that you’ll get to see later…I am a little tired right now, and in grave fear that the heathens gave me their flu. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving…

Did you get a super-awesome gift…or have some holiday mishaps of your own? Tell me all about it, because there’s safety in numbers…and spending time at the computer gives me a good excuse to hide far away from the 200 new Nerf darts.

So, share….pretty please??

This is Me Banging My Head Against a Wall

So, yesterday was the first day of my vacation. I took most of this week off to get ready for Christmas, bake up a storm, clean my house and relax from a workload that was in danger of driving me loony.

And what’s the first thing that happens on my vacation?

The heathens wake up, promptly run fever and require the 2 hour trip to the pediatrician’s office. Two positive flu tests later, and my vacation gets even better.


Thank goodness we refilled the kegerator yesterday.

Just Call Me Bayou-Santa

Despite my usual ability to plan ahead, I have again neglected to shop for my kids until the last dang minute. Normally, this is not a problem, because in years past, my husband and I have hurled the kids at Granny and run like hell. We would knock out our shopping in one frantic, but well-executed sprint. With my planning skills, and my husband’s ability to act as a human shield, last-minute shopping was a team-sport we could handle.

But not this year. With Granny far away and Christmas looming, my husband and I finally had to admit that we needed to divide and conquer.

Oh, foolish, foolish me.

Little did I know that the toy store is like a gladiator arena on the Saturday before Christmas. It was every man, or mama for herself, and I was lucky to survive without injury…or a felony charge.

I came away victorious, but let’s just say that my restorative cocktail is about the size of Texas tonight.

Remind me to shop earlier next year…..pretty please?

It’s a Conspiracy…

Just when the Danish Butter Cookies finally disappeared from my office, another Good Samaritan brought a plethora of Little Debbie Christmas Tree cakes.

I’m starting to feel like Gretel…someone is definitely trying to fatten me up. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you.

We all know that Little Debbie is an evil witch. And I’m willing to bet her Christmas Tree cakes are laced with crack. Why else would I be unable to resist the power of her magic snack cakes?

Wanna bet who will be eating a salad for dinner tonight?

Italian Meatloaf—Or a Shortcut on My Way to Cool-Mom Points

Having grown up in the home of a stay-at-home mom turned professional caterer, I have lived the life of spoiled food luxury. My mom regularly cranked out gorgeous, complex, fabulous meals that we, her children, regularly took for granted. Indeed, it’s a miracle she did not strangle us when she had the chance. These days, I feel terrible for her, because once she hits town for the holidays, she gets not only my two heathens shoved at her to babysit, but also a full list of all the food she needs to cook for ME!!! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!!! She spoiled me rotten, food-wise…it’s a curse and a blessing at the same time.

Unfortunately, I am not my mom. Once I had Demon-Baby, my husband was lucky to eat at all, let alone eat anything of the caliber that I grew up with. Let’s see you try to brush your teeth with a colicky baby…let alone cook dinner…and let’s not even get into that whole c-section thing…grumble, grumble…

For years, I’ve always had an internal “Mom-voice,” that has told me when my meals have ventured into ridiculous territory. You probably remember my dinner disaster, which resulted in an existential crisis of food-coloring choices. Or maybe my unfortunate tendency to overdo it. Yep, nothing like baking 48 cupcakes for four people to make you realize you probably have a confidence problem.

A few years ago, I finally had to admit to myself that maybe just maybe, I was not my mom. This admission came after many ruined dinners, tears and OCD-ish breakdowns. Frankly, she set the bar so high, it’s a wonder I even try, because even my own husband wants her to make POUND CAKE for him, instead of me. POUND CAKE for goodness sake!!!! More wine please…

After I went back to work, even I had to admit that sometimes any home-cooked dinner, however ridiculous, is better than nothing. As I’ve tried out any and all recipes that are somewhat easy to get on the table, I’ve found quite a few that are pretty dang tasty along the way. The following recipe is just that…a yummy home-cooked dinner with practically zero effort. Though it takes an hour to bake, the five minutes of prep-time are a frakking lifesaver. Need a stupid-easy dinner recipe? I got ya covered.

Italian Meatloaf

1 pound lean ground beef

1 pkg. onion soup/dip mix

¾ cup fresh bread crumbs (for the purposes of this demonstration, I used canned bread crumbs, as I had a fight with my food processor…and it won. However, you really need to use fresh)

1 egg

1 oz water

1 c. pasta sauce of your choice (like Ragu, but I prefer Classico)

½ cup mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven t 350 degrees. Toss the ground beef, onion soup mix, bread crumbs, egg and water into a bowl. Add ½ cup of the pasta sauce and ¼ cup of the mozzarella cheese.

Using your hands, mix all this together until it looks nice and uniform. Transfer beef mixture into a 9×13 baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Form the beef mixture into a loaf shape.

Top beef with remaining ½ cup pasta sauce.

Pop into the oven and bake 50 minutes. Meanwhile, you can make whatever else you want to serve, have a restorative cocktail, or hide in the bathroom where the heathens can’t find you. Once the 50 minutes are up, take the meatloaf out of the oven:

And sprinkle it with remaining ¼ cup of cheese:

(ok, so maybe I added a little more cheese than necessary…I live with three guys after all). Pop the meatloaf back into the oven for 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melty enough for you.

Serve it up and act like you slaved over a hot stove for hours…That way, someone else gets to do the dishes.

Tales of Traditions and Toilet Seats

Living in a house full of boys often means that even the smallest things can turn into an unexpected challenge.

Like not falling into the toilet at 5 AM. Who knew that would be so difficult?

But, I digress.

A few years ago, I wanted to focus on Advent a little more in our house, and concocted a good, yet overly ambitious plan to make that happen. We already had an Advent wreath that we kept on the kitchen table, so I just picked up a booklet of Advent reflections at our local Catholics’ R’ Us. I figured that, every night at dinner, we could light the Advent candles, read the little reflection and say grace before our meal. I had visions of quality family time, new traditions in the making, and Hallmark-movie perfection.


What I got were two kids who fidgeted, complained, whined and attempted to kill each other over who got to blow out the candles. I also got a skeptical husband who looked at me like I had been drinking the magic Kool-Aid.

I, however, am nothing, if not stubborn. Each year, I tried this tradition again, only to surrender by mid-December. My Hallmark-movie plans usually crumbled into the reality by the 15th. By then, I was fighting the little terrorists just to eat dinner in the first place; getting them to sit quietly through ninety seconds of reading was not worth turning into a screaming banshee.

This year is our first Christmas in the new house, and while I still set up the Advent wreath, I had no intent to try and fight the same battle as previous years. I figured I would just read the reflections to myself, and get over it. After all, if I haven’t learned to check the status of the toilet seat by now, it’s probably my own dang fault if I fall in.

Well, imagine my surprise when, on the first day of Advent, my oldest asks if he can be the first to light the candle and read the reflection. Which he did…beautifully. Somewhere along the way, and through the years of fussy complaining, my attempts as making a new family tradition DID actually stick. Will wonders never cease…

Thus far this year, everyone, including my husband, has willingly initiated and participated in our little Advent tradition. My youngest can still be a little fidgety, but considering that I was about to abandon this idea completely, I’ll take my victories however I can get them.

This past week has given me hope that the heathens can, in fact, be taught. Just wait till you hear my plan to get them to put the toilet seat down:

It’s a doozie!

Cluttered into Submission

A while back, I posted about my desk dilemma.

Since that time, my piles of mail stuff, camera stuff, school stuff, paper stuff, tax stuff  and related stuff have continued to breed around the house. My closet, my kitchen drawer, my living room end-table, my dresser drawer and my husband’s desk have all fallen victim to my breeding piles of stuff. Considering that I am only getting more OCD-ish with age, this rampant disorganization has made me a less-than-happy camper.

Either my husband REALLY loves me, or he finally suffered a nervous breakdown from the combination of my breeding piles of stuff and harpie-like neuroses. Either way, I am doing the happy dance today, because I got a new desk!

(and it was a total bonus that I got to watch him work with the power tools….*sigh*)

My new desk is oh-so-wonderful:

Now, if I could just figure out how keep the heathens away from it, life would be perfect… 

…the tape-stealing fiends…