Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eggvice Needed

I talked Don into buying me a Big Green Egg.

I am away on business this week and it is at home in the box awaiting assembly, yet I can't stop thinking about it.  I have wanted an Egg for years, but they are expensive and I couldn't justify the cost to Don...until I developed a three-prong argument and presented it to him.  We need an Egg because...
  1. We have purchased two very nice and somewhat pricey grills in the past eight years and they just don't hold up.  Most grills only have a one year warranty and seldom function (or look pretty) after a couple of seasons of use.  The Big Green Egg is comprised of ceramic and has a lifetime warranty on the main structure.  They last forever if they are properly maintained and will never rust. 
  2. The Egg is small enough to fit on our upstairs deck.  We currently use a large charcoal smoker/grill - which is hard to regulate if you are cooking for a few people - and which has to be kept downstairs because of the space that is consumes.  We built a new deck and now have adequate room for a grill.  The Big Green Egg is the perfect fit.  I am going to position it right beside the kitchen door to provide easy access between these two areas. I will no longer have to run the stairs multiple times to monitor the grill and food being prepared or cooked in the kitchen.
  3. The egg can be used to prepare MORE than just meat.  We can use it to cook pizza!  This is probably the main reason that I wanted an Egg.  Everyone who has one talks about how awesome the pizzas are when prepared on the grill.  I can't wait to try this...and cobbler...and thousands of other recipes that I am currently pinning on Pinterest!
The next step, of course, is to help Don assemble and move the Egg this weekend.  It weighs about 150 pounds so this should be fun since he is still an invalid, for the most part.  After it is assembled, I want to try my hand at cooking a brisket.  I have looked at several recipes and so far, I am pretty intimidated by the process.  I learned that I need to back up and figure out how to use the thing before attempting to actually use it.  I found an article on the Egg Website that provided lots of good pointers for getting started.

If you have any Eggvice, I would appreciate it...and a good brisket recipe would also be appreciated.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Spring = Out With the Old

I know that the saying, "Out with the old, in with the new" is associated with the New Year, but for me, it resonates more when Spring arrives to Arkansas.  The warm weather (okay, it's 90 degrees right now, so hot weather) makes me want to make things new again.  Here is what I am working on improving right now:

  1. I am working on improving my fitness.  I am still doing Les Mills Combat and will start Week 6 tomorrow. I am feeling strong and healthy.  I ran a 5K this morning and actually finished second overall in the women's division.  The competition wasn't that steep, but still, I came in second.  AND I beat a bunch of dudes and teenagers.  
  2. We are doing "maintenance" on the exterior of our house.  This entails getting it repainted and some stucco repaired where a damned woodpecker did a number on the pillars and couple of other places.  Don keeps running out there with the gun when we hear if pecking, but it is too smart for him and always gets away. This is a good thing considering that it is illegal to kill a woodpecker.  We are also remodeling our deck.  We hired a contractor to tear out the old deck and build a new one (more on this later).  It should be finished on Tuesday - just in time for Memorial Day Weekend! I bought new patio furniture and a Big Green Egg (something I've wanted for two years; more on this later).  All of this crap has to be assembled before next weekend and I am leaving town on business tomorrow and won't be back for a week....so I guess Don will have to find someone else to cuss at - err, I mean help him - with this project.
  3. I am also refinishing some adirondack chairs that I purchased on clearance at JC Penney two years ago.  I assembled them and put them outside.  Within three months, they were molded and disgusting.  Don wanted me to throw them out but I decided to sand them down and paint them.  They have three coats of paint and they still look like crap (more on this later).
Basically, I want my surroundings to look new again - spring should reflect freshness, including a fresh perspective on life and living - so out with the old!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Counting Calories...How Dreadful!

I hate counting calories!  But I have come to the conclusion that I probably need to start.  I stepped on the scales this morning and I had gained another couple of pounds.  Ugh!  I really don't understand this because I do eat right.  I eat large quantifies, but they are usually of healthy foods.  I guess that no matter what you eat, at the end of the day, it all adds up.

My Current BMI

This week, I decided to start counting calories.  I won't do this permanently, but I need to gauge just how many I am consuming on average.  Last Friday, I figured out my body mass index (BMI) and then what my daily caloric intake should be if I want to lose one pound a week.  You can check yours at WebMD.

I have a healthy BMI, but you can always be healthier and I could stand to shed a few inches around my tummy and thighs.  If you take a look at the graphic above, you will see that there are actually tabs across the top and one reads, "Your Calories."  If you complete the profile - it is FREE - then it will figure your BMI and tell you how many calories you should consume to lose weight.  It looks like I am going to be eating 1700 calories a day.  So far today, I've had 300, so I'm getting off to a good start :)

Have you checked your BMI lately?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

No More Teachers, No More Books!

This is the last day of final exams for my students...and for me, as their professor.  This semester flew by!  I think because the beginning of the semester was so chaotic, with Don's surgery, and Maddie and I combating one illness after another.  I didn't seem really prepared to roll out my courses and put on my sage-on-the-stage face, but I made it through.  In the end, I think it turned out to be a pretty good semester.  Almost all of my students did very well and I am proud of their hard work. Almost all...

Done for another semester!

What does the end of the semester entail for a professor?  Lots of begging, generally.  Begging for extensions, for opportunities to make up missed assignments from January and February, for opportunities to re-do work, and begging for just "a few extra points."  Yeah, it gets old. I used to feel sorry for them and offer to give them extensions and incompletes, but once you've been in the college classroom for a few years - and you've been burned a few times - your heart hardens a wee little bit.

My favorite quote of the semester came in the form of an email that arrived in my inbox last weekend: "Dr. Benton, I have an F in your class.  What can I do?"

I didn't even know how to respond, but I wanted to say, "Try building a time machine."

At this point, you have to have a good excuse for an extension or an incomplete. Ain't nobody got time for last ditch efforts to pass on the last day of finals!

What do you remember from your days in college and finals week?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Yummy New Combo :)

Okay, I invented something yummy out of boredom and curiosity...and because two of my favorite items just happened to be on my desk at the same time.

Kroger brand Vitamin Berry Pomegranate and Kroger brand Greek Yogurt
I was eating Greek yogurt (from Kroger, vanilla flavored) and noticed that my water enhancer (also from Kroger) was sitting on my desk.  I wondered what it would taste like to add a little squirt.  It was DELICIOUS!  I love water enhancers but never considered that they might be used in something other than water.  I always bring vanilla flavored Greek yogurt to work because I usually don't have time to add other stuff, but I prefer to eat it plain.  This was a zero calorie solution to adding flavor to plain yogurt and I get to add some more vitamins to the mix. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Happy Seis de Mayo! Celebrate Tonight with Tacos Carne Asada

Carne Asada Tacos
At the present, carne asada tacos are at the top of my list when it comes to Mexican food. I crave these all the time and they are prepared very well at two of our local restaurants: Trejos and Mi Pueblito

I celebrated Cinco de Mayo on Saturday night - a day early - and indulged in my favorite dish.  They were divine, but not very healthy because they were a little greasy and encased in a homemade corn tortilla.  However, I've made them in the past and there is no reason why they can't be healthy.  Here's my recipe:

Carne Asada Tacos
  • Prep the meat: Spray both sides of a flat iron or flank steak (or cut of your choice) with olive or canola spray.  Sprinkle with sea salt and coarsely ground pepper.  Rub into the meat.  Place in a zipper bag and cover with 3-4 T of liquid from a jar of pickled jalapeno peppers.  Refrigerate for 2 or more hours.
  • Grill the meat: I prefer to grill over charcoal, but you can grill your steak over gas and it will taste fine.  When it is raining, I use the cast iron grill on my stone, but it makes for a messy clean-up.  Grill the meat until you are happy with it (I like my meat medium rare - so about 4-5 minutes per side over medium heat).  Remove the meat and cover it with foil.  Leave it alone for 10 minutes and then slice it thin.  Traditionally, the steak is cut into smaller pieces, but I am too lazy for that.
  • Prepare the condiments: Dice an onion (I use Vidalia onions because they are sweet) and chop up a big bunch of fresh cilantro.  Dried doesn't work in this dish.  Slice a fresh lime or two.  Open a jar of green salsa (sometimes these tacos are served with mojo sauce but the base is olive oil, so I don't use it). You can make your own green salsa but it takes a little time, and there are plenty of jarred sauces available that are as good as any homemade sauce.  Try this one: Mrs. Renfro's Green Salsa (all of their products are great!).  I also like to include pinto beans (from a can, rinsed well, if home-cooked aren't available).
  • I use Mission Carb Balance tortillas in all of my Mexican dishes.  Warm them up on the grill.  Fill them with the meat, beans, chopped raw onion, fresh cilantro, and some green salsa.  Squeeze a lime wedge across each one.  I sometimes add a few slices of avocado, as well.  Enjoy!
We love these at my house. I know they sound simple - and they are - but they are delicious and pretty healthy.  We grilled steaks last night so I know what we will be eating for dinner tonight - carne asada tacos made from leftovers!



    Thursday, May 2, 2013

    Traveling Europe...With a 5 year Old in Tow?

    So Don and I saved up a bunch of points so that we could vacation for a couple of weeks in Europe this summer and it is totally stressing me out!  Let me start by saying that I do ALL of our vacation planning.
    1. I pick the place.  Sometimes, I give him a couple of choices.
    2. I decide on the dates.  I run them past him so that he can confirm that they work with his crazy schedule.
    3. I book the tickets and hotel accommodations.  This part drives me nuts because I am determined to get the best price available, so I often book, cancel, book, and cancel.  Sometimes I have rooms reserved at multiple hotels as back-ups.  It is hard to keep up with all, but I keep each trip organized in a 3-ring binder (Of course, I do.  I'm Brandie!).
    These are probably the easiest steps in planning a family vacation.  For this trip, we decided to fly to Rome for a few days and then take a Mediterranean cruise for 7 nights (Why cruise?  I've said before that cruising is the best way to travel if you have kids.) and then follow up with another two days in Rome before flying back to the states.  This will be Maddie's first trip to Europe so we are pretty excited...and stressed.  I have spent hours reading and doing research on traveling Europe with kids.  Let's face it, most kids don't really like museums and ruins, so I am trying to find one kid-friendly activity for each day of vacation.
    Most recent vacation (Mexico, March 2013)

    Cruising usually takes a lot of the guess work out of planning a vacation because the ship offers excursions.  However, excursions from European ports are PRICEY, so I have been trying to weigh our options.  An added stressor is that many of the ports where the cruise ships dock are 1-2 hours from the actual cities on the cruise itinerary.  I am using Rick Steves' cheat sheet for guidance on the decision to book with the ship or do it on our own.  Normally, Don and I would just head out on our own adventure, but buses, trains, subways, and taxis in a strange, non-English speaking city with a child at your side complicates things a bit.

    The days are ticking away - and so are my nerves - as I try to figure out how to move our family of three around for two weeks in multiple countries and cities, while ensuring that everyone has a good time, that we see everything we want to see, and that we get back to the ship before it departs each day.

    Don isn't stressed at all.  I keep trying to show him my binder.  He hates my binder.  He thinks we can just "wing it."  It doesn't work like that.  I hate waste - especially wasted time...and food - and I don't want to spend all of my vacation time stressing out about what to do each day.  I gotta have a plan, so that's what I've been up to during my "downtime."  Planning a trip to Europe with a five year old and a disinterested husband in tow!

    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    Kindergarten Registration - Happy Day! Happy Day!

    I know I should probably be all sappy and weepy about Maddie starting kindergarten in the fall, but I don't feel that way at all!  We were some of the first to arrive at registration this morning and I think she and I were the most excited people there :) I love public schools!  They do something for me that I can't explain...I love the way they smell and I love the people in them.  There is something so special about a good public school - and Maddie's school is great!

    Why wouldn't we be excited? We visited the cafeteria and saw the cafeteria ladies cooking up some delicious-smelling square pizza.  Yum! Then we met the assistant principal, the school counselor, and got to visit the administrative offices (hopefully Maddie won't have to spend much time with any of them again).  We checked out the playground area too.  Such cool equipment these days!  They gave us a goody bag that included (this was SO exciting) a "big kid pencil sharpener!"  We can't wait to start sharpening pencils this afternoon when we get home!

    We also found out that we don't have to purchase school supplies; they are provided at LH Primary.  This school rocks!  We only need to pick up a nap mat and a clear backpack.  Wow!  That was awesome because school supplies can break a parent - believe me I have purchased enough supplies as a classroom teacher for kids who couldn't afford them to know! By the way, kids don't use Big Chief Tablets anymore or big fat pencils...that is kind of sad.

    Most of all, I am not sad and sappy because I saw a mom's post on Facebook last week that put some things in perspective.  Her child, who is also in Maddie's district, has been fighting cancer for two years and is finally in remission.  Her daughter celebrated her birthday last week and the mom posted that she would never, ever again remark that she was sad because her baby was growing up.  Think about it.

    Oh, and one more thing!  We will feel RICH this fall because we won't have to shell out $400 a month in preschool tuition!  So excited about kindergarten :)

    Kindergarten is an awesome milestone for a kid and their parents and we made it!