A New Schedule

Hello reader. I've missed you! Have you missed me too? Or, at the very least, are you sick of looking at those darn veggie pictures that have been up for days? I don't blame you. They're getting old. In fact, the veggies in the picture are long gone. That means it must be time for a new post.

I would've been back sooner, trying something I'm sure you'd find most interesting. But, you see, I've been trying to get the hang of trying a very big something: A new schedule. Trust me, it's not quite as mundane as that sounds. In fact, it's quite action-packed. See for yourself, with this thrilling play-by-play:

5:45 a.m. The alarm goes off. I roll over and pretend it didn't go off. It's barely light out, and that just isn't right. Then I realize if I don't get up now I'm really going to be angry at myself later, so I roll out of bed straight onto the floor. On purpose. Every morning must begin with stretching. I don't care how early I have to get up, my back needs loosened up or there's no hope for the rest of the day.

5:55 a.m. I emerge from the bedroom to a Butter, who is gleefully wagging his tail in anticipation of his walk. He's rarin' to go, despite the fact he spent a long night in the hall snoozing ... er ... playing guard dog. Butter goes outside to take care of his business while I take care of mine inside, then we meet up again for a walk.

6:15 a.m. The walk is over. Butter eats his breakfast. I grab a bite of mine. Then it's time to shower and get ready for the day.

7 a.m. Work starts. I won't take you on a detailed play-by-play or I risk making your head spin, so I'll just say that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday I get 5 hours to get as much done as possible (on Thursdays I get a full 10 ... wheeee). Writing, editing, project managing, more editing, story assigning, brainstorming, interviewing. You name it. Go, go, go.

12 p.m. Lunch. Right now that involves lots of tomatoes. Yum.

12:15 p.m. Yes, I only get about 15 minutes to eat. Gotta walk the Butter now. We are in a strict training regime to whip him into Best Dog In the World status. We have a ways to go yet. Quite a ways.

12:35 p.m. Time to get ready to head to campus. Wait, you're saying. Why are you headed to campus? And what campus. Muahahaha. (That's my evil movie laugh, in case you were wondering.) I'm headed to campus to teach English classes at Lincoln College. That's right. Not one, but two. More about how I (quite suddenly) ended up doing that later ... I'm going to be late for class if I don't get this timeline moving.

1:00 p.m. Teach first English 101 class. Try to make thesis statements interesting.

2 p.m. Teach second English 101 class. Work on making thesis statement even more interesting than last time.

3 p.m. Office hours. No students have actually come to office hours yet, so I use this time to figure out the attendance systems (yes, there are two), how to input grades, and what the heck I am going to do to keep the students' interest during the next class period. And the one after that. And the one after that. Oh, and I call to set up an interview for a freelance article I'm writing.

4 p.m. Head home. Betcha you'll never guess what comes next? Yep, that's right. Butter walk #3. Butter just loves his walks and I have to admit, I'm pretty fond of them too. They get me outside in some absolutely lovely weather (ask me again how much I like them in November and December) and get me moving.

4:25 p.m. Take care of a random task or two, like loading the dishwasher or watering the plants. I prefer the latter, but sometimes the thirsty guys out front have to make a sacrifice when the dishwasher needs loaded. Or the floor needs swept (Butter hair!) or the bills need paid.

4:45 p.m. Figure out something to eat for dinner. Preferably, this something can be eaten in the car while driving. Feed Butter his dinner and apologize 10 times for abandoning him yet again. Pack snacks, fill up water bottle, and get ready to head out the door.

5:05 p.m. On the road, headed to the University of Illinois at Springfield. What now? You ask. Grad classes. Yep. At least if it's Monday or Tuesday night. More on that later too. This is just an overview, folks.

5:35 p.m. Still driving. Just finished eating. Listening to NPR. Man, I love NPR.

5:45 p.m. Arrive at UIS. Pull into parking lot and scramble to get into class in time. Fortunately, it's a small campus so I don't have to hoof it too far.

6 p.m. Learning commences.

9:30 p.m. Head home from class. (Although, at least for this first week, I got to head home much earlier than scheduled, so I actually had time to flop down on the couch, grade some papers, and pet my Butter.)

10:30 p.m. Must. Go. To. Bed. I should've been in bed half an hour ago, but that's never going to happen.

Now, as I mentioned above, I only have grad classes on Monday and Tuesday nights. Which means I have the other weeknights free. And by free I mean I will figure out how to cram the following into those evenings: working out, freelance writing, reading and writing for grad classes, grading papers, cleaning the house, taking care of my plants, spending time with Butter, spending time with Conservative Boy, and perhaps on occasion even relaxing. Oh! And writing blog posts to you, dear reader. So come back soon!


A Garden Update

The plants in the front yard are working hard and looking good, just in time for the arrival of My Parents tonight (yay!). Look at the bounty I harvested the other day (plus an eggplant almost as big as that zucchini):

And, perhaps even more exciting, look what appeared next to the zucchini plant out of nowhere! (I almost missed it because it was hiding behind some leaves.)

Yes, that's right. It's a furry baby melon. And there are more where this one came from. How can Conservative Boy not find this absolutely thrilling? I'll never understand ...


Conveying the Plight of the Honey Bee

One morning a couple of days ago, I was busy watering my plants. That's what I do. Often. I water my plants. And while I was watering my little vegetable garden on this fine morning, I noticed to bees hard at work in one of the big flowers on the zucchini plant.

Aren't they busy?

The bees continue to work away on the flower as I watered around them, oblivious to everything but the task at hand.

And that got me thinking about honey bees. Because, you see, honey bees are in trouble. They're vanishing, in fact, because of Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists have yet to determine what exactly causes it, but it looks like some combination of factors including chemicals, disease, and climate change. So what? You're saying. Who cares? You should, because CCD causes healthy hives to become lifeless—and then the adult bees run off and don't come home. Considering that 87 percent of the world's crops—including the fruits and veggies we eat—are pollinated by bees, that's a problem.

Watch this Nature episode to learn more about the bees' plight. And be sure to check out the Help the Honey Bees site.

Now, one last public service reminder. Not only are the honey bees dying, but the break dancing honey bees are croaking too. And that's a national disaster. Don't believe me? See for yourself:

(You MUST watch this video. Nothing you are doing is so important that you can't take a moment for the Bee-Boy Dance Crew. Trust me.)


An Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour

It seems that Conservative Boy and I are into Midwestern breweries lately. The weekend before last we made a stop at the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls, WI. Then, this weekend, en route to a St. Louis wedding, we took a tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in STL.

(Fortunately beer is still beer or Conservative Boy may have boycotted since the company was recently sold.)

The first stop on the tour? Why, a hello to the famous Clydesdales, of course. Isn't this one a beaut?

We quickly moved on, of course. To more important things like the tack that goes on the Clydesdales. And the beautiful Budweiser crate-laden carriages they pull.

I guess the room in which this pretty red carriage is contained is famous. Or historical. Or something. But I didn't actually listen to much of the tour. I was too busy running around taking random photos, mostly because it drives Conservative Boy crazy.

Next we moved on to the room in which all the magic happens. These are the giant vats in which the famous beechwood aging process happens. These guys are huge! (And cold. Very cold.)

In case you are wondering what exactly happens in these vats, I will tell you. Beer rests here for aging, clarification, and natural carbonation. After aging, the beer passes through a special filtering process and then is ready for packaging. (And if you think I remembered that, you're crazy. I took a picture of the sign that informed us of those facts. Smart, eh?)

And then we were back outside, where it was much warmer.

And then we were inside again.

Yes, these are more vats of some sort.

And then we were outside again. Betcha you've never seen this sign before.

Now for the good part: Watching the lovely bottles of Bud-Light racing around the factory floor. Man, all this picture taking made me thirsty.

So I guess it's a good thing our next stop was the tasting room.

First up, of course, was a beautiful fresh-from-the-barrel Bud-Light.

And then an Amber Bach. What can I say? I'm an amber kind of girl.

(And, apparently, a brewery tour kind of girl.)



The other day I decided to go rollerblading. It's not that I've never been rollerblading before. I have. In fact, I used to go quite often in Des Moines.

Ah, Des Moines. Now there is a place with wonderful trails. I could talk about the trails in Des Moines all day ... how wonderful they were for bike riding and rollerblading and on very special rare occasions even running. Those trails are one of the things I miss most about the city.

But I digress.

Soon after I moved to L-Town, two of my closest friends gave me a most wonderful Christmas gift: a pair of new rollerblades. I was so excited I buckled them on right there in my friend Lo's apartment and proceeded to try them out on the concrete floors in her third-floor hallway in dress pants and a turtleneck. They rolled so beautifully! They were so comfortable! I was in love.

You see, part of the reason (or, dare I say, the reason) they gave me these rollerblades is because my old cheap pair was bad. Really bad, as any of the friends who bladed with me could attest. I'd say I'm in pretty good shape usually, at least as good of shape as the people I'd rollerblade with, yet I'd be huffing and puffing and working as hard as I could to keep up with them. And, I came to discover, it was because my blades were bad. Not because I was just the worst rollerblader in the history of the world, which is what I'd talked myself into believing. So, after Lo had to put up with my huffing and puffing enough, she and Trizzie had the so-bright idea to buy me rollerblades.

And, as I think I mentioned, I was excited. So excited.

The only problem is, there aren't any trails in L-Town. At least not any right in town, and not of the sort I used in Des Moines. And so those rollerblades sat in my car, and then the garage, through the winter and all the way through the summer until last week. When finally—finally!—I said: This is ridiculous. (I was speaking to myself, of course.) I have to use these beautiful blades!

And so I pulled on some socks, put the blades on (without, I realized after, even taking all the tags off) and took to the streets.

It was a decision I almost immediately regretted.

By the time I made it to the end of our block (which is a house beyond ours), I thought my brain had rattled loose in my head. That's how bumpy the streets are on rollerblades. Fortunately, on Union, I had sidewalks at my disposal. This has to be better, I thought. That's what I get for thinking after my brain rattles loose. It was not better. For one thing, the sidewalks are pretty narrow when you're on rollerblades. And horribly uneven. And riddled with danger. Should you actually make it down a block and have to cross a street, you are then faced with curbs. Curbs! Obviously they did not plan to make these sidewalks accessible to people on wheels. And then, in the middle of the street, odds are there will be a large pile of gravel with which you have to contend before you can make it to the other side. Where this gravel comes from I don't know since the streets are paved. But it's there. Probably just to thwart punks on rollerblades.

Which brings me to my next point, which I realized as I got halfway down another block and people were staring at me. I have never seen a grown woman rollerblading in this town. In fact, I don't know that I've ever seen anyone rollerblading here. So now, not only was I crazy for blading on these streets, but everyone I passed knew it!

Fortunately, I was able to minimize the damage this debacle did to my reputation because I only made it a few more blocks before I realized my hope of actually getting a workout from this endeavor was fruitless. So I turned around. And prayed I'd make it home alive.

If you hadn't guess it, at this point I was sad. Very sad. My rollerblades went back in the box, to stay there until my next trip to Des Moines. Or until I find a very large parking lot that's nice and smooth. Or until I feel like getting my brain rattled loose again.

One last note: Later that night, I told Conservative Boy about how terrible my outing had been. He looked at me like I was crazy. "We used to rollerblade on the street all the time. You're a sissy." Or something like that. But then, after I prodded him a bit, I learned that the punks would just screw around the middle of the street. They weren't actually trying to go somewhere, to get a workout. That's a different story, I informed him. And realized that the time he spent on rough streets in rollerblades as a little punk explains a lot ...

Oh, before I stop this ridiculous ramble (you are still reading, right?), how would you like to see my lovely, lonely rollerblades (and get a free hearty dose of alliteration there to boot)? You're in luck. Because, as you may have noticed, I like to take photos of all sorts of random objects. And for this, I'm quite sure, my neighbors think I'm crazy too. Oh well. Anyway, here they are:

And look! They're even for a good cause. Breast cancer and brain-rattling rollerblading: two things I'm out to defeat any way I can. Who's with me?


Making Cheese (Part II)

Long, long ago in a land far, far away ... or last month in L-Town, if I'm being perfectly honest here ... I wrote about making cheese.

But I never actually got into the details of my adventures. Why? You might ask. Well, for one thing, I didn't realize it at the time, but I took some absolutely dreadful blurry photos of the process that I couldn't possibly post. And for another thing, my first attempt just wasn't quite right. I don't know why. I'm not a cheese doctor. It just wasn't.

Lucky for you, last week I tried again. And both my photo-taking and cheese-making worked out much better. Which means I get to share the results with you. Onward!

30-Minute Mozzarella (which, of course, took me twice that long because I took 50 pictures, talked to the dog, and screwed up the recipe just a little)

1. Dissolve 1 1/2 level teaspoons of citric acid in ¼ cup cool water.

2. Stir 1 gallon pasteurized milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized) on the stove in a stainless steel kettle, heating very gently. At 55° add the citric acid solution and mix thoroughly.

(I know this looks like Oberweis paid me to advertise their bottles of milk. But that's really not how it went down. I actually tried to avoid the blatant product placement. Except it's really hard to pour milk from a heavy glass bottle into a giant pot with one hand while taking an eye-level photo with the other. This is pure art right here, folks. I'll sign autographs later.)

3. And then you stir.

4. And stir some more.

5. Come on people, keep stirring with me now ...

(Sorry. I got a little excited there. Stirring milk does that to a person I guess.)

6. At 88° it should begin to curdle. Gently stir in ¼ tsp. liquid rennet (which you have previously diluted in ¼ cup cool water) and continue heating the milk to just over 100°. Now quick! Turn off the heat.

7. Wait. All that milk has to start curdling. It's tough, I know. Butter had a hard time with it too.

("Yum!" he says. "Let's eat it now!" Up until now he was a very helpful assistant, but somebody forgot to tell him a watched pot of milk doesn't curdle.)

8. The curds are ready when they are pulling away from sides of pot and the whey is clear. (If it’s still milky, wait a few minutes. I think this was part of my problem—I didn't wait long enough. Silly impatient me.)

9. Use a knife long enough to reach to the bottom of the pan and cut the curd into one-inch cubes to make it easier to scoop out.

10. With a slotted spoon, move the curds from the pot to a 2-quart microwaveable bowl. Here's where things got tricky. The curds looked so lovely when I cut them:

But then scooping got out of control. (Perhaps because I didn't have a slotted spoon available? Or maybe that darn impatience is to blame ... )

11. Continue to scoop and drain, scoop and drain. Hopefully not for as long as I did. Then, once you've scooped all you can, press the curds gently with your hands to remove as much whey as possible.

12. Microwave the curds on high for one minute, then knead the cheese again with hands or a spoon to remove more whey. (Warning: It's hot!) Microwave two more times (about 35 seconds each), kneading between each heating. (Another problem? My cheese seemed awfully rubbery before I made it through all of the suggested kneading times.)

13. Salt the cheese to taste, then knead and pull until it's smooth and elastic. When you can stretch it into a rope like taffy, it's ready.

(Have you noticed the lack of pictures here? I was busy. And, as I mentioned, the cheese was hot! Although actually, I convinced Conservative Boy to take a picture of me pulling the cheese in one big twisty rope—after I corralled him somewhere between sleeping on the couch in the basement watching the Cubs game and going to bed to snooze through the end of the Cubs game. But, sadly, it didn't turn out very well. I think he did it on purpose. Grr. So you just have to imagine it.)

14. Once the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into a ball and place it in cold water to cool.

Then eat it! (Preferably with fresh tomatoes and basil from your garden and a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Delish.)

Note: If you're wondering where you can get interesting items like rennet and citric acid, mosey on over to the Cheese Queen's site. She'll hook you up.


Growing Eggplant

And succeeds.

Yep, here, as promised, is the photo of my first eggplant. (Sans pesticides, of course.) Isn't she lovely? I can't wait to try her out for dinner tonight. I'm sure Conservative Boy will be thrilled.

And a bit more exciting news for this Tuesday morning: This is my 100th post! Can you believe you've been forced to read ... er, I mean, have thoroughly enjoyed ... 100 posts written by yours truly? (Wait ... you haven't read all 100? Well get to it!)

Don't worry. I'm not going to quit just because I reached the big 100. I have lots more things to try, don't you know? Including two BIG THINGS in the next two weeks. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now. (Or work. Yes, I guess I'll work.)


A Good Morning

Hello dear readers! And happy Monday morning.

I just wanted to say hi. That's all. Oh, and share a photo of my cantaloupe leaves with their morning dew. Just because.

Have a wonderful day!


A Wisconsin Road Trip

I've been a bit sporadic in my posting lately, haven't I?

Yes, I know. I'm sorry.

I don't have any impressive excuses. I've just been busy. With gardening and dog training and this little thing I sometimes do called work. (Actually, I do it more than sometimes. I work quite regularly, despite the fact that Conservative Boy thinks I sit on the couch eating bonbons all day.) Anyhow. In addition to the aforementioned activities, this past weekend we took a little road trip. To Wisconsin. A state I had never before been to (at least, I don't think).

In Wisconsin you'll find lots of great things. Like cheese curds (yum), lovely trees, Packers fans galore, and old-school cigarette vending machines sitting next to totem poles. I forgot the take pictures of the first three things, but I did snap a photo of this:

Terrific, isn't it? (Despite the fact I'm not a big fan of cigarettes, I am fond of vintage cigarette memorabilia.)

In addition, I am a fan of lakes. This is the lake we spent the weekend by.

It is located in Chippewa Falls, WI, which, I just learned from the Chippewa Falls Chamber of Commerce website, was named one of the top ten small towns in America by Time Magazine. Impressive, eh?

Let's see. What else can I tell you about lovely Chippewa Falls? Oh yes. A very important thing: It's where the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. is located. The brewery includes this terrific lodge filled with all sorts of Leinenkugel gear and, of course, a tasting area. Here's a peek into the lodge:

The sad thing about said lodge is that I discovered that everything I wanted to take home with me wasn't actually for sale. I somehow wanted to purchase all of the decor. Oops.

But who wouldn't want to take these signs home?

Or these boxes? Can anyone get me one of these old wooden boxes? If so, I would be forever grateful.

Fortunately, I was able to blunt the sadness of my less-than-successful souvenir hunting with samples of the beer. One last thing you should know: 7-oz. samples in Wisconsin are actually the size of full beers. What a wonderful state.


Obedience Training

No, it's not for me! (Although Conservative Boy probably wishes I would take some lessons myself.) It's for Butter.

You see, as sweet as my pretty little (er ... not so little, at the rate he's going he may outweigh me) doggy is, he could use a few lessons. The goal? No jumping up on people, no mouthing, walk like a good dog. You know, the basics.

We had a consultation a couple of weeks ago and the first lesson last night. As Conservative Boy said after the trainer left: "Wow, he's like the Dog Whisperer." Maybe this fellow doesn't have quite the cult following of the real Dog Whisperer, but he is pretty good. And with his guidance Butter will be the angel I think he already is in no time.

On a side note: The thing about Butter that I learned during our consultation is he's a dominant personality. He thinks he's in charge—or at least should be. And he thinks everyone should pay attention to him when he wants attention. So, basically, he's Conservative Boy with four legs and a bit of a shedding problem. In case you were wondering.

Anyhow. Stay tuned for updates on how Butter and I master the exceptionally long leash we have to use to train him. I'm pretty sure I get tangled up in it more than him, but that's another story.


The Logan County Fair

Are you ready for this? To get a glimpse at the wonder that is the Logan County Fair?

I didn't think so. But I am going to share it with you anyway. There's nothing quite as American, quite as Midwestern, as a county or state fair. Fairs combine a whole lot of the excess our country is known for—I'm talking mullets, fried food, carnies, to name a few—and yet still manage to be absolutely wonderful. And because there's a good chance I'm going to miss out on state fair action this year (no Iowa State Fair? I will survive ... somehow ... and no Illinois State Fair either? sad), this ode to the Logan County Fair may have to help me power through until next summer.

But enough feeling sorry for myself. Get ready to soak up the action ...

This is the Ferris Wheel. This is the Ferris Wheel we did not ride because we did not ride any of the rides. And we managed to avoid playing any of the games on the Midway too. On a side note, I must say I was impressed with how clean-cut and tidy the carnival workers were. These are not the carnie folk I recall from the fairs of my youth. In fact, I feel kind of bad calling them carnie folk since they were wearing such nice baby blue collared shirts.

These are most delicious Culler's french fries. I had heard rave reviews about them and I must say—they are pretty yummy. Just make sure to load up on the vinegar and salt. It's required.

I also took a photo of my corn dog and lemonade shake up (yum and yum) but I was trying to take the photo while holding both in my hand at the same time, which was tricky. Conservative Boy was there but he wouldn't help because he was embarrassed by the fact that I was actually taking photos at the Logan County Fair.

Oh! And we had some wonderful homemade vanilla ice cream. But we didn't go back for a funnel cake, which I'm sad about. And there wasn't any fried cheese. I almost cried about that. There was fried mozzarella on a stick, but I'm talking about those little orange balls of fried cheese that are greasy and burn your tongue. I love them. I need them. And there weren't any anywhere. I'm tempted to make a special trip to the Illinois State Fair just to find some. The price in gas, tickets, and the fried cheese itself would almost make it worth it ...

Anyway, I digress. Now we've arrived at the evening's main event: The DEMO DERBY. I don't know why I capitalized that, except it seems like something that should be shouted. Don't believe me? Check this out:

Here is the view from our seats, after this exceptionally large woman almost sat on us because she was just sure they were her seats (they weren't). We were quite close to the action, which meant we got to breathe in plenty of fumes. But we only got splattered with a little bit of mud, which was somehow disappointing. Not sure why I was sad about that ...

This is one of my favorite cars. This is how it looked before the competition even started, mind you. What can I say? I root for the underdogs.

Also, a disclaimer: Watch out for very angry fans who don't like the refs' calls. The $1,000 prize for the winner sure gets the blood-a-boilin', and you will hear things that will make you wish you left the women and children at home. Except, come to think of it, some of the people yelling those obscenities were women and children. Ah. Welcome to L-Town. These are my people now. Or so Conservative Boy kindly informed me in the midst of the action.

Speaking of which, in the midst of the action, things can get pretty wild.

What do you expect? It's a battle 'til there's only one car left.

It gets so wild, in fact, that you might have to call in the volunteer fire fighters before the whole thing goes up in smoke.

(Don't worry, no one was injured in the making of this blog post.)


Growing Zucchini

Look! It's alive. My very first zucchini from the plant in my new front-yard garden. Isn't it a wondrous site? Let me tell you, Conservative Boy sure was impressed when I ran inside to show it off to him.

OK. He didn't really care. But I was excited enough for both of us.

And yes, if you haven't figured it out yet, you will see a photo of the "first" from every single vegetable-producing plant in my front yard. Whether you like or not. And then after I photograph my firsts, I will leave you alone. Hopefully I'll be too busy eating subsequent successes to write about them anyway.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday Night Dinner

Now I'm going to be totally honest. Because that's what I do here. Be totally honest. Whether you want to hear about it or not.

I have never grown a garden before. I have never composted before. Nor have I ever made cheese, rain barrels, or any of the other things I set out to make here. And I certainly have never gone to the demo derby at the Logan County Fair. (Until later today.) That's the whole point. This is all about me trying things I've never done before. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don't.

Often they don't.

Take, for instance, my first cheese-making episode. I chose not to post on that one because I failed miserably with the photos (too blurry) and the cheese, although it looked OK, tasted like a big nothing. So I spared you a big rundown on that process just because then you'd be bored when I posted a success story (which you'll see very soon—promise).

But I think it's only fair to admit that I screw up. And often. And I'm not afraid to tell you about it.

Particularly in the kitchen. You see, I'm only a wannabe cook. I absolutely love food: buying it, cooking it, eating it. Mostly eating it. And I have grand visions of the sort of cook I might be someday. But for now? I just find stacks of recipes I want to try, muddle through the ones I think Conservative Boy might be willing to eat, and then take stock afterward to decide whether they're worth making ever again. Usually it's not the recipe that's the problem. It's me.

Take, for instance, Saturday night's dinner. I finally had some time at home to cook cook cook on a weekend evening and decided to go all out with something new. Plus, I had lots of fresh goodies (from the front yard and the farmer's market) to work with.

The menu: Artichoke-stuffed chicken breasts, potatoes on the grill (yes, I threw in an old standby for C.B.'s sake), green beans with mint and basil, and petite fruit tarts for dessert. (Oh, and slices of warm French bread and a glass of wine for me, but both of those are a given.)

This is what I stuffed the chicken breasts with:

It's a mixture of canned artichoke hearts, grated parmesan cheese, and some fresh-picked thyme. I managed to do just fine with the mixture. The problem arose when I sliced these wacky little pockets in the top of each chicken breast in which to place the stuffing. A huge mess ensued, and I realized they were going to fall apart on the grill. So I called Conservative Boy into the kitchen to warn him about the dangers of grilling the main dish.

Um, why didn't you just cut a slit in the side of the breast and stuff them that way? Conservative Boy said. Oh shoot. I hate it when he's right. I guess all that Food Network watching he used to do paid off.

Needless to say, he successfully grilled them anyway. The recipe was good but I don't think I'd put on any "best of" list, even if I wouldn't of screwed things up. The grilled red potatoes tossed with onions (both from the farmer's market) and garlic turned out swell too. But it's hard to mess potatoes up.

Then there were the green beans. I started with a pound fresh from the farmer's market and cooked them with a clove of garlic. Then, while they were cooking, I chopped up some sweet red pepper and tossed it with lots of fresh basil and mint (both from a pot in the front yard), olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once the beans were crisp-tender, I tossed it all together. And got this:

Conservative Boy took one bite of these beans and scooped his serving onto my plate. Beans are his arch nemesis. (One of many, actually.) If green beans stopped existing altogether I don't think he'd mind. It's sad. Because these beans were good. Really good. Even reheated, which I can vouch for because I'm eating some right now.

OK. Now it's time for dessert. I bought some beautiful wild blackberries at the farmer's market:

But they were a bit bitter for just eatin'. So I decided it was a good excuse to make some petite fruit tarts. I made the crust first and let it refrigerate while we ate the aforementioned meal. Then I tossed together the fruit (I threw in some farmer's market blueberries and a few strawberries that were in the fridge too) with a bunch of sugar. After I loaded the little crusts up with as much of the filling as I could manage and folded up the sides just so, they looked like this:

And I began praying to the cooking gods to keep those crusts up, because I had a feeling they weren't going to stay where they were.

I guess I didn't pray hard enough.

The good thing is, even if they didn't look too pretty, they still tasted pretty darn good. Should you not be deterred by the goofy little tarts you see above and decide to try the recipe yourself, I'd actually recommend letting them cool off completely before eating. I ate one this morning for a late-morning snack straight from the fridge and it was much better cold.

So there you have it. Nothing worthy of Martha Stewart or Emeril. But no failures to the extent that we couldn't eat. And that's a good day's cooking work for me.

Still, you know what I need? Some cooking classes. Anyone know where I can find some good ones in central Illinois?

(... And Conservative Boy starts crying. But when are you going to have time for me? he whimpers. And so I take him aside and gently remind him that he will benefit from my cooking classes too. But that doesn't satisfy him and probably won't until dinner's actually on the table after said cooking classes. Oh well. He'll get over it.)