Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dear Friends . . .

Oh, y'all.

I have not been sure how to address this, so let's go for it, head on: I stupidly, unintentionally deleted one of my most favorite posts I have ever written. Titled "Pretty Baby" . . . some of you may have read it.

It was so - transparent. It was so - me. And it was so - not saved anywhere else.

So - what now?

This has bothered me ever since that {*thing*} happened [btw- I almost just said ... since TGD so if you read my older posts, you know why that is funny . . .and how it puts Real Stuff into perspective] . . . my words were gone! My thoughts taken! My feelings . . .

Oh, shut the hell up, CN. 

Let's break it down . . . for real and with the same honesty as that post I wrote that made me proud to have written.

My face is - mostly- back . . . 

What could I complain about - a little bruising still under my cheek?

What can I complain about? Nothing. I can complain about  nothing. And that picture was from August, so I have had months since to keep getting "better."

I still have a  bit of bruising on the cheek that was almost destroyed - but only just enough that a customer at work the other night thought it was just a little smudge . . .

And so: this is really a precursor to the post that's been formulating in my head for a bit now.

I hope, as Thanksgiving (my least favorite holiday but possibly yours) approaches, you are thinking of what makes you grateful.

Because a job can be lost, a face ruined - even temporarily as I am so grateful for -  a life of a friend lost too soon, a . . . but I am grateful to still have a family, dear friends, a face, a . . .life.

More in my next post, once formulated in my head . . .

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal 

Friday, October 24, 2014


Those who know me well know I really dislike Thanksgiving.

It's not the "thanks" part - definitely not - but it's the food part. Put simply, (sparing my Grandmother's absolutely amazing creamed corn and, truthfully, never dry turkey) I have traced my dislike back to a couple of specific incidents in my early and mid teens (one involved a tureen of pumpkin soup . . .).

But, I do endorse this animal as an edible delight in certain forms. Yada, yada, the holiday turkey is dry, blah blah blah another turkey sandwich for lunch is boring - whatever.

The following recipe is a riff on one I came across, which you should make for a few reasons: 1) I am suggesting it; 2) the original version is from Food Network Magazine (Ok, I do prefer Cooking Light, and yes, I do know magazines are supposed to be in quotation marks, but I like them better in italics, and this time FNM won out  - check out the site for tons of great ideas, like this more effort-required version of the one I got from the actual magazine -; 3) you make it in a skillet - no baking required (!!); 4) it is SO. EASY; and 5) it is delicious. Should I go on?

So, if you like turkey, and lasagna and a version of turkey lasagna sounds good . . . try this (I wouldn't suggest with, say, that leftover holiday turkey - just get a good package of the ground stuff at your favorite store):

CN's Un-Fancy Awesome Turkey Skillet Lasagna

(original recipe would serve 4-6, so adjust for amount and whether or not you want to have leftovers - I make enough for two adults, with a couple of leftover slices, using about 3/4 lb turkey)

1lb (or adjust for servings) ground turkey
No boil lasagna noodles - 4-8 depending on skillet size and number of servings (I like Barilla)
Olive oil (I have been using Colavita, but pick whichever you like)
Marinara sauce (I like Rao's but pick your fave)
Shredded mozz (I use 2%)
Ricotta (I use part-skim and I know DIY is better, but I buy Sorrento)
Salt, pepper and oregano to taste

Heat appropriate sized skillet to med, med-high
Break apart ground turkey into "crumbles" (I do by hand - not a perfect science, just so you can brown it); add salt and pepper
Cook meat till just browned - should still be a little pink inside
Set aside

Choose your pan size of choice, depending on how much you want to make - best if you pick one that is oven-safe, so you can pop under broiler at end for that nice crisp crust

Layer: sauce, lasagna noodles, turkey, ricotta and mozz, another layer of noodles, sauce, and top with mozz; add salt and pepper and oregano (I love it so I add a lot of it!)

Cover and cook on med-low for 20-30 min - peek and check on done-ness between 15-20 min; I have found that with the ricotta and turkey added to the original recipe, the added moisture (vs. just cheese) requires a little more time. A little liquid on the sides is fine as long as noodles have sort of rolled up on sides of skillet, peeking out under the sauce.

Put under broiler on high for 1-3 min.

Serve. And don't do what I did the first time, and remove the skillet from the oven with a kitchen towel, only to place it back on the still hot burner and singe the towel. Just sayin'.

It's delicious, and easy enough I can make after work one night (and have leftovers), or you can too, or if you've got a family to feed. Maybe add a little Caesar salad and that (light) Texas Toast, and done and done. Even boys (ahem, men too) will like it all.

See, turkey isn't just a boring sandwich or a big fancy thing carved and served on one specific day.

But - it can be a special bird, when served with love. In lasagna form or not.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lions and Galations and Jeremiahs, Oh My . . .

*Warning: This post is not so much about actual food, as it is love food. And it's a bit long. Real CN time. Be prepared. 

I think God meant for me to be a Leo. I don't think He's all into astrology and stuff - but I think He has His reasons. Always. He also had me born in the year of the Dragon, if you're into Chinese Astrology (That's like a double whammy. My parents should probably smack their heads and say,"What was He thinking???").

I was supposed, per doctors knowledge, to be born in July, so I would have been a Cancer. And some of that description is true of me. But He had different plans for me and my poor Mama, who had to wait a few more weeks that hot 1976 summer for me to be a Leo. Almost a "cusp" baby but really, almost absolutely, on the Leo side - you know me, right? - like this: 

Yes, Daddy knows I have this tattoo (not the word part - tacky, ha!). It is not where anyone would see it.
 I really meant like this:

This summary presents a pretty damn accurate - and mostly flattering- summary of me. I've got the negative parts, true, for sure. I can be vain and bossy and self-centered, and don't hurt my feelings, let me get hangry on you, cross one of my lovies, or . . . my diplomatic side won't come out so much. Just sayin'.

But I like to think back to one of the first times I remember reading my horoscope the birthday month when I turned 12 (we didn't really study that at Sunday School, but "Teen" magazine, for those who remember, sure did) - was this, and I remember it verbatim: "You are a natural, and a friend to outcasts and optimists."

That has always stuck with me. I have, sincerely, considered it a huge compliment on my character from that day, from a silly girlish magazine - and from those who have given me similar ones since. Many have, indeed.

Because that is a great kind of person to be. 

My parents taught me many things, as have so many people since, and I am so grateful for that.

Life has been really hard for this Leo in the past years - it was so blessed, mostly easily and therefore expected, I now see - the grit and the perseverance, well, they come from many places. Sure, whatever, I mentioned astrology. Maybe that has something to do with it.

And this, a song I loved five years ago - well, it was true back when I remembered who I really was - and I've discovered it still is -

But, here is what I was really taught - and believe.

"For I know the plans for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future." 
- Jer 29:11

Oh boy, this has been a tough one to trust in these hard years. 

So has this one: "Let us not become weary in well doing, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." 
- Gal 6:9

Growing up, especially as a teen (go figure - no NKOTB posters - and if you know what I mean, you're as old as I am...), I posted Bible quotes and motivational quotes, on my bathroom mirror. I remember a handyman we used to have come regularly for minor repairs once to remark upon that to my Mama, saying "that's a special girl, there."  Notice taken. 

Then, I remember writing my Godfather a thank you note for an extremely generous gift to me for my education - to which he promptly responded it should have been addressed to both my Godmother and him; their money - and relationship - was dually worthy. Lesson learned. 

Then, I remember my greatest work mentor telling my parents, at our annual Christmas party (oh - we blew it out back in the day and *some* of the leftover liquor may have gone *missing* thanks to certain youngsters) . . . "She's my star." Compliment taken.

Then, I remember a recent boss saying . . . "You know why I like you? You work hard. And you're honest." Observation appreciated.

I also remember knowing that it was my precious Daddy who chose that Galations quote to put in the Westminster senior yearbook ad they took out (one of two, mind you - yeah, I was that spoiled).

And that is my truth. I have erred - oh, badly - from such. But that's the thing about God. Whether he wants me slinging wings or working in the insurance world again - or what? - I have to figure out what it will be. I believe He will help. Lord (no pun intended here), I hope He does.

Tonight, I have a beautiful, sweet dog with me, an amazing, loving family not far from me (well, R is a bit further), and Dr Teal's bubble bath if I keep being non-sleepy.

So, life is good. And it's up to me to do the above  - to be that faithful (and Leo!) person I was created to be.

Oh, and I made a good chicken and mushroom concoction for dinner.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal


Friday, August 22, 2014

Three Squares

New digs, new bedding, new . . . kitchen!

Yes, y'all, I've got a new kitchen. And it is capital B Big! And so pretty.

After moving in a few days ago . . .

How cool are those house numbers?

I got it all set up (well, Mom helped a *little*) -

(Yes, I moved those shoes - and yes, it is a really big kitchen!)

So of course, now that I've settled in and have a couple days off, I have to cook. From eggs, to a lovely mushroom fettucine, then chicken made for a big dinner salad, I broke out and broke in all kinds of kitchen gadgets and goodies yesterday. It was so fun.

My last kitchen (to be honest, all of my last apartment) depressed me. Not just the meager amount of counter space, but the lighting, the not-quite-full-size fridge, the . . . everything. But, now! Now I have the space, the colors (the walls in the kitchen and throughout the apartment are the most lovely pale, soothing blue), the cabinets, the everything that I need to create and chef to my heart's delight.

When I am in the midst of such, it looks like this . . .

And when I am done, like this . . .

These couple of days are a treat - with the hours I keep, I don't get to cook at home nearly as much as I'd like. Now that I have a great kitchen, I will try to do it as frequently as I can (somehow making an omelet at 2am, after work, doesn't sound so bad with my new accoutrements!). Whether just for my own pleasure and fun, or for friends, I am looking forward to getting out those pots and pans, using all my dishes (perhaps a new, full set of casual daily plates and bowls is in order?) and going to town.

This morning, I think an omelet with spinach, Swiss and herbed goat cheese is in order. No short order cooking here, just good things made with love.

Sometimes puttering around in your own space is just what the doctor ordered, for the heart, soul and body.

And way better than CT scans and surgery, I must say.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Name is Inogo Montoya

Prepare to Die.

Not really, y'all. C'mon. If I'd take you out, it would be way more subtle. And after a lunch of sweet tea, or dinner with cocktails - you know, the Southern way.

But this post is about revenge. Mostly.

This girl has been angry of late.

There are people I know who should be suffering; I hate that I want them to be experiencing such.

There are people I know who need grace - God's, as I do believe in such - and I am hoping it is received.

There are people who do things like . . . break in a car window and take a purse and phone, etc, happy go lucky and all that. [Insert expletive here- it happened to my mama two days ago! Outside the grocery!]

There are people I - see- daily -  who ask others for money and claim homelessness -  yet decline offers of a fresh meal from the restaurant outside, or a trip to the mini-grocery to get some food.

There are people I know who just. . . suck. I'd have placed an adverb in there but it would be tacky and . . . everything I do not want to be.

There are people who you have a hunch won't tip you well - or at all, honestly - then pay with a $20 gift card for a bill of  $22.91 - and leave $23 to cover the whole tab.

This time last year, I was still in my salad days, so to speak, and most if not all  meals were well-covered and much enjoyed, every day.

I took a shower a bit ago, after taking Sir Luke out for a walk, and picking up the application for the apartment I hope I will move into, soon.

And I thought, washing things and all that  when I got home, and picturing such in the new, potential place - I get to handle my own kitchen, my own life, my own dog.

Prepare to "die" in some way, if you dare mess with that.

Just sayin' . . .

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When the Refrigafrator Lacks

When the Refrigafrator Lacks

Sometimes, a girl runs out of the things she likes best. Or - the things that actually make sense for a meal.

What do you actually do with the ingredients when you have Pimento cheese, one pre-made pizza crust, a little (unspoiled) spinach and a few mushrooms, butter, and a half bottle of OJ? And your "dry goods cabinet" has crackers and two boxes of pasta - oh, and a can of mixed nuts?

I am exaggerating - but not by much. I'm even out of Diet Coke - sure I can drink it for free at work, but what do I do when up at 6-7 and don't work till 10-11 - torture (first world problems I know, but would you want to go without your AM caffeine fix? I didn't think so). When you work 48 hours between the start of Memorial Day weekend and the Tues morning after (seriously, I counted; plus, we get a printout every shift that shows our hours for the week) . . . or the start of Riverbend, Fri the 6th to last night the 9th, a total of 37 hours . . .who has time to shop for groceries, let alone eat something better than wings and fries at work, around midnight (if you're lucky and don't have tables for a minute) because who wants a healthy salad at midnight? That would be no one.

Don't get me wrong - I really do like and even sometimes love working at Taco Mac. Really, the managers and the people I work with are 99% great - more than I have had anywhere else.

But, I like to cook - and I want to eat healthily as much as possible.

My hours are a real challenge, as are the dearth of decent, healthy, and reasonably priced meal options in downtown Chatt - I can get a slice of pizza with one topping for $4 at Mellow Mushroom, if I make it there before 2pm. Which means I had a crummy day working lunch and am done early enough to snag it. I can get something for $3 there  - including hummus and a great balsamic, mixed greens, tomato and mozz salad for $3 if I can wait till their happy hour special after a better lunch - but it's way more for a healthy sandwich at Panera . . .and there is no good grocery store I can get to without a serious walk or two bus rides, as this is a food desert.

With my half-off discount, is it any wonder I eat at work almost once a shift? No.

What do I do now? Well, I certainly enjoy the bi-monthly visits from Mom when she arrives with fortification from Costco (mostly appreciating that damn Diet Coke) and we do a major trip to the store. But the things I love best, and want to eat - go bad quickly; those mixed greens, spinach, tomatoes and melon don't last that long, especially when you aren't home to eat them!

Love - well, this post is about loving myself, with what I put in my body.

And, I have a conundrum (who uses that word, anymore?) I have yet to completely figure out. How do I look cute in those shorts and semi-tight football-jersey-but-girl-sized shirts when I am eating fries at midnight?

Oh, and Lukie has to eat, too. And I can't feed him that leftover turkey slice that we got at the last store run . . .

I buy what I can, when I can. That I know I will use without going bad. I make sure I have plenty of dog food. I eat out as necessary and economical. I sometimes split up L's dinner if I know I am leaving for work at 4pm and won't be home till 10pm or after. I try to eat lots of veggies and protein, and force myself to want (50% off) meals at work. Without fries.

And, I deal. And most of the time, the refigafrator is full.

But this all isn't me; it isn't what I want.

So - I ponder the alternatives, food- and other-wise. Nothing immediate, other than Mom's visit later this week to help me out - but . . .how do I feed myself, in any way, in a healthy, pleasant fashion.

Well, let's find out. Stay tuned.

PS . . . that slice the nice owner of Mellow Mushroom had me try, from the summer menu they are starting next week and testing out - that may be dinner for tonight.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Saturday, June 7, 2014



It's where the heart is, so they say.

Yeah, it actually really is. I went home yesterday - gosh it was a quick visit, with a lot of things on the to-do list - but it was . . .

So. Absolutely. Good.

Sometimes, "good" is an underrated word. But the past 36 hours have been just about the best I've had in quite awhile. And, somehow, so very "good" is what comes to mind.

Daddy got me, and we had to get back to Atlanta to deal with doctor stuff. He was shocked and impressed that Luke was so calm and content in the backseat (his Grandmom likes to make him ride in the crate in her SUV but there's no room in Grandaddy's car) but I just assured him that's how we roll in Chattavegas, and all is good.

Home . . that has meant a lot of things for me in the last few years. Places I've lived, or my parents have lived, or we've lived together: note, don't have a tree fall on your apt and have to move in with your parents that night, dog in tow. . . to  - heart stuff, like thinking I'd found the love of my life, or saying goodbye to someone, or friends moving, or...

I haven't been to our beach house in too long. When we go there, together as a family, for Thanksgiving or Easter - we outsource the cooking. Not sure what's up for this year, but it being summer and all - the beach makes me think of home since it has long been such a big part of our family's life.

I don't know if I will get to the beach this summer - I hope! -  but I got to go home last night. Whatever the actual domain is, where my family is, that is home. Daddy was down in his office watching Fox News, I was upstairs with "Scandal" playing on my laptop; Luke ventured somewhere in between while I checked on my (SIX loads of) laundry, and . . .all was good, and for a bit, right in the world.

We had dinner last night at the Club, and I was so happy that a precious friend of mine could come, and meet my Dad for the first time. I had a chicken Caesar, nothing exciting (though I had plenty of those damn good buttered saltines I have never been able to duplicate at home!) but Em loved her pork chop, Dad loved talking about her skills as a professional bbq contest judge... and I was happy, because I was with people I love, and all was - "good."

Sometimes, it is the little things that are so big. A friend making time in her schedule to meet you on the only day you are in town in six months. A dad who picks you up and takes you back to your city, after other stuff, like dr appointments and lunch and dinner and . . . saying "good night" when it was time to tuck in.

I have said this before, but I know  I have taken it for granted at times -  I am a lucky, blessed girl. Despite some challenges, life - and salads or crackers -  are . . .good. And with a dose of home this week, I feel fortified. That is  - well, beyond good.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal