Wednesday, April 28, 2010

here little fish, little fish, little fish!

Watching fish in your home aquarium is supposed to be relaxing...

...setting up your home aquarium is decidedly NOT relaxing!

The photo above was taken mid-staining project, (I was staining it darker.)  The aquarium & stand is a hand-me-down from my mom.  The only problem being the wood tone was wrong.  All wrong!  So, once the floor & molding were installed and the aquarium was moved into place,* I got to staining.  

As you can see, the tank was once used to house candles and ping pong balls.  And, for a night, my cell phone.  Because my friends are "hilarious."

*The "correct" way to stain something is to take it outside or into a garage/basement/work area, put on top of a drop cloth or newspaper, and stain all surfaces.  To hell with "correct," this sucker is HEAVY!  It was moved once, and that will be all!

Post-staining transformation!  With water!!!  The edges of the actual tank, (still oak-finished,) are a plastic material that I fear cannot be painted.  But, I plan on looking into this to see if there's any products that would stick... anyone have any suggestions or experience?  

So, over the course of months, we started filling with plants and rocks and things.  Funny story: it takes A LOT of freakin "plants and things" to fill a 125gal tank!  Another story: photographing a fish tank can be challenging, what with the reflection & glare & all.

I used field stones from... um... out in a field.  Scrubbed & soaked in boiling water many times over before putting in the (empty) tank.  I started feeding the tank for a few weeks, which gets things groovy & the nitrate cycle going.  By "feeding," I mean throwing in a few flakes every day, (but not too much!  Don't want to overload the tank.)

This is how it looked when we put in 6 Zebra Danios, to kinda test the waters & keep things going.  Since I am a horrible person & a failure at blogging, there's been tons of changes to the set up & stocking of the tank.  More plants & rocks; more fish.  Will update soon....*

*Yeah right.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

bench press

You know what's awesome?  When three men decide to stop by your house and magically lift the 700lb* slab of marble onto the legs to make, voila! a bench!!

The worst of it is this bench has been in pieces in my front yard for a good 9 months without any progress.**  Let me tell you, the curb appeal on this place was SKY HIGH!  

*Ok, maybe it wasn't 700lbs.  But, lets humor the boys- it's more impressive for them this way.  I have no idea how heavy it was... but it was heavy!  Heavy as a rock!!
**9 months.  Maybe more.  Don't judge me. 

But that all changed, recently!  It started when my beau re-dug the holes for the legs, (re-dug because after 9 months, holes start to cave in and fill up,) and filled it with concrete.  We opted to fill it with dry concrete, with the idea that it would draw moisture from the damp, surrounding ground and any coming rain.  And guess what?  It worked!  So, holes were dug.  Initial leg stones were placed in the holes with concrete and leveled.  The remaining leg stones were stacked with a few dots of Liquid Nails between each for stability.  And finally?  The keystone!  The pi√®ce de r√©sistance!  The bench seat!!!!

 Look how pretty!  It's a bench!  Ignore the random pieces of 2x4 and plywood.  Just enjoy the bench.  Soon to be surrounded by amazing landscaping!*  And the best part?  Almost 100% free, thanks to my neighbor having access to free, leftover stone** & marble and my mom's leftover concrete; I bought the Liquid Nails & caulking gun.

And I must thank the three very helpful men- I am so grateful!!!

*"Soon" is a relative term with me.  See above: 9 months.
**My neighbor & I moved the bench top from the curbside all the way to this corner of the front yard, Egyptian-style with rope and rolling bars and planks.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

stove-top "lighter" mac n cheese

When there is a craving for fun-shaped macaroni & cheese, there's no stopping it.  You can't ignore it.  You can't fight it.

Oh, and steak.  

Confession: the recipe called for 5oz of cheese.  I added a little more (SHHH!!!)  I also said "to HELL with the recipe calling for all low-fat cheddar cheese!"  That stuff sucks.  Instead?  Sharp cheddar & fontina mix.*  Oooo baby!

*Swapping out low-fat cheddar for other full fat cheeses would also alter the nutrition content.  Many apologies, as I tend to throw caution to the wind when it comes to cheese! 

This recipe is from Cooking Light- the goal was to get a good mac & cheese recipe that wouldn't force me up a dress size each time I eat it.  Especially when it's one of our* favorite, happy foods.  And at 252cals (as written/per serving,) this definitely fits the bill.  The calorie-saving technique is to use low-fat cream cheese.  This simultaneously makes for a creamy sauce and adds some cheesy flavor, all while eliminating the need for butter, heavy cream, and a larger amount of shredded cheese.

*I have been told that when say "our" or "we" on the blog, I sound like I am speaking in the Royal 'We.'  Let us just make believe this is so, shall we?  I will answer to "Your Highness."  Thank you.

MMMMMM!!!  Look at that creaminess!!  Also?  With the addition of fontina, this got crazy-stringy.  Which, as we all know, stringy cheese = awesome.  So essentially, addition of fontina means crazy-awesome.  And wagon wheels!  You know whats great about them?  More little crevices and surface area for the cheese to cling to!

Now, the only change I would make is to scale back on the dijon mustard.  The flavor was way too strong, and dominated the pasta.  I would try only 1tsp of dijon, maybe less.  I do hope to play around with different cheeses or finishing this in the oven with a breadcrumb or cheese crust.* 

*Should be noted that the addition of breadcrumbs or more cheese would increase the caloric content. 

As you can see, we also had green beans with mushrooms and steak with the mac n' cheese.  Life was good. 

Creamy Stove-Top Mac N' Cheese Light
serves 6, from Cooking Light

4c uncooked pasta (like shells, elbow macaroni, or favorite fun shape!)
3tbsp all-purpose flour
1tsp salt
1/4tsp black pepper
2 1/4c fat-free milk
1/4c  (2 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
2tsp dijon mustard
2tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2tsp minced garlic
1 1/4c (5 ounces) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Cook pasta, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, over medium-high heat, add milk to a large saucepan.  Wisk in flour, salt, and pepper until well blended.  Drop in cream cheese by teaspoonfuls and bring to a boil.  Stir constantly.  Reduce heat and simmer until thick and the cream cheese has melted, about 2 minutes.  Stir in mustard, Worcestershire, and garlic and simmer for 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and add cheddar cheese, stirring until melted. Add in pasta & coat.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

neither chicks, nor peas...

I would like to say these are amazingly delicious, but I can't.  Lady Crash-ington ate them all in 2 swift gulps before I could have one, single, solitary chickpea.

That's a lie.  I totally ate these.  And they were totally awesome.  Apparently, I am a year behind in the food blogosphere, as these were all the rage back in '09.  I am an embarrassment.

I made these as a snack for Game Night with friends & it was a hit!  Great, nutritious, snack or a welcome topping to soups or salads.  Looking forward to changing up the spice blend as the mood strikes me... and you know how moody I can be.  

I did a variation on this idea by throwing some seasoned chickpeas in a skillet & toasting them, as well.  I think I may prefer that method, but will have to test again.  And again. You know, just to be sure.

Roasted Chickpeas

2tsp cumin
1/4tsp cayenne
1/4tsp chipotle powder
1/2tsp smoked paprika
1/4tsp coriander
1/8tsp allspice
1/4tsp cinnamon
1/8tsp ginger
1/4tsp salt
1 28oz can chickpeas
olive oil

Drain & rinse the chickpeas.  Allow to dry (I drain & rinse before work, and leave in a colander while I'm at work.  Dried by the time I get home!)

Preheat oven to 450.

Combine spices thoroughly.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil & spread chickpeas.  Coat generously with olive oil.  Sprinkle over spice blend & toss.  Bake for ~40 min until crunchy, checking to make sure they don't burn.  Ta Da!  Enjoy fresh out of the oven or cold.  Either way, enjoy them!