Ode to Pizza

I woke up this morning with pizza on the brain (admittedly, it’s probably because I fell asleep watching Ugly Delicious last night), which got me to thinking of just how much I love a beautifully executed pie. We had talked about going to Italy this year but had chosen not to before the pandemic even happened, yet I still can’t stop dreaming of the day that I make it to the birth place of the ‘za

When you step back just a moment to look at food for more than just something to eat, it’s mind-blowing what you learn about history and culture. I’m not going there today (but may in the future, it’s something that been on my mind a lot) but the history of pizza is a fascinating one (Pizza in America even moreso!). Before I carry on, I have to give you a few fun stats just to get you into the pizza is love mind-set.

According to The Sauce by Slice, Americans eat an average of 46 slices a year-which is equivalent to 23 pounds of pizza! (I would say…accurate.) It gets better though! This equates to 350 slices of pizza eaten per second in America! That means in the time it takes you to read this sentence approximately 700 slices of delicious pizza will have been consumed by our fellow Americans! (I hear ‘Proud to be an American’ in a totally new light now.)

So since travelling for ‘za isn’t something I can safely do right now, I thought I’d reminisce on the pizzas of my past-and if you love pizza as much as I do, maybe this will inspire some of your own future pizza treks!

I wouldn’t say I’ve had every pizza from every region or that I am a PhD in PP (pizza pies, duh), but I do have some serious feels about those I’ve tried.

Look at that lacy caramelized crust. Thank you, Pequod’s. Just thank you.
  • Favorite Chicago deep dish: Pequod’s. I will fight you on this.
  • Favorite Chicago pizza I have yet to try: Piece. (I’ve actually been here but it was just for a beer!)
  • Favorite chain pizza: Jet’s, or Blaze (depending on what I’m craving).
  • Favorite Big Pizza Chain: I’d have to say Domino’s (I worked there in college).
  • Favorite local pizza: Pizzeria Antica
  • Favorite random slice memory: My first slice from a random spot in NYC. We just walked in somewhere, I don’t think it even had a sign, ordered a slice the size of our heads, and ate it. (Also seeing the LARGEST Sbarro EVER in Times Square. I was so confused. Yes, it’s Michael Scott’s Sbarro. However, it has since closed.)
  • Favorite mall pizza: Rocky Rococo (which sadly doesn’t seem to exist many places except Wisconsin now. We found one last time we were up there and it was just as delicious as I remember).
  • Favorite pizza topping: difficult but here’s my top three:
    • just cheese (typically this means mozzarella),
    • pepperoni,
    • sausage and mushroom
Lupo, how do you get that crust?? Swoon.
  • Favorite pizza owned by my favorite band: Lupo
  • Favorite style of pizza: Neapolitan, followed by cracker thin crust, and then a good hand-tossed. But to be fair, all pizza is good pizza.
  • Favorite frozen pizza brand: Red Baron. I don’t even know if it’s objectively that good but it’s been my go-to for a long time.
  • Favorite pizza memory as a child: Ordering a Tombstone pizza from the ‘Lounge’ (aka, the bar) with my grandpa. They had a specific pizza oven that just made that frozen pizza taste amazing.
  • Favorite pizza-adjacent food: Pizza Rolls. Sometimes you just need a plate of scalding hot pizza rolls to course correct your life.
  • Least favorite pizza topping: oddly doesn’t exist, I’m even okay with pineapple given very specific circumstances
  • Least favorite chain pizza: Papa John’s; but I’ll eat it when I have to. I guess.
  • Weirdest best slice: a tie, oddly with the same person.  In Chicago at Eataly and the walk up window at Pizza al Taglio in Walt Disney World.
  • Pizza-related travel that I’m most looking forward to: Heading to Italy for a pizza making class and doing a pizza bus tour in New York City.
  • Last but not least, thoughts on homemade pizza: I enjoy making dough and sauce from scratch and have even made some pretty tasty ‘zas in my own oven but… ultimately I leave pizza up to the pros.

I want to hear your thoughts! What pizza is worth traveling for? What is your #1 favorite topping? What are your fun pizza-related stories?  Do you have an amazing at-home pizza recipe? Are you just not a fan of pizza (why is that)? Comment below!

Pizza cheers!

Yes, those are typical sized paper plates.

Book Reviews (January-March) It was a quarter of memoirs!

If you’re reading this, congratulations! You made it through at least four whole months of 2020! You made it through days that had barely enough sunlight and the blob of candy-coated goodness that is Valentine’s Day. You also welcomed the beautiful time change and hopefully, some nicer weather! Yeah, you ‘welcomed’ in a few things we never even thought were imaginable but yet-here we are!

I started 2020 at a good pace but March was a tough one, yet for the first quarter I was able to finish 16 (mostly) wonderful stories!

1. Permanent Record, Edward Snowden (biography): I realize I’m now on lists and how important it is to care I’m on lists even if I “never do anything wrong anyway”. I enjoyed learning more about Snowden’s moral obligations and just how heavy of a burden knowledge can be. I recognize laws are typically archaic when it comes to the protection from, and regulation of, technology but I am mad as hell that we (the public) aren’t holding more folks accountable when it comes to our electronic selves. A+

2. Unpregnant, Jenni Hendriks, Ted Caplan (young adult): So after starting the year pissed as hell, I needed a soft read. I realize I dip into young adult fiction and that may cause some folks to judge me but I don’t mind. To me, a well-written story is a well-written story and this book was just that. This book still had hints of seriousness (like any book about a teenager who finds herself pregnant after precautions would) and pointed out very real scenarios-but also some incredibly outlandish ones as well that just created a funny, serious story. A note this book does talk about abortion access, but does a fair job of exploring the narrative of why access to full health care is a woman’s right. A

3. Evvie Drake Starts Over, Linda Holmes (humor, romance): A light love story that really did draw me in. Yes, it’s a typical love story scenario but the character development is solid enough to make it a light read. A

4. Blood, Bones, and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton (memoir): I will always love me an intimate look into the life of a chef! Hamilton’s story was far grittier than I expected. Again (remember, I often pick the book on the subject rather than knowing much about the author), I knew very little of her professional accomplishments before reading her story but I greatly respect her work now that I am familiar. If you’re like me and ask yourself, “I wonder how they got to be who they are” a lot about other humans and/or are interested in what it’s like to be a woman in the food industry, you’d probably enjoy this book too. A

5. Rising Strong, Brene Brown (personal development): I love me some Brene, obviously; but this was like the capstone book in her repertoire. For me, this book built off other (awesome) ideas Brown has produced and added those final touches and ultimately asked-how do you rebound when you get knocked on your ass? I still have one or two of her older works on my list that I can’t wait to get through! If you’re wanting to delve into the Brene Brown catalog, you may find this blog post helpful on where to start. A

6. We’re Going to Need More Wine, Gabrielle Union (biography): I wasn’t expecting what I got from this book-it’s a really good read. It was a read I needed to have. It’s probably a read you could use as well. A

7. The Moment of Lift, Linda Gates (memoir): I appreciated reading about how inspiration is a causal effect throughout life and that science can be the carrier of that. This is a book that definitely empowers you to go forth and make changes however you can so you can help others. If you need to be reminded of your power, give it a try! B

8. Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl (memoir ): Yes, this is another book about food written by someone I initially didn’t know much about. Several people recommended this book to me and I finally remembered to add it to my list-and I’m so glad I did! Reichl’s time as a food critic was really fun (and funny) to read about but the polarity she draws to how difficult it can be to be a woman ‘critic’ really spoke to me. I can’t wait til the library opens and I can check out her cookbook! A

9. Save me the Plums, Ruth Reichl (memoir): Why not, right? I’m glad I got the timeline correct when reading these two books by Reichl because this is the ‘after’ of Reichl’s time as a New York Time’s food critic and moved into her role as editor in chief at a fancy food magazine. I’m a big fan of several food magazines but ultimately were birthed from Groumet (and more than likely, I appreciate them because of the incredible work Reichl did to change the course of the industry) and I enjoyed learning more about the rise, fall, and odd rebirth of these types of publications. I also just find Reichl to be pretty down to Earth and wish she was my friend. A

10. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling (memoir, humor): Okay, yes, I’ve read this before. Like, twice-ish before, but hear me out! I love Kaling and I needed humor in my life! This book is funny, relatable, and is like an old college hoodie to me-you put it on when you crave familiar comfort…maybe it won’t be the same for you but I do recommend it if you need to laugh. A+

11. Know My Name, Chanel Miller (biography): Wow. Before I start to talk about the story itself and how difficult it was to read I want to preface by sharing that Miller is a phenomenal writer. I am grateful for her ability to string together words in such a beautiful way especially when writing about a really ugly topic. You may not know her name but sadly you probably know a version of a story from her life. Miller’s ability to articulate her life before, during, and after being an unwilling participant in a sexual assault crime is so poignant. Trying to phrase these thoughts was difficult enough, I can’t fathom actually telling the story. A+

12. The Best of Enemies, Jen Lancaster (fiction): Eh, not my favorite from Lancaster but it was witty enough to keep my interest. A ‘beach read’ perhaps? The story was relatable only for the fact that I know what it’s like to be the ‘middle’ friend. C

13. Dad is Fat, Jim Gaffigan (humor, memoir): I am not a parent, but I do appreciate the humor related to being a parent. If you need a laugh about being a parent here you go. It’s no diarrhea pockets but it’s still funny. B

14. Revenge Wears Prada, The Devil Returns, Lauren Weisberger (fiction): I kept waiting and waiting for this book to crescendo and… *queue sad trombone*. What a let down from the other books I’ve read by Weisberger. It was fine (?) but I don’t really see this living up the title of the book. C

15. Twice in a Blue Moon, Christina Lauren (fiction, romance): *queue a smaller, sadder, trombone* I realize it may because I had just finished #14 but I found this book flat, too. Another ‘fine’ story if you just need junk food in the form of a love story. C

16. Inside Out, Demi Moore (biography): Honestly, I think I’m a little too young to have appreciated Moore in all of her glory (I’ve never watched Ghost, oops) but I did appreciate her story. There seemed to be pieces missing to create a complete picture, though? C

Books that were ‘50ed’:

  • Semicolon, Cecelia Watson-it was a cute book that just didn’t keep my attention-but how cute to write a love story to the semicolon!
  • Rest, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang- I was just not in the mood to learn about rest.
  • The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins-wasn’t in the mood for this one either *shrug*

34 more books to go to reach my 2020 goal!

What are you reading currently? Have any favorites so far this year?

Well, This Was Not in the Plan

Well, shit. I have been thinking about what I wanted to say in this post for over a month now. In Illinois, we’ve been sheltering in place for over a month since March 20th  and learned recently we have (at least) another month to go. I have a lot of big and conflicting feelings about this pandemic and I’ve debated on whether or not anyone truly wanted to read about them. So, if you don’t, or can’t, take anymore  thoughts about COVID-19 that’s okay-I promise to limit your exposure via FeedFunnyMe after this post and I wish you a good day! To those still reading, here we go.

Usually March is one of my favorite months. I love to see Spring sneak in all those beautiful flowers and I get to celebrate my birthday (and my husband’s birthday, we’re exactly one week a part). March is usually a month spent standing on the proverbial starting line, anxiously waiting for all the Fun to begin. Okay, yes, in Illinois there is often a snow blizzard mixed in there but you see where I’m going right? March is a crescendo into the big production of the year!

Well, a global pandemic is not the production I thought I’d ever star in yet -here we are. And here is what it’s been like for me.

I had been reading about COVID-19 in the news since early January and spent a few minutes here and there being weary of what this meant for the world. I watched as China worked relentlessly to slow their spread and then…it popped up in Italy and wrecked even more havoc. By mid-February I was certain that, at some level, the United States would come to know this virus, too. Then came March. Yay, March!

The second week of March (right before spring break for the university where I am an adjunct instructor) was the beginning of the rapid changes in my life. The course I teach is on Tuesday mornings and I had brought in doughnuts to celebrate National Social Worker Month with my graduate students before they left for spring break. We spent a part of class that morning writing kind letters to each other as something to reflect on when times were tough in the future and then another to ourselves reminding us of our conviction to serve others. It was a great morning! But there was an unspoken anxiety in the room-several large universities had already extended spring breaks by then, while others were talking about this whole ‘virtual learning’ idea. We talked about it a little and I remember thinking how sad I’d be if that was the last class where we were all together in person. After class I met with the associate dean who told me to prepare to move my course on-line “for the time being.”

And so started the constant motion. At that point, things were changing several times every 15 minutes (and I don’t think that’s too much of an exaggeration).  We sat and watched as everything was postponed, cancelled, closed, moved on-line, and ultimately turned upside down. I don’t feel the need to remind everyone of what that was like, but the weight of knowing that we were all going through that at the same time was heavy.  The worry, the uncertainty, the pace…it doesn’t feel like it happened a month ago. Sometimes it feels like life has been like this forever, other times it feels like it just happened yesterday.

Boggins and I learning about COVID-19 while working from home. I have appreciated the extra snuggles.

I have felt every emotion to some degree, and feel multiple emotions at any given time. Mostly I’m okay-I’m grateful that both my husband and myself are able to work from home. I appreciate that we’re able to be safe and healthy together and that we can support our local community in various ways. But the second I start thinking about the world outside my door-I kind of lose it. I love watching videos of kindness but cycle through emotions quickly-starting with joy, marching into sadness, and breaking in anger. Many of the issues we are seeing addressed are issues whether there’s a pandemic or not, and I pray that now that the box has been open, many of the safety net options never go back inside.

So what has life been like for me? Well, I have spent a lot of time just simply surviving. I have granted myself a hell of a lot of grace. Like many, I have either been super productive or completely wasted (emotionally, not like, beverage-wise). I feel what many of you are feeling-I miss my life, I worry about others, and I hope for the best. Trajectory is something I often think about and obviously, everyone’s paths have been rewritten (and paused) for the foreseeable future. My plans for this year not only have been put on hold but haven’t been replaced with anything and that void is where I sometimes sit and struggle. I’m okay until my brain starts thinking of something fun to do and realizes that we can’t make that a reality just yet, and then I’m not okay for a bit.

I realize my extreme privilege throughout this writing. Truthfully it’s really hard to write just from my own perspective because I don’t want to come off spoiled or as through I’m whining about seemingly minor inconveniences when there are many who are facing very different scenarios. But, this is me honoring me for a moment.  And in truth, I do appreciate the lessons I’ve learned over the last 5 or so weeks. I’m grateful to be able to ‘learn lessons’ right now and the two best ones have been in grace and humility.

 Grace to myself and others that we’re all doing our best. Grace to accept help and kindness. Grace to offer what I can but recognizing my own limits.  I haven’t been able to give much to others right now, which usually is an area where I shine.  And that’s where part of that humility comes in. Recognizing that it’s okay that I’m not making the masks and the cookies and doing all the Zoom calls right now. Having the humility to see that we all present ourselves in a certain way usually…but in unprecedented times, that façade quickly evaporates.  It’s freeing to just be humans with other humans. And I am grateful for the moments when we’re all able to do that together.

Just some of the kindness I’ve received from a friend, my own Easter basket!

I’m slowly started to have more resiliency.  Originally, any time I was faced with a reminder of how weird life is right now, I wouldn’t be okay. I would rather just act as though everyone was busy than to do a Zoom happy hour and only see my loved ones on a screen. The first time I had to go grocery shopping and wear a mask I had a panic attack in the car. I cried at a stop light when I passed my office and remembered that I was effectively banned from turning into the driveway. I have had some beautiful friends practice amazing kindness toward me and as soon as I would turn away from seeing them (from at least six feet on my porch) I would just fall apart.

But it’s getting better.

 I know I’m not alone in these feelings and to those of you who are saying, “me too” please take comfort in knowing that no one is truly alone right now. Often our pain and sadness gets pushed into very lonely places but right now-everyone is impacted and feeling pieces of this (at varying degrees) and that is a freeing (yet for us empaths, also a heartbreaking) thought.

I apologize for the brain dump here folks but if I didn’t acknowledge all of that I just wouldn’t find it appropriate to move on to posting more ‘normal’ things. So here I say, I see all of you, I recognize your feelings, and I appreciate everything you’re doing to survive (and thrive) right now. Thank you for everything you’re doing!!!  I hope this stands as a testament that we’re never truly alone and the human heart has the capacity to do phenomenal things.

Oh. And the last thing I’ll say before I segway here is-trust science (I’m a scientist, after all).

 Now what?

I soon will be done with the spring course I was instructing giving me time to focus on cooking more, writing more, and generally being present here more. I’m going to use this time (however long it may be) to focus on getting these thoughts and crazy ideas out of my head and into (somewhat) tangible words! So stay tuned, we’ll have some fun amidst the chaos!

And if you would like to receive some real mail make sure you email me your home address at cortney@feedfunnyme.com. I promise, it’s safe!

Take care of yourself however you need to today, friends. <3

Welcome Home!

Well look at this, Feed Funny Me is now its’ own website! A dear friend of mine has such faith in my little slice of the internet that she gifted me my own .com! Soon you’ll see my own posts migrate over and new content show up! I started to blog as a way to be accountable and share both the happy and the contemplative and I’m honored that you all enjoy reading along.

One of my favorite things in life is receiving mail and as I was thinking about how I wanted to celebrate FFM’s first birthday…as well as my own I decided I wanted to gift my friends with mail! That’s right, real mail to your mailbox for you to enjoy and celebrate along with me! If you’d like to receive a letter, email me  your full  address (I promise, only I will see it) and I will send you mail! Let’s celebrate folks, there are fun things ahead!

A Simple, Absolute Jam

I realized I had some berries in the fridge yesterday that were past the point of eating fresh but in light of the current situation, I didn’t just want to toss them out. So hey, why not try and make jam and see how it shakes out and-woah! It was a de-light and incredibly simple to make! So if you find yourself with too many berries and not enough time to eat them as we quarantine for a bit, give this a try. It should work with any berry (I used ripe strawberries and blueberries). This isn’t meant to be a shelf-stable concoction (there’s not enough pectin or preservatives) but it sure is tasty the next day on toast!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • ½ pint of strawberries that were almost past their prime, hulled and halved
  • Like 15 blueberries left from blueberry muffins a couple weeks ago, whole
  • A good squirt of honey (like 2-3 Tbs)
  • A little sugar (1/4 C-but more/less based on sweetness preference. You can always try the jam as it cooks to see.)
  • A splash of water to get things going (1/3 C)
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
    • Optional: any baking spices you enjoy. I added a smidge of cinnamon

Made about (?) a cup of jam. I should really take better notes…
 
Directions
Add everything to a sauce pan and set over medium heat, stir and break down the berries as things start warming up. Turn your heat down (medium low, it should still bubble a little, but not boiling) once you see the mixture start breaking down and turning into jam (!!). Continue to cook and break down your berries 10-15 minutes. Once everything is all jam-like, let cool and pulse through with an immersion blender to your preferred state (we like a little chunk). I didn’t notice any issues with seeds, but if this is something you’re particular about, you could strain everything. Once cooled, add to a glass jar with a lid and store in the fridge! I’m not sure how long it’ll keep, but you probably won’t have to worry about that-it’s too good to keep around!
 
Use on toast, sandwiches, ice cream, a spoon…

 

Spicy Pulled Pork Tacos? Carnitas? Tasty Meats?

While I’m not sure what to call this recipe I know one thing for sure is that it’s delicious no matter the name. I have adapted this recipe from several others that I’ve found over time (the original inspiration is from SkinnyTaste and this recipe is amazing). I have made this for several taco parties we’ve hosted and this tasty pork is in heavy rotation for weekly meals. I’ll be honest that I’m not sure how to adapt it if you don’t have an electric pressure cooker but I would assume you could do this in a slow cooker for 5-6 hours. The recipe below makes 8-10 (generous) tacos! This also freezes well!
 
Ingredients
4-5 lb. pork shoulder (leave the fat cap on)
1 can of chilies in adobo*
1 orange
1 lime
4-5 garlic cloves
1 tsp of Better than Bouillon roasted vegetable base
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs of cumin
1 Tbs of onion powder
½ tsp of oregano
8-10 cranks of black pepper (so like, a teaspoon?)
A pinch of salt to taste
Water**
 
*Here’s the deal, chilies in adobo is a wonderful culinary delight. Obviously I’m a house-renowned home non-celebrity chef so I have a lot of clout here.  But this little can packs so.much.flavor. But take my warning, they are volatile! If you want to go all in, pour the whole can in and call it a spicy night. This is what I do, so the spice factor of this recipe is based on that.  If you only add 1-2 peppers, you will need to adjust the water content below.
**if you use the whole can of chilies, then add 1 can full of water to the pressure cooker. If you use less, add more water to ensure you have enough water to pressurize the pork! The Better than Bouillon is two-fold in the recipe: it’s there to add awesome flavor but also to take the place of stock. If you prefer to use stock, do that in place of the water!
 
Mise in place:
  • peel and sliver garlic
  • wash, smash (roll around on the counter), and slice orange and lime
  • measure all dry ingredients into a bowl
Directions
  1. Piquer your pork with said garlic slivers. (what is piquer? It’s a fancy term for stabbing holes in the meat and shoving ingredients, such as garlic, into the holes)- set aside for a minute. Look. Some people would say to combine the dry ingredients and then rub them on the pork but I’m lazy and it just comes off so-you do you.
  2. Add all other ingredients into the pressure cooker (dried ingredients, chilies in adobo, water, half of the orange and lime slices, Better Than Bouillon) and set to sauté until bubbling- this will help your pressure cooker from up to temperature quicker. Turn off once bubbling.
  3. Add pork and roll around in the sauce, end with fat slab up
  4. Add the rest of the lime and orange slices on top of the pork
  5. Set on manual for 60 minutes and go do something else.
—60 minutes later—
  1. As the pressure cooker naturally releases, start phase two. You can totally skip this and allow the pork to naturally release, pull it out, let it cool enough to shred, add some of the left over sauce (you can remove the bay leaves and blend this for extra yum) and serve but here’s my part two:
  2. Turn on oven to ‘broil’
  3. Pull pork out once the pressure cooker releases set aside to cool
  4. Fish around for bay leaves and remove, remove some peppers if you’d like to control your heat level! And use immersion blender to blend sauce up. Yes, limes and oranges stay in. Lumps are okay (preferred for me).
  5. Shred your pork and put it on a rimmed jelly pan (this pan is about to get gross, sorry). You do remove the fat cap but, you can cut in some of this fat if you’d like because this step is basically frying your pork in the oven.
  6. Pour sauce over pork, moderately covered
  7. Slide pan into oven carefully (WARNING: DO NOT WALK AWAY. BROILERS ARE SNEAKY. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE IF YOU BURN YOUR FOOD OR YOUR HOUSE!)
  8. Watch pan, you want to see brown crispy meats, but not burnt meats. You can flip meat once you see this happen to get as much texture as you want. This takes me about 5-10 minutes in my oven and depends how wet my pork is.
  9. Warm your tortillas while you watch the meats. (DO NOT STOP WATCHING THE MEATS.)
 
Serve with warm tortillas (I prefer corn), cilantro, sour cream, cojita cheese, and fresh lime wedges
 
Excuse me, I need to go eat all the tacos now. Let me know if you want to have a taco party!

Using All My Vacation Days in 2020

I’m finally settling into 2020 and starting to think about all the exciting adventures I have planned! Below is a quick synopsis of what it currently on the calendar and I’m curious-what events would you like to hear about and what pieces? The food? How to travel on a budget? Reviews? Other ideas?

 Food and fun is pretty much my mission (mixed in with self-compassion and growth) and I enjoy writing but I’m curious what would be interesting for others to hear about.
 
March Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time is see the Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day. I know it’s a hot mess party at 10 a.m. but this is on my list of random adventures and it just so happens to line up with when we’re already planning to be in the city for a concert.
 
April Spring brings my favorite sport of all sports-baseball.  I’ll be heading back up to Chicago for a girls day of beer, The Cubs, and shopping. Want to hear how to get your best friend of 20+ years all to yourself and getting into some shenanigans in the city works out? Best hot dogs in Wrigley?
 
June My husband has a conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, and I’m going to tag along for a much different type of trip-one where I spend most of the time alone. Solo adventures are something that interest I’m interested in but at the same time, terrify me.  Come June though, I’m going to give it a go-want to follow along?
 
July Remember last year when I randomly asked my roomie for life to venture into the heat of the summer and stand in a two hour line for cookies? Well, we had so much fun we’re thinking of making it an annual tradition! Unsure where we’ll end up (suggestions that are drive-able in the Midwest?) but wherever we are, it’ll be a 100% hoot.
 
September Another random adventure that’s been on my list for a long time is to visit Minnesota. Far enough away to not been a quick trip and close enough we can still drive it without killing each other (fingers crossed) Minneapolis will have two new occupants for a week in the fall. But why? Because of the Minnesota State Fair and the Mall of America! And the sculpture garden!  And all the other wonderful things Minneapolis-St. Paul has to offer. I’m really stoked for this trip, you’ll hear about it regardless.
 
November And to end out the year on the best note possible, another visit to Florida. The best part of Florida. Do I really need to tell you what that is? No, not Gator World. NO NOT THAT GOLF COURSE.  We’re heading back ‘home’ to Walt Disney World for a few days. Want to see how and why two adults enjoy this trek so often (be fair here, I haven’t been in over a year now)? This trip may end up being two-fold: WDW with my hubs and also a few days spent before with my first college roommate and another friend from college getting our wizard on at Universal Studios! 
 
There will be random adventures for sure, but these are the ones I can say with some sense of certainty I’ll be enjoying in 2020. Let me know what tickles your fancy! I have a few past trips I want to share when I can get them written out (Wisconsin? Louisville? Cleveland, Ohio!?)
 
Also, stay tuned for something SUPER FUN next month. Not just my birthday but it is my birth month so…send cake!

Super Bowls! (AKA Cream Cheese Bowl)

Well, here we are folks. It’s Sports Bowl Day! AKA, the day we all eat blocks and blocks of cream cheese! This year I actually have a minimal interest in the game because someone from my alma mater is playing—and it’s for the same team my husband likes! It’s the only time we really get to cheer for the same time so-Go 49ers!
 
This year I’m still in charge of bringing the side snacks to our get together and I decided to go 100% predictable and bring two dip bowls that always please. While everyone probably has their own recipe for both of these, I enjoy seeing different takes so I can perfect my own recipe. If you have something fun that you do for either of these, please share!
 
Buffalo Chicken Dip
  • 2 cans of chicken breast, drained (or a whole well-shredded rotisserie chicken)
  • 2 8oz cream cheese, softened (I tend to do one original and one 1/3 less fat)
  • 1 cup of blue cheese dressing (you can use ranch dressing, or a ranch dressing packet and sour cream/Greek yogurt)
  • ½-1 cup of Sweet Baby Ray’s Buffalo Wing Sauce (Frank’s also makes a good one) *this is try and taste*
  • 1-2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I prefer to grate my own because the shredded cheese in the store doesn’t melt was well due to anti-caking agents) *you can play around with the cheese here as much as you’d like. There’s a lot of fat in this recipe so using something a little sharper helps balance through*
Add all of these into a slow cooker on low and let it melt and combine. Stir and watch that it doesn’t separate!
 
If you need to do this on a stovetop, I would mix the cream cheese, dressing, and wing sauce together over medium heat until smooth. Add the shredded cheese in batches (so it doesn’t separate) over a medium-low heat. Add the chicken last and warm to enjoy!
 
I serve this with tortilla chips, butter cracker rounds, carrots, and celery.
Chili Cheese Beer Dip
(This is pretty much the only time I enjoy American cheese)
  • 2 cans of chili (whatever type you and your guests enjoy-with or without beans, vegetarian, etc.)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes and green chilies (there’s a lot of fun ones out there, the fire roasted versions are tasty in this!) Drain but reserve the juice in case the dip is tight when it melts together. You can also use a variety of salsas here!
  • 1 8oz block of cream cheese
  • 2 cups of shredded/cubed cheese (whatever your style, but that American cheese log melts beautifully.)
  • 1 cup of beer (lager style)

Why the beer? The same reason for sharp cheese in the buffalo dip-it adds a dimension to flavor that cuts through all the fat on your tongue. It also helps thin the dip so it doesn’t immediately congeal.

You can also do this in a slow cooker but take note that you should still start the beer on the stove top. Pour the beer into a small sauce pan and allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes. This removes about 80-90% of the alcohol content, which is important if kiddos will be enjoying your food (or anyone else who abstains from alcohol). The rest should cook out as the dip comes together and sits out; leaving you with just the acid it brings to the mouth party. You can also add a little lemon juice if you’d rather not mess with beer (try and taste-you should notice a difference but not so far that you say, ‘why is there lemon in this?’). Yes, I do feel that acid is important-not everyone will notice it’s there or appreciate it consciously but I promise, their brains do!

 
If you do this on the stove top- after you’ve simmered your beer lower the heat to medium-low and add the cream cheese and melt, then the cubed/shredded cheese and melt, and then your chili and tomatoes. Warm through.  Add your reserved juice as needed.
And for dessert I’m taking it easy and bringing brownies for brownie bowl sundaes al a mode. 
 
There’s no real recipe here. I’m making box brownies (adding in some fun caramel chips), buying some vanilla bean ice cream and calling it a day. You can go ‘super’ fun with this and add whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate sauce, cherries, etc. but I’m tired.
 
Added bonus: if you have a group of friends who are like mine and most of you are more interested in the food and commercials rather than tackles and touchdowns-play Sports Bowl Bingo!  I found these bingo cards at Target last year and we’ll use them to create our own cards of what we’ll hear and see during the big game. Hopefully it’ll help my witty banter this year (last year I had a set list of typical sports ball things to say at random times to provide the illusion of understanding what was going on). You can also do a quick search and find free printables on-line (some filled out even!)
 
 
 

Have fun and don’t forget the antacids!

Spongy

Early in 2019 I read a book that discussed the power of willing something into the universe and to do so, you needed to be open and looking for opportunity. I’m a little skeptical of ‘willing’ something without ‘doing’ something, honestly. But I did sit  with this thought and figured out that, to me, this really means being like a sponge and allowing yourself to soak up all the things around you. It means that you are open to ideas that normally you’d say no to.  And that spoke (loudly) to me-how many opportunities have I inadvertently said no to because of some form of fear? Fear seems to play a huge part in why I may shut myself in my proverbial shell before I even begin to explore (think of a Cortney turtle, or a Cortney armadillo! What? New [scary]thing? Nope. Zoopt. Cortney armadillo!)
 
I recognize there are people out there that have minimal to no fear factor and just fly blindly into new adventures but alas, I am not (yet) one of them. That’s not to say I don’t push my comfort zones from time to time but when I read How to Be a Badass last year I was in a place mentally that I could recognize just how easy it is to make excuses to stay nice and cozy in my comfort—and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t want to let opportunities pass me by that ultimately, could be something magical. Or at least worthwhile. 
 
 So, I spent 2019 saying yes to anything that I did not have a valid reason to say no to. If my ‘no’ was because I was afraid, it was not a suitable rationale for me-only logical ‘no’s’ allowed.
 
 I had to first recognize just how often I ‘nope-d’ an idea before it even had roots.  It took a lot of work to  recognize those nopes! Once I could catch myself I could ask myself why. Why do I automatically want to say no to this? That was an eye-opening experience in itself that challenged me to have several heart-to-hearts with my own insecurities. “Well inner me, I don’t want to be embarrassed!” “And I don’t want to let people down!” Yeah, and recognizing where those fears generate from? Let’s just say this ‘not saying no’ thing was a rabbit hole of self-discovery.
 
Okay. So that’s all dandy but…how did I keep this up for an entire year? This sounds hard (IT IS) and like many Big Deals…something that could easily just be passed along after the book was finished.

I’m a visual person so I knew I needed a reminder to keep me open to opportunities and searching for things to ‘soak up’ whatever 2019 had to offer me. I  needed some sort of talisman to remind me to not automatically say no to those hard feelings- and enter…Spongy.
 
 
 
Spongy is a centimeter cube piece of (unused) kitchen sponge that I have carried with me every day. It’s green and is always in my purse or pocket.  Spongy is responsible for several major things I did in 2019 including:
  • Applying and accepting an adjunct instructor position (I also had Spongy in my pocket my first day instructing)
  • Taking up tap dancing (Spongy was in my bag, silently cheering me on during my recital)
  • Making and fostering several new friendships
  • Several random adventures (like going to Chicago on the hottest day of the year to stand in line for cookies… I could have used Spongy for a different purpose that day but it remained in my bag)
  • Blogging more with the high hopes that what I share can help others
  • Reaching out to have a few hard conversations with others that I had put off because, well, they were hard.
Some of the things Spongy brought into my life seem nuanced now. There are things that were ‘minor’ in the grand scheme of a year but being able to say yes more than saying no really created a year that I’m proud of. Spongy has helped keep me honest in my intention to grow and curate a life worthy of living. Sometimes it means mentally (okay, sometimes physically) running with reckless abandon into The Scary/Tough/Unknown thing but sometimes it actually means sitting back with my thoughts and working through them rather than pushing them aside and saying “no, I don’t want to think about that”. There have been tears. I think there may have been some cursing a kitchen sponge involved too-but ultimately Spongy has been the mascot I didn’t know I needed in life. Spongy and I will be working on balancing out some of the new from 2019 as we move into 2020 but I have no doubt we’ll continue to see new adventures together.
 
Have courage to suck at new things, friends. We’re all in this together-and I’m happy to provide you with a Spongy of your own if you need it. <3

October-December Reads Welcome to the New Year!

One of my favorite ornaments-books tied with twine.



Well, here are are! We made it through the odd 2019 (I have a theory that odd numbered years are far less superior to even ones) and we’re roaring (hah) right into 2020! I’ve spent the last two weeks being unsure of what day it was and forgetting what a vegetable is and can honestly say I’m ready for routine to start again. The Christmas tree is gone, ideas for the new year formulated, and I’m ready to run into January full of anxiety and hope!

I finished the quarter logging fewer titles but still about the same amount of hours read. Why? Because the first book up is a doozy. On paper I believe it’s around 750 pages, in audio it’s about 31 hours. Most of the books I read are somewhere between 5-8 hours and I can usually get through them in a week, so this book took most of the month of October to finish. (Also, mid-October to, well, yesterday? was pretty hectic and brain-frazzle-y so finishing anything was a feat.)

37. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (contemporary fiction)- This is a book divided- people have either loved it or hated it (I have found few in between). I ultimately enjoyed this book a lot. Yes, it has been made into a film recently (I haven’t watched it yet but I’ve heard that it didn’t translate well despite what I consider a solid cast). Some have compared this to works of Dickenson, it reminded me of Go Ask Alice– a story of a young person who becomes lost in a world they were thrown into by circumstances beyond their control. By the end of the book I can’t say I particularly liked any of the characters (except one-if you’ve read it feel free to take a guess) but I enjoyed the writing. B

38. Red, White, and Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston (teen LGBTQI+ romance?)- I needed a palette cleanser after #37 and this book was a ‘new to audio’ selection. It was a fantastic mix of humor and predicament! The characters were charming and like many, I too wished that parts of this story were real life. If you’re looking for a quick read, this is a good one. A

39.Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate (historical fiction)- And right back into some serious stuff, oops. This book takes a fictional look at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage that ran for the first half of the 20thcentury under practices that were just deplorable. (Sidenote, I’m preparing to teach a course on child welfare so this book hit me right in the feels.) Before We Were Yours was a heart-wrenching tale of what can be assumed as reality for far too many children who lived through the broken and corrupt tactics of child laundering. This book broke my heart with some saving grace-resiliency is a hell of a thing. A

40. Unfuck Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life, Gary John Bishop (self-help)Quick read with some nice reminders that waiting around to ‘feel like’ doing the thing is a waste of time. Waiting to feel motivated/creative/energized/ ready is a fallacy, so just suck it up and start. A

41. Waiting for Tom Hanks, Kerry Winfrey (nonfiction romance)- It’s really easy to accidentally read romance novels, ya’ll. I don’t fancy myself a romance novel ‘fan’ but I will say that they are good reads in between harder ones. Shrug. I chose this book because of the title (I can feel your judgment!) and it was a cute story. Was it groundbreaking? No. Did it have flaws? Yes. Was I able to escape into a rom-com and ignore my kitchen being unusable for two weeks? Absolutely.  So it did the job. B

42. Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope, Mark Manson (self help)-I adored this book because it aligned well with my own personal philosophy on life. Manson made sense of some thoughts I’ve had lingering for a while and I found myself talking back to the book (“EXACTLY”, “OMG THAT’S IT!”, “THANK YOU” may have been yelled). However, this book pushes past Nihilism to look meaningfully at life in the most objectively way possible. Two side notes: if you are not in a place to look at life and question things, this may not be for you. I suggested it to a friend who said it was a difficult read (it can make you question things, so know your own headspace when going in) and two-if you follow Manson’s blog I’ve read that this book is more or less a collection of blog posts strung together. A

43. White Fragility,Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo (nonfiction badassbook)- This book tore me down in a way that we* should all be torn down. To realize privilege past the obvious is hard-but necessary. I highly suggest everyone* read this and sit with the uncomfortable feelings it’ll bring up and then ask; Why? How? Now what? A+
*white people

44. Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney (contemporary fiction)- A comment on Goodreads, “Conversations with Friends is another one of those books about not particularly nice people entangled in awkward relationships.”  It wasn’t the worst book, it was not the greatest book. It kept my attention just enough that I didn’t roll my eyes. C

45.The Witches are Coming, Lindy West (nonfiction, essays, badassbook)- I have been waiting for this book since the second I finished Shrill last year and it’s incredibly fitting that this was my last book of 2019 and that it was #45. I felt heartbroken and empowered throughout this book and reminded of the long road ahead, and the long road behind. The witches are definitely coming. A+

15 books over my goal-happy dance!! For 2020 I’m going to try and hit 50. I also want to try and find a list similar to thisthat pushes me to be more mindful about different genres. There are some I really don’t care for (mystery/thriller, true crime, basically anything that leaves me feeling anxious) but I do want to continue to experience others point of view. And I’m always open to suggestions!

A thought: I recently read that finishing a book just to finish it is a waste of time and that more seasoned readers practice a page 50 rule. Page 50 rule means that if you’re not engaged by page 50 and feel yourself wanting to quit-quit.  I have only found myself wanting to truly quit one book in the last year while others I wanted to finish just to see if it got better. To me, having any sort of drive is worth finishing the book but I am giving myself permission to ’50’ a book this year.

In 2020 we should have a new Jenny Lawson book and I can’t wait! Hopefully her book store in San Antonio will open as well so I can go and bask in the glory that is this very large cat.

Favorite books in 2019: In no particular order (these can usually be noted by an ‘A+’ review, these are the books I’d recommend to anyone who asked):
  • White Fragility
  • Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered
  • Good Omens
  • Shrill
  • Becoming
  • The Hate U Give
  • Lean In
  • Everything is Fucked
  • You Are a Badass

Cheers! Wishing you all a year full of equal amounts excitement and contentment mixed with growth and rest.