Friday, August 30, 2013

Moving Day

It turns out that the redirect function on blogspot is pretty awful and most unhelpful. Drat. So instead, here is a link to the new blog. This site will stay active and you can revisit old content.

Or, you can go to Once on the site, there are a multitude of options for staying connected. Twitter? Facebook? Email? RSS? Bloglovin'? Instagram? Pinterest? You name it, we've got it. So hop on over and get started! Can't wait to see you there.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ladies and Gents, Hold on to Your Seats

Things are about to get rowdy up in here. Ok, maybe rowdy is pushing it a bit. But there are some serious changes coming to this blog. I've been thinking about all of this for quite some time and I hope you will be as excited as I am.

I should give you a little bit of back story I suppose. I am incredibly impetuous. Once an idea pops into my head, I usually just go full steam ahead. This condition should not be confused with spontaneity. I'm not great with that, but I'm working on it. Instead, I tend to get so excited about things, that I don't think them through or way all of the options. For example, if I have a present for someone I'm super excited about, I just want to give it to them right now, even if their birthday is tomorrow or it's not yet Christmas. I can't help myself. The same thing sort of happened with this blog (and the previous one, if I'm being honest). I got so excited about the idea, that I didn't think through the layout or the name or the concept. And as a result, after just a little bit of time, I found myself really dissatisfied. Pigeon-holed.

Not to mention, I don't feel like this blog is accurately representing my intentions, the time commitment, or my goals. Searching for recipes or projects isn't easy, and it was looking and sounding too adolescent. Plus, I'd really like to own the site, so I can have flexibility to do whatever I want. So fiance and I talked about it for a while, brainstormed for a while longer, and finally came up with a concept I like. Something that can grow with me for a long time and give me the freedom to pursue whatever strikes my fancy.

That being said, I know a lot of you have already patiently accepted a blog change once before. So this one will be different. Starting tomorrow, this link will take you directly to the new site. This link will continue to work and you won't have to remember a new URL. I'm working on transferring all of my old goodies into a new recipe archive and house section. There will also be a link that will take you back to the archive on this blog if you are feeling nostalgic.

For those of you that typically find my posts through facebook, there will be some changes there too. I've created a page for the new blog. I will be posting all of the new posts on that page. If you "like" the page, then all of the posts will pop up on your news feed just like before. Hopefully it will go smoothly and you will have no trouble finding what you want.

Tomorrow, I will have an introduction post that shows you where to go to find the facebook page and will include a link to the archives.

To go along with the new site and format, I do have a few new goals for myself.

1. Continue to blog regularly. Right now I post at least three times a week. I'd like to either maintain that pace or up it to 4-5 times a week. We shall see how it goes.

2. Don't be afraid to try new things. I started my very first blog as a way to challenge myself to cook more. I incorporated the house projects as a way to monitor my progress and spark creativity. I'd like to continue to expand that into personal style and design. I make no claims to be an expert. Instead, I think by putting my creations out into the world, I force myself to go beyond my comfort zone. Rather than buying new things, see what I can make with what I have. That sort of thing.

3. Have my product reflect my intentions and commitment. I want the blog to reflect the energy and thought I put into it. It should really look more professional.

4. Interact more with my readers. I know I have a steady audience, but I want to know what you all think. Usually my friends and family comment on facebook or text me. I love that feedback, but I want to make the comment section more user friendly, so people who don't know me personally have a space to ask questions or reach out if they feel so inclined.

I think four goals are good for now. I can't wait for tomorrow to share with you all of our hard work!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Goldilocks in Our Office

Back in June when we got the office in order, we put everything in a place so that fiance would be able to study for the bar and I would be able to do summer work. He brought over his old office chair and we dealt with the layout. But I wasn't super thrilled. My desk was in the corner away from the window and my monitor blocked all of the light. It felt cave-like. I am incredible sensitive to natural light and when I don't have it, I get grumpy. So once the exam was over, we switched around the layout and got fiance a new office chair.

The old office chair was too stiff. My chair is too low for fiance, but this one was just right. You can also see how we moved over his desk to the left corner.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Help Yourself to the Buffet

The dining room was one of those places in the house that we knew what we wanted almost immediately. Some of the other rooms didn't provide such clarity. We lived in the living room for a while before figuring out a floor plan that made sense for us and looked pretty. But the dining room was pretty clear. We eat there and store stuff. We had the table, we needed a buffet, a rug, and the bar. However, a lot of those purchases weren't immediately necessary. Rugs were easier to justify because they will save the floors. And a couch was more important because we use it all the time. So when the need for fiance to study for the bar cramped our house purchases, the dining room projects had to wait. That was ok with us because we didn't have any guests staying at the home and were happy to save money for a little while.

However, now that the bar is over and we had out-of-town guests coming to stay with us, these projects on our to-do list took on more urgency. So about a week and a half ago, we visited this amazing store called Nadeau. It is easily one of my favorite stores. if you haven't been, you should. It's a small chain with stores in lots of cities, but you'd never know it. They import furniture from all over the world and it's all original and all incredibly well priced (our buffet was a better price that most at big box store's like Bob's. Plus it's solid wood).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Girls and Their Shoes

What else can I say? Like so many other women before me and so many yet to come, I have a bit of a thing for shoes. Oops. When I came to see the home during the inspection and I saw the sitting room, I gasped. There is a tiny closet in the corner of the room. It's too small to hang clothes and that wouldn't make much sense given the shelves. But a linen closet doesn't really make sense either, because there is another closet in the hallway that's much more accessible. No. This closet is for shoes. All shoes.

As amazing as that sounds, and believe me, it is, it actually wasn't organized that well. There were a few shelves, but then a really high space in the bottom. Give that I have a pretty sizable shoe collection, I wanted to add a few more shelves. So we started by installing a few L brackets. I measured the height of both shelves, traced a pencil line, and then screwed in the brackets.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You Get What You Pay For

There are some really interesting things about house ownership that I've discovered over the last few months. Maybe I should change that to first time home ownership. It has an interesting way of humbling you. Just when you think you've got it figured out and confidence is high, another development presents itself and you are back to feeling completely ignorant. Like the time we finally managed to get the supports for a curtain rod hung (after several trips to the hardware store and much procrastinating) only to realize I had bought the wrong size rod. It was too short. (Insert massively inappropriate joke here). Such a wah wah moment.

It also has a way of reminding you of things you knew, but forgot along the way. For example, cutting corners is almost always a bad idea. And, today's lesson, you get what you pay for. When we first moved in, every window was covered in old, dusty plastic blinds. We were grateful to have anything on the windows, but the off-white, dirty nasty things have to go. So we've been slowly replacing them. Oh, and did I mention that they didn't keep much light out? We could tolerate that in the living room, but in the bedroom it was a downright disaster, especially since the sun basically rises into our windows.

I managed to pin up my old black out drapes over two of the windows until we could come up with an acceptable solution. It wasn't the prettiest, but it allowed for some sleep at least.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Veggie Pasta

I do my very best to keep this blog as honest as possible. I try to share failures, as well as successes, and all things in between. I don't suggest you make my failures, but I think it's important to show that massive, ridiculous catastrophes happen to everyone. Need convincing? See the melted caramel episode of April 2013 here.

Anyways, this recipe falls somewhere in the middle. The final product was delicious and I think it would have been amazing if we hadn't made a huge rookie mistake. I'm really not sure how it happened. Basically, we found a recipe that we liked from Chef John and then adapted it to fit our needs and wants. However, I guess something got lost in translation when we added the entire box of cooked pasta, rather than just a few cups. Oops. Using some tomato paste, water, additional garlic, and green bell pepper we managed to triage the situation and the final result was quite good. So here is your cooking lesson for the day. You don't always need to give up on a dish. Sometimes, it just requires a little creativity, extra ingredients, and sense of humor and everything will work out fine!

Oh, I should also say, we used the fresh tomato sauce I talked about last week for this meal. It worked great! But you could also use jarred sauce, or even just tomato paste brought back to life with some water and herbs.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Author Recommendation: Sarah Dunant

This post isn't so much a book review, as it is an author review. I just finished Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant and couldn't wait to tell you about it. It's such an incredible mixture of history, romance, politics, religion, art, and family drama. The Borgias really make modern family drama seem tame. It almost goes without saying that I couldn't put it down. I'm pretty much lost to the world when I'm in a good book and fiance didn't really hear from me until it was done. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really needed to tell you about the author.

I've read all four of Sarah Dunant's historical fiction works and I've loved them all.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fresh Tomato Sauce

You all know that my relationship with my tomato plant has been tumultuous to say the least. (Want to catch up on that saga? Go here, here, and here.) What started off as a very exciting prospect has become tedious, frustrating, and even downright maddening. The final verdict: I've pulled all of the tomatoes off the plant and I'm killing it this week. However, I did manage to salvage one big batch of ripe tomatoes from the plant (before this last harvest, so two in total) and I needed to do something valuable with them. I spent so much time trying to bring the little suckers into this world, they needed to be appreciated.

So we decided to make a real  tomato sauce. From scratch. No cut corners. I'm going to share a couple of recipes over the next few weeks of things you can do with this sauce. Consider it the recipe that keeps on giving. And you should really keep making it. It's absolutely delicious and really simple. We've actually made it again since the original time and it will be a regular in this house. The sauce was originally intended as a pizza sauce. We used it for pizza, but also for pasta, so it's pretty flexible.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
recipe adapted from here
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 anchovy filets
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 can (28 oz) whole peeled “San Marzano” tomatoes, or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sugar

1. Start with your tomatoes. If they are fresh like mine, blanch them for 30 seconds or more, until they are just tender and the skins pull off easily. If they are from the store (and have been refrigerated), you'll need to do closer to two minutes.

2. Skin the tomatoes and put them all in a bowl. If you are using canned tomatoes, empty the entire contents of the can into a bowl. Using your hands, mash them up to your desired consistency.

3. Heat up your olive oil. Add the anchovy fillets and cook for a few minutes until they start to break down. I know most people think anchovies are gross. I certainly wouldn't eat them on their own. But they add such a nice complexity to the flavor of the sauce and the perfect amount of saltiness. If you want to omit the fish, be sure to add salt to taste.

4. Add the garlic and fresh herbs and cook down for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and give it all a big stir.

5. Bring to a hearty simmer, and then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for at least 40 minutes, but up to a few hours depending on how long you want to let it go. You may need to add a little water if your pan has been on the stove for a long time to achieve the desired consistency. If you want to, you can always run the sauce through a food processor to get it extra smooth, or just serve chunky. Enjoy!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Old Town Sidewalk Sale

There were a few things really excited me about moving to Old Town. First, there is a real sense of community. Most of the stores are boutique shops and so the owners are really invested in their customers and getting to know who visits their stores. Second, it's a real dog town.

These two awesome characteristics could not have been more on display this weekend during the annual Sidewalk Sale. Over 60 businesses in Old Town and Del Ray put their merchandise on sale for the weekend and most even put out discounted wares on tables on the streets and patios. Combined with the weekly farmers' market on Saturday, the Sidewalk Sale had Old Town buzzing unlike any time I'd ever seen it.

Armed with my gift card to La Cuisine and tons of excitement, I got an early start and visited tons of shops before noon.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Turkey and Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

This recipe is admittedly a bit out of place in the beginning of August. But fiance and I are winter creatures. The colder the better. Rain? Makes us smile? Snow? Downright giddy. So when the weather dropped just a few degrees last week, we both jumped at the opportunity to try this recipe. We just couldn't help ourselves. It was incredibly delicious, super healthy and an amazing fall/winter recipe. I want you all to try it. Just wait a few months. I have to admit, I did question my sanity as I stood over the stove. So wait until the crisp days of October or November and then give it shot. You'll be thrilled that you did.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner: Lightened-Up Baked Ziti

The first dinner fiance ever made me was Baked Ziti. It was gooey, cheesy and delicious. Over the years, we've refined the recipe and recently gave it a healthy makeover. It's still incredibly simple and a great dinner for when you don't have a lot of time. If possible, I like this recipe better than the original because I feel so much less guilty about eating it.

Lightened-Up Baked Ziti

1 box of whole wheat pasta
1 bag of spinach
2 large chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cans of tomato paste
a handful of fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
parmesan and mozzarella to taste
garlic salt to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut up your chicken into bite-sized pieces. Heat up olive oil and add chicken to pan. Cook over medium heat.

2. When the chicken is mostly cooked through, and browned on all sides, add the chopped onion. Cook the onion and chicken until onion is tender. Season with garlic salt and pepper. Add the spinach and cook until wilted.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the two cans of tomato paste and two cans of water. I just empty the can of the paste, fill it with water, and add to the bowl. Chop your fresh herbs and add them to the sauce. I like using tomato paste better for this recipe because it's a little thicker than tomato sauce, but it's really your call.

4. While the chicken is cooking, also cook the pasta.

5. Add the cooked pasta and the sauce to the large pan. Toss to coat and heat up the sauce.

6. Pour the contents into a 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle with as much parmesan and mozzarella as you would like. 

7. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the top is a little crusty. Enjoy!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fall Wish List

I don't know about you guys, but I am so in the mood for fall. We've actually had pretty nice weather the last week, so I really shouldn't complain. But the slight dip in temperatures has been the biggest tease and all I want to do is wear my boots. It doesn't help that in the last week every store has sent me an email about their new fall collection. Such torture! I'm trying to resist, really I am, but with each passing day it just keeps getting harder and harder!

So I decided to make a fall wish list with the hopes that if I just put it out there, I will feel less compelled to buy some of these things. Some of them I won't buy anyway because they are out of my price range, but some are just getting a little too tempting. So maybe if I put them on my list, I will feel a sense of satisfaction and not get an itchy trigger finger. It should totally work, right? Let's hope so.

I think I felt this way last year too, but I am all about simplicity right now. Especially neutrals. Black, grey, white and navy are my very best friends. I think it's because I've been drooling over French style. Man those ladies know how to pull off a black outfit. So with that in mind, here are my picks. With a little bit of pizzazz thrown in for fun.

First and foremost, I am dying for a shirt like this one. I have lots of stripes, but I swear every outfit I pin on pinterest has this exact shirt in it. I think I could create a million outfits with this one piece alone. Believe it or not, the perfect white shirt with black stripes is nearly impossible to find. Most are navy and have too much detail. I won't give up though.

Or this one...

I'd also really like this one.

Yes there is a difference. One is predominately white, the other is more predominately black.

If you can believe it, I don't have a single Peter Pan collar item in my closet. Pretty sure that needs to be remedied pronto.

Really, I'd just take the entire Boden catelog. Le sigh.

The things I would do for this skirt...

I'd also take this one gladly.

I also feel like this dress would be an amazing investment. In every color. I feel like I'd wear them forever.

I'm obviously not going to actually get one of every color. But I sure wish I could. I have such trouble finding good winter dresses. They are either skin tight which isn't comfortable, or they look like sacks. This one has beautiful structure.

Now on to shoes. There are three pairs I would love. Do I need them? No. But I'd love them.

Aren't these the cutest?


Alright, so there is my list. What are you craving right now? Are you still all about summer, or like me ready to move on. Let me know!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Giving Frames a Second Life

Right now our design policy is "make do with what we have". We were so fortunate to be able to buy this wonderful home and we made some serious investments the past several months. They have all been totally worth it, especially that pricey, but amazing new air conditioning system. Unlike fiance starts his new job and I resume my work in the fall however, our income is limited and so our expenses need to be as well. That means we can't splurge on new, ornate picture frames for now. If that's not an example of first world problems, I don't know what is. Anyway, I decided to try and breathe some new life into our old frames so that they at least looked decent in our new home.

Up first, this large black mirror. It used to hang above my fire place, but now I plan to use it in the dining room. I think I'll need some art on either side. What once seemed like such a large mirror, now seems relatively tiny. Either way, the black wasn't going to work anymore. So I started by putting down frog tape around the edge of the mirror.

Then I taped down brown paper over the top of the the tape. The two layers of tape really help things stay sealed.

Of course, no project is complete without Winston's assistance. Scraps are obviously toys.

Then, I spray painted the mirror with a mahogany stain spray paint. it's not perfectly wood-looking, but it works.

We haven't hung it yet, but I think it will add some nice dimension to the room.

Then, while I was at it, I spray painted the frame for this picture. Apparently, I didn't get a before picture. It was a creamish color. First, I spray painted it gold. Then I rubbed some Old English on it to get an antiqued look.

Ideally, I would like a chunkier, more antique-looking frame on this wall. But for now, it works great. The painting was fiance's grandmother's, so it has extra meaning. I really love when art is handed down or has sentimental value. Makes it so much better. The painting really needs some company in this room, but I'm getting there.

Finally, we did buy a frame for what we affectionately call "the lady painting". It didn't have a frame, so there wasn't anything to make do with. I ordered it from an online company called Frames USA. It was only about $30, and I attached it to the frame myself. So I definitely reduced the assembly price and got a good deal.

We hung it opposite a little mirror, which balances out the room nicely. Eventually, I'd like to have some big art over the white couch, so the painting can serve to delineate the different zones of the room.

Even though we had all of this art already, it feels like such a huge improvement to get some stuff hung on the walls. Really makes the house feel like home. I know I sound like a broken record, but it just couldn't be more true. Happy weekend! xoxo

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Squirrels: 4, Me: 0

Remember when I said that I was pretty sure I had the squirrels defeated? I was wrong. The other day I saw a half eaten tomato on the ground inside the mesh cage. I watched the squirrels return and wiggle under the chicken wire. Apparently that's possible. I've now wrapped the old mesh around the bottom hoping that the mesh will provide additional deterrent. Except yesterday, there was another tomato on the ground. If I hadn't already decided to skip tomatoes next year, I am now convinced.

I guess I'm going to keep trying new solutions. But I'm not particularly hopeful.

Yours truly,


Healthy Chocolate Muffins

No really! They are! Under 150 calories a muffin! And they taste super decadent and fudgey. If that's not a magic trick, I don't know what is. I chose these for my book club meeting because I thought they would go nicely with the brunch theme and are easy to serve. I was a bit skeptical about the recipe all the way along. The batter seemed runny and I wasn't sure how much it would rise. But I was pleasantly surprised and will definitely make these again. I'm pretty sure people wouldn't know that there isn't any real sugar or butter in these if you didn't tell them. So shhhh, it will be our secret.

Healthy Chocolate Muffins
recipe from here
1 3/4 cup oats
3 egg whites
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (or regular plain low fat yogurt)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup baking stevia or 1 cup sweetener of choice that measures like sugar
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Start by putting everything except the chocolate chips in your cuisinart or blender. Just to be careful, I blended everything and then added the hot water and mixed again because I didn't want the eggs to scramble. Blend for about a minute or two under the mixture is smooth and the oats are mostly broken down. Stir in half of the chocolate chips. Pour your batter into a twelve muffin tin. I always use liners and then spray over the top. Especially when I'm trying a new recipe and I don't know how much they will rise. If you aren't going to spray, take out the paper liner and only use the tin foil ones. The paper ones stick a little too much. You want your cups to be completely full. As you can see, mine weren't quite full all the way up because I was scared about the rising potential. Well, these don't rise much, so make sure you use all of your batter (I had a little extra).

Bake your muffins for ten minutes at 350. Take the tin out of the oven and sprinkle a few chocolate chips on top of each muffin as quickly as you can (while still being safe!). Return your muffins to the oven for another 5-10 minutes. I think mine needed about 7. You will want to insert a toothpick and make sure the muffin feels firm. It won't ever come out completely clean, so don't try or you will overcook your muffins. Instead try and feel for done-ness. The muffins should feel slightly firm and dry, rather than mushy. Does that make sense? I hope so.

I guess I got to excited about taking these to my meeting and forgot to take a final picture. This one I just happened to snap on my phone. I let the muffins cool almost completely in the tin and then transferred them to a wire rack. These keep really well for several days in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cinnamon Ribbon Bread

This past weekend was an interesting baking experience. I swear I changed my mind more times than I can count. I initially tried this bread as a test run for the book club meeting I had on Sunday. The bread was delicious, but I didn't think it would serve well for the meeting. So I decided to try chocolate muffins to take instead (recipe coming later this week). I was going to make two batches of the muffins so that I would have another to take to a pilates get-together on Monday. Then I remembered my instructor/friend can't eat chocolate. Blast. Somewhere in all of this back and forth, I tried cutting the cinnamon bread when it was properly cooled. I am always way too impatient to wait to cut the first piece. And I realized it actually cuts fairly well.

Final plan: I made the muffins for the book club and made another loaf of the bread for this morning. Did you follow all of that? Hopefully it will all go off without a hitch.

I should say, this bread was amazing. The smell alone was enough to knock me off my feet. Don't bake it while you are hungry, it's a bad idea. The recipe was super easy to execute. My only concern was the top/ribbon. I was a little worried initially, because it seemed like the top crust popped off the bread when I pulled it out of the oven. But I just pushed it down and it stayed put nicely as it cooled. I think next time I'd put my ribbon in at about 2/3 of the loaf, because then it wouldn't have as far to rise.

This was the inspiration picture. As you can see the ribbon is pretty high up. Mine turned out more like a smiley face. It's not that I don't like having my bread smile at me, but I think next time I'll try and make it more secure. Also, my bread resembled the density of pumpkin bread, as opposed to real bread, like the picture to the left. Either way, it's a win-win if you ask me.

Cinnamon Ribbon Bread
recipe from here
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste

Start by mixing together your cinnamon and white sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, melted butter, egg, oil and vanilla.
 Add the buttermilk and whisk again.
Add the flour, nutmeg, optional salt, and baking soda and stir to incorporate. It will be lumpy, don't try and make it smooth! Pour 1/2 to 2/3 of the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Make sure you use a 9x5 pan.
Sprinkle about 2/3 of the cinnamon sugar mixture onto your loaf. I think next time I'll also go all the way to the sides and that will help with my rising problem.
Put the rest of the batter on top and smooth out. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar mixture on top.
Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly. You can see where my top sort of popped off. Don't worry if that happens to you, it sealed nicely once cool!

Here is the inside of the bread. A very happy slice indeed!