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!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Well played, Whole Foods!

I've never been much of a Whole Food shopper. Sure, I've enjoyed their salad bar and hot buffet for lunch a few times (and wept silently on the inside when they weighed it at checkout and I realized I'd spent almost $20 on a salad and a few bites of hot food), but in general, I don't frequent it. That might have to change after last night! The Whole Foods in Charlotte is pretty new, and has some amenities I've never seen at other Whole Foods...for instance their wine loft - complete with a self-serve wine "vending machine" for lack of a better word. You buy a card at the bar downstairs and then have your choice of 24 different wines - in three different pour sizes; a taste, 3 oz, or 5 oz. What's better is that it's all half off on Tuesdays, so "tastes" were anywhere from 40 to 90 cents and glasses were not much more. The most "expensive" 5 oz glass I think was $4. Needless to say, the wine loft was busy, but I went with a large group and we pulled up chairs and ottomans as we could. I can definitely see grabbing something for dinner downstairs (and using a little more self control than my previous Whole Foods salad bar experiences) and enjoying dinner up in the wine loft. They also have cheese boards you can purchase and they'll bring up to you. I'll be back for sure, there's lots more wine to be sampled!
One of the three Enomatic wine dispensing machines.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weekend Recap

What a fun weekend we had! It didn't go exactly according to plan after we woke up to rain on Saturday (oh darn, an excuse to be a little lazy?) but it was a great one nonetheless.

Friday night we packed a picnic and headed up to Huntersville to the corn maze at Rural Hill..where we proceeded to get hopelessly lost in the many acre maze for a few hours (well I was lost, the boys claimed to know where we were, despite the fact that you pick up pieces of the map along the way.)

I apologize in advance for the extreme plaid/flannel in this picture! In hindsight, maybe we should have found something else to pose with?



Saturday we had planned to go to the Hot Air Balloon festival at the Statesville airport, but they had updated their site that the morning balloon flights had been canceled because of the weather and they wouldn't be making any decisions about the afternoon and evening flights until mid-afternoon. Needless to say, we moved on with our day and will put the festival back on our bucket list for NEXT fall. We didn't end up doing much on Saturday besides football and some errands like the farmers market etc.

Sunday we got a fun surprise (well it had been in the works since Friday) when we found out that an old coworker/friend of mine from TX and her fiance were in Asheville for a wedding. They were flying out of Atlanta, so we drove to Greenville, SC to have lunch with them before they drove back to catch their flight. It was so nice to see them, even though it was only for an hour or so, and I can't wait to celebrate with them at their wedding in Nashville next May! After lunch in Greenville, we hit the outlets in Gaffney on the way back to Charlotte. P.S. Pottery Barn Outlet this close to Charlotte - I had no idea!

I've got my hands full this week preparing for a visit from my in-laws for a long weekend. Laundry, grocery shopping, and excursion planning, here I come. I'm also not so secretly hoping to hear something from a job I applied for last week...positive thoughts!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Outdoor Five on Friday

Happy Friday! It's been quite a while since I've linked up for Five on Friday!


We've got lots of outdoor activities planned for the coming weeks (weather permitting), so I'll share some of those today!

One
Rural Hill Maize Maze - we're headed off to this corn maze tonight, with our flashlights and picnic in tow.

Two
North Carolina Hot Air Balloon Festival - we're planning an afternoon at the hot air balloon festival being held at the airport this weekend in Statesville. I've heard it can be a zoo, but it's on the bucket list, so we're going.

Three
Crowder's Mountain Hike - A combination of our early October visit to Cape Cod and a picture shared on my alma mater's Facebook page, had me in search of a fall foliage hike in the Charlotte area. I've been keeping my eye on the official foliage reports from visitnc.com and it looks like we still have a few weeks before Crowder's Mountain will be at it's peak.

Four
Biltmore - My in-laws will be making their first visit to North Carolina in a few weeks and we're thinking the Biltmore would be a great way to spend a day of their visit. If we don't go when they're here, we're definitely planning a trip out to the Asheville area pretty soon.

Five
If you're in the Philly area - check it out!
Alright, so we won't be partaking in this gem of a festival, but wanted to share, nonetheless. Chestnut Hill, the "garden district" of Philadelphia, and a neighborhood where I spent many (countless really) an hour loitering outside of Starbucks and other establishments as a teenager, hosts an annual Harry Potter Festival in October. The storefronts all transform for two days into shoppes from Harry Potter. This festival is pretty new, they never had it when I still lived nearby, but it makes me feel all kinds of nostalgic.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Groceries

I was planning to write a grocery post even before I stumbled upon this site exploring what a week of groceries looks like around the world. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let the link do most of the talking - but I was really struck by this photo essay. Some countries seemed to cook everything from scratch, others had a lot of packaged foods (I think it was Japan that it looked like there were a lot of small packets of seasonings, and was it just me or did the Australian family have a TON of meat?), and overall I was sort of shocked that many of the families didn't have much produce. The most humbling were the families where they only had a few bags, rice and a few other things, for the week.

In June 2006, I took a May Term course offered by my college in Luxembourg (tiny country a little smaller than Rhode Island, sandwiched between Belgium, France, and Germany.) The month-long biology course I took was a comparative study of nutrition, health, and aging in Europe and the United States. It was so interesting to visit grocery stores, nursing homes, vineyards etc. in Europe and learn firsthand how they live. Every Friday, class let out before lunch and we were free to travel Europe until Sunday at dinner. On the weekends, we visited Paris, Belgium, and Amsterdam. Paris was probably where I noticed food culture the most - I loved seeing people riding their bikes or walking home from work with a small bag of the fresh food they needed that day or a baguette sticking out of their backpack.

In America, I think it's much more common to make one big grocery shopping trip every week or every other week. I know I have weeks where I try to stretch our pantry ingredients and freezer to avoid going to the store. Even when I don't do that, I plan our meals out at least a week at a time. My dad, on the other hand, makes stops at the grocery store almost everyday. He has made friends with a lot of the employees, whom he introduced me to the last time I went to the store with him.

I used to love grocery shopping, but since moving to North Carolina, I feel like I've been struggling to really fall into a perfect grocery routine. Each week before grocery shopping I legitimately think about how much I miss HEB, our grocery store in Texas. HEB was very upfront with pricing, there is no membership club card, so the price you see on the shelf was the price you paid. A few months ago, I stood in front of a shelf of pork tenderloin at Harris Teeter for a good 5 minutes trying to figure out how much I'd be paying (they were BOGO that week, but there were at least 3 prices on the sticker.) Eventually, I had to go ask the guy at the meat/seafood counter for help. And I wasn't the only one who was milling around the pork tenderloin shelf looking lost.

We buy a fair amount of our produce from farmer's markets, and I'd like to increase that, because it really is so much cheaper (which was NOT the case in Texas, so at least that's an improvement.) And whenever I'm at Target, I'll swing through the food aisles because they have great prices on a lot of frozen and dry goods. What this all brings me to is that I'm planning to do a little bit of grocery comparison shopping. I'm coming up with a list of about 20 basic items that we buy often and am planning to go to a few stores and price everything out. My hypothesis is that at the end I'll find that I need to visit several stores in order to get the best prices/selection...I'll definitely update with the list I come up with and my findings.

How do you feel about grocery shopping? Do you plan your meals for the week in advance or as they come?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Little things on a Tuesday

1. There is almost nothing more horrific than stumbling upon your blog/Live Journal from high school and early college years. Deleted that shizz. Some people might say they'd like to have it to remind them of where they were at that time...I say hell no...I was pretty angst-y and had a flair for posting late at night.

2. I'm still in the habit of checking the weather in Houston, and on days like today I'm so glad that we get to enjoy "real fall." In our little Houston suburb today it's 86 but with the humidity it feels like 112. Sheesh!

3. Less than 24 hours from placing an online order to the UPS guy delivering is pretty sweet (with free standard shipping.) Thanks New York & Co.!

4. We've been binge watching the West Wing on Netflix. Still not sure why I didn't watch this the first time around. I did get occasional Josh (Bradley Whitford) sightings at my next door neighbor's...he's her brother.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hello, Monday

We've been having a hard time staying still, recently. I blame a lot of it on the fact that I'm jobless and A. is working from home, so by the time the weekend rolls around, I'm ready and in need of an adventure. Since the end of August we've had something major to do about every other weekend. So we were really looking forward to this weekend with no plans, though we did keep pretty busy, looking back on it. Mostly it was delicious.

Friday we picked up banh mi at Le's Sandwiches - which I'd read a lot about on Yelp, but hadn't been able to convince A. to try until last week. Le's is located inside of a mostly deserted "mall" in N. Charlotte. The parking lot doesn't have potholes, it has craters. If I hadn't heard so many good things about the sandwiches, I would have told A. to turn around, but we were on a mission. Inside the mall wasn't much better, all of the stores in the area we walked through are closed, the fountain is empty, and it generally looks like a scene from The Walking Dead. But Le's was hoppin'! We ordered two #6s (grilled pork) on long baguettes, and within a few minutes were on our way. We waited to eat until we got home (better ambiance, and they only have two tables at Le's and both were occupied), and we were NOT disappointed. The pork was perfectly seasoned and grilled, the baguette was the perfect combination of chewy and soft inside with a flaky outside, the daikon and carrots lightly pickled and after removing about 95% of the cilantro and jalapeno, we were in business.

I've been trying to cook dinner on the weekends when we don't have anything else going on, it's so easy to drop $$$$ on weekend dinners out for no good reason. So, I cooked all three nights this weekend, but we still enjoyed lunches out.

Friday night we had pork chops, spaghetti squash, and homemade applesauce. Then we rented movies from Redbox and picked up a few chocolates from Davidson Chocolate Co. and had a relaxing night in.

Saturday morning we slept in a bit and then headed to lunch at Bad Daddy's in Dilworth. We sat outside even though it was getting pretty gray and a little chilly. I had a vanilla milkshake and delicious black bean burger with avocado, cheddar, and chipotle ranch sauce, yum!

Saturday afternoon we hit the grocery store and made delicious beef stir fry with wasabiyaki marinade (wasabi and teriyaki - I usually use Soy Vay brand, but Harris Teeter had a much cheaper version next to it on the shelf.) After dinner we started our next binge watch - the West Wing. I'm not sure how neither of us have ever watched it, my parents (and everyone else I know, it seems) were huge fans when it was on originally.

Sunday we slept in again, but then got a move on, ordering sandwiches from Common Market and then heading to Monroe, NC to use our Treehouse Vineyards Groupon. Treehouse Vineyards is a really interesting little place about 30-40 minutes south of our apartment. If I hadn't heard from several people that it is in a weird location, we might have given up hope finding it. You drive through Monroe and then through a large cemetery and neighborhood, and then suddenly, you're there! Looking out at their property, you'd never guess that a residential neighborhood is right behind you. We arrived for their first tasting/tour of the day, so it wasn't very crowded, only about 12 people total. Their wines are super sweet (something else that lots of people had told me in advance), but I found that some of them kind of grew on me. They have several muscadine wines with grapes they grow on the property, and then a few viniferous wines with juices they buy from NC vineyards in the mountain regions. My favorite was the Wine-O-Rita, a frozen cider and wine concoction they poured from a slushie machine at the end of the tasting. The Groupon also included a free bottle of wine and two wine glasses, so after the tasting, tour, and exploring the grounds a little bit, we picked our bottle, as well as some muscadine hot pepper jelly, and enjoyed our picnic lunch.
Who wouldn't love a wine slushie??
The rest of Sunday was spent cleaning and prepping some meals for the week - I'm on a big soup kick recently, averaging at least one big pot of soup a week. This week's soup was a beef/vegetable soup from my childhood. I had to get a little creative because I left a few items off my grocery list, but I'm looking forward to a big bowl of it for lunch on this somewhat dreary Monday.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's Cookin' this week

Normally I'd post this on a Monday morning, but I've been having a super lazy week when it comes to getting to the store. A. drove off to Atlanta less than an hour after we landed on Sunday night (yes, if we'd known earlier he had to be in Atlanta first thing Monday morning, we would have made different flight arrangements.) Somehow, I've managed to live out of the fridge/freezer/cabinets and come up with some very creative meals the past few days. I finally made it to the grocery store today, though, so we're in business.

I had all the ingredients I needed to make this Creamy Garlic Pasta I'd pinned a long time ago - so I made several servings the other day. I had to add more chicken broth to get the pasta finished, but it was otherwise delicious. I also made pumpkin muffins using the Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread/Muffin mix (I added about 1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and used some leftover canned pumpkin puree in place of one egg - told you I needed to go to the store) - yum! I'll have to go stock up on a few more boxes of the mix.

As we speak I've got a batch of applesauce in the slow cooker - this is my third batch of slow cooker applesauce this fall, the recipe I've been using is a winner. Totally tastes like apple pie.

I'm also planning to make Italian Wedding Soup, Turkey Meatball Hoagies with the leftover meatballs from the soup (larger, of course), baked chicken burritos, and pizza.

My dad sent me a copy of the Sullivan Street Bakery Bread Book and I've got my first batch rising. Considering one bag of bread flour costs about the same as a loaf of bread at the super market, and should yield several loaves, I'm feeling pretty proud right about now.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cape Cod Weekend Re-Cap

Sorry for neglecting you, Blog!

We spent this past Thursday through Sunday on Cape Cod, to celebrate the wedding of a college friend of A's. Rather than stay in the hotel they'd blocked rooms at, we rented an awesome house with two other couples...best decision ever. The place we rented had 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms (it's always nice to have your own bathroom, yes?), an amazing kitchen and huge deck backing up to a nature preserve. We got in late on Thursday night and had sandwiches, drinks, and played Cards Against Humanity. I actually ordered Cards Against Humanity specifically with this weekend in mind, and it did not disappoint.

Friday we had nothing to do until the wedding, so we enjoyed coffee and breakfast out on the deck - it was a beautiful, sunny day at this point. Late morning we popped the champagne and enjoyed a few more drinks on the deck. Towards mid-afternoon it got pretty cloudy, and then started to drizzle as we were leaving for the wedding. After waiting out a downpour, the wedding ceremony was still able to be held on the beach. The sun trying to poke through the clouds around 5pm actually made for a really stunning backdrop. After the outdoor ceremony we headed back from the beach for cocktail hour, which included mini Lobster Rolls - hello New England! Vodka Cranberries (or Cape Codders!) were my chosen drink of the night. The dinner included clam chowder and a mashed potato bar - yum! After the reception officially ended, most of us changed into comfier clothes and headed down to the beach, where the couple had a bar set up and a bonfire with s'mores.

Saturday we had another lazy start, then headed down to Hyannis, where we were meeting most of our friends for a harbor cruise that the couple had planned. Beforehand we stopped off at Box Lunch and I got a delicious Wrap-Wich with sliced turkey, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cranberry sauce and STUFFING! I have a feeling I'll be re-creating that sandwich at home soon. After eating by the dock we all boarded and headed off to cruise around the harbor for a few hours. It was another gray and chilly day, but we all made the best of it.

After the harbor cruise we headed back to our rental house, ordered pizza and enjoyed a low key night in with wine and more Cards Against Humanity before calling it a night pretty early.

We had such a great time that we're hoping to make this weekend an annual event - possibly moving the location around. I'm already checking out rentals in Western North Carolina and the Smokey Mountains, just have to entice our friends to come South!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

DIY - Decoupage Halloween Jars

Now that it's October, I'm ready to share one of my favorite (and easiest) Halloween DIYs. On a side note, how is it October?


I first saw a picture of these spooky and playful jar luminaries on Pinterest, but they come from here. I loved them so much I had to make some of my own. I had some empty pasta sauce jars in the recycle bin and a burned up small Yankee Candle jar which were perfect for this craft. I'm a BIG fan of instant gratification projects, and reusing items I already have. I didn't have to buy anything for this project. You can put a battery powered tealight candle in these to make them glow, or just admire them as they are.

You'll need:
-Leftover jars (remove the labels, if using leftover candles, remove the wax)
-Tissue paper in various Halloween colors (I used purple, orange with yellow squares, and green/purple polka dots)
-Scissors
-Modge Podge or white glue
-Halloween shapes cut out of white paper (I used construction paper and printer paper). I found Halloween clip art on Google and traced it onto the paper and then cut it out.

Steps
1. Tear tissue paper into small pieces and put aside. I ripped them into shreds of various sizes from about an inch to two inches.
2. Cover jar with Modge Podge or glue. Your hands will get super sticky. You can use a paintbrush or just do what I did an squirt the white glue all over and spread it with your fingers. Either will work.
3. Overlap tissue paper, attaching to the jar. You'll want it to be opaque, but not so thick that it blocks the candle light, if you'll be using candles. You may need to use a little bit more glue to get the ends to stay down.
4. Let dry and then attach the cut-out Halloween shapes.
5. Attach any little ribbons or additional decoration you want. For my ghost jar, I found a little scrap of orange polka dot ribbon in my gift wrap collection and attached it.




All lit up. The skeleton is kind of hard to see in this picture, but he also kind of looks like he's dancing (right?)
Do you wait until October to bring out the Halloween decorations? What's your favorite Halloween craft?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wine Wall Art

Our apartment is filled with decorative personal touches - I love DIY crafts which remind me of fun trips, experiences and other memories. One of the projects I've been working on for awhile is our wine label wall art. When we finish a bottle of wine, I remove the label before recycling the bottle. A few months ago I picked up a 15 picture collage frame at IKEA and have attached each label to a piece of card stock. I love that the labels can be changed out. When I first filled the frames, I included labels from pretty much any bottle of wine, but now I'm starting to switch them out for wine labels that are meaningful (wedding wine) or wines that we really enjoy. I may need to get a second frame soon, or figure out something else to do with the labels. I've seen a cool coaster project using wine labels...
With one spot left.
And here it is above our bar cart - a makeover is in the cards for the cart, eventually.
I'm totally guilty of judging a book by it's cover and buying wines with pretty labels, and this project definitely exacerbates that problem.

I've tried a number of ways to remove the label, and find that it depends on the bottle and type of label for which method works best. Typically I fill the bottle with extremely hot tap water to at least the top of the label and let it sit for about 10 minutes. This helps to melt the glue/adhesive and makes it easier to peel away. Sometimes I use a razor blade to help pull the edges away, but usually they will come off pretty well after just letting the hot water sit for a little while. The adhesive stays pretty sticky, which makes it easy to attach the labels to cardstock for framing. I've taped the tops and bottoms of each card onto the white mat so they don't slide out of place.

I love this project, it's easy, but I love what it adds to our otherwise bare wall above the bar.