Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Momma Said"

I like working in the yard! I do. I'm even okay with the heat and sweat that accompanies it - the bug bites I could do without but they aren't unbearable - but the results... I LIVE for those.

But this wasn't without a fight. I've teetered between loving yard work and hating it with a passion for some time. My mom will vouch that this most likely stems from years of weeding our family's yard. I certainly don't deny that everything I know, I learned from my parents (thanks, mom & dad!), but I also came dangerously close to hating many of the house chores (okay! all of them!) while being 'taught'. Faithfully, though, they remained confident that it'd work itself out in its own time.

To date, I will readily admit that I dust and clean the leaves of our houseplants (they get so dirty!), daily walk through our yard, picking weeds along the way and talking to our flowers and our vegetable garden, and was happy to windex our windows in a fit of spring cleaning earlier this year. Insert a soundbite from my mom here and it'd sound something like a big, huge "I told you so".

Are these just one of the many ways I can prove I'm "all growed up"? Or another example of how I'm, uh, turning into my mother (which I'm actually okay with - minus the mixed up cliches that she inserts into conversation)?

In honor of the hard-fought battle, as we worked outside today, I took note of the things we were doing because of advice our parents had given us:

Turning over the bed of lettuce so we'll be ready for another crop in late summer/early fall...

The result of thinning out and moving some of our lilies... (told you, I live for the results!)

Our garden 'angel' perfectly positioned to watch over our shrubs... (excuse the weeds - I swear I took care of those post-photo shoot)

Our ginormous lavender bush (which will be cut back thanks to some good advice ) doing its summer-best to attract the 'birds and bees' (or just the bees)...

Checking on another season's (mercifully) prosperous tomato, bell pepper, and bean plants...

AND learning to enjoy your own harvest!

Weeds or not, and hard-work in the yard aside, it's silly moments like these that I am most grateful for what my parents did to influence who I am today - my love of family and friends (and hopefully an eager willingness to help them!), gardening, making things pretty (while staying on budget, of course!), entertaining, and last but not least, all things "in the kitchen".

Speaking of in the kitchen, strawberries are in season and at $1/lb around here, you can bet a note or two of brilliant red berries will welcome you the next time around.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to Get Invited Back

Finding inspiration in broccoli, even with pictures to guide me... well, it's tough! (sidenote: doesn't "Finding inspiration in broccoli" sound like the title of an ode... yes, another ode) Usually in crafting these (not-so) witty posts, I manage to dig something up that provokes at least a mild chuckle... even if only by me... but this one was a challenge - I certainly struggled.

Nevertheless (are you still with me?), this is a tale about broccoli. I should add here that I may not be the best judge seeing as how I'd eat broccoli in just about any preparation imaginable... raw, steamed, sauteed, with garlic (or without), and some olive oil (sure!)... but add bacon, raisins, sunflower seeds, and a delicately sweetened dressing - and dare I say, can be made in mere minutes? You had me at broccoli.

Oh, and have I mentioned this is yet another of my mom's recipes? Yup... so take note.

Broccoli Salad

2 small bunches broccoli, cut into small pieces
2 green onions, cut on the bias in small pieces
1/2 c bacon bits (the real stuff!)
3/4 c sunflower seeds
3/4 c Spanish peanuts (with the skin left on)
1/2 c raisins

3/4 c mayonnaise
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c white vinegar

Put ingredients in serving bowl. Whisk dressing ingredients and add, tossing to coat.

Do your friends, neighbors (and countrymen, for that matter) a favor and bring this to a cookout this weekend (and obviously for the Fourth). Better yet, make it the night before (try not to nibble) - you might like it better the next day!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Much-Needed Makeover

If you've met me, you know I don't spend too much time worrying about my attire (t-shirt, shorts, flops - check, check, check!)... and well, let's be honest, it shows. It follows suit, as you might guess, that I care even less about my fashion sense when I'm hard at work around the house... specifically in the kitchen.

Enter my friends... a quick round of applause for them! Thanks to Jayne a few years ago, some of my kitchen utensils got a style overhaul, and just recently, Allison came to save the day with this adorable apron.

My girls are only too happy to intervene knowing that I need all the help I can get, wherever I am, AND they know I suffer along, living in a city without a Swoozie's (where this fabulous apron hailed from). I'm still not sure how I've survived this long without the cuteness that oozes from this store - monogrammed and personalized everything, beautiful stationery, a platter, napkin or cup for all the holidays, not to mention serving dishes in every style, size, shape and color. Swoozie's, if you're listening, please come to DC - my sanity depends on it.

So thanks girls, looking good has never been so easy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Little Sweet Pea

I just may never tire of attending and/or throwing baby showers. As it happens, our friends seem very happy to oblige as pregnancy announcements are just about a weekly affair around here. But I couldn't be happier to receive each and every call - how can you beat a conversation with a dear friend who is so obviously beaming ear-to-ear through the phone as she unveils the news of their bebe. You just can't.

I have known of Kevin almost as long as I've known Chris, and Angie has been a part of that story the entire time, as well. We were there a few years ago when they so lovingly wed in a beautiful ceremony and fun reception so naturally, I was honored to be invited to celebrate their soon-to-be little one yesterday.

Angie loves surprises so Kevin and both of their moms worked up a little scheme that caught her completely off-guard and set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Our mom-to-be couldn't have been more gracious and fun-loving - if it's possible, more enthusiastic with each bib, onesie, bathtub and receiving blanket.

However, it comes as no surprise that Angie is a favorite among the young girls on both sides of the family so they were not about to miss the festivities, although a day of helping open presents wore on even the toughest of the bunch.

The proud daddy-to-be stuck around and was rewarded for his patience. It's not every man who would be willing to sit through two hours of a room full of squealing ladies ooohing and aaahing with each present unwrapped.

If performance at a shower is any indicator of their parenting abilities, and not that there was any doubt before yesterday, but Kevin and Angie are up to the task. Now we just need the baby... although I'd guess that Angie's still doing laundry so she'd probably appreciate a few more weeks.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oh! What a Night

The signs (literally!) of summer...

This is the stuff Friday nights are made of - and I'm not just talking about the pomegranate margarita - moreso the fact that around these drinks sat friends taking in a beautiful, carefree summer evening.

Those same friends later strolled leisurely down the street and happily stood in a worth-every-minute-of-it line to get a scoop of gelato from Boccato.

And of course, what is a night without a few photo ops (complete with out-takes)...

"Oh what a night", indeed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pinky Swear

It seems that the "weather gods" are against us here in the DC-area (and yes, even our crops, plants and flowers are swamped at this point) as it continues to rain and be generally gloomy yet again this June day... (okay okay I might regret this in July or August when it's dry as a desert and hideously hot, I admit it)

So for now, the rain might stop me from actually being outside, but I dare anyone to try and keep me from dreaming.

Thus, in celebration (look who took her optimism pills today!) of one of the very few gloriously perfect-for-grilling-and-just-otherwise-being-outside days, here's to an upcoming weekend full of a couple more! (please, oh please!) If my wish is granted, I promise to spend every possible moment out on our deck, grilling whatever crosses my path. And if this light and fresh Grilled Cumin Chicken happens to be one of those - all the better!

*Oh! You like that wrought iron Fleur-de-lis trellis guy up there? Me, too. It was a birthday gift a while back so sadly, I'm clueless as to where to find others (let me know if you know!).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Love Saying Thanks!

If there was any question... yes, we have one of these...

And uh, here again - just in case one picture wasn't enough. Annabelle's been particularly photogenic these days. That charming look she's mastered? No wonder she pretty much has the run of the place in our house.

Mostly due to the aforementioned puppy's good looks, she's managed to win over the affection of all of our neighbors - and honestly, we couldn't live without it. Not only does our pooch have a friend on every corner, but also for the times that we (shudder) leave town without our little hairy black and tan dog in tow. So while she believes neighbors are put on this planet solely to give extra licks and throw more pine cones, we've come to know them as friends and willing helpers (who eagerly give in when faced with tasty treats).

As a matter of fact, it's one of those recent bribes that brings me here - because chances are, a couple of you are gearing up to ask for that next favor and as we all know only too well, those requests go over quite a bit smoother when there's delicious home-baked bread involved. And while any homemade goodie is usually appreciated, if you want to be sure to seal the deal, quickly throw together a batch of this (shhh... it's healthy) Oatmeal Banana Bread.

Or if it's a particularly big favor (or say you're way overdue to deliver a thank you), make said delicious bread in a cute bright colored baking dish and gift the dish, tied up with a cute ribbon and tag, as well!

**if you're anal like I am, you can bake it in the new dish and then pop the bread out when it's slightly cooled and pulled away from the sides; clean the empty baking dish so it's nice and presentable, and then put the freshly baked bread right back in there and tie 'er up

Course the fact that I almost couldn't part with the cute baking dish is merely a hazard of the job. But it makes me all that much happier to be able to give someone who's loved our little Annabelle something that I loved as well.

And while this may be my favorite bribe and/or thank you tactic to date, surely you guys have some cute and cost-effective ideas that are your go-tos. Share your favorites! Chris and I hope to go on a few more trips yet!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Right Where We Belong

Somehow, just today, it finally dawned on me (after living here for almost 8 years) that LOTS of people come to this beautiful and truly important city. And, all this time, we've just called it home.

ALL those people, we saw them this morning; and rightly so, most of them didn't give us (mid-heated rec-league softball games) a second glance. I, however, paused for a moment to marvel at the fact it's normal for us to play a softball game (or 14) in the shadow of the Washington Monument and across from the WWII and Lincoln Memorials.

So for you visitors - no matter why you came here, maybe patriotic or politically interested, or perhaps a history buff... welcome, we're so glad you came. Sometimes we forget that it's the world's interest in this city that really makes it go 'round.

But you'll have to pardon us, as well - we love this city just as much as you do, but we use those lawns you trudged across this morning more like this...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Best Friends Forever

You haven't missed anything (not that you were worried) but I've been hiding something for a while (er... some might call it forever): I'm obsessed with succulents. I recently referenced these glorious little plants in a very roundabout way as that was the closest I could come to an admission.

Before... YES, I knew I liked them and thought one might have a place in our home, but this, this, I wasn't prepared for... I've fallen head over heels. They are just too cute!

I found this one at Trader Joe's tagged with a meager price and in the ideal green-toned planter! I'm on a kick to add more color throughout the house and the bright lime greens running through the water-logged leaves are the perfect complement in almost any of our rooms. My new best friend has found its place on a small table in our living room (when not basking in the sun) providing that exact pop of color we needed.

As I've been talking a lot about things that I can't live without, I considered what I'd pick if given the choice between an adorable potted little succulent (perhaps with one of these little silver markers) and say... Le Creuset. Honestly, I can't fathom the pain and agony of choosing between such beloveds but I'll address it nonetheless.

I think Chris said it best: "it's like being asked which of your children you like the most [not that we have kids]... you love them all equally just in different ways".

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Odyssey

I now present an ode entitled: Journey to Meet My (Ice Cream) Maker

One very sad day, my trusty (well-loved and used) ice cream attachment finished a batch of lemon sorbet and batted its eyelashes at me while leaking one last little tear (or, uh... some sort of anti-freeze but this is a fun-loving tale, so we'll call it a tear) of life. After paying it proper tribute, I was ready (read: needed to) to move on.

A few days later (an admittedly short mourning period - but people, it's summer and we need ice cream of the homemade variety), "when, what to my wondering eyes should appear", but the very Cuisinart ice cream maker I'd had my heart set on at our local Costco and of course, on super sale. As the story goes... at that very moment, he became mine, or more aptly put - I became his.

And let's just say this now... folks, there's a new sheriff in town. Get a load of this guy.

Mere days after I welcomed him home and had just finished showing him his quarters (saying it that way makes the basement overflow shelf sound so much lovelier than it really is), he indicated that he preferred working to earn his keep rather than sitting idle; so right then and there, a thing of beauty was born - this amazing and simple Rocky Road ice cream.

Talk about a fairy tale - this ice cream is the stuff dreams are made of, with the only issues being that a. I don't ever want to make another variety of ice cream and b. it disappeared in a shorter amount of time than it took to make it, which is saying something cause this recipe is Easy (with a capital "e").

I have nothing but great things to say in fond memory of my late KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment but with my new Cuisinart, this story will end... happily ever after.

*okay, fine! - yes I did quote The Night Before Christmas

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Need Help. Come Quick.

I have an obsession with anything Le Creuset. And, to be honest, I'm actually okay with it - maybe, even actually, the slightest bit (please forgive me) proud of it! So imagine my delight when I was recently gifted these two beauties - gorgeous, gleaming red, covered soup bowls.

Immediately a million recipes popped into my mind, each one instantaneously perfect, once ladled into these gorgeous little bowls. But I realized - what goes in these little pots of joy must be special, not just any soup recipe (warm or cold - oh, the possibilities!) will do.

Then my mind started churning - maybe the ideal use for these little tureens isn't a soup at all... could a little plant call one of these home - a succulent, perhaps? Or maybe a baked dip, one in each of the bowls, will star in our (so far only a dream in conception) summer evening happy hour along with a cast of munchies pairing perfectly with some crisp wines (oh c'mon, who am I kidding - I'll be happy if the food is edible next to the beverages served). But the bowls?!

Help... if not for me, for the sake of the cutest little Le Creuset bowls you've ever seen. I can't stand the thought of leaving them cooped up in our cupboards much longer.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Works Every Time

We don't belong to the neighborhood pool - but last night might have changed everything.

Our entire street disappears each and every summer night and retires to the aforementioned pool armed with coolers of meat, red & white 'grape juice', and all the fixings for a cookout, so we happily tagged along yesterday, one of the few perfect summer evenings we've had recently.

They have quite the routine and our normally tame neighbors are known for shutting the 'house' down, refusing to leave until the waning moments of the night (read: on an otherwise quiet night, the lifeguards have no chance of slipping out early with these party animals around).

Although the grill was piled high with pork tenderloin, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, and the obligatory hot dogs, it turns out that something green doesn't usually make the menu so I was happy to oblige, especially once I realized that I had all the ingredients for our very favorite green salad AND I remembered to dig up this fun out-door serving bowl that we received as a gift some years ago, just waiting to be taken poolside. I'm not sure which actually made me happier - being asked and able to contribute, using a serving piece that had gone otherwise unnoticed, or that the lightly coated greens
hidden in this tropically-decorated bowl were an absolute hit.

The only complication is that apparently this pool is quite popular (which we can attest to after seeing the crowds there last night); another family we know tried to jump on the pool membership bandwagon only to be out-bid on the membership fees! To a neighborhood pool?! So, knowing that we may have a long road ahead of us, I plan on making this salad in an attempt at bribery, as many times as it takes - and I'm confident 'she's' up to the task!

Pear and Walnut Green Salad
serves 4-6

2 TBSP butter
1/2 c chopped walnuts
3 TBSP brown sugar
mixed salad greens (such as romaine, leaf or Boston)
1 firm ripe pear
3 scallions, chopped
3-4 oz crumbled blue cheese

To prepare walnuts, melt butter in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add walnuts and brown sugar. Saute until nuts begin to soften. Remove from pan to cool. Wash lettuce and tear into bite-size pieces and place in large bowl. At serving time, core pear and cut into pieces. Toss lettuce, pear, scallions, walnuts and cheese with Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 TBSP sugar
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
3 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 clove garlic, crushed
3/4 c olive oil

Combine dry mustard, seasoned salt and pepper in small bowl. Stir in vinegar, sugar, onion powder and garlic. Let stand at least 1 hour. Just before serving, pour through a strainer into a small bowl to remove garlic. Beat in olive oil with whisk. Pour over salad and toss. Can be made ahead; store in refrigerator and bring to room temperature and whisk 30 minutes prior to serving.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Third Place

Saying that I would, without a moment's hesitation, turn to lime if both chocolate and bacon (together or not) weren't available doesn't sound like very high billing. And while it's true that my affinity to the tartness of limes is nothing like Deb's husband Alex's, I promise that in this house 3rd place ain't too shabby (or at least that's what we like to tell ourselves - please don't burst our bubble).

Fess up time - as much as I really do LOVE lime-flavored anythings, I probably wouldn't have come across these if it weren't the lemon-lime themed going away (but not really) party we threw a co-worker. Let's face it - when handed the request to bake for your team at work, lime meltaways aren't usually the first thing that pops into my head. So yes, I am very sad my co-worker and friend is moving, but in the end, it led me here - and for that I owe her a thank you.

These little confectioner's sugar-covered beauties were as easy to make as they were light and delicious. I've always been a little timid around cookies that have to be rolled into a log and chilled (something about the rolling and chilling... ) - I've attempted them before without notable success, but it seems this recipe was destined to change that. I was pretty happy with the first go-round but I have every intention of mastering the process (i.e. eating these lightly sweetened, citrusy cookies again).

Lime Meltaways (from Smitten Kitchen)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

... But Not Least

Equally worthy of the spotlight is this little charmer.

As a fellow second child, I know on a personal level how important it is to (try and) give equal time in the limelight to both... an unenviable task, I might add.

I know the time when Charlie will start to impart all of his 'knowledge' is just around the corner... any bets on what'll be first? The art of imagination, love of John Deere, sand-digging skills, mastering Lowe's workshops... the possibilities are endless.

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