Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year!

Growing up a midwestern girl, I never associated any particular foods with new years. However, my husband, who is from Louisiana, has a rich food tradition on new years.

The one food that must be served on new years are black-eyed peas, which are eaten to ensure luck and prosperity. According to my mother-in-law, a Louisiana historian, black-eyed peas got their status as a good luck charm during the civil war. Evidently the Union soldiers destroyed or consumed every other crop as they marched through the south, leaving southerners only black-eyed peas on which to survive. It all comes back to the civil war, doesn't it?

Here is my favorite recipe for serving black-eyed peas for new years. It is based on one popular in St. Martinville, LA, where my father-in-law is from. Because pork is also thought to symbolize progress and wealth, the sausage and ham, this dish could be especially lucky. Enjoy and happy new year!

Black-Eyed Peas

Makes 8 servings

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 pound diced ham
1 (15 oz) can black-eyed peas (or equivalent amount of fresh peas)
1 tsp kosher salt

1. Heat the oil in a dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sausage and ham and cook, stirring, until the meat is lightly browned, roughly 7-8 minutes.

2. Add the black-eyed peas and simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to Write a Thank You Note

After the excitement of opening all those holiday presents, I am faced with the task of writing notes to the many generous people who sent presents to my family and I. Often, writing thank you notes can be very daunting and your instinct may be to put it off for as long as possible. However, with several easy steps, writing thank you notes can be a fun and satisfying experience.

Step 1: Pick stationery that you love. It doesn't have to be fancy or say "Thank You" on the front, but it certainly can. If you use stationery that reflects your personality, you are going to feel more comfortable being yourself in your writing.

Step 2: Always hand-write your note. Hand-writing is much more personal than typing. If you would like to edit your note before committing it to paper, you can write a draft on scratch paper or the computer and than transfer the finished copy to your stationery.

Step 3: Acknowledge the gift-giver. A simple "Dear" to start your note followed by whatever you would call the gift-giver if they walked into your living room. For example, "Dear Uncle John," or "Dear Mr. Johnson."

Step 4: Say thank you for the gift. A simple "Thank you for [insert gift name]" is all that is required.

Step 5: Write a sentence about the gift or how you are going to use it. You don't have to embellish, even if you didn't particularly like the gift. Simply remark on the color of the item or praise the gift-giver's thoughtfulness.

Step 6: Mention a recent interaction with the gift-giver and reference the future. Tell the gift-giver that it was wonderful to see or talk to them recently, if possible. As for the future, if you see or talk to the person frequently, plan to do so. If not, tell the person that you are thinking about them.

Step 7: Say thank you again.

Step 8: Your signature. Use whatever signature makes you comfortable, whether it is "Love," "Yours truly," or "With Love." You could also combine steps 7 & 8 by using, "Thanks again."

These steps are guidelines and you should use them to make yourself more comfortable writing and your note sound like your voice. Enjoy writing your notes!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Challenge 1 - Shape eyebrows

Okay, I admit it. My eyebrows are out of control. In fact, they always have been out of control. It is part of my DNA. I've tried plucking, but it hurts like crazy. Plus, my patience always runs out after one brow, and the one-eyebrow-plucked-one-eyebrow-not, is not an acceptable fashion statement.

Today, I have decided to do something about my eyebrows. That decision, plus the impending arrival of new years, prompted me to commit myself to doing 100 things that help me become my best me in 2010. Some will be big, some will be small. Some will be applicable to lots of people, and some will probably only be interesting to me.

Why is having properly shaped eyebrows so important? Having properly shaped eyebrows can really brighten up your face. When your eyebrows are properly shaped, your eyes appear more open, frame your face, and give your face a more polished look. This means, even when I forget to put on makeup when I leave the house, I won't look like a disheveled hobo.

Step 1: Decide what type of eyebrow shaping is right for you. Your choices are tweezing at home, home waxing (yikes), professional waxing, and eyebrow threading. I think waxing is right for me. And, as I alluded to earlier, I leave the hot wax to the professionals.

Step 2: Make an appointment. I have a million excuses not to do this, but the best thing to do is pick up the phone and start dialing. I just did. I have a great sense of accomplishment now.

Step 3: Evaluate how often you need to have this done to keep up your new, polished look. I'm hoping it is about 6 weeks for me, but with my eyebrows, it might be a lot less.

Congratulations, you just completed Challenge #1!

Challenge progress: 1/100/368

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peppermint Fudge

My mother gave me a subscription to Martha Stewart's Everyday Food for Christmas and I have been pleasantly surprised at how down-to-earth the recipes are. One of the best I have tried is one for Peppermint Fudge (can be found in the December 2009 issue).

It was incredibly easy and so delicious. I made it for a cookie swap this week. Way to go Martha!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mango Madness

Oh, mangoes. I really like mangoes, but I have never had any success with getting the flesh out of the skin. I had completely given up on mangoes (except of the frozen variety) when I received 2 fresh mangoes in my fruit and vegetable box a couple of weeks ago.

It took me a few days to work up the courage, but ultimately I decided to tackle the mangoes. I googled "how to peel a mango" and discovered a youtube video that showed me exactly how to score the mango flesh and peel it away from the skin. I have to admit that it was almost as easy to do as it looked in the video. Hurrah! I am no longer afraid of mangoes!

I froze the mangoes and used half of them in a smoothie made from the juice of some satsuma oranges that I also received. Katherine drank it really quickly, so it must have been good.

Photo Credit to Celso Diniz,

CrockPot Apple Butter

Over the course of about 3 weeks, I had accumulated about 15 apples from the fruit and veggie box. We just can't eat that many apples. I had made applesauce a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to do something different.

One of my favorite new cookbooks is Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'Dea, the author of the blog A Year of Crockpotting. I am totally addicted to my crockpot. I love the idea of putting some ingredients together in the morning and then having dinner magically appear in the evening.

Stephanie has a recipe for Apple Butter that is really easy and so delicious. The smell of the apples cooking all day long made the house smell so good. My almost two-year-old daughter loves bread, but I have a hard time getting her to eat any fruit. Now, I'm sure the sugar content has something to do with it, but she loves the apple butter. Yummy!

Fruit and Vegetable Challenge

As part of my desire to feel my family organic food, a variety of fruit and vegetables, and support local agriculture, I decided to subscribe to a weekly delivery of a fruit and vegetable box from a local independent grocery store. Every Tuesday, a selection of mostly locally grown, organic produce is delivered to my door.

Then comes the challenge: what exactly is [insert name of fruit/vegetable] and how on earth do I incorporate it into our daily meals? I actually had to use google images to determine that one of the vegetables I received this week was baby bok choy. Now, don't judge me too harshly, I grew up in Nebraska!

Anyway, I have accepted this challenge. Tonight, I made a salad with half of the red lettuce. I know, pretty simple, but last night I used the baby bok choy in the ginger beef I made (recipe can be found in Leanne Ely's Saving Dinner). With two heads of baby bok choy, you could hardly see the greens after they cooked down! The bonus of the ginger beef was that I also used some of the fresh ginger I got in my veggie box two weeks ago. Slowly but surely, I'm making my way through it.

Oh, I almost forgot, I juiced a watermelon today, too. I scooped out the flesh of the watermelon, pureed it in the blender and then used a sieve to section out the flesh and seeds. It produced quite a bit of juice. Now, I need to work out a good watermelon smoothie recipe!

My next project: what to do with about 15 pears. I'm thinking of juicing them, but that might prove difficult. We'll see.