Sunday, November 30, 2008

We had a great Thanksgiving. My family got in on Wednesday night, and we ate pizza and played games. Hannah introduced us to the YouTube video "Grape Lady Falls," which is, without a doubt, the funniest video I have ever seen. Darby laughed so hard he cried! If you haven't seen it, go look it up right now.

On Thursday, mom and I finished making the meal, and I set the table. Everything went smoothly, except the turkey. I just bought a fully-cooked frozen turkey because I was too scared to cook a turkey myself. I let it thaw in the refrigerator for three full days, but it was still frozen on the inside! I didn't realize this until my Dad was trying to carve the turkey. We ended up having to cut off the thawed parts and reheat the rest. It was a little frustrating, but it all worked out. Here's a few picture of our table and food (well, half the food...the rest was on the counter.)

I ended up getting Friday off of work, which was awesome!! My sister and I went shopping. We ended up only getting clothes for ourselves. Whoops! Here's the matching puffy vests we got at Target for nine bucks!

That night, our friends Jon and Katy came over, and we all played Nertz and Outburst. I think Jon was a little shocked at the combined volume of the Anderson women. :)

Of course, we spent a lot of time playing Wii. Here's the four "kids" playing Mario Kart. I love how Hannah and I look really into it, while Darby and Matt are playing it cool. Typical.

It was such a fun few days! I'm so glad that my whole family gets along so well and has so much fun together. And Darby just fits in seamlessly. He enjoys having my brother around as his "Wii buddy." It was a little cramped with six people in our house, but not too bad. I'm glad that we were all able to stay together and some people didn't have to go to a hotel. Now, I can't wait for Christmas!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hurry Up, Thanksgiving!

The sweet potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce are made. The apple cake is baked. The iced tea is brewed. The turkey is thawing in the fridge. The floor is swept and mopped. The fridge and freezer are cleared out to make room for leftovers. (I had to finish off our ice cream last was a tough job, but somebody had to do it!) Tonight, I'll make dough for rolls and a pumpkin pie. And, most importantly, my family will get here!!!!! I am beyond excited! Tomorrow, we'll make the rest of the sides (crunch top potatoes, green bean casserole, and "Judy Fruit" salad.) I'll set the table with my "homemade, on-the-cheap" decorations (pictures to come), and we'll sit down to eat and laugh together. Now, who will do the dishes??? :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Tomorrow night, the Illini for Christ sponsors are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all the students (and spouses). We're supposed to come prepared to talk about what we're grateful for, so I thought I'd do a little thinking ahead of time. I am so blessed in that it's not hard for me to come up with what I'm grateful for; it's hard for me to narrow the list down! I figure if I post a huge list here, I won't be tempted to talk for 10 minutes tomorrow night. :)

1. Of course, the number one blessing in my life is Darby. He is an amazing husband and friend. We were extremely blessed to have a smooth transition into married life, and it's only gotten better. We just enjoy being together. Almost every day one of us will say, "I can't believe this is our life. It's so great." I am so proud of the way he has handled the pressure and stress of graduate school. He has been so careful to protect our time together, even as the demands on his time increase. I can't even put into words how much I love him and how lucky I feel that he is mine. I have been blessed with so much, but even if I only had him, I would have more than I deserve.

2. My job. It is so nice to be doing something I enjoy and am passionate about. For the past week, I've been proofreading a Children's Literature textbook. How awesome is that?

3. New friends. We have been so blessed to make friends with another young couple, Jon and Katy, at church. They come over every Thursday to watch The Office, and we try to get together at least once per weekend. They love to eat and play games (my two most important requirements in friends!) We've also enjoyed spending time with another couple from church, Dustin and Aubrey. They are fellow Texans, but sadly (for us), they are moving back to Texas soon. I'm glad we had the opportunity to meet them before they left, though. Our church has a Young Marrieds group that gets together once a month, and we've enjoyed getting to know people through that, as well.

4. Two loving families. I think most people are grateful for their biological families, but I am doubly blessed in that I can honestly say that I am grateful for my in-laws as well. One thing that I've come to appreciate more and more the older I get is how generous both mine and Darby's parents are -- with their money, time, encouragement, etc. They are great examples for us.

5. Free time. I'm not sure why, but I seem to have a lot more free time than I did in Abilene (even when I was only working and not in school). It might be because I don't have as many friends and because we don't go visit friends or family on the weekends anymore. I always enjoyed spending time with friends and family, but I'm also enjoying this period of relative quietude. I know that this stage of my life will be short-lived. (It will be over as soon as I have kids, if not sooner.) So I want to really appreciate it while it lasts.

6. A large kitchen. I always enjoyed cooking, even in my extremely hot Cedar Crest kitchen and my extremely tiny Cimmaron kitchen. Now, I cook so much more, though. It's great to have room to spread out. I hope I continue to enjoy cooking and baking as much as I do now.

7. Being a bridesmaid for the fourth time. I can't believe I haven't blogged about this yet! My "frousin" Amy is getting married to Matthew on July 11, and I have the honor of being her bridesmaid. She was a huge encouragement to me during my engagement and wedding, and I am so excited to be a part of her special day. After I got married, I realized just how important good bridesmaids are. It made me wish I had done more for Whitney and Kalyn when I was in their weddings. Amy was an amazing bridesmaid even before being married, though. I have a lot to live up to!

Well, I could keep going, but I guess I'll wrap it up here. I haven't even mentioned my old friends, my health, nature, and tons of other blessings. I am so glad that we have this season to remind us to thank God for our blessings. I do not do it enough.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Let It Snow!

We had our first snow today! It was very light and didn't stick because the temperature was above freezing. But it still snowed off and on for several hours and was very pretty. I'm sure in a few months I'll be sick of snow, but for now I'm going to enjoy the novelty. I've snapped out of my funk a little bit. It's still getting dark super early, but at least it's been sunny. (Even today, the sun came out after the snow.) Plus, Thanksgiving is coming up, and I'm super excited! When I was young, I never really liked Thanksgiving because there were no presents involved. But now I think it's one of my favorite holidays. It's such a laid-back day. I love getting and giving presents, but it's nice to have a holiday that doesn't involve buying and wrapping stuff. And since I love to cook, preparing a big meal doesn't seem stressful to me. I can't wait to see my family. I want to see all of them, of course, but I'm most looking forward to seeing my sister. I haven't seen her since May when she left for Argentina. She came back to Texas the weekend Darby and I moved to Illinois. Six months is waaayyy too long to be apart!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Easy Pasta for Long Nights

For the most part, I've really enjoyed living in Champaign-Urbana. The town is a good size, our house is awesome, everyone is friendly, and the weather has actually been really nice. But, I'm starting to see one of the major downsides to living this far north and east. It gets dark super early! I am not exaggerating when I say that when I leave work at 4:30 p.m., it is already dusk. It's so depressing! I always feel so tired. So, I haven't really felt like doing much of anything in the evenings. I usually just park it in front of the TV. (I know, not the best way to get out of a funk, but I can't help it).

Anyway, I haven't felt like cooking anything complicated for dinner lately. I think it's mainly psychological. I feel like it's already so late when I get home that I don't have time to make anything. It's totally ridiculous because it's only 5 p.m., but I can't seem to get my mind to grasp that. Last night I made one of our favorite dishes, and it's incredibly easy and good. I hate it when cookbooks or magazines have recipes labeled as quick weeknight dinners but they still involve lots of chopping and/or peeling. In my book, that's not quick. This recipe involves no chopping and can literally be on the table in 15 minutes. And it has spinach so you can feel like it's healthy. :)

Italian Sausage, Tomato, and Spinach Pasta Toss
From: Kraft Food and Family (Can you tell I like this magazine? Just to warn you, most of my recipes are from the older issues. They've switched to mainly advertising for their pre-packaged foods in more recent months.)

2 cups penne pasta, uncooked
1/2 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
1 bag (6-8 oz.) baby spinach leaves
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained (Or you can just use regular diced tomatoes and add basil, garlic, and oregano yourself)
1/2 cup Italian dressing
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup or so grated Parmesan cheese

Cook and drain the pasta. While the pasta's cooking, in a large skillet, crumble the Italian sausage and cook until brown. Drain. Add the tomatoes, Italian dressing, and spinach. (Don't do what I did and forget that your bottle of Italian dressing is not a squeeze bottle. I accidentally dumped way more than 1/2 a cup in the skillet. It still turned out good, but it's a little tangy!) Cook until spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Toss with pasta. Stir in cheeses.

I made a quick cheesy bread to go with the pasta. Just cut a store-bought French or Italian loaf in half. Spread butter or margarine on top. Sprinkle on some garlic powder (or minced garlic, if you're not lazy like me), and a handful of cheese. I like to use a combination of cheddar and mozzarella. Broil 5-7 minutes until lightly browned and bubbly. Mmmmmm... And since your pasta has spinach in it, you don't have to worry about the calories from the cheesy bread. It's all about equilibrium.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Thinking Out Loud

People here are crazy drivers! Everyone runs red lights, and I mean everyone! Sometimes I'll get to a light as it's turning yellow, and I'll kind of wonder whether I should go or stop. Usually, I go and get through the intersection right as it turns red. I start feeling guilty, but then I look in my rearview mirror and see two or three cars come behind me. It's insane! But everybody just accepts that that's the way it is. When your light turns green, you usually wait a good 5 seconds before going to avoid getting in a wreck. I think part of the reason might be that there are tons of lights and not many highways you can take to avoid them, but it still seems a little extreme to me.

Yoga is awesome! I've been going to a class at the U of I rec center on Saturday mornings for about a month now. It is seriously the hardest workout I've ever done. The day after a class, I am sore in places I didn't even know I had muscles! My main reason for wanting to do yoga was to improve my flexibility (which is horrible!). I think it's working. I can now touch my toes! (Yes, sadly, I have never been able to do this.) I don't really buy into the whole spiritual aspect of yoga, but the instructor does. At the end of class, we spend about 15 minutes doing relaxation exercises (which actually do work), but then she has us fold our hands in front of our hearts and thank ourselves for coming to class and thank our bodies for allowing us to practice yoga. I usually take the opportunity to thank God for creating my body and giving me the ability to exercise. Even though the instructor's a little New Age-y, she's really nice. If you are doing something wrong, she comes over and very gently corrects you. I hate it when teachers call people out in front of the whole class (bad memories from middle school), so her approach really works for me. And she never makes me feel bad that I'm the only one in the class who can't do a handstand. I think a lot of my problem is fear because there are these really thin little girls who are able to support themselves with only their arms. I'm not very strong, but I think I have more muscle than they do. I've been practicing some at home, so maybe I'll get it eventually.
If you haven't ever tried yoga, give it a shot. Believe me, if I can do it, anybody can. If you have cable, you might even be able to do it for free. I just found out about ExerciseTV on OnDemand cable. They have all sorts of exercise videos you can download to your TV for free, and they put up new ones every month. It's awesome! Plus, this will help me justify keeping cable even after our promotional year ends. "I have to have cable for my health." :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

I had a request to post the recipe for the pumpkin swirl cheesecake that I talked about in my last post, so here it is. I'm going to experiment with posting recipes from time to time. I really love to cook, and I usually cook about two new recipes per week. I enjoy getting recipes from others' blogs, so I hope some of you will enjoy seeing my recipes.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
Adapted from: Kraft Food and Family

For crust:
1 2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
5 TBSP butter, melted

Mix crumbs and sugar. Add butter and stir until combined. Press in bottom and one inch up sides of 9-in. springform pan.

For filling:
4 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
1 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg and a dash cloves)

Beat cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until well-combined.
Add eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.
Remove 1 1/2 cups batter and place in a small bowl. To remaining batter, stir in pumpkin, 1/4 c. sugar, and spices.
Spoon half of the pumpkin batter into the crust. Top with spoonfuls of plain batter. Repeat layers. Cut through layers with a knife to swirl.
Bake for 55-60 minutes (or until top of cake is barely set) at 300 degrees.
To prevent cracking, do not remove cake from oven immediately. Turn the oven off, open the door, and let the cake sit for about an hour. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

We had a great Halloween weekend. On Friday, we had about 20 trick-or-treaters, which was great! Most were older kids, though, and a lot weren't in costume. That kind of makes me mad. If you want the candy, you should at least go to the effort of putting on a costume! But I didn't want to be stuck with a bunch of leftover candy, so I went ahead and gave them a bunch. I also cooked my worst dinner ever. I wanted to make something festive, so I chose pumpkin ravioli with gorgonzola sauce. It sounds weird, but I've had pumpkin ravioli before and it was really good. This...not so much. I used wonton wrappers, and they didn't have the right texture. They also looked kind of like flesh. Darby and I tried to eat it, but we had to give up. We had a good laugh and went to Wendy's instead.

I redeemed myself on Saturday by baking a pumpkin swirl cheesecake. It was the best-looking cheesecake I've ever made. It only cracked a little! Forgive me for bragging, but I just have to post a picture. Darby said that the cheesecake was "a much better use of pumpkin" than the pumpkin ravioli.

I took the cheesecake to a Halloween party on Saturday night. It was for our young marrieds group at church. There only ended up being three couples who came, but we had a great time! Darby and I wore our King and Queen of Hearts costumes that we've worn about three times before. (Hey, these people hadn't seen them!) I didn't get a picture of us on my camera but here's some other pictures from the party.

Dustin and Aubrey were Barney and Betty Rubble. Aren't they cute? We did make fun of Dustin for wearing a dress, though. :)

Each couple carved a pumpkin. Here's Darby hard at work on ours. My contribution was scooping out the seeds.

All of the pumpkins. The "T" for Jon and Katy Titus; Mine and Darby's interpretation of "The Scream"; Dustin and Aubrey's vomiting pumpkin (with a very creative use of the pumpkin innards)

The weather was PERFECT this weekend. Highs in the lower 70s and sunny. I managed to get a picture of one really pretty tree. There were a lot of people out walking and I started feeling self-conscious walking around with my camera. This picture doesn't do it justice. It's amazing to see all of the bright colors.