Thursday, March 31, 2011


Today was my cleaning day - I went to the gym religiously the past three days and didn't get around to a lot of housework.  So, three loads of laundry, two loads of dishes, cleaned the kitchen, dining room, living room, and guest bathroom.  None of this is particularly important, but here's the thing -  while I was cleaning I used the following products:

  1. Clorox bleach
  2. Dawn dish soap
  3. Dishwashing detergent (the kind in the little pack that dissolves in the hot water)
  4. Swiffer wet mop pads
  5. Draino
  6. Clorox toilet bowl cleaner
  7. Lysol disinfecting wipes
  8. All laundry detergent
  9. Disposable sponges
The more I think about this, the more disgusted I am.  First of all, I had to stop cleaning early because I was having tightness in my chest.  Not good.  Second, if I am having problems with all of these products, the environments is probably being affected too.  Third, a lot of these products create a lot of trash - sponges that get smelly are thrown out, etc.  

I will admit, I love my harsh, very effective cleaners.  I love watching stains come up without any extra scrubbing or work.  Cleaning the bath tub is oh-so-easy when I just fill it up with hot water and a little bleach, and mopping is almost stress-free when I can just throw the mop away afterwards.  Oh, and the fun of the squishy dissolving pack, wrapped in some cool plastic that just melts away.  However - 

I don't think I'm being responsible when I use products that are made of mysterious chemicals.  I'm certainly not doing my health any favors.  And all of those chemicals either sit on my surfaces, disperse into the air, or go down the drain - none of which sound like a good plan.  I don't want a side of bleach with my julienned veggies!  I don't want to breathe in the toxic combinations of toilet cleaner and tile cleaner!  I don't want to send these chemicals down to goodness knows where to interact with our water, plant life, and animal life.  

As soon as possible, I'm heading over to Trader Joe's to check out some of their natural cleaning products.  I might go to Harris Teeter, too, and look at the Seventh Generation cleaning line.  Because, heck, I think it's time to be a little more responsible - for myself, for my fiance, and for this place we call home.   

Monday, March 28, 2011

Venturing Out: a Baltimore Weekend

I love bricks, stacked up neatly, carefully smoothed, holding in people and wallpaper and dogs; I love the smell of old buildings, because somehow they all smell like church, or Christmas dinner, or the cracked spines of my favorite books.  I love Baltimore, even though I live in and do love Columbia, and I love the way the sun shines through fine particles of dust and lights up hardwood floors like fire.

This weekend I went to visit my grandmother for our regular Friday afternoon meetup.  I love visiting Grandmere - we always have a lot of fun, good conversation, and at the end, a lovely dinner.  We went to the Walter's Art Gallery's gift shop and did a little poking around, which is always enjoyable.  It was nice to be surrounded by beautiful things, something that I cherish.  Grandmere and I then made a flourless chocolate cake, which was a little bit closer to a chocolate pudding with meringue on top (but delicious nonetheless).

Later in the weekend, George and I went to the Helmand, again in Baltimore, with my parents and sister and a group of friends.  Ah!  Fine dining.  The Helmand is a favorite of Grandmere's and holds many good memories for me.

So why am I writing about Baltimore?  Where's the HoCo?

I'm still a hon.

I think what I miss so much about living in the city is that the city has a feel to it, a distinct somethingness, a character, while being a place of anonymity at the same time.  In the city I can be nameless, but the city itself has a name; a flavor on my tongue; a fierce, sharp beauty; a danger as hard as concrete; a pleasure as crushing as pink magnolias and pear blossoms.  The sweet smell of almost-rot.

I'm not saying that these feelings might be impossible in Columbia.  Maybe I haven't lived here long enough to make those associations.  Maybe I haven't experienced Columbia at all.  But there's something that I'm missing, some little piece of myself that I can't locate.  I guess - it's like going to a shopping center but looking for something else entirely.  I like being close to stores like Target and convenient eateries like La Madeleine, and it's certainly a lot more convenient than having to travel 30 minutes outside of the city for a cheap pair of jeans.  But I'm longing in my heart for something that has a taste, for something alive and vibrating.  Again, I wouldn't trade my life here, my memories with my parents and little sister.  Being here is worth it.  Raising my future children here is worth it.

I hate it when people ask me if I'll move back to the city and then judge me when I say, no.  Everyone has this opinion of Columbia that makes it sound like there's no "there, there."  As much as I hate that attitude, I might be victim to it myself.  Is there something I'm missing because I don't expect to find it?  Or is there truly something, something real that hasn't grown here?

I want nightclubs, and museums, and art galleries, and festivals.  I want convenient public transportation.  I want to see people walking, and I want to walk.  I want to pass people and say, good morning, or how's it going, or how about this weather.  I want to open my windows and let sounds stream in with the sunlight, people laughing, tires spinning, music blasting; I want to walk down the street and see women with little shopping carts, kids on bikes, gardens and iron rails; I want to put on high heels and dance.

I want Columbia to be my home, really mine, and I don't want to feel like there's no life here.  Right now, I'm going to sit on the porch in the ungodly cold, drink peach tea, play jazz, and read a trashy novel.  Because maybe I, maybe people like me, can bring some of that glittering brightness here, and make it home.          

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Meal Planning

I recently discovered that Giant has an online circular which becomes available on the Thursday before the next week.  G and I have been trying to, a) cook more at home, and b) cut down on our food expenses.  I didn't really realize how much money can go into eating - if we just stayed home and didn't order/eat out during the week, we could save a considerable amount of money.  Hence, my new activity: meal planning.

There's a certain point where it hits you that you're not just a college student any more.  Stopping at a take out place makes a bigger impact on your budget because suddenly, money gets a lot more real.  I feel like handling money wisely is a big part of being a grownup.  (I suppose I should say, "adult," now - but I still don't feel like one!)

So, next week, we'll be having:

Curried chicken with Basmati rice, potatoes, onion, and cauliflower (have everything but chicken and curry sauce, might make the sauce from scratch)
Whole wheat/rice pasta with red sauce and Italian sausage (just need sausage)
Shrimp stir-fry (already have)
Sausage, egg, and cheese bagel sandwiches (breakfast for dinner!  Have eggs)

I think if I really consider what I have in the house, I can make a lot of meals without buying a lot of groceries.  HouseHon success!  And if I make big batches of everything, G's lunches are taken care of.

Next up for the day: going to work.  If anyone wants to drop in on Williams-Sonoma today, please feel free!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


When the weather gets warmer - when the sun finally crawls back into the sky with a sleepy stretch of grace - I feel completely alive.  I've always loved spring; it's like everything in me wakes up.  I think about the periods of transition that happen not only each year but in our lives; somehow emerging from the cold is like making a promise to myself to live and be happy.  

Off of our condo, G and I have a small porch.  We have a neat view of huge pine trees and a little playground, and I love sitting out there with a glass of iced tea and a good book.  Anyway, I'm thinking of getting some window boxes/planters to mount on our porch railing.  As may be clear, I'm a cook by nature, and I really want to grow my own herbs.  Herbs I can't live without:

1.  Rosemary: chicken, potatoes, roast beef, infused butter, bouquet garni.
2.  Marjoram: goat cheese omelets, Brussels sprouts with shallots, infused cream for leek soup.
3.  Mint: iced tea, compresses for nasal congestion, mint-cream truffles.
4.  Bay leaves: for just about anything.  It's good luck to get the bay leaf!

Mint is a notorious space-hog (not a hog from space - though that sounds pretty cool - but it takes over everything).  Rosemary tends to get tall instead of wide.  I have attempted a window box before, with limited success.  I'd really like to try to grow peppers, since I've found that most of the food I cook has some peppery element.  Important pepper-growing facts:

1.  Plants need to be 18-24 inches apart.  
2.  It's good for the plants to get some shade in the afternoon, so planting something like geraniums (which help peppers grow) will supply some natural shade.
3.  Soil needs to be heavy on organic matter, well-drained, and watered consistently.  

Now - I just have to find a good place in the HoCo to find herb and pepper plants.  I think I'll be heading to Home Depot for planters and brackets, but I'd prefer to go to a real nursery for the plants.  Any thoughts?  

Now, for some porch-sitting.  Trader Joe's Mint Melange Tea and trashy literature, here I come...

Monday, March 21, 2011

HouseHonning: After the Weekend

I don't know about you, but I am the type of person who just doesn't want to clean during the weekend.  At all.  Especially when I'm teaching two classes and trying to have fun in between.  So maybe take-out containers don't quite make it into the trash.  So the laundry piles up.  So nobody plans the meals for the next week.  I can do it tomorrow, right?

Oh, look.  It's Monday.  Oops.

Well, today I have been very good and tried to catch up.  I'm on my second load of laundry, I've done dishes and cleaned the kitchen.  I also put together my lunches for this week.  I made curried chicken salad, a perennial favorite - mayo, Greek yogurt, hot curry powder, ginger, honey, onion, and diced chicken.  I enjoyed a scoop of that, a banana smoothie, and a few chapters of an Anita Blake book.

I'll be cooking chicken tonight, as well.  It's the simplest recipe on earth, actually, but makes quite a lot and can be used for burritos or quesadillas for G's lunches.  I invented it when I had a lot of miscellaneous things in the pantry and some truly boring chicken in the fridge.  (It's very semi-homemade.  Don't judge.)

3 pounds chicken tenders
1 can black bean jalapeno soup
1 can kidney beans
1 box Spanish rice
1 medium onion, diced
blend of Mexican cheeses


Habanero pepper
Chili pepper
Minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar

1.  In a large bowl, mix marinade ingredients.  This is all really to your taste, but make sure you have enough liquid for your chicken.  Place chicken in the bowl, coating it with marinade.  Cover and refrigerate (less than 4 hours, otherwise the vinegar will break down the chicken and make it mushy).

2.  Pour yourself a refreshing beverage, such as chilled coconut water.  Pick out your favorite CD, such as the Buena Vista Social Club, and play it at maximum volume.

3.  In the mean time, prepare rice as per the directions on the back of the box.  Do not over cook.

4.  Preheat oven to 350.  Place chicken in a casserole dish and bake for 20 minutes.

5.  This is the really easy part.  Pour rice, beans, and onion over the chicken.  Cover the mixture with the can of soup, then sprinkle cheese on top.  Bake for additional 15 minutes.  And you're done.

This is a good recipe for the, "what the heck am I going to make for dinner?" days.  And so many leftovers!

Ok, back to the grindstone...

Weekend Roundup

This weekend held perfect examples of cool things going on in Howard County.  The first is a fairly shameless plug - I taught my monthly cooking class at Williams-Sonoma.  We featured a recipe by Sarah Johannes, Sous Chef to Wolfgang Puck.  The recipe was for Chinese barbecue ribs; we used short ribs for the first batch, which yielded a lot of meat, and I whipped up a batch of the barbecue sauce (typical ingredients like ketchup and dark corn syrup, plus soy, hoisin, and sriracha sauces, as well as garlic, ginger, and scallions).  The sauce was a success, but it got me thinking about a couple of things:

1.  Using caramelized shallots to give sweetness and reduce the amount of corn syrup;
2.  Using red wine vinegar to balance the sugar element;
3.  Using more heat, such as mincing Szechuan peppers and letting them cook up with the garlic, ginger, and scallions.  For this, I think you could use the Garlic Zoom and mince the ginger and the peppers at the same time.

As I told the attendees, I am pretty much incapable of following a recipe exactly.  I did my best to stick to the recipe - after all, I am not a famous Sous Chef! - but I think that these additions might add new depth to the dish.

We had about six people at the class, but once the smell of ribs wafted into the mall, we had a lot more people in the store!

The next cool HoCo event is also somewhat personal.  Abiding Savior Lutheran Church has invited me back to teach a Liturgical Dance class, and we had our first meeting yesterday.  It's great to be working with these enthusiastic young women, and I am really looking forward to our first performance on Palm Sunday, to the song, "Landslide."  I don't know how common Liturgical Dance is, so I think it's pretty neat that ASLC is doing this again.

On to the other events.  My mother, my fiance, and I attended the first in the World Music Series in the Other Barn in Oakland Mills.  We were lucky enough to be able to listen to Kwame Ansah and Fritete Afro-Beat, a group of fabulously talented, passionate, and playful musicians.   They had more drums than I could count or name, and it was truly cool to listen to music that I didn't really know anything about.  I am excited to hear further concerts in OM.  The established Jazz Series is a pleasure, and I think the World Music Series is going to be a hit.

After the concert, we adjourned to the Second Chance Saloon next door.  To sum up the Second Chance is somewhat difficult - for example, they keep up the decorations for every holiday year-round, which manages to be quirky and charming, and you might think that there's something of the "dive" feeling because it is a very casual and low-key place.  However, the food is consistently good (I was really wowed by their authentic beef stew for St. Patrick's Day) and they have large beer selection that both maintains old favorites and switches in (what will soon be) new favorites.  I had Flying Dog's seasonal, Garde Dog, which was sweet and malty and didn't have any overt heaviness.  I was also happy to hear that they had Boh on tap, though I didn't indulge in that particular pleasure.  Our server, Kevin, was friendly and relaxed as always.  I will definitely be heading back for one of their many daily specials.   

All in all, a great weekend in HoCo.  Now, on to the week...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Today's Work

Well, I got up this morning and got right to cooking.  I had a three pound roast, red bliss potatoes, carrots, onion, and a cheap Malbec, so I browned the roast with garlic, pepper, and thyme, deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup water and 1 cup wine, then set it all to simmering in the crock pot.  I think nine hours of cooking time (on low) should make for a tasty dinner!

Wednesdays are a good day.  G and I always plan something special for Wednesdays - it makes the week a lot more fun.  Tonight, of course, is the pot roast, to be accompanied by a glass of wine.  Dessert will be chocolate covered strawberries.  I am really looking forward to it - just a little romance for the middle of the week!

Other house chores that I should have done today: laundry and general tidying.  I feel bad that I didn't get to those, but I have some time over the next two days.  What I did accomplish was some preparation for my second job as Liturgical Dance Instructor.  I created a warm-up to begin with at each rehearsal, and I picked two songs for the first performances.  I also wrote a little about the lyrics and what they mean to me and how they relate to God.  I think it's a good start.  First rehearsal in a week and a half!  

Looking forward to spending the evening with my guy.  I hope he likes the roast!  (He'll probably eat it whether or not it's spectacular.  Definitely a keeper.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

HoCoHouseHon? What's that?!

What it means to be a HouseHon:

Working part time means that I am lucky enough to be available for cooking, cleaning, and general housework.  As much as I would love to rail against the gender stereotype, I kind of like it.

If my wonderful fiance, G, had most of the week free, he'd be doing the "homemaker" routine.  He'd be happy to scrub floors and bathtubs, vacuum, and cook dinner every day.  It's only fair, then, that I take care of as many chores as possible.  His willingness to help, plus my free time, makes me willing to take care of him.  

I don't think that makes me any less of an empowered woman.  I think being empowered means doing what you like to do, what is healthy and enjoyable, gender stereotypes be damned.  So I clean the house and joke about being "wifey" - so what?  

I'm happy.  I think that my happiness and fulfillment makes me a feminist.
And HoCo?  How does that fit in?

G and I are starting our lives in the HoCo.  G moved here after graduating, and I followed him soon after.  My parents live about five minutes away, and they have been having a wonderful life working, raising a kid, and just enjoying the HoCo.  G and I love visiting great places like the Second Chance Saloon, Frisco Grille, Union Jack's - and Cafe de Paris, Greystone Grill, Diamondback Tavern.  We're having fun.

And yet - there are certain things about Columbia in particular that I wish I could change.  I don't drive, and I hate that I can't walk to a grocery store, or any market; I can't decide to buy flowers for the table because there's no florist within walking distance.  I miss living a city life, sometimes, because I miss walking out my front door and finding an adventure within reach.  I'm not trying to be overly critical, and I'm so proud of my neighbors and friends and the lives we're all living in this rapidly growing and changing place.  But I do miss the city.  I feel sad that the only sidewalks in my neighborhood are to the pizza place, the convenience store, and the Chinese.  

I love living here.  I can't wait to buy a house, have kids, send them to the best public schools.  I love working here, too.  I just want to write about what it's like for a young couple trying to make a life, to find a place, in Howard County.  

Here, you're going to find recipes.  You're going to find stories of the cooking class I teach.  You might hear about the restaurants I love, and the fun details of my weekend, and searching for the freshest ingredients and the best music and the most enlivening experiences - all here in the HoCo.  I'll never stop being a Hon, but I'll continue to love living in Howard County.