Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spaghetti Bolognese aka Spaghetti and Meat Sauce (with actual pictures!)

Today we take a break from serious stuff with… talking about my money problems. Well, sort of. Mostly, it’s about a very nice weeknight recipe!

I am never in a very good situation financially, but I LOVE good food. Even though I cook almost every night, cooking is still one of my favorite things. So it’s kind of a challenge for me to come up with ways to cook delicious food with as few inexpensive ingredients as possible.

There are many different methods to save money on groceries and food. The way I do it is usually to buy mostly cheap ingredients and jazz them up with a few more expensive ingredients I buy when I have the cash. I’ve also invested some time in finding which ingredients can be bought cheaply and which should be bought more expensively in the first place.

As far as any prices I mention go: The food prices I am quoting are from stores in Central Indiana--Krogers, a local organic grocer, and a Luckys' Market. I wax poetic about Lucky’s Market and how its prices have enabled us to sometimes afford fresh fruits and vegetables and decent meat, but that is a subject for another post!

Spaghetti Bolognese

1 lb ground beef (on sale for $2.99 at Lucky’s Market)
1/2 lb ground mild sausage ($1.50 at Kroger. I would probably have ordinarily just used ground beef but I had leftover sausage, and it was great.)
32 oz tomato sauce ($0.29 for an 8oz can at Kroger)
Approximately 1/4 cup dry red wine
Approximately 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to toss with pasta
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste
Garlic powder
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Dried parsley
1 box whole wheat spaghetti ($1.19 at Kroger)

Place the ground meat into a large lidded frying pan (a.k.a. all-purpose pan) and cook over medium heat, breaking up any large chunks, until the meat is cooked with no pink spots. Drain.

Yup, pretty much what that looks like.

Pour the tomato sauce into the pan on medium-low heat. 

Cheap tomato sauce. It's all right.

Stir in the meat, olive oil, and wine. Add the seasonings. I still have the problem with recipe writing and seasonings, but I used somewhere around 3/4 tsp garlic powder; 1/2 tsp basil; 1/2 tsp oregano; 1/2 tsp parsley; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp pepper. 

Awesome organic red wine for only $8 a bottle at my local organic grocery store.

Stir everything up really well and place the lid on the skillet. Reduce the heat to Low.

While the sauce simmers (still stir occasionally to prevent sticking) bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti for the least amount of time mentioned on the package. 

      I use whole wheat spaghetti because not only does it have a better taste and texture to me, but my fiancé has hypoglycemia and whole wheat products seem to be very helpful in causing his blood sugar to raise and lower more slowly. 

Drain the spaghetti and return your attention to the sauce!

The delicious, delicious sauce.

Stir the sauce and taste it, re-seasoning if necessary. (If I am cooking for more than just me or me and my fiancé, I use the two-spoons tasting method my grandmother taught me—pour sauce from a “stirring teaspoon” into a “tasting teaspoon” and only get the “tasting teaspoon” near your mouth!)

Next, grate parmesan cheese into the sauce. 

I only had this little bit (about a one-inch or one-and-a-half inch cube-ish) left, so I only used this little bit! I would usually use a little bit more. 

Stir the parmesan cheese throughly into the sauce. Taste it one more time just in case you need extra seasonings. Leave the heat on low and simmer uncovered for a few minutes while you toss the spaghetti with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. 

I also made salad at this point.

Red leaf lettuce ($2 at Lucky's Market), grated carrot, and homemade ranch dressing.

Simply put spaghetti on a plate, pour the sauce over the spaghetti and eat! Yum. :)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

In Which I Get Real, Accompanied By Some Pleasantly Distracting Illustrative Memes: Part One in An Occasional Series

Not as real as this though.

Very recently I have joined a gym. The 24 Hour Fitness in my town was having a summer sale that brought the price of a membership down considerably, so I asked for it for my birthday. I feel so upper-middle-class having a gym key on my keychain, like a woman in a TV sitcom who is always whining about how she doesn’t want to work out.

Although this sort of thing is quite a problem among that set.

Some might assume I have joined a gym because I am getting married in a few months. Not true, actually, although it helps. Really, I’m doing it because I’m at a point where I can. I’ve had some very sucky things happen to me in my life, and I’ve also had a lot of sucky physical problems. Now, I know many other people have also had sucky things happen to them and I am I no way unique, nor am I playing a “my problems are worse than yours” game! In fact, I've had quite a lot of awesome stuff happen to me, too.

Anyways, we all know cats have it worst.

Still, my particular sucky things have insisted on following me around for years. They have cost probably hundreds of thousands of dollars, affected the way I think, the way I respond to everything, what I can and cannot do, and what I have allowed myself to do. When you have certain types of experiences or challenges you become “trapped” in them, and to some degree that’s unavoidable.

This guy gets it.

However, I have (with more than a little help from my fiancé) recently come to realize that you can’t build a life on top of negative things. I find it odd (almost offensive, in fact) that people talk about others ‘conquering’ their challenges, ‘overcoming’ their life experiences, etc. Honestly, some things can’t be “overcome”. It’s always going to be there, every single day, even if (and most especially if) I repress it. It’s not a movie where the main character has a breakthrough, everything is suddenly all right, and the credits roll. All I can do is work around it and the symptoms associated with it. 

Like this one.

But! That stuff is not my life; that stuff should not define me. 

Unless I choose to become a serial killer.

There are two accomplishments which give me great pride and satisfaction: Working to learn a new technique to use in my art and, now, completing a workout, no matter how rudimentary. I’ve always been the awkward tall kid with physical problems and crippling anxiety, chronically picked last in gym class. 

This shirt is my life, right here.

I have had many people—teachers and other supposedly supportive and respectable individuals included—make comments about things such as my weight and athletic ability. And I don’t deny that my skill set does not run towards active things as it does for some people. I can, for example, write a ten-page paper with few problems, yet ask me to play soccer and you might be totally and completely out of luck.


Even though I am no longer upset and scarred by what the school nurse said to me during weigh-in in third grade or how much I got teased in middle school or whatever (I've got bigger fish to fry, trauma- and otherwise! Plus, I'm an adult, or so I've heard...) I still often let myself behave in the ways I developed to deal with it back then, and I still let myself fall into the patterns of thinking I was taught. 

This would help a lot too.

And guys, that’s what makes this so freaking cool. I got an asthma inhaler so I could actually breathe while exercising, I signed a gym contract, I beat a lot of anxiety to get in the door through sheer force of will over several days, and for what might be the first time I am doing something neither I nor anyone else ever thought I could do. 

And that is a wonderful feeling!


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Spectacular Chicken Chili

Today I’m bringing you a very delicious recipe for a slow-simmered chicken and black bean chili! I apologize for the lack of pictures. Next time I make it I will try to remember to take and upload some. :)

My weak point in recipe-writing is herb and spice portions. A BIG reason for this is that not all spices are created equal. An entire bargain dollar-jar of chili powder might be equal to two tablespoons of another chili powder, for instance. So, for reference purposes, I would estimate that I put about 3 tablespoons chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in my chili. That does vary, though, with the brand and age of the spices I use!

Chicken Chili

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and chopped into chunks
1/2 onion, finely chopped; or, onion powder to taste
Crushed garlic cloves to taste; or, garlic powder to taste
Olive oil
16 oz tomato sauce
16 oz petite diced tomatoes in tomato juice, undrained
1 can black beans, thoroughly rinsed and drained
1/2 of a small package of frozen corn, not thawed
2 cans chicken broth -or- 1 can chicken broth and 1 bottle beer
about 4 soft corn tortillas
Chili powder
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a small stock pot or large all-purpose pan. If you are using an onion, add the onion to the pan and sauté until it begins to become transparent. Add the chicken to the onion and stir-fry until the outside of the chicken is white. (It doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through.) 

Over medium heat add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with juice, chicken broth, black beans, and beer if using. Add crushed garlic cloves or garlic powder, onion powder if using instead of an onion, cumin, chili powder (chili powders vary widely but I usually like a good bit of chili powder in my chili), pepper, and a small amount of salt. Bring all to a low boil. 

Boil for a few minutes and reduce heat to medium- low or low and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and soup is thickened. Add more seasoning as needed. Add the package of frozen corn and stir into soup mixture.

Finely crumble the corn tortillas one at a time into the soup and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until corn is defrosted and warm and mixture is even thicker. Season more if needed and remove from heat.

Serve with limes, sour cream, tortilla chips, and cheese.

I hope you enjoy the recipe! If you make it, be sure to let me know how much of the spices you ended up using! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Musings on Marriage; or, When I Shopped For A Dress.

A lot has changed since I have last posted. There have been many difficulties and hardships, but there have also been good times. What’s the best news I’ve got? Probably that I’m getting married in a few short months! 

Coming soon to a venue (not theater) near you! OK, so that's not my best piece of graphic design work. But it's pretty! :D

In many ways marriage isn’t going to change much for me, or for us. We knew not too long after we got together in 2011 that we were going to stay together, and we have, through many ups and downs. Marriage doesn’t affect the commitment and bond between individuals in the sense that the problems you have will still be there, and the level of intimacy and friendship you have with each other will still be there too. Marriage won’t correct the problems that exist already, and it also won’t destroy your relationship.

On the other hand, I still believe marriage has a lot of importance. The biggest reason for this has to do with society and culture. By marrying someone you are publicly acknowledging the long-term commitment (that already exists) between the two of you and formally creating a family group. And of course there are legal benefits that come with marriage. I’m very excited and looking forward to celebrating all this with my friends and family.

First of all, this is my fiancé Jordon in line at the bank with a sucker after visiting the eye doctor. Just thought I’d throw that in there. :D

Dress shopping was a weird experience. I was actively fat-shamed at a David’s Bridal believe it or not!
The second store I went to was a store in my hometown where I had bought my prom dresses back-when. I had a much better experience in many ways; however, there were very few dresses I could try on because of my size; the store carried mostly sizes 4, 6, 8, and 12, and the few I could try on were not right or even just awful. (Awful to me of course; they may not have been awful to someone else. I just do not like poof-y, tulle-y, ruffly things.) This is a very beautiful poofy dress I tried on but didn’t like at all:

Third time’s the charm, though. I went to a store called Ella Park in a town a little over an hour away from my hometown and they were great. The sales staff was very friendly (no fat shaming either!) and the store, though smaller in size than the other two stores I had visited, had a really great selection of dresses for brides of all styles, sizes, and price ranges, as well as prom dresses, bridesmaids dresses, tuxes, mother-of-the-bride dresses, and accessories!

And so, here is a picture of me finding the perfect dress and realizing I am about to get married—that feeling is not just something they made up for TV! :)

I have a few recipes written up to post; I have some wedding-related craft tutorials to share with you as well! Stay tuned! :)