7/31/2005

-1 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:29 pm

It’s finally done! Putting on a wedding is a lot of work, when it’s all DIY–there were times in the planning process when I wished I had gone with a place that was all-inclusive instead of somewhere not very experienced at doing weddings. In the end, though, I think all the hard work paid off. I got a ton of compliments on the ceremony and the party, and I think people had a good time. We couldn’t have done it without the extensive help we got from family and friends.

I don’t have much for pictures yet, but my nice friend/bridesmaid Sarah was nice enough to let me download the pictures from her digital camera on the spot, so I have a couple of highlights for you. Click for the full version.

Yours truly before the ceremony, after having gotten dressed in my parents’ hotel room

My beautiful bridesmaids and my beautiful mom

Denny and I do our first dance.

My friends demonstrate how thoroughly they have embraced Denny.

I’m sure there are lots more coming. In the meantime, though, I just need some rest.

7/30/2005

0 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:10 am

Today’s the big day. Denny and I are puttering around at home, taking care of last-minute tasks, including memorizing our vows. That was a bit of a surprise–yesterday at the rehearsal, my uncle Jerry (who is the minister officiating our ceremony) indicated that we were to hold hands during the vows, which means no cheat sheets. Yikes!

Last night was really fun. It was so nice to see my best girlfriends, my cousins, and some aunts and uncles. The dinner was great and everybody seemed to be in good spirits. We went out to the piano bar afterward, and the guy at the piano found out we were getting married tomorrow. He made us come out to the center and dance, and he played that terribly vulgar Tenacious D song that sounds romantic but it’s all about f-ing. And right in the middle of that, my parents and aunts and uncles came in! Fortunately they’re a good-humored lot, and it was a fun time. A drunk college guy kept checking out my mom’s butt. My mom has a hot butt, sure, but that’s very bad manners. After all, she was dancing with my uncle at the time, and my dad was right there too.

Overall, it was a great night. I hope tonight is just as good. I imagine it will be, because even more friends and family will be with us, and I get to marry my awesome boyfriend.

Signing off for the last time as a married single woman [editor’s note: weird error!],

Your Aprille,

Aprille

7/28/2005

2 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:24 am

I should have known I wouldn’t be able to keep from posting.

When I was a kid, I had about a thousand pen-pals, one of whom I still keep in touch with, though sporadically now (hi, Justin!). I loved writing and receiving letters, and I was very prolific. I used to write such long letters that all the postage got kind of expensive on my meager kid’s income.

I don’t have any actual pen-pals now, but blogging has become sort of like letter-writing for me. The only tricky thing is that instead of responding to things from my pen-pal’s last letter, I have the whole world to respond to, or more often, what’s going on in my life. That’s why I like the comments section so much. It’s like getting letters from pen-pals. Fortunately I never had any rude anonymous pen-pals, unlike the occasional commenter on here, but the vast majority of the comments I get are kind and fun and interesting, just like a good pen-pal letter should be.

Denny’s off running some errands now, and I’m sitting in my kitchen, having coffee, waiting for my parents to arrive. At that point, Wedding 2005 really swings into high gear. It’s nice to have a few quiet minutes to myself before it all gets crazy. There are some workers doing some labor in my neighbor’s yard, and we have the windows open so I can hear the music they’re playing on their radio. The Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side,” just came on, and that’s one of my favorite mellow songs. It’s nice for this moment.

I can’t wait to get to Nevis. We’ll be there a week from today. We decided to wait until Thursday after the wedding to leave for the honeymoon (actually we’re leaving Wednesday night and spending the night in Chicago before our early flight), just to give us some time to unwind and rest up before the vacation. The nice thing (well, one of the many nice things) about Nevis is that we can have whatever combination of laziness and activeness that we want. If we want to just lie on the beach or by the hotel pool and have the cabana boy fetch us frosty drinks, we can. If we want to snorkel, or climb Mt. Nevis, or go horseback riding, we can. I am beyond excited about that. Oh, that reminds me, Denny was going to look into whether we can use our flex spending account money from our insurance plans to get massages from the hotel spa on the beach. You’re allowed to use flex money for regular massages; why not beach massages? I’m sure all that fresh air is very healthy.

7/27/2005

3 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:48 pm

The wedding weekend starts tomorrow! This is my last workday of the week, and the madness begins tomorrow. There are some last-minute errands to run and preparations to make, and then nothing but crazy marriage-related fun. It’ll be nice to get away from work; my schedule has been packed lately, so the wedding planning will feel almost like a vacation.

In other wonderful news, the weather is absolutely gorgeous. It was cold and rainy yesterday, and I think that effectively stomped on the heat wave we’ve been suffering. I think it’s supposed to warm up by Saturday, though not to the 100+ degrees we’ve been seeing lately. I think that should make for a lovely evening down by the riverfront.

I can’t wait to see my bridesmaids! When do you guys get into town? I have a mani/pedi appointment at 2 on Friday, but other than that, I’ll just be running around taking care of things. Call my cell phone when you get into town and we’ll get things worked out.

I wonder if I’ll post again before the wedding. Maybe, if I’m not too busy. If not, I’ll see you on the flipside…

7/26/2005

Whoa! I’m a bigamist!

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:45 pm

My friend/coworker Ken Clinkenbeard got this in the mail yesterday. Apparently people have the wrong idea about which coworker I’m marrying. The weird thing is one of the people who sent it is a friend of Ken’s and is also someone I know. I guess he wasn’t paying very close attention.

A zoomed-in view:

4 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:36 pm

…really 3 days, because once Friday comes, the runaway train starts running. Away.

The forecast has changed; now it’s supposed be sunny for the next week, starting tomorrow. That’s good for me, bad for the plants, because it’s been droughty here. Our tomatoes are doing well, though. We’ve been eating lots of Early Girls and have a couple of Beefsteaks almost ready. I hope we don’t miss a whole lot of them while we’re on our honeymoon. I think we’ve got enough little green ones to last us a while, though.

I’m having all these fantasies about the delicious things I’m going to cook after the wedding. I’ve been getting all these cool kitchen tools as shower gifts, and I really want to try them out. The problem is I have this not-being-able-to-stop problem when it comes to baked goods. It’s a lot easier for me to eat zero cookies than one. I’m a lot more likely to eat five. Mmm…five cookies.

What I really want to make is a peach pie.

And a cheesecake (maybe mini-cheesecakes, since I got some mini springform pans).

And oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies.

And game hens with roasted asparagus and cornbread stuffing.

And a key lime pie.

And rhubarb barbs.

It’s been too hot to use the oven lately, but today is strangely cool. However, I don’t think I have time for any baking tonight; the to-do list is too long, though I’m actually plowing through that pretty well. Last night I finished up my tasks for the day and realized there’s really not much more I can do between now and Thursday, when the real last-minute preparations come due. It made me nervous not to do anything. I watched stupid TV (Laguna Beach on MTV, to be specific. Do you think Kristin and Steven will get back together??).

7/25/2005

5 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:35 am

The current forecast for Saturday, July 30: Sunny, high of 90F, 0% chance of rain. That’s funny about the rain, because there are thunderstorms predicted for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. I hope they hold off.

We got a lot done over the weekend; I think everything that needs to be done up to this point is done. There are some things that can’t reasonably be done yet, like buying and cutting up vegetables, but that’s what Thursday is for. I’m really glad I decided to take Thursday off work; there are tons of things that need to get done, and it’ll be good to have a day to do them.

I feel like a self-absorbed bourgeois ninny, when I look at the big picture. To be quite honest, I have no idea what’s going on in current world events. I know there were more bombs in London (Sara, is this affecting your plans at all? My friend Sara is planning to move there in the fall), and I know about John Roberts, but that’s about the range of my sensitivity to the world outside my own.

I’m sorry I’m neglecting you, world. I promise I’ll start paying attention again ASAP.

Oh, I just went to CNN.com, and it looks like London cops killed a guy, erroneously assuming he was one of the responsible parties for the attacks. Oops.

Back to the wedding (self-directed eye-roll)…

Last night we sat in on some of a choir rehearsal. They sound so great! I got goosebumps and I’m really, really excited about the music. For those of you who don’t know, my fabulously talented friend/wedding planner/idol Chris got some suggestions from me on romantic, fun songs Denny and I like, then he composed classical-ish sounding arrangements of them for a capella choir. We have seven singers (opera students and local musical theatre people) performing them. Oh my god, they sound so cool. I’m not going to blow everything, but let’s just say that I’m especially fond of a surprisingly Gregorian/Celtic-sounding version of the Proclaimers’ “I Would Walk.”

I am wiggly with excitement.

7/22/2005

8 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:25 pm

It’s Friday. I’m expecting this weekend to be one big ball of productiveness, because it’s our last weekend before the insanity descends. I also realized that it’s my last weekend of being single. You know what I’m going to do to really live it up tonight after work?

  • Cook dinner (pasta a la whatever’s in the cupboard, fridge, freezer, and garden–it looks like it’s going to be onions, red peppers, basil, pine nuts, sundried tomatoes, and chicken in white wine sauce over linguine. I enjoy scrap-cooking)
  • Eat dinner
  • Digest dinner; while digesting, work on some wedding stuff, possibly including a run to KMart
  • Exercise; I hope it’s cool enough out that I can run.
  • Shower
  • Do more wedding crap
  • Go to bed

I live a crazy life, I know.

7/21/2005

9 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:10 am

Today is a day I have been waiting for for months–nay, over a year. Today is the day in which my wedding day shows up in the weather.com 10-day forecast. As soon as June 1 hit, I was scrambling over to the Old Farmers Almanac, because they do two-month forecasts. It told me it would be hot and rainy. Eek. However, weather.com gives me a somewhat more positive picture:

That’s not so bad. Of course, 9 days is still a pretty long way off, in weather terms, but I like the zero percent chance of precipitation.

Another thing I noticed that gave me a geeky thrill: we picked July 30 somewhat at random. We knew we wanted summer because it was the most likely time for Denny’s brother to be able to come (the Marines keep making him go to Iraq–very rude of them if you ask me). When we were shopping around for venues, one of our finalists only had July 30 open, so that date kind of got stuck in our heads. When we finally decided on the museum, we kept that date, even though we probably could have had something else.

Then came the decision point about the ceremony/reception. The ceremony is being held in the Atrium under a big skylight, so we wanted it late enough in the day that the sun wouldn’t be blinding people. We also wanted the reception to be outside on the museum grounds, because the idea of children running around smashing cake on the Picasso makes me ill. Our cake is expensive! Don’t waste it! (Just kidding. I actually care more about Picasso than cake, even though this is going to be really good cake.) Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t have fun at the reception if I were stressed out about indoor things. In late July, it’s pretty unrealistic to have an outdoor reception any time before about 8 p.m. and expect anyone to have fun, because it’s so hot. Therefore, we decided to do the ceremony at 7:30, when there would still be light through the skylight but not blinding, and it would cool off somewhat by the time the reception got going.

So, due to two totally separate and somewhat random choices, our wedding date is 7/30 at 7:30. On a somewhat related note, we’re both 28 and the year is ’05, and our house number is 2805.

UNRELATED: Also, a sex offender lives at 3233. I jog by his house all the time. One time he said hi to me! He’s a pretty low-level sex offender, though–just a flasher, not a rapist or child molester or anything. I’ve never been flashed, so maybe I would feel different about it if I had, but the idea is kind of hilarious. It’s sort of like advanced mooning.

7/20/2005

A non-wedding-related post. Also, 10 days.

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:24 pm

At least I hope it will be.

I love cooking with ingredients from our garden. We’ve had two ripe tomatoes so far, and there’s one that will be ready in another day or so. I’ve been using the herbs, too: cilantro, basil, chives, and I hope to use some sage soon. I finished off the first jar of No Pants Jam yesterday morning, made with our rhubarb and my mom’s cherries. If only our raspberries would be more prolific. I think I want my next batch of jam to be peach-basil. I’ll probably wait until after the wedding for that one, though, when I have more time and less on my mind. August is the best month for peaches anyway.

The John Roberts appointment to the Supreme Court: depressingly enough, my standards have gotten so low that all I thought was “It could have been worse.” *sigh*

Oh, fine, one wedding thing: we found galvanized tubs on sale at the hardware store yesterday, so we got two of them. They’re going to work great, I think.

7/19/2005

Because this is, apparently, my personal checklist site

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:25 pm

I got several things from yesterday’s list accomplished. Yay!

  • Get something to put drinks in. Galvanized tubs are pretty but expensive. What to do??
    • UPDATE: I got a good lead at KMart last night for some big plastic planters that are a very impressive imitation of stone (a little pricier than I want, though). I also saw that Ace Hardware may have galvanized tubs like I wanted in the first place. We’re going there after work tonight. And if all else fails, I’ll go to Theisen’s in Cedar Rapids like Linds suggested.
  • Go to museum and examine amplification possibilities. Drag an AV-savvy coworker with me.
  • Buy and prepare a whole bunch of fruits and vegetables. Bag them. Note to self: buy gallon-sized zip-lock bags. DONE. Sucker friend or family member into arranging them artfully on platters on wedding day.
  • Figure out what the rules are regarding moving tables/chairs after the reception. Do our friends/family do it? Do the museum staff do it? DONE. The museum handles the stuff inside, we or the caterers handle what’s outside.
  • Buy supplies and make directional signs so people know to go to the main entrance. DONE.
  • Assign people to tasks: making sure the music keeps playing, making sure the food and drink remain replenished, making sure the generator keeps generating, making announcements, etc.
  • Take dress to dry-cleaners. DONE.
  • Pick up dress from dry-cleaners.
  • Call bakery with final headcount DONE.
  • Get passports from safe deposit box (though I guess that could be done in the couple of days between the wedding and honeymoon)

I am so accomplishy.

11 days

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:59 pm

I woke up stiff and sore this morning with a headache. I don’t like waking up with a headache. It’s difficult enough to haul my butt out of bed under normal circumstances.

I took my dress to the dry cleaner’s today. They said it would take two weeks to clean. I said that wasn’t cool (since I need for, you know, the wedding). Next thing you know, it’s going to be done on Friday. Weird.

The stupid thing is that it costs $55 to simply be dry cleaned just because it’s a wedding dress. A regular dress would be like $20 or something. And my dress is not all that much different from a regular dress; it just happens to be white. It’s not one of those gigantic poofy things with tons of fabric and beading and sparklies. Grr. I hate the price-gouging that goes on every time the word “wedding” comes into a conversation.

Denny: STOP READING NOW if you don’t want to hear about my planned ensem (pronounced ahn-sahm, and the cool way to abbreviate “ensemble”).

I’m also suddenly worried that I’m going to be wearing too much jewelry and I’ll look like a little girl playing dress-up. I love all my jewelry items independently, but I’m afraid that all together it will be overdone. I have dangly sparkly earrings, a sparkly brooch, a long pearl necklace that goes down my back (my dress is backless), and a rather dramatic feathered hair comb (no veil). Is that too much? Keep in mind that my dress is totally (and I mean completely) devoid of ornamentation, except for the brooch.

I don’t know. When I have it all on, I don’t really feel like myself. Plus the earrings are heavy and will no doubt hurt my earlobes by the end of the night. On the other hand, perhaps one’s wedding is the best opportunity one has to be a little over-the-top. Thoughts?

7/18/2005

12 days.

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:04 pm

So much to do.

  • Get something to put drinks in. Galvanized tubs are pretty but expensive. What to do??
  • Go to museum and examine amplification possibilities. Drag an AV-savvy coworker with me.
  • Buy and prepare a whole bunch of fruits and vegetables. Bag them. Note to self: buy gallon-sized zip-lock bags. Sucker friend or family member into arranging them artfully on platters on wedding day.
  • Figure out what the rules are regarding moving tables/chairs after the reception. Do our friends/family do it? Do the museum staff do it?
  • Buy supplies and make directional signs so people know to go to the main entrance.
  • Assign people to tasks: making sure the music keeps playing, making sure the food and drink remain replenished, making sure the generator keeps generating, making announcements, etc.
  • Take dress to dry-cleaners.
  • Pick up dress from dry-cleaners.
  • Call bakery with final headcount
  • Get passports from safe deposit box (though I guess that could be done in the couple of days between the wedding and honeymoon)

Oh, hey! Right while I was working on this post, I got an email from the museum. I replied with all sorts of useful data, and now I can check some stuff off my list. Keep in mind it wasn’t necessarily on the list above, but it was hovering around in my brain.

I just remembered something else I have to do.

  • Attend a choir rehearsal so I get a chance to actually hear them live. I have a feeling that during the ceremony, my head’s going to be spinning around so much I won’t remember a thing about what their singing sounded like.
  • Have trial hairdo appointment. That’s this Thursday.
  • Make sure Denny and the groomsmen get their tuxes. Nevermind. This is Not My Problem.

7/17/2005

Summer food

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:55 am

I made two good things with seasonal ingredients recently. Here they are.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

  • Squash blossoms (I got a bag of about 10 at my local farmers’ market for $1)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, finely minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chiffonaded or minced (fresh from my garden)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced (also fresh from my garden)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco or Lousiana Hot Sauce, to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1 cup (or more) sparkling water, very cold
  • A little olive oil for sauteeing
  • Canola oil for frying
  1. Mix the batter. Whisk together flour, corn starch, and 1/2 tsp salt. Add sparkling water and mix until a batter about the consistency of pancake batter comes together. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Make the filling. Saute the onion in a little olive oil until transluscent. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two more until the garlic is done.
  3. Stir together the ricotta, garlic, onion, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, chives, and basil.
  4. Rinse off the squash blossoms and dry on paper towels. Open the petals and pick out the little lump inside. Put about a teaspoon of filling into each blossom and twist the petals shut.
  5. Put on a cookie sheet and chill for at least 15 minutes.
  6. Heat about 1 inch of canola oil in a pan to about 350 F.
  7. Get out the batter. Dip a blossom in the batter and let the excess drip off. Carefully place in the hot oil. Repeat with remaining blossoms, but don’t crowd the pan. You may need to do multiple batches.
  8. After 1-2 minutes, flip the blossoms so the other surface cooks. This is a tempura-type batter, so it will not brown a whole lot; it should be kind of pale but crispy.
  9. Cook any remaining blossoms.
  10. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt and serve immediately.

Zucchini Muffins

  • 1 pound zucchini, shredded (either with a box grater or with a food processor–I recommend the food processor so you don’t get knuckle-flavored muffins)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 6 Tablespoons butter (3/4 stick), melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Toss the zucchini with two tablespoons sugar. In a colander placed over a bowl, drain the zucchini for 30 minutes. When drained, put in a paper towel and squeeze out remaining moisture.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pecans.
  4. In another bowl, combine remaining sugar, eggs, yogurt, and butter. Stir in zucchini.
  5. Add zucchini mixture to flour mixture and stir until combined.
  6. Fill prepared muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a wooden pick comes out clean.
  7. Cool for ten minutes in muffin pan, then finish cooling on a rack. Enjoy.

7/16/2005

Mormons vs. Schnauzers

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:00 am

I don’t like to leave this blog hanging on a negative post, so I’ll tell an amusing anecdote. It’s Saturday morning right now, and I’m sitting in my beautiful, air conditioned house, looking over my gorgeous back yard, freshly showered after a good run, so I’m feeling much more positive about things.

Here’s the amusing anecdote. It happened while I was out on my run this morning. On my street, a couple of blocks away from my house, there’s this house where there are sometimes two really mean schnauzers outside. One of them stays on a leash and the other is a free-range schnauzer (which might be good grilled. Sorry, Danny. I didn’t mean it.). Those little bastards are aggressive! They’re not usually outside, but when they are, I hate jogging by that house because they growl and snarl and bark at me. I feel as if I could reasonably punt them, but on the other hand, there are two of them. What’s more, I don’t actually wish them harm, I just wish they were both on leashes and that they had better manners.

So, since I wasn’t sure whether the Death Schnauzers would be out, I ran on the opposite side of the street from Chez Death Schnauzers. I was feeling pretty cocky, I’ll admit it. Then, around the bend, come some Mormons! Augh!

Because this story has been peppered with apologetic asides already, I might as well go on and say I actually like Mormons quite a bit. I’ve got no quarrel with them, and those whom I’ve known have been really great people, on the average. And to tell you the truth, I don’t even mind the evangelism bit, in theory. If you truly believe that everyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is doomed the hell, then you’d be a jerk not to try to get them on your team. I mean, what are you going to do, let humanity rot?

I do not personally subscribe to that belief system, but I do not begrudge anyone his or her own perspective. That said, when I’m running (or walking, or grocery shopping, or almost anything), I’d rather not talk to anyone, Mormon or otherwise. I’m just kind of shy/antisocial. The Mormons just had the disadvantage of being immediately identifiable. I can’t think of anyone else who would wear long black pants and a tie on a hot day like this. I certainly didn’t want to stop and chat, even though I really do want to get details on a rumor I heard that if you’re a Mormon, one day you’ll get your own planet. The downside to this is a sub-rumor that you have to be a man Mormon. D’oh! I’d even be happy with a lady planet like Venus. Regardless, I was in no mood for a chat this morning.

So I was left in a quandry: do I dodge the Mormons or dodge the Death Schnauzers? That made me laugh, which was no small feat considering I was near the end of my run and pretty tired. I laughed because I realized what a gentle life I lead, when my main adversaries are religious missionaries and punter dogs. In the end, I went over to the Death Schauzer side, which was a good choice, since they weren’t out this morning.

May your enemies be similarly wussy. Have a good weekend.

7/15/2005

Pleh

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:13 pm

HOT. It is hot out. HOT.

We are undergoing energy curtailment at work. This means no air conditioning after 1 p.m. It is HOT. They don’t tell us until like ten minutes before the curtailment begins, and it seems I am always wearing one of my hoochiest tops on those days. Normally I wear a sweater or jacket over my hoochie tops, because it’s cold in the office, but not on energy curtailment day. Fortunately my boss is out so I won’t get in trouble.

I am feeling tired and irritable. It’s been a long week. I’m stressed about the wedding and sitting in a steaming hot office isn’t helping. I want to go home, but Denny’s busy doing something. At least it’s Friday.

7/14/2005

Scary movies

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:17 pm

Last night our friend Patty was in town, so we went out to dinner (Iguana’s in Hills, which is always delightful) and to the movie Dark Water. As you can see, it got mediocre-to-bad reviews, but I liked it pretty well. It was atmospheric and spooky and didn’t rely too much on jump-out-of-the-bushes scares, which I consider cheating. It was fun.

My favorite scary movie is probably The Exorcist. I saw the remastered version in the theater back in Y2K, and it was really quite frightening. There’s just something about strange-acting children that’s creep-o-rama. I was terrified by “Home Alone” for the same reason. That kid smashed an iron into another human being’s face! How bizarre.

In other news, work is quiet today, so I’m shopping online for gift bags. What a country!

7/13/2005

Frozen diet foods rated

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:05 pm

As you likely know if you read this site with any regularity, I am a gastrophile (aka foodie). I am also a bride-to-be who, upon getting engaged, realized that she’d like to drop a few pounds before the wedding. To that end, I drastically reduced my going-out-to-lunch schedule, which saved money as well as being healthier. After a while, I got sick of salads and light soups for lunch, so I started buying the commercially-prepared frozen meals (mostly Smart Ones and Lean Cuisine, also some Amy’s). I thought I might do a service to the trying-to-be-skinnier foodie crowd if I wrote some reviews of the different meals available.

Please keep in mind that you must approach these with low standards. No, they are not as good as real food–not even close. However, at less than 250 calories a pop, these make a decent lunch, and some of them are not bad at all. The Smart Ones website actually suggests serving some of them to guests, but I wouldn’t go that far. Sheesh. Also, the portions are small. I guess that’s how they keep the calories low. I usually supplement with some kind of side dish like Jello or, if I’m really ambitious, a salad.

SMART ONES
These are the ones I buy the most because they’re cheapest, and I’ve been able to find the highest quality-to-calories ratio.
Sweet and Sour Chicken. Official website copy: “A colorful and tangy combination of white chicken tenderloins, red and green bell peppers, and mushrooms.” The chicken in these things is always kind of weirdly textured, sort of rubbery. If you can get past that, you’re golden. The vegetables are usually pretty good in these things. They taste fresh and flavorful, with good texture. They don’t turn mushy and homogenous; you can actually taste the difference between the vegetables. Another plus to this one is that it’s only 150 calories–superlow. A downside is that this is from their “Truth About Carbs” line, so there’s no starch. Some people like starch, myself included. Of course, you could have some rice with this without blowing up the calorie count too much. Overall: 6.5/10.
Roasted Chicken with Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes. Official website copy: “An elegant combination of savory chicken paired with creamy, flavorful mashed potatoes.” Elegant? Only if you consider airplane food elegant. Now, I like airplane food (it really breaks up the trip, you know?), but I certainly acknowledge its limitations. This is basically a small slab of chicken that tastes more like Frankensteined chicken parts than an actual breast fillet. That said, the sauce is pretty good, and I like the potatoes a lot. You have to be careful not to overcook the potatoes, though, and be sure to stir them part-way through the cooking process or they’ll dry out on top. I’ll buy this again because it’s only 190 calories and it’s decent. Overall: 6/10
Chicken Mirabella. Official website copy: “Visit the Mediterranean with this medley of pasta, chicken tenderloins, and vegetables in Marsala sauce.” In general, I think the pasta dishes are the best. The pasta seems to hold up well to freezing, so while it’s not exactly al dente like I ate it in Italy, it’s not the globby mess it could have been, either. The vegetables are the best part of this one, as is the case with all the chicken/vegetable dishes. Only 180 calories–score! Overall: 7/10Fiesta Chicken. Official website copy: “Your mouth will party with the first bite of tender chicken in a spicy ranchero sauce with green chilis.” Don’t bother. The chicken is rubbery as usual, the vegetables are diced so fine that you lose a lot of texture, and the rice is terrible. The rice just doesn’t hold up to reheating well; it’s sticky and globby and bad. This dish is a waste of 210 calories. Overall: 2/10Roast Beef with Gravy. Official website copy: “This hearty classic features medallions of roast beef in gravy with portobello mushrooms and mashed potatoes.” This is one you have to be careful when you cook, because when it’s good, it’s pretty good, but when it’s overcooked, it’s awful. The beef turns tough, the potatoes turn gluey, and the mushrooms turn rubbery. If you reduce the cooking time a little (at least that’s what worked in my office microwave), the beef remains tender and the potatoes are reasonably fluffy. The gravy has kind of a metallic, boullion taste to it, but mingled with that is a rich beef flavor. It’s not bad, but not great; it has 220 calories. Overall: 5/10Slow-Roasted Turkey Breast. Official website copy: “An American classic — Juicy turkey breast with a traditional pan gravy & garlic-herb mashed potatoes.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say I could actually taste any garlic or herbs in the mashed potatoes; they’re the same gluey affair as comes with the roast beef. The turkey, however, is pretty good. Unlike the chicken in Smart Ones that often has the taste and texture of a silicone breast implant, this turkey is actually recognizable as turkey. This is one I pick up regularly; it has 220 calories. Overall, 7/10.
Shrimp Marinara. Official website copy: “Mamma Mia! What a tasty dish of tender bay shrimp, linguine, and zesty marinara sauce.” This is another one I buy all the time. The pasta once again is good, the tomato sauce is zesty, and it’s kind of fun to have shrimp. Yeah, these shrimp are small and weinie, but this meal only costs $1.77, and it has a nice seafoody flavor. It’s a steal at 180 calories. Note: this tends to stink up the break room, so you may end up as your office Shrimp Lady. I believe it’s worth it. Overall: 8/10

Spicy Szechuan Style Vegetables and Chicken. Official website copy: “No need to order take-out when you stock up on delicious Chinese lo mein, chicken, and vegetables in a Szechuan sauce.” They were smart to put the emphasis on the vegetables this time. There are only small bits of chicken, which is fine, because the chicken is always mediocre anyway. The vegetables are good, though. There’s definitely zucchini and water chestnuts as well as some other stuff I don’t recall (even though I ate this an hour ago). The lo mein noodles are good and the portion is large, rel. But spicy? I don’t think so. It’s 220 calories. Overall: 7/10.

Lean Cuisine
Shrimp and Angel Hair Pasta. Official website copy: “Shrimp and angel hair pasta in a creamy seafood sauce with accents of sherry, tossed with red peppers.” This suffers from the same weinie-shrimp problem as the Smart Ones shrimp pasta, and I don’t think it’s 60 calories better (this one has 240 calories; the Smart Ones has 180). It’s creamier than it looks in the picture, and it has a nice garlicky taste that might make you unpopular with your coworkers. Overall: 7/10Beef Portabello. Official website copy: “Tender pieces of roasted beef in a rich portabello mushroom sauce, accompanied by whipped potatoes made with red skin potatoes, carmelized onions, roasted garlic and chives.” The good points: the beef was, in fact quite tender. The sauce was nice and had mushroom chunks in it. The bad points: the portion was absolutely tiny. I ate this yesterday, and it’s a good thing it was my coworker Marilyn’s birthday and she brought in treats, or I never would have made it through the day. The mushroom bits were not clearly identifiable as portabella. Also, this dish commits an error that is a pet peeve of mine. There is not a general consensus about whether the mushroom is called portobello or portabella; it means either “beautiful port” or “beautiful door,” respectively, in Italian. However, anybody who’s passed the first semester of any Romance language should know that it’s never going to be portobella or portabello. It’s basic gender agreement. For that reason, among others (the potatoes were really bad, stiff and dry), I cannot recommend this dish. Overall: 1/10

Amy’s

Amy’s products are consistently the tastiest of their ilk, but they’re also more expensive and tend to be higher-calorie than Smart Ones or Lean Cuisine. This is probably because they are usually organic and shun artificial sweeteners and other things that keep Smart Ones and Lean Cuisine low-calorie. Many people may find the higher quality ingredients and health benefits of organic eating to be worth the higher price and calorie.

Shepherd’s Pie. Official website copy: “Meatless version of a long time favorite. Organic vegetables in a nourishing broth blanketed with smooth mashed potatoes. Non-dairy/gluten-free/no cholesterol.” This is an exception to the higher calorie rule; this item is very low-calorie at only 180. Nonetheless, it’s quite satisfying, thanks to the hearty garbanzo beans and potatoes. The potatoes in this cook up with a much more pleasing texture than in other frozen meals. My only criticism is that it’s difficult to heat throughly from frozen; it’s often still cold in the middle when the allotted cooking time is up, but cooking longer makes the edges coagulate. It would probably be better prepared in an oven. Overall, 9/10

Bean and Cheese Burrito. Official website copy: “Organic flour tortilla wrapped around organic pinto beans, rice, and vegetables in a mild Mexican sauce, with cheddar cheese added.” The sauce is definitely mild, and it’s not very saucy; I wouldn’t have known there was any sauce in there if I hadn’t read the description. The tortilla seems to be whole wheat (at least it’s not the overbleached white flour tortilla we often see), and it has a very nice texture, even when microwaved. The beans are well-flavored, and the rice doesn’t get too mushy. The cheddar flavor is not very strong, nor is cheddar a very authentic choice. Of course, this is better served with some sour cream, salsa, hot sauce, onions, and cilantro, but it’s pretty good as-is too. Overall: 7/10.

Cooking with what you’ve got

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:10 am

I read an article in some magazine (Food and Wine, I think it was) about a guy who challeneged himself to cook for a week without going to the grocery store (and he didn’t do a huge stock-up before that week). He just wanted to use the things he had on hand with a lot of creativity. I don’t know if I could do it for a whole week, but I did it last night, and it turned out great.

How to make what I had:

GLAZED PORK LOIN WITH GRILLED VEGETABLES

  • 1 pork loin (I had half of one in the freezer, which is plenty for two people; chicken, turkey, or duck would work too, though I am not one to keep a duck lying around. I would eat that bad boy as soon as possible!)
  • Vegetables suitable for grilling (I used red bell peppers and mushrooms, which I had in the crisper)
  • Olive oil (always around)
  • Kosher salt, freshly-ground pepper (always around)
  • Jam (apricot would work; I used cherry-rhubarb No Pants Jam that I made a week or so ago)
  • 2 large garlic cloves (always around)
  • Cayenne pepper, jalapeņo, or chipotle pepper (I found a sad-looking little chipotle in my garlic drawer, so I used that)
  • Rice or bread or whatever, optional
  1. Prepare the vegetables. Cut them into grill-suitable pieces; I just stem and seed the peppers and cut them in half the long way, so they’re unlikely to fall through the grill grates. I skewered the mushrooms on the skewers from the grill kit Ruby got me (thanks, Roob!). Brush with olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Make your boyfriend go grill the vegetables. If you don’t have a boyfriend, improvise. Options include doing it yourself, recruiting a friend or neighbor, or just standing there crying until someone does it for you. I don’t recommend the crying method. It makes you look like a wuss.
  3. While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the pork loin. Make sure it’s fully thawed, and trim any visible fat.
  4. Make the glaze. Mince the garlic and hot pepper finely. They’re not going to get much cooking time, so they need to have as much surface area as possible. In a bowl, combine a glug of olive oil (maybe a tablespoon or so), the minced garlic and pepper, about half a cup of jam (microwave it for a bit if it’s too solid), a teaspoon or so of salt, and lots of freshly-ground pepper.
  5. Get the veggies from the grill. Put them in a 200-degree oven to keep warm.
  6. Grill the pork loin. Go about 5 or 6 minutes per side on a medium-hot grill. Brush it generously with glaze on all sides during the last few minutes of cooking.
  7. Bring the pork inside and tent it with foil. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes to allow juices to redistribute.
  8. Arrange the vegetables artfully on the plate. This looks nicest if you use the plates your wonderful friend Sarah gave you as a wedding gift, but since you are not yet married, you obviously wouldn’t be so gauche as to do that.
  9. Aw, hell, use the plates. Sarah isn’t stuck up like that.
  10. Slice the pork into very thin slices. Fan them out on the plates over the vegetables. Garnish with the remaining sauce. Serve with rice or bread, if desired.

Yum. I wish we hadn’t gobbled it up so there would be leftovers. That would make a really good sandwich.

7/12/2005

Multi-topic post

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:25 pm

Thanks for posting the comment about Tropical Storm Emily, Linds. I hadn’t even heard about that! Now I can keep track of it. The Eastern Caribbean (including Nevis) is in danger with Tropical Storm Emily, so here’s hoping it calms down before our scheduled arrival. Yikes.

I would also like to send an Internet-wide shout-out to our friend Erin, who was kind enough to send us three gorgeous paintings as a wedding gift. They are absolutely lovely, and I’m crazy about them. Thanks, Erin!

Just because it would be funny to have this post apply to all four of my categories, I will inform you that for dinner tonight, we are going to grill a pork loin (I like it seasoned with cumin and rosemary) and serve it with grilled red peppers and mushrooms. I will plate them up on our lovely square plates that we received as a wedding gift. All food looks good on them. And, being the registry snooper that I am, I saw today that somebody bought the square salad plates too. Woo!

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