Friday, October 31, 2008

Scary Sweet

Don't let the title of this post turn you off... since the moment I saw this idea, I was hooked... and after tasting it last night, this fun and easy Halloween treat officially went into the repertoire (for easy desserts, of course... not weeknight meals though one can dream).

I'm a little short on time so head to Recipe Girl's post for instructions and additional colorful pictures of this versatile treat. I made mine with the same add-ins that she used but you can obviously add or alter based on your tastes (or on the season!). *one hint, don't skip the pretzels - they gave the candy the perfect bit of saltiness needed to cut the sugary-goodness

And best of all, besides the fact that from start to finish, the project took me all of 35 minutes... then, the bark broke into perfect pieces to go into these cute bags, all wrapped up for my co-workers. Next time I might add a frightening tag warning of their scary sweetness.


*A second Halloween treat... you MUST check out my favorite Food Blogga's recipes and delightful article about using Halloween candy. Expect to see some of those recipes here in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Less is More

One thing I'm finding as I'm in the kitchen more and more is that my easy meals (that we tend to like the best, truth be told) are rarely blog or picture-worthy! But that makes me sad! I know that if more people out there (picture me pointing at all of you, myself included!) posted more everyday meals that had only a few pantry-staple type ingredients, my repertoire of weeknight meals and I would be ever so grateful.

Instead, however, and I am completely guilty of this also... we try and make fancy dishes (they are so fun and tempting, I agree!) , certainly at least dishes that will look pleasing in a picture, and while they might be good and worth the effort once, they rarely make it to my list of go-tos.

So along those lines, in the hopes that some others of you will follow suit, I wanted to share a meal that we LOVE (and now that I've been reminded just how good and incredibly easy it is, a dish that we will certainly be making more of)... in all it's non-blog-worthy glory. AND, if you can believe it, this puppy has just 4 ingredients, 5 if you count the cooking spray.

Mozzarella-Chicken Pasta

boneless, skinless chicken breasts (enough for your crowd)
spaghetti (though any type of pasta would work - we recommend Barilla Whole Grain or Plus)
jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1/4 c per chicken breast)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray your baking dish with a thin coat of cooking spray; a deep and wide casserole dish works best. Place your chicken breasts in the casserole dish and cover completely with spaghetti sauce. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour depending on the number of chicken breasts; test chicken with a fork for done-ness.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta according to the package directions.

Uncover your dish and spread shredded cheese over the top of the spaghetti sauce and chicken; put entire dish back into the oven, uncovered, for up to 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted to your liking.

Serve a chicken breast and a portion of the sauce (make sure you get some of the cheesy goodness!) over your pasta.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Loving the Little Ones

How quickly phases in life transition... I don't really even know where the time went or how (wasn't I just talking about our wedding series this summer?! though truth be told, even those kind of crept up on me), but as I keep hearing again and again, this kind of "time flying" will continue to happen, and if possible, it will go faster and faster.

However, if there's something I enjoy more than celebrating the wedding of some good friends, it's celebrating those same good friends' future son or daughter... and luckily I'm having tons of opportunities to do that lately.

This past weekend I headed down to Atlanta, which was a treat in and of itself. I hadn't been there since our wedding, so not only was I going "home" for a bit, but some of my very best friends were joining me! We all convened in Atlanta to shower our dear Allison in anticipation of her daughter, Natalie Elizabeth, scheduled to join us in late December.

Of course, where would one host a beautiful all-pink baby shower in Atlanta... the traditional Swan Coach House! Though we may laugh about the number of times we've all been there and how we weren't even sure if they had a real menu aside from "The Swan's Favorite", it is amazingly delicious every single time.

Everyone was treated to pink and white carriage cookie favors which complemented the decorations beautifully and were quite tasty, too!

We had a wonderful time together preparing for Allison and Jeff's baby - it's clear that Natalie and her parents are well-loved. Completely selfishly, my main concern has been when I'll be able to get up to Michigan to meet the littlest Sapp! Hopefully my first ever trip to Michigan is in the not-too-distant-future!

Another added bonus (icing on the cake, if you will!) of the weekend was getting to meet some of my very best friends' son, Harrison Henry! I have been counting down the days until I got to meet this little guy and we had so much fun "mom-ing" him, with the extra benefit of giving his parents a little rest!

Jayne and Jason are very blessed to have little Harrison - I gave him as many hugs as possible to last him until I get to hang out with him again.
It was a truly wonderful weekend, a little bit of everything I love. Tons of babies all around and visiting with friends and family... I absolutely love this new stage in our lives!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Some Like It Hot"

While these cookies do remind me of everything delicious and fragrant about fall, they aren't the least bit hot... however, that saying was the first thing that came to mind when I saw Anita's post that she'd be hosting Sugar High Friday this month, and her selected theme was "Spice Up Your Life"!

I admit that there are more creative uses of spices in the wide world of baked goods than these cookies, but you really can't get a better mix of fall flavors packed into one cookie than these so without really a whole lot of deliberation, I knew they would be my entry... even though these yummy treats might only make use of cinnamon in the spices category, there's just no better combination than cinnamon and pumpkin!!

Great Pumpkin Cookies
makes about 20 large cookies

2 c flour
1 c old fashioned oats, uncooked
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c solid pumpkin
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; mix well. Alternate additions of dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition. Stir in morsels. For each cookie, drop 1 TBSP to 1/4 c (depending on your preference) dough onto lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until cookies are firm and lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheets, cool on racks.

Prepare to enjoy one of our favorite fall treats - but act fast, they will go quickly!

By the way, if you haven't checked out Anita's blog, Dessert First, you MUST. She has absolutely breath-taking pictures of even better sounding recipes. Check back for my attempt at her favorite cookie ever... how can you pass up a cookie with that kind of a recommendation!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cause for Celebration

If anyone knows my husband, they know he is not one for being the center of attention. But if you know that, you also know that he IS one to put everyone else's interests above his, always.

Course, he's no fool and has caught on to my love of cooking and entertaining, and he also knows I love celebrating those that I love... so he graciously played along with my idea to throw our first big party in the house, and allowed his 30th birthday to be the cause.

Facing all that I knew going into this thing, the only thing I could do was to think of everything and anything that Chris loves... sports immediatly popped into my head first - so the decorations consisted of everything we owned Nationals-Redskins-Bucknell-University of Maryland related.

Next was the food, I called in the big guns and had Chris' brother, Ben (who I've mentioned before as being the master of the grill and almost all things culinary), for his *almost world-famous ribs. I supplied all of the appetizers and sides and dessert, but Ben's ribs were the star of the show by far.

I had some other help - namely the weather (which enabled a few fun rounds of KUBB) and a good Redskins-Browns game that provided additional entertainment.

And to cap it all off, a team of us lit all 30 candles one our favorite chocolate-mousse filled Costco cake. *yes, I bought a cake - sometimes it's just better to outsource; the rest of the food for 30+ people had done me in

Even Chris' least favorite part of the evening, some extremely loud but friendly singing, couldn't lessen the fun from the rest of the day.

All in all, I must say that while I'm a little tired from all of the planning these past 2 months, I definitely loved every moment of it. The absolutely best part, though, was getting to celebrate Chris' birthday with all of our favorite friends. We've agreed multiple times that one of our favorite past-times is just about any time we're able to spend with friends... and this time was no different.

So a big huge thanks to everyone who made this such a special birthday... even if Chris would rather forget WHICH birthday.

And yes, it goes without saying that these pictures aren't the greatest... between transitioning from appetizers and snacks, to dinner and then again to dessert (and lighting 30 candles!), pictures were the last thing in my mind, sadly enough.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Build and GROW"

I have no doubt in my mind that after Saturday morning's activities , the management of Lowe's has had only one thought... "why haven't we been doing this for years?"

Leave it to Charlie (who incidentally was the subject of my first post and subsequent many others) turning 3 and my super creative sister-in-law to convince Lowe's that a private version of their "Build and Grow" workshops would be ideal for the location for the birthday celebration of our John Deere-loving, builder-extraordinaire little soon-to-be 3-year old.

Charlie started off the morning being wheeled into the Lowe's in grand fashion on a large cargo cart carrying a bunch of balloons and proclaiming to the store "it's my birthday!" No fan-fare is too big for my nephew.

He, of course, wore his John Deere finest for the occasion and if I don't say so myself... the color green looks right at home on him.

Robyn, being the creative mommy that she is had an adorable cake that looked like lumber being "zipped" (as Charlie calls it) by a saw plus adorable sugar cookies in the shape of different tools tied up with measuring tape ribbon for favors.

Not to be outdone in cuteness, though, was Miss Caroline. It'd been a few weeks since we'd had the chance to see our precious niece and she did not disappoint. I am loving all the pink since prior to Caroline arriving on the scene, we hadn't seen much more than blue and green, with the occasional yellow hard hat.

I couldn't decide whether she was more adorable asleep or awake, so I will leave that up to you .

We're enjoying having the chance to watch Caroline change even in the few short months of her life so far... if she is as much "girl" as Charlie is "boy", there's a lot more pink to come! I'm not sure if Charlie and his parents are prepared for that!

We had so much fun celebrating with Charlie and his friends... I highly recommend living close to family - it's absolutely the best!

Happy 3rd to my favorite nephew!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Not One Cent

I solemnly swear that I didn't actually go and hire a photographer to have my dog photographed... but after seeing these pictures, you probably won't believe me.

Apparently there are some sneaky good "picture-takers" lurking in my life, and I couldn't be more thankful for what they consider a practice photo-shoot.

We are loving these gorgeous pictures of our Annabelle.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In My Mind

When I think of Europe and all that is to be uncovered in the small but rich continent, my mind immediately congers up beautiful, romantic images. And having just returned, that sentiment rings even truer for us now.

So with that, I have picked some (too many, I know - at least I didn't just upload the whole album) of my favorite images of our recent trip to share; I realize that the identity or location of many of these are not obvious, but they hold the deepest memories for me of our trip that started in Vienna, a quick train ride to Prague, then to Budapest, and back, on the Hydrofoil (via Bratislava), to Vienna. *as an aside, I highly recommend this itinerary

Vienna's RathausVienna's Staatsoper A favorite view of Vienna Stift MelkSacher-torte at Hotel SacherNight time in Prague's Old Town SquareOld Town Square's Astronomical ClockPrague's Old Jewish CemeteryView from the Charles BridgeStained glass in St. Vitus CathedralOne of many cafes that we taste-testedBudapest's St. Stephen Cathedral "the Basilica" Us at Fisherman's BastionMária Magdolna torony (this is all that remains of a 13th-century Franciscan church on Castle Hill in Buda; under Turkish rule, this was the only church allowed to remain Christian - all others were converted into mosques; the chancel was destroyed in WWII and has not been rebuilt except for one stone window, as a memento)Terror HázaThe Great SynagogueView from the top of "the Basilica"Gardens and the Gloriette at Schonbrunn Palace
A favorite afternoon at Vienna's Kunsthistorisches MuseumOur final night spent reminiscing about our trip that was drawing to a close*Entire trip album

We've agreed that our favorite activity (as dorky as it sounds) was probably learning about the different cities and their people
throughout the course of history, and especially what had actually taken place often in the exact spot where we happened to be standing. Chris and I absolutely loved traveling together and discovering other cultures and appreciating their rich past, and let us not forget the delicious food and drink the Viennese, Czechs, and Hungarians were so kind to share with us.

All that's left to say is "where next"?!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Don't Miss the Middle

This isn't my picture... I'm sparing you all from what would surely be additional poor photography (okay, truth is, I simply forgot our camera - more questionable pictures masquerading as photography on its way) but I couldn't miss the chance to advertise what we were lucky enough to see this weekend on our drive to and from Central Pennsylvania.

I was so happy to take the 3+ hour drive - not only to get to celebrate a wonderful couple but also for the spectacular backdrop that the Susquehanna River Valley provided for our trip. Despite the very warm temperature we have here (though I'm not complaining), fall is truly here.

Congratulations and thanks for sharing your day with us, Antonia and Brad!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Is it wrong that every morning when I get on the metro heading to work I just want to be left alone? I am usually an outgoing person (I swear, after the following incident occurred, I then helped a family touring DC find their way so I'm really not completely anti-social), but especially at times like this (read: in the middle of a season of political warfare), the last thing I want to be greeted with is a politician pushing his or her ideals in my face. I will say, for the record, that this has nothing to do with whether or not I agree with said politician.

This morning it was Mark Ellmore (and I hesitate putting his name on here lest someone should find my blog and think I'm advocating for or against him), whom while I am trying my very best to be an informed voter, I honestly have no clue if I support him - either way, neither the prospect of talking with strangers about politics AND it being the early morning interested me in the least.

On the other hand, Operation Baking GALS IS something that I support, and without any reservations (which I will go out on a limb and say I won't find a political candidate that I can say the same for).

Round Three has just finished up and I sadly made a late entry due to our (wonderful) European excursion (pictures to come). But if my soldier this time is anything like Colin, I know cookies are cookies, no matter the time or place.

This time I sent a double-batch of a new favorite of ours, Oatmeal White and Milk Chocolate Craisin cookies, along with some fun candies.

Not that I ever have trouble getting into baking but somehow it's just more fun when there's such a great cause waiting at the other end.

*And since you will inevitably notice, yes, it does appear that I left my picture-taking abilities (meager as they were) somewhere along the banks of the Danube. Hopefully my forthcoming trip pictures will make up for these.

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