Bacon and Brussels Sprouts Hash

Hi friends! I’ve had a few hiccups in my life this month, but I’m back- with tons on my mind. Most urgently, I’d like to discuss Brussels sprouts.

Bacon and Brussels Sprouts Hash 3
I may have mentioned this before, but I absolutely adore Brussels sprouts. They’re adorable mini cabbages, they’re a little trendy, but most of all- sprouts are insanely delicious. When you caramelize some sprouts and add bacon and sautéed onions, it’s a feast! And when you addsome eggs and bake for a while, you have the most amazing breakfast hash.
Bacon and Brussels Sprouts Hash 2
Seriously, I’ve made plenty of sprouts-and-bacon combinations for dinner, but the eggs were an unexpectedly tasty edition that moved my side dish into breakfast territory (or, let’s be real, a perfect duty-day dinner). Though this hash is the result of a happy accident (why on earth were there three pounds of sprouts in my fridge?) it will absolutely be in heavy rotation this winter- it’s tasty, filling, and a great way to sneak some veggies into breakfast. Even folks who don’t share my irrational passion for Brussels sprouts will enjoy this dish- the bacon and sautéed onions are the most dominant flavors. Give it a try- I’d be surprised if this dish didn’t inspire an appreciate for sprouts in anyone.
Bacon and Brussels Sprouts Hash
- 2 dozen or so Brussels sprouts (about 3 cups chopped)
- 6 slices bacon
- 1/2 sweet onion
- salt and pepper
- 3 eggs
Prepare your ingredients: rinse the sprouts, and then slice them into quarters. Slice the bacon into very thin strips, and julienne the onion. Crack the eggs into a bowl to make sure that they’re all good, and set aside (don’t stir). Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the hash: heat a cast iron (or other oven safe) skillet on medium high. Add the bacon and cook for a minute or two. Add the onion, and stir to coat with bacon grease. Cook the bacon and onions for three or four minutes, until the bacon is nearly cooked through and the onion is getting translucent, or beginning to get some color. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan, and stir to coat (at this point, you may also need to add some olive oil, depending on the fat content of your bacon- you don’t want standing oil, but you also don’t want dry sprouts). Let the sprouts stand for about two minutes, then turn. Allow to cook about two minute more and turn again. Repeat once or twice more, until the sprouts start to gain a bit of color. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add eggs: once the sprouts are a bit golden around the edges and are seasoned appropriately, pour the eggs over the top and move to the oven. Now, I like my eggs to be pretty firmly set, so they were in the oven for about 16 minutes. For normal people, who like soft cooked eggs, that time will, be closer to 10-12 minutes- adjust to your preferred level of done-ness. Remove from the oven, and serve with hot sauce or salsa, if desired. Enjoy hot with some toast for sopping!

After the Wedding: How the Gloves Split Their Finances

Well, hello again, hive! In my last ‘after the wedding’ post, I explained that McGlovin and I are most effective when we work independently towards a shared goal. Once we are clear on our objectives, there’s no need for either of us to micromanage because we’re pretty clear on the division of responsibilities and we have absolute faith that we’re both doing our part. This style has worked for us when we were planning our wedding, when we arrange vacations, when we embark on home renovations and when we handle our finances. Yep- we know it’s uncommon, but McGlovin and I still have separate finances and no plans to combine them anytime soon!

So here’s some back-story: when McGlovin and I started dating, we immediately fell into a pattern of alternating who paid for dinner or movie tickets or things. When we moved in together we continued to split things somewhat evenly- I think he paid for our rent, and I paid for insurance, utilities and groceries. We bought a house, and now he pays the mortgage and insurance, and I continue to pay for utilities, our car insurance, groceries, etc. There’s just never been a real reason to combine finances, and keeping them separate seems to work for us.

When people learn about this arrangement they usually have tons of questions- I’ll try to answer some of those now!

Q: So, wait, your money stays totally separate? A: Yes. My paycheck goes into my bank account, his goes in to his. We each have health insurance taken out (somehow, it’s cheaper for each of us to have our own insurance) and we each have money put into retirement accounts. I don’t have access to his bank accounts and he doesn’t have access to mine. We could, but…why? We check in pretty regularly about whats in each of ours.

Q: How do you control discretionary spending, then? A: Well- we each spend whatever we want on whatever we want to buy. We don’t have a rule about telling each other when we’re buying things, but we would never hide it or judge…he knows that I spent some dollars on a bag a few months ago, and I recently learned about how expensive chain saws are…it’s crazy! And we usually talk about bigger things, like computers or other big ticket items. But we each use our own money, and stay on track with our financial assignments, so we’re good.

Q: Ok, so you each spend all of your money? A: No. Although all of our money is separate, we do tons of planning for our dollars. McGlovin is responsible for savings, and we check in regularly with that. We are saving for the long term, but also for shorter term items like vacation and a kitchen renovation. As for me…I’m responsible for paying my debt. I went to a private Catholic school for undergrad, and graduated with a serious amount of student loans, so a huge amount of my money goes to paying back those loans. Any money in our checking accounts after paying what we’re supposed to is ours, though.

Q: How does everything balance out? A: surprisingly well. McGlovin makes more money than I do, so he’s responsible for paying for more things (I count our mortgage and savings as paying for things, in addition to paying for date nights and vacation spending and things). He also tends to spend a tiny bit more money than I do, because he has it; for example, he has a higher car payment, because he was okay with budgeting that. I bought a less expensive car, because I’d rather spend my money on things that aren’t car payments. So we’re each pretty happy with our standard of living.

Q: That’s all well and good for right now, but what are you going to do when you have kids? A: I have no idea how that will affect us. To be honest, I imagine that we continue to each pay for some things- he’ll be the one taking them to the doctor, due to his schedule, so he’ll probably pay for that and likely childcare. I’m the one with a Prime membership, so I bet that I pay for diapers and things that need to be shopped for, like clothes.

Q: I still don’t understand why your finances are separate, since you are open about your spending and seem to be on the same page. Wouldn’t it be easier to just put everything together? A: Ok, here’s the thing: I bank with USAA. I love their customer service, their fee free ATM situation, and the fact that I never need to go to a bank for anything. McGlovin loves his local bank- he likes the people that work there, he likes to go in for his transactions, and he likes knowing that he has a local contact for any financial need. Neither of us wants to switch to the other, so we keep our banking separate. Yep- we’re a married couple with separate finances due to our irrational banking preferences.Our financial planner has approved this :)

So that’s what we do. Neither of us has direct access to the other person’s money, but we still consider all of the money in our relationship “one pot”- it just lives in difference places. If we ever needed to reallocate dollars from one account to the other it would absolutely not be an issue. Mostly, though, we just regulate our allocation by adjusting who pays for what. We know it’s not a conventional way for couples to handle things, but our separate finances has been working for us so far!

Tell me, hive- do any of you maintain separate finances, or plan to after marriage? Is there a specific reason why, or why not?

October Subscription Box Reviews: Birchbox, Ipsy and Sample Society

**due to a glitch in scheduled post, I think this is coming out a day late. Sorry for the double post, but I hope you enjoy my subscription box review for October!

Birchbox2Birchbox

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 beauty and lifestyle samples

This month my box included Balance Me Wonder Eye Cream, dr. Brandt Clean up Mask, Harvey Prince Petaly Noir, Coastal Scents Eye shadow Palette and Essential Elements Wake Up Rosemary Shower Gel.  Overall, I’m on the fence about this box- I wish Birchbox would stop, already, with the Harvey Prince perfume samples, and I don’t really know how much more eye cream I can actually use. I’m interested in the eyeshadow palette, because I don’t usually buy or use eyeshadow- this will be fun to experiment with! And I always love skin care/mask samples and can always use more yummy smelling shower gel. So, this box is kind of neutral for me….but I’m sure I’ll love one of the products before I get the next box. Which reminds me- last month’s Liz Earle cleanser sample was ah-mazing. So good- I love it.

IpsyIpsy

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 full sized or deluxe sample products, plus a makeup bag

This month my box included Albertini Warm Love Pumpkin Exfoliating Staff, Figs & Rouge Hand Cream, Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser, Skone Cosmetics TATTOOED Eyeliner, Starlooks Lip Gloss, and the quilted cosmetics bag pictured here. Similar to Birchbox, Ipsy is a kind of ‘meh’ for me this month. I absolutely loved the warming/exfoliating cleanser- it’s pumpkin scented and also works really well! The cleanser, on the other hand, didn’t work so well for me- it was just a weird gel that sat on top of my skin, and didn’t clean it at all. I also don’t care for the lotion- it’s pretty thin and not terribly moisturizing, with a strong scent. I don’t use eyeliner frequently, but it’s nice to have when you need it, but the lipgloss color was a bit too ‘grandma’ for me…so, overall, this box was kind of a dud. Sorry!

Sample SocietyAllure Sample Society

Monthly Delivery for $15/month

Includes 4-5 Full sized and deluxe beauty and makeup samples

This month I received a Bond No. 9 Bon Bon perfume sample, Estee Lauder Enlighten Dark Spot Correcting Night Serum, L’Oreal Paris Total Repair Extreme Shampoo and Conditioner, Emi-Jay Hair Ties, Bobbi Brown Mascara Sample. Now, I’d say that I am actually very satisfied with this box, but many others were upset- the Estee Lauder sample was originally billed as a larger size; the shampoo and conditioner samples are drug store samples, and this box is supposed to showcase higher end samples; the hair ties and perfume are kind of low grade samples. Well…I actually love everything in this box. I’m so happy to be able to sample an expensive night cream (sure, I would have loved a larger sample), I never mind shampoo and conditioner (so long as they are not foils!), the hair ties are already in my purse because I’m always searching for one, the perfume actually smells lovely, and I love the mascara sample. Yes, the Bobbi Brown is the only real high-end sample, but I’m so happy to see it there! It’s great, and I love a mascara sample. So, overall- I still love the Sample Society Box. I don’t have a lot of confidence in next month’s box, based solely on the spoiler, but I’ll hold off judgment until I get it :)

Friday Five: Friday Pie Day

Friends! It is Friday, and I’m thinking about pie.

Friday Five PieOne of my Autumn Goals was to increase my friendship time, so in a fit of seasonal enthusiasm, I decided to host a Friendsgiving Dinner. And then I invited thirty-ish people, most of whom accepted. So I’m hosting a dinner for 30 at my house in three weeks!

I’m actually really excited- Evan and I used to host ‘family dinner’ events pretty regularly where we would invite tons of people over for dinner. It’s a logistical challenge, for sure, but I know that we’re up for it. Also also…I love that Thanksgiving provides such an obvious theme. I’m still brainstorming menu options, but dessert has been on my mind all week. In the spirit of keeping things a bit streamlined (necessary when feeding thirty people) I decided to do a pie bar (which clearly brings back tons of delicious memories of our wedding pie bar). So todays Friday Five is my pie brainstorming:

  1. Apple pie. Boring, maybe, but I prefer to think of it as classic. Apple pies are my go-to dessert, the first pie that I learned to make, and the pie that I prepared for our wedding. Also, never tell my mom, but my dad secretly prefers mine to all others. So for me, apple pie is absolutely a must for any pie selection.
  2. Pecan pie. Now, I’d never made pecan pie until last year, when one of Evan’s cousins texted and asked me to make one for Thanksgiving. I kind of hate most pecan pie, though, because there’s usually a nice crispy top with all the nuts, then a weird, way too sweet, layer of goop that makes me want to die. I studied a ton of recipes, though, and did plenty of experimentation, and created a pecan pie that replaces the later of goop with a thin layer of dark chocolate. It’s amazing. This is not at all humble, but my chocolate pecan pie may be the best recipe that I’ve ever created. Get excited!
  3. Pumpkin pie. I don’t like pumpkin pie…at all. But it’s a classic, and can you even imagine a Thanksgiving dessert table without it? I’m wondering if I can update it- maybe a brownie bottom, or make a pumpkin cheesecake, or something else that is delicious and not just pumpkin. This pumpkin silk pie seems interesting. Any suggestions?
  4. Peanut Butter Banana pie. I’ve only made this guy a few times, but I think this particular crowd will appreciate it- and mostly, I’m just looking for any opportunity to make it again.
  5. And this last spot….is a wildcard pie. Should I do a berry pie? Key lime pie? Grasshopper pie? Boston cream pie (not a pie at all, actually)?

So, what are you making for Thanksgiving dessert? Alternately, what are your favorite pie recipes? I’d love to get a few more ideas before I have to narrow down my last pie option!

What I Read, Summer 2014: part two

Here we go: the other half of my reading list over summer!

Everything Leads to YouEverything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour

Although I did recently suggest that I was putting a hold on my YA fiction reading, I seem to have inadvertently re-engaged with the genre. Everything Leads to You is the story of Emi, a high school senior who is working to find a place for herself in the film industry. Here’s the thing- the premise of this character is awful. This is an alleged 18 year old, who is offered her brother’s apartment for the summer, with an outstanding job in the film industry, doing set design, on the dime of her college professor parents? Unlikely, and that’s irritating. Once you can get past the unrealistic characters (pretend they are in their mid to late twenties, and it’s fine) I actually loved this story! There is a scavenger hunt of sorts, and it’s a romance without being romantic. Bonus points for being a pretty quick read. I absolutely, wholeheartedly recommend this to others, with the understanding that the character circumstances are ridiculous.

The One and OnlyThe One and Only, by Emily Giffin

I assume that everyone knows what they are getting into with Emily Giffin novels- Wikipedia accurately describes her as an author of the genre “commonly categorized as chick lit”. The One and Only is a tiny departure from her usual romantic comedy, though- Shea is a thirty something who has worked in journalism in a football-obsessed Texas town her entire life. As she starts to consider pursuing something outside of her comfort zone, Shae simultaneously begins to engage in a romance with her best friend’s widowed dad. Yep, it’s totally weird and a little cringe-worthy, but I was actually happy to read some light literature that had characters that diverged a bit from the usual. I don’t know that I would go out of my way to suggest this book to anyone else, but if asked, I wouldn’t give it a negative review.

Red Hook RoadRed Hook Road, by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook Road was a great, great read- it’s one of those books that, when I finished, I was truly satisfied that I spent the time to read it. Red Hook Road starts with the tragic death of a newlywed couple, but chronicles the unlikely relationships that continue to develop between the two families after the accident, romantic and otherwise. I can’t even go into various plot details, but I will say that the characters are so well developed, and the relationships and conflict between them is really well written- I can’t recommend this book more highly, and am certain that you won’t regret reading it.

Fallen SkiesFallen Skies, by Philippa Gregory

I’d like to preface this by saying that Philippa Gregory is my guilty pleasure read- I seek out any and all of her work and consume it within days of learning of its availability. Just so you are aware of my bias J Anyway, Fallen Skies is the story of Lily, a chorus girl in post WWI England, whose mother dies and, in the traumatic days after that death, agrees to marry a decorated but troubled war veteran. Gregory is usually pretty wordy in her descriptions, and this novel is no exception- I regularly skipped paragraphs at a time of descriptions of people and settings. The characters are interesting, though, and I found myself developing feelings towards them; I think actively liking and disliking fictional characters is a sign of good writing, and that was evident here. About two thirds of the way through the book I thought I was going to be left very disappointed, but a plot twist closer to the end left me pretty satisfied with the story, as a whole. So, take this review for what you will- I love the author and I enjoyed reading the story. It’s long enough, without being a superb novel, that I wouldn’t likely proactively recommend this too other.

Sea CreaturesSea Creatures, by Susanna Daniel

Sea Creatures is an interesting story- it’s told from the perfective of Georgia, who is married to a successful scientist who has a pretty intense sleep disorder (necessitating a cuff, when he finally does sleep) and their son, who has regressed and refuses to speak any more. At the onset of the book, the family has just moved from their hometown due to a sleep related incident that is clarified later in the story, and tensions about the future are a bit high. Georgia takes the side job as the assistant to a widow-ish man with a house on the ocean, and brings her son along. Interesting things ensue, and we learn more about characters background, and then more interesting things happen, and then the ending is satisfying. This novel is not an award winner, sure, but I enjoyed reading it and think that it would probably be a good candidate for the ladies in my bookclub, if that’s any indication of its quality.

So! That’s most of everything that I managed to read over the summer. I’ve already started to amass quite the list for fall reading, but always love to get recommendations! So- what are you reading, or what have you read, that you’d like to recommend?

Taco Tuesday: Fajita Quesadillas

For whatever reason, I was completely obsessed with fajitas when I was younger. My family was not the type to actually go to Mexican restaurants, though, so I was obsessed with Applebees and Chili’s fajitas- the sizzling cast iron pan that I always touched, even though I was warned not to; the plates full of lettuce and pico and gross sour cream, that I never touched; the stacks of flour tortillas that I sometimes ate plain. And, only God knows why, but childhood me loved my fajitas with a light drizzle of A1 steak sauce, to overpower all other flavors. What can I say? I was a foodie from the start.

Fajita Quesadillas 2

Anyway, that story is apropos of nothing, except to say that fajitas (in any incarnation) bring back fond memories of my childhood. It was pretty dreary this weekend, and I was craving something familiar for lunch, and these Fajita Quesadillas were a perfect solution. They come together really quickly (grill steak, cook peppers, assemble fajitas) and are less labor intensive than the multiple-plate fajitas of my youth. Start to finish, this meal took about 30 minutes and, with the addition of some chips and salsa, were the perfect comfort food to combat this drizzly, Midwestern fall weather!

Fajita QuesadillasFajita Quesadillas

-          About ¾ pound steak, about ¾  inch thick
-          1 red pepper
-          1 yellow pepper
-          1 small onion (purple or yellow or white, whatever you have)
-          Steak seasoning (I rarely use spice mixes, but I really love McCormick’s steak seasoning)
-          2 tsp worchestire sauce
-          Olive oil
-          4 10 inch flour tortillas
-          1 cup shredded cheese
-          Salsa, sour cream, etc.

Prepare the steak: Preheat a grill, or cast iron grill pan. Lightly drizzle the steak in olive oil, and rub all over. Season liberally with steak seasoning, or salt and pepper. Grill steak for about 4 minutes on each side, without disturbing. Set the steak on a plate to rest while you do the veggies. When you are ready to assemble the quesadillas, slice the steak thinly across the grain.

Prepare the veggies: Wash the peppers, then halve and remove the membrane and seeds. Julienne the peppers and onions to roughly the same size. Heat a pan (I like cast iron, but you can also use non-stick) to high heat, and add a bit of olive oil. Add the peppers and onions and saute for about three or four minutes, until they have some color but aren’t burnt. Season with steak seasoning, and add the worchestire, and cook for another minute. Remove the peppers to another bowl, and wipe out the pan.

Assemble the quesadillas: turn the pan to medium heat, and spray with cooking oil. Lay one tortilla down in the pan, and spread with about ¼ cup of cheese. Evenly arrange half of the peppers, and half of the sliced steak. Top with another ¼ cup of cheese, and another tortilla. Use a flat spatula to press down on the quesadilla, to increase the contact with heat. Once the first tortilla is lightly browned, and the cheese has softened, carefully flip the quesadilla to brown and melt the other side. (The entire trick of quesadillas is making sure the cheese is melted before you flip- otherwise, you run the risk of everything falling out as you turn it.) After the other side is done, remove the quesadilla and let sit for a minute before slicing into quarters. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients, and serve the tortillas with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, or any toppings you prefer.

Boo Baskets

Friends! Life lately has been nuts- tons of travel, lots of cooking, growing our business, promotions at my real job, networking and development conferences, and statistics….oh, my stats class this semester. Suffice it to say, there hasn’t been a ton of down time recently and I’ve pretty much failed at celebrating autumn (save for my massive apple consumption).

Boo baskets 2

One thing I really love to do each fall, that I absolutely would not let slip by the wayside, is Boo Baskets. I was in a job a few years ago that was pretty miserable- the work was menial and our boss was less than stellar. What made it totally bearable, though, is the fact that I worked with a pretty amazing group of people, and we excelled in boosting our own moral. One of the things that we did was Boo Baskets- every year, someone would secretly put a Halloween treat basket on a desk with a cute poem attached, and your instructions were to pay it forward to another co-worker or two. I loved, loved, loved getting these baskets, because it was always a bit of a surprise to see one pop up, and we were always sure to include everyone.

Boo basketsNow that I’m in a new job, I’ve kept this tradition going for two years. I’m about two weeks late (I like to start at the beginning of the month) but this morning I stopped by the grocery for some supplies- I use a mix of Halloween candy and some other fun things, like cookie cutters, mini candles, and fun toys. I packed everything into trick-or-treat buckets, printed out my poem (there are several that can be found here that are sweet), and set these in front of a few offices of new staff members. I’m hoping they follow the instructions and keep this going, but even if they don’t, at least I surprised a few people this holiday!

What about you all- does anyone else do a fun Halloween celebration? I know the winter holidays are the most regularly celebrated, but I’ll take any seasonal fun I can get!

Streusel Topped Banana Bread

Now, I’ve mentioned before my struggle with bananas before- we regularly buy more than we actually want to eat in a week. Then, as they start to attract fruit flies, I insist to Evan that we need to save them (on the counter, not in the freezer!) because I am absolutely going to make banana bread in the next few hours. And then the bananas stay on the counter for another week until I finally concede and throw them away when Evan’s not around, because the last half a dozen times I’ve tried to make banana bread, the inside refuses to change from liquid to solid, even as the exterior starts to gain a nice char.

Struesel Topped Banana Bread3Whew.

All of that to say- I’ve conquered banana bread. Yes, my friends, this weekend I mashed the leftover naners even before Evan questioned the need for them to remain in the fruit bowl, and then I made them into not one, but TWO gorgeous and fully cooked loaves of quick bread. Like a boss.Struesel Topped Banana Bread

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to let you know that I used a variation on the recipe that my mom has always successfully used, and was just finally patient enough to problem solve for a minute- and that is how my bread became successful. First, I addressed the undercooked center by making a batch and a half of batter, and splitting it over two loaf pans- that cut down the amount of batter to bake. Then, I lowered the temp on the oven by 25 degrees and gave the loaves about 15 extra minutes to cook through. Finally, since the batter looked a little thin in the loaf pans, I made a quick streusel topping to bulk things up. The result- a very easy quick bread that turned out perfectly!

Struesel Topped Banana Bread2Streusel Topped Banana Bread

-          2 eggs
-          1 ½ cup sugar
-          1 ½ stick butter, softened
-          1 tsp vanilla
-          3 bananas, mashed
-          ½ cup sour cream
-          3 cups flour
-          ½ tsp salt
-          1 tsp baking soda
-          ½ tbsp baking powder
-          ½ tbsp. cinnamon
-          ½ cup chopped walnuts, totally optional
-          ½ stick of butter, melted
-          1 tsp cinnamon
-          ¾ cup powdered sugar
-          ¾ cup flour

Mix the batter: Mix together the eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla- I used a wooden spoon, but you could also use a mixer if you’d like. Add in the bananas and sour cream, and mix until fully combined. Stir in the flour, salt, soda, powder and cinnamon (and optional nuts!), just until everything is incorporated- no need to over mix here!

Make the topping: use a fork to mix together the melted butter, cinnamon, powdered sugar and flour. Now, it may seem like it’s not coming together- when you get to that point, get rid of the fork and start to press the mixture together with your fingers. It should really get to a nice pebbly texture with most of the dry ingredients will mixed in. If that doesn’t happen after two or three minutes, add a tablespoon of milk and continue to work it into crumbs.

Bake the bread: spray two loaf pans, or butter and flour them. Split the batter equally, and top each with half of the crumb topping. Place in a 325 degree oven, and start checking the loaves at 45 minutes. The center should be firm, not wobbly, and a knife inserted into the center should come out clean. If the loaves aren’t done at 45 minutes, return them to the oven and continue to check every three or so minutes. When the read is done, remove from the oven, let sit in the pan for about five minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack. If you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately slice off an end, slather in butter, and try to eat it with your mouth open, since it’s lava hot. Enjoy!

 

What I Read: Summer 2014, part one

It’s time, once again, for a recap of everything I read last season. Summer is a great time for me, in terms of reading, because I love, love, love to spend time in my hammock swing with a book and a glass of lemonade. I didn’t get to read quite as much as usual this fall, due to constantly needing to study for Economics. I did manage a little over a dozen books, though, and I’ll share those with you over the course of the next three What I Read posts. Let me know in the comments if you read anything interesting over the summer- I’m always looking for titles to add to my wait list!
Moneyball
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
Full disclosure: Moneyball was the assigned reading for my grad program over the summer. In the event that you haven’t seen the movie, here’s a brief synopsis: Billy Beane was the manager of the Oakland A’s, and had no money to draft the players that everyone else wanted to draft. So he brought in a statistician who worked out some algorithms to measure the effectiveness of a player and how they contributed to a win, and suggested that recruiters were focusing on the wrong things when chosing who to draft. Beane builds a successful team and everyone is left scratching their heads. Although I care very little for baseball and even less for their statistics, I was able to take away the lesson of measuring the wrong data for the task at hand. At the end of this book, I was left thinking about how we can choose the right data to get at the information we want; for example, using test scores as a measure of teacher performance is ridiculous- all those results show is how well a student performs on a given test. What other metrics could be used to measure the success of an instructor? I can’t give Moneyball a five star endorsement for its entertainment value, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve been assigned to read for a class- and has provided plenty of fodder for small talk and party conversation!
The CircleThe Circle, by Dave Eggers
I’ll start by saying that I am a person that loves the book 1984, and I’ve read it more than a dozen times- I think theories on dystopian societies are great and terrifying to read. The Circle is 2014′s answer to 1984- it’s the story of Mae, a post-graduate young professional who takes a job at The Circle, an employer that could easily be Facebook or Google or Yahoo. Citizens increasingly lose/give up access to privacy, and The Circle endorses slogans like SECRETS ARE LIES and PRIVACY IS THEFT. Mae and her peers (internal to the company and, eventually, including society in general) are encouraged to share their every opinion and thought, with the reward an expansion of their perceived levels of influence. Pretty much, The Circle outlines one possible future for the world if technology and social networks continue to permeate into every single aspect of life. The lesson that is taught regarding loss of freedom and ease of persuasion is compelling, if nothing else. I highly recommend this book.
Goodnight JuneGoodnight June, by Sarah Jio
This novel is a bit more lighthearted than the previous one, but I also really enjoyed it! Goodnight June is the story of a successful young woman who leaves her fast moving career in banking when she inherits a children’s bookstore from her late aunt. The plot drags a tiny bit at times, and wraps up with a twist that seems a bit out of place, sure. Even with those concerns, this is a lovely story with characters that I enjoyed reading about, and which kept my interest. It’s not a work of genius, okay, but it was a great book to read on vacation, much better than my usual vapid chic lit choices.
This is Where I Leave YouThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
This is Where I Leave You is a family drama, set during the shiva period the family observes after the death of the father. Between the overly sexual mother, childhood drama resurfacing between the brothers, a sister in law who is having difficulty conceiving, an older girlfriend brought home by a younger brother, and everyone staying in one house, there’s a good deal going on. My problem with the book is that, even though there’s a ton going on, none of it is very interesting/surprising/intriguing. The writing was pretty solid, but I just thought it was…boring. Every time I see a trailer for the movie I’m disappointed- the actors are interesting, I just don’t think it will be any more exciting on screen than it was in the book. So, overall, I don’t regret reading it, but I also wouldn’t recommend This is Where I Leave You with any enthusiasm.
The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This book was chosen for my book club over the summer and, although I turned out to be the only one reading it, I recommended it very strongly to the rest of the group! The thing about The Marriage Plot is that the basic premise is very tired (the wealthy protagonist graduates college with a degree in literature and follows around a man whom she thinks is quite brilliant but is actually mentally unstable and emotionally abusive) and Eugenides is excessive in his descriptions and the entire section on literary criticism was nearly unreadable- in fact, the book is actually annoying, and a struggle to read. Even with all of that, I was actually quite captivated by The Marriage Plot, and found it hard to put down. So take from that what you will- if you can put in some time in the beginning to get into the story, I think it might be one that you’ll be happy that you read. Not a ringing endorsement, but an accurate reflection of my experience.

Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes

As the weather starts getting a bit chillier, and as my wardrobe starts filling out with sweaters and boots, I grow much more inclined to make heartier foods instead of the salads and veggie meals I’ve been into for the past few months. After all, fall is a season for soups, and chilis, and pot pies….not breezy summer food like tacos!
Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes 2
This week’s edition of Taco Tuesday is a reflection of the season. We’re past the time of cherry salsas, or roasted pepper sauces. Today, my friends, is a day for some super hearty Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes. Baked potatoes are a great dinner option- baking them is very hands off, they’re substantial enough to be a meal, and they’re endlessly customizable to meet everyone’s dietary needs.
Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes 3
Baking potatoes is pretty straight forward, but I’ll walk you through my method for achieving perfectly tender potatoes. Then I make a simple, spicy taco meat mixture (no premade taco seasoning here!) and top with all the toppings you love on tacos. The potatoes bake for an hour, but the meat and sides come together in less than 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time to throw in a load of laundry, or catch up on the last episode of Parks and Rec (I can’t stop binge watching the new season on Netflix) or walk the dog. Then it’s easy to chop up your potato, load it up, and enjoy a warmer, more fall appropriate version of the tacos we’ve loved all summer long.
Taco Stuffed Baked Potatoes
- 4 Idaho white potatoes
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken, if you’re so inclined)
- 1/4 cup onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- a dash of cayenne or smoke chipotle powder, or a spoonful of sriracha- really, whatever meets your preferred level of spiciness!
- 1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
- cheese, green or red onions, cilantro, sour cream, avocados, or other taco toppings
Bake your potatoes: Heat the over to 425. Wash each potato, then pierce several times with a fork (this will allow steam to escape the potato skin, and is absolutely necessary when cooking whole potatoes). Either spray or drizzle oil on potato skin, then liberally sprinkle with kosher salt. Wrap each potato in foil and bake for at least an hour. I sometimes leave them in for an hour and a half or a bit longer, only because I get distracted; the foil keeps them from burning. They’re done when a fork can easily pierce the skin and flesh, and they give a bit when squeezed lightly.
Make taco meat: Cook the meat over medium heat until browned, or about five to seven minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook for another two or so minutes, until they start to become translucent. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute before adding the tomato sauce. Once the tomato sauce is heated through and thickens (about two more minutes) the mixture is ready.
Assemble the potatoes: Cut each potato length wise. If you want a picturesque potato, you an push the ends of the potato towards the center, and the potato will should spread open. If you want maximum surface area for taco coverage, just slice the potato in half and flatten a bit with a fork. Either way, cover the potato in the taco mixture and toppings, and enjoy a heart tex mex dinner!