For a Brownie Fix

I actually had people over for dinner this past weekend. This is big for me! But it’s nice to live in an apartment where I don’t mind having friends over again! I made my old standby, Beef Gyros (which I have apparently never shared on this blog?! Need to fix that but in the meantime, here’s the original recipe), but I tried something new for dessert. Healthy (ish) brownies! Hungry Girl never lets me down. These are so good. Nice and moist and using the muffin tin means they come out perfectly proportioned. I sent most of the batch home with my friends so I wouldn’t eat them all. Which turned out to be a good call because my cat is driving me to stress eating. Figment is having a rough patch again so please send lots of good thoughts to my little guy and make these brownies ASAP.

Brownies

[I meant to take a picture but they were gone before I did…so here’s the photo from Hungry Girl]

Ingredients

  • 1 box moist-style devil’s food cake mix (15.25 to 18.25 oz.) [NOTE: I couldn’t find a cake mix with this title so I used a Moist Triple Chocolate Cake mix and it came out fine.]
  • One 15-oz. can pure pumpkin

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with foil baking cups, or spray it with nonstick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix cake mix with pumpkin until completely smooth and uniform. (Batter will be thick.)
  3. Evenly distribute batter into the cups of the muffin pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out mostly clean, about 20 minutes

Something Different

IMG_0539I love chicken. But I get sick of it. There are only so many things you can do with it before you want something different. Something about summer also says “seafood” to me. Or maybe it was just all the Red Lobster commercials on the Hallmark Channel over the weekend. So, I went digging through my crab cake recipes. A lot of my “healthy” crab cake recipes called for frying. While tasty, it’s so messy (and not really healthy usually either). I always feel the need to scour my kitchen after I fry anything. And also spray Febreeze everywhere. So, I was happy that HG did not let me down.

This recipe was so easy and quick and tasty. I tried a sauce from a different recipe which is good but I think I’ll stick with some dijonnaise for dipping sauce in the future. I added a pile of lettuce and found it to be a very tasty and filling dinner; perfectly light for a summer’s night!

Crab Cakes (original recipe from Hungry Girl; tweaked a bit)
Serving: 1 cake (recipe makes 4)

Ingredients for cakes
1/2 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped parsley (or 1 tsp dry)
Dash each salt and black pepper
8 oz. (about 1 cup) canned lump crabmeat, drained [NOTE: Publix only sold 6 oz. cans and that was plenty of crab for me!]
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 tbsp. finely chopped celery
1 tsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. reduced-fat cream cheese
3 tbsp. egg whites or fat-free liquid egg substitute
1 tbsp. light mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp. Dijonnaise (or another creamy mild Dijon mustard)
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. light whipped butter or light buttery spread

Ingredients for sauce
1 cup plain nonfat, Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh if possible – juice of one lemon)
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill (or 1 tsp dry)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.
  2. In a medium-large bowl, combine breadcrumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Add crabmeat, onion, celery, and garlic. Mix until uniform.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir cream cheese until smooth. Add egg whites/substitute, mayo, Dijonnaise, lemon juice, and butter. Whisk until smooth and uniform.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold cream cheese mixture into crabmeat mixture.
  5. Evenly form mixture into 4 balls, and place on the baking sheet, evenly spaced. Flatten each one into a patty about 1-inch thick.
  6. Bake for 8 minutes. While baking, mix the sauce ingredients until smooth.
  7. Carefully flip patties. Bake until firm, lightly browned, and cooked through, about 8 more minutes.

 

A Tale as Old as Time

The first movie I can really remember seeing in the movie theater was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Belle was my hero. I wanted to be just like her. Adventurous, loyal, smart, kind, able to walk and read at the same time. Bonus? She got that library in the end too! This was before princess culture took over the toy aisles and before Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was a thing. This was just a heroine who saved the day. I am who I am because I had Belle as a role model and never once has that been a bad thing. I didn’t even realize it could be until college.

I was a women’s studies minor in college and I adored it. However, it was the first time I really needed to defend my love of Disney and the movies. Look, they are problematic at times, don’t get me wrong but I know it’s also something we have a lot of control over in how it effects us thanks to how our world shares it with us. [See my rant a while back on Cinderella and princess culture] My parents never told me “look at the pretty princess who gets her prince, you should be just like that!” No, my dad only ever said, “look, Belle likes to read just like you!” I always felt I could go off and have adventures because Belle did. And honestly, while I enjoy the Beast, I never felt he was really all that necessary to Belle’s adventures. A catalyst? sure! But necessary…eh. I am the girl who went onto write one of her best papers on how men are superfluous in 19th century novels so clearly I had an idea from a young age that princes and their elk were around for plot purposes, not because the heroine actually needed them. And hey, look at Disney movies with that lens and suddenly, it’s a whole different ball game.

But, I digress. I’m here to talk about Beauty & The Beast of which I lately read and/or watched a couple of fabulous re-tellings that I wanted to share. I read a lot of Cinderella re-tellings but not so much B&TB so yay for different fairy tale re-visits!

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Seriously, so gorgeous. La belle et la bête (2014)

La Belle et La Bête is an absolute gorgeous film out of France in 2014. It has been on my list for awhile so I requested it through the library recently and then they decided to purchase it. I do have great taste after all. And then, right after I got it from the library, Netflix started streaming it so you should all check it out! This version stays a bit more on the traditional tale side of things. Belle and her family (widowed father, two brothers and two sisters) move to the countryside after her father’s merchant business is ruined by bad storms and the family’s finances are immediately tanked. Belle loves her new life in the countryside though the family is less than pleased. However, miracle! One ship manages to get back to port so Belle’s father and oldest brother head back to the city to reclaim their good fortune but that doesn’t work out so well. The eldest brother is in hock to a very bad guy (why isn’t all that clear) and her father ends up hunted by wolves until he finds his way to an enchanted castle. It goes on from there. Things I really liked about this version were: the visuals – the movie is yummy to look at and the costume design is out of this world. Seriously, Belle’s dresses at the castle are works of art and I am so impressed she could move in them; The backstory to why the Beast is cursed; The little enchanted dogs; Giant walking statues at the climax of the film; the ending. Also, the relationships in this movie are SO stereo-typically French which doesn’t always come across well to an American audience (I hate you! I love you! Save me! Get away from me! all in the span of five minutes) but I enjoyed them. My main issue with this version is the plot has a few holes in it and lot of plot points aren’t explained very well.

2974811Belle: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast (Once Upon a Time #14) is actually part of me getting back to finishing up series on my reading list. This installment is by Cameron Dokey, one of my all time favorite fairy tale re-tellers (if that’s a thing you can have a favorite in).  This was quite a decent retelling of Beauty & The Beast. I liked the woodcarving Belle in this adventure and the idea that the name is more of a curse than a blessing when her face does not live up to the promise of the name. I liked the evolution of the family here as well; much closer to the original story where Bell has two sisters but this version redeems her sisters in ways the original tale did not.

I had read Robin McKinley’s Beauty a long while back but she wrote another B&TB re-telling and I only just now got around to it. Rose Daughter is a lovely rendition of the original story. I liked the emphasis on description over dialogue; much more in keeping with the original fairy tale tradition. The sisters especially were wonderfully rendered and their relationship very much the core of the story over Beauty’s relationship with her father and even to some extent, the Beast. The only thing missing from this version was a good library but I liked the idea of Beauty as a gardener as something new that made perfect sense. Indeed, this book would have fit perfectly into a widening of my thesis in college – the idea that a fairy tale heroine is much stronger when surrounded by a network of supportive and strong females.

Indeed, you get a glimpse into how we re-imagine our heroines in all these versions. Belle as a bookworm, as a woodcarver, as a gardener. As someone who is brave and strong for her family even when she is placed in impossible situations and asked to do impossible things. I think that is something I appreciate more and more about fairy tales each year; they are infinitely malleable to times and places and never seem to cease having tales to tell us in new versions. And surely, Beauty and the Beast will remain a favorite.

 

A Tasty Summer Dish

It isn’t often I make a dish to eat hot and decide I like it better cold. However, this pesto pasta salad with tomatoes and mozzarella chilled with some grilled chicken? I find it a delicious summer dinner! It’s also the first time I made pesto on my own (memo to me for future: your blender has a food processor attachment) which mostly went pretty well.

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I only skipped the Romano cheese from the original recipe as I prefer a touch more mozzarella. I also could not find yellow cherry tomatoes at Publix so I bought an organic grape tomato medley pint and tossed in some regular grape tomatoes I had leftover in the fridge from last week’s meal. Delightful!

Ingredients

8 oz. uncooked whole-grain farfalle
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp grated lemon rind
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup tomato medley, halved (I used the orange and yellow in the mix)
3 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3/4 cup), divided

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. Place pasta in a large bowl.
  2. Combine basil and next 5 ingredients (through garlic) in the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth.
  3. Add basil mixture, tomatoes, and 5 oz. mozzarella to pasta; toss to combine.
  4. Top with remaining 5 ounces mozzarella to serve.
  5. You can serve hot the first night or chill the mixture once at room temperature to serve at a later time.

 

Meet Figment!

As most of you know, I very suddenly had to say goodbye to my little monster Brie in April. I am glad we caught the cancer fairly early on and were able to make sure she wasn’t ever in much pain. Making that sort of a decision for a pet was excruciating but I know it was the right one for her and me. Since then, I’ve moved to a new apartment and still have a giant cat tree in my living room. I found a new occupant for it last weekend. Everyone, meet Figment.

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I was long overdue for an animal with a Disney name and Figment seems the perfect fit for what I am finding is a rather adventurous and only mischievous with the best of intentions cat. Fig has a story that I wish he could tell me. He’s still recovering from an injury on his back left side that it looks like someone treated but then let him go again (?). I’ll never know what actually happened but he’s very affectionate, loves catnip toys and I’m sure he’s only just starting to come out of his shell with me. He’s working through a post-shelter cold right now (very typical of animals when they spend time in a shelter) and has the cutest sneeze that I laugh hysterically over because he is so disgruntled when he sneezes. He’s already enjoying lounging around with me during Netflix binges and is learning how to just lie next to me when reading and only bat at the object that is taking my attention from him, not sit on the book or in front of the book or try to use the book as a new scratching post. Book etiquette is the hardest thing to get a cat on board with I swear. Overall though, he’s a good egg and I’m sure he’ll pop up here occasionally so introductions were necessary.

Getting Back to Cooking

Woohoo! I cooked a meal for the week this past weekend! It’s magical to be getting myself back on a schedule. And now I plan to (hopefully) bring a cat home this weekend and probably go off it again but let’s hope I can stick with it. I even made it to the gym yesterday guys. And did everything on my to-do list. AND managed to watch an episode of Bill Nye, read three chapters in my fun book and write a blog post. All that really means I’ll probably be a slug the rest of the week but hey, Monday was productive!

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A lovely summer meal

This recipe, Chicken Shwarma in the Slow Cooker, is tasty and not really super healthy to be honest. BUT, I estimate at least 5-6 servings from it so I think once it all spreads out, it’s not super terrible. I use whole wheat pitas too which must could for something right? This came together really well. I hadn’t used frozen meat like this before but found it made life alot easier in the long run. I also took the original post’s suggestion and serve this with grapes and it’s revolutionized dinner sides for me. I love the sweet with the salty savoriness of the shwarma and the cool cucumber sauce. I put a few dashes of mint in the cucumber sauce to for a little extra coolness. I am a fan. I think I also just love a good Greek dish in the summer. It matches well!

Ingredients

6 Tbs. lemon juice
6 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. curry powder
2 dashes cayenne pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2.5 lbs. boneless chicken thighs, strips or straight thighs [Tyson frozen is what I used]
8 oz Greek style yogurt
1 small cucumber, chopped finely
Mint, to taste
whole wheat pita bread
tomatoes, chopped

Directions

  1. Stir lemon juice, olive oil, salt, curry, cayenne pepper and garlic together in a small bowl.
  2. Place chicken in slow cooker. [Side Note: I had used this sort of flash frozen meat before, you need to rinse this meat off before using which I did not know until I read the bag.]
  3. Pour olive oil mixture over the top, stirring to coat the chicken well.
  4. Cook on high for 5-6 hours or low for 7-8 hours.
  5. Stir cucumber and yogurt together, adding a few dashes of mint to the mixture. [Side Note 2: I put this together about an hour before the chicken was done to let the ingredients set a bit with each other. I think it helps. I could also be delusional.]
  6. Serve chicken in pita bread, topped with yogurt sauce and tomatoes. I used grapes for a side and it’s brilliant!

The original post and recipe is at Eat at Home Cooks.

The Girl with Silver Eyes

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From Goodreads, modern cover

Recently, I treated myself to a bit of a belated book spree on Amazon. I’d been hoarding a gift card balance from Christmas and my birthday. I like to keep a balance for ebook purchases but I’d also been waiting for a move to be done before picking some books off the long to-buy list (not as long as the to-read list so that’s a good thing for my wallet).

A while back, I’d added a book from childhood to the list. I have a small collection of my childhood books. The ones I’ll re-read periodically or the ones I’m going to force down my nieces’ and nephews’ throats when they come to visit someday. However, there were a few glaring omissions. One of my latest acquisitions was a big one and I know why I didn’t own it. It’s actually one I found through school.

Most of the reading I did early on for school wasn’t my cup of tea. I was often bored because the books were too easy or I didn’t care for the characters. This all started to change in 5th grade. Mr. Clark wasn’t the sort of teacher I’d encountered before and I adored his class. We dissected owl pellets, cows’ eyes and a sheep’s brain that year. Went to the swamp for our class trip. Fostered baby snapping turtles and very happily called Mr. Clark’s Florida King Snake Blackie as we wore him around our necks. Science was big in his classroom and it was the first time it was a real focus of my schooling that I remember. With Mr. Clark also came some very cool science fiction books. When I recently posted about picking up a copy of The Girl with Silver Eyes, a classmate from that year said that was the teacher that led to her love of science fiction and fantasy and I would have to agree. This book and the White Mountain trilogy were like gateway drugs and I happily fed the newfound addiction with Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books and Dinotopia that year too. Overall, 5th grade was a great reading year. Except for Where The Red Fern Grows but I have blocked that one out completely…not. I am still traumatized. Animals in peril. Enough said.

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From Goodreads, cover I remember from 5th grade (love the attitude Katie has going here!)

So, what is The Girl with Silver Eyes? For starters, it’s not a trilogy. Ten bucks says if it was written today, it would be. It’s also not preoccupied with world building; it’s completely character driven in a normal suburban setting. It’s the story of Katie, a very quiet, very shy not quite 10 year old who has silver eyes. And can move things with her mind. And talk to animals. In short, Katie is awesome and a bit of a spirit animal to my 5th grade self. As the book begins, Katie has just moved into an apartment with her mother after her grandmother passed away. Katie’s powers start to cause problems and brings the interest of a new neighbor on her head, a new neighbor who is not what he seems be at first glance. Also, Katie’s figured out why she has silver eyes and that maybe, just maybe, there might be other kids like her out there. But how to find them?

So, to start with, this book holds up really well even though to some extent, this book could not exist today. A lot of the tension and pages of this book owe itself to the fact Katie couldn’t simply Google the other kids’ names once she finds them. Also, a lot of it runs on the idea of the telephone in a way we just don’t worry about anymore. Katie has to stay in her apartment to wait for phone calls. Think about that. Still, the idea behind the story is still solid and I sort of love that the book has a bit of an ambiguous ending. Like I said above, today the book would probably be a trilogy and have some odd love triangle develop along with lots more details about the shadowy Psychic Institute introduced in the end but here, we’re left with this idea that Katie is going to be OK…we think. A kid can make up their own ending and I think we don’t do enough of that in kids’ science fiction and fantasy today (and I cannot believe I am writing that as I am one of those people that loves every little plot line wrapped up in the end usually).

So, in short, I still love this book and hope it’s still being shared in some way with kids today. If nothing else, I kept trying to think through how the story might change in a 2017 setting and realizing I’d still really like to be Katie, silver eyes and all.