Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nigella Express: The FINAL Episode

 Drum roll.......the final recipe of Nigella and 2009 was Homemade Mac N Cheese.

Now one would think you can't screw up Mac N Cheese. There is macaroni. There is cheese. But in this recipe there is also eggs, nutmeg, evaporated milk, some other stuff.

I think the failure came in when I decided we needed to just use up the cheese we had vs. buying the cheddar cheese the recipe called for. Frugal Greta killed this recipe.

It still tasted ok, it just looked awful.

And so concludes our year of Nigella Express. It's no secret we weren't completely enthused with Nigella. Maybe it was the cookbook. Maybe it was our lack of willingness to try some of her weird stuff. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't happy to close this book and open our next one.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Listmania: Things I learned in 2009

I love lists. I make them all the time. At home. At work. In class. In my head. While I'm working out. Via microphone in the car. Seriously. Love them.

Enter in new blog idea for 2010: List of the Month. What better way to kick-off this brillz new blog idea than a recap list of the important things I learned in 2009.

1) The Firm is the best gym in Minneapolis.
I meagerly stepped foot into "Diva Doug's" step class in January of 09 and haven't looked back. Nate lost a bet and he had to attend, and he hasn't looked back. The staff is amazing. The workouts are kick-ass. The music is deafeningly loud. There are no frills, fluff, or gimmicks. It's just hard-core working out. And Doug is the cherry on top.

2) Great Food Fast > Nigella Express 
Sure Nigella gave us Rocky Road Bars, and Sesame Peanut Noodles, but Great Food Fast keeps giving and giving. We had more failures or mediocre dinners with Nigella, and god love her, she has some weird ass directions.

3) Costco is actually worth talking about all the time
It was a mere 9 months ago when Nate and I stepped into Costco with high doubts that we would actually save money without coupons (Gasp!), and that we would still not understand how every conversation seemed to end with Costco. Well one American Express/Costco card, and an upgrade to Executive Member later, we are full-fledged members. We eat our words. And we are fine with that. We heart Costco.

4) Travel is the Bomb.
You would think this wasn't a lesson that needed to be learned. But lets just say 2009 drove this home, especially for me. You don't have to travel far for a good time , especially if family is there. Traveling with girlfriends is always fun, from Boston to Vegas,. Travel with your hubby isn't so bad either! And a tropical vacation to escape MN in the winter is always a must.

5) The only exception to #4 is Branson, MO.
This is a destination you should take people to only if you want to punish them, or they are over the age of 75 and therefore have blurry vision and poor hearing. No offense to Andy Williams...because that guy is sick. (In a good way, although I am willing to bet he may actually be sick too).

6) You don't always keep all of your resolutions.
So I had a list of 5 resolutions for 2009. Five. you would think that was doable. But alas, I failed to come through on all 5.

- I "only" read 31 books, although if you added in my school books I would have definitely hit 36.
- I finished my first half-marathon. CHECK!
- Volunteering more...technically yes, but not necessarily the level I was thinking. Half-Check.
- Investing...bleah. Didn't happen. Anyone want to give me a crash course?
- Plant and consumer first garden: CHECK! And it was delicious, and is getting bigger next year.

7) Life is short.
This is a lesson my family has unfortunately learned all too much the last few years. So many little things consume our daily lives that really don't matter at all in the big scheme of things. While this lesson if one learned the hardest, it definitely will have the biggest impact on the future. Less worry, more fun. Live in the moment.

Well, there you have it. All important lessons from 2009. Looking forward to what can be learned in 2010...

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Very Salty Christmas

Yes. Salty.

Why salty you may ask?

1) We didn't make it home to Viroqua for the Holidays, so there were some tears shed in frustration, disappointment, yadda yadda yadda. It sucked. Luckily, I stopped at Costco on Christmas Eve after we learned of this news, and I impulse purchased this poinsettia/mum basket because 'dammit, we need some holiday flowers.' It was not pretty.

2) Nate and I opened our gifts this morning and we BOTH bought each other salt boxes. Could that BE any more random? Have we been dating/married for 12+ years. Yes.

So here they are...the ever classic Alton Brown singular sea salt glass container, and the down-home wooden 4-compartment holder great for multiple salts, herbs etc. There was very little debate. The wood holder stays.

It came complete with pink salt, sea salt flakes, black salt and red salt. Hell yeah. We are going to be getting our salt on in 2010.

I am still flabbergasted that we both bought a salt box, AND neither of us has even explicitly said that was something we wanted. Weird.

Anyway, that was our Christmas in a nutshell. That would of course be a salted nutshell.

We hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

3rd Annual Festivus Cookie Decorating

Last night was one of our increasingly favorite new Christmas traditions: Festivus Cookie Decorating, where Nate and I host all of our favorite Jewish friends over to partake in some non-denominational holiday fun. Sure there was Christmas music playing, but Alex said as long as it was on vinyl (thank you Aunt Deloris) it was all good.

For those of you not familiar with Festivus, perhaps you should try watching Seinfeld. There are all sorts of cool things like feats of strength, airing your greivances, a pole, etc. And I think everyone in attendance last night would agree that cookie decorating at the Hanson household does require feats of strength by the end.

This year we introduced the new "light bulb" ornament cookie cutter (think old school Christmas lights). Each person had 10 cookies to decorate, which doesn't seem like a lot, but when you start feeling the pressure of having to top what you did last year it gets exhausting. We even had a request for tweezers this year...that is how crazy this crew is.

Now, for those of you who have been with Nate and I since the beginning of this blog, you may remember some past cookies.... This was the first year all the boys could attend, and let me tell you we were impressed. We had some seriously skilled 'solider boys' representing police forces across the world....Sam unfortunately lost his soldier boy to the intense craving to eat a cookie...but he totally made up for it with his mad skills of turning the light bulb into a dreidl.

The girls selected our angels as the best cookies of the night. From Debra's perfectly crafted braids and bows, to Rachel's "Victorious Secret Plus-Size Angel", and to my "Army Fighter Angel of Death" dressed in camo, our angels pretty much rocked.

And a Festivus wouldn't be complete without the senior picture pose in front of the tree.

This night is one of my favorite nights in the holiday season. Just good times, good friends, good decorating...all around good. And JUST what I needed last night.

The night ended with the mixing of the frosting, which ended up looking like pea soup this year. Sam and I went back and forth on how much one would have to pay the other one to eat the whole thing. I said $1,000 as long as I could throw up and Sam said $500, so he won.

We decided there was a high risk of all that frosting coating his stomach, lungs, etc, hardening and cutting out al oxygen thus leading to death, so we nixed that bet. Lets be real, Festivus has feats of strength, but not stupidity.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Smokemas

December secret dates are my favorite because usually it involves Christmas, which is my favorite holiday, and there are always great shows, and festive things to do in the city during this time of year.

It was my date, and I got tickets to see the Cirque Holidaze show. I was quite concerned about this date for two reasons:

1) It was at Mystic Lake Casino
2) I didn't believe that a legit Cirque show would play at Mystic Lake.

But, we got there, watched the show, and sure enough it was a legit Cirque show, complete with crazy contortionists, people who can balance other people by some weird force of physics, and a crazy little kid that kept getting swung in between Santa's legs for a slightly inappropriate length of time.

But here's the deal...the Mystic Lake location definitely put a damper on this date of mine. Just walking through the casino made you feel like you had smoked a pack of cigarettes in 5 minutes. And the festive holiday spirit you may have left with was quickly killed by this conversation I overheard while waiting for Nate:

Guy (to wife): I'll wait for you right here.
Wife: No, I'll meet you at the gift shop.
(Me thinking, awww...very nice of this woman to pick up a gift for someone during this holiday season)

Guy: What the hell do you possibly need at the gift shop.
Wife: I TOLD you, I have to get my cigarettes. If I am going to gamble, I need my smokes.

Oh so merry. Oh so bright. And oh so something wrong with the statement: I NEED my smokes. How does anyone in this world still smoke? This lady is seriously lucky I wasn't drunk, because any person who knows me while I may be slightly under the influence would know I would have had no issues telling this lady how bad and disgusting smoking is.

Anyway, the point is...Mystic Lake is not the place for a romantic, festive date. But, we still had fun, and we did some non-holiday shopping afterwards which helped keep our Christmas spirits high!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nigella Express: Episode 22

I'm not going to lie. I am SO over Nigella's cookbook, and am SO excited about our new 2010 cookbook (unveiling coming soon...).

But, we have seriously neglected our little cooking endeavor the last few months, blatantly ignoring Nigella's cookbook. I feel like it is in my kitchen staring me down everytime I wonder what to have for dinner.

So to rectify these feelings of guilt...I decided we would include Nigella in our cookie extravaganzaa. Which meants, trying out her Pistachio Fudge.

Of course, we used walnuts instead of pistachios so already it wasn't really her recipe, but all I can say is we tried. :)

The good news is it is nearly impossible to mess up fudge, and so of course this recipe proved to be delicious. We are going to eek out one last 2009 Nigella recipe before the new book begins!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In 24 Hours...

Senioritis has kicked in. And not the kind of senioritis that says: "Oh just don't read the case for class..."

Nope. This is serious. It is the kind that nags at you and says "You can TOTALLY write your entire final paper the day before it is due, even if you have to work on that day."

So, I've been listening to this voice. And last night before I went to bed, I had the slow, sinking feeling of tomorrow is the day I HAVE to, without excuse write this awful paper for school.

But here is the thing. I have been actively trying to dial it back this semester. I am not getting reimbursed from General Mills so there is no grade requirement, I really didn't care about 2 of my classes (they were requirements), and no one looks at your GPA when you graduate from Business School, and since my GPA is already good, I can totally slack this semester.

And in my mind, I have 'really let myself' go. I haven't done all the reading, I wasn't the greatest group member in any of my groups, I skipped class (gasp!), I left class early, the list goes on. But somehow, I have received A's in my first two classes of the semester.

So really what I have learned this semester is not about Ethics, or Operations or International Marketing, but rather if I try less hard, I do the same or better. So imagine my confusion over how hard to try on the one, last, paper for school.

Here it is 6AM, the morning before the paper is due, and I am rolling up my sleeves to try to get it done before 8AM. Probably not going to happen because...well, here I sit blogging instead of writing.

No matter what, I will turn some flaming peice of crap in tomorrow and my semester will be over. And then the final semester awaits!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sweet Sunday

For all of the cooking that Nate and I like to do together, we have never done an all-out holiday baking extravaganzaa. Mostly because I just don't want the stuff in the house because I will eat it. And because with all of the amazing bakers in the family, just what we DON'T need is more sweets around.

But, I woke up this morning and decided that this was the year we would do some serious baking beyond our cut-out cookies. And man did we bake. We chose a lot of old-school recipes...a very retro Christmas.

We started with Pecan Meltaways. So dense, sugary and delicious.

Moved right along to the Candy Cane Cookies. Major learning curve to this one, with the dough and the twisting and the placing. But we got it edibly-figured out.

That was just the warm-up for the feat of the day: homemade pecan caramels. Nate really spear-headed this effort and now thinks he is an official confectioner. I will admit, those caramels are quite tasty, but with 2 CUPS of heavy whipping cream...they should be.

While Nate was watching his caramel reach 245 degrees, I quickly thre together some Holiday Toffee Bars. The biggest disappointment of the day, but minty-chocolatey and decent.


We also made some Fudge (more on that later), and the age-old Grandma Sherry classic: Ritz Treats.

Now the Ritz Treats totally warrant their own picture, but I'm going to be honest. They aren't the most appetizing of Chistmas cookies. They look like cat puke on a cracker. But what you don't know if you've never had one, is that they are DELICIOUS. So in an effort to get as many people to try these as possible, we opted-out of the singular pic.

Anyway, here is the glory plate shot:

Yes, this was a lot of baking.

In fact, it was:
7 cups of flour
4.5 cups of butter
8 cups of  sugar
2.25 pounds of nuts
80 Ritz Crackers
in total.

But the real clincher is: that we did ALL 6 of these recipes in 3 hours flat. 3 hours. I have wasted more time surfing the internet in one sitting before. And we owe it all to really knowing our crappy little kitchen. With its crappy lighting, limited countertop space and mismanaged cupboards.

So, we cleared all countertops and organized. We even set up a card table in the kitchen for all measuring utensils, pans, bowls, spoons, etc. And we had a dish station. Does this sound crazy? Yes. Do you know me? Then you should have no additional questions.

And now we have a ridiculous amount of sweets. So if you're in the neighborhood, drop by and we'll send you home with a pound or two.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


It got me.

After months of willing, swearing and voo-dooing it away, I was beat by the flu. It came on so quickly, I didn't even have a chance to try to fend it off with my serious witch powers.

The lowest point was last night when I was missing my top 10 favorite things of the year (December bring-a-friend to book club), on the couch with a 103 degree fever, and practically crawling to the bathroom to retch in the toilet bowl. NATE's toilet bowl. Which he was kind enough to wipe down once he realized I was as sick as I was.

And to rub it my face, Nate was my friend for book club and he still went!! Salt meet wound. But it was better for him to spend as little time as possible in this germ infested house.

I stayed home today. In my dreams sick days involve movies, and popcorn, and cleaning the house. In reality it involves 5 hours of sleeping between 9am and 4pm, trying to suck back one measly bottle of Diet 7-Up, and an extensive search for the best position to rid these back aches.

So instead of a really fun book club post today, you get this. Sniff.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

One for Lush

Ok people...the blogosphere is blowing up with promotions to win free stuff.

And as most of you know "promotions" is my specialty and therefore I am a major sucker for them, even if they don't come inside of a cereal box.

So, one of my favorite blogs "Not That Kind of Girl" is running a super special promotion where I can potentially get some free LUSH! (Mom, I know you'll appreciate that).

All I have to do is link to her blog:

So check it out!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Truth

We are back home to the wonderful world of Minneapolis after a whirlwind weekend in Branson. I feel it is my duty to let people across America know the final critical lessons I learned in order to ensure proper expectations of your potential trip.

So without adieu, here are the remaining lessons we learned.

1) Nothing is open on Sundays.

I'm pretty sure it is because Branson is the most commercially religious place in the world. We are talking "God and Country Theatre", the uber huge churches Bill Mahr makes fun of, strict rules on dress code at theme parks, and the most 'god 'paraphernalia I have seen in a 2 mile strip.

Needless to say, our trip was planned for a Sat/Sun. And there was NOTHING to do on Sunday. What we had planned? Ride on the Polar Express. NOT OPEN. Cowboy Christmas on the Trail, with a ride in a real chuck wagon. NOT OPEN.

2) Branson is the most commercially religious place in the world.

The only way to explain this is with this exhibit from the "Adoration Parade"

In case you can't read it, the sign says "We thank Christ for our Blessings. Happy Birthday Baby Jesus."

Really? You thank God for your blessings like this giant speed boat you have in the parade? Hmm....not buying it.

3. The Branson Adoration Parade gives the Viroqua Twinkle Parade a run for its money.

Reindeer, Long Horn cows, oh my!

4. After 24 Hours, all males need to start the day with a drink to survive.

 5. If you go to Branson, bring friends.

I'm not going to lie. This didn't quite deliver on what Katie and I were dreaming up of for our Christmas Wonderland. But had it been Nate and I only, I think we may have packed up and and hit the road right after Andy Williams (clearly the highlight of the trip), but with friends anything can be endured, and even if it can't we know it will make for good stories later.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

24 Hour Lessons

We have been in Branson soaking up the Christmas cheer for 24 hours, and already I have learned 5 crucial lessons.

1. Branson loves its Christmas Decorations

Everywhere you look, Christmas decorations abound. From the Snowman figurine in our hotel, which has a snowman carrying a bucket with two snowmen heads (very perplexing) to the glorious lighting display at Silver Dollar City...Branson is most likely identifiable from space during the holiday season.

2. Cost is relative.

I think I have it figured out. Branson authorities engage in price collusion during the tourist season, with hotels and the AMAZING dining locations (Ruby Tuesday, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster...oh my!), so that people THINK it is an affordably family vacation and then they JACK up the prices of the attractions which is the reason you come in the first place. And to make it worse, you can find NO prices online so you think everything is free.

Exhibit A: Silver Dollar City. A place, that Katie and I admittedly thought was free. Upon entrance we find out it is $50 PER PERSON. So we pay, and go, because we just drove 11 hours for this. And quickly we feel better because there is promise of 12 shows!

Let's just say that our Fa-la-Follies show that we waiting in line for 1 hour to see was 'festive' with it's semi-questionable jokes. But in all honestly, it was just as I pictured Branson.

3. Andy Williams still has it.

People, this guy is 82. He has the voice of a song bird, and still has some pretty good dance moves (at least for an 82 year old). As I looked out over the audiences, into the seas of white hair and bald heads, I felt the Christmas spirit all around and was filled with the warm, happy, holiday feeling. If Andy is still around next year, you should all see him. He is Father Christmas afterall...

Look at these can see the speed...

4. Branson attractions hire very effective copywriters.

Enter the Trail of Lights, marketed by some genius as:

"The Trail includes millions of multi-colored Christmas lights. There are hundreds of gorgeous lighted displays as well as the animated scenes. As the grand finale to the journey, your ticket also includes a trip to Inspiration Tower where you can ride glass elevators up 230' for a Santa' s eye view of the lights from above. There are terrific holiday shopping and delicious goodies too - like plenty of hot chocolate!"

  • $10 per person gets you one luke-warm cup of apple cider at the END of the trail, which by the way you have to drive BACK to the beginning of the trail to get.
  • The gorgeous CHRISTMAS (?)  lighting displays include beauties such as the ever-classic:

5. Everything is more fun in ugly Christmas sweaters

Period. You just don't feel quite as spirited if your clothing isn't donned with appliques, beads, bows and bells. However, when in Branson, a critical thing to know is most everyone is actually wearing one of these sweaters, so one must be extremely careful when making fun of Christmas sweaters.

Here we are re-enacting a bright Christmas morning. You'll notice the girls version is much more appropriate.

We have another 24 hours here, so I can only imagine what we will learn today. Stay tuned....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

3:30 A.M.

Tossing and turning all night.

Have given in to the fact that I just won't be sleeping tonight.I'm not sure if Debra hid caffeine in her delicious chocolate pudding, or what is going on.But sleep will just not come to me.

So I'm up. I just ate an orange. I'm making some tea. And I'm rolling up my sleeves to write my paper for school, and catch up on some work I guess. Perhaps I'll read some of my book. The possiblities seem endless.

But here is the catch. I love sleep. Almost as much as I love being productive with my time. So imagine my dilemma when deciding to throw in the towel to sleeping tonight. Here is what I know for sure:

1) Tomorrow will not be a pretty day.
2) I, in fact, will not have a chance at being pretty tomorrow.
3) My paper will not be all that good.
4) Friday will be the day that this night of no sleep catches up to me full scale.

So if you reading this, and you should happen to interact with me in the next two days, please forgive me for my absent mindedness, most-likely short fuse, and potential for sleeping through your meeting.