Monday, January 31, 2011

A Snowy Weekly Menu

I am back with this week's menu, which will include lots of soups and warm things since we are supposed to get an ice storm followed by a snow storm which will dump 8-12 inches of snow over the next few days!

Image taken from here and here originally
Monday: Thai Shrimp Bisque.  Another Cooking Light recipe that promises be warm, a little bit spicy and really delicious!

Tuesday:  Corned Beef and Cabbage.  We didn't end up making this last week as planned due to the State of the Union, as I explained in this post.  Luckily I never got around to buying the beef so I didn't have spoiled meat on my hands!  'll be picking it up today with the rest of this week's ingredients.

Wednesday: Miso Soup and Chicken Spring Rolls.  I am attempting to make Miso soup from scratch, which promises to be challenging yet interesting!  With it, fresh spring rolls that you make as you eat!  These spring rolls were a favorite of mine in college but we haven't had them in several years, so I can't wait to try them again.

Thursday: Leftovers

What's on your menu this week, friends?

Weekend at the Lake

This weekend J and I spent time with my sister Madi in one of our favorite places: South Haven, MI.  It was much colder there than we are used to since it's usually August when we visit, but it was just as beautiful and restful as always.  

Here are a few things we did this weekend and some of what you can expect this week on KT's Refinishing School:
  • Ate at Fiddler's Hearth in downtown South Bend.  If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend this pub.  They have public house seating (meaning you sit at long tables sometimes next to strangers which can make for fun and interesting dinner conversations) and serve local food and craft beers on their menu.  We were starving by the time food came, so I didn't get any pictures before we devoured it.  I had the Plowman's Plate with three different kinds of bread and cheese as well as a piece of smoked salmon and it was delicious!
  • Finished reading Hot Time in the Old Town--book review to follow
  • Took a walk to the lakefront to see the lake's frozen waves--photos to follow
  • While I had my camera out, I took pictures of some of my favorite corners of our beloved vacation home Feirin De--photos to follow
  • Spent lots of time talking, laughing and sharing--the TV did not get turned on once all weekend!
  • Built numerous fires in the fireplace
  • Saw The Dilemma at the local movie theater.  The movie was decent (it was our best option among those offered: Yogi Bear, Season of the Witch and Country Strong) and the prices were very cheap--Madi, J and I got two buckets of popcorn, three sodas and tickets all for nineteen bucks!
  • Made Almost French Onion Soup risotto for dinner last night--recipe and photos to follow!
  • Made raspberry oatmeal muffins for breakfast this week--recipe and photos to follow!
How was your weekend, friends?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Savory Onion Bread Pudding

On Wednesday night,  I made onion bread pudding for J and I, which I have been dreaming about all week.  I don't think I can emphasize enough how much I love bread pudding.  If it is on the menu at a restaurant, no matter what else is on the dessert menu, I am ordering bread pudding.

This was a delicious and fairly inexpensive meal--the most expensive part was the Gruyere cheese but because you only need 3 ounces or 3/4 of a cup, even the cheese isn't too much. 

We served this with a simple arugula (or rocket) lettuce salad tossed with olive oil, some herb vinegar we had gotten at the Ferguson Farmer's Market this summer, and freshly ground salt and pepper.  It felt very much like we were eating European bistro food!

8 cups of baguette, cut into 1 inch cups--approximately one French baguette
2 cups of 2% milk--we bought a quart, which was plenty, since we don't normally drink 2%
1 Vidalia or sweet onion, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Kitchen Supplies:
Glass baking dish--the recipe calls for an 8 inch square but we used our 2 quart rectangular one and it worked just fine!
Cooking Spray
Nonstick skillet

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Heat skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion rounds, taking care not to separate them to pan.  Cook for three minutes on each side until the onions get a slight sear on them.  Remove from heat.

Whisk together milk, eggs, thyme, salt and pepper.  Add bread cubes and 1/2 cup of cheese, tossing to coat well.  Pour in a glass baking dish coated in cooking spray and place onion rounds on top of bread mixture.  Sprinkle remaining cheese (I grated just a bit more to cover the whole top) and bake for 25 minutes until bubbly.  Cut and serve.

Prior to going into the oven
Calories: 364
Serving size: 1 1/2 cups
Serves: 4

This was my first time trying a savory bread pudding and I must admit, it was just as good as a sweet one.  This would also be good with some bacon or sausage for a nice brunch entree, maybe with some mimosas to go with!

What's your favorite dessert?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thrift Store Finds

Yesterday I frequented one of my favorite thrift stores, Value Village, for the Half Off Wednesdays which occur on the last Wednesday of every month.  While I had found some great deals at these Half Off days (see some here and here), I had been unable to stop in over the last few months, what with Thanksgiving and Christmas and everything.

My finds have been better but I still found a few things of note, all for under $7.00 I might add!  Here is a little round-up:

I got this candelabra for 75 cents.  I think it will look great in our fireplace, perhaps with some taller pillar candles placed around the tea lights that will grace the top of this metal structure.  I think it will make the tea lights look like they are floating and some day when we have a larger dining room table, it would work well for a table setting.

The next two finds are related.  Ever since this wish list post, I have been wanting to add to my cloth napkin collection.  Eventually, I'd like to have a variety of different colors and textures that I can work into various table settings.  I found these sets of four for 1.99 each (each set of two were originally 1.99)!  I could see a cool blue wintery table setting with these napkins and a Spring time table setting surrounding irises or another beautiful purple flower.  Not bad considering comparable napkins can run anywhere from 8.00 to 15.00 dollars for a set of two!

I also found two new paperbacks that I bought for less than four dollars--one looks like it's never even been cracked open!  It's a little hard to see from the photo but they are Three Junes by Julia Glass and The Color of Water by James McBride.

Back when I reviewed I See You Everywhere, another of Julia Glass' novels, someone suggested I read Three Junes.  Imagine my excitement when I found it (for cheap!) thrifting yesterday.  Once I finish my current book list, these will be next up!

Woods investigates the new treasures

Thus ends my little thrift store roundup.  Have you found any good deals lately?  Where is your favorite place to find great deals?

Zucchini Bread Muffins

After reading Courtney's post yesterday about zucchini brownies, I realized I had a zucchini at home that was also on the verge of going bad and needed to do something about it pronto.

You see, I have begun taking a muffin and hard boiled egg to work for breakfast every morning because it's quick and easy.  This has made my morning routine much smoother and ensures I don't stop somewhere like Starbucks to get breakfast!  Last week I made pumpkin muffins (boxed from Trader Joe's) and I just finished the last one, so I decided to make zucchini bread muffins because one, the zucchini was going to go bad and two, because I love zucchini bread.

Zucchini Bread Muffins, modified from this recipe

2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed--I used the Splenda brown sugar blend
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini--about 1 medium
1/2 cup walnuts
1/3 cup golden raisins

Kitchen Supplies:
(1) dozen cupcake pan
Mixing bowls
Cooking spray
Cooling rack

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine oil, eggs, sugars and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt).  Slowly folded in the dry ingredients.  Once combined add zucchini, walnuts and raisins.  Fold in.

Spray cupcake pan with cooking spray.  Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of mixture into each well, until about 2/3  full.  Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes until toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.  Remove from oven, place on cooling rack and enjoy!

What's your current breakfast routine?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Remember When Wednesday: President Obama Goes to Springfield

In honor of last night's State of the Union, I thought I would share with you our trip to Springfield, Illinois two years ago where we heard President Obama speak as this week's Remember When Wednesdays feature.

A close family friend, Gary, is a donor to the Lincoln Foundation, which operates the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.  As such, he was invited to the bicentennial celebration of Lincoln's birth in Springfield.  President Obama was the guest speaker and guest of honor, since he too had ties to Illinois politics.  Gary was generous enough to secure two additional tickets for J and I to attend!

Gary is pictured below in the Lincoln Museum--can you spot him among the Lincoln family?

We stayed at the Abraham Lincoln hotel and attended a luncheon earlier that day which sought to answer the question of when (and where and why) Lincoln the young attorney became such a strong abolitionist.  We then dressed and met our party in the lobby to take the shuttle to the Crowne Plaza hotel where the dinner and speech were set to take place.  

After we went through security (which took a lot longer than expected because my brother who was unable to attend was also on the list and they thought we were married so they wouldn't give me my ticket initially), we sat down and got ready for the festivities.  Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood (from Peoria and a friend of my grandparents) introduced President Obama via video conference from Washington.  

A group of re-enactors dressed in Civil War uniforms served as the color guard and lead the national anthem.  Right before President Obama came on stage, they quickly placed the Presidential seal on the podium.

Before (without seal)
During (with seal)
The speech was well written and well delivered, something President Obama has become known for.  The whole time I was pinching myself because I could hardly believe I was witnessing a live speech delivered by the current President!  Regardless of one's political affiliation, there is something magical about the fact that on the 200th birthday of President Lincoln, who worked to free the slaves, an African-American President was delivering the address.  I do not think Lincoln in his wildest dreams would have imagined that it would be so!

Dinner was served after the speech and was absolutely delicious.  I especially liked the chocolate cheesecake they served with a copper dusted chocolate Lincoln penny on top at the end.  Notice the date on the coin: 1909, which coincided with the centennial of Lincoln's birth.

The next day we were given a private tour of the Lincoln Presidential Library and vault and had breakfast with some rather famous people, but that is another story for another day!

Happy Wednesday, friends!

Photoshop Fun

Last night while waiting for J to finish homework before watching the State of the Union and Sunday's episode of Big Love, I started learning more about Photoshop.

As some of you may recall, I received a copy of Photoshop Elements 9 from J's mom for Christmas.  I have slowly been learning the ropes, creating the image from yesterday's project post for example.

I decided to first try my hand at creating a birthday card for my sister, who turns 20 next week and who we will see this weekend!  I am taking a risk with posting her card here first but am counting on her not reading this between now and then with her busy architecture course load.  She loves Lady Gaga, so the card is pretty self explanatory.  I downloaded the image from Feed Your Soul: the Free Art Project as created by Fee Harding and added some text.

While I was on the site, I came across a really cute print that I decided to modify for our apartment.  Again this was taken from Feed Your Soul: the Free Art Project and created by Angela Vandenbogaard. Cooler heads might have kept this one under wraps too, possibly sharing it with J on Valentine's Day but I was so excited to show what I had learned, I showed him right away.  Perhaps I will still have it printed and framed for Valentine's Day or what was our anniversary (February 20th) until we got married this summer and got a new anniversary!
What do you think, friends?  Have any Photoshop tips?  I'd love to hear them!

Change of Dinner Plans

We were slated to have Onion Bread Pudding last night for dinner and corned beef this evening, but after a long and busy day of work with a night of great television ahead of us (State of the Union coverage and Sunday's episode of Big Love) I decided I didn't want to spend last night grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning!

Enter this fellow.

We had a gift card from Gourmet to Go that J received as a Christmas gift from the professor he TA's for and had yet to use it.  For those of you not familiar with Gourmet to Go (they only have one location in the Ladue area), it is a deli that in addition to traditional soups, sandwiches and salads, offers different fully cooked dinner entrees each night.

Last night, a night where I didn't really feel like cooking, seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out.  I have had Gourmet to Go's sandwiches numerous times for lunch, but never eaten off of the dinner menu.

We tried both of their dinner entrees available last night: Chicken Fettucini Alfredo and Stuffed Pork Chop with Wild Rice.  They required a bit of reheating in the microwave (or oven if you preferred) but otherwise were fairly tasty.  Nothing we couldn't have made at home ourselves and I would have made a few adjustments including decreasing the sweetness of the pork chop chutney stuffing (it was a bit cloying to use a Food Network's Chopped phrase) and decreasing the salt in the alfredo sauce.  However, it did make last night easier, which was much appreciated.  I don't know if we'll be back on a regular basis, just because the prices are a bit steep and we could make comparable food at home for less, but it was definitely worth trying out.

Oh, and not to worry, Onion Bread Pudding and Corned Beef will still be made, just not according to the schedule of this post!

Have you ever tried a place like Gourmet to Go that prepares whole meals for you to take home and reheat?  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech

A week ago today, J and I went to see The King's Speech at Hi-Pointe Theater, a local theater known for its selection of independent films.  We were pleasantly surprised that the tickets were five dollars each on a Tuesday night.  It turns out that those are the prices every Monday through Thursday.  This is a much better deal than what we paid to see Black Swan a night later at Plaza Frontenac (9.00 each)!

The King's Speech stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and is set in the days and years before the current Queen Elizabeth's father succeeds and takes the throne.  Bertie (later King George VI) suffers from a terrible stutter, something that becomes immediately apparent when he delivers a speech at the 1925 Commonwealth Games during the opening scene of the film.  Geoffrey Rush plays an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who with the encouragement of Bertie's wife Elizabeth, helps Bertie overcome his speech impediment.

All three actors were fantastic and very believable in their roles.  There were times I was laughing out loud and other times when my heart was singing, moved by the movie's message.  One thing that struck me was how easily the royal family moved about London without being recognized.  This is such a juxtaposition with how hounded by paparazzi and the press the royal families of Europe, especially Britain, have become.  Everyone would know if Prince Charles were taking speech therapy classes.

The film, like Atonement before it, is set against the backdrop of England before and during World War II.  While not the main message of the movie, I couldn't help but reflect on the reality of life in London during the war with the constant threat of air waves while France and most of Europe, only hundreds of miles away, was occupied by Nazi Germany.  It is hard to fathom the fear and anxiety they faced every day during this time.

I thought it would be fun to share a few facts about England during World War II since it was the backdrop for the film.  Here is a little sampling (all taken from BBC):
  • September 1, 1939: Germany invades Poland.  England and France declare war two days later.
  • January 1941: Rationing begins in England.
  • May 10, 1941: Germany's blitzkrieg begins over Belgium, France and Holland.
  • The German blitzkrieg of England lasts duration of the war.  During that time, Buckingham Palace is bombed, the city of Coventry is nearly destroyed and some 40,000 British people die as a result of the bombings.
  • Many families evacuated their families and fled to the country (and elsewhere) to avoid the bombings.  For example, the children of the Narnia stories first came upon the wardrobe in the spare room while in the English countryside during the war.  In total, some 800,000 children are forced to leave their homes.
Have you seen The King's Speech?  What did you think?

Follow Through = the Name of the Game

I'm ready to tell you my secret now:  I see unfinished projects.

Pardon that lame Sixth Sense reference, but in all honesty I have a few unfinished projects around the house that I'm hoping by sharing with you here, it will hold me accountable and I will actually finish them.

The first is reupholstering our dining room chairs.  I upholstered them over a year ago (in fact it was my first blog post) and while I really liked the pattern, I bought a rug for the space a while back that just doesn't work with the fabric.  The rug was fifty percent off at Target, and since it was a percentage off that I rarely see at my local Target and a great price for a rug (34.99), I snapped it up!  The fabric (a bold blue and white patterned print pictured above) is sitting in my basement waiting to be stapled onto the chairs.

The second is repainting and reupholstering this little stool I bought at Goodwill this fall.  I had always planned to paint or dress it up somehow but never really got around to it.  So while I had the paint and sandpaper out for another project, I decided to paint the legs dark blue using some of the paint left over from painting my dresser this summer.  Now I want to stencil our initial "R" onto the woven basket and reupholster the top, perhaps with some of the fabric left over from the dining room chairs!

The third project is reorganizing our hutch in the dining room.  Right now it is crammed full of things and the display is not very pleasing to the eye.  I am hoping to spend an afternoon (or morning or evening) taking everything out out of it and reassigning some of it to the living room and some of it to our closet so that we can properly display what lovelies we do have.

The fourth is to finish spray painting two owls I bought during various thrift store trips white.  So far I have spray painted them with a primer coat and need to finish the job with a top coat.  You can see the owl cookie jar here and the owl statue here.

The final project involves repainting and re-purposing the wine flight set I bought at a local thrift store a few months ago.  My plan is to turn it into a lovely flower vase set.  So far, I have filled the hole in the tray where the menu would have sat, sanded the piece and painted the base of it white.  All that's left is to prime and paint the insets where the wine pitchers turned flower vases will go blue for a little color!

Please tell me you are like me and have unfinished projects laying around!  

Monday, January 24, 2011

On the Menu This Week

Monday: leftover Agatucci's pizza, reheated in a dry skillet.  I have been instructed by my family that is the best way to reheat pizza, especially Agatucci's, without the cheese overcooking or the crust getting soggy!
Tuesday: Onion Bread Pudding from the Best of Cooking Light cookbook served with fresh greens tossed in oil and vinegar--as you know, I love bread pudding so when I came across this recipe and saw you could have bread pudding for dinner and it would be healthy, I was in!

Wednesday: Corned Beef and Cabbage.  I know it's not St. Patrick's Day but when I was coming up with this week's menu and reviewing what fresh ingredients we needed to use up (carrots, cabbage and potatoes) I immediately thought of Corned Beef and how I've been wanting to try it in the crock pot.  I made corned beef in the oven last St. Patty's Day (and we didn't eat until 9:00 pm because I couldn't start it until I got home from work) and would like to experiment with the crock pot so we don't have a repeat performance come March!

Image found here and here originally
What's cooking in your house this week?

And We're Back!

J and I arrived in St. Louis late last night after spending two whirlwind days with my aunt who was visiting from Korea.  It was wonderful to see her and we learned quite a bit about Korean culture, food and the people who live there.  Lively and interesting discussions were had by all!

We also got to eat two Peoria staples: Avanti's gondola sandwiches and Agatucci's pizza.  Gondolas are served on a long baguette type roll that is a little bit sweet to the taste.  Piled high with several different kinds of cold-cut Italian meats, creamy American cheese and lettuce, the sandwiches are delicious.  J and I try to eat one each time we visit!

Image taken from here
Agatucci's is a family staple.  My grandparents have been going to Aggie's for as long as my mom can remember.  A family owned and operated restaurant, they serve delicious flat style pizza (not too crunchy though!) cut into strips with their famous Tiger sauce (mix of oil, vinegar and spices).  Jay Leno recently visited Peoria and ate at Agatucci's, reportedly taking several bottles of Tiger sauce home with him!

I apologize I didn't get any photos of the food--we were too busy chatting--but if you are ever in Peoria, be sure to check these establishments out.  You won't regret it!

How was your weekend, friends?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Random Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

  • Last night, J and I went out to Hill Brewing Company (now Ferguson Brewing Company) in downtown Ferguson with Ashlee and JY.  I had a flight of their beers--pretty tasty but not as good as Square One--and some delicious warm pretzels while we chatted the night away.
  • This morning we are up early in order to spend some time with my aunt who is visiting the States from Korea where she lives and works as a teacher in Seoul.  I have eggs boiling on the stove--hard boiled for J and soft boiled, choppy eggs for me.
  • We made the smoked gouda mac and cheese again last night, this time adding some finely diced chipotle peppers.  They did add more spice to the dish but it was really inconsistent from bite to bite in terms of level of spice.  In the future, I think we will just make it with the adobo sauce for a little flavor!
  • I am so excited to one of the first seven people involved in the what would journal project over at scenic glory and can't wait to get my journal in the mail!  I love Lindsay's blog and if you haven't checked it out yourself yet, head on over for a source of daily inspiration and encouragement!
  • I'm a bit sad that we are halfway through watching the final season of Arrested Development and wish it would have lasted more than three seasons.
  • That is all.
What do you have planned this weekend, friends?  Happy Saturday!

Friday, January 21, 2011

130 Goals Update: Oscar Films

As I mentioned in this post, I am going to try this year to see all of the films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year; one because it is on my 130 list and two, because all of the films out right now look so good!

Now I realize they have not announced the nominees for Best Picture yet but the Golden Globes and critics' reviews are always good indications.  Based on this information, J and I went and saw two movies this week that I am sure will be nominated (and if they are not they were still great films worth seeing): The King's Speech and Black Swan.  Technically J saw three because he went with some friends for a boy's night on Sunday to see True Grit (for them it was like a Big Lebowski reunion)

Image taken from here
Once I have collected my thoughts on Black Swan (I just saw it last night and it made it hard for me to sleep) and The King's Speech I will be sure to share them with you all. 

Next up, True Grit (for me), The Fighter and Social Network.  I've heard some dark horses for the race include Toy Story 3, Inception and The Kids are Alright.  With ten possible nominations to be announced on January 25th, I better get crackin'!

Have you seen any good movies lately?  Any plans to see one this weekend?  

P.S.  I've added a page to the blog called Film Class with the hope of eventually filling it with film reviews and so forth.  If you are reading this with Google Reader, go on over and check it out!

Stylish Blogger Award

A while back my girl Ashly awarded me with the Stylish Blogger Award and I figured it was about time to pass along the honor to some of my other blog friends!

Thanks Ashly for the award and for all of your camaraderie and support over the past few months :)

Now those who are deemed to be stylish bloggers and receive the award must do four things:
  • Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award
  • Share 7 random things about yourself
  • Pass it on and award other bloggers with this award
  • Let them know they won!
7 Random Things:
  1. I can't whistle or roll my tongue into a taco.  All of my siblings and both of my parents can do these things and they tease me about it relentlessly when it comes up.
  2. I have broken my arm once (left) when my horse trainer's horse bucked me off in high school and gotten stitches twice: once when I bit my lip as a baby and once when my childhood dog was a puppy and accidentally bit me.  Luckily, none of the injuries have left permanent scars.
  3. I was once on a game show as a kid called Animal Planet ZooVenture because our principal's sister was an executive producer and was looking for kids to participate.  I beat out a girl with a broken arm (which I felt really bad about) and as the grand prize, I got to be zookeeper for a day with the other winners at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.
  4. As a girl, I owned three American Girl dolls (Kirsten, Addy and Samantha) that are still at my parents' house.  I hope to pass on to my own daughters (or if we only have boys, nieces) someday!
  5. I really like certain kinds of spicy food (like wasabi, horse radish and curry) and not others (like jalapenos)
  6. When I was in high school I wanted to become a country singer and become famous like the Dixie Chicks.  I even recorded a few songs with my guitar teacher.   If Taylor Swift was famous when I was in high school, I'm pretty sure my ambition would have been to be just like her.
  7. In high school, I worked with my aunt at The Telluride Bluegrass Festival in the box office every year.  I got to see some amazing acts over the years, including Emmylou Harris, Yonder Mountain String Band, Sam Bush, Nanci Griffith, Jewel, and Allison Krauss.   Sadly, I missed the legendary Johnny Cash by three years.
Technically you are supposed to award fifteen other bloggers, but rules are made to be broken, so I am going to pick my top five and give a little reason why I think they are deserving of this award!
  1. Finely Young  Ashlee has a great eye for fashion and home decor (see some of her makeovers here and here for some examples) and shares her daily life with her husband JY and pup Finley.  She always makes me laugh and is a good friend in both the blogging and the real world.
  2. :: Can You Come Home ::  Starlet Starlet blogs about design, food, life and her garden--I am especially jealous about that last one since apartment living doesn't lend itself very well to gardening!  Her innovative posts like Color Splashes and those involving her beautiful handwriting like this one keep me inspired and entertained!
  3. Every Little Thing  Boy am I glad I discovered Every Little Thing a few weeks ago!  Another St. Louis gal, I am constantly challenged and encouraged to give back, eat responsibly and enjoy life through her posts--those are things that never go out of style :)
  4. Clever Betty  Lauren is a brilliant graphic designer whose shop is full of cute and whimsical notions you just have to check out.  I was honored to be a part of her You Had Me At...Holidays series this year.  You can check out the post I wrote for the series here.  She and her fianc√© Sean are getting married next fall and if their gorgeous engagement photo session is any indication, their wedding will be beautiful, personal and of course stylish!
  5. Flutter Inspired  I just found Mia's blog and just as her blog title suggests, I am consistently inspired by her posts.  Whether the topic is living an eco-lifestyle or her gorgeous elopement posts (which make me want to elope and marry J all over again!), Mia writes her posts with creativity and class. 
Thank you for the friendship, laughter, encouragement and inspiration ladies!  Keep up the good work!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

Over the weekend J and I watched The Hurt Locker thanks to our new Netflix subscription (this one we got by mail instead of instant view which we have made a lot of use over the past few weekends).  We did not see it when it was out in theaters last year and so it qualified toward number 123 on my 130 list since it beat out Avatar for Best Picture!

Image taken from here
I was somewhat familiar with its premise beforehand but basically the film follows a bomb unit at the end of their tour of duty in Iraq and shows the struggles and dangers armed service members face while over there.  The music in the film was very good and definitely added to the suspense and tension throughout the movie.  The acting was very good as was the cinematography.  However, I couldn't help but think during the movie that James Cameron was robbed when Avatar didn't win Best Picture.

I absolutely believe Kathryn Bigelow deserved to win for Best Director and that it took way too long for a woman director to win the Oscar for Best Director!  However, if you look at how Avatar and the way it was filmed and the technology it used and the way those things advanced film, I think it should have won Best Picture.  I am not a huge fan of James Cameron personally but I still think Avatar was a better motion picture in terms of moving the industry forward.  While the storyline of Avatar felt a bit more stale (since it was so similar to Dances With Wolves), it was nonetheless a groundbreaking film.

I guess what it comes down to is what you value in a Best Picture film: superb acting, directing and cinematography on a timely topic (The Hurt Locker) or a film with good directing, vision and groundbreaking technology (Avatar).

Which one do you think deserved to win Best Picture?

Reading List: 1/19-3/8

It's been a while since I ventured to the library and even longer since I shared with you my reading list, so I thought I would remedy both of those situations pronto!

Last night after work I went to the library to check out some new books.  I wanted to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings but both had been completely checked out of our library and other local libraries.

Instead, I came home with these treasures:

1) The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent:  I thoroughly enjoyed Kathleen Kent's previous novel, The Heretic's Daughter about the Salem witch trials, and am excited about this book.  Set earlier than her first novel, this book combines my interest in monarchies (with a connection in the story to King Charles I) and early American history.  It promises to be a quick and exciting read!

2) Hot Time in the Old Town by Edward Kohn: A nonfiction piece about the great heat wave of 1896 in New York which killed more people than the Chicago Fire of 1871 or the New York City draft riots in 1863 and allowed a relatively unknown low-level politician Theodore Roosevelt beat William Jennings Bryant for the presidency.  The Gilded Age is one of my favorite times to read about and study in American history, so I look forward to reading more about this heat wave and its aftermath.

3) Queens Consort by Lisa Hilton: I love monarchy history, especially that of England.  This nonfiction book looks at twenty queen consorts between 1066 and 1503 and the strength they demonstrated and the trials they went through at a time that was very unforgiving of strong, independent women.  I know a great deal about the Tudor queens, but look forward to learning more about their earlier predecessors!

I have noticed a theme when it comes to my book selections.  They often fall into one of three categories: royal history, early American colonist history, and historical nonfiction with the occasional best seller thrown in.  What can I say, I know what I like!

What are you currently reading?

Smoked Gouda and Chipotle Mac and Cheese

While watching Food Network this weekend, we stumbled upon a new show, Week in a Day with Rachael Ray.  I had seen commercials for it and it was advertised as appearing on the Cooking Channel (a new channel we don't get) so I was pleasantly surprised when they aired an episode on the Food Network (a cooking channel we do get).  Why am I bringing this up?  Because one of her dishes was the inspiration for the recipe I am going to share with you all.

She made a spicy crab cake mac and cheese which looked delicious and had me craving some cheesy goodness myself.  However, due to resolution number 3, I wanted to find a more healthy alternative because I just knew her recipe would be full of calories.  I found a smoked gouda mac and cheese in my Cooking Light cookbook and made a few adjustments (like adding adobo sauce to it) to make it closer to what we saw Rachael make on TV.  The results were delicious!

Smoked Gouda and Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese, adapted from The Best of Cooking Light cookbook

2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 one ounce piece of whole wheat sandwich bread, grated into crumbs
4 cups elbow macaroni, cooked (about 2 cups dried)
1/4 cup green onions, diced
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from can of chipotles in adobo sauce--if you want more spice, substitute adobo sauce with a chopped chipotle--seeding it to reduce the heat, leaving the seeds in for extra spice!  Since this recipe only serves four, I just used the sauce this time to make sure it wasn't too spicy.  Next time I think we'll add a seeded and chopped chipotle instead!
2 cups fat free milk
1/4 cup smoked gouda, grated
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
5 cups fresh spinach
Cooking spray

Kitchen Supplies:
Stock pot for boiling pasta
Large skillet
Box grater for cheese and bread crumbs 
Food processor, optional for use in making breadcrumbs
2 quart glass baking dish

Grate the slice of bread using either a food processor or a box grater.  I used a box grater (the side with the small holes) because I knew I would be using it to grate the gouda and didn't want to make unnecessary dishes for myself.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet.  Add onions and garlic and saute for five minutes.  Add adobo sauce or chipotles.  Add flour and stir constantly until flour is cooked and loses its raw taste, about one minute. Whisk in milk, salt and pepper until sauce combines. Bring to a boil and cook down for two minutes until sauce is thickened.

Remove from heat and add cheeses, stirring again with the wooden spoon until cheeses have melted.  Add pasta and spinach.  This may seem like a lot of spinach but it will wilt and cook down quickly.

Once combined, spoon into a greased (with cooking spray) 2 quart glass baking dish.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top of the dish.

Bake uncovered for fifteen minutes or until bubbly.

Remove from oven and pour additional one tablespoon of melted butter over the top of the bread crumbs.  Turn the oven to broil and broil for two minutes until the bread crumbs brown slightly.  Remove and serve.

Calories: 415 
Serving size: 1 1/4 cups
Serves: 4

J and I are trying to go meat free at least once a week to not only save money but also to be more conscious of the meat we are consuming.  This is a great vegetarian meal due to the protein and iron from the cheese and spinach and it's so creamy and delicious you won't miss meat at all!

We really enjoyed this guilt-free meal and will definitely be making again next time we have a craving for Mac and Cheese.  It's a great way to satisfy the craving without expanding your waist line!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Remember When Wednesday: Now and Then, Wedding Style

This week on Remember When Wednesday, I thought it would be fun to share some wedding photos with you, specifically those of my parents and of J and I, to see what was different (and the same) about our weddings.

First, my parents.

  • Got married on June 1984
  • Church: St. Vincent de Paul, Peoria IL
  • Presider: Father John P. Schlegel, SJ, a professor my dad had in undergrad
  • Groomsmen: 4 plus a junior groomsman
  • Bridesmaids: 4 plus a junior bridesmaid
  • Reception: outdoors at a local park
  • Transportation: horse drawn carriage
  • Colors: Apricot and White
  • Tux Color: Gray
  • Wedding dress color: White
  • Veil: bonnet veil
  • Wedding band: yellow gold
  • Met: Creighton University, Omaha NE

And now our wedding. 


  • Got married in June 2010
  • Church: St. John's Church, Creighton University Omaha NE
  • Presiders: Fathers Patrick Collins and Raymond Bucko SJ, a professor I had in undergrad
  • Groomsmen: 5
  • Bridesmaids: 5 plus a flower girl
  • Reception:  The Renaissance Mansion
  • Transportation: a 1980s Mustang convertible
  • Colors: Champagne, Pink, Shamrock Green and Ivory
  • Tux Color: Black with Champagne vests (Ivory for J)
  • Wedding dress color: Ivory
  • Veil: cathedral veil
  • Wedding band: white gold
  • Met: Creighton University, Omaha NE

Don't you love the gray suits and big hair?  Definitely an 80's wedding.  I am sure one day my kids will feel the same way and look back at our photos and ask J and I what we were thinking!

Square One Brewery and Distillery

As I mentioned in this post, J and I went to Square One Brewery and Distillery in Lafayette Square on Saturday afternoon.  We had eaten a big lunch (late lunch since I was out ice skating with my little) so we went just to try their beverages although their food menu, with lots of local food, looked great!

I got a beer sampler because I was unfamiliar with their beers (which they brew on site) and so many of them looked tasty.  I tried the following beers (from right to left):
  • Keller Double Pilsner: my favorite of the sampler: a little bit bitter and hoppy but with a smooth finish
  • Park Avenue Pale Ale:  my second favorite of the sampler.  A little less smooth than the Keller pilsner
  • Bavarian Weizen: the description said it would have a hint of clove and banana flavors.  I definitely tasted the cloves but the bananas was pretty light compared to some other hefeweizens I've tried.
  • Light Squared: a beer they touted as a great introduction to micro brews for those unfamiliar with them

The glasses all had their logo printed on them.

J tried a gin cocktail: gin on the rocks with an olive and twist of lemon.  I tried a small taste of it as well but I am not a big fan of liquor so it tasted mainly like lighter fluid to me.  J assured me it was better than that!

Overall, it was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon together and we will definitely be back to try their food soon! 

Have you been to any good breweries lately?  Do tell!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Albondigas Mexican Soup

As I mentioned in this post, J and I spent Saturday morning watching Food Network.  Some of our favorite Food Network shows are in the line-up on Saturday mornings, including Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Mexican Made Easy, Barefoot Contessa, and so forth.  We usually find inspiration for the week's menu from these shows and this week was no exception.  We watched as Marcela Valladolid made Albondigas Soup and decided to replicate her efforts last night.  The meal turned out great and is similar to a minestrone or Italian wedding soup, but with Mexican flavors.
Albondigas Mexican Soup, modified from Marcela Valladolid's recipe

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 of a yellow onion, chopped
1/3 cup long grain rice, uncooked
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 pound ground sirloin--we used ground round because we bought organic and it was a lot cheaper than the organic ground sirloin.  Since the meat would be combined with onions, cilantro, and rice and then boiled in the soup, it's okay if you use a cheaper (or leaner) ground meat.
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 carrot, cut into rounds
1 serrano chile, whole
1 Yukon gold potato, cubed with skin on
2 tablespoons tomato paste
8 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 large zucchini, cut into half moons
3 corn tortillas, cut into strips

Kitchen Supplies:
Large stock pot
Mixing bowl

In the bottom of your stock pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onions and saute for five minutes, until mostly translucent--do not brown as they are going to cook longer in the meatballs once you add them to the soup.  Remove onions and let cool slightly.  In a medium bowl, mix together onions, rice, cilantro, ground meat, salt and pepper.  Using wet hands, shape the meat mixture into approximately twenty 1-inch balls.

Combine carrots, chile, potato, tomato paste and vegetable stock in stock pot.  Bring to a boil then slide in the albondigas (meatballs) and zucchini into the pot.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for twenty minutes or until the meat is cooked through.  During the last five minutes of cooking time, add corn tortilla strips for added texture and flavor.   Serve.

Warning: you can eat the serrano pepper but it is very spicy so proceed with caution.  It gave J hiccups almost immediately and he loves spicy food!

Serves: 6 to 8 people

J and I had an interesting conversation about albondigas while we ate dinner last night. He suspected, and was later proved right with a little searching online, that albondiga was an Arabic word that became part of the Spanish language as many words that start with al- are. Many Arabic words entered the Spanish language when the Iberian penisula (modern day Spain) was conquered by Muslim Moors from North Africa in the 8th century.

This is a little off topic but since we are discussing Arabic based Spanish words, I thought I would share my favorite one with you: ojal√° which means "hopefully" or more literally "May God (Allah in the original meaning) will it."

What's your favorite word in a foreign language, Spanish or otherwise?

Gifts Galore Part 3: Homemade with Love

Considering it's mid-January, I think it's time we wrap up this holiday gift series, don't you?  I thought about leaving this post out all together but the gifts are so unique and heartfelt I just had to share them, even if it's just a record for years to come so I can look back and remember what I got for Christmas in 2010.

First, I received some very special homemade gifts from my Grandma D (whose famous Christmas cookies I shared with you here).  She knitted J and me beautiful scarves to keep us warm this winter along with some house goods that will add a great deal of cheer to our kitchen.  She cross-stitched pictures and the names of fruit on large white kitchen towels, perfect for decorating our oven door or using to help get fresh bread dough to rise.   Here is a little collection of the towels--aren't they bright, fun and just a little bit retro.  I love them and love them even more because I know my grandma made them especially for me!

She also sent us several crocheted wash clothes which we have been using almost daily.  These are great because the holes from crocheting allow the cloths to dry quickly which avoids any mold or musty smells from taking hold.  My favorite is the bright yellow one!

Next, J and I received a very unique and special gift that we will definitely use come football season next year!  It is no secret that J and I root for different football teams: he, being a good Nebraska boy, the Huskers and I, Notre Dame's Fighting Irish.  Therefore, his mom had a bowling ball made for display in our home to let everyone know where our loyalties lie.  

I envision us switching which side faces the front next year based on which game we are watching.  

With Nebraska joining the Big Ten, it might not be that many years before Notre Dame and the Huskers have a rematch game!  That will be a challenging day for our marriage.

The final homemade gift we received was from my brother Dan and was also football related.  This requires a bit of back story however.  My grandparents (the ones who sent us the homemade gifts featured above) are very avid Minnesota Vikings fans and have some of the best tailgate parties during the games.  A vital part of the games, however, was the foam brick, painted in its purple and gold, which was always perched on a TV tray, ready for action.  This was used during games to throw at the TV when the referee or coach made a bad call.  It was and is a great way to get out frustration during the game without doing actual harm to yourself, the TV or those around you!  Dan made a brick for each of us, again with our team colors on them.  I am hoping I won't have to use my brick too much during next year's season, but I will be ready just in case!

So there you have it, part three of our holiday gift series.  Did you get or give anything handmade for Christmas this year?  I'm always looking for homemade gifts (in fact giving all homemade gifts for Christmas one year is number 74 on my 130 list) so let's hear it!