Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wedding Upcycle: DIY Chalkboard Edition

This will be the first of a few future posts on "upcycling" items from our wedding. If I had to pick one word to describe the decor at our wedding it would have been woodsy. Our reception was held at the top of a big hill overlooking the woods, and we incorporated ferns, birch centerpiece vases and table number holders, DIY terrariums, and a few wood slabs/slices. In terms of decorating our living space, I've always loved some of those same elements - rustic, woodsy, and natural - so it's great to be able to reuse some of these items 18 months later. Meaningful, and they don't break the bank - which is key when you're about to have a house to fill!

Our cake knife and server were displayed on a tree slice (which was WAY smaller than advertised on the site I bought it from - comically so actually because I'd been hoping to display our cake on it!) When I complained they basically said "sorry, it's a natural product, we can't guarantee size (despite offering different sizes on their site), so we'll refund you and you don't have to send it back." Sweet, free cake knife plate. 
As you can see, the cake never had a chance of fitting on the small slab.
The slab has been sitting around in a drawer since our wedding and just recently I started playing around with ideas for what to do with it. I considered painting ferns or flowers on it, but eventually decided to join the masses of chalkboard lovin' people and turn it into a chalkboard with seasonal designs (so much inspiration on Pinterest!)

This was an easy, quick, and cheap DIY project - the trifecta of a good craft project, amirite? The only things I had to buy were the chalkboard paint and chalk. I will say here that I bought chalkboard markers at Michael's first and then read the instructions at home which said they were only for non-porous surfaces (aka NOT wood), so I hopped on Amazon and bought a mechanical chalk "pencil" which is meant for sewing - it comes with a bunch of skinny pieces of chalk in white and  various other colors and it comes with a sharpener, so you can write in really fine lines.

I started by tracing along one of the tree's rings with a pencil, I wanted to leave a small space between the painted surface and the bark.

Next, I used a skinny paintbrush to paint over the pencil line so I'd have a clear spot to stop when I went in with my foam brush.

The chalkboard paint I used works on most porous surfaces and you have to do two coats, one vertical and one horizontal with an hour of drying time in between. Here it is after one coat:

I ended up doing more like 4 or 5 coats. I love that you can still see the wood grain through the paint. Finally, I played around drawing with the chalk a little bit. Can you tell our move into the new house is heavily on my mind?


I'm already having fun coming up with ideas for future designs. I think I'll attach hardware on the back so it can be hung two ways, or find a plate holder and display it on top of a side table..hmmm.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Simmering//Thai Ginger Chicken Soup

I find myself checking the weather report practically hourly to see if we'll get snow here in Charlotte (and how much!) This chilly weather they're calling for makes me want to curl up with some hot soup and a good book - so this week I'm on a mission to make several pots of soup and a big batch of sweet potato cornbread. I love making soups and my husband LOVES eating them - I think it might be his favorite food group. I especially love that you can transform basically the same 6 ingredients (carrots, celery, potato, chicken broth, garlic, and onion) into so many different soups from around the world. Here's what I'm thinking:

Mulligatawny
Creamy Sausage & Spinach Soup
Thai Chicken Vegetable

First up last night was Thai Chicken & Vegetable Soup. I'd seen the Swanson flavored Thai Ginger vegetable broth in the grocery store a few times but hadn't bought it until this week. There's a recipe for Chicken Soup on the back of the carton, so I started there and made some tweaks. I added a bunch of extra vegetables, some rice, and thickened it up a bit at the end. You can use whatever veggies you like best in here. There are also recipes for rice and pad thai on their website - I bet both would be yummy!

Thai Ginger Chicken & Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Swanson/Campbell's Kitchen

Ingredients
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used Trader Joe's coconut oil cooking spray)
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchstick-thin strips (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium red pepper, cut into 2-inch matchstick-thin strips (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup sliced mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, cremini)
1 cup raw broccoli
1/2 cup yellow onion cut into thin strips
1 stalk of celery, sliced
1/2 cup baby corn
1 carton (32 ounces) Swanson® Thai Ginger Flavor Infused Broth
2 cups cooked chicken
1 can (about 14 ounces) unsweetened light coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
Salt to taste at the end


Directions
Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the carrot, onion, celery, broccoli, baby corn and bell pepper and cook for 5 minutes or until tender-crisp, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the mushrooms.

Add the broth to the saucepan and heat to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Stir in the chicken and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is hot, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the light  coconut milk and cook until the mixture is hot and bubbling.  Stir in the lime juice just before serving. Salt to taste. Spoon a serving of jasmine rice into each bowl, if desired.

NOTE: If you prefer a thicker soup, you can use a cornstarch slurry (1 tablespoon of corn starch and one tablespoon of water mixed together in a bowl) - adding one 1 tablespoon of each at a time (I ended up using 3 tablespoons each to get it to my desired thickness).


 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Weekend in Charleston

I mentioned last week that we had a busy weekend ahead - well it was busy, but it was also a ton of fun.

Friday night we headed out to George's Brasserie in South Park here in Charlotte to take advantage of their Restaurant Week menu - the meal was fabulous - we started with mussels and lobster bisque, followed by beef bourginion and coq au vin, and creme brulee and chocolate cake for dessert. We thought everything was delicious. Then we headed home for a quiet evening of Redbox movies.

Saturday morning we got up early-ish and headed down to Charleston, arriving there around lunch time. Before checking in to our hotel we had brunch at Poogan's Porch - it was amazing! I had shrimp & grits with poached eggs on top. If you know me in real life - I'm a lover of shrimp & grits, and can rarely turn down eggs benedict if it's on a menu - so this was like a match made in heaven.


After brunch we walked around the Charleston City Market for a bit and then headed to the hotel to take a quick nap and shower before meeting up with my husband's coworkers for the fundraiser we were attending.

We had drinks and appetizers at Leaf and then headed to a night of music, local beer, and Firefly moonshine. The fundraiser raises money for Pattison's Academy, a school for children with multiple disabilities - I was shocked (in a good way) to find out that the therapeutic school is free for the children to attend. Anyway, the music was fantastic - featuring several songwriters playing songs they've written for famous country stars. It was incredible to head the songwriters themselves sing the songs - in some cases better than the version you hear on the radio.

Sunday morning we got up early again and walked to meet up with our tour guide for a historic walking tour that I'd booked for us. We'd taken a tour offered by Free Tours by Foot last February in New Orleans, so when I found out they offer tours in Charleston, we hopped right on that! The tours are name your own price - you can pay or not pay (but the tours are amazing, so I can't imagine stiffing them) at the end of the tour. They operate in about 7 cities, so I always check to see before we go to a new place that we know nothing about.

We walked around the historic district for two hours learning about Charleston's history - which was perfect because it was our first time there.






After our tour we grabbed a quick barbecue lunch - yummy pulled pork baked potato, and then headed back to our hotel to grab our stuff and get back on the road.

It was a quick trip, but it definitely whetted our appetite to go back again soon!

Friday, January 24, 2014

5 on Friday

Happy Friday! Linking up a little late for Five on Friday. P.S. Is it totally weird that I always remember that January 24th is the birthday of my crush in middle school? I have a memory for weird numbers so it's not out of the ordinary for me, just random. Another story for another day is that my best friend since 7th grade and I bonded over our mutual crush on the same boy...usually these things tear girls apart, we built the foundation of our friendship on it. Luckily he was never interested in either of us! Anyway...on with my Five.

1. I'm so excited to finally have my husband back in town after back-to-back-to-back business trips that have had him out of town for most of the last three weeks. We had plans for a lazy weekend but turns out we're headed to Charleston for a night for (another) work-related trip for him. This will be our first time in Charleston, so I'm excited to take in the sights before and after attending his work event. And, the weather is supposed to be in the 50's, so our plans for a historic district walking tour shouldn't be TOO frigid and miserable.

2. I used my time home alone to make an effort to eat pretty healthy and actually didn't eat meat for the past 11 days. It helped me lose all the holiday weight, plus one extra pound from my "usual" weight. I really didn't miss meat, but I don't think I'll be going meat-free full-time.

3. Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Chai - I've been enjoyed iced chai lattes at home the past few days (yes, even despite the chilly weather I prefer them iced.) I love that the whole canister costs about the same as one latte at a coffee shop and makes seven at home lattes.

4. I also spent some time this week crafting, turning one of our leftover wedding decorations into a chalkboard - I'll be sharing the results on the blog next week - but I'm really happy with the way it came out. Now to figure out my first chalk design...

5. Though I've yet to see if with my own eyes, we were supposed to get a driveway and cabinets installed at the new house this week...making a trip over before we head out of town.

Hope y'all have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guacamole

As long as I can remember I've been a guacamole/avocado lover, but that was not the case for my husband...until we moved to Texas. I was shocked when he returned from a business trip in San Antonio proclaiming his new-found like of guacamole. I'm actually not sure if he'd ever had it before then, or had always just assumed he wouldn't like it. So, on our next trip to San Antonio, he took me to the restaurant, Boudro's, on the Riverwalk, which made this opinion changing guacamole. It was definitely a game changer - chunky avocados with a definite citrusy "zing." When you Google "Boudro's," it automatically fills in "Boudro's San Antonio guacamole recipe," so it's obviously a sought after recipe, they also make it table-side, so it's not hard to figure out what goes into it, the secret is just tweaking the  proportions a bit. I used to use a seasoning packet from the grocery store, but haven't looked back since finding this recipe. If there's a guacamole naysayer in your life, try this out on them.


Guacamole (inspired by Boudro's)
1-2 ripe avocados
5- 10 grape or cherry tomatoes, or 1 small tomato when in season (I hate unripe/pink tomatoes with a fiery passion so I usually use grape or cherry tomatoes until we're well into tomato season)
1/4 small onion, minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed, diced (optional)
Juice of 1/4 an orange
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Garlic salt

Like potato salad, I think guacamole is something that needs to be salted again right before serving, so I tend to purposely undersalt it when I first prepare, then cover it tightly and let it all "marry" in the fridge for a few hours and then add some more garlic salt just before serving.

If you ever find yourself on the San Antonio Riverwalk, I highly recommend making a reservation at Boudro's to try the original!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Superbowl Food

A few years ago I decided it would be fun to change up the standard Superbowl chili/queso/wing/pizza menu and make dishes inspired by the teams that were playing in the game. That way, even if I don't care about the teams playing (I usually don't), I still get excited during the playoffs and weeks leading up to "the big game" trying to plan our game day menu. Of course it changes depending on if we're watching at home or attending a party. After hearing that Denver and Seattle were playing, I hopped on Google to check out famous foods from each city. Apparently I wasn't the first one with this idea - lots of people were joking that the perfect food to represent both cities (in light of recent legislation) would be pot brownies. I ended up expanding it to include regional foods because I didn't find too much in the way of specifically Denver food.

Here's are some of the possibilities:
-Smoked Salmon & Scallion Dip
-Colorado Green Chili (I know I said I wanted to change it up, but this chili has pork and isn't your standard)
-Coffee-rubbed Bison sliders (love that this combines both cities - coffee for Seattle and bison/game for Denver/Colorado)
-Mini Cherry Pies - doubt I can find Rainier cherries at this time of year but we'll just stretch our imagination and use good old fashioned canned.
-Colorado Cowboy Cookies

Of course we'll also have chips etc, but especially in light of the Velveeta shortage(!!), it's nice to have some fresh new ideas to try out.
 




Friday, January 17, 2014

Foodie Five on Friday

With Charlotte's twice annual Queen's Feast kicking off tonight, today's Five on Friday link up is dedicated to 5 restaurants in Charlotte I can't wait to try!

1. Like many Charlotte residents, I have been planning our Queen's Feast restaurant week dinners since the restaurants and menus were posted right after the holidays. I've actually changed my mind, and our reservations a few times. But, I think we finally have it  all figured out. The first restaurant we'll be dining at is George's Brasserie in Piedmont Town Center. I've heard amazing things (especially about their Happy Hour) so I can't wait! From perusing the cocktail menu, I also know that I'll be trying their Spicy Mule (Tito's Vodka - my favorite, lime, ginger beer, and jalapeno.)

2. If you're like me, you may find it hard to limit yourself in making Queen's Feast reservations, but what with our building a house, and then filling a house, and traveling out of state for a ton of weddings this year, we're trying to cut back on dining out. That being said, we've "limited" ourselves to two restaurants for the week. The second restaurant is Bistro La Bon, another that I've heard great buzz about, but we haven't made it there yet.

3. My parents were looking for a few last Christmas minute gifts for my husband and I suggested a few restaurants that were opening up in Charlotte that we haven't been to yet. We've been to Tupelo Honey in Asheville, and tried to go in Greenville (but the wait was outrageous), so we're super excited to have it open in Charlotte now. I've heard the wait is already crazy, so we'll wait for a random weeknight when we don't feel like cooking, or a weekend morning when we wake up early.

2. Nan & Byron's - I feel like Nan & Byron's opened to huge fanfare, and I can't wait to try their food. We loved our anniversary dinner at 5Church, and love comfort food - so you can't really go wrong, can you (especially with another Christmas gift card!)

5. Finally, after my incredible birthday dinner at Good Food on Montford, I can't wait to try their new Italian concept sister restaurant, Stagioni, on Providence Rd. The menu looks incredible, and if they're as well thought out and expertly prepared as every single thing we ate at GFoM's (seriously, the meal was pretty much flawless), we're in for a treat.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Meatless Mania

I meant to post this on Monday, but never got around to it..it was a nasty weather day and I was in a blah mood...so, yeah!

I'm tackling one of my "life list" (as yet unposted - does it still count if I do it before I go public with the list?) items the next two weeks and am planning to go meatless. I've never really been one for strict diet plans, and have always just held myself accountable and balanced out unhealthy meals with eating well, but between the holidays and falling into a bad pattern of eating out (it's fun in a new city!) I feel like I need a little break. Plus, A. is super busy with work through the end of the month so between a bunch of short trips and other meetings, I'm on my own for a bunch of dinners - which makes this the perfect time to cook up lots of meatless meals. He's not crazy about most meatless meals, so I'm planning to make a bunch of my favorites, plus try out a few I've had bookmarked for awhile.

Here are some of the meals I'm planning:

Lunches
-Creamy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese
-Eggplant & Pesto Panini
-Egg, Tomato & Scallion Sandwich (I was really skeptical about this combination when I first came across it on Skinnytaste, but once again Gina has a hit.)
-Quinoa & Spinach Burgers (makes me think of the kween-o patties in the Bud Light/NFL commercials)
-Spaghetti Squash fritters
-Greek Quinoa Salad

Dinners
-Noodles and Broccoli with Peanut Sauce (so easy and delicious)
-Eggplant Parmesan
-Spaghetti Squash Primavera
-Mushroom Stroganoff
-Chana Masala (Indian chickpea dish), spinach & crispy saffron rice - I stole a few cans of a chana masala from my parents' cabinets. There's an Indian bistro in their neighborhood that also sells cans of some of their food at a few local grocery stores.

The hardest part is deciding when to make which meals! I'll admit now that I'm cheating on a few items and using chicken broth - but I'm looking to vegetables, legumes and quinoa for my proteins.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let's build a house!

Today we're 45 days out from closing on our first home and work on the exterior is quickly coming to a close. It has been so much fun to drive by every week and see incredible progress each and every time - now it won't be as obvious from the outside, but they'll be making the skeleton of a house look like a home. So I thought it was fitting today to write a little bit about deciding to build.

I never expected to build our very first house. I grew up in a 100 year old stone/brick house with tons of character. Character = glittery, patterned 1970s wallpaper that was slowly but surely scraped and walls painted to erase all evidence of over the first few years we lived there. Character = a 6 bedroom house with one bathroom, which was shared by a family with 13 children - yes 13. Legend has it that each child had 5 minutes in the bathroom in the morning and if you had a friend over, they shared your 5 minutes. Character = a shuffleboard game painted on the basement floor. You get the point...my parents have spent 20+ years in the house adding bathrooms and making it theirs, and I had kind of imagined doing something similar. A's family on the otherhand lives in a house they built when he was little, so it was something he's very accustomed to.

The suburb we lived in outside Houston was riddled with new construction (the community started around 1975 and there are now almost 100,000 residents) and on boring weekends we'd go tour model home neighborhoods. Yes, entire streets of model homes, where you just walked from house to house to see what all of the area builders offered. We briefly considered building in TX, the prices were INCREDIBLE, and they were beautiful houses, but we waited too long to do it - we knew that TX wasn't going to be our home forever, so we stayed in our rental and appreciated the fact that as renters in TX we paid no property OR income tax.

When we first heard we'd be moving to Charlotte, I started researching houses right away. At first I was looking mostly at existing homes - but we had a hard time figuring out which part of town we wanted to be in, especially from afar. We don't anticipate moving again anytime soon, the reality of my husband's job and the company he works for is that it will probably happen at some point. So, we started looking for townhouses and other properties we could potentially rent out or sell to a new young professional couple moving to Charlotte. After searching for existing townhouses, I came across some new construction in Charlotte (probably about a year ago at this point) and started doing more research. We actually went to visit the models on our trip to Charlotte in May when we signed our lease on our current apartment. But at that point we weren't ready to commit and put it to the back of our minds.

Once we'd made the move and settled into our apartment, we went back to visit again, and decided to build. We sat on it for a week trying to decide and I remember looking over at A. a million times and saying "we're going to build a house," and he would say, "I think so." Once the papers were all signed, I felt so relieved and finally excited. I have friends all over who have real estate horror stories of losing houses they loved due to competing CASH offers way over asking, or homes selling right out from under them. My little heart (and anxious mind) just couldn't take it. It was even more perfect that it lined up almost perfectly with the end of the 8 month lease we had signed. So, while the building process can be somewhat stressful at times - at least I know that our unit is ours and no one is going to take it away! We're hoping that in addition to being our first home, it will be a good investment down the road, should we have to sell it. Plus, starting with a totally blank canvas will afford me lots of opportunities to give our home character.


Friday, January 10, 2014

First Five on Friday for Twenty-Fourteen

Okay, so not THE first, but MY first Five on Friday for the year. And it's all over the place.

1. Is it weird that I want to re-decorate for Christmas because I'm excited about all the stuff I got on sale after the holidays? Alas, we'll have to wait until next year to put it to use. I'm especially excited about the three throw pillow covers and cute iron reindeer card holder I got on sale from Pottery Barn. I love all these sentiments around the holidays (and any time): Peace, Joy, Jolly & Cheer.

2. Here in Charlotte (and practically everywhere else my Facebook friends live) experienced a serious cold snap earlier this week...cold weather calls for: Hot Cocoa spiked with Bailey's and TruWhip with Bailey's mixed in. It warmed my heart and my hands. We'll be keeping this one on the regular rotation.

I'd been reading about TruWhip on several sites like Skinnytaste etc, but this was our first time trying it - it was good! Although it reminds me of the commercial where the lady asks if you want cream or oil with your pie - but at least they're not hydrogenated oils.

3. I'm happy to report that we ordered a fridge, washer & dryer, and bedroom set to be delivered the week we move into the house. So at least for a bit, we can stop spending every waking evening & weekend moment shopping for appliances and furniture. There's still a bunch of stuff we need, but it can wait for a bit. We almost bought a floor model fridge at a great price, but then they told us that the delivery service wouldn't bring it into our house, just into the garage. Um yeah, no thanks, especially when you're offering free delivery and hook up on an only very slightly more expensive (and not discontinued) model.

4. The past few days a few of my girlfriends from high school and I have been emailing back and forth starting to plan a fun bachelorette weekend for our friend who is getting married this August in Boston. Nothing is in stone yet, but we're thinking of a wine/foodie weekend in the Hudson Valley region of Upstate NY. It's been fun to check out all the possibilities including wine tastings along one of the many wine trails, a visit to a cheesemaker, a meal at the Culinary Institute of America, and renting a cute cottage with some of my closest friends.

5. I'm always proud of myself when I pull off potstickers. They're actually easy to make, but labor intensive...once you finish though - so worth it. We had lettuce wraps and veggie potstickers for dinner this week (which I remixed as a lettuce wrap salad and potstickers one night when A. was out of town.) Here's my favorite vegetable potsticker recipe. They freeze and reheat well - just make sure to freeze them on a tray before putting them in a bag for storage, or put parchment paper between the layers or else they'll freeze together and the fragile wonton wrappers will break.


Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Eccentricities for a Thursday.

It's been a while since I've shared some fun personal facts with you. I'm not sure that these are going to be Earth shattering, they're just some fun facts.

- I'm probably the last person on Earth who uses the Caps Lock key...not sure why, I've just always used it and can't seem to break the habit. I've read that eventually the Caps Lock key will be phased out and I'm not sure what I'll do! I wonder why it's not like texting where it automatically capitalizes after a period.

-No, I don't want to join you on your cleanse or detox. True/False, when you hear about a cleanse/detox you automatically assume that means crapping your pants? True? Yeah, me too.

-I am not a museum person. I feel like the worst kind of person when I'm trapped in a museum. I get that the art is really historically significant etc, and I'm happy to take a quick peek at it, but I have no interest in spending hours at a museum thinking about the importance of a cast shadow. Therefore, I'm better suited for "museums" designed for small children. For instance, I loved my experience at Coca-Cola World in Atlanta because there was tons of stuff for me to do. Same with the Bacardi Factory in San Juan, Puerto Rico and most science museums (especially if there's something in "4D")

-I think this one is totally normal but maybe to an extreme. I am forever worried that I've left my straightener and/or the iron on. I never actually have, but the worry still plagues me halfway through my drive to wherever I'm going. I used to call A. on the phone when I left before him to make sure to check it. This tells me I should really get a straightener with an auto-off feature...or be less distracted when I turn it off.

-Like many people I'm super afraid of snakes...but the best part is that I made such a convincing argument to my brother about why they are terrifying that he is also now deathly afraid of them, too.

-I hate margaritas. It used to make me so sad to go out for Tex Mex and everyone else was enjoying margaritas of all types - frozen, rocks, swirl, you name it. I have TRIED but just can't do it. I also hate tequila, especially gold tequila, so the combination of tequila and sour/sweet margarita mix is just a no-go for me.







Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Resolving to Read

My poor Kindle. I hadn't touched it in quite a while (the battery was even completely dead) and went to download a new book I'd ordered through the Kindle store. As I loaded my library, I came across no fewer than 4 books that were partially read. Apparently I've become a book abandoner. I think it's easier to do with Kindle books, you don't see them sitting there on your nightstand, so a busy week of no reading can easily become much longer. So, I resolve that before I add any more Kindle books to my library, I will finish the ones I've left half-read. Here's what I've got:

-Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir - Jenny Lawson - 11% (this is the new one I bought when I discovered the abandoned books so it shouldn't count as I'm actively reading it.)

-Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - David Sedaris - 15%

-Allegiant (Divergent Trilogy) - Veronica Roth - 14% (I read the first two back to back but then there was a long gap before the third and final book came out so I've had a little trouble picking up where I left off.)

-The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin - 32% (I can't bring myself to read this book all at once - I'll read a chapter and then come back to it later.)

-The Underland Chronicles - Suzanne Collins - 17% (this one has been abandoned for over a year - I had to go back several pages in my library to even find it. I'm afraid I might have to start it over again because I don't remember much from the first read.)

-In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto - Michael Pollan - 14%

I've got my work cut out for me!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pre-Drywall Walk Through

We recently had our pre-drywall walk through at our construction site. This was the first time we got to set foot "in" our house. Suddenly it is feeling very real! Our townhome is an end unit, but the layout is flipped from the model because we're on the opposite end, which has made imagining our house hard to do - I kept imagining it looking just like the model. Now that we've been in our actual house, I'm having a much easier time imagining our stuff in there, and of course it has sent me on another "pinning" spree for inspiration.

Here are a few pictures:
View from garage entry into the kitchen.

Garage out to the street. My brother asked if the garage is crooked, so it's worth noting that the scaffolding is crooked (and maybe my camera), but our house is NOT leaning.
Living room looking into the kitchen.
Looking down the entry hall to the room we'll use as an office.
Up the stairs.
Living room/fireplace
Sunroom and muddy "backyard."

Front (side) door and entry hallway.
We've been taking pictures of the outside every week, so it was amazing to see what they've been up to inside.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Weekend Recap

2014 is the year of getting excited about spending a fortune on mundane things. So far this year (and the last week of 2013), we've spent at least 20 hours shopping for appliances, ceiling fans, furniture etc. Our house is really coming together - it's crazy that we'll be moving in in less than 2 months - we put in our notice at our apartment last week and now it's feeling real. They are laying bricks on the outside, and all the plumbing and electric/cables are in. Next up is drywall. Now we just have to continue working on filling this little house of ours. We ended up getting our microwave, stove/oven, and dishwasher through the builder, but decided to shop around for the fridge and washer/dryer. We went to a few stores before the holidays but it was too far out to take advantage of the sales - so now we're back at it.

We spent a lot of Saturday at the Hickory Furniture Mart in Hickory, NC. We really liked some of the stuff in the Amish Oak & Cherry store, but I don't think we saw anything we HAD to have. We're currently on the lookout for a round, extendable dining table - with the idea that it'll be our main table in this house, but maybe our kitchen table in a future home when/if we ever live somewhere with a formal dining room. We saw some beautiful pieces in Hickory, but it kills me to spend more than twice what the table costs to get the 6 chairs.

Sunday was dreary (and so rainy - I must have been ignoring the weather reports because I wasn't expecting it!) so we were lazy all morning, I made soup with some leftover taco meat from earlier in the week, and then we headed out in the afternoon to Lowe's, Home Depot, and the mall.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Year's Pork x 3

As is tradition, we enjoyed pork, black eyed peas, cornbread, and greens (well, broccoli and peas - but they're green!) on New Year's Day. I made two pork tenderloins using a favorite recipe I found awhile back on Pinterest. My problem is, I think leftover pork tenderloin is kind of underwhelming as leftovers, unless you do something to transform it. Hopefully the number of after New Year's Day meals we've enjoyed transforming our leftover pork tenderloin will lead to a very, very lucky year.

Night One:
Traditional pork tenderloin, hoppin' john, cornbread, and broccoli (and delicious Mexican Chocolate Pots De Creme from a box mix from World Market, with Tru Whip.)


Night Two:
Pork Fried Rice with Japanese Cucumber Salad

For the pork fried rice I cubed a leftover pork tenderloin (about half of a tenderloin), sauteed some veggies with garlic, added rice (went the easy way out and used the microwaveable frozen rice from Trader Joe's), added soy sauce, grated some ginger over top, and cracked an egg and quickly scrambled it.

I grew up eating a vinegary cucumber salad that my grandmother made, and have recently started experimenting with some different flavors with it. For my most recent variation I used my mandolin to thinly slice 1 large cucumber, then used a mix of white vinegar and rice wine vinegar, water, salt, minced garlic, pepper, and red pepper flakes. It's all to taste so I won't share amounts, but the cucumbers should be swimming in the mixture of vinegar(s) and water.


Night Three:
Pork and Udon Noodle Soup

This soup was super delicious and easy! I came across it after Googling what to do with leftover pork. For a soup that takes less than an hour to make, it has a ton of flavor - no doubt thanks to the fresh garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. I used rice noodles instead of udon noodles, but you could definitely use any variety of Asian noodle you prefer.

Do you enjoy leftovers as is, or do you transform them into "new" meals?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sweet Potato Cornbread (adapted from Paula Deen's recipe)

I'm not feeling listy today - so I'm forgoing my normal Five on Friday post. Since returning home from the holidays away, I've been cooking up a storm - I guess 8 days away will bring out my nesting instinct.

I can get behind a lot of Southern food - in fact I haven't met much Southern food I don't like...but I have a bone to pick with the lack of sweet cornbread. Us Northerners like our cornbread sweet and cakey. I got sick and tired of buying the packets of cornbread mix only to bake up a dry, salty cornbread. And this comes from a girl with a serious love of salt. I set out to find a good recipe to replace the store bought mixes and have finally found one I really like.

Sweet potato cornbread first caught my eye on Pinterest, but I couldn't fathom using 4 eggs and a stick of butter for one pan of bread, so I Googled until I found Paula Deen's Sweet Potato Cornbread recipe. I made it once and it was ALMOST perfect, but still not sweet enough - so the second time I made it, I added two tablespoons of honey to the wet ingredients, in addition to the white sugar called for in the dry ingredients. The result was perfect: moist, just sweet enough cornbread which has been getting even moister and more delicious as the days go on.

Sweet Potato Cornbread - adapted from Paula Deen

Ingredients 

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
¼ cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter
1 egg
2 tablespoons honey (this is optional, if you like traditional Southern cornbread, leave it out)
1 cup buttermilk (I used my new favorite cooking hack, a tablespoon of white vinegar then filled the rest of the cup measure with 1% milk and waited 5 minutes)
1 ½ cup peeled and grated sweet potato (I just used one large sweet potato, which I prepared in the microwave - directions below.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.




To prepare sweet potato: Scrub sweet potato to remove dirt. Pierce the sweet potato about 10-15 times with a knife so it doesn't explode as it cooks. Wrap potato in a damp paper towel and place in the microwave. Cook for 4 minutes, then flip it over and cook for another 4 minutes. (Make sure your entire paper towel is damp, I've had it turn a little brown in some spots when I don't dampen it enough - wouldn't want to contribute to any microwave disaster!) Let the sweet potato cool for a few minutes.


In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter with two forks, or your fingers until mixture is crumbly.

In a medium mixing bowl beat egg until frothy. Stir in buttermilk (or milk/vinegar mixture), honey, and sweet potatoes (remove the skin and mash the sweet potato into the wet ingredients.) Pour mixture into flour mixture stirring just until blended. Pour batter into greased 9x9x2 inch baking dish.

Bake 20 minutes or until center springs back when pressed. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares and serve.




This is my new go-to cornbread recipe. It's a beautiful gold color with flecks of orange from the sweet potato.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cooking Hacks

It happens to the best of us - you realize you don't have a "necessary" ingredient for a recipe you're about to prepare. Maybe you thought you had eggs or butter and didn't add them to your grocery list, only to figure it out as you get out your necessary ingredients. If you're like me, there's no chance you're going back out to the store to get the forgotten item. Here are a few of my favorite "cooking hacks" which can help in a pinch.

Buttermilk
If a recipe calls for a cup of buttermilk and you only have regular milk, you can use 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to make "buttermilk." Just fill you measuring instrument a little bit under a cup, add the vinegar, and wait about 5 minutes before continuing with your recipe.

Whole Milk
We drink 1% milk in our house, so when a recipe calls for Whole Milk, I don't really want to buy a separate container. You can add a small amount of cream or even half & half to "up" the percentage of your milk, below is a trusty conversion chart I found on Chowhound. Since I'm usually using 1% milk, I tend to use about 1 tablespoon less than the chart below calls for. It's worth noting that you should add the cream or half & half to your measuring cup first and then add your milk the rest of the way, it's not in addition to the milk the recipe calls for - wouldn't want anyone to end up with too much liquid.

1.5t heavy cream= 1% milk
1T heavy cream= 2% milk
2T heavy cream= whole milk
5T 1t heavy cream= half-&-half
9T heavy cream= light cream
1T light cream= 1% milk
1T 2t light cream= 2% milk
3T light cream= whole milk
5 oz light cream= half-&-half
2T half & half= 1% milk
3T half & half= 2% milk
4T half & half= whole milk


Butter
I often substitute mashed bananas or unsweetened applesauce in baked goods - just replace the butter with an equal amount of banana or applesauce.

Eggs
You can also use mashed banana or applesauce for eggs, or vegetable oil if you think you'll miss the fat. 1/4 cup of any of them replaces one egg.

Do you have a favorite cooking hack or substitution you use in a pinch?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hey There, 2014!


I didn't really have much beef with 2013; it was an exciting year for us...but it was a crazy year too. So, I'm really looking forward to 2014 being a little bit more....settled? I guess that's the word. We spent the beginning of 2013 wondering when we'd get the official word that we were moving, and it kept getting pushed until I started to feel like it would never happen. Then we found out we'd be moving June 1st and immediately started planning. Even though we DO have a move planned in 2014 - it's on our terms, and only a few miles down the road.

We have a huge number of weddings to attend in 2014 (7 or 8), but we're excited that it means we'll see a lot of our friends. I'm hoping that we can work out a way to go on a real vacation, because as long as we've lived far from "home home," we've used most of our paid time off to travel back for various weddings and holidays. In fact, I think in the 5ish years we've lived together, the only real vacation we've been on was our honeymoon. We did lots of local weekend getaways, and I'm hoping that we keep doing that, especially now that we have new locales to explore; but we could use a real vacation!

As for blogging, I've gone through a few cycles with it; loving it at first, then starting to feel like it was consuming me, then wondering why I bothered, and then getting back into it. So I guess we'll see what 2014 has in store for the blog. When I started Dream It Yourself, I envisioned it being a place to document projects and potentially renovations. We're having a house built, so there won't be much in the way of renovations (hopefully!!), but I already have a list of projects for after we move in. Until then, I'll be working on sharing more about our building process. I've always loved reading other people's home building stories (even before I knew we'd be building), so maybe this space can be helpful for someone else who is considering building.