Friday, March 29, 2013

Balsamic Chicken

One easy cooking standby for me for years has been a boneless, skinless chicken breast. They're easy to find and, as long as they're in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, I feel like they're just about guaranteed to turn out yummy. I often make a sauce with whole-grain mustard and mayo, which you might have read about here. That sauce isn't paleo, though I still eat it from time to time, using less than I used to. Either way, since I make chicken breast to eat at home at least 3 times a week these days, I had to branch out!

I did some poking around on the internet to see if I could find a simple, Paleo-friendly recipe that would use a balsamic glaze on chicken. Not finding anything that quite met my specifications, I decided to invent one. It wasn't a complete failure, so I decided to share it with you!

First, I started by mixing up the sauce.
I decided that I was going to combine the balsamic and the olive oil right here in my kitchen. You could certainly make this recipe with a "balsamic vinaigrette" salad dressing you have (or would buy) where the oil and vinegar are pre-mixed. Part of the reason I chose not to do that was because, where I was shopping, the only pre-mixed option used canola oil rather than olive oil and I didn't want to go that route.

I used 4 "teaspoons" (like the one in the picture above - not actually a measuring spoon) of olive oil and mixed them with 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. I mixed that together and got to this.

Once I ate it, I thought the result was pretty tart, so I may try making this recipe with a little less vinegar next time. If you're using a pre-mixed, you could always add oil or vinegar if you have any on hand to amp up (or down) the flavor!

As you can see from this moderately awkward photograph, I then marinated the chicken in the sauce bowl. I didn't let it sit in there for any particular length of time. It probably soaked in the juices for maybe 10 minutes total.

Meanwhile, I was getting my veggies ready to roll...

Okay, so here's my little toaster oven tray ready to go into the oven. I drizzled the marinade over the chicken and the sliced zucchini. I slid this in, set the timer for 25 minutes and wandered away!

Once the timer went off, I pulled the tray out and added about 10 cherry tomatoes to the mix. I wanted the tomatoes to have a chance to warm up a little bit without either a) exploding and making a gigantic mess or b) shriveling to the point of being chewy. 5 minutes turned out to be just about the perfect amount of cooking time for those sweet little tomatoes!

Please also note that the tomatoes are a perfect, "geez I'm hungry and my food is cooking but isn't done quite yet" snack. YUM!

It's time for dinner!

Thursday, March 28, 2013


On a goofy lunch break recently, I went shopping with my co-workers. Near our office, there's a fancy drug store which has a lot of nice stuff. It's great for browsing, but kind of out of reach for regular shopping. The good news is that they also have some good clearance. That's where I dug this up!

It's too bad you can't see it in person. Because this is pretty darn cool, the picture doesn't do it justice. This is a watch that is a SLAP BRACELET! AHHHHHH!!!

It's a rubberized texture, I don't love wearing watches anyways, and it's not exactly professional attire. There are lots of reasons I considered not buying this little gem. Then there was the big reason. I didn't think it would work. I know its hard to tell, but there aren't any buttons anywhere on the face. There was a display of watches, and none of them were ticking. I have to admit, it raised the question in my mind as to whether this shop was trying to ditch them because they were broken.

I decided to go for it anyways (see: goofy lunch described above). After all, it was $2.36! And then I got it back to my desk and started looking at it more carefully. The entire face and mechanism unit can be removed from the rubbery bracelet coating. And then you'll see this:
 It's not nearly this big in real life - it's the little plastic guard that keeps the button from being pushed in and making the mechanism go. As soon as I pulled it off, the little watch started ticking away!

Ta - da! My new super cheap, keeps-good-time, unprofessional looking, child-of-the-early-90s- watch!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Turn here sweet corn

Last year as a birthday gift, I received this book: Turn here sweet corn by Atina Diffley.
Atina and her husband, Martin Diffley, spent many years raising organic produce on a farm called, The Gardens of Eagan, which is located in my hometown, Eagan. I didn't realize until I started reading the book how much of its focus was on describing what organic farming is. I learned a lot about how organic crops are grown, harvested and marketed. She also described a bit about the experience of organic farmers who are surrounded by a community of other farmers, consumers and lawmakers who do not understand or respect the differences between organic and "conventional" agriculture. If you're a luddite when it comes to organic farming (like I still am...), this memoir will definitely give you a deeper understanding of "how," if not also the "why." There were parts of the description that were a bit flowery for my taste, but that's just me.

I was so tempted when I started writing this post to call it, "The Eagan Story." Why? Because I wasn't drawn to read this book due to the focus on organic farming. At my last birthday, 11 months ago and long before I'd even heard the word "paleo," I hadn't considered trying to pick organic foods over conventionally-farmed foods at all. Instead, I was drawn to the story of how some farmers in Eagan made it work while the city was growing up around them. I knew where the farm was - regularly driving past their roadside produce stand heading south towards Northfield, where I went to college.

Once I dug in and started reading, I realized that wasn't exactly the case. The Diffleys made it work for a while... but ultimately development in Eagan made it impossible for them to continue farming. Specifically, their farm was turned into a school and a housing development. The author's description of the process, as parts of the farm and the land nearby were converted from regular agriculture into suburban behemoth, was gut-wrenching. At the same time, when I was in high school, I did a tutoring project at the elementary school built there, and had classmates who lived in the subdivisions on land previously owned by the Diffleys.

In fact, when I was a little kid, the school district managed to score some other land from a different farmer and build an elementary school on it. I actually went to 4th and 5th grade at that elementary school, which is so close to my parents' house that I walked there each day. I remember hearing that the school district had been trying to build a school on this site for a long time, but had struggled with the recalcitrant farmer for years before finally being able to do so. At the time, I didn't understand why the farmer wouldn't want a school to be built there. Who doesn't love an elementary school, right?

Now, I can't help but wonder whether that same farmer used to own the land where my parents' neighborhood was built. Though it was a great place to grow up, I can't help but wonder if there was extraordinary pressure put on the farmer to sell to the developer. I just assumed that the suburbs had pretty much always been the way they are now - anathema to farmers and farming. That, at some point at least 100 years ago, the farmers decided to pack up and go somewhere else. So that, for many years, before development of strip malls, playgrounds and cul-de-sacs, no one wanted the land for anything. Not quite!

Monday, March 25, 2013


This weekend was pretty exciting! Well, okay, not really. I had the chance to work on a big project that had been weighing on my mind for quite a while...

I'm so lucky to live in an apartment with a separate bedroom that I use as a study.
But, here's the deal: I've been using this room as sort of a "staging area" for my life for the past few months. It was the place where I packed and unpacked my bags before going to my parents' to stay overnight for a total of four times during the months of November and December. I also put Christmas presents in here when I bought them, and when I received them, so I wouldn't have to actually be responsible for putting anything away.

Yeah, here's another shot of the terrible. Usually, when I have company, I clean this room in addition to all of the other ones, just as a way of keeping up. When I had friends over during the holiday season, I was feeling crummy enough that I took the cheap way out: I just shut the door. Friends, this is what was hiding behind that closed door. Worse than you imagined, right? I had to do something serious to get this room under control!

 After some hard work last weekend picking up all of the crap on the floor, and then some more hard work this weekend filing all of the papers that haven't been taken care of sometime in the summer. Geez...
 Do you find this room inspiring? The picture of organization? I definitely don't. I have lots of ideas for how the room might look if I can dedicate some more time to really organizing it. But, it took me such a long time to actually get the picking up done, I couldn't stop myself from sharing this with you. I feel like usually we see "before" and "after" on the internet. This post is "before" and "during," because there is definitely more to come!

 Look, my desk is ready for me to sit down and write some blog posts, pay bills, do whatever! The last time I did that was before Halloween!

So, what was the reward for this hard work? Something pretty special!
Why yes, that's correct, I sat down at my desk and did my taxes! It was boring, but its over and now all I have to do is mail them off and keep my fingers crossed that there aren't any problems! Now, I have a livable second bedroom and a load off my mind! What a weekend!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Color Me Mine

A couple of weekends ago, I had the chance to go on an outing. Isn't that a weird expression? I think so. Of course, I go out all the time: I go to work, shop for groceries, shop for fun stuff, and go visit friends and family at their homes. But, scheduling a day to go out and do whatever, out and about, with the only goal being fun? It's been a while! Ginny was free, she asked me go, and I said of course! Our destination? The little ceramic painting outpost in Eagan!

Before this particular day, I had never been to Color Me Mine. In fact, I had to google it to find out what it really was. Each shop has a wall of plain pottery - in lots of different shapes and sizes. When you arrive, you select the piece you want to paint. I decided not to try to be too fancy for my very first visit: I went with a mug.

I know I've blogged before about how much I love having an enormous mug to put my (huge amount of) coffee in! In the foreground, you can see the two paint colors I was going to use for my design sitting in one the ceramic palettes they have in the studio. The atmosphere in the shop is really pretty relaxed. There are staff who can answer questions and give tips. Ginny was also there, and much less of a novice than me, so she cheered me on as I went about working on my painting.

My plans for the mug were pretty simple: polka dots. Why not, right? Again, I was hoping to keep it simple and avoid disaster. So, I painted and painted and painted until finally I was done. Here's the product ready to go into the oven!

Are my polka dots a little uneven? Why yes, they are! And believe me, I was a little bit nervous about these colors when I left the shop. Sure, there were samples on the wall that showed what each color was going to look like once 3 coats were painted on and it had been baked. But still - burnt orange and weird light blue? Yikes.

Imagine my delight, then, this past weekend when I went to pick it up. Here's what I found!
Yay! It's just as I dreamed it would be! I love these colors!

 I took plenty of photos so you could see my masterpiece from each and every angle ;)

It's harder than it looks to paint polka dots and have them look even moderately consistent. It's much easier to have them look random!

I also took this photo to give you an idea of what the inside looks like. During my painting session, the part that was hardest for me to really imagine was that eventually the whole surface, inside and out, would be perfectly glossy. The paint is, of course, liquid when you put it on, but the ceramic just sucks it in right away. Before you know it, you're onto the next coat. And when you come back for your piece a week later, it's beautifully shiny!

So, once we were done with our painting there was still a little bit of time to hang out before the outing had to conclude. We did some shopping and then we went out for an awesome lunch at SmashBurger.

 Check out these sweet burgers!!
"Gosh," you might be wondering. "That meal surely doesn't look very Paleo-friendly to me!" If you've wondered that, nice work! You've certainly learned something about Paleo. In fact, in order to make my burger (the one on the bottom) into something even moderately Paleo, you'd have to remove the bun, the cheese and the fries and make sure that the not-very-lean beef came from a pasture-raised animal. Did I do any of that? NOPE! Instead, I took a brief hiatus from my healthier eating habits and enjoyed every bite! And then, as I wrote this post to share with you, I got to remember just how yummy it was. So worth it!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A collection of goals

Recently, I was chatting with some of my good friends from book club when one of them mentioned a goal she had set. She mentioned that her goal for year was to read all of the books on her shelves that she had never read. As she explained this goal, I thought a lot about it and even considered switching to that from my current reading goal, which is to read a book a week. I decided, though to try for 52 books in 2013. We'll have to see how that goes!

Our conversation did inspire me to think more about the collection that I have been growing on my shelves over the years. At first, I didn't think I had all that much. Then, I took a walk...

I found quite the little stack of unread books in my Immigrant Lit/Scandinavian collection. Some of these were a gift from my college roommate, after she completed her Nordic Lit class. This stack is going to be pretty challenging - it was one thing to get reading done in college, and its something quite different to come home and read Finnish epic poetry after a full day at the office.

I then moved on to the living room, to the shelf where I usually keep the books I've bought but have not yet had the chance to read. Here's a nice big pile. I should have included something in this photo to show scale - that Truman book's spine is about 3 inches tall. And it's just barely the tallest one!

Just when I thought I had seen everything, I realized that I had even more! This should be the easiest stack to get through - although Something Dangerous is apparently the second book in a series and I haven't read and don't own the first one. Whoa!

When I realized there are 19 books already here that I haven't read, I've decided to set a new goal: one book from the collection in each of the remaining months of the year. So, hopefully by the time 2014 gets here, there will only be 10 books hanging around! Wish me luck!

Monday, March 18, 2013


On Friday, I went to work on what might have been the iciest day of the winter so far. I was making the long, slow trek across the parking lot and shiny sidewalk very, very slowly when I started to think, "Man, my bag is really heavy." And there, as I just barely missed falling on my behind, in my dress clothes, and in full view of most of the windows into the building where I worked, I had a sinking feeling. "Of course, it was the bag of baby carrots that I bought yesterday and shoved into my purse... and then left sitting out at room temperature overnight in my apartment." As soon as I got to my desk, I grabbed the offending baby carrots and shoved them into the little refrigerator near my cubicle. By the time I left work, the ice (mercifully) had melted, but still, I spent my walk thinking my bag was too heavy.

Over the weekend, I decided to clean it out. And that's when things really got interesting. Of course, at the top were my wallet and phone and book, which all came straight out of the bag first thing when I got home. Then I started digging. This is what I found:

Empty travel coffee mug that I had used that morning.

Sunglasses, MP3 player, traveling make-up bag. 

 Cases containing medicines and cough drops. 

Crumpled old receipts for prescriptions. 

Okay, none of that was too surprising. I also found a hairbrush stuck to a winter hat, both of which are normal and necessary during a Minnesota winter. And I came upon a little notebook I occasionally use to make lists or jot down other notes - again, normal. The receipts were garbage, the usual crud that rides along in a purse, so I tossed them. But, there was still stuff in the bag! 

Yeah, these have been in here since sometime in January. I was thinking of hanging them up on an interior window at work, but that was back before winter was basically over. 

Special hand cream I was using to treat some dry spots on my hands when I first went back to work...
at the beginning of January! 

A collection of empty plastic bags, whose purpose is elusive. 

An old JoAnn's ad, which I was probably carrying to use the coupon. It's probably been in there since sometime in October! 

Socks, just in case - of something, I guess! 

A tax form. Good thing I discovered this before sitting down to actually work on my taxes...

A collection of stickers, one of which recently became adhered to the cover of a library book. Eek! With diligent effort, I've been able to remove all of the adhesive from the plastic covering on the hardback, but yikes anyways!

 Apparently, the cough drops in the case weren't enough and TWO additional bags were required?

The grocery list I made when I was preparing to host book club and offer my guests a sampling of old fashioned candy - in JULY! 

These are some truly ancient JoAnn's ads - they're from LAST spring! 

And the most ridiculous find of all? This summons for jury duty. As you can see, it included some important information I needed during my term of service. It turned out that I was very lucky and never even had to report, so that was cool. But seriously? The two week term of service started just less than A YEAR AGO! 

Okay, so if you're still reading this post at this point, you're probably wondering why on earth I carry all of this crap around with me. I really have no idea. I guess it was just easier to haul it than to clean out the bag, which is just silly! The only real response I have to that question is, "I don't anymore!" Dug anything good out of your bag lately?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Martha's Pans

Oh yeah, you read that right - this is a blog post about pans!

One of the things that's been going on around here is a lot more cooking. Actual cooking - not simply heating up some frozen thing, which was my basic approach for quite some time. It's not that tough to make meals that fit within Paleo guidelines, as long as you're willing to make things from scratch. In addition to more cooking, there's also been more dishwashing! I was really lucky when I first set up my own place back in 2006, just after graduating from college. While I was in college, my mom's mom passed away. My mom saved all of Grandma's pots and pans for me. Many of them were in great shape and have stayed that way. Some weren't, and there were some pans that got to suffer through some "learning experiences" in my kitchen. So, I can safely say, until this past weekend, I had never bought a pan!

But, it was time. The little sautee pan I use all the time, because its the perfect size when cooking for one, was in especially bad shape.
In this photo, the pan is dirty, but it doesn't look all that much better when it's clean. And yes, the marks on the bottom are places where the non-stick coating has worn off. For quite a while, I thought this just meant I had to use a little extra oil, which didn't bug me that much. But, then, I looked in my ultimate reference...

That's right, Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook has an entire page devoted to how to clean your pans. I looked this up in the first place because the areas where the coating was gone were particularly difficult to clean.

And then I read this:

I know the pic is a little difficult to read, but the upshot is that Martha's advice is to ditch a pan whenever the coating is coming off. I wasn't entirely surprised by that counsel, because Martha Stewart's brand suggests she's nothing if not a perfectionist. But, then I did a little more research on the internet and found that this advice is common! The New York Times has some thoughts about how to care for your pans, and had even more to share. Um... okay. Scratched pan, hit the road!

I also have a bigger skillet, which doesn't look quite as bad.
At least, not dangerous bad. But still. Ick!

Orangey, aztec-looking detail? No thanks.

So, when I was shopping at TJ Maxx recently, I came across a display of simple, pretty non-stick pans. And it took about 2 seconds for me to decide that it was time to rip the band-aid, invest a total of about $25.00 including the sales tax, and just get some new pans. Here they are!

On Sunday, when it was time to fry up a couple of eggs for breakfast, I decided to give the little guy a whirl. I pulled off the label - and then realized the pan comes with instructions! I don't know why I found this so befuddling, but I really did.

The print is tiny and light, so I know you won't be able to read it, but I was so stunned I had to take a picture and share it with you guys. It's insane! I realized as I was taking the photo that I've actually never bought a pot or a pan before, so no wonder I have no clue that the manufacturer has all these neat little ideas for you.

Like seasoning a non-stick pan.
I've heard of the importance of seasoning a cast iron skillet, but never even imagined that would be useful with a non-stick. Apparently it is, though, as my internet research had also suggested, so I decided to go for it. These guys allegedly are non-stick on both the inside and the outside, but I decided to do seasoning only on the inside. 
I got freaked out by the idea of putting oil on those beautiful silver coils, which will have direct contact with the heating element on my electric burner. So, once the inside was lightly coated with oil and wiped dry, I was off to the races. Eggs for breakfast in my pretty new pan!