Saturday, March 26, 2011

I like to drink my Nutella, thank you!

This past week, I experimented with a few dairy alternatives, just for kicks.  I've tried soy in the past, and am just not a fan.  It's okay in something like cereal that has a strong enough flavor that you don't notice the soy, but I just can't really deal with the aftertaste it leaves in my coffee.  I have enjoyed soy in a chai tea latte, though.

I tried So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage this week.  It wasn't bad, but not as delicious and coconut-y as I was hoping .  I guess that's why it's a "beverage" and not "milk."  I admittedly haven't tried it with too much - just in some breakfast quinoa (that worked well) and hot tea (not so well - same weird taste as soy).  I still want to try it in coffee, and I could see it working in some other recipes.  I admittedly haven't been drinking it too much, because I've been focused on my new lover:

Hello, lover.
 Did I mention my husband is out of town?

If you can't read it, that's Pacific Natural Foods Hazelnut Milk, with chocolate.  This stuff is delicious.  It essentially tastes like Nutella chocolate milk, no off-tastes.  At 120 calories and 5 grams of fat for an 8-ounce glass, I think it saves you a little, but not a ton. It's a great dairy alternative, but I'm guessing not that great for nut allergies.  I'm sure you could use it to add a little something to some baking recipes, like these Nutella cupcakes or these Nutella cupcakes (gluten-free!).  I was also avoiding alcohol last week, but it was really hard to resist topping a glass with Frangelico or Bailey's.  That experiment will be in my future.

(I feel compelled to mention that Kevin and I were both quite impressed that I took a picture of myself pouring a beverage without spilling any of it.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Much-Anticipated House Photos

If you're friends with Kevin on facebook, you might have noticed that, the other day, he made his album of house pictures public, all 260 of them.  I know that you care about us, but not 260 photos-of-our-house-care about us, so I've slimmed it down to around 12 for you.  Kevin would say that I am remiss in not including any of the dozens of photos of the HVAC system, water heater connections, and other utilities.  If there is a clamoring demand for these, perhaps he can do a guest post.

Anyway, on with the photo-tour of the house:

Starting with the outside...

 This is as close to a picture of the front of the house as we have.  In all of those 260 photos.

Going around to the side, you get a nice view of the yard and where we think we're going to put our garden.  And that fenced in area?  Yup!  It's a pool! We definitely didn't go looking for a house with a pool.  But as our realtor told us, the pool is essentially "free."  Since some buyers see it as an asset, and others a liability, the presence of a pool, at least in Maryland, doesn't really effect the price of a house.  We're happy to have it, as we know it will lure our city friends to visit us in the summer since we've moved (even) further away!

Coming around the back of the house.  You can kinda see that it looks like there should be a deck on the back of the house, but we think previous owners opted to have the deck closer to the pool.  Kevin sees a deck-building project in the future (insert joke about entertainment center here).  That guy is Ed, our realtor.  He's awesome!
 The deck.

 View from the deck, overlooking the pool.  Hot tub project also in the future.

This angle makes the pool area look much more lush and exotic than it is.  We actually want to pull some of the plants out to make more space for hanging out next to the pool.

The backyard.  We (I) want to move the play set so that it's not right in the middle of the yard.  It's going to get in the way of my planned volleyball court.  ;-)

Now, to the inside...
 Dining room.  They want to keep the chandelier.  It's actually written in the contract.

 Kitchen.  Yay, counter space!

 Breakfast nook in the kitchen.

 This is my favorite part of the kitchen.  Look at this crazy pantry!  I love how all the shelves pull out!

Random room next to the kitchen.  I think it was intended to be the dining room, and the current dining room a living room.  I think we'll probably keep the dining room as a dining room, because I always thought it was silly to have a family room and a living room.  But we're not sure what to do with this room.  Definitely don't want to keep it as an office.  Maybe a library?  Bar?  Breakfast nook?

 The family room.  That wall color is going.

 The "guest suite."

 Master bedroom.

 Still the master.  We actually think it is way too big, and are thinking of ways to use the space better.

Master bath.  Yes, that's a phone right next to the toilet.  Funnily enough, this is not the only house we've looked at that had a phone next to the toilet.  What is up with that?

 Other upstairs bathroom.  I just wanted you to see the hideous linoleum floor.

  Finished basement, and of course...

Kevin would definitely want to show you the garage!

So, there it is! It's in great shape, but there are definitely a lot of adjustments we'd like to make.  Should be fun; I just hope we get the changes we want done and stay there long enough to enjoy them!

We Had a Showing on Sunday

I have not yet properly introduced my cat, Snuffles.  I will have to do that one of these days, as she's as much of a character in my life as my husband is.  Seriously.  She has quite a unique personality, and I love her to pieces.

There are many things to know about Snuffles, but two of them are:

1. She is very vocal, and very expressive.  It's almost like talking to a toddler.
2. She hates being confined, period.  In a room, in a crate, in a car. She voices strong opinions about it.

If we're home when someone comes to see the house, we take her out.  She likes the outdoors, and might sneak out the door if someone who isn't alert to this comes over.  The first time, Kevin took her out in her carrier.  He was so traumatized by her distress that he suggested that, from now on, I just take her in my car and park across the street, without the carrier.  She is definitely a little happier out of the carrier than in, but the car is still a confined space.  Here's what she thinks about it:

She did eventually curl up on my lap and start purring, still letting out intermittent "meows" here and there.

If you'd like to stop these traumatic experiences for Snuffles, please consider buying our house!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Our (Soon-to-Be) House

As many of our friends and acquaintances know, Kevin and I have been trying to buy a house for awhile.  We've actually been looking at houses off and on since the spring of 2009, and finally decided on a house on which to place an offer this past November.  After a couple of hurdles, as of this past Friday, we received word from our bank that we are finally "clear to close."

It seems a little unreal to me.  I asked Kevin if anything else could wrong at this point, and it doesn't really seem so, short of the sellers trashing the place before the final walk-through, which doesn't seem likely, as I'm pretty sure they want to sell their house even more than we want to buy it.

So now, I feel safe enough to actually write some stuff about the house without jinxing anything.

One of the reasons Kevin and I took so long to settle on a house is because we both have very different ideas about what our ideal house/location would be.  Ideally, I would like a house with a modest yard on a side street in a quaint little town, of which there are none in Central MD.  So, my second choice is a house in Roland Park, a historic upscale neighborhood in Baltimore City.  Quiet, tree-lined streets just blocks away from kitschy shopping and dining.  Kevin, on the other hand, would like to have a house in someplace similar to the middle of Montana, minus the rest of Montana. But on the East Coast. In other words, Kevin wants a lot of property, and to not be able to see our neighbors.  You can see where our two visions are not exactly compatible.   

Since I know Kevin would truly be miserable in the city, and I have been known to enjoy the outdoors and open fields, we agreed on a few acres outside of the city...a little north, as anything with multiple acres closer to the city would be out of our price range (yes, you can get a house with an acre or greater lot in the city, just be prepared to spend over a million dollars and $10-20K per year in taxes!).  So, we're buying a house with around 3 acres about 20 minutes north of Baltimore in a small, cul-de-sac neighborhood. I admit to being a little nervous about the cul-de-sac neighborhood with no side streets - it's the kind of street that I grew up on and was not fond of.  I'm hoping that as an adult, it will grow on me.  A cool thing about the neighborhood, although it is definitely more suburban than urban or even rural, is that it is not cookie-cutter at all.  It seems like most of the houses in developments going up nowadays all look pretty much the same, and even a lot of older developments, like my parents', built in the 50's, only had a few designs to choose from.  With this neighborhood, it seems like there might not have been a builder for the neighborhood, so there is an array of styles on the street.

I've been obsessing about how to decorate.  Be on the lookout for posts about some ideas I have!  Photos of the house in its current state are on the way, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Where's the Beef?" Revisited

After last week's post, I'd given the issue a little more thought.  A quick summary for those who might have missed it and don't want to click back - basically, Bowdoin College in Maine decided to institute a Meatless Monday in their dining hall, and many students protested.  I couldn't decide whose side I was on.  For those of you who read the post, I know it seemed like I ended up siding with the administration.  I just wanted to clarify that that was where my train of thought kind of trailed off; not the final decision I came to.

Brian made a compelling argument:
Suppose they offered a "veggie-less day" where every single thing offered had meat in it. That would probably upset the vegetarians. So, eliminating meat for us carnivores is like having a day without an entree. Limiting an entire class of food from the menu is especially pertinent for people who are on restricted diets who have to limit their carb intake, or who have wheat, gluten, soy, or peanut allergies.
Although I don't agree that it is quite the same (but that argument is for a different time), I see his point. 

Regardless, the more I thought about it, what I see is that the real issue is that Bowdoin's goal was to encourage students to make what they see as a positive lifestyle change.  It just seems as though they didn't really think their plan through using any sort of social/behavioral change model.  Although there's research to support it (too lazy to look it up), it's really common knowledge that most people (especially teenagers and college students) don't like to be told what's good for them or what to do.  If anything, forcing the issue of Meatless Mondays probably backfired for a significant part of the student population, because they will view it resentfully as "stupid" because they feel it was forced on them.

It might have worked better to make Meatless Monday enticing, but not mandatory...have some eye-catching, compelling publicity in the dining halls.  Offer an incentive to eat Meatless on Monday.  On Mondays, serve your very most delicious vegetarian dish, and your crappiest meat dish. This way, you get students to think about it and make a conscious choice if and when they are ready to.  You also give them the option to "try it out" if they want to, without feeling forced.

Truthfully, going one day a week without meat is not hard.  At all.  It takes a little bit of planning because you're designating a particular day, but the same would be true if we designated Fish Friday (which some of y'all do) or Pancake Sunday.  Kevin and I often find ourselves eating several meatless meals in a week, just because that's what we like to eat.  Mac and cheese, spaghetti, many Indian dishes.  But I totally get that if it's shoved down your throat (literally, I guess), you're going to want to fight it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese

Tonight, per our friend Jeff's suggestion, we tried Giada De Laurentiis' Penne with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese.  Only, ours was rotini with all of that stuff, because we didn't have any penne.  I am also embarrassed to admit that I had to use dried basil instead of fresh, because I was too lazy to stop and pick up fresh.  Despite this, it was still delicious - I can only imagine how much better it would be if I had used the fresh basil.

You can see how fast Kevin is scooping that up!

It was relatively easy to make, just a little time consuming because of the time it takes to roast the squash.  Next time, I might try roasting the squash and onions on Sunday, so I could just heat them and stir them in.

Squash and onions, ready to roast!
You'll notice that I said "next time," because this recipe is now on Kevin's "Favorites" List for Meatless Monday.

The recipe predicts 6 servings, and we found that it made 6 quite generous servings.  Jeff assures this that this will be a tasty lunch for many days, so we will let you know!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"...then you turn your back, and they're gone so fast!"

After a few comments to the effect of, "There are people who read your blog who are too young to remember 'Where's the Beef?'" I felt I needed to give a little perspective...some perspective that I gained myself the other day.

Working at a college, I forget how old I am, and how old incoming students are nowadays.  The other day, our student workers were talking about music and pulling up clips on YouTube.  One of workers who is a little older, in his early 20's, says something to the effect of, "Tracie, you'll know this one," and proceeds to pull up:

"MmmBop" by boy band Hansen.  Of course I remember "MmmBop!"  Ah, the summer of 1998, spent in a dark, dingy, moldy basement at an internship at a state historic site.  The cheeriness of "MmmBop!" and the invent of AOL Instant Messenger is what got me through that summer.

Here's a photo of the Hansen boys in their heyday:

The time some friends and I performed as Hansen in the college drag show is another story.

"Oh yeah!" I exclaimed.  "Of course I know this song!"

Another student worker and student government officer, both 19, look at each other and say, laughing, "What IS this song?"  Like he had just pulled up "Double Rainbow" or some nonsense.

I almost fell out of my chair.  WHAT??? I was in disbelief.  I tried to make sense of the years, and said, "But I thought you guys would've been their target audience!"  Because I was thinking these girls must have been what, like, 10 or 12 in 1998?  "What year were you guys born?" I demanded.


Which would have made in 1998.  Heck if I knew any current pop music when I was seven.  I felt so deflated.

Coincidentally, the very next day Hansen, all grown up, was playing live in studio on a local radio station. They are still releasing music independently, and are still touring.  Little Hansen, all grown up!

Courtesy of MIX 106.5

They were very positive, well-mannered young men.  They were a little Leave it to Beaver (aw, shucks!), and felt like they were trying a little too hard to be nice, witty guys, but maybe that's just because we're unaccustomed to unabashedly nice rock stars (if Hansen are even rock stars).  They played some new tunes, which I actually really enjoyed, and, after much cajoling, played a little "Mmm Bop."  You could tell they really want establish a new identity separate from that "one-hit wonder," but they good-naturedly played most of the song.  I thought it might be silly for a bunch of twenty-something men to be singing the song, but let's just say it was no more silly than the thirty-something woman bobbing her head and singing along with a ridiculous grin on her face as she pulled into work.

Mix 106.5 hasn't posted the whole performance yet, but here's a link to the video for the first part, if anyone wants to see Hansen, Grown Up live (my title, not theirs).

To conclude on a slightly more academic note, every year Beloit College  produces a "College Mindset List."  for the incoming freshmen class.  This list paints a picture of the pop-culture/current event point of view of new students.  Sometimes it seems as though they are reaching, and sometimes their observations need to be taken with a grain of salt, but the lists are always interesting and thought-provoking.  I looked up the list for these girls, Class of 2013, most of whom were born in 1991.  Just to give you an idea:

  • They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
  • Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
  • American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
  •  The European Union has always existed.
  • We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
  • Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.
I was hoping to see what they had to say about my incoming college class, the Class of 2000, but they don't go back any further than 2002.  So, the first line of the Class of 2000 might read, "They have never heard of the Benoit Mindset List."

If you've graduated in 2002 or after, I'm curious - do you find things in the list that apply to you?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where's the Beef?

I wonder if I exploited that blog title (a nod to an early 80's Wendy's commercial, for you youngin's) too soon?  With Meatless Mondays, there could be countless more opportunities.

I'm sorry, as soon as I realized that some people might be too young to know about the Wendy's commercial, I had to go find it for you:

Thanks for bearing with me.  It's important that pop-culture be passed on to future generations.


"Where's the beef?" is a question students at Bowdoin College in Maine were asking recently when the college decided to implement "Meatless Monday" in its on-campus dining establishments.  A number of students (I couldn't find anything indicating a specific number) were outraged, and protested the lack of animal flesh in the dining hall, including holding a beefy barbecue right outside the premises.  Apparently, they resent having their dietary choices controlled by the dictatorial college dining services.  Okay, truthfully, it was the administration as a whole, but the image of dining service dictators made me smile a little.  In any case, you can more informed takes on it here and here.

My reactions to this:

Initially, I thought something like, "Well, that's great that they've overcome apathy enough to protest something, but really?  Meatless Monday?"  Then, I thought they were somewhat justified.  What right does the college have to impose its food values on their students?  It is certainly appropriate for the school to encourage Meatless Monday the same way it might encourage wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, but to essentially force them into it?  Even if there are off-campus dining options nearby, students with a dining plan shouldn't have to pay again for a meal they want to eat.

But then, I realize that not just college students, but anyone who works anywhere or goes anywhere is subject to complying with or at least participating in the organization's values system.  Usually, no one cares until it effects something that you care about.  For example, our college's dining services uses almost exclusively plates and cups made from recycled materials, and is beginning to incorporate locally produced food when its feasible.  I think it's awesome, and so do others, but I'm sure there's a lot of folks who are quite indifferent.  No one is saying, "Darnit, I really wanted to eat my meal off of styrofoam today!" And even if people think that climate change and all this environmental stuff is a bunch of hooey and a waste, they still don't really care. But the College is imposing its environmental values on these students.  Organizations impose their values with everything they do.

In his or her comment on the Sierra Club Blog, Cris said it much more succinctly:
Is it up to the students to select the menu items on any other day? Why would they need to approve a mac & cheese dinner on Monday (or whatever they have) any more than they need to approve having hotdogs on Thursdays or not having fried chicken on Wednesdays or orange juice for breakfast, or not having cherry pie on Tuesdays!
Excellent point!  Then, when I was in college, on almost any given day, I could protest that I didn't have the right to eat tater tots with chili and cheese, one of my dining hall guilty pleasures.  And there was always at least one day a week when there was no strawberry cream cake, oh, I can still taste the sweet berries, moist cake and rich filling, kissed with fluffy whipped cream.  Wasn't it my right to eat that cake any day I wanted to?  Should I have protested by...uh, I guess eating strawberry cake right outside the dining hall?

IUP alum, I know you forgot about that cake until just now, and your mouth is watering, too!

So, I'm not sure what I think about this.  I wonder if it would ever fly where I work now.  What do y'all think?