Maybe the Best Christmas Present, Ever

Go here to see possibly the sweetest, most creative gift I've ever seen.
I can't wait to see all the letters that are written to add to this compilation. I'm sure I'll need a few tissues.


Big Fat Pan of Cheesy Love

I'm always on the lookout for a good go-to recipe. And it 's always an extra added bonus when it's versatile - suitable for a dinner party or for a lazy Sunday afternoon. This lasagna fits the bill. It's not fast, but its great cooking therapy - you know, when you really want to spend time in the kitchen. I know, I know - rare, but it sometimes happens!

This is adapted from a Tyler Florence Recipe. He calls it "Drop Dead Lasagna". And the man does not lie. It's that good. I have changed a few ingredients and cut the recipe in half. The original is massive. It would feed 12 very hungry adults easily. This one is a little easier to find a pan for and will feed a hungry family of four with leftovers (and this lasagna does improve with age).

A few tips to make this a bit simpler:

- Use bagged, preshredded cheese.
- Jarred Marinara sauce works well, just avoid the sweet ones, like Ragu or Prego.

Grocery List:

1/2 lb lasagna noodles
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Onion, diced
2 Garlic cloves, minced
3/4 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 Tb fennel seeds
1/4 Tb red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 Tb dried oregano
1/2 (3 oz) can tomato paste
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan
1 Tb dried Italian seasoning (mixture of basil, oregano, parsley)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 lbs shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups Marinara Sauce

Fill a large pasta pot with water and place over high heat. Add a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the lasagna noodles for only 8 minutes; they should still be somewhat firm, as they will continue to cook when you bake the lasagna. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them quickly under cool water to stop the cooking process. Drizzle some olive oil so the sheets don't stick together, the set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and drizzle with {about 2 Tb} of olive oil. Saute the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes, until the onions are translucent and smell sweet. Add the ground beef and pork, stirring to break it up, and cook until the meat is thoroughly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain out the excess fat. Combine the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, brown sugar and dried oregano in a spice mill or a coffee grinder, give it a whirl, and sprinkle on the browned meat. Stir in the tomato paste until well blended; season with salt & pepper. Take the pan off the heat.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and parmesan cheeses. Fold in the Italian herbs and eggs, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.

Preheat the oven to 350. Take inventory of the components you should have now: slightly cooked lasagna noodles, seasoned meat mixture, ricotta cheese filling, 2 pounds of mozzarella cheese, marinara sauce and a medium (my pan measures about 11x8) glass or ceramic baking dish. Let the layering begin.

Start by ladling enough sauce into the dish to cover the bottom; in my experience this prevents the lasagna from sticking. Layer 1 -- the noodles: slightly overlap 4 lasagna noodles lengthwise so they completely cover the bottom with no gaps. Here is a little tip: if you take 2 lasagna noodles and line the short ends of the pan, they will act as brackets or a wall to give the lasagna support when you cut it. Layer 2 -- the meat: spread half the meat mixture on top of the noodles with a spatula. The meat mixture, being the most solid element, will act as a foundation. Layer 3 -- the cheese: spread half the ricotta cheese mixture over the meat, smooth out with a spatula, and then sprinkle a third of the shredded mozzarella evenly over the ricotta mixture for that stringy cheese pull that you know and love. Layer 4 --the sauce: top with a full ladle of tomato sauce, about 1 cup; smooth it out with a spatula. Repeat layers 1 through 4. Finish with a final layer of noodles, tomato sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Tap the pan lightly on the counter to force out any air bubbles and to compress the layers.

Bake for 1 1/4 hours, until golden and bubbling. Allow the lasagna to sit for 20 minutes so it doesn't ooze all over the place when you cut it into squares.


Why I'm Not a Ballerina.

Tomorrow, I go my new building for work. They moved us back to the big building. Back to the compound.

In honor of my beloved Pioneer Square, which I'll miss dearly, I'll leave you with this:

Picture it - Last week. Pioneer Square. Lunchtime - the streets are crawling with people. Me, feeling pretty sassy in some wide leg pants that are a bit long and some pointy boots. I've just emerged from my favorite bookstore. I'm hitting my stride right in front of the most crowded sandwich shop on First. Then it happens.

My boot catches in the cuff of my pants.

As if in slow motion, I go down. I go down HARD.

I spring up like a rabbit, and look into the window of the sandwich shop at about twenty horrified onlookers.

I want to die.

I run (carefully) away.


Fifteen Things

So Andrea tagged me to admit fifteen things about myself. I would nominate others to continue this game, but I don't know who all reads this! Identify yourselves!

This was interesting. Reading through these now, I think I sound a little psycho. Great.


1. I can't stand touching cotton balls. This includes the cotton they put in medicine bottles. I need assistance getting that god awful stuff out.
2. I am fascinated/terrified by serial killers. This is really morbid, I know. The one I find most interesting is Jack the Ripper. My favorite tour in London was the Jack the Ripper one where you visit all the sites where bodies were found.
3. On that note, I love horror films, but do draw the line at the Saw series. I am more a connoisseur of suspense horror - all time fave is The Shining, but Halloween is a close second. And anything with vampires - I can't wait for the Twilight movies!
4. I can remember anything that is inconsequential. Such as, the outfit I wore the first day of fifth grade - purple ruffle skirt mad of sweatshirt material and matching puff painted sweatshirt with a built in collar (shut up). However, I can never remember to pay my bills. Online bill pay saved my life!
5. All of the animals I have or have had are named people names.
6. My mother let me have both of the following hairdos - permed bangs with straight hair in the back (kind of a perm-mullet) and straight bangs with perm in the back. Child abuse.
7. I really love old houses. I mean, over a hundred years old, at least. I would love an old farmhouse. And even better if it has one or all of the following: a root cellar, a laundry chute, an attic or secret passageways! For now I'll survive with our almost 50 year old rambler and it's lame crawl space.
8. I started going gray at 16. I remember someone leaning over on the bus on the way to a track meet or a basketball game and plucking it out. I am now probably 50% gray.
9. I pretty much consistently burn myself when I bake. I have a glorious jelly roll pan scar on my forearms in honor of each holiday season.
10. I was platonic friends with my husband for five years before we even dated. We met when we were 18 and I was attached. Then when I was single he wasn't. See a pattern?
11. While I was living in England I developed a taste for some really craptastic music. One of the highlights, however, is Tom Jones. He is most definitely NOT craptastic. I am plotting to someday go to Vegas and throw underpants at him. He may be up on stage with a walker, but I'll bet that man can still gyrate! What's new pussycat? Whoaaaa whoaaaaa whoaaaa!
12. I like to read in the bathroom. Not sitting on the toilet, but I'll actually go in there, turn on the space heater and sit on the floor. I used to read in the bath but I don't get to take those anymore.
13. I can clean a fish really well.
14. I tend to hoard things. It runs in my family. I'm a bit better than my mother and she is a little better than hers. But it is an illness!
15. I am the champion of trivia games. I challenge anyone! See #4 above. I remember all things useless!


Clearly I'm Easily Amused.

I work with a man about my dad's age who is constantly dropping these colloquialisms that have obviously been around for a while but I've never heard. He is an absolute pro at slipping them casually into conversation. I'm totally jealous.

Some of his latest gems:
Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Busy as a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.

I don't know why, but these seriously crack me up. I got to thinking - why is it that middle aged men are so good at hokey sayings and really, really bad jokes? I think I want to be good at these things too. So I'm starting a collection.

Some more I like:
Hotter than a redheaded roofer in Palm Springs in July.
It's like trying to herd cats.
Raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock.

Got any good ones? I need some dorky one liners for the holidays.


They Say the Mind is the First To Go...

I don't know why, but lately I've been talking to myself...or maybe I'm just noticing it more. Sometimes I'll catch myself having a conversation that I thought was just in my head, but I'm actually vocalizing it.
So I wonder, am I just getting old? Or am I regressing to having an imaginary friend? Is this something that inevitably happens? It's so weird.
For a while, I thought I might just be doing it since I wasn't having regular adult conversations. But then I noticed I sometimes do it at work.
The thing that makes me feel a bit better is I have a few co-workers who do the same thing. They cover it pretty well by wearing earpieces so it appears they're on a call. But I know...oh yes, I know.
For me, it's in the category of rocking out in the car. I think most people sing while they're driving, but tone it down as they hit red lights. But as soon as you're moving again, game on.
Still, it's a bit embarrassing. I need to work on that 'inner monologue' thing. Or just buy an earpiece. Then I can be crazy and talk to myself all day long.


I Know it's Early...I'm a Planner!

Even though it's our son's first Christmas this year, I am really starting to think about having a pared down Christmas - homemade gifts, family gifts, donating to charity in someones name are a few thoughts I've had.

So far, some ideas I've come up with:

Family Night Package: My brother and sister-in-law have family night every Friday. I thought it might be fun to do a 'movie night package' for some of the families we exchange gifts with. I found a great deal on cozy quilted throws, so I bought several. With the throw, I'll add a kid friendly movie, a big popcorn bowl, a few bags of microwave popcorn and some candy.

Fleece Blankets: My mom showed me how to make double layer fleece blankets (no-sew) about five years ago. That year I made my nieces and nephews cozy blankets and they all loved them. Now they've all grown quite a bit (and some weren't even born at the time) so I figure it's time to upgrade.

Treat Basket: I did these last year and thought it turned out well - Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts (these are freakin' fabulous), white chocolate peppermint bark, homemade hot chocolate mix, and a bag of coffee beans from that place where I work. I may try homemade almond roca this year. But I would have to use a candy thermometer and that frightens me...stay tuned.

I'm still trying to plot this all out. The plan is to not necessarily spend a lot, but put some thought and effort into gifts.

Anybody have any cheap and cheerfuls they want to add to the mix?