"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How to Terrorize Your Neighbor's Pets* (recipe)

This one's dedicated to my two-year-old niece. Just like her Auntie, if she had to live on only one main dish for the rest of her life, it would probably be chicken nuggets. Give either of us chicken nuggets or tenders and a garden salad and you'd think we'd found Salvation. But more important is her reaction to them. As I have mentioned several times here and on twitter, we live in a suburb of Boston which is the last place I ever imagined I'd have neighbors who owned chickens. Yep, you read it right, chickens. A rooster and a hen. Chickens. I'm still trying to absorb it.

Anyhow, my niece and her two older brothers are kind of fascinated by our feathered neighbors, but their mom is not so happy about living next to a fairly noisy bird. (In his defense, the rooster is old and has lost most of his voice, so he's not really that loud.) One evening, as the sun was setting, and the rooster was doing his thing, Mom jokingly called out, "chicken nuggets." Soon it was a game. Every time the rooster crowed, one or more of us would holler the name of a different chicken dish. (Tell me that rooster isn't at least a little afraid of the crazy neighbors.) While everyone else eventually tired of the game, my niece kept on. Still, every time she hears the rooster, she shouts, "CHICKEN NUGGETS!" as loud as her little lungs will let her. It's like this bizarre Pavlovian reaction that has also rubbed off on me because even when my niece isn't around, if I hear the rooster, I automatically begin to laugh.

asian style chicken nuggets, candied carrots, and mashed potatoes
This recipe was a total experiment. My intent was to make a grilled chicken teriyaki, but we'd run out of soy sauce and I was too lazy to walk the 300 yards (if that) to the corner store. So I improvised and came up with this. Enjoy it.


1-1 1/2 lbs chicken rinsed (but not dried) and cut into 2-bite pieces
3/4 c plain bread crumbs
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground ginger (if you want to turn up the heat, add more ginger)
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Dump bread crumbs and spices into a gallon size zip-top bag. Seal and shake until completely blended.
Drop in chicken pieces. Seal bag again and get one of the kids to shake it until the chicken is completely coated with the mixture.
Spread the chicken in a single layer on a large cookie sheet that's been sprayed with cooking spray or very lightly oiled.
Bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes until they're cooked through. Turn them once after about 15 minutes.
Serve with honey mustard for dipping.

The usual notes:

Yes, you can use the breading in the traditional 3-step method: dredge with flour (season with a bit of garlic powder and ground ginger first), dip in egg wash, then cover in breading. This is just my quicker, easier, lower fat method.
No, they don't have to be nuggets. Feel free to do tenders, cutlets, or full breasts, just make sure to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
Rinsing does nothing for the chicken, but the bit of water left behind helps the bread crumbs to stick.
My favorite side dish with these is candied carrots, so stay tuned for that recipe.

What to do with the leftovers:

See, that's a tough one. We rarely have leftovers when we cook chicken nuggets, but I love the idea of these either warm or cold on a bed of lettuce with a few sliced almonds, mandarin oranges, and honey mustard dressing and maybe even some chow mein noodles.

*No pets were physically harmed in the making of this recipe, but I can't guarantee they weren't emotionally scarred.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Big Rocks

A few days ago I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I had what seemed like a million things to do and not much of a plan for getting any of it done. I knew my first priority had to be a to do list so I could see it all in front of me and create a solid, manageable (and extremely flexible) plan. One of the best ways to clear my head is something I do every day anyway: take a shower. I tend to come up with my best ideas while I'm in the shower. It's cleansing both literally and figuratively. Sure enough, while I was in there, I had an epiphany. One of the things bothering me was my next blog post. What was I going to write? I've been writing so much lately, both fiction and non- that I thought I was tapped out until I remembered this exercise that I'd like to share with you:
photo courtesy of Valerie Lapcevich

Imagine a large, empty pitcher with a capacity of about 24 ounces. Now imagine three, ten ounce glasses. In your mind, fill the first with sand; fill the second with pebbles, and fill the third with rocks. We know we can't possibly fit 30 ounces into 24, but humor me. Pour in the sand. See how it fills more than a third of the pitcher. Now pour in the pebbles. There's not much room left in that pitcher, is there? Let's try adding the rocks. The excess either piles on top or falls over the side. We haven't left enough room for the big rocks, have we?

Indulge me; let's try this another way. Imagine the setup again. This time, empty the big rocks into the pitcher first. Of course they'll fit this time. Now pour in the pebbles. They don't seem to take up as much space this time, do they? They sort of work their way in between the rocks, so we have plenty of room to spare. Now we'll add the sand, slowly. Watch it as it trickles down between the rocks, between the pebbles. Each grain finds its own place in the pitcher, in the 24 ounces, in the day. You may even find there's some space left over once all the sand is in the pitcher. By putting the big rocks first, we've found extra space, extra time, we didn't necessarily realize we had.

Now I want you to imagine that those big rocks are the most important things in your day, in your life. Is one your spouse? your child? What things are most likely to enrich your life? The pebbles are the things we must do, like work. Is your work a big rock, or a pebble, or something in between? Other pebbles may be grocery shopping or laundry, mundane things that must be done in order to support the big rocks. So what is your sand? We all know what it's like to get sand in your shoe. It can feel like a big rock, but is it really? Isn't it just merely a nuisance that sometimes gets in our way? Sand is sometimes necessary. Sometimes it supports the pebbles or even the big rocks, but it can often just be swept away.

After I got out of the shower, but before I got dressed, I grabbed a pen and notebook and started my list. It's now two, 8 1/2 x 11" pages long. It's structured and well prioritized and it will get done in due time.

No matter what comes our way, if we remember to prioritize properly, to put our big rocks first, we can handle the rest. And if we have to throw out a little sand along the path, so be it.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Happy New Year, part 2

So where was I? Oh yeah, knitting.

flit 'n float scarf pattern WIP
courtesy of Birdy Evans
The knitting thing is something I've always wanted to do. My grandmother seemed to constantly be knitting and I always wanted to learn. Mom said knitting was far too complicated, so she taught herself to crochet then she taught me when I was about seven years old. I figured I'd eventually learn to knit, but crocheting made me happy enough. A few years ago, during a lunch hour trip to JoAnn with a coworker, I ran across this learn-to-knit kit in the clearance bin and picked it up along with a couple of skeins of a beautiful boucle yarn (pink ombre, of course). It was during that time that everyone was making and wearing those simple scarves knitted with eyelash yarn and how could I pass on the chance to finally learn how to kint at a discount? the kit couldn't have been more basic. It contained a pair of size 15 (10mm) plastic needles, two balls of eyelash yarn in candy pink, and instructions for a garter stitch scarf all packed in a project bag that was just the right size for traveling with my WIP. I was a few rows into it before I really got the hang of the whole knitting thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was also a huge ego boost because I was working a job that was, at times, humiliating to me because I felt as though the harder I worked, the less I accomplished. This was something new that I could accomplish and be proud of. It was exactly what my psyche and my self-esteem needed at the time. Needless to say, virtually everyone I knew got scarves that Christmas whether they needed them or not.

football helmet dishcloth pattern
courtesy of Knitted Kitty~Carol
Still, I felt I hadn't really learned how to knit. I could knit, not purl, which meant I could make anything I wanted so long as it was in garter stitch. That was my impression of "real" knitting: knit and purl. I vowed I'd one day teach myself to purl. I even tried to do it a couple of times, but I wasn't getting it. I eventually developed what I thought was my own way of knitting. By guiding the yarn with my left hand instead of my right, I found I was much more consistent with my stitches and I could handle the needles easier. I wasn't so clumsy because the motions resembled crochet. When I finally tired of knitting scarves, I packed up my needles and abandoned knitting for several years. This leads me to New Year's Resolution #2: Teach myself to knit, for real, and complete a minimum of two projects by the end of 2011.

football dishcloth pattern
courtesy of BunnyStamping
I discovered Ravelry in April or May of 2010 and quickly became addicted and completely spoiled. It was like this immense online library of knit and crochet patterns. I'm not so sure when or how I stumbled upon the football dishcloth pattern, but I knew I had to make it. I vowed that I would find the time to finally teach myself to purl since I'd finally found the motivation to do so. Seriously, what self-respecting, needle wielding Patriots fan didn't deserve a football washcloth? (Dishcloth? No. This sucker's too awesome for dirty dishes.) Unfortunately, that now meant that I had to re-teach myself to knit. I'd convinced myself that my little way of knitting was wrong and I had to learn to do it the right way before I moved on to real knitting projects. That's how knitting became Mission #2.

basketweave scarf pattern by Sarah Blalock
courtesy of Red Heart Yarns
Still not fully committed to the cause, I did a bit of research here and there, and finally figured out that my method wasn't as wrong as I'd believed. My technique was a bit lacking, but the method had a real place in the knitting world. I found out I was a Continental knitter; I wasn't a hack after all! Thanks to a few tutorials on Youtube, I was able to refine my knit stitch a bit to the point that I felt confident in trying the elusive purl. Well guess what? It was nowhere near as complicated as I'd previously thought. Now that I was working my yarn with motions that were more familiar to me, I took to purling easily. In fact, I find using a purl stitch easier than a knit in many circumstances, but I'm getting beyond myself. So, I got the football cloth done in just a few days and decided that a basket weave scarf would be great practice in working both types of stitches and in my concentration. You see, I've been crocheting for so long that I can literally crochet and read at the same time if I'm working on a simple pattern. I've reached a point where I can crochet by feel. Perhaps in another 20 years I'll be as skilled with my knitting. Until then, I'll listen to the TV as I knit.

Claire scarf pattern WIP
courtesy of Lynn Anne Banks
So I worked on the scarf for a bit and got about half way through it when I messed up a repeat. Rather than live with the mistake I chose to frog the whole thing and start it over when the weather started to cool down again. It seemed silly to knit a solid scarf which would be too warm and cuddly as spring approached. Besides, I'd been searching the Ravelry library and finding way too many beautiful lace patterns that I simply had to try. So much for completing (only) two projects in 2011. I currently have three different lace scarves on my needles, each with a different degree of difficulty, and I've completed two others as well as another cloth. The second cloth has a football helmet design, of course.

By the way, many of these stunning lace patterns require no purling whatsoever. Most of them are variations on knit such as knit 2 together or knit through back loop. Still, I've come to rely on this site for instruction and guidance when learning new techniques.

Marlene scarf/shawl pattern WIP
courtesy of Christine Ebers
So what's next? Well, I'm looking forward to finishing at least one of these scarves soon so I can move on to another pattern. I refuse to be one of those crafters who has a gazillion UFOs sitting in bags for years on end, so I won't allow myself more than three knit projects at a time. However, I'm in no real rush since I've already achieved my goal. Besides, there's always next year to start new projects.

Happy Knitting!

Here's a quick follow up to last weeks post: I finished reading Small Favor by Jim Butcher and absolutely loved it. And I'm about half way through Noble by David Hulegaard. I'll be posting that review soon. I'm going through Noble somewhat slowly because I've been reading shorter pieces here and there and not focusing on the novel except maybe a chapter or two at night before I go to sleep. My days have been full of kids and crochet with a bit of time set aside for knitting and reading.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Happy New Year, part 1

I figured since I wished all of you a Merry Christmas a couple of weeks ago that it was only fitting for me to post a semi-official New Year's update. You see, this year's resolutions (snicker... I seldom make resolutions; this year was different.) were really all about me. Those goals were: #1--read 30 books, and #2--learn how to knit and complete two knitting projects. I'll give you a bit more back story and then fill you in with my progress.

I must read Noble if only because
David Hulegaard is such a nice guy 
1. The Reading List: If you scroll down, you'll find my GoodReads widget in the sidebar to the left. You can scroll through all of the books I've read this year and click on any of the titles to see my review (if I've written one). Continue to scroll down, almost to the bottom of this page, and you will find the GoodReads widget that shows my progress vs. my goal. My original goal was 30. My current goal is 90, but I suspect I will hit 100 by the end of the year as I am currently reading number 88. To the right, almost level with that widget is my book list. It shows all of the books I've read, in order, along with their authors and my ratings and any books I'm currently reading. My personal rating system is below that list. Yeah, call it OCD if you want, but it works for me.

So how did this happen? Well, I was poking around Amazon late last year and found the Kindle for PC app available for FREE and downloaded it. I haven't seriously read in years. I read the Harry Potter series and a few other novels here and there, but I used to have an insatiable appetite for books. Somehow, I allowed myself to get away from that. A friend of mine hooked me up with a mess of ebooks right around Christmas and, on Christmas Day (night), I began reading Twilight. Don't judge me. I've always been a vamp tramp and I seriously had to find out what all the hype was about. By the time I finished that first book, I decided to make reading one of my goals for 2011. I figured 30 books, just a bit more than 2 per month, would be a good pace. I think I actually finished book number 30 some time in late February or early March. I immediately upped my goal to 50, later to 75, and since then I've raised the goal by 5 books every time I hit the mark. 

the free Kindle apps are available here

How have I chosen my books? Well, if you've looked at the list, you've noticed that it's chock full of paranormal fiction. I've been a paranormal and crime/mystery junkie my whole life and, since I started with the Twilight series, I simply wanted more of the same, only better. Melissa, a friend of mine on Twitter is just as interested in para-fiction as I am and has recommended at least half of the books I've read. I'm currently plowing my way through the Dresden Files Series by Jim Butcher on her recommendation. Another great find for me was a Kindle search on Amazon for FREE ebooks. This was a major coup because it let me sample a couple of authors few people have even heard of and it turned me on to Jon F. Merz, which leads me to. . .

five stars to Parallax by Jon F. Merz
Any standouts? Heck yeah! First, and most surprising, is Stephenie Meyer. WAIT! before you roll your eyes and dismiss me as a kook, hear me out. The Twilight books were pretty good. I think they'll go down in history not because of their quality (which is lacking), but because of their popularity. Stephenie Meyer is not a great writer, but she can create a character that draws you in. The Twilight books are not on my list of outstanding reads, another of her books is. That book is The Host. I absolutely sobbed while reading it which is the reason I gave it five stars. Next, if you haven't read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, get thee to Amazon! I couldn't put it down. I believe I read all three books in four or five days. And I've saved my favorite, Jon F. Merz, for last. In one of my searches on Amazon I came across his FREE short story, "Dead Drop" and I was hooked. I ended up reading everything he's written to date starring a smartass vampire ninja (yes, I said vampire ninja) by the name of Lawson. Think Robert B. Parker meets  Stephen King and you've got one hell of a literary ride. I actually reviewed the most recent Lawson novel, The Kensei, as the best book I'd read so far this year. However, I read it before I read The Hunger Games. (Sorry Jon.) My favorite of his books so far is not a Lawson book at all; it's a freestanding novel called Parallax and it is fabulous. So while none of  Jon Merz's books is the #1 read of my year, he's definitely my #1 author. (Unfortunately, when JFM decided to give away a bunch of ebooks, I had already purchased every book that would have made me eligible for the freebies. Oh well.)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
has been on my reading list for over 20 years
So what's next? Hmmm, that's a tough one. I'm currently working my way through Small Favor by Jim Butcher, which is the tenth in the Dresden Files series. I plan to finish that series before I move on to another. I'm considering many options including A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, the Moon Trilogy by C. L. Bevill, and (continuing) the Dreamhouse Kings series by Robert Liparulo. Of course, there's always the Sookie Stackhouse books (the inspiration for True Blood) by Charlaine Harris, or the Rogue Angel series by (numerous authors, including Jon F. Merz, writing as) Alex Archer. . . I figure I may as well make 2011 my paranormal year because I'd really like to spend some time with another literary passion: The Russians. Think Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, or Tolstoy. I can do that next year. After all, both War and Peace and Lolita have been on my reading list for more than 20 years. What's a few more months?

Next week we'll talk about knitting.

Happy reading!

By the way. . .I'm actually well over 100 books for the year; I'm just too embarrassed to admit to some of the trash I've read. ;)