Friday, August 31, 2012

A Visit to the "Little Mountain"

Several months ago when fiance and I were planning out our summer schedule we tossed around the idea of going to Montreal. We were both very excited about the idea and I even bought a little travel guide. But as the summer arrived, I felt that there simply weren't enough weeks available and it seemed expensive. Not expensive as a Europe trip for sure, but still quite pricey. Given my the quarter system at my school, I didn't really get to enjoy summer until the very last week of June. I sort of panicked about the timing and felt like I didn't have enough time to relax and work. So instead of going to Montreal, we decided to go to Monticello. I've been wanting to visit for years and it was always something we had joked about. It seemed the right time to turn the joke into a reality. We went online and found a cute little B&B in Charlottesville and made a 36 hour trip out of it.

We stayed at the Dinsmore House in downtown Charlottesville. It was in a great location, super close to shops and restaurants. We had a great free breakfast in the morning and parking right behind the hotel. I loved that the inn was built and originally owned by the same architect that built Monticello. It was very charming and had great character. I didn't love that the building across the street was under major renovations or that they only served breakfast until 9 A.M. But it was cozy and the bed was comfortable and we were happy.

We stayed in the library room.
It had some really cute Americana furnishings. I should mention, that while fiance and I love to find historic B&B's, we under no circumstances share bathrooms or participate in the social events. Just want a clean, comfortable room, please and thank you.

Entrance. We took two tours, the first is the normal tour of the lower floor. This tour includes the entry hall, parlor, sitting room, Jefferson's bedroom, study and office, a guest bedroom where Madison often stayed, dinning room and tea room. The second tour took us upstairs to see the family bedrooms, sitting rooms, the dome room and the nursery.
Front of the home.

The whole top of the mountain thing really makes sense when you saw the views.
 The view above the gardens out to the mountains. Unbelievably beautiful.
The trees alone were worth the trip. So unbelievably gorgeous. It didn't hurt that we were there on a perfect day. Warm, but not too humid and just perfect in the shade.
Jefferson's cool wind invention. Because taking notes on the direction of the wind is very important.
 Hour hand of the clock.
 Back garden.
 Back of the house.
 Laundry room.
 Underground hall with kitchen, wine and beer cellars, and storage.
Vegetable and fruit gardens.
 Dome room. Such a cool room, but really really impractical.

All in all, we were so glad we did the tours and visited Monticello. We met some seriously interesting characters, including the dorkiest guy who had to film and photograph EVERY. SINGLE. WINDOW. and door. and wall. And he tried to really prove his knowledge. Which annoyed the bejesus out of me. There was also a very traditional, orthodox Jewish couple who were appalled that the tour guide referred to Thomas Jefferson's daughter as Martha Jefferson, instead of Martha Jefferson Randolph (her married name). THE HORROR! The day also made me so thankful that I have a fiance who is willing and enjoys going to these sorts of activities. I know they are not everyone's cup of tea, but since history is my profession, it's nice to have someone I can share it with.

As a future historian, I love seeing all things old and testing my knowledge against these sorts of tours. I always do a little happy dance on the inside when I know the answer to the question and the tour guide doesn't. I'm sure that makes me a terrible person, but it's nice to know my education and hard work is paying off in some weird way. Since there isn't much in the way of monetary gain in the historical profession, I like to think that having this knowledge is a reward. Ok, I'm really grasping at straws here, but don't rain on my parade!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Maple Mustard Chicken

I saw this recipe a few weeks back on pinterest and decided it would be great for a low-fuss dinner option one night. Given the very few ingredients and the incredible easiness of this meal, I was really impressed. The flavor was great and the chicken stayed super moist. I think you could definitely make more than one pound of chicken with this sauce recipe and have leftovers for lunch or dinner. I don't know that I'd be shouting about this recipe from the rooftops (which I've been tempted to do on other meals), but it was really excellent, worth sharing, and definitely one I will try again. I served my chicken with broccoli, but next time I think I'd also make a side of Uncle Ben's wild rice. Just to give the meal a little more heartiness. Fiance would also tell you that the broccoli goes amazingly well with this (and practically any other) mustard sauce.

Maple Mustard Chicken
recipe from here

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt & Pepper

First, I mixed together the Dijon, maple syrup and red wine vinegar in a bowl. I laid out my chicken tenders in the pan and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. Then I poured the sauce on top. As you can see, I think this sauce would easily accommodate 2 pounds of chicken.
I cooked the chicken at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes because I used tenders. 30-40 for thick breasts. Tee hee. Sprinkle the top with rosemary once you remove the dish from the oven.

Serve with your veggie of choice and bread or rice on the side. Or not if you are feeling super healthy. Again, this dish won't be winning any sophistication awards, but it was super yummy and super quick. Enjoy!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Place to Rest Your Tootsies

You know those projects where everything comes together easily and the pieces fall into place quickly and the stars seem to align? This project is not one of those. The bench and I fought. Bitterly. Our battle lasted longer than most middle school relationships. I learned several ways not to finish a bench. Oh and I should warn you, because this process took so many days, weeks even, the pictures are a hodge podge of iphone photos, camera photos and photos from a friend. Consider yourself warned. Also, this post is a monster. Consider yourself double warned. Let me start from the beginning.

During the first week of August, my friend and I went to a Goodwill event downtown. They were hosting this pop up sale to boost their visibility in downtown D.C. I had been searching for a bench/shelf unit for fiance's entryway. Some place where he can plop down his wallet and stick his shoes in/under. This little shelf caught my eye and in one of those impulse moments, decided it would be fun to refinish. I carried it home on the metro, getting several interesting looks along the way. And so it sat in our hall for a few weeks until I "finished my work project and got to use the bench as a reward". Well the work project didn't get finished, but I got impatient and decided to give it a go.

I planned ahead by ordering a yard of grey and white chevron fabric on etsy and some foam for the seat. I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of ordering a foam mattress cover from Walmart. The craft foam at Joann's is crazy expensive and Walmart ships for free to local Fedex stores, so a twin mattress-sized piece of foam cost me $20! How awesome is that! Not only was it cheap, but I have tons left over for future projects. Fiance- contain your excitement!

Well once I got those pieces, I got excited and wanted to make sure the bench came apart easily. So it sat in this state for at least a week.

Finally the weekend came around when I was going to finish the bench. Or so I thought. My friend came over to help and we decided to try sanding first. I had my heart set on a removing the paint and restoring the wood finish on the legs. Well the paint was really thick. So we quickly abandoned sanding and went to the store to get a paint stripper.

On the way back from the store, we saw the funniest thing ever. Yes, this person is holding a tree in their convertible. Hilarious.

We applied one coat and returned about 30 minutes later. No dice. So we applied another coat and went to upholster the seat. I'll get to that in a minute. Later that afternoon I tried scraping down the paint and had some success. I figured a quick sand would remove the rest. So the next day I got ready to sand and quickly realized the paint wasn't coming off. And it was raining. Boo. I thought maybe a power hand sander would be the magical instrument.

So I got a power sander at the hardware store and closed myself in my bathroom (see rain above, plus the need for a power outlet). Result? Failure. The sander wasn't working on the slope of the legs and was taking off too much wood and not enough paint. Frustration!!!!!

The next day I applied a third coat of stripper. This time I really applied it liberally. Which I should have done the first two times. Like REALLY liberally. Clumps. Oozing down the side. I finally had a good amount of success, although with hindsight should have applied even more.

By the way, the instructions on the stripping agent are hilarious. Literally, whoever wrote those either completely lacks a sense of humor, or is possibly the funniest person ever.

Then we were out of town for two days (which I'll talk about later this week). When we got back, I returned to sanding. First rough, then fine. And FINALLY I was ready to seal. First, I wiped down the entire bench with a wet rag and let dry.

Then, using a paint brush, I applied a thin coat of a clear poly seal. I let dry for about two hours and applied another thin coat. I let the whole thing dry and then reattached the top.

So the top. Thank goodness for my friend. She's done lots of upholstering and really helped me. We laid out the foam and the top and cut around the outside. Winston helped of course. And terrorized Amanda's feet. Obviously.

Then, using a staple gun, we attached one long side and then the other. After the first long side we made sure the chevron stripes were straight, and re-checked after the second side. Then we did the short sides.

Then the corners. We stapled as close to the corner as we could, then using a twisty motion, pulled the corners tight. It's sort of hard to explain, but it's the same principle as wrapping a package.

Ta-da! Isn't it pretty? Winston tested it out for comfort immediately. Luckily, now that it's complete, he's left it alone.

I should mention that using an exacto knife we cut out tiny squares in the fabric on the bottom for the screw holes. Once the sealer dried, I reattached the top. And it's all done!

I haven't decided exactly where it will go. Here is option one: Centered in between the mirror and the hooks.

Here is option two: centered under the mirror. From this angle it actually looks like it's too far to the right, but that's just because I didn't want to capture a shot of me in my pajama glory in the mirror. I've also considered putting it on a separate wall under some art, but for now Winston's litter is there. We'll see how it goes.

Conclusion: the bench is a little low for this space or the mirror is hung too high. But for now, I love it. Second, I have much to learn about furniture. But this process was a great learning experience. I did end up buying lots of stuff- tools, equipment, materials, etc. However, I have faith they will all be used again and thus are not a waste. I have a really great fiance. He never once made fun of me for my struggles along the way or questioned my process. He encouraged me and let me take over the bathroom for sanding and staining. He ignored the disaster zone that was the hallway for weeks. And now he likes my final product :). Most importantly, I LOVE my bench. I'm so excited it turned out the way it did. I think I'll have it for years to come and I'm so pleased I did it myself, rather than buying something!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Best Deviled Eggs Ever

No but really. They are. Fiance and I are sort of obsessed with deviled eggs and get them all the time at restaurants. Without a doubt, these are our favorites. Slight caveat however- if you don't like the taste of bacon (or turkey bacon), don't bother with this recipe. If you do, whip these up now. You can thank me later.

Deviled Eggs

6 eggs
¼ C finely grated sharp cheddar, plus more for garnish
¼ C light mayonnaise
2 slices bacon, cooked and chopped, plus 2 tsp rendered bacon fat reserved (I used 3 slices turkey bacon)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, such as Sriracha, to garnish (optional)

Start by placing the eggs in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat. Let sit for about 15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs from the pot, then holding them in a towel, give them a crack and drop them into ice water. While the eggs are cooking and cooling, cook the bacon in a skillet. If you are using turkey bacon, you won't have quite enough grease, but it's totally enough. So reserve all of it and put it in a bowl. DON'T SKIP THIS STEP (I know it sounds a little gross because it's grease, but just do it!).

Once they have cooled completely, slice in half and put the yolks in the bowl with the grease.
 If possible, have a ridiculous and cute cat sitting in your cabinet while you are peeling the eggs.
Add the cheddar, mayo and chopped bacon to the bowl. Vigorously mix with a spatula until smooth. Using a small spoon, scoop the mix into the eggs.
Top with a few reserved crumbles of bacon and a few dots of hot sauce, like sriracha, if you want. I personally avoid the hot sauce. So insanely delicious!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chocolate Cream Pie

I made this dessert last weekend for a dinner gathering. I wanted something sweet and chocolatey, but didn't feel much like cakes or cupcakes. Rare for me, I know. And I wanted to try something new. This recipe had been on my pinterest board for a while and seemed to fit the bill. The dessert process hit a few bumps in the road, namely the grocery store not carrying the kind of cookie I needed. So the end product wasn't as clean and glamorous as I would like. But it was delicious. Incredibly rich, so cut small pieces! Also, the pudding in the center was to die for, so if you want a super easy dessert, you could make the pudding, put it in small dishes, top with whip cream and enjoy on its own.

Chocolate Cream Pie
recipe from here

32 chocolate wafer cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, enough for 1 1/3 cups cookie crumbs)
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1 cup sugar, divided
6 tablespoons melted butter, plus 2 tbsp. butter cut into small cubes
6 large egg yolks
3 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, plus more for grating over pie
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whipping cream

So here was the problem. They didn't have these cookies. No where in the store could they be found. I didn't really know what to do, so I found another "wafer" type of cookie and crossed my fingers that it would be ok.

These were the kind I used instead. Thinking back to it now, I should have used oreos and scooped out some of the cream. But oh well. The pie actually turned out alright.

To start, I put the wafers in a quisinart and chopped until fine. Then I did the same thing with the sugar and almonds. Don't pulse too much or they turn into almond butter. I melted 6 tablespoons of butter and added it to the crumbled cookies and almonds. I pressed the cookie mix into a pie dish and baked at 350 for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I started the custard. Fiance did most of the stirring during this part, so it's helpful to have an extra set of hands. I started by separating the eggs and beating the egg yolks slightly, then setting aside. In the saucepan, we stirred together the milk, 3/4 sugar, cornstarch and salt. Bring this mixture to a gentle simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and stir until it begins to thicken. Take 1/2 of this mixture and slowly pour into the bowl with the yolks. Whisk constantly to temper the yolks, otherwise you will get scrambled eggs! Once the milk is stirred into the yolks, add the mixture back into the sauce pan and stir until simmering and nice and thick (like the picture above). As you can imagine, these steps move quickly, so I couldn't really snap pictures.

Remove the pan from heat, add the vanilla, chocolate and 2 tbs. remaining butter. Sorry about the blurry picture! I guess I didn't notice! Stir until the chocolate is melted and incorporated. If you just wanted the pudding, this step would be your last.
If you want the whole pie, pour the pudding over the cookie shell. Mine was too thick and not high enough, so the pudding came over the top. Whoops. I blame it on the cookies. Put a piece of plastic wrap over the top, pressing it onto the chocolate to prevent a seal from forming. Put in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.
When you are ready to serve, mix together the cream and remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar until stiff peaks form.
I think I needed to refrigerate my pie longer. And have a thinner crust that supported the pudding more. Oops.

This piece was the cleanest cut I could manage. Not going to win any beauty pageants, that's for sure. But it was delicious!

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you would like to see more recipes like this one, head over to my new blog at