Monday, December 30, 2013

Fun Halloween Recipe!

Dated:  October 31, 2013

I just wanted to share this fun Halloween trail mix recipe with you.  You can play around with the ingredients, but here's what I used:

4 cups of pretzels
6 cups of Chex cereal
2 cups of peanuts
1 bag of M&M's
1 bag of corn candy
1 package of Reese's Pieces
3 cups of small marshmallows
2 cups of mallow pumpkins
1 bag of white chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients, except the white chocolate chips, into a large bowl.  Melt the white chocolate chips and drizzle over the mixture in the bowl.  Mix with a rubber spatula and let it sit until the chocolate hardens.  Scoop into fun party cups and enjoy!!

Cutie Nephews!

I just wanted to post some pictures of how big my guys are getting!  They are the loves of my life!  

Faith in Pasta

Date:  October 16, 2013

I love food.  I love to cook and bake and find happiness and comfort in a meal.  I don't think we're supposed to do that, but when such passion is put into the simplest things...and these simple things can make me feel calm and happy...then I'm all for it.  Food just happens to be one of those simple things that definitely has my attention (more times than not) and is definitely one of my passions.  

My friend, Maria, had a idea.  She invited me over to cook with her.  We planned to cook something that we had never cooked before and that wasn't easy to prepare.  We wanted to challenge ourselves to make a meal that took creativity and patience...lots of patience.  Our friend, Heather, also joined us.  We decided on homemade (from scratch) linguine with vodka infused tomato cream sauce, a fresh, baby spinach salad with cherry tomatoes and balsamic blackberry vinaigrette.  Yum, right?  And it was!  But, not without some concerns, doubts and lots of laughing along the way.  

Maria, in charge of course, assigned me my task.  There, I found myself with a hallowed out volcano of flour on her marble counter, cracking eggs in my "well" one at a time.  I then proceeded to knead the dough for 45 minutes straight.  I believe the recipe specified that "if you think you've kneaded it long enough...think again...and knead it for another 15 minutes."  I thought it would never end.  I was ready to give up after the first 7 minutes and run down the street for the boxed stuff.  It wasn't fun at first, but I had the mothering voice of Heather to motivate me until the end.  The end wasn't pretty.  I ended up with a hard ball of dough, about the size of an orange.  I'll be honest...I was pretty concerned about the portion size of our meal.  I arrived hungry...and after almost an hour of kneading, as if I was an Italian grandmother in 1902, and the scrumptious aroma of garlic and tomatoes coming from the can imagine the stage of my starvation at that point.   I was already planning out my post meal stop at the Burger King drive through and we hadn't even cut the pasta yet!

Needless to say....we were all surprised when Maria pulled out her shiny, brand new pasta maker by Giada DeLaurentiis that she had bought at Target earlier that day.  Don't get me wasn't an easy task, but the end result was absolutely amazing!  We had actually made enough pasta for 4 huge dinner portions, plus some left over!  Maria's vodka sauce was to die for and the salad was the perfect addition.  

After dinner, Heather made us all coffee and what came next still has me salivating.  Maria toasted up some whole grain bread and topped it with lots of sweet cream butter.  Then, she went into her pantry to pull out something that I can only describe as heavenly.  It was a mason jar, full of fig preserves.  Not jelly and not jam, folks!  Fig preserves are plump, sweet figs surrounded by thick, flavorful syrup, created by the natural sugars produced by the figs themselves.  Just looking at the adorable little mason jar filled with sugary figs instantly filled me with the desire to visit the South, bake pies and live the simple life.  She piled lots of fig preserves up on the toasted, buttery bread and it was the most delicious dessert I've ever had! 

It was a fun night catching up with great friends, having a lot of fun exploring in the kitchen and of course finding our happy place with a very tasty meal.  I can't wait until our next collaborative adventure. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sweet October.....

I just wanted to share this picture that is buzzing around Pinterest.  My sister, Bri found this there and said that it reminds her of me.  It really sums up how I feel about fall.  The beautiful colors and crisp breeze that fall brings also brings a certain peace and calm into our lives (well at least into mine).  I long to spend fall, someday, in a charming place like Savannah, Georgia....or maybe somewhere in New England.  I can imagine my mom and sisters and I visiting there.  We'd be sipping apple cider and pumpkin lattes, finding craft fairs and exploring all of the local quaint shops and cafes.  I'd want us to visit every pumpkin festival and apple picking farm in the area!  Then at night, I can see us snuggling up under our cozy quilts and watching girly movies and eating junk food.  It's just a dream I have for someday....maybe someday in October.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Justin's "Son of a Gun"

There's this book....and it's important that you read it.  Since the moment I finished the last page....I haven't been the same.  It's brave, honest, devastating and absolutely beautiful.  I had anticipated the release of this book for quite sometime and it delivered in every possible way.  It will change your life.

Justin St. Germain is the author of "Son of a Gun."  Justin is also my long time friend.  It's funny where life takes us sometimes and what we learn and gain from the most unexpected of people.  The book is incredible and completely heart wrenching.  Justin lost his mother to murder...and at the hands of someone she loved.  It hurts me to the core to think about what Justin went through.  For those of us who know Justin and actually know each and every landscape and scene that he painted with his words....and who can actually hear the familiar narrator's voice as we turn each page; and who recognized and laughed at the snarky humor weaved throughout the book; and who already knew what happened to his mom, because it was in our hometown......even WE weren't ready for the powerful heartbreak that came with "Son of a Gun."  I didn't so much read this book, as I was consumed by it.  It's a story of tragedy and what remains....after so much is lost.

The entire book moved me.  It's truly amazing how Justin opened up and wrote about hurtful and painfully truthful memories...all while managing to not villianize his step dad.  He bravely told this story with such raw and honest emotion.  He wrote vividly with such eloquence that I had to stop to catch my breath after reading certain parts of his staggering chapters.   This book is truly unforgettable.

In the first few pages of the book, Justin writes about the moments he found out his mom had been killed.  It was just days after 9-11, while the whole entire nation was in a state of panic.  Justin wrote in parallel of his own life and catastrophe.  He was lost and numb. ( I started to read his book at 7:30 p.m. on the day it was released....and after reading this severely memorable part of the book, I knew I would finish the book before I went to bed that night.)  He wondered if his step-father had killed her, as he sat in a bar with his brother, not knowing what else to do in those moments; President Bush addressed the nation that the enemy had been identified and the network of terror wanted to kill all of us.  Justin had a flood of phone calls offering condolences and he numbly went through the motions in response until he finally let the calls go to voicemail; President Bush advised everyone to live their lives and to remain calm even though our lives were being threatened; Justin questioned whether or not his step dad would come after him and his brother, too; The President's voice from the television in the bar continued in attempt to soothe a wounded nation and assure everyone that life would return to normal and that grief would recede with time and grace.

"Scrapbooking" was the most courageous and unforgettable chapter I've ever any book.  In this chapter, Justin attends a Parents of Murdered Children meeting.  He writes about the people he meets there, and understanding and sharing their rage and need to have their old lives back.  They're all given a project to do...a scrapbook layout of their lost loved one.  In a different chapter (Gun), Justin wrote about owning a gun and telling his friends in San Francisco that it's for protection; "In case there's a man at the door that means me harm."  His friends would argue that the better option is to call the police and Justin insists he wouldn't have time for that.  He writes, "They don't believe in the man at the door.  I do.  I've met him."  At this POMC meeting....I believe Justin knew he was surrounded people that have met him, too.  He writes, "We all do this every day:  focus on a series of small and meaningless tasks to pass the time, try to preserve our memories without wallowing in grief, and hope our lives will add up to some kind of tribute.  Of course we're good at scrapbooking.  Scraps are all we have."

Justin searches for answers of the unraveling events that led up to his mother's death.  He bravely returns back to his hometown of Tombstone, Arizona to face the memories, pain and brutal truth of it all.  He gracefully incorporates the infamous history of Wyatt Earp throughout the entire book and compares the tourist town he remembers to the Earps' legendary ghost town.  Near the end of the book, I just stopped to cry like a baby when I read a paragraph in his "High Lonesome" chapter.  After returning to Tombstone from his new life in San Francisco, he finds himself searching for his mom's property; the scene of her murder, after all these years.  He searches for closure and comes to realize that he really has no idea what answers he wanted to find there.   There he writes, "What did I expect?  A diorama showing where they stood and shot and died, like the one at the O.K. Corral?"  I can't imagine the pain he felt.  Reading this and writing about it now absolutely breaks my heart.  His compassion and brutal honesty is what makes this memoir extraordinary.

I attended Justin's 1st reading in Tucson and he said something that will stay with me forever.  I can't quote him exactly, but he said something about some advice that one of his mentors gave him while he contemplated writing this book.  They told him that you can say you want to do something for your whole life....but unless you actually start to take steps in the direction to do it, you can dance around it forever and it may never happen.....So, just decide you want to do it and do it.   Reading the end of the book, I believe that Justin had that kind of positive influence his whole life, from his mom.  He writes..."If she had made a decision, to leave that place, to leave Ray, she wouldn't have wavered.  She knew how to make decisions."

What an incredible woman his mom was....and I believe she is the reason that Justin is the remarkable man he is today.

Break room chit chat....

In offices everywhere, there are men and woman that gossip in break rooms.  Office politics, big or small, keep things interesting and just when you think you've graduated from junior high and all the drama that comes with it....get back to your cubicle and guess again.  However, there are those co-workers who will brighten your day and make it....a little (and only a little) fun to come to work.   Sometimes, given a steaming cup of delicious coffee and quirky co-workers in the right mood, I can actually enjoy some days in the office.

In all my years working in my office, I have never looked forward to "gossiping" in the break room.  It's just happened.  Inevitable I guess.  It happens too much sometimes, but on this particular Wednesday afternoon....not only did I enjoy the break room chit chat.....It actually helped bring me a little peace in this crazy whirlwind of a life I've been living as of late.  

I love my husband, I really do, but sometimes I get sick of babysitting him.  He's a grown 34 year old, completely competent and capable man.  So, you can understand my frustration when I find myself sometimes screaming at him because he forgot to take his pills (which is a huge deal in his case), or that while I'm at work and he's doing nothing at home and I still have to make all the calls to doctors for him.  I have to pay and organize all the bills.  I have to schedule his blood labs online.  I have to call the yard guy and the bug guy.  I have to battle with the bank and the insurance company.  I have to do the grocery shopping and plan for dinners throughout the week.  I basically have to conquer the world on my hour lunch.  I blame myself for salting his food and delivering him his sweet tea as he watches The Big Bang Theory and doesn't lift a finger.  To be honest...I really don't mind doing everything, but it gets frustrating at times.  I'm more of a go-getter than he is and lets face it...if I didn't do it, it wouldn't get done.  But, I have been a little depressed about it.  I don't want to feel like I'm in a relationship with a husband who needs to be babysat.  Don't we all just want to be taken care of and rescued sometimes?

I  hate to compare my life to others, but I really thought I was alone in this.....until that eye-opening Wednesday afternoon in the break room.  I was on my way to get some much needed afternoon coffee when I heard chatter getting louder and louder.  It wasn't angry and it wasn't pleasant.  It was more like venting.  When I reached the site of the chatter, I found 2 of my co-workers in the break room griping about their husbands.  These two co-workers are the 2 oldest employees in my department and have been with the company the longest.  I am close with both of them, and know both of their husbands very well.  They are both pretty high class ladies with fancy cars, beautiful houses and big bank accounts.  Both of their husbands work and have been married to them for 20 plus years.  

What I heard should have made me dive right in and join them in their vent session....but all I could do was smile and explain my peculiar relief.  For their privacy, I'm going to call them by fake names.  So, lets call them Laverne and Shirley.  Laverne's husband had the week off of work.  He just stayed home and took some time to himself.  Laverne went on and on about several things that she had to do on her lunch hour and after work and that he could have easily done himself.  He calls her if his checkbook doesn't balance, he calls her to kill spiders, he calls her to ask directions and....yes, she makes his doctor's appointments and picks up his vitamins at the drug store.  She packs his lunch, presses his ties and loves him with all of her heart.  

Shirley said something that will stay with me forever....Her addition to the husband rant...was that he is so stubborn and won't go to the doctor.  After weeks of nagging him to go and get checked, he agreed.  "But do you think he can make his own appointment?" she griped.  Nope!  She said she had to make the appointment, then go on her lunch hour and fill out his pre-patient paper work AND pay the co-pay, so all he would have to do is walk in and be seen.  It was music to my ears!!!  It's not my marriage falling apart, it's not just me raising a man's not just me who's babysitting a grown man!!  I had a life-changing 10 minutes that Wednesday....regardless of the fact that I had 3 more hours in the work day and was only in the "hump" of a slow moving work week.  The break room held my steaming cup of coffee and a little piece of mind that day.

With all of that husband is very lovable.  He does things for me that make me count myself as lucky.  I don't know many woman who come home to all of their laundry done, folded and put away.  If I see a tiny gnat, or a huge matter what time it is....he is there within seconds to kill it.  He takes out the trash and brings me my water every night.  I may be able to recite all of his 30 medications and dosages and his lengthy medical history to anyone who asks...while he barely knows the day of the week.....but then again...I wouldn't call myself all that easy going or low maintenance.  We're a good pair. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

As free as we could be....

Sometimes I just want to run away and start over.  That sounds bad doesn't it?  I don't really want to, but it does seem easier sometimes.  I think it's just the freeing, country landscape I see in the movies that help shape my dream of the simple life.  I want to live in the country somewhere like Savannah, GA...or maybe somewhere in New England.  I want a little cottage with a big porch, a vegetable and herb garden, peach, apple and lemon trees, a strawberry patch and blueberry bushes.  I'd paint the cottage yellow and white with a bright orange door.  I'd hang blue and white striped curtains and plant wild flowers all over the yard.  I'd just stay home and bake pies, read books, host teas and play my guitar.  Wouldn't that be the life?  I'd write, listen to music and create new recipes....and for sure put a lot of things in mason jars.  I think I'd decorate my entire kitchen with mason jars.  I'd do many things with mason jars!  I'd serve sweet tea and lemonade in them, mix dressings and sauces in them, store berries and peaches in them and maybe even fill some with homemade strawberry shortcake for a special dessert one day.  The kitchen would be bright, with white, open-faced cabinets, colorful dishes and custard walls.  Mason jars would line the shelves and the pantry would always be full of flour, sugar, chocolate chips, nuts and any and all baking ingredients.  Imagine all the scone recipes I could come up with in this fantasy life.  I'd get my groceries from a local market and meat counter located right across the street from the local quilt shop, candy store and cafe.  If I needed produce, I'd just swing open the back door to my cottage and pick from my garden.  Walking up to my house would always smell like rosemary and blueberries and when you step inside, you'd be hit with a constant aroma of sweet nutmeg and fresh coffee.

In the spring and summer, I'd open all of my windows, everyday, and let the sunlight shine through while the linen curtains flow in the breeze.  I'd always have fresh-cut, white daisies on my table....probably in a mason jar...and a big bowl of bright yellow lemons (from my tree) as a centerpiece.  For lunch, I'd often find myself enjoying a tomato (homegrown from my garden) and goat cheese sandwich on fresh, homemade herb bread with a glass of berry lemonade to wash it down.   Fresh peach and apple pies would always be cooling on my window seal and the aroma of wild honey would fill the house with comfort and happiness.  In the fall, I'd fill my porch with bright orange pumpkins in all sizes and sunflowers would line the front of my yard.  The orange and red leaves on my trees would be so vibrant and beautiful that I'd never want autumn to turn to winter.   I'd cook things like butternut squash soup with cracked black pepper, topped with fresh cream and served with toasted pumpernickel bread, slathered with honey butter.  For dessert, I'd serve pumpkin spice cupcakes and hot apple cider.  My cottage, in the winter, would be covered in a velvety blanket of snow that glistened like tinsel.  Inside, would be warm and toasty, both in temperature and in color.  Reds, creams and trims of gold would fill the house with all the fuzzy feelings that the holidays bring.  Milk chocolate cocoa, topped with sweet whipped cream and served with homemade cinnamon raisin coffee cake, would be a nightly indulgence in the month of December at my house, for sitting in front of a fire and watching Hallmark Christmas movies on TV.  My winter days would be spent in the kitchen making freshly baked sugar cookies, fudge, peanut brittle and peppermint bark that would fill dozens of trays, wrapped in shiny ribbon and given as delicious gifts!

While I'm not soaking up the peace and harmony at home...sometimes I'd head down to the local cafe and play my guitar at open mic night....and afterwards, I'd sip lattes and enjoy the folksy array of music.  In my cottage, I'd finish my book, start another one and finish my screenplay, too.  Of course my family would all live down the street from me.....and no where to be found would be me, at a 40 hour-a-week office job.

Ok,, enough dreaming.  Although I don't dream of a glamorous life, I still know my simple dream is no where near coming true.  That's why I love to take little weekend excursions with my family to give myself a taste of country living....and a beautiful life.  

A couple weekends ago, I had a jam-packed weekend of "country" fun!  On Saturday, my sister, Bri and I went with our friend Marcely and her mom to a Sonoita winery.  It was a lot of fun and absolutely lovely.  Now, as you know if you read my blog, Bri and I visited Napa Valley last year and fell in love with vineyards and wineries.  I don't drink, so I was the designated driver.  I did, however, go on the wine pairing tour and sip a few of the wines.  They were sweet and delicious!  Later, we took a wagon ride through the vineyard and then had a delicious lunch in the vintage room.  We ate shredded beef with lots of roasted chilies and tomatoes, a fresh tortilla and cowboy beans.  It was so tasty!  After the wine tour and lunch, we decided to head into the town of Sonoita and check out the cute little shops.  We found a couple artsy shops and more importantly, a charming little bakery.  We walked into the bakery in hopes that we'd find a glass case full of pastries and a menu of specialty coffees.  Our vision became reality.  We walked into the bakery to find the walls lined with mason jars, filled with anything from rhubarb jam to pickled okra.  It was so adorable.  I had a homemade blueberry-cream cheese bar.  It was out-of-this-world delicious.  Bri had a homemade granola bar and Marcely and her mom had a cranberry-orange muffin.  The bakery owners were the cutest little old couple who were a bit disturbed with our slightly over-the-top excitement over the mason jar display.  However, after a bite of the decadence we had in front of us and a sip of the smooth and steaming cup of coffee....our happiness exuded and they couldn't help but appreciate our whimsy.  The little old lady even ended up taking a picture of the 4 of us.  When we left, there was a guest book in the entrance and I wrote a song lyric, signed our names and we were off.  We will definitely be going back there again soon!

On Sunday, the very next day, I was ambitious and stuck to "peach pickin'" plans.  I'm so glad I did.  When I'm at Apple Annies, I'm happy.  My mom, sisters and I have been going to the apple festival for years and it's ALWAYS the happiest day of my year.  This year, we decided to go the the peach festival, too!  The peaches are obviously in the summertime and am I ever glad we went!  Those peaches were the juiciest, sweetest peaches I have ever and will ever eat in my life.  They are absolutely scrumptious.  I bought a big bag full of them with plans to make a peach pie, peach tart and peach strudel.  Yeah, that didn't happen.  One by one....I ate them all...cut up into pieces and shoved straight into my mouth.  I'm not even sorry.  They were like little pieces of heaven....and I had a baker's dozen.    

The day was so fun!  It was my mom, my sister, Ginger, my mother-in-law and me.  We ate peach pancakes, shopped for fun country decor at the arts and crafts fair, visited the new country store and also went to the produce farm for fresh corn, watermelons and veggies!  I took lots of pictures and at the end of the day, we had loaded Ginger's car up with plenty of homemade fudge, kettle corn, veggies and peaches.   On the way home, as a tradition, we stopped for lunch at Magaly's, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Benson.   It was a day to remember and I can hardly wait for apple season!!   Here are some great pictures I captured from my fun-filled weekend of wine and peaches!!

Here we are at the Apple Annie's Country Store...

In the country store, they have a little dessert cafe!

The gift shop at Apple Annie's is decorated just like a country kitchen....with old fashioned baker's racks. 

Yummy fresh produce!

The produce farm is so peaceful and quaint...

Ginger and I with peach ice cream and peach slush!

My mom and mil taking a break on the bench.... :)

Our kind of peach pickin'

My silly momma!  She posed in this picture for Brady's sake!  It looks kinda real...haha!

I had to snap a few pictures of the beautiful apple trees....

Until next time, Apple Annies!!

On the road to Sonoita....

Fresh pistachios at the Winery!  We bought some jalapeno ones!

Bri and I in the vintage room after lunch!

Bri, Marcely and her mom!

The infamous mason jars!!

Monika's Bakery!