29 March 2013

Friday Favorites

It's been so long since I did a Friday Favorites post! I hope to be back to regular posting soon. Here's what's on my radar this week:
So I have an addiction.  It's strange, because I really hate the regular Peeps. I get grossed out just thinking about them.  But these...these are amazing. True story: I drove to three stores earlier this week looking for them so I could have one on my lunch break. NO SHAME.

I spend a fortune each week on grocery store basil and cilantro.  I'm determined to overcome my black thumb this summer and grow them at home.  I bought seeds and little starter indoor growing cups at Target this week and I'm going to plant them this weekend.  This article has some good tips on successfully growing basil and this one is all about cilantro; do you have any other tips for me? I'm going to need all the help I can get. I am a plant murderer.

So you can get the top dress from the normal J.Crew website for $88, or you can get the bottom dress from the J.Crew Factory website for $54.50 plus another 30% off with the code MOREPLEASE.  No brainer. 

Recipe is from the 1995 Southern Living Annual Recipes cookbook

My parents are coming to visit this weekend and I'm so excited to tackle another item on my 101 in 1,001 list with my mom: making homemade bread! My mother had a sourdough starter that lasted for years and we always had homemade sourdough bread growing up.  She recently gave my sister and I the ingredients to make our own starters and this weekend is the moment of truth! My starter's been going for a couple of weeks. I'll report back next week, along with my mom's tips and tricks for theeeee best homemade bread.

For my DC/Baltimore/Northern VA friends and readers, Livingsocial has a fabulous deal going on a 4-pack of tickets to the Virginia Gold Cup races.  M and I got our package and would love to see lots of fun people there on the North Rail! Hop to it and let me know if you'll be there!

Happy Easter weekend!

26 March 2013

Menu Tuesday

Yesterday was {yet another} snow day here in Virginia, so Menu Tuesday it is.  Lots of good eats last week, although I'm getting tired of cold-weather comfort food!

This could not have been a bigger hit at our house.  M inhaled it.  Only change I will make the next time I make it {and there will definitely be a next time}: add Old Bay. I'm thinking a teaspoon sautéed with the vegetables and then a good, healthy dose sprinkled on top with the cheese and potato chips. Heavenly and retro in the best way possible.

 Split-Pea and Ham Soup {Cook's Illustrated January 2011}
New favorite soup recipe. Very easy and so delicious and comforting and hearty.  I didn't add the fresh peas or mint for garnish, but we did add the balsamic vinegar. Don't skip that step.  I also didn't make croutons, but rather sliced a loaf of bread, drizzled on salt, pepper, and olive oil, and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.  Leftover for lunch today and I can't wait!

Winner, winner, pork dinner! This is going to be in heavy rotation in our house. So, so, SO yummy.  Easy and not very time consuming either.  Wondering when is too soon to make this again...

Meh.  Not bad, not great.  I could've done without the water in the bean puree as it made it too, wait for it...watery.  I think it would've been better with black beans.  And I wouldn't puree anything next time.  I would've enjoyed the different texture whole beans would've added.  Even with the garlic and red pepper flakes, I just found this to be bland.  I can think of more exciting things to do with sweet potatoes.  That said, this was easy, cheap, and a filling Meatless Monday meal.  Just needs a little adjusting.

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup {Eat, Live, Run}
I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about this one.  I loved the flavors, it was incredibly delicious, and it was the perfect thing for a night when I was feeling a bit under the weather.  But it made SO MUCH SOUP.  Normally, this wouldn't be a bad thing, as I am all about leftovers. But the acids in the broth broke down the noodles so that they were mushy and gross.  I need to figure out a way to halve the recipe and then we'll be good to go.

Bon appétit!

18 March 2013

Menu Monday

Another Monday, another snow day.  If I kept a diary, today's entry would look something like this:  Dear Diary, Plans to murder the groundhog underway.  SO OVER THIS WEATHER.

On the plus side, here are some of the tasty meals that have been keeping us warm lately.  Enjoy!

Spicy Sausage with Pasta and Vodka Sauce {family recipe}
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
1 jalapeno, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup roughly chopped red pepper
1 teaspoon Hungarian hot paprika
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes with basil
1/3 cup vodka
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. In a large saute pan over medium heat melt butter with oil. Add chicken sausage and brown, 3 to 4 minutes, breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon. Add onions, jalapenos and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper, paprika, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, to taste, and cook 3 minutes more.

Generously salt the pasta water and add the penne. Cook until al dente, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, add tomatoes to the sauce and bring to a simmer, for about 10 minutes. Add vodka and cream and cook a few minutes more. Toss in cheese and chopped parsley. To serve, drain the pasta well and add to the sauce. Mix until pasta is nicely coated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

This was the first meal M ever made for me, on our second date.  He forgot the vodka, so that time it was more of a pasta with cream sauce.  Still tasty! But even better with the vodka.  Naturally.

After this recipe was recommended to me by no less than 4 people, I finally got around to making it.  We absolutely loved it, but with two caveats: first, mine was a bit on the soupy side, and I don't think it was supposed to be.  Not sure what I did wrong there.  Second, this made a lot and the leftovers weren't very good.  Although that may have had something to do with the soupiness.  Anyhoo, we loved it the night we ate it.  I served it with some cilantro lime rice and topped it off with avocado, cheddar, and hot sauce. 

Hearty Chickpea Stew with Pesto {Everyday Food, September 2012}
I was pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this meal.  I had pretty low expectations, especially for how M would like it.  It was a quick and easy meal to put together, and it made enough for each of us to have a serving at dinner and for each of us to have lunch leftover the next day.  I used Trader Joe's Genova Pesto and a loaf of goat's milk bread for the thickener. Great vegetarian meal for Meatless Mondays.

13 March 2013


Last Wednesday, we woke up to this view out of our bedroom window. The snowquester!
We enjoyed a lazy day at home, but ventured out in search of these that afternoon.  We had both heard a lot of people waxing poetic over these, but neither of us thought they lived up to the hype.  They tasted very strange.
Thursday was another snow day for me, so I decided to be productive. First project was some seriously overdue All-Clad cleaning with a new-to-me product, Bon Ami.  Full post coming later this week with the after photos and thoughts on Bar Keeper's Friend vs. Bon Ami.
After I finished my cleaning projects, I decided to do a little antiquing. I've made no secret of the fact that I don't love where we live. One of the few positives is our antiques emporium.  We live not too far outside of Virginia horse country, so our store tends to get some pretty good loot, like these custom riding boots and monogrammed silver plate hand mirror. 
This one booth had Louis Vuitton luggage, a Dior purse, and a Gucci purse.  I'm tempted to go back for the Gucci {$65!!!} since it matches my vintage Gucci wallet.
Loved this dresser-top vignette and the settee in the as-is room had a stunning frame! Very tempted to purchase and reupholster in something fabulous...
How darling is this pug needlepoint pillow?!?
Loved this mirror. Would be great in a certain little boy's big boy room {cough, Jennifer, cough}
The most epic key hook ever.

Friday AM I was up bright and early to catch a flight to NYC for one of my dearest friends' bachelorette weekend.  This was the first of many glasses of bubbly consumed in the following 48 hours.
I tried out the white manicure trend that I've been told is big this spring.  Everyone agreed that it was definitely a do.  Color is Essie Blanc.
Lobster Benedict with Old Bay hollandaise for brunch. Deeeeelicious.
After a wonderful weekend with friends, I was so happy to get back to snuggles with these two. 

07 March 2013

Target Finds

To me, shopping experiences at Target {for clothes*} and Old Navy are identical.  I either think every current offering is hideous and poorly made or ZOMGGGGG the cutest stuff ever and want to buy one of everything in stock.

I popped into Tar-jay this weekend and was immediately taken with these three skirts {I should take this opportunity to let you all know that I am a pencil skirt-aholic.}

one // two // three

Only $22.99 each!

P.S. The adorable Macha flats I posted about a few weeks ago are on sale {in stores only} for $16.  Get thee to Target tout de suite! 

*Obviously the non-clothing shopping experience at Target is different. We are all familiar with the "go in for dryer sheets, leave $200 poorer" syndrome that Target triggers.

06 March 2013

Deal of the Century

One of the items on my 101 in 1,001 list is to invest in 10 coffee table books.  I keep a running wish list on Amazon of ones I want to purchase, and the Vogue Living: Houses, Gardens, People and The World in Vogue: People, Parties, Places books have long held a place at the tippy top of that wish list.  Earlier this week I learned that a new book had been published, Vogue Weddings: Brides, Dresses, Designers, and I hopped on over to Amazon to add it to my wish list.  And stumbled upon this...

Your eyes do not deceive you.  As of this writing, the boxed set of all three books is selling for $29.55. I repeat, all three Vogue coffee table books, in their entirety, in hardcover, for $29.55.  Each book retails for $85, but even if you purchased them individually at Amazon's discounted rates {in the $45-$60 range}, you couldn't find a better deal than this.

Obviously I ordered them immediately.  Amazon's pricing is subject to pretty radical change without any notice, so if you've lusted after these books the way I have, now's your chance!

05 March 2013

It Could Be Worse, Suck It Up

Thank you so much for your sweet, encouraging comments on Friday's post. It means a lot.  LPC left a comment that really struck at something I've been thinking about for awhile and I want to talk about it today.  She said, "It's not emo, it's real. You don't owe anyone cheer. Your voice is valuable whatever the mood."  How very, very true.  

I tend to apologize when my posts aren't fluffy and light and upbeat, and I hate that.  The reason I do it is because of what I perceive to be a troublesome double standard in the little corner of blogworld that we occupy.  On the one hand, we tend to criticize bloggers when they only show the edited versions of their lives.  That is, when bloggers only post pictures of beautifully-styled interiors, perfectly-dressed children, and expertly-prepared gourmet meals, all while traipsing about in stylish high-low ensembles, we as readers tend to call them out and tell them to "Keep it real! Show us the bad stuff too!"  But what I've seen and experienced is that when bloggers do share the more real aspects of their lives, people jump all over them in comments, telling them they shouldn't complain because they "have it so good" and "there are starving children, dontcha know?!?!"  

So which is it then?  Happy, upbeat Stepford Wives in every post, forsaking content and real dialogue to keep things conflict-free in the comment zone? Or posts filled with snapshots of everyday life, bad stuff included? I have steered mainly towards option #1, because I like to keep everyone happy and I really hate negative comments.  But enough is enough.

I received a comment a few weeks ago on a post I wrote about how difficult 2012 was for me. I was told that I should feel grateful because at least my husband wasn't overseas risking his life for his country.  

So much wrong with this comment. Have any of you read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”? Frankl was an Auschwitz survivor and a psychiatrist. His take on the “it could be worse, suck it up” argument is that suffering is an individual experience and that the fact that “worse” suffering exists doesn’t invalidate your own experience.  I see this attitude so much in online comments and on Facebook, when anyone complains about anything, someone makes a flippant "First World problem" remark.  We all live in the First World and we all have problems and we shouldn't pretend that those problems don't bother us, just because someone else's problems may be different or bigger.

I saved a comment I saw posted somewhere recently because it so perfectly expressed how I feel about the whole situation: My best friend feels guilty for having depression because her childhood wasn’t as bad as mine, and you know what I tell her? “the situation others are in does not erase the pain you have”. Really, all that phrase [it could be worse] is ever used for is to negate the pain that someone feels. It’s good to be grateful, but your brain does not filter pain through a “worldly context” cortex. Do we tell people not to go to the doctor for broken bones because it’s not cancer? No, we do not, because that would be ridiculous. We shouldn’t treat mental pain any different than physical pain. Different levels of pain require different levels of treatment or different solutions, but every single pain requires a treatment or solution. Ignoring a toothache can lead to life-threatening infection.

I'm not saying we should all get a blanket excuse to mope around like Eeyore 24/7.  Most of the time, I'm a pretty upbeat person and I try to have an optimistic outlook on things.  But there are days, weeks, seasons of life that just aren't as positive as we would like them to be.  And I am done making apologies for that and writing sugarcoated blog posts because a reader thinks I should just be grateful that it isn't worse.

You know what? I am grateful it isn't worse.  In the midst of my problems,  I am still fully capable of acknowledging the fact that I lead an incredibly privileged life.  One doesn't negate the other. It is possible to be grateful while still hoping for improvement.  To tell people otherwise is disrespectful to the human experience.

04 March 2013

Menu Monday

Playing catch up today since I missed last week's Menu Monday.  LOTS of good recipes over the past 2 weeks.  Enjoy!

I used mozzarella instead of Swiss and added some red pepper flakes to the kale, but otherwise no changes. M is just not a big fan of kale, so I served this with warmed marinara sauce {also with red pepper flakes} for dipping.  Very easy, very healthy, and {I thought} very tasty.  If the dough is already made {or store-bought} it takes hardly any time to put together. A Meatless Monday-friendly meal!

Beef with Broccoli {Rainy Day Gal}
The quest is over {for now}. I have finally found my perfect make-your-own-take-out recipe!  It was even more enjoyable than getting beef with broccoli from a take-out place because I knew I was controlling the quality of the ingredients. SO SO SO tasty! 

Three notes: First, I used flatiron steak instead of flank steak.  This is a recipe where I think you could really use whatever looked good to you or was on sale.  Second, make sure you drain the marinade from the beef thoroughly and pat the beef dry. I kind of skimped on these steps and the beef steamed instead of searing and the residual marinade turned into a super-freaky texture when it hit the heat.  No bueno.  Last, even using low-sodium soy sauce, this is REALLY salty {and I say that as a total sodium fiend}. I served this with fried rice I picked up from our local Chinese place, but next time, I'll serve with totally unseasoned steamed rice.  

Love, love, loved this.  Simple, healthy, and cheap. What's not to love?! I used jasmine rice because it's what we had in the fridge, but in the future, I would use brown rice.  Honestly, the soup is so flavorful that you could pretty much use any rice.  It's really just there for texture and body.  I would also add a little more lime and cilantro than called for.  Otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing!

 Bow-Tie Lasagna {Tasty Kitchen}
Meh. I had high hopes for this popular recipe, and while M loved it, it kind of fell flat for me.  I think it's because I made the mistake of using a jar of sauce I have never tried before.  I didn't love it {Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara}.  It might be good on its own, but it was not tasty in this dish.  I liked the concept of it and it was easy, so I think I may play around with it á la Kate in the future and use ground turkey, whole wheat pasta, and our tried-and-true Bertolli Tomato and Basil Sauce or something homemade.

By far my favorite meal of the past 2 weeks. This was so unbelievably tasty.  A few things: I kept the skin on my chicken thighs.  I know that adds fat/calories, but it also adds flavor and I think it went a long way in boosting the flavor of this dish.  I used the quick method and added quartered mushrooms to it during the last 30 minutes of cooking {with the lid off}.  I served this over linguine.  Can't wait to make this again!

Enchilada Soup {family friend's recipe}

2 cans of Green Giant Niblets corn {not necessary to drain}2 cans Del Monte Mexican style stewed tomatoes {may want to chop these up more}1 can of black beans 1 can of Old El Paso enchilada sauce 3 to 4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

Combine all ingedients and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with nacho chips, shredded cheese, and sour cream if you like. 
This definitely isn't my all-time favorite Mexican-style soup recipe, but it's easy and filling and makes a TON of soup.  I would definitely use hot enchilada sauce to up the flavor.

Bon appétit! 

01 March 2013

{Finally} Friday Favorites

Hi all! Apologies for the radio silence this past week.  I was unexpectedly hospitalized last Thursday night and have been slowly working my way back into the real world {and through the pile of unread e-mails and blog posts awaiting me}.  I'm fine, but it piled on to what was already a pretty icky month.

I am SO happy it's March.  I am SO happy to turn the page to a new month because I need a do-over.  Don't get me wrong; February had its high points.  Celebrating M's birthday and Valentine's Day and some serious work highs for M.  I got to visit with my sweet Grandmother and my parents and my sister.  We went an entire month with no car or pet-related disasters.  These are all good things.

But I also gained 2 pounds {see: birthday and Valentine's Day} and am still experiencing this mystery pain that no one can tell me the cause of and I'm just in a very strange place personally right now.  Feeling very adrift and uncertain of what I want and what the future looks like.  And for a Type-A planner like me who NEEDS to have every detail of every day planned out, feelings of uncertainty are incredibly stressful.  I try not to get caught up in the obsessive need to have a plan for everything and just enjoy this crazy ride, but without a plan, I can't help but feel like I'm wasting precious time and energy and youth.  Does anyone else feel like this?  I feel like you're supposed to have a decent amount of uncertainty in your life as a mid-twenty-something, but I feel like I'm surrounded by people who have it together, who know what they want to do and where they're going and then I feel like a loser for not having even the slightest inkling of what I'm supposed to be doing.

Also, my house is a mess, I have piles of laundry all over the house, and a to-do list as long as my arm. Nothing, I mean NOTHING, contributes more to my stress than unfinished business around the house. It's an unwelcome visceral reminder of how messy things are for me right now.

Now that all of that emo stuff is out of the way, let's get down to bidness with the good stuff, shall we?

pineapple upside down cupcakes, i need you in my life.

if we're being honest, i need this 25-day ballet bootcamp challenge a lot more.

i am super-duper intrigued by this salad dressing that joanna posted on and am totally going to order a case.  has anyone tried this? apparently it has a blue-blood cult following. 

dying for this dress, although it's completely sold out. hoping they'll e-mail me to tell me it's been restocked soon!

And just because. Aren't these two the sweetest? They weren't sure what to make of me being home during the day this week, but they took advantage of extra couch cuddles.  I love my little monsters.

Happy weekend to you!