Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

Dreams March 24, 2013

Filed under: Doctoral Work,Life,Random Thoughts — sincerelystasia @ 8:47 pm
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Dreams

Now that my final qualifying exam has been submitted and I’m trying to de-stress, I found this appropriate. Dream big, friends.

Sincerely, Stasia

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Best Sandwich Ever January 8, 2013

Filed under: Recipes — sincerelystasia @ 8:53 pm
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My time off after surgery has flown by! I’ve accomplished next to nothing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it’s what the doctor actually told me to do. I was hoping to get a bit more done, however, before I go back to work this coming Monday. Yesterday I had my post-op appointment, where I was finally cleared to drive and lift up to 20lbs (watch out large bags of potatoes, toddlers, and car tires – I’m coming for you; my fat dogs, however, are still safe). Naturally the first place I drove to by myself was the mall. I’m getting away from the point, but those of you who follow the blog should be used to that by now.

Despite my crazy day of driving 20 minutes from home yesterday, however, I decided to take it easy today. Doc cautioned me against too much too soon and, stubborn as I am, I guess I should listen. In lieu of a 20lb lifting spree, I decided to try out two Pinterest pins I’ve had my eye on – One is a sugar scrub for legs, the other a homemade cleanser for makeup brushes. I’ll share my opinions on those in my next post. Afterwards I showered (still no small feat) and thought about what to make for dinner. That’s when I made the best sandwich I’d ever eaten. True story.

I’m obsessed with goat cheese. If I see anything on a restaurant menu that lists goat cheese as an ingredient, I have difficulty turning it down. Goat cheese on burgers? Absolutely. Goat cheese on pizza? Hell yeah – Roman was onto something even though Chet wasn’t willing to give it a chance [obscure 80’s movie reference]. Alas, I didn’t have any ground beef or pizza dough. Booooo. But, I did have a few items you’ll always find in my fridge: butter, goat cheese, yellow onions, and bacon. I don’t always have bread, but I happened to have a loaf of boring white bread in the pantry. It had no idea that it was about to go from super blah to absolutely spectacular.

Grilled cheese is awesome, right? Duh. Grilled goat cheese with caramelized onions and bacon? Good Lord, yes, such a thing exists. And it’s glorious. I didn’t come up with something completely new, but I was annoyed with myself that I’d never considered it before. It seems like a lot for a weeknight dinner, but you can get a quite a bit done around the house while the onions are caramelizing and the bacon is cooking. Welcome to heavy rotation in my dinner menu, beautiful.

 

Raw Onions

I started by slicing up a medium sized yellow onion. It might seem like a lot for two sandwiches, but it reduces in size a lot when it cooks. Onions go in a pan over medium low heat with one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. Give them a little toss every now and then. They’ll be beautifully caramelized in about 40-50 minutes.

Raw Bacon

Next I threw my bacon in the oven. Yup – In the oven. The great thing about this is that it’s much easier to clean afterwards, the bacon is crisp and delicious without curling up, and you’re free to do whatever you like while it cooks since you don’t need to keep an eye on it. Oh, and no burning yourself with wayward grease splatter. Bonus. I used to line a baking sheet with aluminum foil only. Now, in addition, I add a layer of parchment paper. It helps the bacon crisp up a little better and absorbs some of the grease. Put the bacon in a cold oven and then set it to bake at 400 degrees. Don’t worry about the preheating time – It’s factored in! It will usually take about 20 minutes to cook, depending on how crispy you like your bacon.

Finished Bacon

 When the bacon is done, transfer it to some paper towels as you usually would. Bacon CleanupTo the right you’ll see one of my favorite things about this method. That, my friends, is a neatly folded little package that gets tossed directly in the garbage. Baking sheet is still clean, no disgusting grease container necessary. Do not, however, get cocky and forget grease can still drip from the seams if you don’t keep them facing up. You don’t need to know how I know that.

Caramelized Onions

This is what my onion looked like after 40 minutes over medium low heat. See what I mean about the reduction in size? I had a bit left over when building my sandwiches, but I absolutely should have used all of the onions evenly split between the two.

Partially Built

Ready for Grill PanHere you’ll see the next steps in my sandwich building endeavor. First I melted a few tablespoons of butter. Those of you who’ve been here before are familiar with my OCD-ish tendencies. I really dislike when I try to butter bread and the bread tears. Problem solved with a microwave and a pastry brush, with which I brushed one side of two slices of bread. On the other slices I layered a healthy amount of goat cheese, the caramelized onions, and two slices of bacon (each broken in half then layered horizontally and vertically). Once you put the sandwich together you’re ready to roll.

I use a grill pan for my grilled cheese. Heat it up over medium heat and put the sandwich buttered side down. This is helpful information if you’ve never made grilled cheese before. If that’s the case, I’m about to ruin grilled cheese for you. Forever. Anyway, once it’s on the grill I butter the other side of the bread and throw a lid on the pan to help the cheese start to melt. Use your judgement regarding when to flip – Usually about a minute and a half. Flip the sandwich, cover, wait about a minute. The second side cooks more quickly then the first, so keep a close eye.

Heavenly Deliciousness

Here you have it. A seriously heavenly sandwich. Like, one-bite-in-and-automatically-my-favorite-sandwich-ever good. I had planned to pair this with a box of tomato and roasted red pepper soup. However, since it had found a home in the back of my pantry, the expiration date was past due. Typical. So instead? Corn. Total insult to this sandwich. Next time I’m thinking either tomato or another attempt at tomato and roasted red pepper soup, but mixed with some cream cheese for an extra rich kick. Don’t ‘tsk tsk’ me – If you’ve made it this far you’re obviously not all that concerned with your caloric intake.

Straight to the Point: Grilled Goat Cheese with Caramelized Onions and Bacon

Ingredients (for two sandwiches)

  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into strips
  • Bacon
  • Goat cheese (about 3oz)

Steps to Deliciousness

  • Over medium low heat, melt one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions. Stirring occasionally, cook for 40-50 minutes or until caramelized.
  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil first, then a layer of parchment paper. Place four slices of bacon side-by-side on the baking sheet (more if you’re like me and need extra on the side to make sure it tastes good enough for everyone else and possibly share with others). Put baking sheet in a cold oven and set baking temp to 400 degrees F. Bacon will be finished in approximately 17-20 minutes depending on how well done you prefer your bacon.
  • Spread butter on one side four slices of bread. Placing the buttered side down, spread a healthy amount of goat cheese on two slices.
  • Top with caramelized onions, evenly split between each piece.
  • Break four pieces of bacon in half. Layer two halves horizontally with two halves vertically on each piece of bread.
  • Top each sandwich with another piece of bread, buttered side up.
  • Heat a dry grill or frying pan over medium heat. Place both sandwiches in the pan and cover to help cheese melt. After about a minute and a half, flip the sandwiches with a spatula. Cover and cook for just about a minute.
  • Remove from heat, enjoy your sandwich, don’t count your calories, and thank me for it all later.

And that, my friends, is the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. And I thought of it myself (mini pat on the back). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes!

Sincerely, Stasia

 

Spring Purging and Cleaning March 11, 2012

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

 

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

 

 
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