Give me your tots

In the mayhem that has overtaken my life in the past few days, my cooking experiment has fallen by the wayside. Not entirely, though as I was able to conquer one of my childhood favorites last night -- Tator Tot Casserole. If this doesn't speak to my roots, I don't know what else would; my blood runs Midwestern. I was surprised to discover that cream of mushroom soup is mixed in with the ground beef ( I of course substituted for ground chicken), which gives it a more creamy texture. With a shortage of shredded cheese in the refigerator, I used half mozzerella and half cheddar and sprinkled some parmesan on top.

The recipe made enough for lunch and dinner today, which is good because I spent most of my evening worrying about riding on a Metro Bus to the grocery store -- how do you know when to get off?! When I finally got up the nerve to head to the stop, which is probably less than 20 yards from our door, I got outside just in time to see it pulling away. Fail. I was still content with my leftovers, though.

Also, I forgot to take a photo of my Mississippi rooted creation. Strike again. This was supposed to be my week spent getting my life back in order!

You Can't Make this Up

Saturday at about 11 p.m., we received a call from family bearing news which consequently convinced us to trek home. At midnight. Both my husband and I have been raised in close families and living 800 miles away has given us a new perspective on the important things in life. Back to last Saturday -- we decided that after a four hour nap I was okay to drive for a while and better to hit the road while they are virtually empty. So shortly after midnight we had a suitcase packed, full tank of gas, a large cofee and Route 110 turned into the GW Parkway turned into I-70 West (eventually).

Around 4 a.m. we refueled at a shack of a gas station near Washington, Pennsylvania and the rotting toothed attendant convinced Dusty to buy some vintage candy. Back on the road with a green tea in hand, I felt a second wind that I thought would blow me into Ohio and let Dusty continue to sleep peacefully. Winding around the the hills, passing an annoyingly slow (no arguments) pick up and behind a semi truck driving illegally in the left lane, something appeared in the road out of nowhere. With no place to go but straight, I smacked into the unidentified object nearly head on. Now, to this moment I can't answer the "what was it?" question on everyone's mind. All I can compare the size to is the metal tool box that sits in the back of my grandpa's truck.

Needless to say there is a purpose for mentioning said object in the road. Upon contact with a deafening crunch and awaking of the sleep monster, I immediately braked and pulled over to the side of the road. After telling my dear husband,"I don't know what it was!" what seemed like half a million times, I looked at the car and saw no damage. Miracle of Christmas, right?! Wrong. I was directed to look down where the bumper hung in shreds, a mystery liquid pooled in the gravel and smoke was rising from underneath. That is a loud resounding, oh shit.

Let's review the details, it's 4:30 a.m., our car is not drivable, one foot off of the interstate bending around a mountain. I of course start crying, as I do in all situations when I should remain composed and Dusty grabbed our insurance card from the glove box, instructing me to call Roadside Assistance while he simultaneously put in an accident claim. What insued in the following hours is hardly believable.

Roadside Assistance assured me that a tow truck driver would be at our location within an hour, gave me his number and said the police would be called. An hour an a half later, I called him just to find out he had been given the wrong location and was far from us on I-70 West at mile marker 6. So, I called again and was told another tow truck would be given our correct location and he would definitely arrive in an hour. A little over an hour later I called the new driver. He was in Ohio. No joke.

So we are nearing three hours of practically sitting on the interstate with semi trucks barreling by inches from us in 35 degrees and the hazard lights draining the battery. At this point, I'm exhausted, have to pee and am sure that we are not going to make it out of Deliverance. I knew I would meet my maker at the mercy of a barefoot, toothless mountain man with a civil war rifle and a blue hound named Rufus. Which is exactly what I told the gentleman at the other end of the line during my third call for help. Finally we decided to take matters into our own hand, dialed 911 and a towing company that was only 20 minutes from us. When the very proud, neckless state trooper arrived, he lectured us on how dangerous it was to sit along the interstate for so long, especially in a "shady rural area." Duh. Thanks Officer Helpful. He went on to let us know we were only 500 yards from an exit where a gas station is located and wondered why we didn't walk there. Oh, probably because we had no idea and why would we be trapsing along the dangerous interstate in a "shady rural area." Idiot.

At that point my bladder was so full I was sure I was going to vomit and with tears on the brink of spilling down my face, all I cared about was getting to that gas station to use their restroom. With the tow truck on the way, I hopped in the squad car and Dusty waited for the tow truck to bring him to the oh-so-close Texas Chainsaw Massacre of a truck stop. The building looked like it was built from tree bark and cardboard and the interior was even worse. I was greeted by a couple of greasy mute teenage sandwich artists booths with broken tables covered in crumbs. Walking through a maze of dust covered souveniers from 1983 I found the restroom where the details need not be shared. Hoping to find someplace to sit and call my parents, I walked to the opposite side of the establishment. Bad idea. An arcade with 30 year old machines, "Chinese Massages" written in marker on notebook paper hung beside a bedsheet draped door and Dog the Bounty Hunter's father sat behind a counter composed of yellow painted plywood asking if there was "anything he could do to help me." I looked down to see my footprints in the dirt on the floor and decided that I had a better chance of surviving outside.

Luckily a tow truck with a black Saab in the back pulled up and Dusty was smiling with a normal looking human being driving. The normal human being was Scott, who is quite possibly one if the most kind people I have ever met. He chatted with us and agreed to drive us where ever we needed and help in whatever way he could. Our first stop was the only open car rental spot in the area, where I believe I met Satan's self tanned, comb over brother. After explaining our situation, Dusty having no debit card, because it had been stolen by an ATM machine earlier in the week and no credit card in his wallet either, left me to be the renter two months away from my 25th birthday. According Avis law, when you are under 25 you must use a credit card to rent a vehicle, you are automatically charged $400 plus $40 a day for extra insurance. With my short credit history my card has a $500 limit.

Back on the road again, we realized that our destination would not be Illinois and finally succumbed to the Pennsylvania vortex and find a hotel. Scott suggested one near something that would allow us to at least enjoy ourselves a bit. The first one we found was next to a casino and an outlet mall. The wonderful manager at the front desk saw our car on the bed of the tow truck and gave us a room half off and a voucher for free breakfast. My faith in humanity was slowly being restored. Keep in mind after all of this, it is still only 11 a.m., though it felt like 11 p.m. We took our luggage to our room, I avoided looking in anything reflective, sure that I would not be pleased with what I saw and ate like it was our first time at the bruch buffet.

When I woke up from napping, five hours later I realized that we were still stranded in no man's land with no clear way of getting out. After a couple hours of sleuthing, Dusty was able to find a commuter bus that would pick us up nearby for $4.50 and take us to Pittsburgh where Remy, searching remotely located a Greyhound bus was headed to D.C. We would be home by 9 p.m.! I could hear bells ringing from the tops of the mountains.

In the morning the hotel shuttle took us to the township building where this commuter bus would pick us up if we waited there. Right on time a rickety bus pulled up at 9:52 a.m. and we were headed home. Or at least to Pittsburgh. The bus dropped us off in front of the Greyhound station and we "checked in" to our bus. With three hours to kill, we romed around the city center, Dusty carrying his guitar along the whole way. After all that had happened, it was more than a little refreshing to be in a walkable city again, working off the rural Pennsylvanian meals.

The bus ride was no experience worth noting, other than the average riff raff. However, seven hours later when we turned onto North Capitol and the dome hovered ahead of us, I nearly cried. Give me shady urban areas over rural ones any day. Seriously, you can't make this up.

On the Road

For all of you beatniks out there, my dear sister Jayme Z (D) -- the D is for her husband's last name as well as her political affiliation -- found this literary organism, that helps visualize the insanity that is Jack Kerouak's infamous novel, On the Road. Click here to be redirected to the original and make sure to zoom in to really understand the innerworkings of this chart.

It is affirmation that my love affair with the written word has an aesthetic value. Ah, validation smells so sweet.

End of the Week Excursus: A.K.A. End of an Era Excursus

I am usually never one to pass by the opportunity to spread my wings, or at least lean back a little further in my chair (not to the frightening point where it feels like you can fall to your death, though), but starting a new job has me near to terrified. Not because I find it difficult to meet new people or prove myself on a professional level or even spend 40 hours a week in a new local -- I can handle all of that. Right now I am floating along in my bubble of comfort miles from the edge and in a few days it's going to burst. Okay, so I am the one bursting it, but the point is I'm packing up my desk, taking my left overs out of the fridge, handing in my fob and heading out into the cold, cruel world.

Maybe a tad melodramatic, but it feels like I am graduating from college all over again. Meg Laz would say, "Embrace the question mark," which I shall, but right now it is all a little bittersweet. This place has been the only professional home I have known, and while like all work settings can be, it has been a love/hate relationship, but just like college -- I have made great friends, learned great lessons and found my feet along the way. The day I would leave always seemed so distant and now that it is here, I feel less ready than I thought I would.

And that I blame on the wonderful people I work with that drown out the crazies. But I might even miss the crazy folks a bit. Maybe. You would think by the way I am acting, I am moving across the country again, but phew, just down the street. And I know that soon enough I will discover the weirdos in my new office -- or maybe they will find me, I seem to be a weirdo magnet, they must sense my distaste for their kind -- and co-workers will eventually turn into friends and I can start eating breakfast in the office again with out looking like a freak.

Soon enough is so far away. And the interim until soon enough is the new kid phase. I guess I'm not starting from scratch and my friends that I work with will still be my friends, but they won't be upstairs or across the hall or in some cases, five feet away. Online purchase approvals are going to have to be made via email and lunch dates are going to be less impromptu. And for a while I have to internally gossip when the new office weirdos get to me.

My mind is so muddled with the murky unknowing, that I am forgetting about the shiny gleam of a new job and the opportunity that comes with it. Not to mention that I actively sought after a new job. It's going to be a good thing, right?

Only 3 Days Worth of Caloric Intake

But who is counting? I tried my hand at Quiche Lorraine, which turned out to no one's surprise, absolutely delicious. However, with two cups of cream and 12 strips of bacon, could it have been anything less.

This was a sub-easy recipe, but I still managed to struggle none the less. Who knew that you are supposed to fry bacon on low heat? The end product was, well, not pretty, but still tasted like bacon.

Why is the learning curve so steep?

Buon Appetito

Lasagna? CHECK.

My very favorite dish in the whole world, or at least half of Europe -- lasagna; I consider myself a connoisseur of sorts. I have ordered it in every region of Italy (Lake Como in Northern Italy gets the blue ribbon) and nearly every kitchen in Central Illinois. Now I can proudly say that one more that one more address can claim rights to the Italian casserole -- mine. If you could see me, I'm grinning from ear to ear. In all seriousness, I assumed I had better chances of winning the Mega Ball Million than successfully cooking a lasagna.

I followed the recipe in the link, substituting ground turkey for beef and only used one package of spinach. The result, at least in my expertise eyes (!) was pretty much delicious. However, I wouldn't turn down a trip to the Italian/Austrian border to remind myself of the real deal.

Ahhh, it's amore.

Empty Pantry

My frantic state of mind has my balance all thrown off. I think I get like this every time change enters my life, which is weird because I'm usually the one forcing change into my life. Correction, USED to force change in my life. Since graduating from college and moving east, I have found myself craving a normal and uninterrupted pace. Or maybe that that pace found me and I didn't reject it this go round.

In any event, this new job thing has me all sorts of anxious. Don't get me wrong, I am overly excited about the opportunity, new adventure and obviously, the raise, but closing the door to my comfort zone has my nerves running awry. This company is the only professional setting I have ever known; I interned here in college and haven't looked back. So now that I am wondering how this new kid is going to fit into her new gig, I can't seem to accomplish the simple day to day tasks.

Like grocery shopping. Thank goodness for Peapod grocery delivery, because with out it, I think we would have gone hungry the rest of the week. I was however able to electronically add groceries to my virtual cart in between panic attacks and the real items will be delivered to my door step this evening. And while it is a big relief to not battle the actual store, nothing came to my rescue last night when I opened the pantry door and a gaping whole stared back at me. Even the cereal was long gone. Sigh. This is where my cooking issues all began -- not knowing where to begin.

After taking a deep breath, I discovered eggs and an egg sandwich is something I can handle. PHEW. Instincts took over and I was able to scramble a couple of eggs and even went so far as to use the panini maker. Impressed? I was, though not enough to warrant a photo. This totally counts toward my 25 days -- I didn't order a pizza or go to Subway and used the stove. That is ten days down!

Easy Peasy, and the Cauliflower is Cheesy

Yikes, and so am I. I am blaming it on the season. It's that time of year where you still have to wear tights even though they have become hot an itchy. And you have to wear a coat to work, because it is cold in the morning and when you leave in the evening the coat has lost significance. You want to take a walk in the afternoon and stop for frozen yogurt, but it's still a little chilly in the shade. Quite frankly, it's maddening. I am ready for spring. The whole unedited, unabridged version of spring. That is my reason for being so lame.

Tonight's dinner was a twofer, though I'm not really sure what that means. Actually I'm pretty certain it doesn't make sense in my reference or that it's a real word (other than the fact that spell check is not correcting it), but in any account, I attempted a main course and a side...a la a twofer.

Day 10 of 25: Herb Chicken and Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin

This was all around super easy and the only trouble I had was stomaching the smell of the butter herb mixture. Although, the chicken tasted awesome in the end. The gratin was totally yum and I added a little extra cheese and bread crumbs.

That's pretty much it. Neither part of the meal was rocket science and both tasted relatively delicious. Even my hubby, who, I didn't know before tonight, doesn't typically like cauliflower, had seconds of the gratin.

I'm going to be really excited when these five weeks are up and I don't have to do this every night. It sure is time consuming.

Take a bite out of....a whole clove?!

Last night's dinner was a snapshot of the Great Depression era, disguised in Crate & Barrel flatware. It was relatively simple, but since I really had no clue what the end result would or should be, I flew completely blind.

Recipe Number Nine: Spicy Lentils and Cornbread

I don't really have a pallet for spices, probably because I have never cooked [with them] much before this experiment began. Let me tell you, though, the smell of spices frying in olive oil is AWESOME. Our whole 850 square foot apartment -- gigantic, I know -- smelled like Christmas. I never thought I would ever say it, but after a long day, the aroma mixed with mindless stirring was completely zen. I was so relaxed that I didn't even make it to the gym...or lazy, whichever.

The tastes was, well, interesting. I'm not sure that I got the consistency quite right, but it was definitely edible. I would actually say it was good and out of the ordinary, until I chomped down on a whole clove. The taste was so unfamiliar and over powering that I didn't know how to react except to spit it out. The taste lingered in my mind and I reflexively cringed again and again.

I brought some of the left overs today and the memory of the clove must have been just a little too recent, because that is all I could think about. Actually just typing the word clove makes me shutter.

It may be a while before I cook with cloves again. So as not to confuse, minus the little incident, the meal was good and recipe was at my level, so most other humans can easily tackle it.

Fallen Off the Bandwagon...

As much as I fully intended to cook a new recipe every week night for five weeks, the end of last week was just not conducive to fulfilling that commitment. I will say that Thursday I did preheat the oven and open the box of an oven pizza and took it from the oven at just the perfect time. That should definitely count for something. At least half of something.

I do have a few good excuses. Most of them involve drinking with my amici, but for good reason. One -- a friend was skipping the city for Ohio and we replaced dinner with a happy hour in her honor. Two -- a friend was visiting from NYC for the weekend and celebrating her 25th birthday and we spent most of the weekend socializing. Three -- I GOT A NEW JOB, so obviously since I will be bringing home more bacon, I felt the need to skip out on cooking it for a couple of days.

So there, I got a little too busy and had to put my cooking on the back burner. HA. Zing zing. This week, though, I will be in full force and continue into the weekend for my lost time. Pinky swear.

One more reason I'm completely enamored with this city...

This was the scene in front of the Starbucks across the street from my office. It is shenanigans like this that only happen here. A giant blown up pig (which is the RIAA's newest mascot fighting FOR the performance tax...they are really stretching reality these days) in the middle of the side walk. You can't make this up.

I'm getting to be good at this

Last night's dinner was not only edible, but seriously good. Seriously! And not only was it a delight to taste buds, but the waist line, too, at less than 250 calories per (giant) serving. Introducing, dinner number seven....Healthy Shepard's Pie.

This recipe was a little intimidating on paper and seemed very involved. It began with slicing an acorn squash in half, which is something I've not even ever thought of attempting. After I got over my anxiety though, the rest of the recipe was pretty much beginner level, if you can tie your shoes sort of thing.

Instead of ground beef, I opted for ground chicken and I think it went well with the lightened up version of the dish. It did cause a slight problem though -- when I tried to cut a piece to serve, it just crumbled. So, not exactly pretty, but totally delicious. I promise, it only looks like a jar of baby food.

And, for the cherry on top? Lots of leftovers.

Breakfast for Dinner

Who doesn't love breakfast for dinner? It's such a weirdly fantastic treat. Which is exactly what my Monday needed -- the food equivalent to a pep talk to get me through the rest of the week.

Dinner #6: French Toast Raphael and bacon

Week two of five in my 25 Days of Dinner challenge began with preparation Sunday night, as I got everything ready to cook. The best part? All I did Monday when I got home from work was preheat the oven and open the bacon package -- my kind of cooking.

While it's probably hard to mess this up, something about my creation wasn't just right. Really I think the recipe just needs a little my own defense. Maybe more bread and less cream cheese or a smaller pan; it turned out more like a french toast bar than a french toast casserole. Oh and vanilla, definitely vanilla needs to be included in the list of ingredients. My addition of blue berries, however, was pheeeeenominal.

This will definitely be a dish I try again, probably when we are in desperate need of calories.

Proud Citizen

I am extremely proud of my District and for once, Mayor Fenty, that we are joining five other states to practice marriage equality amongst all couples. Last week all couples regardless of sexual orientation were able to apply for their marriage license and today those who applied the first day the law came in to affect can wed. As a newlywed, it brings such refreshed pride in my relationship, now that my Capitol friends can ALL enjoy the right to marry. Hopefully the rest of the country will follow the lead of it's Capitol city and we can begin to live up to our proclaimed justice.

It's a great day to be a Washingtonian!

"Kick his ass, Sea Bass" Dinner Number Five

In this case, the kicking refers to the ass of the sea bass, which is what I did to the final dinner of my first week of cooking.That sea bass had his ass handed to him (or her) on a plate.

Day Five: Sea Bass with Creamy Leeks and Soy Jus

While Rachel Ray -- who in normal circumstances I try to keep out of my life, however since a cookbook of hers came as an added bonus with the man I married and I am leaving no easy recipe in our apartment left unturned, I had to take her up on this suggestion -- placed this recipe in the "Easy 15 Minute Meal" section of her cookbook, she was completely wrong. This was the most involved and counter space monopolizing dinner I have attempted to date.

To begin the preparation, I was nervous about the smell of the fish, which was extremely strong. I Googled to see if this was a problem and was led to a solution of soaking the fillets in cold water with lemon juice; it worked like a charm. The recipe also directed me to grill the sea bass stove top for a few minutes and then transfer to the stove in the same pan. Weird, yes. All of my pans have hardware that would melt in the stove, so I had to settle for a giant soup pot.

From there everything was out of my element and seemingly all at once. I had every burner on the stove going, four spoons for each and no idea how this was all going to come together. Also, I had purchased green beans earlier in the week and wanted to used them before they went to waste. My dear friend Jed had told me a great recipe for cooking them, which I of course could not remember, nor could I get a hold of him. So I winged it (wung it?!), frying them will olive oil and almond slivers to find out later that they were supposed to be boiled first. While they were edible, I think they would have actually been delicious following his real directions.

Somehow, I pulled it off and the end result was actually out standing. The cream and leek mixture with the soy sauce drizzle was an excellent compliment to the mild fish. And with chocolate chip filled croissant rolls for dessert, nothing can be too bad.

So folks, no one has been poisoned from my experiment yet and we have a whole week under our belt. Only four more to go.

End of the Month Excursus: February Top Five

Another month under the belt of the new decade, and oh what a month it was. Here are the February five that topped my list of occurrences:

1. Snowmageddon: The white fluffy stuff terrorized my fair weathered city and forced the federal government to keep the shop closed for a record smashing four days and two half days and goes down in the history books as the most snow ever recorded in one winter at Reagan Airport. Never in my life would I have dreamed five consecutive snow days; I wouldn't have even been so bold to let that thought cross my mind as a child. And to be honest, I didn't know adults were given free days due to weather. But it seriously happened.

2. Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics: WOW. Who knew the Winter Olympics are so cool? And fantastically weird. Cross country skiing and gun shooting combined into one event -- who doesn't love that? Talk about captivating -- from the tragic death of a young Georgian luger before the torch was even lit, to the epic moment the Russian male figure skater pouted like a middle schooler to the inspiring free skate by the Canadian female skater whose mother passed away suddenly only a few days before and everything in between. And who can forget Shaun White's ungodly half pipe performance? Before the games began, I was upset my regular programming would be put on hold for two weeks. Now I find myself missing the round the clock Olympic action. 

3. The New Orleans Saints: They marched in and won their first Super Bowl in franchise history, with the support of 49 states behind them. Even me, a fan of the NFL solely because the Bears exist. It was just beyond moving to realize how much the game and victory meant to the morale of a community still suffering the effects of Hurricane Katrina devastation. And this honestly has nothing to do with my extreme distaste for Indiana. Who dat?

4. Toyota: The automaker who, until recently, enjoyed a reputation as one of the most reliable in the world, took a pretty steep tumble from its throne. Beginning with complaints of sticking brakes and gas pedals and ending in a recall of hundreds of thousands of recalls and hearings on Capitol Hill that may result in new vehicle safety laws. And, for the first time, probably in my lifetime -- Toyota was nowhere to be found on the bandwidth of Super Bowl adverting. In an effort to redeem themselves, they have however, begun a genius and hilarious ad campaign for the Sienna, also known as the "Swagger Wagon."

5. Chilean Earthquake: One of the strongest earthquakes in modern history registered an 8.8 and affected millions. The after shocks causing Tsunami waves to Pacific bordering land is still wreaking havoc. This quake was 100 times stronger than the one that destroyed Haiti last month, killing hundreds of thousands, yet the death toll is less than 1,000; a reminder of the depth of poverty that plagues parts of our world.

Day Four: Country Road, Take Me Home...

Day four took me back to my Midwestern roots and I made a bona fide casserole. And completely knocked it out of the park. I must say the name of the recipe was a little unnerving, and I think in the future I will call it something different, but last night's Taco Bake recipe was a hit, regardless of title. After searching Google wide for the recipe I had printed, I found hundreds of variations which included ingredients from macaroni pasta to refried beans to croissant rolls. 

I mixed a few things up in the recipe I used -- instead of beef I used ground turkey. Also, I ran out of chili pepper, so I used "Smokey Chili Rub" that my fantastic friend Rosanne created and gifted to me. I felt like a true chef chopping up a pepper and multi-tasking my creation. To complement the hot plate (as they call them in Minnesota), I served boxed rice. Sorry, I haven't entirely gotten the hang of this meal planning thing yet.I found this recipe to be simple and allowed me to get other things done while it was baking. And again, leftovers for lunch -- score.

Like I said, the casserole was a hit; extra helpings were even taken. Mark referred to the dish as "taco bars," which I guess kind of makes sense; a meal in the bar form. Slowly but surely, folks...I'm getting there.

Week one is almost complete. Only four more to go!

Office Coffee

Why is the coffee in my office so weird? Is this a phenomenon plaguing all offices?

It’s not that it’s necessarily terrible – though it’s a far reach from good – but just not normal. They are various solutions as to why it could be strange, but I’ve checked into all of them and none of the variables affect the outcome of the coffee.

The brand has been switch a few times. I have doubled the amount of grinds and halved it too. I have brewed the coffee myself and had cup that has been brewed by someone else.  

It makes no sense. But is consistently…just not right. Like it’s not a real liquid, but a murky caffeinated puddle. Perhaps even a new square on the Periodic Table.

Every once in awhile when my eyelids are having a particularly terrible time staying open and I have sucked my thermos dry or now when Starbucks is not an option, I venture into the kitchen thinking I have made it all up. Kind of like I forget how much I hate hot dogs and think just because I’m at a baseball game I must have one.

But, no; still weird. I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.

Hmmm...let's call it a draw.

I knew I had spoken too soon when, yesterday I predicted nothing would go wrong in my cooking adventure. But everything had gone so well! Last night's experience was somewhat of a draw. The menu? "Almost White Castle" burgers and sweet potato fries.

To preface, I hate White Castle; I think it's disgusting and weird. However, the recipe that I found on the World Wide Web received four stars and the author discusses how she too dislikes the tacky fast food chain. It also sounded interesting and at the beginner level. As a side, I chose sweet potato fries, which also sounded relatively hard to ruin.

Good news first -- the fries were awesome. Completely delicious and I even experimented a little. Bold, I know. We didn't have any Cumin that the recipe calls for in the seasoning, nor do I know what that is or how to pronounce it, so I replaced with Cinnamon. The result, you ask? Mixed with the Salt and Pepper and sweetness of the potatoes, a sweet and spicy yumminess. The only trouble I had was peeling the potatoes, because it says nothing about elbow grease in the recipe.

Now the not so highlight of the meal -- the burgers. My dear husband ate two and took the leftovers for lunch, I think to keep me from crying, because I choked down two bites and it was all I could do to keep them down. I think I might have added just a little too much onion soup, maybe. Or the thought of touching the raw meat might have gotten to me. Oh and to make matters worse, I tried to be fancy and buy mini rolls from the bakery instead of hamburger buns, last Sunday. By last night, they were nearly hard as a rock. In any account, the burgers were just no good..

It's going to take more than botched cheeseburgers to shut this tournament down, though. Plus the fries were so good, I barely noticed. And, a bowl of ice cream filled me up later.

Day Two: Baked Chicken Parmesan

Check one more day off the dinner calendar, and be sure to also note it was delicious. Oh, and cooked by me -- who would have thought?! Last night's dinner was another borrowed recipe from Real Simple: Baked Chicken Parmesan. No noodles or Parmesan, the name is a little deceiving, but it's good none the less.

I was excited to try my hand at breading and "frying," and as it turns out, I'm still going to need practice. However, I substituted the salt and pepper it suggests with the bread crumbs, to Basil and Oregano to give it a more Italian flavor. I know, just call me Julia.

The end result paired with croissant rolls -- courtesy of Pillsbury -- was hearty and filling, but not food coma inducing. Plus, there were leftovers for lunch, which is always a fantastic bonus.

All in all, I would consider day number two another success. Only 23 more to go and my rookie season will end in Cinderella style.

Let the games begin!

Just coming down from my Olympic high and suffering the effects of quitting my round the clock habit, I  quickly replaced it with a new competition to avoid the shakes. And the best part is, I am my own worst enemy.

Drum roll, please......and 25 Days of Dinner has begun! 

Sunday I chose my recipes and made a shopping list of ingredients, put on some comfy clothes and prepared my nerves for the grocery store. I have a history of, well, grocery store trauma. They are big, weirdly lit, stupidly laid out and quite frankly an overwhelming pain in my ass. There are times when I really think going hungry is a better option than fighting the ever crowded aisles of Harris Teeter. (Then I remember that is indeed terribly ignorant.) With list and hand and running shoes on foot, though, I felt a little more confident than usual.

Two hours later, having scavenged each shelf and circled the entire store twice, I had everything I needed except aged soy sauce -- which sounds a little foul to begin with --  so I settled for the regular ol' stuff and headed out...VICTORY. Abbi 1, Grocery Store 0.

Last night was my first go round with dinner, and I'm not going to lie, the project loomed in my frontal lobe all day.

Dinner #1: Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli and Brie (courtesy of Real Simple)

Though this recipe seemed simple enough, I was worried about the timing of all the elements. Oh and that we don't own a steaming basket and it calls for steamed broccoli. However, once I took a deep breath and began to boil the pasta everything seemed to fall into place. A light bulb blinked upstairs and I remembered that we have a Tupperware microwave steamer, phew! With my nerves put to bed, I toasted the pine nuts and cut the brie with a new found courage.

All seemed to go according to plan until I misread an instruction and put tablespoons of sea salt into the nearly finished meal in stead of a teaspoon of kosher salt...but my Guinea pigs gobbled it down, none the less. (I thought the salt was a little overpowering, however.) The best part was that the cooking took a total of maybe 15 minutes and clean up even less -- not much more than pouring a bowl of cereal.

One down. 24 to go.