Friday, January 29, 2010

SNOW DAY SNOW DAY!!

This whole week, bad winter weather has been predicted for late Thursday night into Saturday morning. We got an email from our boss yesterday saying something like, "if the weather is bad tomorrow, use your common sense about coming in - maybe wait until it's light out to come in, or take a different route, or work from home if necessary." Work from home. Ha!

So as you can imagine, I didn't really think I'd be going to the office today. When we woke up this morning, though - nothing. No snow, no ice, no sleet - not even rain. And at that point, I just would've felt like a huge jerk not going in - I mean, not even raining?

So into the office I went - and about 30 minutes after being there, it started to rain pretty heavily. Then about an hour and a half after I got in, it started to snow pretty heavily. In the meantime, we'd received an email from the head of our company saying "if anyone feels uncomfortable with driving in the weather, please feel free to leave at your discretion." Hall pass! Goodbye, office!

And now I've been home enjoying a glorious snow day! Jonathan's office also closed early - so he brought us home a Gigi's cupcake to share, we went to the grocery store, and now he's watching a movie and baking some bread; and in a minute I plan to curl up with a book and enjoy this lovely, rare afternoon.

(And for the record, there is currently ZERO precipitation of any kind - and the roads are pretty clear - so I'm glad I left the office when I did!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Open Pit

Anyone who knows me knows about my obsession with sauces. Obviously ketchup is the favorite (per the blog's name) - but really, I love so so so many sauces a lot - it's a little weird (and possibly unhealthy?), and I totally admit it. But regardless - mmm - sauce! When I was a little kid however, my sauce obsession pretty much started and ended at ketchup.

So up until about 7th grade, I spent the summers with my dad & stepmom in Ohio (I was living with my mom/stepdad in St. Louis during the year). And those summer nights, we would often have BBQ chicken on the grill for dinner. It seems weird to think about now, but up until that point, I hadn't had much experience with BBQ sauce. I'd had BBQ sauce in restaurants (and liked it), but until those summers with my dad, "BBQ night" was not a meal in my family's repertoire.

When my dad would marinate and cook the chicken, he would use Open Pit BBQ sauce. Only Open Pit. And when the chicken was served, Open Pit was the sauce served on the side. And I hated it: it was too spicy, too thin, too vinegar-y, and gross.

Now this is where it's a little weird: but because, as I said, I didn't have much experience with having BBQ sauce at home, I didn't realize that you could buy any other kind of BBQ sauce at the store. Like, I thought that in a restaurant you could get a hickory or honey-flavored sauce, but as a consumer at the grocery store, you could only get Open Pit, or sauces that tasted like Open Pit. So for this reason, I spent a few YEARS thinking I didn't really like barbecue.

(And as you can imagine, I had a moment of revelation when at the store one day, I saw the plethora of sauces available. And actually, after I had that realization, we started having BBQ food at my mom's house, too, because I really like it.)

But the whole point of this post was that a few months ago, I was doing our grocery shopping and saw my old nemesis Open Pit on the shelf. I hadn't really thought of this sauce in years - and decided to try it in my adult life. And all I can say is Oh. My Gosh! It's delicious! Like, really delicious - like, one of my favorite sauces of the moment.

I can absolutely see why I didn't like it when I was a kid, though (it definitely does have a kick in terms of spice - and it's quite vinegar-y) - but these are things I love in a sauce, now! Also, I sort of feel uncomfortable classifying it with BBQ sauce (not that I can think of any other sauce category for it) - but it's not smoky in the least bit and it's quite thin - both uncharacteristic for a BBQ sauce. Seriously though, give this stuff a try! Do I think it would stand a chance in a taste test next to some Memphis BBQ sauces - probably not. But again, maybe don't think of this sauce as something to put on your ribs - think of it more as something to dip fries in or to accent a sandwich. It's awesome - good choice back in the day, Garry.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Cooking & Eating

Since I have one sweet friend who decided to comment on my blog (thanks, man!), I thought I'd address some of her questions about cooking.

First things first, when I was only cooking for myself (before I moved in with Jonathan), I didn't do any meal planning (or much preparation, really). I would buy a few regular items at the grocery store each week and every night decide which quick/easy thing to make - this usually ended up being eggs, veggie burgers, salads, a sandwich, or pasta of some sort. So I'd say if you're on this schedule right now, and the idea of planning and eating real meals every night sounds daunting - I totally agree with you!

But for me, a light switch was flipped on in my head when we moved in together. I realized that: a) we couldn't really just fend for ourselves every night - that would be weird; b) I wanted dinner to be a special time we could enjoy with each other (since my family growing up had dinner together every night at the table); and c) I wanted to feed us healthy food. So - with these hopes for our new family, I realized I needed to step up in terms of planning/shopping/cooking.

Let me just say though, now that I do it, meal planning is awesome! Every week I write the days on a piece of paper & then plan the meals underneath. When I'm done (not only do I have guidance to make my grocery list), but I have something to put on the fridge to show our meals every night (and thus eliminate the "what's for dinner?" question). I make the list on either Saturday or Sunday - go to the grocery store one of those days - and plan dinner for Sunday night through Thursday night (leaving Friday & Saturday open - and if we decide to eat in on one of those nights, I just make an extra trip to the grocery store for only those items).

It sounds silly, but if you take the question of what out of the cooking equation, the cooking time greatly decreases. So I get home from work and know we're having XYZ for dinner - I can start doing something for it (like cutting vegetables, making a salad, getting spices & ingredients grouped together that will be needed, etc.). Probably total, on average, I spend 30-45 minutes getting everything ready and cooked (but not necessarily together - it could be 10 here, 15 there, etc.). And I have to say, these are 30-45 minutes I feel really good about; in retrospect, thinking about eating a ton of takeout or a Lean Cuisine (hello sodium & preservative city), sort of grosses me out.

For the most part, we eat the same thing (except on some nights where Jonathan will have meat & I'll have fish). But again, this was sort of a commitment to healthy eating: would pasta with lots of cheese and sauce and fattening ingredients be awesome to eat every night? Yes! But will grilled salmon, steamed vegetables, and a salad provide better "fuel" for our bodies? Yes. So I think there's a balance to find (and I definitely still need to work on it, as Jonathan has recently told me he's unhappy with the low amount of meat he's eating). Healthy eating is really good for you, though - and it does sort of suck sometimes (broccoli again??) - but in the end, you're body will function so much better (and last so much longer) if it gets more vitamin-rich, whole foods than it gets restaurant or preservative-laden food.

I'd say give planning and cooking a try. (And an added bonus of being married is a built-in sous chef: "can you chop this for me?" "can you clean this up while I cook this?" "can you grill these?" Or even more so, if you do the cooking, he will probably do the clean up!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Did I Trick JCrew?

On Friday night of this week, we're going to a party for the Memphis alumni chapter of Jonathan's Alma Mater. The invitation says "cocktail attire." Now mind you, I have clothes for cocktail attire: a few dresses, some nice skirts, a couple nice tops. But whenever a party like this comes up, I'm always at a loss for what to wear. If this were a wedding or rehearsal dinner, I'd know what to wear. If it were a party given by friends, I'd know what to wear. But situations like this where most of the people attending are going to be much older than us (and the boss of my department will most likely be there), I'm thrown for a loop. Mainly because I don't want to show too much skin.

If attending a wedding/rehearsal dinner of friends, it can be assumed that you're going to see a lot of skin - lots of strapless dresses, thin straps, sleeveless tops, etc. But when attending a party with mostly older people, you might or might not see a lot of skin. My mom for example (who has fabulous arms), always covers them with a jacket or a scarf. So, if I were to wear a strapless dress to this party on Friday, I could potentially be showing more skin than most people in attendance - and I'm not really comfortable with that. (Not to mention that the temperature predicted for that day is 28 degrees.)

So - I wanted to buy a new dress for it: a) with some sort of sleeve, b) that I can wear again, and c) that's on sale. I realized that JCrew was doing 30% all sale items - so I chose this dress (which is taffeta - you can't really tell in the picture).
It will be perfect - and I know I'll wear it a lot (since I have a long-sleeved black wrap dress that I have worn 3645+ times). And this one was on sale for $99. So with tax & shipping, the total was $130. When I went to enter the 30% off code, I realized it was only for total purchases of $150 or more. Boo!
But then - I got an idea. What if I added something else to my cart that would bring the total up to $150? I chose this cute belt that I had seen in the Fall catalogue.

It was on sale for $25. When I added it to my cart, the merchandise alone was not $150 - but once the shipping and tax were added, it was $160. So THEN I entered the sale code - and voila - my new total was $115 - for TWO items! I'm so excited (and definitely wondering why I've never done that before - add another small item when the total is really close to the amount you have to spend to get a discount). Nice sale, JCrew - I'll be happily sporting your merchandise on Friday!

Monday, January 25, 2010

GiGi Cupcake Heaven

On Friday the 22nd, Memphis was lucky enough to get its own branch location of GiGi's Cupcakes. I had never heard of it before, but in a serendipitous swing of luck, someone mentioned the opening in her Facebook status on Thursday.

We decided to go on Saturday - and while this was a brilliant decision, we would've been even more brilliant to go on Friday (...so that we could have gone again on Saturday). Yes. It was that good.


Cupcakes are awesome in my opinion. One, the cake itself is small enough that it's pretty easy to achieve baking perfection (unlike a cake, which is so big it often gets overcooked and dried out). Two, while small, you can do a lot with frosting in terms of quantity. I am definitely a frosting freak (I love it 100x more than the cake itself) - and the cupcake gives you a lot of options for frosting (while again, a cake has so much surface area, you can't do an absurd amount of frosting or it looks, well, absurd). Cupcakes can have an absurd amount of frosting - no one is going to question that or think it's over the top. And three, you have a little bit more flexibility in terms of type of frosting: buttercream, ganache, old-fashioned boiled, whipped, cream cheese - you can do any of those without size or stability restrictions. OR - or - you can do something brilliant like combine two (ie, dip the buttercream icing in ganache); you cannot dip a full-sized cake in anything.


The cupcake I got was the "Hunka Chunka Banana Love." The picture isn't exact on the website - but the cake itself was banana nut cake with chocolate chips; and it was topped with banana-flavored buttercream dipped in chocolate ganache. Wonderful ooey, gooey deliciousness. Jonathan got the "Chocolate Malt," which was chocolate cake topped with chocolate malt buttercream icing and adorned with crunched chocolate malt balls. I don't really like chocolate cake - but I could definitely appreciate that his cupcake was baked perfectly - and I also don't really like chocolate malt, but the frosting was AWESOME.


They had a wonderful marketing brochure for us to take home that shows a picture of every single cupcake and has its description. This led to a nice game of "If you went to GiGi's on Wednesday, which cupcake would you get" (since they only have about 15 flavors each day), which then led to the game, "What flavor is the 'White Midnight Madness Chocolate Chip?'" GiGi's rocks - and if you're in Memphis you should go immediately!


On my list to try next: Wedding Cake, Southern Comfort, Pumpkin Cream, Italian Cream, and Golden Brown...and every other flavor.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Age Discrimination

Jonathan and I decided recently (after maaaaany restless nights of sleep) that we need to upgrade to a king-sized bed. And who knew, but apparently January is the BEST time to buy a mattress (all the new "models" of beds come out in February). So in the same way car dealerships try to get their old cars off the lots in December, mattress sellers do the same in January. This can be read as MAJOR SALES.

And conveniently for us, we had a huge amount of store credit to Macys (with wedding returns and giftcards), we'd been given some cash for our wedding, and we got a sweet cash refund from Crate & Barrel returns - so all this to say, we felt comfortable with the expenses of a new bed (bed frame, linens, mattress pad, etc.).

On Saturday we went to the Macys in St. Louis to test out some mattresses. The store was empty - and even though we made it very clear we wouldn't be purchasing anything - we had a very nice salesman walking around with us explaining all the mattress lingo. Soon into the shopping, it became somewhat clear that I had more criteria for our future mattress than Jonathan did - so we decided that yesterday (Monday - I was off work for MLK day), I would go to the Macys in Memphis and buy a mattress.

The store was not crowded - and when I first walked in, I noticed 4-5 salesmen hanging out behind the counter adjacent to the mattress showroom. There was a couple in their 60s walking around trying out beds, too - but neither the couple nor myself received any attention from the salesmen behind the counter. This was a sharp contrast to the service in St. Louis, but not entirely un-welcome, as I was able to test the mattresses out without being pressured to try one out of our price range. Then another woman entered the mattress area (probably 50ish) with her daughter (probably 16).

At this point, a salesman came over and first started talking with the older couple. Note that I had now been here quite awhile and had narrowed down my choice to 2 mattresses. When the older couple declined a sale and left, the salesman went to help the woman and her daughter - even though I had been there 20 minutes longer than them! In my opinion, this is straight up age-related discrimination: the man thought there was no way a young woman by herself would buy a mattress sooner than an older woman with her daughter would. It is absolutely not possible that the salesman had not seen me or that he hadn't realized I was there longer (because as I said, it was like 20 minutes longer - in a wide open showroom - while he stood at the counter 10 feet away from the mattresses).

At this point I had chosen my mattress and was ready to purchase - so I stood at the bed I wanted and waved at the men behind the counter. An older salesman came over and said "are you waiting for Bob?" gesturing at the other guy. I said "no - and if you could help me - I'm ready to purchase this mattress." He did help me then, and to my glorious satisfaction, the woman and her daughter did not buy anything. Unlucky for Bob that he missed out on a big sale.

In general, I don't really think I look that young - so I can only imagine the age discrimination some of my friends go through who have "baby faces." It's still annoying, nonetheless. But in more exciting news, we got a mattress set that was originally $3300 - and paid $45 out of our pocket for it! Thank you generous friends for the generous wedding gifts - hopefully we will sleep like the little babies we look like in about a week.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti

My heart aches today for Haiti. Such a small country with such a large population, so much poverty, so many people afflicted with AIDS; a country that's hardly able to handle its normal circumstances, let alone a destructive disaster. There is going to be chaos, and lawlessness, and death. So much death - my gut sinks a little when I think about it.

This feels so much closer to home than the Tsunami did a few years ago. And it feels more devastating than Hurricane Katrina (even though I knew people directly involved and hurt by that storm) - the US, even if it did a poor job, was so much more equipped to handle mass disaster. And our country is so much bigger than Haiti - it was easier to escape the devastation until it could be made safe again for re-entry.

Let us all pray and send positive thoughts down south: that the country will remain united and work together to help each other; that enough relief can be sent from bigger, stronger, more affluent countries; that the spread of disease will remain low; that right now, people can still be rescued from destroyed buildings; and most importantly, that the loss of life remains as low as possible.

(I read that if you text "HAITI" to 90999, $10 will go toward relief efforts from the Red Cross; and that if you text "Yele" to 501501, you can donate $5 to relief. I did the second of the two and got a response confirming I wanted to do it, etc. - but I've not heard anything from the first number.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 - Pick up a Pen

As I said yesterday, while I realize that making a New Year's Resolution is a little cliche, I have definitely been thinking of some things I'd like to make happen this year. This list is not ranked in order of importance; I'm just throwing thoughts out there that aren't necessarily HUGE, life-changing items of importance, but are important to me.

1) Be more "green." I think in a lot of instances when I could easily be more "green," it boils down to laziness. So - I want to use reusable grocery bags, recycle EVERYTHING that can be recycled (even shampoo bottles...even when it means walking to the recycle bin & not just the bathroom garbage can), use less chemical cleaning products, and not waste food.

2) Cook a new recipe from one of the cookbooks on my shelf every two weeks. I definitely cook a lot - but we're in a little bit of a food slump, I think. So I really want to utilize my resources & dive into the cookbooks on the shelf.

3) Go to yoga more. I like it; I have coupons for classes; I should go more.

4) Lose ~10 pounds. As stated yesterday, I lost about 6 pounds before our wedding - and I have put those back on (and I fear that the reason the number isn't higher is because I've lost some muscle weight & replaced it with fat - YAY). So anyway, I just need to get back on the healthy eating & exercise plan - I'm not concerned about being able to do this, but I just need to actually start.

5) Write more! I want to get this blog up & running! But also, I'd like to have a tag for "creative writing" & make myself get back into this. I have a great book of writing prompts - so that's a good place to start.

6) Be mindful about eating more organic foods & less genetically modified plants. I'm in the (albeit slow) process of reading The Unhealthy Truth - a book written by a mother of 4 kids with food allergies/intolerances. She explores the vast increase in genetically modified crops and hypothesizes a connection between the large increase, of late, in autism and food allergies. It's a fascinating read for anyone interested in our food supply, our government's regulation of the food supply, and ways you can try to protect yourself & your family.

7) Get our budget into full effect (and try to motivate my husband to be as interested in saving money as I am). I think a lot of steps we'd like to take in our near future cannot happen until we establish a strong foundation in the bank. I'd also like to be one of those people who's really savvy about taxes & utilizing credit cards - because I'm not either of those things right now & wish every time I book a plane ticket that I "have miles to use" (what does this even mean??).

This is just one aspect of how I'd like to shape up in 2010. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 - I Win!

It's a new year - 2010! I'm still a little unsure how to say this aloud ("twenty ten" or "two thousand ten"). But regardless, I'm hoping to craftily title my blog posts this week.

And yes - you heard that correctly - "my blog posts this week." The new year is all about resolutions - and if you couldn't have already guessed, a big one of mine is to get this blog going! But I'm resolving to get some other stuff done too (even if it is cliche and overdone to wait until the new year to make a change), so stay tuned this week for my new 2010 life plan!

Today though, instead of the future, I want to dwell on the past. 2009 was a fantastic, amazing, life-changing year for me; I'm not quite ready to move on without giving it proper reflection.

So here's my 2009 in review.

2009 - you were so fine...

1) On February 1st, after an incredibly romantic & well-thought scavenger hunt of sorts, I finally became engaged to the man I'd known for quite some time would eventually become my husband.

2) I planned an awesome, big, beautiful wedding in Memphis. And although that one sentence makes the whole process sound breezy - it was in fact quite involved/stressful/time consuming - but so rewarding in the end (and not only because I got to marry my husband - but because I got to see a tangible product of my hard work - and got to feel a calm that I wouldn't have been able to experience if everything hadn't been planned to a tee).

3) We got married on November 14th. A wonderful weekend of festivities in which we were surrounded by people we love. The whole weekend felt so blessed and warm. Everything went without a hitch (everything: great weather, great people, beautiful flowers, delicious food & cake, thoughtful words, worshipful ceremony, rockin' band, FUN reception); it was all so perfect - and mostly because I finally got to become my husband's wife.

4) I rented my house out to a young couple and moved in with my husband. I'm not sure if this sounds as monumental as it actually was - but seeing as I'd only ever lived with my family and girl friends, moving in with a man was a world of difference (that took some adjusting). Thankfully, though, I feel like I've finally turned "Jonathan's house" into "our house" with some minor decorating and major cleaning/de-cluttering.

5) Immediately following our wedding, we had a relaxing 9-day trip to Mexico. This trip was the first we'd ever taken just the two of us (that wasn't traveling for a family event or a wedding), and how fitting that we were a married couple. We ate and drank to our heart's content (and gained the 8 pounds to prove it) - but had a wonderful, romantic, RELAXING time of sun, books, pools, and lounging.

6) I became a P-90x grad. Google this ridiculous 90 day, 6-day-a-week workout plan to see how fantastic an accomplishment this is. We chose to do it the 3 months before our wedding - and definitely surprised ourselves with our dedication. In total, I dropped about 6 pounds and shed quite a few inches - and my husband shed a few more inches and 25 pounds! I gained a ton of strength and increased my cardio abilities - which is even more important than the weight loss.

7) I made some advancements in relation to the kitchen; as in, I finally feel like I get how to do the cooking/grocery shopping for two thing. I've learned the value of planning ahead & planning things to use at other meals - and I feel so much less wasteful - and also comfortable that in a little planning, I can feed myself and my husband healthy "fuel" for our bodies. This feels like such an accomplishment because I've definitely gained a lot of courage in the kitchen - and know pretty confidently now that I can make something healthy & delicious (and have everything come out of the oven/stove/microwave at the same time).

So this was my 2009. A big year - a great year. I'm anxious to see what 2010 brings, but definitely feel blessed coming into it. Happy New Year!