Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Couscous Salad


It's Wednesday and I am still feeling motivated to begin painting our office this weekend. So motivated in fact, that I'm even thinking about taking off work Friday to get a start on it. Please God, just let this motivation last through the weekend.

Couscous is one of my favorite grains. Between couscous and quinoa, I could die a happy girl. This couscous salad is my own concoction, created after reading a few different recipes. It's really a summer dish, best with cucumbers and tomatoes picked fresh from the garden. However, since it's so good and so easy, I make it year round. It's a good side dish for dinner with chicken, next to a sandwich at lunch, or even as a small snack on it's own.

Couscous Salad

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked couscous
1/2 cup cucumber slices, halved or quartered so they are bite size
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
1/4-1/2 cup feta cheese

Directions

1. Cook couscous according to package directions. Add cooked couscous, cucumber, and tomatoes to a bowl and stir to combine.



2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil and vinegar and whisk briskly until well mixed. Add extra oil or vinegar according to your tastes. I like vinegar a lot so I tend to make mine with a stroner vinegar flavor. Pour oil and vinegar mixture over the couscous mixture and stir until dressing is fully incorporated.




3. Add feta cheese and stir one last time to combine.

This can be served immediately, but I like it best chilled. It will keep in the refrigerator for about 4 or 5 days, just be sure to stir it well as the dressing will settle to the bottom as it sits.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The 4th Day of Christmas

C's father described it best yesterday, we feel like we're in the movie Groundhog Day, but Christmas style. After spending 2 days celebrating the holiday with my family, we spent all day yesterday celebrating with his family. When leaving last night, hugs goodbye were exchanged with thank you's and "see you tomorrow night". Because we would in fact be seeing them tonight for yet a 4th holiday celebration. Tonight was our final Christmas celebration with some of C's family friends. We do this gathering every year; this was the 4th year I've attended. Each year is a little different, but it's always a great time. This year we ate spaghetti (or noodles with Chili as one person believed it to be), had some freshly popped popcorn, and played catchphrase. All in all, it was a great night. I just might be a little tired at work tomorrow. Nothing a little extra coffee can't cure.

C is off work all week so I've given him a small "honey do" list. Today he went grocery shopping for me and to the bank. Tomorrow he'll be cleaning the kitchen and hopefully doing some small repairs around the house. I'm debating getting a huge jump start on painting our office this coming weekend, but since it's only Tuesday, we'll have to see how I feel by Saturday/Sunday. Also on the list this week is to sit down and make some budget goals for next year. Budgets are adult things. We're adults. I think it's time to make this happen.

Have you started thinking about your goals or resolutions for 2012?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Baking Christmas Cookies




Christmas is just about over. C and I have one more Christmas celebration to attend tomorrow evening and then we can finally relax a little. After spending the whole weekend with my family and then all day today with his, we're beat. Sorry for my poor posts the past few days. I had good intentions. I had plans to write about Christmas traditions around the world. To write about our "slow cooked Sunday" Christmas dinner. But then we had my nephew at the house. And my grandparents. And my sister and BIL. And of course my parents. And that just makes for a crazy house and little time for blogging.

After spending a few hours Saturday morning with a dear friend, chatting over coffee and tea, I spent the rest of the day with my mom in the kitchen. Most of my afternoon involved me making chocolate dipped pretzels. Sadly, after spending a few hours on these, we put them in a tin and I completely forgot about them and didn't eat any! I'm sure they were good.

My mom made the dough for cutout sugar cookies on Saturday and refrigerated it all night. (this wasn't the original intention. We just ran out of time that evening to finish making the cookies) Christmas morning the dough was so hard she couldn't even get it out of the bowl! Her remedy was to put the bowl in some hot water. It seemed to work well so I'm passing the trick along to you.

The recipe she used was new to both of us. While cutout sugar cookies are a common Christmas cookie for most people, I didn't grow up making them. My mom and I agree that they can be tricky to make, and we haven't found a recipe we love yet, so it's not just something we made very often. This recipe turned out pretty good. The dough seemed to be a good consistency for rolling and cutting into shapes, and the cookies were nice and soft out of the oven. I would have preferred them a little sweeter, but adding icing did help quite a bit. Do you have a favorite sugar cookie recipe?


*Note, the recipe says it yields 4 dozen, but we didn't make nearly that many so I'm not sure if my mom halved the recipe or if we just have larger cookie cutters than normal?

Soft Christmas Cookies
allrecipes.com

Ingredients
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Directions
1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together, set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Gradually blend in the sifted ingredients until fully absorbed. Cover dough, and chill for 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. On a clean floured surface, roll out small portions of chilled dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters.



3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are barely brown. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. Note that we made some on a cookie sheet which took only 6 minutes. We made others on baking stones lined with parchment paper and those took closer to 10 minutes before they were ready.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you! I hope you are enjoying the holidays with your loved ones. C and I have been very blessed to spend the holidays with my family and will celebrate again tomorrow with his family. Our Christmas morning was filled with stockings and sugar cookies, and finished our day with a delicious dinner. I. Am. Stuffed.

As my grandmother reminded us many times today, we are celebrating Jesus' birthday. I hope you were all able to keep that in mind whilst opening your presents this morning.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Merry Christmas Eve! I hope you are enjoying spending some time with your families during this Christmas weekend. It seems every family has their own traditions for Christmas. I know a lot of families that always get new pajamas on Christmas Eve and wear them while opening presents Christmas morning. Our family traditions include eating my mothers delicious potato soup on Christmas eve and then opening all our presents. We go to a midnight candlelight service at our church that night.

Christmas morning is usually spent opening stocking gifts and gorging ourselves with candy and other Christmas treats. Even the traditions we know now weren't always how things were. I know when my sister and I were very young, our traditions included Christmas at my grandparents, complete with a visit from Santa Claus and a ham for Christmas dinner (we always ate ham at Grandma's). Frankly, I was just glad Santa knew we were traveling and not at our own house!

Our Christmas traditions are changing slightly now that we have my nephew around, and I'm sure C and I will develop our own traditions once we have kids. But for now, I'm still enjoying the traditions we grew up with while they're still around. What traditions are you enjoying this season?

And just because every post needs a picture, here's one of my nephew. He really wanted us to ship him to the north pole.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Champagne Thursday!

Have you seen the movie Failure to Launch? Yes? Okay, good. No? What? Are you crazy? Stop reading and go add it to your Netflix queue. Now. I'll wait...

Did you add it? Good. Bradley Cooper's presence in the movie should be reason enough. But if it's not, it also has Zooey Deschanel. Who is amazing. She plays Sarah Jessica Parker's roommate and one of the few things from this movie that pops in my head frequently was their ritual of Champagne Thursday. Some weeks, Thursdays came twice.

I had my year end review today and it went pretty well. Plus, my 4-day weekend starts tomorrow. Is there a better reason to have Champagne Thursday? Well, probably yes. But those reasons are good enough for me.

Champagne is a great drink and not just for celebrations. It can be mixed with lots of different liquors, liqueurs, juices, etc. to make a great bubbly drink. Check out these recipes for some great ideas for champagne cocktails. These would be great for Christmas and New Years celebrations as well. (Wow, re-reading this, that's a lot of uses of the word "great". Maybe I should ask for a thesaurus for Christmas)

Champagne and Chambord- I've found this "recipe" in multiple locations and personally loved the idea because C and I actually visited Chateau Chambord during our visit to France this summer. According to the legend (as listed on Chambord liqueur), the liqueur was inspired by a liqueur that King Louis XIV had during his visit to Chateau Chambord. They even sold Chambord in the chateau gift shop, which we found amusing.

Chateau Chambord



Chambord Liqueur


Champagne and Chambord
4 oz champagne
1/2 oz Chambord black raspberry liqueur

Pour champagne and Chambord in a champagne flute. Garnish with fresh raspberries.



Our friend R made a great champagne cocktail at our cooking club event a few weekends ago as well. I didn't get a picture but here's the recipe.

Christmas Cocktail
makes 2-3 drinks

1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup champagne
1/2 cup cranberry juice
limes for garnish

Mix vodka, champagne, and cranberry juice and pour into glasses. Garnish with lime.



For more ideas, I also found this link. I think I'll have to buy some triple sec so I can try the champagne margarita!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Weeknight Recipe Wednesday: Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta


I left work about an hour late tonight, but I still went to the gym just like I promised myself. That’s a win in my book. I have one more day of work before a nice, long 4-day weekend full of family time and celebrating sweet baby Jesus. Life is grand.

Roasted Butternut Squash with bacon is also grand. I have two confessions to make about this recipe:
1. It takes a little while to make since you have to roast the squash first and then bake the whole thing another 10 minutes or so. This isn’t a problem as it allows you time for other things. We put the squash in the oven and then went for a run. The timing was perfect.
2. This was one of those meals where it’s better the second time around. You know how spaghetti leftovers are always better than the day you made it? Maybe it’s just a pasta thing in general. Either way, I found this to be a little bland the first day, but the leftovers on day 2 had absorbed just enough of the salty bacon flavor to make it pretty delicious.



Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta
Cooking Light

Ingredients
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
Cooking spray
6 sweet hickory-smoked bacon slices (raw)
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
8 ounces uncooked whole wheat penne (tube-shaped pasta)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded sharp provolone cheese
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, rosemary, and pepper. Place squash on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with salt mixture. Bake at 425° for 45 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Increase oven temperature to 450°.


3. Cook the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 1/2 teaspoons drippings in pan; crumble bacon. Increase heat to medium-high. Add shallots to pan; sauté 8 minutes or until tender. Combine squash mixture, bacon, and shallots; set aside.

4. Cook pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain well.

5. Combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add provolone, stirring until cheese melts. Add pasta to cheese mixture, tossing well to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; top with squash mixture. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Taskless Tuesday

This picture has nothing to do with this post. It just represents my desire for spring.

I'm feeling lazy today. I haven't been to the gym in a week. Maybe I'm feeling lazy more than just today. Tomorrow this has to stop. Tomorrow I must go to the gym. It'll make me feel better.

Despite my hiatus from the treadmill, I have been rather productive the past few weekends, which is probably why tonight (and truthfully last night too) I've decided to be completely and utterly lazy. Or at the very least, unproductive. I'm on my 4th...errr...5th episode of Big Bang Theory for the night and thankfully have had leftover lasagna the past two nights, keeping me from having to cook.

Tuesday tasks came up quickly this week, and frankly, I have no task to share. I had a few ideas, but didn't really feel like doing them. I washed a load of towels and I emptied the clean, dried dishes from the sink. I don't think you can ask much more of me than that.
I think I'll go read before my 6th episode of Big Bang Theory starts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cinnamon glazed pecans




A few weeks ago we had a holiday "bizarre" at work where a bunch of local companies and sales consultants came in so employees could do some holiday shopping during their lunch break. I've yet to decide if this is a "benefit" or my company's way of telling me that they plan on working me too hard to get any other shopping done. Either way, I walked by a table of baked goods, tried a cinnamon glazed pecan, and fell in love. This was the one and only thing I bought that day and couldn't wait to get home and share these with C. Of course we devoured the bag within a few days. And it took real constraint to make them last a few days.

These are so simple and yet so incredibly delicious. I opted to make these with only pecans, but we did have a friend make a mixed nut version of this for a holiday party a few weeks ago and it was good too. I'm thinking pretzels might be pretty good!

Cinnamon-Glazed Pecans
from cooks.com

Ingredients:
1 lb pecan halves
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I love cinnamon so I actually used a lot more than this. Probably about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons.)

Directions:
1. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Beat in water. Add pecans and stir well to coat. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then pour over the nuts and mix well.

2. Spread in one layer on a foil-covered cookie sheet. (These will stick a lot so the foil is highly recommended to ease your clean-up process.) Bake 30 minutes in a 300 degree oven. Cool completely before removing from foil. Store in an airtight container.

*Tip-I found the easiest way to remove these from the foil was to just use a spatula to scrape them up and break them apart a little at a time. I did this after they cooled about 20 minutes and then allowed them to cool about 20 more minutes before storing them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Slow-cooked Sunday: Lasagna



We had a family brunch this morning at Granite City Brewery to celebrate C's grandparents' 60th anniversary and his grandmother's 80th birthday. Brunch was pretty good, complete with cake and ice cream for the celebration, but the cause for celebration was wonderful. 60 years is such an amazing accomplishment in my opinion. C and I have 1 year down, only 59 more to go before the Diamond Anniversary!

The rest of our day was pretty low key. We hit up the Banana Republic Outlet and found some nice additions to C's wardrobe. I spent what seemed like the rest of the day in the kitchen cooking and baking.

We've had a box of lasagna noodles in our pantry for over a year. True story. They were unopened so I'm sure they were still good. Good enough at least. Our light schedule this weekend made it the perfect day to make lasagna for dinner. This was made completely from scratch, and turned out awesome. Probably not the "World's Best Lasagna" as the recipe implies, but it was really good and I would use the recipe again.

I used the recipe below with very minor adaptions. I used ground turkey instead of ground beef. I felt like the sausage would add enough fat and we should make a healthier choice to some degree. I omitted the fennel seed because I didn't have it. I also used dried parsley instead of fresh. Mostly because I forgot to pick up fresh parsley at the store. Finally, I didn't read the ingredients close enough and cooked the whole box of noodles instead of just 12 of them. I ended up with 8 extra noodles, and had lots of leftover sauce, so I made an extra layer.

Since I still had 2 extra noodles AND more leftover sauce and cheese, I went ahead and made a few lasagna rolls too. I only baked these for the second 25 minutes, not the full 50 minutes.

Sauce that simmers for an hour and a half. Pre-cooking noodles. And baking for about an hour. This is the epitome of a slow-cooked Sunday meal.



World's Best Lasagna
allrecipes.com


Ingredients
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.



2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.



5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.


Check in tomorrow for cinnamon glazed pecans. They're heavenly!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas gift tags

I (mostly) finished up my Christmas shopping today. I keep thinking I'm done, but then I remember something else or someone else. Such is life during the Christmas season.

I spent a few hours last weekend wrapping presents and spent a few more hours tonight making tags for them all. I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. Even if it did take like 4 hours. Check out how cute they are!





Obviously these really only work well if you don't have a bunch of people with names starting with the same letter. The Duggars could not use this method of gift tags.


C had a Christmas concert for one of the community orchestra's he plays in tonight, so while I spent my evening making gift tags, I also watched Something Borrowed. This movie is based off a series of books and I highly recommend them. My friend Bridget recommended them to me a few years ago because she was reading them and wanted someone to talk about the books with. If you haven't read these books, check them out. And then watch the movie. I loved it! Can't wait for the sequel!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Favorites

My favorite links from the week. Enjoy!

1. 15 Ways to make Monkey Bread
2. Someecards (so many funny and sometimes inappropriate ecards!)
3. 12-inch ledge shelves (I'm thinking about buying these or something similar to hang in my bathroom)
4. Best of Unnecessary Censorship

Sorry there aren't more. Between the blogging, work, and obsessing over newborn babies, I didn't spend much time on the internet this week. Aside from pinterest of course. Pinterest takes up all my other time.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thirsty Thursday: Cheap Wine

First of all, I have to give a huge shout out to my friend C and her husband, and congratulate them on welcoming their little boy to the world. Harrison is wonderful and healthy, and about as perfect as a newborn can be. Thank you so much for allowing me to visit you this evening and meet the little guy only hours after he was born. To see pictures of her baby shower, go here.

Okay, on to thirsty Thursday.

It's time for the holidays! And to be clear, I'm a Christian and am in no way offended by people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". First of all, there are a lot of holidays right now. Hanukkah starts on the 20th and Kwanzaa begins on the 26th, but those aren't really my point. For as long as I can remember this has been considered "The Holiday Season". (I mean, Andy Williams sings a song referencing exactly this point.) This Holiday Season encompassed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Eve. But now that there's a whole "PC" issue with using the term "holiday" everybody has an issue with the simple act of wishing someone "Happy Holidays". My preference is that everybody stops being to sensitive, on all sides of all religions. But since that's not going to happen, I'll just try to wish my Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah and my Christian friends a Merry Christmas, and strangers Happy Holidays, because I know nothing about Kwanzaa.

No matter what holiday you're celebrating, you probably will be celebrating with family and friends....and booze. Hosting holiday parties can get expensive when you start buying all that wine and beer. If you don't feel comfortable having a BYOB holiday party, here are two of my suggestions for cheaper red wines that still offer good flavor. These are almost always nestled somewhere in our wine rack.
*Please note that we are not professional wine tasters with refined pallets. We are just people that enjoy drinking wine.

Frontera Carmenere by Concha Y Toro
This wine was recommended to us by my parents about two years ago. I can't remember how they heard about it, or if they just tried it by chance, but at $5 for a 750 ml bottle, it's worth trying. It has tons of flavor and body, especially for a $5 bottle of wine. This has become pretty mainstream and can be found in most liquor stores. We usually get it at a very small liquor store just down the street from our house and my parents buy theirs at Hy-Vee. I can't make any promises for other grocery stores.

Why is that glass empty?



Bodegas Borsao
The Borsao was recommended to C and I by a sommelier at a wedding 3 years ago. It's a Spanish wine with some very different flavors from other reds (i.e. Merlot, Cabernet, Shiraz, etc). We highly recommend this if you're looking for something with just a little bit of spice to it. This usually runs about $8 for a 750 ml bottle. This is a little harder to find; we usually buy ours at World Market. You could also probably find it at a larger liquor or wine store that sells many different "regions" of wine.

Those are our two favorite budget wines. Of course if you're on an extreme budget, Trader Joe's 2 buck chuck, (i.e. Charles Shaw) is always a good choice. It's not really $2 anymore, it's now $2.99. Stupid inflation.

What are your favorite budget wines? We are always looking for suggestions to fill our wine rack!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weeknight Recipe Wednesday: Black Bean Burritos



Kansas City is reaching record high temperatures today. The forecasted high was 60 degrees. Unfortunately, the forecast also included thunderstorms and wind gusts up to 35 mph. Oh well. I'd take 60 degrees and raining over 16 degrees and snowing any day.

Can you believe Christmas is only about 10 days away? If you've planned ahead, you might be done with your shopping and just enjoying the season now. If you're like me, you did some planning, and have made some good progress, but still have a little shopping left to do. This weekend I will become well acquainted with department stores and shopping centers. This weekend, I will finish my Christmas shopping.

Black bean burritos are my idea of the perfect week-night meal. They are super tasty, fall into the category of "Mexican" food, and can be made in 1 pan! Seriously, who doesn't love 1-pan meals? Oh, and they only take about 10 minutes. Make these. Clean up is a breeze and the dishwasher in your house will thank you.

Black Bean Burritosslightly adapted from allrecipes.com
serves 2


Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (any color)
1 tablespoon chopped or minced jalapenos
1-2 cloves minced garlic, depending on your preference towards garlic
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 oz cream cheese
4 8-inch tortillas

Directions
1.Wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven heated to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake for 10 minutes or until heated through. If you don't want to heat your oven, you could also wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave them for about 20-30 seconds.

2.Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Place onion, bell pepper, garlic and jalapenos in skillet, cook for 3 minutes stirring occasionally. Pour beans into skillet, cook 3 minutes stirring.



3.Cut cream cheese into cubes and add to skillet with salt to taste. Cook for 2 minutes stirring occasionally.

4.Spoon mixture evenly down center of warmed tortilla and add any toppings you want. Salsa, guacamole, avocado, sour cream, and Mexican cheese are all good choices. We usually just add a little salsa. Roll tortillas up. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday task: Cleaning the stove top

There's a link floating around pinterest on how to clean your stovetop. In case you didn't already know this, baking soda is like a superfood of the cleaning world. It, combined with water or vinegar can clean almost anything. The pinterest post assured me that this would make my stovetop like new so I wanted to give it a try. The results were mixed.

For the overall grease and cooked on stains (I don't know what to call them) it worked very well. However, we had a little mishap with the tag on one of our pot holders melting onto the bottom of our skillet and then using said skillet to cook with. It resulted in burnt paper stuck to our cooktop. It's been stuck there for a few months and I've been avoiding using that burner every since in hopes I would find a way to get it off. The baking soda method got some of it off, but not all of it. Then I remembered that we had a ceramic stove cleaning kit under our sink that we bought ages ago and had never used. It came with a blade for scrapping and worked wonders! I know most people are afraid of scratching their glass stove by using a blade, but as long as the blade is flat and you don't use the corner of it, you shouldn't have a problem.

Check out my super clean stove top!



Here's the cleaning kit we bought. I would recommend it, but my opinion is currently based solely on this one use.



In other news, C finally got our wedding pictures hung up in our bedroom. We've only been married 14 months. That's an appropriate length of time to take to hang something, right?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fudge Monday!




I made 2 kinds of fudge this weekend. Yes, two. Was it necessary? No. Will I have to workout extra hard this week to counteract this decision? Absolutely. But it was worth it. Plus, I actually printed 3 fudge recipes, so really my waistline should be thanking me for only making 2 of them. That's logic.

Making fudge takes a serious commitment to standing at the stove nonstop for 12-15 minutes (which seems a lot longer than you'd think when you're just standing there). It takes prep-work to make sure you have all ingredients ready and pans prepared before you even start. Fudge making is not for the multitasker. I learned this the hard way when I was trying to chop some almonds while waiting for my sugar and milk mixture to boil. The sugar burnt and I had little black stuff floating in my mixture. If this happens to you, just get a fine mesh strainer, line with cheesecloth if you have it, and pour the mixture through the strainer and into a clean bowl. Better advice is just to make sure you stir constantly while it's heating so the sugar doesn't burn.

Fudge is super rich and a small piece goes a long way. So I recommend only making one of these at a time. Or make both and thank me later. Either way, you should freeze some after you make it. And share the fudge. Your friends...coworkers...neighbors...strangers...will thank you. Truth fact. (okay, strangers might not thank you so much as look at you suspiciously and throw the fudge away--assuming their mother's taught them not to take candy from strangers)

If you have a candy thermometer, great. I don't so I just followed the minute guideline on the recipe and it turned out just fine.



Pumpkin Fudge
myrecipes.com

Ingredients:
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 (12-ounce) package white chocolate morsels
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation
1. Stir together first 6 ingredients in a 3 1/2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until a candy thermometer registers 234° (soft-ball stage) or for about 12 minutes.



2. Remove pan from heat; stir in remaining ingredients until well blended. Pour into a greased aluminum foil-lined 9-inch square pan. Let stand 2 hours or until completely cool; cut fudge into squares. Refrigerate if needed before cutting.




Mocha Almond Fudge
myrecipes.com

Ingredients:
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder (I used instant ground coffee)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
2 cups chopped toasted almonds



Preparation:
1. Line a 9- by 13-in. pan with foil, letting foil hang over edges. Set aside. In a bowl, combine chocolate, butter, and espresso.
2. In an 2-qt. or larger pan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and milk, then bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent boiling over, until mixture reaches 235° on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes.
3. Remove pan from heat and pour chocolate mixture into hot milk. Stir until smooth. Add almonds, stir just until combined, then pour fudge into prepared pan, smoothing top with spoon. Chill at least 2 hours.
4. Invert fudge onto a cutting board and peel off foil. Cut fudge into 1-in. squares.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Slow cooked Sunday: Mushroom Risotto



I am loving our weekend schedule lately. Our normally quite busy schedule has slowed down a bit this month, allowing us some time to not only relax, but also be productive in some stuff around the house that has long been on the to-do list. I love a good balance between productivity and relaxation.

The forecasted high for today was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit so C and I took the opportunity (probably the last one we'll have) to finish up some raking that needed done. We are rocking at yard work this year. I'm sure our neighbors appreciate it.

Raking works up an appetite. We were both really hungry and devoured the mushroom risotto I made for dinner. Truth be told, it was pretty delicious and we probably would have devoured it even without the raking. This particular risotto took about 30-35 minutes to make, which isn't very long. However, risotto takes focus and concentration. There really isn't any multitasking to be done during risotto, which is why I think it's more of a weekend food. We ate ours with leftover pork from the Mustard Rubbed Pork I made earlier in the week!

On a side note: It was about 1:15 a.m. this morning when I posted last night's blog entry, but I just pulled up the blog and it shows that it posted at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday. I was a little bummed about not getting it done officially on Saturday, but it turns out that blogging miracles do happen!

Mushroom Risotto
serves 4 (or 2 really hungry people!)
Adapted from Gourmet House


Ingredients:
3 Tbsp butter, divided
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 cup arborio rice
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups hot chicken broth
1/2 cup Italian blend finely shredded cheese

Directions:
1. Heat chicken stock over medium/low heat.
2. In a 12-inch saute pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and saute mushrooms in melted butter about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl until risotto is done.
3. In the same 12-inch skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter and saute arborio rice in butter for about 3 minutes. Add garlic salt. Add wine and saute until absorbed. Slowly add 1 cup of hot broth, stirring frequently. As the liquid cooks down, continue to add remainder of broth 1/2 cup at a time until all broth is used and the mixture is creamy. Fold in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the mushrooms, and cheese. Serve immediately.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday?

So 30 days of blogging might be over-rated. Especially when you have a busy Saturday and nothing really important to say. So this is my Saturday post, about 1 hour late due to a wonderful dinner and game night with friends. Friends trump blogging. Fact.

Our dinner tonight was with a group we call "Cooking Club". It's 4 couples that get together once a month to cook and chat, eat and drink, and most importantly laugh. It's serious fun and I highly recommend you create your own. Thanks to our dear friend T for coming up with this idea.

I'll tell you all about what we ate tonight, some other time. Right now it's late. Right now I need to sleep.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thirsty Thursday: Water

Today is one of those days when I'm super hungry and the french fries in the cafeteria are calling my name. I'm not answering. Take that french fries.

It's 12:45 and I've already eat my way through a bowl of Special K, a banana, Yoplait Light, 2 (maybe 3) shortbread cookies, and my Healthy Choice lunch steamer. Honestly, other than those cookies, it's a pretty normal day for me. C is amazed by how much I eat all day long. I guess I have a good metabolism.

I drink a lot of water. Do you remember how it was on My Favorite Things list? It's there, all the way at the bottom. I was reading an article about the health benefits of water this morning, and apparently it speeds up your metabolism. You can check this site for a more "scientific" explanation of why and how this works, but in theory, yes, water speeds up your metabolism. So maybe that's why I eat so much.

Plus, water has all those other great benefits too. Like keeping you hydrated and alive. Seriously, check out that link. You could be in real trouble if you had to go even one day without water, and could be dead in less than a week depending on climate. This is serious stuff.




Doesn't that look refreshing? Another benefit of water? It's cheap. Think of the money and calories you'll save from not buying soda? And if you don't like your tap water (I can't stand ours), get a Brita filter. They're on sale this week at Target. We love our Brita filter (except when C doesn't refill it) and it's better for the environment than bottled water. For the record, we do keep some bottled water on hand to throw in the car when we're taking trips, biking, etc. But we never drink it at home.

So make water your drink of choice. And throw some green tea in there too. It'll make you feel healthy, even if you aren't really getting much from it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Weeknight Recipe Wednesday


Life is busy. It's a fact. Whether we have errands to run after work, appointments to attend, or just plain get stuck in traffic on our way home, there never seems to be enough time to get everything done in the evening. Planning meals for the week helps with this problem. It allows your brain to rest instead of trying to come up with a dinner plan. It allows you to grocery shop once during the week rather than multiple trips each time you realize you're out of something. It ensures you can come up with quick, weeknight meals like these and have more time for errands, exercise, and your family.

Bonus, this is a recipe I printed ages ago and had never cooked. Which means I'm working toward that goal of making all the internet printed recipes in my cabinet.

Pork isn't my favorite food, but I don't mind it. My mental aversion to pork is much stronger than my actual taste aversion. I actually think it's pretty good, but my mind can't seem to get past it. I didn't like meat as a kid, and I'm sure I had a lot of negative connotations of "pork" as part of that. Since we didn't eat pork much growing up (probably because I didn't like it), I'm just now learning to cook/eat/tollerate/like it. It's a process.

I also didn't eat a lot of brussels sprouts growing up. Actually, I don't ever remember eating brussels sprouts once growing up. But the first time I had them, I loved them. I rarely meet a vegetable I don't like. Normally I just boil or steam them and add a spritz or two of spray butter, but this meal has inspired me to look for other brussels sprouts recipes. Delicous!


Mustard-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Brussels Sprouts Ragout
Adapted from Fitness Magazine
Makes 4 servings


Ingredients:
10 ounces frozen Brussels sprouts
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large pork tenderloin (about 1 ¼ pounds), butterflied
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken broth
½ cup diced pancetta or bacon
1 small (or half large) onion, thinly sliced

Directions:
1. In a medium pot, cook frozen brussel sprouts in boiling water about 4 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly. Then cut into halves.

2. Sprinkle half teaspoon each salt and black pepper on pork and then spread with mustard. (Note, we basically just cut our pork loin in half lengthwise instead of having a true butterfly cut that is still connected) In a 12-inch skillet, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat; add pork and cook 7 minutes. Turn and cook 6 minutes more. (Our pork loins were nowhere near done after 13 minutes. Ours took about 25 minutes, a smoke alarm going off, and a few burnt edges.) Use a meat thermometer to make sure internal temperature is 155-160 degrees. Remove from pan and let rest for about 5 minutes. Add wine and chicken broth to the pan and stir, scraping up brown bits. Set aside and keep warm.


3. Warm remaining oil in a small sauté pan (our 9 inch pan worked well) over medium-high heat. Add pancetta or bacon and sauté until brown, stiring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add onion; cook until translucent, 5 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts, cook 3 minutes more. Season with remaining salt and pepper.

4. Slice the pork and place on plates. Drizzle some of the sauce you made with the wine over the pork. Add the Brussels sprouts mixture to the plate and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday tasks

It snowed this morning. The first snow of the season. Luckily I had new boots and coffee to get me through the morning. I don't like the winter. I like my boots. I like my sweaters. I like coats with cute hats and scarves. But I don't like winter. New boots with super skinny jeans help make winter easier. Fact.

Working through to-do lists also help make winter easier. This weekend C cleaned the gutters and sanded our door down so it shut properly (a side effect of the pipe repair process we went through in August). He came pretty close to hanging our wedding pictures, meaning there is now a hammer and level sitting next to our bed. Chances are high the pictures will be hung by next Tuesday.

Tonight was about completing a small task. I cleaned my curling iron. I've had this particular curling iron since high school. I'm sure I've cleaned it once or twice before, but not for an extremely long time. It's gross, I know. Up until now I hadn't been using it much lately, but then I watched this video, and now I want to curl my hair ALL THE TIME! Yes, I had to watch a video. I'm terrible at things like doing my hair. Seriously, it's pretty much always straight...until now!

The first time I curled my hair after watching the video


If your curling iron is starting to get some hairspray buildup, or if it's had it for quite awhile now, clean it. It'll make you feel like you're doing something good for your hair. I cleaned mine with some rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab. Then I wiped it down with a wet washcloth. I recommend this method. It was a simple, small task, but I feel better having completed it.

Before I cleaned it


After I cleaned it

Monday, December 5, 2011

Me love cookies!



Cookies are my favorite thing to bake. They are quick and mostly easy. Usually you can mess up just slightly, or add a few extra ingredients into what you're making and the cookies still turn out pretty great. This wouldn't work well when trying to make a beautiful, fluffy cake.

The cookie made most in my house growing up was the chocolate chip cookie. There are a lot of good chocolate chip cookie recipes out there, but this is the one I use. It's the one my mother uses. It's the one I will teach to my own kids some day. Not to say I don't make variations of it at times. Sometimes I add just a pinch of nutmeg, or almond extract, but more often than not, I follow the recipe as is.

This recipe makes about 2.5 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make yours. Up until about 2 weeks ago, I used to just always make all the cookies at once. Then a dear friend pointed out something so obvious that it immediately made me feel like I had majorly missed the bus in life. Cookie dough freezes. Make the dough, make however many cookies you want that night, and then freeze the rest so fresh baked cookies are always about 10 minutes away. Seriously genious. Unless you have someone to share them with. The go ahead and just make the whole batch. :)

Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes about 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup shortening (I use the Crisco sticks. They are wonderful and much cleaner than the tub of shortening)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1/2 a bag) of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugars, butter, shortening, egg and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients.

2. If you like perfectly round cookies and want to roll the dough, chill the dough for about 15 minutes in the fridge first. Otherwise, drop dough about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes (until just starting to turn brown). Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Slow-cooked Sunday



Today is the first slow cooked Sunday post. This doesn't mean I'm cooking meals in the slow cooker. These will mostly be recipes I've acquired that take just a little too much time to cook on a weeknight.

Bacon and Pumpkin Pasta. I thought this sounded just intriguing enough to try. Pumpkin is delicious in pies, cheesecakes, and muffins. It goes down quite easily in latte form. We all know this. But since it's a vegetable...fruit...both?....I'm always looking to try recipes that feature pumpkin in the main dish instead of dessert.

This recipe could easily be adapted to a quick, weeknight meal that cooks in about 20 minutes. I'm calling it a slow-cooked meal because we added caramlized onions, which take about 30-40 minutes to cook on their own. Additionally, if you were to make these at the same time as everything else, it would take 3 or 4 pans total. Personally I like to keep my weeknight meals cooked in 2 pans or less if possible.

C and I really enjoyed this. The cream cheese and garlic offset the pumpkin flavor just enough to keep it from being overwhelming. We would make it again.

Bacon and Pumpkin Pasta with Caramalized Onions
Adapted from Pinch of Yum

Ingredients:
2 cups dry whole grain elbow pasta
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 Tabelspoons light cream cheese
1/2 cup fat free evaporated milk
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
6 slices cooked, crumbled bacon
1/2 large onion sliced thinly
1 teaspoon of butter or oil

Instructions:
1. To caramelize the onions, heat the oil or butter in a skillet until butter is melted or oil is hot. Add onions to the pan and stir them to coat in butter/oil. Allow them to cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't stir too often or they won't brown. Leave them to stick to the pan a little and brown, but stir enough that they don't burn.

2. Cook bacon until it is crisp enough to crumble. Remove from pan and set on paper towels to soak up extra grease.

3. While the bacon is cooking, start boiling water to cook the pasta. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and return to the pan. Reduce heat to low.

4. Add pumpkin through salt and pepper on the ingredient list and stir until the cream cheese is melted and mixture is warmed through.

5. Divide between two bowls and top with crumbled bacon and caramelized onions.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

30 days of blogging

One of my 26 before 27 goals was to blog 30 days in a row. Since I'm up to about day 5 now, I think this is a good time to start. Most people would think the holidays would make things too busy to blog. But I think this is the perfect time because I'll be making extra goodies to share with you over the next few weeks! I'm so excited!

In order to be successful, I made a list of blog posts for the next 30 days. This will help me plan ahead. I'm sure this is what all the really good bloggers do.

To be extra organized, I've picked themes for most of the days! I'll try to stick to these themes as much as possible over the next few weeks.

Sunday: Slow-cooked Sunday (for those recipes that take more time than you have during the week)
Monday: Baking recipes
Tuesday: Tuesday Tasks
Wednesday: Weeknight Recipe Wednesday
Thursday: Thirsty Thursday (this might change)
Friday: Friday Favorites!

Check back tomorrow for a recipe for Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta with caramelized onions!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Favorites

Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing my favorite weekly finds with you on Fridays. This could be articles, clothing, blogs, random websites, etc. Today, I'll start with a listing of the websites I visit on a daily basis.


1. The Kitchn
2. Facebook (who can resist?)
3. The Weather Channel (I'm obsessed with checking the weather. Especially in winter)
4. Groupon
5. Pinterest
6. The Hostess with the Mostess
7. The Kansas City Star (a girl has to stay informed)
8. My blogger dashboard to skim through the blogs I follow

There are others that I check on a weekly basis, but I'll save those for another day. Are there websites you check everyday that I'm missing out on? Let me know what your favorites are!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Chicago: I love this city

This year for Thanksgiving, C and I traveled to Milwaukee with his family. We spent a day in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (which is just outside Milwaukee) and had Thanksgiving dinner at Smyth restaurant in Milwaukee. I was more than a little skeptical about having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, but it was delicious. I'm still thinking about the Chestnut Stuffing. O.M.G.

C and I on Thanksgiving Day

The whole gang at Smyth


Friday morning, the 8 of us boarded a train to Chicago for a few days of more delicious food, hotel bar hopping (for some), and shopping. Black Friday in Chicago=insanity. The weather was great, which meant there were people EVERYWHERE. After fighting my way through crowds just to get in the door of H&M, I saw all the people in the store and immediately turned around and walked out. Sometimes it just isn't worth it to wait in line just to try on some clothes that may or (more likely) will not fit. Luckily(?) it rained most of Saturday so the crowds were significantly lighter. Since C isn't a fan of shopping, and I am not a fan of planetariums, we parted ways after a family brunch and enjoyed our days in our own ways.

Just arrived in Chicago. I always look so short around this family.


Chicago is full of tasty treats. Yes, they may be known for pizza, but there are restaurants and bars on every block so your options are really endless. Over the course of the weekend, I don't think we had a meal we didn't like. Here's a rundown:

Friday Lunch: L'Appetito in the bottom level of the John Hancock Center
Friday Dinner: Rosebud on Rush
Saturday Brunch: Frontera Grill (this was my favorite, but I LOVE Mexican food)
Saturday Snack: Truffle Fries at The Rockit (we spent a few hours here watching MU beat kU!)
Saturday Dinner: Lou Malnati's (recommended to me by a friend and definitely did not disappoint)

C and I at the top of the John Hancock Center

Sadly that was all we had time to eat. Even more sadly, I forgot to take pictures of our food to give you a full rundown of it all. Just go to Chicago and eat at these places. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Finished 26 Before 27

A few months ago I posted a picture of my unfinished 26 before 27 list. I have finally finished the list and am ready to share. And I'm proud to say that some things can even be checked off! (No worries, everything being checked off was already on the list prior to completing the activity. No cheating here.)

1. Go to Chicago (check! We went over Thanksgiving. Post coming soon!)
2. Find a church
3. Learn to sew
4. Run a 10k (check!)
5. Cook all the printed recipes in my recipe folder
6. Blog 30 days in a row
7. Read 10 books (I think I'm up to 3 so far)
8. Ride my bike more
9. Bake a pie from scratch
10. Pay off my Graduate School loans (final payment is in December!)
11. Begin half marathon training (check! I even ran the race)
12. Plant a full garden
13. Refinish the landscaping on the side of our house
14. Frame wedding posters
15. Make wedding album
16. Spend the afternoon at a winery (check! I've done this twice so far.)
17. Go someplace new
18. Bake bread from scratch
19. Make homemade ice cream
20. Go on the Boulevard Brewery Tour (scheduled for January)
21. Visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum
22. Take a day off, for no reason
23. Join a group/do more community service (I'm thinking Junior League or Big Brothers/Big Sisters)
24. Watch The Godfather (just something I've never seen but have wanted to)
25. Read a non-fiction book (looking for suggestions)
26. Take one week off from facebook

I have big plans for tackling some of these over the next few months. Winter is long, and cold, so baking and crafting seem like a great way to pass the time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just keep running


I wish I looked this good running.

A little over a week ago, C and I ran our first half-marathon. It was wonderful and horrible, exhausting and energizing, cold and warm...okay, no, it was just cold. And if you ask C, he'll probably tell you it was just horrible, exhausting, and cold. Our opinions differ when it comes to running.

Running a half marathon is not easy, but I truly believe it's achievable for anyone. When we started training for this 13 weeks ago, we struggled to get through the first 3-mile run. The long run that week was a completely agonizing 4 miles. And then we had to do it again the next week. The longest distance either of us had ever run prior to training was 5 miles. And even that had only been done twice. The truth is, we are more "fitness runners" than true, bear-it-all-rain-snow-sun-sleet-hard-core-runners. Looking at the training schedule that first week was daunting. I was confident in our ability to work up to 6, maybe even 7 miles. But the thought of running 8+ miles was terrifying. I was afraid we would fail every day for those first few weeks. I was afraid to tell people we were doing this training in case we decided to back out in week 6. (We aren't always the best with follow through).

When it came down to it, the hardest part of the training was not the running. It wasn't even the mental aspect of running 13.1 miles. It was the dedication. It was planning your life and schedule around fitting that run in 4 days a week, along with a 5th day of cross training. It was getting up early, or staying up late to get everything done for the day while not sacrificing the goal. For 12 weeks, C and I pretty much worked, ran, ate, and slept. Yes we found time to do other things during the weekend, but it was always planned around the 1-2 hour run we had to get in that weekend. The runs got longer and harder and recovery was slower. And to top it all off, daylight saving time hit us about 2 weeks from the race date, forcing our weeknight runs to be completely in the dark. But we stuck with it and we achieved our goal. Our finish time was 2:18:18. Nobody said we were the fastest runners out there, but I felt like this was a respectable time.

*Please note that I am in no way a professional runner. This was proven when I completely faceplanted about 200 feet from the finish line of the half marathon. I'd like to say it was because I was completely exhausted and my legs just gave out, but it wasn't. In fact, I still had quite a bit of energy so I was in sprinting mode. This made it even harder to stop the fall when I tripped on a tree root because I decided to step off the trail. Super embarassing, but made it that much more memorable.
This is how I feel when I run


I have to give a huge shoutout to my cousins for serving as my inspiration for training. One of them just rocked the Portland Marathon in October. She was a huge motivator for C and I during our long runs. We just kept reminding ourselves that if she could run 18 miles, we could surely run 8! Another cousin invited me to run the KC Half Marathon with her (her first half as well), which I unfortunately was unable to do. But her invite is what got me searching for races at a later date and gave me the motivation I needed to start the training. If only she had actually run it with me!

With New Years coming up, maybe it's time for you to follow through with some of those lost resolutions or just hopeful goals you have set for yourself lately. Or if you are looking for a new goal, start training for a race. It doesn't have to be a half marathon. Couch to 5k has a great 5k training program for people with zero running ability (and I speak from experience; it's what I used 3 years ago to start working out and lose some weight). Following through with some of those goals is a great way to relieve stress and experience a little extra joy this holiday season.

C and I running our first 10k back in October

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving week

A lot of my friends have been doing their 30 days of Thankfulness posts on facebook. Frankly, I never got around to starting this on day 1, or 2, and now we're at day 21 so I probably am a little too late to "start". But since it's Thanksgiving week, here are some of the things I'm thankful for this year (not necessarily in any particular order):

1. My husband, C, just for being him. Even when it drives me crazy.
2. My family, for always being there
3. My in-laws, for all the help they've given us around the house this year
4. Having a house and bed to keep me warm at night
5. My job, in a time when so many are without, it's nice having a job that I don't mind getting up for in the morning
6. Our friends, both near and far
7. That today is November 21st and I made it through November 20th roughly unscathed. (more on that later)
8. For the safe travels we've been blessed with this year and hopefully more safe travels to come
9. Coffee on Monday mornings
10. My health
11. My faithful blog followers! Thank you for reading, even when it's not interesting, or funny, or entertaining.
12. Having food on the table each night, and not knowing what it means to be hungry.
13. Wine, because sometimes it's just really nice to sit down with a glass of wine and my favorite tv show, book, computer, etc. and unwind.
14. My nephew, because he brings me more joy than he could ever know.

Those are a few of the things I'm thankful for this year. I know there are more, but it's Monday and I might still need more coffee. I hope you all have time to reflect on the things you are thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christmas cheer

I'm listening to Christmas music at work these days. We used to have a radio station in KC that played non-stop Christmas music from Halloween (a little early, I know) through New Years and it was amazing. However, that station got bought out last January and now I don't have my Star 102 Christmas. I feel like something is missing.

So I'm listening to Christmas stations on pandora to fill this void. And I'm thinking a lot about baking cookies and decorating the house. But mostly about baking cookies. I've kind of forgotten Thanksgiving is even coming up. My mind has been other places. My mind is on the 13.2 miles I have to run Sunday. After Sunday, I might think about Thanksgiving more. Or maybe since I'm not having a traditional Thanksgiving this year, I'll make some of my thanksgiving favorites for dinner next week.

Or maybe I'll just bake some cookies.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A successful weekend

So far this weekend....
1. Ran 11 miles. (yes, 11. In one day. In 1 hour and 53 minutes to be exact. Next weekend, 13.1 miles. Woo hoo!)
2. Had lunch with dear friends. (Bonus: lunch was at a "new to us" restaurant)
3. Spent some quality time in the toy aisle at Target (my nephew turns 2 this week!)
4. Replaced my garage door battery (finally!)
5. Visited my grandparents (long overdue)
6. Ordered our Christmas cards (using a Groupon)
7. Watched X-Men 2 (I wasn't a fan of Stryker, that guy is seriously evil)
8. Put flannel sheets on our bed (winter is long, dark, and cold. Flannel sheets are a must)
9. Blogged (obvious, but still an accomplishment)
10. Finished Pride and Prejudice (okay, I have 15 pages left, so technically, I'm going to bed right now to finish it. I'm so excited. This book is seriously good.)

And because C would appreciate a shout-out: he also managed to do some yardwork while I was visiting my grandparents and installed door stops around our house. I think he also managed to get some serious work done on the DVR.

I hope your weekend was as relaxing or productive as you wanted it to be!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Technology hates me

I'm pretty sure technology hates me. Or maybe I just don't understand it. I hate the layout of my blog, but I really can't figure out how to change it. I am amazed by people who have nice blogs. I don't know how they do it. I do not find this system to be intuitive whatsoever. In fact, blogger and my computer must have some fued going on because I can no longer post from my computer. I can write posts. I can save them. I cannot upload them. So once I'm done writing this, I'll hit save, pull it up on my iphone, and post from there. There's something seriously wrong with this process.

iTunes freezes my computer everytime I turn it on. This makes life with an iPhone no fun. People always ask me if I've updated my phone or if I backup my phone. No, I do not do these things because that would require iTunes to make it past the startup phases to actually recognize the device I've plugged into it.

Ultimately I think it's my computer. You can't trust a laptop with a battery that only lasts 25 minutes. The sound only works when it wants to (which currently isn't right now), and it takes approximately 4 minutes to startup. This laptop is only about 2 1/2 years old. I bought it in April 2009. I will never buy another HP laptop. Ever.

I'd like to say that at least mechanical parts like me after my success with changing my headlight last night, but I have a pretty serious fued going on with my garage door opener right now that outweighs the headlight.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stuffed Butternut Squash




It's storming out. I love thunderstorms. especially in November. because a thunderstorm in November, means it's warm enough to rain and not snow.

When I got to work today, I noticed one of my headlights had burnt out. Knowing it was going to get dark extra early tonight and anticipating the storm that was rolling in, this was a bummer. I ran to the auto parts store on my lunch break to buy a new bulb in hopes that I could convince some guy there to replace it for me. Note: almost every time I have had to have something replaced/fixed on my car, the man at the auto store does it for me. Most recently it was replacing my tail light. Honestly, I knew how to do this one and was completely prepaired to do it myself and the guy just came out and offered to do it for me. I don't mind the extra help.

Unfortunately, the store was pretty swamped while I was there and thus no help was offered. I was partly relieved because I really wanted to have the satisfaction of doing it myself. That is, until I opened the hood to see that the light that needed replaced was blocked by a cover that required tools to remove. So I drove home in the dark rain with one headlight determined to fix it when I got home. I had to have C help loosen one of the nuts (which I was actually the one to finally break it loose, just saying..) but other than that, I totally did it all on my own. Satisfaction. Achieved.

This dinner tonight was satisfaction too. Roasted butternut squash filled with quinoa, onion and sausage. Delicious. This was super easy, and I had the italian sausage links leftover from the sausage and veggie dish I made last week in the slow cooker.

P.S. If you haven't tried quinoa before, do yourself a favor and get some. It's so incredibly delicious. I had some leftover that I didn't add to the sausage and onions and it's taking serious willpower not to pull it out of the fridge and gobble it up. Or try this recipe.

Ingredients:
1 butternut squash (or any variety you prefer)
1-2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 italian sausage links, cut in half, then sliced
Chicken stock or bouillon cubes to cook the quinoa in
Preparation:
Cut the butternut squash in half and bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until it starts to soften. While the squash is baking, cook the quinoa in the broth. Water will work fine too, but the broth gives it a little extra flavor.

Heat a pan with about a tablespoon of EVOO and add the chopped onions. Saute for about 3-4 minutes, then add the sliced sausage. When the quinoa is done cooking, add it to the pan with the onion and sausage. Feel free to add any spices you want. I added a little garlic powder and black pepper, but the italian sausage had quite a bit of flavor already.

After 30 minutes, pull the squash out of the oven and fill the "crater" with the quinoa mixture. Put the squash back in the oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and enjoy! We had leftover quinoa mixture (obviously it won't all fit into the squash at once) so I ate some extra on the side. :)