My Quest for Tex-Mex

Tex Mex Neon SignRewind to 2002 and you’d find our family comfortably settled in a suburb of Houston, Texas – named one year as the fattest city in America, partially due to the number of dining out options. You couldn’t turn a street corner without running into great Mexican food – whether it was a local mom-and-pop diner known for authentic Mexican, or a chain restaurant specializing in Tex-Mex, the choices were endless.

Now that we live in Florida, good Mexican and good Tex-Mex food is hard to come by. Here you’ll find awesome Cuban food, but when you go out for Mexican you usually end up with ketchup-y salsa and pre-packaged tortillas. Blech.

Since we’ve been back in FL (almost 10 years now), I’ve been on a quest to recreate my favorite restaurant’s Mexican food. Here’s an index to the recipes I’ve collected.

Secret Dirty Grout Solution

Soft Scrub Bleach Clean Gel CleanserUPDATE! DON’T DO THIS! Apparently bleach dissolves grout. So far I haven’t seen any problems but when a helpful commenter told me, I stopped using this. My grout looks cruddy again, too.

This handy little bottle to my right is my new best friend. Our dog, Matilda, threw up in the foyer the other day and after cleaning up the mess, I used this to deal with any germs. It just happened to be the first bottle of cleaner I could find under the sink, and probably not what I would have chosen if I’d really looked closely.

But after it sat working for 5 minutes, I went to wipe it up and immediately noticed how clean the grout looked!

Now, I’ve been dealing with stained, nasty-looking grout for years. I went through a phase summer-before-last where I bought a couple of different bottles of grout cleaner that didn’t work at all, and tried several different home remedies that, well, MAY have worked…it was hard to tell.

This wasn’t. This was obvious. Was it a fluke? I decided to head to the kitchen, where the grout looked the worst, to try it again. This time I was armed with the spray bottle and a toothbrush. Let’s just say it went well…very well:

Contrast between dirty and clean groutThis picture shows the intersection between four tiles. I used the Soft Scrub on the right-hand grout line and it soaked a small ways into each of the other grout lines. The dark grout is what it looked like below.

I know, gross, right?

So today I went back and did the entire kitchen.

 

Here’s what I learned.

1. Only letting the solution soak, and then mopping, does about 80% of the job. To get it really clean, scrub with a toothbrush.

2. It leaves a sticky residue, which I noticed after cleaning up the dog vomit. Today I rinsed several times with hot water then wiped everything up with a towel (which immediately went into the wash!)

3. There are some holes in my grout. I couldn’t see them before because the shadow of the hole was the same color as the grime on the grout!

4. Target doesn’t sell this stuff – at least, my local Super Target doesn’t. I wanted another bottle; I have LOTS of tile. I’ll have to try Publix on my next trip.

5. This is HARD work. Not if you just have a spot, but there’s a lot more grout to scrub than I would originally have guessed.

6. Don’t waste time on a special trip to your local home improvement store for dedicated grout cleaner! It’s a waste of time and money…and elbow grease.

The best news is that I’ve been hoping to save up enough money and prioritize a grout cleaning/sealing from Stanley Steemer since last year. They quoted me just under $1000 to clean my tile and grout, and to seal the grout. Fortunately (it turns out) we had other more pressing home repairs to real with, so I had to wait on this. Now I don’t… I’m going to give the kitchen one more application this coming week then seal it myself with stuff I saw at the Home Depot.

Here’s the final results (well, almost final…this was after the entire kitchen cleaning today). I should have taken a before picture, but suffice it to say that my grout hasn’t looked this good since we first moved in:

Final Results

My Crazy New Obsession

We made one of our common treks to Disney World a couple of weeks ago. When we got there, the road was blocked, and all of a sudden my husband says, “Oh no, I forgot it was the marathon weekend!” We still made it to the Magic Kingdom, had a great time and all – but all the runners were there too. You could pick them out because:

A. They had on expensive running shoes
B. Many had on those cool non-cotton shirts, which said “I did it!”
C. They all had on MARATHON BLING

OK, I have to admit, I’ve never seen these medals before. They were huge. They were gold. I think they had Donald Duck on them. And they were cool… I wanted one.

Disney Marathon Medals

So now I’m unofficially training for a half-marathon (“because I’m only half crazy”, as the bumper sticker says). I haven’t registered for a race or anything, but I downloaded the half-marathon training manual and started it this week. Two maintenance runs down, and a 3-mile run this weekend. I’m not too worried – I did 3 miles just a few weeks ago. The next week is 4 miles. Still ok; I’ve done that before too. By February, though, I’m in to 7-9 mile weekends. That has me a little worried!

If I make it that far, I think I’ll treat myself to some of those expensive running shoes, even if I have to shoplift them (kidding!)

PS – I got my 9-year-old son out running with me, which should help his base running in Little League and travel ball this spring. He’s a motor mouth though, and talks continuously through the runs. I have to send him back to the house at my halfway point just so I can get some “me time” while running.

Another Yummy, Healthy Smoothie

Here’s my latest favorite way to down my veggies! This smoothie has two full servings of greens, plus a helping of fruit too. It’s packed with vitamins, and has a low glycemic index if you use unsweetened almond milk. Just don’t overdo the honey, which has lots of sugar.

Original recipe from Joy the Baker.

Ingredients for Pear, Kale, and Spinach Smoothie

Ingredients for Pear, Kale, and Spinach Smoothie

Shopping List

Raw spinach
Raw kale
1 pear
1 under-ripe banana
almond milk
honey

Use organic fruits and veggies if they are readily available. For added immune support, find locally-grown honey; it helps you body fight of locally-grown germs!

Pear, Kale, and Spinach Smoothie

Pear, Kale, and Spinach Smoothie

Preparation

Start with 1 cup each raw spinach and raw kale. Kale is the curly-leaved vegetable shown in the photo above. Kale has a thick stalk in the middle of each leaf; you want to remove the more tender green parts and discard the center stem. Put both into the blender with a cup of unsweetened almond milk. Blend thoroughly until you’ve gotten rid of as many small bits of greens that you can.

Add 1 banana (frozen, if you think to do this in advance), 1 chopped pear, and 1 teaspoon honey. Blend again until everything is thoroughly mixed.

Cover Yourself

My college friend Bryan on Facebook just pointed me to a great video of Bob Mould doing a cover of Sugar’s “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”. In the opening interview he shrugs his shoulders and says “they were a great band”. In case you don’t know, Bob was their lead singer + guitarist. Enjoy the show.


Bob Mould “covers” Sugar

Yummy Fruit and Spinach Protein Smoothie

I know, I know, it doesn’t sound yummy, but this is one of my favorite ways to get down a serving of leafy green veggies. As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed more of a taste for vegetables, but I still have trouble getting as many as I should. So last year while I was obsessed (?!?) with watching Thintervention, this shake that Jackie Warner made really caught my attention. And it’s really good!

Fruit and Spinach Smoothie

See all those little green flecks in there? That’s frozen spinach. If you do a really good job blending it up, you don’t really notice it. (If you don’t, it can be a little stringy and get caught in your teeth.) Here are all the add-in ingredients I use in the smoothie.

Smoothie Ingredients

I got all of these from my local GNC – nothing special ordered or hard-to-find.  The whey protein comes from milk, and the carnitine, glutamine and BCAAs are amino acids that your body uses to synthesize proteins. These make this a perfect pre- or post-workout shake, because the protein and amino acids help your body rebuild the muscle that you broke down during your workout. And the flax seed oil is a good fat. In addition, I use half a box of frozen spinach and a cup of frozen fruit – my favorite, and the one in the picture, is the mixed berry mix from Target. It has blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries and makes a really nice color. They also have a mix of strawberries, pineapple, and mango that tastes really good but looks like dirt 🙂

Ingredients in Blender

Recipe:

1/2 package frozen chopped spinach
1 cup of frozen mixed berries without added sugar
1 Scoop Vanilla Protein Powder *
1 tsp Glutamine Powder
1 tsp BCAA Powder
1 tbsp liquid L-Carnitine
1/2 tbsp Flax Seed Oil (liquid)
1 cup crushed ice
A little bit of water to help it blend

* I can’t tolerate sugar replacements so I use the regular kind, but only about 2/3 of a scoop. You can use the low-sugar or carb-control kinds if you want.

Smoothie in Blender

Enjoy! (Original recipe from Thintervention)

My Zumba Love Affair

ZumbaEveryone who knows me knows that my one true fitness love is Zumba. A Latin-inspired combination of dance and aerobics, the Zumba craze has spread worldwide. I took my first class in September of 2010 and was immediately hooked. In March 2011 I took Zumba Basic I and officially became a licensed Zumba instructor. I’m lucky enough to live in Florida, so the annual instructor convention is really close, and in July I spent 4 days in Orlando taking specialty classes in belly dancing, African rhythms, and also got additional licenses in Zumba toning and Zumbatomic, which is the kids program.

I’ll post a lot of Zumba-related things here as time goes by for sure, but I wanted to mention that I have a special site dedicated to Zumba and my classes and experiences. So if you get a chance, head on over to ZumbaSusan.com!

Witch’s Hat Cookies

Well I almost got through the entire Halloween season without doing ANY of the cute crafts and goodies I’d saved to my holiday board on Pinterest. But today I made these adorable Witch’s Hat Cookies – quick and easy and now I’m just waiting for the kids to get home from school to see how they like them!

Everything is pre-made and all you do is put it together. You start with Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies:

Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies

And a bag of Hersey’s Kisses:

Hersey's Kisses

Flip the cookie over so that the chocolate side shows, and pipe a small ring of orange icing around the hole:

Then just plop a kiss right on top, covering the hole. The icing will hold it in place:

Witch's Hat Cookie

Here’s a plate of several that’s sitting on the kitchen table waiting to be gobbled up!

Witch's Hat Cookies

Thanks to whomever posted this originally; the pin comes from here but I have no idea what the blog is!

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

I have a soft spot for sweet, high-calorie dishes that are named “salads”, so we can eat them as a side dish, pretending they aren’t desserts, while saving room for cakes and cookies later on. This one is spot on, and was one my Granny use to make very often. It’s a bit of a surprise – lots of these things sound like they wouldn’t taste very good together. But the final result is a perfect blend of sweet, fruity, salty, and buttery. Yum!

Strawberry Pretzel Salad Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 cups crushed pretzels
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 c. + 4 T sugar
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 16-oz package Cool Whip
  • 1 large package strawberry Jell-O
  • 1 10-oz package frozen strawberries, thawed

A note on the pretzels: use the regular salted kind, unless you want to lower salt for health reasons – the salt definitely adds spunk to the dish. I use stick pretzels, and crush them inside a ziplock freezer bag with my meat hammer.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad - Layer 1, the PretzelsLayer 1

Mix together pretzels, melted 3/4 cup butter, and 4 T sugar in a small bowl. Pat into a 9×12 baking dish, and bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes. Afterward your bottom layer will look like the one above. I’d crush the pretzels a little more than shown here, because I had a few bare spots. You couldn’t tell when you ate it though 😉

Strawberry Pretzel Salad - Layer 2, the Cream Cheese and Cool WhipLayer 2

Cream together softened cream cheese and 1 cup sugar. Fold in entire package of Cool Whip. Spread over cooled pretzel layer.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad - FinishedLayer 3

Prepare Jell-O with 2 cups boiling water, stirring until completely dissolved. Add strawberries. Chill in the refrigerator until the Jell-O is just starting to gel, then pour over cream cheese layer. (If you pour too soon, the liquid Jell-O seems past the edges and ruins the pretzel layer.)

To finish, cover with Saran Wrap and refrigerate for an hour. If you let the Saran Wrap touch the Jell-O, it will help prevent that yucky skin from developing – but it can also pull the Jell-O layer away from the cream cheese layer. It’s up to you.

Sliced to Show Layers

And remember, it’s a salad so you can still have a “real” dessert!

A Game of Thrones

I just finished A Game of Thrones tonight. I know it came out forever-ago on HBO, but I refused to watch it until I read the book first. So thanks to Amazon, I grabbed a copy for Kindle on my iPhone and I’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks now.

My favorite reading material is Historic Fiction, especially writers like Sharon Kay Penman and Diana Gabaldon. I don’t normally read a lot of fantasy, but A Game of Thrones is close enough to the read medieval world that it really grabbed me. The fictional land, primarily centered around The Seven Kingdoms, is a feudal society united under a central king for the past 300 years. The lands are guarded to the north by The Wall, and 300-ft tall (if I recall correctly!) wall of ice that keeps out the people who live there, as well as the more supernatural beings like The Others, and the Children of the Forest (whom, at the end of this book, we still don’t know for certain that they exist).

There are three main parts of the story – first is the section centered around King Robert Baratheon and Lord Eddard Stark, the politics and intrigue of the court, and finally the war between the Queen’s people and the Stark family and the houses sworn to them. The second section involves the people who guard the Wall, including Lord Stark’s illegitimate son Jon, and their encounters with life beyond the Wall. The final section involves the only two descendants of the recently deposed royal family, and the barbaric Dothraki people to whom the erstwhile princess is married.

It’s not a GREAT book, in my opinion, but good enough to deserve the time spent reading it. And now, since the episodes are long gone from HBO (and because Brighthouse doesn’t have HBO Go thank you very much) I’m scouring the internet for places where I can watch the episodes online. So far I’ve only seen the first one, but it mirrors the book fairly well, except that the Tangaryn’s eyes aren’t purple, darn it all.

I think I’m going to try to finish the movies before I start book 2 – since the new episodes, I assume, will start next April.