February 27, 2012

Spaghetti Sauce is Out to Get Me

The past few weeks have been a bit crazy. First we have to go here, and then there, and then back again. Next, it's this paperwork that needs to be filed, and the dog needs a vet visit, and a zillion other things... all of which added up to the unthinkable: Last week, we ate spaghetti with sauce from a JAR.

Not a major crisis, I know. But for a foodie like me, who insists on home-cooking, this was a warning flag of major proportions. A warning of what, you're thinking.... doesn't everyone make do with quickie meals when necessary?

Yep. Everybody does. Even us. Why the warning flag, then? Well, even when we're busy with life, the Hubs and I like to spend a a bit of time each evening with our quiet rituals. We make dinner.... ok, so that's a lie. I make dinner. But the Hubs sits at the counter and talks to me while I chop and dice and saute. Sometimes he even helps. The Hubs is a great chopper.

I like listening to his voice while I cook. I like telling him all the little things about my day. And I especially love the way these simple things keep us sane for another day.

Spaghetti sauce from a jar = no quiet conversation. No sharing of our days. Nothing to keep me sane for another 24 hours.

Not cool.

So, when I found myself cracking open another jar of spaghetti sauce, I knew something was wrong. Why was I so frazzled? Why did it feel like I was living with a stranger that I only saw in passing?

 It was the darn spaghetti sauce, totally to blame for my panicked state. Something needed to change.

Yes, I realize how ridiculous this might sound, but that doesn't make it any less true. Spaghetti sauce was out to get me. We were falling in with bad habits.

Obviously the sauce isn't really a problem, just my warning flag. We all have little rituals that help us relax, or things that bring us closer together as a couple. The Hubs and I have a lot of rituals that keep us running smooth. We hike together, walk the dog, leave each other notes in the morning, and.... we cook dinner together whenever he is home. Our rituals are different when he's away, deployed or otherwise. This is the reason that sauce from a jar was so upsetting to me. That particular ritual is something I usually do only when the Hubs is away, because I don't always like to cook for one.

The realization shook me a bit. Of course, I immediately went to the grocery store. I purchased enough ingredients to make a killer red sauce (someday I'll share it with you!). That night, the Hubs and I chopped onions and tomatoes. We talked about our day. He told me a funny story, and I told him about the dog across the street that won't stop barking. The jar of sauce went back into the pantry where it belongs.

Today, we're still a little frazzled and life is just a bit crazy. But we won't be eating sauce from a jar this week. The little rituals are easy to take for granted, and even easier to set aside when life gets in the way. So while the madness continues, I'm making a conscious effort to keep our rituals in place. I miss those moments when they're gone. While he's here, and while we have this time (crazy as it can be!), I want to stockpile the little moments. I'm going to treasure them, so I can pull them out again when he isn't here to make sauce with me. For the army wife community, those alone times come too often. For sure, I don't want to miss any of our together moments, no matter how tempting that jar of sauce might be.

What are your little rituals? Do you make a meal together, or snuggle on the couch with a movie? Perhaps you take an evening walk, or maybe go to the gym together? Whatever those little things are, hang onto them. Don't open too many jars of spaghetti sauce.

February 4, 2012

Speaking Civilian and Christmas Leave, Part 1

When I met the Hubs, I had no idea what a military life would be like... a lot has certainly changed since then! Sometimes the difference between then and now simply staggers me.

In the beginning, there were times when I thought we needed an interpreter just to carry on a conversation. I can't count how many times I said, "Slow down, and speak 'civilian' for me!" There are so many shorthand words, phrases, and acronyms that I can barely keep up. Even now, after four years of marriage, he still adds a definition for me here and there when I'm completely clueless. (Sadly, this happens much more often than you would expect!)

One of the first, and easiest, phrases for me to learn was 'leave', a.k.a 'vacation', for all the regular people out there. I still don't know why it's called leave instead of vacation, but I do know one thing - we finally get a much needed break from all the crazy!

It's not easy spending quality time with your spouse when he's away at school in another state, or training for weeks on end, or the worst... deployed. Even on a regular day, there are few hours to sit and relax together. Family time is precious. Every second counts, especially when your circumstances change from one heartbeat to the next.

While time away can be one of the disadvantages of military life, there are many advantages as well. One of the biggest for us is the ability to travel and see new things at every new post we inhabit. 'Leave' becomes an adventure, and this year has been no exception for us!

Because we are close enough (reasonably) to drive, this year we visited family for Christmas, a true blessing. I love visiting with my in-laws, shocking as that may sound to some of my fellow wives out there! I got pretty lucky in that department, thank goodness. This year, I was also able to visit with one of my favorite uncles (shhh, they are all my favorites!) and his family, who recently moved into the area as well.

 Where did we visit, you wonder? The great city of Dallas, Texas!

With two weeks at our disposal, the only problem was deciding what to do with our time and where to spend our vacation fund. Naturally, all the planning fell to me, which is exactly the way I like it! Did I mention that I'm not only slightly neurotic, but also OCD? Well, now you know. I take great pleasure in plotting our travels, down to the tinniest detail. I keep notebooks and printouts, options, and back-up plans. I even pre-plan our snacks.

Yep, 100% OCD. But the Hubs loves me anyway.

The plan this year was to visit family for a week, and then broaden our horizons with a trip to New Orleans. I've always wanted to go, and since it's only 9 hours from Dallas, why not?

Today, I'll focus on the first leg of our trip, with plenty of helpful tips for you in case you ever decide to visit there yourself! While we spend most of our time with various family members, that doesn't mean we can't all go out and see the sights together. Here are just some of the things we did together:

1. Tour Cowboys Stadium - the ultimate for any football fan, and an especially orgasmic moment for the Hubs who is a diehard Cowboys fan (We all have one or two flaws, I've mostly forgiven him for this one)

We took the basic tour, which included a tour of the locker rooms, and as much time as you wanted to play on the field. The Hubs almost stroked out when he made a 'field goal' from the 20 yard line. Pick your tour and get the details here: http://stadium.dallascowboys.com/tours/tourInfo.cfm

2. Visit the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens - Not only are the gardens gorgeous, but there are a variety of activities year-round. We attended Christmas Tea (with champagne, ahem) before wandering the gardens.

Check out their website here: http://www.dallasarboretum.org/

3. Eat at the infamous Catfish Plantation - Reputedly the 'Most Haunted Restaurant in Texas', we found the grub to be great! No personal experiences with a ghost this time, but reports abound of supernatural experiences.

The Catfish Plantation may look like a normal home, but inside the food is hot and the service is wonderful. Check them out here, and be sure to stop in if you're close by:


4. ICE at the Gaylord Texan - Every year for Christmas, the Gaylord hires ice sculptors from around the world to carve a magnificent fantasy land for you and your family! For Christmas 2011, the theme was Shrek the Halls with, you guessed it, Dreamwork's Shrek.

To start, Gaylord employees hand everyone heavy-duty parkas, because it is freezing inside the exhibit. By the end of our walk through, I was having a hard time feeling my fingers and toes! If you're visiting some other time of year, you can still take the time to wander this magnificent hotel. It includes restaurants, shops, and an enormous center arboretum and garden. Check them out:


Those were the highlights of our trip to Dallas this year, but there are so many fun things to see and do there! Some of the things we've done in the past include:

* C.A.R.E. - Don't miss a visit with the beautiful large cats!

* Southfork Ranch - Visit the setting for TV's famous show, Dallas!


* The Sixth Floor Museum - Explore and learn about the day JFK was shot


And many, many more.... No matter how many times we visit Dallas, we never seem to run out of things to do and see. If you have the opportunity to enjoy the city, take advantage of it!

We ended this family visit on a high note before heading off to New Orleans, the Big Easy... as military families, we have to take our opportunities where we can find them. I seem to find them all over the place! Traveling suits me and the Hubs down to the ground, but maybe it's not the thing for you. What opportunities do you find in your military life that makes the hard times a little more bearable?

That's all for now, but I'll be back soon with pictures from the great city of New Orleans and some tips on what to see if you visit. TTFN

February 1, 2012

Keys in the Freezer = BBQ Chicken Pizza

It's been one of those weeks. Actually, if I'm going to be totally honest, it's been one of those months... maybe years.

You know the kind of week I'm talking about, because we've all had them. The kind where you lose your keys in the refrigerator because you can't keep your head screwed on straight for five minutes. And yes, as cliched as it is, I did that earlier this week. Technically I lost them in the freezer, but still. Please hold your laughter until I can no longer hear its echo.

The reasons for this debacle are many and varied, and totally unimportant. Just know that I'm trying to disentangle myself from the pileup as you read. I'm also indulging in a little chocolate therapy to make the world seem brighter. It's working wonders.

As for the Hubs... well, seeing as he left before sunup today, and came home well after sundown, you can only imagine that he's having one of those weeks too.

What do we do when the world is spinning like mad and we can't keep up? In this house, we make pizza.

Ha, you thought I was joking, but I'm not! Sometimes there is just way too much going on around us, and that leaves no time to plan for dinner. I can always tell when we're running too fast, because pizza is suddenly on the table.

When things get really bad, we order take-out Chinese. So at least we're still in the game. For now.

Pizza may seem a bit unhealthy as our go-to, quickie meal, but there are ways to keep it wholesome. Use a keys-in-the-freezer-week as an opportunity to clean out your vegetable drawer! Plus, you can always make your pie with whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese too.

Naturally, I did none of these things. But you could, if you really wanted to.

Instead, we made this:

BBQ Chicken Pizza

If you've lived your whole life without this indulgence, please correct the oversight immediately.

This recipe actually started as a challenge. The Hubs claimed that he would never eat barbecue sauce on pizza.

Oh, oh, oh.... I beg to differ. Loudly. Challenge heard, and accepted.

And so it began... with chicken.

Ingredients, Part I

While I was rushing around, changing out loads of laundry and answering my phone, I quickly tossed together the chicken for the pizza. So easy, even the Hubs could do it.

Two chicken breasts in a pan. Salt and pepper both sides. Toss with 1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Let rest at least 10 minutes before dicing. DONE.

See? Easy. If you don't even have time for that, you can use some pre-cooked rotisserie chicken tossed with a little barbecue sauce. There are always ways to simplify.

One of the best parts of this recipe is that it makes enough for 2, 12-inch pizzas. Or one really big pizza pie. Either way, it means leftovers.

On to the next.

Ingredients, Part II
Yep, I'm using pizza crust from a bag. Remember, this is our keys-in-the-freezer dinner. Simple is better.

You can use any kind of crust you prefer. The toppings-ready kind is something of a miracle when you have very little time. But I prefer to mix my own, even if the mix comes in a Betty Crocker bag. I also like to do three things when making the crust:
        1. Spray the pizza pan with non-stick spray, then dust it with a little cornmeal. It makes me feel      
            like a professional.
        2. Dust my hands with a little flour before spreading the dough. I don't like my hands sticky.
        3. Finally, I prick the crust with a fork and pre-bake it for about 5 minutes before adding my
            toppings. Otherwise, I think the crust can get soggy. Bleck.

The next few steps might seem a bit labor intensive, but it only sounds that way. In reality, the whole process takes maybe 10 minutes. Trust me.

Slice a red onion thinly, into half-moon slices. Toss the slices into a skillet with a tablespoon or so of butter on medium-low heat. Let them cook, stirring them here and there, for about 10 minutes while you do other things. The onions will soften and brown, which brings out their sweetness. In the end, they should look something like this:

For a shortcut, you could just slice the onions thin and use them on your pizza raw. While they won't be caramelized, the oven temperature will help them cook right along with the pizza.

While the onion cooks, warm another skillet over medium-low heat. Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 cloves of minced garlic to the pan. It's not necessary, but I also added a few fresh oregano leaves to my pan. I told you that pizza can help clean out your veggie drawer!

This only needs to be on the heat for about 60 seconds, just long enough that the garlic becomes aromatic and infuses the oil. After I pre-bake my crust, I brush this over it before adding any additional toppings. The flavor is delish, and adds a new taste level without a lot of hassle. You could skip this step if you want, but I seriously don't think you should. Also, just a quick tip: this makes a great sauce base for any blanco pizzas you might try in the future.

Now comes the easiest part of any pizza recipe, the assembly. After brushing the crust with the oil mix (you won't need to use all of it), sprinkle on about a cup of fresh mozzarella onto each pie (Remember, this recipe makes two!).

On top of the mozzarella, drizzle some more bbq sauce. This amount is at your discretion, but keep in mind that the sauce will thin and spread a bit as it bakes. Next, cover with your diced chicken, one breast per pie.

Here's one of the secrets to great BBQ Chicken Pizza... several types of cheese. Cover the chicken with 1 cup (per pie) of shredded Gouda cheese, then add your onions (1/2 on each pie), and then add a light sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

It's pizza time! Bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is nicely browned. I top mine with some chopped cilantro, it's a fabulous finishing touch. But if you don't care for cilantro, you could try out some green onion, or maybe parsley. Whatever you choose, enjoy! This is a pizza that's not to be missed (Refer to photo #1, drool, then go make pizza!).

As to my challenge with The Hubs.... you guessed it! I win. Not only did he LOVE the pizza, but he's already asked me to make it again. Score one for me!

What are your keys-in-the-freezer, quickie meals? Feel free to comment below and share your experience with the rest of us!

The Standard Form:

BBQ Chicken Pizza


2 bags Betty Crocker pizza crust mix
2 chicken breasts
1 red onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup bbq sauce, plus more for drizzling
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts. Toss with ½ cup bbq sauce. Bake in a glass pan for 20-25 minutes, or until done. Let rest 10 minutes before dicing into small pieces. Set aside.

Soften the onions in a skillet with the butter over medium-low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized. Set aside.

Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Mix the pizza crusts according to package directions. Lightly spray your pans with non-stick cooking spray and dust with a bit of cornmeal. Stretch the dough to fit, then prick all over with a fork. Pre-bake for 5 minutes, then remove from oven.

In a skillet over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil with the minced garlic, and the optional oregano, just until aromatic.  Brush the oil over the pre-baked pizza dough, just enough to cover. Do not over saturate.

Sprinkle 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese on each crust. Drizzle with extra bbq sauce. Add the chicken (one breast per pizza), the top with 1 cup of Gouda cheese each. Divide the onion evenly onto each pizza, then add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Bake until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Top with the chopped cilantro, slice and enjoy!