Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

Out with the Old, in with the New… December 31, 2012

Filed under: Life,Lifestyle,Random Thoughts — sincerelystasia @ 1:25 pm

Well friends, I may not have been a fan of 2012, but it gave me the chance to fix a lot of things. Starting 2013 with a new back thanks to my amazing surgeon, my nephew Jacob on the way, my sister-in-law Toula joining my family, and an open mind for everything else heading our way. Kicked some dead weight to the curb, and replaced them by welcoming back some great people and finding wonderful new friends. Not making any resolutions because those typically last a week. This year I’m only making promises to myself, and I intend to keep them. And, since I have two more weeks off from work and won’t be cleared to drive for another week and a half, I’m hoping to have some new posts up so check your email for updates!

Happy New Year, friends – Be safe tonight! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Sincerely, Stasia

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Guinness, Smithwick’s, Fire Extinguishers, and Guacamole? March 18, 2012

I’ve been MIA this week, I know. Spring break from grad school meant trying to fit in everything I usually don’t have time for after work. Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and I wasn’t in the mood to battle sloppy drunk 21-year-olds for a spot at the bar (although a friend and I did spend a good amount of time reminiscing about our Erin Express days and kinda wishing we had gone to Philly), so I invited a few friends over instead. Remember that time I said that I don’t typically do “theme-y” parties? My 50% Irish side makes an exception for March 17th in honor of old Éire. Below are some of the recipes for what I put out last night. They were mostly new recipes and one of them didn’t go so well, but I’ll get to that in a sec. These recipes are definitely best while listening to Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys and when served alongside Smithwick’sGuinness, and Jameson. It would be a sin to reserve those for St. Patrick’s Day only.

Green Candied PopcornI’ll start with the epic fail of the evening. To say this recipe didn’t quite go so well is a mammoth understatement. You can find the recipe here, and on the left you can see what it was supposed to look like. This was a disaster from the get. First, I didn’t use my candy thermometer. That was mistake number one. I have plenty of experience with corn syrup. I love making candy – My favorite candy to make for people is white chocolate and macadamia nut toffee. I’ve made it a million times, and learned through trial and error how corn syrup and sugar behave and how  quickly and easily it can burn and become an absolutely disgusting burnt mess instead of sugary toffee goodness. So, there was no excuse for what I did to this recipe. It went from a lovely bright kelly green mixture to a horrid puce muck resembling vomit almost instantaneously. Added a little more food coloring and it brought the color back a bit. Continued following the recipe, mixed in the popcorn, and put the baking dish in the oven… without noticing how high I had the rack set from when I was toasting bread recently. That would be mistake number two. About a minute later I noticed smoke wafting out of the vents of the oven and opened it to find the entire baking dish on fire. After I panicked for a few seconds, watching the flames dance out of the oven, I grabbed the fire extinguisher, pulled the pin, and sprayed… directly at my feet because I’m a genius and didn’t unhook the hose first. It looked like there was a rock concert going on in my kitchen. Once the fire was out, I was left with the culinary masterpiece you see on the right. Nailed it.

Guinness and Cheddar Cheese Spread: Now this was good. And very difficult to screw up. I have three absolute favorite kitchen tools: My lovely onyx KitchenAid Artisan Series stand mixer, my secret weapon Cuisinart slow cooker, and my rock star Cuisinart Custom 14 food processor. Anytime I get to use any of those when cooking, I’m a happy girl. For this recipe, I had to pull out the food processor. This dip was ridiculously easy and there’s no actual cooking required. The next time I make it I’m going to add a bit more cheese and Guinness and tone the mustard down just a touch – It comes through very heavily, but in the best way possible. I served it with crackers, but I’m pretty sure if I attempted to put it on a corned beef sandwich I might die of happiness. A lot of dips need time to rest while the flavors distribute, so they don’t work as last minute recipes. One of the things I love about it is that you can make it in advance or make it and serve immediately. This dish is definitely a keeper.

Corned Beef Dip: This recipe needs some tweaking for the next go-round as I found it a bit bland. It definitely gets another shot, though, because it required the use of my slow cooker. Two of my favorite gadgets in one day? Swoon. Most of my slow cooker recipes need upwards of 6 or 7 hours to work, but this dip sets up pretty quickly. To make it, I threw the following in my slow cooker (after lining it with one of my favorite inventions ever, a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner) and set it on low for two hours: 1/2 pound of thinly sliced deli corned beef (chopped), a bar of cream cheese (cubed), a 16 oz. container of sour cream, a 10 oz. can of sauerkraut and a cup of Swiss cheese (shredded). Like I said, I found it to be bland. The next time I make it, I’m going to increase the cheese to a cup and a half, double the corned beef to a pound, and up the sauerkraut to 16 oz. I’m also planning to add some grainy dijon mustard to give it more of a kick. After it was done cooking, I left the slow cooker on warm and served it from there with rye crackers. Already looking forward to trying this again!

Guacamole: I know, it probably doesn’t get any less Irish than guacamole. But, I’ll use any excuse to make it. And it’s green, so it gets a pass. I’ve been tweaking my guacamole recipe constantly for the past few years. Last night I cheated and used some pre-diced vegetables. It was packaged as “salsa,” but it was really more of a pico de gallo made up of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, jalapenos, and peppers. It saved me some time and it was fresh, so it worked pretty well. For last night’s guacamole I mashed 3 avocados with a 1/2 cup of the pico, a large minced clove of garlic, the juice of one lime, a 1/4 teaspoon of oregano, a  heaping 1/2 tablespoon of cumin, and a heavy hand on the salt. Cumin is one of my favorite spices, so I typically play around with how much I use and add a bit more after tasting.

So, what started out as me almost setting my entire kitchen on fire ended up as a great night with a few of my favorite people. I hope your St. Patrick’s Day was a blast and that you made it through without a horrific hangover. Till next year, Erin go Bragh, or Éire go Brách for my fellow Micks.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

Spring Purging and Cleaning March 11, 2012

Filed under: Lifestyle,Organization — sincerelystasia @ 4:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Just in time for an absolutely beautiful week to debut, I’m finally not sick anymore so it’s time to get back to business. The weather has been warming up on the east coast (albeit much earlier than usual) and I’ve had visions of sandals, sundresses, and lazy beach days dancing around in my head pretty much nonstop. My large jar of Yankee Candle Green Grass, which is like instant spring, has been burning constantly. Side note: This is one of my all time faves – I stock up whenever I see it. It smells exactly like the grass incense that the Gap carried for a hot second in the 90’s. You’re welcome for the obscure reference.

Spring, for me, is a perfect time for purging. Everything just seems so fresh and new and exciting – Why not get rid of all the crap I have that I don’t need? Normally this means going through my closet and drawers and getting rid of old clothes. I do it every year, but this year I’m putting it in overdrive and really going for it. I’ve decided to go inch by inch through all of my stuff, donating what I think is worth anything and trashing everything else. This is no easy task so today I started small, or so I thought. My bathroom had to be pretty simple, right?

I started by going through my drawers and throwing out any products that were either past their prime or that I don’t use anymore. At first I was hesitant to let some of it go, but once I bit the bullet and tossed some stuff I kinda wanted to keep I couldn’t stop. I went through the drawers, the cabinets, the drawers I put IN the cabinets… Before I knew it I had an entire garbage bag filled with stuff. Some of it was empty bottles and jars, some of it was makeup I’d never even opened that I knew I would never wear. I found attachments for blowdryers that met their maker years ago, including a diffuser for drying curly hair. Seriously? I’ve been having my hair straightened for 2 years now. Useless. I couldn’t believe how much crap I’d accumulated over the past few years. In the picture you can see some of what I ended up tossing – And that was just the top of the bag. As I took it outside I immediately felt 10 times lighter.

Then the cleaning started. I’ll admit something to you here… I love Scrubbing Bubbles. Weird, right? I love spraying that foam on something and listening to it do its thing as it works its magic on whatever dirt and grime is unfortunate enough to be underneath. I Scrubbing Bubbled the hell out of every inch of my bathroom today. The inside of drawers, cabinets, plastic containers… No mercy.

Then I took a look at the makeup I’d decided to keep. Some of it almost went in the trash because it looked like trash. I figured, if I’m cleaning what I’m putting the products in, shouldn’t the the products that go in be clean, too? Yes friends, with a paper towel in hand and a bizarre mission, I Scrubbing Bubbled my actual stuff. No mercy, right? I realized I’d been passing over some of my products because they looked like garbage. Here you can see the before and after of a jar of loose eyeshadow. It looked like junk from being in and out of various makeup bags and drawers where other products inconsiderately exploded, broke, opened and so on. Regardless, I’m much more likely to reach for something if I can tell what it is at a glance and I don’t feel like I’ll have to wash my hands just from picking it up.

Once my bathroom was clean, top to bottom and inside and out, I looked at what I had left. In the spirit of full disclosure, I really should have taken a “before” picture, but most people would probably have been horrified. I know I was when I felt the weight of the bag I was bringing down to the trash. Below is a picture of all of the products I own, not including one bottle of hair serum and some other assorted toiletries that were already neatly tucked into a drawer before the photo shoot started. It’s all of my makeup and it may seem like a lot of stuff, but comparatively? Whoa, what a difference. I use only a few of these things on a daily basis and the rest gets pulled out every now and then.

The important thing is that spring hits this week and I feel like I’m ahead of the game with my spring cleaning. I started with what I thought was a small project and a few hours later I already can’t wait to go through my closet next weekend. That, my friends, will be an adventure but it’s going to be fun. Now admit it to yourself – You have stuff in a drawer or a closet or a cabinet in your bathroom that you don’t need. Go purge. It feels awesome.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

Who Are You Writing Your Story For? March 2, 2012

This week I started one of my favorite writing units with my students: Fiction. I love listening to them brainstorm and hearing them get excited about each other’s stories, which are typically very creative. To start the unit, I always have them develop a main character that they’ll use throughout their stories.

To do so, I ask them to put their heads down and I walk them through a scenario where someone has entered our classroom and is standing in our doorway. Whoever they choose to see becomes their character. They first imagine and write down the characters’ external traits, then dig a little deeper to brainstorm their internal traits.

I teach them that one of the most important steps in making their characters come to life is that they have to be real. In order for them to be real and believable, they can’t be perfect. We discuss, at length, how no one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Everyone has things they’re not good at. Everyone is scared of something. Those features are what make the characters human and give them obstacles and problems we can write into their stories, giving them the opportunity to solve those problems and grow.

I’ve taught this lesson, with some minor tweaking, every spring for the last four years. It wasn’t until I taught it this week that I realized I haven’t been following my own advice. Like everyone else, I’ve come into contact with many people in my life, and especially in this past year, who gain pleasure from pointing out what they see as other people’s flaws and shortcomings. I never teach my students that if someone keeps their nose in your business it means they’re jealous because, honestly, it’s not always true. Sadly, some just enjoy that sort of thing. People like that are toxic and I’ve let them get to me. No more.

Straight to the Point: No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. I’ve started embracing mine – They make me who I am. Things I haven’t been good at, things I wish I’d done differently, or obstacles and problems I’ve been faced with have helped form my character and given me the chance to strengthen my resolve as I’ve moved past them. Someone told me a few months ago that it’s not about your past, it’s about your future. I agree, as long as you factor in that the issues and problems you’ve encountered in your past affect the way you approach your future. It’s up to you to decide that outcome.

I learned an important lesson from my brother a few years ago. When people try to publicize what you’ve done “wrong” or what you’re not good at, why deny it? Your issues become a lot less interesting and people don’t have much they can say if you’ve embraced your faults. I am far from perfect, but I love who I am and I wouldn’t be that person without my strengths and my weaknesses. Most importantly, the only person that has to like who you are is you, and if you’re not happy, you have the power to change. It’s like I tell my students constantly – Your story isn’t finished until you decide it’s good enough. And even then, when you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

The Origins of the Sephora Obsession March 1, 2012

Filed under: Fashion,Lifestyle,Style — sincerelystasia @ 11:22 pm
Tags: , ,

I’m late today, I know, but instead of coming right home after class I had to check out a new wine bar with a grad school friend for Chianti and tuna tartare. For the record, it was fabulous. On to my late night post (and yes, as a teacher during the school year, this is now late night).

Like most people, I credit (or blame?) my family for who I am. My stubbornness and sarcasm: My dad. My tendency to be overly emotional and fiercely loyal: My mom. My outspokenness and love of sports: Gram Stasia. And, specific to today’s topic, my slight obsession with makeup: My Godmother, Aunt Kathy. I still hate acknowledging that she passed away in 2002 when she was only 46. There are a million things I love and I miss about my Aunt Kathy, who was really just incredible, but that’s another post for another day.

Since before I was born, Aunt Kathy was working for companies like Lancome, L’Oreal, and Revlon. Adding to her general fabulousness, she traveled extensively and spent some time living in London, where my lovely cousin was born, before moving back to NYC. Now to say that she was generous with products from her companies is a massive understatement. Every time she visited it was like Christmas. And when it was actually Christmas? Man. That was serious. One year we all got Revlon toolboxes that were literally filled with all sorts of makeup.

When I was a kid, she would come to visit and we’d go to the beach. I specifically remember one trip when she slathered some new, unreleased waterproof mascara on my 8-year-old lashes and sent me into the ocean to see if I would come back to our blanket without looking like a raccoon. I don’t remember the outcome, but I do remember how much fun it was when we played with makeup together.

I’m not going to say that, because we’d been playing with makeup together since I was little, I had any idea what I was doing. There’s a reason I don’t share pictures from intermediate school. Just take my word for it – We were clueless, I had access to every eyeshadow and lipstick color known to man, and it was the early 90’s. Horrific combination. But, I was completely hooked.

Now, I’d always been given all of my makeup by Aunt Kathy. Except, of course, for the pre-teen staples like Maybelline Watermelon Kissing Koolers (throwback!). After she left Revlon, I started buying my own drugstore makeup. Within the past few years, my skin decided it wanted to be fancy and I started having all sorts of fun allergic reactions to anything that I tried. During that time, fate introduced me to Sephora. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic.

Sephora is like a playground-amusement-park-happyland for women. That’s right, I said it. The downside is that everything is just a touch more expensive than, say, make up you’ll find at CVS. I won’t even get into the amount of money I spend at that store each year because it’s depressing. This is especially true considering I always know exactly what I’m going in for, so within 5 minutes I’m in and out of the store with a bag the size of my wallet and a receipt for upwards of $100. Oh, and I never impulse buy there. Ever. Is that believable?

Straight to the Point: I’ve been back and forth between a lot of different products over the past year and right now I’m really happy with what’s currently in my makeup bag. I highly recommend everything listed below… While they can be more expensive than some other products, there’s a reason for that.

NARS Sheer Matte Foundation: Light and sheer, but you can build it up if need be.

NARS Bronzing Powder in Laguna: The only bronzer I’ve ever found without an orange tint to it. Considering I’ve finally given in and admitted how ridiculously dangerous trips to the tanning salon are, I swear by this and it looks completely natural unless you try to Snookie yourself.

Stila Custom Color Blush in Self-Adjusting Coral: I was afraid of the orange-y color when the saleswoman showed it to Sephora!me, but it’s pretty amazing and is really quite soft.

Sephora Collection Pro Foundation Airbrush #55: I’ve used this brush for everything from liquid foundation to loose powder to bronzer to blush. It applies lightly, blends evenly, and cleans easily. Perfect.

Sephora Collection Ultra Shine Lip Gloss: Lots of colors to choose from, moisturizes, not too sticky. Doesn’t last too long, but it’s better than some others I’ve used.

Sephora Collection Colorful Mono Eyeshadow: Not overly expensive, applies nicely, lasts all day, and comes in about a thousand colors (although I’m usually boring and just wear a brown crease, lame-o).

Sephora Collection Classic All Over Shadow Brush Small #22: I’ve used it for all over color and contouring. Simple and all purpose, in my opinion.

Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil in Zero (black): Creamy eyeliner, applies smoothly.

Lancome Le Crayon Poudre – Powder Pencil for Brows: Brush on one end, powder pencil on the other. Genius.

Benefit They’re Real! Mascara: Jet black mascara that people have been raving about for a reason. I’m super picky about mascara. I’ve moved from Christian Dior Dior Show to Benefit Bad Gal Lash to this. The brush took a while to get used to because it’s stiff and plastic-y, but after using it just a few times I was completely won over. Love this!

I’m not going to pretend that this is everything I have in my arsenal, but it’s some of my favorite stuff. If you’ve never been to Sephora, I recommend a trip. However, don’t blame me if you become addicted to trying all of their fun products. You can blame it, second-hand, on my fabulous Aunt Kathy – I’m sure she’d be more than fine with it.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

Putting the Smile Back on a Nerd’s Face February 28, 2012

Straight to the point: Between yesterday’s post being kind of a downer and me being home sick from work, I’m admittedly a bit of a bad mood dude today. So, instead of laying in bed and catching up on my grad school work, I’m going to share a few things that generally just make me happy. I’m not going to share all of my happy triggers – I’ll save the rest for other days I need these reminders.

Cupcakes. I’ve mentioned that I love to bake. Usually by the time I’m done, I want nothing to do with eating what I’ve made. This is not because it won’t be delicious (come on, meow) or because I’m watching my girlish figure (more on this another day), but because I’ve been so immersed in tasting and smelling all of the sugary sweet goodness that I can’t even think about taking in any more. So, I like to share. And cupcakes? I don’t think I’ve ever given someone a homemade cupcake and not seen them grin like a 6-year-old. One of my all time favorite cupcakes to make is the pink lemonade cupcake with pink lemonade icing (pictured being all fancy). You can find this Paula Deen recipe here but fair warning: they are ridiculous and rot-your-teeth sweet, but it’s worth it. When I bake, it’s super rarely from a box, so shhh… Don’t tell.

Music. Obvious right? I love all kinds of music and I prefer for it to play, oh, pretty much at all times. When I’m cooking? Cleaning? Blow drying my hair? Commuting? Lesson planning? Relaxing? Working? Yup. And the mix is always random. In fact, I was famous (by my own definition) for my “Random Mix” CDs (volumes 1-6) in college. My list of favorites is constantly changing, but these will always be heavy in the rotation: System of a Down. Unwritten Law. Jethro Tull. Mumford & Sons. Led Zeppelin. Beastie Boys. Dave Matthews Band. Boxcar Racer. Okay, I could go on forever, but I’ll stop before I embarrass myself by mentioning the other bands on my iPod, like Was (Not Was) and Night Ranger. Yikes.

My Drunk Kitchen. If ever I’m a serious bad mood dude, all it takes is a little Hannah Hart from My Drunk Kitchen. I find it incredibly difficult to watch any of her episodes without cracking up. My all-time favorite is still Episode 8: Ice Cream? Someday… Who knew watching a grown, drunk woman slip all over her kitchen floor could be so mood-lifting? I highly recommend it.

Being a nerd. Newsflash, people: I am a huge nerd. Wanna be my best friend? Come on over with a couple bottles of wine and ask to spend the weekend watching the Star Wars saga from beginning to end. Things that are traditionally considered nerdy, like classical music (bonus points for live performances) and nonfiction WWII novels, make me very happy. I thought Camus’s L’Etranger was better than its translated sister, The Stranger. I know way more about professional wrestling than I should probably admit. I secretly miss my pre-Lasik thick-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses. I not-so-secretly love that I get to teach grammar. I will admit, though, that despite four attempts so far I’ve yet to make it all the way through Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. But hey, no one’s perfect.

Finally, this guy. Really, no explanation needed.

And for the record, yes. In the armor. And just like that, good mood restored. Now, go watch Hannah Hart get drunk and make some ice cream.

Sincerely, Stasia

 

UFC, Gin, Buffalo Chicken, and Taco Salad. And Tums. February 25, 2012

Filed under: Lifestyle,Recipes — sincerelystasia @ 9:16 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m about to blow your mind, I know, but did you know that teachers have lives outside of the classroom? It’s true! I could hardly believe it, either. Okay, it’s not always true. Today is Saturday and my plan consists of grading 45 assessments and 45 center packets before I start reading for my own classes, but after that it’s time for cooking and mixology.

Tonight, friends, is UFC144. I’ll admit it: I love any sport that involves grown men beating on each other. This typically involves my two faves, ice hockey and UFC. Combining the facts that I love to entertain and that I hail from Toms River, NJ, I clearly need to host my friends tonight and watch my hometown boy, Frankie Edgar, defend his title against Benson Henderson.

Now theme parties are fun and all, but I’m more interested in serving things that are likely to disappear as soon as I set them out rather than making sure the color of the drinks matches the color of the tablecloth and napkins and hors d’oeuvres and so on. Featured on tonight’s menu, among other things, will be buffalo chicken dip (courtesy of The Bitten Word via Pinterest), taco salad (courtesy of my amazing mom, Lady), beer (courtesy of Miller Lite, Sam Adams, and Yuengling), and Bee’s Knees (courtesy of the fabulous bartenders at Catherine Lombardi’s). Note: Absolutely none of those things go together, but they’re individually so awesome that they definitely won’t live to see the title fight. If you make them all together, perhaps leave out a bowl of Tums for dessert.

Straight to the Point: There’s really no point today – Just sharing some of my favorite recipes.

  • Amazing Buffalo Chicken Dip:Click here to get the recipe from The Bitten Word. Not exactly for calorie counters, but you could skinny it up, although I wouldn’t recommend it because it’s perfect as is. Just do a couple extra sit-ups tomorrow.
  • Taco Salad: I’ve been making this for my friends since I lived in my sorority house in college and was shocked to find out it wasn’t a staple in homes all over America. Note: While best on day one with its crunchy/hot/cold-ness, it’s awesome heated up the 2nd day too, in all its soggy glory. Just mix together the following and you’re ready to roll: 1 lb cooked ground beef, 1 pkg taco seasoning, 1 bottle ranch dressing, 1 bag crushed nacho cheese Doritos, shredded lettuce (the amount varies depending on how salad-y [technical term] you like your salad), 2 diced tomatoes. Add two extra miles to your extra sit-ups tomorrow.
  • The Bee’s Knees: This is a gin drink that I fell in love with recently at Catherine Lombardi’s in New Brunswick. You’ll find an interesting history of this prohibition era drink here. Perhaps fitting for a UFC party if you can make the connection between muay thai and 1920’s bare-knuckle fisticuffs. You can vary the measurements to make it more tart or sweet depending on your taste, but this is how I like it. Pour the following into a shaker of ice and strain into a martini glass: 2 oz. gin (I prefer Hendrick’s), 1 oz. honey syrup (made by boiling water and adding an equal part of honey until it dissolves – only takes a hot minute and is completely worth it). 1 oz. lemon juice (don’t be lazy – squeeze a couple lemons and put that awful plastic bottle away). This can also be made in large quantities – If you’re making a pitcher, try topping it with prosecco because sparkling wine obviously makes everything better. Leave Advil, water, and a cough drop on your nightstand. Just trust me on the cough drop. 

So there you have it – A mish-mosh of deliciousness… Enjoy the rest of your weekend and let’s go Frankie! We are TR!

Sincerely, Stasia

 

 
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