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Archive for November, 2013

Believe it or not, this week marks one year since we woke up, put our suitcases and the dog in our cars, and turned our backs on the Rocky Mountains. We arrived in Maryland exactly one year ago today, literally and figuratively in the dark. Twelve months, two states, and two houses later, I still wouldn’t say that we’re totally settled here, but being in our own house seems to have closed the chapter on a year of transition.

I don’t think I anticipated how difficult the first year here would be from a personal standpoint. I knew there would be challenges with fighting traffic, getting lost, finding grocery stores, meeting people, joining a church, and learning my job. But surprisingly, I struggled with feeling like I was wasting my time and lacking purpose in life when we didn’t have any friends or anything we were involved in and just sat around the house looking at real estate listings on the internet all the time. At times, I felt despondent, unmotivated, and a little sad. Bart reminded me that this was not a truthful way to look at this time. It wasn’t time wasted, but it was a season of rest and rejuvenation so we would be ready to begin again with those things when that time came. And, of course, he has been right about that. In due time, things like finding a house, meeting people, and getting involved have fallen into place. We aren’t completely back up to speed, but we’re accelerating in that direction, and it seems like every week we see new opportunities around us.

It never hurts to look back and see that we have actually done a lot in our first year here. You don’t often have such a period free of obligations to explore a new place and have new experiences, so we tried to take advantage of it. Looking back over the last year, here are some of the most notable things we’ve experienced:

  • Visited twelve different states along the Eastern Seaboard and New England. When was the last time I visited twelve states in one year? Probably never.
  • Now that I think about it, we should also include the seven other states we drove through when moving here, and two more we hit on a trip back home in April. That’s an incredible 42% of the United States.
  • Bought a house. This is typically not something you do every day, and given how many months it took us to find this one, it definitely isn’t an insignificant accomplishment.
  • Hosted our first dinner party. That happened this last weekend, in fact.
  • Weathered a presidential inauguration, sequestration, furloughs, shutdowns, and a gubernatorial election in a state where we missed the voter registration deadline by two days. And there have been numerous other little quirks we’ve experienced living in Federal City.
  • Had seventeen separate house guests stay with us, some multiple times. I can think of maybe 10 overnight guests that we had in Colorado the entire eight years I lived there.
  • Waited at the DMV twice. Remind me to never move states or buy a new car or anything else that requires a trip to the DMV ever again.
  • Both of us had jury duty in Montgomery County. And now we’re back at the top of the list in a new one.
  • Driven past or walked on a beach three times. Not something we could accomplish in Colorado or Arkansas.
  • Visited many monuments and museums on a whim that most people have to go on vacation to see.
  • There were also a few things we didn’t do that we expected to do, mostly because finding a house was a real time-sucker for the nicest six months of the year. But we look forward to having time to do these and more now that we’re not in the market for a home. Of course, I hear that home improvement projects take up weekends, too. Good thing we don’t have a list of dozens of things we’d like to do to the house…or something. ;p

  • Go to Gettysburg. I was 100% positive we would do this sometime in our first year, but it never happened. It’s definitely going to, though.
  • Go to Mount Vernon. Granted, we now live about ten miles from it, and we’ve heard it’s awesome during the holidays. I’m motivated to make this happen before the year is out.
  • Go to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. We almost did this on our trip to New England over the Fourth of July weekend, but we passed, opting to go during the off season this winter. We like excuses to head to upstate New York.
  • Go to New York City. We ran out of non-house hunting weekends in the summer. Depending on the weather and our travel plans around the holidays and first of the year, this might have to wait until next spring or summer.
  • Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenandoah National Park. This would have been awesome to do three weeks ago, but if you recall, we bought a house three weeks ago. But I hear Shenandoah is beautiful all year round.
  • That’s a quick snapshot of our first year in Washington, DC. I guess we can’t consider ourselves “new” to the area anymore, but I still feel pretty green most of the time. But we’ve still got a lot of living to do here as long as we live here, be in a few years or the rest of our lives. I appreciate your accompanying me on this journey and hope you have enjoyed the blog so far. I intend to keep sharing our adventures with you, both with exploring the DC area and the East Coast as well as fixing up our new house. I hope you’ll continue to join me as we start Year Two in Washington!

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    As you recall, part of November’s Eat-out challenge was trying four new recipes this month. We’ll call that the Eat-In Challenge for November. To start off the month last week, I tried my hand at a dish Bart and I had at a restaurant in Arlington a few months ago but had never made on my own.

    I’d heard of huevos rancheros before, but I had never eaten it. I’m not sure why; I’m a gigantic fan of breakfast and of Mexican food, so it’s an obvious win. At this restaurant, I saw that they had not only huevos rancheros on the menu, but they had huevos rancheros divorciados. I’d never heard of this before, but the waitress explained it as huevos rancheros with both red and green sauce. As I am also a gigantic fan of green sauce, I knew I needed to try it. Despite the ominous name, it was quite delicious, so I knew it was something I wanted to try at home.

    I based my red sauce on Jamie Deen’s huevos rancheros recipe; my main modification was using green chilies instead of a jalapeno. I also used diced tomatoes but decided that next time I would go with whole or stewed instead for a deeper flavor.

    Base ingredients for the red sauce

    Base ingredients for the red sauce

    I blended these in a blender, then transferred to a sauce pan to warm while I focused on the green sauce.

    For this, I used the green half of this Food Network recipe. This recipe is legit, as it called for roasting the tomatillos, onion, pepper, and garlic before making the sauce. I did this in a cast iron skillet over high heat on my awesome gas cooktop.

    Roasting the ingredients for the green sauce.

    Roasting the ingredients for the green sauce.

    For the record, this is the first time I’ve ever used tomatillos. I have no idea if the were ripe or anything, but it seemed to turn out just fine. Then I blended them all up and transferred to yet another saucepan to warm.

    Will it blend? Yes, yes it will.

    Will it blend? Yes, yes it will.

    I didn’t make any modifications to this recipe except for one that I literally just realized I did on accident: instead of halving the Anaheim pepper, I used a whole one. No wonder I thought it was almost too hot to eat…mystery solved. Bart tells me it was just right and to not change it. We’ll see next time. The only modification I think I’d make in the future is adding some spices like cumin and coriander for a little added depth.

    Next, I turned my attention to some refried beans. I always make my own, usually with pintos that I cook myself.  I add the equivalent of one can of beans to a skillet with a little bit of oil of my choice; I used canola oil this time. Just a tablespoon or less did it for me, but definitely suit yourself.

    Pre-fried beans.

    Pre-fried beans.

    To this I added salt, onion and garlic powder, cumin, and coriander. I’m guilty of rarely measuring spices; I’m trying to reform my practices, I promise. I use something like 1/2-1 teaspoon of each.

    Spicing up the refried beans.

    Spicing up the refried beans.

    Add these to the beans and heat them in the skillet for 5-10 minutes. If they get too dry, just add a little water and let that cook down. Once all the flavors are incorporated, mash to the desired consistency; I use the back of a spoon or sometimes a potato masher. Mine were pretty chunky this time, but I usually like it on the creamy side.

    Once that was cooking, I toasted up some flour tortillas in the cast iron skillet. Corn is probably more traditional, but I had flour tortillas so there you go.

    Heating up the tortillas.

    Heating up the tortillas.

    Finally, I had my resident fried egg-spert, Bart, cook up a few for us. I’m the scramble master, but he’s got the magic touch for fried eggs and omelets.

    Oh, and if anyone ever questions the need to have more than four burners on a cooktop, he should try making huevos rancheros sometime. Have you been counting how many separate pots and pans going on here? Go back and count them.

    To assemble, I spread the refried beans on a tortilla, add the egg, then top with both red and green sauce (but this is divorciados-style, so in the immortal words of the Offspring, you’ve got to keep them separated). And a little shredded colby-jack never hurt anyone.

    Huevos rancheros divorciados

    Huevos rancheros divorciados

    You’ll notice one glaring omission to this recipe–any sausage or chorizo. That’s because I’m a dork and I forgot to pick it up at the grocery store. That’s okay; I was running out of burners anyway.

    I have no idea what it is, but there’s something about this meal that is utterly delicious. Bart and I gobbled it down and went back for more. It just goes to show that expanding your horizons and trying a new dish could lead to a new favorite to add into the rotation of reliable meals. Plus, it enforces the point that we can eat just as well or better at home than we could at a restaurant and save a bunch of cash doing so. In all regards, the first new recipe for the Eat-In Challenge was successful. I’m due up for recipe #2 any day now, so I’d better start scouting out a delicious prospect. Any suggestions?

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    Evidently, November is a popular month for challenges. There’s NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) and, of course, Movember/No-Shave November (I’m not participating in any of these). I’m even sporting the Eating-Out Challenge here on the blog. But another month-long movement that has really turned into an internet tradition over the last couple of years is “Thirty Days of Thanks.” I have seen numbered status updates popping up all over Facebook since last Friday. Seeing their posts makes feel a bit like a delinquent for not participating on there, but that doesn’t mean at all that I am not thankful or grateful for a very blessed life.

    There are the obvious things I’m thankful for: my faith, my husband, my family, a new house, good health, my job, plenty of food on the table. I’m also thankful for the many extravagant privileges I am afforded by my situation, like having the funds to splurge on fun things now and then, being young and able and free, and getting to spend many years of my life studying so I can have a career, not just a job. Not only am I thankful for these things, I am humbled to list them specifically; when I see them written out, they seem so frivolous compared to the struggles faced by many around the world.

    My friend Bobby Pruett from Boulder introduced me to the idea of “blessed to be a blessing” during the years I was in school at CU. That phrase was the mantra of his family and the focus of his whole ministry to students at the university. In Genesis 12:2, God directly tells Abraham that He would magnificently bless him. But God doesn’t stop there; He clearly indicates that the the blessings given to Abraham are given with the full intent of their being poured out to others. There is no expectation of the blessing being given to Abraham and his descendants for their own pleasure, with a little of the bounty rubbing off on other people if they happened to wander by while it was wafting through the air. The reason for the blessing was to pass it along; Abraham was to be the curator of blessing, a vessel poured out, a distribution center.

    In light of these things, I am reminded of all the blessings I receive, and I, as a spiritual descendant of Abraham, have an obligation to pay it forward. While I am so caught up in the things I have, like a new house or a job or family, I forget that those things aren’t just for my own enjoyment. Thanksgiving isn’t just about giving thanks; it’s about identifying my blessings like resources and finding out how I can use them to improve the lives of people around me. For me, this means doing my job well and providing a quality service for those who depend on it. I also should focus less on doing things to my new house and more on using it to help people who need a place to stay or to feed someone who could use a break from buying groceries and fixing a meal. I can use our ample space to entertain, to enjoy the company of friends and to build our relationships. Time is a big one–am I wasting it playing Candy Crush and watching TV, or am I investing it in relationships and my own personal development? November is a timely reminder to not get tunnel vision about my own self, but to think about others.

    And on a related note, I’ve always wondered–doesn’t there have to be an object of thanksgiving? Typically, when you give something, there has to be an recipient of the transaction. Therefore, if we give thanks, it makes sense that we should be giving thanks to the source of what we are thankful for. Since I believe all things come from God, I clearly should turn my gratitude to Him foremost, even though I don’t nearly as much as I should (even then, it’s impossible to express adequate thanks for everything He has done). We also have so many people around us–family, friends, maybe even people we don’t know–who give to us, be it their love or time, or things we need or extras we enjoy. Be sure to thank them as well and let them know they are appreciated.

    This holiday season, I encourage you to think about all the things that you do have in your life. Don’t take them for granted. Appreciate them; think about how you can pay them forward to others. Most of all, consider where these blessings come from and give ample credit where credit is due. I’m speaking primarily to myself here, but I hope you also enjoy this season on a deeper level this year by paying forward the things you are thankful for and expressing your gratitude to those who deserve it.

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    Well, we already blew our first November Eat-Out mini challenge (eating at home for one week straight) by having dinner out with friends last night and this afternoon. The first set volunteered to broaden our horizons by taking us to one of their favorite pho restaurants. We’ve never had any Vietnamese food before, much less pho, but they assured us the simple beef broth soup was not scary, and they were right; it wasn’t bad or weird at all, and we enjoyed sharing a meal with them. The second set was an older couple from church who has befriended us; they said that since we are poor from just buying a house they wanted to feed us. And we let them. 😉 Very sweet of them.

    So, in the interest of getting to know our friends better and to experiencing something new, we decided it would be fine to shift our seven-day mini challenge up a couple of days. In the meantime, our overall challenge is going well. I’ve already tried one new recipe that I’ll share soon, but today I wanted to share my initial experience with a new kitchen gadget I got a few weeks ago.

    For my birthday, Bart’s mom bought me an Instant Pot. This is something I’ve had on my wishlist for a while. I have a slow cooker and a rice cooker that I use often, and recently I contemplated getting a pressure cooker. However, I wasn’t all that excited about getting yet another bulky appliance for my kitchen, and now that my new kitchen is even smaller, a new appliance is a definitely no-go. However, about a year ago I came across an appliance called the Instant Pot, a multi-tasking device that combines a slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker, and a pressure cooker in one package. Not only would I be gaining functionality, I would be reducing the number of items I had to store in my cabinets. And the reviews were great. I held off on getting one, but now was the perfect time for my mother-in-law to gift one to me.

    We’ve been so distracted unpacking that I haven’t had the opportunity to play with it, but we finally got it out today. We started off by testing the slow cooker function with some chili. I just chose the “slow cooker” option on the panel and set the number of hours I wanted.

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    Six hours later, we had a hot, delicious chili.

     

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    So, our first experience with the Instant Pot was a good one. However, a slow cooker seems like a hard thing to get wrong, so I look forward to testing out the rice cooker and especially the pressure cooker function. It claims you can cook beans in twenty minutes, compared to one or two hours when I usually do it. If that’s true, my whole world is going to get rocked.  I’ll try to share my further experience with the additional functions to let you know how it measures up. In other news, does anybody need a crock pot or rice cooker? I might know where you can find a good deal on some used ones…

    As for the chili, it’s one of my staple recipes that I have in my head and not written out, but it’s easy enough to share the basic formula with you. I use a pound of ground beef, two cans of beans, one each of pintos and red beans (or the equivalent home-cooked beans, which I typically do), a can of diced tomatoes, and the appropriate amount of chili seasoning mix, either prepackaged or made from scratch, whatever I have on hand. Then I add tomato juice to make it the desired thickness; we like ours a little juicier, so I add something like two to three cups. Today I shook things up a bit and added a cup or so of frozen corn and a small can of green chilies, which made a nice variation. Chili is a great staple recipe to have–it’s tasty, quick, and very forgiving to make just how you desire.

    So the Taylors are off to a good start on their eat-out challenge, despite a few unexpected meals out. Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling through the first full week of November.

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