Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy Belated Valentine's Day!

I've been too busy to write lately (no surprise there), but I wanted to write a quick blurb about Valentine's Day in case I am too busy later to comment on it. Mike and I had a wonderful time yesterday - we took the day off and just spent it together. I found a great recipe for mac and cheese and we had a romantic time making it together, and spent most of the day relaxing and watching tv and doing a few chores together. It was wonderful and beautiful and relaxing and fun. We took some pics, but I'll just share my favorite one for now:

More later, hopefully. I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day! :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Surrendered to Winter Already

I don't get why winter won't just let up - I already surrendered! I waved a white flag from under a mound of snow. Yet today it was 12 degrees when I woke up. Now it's just being cruel and unusual.

After work today, I had to run some errands, but only ended up running one - dashing off to KMart to get a hand mixer and some cat litter. I'm super psyched about the hand mixer because now I can take on some baking projects that are more ambitious. Mike and I stopped at my place to check on the cats and take out the trash and clean up a little, then came back to his place to eat dinner, watch some "24," and chill out. I had to work on some boring paperwork and write some news for the site (just one, but it's got me drooling). There's so much more I wanted to get done but now I'm utterly exhausted and I think it's time for bed.

I will say one thing briefly - I'm glad that I'm taking the time in 2011 to hang out with the people who matter to me. I had a great lunch today with my friends Dave and Kate at work, and I'm meeting up with my friend Sheila tomorrow after work. I also just made some plans with my best friend Krissy, and I've been trying to solidify a date to see my sister and her family for weeks now with no success. Hopefully that'll get cleared up soon! We're also supposed to go to NYC to spend some time this weekend with some other Warp Zoned writers - which reminds me, I have to buy those tickets as well tonight. No rest for the wicked...

OH! And I started reading The Fall of Hyperion, which is better than I expected. One chapter in and I'm already hooked.

OK, I'm fading fast. Hopefully more tomorrow...

My fortune was right - good books are BFFs.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It's Only Tuesday?

I am sooooo tired, and I have been all day. This winter is so cold and draining! And there's so much more of it left. Sigh...

So last night, I wrote that blog post about cooking and baking, and it felt pretty good to get it all in one place! It's so gratifying to write about the goals I want to achieve and to think about the road I've taken so far. I also uploaded a ton of pictures to Facebook - I take so many with my Droid and then never do anything with them, so I wanted to put them all somewhere. I got the first folder's worth of pictures up, and then we went to bed.

Today, after work, Mike and I went to Gamestop so I could try to order some games, but we failed miserably. The selection at ours is so hit or miss - they either have everything I want and it's A+ #1 awesome, or they don't have anything and nothing is in order and the whole place is a mess and the cashier can't even answer a simple question. We came home and ate some leftovers from this weekend and watched some more "24," which has been our latest show. We've watched seasons 1 and 2 so far, and now we're at the beginning of season 3. It's been terrific. When we were done, Mike went to bed - he wasn't feeling well - so I took the opportunity to finish up my review of Dead Space: Extraction and upload some more pictures to Facebook. I haven't tagged them all yet, but I'll work on that tomorrow. Right now I need to wash my hair and then get my butt to bed!

First, I wanted to comment on what we've been watching and reading and all that jazz:

-over Christmas break, we watched 4 seasons of "Dexter," and we watched the 5th season the week after. We were obsessed.
-we've fallen behind on "30 Rock" and "The Office," but I did catch an episode of "Outsourced" and thought it was hilarious, and we watched the first episode of "Eli Stone," which I also really liked.
-Zombieland was fantastic! And I watched Scott Pilgrim...again.
-I belong to a book club for the first time in my whole life. We read The Graveyard Book. It was excellent. I'm still reading Monster Nation - I have to get back to it. I am deciding on either The Fall of Hyperion or Johannes Cabal: The Detective for my next book.
-I've been listening to The Dismemberment Plan pretty much non-stop the last few weeks, and we saw them on their reunion tour when they stopped in Philadelphia. It was incredible. I'm also listening to the Giant Bombcast and the Warp Zoned podcast, as vain as that sounds.
-I beat four games (and reviewed three!) in January - Lost in Shadow, LittleBigPlanet 2, Picross 3D, and Dead Space 2. I've beaten one in February so far - Dead Space: Extraction.

I'm also reading Kill Screen and trying to find more time for webcomics but it's so hard. I've got so much going on that it's really tough to stay on track of anything! Right now, I'm currently playing:
-Valkyria Chronicles II on the PSP
-Pokemon SoulSilver on the DS
-about to start Dead Space: Ignition on the PS3 and Return All Robots for the PC

There's more going on, but that's all I've got time for today. Random picture:

From when Mike and I got back together. :)

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have more time and some inspiration to do another blog post like last night's. For now...shower...then sleep. :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

In Which I Talk about Baking and Cooking

So, free time has been really hard to come by around here. Between working full time, being the Senior Editor at Warp Zoned, writing for Geekadelphia, spending as many Wednesdays as I can at Indyhall and trying to do as many IGDA events as I can (neither of which I have done satisfactorily enough, if you ask me), being on hand for much of Global Game Jam, going to MAGFest, trying to clean and reorganize my apartment, and attempting to keep up on things like eating food and sleeping and doing laundry...well, let's just say I don't get any of those last three things done very consistently. Add in there the fact that the doctors are still trying to figure out what's going on with my heart and my stomach, and I've spent an inordinate amount of time these last few months at the gastroenterologist, the nutritionist, the cardiologist, and then my regular yearly check-up with the gyno and monthly drop-ins with my family doctor to keep her apprised of my situation. I've also started seeing a therapist to see if treating the anxiety itself will help with the other issues, and they seem to think that treating that directly will end all the other problems. I've even considered going to an acupuncturist, as some of my friends have had some good luck with that. The good news is that I haven't been in the ER since November. The bad news is that I've given up caffeine (with the exception of the occasional chocolate) and alcohol completely, and that I'm still having breakthrough acid reflux, even with the Prilosec. But as a result of the no caffeine and no alcohol, I've lost 30 pounds, and can now fit into ALL of my old clothes, which means I haven't spent any money on clothes lately. So...there's good, and there's bad, and I'm dealing with all of it the best I can.

Since I haven't been able to regularly write in here with anything, I decided I'm going to try to make my writing a little more structured here in order to give myself a more creative outlet. I've been wanting to really get into baking and cooking recently, so I thought that might be a good place to start.

Baking and cooking are things I've wanted to get into for a very, very long time now. My current living situation prohibits getting really creative - or, in many cases, doing even the most simple tasks - because I live in a very small apartment and, frankly, I just don't have the proper tools to get a lot done. For the most part, I just kind of go without and make something else if I don't have what I need to get it done. This weekend, I decided to change that attitude.

First, let me give some background. I started baking when I was very young, probably about six years old. I would help my grandmother bake at Christmas and Easter every year, mixing up the cookie dough, putting on the frosting, eating the batter - whatever I could do, I did. That went on until I was about 11, and then only sporadically until I was 18, and then, sadly, never again. When they moved, my grandmom gave up her tradition of baking Christmas cookies and Easter bread. For the most part, she also stopped cooking. She used to cook every meal for us (except Sunday breakfast - that was my grandpop's job), but since they moved out of the house I grew up in, there's been no serious cooking or baking other than those done for family gatherings.

My own experiences - solo, that is - have been sporadic at best. I moved out when I was 18 but didn't really start cooking for myself until I had my first apartment in Reading, PA...and even then, it was nothing more complicated than macaroni and cheese. My roommate, Rachel, did most of the cooking, and I did most of the cleaning up. Of my next roommates, Patrick and James, I was spoiled by Patrick's cooking, or ended up with take out, or got leftovers from my mom's house. (It's no surprise that at this time in my life, I was my heaviest.) I allowed all of my next roommates to cook as well, as I had little to no interest in learning. I dabbled here and there, but for the most part, I just wasn't into it. I made Irish Potatoes, and I made some awesome mashed potatoes, but in between, there wasn't much.

The true test came when I moved into an apartment alone in 2007. Would I die? Would I subsist entirely off of cereal and macaroni and cheese, as I so often had in Reading? I was really into Japanese culture, so the first thing I bought for myself was a rice cooker, and taught myself the fine art of making onigiri and tried to get into creating mythical bentos. I loved making rice, and made so many different things in my rice cooker - I learned how to make risotto, tried to perfect orzo, and oftentimes made a concoction of a can of soup mixed with a cup of rice and some fresh vegetables. I also loved using the steamer, and used it often.

I also did something else I'd always wanted to try: I made my own Chex mix, which was amazing. I would often make a ton of it and include it in my lunch every day as a snack. I made a few different varieties - sometimes I'd make it salty, and other times I'd make it sweet. But every time, I loved it. It's always been one of my favorite snacks to buy at the store, and learning how to make it was a joy.

When Mike moved in, I got a slow cooker, and became even more daring. I made chili, lasagna, teriyaki chicken, and even pizza in it. It was difficult at first, because I really had no idea what I was doing. Recipes that looked so simple would take me two hours because I had to time browning the meat and cutting all of the vegetables and getting everything opened and drained and mix it all together. At first, I was overwhelmed, but after a few times, I really got the hang of it and started to love it. I haven't used it in a while now, mainly because we haven't had the time, but we've had some ideas, and once we have a free weekend, I plan on diving back in and making some chili again, or maybe some more lasagna (which is Mike's favorite).

Using the slow cooker, and learning how to do other things with food, opened me up to different ideas. I've gotten more daring with the rice cooker (we had to get a new one last year because the cheap one I got when I first moved in ended up breaking), and I have more tools for bento now than ever before, with a few more on my wish list.

Another thing I got really into was making guacamole. I'd never really been all that into guacamole until I tried my aunt's recipe a few years ago. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever had in my life, and I HAD to know how she made it. So I got her recipe and started making it myself whenever avocados were readily available. It's a delicious and healthy snack that I try to have on hand, especially in the summer. I also really want to get into making my own hummus, but that will have to wait until I get a food processor.

Baking had still eluded me, for the most part. Over the summer, I bought an awesome Mini Cupcake Factory from Thinkgeek, which makes approximately a billion cupcakes per box of cake mix. I haven't made anything daring yet - just used boxes of mix and used store-bought frosting. I don't have a hand mixer, so making anything more complicated than that would be an anxiety-inducing nightmare. For now, I love having a billion tiny cupcakes everywhere, slathering on some icing, and covering them in sprinkles.

But this weekend changed everything for me. I decided that, for my grandfather's birthday, I was going to make some food. I'd made my cupcakes for everyone a few months before and they were impressed, but I wanted to do something that took a little more effort, and I guess finesse as well. So I decided to make some really cool dessert bars. I went to the store and purchased all of the ingredients, including the 9X13 baking dish that I needed (I got a really cool Pyrex one with a lid). The main ingredients were graham crackers, walnuts, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and coconut, and they're amazing. I had sort of hoped they would be like the ones I got at Picnic, which have more of a brownie-like consistently to them, but these were more like candy bars. They turned out really well, though, so my next goal is to either find the recipe for the bars I'm thinking of...or branch out and try to make my own.

The truth is, I would really love to start making some more ambitious projects, including cupcakes, but without a real mixer, I can't do a whole lot. So one of the next purchases I want to make is for a hand mixer and maybe one of those baking bags to apply icing to the cupcakes. I've been shopping around the last few days, so once I'm comfortable with something, I'm going to pick it up.

This weekend, I also made some buffalo chicken dip, which was super hot but super awesome. I went with canned chicken because I didn't think I'd have enough time to boil and shred the chicken breasts, but this was a mistake - the canned chicken had the consistently of tuna fish, which made it less appetizing. But mixed with all the cheese and hot sauce, it was less easy to tell that it was from a can. All in all, it was a successful endeavor into baking, and I definitely want to try some more - possibly this weekend when we go to my sister's, if they don't mind being guinea pigs for another project.

All in all, right now, I'm feeling pretty confident. The only major things standing in the way of me really learning how to bake and cook are space issues as well as major time constraints. I'm busier now than ever before, but I feel like learning how to bake and cook will help me to deal with my stress, especially because I feel like it will help me make healthier choices. OK, maybe more with the cooking than the baking, but you know what I mean.

And now, time for some pictures. :)

Me doing some prep for the dessert bars :)

The ingredients!

Adding the final layer

The pup was waiting patiently.

The final product was slightly burnt but totally delicious.

Laying down the chicken layer of the buffalo chicken dip...and yes, those are my pajamas. :)

After adding more cheese than I'm comfortable admitting and baking it, this was the awesome result

Time for me to get some editing and writing done before I pass out. Hopefully someone out there is reading this and enjoyed this post and the pictures. :) I want to try to do some more of these, so look out for some as soon as the end of this week - if I have the time. Ah, that phrase, as always...