Monthly Archives: February 2014

From the other side

Hello there! I’m now officially married and am writing to you from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. I’ve had two rum punches and three margaritas and am typing this on my iPhone; you should be shocked and amazed if there are less than 12 typos in this post.

We’ll be honeymooning for about two weeks, splitting our time on St. Thomas and the surrounding islands. Everyone keeps asking us about our travel and sight-seeing plans; I feel like such a bum for saying we don’t have any, but it’s the truth. I just want to sit on a beach for a few days and enjoy the fact that no one is asking me about whether these napkins would be best for the appetizer table or for the dessert table. Eventually, we’ll make plans and explore and I’ll (hopefully) have something to write about when there’s less alcohol in my system. But for now, please enjoy a collection of photos from my highly sophisticated iPhone.

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This was my car’s temperature gauge as I drove across the Georgia-Florida state line. After weeks of near-freezing temps in DC, I almost got out and did a little dance. Temperature in central Florida while we said “I do” – 82 degrees F.

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Thank you notes that we’re tucked into the out-of-town guests’ gift bags.

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Picture of said gift bags, stuffed with granola bars, water bottles, aspirin, orange juice, tea bags, jelly beans, oranges, and orange flavored popcorn (not as weird as it sounds).

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Neither of us really like cake, so for dessert we had Krispy Kreme donuts that were flambé’d in orange liqueur and served with vanilla ice cream. Apparently they were very good. I didn’t get to have any though. The bride and groom are very popular at a wedding, did you know that? Everyone wants to talk to them.

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Us dancing at our wedding. That’s me in the long white dress!

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A picture of the free travel magazine they gave us as we boarded our flight. I am all about a good travel mag, and free is better than not free! I read the whole thing cover to cover and circled the names of restaurants I want to try while we’re here.

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Of course I dragged us out of bed for 7am sunrise yoga this morning. Not only did we get in some de-stressifyng (yes, it’s a word, trust me on this!) twists and sun salutations, we were up early enough to get some great pictures off our hotel room balcony.

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View from our table at lunch. Yes, it’s over-priced, but the food is good and the weather is heavenly. I’m not going to complain.

I heard there’s another snow dump heading for the East Coast. Y’all stay safe; I’ll try to send warm thoughts your way!

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Backyard tourism

I don’t know how many of you suffer from the disease known as the “travel bug”.  More formally known as wanderlust, my symptoms first presented in high school when I traveled to Honduras for a church mission trip.  In addition to building houses and working with a local doctor to dispense vaccines, we were able to enjoy meals prepared by local women, play soccer with a group of teenagers waiting for their turn with the doctor, and travel across the country, where the lush scenery often contrasted with the stark poverty of most of its residents.

Traveling in another country was an experience both terrifying and thrilling.  Even mundane, ordinary tasks, like ordering a junior bacon cheeseburger in the Honduran Wendy’s became a novelty.  Traveling challenged me, broadened my perspectives on the world, and left me hungry for more.

As a senior in high school, I traveled to Italy as part of a spring break trip led my by AP European history teacher.  When that wasn’t enough, I vowed to study abroad in college.  I spent my spring semester sophomore year in Florence, Italy, and managed to explore most of that country, as well as Paris, Lucerne, Munich, Athens, and Cofu.  When that wasn’t enough, I did another study abroad, this time the summer before my senior year, in Maastricht, the Netherlands.  From there, I was able to see London, Brussels, Bruges, Baden Baden, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Delft, and the Hague. When that wasn’t enough, I convinced my fiance` to take a month while we were both between jobs and travel throughout Italy (hint – if you want to win my undying love and devotion, whisk me away to Italy).  We visited Rome, Orvieto, Assisi, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, Bolzano, and Milan.  And since that still isn’t enough, I’m already planning trips to Iceland, to Vietnam, to Thailand, and beyond.

Traveling is my drug of choice; it calms my nerves and makes me feel alive.  Nothing makes me as happy as reading a guidebook and highlighting all the places I want to visit.  I’m convinced that food ordered in another place automatically tastes better than anything I could get at home.  International travel gives me the greatest fix, but even visiting the next town can hold me over temporarily. When I go without travel, I go through withdrawal.

I can’t speak from experience, but I’m assuming that’s how some people feel about cocaine.

Obviously the difficulties associated with choosing travel as your favorite hobby are many. Traveling requires money, it requires time, it requires at least some amount of planning.  If I had the option, I’d trade $10k of my salary for 20 extra vacation days each year.  But I don’t have that option, and so I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to visit everywhere I want by the time I’m 30.  Which means I have to sate my wanderlust in other ways.

Enter: the idea of backyard tourism.  Backyard tourism, I believe, is a concept that grew out of the staycation movement.  To me, backyard tourism is what it sounds like. It’s being a tourist in your own city; in your own neighborhood.  It’s bringing a camera and pausing to take touristy pictures.  It’s visiting museums or landmarks you may have seen before, but with a fresh set of eyes.  It’s appreciating what makes your city special.  Best of all, it’s very cheap, or even free.

A few weekends ago, between polar vortexes, the temperatures climbed into the 40s (balmy bliss!) and Adam and I ventured out to do some touring.  I was surprised at how much our trip to the Jefferson Memorial (which I’ve seen about 15 times) and the National Art Gallery (which I’ve visited even more) temporarily cured my travel bug.  I saw things I’ve never noticed before, learned some fun facts about the 3rd President of the United States, and listened to a Civil War-era musical performance (there’s always something random like that going on in DC).  Below are a few pictures from our day of backyard tourism.

Looking out from the Jefferson Memorial

Looking out from the Jefferson Memorial

The man himself

The man himself

Flag football on the National Mall

Flag football on the National Mall

Playing around with the reflective triangle sculpture outside of the art gallery

Playing around with the reflective triangle sculpture outside of the art gallery.  Poor fiance` was so bored.

Trees in reflection

Trees in reflection

More reflections....

More reflections….

 

My favorite feature of any of the Smithsonians - the atrium in the National Art Gallery

My favorite feature of any of the Smithsonians – the atrium in the National Art Gallery

This statue, The Dying Gaul, is visiting all the way from Rome.  It was made in the 1st or 2nd century AD, and this is the first time it has voluntarily left Italy (Napoleon stole it in 1797 and took it to Paris, but France returned it after Napoleon was defeated).  Sorry for the poor picture quality, flash photography wasn't allowed.

This statue, The Dying Gaul, is visiting all the way from Rome. It was made in the 1st or 2nd century AD, and this is the first time it has voluntarily left Italy (Napoleon stole it in 1797 and took it to Paris, but France returned it after Napoleon was defeated). Sorry for the poor picture quality, flash photography wasn’t allowed.

Touristy shot of the Capitol building.

Touristy shot of the Capitol building.  It makes me happy.

Hey y’all!  How was your weekend?

Mine was pretty uneventful, but it seemed to fly by.  Saturday I worked for a few hours, then got my act together and filed my taxes.  I’m losing all my deductions next year (thank you, marriage tax penalty!), so I wanted to make sure to take advantage of them this year.  Result – $3k refund that’s going straight to my IRA.  Sigh.  Being responsible is boring, but at least I know I’ll have something saved for retirement.

Sunday we grocery shopped, went to Crossfit, and then I spent the afternoon preparing meals for this week.  We’re officially less than 2 weeks away from my wedding date, and I’m trying to get through this week with as little stress as possible.   I’m now having wedding nightmares practically every night, and I don’t think I’d be able to sleep at all if it weren’t for my yogi stress relief tea.  But hey!  This time 14 days from now, I’ll be on a plane to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  It’s all uphill from here, baby.

Enjoy these entertaining links from around the web and have a great week!

Best strategic move: CVS to Stop Selling Tobacco Products.  Despite estimating a $2 billion loss in revenues, CVS has announced that it will phase out sales of tobacco products in all of its 7,600 pharmacies by October 1.  A store that claims to help keep people healthy will stop selling things that kill them.  Seems like a no brainer, but it’s a pretty gutsy move, given all the revenue they’re set to lose.  I’ve never had much allegiance when it comes to drug stores, but I can tell you I’ll be making more of an effort to give CVS my business come October 1.

(Image Source)

(Image Source)

Going from the rational to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I give you – my new favorite dress.   Very few of the dresses from the Valentino Spring 2014 collection are actually wearable in real life (unless you like showing off your – ahem – everything along with your good fashion sense), but I still adore the high-fashion, romantic element of these gowns, and this one is my favorite.  It’s a little cheeky (like Eve has made friends with the snake), a little sexy, and a whole lot of sophisticated.  If I ever win the lottery, this is definitely on my list of items to purchase.

 

 

Valentino Snake Dress

 

Most scenic resort: Bitter End Yacht Club, BVI.  This place has been recommended to us by several different sources, making it high on our list to visit during the honeymoon.  I’m all about the ocean-side spa treatments, Adam’s all about the excellent scuba diving, and we’re both about sipping drinks and taking in that view.

Bitter End Yacht Club

 

Adam and I never really celebrated Valentine’s Day before, and we certainly won’t now that our wedding anniversary will be February 22nd, but these DIY cards are cheesy and cute – what I think the holiday should be all about.  Puns get me every time!

DIY Valentine's Cards - Real Simple

Favorite house accent – under the stair nook.  I just love how cozy and rustic this space is.  It looks like a great place to curl up with a good book and a cup of coffee and just escape for a few minutes.  My favorite detail is the golden deer head; where do people find this stuff?

Southern Season Idea House under the stair nook

 

Cutest kitchen frivolity that I want but absolutely don’t need – Ceramic Animal Egg Cups.  I would eat a three-minute egg every morning for breakfast if I a.) had the time, and b.) could eat it out of that polar bear.  Or the otter.  Or the lion.

Ceramic Egg Cups

Did someone say cookies for breakfast?!  Please and thank you!  We all know I’m a fan of healthy, make-ahead breakfasts, and these look like they fit the bill.  Mmmm, I bet these would be great with coffee and a glass of almond milk.

Breakfast Cookies Recipe

 

Mini frittatas – an easy, make-ahead breakfast

Are you a breakfast person?  I certainly am.  Most mornings, I’m hungry the second I open my eyes (seriously), so skipping breakfast has never been an option.  Cereal, however, just doesn’t cut it.  Especially on days when I drag myself to Crossfit at 6AM, I come back from class absolutely ravenous and looking for something substantive, yet healthy enough to not totally reverse all the calories I’ve burned.

Mini Frittatas

These mini frittatas are so simple to make and so easy to customize that I hesitate to even call it a recipe.  It’s more like an idea, one that I first saw on an episode of this season’s Biggest Loser, when trainer Bob Harper shared his recipe with the contestants.  That version used turkey bacon, but I kept mine vegetarian and used a mix of spinach, mushrooms, feta cheese, and sundried tomatoes.  Rather than mixing the eggs with milk, I mixed them with plain nonfat Greek yogurt, a trick I also use when making scrambled eggs to boost the protein content and keep the eggs nice and creamy.  I sauteed spinach, chopped mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and garlic, let everything cool, then added the veggies to the egg/Greek yogurt mixture with salt and a healthy dollop of Sriracha.  I poured the mixture into greased muffin tins and baked the frittatas at 350 degrees for 15ish minutes until the eggs were just set.

Veggie frittatas

There are so many different flavor combinations and variations to try, you really can’t go wrong.  Mexican with onions, peppers, and black beans.  French with asparagus and brie.  Italian with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes.  Southern with collards and country ham.  Yankee with cream cheese, chives, and smoked salmon.  Or you can eschew conventional boundaries and put black beans with bacon.  The world is your oyster.

Let me know if you try it out; I’d love to hear what you you come up with!

 

After last night’s big game, I imagine there’s not a whole lot of you being productive at work today.  In between football chit-chat in the breakroom, I hope you enjoy links of things that are occupying my thoughts this week.

Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies from Bakerella.  OMG, these are good.  We whipped up a batch of these babies Thursday night and I forced the Boo to take them to work on Friday.  I had to get them out of the house. I have zero self control when it comes to chocolate chip cookies to begin with, then you add an Oreo in there? Trouble, trouble, trouble.

Source: Bakerella

Source: Bakerella

This list of adorably awkward mutts.  Say hello to the Cheagle, aka the cutest small dog ever.  I’m not normally a little yap-yap dog kind of girl (if it can fit in a purse, it’s not a real dog), but I would absolutely make an exception for this guy. Those ears! I can’t handle it.

Chihuahua and beagle mix - not sure this guy could be any cuter

Chihuahua and beagle mix – not sure this guy could be any cuter

Landmannalaugar, Iceland.  A few years ago, I read a murder mystery book set in Iceland.  Ever since, visiting Iceland has been on my radar.  Now that Icelandair is offering direct, 6-hour flights from DC to Reykjavik, it’s entirely feasible for us to travel there for a long weekend.  I have to admit, I don’t know a lot about the country, but every image I find is breathtakingly gorgeous. If it’s that beautiful in pictures, I can’t imagine what it’s like in real life.

Landmannalaugar

This very concerned cat.  Every time I see this meme, I giggle hysterically.

Soy milk cat

Disney Princesses in Accurate Period Costume.  I love all things Disney, including this list.  When I was 6, I wanted to change my name to Jasmine.  My parents refused, but (somehow) I love them anyway.  This list only reaffirms my belief that Jasmine is the best Princess of them all (with Mulan as a close second).

She has a pet tiger.   Not sure it gets more badass than that.

She has a pet tiger. Not sure it gets more badass than that.

Beach vacation must-have: this bright pink wrap dress from Lilly Pulitzer.  For our honeymoon (in 3 weeks!), we’re spending 2 weeks in the US Virgin Islands.  I think this dress would be just the thing for nice dinners on the beach; easy, effortless, and forgiving (important when you’re spending days on the beach gulping down fruity beverages with cutesy umbrellas).

Whitaker wrap dress

For dinner this week: Peanut Butter and Kale Fried Rice by Connoisserus Veg.  Kale.  Peanut butter.  A vehicle for Sriracha Rice.  All the things.  I picked up 3 pounds of kale from Trader Joe’s this week (seriously, 3 pounds – I couldn’t eat too much kale if I tried), and can’t wait to try this.

What I’ve been cooking – beef broth, tikka masala, and skillet pizza

Good morning, blogging world!  After a week-long absence, we have a lot of catching up to do.

It was not my intention to be a once-a-week poster; my goal is for 2 – 3 semi-substantive posts a week.  But with my wedding only 20 days away (commence freakout) and my job in full “busy-season” swing, I’ve had to put blogging on the back burner.  (For those of you blissfully unaware of the term “busy season”, it’s an accounting thing.  You see, the time between now and April 15 – tax day – is when accounting firms make all of their money, so that’s when their employees are supposed to work the most.  Last week, I worked about 55 hours, which is a joke compared to the 80-hour weeks I used to pull at my last accounting firm.  So while I’m absolutely counting my blessings,  55 is still more than 40, and the switch is slightly un-fun, to use a very technical, grammatically correct term.)

Anyway, I’ll make it up to you with a nice long post, and no pictures of me butchering geese.

A few weekends ago, I made homemade beef broth.  It’s essentially the same process as making chicken stock, but the beef bones are first roasted with aromatics to bring out a richer flavor.  Making the broth required time, but only 30 minutes or so were hands-on, and there was nothing complicated about it.  I threw a few pounds of beef bones into a roasting pan with red onions, garlic, bay leaves, and a few rosemary sprigs, then popped the pan into a 300 degree oven for an hour.

Beef bones, red onions, and garlic, getting ready to go into the oven

Beef bones, red onions, and garlic, ready to go into the oven

Then I transferred roasted mixture to a stockpot, poured in water to cover, and simmered it for a few hours. Once the stock was ready, I left it in the pan and stored in the refrigerator over night.  The next morning, all the fat had hardened at the top and was easy to separate from the broth.

This is an important step, unless you like your broth with a side of cardiac arrest

This is an important step, unless you like your broth with a side of cardiac arrest.

Once I skimmed off all the fat, I strained the broth and transferred to storage containers.  Easy-peasy. Homemade, low-sodium broth for cheaper than you get in the store.  I purchased 5 pounds of beef bones for $1.50/pound and made 3 quarts of fairly concentrated broth.  The Pacific Natural broth I usually buy is anywhere between $3.50 and $4.50 for a quart, so by making 3 quarts homemade, I saved at least $3!  Plus, I was able to control the source of the beef (sustainably raised) and the salt content of the broth.  It freezes beautifully (as long as your Ziploc bag doesn’t have a hole in the corner that allows defrosting beef broth to slowly leak to the bottom of your refrigerator – thanks, Ziploc) and it’s easy to make a huge batch a few times a year.  Like I said, I made mine pretty concentrated so it would take up less room in the freezer and last me a while.

With the geese the Boo brought home from his hunting trip, I made goose tikka masala using the recipe for duck tikka masala in my Afield cookbook.

Served with lime and a dollop of plain yogurt

Served with lime and a dollop of plain yogurt

Instead of the traditional basmati rice, we opted for a brown rice blend (because, wedding in 20 days, people!).  This turned out okay; the sauce was really flavorful (although next time I think I’ll cut down on the cream) and super easy to make.  The goose meat came out a little tough, though.  Next time I cook with goose (we have 2 more) I’ll brine the breasts first or cook everything in a slow cooker.

Last night’s dinner was really good and exactly what I needed to end the work week (yep, Saturdays during busy season are spent at the office; at least they give us free  food)  – homemade skillet pizza.

Easy, fun, almost nutritious weekend dinner

Easy, fun, almost nutritious weekend dinner

I know it’s kind of hard to see because my cooktop is black, the skillet is black, and the lighting in my kitchen is horrendous, but that’s my pizza, cooked in a cast iron skillet.  I started making homemade pizza back in college, because like most college students, I was poor, slightly lazy, and would rather drink my calories than eat them in the form of greasy pizza.  We had a few “artisan” pizza places in the area, but none of them would deliver, and driving wasn’t really an option when you’d spent the afternoon watching your football team lose (again) and counting down the days until basketball season.  My homemade pizza was good, it would suffice; the crust wasn’t awesome, but it was way better that what Dominos could offer, for a fraction of the price.

My version - basic tomato sauce, mozzarella, and bunches of crispy kale.

My version – basic tomato sauce, mozzarella, and bunches of crispy kale.

 

Then, last year, a friend exposed me to the amazing food blog Annie’s Eats and I found her Perfect Homemade Pizza Crust tutorial.  That changed  the way I do pizza.  My dough recipe is the same (from Baking Illustrated), but instead of a pizza stone (which I never got around to purchasing), I make mine in a cast iron skillet.  I also reduce the oven temperature to 400, so I can coat the skillet in a healthy dose of olive oil; that gives the pizza crust a delicious, almost fried crispiness that I love.

Basic tomato sauce, mozzarella, sharp cheddar, and lots of crispy kale

The Boo’s version – basic tomato sauce, sharp cheddar, horseradish cheddar, venison BBQ, kale, and lots of red pepper flakes.

Last night, the Boo and I settled in, with our pizza and water (I can’t wait to drink on my honeymoon), to watch the Duke/Syracuse basketball game, a DVR’d episode of Shark Tank (my crush on Mark Cuban is growing), and about 5 episodes of the Big Bang Theory before I fell asleep on the couch.

Today, we’re supposed to have sunny skies and highs in the 50s which means only one thing – I must get outside!  It’s been forever since the Boo and I played tourist and walked around the National Mall, so that’s what we have planned for today.

Is it finally sunny where you are?  Is anyone else going stir-crazy like I am with all this cold weather?  I hope wherever you are that you have a great weekend and can get your sun fix soon!