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,

Continuously-outwitted-by-squirrels

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!

Friday, July 26, 2013

War of the Squirrels

Last week was really not my best week. I was frequently outwitted by squirrels. And I handled it poorly. Very, very poorly.

It all started early last week when we saw a squirrel sitting on the back porch, tomato in hand, munching away without a care in the world. Two feet away from me. Granted, I was behind the glass door, but still! The nerve! First, we tried putting up more bird seed to see if we could distract the squirrels away from my precious plants. Fail.

I tried wrapping the plant in bird netting, thinking that I had for sure protected my little tomatoes. Turns out, squirrels can pull tomatoes from the plant and simply eat the tomato around the netting.

Then, I went to Home Depot. I came up with the idea of building a structure out of PVC pipe and then wrapping it in chicken wire. The result?


Epic fail. The PVC was way less sturdy than I thought, especially because I couldn't find the right elbows and duck tape really let me down. To add insult to injury, last week was hotter than hell. Seriously. 95 degrees at 8:00 AM.

After giving up on the PVC pipe, I decided to try making a cage of just chicken wire. After being outside for two hours, I managed to have a cylinder all the way around the tomato plant. But I was also about to pass out from the heat and I simply couldn't take it one more second. So I threw the netting over the top, tied it down and went inside for a much-needed shower....

Only to come downstairs and see a squirrel stuck inside the chicken wire. I went outside and made noise until it managed to find its way out again. Now I don't know if it was the over-exposure to the heat, or what, but I didn't handle this disappointment well. There may have been some temper tantrums. And dramatic throwing of oneself onto the couch. Fiance did well not to laugh.

The next day, I trudged back out to the garden (in 95 degree heat. AGAIN) and moved the pot. We discovered the squirrels were using the fence as their own personal bridge and thought moving the pot to the middle of the patio made more sense. Then I cut more chicken wire and secured it over the top. My result...


Thoroughly hideous, but also effective. I've seen the squirrels crawling on it a few times. Each time I went out and yelled at them. Seemed to do the trick. They haven't made any appearances in the last few days and my tomatoes are finally ripening now that they are left in peace.

But I've come to the conclusion that maybe tomatoes aren't going to be grown here next year. Before the squirrels started their reign of terror, I was having trouble with blossom end rot to begin with. So next year, I will still have tons of herb pots, but I think I want to make a raised bed like this one against the fence.


As part of the building process, I'm going to attach wooden posts and secure chicken wire to the posts. That way, I will have a proper, sturdy structure that will protect future plant endeavors. I'm thinking maybe some sweet peppers, squash, as well as the spicy peppers that are growing like gang busters. Perhaps most importantly, I'm going to undertake this project in the spring. Before the heat is in full force. Heat stroke and I don't get along.

Cautiously Victorious,

YS

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Holy Walk-In Closet

So we are back to regularly scheduled programming today. I thought long and hard about whether to actually publish this post after yesterday's rant. It seemed a bit silly and trivial. But at the same time, this blog isn't where I share my heavy, deep stuff. That remains in my books. I'm not sure anyone really wants to read about how I'm currently studying the English bureaucracy during the reign of Charles II. If you do, color me flattered, and comment below. You and I don't need to waste other peoples' time and we can chat privately (I'm fully expecting crickets on that offer, by the way). So I decided to push that publish button. After all, I'm sharing house updates here, and this was one of my favorite updates so far...

Do any of you watch The Newsroom? There was a scene this week when a few of the characters were talking about closets. And the guy makes this comment like, "What is it with women and closets". As a rule of thumb, I try not to perpetuate or give notice to stereotypes. But that one? That stereotype has me pegged. I'm a bit of a clothes horse. Ok, I'm a lot of a clothes horse. One of the biggest selling points of this house was "the sitting room". That's what the floor plan called this room. But really, it's my walk-in closet. I actually do use it more than the term closet would suggest. The antique chair is perfect for reading and the light is incredible. So it's a great reading spot too. Even fiance sometimes studies in the chair. But really, it's a pretty place to house my pretty things. And I LOVE it.

First, here is my little reading nook. You can see that with all the windows, the light is just amazing.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why the Hatred?

Usually I try and keep the subjects on this blog light and fluffy. I figure you all probably don't visit my site for intense, theoretical, intellectual debates. I'm not sure I could provide them anyway. But I guess I got teased one too many times over the last few days and I need to say my piece. Feel free to skip this post if it isn't your jam and come back tomorrow for more light-hearted fare. I don't mind. I just need to get my thoughts out.

The topic: the royal baby. It seems to me that there are a lot of people who genuinely enjoy spreading negativity. They relish the news stories about murders and rape. They follow every moment of every heinous trial. But when a positive news story comes along, say for example, the birth of a healthy baby boy, all hell breaks loose. Heaven forbid people show interest in the future King of England! The horror!

I am obviously writing with a great deal of sarcasm, but in all due seriousness, why are people so hateful towards other people. Can't I watch what I want to watch? Is it really hurting anyone that I read a few news stories and watched some live coverage? I didn't take food out of anyone's mouth, I certainly didn't physically harm anyone. If I was watching a Real Housewives show or The Bachelor or even Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, people would chuckle and probably shake their heads at my guilty pleasure. So it's ok for me to watch a family that takes pride in ignorance and butcher of the English family, but I can't pay attention to an innocent baby that will actually be somebody someday? I don't say anything to you when you watch your silly programs, don't say anything to me.

Next, all the hate towards the baby itself. The baby has been alive for 24 hours. What could it have seriously done to harm anyone? It's a baby for crying out loud. Leave the poor thing alone. A friend of mine astutely pointed out that those that clamor the loudest that all live is sacred seem to be the first to throw verbal slurs at this newborn. The hypocrisy is so obvious there, I don't even know where to start.

Finally, showing interest in the British monarchy does not make me less of an American. I pay my taxes on time, I vote in every election, I decorate for the 4th of July and say thanks for the amazing country I live in. I cry during the National Anthem. Every time. I am writing a dissertation on American history. I don't think it's fair for anyone to arbitrarily decide who is a good American or not (obvious exceptions like treason). No one should make those judgments, but certainly not based on what tv show I watch.

Obviously my hurt feelings over this issue are a tiny matter. And really not important. But I do think that this whole debacle points to a larger trend in society. If people took half of the time they spent spewing hate (towards the royal baby, towards celebrities, towards any stranger really), and instead directed it towards a positive good, wouldn't that be a much better use of time and energy? Just some food for thought.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Side of Wonderful

I receive the Smitten Kitchen emails and usually glance over them before deleting them. But for some reason this recipe caught my eye. I decided to make it the following night. I pulled everything out of the fridge and go ready to start cooking, only to find my farro was bug-infested. You know those tiny little brown bugs that seem to feed on grains? Apparently they made a home in my farro. Ugh. But my barley was still good. So I decided to try that instead. I honestly didn't even notice a difference. If this story isn't a good reminder to have a stocked pantry, I don't know what is. The recipe made two large bowls, or four small servings. Even with the two bowls, it was still more of a side. The flavors were great, fresh and especially delicious with herbs from my garden. But what really set this dish on fire, was the incredible steak my darling pan-seared. I'll have to do another post about that at some point. Anyway, I'd recommend you make this side with a really amazing main dish. A meat of some sort. You won't be disappointed. It's really easy to make too, so all you have to do is put everything in a pot and make the rest of your dinner. I'm going to try it again with the farro, but the barley works great too.

One-Pan Farro (or Barley) with Tomatoes
recipe from here
2 cups water
1 cup semi-pearled farro
1/2 large onion, white or yellow (I used almost a whole onion because mine was on the smaller side)
2 cloves garlic
9 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste, optional. As per usual, fiance use dlots, I used none)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Few basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Start by soaking for farro for 5-10 minutes in the water in a small pot. In the meantime, quarter your onion and then slicing into thin strands. Basically long strips. Also slice your garlic. Add to the small pot with the tomatoes, salt, pepper flakes if using, and olive oil.

Set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a steady simmer. Leave the pot alone. Come back and stir a few times, just to make sure it's all cooking evenly.



The farro or barley should be tender, but with some meatiness. It should still have a bite to it when you chomp down. Spoon into bowls, then top with sliced basil and parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Squash Stew

I know summer and stew seem like terrible bedfellows, but trust me on this one. This dinner was incredible. Generally, my test for meals during the summer is, does it make me want to sweat. If it's heavy, it will make me feel like sweating. This one does not. It's filling, but not heavy. Healthy, but super delicious. And chalk full of veggies! The recipe was also super easy and doesn't require much time over the stove- which is a must in the sweltering heat of Washington, D.C.' summers. The recipe is from Foodwishes. If you haven't visited Chef John's website, you must. He has great videos on youtube and his recipes are fantastic. He's never let us down!

Summer Squash Stew
recipe adapted from here
2 tsp olive oil
1.25 pound Andouille sausage, or other spicy, smoked sausage (we used sweet turkey sausage and it worked great)
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth, or as needed
2 pounds summer squash, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut in 2-inch chunks
1 diced green bell pepper
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper and cayenne to taste
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

grated parmesan cheese, optional

Start by heating up the olive oil and adding the the sausage. Since we used sweet turkey chili that wasn't smoked, we just removed the casings and crumbled the sausage.
Add the onion and cook until soft. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the bell pepper and cook for another five minutes or so until the bell pepper is soft.
Add the tomatoes and the broth.
While the sausage was cooking, I diced the squash, zucchini, and then peeled and chopped the potatoes. You want the potato chunks to be a decent size. Add all of the vegetables. Don't worry if the liquid seems like it isn't high enough.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a steady simmer. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes depending on how soft you want your veggies and how big the pieces of potato and squash are. Don't cover your pot!
Serve up a big bowl with grated parmesan cheese, pepper, salt and cayenne if you want. I obviously omit anything spicy and thought that the soup was incredibly flavorful. Fiance, of course, dumped cayenne on his and loved that too. So you can have it either way!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Worth the Wait

Last week I mentioned that we bought a dining room rug. We actually bought it about six weeks ago at Pottery Barn using more than one coupon/gift card. It took a while to get here, but finally arrived last week. All I can say is that I am so glad that we splurged on the rug we really liked. It wasn't the cheapest, but it is so beautiful. I love the colors with the wall and I love the size. It is big enough to hold the table and chairs, but still allows us to see the beautiful floors. I apologize for the lighting in these pictures. I have yet to find the right balance between too-dark-at-night and blows-out-the-lighting-during-the-day. Blast.



There is still a lot to do in this room. Hang art, get a real buffet, etc. But to get started, we bought this bar off of craiglist.



Then we hung out this art above the bar. The bar piece was a gift and the two frames above are actually menus. The night we got engaged, we went to the incredible Restaurant Eve. At the end of the evening they gave us a copy of the menu to remember the evening. We framed them last year and brought them with us to the new home.



It may sound silly, but even just hanging small pieces of art makes such a huge difference. It makes the space feel personal and really ours. So I am definitely hoping to get some more art on the walls in the next week. But in the mean time, another shot of how the room is beginning to come together, with a complete disaster in the kitchen behind it.


And of course, Winston photo bombing the shot. I wanted to show the incredible colors. Which you can still see. But really you just see kitten.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Per His Request

As promised, I have some recipes for you guys this week. Fiance almost never makes outright requests. At least unprompted. If I ask for his input, he gives it freely, but he almost never just says "please make this" out of the blue. So when he does, I try and fulfill his request. The other day he asked for banana nut muffins. I asked if the banana flaxseed bread would be ok, but he really wanted muffins and I wasn't sure I could make the bread into muffins. Instead, I found this recipe on epicurious for oat bran and banana nut muffins. Not only were they easy and fairly healthy, but they were delicious. Not too sweet, moist and super delicious. I particularly like the inclusion of pecans. I'm usually not a big fan of nuts in my baking, but I definitely like pecans better than walnuts and I think the nuts really make the dish.

Quick Oat Bran and Banana Nut Muffins
recipe from here
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup oat bran
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 ripe bananas, peeled, chopped (I used three relatively small bananas, the bananas add much-needed moisture, so don't skimp)
1 cup chopped pecans

Start by whisking together your flour, bran, sugar, baking powder and salt.










Then, in a separate bowl, mix together your milk, melted butter, egg whites and vanilla. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined.






Chop your bananas and 1/2 cup of the pecans, add them to the bowl, and stir again. Scoop your mixture into your paper-lined cupcake tin. I used 1/4 cup scoop and it worked perfectly.




Sprinkle the rest of the pecans on top.











Bake for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Mine took 19 minutes. You want a toothpick to come out clean.








Let cool completely on a wire rack, then enjoy! These would be a great breakfast, snack, or even a post-dinner treat!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bedroom Updates

I just realized all of my posts this week have been house related. Oops. Usually I strive for a balance, but I guess this week I was focused! Next week I'll have a few cooking recipes to share, but until then, I want to share with you the story of our bedroom.

As of a couple days ago, it was probably one of my least favorite rooms in the house. I didn't dislike it mind you, I just didn't like it either. It felt very unfinished, uncomfortable and cold. While I initially loved the blue, it was feeling overpowering. Then, our dining room arrived this week. Why does that matter you ask? Great question. Fiance's mom gave us one of her old rugs, which is a beautiful, antique, hand-woven rug. We put it in the dining room for the time being because that room sees a lot of traffic and we wanted to protect the floor. But we always thought it would be better in the bedroom, both in terms of style, and protecting the rug from cat play and eventually puppy play.

Plus, I had my heart set on a different rug for the dining room. That post is coming soon, I promise. Anyway, once that rug arrived, we moved the antique rug upstairs. It made a world of difference. The room is like night and day.

Here is the rug. Beautiful right?


While I'm at it, I realized I never showed you the furniture we got for this room. Another oops. We picked up these two side tables off of craiglist. They aren't real wood, but they are a nice veneer and are a great size. We still need a lamp for this side. But you can see that the rug comes out past the bed. Which is glorious in the morning when you don't want to put your tootsies on the floor.


We wanted to get cheap bedside tables to balance out the dresser we got. Technically, it's a buffet, but it works perfectly here. We have sweaters and jeans in the cabinets on either side and it's just gorgeous.


Here's a close up of all of it's antique-y goodness. It wasn't a steal, but it was the same price as the cheapest dresser at one of the nicer big box stores. And it's real wood and looks about 1000 times better, in my humble opinion.


We still desperately need a headboard. It would visually balance out this side of the room and add some much needed interest to that wall.


This reading nook is probably one of my favorite details. We just used the old, white slipcover from my previous apartment and a lamp we had. Probably needs some new pillows, but it works for now. 


I think the previous picture also shows how the rug balances out the wall. We needed something rather dramatic to balance out the rich color on the wall. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it was a good lesson for me. Because now I love this room. It feels sophisticated, but still relaxing. Up next is tackling the blind situation. As you can see we hung blinds, but they are defective. So new ones are coming. I'll fill you in on that saga later. Happy Friday to you! xoxo



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

While on the topic of little changes....you may remember I hung this kitchen art quite some time ago...


And there it sat. Lonely and lopsided. Until I hung this hook...


At least there was something on the other side of the door. But the hook looked preposterously (is that a word? If not, I believe it should be. You agree? Oh good) small on the wall by itself. Then by a stroke of good fortune and generosity from my godmother, we got an adorable little painting for a house warming gift. I waited around to hang it for a while. I needed a frame that worked with the kitchen. I finally got on that and boom, we have art.


Usually with paintings, I like to leave off the glass. That way you can really see the texture. But because this painting is hanging in the kitchen, I didn't want any grease from cooking to make its way through the air and harm the painting. So I left the glass on.


Don't they go together so nicely? They don't match, but complement the colors and really balance out the room. The pair definitely make the room feel more finished. Now if I could just find a small rug to go in this room, it would be finished! And would certainly be the only one. The rest of the house is still a disaster. Don't let the pictures fool you. I only show you the nice parts.



Monday, July 8, 2013

Open for Business

Fiance is up to his eyeballs studying with the bar. Which is fine. It's not like he has a choice. So I'm just doing my best to stay out of the way and not ask for too much help with home projects. It's an uphill battle. Patience really isn't my strong suit. And I hate waiting. Once I decide to do a project, I want to do it. Like NOW. But I'm doing my best. Mostly I'm trying to stay busy with little projects that only require two hands.

One of the issues that has been plaguing me has been the state of our guest bedroom. Not that it really mattered. Mercifully, any potential guests have wisely stayed away thus far. Our house is simply not in a state to entertain. But it's getting there. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Technically it's more of a den because there is not closet and it's in the basement. But it has a full bathroom, it's completely insulted and really quite cozy. But it looked like this...


Now, that room wouldn't work for anyone. Although as you may be able to see, Winston had made himself quite comfortable on the dark blue blanket. Yes that is his hair. Gross. I know. Also pretty gross were the combination of red pillows, lavender walls, and various shades of blue. No thank you.


On my last trip to Ikea, I picked up a quilt and pillow sham set. Nothing fancy. Just white, with a little bit of stitching detail. Thankfully, the red shams contained pillows, so I didn't have to buy new ones. Yay for that. The red pillows worked for our old apartment, but not for the new home. So I swapped out the pillow covers and spread out the quilt.


I also cleaned out a bunch of the junk, tools, etc. No one needs to see our mess, other than us of course.


I also filled out the bookshelves with enough reading materials to occupy any visitor.


For $50, I think this room made one heck of a turn around. It still needs some fun pillows and some other touches to make it feel cozy. Like a throw over the corner of the bed, a basket for towels and toiletries, and maybe a fun rug for under the bed. But at least the bed is made and doesn't make your eyeballs burn. Getting there. Now if only I could figure out how to photograph the basement with better light...