Help! Request for recipes

Dave and I are in a funk.  I blame it on this winter - in fact, I blame everything on this winter right now.

But this time, it's with our menu.  We're tired of the tried and true things that we eat somewhat regularly, but we're having problems finding new recipes that we're excited about.  We've tried a couple that sounded promising, but were actually pretty awful when we made them, and then we felt bad for being so wasteful when we didn't want to eat it.

So, we've decided that we need recommendations from people that we know (or even just "sort of" know through this blog.) 

What's your favorite recipe?  Could you e-mail it to me? Or post a link to it in the comments section? 

I have quite a few allergies (peanut butter, onions, garlic, dairy, and shrimp, just to name a few) but as long as the recipe isn't centered around one of those items, I can usually do some substitutions to still make a recipe work for me.  Some things that we make on a regular basis (just so you have a sense of what we already eat) include:
  • Tacos, burritos, pretty much anything mexican
  • Lasagna and regular old spaghetti
  • Breakfast for dinner (usually waffles with sausage) 
  • Sesame chicken (some Asian recipes would be great!)
  • Breaded chicken and potatoes
  • Chili

So, what's your favorite meal!?!?  Any and all suggestions are appreciated!!!

Ben Folds and the PSO

On February 13th, Dave gave me a "Valentine's Day surprise" - he took me to a concert featuring Ben Fold's with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

We have both always enjoyed Ben Folds (although admittedly we haven't really kept up with his latest albums.)  Dave knew that as a former musician myself, I had a greater appreciation for symphony music than most, and he knew how much I loved the concept of rock piano, or rock violin, or combining any classical instrument with modern music.  He thought it would be right up my alley, and despite some concerns about the cost (we're on a budget now, after all!) he took the plunge and decided it would be a worthy surprise.

Sorry that it's blurry, but photos were prohibited, so I had to take this without the flash - I didn't want to get kicked out!

Dave and I don't go to a lot of concerts.  After an amazing summer experience working for Clear Channel Entertainment (which I have decided that I will tell you about in a separate post) in the summer of 2002, concerts lost some of their appeal to me.  During that summer, I had seen it all from perspectives very few people ever get to experience, and once you've been there, it's hard to go back to just being a "regular concertgoer."  I know I sound like a snob, but it's true.

So anyway, needless to say, I haven't been to many concerts since then, and I was a little apprehensive that this would disappoint.  Now, I know what you're thinking - wasn't this supposed to be a surprise?

Yes, it was.  And it largely was, until I sort of ruined it for myself, unintentionally.  You see, even though I didn't do anything at all to try to find out what the surprise was, I already knew the date (after all, Dave had to ask me to if we had any plans that night already), and I knew the time, and then one innocent day I saw a bunch of Twitter posts about this concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and I clicked on the link to a Post-Gazette article and I immediately knew that I had stumbled onto the "surprise."

I felt bad because I honestly didn't want to know.  I know that Dave works hard to try to surprise me, but somehow I usually guess successfully and that breaks his heart.  So I didn't tell him that I knew.  When he asked if I had any guesses, I just said yes, but wouldn't elaborate and when he pushed for more details I still refused to say a word.

Because after all, it's the thought that counts.  And really, this story is more about the thought behind why we went to the concert than the concert itself.  I know that there was a lot of thought.

Going to a concert in a symphony hall is a very different experience that your traditional PGP concert or club show.  Everyone had a seat - and sat.  Nearly everyone was dressed up.  We saw a bunch of people that we knew, and I'm sure that there were a ton more people there that we knew that we just didn't see.  I made the comment, "So THIS is what it would be like if we could afford to go out on the weekends to social events in the city!"  The event was sold out, and I'm pretty sure that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has never had such a young, hip crowd in their concert hall.  I'm also willing to bet that they sold more alcohol beforehand than usual - the lines were so long at the bars that they were extended out into other rooms.

Anyway, I think Dave and I both greatly enjoyed the show, although it was a lot shorter than I expected (only 90 minutes, with no intermission.)  For $160, I would have liked at least a 2 hour show with a 15 minute intermission in between.  But - and I didn't learn this until the next day when I read the review in the Post-Gazette - apparently union rules stipulate that the symphony only has to play for 90 minutes.  Ben ended up playing for another 10 minutes after they orchestra members walked off of the stage, just him and his piano, and honestly, those songs were probably the best and most enjoyable of the night. 

Because deep down, even though everyone there originally went to experience this interesting new concept of symphony with rock piano, ultimately we realized we were there to hear the classics, to sing along at the top of our lungs, to stand up instead of sitting down, and to yell and cheer - just like we would at any old concert.

Baggie Booties

Have you met my dog, Murphy?

He's a cutie, but Murphy can be a real baby.  You step on him ever so lightly and he yelps like you just amputated his tail.  He always wants to come outside with us when we're shoveling snow, but after about 10 minutes he starts limping and biting at his paws because the pads on his feet are frozen. 

So, much to Dave's delight (well, maybe not delight, but he didn't hate it nearly as much as I thought he would!) I devised the Baggie Booties for Murph's feet.

What's a baggie bootie?  Very simply, a sandwich bag attached to a paw with hair ties. 

See it there on the left!?!

I know.  You're thinking, "Why doesn't he have one one his right paw?"

Mommy! What did you do to me!?!?

Well, for some reason the one on the right paw really bothered him.  He chewed at it until it fell off and I thought the other 3 would quickly follow.  But nope.  Once that one was off, he was fine, happily bounding around in the snow. 

He lasted for over 30 minutes before he went to the door and indicated to us that he wanted to go inside.  But even then, he still wasn't biting at his paws (not even the exposed one) like he had in the past.  So, even though getting those stupid things on his feet took waaaaay longer than you would think or believe, I consider this experiment an enormous success. 

Patent pending.

Soooo cold...

I think that I suffer slightly from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I don't think it's any coincidence that the first letters of those words spell out SAD.  That is how I feel whenever I think about snow lately.  I am soooo tired of snow.  I am so tired of the cold.  I feel unmotivated and uninspired, and for weeks I haven't been able to get past this.

 Maybe I need a fur coat like Murph...

Here are the symptoms of SAD, according to Google Health:
  • Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Decreased interest in work or other activities
  • Depression that starts in fall or winter
  • Increased appetite with weight gain
  • Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Lack of energy
  • Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
  • Social withdrawal

It doesn't help that things are particularly stressful at work right now, and that my days there drag on interminably.  But maybe that's less because of work, and instead because of SAD (see bullet 3, above.)  Or, maybe it's work. 

In fact, I'm going to go ahead and self-diagnose right here and now, because there's not a single bullet item on that list that I don't identify with.   The sad part is, there are very few treatment options, other than anti-depressants and special UV lights.  Neither really options that I would like to or could pursue. 

So, I'm going to have a 5 minute pity-party for myself, right now, and then hopefully move on.  Here are my gripes...

I am always cold.  I wear long underwear and hooded sweatshirts all the time.  When it comes to taking those clothes off for whatever reason, I delay as long as humanly possible.  We are poor, so turning the heat up really isn't an option.

I have no motivation.  When I come home from work all I want to do is eat and make one of my signature Blue Maui drinks.  After dinner I should do something productive, but I'm too cold, so I usually just dress in my warm clothes and then sit on the couch and either read a book or watch TV.  Eating and drinking leads to weight gain, which is depressing in itself.  But I rarely can muster up the energy to exercise.  Exercising not only requires motivation, but it requires me to take off those warm clothes of mine to put on work out clothes.  I usually feel better and warmer after a work-out, but even knowing that, I can't seem to convince myself that it's a good idea.  You would think that an extra 15 pounds of weight and pants that are juuuuust on the too tight side would serve as motivation, but nope, not this winter.

I've been dreaming about the beach.  Seriously.  And I wanted to cry this morning when I heard that it was supposed to snow another 4 to 8 inches in the next couple of days.  I am not a particularly emotional person, so this reaction is probably most concerning to me.  Tonight at the dinner table I asked Dave if we could turn the heat up to 82 degrees this weekend for a couple of hours and walk around in our bathing suits drinking frozen strawberry daquiris.  I was dead serious, but now I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm crazy.

I need to get over this, but I live in the Northeast and it's February, so I know that Mother Nature is not on my side.  I need it to NOT snow this weekend, and instead would like for the sun to come out so that the snow melts.  But if that doesn't happen, my back-up plan is to invest in the long-underwear industry, gets lots of sleep, eat better, and start looking into job opportunities in the Southwest.  I'm thinking Nevada or Arizona, or maybe New Mexico.  Lots of sun, and hot, dry heat - it's calling my name...


Why you should buy groceries at Target

Yesterday afternoon we were out and about, and decided to stop at Target to pick up some things like allergy medications, Q-tips, etc.  We often buy things like that at Giant Eagle, mostly out of sheer convenience, since we go to the grocery store once a week and don't want to make a second trip.

But this time I suggested that we stroll through the grocery section of Target, since I have long believed - but never really tested my theory - that groceries at Target were significantly less expensive than they were at Giant Eagle. 

And WOW! How right I was!!!

Stuff at Target was soooo much cheaper, we were both blown away.  The low-fat organic yogurt that Dave likes is $3.39 at Giant Eagle. At Target it was a $1.14.  I am not kidding.  Giant Eagle charges 198% more for the same product than Target.  Unbelievable.  Dave bought three of these, for a grant total of $3.42.  We basically got 2 of them for free by not buying them at Giant Eagle.

Everything that we compared was cheaper, although not by as much of a margin as the yogurt was.  The whole grain pasta that we usually pay $1.79 for was $1.32 at Target.  The big box of Goldfish crackers that Dave likes to get for a snack was $5.99 at Target instead of $7.49 at Giant Eagle.  I could go on and on.  We didn't buy too much this week, so it's hard to say exactly how much we saved, but I already know that it's significant enough that it's very likely that we'll make 2 stops each weekend when we go shopping, simply because we know we'll save a ton of money. 

Of course, Target doesn't have everything.  Namely, produce and fresh meats, but we're ok with going to Giant Eagle for those couple of things.  I also realize that not all Target's have big grocery sections.  We just so happen to live within about 5 miles of 3 different Targets, 2 of which have fairly substantial grocery sections including large dairy and freezer food sections. 

We used to like Giant Eagle because of the Fuel Perks, but now we're realizing that the Fuel Perks aren't such a great deal if you're paying between 30% and 200% more for your groceries just to get those Fuel Perks.  So if you haven't tried to already, I highly recommend that you try to do some of your grocery shopping at Target.  Then, go to your favorite grocery store with your Target receipt and compare the price at the store with what you paid at Target.  I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Breaking Dawn

After many, many weeks of waiting, I finally got the email.  I had been on the library's waiting list for months, and finally, Breaking Dawn was mine.


(Authors Note:  Spoilers ahead.  If you're going to read these books, you should stop reading now. I'd hate to ruin them for you.  If you have no intentions of ever reading the Twilight series books, this post may not make any sense to you.  However, it will probably have some excellent comedic value since you'll be wondering what kinds of crazy people read these books.)

I first heard about these books on a blog.  They kept popping up in various places - Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I didn't know much about them, but decided to request the first book - Twilight - from the library.  I enjoyed young adult literature like the Harry Potter books in the past, so I was willing to them a shot.

I was hooked.  And I felt ridiculous for saying that.  The premise of the books are absolutely ridiculous.  A young girl named Bella moves to a small, rainy town in Washington state to live with father.  At her new high school she develops an odd attraction to Edward, a pale, intense and attractive young man who seems to hate her.  We learn later than he's a vampire and that he was intensely attracted to Bella's blood and stayed away from her so as not to kill her. But he decided that he wanted to be her friend, and she finds out that his "siblings" are also vampires - they all live together in a house in the woods and feed off of a vegetarian diet (meaning they drink the blood of animals instead of people.) Nice, huh?

In book 2, New Moon, Edward leaves Bella so that he can keep her safe (she was nearly killed by an evil vampire in book 1.)  Bella is heartbroken, but befriends a Native American boy that we later learn is a werewolf.  Alice, Edward's sister that can see the future but can't see it when the werewolves are around, has a vision of Bella jumping off of a cliff with no ending, and she tells Edward that Bella died, when in fact, Jacob - the werewolf - simply caught her.  Edward can't imagine being a world without Bella so he goes to the Volturi - a sort of evil governing vampire group - to be killed.  Because, you know, only a vampire (or a werewolf) can kill another vampire.  All ends well though.  Obviously, since there are still 2 books to go!

In book 3, Edward is back and so is Jacob, the werewolf friend.  Him and Bella have a love hate relationship, but the vampires and the werewolves need to band together when a vampire comes to Washington to kill Bella.  Also in this book, Bella decides that she wants to become a vampire, since that is the only way that she can stay with Edward forever.  He's not fond of the idea, but agrees to convert her to a vampire if she'll marry him, which she reluctantly agrees to do.

Before I continue let me say that I LOVED Twilight, but was less enthralled with New Moon and Eclipse.  New Moon was a little slow and Eclipse seemed a lot like Twilight in that evil-vampire-wants-to-kill-Bella-who-makes-stupid-decisions-and-puts-everyone-in-danger-better-save-her sort of way.  I remember thinking, "How stupid can this girl be???" over and over.  But the writing was still captivating and so I didn't give up.

And I'm so glad that I didn't.  Book 4 - Breaking Dawn - was by far my favorite albeit the most ridiculous.  It starts out with the wedding of Edward and Bella.  They then go on their honeymoon to a private island off the coast of South America owned by the "mom" of the vampire family.  (Did I mention that the vampires are ridiculously wealthy? Their future-seeing sister helps predict the stock market.)  During this honeymoon, Bella becomes pregnant with a half-human, half-vampire child.  Keep in mind, she's only 18 years old.  Anyway, this mutant child starts growing at an astounding rate, and even though everyone thinks she should abort it, Bella is dead set on keeping it.  The baby is so strong that it's breaking her ribs from the inside.  The baby also only wants blood, so Bella drinks to keep the baby alive (she actually enjoys the blood. Yeah. Weird.)  On the night that the baby is born, it snaps Bella's spine and basically kills her.  The only thing that they can do to save her is to turn her into a vampire, and so Bella gets her wish.

But of course, there needs to be drama, right?  A different vampire sees the baby from a distance and immediately reports it to the vampire police (Volturi.)  Apparently, it's illegal to turn a baby into a vampire, but obviously this situation was different!  But of course, drama ensues and Alice sees in the future the Volturi coming to kill them.  Long story short - lots of friends come to join them to fight the Volturi, but it doesn't end of mattering because Bella's vampire "talent" (they nearly all have one) is that that she can create an invisible shield around everyone that protects them. The Volturi leave in frustration and everyone lives happily ever after.

Obviously these summaries are WAAAAY abbreviated, and I didn't really do the books justice at all.  But this really illustrates what a good book can do to humanity - we agree to suspend all disbelief and become engrossed in a ridiculous, captivating world where humans fall in love with vampires and make half-vampire babies that our werewolf best friend falls in love with.

I would recommend the Twilight books to nearly anyone.  If you need an escape from reality you'll find it here.  The books are so addicting that I would go into the bedroom to fold laundry and fifteen minutes later Dave would walk in to see me standing in front of my dresser with a book in my hand, reading away while the laundry remained untouched.

Oh, and for those of you that saw the movies but perhaps haven't read the books yet, know that the movies do them absolutely no justice.  Read the books.  Totally worth it.

The Murph Tunnel

With snow 30 inches high (no accounting for compacting over time), and the fact that more snow continues to fall, we had to come up with a plan for accommodating Murphy's "outside" needs.  Our only real option was to shovel out a bathroom area for him, but Dave went above a beyond.

Behold, the Murph Tunnel.

He LOVES it!

The Murph Tunnel started off as just a small circular area off of our back porch, with a little niche dug in "for privacy." (Dave's words, not mine.)

It then expanded when we had to make sure that our dryer vent was clear (our clothes weren't drying properly and we suspected it was blocked.)  Thus, the first leg of the tunnel was created.

Bark bark... going to sniff the dryer vent....

But then Dave dug out a second tunnel that extended far beyond the house, opened into another clearing, and then tied back around to the meet with the original tunnel.

The face of an overachiever

It is a little ridiculous?


But Murph loves it!  And it allows him some space to run, since he is obviously not getting any walks right now.  My only worry?  That he'll see a deer or a bunny or some other animal and try to jump out of the tunnel.

Do I smell something???

But I'm pretty sure that he'll drown in snow before he gets too far, so for now, I'll just worry while he's outside, and be grateful whenever he comes back in.

Oh, the things we do for our dogs....

The Pretty

I hate winter, and I don't enjoy this snow at all.  Especially this much snow.

But even I can admit that it does create some beautiful scenery.  Although most of the pictures that I took last week were of horrible road conditions, I got a few nice scenery pics as well.

Cathedral of Learning in Oakland

Dave's beloved pine trees

Snowy birdhouse

The calm after the storm

Guess who?

What blog post would be complete without a picture of little Murph?  He loves the snow and Dave even dug out a snow tunnel for him to run through.  More about that soon!

The Horrible Day In Pictures

I deliberately went light on the pictures in my post about yesterday's events.  What I was writing about was raw emotion that I did not feel could be properly conveyed with pictures distracting from my feelings.   

But I definitely did get plenty of crazy photographs yesterday, that really help illustrate just how bad the roads were.

The start of the journey

This is Camp Horne Road.  If you're not familiar with Camp Horne, know that is is a major thoroughfare.  It is 6 lanes wide - two lanes going in the direction that we were traveling and 4 lanes in the other direction (2 that go straight and 2 that turn.)  As you can see, it's down to one lane in either direction and the conditions of that one lane are less than ideal.

This is Fifth Avenue in Oakland.

Do you see any lanes? Because I certainly don't. 

The intersection at Fifth and Bouquet

Camp Horne Road on our first return trip - as you can see, traffic is starting to back up

They closed 279 outbound towards the airport to clear it properly - I totally support this

Inbound towards the Fort Pitt tunnels - good luck changing lanes if you need to

There were abandoned vehicles EVERYWHERE

Good luck to the owner of this vehicle when he or she tries to dig it out

Now, I know that this next picture is sort of blurry, but I need it to illustrate a point.  Do you see how that compacted snow/ice in the middle and on the sides of the lane?  If you hit that stuff, your tire basically slides or bounces off of it, causing you to temporarily lose control of the car.  And actually, this isn't even a great example of it, because at least in this particular spot there's asphalt underneath.  Where it's really treacherous is where is a tire track of ice with ridges of more ice on all sides of your tires.  It's scary and dangerous - trust me.  Multiple times we lost control of our vehicle because of this horrible ice.

So heed my warning - if you're home, just stay at home.  Just because the street in front of your house looks good does not mean that all of the other municipalities near you were as efficient. We had to learn that the hard way.

Oh, What A Horrible Day

This post has been removed.


As I've mentioned numerous times, in addition to trying to lose weight, Dave and I are trying to spend less money eating.  Thus, I've been making a real effort in trying to determine what makes the food that we eat at restaurants so appealing, and then I try to replicate that at home.  With a few things, I've been fairly successful and making pizza for Dave is one of those things.


Dave prefers a white pizza, and recipe is simple.

- Your favorite pizza crust (we use Mama Mia's brand, no hydrogenated oils)
- Block mozzarella cheese, freshly shredded (this is KEY!)
- Olive oil
- Garlic powder (or fresh garlic if you have it!)
- Oregano
- Your favorite toppings (Dave likes plum tomatos, but I threw some pepperoni on the pizza above for his brother)

Basically all you need to do is shred the mozzarella and cut the tomatoes very thinly (or whatever toppings you choose).  Then, pour olive oil onto the crust and spread using a basting brush so that there is a thin layer covering the entire enter.  Cover with the cheese, sprinkle the oregano on, add the tomatoes and other other toppings and cook at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes.

 Look at that face! He LOVES it!

Storm of the Century - Part 2

Also known as, "Hartman's do the craziest things."

My last post ended with us nearing the end of the driveway. We were finally able to make it to the road!

The passageway from the driveway to the road

And all this time Murph sat in his window seat, watching us

But after 2 solid hours of hard manual labor, the Hartman brothers decided it was time for some fun.  So they started up the Jeep, cleared off some of the snow, and drove it down the driveway, crashing through the snow barrier at the bottom.  Here's a visual for you.

My job was to take pictures.  Unfortunately, this is the only picture I got.  I was too terrified to snap any other pictures.  As you can see, I was straight downhill from the Jeep.  I was standing behind the mailbox, which both brothers assured me was the safest place to be.  But if - for some reason - the Jeep did not navigate the slight turn to get into the road, or slid at all once it hit the snow barrier, I felt like I would be vulnerable.

In the end, it was perfectly safe, and even saved us some time, since it loosened up the densely packed snow-plow snow at the end of our drive. 

 Just look at that smile on his face! Pure happiness!

The Jeep had no problems navigating the snowy roads

Yay! We survived!

So sad.. the fun is over

So, what you probably can't see very well is that to the left of the Jeep in that picture above, there is a huge amount of snow.  We conquered the hill rather quickly, but the large flat area at the top of our driveway was going to be a much greater challenge.  You see, there's really no where to throw the snow.  That dilemma was partly the reason that we avoided it in the beginning.  I felt like it would be nearly impossible.

But with the help of a wheelbarrow, we persevered, and succeeded.  I was working hard at this point (on wheelbarrow duty, actually) so I didn't take any pictures of the "before," but here is the after.


And we decided to abandon any hopes of freeing our front door

And then the sun came out.  Beautiful.



What a day... My back is sore, we have wet towels and clothing throughout the house, and Murphy probably won't see grass again for weeks.  But all in all it was a fun day, and I'm glad that I didn't have to wake up this morning and make the decision about whether or not to try to make it to work.  Snow shoveling can be a great workout - as we all learned today. 

And there is something incredibly exciting about witnessing and being a part of a snow storm that will go down in history.

Storm of the Century - Part 1

I'm pretty sure that anyone who is reading this already knows that Pittsburgh got a LOT of snow last night.  February 6, 2010 will go down in history as one of Pittsburgh's biggest winter storms.

Is that a Jeep under there???

Holy snow!!! We had just shy of 22 inches when it was all said and done with.  I left work one hour early and it ended up being a godsend.  It was snowing hard when I left but it was very wet and heavy and was mostly melting as it hit the ground.  It still took me longer than normal to get home, but by the time full rush hour hit (about the same time that I was arriving home), the snow was coming down like crazy, and visibility was horrible. 

We had plans to go out to eat for pizza or something of those sorts but that did not end up happening.  Instead, we stayed inside, watched cars spin out in front of our house as they tried to get up the hill (our house just happens to be at the steepest and most dangerous part of road - cars always spin and/or slide there when the weather is bad.)  

Before we went to bed we took a trip down the driveway to the road.  I don't think we really understood before that point just how much snow there really was.  Our dog - who we learned stands about 15 inches high when he's on all 4 legs - had to jump like a deer to get around.  I think there were about 8 inches at this point. 

Dave and Murphy standing in the middle of our road at 11 p.m.

We went to bed, crossing our fingers that our power wouldn't go out.  We have an emergency generator but realized shortly after hearing about all of the power outages that we did not have any gas in cans to power it.  Fail on our part. 

The next morning we woke up to a winter wonderland.  A-Mazing.  We had a lazy breakfast, watched the news, and then headed outside shortly before 11 a.m. to start shoveling our massive driveway.  I'll let the pictures tell the story.

 "I see some snow over here to the right."

Making progress.... 

And to think that earlier in the morning I thought that my contribution to the shoveling would be clearing the sidewalk.... HA!

 About 2 hours into the shoveling marathon

 Nearing the bottom of the driveway (but don't get too excited - we didn't really do the top of it yet)

Our street - enough room for one lane of traffic

I think that's enough for one post.  But don't worry! Part 2 coming soon, with the subtitle "Hartman's do the craziest things."