About Amanda

I’m a disgruntled Metro-North commuter by morning, real estate journalist by day, insomniac by night, and cancer butt-kicker for life.

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Ragu Gone Wrong

A Writer’s Book of Days (09/03) – Write what was broken

My grandmother placed the steaming, hot plate of fettuccine alfredo on the kitchen table. Our stomachs grumbled in anticipation.

My sister was the first to take a bite.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Wait… fettuccine alfredo isn’t supposed to be crunchy.

“There’s glass in the pasta,” she cried, spitting out what remained in her mouth. A chunky shard sat on the side of her plate.

We then remembered the crash we heard earlier in the day. Grandma confessed that the bottle of Ragu alfredo sauce fell off the counter, and she decided to salvage as much as the sauce as she could—picking up some of the broken glass along with it. The fettuccine went in the garbage that night. We probably wound up ordering a pizza.

It’s a classic story we love to retell of my grandmother’s Depression-era tendencies to save as much as she could. I remember walking in the kitchen one day and finding her dutifully squeezing out all the single packets of ketchup we’d get at fast food joints into the Heinz bottle (that is, after emptying all the extra packets of soy sauce into the Kikkoman bottle). When she’d go to hotels, she’d not only take home the complimentary toiletries, but the extra rolls of toilet paper (“I paid for it, didn’t I?”). If she went to her favorite casino’s buffet, Ziploc bags were stored in her purse for a snack later. We nicknamed her “Iron Stomach” for all of the old leftovers she’d save and turn into omelettes or pasta toppings days later.

As I look at the giant stack of soy sauce and ketchup packets taking up space in my pantry, I must admit that I’m tempted. But the hotel Charmin stays.

101 in 1,001 – The Results

For the past 1,000 days, I participated in Day Zero’s 101 Day Project, a unique challenge that inspires you to set and achieve your personal goals in life. My friend Caitlin had started one, and I was intrigued. At that point, I had been in five years’ remission from cancer and was basically a lump when it came to goal setting. The diagnosis had resulted in my having a hard time looking in the future, as I got in the mindset of “Well, anything can change quickly.” I thought that starting the list would be better than a so-called bucket list in inspiring me to look forward again. (And I’d just beaten cancer… why would I want to think about kicking the bucket?)

The challenge runs 1,001 days—I started September 12, 2010 and ended today, June 9, 2013. To count, tasks must be specific with a defined result that represents some amount of work on my part. Here’s a summary of my first list and what happened. Bolded items are ones that were completed. Not bad for my first try, with 54 of 101 goals achieved. I start Part II tomorrow, and will aim for 75 next.

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Three Really Annoying Things That Happened To Me This Weekend

It was a fairly good weekend, but three really annoying things happened to me over the course of two days.

The Bastard Squirrel

It’s nearly springtime, and that means one of my favorite flowers has made its appearance—the crocus. It’s also the start of flower photo season, and I love taking photos of Mom’s garden.

Alex and I were sitting in the car yesterday when I noticed a particularly pretty crocus arrangement: a purple and yellow crocus side by side. So I told Alex, “I’m going to go inside and get my camera so I can take a picture of the crocuses.” As if on cue, this squirrel with half a tail appears out of nowhere, and eats the purple crocus. I yelled, “You bastard!” and in response, he grabbed the yellow one and looked straight at me as he munched down.

Now I know why he has half a tail. That bastard.

Skittles Removes My Favorite Flavor

Alex and I later went to see Welcome To Lawn Guyland, and I bought myself a pack of Skittles (my favorite candy) pre-show. I’m a little OCD when it comes to eating Skittles—I shake out a bunch in my hand, and eat it in the following order: lemon, orange, strawberry, grape, lime. It was a little dark in the theater, but I was able to make out the colors and saved the best for last.  Lime is the reason I love Skittles so much, as you don’t find the flavor in many candies anymore.

There were three limes in this shake—or so I thought. As I popped them in my mouth, the familiar citrus flavor didn’t hit my taste buds. Instead, I was hit with the disgusting taste of green apple. I turned over the package, and sure enough, it said, “Now with Green Apple!”

I was irate. In 2001, Skittles tried pulling this green apple trick, but had a massive PR campaign and voting system to see which flavor customers liked better. I spammed every message board I posted on to ask people to vote for lime. Eventually, it won, and the green apple—which only appeared for a short time—disappeared into the candy black hole. Or, so I thought. Turned out it only disappeared into the Skittles archive.

I’m not the only one unhappy with the switcheroo. There are plenty of people voicing their displeasure of Skittles’ Facebook page. There’s only small consolation that a lime flavor made it into Skittles’ new Darkside mix (pomegranate, blood orange, forbidden fruit, dark berry, and midnight lime). Although I like the new mix, new Skittles products seem to have a difficult time surviving—remember 2007’s weird Chocolate Mix or 2010’s Fizzl’d Fruits?

I hope they listen to the fan base because green apple Skittles are awful. As one person in the blogosphere pointed out, the original fruit flavored all mixed well together, but green apple doesn’t mix well with anything. What an assault to my mouth.

When You Think Something’s Going To Tip Over, It Will

Mom loves houseplants. They’re everywhere—including the bathroom. There’s one in there that sort of looks like a mini palm tree, which she rescued from the doctor’s office where she used to work. Apparently, no one in the doctor’s office took care of the plant, so she kidnapped it and said, “Would you want to go to a doctor with dead plants in his office?” So the doctor let her take it home and nurse it back to health, and it’s been in the bathroom ever since.

It’s gotten quite big since then. Big enough that it was starting to flop over. Mom said to herself this morning, “Maybe I should tie it up using a cup hook and string”—sort of how we keep our Christmas tree upright. But she had to go to work and decided she’d take care of it this evening.

Tonight, we invited my cousin Annette over for pasta con le sarde, a Sicilian dish traditionally served on St. Joseph’s Day. (Both St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Day were celebrated early in my house this year, with corned beef and cabbage on Saturday.) As you can see from the recipe, it’s a fairly intensive dish to cook. And just as I was about to add the chopped sardines to the pot, I hear CRASH! and Alex yell, “I didn’t do it!”

So I ran to the crash side, and indeed, it was something Alex couldn’t have accomplished (unless he has some ESP powers I didn’t know about). There was the plant on the floor of the bathroom, and dirt had flown everywhere. You know how it’s impossible to get glitter up off the floor after you spill it? Well, this is what the potting soil did. It was in every crevice of the bathroom, from the top of the toilet to the inside the bathtub, from the radiator vents to the gap under the door threshold.

I looked at the clock: Annette was due in half an hour and I still hadn’t finished the cooking or set the table. On top of it, Mom had cleaned the bathroom that morning. I grabbed every cleaning tool I could find and got right to work, shouting cooking directions at Alex as I scooped up as much of the dirt as I could and put it back in the pot. I couldn’t seem to get the plant upright, so I shoved it behind the shower curtain as a temporary hiding location (kind of like how I used to shove all my toys under the bed. Insta-clean!)

I took out Mom’s super-duper new wind tunnel vacuum and sucked up as much of the leftover dirt as I could, but it was everywhere. It took about 15 minutes to get almost every crevice clean. Finally, all that was left was the rug. Apparently, the vacuum is too powerful for the bathroom rug and wound up sucking it up into the brush. After playing tug-of-war with the vacuum, I decided to fold up the rug and throw it outside. In the process, whatever loose dirt was on the rug came loose and covered the entire bathroom again. Back to square one.

I finally finished, and I heard the doorbell ring. Thanks to the darn plant, my plans of having a nice chat and hors d’oeuvres by the fire before dinner went out the dinner, because it still wasn’t done by the time Annette arrived. I was able to make myself look somewhat unflustered (besides being a little to overzealous with the amount of sardines in the pasta) and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch.

Girl Scout Cookies, Willpower, and Sharing

It’s that time of year again—the most anticipated after Christmas (and closely followed by 50%-off chocolates of February 15.)

Sunday, I heard Obi barking and the sound of wagon wheels bouncing down the road. That meant one thing—this year’s Girl Scout cookie delivery was under way! Sure enough, my new neighbor and her daughter were making the rounds, delivering the baked goods we ordered back in January (oh, the tortuous wait). Soon enough, 10 boxes were in my hand (adding to the one box of Thin Mints Lexcie had already purchased for me), and the Samoas were ripped open.

Oh, how I missed those chocolately-caramely-coconuty confections. There were no Girl Scouts in the neighborhood last year, so it had been at least 730 days—the equivalent of  17,520 hours—since I last had one . My sister Alyse had found a knock-off brand at Big Lots, and while good, weren’t the real thing. Nor did Starbucks’  mocha-coconut Frappuccino with a drizzle of caramel satiate me.

When Girl Scout cookies are in hand, all willpower seems to go out the window. Not good, considering I’ve been so diligent about going to the gym. Wiping the coconut crumbs off my chin, it was time to strategize on how I wouldn’t eat 11 boxes of cookies by week’s end.

The first two boxes were easy—Alyse ordered two Samoas through me. Now down to nine. That evening, I was going to help my best friend Melanie put together furniture for her new house—cookies would be a good power-up, no? Another box of Samoas and Thin Mints gone. Seven. Then Mom spied the boxes when she got home and asked if she could create a tray to bring to work. Combining Samoas, Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs, and Savanna Smiles, I reduced the pile down to the equivalent of three boxes. Willpower was slowly creeping back!

The remainder of the cookies went into the downstairs freezer, which I sometimes forget exists. Finding Girl Scout cookies in the freezer months later is like finding $20 in  your pocket after taking your winter coat out of storage!

Thanks, Cookie Monster, for the reminder:

Review: Ferrero Rocher Gift Cube

Last week, I found a white package on my porch and saw that it was from Influenster, a website that connects brands and consumers to review products and give opinions on their experience.  I knew it was the holiday gift it was sending me, and was pleasantly surprised to find a gift cube of Ferraro Rochers, one of my favorite holiday chocolates. The hazelnut chocolates—which are like a crunchy, bite-sized version of Nutella (another Ferraro product)—have always been a staple at holiday gatherings while growing up, particularly because it’s an Italian candy. Why I love them: they’re smooth with a hint of crunch, yet not too sweet. They taste luxurious, even though they’re affordable. (I saw the gift cube for about $12 at my local grocery store.)

It came wrapped in a beautiful golden box and bow, perfect for gift giving (without the hassle of wrapping). I plan to share the chocolates with guests on New Year’s Eve—that is, if I’m not tempted to eat them all beforehand! Learn more about Ferraro Rocher here and Influenster here.