We've all become at-home chefs during quarantine, right?! That's one thing I have enjoyed out of the crummy circumstances the coronavirus pandemic has put us in; I've been cooking and baking much more because I'm home and not traveling. The. pandemic hit right around my birthday. Actually, my birthday was a 10-ish hour work day on a bus, at a ball field and on a bus, and then it hit. So, pretty horrible birthday week. Once everything was shut down, I wanted to treat myself with a birthday treat, so I made a confetti custard pie, stuck a candle in it and enjoyed a tiny bit of birthday fun.
For dinners, I tried two recipes from Half Baked Harvest that I am obsessed with! The first was 20 Minute Orzo Carbonara with Crispy Prosciutto and Burrata. This truly only takes about 20 minutes and it's amazingly good. If I ever get dining room chairs and have folks over for dinner, this is absolutely what I'm making. I've never had prosciutto like this, and honestly, I like it more than bacon! So delicious, so easy. And it was great for me because I can make a bit and heat it up for a day or two.
The other Half Baked Harvest dinner recipe that has become my favorite is Crockpot Carne Asada Tacos. I did not make the sauce and did not use steak. I rarely buy beef. I usually always eat venison because it's free, lean and delicious. So, for this recipe I replaced the steak with a venison roast. I usually have small roasts that are perfect size for me and those worked perfect. It was from my deer I got this past Thanksgiving, and there's just something about enjoying your own game! Usually I can't get venison to hold flavor too well, but this is easily the best venison I have ever had. I also modified the recipe by putting this on nachos and adding some homemade guacamole. I plan on making it again this weekend as tacos with some feta cheese.
I did eat beef a little bit when I picked up some steak and paired it with sweet potatoes, HBH's 5 Ingredient Beer Bread, salad and some red wine. What a perfect meal.
I've been baking, too. When the quarantine first started, I baked funfetti cupcakes with custard filling and chocolate frosting and delivered them around to co-workers as a pick-me-up. I had cute little treat boxes and everything. That was my little way to bring some joy during a very stressful, lonely time. I think everyone was very appreciative and liked the moment I was there to see a familiar face and have a quick chat. At Easter I also made cupcakes, almond with dark chocolate ganache filling and raspberry buttercream. I didn't have my piping tools, so the frosting wasn't the prettiest, but they still tasted great! For my friend's birthday, we wanted to get together and picnic at a local park. Everyone brought snacks, chairs, and we just relaxed and had a very nice, low-key celebration. For that, I let the birthday girl pick her dessert and it was just what I wanted to make! I baked a vanilla layer cake with a mixed berry compote and lemon buttercream. Oh. My. Goodness. Was that the perfect summer cake or what?! I forgot to restock my piping bags, so couldn't coat the whole cake, hence the "naked" look. It was light and refreshing. I will definitely make that one again down the road. And I loved the simple decoration of frosted berries on top.
My favorite type of cookies are French macarons, which can be tough to make. The first time I made them they came out okay, but the second time was not so good. I had some cream cheese buttercream left over from a red velvet layer cake that I made for a friend, so I needed something to use it up. Macaron filling was perfect. I made chocolate macarons with the cream cheese buttercream and they came out great! The flavor and texture was amazing. Some tops weren't as smooth as they should be, but I was very happy with my accomplishment!
I had another friend who was planning on a birthday parade for her cutest-ever twins three-year-olds, and she wanted an easy treat to hand out to everyone who came. I gladly offered to help and she came up with the idea of Rice Krispie treats in the shape of 3's dipped in rainbow sprinkles. Easy! Rice Krispie treats are the quickest, easiest thing to make, so I had a lot of fun creating these and sharing. I know she was so appreciative and everyone enjoyed them and thought it was a cute idea. It was really, really hot the day of the party, so these treats were ideal. I'm always willing and glad to bake treats when occasions arise!
Since I finally finished my presidential reading quest, I've been able to read whatever I want! Yay! I've been devouring books. Most have taken me an average of 2-3 days. I do take some days off here and there in-between, so I'd say I'm averaging 7-8 books a month right now - and I'm loving every minute of it!
At first I had a lot of catching up to do on titles I was dying to read that came out in the midst of my biographies but wouldn't allow myself. Here's my initial post-biography binge list:
Most on the list above were historical fiction, my favorite genre. If you enjoy those too, check out 4, 5, 10 and 11. Number 1 was a favorite on everyone's list, it seemed, and although it was very good, it wasn't the best thing I've ever read. I also didn't care too greatly for 9. If you love crime, check out 6. It's the latest in a whole series by a fantastic writer, the one and only J.K. Rowling. She writes this crime series under a pseudonym and all have been great reads.
On to the next stack! Here's what I have read most recently:
Anyway, I was really hesitant to read Untamed. I saw a ton of posts about it and a lot of conversations. Without knowing much about it, my thoughts were, "I'm a single woman living by herself during a global lockdown. I don't need any self help or lessons in life right now. I'm vulnerable enough as it is." However, man-oh-man was I so wrong! It was wonderful, all it was billed to be. I highly recommend all women to give it a read - single, married, divorced, straight, gay, questioning, whatever! Read it.
I've always loved Erik Larson. His research is immaculate. He makes non-fiction read like fiction more than anyone I've ever found. If you love non-fiction and history, check out all of his works on a diverse range of topics.
Jojo Moyes took a real event and wrote a novel surround it and I totally enjoyed The Giver of Stars. Another big recommend for those looking for a good story surrounding strong women. The Night Tiger was just as good of a story! In these times, there is a lot of awareness of what media we are digesting and who we are learning and hearing from. I was entranced by the Asian culture and lovable characters. The Jetsetters was okay. I label those types of books fluff reading. Set in current times with current problems (alcoholism, coming out, infidelity, divorce, etc.), it would make a great beach read. Nothing too deep there. Fluff books are always good to throw in now and again to give your mind a break!
I'm switching gears to tackle more deep content, taking a chance to learn about my inherent white privilege and what I can do to help abolish systematic racism. The next three books in my current stack are non-fiction, self-discovery reads. I will report back again when I'm done!
In the meantime, feel free to ask for any more info about the books listed above. And feel free to throw out any titles you think I should read! Drop a comment below.
Now that I've finished reading a biography of every American President in chronological order from Washington to Reagan, I've received two common questions:
After the first presidents, I really love Ulysses S. Grant. Everything about him. His wholesome beginnings, what a fearless, admired general he was, and the fact that he wasn't a true politician. I don't think he ever became a true politician, despite holding the highest title. It's unfortunate that corruption marred his later years in office, but I believe that came from his cabinet members working around him and some naivety from not being so personally immersed in political ways and means.
Teddy Roosevelt - obvious choice! His life is so incredibly fascinating. I have to admit, when I was nearly done with his 700+ page biography, I realized it was the first of a three-volume set. I did not make myself read the other two, but I certainly will at some point because they were very well-written, and as stated, he was such an incredible character.
The one that surprised me the most was Truman. I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would, and I finished it admiring him far more than I ever thought I would, Honestly, I didn't know too much about him before reading, so learning so much was perhaps part of the pull, but he won me over.
Why did I do this? I thought of the idea way back during the 2016 election and started in January 2017. With all the political turmoil and non-stop bipartisan spats, I wanted a good, true way to understand the American political system. Not just to understand what it means to be Republican and what means to be Democratic, but how the parties formed, what their beliefs are based in, how they have evolved and how they shape the US today. It also gave me a great understanding of our national history overall and why decisions that effected the world at large were made.
Now that I'm done with the Presidents, I can read whatever I want! Some great books have come out the past few years and I've been dying to dive back into some fiction. Here's a look at my stack, not including Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. Where the Crawdads Sing was excellent, but not my favorite of all time, like so many have said. Kate Morton's (my favorite author's) most recent book absolutely gutted me! I had to wait a whole day before I could pick up another book, and I was still hesitant then because I knew nothing would compare! If you're a fan of historical fiction and hate not knowing answers and go crazy to want to find out what really happened, read Kate Morton. I love every one of her books so, so much. I read Anita Shreve's The Stars Are Fire today in one day, and am really sad I won't be reading anymore of her work since she unfortunately died of cancer a few years ago. I started back on fiction on April 12, so have read seven books in the past three weeks.
What better time than a global pandemic to get back to writing?! Also, I am reading a fictional novel on two real-life writers, so that also has given me some motivation (more on my reading later). I've really been trying to focus on perspective and positivity during these trying times. But I'm not going to lie, it's been tough. The first week we were shut down was spring break, so I took it as a break for myself and was really lazy. I binged all the TV shows I needed to catch up on and watched movies and lived on my couch. The next week was rough, I hit a funk and had some days were I struggled to drag myself out of bed. I had no motivation to work and was angry at the world - angry at being single, angry at not having Lola, angry at not having family, angry at a job that wasn't fulfilling. I'm usually closeted with my emotions, but I opened up to some friends and realized I was not alone. First of all, it was huge just putting the words out there that I wasn't doing well. That alone lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Then hearing that my friends were right there with me, having good days and having bad days, reminded me that I had a great network of support.
After that, I began scheduling my days and work weeks out. Having that structure really helped get me into the work-from-home groove. I don't always adhere to the schedule, but having some sort of plan gave me the structure I think I was desperately missing.
Although I've been doing better, I realize that part of my struggle was my faith. I normally lean on my faith in hard times, and with everything shut down, I felt shut out. Lent is my favorite time of the year, yet I couldn't get to mass. I couldn't attend a stations of the cross, or Sunday worship, or pick up a church fish fry. I couldn't go get my palms, receive communion and join my fellow worshipers in the most holy time of the year, Easter was rough. I went home and visited my family in NY and questioned my decision to travel nearly every day. My grandpa went back into the hospital Easter morning (he's ok) and some other little things culminated in a horrible attitude and morose mood. Luckily, the weather was warm. I put on my boots, took Lola for a walk around my parents' property and visited my boys, the hounds, and that helped.
I've hosted a few Zoom trivia nights, which I think have been great for everyone to see each other and have some fun. A local company that does bar trivia has posted games on their website, making it easy for me to host. I've even gone so far as to make playlists with songs relating to the questions! It's been a lot of fun. The last two I've hosted I've had a $10 fee with the winner and runner-up getting money back and the rest donated to a COVID-19-worthy cause. It's nice to have fun and give back at the same time.
For the first time, my spare room is finally somewhat livable. I had to clean off my desk in there so that turned into organizing that room. I've also cleaned out my kitchen cupboard and put a box together of items to donate and have cleaned out under my bathroom sinks. Amazing what you can accomplish when you're stuck home with nowhere to go and nothing to do!
The last notable thing I've been doing during quarantine is going on a lot of walks. I've checked out many area parks - some I've visited before, some for the first time. My steps have definitely gone up despite being told to stay home! But rest assured, social distancing is being maintained and I'm taking the precautions to stay safe.
Here I am again, which means I've been partially successful in keeping up with my blog. I've also completed all five of my monthly resolution items for the month of January. However, I can't be too proud because January is the easiest month - let's see where I am come fall!
Task 3: Have at least one culturally-enriching experience was checked off a few weeks ago at the Taft Museum of Art. The museum does monthly "house parties" with different themes each time for some adult fun. I checked out January's house party with three coworkers to see what it was all about and we were not disappointed! The theme was 90's game night. There were tons of board games available to play, a trivia night, DJ playing 90's hits and adult hot cocoa (yum!). There was also a food truck, but by the time we got out there they were closed. The event was free so being able to see the main gallery and special exhibit for no charge was a pretty nice perk. My favorite part of the night was that the museum challenged people to a "What Do You Meme" game. We drew a card and had to match the saying with a piece of art that best expressed it. Participants posted their memes on Instagram with a specific hashtag and one entry was picked as the winner. We did not win, but we enjoyed playing. Check out our selection and a selfie with former lady-of-the-house, Anna Stinton!
Task 5: Read 200 pages or watch a thought-provoking movie or documentary was accomplished, and then some. Not long after my initial post of this year, I went back and watched the first season of True Detective on HBO. WOW. I had watched the second season live and was getting excited for season three with one of my favorites, Mahershala Ali, but I realized I had never gone back and watched season one. It was amazing. Completely worthy of all the praise it received when it originally came out. In addition, I also watched Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary on Mister Rogers and Struggle: The Life and Art of Szukalski. Both were great. I especially loved learning about the eccentric Szukalski and his increasingly complex life.
When it comes to Task 4: Bake something from scratch, I took a little bit of liberty. A tiny bit. Instead of a dessert, I made pierogi , two kinds! One half was potato, bacon, cheddar, green onion, and the other was potato and herb goat cheese. I brought back a bunch of homemade kielbasa, so I can't wait to pull both out of the freezer one of these nights for a delicious, from scratch, Radzinski-made, Polish dinner.
When it comes to Task 2: Spend at least 30 minutes doing something for myself, I think I did this in a few ways. One night I took the time to soak in a hot bath with some aromatherapy. Along those same lines, I have spent a lot of time relaxing. My free time at home is going to disappear soon, so I have made sure I have taken advantage of being able to be home with no plans. I've watched some shows (some noted above), read through some magazines and overall, not cared or felt guilty about just taking time to turn off my brain and work and be a couch potato for a little bit. It helped that we had some snowy weather on the weekends, so the view looking out was lovely and the birds visiting on my porch were fun to watch.
This past three-day weekend, my friend came to visit so I got to explore a new coffee shop and then we splurged on some sweet potato dumpling with pork shoulder that was almost too pretty to eat!
This post has been long enough, so, even though the Oscar nominees were announced today, I'll save that until later - maybe this weekend!
Clearly, I'm not the greatest at this whole blogging thing. But, it's a new year and there is no better time to give it a go. Writing has always been a bit cathartic and relaxing for me, so if nothing else, it gives me a reason to jot down some original thought.
Anyway, resolutions are always hard to remember and stick to for 12 months. Who honestly can keep a resolution from January 1 through December 31?! So, I've picked five items that I wish to accomplish each month during the year of 2019. They are:
1. Eat an unforgettable meal
I love food, for the first is an easy one and a way to make sure I treat myself every once in a while. The second is an obvious. The third is an attempt to ensure I get out to museums, parks, monuments, etc., to learn and to enjoy. The fourth is something I do fairly regularly. I love to create sweet treats, so I want to be sure I don't skip this in any month. The fifth is something I try to do naturally anyway, so this will be a good way to keep track. Most of these will be pretty attainable in January, but the reason for doing monthly tasks is so once my schedule gets extremely hectic February-May, I want to be sure I am still taking time for myself - for personal enjoyment and learning.
January's meal has already been checked off the list. Once the holidays were over, I swung through my old stopping grounds of Kent, Ohio, for a great visit with friends. We went to dinner at an old favorite, Bistro on Main, and I had sweet potato gnocchi with spinach and pulled pork. It did not disappoint! I had pumpkin gnocchi at a place in Cincinnati in December that were an amazing. I think that started a current obsession. The sweet potato gnocchi came with a sriracha maple syrup that I got on the side because it was a little too hot for my weak taste buds, but it had great flavor and was a great compliment to the dish.
Once I got back to Cincinnati I kicked butt taking care of things. In a 24-hour period, I cleaned out my fridge, went grocery shopping, stopped at a few other stores for some items, did two loads of laundry, dusted, swept and mopped floors, put away Christmas decorations, worked out and meal prepped. Whew! It felt great to get a lot accomplished. There are still a few things I want to do, but I hopefully can knock those off this coming weekend. On top of all the productivity, I read one of the stack of magazines I have wanted to get through. For task No. 5 I wanted the entire first season of True Detective on HBO - and when I say watch I mean binged. I watched the second season live and cannot wait for the third, but I realized I had never seen the initial season. I'm so glad I finally watched it. It was as amazing as I had always heard it was.
Saturday night had had another fantastic meal, this time checking out a new local place: Agave and Rye in Covington, Ky. Let me just say - wow! Every taco is huge and they are hard shells wrapped in a soft shell. They also can put deliciousness like queso, salsa and beans in between the two shells. I got a No. 15 The Plain Jane which was ground beef, lettuce, cheddar, tomato and sour cream with queso between the shells. Then I got the No. 5 The Rima D which has braised short rib, garlic mashed potatoes, crispy onions and natural jus. At most places three tacos is standard. At Agave and Rye, one could be a meal and two will make you so full! Highly recommend stopping by for anyone looking for good tacos in the Cincinnati area. There are unique choices and something for everyone. They are also well-known for their tequila and bourbon, for those who like to imbibe, as well.
Well, it’s been a while since I last posted and I completely left our trip hanging. But, since our 5th annual 150 mile bike trip is coming up, I figured I should finally get around to recapping last year’s. There was a pretty legit hiccup on the first day of our ride, which is probably while I left it undone for so long, but it’s well past time to get caught up.
So, the alarm went off early Friday morning to get us to the Amtrak station. The city (Pittsburgh) was still asleep. Heather and Maddi dropped me off at the train station and went to park the car before they pedaled back. Unfortunately, although we arrived bright and early for our train, it was delayed and we ended up waiting along for a while before finally boarded around 6 and taking off at about 6:30 a.m.
Well folks, the time has come again for our 4th annual 150 mile weekend bike trip. I write this from the hotel in Pittsburgh. My blogging attempts seemed to completely disappear after my last post (I'll blame sinus surgery and a busy spring season), but I wanted to bring this back to share our adventures with you all this weekend.
We are embarking on the Great Alleghany Passage, or GAP trail (gaptrail.org) which runs from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cumberland, Maryland for 150 miles. It hike and bike-only trail so we won't be fighting with any cars or traffic. The GAP turns into another trail that runs from Cumberland to Washington, D.C., for another 200 miles, but 150 is enough for us!
Once again we are a trio - me, Heather and Maddi. I think we are a little nervous this year because none of us have rode very much this spring/summer! Shoutout to my friend MC who is training to run a marathon and got me out on the trail a few times. At least there's that. Another difference this year is we don't have a driver with us so everything I need for the weekend will be carried on my back in my light hiking backpack.
We loaded up the car and headed to Pittsburgh. The train down to Cumberland leaves at 5:20am, so it will be an early morning for us. A nightcap was needed! I may not have great service on some parts of the trip, but I will try to keep you updated each night. If unable, I will definitely post everything once we return home. Here's to happy (and safe) riding!
I calculated it to be six miles out and back and it actually was 7.25, which was fine because I felt great! I had some light rain at the start and end, and it really got windy at the end, but other than that, it was a great hike. I saw just one person, and that was when I was just starting. There were some nice pathways, but there were also some points that were basically just deer runs in the middle of the woods. I was faced with a lot of standing water, thorns and got covered in mud, but that was no bother for me!
After the hike I was quite hungry. A delicious venison dinner did the trick! I prepared it one of my favorite ways. I took venison back straps and cut it into rounds, doused it in flour, then egg, then whole wheat bread crumbs, then cooked it on the stove in olive oil. So good! Tastes even better when it's a deer you took down. This time I tried something new and added blue cheese crumbles on top. Delicious!
On Monday we had another ladies' lunch at work, so I brought in some red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. As usual, I found the recipe on Pinterest. I was nervous because I had never made red velvet from scratch before and this recipe was more involved then other ones I've used. Luckily I had nothing to worry about as they were wonderful! Definitely one of my favorite scratch recipes to date.
Since Tuesday was actual Valentine's Day I made a trifle to bring in. I simply made a white cake from scratch and layered it with cheesecake pudding died pink, whipped cream and strawberries cut to resemble hearts. It went fast which meant it must have been good! Nothing is better than trifles because they are quick and easy to make and everyone loves them. The rest of the week has been back to normal, but I plan on going on another hike this Sunday as it is supposed to warm up. I should have a post from that shortly after. Also, I'm out of work all next week due to some sinus surgery, so I should have plenty of time to catch up on movies and documentaries. Until then!
My travel schedule hasn't allowed me to cook/bake or get out much, but now that it has finally slowed down for a little bit I was able to get back into the kitchen. The other night I attempted cheesy stuffed shells and they turned out awesome! I didn't follow a recipe, just browsed through a few and then went for it. After boiling the shells, I mixed ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses together with one egg. For some flavor, I added in salt, pepper, onion power, garlic powder, oregano and basil. Stuff the mixture into the shells, layer some sauce in a baking dish, sprinkle some cheese on top and bake! It's that easy and they certainly were delicious.
I recently joined the Fitbit world, so that, with the combination of the weather warming up a bit, has motivated me to get back outside more. While I was at my parents' the other weekend, I couldn't resist taking my usual walk around the farm. However, it wasn't so warm that morning; the temperature felt like 5 degrees. But, it was still beautiful to get out there.
That was Saturday morning in New York. Monday in Ohio it was 50 degrees! So I took the opportunity to get out on the trail after work, even though it was dark by the time I was able to get done.
Homework has been drowning me lately, which also hasn't helped in keeping me out of the kitchen, out of nature and out of date with my blog. However, with it being Valentine's Day on Tuesday, I'll be cooking up some goodies this week. And I will be going on a hike later today. So, it shouldn't be as long of a break until I am able to write again. For now, back to the school work grind.
"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." --Anatole France