The Quiz Answers Revealed

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for: I'm going to reveal the results of last week's quiz. I apologize for the delay, but now I'm here and ready to share the results (and the winner).

1. Where did I go for a bachelorette party this summer? Las Vegas, where I stayed at the Paris (my attempts to convince you all I was actually in Paris failed miserably, by the way)

2. Why do I visit random sites, like this one, around the central part of Illinois on a regular basis? For Illinois Adventures, the online travel magazine I created. And because everyone could use a little kitsch, and a little adventure, in life. (And, in case you're wondering, I am going to start posting new adventures soon. Really. I promise.)

3. What footwear did I purchase in Montana last summer? Cowboy boots! I'm thinking of wearing them on a regular basis now that the weather is cooling off. (By the way, Little Diplomat, I think Michael Johnson's gold Nike track shoes was a nice, educated guess.)

4. Who do I talk to more than anyone else in the whole world? Butter, of course. Although those of you who said myself aren't far off, since Butter never actually responds. But he's such a swell listener.

5. What kitchen-related item is my current obsession? Pyrex! Conservative Boy thought the answer was my juicer. To be honest, that's a good guess, as I use it frequently and swoon every time I pull it from the cupboard. But first and foremost, the answer is Pyrex.

6. What is delivered to our door step in the middle of the night?
Milk, courtesy of Oberweis Dairy.

7. What gift did Conservative Boy recently receive, and what concerns me about this gift?
His super-special Rachel mug. I'm a bit nervous one side of his body is going to get strangely large from using it. (This one got a lot of people, by the way. Apparently the "concerns me" part threw you all. And no, the answer was not lawn gnomes.)

8. I have two gardens.
Where are they located? In our front yard (in pots) and at the Conservative Family house, which is what you see here. (Somehow, the paparazzi found me while I was picking tomatoes. With the paparazzi around, no one is safe.)

9. Who is getting married in May? Kid Sister and T-Bear! (Or, as Kid Sister wrote in her responses, "ME!!!")

10. What do I post about most on this blog?
I have not taken a complete, accurate, scientific count, but I believe "food" wins. Gardening and Butter are probably a close second and third, although I'm not sure what comes first.

11. What do I want to be when I grow up? Hmm. Good question. I was actually hoping you all could tell me. It appears the winning answer is "college professor." Yes, that seems about right. And novelist came up quite a bit too. Yep, I'll take that. As for the smart alecks who wrote "lawyer's wife" and who threatened to write "housewife to a successful lawyer"? Your prize: two headbutts. I will deliver them later.

12. I’ve introduced you to a character who’s part frog. Who is it?
Cubbie! (Technically, he is T-Bear's boxer. But T-Bear is resigned to the fact that actually he is now Kid Sister's dog.) By the way, Cubbie is part pig too.

13. What is my current cocktail of choice? Lemon drop. Yum yum yum. (This is the reason I've been using the aforementioned juicer more often.)

14. How did this fellow get his name?
He was named after Conservative Boy, who was called Butter by his high school friends. This fact still confuses my little monster when he hangs out downstairs with the boys, because they will yell at "Butter," as in Conservative Boy, and Butter the dog comes running.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Conservative Boy thinks our next dog should be called Bread. Butter, on the other hand, is not so impressed with that idea.

15. At what cooking endeavor did I fail miserably—twice? And why did I fail? Strawberry pie. The problem: bad corn starch. Once I purchased new corn starch, I succeeded with the peach version.

16. I recently wrote about three lovely houses—where were they located? The Lake Oconee area of Georgia. By the way, I need to harass Conservative Mom for a moment because she didn't know the answer to this one and one of the houses was HERS.

17. Who is Butter’s arch nemesis? The mailman. Although the wascally wabbits are a close second.

18. Who are these crazy women and what are they doing? That would be Auntie R, My Sister, My Mom, and me. We are just hanging out in the corn field behind the Conservative Family house, drinking wine. What? Isn't that what you do at barbecues in Illinois?

19. What sport did I play at midnight one March? Broomball! Which, the Little Diplomat reminded me, she was present for. And still has the bruises to prove it. (By the way, if someone finds me a place to play broomball around here, you would be my hero forever. Really.)

20. Why have I been so busy lately?
Mostly school, my graduate assistantship, and freelancing. Trying to squeeze in some time for 50 million weddings, Butter, and Conservative Boy rounds out the schedule. (Although poor neglected Conservative Boy would argue I'm not doing so hot on the last one.)

21. How many weddings have we attended this year? We just attended our fifth. And now we're done for the year. Breathe a sigh of relief. Hang the dresses back in the closet. Whew.

22. What activity do I regularly lament not being able to do more frequently? Yoga. Although, admittedly, I do wish I had more time for cooking and gardening too. My poor neglected cookbooks and plants ... (Best answer goes to T-Bear: "Yogi...Booboo.")

23. And what activity did I do recently that I found strangely exhilarating? Milking a cow, of course. (Although as MC so rightly reminded me, if I had to milk a slew of cows every morning while growing up, I likely would not have enjoyed it quite so much. True, my lady. So true.)

24. Where were we when this photo was taken? Wrigley! (Or, in the words of T-Bear, "Heaven.")

25. To what songs did Conservative Boy oh-so-romantically serenade me while we picnicked this summer? This one stumped most of you. The correct answer is "Back that A** Up" and Warren G's "Regulate." This was tricky because the answer was hidden in this seemingly mundane post. (Some of your guesses? "Sweetheart of Sigma Chi," "Go Cubs Go," and "We Will Rock You,"all of which are much too romantic to be the answer. Especially "We Will Rock You.")

And now, I will announce the winner. You might say he cheated, as he waited until the last minute and relied on the resources of the peanut gallery. Or you might just call him resourceful.

But he did include some very interesting (correct) responses and it is his birthday today, therefore he deserves to win.

So the winner, with 22 correct out of 25, is T-BEAR. Congrats, T-Bear, on a quiz well done. And happy birthday! You will receive a gold star for your effort. (And, if you're lucky, some homemade cookies this weekend.)

By the way, had T-Bear not snuck in at the last minute, his lovely bride-to-be Kid Sister would have won ... Let the brawl begin.

Thanks for playing!


A Quiz

I know, I know. I just posted a riddle a week or so ago, and now I'm making you take a quiz. I hope you don't mind, but I thought it might be a fun way for you to procrastinate today. I know writing it was a fun way for me to procrastinate.

Should you choose to take said quiz, leave your answers in the comments section at the end of the blog post, or if you get my posts each day by email feel free to hit reply and type them in. Then, in a day or two, I'll post the correct answers to the quiz here—and, if you're lucky, I'll even share some of the more entertaining responses your fellow readers sent.

Have fun!

1. Where did I go for a bachelorette party this summer?

2. Why do I visit random sites, like this one, around the central part of Illinois on a regular basis?

3. What footwear did I purchase in Montana last summer?

4. Who do I talk to more than anyone else in the whole world?

5. What kitchen-related item is my current obsession?

6. What is delivered to our door step in the middle of the night?

7. What gift did Conservative Boy recently receive, and what concerns me about this gift?

8. I have two gardens. Where are they located?

9. Who is getting married in May?

10. What do I post about most on this blog?

11. What do I want to be when I grow up?

12. I’ve introduced you to a character who’s part frog. Who is it?

13. What is my current cocktail of choice?

14. How did this fellow get his name?

15. At what cooking endeavor did I fail miserably—twice? And why did I fail?

16. I recently wrote about three lovely houses—where were they located?

17. Who is Butter’s arch nemesis?

18. Who are these crazy women and what are they doing?

19. What sport did I play at midnight one March?

20. Why have I been so busy lately?

21. How many weddings have we attended this year?

22. What activity do I regularly lament not being able to do more frequently?

23. And what activity did I do recently that I found strangely exhilarating?

24. Where were we when this photo was taken?

25. To what songs did Conservative Boy oh-so-romantically serenade me while we picnicked this summer?


Shrimp Spaghetti

I am shocked and appalled to realize that I have never posted Auntie R's shrimp spaghetti recipe here. How have I overlooked it, when it is one of the old standbys I make quite often? Sometimes I really do question my sanity.

So I'm about to right this grievous wrong by sharing this easy, delicious recipe with you. Here we go:

Saute one pound of shrimp in 1/4 cup olive oil until the shrimp are pink. Remove the shrimp.

Add 1/4 cup dry white wine (pour yourself a glass while you're at it ... this is required), 1 chopped onion, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 teaspoon garlic salt, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon basil, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon oregano to the pan.

Now add 1 can chopped tomatoes. If you want an extra kick (a requirement, if you live with someone with taste buds like Conservative Boy's), consider looking for a can that includes chiles. This gives the pasta a nice kick. And add some red pepper flakes too.

While the sauce simmers, cook spaghetti according to package directions. I can't tell you how much spaghetti you should make. I always get it wrong. Just use your judgment—and remember, it's much better to have some leftover than not enough. Trust me, I know.

Return the shrimp to the sauce to heat. If you're nice, remove the tails first. (Conservative Boy is not a fan of pulling the tails off his shrimp when it's in pasta, just so you know. In case, you know, you're ever cooking for him.)

Drain the spaghetti and combine with the sauce.

Serve immediately and enjoy!


The Tour de Weddings

It's still summer, which means Conservative Boy and I are in the midst of our yearly tour de weddings. So far this year, we've been to one in Florida and two in Iowa, plus we missed one in Wyoming and a couple in Colorado. This weekend we're headed to Chicago for one, next weekend to St. Louis.

And then—giant sigh of relief—I think we're done until next May, although one can never be sure when a random wedding might materialize last-minute.

The weddings are always fun, and it's an honor to be included in the special day of so many people who mean so much to us. We've both gone to weddings, we've taken turns being in some of the weddings, and I even had the honor of writing a poem for one of them.

I think we've averaged at least five or six weddings every summer since we graduated college. Whew boy, that gets expensive. And exhausting.

Needless to say, we celebrate on, often alternating between my good friends and Conservative Boy's, with an occasional family wedding thrown in for good measure.

Speaking of which, next May is when a certain Kid Sister and T-Bear tie the knot. This, of course, will be quite an extravaganza.

Which reminds me, I think I forgot to share a little something Kid Sister brought by our house for me earlier this summer.

This is a cookie shaped like a bridesmaid dress. A pink bridesmaid dress, which is the color the bridesmaid dresses will be for Kid Sister and T-Bear's wedding. Attached to it, as you may have noticed, is a note. Inside the note it says this:

(I said yes. And am very excited.) Isn't that cute?

Conservative Boy was asked to be in the wedding as well, sans cookie. I believe he grunted a yes in reply. Now we'll see if he can stay in his sister's good graces until next May ... Any bets?


Eggplant Parmesan

I love cooking. I really do.

I know for some people it's a means to an end (that end being a full belly). But for me, just the process of transforming simple ingredients into a tasty meal is enjoyable.

The problem is, when life gets busy (and when I'm not home for dinner most evenings), I don't have any time to cook. Or any energy to do so (and energy is often required, because I like to try complicated dishes or recipes I've never tackled before).

Last Sunday, however, I decided to put all things homework, freelancing, and cleaning on hold for a bit to make Eggplant Parmesan—for lunch, no less (I couldn't let my cooking interfere with Conservative Family Dinner, of course).

The main reason I went to such lengths for a meal that's usually overlooked on the weekends: my one and only eggplant was crying out for attention.

You see, I planted an eggplant over in garden number two. And shortly after it went into the ground, a storm came along and somehow lopped off the top of said plant. I figured it was a loss and wouldn't grow a thing, but somehow it managed to recover enough to produce one nice little eggplant.

And so, armed with my trusty Italian cookbook, I set out to make a small dish of Eggplant Parm.

It was awesome. Seriously. It was really, really good. Conservative Boy even ate some leftovers and liked it—even though (gasp!) it didn't contain any meat.

In case you don't believe me, here's the recipe so you can try it yourself (thanks, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking).

Eggplant Parmesan
3 pounds eggplant
Vegetable oil
Flour spread on a plate
2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, well drained and chopped coarse
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound mozzarella (preferably buffalo-milk)
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
An oven-to-table baking dish, approximately 11 inches by 7 inches
Butter for smearing and dotting the dish
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Slice the eggplant and steep it in salt.

(To steep, stand one layer of slices upright against the inside of a pasta colander and sprinkle with salt. Stand another layer of slices against it, sprinkle it with salt, and repeat until you have salted all the eggplant. Place a deep dish under the colander to collect the drippings, and let the eggplant steep under salt for 30 minutes or more. Before cooking, pat each slice thoroughly with paper towels.)

2. Pour about 1 1/2 inches oil in a large frying pan and turn the heat up to high. Dredge the dried eggplant slices in flour, coating them on both sides. Fry the eggplant, cooking it to a golden brown on one side, then turning and frying the other side. (Do not turn more than once.) Remove with a slotted spoon to a cooling rack or plate lined with paper towels to drain.

3. Put the tomatoes and olive oil in another skillet, turn the heat on medium-high, add salt, stir, and cook the tomato down until it is reduced by half.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

5. Cut mozzarella into the thinnest possible slices. Wash the basil, and tear each leaf into two or more pieces.

6. Smear the bottom and sides of a baking dish with butter. Put in enough fried eggplant slices to line the bottom of the dish in a single layer, spread some of the cooked tomato over them, cover with a layer of mozzarella, sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan, distribute a few pieces of basil over it, and top with another layer of fried eggplant. Repeat the procedure, ending with a layer of eggplant on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, and place the dish in the upper third of a preheated oven.

7. Check the dish after it has been in the oven for 20 minutes. Press down the layered eggplant with the back of a spoon and draw off any excess liquid you may find. Cook for another 15 minutes, and after taking it out allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.


A Harvest

I was getting nervous—really nervous—that the few less-than-tasty tomatoes I had harvested were going to be all I had to show for my three tomato plants over at the Conservative Family place and the two more I have in buckets in front of our house.

It was making me quite sad, and Conservative Boy unhappy because that fellow needs his BLTs. And I was only slightly comforted by the fact that I learned many other gardeners in the area were dealing with late, far-from-stellar yields too.

But then, in the past week or two, I harvested this—not only tomatoes, but also lots of jalapeno peppers (anyone want some?) and even my first (and likely only) eggplant.

Plus I picked twice as many tomatoes again this past weekend (much redder than those few you see in the back above, by the way ... I got impatient).

It appears there's time yet to enjoy a tomato harvest, even if it is a bit smaller than usual and quite a bit delayed—a fact I write about in my most recent blog post for Natural Home magazine, by the way. (You can read it here.)

Also, Conservative Boy says he's making BLTs tonight while I'm at class. I just thought I'd throw it out there in case you're interested in joining him. He makes a mean BLT, a task I have officially passed on to him.

(Have I mentioned how picky he is about his BLTs? I have been told I can blame that on a few generations of Conservative and Not-So Conservative women.)


The Answer

I am here to reveal the answer to the riddle I posted the other day. In that post, I asked you to guess what you thought was going on in this photo:

A number of people guessed it involved giving Butter a bath or a doggie pedicure. Good answers, both. But wrong.

We farm the toenail clipping out because Butter won't stand to have it done (a dog with a nicked toe nail running hot laps in the living room is not a pretty sight, in case you're wondering).

And when it's bath time, Conservative Boy puts on a pair of old gym shorts and hops in the tub with Butter to get him good and clean. That would make for a good picture, now that I think about it. But remember how Conservative Boy said he'd sue me if I posted photos of him on here? I guess we'll have to pass on that one. I really don't want to get sued. I've heard he's mean in court.

Others wondered if this was how we forced Butter to take flea medication. I may consider this technique next time we have to give him medicine, but nope, that's not it either.

The real answer may be easier to guess with another shot. Here's Butter again.

And the person whose legs and arms you see is My Sister. She was engaging some doggie yoga in our basement. Or, more accurately, she was doing yoga and using Butter as a prop. Right here she was doing plow pose, only her arms were forward so she could pet Butter rather than behind her.

[Warning: Doggie modifications of plow should only be performed by professionals.]

Thanks for guessing. Come back and play again soon. In the meantime, I guess I get to keep Butter's slobbery kisses for myself.


A Riddle

We're going to play a little game. It's called "What's going on in this picture?"

Let's hear your guesses now. Butter is ready with a big smooch for the winner ...


Milking a Cow

I have a confession to make: After my first trip to the Illinois State Fair a few weeks ago, I have decided I still prefer the Iowa State Fair.

Blame it on the fact that I attended the Iowa State Fair nearly every year I lived in Des Moines, so am more familiar with it. Or blame it on the fact My Sister and I went on a Thursday afternoon, when things were a bit quiet. Blame it on whatever you want, but I think the Iowa version still ranks above the Illinois one in my book.

Admittedly, there was one activity that earned the Illinois fair serious points, however. My Sister and I milked a cow.

It cost a dollar, but boy oh boy was it worth it. If you've never milked a cow, I suggest you try it. I only got to give the udder one good tug, but man it was thrilling when that milk came squirting out. We contemplated bribing the kids working with $5 if they'd let us really go to town on the cow. It was that fun.

(On the ride home, My Sister and I speculated as to whether we may have lived on a dairy farm in a past life. How else can you explain the connection we had with milking? It was surreal.)

I realize this may sound incredibly strange to you. That's cool. All I know is I will go back to the Illinois State Fair next year just to milk a cow again, and I will take enough cash to spend more time milking.

Unless, of course, I can convince Conservative Boy that a cow would be a worthwhile investment? It would allows us to stop the milk delivery and stop mowing. Although my weekly poop pick-ups would get a whole lot messier ... hmmm. Maybe once a year at the fair is often enough after all.

On a side note, as we were leaving the fair we realized one reason why things may have been a bit lame.

What do you think? Can we blame it on that? (And yes, I'm wearing my cow milking button in that picture.)


Labor Day Lemon Drops

Today is Labor Day, which means that you are supposed to be doing the opposite of laboring. Or, if you're like me, you are laboring, but you're also planning to squeeze in a bit of relaxation here and there.

One form of relaxation I plan to indulge in today takes the form of a lemon drop.

This is a martini made famous by Oprah (or so I hear) and perfected by my father, who gladly whips them up for the special ladies in his life (that's My Mom, My Sister, and I, in case you're wondering) upon request.

It is a bit tart and oh-so refreshing. And it seems like the perfect way to end a long Labor Day weekend, so I plan to make one (or maybe even two) tonight. In case you want to do the same, here's the recipe (it makes two drinks), courtesy of Oprah.com.

Mix the juice of 6 lemons, 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 4 shots of vodka in a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake well and pour into a sugar-rimmed martini glass. Garnish with mint (or, better yet, basil from the garden). Enjoy.


A New Mug for C.B.

Being a lawyer has driven Conservative Boy to drinking ... coffee, that is.

He managed to make it through high school (when many kids experiment with the dark stuff), late nights in college, and even the intense studying of law school without needing the caffeinated drink. In fact, he thought it—along with the other hot beverages I live on, like tea and hot chocolate—was absolutely, positively gross.

Then, one day after he'd been practicing law for a while, he decided to start drinking coffee. He didn't tell me this, mind you. But one morning not all that long ago I discovered my little coffee pot wasn't as full as it was supposed to be.

Ever since, Conservative Boy starts the morning with a mug of coffee and his signature breakfast sandwich from the toaster. He mixes up a concoction that's mostly sugar and milk with a bit off coffee, comes into my office if I'm working here, and slurps loudly. Then, often without a word, he marches back out of the office to eat his morning sandwich standing by the sink. I could note all of this down to the minute for you, if you'd like. He really is that much of a creature of habit.

From the first day he started drinking coffee, however, C.B. has had one complaint. He doesn't like my mugs.

They're either too small or have tiny handles or aren't hefty enough or are, in his mind, ugly. So he refuses to drink out of the lovely collection of handmade mugs I adore. He won't drink out of the random assortment of standard-size mugs collected over the years either. As long as they're clean, he only drinks out of Christmas mugs, which are closest to the size he deems necessary for coffee drinking.

So a while ago I started scouring secondhand stores for the perfect mug. I'd find one with the right-size handle, only it would be too delicate. Then the next wouldn't hold enough coffee, even though it had some weight to it.

I had actually decided to give up hope when, magically, while My Mom and My Sister and Auntie R and I wandered through Mission Mart, I found it.

THE MUG. The mug Conservative Boy has been waiting for.

It's heavy—so heavy I warned Conservative Boy he may want to alternate arms each morning or risk being strangely muscular only on one side of his body. (It weighs more than my big glass blender pitcher—I kid you not.)

It's massive in size, so much so that C.B.'s usual morning coffee serving only fills it up halfway.

It has the perfect handle for his manly grip.

And it says Rachel.

Hey, why not?