Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Menu Tuesday

Menu Tuesday doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Menu Monday does but seeing as it was a holiday weekend and we took a much needed break via our visit to Omaha this weekend, I thought I'd share with you what is on our menu this week.

After a weekend full of visiting family and friends (and lots of food and drinks), we are in need of some fresh, minimally processed foods and lots of vegetables!

Me water skiing this weekend--first time out this season!

Tonight, Lentil-Walnut Burgers with Cilantro-Cucumber Sauce with a Tomato, Onion and Cucumber Salad-this time we are serving the burgers in pita pockets!

Wednesday, Grandpa's Gazpacho

Thursday, Mint Marinated Grilled Shrimp Tabbouleh Salad--pictures and recipe forthcoming!

What's on your menu this week?

P.S. Have you heard about the new food pyramid plate that will be released Thursday?  Over half of the plate will be covered with fruits and vegetables, a not so subtle reminder that we all need to eat more of them.  What do you think of the new food plate?  Do you usually fill your plate full of fruits and veggies? We usually do but there is always room for improvement :)  Happy Tuesday everyone!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Graduation Ceremony

After celebrating late into the night on Thursday night, we woke up early to head to J's graduation.  My mom, dad and grandparents picked me up around 6:20 to head to campus, find parking and secure a spot for graduation itself.  Because my grandpa is in a wheelchair, we were able to park at the law school and take a golf cart over to the main ceremony which was on the other side of campus.

We got fairly good seats and we were even able to reserve some for J's mom Brenda, Jimmy and Jenny.  The main commencement ceremony was held in a large grassy quad just outside Brookings Hall, the oldest and possibly most iconic part of Washington University's campus.  New this year, the university lined the quad with flags from all of the students' home countries.  This provided some great entertainment as we all tried to associate the flags with their countries.

Image by Melissa Marte-Nordsieck
The best part was that our seats were very close to where J and the rest of the class were lining up to process into the ceremony.  J carried one of the three banners for the law school class and represented his class during the commencement ceremony by coming on stage and receiving his hood from the faculty rather than his classmates.  This made him easy to spot in the crowd and I got some great pictures.   When I walked over to where they were lining up, I called J's name and snapped a quick photo.  I felt full of pride and love when I saw J turn to his friend, smile and say "That's my wife."  Yes I am and there is no other title I would rather have!

The school banners via Melissa Marte-Nordsieck
Commencement speaker Elie Wiesel via Melissa Marte-Nordsieck
J on stage representing the law school class
Following the main commencement (which at 2.5 hours from start to finish ran a bit long for my taste), the law school had a separate ceremony where each graduate got to walk across the stage and receive their diploma.  Because J was a marshal in the commencement activities, we had reserved seats near the front.  However with all of the people trying to leave the quad at the same time, we barely arrived in time to watch them process in (my dad and grandpa actually missed the beginning because of the large crowds)!  The law school ceremony was much shorter and more exciting as we watched J and our friends graduate and receive their diplomas.

J after receiving his diploma
Stopping for my dad to take a picture
J and I posing with his diploma--written entirely in Latin!
The law school then arranged for a reception for all graduates in the law school building with three floors of food available (the food was the same for each floor) and lots of available classrooms for the graduates to celebrate with their family and friends.  This was a great way to talk to everyone before they went their separate ways with their families for the day!

The law school crew via Melissa Marte-Nordsieck
After leaving the law school, everyone headed back to their hotel rooms for a nap and J, my dad and I headed home.  J and my dad don't really take naps so they volunteered to go to Cosco to buy steaks, potatoes, salad, bread, wine and beer for dinner that night.  They returned with a grill for us as a graduation/belated house warming gift and we could not be more excited to grill out all summer long.  We capped off the night with some great New York strip steaks and lots of love and laughter!

During the ceremony, we tried to brainstorm some ideas of things we needed to bring for future graduations.  I thought I would share them here so you can benefit from the lessons we've learned over the years--this is our third graduation in four years and we have two more on the horizon!

Here they are:
  • Wear a fabulous hat--hats shouldn't just be reserved for royal weddings and the Kentucky Derby!
  • Bring an umbrella, just in case
  • Bring sunscreen
  • Bring bottles of water
  • Make sure you eat breakfast or bring a portable one
  • Bring magazines or crossword puzzle to work on
  • Seat cushions are a must.  You will be sitting for long periods of time in uncomfortable chairs--your backside will thank you :)
  • Wear wedges or flats--getting stilettos stuck in grass over and over is no fun!
  • Bring your camera and make sure your batteries are fully charged!
What would make your "must bring" list for graduation?  Like us, do you have some graduations in your future?  Let's hear it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Graduation Open House: Recap

I can't believe J's graduation weekend is already behind us!  It was such a fun and busy weekend full of family and friends and one that we won't soon forget.  Before we get into the details of Friday's graduation and the rest of our weekend events, I have photos and details from our graduation open house on Thursday.

My mom arrived at 1 pm on Wednesday and after a delicious sushi lunch here, we went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for the dinner the next day.  Soon J's mom Brenda and her friend Jenny arrived, as did J's dad, step mom and sister Cheyenne.  We spent a few hours catching up and enjoying some cocktails before Brenda, Jenny, my mom, J and I walked to Dewey's for a late dinner.  Their specialty pizza that night was Taco pizza complete with hot sauce, shredded lettuce and crushed tortilla chips--needless to say, it was delicious!  We also used our sleeper sofa for the first time as all three girls (Brenda, Jenny, my mom) spent the night. 

The next morning J had a graduation training so we got up early and headed to Trader Joe's to pick up a few more things for the party in the form of chips, salsa, mini pitas, hummus, assorted veggies, and some pretty sunflowers for the table.  When we got home we put away the food and began prepping for the party that night.  Our schedule for the rest of the day would be hectic (lunch with everyone at Snarf's, pedicures, another graduation training for J, Academic Excellence reception) so we tried to get as much done as possible ahead of time.  This included cutting up/washing all veggies, cutting the rolls in half (for the BBQ sandwiches), cutting our lemon twists for the mixed drinks, and getting out all of our serving ware for the evening.

Showing off our pedicures--my foot is the one in the silver sandal
We also washed any dishes that were dusty or new and using post-its, labeled each of them with what dish we would be using them for.  This is a tip I learned from my mom and she learned from my aunties Les and Rita who are great party planners and it really makes a dinner party run smoothly!  No running around trying to find serving platters while your food burns or gets cold and it is very useful if you have guests who volunteer to help get food on the table!  Unfortunately, my camera battery died during this preparation so I don't have any pictures of this part of the planning process.  Bad blogger bad.  All this preparation was definitely necessary because while the open house was originally scheduled for 7:00 pm, most if not all of our guests arrived around 5:30 after the Academic Excellence reception ended early!

J and I at the Academic Excellence reception
To keep things simple, I bought mostly prepared ingredients (frozen toasted ravioli, Trader Joe's pizza dough and Gooey Butter Cake to name a few) and we let the crock pot help us cook the pork roast all day long so it was fall off the bone tender.  A few of the items listed in this post did not end up making our final menu like frozen custard and penne with vodka sauce because we had plenty of food without them and with only one oven trying to cook toasted ravioli, pizza and penne would have been too difficult.

The spread--minus pizza and BBQ sandwiches which were still cooking at the time this photo was taken!
I did make little cards describing the dishes we served with a little fun fact or explanation of why we chose the dish.  I created the cards on Microsoft Word and used J's school colors for the borders.  These added a bit of whimsy to the table and we all learned something that night, almost without even realizing it! 

Here are some photos of a few of them:

Because this is a lengthy post with little party planning tips buried beneath lots of text, I thought I would summarize them for you using bullet points.  Plus, what would one of my recap posts be without bullet points?

  • Wash all serving ware and lay them out wherever you will be serving the food--buffet, table, kitchen counters
  • Label each piece of serving ware with post-its with the names of what will be served in each of them for easy set-up
  • Prep vegetables and anything else that can be done in advance early in the day so you are not scrambling the hour or so before your guests arrive
  • Be flexible--if all of the elements you have planned for your meal don't work out (for example there was no way we could bake all of the menu items at once with our small oven) don't be afraid to scratch one of them
  • Don't be afraid of pre-made ingredients--they will save you time, in some cases money, and your sanity so that you are able to relax and enjoy your party!
  • Say yes to help--if your mom or best friend wants to bring a dish or offers to help you with the dishes before they leave, let them!
  • Buy fresh flowers, either cut or potted--fresh flowers can make a big impact for very little money (our sunflowers were only 3.99 at Trader Joe's).  If you use potted flowers, you can send them home with the guest of honor!
  • Light candles, especially one or two in the bathroom, for ambiance

    Do you agree with my list?  Any tips you would add?  What's your party planning secret?!  Spill it!

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Graduation Open House: Menu and Updated To Do List

    Image via weheartit
    As I mentioned in this post, we are having our family and friends over to celebrate J's graduation from law school this Thursday night.  With family beginning to arrive tomorrow afternoon, we are in full planning mode.  For example, I spent part of my lunch break today scrubbing out our microwave and refrigerator and left our stove plates soaking in the sink to also be scrubbed down later this afternoon, thereby allowing me to cross off a few more things off my to do list before guests arrive and before we go out to dinner to celebrate this lovely's birthday.

    Clean out kitchen pantry
    Clean out and wipe down the refrigerator
    Clean microwave inside and out
    Clean stove
    Clean and pare down closets--two in the hallway and one in the office/guest room
    Reupholster our dining room chairs with fabric I've had since January!
    Reorganize bookshelves and dining room hutch
    Clean all surfaces including baseboards: spot cleaning of apartment needed week of graduation
    Wash slipcover on couch
    Replace slipcover on couch
    Clean out car
    Plan menu
    Set up bar
    Shop for menu and bar--my dear friend Ashlee has said she will help with this!

    As you can see, I've also decided on a menu and a theme for said menu, one I'd like to share with you here.  The theme is a taste of St. Louis, featuring foods (and drinks) that either originated here or that St. Louis made famous.  Here is what we will be serving:

    Toasted Ravioli
    St. Louis Style BBQ Pork Sandwiches
    Penne with Vodka Sauce, inspired by St. Louis' Italian neighborhood, The Hill
    St. Louis Style Pizza--we will be leaving off provel cheese because I find it unappetizing!  For those of you who have been lucky enough never to try the stuff, it is a processed cheese made out of a combination of Swiss, Velveeta and provolone cheeses.
    Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis classic
    Frozen Custard from Whistle Stop in Ferguson, not solely a St. Louis frozen treat but it is popular here!
    Anheuser Busch beverages, a St. Louis staple

    I might not get everything (like upholstering the chairs and reorganizing our shelves) before my mom arrives tomorrow but considering everything we've had going on, I think we did pretty good!  And who knows, maybe my mom will want to tackle a reupholstering project with me tomorrow afternoon :)

    What hometown favorite would you serve at a party like this?  If it were my hometown's menu, I'd make sure there was some In-n-Out and California rolls on it!

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Books, Comments and the BBC

    I hope you all had a great weekend!  Ours was cold and rainy but fun.  I came across a Barnes and Noble gift card I didn't know I had (love it when that happens!) and bought a few new books thanks to a buy two, get one free sale and spent part of the weekend getting lost in Tudor England. 

    This cat reminds me of my childhood pet Cricket!  Image via weheartit

    When I wasn't reading or cooking up a storm, I was spending time with Ashlee, JY, Danielle and Kyle and celebrating Ashlee's graduation from her Master's program.  Let's just say all that regalia made me want to go to graduate school.  Badly.

    Switching gears, I've recently changed the way I respond to comments on the blog and wanted to share my thoughts on the subject.  I love comments (who doesn't?!) and have been trying to figure out the best way to respond to them and communicate with you all.  I thought about using Disqus (these lovelies use it and they seem to work really well) and other options before deciding to reply to individual comments via email.  Many blogs I comment on reply to my comments this way and I love it when a response pops up in my inbox!  Will receiving fun, non-spam, non-work related emails ever get old?

    For this to work, however, an email address must be associated with your Blogger account or else when I hit reply, the only email address listed is noreply@blogger.com which means my message isn't going anywhere which is sad!  Kristin at A Guide to Living Graciously has a great tutorial complete with screenshots on how to associate an email address with your account and it is something that only took me a few minutes to change!

    It also has occurred to me that we completely skipped over April's BBC book!  April was a very busy month for me and while I did read the book, I never got around to hosting the discussion.  A few of you have been asking about this month's book but before we go any further, I thought I'd gauge interest in the BBC as a whole.   If you belong to the BBC, do you want to continue to join us for discussions?  Would having longer to read the books be helpful?  What type of books do you prefer: ones you can easily find at the library and check out for free or the latest best sellers? 

    If you do not belong to the BBC, would you ever consider joining us?  What has held you back before now?  Is there something I can do to make being a part of the group easier?

    I can't wait to hear what you all have to say and respond to your comments :)

    P.S.  We received our wedding album this weekend and a complete reveal post with photos will be posted soon--I can't wait to share them with you!

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Friday's Fancies: Drinks with Friends

    It's been a while (too long really!) since I've linked up with {av} for Friday's Fancies and as seeing as we have some exciting Friday night plans ahead of us, I thought I'd fix that, pronto!

    Ashlee is finally back in the Lou for a week after a much-too-long absence and to celebrate, we are going to grab drinks at our usual Ferguson haunt (at least when we are with Ashlee and JY) Ferguson Brewery Company.  With them will be Ashlee's good friend Danielle and her fiance Kyle (in town to celebrate Ashlee's graduation from her Master's program--woop woop!) as well as friends Nick and Brian.  If money were no object, this is what I'd be wearing tonight while we laugh and talk the night away!

    Drinks with Friends

    Drinks with Friends by ktrefinishingschool featuring michael kors handbags
    Haider Ackermann blouse
    815 EUR - thecorner.com
    Leaf jewelry
    $28 - topshop.com
    Dorothy Perkins green jewelry
    10 GBP - dorothyperkins.com

    When I designed this set, I began as I often do, with the blouse.  I was immediately attracted to the bright jade color and its wrap shape.  Soon after I selected some leather leggings to help the jade really pop!  Then I found some Dries Van Noen shoes that while floral print, reminded me of a large snake skin print which I thought would go great with the leather pants and snakeskin handbag by Michael Kors that I had picked out.  Finally I rounded the whole outfit out with some feathery earrings and a chunky and colorful cocktail ring.

    What do you think?  Did I mix too many different animal species in the creation of my outfit?  

    What are your plans tonight?!  Whatever they are, I hope you have a wonderful night and a fabulous weekend!

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Recipe: Garlic and Greens Pasta

    Last night we made what may become a new favorite in our house, garlic and greens pasta.  Another winner from our new favorite cookbook Great Easy Meals from the Food Network Magazine, we modified this recipe slightly to use up some more of the Napa cabbage from this weekend but any leafy green will do! 

    16 garlic cloves, thinly sliced--about 1 large head of garlic
    1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    2 medium onions, halved and sliced
    1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    Kosher salt
    12 cups torn winter greens such as kale, chard, escarole or mustard greens about 2 1/2 pounds--we used Napa cabbage from our Farmer's Market trip this weekend!
    1 lb. whole wheat pasta
    1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

    Kitchen supplies:
    Large stockpot
    Large skillet
    Slotted spoon
    Paper towel or part of a brown paper bag

    Garlic peels
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Meanwhile, cook the garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes.  Be careful not to overbrown the garlic or it will taste bitter.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic chips to a paper towel (or brown paper bag) lined plate.  Add the onions and red pepper flakes to the oil in the pan; cook, stirring, until the onions are light brown, about 10 minutes.  Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.

    Garlic chips
    When the onions are almost done, add the greens to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, until just tender about 2 minutes.  Using tongs, remove the greens, shaking off the excess water; add them to the skillet with the onions (set the pot of water aside).  Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.  If you are using napa cabbage or a slightly less dark green, you can skip this blanching step.  We did and 5 minutes in the skillet with the onions was enough to wilt the greens.

    Return the cooking water to a boil.  Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove and reserve about 1 cup cooking water; drain the pasta and return to stockpot.  Add the cheese and toss.  Add the greens and some of the reserved pasta water and toss, adding more water as necessary to keep the pasta from clumping.  Top with garlic chips.

    Serves: 4

    This is a simple yet delicious recipe and one where you won't miss meat at all!  The original recipe called for regular pasta but we substituted whole wheat so that we could eat more of it guilt-free.   I have leftovers with the chips stored separately to prevent them from getting soggy waiting in my fridge for lunch today for WIAW with Jenn at Peas and Crayons and I'd be willing to bet that the leftovers will be just as good as dinner last night!

    What are you eating this Wednesday?  Are you a garlic fan like me or do you tend to stay away from its pungent flavor?

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Family Treasures

    Back in this post I promised I would share some pictures of the vintage salt and pepper shakers I received from grandma a little awhile ago.  Well, I'm finally getting around to showing you all of them.  They all date from the 1930s and 1940s and were part of a collection my Grandma (Dad's mom) started when she was a little girl.  The collection was recently split between two of my cousins, my aunt and myself and I am so excited to have some of these pieces in our home!  Here's an overview of them all. 

     As you can see we have most of the major seasons and holidays represented.  I can't wait to use them throughout the year!

    We will definitely use these to salt and pepper our corn (and other foods) this summer!

    When the leaves start changing colors, so will our salt and pepper shakers.  As you can see, these were my grandma's souvenirs from a trip to Georgia.

    Turkey Day will be extra special this year--the platter is pepper and the turkey is salt!

    Our Christmas table will feature Mr. and Mrs. Claus, naturally.

    Spring time will mean letting these little duckies out to play!

    These little squirrels might stay out year round as part of a vignette somewhere in our house--aren't they so cute?!

    While I was taking these photos, I realized I have never shared photos of the tea set my other grandma gave me (my mom's mom) when J and I got engaged either.  The set was given to my grandma on the occasion of her engagement to my grandpa by my grandpa's mother who the family called Nana.  I rarely use the service mostly because it is so precious but I look at it often since it has a place of prominence in our dining room hutch. 

    What is pictured here is just part of the set.  I also have a tea pot, creamer, sugar bowl and tea sandwich platter that match.

    I love that both sides of my family are now represented with meaningful keepsake items.  These are definitely treasures that will stay in the family for generations to come!

    Do you have any family heirlooms at home?  What is your most prized possession?  After my engagement and wedding rings, these items would rank pretty high up there! 

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    A Little of This, A Little of That

    I have several ideas for blog posts floating around in my head and none of them are really long enough or fully developed enough to stand alone, so I thought I would combine them into one post today.  I apologize in advance if this post is a little all over the place--hopefully you will be able to follow me!

    First, a little weekend recap:

    • Celebrated J finishing law school with his law school friends over lunch at Mi Ranchito
    • Continued celebrating after I got off work first at Mi Ranchito (they were still there!) and then at a friend's house and finally at a bar in Soulard that had a tab for 2Ls and 3Ls (second year and third year law students) courtesy of the Student Bar Association
    • Topped off the night with some late night breakfast at Uncle Bill's Pancake House
    • Got woken up early by this character, never mind we got home at 2:00 am on Saturday mornings
    • Since we were up, we watched some TV we had tivo'ed from Friday night before heading to the Farmer's Market in Ferguson
    • While we were there, we bought three heads of Napa Cabbage and a dozen farm fresh, free range brown eggs--all for $6.00!
    • Since it was still early (darn cat) we decided to check out the Tower Grove Farmer's Market as well.  There we bought a bunch of gorgeous red radishes for salads this week and checked out their other wares.
    • We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around watching TV and napping before watching The Kentucky Derby
    • My pick didn't win but I think Animal Kingdom has great promise as a potential Triple Crown winner!
    • We made lemon-green garlic spaghetti for dinner with some of the green garlic we got last week at the Farmer's Market
    • Again got woken up early by Woods (are you sensing a theme here?) 
    • Made bacon and eggs (fresh from the Farmer's Market) for breakfast before power cleaning the apartment
    • Wiped down all counters, cabinets and baseboards and swept and Swiffer-ed the floors which I can now cross off my to do list!
    • Scrubbed the shower in the bathroom--another to do list item complete!
    • Rewarded ourselves for cleaning the apartment by going out to lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Grand
    • Started watching a new-to-us show, Weeds, on Netflix Instant.  Eight episodes later and we are hooked which is good considering we are almost caught up with Mad Men and need a new show to watch!
    • Made turkey burgers (topped with avocado and whole cranberry sauce) and an oil and vinegar slaw using some of our radishes and Napa cabbage for dinner
    • Talked to my mom and learned she got a brand new Smart car convertible for Mother's Day!
    • Watched the Detroit Red Wings game with some friends before playing a round of Scattergories
    My mom (and brother Alec) with her new Smart car!
    Next, a little note to my mom.  I've read so many beautiful and touching letters to moms this weekend and while I talked to her yesterday, I thought I would write a more in-depth note to her here as well (since I am better at expressing myself on paper err computer and I know she reads the blog)!

    Mom, there are hardly words to describe how thankful and blessed I am to have you in my life.  I could write volumes and volumes but for now, here are a few things I am especially thankful for today:
    1. For giving up your career to be at home every day with us.
    2. For making me a big sister.  One of my most cherished roles in life is that of a sister.  Thank you for making this possible!
    3. For always making family a priority, even family who lived far away.  I have wonderful relationships with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins because of your dedication to putting family first.
    4. For Sunday night dinners and late night conversations.
    5. For rides in the car, sometimes with a purpose and sometimes without one, where I could always share my thoughts, dreams, successes and failures with you.
    6. For making me go to Church each Sunday even when I didn't want to.
    7. For driving me to the barn multiple times a week for my riding lessons even if it meant you were in the car most of the day between all of us kids' activities.
    8. For taking such good care of Pal for me when I was in college and for being there when he died and I couldn't.
    9. For giving me the freedom to move back to the Midwest to be with J and for driving my car across country with me--twice!
    10. For being such an integral part of the wedding planning process and for your enthusiasm when I would call daily to update you on wedding planning!
    11. For giving me my dream wedding and for all the work you did to make it run smoothly.  It was the best day of my life and I couldn't have done it without you.
    12. For giving me your looks and height--I didn't always like being 5'2" growing up but I love that we look so much alike!
    13. For walks with the dogs, sushi lunches, reading books by the pool, getting our nails done together and all the things that make our relationship special.
    My mom and me at our wedding last June
    I only hope one day I can be half the mom you have been to me!

    Our song, The Best Day by Taylor Swift

    I'm five years old and it's getting cold
    I've got my big coat on.
    I hear your laugh and look up smiling at you
    I run and run.
    Past the pumpkin patch and the tractor rides
    Look now the sky is gold.
    I hug your legs and fall asleep on the way home.

    I don't know why all the trees change in the fall
    I know you're not scared of anything at all.
    Don't know if Snow White's house is near or far away
    But I know I had the best day with you today.

    I'm thirteen now and don't know how my friends could be so mean
    I come home crying and you hold me tight and grab the keys.
    And we drive and drive until we found a town far enough away.
    And we talk and window shop till I forgot all their names.

    I don't know who I'm gonna talk to now at school
    But I know I'm laughing on the car ride home with you.
    Don't know how long it's gonna take to feel okay
    But I know I had the best day with you today.

    I have an excellent father
    His strength is making me stronger.
    God smiles on my little brother.
    Inside and out he's better than I am.

    I grew up in a pretty house and I had space to run

    And I had the best days with you.

    There is a video I found from back when I was three
    You set up a paint set in the kitchen and you're talking to me.
    It's the age of princesses and pirate ships and the seven dwarfs.
    Daddy's smart and you're the prettiest lady in the whole wide world.

    Now I know why all the trees change in the fall
    I know you were on my side even when I was wrong.
    And I love you for giving me your eyes.
    Staying back and watching me shine and I didn't know if you knew.
    So I'm taking this chance to say that I had the best day with you today.

    Finally, some Menu Monday goodness!  All of this week's recipes have been taken from our new Food Network cookbook.  Here's what is on our menu this week:

    Monday: Vegetable Stir-fry with Bacon
    Tuesday: Garlic and Greens Spaghetti--photos and recipe to follow!
    Wednesday: Chicken with Apple, Onion and Cider Sauce
    Thursday: Udon Noodles with Tofu and Asian Greens--photos and recipe to follow!

    How was your weekend, friends? Did you watch the Kentucky Derby? Have you discovered any new shows we should be watching? What's on your menu this week?  Tell me everything--I'm dying to know what you've been up to!

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Last Final Ever

    Today marks J's last final ever.  After 20 years of formal education, he is finally finished!  All that stands between him and his diploma is graduation itself which is two weeks from today.

    We are celebrating today by getting Mexican food (and drinks for the grads--I have to go back to work) in a little bit.

    Congratulations J!  You have worked very hard to get to where you are today, including the many hours you spent away from me and our family--hours when I know you would have much rather been with us--to get to where you are today.  You should be very proud of yourself and your accomplishment--I know I am.  I love you and can't wait for this next chapter in our lives to start!

    Have a great weekend everyone!

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Organize: The Kitchen Pantry

    Over a year ago, our kitchen pantry looked like this.

    At the time I bought a variety of baskets from the Dollar store without much consideration of how they would fit and what function they would serve inside our pantry.  Most of them never worked quite right and because of this, it didn't take long before our pantry was a disaster area again.  I could never find ingredients I could have sworn we had and every time we open it, I prayed something wouldn't fall on my head.  Nice, right?  This weekend I decided to do something about it.

    That's really how our pantry looks.  I'm a little embarrassed to show this on the blog!
    I began by taking absolutely everything out of the pantry, tossing expired products into the trash can as I went.  We had more expired items in there than I realized, enough to fill one recycling bin and two trash cans!  Then I began assessing what items we had left.  Most of them were dry goods such as cake flour, lentils, pinto beans, and so forth.  That's when inspiration struck me.  I remembered seeing Jenn use labeled mason jars in one of her posts on her blog a home in the making and decided that was the route for me too! 

    I had a few small mason jars on hand because my grandma often uses them to send me home with food when we come to visit so I decided to experiment with some of my smaller items first.  I poured the green split peas and whole grain wild rice into the two jars (I had a little under half of a small bag of each) and labeled them with some labels I had lying around the house leftover from our wedding.  For the whole grain rice, I also wrote down the preparation instructions since I was throwing the bag that had the original instructions away.  Inspired and excited by how it looked, I quickly counted up how many additional jars I would need and hopped in the car.  $11.00 dollars and a trip to the grocery store later, I had 16 large mouth Mason jars ready and waiting to be filled and labeled. 

    Then I remembered seeing large rectangular plastic jars on clearance at Target earlier that week.  I often troll the clearance sections of Target just to see what's available.  At the time I had thought, these would be perfect for pastas like spaghetti and cereals.  At 4.99 a jar (down from 9.99) they were a good deal but at the time I wasn't sure I needed them.  After cleaning out the pantry, I realized I could in fact use them.  After the grocery store, I made a beeline for Target and hoped that the jars were still there.  Lucky for me, they were!  I grabbed three of the taller ones and one smaller one and headed back to the house to put everything back together.

    Once I had filled and labeled everything (I also put expiration dates on the labels where applicable so we wouldn't be consuming spoiled or stale food) I surveyed the land before putting things back in its place.  Three things I knew I wanted to accomplish were finding a better place for our kitchen drying towels since many of them ended up on the floor or stuffed behind things never to be found again, getting our KitchenAid stand mixer off of the counter and making our staple ingredients (rices, beans and other dry goods as well as our oils and vinegars) more visible.  Our poor stand mixer had taken quite the beating as I was constantly wiping flour and other sticky substances off of it since it was directly in front of one of our main food prep areas.  I also discovered in the process of cleaning everything out that we had two honey bears of honey and three rice wine vinegars (one was expired and was immediately thrown out).  This can be attributed to the fact that I could never find anything and when I thought we were out of something, really I just couldn't find it in the mess of our pantry.

    To accomplish this, I decided to move some of our lesser used kitchen items like J's coffee roaster and coffee supplies, our blender and our fondue pot off of our microwave cart and put them in the pantry.  This freed up space for the stand mixer as well as all of the mason jars that were filled with non-baking related items and the cereal/pasta bins and still left room for bread.  Bonus!

    Woods inspects my progress
    Next I grabbed one of the green plastic bins from before (one of three that made it back into the cupboard) and placed all of our kitchen towels (the ones that were clean anyway) in them and placed them in the bottom of the pantry.  I also placed our lunch boxes and another green plastic bin down there and filled it with the leftover dry goods that wouldn't fit in the jars.  Eventually as we use up what is in the jars, I can refill with these bags and get rid of them too.

    The burlap bag corrals some paper bags for art projects, groceries, etc.
    Then I started to work my way up the shelves.  The next shelf now stores J's coffee roaster and other coffee paraphernalia as well as our rice cooker and some of our cookbooks.  I stacked the cookbooks this way for some visual interest and to make it easier to find the one I'm looking for.  Who says a kitchen pantry can't be pretty as well as functional!

    The next shelf holds all of our oils and vinegars which I tried to group together matching like with like (all the oils together, all the vinegars together, and so forth).  It also houses the base to our blender and the six Mason jars that are related to baking (cake flour, whole wheat flour, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, etc.).

    As you can see, the shelf after that holds the rest of the cookbooks and some other pantry items.

    The yellow bin holds some more baking related materials such as vanilla extract, baking soda, baking powder and food coloring.

    The final shelf holds some bigger pantry items as well as our fondue pot.

    Here's a look at the whole pantry.

    Much better right? 

    After a few days I still love the new organization and have (surprise, surprise) been working harder to put things back in their place after I use them!  Seeing everything clean and organized has definitely made me want to reorganize other areas of our house which is good because I have quite the list to get through in the next two weeks!

    Have you done any major cleaning or reorganizing lately?  Got any tips or before and afters to share?  I'd love to hear about it!