A Life Without Broadcast Television

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I never realized how addicted people were to television until we welcomed a proliferation of house guests into our home over the last month. You see, we don’t have broadcast television. Not cable, not DirectTV, not even an antenna to pick up basic channels. What we do have is Netflix (which we can stream directly through our Wii) and the Internet.
The response you get when you tell people that you don’t have cable is kind of comical. First, they stare at you like they didn’t hear you and then they repeat back to you what you said. Here is a typical conversation about it.
Person X: “Did you see Dancing with the Stars last night?”
Me: “No, we don’t have broadcast television.”
Person X: *Pause* “You don’t have broadcast television?”

Me: “Nope.”
Person X: “That stinks. Is it not available in your area?”
Me: “We could have gotten satellite TV, but we decided not to.”
Person X: “Why not?”
Me: “Because we rarely watch TV.”
Person X: “But what if there’s a show you want to watch?
Me: “I just wait for the season to be over and then I get it on Netflix or I watch the full episode on the Internet the next day.”
Person X: “But what about football?”
Me: “I watch all games live online.”
Person X: “But what about the news?”
Me: “Well, I get my news online too.”
Person X: *Sighs and nods head in confusion*
We absolutely understand that some people don’t get it. In some houses (like those belonging to both of our families), the TV is on all day. Sometimes they watch it, sometimes they listen to it from another room and sometimes it just serves as background noise.
When the Irishman and I realized that satellite TV was our only option up here, we talked about it and we realized that we actually don’t like watching TV. I mean, I don’t know how many times I got sucked into a mediocre Lifetime movie marathon. Before I knew it, 3 movies had passed and I had gotten zero done all day. While some people consider that a day well spent, it just makes me feel like I’ve wasted a chunk of my life that I’ll never get back. With the TV off, I’m more productive, I spend more time interacting with my family and we don’t ever feel compelled to stay home to watch something. Cancelling our service felt very freeing and a lot foreign.
As I mentioned above, we do have Netflix that streams directly from our Wii (as well as our Playstation 3) to our TV and there are a ton of available shows and programs available through their Instant Watch feature. Parker gets all of his kid shows and we have access to newly released movies and popular TV shows. For example, I recently watched all of Season 6 of Grey’s Anatomy and the Irishman and I have a running date after Parker goes to bed where we watch 30 Rock. We’re 4 episodes into the first season, but they all of the seasons are available on Netflix.
Part of the beauty of our Netflix/Internet system is that it forces you to be thoughtful about what you want to watch. You no longer have the option of just clicking “ON” and being drawn in to the first thing that pops up. It’s kind of like the days where we all had dial up instead of high speed. You were a lot more selective about what you searched for on the Internet when it took both time and effort to get there. Heck, I was a lot more selective about which emails I opened. It better have been good if I sat there for 10 minutes waiting for the page to load.
Oh and did I mention that Netflix costs us $15 a month compared to the $100 cable bill that we had? That’s a nice little bonus. So, the next time that you inwardly groan at the sight of your cable bill or you spend 15 minutes scrolling through the channels and see nothing interesting, consider the fact that there are alternatives available. Whether you put yourself on a temporary broadcast moratorium or you never look back, I promise that life will look a little bit different on the other side.

Chicken Pot Pie

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Growing up in a 100% Greek household, most of my comfort foods are Mediterranean in nature (lentil soup, chicken avgo-lemono soup and Greek meatball soup to name a few), but chicken pot pie is the American food that captured the top spot on my list of ultimate comfort foods.

When I was having a melodramatic day in college (because let’s face it, most 19 year olds don’t have real problems), I would drag myself to Boston Market and let the warm, thick filling push out the drama of the day. In retrospect, I made a lot of trips to Boston Market. As my husband likes to say, Greeks invented drama. And then I prove him right by shooting lightning bolts from my eyes at the mere suggestion that I’m being dramatic. Parker loves it when I do that.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand. In the *cough* decade since I left my undergrad years behind, I slowly phased out chain restaurant food. And then I became a vegetarian. And then we moved to the middle of nowhere, North Carolina. So, I went about my business until last weekend when I decided that this week, my friends, was the week of chicken (and veggie) pot pie glory. This week, I would rediscover the warmth, the tastiness, the caloric explosion of chicken pot pie goodness. The end.

Oh, I’m just jesting. I’m actually going to give you two different ways to make this. I’ll start with the completely from scratch version and then I’ll tell you how to make some short cut substitutes. Okay, here are the ingredients for the entirely from scratch version (which is so worth the time it takes):

1 whole chicken, cut up (called a fryer)
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup diced celery
1/3 cup diced onions
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
3 cups chicken broth (will be made from scratch)
1.5 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
celery salt (if you have it)
Puff pastry

For cooking the chicken:

1 whole onion, peeled and sliced in half
2 carrots, cut in half
3 stalks of celery, cut in half
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

Before we begin, go ahead and defrost your puff pastry. Now, we’re going to cook the chicken and make the chicken broth. Rinse your chicken and put it into a large stock pot. Add about 12 cups of water (making sure the chicken is completely submerged and covered by an inch or two of water. Add in the ingredients in the “for cooking chicken” list above.

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By adding the onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and bay leaves, we’re flavoring both the chicken and the broth. Cook the chicken for 1-1.5 hours.

Once that time has elapsed, (using tongs) take the chicken out of the pot and put it on a large plate (or in my case a large tuppeware) to let it cool a bit.

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Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-size pieces.

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Then, using a strainer, strain the broth into very large bowl. We’re going to use 3 cups of this for our sauce.

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In a saucepan, add the sliced carrots, peas and diced celery. Cover with water and boil for 15 minutes or until tender. **If you’re taking a short cut and NOT cooking a whole chicken, add in 2 cups of raw chicken that you’ve diced into bite sized pieces with the veggies** After the 15 minutes are up, strain and set aside.

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In a second sauce pan, melt your butter and sauté your onions until translucent. Add in a good amount of salt, pepper and the flour. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Then, slowly add in the chicken broth (either homemade or store bought) and milk. Turn the heat up until just below the boiling point and then reduce the heat and (stirring frequently) cook until the sauce is the consistency of a thick gravy (about 10 minutes). Taste the sauce and make sure that it’s well seasoned. If you need to, add more salt.

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Now it’s time to assemble the pot pies! You can go two ways with this. You can either use a 9″ pie pan or 3-5 individual medium, sized oven-proof ramekins (which is what I did). First, add in the chicken and veggies into the bottom of the ramekins or pie pan.

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Lightly salt and pepper them. Then, add the gravy on top.

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Finally, add the puff pastry on top and cut a couple of slits in the top to let steam escape.

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Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until the top of the puff pastry is golden brown. Then, let it rest for 10 minutes or so because the filling is piping hot.

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Oh my goodness. There are no words for how happy this made me. This was taste bud perfection. It seriously warmed me from the inside out (to the point that I had to step into the cold air outside to cool off a bit). The Irishman devoured his in a mere 5 minutes and even Parker ate his whole ramekin (minus the veggies). As my father would say…This. Was. Excellent.

Oh and as extra bonus and inducement to make the chicken and broth from scratch, I’m making chicken noodle soup from scratch tomorrow with the rest of the broth and the remaining chicken. It’s 2 recipes for the price of 1. I love when that happens.

Make Your Own Chai Latte At Home

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Ever since my days as a coffee shop barista, I’ve had a deep appreciating for lattes. With milk steamed to 140 degrees and a double shot of espresso (for a 16 oz. drink), there’s something wonderful about getting a perfect drink every time. Sadly, I no longer work in a coffee shop and I have yet to invest in a serious espresso machine (about $1000), so I’d limited myself to the occasional splurge when I made it by a coffee shop.
Well, the last time I splurged, I opted for a chai latte since my coffee aversion is alive and well during this pregnancy too. As I’m watching the barista prepare my drink, the light bulb went off in my head. A chai latte is simply steamed milk and brewed chai tea. That is completely doable at home. So, I grabbed my latte and skipped out the door. Okay, I didn’t really skip in real life, just in my head.
So, this morning, I set off to make my own chai latte. Since I don’t have a steaming wand, I settled for microwaving 1/2 a (giant) mug of milk for 2 minutes. Then, I topped off my mug with boiling water and added in 2 Tazo spiced chai tea bags. I let the tea brew for about 10 minutes or so (I wanted to make sure that the chai flavor was evident) and then I added 1 tablespoon of sugar.
It was heavenly! Steaming and flavorful, I felt completely spoiled. I was holding a delicious chai latte in my hands and I didn’t even have to change out of my pjs. This, my dears, is what life is all about – little pleasures.

This Week’s Menu

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This weekend, I spent a lot of time deep cleaning and organizing in preparation for our house guests, who are arriving on Wednesday (the Irishman’s parents and grandmother). It feels great heading into the week with a freshly scrubbed kitchen and all clean clothes. Of course, I’m not delusional to think that the house will still look like this when they get here. It’s pretty much a given that by Wednesday, the house will have gone to pot. Such is life at the zoo. Oh well, it’s the effort that counts, right?
Sticking with the “attempting to be on top of it” program, I’ve plotted out this week’s dinners. Since it’s cooled off substantially, I’ve focused on warm, feel-good meals to heat us up from the inside out. Plus, the Irishman has been eating the previous evenings leftovers for lunch the following day, so I’m all about making meals that have plenty of leftovers.
Menu:
Monday: Chicken Pot Pie (trying a new recipe)
Wednesday: Chili
Saturday: Chicken Noodle Soup (new recipe)
Sunday: Spaghetti Squash Pie (new recipe)
Hopefully, the new recipes I’m trying will turn out well so that I can pass them along to you. Chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup were two of my favorite fall/winter foods when I was a meat-eater. I’ll make vegetarian versions for myself, but still with the standards for the boys and our carnivorous guests.
Here’s to hoping that everyone has a great start to their week!

Sweet Cornbread

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When I was 9 months pregnant with Parker, I had an intense craving for cornbread. So, a group of us went to Smokey Bones, a rib joint that served a scrumptious skillet cornbread with honey butter, so that I could get my fix. Well, the unthinkable happened. They were out of cornbread. I believe my exact words were, “What do you mean you are out of cornbread?” It wasn’t a rational response, but I was hugely pregnant and quite ornery. I sighed in exasperation and told the server, “I guess that I’ll have donuts instead.” The server took off to fill our order and then timidly came back to your table. Virtually hiding behind the pad she was holding, she quietly informed me that they were out of donuts too. It was almost too much for me to handle. I didn’t know whether to burst into tears or throttle the poor girl who had nothing to do with their inventory. I would have walked out right then and there if it wasn’t a big group of us. Instead, I sat and sulked. Pleasant company, huh?
I tell you that story not only to further confirm my spastic nature, but to convey that when I want cornbread, I generally want it bad. Since there isn’t a Smokey Bones within an hour of me, I’ve learned to make my own. It’s probably safer for their wait-staff this way.
Here’s what you need:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup of milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
Mix all of the ingredients together and pour the batter into a 9″ round cake pan. bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. I generally serve this with a pad of butter and a healthy drizzle of honey (Parker likes his with apple butter). It is so incredibly good when it’s still warm out of the oven that I generally heat up individual pieces in the microwave before serving the leftovers. It makes my tummy happy.

My Son Is A Hoarder

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As you all know, I’m clutter-phobic. If I see papers piling up on surfaces, I give my husband 24 hours to go through them or it all gets trashed. Same goes with nik-naks, toys, old clothes, etc… I hate when things build up in the house. It makes my brain feel crowded, disorganized, chaotic. I like things Spartan, minimal, serene.
Therein lies the problem. Parker does not share my Spartan inclinations. Not even close. Everything is precious to him. Every hole-y sock, every scribbled on piece of paper, every broken toy. The child has a bleeding heart (which I love), but something’s gotta give. Part of the problem is that he comes home from school everyday with 10 sheets of artwork. I usually keep one or two items a week and then when no one is looking, I trash the rest. I know, I’m a mean mommy, but what the heck are we supposed to do with it all?
That solution was working just fine until I got busted…by Parker. “Mommy!!!! How did my paper get into the trash!!” Uh-oh. So, I tried to have a conversation about minimalism and just keeping his favorites, but my dear child would hear none of it. Instead, I got a scathing, “How could you mommy.” Ouch.
So now, Parker has a stash in his room of all of his stuff and he routinely opens the trash to see if I stole anything. In retrospect, I probably handled the entire situation poorly and now we have some fixing to do. My mom suggested that I let him take a picture of his art before it meets it’s death at the dumpster so that he can revisit each scrap of paper and scribble he’s ever made.
I’ll bring up that idea as soon as it’s not such a sore subject. In the meantime, I’ll have the Irishman clean Parker’s room since just walking in there and seeing the pile of papers makes my eye twitch and leaves me wanting to reach for the vodka.

My Obsession With Photography

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There are a hundred times a day when my mind takes a quick snapshot of a particular moment. It could be the scenery, the sunset, a funny face, a playful interaction… Regardless of what it is, I hoard these little memories to bring out for daydreams or remembrance.
Over the last couple of years (since about the time I started this blog), I realized that so many of those moments fade and while I’m left with the impression of the memory, the details are fuzzy. So, I bought my first DSLR camera and I started taking pictures. I photograph big moments and small ones, like the one of Parker above playing in the fall leaves.
While I love capturing Parker in motion and reaching new milestones, I also love photographing the ordinary moments in our life when we’re just going about our business. Secretly, I love ordinary days and the predictability of routines. I don’t like drama and even good events (birthdays, holidays) can bring their own kinds of stresses. My favorite times are when everyone is home together, safe and sound.
A lot of the pictures are taken when I’m alone, like this morning last week when the rain stopped and left the trees out front in natural shades of gray.
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Or when I’m raking leaves and I happen to look up at a majestic tree holding on to its fall colored leaves when all of its brother and sister trees have started to shed theirs with abandon.
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Or when my son brings me a lovely red leaf that he picked out of all of the brown and yellow ones.
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Taking pictures allows me to bring these memories back out for myself, but also to share them with all of you. Hopefully, a bit of the beauty in the ordinary will lift your spirits like it does mine.