Friday, January 28, 2011

Kitchen Tools we Love!

Marcie and I were thinking about everything we use in the kitchen and what pieces have been worth the money. Here are the items that even though we paid premium, it was worth every penny. (by we paid, I mean our wedding guests gave us ;) Thanks!)

1) Cutting Boards

You can never have enough cutting boards. They take up almost no space and if you actually cook, you'll constantly be using them. We have three of the epicurean boards as well as several smaller plastic ones. It's nice not having to wash a board after cutting meat so that veggies won't be contaminated. It speeds up time in the kitchen and with our arrangement (Marcie - cook, Brantley - dishes) it works out well having a few extra. Plus they're dishwasher safe so that makes my job easy too.

2) Silicone Mats

We mostly never have to wash our cookie pans because of these. This makes them last much longer and you avoid rust that comes from sitting in the dishwasher overnight. We can cook meat, cookies, etc and they never stick which is another good point. We have three mats and use almost anytime we bake something.

3) 12 in Caphalon Frying Pan

Even when the task is small, we'll turn to this pan. We bought it on sale last December and haven't stopped using it. It's the Slide Nonstick type which means it can be heated up to 550 degrees, can handle heat high enough to sear mean, and is dishwasher safe. It also cooks evenly which keeps food from overcooking in parts. Just yesterday Marcie was thinking about how nice it is to be able to cook all 6 pork chops in one pan and still have room to add if necessary.

4) Full Knife Set

Like cutting boards, you need knives for almost everything in the kitchen and having not only sharp knives but knives made for the task you're doing makes buying them a no brainier. If you don't want to buy the full set, buy a nice chef's knife since you can use that on almost anything and then at least 3 paring knives. A santoku knife is also nice for potatoes where you need a thick blade to allow you to apply pressure even when the knife is halfway down.

5) Silicone or bamboo cooking utensils

We use silicone but bamboo works great also. It doesn't harm non-stick surfaces and is easy to clean. I like thin metal handles and not the Kitchen Aid type since they tend to absorb water in the dishwasher and take up more room in your drawer. They're also much cheaper and that I like. The only problem with silicone is it's flexibility. On spatulas you'll need strength which means you'll also need nylon. For silicone to be tough, it has to surround metal making it thick. Bamboo can be thinner but too thin and it would break. Nylon although will melt on a hot pan works great if you use it right.

6) Nonstick Cooking Pots

We'll likely go with Caphalon at some point (when Williams & Sonoma decides to put them on crazy sale) but right now we have the traditional nonstick kind. Although nice (pampered chef), you have to be a little careful about the dishwasher and super high heat. Almost every meal we'll have 2-3 pots going so having a good set of those is nice. Carolina Pottery Outlet has nice ones and it won't break the bank. If you're a skilled cook, steel and other metals are nice. It took a while but I learned how to boil rice without it sticking to the bottom of the pot. Then I married Marcie and she had her nonstick pans. It's easier and much more forgiving but not necessary.

Actually we use almost everything in our kitchen since Marcie cooks so much. Above are the six most used items but you'll quickly find how nice it is to have a fully stocked kitchen.

Grilled Pork and Peaches

We've been going through a list of 15 healthy recipes found on this page. This is one of our favorites. It calls for a grill but she made it in a frying pan. Still very delicious!

430 calories
24 g fat (8 g saturated)
530 mg sodium

Restaurant pork chops are usually Flintstonian in size and skirted with enough fat to keep a bear warm in the winter. The result (as witnessed below with the Romano's chop): 196 percent of your day's saturated fat, plus more sodium than you'd find in 36 cups of salted popcorn. Our dish takes its cue from classic pork chops and applesauce, using grilled fruit and blue cheese to punch up the flavor without skyrocketing the calorie count.

You'll Need:
4 thick-cut (1"), bone-in pork chops (8 oz each)
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 firm peaches or nectarines, halved and pitted
2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

How to Make It:
* Heat a grill to hot. Brush the pork with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes on each side. The outside should be charred (not burned), but the meat should be light pink in the middle.

* While the chops cook, brush the peach halves with oil and add them to the grill, cut side down. Grill for 5 minutes or until soft. Remove, slice, and toss with the pine nuts, onion, blue cheese, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Top each chop with half of the peach mixture and serve.

Makes 2 servings / Cost per serving: $7.71

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Taming of the Shrew

Most people have never read Shakespeare. I am one of those... until now. I'm taking a college course combing through several of his finest. First on my list of reading was Taming of the Shrew. Here are my thoughts after reading it myself and hearing Professor Shaw's lectures.

Taming of the Shrew: the introduction

Taming of the Shrew is known as a triple action play because of its three main plots. The first plot is the introduction which set up the next two stories of love and courtship. Christopher Sly is a poor drunk man asleep in a bar. A wealthy Lord walks in and decides he wants to play a practical joke on him. Like frat boys as a party drawing obscene things on their brother's forehead, the Lord decides to dress him up as a fellow Lord and try to convene Sly he was previously mad.

This will be a difficult task because it isn't just clothes that make the man. Lords at that time spoke in blank verse, a ten syllable pattern with out any use of slang. In contrast, Sly spoke in a very crass tongue without any such elegance. Their taste in food and wine would become immediately apparent when he is given what he wants.

Part of the joke is that one of the pages has to dress up as a lady and pretend to be Sly's wife. It becomes even more uncomfortable as Sly asks that she come to bed with him. She refuses with the excuse that it is best for his health and the move on to watching a private play which Lords often did.

The story ends there and you never hear the outcome of the joke. Some may say this could have been a printing error but as I'll mention later, I think it might have ended by design there and was indeed wrapped up nicely.

From a directing stand point, this is the introduction to the main play so what do you do with Sly while the play he's watching progresses? Often Sly passes out in the middle and is escorted out of the stage so that he doesn't upstage the other main actors.

Taming of the Shrew: Main Acts

In the main acts of the play, you have two main relationships to focus on. You have Lucentio and Bianca as two young lovers starting out in life with preconceived notions about what the other should be like. Then you have Petruchio and Kate, an older more mature couple although set in their ways.

An important theme throughout this play is the idea of disguises and deception. Two lovers in their attempt to get to know Bianca dress up as a music and language tutor. Petruchio dresses up as a hobo for his wedding day for reasons we can only speculate (and I will later). A father is impersonated while the real one is almost thrown in jail, a tailor is treated as a woman, and the deception continues throughout the play.

Despite the deception, this play is without a doubt a comedy. Obviously we laugh at the witty remarks and crazy slapstick antics but to be considered a comedy, the play with all it's confusion must end in a happy resolve. A comedy by Shakespeare often ended in a wedding and this is no different. This comedy could be further placed in other categories such as a romantic comedy including a battle of the sexes or a farce where nothing should be taken at face value and we should just laugh at the crazy antics.

If this play was a farce, the viewer wouldn't be concerned with the feelings of Kate as she was obviously not a real person. You also wouldn't feel sorry for the servants who were beat because their master was seemly mad. I don't however believe this is the case. I believe there is something deeper to this play and if anything, it will make you think about what true marital bliss looks like.

If we agree this is not a mindless comedy, knowing the thoughts of the times greatly helps us understand what we perceive Shakespeare is trying to get across. Namely, they lived in a patriarchal system largely influenced by the church. I don't know Shakespeare's thoughts on God but in any case, the population as a whole was very conservative. In review, the church believed God created man and then woman for man. When they sinned and were cast out of the garden of Eden, man was cursed to toil the earth (Gen 3:14-15) while woman were cursed to have painful childbirth and always desire to rule over man despite the patriarchal system God laid down (Gen 3:16). This patriarchal system was further cemented with Paul's words that “man is head of his wife as Christ is head of the Church” (Eph 5:23). A woman was expected to submit and to not do so was seen as a curse on the man (Prov 25:24). An interesting note not said in the lecture is in the Asian language, the symbol for happiness is a combination of the symbol of woman drawn under the symbol of roof but I digress. Because of this hierarchy, woman were seen as property or as goods.

Knowing what was seen as good and what was shrewish, what was Kate's motivation for not showing submission? Since egalitarian wasn't an option at that time, I don't think Kate was rebelling at the institution in place. I rather think Kate was a highly intelligent but under appreciated woman. She had been broken by her father's favoritism to his youngest daughter and had since given up on trying to please him. When a suitor would come to marry her, she probably saw him as same problem with a different owner.

Petruchio comes along and things look like they might change though. Their first meeting, I believe they found a kindled spirit. I felt there was a certain amount of “sexual tension” in their witty Stichomythia, a form of back and forth argument with strong play on words. The saw the intelligence of the other and enjoyed trying to best each other. I picture Kate as an attractive twenty five year old woman and Petruchio sees her wit and her beauty and must have her then and there. He wants the father's dowry but he realizes that Kate will be an addition not a drag to his life standard. I say Kate was probably attractive because despite her tongue, she had previous suitors. Also she was older then Bianca who I picture to be college age but I can't imagine by much.

Kate I think is shocked at first. Shaw paints Petruchio as an older man who has seen the world. He's been through combat and the death of a father and would like to gain a little more wealth so he can settle down. If I were Kate, she probably though submitting to this man who is older and probably dumber then her was preposterous. The begin their banter and she is actually frustrated and defeated by his ability to turn anything she says around. She finally admits she isn't going to win the round and asks where he gets it all from. She probably thinks to make fun of him saying he isn't smart but rather just quotes what others have said. That doesn't work out either and despite what she says I think concedes defeat. I believe it is at this point she sees marriage as not a terrible thing but something that might be fun.

Old habits die hard and she tries again and again to assert her dominance but she finds Petruchio is an even bigger shrew then herself. A marriage where two people constantly fight for dominance is not a happy one and she is all too aware of that given her situation with her father. Perhaps at first she becomes resigned to the fact she can't win so she might as well play along but all along I know she is enjoying the game. When she plays by his rules however, she still has fun but also receives the thing women need most, affection. My wife needs me me to show my love towards her daily and Kate is no different. Kate is still witty Kate but now she is lovely witty Kate and no longer shrewd witty Kate and Petruchio takes every opportunity to tell everyone that she has always been this woman.

In the final scene, you see a bet to see who is the most submissive. Kate at this point is in tune with her husband and they win. Her husband allows her the opportunity to rub it in to the sister who always made her feel inferior and backed up her claim by repeating it to the new husbands. Bianca has been found. She wasn't just submissive to her father, she was manipulating him to get what she wanted.

Was there a change in the women? I would have to say yes and no. Kate is still witty Kate and Bianca is still manipulative Bianca. The idea of a patriarchal system still stands although some follow it better then others. The change is actually more of a reveal and the main characters all get what they most want.

I don't think Sly believes he is a lord in the end. I think he sees this as an opportunity to get free clothing and food. The tables are turned and he profits in the end. Likewise with Petruchio and Kate. They are persecuted throughout the play but in the end, Kate earns her father's respect and love while Petruchio's search for wealth ends with him collecting a handsome dowry and a large bet. In an unexpected addition, he has the honor of having the most desirable wife at the party.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife

Marcie and I watched the Time Traveler's Wife last night. It's about a guy who has a genetic disorder traveling through time because of it. Each travel only lasts for a few minutes but as he skips through time, he skips through the life of his future wife. That's not how it starts out though. Eric Bana plays Henry the time traveler. He is working in a library. Rachael McAdams playing Clare needs assistance finding a book but instead find the man who traveled to several parts of her life. Starting from when she was a little girl up to when she was Eighteen. Henry doesn't know her yet though. She puts the moves on Henry revealing what she knows about him and they hit it off. They eventually get married and this is where the main story begins as does my disappointment.

I was expecting and it seemed the director was trying to approach this movie from the same perspective of "A Beautiful Mind." Both had the woman see potential in the man and pursue him. Both got married and while his quirk added appeal to their life, it also added hardship, loneliness, and strife. They battle through it and in the end come out seasoned lovers. A Beautiful Mind really hit those thoughts and emotions home; The Time Traveler's Wife didn't but not for lack of trying.

Traveling Henry as a character was perfect. He made the most of his time and put those he loved above himself. Even knowing his death was happening that night, he made sure his wife wouldn't be alone. It was believable too because knowing time is short forces you to choose to be your best or worst. While traveling and at events he just had to be the perfect man for a few hours or days.

Day to day Henry was different. He was still a good guy but you could see that he was flawed. It is these flaws that Clare had to look past. She did and it all ends well for her in the end. The movie is sad but full of hope for a bright future.

I enjoyed the movie because of the strong story and characters. I didn't care for Eric Bana's acting or the directing but it is still a story worth watching.

Monday, January 17, 2011

for sale

size 36 Aldo shoes, leather

for sale

Davids Bridal, size 2, comes with shoulder straps


Did I post this already? Perhaps I did but I love it so who cares if I already did. We removed the winter village as you can see to the bottom right of the picture to make room for Jesus. We wanted to add the reason for the season into our decorating so here it is.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Macaroni & Cheese

Meal 1 of eating healthy. After reading about all the junk in pre-made foods, Marcie and I had a strong motivation to get cooking. This was our first meal. We took this from the "Eat This Not That" website I posted on Facebook a few days ago. We liked the meal but without the smoked flavor of ham and jalapenos, the mac & cheese would be a little bland. My suggestion is to make sure you add some sort of smoked ham flavor and chicken would taste great with it as well as make the meal go farther (it already makes a lot). Then you can eat it for leftovers and know you're much better off then that powder stuff everyone else eats.

480 calories
9 g fat (5 g saturated)
450 mg sodium

Ask Americans what they would eat for their last meal on earth and most would likely tell you mac and cheese. Too bad restaurants and frozen-food purveyors start their macaroni and cheese with a base of cream and butter--a recipe for caloric calamity. This version is based on bechamel--butter, flour, and milk--which helps cut the calories in half. We add jalapenos and prosciutto for some spicy, smoky goodness; feel free to leave them out.

You'll Need:
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 Tbsp flour
3 cups milk
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 lb elbow macaroni, penne, or shells
1/4 cup chopped Pickled Jalapenos
2 oz prosciutto or ham, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

How to Make It:
* Preheat the oven to 375°F.

* Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (but not browned), about 3 minutes. Add the flour and stir to incorporate into the butter. Pour in the milk a few tablespoons at a time, using a whisk to incorporate the flour and prevent lumps from forming. When all the milk has been added, allow the sauce to simmer for 10 minutes, until it begins to thicken. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

* Cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente, drain, and return to the pot. Add the cheese sauce, jalapenos, and prosciutto and stir to fully incorporate. Divide the mixture among 6 individual crocks or pour into a large baking dish. Top with the bread crumbs and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

* Bake for 10 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil until the bread crumbs are golden brown and crispy, about another 3 minutes.

Makes 6 servings / Cost per serving: $1.03

The potential to innovate any recipe is bound only by your immagination, but you'll find loads more savory suggestions when you order Cook This, Not That!

Check it out: You can boost the health profile (and the hungers-quashing potential) of your mac and cheese by adding any of the following to the pasta when you toss it with the cheese sauce.
* 1 cup caramelized onions
* 2 cups roughly chopped or cherry tomatoes
* 6 oz grilled chicken and 1 cup sauteed mushrooms
* 2 cups chopped steamed or sauteed broccoli