Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

Sheesh, I knew we had quite the year, with relocating from Texas to North Carolina, but typing this all out made me realize just how busy we were!

January
We rang in the New Year with friends at one of our favorite TX restaurants, Jasper's, followed by champagne in coffee mugs, and (an illegal) DIY neighborhood fireworks display.

February
I spent a few days in Dallas for a national conference for work.


For Valentine's Day weekend we headed to New Orleans. We cashed in some Hilton points to stay in the Roosevelt Hotel which was totally worth it - there was a TV in the bathroom, people!

March
My best friend since 7th grade came and stayed with us for 10 days in Texas, doing veterinarian things at Texas A&M during the week and enjoying all the things TX has to offer on the weekends (yay rodeo!)

We traveled to PA for Easter and a memorial service for my grandfather (belated) at the state park where he sailed his boat for many years.

April
My trusty 2001 Camry called it quits on me while driving to College Station for work. This led to us buying our first ever brand new car.

May
We spent a few days in Charlotte, exploring and finding an apartment. We finally signed a lease the morning of our flight.

I enjoyed a weekend at my alma mater for my 5 year college reunion. Simultaneous feelings of "how did I get so old" and "it's like no time has passed" ensued. Great fun was had staying in the dorm we had lived in junior year, enjoying all of our favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and drinking multiple giant iced coffees from our favorite Dunkin Donuts knock-offs (seriously, they were sued at one point because so many people pulled into their parking lot thinking it was a Dunkin Donuts.)

I had my last day at work then our movers came and packed up our apartment, so we checked into a hotel for our last night in Texas.

June
Early on the 1st of June, we headed off on our 1,068 mile journey to our temporary home in Charlotte. We stopped in Mobile, AL on the way.

After two weeks in the hotel we moved into our apartment, stayed for less than a week and then headed North for two weeks. I spent a week at home with my parents and a weekend with one of my best college friends in NYC.

July
We went to the Jersey Shore for the 4th of July, ate one of the best meals of our lives at the Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City, climbed a lighthouse, stumbled upon world championship sand sculptures, soaked up sun and time with our nephew, and enjoyed fireworks on the beach.

We hosted my parents as our first visitors in Charlotte.

We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary!

We headed to CT for a wedding and Boston to see friends.

August
We bought a house! Well actually, we bought a plot of land that will eventually have our house on it.
September
We started off the month at a beautiful Labor Day weekend wedding in Saratoga Springs, NY.

We took a spur of the moment weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We enjoyed amazing panoramic views, moonshine, and junk food (and rain, don't forget the rain!)


October
We headed to Cape Cod for a lovely beach wedding, and rented an awesome house next to a nature preserve with some college friends.

We hosted my in-laws for their first trip to North Carolina. We visited the Biltmore and Asheville and showed them around Charlotte.

November
I did some solo tourist stuff in Atlanta while A. attended a training. I visited the World of Coke, Centennial Olympic Park, and ate clam chowder by my lonesome.
Centennial Olympic Park from our hotel room window.
Old Coke ads at the beginning of the Coca-Cola tour.
We celebrated my 28th birthday with several fantastic meals in Charlotte.

We had our pre-construction meeting for our townhouse and walked around "in" our house which at that point was a leveled pile of dirt. Closing date is set for late February.


We drove home to Philly for Thanksgiving, stopping in Washington D.C. on the way to visit with my brother (and eat!) We enjoyed a week of quality time with family and childhood friends, fantastic food, and chilly weather.

December
We got our first "real" tree!

We checked out the Speedway Christmas event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.


We drove back to Philadelphia for another week with our families for the holidays. I took no pictures. Sadly we left a day early to beat some bad weather, but it was nice to enjoy one last lazy, rainy Sunday for 2013.

We did some after-Christmas sale furniture shopping to fill our to-be house.

I also got to spend an afternoon with one of my best friends from college who was visiting family in Greenville, SC.

Tonight we're anticipating a low-key celebration of Chinese food, champagne, and movies at home. I couldn't be more excited!


And finally, for you visual learners:

2013 Road Map
I only included states that A. and I visited (or drove through) together. He would have to add a few more for various work trips. In 2013 we visited 17/50 states.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Favorite Ornaments

I've been really enjoying seeing other bloggers' holiday decorations and ornaments, so I thought I'd join in today, too! These are just a few of my favorites. My in-laws got us a bunch of ornaments the past few years and gave us a box of A's ornaments from childhood...I put some of them on the tree but not all because we got a pretty small tree and it would be completely baseball themed if I'd put them all up. All of the ones I'm sharing today though are ornaments that A. and I got together or have a special meaning for us.

The first one is our wedding invitation "suite" cut into strips and put into a clear plastic ball. I've been making these for all of the weddings we've been attending for the past year or so.

This next ornament is a big nod to our time in TX. We got this one of our first year's there at a store in the local mall called "Y'all Texas Store." That store came in handy for stocking up on fun gifts for our families, too.


This one we picked up on our spur of the moment weekend trip to Gatlinburg in September. We got it at a Christmas store in the Arts & Crafts Village outside of town. There was a man dressed as Santa who asked if we've been good and it made me feel so awkward we had to leave pretty much immediately...but not before finding this cute little guy. Gatlinburg had wood carved black bears everywhere, so as soon as I spotted him, I knew it was perfect.

Next up is an ornament we picked up in St. Maarten, one of the islands we visited on our honeymoon.

I gave this ornament away this past weekend at my Meetup group's Ugly Sweater Party & White Elephant gift exchange. I DIYed it last week; painting a sunset scene and (abstractly) the Uptown Charlotte skyline on a papier mache ornament from Michael's. Then I added gold glitter glue, because what ornament isn't better with a little bit of bling? It's by no means perfect, but I was happy with it and it was one of the gifts that was stolen at the gift exchange.

Almost there, promise! Here's our tree topper - I love it! We picked it up last year on clearance at Target after Christmas. Growing up, we always had Moravian stars hanging up at Christmas and this topper reminded me of them.

And finally, a shot of the whole tree. We definitely need a better tree stand and a tree skirt. Hoping that Target's after Christmas sales will come through for me again this year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Five on Friday the 13th

1. Getting crafty - A. was away for a few days this week and I used the time to clean and do laundry, be crafty and bake. I'm making peppermint oreo truffles and gingerbread cookie truffles for an ugly sweater party I'm going to this weekend, and I finally finished a few of the winter/holiday crafts I'd been putting off, including a homemade ornament for a White Elephant gift exchange. I'll share it after the party, but I'm pretty excited with how it turned out! I still haven't hit "submit" on our holiday card order, so those are looking more and more like they'll be New Year's/Season's Greetings cards.

2. Roasted broccoli. I seriously can't get enough this week. I've eaten three whole heads of broccoli by myself. Yum.

3. GorillaPod Tripod by Joby
Image via
 I've been eyeing this snappy little tripod for quite a while, and recently added it to an Amazon order. It attaches easily to my digital camera, and it's bendy legs make it possible to get all kinds of shots. I'm awful at taking pictures of cooking and crafts projects, and I'm a big self-timer fan and this tripod has really come in handy a few times already. I haven't used it for anything as extreme as the picture above, but it's a great little (cheap) gadget. Stocking stuffer, perhaps?

4. Gingerbread House Forever Stamps
Image via
How cute are these Gingerbread House forever stamps?! Add that to the fact that our holiday cards are going to double as "new address" cards for our house and I had to snatch them up. Now there's no excuse not to get our cards out. They are just the perfect mix of whimsy and stylish.

5. Baked French Toast - I've been experimenting with baked french toast recently, and have found the perfect recipes. They are both from the blog Two Peas & Their Pod. The first one I made was on Thanksgiving morning and it was kind of a combination of their Baked Pumpkin French Toast and their Baked Eggnog French Toast. I also made a batch of the eggnog version last night and put it in the oven first thing this morning as a surprise for my husband to celebrate his company's year-end presentation being today. Today was always an exciting day in Texas, the whole office would get together for a big holiday party at A.'s boss' house after the presentation. We're sad to be missing out (but excited to spend it with a new group of coworkers in Charlotte), so I wanted to do something special.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Traditions

Holidays are all about traditions, aren't they? I remember the year that my parents suggested we make a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, and my brother and I about flipped. Even though both of us were leaving a few days after Thanksgiving to go back to our respective colleges, and it was only going to be four of us for Thanksgiving dinner, it just COULDN'T BE Thanksgiving without the wings and drumsticks, could it?!? Well, we had a turkey breast and it was still Thanksgiving, but it was a good first lesson in changing things up a bit.

My husband and I grew up about 3 miles from one another, so our holiday time sharing isn't as extreme as most people I know, but it has still taken some creative problem-solving to appease everyone, and I'm sure we'll continue to tweak our holiday traditions as the years go by. We were together for about 8 years before we got married (3 of those years living together in Texas.) For those three years before we were married we'd travel home together but then go our separate ways - A. to his parents' house, and I'd go to mine. Since getting married we stay together, but try to split our time fairly evenly between the houses.

We usually end up having two dinners on Thanksgiving Day, but luckily Christmas is a little easier. A's family does most of their celebrating and gift exchanging on Christmas Eve, whereas my family does everything on Christmas day. I love being able to enjoy both days without having to shuffle back and forth and feel like we're missing something. A's family does a delicious Italian feast on Christmas Eve, and it has become a really special part of Christmas over the past 9 years I've attended.

As much as I love our current holiday traditions, I also feel like we aren't really creating our own traditions yet. I've been told a lot of that comes when you start having kids and making the effort that goes into creating traditions for them, so we're a little while off from all of that. So for now, we'll continue our shuffle, but we're making an effort to do holiday things in our home before we travel. I've always preferred that we exchange our gifts privately, so we've traditionally either found a few quiet moments to do so or we'll do our exchange a few days early. We also try to treat our trips as vacation and do some fun things by ourselves. For Thanksgiving we stopped in D.C. for a night in a hotel downtown, and over Christmas we're looking into a few day trips to local attractions. Because we haven't had a chance to go on a real vacation this year (that's what happens when you live far away from family and friends - we traveled to a lot of weddings, plus the move), we like to make the most of our time away.

What holiday traditions do you love? Are you creating any new holiday traditions on your own?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Sposed to be cleaning but instead I keep finding crafts to do, packages to track, pictures to scan, and treats to make...Whoops. Using the oldest trick in the book, I've dumped our clean laundry on top of our bed so I "have" to fold it before going to bed tonight.

Will post my treats and projects after I'm out from under my mountain of laundry!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Weekend Wrap Up and Menu Monday

We had a nice weekend that was a mix of busy and lazy. Sunday's nasty weather really lent itself to a lazy day. We went outside once to walk to the grocery store to return Redbox movies and grab an onion for last night's dinner. Love a dreary Sunday every once in a while because it makes me feel okay with wasting a whole day doing nothing.

Friday evening we decided to check out the Speedway Christmas event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. We aren't racing fans, but this sounded like fun - Christmas movies on their giant HDTV screen, over 3 miles of lights, a Christmas village with concessions, a petting zoo and rides, and a chance to drive your own car on a few of the turns on the track. The beautiful weather on Friday made it even more fun - we rode through the light show with our windows down, blaring Christmas music from the radio. We visited the animals, walked through the shops, and split a funnel cake. The movie that night was Christmas Vacation, we didn't stay to watch it but the screen was really impressive.


Saturday we made a quick trip to IKEA to pick up a bunch of picture frames, then we stopped by our house site after we'd gotten a call that our foundation had been poured the day before. I'd been worrying all week about when they'd be able to pour it because of all the rain that was in the forecast. Luckily, with the break in the rain Friday and Saturday, the foundation was poured and framing will start this week (you can follow along with weekly update pictures under the "Our House" tab.) Ended up doing our grocery shopping on Saturday afternoon so that we could have a lazy day at home on Sunday.


Sunday we slept in and then I made soup for lunch - Chicken & Stuffing Dumpling Soup...yes, I made a box of Stovetop stuffing a week after Thanksgiving...yes that makes me ridiculous. To be fair, I'd found the recipe before Thanksgiving, but there weren't any leftovers for us to take home. It was delicious and would definitely be even better with homemade stock from the turkey bones, and leftover turkey and stuffing. It reminded me a lot of matzoh ball soup but the stuffing made for even better "dumpling balls" because of the poultry seasoning.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning, cooking, and watching football and our regular Sunday night shows. The Eagles game in the blizzard was a ton of fun to watch. Somehow Lincoln Financial Field got a lot more snow than my parents' house about a half an hour away. I can't believe that I'm starting to enjoy watching football...very unexpected. Maybe Texas rubbed off on me even more than I thought.

 Menu for the Week

On Friday afternoon I had stopped by Pasta & Provisions to take advantage (again!) of their Friday meal deal. I picked the pomodoro sauce and a pound of fresh linguine.  I love their fresh pasta and can't wait to enjoy it for dinner a few times this week.

-Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes & Mushroom Gravy
-Cioppino over linguine
-Linguine with Roasted Broccoli

I'll be back this week to talk about holiday traditions.

Friday, December 6, 2013

December 6th Five on Friday

Linking up for Five on Friday!

1. Hubby making gingerbread 
During my most recent trip to Trader Joe's I picked up a box of their gingerbread mix, without a real plan on when to make it. The other night, A. took it upon himself to make it. I honestly can't remember another time that he's baked (and neither can he!) I've already put it on my list for my next TJ's trip, before it's gone for the year.

2. Polar Seltzer
When I moved south after college, I was dismayed to find a serious lack of flavored sparkling/seltzer water. The only stuff I could find consistently in Texas (and North Carolina) were the artificially sweetened fruit waters, and those were NOT what I was looking for. Eventually my grocery store in TX started stocking a bunch of the La Croix waters and even a store brand, but only a few flavors here and there. North Carolina didn't seem to offer much more, but a recently I found my absolute favorite seltzer, Polar Seltzer, at Earth Fare. Polar is headquartered in the city I went to college in, and I could always find any flavor I was looking for, and cheap! They don't offer the full array of flavors here, but my water intake has increased dramatically (anyone else find it harder to drink as much water as you're supposed to when it's not blazing hot outside?) since finding it. For the record, my absolute favorite flavor is Blueberry, and I've never met anyone else who likes it like I do.

3. Chromecast
A. and I volunteered to be the guinea pigs for the new Chromecast after talking about it with my dad over Thanksgiving. It arrived the other day and we're just starting to take advantage of it. The part I'm most excited about it being able to stream our Netflix queue on the TV in our bedroom (silly, but true, previously we'd been confined to the living room and there have been many times where I've wanted to watch some crappy movie or watch "just one more" episode of a bingewatch TV show after getting ready for bed.)

4. Cooking challenge
There's no way around it, this time of year is expensive. Between a ton of travel, buying gifts, and all the other things that come with the holidays, I'm sure we all start to feel the pinch. We're making a goal to cook as many meals at home as possible the rest of this month. We have some holiday parties to go to, so that'll break it up a little bit, but it's amazing how much money you can save by eating in a few extra times a month. But, I'm bored of the recipes we make all the time, so I've been pinning and reading lots of my favorite food blogs for some new ideas. I've built up a good list and can't wait to start trying some new recipes out. This weekend I'm trying my hand at Cioppino, in hopes of perfecting it one day. Even though it pains me to pay so much for seafood at the store, I know we'd spend a lot more on the same dishes at a restaurant, which makes it a bit easier to stomach.

5. A last hurrah at warm weather?
I know we're 2 weeks away from the official start of winter, but I am not complaining about the warm weather today. As much as wintry weather and chilly nights tempt me to curl up and get cozy in front of our tree, I'm looking forward to a warm evening outside tonight.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winter Bucket List

With Thanksgiving behind us, we're full swing into the holiday season. Thanksgiving being so late this year has really thrown me for a loop - we only have three weekends left before Christmas (and one of them will probably be spent traveling!) So, I made the following list of wintry/Christmas things I want to do so I can try to jam pack them into the little time we have between now and the 25th!


 We've already started working on some of these items:

-On Sunday afternoon we got our first "real" tree. We've had a tiny (2 ft) tree the past two years, one I received at a White Elephant at work and the other we picked up at Lowe's, so getting a real tree and decorating it with the ornaments we've been collecting for the past several years was high on the list this year. Our apartment smells deliciously pine-y, just don't look at the bottom of the tree, we need a tree skirt and currently have magazines keeping the tree stand level on the floor.

-Send holiday cards - these are a work in progress thanks to a Groupon a while back, but they probably won't go out until a week or so before Christmas, luckily the design I picked is more of a Season's Greetings/New Year card, so hopefully no one will care!


-A White Elephant party with my wonderful Meetup group should take care of the ugly sweater list item. I found my old standby hideous Christmas vest that I got in 2009 while I was in Philly this past week and packed it.

-I'm making plans to go to the holiday afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton in Uptown Charlotte, and hit some of the other Uptown spots at the same time, so I could probably check off several of these items in one afternoon.

I think I'm doing almost all of my shopping online this year - so shopping didn't make the winter bucket list. What are you doing to get ready for the holidays?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Weekend Recap and Meals for the Week

We spent most of Saturday in the car making our way through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and on to Charlotte. After getting home we made a quick and easy dinner from the pantry and caught up on some shows we missed with all the excitement of last week. We slept in a bit on Sunday morning and then headed out to do errands - grocery shopping, a trip to Target, and to the King's Drive Farmer's Market which currently houses the Darrell Simpson Tree lot. We found a great little tree and brought it home. Unfortunately we need to go back to Target to get at least another string of lights because it's a little bit plusher than we were expecting to get. We spent the rest of the evening unpacking some of our other Christmas decorations and some of the wedding gifts we were able to bring back from our parents' houses this trip (in hindsight, having our registry gifts shipped to Philadelphia was kind of silly, but we knew we'd be moving in the not-so-distant future and didn't have much room in our apartment in Texas.)

Menu for the week
-King Ranch Chicken and salad - I was introduced to King Ranch Chicken Casserole when I moved to Texas, and I have a half package of corn tortillas left over from something else. I'm hoping to lighten up the original recipe a little bit.

-Italian Zucchini Boats with salad and garlic bread - these Skinnytaste zucchini boats show up on tons of blogs and Pinterest boards I follow, but I've never actually made them before, so I'm excited to give them a shot this week.

-Hawaiian Chicken with Vegetable Kabobs and Coconut Rice - another Pinterest find.

-Hash Brown Casserole and salad - this is actually a test recipe for Christmas morning, I think of Christmas when I think of ham, and diced red and green peppers would make for a festive casserole.

Today I'm scouring the Cyber Monday sales, but so far haven't found anything much more impressive than what they had over the weekend...maybe I'm looking in all the wrong places?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

PA Trip

We got back late yesterday evening from our Thanksgiving trip to PA. As I mentioned last week we spent one night and day in D.C. and then the rest of the week in Philadelphia. When we go back to Philadelphia, we end up splitting our time between my family and A's, as they only live a few miles apart. It also means that we're go, go go most of the time that we're there.

I got to see a bunch of my girlfriends from high school, two of whom are recently engaged (one as recently as Tuesday night!) We visited the same brewery in my parents' neighborhood a few times through the week to catch up with different groups of people as they came into town. We have TONS of weddings in 2014, a planner just became item #1 on my Christmas list.

We also got to love on lots of babies, my cousin had a baby girl in July, and we spent a bunch of time with our almost three year old nephew throughout the week.

I think I also mentioned that we were continuing my family's tradition of a combined birthday dinner during the week of Thanksgiving. Last year we went Latin, this year we went BYOB Chinese. We ate at a well-known Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia, called Han Dynasty. Everything is family style and a lot of it is REALLY spicy, Szechuan style. We knew this going in, so we picked most of our dishes off of the lower end of the spice spectrum (there are little red numbers from 1-10 next to most of the dishes.) We ordered three starters - dumplings in chili oil, cold sesame noodles, and dan dan noodles (perfectly spicy noodles with ground pork.) For entrees we ordered ginger shredded duck, pork with garlic sauce, three cup chicken and salt & pepper shrimp. Everything was delicious. My dad literally drank the sauce from the bottom of the three cup chicken serving bowl.

As for our Thanksgiving festivities, we had two Thanksgiving dinners on Thursday, one in the early afternoon with A's family and one around dinner time with my family. On Wednesday I made our centerpiece, made pies with my mom and prepped a baked pumpkin french toast to go into the oven first thing on Thursday morning. The french toast was a big hit and I'm already thinking about what we could prep on Christmas Eve to enjoy on Christmas morning.


 I'll be back tomorrow with some menu planning for the week. Are you tired of turkey, or still looking for creative ways to use up leftovers?


Monday, November 25, 2013

Greetings from PA!

A. and I drove from Charlotte to Philadelphia this weekend, stopping for a night in D.C. on Saturday. As is my usual, I planned our few hours in Washington based around food. We stayed in Logan Circle and had any number of places to eat within walking distance. We also had grand plans to hit some of the museums and/or monuments in the area, but the weather had different plans and we were greeted by 15MPH winds and a windchill of 12 degrees. Blame it on our time in Texas, but these transplants are NOT prepared for such weather anymore, despite having spent our college years in New England and Upstate New York. So, we changed our plans and spent a few hours bumming on the couch at my brother's townhouse. But not before we filled our bellies!

Saturday night we walked several blocks (the wind hadn't blown in yet) to St. Arnold's Mussel Bar. I'd found it on Yelp a while back and bookmarked it immediately. They promised great mussels and a huge variety of Belgian beers. We waited about 20 minutes for a table and then ordered two varieties of mussels and beer. I got a cherry beer - bright red and delicious! I also got the St. Arnold's house special mussels - in a creamy white wine sauce with shallots, herbs, and duck fat. A. got the Eastern Shore mussels which came in an Old Bay broth with sausage, corn and red potatoes. Their mussels come to the table in covered cast iron pots, with a generous helping of perfectly seasoned and crispy fries, ketchup and seasoned mayo, and a few slices of bread for broth dipping. After finishing our dinners we couldn't resist the Belgian waffle with chocolate sauce.

The next morning we grabbed brunch at Commissary, a quick (but bitterly cold) walk around the block from where we were staying. A. had pancakes (he's not an egg eater) and I had eggs benedict - but quite a twist on the original. The poached eggs came atop a mound of pulled short rib, over cornbread muffin halves with a bbq sauce hollandaise. They also came with incredibly delicious homefries. I also had a gingerbread chai latte which was unbelievably good. I was a happy girl and it held me over until dinner time in Philadelphia.

After spending some time watching football at my brother's we got on the road mid-afternoon and headed to my in-laws' for dinner, complete with some quality time with our almost 3 year old nephew. After dinner and an ice cream cake in honor of my birthday earlier this month we headed to my parents' house, where we're staying this week. We don't have much planned for the rest of the week, besides visiting with family and a few friends, and of course eating multiple Thanksgiving dinners and turkey leftovers. I'm hoping to finish my grocery shopping for the dishes I'm making tomorrow before the last minute Wednesday shoppers come out in full force. My brother comes home tomorrow and we do have a family birthday celebration planned for Wednesday night (all four of our birthdays are between the end of October and mid-December, so now that we live scattered down the east coast we celebrate a combined birthday dinner around Thanksgiving.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Accidentally Target Themed Five on Friday

 Eek, I'm wayyyy late to the Five on Friday link up today!

 1. Island Moonlight Candle from Target - awhile back I wrote about the Capri Volcano (the Anthropologie candle) and how good it smells. Well, Target's got a knock-off and it's currently burning in our apartment. Target's version is larger AND half the price - like I needed one more reason to love Target?
Image via Target.com

2. Okay, one more reason I love Target...cheap v-neck/basic tees. These are becoming a staple in my wardrobe - I seem to pick up one or two more every time I go to Target.


Image via Target.com
3. Eek, maybe this should just be a Target list - their Archer Farms Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate has been a delicious after dinner treat a few nights this week.

4. Haven't talked a whole lot about our house journey here on the blog, so here goes - we're building a house! We finally had our pre-construction meeting this week and bulldozers are (were?) rolling around on our dirt to level everything out today. Construction day #1.

5. Essie Bahama Mama - not a strictly fall color, but I'm loving it (can you guess where I picked this one up?!?)




Thursday, November 21, 2013

Picket Fences and Snow.

I'm holding out on putting the fall decorations away until we get back from our Thanksgiving trip to Philly...but it's getting hard to do! So much great holiday inspiration on blogs, Pinterest and at every store! I'm a strict no-Christmas-decorations-until-after-Thanksgiving person, what can I say? We did go looking for appliances at Home Depot last weekend and spent a few minutes in the lights and ornaments section, but didn't buy anything! I'm looking forward to a fun afternoon at a tree farm sipping hot cocoa and picking a little tree for our apartment in December.

I've been complaining about the chilly weather the past week or so, but at least it helps it feel like the right season. In our little suburb in Texas, they held an annual holiday festival the weekend before Thanksgiving to kick off the season, including an ice skating rink, inflatables, fireworks, international performances, fried foods on a stick and our personal favorite (to watch) a small patch of mandmade snow surrounded by a 30x30ish picket fence. Most of the kids had never seen snow in person before, it "snows" about once every 4 years in the Houston area. It wasn't uncommon to see a long line of kids and their camera-toting parents waiting for their few minutes in the snow (which cost several tickets.) Of course they were usually in shorts and t-shirts, because it was usually about 80 degrees the weekend of the festival. In honor of the festival being this coming weekend, I thought I'd share some of my favorite pictures from a past International Winter on the Waterway/Lighting of the Doves Festival. I think this was the year I won $50 worth of tickets which we spent on fried oreos, beer, and other various concessions. No, we didn't go in the snow!



Can you see Santa camping out in the Sheriff's SUV? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Black Friday Lunch

I think I might be more excited about our Black Friday lunch gathering than Thanksgiving itself. Some people look forward to midnight shopping or hitting the doorbuster sales first thing in the morning on Black Friday, but not me. Every year we have a low-key, informal lunch on Black Friday at my parents' house with my aunt and uncle and a few cousins. This year there's a new baby joining us - can't wait to meet her! Anyway, it's a fantastic day after Thanksgiving tradition that I've grown to really love. We have turkey sandwiches, leftover pie, delicious sides and beer.

In early October I wrote about the amazing turkey wrap I had in Cape Cod, complete with cranberry sauce and a generous heap of stuffing. It's safe to say that ever since then I've been salivating at the thought of day after turkey sandwiches.

Then I got to thinking about the side dishes. If you're in Charlotte, you've GOT to check out the Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar at Philips Place in South Park. The pizza is darn good - but for me the star of the show is the spinach salad. This salad is a doozy - fresh baby spinach, paper thin slices of red onion, crispy, warm smashed potato "croutons," and a generous helping of sliced smoked mozzarella, all topped with a warm bacon dressing. Is your mouth watering yet? I set out to recreate this sinfully delicious salad. It turned out so well that we gobbled it down before any pictures could be taken.

Spinach & Smoked Mozzarella Salad
-Baby Spinach (I used a bagged Spinach and Arugula mix)
-Red onion, sliced very thin (use a mandolin if you've got one!)
-Red potatoes, for croutons (I used this recipe but used red potatoes and left the skin on.)
-Smoked Mozzarella cheese, cut into long, thin strips
-Bacon dressing (I used this recipe) If you don't eat bacon, use whatever dressing you prefer.

I also got a random craving a few weeks ago for a tart but sweet dessert and started searching Pinterest for a good cranberry dessert recipe - finally stumbling upon a cranberry shortbread bar. I haven't tested these yet, but I feel like you can't go wrong with this combination!

Finally, if you know me in real life, you know my love of the Boston based Harpoon Brewery. I've visited many a time to take advantage of the free tasting at their Inner Harbor brewery in Boston. Whenever they release a new beer, I'll search far and wide to find it. Earlier this Fall, we drove to South Carolina to get their new Pumpkin Cider (which only sounds dramatic, it was a 25 minute drive.) They've recently released a cranberry ale called Grateful Harvest Ale, which I've been searching for these past few weeks. The Harpoon website has a beer finder and I've lost count of the number of times I've search my (and my parents') zip codes trying to find it. Luckily we still have a few weeks before the big event.

Do you have a Black Friday tradition?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Inconvenience

At the beginning of November I saw a post on one of my friend's Facebook timelines for a 21 Day Gratitude Challenge. Admittedly I got signed up a little bit late, but the nice thing is, the daily prompts work any day of the year. This time of year seems to bring out the community and giving spirit in so many people, so I've been loving getting the email prompts every morning. Of course, I think it's important to be involved in helping the community year-round; I've been trying to organize a service project for November for a group I'm part of and have been having a hard time finding one with openings. Its great that so many people want to volunteer, but the coordinators said they have a ton of other projects throughout the year where they struggle to get enough volunteers.
You can register to receive the daily prompts at www.kindspring.org

For the next few weeks you may see some of my blog posts themed after one of the 21 daily prompts.
For instance, Day Four's theme was "What Inconvenience Are You Grateful For?" On first read, I struggled to come up with something. How could I be grateful for something that is inconvenient, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. We live in a time where we can get practically everything immediately. I've written here on the blog about how happy I get when something I order online comes the next day. About a week ago we woke up to our internet service not working. After spending some time on the phone with our provider, they let me know that no one could come out until the next day to fix it. I wasn't really pleased, but what could I do? And you know what? That was one of the most productive days I've had in a LONG time. I ran several errands that I'd been putting off, spent some extra time making dinner, and had a long chat with both of my parents on the phone. The sad part is, most of the time I spend on the internet isn't doing anything productive, it's refreshing social media sites to see what's new. It actually felt good to close my laptop and know that I would have little use for it until the next day. I will admit that I found myself reaching for it several times before remembering that it wouldn't do me much good.

This prompt reminded me of a song I loved my senior year in high school called Red Light by Jonny Lang:
"You sing a song while sitting at a red light
You think of home while sitting at a red light

Too slow to roll, put your life on hold
An open path with nowhere to go
You start to wonder while sitting at a red light

You can run a red light, give up at a red light
You break the mold when running through the tolls
Speeding through your whole life

A chance to breathe while sitting at a red light
You look around reflecting on your life

A chance to think, Am I drinking too much?
Should I keep going, lose the life that I love?
A second glance when coming to a red light."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

From the DIY Kitchen: Creamy Sausage and Spinach Soup

In my pinning I came across a few copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana recipes (spicy sausage and kale soup.) It definitely piqued my interest - as the weather gets colder I'm finding myself gravitating more and more towards the hearty soups of winter, especially after hearing that we might get some flurries tonight or tomorrow! Plus, we already had almost all of the ingredients to make it. But, I couldn't bring myself to add the 1 or more cups of heavy whipping cream the Pinterest versions called for, so I set out to lighten it up a bit using my old standby chowder recipe and substituting reduced fat pork & chicken Italian sausage for it's full-fat counterpart. I also used frozen chopped spinach instead of fresh kale or spinach, because that's what I had on hand.

  
Creamy Italian Sausage & Spinach Soup
Ingredients
  • 2 slices of center cut bacon, chopped
  • 3 links of Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled (this time I used leftover Reduced Fat Italian Sausage made with pork and chicken I got on sale, but I usually use Turkey sausage.)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 red potatoes, cubed
  • 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach
  • 6 cups of water
  • 3 tbsp butter or other butter type spread (I used a Light Land 'O Lakes butter/canola oil tub butter)
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour (I had to add an extra tablespoon of flour, but usually a 1:1 ratio of butter to flour works well)
  • 2 cups 1% milk (as you can see in the picture below, I was low on milk, and only added about a cup)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Dried oregano or Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Brown crumbled sausage and chopped bacon in a large soup pan over medium/high heat. Remove sausage and bacon from pot and keep in a bowl. Add chopped onions and minced garlic to the bacon/sausage drippings and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Return the bacon and sausage to pot, add cubed potatoes and six cups of water. Add oregano or Italian seasoning to the pot. Bring to a boil for about 10 minutes over high heat. Add frozen spinach to the boiling pot of water, potatoes etc.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saucepan, add all-purpose flour and whisk together to mix for about 2 minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking to combine then turn heat to low. Whisk often, the mixture will begin to thicken. Add 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese to the milk/flour/butter mixture and stir to combine.

Turn boiling water pot to low and pour the thickened cheese mixture into the pot, whisking to combine. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, allowing flavors to combine and potatoes to fully cook. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


This turned out really well. If I had to guess it'll be at least 4-5 servings. The husband gave it an "A."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Weekend Wrap Up & Menu for the Week

What a fun birthday weekend! I mentioned on Friday that the weekend would be food themed and it sure was! Friday night we picked up some cupcakes at Gigi's Cupcakes in South Park to enjoy with a bottle of wine and some movies from Redbox.

Saturday was my actual birthday and we celebrated at Good Food on Montford. I'd heard you have to arrive early to avoid a long wait, so we arrived around 5:45 or 6 and got one of the last two-top tables. I loved the ambience - the light fixtures with silverware etc. Everything we ordered was delicious. We got the green curry mussels and truffle fries, the quail lettuce wraps and steamed bun, shrimp arepas and parmesan gnocchi. I drank a pumpkin cocktail and A. stuck to beer. Even though we were pretty stuffed after all of those small plates, I literally could not resist the chocolate brownie, mostly because it was served with cookie butter ice cream - be still my heart. I HIGHLY recommend Good Food on Montford. Every ingredient included in every dish we ordered was perfectly thought out and expertly prepared.

Sunday we slept in and then headed to Bricktop's in South Park for brunch. We started with the mini donuts appetizer, which comes with three dipping sauces - chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry. As soon as noon rolled around, the bartender brought me a Bloody Mary - the mix was great but it lacked garnishes besides a lemon wedge (I need to try the Bloody Mary at Queen City Q, I hear it comes with a cocktail shrimp and pulled pork, in addition to veggies.) I ordered the crab benedict with homefries, which was really delicious. I was nervous after ordering because I love Eggs Benedict and have had a few disappointing experiences when I spring for something other than the traditional English muffin/ham and poached eggs variety. The crab benedict came on what seemed like a homemade English muffin, a generous pile of fresh crabmeat, perfectly poached eggs, and a deliciously lemony Hollandaise sauce. A. got the Chicken & Waffles and he said they were great. It was our first time at Bricktop's but I'm sure we'll be back!

The rest of Sunday was dedicated to catching up on some cleaning, menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking and Sunday night tv. I'm starting to really appreciate a good Sunday dinner - something that takes more effort than I'd be willing to put forth on a weeknight. Last night we had Roast Beef, mashed potatoes with homemade mushroom gravy and roasted cabbage (we've found we like cabbage roasted with bacon bits recently.) And of course we ate our leftover Gigi's cupcake for dessert - yum.

What we're eating this Week
-Cheesesteak Stuffed Peppers
-Shrimp & Fish Tacos
-Beef with Barley Soup and a Spinach and Smoked Mozzarella Salad (ala Wolfgang Puck's Pizza Bar salad)
-Spicy Italian Sausage Soup

Friday, November 8, 2013

Five on Friday: Birthday Edition!

My birthday is this weekend, so today's 5 on Friday will be semi-birthday themed!

1. Weekend of Food!
I'm using my birthday as an excuse to indulge in many of the restaurants we've been meaning to try but haven't been yet. We're planning to have dinner at Good Food on Montford  and brunch at Bricktops. We also enjoyed the Thursday Night Date Night menu at Mama Ricotta's last night - if you're in Charlotte you should check it out (3 courses and a bottle of wine!)

2. I've had quite the pile of packages and cards coming in the past few weeks and I'm being very adult and not even taking them out of their boxes and envelopes until Saturday. It's wonderful to feel loved even though we're far away from many of our friends and all of our family.

3. I'm a sucker for a good chocolate cake, but the past few years we've gotten all of our birthday cupcakes at Gigi's Cupcakes. I was happy to find one in Charlotte too, and plan to make a visit there today or tomorrow to pick up a few cupcakes in honor of being one year older.

4. Diamond Dazzle Stick and Jewelry Wipes by Connoisseurs. Some of my jewelry was looking pretty dingy with little scratches and just not as brilliant as I'd like, so I picked up the diamond dazzle stick and a box of dry jewelry wipes at Target last weekend and got to work. I was super impressed (and kind of grossed out) by how well they both worked. The wipe was left with dark smudges and my engagement ring was looking sparklier than it had in quite a while. I think both of these products would make a great present for a newly engaged friend. You can get them at Target or Amazon.
Diamond Dazzle Stick
Jewelry Wipes - could only find them in bulk on Amazon, I paid about 5-6 bucks at Target for one box of 25.
5. Birthday coupon emails. Nothing like a birthday coupon to make you spend money you wouldn't otherwise. But, they "remembered" my birthdayyyy!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quick trip to Atlanta

We've been without internet for the past few days and it amazed me how reliant I've (and I suspect many other people) have become on it! I found myself opening my computer and then realizing again and again that it wasn't going to work! Anyway, we're back online now and I'm catching up on reading a few days of blog posts.

A. was out of town all week last week, which was his longest trip to date. He got home around 9:30 on Friday night, big bag of Chinese takeout in tow. He had to be in Atlanta first thing Monday morning for a day-long training session with the office down there, and he asked me to come along. Normally I don't travel with him, but he seemed like he really wanted me to, so after a quick change of hotel reservations (he had a hotel booked southwest of the city, with nothing for me to do during the day) and we were off! We stayed in the Centennial Olympic Park area, which was really nice because there was a lot to do within walking distance. We stopped at the Ballard Designs Backroom/Outlet in Atlanta and then headed to our hotel. We arrived around dinnertime and took a quick walk through the park to Benihana, passing a huge line of America's Got Talent hopefuls at the convention center on the way. Benihana is not a hopping place on Sunday night, which was kind of nice. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and relaxed and enjoyed this view:

Monday morning I had to get up around 6:00 and get dressed and put my face on so that A. could put our bag in the car so I wouldn't have to carry it around all day. I ended up stuffing my pj pants in my purse because I was NOT ready to get up for the day at 6:00. I slept another 2 hours and then enjoyed breakfast in the hotel restaurant before checking out.

The World of Coke is located right off the park, so I walked over there to do some solo touristy stuff. I was actually really impressed, I'd read some reviews that it was gimmicky, and all a big commercial, but it's a "museum"/attraction completely dedicated to Coca-Cola products, so what do you expect? You start off by watching some cheesy movies, and then get to learn a lot about the history and growth of Coke. They have a whole room dedicated to rumors about the Coke formula. After that you walk through a slowed-down bottling room, where they explain the whole production/bottling process. Next you head upstairs where there's a 4D movie about Coke, a little pop art museum room, some commercial clips from around the world, and finally, the most exciting part for all the kids - the Tasting Room. They have soda fountains set up by continent around a large room, with 60+ sodas to taste test. I definitely did not taste all 60, but it was really fun to see what sorts of off the wall flavors they have in other parts of the world. In the Asia section they had a vegetable soda (I was too chicken to try it), in the Africa section a "pine nut" soda, which turned out to be pineapple flavored, and of course, in the Europe section, the infamous Beverly soda from Italy. At the beginning of the tour they made sure to tell everyone to try Beverly - it is the most talked about flavor they have. It is disgusting! At first taste it's just lemon-y, but there's a really bitter and strong aftertaste that just keeps building in your mouth. Blech. I don't even think they make Beverly anymore, but they keep it at World of Coke because it has such a buzz about it.

A Peruvian Cream Soda that my mom always used to talk about.

After the tasting room, you get to pick out a freshly bottled 8 oz. glass bottle of Coke before heading into the gift shop and exiting the museum. It was pretty neat to get a bottle that had been produced and bottled that day.

Anyway, I recommend the World of Coke if you find yourself in the area with a few hours to spare.
I also enjoyed a solo lunch at Legal Sea Foods and a few hours reading in the park - it was a beautiful day! It was a fun last minute "getaway."

Friday, November 1, 2013

October Wrap Up Five on Friday

I've been a bum this week. My in-laws were in town Thursday through Monday last weekend and my dude's been away in Florida/Georgia since Monday afternoon, so I took the chance to be a complete and total lazybones. Took a nice long bath, read for awhile on the roof terrace on a nice afternoon, ate all the foods that A. won't eat. But, this doesn't help much in generating a top 5 list for the week. Instead, I'd like to recap the top 5 October moments/what I'm looking forward to in November for today's Five on Friday.

1. Cape Cod - I already wrote a whole entry on our trip to Cape Cod, but it feels like it was so long ago! We enjoyed a wonderful early October weekend on Cape Cod to celebrate our friends' wedding. As much as it gets old to live far away and have to travel so far for weddings, we've been blessed to see a lot of our friends several times this year. Keep getting married people, we miss seeing you!

2. Biltmore - as part of our hosting activities last week, we took my in-laws out to the Biltmore House in Asheville. I'll be honest, my favorite part was the wine tasting. Here's why: 1. I hate crowds. 2. I hate heat (especially the old school kind - I remember almost gagging several times in college after walking to class and having the classroom be super hot with the radiators pumping. I am not a radiator girl), and the day we went it was super cold out, so the heat was UP. 3. I hate inconsiderate people. Don't you hate those people in the grocery store who are too busy on their phone to pay attention to all the room they're taking up? Well the Biltmore was like that on crack last weekend. Something about those handheld audio-tour devices just makes people stop dead in their tracks. Who wouldn't need a little wine after all that?! Okay, now that I'm done complaining, the Biltmore was gorgeous, the gardens and their fall mums and the conservatory were incredible and I really enjoyed touring the house. I can't believe all that goes in to keeping that place up. Another highlight for me were the shuttle drivers - I know that's a really weird thing to say, but they were so informative during the short ride from the parking lot to the house and back. They answered historical questions, gave us tips on using the restroom before entering the house, etc.

3. Yay November! November is just a fantastic month - it's my birthday month, Thanksgiving, and just a cozy, wonderful month, if you ask me. I'm looking forward to birthday celebrations, a trip to Philly to see family, and all the other fun that November has to offer. For the first time in a LONG time we aren't flying anywhere this month, nor do we have any flights booked.

4. As much as I've enjoyed some alone time this week, I am excited for A. to get home tonight! This was his longest trip in a while, and while I really enjoyed spreading out across the whole bed, I'm ready for a low-key weekend with no plans with just A. and me.

5. An extra hour of sleep! I'm not wild about the consequences of the extra hour (dark an hour earlier) but I love the Sunday of the end of Daylight Savings Time. I'm hoping that the early darkness might help me get back on track - I've been staying up way too late recently.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Little pumpkins, little ghosts, little house

I've written about our wedding card birdhouse on several occasions here on the blog. Since it takes up a good bit of real estate in our living room, I can't help but decorate their (our? the figures are our mini-me's) little house for the seasons. Here's the current set up:

All decked out with a leaf garland, pumpkins and ghosts!

Dusty little heads, guess I should have cleaned them a little better!
I made the jack-o-lanterns and ghosts out of Sculpey/Fimo and then painted the details with black paint. I'm really happy with how these little guys came out. Now I'm excited and brainstorming their Christmas/winter decor!