Viva El Taco!

Hola Amigos!

I simply refuse to believe it has been 2+ months since I posted. To be honest, I have considered quitting the blog. It's just not that rewarding anymore, and I can't explain why. I'm frustrated by Typepad (like now, when it keeps changing the font size on me). Anyway, we'll see. I'll keep you posted.

One of my favorite meals ever is tacos. And I don't mean fancy, Oyamel tacos, though those are delicious too. I mean the type 10 year olds like. Crispy shells, ground meat, cheese, etc. I do make mine a little more adult-friendly by using ground turkey breast (gotta watch that cholesterol), but otherwise, it's pretty much the same I ate as a kid. Except I skip the iceberg lettuce because I can't be bothered.

Being a child of the 80s, it never occured to me that seasoning could come from anything but a packet.  Literally, until I was 30-something, this never occurred to me. It was only when I was looking for something with less sodium that I found out a little secret: taco mix is just spices. (Well, unless you buy those packets in which case you're getting a lot of strange chemicals too).

So, I started making my own. There are many varieties on the Web, and really you can play with it until it's how you like it. And, that is the wonderful thing about it–it's customizable. I personally like ones that incorporate corn starch, because it then thickens into a sauce like the packets mom used to make. I based mine on a recipe from The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas (a really kick ass book). I did make some adjustments.

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Taco Seasoning

2 T Chili Powder (pick a heat level that works for you)

2 t Paprika

1 t Cayenne (again, adjust the heat)

1 1/2 t Dried Oregano Leaves

1 T salt

1/4 t Black pepper

2 T Cornstarch

1/4 t. Garlic Powder

1 t. Ground Cumin

A few dashes of Ground Chipotle

Mix it all together. Store in a jar. Add about 2 T with about a cup of water and cook for 5 min after browning meat. If you feel it's too thin, add a wee bit more.

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Buen Provecho! Enjoy!

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Frozen Delights!

I had a moment a few weeks ago where I decided I was no longer going to buy one of the staples of my kitchen: No Sugar Added Fudgsicles. It just grossed me out thinking that I was eating what essentially amounted to a frozen chemical stick. So, I decided to fulfill my sweet cool cravings, I was going to buy popsicle molds and make my own. So I did.

I settled on the "Groovy" molds from Tovolo that I bought at Hill's Kitchen. (If you want to buy these, call Leah at Hill's Kitchen and she'll hook you up…Amazon's good but no cheaper…so why not "buy local." :))

So, I've become a bit obsessed. (These were taken w/ my iphone, so sorry for the quality…)

Honeydew pops…basically just honeydew, some honey, and a little yogurt:



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I believe these were my personal favorites…Blueberry Limoncello. I would give you the recipe, but I didn't have one. Basically, blueberries, limoncello, freeze!

 


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I also made delightful Fudge Pops from a Taste of Home recipe that are now on my "do not make" list. Why? Not because they were gross. Quite the opposite–they were delish, but way too caloric and delicious to make regularly! You can find that recipe here.

I do highly advocate making frozen treats…they are generally healthier than what you'd get in the store and you can come up with some cleverly delicious recipes on the fly. I'm excited to try additional ones! And, apparently, they're the new trend–popping up in bars in cities, including mine! Witness this feature from the Washington Post. I'd like to point out that that article came out AFTER I started making my pops. What can I say? I'm a trendsetter! 🙂 Here is the accompanying video about fancy popsicles from the Dairy Godmother in Alexandria (one of my favorite places down there!).

http://specials.washingtonpost.com/mv/embed/?title=Ice%20pop%20sophisticate&stillURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com%2Fwp-dyn%2Fcontent%2Fphoto%2F2010%2F08%2F03%2FPH2010080304861.jpg&flvURL=%2Fmedia%2F2010%2F07312010-1v&width=480&height=270&autoStart=false&clickThru=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com%2Fwp-dyn%2Fcontent%2Fvideo%2F2010%2F08%2F03%2FVI2010080304829.html

We’re gonna need a bigger kitchen

I just bought this beaut at a big discount (still more than I had originally planned…but…):

 


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I scored my deal ($199, normal price $300 or so) on Rue La La. (If you like being suckered into daily deals, use my link and I'll get credit…) By the time I got to the deal, the only choices were Blue Willow (shown) and Cinnamon. The Cinnamon would clash with my bright red KitchenAid food processor, so I went with the blue. (I really wanted yellow…but life is about compromise.)

Anyway, I had long wondered if I needed a stand mixer. I don't bake all that much, because I have an eating problem…if I bake, I eat. I had sort of taken pride in the fact that I could bake during Christmas with only my nearly broken Procter Silex hand mixer that I got years and years before at Kmart for under $10. It had some kind of gear loose, and you could hear it rattle around. That puppy was recently replaced with a Cuisinart hand mixer. But, in some ways the old dog was better for low speeds. I digress…all these appliance considerations had me thinking about how often I use various kitchen appliances and how that differs from others. Here's my list…

Coffee Maker: I have a drip coffee maker that I got in grad school after a sordid "break up" with a friend whose maker I was using which came after my college era 4-cup brewer bit the dust. I got it on Amazon.com for $19 after shipping. I use it nearly daily. Recently, it doesn't seem to get all that hot and is ugly given the missing carafe lid (unfortunate dishwasher accident).


Coffeemaker

Cordless Electric Kettle: I use this nearly daily. So helpful for brewing tea and for pre-boiling water with less time and energy than on the stove. Indispensible in my book. And, my dad would agree once I got him one for his birthday.


Kettle

Toaster: This is one of the cheapest appliances I own–Toastmaster, under $10. I use this more days than not. Mine has a Pop Tarts level…I do not use that. Don't believe me?

Toaster

KitchenAid Blender: This was acquired when I was on a smoothie kick and convinced I needed a blender…and not just any blender, but the granddaddy of blenders. It's helpful for soups and for smoothies, but I don't use it daily. Recently, I've used it for preparing popsicles. I've always kind of regretted having such a nice one.

Stick Blender: This was a more recent acquisition. Very helpful for blending soups, or for quick blending jobs. Also helpful for whipping with the included whisk attachment. Whips cream and egg whites sooooo easily.

Waffle Maker: I use this at least once a month. What's cool is that my waffle maker is also a pizzelle maker and sandwich maker. I never use the sandwich plates, but I do use the pizzelle iron during Christmas.

Popcorn Popper: Shamefully, I never use. However, I store. Why? Who knows.

Food Processor: As you may recall, I recently bought a KitchenAid food processor and am REALLY pleased with this purchase. I use it usually once a week or so for chopping or slicing or shredding or something. It's great for bread making too.

Now, if the food processor took up half my kitchen, this powerful bad boy takes up the other half and then some! I haven't decided where to keep it permanently. Right now, it's positioned beside its buddy. I'm glad I didn't get the cinnamon. I think they make a nice, patriotic couple.

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Caulk-Sure

If I had to choose one thing I hate about my apartment, the bathroom would be up there. It's fugly. Okay, it's not that bad, but it has a lot that could be changed. Oh, like the cracked tiles and the tub where all the enamel has worn off and a huge area of yellowed disgusting adhesive on the tub where an adhesive tub mat once was. Add to that dried and cracked caulk, and the whole thing is a nightmare. I can clean until I'm blue in the face, and it's still disgusting. Examine:


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Keep in mind this is AFTER I just cleaned with an abrasive cleanser.


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Yes, gross. I mentioned the caulk (which was not in great shape when I moved in 5 years ago) to my landlord once, but you know, given that I have decent rent, I hate to push things too much for minor problems. So, I've thought about doing it myself. My first and only other experience recaulking a tub was in 2000 when I lived in a group house. The landlady there was more or less a slumlord, so having her do it was out of the question and there was NO way I was living with the caulk that my roommates had never cleaned.  And so started my first adventure with the caulking. That was enough of an experience to keep me from caulking. It isn't pleasant. What had me come back was, sadly an infomercial, for this:


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I saw the infomercial a long time ago, but it caught up with me again at a moment of  particular vulnerability last Friday at Bed, Bath & Beyond. A stressful office move, a 20% coupon, and clearance price all conspired to put me down the path of recaulking again.

On Saturday, I geared up, I was ready, and this time I had the tools for a job: The "As Seen on TV" product, rubber gloves, a utility knife, and flat head screwdriver. I was PUMPED UP! That caulk was going to get it good!


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Now, I feel the need to warn you. What follows is not suitable for all viewers. Proceed with caution.

First, you slice the caulk on either side to loosen it.


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And then you just dig, and remove and dig and remove…it ain't pretty.


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See what I mean? Eventually, it will all be gone. By eventually, I mean like an hour later. You have this.


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After that, you clean it out a bit with some bleach to kill whatever gross mold is in there and let it dry. I used rags and a hair drier, just to make sure. Then the fun could begin. My tools:


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The caulk came with the As Seen On TV tool. It has "Microban" which is supposed to fight mold. The snaky thing is backer rod. Essentially, if the crack is deeper than 3/8", you need to put something else in there. I just so happened to have some from one of my other escapades.

I didn't photograph the interim process because, well, my hands were a mess. It's times like this I wish I had a husband…to take blog photos! 🙂 The tool helped smooth out the "bead." The end results were wonderful and made such a HUGE difference!


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It doesn't change the cracks and lack of tub enamel, but at least I don't have gross cracked moldy caulk anymore!


Western PA Vintage Finds

I went home to Western PA last weekend. I had a series of "had to dos" there, such as having my annual eye appointment with my wonderful eye doc, getting measured for a bridesmaid dress, and getting my oil change (just more convenient there). I of course got to see one of my favorite family members, Sammy. The dog.

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I also got to go to my favorite Salvation Army. Despite telling myself I wasn't going to be selling anything on Etsy or Ebay anytime soon, I couldn't help but snap up all the wonderful finds. All the below for under $20:

  • Two Kremerware canisters (sugar and tea)
  • A "Mascot" vintage cooler
  • A set of two spaghetti looking glasses
  • A set of four yellow Pyrex-type bowls
  • Two metal Mid-Century trays
  • A little menagerie of Wade Whimsies (two elephants, two turtles, a bunny, and a lioness).

Yes! I do love a good vintage shopping trip!!!

Vintage stuff 

WOWZA! It’s been a long time!

Yeah, so it's been awhile. It's not that I don't think of you. Or this blog. I do. I just haven't been able to devote enough energy, mental or otherwise, to it.  I've thought of transferring my blog over to Blogger. Thoughts? Paying seems stupid. I used to have a Blogger blog. Actually still do, I guess, just not active. [Edited: Upon trying to "fix" the fonts…I ended up with a big mess…sorry. I don't understand why Typepad does this. And I pay for the privilege of a messed up blog]

I've been on a bit of a "product" kick lately. So, I thought I'd share a few of my material discoveries (also note that I've played with the image here in Picnik):


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Neutrogena Ultra Sheer SPF 55 Liquid Sunscreen ($12.99 at Drugstore.com)

This stuff is 'da bomb. I had always wanted to heed the "wear sunscreen daily" mantra, but I HATED how the stuff felt greasy on my already oily-tending skin. This is one of the only ones I'm actually comfortable wearing. It's very light and non-greasy. As far as I can tell, it isn't clogging my pores. Another bonus is that this stuff goes pretty far, but is in a small enough container that you could pack it in your carry on!

Biore Enliven Cooling Eye Gel ($9.49 at Drugstore.com)I can't back up the claims it makes about making me look more awake (I'm sure those who have seen me in the mornings lately would beg to differ), but the stuff feels great.

Crest 3D White Vivid Toothpaste ($4.29 at Drugstore.com)I have used those strips before, but really hate having them in my mouth. Whether this "removes 90% of surface stains within two weeks" remains unseen, but I could tell within one use that it was doing something. That was enough for me. Their snappy ad with the chick getting the photoshoot and drinking wine against the orders of her manager didn't hurt.

The next thing I have "discovered" lately isn't a beauty product but a food. I bought a watermelon at Harris Teeter that was  bit mushy, but still sweet. Overripe, I guess. So, I decided to do what I'd seen on the streets of Taipei: make a sort of batido–blended watermelon juice. Basically took the chunks and blended them. Yummy and very refreshing. Today, I amped that up a notch. I froze the remaining chunks then blended them with pinot grigio for a fancy grown up slushee:


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Big. Yum.

An Open Letter to Clothing Manufacturers

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This is a representative example of the types of things sold to the 18+ market. For some, it might be okay? Maybe?

Dear Clothing Manufacturers:

After a day of clothes shopping, I thought it would be helpful to you if I share some of my insight. Perhaps you did not realize, since you are apparently based in China and India, but many Americans are fat. Actually, according to the news, obesity is an epidemic here. And, because of this, many people are actually larger than 0-12. I know! Crazy, but true! I just thought I'd point this out to you, because as I was shopping, I noticed that many things are only available in the 0-12 sizes.

I noticed this because I wear an 18/20 women's. From what I can tell, there are many women who also wear this size, because it's difficult to ever find anything in this size.  Other girlfriends of mine complain how hard it is to find clothes that fit, but what they don't understand is that for me, it's not even about whether it fits WELL, but whether I can actually find something sold in my size. I shudder to think about those who are in the sizes larger than mine that are not sold in stores. I don't have that problem. There is of course clothing sold in my size, but much of this clothing makes the erroneous assumption that a.) people of size are deficient in good taste b.) people of size are all over the age of 65 AND live in the 1980s. Neither of these things are true. They have taste and live right here with us!  I'm living proof!

Additionally, people of size have money. I know! I'm surprised too! And, as we know (or as I know), in retail, more selection means more buying. So, having a miniscule amount of sub-par clothing does very little to bring in revenues.Now, I understand that actually selling things to people can be embarrasing, especially people who are (come closer so I can whisper…) fat, but perhaps you could, I don't know, find a storeroom or something to sell them in so that other, thinner shoppers don't see. I know Michelle Obama is trying to make America thin, and that she is a thin and attractive woman, but the truth is, until that happens, if people feel like crap in their clothing, it does little to inspire them to treat themselves well.

I've noticed that you often carry men's sizes in larger sizes in "regular" stores or the regular men's section, where things are merely sold in larger sizes, maybe because that's less embarrasing? Because men are allowed to be bigger? I don't know, but it could work for women too if you give it a shot.

Finally, you might want to introduce new options slowly. If women of size all of a sudden have access to the same things as their smaller sisters, the choice might be too overwhelming for us and send us all into shock, so slowly but surely!Thanks for your consideration. I and other women above a size 12 will greatly appreciate your additional attention!

You're welcome for the revenues,

Christine

American Music is in my Sou-ou-ou-oul, Babyeee…*

I was at a party last weekend with a very international crowd: the hostess was Italian along with many of her guests and there were guests from Japan, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Guatemala, Peru, and probably other countries I'm forgetting. And, of course, there were Americans including me. Several of these Americans were part of Fieri, an Italian-American young professionals organization. Which brings me to my post topic.

I got in a bit of a heated discussionwith the woman from Romania who was essentially laughing at how Americans claim their heritage, such as being Italian-American. This was after I explained that I'm Italian, Polish, Slovak, and Slovenian. "You are all Americans, nothing else," she said. "You don't even speak the language."  I vehemently defended us, saying she just couldn't understand since she wasn't American.

I explained that while, yes, first and foremost, I and my fellow members of the Italian-American group were Americans, our heritage also defines us. Our families act differently, eat differently, and have other differences from, say, someone whose family came over on the Mayflower or from a Cuban American (this is in my mind now, having just come from Miami!) or a Chinese-American.

I found the funniest part to be when her partner (husband?) who was American (of Russian descent) said "Well, then, you've been here ten years. You're no longer Romanian." 🙂

This conversation stuck in my mind long after the party. I thought a lot about how so many people, from different cultures can come together and make a country. It makes me incredibly patriotic to think about it. There are so many cultures–both from every immigrant that has entered America hoping for a better life and that exist within our own nation now. For example, people identify as "Southern" or a "New Englander" or a "Pittsburgher" and this means something, becomes part of our being.

I just find it amazing that wave after wave of immigrants have come here against all odds, and bring the best of their culture to share, and eventually, America embraces them and makes them her own. We're tied together by belief in working hard, in belief in a better way of life, in belief of freedom and that despite the flaws, a life with freedom and justice is better than one without. We have pizza and tacos and bagels and vodka and egg rolls, among other culinary treats. American music, too, is an amalgam of every culture that has passed through, from that of those slaves brought here from Africa against their will to the salsa beat of those from Latin America.

I'm far from hearts and sunshine when I think about America–there are many problems and things that need fixing–but it's a pretty amazing experiment we have here, and one that I'm proud of despite the flaws.  

*apologies to Violent Femmes. Trying to be cutesy in post titles ends dangerously.

Greek Week

It's Greek Week in Christine's Kitchen. I typically like to pick a dish to make for lunch and one for dinner, to last me through the week. This week, through no premeditation, it just so happened to be of a Mediterranean vibe, from two yummy recipes from Cooking LIght online. Find them at the links below (don't want anyone getting legal on my butt).

Tabbouleh with Chicken and Red Pepper

Swiss Chard Spanikopita

Seriously, the flavors in these are magic. I don't know if it's the lemon or the mint or the parsley, but they sing.

The Tabbouleh…

From this:

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And this…

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To this:

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And the spanikopita of sorts with delicious Swiss chard! From this:

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To this:

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All a girl needs for some fun is a big, rubber…

Spatula! (Get your mind out of the gutter, you cheek!) I scored a really awesome and BIG Le Creuset spatula/scraper in a fun olivey green at Home Goods yesterday. (A big THANKS to my friend Erin who incorporated a trip to Homegoods with a search for her new apartment. I don't go to Home Goods often, because they are not really accessible to me, but I like it because it's like the Marshall's or TJ Maxx home section (my favorite section of those stores) on steroids. Sure, you have to kind of ignore the sensory overload of the faux flowers and huge paper mache roosters, but you can find some good deals on essentials. I will definitely go there if I ever need table lamps; their selection in that department was fantastic. But, on to the subject at hand, my spatula.

The spatula is actually made of silicone with a wood handle. The head is detachable, too. I feel the spatula is really the unsung hero of the kitchen. What else can make sure you get that very last bit o' batter into your mouth…uh, I mean, pan? Or, the peanut butter out of the jar? This find was particularly exciting because it's added a new size to my collection:

 
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I like my teeny one on the far left, from the Williams Sonoma Outlet, for getting the last bits out of jars. The two Pampered Chef ones are good all-rounders. I don't know why I have the black handled one…it was kind of a cheap, Kmart purchase a long time ago, but I guess I figure you can never have too many. However, as you can see, the new one trumps them all in size. Can't wait to dive into some new recipes to try it out!