Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Gazpacho

Helllloooo! First things first, happy birthday to my brother Nick! And congratulations to him on a very exciting job offer- I'm so proud that his hard work and smarts have paid off. Nick and Lauren definitely got the brains gene out of us Wonus children. I'm still trying do determine which gene I got... maybe the weird one? Or the loud one? Who knows, but I'm desperately searching for a way to make my "specialness" profitable. Anyways, I've got a lot on tonight's agenda to make up for my absence: a yummy summertime soup for today's Recipe Thursday, the announcement of this week's ABC (only 4 days late), and a smattering of musings and commentary on life.

Holy smokes, time has been flying. I can't believe that March is practically over. It's also our 5 month wedding anniversary today! I've already been salivating over the Living Social and Groupon getaways, trying to come up with something romantic, fun, and moderately inexpensive to do for our real anniversary. Yes, it's a full 7 months away, but it's never too early to plan these things, and it's nice to have something to look forward to. Please let me know if you have any good ideas or see cheap flights/ weekend packages.

Onto the recipe! If I haven't said it before I'll say it now: I love soup. I can make a batch of soup and automatically have lunch for the next 2 days. Plus, it's just so versatile and hard to mess up. If you're new to cooking and want to boost your confidence in the kitchen, soup is the way to go. I've only ever truly messed up one soup. It was sort of a Mexican tortilla-sweet potato ordeal and it called for 2 tablespoons or so of chili powder. I reached for what I thought was the chili powder, got a little heavy handed with it, and didn't think twice. The more spices the better, that's what I say. Carl and I sat down to eat it and I almost cried when I took the first bite and realized my mistake. I'd accidentally used cayenne pepper instead. Ay caramba, it was spicy! Don't worry, we still ate it. I'm pleased to say that in the time since I've made A LOT of soups, and they've all turned out great. Moral of the story: make more soup, and read the labels on your spices.

I recently made one of Carl's all time favorites, gazpacho. I think he would pull an Augustus Gloop and drown himself in a river of gazpacho if he ever encountered one. We had an abundance of very ripe tomatoes so I thought gazpacho would be a nice way to use a bunch of them up, and welcome the onset of warm weather. I used the Barefoot Contessa's recipe as my inspiration and it was super easy. Here's the all-star cast:

And the obligatory glamour shot, of course:

Red bell pepper, cucumber, tomato juice, apple cider vinegar,
olive oil, salt/pepper, onion, tomato, and garlic.
You just pulse each ingredient in the food processor individually to prevent the over-processing of any one ingredient. Then add the liquid ingredients and let the flavors marry. It gets better the longer you let it sit, so I made this right after lunch and we had it for a late dinner. Look how pretty it is!

All the chopped veggies, before adding the liquids
Carl had caught some fish and a few crabs that day and we had a nice little feast.

This week for the ABC's I pulled the letter 'R,' which originally stood for recycling. As I started to think about how we could improve our recycling habits I realized that we're actually doing pretty good as it is, so I did a little switch-up and changed 'R' to stand for reading more- fiction, that is. I've been reading health and nutrition books left and right, but it's been months since I've sat down and done some true pleasure reading. So I dusted off my Nook, charged it up, and bought a few books. Right now I'm reading Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and so far it's really stinkin' good. Ever since I graduated with my English degree I've found that I'm a lot more hoity toity about my literature without necessarily meaning to be. I guess it's the curse of having sat through hours of "smart book club" and writing paper upon paper analyzing everything from Chaucer to Kurt Vonnegut. I have so much more respect for rich and meaningful writing and The Book Thief is really satisfying in that regard. Expect a review when I'm done!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Facebook and Job Interviews

Before I go off on my rant, feast your eyes on this:

In case it's too small for you to see, that's 568 points for me and 303 for Carl. Victory is mine!
I get a little too excited when I top my WWF high scores, and last night this game made history as my personal best. Such a proud moment, made even better by the fact that it was in a game against Carl.

Anyways, this morning I was listening to an interview with the head of a social media consulting firm- yes, those exist now apparently- when they started to talk about this article run by the Post and Courier today. Admittedly, I'm not normally one to keep up with current events. I understand the tremendous value of being an in-the-know citizen and I've tried everything possible to force feed the news to myself but nothing seems to work. I get notifications from both CNN and local news on my phone but they usually just get in the way of far more important things (like Words With Friends with Carl, obviously). I've tried setting my home page on my computer to various news organizations but again, I inevitably breeze right past them to check my email or bank account without reading a single headline. I don't know if it's just a matter of not wanting to depress myself by reading about the latest natural or political disaster, or if I've become one of those self-absorbed idiots that doesn't even know the name of our vice president but can name Lady Gaga's last 5 releases in order of decreasing popularity, but I just cannot keep up with the news to save my life. The latter can't be true because I don't regularly listen to Lady Gaga (and I know all about Joe Biden, thank you very much), so it has to be some sort of subliminal aversion to things that are going to put a damper on my day, and the news normally fits the bill for that. Today, however, I took particular interest in the aforementioned news story, which hit really close to home for me. My generation is unique in that you can find out anything you want to know about somebody without having to actually ever converse with that person, or even leave your house for that matter. It's sometimes scary to think about the amount of information that can be dug up about me with very little effort. I think that ability gets taken to an extreme when it comes to job searching and the interview process. I can understand a potential employer being reluctant to hire a candidate whose profile picture on Facebook is of them bonging a beer or making out with two girls at once- obviously this person not only demonstrated poor judgment, but they decided to advertise it to all of their friends and family. That one's a no-brainer. I think there needs to be a line drawn at some point, though. Asking an interviewee to provide their Facebook login information so that their profile can be picked over with a fine-tooth comb seems an invasion of privacy, particularly when that person has opted to take advantage of security features that keep their profile hidden from the general public. If the employer can't find the profile, then what business is it of theirs to know what's on it if it's not publicly accessible information? It doesn't seem fair to turn down a candidate for a job based on private information, and I side with Mr. Kerr who says, "it's akin to requiring somebody's house keys." As somebody who will more than likely have a job interview before Facebook comes to an end I find it disheartening to know that what I choose to put on my private page could compromise my chance at a job. I'm interested to see if anything pans out with this "proposed legislation" in Illinois and Maryland, and it's comforting to know that our lawmakers are at least questioning the practice. I'd also love to hear others' opinions on this so feel free to chime in!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Winning the Lottery

Before you get too excited, we didn't win the lottery- shucks. You've got to play to win, and after working in customer service at a grocery store that sold lottery tickets through high school I vowed never to play. I cringe to think about how much money the regular customers lost week after week. Not worth it for one in a gazillion odds! On the drive to work the other day they were talking about a recent winner on the radio and I found myself thinking about what I would do if I won a million dollars and, sadly, how quickly and easily I could spend it all. I'm not sure if it would even be enough to justify quitting my job. I'd definitely take a leave of absence, travel, pay off all of our debt and the debts of our immediate family members, buy a new house, and invest the rest for the benefit of future little Bussells. Just like that it'd be gone!

Where am I going with all this? Well, the other day Carl and I brought in the mail to find a $400 refund check from the closing costs of our mortgage last year. YAHOO!! We had a brief moment of excitement and then started brainstorming possibilities for our "free" money: a weekend trip, a new glass door for our condo, a roof rack for the Subaru, have a few things framed, put it towards our mortgage, car loan, student loans, savings, etc. I got really depressed at how easily it would get sucked into either the black hole of debt or something small-ish that we were planning on getting at some point anyways. It's a shame how easy it is to spend money and how boring it is to have to be a responsible adult! Although who knows, we still could decide to put it towards 1600 gumballs (the 25 cent variety) or 40 cheap bottles of wine, or something far more worthless and unnecessary, yet tangible and exciting. Any suggestions? And no, we won't give it to you.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week 12

As I was typing my post up yesterday it took me about 5 minutes to determine what week I was about to embark on. For some reason I had it in my head that it was week 13 but several flips through the calendar proved otherwise. Bummer! Either way, Sunday has come (and almost gone), bringing with it a new letter to challenge myself with. The lucky pick of the week is 'L' for liquor. I don't think it's necessary to give an in-depth explanation as to why I'm giving up the hard stuff. I don't drink liquor too often so I think this will mainly serve as an extra way to keep my diet as clean as possible, not to mention avoid terrible hangovers. Beer was definitely much harder to say goodbye to, but I'm sure I'll survive just fine without them both.

I'm also happy to report that today has been a completely "clean" day for me and I'm feeling much, much better than I did even yesterday when I thought I felt better. Carl and I did absolutely nothing for St. Patrick's Day, which was really refreshing. There's always next year, right? It was gorgeous out this morning and after my 11 1/2 hours of sleep last night- I must have needed it!- we got up and decided to take the dogs to the beach. We all had a blast and the dogs are happy and exhausted. Mission accomplished!

Well, I'm out of things to say (shock!), so I hope you all have a great start to your week and I'll be back soon!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Break

This past week was such an epic failure in so many ways that I'm declaring it my spring break and withdrawing it from the ABC record (I'm the record-keeper so it's legit). It started off mostly innocent but quickly spiraled out of control. Last Friday I went out to dinner and a few drinks with Jessica and her friends from Boston. I behaved wonderfully at dinner, ordering the marinated portabella sandwich in salad form from Leaf Cafe. If you are a local or just plan on being in Charleston soon I highly recommend this great little restaurant. The food was delightful and they were very accommodating to my Sally Albright-esque order (When Harry Met Sally, anyone?), not to mention I didn't break the bank. I stuck to my red wine and vodka-waters but before I knew it I was having a dance party by myself and taking shots that I'm about 99% positive contained some sort of sugary substance. Hello, hangover! No worries though, it was just one night and I had such a good time that I wasn't going to beat myself up over it. But then we found ourselves eating at Anson the next night, and I think it would have been virtually impossible to order something without one of my off-limits foods. Carl actually used to work at Anson before he started with DNR and I'm very familiar with the deliciousness that they have to offer. Not ordering one of their specialties would have been a crime.

To make a long story short, we ate out one more time on Sunday and then when Louis and Aditi came into town I continued the trend, rounding the week off with a gluttonous trip to Nirlep with Carl for lunch today. Oh, and check out our Friday night:
White Cheddar popcorn to share, Carl's Choco Taco, and my Mrs. Fields cookie-wich to enjoy while watching Our Idiot Brother (very funny!) and In Time (blah- disappointing). 
To top it all off, I've only worked out twice this week. In my defense I was feeling sick on Thursday and Friday and still pretty tired today so I thought it best to take it easy. I'm not sure if it's bad allergies because of all the crazy pollen we have, or if my body is simply retaliating for me having treated it like a pile of stinky socks over the past week, or maybe all my work stress is catching up with me. Who knows! The good news is I'm feeling much better and ready to turn over a new leaf as I embark on Week 12 tomorrow.

The take home message for me with all of my blunders over the past week is that I've got a lot of room to grow when it comes to eating in social situations or eating out in general. It's frustrating that most restaurants don't offer foods that are good for us, aside from the occasional boring side salad. I also have an "if you're gonna go, go all out" mentality when it comes to most things, so I figure if I'm going to cheat it may as well be in a big way, as evidenced in the picture above. I need to work on that because it's hard and also incredibly boring to avoid being social, but I also don't want to compromise my diet in such a huge way every time I do. Tough stuff!

I hope everyone has a wonderful St. Patrick's Day, and I'll be back tomorrow to share my Week 12 ABC pick!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Beware, Banana Haters

Carl and I have been eating A LOT of bananas lately. I'd be willing to bet that we go through more bananas in a week than all of the monkeys at the Riverbanks Zoo combined! I actually don't care too much for bananas on their own; occasionally I'll cut one up and put it in a fruit salad but most of our bananas end up getting frozen for use in smoothies, and also to make my new favorite treat:

Banana soft serve!
This is the best thing that happened to me since I gave up sugar. All you do is take a few frozen bananas and put them in a blender or food processor for a couple of minutes and they start to take on a fluffy soft-serve-y consistency. Put it into a bowl and inhale! I've been adding cacao powder to give it a hint of chocolatey flavor (that's why it's sort of brown in the picture), and I'd imagine that cinnamon or vanilla would be nice additions as well, though I haven't tried it yet. I've also crumbled up a snack ball and put it on top to make it more sundae-like. The first time I made it I was amazed at how easy and delicious it was, so now it's become a regular treat. 

In other banana news, I also tried my hand at making the banana bread recipe from this cookbook:

Photo courtesy of Amazon, if you couldn't tell.
Babycakes is made up of all vegan recipes for cupcakes, cookies, and other treats, most of which are also sugar and gluten free- perfect, right? Julie gave this to me last year for Christmas and I'm ashamed that I haven't made anything from it until recently, especially since the banana bread was so delightful. The cookbook features a lot of funny testimonials from celebrities that frequent the actual Babycakes bakery in NYC and Erin McKenna is such a witty writer herself that it read more like a book than a cookbook. I highly recommend it. I'm tempted to go to New York so that I can sit in the bakery for hours and eat up all of their treats. The only downside to the recipes is that a lot of the ingredients are on the more expensive side. I bought a little packet of xanthan gum- an ingredient that helps bind the other ingredients together, much like an egg- and it was $13 at EarthFare. Holy cow! Luckily you don't use much in each recipe so it'll end up going a long way, but still, it must have little flakes of gold mixed in it or something. I neglected to take pictures of my banana bread, mainly because Carl and I devoured it so quickly, so next time I make it I'll have to remember to snap a few pictures to post. 

Louis and Aditi are visiting us from D.C. and Carl took off today and tomorrow to spend some quality time with them. I wasn't so fortunate, and now I'm super jealous because they're hanging out at the beach and I'm about to head to work. Boo! I did get to sleep in a little bit today and even had the pleasure of going to the DMV this morning. Apparently the Leeds Avenue DMV was a good choice for a Thursday morning- not crowded but still scary enough that I felt violated by the time I left. It didn't take as long as I expected so that's why I'm back home talking about bananas before work (I didn't want anyone to think I was blogging on the job). I hope everyone has a lovely day- go to the beach! I'll be back soon to tell you about my blunders over the past week/weekend. I was doing so well with the ABC's that I knew it was only a matter of time before I messed up big time. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Where the heck have I been hiding, and how did a whole week go by without a single blog post? Shame on me! To spare you the boring details of my work life, I'll just say that last week was one of those truly special "character building" weeks that required every ounce of willpower and energy to survive, leaving my blog to gather dust as I sulked around the house in the evenings. Luckily I had a really fun weekend to look forward to and help me blow off some steam. Jessica and two of her friends from Boston came down for a little spring break vacay and I was more than thrilled to pretend like I was also on vacation, live beyond my means for 48 hours, and play tourist in my own town. We wined and dined excessively, danced to the point of embarrassment (that was mostly just me), and soaked up all the awesomeness that Charleston has to offer. I rarely find myself downtown anymore, so it's nice to be reminded how cool and unique a city it is. I can't wait to make my millions so that I can buy one of the gorgeous historic homes down there.

Anyways, I'm off to bed but just wanted to check in before another week flies by. Before I go, this week's ABC letter is 'I' for imitation meat products. This is another freebie since I haven't been eating them since gluten got the boot, but I'm okay with that. I hit a little bump in the road in terms of my diet over the weekend so I think I just need to take the week to regroup without adding another challenge to my plate. Okay? Okay!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Into the Double Digits

The ABC's of 2012 have lasted into their 10th week! I'm somewhat surprised that I haven't thrown in the towel and let myself fall off the bandwagon at this point. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has been difficult at times but each and every tiny success has been instrumental in keeping my resolution going. When I came up with the idea for the ABC's in the first place I must have subconsciously known that I would need small, easily attainable milestones to keep me motivated and interested in what I'm doing. Mini resolutions are definitely what's up.

This week I got an easy letter: B for beer. When I put gluten on the list I didn't exactly make the whole wheat-beer connection, hence the overlap, but because of it I can proudly say that I haven't cracked open a cold one since January 27th, the Friday before I picked gluten. Man, that makes it sound like I'm a recovering alcoholic. Beer used to really gross me out but by the time sophomore year in college had its way with me I was a die-hard fan. It seems like just yesterday that Liz and I were sneaking cases of beer through the windows of my dorm room... ah, good times. I miss college. Much less the party animal that I once was, I think I'll survive without my beloved beer. I'm starting to dabble in the finest of cheap red wines and it's working out really well. Plus I feel a lot more grown up and it gives me an excuse to use our fancy wedding wine glasses.

Well, I'm off to go visit with Carl who just got back from a man weekend of sorts. Me and the dogs were left to hold it down during the never-ending storm yesterday (meaning that I was super unproductive). Check out our flooded "backyard" area:

Not sure if the picture quite does it justice. It looks like a big lake back there!
It really did rain cats and dogs! I know that all of our little patio garden plants are smiling right now, and this also means that I can postpone getting my car washed just a little longer. Anyways, I hope everyone has a great rest of their weekend!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recipe Thursday: Indian Cuisine makes its way into the Bussells Household

I've talked before about my deep, undying love for Indian food. These past few weeks have been relatively craving-free but finally Sunday I woke up and couldn't stop thinking about Nirlep's Sunday lunch buffet. Carl and I went grocery shopping that afternoon and I found myself lingering in the fake meat/frozen health food section of Publix when my eyes locked in on this little gem:

Aside from the occasional Amy's entree I haven't seen anything like this before. I scanned the ingredients and was oh, so pleased to find a very short list of normal foods. I snuck it into our cart before Carl could see the price and it made its way home with us and onto our plates for dinner. YUM!! I'm not ashamed to say that I licked my plate. And Carl's plate. And the container that it cooked in. If I could afford to eat this for every meal I most definitely would. I was a little bummed because Publix only carried this and one other chicken variety, and judging by their website they have quite an expansive product line that Publix is holding out on for whatever reason. Hopefully more people will start buying them up so they'll sell all the other kinds!

Inspired by the relative simplicity of the ingredients on the packaging I started to wonder if I could make my own budget-friendly Channa Masala that was just as delicious. I followed this recipe somewhat loosely, adding a few diced tomatoes to the chickpeas near the end and omitting the coriander that I mistakenly thought we already had but didn't. You start by blending the tomato, onion, garlic, and ginger into a thick paste and then sauté it for several minutes. Here's my curry starting to bubble:

Then you add the rest of the spices and the chickpeas and continue sauteing a little longer. Doesn't get much easier than that! I'd say the hardest part is shopping for/locating some of the more obscure spices. We actually had most of them already, except Garam Masala which is a delicious blend of spices commonly found in Indian cooking. Here's the final product on a bed of rice alongside some curry potatoes and broccoli:

In the top right hand corner you'll also see my dairy-free attempt at Raita, normally a yogurt-based cucumber sauce served to help counter the spiciness of the curry (similar to the Greek Tzatziki sauce). My recipe needs a little tweaking, but all in all it wasn't bad! Once I get it to taste closer to the real thing I'll share it. 

I was pretty pleased with my first stab at Indian cooking. I even brought the leftovers for my lunch the next day and ate them cold served over lettuce... just like they do in India, I'm sure. I hate to say it, but I think Tandoor Chef wins this round- although Nirlep still wins every round. I wish it was acceptable for me to go to the restaurant and poke around the kitchen and watch them cook for a few days. Maybe they'd accept me as an apprentice?