Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween


I hope everyone has a safe, fun and spooky Halloween! 

Think candy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Carving



Even though we don't have kids, my husband and I love going to the pumpkin patch, carefully picking out our pumpkins and carving them into jack-o-lanterns. 



This year, my husband decided to up the ante by purchasing some professional grade, wood and metal carving tools (on the left), while I stuck with my faithful collection of plastic tools (right). 


He wanted to try carving into the flesh of the pumpkin instead of just cutting out shapes. I initially made fun of him for this seemingly frivolous purchase, but I have to admit that after watching him, they worked pretty well. 


We wrapped our dining table in plastic, set up shop and were ready to roll. 



Very serious carving going on here people. 






Although messiness drives me crazy, I quite enjoy the mess that pumpkin carving creates. I also love the feeling of sticking my hand in the cold, slimy pumpkin. 

Is that weird?


I chose stars for my pumpkin this year and I was already done before Dan had finished the mouth. 


After about 45 minutes, this is what he had done, and I totally loved it. Those are some serious chompers you've got there, Mr. Pumpkin. 

 Starry, Starry Night...

 ...and Mr. Scary Pumpkin. I love it. 

And with that, we are ready for Halloween. Let's hope we get some trick-or-treaters this year!!

What about you? Are you ready for the night of fright?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Election Fatigue

Is anyone else out there feeling SO ready for this election to just be over? 

I'm suffering from a major case of election fatigue. 

The negativity between the candidates is palpable and it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth - from both sides. Anyone else out there feel the same? 

Frankly, I am tired of hearing the same issues discussed time and time again. Maybe introducing some new topics into the mix would spice it up a bit. 
 
If I had my way, here would be some things I would like the politicians to focus on:

1) Why we teach Algebra and Calculus in high school, but not personal finance? (I am serious about this one.)

2) The benefits of turning the standard 5-day work week into a 4-day week. (YES! YES! YES!)

3) The current price of admission to a movie. I mean, c'mon.

4) Supporting food science that will make butter and sugar alternatives that taste EXACTLY the same, but are healthy. 

5) An imposed tax, that provides revenue for schools, on the purchases of:
- Jeggings
- Press-on nails
- Nestle Strawberry Milk
- Clothes for animals
- Anything made by Ed Hardy

6)Tax incentives for production companies to make sitcoms like they did in the 90s. Think Seinfeld, Friends and Cheers.

7) Training programs for police to not only pull over those driving too fast, but for people driving too slow.

8) Longer maternity leave for new Moms. (I am serious about this one too.)

9) Criminalizing mayonnaise. 

It's my list. Mayo has got to go. 

10) Mandates that regulate the amount of times any one person (my sister) can ask a woman (me) when they are going to have a baby.

What about you? Any issues you wish were a little higher up on the political discussion list?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mr. Grasshopper

I hate bugs. 

HATE bugs. 

They scare the crap out of me and I will do anything to not be around them. 

Spiders are the worst. (WORST WORST WORST.) Moths are not far behind spiders. (Erratic. Weird. Gross.) Butterflies are pretty, but please God don't land on me. 

Ladybugs are slightly tolerable, but I would just rather not. 

My entire family makes fun of me for this fear, but I can't help it. They make me feel all eebie-jeebie and itchy and gross and ivylidjhsvdvdfnebf;ks - bleh. 

So, when I discovered a grasshopper lounging around on my front door flowers, like he bloody owned the place, I wasn't too pleased. But, my dear sister, who has loved bugs since I can remember, and was visiting at the time, started taking photos of him. He seemed pretty chill with the the whole photography thing, so I decided to get out my camera and have a play. I took dozens of photos, but this one was my favorite:

The Grasshopper

Looking at him in the photo, he isn't so bad. In fact, I would maybe go so far as to say he is kind of pretty. I like how his legs bend backwards and the yellow/green of his eye. Perhaps when there is a lens between the bug and me, it helps me tolerate the situation of even looking at a bug. 

Okay, Mr. Grasshopper, you can stay and enjoy my flowers. Just please don't jump on me, or we might have some beef. 

What about you? Do you hate bugs? If not, what is it that makes you cringe?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Homemade Cinnamon Walnut Butter

Walnut Butter_6

I am a total peanut butter nut (pun intended). It is one of my favorite foods in the entire world and I could literally eat it every day. However, lately I have been into the idea of trying my hand at making some homemade nut butters, with a nut other than the peanut. 

(How many times can you get the word 'nut' in a sentence?)

Since I love walnuts, and they are delightfully healthy, I decided to give walnut butter a try, and I am so glad I did. The result was a delicious treat with wonderful texture, just the right amount of salty and sweet and a nice alternative to my beloved peanut butter. Do give this recipe a try - you will not be disappointed. 

Two notes before you read the recipe:

Walnut Butter_1

1) You can use normal cinnamon, but if you feel like splurging a little, try McCormick's Roasted Saigon Cinnamon. It is a little spicier, with a bolder cinnamon flavor. Also great on oatmeal and in cookies, this is just a great spice to have in your pantry. 

Walnut Butter_2

2) It is recommended that you use walnut oil, but if you don't have it, canola oil will do. However, walnut oil is full of the rockstar omega-3 fatty acids and is great for cooking at a high heat, so it is a good all-around oil to have around. 

Walnut Butter_4

Homemade Cinnamon Walnut Butter
(original recipe by Gluten Free Girl and The Chef)

Makes 1 cup 

2 cups walnuts, shelled
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1 tsp Roasted Saigon Cinnamon
2 tsp walnut oil

1) Soak the walnuts overnight in a large bowl of water. This will help remove the bitter taste that walnuts tend to have. 

2) Once the walnuts have been soaked, drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spread the walnuts out onto a cookie sheet and roast in the oven until the walnuts are dry and slightly golden, about 10 - 15 minutes. Make sure not to let them burn, as that will change the taste of the butter. Once toasted, remove from oven and let them cool entirely. 

3) Put the cooled, toasted walnuts in the food processor and pulse until they are broken down, crumbly and slightly sticky. Add the salt, honey and cinnamon and pulse until combined. Taste the walnut paste and adjust seasonings as needed. When I was making it, at this point I added a little more honey and a little more cinnamon, but it's totally a matter of taste. 

4) When happy with the seasonings, slowly drizzle in the oil while the food processor is running. The walnut paste will turn into walnut butter after a few seconds and you will be one happy camper. (Feel free to add a little more oil if you feel the texture is too dry.)

Walnut Butter_5

I stored my walnut butter in a mason jar (I will never tire of storing things in mason jars) and am really happy with how it turned out. It is great paired with apples, on bread with apple butter (heeellloooo amazing) and would taste delicious with a mild, soft cheese and crackers. 

I am now totally inspired to try other combinations of nuts and seasonings. Next time I think I will go savory...maybe pecans and curry? Walnuts and roasted garlic? Almonds and paprika? I really think the possibilities are endless. 

I hope you enjoy!

Can you think of any other combinations that might work?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Boden

A few years ago I was turned on to the English clothing company, Boden. Their clothes are classic, beautiful and seem to really flatter the feminine form. The items do tend to be a little on the expensive side, but since they are so timeless, I like to think of them as investment pieces. 

Another thing I love about the company is the styling of their photographs. Whenever the catalog comes in the mail, I take time to sit and look at each page because it feels like art.

Broderie Top Dress
This photo in particular really caught my eye. I'm actually kind of obsessed with it. I love everything from the dress to the furniture to the flooring to the shoes to the makeup to the hair. Oh the hair...LOVE. Wouldn't this look be perfect for a holiday party or a winter wedding?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Birthday Fun

Ryan's Birthday_9
Make a wish! Birthday cake complete with trucker hat party favors. 

We recently celebrated the 33rd birthday of my friend Ryanwith his wife Ari and their beautiful daughter Adi. Ryan and Ari are high school sweethearts and I met them back in college when I was 19. My boyfriend at the time was in the same fraternity as Ryan and, while that relationship is long since over, I always thought one of the perks from it was getting to know these two. 

Ryan's Birthday_3

Ryan's Birthday_2

As always, Ari put together a lovely little spread (complete with large tissue paper pom-poms). She is a trained chef and always makes the most delicious food. 

Ryan's Birthday_6

It was somewhat of an Octoberfest theme, with Bratwurst and all the fixings. But, the difference between Ari's fixings and mine is hers are ridiculously awesome and look like they come from a magazine.

Ryan's Birthday_5

Ryan's Birthday_4

Ryan's Birthday_12

Ryan's Birthday_11
This spinach artichoke dip was out. of. control.

Ryan's Birthday

Ryan's Birthday_8

If you ever see this wine, buy it and drink it. It was one of the smoothest red wines I have ever had.

Ryan's Birthday_7

German Chocolate Cake. Uhm...OKAY. 

Ryan's Birthday_1

And peanut butter sandwiches for "the kiddos."

Speaking of kiddos, I give you a little photo montage that I call:

ADI EATS A BITE OF CAKE

Ryan's Birthday_13

Ryan's Birthday_14

Ryan's Birthday_15

Ryan's Birthday_19

Ryan's Birthday_16

Ryan's Birthday_18

Ryan's Birthday_20

Ryan's Birthday_21

Ryan's Birthday_22
Yay! She did it!
(oh how I wish this photo was in focus!!!)

Happy Birthday Ryan! May this 33rd year of your life be the best one yet! And thank you, Ari, for the lovely party. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Little Puppy Girl

Maddie Visit 2012_6

I recently had the pleasure of dog-sitting this little sweetheart. Her name is Maddie and she is half Border Collie and half something else (we think maybe German Pointer). She is my Dad's dog, but I consider her my dog as well since I was still living at home when they got her back in 2001, right before I left for college.

Maddie Visit 2012_3

My love for this dog knows no bounds and sometimes it's hard for me to admit she has white hair around her nose and is a little slower going up the stairs. This dog will forever be our little puppy. 

Maddie Visit 2012_4

Those eyes speak a thousand words to me. Maddie is a very intelligent dog, with a myriad of emotions, and her constant need to express herself entertains the entire family. 

Maddie Visit 2012_2

She made herself right at home and I didn't want her to leave. 

Maddie Visit 2012_1

Oh Maddie-moo, do you even know how cute you are?

Maddie Visit 2012_5

My little puppy girl.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies with...Egg Beaters

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sunday nights on NPR, they air "America's Test Kitchen" where people can call in and ask their cooking questions and the experts from America's Test Kitchen answer. I find the show super interesting and have been making an effort to listen more regularly. 

A few weeks ago, they were talking about eggs in baking recipes and how Egg Beaters (which is mostly made from egg whites) can actually be used as a substitute in most recipes, and with good results, while drastically reducing the cholesterol. As one who loves to bake but hates the unhealthy aspect of it, any little thing I can do to make things healthier catches my attention and I decided to give it a try. 

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Using my favorite Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe (below), I omitted the eggs and rocked the Egg Beaters. 

Cookies made with Egg Beaters

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/4 cup of Egg Beaters equals 1 egg. My recipe called for 2 eggs, so I used 1/2 cup of Egg Beaters. Easy peasy. 

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

I like moist and chewy chocolate chip cookies, which the egg yolk helps to create, so I was really curious to see how these would turn out.

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

And to my delight, they were great. They still had that lovely chewy and cakey texture that I wanted, which was of the utmost importance, and I used dark chocolate chips, which was...uhm...a very good decision. 

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies 

I will say, though, that I think using Egg Beaters did shorten their shelf-life a bit and I felt that they didn't stay as soft for as long as when I have used eggs. They still tasted good, but this was one little difference I noticed. Not a huge biggy, but worth noting. 

I am thinking that Egg Beaters might also be a great substitute when making French Toast or your favorite quick bread. 

If you would like the recipe that I used, here it is:

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies w/Egg Beaters
Makes 24 cookies
(Recipe Adapted from here)

3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
6 Tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup Egg Beaters (or 2 eggs, if not using egg substitute)
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 (12 oz) bag chocolate chips (the darker, the better)
Various pinches of sea salt (for sprinkling on cookies)

- Preheat an oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C)

- Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Add the Egg Beaters, 1/4 cup at a time, allowing it to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla with the last 1/4 cup of Egg Beaters. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips, mixing until combined.

- Divide the dough into 24 3-tablespoon-sized balls. Flatten the balls to about 1/4-inch thick onto a baking sheet. Then sprinkle the top of each flattened dough ball with a pinch of sea salt.

- Bake in the preheated oven until the edges are golden, 15 to 17 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet until the centers begin to set, about 20 minutes.

Don't Forget Your Milk!

And, please, whatever you do, don't forget the milk! These are PERFECT dunking cookies - nice and dense with a lot of room to soak up milk! Be it regular milk, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk or whatever you drink...you best be dunking this cookie! 

Enjoy!
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