Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Priceless Keepsakes

My grandparents have always been crafty. I look back now and can recall wearing some real fashion disasters that my Nana made for me back in the 80s, but back then I loved them. Nana is the seamstress/painter and my Papoo does incredible woodwork. The little details and intricacies of their work never cease to amaze me. Here are just a few of my treasures from them:

But one of my absolute favorite pieces is this unique take on a traditional Advent calendar. This hung in our house every Christmas for as long as I can remember.

My siblings and I used to fight over who got to hang what on the tree each day. It's quite large (about 3' x 2') and the wood is also quite warped from being stored in the attic for three decades.

I inherited this calendar a few years ago, and each morning on my way into the kitchen, I feel like a kid again as I hang the corresponding day onto the tree. The same anticipation is there, the excitement of counting down the days until Christmas.

This year though, there's also a bit of anxiety that goes along with this cherished piece. The tree seems to be filling up quicker than usual ... only 10 shopping days left? What?!? Seriously, where did the time go?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Batering at its best - the results

Remember in a previous post when I organized a friend's kitchen in exchange for a granite countertop for my bathroom? Well, I promised to show you the finished product, so here it is ...

I've always wanted a waterfall faucet, so I did some hunting on ebay, and found this one for cheaper than a standard faucet would have been from Home Depot or Lowe's (and a bonus ... shipping was free!).

This little bathroom has gone through a complete metamorphosis. Here's what the countertop looked like when we bought the house ... (kind of like an ugly caterpillar.)

Here's what it looked like a few months ago before we retiled the floors (thanks to the flood), which then led to repainting and replacing the toilet ... (lots of changes happening, chrysalis stage.)

And how the bathroom looks today ... (a beautiful butterfly!)

... I'm thrilled with the results!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Make your own vanilla extract

It seems like everytime I buy vanilla extract at the grocery store, I am shocked all over again by the high price.

Nevermind that I went through the same sticker-shock just two months prior. It still manages to surprise me everytime.

I stand there in the baking aisle and think, "Really? But it's such a small bottle!"

But I always suck it up and buy it, because what are my other options? I refuse to buy the cheaper "imitation vanilla extract." Only pure vanilla extract will do.

So when Kent emailed me this article recently, I was elated to try it. Here's what you'll need:

Mason Jars - I already had some of these in my kitchen cabinets. I used the smaller ones that hold about 1 ½ cups.

Vodka - Shocker, I know, but I already had this in my kitchen cabinets, too. It doesn't have to be top shelf stuff. Any vodka will do!

Vanilla Beans - Now these I had to special order. There are lots of sources for beans, but I got mine at Beanilla.com. The article provides some insight as to the differences in the types of beans. I went with ones from India.

** The recipe is 3 vanilla beans per cup of vodka. **

1) Use kitchen scissors or a sharp paring knife to cut lengthwise down each vanilla bean, splitting them in half, leaving an inch at the end connected. Since I used the shorter jars, I cut the beans in half short-wise first (that's the opposite of lengthwise, right?), before splitting them in half lengthwise.

2) Put the vanilla beans in a glass jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid. Cover completely with the vodka.

3) Store in a dark, cool place. Give the bottle a good shake every week or so, and in about 8 weeks, you'll have vanilla extract!

Lasts for years. You can keep topping it off with vodka once in a while as you use it. Just remember to give it a good shake.

These just need a cute homemade tag, and ... voila! ... super cute Christmas gifts! Since these won't be quite ready to use by Christmas, I'll just include the date that it will be ready on the tag ... it's the gift that keeps on giving.

I'm looking forward to watching the vanilla change color over time.

So, to recap ... vanilla beans + vodka + time = vanilla extract ... now that's my kind of math!

... especially when I calculate how much money this will save in the long run!

** Note -- although the taller, corked bottle looks really pretty, I quickly switched it out for a mason jar after realizing that the vodka was leaking through the cork when I shook it. A tight-fitting lid is key.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monogram Cupcakes

I recently helped host a bridal shower for a good family friend. I was in charge of cupcakes and wanted to try something that I hadn't done before. I knew that the bride really liked the look of monograms, so I went with that idea.

First, I opened a Word document and found a font that I thought would work well. I typed her and her future husband's monogram, enlarged the text to the size that I needed and printed a sheet. Then I taped the paper to a baking sheet and taped wax paper over that.

I melted mint chocolate wafers and piped them onto the wax paper with a pastry bag and tip. Then they went into the freezer for 10-15 min. to harden. I peeled them off the wax paper and repeated the process until I had enough.

Here's the final product:

I kept them in a tupperware in the freezer until right before they went on top. I was so nervous that they would melt!

The bride-to-be loved them!

I made the cupcake wrappers with pretty paper from Hobby Lobby and the template from here. I baked the cupcakes in regular foil liners, and used double-sided tape to attach the paper.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yummy Recipes - Turkey Italian Sausage & Kale Soup

On a dreary, rainy day a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make some homemade soup (I've been making soup more and more lately in hopes that I can force fall to arrive quicker). Again, this recipe comes from my favorite cooking blog For the Love of Cooking, with a slight alteration to make it paleo-friendly. It turned out really tasty, and I can't wait to make it again.

Turkey Italian Sausage & Kale Soup

2 tsp olive oil
4 turkey Italian sausage, removed from casings
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, sliced
Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp fennel seed, crushed
1 tsp dried basil
3/4 tsp oregano
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
4 cups of chicken broth
4 cups of beef broth
1 cup of zucchini, julienned (original recipes calls for any type of pasta)
2 1/2 cups of kale, ribs cut away and chopped into small pieces

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the turkey sausage removed from casings, onion and carrots to the pot. Season with spices and sea salt and pepper, to taste. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until the sausage is cooked and the onion and carrots are tender. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 60 seconds. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth and beef broth. Cook for 30 minutes.

Add the zucchini and the kale. Cook the soup for an additional 10 minutes; taste and re-season if necessary. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My mistake, you're not a serial killer after all

Recently, I was filling up our company Mercedes-Benz with gas in preparation for an airport transfer. I was standing at the pump waiting, when a guy in a black truck pulled up to the pump on the opposite side of mine. I quickly noticed that this wife-beater-wearing, inked-up guy was staring in my direction. Not just the normal quick-glance-to-see-who-is around-you, but long, hard stares.

I started to feel really uncomfortable. It was getting close to dark. I was alone. I left the pump briefly and grabbed my keys out of my purse on the passenger's seat, just in case I needed to push the panic button. Then he started to walk in my direction. My thumb was hovering over the panic button, ready to push at any second. But he kept walking and went inside to pay the cashier.

He came back (a little too quickly), staring my way the whole time. Then, when he was closest to me, he said, "That's a really nice car you have there."

"Oh," I said, "thanks!" and gave him a smile.

Then I felt REALLY foolish. He was staring at the CAR the whole time, not me.

Was I being paranoid? Probably.

Was I stereotyping this poor guy whose many tatts probably included an "I love Mom" tattoo? Perhaps.

I mean, you can't blame the guy, it IS a beautiful car ...

In fact, I get A LOT of compliments on this car. From drive-thru bank tellers to random people at gas stations who might also be serial killers. I always just smile and say "thanks," but I kind of WANT to say, "We only own it because it's a company car. We're not rich, just regular middle-class folks like you. Plus, we bought it used and got a really good deal on it." But I keep my mouth shut, because if I unloaded all of that on a stranger, they would surely look at me like I was crazy.

Nevertheless, I often feel that others are stereotyping me as a rich you-know-what when they see me driving this car. Just like I stereotyped the creepy guy at the gas station who ended up being nice. Hmmm, interesting!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Best of the Wurst

Imagine my surprise while flipping through my new Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine yesterday (thanks to my mother-in-law for getting me the subscription for my birthday!) when I came across this:

That's right, our small town of New Braunfels made a national magazine! I'm not that surprised, Wurstfest IS the best thing about fall.

We love Wurstfest so much that four years ago, after our wedding getaway from our reception, we stopped by Wurstfest. We spontaneously made the decision to go after driving away and realizing that we weren't done celebrating just yet. We drove up with the cans and streamers still trailing from our car, me still dressed in my wedding dress and Kent still wearing his tux.

When we walked up to the ticket window, the guy said, "That'll be $16."

I looked down at my dress, then help up my hands, shrugged and replied, "No pockets!"

He took a closer look at us and asked, "Did you two really just get married?"

"Sure did!" we answered.

Then he let us in for free, plus gave us about 20 free drink tickets.

It was super crowded as it usually is on the second-to-last-night of the ten-day-salute-to-sausage. Random people were asking to take their picture with us, the drunk people were yelling at us, "Dont do it!!!" and we ran into a few people that we knew.

We made our way to the "big tent" where a band was playing. Someone in charge spotted us, and pulled us up on stage. The lead singer proceeded to announce to the entire audience of a couple thousand people that we had just gotten married, and that the band wanted to play us a special song. So we danced on stage to Elvis' Love Me Tender. In a way, this song now has more meaning to us than the first dance song that we chose for ourselves.

Sadly, we don't have even one photo from our little adventure. I ended up getting the bottom of my wedding dress really dirty. My mom wasn't too happy about that, but we had a blast!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yummy Recipes - Moo Shu Pork

Lettuce leaves are a great alternative to taco shells for paleo-eaters! The stuffing possiblities are endless ...

Thanks to Pam over at For the Love of Cooking for this great recipe.

Moo Shu Pork

1 1/2 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into thin strips
3 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, more if needed (I used olive oil)
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. coleslaw mix (I used broccoli slaw)
3-4 green onions, sliced
Lettuce leaves
Sriracha sauce (optional)

Whisk the hoisin sauce, vinegar, minced garlic, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Add the pork and marinate for 10-30 minutes prior to cooking.

Heat 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the pork and marinade once the pan is hot along with 2-3 Tbsp. of water. Stir-fry until the pork is browned, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and place on a plate then cover with a tin foil tent. Add the additional 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil to the pan then add the mushrooms once the pan is hot. Stir-fry the mushrooms until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the coleslaw mix, pork and half of the green onions; stir-fry for an additional 2 minutes. Taste and season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, if needed. Serve the stir-fry in the lettuce leaves and sprinkle the tops with the remaining green onions and sriracha sauce (optional - only if you like it spicy!). Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Batering at its best

Remember in a previous post a few months ago when I was wishing for new bathroom counter tops to go with my new flooring? Well, I'm making it happen ... 50% anyway. A friend of mine just happens to install granite counter tops, and he approached me willing to trade my organizing skills in his kitchen for a beautiful, granite counter top. How perfect, right? He's a bachelor, but getting married soon, and he wanted his space organized before his soon-to-be-wife and all of her stuff moved in. His kitchen wasn't bad, just lacking a woman's touch! Here's how I helped:

Pots & Pans Before ..... and ..... Pots and Pans After

Spice Cabinet Before ... and ... Spice Cabinet After

Tupperware Before ... and ... Tupperware After

(He's eventually going to install a Lazy Susan here, but it needed a temporary solution.)

Pantry Before ... and ... Pantry After

Under Sink Before ... and ... Under Sink After

Utensil Drawers Before ... and ... Utensil Drawers After

Dishes Before ... and ... Dishes After

(This isn't a dramatic change, but it's an open front cabinet, so it must look it's best!)

Catch-all Drawer Before ... and ... Catch-all Drawer After

(Just sounds better than "junk drawer," right? Come on, we all have them!)

He was a very happy customer, and his fiancée was even more thrilled. I finished it just in time for his housewarming party. Can't wait to get my granite counter top. Hopefully I'll be posting pics of it in a couple of weeks!