Sheet Pan Chicken Dinner

Here we go again!  Cooking without a net.

I keep seeing “sheet pan dinners” on the internet.  I’m not even sure where – Facebook? Pinterest? All of the above? But often enough that I decided that it might be worth trying out.  And it was cool enough last week to consider using the oven, so why not!

Instead of starting by looking up some recipes, I started by going to Trader Joes and grabbing a few things that caught my eye.  So I come home with chicken breasts, brussels sprouts and butternut squash – should be ok, right?

Now that its time to start cooking, I decide to see if I can find a recipe or at least some help with regard to temperature and cooking time.  Also, do you have to do it on a sheet pan? Why not a baking dish?

I find a recipe on Pinterest for chicken with brussels sprouts and butternut squash.  Seriously?  That’s a good sign!  Ok, now I’ve read it once and gotten some direction on time and temperature and a good enough explanation as to why a sheet pan.  There are a bunch of other instructions, but I ignore those and get to work.

Trim the brussels, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, dump them on the pan.  Check.

Squash gets tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, then on the pan.

For the chicken how about some Herbs de Provence, mustard and honey?  Sure, why not!

Alright, this looks respectable.  Into a 425 degree oven.  How long did it say?  Um….how about 20 minutes then check?  Sounds good.  Ok, maybe another 20 minutes, that chicken doesn’t seem quite cooked enough.



It turned out pretty good!  Mr. Man said that he would eat it again (that is always a victory when it comes to kitchen adventures).  It was easy to clean up. We got a good serving of veggies in.  The leftovers weren’t too massive.  I will try this again for sure.

Do you make sheet pan dinners?  What do you like to use?

A Night at the Theatre

My dear friends invited me to join them for a theatrical performance of Sense and Sensibility. You know I said yes!

I mean, who doesn’t like Jane Austen?  Ok, not everyone likes Jane Austen but she sure beats Charles Dickens, come on. And who doesn’t like the movie of Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet?  You know you watch that on a rainy Sunday every so often.

I was super impressed when we arrived at the theatre by all of the Jane Austen fan club folks in attendance.  I mean, there were outfits and hats and impromptu dancing. It was really very cute.

The production itself maybe didn’t live up to its full potential.

It was three hours long, ok. That is a long time.  And you felt every minute of it.

The actress playing Marianne was clearly a very accomplished theatrical actor and her performance sparkled.  She projected and delivered her lines confidently.  Other members of the cast seemed challenged by the British accent which impacted their delivery.

The “colorblind” casting was an…interesting choice.  I probably could have gone along with it, you know suspension of disbelief and all, but what I can only call “age-blind” casting made it difficult.  When Margaret appears to be the same age as Marianne and Elinor  (whether or not the Dashwood sisters are of three different ethnicities) and Colonel Brandon seems to be the same age as Edward Farris, it gets confusing and for me the plot sort-of fell apart.

Also, many of the actors played multiple roles, which again is the sort of thing that I would try to go along with (suspension of disbelief) except that I really couldn’t tell the difference between John Dashwood, Mr. Jennings, and the Doctor. I still don’t know who the not Colonel Brandon guy in the ball scene was.

At any rate, whatever the production was lacking was made up for by the conversation during the car ride home.  I’ve already mentioned that this is one of my favorite things during ballet season.  Having that time together to be critical and appreciative and constructive and silly made my evening.

We dissected the acting, the direction, the set, and the costumes.  Why make this choice and then not take the logical next step?  If you wanted to play it straight, then why not go super traditional with the sets and the costumes? How interesting would it be if the story was set in another time/place?  When/where would you put it?  For some reason, the mid-twentieth century Southern U.S. comes to my mind. Would you change the script? Cut scenes?  Wouldn’t a re-write of the story be interesting? Like getting West Side Story out of Romeo and Juliet.

Welcome Home Kittens!

My kittens, Anabel and Sally, were so little when I brought them home.  Would you look at those baby blue eyes!

Anabel and Sally, 7 weeks

They were still wobbly on their feet and getting over the side of the kitten-sized litter box was a big leap.

I would sit on the floor and play with them.  They could just barely jump up on my legs, usually not without claws and climbing. Eventually (after 10 minutes) they would get tired and snuggle in for a nap.  When was the last time that you sat cross-legged on the floor for more than 5 minutes?  The kitten needle claws were nothing compared to what my hips and back had to say about sitting on the floor so much. Ouch!

I was nervous when I took them to the vet that first week. And he was a little stern with me about having such teeny kittens.  You normally would never take kitten from their mother at seven weeks.  But they were orphans.  The kitten foster lady who had rescued their whole litter (there were seven of them!) did an amazing job at not just keeping them alive but socializing them to be friendly and sweet. She could see that crazy cat lady twinkle in my eyes and knew that I would take good care of them (it probably didn’t hurt that my friend runs the rescue organization that helps her find homes for all of the kittens that she does such a good job of raising).

They were both just barely around 1.5 pounds at that first vet visit, no wonder they seemed to teeny!

Sally and Anabel, 8 weeks

I am so happy that I got litter-mates and I feel so lucky that they were so well socialized.  They have been friendly and sweet and tolerant from day one.  I sure feel some pressure to make sure that they stay that way (so far so good!).

Monday Workouts with Adam (aka: Glutes, Guns, and Guts)

Even though I go to the gym four to six times a week, I am no gym rat.  I check-in and go straight up the stairs to the group fitness class area, take a class and run away. Occasionally, I will watch those fit people who seem to know what to do with various weights and equipment from what I like to think is the invisibility of the elliptical machines and imagine the day that I feel strong and confident enough to try some of those things.

Elliptical with a view

Group fitness classes are my sweet spot – I like someone telling me what to do without the overwhelming amount of attention that a personal trainer offers. And I like being able to participate in a variety of activities without any pressure to actually be good at any of them.  My current routine includes two yoga classes, two indoor cycling classes, and one barre class each week, which is respectable, but I needed to settle on something to do on Mondays.

Monday workouts are super important to me. I feel like a good Monday workout sets the tone for the whole week. It’s the same sort of reason that I work out first thing in the morning: no matter what the rest of the day or the rest of the week has to throw at you, you’ve already accomplished one important thing. I find that I’m better able to be present in and patient with whatever situation that I find myself in after I have taken care of that piece of business.

So, back to the gym. Finding my Monday morning exercise jam was a challenge. But then an instructor who I really liked at a different exercise studio joined my gym and I found the courage to try something completely different!

Adam teaches a set of three thirty-minute classes on Monday mornings that I like to call Glutes, Guns, and Guts.  Thirty minutes lower body, thirty minutes arms, thirty minutes abs.  I’m not much of a strength workout girl, so anything involving weights (um, how do you put this barbell thing together?) and “functional” exercises is super intimidating to me.  But since I knew Adam from before, I was slightly less intimidated to show up and give it a try.

Anabel uses 5lb weights

Holy smokes this workout is hard for me! My “heavy” dumbbells are 7.5 pounds (the gal next to me is crushing 20s and I’m wishing I had grabbed 5s). There is this thing that I think is called a reverse step-down, that just clobbers me.  I don’t know why stepping down onto my knees and then back up to my feet is so hard!  You would think that my thighs have never experienced that range of motion before.  But that’s ok, I’m just there to do what I can. Every week I feel a little stronger in ways that are different from my comfort zone workouts. And that’s cool. Maybe eventually I will feel like I’m strong enough to find the confidence to venture out there onto the gym floor (because I will know how to put that barbell together and what to do with it once I have).

Was there a time that you tried something new at the gym?

Gracious Living?

When I started conceptualizing this blog, I wanted to come up with catchy titles for each day’s theme.  Thursdays were going to be “Gracious Living”. Unfortunately, I was not clever enough to come up with comparable titles for the other days, so we’re just going to go with “Home & Garden”.  This day will be my opportunity to share decorating projects, entertaining tips, and kitchen adventures – the things that we all do to enjoy our time at home.  Don’t think that you’ll be hearing from an aspiring Martha Stewart. I’m more of a domestic survivalist than a domestic goddess. This is just another area that I try to make a little bit of an effort when I have the opportunity. Whether or not our pumpkin patch turns out, I will tell you all about it.

baby pumpkin

I’ve only recently gotten back into cooking on a semi-regular basis. My specialty is turning leftovers into tacos/burritos.  If left to my own devices, I would probably only eat things wrapped up in a tortilla.  When I do attempt cooking from scratch, the results can be interesting. I have a bad habit of not letting the fact that I don’t have all of the ingredients for a particular recipe stop me. What’s worse is that I can’t seem to stop myself from skipping steps or thinking that I don’t need to look at the recipe if I have already made something once (this never ends well).

I love to host little dinner parties and casual get togethers.  For one thing, I feel that it’s an obligation to retaining my collections of fancy china and vintage glasses. Aside from a way to rationalize having too much tableware, bringing the right mix of people together for a simple meal and interesting conversation always leaves me with a renewed sense of well-being.  I am working on getting back into the habit of hosting some sort of get-together at least every few months instead of only once or twice a year.

Other than the pumpkins which are currently taking over, our vegetable garden has been sadly underutilized.  By virtue of being accountable to you, I hope to make a better effort to grow an interesting variety of things that may wind up in my cooking trials.  I am also in the process of rebuilding a fairy garden at the roots my wisteria bush.  Because isn’t it nice to invite a little magic into your life?

This post concludes my first week of bloging.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings so far and will stick with me a bit longer.

Trying to Culture this thing up!

Fourteen years ago, I went up to the Bay Area to visit my mom.  We shopped and we lunched and one night we went into San Francisco to see the San Francisco Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet. Now, I was sure that I didn’t care for the romantic ballets (the full-length story ballets from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century) but that night changed my mind (it turns out that I really just don’t enjoy The Sleeping Beauty but that is a story for another day).

The production of Romeo and Juliet that we saw was enchanting. The performance was beautiful and moving. The music by Prokofiev is everything, it would have salvaged the evening if the rest of the production had fallen short but the sets and the costumes enhanced the plot and the dancing was very good. In particular, Tina LeBlanc was an exquisite Juliet – technically excellent and emotionally expressive, she was truly a great ballerina. After how many years, I still can feel what that performance did for me.

Now, mom is clever and generous and she came up with a brilliant scheme to get me to visit more regularly – season tickets to the San Francisco ballet! It has become a great tradition for my mom, my sister and me.  While I love dissecting the performances with them on the drive home, this is an area where I really have a lot to say. So Wednesdays will be dedicated to “Arts & Entertainment.”

Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t fancy myself a dance critic. I generally find dance criticism (and most arts criticism) unhelpful to say the least. It makes me crazy to read a review of something by someone who feels entitled to impose their personal biases and expectations on a work rather than at least attempting to intelligently describe a work and evaluate it on its own merit.

I like to be open to different experiences and try appreciate things for what they are. That doesn’t mean that I like it all or always think that a work is well executed. I won’t hold back when I think that elements of a production aren’t up to par but hopefully I will be able to explain my opinion within the context of the form.  I mean, making time to enjoy these things is a luxury, we shouldn’t waste it on something that isn’t the best it can be.

If theatrical dance isn’t your thing, don’t tune out quite yet! Ballet season doesn’t even start until January! I will use Wednesdays to consider all sorts of things – country music, rock concerts, television, books, and probably the occasional motor-sports event. Have you been to Speedway? Don’t make that face, it’s a fun time too!

Welcome to Kitten Tuesdays!

This past June, I brought home two new seven-week-old baby kittens, a brother and sister. Within the previous ten months my husband, Mr. Man, and I had to put down our two beloved cats, Clementine (15 years) and Emma (18 years) and  Mr. Man was VERY against the idea of any more pets.  But have you ever heard that saying that a cat is the soul of the home?

Anabel, 7 weeks old

I’ve been crazy about cats ever since I was a little girl. We didn’t have any animals when I was little, little, but my aunt had this wonderful, big, black tom cat named Sebastian. Now, Sebastian was not interested in me in the least, but I sure thought he was wonderful and would do whatever I could to get my hands on him. Of course I had those cute kitten posters all over my walls. And the year that Santa brought me the my dream bicycle (banana seat and the basket with the plastic daisies on it) the only thing that I needed to make my life complete was a kitten to put in the basket. On my eleventh birthday, this beautiful little brown tabby kitten walked in our front door. And that is how you know that dreams come true. Even my dad couldn’t deny me this treasure. Tailer (we named him for his happy tail) was a friendly guy who was a wonderful addition to our family.

My adult life as a crazy cat lady is a testament to the power of suggestion.

I hadn’t really been thinking about cats or pets and then one night, out of nowhere, Mr. Man busts out with, “you know, you really need a cat.” I do? Hmmm…you know what, I think he’s right! I DO need a cat!  And we got Emma.  From the moment that she came into our lives, I have been obsessed.

I’ll tell you all about Emma and Clementine another day.

Sally, 7 weeks

Long story short: I was daydreaming. I told my dear friend who does animal rescue all about the kittens that I had imagined and then waited. Around mid-June she started sending me photos.  And there was the kitten that I had imagined who I was going to name Anabel!  Now the other kitten needed to be an all brown tabby (the best flavor of kitty).  Anabel just so happened to have a brother who was brown tabby.  “No boy cats!” said Mr. Man, also, “I get to name the other cat.”  My friend said there were options, so I went to meet the kittens.  Anabel was just adorable.  And so was her brother. He was the sweetest, little love bug. And they loved each other. And I brought them both home.

Mr. Man was mad about the boy kitten for about .1 of a second (because who can be mad about a sweet baby kitten).  The only problem was the name that he had picked out: Sally. Fortunately, Mr. Man remembered a scene from The Godfather, where Robert Duvall says to Abe Vigoda, “can’t do it Sally.” So our little Sally’s full name is Salvatore Tessio (even though he’s growing up to be more of a Clemenza if you ask me).

Every day these kittens do something new and delightful and I’m sure that the world will be a better place if I tell you all about it.  The good news is that I will only torture you with the kitten report on Tuesdays and I will endeavor to stick to a 500 word count (roughly).

Its official, we’ve begun!

The plan is that Mondays will be dedicated to health and wellness topics – exercising, eating right, inner peace, moisturizing…that kind of thing. So today’s post will be a sort-of intro to this topic.  Here is where I’m coming from when it comes to health and wellness – I like to exercise but I am in terrible shape; I love to eat vegetables and do a good job at drinking a lot of water but I also love cheese, tortilla chips, and adult beverages; I try to take good care of my skin but I love to spend time in the sun.  I’m trying to do all those things that are supposed to be good for you but maybe not all the way.

When I was growing up, I loved to move and be active. There was soccer practice and ballet lessons along with the general running/climbing/bicycle riding around the neighborhood – all the kid things. When I couldn’t get outside, I would roller-skate in the house or put on Leo Sayer and dance it out.

I studied dance in college and earned a bachelor’s degree in it. I supported myself through college by teaching ballet to children. Throughout this entire time, I also spent 8-10 hours a week rehearsing and performing with a local dance group (we called it “modern” dance, but these days I think it would be considered “contemporary”). I was spending up to 8 hours in a dance studio on any given day.

After I left the dance world, I joined a gym and stayed fairly active.  Those were the days of Stairmasters, when step aerobics was still a thing and indoor cycling was just getting going. It was always a fun time to take my rollerblades down to the beach and cruise the bike path from Sunset to Huntington Beach. I discovered yoga around that time as well.

At some point several years ago I noticed that I wasn’t moving anymore.  All I did was go to work and sleep. My clothes didn’t fit, I couldn’t lift anything over shoulder height and I couldn’t actually turn my neck when I was driving.  Even though I’ve realized that I have to prioritize taking care of myself, I’m still trying to come back from how far I let myself go.

I’ll be writing about the ways that I like to try to keep active (here’s a hint, not running), my fitness goals and milestones, and the other things that I do to try to take care of myself.  I might use this forum as an opportunity to experiment with new things (I’d love to try rock climbing and wouldn’t it be nice to have a regular meditation practice). I hope this will serve as some sort of inspiration for you to try some new good-for-you thing. At the least, I will feel accountable to keep striving for a healthy lifestyle because I’ll have to tell you about what I’m up to!