Friday, July 30, 2010

July Book Reviews: "The Time Traveler's Wife," "Anthem," "Why We Suck," & "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle"

My Rating System: OK*, Good**, Great***

The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
Rating: **

This book is about Henry, a man who time travels (mostly to the past) but has no control over when or where he goes. I really liked the idea of this book and think it's a unique take on the time traveling theme, but I don't think it lived up to its potential. I didn't think the chemistry between Claire and Henry was that great. I mean it seemed like their relationship was based more on physical chemistry than actual love. And I also think it sucks that Claire never had a real relationship with anyone else. Her whole young adult life was basically wasted sitting at home pinning for someone she rarely got to see. I don't really see that as romantic. More tragic than anything to basically have someone tell you what your life is going to be like.

I know this sounds like a negative review, but I did like this book. I just think it could have been a lot better. That said, I did cry at the end. I think it is worth reading, but don't expect to be wowed.

by Ayn Rand

I picked this book up off the shelf at home because it was a short book that would give me a little break from my other books. I had no idea what it was about and had only heard the name "Ayn Rand" from a recent episode of Jeopardy. I'm not sure why I didn't know her name before because she's the author of the famous "Atlas Shrugged."

"Anthem" was a very pleasant surprise. I really loved this book. Such a great message and written in a clever way. I don't really want to tell you what this book is about because it's so short that a synopsis would give away too much of the story. But, I thought it had a "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" sort of feel and had a bit of an Emersonian voice. I can't recommend this one enough. Definitely worth the couple of hours it'll take you to read it.

by Dr. Denis Leary
Rating: **

I picked this up in audio version at the library for entertainment during a road trip. I hadn't heard anything about it, but I like Denis Leary so I thought there was a lot of potential. With Leary himself reading this book, it turned out to be sort of a stand-up comedy routine. Which was a good thing. It was definitely entertaining enough for a long drive and even conjured up some rants between Seth and I (ok mostly me) about several things. The material wasn't necessarily unique, but like I said, it was entertaining. If you get offended easily and/or don't like swears, you best stay away from this one.

By Washington Irving
Rating: **

This is another book I chose because it was so short. Actually two books in one. A nice easy read and good to get the real story instead of the Disney/Hollywood versions. Plus, they're classics!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It's What I Do

{I stoled this idea from Holly}

Sunday: Last day of our family vacation. We took the scenic route home because for once I kind of felt like it. We were happy to see our crazy cat was still alive and kicking.

Monday: Back to the grindstone. It was raining when I left work so I decided grocery shopping was out. It always rains on me on shopping day. Always. I didn't feel like cooking dinner so I ordered Chinese take-out. Disappointingly bad. Although my fortune cookie said I'll be getting a promotion this next month. Gracie chose a fortune cookie too but it was empty. Apparently cats don't get fortunes.

Tuesday: A day full of meetings. Finally planned the week's menu and did the grocery shopping. The storm gods must have been thrown off because I didn't get rained on. The crazy looking chick won on Jeopardy. She looks like Stan from South Park when she smiles.

Wednesday: Went out for my birthday lunch with co-workers. Pat's BBQ was delicious! Even though I had to sit at a picnic table and eat off a paper plate.*

Thursday: Went out for another birthday lunch with co-workers (they really like me). Went to Little America Coffee Shop this time. Excellent Country Fried Steak and probably the best chocolate cake I've ever had in my life. It's really muggy and hot in the office today with all this rain. I can't wait to get out of here and go home to read my book!

*I'm being sarcastic. Dives are the best.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Colors of Utah

I spent this weekend in the Zions area of Utah. Let me tell you it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Here is a little snippet of what I saw... more to come!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Today's Special: Fish Tacos, Beer Can Chicken, Tijuana Tortas, Dry-Aged Steaks, & Banana Pudding

Fish Tacos- New Recipe. I saw Alton Brown make these on Good Eats the other day and thought they looked really good. I made kind of a cheater version though. I didn't make my own tortillas and I didn't make my own sauce. I did however make the fish/marinade like he did. For my cheater version I used soft flour tortillas and some store bought spicy ranch dressing for the sauce. My ranch dressing wasn't that spicy though so I added a couple chipotle chilies in adobo sauce (I had some leftover in the fridge... doesn't everybody?) and blended it up, which he does in the recipe. It takes 24 hours to make the sauce his way and I just don't plan ahead that much. Anyway, I really liked these and thought they turned out really good. I'll have to try making that sauce one of these days to see if it's worth it.

Beer Can Chicken- New Recipe. I love making whole chickens. Mainly because I think they look funny when I'm prepping them for cooking. I feel like I'm giving a little chicken child a bath and a rubdown! HA! I also like to make whole chickens because they are just so darn cheap. I got a 4 lb. chicken for $2.38. Awesome huh? Anyway, as far as this recipe goes, I really liked the flavors (have I mentioned how much I love fresh thyme?) and it was very simple to prepare. The chicken turned out incredibly moist. The skin wasn't quite as browned as I would have liked so in the future I'd start it out at a higher temp to brown it and then back it down to keep the meat moist. This was a great basic recipe that has potential for a lot of tweaking/customizing. Also, the recipe says you can use a small mason jar filled with chicken stock instead of the beer.

Tijuana Tortas- New Recipe. Good not great. Probably won't make them again, but not bad for a vegetarian meal. (I have never actually had a regular torta so I have no idea how these compare, sorry Rachel.)

Dry-Aged Ribeye Steaks- New Recipe. Another Alton Brown recipe (he used Porterhouse steaks though). Although I thought these turned out well, I don't know that it was good enough to warrant days worth of prepping. It was fun to try but I doubt I'll do it again.

Southern Banana Pudding- New Recipe. This tasted a lot like banana cream pie but without the extra step of making a crust. If you make this, don't get impatient like I did and eat it an hour after you make it. It uses layers of Nilla Wafers which need time to soften in the pudding. I didn't want to wait to try it out and the cookies were really dry. This was much better the next day, so make sure you plan ahead. It won't be worth it otherwise. Also, I used an 8x8" (2 quart) pan and only had enough pudding and such for 2 layers, not 3 as it states in the recipe. The recipe says to use a 1.5 quart pan so maybe I would have had enough for 3 if my pan had been a bit smaller. Not that it really matters as far as taste is concerned. Anyway, I thought this was a good, easy dessert.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Variety is the Spice of Life

1. My first post: My First Memory- Fitting eh? This blog started as a way to write my life story (thus the name...) and I figured what better way to start my life story than to write my first memory?

2. The post I enjoyed writing the most: Dreams- This was a hard decision. There are a lot of posts I like to do. Most of them actually. I really like doing my "I Can Vouch for That" posts and my childhood memory stories, but I think I looked forward to working on this one the most. It was exciting to wake up just about every morning and have at least one cool thing to write about. And it was fun to read back through my dreams and see what the common themes were. It's amazing how much you remember about your dreams when you make a conscious effort to keep track of them.

3. A post which had a great discussion: Then I Wake Up and Realize it Was All Just a Bad Dream- I had fun trying to make my decision on this one. There are so many funny and great comments on a lot of my posts. Ultimately I really liked this one the best. Keep those comments coming! That's definitely my favorite part of blogging.

4. A post on someone else’s blog that I wish I'd written: Thank You, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, or, Maybe I Like Food Just a Little- Geez this was really hard to choose. There are so many wonderful blogs that have so many wonderful posts and I covet every single one of them. However, Rachel, my incredibly witty, funny, adorably fiery sister-in-law garners most of my blog envy. She's an incredible writer and I love how her personality is so apparent in her posts. This post is definitely one of my very favorites.

5. My most helpful post: I Can Vouch for That- I really like doing these posts. I'd say these are my most helpful though because I'm always getting people asking me what that one product was that I recommended on my blog. I'm pretty much like a small scale Oprah. I should be getting royalties.

6. The post with a title that I am proud of: These Mutilated Home-Made Tortillas are a Product of My Love for You- I've somewhat recently discovered that I really like to come up with post titles. It's kind of fun!

7. A post that I wish more people had read: The Ping Pong Table- I don't know if I could really pin point a post that I thought people hadn't read. I think some posts just don't generate as much commenting as others, but I don't think it necessarily reflects the number of readers. However, I think maybe some of my earlier stuff gets overlooked simply because it's too daunting to go through all those past posts and "catch up" on all of them. That's why I picked this one.

8. The post I think is the funniest/most clever: They're at it Again- This pretty much sums up the quirks and craziness that lurk underneath my seemingly calm demeanor.

9. The post I want to erase: Why You Will Never See Ads on My Blog- I was having a bad day and this just ended up sounding like I was fishing for compliments. You all dealt with it very well. I would have written something along the lines of "stop your whining." I really hate this post but I figure it's all part of the learning curve with this blogging stuff. I try to put more thought into whether I really like posts before I post them now.

10. The post that I spent the most time on: Wildflowers 101- You have no idea how much time I spent editing photos and identifying those flowers. It seriously took forever.

11. The post I spent the least time on that produced the most comments: Is Lady Gaga a Man?- Sometimes you write those quick and dirty posts that take about 5 minutes and they somehow manage to generate a large amount of response. I don't know why that is, but I wish I could crack the code.

12. My most visually interesting post: Bragging Rights- I can't really take credit for the visual interest in this post as all the photos are my dad's! But, it's by far the most pleasing to the eye...

13. The post that reflects my personality the most: My Biggest Fan- There you have it. Proof that I'm insane. Or a narcissist. Or possibly both.

I'd like to know what you think are your best posts. Feel free to steal these questions and answer them on your own blog!

I got the idea for this blog post here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

So Many Adventures Your Head Will Probably Explode

For the 4th of July (which just happened to be our 2 year anniversary!) Seth and I took the week off and headed up to Island Park, Idaho for a few days of camping and fly fishing. Since we were so close to Yellowstone, we spent a couple days up there trying out all the many rivers we had heard so much about. Sadly, we didn't catch a whole lot (I think it's still pretty early in the season up there...) but we had a good time. I think the pictures can tell the rest of the story...

First we dropped off Gracie so Grandma and Grandpa could watch her. Apparently she really likes to sit in the crib (and play with those white spinning circles).

My first Yellowstone fish. A brown on the Firehole River. Woohoo!

A view of the Buffalo River at sunset next to our campground.

Catching big fish is easy. I went for my smallest fish ever... a 3" shiner minnow on the Buffalo River.

The resident fire making pro. Also the resident wood chopper.

Typical lunch... remember those Guacamole & White Bean Wraps I told you about?

Seth with his first Yellowstone fish. A brown on the Gibbon River.

There's no fish in the Upper Gallatin in case you're wondering.

Seth with the biggest fish of the trip... a huge brown from the Lower Gallatin River.

Tight loops... that's what fly fishing is all about. And fish.

Warm River butterflies... there were a ton of them!

We were also able to hit up the Madison, Henry's Fork, and Rainy Creek. The Madison kind of kicked our butts, Henry's Fork produced some nice little browns (and a view of a ManBearPig or two and a Great Blue Heron), and we took the cutthroats by storm up at Rainy Creek. It was definitely an epic trip and one we hope to try again soon.

Happy Anniversary Seth! I love you and look forward to many more years together!

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Can of Beans and an Onion Walk Into a Bar...

Seth: (Walks into the room and reads the title of this post) What's this post going to be about? Smelly stuff?
Me: Nope
Seth: Flatulence?
Me: Nope
Seth: Beans and Onions?

Well sorta. Camping season is among us folks and what's the hardest thing about camping? Planning out all the damn food. It's a pain in the butt and I know because I'm the one who does that sort of thing around here. Seth does the packing of the car and I do the menu. That's just how it is because it divides up tasks according to our respective talents and abilities.

Now planning a regular weekly menu is hard enough, but when you throw in the camping element, it's a whole different ball game. You gotta worry about stuff getting smashed, keeping things cool, eliminating tedious prep, making something fast and easy that your family will actually like. All of your typical tried and true recipes get thrown out the window and you're standing there clueless, frustrated, and stressed out.

Lucky for you I do a lot of camping. Over the years I've tweaked and sampled and experimented and now you get to reap all the benefits. Today you get to learn all of my camping food secrets to success.

Tip #1: Use tortillas instead of bread.

How many times have I packed a loaf of bread for sandwiches and it gets smashed? Every single time I've done it. It doesn't matter if it's packed into a food box or surrounded by a force field of magic. Not only that, but anytime you whip out a loaf of bread in a dry outdoor environment, it spontaneously turns into slices of  stale parched yuckiness. Who wants to eat that?

On the other hand, tortillas are already smashed. They don't dry out. They don't need to be refrigerated and they're great for lunches on the go. Plus there are some great recipes for wraps out there that'll make you feel like you're eating a gourmet meal in the time it would have taken you to make a couple smashed PB&J sandwiches. And there'll be no whining from the kids about the dry crust.

Tip #2: Pre-packaged shortcuts

When I cook at home I rarely buy ready-to-use pre-prepped ingredients (think chopped onions, veggies, pre-cooked meat, etc.). These things just aren't very cost effective to buy on a regular basis and generally don't taste as good. However, when you're camping, they're a real time saver. Some of my favorite things to buy are chopped onions (found in the produce section in a neat little container), shoe string or sliced carrots, pre-cooked grilled sliced chicken breast, shredded cheese, guacamole, and the list goes on. Definitely worth the extra money to save some time and add a whole lot of convenience when the family is starved. Plus when you're already stressed out trying to get everything ready for a trip, the last thing you want to do is prep work for your meals.

Along these same lines, there are a few easy camp meals and side dishes that I've found work really well for camping. Don't be afraid to let the kids roast hot dogs for dinner or make tin foil dinners. I like to bring things like Lloyd's BBQ Pulled Pork for pulled pork sandwiches. Just heat and eat! Buy premade potato or pasta salads in the deli or just eat potato chips or fresh fruit. I've found single serving pop-top canned fruit also travels well and doesn't require refrigeration. Yogurt is a good option for breakfast. Get creative! Camping is a time to have fun and try new things!

Tip #3: Bring the Right Tools

When you're camping you don't want to bring your whole kitchen with you. It takes up too much room and it's a huge hassle to dig through everything to find what you need. Want to make a recipe that requires measuring stuff? Pre-measure the few ingredients you need and bring them in baggies. Keep sauces or oils in squeeze bottles. All you need are a few key tools and you should be set for any meal you want to make. This is MY list of essential camp kitchen items:

  • Tin Foil (preferably the longer heavy duty kind)
  • Gallon Size Ziplock Bags (to save leftovers and ensure open packages don't get soaked with water in the cooler)
  • Can Opener
  • Small Cutting Board
  • Chef's Knife
  • Saucepan
  • Skillet
  • Tongs
  • Spatula
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Non-Stick Spray
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Whisk (usually a plastic fork will suffice)
*My Favorite Camping Meals*

Breakfast Burritos

This is actually an incredibly easy and fast breakfast. Even better than those shake n' pour pancakes because those darn pancakes never seem to cook very evenly on a camp stove. These work best if you've got a large rectangular skillet, but a normal round skillet will work just fine too. Plan for 2 eggs per person and at least 2 sausage links.

  • Burrito Size Tortillas (I like Mission flavored tortillas. Garden Veggie and Tomato Basil are my favorite, but Jalapeno Cheddar is also good).
  • Eggs (you can buy Egg Beaters which come in a resealable container or whole eggs that come in a Styrofoam carton. Do not buy eggs in a cardboard container... it will get soggy and fall apart in your cooler)
  • Pre-cooked Sausage (I like Farmland Premium Pork Sausage Links-Fully Cooked. It actually won the Cooks Illustrated taste test!)
  • Hash browns (Don't get the frozen ones, they won't stay frozen. I like Simply Potatoes. One bag is enough for 6 large burritos)
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Salsa
The hash browns and sausage basically just need to be warmed up, so throw em on a hot skillet sprayed with non-stick spray and cook for about 5 minutes or so. While they're cooking I crack all the eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper and whisk together. Throw one large tortilla onto each plate and divide the hash browns and sausage equally. Scramble the eggs and put on top of the hash browns and potatoes. Top with shredded cheese and if desired return each filled tortilla back to the skillet for a final warming. I let everyone choose whether or not they want salsa.  

Creamy Guacamole & White Bean Wrap

I know. This sounds like a vegetarian disaster. But I swear you will love it. And it's so incredibly easy to make. Trust me on this one. Oh, and just to give credit, this is my camping version of EatingWell's Creamy Avocado & White Bean Wrap. 

  • 1 bottle spicy ranch dressing (or other southwesterny style dressing)
  • 1 bag coleslaw mix (by the bagged salads in the produce section)
  • 1 bag of shoestring carrots
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 15-ounce can white beans, drained
  • 1 package guacamole (I like Wholly Guacamole brand. Get the snack packs for 1-2 people, regular packs for families)
  • 8 oz. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 small container chopped red onions
  • 1 package burrito size tortillas (try the Mission Garden Veggie kind)
I mainly just put as much of this stuff on each wrap as I wanted. One can of beans makes 3 good sized wraps. You'll have a ton of all the other stuff left over. This isn't really an exact science, so just get extra of any ingredients you'll need more of for more people (probably just the guacamole and beans).

Buffalo Chicken Wrap

  • 1 package burrito size tortillas (try Mission's Tomato Basil)
  • 1 package crumbled Blue Cheese
  • 1 bottle Buffalo Wing sauce (in ketchup isle)
  • celery (1 large stick for 2 wraps)
  • 1 package coleslaw mix (salad area of produce section)
  • 1 package Tyson Grilled & Ready Chicken Breast Strips (any flavor) (1 package= 2 wraps)
 Once again just divvy the ingredients out onto each wrap as desired. 1 4 oz. package of blue cheese crumbles is enough for about 6 wraps. Make sure you look at the hotness level of your buffalo wing sauce, especially if you have kids. Also, I don't worry about chopping up the celery, just break it into smaller pieces with your hands.

For more great recipe ideas, check out and They both have a ton of different wrap recipes. Don't be afraid to tweak them to your liking and/or substitute ingredients. Also, don't feel like you have to come up with something different for every single meal. Chances are you'll only be camping for a couple days. Nobody is going to die if you eat the same thing for lunch each day. Especially if it's something delicious.

I hope you can use some of these tips for your camping trips this year. Let me know how they work out for you. And feel free to share any of your own cooking tips for camping!

Today's Special: Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Balsamic Grilled Portobello Sandwiches with Goat Cheese and Roasted Peppers- New Recipe. Wow these turned out so good! Seth mentioned at least 3 times during the meal how awesome they were. Very easy to make and healthy to boot! This is definitely a keeper.

Penne with Mushroom Sauce- New Recipe. This was a bit disappointing. I didn't think the brown sauce looked very appetizing on the pasta and it was surprisingly bland.

Sauerkraut Chowder- Repeat. Man I love this stuff. Have I mentioned that before?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Because You Just Can't Get Enough

(Yes I know I'm copying some of you guys' posts, but oh well. It's not like you came up with the "about me" questions either)

1. Were you named after anyone?
Yes... my mom was watching some soap opera at the hospital after she had me. Judith Light was on there and she was playing a character named "Karen" and my mom thought it was a good name.

2. When did you last cry?
Geez, I don't even remember!

3. What is your favorite lunch meat?
Um, I know this sounds weird, but I really like bologna (think Cold Cut Combo from Subways). I also like turkey with pastrami.

4. Do you still have your tonsils?

5. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?
Yes, because I'm usually in too big of a hurry to untie them when I need to put them back on!

6.What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
It depends on the day, but I really like Bananas Foster from Haagen Daaz. Actually just about anything from Haagen Daaz. And also Chubby Hubby from Ben & Jerry's.

7. Shoe Size?
8 or 8 1/2

8. Who do you miss the most?
My Grandpa Holley

9. Last thing you ate?
Sauerkraut Chowder

10. What are you listening to right now?
A guy in my office yelling at his computer.

11. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?
My hair salon calling to confirm an appointment a couple days ago. I hardly ever talk to anyone on the phone!

12. What's the strangest thing you've seen?
A couple was driving down the freeway in an old 1957 BelAir convertible one summer next to my car. They were a younger couple and looked pretty retro (ie woman had a scarf over her hair and red lipstick, etc.). The man had his arm around the girl. And then I realized the girl was a cross-dressing man. Weird.

13. Do you wear contacts?
No, but I have before. Not worth the trouble for my low prescription.

14. What is the worst thing you've ever eaten?
I got a pasta dish at McGrath's Fish House once that had orange zest and scallops in it. I couldn't eat it. I didn't eat scallops for a long time after that. Not a good pairing. I also had some really gross fried oysters there once too. I don't eat at McGrath's anymore.

15. Last movie you watched at the movie theatre?
Avatar I think?

16. Favorite Dessert?
Pie... usually banana cream or mixed berry

17. What books are you reading?
The Time Traveler's Wife & Prospecting for Trout

18. What did you watch last night?
Jeopardy! I love that show.

19. The furthest you've been from home?

20. What's your special talent?
I don't know if it's that special but I'm pretty good at cooking stuff.

21. Favorite singer right now?
Hmmm... I don't listen to much these days. But I'm always in the mood for Brandi Carlile. And I really like Fiona Apple's "Extraordinary Machine" album.

22. Right or Lefty?

23. One thing you want to do before you die?
Go to New Zealand and catch some of those gigantic browns!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wildflowers 101

If you'll recall from my last post, I mentioned I would be doing a post about Utah wildflowers. During that hike I started taking pictures of all the different flowers I saw and was amazed at the huge variety! It actually inspired me to go get the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Western Region  (I love those books!) so that I could identify the wildflowers I saw. It always drives me crazy when I don't know the names of plants and I am severly lacking in my knowledge of wildflowers.

So, with help from my new fabulous book and our good friend, the Internets, I've identified the flowers I saw to the best of my ability. Feel free to leave me a comment and tell me if I've made any errors (as I'm sure I have!) or let me know if I've captured one of your favorites.

1. Sego Lily
I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't know this was a Sego Lily. I had no idea what a Sego Lily looked like and I probably should seeing as how it's the UTAH STATE FLOWER. {hanging my head in shame} I figured a Sego Lily was some ugly weed or something after that Seagull state bird fiasco (YES I know the backstory. NO I still don't like your choice UTAH.) I guess you've redeemed yourself a little with this one.

2. Balsam Root Arrowleaf

3. Blue Pod Lupine
(not 100% sure it's Blue Pod, but I'm pretty sure it's at least a variety of Lupine)

4. Nodding Microseris

5. Plains Prickly Pear

6. Roundleaf Groundsel

7. Spreading Fleabane (aka Blue Aster)

8. Bull Thistle
I was pretty excited that I caught the huge bumblebee in this one & his little buddy in the background

9. Utah Sweet Pea

10. Low Larkspur

11. Western Wallflower
Did you know there's actually a flower called a "wallflower"?!

12. Butter-and-Eggs
These looked like wild snapdragons, although I couldn't make them talk...

13. Yarrow (aka Milfoil)

Bonus: Crescent Milkvetch

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