Cranberry-Ginger Carrots

Last week I was reading the Dallas Morning News and I stumbled upon an article that included “healthier” recipes for Thanksgiving, one of which was cranberry-ginger carrots. I took pictures of two other recipes, but as luck would have it, I found myself craving cranberry-ginger carrots for the rest of the week.
  So what’s a girl to do? Wing it, of course!

Yummmmm!

The ginger? Perfect with the cranberries. So tasty! I let the carrots sit too long in a covered dish and they got a bit mushy, but overall, the dish was excellent, and a great alternative to plain cooked carrots. I’m pretty sure my version isn’t exactly healthy, though…

Cranberry-Ginger Carrots

1/2 pkg fresh cranberries
2 tbsp diced ginger root (really, you should grate it, but I couldn’t find a grater)
water
2 pkg baby carrots
1 tbsp butter
1/3 c brown sugar

1. Cook cranberries and ginger with a bit of water in a saucepan until the cranberries start to pop.
2. Add carrots, butter, and brown sugar and cook with lid on until carrots are mostly soft, about 20 min, and stir occasionally. Make sure a decent amount of water stays in the pot so the carrots can cook well.
3. Take the top off and simmer so the juices condense into a nice cranberry-brown sugar glaze, about 5 min.

And that’s it! Easy, inexpensive, and tasty. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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Crocheting Madness!

Sunday night at about 7:30 I decided I wanted to crochet myself a scarf, so, I hauled my butt to the nearest fabric store (that closed at 8), quickly located and purchased thick yarn and a crochet hook, then rushed home to begin work on a big, bulky, warm, fuzzy scarf.
  Ever since I learned to chain stitch when I was a kid, crocheting has been something that just kinda seizes me in fits. I’ve crocheted several things that I’ll never use, and half of many more. My crowning achievement to date has been a cross-body bag I made with thick hemp cord (without a pattern!).

He just got whacked — focus on the purse!

When I crochet, I tend to just kind of do. I think I use a single stitch most of the time, but after looking at diagrams, I’m really not sure. All I know is that I can usually manipulate the loops to do what I want, and that’s what I did to make this scarf.

It’s a terrible picture, I’m sorry.

I used two different stitches for the scarf. One was my single stitch, where I loop the yarn over the hook, then hook one side of the original chain, and then pull the yarn through. I also used my half stitch for a tighter weave, which is simply hooking one side of the original chain and pulling the new loop through. My fancy stitch is only an extended stitch, where I add a two chain stitches in between two single stitches to make holes in the weave. If you’re actually interested in the technical aspects of this, feel free to comment and I’ll explain better!
  Anyways, there are blocks of the single stitch and the extended stitch, about 8 inches each, and then a fringe on either end, which I made by cutting several pieces of yarn and using a simple hitch knot on every chain. The result? Fabulous! I’m not ashamed to say that I’m thoroughly impressed with myself.
  Yesterday I made a hat with the leftover yarn and gave it to one of my friends. She loved it! I used the single stitch, one row of the extended stitch, and finished it off with a half stitch so the hat would fit snugly on her head.

Isn’t she precious? I wish I could wear hats like this. Adorable!

UPDATE 11/23: After spending two hours in the pre-Thanksgiving mass-consumerism district in my town, I realized I would much rather pay $15 for yarn and spend 12 nonconsecutive hours quietly crocheting than two looking for a scarf. Even if the storebought scarf would have only cost me $5. There’s something to be said for the “hearty work of head or hand” (Louisa May Alcott) that I much prefer to being stuck in traffic or crowded stores. This Black Friday, try making something by hand instead of being trampled to save a few extra dollars. If you must venture out to shop, however, STAY SAFE!!!

My Birthday and a New Blog Title

In approximately three hours I’ll officially be two decades old. In reality, I won’t hit that mark for about another 23 hours, but when you’re two decades old, one day doesn’t make that much difference. (I say that now!)
   When I named my blog “Nineteen and Counting,” I knew I’d have to deal with being 20 someday. I thought about simply changing the name to “Twenty and Counting,” but it really doesn’t have the same ring, and when I thought about it, I don’t really feel like I’m “counting” towards anything anymore. I mean, I still can’t wait to be legally allowed to order wine, but I think maybe I’m settling into my own skin. At this point, I’m more grown than growing. I still have a ways to go before I’ll feel like an official adult, but I’m beginning to realize that being an adult is a feeling that comes with experience rather than age. Plus, who wants to have to change the name of their blog every year?
   After ruling out “Twenty and Counting,” I had to come with something else. I tried really hard to find something that defined me, that defined my blog, but kept ending up with names that either sounded unoriginal or too too, if you know what I mean. “Eclectic Inspiration” was one that is definitely too too. Then one of my coworkers reminded me of an unofficial nickname I’ve had since kindergarten, and I started to think about how much my uniquely spelled name has defined me over the past twenty years.
   I feel really blessed to be named Loryn.  I know several Laurens, many of whom are also Lauren Elizabeths, but I am the only Loryn. Loryn sounds exactly like its counterpart, but is so much more unique, and still tasteful. My name helped me develop my sense of individuality growing up, and maybe even some of my teenage rebelliousness (sorry, Mom!).
   I’m pretty sure I would not be the same person were I named Laura or Lauren or Lori, like my parents were considering. I’m so thankful my parents gave me a name I can identify with. I hope someday I can give my own child such a defining name, one that they treasure as much as I treasure mine.

The Gift-Giving Time of Year

It feels like so many people I know were born nine months after February. I wonder why…
   November is a huge birthday month, and Christmas is hot on its heels. In between travel expenses, birthday dinners, and obligatory family outings, it can be hard to find money for gifts. This is quite problematic for me.
   I happen to LOVE gifts. So much meaning and history can be expressed in one gift, whether it cost you an entire paycheck or absolutely nothing. My personal favorite gift to give is the one that just jumps out at you, that stares you down in the mall or the boutique or from your computer screen and is irrefutably the one. I often go overboard buying things for others, spending more than I would on that item if I were buying it for myself, and for the most part I firmly believe that’s okay, but when you’re strapped for cash, the combo hit of November and December can really put a dent in your budget.
   So, it’s time to get creative. There are so many things you can do for someone that are meaningful not because you spent a lot of money, but because you went the extra mile. For example, a cup of coffee doesn’t mean much on its own, but when it’s hand delivered outside that person’s first class on the morning of their birthday with a little bow on top, it’s suddenly awesome. Here are some other ideas for random acts of birthday kindness:

Bake cookies, brownies, or muffins and bring them to the birthday person’s door.
– If they’re far away, don’t just post on their Facebook wall, mail a card, and make sure you write something meaningful. Bonus: throw in some stickers or a photo.
Buy trinkets you know the birthday kid likes and hide them in places you know they’ll be found. I did this with HotWheels cars for an ex-boyfriend and it was a lot of fun.
– Buy them that one little thing they’ve been needing to buy but have just never gotten around to it. Think back, you know they’ve mentioned it. For me, it’s pens. I never seem to have one when I need it!
Flowers. It’s cliché, but as much as a single bud with a card will make anyone smile.  

Above all, be personal. There’s buying someone flowers, and then there’s buying someone their favorite flowers. There’s a card, and then there’s a card with a handwritten message. Even if you can buy something, don’t just buy a gift, buy something personal. Gifts are nice, but gifts that show how much someone knows you are much better because they let you know you’re worth knowing. Sorry guys, but it really is the thought that counts.

P.S. I’m sure anyone who’s read this blog has wondered if I’m going to change its name when I inevitably turn 20. Check back with me on November 16th!

Acorn Squash Soup

When you cook, you learn that there is a lot to know about food that most people take for granted. For example, you learn what squashes are winter versus fall. You also learn that what you thought was a butternut squash your whole life is actually an acorn squash. I didn’t know this when I picked up an acorn squash on a whim last week, but it turned out to not really matter anyways. The soup I made was excellent.
  I adapted the recipe from a blog called Twin Tables (Makes me wish I had a twin!) because, like the blog says, it sounded too good to not try. 

Kickin’ STEAMED ACORN Squash Soup

1 acorn squash
Cayenne pepper
Cinnamon
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
olive oil
1/4 c maple syrup
1 c chicken stock
cilantro leaves
apple cider vinegar (optional)

1. Halve the squash, remove the seeds, and steam until soft. Remove the skin whatever way works best for you (I had a hell of a time), then mash the squash with a few dashes each of cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
2. Heat a bit of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook the vegetables until tender.
3. Add maple syrup, chicken stock, squash, some cilantro, and simmer.
4. Use an immersion blender to puree the veggies until smooth. Serve with a dash of apple cider vinegar, if desired. 

A few bonuses:
Clean the seeds from the squash and roast them with salt and allspice. A word to the wise: these things explode like popcorn kernels. Don’t put your face in the oven!
If you time things right, you can easily make this soup in one pot. I chopped my vegetables while the acorn squash was steaming, then rinsed the saucepan and used it to cook the veggies while I tried to get the skin off my squash (much easier said than done!).

UPDATE 1/14/12:
I took these pictures with my phone when I first made the soup. Not sure why I never posted them, but here they are!