November first: roasted pumpkin seeds

Bat-O-Lantern

when life hands you jack-o-lanterns, what to do? duh. in our case this year, the jack-o-lanterns were only carved about 6 minutes before trick-or-treating started last night. but for some reason, even in the hectic rush to get out the door, i had the forethought to actually throw them in some tupperware so i could roast them at some point. well good news for everyone: some point happened to arrive today, just in time for a monthly first! roasted pumpkin seeds are sooooo delicious, but amazingly, i have never made this favorite treat before. not sure why, except that i never think to save the pumpkin seeds until after i’ve wrapped them in the newspaper and tossed them. it was definitely worth the extra effort and may actually become a tradition around here!

i found this recipe from Beauty & the Beard on Pinterest yesterday and figured it was as good as any to try. i doubled everything because i had about 2 cups of seeds to work with.

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika

one of the reasons i think i have never done this is because i (correctly) assumed cleaning all the pumpkin guts off the seeds would be a complete pain in the ass. when Miss Girl saw the pile i had to work through in a colander in the sink, she looked at me and said “wow, Mommy. that’s going to take a long time.” with a tone that would have made even the most dedicated feel like a complete idiot for even wanting to bother. but i didn’t let her dose of harsh reality deter me. i was on a mission. it wasn’t the easiest thing i’ve ever done, but definitely not the worst (y’all do remember the Satancakes, right?). it basically took a colander, a bowl, a lot of water and some patience.

once cleaned and dried (i ended up with a lot of extra water in my “clean” bowl and needed to put them back in the colander for another spin and then pat them dry with a paper towel), just throw them into a bowl and toss with the oil and spices. spread them out on a baking sheet covered with parchment (i skipped the parchment because i didn’t have any and it worked out totally fine). bake at 300° for 20 minutes. take out and stir/flip, then bake for another 20 minutes. let ’em chill at room temp for a few and enjoy!

mine came out delish, though a little too spicy for my taste — i prefer them more salty/savory with less kick. next time, i would do probably half the cayenne and more salt, but totally yummy and a nice new snack to add to my repertoire.

so far, it’s been a great start to the month. hope y’all have a fantastic November filled with trying new things!

September first: yurts so good!

yurtfamily_funnyfaces (1)

first time camping in forever, y’all! and definitely my first time staying in a yurt. 19 went into the woods. 19 came out. there were no lions, tigers or bears. though there may have been a racoon, a tarantula and a coven of witches performing a full moon ceremony. true story.

all in all, our weekend adventure was a total blast. i was completely impressed at how well kept and un-creepy the whole sleeping and bathroom situations were, aside from the Friday the 13th scenarios that kept playing in my mind every time i had to walk the 100 yards up a dark path from the campfire to the loo. personal issues, i guess. we had a couple little bugs scamper across the floor at night. i was much less worried about them being buggy and more worried about them waking Miss Girl, who insisted on sleeping on the floor, true outdoorsman that she is. she also insisted on peeing outside the entire weekend and was kind of mad at me that i wouldn’t. i had to draw the line somewhere. besides, i would totally take Jason over an ass-full of poison ivy any day.

so, here are a few pics:

Friday night after everyone arrived and got set up, the kids ran around like maniacs while the adults cooked, cocktailed and caught up. Cards Against Humanity inevitably came out (white people do like $5 foot longs, thank you very much.) and i was glad we had those jelly jar tea lights to read by! i think i mentioned that we spend a lot of time with most of these folks, as we’re all neighbors and the kids are in school together. but it was fun to hang out in a different setting with a different set of activities and discoveries going on.

speaking of activities, Saturday morning, we all piled onto a pontoon boat and cruised around Lake Hartwell for most of the day. i so love being on the water and it feels like it’s been ages since we were on a private boat. it reminded me of the weekends we used to spend with friends cruising the Potomac in Spy’s family’s boat when they still had the house there. nothing better than the sun on your face, wind in your hair and an occasional spray of surf.

anyway, the guys had found 2 awesome spots last year that they wanted to show everyone. the first was an area with some cliffs, where the popular thing to do was climb the rope and jump off into the water. that was mostly for the dads and older kids, while the rest of us — including my heights-fearing self — watched from the comfort of the water, gently floating in our life jackets. the second was a little cove with a great beach and an underwater terrain that dropped from 0-10 feet almost immediately. the kids loved swimming around in the deep water. i could do without the alternately sandy and mucky bottom (which has always freaked me out in lakes), but the beach was a perfectly nice spot to sit and watch all the fun. the whole day was so much fun in fact, that it nearly sealed the deal on the idea of taking a lake vacation next summer instead of our annual trip to Tybee. guess i’ll have to get used to the muck.

more maniacs running, cooking, cocktailing and catching up ensued after we got back to camp. another sleep with the with the windows open and cicadas singing and it was time to pack up and head out. just in time, because after a beautiful Saturday, Sunday morning threatened downpours several times before we actually got out of there — luckily with not much more than a sprinkle. all in all an awesome weekend that i’d be surprisingly happy to do all over again.

here’s to trying new things and a happy September!

June first: on the way to the rivah

red roof schoolhouse — Virginia

though i’ve done several of The Daily Post’s post challenges, i haven’t yet done one of their photo challenges, so here goes this month’s first! this week’s challenge:

In-between moments can be just as memorable as grand finales. This week, share a photo you took on the way to something else.

a long, long time ago, it seems now, before Georgia. before rings and vows. before the rise of Miss Girl and the demise of Miss Maury. before Lily and our amazing home, and generally everything we know as our life at the current moment, there was The River.

Spy’s parents used to have a place on the Potomac at Sandy Point, just short of where the river met the Chesapeake Bay. where the water was deep enough for a boat, salty enough to taste like the beach — and host stingy nettles in season — but peaceful enough that you could relax all afternoon on the floatie of your choosin’. where there were holiday weekends and random overnights over the course of the decade or so i was involved. where there were too many late-night, cocktail-infused conversations and games of Taboo or Spades with our very best friends (and a couple random stragglers) to count. where there were lazy, boozy marina jaunts on the Sea Ray and cross-river (to Maryland) rides when we thought we might not make it back before a storm.

it’s the place where Clara became an inextricable part of our family after getting rescued from Libby Hill Park one Memorial Day weekend Friday and we didn’t know what else to do but bring her with us (the beginning of a completely charmed doggie life, for sure). it’s where we had our wonderful wedding photos. it’s where i always thought we would be spending weekends raising Miss Girl or whoever came along, because that’s what you do in Richmond. at the rivah.

fast forward to life not ever happening exactly as planned. we’re in Atlanta. it’s a good 10 hour drive to Sandy Point for us, so holiday weekends there are kind of a bust. Spy’s parents sold the house a few years ago and we (nor our friends) were in a position to buy it and keep up the 50-year legacy. this time of year, what could have been always crosses my mind. and i always kind of do a moment of silence to stop and remember all that we and our friends shared there — and the moments we all thought would go on forever.

this photo is of the one room schoolhouse that marks the last major turn to get down there. whenever we gave friends directions — including on our wedding invitations, since the church was down that way as well — that was the last turn off the main road. and every time we drove down, the schoolhouse served as the red-topped, iconic point where you always knew you were almost. there. it was as good as a sign saying “enter weekend mode.”

happy June to everyone! hope y’all all have a beautiful view on your way to something even more wonderful!

May first: lights. camera. action!

clapperboard-movie-spotlight-photo-hd-wallpaper

i know i’m a few days past the first here, but Hollywood simply won’t schedule their activities around my posting schedule. gaaahh. who do they think they are?

anyway, you got it, guys. earlier this week, my monthly first was being an extra for a movie! mum’s the word about what or where or who until it’s showing in a theater near you. what i can say is that thanks to some sweet state tax credits (among other factors) Atlanta’s TV and film production industry is completely booming and it is amazing to see the sheer number of shows and movies that are in production here at any given time. in 2013, their production budgets totaled nearly $100 million.

for folks here, that means a lot of jobs. i mean a lot. according to the WSJ, there aren’t enough crew members to work on productions. and according to one woman i met at the call, the demand for extras also outweighs the available bodies. she said she pretty much has her choice of assignments whenever she wants them, but just can’t do the 12 and 14 hour days 5 days a week like some people.

even folks not directly related to the industry benefit, as services like technology, lodging, real estate and food service get a boost. Disney alone paid $696 million to 4,066 vendors in Georgia in 2012. it also means cool perks like celeb sightings and gossip about who’s shooting what where, which is always totally exciting.

what’s not totally exciting? being an extra on a movie set. i’ve been on lots of shoots for work before and know they’re boring. there’s a lot of waiting around for shots to get set up with props, lighting and cameras in exactly the right place. then testing and testing again. then adding actors and doing take after take, re-setting in between, until you’ve got that one shot just right — or think you at least have enough good footage to piece it together. the difference between doing that for a 30-second spot or a 2-minute web video versus for a full-length feature film has got to mean thousands of hours of hours of people standing around waiting for shit to happen. for work, i’m also on the other side of the camera, as it were, making sure everything looks right and is happening the way it’s supposed to happen, fielding questions and making decisions. on the contrary, last night was mostly just a lot of standing around. at times, the monotony and the lack of control or even knowing what the plan was seemed excruciating (along with the chilly weather, lack of caffeine and my old-lady back).

anyhoo, while i was standing around wondering why the hell i had signed up for this in the first place, i had a lot of time to observe and reflect on the experience. so since everyone loves a list, here are a few of my takeaways from the experience:

1. dressing for your film debut is crazy hard.
call time was 5:00 p.m. don’t even get me started on the work/babysitter sitch i had to finagle. but i got that worked out, then schlepped like half of my closet to base camp. “casual summer attire” sounds easy, but it’s like when you get a “black tie optional” invite and you’re like totally confused about whether your man’s actually supposed to wear a tux or not and if you should spring for a ballgown or just throw on your LBD of the moment. what’s worse is that you’re basically trying to dress for some wardrobe assistant you’ve never met whose idea of cute is probably totally not yours. and as part of a bigger group of people, it’s not just about you. that wardrobe assistant has to consider whether there are too many girls in dresses versus pants, too many patterns, too many solids, too much orange . . . god, i’m glad i don’t have that job. in the end, i netted out in a cute skirt and top with shoes i would never ever have worn with that outfit in real life. with several cute combinations in tow, my girlfriend ended up in an outfit that looked like our daughters’ school uniforms. none of it made sense.

2. oh, the people you’ll meet.
wow, so this was an education. of about 70 extras last night, they seemed to fall into 3 mostly cliquey categories (real life is still always like high school, right?):

  1. the neighbors — some of the folks there were just the people who lived in the neighborhood, have regular day jobs and just wanted to see what this whole thing was about (and get to see the actors up close since they have been wandering our ‘hood for a couple weeks). these were my peeps. i thought it would be mostly just us. not so.
  2. the theater kids — you could just tell these guys had been to film school or acting school and actually want to make a living in the industry. a show tune or pirouette was bound to break out at any time. they might get a break in a show or film, where they are extras on the regular, but you just know they are also into writing and producing and music, too, and are trying to make connections in every facet of Atlanta’s ever-growing entertainment industry so that one day they can be a star. there is an air of drama about these people — from how they gesticulate in conversation to how they never take off their sunglasses (not once) during the course of a 10-hour, mostly-nighttime shoot. you know who you are.
  3. the semi-pros — these guys are on the extras circuit. (i mean. i didn’t know that even existed.) they all know each other from having been on-set together time after time. Walking Dead . . . Tyler Perry . . . i mean, i think everyone with a pulse is involved in those productions, but when names are dropped it’s more for like street cred and acknowledgement of battle scars than actual name dropping like the theater kids do. the semi-pros rub elbows with the theater kids, but don’t have their same ambitions. these people are (from what i gathered) retired or in school or out of work and making ends meet with odd jobs. they have time on their hands, so they might as well get paid to stand around.

3. settle in. have fun.
like i said, there is a lot of waiting around. the theater kids brought cards. the neighbors one-upped their spades game with Heads Up. after a few hilarious rounds, the theater kids were dying to join in. what ensued was a semi-raucous and semi-raunchy few rounds with new semi-buddies. pretty much never has such a thing happened around here without booze involved. just sayin’. point being, you are going to be there a while. make the best of it and bring something to read (like your blog feed!), work, a game . . . and be open to meeting some people who are totally not like you. they can have some really interesting stories.

4. don’t be a dick (in general, but especially with crafty).
apparently the extras who came before us in the past few weeks ruined every single thing about being an extra. craft services or “crafty” as it’s known <wink>amongst insiders like me</wink>, is the part of the production team that provides all the food. depending on where you fall in the hierarchy of the production, your food may be nicer than others’. kind of like life, right? for non-union “background” talent (like me), you pretty much get cold gruel while everyone else is snacking on filet mignon and Chateau Margeaux. okay. not really, but there is a difference. and there just seems to be something about free food that makes seemingly normal people (background talent) act like maniacs. do you really need to grab 6 bottles of Coke from the crew cooler? we live in Atlanta for god’s sake. that shit comes out of our kitchen faucets. so whatever happened in that tent before we got there meant that for a night shoot scheduled to last until possibly 3:00 a.m., there would be no coffee. no. coffee. i almost died. at some point, i was hallucinating Starbucks smells. when we had a 30 minute break, i considered running home to brew a pot. in the end i didn’t. but in the end, i also cursed the a-holes who tortured punished us for our forebearers’ sins.

5. don’t do it for the money.
i mean, if you are in clique 2 or 3, there is obvs some financial appeal or you wouldn’t even consider this. the check that i will receive in 2-3 weeks for 10 hours’ work won’t even cover what i paid my amazing, awesome babysitter for staying until 3:00 in the morning. hell, my real job bills me out at like twice that for one hour. but i can see at a different time and stage of life, this would be a cool income supplement and way to meet people/get closer to that ideal entertainment industry job. so there’s that.

6. don’t count on seeing celebs.
i was kind of bummed it’s the time of year for me to get my eyes examined and my contacts may not totally be up to snuff for celeb spotting! like i said. i can’t name any names or tell any of the plot here. but. just know that even if you know who could be on set with you, don’t count on seeing them. turned out that of several main characters with recognizable real names, only a couple were around and involved in scenes being shot when i was there freezing, falling asleep and not getting paid (much). and in all likelihood, y’all ain’t gonna get close to ’em at all.

overall, i am 1,000% psyched that i did this. at the time it mostly sucked. no lie. but with some time to reflect, i love that i had the experience, saw the production details (which i haven’t bored y’all with and is more interesting as a work thing than anything) and also had some good bonding time with some really cool neighbors. and feel like it gave me a good story to tell (to you and to Spy, who finally got home tonight!).

when i can give any more detail, i will! y’all can expect timecode level info. no doubt. ha! have any of you ever done this? i would love to hear your story!

March first: in like a lamb (tagine)

SONY DSC

it’s that time again! on the first of every month, i’m doing (and writing about) something that’s a first for me. this month, in honor of the old saying about March weather, In like a lion, out like a lamb (and vice versa), i decided to cook some lamb, which (kind of surprisingly) i’ve never done before. so Sunday supper tonight was this Moroccan Lamb Tagine. or something like it. in typical fashion, i took an inspirational recipe and completely effed it up made it my own. i obvs don’t know how else it would have tasted if i’d done it by the book, but as far as i’m concerned, the outcome was pretty amazing. warm, soft and rich with a little kick to it — perfect for this cold, dreary night. i haven’t had Moroccan in a long time, but this is as good as i remember it. here’s how everything went down.

the inspiration
4 pounds fat-trimmed boned lamb shoulder or other cut suitable for stewing, rinsed and cut into 1½ -inch chunks
2 onions (8 oz. each), peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon each paprika and ground cumin
1 teaspoon each ground turmeric, ground cinnamon, and minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon cayenne
⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
2½ cups fat-skimmed chicken broth
1 can (14½ oz.) diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and fresh-ground pepper

⅓ cup pitted kalamata olives
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Brown lamb. Discard all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pan.2. Add onions and garlic to pan; stir often over medium heat until onions begin to get limp, 3 to 5 minutes. Add paprika, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, and cardamom; stir until very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth, tomatoes (including juices), and tomato paste. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender when pierced, about 1 hour. Skim off and discard any fat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. On dinner plates or a large rimmed platter, mound couscous and form a well in the center. With a slotted spoon, transfer lamb and vegetables to well. Measure pan juices; if less than 3 cups, add water to make that amount, return to pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt to taste. Pour juices into a bowl and pass to add to taste. Scatter olives and cilantro over lamb; garnish as desired (see notes).

my edits

i actually used these measurements for everything except the paprika, which i didn’t realize i didn’t have enough of until i was in the middle of it. i subbed white pepper for about 2 teaspoons of it. i also added a can of garbanzo beans and a bag of frozen diced sweet potatoes. just stuff i had on hand that i thought would go well. i didn’t use the olives, cilantro or other garnishes because i just wasn’t feeling that fancy. and nobody missed them.

never having bought lamb before, i had absolutely no idea what i was doing. i thought i was going to have to make a special trip to Whole Foods, but was pleasantly surprised to find a few packages of lamb at Publix during my regular shop yesterday. shoulder (check) and neck (wth? but yes, really), which said specifically that it was for stewing. that was in chunks already, so i got 2 packs of that and one of the shoulder. what i didn’t realize was that all of it had bones. lambs apparently are bony little fuckers. like there was no way to even cut the meat off of all these bones to get it into bite-sized chunks. in the end, it was fine because after almost 6 hours in the slow cooker, the meat literally fell off the bones anyway (no joke, i was picking clean bones out of the stew as i spooned it onto the couscous), but it just made the presentation a little different than you’d expect and a little more knife action necessary for the actual eating.

also, if you’ve been paying attention, you gathered that i cooked this in my slow cooker instead of on the stove. i was supposed to be at work this afternoon, so the plan was to let all this simmer while i was working. thank goodness that got cancelled, but i stuck with the plan and was able to enjoy the exotic scents emanating from my slow cooker. i rarely cook with turmeric and don’t think i’ve ever used cardamom. i just love the smell of these two spices mixed with the cinnamon and loved smelling this simmer all afternoon. after browning the lamb in some olive oil, i threw it and all the other ingredients into the pot, did a quick mix and set it for 4½ hours on low, then did an hour on high just to be sure it was really tender and melty.

and finally, as one of the reviews mentions, i also added about 3 tablespoons of flour toward the end to thicken up.

i definitely recommend this one and will for sure be trying it again (with some boneless cuts) during cold weather — which i hope means next fall. and for the record, i will not be posting a lion recipe on the 31st. have a great month full of new experiences, everyone!

February first: XO!

SONY DSC

whoa. what a thing today. for real. Spy is gone, so there is all kinds of crazy single mommy/girl time goin’ on around here, plus it is rainy and grey. i used it all as an excuse for 2 things. first, we are seriously knocking out some of the Valentine’s projects from that Pinterest board i mentioned last time. second, i wanted to try something new. literally. on the first of every month, i’m planning on doing something i’ve never done before. and of course posting about it. it’s probably not ever going to be like sky diving or even at all bucket list worthy, but i figure it’s a fun way to stay out of a rut and get a few new experiences under my belt, even if they’re small. so from here on out, you can look forward to a monthly first on the first day of every month. you’re welcome. 

so my February first is making a Valentine’s Day wreath (and also, unofficially, making cakepops, which are in progress as i write . . . stay tuned for more on that upcoming disaster). while i keep a wreath on the door all year round and change them up frequently, i’ve never actually made a Valentine’s Day themed one. now i can officially add crazy wreath lady to my list of eccentricities . . .

8f02253de813ab79ef59b6cb47db1e4aone of my very favorite things from my V-Day Pinterest board was this gorgeous XO wreath. truth be told, i should have just shelled out the $90 to buy it, but 1) i wasn’t thinking that far ahead and 2) what in the hell kind of fun would that have been for you guys?! so that’s the inspiration for this afternoon’s crafting shenannigans.

it all went down something like this: around $80 in florals and ribbon from Michael’s (at 40% off, even! yes, when they ask why we can’t afford to send Miss Girl to college, i will point to this damn wreath.); a tantrum because somebody didn’t get her 3,789th stuffed animal from Michael’s; Wendy’s on the way home because i felt like i was a mean mom all the way through Michael’s between the no stuffed animals mandate and several terse words over the cakepop options (at this point, Mommy really wanted lunch at someplace with actual servers and a deep wine list, but sucked it up); however long Tangled is worth of crafting; and final photos, clean up and here we are. whew. my end result isn’t nearly as gorgeous as this. remind me sometime to tell you about me and quiches. they all end up more like rustic country pies instead of elegant tarts. welcome to my rustic country pie version of the XO wreath.

step 1: obligatory beauty shot of all my materials

SONY DSC

14 pussy willow stems. 4 stems of pink buds. 12″ twig wreath form. 6′ roll of cotton chevron ribbon. floral wire. scissors.

step 2: shot of hardcore tools i had to bring in to finish the job

SONY DSC

yeah, so the garden clippers were necessary to clip off the ends of the pussy willows (and it was still hard as hell!). the staple gun was how i attached the whole shebang to the door. read on . . .

step 3: make the O

this part was easy peasy. i just stuck my pink flowers into the wreath form, end to end. then i worked around bending and shaping them so they formed a circle and filled in the entire form. in a few places, i used my floral wire to tether the stems to the form.

step 4: make the X

his one was a little harder, but basically, i gathered 2 sets of 7 stems each and bound them together with floral wire (first step here was bundling them with some washi tape, just to keep the lengths even and have them contained while i worked with the wire)t. you really can’t see it at all and it’s pretty easy to arrange leaves and buds to cover them up on the front. i had to use the garden clippers to chop off the extra length. then i tied them together in a cross with more floral wire in about 4 places. if we get a tornado, this thing’s a goner, but for normal February gusts, i think she’ll be fine.

step 5: attach everything

okay. here’s where things definitely got a little weird. this for sure is not the best constructed wreath and the door attachment situation is just one more way i proved to myself i have no idea what the hell i’m doing. (fooled ya up to here, huh?) truth: i craft like i cook. it’s usually a totally fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants event and while things usually turn out okay in the end, it ain’t pretty getting there. long story short, i should have taken the time to measure, then connected everything on the table, then hang it. instead, i impatiently hung the ribbon (staple-gunned to the top of the door), then went about attaching the wreath parts. a few random knots and a prayer later, it was up. and, while definitely not perfect. i kind of love it.

SONY DSC

happy February, y’all!