Rule number one of the day after any large feast is to start making soup. I saved the turkey carcass from last night, and it went in a big stockpot with onions, celery, carrots, peppercorns, bay leaves, and a head of garlic. That will sit on the stove all day, and I'll just keep adding water periodically to cover the bones. I'll strain it tonight and put the stock in the fridge to cool, which will allow me to skim off the fat easily tomorrow night or Sunday.
I also started looking up recipes for leftover turkey this morning, and I got a great idea for breakfast from the food network's website. I didn't follow the recipe, but they inspired me to try a turkey frittata. It was an easy breakfast to fix, and it tasted awesome! I took one potato, peeled it, chopped it into home fry-sized chunks, and boiled them for maybe 7 minutes. They then got sauteed in my cast-iron skillet in some butter until they were browned on most sides, and I added maybe 3/4 cup of leftover turkey and the rest of the macquechoux. I cracked 5 eggs in a bowl and mixed in some cream, and poured it right into the skillet once the ingredients were heated through. The whole thing got topped off with shredded chedder and jack cheese and popped under the broiler for about 5 minutes. It puffed up really nicely, tasted nothing like last night's dinner, and even went well with a spoonful of that stuffing on the side! Just needed a little hot sauce to taste, and it was good to go. Note to self: this would work equally well with leftover chicken, frozen corn, and diced sauteed peppers and onions. I never think to put poultry in my breakfast food, and I should do it more often!
Thursday I made some more stuffed pork chops, this time using a modified foodnetwork.com recipe that called for stuffing them with shiitakes and macadamia nuts: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeri
Friday and Saturday we weren't at home - we had a free night courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rays over at Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach, so we braved the cold and got (all of 45 minutes) away for a couple of nights. We drove back Sunday, and I wasn't really in the mood to make anything big. I've also been trying all week to make room in the fridge and freezer for Thanksgiving leftovers, and I've been avoiding poultry. As a result, we had sausage and apples for dinner Sunday. I fixed a relatively ordinary salad to go with them, and then broiled the radicchio. Following my veggie cookbook's instructions, I first marinated the radicchio quarters in a garlic/rosemary infused olive oil (just while the sausage was cooking), then put them on a hot broiler pan for about 5 minutes. The recipe called for grilling them, but I'm not about to light the grill to cook lettuce. I then deviated from my recipe and added some lemon juice to my leftover marinating oil - that's what I wouldn't do again. Apparently radicchio is still on the bitter side even after you cook it, so I should have added honey or sugar instead of something sour. Again, it was still just fine, it just didn't need the lemon thrown in there.
I didn't really cook last night, since I worked a 12, but I only had a short class day today. I'm getting ready to do another anti-turkey (and easy) dinner of spaghetti carbonara, with a butter lettuce and arugula salad and some radishes cooked the same way we had them last week. I'm also roasting some of the veggies from my drawer that I don't think we'll eat in the next few days: half a red onion, half an eggplant, 2 yellow squashes, a zucchini, a jalapeno, a green bell pepper, and a habanero. There's a roasted veggie soup that I absolutely love, and I'll just scoop out the meat from all these and freeze them. I'll toss it in with some other components next week when we're sick of turkey, and this way I won't be wasting food. So far the only thing I wasted were the mustard greens from my first pickup. We ate everything else, just didn't get to them until they'd wilted so badly they weren't really appetizing anymore. I'm trying to avoid letting that happen again!
Last night we had kale and radishes, neither of which I've ever cooked before. I cooked some bacon, since I was using some in my pork chop stuffing anyways, and reserved some of the grease. Then I blanched my kale for about 7 minutes in salted boiling water - the color improved in the blanching water, so drain it when it turns a darker green. I broiled my chops, so I started all of this at about the same time. I mashed the kale a little to get out as much water as possible, just like you would with frozen spinach. In the meantime, I had cleaned and cut up my radishes (into pieces about the size of American fries), tossed some butter into my other saute pan, and minced a few cloves of garlic and part of a red onion. The radish pan got half the garlic and the radishes, which cooked on their own for about a minute with salt and pepper. I added a splash each of chicken stock and heavy cream, along with some dried tarragon (didn't have any fresh herbs yesterday). I covered it and let it cook for about 10 minutes total, adding some cajun seasoning towards the end as it seemed a little bland. Next time, I might wait to add the cream - it tasted fine, but I don't really like the idea of my dairy products boiling for all that time. I knew the kale wouldn't take long to finish, so when I flipped the pork chops, I added my onion to the bacon grease. After a minute or two I threw in the rest of the garlic and my blanched kale, and added a splash of chicken stock to this pan as well. With some black pepper, red pepper flakes, and the bacon added back in, this was great! The radishes actually were too - neither Monte nor I had ever eaten cooked radishes before, and this was an interesting way to fix them - Monte really liked them, apparently, so we'll use them again. Next time I'll make sure to use the radish greens as well - I checked, they're edible, they were just a little wilted last night. The whole dinner made for a good combination of flavors, which was good since both veggies were a little saucy. The bacon and onion in the kale complimented the bacon and scallion in my chops, and the cajun seasoning and cream sauce on the radishes went well with cajun seasoned, cheese stuffed pork chops.
We've had salads the last two nights as well. Monday I used some arugula and red leaf lettuce from my share, a little sliced red onion, some feta cheese, and half a can of mandarin oranges I found in the back of my cabinet. I made a dressing with apricot marmalade, olive oil, rice wine vinegar, a little lime juice, and salt and pepper. Yesterday I knew I was going to use the romaine, and I wound up making too much stuffing for my pork chops. I added the leftover mixture of shredded smoked gouda and fontina cheeses, bacon bits, and scallions to my romaine, along with sliced red onion and some defrosted frozen corn. I just used storebought ranch dressing, and it was still a little more interesting than an ordinary bagged salad.
I went grocery shopping yesterday and still spent $103, which was disappointing. I didn't get nearly as much produce as usual, but I still needed a few staples (onions, carrots), as well as some items specific to my menu for the week. I needed a lot of meat, since I've been steadily depleting my freezer over the last month or so, and that always drives up the bill. Add in a few condiments and some dairy products, and you get right back up to $100 with grocery prices as they are. It's also been about 9 days since I last went, and I won't go again until next Wednesday - if I'm getting more than a week out of $100, I think I'm doing pretty well.
To update my last entry, I passed my boards and am now an RN at Tampa General Hospital. I work in the Cardiac ICU, and I just started my 3rd week (of 16) of training on the unit. It's going well so far! I do think I'll take the opportunity to rotate to another unit or two before I make a decision about where to put in a bid to work long term, but I think I'll at least enjoy the rotation there, and I know I'll learn a lot.
I'm trying something new this year: I bought a half share in a local community organic farm. The idea has always intrigued me - I get to eat organically for $16.50/wk (and cheaper if you buy a whole share) while supporting local farmers and reducing my "carbon footprint." Every other Thursday (or Sun) I get to drive over there (it's only 15 minutes from my apt) and pick up my "share" of fresh locally grown veggies. I The timing was bad this week, since I had to work Thurs-Sun and haven't had a chance to investigate new recipes until today, but since they veggies haven't had to be shipped in from Central America they all still look OK. The komatsuna and the kale are fading a little, so we'll have them first. My share this week was: zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber, radishes, 2 kinds of bok choy, komatsuna (a "Japanese choy" per one recipe web site), mustard greens, kale, arugula, romaine, and a red leafy salad lettuce. I'm going to attempt to post here what I make from all my new produce, if nothing else so I'll remember how to cook it if we do the same thing next year.
Tonight I'm going to just roast some chicken thighs (one of my staples: season with S&P, cajun seasoning, extra garlic, and lemon juice; then roast at 475 for about 40 minutes) along with an acorn squash that I bought last week (halved, roasted at 475 for about the same time, last 15 minutes add butter, S&P, cayenne, brown sugar, and some broken up pistachios) and sauteed komatsuna (with garlic, butter, a little diced onion, and S&P). We'll have a small salad to start too, maybe with the red leaf.
Tomorrow I'll use up the kale, which according to my veggie cookbook needs to be blanched and drained before sauteing. The recommendation is to cook in boiling water for about 7 minutes with some salt, then drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. It recommends the same for mustard greens and collards (which I usually braise). I think I'll try the kale similar to my collards though, and I'll saute the blanched result with bacon, garlic, and onion for a few minutes. I've got a recipe for radishes as well, braised in cream and chicken stock with garlic and thyme. We can eat those with broiled pork chops, stuffed with a little more crispy bacon, and the fontina and smoked gouda that are still in my fridge from the last time I made mac and cheese.
I'll try one of the choys Weds, with this marinated swordfish: http://www.recipezaar.com/Grilled-Japane
I'm thinking this should be a lot of fun. I'll learn about veggies I'm not familiar with cooking, and by posting what I do with them here I should be able to keep track of what worked and what didn't. I'm looking forward to it!
This week has been rather eventful! I sat for my boards yesterday - don't know if I passed or not until tomorrow morning, they make you wait 48 excruciating hours even for "unofficial" results. Also yesterday, we countered on the counter offer on a house we made an offer on last week (follow that?) - and the lady agreed! Now we're awaiting approval from her bank, since our offer technically makes this a short sale. Our Realtor said it's by such a small amount that it should just be a technicality, so I think we may be about to buy a house! It's over in St. Petersburg, in an old historic neighborhood, and walking distance from downtown, the Bay, and a lake with a park. We'll be able to walk to several restaurants and bars, shopping, a movie theater, at least one non-Starbucks coffee shop, and we'll only be a mile and a half or so from the baseball stadium. Even though it's near downtown, it still has a decent sized back yard. We're going to finish fencing it in for when we get a dog and/or have kids, and there's room to enlarge the back deck so you can really use it. There's an open air porch by the front door, another small one off the back door, and a third porch off the master bedroom upstairs. It has three bedrooms total and two and a half baths. The downstairs has a pretty open floor plan. It's mostly a large living/dining area, but it kind of makes an "L" shape into the brand new kitchen. Basically, we like the house itself a lot - but we know we're going to love the location.
The only big negative is that we both work in Tampa, but we never seriously considered living on this side of the Bay. Tampa is full of strip malls and chain restaurants, and the downtown is virtually empty after 5 pm. St. Pete is full of independent establishments, and downtown has a wide variety of things to do on all days and at all hours. We won't be far from an interstate on-ramp, and it has exits right at both of our workplaces.
We're excited, but I don't think it will really seem real until we sign the paperwork (and hand over that really BIG check). There's still a chance, especially with all the screwy things going on with mortgages these days, that either her bank will say no or our lender will be suddenly out of the mortgage business. Or I suppose I could find out tomorrow that I failed my boards, and then we'd have to be the ones to back out, since we won't be able to make the payments if I'm not making RN pay! I guess I'm not that worried about my boards though, no one in my class has failed yet (and no one from the last two classes failed either), and I had better grades/test scores than anyone else.
I also have to start work on Monday. It's a whole week of general hospital orientation (proper lifting, sexual harassment policy, benefits, rules and regs), and then I have two weeks of an EKG class. It'll be almost November before I actually get to start nursing, but they'll be paying me from Monday on so I don't really care what they make me do. I'm actually excited about the classes - school pretty much prepares you to be a generalist, so since I chose a specialty I know I have a lot more learning to do. After the first three weeks, I'll just be doing 24 hours/week of actual nursing. The other 16 will be classroom for the next four months. Then I have to actually be on my own, which I'm sure will be frightening, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Oh yeah, and I have to make time for playoff baseball! I'm actually still bitter, since my Twins had to suffer such a late elimination, but I'm trying to be happy for the Rays. At least it wasn't them who knocked us out (although if we could have won one more game here a few weeks ago...). Anyways, we have tickets to all the home DCS games, and I'm sure we'll finagle some for the later rounds too if they keep progressing. Being married to Forrest Gump does have some benefits!
I guess that's what happens when you're sitting at a bar, trying to watch an innocuous game of football, and NBC keeps breaking in with clips from St. Paul. You come home after a few more and McCain is still blaring at you from every channel. Monte went to bed, so I stirred up another one and had the bright idea to try a little experiment. What was I testing? Whether I could watch both McCain's and Palin's speeches online, back to back, without throwing up in my mouth. Turned out to be beyond my capabilities, and I wound up just reading the transcript of Palin's speech. That didn't help much, but at least I didn't have to listen to people cheer for her - how can you get that many idiots together in one hockey arena? And how moronic does McCain think female Hillary supporters are? If I had been one, and I had been on the fence about whether to vote for Obama, selecting Palin for a running mate would have sent me screaming into Barack's camp. The level of condescension involved is hilarious. She's not just anti-choice, she supports strong criminal penalties for women who choose to have even a first-trimester abortion after being raped by a family member. She doesn't believe in teaching children about birth control (or any other "explicit" sex ed) - and we can all see how well that worked out for her own daughter. She wants special bonus points for "choosing" to not abort her Down's syndrome baby, but wants to take that choice away from everyone else (her daughter included). She's Jesse Helms-conservative: a creationist, an NRA member, pro-earmark, anti-tax, she opposes not only gay rights but hate crime legislation, and she sounds frighteningly similar to W when she talks like she has personal conversations with her God. She supports adding "ethics" and "morality" to public school curriculum while she is currently under an ethics investigation into whether she tried to use her influence to get her ex-brother in law fired. She's even a book burner (well, banner at least)! What a gal.
If the levees fail again...that's a prospect no one wants to consider, but it's very real. The Army Corps of Engineers swears they're "back to pre-Katrina strength" - but that was just strong enough to flood the whole city when it was missed by a little category three storm in 2005. I've heard the pumps aren't functioning correctly yet. Another near direct hit might destroy New Orleans for good. George W is still in office, so we can assume the federal government's reaction will be as timely and effectual as it was three years ago. Jindal and Nagin seem to have some kind of a plan in place this time, but I feel like refusing to open up the Superdome could kill a lot of people. "Encouraging" people to evacuate does nothing to help the people who can't get out on their own. I just spoke with a good friend who doesn't own a car at the moment, so she and her boyfriend are stuck trying to bum a ride out of town with three pets. Another is flying out tonight - if she's able to get a cab to the airport. Others are flocking towards the lower Garden District, knowing that it stayed dry last time. The storm is still a long way off - right now, it's heading towards the Cayman Islands, where another friend of ours is choosing to weather the storm. It still may go to Texas or to the Panhandle, both of which should keep New Orleans relatively dry. God I hate hurricanes.
We've been fine in Tampa so far - but we've also been lucky. Hanna looks like it may come towards FL, but it would make landfall on the other coast. However, it's not even September. The toughest two months of hurricane season still remain. Why don't we learn? We moved from one flood-prone area to another, we currently live walking distance from the Bay, and are planning to buy a house on a skinny peninsula. I know there are disasters in every part of the country - flooding took out half the campus of my brother's alma mater in Iowa this year. Who could have predicted that? Prior to 2005 I never really worried about the weather. I grew up in a blizzard-prone area, and a tornado came straight through Edina (the nearest suburb) and close to my parents house when I was small. I moved to NO, and stayed put during several threatened storms. We were under a voluntary evacuation last week for Fay, but the 20 minutes of rain that we got didn't really seem worth leaving for. In Florida, it's hard to leave - to be "safe" you have to get out of the state entirely, and I've heard many stories from long-time residents who've accidentally evacuated right into the path of a storm. There isn't really a right answer about evacuation until that 20/20 hindsight kicks in. I've been lucky enough to have made the right choice the one time evacuation was necessary, and can hope that my luck holds. I'll be watching the weather closely during the upcoming week, and thinking about the city I will always consider to be my home.
Well, school is finally finished (for now). I finished classes on July 18, then we took off for 8 days in Belize. My parents fly in this Thursday, and my graduation and awards ceremony is Saturday! School went well, I finished with my 4.0 intact and got a fairly astronomical score on the standardized exit exam we all had to take. I have my first interview set up for August 11, and it's for the job I want more than anything. I really hope it goes well, I've never interviewed for a job in anything but a bar or restaurant before. They're taking 70 people and doing 3 days of interviews, but some of the 70 slots will be taken by experienced nurses and within-hospital transfers. I bought a suit a few months ago, and some black shoes that aren't Doc Marten's. I've read a lot of sample interview questions online and formulated answers to the common ones, so I just hope they don't ask me too many of the "If you were a fruit, what type would you be?" sort of questions. If I get it I still have two months to kill before the job would start, but I can use the time to study for the boards. Plus, my old boss said I could pick up a few shifts while I'm waiting to start - then I'll be an extremely overqualified bartender.
The Belize trip was fantastic. I've wanted to go down there ever since our first cruise that stopped there two years ago. We stayed in a small community called Maya Beach (populatiion 200) in a small hotel owned by an American/Australian couple. Their onsite restaurant was amazing and relatively inexpensive - the food rivaled some that I've had in New Orleans. We went on some great tours, did some exploring of the area, and I got my scuba open water certification as well. There are a lot more expatriate Americans down there living than I had expected, but it is a pretty amazing place. Aside from diving, which I did alone, Monte and I went to tour one of the many Mayan Ruin sites in the country, explored a submerged cave, hiked through the jaguar sanctuary/wildlife preserve (no jaguar sitings though, there are only 60-80 in the whole park), tubed down a river, and took a boat ride down Monkey River, where we did get to see a few monkeys and some crocodiles. We also did some relaxing, logged a little beach time, and spent every evening sitting out on our balcony watching the ocean. There was no TV, the roads aren't paved, the internet service was unreliable, and our cell phones don't get international service - my idea of paradise. I read 5 1/2 books in 8 days, and even Monte started a third. I highly recommend it! Airfare is the only part that sucked, if you can get an affordable ticket down there somehow, or drive through Mexico, the country itself is very reasonable. Our room was $90/night, and that was for the second floor suite of a guest house with two balconies, a kitchenette, and a front room with a daybed in it. Breakfast was $5-7 each day, including coffee, and lunch was usually $5 plus a $2 beer. The most we paid for dinner was $27 each, and that was the night we each got a big lobster tail. I think the cheapest dinner at the hotel was $10 or $11. Beer was usually $2 for the local Belikin or Lighthouse, and Belizean rum drinks were $2-3. There was a beautiful resort less than a mile up the road that didn't mind if we used their huge pool and beach bar, so Monte headed down there when I was diving. We had a fabulous time, and I'm pretty sure we'll be back.
I found the ACLU website, did some reading, and decided to donate a few dollars and get my official membership card. I also signed off on a few e-mails to my representatives, including one suggesting we eliminate federal funds for abstinence-only education. It's not much, but I've been feeling the urge to get more involved in politics lately and to stand up for what I believe in. It's hard to do in Florida, where over half the adult population doesn't "believe in" evolution - as if it's not backed up by science, but rather something you can choose to deny on blind faith. There has been such an erosion in civil liberties over the last several years that I decided it was time for me to do something at least, even if I don't have much money to donate or time to march in a rally right now. I volunteered for the DFL (Democratic Farmer and Labor Party) in Minnesota before I was old enough to vote, and I miss feeling like I made a little bit of a difference. Maybe I'll have time to get a little more involved after I finish up my program in the next few weeks. If you're interested, go to http://www.aclu.org/ and sign up! You can join for as little as $20, or more if you have deeper pockets. There is also information on partiicpating without actually joining, if you're afraid of the government putting you on a "watch list" once your name is on the membership rolls.