Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What I've been reading in 2014...

Thanks to the kindle app on my smart phone, read.amazon.com, and my original kindle... I've been reading a lot more these past few years... I thought I'd share what I've currently read in 2014. There's no rhyme or reason to the books on this list. I have a lot of different interests in both fiction and non-fiction. I'm extremely interested in different religious/denominational/spiritual experiences and memoirs. And I love the Harry Potter series and A Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snickett.  I also love reading cookbooks, and re-reading juvenile adult (JA) books from my teenage years. What have you read this year? What to do plan to read before the year is over?

I generally read 4-5 books at a time, depending on my mood, time of day, etc...

You can find all these books by searching via name and author on Amazon if you're interested.

What I've read so far in 2014:

  • $1 Per Pound Grocery Shopping by Mary Frances Pickett
  • A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
  • Abducted by T.R. Ragan
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (entire series) by Lemony Snickett
  • All Things Bright & Beautiful by James Herriot
  • Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times by Clark Howard
  • Crazy, VA by Shannon Hill
  • Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  • Daughters of Zion by Kim Taylor
  • Deviation by P.D. Workman
  • Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voight
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Escape by Carolyn Jessop
  • Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
  • George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl
  • Happy(ish) by Cara Trautman
  • Homecoming by Cynthia Voight
  • Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
  • Love Times Three by the Darger Family
  • Lyddie by Katherine Peterson
  • Murder Shoots the Bull by Anne George
  • One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (and following books in the series, I'm up to 14 currently...)
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  • Radical Frugality by Nic Adams
  • Sarah Plain & Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Shattered Dreams Restored by Irene Spencer
  • Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer
  • Soup & Bread Cookbook by Martha Bayne
  • The Anti-Inflammation Diet & Recipe Book by Jessica Black
  • The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (I read these at least once a year, if not several times a year!)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • The Pinballs by Betsy Byars
  • The Tao of Paleo by Michelle Connelly
  • The Twits by Roald Dahl
  • The Walking Dead #1 by Robert Kirkman
  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

What I'm currently reading:
  • Buddism for Busy People by David Mitchie
  • Mormonism for Dummies by Jana Riess and Christopher Kimball Bigelow
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
  • A Study in Scarlett by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet -- Gave up after 5-6 chapters, too depressing (dystopian, about the future, etc... we're doomed folks... lol)
  • Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Celebrating Local NC Food: The Porterhouse Chop with the NC Pork Council

You may remember that last month I started working with the North Carolina Pork Council to help promote local pork products. I'm thrilled to partner with NCPC because Eastern North Carolina is a major producer of pork and it provides many jobs in our area. Many of our restaurants and grocery stores support local farmers and ranchers and so the pork products we generally buy in this area are from regional farms.

The cut being shared this month is the Porterhouse Chop (formerly known as the bone-in loin chop). If you're confused about the names of different cuts of pork, you're definitely not alone. The industry recently changed many of the names of different cuts in the hopes of cutting down confusion on the previous names. You can read more about reasons why the names changed in this article. To see exactly what cuts have changed and how to recognize them, please check out this helpful pdf

A few of the ingredients for this dish: chopped bacon, sliced onions,
chicken stock, bay leaves, and brown sugar.
No worries, there is NO cherry jello in this recipe! lol

I thought about many different ways to cook these chops... whether to grill them, to roast them, to pan sear them... I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Finally, I settled on using my old standby... the slow cooker! I can always count on my slow cooker for a tasty and relatively easy meal. My first cookbook was centered around gluten-free slow cooker recipes, so I was excited to figure out a way to make these chops super delicious and tasty in my favorite appliance. 

Cooking the pork chops in the bacon fat to brown them before
placing in the slow cooker. 

I researched a lot of different recipes, both in my cookbook, in Stephanie's cookbook, and several online recipe databases, but I just couldn't find exactly what I was looking for. I wanted something savory without a lot of added sweetness like apples or jam. And I generally try to avoid recipes calling for soy sauce because I react to it, and I haven't found a good savory substitute for 1/2 cup of soy sauce! (You'd be amazed how many pork chop recipes call for 1/2 cup of soy sauce! yeesh!) 

Rendering the fat out of the bacon, to use as our cooking fat for the chops,
the onions, and the garlic. 

I also checked out a few food bloggers and finally found this recipe that really appealed to me. I loved that the sauce didn't contain any soy sauce, and since the pork is slow cooked, it basically creates it's own stock for a quick sauce/gravy while it's cooking.

Overall I made the recipe very similarly to the original recipe, however I did change things along the way just to make things a little easier. I didn't need to use canola oil, I actually used 6 chops, used less stock to make a thicker sauce, and well... you get the picture..

Random cat picture.... you're welcome... :-) 

The finished recipe really produces a great flavor on the chops and the gravy is just killer! While I enjoy grilled meats, I'm not a big fan of grilling personally, so using the slow cooker was right up my alley.

Do take the time to brown the chops and cook the onions before adding them to the slow cooker. IT really gives the meat and gravy a great flavor and color, that you don't get by just tossing the ingredients in the cooker and letting them go.

Slow Cooked Smothered Porterhouse Chops
adapted from this recipe and shared by Carrie of Gingerlemongirl.com
free of gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy
printer-friendly recipe

Pork Ingredients:
4-6 porterhouse loin chops
4 slices of thick cut bacon, diced into small pieces
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic (about 2 small cloves)
1/4 cup water
2 bay leaves

Initial Sauce Ingredients:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins is gluten-free)

Later Sauce Ingredients:
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried parsley (+ more for serving)


  1. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper over the raw pork on both sides. Set aside. 
  2. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet on medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add the diced bacon. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the fat has rendered from the bacon and the diced bacon bits are golden and crispy. Remove the bacon bits onto a paper-towel lined plate and allow them to cool. Then refrigerate bacon bits until serving the pork. 
  3. Add the pork chops to the hot pan of bacon fat and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side just until browned. Add pork chops to the slow cooker. 
  4. Add the sliced onions and 1/4 cup water to the same pan of bacon fat and cook onions until softened and translucent, about 5-6 minutes. While the onions are cooking, stir around the pan getting up all the brown bits from the bacon and pork. Then add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about another minute. Pour this mixture over the chops in the slow cooker along with the bay leaves. 
  5. In the same pan add the chicken stock, brown sugar, Worcestershire, and Dijon mustard. Whisk until dijon is combined into the stock and cook on high until the sauce mixture is boiling. Pour over the meat in the slow cooker. 
  6. Cook browned pork and sauce on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. 
  7. Once the pork is fully cooked and you're ready to serve, remove the pork, most of the onions, and the bay leaves from slow cooker. Discard the bay leaves. The pork chops should be tender enough to pull away from the bones. Cover the pork chops with aluminum foil and put in a hot oven while you continue to prepare the sauce. 
  8. Pour the remaining sauce from the slow cooker into a large sauce pan and place on medium-high heat. 
  9. In a small bowl mix together the cornstarch, 2 tablespoons of water, cider vinegar, and dried parsley. Whisk into the sauce. 
  10. Allow the sauce to cook until boiling. Cook an additional 5-6 minutes until sauce has thickened to your likeness. If you want it thinner add a bit more water. If you prefer it thicker, add a bit more cornstarch that's been added to a little bit of water (a cornstarch slurry = 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water.)
  11. When ready to serve sprinkle each piece of pork with some of the crispy bacon bits and then ladle the thickened sauce over each chop. Also, you can add additional parsley sprinkled over each serving. We ate this with seasoned rice and broccoli. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days. 

  • Alternately, instead of using a slow cooker you could bake the browned pork chops in a large casserole dish with the initial sauce, covered with aluminum foil at 300 degrees for 3-4 hours. Finish the sauce as directed above. 
  • I had a hard time finding the exact type of pork chop that was needed for this post. The pork chops I found were simply listed as QUARTER LOIN CHOPS, which I think is an older term that's not used in all grocery stores anymore. But they worked great for this recipe, so don't sweat it if you can't find the exact bone-in cut called for. 
  • If you want an even more flavorful, smooth, and silky sauce/gravy, you can stir in 2 tablespoons of butter when you're ready to serve the sauce. Allow it to melt and dissolve into the sauce and you're ready to go. 

GLG Disclosure: 
This post is part of a new monthly series featuring local NC pork products sponsored by the North Carolina Pork CouncilThe NC Pork Council provided me with a gift certificate to purchase pork products and create a recipe to share. The opinions and photography in this post are completely my own.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Before the house tour, walking around the grounds.
We visited Monticello (located in Charlottesville, VA) on Wednesday, June 25th.

A small outdoor patio on the left of the house.
And I'm the QUEEN of summer fashion... don't be jealous! lol

The flowers on the outdoor patio, Jefferson's personal study is located to the right of this wall. 

Monticello from the right side. Directly behind the brick wall is the guest room of the home. 

Through this hole in the trees to the right of Monticello, Jefferson could see his project,
"The University of Virginia" being built. 

Specifically there is not a "front" or "back" to Monicello, however this is the view from the gardens and
the view you see on the US nickel. 

A guided tour about slavery and Monticello. Jefferson had over 600 slaves throughout his lifetime and
approximately 150 worked at the home/plantation  at any given time during it's operation.

The vegetable garden at Monticello must have had 20 different
varieties of kale! I just wanted to grab bunches and take them
home for dinner!

You can see 40 miles to the west of the Monticello grounds on a clear day. It's such a gorgeous landscape!

The garden pavilion and vineyards.  

ARTICHOKES! I had never seen them in an actual garden before! 

more kale varieties!

and even more kale varieties! 

Michael looking through the windows of the garden pavilion. 

We rode the shuttle up the hill to Monticello, but on the way
back we walked down the path which allowed you to see
Jefferson's grave and more of the beautiful grounds. 

While Jefferson had been President of the United States, and held
multiple political offices over the years,
he only wanted these two accomplishments listed on his gravestone. 

The path back to the museums and gift shops of Monticello. 

Here's lookin' at you kid! 

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