Tuesday, November 30, 2010

'Tis the Season?


So, it could stand to be a little prettier today.

Or it could have stood to be a little prettier today. Today is almost over, so it really doesn't have long to redeem itself, and judging by the rain pounding audibly outside, the weather is in no mood for redemption.

The television certainly is, tonight. So far we've watched the last half of Airplane! and are currently watching the Bill Murray Scrooge movie, which I have not previously seen. It is hysterically funny.

So Jason told me, and so I am learning.

In any case, that photo above isn't even from today. It's actually from a rainy day about a week ago. I was headed down the stairs on my way to work, stopped next to the bushes outside our downstairs neighbor's porch, and saw a particularly nice leaf. I took a picture of it.

This is how my brain works, people.

I haven't written in several days mainly because I have been busy, in a kind of constant motion, since my parents were in town visiting. They flew in Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day. We drove up to the Atlanta airport to get them in my mother-in-law's really nice car, blaring NPR and generally being giggly with one another. I have to admit I was pretty excited.

Their airplane was scheduled to land at 9:30. Jason and I were making great time, even making the outskirts of Atlanta about fifteen minutes earlier than we had thought we would. We were both a little jazzed up, thinking we'd get there early to navigate the incredible labyrinth that is the Atlanta airport's loopy road. At 9:06, my phone rings and it is my father's cell phone. He informs me their plane has just landed and they are on the ground.

Jason and I turn and stare at each other while he drives. "Well, uh... we'll be there in half an hour?"

So we picked them up pretty much at 9:30 on the dot.

We brought them back to get a nice look at our little apartment, all shiny and spiffed up with cleanliness just for their visit, at which point we pretty much packed back up and went to my in-laws' place to start preparing for dinner. I utilized my mother-in-law's incredibly wonderful kitchen space (raised in a small kitchen, I have never had any kitchen that wasn't small when it comes to cooking space, these things endlessly amaze me) and was able to make two dishes for the family dinner at my husband's Nana and Grandaddy's house.

SO MANY PEOPLE. SO MUCH FOOD.

No pictures. Turns out I'm really bad at remembering to photograph anything when I'm surrounded by happy eating people. I'll need to work on that.

I made cranberry sauce and green bean casserole as our contributions for dinner on Thursday. There was so much food; the requisite turkey, there was some kind of white chicken giblet gravy that was incredible, a cranberry relish made with coconut, stuffing, pie... the list kind of keeps going forever. And it never stops being so good...


Eventually, we had to beg off to go home and sleep, as Jason and I were both a little sleep-deprived and beginning to fall asleep on our feet.

Friday morning was a hectic adventure in downtown Greenville, where my parents were introduced to Falls Park and Mast General Store and hopefully fell as much in love with it as I did. We ate lunch at Smoke on the Water, a local barbecue place (who actually catered our South Carolina reception after we got married!) where we ate a whole lot of delicious appetizers and tried to decide how on earth we'd be hungry for Second Thanksgiving.

Somehow, we managed.

Also, my sister-in-law's lips turned blue for a while.

She is apparently very susceptible to chilly temperatures. 


Friday night my contribution was an oyster-and-bacon stuffing. I'd never made stuffing before, but I was willing to give it a try. It was received with almost-unanimous praise, so I'm feeling pretty confident about my stuffing-making abilities. I might even get a medal next year.

I'm pretty sure I'll get a medal.

Also, there was ham, and banana pudding, and... well, I won't list everything. Suffice to say lots of food, all delicious. I tried as much of it as I could physically manage. SO MUCH FOOD.

That's a theme for Thanksgiving weekends in the U.S., my friends from abroad. Gluttony and football.

Saturday we took my parents up to Caesar's Head, up in the mountains around Greenville. It was a pretty lovely scenic drive. We stopped at Bald Rock, a place to look out over the countryside from a pretty high vantage point. Due to my crippling fear of heights, I had to take pictures from a ways away from the actual edge. Although Mom tried valiantly to get me closer to the edge, I could only go so far before that familiar drumbeat of vertigo threatened the edges of my vision.

So I took pictures instead!




I took pictures from a safe distance. In that second photo, to the middle you can see the backs of my mother, my husband, and my father. And then some other people too.

Also a puddle.


That little black arrow I so crudely drew with my little paintbrush tool in Photoshop is pointing at downtown Greenville from the top of Bald Rock. You can just see the tops of the tallest buildings there.

I daresay that's a view my parents aren't exactly used to.


It just stretched on forever. The air is a little clearer up here, and definitely had more a bite of chill to it. This wasn't even all of the way up to Caesar's Head, just a stopping point on the way.

Which brings me to the end of today's blog entry; I'll get another one up in the morning continuing my weekend in some interesting pictures and a whole lot of less interesting rambling detailed descriptions.

This is just a stopping point on the way.

I think it finally stopped raining, too. I hope it stops raining long enough for Jason to get to work safely tonight, safe and awake. He's napping right now; I need to go wake him up.

And then wait for him to come back in the morning, to me on my day off, my ability and willingness to sleep in just to snuggle warm under the covers with my husband and my cat.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We sure give a lot of thanks in this family

So some exciting things are happening:

1. Wednesday night we had dinner and a movie with Jason's family, the first of the three large family dinners I am attending this week.

2. My parents are here! They flew in yesterday morning to the Atlanta airport. Jason and I drove to go get them. We had their tickets forwarded to us as an e-mail, with an arrival time of 9:30. At 9:06, my cell phone rings and I look down and it's my father's cell phone (which he never uses).

I picked it up.

"We're on the ground now in Atlanta," he says.

"That's nice," I reply, then stare at Jason and shrug. "We're, uh. We're still a half-hour away."

Atlanta airport was crazy, as it always is. But we got them back here all good and safe. We are borrowing my mother-in-law's car because our one car right now is a little two-seater sports car, and while it TECHNICALLY has four seats, those bucket seats in the back just do not cut it.

2. Last night was our official Thanksgiving dinner at Jason's Nana's house, and it was crazy and awesome and full of wonderful food. I made Green Bean Casserole and a cranberry sauce with orange and rum. I'll put up the recipe for the cranberry sauce and probably the casserole, since I do things a little bit differently sometimes. Oh all the food was wonderful, from Nana's special crab dip to the turkey being perfect to this great stuffing Gena made to a pecan chocolate pie...

Thanksgiving is the best excuse for gluttony ever.

3. Today we took Mom and Dad and the Faulks downtown for shopping, which is always and ever exciting. Some of my Christmas presents have been purchased :) and I have some ideas on presents for others that I didn't have before!

More later; I have a couple of photos, but not many, from there.

4. Tonight is our second Thanksgiving dinner with the family, which promises to be equally awesome. Jason is currently napping while I cook the cornbread for the beginning of the oyster-and-bacon stuffing I'll be making for dinner.

5. I think I've cooked more in the last 24 hours than in the last two weeks, honestly.

6. Justin (Jason's best friend) made an apple pie he is bringing. This brings me much joy.

7. Tomorrow we're going to swing by my workplace and then come up with something to do that will be fun and illustrative of what living here in Greenville is like; ie, wonderful.

Pictures later... words only for now.

I am having such a good weekend...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Barry

One of our most regular customers at work died recently. We hadn't seen him for a bit, but then we knew he and his wife were set to go on vacation, so none of us worried, really, although we do note when we haven't seen one of our regulars in a couple of days.

His wife just came in a couple of days ago, and this is when I learned that Barry had passed on, quite suddenly. His wife retired on a Friday; he died the following Monday, about a week ago.

They had just gone on vacation.

She has come in the past couple of days. Yesterday she came with a friend and her granddaughter (who often came with she and Barry to visit us at the cafe, get drinks, hang out for a couple of hours, have a fun time) and today it was she and the aforementioned friend. We smile, and I remember in my mind how tiring it can be to hear the well-meant "how are you"'s from everyone you know, and so I try to make small-talk, be engaging and cheerful and exactly what she got from me before, when it was she and Barry.

Nonetheless, in the cafe we have teared up so much in the last couple of days. For all that I have only been working in the cafe for a few months, Barry was a constant, almost-daily presence. He came in with funny mispronunciations for everything he wanted, teased us mercilessly. He was one of the first people to rib me for being new and messing up, but did so in the kindest possible way that had me laughing along with him.

We keep waiting for him to come get his multi-grain bagel. I keep waiting for him to come in and order something to drink.

I was talking about this to a coworker tonight and we both said to each other, If he had this much influence over us, the baristas  at the bookstore cafe he visited, how much more must the people who knew him well be hurting?

I keep thinking of his granddaughter; only a little older than I was when my Grandpa Swearingen died. She looks about the way I felt; bewildered and hurting and a little angry, too.

My coworkers and I worry, when our regulars don't come in for days at a time. Of course, we don't think we're entitled to any notice or anything; that's pushing it way too far. But we have several senior citizens that come in all the time, two to three times a week... sometimes daily...

I'm worried about all of them now.

They should really call us if they go on vacation or take any time off from the bookstore; I'm just sayin'. We just like to know everyone's okay.

It got me to thinking about my Grandma VanHoorn again (but then, how often don't I think of her is probably the better question, and the answer is I am always thinking of her) and I lost it a little at work on Sunday... thankfully I had plenty to keep me busy in the back with the dishwasher. But still; how many people that we didn't know, that we didn't think to inform, people that one sees in passing and gives no thought to, mourned her loss? Her visitation taught me that my grandmother knew basically everyone in the central Illinois area, and a whole lot of people everywhere else, too.

Barry seems like he was one of those; those kind, effervescent silly compassionate incredible lives that touch hundreds if not thousands of lives in a deep way; effortlessly, just through the living.

The world has one less small light.

And so.

That's all I really have to say tonight.

Two days remain before my parents fly in... 32 days until I step foot in Illinois myself.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Feelin' Seasonal


Fall is messy; leaves seem to decide to leave their trees all at once in great showers that cover the road up the hill to our apartment. The wind blows them away fast enough, but it's still fun to occasionally appear to be driving on a road made entirely of yellow and red leaves all the way up.



It's the middle of November and I almost never need more than maybe a long-sleeved shirt, unless it's at night, and then I might need a sweater at most. I am comparing this to last year, the Year of Baseboard Heating in Southern Illinois, and becoming ever more grateful at the prospect of this warmth in South Carolina and the reality that when I need it, I have central heating.

I never realized how wonderful working heat was, having had it my whole life, until last winter when I wasn't working for a couple of months and spent so much time wearing so many layers of clothing in a desperate bid to win a staring contest against cold weather.

I will never take a working heating system for granted ever again.

And neither will my fingers and toes.

Nonetheless, I really miss taking all the walks we did, Jason and I. I miss living a stone's throw from the countryside and cornfields, seeing deer and turkeys almost every day. It's a little hard to see wild deer right next to the highway... although my in-laws had a big issue with deer in their garden and they're just off of one of the most popular roads in Greenville.


Nonetheless, I was thinking about this last night while talking to a friend of mine, and I thought; this town has been really good to me so far, and it's only been a few months. I still feel a little like a tourist who happened to get a job here, but I know a little bit more where things are every day.

Yesterday, I even gave directions on how to get to a Wal-mart to a man when I was leaving from visiting with friends at work. I even knew where to tell him to go. I was so proud of myself.

We're carving out a life here, and I can't really think of a better town to do it in.




Except that I wish liquor stores were open later.

And that what's open on Sunday- and when- wasn't so hit-or-miss.

Oh well.


ONE WEEK until my parents get here (!!!!!). 37 days until I fly to Illinois for Christmas.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

I promised to put up the recipe for my Grand Food Experiment, and so I shall.

I mean, I'm doing it right now.

I used Noble's Pig Vineyard and Winery's recipe as a starting point, and I feel like I really should link to it, for those of you with a taste for cream and butter and the good things in life. Here is the original recipe from Noble Pig. It is a much richer, creamier, buttery-er recipe that looks as though it is divine.

I just can't eat food that's quite that rich, so I ended up changing rather a lot.

And made a note for myself to use half Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce and half of our regular hot sauce in the future, because it definitely had that delicious buffalo wing-sauce tang, but it wasn't really very spicy at all.

So, on to cookery!

Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese, Katie's Way

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb whole-wheat elbow macaroni
1 small onion, chopped smallish
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
Roughly 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce, divided
2 tablespoons whole-wheat all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 cups milk (2% or skim is good; I used skim)
1 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or cut into very small cubes.
Four heaping tablespoons sour cream
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
Generous palmful of fresh parsley, chopped


The first thing you're going to notice is that this is probably the most ingredient-heavy dish I've ever dealt with using a recipe for. I tend to get dismissive when I see large lists of ingredients; it speaks of entirely too much effort to my poor frazzled brain. 

Every once in a while, though, I just get a hankerin' for a certain food item, and I must have it at all costs.

This was one of those times.

Now, On to Creation!
  
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Now, we used a baking dish that is roughly 9 x 13, and found that it was juuuuuuuuuust big enough to handle the meal, with a little spillage over the side while baking. I would go on the safe side and use a larger baking dish if possible in the future. I definitely reccommend using the next size up, not a 9 x 13.

In any case, spray your baking dish with non-stick spray.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the macaroni pasta and cook until al dente, or just a little bit before completely done. Drain and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft, or about five minutes or so. Stir in chicken and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes (two or three), then add 1/2 cup of hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, or another minute or so.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in another skillet until melted, on medium heat. Stir in the whole-wheat flour and dry mustard, until smooth. Whisk in your half-and-half and skim or 2% milk, then add the remaining 1/2 cup of hot sauce, and stir until thick, for about two more minutes. Whisk in the cheddar until it has melted and become one with the sauce, then whisk in the sour cream, until it's smooth.

Spread half the macaroni in your baking dish, top with the chicken mixture and then the remaining macaroni. Pour your cheese sauce evenly on top, making sure it's sinking into the crevices like it should. 

Take your remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and heat in a mixing bowl in the microwave until melted. Stir in your breadcrumbs, blue cheese crumbles, and chopped parsley. Top the whole concoction with this, as evenly as you can. 

Bake until bubbly, for about 30 minutes.

Allow to rest for five or ten minutes before serving.

I would place extra blue cheese, parsley, and hot sauce on the table for customizing. It never hurts to keep a little extra sour cream around, too.

Yay! Time to eat!


When I fly to Illinois at Christmas, I think I will volunteer to make this recipe for a family dinner or something. With the amount of hot sauce in it, it wasn't very spicy, and you can always cut down on the amount even more for those stomachs that can't take any heat and just keep the extra hot sauce on the table for those who like a lot of heat to add their own. 

I don't think I'll have the energy to make another ingredient-intensive dish before then.

But...

you never know.

(Yes I do. I do know. I am so lazy.)

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Riot of Color


This town is a riot of color in November, color and sunny warmth. It's just chilled enough at night for me to wear sweaters and long sleeves, but my coat has not yet made its way out of storage. We'll see when that first happens.

November is a good month, generally.

I know a friend who is doing a month of making herself write down one thing she is thankful for every day in a sort of Thanksgiving-run-up. Sometimes it's more than one, but she makes herself write at least one thing.

She told me recently that she noticed that her mood has actually brightened more in the past couple of weeks, because she's keeping track of things that she is grateful for in her life, looking for bright sides all the time.

My little niece is three years old. My sister put up the first picture of the three of them as a family on facebook again; she and my brother-in-law and this tiny little bundle of hair and downturned mouth that was Delainey, in her introduction to the world. I don't know how three years went by so fast; she's so big now! So certain of herself and her world already.

The countdown continues. 12 days until my parents come for Thanksgiving; 42 days until I fly to Illinois for Christmas and see my siblings, my niece, my brother-in-law, my extended family again.

I have plans.

This week's Big Experiment involved taking two of my favorite foods, putting them together, and seeing what occurred. I had thought about this idea for several days, and finally went and looked up a recipe to give me some ideas. I had to tweak it quite a bit, but in the end I thought it came out absolutely incredibly delicious.

Behold:


Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese!

I'm going to put up the recipe for it tomorrow, I think. I'll link to the recipe I used as a jump-off point, but the recipe I ended up using was very much my own by the end.

This experiment was tested on Jason, myself, and Justin, and neither of the guys had anything but good things to say, so I'm happy!


Occasionally, I can cook.

While I was meant to close yesterday, I ended up opening and I didn't work today, so we got to sleep in since Jason didn't work last night and we decided to hit up downtown Greenville this afternoon, to take a walk and maybe shop a bit.

Oh, did we walk.

My legs would like to inform you that we walked quite a bit.


I asked him to pose for a picture.

Well.

I learned my lesson.

From here on out, I'll just take pictures on the sly!

We walked a couple of miles around Falls Park and back up again, coming back onto Main Street from kind of a back way that involved a lot more straight uphill walking than I was entirely comfortable with. By that time, it was time for early dinner and we ended up eating at Coffee Underground, where I discovered two important things: that Coffee Underground serves alcohol (yay, Bailey's latte!) and that they do breakfast all day long, which means of course that next time I am omelet-ing up the place.

This time, however, the Mediterranean sampler was good enough for me. Hummus, goat cheese, little cut-up artichoke pieces and olives with nice crunch herb bread to put it all on. Nom nom nom.

nom nom.

nom.



After that, a touch of shopping at the general store; one of my absolute favorite places in town and probably the first place I always say we need to go when we're downtown. They had a really good deal going on one of my favorite brands to buy socks, hats, gloves, and scarves for the winter from. Their deal was on socks.

So I now own more prettypretty socks from SmartWool, seriously the best socks in the whole world.

The whole wide world.

Possibly even the universe?

I'm pretty confident that that isn't even hyperbole on my part.

Also, shoes. Delightful, incredible Privo shoes. I will stare at them wistfully until one day they are mine. One fine day...

Okay.

I'll stop this now. I don't mean to do this.

I swear! I'm a tomboy!

There are pictures to prove it and I never wear skirts or dresses except out of obligation or in a sense of respect for specific people. I am the least girly girl ever. I absolutely swear this to you.

So why am I so excited for pretty socks and daydreaming about the new pairs of shoes I wish one day to have?

It is a mystery for the ages.



In short; today was awesome, yesterday was pretty cool too, tomorrow looks like it'll consist entirely of going to work in the morning/afternoon and then cleaning my house at night?

But at least Friday and Saturday rocked.

Depending on how work is tomorrow? Sunday might rock too.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Postcards from the Annoying Little Sister

Have I mentioned how awesome my big sister is?

I'm sure I have.

Both of my siblings have shown incredible restraint since I was born, along with patience and this ability to like me despite having known me as a little kid that I find occasionally surprising and impressive when I remember what I was like as a little sister.

I'm sure I've mentioned my childhood of being that pesky youngest kid who pokes and prods at every possible method of annoying my older siblings, from forgetting my shoes on the coldest Halloween I even remember being alive for, to whining about them telling me what to do...

... to 'borrowing' Star Wars books or comic books without asking...

...to 'borrowing' clothes without asking...

... to suddenly whining about hand-me-downs when I've just spent the better part of my day trying to acquire my siblings' belongings to begin with...

Did I mention the whining?

I like to think I was kind of famous for it.

... or that part where I grew up in a house with enough bedrooms for each kid to have their own and yet insisted on sharing my sister's room for a while?

... or the part where I decided at just barely fourteen years old that I liked her newest boyfriend (now my brother-in-law) more than any of her others because he also watched The Simpsons and proceeded to tell her that as though it actually had any bearing on anything?

... or the part where I had a childhood fight over absolutely nothing with my best friend at the time and Christina found me sobbing with grief over The End Of Our Friendship! and patiently listened to me explain the whole problem, then finally asked me if I had talked to said best friend about this issue, wherein my brain exploded from realizing I hadn't even thought of that solution yet?

Well.

Now you know.

You'll never see me the same way again.

In any case, I received this card in the mail:

it's not 
that i'm always
there for you,
or you're
always there for me...

it's that we're always there for each other
and that's always meant so much.

I have the best big sister in the whole world.

I'm not even going to try and make that funny, because it's not funny, it's just awesome, in the original understanding of the word. My sister inspires awe in me, at her patience and fortitude and her way of setting goals and achieving them, one step at a time.

I will see my sister in person again, hopefully, on Christmas Day, along with much of the immediate and extended family I have been homesick for for forever.

I am hoping some time has been put aside for me to hug everyone and cry enough joyful tears that I become slightly embarrassing to be around in public.

47 days and counting.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

So this is fun.

I actually updated The Giant's Eye today with some concept art for a fun tabletop game some of my friends and I have been in. It was a really fun exercise in building a character visually as well as emotionally, and I really like some of the sketches.

So... maybe I can end the hiatus that blog is on soon...

Topaz Thoughts

I have a hard time believing it's November already.

It seems like it was just a couple of weeks ago that Jason and I made it here, collapsed into a friend's guest bed because we were too tired to even deal with our own, and started this grand adventure of the Upstate.

November is a good month for me; my niece's birthday, my sister's birthday, Thanksgiving (in which I get to see my family!). Fall is only really settling down here in November, and fall is always my favorite season. I've said Spring before, but let's be honest, that's a lie and I only say that because my birthday is in the nebulous time between winter and official spring.

In the midst of planning and plotting.

Tomorrow the idea is to go buy my niece's birthday presents and hopefully get them mailed out the same day; that should have them arrive either the day before or on her birthday? To be honest, the post office system is a little... weird when it comes to what day things arrive.

When I lived in southern Illinois, we could mail a letter to South Carolina, and a letter to my parents four hours' north in Central Illinois. We could mail them on the same day. South Carolina would receive the letter first.

So I'm hoping that whole concept still works. Or I'll go to UPS...

I am so excited for Thanksgiving. It'll be the first I've seen of my family members in-person in months. There will be food. I will probably turn into a happy four-year-old at some point. Such is the truth of life.

This is just an update because I am still here. I haven't been up to much the last few days, other than hanging out with friends and generally enjoying fall.

And coffee.

Speaking of which...