Friday, October 31, 2008

Surrounded by Men

One thing that I have not mentioned previously is that I am surrounded by men.

  • At home, I have Simon and Jake.
  • In my group at work, the men outnumber the women by about 5 to 1.
  • At school, there are 8 women in our program of 100 students. We are further divided at school into two classes and into work teams- my class of 50 people has 3 women. My team has 5 guys and me.

What is different about being surrounded by men, rather than being surrounded by women? Well, I suppose there is a lot less drama. Generally, men - at least in a group setting- tend to not get so wrapped up in the frivolous details of a situation. Conversations tend to be very concrete, less about feelings. Most conversations with men (when not directly related to the technical issues at work- or the latest project or assignment at school) are fairly light and external. (as opposed to very heavy and internally driven)

I am not making any judgments here. The point of bringing this up is not to weigh the merits of male company versus female, but rather to explore the current environment to determine what , if anything that I may be personally deficient in as a female in the male domain.

Right now there is a lively conversation taking place about a sports team. Earlier they discussed Global Warming and the merits of using MSN Live Maps versus Google. In conversation- at least at work- Men talk to show what they know. There is a lot of information laid out. A lot of opinion, stated as fact.

Functioning in this "other" world is interesting. At home, I have it down. Simon is very supportive of sharing the roles- he is actually a "dream husband"- he cooks, cleans and does laundry. Honestly, sometimes I would prefer if he handled some of the more traditional guy things and left the more traditional women things to me (like washing delicates!), but you can't have it both ways...we have to work as a team.

At work, things are a bit more competitive than I would perfer. There is a lot of posturing and problem solving. There is no room for female venting. If I vent, I get solutions. When as a female, what I want is understanding- not answers.

At school- I struggle with math, and in the grad school business program there is a lot of math. The guys on my team love math. I was actually really excited when we began working on our first Marketing project. Marketing is very qualitative, right? No math! I was going to be a the star of the team- working this marketing stuff! Well, we got started with our sections and, wouldn't you know it? The guys on my team turned this into a math assignment. We had a complete market cost analysis in our report.

I have very little girlfriend time right now. Prior to starting school I got together with 12 girlfriends to play Bunco each month- but this group seems to have disbanded. I speak to my sister and my mom almost daily, my mother in law once a week. There are a few old school friends that I have become reacquainted with lately, but they live a long ways away- so our relationships are primarily virtual. I have a great hair stylist! I do grab girlfriends for coffee break at work during the week as well-anything to get in some female conversation time. Once school gets out I will definately have to work on this more.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Half American...Half English

On Tuesday, Simon was sworn in as an American citizen. He is now both a citizen of England and a citizen of the U.S. The road to this milestone began almost 10 years ago when we met, fell in love and decided to spend the rest of our lives together.

In the last 10 years, Simon has undoubtably made many more sacrifices than I have for the sake of our relationship. To pack up and leave one's homeland and to start a new life in a foreign country would be a daunting undertaking for many of us.

If you were to ask Simon what he misses most, I am sure he would tell you his parents first, followed by a list of his favorite foods. I think I would make the same list- family and friends and various American foods.

When we visit England, it is usually Christmas time. Now, I know that most people believe that English food is hardly worth raving about-but I believe that there are some noteworthy items. For instance, we always have to have fish and chips at least once during our stay. English fish and chips are far superior to ours. You actually get a substantial fillet and it is served wrapped in paper with malt vinegar and/or mayonaisse for the chips. Sausage rolls, scones, mince pies with brandy butter, bangers and mash, steak and guiness pie, shepards pie, trifle, cheese and pickle sandwiches...these are all quite good. And in the words W. Somerset Maugham "If you want to eat well in England, eat three breakfasts". English bacon and sausages are marvelous and the cooked English Breakfast is wonderful.

In honor of Simon's naturalization, here is a recipe for Shepherd's Pie. This is one of his favorite comfort foods. Shepherd's pie traditionally contains lamb instead of ground beef. The version of Shepherd's Pie that most American's are familiar with is called "Cottage pie" across the pond.

Shepherd's Pie

1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
1 onion chopped
1-2 cups vegetables - chopped carrots, corn, peas
1 1/2 - 2 lbs potatoes (3 big ones)
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, other seasonings of choice

1 Peel and quarter potatoes, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes).
2 While the potatoes are cooking, melt 4 Tablespoons butter (1/2 a stick) in large frying pan.
3 Sauté onions in butter until tender over medium heat (10 mins). If you are adding vegetables, add them according to cooking time. Put any carrots in with the onions. Add corn or peas either at the end of the cooking of the onions, or after the meat has initially cooked.
4 Add ground beef and sauté until no longer pink. Add salt and pepper. Add worcesterchire sauce. Add half a cup of beef broth and cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes, adding more beef broth as necessary to keep moist.
5 Mash potatoes in bowl with remainder of butter, season to taste.
6 Place beef and onions in baking dish. Distribute mashed potatoes on top. Rough up with a fork so that there are peaks that will brown nicely. You can use the fork to make some designs in the potatoes as well.
7 Cook in 400 degree oven until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes). Broil for last few minutes if necessary to brown.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Won't be getting through my "to do" list today...

It's 5:30pm, and I think it is fair to say that I will not be getting through my "to do" list today. Time to start eliminating those things that can be done later.
  • I was going to make a nice roast pork, but we are having pizza instead. I will put the roast in a crock pot tomorrow morning.

  • The apple crisp for work will wait until Thursday night (we are having a Halloween party on Friday- so this is acceptable.)

  • I was going to get on the treadmill (I know- exercise should be a priority)

That leaves:

  • Post to my blog (check!)
  • Grocery shopping
  • Cleaning off my desk in the office
  • Cleaning clothes off of couch
  • 1 of 2 work assignments - will make tomorrow go much more smoothly if I can do this tonight! Won't get through both of them- but should I really be working on a Sunday???

Weekends never seem to be long enough. Or perhaps, my "to do" lists are never short enough...I always make a list and rarely find that I have time to accomplish everything on it. I need to scale down, and I need to exercise- these should be my priorities.

My "done" list for today is somewhat impressive- considering I slept in (must take care of myself first!).

  • I planted my daffodil bulbs
  • Paid bills
  • Filled in my mail in election ballot
  • Made a grocery list and completed part of my shopping
  • Made a list of chores for Jake (he needs money)
  • Composed email invite for my co-workers for Halloween party
  • Brought in and sorted through my Halloween decor
  • oH! and I completed my blog entry. (The End)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mel turns 40!!!!

This has been a particularly busy week...with a brand new birthday (Charlie), a more experienced birthday(mom) and now, a birthday that lands somewhere in between both (however leaning toward the more experienced type- heh,heh) My best girlfriend Melvin turns 40 today!

This is Melinda K. and you are absolutely right- she doesn't look 40 at all.

Melinda and I met our junior year of highschool. We were both teacher's aids for our creative writing/English teacher, Mrs Perry. This means that we have been best friends for over 20 years!

Melinda has been there for me through morning sickness, break ups, and wedding vows and a lot of drama and good times in between.

When I think of Melinda and food, I think of her Lasagna. She makes very good lasagna! I will share her recipe as soon as I can get it from her.

Melinda's comfort food is Ben and Jerry's Banana Split, but I have great memories of racing to McDonald's on our lunch break when we were in highschool and a very interesting discussion about chocolate milkshakes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Charlie Arrives!

Welcome Charlie!

As scheduled, Charles Nash VanderHouwen arrived midday yesterday. He is my 4th nephew and at a whopping 9lbs 15 oz, he may actually weigh in as the biggest baby ever born into our family.

I am told that both baby and mom, Michelle, are doing great, and my brother, Dennis, is just overjoyed.

In the spirit of my home cook-n blog, I decided to pull up a recipe in Charlie’s honor…a kid that big will no doubt have a voracious appetite.

While it may be a while before Charlie gains an appreciation for these wonderful no-bake cookies, I am certain that in a few years, both dinosaurs and cookies will be a common feature in the VanderHouwen household.


1/8 c. dirt (cocoa)

1 c. crushed bones (sugar)

1 c. grass (uncooked oatmeal)

1/4 c. swamp water (milk)

1/4 c. fat (butter)

1/4 c. squashed bugs (peanut butter)

Mix dirt and swamp water in a large saucepan. Add crushed bones and fat. Heat and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in grass and bugs. Drop on wax paper and cool until firm.

These go great with a tall glass of swamp water…and they taste best if children help make them!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Mom's 61st Birthday Post

This is my mom, and today is her 61st birthday!


Last year, the girls (mom, me, sis and sis in law) celebrated Mom's big 6-0 with a Wild WomanWeekend in San Francisco. The picture is Mom in her sparkly 60 tiara drinking one of many Bloody Marys consumed that weekend, and eating oysters on the pier. Indeed, a great time was had by all.

This year for her birthday Mom is in Denver with my brother and his wife awaiting the arrival of grandchild #7. If all goes according to plan, Little Charlie should enter the world today...right smack dab on Grandma's birthday. (They really did not need to go to all this mom is not difficult to buy for at all.. and she would have been happy enough with a card...and maybe a vanilla candle...) A grandbaby will be a nice present though, I have to admit.

As mentioned in my first blog, my mother is quite domesticated. Mom sews and cooks and she has a knack for decorating. She made our home a very warm and cozy place when we were growing up and I love her very much.

In honor of mom's 61 birthday, I am including one of the most memorable desserts she ever made- the infamous 16-layer chocolate cake recipe. (You can make 61 layers in honor of Mom, if you want, but after you get to layer 10, you will probably agree that 16 is more than enough!) I entered this cake (slightly modified with a Grand Marnier emphasis) in the Evergreen state fair two years ago and won 2nd place. When you cut into this cake, people will comment- it is impressive to see the thin chocolate and white layers. The cake is dense and the flavor is wonderful.

16-Layer Chocolate Cream Cake
(by Rose Naftalin)


1lb sweet butter
2T orange liqueur
2c sugar
8T cocoa
12 eggs, seperated
6T heavy cream, or sour cream
4c Cake flour
1/2t salt
Grated orange rind
Powdered Sugar

Prehead oven to 350. Grease four 9" cake pans. In a lg bowl cream the butter while gradually adding one cup of the sugar. Add egg yolks one by one, beating after each addition. Sift flour with salt and add to the butter mixture. Add orange rind and Grand Marnier. Set aside.

Beat egg whites until quite stiff. Add the rest of the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition and continuing to beat until the whites form a stiff meringue. Fold the beaten whites very carefully into the flour mixture. Divide the batter in half and put it into two bowls. To one bowl, add the cocoa and cream.
Put 3 tablespoons of white batter in each of the four pans and with a spatula smooth the batter into as thin a layer as possible. Bake thees four white layers for 15 minutes and turn out of the pans onto a cloth sprinkled with powdered sugar. Cover them with another cloth so they won't dry out. Make four more layers of the white cake (no need to regrease the pans for the 2nd baking). Turn them out and cover as before.

After finishing the white layers, wash and grese the pans. Bake eight thin layers of chocolate batter in two batches as above. While these are cooling, make the custard filling which will hold the layers together.
1 pint cream
1/2c flour
6 egg yolks
1/2 lb sweet butter
1/2c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Put all ingredients except butter and vanilla in the top of a double boiler and cook until thick. Pour the mixture into a bowl and gradually beat in the butter. Keep beating unitl creamy and cool. Add vanilla.
Stack the layers of cake, alternating white and chocolate, with a coating of custard between them. Leave the top layer dry.
1c sweet butter
2tsp vanilla
2c powdered sugar
dash of salt
3/4c cocoa
2Tbsp hot black coffee
4 eggs
Toasted almonds (optional)

Cream the butter and gradually beat in the sugar, cocoa, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Beat until creamy and add coffee. Frost the sides and top of the cake. Decorate the top with toasted almonds.

My Little Cookbook Addiction

I have a little cookbook problem. An addiction really. I have a library of culinary guides the size of a small bookstore. Hundreds of 'em. And It has gotten a little out of control.

Some of the highlights of my collection:

  • My oldest cookbook is from the late 1800's. It is called "Ice Cream and Cakes" and I picked it up at a yard sale for 50 cents. It is worth about $500 dollars (and I did not know this when I bought it!)
  • The Cookbook I use most: The Joy of Cooking - this is a great reference book for everything from how to cut a pineapple, to a how to make Hollandaise sauce.
  • Most Sentimental: My Grandma VanderHouwen's old Betty Crocker Cookbook. This contains her recipes for Divinity and for Cream Puffs. My sister surprised me with this a few years ago. One of the best gifts I have ever received.
  • My first: The Rodale Cookbook: Very healthy, lots of grains. A graduation present from my mom's sister, Aunt Karen- who makes the best pie crust ever!
  • My latest cookbook: The Plank Grilling Cookbook- picked from the prize room at work. Something new to try.
  • An extension of this collection is my love of old recipe boxes with handwritten recipes. I have about 6 of these that I have picked up on Ebay, in antique stores and at estate sales. There is just something so personal to me about these treasure boxes. I like to believe that these collections were the cherished works of women who loved culinary arts as much as me. My favorite collection comes from the south, with cards dated from the 1930's. There are some really unique cake recipes in that one.
  • And finally, my Martha Stewart Living collection. I am only missing about a dozen of these issues since they debuted. I have a big collection of her books and her FOOD magazines...I like her.

    I am hoping to get the Herb Farm Cookbook next. There are actually two books from the Herb Farm that I would like to add to my collection. (maybe for my birthday, or Christmas..hint, hint.) I will tell you more about the Herb Farm later
    because Simon is taking me there for my birthday next month.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Three wishes...

(The picture "Three Wishes" was created by

1) I WISH that it was Friday night (because that would make tomorrow Saturday)

2) I WISH that Simon hadn't drank all the beer. It seems that ever since he learned that he is about to become half American...well, let's just say that Frogboy has started to adopt some really unsavory, redneck-like behaviors. This is just so uncharacteristic....Drinking a whole case of New Belgian assortment in less than two weeks and leaving NONE for the woman who brought him to this great country. I am just really disappointed... and a little thirsty.

3) I WISH that someone honest and respectable would run for president. I know it is the nature of politics, and perhaps I am a bit naive, but is having someone on the ballot who possesses exceptional character and integrity really too much to ask for? This is very possibly THE most important job in the world. Just once I would like have the option to cast a vote for a candidate who doesn't stoop to mudslinging, pandering, blatant lies and misrepresentation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Another very important man in my life...

This is Jake. And this is Jake's pizza recipe:

Jacobini Boucherini Sausage Pizzarelli
One Boboli Pizza Crust w/sauce
One tube of ground sausage
Shredded Mozzarella
Grated Parmasean Cheese
An assortment of spices (he would not tell me what these were, specifically, but I think I saw him with a jar of cajun seasoning)

1) Make it into a pizza. = )

(We are definately going to miss this kid when he leaves for college!)

Jake just turned 18 and he is an incredible person. I know this because I have known him for his entire life. In fact...I am actually the reason he has a life.
Sure...go ahead and say it.."No way, how can someone as young as you have a son who is 18????" I know, it seems impossible, but indeed he is mine. I just had him when I was very young.

Jake will be graduating from school in June 2009. The same month that Simon and I will be getting our degrees. Only Jake is getting two accolades in June- both his high school diploma and his Associate degree. (Impressive, eh?)

I am hesitant to tell you what his plans are, because like most 18 year olds, nothing is for certain and it is all just a bit too overwhelming- there are just too many great opportunities to choose from. But it looks now like Jake will be headed to Boise State University to complete his Bachelors degree next fall. His dad and I are just very proud of him. Jake first applied to attend Boise state when he was in the eighth grade. The admissions department called me to get his registration fee and I had to let them know that Jake had jumped the gun a little- that he wouldn't be attending for another 5 years. So unless something has changed between then and now, I feel confident that he will have no trouble getting accepted at BSU...heck, they might even be expecting him!!

Jake is one of those fortunate people who has never really had to work very hard to be successful. School (especially math) comes easy to him, and he is quite talented at playing the bass. Sausage Pizza? He makes it look like child's play. Jake has also had the opportunity to travel a bit. He has been to Mexico, England and France and I have been completely amazed at his comfort level when he has been emersed in these cultures. He picks up languages quickly and he does great impersonations. (Particularly, William Shatner and, now, Obama)

Growing up, Jake's favorite food was grilled cheese sandwiches. He liked to dip them in ketchup. Now I am not completely certain what his favorite food is, although I often find bottles of allsport and sobe in his room, along with candy and cookie wrappers- I think it is safe to say that he likes junkfood.

When asked where Jake would like to go for his birthday he invariably chooses Palisades - which is a very expensive fine dining establishment in Seattle. He has good taste, that kid. He also is quite smitten lately with the $1.25 tacos that are served up on a local taco truck in town.

Jake is another important man in my you will also be hearing a lot about him here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Quickest Way to a Man's Heart...

For Simon, it was Salmon poached in a mustard cream sauce.

This is Simon (aka: frogboy). The man of my dreams. Simon and I met at work one fateful day and fell in love. Marrying him was the best decision I ever made. He is very possibly the best husband ever- a very patient, generous, supportive and kind person. He has beautiful blue eyes and a very sexy English accent.

Because Simon is my best friend, you will probably be hearing a lot about him here.

The recipe above is very close to the one that I prepared the first night I asked Simon to dinner. the Bon Appetite recipe that I used called for sherry, instead of white wine, and shallots instead of onions. This goes very well with red potatoes and asparagas. We have also substituted chicken.

A few things about Simon that you many not know:
  • Simon is a Starbuck's trained Barista. He may have been raised on tea and crumpets, but the man makes a beautiful cup of coffee.
  • In June Simon will complete his Master's Degree in Manufacturing Engineering
  • On October 28, Simon will throw away his green card and be sworn in as a bonafide American citizen! (He will still be half-English)
  • Simon loves camping gear, personal finance, travel, wine and microbrews. He is a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but he is as adventurous as I am when it comes to trying new foods and new places.
  • Simon loves strawberries and English fish and chips. He believes strongly in having a cooked breakfast on the weekend. When he came to the United States he discovered Clam Chowder and Tacos, but I like to think that he sticks around because of my culinary abilities.

Stay tuned for updates on can also view our shared blogspot at

Monday, October 13, 2008

How did I ever get so gosh darn domesticated??

A very good question...if I do ask so, myself.

I guess I would attribute the bulk of my domestic knowledge to the fact that I have had some wonderfully domesticated women in my life.

My mother (as you can see here: is a fine example of a fabulous homemaker. I washed many dirty dishes when I was younger that were a direct biproduct of her culinary skill and almost everything I know about making a welcome and comfortable home can be attributed to her.

My mother's mother, Grandma Elaine, is my only surviving grandmother. She makes the best sugar cookies in the world and I think she may very well hold the record for the cleanest home in the universe.

My father's mother was a beautiful, family loving, Italian woman. Grandma Muriel is the reason why spaghetti and meatballs are my comfort food. She made cream puffs and apple pie and pie crust cinnamon rolls. I have so many fond memories of holidays and Sunday dinners at my grandparent's home- with our cousins and good food and card games.

I grew up on a farm where we had an abundance of fresh food. A freezer stocked with homegrown beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Canned goods in the celler, fresh milk and cream from the neighbor's dairy, eggs from the nest and fruit and vegetables straight from the plant. We even had fresh honey from my dad's bee hives. A very, very charmed life I had indeed!

My younger sister and I used to host cooking shows in the kitchen using fresh ingredients from our garden (for some reason, I recall that we used a lot of potatoes and eggs in these shows), we made a lot of chocolate chip cookies too!

It is my plan to highlight these very influential people and others in upcoming blogs. I will share recipes, helpful hints for balancing life and work, beautiful places I travel to, and other wonderful things I discover along the way. Stay tuned!