‘C’ is for Cooked, ‘O’ is for Overcooked

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I can’t remember for sure, but I believe it was Easter a few years back when Tristan wowed my whole family by eating almost an entire platter of shrimp by himself.

Tails piled high on his plate, he kept popping the things into his mouth, one right after another, never ceasing. Ever since then, he and his shrimp-eating have become a running joke.

It’s not that he’s a regular ol’ Bubba Gump, completely obsessed with shrimp. The guy just likes to eat, okay?

Regardless of his “yeah shrimp is pretty good, I guess” attitude, someone recently gifted him with a wheel of shrimp. Yes, they gave him shrimp as a gift.

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That old wheel, which had been collecting icicles in our freezer for the past few months, got its day in the sun this week, when I tried out a recipe I found on Pinterest—Garlic Butter Tomato Shrimp Linguini.

GARLIC BUTTER TOMATO.  Say those three ingredients aloud without salivating, I dare you.

Personally, I’m not a fan of linguini—I’m all about that angel hair, son—and with the wedding three months away, Tristan is following a low-carb diet…so, I knew from the get-go that I wouldn’t be cooking pasta up in here. I instead opted for spaghetti squash. Other than that, I pretty much stuck to the recipe, only changing it up when it came to cooking the shrimp. Rather than seasoning them with salt and pepper as suggested, I went with crushed red pepper flakes.  For one, Tristan likes his food with a bit of heat; and two, it reminded me of that scene from Mrs. Doubtfire. You know, the one where she gets away with attempted murder…

Aside from seasoning the shrimp differently, I also started off with cooked shrimp, rather than raw as in the recipe.  I should’ve just heated those bad boys up for a few seconds, but I instead decided to scorch them on the cast iron skillet cuz it’s all about that char game around here. Also, I have no clue what I’m doing.

Let me tell you…re-cooking already cooked shrimp…


Overcooked shrimp is bad. Real bad.

And how did I know they were overcooked? Well, I didn’t. I mean I knew the texture was way too rubbery because I’m not an idiot, but I just assumed it was the freezer burn. It wasn’t until I debriefed with my good ol’ mama the next day that I figured it out (more accurately, she figured it out):

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C IS FOR COOKED. O IS FOR OVERCOOKED. How genius is that, guys? For the record, my pan was like a bowl of Cheerios…

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Overcooked shrimp aside, everything else in the meal was real good. The sauce in particular was quite tasty, I think because of the TABLESPOONS OF BUTTER that get mixed in at the end.

For the record, here’s the whole shebang:

Garlic Butter Tomato Shrimp on Spaghetti Squash

Slightly (very slightly) modified from Savory Nothings’ recipe. My changes are in bold.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • A wheel of frozen shrimp cocktail if you have it on hand like I did…otherwise, the original recipe calls for 16 ounces of king prawns and heaven help you I would stick with the original
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar (I didn’t have any red wine)
  • 1 and ½ 14.5oz cans of chopped tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon hot smoked paprika
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • Spaghetti squash, halved and roasted, flesh-side down at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
  • 3 tablespoons butter


  1. Sauté the onion over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute. Add the chopped shrimp and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  2. Increase the heat to medium-high and mix in the tomato paste, stirring frequently for a minute or so. Deglaze with the white wine vinegar and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, paprika, sugar, salt, and pepper and simmer for 15-20 minutes on low heat.
  4. Scoop the flesh from your roasted spaghetti squash into a bowl and set aside.
  5. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and red pepper flakes to taste and sear them BRIEFLY on the cast iron, being careful not to overcook them. Learn from my mistake! If they start curling into o’s you’re doing it wrong.
  6. Stir the butter into the finished sauce and toss with the spaghetti squash and shrimp.
  7. Eat eat eat!

Misadventures in Cooking: Chicken Tomatillo Stew

Cooking is a relatively new thing for me, and one that naturally comes with its fair share of mishaps — probably because I spend too much time talking to my imaginary audience and pretending I’m on the Food Network and not enough time reading through recipes and coming up with a plan of action.

But, alas. That’s just how I do things, so my garlic shall continue to burn. (Not a weird euphemism; burning garlic is honestly one of my more common mishaps).

On Monday night, I decided to try out a recipe from Martha Stewart’s book:

photo (5)Good ol’ Martha promises 120 easy meals that you can make using just one pot, and I gotta admit, this recipe was pretty darn easy — and would’ve been easier if a) I had all the ingredients; and b) I knew how to use a thermometer. But I’ll get to that later.

Let’s start with the ingredients. Martha’s recipe called for the following:

  • 2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 whole chicken cut into 10 pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can of hominy
  • Fresh cilantro

Right off the bat, I decided I wasn’t going to buy a whole chicken. I had 4 frozen chicken breasts in the freezer and while yes, it sucks to miss out on the fat from the skin/dark meat, I just couldn’t justify spending what I knew would amount to ~$20 for a single chicken. A little bit of background — the closest grocery store is way way overpriced. It’s called Big Apple, but Tristan and I refer to it as Big Asshole because it is THE WORST. My only other option would’ve been walking a mile to Trader Joe’s, which just wasn’t going to happen because, well, winter.

Chicken aside, I still had to suck it up and head to Big Asshole to pick up the cilantro, tomatillos, hominy, and jalepenos (sidenote: why won’t WordPress let me add a tilde to that n? I’m marrying a Mexican for God’s sake! I should spell jalepenos correctly!).

But wouldn’t you know it, Big Asshole didn’t have hominy or tomatillos. So, I improvised and came back with this loot:

photoI substituted potatoes for the hominy (yes yes I could’ve done corn, but I like potatoes more) and found a couple of questionable cans of tomatillos to use instead of the fresh stuff. I say questionable because there were only three cans of these on the shelf, and Big Asshole is known for carrying expired goods. I didn’t see a date on these…so yeah, I’m a big risk taker.

Time to get cooking!

I seasoned and browned the chicken in my new fancy shmancy dutch oven and then placed them aside. Next, per Martha’s instructions, I cooked the onions and jalepenos until soft, and then added in the garlic for a hot minute until fragrant.

And then came the tomatillos.

Oh the tomatillos.

Martha’s directions clearly state that they should be pureed. In fact, it’s the first step of her recipe, “PUREE THE TOMATILLOS, YOU SLOB.”

Silly me though, I assumed the canned tomatillos were pureed.  I don’t know why I assumed this, when It says right on the can that they’re whole. Imagine my surprise when I popped open the first can and saw whole tomatillos inside.


Cue the garlic burning.

I grabbed my little mini food processor and — after momentarily forgetting how to use a can opener in my haze of panic — finally got the second can of tomatillos open and pureed those sons of bitches and dumped them into the pot. Woof.

No harm, no foul. Everything was moving along just peachy, and I was almost at the finish line. Now, I just needed to put my chicken — or as Martha says, “nestle the chicken” — into the sauce and let it cook for 22 minutes. Done and done.

22 minutes later, I pulled out my handy meat thermometer to check the chicken’s temperature. 75 degrees.

What the hell?

75, as in 7-5? How can that be? Did I not defrost the chicken all the way?

Okie doke, I thought, and I put the lid back on and let the chicken cook some more, checking it occasionally and watching the temperature slowly rise. Another 15 minutes or so later, we were up to….87 degrees.

Perplexed, I left it. When confused, walk away right?  I settled on the couch to watch “Scandal” and got lost in a world of Olivia Pope, wondering will she or won’t she with Jake Ballard, trying to figure out what she sees in Fitz anyway, and deciding that Smelly Mellie would’ve made an A+ Halloween costume.

And then the smell hit me.

Something was burning.

I ran to the the pot. opened it up, and all looked okay. I checked the chicken’s temperature only to find it had climbed to a whopping 90-something degrees.

I paused. I don’t know how or why, but in that moment I realized something profound: my thermometer was set to Celsius.


If you’re wondering, 90 degrees C is 194 degrees F.


I started to take the chicken out of the pot and immediately saw what was bubbling, and consequently smelling, at the bottom of my brand new dutch oven.

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I weeped internally. I muttered “stupid, stupid, stupid” under my breath. I hit myself in the head with the palm of my hand. And then, I said screw it and laddled the food onto two plates for me and my fiance to eat. I had made dinner and damn’t we were going to try to eat it. My loving and caring fiance, I might add, didn’t laugh, didn’t snicker, didn’t say one thing about my foolish and hysterical mistake. He just helped me clean it up. Whadda guy.

And you know what? Somehow, the dish itself — blackened goop aside — turned out just fine. The chicken was a little dry, as you’d expect, and the tomatillo a little overpowering, but overall, not too shabby.

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I even think my potato-for-hominy substitution was a blue-ribbon winner, but I mean, who doesn’t like a good potato?

Moral of the story: Martha Stewart’s recipes are foolproof.

That conniving bitch.

Wedding Fever

This just in — our wedding is 111 days away. That’s 3 months and 3 weeks, people! I’ve been off of work for the last two or so weeks (including today for my birthday!) and have had plenty of time to think about the wedding and actually get some stuff done.

The most exciting part is, of course, the food. I don’t think anyone attending the wedding (other than my mom, of course) reads this blog, so I’ll go head and post some spoilers. If all goes as planned, this is how the evening should go:

  • 5:30 p.m. – ceremony at Ocean Overlook (sidenote: the wedding coordinator said she’s going to pick me up from my hotel room in..get this…a golf cart and take me to the site. I think I’m most excited for that…)

  • 6:00 p.m. – We’ll take hopefully not-so-awkward family photos, while the rest of our guests head up a few steps to our reception space for cocktail hour.

  • The open bar will open promptly at 6 p.m., so people can start partying down. Then, at 6:30 we’ll open a make-your-own bruschetta bar with…

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and a slider bar with some pretty interesting options:

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  • At 7:30, the dinner buffet will open and boy oh boy oh boy does it sound good

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And that’s that people! Save of course for the cake…and maybe some dancing? Maybe some games? Maybe just casual chit-chatting? Who knows.

Ugh 111 days. It’s coming and going way way way too fast.

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Yesterday, Tristan and I wasted away the first day of 2015 in complete fat-ass style. After watching one episode of Scandal in the morning, it was game over. We promptly decided to move the mattress onto the living room floor and really commit to staying in all day, watching the ridiculousness that is Olivia Pope and associates, eating cake and Chinese food, and only leaving the house once (to acquire more food, of course).

After so many busy weekends in December, this level of laze and gluttony just felt right — at least for Tristan, who (unlike me) had to go to work all week.

All the fun aside, remaining horizontal all day long is not the most promising way to start a year, is it? In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of how I want this year to go. 2015 will be a year of big changes for me.

Don’t get me wrong, 2014 was a good year. A great year, in fact. A lot happened: we had three marriages and three proposals (including ours) across our families and close friends; we went jet skiing and canoeing for the first time; took around eight trips to Wisconsin for some reason; we did not go to Vegas, which is weird for us; we welcomed a new puppy into the family; took god-awful engagement photos that we’ll laugh about until the end of time; my job instated a work-from-home policy that allows me to keep up with daytime TV; speaking of work — Tristan got a new job and I started to feel comfortable in mine; we ate lamb roasted in a friend’s backyard (and no he’s not Greek); I got sick (real sick) after my company’s holiday party and thought I was going to die but didn’t; we moved in together; I learned how to share (sort of); I became more comfortable with cooking; we did a little bit of wedding planning, but probably not enough; I learned how to play Settlers of Catan (at 10 p.m. on December 31); we loved and at the same time detested Nutty 9s; we had several big family get togethers, from brunches to weekend stays in Springfield and Galena (for two of the aforementioned weddings); we took a distillery tour and learned what the x’s on moonshine jugs mean; we went to Boston, where we took a Sam Adams tour and followed the Freedom Trail to see some cool historical stuff — like the USS Constitution, old graveyards, Paul Revere’s house, etc.; we ate giant Italian desserts in the old Italy section of Boston without shame; we concluded that Boston is okay but has nothing on Chicago; we went to the driving range a bunch of times, but still not enough; we started playing racquet ball and developed a fondness for rowing; we, along with the rest of the world, fell in love with Matthew McConaughey; we didn’t get into a fight on Halloween for the first time ever; we got decently drunk at a BYOB painting class, but still managed to create masterpieces; we forget those masterpieces at the studio and still haven’t picked them up; I became obsessed with Sudoku; we went kayaking on the lake and I only got mildly seasick; we ate so many (but not too many) hot dogs from Wiener Circle; we did a ton of other stuff that my wee brain cannot recall at the moment.

As great as 2014 was, laziness definitely feels like a big theme of the year. Maybe it’s just the last few months of junk-food eating and gym avoiding that’s polluting my memory; or maybe it’s the fact that I barely ran this year (especially in comparison to my marathon-training in 2013), but I just can’t shake this feeling that I didn’t get up and move enough in 2014.

Likewise, I felt like 2014 was the year I got just a little bit dumber. I can’t write half as well or as easily as I used to (and I can thank my stupid job for that), I have trouble reading anything that’s longer than a few sentences without spacing out, and my creative juices — well, let’s just say there’s a major draught going on upstairs.

So, I’m proposing some very obtainable resolutions/goals/whatever you want to call them for the year ahead:


  • Log 12 miles per week. Yes, yes 12 miles is next to nothing, but I need to make these goals attainable, damn’t!
  • Do the Soldier Field 10-miler in May.
  • Seriously commit to a strength training schedule. I need this to be less vague and more attainable, so for tracking purposes, we’ll say I must go to the gym and lift weights at least two times per week. That’s it.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water everyday.


  • Read one book per month.
  • Write something (anything) that’s not related to work at least once a week


  • Take the high road (I know what this means, so I won’t bother to elaborate here).
  • Stop worrying about what other people are (or aren’t) doing at work.

Pretty straightforward, eh? I’d be lying if I said that I’m not prioritizing the physical goals over the mental and social ones. Yes, “getting in shape” — which is essentially what the goals translate to — is annoyingly cliche for a resolution, but I’m not a hipster dirtbag so I really don’t care.

Thoughts & Feelings etc

I haven’t written here in a while, mostly because there’s too much going on these days, and I’m a little overwhelmed. Also, I’m lazy. It’s probably more that than anything else. I just have zero motivation to write, ya dig? In any case, I’m just gonna riff for a hot second. Bear with me.

My brother got married at the beginning of this month. It was a cute courthouse ceremony in Springfield, followed by a dinner with 30 or so of his/her family members and friends. Overall, a gay old time and a nice opportunity to spend the weekend with my entire family. We got in to Springfield Friday morning, watched the two tie the knot at 11 am., took ridiculous pictures (none of which I’ve seen yet…I should probably ask someone for them), and then retreated to the hotel until dinner. Follow that with a nightcap or 5 at a local bar, bed, and a long drive home.

The weekend after my brother’s wedding….my sister got married. Yeah, two weddings in a fortnight. Can I get a what the fuuuck? Pardon the language, but seriously? Seriously.

All semi-kidding aside, it was another nice ceremony and another great opportunity to spend time with the whole family. This one was in Galena, IL—which, by the way, is not a suburb of Chicago, like I had always believed. It’s actually a good three-hour drive from Chicago. We ended up renting a vacation home for me and Tristan, my sister and her betrothed, my parents, and the betrothed’s parents to share for the weekend. Sounds like it’d be too cozy, but it was actually quite nice. Before the wedding festivities, we had a couple nice meals, toured a distillery, and played a two-hour game of nutty 9s (a tale for another time).

When I think back to earlier this summer (like May or June), I remember thinking that all of the holidays between now and our wedding would be our family’s last “normal” holiday—i.e. all three of us likely at my parents’ house on Christmas eve, waking up Christmas morning to open presents, having a quiet dinner with just us (and probably Tristan). I mean, those two goons weren’t technically even dating anyone six months ago (again, a tale for another time)! Who knew they’d be married off—leaving me as the family spinster—before Christmas? Not I.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them. It’s just everything suddenly changed really really fast.  This will be our first “adult” Christmas, and to be honest, and it’s pretty bitter sweet (mostly bitter). I don’t know, I’m just being cranky I guess. I DO NOT LIKE CHANGE DAMN’T.

Anyway, I am still very very excited for next week. It will be different..but different isn’t always bad, I guess.


Happiness Advantage Challenge: Day 14

3 things I’m grateful for:

  • Daylight savings time. It sucks that’s it’s already dark outside as I type this at 4:35 p.m., but I gotta admit—I love that it’s bright and sunny when I wake up in the morning. It’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make.
  • A new gym in my office building. For a one-time fee of $25! Hooray for two gym memberships.
  • This morning, I threw some pork and seasoning into the ol’ crockpot and let it ride on low. Easy breezy.

Positive Experience
My life is one big positive experience (read: I’m too lazy to write anything)

15 minutes of exercise?
So much exercise lately (not sarcasm).

Happiness Advantage Challenge: Day 13

3 things I’m grateful for:

  • My big, curly hair. I went as a cat for Halloween last night…meaning I wore black pants, a black shirt, and cat ears. But, my ability to make my hair va-va-voom big really saved the “costume” I think. I looked like a lioness.
  • Museum discount days. We explored the Field Museum for 3 hours yesterday without spending a dime, thanks to it being a “discount day” — Illinois residents got in for free. Yay learning.
  • Marrying a weirdo like me. Yesterday, it was soooo windy that Lake Shore Drive was temporarily shut down due to waves from the lake flooding the street. Let that sink in for a minute.
    Because of the closure, we bobbed and weaved throughout the Gold Coast/north Michican avenue area, where there are a ton of hotels and tourists…whom we had the pleasure of watching STRUGGLE in the wind. Inside-out umbrellas, slanted walks, car doors that wouldn’t open, newspapers in the face, etc. And while the wind truly sucked yesterday — as did the 40 minutes of traffic — watching these people was pure COMEDY GOLD for my and Tristan’s depraved humor. I won’t bother quoting things we were saying because they won’t make sense out of context, nor would they be funny to anyone but us (i.e. “Barb, what will we do with the babies??” See? Not funny.). But damn. I got a good ab workout during that car ride.

Positive Experience
Halloween has historically been a hit or miss Holiday for me and T-bag. Last night was wonderful though. We spent the eve at a very very empty piano bar in Wrigleyville, where we pretty much provided all the requests for the night. We tipped the pianists well, and they appreciated it and played 90% of the songs we request. The only ones that didn’t make the cut? The Family Ties theme song, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (they didn’t know it???), and Shewolf. Best song of the night was a tossup between Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find” and “All That She Wants” by Ace of Base.

15 minutes of exercise?
Yes! We played a couple games of racquet ball…which may be my new favorite activity.

Happiness Advantage Challenge: Day 12

3 things I’m grateful for:

  • Fresh fruit in the office. A company called The Fruit Guys delivers fresh fruit every week (or maybe twice a week), and damn do they bring the goods. I’m talking apples, bananas, pears, oranges, grapes, peaches, nectarines, the list goes on and on.
  • Being a morning person. It’s nice that as soon as I wake up in the morning, I’m pretty much roaring and ready to go.
  • Keurig. Good god how did I ever live without you?

Positive Experience
I went home to Algonquin last night and enjoyed a homecooked meal and some A++ TV watching. Very relaxing and comfortable and for some reason I get the best sleep there. Probably because Tristan is a snorer/tosser and turner

15 minutes of exercise?

I have plans to remedy my life soon. I swear.