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Pizza, pizza, pizza

9 Jan

Way back in November (doesn’t it seem like so long ago!?!) we met our friends’ new baby boy (who is super perfect, by the way.) Not knowing what they needed (he’s their second baby) and taking a cue from Charise (though her choice may have been healthier), I decided (once again) you can’t go wrong with food.

We were going over to their house around lunchtime so I offered to bring something for all of us to eat. I wanted something easy to prep ahead and  just pop in the oven once we got there. Pete and I love making homemade pizzas (though I haven’t ever made my own dough – I should try soon) so I decided to make three pizzas with different toppings on each one. Here are the before images which we just covered in foil to carry over.

Tomato sauce, italian seasoning, sausage, green pepper, and onion

Left: Olive oil, shallots, ham, swiss, and thyme

Right: Olive oil, tomato, mozzarella, salt, pepper, and fresh basil (after cooking)

Yum. Just looking at them is making me think pizza will be on the menu for next week.

Since it wouldn’t be nice to bring food over just to eat it, we also brought over stuffed shells for them to eat or freeze. I didn’t take any photos though and I just follow the recipe on the back of the box of shells. But there’s a specific brand I like (which I only know by sight) and when Pete went to the store they didn’t have it. The directions on the box he got were different than usual so I tried to improvise adding and subtracting where I thought necessary. It ultimately turned out OK but not without some bad doubling the recipe math on my end. And we have a lot of mascarpone in our fridge right that I need to find a use for.

Maybe it will go on next week’s pizza…

Oh, Christmas tree

23 Dec

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas weekend!


What’s Cookin’?

23 Nov

Although we aren’t hosting this holiday, there has been lots of cooking and baking going on here lately. I’ve finally gotten back into the swing of planning our meals (see my menu planner and grocery list template here), which is a good thing. We almost always cook at home but, as I’ve gotten pickier about what we’re eating – less meat, less dairy, more veggies, more non-meat protein – I prefer to be the one who does the planning (no offense, Pete.)

I actually don’t normally do a lot of baking (there are only two of us so baking 24 cupcakes just isn’t a good idea) but as I’ve tried to cut back on red wine (also known as my favorite beverage), it seems my body craves more sugar. Or maybe just comfort. Regardless, why can’t I crave something better for me, like tea? But I digress.

So, here are a few favorites and a few new finds:

Chicken and Vegetable Pot Pie – This one is an old favorite. I guess pie crust isn’t ever necessarily good for you, but at least I can feel good about the rest of it. I made it as written except with almond milk (see above about the dairy), extra peas, and garlic. Yum.


As a public service announcement, this is what happens when you leave an oven mitt on hot burner. Luckily, the house did not burn down and the oven came clean. But oops.


We made tacos last weekend but the store was out of my favorite taco seasoning (aka the only one I’ll use.) Pete bought another one but I figured this was a good time to try a homemade mix. It was amazing. Before declaring I was never going back to store-bought, I decided to check the back of the label we had. I figured maybe the ingredients were essentially the same. I mean, what preservatives could you possibly need in seasoning? Yeah. There was a lot of stuff I couldn’t pronounce on there. Officially never going back to store-bought.

Minestone soup. On the stove, not the crock pot. My proportions were somehow all wrong and I had to add a second batch of broth (and it was still not very soup-y.) But it was really good regardless.

We’re in charge of bring an appetizer to my Aunt’s tomorrow (this part’s for you Krishann!) Whenever we bring something to a party I try not to need to use the stove or oven, figuring the host will already have enough going on. I was also in the mood to try something new that wasn’t based in cheese. After a bit of searching, I decided on Curried Crab on Crackers. I think it’s going to be good.

Of course, I wasn’t sure it was going to be good, and didn’t want to bring something no one would like. Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to make one of my favorites. Cream cheese (I know, I know…I just said I didn’t want cheese, but I love this. So I figured better to make it and share.) covered with cranberry sauce. Literally. That’s all you do. Super easy. I smashed the cream cheese onto the serving tray instead of leaving it in a big brick but just so the sauce had more to cover. Sometimes I just leave it. Serve with crackers. Also great on bagels. 

And, as for the baking, this blueberry cake is to die for. I used frozen blueberries and I’m so glad I have a giant bag left in the freezer and *have* to make more cake. Charise’s S’mores cookies are also amazing. Unlike a lot of cookies, they are definitely better when they get a little mushier on day 2+. I also have all the ingredients to make cookie dough brownies, but figured I should hold off until after Thanksgiving. And I just saw this recipe for a homemade cookie skillet. OMG. I’m going to need to start exercising.

And there’s more planned where all that came from. Perhaps I’ll have to start posting about food more often if all I’m doing is eating. :)

The Year of the Sparkling Buddha

24 Oct

Before each birthday, my friend Lauren likes to declare a theme for the next year. Every couple of years or so, I’m inspired to come up with one of my own. So, a few weeks ago we had an e-mail conversation that went something like this:

J: Hmm. I think I’m going to declare next year The Year of Sparkle.

L: Ooooh. Sparkle and Fun at 31!!!

J: Ummm. I’m only turning 30. And I never said anything about fun. I just want it to be sparkly.

L: Oh yeah. But the only thing that rhymes with 30 is flirty. And boooo. Why not fun?

J: I’m not saying it won’t be fun. But that isn’t the focus. I need to figure a few things out, so it’s more like an internal kind of sparkly.

L: Ooooh. So you’ll be sort of like a Sparkling Buddha.

J: Yes! Exactly!

L: OK. The Year of the Sparkling Buddha.

And then she sent me this image -

{appears to originally be from here}

It still makes me laugh every time I see it. If that guy was for sale I’d probably buy it. Alternatively (and slightly off-topic), I’m seriously considering buying a giant disco ball to randomly display in our home. If I came across one of those I would definitely buy it. But I haven’t started to seek one out just yet. And, in the meantime, I’ll work on being sparkly the way I intended. And try to finish all of my to-do’s from last year…






30 Before 30: A few more completed

16 Oct

All right. I’m running out of time before my birthday to complete any more items on my 30 Before 30 list! Here are a few more though that I can cross off:

Item 2: Start using Flickr to post AND get feedback on photos.

I might be cheating a bit on this one but technically I did start using Flickr. You can find me here. I tried joining a group with a weekly assignment based on a color thinking it would get me to post regularly. After a few weeks, however, I wasn’t feeling like I was getting the right kind of constructive feedback I’m looking for (and miss from my intro class.) So, I stopped.

But I have looked into local Meetup Groups and the Oak Park Photography Club as other options for getting the community/feedback that I’d like. I haven’t been able to make sessions for either just yet but now that I’m through a busy time at work, I’ll definitely be going to one soon. Therefore, A for effort, and I’m crossing this one off the list!

Item 8: Learn how to apply liquid eyeliner.

No pictures. Just confirmation. I did it. And my girlfriends even asked about it (I’m not really the girl who is generally up on makeup techniques…) and said it looked good. My cat eye is a little less dramatic than I’d ideally like. I feel like that look should work on me but since I’m so timid about applying a lot of makeup I can’t really do it right. Maybe eventually I’ll get that part figured out. (Amber, if you’re reading, I might be looking to you for some help on that one!)

Item 21: Organize all of my magazine cut-outs.

So, sometimes (/often) I hoard things. Magazine cut-outs are one of them (boxes, shopping bags, cards/stationary, and ribbons are a few others that come quickly to mind.) It’s a little absurd. But let’s remember that I’m a planner. So when I see things I like, even if they’re in no way applicable to my life right now, I might want to save them. That way, one day if, for example, I move into a house with wood trim throughout (instead of white) I’ll have an idea of what paint colors would look good in it. (In my defense, this isn’t an entirely unreasonable scenario since I love old bungalows.)

The good news is, now that Pinterest is here, I can save a lot of things virtually. The bad news is, I still had years (literally, years) worth of things already cut out or magazines waiting for me to go through. I finally organized them all into one pretty binder with clear plastic page holders and tab dividers. The end result looks like this:

The process looked more like this (and almost made me cry because I felt a little crazy sitting there with all the papers everywhere):

Oh. My. I’m glad that is done. Of course, now I have to keep up with it or just move the things online. But once I have a process I’m usually a little better at sticking to it. Let’s hope so at least!

Pete was actually so inspired by the progress that he also made a few binders for all the recipe cut-outs. Oh yeah. I save those all too…

30 Before 30: Make a ham

12 Oct

You may be getting tired of them so let me start by saying that this will be my last food-related post for a while, I promise! Also, just so you’re not disappointed later, there won’t be any pictures in this post either. Hams are not particularly appetizing to look at, in my opinion. Sorry, friends.

I have a lot of funny/random thoughts on this topic which are better suited for a bullet point list than paragraphs. Let’s see how it goes.

  • Pete and I were grocery shopping one day when I saw hams on sale. I decided to buy one to force myself to make it before my birthday. The smallest one we could find was close to 10 pounds.
  • 10 pounds is a lot of ham.
  • I was nervous to invite too many people over to eat it though since I didn’t want to screw it up.
  • I convinced 2 people to come with the promise that we would get pizza if it turned out terribly.
  • One of the other two people asked me why I wanted to make a ham and if I even liked it that much.
  • The answer to the first question is that one day (when I don’t live in a 2 bedroom condo – my family alone regularly has 25+ people for anything we do) I would like to host family gatherings. Ham seemed like an easier place to start than turkey.
  • The answer to the second question is no. Though, when I eat it, I’m reminded that salty meat is actually a very good thing.
  • Interestingly, following my last post, I wouldn’t even eat American ham until I went to Spain and was confronted with jamon serano. Cured meat which sits on the counter and is eaten over a very long period. Yuck. Since I refused to eat that (and mayo on my veggies and seafood when I could), the dad of my host family took to calling me a crazy American. I didn’t have any energy left to refuse American ham  too.
  • The  day I was set to make the ham (and have people over) Pete discovered one of the pipes to our kitchen sink was leaking. Awesome.
  • The good news is, this meant my Mom and Tony would also be coming over to fix it . And eat ham.
  • The bad news is, it is not easy to have people over when your kitchen sink is not working.
  • Back to the ham, I found out the night before that hams are generally purchased cooked and all you have to do is re-heat them. Amazing.
  • I found out the day I made the ham that it took much longer than the instructions said.
  • Luckily, our friends were rather patient and the ham was actually very good once it was ready.
  • Even with 6 people eating it and taking leftovers, we still had enough for split pea soup a couple of days later.
  • I apparently do not like split pea soup. I kept thinking the onions were little pieces of fat and freaked myself out. Gross.
  • We still have ham leftover in our freezer. The plan is to make a ham and cheddar casserole. I expect that will go better than the split pea soup.
  • The end!

30 Before 30: Paella and Sangria

10 Oct

My birthday is quickly approaching and, if you’ve been following along, that may make you a little worried about how I’m going to accomplish everything on my 30 Before 30 list. The good news is, I’ve actually done a few more things that I’m just behind on posting. The bad news is (spoiler!), I still won’t be getting everything checked off in time. But I’ll save that post for a later date and focus on getting you caught up on what is done!

Back in September, on September 11th to be exact, I made my first paella. I didn’t really think about the date when I made my meal plan for the week but I couldn’t help but be thinking of it that Sunday. Interestingly enough, on September 11th, 2001 I had just arrived in Spain for my semester abroad. Even if I had planned it, I couldn’t have come up with any better personal tribute for my memories of that day.

Although I normally stick to following recipes exactly as written, I couldn’t find a paella recipe that had everything I wanted. I didn’t know before looking for one that I was so picky about my paella but apparently I am! What I ultimately ended up was something close to this one but with the following substitutions:

  • more chorizo and chicken
  • no squid or mussels
  • canned tomatoes to avoid seeding (see my previous post!)
  • added just a little paprika, oregano, and red pepper flakes since they seemed to be in several other recipes
  • short grain rice instead of arborio

And do you see this pretty spice jar? I used a little more than they suggested since a) it’s so expensive and b) I have no idea what else to use it for. If you have any other recommendations, please let me know!

(Also, side note, I think Spain should consider making “Spain, Superior” their national slogan. That sums up my feelings pretty well. I need to get back there soon!)

Overall, it tasted great (even if not quite what I expected) and was easier to make than I thought it would be. The chorizo dominated the dish a little more than I would have liked though so next time I’ll probably leave it out. I took a picture of the final dish but I was reminded of something else I learned in Spain – I don’t really like pictures of food unless they’re done very well. Considering our kitchen has no natural light, mine did not fall in that category.

Oh, I also made sangria using a long kept but never used recipe from one of the Spanish bars in the town I studied. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to buy a new bottle of brandy so I decided to just use a little bit of the blackberry brandy that was left at our house after a fantasy football draft (don’t ask…) Not a good choice. Until I’m ready to buy some regular brandy, I think I’ll stick to my red wine and sparkling lemonade combo!

30 Before 30: Make pasta sauce

25 Sep

First, let me apologize for another post without real pictures. I took some…and then I apparently deleted them off of my memory card without actually uploading them to the computer. Not good. Remember what I just said about how I hate losing things? Yeah. I think maybe I need to slow down a little. Sigh. Does life just magically slow down when you turn 30? That would certainly be awesome because I’m not sure how to make it happen on my own!

So then, back to what I’m trying to post about – pasta sauce! A few weeks ago I set out to make my own from scratch. It’s not that I don’t like jarred pasta sauce, I actually think they’re fine, but I thought this would be a good place to get away from processed foods. Plus, my Nana is 100% Italian. Somewhere in me there must be some cooking genes! Rumor is her sauce has all kind of crazy ingredients that I probably wouldn’t know what to do with (particularly the meat related items) so I looked up something a little simpler and decided on this one. You can’t get any more basic than a recipe called “Homemade Tomato Sauce I.”

I followed the directions as written but my sauce was a little thicker and more “garden vegetable” looking than the picture there shows. Overall, I’d say it was good though. My only real issue was with peeling and seeding the tomatoes. It wasn’t necessarily hard but it definitely took forever. The recipe says the prep time is 30 minutes. Now, I’m not sure what super cooks those times are always based on, but just the tomato part took me an hour. Luckily, Pete helped out by chopping the rest of the vegetables. I think if I were to make this again (and I probably will) I’d have to cheat a little and start with canned tomatoes instead. What I did like was that we had enough for dinner, lunch, and another serving to freeze for later.

For an easier every-day kind of meal, I started making roasted tomatoes a little while ago and actually think I like them better than pasta sauce most of the time. I think that recipe calls for roma tomatoes but you can also make it with cherry tomatoes instead. And you can also dress them up different ways depending on what seasoning you have (I usually do Italian but sometimes add in a little bit of red pepper flakes for heat.) So much yumminess.


My Wedding Dress

2 Aug

Next up on wedding (well, anniversary) week, let’s talk about my wedding dress. In what seems like a somewhat uncharacteristic move, I don’t remember being too concerned about my dress. I don’t really know what happened to me. I LOVE dresses. But I think my pragmatic side had taken hold by this point in the planning and I reasoned that no one was going to think my dress was ugly. Not an entirely invalid thought but it probably took a bit of fun out of the process.

So, my dress search was focused on a few things. I wanted some kind of straps since I was nervous I’d be tugging at a strapless all night. My inclination was towards a V-neck. I wanted something simple and not too heavy because I wanted to be able to dance. Some form of a train but not too long. I wanted something that I would hopefully not look back on in 20 years and wonder what in the world I was thinking (remember, I’m not usually very trendy so there was no need to start with a wedding dress.) And I wanted to spend as little money on it as possible.

After one cute boutique I sought out because of a particular dress (which was nice but had so many customization options I left feeling overwhelmed) my Mom found an ad for Filene’s Running of the Brides and suggested we at least give it a try. Have you all heard about this? I had and I was very nervous. The stories were of brides lining up at crazy hours of the morning to be the first to rush into the store. Girls hoarding, trading, and fighting one another for dresses. Remember what I said in my last post about not being aggressive and wanting to fight over a bouquet? Same goes for a wedding dress. Doesn’t it seem like bad karma to know you ripped the dress you’re wearing out of another girls hands. I think so.

But I agreed to go with some set rules. The main one was that we would not be attempting to get there first thing in the morning. A designer gown was not important to me. The store website recommends that you assemble a team in matching gear. This was also vetoed as it sounds complicated and unnecessary. So my mom, best friend Tiffany, and I arrived in our non-matching T-shirts and I started trying on all types and styles of dresses. In the middle of the store. How un-glamorous. But at least I was fully clothed. Weddings apparently make you do crazy things because there was one woman who I saw in only her thong. Also in the middle of the store which by this point was open to the public for regular shopping. I thought there were laws against that kind of thing but perhaps there’s an exception made for wedding dress shopping.

I went through the pictures from that day thinking maybe I’d share some but I can’t do it. I’m a glasses wearing no make-up mess. Not suitable for the internet. The runners-up of the day came down to one that met my criteria but was too far off shoulder so I was worried it wouldn’t be good for dancing. Eliminated. A strapless dress that had a really pretty lace top with a scalloped edge and a simple organza skirt. Between the lace and organza I probably would have given up my strap requirement. But there was some kind of boning in the torso that just didn’t lay flat. Eliminated. My mom’s favorite was a much more princess styled dress. My favorite part was the super low scoop back. But it was very heavily beaded and something just didn’t feel right. I hadn’t really thought about it but after trying it on a few times someone pointed out that the bodice was just too big for me. Even with alterations to take it in, the proportions were all off. Ahh, right. Eliminated.

So then, I ended up with my dress.

I had actually picked it up earlier in the day and said it was the one. It had a sweetheart neckline but I was convinced it could be turned into a straight V to match its back. I’m not sure why I was convinced of this and it turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. It caused me a lot of stress leading up to our wedding because the first time it was altered the V wasn’t right. I learned (and Pete still teases me about this) that I can tell when something is off by 1/16th of an inch. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is. I was actually so nervous that it wasn’t going to be right that I started to look for backup ready-made dresses. I never got to the point of buying one but I was pretty close.

I still wasn’t perfect, which bothered me a lot (I also learned that I should have used Hollywood tape from the start of the day), but I do think it’s pretty. If I had to do it all over again, I can see myself picking a similar dress. I just wish I had been a little more excited about the process.  I sometimes joke that I’m going to set up an appointment to go try on wedding dresses just for fun. If it wouldn’t be wasting someone else’s time and resources, I would totally do it.

Oh, and as for cost, $150 before alterations. Seriously. So I still contend that you do not need to spend a ton of money for a pretty dress. Again, if you want to, by all means do. But my marriage would not be any happier if I had spent *insert your favorite multiple here* times more on my dress. And that’s all that really matters to me.

30 Before 30: Item 17 (Jazzin at the Shedd)

27 Jul

On a very chilly evening at the end of June (hard to believe with the recent heat, I know!), I finally got to check out Jazzin’ at the Shedd. Which also means I get to cross off another item from my 30 Before 30 list!

Even though the weather wasn’t the best, it was still a really fun evening out with a good music, great friends, and a gorgeous view of the Chicago skyline.

There’s also an awesome Jellies exhibit going on at the Shedd Aquarium right now so we got to check that out (while sipping on our wine and beer – bonus!) These are my two favorites. Pink (background at least) and polka dots. I know, who would have guessed? Just kidding. I’m obviously very predictable when it comes to these types of things.

Thanks to Liz, Tiff, and Heidi for joining me!


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