Friday, March 30, 2012

Recipe: Fancy Tacos

I had a pretty strange mixture of ingredients on hand for dinner tonight, including a few things that I’m not really used to having (cabbage and lime, anyone?) and so didn’t have something in my arsenal of go-to dishes for them.  On top of that, I didn’t really feel like putting a WHOLE lot of effort into dinner tonight.  As per usual on Friday night.

(I wasn't really sure where I was when I ended up using other ingredients AFTER I took the before picture...)

Z says my best dinners are usually things that I throw together (he’s so supportive).  I tell him my recipe is “a little bit of this” (shakes hand like shaking spices into a pan) and “a little bit of that” (repeat).  Sooo...this is what came out of my pantry and my slap-dash haute-cuisine cooking method.  I’m calling it “Fancy Tacos.”

The full “recipe” is at the bottom of the post, but first my critique:  I’m really impressed with these and will definitely make them again!  The lime flavor really came through and the cabbage was nice and crisp set against the creamy bean mixture.  It would also definitely be easy to adjust to personal tastes.  For example, I really like the smokiness of cumin but someone else could use chili powder or even jalapenos for some kick.  The lime also makes this special enough that it could be dressed up for a fancy night in!

The pita bread that I used is a recipe from this blog.  I’ve made it a few times and it NEVER puffs for me in the oven, but I'm ok with it.  After microwaving the “flat bread” for a minute or so, it turns into a fantastically chewy, thick tortilla.  Think:  Taco Bell gordita...only 1000% better and better for you.  If you don’t have the time to put into homemade pitas, though, you could definitely just use tortillas.  

So here's the "recipe":

Fancy Tacos
1 15 oz can of black beans
½ large onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup frozen sweet corn
1 lime
cumin, salt and pepper to taste
stock of choice

*some* cabbage, cut into ribbons
drizzle of olive oil
*some* mild cheddar cheese

homemade pita flat bread (or tortillas)

1.  Dice onion into pretty fine pieces.  Sautee with garlic in a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat.

2.  Once garlic becomes fragrant (LOVE the way garlic and onion makes my kitchen smell) add beans, corn, and spices.  Drizzle with the juice of half the lime.  Stir and let it all heat through.

3.  Meanwhile, drizzle the cabbage with the olive oil and remaining lime juice.  Toss to coat.
4.  Once bean mixture has heated through, add *some* stock of your choice and mash the beans to desired consistency.  They should make a thick paste with chunks of corn and onion peeking out.
5.  Spread beans on a flat bread/tortilla.  Top with cabbage and cheese.

If you try this out, let me know how it goes!  Also, tell me about any tweaks you make to make it tastier!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

DIY: Dresser Organizing Tray

For the life of me, I could NOT figure out where this orange smut was coming from on some of our bakeware.  It would occasionally show up in the dishwasher but more often I would find spots of it on our cookie sheets/baking pans/etc.  It always wiped off easily, but it would keep reappearing.  What was it??

Oh.  It was rust.

Two of our cookie sheets were starting to rust underneath the handles.  *Sigh...* they were presents at my wedding shower and we are, after all, approaching old-married-couple status (almost TWO WHOLE YEARS).  I didn’t want to just throw them out, though.  They were too good an opportunity to pass up.  So I made a snazzy tray/organizer for my dresser.

First I went to the thrift store to look for some nice fabric I might want to use.  I like to buy clothes and deconstruct them for projects like this.  It just feels thriftier and more earth friendly.  I bought a summer weight suit...thing.  The fabric was nice, but the cut of the...thing...was ugly.  I rather feel like I saved some unfortunate person from a fashion disaster by using it for my tray.  

I deconstructed the top and as a bonus got these sweet buttons to use in a future project!

Then I used spray adhesive to stick it to my cookie sheet.  I’d never used spray adhesive before, so it was kind of a learning experience.  Basically, I just wrapped the tray like I would wrap a present and used the adhesive instead of tape.

Voila!  It’s really amazing how much more organized my dresser stays with this thing.  Maybe it just feels more organized because, instead of laying on top of the dresser, all my stuff is laying in a tray.  Much prettier.  I also snagged some little dishes (I actually think the “crystal” one is an ashtray) and a votive candle holder for $.25 a pop at the thrift store to help organize my stuff, too.

Learn from my mistakes:
-  I really needed some chalk for this project.  You would think as a teacher I would have some lying around but nope.  The chalk really would have helped to mark how big my tray was.  As it was I ended up with A LOT of extra fabric that I had to cut off later.
-  I learned to let the spray adhesive dry slightly before sticking the fabric to it.  There is a place in one corner where the fabric got all gross from the adhesive.  My jewelry box is currently sitting on top of that corner.

P.S.  The ugly brown carpet is our living room.  I HATE it....but I can’t do anything about it as we are renting.  

What do you think about putting a large area rug in the living room?  Would a rug on top of carpet look weird?  Thoughts?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Take On a Greek Myth

There are these new things for teachers coming down from on high.  They are called the Common Core Standards and they strike fear into the very souls of those who educate.  Basically, someone in a Washington DC boardroom decided that it would be a good idea if ALL CHILDREN in America were held to the same standards of knowledge (I feel a future post coming about why THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA).  And thus, the Common Core were born.  Up until this point, each state has set its own standards of knowledge (for example:  “cite evidence from a given text to support generalizations”) but now many states are adopting the Common Core.  It is not mandated yet that they be adopted, but I’m sure that is where we are all the wisdom of those on high. of the common core standards for seventh grade language arts is “Interpret figures of speech, such as mythological allusions, in context.”  ( coming later about why THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA).  Well, I don’t have much background in the traditional myths beyond what I have seen in pop culture.  Thank goodness for Disney. So I found a copy of Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths buried in the back of the school library and began reading.

WHY HAVE I NEVER READ THESE BEFORE???  Talk about enough drama for your mama...

Here’s a synopsis of my favorite so far:

Arachne was a young female weaver who was pretty good.  In fact, she was the best mortal weaver ever.  One day she says to herself “I’m so good, I think I’m better than Athena!”

Athena hears her say this and is all like, “Oooo, child.  Don’t you know I INVENTED weaving??”  So Athena decides to pay a visit to Arachne.

Athena knocks on Arachne’s door and as soon as Arachne opens it, she knows she is in for it.  Athena doesn’t just show up on your doorstep every day.

“You have something you wanna say to me?”  Athena bellows.
“ No ma’am,” responds Arachne.
“Fool!  I heard what you said about me behind my back.  Don’t you know I
invented weaving?  So here’s what we’re gonna do.  Ima put you in your place.  We’re going to have a contest.  We’ll both weave a blanket.  The townspeople will vote on who’s is better.  If you can beat me, I’ll let you live.  Understand?”
“Yes ma’am,”  whimpers Arachne.

So the next day Arachne and Athena start weaving.  By this time word has gotten out and everyone has gathered to see the showdown.  Arachne’s blanket is pretty good.  After all, she is the best MORTAL weaver around.  But Athena kicks her butt.  And Arachne knows it.  So rather than waiting for Athena to kill her, Arachne goes off and hangs herself.

After Athena finishes her blanket and declares herself the winner (‘cause goddesses can do that and it is totally legit), she goes searching for Arachne.  She finds her hanging from a tree with her face all distorted and her eyes all bulgy.  Athena is pissed that Arachne killed herself rather than letting Athena do it.  So Athena curses Arachne.  She touches Arachne’s shoulder and her face gets even more distorted and her eyes even bulgier.  The rope that she is hanging from turns into a silken thread.

And Arachne is turned into a spider.  Doomed to spin and weave for the rest of eternity.

Seriously...why have I never read these before??  These are like soap operas...I can’t tear myself away.

Do you have a favorite Greek myth?  Please share!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Couponing 101?

Sunday afternoon on EZ’s street is devoted to grocery shopping.  Don’t be offended if you ask if I want to hang out on Sunday and I give you a blank stare.  Hang out?  Sunday?  Those two words go together?  It’s not’s just that, well, Sunday afternoon is devoted to grocery shopping.

I am most definitely not a Coupon Queen (Watch and laugh.  Please.) I have, however, devised a system that allows me to save somewhere between $20-$30 every week.  

Here are the things that I did/do that worked/work for me:

1.  Prioritize:  Decide what is important to you and your family.  The reason setting your priorities is important is that it will, to some degree, influence how much money you are able to save.  My priorities are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, organic when possible/practical, and time.  Fresh fruits and vegetables often don’t have coupons in the regular sunday paper or on the mainstream coupon websites.  It’s also rare to find coupons on organic items in those same places.  But I have made time and health a priority.  Could I save more money if I went to multiple stores after perusing multiple store fliers to find the best deals on individual items? Or if I bought less fresh fruits and vegetables and more processed food?  Probably...but having some time on Sunday afternoon with my husband while both of us are healthy and happy is more important to me.

2.  Set aside some time:  That being are going to have to spend SOME time preparing.  You can’t just walk into the nearest grocery store without doing any prep work and expect to come out with big savings.  My preparation involves finding recipes for dinner for the week, making a list from those ingredients, “shopping” the house to see what we need to restock (or, more commonly, asking Z “do we need more toilet paper? What about rice?”), cutting coupons from the paper, printing coupons from websites, organizing coupons in my coupon book, pulling the coupons that I think I will want to use, and throwing away the coupons that have expired.  Ummm...that’s why I can’t hang out with you on Sundays.

3.  Make a list:  This step is important (at least for me) because without a list, I usually end up forgetting about 3 things I need.  That means multiple trips to the grocery store throughout the week, which is a waste of time.  Also, without a list I end up with a mish-mash of stuff and no idea what to do with it for dinner.

4.  Cut coupons:  I love coupons.  I really do.  Each one is like money in your pocket.  I use the Sunday paper for coupons but I also check out,, and and offer some coupons on their organic dairy products.

Also check out your local grocery store’s coupon policy.  A lot of places will double your coupons up to a certain amount if you have a member card with them.

5.  Organize:  This was the most important step for me but I imagine this is also the most personal step.  I used to keep all of my coupons jumbled up together in an envelope in my purse and I never knew what coupons I had and what I didn’t.  I also had to go through EVERY SINGLE COUPON every time I wanted to use a certain coupon.  Again- waste of time.  Then I tried one of those accordion wallet things for coupons.  But I found that I still couldn’t keep track of what coupons I had and what I didn’t have.

So I got a small photo album and it changed my couponing life!!  I am able to see each and every coupon that I have.  I have them organized by section of the store.  They are also organized so that the coupons that expire earlier are on top while the ones that expire later get put in the back.  It’s got a nice hard cover that I can use to write on while at the store.  Mine even has a rubber band around the outside that I use to hold the coupons that I use so that they are out of the way but still easily accessed at the checkout.

6.  Pat yourself on the back:  The grocery store that I go to puts the savings on the bottom of the receipt.  I love looking at the total and telling myself that, because of a few hours spent on a Sunday afternoon, we have an extra $20-$30 in our pockets.  YAY ME!

Some final thoughts:
-  I don’t look at the store fliers included in the Sunday paper.  I find that when I start buying stuff because “it’s a good deal” I end up spending more money and have a pantry full of stuff I don’t need.
-  I go to the same grocery store every week.  It saves time because I know where everything is.  The store I go to also gives gas reward points (money off a gallon of gas for money spent at the store) which I think helps to even out the possibility that I could save more money elsewhere.
-  Get a shoppers club/VIP/members card.  Not all of my savings come from coupons.  A lot are from deals that are given to store members.  Also, at my store, coupons up to $.99 are doubled with a shoppers card.  That means a $.75 off coupon turns into a $1.25 off coupon.
-  It’s just me and Z at I’m sure these rules will change as our family grows.  
-  Finally:  Take what works for you.  Ignore what doesn’t.  If none of this makes your own thing.  Whatev.

Do you do anything different?  What works for you?  Care to share?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bad Teacher. Bad, Bad Teacher.

In my real life I teach middle school language arts.  Specifically, seventh grade language arts (I can feel all of you out there in cyberspace writhing with jealousy).  This week, my classes are completing our drama unit.  And this week, I am being a bad teacher.

We started by reading a teleplay of an old Twilight Zone episode out of our textbook.  Then we got out of our seats and acted out part of the play, with yours truly as director.  Then they divided into groups and were given scripts for Aesop’s Fables turned skits.  One student in each group is the director, one is the set designer, and the rest are actors/actresses.  They will present their creations in a one time only premiere on Tuesday during class.  Get your tickets folks, they’re going fast.

One of the reasons I LOVE doing this project is because the kids are soooo engaged in what they are doing.  Here are some of their sets and props in progress:

A view of the classroom from my desk.  You can clearly see a setting sun (which will be held up to indicate the change of day) and some trees and clouds to the right. 

This is a cobble stone path in progress.

A picket fence to enclose the goose who lays the golden eggs.

I literally hand them the script on the first day of the project, provide them with supplies, and then sit back (it actually ends up being an incredibly boring week for me).  They do EVERYTHING.  And they love it.  Sure, there are conflicts among group members.  Of course there are differences of opinions about who is right and who is wrong.  If it looks like it will come to tears or blows, I step in.  But if not...they work it out.  That’s what learning to get along with others is all about.  If they ask me “Can we do *insert crazy idea* with our play?”  my answer is a shrug of the shoulders.  They figure it out.

This project is so engaging that I have students clamoring to stay after school to work on it.  Students who would never dream of stepping foot in a classroom after the last bell rings are asking if they can stay with me to work on their sets.  They are totally engaged in what they are doing.  They are taking ownership of their learning.  They are exercising their creative muscles.  They are collaborating, problem solving, visualizing, delegating, time managing, and practicing a host of other real world skills.  So why do I only spend two weeks doing this if it’s such a great project?  Why don’t I do other things like this the whole year long?  For one simple answer:

It’s not on the state standardized test.

They learn a lot doing this project.  What they DON’T learn is as follows:  identify various figures of speech in an old, dead, white guy’s writing; write a five paragraph essay; make a plot diagram; anaylze a chart of someone else’s research; etc.  These are the things that are on the test.  These are the things that the state department of education has deemed “important.”  And so these are the things that I am confined to in my classroom for the majority of the school year.

According to the people who tell me whether or not I get to keep my job, good teacher = my students performing well on the test (in layman’s terms:  getting a lot of questions right).  Following that logic, then, a teacher will teach what is on the test so that her students will be able to perform well and she will be judged a “good teacher.”  This week, I am not teaching anything that is on the state test.  I am teaching real world applicable life skills.  And it is not a huge stretch of the imagination to say that, if certain administrators were to walk into my classroom, I could be reprimanded for this.  Because not just the teachers but the whole district is judged by how well the students perform on the test.

So, ladies and gentleman, I present to you:  A bad teacher.  Shame on me for teaching them something useful.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Magic Cookies

Baking is magic.  Or at least it seems like magic to me.  I know it's really just science...but you put lumps of a slightly cold, gelatinous mish-mash of edible-but-not-very-tasty ingredients into a hot oven and PRESTO CHANGE-O...magic, I tell ya.

I don't bake very often for a few reasons.  1) It's just me and the Z-meister at home.  A recipe of cookies usually makes something in the neighborhood of 50 cookies.  There's no way we could (or should) eat all those cookies by ourselves.  2) While baking is magic, it is also very finicky.  Too much of this, not enough of that, or even just the wrong humidity in the kitchen can make a recipe go south without you even knowing what happened.  3)  By the time I get to the end of a baking adventure, I've licked so much dough/batter off my fingers the spoons that I don't even want to try what I've made!

Tonight, however, the planets aligned and gave me an opportunity to bake AND have it come out wonderfully (although I was still sick of the cookie dough by the end of it all).  One of my classes at school earned a prize so I made them cookies.  BEHOLD:

 Ok...well, that's them in the unbaked state.

That's better!  Here they are cooling out of the oven.

Mmmm....the finished product.  There were enough extras for Z and I to taste test.  They are delicious.

These are cranberry dark chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  They are surprisingly not bad for you as far as cookies go.  Something along the lines of 100 cal per cookie.  I also think they would make an awesome breakfast.  Hey!  They have cranberries and oatmeal in them...what more do you want?

Here's the recipe.  It's from the Taste of Home cookbook with a few tweaks:

1 cup baking margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

1)  In a large bowl, cream butter ans sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; add to creamed mixture and mix well.  Stir in oats, chocolate chips, and cranberries.

2) Drop by rounded spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for 10 minutes until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.

The original recipe said it made 4 dozen.  I got 74 cookies out of it.  Maybe my cookies were really small?? I don't know...

If you try the recipe, let me know how it turns out!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Apartment Living

Z and I found out some slightly disturbing news this past week.  Our student loan debt has actually gone UP since we graduated from college.


That's right.  We are in more (student loan) debt now than we were when we started "paying off" our loans 4 years ago.  How is that even possible?  We thought we were doing the right thing because we were paying more than the minimum every month.  That's what people like this: