Trying a New Online Recipe: 5-Star Cheeseburger Casserole

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Even though I usually try to set up a meal plan for the week, often when I’m out shopping it will just be planned ideas and not for exact days. This works especially well when the weather is crazy and I don’t want to use the oven or I’m running amuck in the evening and have less time to cook.  Occasionally, I will end up with something that gets passed over and next thing I know, I am having to make it before it ends up in the garbage. This happened with some ground beef. I had a little time before the use by date but wasn’t planning to risk it by waiting any long. It was 93%/7% so I was thinking to make pasta with a meat sauce. When I mentioned that to Darth Husband, he suggested I make cheeseburger casserole instead. I had meshed together a few recipes to make one and he liked it. Since this was before I started my Wednesday recipe attempt posts, this time I decided to follow one recipe, 5-Star Cheeseburger Casserole from Bakerette.

Here is my breakdown of this recipe.

  • Ingredients shopping:  Easy. Everything was already in my kitchen or easily found at my local grocery store since nothing was out of the ordinary.
  • Prep:  Easy. Basic cutting and measuring.
  • Cooking:  Easy. Even though this includes both stovetop and oven based cooking, neither was difficult.
  • .Make it again:  Definitely. The recipe works great for the two of us but could also easily be served for a group.
  • Modify it:  Yes. I excluded the pickles. I could also see swapping out the noodles for rice noodles or corn noodles if I wanted to change things up a bit.
  • Works for leftovers: Yes even though we only had enough for Darth Husband to take for lunch.

Fashion Friday: Witches of East End – Wendy

The novels by Melissa de la Cruz have been on my “To Read” list for quite some time now so when Witches of East End became a TV show I was excited. However, I know that books and TV adaptations are often not what you hope (AHEM, 666 Park Avenue TV show, I’m looking at you!)The book reviews I had read were positive so I had my fingers crossed that the show would be good. IT IS! I’ve been loving the show so much that I binge watched Season One on Netflix and since we don’t have cable, I’ve been buying episodes of Season Two on Amazon (and just need to actually catch up watching.) The other thing I’m loving is the fashion. Every episode has me wanting to track down several items or maybe they’ll just magically appear in my closet. Instead of waiting for that to become reality, I just decided to put together two interpretations of one of Wendy’s outfits. Though this is everyday clothes for her, I’d more so wear this for a night out to a concert when I’m not sitting out on the lawn or a party – just not a lot of walking in those heels!

Inspired by Wendy - Witches of East End

Trying a New Online Recipe: One Pot Wonder Tomato Basil Pasta

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If I have planted the container garden, there is always basil. It has become automatic since I have repeatedly kept that plant alive. Some years are better than others but it still survives. This year is one of the better years. My basil plant has grown like crazy! In an attempt to keep it from being predominantly patio decor, I’ve been trying to use it in my cooking. Pasta dishes is an easy default but that usually means a sauce. This time I tried something different yet not too out of the ordinary for us – One Pot Wonder Tomato Basil Pasta Recipe from Apron Strings.

Here is my breakdown of this recipe.

  • Ingredients shopping: Easy. Other than the fresh basil outside, everything but the linguine and the vegetable broth was already in the kitchen.
  • Prep: Easy/Medium. Though it is basic cutting and measuring, the cutting part needs to be thinly slicing the garlic and onion. I don’t have superb knife skills so I have to cut slowly which adds to the prep time. If you have great knife skills, this will be easy.
  • Cooking: Easy/medium. The timer is your friend. I did not want to burn anything so I used it constantly.
  • Make it again: Yes. You can’t go wrong with tomato, basil and pasta in my opinion. This was a great way to have that all together in one dish. I’m a fan of one pot cooking since it easily combines all the flavors and uses less pots and pans.
  • Modify it: Yes. This time I used a red onion because I didn’t realize my sweet onions had gone bad until I cut into them. Plus, it was too late to go to the grocery store. I searched online about red vs sweet onions and learned that adding a bit of sugar will make the red more like the sweet. It made sense so I added ¼ tsp of white sugar. Next time I will use a sweet onion. Also, the vegetable broth box was only 4 cups so I added ½ cup of warm water. Next time I will also use low-sodium broth to cut the initial salt level. Then adding salt to taste at the end can be an individual preference.
  • Works for leftovers: Yes. It reheated pretty well in the microwave. Any extra liquid did cook off but I was expecting it to do so. I could also see reheating this in the oven and topping it with shredded cheese.

 

Life with a Fitbit: Six Months

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After six months, wearing my Fitbit Flex has become automatic. Overall, I am loving it.

Tracking my steps:

The first week or so I was all about being in “Go! Go! Go!” mode. It became a game to guess when the full light bar would hit and I‘d usually be right within a block or so. I could have easily let this become the norm but then this wouldn’t be a fair representation of my life and activity level. True, there are days I am channeling the Energizer Bunny blasting Todd Rundgren’s Bang the Drum All Day.

 

Those days can be great and totally productive but too many in a row wear me down. The best strategy was to scale back to the initial norm and then kick it up a notch. I set baselines for the treadmill and recumbent bike at the gym and as long as I wasn’t feeling significantly less than 100% that day, I stuck to that pretty much every time if not went over. Over the week’s I’ve noticed I’ll go an extra block or two on a walk or keep the music on and dance to one more song while in the kitchen. Dancing while cooking, when knives aren’t involved of course, count as steps too.

Dancing itself has been a big kick count wise. I have music on the majority of the day or as much as possible. That means dancing at home and occasionally while out shopping. Yes, I am one of those people guilty of busting a move in a grocery store aisle.

Another great source for racking up the steps has been concerts! Though I will sit from time to time, most concerts I attend have me up and dancing. After a few, I ended up way over half my daily goal each! Yes, that means I dance my butt off and probably look like a crazy lady to some but I don’t care!

Tracking my sleep:

I know I am a restless sleeper. If I didn’t remember dreaming about fighting ninjas, the look on Darth Husband’s face will let me know I had another crazy dream. Other nights, I had one, or two or three, too many mugs of tea. Then there will be the random nights that I zonk out almost immediately. I never kept a sleep journal, so I didn’t have a full idea of my sleep patterns.

Now I have a much better idea of my sleep patterns and non-patterns since some weeks I’m all over the place. This also has my reminding myself to go to bed and stop trying to be overly productive late at night. Getting extra things done is great but being extra cranky the next morning is not. I’ve also set a night alarm to remind myself that it is time to wind down and start my evening routine so I can get to bed at a somewhat decent hour.

Wearability:

My Fitbit Flex is on my wrist the majority of the time. If it is off, that usually means it is either charging or I’ve taken it off to shower, I am washing dishes or am using harsher cleaning products. I know that the info says you can keep it on in the shower but I feel better keeping it as dry as possible.

It has gotten to the point where I don’t notice it when I am wearing it but when it is off then I notice. It is like certain rings being off or certain fingers that I always wear a ring being bare. The norm is off just enough that I’ll find myself checking for it.

I’ve worn band style bracelets for years so the narrow rubber band style fits in with my style and I don’t feel awkward while wearing it. We picked up the three pack of additional color bands when we purchased the actual Fitbit Flex. My default color is still the basic black but I have swapped it out for one of the other colors. I love that there was a teal band in the pack since teal if one of my favorite colors. I’m planning to eventually purchase another black band and at least one more color band as well.

My black band has taken a beating and held up pretty well. When I mention a beating, it is not just a figurative statement in some instances. I’ve managed to drop a full binder on it and as a result smashing it into the side of a metal file cabinet drawer. I’ve caught it on the edge the door frame of an open dryer. I am not a walking disaster so these aren’t everyday occurrences but knowing it survived makes me very happy. There are some scratches and scrapes in the rubber but no gouges. The slightly shiny finish has worn almost completely on the edges but it is not glaringly obvious. The center portion of the band is a little stretched out which I think is from taking the tracker out to charge. However, the tracker still fits secure enough where I am not concerned that it will fall out.

Bottom line: I am still 100% sure that the Flex was the best option Fitbit option for me.


 

Disclaimer: This Fitbit was a gift from Darth Husband and was paid for out of his own pocket. We received no free product, discount, or compensation for mention in the post.

Live & Local: Music Memories

Back at the end of June, Darth Husband, The BFF and I went to House of Blues to see an school lineup of local music: Lucky Boys Confusion, Penny and the Loafers, The Waiting Game, and Inept with the new (as in new to me and younger) opener, Steve Knecht. (I use “old school” as a term of endearment since I have many fond memories of years of attending local shows.) I have loved live music for a long time but having it be a band from your area, or in some cases somewhat your area, makes it different. The following was rattling around in my head after the concert and the weeks following.


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Since the days of the kid version of me blasting Poison on my Care Bear tape player, I’ve grasped that music is powerful and the concept that music connects people. As the tapes moved to CDs, I still kept my love of hair metal (a guilty pleasure even today) but then as bands like Nirvana, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, and Soundgarden blasted from my CD player, local music entered the mix. There are lots of bands that are somehow located in or near Chicago, but I am talking the local bands: The kids that played in garages and church basements. The names on the high school battle of the bands lists and the hand drawn show flyers. The bands that played to three people in a local bar but still played their hearts out.

I have great memories of going to shows of friends’ bands. It was one thing to go see a great show but knowing both the performing and non-performing side of the people on stage made it even better. I was the girl in high school with the show flyer stapled to her band-patch covered green Jansport backpack (that logo, of course, covered with a patch) and the one making flyers for upcoming shows in college. I loved doing my part of help out my friends and finding great new music as well. It was exciting to be part of that era of local music.

I use the word “era” on purpose. When I was in high school and college, there were a number of local all ages venues: Oak Lawn Ice Arena (or OLIA if you were “cool”) The Coffee Lounge in Palos Hills, Cafe Nisa in Oak Lawn, Sputnik in Homewood, Mojoes in Orland Park, Lighthouse Cafe in Burbank and others that I can’t remember anymore. Plus add the local high school battle of the bands to the mix. Of course, when I turned 21 that meant I could see shows at numerous bars, including Champs in Burbank, but this is where it started.

The days of me painting blue streaks in my almost Bettie Page style bangs and putting on my plaid pleated skirt with combat boots are long gone as is the brand new age 21 driver’s license but all it takes it a song to step right back there for a moment. That moment when you hear a song and immediately start singing along as if you are in some sort of memory induced auto-pilot. That moment when you start dancing and don’t stop until the set is over not even thinking that you aren’t as young as you used to be and might be sore in the morning (or motivated to go to the gym even more.) That moment when the concert ends but you still have a mix-mosh of the nights songs stuck in your head for days.

Now that is an earworm that I don’t mind at all.

Gardening Road Trip: Woldhuis Farms Sunrise Greenhouse

Back when Nikabee and I went to the local nursery, I only purchased one plant, a Cheyenne Spirit Coneflower. I had a plan for the yard that was still in the early stage so buying a ton of plants without even the slightest idea is not a good idea.I know this for a fact after buying black-eyed susans one year and even though I tried to keep them alive, they died before I got them in the ground. My attempt to just bury them and cross my fingers for the following year failed too.

So this year was hack, attack, and start with a few spots. Redoing an entire section along the side of the house would be really amazing but also really out of our budget. I try to get the most bang for my buck, or should I say the most bloom for my buck, and so I watch the ads for when perennials are on sale. Yes, that is right, the ads.

I’ve had success with the garden centers of the big box home stores the last few years. As with any plants, some would die and other would come back with a vengeance. The heat wave summer of 2013 took a few as did last winter’s frigid weather, or Polar Vortex if you’d prefer. This year I had planned to thin out some areas and move some tiger lilies which meant I’d have some spaces to fill.

I know several gardening people who talked about Sunrise, a greenhouse that was a ways away but definitely worth the trip. Woldhuis Farms Sunrise Greenhouse is family owned and operated with three generations working within the seven acre greenhouse.

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My thought was always that I’d eventually go but I didn’t know exactly when. When I mentioned a trip to Darth Husband, his reaction was like those opposite mirrors in some old cartoon. I was the excited crazy-eyed person and he was the calm one, though with a raised eyebrow. He knows how I can get with plant shopping. It is like the chorus of Want It All / We Will Rock You Mash-Up from the Sucker Punch soundtrack on repeat.

“I want it all, I want it all, I need it all right now, I want it all.
I gotta get it, I got gots to get it, yo-
I want it all, I want it all, I need it all right now.
I want it all, I want it all and I want it now.”

I knew he would go if I asked but after a while he’d be done and bored. I don’t think they have benches like outside of the women’s dressing rooms at some department stores. (Must try on all the clothes… and then buy like two things.) I wanted this to be a fun gardening based adventure and so I knew exactly who to talk to – Nikabee! Since she has been having success with her newbie plants, I had a feeling that she would think this was a good idea as well.

After a little coordinating work, we had a date set and that day also meant an early alarm. Usually pre-7am alarms on a Saturday have me grumbling and stumbling about.  Not this time since I knew earlier the better since this wasn’t a small greenhouse. The key was to be able to spend as much time as possible and not let the weather stop this.

Sunrise is SEVEN acres. Adding in that you are also inside a greenhouse means starting before the sun really starts blazing was ideal. If we had gone earlier in the season, the weather would (hopefully) been cooler but this was a hot day.

The early alarm was totally worth it. Believe me, I sleep in when I can. This place is amazing. If it was in a movie like Roger Rabbit, there’d be cartoon garden gnomes fluttering around on cherubic wings. Yes, I know me and garden gnomes.

Though their website is great and highly informative with an extremely useful plant finder search option, when we neared Sunrise I couldn’t help but be wowed by the actual size of the place. Reading seven acres is one thing, having the span actually stretched out in front of you is another.

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We grabbed a double-decker cart with an attached map and once we got inside why there was a map made sense. If this was a cave, there’d be an awesome echo.

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We wandered the garden tchotchke and planter sections a bit before finding the correct street to the perennials. The aisle have names and street sign inspired signs and so we started using them like driving directions.

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Though I did want some annuals for my planters, my goal was to get some more perennials and to get some interesting ones. On the top of my list was Gaillardia Goblin. Nikabee was on the hunt for more perennials as well though our plants did vary mostly by leaf type. She goes for the more feathery types while mine were more on the ordinary side. We did share a similar warm color palette filled with oranges, yellows, and deep pinks. I added a bit of white and light purple to mine as well. 

Since we were winding down and our bill totals were moving up, we decided some would have to wait until next year. After a quick, or quicker than the earlier section, spin through the annuals, I had flowers for my pots and planters back home and we were ready to check out.

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That is when I saw it – the gnome watering can. Did I already have a watering can? Yes, it is blue. Did I need another one? No, but it was a GNOME! Some people think they are tacky, or in Darth Husband’s case creepy, but I think they are hilarious. Onto the car it went. (I didn’t get a picture until I got home though.)

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Our purchases just fit in the car so it was a good thing we decided to leave some things for next year.

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Yes, there will definitely be a trip next year.

 

Trying a New Pinterest Recipe: Healthy Turkey Meatballs

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When crazy storms tore through the Chicagoland area earlier this month, there were numerous power outages. Our house was smack dab in the middle of one of them. The fridge ended up running on a borrowed generator but the stove sat mocking me as we ate takeout and deli sandwiches for a few days. I missed real food and Nikabee came to the rescue. She invited me over for a dinner that included great turkey meatballs. Before I had even left her house, the link to the pin of Luv a Bargain’s Healthy Turkey Meatballs was in my inbox.

Here is my breakdown of this recipe.

  • Ingredients shopping:  Easy. I just needed to get the ground turkey. Since this is often on my weekly list and readily available where I shop, this was really easy. The panko breadcrumbs I had picked up, but never used, for a different recipe and so they were already in the pantry.
  • Prep: Easy. Basic cutting and measuring
  • Cooking: Easy. I used a 11 x 17 glass Pyrex baking dish to be sure they were spaced out. The other glass baking dish I have is a smaller square which would have had them too close together.
  • Make it again: Definitely! I had to stop myself from eating too many of them straight from the baking dish. I also like having meatball options for parties and potlucks that I put with sauce in a slow cooker. This worked really well with a basic homemade tomato sauce.
  • Modify it: Yes. I could see myself altering the amount of onion and/or garlic depending on who else would be eating it.
  • Works for leftovers: Yes. I actually made this the night before we actually had it for dinner. True, I was snacking on them straight from the oven but that was standing at the counter and not sitting at the kitchen table.