Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Hiatus is Over!

Happy June everyone!

I've been away from blogging for several months, for a variety of reasons, but I'm back now, and have PLANS. Don't I always? But this time, I actually have thought out my plans and have a real intention of executing them!

You may notice that the sidebar introduction changed a while back. Mari will eventually join me in co-authoring the blog (and you will reap the benefits, as she is a baker extraordinaire!) when her schedule eventually permits. She's recently been promoted, and is carrying the workload of several people at the moment, in addition to all of her other activities, which I'll let her go into more detail about.

As for myself, I actually haven't done a whole lot of cooking/home improving/adventuring. I've been completely swamped by life - so much so that my family and friends have commented that they don't know how I'm doing it. I'm not sure either, but I feel like I've been running for months now! Let's see, since we last saw each other:

  • I was cast in (and choreographed) my first operetta, an early Gilbert & Sullivan piece called "The Sorceror". It was a small production, but full of talent, including Dave & Mari, who were in leading roles, and an old theater friend, Jim, who I last acted with 11 years ago!
  • I also auditioned for one of my "bucket list" shows at a theater known for putting on high-quality shows, and was cast in a small part (which has more lines and more dancing than I originally expected). So right now I'm in rehearsals 3-7 days a week for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" - and I couldn't be more excited!
  • On the work front, big changes have been happening. My company was acquired by another firm last summer, and so the last year has been all about transitioning both companies into a mega corporation. Back in March, I was actually offered a new position, and, given that I felt I'd grown stagnant in the job I'd held for 7 1/2 years, I jumped at the opportunity. Although I'm still sitting at the same desk in the same office, I have a new boss and entirely new responsibilities. The new job comes with challenges - it can be high-stress, have fits and spurts of insanely long hours, and has immovable deadlines that are dependent upon me wrangling a bunch of engineers who are reluctant to follow my schedules. On the other hand, I love the work and the challenges it presents, my new boss is wonderfully supportive and flat-out awesome, and I'm learning new skills every week!
  • On the home front, we finished framing out the basement (or, at least, the part we were working on), and then my furnace died, requiring a pricey repair and killing my basement budget. We're hoping to get back into it later this year, if the schedule eventually permits.
Now, on to the good stuff!

When I bought my house, I insisted that my parents (mostly Mom) cede a holiday or two for me to host. She wanted to keep the big holidays, so I got Thanksgiving and Memorial Day.

I didn't do any culinary inventing for my annual Memorial Day cookout this year, but I found some truly awesome recipes that were a big hit, and very yummy (I've been drowning in leftovers, but it's hard to get upset when it tastes that good)!

Memorial Day Menu:
Slow Cooker Corn-Jalapeno Bacon Dip - It didn't really fit in with the rest of the menu, but it was so delicious, no one cared! Note - cut the cream cheese into chunks so that it will melt faster!

BBQ Chicken - No recipe, just grilling chicken outside, then slathering it with my favorite Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce for the last 5-10 minutes on the grill. You can't go wrong!

Grilled Parmesan Corn on the Cob - I wasn't going to do this, because of the Corn Dip appetizer, but I found an insane sale on corn on the cob, and couldn't pass it up! I melted 4oz butter, and added 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 Tbsp parsley, and 1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese. After completely shucking the corn, I brushed the mixture onto each ear and grilled until done. Yum!

Smoky Panzanella with Market Vegetables - eating leftovers of this dish every day since Memorial Day probably explains why I've regained 3lbs in the last 8 days, but it's so fresh and scrumptious, who can blame me? If you can't find smoked mozzarella, don't worry - I used regular and it's still fabulous!

Ricotta Orzo - this was also the first time I had cooked with leeks, but it won't be the last! This dish seemed to be everyone's favorite of the day. I just loved that it was a new twist on the standard pasta salad!

Did you notice that I didn't have any desserts on my menu? That's because that's what all of my guests wanted to bring! Shawn brought Ghiradelli brownies, Mom made a Banana Split Cake, and Mari treated us all to Caramel Apple Pie mini-cupcakes.

Did I mention that I had regained some of the weight I lost?

Anyway, thanks for checking in - leave a comment to let me know what you've been up to this spring. Here's to getting things back on track!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Basement Upgrade - Week 1

In my last post, I mentioned that I had recently started a new work schedule that gives me Fridays off so that I can work on my latest project. Now that the project is underway, I'm so excited that I just can't contain my elation.

I'm finishing my basement!

The work space ready and waiting for walls.
Okay, to be completely honest, Dad and I are finishing the basement, with him taking point, as he is in possession of the know-how and the power tools we need to complete this thing. And what we're doing is the first of several phases. But I've lived in my house for 5 1/2 years now, and for about 5 years of that (hey, a girl has to settle in first before she starts trying to upend things), we've been discussing the options for making the basement a livable space, rather than just storage and place for bugs to go to die.

I fully recognize how truly lucky I am to have a Dad who is both willing and able to take on this project with me. Extra bonus - he's one of my absolute favorite people on the planet (I am a Daddy's girl, no lie), and this means that I get to spend a lot more time with him than usual!

Georgia playing "The Princess and
the Pea" on top of the stacked
deck cushions.
On Wednesday, we finally "broke ground", though not literally, since it's all interior upgrades, and not an addition. Dad arrived while I was at the office, and proceeded to clear out the space we would need while fending off attacks from Georgia, the four-legged menace who decided that since Dad smells like their boy cat, he must be the enemy.

Wednesday night, it was driven home to me that there were a lot more decisions to make than I had previously pondered (and let me tell you, there's been a lot of pondering in the last five years)! More than just, where do you want the wall to the bathroom to be, there were questions about door size (larger than average to make access to the utility/laundry room easier), closet orientation (important to have a closet opening in the room so that it could technically count as a bedroom), window seats (our answer to a spatial issue), etc. But the outline was laid out, and work was ready to begin.

Thursday, I knew I wasn't going to be able to help much, between my long office hours and my standing choir rehearsal obligation. Dad had been reading the manual for his new hammer shot (for nailing the frame to the concrete floor), and was all set to start. He was still hard at work when I stopped by the house to eat and pick up my music, but there was a door frame to show for it!

Then on Friday, the real fun started, since I had the whole day to help and get my hands dirty. Despite all of the theater, dance, music, crafts, etc., I have no qualms about digging in and getting messy. Growing up, it wasn't uncommon for me to spend hours weeding the gardens with Dad or running around barefoot in the woods. The smell of sawdust is the smell of home. So I was excited to get involved!

Cutting studs down to size.
At first, I wasn't much help, because I wasn't really sure what I could contribute, but when I mentioned to Dad that I'd always been a little nervous around power saws, he put me in charge of the miter saw and measuring and cutting studs. Nothing like conquering a fear (or at least a mild trepidation) head on! Before long, I was whipping out the studs as fast as he could nail them to the header! 

Dad speculated that we had probably done a bit of overkill, and that the wall was perhaps more solid and more tightly in place than necessary. But I think our family motto should be "Built to Last." I mean, my 91-year old grandfather is still living in the house he built himself around 1955, and it's still solid and lovely.

With some troubleshooting, a trip to Home Depot for supplies and brainstorming, and a break for a birthday lunch (he really earned it this year), we got two walls up before it was time for Dad to head home. But the fun continues later this week, where we tackle such challenges as a door! And another door! and a window! And a really long wall!

There be walls here!
I can't wait...

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Frozen Apple Raisin Oatmeal Cups

I've recently started a new work schedule that has caused me to have to readjust my daily routine. I'm working longer hours through most of the week, but now have Fridays off in compensation. The schedule is supposed to be temporary through the completion of my next big home project (more on that another time), but I enjoyed my first week on this schedule so much that I may just see if The Powers That Be would be amenable to letting me continue on.

One of the things I've had to do is to plan my daily meals ahead. I've pretty much always just grabbed leftovers and an apple or carrots for my lunch. That's why I store leftovers in single-serve containers for easy grabbing in the mornings.

But breakfast was always a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of affair. When I was in school, it was actually a point of pride for me that I didn't eat breakfast. I didn't NEED to eat breakfast. I was too good for breakfast.

I justified it by claiming that I had more energy without weighing myself down with an early meal, or that most breakfast foods were either too sugary (pastries) or too greasy (sausage) for my body to handle with any kind of comfort.

After joining the workforce, I started forcing myself to eat breakfast. Nothing much - a cup of fruit, a bowl of plain oatmeal, toast with homemade jam. Now, workday mornings don't even seem to start until I've had a quick bite as I check email.

With my new schedule, I need to get to work earlier in the mornings, or run the risk of having to stay til well after dark. Which means that breakfasts need to be prepped ahead. I stumbled across the fantastic idea on Pinterest for Heat and Eat Oatmeal, courtesy of Budget Bytes. I had seen similar ideas for making breakfast cups (usually egg-based) in muffin tins. But this seemed like the perfect solution for making ahead because they can be easily frozen and reheated without any of the risk of drying out or toughening. I made a few modifications to their recipe, but it was fast and easy to make, since I have all of the ingredients on hand at any given time. And it was so convenient this morning, since I had to drive to the office in the snow!

It turned out so scrumptiously, I'm looking forward to experimenting with other topping and flavor combinations!

Frozen Apple Raisin Oatmeal Cups


  • 2 cups Quick Oats
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 1/2 cup raisins


  1. Cook oats and salt in water according to directions on the package. When cooked through, add brown sugar and cinnamon; stir until completely blended.
  2. Coat 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or melted butter. Fill cups evenly with oatmeal. Top with apples and raisins; press toppings into oatmeal to make sure they freeze into the mixture.
  3. Allow oats to partially cool, then place pan in the freezer for several hours. When completely frozen, transfer to Ziploc bags and place in the freezer.
  4. To serve, place 2 frozen muffins in a microwave safe container, add 1/4 milk and heat for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes on high, stirring halfway through. 

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Beginnings

Happy New Year! 2015 is already off to a raring start!

So, I've been AWOL from the Interwebs since before Thanksgiving. A small part of it was laziness on my part. Okay, a somewhat decent-sized portion was laziness. At least half of it was the sheer craziness and frantic pace of the holidays. If you don't happen to know any musicians, you'll have to trust me - between Thanksgiving and New Years is our insanely jam-packed season.

So in the time I've been away, I've been running around like a crazy person, visiting friends and family, rehearsing, performing, and I actually managed to go out on a blind date (which I had to cut short due to the aforementioned rehearsing and performing). I've also...

... performed at the 25th Annual Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees, in front of this lovely audience. I also got to sing at a mall the week before Christmas, which was less crowded but five times noisier. My choir also recorded a holiday CD, which meant months of prep and a weekend of recording sessions - a very interesting process that I'm curious to try again, now that I've got a little experience under my belt.

...baked. A lot. And now I'm paying for it. But all of the new Christmas cookie recipes I tested this year were hits, so I think they're keepers! First, there was what I like to call "Christmas Crack" - pretzels topped with milk chocolate wafers slightly softened in a warm oven and finished off with a peanut M&M.

Then my brother and I made these delicious Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies that were so amazing and moist and easy that I'll be making them again next weekend for the cookie reception after my performances.

And, of course, it wouldn't be the holidays without eggnog, which is one thing I look forward to with absolute child-like glee every year. So I thought I'd try these Eggnog Meltaways. Lesson learned - I refrigerated the dough much longer than called for, so when I baked them, they didn't quite bake all the way through. Which, naturally, I didn't realize until I bit into one after I had already rolled the finished cookies in powdered sugar. So mine didn't turn out as lovely and powdery as pictures in the recipe, but they still had that fabulous eggnog flavor!

Finally, anyone who knows me at all knows that I am slightly obsessive over cranberries. I put them in everything - salads, scones, pork roasts. I just love them. So when I found this recipe for Cranberry Noel Tea Cookies, I just had to try it, despite my crazy schedule. After singing the late Christmas Eve service at church, I came home, pulled my double batch of dough out of the fridge, and baked long into the night, despite facing the drive across the state to my parents' house the next morning. Yes, I may have fallen asleep on the sofa Christmas Day while watching a movie with my family, but the rave reviews over the cookies made it worthwhile! Never having made a shortbread cookie before, I didn't realize how easy it could be, and definitely see myself playing with variations of this with different seasonal flavors all year long!

... rehearsing for my latest show, a review-style production of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", in which I play Judy Haynes (the dancing sister, for those playing the home game).

The show was supposed to open mid-December, but half of the cast came down with the plague (seriously, I've never heard of people getting both the flu and pneumonia simultaneously!), so out of necessity, we postponed until next week. The show has been kind of a hot mess since day one, but there are some really nice moments, terrific choreography, and some lovely people involved, so I suppose the experience has been worth it.

...cataloguing and reorganizing my book collection. This sounds both nerdy and insignificant. The first I'll proudly cop to. The second... well, you can judge for yourself:

I started with the A authors on the
stairs to the second floor.
The C authors were too numerous for the stairs,
so they got their own room.
This is some of M-V in the sunroom, as due to how I had to wrap
the stacks around, I couldn't fit it all in the same frame.
As always, Georgia "helped".

 I've been working on cataloguing in a database, mostly to keep track of what I have and any reading orders for series. I started that project 6 years ago, before I moved, but I've since gone to writing conferences and bought or received enough to start my own library. I started again on Christmas Day, in preparation for the construction that we're going to be initiating in the basement in a few weeks (can I just say that I'm unbelievably excited for this to happen?). In the week I've been slogging through my stash, I've only made it through the L authors - for my fiction. I haven't even gotten to the non-fiction and reference books yet. And the law and academic texts are still living in the basement, because those boxes are too heavy to move if I don't have to!

I'm sure there's a great deal more, but those are the highlights. Now it's time to look forward to the next year. There are changes a-coming, and truth be told, I'm kind of excited for what the year may hold!

Happy New Year!

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Colorful

What a crazy week last week was! After eight straight days of music and theater tasks, I was so happy to get to Friday, and a rare evening free! Of course, I spent the evening catching up on laundry and trying desperately to be able to see, since I had endured my vision exam at the optometrist that afternoon, and he had insisted on dilating my eyes. Eye phobias + doctor induced near-blindness is a recipe for disaster!

Fortunately, on Saturday I knew I was in for a treat. The Color Run came to Baltimore, and for the third time in a year, I was there to throw myself into the full spirit of "The Happiest 5K on the Planet!"

Mari & Kelly, after the last Color Zone.
*Photo courtesy of Donna Smith
OK, for those of you unfamiliar with The Color Run, it's an untimed 5K (approximately 3.2 miles) race that you can either walk or run. Most people, at least in Baltimore, tend to walk it, as the course is narrow in a few places that makes it difficult to bypass slower folk in front of you or parents with baby strollers. You'd be amazed at how many strollers there are.

The catch is, you pass through "Color Zones", where volunteers pelt you with colored cornstarch. Hence, the "color" in "The Color Run". My understanding is that most cities have 4 color zones. Baltimore somehow rates a 5th color zone, since the course goes around both Camden Yards, our ballpark, and M&T Bank Stadium, our football stadium, where we get the special Purple zone.

The Color Run also partners with The Cool Kids Campaign, which is a charity for pediatric cancer patients. Every year, they have one zone where the volunteers are all cancer survivors and oncological staff. It definitely puts a positive spin on supporting a worthy cause!

This was my third Color Run, and by far the coldest. When I got in my car to pick up my teammates, the thermometer read 25 degrees! Plus, we had our first snow of the year on Thursday, so there was no escaping the cold! Although I'm originally from the chilly state of Montana and used to love the winter cold, the further into adulthood that I venture, the less enamored I am of the white stuff.

Donna, Kelly, & "ninja" Mari, bundled up and ready to go!
*Photo courtesy of Donna Smith
Due to unforeseen personal circumstances beyond my control, I went with a different group of friends than the past 2 outings, but it was no less fun. Mari, who grew up primarily in the Middle East, doesn't handle the cold well, and was wrapped up like a ninja. Somewhat ironically, I kept losing track of her, even when she was standing right next to me! Donna, was similarly bundled up, and kept wanting to take pictures with her phone despite being hampered by her giant mittens.

Side note - I often get envious of Mari & Donna, both of whom I adore and look forward to spending time with. Since they live next door to one another, they have a lot of random shared experiences that I only get to hear about secondhand. Like last week, when their husbands got together to build trebuchets for launching pumpkins as part of a project for Scott's Boy Scout troop. I want to live on the same street as the cool kids!
At the finish line!
*Photo courtesy of Donna Smith

Anywho, you start the run all pristine and white, and cross the finish line coated in blue and pink and purple and orange and yellow, with cloud puffs rolling off of you with each step. Plastic baggies of MORE color (I got green this time!) are handed to you at the finish line, and then the chaos begins. As you move closer to the stage area where "The Color Festival" is held, the MC counts down from ten to a color toss, where those who have finished toss the powder from their baggies in the air, on each other, and at total strangers.

Our tradition is to go to lunch afterward. Even though I come prepared every time (no color smudges are going to happen in my car!), it's never possible to get ALL of the color off of your skin short of scrubbing in the shower - the blue is the worst. It's kind of fun to go to some of Baltimore's hot spots afterward and be able to pick out your fellow Color Runners.

The three of us headed over to Canton, to Dangerously Delicious Pies. It had been almost 10 years since I've been there, but the name is still apt. Seriously, being reminded how close this is to my turf is a dangerous thing ... to my waistline. We each got a savory pie slice for lunch, and a dessert pie for, well, dessert. The Sausage Tomato Fennel pie was absolutely divine, and the bite I had of Donna's Crab & Cheddar Quiche was eyes-rolling-back-in-my-head fabulous. The Mobtown Brown pie, which is basically pecan pie with an enormous layer of Swiss chocolate and caramel on top, undoubtedly undid all of the good that the exercise of the run did earlier, but was well worth it. It's also fun to watch the staff preparing all of the mini pies that they sell. I've been thinking about getting a second job when I'm not in show-mode, but I think this would be a dangerous place to work!
Sausage, Tomato, & Fennel Pie
at Dangerously Delicious Pies in Canton.
To die for!

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Spinach and Mozzarella Quiche

Bet you thought I forgot about you, huh?


Last Monday, my Internet was down for the better part of the day. (This would not be a problem if I could get my act together and write my blogs on Sunday evenings, but, well, if I didn't stall, then I wouldn't be me.) By the time I was reconnected to the rest of the universe, I was already caught up in other things. Like, I don't know, my job.

But what about Friday, you ask? Well, by Friday, I was just feeling lazy about writing, since so many other things were happening that day. I had some fires to put out at work (a couple of them are still smoldering in the background, just waiting for me to relax before flaring up again). I was getting ready to record a Christmas CD with the choir. And I had a first date.

You don't really want to hear about any of that, though.

Starting this week, I'm throwing myself whole-heartedly into a crazy schedule. On top of the normal round of show rehearsals and choir rehearsals, I have multiple auditions. One is really close to home; the other is really close to my parents' home (which is not all that close to MY home).

One thing I always try to do leading up to an audition is to eat healthier. I really should have started sooner than the day before auditions start, but, hey, procrastinator on board (see above)! For one thing, no one wants to see a bloated diva on stage. While there's no camera to add 10 pounds, there's still a panel of people scrutinizing you, and I carry enough self-consciousness about the rest of my performance to wonder if my belly is jiggling while I dance.

The other reason I eat healthier in the days leading up to auditions is that it gives me more energy, and directors like energy, or so I've been told. So I'm cutting back on carbs and red meat (although I'm not completely eliminating either from my diet), and focusing instead on lean protein and produce.

I made this quiche a few days ago for dinner, and I'm really liking how it feels like a power food. The leftovers make for a really nice and quick power breakfast!

Spinach and Mozzarella Quiche (Crustless)


1 T olive oil
2/3 cup onions, diced
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
6 eggs
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a 9-inch glass pie plate with non-stick cooking spray.

  2. Slowly heat oil in a medium skillet. Add onions and sauté at medium heat until softened. Add spinach and cook until excess moisture is gone.

  3. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add cheese, salt, and pepper; stir until thoroughly mixed. Fold in spinach mixture until blended. Spoon into prepared pie plate.

  4. Bake at 350° F for 20-25 minutes, or until eggs have set (the quiche will show light browning around the edges). Serve warm.

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Spooky Friday!

It's Friday, it's Friday!

Cat-in-a-hat-o-lantern 2013
When I was a kid, the weekend was the Holy Grail, what we endured a whole week of school to get to (although I secretly enjoyed the lessons, if not the social dynamics, of school). As a young adult just starting out in my career, it was a chance to cut loose and relax - no shoes, no alarm clock, no responsibilities other than to clean my house.

Now, however, my weekends look very much like my week days. That is to say, chaotic! Because of early rehearsals and church services (at which I have to sing), there have to be shoes and alarm clocks and responsibilities. There are schedules to follow, work to be done, and bills to pay.

Being grown up isn't all it's cracked up to be!

For the third year in a row, I won't be passing out Halloween candy in my neighborhood. Now, before you break out the egg cartons, let me explain. For the last 2 years, I've had tech week during everyone's favorite spook fest. For those of you new to theater speak, this is also known as "Hell Week." It's a week of dress rehearsals that includes a lot of starting and stopping thanks to the addition of the "tech" - lights, sound, sets, props, orchestra, etc. But we're still in costume - that counts, right?

Darn skippy, it does.

This year, I'm blissfully free from Tech for another 5 weeks, but am going to see friends performing in The Rocky Horror Show. Quite appropriate, n'est pas? And this is not one of those movie screenings where people dress up and get super inappropriate. My college had a few of those, until they got so obscene that the administration had to ban it. No, this is the stage show, where ACTORS dress up and get super inappropriate. Totally different!

Side note - a few years ago, I auditioned for a production of Rocky Horror and was called back (i.e. shortlisted) for the role of Janet. I didn't get the part, and ended up not doing the show. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, since the guy they cast as Brad was one of my former students from my year of teaching. Talk about narrow misses of awkward situations!

So, to the 300+ kids who come through my neighborhood each year, my light will be off, there will be no candy, and stay the hell out of my flower beds! That goes double for you parents who cut through yards because you're too lazy to walk down to the sidewalk!

As I prepare for a weekend of costume parties, rehearsals and voice lessons, I'll leave you with sage words that my aunt shares with me as often as she can: Have fun, be safe, and don't pee on the slide (or on the sidewalk).

From l-r: Wicked Witch, Carmen Sandiego (not a German
Olympian, as one co-worker guessed!), Disco Bling King,
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Peacock
 All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.