RECIPE: Black Bean and Salsa Chicken Soup (Crockpot recipe)

It's odd that I've posted so many recipes about SOUP since I don't consider myself a real soup person; it must be the time of the year. A friend forwarded me this recipe from the Crockpot Lady's blog (very fun. She tries a new crockpot recipe every day).
And yes, I'm in love with this soup: it involves corn, there's kick to it, and the sour cream/cilantro really completes it. As another friend pointed out "if a recipe calls for sour cream on top, you MUST make sure people know that....it won't taste the same without it." I couldn't
agree more.
I made a few changes to the Crockpot Lady's original recipe, only because I found it too watery. So I cut down on the salsa amount. And if you don't add cheese on top, it's a very lowfat meal. Enjoy!


--1 pound chicken (I used 6 frozen breast tenderloins)
--1 cup dried black beans (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)

--4 cups chicken broth
--2 cups frozen corn (sweet white corn is best)
--1 1/2 cups MILD prepared salsa, from a jar (12 oz)

--1 1/2 tsp cumin
--1/2 cup sour cream

-- juice of 1/2 a lime
--cilantro (optional)

This is
made in a 4 quart Crockpot (or larger)

For DRIED BEANS follow these directions:
Starting the night before, soak the black beans in enough water to cover and another 2 inches overnight. In the morning, drain the water and rinse the beans. You can also quick soak the beans by pouring boiling water over them and let them sit for an hour or two.
Drain and rinse beans
and pour in the crockpot. Put in the chicken, broth, salsa, corn and cumin. Stir, but don't disturb the beans---let them stay at the bottom of the pot, closest to the heating element.
Cover and cook on high for 7-9 hours. Yes. High. For 7-9 hours. It takes crazy long for the beans to soften, but they will.

Spoon out the chicken pieces and shred with two forks in a separate bowl.
Ladle out half of the soup mixture (minus the chicken you just took out) and carefully puree it in a traditional blender. Pour the puree back in the pot, add the shredded chicken, squeeze in the juice of one small lime, and stir. Ladle into bowls and serve with a large spoonful of light sour cream and cilantro.

For CANNED BEANS follow these directions:
Drain and rinse beans and pour in the crockpot. Put in the chicken, broth, salsa, corn and cumin. Stir, but don't disturb the beans---let them stay at the bottom of the pot, closest to the heating element.
Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4-5--similar to normal soup-cooking time.

Spoon out the chicken pieces and shred with two forks in a separate bowl.
Ladle out half of the soup mixture (minus the chicken you just took out) and carefully puree it in a traditional blender. Pour the puree back in the pot, add the shredded chicken, squeeze in the juice of one small lime, and stir. Ladle into bowls and serve with a large spoonful of light sour cream and cilantro.

Soup is best when served with: Quesadillas, chips, corn bread muffins, or warm flour tortillas.


just, today

Today had it's moments. But overall it was a great day.

* The kids discovered the Camellia bush out front and spent 30 minutes picking up the fallen flowers and handing them to me. I know our front neighbor appreciates the yard upkeep. These pretty balls of pink tissue remind me so much of being a kid. There was a bush in our front yard as well and it seemed there were always brown decomposing flowers on the ground. So I'm glad the kids found the freshest (dead) ones possible (I wouldn't let them pick new ones off the tree). And what a pretty splash of color in our apartment for the day:
* Lucy's friends Sammy and Hannah came over and played for a couple hours. Since it was a gorgeous 73 degrees today, they spent most of their time outside riding bikes and gathering leaves.
* We finally bought our Kidspace membership this afternoon! I've been putting it off (for no particular reason). Then the other night, I found $60 in our desk drawer! Um? Am I 12 years old, discovering a $5 bill in my jean's pocket? I was super excited and decided, this is going toward the Kidspace fund. We're doing it! So we did. Our friends Erica and June joined us and we had a great time splashing in water, building towers, climbing on toys, and playing at the park afterward.
* Both kids are in bed and asleep and it's 7:30pm!
* I have all sorts of fun shows to catch up on.
* And I'll be eating THIS for dessert. I already did the preliminary taste-test-before-it-goes-in-the-freezer spoonful and it is....YUM.

Not a bad Thursday at all.


The Curious Case of an Overrated Movie (a post by the Mr.....and a little by the Mrs.)

I saw a short bit on the evening news here in New York by a local movie critic, talking about how there are no good movies in January, and therefore we should all get caught up on the Oscar-nominated films. This post is an effort to save you a little time and money in case you haven't seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button yet.
There will be some major spoilers in this post, so be warned in case you haven't seen it and still plan to.

Dana and I had been looking forward to this movie for probably six months and finally saw it over the Christmas break. We were terribly disappointed with it for a variety of reasons. But let me preface by saying that when you have two kids, date nights are rare. And there's no bigger of a downer date than wasting a whole evening on a sub-par movie. The money is one thing, but the lost hours and the lost evening are the biggest waste. It didn't help that Button is particularly long (nearly 3 hours!)

The idea of the movie is brilliant: a man ages backwards, born as a tiny old man and getting more youthful as he ages. And who better to cast as the star than Brad Pitt?...our generation's James Dean. The "old man" version of Benjamin Button, apparently built in a fashion similar to
Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, was believable and showed a personal likeness to Pitt (I suspect Pitt's face was used in some way).

The backward aging is fun to watch, but painfully slow and plotless. Before long, you find yourself hoping they'll skip ahead a decade or two. Unfortunately, more than half of the movie is spent in Button's younger years, while his body looks old: Probably the longest stretch of the film takes place while he looks to be about 55-60 years old (presumably 18-24 years old at the time). But he hasn't seen anything yet, isn't very wise or well-traveled, doesn't make good conversation, and doesn't have entertaining experiences. Then in the last half hour of the film, after you're exhausted and still waiting for some kind of plot to develop, they skip ahead a decade at a time and give brief appearances of Button at different points in his last 25 years. These are the years that I had expected would be the most entertaining of all – a 70 year old Brad Pitt who really looks like he's 25, healthy and strong, and full of all sorts of knowledge and life experience. The possibilities are endless. Instead, we get a few token appearances with
little dialogue as the main female character takes over the final act.I still want my money back.

We left the theater asking ourselves, what was the point of that film? It seemed merely a vehicle to showcase cool make-up and visual effects. To that end, we have to hand it to them. But uh, that was pretty much all we took away from it. The characters were boring. We never cared enough about them to care how their lives turned out. And the self-centered Kate Blanchett, who eventually sort-of came around, was still worried that she looked so "old"when Benjamin came back to see her in her later years. Did she never get the message?? There's more to love than
wrinkles and physical appearance? I'm pretty sure Benjamin saw past that.

And lastly, a technical criticism: Button is born as an infant-sized old man, and while aging backwards he does actually grow taller in his early years. But then at the end of the film, he shrinks again and dies as a tiny infant. To be consistent, however, they need to either make him born as a full-sized old man, or die as an adult-sized infant. I much prefer the latter. In fact, I might not have given a negative review if they could have pulled that off – a six foot tall baby, dying in his bed.

Overall, all Benjamin Button did for me was hint at the possibilities, instead of delivering on them.


Cheesy and Muddy

A friend summed up life perfectly on her blog "We've been boring and rainy and indoorsy all week." Yep, us too. Not much to blog about but a few pictures to share.

On Saturday, Lucy went to Chuck E. Cheese for the first time! I've been wondering when I'd have to tell her of it's existence. But her little friend Sammy turned 5 and had his party there. And we were lucky enough to join in the fun:
The only LAME aspect (on my part)....I thought it started at 2, but it really started at 12! Doh. So we missed most of the festivities and the other kids. But Doris, Sammy, and Hannah stuck around for a while longer while Lucy lived it up. Too bad she's too young for Skee Ball (I loved that as a kid). She sort of enjoyed this game though:
Sydney and Sammy taking a sketch photo (which are actually really cool and only cost one token!)
Then Sammy, Lucy, and the top of Hannah's head took one too. Sucking on lollypops and not really sure where to look:
That afternoon the rain came down and filled our ghetto asphalt backyard with muddy puddles. Owen couldn't resist, so I didn't either.:
He finally splashed the pot hole dry when he was done:
And oddly enough, he's got a nasty runny nose today. Coincidence? I wonder.
Hope you're having a fun indoorsy day too! (if you're living in the rain or snow)

I love this kid

Owen and I often have a love-hate relationship. He's the cutest little thing but he can be a real pill some days (who knows, maybe he thinks the same thing of me).
So in order to not sound like a broken record,this post is simply to say that:
Yesterday, Owen was an angel!
He was happy, he laughed, he played on his own and with Lucy, he took good naps, he and I ran around the house playing peek-a-boo, and he let me use the computer uninterrupted, for 30 minutes (wow). I know we'll have our ups and downs over the years but this is the sweet, cute, happy Owen that I love. What a fun kid!


2 1/2 days in Seattle

Casey headed to Seattle last week to meet with clients, so I decided to tag along! I vaguely remember driving through the city once on a family road trip, years ago. So I was excited to actually see the sights through grown-up eyes. Too bad I was leaving this fabulous weather behind:
But flying Jet Blue is always a treat. And the plane looks even cooler with a daybreak sky behind it. Beautiful 6am colors.
Casey had to stop in San Francisco before heading to Seattle, so I actually flew out all by myself. Yea, I'm a big kid. I can handle it. But how fun/weird to be traveling withOUT anyone else?! No kids? No bag full of juice cups and graham crackers? The option to read a book, or take a nap, or watch my personal TV monitor....you know, the choice to do whatever I want whenever I want? Weird. And dreamy.
Hooray for small airports and easy boarding. We love LB and Burbank.
A short two-hour flight. First sites of Seattle area:
Our plane, touching down:
Seattle skyline, from the window of the airport shuttle. Uh, did I mention it was 80 degrees when I left LA and I came to this dreary 40 degree sight? But I still enjoyed it all the same.
We stayed right downtown, walking distance to the Space Needle, at the Westin Hotel. There's a monorail that runs right by it to the Needle.
Our hotel room:
With a beautiful all-white bed (that was outrageously comfortable):
And a cool view of the city from our window, 33rd floor!
Since I was totally on my own, I spent the day lounging, exploring on foot, eating the World's Best Mac and Cheese from Beecher's Cheese and reading my book (The Color Of Water, I highly recommend). I stopped by the very first Starbuck's ever, here at The Pike Place, down by the water:
I strolled around town and window shopped till my teeth were chattering (it was cold).
And then I picked up our rental car, a fabulous little ford escort. The perfect bubble of perfect temperature. I was glad to have a car the next couple days:
I picked up Casey at the airport and we found a cozy hip Pizza spot for dinner, Serious Pie.
Casey had a 9am meeting, so we were up and out the door early. Getting some morning work in:
Me, bored with my camera, waiting to go:
We drove 15 minutes across the lake to Bellevue, to Microsoft headquarters.
Bellevue is a cool city with a fun downtown area:
After dropping off Casey I drove and drove around a beautiful lake. Most of the area looks like this:
Lots of green trees and often, green moss growing on the trunks:
I hung out at Bellevue Square (a shopping mall) and then ate lunch at my favorite spot: Chipotle. There was a Marketing Competition going on at a nearby hotel for all the local highschool kids. And they all must have chosen Chipotle for lunch because I have NEVER seen this place SO busy, ever. I counted 65 people in line ahead of me. This shot doesn't capture the chaos but it was there. The line moved fairly quickly though:Phew. I made it. And enjoyed a good hour of book reading while eating:
More driving and exploring...I came across this cute blueberry farm:
and the Seattle Temple. I have to admit, not my favortie architecture and impossible to get a good straight-on shot:Random Coca-Cola offices:
Beautiful sites from the bridge headed back from Bellevue to Seattle:
Now that Casey was done with meetings, I had company! So we really partied it up and headed to the Ballard Locks. Oddly enough, this was probably the coolest part of the trip to me. It's a boring process to explain. But there are these canals (locks) with differnent entry points (think of a double-door building entrance in cities where it snows, to keep the snow out).
One side of the water is saltwater from the Puget Sound. The other side is Lake Washington, fresh water and at a higher water level. So there needs to be an interim, holding area where they equalize the water level. The boats enter here, from the Sound:
Then they wait here while water is sucked from the Lake and poured into this "holding tank". The water level slowly starts to rise. And when the water here is the same level as the lake, the doors open and the boat can enter into the lake:We shivered our way around the Locks:
But as we were leaving, we were lucky enough to see a boat go through the actual process. It was really cool! This boat entered from the Sound, sea-level water:
We watched as it sat in the holding tank and the water rose. You can see the boat getting higher. And then...off it went! Again, boring to explain. But really, quite interesting!After the Locks, we drove past The Troll under the bridge. Just a random troll sitting there:
his eye is a VW hubcap:
(many thanks to my good friend Miriam for putting together this list of Seattle-must-sees. She grew up there and shared her secrets with us).
DAY #3
The weather was cloudy and gray most of our stay. I mean, Seattle? Right? We spent our morning on foot (and bundled up). First, the Space Needle:
Then the Science Museum:
Guess what? I only weigh 8.9 pounds! (on Pluto)
Sitting at the kids table:
Then we walked down to Pike Place again so Casey could enjoy it (I walked through on Wednesday by myself).
This funny guy was just sitting on a corner, playing his upright:
Pike Place is like a permanent farmer's market.
Cool booths with fresh produce, local honey, jewelry, artwork:
and fresh seafood:
Then, per Miriam's recommendation we finished our Seattle tour at Dick's Drive-in for greasy french fries and burgers:
They charge you 5 cents for ketchup. We got six of these:
We drove to the airport and dropped off our car. Cool airport with this interesting mobile hanging from the ceiling,
and this beautiful window:
So long Seattle! We enjoyed you. We would have enjoyed you a little more with some sun, but then again it's just cliche to be there in the gray cold.
Back at my parent's house, Lucy and Owen lived it up for 3 days in the warm backyard. They happily did this: and this:
And no matter how nice it is to have a break and be on my own, I always end up missing my kiddos more than I miss my freedom and can't wait to see them again. The excitement on their faces as we walk in the door? The best part of any trip.