Back in the Kitchen

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe or, if I’m being really honest, cooked a full meal from scratch in our kitchen. Since one of our goals for 2014 is to cook more and eat out less perhaps it’s time to revive the ol’ blog with recipes and stories from our kitchen. Here goes nothing…

First, it helps to have a great playlist for motivation and impromptu dance breaks with a spoon as a mic. Oh wait. I’m the only one that does this? Forget I said anything.

But, if you do need a playlist, I found a great one. Unfortunately, I can only take credit for finding it, not for putting it together.

It will become my soundtrack for all cooking going forward, so if you’re coming over for dinner be prepared for music blaring from our front room so I can hear it in the kitchen.

My husband spent many of his formative years in a commercial kitchen and, since I apparently suck at getting all the dishes ready to serve at the same time, he is in charge of timing the dishes. He always succeeds in this area. Thankfully.

This week, we chose to cook grilled chicken with a basil-lemon drizzle and garlic rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes. We also had a side salad using a premade organic Italian salad mix and Newman’s Own Italian Dressing (because I was too lazy to whip up my easy scratch vinaigrette).

I started on the fingerling potatoes first and used this recipe from Designlovefest. These were the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever eaten and I definitely added it to our binder of go-tos for future reference. Adam kept saying how amazing they tasted and how perfectly cooked they were. #winning

While the potatoes were roasting away in the oven, I got started on the drizzle for the chicken and told Adam, ” Go forth and grill chicken”.

For the chicken, he seasoned boneless skinless chicken breasts with black pepper (he LOVES black pepper) and some chili powder, before grilling them to perfection.

For the drizzle I followed a recipe from Skinny Italian by (don’t judge) Real Housewife Teresa Giudice. This isn’t the first recipe I’ve made from her cookbook and it won’t be the last. This had a wonderful flavor that we both loved and it was quick to put together!

Basil Lemon Drizzle
from Skinny Italian

 Ingredients
  • 1/2 garlic clove
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper (We added a bit more. Did I mention the hubs loves pepper?)

Directions

  1. In a food processor (we only have a mini-prep and it did the job), drop in garlic to mince.
  2. Add basil and pulse a few times to chop it.
  3. Add in the lemon juice, oil, and 2 tablespoons water and process until it becomes a thin sauce.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and pulse once more.
  5. Let stand at room temperature until ready to serve, no longer than one hour.

Yield: 6 tablespoons, about 4 servings

Once the chicken was grilled and the potatoes roasted, we plated our meals and ate up. Everything was delicious and we were quite happy to have leftovers, which we’re planning to finish off tonight 🙂

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How to Stay Entertained When You Work From Home

I’ve been working from home for a little over 2 years now.

One of the ways I spice up my workday is by pulling pranks on my husband. My favorite prank is still the time I put a wall of boxes in front of the front door.

However, today I had a stroke of genius when I realized he left his Spotify account logged in on his Mac. (Not that this is anything new, it’s always left open , I just never thought about it until today.)

The Spotify account than just happens to post his activity to Facebook for everyone to see.

That’s when I did this:

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Man was this fun. And as of posting this blog? Adam still doesn’t have a clue 🙂

Gratitude

1148977_10100758582606377_1537477582_nHave you ever had a moment where you are overwhelmed with gratitude? As I sit in our upstairs loft, eavesdropping on Adam talking to our dog about “Top Gear” and telling Senna he’s a good pup, I’m overwhelmed.

Actually, it started yesterday, after our weekend guests headed back to Arkansas. As I was driving home from breakfast, I realized I’m grateful for so many things in my life right now.

I’m grateful for friends who bring light into our lives we didn’t realize we were missing.

I’m grateful for our new church – a place that just “fits” – and the people who have since entered our life.

I’m grateful for the city I call home and I’m constantly in awe of – whether it be breathtaking sunsets, amazing skyline views, or the almost perfect fall weather that’s finally arrived.

I’m grateful for our jobs which allow us to travel and see parts of the world we otherwise wouldn’t see.

I’m grateful for our dog. He’s a never ending source of entertainment and stress-relief.

I’m grateful for family and am excited that almost all of them are visiting us for Thanksgiving this year.

I’m grateful for a husband who makes me laugh when I’m at my lowest point, who loves me everyday, who tolerates 6 women in his house for a weekend and never complains, and who holds my hand because it’s there.

This overwhelming sense of gratitude has a smile plastered on my face.

I can’t remember a time I’ve been so content, so happy, so blessed.

A Year in Review

Instead of posting my normal Year in Review list I’ve decided to be a bit more long-winded. Humor me, okay?

This past year was almost like a reset for me. In the best sense of the word.

I moved to Austin in late October of 2011 and adjusted to married life – which I LOVE, but I never realized uprooting and acclimating to a new city would take so long.

I had gotten in a funk when we first moved here. I was adjusting (poorly) to working from home and was resentful for a few months that I had been “forced” to move to Longhorn Country.

Living in Adam’s old bachelor pad apartment didn’t help. I’ve told many friends that it felt like a hotel and not a home, I never felt settled. Luckily, we were able to buy our first house and that is what I consider the catalyst to my “reset”.

Once we got settled in our house, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I could either learn to love this new awesome city I was living in (minus the university just down the road) or be a curmudgeon.I had never been a curmudgeon before – in fact I was usually the exact opposite – so why did I let myself get to that place now?

I learned it took more effort to be unhappy and find negativity in situations and it wasn’t necessarily the most healthy way to go about my day. I was FINALLY married to the love of my life, but I was punishing him because I was being a curmudgeon.

I started doing little things to brighten my day – things I used to love to do. I planted flowers around our yard. I learned to make homemade tortillas. I re-joined Jazzercise. I joined a stitching/fiber arts/knitting group. I hosted parties. I watched the Oscars.

Slowly, I began to feel like my old self and I was happy. Why had I let myself get that dark place when I’m having so much more fun now?

Adam, bless his heart, was amazing. He was patient for this entire year letting me find my place in Austin and our life together. He never became exasperated with my negativity and would force me on occasion to get outside or meet him for lunch. He was truly my saving grace.

This year helped me prioritize my life and my interests. I learned to drop the baggage of unhappiness and find the sun everyday. I learned a smile is the best way to change my attitude and I thank God everyday that I have a husband who can make me belly laugh for hours.

I can be awesome, everyday, and I owe that to myself and to those around me.

Less Traveled

I’m an over thinker to a fault.

It leads to worry and questions of what if.

It’s something I’m trying to be better at.

Because of this, I am always multi-tasking. Always keeping my mind busy so it’s less likely to over-think and lead me down a path of questions and what ifs for which I have no answers. I never allow myself to just be – be in the present and absorbing where I am without distractions.

This weekend changed all of this.

Within 10 minutes of our house is possibly one of the best kept secrets in Austin. A lovely hiking trail and park along a creek. As I was mindlessly following the trails this weekend I chose a path that appeared “less traveled” and in a direction I had never been before. It was scattered with rocks and had roots twisting up through the dirt creating trip hazards. Bordered on each side with thick cacti. I pressed on not knowing what to expect next.

It’s funny that I chose this path. Normally, I’d choose the clear path. The one that had no obstructions and looked totally reliable. Soon the path become a narrow passage through a dry forest of vines and branches, which eventually led to a steep downhill section and followed by a fork in the trail.

To the right, I heard cars speeding by – that would take me back along the road.

To the left, I heard nothing and I knew a creek was close by – I’ll choose that way.

The path continued and soon began to have little offshoots leading into the water. Eventually I ended up here:

I cannot even begin to describe the peace, solitude and contentment that I experienced as soon as I saw this opening. Small calming waterfalls, large dry rocks in the middle of the water to sit and relax on and no one around. The water is shallow enough to take your shoes off and get your feet wet as you wade through to the dry rock or deep enough to get a little swimming action in (as evidenced by the rope swing). The only noise was of the water flowing over the rocks – near complete silence that forced me to just be.

This place quieted my soul and mind in a way I have never experienced before. I was present and free of distraction with nary an over thought in my mind. It was pure bliss and much needed.

I’ve gone back 2 more times since I found this and each time I find myself craving the silence and peace more and more. I never want to leave – but eventually I look down, notice that time has gotten away from me and I head back to reality – refreshed and revitalized.

That trail “less traveled?” Truly made all the difference.

Our First Cookie Exchange

Santa Senna

Santa Senna helped us get ready

I’ve always wanted to host a holiday party, one that might become a tradition, and since we bought a house now’s as good a time as any to give it a go, right?

We brainstormed and decided since Adam and I both have a sweet tooth, we’d host a cookie exchange and that’s where this story begins.

About 3 weeks earlier, we sent out Paperless Post invites and started planning. I researched exchanges and swaps online and defined our “guidelines” based on what I read.

Several blogs I read recommended having each guest/family bring 7 – 11 DOZEN cookies each. We thought that was a bit extreme and went with an even 4 dozen per couple/family/friend. As guests arrived we had them grab a number off the table to label their cookies. These numbers would be used in the competition later – yes, we competed. Isn’t that what life’s about?

Guests ate, drank, and were exceedingly merry before we busted into the cookie sampling.

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B is for…

We had sugar cookies, chocolate chip varieties, bars, brownies, and more to sample before judging our favorites. The most festive and best tasting cookies were given prizes and bragging rights until next year.

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Most Festive

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Best Tasting

After everyone got their cookie induced sugar coma on, we had them fill boxes with their favorite cookies to take home and enjoy throughout the holiday season!

It was a wonderfully festive evening but since it was our first exchange we’ve made note of a few things we’d change for next year:

  • 4 dozen cookies per family/guest is waay too many, our house looked like Cookie Monster threw up in it, not that that’s a bad thing. (I can’t even begin to imagine the leftovers if everyone brought 10 dozen each) Next year we’ll have guests bring 2 dozen each.
  • Full size cookies were a bit too much for guests to sample everything everyone brought. Next year we’ll ask guests to bring bite size cookies or provide utensils for them to cut cookies into smaller pieces.

See? Cookie Monster.

Ultimately, our first cookie exchange was a success – we had a blast hosting it and learned that our house is PERFECT for entertaining. Which is great because we hope to host many more parties in the future.

House Tour: Breakfast Nook

Comfort.

Warm fuzzies.

These are the words that enter my head and cause a smile to spread across my face every time I look into our breakfast nook. This part of our home is where the memories will be made, meals will be eaten and the heart will grow over the years.

There are several meaningful parts of this room, but most essential is the table. This farmhouse table has been in Adam’s family for many many years (probably close to 100).

It has history literally etched into it.

The knife marks on the lower left corner from pigs being slaughtered for family meals and the faint indentions made by a meat grinder that was clamped to the table on bottom center of the picture above are the reminders of distant history.

In the middle of this picture, you see newer markings and scratches. Scars from a more recent history wherein this table held. up. a. house. after a tornado destroyed Adam’s childhood home. Memories, both good and bad, have surrounded this table for decades and now it’s ours.

Ours to create new memories around, as well as to share the old.

Another meaningful part of this room is the painting. I went to college at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and this painting (purchased at the AMAZING RiffRaff on the Fayetteville Square) contains every part of Arkansas that I love.

I look forward to many memories and good times in this nook. Game nights, cookie decorating, pumpkin carving and laughter. This will truly become the heart of our home and I can’t wait!

all photos taken by adam bartlett [aka my handsome hubby]

And then there were three…

Meet Senna.

Senna likes to be lazy.

Senna likes to go on hikes.

Senna can shake.

Senna loves toys.

He carries them through the house.

Then settles down in the den.

Within 5 minutes…

The toys will end up like this.

Thank goodness he’s a cutie.

House Tour: Den

One of my favorite things about our house is the cozy second living area we call our den. This room is my baby, so to speak. I spent hours thinking about how I wanted it to look, drawing inspiration from Pinterest and shopping for just the right pieces of furniture to fill the space. I wanted a bright, welcoming space that had a little bit of vintage flare to it.

Being new homeowners means being on a budget when it comes to making the new house our home. We ended up coming in under budget on our den, which was our main spending area for the house right now.

The first thing we did when the house was officially ours was start painting the den. I wanted to get rid of the brown textured accent wall as quickly as possible and change the taupe walls to a light dove gray shade. We found the paint at Treehouse, our favorite hardware store in Austin. I love the turquoise accent wall and the slightly darker shade that we used to accent the bar area!

The media center is actually an IKEA find that I love! It gives the look, feel and storage space of built-ins but at an affordable cost. The white shelves against the turquoise wall pops and makes me so happy and gives me plenty of space to play with books and decorative items.

After weeks of furniture shopping and never finding exactly what we wanted, we happened upon the perfect couch and coffee table at a local store called Five Elements Furniture. As soon as we walked into their showroom we immediately felt at home. Their furniture was so us and exactly what I had in mind for our den. The staff is so helpful and friendly and if we ever need more furniture, it will definitely be our first stop!

Because our entire downstairs is tiled, I knew we’d need to get an area rug for the den. Enter Overstock.com. I have a very good friend from college who had used Overstock to furnish her first home and knew she had good things to say about their quality, so I called her up and asked for advice. She told me to focus on pieces 4 star rated or higher and to read the comments because they give the best insight into the actual delivered appearance of your purchases. I knew I wanted a graphic rug for our den, but didn’t like the price of the options at local stores, then I saw the Alexa Chevron on Overstock and was sold. It was the perfect addition to the space!

One of my favorite finds in the den is the faux Eames Lounger we happened upon at my favorite local vintage store, Room Service. Adam begged for a recliner but said if I could find an Eames Lounger in our budget he’d settle for that. Thank God I found one. 🙂 Bonus: It’s super comfy!

Another favorite feature in the den is the vintage “B” we scored on a trip to Fredericksburg Trade Days that Adam then wired as a lamp. Every time I look at it, I smile – it’s such a quirky  part of our house!

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with how our den turned out. It’s cheery, bright, and cozy. Exactly what we wanted for the space!

all photos taken by adam bartlett [aka my handsome hubby]

Come On In My Kitchen

One room is practically finished which means it’s only appropriate to give you a glimpse into the house we are turning into our home.

The kitchen is one of the things that sold me on this house  [the other is the outdoor fireplace, but you’ll have to wait to see that transformation for a few weeks]. It’s a huge space that screams entertaining and has an island begging to be covered in flour and sugar on a regular basis. Also? Hello granite countertops and gas stove/oven. I’m living the dream!

Err…we. We are living the dream 🙂

You’ll notice there isn’t anything wrong with the kitchen in it’s present state (except for the lack of a fridge), but we wanted to inject a little of our style into it. The red walls are ventian plaster and perfect for Hog fans living in Texas. Yay for no painting in this room! Adam and I luckily have similar styles and visions for the house which has made it quite fun to toss ideas around. Ultimately, we wanted a kitchen that was welcoming and inviting with a bit of a vintage industrial undertone and once the breakfast nook is completed I think we will have achieved our goal.

We took a road trip to Fredericksburg – my FAVORITE small town ever because of its quaint shops in the downtown – and visited our favorite store red. Red is full of amazing vintage finds and contemporary patterns, not to mention one of a kind junk turned art accessories and mid-century style furnishings.

Basically? It’s my dream.

We went in red for inspiration more than anything and walked out with 3 light fixtures! Two to replace the too-formal-for-us island pendants and one to replace the completely not us light in the dining room (for almost 75% off which I LOVE and you’ll also have to wait to see – I’m such a tease).

Adam assured me that switching the pendants would be an easy job.

Ha!

We really are new and naive homeowners.

It took Adam several choice words and at least an hour to switch the first pendant because the electrical box itself wasn’t centered in the hole among other problems which he tried to explain to me and I just ignored didn’t understand. The second light was much easier to switch and he was practically pleasant to be around during the installation. He even let me snap a picture of him hard at work. Gotta love a handy hubby!

I really love how our new slightly vintage and slightly industrial lights look above the island.

The stools were also a happy accident. My parents visited this past weekend to help us unpack and organize a bit. Friday, while mom and I were out and about, we made a last minute stop at World Market. These stools compliment what will be our breakfast table chairs perfectly and also helped add an industrial feel to the kitchen.

Best of all? They were on sale and I got both for the price of one if regularly priced. Score!

Also, my mom? Is a pantry genius. Such a HUGE help, thanks mom!

The stools and the pendants were the big initial aesthetic changes in the kitchen, but the fridge was a necessity that Adam has been enthralled with ever since it was delivered.

Why?

Because it has one magical feature.

The water dispenser has an auto fill option. This means that you can place any pitcher or glass under the spout hit auto fill and walk away. Water is dispensed into the container without spilling and it is even measured in ounces on the screen for you. We’ve tried many different types of containers in hopes of tripping it up and we haven’t yet. So yeah, we bought a fridge and our favorite feature is the in-door water dispenser. What does this say about us?

Finally, we had to put a little Razorback spirit around the kitchen. 🙂

In the near future I want to add some rugs or runners around the island and in the “if money was made on trees” very distant future I’d like to replace the backsplash with some nice white subway tile and maybe refinish the cabinets.

For now the kitchen suits us perfectly and we couldn’t be happier!

Christening

We finished unpacking and organizing the kitchen and I cannot stop cooking on our gas stove. Seriously where has this been all my life? I feel like I’m on Food Network.

Ever since we bought our house I’ve said that our island was begging to be covered in flour and today it happened. Consider my kitchen officially christened.

Recently, I learned of fellow Austinite, Hilah’s, cooking blog. All of her recipes look fantastic and late this afternoon I decided to tackle an entire, made from scratch, taco dinner using her recipes. Partially because Adam had been craving tacos the past few today, but mainly because it meant I could cover our island in flour. YES!!

I’ve always been intimidated by making tortillas, but I really shouldn’t have been. They were super easy and Hilah’s recipe called for only 5 ingredients.

I mixed unbleached flour, baking powder, and salt before adding in oil and skim milk.

Then I kneaded the dough into a ball before letting it rest for 30 minutes.

The last step before cooking was rolling the dough into tortillas. In total, I got 10 tortillas out of this recipe.

Cooking the tortillas was easy peezy yellow cheesy. All I did was throw a tortilla on a hotter than Hades cast iron skillet, let one side start bubbling up, then flip to cook the other side. Super simple and fast!

I ate the tortillas along with Hilah’s Fluffy Mexican Rice and beef mixture from her Cripsy Beef Tacos.

We loved this meal and I have a feeling the tortillas will be made on a weekly basis so that we have some on hand anytime we want them.