Sprigs of Spring

I think we have all been a little skittish to say that Spring is finally here; but after several days of warmth, humidity, and a little pollen on top, I think it’s safe to say it’s here. Now, I know that we are due an Easter cold snap thanks to our thunder in early February, but that I can handle. It’s more ice, snow, and need for layers upon layers that I’m ready to get rid of. It’s time for a little sun on my cheeks and saying goodbye to sweater weather!

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My rides to and from Baton Rouge have been tricking me lately to think that Spring has been here for weeks on end. The campus at LSU has been covered with Japanese Magnolia blossoms for weeks, and mine in the backyard on Auburn are just starting to burst open. It’s always been a late bloomer, but I’ve been waiting to see if the cold snap got it or not.

Unfortunately, my inevitable Spring sinus infection has hit this week, too. I spent most of Sunday doped up on Benadryl and Tylenol trying to make the pressure behind my eyes go away. I guess I’ll just have to live with it for a little while longer; I mean, the real pollen hasn’t even started to collect yet. I haven’t seen any streaks of missing yellow in my carport, so there’s still that to look forward to.

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Since I was a little dazed on my drive yesterday morning and I have a couple more days of travel this week, I decided to put the e-books to rest for a little while and try a new podcast. I’ve been told several times since I’ve started listening to different ones on the drive to give “Dirty John” a try. Well, after 4 episodes on my drive Monday, I’m hooked. I did do a little digging, too. I had to put a face to the name behind all of this craziness and was surprised how normal he looked. I guess that goes to show you that you just never know and to never judge a book by its cover.

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Wedding photo from December 2014

I mean, how much more normal can you get? She must have not been a fan of the Google search yet or didn’t use Facebook to the best of its abilities before tying the knot after a few months of knowing him from Match.com. Oh, well, I’m sure by the end of the week, I’ll be finished with this season and looking for more dirt. In the mean time, keep those suggestions coming! I’m new to all of this, remember?

It’s Lent again, and I can safely say that I will be eating quite a bit of white perch over the next 40 days. First of all, each Friday will be serving a fresh catch; but us Guidos are also giving up a bunch of good stuff for the season. I’m giving up bread of all sorts, which will only lead to an overload of carbs on Easter Sunday. Mom and Dad are also giving up bread but adding in sweets and fried foods, too. That should be really interesting. However, here is a recipe we tried a few weeks ago for Dad’s birthday dinner that I can’t wait to try again over rice instead of pasta.

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Baked Perch in Lemon Cream Sauce

4 fresh filets, skinless and boneless

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 tablespoon shallots or scallions, finely chopped

Fresh parsley and lemon slices, to serve

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees. Place fish in baking dish. Ensure the fish isn’t crammed in too snugly. Sprinkle both sides of the filets with salt and pepper. Place butter, cream, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a sauce pan. Whisk together until thickened. Sprinkle fish with shallots, then pour the sauce over the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked. Remove from the oven and transfer fish to serving plates. Spoon over sauce, and garnish with parsley and lemon if using.

 

I’ve always been an avid reader and someone who religiously buys books versus online options, such as ebooks and so forth. However, when you find yourself in a car for about five hours every week, you have to give in and listen to a good book versus actually cracking open a hard back and settling into that papery smell.

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Enter, the Audible app. I know. I’m probably late to the party. Most people have been doing this for years; I just didn’t want to give in. Alas, I’m actually enjoying it. I like the little opening promo at the beginning of each book that sounds like an old-school advertisement for Paul Harvey’s radio shows or some type of infomercial for Citracal. I’ve already finished 2 audio books this year, and I actually think I may have retained more by listening rather than reading. Sometimes, when I read a book, I will come to pages later and realize I have to start over. When I was writing professionally, I had too many sentences, paragraphs, and themes floating around in my head fighting with the words on the page in front of me. This way, that’s all that’s floating around up there except for a few moments of road rage that can’t be avoided mid morning on the way to and from Baton Rouge.

Anyway, here is what I’ve listened to so far and started up on my way home yesterday:

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Scrappy Little Nobody: I love Anna Kendrick and have thought for a long time that we could be friends in real life. Well, listening to this book, it was confirmed. We are sisters from another mister, best friends forever, and (I can only hope) bound to run into each other while she’s filming Pitch Perfect whatever the next installment will be. She’s witty, sarcastic, and doesn’t have time for bull shit, which I appreciate.

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Grace: A Memoir: I love fashion anything. I’ve watched The September IssueIn Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, and The First Monday in May too many times to count. I love a good documentary on different fashion designers and house and who wore what and who is dressing who and so forth. I am addicted to Project Runway and House of DVF. I was sad when The Fashion Fund didn’t show up for another season on Amazon. I may not be able to afford it, but I damn well will know all about it in the mean time. Grace Coddington is a figure that shows up in most all of these documentaries, and (like Anna Kendrick) she doesn’t have time for nonsense. So when her memoir showed up on Audible, I snatched it up and started listening. Some people will find parts boring; but if you’ve spent as much time as I have watching endless documentaries on fashion throughout the ages, you’ll be able to plug faces with names finally and personalities with people who never really stood out before.

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The Wife Between Us: I started this one yesterday on the way home after finishing Grace. So far, it’s pretty good; and if it’s anything like Gone Girl like the reviews said, I’ll be hooked in no time.

Guess what. Next week, right after Mardi Gras, we celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’m not a fan; I’m sure that’s a surprise to all you happy people. I like to enjoy that particular day drowning in chocolate, sour candy, and red wine to top it all off. So, for all of those out there not celebrating Valentine’s Day with someone special, spend it with this recipe. They are basically glorified brownies, but I’m in full support of whatever they are. Mom recently made a batch that I took down to the Baton Rouge office for everyone to kick their Monday off with. I think they were a hit. When I left at noon, only a couple were left. Here’s a yummy hint; zap a couple in the microwave before gobbling them down.

Fudge Cake 

1 cup unsalted butter

4 1-ounce squares semisweet baking chocolate, finely chopped

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

Dash of kosher salt

1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place butter and chocolate in a large bowl and microwave on high until completely melted, about 1 minute and stirring every 20 seconds. Add granulated sugar, and stir until combined. Cool 10 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and stir until blended after each addition. Fold in the flour and salt. Stir in chopped pecans and vanilla extract. Coat a 9-inch square pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides with parchment paper, allowing 4 to 5 inches to extended over the sides. Coat parchment paper with cooking spray. Pour cake mixture into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick comes cleanly out of the center, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Lift cake from pan using the parchment paper sides as handles, and cool completely. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

 

(Featured in Southern Living from Elizabeth Heiskell’s What Can I Bring?)

I have lived in my little house on Auburn for a little over 5 years now, and I have slowly transformed as many parts of it into a smart home as I possibly can. For a house that was built in the 1950s, that’s quite the accomplishment and challenge all at the same time. Wiring is usually an issue. Door jams and locks aren’t usually ready for automated features to be added. Don’t even get me started on the thinness of my windows and what keeping heat in this house has been like this winter. But, for those looking to add a few of these smart features to your house, here are the ones that I’m using to help keep my home secure and download as many apps possible to my iPhone, too.

Nest Learning Thermostat

This one is fun for me. I recently upgraded my security system so that I could include one of these bad boys in my house and run it through my Vivint app. Now, I did download the Nest app, too, because I can study the schedules of my Nest Thermostat and help keep it at the temperature I want it to be. The best part about this is that if I leave the house in a rush and forget to turn the air up and kick the heat back down, I can easily get into the app and make that change. But this thing is so smart that it tracks my whereabouts through my iPhone’s GPS and can register when I’m not at home (or even in town) and go into energy-saving mode. When I start getting closer to my house, it will start to heat or cool my house so it’s ready when I get in the door. Also, if I wake up super cold at night (which rarely happens. I have two space-heating Beagles.) I can reach over and adjust the temperature from my comfy bed. Geniuses these days.

Keyless Locks

Now this one really helps in a pinch. I’ve had the keypad locks on my doors at home for several years now. Not only can I unlock my house without fishing for my keys but also can unlock my house from my phone. The ones I have on my doors are connected to my security system and work perfectly for when I’m out of town and need to let the parents in or if someone is visiting from out of town and needs to get in and out while I’m not home. Recently, we’ve had a bit of a crime spree around town, and we thought it might be a good idea to add one to my carport door where my laundry room is. I didn’t necessarily want to order another one through Vivint (They can get pricey that way.), and I recently have gotten onto the Amazon Prime bandwagon. (I know. I know. What took me so long?) So, I found a knob version of the keyless/keypad entry. It was here in two day and fairly (Thanks, Aimee, for the power tools.) to install. Once again, those geniuses.

 

Ring Security Light and Camera

This one is also new to the Guido smart home. I really needed another way to watch the house other than the security system with keyless/keypad locks, a smart thermostat, and (OH) wall-socket plugins that I can turn on and off from my phone. So, we ordered this security camera/motion light/Big Brother. Right now, I’m mainly catching birds that are ready for their close ups or neighborhood dogs and cats making themselves at home. Hopefully, the alerts I get saying, “A person was detected” never actually ends up being anyone besides Mom or Dad; but at least I can listen in on their conversations, take their pictures, or use the two-way speaker to tell them to “get off my lawn”.

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Ok. Confession time. I’m a big shopper. I love all kinds of shopping, too. Clothing. Home decor. Re-sale shops. Groceries. You name it, I’ll shop for it. Now that I travel to Baton Rouge each week, I am able to find an easy excuse to hit a store or two before I leave town. One of my favorites that I’ve discovered thanks to my co-workers is Red Stick Spice Company. This place is everything that a person that loves to cook or is thinking about starting to cook needs in his or her life.

It’s such an experience. You walk in and are instantly hit with the strong, but welcoming, smell of spices, teas, and ingredients waiting to be tried, tested, and taken home. You walk the aisles slowly taking in every kind of salt, pepper, sugar, spice, and blend you can possibly imagine. I had no idea that were so many different salts. Grey sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian red and black salts, and (one that I can’t wait to figure out what to use it for) merlot salt. Don’t even get me started on the tea options. There is a tea for everything from sore throats to stomach issues, and there is one in particular I think I should buy in bulk (just in case) a Hangover Tea. It helps with nausea and such after a little too much vino. Who would have known?

The first time I went, I was overwhelmed. I ended up with several small sample packages of rubs and blends for fish for Dad to try on white perch, a couple of bags of granulated honey, and teas for Mom and I to give a shot. I realized very quickly that I didn’t get everything I needed. So back I went the next day before heading home for Christmas to invest in a flavored olive oil (of which they have so many options), more tea, and their home version of a ranch dressing packet for my Mississippi Roast for Christmas Eve dinner.

I went back a couple of weeks ago for some more teas to give a try (I probably should do a post on those alone); and while I was there I found this packaged mix for a ten bean soup. YUM! The package suggests adding a pound of sausage, but I had leftover roast in the freezer for Christmas Eve, so we threw that in at the end for some extra flavor and heartiness.

This one is delicious, so click through the link above to order your own (or let me know if you want me to pick one up on my next visit).

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Ten-bean Soup with Roast Beef

1 package Ten-bean Soup (Red Stick Spice)

1 – 2 pounds roast beef, cooked and shredded

1 can beef broth

3 cups water, divided

While the directions on the package explain using a Dutch oven of sorts, I went for the crock pot (let’s be honest; that makes it easier and tastier). I did soak the beans in cold water for about 30 minutes before adding the seasoning packet and roast beef; however, I think you could skip that step, put everything in at once, and add a full can of beef broth at the beginning. I did add about 3 cups of water throughout the cooking process. It cooked on high for about 6 hours and stayed warm in the crock pot for another 1 or 2 until we were ready to eat. It could have used a little more water to thin it out, but it was the consistence of a hearty stew that could have used a little rice to go along with it.

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I’m a binger. I binge on Netflix. I binge on Hulu. I binge on iTunes. I binge on every app I can download and connect my DirecTV Now app to on my Apple TV. If it’s watchable, I’m probably going to binge it.

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Some of my favorite shows that I’ve watched (or am watching) are:

  • Breaking Bad: I started this series WAY after it had started. I spent all of college with no idea that this show was such a good show to get addicted to. I had spent most of those years watching Intervention or doing the snail-mail version of Netflix to get DVDs of movies that weren’t that great. When I moved home and started really getting into Netflix, I found Walter White and fell in love with it. Now, the version on Netflix has a little less editing than the AMC version. I actually started watching it right after the series finale aired, so the real reason I got into it was because I had read a review about the ending (SPOILER) and the death of Heisenberg. So, I watched it within a month or two; and now, I watch it anytime I happen to catch a marathon on Sundance or AMC. Sometimes, I open it up on Netflix and randomly scroll to an episode, watch the darkness unfold, and root for the meth chef. heisenberg-poster-irina-march
  • The Office: This, too, was a show that I started at the end of the series. It was in deed my first binge experience when I first bought my Apple TV in 2010.I actually timed my binge to where I finished all the other season and shows at the actual night of the series finale. I love Jim, and I want one of my own. I think that Michael is probably a real human somewhere. It’s something that I now follow fan pages on Facebook that play bloopers reels that I find too funny and laugh at a little too hard. flat,800x800,075,f
  • The Great British Baking Show: I’ve watched every season. I have LOVED every season. I’d watch them all again gladly. There is actually a spin off called The Big Family Cooking Showdown on Netflix that may actually be better than the original. (To be honest, I kind of fell in love with one of the contestants.) Watch them both. The-Great-British-Bake-Off-Illustration
  • Big Love: Y’all. This show is crazy. I have to admit though; I am big into watching anything that has to do with Mormons, polygamy, Scientology, or cults. Now, I’m not one of those that gets sucked in, sends all of my money to some crazy person, and ends up brainwashed. I find it hysterical that people can actually be brainwashed. So, the more I know, the more likely I am to stay like I am — a non-practicing Catholic that is thankful for Mother Mary. Big Love is on the HBO app, and the ending made me extremely sad. original
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Thank you, Netflix, for putting this show on my rotation. I started it over the latest ice storm to lighten the load of Law and Order: SVUBlue Bloods, and Chicago PD that my parents had playing nonstop. Quickly, I was into it. They are 15 minute episodes that are hilarious, lots of talking, and an opportunity for me to learn more about people that I love to binge on other shows like Sex and the CityMaster of None, and SNL. If you need something to watch in short spurts, add to your watchlist today. My favorite episode so far was with Sarah Jessica Parker in a station wagon.