In Case You Missed Me.

The past few months have gone by in such a blur I don’t even know where to start. Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first.

I definitely worked too much. Between extended hours at Job One and almost every Saturday night shift at Job Two, I hardly had any time to myself from June til September. The extended hour deal at Job One is over but I’m pretty much stuck with the Saturday night thing at Job Two for the foreseeable future, should I want to continue earning that lovely second paycheck. I’ve resigned myself to it, honestly. I do give myself one weekend a month off (sometimes two, depending), but those weekends are usually crammed full of so much awesome I barely have time to breathe. I don’t nearly see my parents as much as I should, and it’s a damn shame, considering all my mom’s health issues this year. They’ve done so much for me I wish I could reciprocate and help them out too. I visit when I’m able and run errands (mostly picking up prescriptions and the like), but it still seems like so little to me.

Daughter guilt is a sonofabitch, I tell you.

Anyway, the Saturday night shifts aren’t always bad. Some nights can be rougher than others, but I don’t exactly work at a Level One Trauma Center, so there is some down time. I leave Sunday mornings, go to Wegmans and get my weekly groceries, go home and nap, and it’s all good. Mondays I might be a little tired and draggy but that’s a price I’m willing to pay for per diem rate work.

Onto more fun news:

I won a trip! Well, okay, not a trip, but I did win a free flight. Round trip, domestic flight from Jet Blue, all thanks to Birchbox. I have until July 2015 to use it. I’m thinking about San Francisco and wine country, probably mid to late spring, depending on the blackout dates and cost. If California doesn’t work out I might just do a few days in New Orleans instead, but no worries, mom, I won’t be trolling for beads.

I became a drag queen fan girl. It all started with this year’s season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’d watched the show in the past, but always forgot when it aired so I missed the past couple of seasons. My friend Sara mentioned that this season would be featuring a queen who was called “The Don Rickles of Drag” and I should check her out. I can safely say it wasn’t even ten minutes into the first episode and I was in love with Miss Bianca Del Rio. So glamorous (obviously), so hilarious, and so super sweet in person.

Because, yes, I’ve met her. Twice!

My queen.

That photo was taken after her appearance at Lehigh Valley Pride Fest in August and is probably one of the best photos taken of me in my lifetime. It’s a shame the quality is so poor.

I also met another RuPaul season six alum, Miss Congeniality herself, Ben DeLaCreme.

Me and the fabulous Ben DeLaCreme!

An absolute treasure. Also, hello, there’s my bad side.

I have plans with Sara to see Bianca again later this month in New York, for the first show of her Rolodex of Hate stand up tour. We might have VIP meet and greet passes for that one, I’ll never tell.

I embraced the fact that I need physical activity in my life. Ever since my surgery in January, I knew it was coming. The day I’d have to suck it up and start exercising. I joined the gym all the way back in March but after one or two trips where I felt awkward and out of place I sort of avoided going. My weight was still coming off at a good rate so I talked myself out of not going back. After a few more months, however, it became increasingly obvious that something more was going to have to be done on my part. I started slowly, just walking at my local park a couple times a week. However, in August and September a few times a week turned into a few times a month and I actually saw a one or two pound gain the week of my birthday. Damn it, Cake. Damn it all to hell.

So with a renewed purpose I started walking more and more. Not just at the park, but around the neighborhood too. And when the temperatures started dropping in October I finally dragged my ass back to the gym that I’ve been paying ten bucks a month for. It’s not so bad anymore. I go two or three times a week, hit the treadmill, the bike, or the elliptical, work on my legs or arms, and I’m out in an hour. I can deal with that. Oh, and as of October I’ve lost 85 pounds.

I can definitely deal with that. I’ll talk more about my experiences and struggles post-surgery another time. This late summer/early fall recap has gone on long enough. But not before I tell you the biggest news of all!

I’ve become a mama again. Let me introduce you to the Winchester Brothers, aka Sam and Dean.

They have legs, I swear.

Yes, I decided my house had been too quiet for too long and jumped back into pet ownership. As much as I wanted a dog in my life, however, my schedule just would not allow it, so I went with a more low-maintenance option. I get all the snuggles, and I don’t have to worry about getting home at a certain time. Plus…

Snuggle time.

I mean…

COME ON, WITH THE CUTE.

So, there you have it. I think I kept the bitching the a minimum, right? Maybe next time.

Blueberry-Thyme Lemonade: The Perfect Summer Cocktail

I’m not one of those people that does well at growing things in the dirt. No matter how many times I’ve tried my hand at a patio garden with pots of herbs, tomatoes, or peppers, they all seem fated to die horrible, dry, brown, scraggly deaths. Whether this is due to a lack of skill or, you know, work on my part remains to be seen. Ahem.

Okay, so perhaps I could give a touch more effort on my part to ensure a long healthy life for my little green babies, but I’m already an excellent cook and baker with a sparkling wit and fantastic rack. Adding “good with plants” into the mix just seems unfair to the rest of the human race.

Anyway, lack of luck with gardening notwithstanding, I forged ahead this past weekend and decided to at least have a go at keeping some fresh potted herbs around the patio this summer. So my new “garden” of basil, thyme, mint, flat leaf parsley, and cilantro is currently chilling out on the table out back, and I remain cautiously optimistic that I will be able to enjoy a fresh caprese salad or pico de gallo at least once this summer. I’ve already put them to use in this cocktail, a fresh twist on lemonade that I can’t wait to make again.

Blueberry-Thyme Lemonade 

Makes 1 drink

2-3 TB Fresh Blueberries

2-3 small sprigs fresh thyme

Juice of 2 lemons

1-2 oz. simple syrup (or more to taste, I like my drinks a little on the sweet side)

4 oz. flat or sparkling water (or tonic)

1.5 oz Gin (I use Bluecoat, but again, whatever you prefer)

Muddle blueberries and thyme together in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon juice, simple syrup, water, and gin, and stir. Pour over ice, add a slice of fresh lemon, and serve.

This was super tasty, and so refreshing. You could absolutely make this drink with vodka as well, I was just more in a gin mood when I made this one. I never thought about fresh herbs in my homemade cocktails (other than mint, obviously), but if they all taste this good, I might just be a bit more invested in the health of my little patio garden project this summer.

Recipe Round-up: Summer At Jenn’s

It’s June 20th, which means summer is here! And this year after such a miserable winter and a spring that was spent doing not much more than work, I’ve been looking forward to warm, sunny days and floating away the afternoon in the pool all the more.

Along with the sun and warmer weather comes recipes I love to dig out when it’s just “too damn hot to cook”, and I figured I would re-share them in case you needed some summertime inspiration.

Like this spinach and strawberry salad with goat cheese and citrus vinaigrette.

100_1250 by you.

Quick, easy, and perfect for Meatless Monday.

Or this Watermelon “Plank” salad with feta and balsamic glaze.

Wonderful as a main dish or as a side.

Here’s a ‘non-recipe’ post for a grilled chicken and smoked mozzarella panini with store made pesto and sun dried tomato spread, and a mango, black bean and quinoa salad. So easy, and great to take for a summer picnic, or tailgating at the drive-in, perhaps?

Can I get an amen?

This roasted parmesan zucchini is perfect if you’re a gardener with superfluous squash lying around.

Culinary OCD, that’s me.

And since you can’t have a “summer food” post without mentioning the holy mother of summer foods, here’s an Heirloom Tomato Crostini that is the best no-cook meal for the hottest nights of the season.

Gosh, I can’t wait for good tomatoes.

This kicked-up gazpacho is also perfect for all those fresh garden “‘maters”, and it makes a TON of soup. No worries about what to take for lunch for a week!

100_1297 by you.

And finally, since I can’t finish a post like this without a little something sweet, here is a peach blackberry crostata with honey-ginger glaze and cardamom spiced fresh whipped cream that is sure to impress any of your summer dinner guests.

I’m itching to make that one again, in addition to experimenting with some other summer crostatas.

Hope your summer is a fantastic one, kids. Spend time doing everything you want to do, or doing nothing at all.

 

 

Busy Bee Has a Numbered List.

Because talking about my life in a fluid and comprehensive manner is for professional bloggers, and I am not that.

1. I finally re-took and passed my Cat Scan board exam. I’m “officially” a licensed CT tech, hooray! This means I was able to go back to work in the CT department at job number two, which means I’m working more, which means more money, which means yay! Because my car is on its last legs, my kitchen floor needs to be redone, and I needs to get the hell out of town this summer, even just for a weekend.

2. Momma C had back surgery in February, and is healing nicely. Unfortunately, she’s got some other health issues going on, so we’re trying to deal with them as best we can. My poor momma has been through the wringer this year! (Good thoughts appreciated, y’all.)

3. I’m doing wonderfully after my own surgery – I’m 12 weeks out this Friday, and I’ve lost just over 50 lbs. I cannot put into words how much happier I am, how much this has affected me. It’s literally a weight lifted off my life. I was talking with a coworker I hadn’t seen since before the surgery, and she said I looked like I was “all lit up inside”, and it certainly feels like it. I still have a long way to go but every day just gets better and better. I’m not tired any more, my body doesn’t ache like it did, and I just feel better. As far as what I’m eating, I’m pretty much back to “normal”, diet wise. I’m obviously sticking with good-for-you kind of foods, and I still don’t get much in after my protein, but I have partaken of the occasional treat here and there. (I’m not a saint, for crying out loud.) The only thing I’m still trying to work on is the whole exercise thing. It’s more a matter of just getting off my ass and doing something, but you know what they say about first steps and all.

4. Hoping to start posting recipes again, real soon. I have a few from the fall that are collecting dust, and now that I’m eating more solid foods (and spring is here – hooray, fresh veggies!), I’m slowly getting back into my kitchen. Which makes me happy, because I’ve missed it so.

That’s it for me today, kids. Have a great week!

Semi-Review: Bean Bath Cafe, Bath PA.

During the fall I was working on recipes with the aim of writing them up and posting them all in a timely manner. And the few dozen pictures still sitting on my camera can attest to that. Ah, well. Best laid plans, I s’pose. I figure now that the holidays are done and all my surgery madness is over, I can get back to posting on at least a semi-regular schedule. And lucky for me, I’ve got all this stuff saved! 

To ease in, I just wanted to share a visit I took to Bean Bath Cafe in…well, Bath, of course. I had been visiting with mom and dad and decided to take a different route home. I was hungry for lunch and remembered Bean Bath was on the way. I’d been wanting to check them out for a while. Located in a small strip mall on an almost empty stretch of 512, Bean Bath Cafe is one of those blink-and-you-miss-it kind of places. I know this because I did, and had to turn around to find it.

 

The cafe is clean and bright, with a modern, kind of surf-y decor. There’s a counter for to go orders and plenty of tables for customers that want to eat in. There’s a couple tables outside as well, but the day I went it was a tad too chilly and overcast to linger outside. 

 

I started with a cup of coffee, obviously, because why would you go to a cafe and not sample the coffee? This was a caramel macchiato, and it was pretty perfect. Not too strong, not too sweet. 

 

It took a few minutes of perusing the lunch menu for me to decide what I wanted, it’s pretty extensive. There’s a lot of southwestern inspired dishes, like the El Dorado omelet, Manteca steak wrap, multiple breakfast burritos, quesadillas, and migas. If I lived closer to the cafe, you can bet your ass I’d have had that migas at least a dozen times by now. I decided on the Pinky and the Brain, a sandwich with thinly sliced roasted chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato, slathered with a kicking chipotle mayo, served on a toasted chiabatta roll. It’s served with a pickle and a small side of fries. 

 

A tasty sandwich and an excellent choice for a late lunch on a random trip through the slate belt. I cannot recommend Bean Bath Cafe enough. If you have the chance (or the time to take a mini-road trip), put them on your to-do list, and be sure to invite me. The migas is calling my name. 

Bean Bath Cafe (website), hours vary, mainly 7 am – 2 pm

2425 Plaza Court Bath, PA 18014

(484)287-2326

A Quick Update, and I’m Moving On.

It’s been quite a while since my last post, and I’m sure I have a perfectly good excuse, but let’s not dwell on the past, shall we? Much has happened in the past few months, and we should at least catch up on some of it. I’ve got a few recipes waiting to be written up, and a couple other things to talk about, but the biggest thing that happened around here…and I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this…well.

I had surgery.

Yeah, no. THAT surgery. The one I’ve been mulling in my head for ten years. The one I talked myself out of dozens of times because “Oh, I can do it on my own,” or “I don’t need to have major surgery to do that,” or “I’ve seen too many problems with it, it’s too scary.” THAT surgery. Weight loss surgery.

I’ve been researching everything since last spring. I had given myself one last chance to get it right on my own, and by mid-summer I had yo-yoed again, gaining an approximate 20 pounds after losing 15. This is probably the fourth or fifth time that happened in the past two years, and I was done. So I pulled the trigger and at the end of July attended an informational meeting about one of the programs in the area, at a hospital where I have no previous ties so as to eliminate the chance of running into people I knew. A little more research showed that I had picked the right hospital, and the absolute best surgeon. By the next week, I had eight or nine appointments made through the next three months, including a physical with a new general practitioner (who I love and was fully on board with everything, thank goodness), and I was. Doing. This.

I had three monthly appointments with a nurse practitioner, basically to get weighed in every month and talk about my habits and what to expect during pre and post op. I had two nutrition classes, and one behavioral health class, plus one on one appointments with the nutritionist and the behavioral health specialist. The program prepares you for what you’re about to go through, and their people evaluate you to ensure your own success, which I appreciated. There’s also a great network of support, with meetings every month to attend if you’re having problems or just need someone to talk to. As much support and love as I’ve had from friends and family throughout all of this, I am glad I have the support of the program as well — it’s just good to talk to people that have been there and know what you’re going through.

The surgery itself was on Friday, January 10th – or four days ago, as I write this. Five, when it will publish. I had what is called a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, or VSG. It’s a laparoscopic procedure in which 85% of your stomach is cut off and removed. There are no implants. There is no rerouting of innards. There is only a small, half-banana shaped tube where my stomach used to be. Everything went well – I was told I was in the “sleeve of the month club” by my doctor. Recovery was a little rough – I had a fair amount of pain and nausea, but by Saturday I felt much better and was able to come home. I feel better every day – hoping that tonight (Tuesday night) will be the last time I take my pain meds to sleep.

As far as food, it’ll come. I’m on clear liquids now – all the chicken broth and jell-o I can handle, and I can have a protein shake made with water. This weekend I can switch to full liquids – tomato soup, yippee! — And from there move on to pureed foods, soft foods, and eventually everything I can tolerate, within reason of course. I didn’t have this surgery to lose weight while still eating junk – just less of it. There is a fair amount of work to be done on my part – getting lots of protein, staying adequately hydrated, making sure I take my vitamins, and of course exercise, which I’m so looking forward to.

The most important people in my life – family, close friends, some coworkers – have known about this for a while, though there were a few people I didn’t get to clue in to everything until right before, only out of lack of opportunity. I’m sharing it here because I didn’t feel the need to hide it. I’m happy and at peace with this decision, and I know it’s the best for me. Whether or not anyone else supports or likes this decision is on them, not me. I don’t have diabetes, nor am I pre-diabetic. I don’t have heart problems, or issues with cholesterol. I’m just tired, and constantly in pain. And I decided I can’t live that way anymore. I’ve gone through my entire life – 38 years of it – being overweight, unhealthy, and ultimately unhappy. I’ve spent the last ten years trapped in a body that was unable to do many things I wanted or needed it to do. It just took me until this year to be ready to take the steps necessary to change it. I’ve taken my life back, and nothing anyone says or thinks can stop me, so you may as well join the ride. I don’t promise it’ll always be smooth, but it will damn well be exciting.

Harvest Fest 2013: Brunch and More

I’m a bit behind in talking about this year’s Harvest Fest. Heck, I’m behind in talking about anything at ALL, I’ve been focused on stuff around the house and work and…other things I’ll talk about when I’m ready to. But anyway, Harvest Fest, aka The Best Fest in Bethlehem, Ever. I don’t know if it’s the smaller size, the smaller crowds, or the cooler weather, but Harvest Fest is definitely my favorite of all the events thrown by downtown Bethlehem. Oh, there’s also all the beer and tasty tasty soups.

But first, we brunched. We brunched our butts off.

I invited the usual suspects over for some pumpkin pancakes, bacon, and breakfast sausage.

I also had a few leftover pumpkin whoopie pies on hand, and of course some fresh fruit. It’s not brunch without a gigantic plate of fruit. I served strawberries, fresh pineapple, and a favorite this time of year – concord grapes. They taste like jelly!

For the pancakes, I used my regular recipe (minus the blueberries there, of course), and just added a cup of pureed pumpkin, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and some fresh ground nutmeg.

They’re a bit more moist than the plain pancakes, so give them another minute or so on the griddle before serving. To go with these pancakes, I had some spiked maple syrup that would make Mrs. Butterworth blush.

Just warm up the syrup (real maple syrup, not pancake syrup) in the microwave for a few seconds, stir in an ounce of good bourbon, and about a half teaspoon of vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract, if you can’t acquire it), and you’re in pancake heaven. Serve with your favorite breakfast meat and your friends may never want to leave.

It tastes better than it photographs, trust me.

And thankfully, we had a whole day at Harvest Fest to walk those pancakes off.

It was a great day, spent with some of my very favorite people. (For a more in depth write up, including all the skinny on some of the great beers that were served, try this write up by The El Vee.) At the end of the day, a few of us decided to sit down for a drink and a bite to eat at one of downtown Bethlehem’s newest restaurants, The Twisted Olive. We sat outside and ordered some appetizers and a few cocktails. I had the Forty-Niner, a tasty bourbon drink with honey and lavender, the aranchini (cheese filled risotto balls, breaded and fried? What’s not to love?), and one of the most interesting appetizers I’ve ever had, french onion soup dumplings. Caramelized, beefy onions, wrapped in a dumpling wrapper, topped with a crispy crouton and melted cheese. On. A. Stick.

And these are just appetizers. I’m coming back for that cioppino that I spied on the menu, dudes. Mark my words.

 

Hopefully before Harvest Fest 2014.

“Borrowed” Bang Bang Shrimp

So…I have a slight problem. I took my very first trip to Bonefish Grill with some coworkers earlier this year, and made the mistake of ordering their Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer. It’s a lovely dish, sizzling hot crispy fried shrimp tossed with a spicy creamy dressing, served over a bed of cool lettuce. Ever since then, I need to have this dish at least once a month. Some might call this an obsession or addiction. I just say they’re damn good shrimp and I’m glad they’re half price on Wednesdays.

I saw a Bang Bang copycat recipe on Pinterest a while back and thought about giving it a try many times, but I always talked myself out of it for one reason or another. I hate deep frying in the house. What if there’s an ingredient I can’t find somewhere? What if the recipe is wrong and it doesn’t taste the same and I wasted how much money on fresh shrimp? And oh, hey, the restaurant is ten minutes away and they’ll make it for me, plus they’ve got some slamming cocktails. But…

sometimes you just have to suck it up and go for it.

I read the recipe and realized I actually had everything I would need at home, with the exception of the shrimp. The sauce is simple, especially if you’re a condiment hoarder like me. And if you like spice? Even better. It’s not an overly spicy dish, but with a name like “Bang Bang Shrimp”, you know it’s got a kick to it.

Serve the shrimp in a fancy dish on a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce and some chopsticks and it’s like I’m AT the restaurant.

Minus my requisite martini.

Bonefish Grill Copycat Bang Bang Shrimp

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 TB minced garlic
  • 2 tsp sriracha sauce
  • juice of one lime
  • pinch red pepper flake
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 lb 21-25 shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup cornstarch seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Peanut oil, for frying (can use canola or vegetable)
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce, chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced

Set the oil on high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir mayonnaise, chili sauce, garlic, sriracha, lime juice, chili flake, salt and pepper together in a bowl and set aside. Dredge shrimp in seasoned cornstarch and fry in batches for approximately three minutes (or until cooked through). Drain each batch on paper towels and immediately place in a bowl. Toss shrimp with a few spoonfuls of sauce until coated and place on bed of iceberg lettuce. Top with sliced scallions and serve.

Now, someone bring me a martini. Or two. This ain’t amateur hour.

Pumpkin Pecan Whoopie Pies

About two weeks ago, one of my coworkers was having a pretty crappy day at the office. I knew I would be seeing her later in the week, so I decided I would make her a treat to help cheer her up. Because who doesn’t love a whoopie pie?

I never pass up the opportunity to brighten someone’s day with something delicious.

The whoopie recipe is Martha’s (with an adjustment or two), but the filling is all mine. Some flavors I love in the fall (besides pumpkin) are maple and bourbon, and I almost always incorporate the two in any of my autumn treats. A little monotonous perhaps, but mama loves her bourbon.

Maple-Bourbon Buttercream. So good it’s a proper noun. I’ve made buttercream frosting so many times that I could do it in my sleep, so I the recipe that follows below *might* not be exact, but it’s  close enough that some simple adjustments (a little extra sugar here, a touch more bourbon there) will get you where you need to be.

I added pecans to the cake for a little texture. I should have either added more or omitted them altogether, but Pumpkin Pecan Whoopie Pies has so much more panache than just Plain Ass Pumpkin.

Oh, alliteration. You make my soul sing.

I used a mini ice cream scoop (2 oz) to scoop the batter for the cakes. This made an incredible amount of mini whoopies – almost three dozen.

No worries, none of them went to waste. I should have flattened them out a bit before baking with a spatula or something. These were a bit…rustic.

Yeah, rustic. That’s what I’ll call them. Also, moist, tender, pumpkin-y bundles of deliciousness. The perfect cure for a bad day, or the perfect ending for a good one.

Pumpkin Pecan Whoopie Pies with Maple Bourbon Buttercream 

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 TB ground cinnamon
  • 1 TB ground cloves
  • 2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup pecans, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices and set aside. Whisk together oil, sugar, eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla. Incorporate wet ingredients into dry and stir to combine. Add pecans (if desired). Scoop batter onto lined cookie sheets and bake approximately 12-15 minutes (touch center of cookie, if it springs back it’s done). Allow to cool while making frosting.

Maple Bourbon Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 3-4 cups confectioner’s sugar (watch your consistency & volume)
  • 2 tsp maple flavoring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (4 TB) bourbon (or to taste, it will mellow out overnight)
  • 3-4 TB  cream (or milk)

Beat butter in a stand  mixer until creamy. Add sugar 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating fully after each addition. Add vanilla extract, maple flavoring, and bourbon & mix to combine. Add cream a little at a time, stopping when frosting is desired consistency.

Spoon frosting into a piping bag with a large plain tip (or use a spatula) and frost half of the cookies with approx 1-2 tablespoons of frosting. Top with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (to allow to set) and serve. The whoopies keep nicely in the fridge for three days, but they won’t last that long.

pumpkinwhoopTrust me.